More on yesterday’s ed thread

I xposted my India/Pakistan comments to a few communities, and poldy jumped in on with this:

Of the several topics raised here, I would like to turn to the last – the crisis in education.

those workers in Bangalore […] were raised in a culture that made funding education a priority in policy while in the US we were making rhetoric about education a priority.

This complaint is common. High school students are not prepared for the university because we are not funding high schools well enough. Or, on the other side, because we are not making them accountable enough. Both the socialist and business metaphors leave me confused. Was there a radical difference in funding when drdenny began teaching and now? [an honest question, I simply don’t know]. It just seems, somehow, too simple.

Then, after a follow-up:

I am always suspicious of arguments built on claims of decline, which is why I wanted to know if funding of education was very different in the grand old days when students got an education.

Good questions, and I don’t know that I have a satisfying answer. That thread continues, but I thought I’d pull some of this up to the top page here.

About ed spending. If you look at what teachers today are given versus what they’re expected to accomplish, it seems that there’s been a fairly dramatic squeeze. As for quantifying the squeeze, well, this is a question I’d give anything to get a fixed answer to. I’ve seen numbers demonstrating increases and decreases, although I’m not sure I’ve seen credible info suggesting an increase per capita in real dollars.

The only thing I can quantify with any certainty is what I see. I’ve got a sister-in-law and some good friends who are or were public school teachers, and I’ve seen up close and personal what they’re being asked to do and what they’re up against. I also have a decent idea of their pay scale. They make a good deal less than I do and their average work weeks are worse than my bad ones. So even if I’m shown data proving that actual spending per student has increased X amount over Y period of time – which I haven’t been yet – it’s still going to fall short on a scale that weighs reward against the magnitude of the task, especially as compared to other career options. And when it comes to getting the best people to choose teaching as a career, this is the only standard that matters.

All this said, I’ll be the first to acknowledge that better education isn’t purely about funding. There have been powerful shifts in the culture of education and the pedagogical philosophies driving it, and these are deserving of plenty of blame, to boot. However, I do get sick of hearing people yarp about how “more money isn’t the solution.” Well, maybe it isn’t all the solution, but my experience has been that many of these same people have a dramatic faith in the principles of free enterprise when discussing competition in the business world. They understand that if you’re competing to hire the best engineer for a job, you better step to the plate with the best financial offer. Basic economics, right?

But oddly, it seems not to occur to them that the same kinds of dynamics apply to people who, as undergrads, are trying to decide whether to be teachers or something else. How many kids each year, the cream of the crop crowd, decide not to be teachers because they simply can’t see why they should kill themselves doing that much work (and gods, it is a hellacious amount of work) for that little money.

It seems to me that if you hypothetically bumped the average pay of teachers in the counry by, say, 35% across the board, and then hired enough teachers to reduce your student:teacher ratio by 25%, you might expect rather dramatic improvements in student performance within a decade – even if you didn’t address any of the other things that need fixing.

Of course, now the screaming begins – who’s going to pay for all this? Well, that’s cost-based thinking, not investment-based thinking. The truth is that in the long run your overall economic position is going to be significantly enhanced in every possible area, because a dollar spent on education is a de facto dollar spent on health care, technology development, manufacturing, the law, communication, and every other profession out there. It’s like music – it just keeps on giving, and it multiplies its effects as its direct recipients pass on what they know to future generations.

A culture that doesn’t get this is quite literally too stupid to survive.

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