Recently, Bruno V Manno wrote an article at RealClearEducation describing the changes in education that have happened as a result of the Covid madness kids were forced to live through.
While Manno describes many of these factors as a tragedy, I can't help but see the opportunity in this. No stimulus is stronger than a negative stimulus, and if it's painful enough, it makes people run the other way very quickly.
Our school systems as an institution have been wobbly, shaky, failing centers of “education” for decades, and the system at a national level sat entrenched in its own refuse. It felt no compulsion to change things up or pursue different avenues. After all, why would they? Money flowed in by the billions for decades, and landed in the pockets of many of the most influential people. Yes, my finger is pointing at the teachers unions, administrative staff, school boards and policymakers.
Despite being in the top 5 in spending on education, the US doesn't tend to rank anywhere near the top 5 in most basic subjects. We tend to run middle of the pack, and continue to throw money at the issue.
Conservatives have been harping on this for years, especially as the administrative wing of universities has grown exponentially. Forbes reported in 2017, “During the 1980-1981 school year, public and private institutions spent $20.7 billion in total on instruction, and $13 billion on academic support, student services and institutional support combined, according to data from the National Center for Educational Statistics. By the 2014-2015 school year, total instructional costs had climbed to $148 billion, while the same grouping of administrative expenses had risen to $122.3 billion.”
To put this in perspective, Forbes continues, “Put another way, administrative spending comprised just 26% of total educational spending by American colleges in 1980-1981, while instructional spending comprised 41%. Three decades later, the two categories were almost even: administrative spending made up 24% of schools’ total expenditures, while instructional spending made up 29%.”
The result? Massive increases in student tuition and a growing administrative class of the university system. To put it plainly: the system got fat on the “free” dollars students have been pumping into the system.
A few years ago, (okay more like 7 or 8?) I was living in Madison when then governor Scott Walker attempted to rein-in the budget of University of Wisconsin and other public universities. People went...nuts (I'll be PG.) They couldn't fathom the programs that might have to shut down, and the expenses that wouldn't get covered by the cuts.
This is a simple study of human psychology. If I gave you $100 for a day, no strings attached, you'd appreciate the gift. If I gave it to you for a week, you'd be disappointed the money stopped flowing, but you'd still appreciate the gift. If I gave you $100 for 10 years, then suddenly stopped the payments...you would be mad, upset, or in the case of some: threaten my life and my family. Why? Because you came to rely on the added financial padding. I'm sure you would have come to depend on that $100 for your bills. But what would the loss of that money do? Force you to rethink your expenses. Maybe, after losing that free gift of money, you wouldn't need to have a subscription to Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ and HBO (is that still a thing?) all at the same time.
No one wants to vote a dollar out of their pocket, and monoliths like the education sphere of culture is especially protective of its own. Remove the dollars, and watch them scramble to figure out what actually matters.
But the question is: what did Covid do to shake up education out of its trance? Well, it's not so much the education machine that truly woke up, but the parents and the students. No matter what...they are the life blood of the system, and the system does have a weakness: its reliance on the people it serves.
Manno wrote, “More than two-thirds (69%) of parents say that they're worried their child isn't on track in school, almost twice as many as the 35% who were worried about this pre-pandemic.”
I say, “Good.” That means a few of them are waking up that something is wrong. Manno continues, “Nearly two-thirds (63%) of parents worry about their child's mental health. All this leads nearly six in ten (56%) want schools to rethink how they educate children and create new ways to teach children.”
YES! It's about time you dolts understood the issue. I have family members who used to teach, and they complained bitterly about the product (aka the students) being churned out every year. Yet, they're ardent supporters of the public school system. It's time to change our perspective, and realize that perhaps this old, antiquated, factory-prep, Prussian robot-building monster is feeding off of the stupidity of our children and their parents.
Manno further noted that Covid led to much less student learning, and there are now growing achievement gaps between the races and schools of differing socioeconomic status. I would have said, “Duh”, but it didn't feel necessary. He did also say that the average student lost the equivalent of 13 weeks of in-person instruction, and the gap reached 22 weeks for students in high-poverty schools.
He also lists mental health as a rising issue for students. An advisory by the Surgeon General reports that mental health visits for children 5-11 increased by 24% compared to 2019. 12-17 year-olds visits climbed 31%. 76% of school staff voiced concerns about students showing signs of depression, anxiety and trauma.
Thankfully, people are getting the hint. Compared to 2020, enrollment in public schools has shrunk by almost 1.3 million students. Alternative options found record enrollment levels. And even urban areas moved themselves out of the collapsing building. New York schools lost around 64,000 students, Los Angeles around 43,000, and Chicago lost around 25,000. (To Chicago's credit...how many actual students do they really have?)
Unfortunately, the politicians have used the one solution they can think of to solve the problem. Money. And lots of it. States and School districts have now raked in $190 billion in federal pandemic education funding.
Manno reports that this “Money is being used to implement programs that accelerate student learning, including evidence-based ones like intensive small-group tutoring; competency-based instruction that develops specific student knowledge and skills; summer school; extra instruction in core subjects; lengthening the school year; and offering modest financial incentives and other rewards to students, parents, and teachers.”
I struggle with this. I don't mind re-imagining how the student learns, since sitting behind a desk and memorizing rote facts has got us exactly nowhere. But, the use of the almighty dollar always seems to be the “fixed-it” duct tape we think we need. We wrap it over everything, encasing everything from our schools, to our politics, to our wallets and our prom dresses. Money is the root of all evil (as people miss the mark with the quote), yet our savior too?
I vote we bleed the system dry of money. I know, I know. Many are screaming while some cheer. “Our teachers are underpaid!” They scream. “Our schools are collapsing!” They cry out. “Our kids don't have the latest technology staring them in the face all day!” They stupidly crow. And we've spent billions upon billions to reach this point of collapse. They'll admit it to you. The system sucks. It's failing. Yet, time and time again, we hear that it's just a few more dollars to fix the issue. That, my friends—is an addict.
Cold turkey. Get rid of the unions. (I now have family screaming at me.) Hear me out: the unions protect the horrible teachers, meaning you aren't paid on your merit. You are only paid on your seniority. The rest of the world doesn't pay purely on seniority. Why? Because it recognizes that if you want the best, you have to pay the best. Not only this, but the teacher unions are a gun to the head of the taxpayer. Who is negotiating against them? The politicians? You mean the same politicians that they campaign for and turn union dues into campaign funding for? Those politicians? Or do you mean the administrators that lose credibility, job security and support when they stand against the unions? Unions don't strike because anyone is truly stopping them. They only strike because someone is slowing them down. Dissolve public unions and create a system based on merit. All of a sudden, you'll see teachers and administrations ACTUALLY care about what is working and not working with students.
I do truly believe you'd also see the minimization of standardized testing. It gives an idea of student performance, but competition will want results to show. In other words: businesses compete by their product. Schools could compete on what their students, teachers and sports teams are doing and producing. Not just the test scores.
I also propose: close down the crappy schools, open up vouchers and let students carry their funding with them. If we're going to say we're pooling our money collectively for the students, then let the students use it where they can best be served. After all, plenty of y'all supported unlimited student loans. I can't fathom an 18 year-old getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans, while business people get rejected for 50 thousand, but then again: I'm not the government and the school system in a nasty, incestuous relationship. I live in the real-world.
This problem has solutions. The question is whether we have the courage and the guts to go through the pain to reach the answer we all want. If we as parents start voting our conviction for local school boards and state levels, while we move our children into competitive options; then we may just see the day when our children are growing in intelligence and emotional stability...not cratering through the crust of the earth.