April 08, 2006

Public School Education in the USA, a Profitable Business?

Quality education is dependent wholly on the amount of money spent per pupil by a district. This is a myth that has perpetuated the American psyche. “If money buys good public schools, New Jersey and New York are buying the best, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which said both states spend more than $10,000 per student each year, far above the $6,835 national average.” (USA Today). Yet, in a worldwide testing of high school seniors in mathematics and science the USA ranked 18 out of the total number of 21 countries that participated. A dismal performance, indeed, for a country that spends unimaginable amounts to educate its children, and this performance must have sent a message to any thinking individual that money alone was not going to revitalize our school system. As Whitman said after passing the CEIFA Act in 1996 that we need to focus on “textbooks instead of checkbooks” in order to make education ‘thorough’ and ‘effective’.

School finance though an important factor in providing quality education to our children, its importance has been grossly exaggerated. A well rounded and competitive curriculum, a competent faculty, a motivated and determined student body, and a supportive parent body are some of the other factors that make for a quality education, and some of these don’t carry a price tag.

As an educator one feels that imparting knowledge to our students and helping them develop life skills is no longer the focus of public education. The focus is now on how to manage the school budget in a way such that the voting public will not vote down the next school budget. “One way to gain control over the budget adoption process is to try to anticipate public concerns about the school budget”. (Dr. Hartley, Univ of Connecticut). So now it is the voting public that determines how much money is to be allocated to improving school education. The matter is no longer in the hands of educators, but money minded citizens whose only concern is that their property taxes not be raised. In this scenario, is it a surprise that we are among the lowest ranking schools in the world? Quality education is no longer a priority.

Education and educators have been sidelined to accommodate political and financial agendas, but nobody admits to that. Public school education is like any other business where the budget and the budget makers and managers call all the shots. Legislature such as the “No Child left Behind’ act, or the promise of a ‘thorough’ and ‘effective’ education have in no way improved the quality of our students who are still unable to compete globally. Are we then living a lie? Our children are in fact already ‘left behind’ due to the lack of a ‘thorough’ curriculum and its ‘effective’ implementation. Schools boards and administrators are busy politicking for more funding, believing that the academic environment of the school can be bolstered by pumping in more money into the system. Superintendents, who have a far nobler mission at hand of providing and managing an academically charged environment to mould the million dollar minds of tomorrow, see themselves as CEO’s managing million dollar budgets instead. Supervisors and administrators may talk about good teaching practices to enhance learning, but when it comes to class size, the ‘enhanced learning’ takes a back seat. The school budget does not allow for a new teacher to be hired, so class size has to be compromised, and quality education is once again put to the back burner.

"A child's education should be determined by the size of their dreams, not the numbers of their ZIP code," said Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., who heads the Subcommittee on Children and Families. "We need to fundamentally change the way we deal with education in this country so that all children have the same opportunities and chance for a successful and productive life." Despite attempts like the QEA and the CEIFA to bring parity in our public school education, the gap between the wealthy and the poor districts has only widened. It is obvious then that money alone isn’t the determining factor for a quality education.

School finance plays an integral role in the upkeep of a school district, but it cannot be the master manipulator and take over the role that is realistically an educators. The children are in school to educate themselves, to gather knowledge, to learn to apply the new knowledge in various contexts, and to acquire skills that’ll make them globally competitive. To make this possible there are qualified and experienced educators hired by schools to bring about teacher-student and student to student interaction, the two dynamic interactions that determine a quality education, the prime goal of public education. All other interactions, those involving administrators, supervisors, and other non-teaching staff, play a secondary role; a supportive or maintenance role, one that is ultra efficient, unobtrusive, and friction free. School finance, as it exists in today, is none of the three. It is extremely obtrusive in that it rears its head at every school meeting. It is also not efficient in that money has always to be ‘found’ when a teacher makes an additional request for books or technology to meet the needs of her students. As for school finance being friction free, that is definitely not the case. The school budget being so contingent on property tax makes for battle ground between tax payers and the school budget. The scenario is no different between the state and the school districts.

