Throwing Money At Schools Still Fails To Improve Education

In his inauguration speech Donald Trump claimed that we have “…an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.”

The statement contains hyperbole, but it is not far off the mark.

A January, 2017, report from the Department of Education assesses the result of throwing money at schools:

In response to the recession that began in 2007, the U.S. Congress passed, and President Barack Obama signed into law, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Pub. Law 111-5). At an estimated cost of $831 billion, this economic stimulus package sought to save and create jobs, provide temporary relief to those adversely affected by the recession, and invest in education, health, infrastructure, and renewable energy. States and school districts received $100 billion to secure teachers’ jobs and promote innovation in schools. This funding included $3 billion for School Improvement Grants (SIG), one of the Obama administration’s signature programs and one of the largest federal government investments in an education grant program. The SIG program awarded grants to states that agreed to implement one of four school intervention models—transformation, turnaround, restart, or closure—in their lowest-performing schools. Each of the models prescribed specific practices designed to improve student outcomes, including outcomes for high-need students such as English language learners (ELLs) (U.S. Department of Education 2010a).

Although SIG was first authorized in 2001, this evaluation focused on SIG awards granted in 2010, when roughly $3.5 billion in SIG awards were made to 50 states and the District of Columbia, $3 billion of which came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.

Basic finding from Department of Education study:

Overall, across all grades, we found that implementing any SIG-funded model had no significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment. (Read 419-page report from the Department of Education )

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9 Comments on "Throwing Money At Schools Still Fails To Improve Education"

  1. Gee,I would have never guessed. Good teachers, discipline and parental involvement all mean more than money and the new shiny bells and whistles. When we forgot the basics, our public education system went off the tracks and we will never put it back on the tracks. It has become awash in crooked administrators, bad teachers, teachers unions and everything under the sun but educating the child. All one has to do is look at inner city public schools and TUSD. Case closed.

    • JD, There is no doubt that you are right on some points, but what you forgot is that the law of supply and demand does not stop at the schoolhouse door. If you line up the states with the strongest unions…and they are generally the ones that spend the most on education…you will see the states with the best student performance. If Massachusetts, Maryland, Connecticut and Minnesota were independent countries the scores of their students on international tests would put them in the top 10 internationally. In the case of Massachusetts they generally rank in the top 5. The states with weak unions…all of them right to work states like Arizona…produce students who score significantly lower on these international tests. The scores of students in states like Idaho, Mississippi and South Carolina on these same international tests are barely better than the scores of students in third world countries.

      There are only two significant variables when it comes to student learning. The quality of the parenting and the quality of the teaching. States and schools cannot really impact the quality of parenting, but they sure as heck impact the quality of the teaching, and the money spent on teacher compensation is one big variable. The money wasted on administration, silver bullet programs, and other fluff would better be spent on attracting and retaining the best teachers. That is what has been consistently wrong with TUSD. A change in leadership that does not change the budgetary priorities of TUSD to put a whole pile more money into teacher compensation is not a meaningful change.

      • Dale Brethower | January 23, 2017 at 8:48 am |

        Rich K: The best case I’ve seen for teacher’s unions. Do you know how the strong teacher union states fare on parental involvement measures such as percentage of parents active in school affairs and/or voting? I’m a strong advocate of local control so I wonder how indicators of local control track with indicators of union strength.

      • And you are absolutely right Rich, it does start at the top. In this case the top being the people that pay the bills, the taxpayer. If they do not demand excellence from their board and administrations then their is no hope for education to take place. You and I both know that it has been proven that all children can learn if provided the right environment and materials along with good teachers. But in our current funding system, until that taxpayers demand excellence and results for their rather pricy investment in their tax monies then the education public education system will continue to be the train wreck that it has become in so much of the country. Administrators enriching themselves and others at the public trough with ABSOLUTELY no accountability to the taxpayers who give them the money or to the students that they are cheating out of an education to compete in the real world.

  2. Working Man Blues | January 23, 2017 at 6:46 am |

    TUSD has mastered mismanagement under HTs administration.

    Every metric of importance has deteriorated on his watch. Declining enrollment. Fewer certified teachers. More substitute teachers year round. Less classroom spending. No improvement in academic standards. No (past) governance by the board majority. Higher administrative spending. More legal fees spent on fighting the deseg order. Fewer magnet schools.

    Just to name a few of HTs failures. But classroom teachers are not the source of the problem. It starts at the top. Poor leadership trickles down. Most teachers are just hunkered down. Literally and figuratively. Classroom management has become the challenge and while most kids are well intended. It only takes one or two disruptive kids to rest control and then you have chaos. Restore order to the classroom and pay the teachers!

  3. Throwing money at anything is a waste of time (and the money,) but using that money in ways it will benefit student learning is necessary for student success. Some students come from privileged backgrounds. Other students live with poverty, violence, drugs and lousy housing every day. It is absurd to believe that all students will learn at the same rate when the differences in their lives are so different. What makes the difference for the kids who do not come from privileged homes is quality schooling? The heart of quality education…the sort that turns kids lives around…is a whole bunch of quality teachers. Those teachers will, by and large, only work in districts that value them for what they do and pay them fairly for doing it. The problem with all those billions of dollars the federal government appropriates is that it is not allowed to be used to attract and retain great teachers in the districts that need them the most. It is wasted on silver bullet ideas…like the Common Core standards or tying teacher evaluations to student test scores even though everyone who has ever studied the issue knows that the biggest variable in student teat across is the zip code where they live.

