Saturday, October 2, 2010

Education: It's Not About Lack of Funding

Education has been in the spotlight this week with President Obama's 30 minute interview on TV and the release of the movie Waiting for "Superman."  It's no secret that the US as measured by test scores and achievement is lagging behind much of the world, and is not where it should be.  The politicians answer to the problem is: spend more money.  But looking at the above graph, it would seem that we've already have a dramatic increase in education spending with very little to show for it in terms of student improvement.  So where is all this money going and why aren't we seeing the expected results from this increased spending?  The answers are not easy, and the problem is a difficult one to solve.

One has to question just who is receiving the benefits of all this increased spending, the students or the educators?  The argument that is constantly used to justify future increases is this massive increase in spending per student since the 1970's must be doing some good.  I know that line of thinking wouldn't fly at any for profit business when a cost/benefits analysis is performed.  But this is politics and government where the typical solution for failed programs is more funding.

Perhaps, paradoxically, the answer is that spending on education should be cut at all levels (federal, state, and local).  This would force the education establishment to refocus on its basic mission, to educate our children, and might stimulate our educators out of their entitlement thinking to re-prioritize programs and policies in a way that might actually improve results.

Do you agree the problem is not a lack of funding?  Where do you think the problems lie, and how do we fix the education system?


  1. One of the problems is, in my opinion, that we have become victims of our own success. Students have too many diversions. I would like to see some data on college class attendance of American versus non-native students. The foreign students take their education much more seriously.

  2. The whole USA vs the World thing is a red herring for more money. US students consistently outperform their foreign counterparts by most measures. You never hear that little tidbit, nor will you ever hear that the US reports ALL it's students scores while other countries only report their top 5 to 10 percent of students. We're consistently comparing apples and oranges when we say US students are less educated than their foreign peers. Average OUR top 5 percent and we blow them away.

    The question then becomes why? Why are we constantly told that we need more education dollars because we're falling behind students in other countries. I'll bet you already know the answer ...

  3. Biz, depends on how you define educators. The front line troops (teachers) may not see as much of the incremental benefits as the rear echelon administrators, vice administrators, assistant vice deputy principals... As with any monopoly service, costs are high, service is subpar, and the needs of the customers need not be addressed.

  4. I'll just add that it would be a good exercise for everyone to spend at least 2 days a year substitute teaching in the high schools. Maybe it should be required like jury duty. Everyone comes away from jury duty shaking their head and muttering to themselves at the judicial system.
    In the schools they'll find kids aren't in class. They are off to a cheerleaders meet, a donut breakfast in the principal's office for those who got a "B" average and the decoration committee meeting for homecoming. The half of class that remains isn't listening because they will be off on their extra curricula activities the next day.
    Is it like this in other countries?

  5. Can't say it much better than Andrew did above:

    "As with any monopoly service, costs are high, service is subpar, and the needs of the customers [are not] addressed."

    End the monopolistic setup of public education. Where is the FTC and their anti-trust lawsuits?

  6. Robert,

    From what I understand our students lead the world in self-esteem, but lag in core academics. The education establishment is spending the money they get in the wrong areas.


    I agree with you to a certain point. The education establishment is always lobbying for more money every way it can think of. Yet the US continues to lead the world in patents and innovation.

    Andrew and Kevin,

    I think the public schools will improve only if there is real competition, yet the goal of the teachers' unions is to squelch any competition and they have many willing politicians on their side.