©Neville Goedhals 2007. Visit my site at: www.NevilleGoedhals.com

Syence & Myths in the US

By Neville C Goedhals

There I was, sitting at my laptop with coffee mug in hand, browsing the headlines, when my eyes became riveted on a tidbit of information: “The United States spent an average of $8,701 per pupil to educate its children in 2005 …” [CNN 5.25.07]

My first thought was, “Damn, that’s my tax money, and I don’t even have kids.” Then the less emotional side of my brain added, “Why don’t we just privatize the whole education system, sounds like there’s money to be made. Don’t see how private enterprise could do worse.”

I can already hear the screams from outraged parents. “It’s not enough! We need to spend more on our childrens’ future. How dare you …” And from the state employed educators, “You have no idea what terrors that will bring. Let me tell you …”

I’ve heard the arguments firsthand from parents, teachers and even a supervisor (who earned about $80K pa and always seemed to be at home). So let’s take a step back and look at the facts.

The article went on to state, “He [Tom Loveless] said Washington, D.C., has among the highest spending in the country but its students have among the lowest scores on standardized tests, while some states like Montana with relatively low spending have fairly high performance ...”

Wait, something’s wrong here. Are they insinuating that there isn’t a direct correlation between education levels and how much money you throw at the problem? And further in the article, “… the relationship between spending on education and test performance was not strong …” Go figure. Now did you truly need to read it before realizing the obvious?

Please, no more cries about needing to spend more money (this applies to parents, teachers, clerics and politicians). Perhaps we should be spending more wisely.

I recalled seeing a ‘Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS)’ article which gave international rankings in mathematics and science. As I recall, it made me wince. After a quick search I found the 2003 study results at:

http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2005/timss03/index.asp

I have included some of the statistics below:

 You will note that the US comes in at 15th in mathematics. By all that’s holy, those other countries must be spending a fortune in educating their offspring!

I also recalled a study by ‘The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES)’ that gave the amounts spent by other governments on education. After a quick Google I found the 2005 results at:

http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2005/2005021.pdf

I have included one of their graphs below. The data speaks for itself.

 According to the ‘Primary and secondary’ graph we were spending more than anyone else in 2005 ($7,877), and (from the article that started my tirade) we now spend even more ($8,701).

It obviously isn’t helping, and it obviously isn’t the answer. Countries with far better educational results (e.g. Japan) are spending only 2/3 of what we do. And I shudder to guess how much money little Estonia or Korea fork out on their school systems (unfortunately they were not included in the NCES report).

Whining and moaning about the problem is one thing, but what can we do about it?

I do not believe that handing out $500 vouchers so that parents can put their children in private schools is the answer. That’s just subsidizing the education department and increasing the cost per child ($8,701 - $500 = $8,201 extra, available to spend).

How about an $8,500 voucher? I’ll be willing to bet that private schools will spring up like addicts at a drug convention (Okay, bad analogy. I apologize to any challenged or fun loving individuals whom I may have offended). But you must admit; I may have a point.

Back to reality: The educational system is broken. And all the politicians can do is drone on about how under-funded the budget is. “Vote for me and I’ll fight for more funds. I’ll reduce the number of students in a class. I’ll raise the teachers’ salaries. I’ll build more schools. I’ll increase the free lunches. I’ll … (probably increase global warming unless I stop talking)” It’s the same sad litany every single election, and like sheep, the voting public says, “Ooo, yes! That would be good for our children. We must spend more money on their education.”

What about the children (gang members) who roam the school corridors because they can’t be transferred to any more schools, and the teachers can’t have them in their classes because they’re disruptive. Or the teachers who deserted their posts in New York schools because they feared for their lives. Or the juvenile delinquents who … (sorry, I mean challenged children, or is it gifted children now?). I’m sure there are hundreds, if not thousands of such stories.

The US no longer imposes discipline, especially on children. Perhaps this would be a good place to start. Three strikes and you’re sent to a reformatory school, where capital punishment is alive and well.

How about having one single department of education (as opposed to 50+)? Now that would reduce the budget.  It would also make standardized tests and statistics a synch, which would further reduce spending.

I still favor giving parents an $8,500 voucher. The only problem is, the private schools would be filled with keen, well-performing youngsters, while the public schools would become the reformatories, filled with the undisciplined students that the private schools expelled.

Ah well. It was a good dream.