More school spending doesn’t guarantee smarter students
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
On Nov. 1, Garfield County voters will be asked to vote on a $4.8 million mill levy override for educational funding, ballot question 3E. Add to that an additional $3 billion over five years for Prop. 103 at the state level.
The cry “For the Kids,” echoed by educators, repeats the emotional appeal we’ve heard in the past. In fact, this is a vote to maintain a failed system.
The outcome of spending hasn’t been smarter students. We no longer can afford to support a failed system, and we should demand educational reform.
If money was allocated for reforming the whole educational system, I would support it. If it would be used to reward principals and teachers based on results, I would be in support. Because we’ve repeatedly raised taxes for education and failed to see changes leading to student achievement, it would be foolish to support these issues.
Let’s examine the needs stated on the ballot and decide if the outcomes justify the expense.
1. Preserving small class size: Does smaller class size equal better student achievement? For defining student achievement, I’ve used the CSAP test scores in reading and math, the only tool we currently have for testing academic performance.
In the 1970s, the average class size was 30 students. In 2011, the average class size at Glenwood Springs High School is 18 students per teacher. At Roaring Fork High School, that number is lower at a 16:1 ratio.
A misperception is that smaller class size equals improved performance. Although class sizes have decreased, the math and reading scores have not risen. Across the U.S., test scores have remained flat since the 1970s, while continuing to rise in other countries. We’re falling further and further behind academically.
The real correlation between teaching and learning comes with better teachers, proven recently with alternative schools. The challenge of change is difficult.
2. Attracting and retaining quality staff: Will more money correlate with improved student test scores?
The cost of educating a public school child in 1961-62, in today’s dollars, was $2,808. The cost in 2007-08 was $10,441. Today that cost continues to rise. Test scores, however, have remained flat.
There are local examples that prove my point.
In 2007 and 2008, there were 307 high schools in Colorado, Roaring Fork High School was ranked 182nd based on CSAP 10th grade math and reading combined. In 2011, there are 336 high schools and RFHS is ranked 242nd.
Glenwood Springs High School within the same time period ranked 137th out of 307 in 2007-08 and currently ranks 55th out of 336. GSHS moved up 62 places in the past year alone.
To put that into perspective, Aspen High School, usually thought of as being at the top of the list, is ranked 44th, having dropped 22 places in the past year. And Aspen, of course, is asking for more revenue.
Since Principal Paul Freeman has come to GSHS, math and reading achievement has improved. This is accountability in action and should be rewarded. Basalt Middle School has increased its state ranking by 77 places. Carbondale Community School ranks first academically in Re-1 at the elementary level. However, in order to attend this school students must first “win the lottery,” literally. Currently 60 students on the wait list are hoping to win this game of chance.
3. Providing quality texts and technology: Goals should be the same, but the means to get there should be left to the professionals.
Do teachers have individual choice for textbooks and technology needs? Do they have the skills to implement the use of computers, software, social networking and ever-changing updates that go with them?
4. Preserving safe learning environments: Do we have unsafe schools? Who made this determination, what is the criteria and why haven’t we heard of it before?
The private sector is waiting to see how the economy recovers before increasing its spending, as are households throughout the school district, state and nation. Should that approach not also be reflected in our local schools?
Will a $4.8 million tax increase benefit the education of our children? Based on the data, the answer is no.
Vote no on question 3E.
Joyce Rankin lives in Carbondale and Aspen. She holds a master’s degree in education and is retired from a career as an elementary school teacher and principal in Fremont, Calif.
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