    For money to be effective in improving student learning it must be spent on attracting, training, and retaining quality teachers. That is the only formula for success that has worked in public education for the last 50 years. No school district that has either been starved for funding or has failed to spend its money on its teachers has produced much in the way of student learning.

    • Dale Brethower | January 23, 2017 at 8:54 am |

      Rich K: One sentence is inaccurate: “…the only formula for success that has worked in public education for the last 50 years.” A massively funded research program evaluating several approaches to elementary education–a well done study that asked advocates to actually run a few schools so we could find out if they get results–document at least two other practical and low cost ways to improve education across a range of socioeconomic settings.

  4. Listen to a Mom | January 23, 2017 at 10:00 am |

    As a parent, I am tired of the magic elixir’s sold to politicians, school boards, and parents that promise the moon at a ridiculous cost. Logically, we know the only one’s who can make a difference in a student’s life are the people who actually interact with them: Parents, Teachers and Principal..once we let more administrators in the web gets more complicated. As mentioned, we can’t force “better” parenting as that surely has a broad definition, but good teachers do matter.

    Rich K makes many great points. Somehow we put teachers in a category that they should take a vow of poverty as might clergy. While teaching is often a “calling”, how many of you would do your job in a building that is in disrepair, is located on a dodgy side of town, little control over how to discipline a staff that is insubordinate, you have a list of one size fits all tasks measured by a test that most would fail and your job depends on how your employees score. If you are a person of talent, you will shop around for a better job/environment. Why doesn’t anyone think that logic applies to teachers? Teachers aren’t going to work at a school where they feel physically threatened by students and where discipline is wink and a nod. The higher socio economic districts tell teachers their pay rate is slightly lower because they don’t have to deal with discipline cases. It’s wonder anyone goes into teaching anymore and to no one’s surprise, less young people are becoming teachers.

    The important fact the decision makers seem to overlook is America commits to educate all children, not just the easy one’s. TUSD gives local control a bad name, but one on one, talk to any teacher candidly-they know what a student needs. But many times, those items are not within a teacher’s reasonable reach. We expect teachers to take on many roles that really are parental roles. I don’t know how that can be fixed.

    These Fed Ed dollars are a problem as they define the strings and carrots in the 400 page report.
    Please read the following from Peter Greene, teacher and researcher blogger of Curmuducation Blog
    “SIG allowed grantees to implement one of four school intervention models (transformation, turnaround, restart, or closure). These models promoted the use of many improvement practices in four main areas: (1) adopting comprehensive instructional reform strategies, (2) developing and increasing teacher and principal effectiveness, (3) increasing learning time and creating community-oriented schools, and (4) having operational flexibility and receiving support.
    SIG was like food stamps that could only be spent on baby formula, ostrich eggs, and venison, and it didn’t matter if the families receiving the stamps lived on a farm with fresh milk and chicken eggs, or if they were vegetarians, or if they lived where no store sells ostrich eggs, or if there are no babies in the family. USED used SIG to dictate strategy and buy compliance with their micro-managing notions about how schools had to be fixed.
    The moral of the story is not that money doesn’t make a difference. The moral of the story is that when bureaucrats in DC dictate exactly how money must be spent– and they are wrong about their theory of action and wrong about the strategies that should be used by each school and wrong about how to measure the effectiveness of those strategies– then the money is probably wasted. We’ll see soon enough if anyone left at the Department of Education can identify that lesson.”

  5. One of the 1st things I thinkl needs to be reconsidered is that NOT ALL have an INTEREST in higher education, ie college 2 or 4 year and as a result many just dont feel they need an education which is actually wrong. All need an education but not all are capable of or desiring to work through the system. Modern math is more than most need, basic 3R’s are not taught and that is where much I would think needs to be invested. Just talk to school kids that are not yours and you will see what I mean. Most are not capable of carrying on an intelligent conversation with you. The math skills can be seen by just going to some of the fast food places and the dollar type stores where many have problems with making correct change!

    And yes even with these kids not desiring higher education, parenting is the start point, and when the parent is not able to help because of language or the courses the kids are required to take, then that is where the problem begins. Parents try, but many also have little education thanks to the system or are just not caring enough to try to help because they dont want to be thought of as ‘dumb’ by their kids. Teachers also try hard but many of them are sometimes just there coasting. Kalif throws lots of $$ at education and they have the same problems we do here, just about all school systems are the same, and then you wonder why the kids want to be great ball players just so they can get through the systems and into the ‘pros’ which really doesn’t happen that often. Just read news of guys who did make it and are now broke because they did not know how to really adjust to the big bucks and were taken advantage of by family and ‘friends’. Its sad, but its true. We need to reevaluate the learning systems and what they are to be for as not 1 style will fit all.

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