Tag: Barack Obama

Betsy DeVos’ Deliberate Ignorance

Between 2002 and 2015, the years under which George W. Bush and Barack Obama presided over federal efforts to spur systemic school reform that included the now-abolished No Child Left…

Between 2002 and 2015, the years under which George W. Bush and Barack Obama presided over federal efforts to spur systemic school reform that included the now-abolished No Child Left Behind Act, the number of functionally-illiterate fourth graders, those reading Below Basic on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, declined by 172,078 children. In that same period, the percentage of functionally-illiterate Black fourth-graders declined by 12 percentage points in that same period (from 60 percent to 48 percent) while the percentage of Latino fourth-graders struggling with literacy declined by nine percentage points (from 43 percent to 34 percent), and a 10 percentage point decrease in the number of fourth-graders on free- and reduced-priced lunch programs reading Below Basic (from 54 percent to 44 percent).

The percentage of fourth-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels — essentially at and above grade level — increased by five percentage points between 2002 and 2015. This included a five percentage point increase in the number of Black fourth-graders reading at and above grade level, a six percentage point increase among Latino children, and even a four percentage point increase among children on free- and reduced priced lunch programs, the poorest children in America.

Meanwhile the percentage of functionally-illiterate eighth-graders  on free and reduced-priced lunch plans declined by three percentage points within this period, while there was also a nine percentage point decrease in the number of Latino eighth-graders struggling with literacy. At the same time, the percentage of Black eight-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by two percentage points in that same period while the percentage of Latino eighth-graders reading at and above grade level increased by five percentage points. Even better, the percentage of low-income eighth-grade students reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by three percentage points within that period.

These improvements resulted in part from No Child’s Adequate Yearly Progress provision, which required states to meet their obligations under their own constitutions to provide children in public schools with high-quality education and hold districts and other school operators accountable for failure mills and dropout factories they run. Suburban districts could no longer continue to commit educational malpractice against poor and minority children. School operators had to focus on achieving measurable results instead of damning kids to low expectations. Data became critical to providing all children with high-quality teaching, curricula and cultures.

As Thomas Ahn of the University of Kentucky and Duke University’s Jacob Vigdor determined in a study of North Carolina schools released last year, No Child’s accountability measures have helped the Tar Heel State improve achievement and even helped families in failing schools move into better-performing ones. On average, a North Carolina school failing AYP for the first time improved its math performance by five percent of a standard deviation. A poor-performing Tar Heel State school under Needs Improvement for a fifth consecutive year (and forced to develop a restructuring plan) improved reading performance by six percent of a standard deviation, while math achievement improved by nearly three percent of a standard deviation.

Under George W. Bush and Barack Obama, fewer children were functionally illiterate and more went on to success in adulthood. This is unlikely to happen during the Trump era.

The improvements in education didn’t come just through efforts in traditional districts. As part of their reform efforts, the Bush and Obama administrations continued the effort first began under Bill Clinton to provide more children with opportunities to attain high-quality education they need and deserve. This includes the opening of 4,179 charter schools between 2002-2003 and 2014-2015, according to the U.S. Department of Education, as well as the launch of school voucher programs in Florida, Indiana and Louisiana.

Thanks to high-quality charter schools in urban communities, children in those schools gain 58 additional days of learning in math and 41 additional days of learning in reading compared to peers in traditional districts. More importantly, as seen with charter school operators such as the Knowledge is Power Program, charters have improved the chances of poor and minority children graduating from traditional colleges, community colleges, technical schools and apprenticeship programs (usually run through community colleges) that make up American higher education.

The point in citing these facts? That contrary to the assertions made yesterday by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the reform efforts led by Bush and Obama (and their education secretaries) that began with the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act and accelerated with Race to the Top achieved measurable and quantifiable results that improved the lives of so many of our children.

From the accountability provisions that forced states to focus on achievement gaps, to the expansion of charter schools, vouchers and other forms of choice, to support for implementation by states of Common Core reading and math standards first developed in the first decade of this century, to the efforts under the Obama Administration to end the overuse of out-of-school suspensions and other forms of harsh school discipline (as well as criminalization of youth), both Bush and Obama spurred reforms (including the charters and vouchers supported by DeVos herself in her previous role as a school reform philanthropists) that have helped more children gain the knowledge they need to succeed in adulthood.

