Money Is Not What Schools Need

As expenditures for public education have gone up, educational standards have gone down drastically.  Let's examine the ruinous effects of a government monopoly, and what we can do to fix it.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently claimed: "Districts around the country have literally been cutting for five, six, seven years in a row. And, many of them, you know, are through, you know, fat, through flesh and into bone ..."
Really? They cut spending five to seven consecutive years?
Give me a break!
Andrew Coulson, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom, writes that out of 14,000 school districts in the United States, just seven have cut their budgets seven years in a row. How about five years in a row? Just 87. That's a fraction of 1 percent in each case.
Duncan may be pandering to his constituency, or he may actually be fooled by how school districts (and other government agencies) talk about budget cuts. When normal people hear about a budget cut, we assume the amount of money to be spent is less than the previous year's allocation. But that's not what bureaucrats mean.
"They are not comparing current year spending to the previous year's spending," Coulson writes. "What they're doing is comparing the approved current year budget to the budget that they initially dreamed about having."
So if a district got more money than last year but less than it asked for, the administrators consider it a cut. "Back in the real world, a K-12 public education costs four times as much as it did in 1970, adjusting for inflation: $150,000 versus the $38,000 it cost four decades ago (in constant 2009 dollars)," Coulson says.
Taxpayers need to understand this sort thing just to protect themselves from greedy government officials and teachers unions.
It was on the basis of this fear and ignorance that President Obama got Congress to pass a "stimulus" bill this summer that included $10 billion for school districts. The money is needed desperately to save teachers from layoffs, the bill's advocates said. We must do it for the children!
When you look at the facts, the scam is clear.
"Over the past 40 years," Coulson writes, "public school employment has risen 10 times faster than enrollment. There are 9 percent more students today, but nearly twice as many public school employees."
But isn't it just common sense that schools would be better if they had more money? As a wise man said, it's not what we don't know that gets us into trouble; it's what we know that isn't so.
Consider the American Indian Public Charter School in Oakland, Calif. It was once a failing school, but now it's one of the best in California. Ben Chavis turned it around without any additional money. His book, "Crazy Like a Fox," tells how.
Chavis' experience exposes the school establishment's lies for what they are. Nearly all of Chavis' students are considered economically disadvantaged (98 percent qualify for free lunches), yet they have the fourth-highest test scores of any school in the state.
"In Oakland this year, on the AP (advanced placement) exam, we had 100 percent of all the blacks and Mexicans in the city of Oakland who passed AP calculus," Chavis said. "There are four high schools, and we're the only ones who had anyone pass AP calc."
Yet Chavis accomplishes this without the "certified" teachers so revered by the educational establishment. His classes are as big as, and sometimes bigger than, public school classes, but only a quarter of his teachers are certified by the state.
Money, he insists, is not the answer. "My buildings are shacks compared to their schools, but my schools are clean, and we'll kick all their asses."
He scoffs at the establishment's solutions to the education problem, such as teacher evaluations.
"I don't do no teacher evaluations. All I do is go into a class, and if the kids ain't working, your ass is fired. (Most principals) sit for hours and say, 'Is he meeting this goal, is he meeting' — I just go to class, and if the kids are not working ..."
It's time we threw out the "experts" and exposed the schools to real competition by people with common sense.

John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network. He's the author of "Give Me a Break" and of "Myth, Lies, and Downright Stupidity." To find out more about John Stossel, visit his site at

9 comments from readers  

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Great column Mr. Stossel. Though I'm somewhat disappointed in Mr. Chavis's grammar, I certainly appreciate his method. I'd rather his school was a private, for-profit operation as all schools should be.
As usual, Stossel hits the nail on the head, not with a hammer, but with a pneumatic sledgehammer.
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Keep calling it what it is, a government monopoly with all the inevitable failings! (If we love the schools and the Post Office, we're going to be sooo delighted with ObamaCare!)

As a reporter I only covered the school board as an alternate, but what little I saw there has provided me this handy phrase: "Astrophysics? That's almost as complicated as a school funding formula."

Politicians can always find money for one thing: new school buildings. You can hang your name on a brass plaque on a building, but you can't hang it on an exceptional teacher.
The massive boondoggle that is public "education" is a major source of political pork not only for the unionized ex-Education majors but also for well-connected contractors and other suppliers of goods and services, who work out sweetheart deals with the government officers responsible for stewarding these gulags.

Gaudy construction and reconstruction projects, for example, are emphatically NOT budgeted and conducted the way they would be in the profit-and-loss private sector, and - not at all surprisingly - very little scrutiny of this spending is ever undertaken by either agencies or persons "outside the loop."

This is a guarantee of both waste and thievery.
Schools can't be "fixed." They are immoral, coersive institutions, like concentration camps, like taxation, like regulations, like Social Security.

They must all be eradicated. I applaud Mr. Chavis for doing the best in a bad institution, but it is like saying, that Herr Goerring is a productive concentration camp guard.

Children have rights similar to adults. They have a right from birth to learn what they wish to learn and not be coerced to conform or take tests or to sit or to go to the bathroom at someone else's OK or to be "well-rounded."

School systems around the United States must be eradicated immediately and cease the coercive indoctrination that turns them into voting and philosophical zombies.

