Wednesday, May 19, 2004


Quite often, educators will say that they don’t have enough funding to meet the increasingly complex needs of today’s students, especially the needy.

They say that’s why they a) turn to the politicians to get more taxes from the public, or b) file lawsuits to get the money through court order when they can’t get the money through the democratic process.

That’s at the heart of the ‘’equity lawsuit’’ pending in the Nebraska Supreme Court, filed by the Omaha Public Schools and other districts seeking extra state tax funding to serve low-income and non-English speaking pupils.

Is giving more money for these students ‘’equitable’’? Is it fair? Does it really cost more to educate those students?

Or are there other reasons than funding for the increasing achievement gap between Nebraska schoolchildren from less advantaged homes, and their more well-off peers?

Could it be the WAY those funds are employed?

Does it make sense to give more money to educators to do more of the same things that have already led us to this sad state of affairs, where the gap between the races, and between advantaged and disadvantaged students, is getting wider and wider instead of narrower and narrower?

See http://www2.edtrust.org/edtrust/summaries2004/states.html for 2003 Nebraska public school statistics such as:

4th grade reading, state assessments, not proficient:

34% African-American children
30% Native American children
29% Latino children
14% white children

4th grade reading, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test, below grade level:

56% Latino children
53% African-American children
29% white children

8th grade math, state assessment, not proficient:

49% Native American children
47% Latino children
46% African-American children
21% white children

8th grade math, NAEP, below grade level:

65% African-American children
60% Latino children
20% white children

That’s about comparable to the national average. Nationwide, 58 percent of low-income 4th graders cannot read; 67 percent of low-income inner-city 8th graders cannot do basic math, and the performance of 17-year-old black and Hispanic students is equal to that of 13-year-old whites in every subject.

That’s according to the Heritage Foundation’s broad-based, national effort to mobilize public pressure for poor kids’ schools, with the book ‘’No Excuses: Lessons From 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools’’ by Samuel Casey Carter, and a website, www.noexcuses.org with lots of good ideas to back up the premise that it’s not big bucks that helps needy kids — they need solid curriculum, high expectations and common sense.

Kids with disadvantages to overcome do need more help than the majority, that’s for sure.

But does that help cost that much more?

Not according to ‘’No Excuses.’’ They say needy kids don’t need more money. They just need better school leadership, better educational methods, and a change in attitude. That what’s already working around the country to lift low-income, low-achieving schools in inner cities and rural areas closer to their high-income, high-achieving counterparts in the suburbs.

Instead of forcing taxpayers to cough up millions of extra dollars to zero in on meeting the needs of disadvantaged students, here’s what really works for these students, according to ‘’No Excuses’’:

1. Principals are free.
2. Principals use measurable goals to foster achievement.
3. Master teachers bring out the best in a faculty.
4. Rigorous and regular testing is used to improve student performance.
5. Achievement is the key to discipline.
6. Principals work with parents to make the home a center of learning.
7. Effort creates ability.

The same sorts of non-financial solutions are explored in a PDF report on the same subject on www.pacificresearch.org (’’They Have Overcome: High Poverty, High Performance Schools in California’’) by one of the best education writers in the country, Lance Izumi.

So it isn’t big new bucks, to help the needy. It’s better use of the big bucks they already have. And that’s borne out at the highest levels of public-policy scholarship.

The well-known economist Eric Hanushek of Stanford University’s Hoover Institution is a top source on education economics. He has a Ph.D. in economics from MIT, has taught at Yale, the U.S. Air Force Academy, and Rochester University, and is acknowledged to be THE expert in this field. See his downloadable papers on http://edpro.stanford.edu/eah/down.htm

The evidence shows there is virtually no relationship between additional spending on education and academic achievement . . . virtually no relationship between higher teacher salaries and academic achievement . . . virtually no relationship between teachers with master’s degrees in education and academic achievement . . . and virtually no relationship between smaller class sizes and academic achievement, past the early grades of school.

If the ‘’equity lawsuit’’ now going on in Nebraska courts does grant wads of new cash for the Omaha Public Schools and others who have more low-income and immigrant children to educate, it’d be a gigantic case of throwing money down a rathole.

And as for the insulting lie that we taxpayers are somehow skimping on our funding for public schools and ripping off needy children, I would direct critics to the facts, including the most recent financial information available from the State Education Department on http://ess.nde.state.ne.us/SchoolFinance/AFR/search/afr.htm

The figures show that Nebraska taxpayers have provided $4.5 billion in K-12 buildings and contents for our kids. Not exactly ‘’chintzy’’ in my book.

Ten years ago, Nebraska taxpayers had invested an average of $8,648 per pupil in buildings and contents, and that just about doubled, past $17,141, in the 2002-03 school year.

On top of that is the operating fund, which has increased from $4,936.21 to over $7,896.63 per pupil per year in the last decade.

And for that, we have to sit back and watch the kids who need great public schools the most fall farther and farther behind . . . where in other places, for no more money, but the right approach to meeting their needs, they’re catching up.

I hope the judges take a long, hard look at the ‘’No Excuses’’ data, and the Hanushek data, and other clear evidence that better curriculum, instruction and management are what needy kids need most.

Let’s get them for them. No excuses!

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