This is not to say that the efforts were unqualified successes. Nothing done by man will ever be. No Child’s focus on basic literacy and numeracy, a reflection of the mission of the school reform movement for most of its modern history, no longer suffices in an age in which some form of higher education is critical to economic, social, and political success. The Obama Administration’s No Child waiver gambit, which began the evisceration of accountability that continued with the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act two years ago, was arrogant policymaking and sloppy implementation that has harmed systemic reform. Just as importantly, as Dropout Nation has consistently pointed out and as exemplified by the latest edition of the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, the need to continue systemic reform remains paramount.

Yet the data (along with the long history of  proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that the Bush and Obama administrations successfully embraced the federal government’s necessary, constitutional and life-affirming role in ensuring that every child, especially poor and minority children served poorly by American public education, get a chance at high-quality education. The administrations achieved measurable results that are important steps in helping all children succeed — if DeVos and the Trump regime (along with congressional leaders and those at the state level) bother to do their parts.

Barack Obama didn’t always get it right on education policy. But his administration got it right a lot of the time. Which is saying something.

DeVos’ sophistry, however, isn’t shocking. After all, she gave her speech at an event held by the American Enterprise Institute, whose education czar, Rick Hess, has long opposed focusing on stemming achievement gaps and has generally been, to say it kindly, not all that interested in building brighter futures for the poor and minority children harmed the most by the failures of American public education.

More importantly, DeVos’ dismissal of the need for a strong federal role in education policy and protecting the civil rights of Black and Brown children is reflective of that of the administration in which she serves.

As we already know, President Donald Trump spent the last week doubling down on his White Supremacist rhetoric when he called several African nations which account for the bulk of immigrants to the United States (as well as Haiti) “shitholes”, expressed his preference that the nation bring in more emigres from Norway and other European (White) countries, and dismissed concerns from the Congressional Black Caucus, whose members represent Black and Latino children (as well as their communities) on Capitol Hill.

The statement, which came during a meeting over an increasingly-unlikely deal to stop the deportation of 760,000 youth, young adults and classroom teachers previously covered under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, once again highlights the reality that the Trump Administration’s long-term goal is what can best be called low-grade ethnic cleansing against immigrants and Native-born Americans who aren’t Caucasian.

DeVos, along with erstwhile school reformers working at the Department of Education, have been willing collaborators in the administration’s war against poor and minority communities. This includes moves to weaken and end Obama-era efforts to stem overuse of suspensions (as well as use of restraints and seclusion practices that harm children condemned to special ed ghettos), to supporting the expansion of 529 college saving accounts for K-12 expenditures that does little for poor and middle class families.

Meanwhile her unwillingness to condemn Trump’s rank bigotry and demagoguery demonstrates that she has little concern for the most-vulnerable children her agency is charged with protecting. Her allies will argue that her past record of advancing school choice proves otherwise. But her record since her nomination for the nation’s top education policy job makes lie of those claims. This is even without considering her general unfitness for her role.

One thing is ultimately clear: Neither Betsy DeVos nor her boss will be the champions for children their predecessors were. For that, and their general indifference to facts and truth, they should both be ashamed.

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Teachers Union Walk-Around Money


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Let’s just call the recently-passed Edujobs bill what it really is: A congressional Democrat plan to keep control of the federal legislative branch by subsidizing the National Education Association and…

Doling out the election cash.

Let’s just call the recently-passed Edujobs bill what it really is: A congressional Democrat plan to keep control of the federal legislative branch by subsidizing the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers — and absolutely useless and unnecessary to boot. It really is that simple. As I pointed out in The American Spectator earlier this year, congressional Democrats — fearful of losing seats (and possibly, control) in both houses — were looking for a way to placate the NEA and AFT (whose $71 million in donations during the 2007-2008 election cycle makes them the single-biggest forces in campaign finance) and keep their money and bodies in the game.

As it has been pointed out over the past few months, there is almost no need for these subsidies. For one thing, the original estimates have turned out to be illusory as school districts such as New York City have figured out ways to stave off layoffs, either by cutting jobs in other areas of education (including school staffers represented by the Service Employees International Union and other unions), holding off scheduled teacher pay raises or cutting other areas of school district operations. For all the caterwauling by teachers unions, their allies and congressional leaders such as House Appropriations Committee Chairman Dave “Walking Around Money” Obey, the subsidies were absolutely unnecessary. More importantly, given that the layoffs would only affect at best five percent of the 6.2 million people working in education — small potatoes compared to the wrenching layoffs within the private sector — school districts would have done just fine without the money.

