Robert Winner


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Why does US education cost so much and still lacks a quality student

All of these figures are from the internet and only reflect Arizona.

1,077,831 students ... 51,947 teachers ... and spend $7,931 per child .... average pay is $44,642 for 180 days per year = $41 per hour ... budget request $42,339,949

With the info from above I multiplied the # students and cost per child and came up with 8,554,744,647 ... I cannot make any numbers match anywhere.

I knew that the Goldwater Institute looked into this not long ago ... they said there are three sets of books and none agree with the other.

We have $25 million from Race to the Top grant and $125,000 per year (grant) for four years to train teachers in the new Partnership for Assement of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). State and county training departments chage $100 per teacher to train them from the district. The district is not funded for this and not reimburssed although there is $26 million available and "earmarked" for training.

As hard as I try and even with help from the local school budget director I cannot make any of the figures "add up"

To me, it has become clear why our students have problems in math ... the federal and state education departments, legislators, unions, and the millions of hanger-on organizations all contribute to the "math madness" of the education system.

As "owners" of the public education system we must become more involved in the funding and operation of the system. This is a billion dollar system that we all gripe about and shake our heads but fail to question or get involved.

How can we "the owners" be better informed, involved, and effect change?

  • Jan 13 2013: As I can not reply below your comment I will respond here.

    PISA covers topics of math reading, and science at a level that they think is appropriate. If you don't focus heavily on test-taking, then you are at a disadvantage to this test. If you don't track in education, at the level the test expects, then you don't do well on the test. If you don't focus heavily on "right" answers and focus more on problem solving and creativity, then you don't do well on this test. Our top students still compete head to head with the best in the world.

    If you wish to speak about other countries "after-school" opportunities, then look at most of the world, that doesn't provide activities through the school. Many countries, have after-school academic programs, such as cram schools and hagwons, that students pay to attend, after everything else, to improve their grade and remain competitive. Including, starting before kindergarten to get into the right school.

    As for students in poverty, you misunderstood my thought. Look at current research. The greatest indicator of academic challenges is the level of poverty. Not that these students are "dumb", but that they are struggling to survive and education is last on their minds. This directly impacts the educators ability to teach them and their academic success, more so than race and gender.

    Special education funds do come from other pots. However, they are included in the basic numbers of students, because they are students. Other countries don't include them in their schools.

    I would ask you to clearly define what a "quality student" is. If we are not speaking the same language regarding a "quality" student, then this argument is circular with no defined objective.
  • Jan 12 2013: This is an incorrect statement. As the United States does turn out quality students from public, charter, and private schools. The assumption is that schools are "failing". But what is a quality student? Is it one who attend college? Earns a 4 year degree? Masters? Doctorate? Contributes to society? Earns a wage? I do not have a baseline for what a "quality" student is.

    If we would like to compare ourselves to countries around the world, we could look at South Korea and Japan. Two high performing countries. Both have high teenage suicide rates. South Korea has been written up as sending students to top universities who more often than not drop out in the first two years because it is too hard. Or countries where students compete for top spots. Or countries that make our system of academic testing looking like pop quizzes and the top scoring students move on to top universities.

    The question I would ask is, what do you want the students to look like? Not every student needs to go to college to be quality.
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      Jan 12 2013: Your question is valid .. and not everyone needs to go to college ... the question is more about the bang for the bucks in education and not being able to track the education money.

      In a web search I found K -12 SPENDING PER STUDENT IN THE OECD it contains the spending per child from the ages 6 - 15. Only the Swiss out spend the US at about 95K .. the US at 91,700 .. the Finlanders spend about one third less that the US and are always at the very top in comparative testing whereas the US came in at the bottom third of the bottom third in this years testing in heads up testing.

      It has been stated many times that more money spent on education does not equate to "a good" education.

      Is there a better means of validating the the teaching methods and students other than head to head testing and a check of the cost of educating those same students?

      If these students were a product and we compared the cost to manufacture to the success of the product on the world market ... then the US product would be the second most expensive and one of the worst in head to head tests by independent research ... in that scenero we would close the doors .. bankrupt.

