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EDUCATION: Spending more isn’t the answer

Letter by Philip W. Noss, Puyallup on Jan. 11, 2012 at 4:38 pm with 27 Comments »
January 12, 2012 9:22 am

Over the last half-century, the American people have been performing an experiment to see if perhaps throwing money at education would improve test scores. As has long since been obvious, the experiment has failed.

Since 1961, real spending per pupil has increased by almost fourfold, with no evidence of real improvement. In fact, the 1950s and ’60s now seem like the good old days in terms of student achievement.

In Washington we are faced with a court order to “amply fund” public schools – as if $10,441 per student per year isn’t enough. Remember, insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Two questions present themselves:

• Why do American students do so poorly against their Western counterparts? Because Americans don’t value education.

Oh, we pretend to. We talk a good line. But when we reward test scores the way we reward football scores, we’ll finally see a difference.

• Does it really matter whether we are tops in the world? The famous book, “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” was published in 1955, so it’s clear that the “crisis” isn’t a new one. I’m sure it wasn’t new in 1955, either. Yet over most of the 20th century, America led the world in innovation and productivity. Education is important, but maybe rating higher than Japan in student scores is not.

The Washington Legislature should defy the Supreme Court. It’s obvious that we spend way too much already.

Leave a comment Comments → 27
  1. “Why do American students do so poorly against their Western counterparts? Because Americans don’t value education.”

    I have always wondered how that particular statement is determined.

    How do we really know for sure our kids aren’t as well educated as other country’s kids? There is no standardized test that all kids all over the world take and can be compared against. Is there?

    Do they really “do so poorly against their Western counterparts?”

    Really. Has there been some competition conducted to prove that, like a global game of Jeopardy or something?

    What about their Eastern counterparts?

    How do our kids compare against them?

    I just don’t see how any of this can be proven. If it can’t be proven, then maybe it’s just not true. Maybe there really is no “education gap” that we need to worry about. Where’s the proof?

  2. cclngthr says:

    The reason why students can’t read is they are not required to show they can read.

    This is not tracking. Tracking students means grouping students by ability. Testing students means they are tested and are required to show that knowledge they have. When they show evidence of high ability, the test scores reflect that.

    Prerequisites also must be used. Prerequisites means there are concepts that must be mastered prior to moving forward. Education is also cumulative. Cumulative means what is taught in the beginning is used in concepts later in the course and in other courses.

    Too often the K12 system uses concepts and they are in isolation. Isolating concepts does not require students to apply that concept or concepts to other areas and use them in real life. This encourages students to forget about the concept soon after it is taught.

  3. cclngthr says:

    Comparing test scores of students in other countries is possible since standardized tests use data that is consistant everywhere.

    A math standardized test here measures the same concepts in Europe and Asia. Although it may be written in different languages, math concepts are the same everywhere.

  4. cc… I have to wonder about “standardized tests” because of all the controversy, and ultimately wasted tax dollars spent, on the WASL which has since been replaced with the MSP and the HSPE.

    Just doesn’t seem like there can be one standardized test that can fairly and accurately measure all students worldwide on an equal and fair basis.

  5. itwasntmethistime says:

    I agree with the letter writer. It’s not a money issue, it’s an effort issue. There are plenty of kids who do very well in school. Even the worst rated schools turn out some shining stars. All the money in the world will not overcome a home environment that doesn’t embrace and support education.

    Academics, like any other skill, are improved with practice. The kids who are practicing their studies at home at night will leave their peers who only do schoolwork at school in the dust every time. If you give the best teacher on the planet a class of students who will not do homework and a merely adequate teacher a class of students who read and study at home every night, I’ll put my money on the adequate teacher’s class.

  6. redneckbuck says:

    As the family falls apart the schools are held responsible for puting them back together.

  7. redneckbuck says:

    It always makes me laugh when the public sites the number of engineers that India produces. Industry leaders are well aware of the low standards their colleges have. An engineering degree in India amounts to a pre-Engineering degree in the states. Engineers in India do not have to work for a company for two years before passing an exam that makes them full fledged engineers.

  8. cclngthr says:

    The controversy about standardized tests is an assumption of how they are scored and how they are designed.

