Billion$ aren’t enough to improve schools

May 27, 2011 at 2:10 pm 7 comments

Money isn’t enough to improve schools.  That’s probably obvious, though it’s interesting to see that somebody did the work to provide evidence.  When I see what other countries do to improve their education quality, I realize how much of the education picture has to do with culture and respect, and money doesn’t help with that.

In the first-of-its-kind analysis of the billionaires’ efforts, NEWSWEEK and the Center for Public Integrity crunched the numbers on graduation rates and test scores in 10 major urban districts—from New York City to Oakland—which got windfalls from these four top philanthropists.

The results, though mixed, are dispiriting proof that money alone can’t repair the desperate state of urban education. For all the millions spent on reforms, nine of the 10 school districts studied substantially trailed their state’s proficiency and graduation rates—often by 10 points or more. That’s not to say that the urban districts didn’t make gains.

The good news is many did improve and at a rate faster than their states 60 percent of the time—proof that the billionaires made some solid bets. But those spikes up weren’t enough to erase the deep gulf between poor, inner-city schools, where the big givers focused, and their suburban and rural counterparts.

via Back to School for the Billionaires – Newsweek.

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7 Comments Add your own

  • 1. fredm  |  May 28, 2011 at 6:48 am

    Wait a minute. First off, this is newsweek. They lead off characterizing the philanthropists’ donations as “windfalls,” and throw around some big numbers, but i bet if you compare the $$ invested to the overall budgets of the various school systems, we are not talking about a windfall. We absolutely are not talking about things like raising teacher salaries 20% across the board, or significant capital projects.

    Mark, secondly, i completely disagree your the statement that money has nothing to do with respect. Of course it does.

    Finally, even the newsweek study indicates that money does make a difference! “The good news is many did improve and at a rate faster than their states 60 percent of the time—proof that the billionaires made some solid bets.”

    this statement is followed by the observation “But those spikes up weren’t enough to erase the deep gulf between poor, inner-city schools, where the big givers focused, and their suburban and rural counterparts.”

    I think the meme that money doesn’t matter is a pervasive, dangerous, and wrong. and it’s a big part of the anti-education agenda.

    Reply
    • 2. Mark Guzdial  |  May 28, 2011 at 9:31 am

      Fred, I didn’t say that money had nothing to do with respect. I said: “I realize how much of the education picture has to do with culture and respect, and money doesn’t help with that.” You’re right that it’s a more complex relationship than I said. Thought experiment: If you have a bad teacher, and you upped his salary 20%, does that make for a better teacher? There certainly are countries where teachers are paid the same as American teachers or less, where the overall outcomes are better. I do believe that our teachers do not get the respect that they need to do their jobs well, and being better paid may lead to better teachers and increased respect for the field.

      In general, I don’t think American society values education in the same way that other, better-performing countries do. Money is a symptom here, not a cause. More money won’t change social values.

      Reply
      • 3. fredm  |  May 28, 2011 at 8:19 pm

        more money won’t make the bad teacher better, but as a policy will attract better people to the field.

        Reply
        • 4. Erik Engbrecht  |  May 28, 2011 at 10:01 pm

          I think it would be more accurate to say that money will attract people to the field, particularly people with broader options, and that this group will contain a higher percentage of high-performing people.

          How much would it cost to attract high-performers on a pure financial basis? I suspect that within CS it might change the minds of a few who really want to teach, but find the economic difficulties too daunting. But all-in-all the disparities between a even a moderately successful technology professional and a teacher are simply too large to be overcome.

          Reply
      • 5. Ian Bogost  |  June 2, 2011 at 4:10 pm

        In general, I don’t think American society values education in the same way that other, better-performing countries do. Money is a symptom here, not a cause. More money won’t change social values.

        I’d put it slightly differently. In America, (primary/secondary) education is not meant to provide education. It’s meant to indoctrinate students into an industrialist workforce, and to provide adults with childcare for their kids so they can accrue and spend capital (primarily debt, let’s be honest). So Mark’s right to suggest that adding money won’t improve educational quality, since educational quality isn’t a goal or a value in the first place.

        Reply
        • 6. Erik Engbrecht  |  June 3, 2011 at 7:34 am

          “It’s meant to indoctrinate students into an industrialist workforce”

          It’s meant to indoctrinate students into something, but calling it the “industrialist workforce” is misleading. It’s meant to indoctrinate students into a mish-mash of ideas that represent what various local, state, and national powers find least offensive and can thus compromise on. Given the amount pressure many parents apply to schools on behalf of their children it doesn’t even acclimate students to being at the bottom of a strict hierarchy anymore.

          “…and to provide adults with childcare for their kids…”

          Yup.

          “…since educational quality isn’t a goal or a value in the first place.”

          You’re missing the goal present in at least some places of giving students sufficiently high grades and other recognitions to qualify them for Ivy League colleges. The pursuit of learning might interfere with grade inflation and distract from the accumulation of extracurricular activities.

          Reply
  • […] When the K-12 CS Framework effort launched back in 2015, I told the story here about a conversation I had with Mike Lach (see post here). He pointed out that the last time we changed all US schools, it was in response to the Civil Rights movement. That’s when we started celebrating MLK Jr Day and added African-American History month. He asked me to think about how much national will it took to make those changes happen. We don’t have that kind of national will in CS education in this country — yet. We have a lot more groundwork to do before we can reach CS education for all students or all schools, and funding alone is not going to get us there. […]

    Reply

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