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K-12 Public Education, How Did It Go Wrong?

By Rob Gettemy

Let me be clear up front.  I am not bashing teachers.  I believe that the majority of teachers care deeply about what they do.  However, let me be equally clear, I am bashing the teachers’ unions and government bureaucrats.

I first became disgusted with the teachers’ union in late August 2002.  As we were approaching the first anniversary of 9-11, the NEA sent out a suggestion to schools that ended any respect I might have had for them.  Their suggestion was that schools should teach on the first anniversary of 9-11 what the United States had done that might have caused these misguided souls to want to create such destruction in the United States the prior year.  While I realize some people honestly in their hearts believe our foreign policy incited the radical Muslims, to suggest that school children should be made to feel guilty about the most generous nation on Earth, instead of properly mourning the innocent victims, was too much for me to accept.  I contacted my school administrators when I saw that, and I am thankful to say that my district seemed almost as appalled at the suggestion as I was.  Thank God the NEA leadership’s philosophy does not actually represent the vast majority of the teachers in this country.

Fast forward to 2011; teachers’ unions are in the news.  Most main-stream media would have you believe that teachers themselves are under attack.  The reality is, of course, that while certainly some teachers are under attack, the real problem is the union.  In Wisconsin, we saw a small subset of teachers openly telling lies to their bosses, bragging about it on TV, skipping school, all the while telling us they were doing it for the children.  Further, we saw the Federal Department of Education take the union’s side instead of the taxpayers’.

Well, let’s take a look at what teachers’ unions and government bureaucrats have done for the children.  In school districts like Newark and Washington DC, they’ve driven the cost per pupil up to unsustainable heights.  They make statements that more money equals greater education.  However, the vast majority of studies show that per pupil spending and educational outcome are not related.  In fact, they might even be inversely related.  How many of you would want your children learning in the most expensive school district in the country, the District of Columbia?  Certainly, our elite politicians don’t send their children to DC public schools.

Thanks to the Eagle Forum for researching through Congressional Budget Office records and the Digest of Education Statistics to provide actual spending and actual test results.  They found that while inflation adjusted education spending per pupil in the United States has increase 375% since 1970, actual test scores in math, reading and science have not moved at all.  In short, we are paying nearly 4 times the inflation adjusted cost to teach our young people than we were 40 years ago with nothing to show for it.  Keep in mind, the federal government had very little role in education in 1970, and now it has a huge bureaucracy which has delivered, wait for it,….absolutely nothing.   Yet those of us who call for the elimination of the Federal Department of Education are called the radicals.

A few other interesting tidbits about bureaucrats and teachers’ unions have been reported in just the last week.  After reading these, who can really say that unions and bureaucrats really care more about our children than their own selfish needs?

On Thursday, it was reported that the California Senate passed a bill mandating that schools teach gay history.  So, while our kids are treading water when it comes to the important academic subjects such as math and science, we now should start teaching about every group that might feel oppressed.  Let’s see, maybe they could teach gay history, Chinese history, Japanese history, Mexican history, Christian history, Jewish history, Muslim history, Native American history, Witch history, Irish history, well, you get the picture.  There are more “oppressed” groups than there are teaching hours in a year.  I suppose if we quit worrying about math and science, we should have time!

Also in California, the Federation of Teachers adopted a resolution to reaffirm their support for a “death-row journalist.”  The “journalist,” Mumia Abu-Jamal, was a former member of the Black Panthers who was found guilty of murdering Philadelphia police officer Daniel J. Faulkner during a routine traffic stop in 1981.  I am sure that they can easily explain how this resolution was for the children.

Right here in the Midwest, a Chicago public school has banned students from bringing their own lunches.  They’ve determined mothers are incapable of making a nutritious meal, and only the school can provide that kind of parenting.  After all, it is probably mere coincidence that the explosion of childhood obesity is happening at the same time that bureaucrats have taken more and more control over what students are allowed to eat.  When I was a fat grade-school kid, I stood out.  I suppose one of the benefits of this government induced obesity problem is that I would feel perfectly normal about my excess weight if I were in school today.

Last but not least, a Seattle school district renamed that evil Easter egg a “Spring Sphere.”  I suppose that if this had been that Chicago school, these poor children would have received plastic Spring Spheres full of carrot sticks.

There is no amount of money that is going to solve our school problems.  Unions and bureaucrats will only ensure these problems get worse because that is how they justify themselves.  If they actually solved the problem, they would be less important.  So, like the Al Sharptons and Jessie Jacksons of the world when it comes to race baiting, and like the liberal welfare state proponents, educational bureaucrats will continue to tell you there is a problem all the while, behind the scenes, they ensure the problem only expands and is never solved.  An actual solution would not be in their best interests.

Let me close by saying how truly grateful I am for the many great educators I and my children have been blessed to have.  Without these great educators, I’d not have the ability to write a column where I get to bash the bureaucrats and union bosses that hamper their efforts.

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Posted by on April 21, 2011.

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Categories: National, News Center

12 Responses

  1. Figures don’t lie, but propagandists can figure. This whole statement is not what your figures show:
    “They found that while inflation adjusted education spending per pupil in the United States has increase 375% since 1970, actual test scores in math, reading and science have not moved at all. In short, we are paying nearly 4 times the inflation adjusted cost to teach our young people than we were 40 years ago with nothing to show for it. ”

    We are NOT spending 4 times as much as in 1970. The figures at your link are only for federal spending. What you meant to say was that the federal share went up from about 2% to about 8%. Yes, about 4 times as much.

    But total spending on education is about the same now as in 1970: about 5-6% of GDP.