School finance has taken on a larger than life role in the running of a school district, and in doing so it has undermined and deprioritized education. As an educator one can see where all this is leading to. In fact the first few reports are already in; we rank in the last five among high school students, we are doing poorly in our standardized tests as well, and as a nation we are losing the competitive edge we had in the past in the field of education and technology; ‘job outsourcing’ is a blatant example of this. Money may make the wheel go round, but not in the case of our education system; money alone is not going to set the near-stationery wheel of public education in motion, and our administrators and budget makers have to accept this truth.


Nasir said...

"Text book should mater & not the check book"
The education sector has been spoiled by this type of buisness men...their only aim is to make wealth & education never seems to be their aim.This is reason of mushrooming of schools.
Here too in India thjis buisness is commig up...one can find schools in every street..its mess.
What should in crease is no. of quality institutes, whose main aim should be education.
though money really is important for proper functioning... but we should look where the money is being channeled--in pockets of administration or for students education.

karmic_jay said...

Good post. In addition to all thsi not to mention that NCLB (no child left behind) has put more onus and pressure on standardized testing as a way to determine if schools fail or not. Tie that to fed funding and the teachers also have to train students to pass these tests instead of just helping them learn.
Not to mention some parents who would blame teachers for it all and the poor salaries they get paid and the lack of respect for them.
Arrggh sad state of affairs.

EXSENO said...

I certainly agree with this post.

Where I live we have still another problem, schools are being closed and those poor children who lose the right to go to school in their area are being bused for long distances to other towns. The school where I live is over crowded with students from another town and still there is another school that they are claiming may be closing. These poor kids stand outside waiting for a bus in the morning in the dark in order to get to school on time and go home the same way. School gets out at 3:15 and they may get home at 5 or 5:30p this is not good either.
I just can't see why something as important as a school should have to close. It's not like they didn't have enough children. The schools that are closing are full of students.

_Jonathan_ said...

EDucation is a business. That's is a fact in almost every country.
In southamerica schools and colleges look like shopping centers. But what about the quality? In Chile private and public universities are very expensives, and some teachers don't give a f**** about us (the people who pay almost US$300 per month). It's an administration's problem.
The situation isn't about how many years we study, or how much it coast: the problem It's about oportunities. If a poor boy, in the future, will have the same oportunity of a rich one. And if the cause of the problem is the education, we are lost.
The state will never be the victim of this crime. The victims will be our childs.

Trailady said...

Sad when education is about the almighty dollar more than being focused on body/soul enrichment. When educational funds are low the first things to go are Art, Music and Physical Education. These are just as important as History & Math in my book.

Saurabh said...

I agree with Jonathan that education is a business.
Not too sure about the situation elsewhere, but here in India, though there are some schools (by schools I mean 12th grade or lesser) which charge astronomical amounts as fees and donations (money you need to pay to get an admission).
These schools boast of state of the art facilities - labs, computers, etc, but produce rarely, if at all, brilliant students.

On the other hand, government aided schools which charge a fraction of the amount that other 'posher' schools charge, turn up with better results in the competitive and other exams - even though they lack in the facilities department which the other schools boast off.
The dedication and sincerity of the teachers at this level, I think, makes quite a bit of difference.

As for the business part, most of the engineering and medical colleges in the country, are run by politicians or people who are directly linked to them.

These people rake in the money, selling seats to students who dont make the merit cut for large amounts (Rs. 500,000 - Rs. 1,000,000 is common for a medical seat).

Though the amounts that we pay as standard fees are pretty high, the quality of the faculty and the infrastructure (in some colleges) leave a lot to be desired.

Most people let it go with the atititude that they'll be passing out within a couple of years anyways ... so why bother.

Invincible said...

i believe in US they give free primary n high school education to kids.

ppl world over crave for US universities for post grad/PhD.

Talk @ education n business, i had seen Engg/Medical colleges blooming here in the last few years. Everyone's out there to make money, no one cares for future of students, some even dont have proper accredition by Govt. But students blindly enrol into them and then reality dawns upon them.

There must be a governing body to decide upon the contents of school curriculum and also what 'values' are taught to childern.

samrina said...

First thnx alot for stopping by my blog n ur comment there:)
Well very nicely n truely said by Nasir that"Text book should mater & not the check book"
Best wishes n prayers,