Sunday, February 22, 2009

$15,000 per student

I follow a twitter user that styles him/herself as Utahedfacts. This user links to information relevant to (surprise) facts about education in Utah. One of his/her recent posts linked to a pdf by the Utah Taxpayer's Association that states that spending per pupil in Utah during fiscal year 2008 was $8,032.

Just days before I read that report I had spoken to one of the local school board members about the school district's budget. He said that the entire budget for the year was about $15,000,000 and that there were 991 students in the district at present. Rounding the latter number to 1000 gives an annual cost of $15,000 per student. So what gives?

A former principal in this school district had done research into district financing for her master's degree and found that property tax accounted for about 50% of revenue in this district and 50% came from the state. My first thought was that the Taxpayer's Association number must have excluded local property tax. But then I remembered that the same principal indicated that the urban districts' revenue was more like 80% property tax and 20% state funds. That would mean that if property tax was excluded from their numbers urban districts would be spending about $40,000 per kid. There is no way that is right.

So I have to conclude that our school district is spending almost twice as much per student as the state average. If that is the case, we've got a problem. There is no way my kids are getting an education worth $15,000 per year. I have three kids, all in elementary school. If I were to receive $15,000 for each of them each year it would exceed my annual salary (excluding benefits). I would gladly quit my job and teach my kids myself if I could. And here is the kicker: they would receive a FAR superior education from me.

It's not that I view myself as a better teacher (I did teach high school math for as long as I could stand it), but there are three simple principles that can't be denied. First, I would have a class of three students. Professional teachers typically have at least 20 per class. I could provide the kind of individual attention to each child that even the best private schools couldn't touch. Second, I care for my kids more that even the biggest-hearted teacher. Third, I am more familiar with each of my kids, their respective strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles than any teacher simply because I have know them longer.

So I challenge anyone to explain to me what I am missing. Tell me, please, how our kids are getting a $15,000 education. Even if our school district were the best in the state, that would take some serious explaining. Sadly, our district isn't the best. It isn't even average. There is such a high degree of distrust and outright hate between faculty and administration that we are barely even functional.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Forbes Flays College Falsehoods

Forbes has a great piece about the scam that is higher education. I'm glad to see some of the same arguments I have used (correlation is not causation, etc.) in their article.