Monday, June 30, 2008

Re: Educrats

An op-ed piece by D. Dowd Muska appeared in The Chronicle on Saturday called Educrat. Muska speaks for a growing number of taxpayers in questioning the enormous costs of public education.
The numbers on spending are stunning. Several years ago, a legislative investigation found that between 1981 and 2001, Connecticut’s government-school expenditures, adjusted for inflation, more than doubled. Enrollment growth was less than 10 percent.

The teacher-student ratio in Nutmeg State government schools is lower than the national average. The share of non-instructional staff in the system is high -- 13 percentage points above average. And with educrat earnings and benefits in the exosphere, spending per student ranks near the top. (Only New Jersey and New York spend more.)

It’s likely that many “do it for the children” activists aren’t aware of these figures. A recent opinion survey discovered that Americans have little understanding of how much revenue funds government-run schools. The average answer to pollsters’ query about per-pupil spending in respondents’ local districts was $4,231 -- less than half the accurate sum. In addition, respondents underestimated average teacher salaries in their states by over $14,000.

Researchers William Howell and Martin R. West concluded: “Americans think that far less is being spent on the nation’s public schools than is actually the case. The vast majority of the public thinks we spend amounts that can only be described as minuscule, and almost 96 percent of the public underestimate either per-pupil spending in their districts or teacher salaries in their states.”

On the rare occasions when Connecticut’s educrat lobby concedes that taxpayer support of its empire is vast, we’re told such spending is the cause of the state’s high-performing students.

But the outcomes of Connecticut’s government schools aren’t as stellar as defenders of the status quo would have us believe. Skeptics cite Nutmeg State students’ performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The test, first given in 1969, is a rigorous examination of elementary students’ competency in core subjects.

Connecticut’s NAEP scores are unimpressive. In 2007, 53 percent of the state’s eighth graders were “proficient” in writing. A mere 37 percent were proficient in reading. And only 35 percent were proficient in math.

Those figures don’t quite jibe with the far-less-demanding Connecticut Mastery Test (CMT), which unlike the NAEP, is not overseen by a bipartisan panel of experts from across the nation, but by the state’s Department of Education. CMT scores show that those same eighth graders are doing terrific: 83 percent proficiency in writing, 76 percent in reading, and 81 percent in math.

A 2006 analysis by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation found that the quality of Connecticut’s academic standards was pathetic -- only seven states did a worse job setting criteria for command of basic subjects. (Connecticut’s math and English standards both received grades of “F.”)
I had not realized the disconnect between public perception of the economics and the reality.

Muska gets the economic arguments right though I would argue that the metrics of student success are wrong-headed and indicative of a degenerative pedagogy driven by the madness of the federal Department of Education.

Be that as it may, Muska's economic arguments should be be taken seriously at face value. Education salaries increases are a runaway windfall for the public school employees. The argument that teachers would be much more comfortable in the private sector is a fraudulent argument in an age where the average American worker gets a 0 - 2% raise, faces continuous threats of layoff and outsourcing, and so on.

Teachers and government employees need to recognize that their salary increases are not entitlements but paid for by taxpayers who have not fared well for the past ten years or so.

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