Government K thru 12 Education: We Must do Better

Governor Wolf has proposed the largest budget and tax increase in the history of the Commonwealth with 3 declared priorities: Property tax reform, increased funding for k-12 government education, and public school and state employee pension reform. While correctly identifying critical problems requiring urgent answers, rather than viable solutions, he has put forth special interest spending proposals for his government union supporters and called it reform.

His flawed solution for property tax reform has been previously addressed. Let’s move on to public education.

By any measure, urban k-12 public education has miserably failed in its basic societal promise: No matter who you are, where you live, or how much your family earns, government k-12 schooling will provide you the educational foundation necessary to participate and thrive in our economy and our society.

Of the 82,000+ students enrolled in the 143 public schools that make up the bottom 5% of PA schools, which are almost exclusively located in the poorest urban neighborhoods, only 38% of students achieve proficiency in math and 32% in reading as determined by PSSA (Pennsylvania School System of Assessment) testing. These outcomes are even worse than they appear considering that the PSSA sets a low bar, with 80% more students reaching the level of “proficiency” on the PSSA than on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress).

Most urban public schools not only fail in their educational mission but also are unsafe to attend. At Sayre Middle School in Philadelphia, a student is more likely to fall victim to a crime while in school (1 in 10) than to achieve the PSSA proficiency standard in either reading or math.

Spending more money has not been the answer. PA public education spending/student in inflation adjusted dollars increased from $10,807 in 2000-01 to $15,341 in 2012-13. Yet during that same period testing scores on the NAEP barely budged.

The schools with the poorest performance generally have the highest spending/student. In York for example, school year 2012-13 data reveals 34% of York City 11th graders were proficient in reading at a cost $23,550/student while at York Suburban 80% were proficient at a cost of $19,796/student. Or from another perspective, York Suburban spent $24,745 per student that achieved proficiency while York City spent $78,500.

What about suburban public education? Aren’t most students and parents satisfied? In fact many are; however, such a judgement of the adequacy of government k-12 education is a judgement made in absence of any component of comparison. Public education effectively operates without a viable alternative for most students and families. Could it be we should expect better outcomes and better value for our taxpayer dollars spent?

Every 3 years the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests 15-year-olds from 65 countries worldwide for proficiency in reading, math, and sciences. The most recent results (2012) found that U.S. 15-year-olds ranked below average in math among the world’s most-developed countries, and about average in science and reading.

In mathematics, 29 nations outperformed the U.S. by a statistically significant margin. In 2009 23 scored higher. In science, 22 nations scored higher than our country’s, up from 18 in 2009. Finally in reading, 19 nations scored higher than U.S. students, up from 9 in 2009.

Further examination of the PISA data reveals that the disappointing U.S. baseline scores are stagnant while many other countries’ scores are improving. The net result of this trend is that multiple countries with previously inferior scores have caught up or surpassed U.S. performance while many of those with superior scores are pulling away.

We are losing the educational race in the global economy.

Just like examination of U.S. public education spending and educational performance, the PISA data too demonstrates more money is not the apparent solution. The U.S. spends more per student than most countries, and yet this relatively higher education spending does not translate into better performance. As an example, the Slovak Republic spends about 1/3rd as much per student as does the U.S. and yet Slovakian 15-year-olds perform roughly at the same level as their U.S. piers on the PISA testing.

So if more money is not the solution then what is?

Instead of more spending in an educational system that has no longer meets the needs of admittedly trying inner city social and economic situations or has kept up with the educational challenges of the modern global economy, we need a new system, or more correctly, new systems to serve the varied needs of diverse student and family circumstances.

How do we get there? A preview to the next discussion – not by central government planning and decree.

Please join the campaign for liberty. Our future freedom and prosperity depend on it.

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One Response to Government K thru 12 Education: We Must do Better

  1. Steph says:

    Dr. Pandelidis,
    What are your thoughts on the state pension fund and ideas/proposals to amend this
    burden on the citizens of Pennsylvania? I believe this goes hand-in-hand with the property
    tax issue.
    Something to ponder: February is traditionally our “snowy” month; start the school year mid-late August thru January- have a 6 week ” semester break”, for lack of better terminology, resume classes in March thru June culminating, have a 6 week “semester break”, resume classes in mid- late August- by adapting this type of schedule:
    A. no more snow days-or fewer snow days
    B. Saving money on maintenance of busses
    C. Perhaps we would see our children perform better in school and see an upswing in stats on the standardized tests.
    Something to ponder…..I think we need to look for new ideas to achieve our goal….and stop using money as a “quick fix” and burden the citizens of Pennsylvania even more, especially our senior citizens who rely solely on Social Security as their means of survival.

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