Education: A Money Pit?

Erica Holloway Erica Holloway 2 Comments


“A cohesive education bureaucracy isn’t necessarily a good thing – not if that cohesion serves to preserve an unsatisfactory status quo at a time when school districts and states across the nation are climbing on the reform bandwagon.” – A Chance for Education Cohesion @sdut

Frankly, that statement doesn’t go far enough when you look at once-failing school districts in Washington, D.C. and Detroit that had to wage war with the teachers unions in order to make educational gains for their students. And of course, the political powers in those cities who backed the aggressive shutting and consolidating of schools and the firing of under-performing teachers suffered the union wrath come election time.

In January 2009, Chancellor Michelle Rhee in Washington, D.C. was the “new face of education reform” and by October 2010, she was resigning after a public fight that ended up with her ardent supporter, Mayor Adrian Fenty, losing re-election.

It’s not easy to stand up and do the right thing. That’s why courage doesn’t come cheap.

Governor Schwarzenegger learned the political force of the unions when he tried to pass paycheck protection – a very worthy goal. That beating reduced the man to a mouse and he never waged another large-scale battle again.

Of course, what we always hear come budget negotiation time is the need for more money. The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office released a study requesting overhauling the education budget which currently occupies about 55 percent of the total state budget combined with more than 50 elaborate mandates, including the Proposition 98 guarantee of 60 percent of General Fund tax proceeds.

This year, the American Legislative Exchange Council ranked The Golden State at 30 in education with 77 percent of students not meeting proficiency standards and gave the state a D- on “identifying high quality teachers.”

The taxpayers lose in the political battle. The students lose in the education battle.

Do you know where California ranks No. 1? Teacher pay, according to the US Census for 2007 at an average of $63,640 for public elementary and secondary school teachers.

Vermont ranked No. 1 overall and spent a whopping $15,107 per child to California’s $10,857. However, the teachers ranked 26 in pay at $45,337. More money spent on kids and less on teachers with better results, yet the breakdown between the states on basic education reform is virtually the same.

What’s the magic ingredient?

Business sense, according to a story today in Christian Science Monitor. A more efficient education system saves tax money, improves the education levels of the populace and increases productivity in the private sector (read: more tax base).

In order words, doing more with less.

Some educators argue that at least someone in the top management ranks must be an educator, even if it’s not the superintendent or chancellor. Others believe too much sympathy for rank-and-file teachers is what’s caused the breakdown in the system to be too lenient on bad teachers to the detriment of students.

It reminds me of the newspaper business evolution. Years ago, newsroom veterans rose to the management ranks and ran the business. Today, private sector CEOs with little or no news backgrounds are buying up the news industry to keep them operating in the black. Back then, newsroom folks grumbled that anyone who doesn’t know how a paper is put to bed shouldn’t be running it.

Change is hard.

But perhaps California’s newly-elected leaders could learn a little from these educational experiments that seem to be working and apply it to our failing education system.

We’re already thrown money at the problem – maybe it’s time for a new idea.

Follow me @erica_holloway.


Comments 2

  1. This makes sense. The management in the HR department at SDUSD is made up mostly of teachers….hmmm…

  2. Despite what teachers claim, we don’t need teachers in management position, we need MANAGERS in management positions. There are some teachers who can do this well, but the typical skillset that is so important in the classroom does not make the jump to management skills.

    Just like managers don’t necessarily make good teachers.

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