    No wonder scores haven’t gone up! We still try to do it on the cheap. We pay our lawyers and lobbyists and car salesmen better than we pay teachers. We would pay them even less if they didn’t have that darned union. Remember what we paid them in the 1950s?

    by Echo Buster on Apr 21, 2011 at 6:41 am

  2. Echo Buster; thanks for the link to usgovernmentspending. I’d never heard of it. It appears filled with good data. Are today’s GDP numbers influenced by trillions of dollars of government borrowing and printing hundreds of billions of more $ money? When you look at each household, or each individual, their GDP’s have not risen much the past decade, unless they belong to a government union, or they’re a physician or lawyer, or corporate officer. I’m hopeful the boom in the ag economy will help Iowa.

    by mainstreet merchant on Apr 21, 2011 at 7:05 am

  3. There is a simple way to determine how much a good education is worth and that is to stop paying teachers directly and give a child a voucher and have the parents choose which teachers they want to teach their children.

    Education is a product like any other product and competition improves the quality of the products.

    Get the darned government out of education. Maybe eliminating the welfare safety net will help, too.

    If a parent was using their own money to educate their children, would they be willing to pay out of their own pockets for their children to be educated with “gay” history? I doubt it. This way we’d find out for sure what parents consider necessary.

    BTW, I once had a principal tell me that children do not need to learn to spell as they have spell checkers and they do not need to learn to do math as they have calculators.

    Then my question is, why do we need highly paid teachers? Actually, the results were far better years ago from students educated in one-room school houses by teachers who in most cases had no college degrees at all.

    by Deace voted for Obama on Apr 21, 2011 at 7:06 am

  4. DVFO; how are you recovering from paying property taxes and income taxes back to back the past couple of weeks. I had to borrow money this year for the first time to pay my property taxes. My school prop. taxes went up 42 percent the past four years, thanks in part to a silly school bond issue, with massive cost over-runs, a leaky roof, etc. The new school looks like a prison, and enrollment is dropping or stagnant. I opposed the school bond issue and nearly got run out of town. The Des Moines architects, general contractors, sub contractors, engineers, bond dealers, etc. made out like bandits, pocketing nearly 20 percent of the cost.

    by mainstreet merchant on Apr 21, 2011 at 7:12 am

  5. You hit upon a very good point that is never mentioned, and that is the fact that enrollments across Iowa continue to drop each year but yet, each year school budgets increase and they cry about lack of increased funding. Why do they need increased funding when there are fewer students?

    We’re not supposed to think about these things.

    by Deace voted for Obama on Apr 21, 2011 at 7:22 am

  6. Echo…You are partially right. I did pull the wrong graph info. The increased spending I referenced was federal spending. I should have used the 2nd graph which shows total spending growing by nearly 200% inflation adjusted with zero gain in results. So, I stand by my conclusion, but appreciate your checking me on the details.

    Do you think all the other crap unions and bureaucrats are doing is good?

    by RGettemy on Apr 21, 2011 at 8:52 am

  7. That seems like a discrepancy to have doubled spending per pupil but not have used any more of GDP for education. I tried to find an explanation and found a clue.

    Table 2.3 on page 19 says there are fewer students per teacher than there were in 1955. A lot fewer. So that may explain it in part. It is conventional wisdom that small classes are better. Also the federal programs for special ed and Title I have added teachers to help kids who used to not even get tested because they were considered retarded.

    Those extra costs don’t indicate high pay for teachers. They indicate parents are pressuring schools to teach every child no matter the cost,. Art teachers, guidance counselors, school nurses and pre-schools have been added since 1955.

    As for “all the other crap”, well, crap is in the eye of the beholder. Are you referring to Intelligent Design? or abstinence only sex ed? Every group should know their history. How about providing a link to that story about gay history. I’d go read that one. That is something new!

    by Echo Buster on Apr 21, 2011 at 9:35 am

  8. Hi Echo….here is the link to teaching gay history.

    By the way, I thought it was considered fact by the left that smaller class size improves education. You are essentially debunking another leftist position. (I know it is hard to read emotion in posts like this, so understand I am smiling with a light heart as I typed that.)

    by RGettemy on Apr 21, 2011 at 10:12 am

  9. I hear arguments about class size that sound convincing and cut both ways. I am not debunking, just saying it is widely believed that small classes are good and school boards will pay for small classes. They also use that as an argument to keep pay down, since classes are smaller.

    by Echo Buster on Apr 21, 2011 at 10:22 am

  10. California seems to be pretty prescriptive on history lessons! Teachers probably grow less attentive with each addition to the list of what must be taught. I doubt this is very effective.

    It also sounds vague, if schools are given flexibility as to what to include and when to do it. It is hard to get excited about this one way or the other. Let academic freedom rule!

    by Echo Buster on Apr 21, 2011 at 10:28 am

  11. “Let academic freedom rule!” As much as I would like to agree with this statement, I’m afraid we have vastly different definitions: I would focus on the outcomes of students vs. the whims of tax-funded teachers. Who serves who, BTW? Since abolition of public education and the development of local market classrooms may never happen, more and more parents who are frustrated with the status quo will opt-out and have their child’s needs met elsewhere.

    by James Mills on Apr 21, 2011 at 7:15 pm

  12. I know, I know. “Words mean whatever I say they mean,” right?
    “The abolition of public education,” indeed! That would be my idea of an un-American goal.

    by Echo Buster on Apr 21, 2011 at 9:26 pm

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Craig Robinson is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Iowa Republican. Robinson got his first taste of Iowa politics in 1999 while serving as Steve Forbes’ southeast Iowa field coordinator where he was responsible for organizing 27 counties. With over eight years of Iowa fundraising experience, Robinson has helped numerous Republican candidates implement fundraising strategies […]more →