Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Do You Really Get What You Pay For?

As my regular readers (thanks, Mom and Dad) know, I believe that our public school systems are doing society a huge disservice by graduating students who are not prepared for either college or employment. While I could, if I had the time and inclination, provide a formal literature review documenting this failure, let me instead offer two arguments in support of my point.

The first is a chart that compares public school expenditures per student with test scores over time. It quickly becomes shockingly obvious that we are spending more - much, much more - and not gaining any improvement.

What's driving the growth in expenditures? IMO two things. First, teachers unions. Unions in general must force employers to pay above market wages. Otherwise there is no justification for the existence of the union. Unions also protect their own, at the expense of quality. Union contracts specify that teachers are laid off on the basis of seniority, not merit (or lack thereof). Thus we have situation like the ones in Milwaukee, Houston, Las Vegas, and Parsippany (NJ), where Teachers of the Year were laid off in 2011 in place of some old fossil longer tenured union member.

The second factor in growing school expenditures is the increasing emphasis on special programs and non-core subjects, driven by special interest groups. As these special programs grow, so also does the need for non-classroom staff to administer and monitor them. Case in point: New York state.

In New York, the number of administrators grew from 31,000 in 1997 to 42,000 in 2011 – a 33% increase. During that same time the number of teachers increased by 10%. Meanwhile, the number of students dropped by 5%.

It's not just the number of administrators, it's also their bloated salaries. One-third of NY school superintendents earn over $175,000 per year.

As a result, overall public-school expenditures more than doubled, from $26 billion to $58 billion statewide.

It wouldn't be so bad if the taxpayers received value for their dollar, but that hasn't been the case in New York. The state's graduation rate has hovered between 65 - 70%, ranking it around 40th in the country. More money spent, no improvement - a situation that is mirrored at the national level, as seen in the above chart.

A specific example of special interest-driven public school agendas is a new 2012 California law that requires California students to receive mandatory classroom instruction about the contributions of gays and lesbians to the development of the United States. I have nothing against gays or lesbians, and I don't deny they have contributed to this country's development. But by placing emphasis on every single group (gays, lesbians, blacks, Hispanics, left-handed redheads, etc.) we are losing sight of the forest for the trees. And by fragmenting learning into an endless series of lectures on diversity we are most definitely not preparing students to succeed in college and beyond. Does anyone really think that injecting gays and lesbians into history classes will increase test scores?

The second segment of my argument that public school systems are failing us is grounded in the now-global nature of the workforce. Multinational employers are increasingly turning their backs on American workers not because of wage scale differential (although that does play a role), but because of a quality differential. Earlier this year the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness invited the heads of foreign companies that invest in the United States to discuss why they don't hire more U.S. workers.
“The issue that we have is finding skilled workers,” said Christian Turnig from ThyssenKrupp, a German company.

According to Turnig, his company had to send hundreds of employees from its new plant in Alabama to Germany for several months of training.

Martin Daum, the head of Daimler Trucks North America, told the gathering that he felt he had better skilled workers at his plants in Mexico than in the United States, where some workers have to be taught proper math and writing skills.

... According to Daum, the better skill sets of Mexican workers makes it easier to ramp up production at his company’s factories in Mexico than those in the United States.

“We have to bring in educators,” he said.

Peter Solmssen of Siemens said “it’s a skills issue.  We’re having to train them ourselves.”
Unprepared public school graduates. Unions that protect the administrators and teachers responsible for the graduates' lack pf preparedness. Special interest groups that get in the way.

And it gets worse. More unintended consequences tomorrow...

1 comment:

ayesha said...
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