Education

School Money Math Never Adds Up Quite Right

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Today at National Review, Rich Lowry does some education money math on the occasion of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg's $100 million gift to Newark public schools. He is pessimistic about the possibility that more money—even private money geared toward reform—can make much of a dent in one of the worst performing school systems in the country. Lowry writes:

Newark spends more per pupil than any other city in the country, and gets dismayingly little for it. For $22,000 per pupil — more than twice the national average — it graduates half its students.

Which makes Zuckerberg's millions feel a bit like carrying coals to Newcastle. And Lowry is quite right when he says that "it's easy to imagine Newark spending $44,000 per pupil and arriving at the same dismaying outcome."

Adrian Fenty and Michelle Rhee. Not Cory Booker and Michelle Rhee.

Bringing outside money into a dysfunctional, already over-funded urban public school system is far from unprecedented. Schools chief Michelle Rhee did the same thing in D.C. She did it semi-quietly, with a patchwork of donations from foundations to cover the major bonuses and salary increases for every teacher that were required to push through a merit pay proposal. It took $64.5 million in outside money to win important (though not earth-shaking) concessions in the union contract negotiations that shaped most of her difficult tenure. (Money, by the by, which may leave with Rhee if she is booted by presumptive mayor-elect Vincent Gray when he takes over the mayoralty from Rhee champion and outgoing mayor Adrian Fenty.)

Cory Booker. Not Adrian Fenty.

Now young reformist Newark mayor Cory Booker is poised to try the same gambit, with a little more money and a lot more publicity. Booker's powerful backer—the Fenty to his Rhee—is New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. They seem to be genuinely willing to work together on education reform, which is impressive, since Booker is likely to make a bid for Christie's job at some point in the not-too-distant future.

Lowry isn't wrong to feel hopeless. Money spent on education is like the money spent on a restaurant tab for a large group: The numbers never make any sense or add up properly, and you always feel like you paid for more than you actually got.

But there is a crucial difference between the tens and hundreds of billions that pour into states and districts through the stimulus or federal jobs bills or other feel-good congressional grants and the tens or hundreds of millions trickling into troubled systems from private donors. The purpose of virtually all of the federal money (with some relatively paltry exceptions) is to preserve the status quo. The private money is designed to drive change. Money can't solve everything. But the right kind of money, in the right hands, made the difference between success and failure of the merit pay proposal in D.C. Here's hoping Booker has similar success with reform, without—as Lowry notes—the tragic defenestration of the hero at the end of the story.

NEXT: It's Official: Ohio Is the East Germany of America

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  1. It does seem like Chris Christie Cory Booker are actually trying to make some changes. Such as:

    Privately run charter schools
    Classroom achievement rather than tenure to determine promotions

    1. Chris Christie & Cory Booker

  2. a billion dollars wouldn’t fix newark’s schools.

    1. A billion dollars hasn’t fixed their schools. Their budget for this year was over $1.1 billion.

  3. 22K a year for a 50% graduation rate? It would be cheaper to send every student to private school.

    1. How about “spending” “just” 11K per year and giving the student’s family the other 11K (summed over the years) if/when the student graduates?

      We are so screwed.

    2. This. My son’s school, a very prestigious college prep school with a 100% college acceptance rate, costs less than 22k per.

  4. It would be cheaper to send every student to private school.

    Fuck that; give them each ten thousand dollars and a broom, and put them to work as streetcleaners.

    1. I think the Streetcleaner’s SEIU-Teamster Local 35791 would have a big problem with students undercutting them and cutting into their $100k a year salaries with full benefits and pensions.

  5. End compulsory education.

    1. you and your reality based logic.

      Next thing you’ll point out is Abraham Lincoln trudging through the snow to return his 23,000$ (in today’s dollars) book. Damn, if we would only spend more on snow blowing machines…

  6. If someone paid me $264000 to teach a student well enough to go to college, and I didn’t do that, I would be pretty embarrassed. Chuck in the fact that 12 years of that student’s life had been wasted by my incompetence and things get even worse. And if I said the reason I couldn’t teach the student anything at all was because I was only paid $264000, and I actually needed $298000, I would expect to be wearing concrete shoes by the end of the day.

  7. Are there any teacher’s union members who feel any shame, ever, because they do such a terrible job? Any? Or do they just take their three months off and forget about it?

    1. My friend is a teacher. She does think that the public schools don’t give a very good education to kids, but thinks it is because public schools are underfunded.