      The only two times I can think of that the US government took a real interest in education are

      1) When the Russians beat the US into space and Ike called for Engineers from the colleges (red face)

      2) When the US came in almost last in the PISA exams last year in educational testing (red face)

      Neither time was it about education ... it was about national pride. The same indicators have been there and ignored until the national ego was brused.

      Schools are a business ... I want transparency in where the money goes and how to reduce the cost and improve the product. As the "owners" that should be of interest to all of us.

      Thanks for the reply. Bob.
      • Jan 12 2013: "In a web search I found K -12 SPENDING PER STUDENT IN THE OECD it contains the spending per child from the ages 6 - 15. Only the Swiss out spend the US at about 95K .. the US at 91,700 .. the Finlanders spend about one third less that the US and are always at the very top in comparative testing whereas the US came in at the bottom third of the bottom third in this years testing in heads up testing."

        The US is pretty unique in that it:

        1) provides free meals to poor students
        2) has school-based sports teams, music bands, etc...
        3) includes the cost of medical insurance of teachers in the education budget (other countries have universal health care)
        4) is the most expensive country to get a teaching education (or any other education)
        5) has one of the highest costs of living in the OECD

        Take these things into account and you'll see that American K-12 education isn't that bad and the facets that are bad can largely be explained by overall American culture and society (society decides American schools place such an emphasis on athletics, society is responsible for there being ghetto neighborhoods 10x worse than the worst neighborhood in Europe or Canada and society decides to give accreditation and government funds to christian madrassas that teach creationism).

        See, right wing radio and media campaigns by billionaires who could make a lot of money through privatized education have spread this meme that education as it is is way, way too expensive, everyone, even some liberals, keep repeating this.
      • Jan 13 2013: John's comments are valid. We provide more in the US than most other countries in the world do. We are also a country with a philosophy that you can keep going to school. You can fail and continue your education. You can have a disability and be in with the mainstream of the population, or are at least required to be taught and supported.

        We can not compare ourselves to other countries when we have an education system that is hugely litigated and required by law to provide for everything for everyone. Other countries are not under that requirement.

        The special education student alone costs double or more what the regular ed student costs to educate. Some students are simply in the school to be there. They are mentally and physically incapable of learning and will never progress. But, if they are in school they must be taught and cared for based on federal law. That is a huge money drain and skews our numbers up.

        Also, the poverty level of our students is significantly affecting our ability to educate and increasing costs.

        That being said, I agree with you. There should be a significant amount of transparancy in education spending. It would give realistic numbers but also be eye-opening. Right now, most school teachers salaries are public domain. So that is something at least.
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          Jan 13 2013: I do not accept that argument ... PISA Exams are in mat, science, and reading .... all countries testing cover those subjects.

          As for electives. Singapore has field days and soccor teams as well as the arts. They are presented on weekends and before and after core classes.

          With the cuts and the mandates the US schools are priortizing the electives as well and will be eliminating them do to federal and state mandates, requirements, and dwindling financial resources.

          I found that 38% of Europe suffers from mental illiness. I could not find any reference that states the European school system accepts mentally ill students.

          In the US the money for special education come from a different pot. Not counted in the k-12 budget. There are many different TITLE funds.

          I find the argument that poor kids are dumb and cannot be educated insulting.

          We do, however, agree on the subject of the conversation transparency in the funding and tracking of education money.
        • Jan 15 2013: "As for electives. Singapore has field days and soccor teams as well as the arts. They are presented on weekends and before and after core classes."

          Yes, but Singapore is an exception (Finland has a 5 day school week and no school sports teams or free meals), and in fact it's entirely possible their K12 system isn't that special and that their high scores are the result of living in an affluent, low crime area where parents pay fortunes for private tutors.
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    Jan 12 2013: My opinion? Read "The Day Care Deception"
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    Jan 8 2013: One answer is that money comes from several different pots. My district is my county, so the county provides one pot of money and has certain expectations for how it is spent. The state provides some pots of money and has certain expectations and requirements about how they are spent. The federal government provides many very different pots of money and has certain expectations and requirements about how they are spent. It's confusing and probably ineffecient.