Though the bill does benefit the NEA and the AFT, it’s difficult to discern how it will really help congressional Democrats. For one, the waves of dissatisfaction among voters have more to do with how the party and President Barack Obama have handled such issues as federal economic stimulus subsidies (that has done little), continued mismanagement of budget deficits (a continuation of Bush II-era mismanagement) and the passage of a healthcare reform bill no one outside of pharmaceutical giants, unions and “progressives” want. If congressional Democrats want to keep power (which they may still do based on recent polling in states such as Connecticut), the solution lies in pursuing a more fiscally-prudent set of budget policies, cutting federal spending, reducing taxes and taking on the long-term strains on economic growth — including deficits in Social Security and more-aggressive education reform.

Congressional Democrats also didn’t need to give any money to the NEA and AFT because the two don’t have any other options in the general election cycle. Although the two unions give plenty to Republicans at the state and local levels, they hardly give any money to Republicans in Congress. This means that the NEA and AFT don’t have many allies on the national level (even though both the unions and conservative and suburban elements within the GOP share a heated disdain for much of the Bush/Obama school reform agenda). Given the lack of allies and the fact that the NEA and AFT have other issues on which they share common ground with Democrats (the moribund card check legislation and healthcare reform), the two unions have little choice but to back congressional Democrats at all times.

What Edujobs represents is lost opportunity to further advance school reform. Teacher quality reforms such aren’t advanced by the subsidies because  school districts aren’t required to end Reverse Seniority (“last hired-first fired) layoffs and other seniority-based privileges in exchange for the money. There is no provision requiring districts and states to address their long-term fiscal problems, namely at least $600 billion in pension deficits and unfunded retired teacher health liabilities. There is no Race to the Top-like component that would reward states and districts for innovating how they handle human capital management issues. Education doesn’t begin to understand that the sector shouldn’t be treated different than any other during periods of economic dislocation.  Not one thing of value for children or for improving the abysmal quality of American public education.

Essentially, Edujobs has all the hallmarks of Tammany Hall dealmaking devoid of strategic cleverness or plain common sense.

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Three Thoughts on Education This Week


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Observations on what is happening in school reform today: Fizzled Out of Touch: Last week, the NAACP and other groups pronounced that they were coming out with a grand manifesto…

Observations on what is happening in school reform today:

Fizzled Out of Touch: Last week, the NAACP and other groups pronounced that they were coming out with a grand manifesto challenging the Obama administration’s school reform efforts. Folks such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson of the Rainbow/PUSH coalition were to show up and complain about how the administration’s approach to education was failing the very poor students it was supposed to help — even though their own prescriptions were little more than overheated old-school concepts that have never worked in the past 40 years. But by Monday, two of the groups — including one run by charter school supporter Al Sharpton — declined to participate in the grand attack. The manifesto (which did have some laudable goals) was trashed by all but the most-stubbornly pro-status quo of pundits. And by Thursday, some of the players were declaring that they were behind Obama while the administration — including the president and  U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan —  took turns slapping around the groups over policy.

Certainly the Obama administration did a successful behind-the-scenes effort of diffusing the old-school civil rights tirade. The lack of support for the manifesto from the National Council of La Raza and other Latino civil rights outfits also weakened their efforts. But it was more than that.

Within Black America, there is a lot of disagreement between old-school civil rights players — who continue to see integration, busing and equity lawsuits as the cure for achievement gaps between blacks and whites — and the younger generation of African-Americans, who understand that more-systemic reforms (including breaking ranks with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers) is critical to black economic and social advancement. This generational and attitudinal divide (which has only become louder in the past couple of years) has resulted in many of the groups becoming irrelevant in the school reform conversation — and the discussion about improving the lives of African-Americans overall.

The NAACP, in particular, can no longer claim to be representative of all African-Americans — especially on education. It has spent most of the past two decades dealing with internal discord and overcoming its creakiness. Over the past two weeks, it has seen its stature fall further as it rushed to judgment over Shirley Sherrod and spent more time on racist elements within the Tea Party movement than on considering Duncan’s demand for them to join the school reform movement. As more blacks — especially celebrities such as John Legend and Fantasia — have become more-supportive of charters and the Race to the Top initiative, they are finding other organizations and methods to wield influence and mobilize like-minded colleagues (of all races) towards their own concerns. They have cut the NAACP out of their considerations.

