Friday, August 27, 2004
There’s a big financial equity lawsuit filed by the Omaha Public Schools and crony districts against Nebraska taxpayers pending in the courts. Once more, though, the facts show that their argument -- more spending on disadvantaged kids will make it allllll better for them academically -- is all wet.
First, we had the specter this past summer of the California Achievement Test scores in OPS, covering reading, language and math for grades 2, 5 and 8. Even though OPS spending has increased dramatically in recent years, including the $254 million bond issue to upgrade buildings significantly, test scores went down in nearly as many grade schools as they went up: 27 and 30, respectively.
Worse, for all that increased spending, the average test score in OPS was in the 68th percentile compared to pupils around the country, the same average posted last year. You could call that a ‘’D.’’
Worst of all, 15 grade schools posted scores that were at or beneath the 50th percentile, a sorry result indeed that indicates widespread illiteracy and academic incompetence despite all that spending. The worst scores were all in inner-city, lower-income parts of town with high percentages of racial minorities and lower levels of parental educational attainment.
At Miller Park Elementary School, the average score was at the 25th percentile, meaning that 75 percent of the kids who took the CAT test nationwide did better. Meanwhile, in west Omaha’s Columbian Elementary, with much higher income levels and more moms and dads who are college graduates, the average score was in the 98th percentile.
The figures make it look as though there is incredible prejudice against or, at best, academic mismanagement or neglect of low-income and minority kids in the state’s largest school district. That can’t be true; it’s much more likely that they’re not using the right curriculum and instruction that will give disadvantaged kids a more level playing field academically with more advantaged kids.
How do we know? Because inner-city private schools, that do use the right methods, have much better academic results.
OPS doesn’t have to sue its own tax patrons for more revenue. All it has to do to help those kids is lose the ‘’progressive education’’ fads like whole language and whole math, and return to legitimate phonics, traditional math, and direct instruction by teachers instead of the ‘’touchy feely’’ chaotic child-centered classrooms in which our neediest kids are obviously starving to death academically.
Despite the obvious answer, though, OPS (www.ops.org) and the Nebraska State Education Association (www.nsea.org) are putting on a full-court press to try to get more money out of taxpayers, claiming inadequate, unfair funding inequities between rich and poor in this state. They want to throw more money at the problem, in other words, and use our guilt to do it.
But according to a nationwide study released by the Nelson A. Rockfeller Institute of Government, reported in the Wall Street Journal on July 30, there is ‘’virtually no link between spending and performance.’’
The study showed, state by state, how much K-12 education spending had gone up in each state and the District of Columbia. National average: 39 percent between 1997 and 2002. Nebraska’s was tagged at 15.6 percent.
But look at this: D.C. had the biggest jump in spending, 46.2 percent, and Florida had the least, 3.5 percent. Ironically, though, in both states, the 4th grade reading scores had improved in both D.C. and Florida in that five-year period, and the 8th grade reading scores were flat in both.
Meaning: more money does NOT improve performance. Less money does NOT hurt kids.
You can see that truth over and over and over again. It’s not the money. It’s the method.
Meanwhile, there are many excellent private schools operating in and around the inner city that are doing a far better job with the same demographic groups of students, for far less money. How? Because they’re using the right methods.
Now, look at this: in the most-recent per-pupil spending data posted on the Nebraska Department of Education website (http://ess.nde.state.ne.us/SchoolFinance/AFR/searcdh/afr.htm), OPS reported spending $7,300 per child per year. That’s just operating funds, not counting construction, debt service and other types of noninstructional spending that goes on. That’s “average daily membership,” too, based on overall enrollment, not based on average daily attendance (ADA). This year’s actual per-pupil cost is likely to top $8,000 on an ADA basis. And again, that’s only for operations, not all the off-budget spending. If you included it, the figure would increase significantly.
But there’s a much cheaper alternative which, sources say, does a far better job than OPS with the same kinds of kids in the inner city. It’s Sacred Heart Academy, 2207 Wirt St., an inner-city private school with tuition of $2,700 per pupil per year. Now, actual cost per child is about $5,000, but they get donors to plug that gap. And 100 percent of their kids are so poor, their families get financial aid and pay less than full tuition. The minimum is just $550 per child per year. The point is, it works. According to their website, www.sacredheart-cues.org, they have 142 pupils K-8, of whom 97 percent are African-American, and 96 percent are not even Catholic.
So . . . want equity? Want adequacy? Send needy kids to private school! Our toughest-to-educate kids can be educated better than they are now, for significantly less money to boot.
What’s not to like about that?
Sacred Heart School is having its annual Founders Day Dinner on Sept. 3 at Erin Court, 4714 N. 120th St. It’d be a good opportunity to learn what the school is all about, and begin supporting its fine work. Call (402) 451-5755 for details.
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