    Another answer--a cynical one--is that lawmakers have little incentive to direct funds efficiently and effectively. I can contribute only so much to a political campaign, for example, but a PAC can give much, much more and, therefore, enforce its will easily more than I can. My Congressman, then, will be less responsive to my recommendations about educational spending and accountability than he will to the demands of the PAC.

    Systemic reform and altruistic legislators seem like good but unrealistic answers to getting better value for our educational dollars. To be better informed and involved, go to local school board meetings, communicate your interests often to your elected officials, campaign for people and ideas that will create the educational system you want.

    In spite of everything, I really do believe that an individual can bring about change.
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      Jan 8 2013: Alan, We are of the same camp. When on the board I was concerned about "fenced monies". The accountant said that school rules are totally different and would drive a CPA to drink. All politicians say ... when running .. I will make everything transparant .. it never happens.

      Cynical or not I think that the lawnakers, at all levels, are key players in the problems that education is facing. They allocate funds on a math formula and then throw the money at the problem with little or no understanding of the issues and no plan on resolving anything. As you say they need to keep the big donors happy. That would include thousands of union and associated (for profit) educational associations. Federal and state legislatures have taken the place of the local boards and the old PTA. Locals have almost zip input. The power in education is the textbook publishers and the test developers. Your curriculum and syllabus must align or students will bust the tests.

      As new books and revised test come out each year teachers must rewrite lesson plans and syllabus accordingly ... this enforces what your reply was to TED Lover. Additionally this year we will see the new Common Core Curriculum and student test scores as evaluation tools for the teachers evals. The hoops for teachers to jump through have become smaller and higher than ever before. The parents you need to talk to do not make meetings ... citizens rant on teacher for areas they have no control over ... citizens bark and cry but refuse to become involved ... law suits are the major issue for administrators ... do more with less is the rule of the day.

      I am very involved .. serve on committees, posts, and boards. I am very vocal and my Senator and the State Super know my name and face as well as the Chair of the Senate Education Panel.

      Diogenes may have quit looking but I will not take Dylan Thomas' advice and go quietly .... I'm kickin and clawing for better education.

      All the best Bob.
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        Jan 9 2013: Robert, this is one of the things I most respect and appreciate in you. You try to understand things and are willing to do the work to get there rather than assuming you have already gotten to the root of things.

        I also appreciate that you do not consider others with scorn because they are differently educated from you.
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          Jan 9 2013: Thank you. As long as we try some of our efforts will fail. Life and education have taught me that failure is okay. It is how we face failure ... do we learn and grow or do we quit. Quiting is unacceptable.

          Education is not a goal ... it is a road ... a path .. a adventure. I like the term you use "educated differently". Formal or informal we all have skill sets.

          You add to every conversation. You are appreciated.

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    Gail .

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    Jan 7 2013: I would suggest that "we, the owners" educate ourselves. Schools have been turning out graduates that are functionally uneducated. (This doesn't stop at the high school level. The more specialized the advanced education, the more functionally uneducated the person)

    The problem is more than math.
  • Jan 7 2013: It is out of control and no one wants it in control. Students don't vote, and many aren't interested in math anyway. What does that mean? You are looking at the wrong numbers because those who control them want you to do so. Keirsey in his first You Don't Understand Me book broke down the personalities of teachers in American public schools. You're getting what decision makers want - not college nerds or Juliard types. Get over it. Academics and art are not what the school boards want. The Feds see that the science and Engineering fountain doesn't run dry because thay are not complete idiots, but that's never going to rate with Bubba like the ball team.
  • Jan 6 2013: "1,077,831 students ... 51,947 teachers ... and spend $7,931 per child .... average pay is $44,642 for 180 days per year = $41 per hour ... budget request $42,339,949 "

    Teachers are not paid for 180 days per year (how do you even get to 180 days, do US schools have 15 weeks of vacation these days?), or did you think they correct all homework during class and leave student assessment meetings to robots? Besides, $8000 per student per year is not really abnormally high for a developed country, including educational powerhosues such as Finland and Hong Kong. Also do note that foreign schools don't have elaborate extracurricular programs the way US schools do, I don't think there's a single school in Europe that has its own stadium.