Meanwhile other old-school civil rights groups are rife with constituencies who are charter school supporters — and in fact, started their own schools; integration-minded constituents can rile up anger all they want, but the groups can’t afford to alienate school reformers within their own groups without endangering their own pockets. When it comes to Obama — the nation’s first black president — the groups must also be careful, especially since some of its leading members (such as Jackson) were none too fond of him back when he was a U.S. Senator (and in some cases, didn’t even back him during his run for the Democratic presidential nomination against Hillary Clinton).

For these groups to remain relevant, they must adapt the school reform agenda, as the United Negro College Fund has done under Michael Lomax (who sits on the board of the Education Equality Project); the 100 Black Men is another example; , it cofounded the Eagle Academy Foundation, which operates two boys-only charters in New York City. If they don’t, they will face more than another Chicago-style tongue-lashing from the Commander-in-Chief.

Still Not Fessing Up Save for the back-and-forth between Andy Rotherham and Michael Petrilli, inside-the-Beltway education sparring tends to be done politely in dry language (and more viciously during drinking sessions). But on Thursday, the Center for American Progress’ presentation of its report on the low quality of teacher training programs brought out a battle royal between the American Association  of Colleges for Teacher Education — the leading trade group for the nation’s ed schools — and the leading critical of ed school training of teachers (and, nearly everything else about how teachers are recruited, retained and paid), the National Council on Teacher Quality.

After NCTQ boss Kate Walsh tore into ed schools for lacking rigor in their teacher training curricula — especially in special education — and state teacher certification agencies for their cozy ties to those schools and their parent universities, AACTE’s Jane West accused Walsh of making “sweeping statements” that were “off the mark”, as well as attacked its underlying methodology for evaluating ed schools (especially in Texas, the site of NCTQ’s latest ode to teacher quality failure). West then went on to praise the quality of special ed teacher training — and went on a tirade about the school reform movement’s failures to address special ed overall.

So as not to give the impression that Dr. West fully ignored the problems of ed school training, she did admit that there are issues. But she largely laid their causes at the feet of state legislatures (for laws that are restrictive about teacher data), school districts (for their unwillingness to share that information because of fears of violating FERPA), and the lack of political will to shut down poor-performing programs. But there are problems with those excuses. Ed Crowe, the author of the CAP study, reminded West that other professions — including medicine and nursing — took strong efforts to improve training and certification long-before state regulators got into the game. Besides, as Crowe said, “political will isn’t a gift”, groups gain it as a result of doing the hard work to gain consensus (or steamroll opponents).

By the way, don’t forget that AACTE is a huge recipient of funds from the National Education Association — the most-fervent obstacle to teacher quality reforms — including the use of student test data in teacher evaluations (which AACTE members would also use in their own evaluations). This includes $252,262 in 2008-2009 alone.

Meanwhile, Dr. West seems to forget that NCTQ’s research stands up to scrutiny — especially when one considers the evaluations of ed schools by others. This includes CAP — whose report is blistering in its criticism of ed schools — and Arthur Levine, the former president of Teachers College, who noted that 54 percent of teachers are trained at schools with low admissions requirements. These issues have become more embarrassing as alternative teacher training outfits such as Teach For America have emerged as the high-quality teacher training regimes of choice for school districts. As Walsh — who wants ed schools to actually turn around their performance — noted: “Most superintendents are eager to hire [Teach For America’s] bright young talents.”

What ed schools fail to realize is that it is their very desultory quality of training that has helped sustain the nation’s educational crisis. They are also the reason why teaching isn’t highly respected as a profession (even though teachers are highly beloved as individuals). By keeping their collective heads in the sand, ed schools are merely aiding their own slide into irrelevance and worse.

Given that Teach For America (along with The New Teacher Project) trains just 7,000 of the 200,000 or so new teachers who come into American public education every year, ed schools must stop the rhetorical shuck-and-jive. Or else they will end up being replaced by the alternatives.

