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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Money Makes No Difference

Money does not buy happiness; money also does not buy academic achievement. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) compared education attainment of fifteen-year olds every three years for 57 countries, 30 of which belong to OECD. Over the last fifteen years average spending on primary and secondary schooling has risen more than 40% without much return on investment.

Furthermore, in terms of teaching hours, American primary school teachers work harder, teaching about 1000 hours per year, compared to Japanese primary school teachers who teach an average of 650 hours per year. The OECD average was 803 hours per year.

Over the years, the US falls further behind and currently trades eleventh and twelfth places with Mexico in reading, math and science performance. Poland posted the most improvement. Poland achieved its improvement without increasing spending. The Economist attributes Poland's improvement to the dramatic education reforms undertaken in 1999, especially the elimination of tracking. The Economist concludes Poland's results demonstrate that tracking harms the academic achievement of weak students without boosting academic achievement for strong students.

Of course, it can also be argued that tracking in Japan works. Japan ranks sixth in reading and math, fifth in science. Japan also shows between-school variance roughly equal to within-school variance. Early education and middle school in Japan is comprehensive,but high school students are definitely tracked. The ablest students take the entrance exam for the college prep high schools. Less able students,(usually boys), take the entrance exam for the vocational high schools. The less able girls take the entrance exam for the business high schools. The funny thing is the students take the exact same entrance exam no matter which type of high school to which they have applied. The between-school variance may well indicate “hidden” tracking, given the intentional uniformity of Japanese schools.

The United States showed fairly low between-school variance, but close to 100% within-school variance. The achievement gap is wide, even within a single school. Some people thought that stimulating interest in science would motivate students to become good at science. The problem is implementation. Too often cool activities substitute for the development of scientific thinking skills. Students grow to love what passes for science, without actually learning to love or maybe even experiencing real science.

So if money does not buy achievement, what factors are associated with improved performance. “Relational trust” is a foundational characteristic, but the OECD did not examine relational trust directly. It may turn out that relational trust is an umbrella for a number of sub-factors. In any case, OECD found two predictors of increased performance.

Internationally, the number one predictor is high-quality teachers, especially teachers drawn from the top ranks of graduates. No Child Left Behind requirements not withstanding, it has been well-documented that education students are decidedly do not come from the top ranks of graduates. Every school of education knows their students rank lower on admission criteria than non-teacher aspirants.

Internationally, the number two predictor is local management. School principals who control their budgets and hire their own teachers post high or improving performance. I submit that relational trust underlie both predictors because top scholars as teachers and local management promote competence, one of the four elements of relational trust, the other three being respect, personal regard for others and integrity.

We must confront all our beliefs about education in an effort to systemically rethink education. Money, all by itself, does not buy educational achievement. In 1987, Federal Judge Russell Clark asked how much money Kansas City needed to provide a quality education for inner city black students and opened the wallets of taxpayers to pay for it.

Judge Clark adopted a wide-ranging "magnet" school plan proposed by the school board. The plan's goal was to make the school system comparable to the surrounding districts by infusing it with hundreds of millions of dollars, improving the physical plant and creating numerous special programs.

The judge said the state should pay 75 percent of the cost and the district should pay the rest. Finding that the district had "exhausted all available means of raising additional revenue," Judge Clark nearly doubled the local property tax, from $2.05 to $4 per $100 of assessed valuation.

It did not work. John Taylor Gatto reports the outcome:

"They had as much money as any school district will ever get," said Gary Orfield, a Harvard investigator who directed a postmortem analysis, "It didn’t do very much." Orfield was wrong. The Windfall produced striking results:
Average daily attendance went down, the dropout rate went up, the black-white achievement gap remained stationary, and the district was as segregated after ten years of well-funded reform as it had been at the beginning. A former school board president whose children had been plaintiffs in the original suit leading to Judge Clark’s takeover said she had "truly believed if we gave teachers and administrators everything they said they needed, that would make a huge difference. I knew it would take time, but I did believe by five years into this program we would see dramatic results educationally."

The experiment lasted ten years, until 1997, when Judge Clark took himself off the case. John Taylor Gatto believes the judge “just doesn't get it.”

(Judge Clark) just doesn’t get it. The (education) system isn’t broken. It works as intended, turning out incomplete people. No repair can fix it, nor is the education kids need in any catalogue to buy. As Kansas City proves, giving schools more money only encourages them to intensify the destructive operations they already perform.

No amount of money can obliterate education obstructionism or create relational trust.

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