      1. So she’s a typical teacher. Got it.

      2. Maybe it’s due to having teachers with no grasp of reality.

      3. My wife is a teacher. She thinks most teachers are fucked up (not HER, of course!). But the parents are worse – “what do you mean my little angel isn’t getting A’s…despite not turning in any homework, attending class, and being a discipline problem that I refuse to recognize/correct/be involved with??!”

        Or, even better: “Whatever. I don’t know what that kid does – don’t care. Could you hand me my crack pipe, dear…?”

        She’ll tell you it’s not a funding issue.

        Newark, DC, Detroit and the like – it’s a mess of all of this. And mo’ money, mo’ money, mo’ money won’t help any of it.

      4. She does think that the public schools don’t give a very good education to kids, but thinks it is because public schools are underfunded.

        What exactly is underfunded, and how much money would it take to make them funded, and what exactly would the increased funding get us? Tell her to show her work.

      5. Let me guess – not a math teacher.
        At $22k per kid, assuming about 25 kids per class you’ve got over half a million dollars per classroom.

        And yet somehow they’ve also racked up billions in unfunded pensions which the taxpayer will likely have to bail them out at some point.

        More money won’t do squat. Public schools need to be replaced with vouchers as soon as possible. Let parents choose and pay extra if they want for a better school. Let schools compete so there is even a tiny bit of pressure to not waste vast amounts of taxpayer money. With all that money you could also make sure to take care of children with special needs – just give them extra money on their vouchers, and some schools will naturally specialize in taking care of this kind of student.

      6. The Sep 20 Time Mag sums it up pretty well: the colleges/universities turning out the required ‘Eduction degrees’ are doing a miserable job, including teaching entitlement mentality (fealty to the unions/hell with the kids.) Education degrees and lifetime tenure has to go; performance pay has to be installed.
        In a nutshell, the unions are counter-productive to any improvement (look what DC had to do (major bucks) to get any performance pay started, but no culture change.

    2. Are there any teacher’s union members who feel any shame, ever, because they do such a terrible job? Any?

      No. My younger sister has been a teacher for 19 years. Discussions of performance always lead to parents, students, money, or facilities, never the people that you simply MUST have and overpay to achieve success. Even though they never do.

      How could a person who continues to fail (while getting paid well) keep doing it if they felt shame?

      1. If performance relies so critically on those other factors, how is paying teachers more going to help?

        1. Exactly. Either they aren’t important and don’t deserve anything above babysitter salaries or they are super important and therefore must produce.

    3. My wife thinks the whole system is broken top to bottom, but she’s not in the teacher’s union, just a lowly math tutor.

      Of course, she works with the kids the system has failed most (don’t know how to add negative numbers by 9th grade), so…

    4. The NJEA propaganda machine (even though I have cancelled my membership, they still send me their helpful newsletters and colorful glossy magazines once a month), blames it squarely on Christie. Teachers are not at fault, and neither are the [often] absentee parents/guardians of the students. Lack of money is the reason why schools fail, according to them.

      That said, NJEA has no official stance on Newark. AFT is the local in Newark, and their leadership seems hopping mad that, among all the really important things they could be worried about, they were not invited to appear on Oprah alongside Zuckerberg.

      For some chilling insight into what teachers think about Oprah, NBC, and private corporations think about the state of education and funding, read this post and associated comments:

      http://weblogg-ed.com/2010/the-wrong-conversations/

      Example: “If you teach social studies, perhaps you can do a better job of explaining the contribution of unions to the progress of America. Perhaps you can help children understand that every American gets to contribute to the public debate and has a right to organize. That way they can yell, “bullshit,” when Tom VanderArk, Oprah or NBC News portray Michelle Rhee as a victim when the voters of her community rejected her and her policies at the ballot box.

      The age of Dale Carnegie (google him) are over. We live in the land of Breitbard and Hannity and Beck. We cannot pretend otherwise. We might need to strike or stomp our feet or yell, “Hell no!” Remaining silent or even genteel is fatal.

      The dreams for a creative, democratic and socially just educational system are well documented. It’s now time for some action!”

      1. Michelle Rhee is not a victim. She’ll do plenty well somewhere else after Gray gives her the axe.

        The victims are the DC (wink wink) kids who will be stuck in terrible, flatlining public schools instead of terrible, improving public schools.

    5. Three months off? Last year school ended June 24th and began August 26th. Get your facts straight before you make sweeping generalizations about a group of hard-working people.

