Education Establishment Excuses Show More Money Isn’t the Answer

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Here comes another Rhode Island education insider striving to alleviate the pressure for accountability after release of the abysmal scores on the Common Core–aligned  Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test.  This time, it’s Joseph Crowley, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Association of School Principals.  That’s yet another $60,000+ job ultimately funded with taxpayer dollars (from public employees’ dues) for yet another private government-satellite organization housed at Rhode Island College:

The so-called gaps in educational achievement between high and low SES children are symptomatic of conditions created by poverty. Our leaders have operated under the misguided notion the gaps are symptomatic of “failing” schools. When one assumes the schools are the problem, one looks to schools for the solution. This has led to one failed “solution” after another. One cannot treat symptoms and expect the real problem will go away.

The first reaction a knowledgeable Rhode Islander should have to Crowley’s essay is that he skips over a good bit of evidence.  Consider that the city of Boston outperformed the entire state of Rhode Island, that Rhode Island’s best districts would only be about average in Massachusetts, and that individual bits of data undermine the conclusion.  Tiverton’s high school math results, for example, can’t be explained with reference to inner-city poverty.

Rhode Island schools should be performing better across the board, without regard to poverty, and money isn’t the issue.  The per-pupil expenditure in Rhode Island is almost identical to that in Massachusetts and amounts to about $2 billion per year, using equalized U.S. Census numbers.

In one thing, though, I agree with Crowley; public schools can’t get at the root of the problem, which he describes with a flourish as follows:

Compare [an idealized picture of suburban childhood] with Johnny, a child in a poorer community, being raised by a single mother. The conversations are limited by the mother’s lack of a high school diploma. Medical issues require a trip to the emergency room as there is no family physician. Teeth are cared for when they become too painful to ignore. The child goes to sleep not knowing if there will be breakfast and has lived in four different apartments before getting to kindergarten.

He may not even know music lessons, soccer leagues and summer camps even exist. Add to that the stresses of living in a neighborhood populated by drug dealers and users, the constant threat of violence, and being far more subject to abuse than his more affluent peers.

If we want to get at the problem of children growing up in poverty, more money for public schools is not the answer, and is arguably counterproductive.  Indeed, I’d suggest that cutting government spending and regulation, generally reducing the role of government in our lives, and giving a little more thought to family structure in how we behave in our own lives and in how we develop public policy would do more for disadvantaged children than additional “investments” in a failing education model.

We should stop accepting the excuses and following the advice of people whose livelihood comes from government activity; their solution is without fail to increase the problems we attempt to use government to fix.  Such an approach might make some small improvement in people’s understanding of what children need, but it will create an even greater sense that it isn’t the responsibility of parents, families, students, and communities to address these problems, but rather, that it’s somebody else’s responsibility to pay for more government programs.

That would be counterproductive to the point of catastrophe, although indirect enough that paid propagandists for government could likely manage to shift blame again and again.



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