Education: The Cult of Money

With the 2016 election looming, education stands to be a major issue.  Additionally, Congress will be looking at the federal law- ESEA- that dictates the federal intrusion into education.  First, let’s dispel some myths regarding the difference between the Left and the Right when it comes to education because the myths often confuse the debate and create great snippets for the news media when taken out of context.  The first major myth is that the Right does not care about education as much as the Left.  If anything, we care more.  One major point of divergence is the role of the federal government in that process.  We look at years and years and billions of dollars spent on education only to see student performance either stagnate or fall backwards.

A second major myth is that we on the Right have an animus towards teachers.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  What we may have an animus towards are teacher unions at times- the NEA, the AFT and their state affiliates.  We can look at what happens every time a state proposes some educational reform effort that does not conform to suggestions of the teacher unions.  In Wisconsin, it led to ugly demonstrations that drew in unions that had nothing to do with education.

A third major myth is the role of accountability and the goal of education.  Whereas the Left argues that virtually unlimited sums of money be directed to improve educational outcomes, the Right does not deny that education could be a costly endeavor.  However, we on the Right insist and demand that those funds be accounted for and one measure of accountability is student academic performance.  Sometimes there is too much emphasis on the role of standardized testing, but such tests- if not taken to extremes- are necessary gauges of student and teacher performances.  From those performances come the suggestions for reforms.  And what those performances illustrate is that no matter how much money is spent on education, it had little effect.  Therefore, something other than exclusively money will improve academic achievement.

The final major myth is that the Right does not care about the kids.  Often, the unions portray themselves as the guardians of your child’s educational success.  They do not represent the interests of your child any more than a construction union represents the interest of alleviating traffic congestion on major highway projects.  As a union, they represent the financial interests of their members.

So, what do the numbers tell us?  They tell us that the 13 biggest spenders do outperform the 13 lowest spenders on education.  However, the differences are not that great given the greater disparity in expenditures between the two groups of states.  Furthermore, as one increases in grade levels, the performances on standardized tests become less pronounced and, in fact, the low spenders have higher average SAT scores, still the best predictor of college success.

Since we are talking unions here and their prime concern is teacher salaries, we should compare how the big salary states (defined as average teacher salary exceeding 20% of the national average) compare with the low salary states (at least 10% below the national average).  Using the same metrics as before (NEAP performance, graduation rates and SAT scores), we see the same tendencies, but when we get to SAT scores the low teacher salary states far exceed the high teacher salary states.

Therefore, the union mantra that more money for public schools and higher salaries for teachers across the board has little statistical backing.  There is no doubt that there are some districts in some states that are in need of better funding, but that is a state problem- not one that should be solved by the Federal government.  What the unions fail to understand is that despite enormous amounts of money directed to K-12 education including raising teacher salaries overall, there has been little to no effect on student performance.  As such, their continuing mantra lacks empirical proof and is designed simply to buy off the support of their members (what profession does not want higher pay?) while lying to taxpayers. If they (unions) truly have the interests of students first and foremost in mind, then they would either cooperate with needed reform efforts, or they would get out of the way.

Over 50 years of the union/liberal model of school reform- greater expenditures and higher pay for teachers- has failed to deliver on its promises.  They surely have examples where their model did work, but there are numerous other examples where their model did not work.  The two most important groups- every taxpayer and every student in America- are the victims of this model.  The Right has nothing against teachers; they are on the front line of our children’s education 180 days a year.  But the Right certainly has something against the teacher unions not because they are unions, but because of the damage they have caused and the needed reforms they have blocked.