      1. Forgive him: He must have learned math in a public school.

  8. Newark spends more per pupil than any other city in the country, and gets dismayingly little for it. For $22,000 per pupil ? more than twice the national average ? it graduates half its students.

    a) Education is not some machine where you pour fuel and raw materials and out comes a Rhodes scholar. Education is a PERSONAL CHOICE, an INDIVIDUAL’S ACTION.
    b) Education has never been about placing kids in desks in front of a barely educated, unionized nitwit for 6 straight hours.
    c) Compulsory education is anathema to education, as education is by choice, which requires freedom. You cannot compel someone to be educated as compeling is the same as programming and, last I saw, one does not educate a computer, the same way one cannot program a person.

    END compulsory education. You cannot talk about giving money to help educate kids if one does not address this affront to individual liberty first.

    1. Gaia have mercy on your heathen soul.

      1. Re: NEA,

        Only Moloch saves.

      2. “as education is by choice, which requires freedom”

        This might be true, but you can sure make someone WANT to choose to be educated. For me it was spending 5 years in the army in the Georgia swamp that did it.

        I would imagine similar army type programs could motivate even the worst slackers.

        1. Also, it should be noted that as kids, freedom usually doesn’t play a super big roll in what they get to do.

          kids might want to sit around and play video games, but if I want them to be at school etc, that’s where they will be.

          A lot of freedoms start at 18, when you are paying your own bills.

          1. Re: Kroneborge,

            Also, it should be noted that as kids, freedom usually doesn’t play a super big roll in what they get to do.

            Yes, it does. I stopped trying to get my kid to eat cabbage.

            [K]ids might want to sit around and play video games, but if I want them to be at school etc, that’s where they will be.

            As far as you know, of course . . .

            One of the things I found when I was growing up is that I would not learn anything THEY wanted me to learn, such as Socialism was the definitive economic system, among other fantasies.

            1. But I bet you could recite the facts they taught you right?

              Believe and knowledge being different.

              “As far as you know, of course . . .”

              Active parents, (or active schools) can really incentive kids to do the right thing.

              If it was REALLY important to you, then you could have made your kids lives miserable enough they would have ate that cabbage.

              Of course eating cabbage not so important. Being able to read and write, VERY important.

    2. “It is a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.” — Einstein

      Unfortunately, most people conflate education with going to school. They aren’t the same thing.

    3. You cannot compel someone to be educated as compeling is the same as programming and, last I saw, one does not educate a computer, the same way one cannot program a person.

      We’ll see about that when you return from re-education.

    4. Compulsory education is anathema to education, as education is by choice, which requires freedom.

      If you’re talking about adults, sure.

      Minors? Hell no. Even before compulsory education, you can be sure most kids in school didn’t want to be there. Their parents were coercing them to go to school.

      1. Re: Tulpa,

        Minors? Hell no. Even before compulsory education, you can be sure most kids in school didn’t want to be there.

        Excuse me – how does the above negate what I stated? You only asserted that kids were made to go to school. I am saying: Compulsory education is anathema to education, not that parents have not historically coerced their kids to go to school. I am pretty sure many parents, tired of their own kids (those nasty results of having unprotected sex,) would compel them to go to school.

    5. Years ago in England there was a school that you are describing: the students let the teachers know when and what they wanted to learn. Students were not forced to learn anything in particular. It was not successful.

      The whole point of teaching is to enlighten children and make them want to learn things, which is extremely difficult to do. Yet millions of teachers do it every year – not bad for “barely educated, unionized nitwits.”

  9. It would be funny if Booker hired Rhee after she was fired by Gray.

    Also, I remember reading a Steven Chapman column (yes, yes) about Oklahoma City pumping a shitload of money into their school system, and getting a whole lotta nothing. This was ten years ago, I think.

    1. Steven Chapman is on vacation….

    2. Oklahoma City’s MAPS for Kids was an unusual concept, as these things go. The $500 million in funding was directed entirely towards infrastructure: replacement of crumbling edifices, relocation of a couple of high schools, and general upgrades to the physical premises. The process is still going on. It has not resulted in higher test scores, which should surprise no one here. However, it does effectively eliminate “blame the infrastructure” from the Big Book Of Excuses. Whether that’s worth half a billion is left as an exercise for the student.

  10. Is the alt-text implying that certain members of society all look the same? That is seriously RACIST!

  11. Yes, but it’ll make Zuckerberg fell good.

    And that’s all this is about.

    1. I know that was a typo, but “fell good” is my new favorite expression. Like “badass” but with a 19th century flavor.

  12. The purpose of virtually all of the federal money (with some relatively paltry exceptions) is to preserve the status quo.

    Never has a truer statement about money infusions into the education ever been made.

    1. ugh, should have said “into the education system”

      But you get the idea.

      Status quo preserved!