    Before the WASL, we used the CBST standardized test. That test compared one students scores against other students tests which were a sampling of a larger group. That type of design is used in many other standardized tests used to qualify kids for sped, and is used in the Stranford Binet IQ test. These tests require the student to remember the concepts in isolation and don’t require the student to apply the concept to other areas.

    The WASL and MSP/HSPE is designed so scoring it does not compare one students knowledge against a control group, as with the older CBST test. It compares a students knowledge against the subject itself. No compariaon against other students is made. how much information the student knows is judged by how well they use the subject matter in other areas. Meaning, the student must be able to apply the concept outside the isolated incidence of just being able to remember certain facts about the subject as done with the older test.

    The older test only require students to remember by rote the subject matter. At no time they are required to apply the subject to other areas. The new test requires students to actually use the concept, which means they must be able to remember by rote to use it.

  9. alindasue says:

    “In fact, the 1950s and ’60s now seem like the good old days in terms of student achievement.”

    I really have to question that claim.

    When we look at education in the 50s and 60s, it’s much like redneckbuck’s example of an engineering degree in India being equal to a pre-engineering degree here. Test scores may have been higher, but kids weren’t required to learn nearly as much.

    When my uncle was in high school during the 60s, they had to create a Trigonometry class for him because they didn’t have anything that advanced in their curriculum. When I was in high school in the 70s, I was considered an advanced student because I was taking Algebra in 9th grade while most students were starting in “Basic Math”. When my daughter entered Lincoln high school, all students were started at Algebra – the school didn’t offer any math below the Algebra level. Now she is a Junior learning Trigonometry.

    When I was in kindergarten, the teacher was teaching the class the alphabet and how to write students’ names. In first grade, the class graduated to “Run, Spot. Run.” Back then, I already knew how to write and read a bit before entering kindergarten because my mother taught me at home, but now such knowledge is the standard for kindergarten entry.

    “Education is important, but maybe rating higher than Japan in student scores is not.”

    The approach to learning is different in Japan – not necessarily better, but different. They do a lot of rote learning there which works well for some subjects, like Math, but not as well for other subjects, like languages. The fact is that Japan has started to use American techniques for some subjects because they work better. (I have a friend in Japan who is a teacher.)

    The point is that while standardized test scores may not be as high as we like these days, our students are being taught and tested at a much higher level than in the “good old days” of the 50s and 60s.

  10. cclngthr says:

    A lot of people demand we use rote learning techniques with kids; however the tests we now use requires abstract critical thinking rather than pure memorization. The old standardized tests given to 4th and 8th graders back then only focused on memorizing data. The WASL and MSP/HSPE require students to apply knowledge. Memorizing data is one thing, which is easier to do, but when you want people to actually USE that information in other forms, it brings a whole different issue.

    Back in the 50’s and 60’s, students were not required to use the concepts they were taught. Only to memorize them. Now, we expect students to use the concepts.

  11. Fibonacci says:

    You use the old “THROWING money at schools” argument to cut money from schools. No one is THROWING money at schools. Schools are asked to more and more all the time, taking over things that parents should do. The error in you argument, is that LESS money will certainly make things worse. Let’s put 50 kids in a class, much cheaper right? Those kids who learn in poor schools do so in spite of the poor school, not because of it. Do you REALLY think that kids from a rich district are on a level playing field with kids from a poor one?

  12. alindasue says:

    cclngthr said, “Back in the 50′s and 60′s, students were not required to use the concepts they were taught. Only to memorize them. Now, we expect students to use the concepts.”

    That’s pretty much what I was pointing out. Not only are we expecting them to use the concepts that they are taught, but we are teaching them at a higher level of learning than average students were taught back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. By tenth grade, students are expected to be able to pass standardized tests on subjects that used to be considered twelfth grade or higher learning.

    Since the majority of them can do that, it doesn’t sound like “the experiment has failed” and that there “is no evidence of improvement” as the letter writer claims.

  13. itwasntmethistime says:

    There are a lot of things schools have to do now that they didn’t have to do in the 50’s and 60’s. They didn’t use to have to feed kids breakfast or transport foster kids to their district of origin daily, among other things. As our families are breaking down we are requiring our schools to spend education dollars on what amounts to social services.

