Sunday, February 17, 2008

Education spending: Kansas City

This article is biased, in the sense that the writer has clearly come to a conclusion, but the numbers are interesting. Kansas City's $400 million budget was two to three times the norm. Throwing money at schools doesn't seem to help them much.

There's been some talk of merit-based teacher pay recently (Obama claims to be in favor of it), which sounds like a good idea in principle although the details could be tricky. (You might think that No Child Left Behind also sounds good in principle, for instance. Practice has shown it to be an almost-unmitigated disaster. In fact, I can't even remember which part of it is not a disaster. Maybe it will come to me.) In the data that I've looked at, pumping money into school systems appears to be used mainly to shrink class sizes to 15-20 kids. It seems to me that the money would be better spent on teacher salaries. If you double the class size to 30-40 kids, and double the pay to $70K-90K, you may have some chance of attracting talented, motivated young people to the teaching profession (right now people who are really *good* at math or biology tend to go work for the NSA or pharmaceutical companies), retaining good teachers (low pay is demoralizing, even for people who really love to teach, because in our society it says that your work is not valued), and perhaps giving enough leverage that you could cut out the dead weight (teachers who aren't any good but that school districts are afraid to fire because it's so hard to find a replacement, and because the teacher's union jumps all over you). You can't do this in isolation--you'd want to couple it with disciplinary and regulatory reforms such that you could, for instance, expel students for threatening teachers with physical violence, which in the worst school districts today you can't do--but you'd be pleasantly surprised at the caliber of the talent you attract when you "build up a [profession], and make it honorable in the eyes of all people." A really good teacher will do more with a class of 30 students than two mediocre teachers will with 15 each, and that's a start.


"The presentation or 'gift' of the Holy Ghost simply confers upon a man the right to receive at any time, when he is worthy of it and desires it, the power and light of truth of the Holy Ghost, although he may often be left to his own spirit and judgment." --Joseph F. Smith (manual, p. 69)

Be pretty if you are,
Be witty if you can,
But be cheerful if it kills you.

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