  13. The only people who think that more money will solve the education problem are the greedy labor unions. For the amount of money spent on public education Americans are getting a terrible return. Serious reform, not more money, is the solution. Vouchers have been ruled constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. It has shown great promise where it has been implemented like the D.C. area. It forces schools to perform or lose money. The school system needs accountability or things will not change.

  14. Another major purpose of federal infusions: to “stimulate” massive campaign contributions to the Dems from the public unions whose members are paying dues. That money is being recycled to desperate Dems right now. Hopefully, though, it won’t be enough.

  15. Can we just admit that government does a lousy job at everything it touches – even the military.

    Government has beaten public education into a 3rd world discard and somehow the only answer is more government and more money for the teachers’ pensions.

    Government needs to get out of the education business and the pension business and the health care business – everything but things that a monopoly is good at – the military and police. Fire departments and mail delivery need to be turned over to the private sector along with education.

    But we know it won’t – Dummycrats love to teach little Dummycrats how to steal money from “the rich” and dole out to deadbeats. Education will just get worse and worse until we’ve embarrassed ourselves.

  16. While the wish for more highly qualified teachers is laudable, and would help grade school education to a certain degree, it fails to recognize a root cause for the degradation in education.

    The Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975 began a series of changes in education where grouping of children by ability was replaced to that which is strictly age based.
    While teachers get most of the blame for poor education, these acts put teachers and schools in a no-win situation. Teachers are expected to teach students of all abilities in the same class session through the differentiation process (all but impossible, but for the most gifted educators).
    By keeping students grouped by age, rather than ability, the student’s self esteem is thought to be improved. However, learning nosedives when poor achievers are pushed through the system and bright students are unchallenged

    Fortunately, colleges continued to teach to ability and higher learning is still considered world class in America. However, this too will change with the Obama Administrations current efforts.
    (Arne Dunken’s announcement to push for equalization of education outcome and the federal takeover school loan funding)

    1. Good point – not only does all this bureaucracy cost a fortune, but we are basically paying them to stifle any innovation that might improve the system.

      You might as well give $100 million to congress and tell them to create jobs with it. They would promptly use the $100 million to borrow $1 billion. Then they would create some commissions (+200 jobs) and “invest” in hundreds of new regulations that make things difficult for business (-5000 jobs).
      The net result of your generous gift – the U.S. is a billion more in debt and 4800 less jobs + 50 years of pension liabilities for 200 useless employees.

  17. Old Mexican; you can argue that compulsory education is not right BUT if we do not at least make all children learn some basic knowledge, they will be very poor citizens and will not be able to understand complex issues that might reflect who they would vote for. I for one would not want people doing any jobs who had not at least been to 8 years of education!
    It is not about freedom, its about democracy and what a functioning democracy needs to have to survive!

  18. “School Money Math Never Adds Up Quite Right”

    It does for teacher unions and democrats. Its sort of like a pyramid scheme in that more money for education equates to more teachers hired equates to more dues for the union to fund the pols that’ll keep the scheme going.

    1. The republican party may have its individual crooks but the democrat party is a criminal enterprise.

  19. Who needs public schools? Give the property tax back to homeowners instead of feeding non-productive educrats and unionized lazy teachers with bloated salaries and obese pensions.

    Encourage home-schooling, charter schools, private schools. NO more
    public education.

    Let the people keep their own money. We are not slaves to the government.

  20. It’s not the money so much as it is the twisted thinking, the entitlement mentality, and lack of character on the part of the ‘students’ in that area. Why do you think that generally, schools with a high predominance of non-white students have worse performance stats? Put the responsibility where it belongs – on the students and their families.

  21. Visit ” FREE ENERGY # 18-2 TRUE WORKING MAGNETIC MOTOR DISASSEMBLED ” on youtube and spread the word.

  22. If that’s the way he wants to spend his money then that is fine. But pouring more money into schools is not the answer. You could start by getting the govt out of it

  23. Rhee has fired all the teacher’s and where are the positive results ? See a lot of improvement in testing ? Educational Reform with Rhee’s Charter srategy lost on this ballgame and Traditional Public Education won.State and Federal levels get it together.Come on Toto,let’s get this broom to the Wiz and ‘Ease On Down The Road.” Charter vs Traditional Public Education ? It’s like the Saints playing the Panther’s or the Red Skins playing Dallas.Checkmate Fenty !

  24. “YoNoBullyBro”….Comprehensive development guidence models designed to maximize school counseling services.A bus full of counselors travel from school to school.Blow up superman attached to the top of the bus.We can’t wait !

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