    Do we need those services? That’s an entirely different debate, but what we DON’T need is money that is supposed to go toward basic education for the masses to be siphoned off for social services.

  14. cclngthr says:

    The purpose of Why Johnny Can’t Read was to emphasize phonics and the emphasis on teaching letter/letter combination sounds as the only way to teach reading.

    At the time, teachers used the see-say method of sight reading.

    However, there are words that cannot be sounded out through explicit phonics rules. The word does, spelled phonetically is D-U-Z. The S sound is sounded out as a Z in that word. If we used phonics only, as Rudolf Flesch wanted, the word DOES cannot be learned, as well as other words dependent upon sight to learn.

    Additionally, there are kids with hearing/speech problems who cannot “hear” the sounds. Deaf kids must use sight to learn how to read. Kids with speech impairments cannot process sounds normally and trying to teach kids with sound processing difficulties with phonics is near to impossible since they cannot hear the specific sounds in the way words are sounded out.

  15. cclngthr says:

    Schools fed kids in the 50’s as well. However, society at the time frowned upon unwed pregnancies and underage sex, where society does not care about that issue anymore.

    If a child was born to unwed mothers, that child was removed from the home to be adopted out unless the mother voluntarily gave up the child first. Up until the mid 60’s, people married before having children.

    Foster kids need consistancy and the requirement that they remain in the same school is not only policy, but also within state law. If we remove that policy, everytime the kid moves, which can range from a few days, to a year, the child must attend a different school.

  16. alindasue says:


    You sound like someone who may have actually read the book. I admit that I’ve never seen the book or anything about it besides the title. Thank you for your explanation of its contents.

    The book is often cited in these conversations about the “failures” of public education, but clearly that is not what the book is about, eh. Too often people fail to read beyond the headline or the book title to find out the whole story before jumping to conclusions.

    Too often, an “expert” will come up with “the way” to teach a subject, as Rudolph Flesch did, without taking into account that the best ways to learn come from a variety of methods used in concert. You sound like you may be the type of teacher who understands that.

    Of course, using a variety of methods may cost more than just sticking to one system like “phonics” or “new math”, but it is more effective. The problem when they cut school funding too much is that the resources needed to teach with a proper variety of tools and methods also end up being cut.

  17. cclngthr says:

    I have several of Flesch’s books and feel they demand certain teaching styles be used because the theory that kids must learn through sound and auditory methods in reading. When I went to college, Whole Language was emphasized, and I, even then, questioned its theory of teaching style.

    Whole Language emphasized meaning and strategy instruction rather than limiting itself to decoding as phonics does. Phonics may be a decoding methodology, but reading also includes word meaning. Whole Language may include some phonics instruction, however the theory requires students to construct knowledge of letter sounds through a wholistic approach with minimal phonic instruction. It does not go far enough with phonics or sight to teach a diverse class to read.

    Education is built upon the emphasized use of singular teaching styles where a single method is used, not a combination of methods.

  18. itwasntmethistime says:

    cc — Once again, you’ve completely missed my point. I’m not arguing that foster kids should have to change schools. I’m arguing that the cost of transporting them to their school of origin should not fall on the school district. DSHS should foot the bill because foster care is a social service.

    Of course DSHS doesn’t have the money to do it, so the school district gets stuck paying for it. And since the school districts certainly don’t have any extra money laying around they have to cut basics to make it happen.

    So here we are, being asked to pay more taxes to support basic education because the legislature keeps pulling money from basic education to pay for other things like social services. It would be much more honest if they would leave the education budget to cover just basic education and ask the taxpayers for an increase to cover social services instead.

  19. All too often one teaching methodology is imposed upon an entire district as the only way to teach a certain subject. Aside from the reality that this does not provide any flexibility for the teacher to adapt his/her pedagogy to best fit the students by picking and choosing bits of different methods in order to best get the job done, it expects teachers to be able to implement a pedagogical methodology effectively with no more training than a few in-services. And then, of course, after a few more years some “brilliant” administrator decides that some other method is better so new books have to be bought, and “expert” needs to be hired to provide in-services so we can transfer all of our eggs into a different basket.