Standing in the Shadows of Fail: Detroit lived up to its reputation as the place where common sense — and care for the futures of children — goes to die. Despite the efforts of Mayor Dave Bing and even U.S. Secretary of Education Duncan, the city council voted 6-to-3 to not place upon the ballot a referendum that would have placed Motown’s atrocious school district under mayoral control. Why? Some, including onetime acting mayor and former city council president Ken Cockrel, declared there was no public demand for it.

Now, one apparently hasn’t been reading the local papers, or looking outside. But this doesn’t matter. From day one, seven of the nine council members were opposed to mayoral control. The current city council president declared it publicly. Old-school groups (who form the base for these members) were opposed to it, as were the school board (which hasn’t had control of the district since it fell under state receivership last year). They essentially opposed reform in spite of decades of evidence that the public school system is the new Superfund Site of American public education.

So let’s be clear about this: Once again, Detroit’s city council behaves irresponsibly towards its citizens — especially its children — because its majority has lost site of what matters most: The children who must attend this atrocity of a school system. For these politicians, the discussion about mayoral control is just another game. But for the kids and their families, it’s a lot more than that. It’s their educational, economic and social destinies at stake. Perhaps the parents should exercise their power and send their children to any of the new charter schools being opened in the city in the coming years. And while they are at it, vote out the city council once and for all.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Abandon Edujobs to Build Parent Power


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On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I examine the debate between congressional Democrats, President Barack Obama and centrist Democrat school reformers over the edujobs bill. The proposed $10 billion school…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I examine the debate between congressional Democrats, President Barack Obama and centrist Democrat school reformers over the edujobs bill. The proposed $10 billion school bailout bill will do little to advance school reform or stem (ever-dwindling) teacher and school employee bailout numbers. Instead of another bailout, President Obama, outgoing House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey and his fellow congressional Democrats should focus on building parent power and making families true decision-makers in education.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, MP3 player or smartphone. Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast Network,  Zune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, add the podcast on Viigo, if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android phone.

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Race to the Edujobs?


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As I have pointed out since the beginning of the year, the efforts by congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama to keep control of Congress may be the most-immediate problem…

Gut check time.

As I have pointed out since the beginning of the year, the efforts by congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama to keep control of Congress may be the most-immediate problem for the school reform efforts being orchestrated by Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. As Republicans continue to gain momentum — and are likely to capture seats in Indiana, Arkansas and perhaps, even Connecticut — Democratic leaders will need all their activists on the ground to bring out the votes — especially the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers, the single-biggest donors in Democratic (and general election) politics. But NEA and AFT support won’t come without a price — or without conflict with centrist Democrats who are driving Race to the Top and other Obama initiatives.

This was exemplified yesterday when outgoing Rep. David Obey proposed to use $500 million in dollars slated for Race to the Top to fund a $10 billion package to stave off an ever-dwindling wave of teacher and school staff layoffs. School reformers such as the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Congressman Jared Polis and the Education Trust went on the warpath, wrangling support against Obey’s effort, while the NEA and AFT reminded other congressional Democrats that they better pay to play.

As Education Trust communications czar Amy Wilkins rightly points out, Obama and Duncan can’t afford to let Obey succeed — and not just because the administration will lose credibility among states and the school reform movement. The reality is that the Obama administration has little in the way of concrete achievements (at least those that don’t involve the controversial and still-likely-to get-partly-overturned health care reform plan). Education reform is one of those sparse achievements and anything that renders it a failure may lead to Obama going the way of Jimmy Carter in the re-election department.

Then there is the reality that this latest version of the education bailout plan (originally planned for $23 billion) is not even needed. A few months ago, it was assumed that as much as five percent of the 6.2 million teachers and school staffers would be laid off due to fiscal problems. Since then, as Mike Antonucci points out almost daily, those layoff numbers have dwindled further as school districts and states use furloughs, tighten belts and attempt to divert federal special education funding to keep teachers and staff on payrolls. That this comes after a previous $100 billion bailout (as part of the federal stimulus plan passed at the beginning of Obama’s term as president) — along with news that education spending hasn’t exactly been flatlined in the past decade — makes school districts and states look downright spendthrifty.

