The Status of Money in Education

By: 
Al Jacobs

The Gods are obviously smiling down on California, as our economic fortunes seem to know no bounds. When Governor Gavin Newsom submitted his first state budget on January 10, 2019, he proposed the allocation of $80.7 billion – an all-time high – for K-12 education spending. Evidently our fiscal prospects improved dramatically over these past five months, as the governor’s revised budget now calls for its increase to $101.8 billion. No doubt he aims to boost our students’ educational level to match our financial status.

As both an educated drudge – with four university degrees – and an educator – having spent ten years as a classroom instructor – I’m no stranger to what goes on in the schoolroom. I’ve taught classes to the brightest of students with an eagerness to learn, and to the dullest of students who defy any attempt by a lecturer to introduce a new thought.

In general, I regard the proctoring of a classroom to be an exhilarating experience and find the process of learning to be absolutely intriguing. This, then, gets us to the subject dominating the entire scope of schooling: Where does money fit into the fiefdom of education?

If there’s a fundamental doctrine the entire educational establishment adheres to, it’s that ever more spending of money results in ever more improvement in the quality of schooling and benefit to the students. This, in essence, is the one single principle wherein there’s no meaningful deviation among educators. In reply to the question “Does Money Matter in Education?” – posed recently to the Albert Shanker Institute, a nonprofit foundation established in 1988 and dealing with public education and the labor movement – the answer literally embraced the affirmative. Their response: “Money matters. On average, aggregate measures of per-pupil spending are positively associated with improved or higher student outcomes … in balance, in direct tests of the relationship between financial resources and student outcomes, money matters.”

A similar reply to this query was delivered in August 2018 by the National Education Association, the largest labor union and professional interest group in the United States, representing public school teachers and other support personnel. They stated: “Aggregate per-pupil spending increases student outcomes in every situation.

A 21.7 percent increase in per-pupil spending throughout all 12 school-age years for children from low-income families is large enough to eliminate the education attainment gap between children from low-income and non-poor families.”

You should be aware the unanimity of responses from educational organizations reflects the general consensus that ever more money is the prime ingredient leading to improved student performance. Rarely, however, did I find a precise recommendation as to how the money might best be employed to achieve this improvement. Fortunately, persistence pays off. Every so often one of the articles mentioned an undertaking which the additional funds might be used for.

The following is a brief summary of the few plausible suggestions I came upon. (1) reduce class size (2) early childhood programs (3) additional support systems (4) more competitive teacher compensation. You’ll note each of these activities results in either the hiring of or increased remuneration to the persons making the suggestions. Definitive details as to exactly how any of these actions specifically improve student performance are never mentioned.

If you’re paying attention, thus far we’ve analyzed the importance of money in education solely by listening to those who profit financially from it. Perhaps it’s time to delve into the process of learning which doesn’t involve the distribution of massive transfers of wealth to the educationalists.

As I’ve spent much of my life involved in the business of schooling – in one fashion or another – I feel competent to offer some competitive views. Stick with me as I describe how leaning can be accomplished without throwing wads of hundred dollar bills into the mix.

My performance as a high school student ranked as unimpressive. Although I attended regularly, I don’t recall ever opening a book. Nonetheless I managed to graduate … sadly, in the bottom 10 percent of my class. Inexplicably I then enrolled in Los Angeles City College, possibly to stick with my best friend who aspired to higher things.

For reasons I can’t quite explain, I decided to actually learn something for a change. I completed the first semester with good grades, and from then on schooling became my way of life. Years later I happened upon an article where a Harvard mathematics professor was asked why he had performed so badly in high school. His response struck a chord with me. He said: “It amazing how difficult a subject can be when you’re forced to study it in slow motion.”

The simple fact is what goes on it the typical primary or secondary classroom is designed for the lowest intellect to be encountered in the class. Similarly, the instructors who teach these classes must conform to this requirement. This is why the workings of public education help to verify the basic dictum of skepticism: “Ninety-five percent of everything is nonsense.”

Here in my state, we’ve a total of 6,196,800 elementary and high school students, of which approximately 1.6 million are designated as English learners. This means they’ve been enrolled here for more than six years, but remain improficient in the language. There are two likely reasons this is so: The students are devoid of both incentive and encouragement to learn English. And as the schools receive $1.2 billion in state support and another $160 million in federal funds to maintain this charade, they choose to let the subsidies continue to run. Why disturb the English non-learners?

In reality a foreign language can be quickly mastered if there’s a justification. I’ll offer a testimonial: As a navy midshipman aboard the USS New Jersey, we docked in Vigo, Spain, to await arrival of our flotilla. While ashore the first day, I encountered an attractive young woman, Vina de Souza, at a public park. She spoke not a word of English; my sole semester of Spanish, which I failed miserably in a Los Angeles high school, left me with perhaps 200 words. Nonetheless, I managed to introduce myself with a hesitant “Buenas dias, señorita.” She smiled.

Suddenly, for the very first time, I had a compelling reason to speak Spanish. During the next three weeks, with much of my time spent in Vina’s company, I met her family, friends, and neighbors, while I conversed only in their tongue. By the end of three weeks, with my ship ready to set sail, I’d become tolerably proficient in the language. Similarly, our English learners might all be English speaking, given incentive and encouragement.

Let me add, I’m certain if I had remained in Vigo for three months, I would have been speaking Spanish fluently … even though Vina’s parents chided me on my Mexican accent.

I’ll add a word on the need for competent teachers. I’ve experienced both good ones and bad ones and, as you’d expect, I prefer the good ones.

I admit learning becomes a little easier and a lot more enjoyable with a proctor who’s personable and who explains a subject in an understandable way. Despite this, a student who’s determined to master a subject – which he or she is capable of comprehending – will do so, irrespective of the incompetence of the instructor. I’ve been forced to perform in this manner many times.

A final thought: If we must select the single most pernicious flaw in education, as it’s conducted in this nation, it is the insistence nothing but the most expensive possible counseling services be provided to each student. This, of course, justifies the massive sums of money demanded for every phase of instruction, and the need for grossly overpaid teachers.

This will never be rectified until the educational establishment is forced – albeit, reluctantly – to acknowledge learning is not something done to the student, but rather something done by the student.

Al Jacobs, a professional investor for nearly a half-century, issues weekly financial articles in which he shares his financial knowledge and experience. You may contact Al at al@abjacobs.com.

Category:

Add new comment

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
CAPTCHA
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.

Beachcomber

Copyright 2019 Beeler & Associates.

All rights reserved. Contents may not be reproduced or transmitted – by any means – without publisher's written permission.