It’s no secret that I’m hostile to the teachers’ union. While I completely support the idea of teachers earning a living wage and having decent working conditions — and am willing to concede that unions are well suited to negotiating these ends — I think the teachers’ unions have gone far beyond that and meddled in the actual education process in ways that are unconscionable. I say this as a victim of public school education and as the daughter of a teacher who spent his long career as a union member. One of the many problems I have with unions is that they have convinced State legislatures that the key to the problem is every increasing amounts of money and ever decreasing numbers of students per classroom. “If you just keep throwing more money at us, and keep shrinking the class sizes,” they say, “we promise you students who have mastered the Three Rs. And it’s always untrue. Walter Williams tackles only the most recent evidence of the fallacy behind the “give me more money” mentality in America’s public schools:
Let’s look at the recent “Nation’s Report Card,” published annually by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. Nationally, in reading, only 13 percent of black fourth graders, and 11 percent of black eighth graders score as proficient. Twenty-nine percent achieve a score of “basic,” which is defined as having a partial knowledge and skills necessary to be proficient in the grade. Fifty-nine percent score below basic, not having any of the necessary knowledge and skills. It’s the same story for black eighth graders, with 40 percent scoring basic and 49 percent below basic.
In math, it’s roughly the same story. For black fourth graders, 12 percent score proficient, 47 percent score basic and 40 percent below basic. For black eighth graders, 8 percent score proficient, while 33 percent score basic and 59 percent score below basic; however, one percent of black fourth graders and eighth graders achieved an advanced score in math.
Teachers and politicians respond to this tragic state of affairs by saying that more money is needed. The Washington, D.C. school budget is about the nation’s highest with about $15,000 per pupil. Its student/teacher ratio, at 15.2 to 1, is lower than the nation’s average.
Despite this, black academic achievement in Washington, D.C. is the lowest in the nation. Reading scores for Washington, D.C.’s fourth-grade black students are: 7 percent proficient, 21 percent basic and 71 percent below basic. For eighth-graders, it’s 6 percent proficient, 33 percent basic and 58 percent below basic. It’s the same sad tale in math. For fourth-graders, it’s 5 percent proficient, 35 percent basic and 59 percent below basic. For eighth-graders, it’s three percent proficient, 23 percent basic and 73 percent below basic. With these achievement levels, one shouldn’t be surprised that the average black high school graduate, depending upon the subject, has the academic achievement level of the average white sixth, seventh or eighth grader.
Williams assigns blame evenly amongst disaffected students; incompetent or demoralized teachers; disengaged parents; and corrupt administrators. He’s right. But I think his numbers also show the fallacy in believing that throwing money at public schools will mask basic flaws in our education system.