  20. cclngthr says:

    DSHS does pay for a portion of transportation costs IF the kid is out of origin district. They will not when foster kids lives within district boundaries. If a foster kid went to Fern Hill ES before removal, and the kid ends up in north Tacoma, DSHS would not pay for transportation costs since district boundary is unchanged. If that same kid ends up in Spanaway, DSHS would pay a portion of the costs and the district would pay out of its transportation budget to pay Bethel SD to transport that kid to Fern Hill.

    Usually with foster kids, they are placed with extended family rather than a licensed foster home. Licensed foster homes are used only if the family does not want the child or DFS thinks it is appropriate.


    That is too often the case. Rudolf Flesch viewed reading instruction to be only phonics. Decoding words by sound is only one part of reading. There are MANY other areas that phonemes don’t apply to words. Phonics does not teach vocabulary (meaning of words), sentence structure, grammar, punctuation, spelling (the normal rules of the language). Of course there are words that defy phoneme rules.

    Most of the time, university researchers are involved in this pedogogical pendulum. They do one research project that uses a “new” method that assumes all kids learn in this form.

  21. commoncents says:

    cc – you may be able to answer this…has anyone pulled special ed out of the finance equation to see what the cost per student ratio changes to? I would imagine that a large part of the INCREASE in costs associated with education (besides capital building costs) are due to special education funding and policy funding mandated by law. I would also imagine that the TRUE costs of educating the mainstream student hasn’t changed all that much over the years (taking inflation into consideration).

  22. sandblower says:

    Where did the $10,441 figure come from? And be aware that the Court did not ask the State to spend more, but rather to spend enough which includes local levy amounts so that communities having a difficult time with levies can be funded as well as communities that do not have a difficult time with levies.

  23. cclngthr says:

    SPED funding comes from a separate source and is separated into its own budget.

    Usually the regular education budgeted cost is primary, then the sped cost is an additional cost associated with SPED kids. If the cost of regular ed is $7500 a year, and the SPED cost is another $3000 (for a particular kid) what is spent first is the regular ed budget, then SPED carries the rest. For full time SPED, the SPED costs can carry the whole cost of educating that child.

    SPED funding is really strict and teachers have to document everything in great detail to justify the added cost. Federal guidelines are STRICT where costs are required and the higher the SPED cost, the more we have to document to comply with the laws.

  24. I wrote the letter. With the exception of itwasntmethistime, most of you didn’t get it. My point was not to go into the minutiae of best education practices, or why the Western world is better, or any of that. It was simply that we are spending nearly four times what we were spending 50 years ago, and not getting a better education for it. The reasons why that is true, or whether it is true, and the controversy that would engender, is huge. I don’t want to go into that now. All I am saying is that MONEY DOESN’T MATTER. If spending 3.72 times as much money has not yet succeeded in making school funding a non-issue, then NO AMOUNT of money will ever do so. We might as well spend every dime we have on schools. It would not make any difference whatsoever.

    The claim that our students do poorly against other developed nations is all over the news, year after year. I am not taking any issue with that one way or the other. The fact is, true or false, Americans believe our education system is lousy. Now, it may NOT be true, but that is simply what Americans believe. One of my comments was that maybe we don’t, in fact, do as poorly as our test score matchups might seem to imply. We do pretty well on a world stage in technology and business. Maybe we don’t need to lead the world in academics, since we lead, or help lead, the world in wealth production.

    But I would love to debate anyone who really thinks we underfund schools. You must live on some other planet.

  25. nukeboy, do you know what inflation is and the effect it has on numbers compared year to year? Do you understand the impact of mandated programs on education budgets?
    I need to stop here so that the decency police don’t ban me otherwise I would have more to say about your thinking ability.

  26. You didn’t answer sandblower’s question either.

  27. Publico: the numbers are adjusted for inflation. Yes, I know what mandated programs are. Obviously they haven’t lived up to their billing, so get rid of them, too.

    The $10,441/student/year is a national average for all 50 states (certainly adequate for this discussion), available from:
    National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=66

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