As another school year ends, North Carolina’s school funding debate continues. The debate would have greater merit if money and quality education were directly correlated.
That’s not to say we should not provide every available dollar toward education. We should. The real question is how relevant is a thousand dollars per pupil either way as the argument is over much less.
The United States leads the world in per capita educational expenditures. If money equated to quality then the U.S. would have the best secondary education in the world. But we don’t. That distinction goes to Finland, which spends less than Robeson County per child.
New York spends $14,119 per student, the highest in the nation. The national average is around $8,701. North Carolina averages about $7,500 and Robeson is just below the state average at $6,600. Nevertheless, New York fails to have the best literacy rate or test scores. There is little success to correlate to the level of spending. Efficiency is never considered.
Utah is the most efficient in terms of expenditure to the quality of education that results. That state spends about $5,400 per child, which is the lowest in the nation, although, paradoxically, it is a larger part of the budget than most states. Which illustrates there are a lot of ways to measure efficiency. So what does this mean?
Well, Robeson actually does a good job educating students on much less than New York though maybe not as good as Utah if you look at things like SAT scores. Clearly money has less influence than we admit.
Our school system is pretty efficient considering available resources. Sure Robeson could use more funding as we already do remarkably well with less than most. But generally, more funding is not synonymous with better education. We should quit pretending it does.
States could spend $1 million per child, but if the real variables that do correlate are missing, Finland and Japan will still lead the way.
Aside from parental involvement, only three things have shown to improve education. The problem is issues like political interest will prevent them from being implemented. But the steps themselves are simple.
— First, get rid of bad teachers. There are not many. Most are superb. But it only takes a few bad ones when each teacher affects thousands of students. Unions will say there are ways to accomplish this without getting rid of tenure. But the methods are ineffective. It takes so many steps in New York to get rid of a teacher they just park bad teachers in empty rooms. Sure they spend more per student and have a method to get rid of bad teachers. But neither works.
— Second, reward good teachers. Rather than tenure, merit pay rewards exceptionalism. This requires no explanation as to its beneficial effect.
— Lastly, let parents choose where they send their child and let the allotted money follow the child to that school. When this is done in other countries, schools compete for students. Teachers are freed of bureaucratic nonsense and are allowed to do what they do best.
When schools must win students, creative things happen. Affluent and poor neighborhoods both produce excellent test scores. Guidelines are broad and methodology decentralized. Schools become efficiently focused on the success of students, who prosper as a result.
The actual argument against this concept is poorly managed schools may close. But isn’t that the point? Clearly efficiency is more relevant than raw funding. It’s all about focusing the incentives.
The most difficult thing to recognize is when we are blinded by personal incentives. Cognitive illusions by opponents of these methods suggest these methods actually hurt children. And when you correlate something to hurting children like we erroneously correlate money to quality education, nothing happens. The point is education is not easily bought.
Phillip Stephens us chairman of the Robeson County Republican Party.