Stop talking about fixes, Mr. Stossel, and start talking about abolition.
Mr. Stossel's observations pose a number of questions. How did so many people with an apparent lack of moral compass or integrity get into positions of power and responsibility within the educational system? Another question that comes to mind: Is it too easy for politicians to acquire taxpayer money to throw at "problems"? Do unions have too much power? Why do teachers have unions anyway? They aren't laborers; they are supposed to be professionals. This is about money and power. Politicians like power, and they tax to acquire money to gain power. Money builds bureaucracies. The flow of enormous amounts of money also goes into union coffers. The unlimited power to tax is the basic problem. It takes power from productive citizens, and gives it unearned to the unproductive.

Besides the fact that schools were very simple and basic in my day, I happen to come from a very disadvantaged background where you could not find a single book, including a dictionary, in our home. (If you can call a 3 room apartment with my mother, father, and 9 children living in it, a home.) Neither of my parents ever even saw the school I walked to with my brothers and sisters each day. No one ever said, "How was school today? My mother's whole existence was being pregnant, giving birth, making formula, washing clothes by hand, and putting some food on the table. My father worked his life away as a short-order cook in order to provide for us and used alcohol to ease his pain.

Despite these conditions, we all managed to learn the basics and much more. We are intelligent thinkers who can read, write, and do basic math. That is much more than I can say for the kids I see today.

As a single parent, one of my top priorities was my children's education. I waited until my 3 children had their degrees and were established in their careers before entering college for the first time myself. I went on to graduate, summa cum laude, with degrees in Philosophy and Political Science. I never took one dollar from the government and recall going to the cashier's window each new semester and always finding 1 or 2 others waiting there. Often I was the only one. The line for financial aid, however, went out the door.

I am all for advanced technologies and learning tools that give the childred of today a great advantage to expand their minds but nonetheless we cannot lose site of the fact that the basics I had when I went to school, such as a room (with 30+ students), a desk, a blackboard, a piece of chalk, a book, and a teacher who's goal is that every student learns, one who demands that students act responsibly and adher to the rules is all that is required to educate children.

I am amazed at how long it has taken to expose, not only this, but all of the government scams that have allowed the American people to be robbed of their hard-earned money. We all should have screamed much louder a long time ago.

I'm glad the time has finally come. I truly believe that the jig is up. The bums and the bloodsuckers better start looking for a real job. With people like John Stossel, the Tea Party movement, and the resurgence of interest in Rand's philosophy, there is hope for this country. A long way to go but America is definitely waking up.
I am a fourteen year educator, four of the last years were spent in administration, both in district and public schools. Just recently I returned to the classroom in a district school out of distaste for what I have seen in the past four years. I am currently working on my doctorate degree in educational administration at the University of Florida, and I consider myself to be a near-expert in several areas of the field education.

I really like a lot of what Stossel said, but the end of his article was completely false and gives people a bad impression that continues to be circulated around this county. My first instinct after finishing it was embarrassment as I asked myself "would I want to send my children to a school run with a person who speaks like Chavis?"

Education is a profession. Just like the medical field, legal field, accountant field, and the field of journalism, educators are "educated" professionals. The journalistic community needs to see the damage they do to the field of education when they promote cowboys such as Chavis. By cowboy, I don't mean someone who is trying different avenues to instruct students, but I mean someone who does not care enough about education to speak correctly when giving an interview or writing a book.

Chavis is correct when he says that children can be educated in shacks...the type of building does not make a difference. Stossel is correct when he says education does not need any addition funding...there is plenty of money to educate our children. They are both wrong though when they claim that teachers do not need to be certified by the state and they make it sound like anyone off the street can be picked up and thrown into a classroom to teach. Teaching is one of the hardest careers in the world and we need to, as a country, begin to respect the teacher again.

Teachers' unions which protect those who do not do their jobs are a cause for part of this devaluation of the teacher. Every teacher should be working and there should be no children sitting in classrooms doing nothing, but Chavis does not have a magic pill. Until we have all stood at the front of the classroom and tried to engage every student and convince them to learn, we cannot send out messages like this to the basically, ignorant, public.

Chavis' school is a charter school. That speaks volumes because parents need to care enough to fill out some forms and make arrangements for their children to attend that school. Believe it or not, not all parents are willing to do this for their children. The children of those uncaring parents are sent to the zoned district schools where teachers have to try to reach inside of them and make them understand that education has value. They have to convince hungry, hardened children with parents who are on drugs, in jail, or struggling to find work, that they should care about what happened 100 years ago in this world or how to write a proper sentence.

When we put things like schools in a vacuum, it is easy to think we have all the answers, but no one does. I have personally worked for two charter school organizations, with children on both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum, and I can tell you that there are many people out there who are not opening charter schools for the right reasons.

So, let's agree on the fact that schools have enough money, and that students do not need to be educated in castles to receive a great education, but let's also agree that we don't understand exactly what ALL kids do need to learn, and that real teachers, the ones out there giving all their energy to these students, are professionals and need to be treated like so and as such, should not be equated with people who are pulled off the street and stuck in a classroom to teach children.
It was a good read, maybe we need to install "tiered" teaching with causes teachers to take an initial pay cut, but allow for a increased tiered reward or bonus of their students pass exams that are run by the AP association. This way we could reward the good teachers with an incentive, and decommission the bad ones. Its like sales, you make your quota and surpass it, you get commission, you sit on your butt, don't care, and lack the work, you get canned.
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