    What I'd like to know is where this sudden "realiziation" that K-12 education is way too expensive, is coming from? It seems to be supported more by right-wing radio than by actual statistics.
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      Jan 6 2013: I am glad, John, for you to raise the issue of teacher time. Many people think that teachers' workdays begin when students arrive and end when they leave. This assumption is far from the truth in most cases. Lesson planning, student assessment, meetings with other teachers and staff, trainings, meetings with parents about students, and independent work with students all take place outside of student contact hours.

      Teachers also are required to take courses as a requirement for renewal of their teaching certificates. Many do this in summer.

      Just as an example, my policy when I taught secondary school was that I would reply to emails from students or parents until 8:30 every evening, including weekends.The teacher next door to me gave all her students her cell phone number for similar purpose. I did preparation on weekdays and grading on weekdays and every Saturday and typically half of Sunday.

      I give these only as an example of what we may not realize teachers are doing to try to serve students as best they can.
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        Gail .

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        Jan 7 2013: I know a lot of teachers. Yes, newer teachers spend time developing lesson plans and putting extra effort into being good teachers. And that lasts for a while. But those who have been teaching for a while are in it for the vacation time. Their lesson plans were created years ago. Their tests (with some absolutely essential exceptions) are designed to make minimum work for themselves.

        Are there exceptions? Probably. I've never met one and as I said, I know a LOT of teachers and retired teachers.
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          Jan 7 2013: Curricula, textbooks, classroom resources, and assessment tools change all the time and teacher's plans with them.

          As a longtime teacher and coach of teachers, I have worked with many elbow to elbow over many years and observed many more in action. I cannot think of any, though there are, I am sure, some, who meet your description.

          I have little experience with preK- grade 2 teachers and the most with sixth grade and up, almost entirely in urban public schools.

          I cannot explain your unusual experience- why you have never met a single one who is not lazy. Maybe it is because the teachers who are not lazy are too busy working to get out much, other than during the times they can recharge from burnout. It is a mystery to me.

          Teaching has also become a more difficult job over time, I believe, so those who retired, say twenty years ago, may have had a differennt experience from those still in the classroom in this century.
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          Jan 8 2013: @TED Lover
          This is my 29th as a teacher of high school English. Every year, I make new lesson plans and new assessments. I write new lesson plans and new assessments and other assignments every year because I have rooms full of individuals.

          I resent your statements and your implications that teachers are in it for the money via the path of least resistance. We should meet. Then you will know an exception. You should meet my colleagues. Then you will know a whole bunch of exceptions.
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    Jan 6 2013: Most of us do not have the skills an organization like a state auditor's office has to scrutinize school district books. You may, but I know I don't. I may in this respect be more typical. When state auditors audit school district budgets on behalf of the people of the state, they often find sloppy stuff. Sometimes financial staff for schools and school districts are not truly first rate in their work, and sometimes decisions are made not to commit the resources to keep fully detailed and understandable books. In some cases there may be a little bit of fraud uncovered as well, but my hypothesis is that that is very small compared to the other two explanations. In some cases resources go into funding educational expenditures that everyone sincerely hopes will pay off but which turn out not to.
    The question you pose (rather than your narrative elaboration) goes to a different issue and, I think, may have gotten a bit cut off. Your narrative is about how the public can understand better what actual expenditures have been, but I believe your question asks why education costs so much and still does not reach the outcomes for students we would wish from it.

    I will make a broad stab at the latter with a part of the explanation. While educators may have a reasonable idea of how to teach students individually if kids could be taught each subject one-on-one, it is a more challenging question to know how to teach students with very different needs, misconceptions, and so forth in classroom-sized groups. This challenge arises even in a best case scenario in which the students are all there fed, focused, and ready to learn. Many students who do the best have had the benefit of individualized attention outside of school, often from well educated parents or parents with the resources to support more individualized educational opportunities.
    There are other issues also. But it isn't that teachers are not trying, not working hard,don't care or don't enjoy learning.