Sunday, May 28, 2017
Education on the cheap
Betsy DeVos' recent comments about a former East Hartford High student is that they point out the importance of high expectations. What I don't like is that they offer the same tired old fallacy we've been buying for decades: that we can have quality education on the cheap.
You can't characterize East Hartford High on the basis of one student's story, but the sort of thing Besty is talking about does happen in many schools, and she's right, high expectations are one of the keys to student success. But you can't raise the bar without increasing the support, and that costs money.
Several years ago, during my libertarian phase, I would have been a big fan of Trump's proposal to cut public school budgets and increase school choice. But my experience experimenting with different school models changed my mind. It's not the model that's the problem. It's a lack of support.
Most teachers and administrators in struggling schools are doing the best they can and working their butts off for these kids, but they are fighting a battle the rest of us can't even imagine. They are fighting the combined effects of generational poverty, systemic racism, and years of insufficient support in which kids fell further and further behind. Those kids needed longer school days and extended years. They needed one-on-one instruction. They needed reading support, psychological services and social services, but didn't get them, because they were too expensive.
School reformers and new charter and magnet schools are a dime a dozen, and every one of them offers their own flavor of instructional models, but most have one thing in common: they are cheap.
They are all out there hawking their their magic elixirs and cure-alls, and they're all "on sale."
It's hard for reality to compete with the illusion of education on the cheap.
But why does everyone think they can get something for nothing? Why should we be surprised that raising and educating something as marvellous and complex as a human being requires a tremendous investment?
It's worth the investment, even from a utilitarian standpoint. As Geoffrey Canada of Harlem Children Zone once pointed out, for some of these kids, it's a choice between five thousand dollars extra per year while they are in school or sixty thousand per year while they are in prison.
Of course, money isn't magic. It has to be mixed with research-based practices. But the best practices in the world still need people to implement them. They still need time. And more people and more time mean more money.
I know the politicians aren't listening.
I know people vote with their pocketbooks.
But maybe one day that will change and we'll start taking the education of all kids seriously. If we do, I believe the return on our investment will be amazing.
"The only way out of poverty," said an inner city activist I met the other day, "is education."