Obama and Duncan probably realize that ARRA II, as I call it, won’t force states to deal with the long-term causes of their fiscal woes: Pension deficits, overly generous benefits such as nearly-free healthcare for teachers, and the traditional system of compensating teachers, which has been costly to taxpayers and students alike. Even if ARRA II forced school districts to abandon the use of reverse seniority (or last hired-first fired) in layoff decisions, it wouldn’t mean much without the acquiescence of NEA and AFT locals, who oppose any change in the status quo.

But for the Democrats, other considerations matter. This includes bolstering the re-election prospects of vulnerable candidates and setting the table for Obama’s re-election effort two years beyond. For the Democrats to overcome the odds of a Republican victory in November, they need lots and lots of bodies. And money. The NEA and AFT offer plenty of that — including $66 million during the 2007-2008 election cycle alone — and far more campaigners on the ground than what school reformers can muster.

Which has always been the problem for the school reform movement. Sure, they have succeeded in winning over most of the policymakers within the Beltway and the nation’s statehouses. But the NEA and AFT have the advantage of strength in numbers. Until now, that intimidation power — the combination of teachers working the corridors of Congress and state capitals and the soft lobbying of parents in schoolhouses — is why the two unions have dominated education policy. Although teachers unions have fewer supporters and can no longer count on unquestioned support from Democrats, they can still whip up enough money and bodies to stave off the most-pathbreaking of reforms, and win over support for bailout schemes that benefit their rank-and-file.

School reformers need to pay attention to what is happening now and build stronger ties to grassroots advocates and parents on the ground; and challenge politicians opposed to school reform at the ballot box and in the hallways. Without them, Race to the Top will become crawl back to the past. The 1.3 million kids destined to drop out in the next year need more than that.

UPDATE (10:54 p.m., July 1): Proving my point, Obey rallied all but 15 Democrats to approve the Race to the Top cuts 239-182 [note: link still says vote not yet available). All but three Republican voted against it.

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Rewind: The Statistics Department: K-12 Spending Versus Criminal Justice Spending


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As discussions of another K-12 bailout — much of it motivated by Democratic Party fears of congressional election losses — gets underway, there is plenty of questions as to whether…

Defenseless children photo from the Juvenile injustice series

Sometimes schools and prisons seem the same thing. But they aren't. Let's keep our kids out of them.

As discussions of another K-12 bailout — much of it motivated by Democratic Party fears of congressional election losses — gets underway, there is plenty of questions as to whether America spends too much on education spending, is the money being spent too inefficiently and whether another bailout is needed anyway. This reprint of a Dropout Nation report written earlier this year offers another perspective on spending, especially in light of what is spent on the nation’s criminal justice system. To wit: Why do we spend $214 billion on criminal justice (and badly)? Because we spend $528 billion on schools (and atrociously):

An argument used by some in education, most recently by a writer in the Edurati Review, is that America spends far too much money on criminal justice — including prisons — at the expense of schools. And at first, it seems valid. From the vast numbers of young black, white and Latino dropouts landing in prison to the scandals within the juvenile justice system, it is clear that improving the educational destinies of students can make it less likely for them to land behind bars. Figuring out which crimes are truly crimes worth prison time (rape, for example) and which ones are consensual acts that hurt no one but the person (physically and emotionally) and her immediate family, would also help.

But do we actually spend too much on prisons at the expense of education. Here are a few

  • Amount spent on operating and building prisons in fiscal year 2005-2006: $70 billion. Total amount on criminal justice, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics $214 billion.
  • Amount spent on K-12 by districts, states and the federal government in the same fiscal year: $528.7 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
  • Amount spent on prison construction in 2006: $2 billion.
  • School construction spending that same year: $45 billion.

The reality isn’t so much that the America doesn’t spend too much on prisons, at least not per se; nor is it that the U.S spends too much on education. It’s that the country spends far too much on both inefficiently. This is especially true with the latter. Too much spending is caught up in a politically-driven system of teacher compensation that fails to reward high-performing teachers and pays laggards far too much. Defined-benefit pensions and unfunded retirement liabilities are sopping up much of the increases in K-12 spending. Younger teachers don’t reap the full rewards of their work until late in their careers; the high level of attrition in the teacher ranks before fifth year of service is far too high.

Given that three out of every 10 American children fail to graduate from high school, the costs of the system are far greater than the results. It’s both tragedy and travesty.

Essentially, criminal justice spending isn’t a problem. Nor is education spending a problem. Spending education funding efficiently for results is. We must do better by our children.

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