The President helped NBC kick off a PR event called “Education Week” by sitting down with Matt Lauer and boosting his education reform agenda, including this statement:
Money alone isn’t the cure for America’s ailing school system, President Obama says.
Speaking to TODAY’s Matt Lauer in the Green Room of the White House for nearly 30 minutes, Obama said that additional funding tied to significant reforms — including a longer school year and lifting teaching as a profession — is a much-needed fix.
“We can’t spend our way out of it. I think that when you look at the statistics, the fact is that our per-pupil spending has gone up during the last couple of decades even as results have gone down,” explained Obama, invited to appear by NBC as the network launched its weeklong ” Education Nation” initiative.
So according to the President, money without reform won’t fix schools. Well, neither will reform without money. Because you can make the exact same statement that the President made, about how per-pupil spending has increased while results have decreased, about the reforms he seeks. National studies have shown that charter schools result in worse performance more than better performance across all schools. They have shown that merit pay does not advance performance goals in any appreciable way.
It’s also notable that the President, careful with his words, set the bar back two decades when he discussed per-pupil spending. Because while spending on education has indeed gone up from the Reagan-Bush years, in the most recent years it hasn’t, as budget crises have slashed education spending and the federal government has not filled the entire gap. In fact, you can look at particular circumstances and see the clear value of proper resources in education performance, just by looking at the schools featured in Waiting for Superman:
Yet the exclusive charter schools featured in the film receive large private subsidies. Two-thirds of Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone funding comes from private sources, effectively making the charter school he runs in the zone a highly resourced private school. Promise Academy is in many ways an excellent school, but it is dishonest for the filmmakers to say nothing about the funds it took to create it and the extensive social supports including free medical care and counseling provided by the zone.
In New Jersey, where court decisions mandated similar programs, such as high quality pre-kindergarten classes and extended school days and social services in the poorest urban districts, achievement and graduation rates increased while gaps started to close. But public funding for those programs is now being cut and progress is being eroded. Money matters! Of course, money will not solve all problems (because the problems are more systemic than the resources of any given school) – but the off-handed rejection of a discussion of resources is misleading.
Obama acknowledged this in his remarks today, saying that “Obviously, in some schools money plays a big factor.” But he doesn’t mind painting a broad brush about money without reform, while ignoring the actual metrics on his version of education reform. He also wants students to have a longer school year, which clearly would cost more money (“money well spent” as Obama said), yet wants to hide the failings of reform by de-emphasizing a money-first approach.
I think the fact that the Administration tried to save its reform-first blackmail scheme, Race to the Top, by cutting food stamp increases, when the one area where everyone concerned about education can agree that poverty has a severe negative impact, and we know that food stamp benefits lift millions out of poverty, tells you everything you need to know about their priorities in this context. And while I personally know good teachers who have 40 kids in a single AP classroom, and who cannot devote individual attention to their students precisely because of resource-starving, too many education “reformers” will chalk up these problems to teachers not wanting to adapt, or just not being “smart enough” to teach. The depravity of the reform agenda is pretty shocking.
Just one last word on this:
“The vast majority of teachers want to do a good job … We have to be able to identify teachers who are doing well,” the president said. “Teachers who are not doing well, we have to give them the support and the training to do well. And ultimately, if some teachers are not doing a good job, they’ve gotta go.”
I guess that the President wants this kind of accountability because he sees education as so crucial to the future of the nation. Under this standard, then, I guess that the financial industry isn’t as crucial, or the military, or the executive branch of the previous White House. Because no such accountability exists in those realms.
UPDATE: I would argue that the fact that middle-class and above school students seem to do well, even compared to high-achieving students abroad, argues in favor of a resource-based solution for impoverished schools below that middle-class line, more than an untested “reform” solution. The age and class problem with schools just matches up perfectly with their relative use of resources.