Just a Simple Question


As the 2012 election cycle begins to get itself organized, there are many questions that our candidates need to answer.  Consider this one question:

Exactly what are we getting for our tax dollars with regard to education?

Even though voters would like answers from candidates, it is sometimes necessary to get the answers not directly from those actually seeking public office, but from those supporting the various candidates.

Just as an example, let’s look at education policies in this country. At the very least, this question should be asked:

If teachers’ unions trumpet the need to compensate teachers with respectable salaries, protect their positions with lifetime tenure and in addition provide extremely generous retirement and health care benefits, why are American students doing, at best, only a mediocre job in math and science when compared with other industrialized countries? 

Should this question be asked of the candidates themselves?  Of course! The candidates should be able to demonstrate that they are at least aware of the problem of declining performance in our schools, but those posing the question should also demand a response from the individual teachers who are apparently not doing such a terrific job of teaching.  Both what is (laughingly) referred to as the main stream media, as well as alternative media platforms, should be hounding the heads of the National Education Association (NEA) which represents approximately 3.2 million public school teachers and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) which represents about 1 million members in the teaching profession.  Any and all questions to the heads of these two unions have historically been met with variations on a single answer:  Give us more money for education and all the problems will be solved!

Well, it turns out that we’ve already given them more money.  Lots more.  Federal spending alone on education, in constant 2008 dollars, rose from $12.5 billion in 1965 to $72.8 billion in 2008.

For those keeping score, that’s an increase of over 582%. This, again in constant dollars, is an average annual increase of about 13-1/2%. Every year.  For the past 43 years!  And that’s only for grades K-12!

As for higher education, student loans, student grants and direct grants to colleges and universities added another $30 billion to the Department of Education’s largesse in 2008 alone.

Total Federal spending alone for students in kindergarten through college was about $100 billion for 2008.  Or to look at it in the same timeframe as the geniuses in Congress do, over the next ten years, assuming they don’t plan on “investing” even more money in education, our federal government will sink about $1 TRILLION.  This is over and above the funding at the State and local levels, which in 2008 were an additional $758 billion. State and local spending on education has also been rising, at a rate of approximately 8.7% per year for the past decade.

Again, using the ten year budget horizon, and not allowing for increases in spending (as if that would ever happen), that works out to approximately 8 ½ trillion dollars – a bit more than half of our total national debt.

Apparently what we get is nothing to write home about.  Results for the worldwide assessment of student achievement in reading, math and science, the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), show that the United States, in the results released late in 2010, was only ranked as 14th in reading, 25th in math and 17th in science.

So exactly what is it that we get for our 8 ½ trillion dollars?  Better math and science scores?  Better reading and writing skills?  Apparently not.  But you’ll surely feel better knowing that little Johnny and Janey have mastered putting a condom on a banana.

Perhaps the sheer intellectual brilliance of Barack Obama and the boldly nuanced thinking behind this set of priorities escapes me, but it seems that this isn’t simply a case of having the cart before the horse.

What we have is a situation where our leaders don’t even seem to be able to recognize either a cart or a horse.  Not even when the horse kicks them in the head.  Is there anyone in the current administration who can explain this situation, in simple terms that will not need “clarification” within twenty-four hours?

Mr. Obama’s administration continues to claim a need to continue, and increase, this profligate “investment” in education.  If any other “investment” showed zero return, would anyone continue to buy more and more of that stock?

The administration excuses this behavior by telling the country that we need to improve student test scores, while at the same time resisting efforts to use the same test score protocol to evaluate whether teachers are competent to teach little Johnny or Janey the information that they need to actually improve.  It’s amazing that this illustration isn’t used in dictionaries to illuminate the meaning of the word “conundrum.”

No one can disagree with the idea that the education of our youth is critical to the success of our nation.  Even more than success, it is critical to the survival of our nation, and to the survival of world civilization.  The critical nature of education was described as far back as the 4th century A.D. by the Greek philosopher Diogenes Laertius:

The foundation of every state is the education of its youth.

 Many nation-states have taken this message to heart and based the achievement of their national goals upon the education of its young citizens.  Two prominent practitioners of governmentally mandated and directed education that come immediately to mind are Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Naturally there are those who refuse to recognize the obvious superiority of governmentally mandated, directed and controlled schooling. They prefer to call it “brainwashing.”

Current administration thinking with regard to improving the nation’s schools is based on implementing the so-called “Race to the Top” program to encourage schools all over the country to follow the party line (in a manner of speaking) with the whims and wishes of Washington.  The RTTT program is also known in some circles by a title that has a strong whiff of TV game show attached – “Groveling for Dollars.”

The direction of our educational system, such as it is, seems to be compromises that are made among the various “stakeholders” that negotiate the syllabus, the lunch menus, the textbook selection and the politicians who want money from Washington to hold down local taxes.  We have the Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender community declaring themselves a stakeholder, even though (with the possible exception of bisexuals) these folks cannot have children of their own who would be at risk in the schools.  Noticeably absent from this list are parents.  Apparently parents are not qualified to determine what their kids should be learning, and how that knowledge should be imparted.  Who knew?

In addition to parental exclusion from the list of “stakeholders” that are influential in determining the direction of the educational establishment, there is one other obvious omission.

If one looks at education as a business, where certain services are provided for the benefit of the customer and that customer is willing to spend his or her own money for those services, one has to ask – Who is the customer?

Is it the student the customer?

Obviously not.  The student, particularly in elementary schools, middle-schools and a significant number in high school, rarely wants any part of the education industry.

Is the ultimate customer the parents of the children?

Not really, except for those parents that subconsciously view schools as a sort of babysitting service.

It could be argued that the student is the product of the system, that the parents are the supplier of raw material for the system, and that businesses are really the ultimate customers.  Yet business is never considered a stakeholder here.  Business is viewed with disdain by the other stakeholders in the closed world of “professional” educators.

If schools are supposed to make students productive members of society, wouldn’t that include preparing them for the world of work?

It may be wonderful that they appreciate art, can play the clarinet, have achieved a comfort level with their own sexuality and are fully prepared to combat global warming if it ever actually occurs, but will any sane businessman offer them a job based on those qualifications?  Wouldn’t you think that the “smartest guy in the room” would realize that if our schools only produce graduates who are barely competent to flip burgers, these graduates will never earn enough to provide the taxes that support the lavish health and retirement benefits for the teachers in our less than stellar schools?

It’s high time that not only did parents and businesses take a seat at the table, but that they hold a majority of the positions on the board.  I’d be willing to risk letting common sense take hold in education, wouldn’t you?

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About Jim Yardley

Retired after 30 years as a financial controller for a variety of manufacturing firms, a two-tour Vietnam veteran, and independent voter.
Gallery | This entry was posted in Business, Deficit, Economy, Education, Government Spending, Political Doubletalk, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Just a Simple Question

  1. I absolutely love the piece about GOP checking their ego for 2012!!! A very sobering reality! I think peeps need more visual like that, not to mention all current or possible contenders! Thanks for laying out the only possible scenarios available to us in 2012; sadly if none happen I’m not sure what electoral system will be in place by 2016 should Obama get a second term.

    Respectfully – CH

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