What are Schools For – Employing Adults or Teaching Kids?
This is my first blog post ever… not to say I have not thought about it A LOT…as you all know there comes a point where you must make the leap from thought to action, so here goes…
I recently accepted the position of Executive Director of Jeffco Students First (another leap from thought to action), a foundation dedicated to the notion that we can aim higher when it comes to public education. While it is a great thing that Jefferson County Public Schools perform well on a relative basis, a countywide 10th grade math proficiency of just 42% is not good enough, particularly in light of the constant calls for more money.
For the past six months, I have been consumed with reading about school reform, listening to panels of experts, attending school board meetings and studying our district’s financials. I have concluded that the district has not experienced significant cuts in revenue or spending. Just looking at the General Fund expenses published in the district Annual Report, for the 2004/05 school year the district spent $511M and in 2010/11 they spent $601M. This equates to a year over year increase in spending of $90M or a cumulative $450M over the six years. At the same time, enrollment has remained flat. How can anyone say, with a straight face, that we have experienced “severe cuts”?
There is not one study that I have come across that definitively links greater school spending with greater academic achievement and that is really what this is all about – greater academic achievement.
For all the hours and hours and HOURS of talk about budgeting and spending, I would like to see half the effort devoted to achievement. A panel I recently attended boiled the debate between “spending” and “reform” down to a chicken or egg scenario – we simply need to answer “which comes first?”. Now, call me crazy, but from what I can tell – THERE IS NO MORE MONEY – so, perhaps we should focus on the reform piece.
You would think everyone would be on board at the prospect of applying proven reforms given the amazing outcomes that have been achieved all over the country – think Harlem Academy, and KIPP Charter schools, or even right in our own backyard. Dennison Elementary and D’Evelyn Middle and High School have developed a rigorous curriculum and set exceptionally high expectations, which their students meet. Alas, not everyone is on board – there exist interest groups that gain more from maintaining the status quo than from improving student achievement.
My goal is to inform Jeffco parents and taxpayers about the structural challenges within the system that impede higher student achievement and let them decide if they wish to spend ever more money on the parts that are not working for our children.