Pella Chronicle

Opinion

May 29, 2009

Meeting the Education Challenge

In his first Presidential speech broaching the topic of education, President Obama said, “Despite resources that are unmatched anywhere in the world, we’ve let our grades slip, our schools crumble, our teacher quality fall short, and other nations outpace us…What’s at stake is nothing less than the American dream.” He wasn’t exaggerating—in 2006, the Program for International Student Assessment found that 15-year-old American students place 25th out 30 developed nations in mathematics, literacy, and problem-solving.

Many find comfort in the knowledge that $1 billion from the economic stimulus package has been allocated to education, and that even in the midst of the economic downturn education is not being overlooked. Indeed, lack of funding and resources has long been used as an excuse for failing school systems. But more dollars can’t buy the reform our schools need.

In the 1990s, the struggling Kansas City school district was given an additional $2 billion to build the ideal school system. The resulting Olympic-sized swimming pool, new computer labs, taxis for students, and even a zoo, didn’t improve educational outcomes. Instead Kansas City schools worsened to the point they eventually lost their accreditation.

If money were the solution, then the Washington D.C. school system should far surpass most other public school systems in the nation. During this past year, DC schools spent $13,848 per student, the third highest in the United States and more than $4,000 above the national average. The result was that only 14 percent of fourth graders scored at or above proficiency in mathematics and reading according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

In contrast, Minnesota spends $9,180 per pupil, slightly less than the national average, but produced the best results of any state. In fact, 50 percent of Minnesota fourth graders scored at or above proficiency in math, and 37 percent scored at or above proficiency in reading, according to the NAEP. This was the best in the nation and it is still far from acceptable.

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