Education: why throwing money at it doesn’t work
By Michael A. Matteo
President Obama outlined a plan for education that included a discussion about funding charter schools and proposing merit pay for good teachers. As a former public school teacher I applaud the president for this educational vision.
While teacher’s unions (who strongly supported Obama’s campaign) will obviously not be happy with these choices the real issue here is what is good for students and what is good for America? As we have seen in the automobile industry, their union’s shortsighted approach to what they demand for their members can be counterproductive to the basic reason why an institution exists. In the case of education we must ask ourselves who are the consumers and are they getting the bang for the buck when it comes to how tax dollars are spent?
To examine this question we need to look at the fact that the largest expenses for states are their public school systems. According to the US Census Bureau, school districts spent a whopping $9,138 per student in 2006 (in a class of 30 students that is $274,140 per class!). New York had the highest per student spending of $14,884 and Utah had the lowest at $5,437 per student. However, in terms of graduation rates Utah ranked 5th with a 91% graduation rate. While New York’s graduation rate ranked 35th, at 85.4%. How can a state spend approximately 2/3’s less than another state and have a higher graduation rate? The same case can be made for other states where spending does not correlate with educational success and illustrating that throwing money at the problem is a ridiculous solution to the problem.
As a teacher I personally witnessed other teachers just showing up to collect a paycheck. I remember one colleague, in particular, who would show up every day and show movies/film strips for his social studies class so he didn’t have to teach. He openly admitted that he was just there until he could retire and there was nothing that could be done because he had tenure. He had many more years in the system than I did and even though I showed up every day, excited to impart knowledge via innovative, hands on lesson plans I was paid significantly less than my counterpart. This is one of the many reasons that I quit teaching. I saw bureaucracy and pay scales that didn’t reward them for doing an excellent job alienate and burn out wonderful teachers. Every other occupation rewards employees for hard work and productivity; why are teachers paid based upon one criterion: time in the system? This socialist pay scale is not the way for us to keep good teachers and attract better teachers to an ailing system of public education.
President Obama is correct when he says, “It is time to start rewarding good teachers and stop making excuses for bad ones.” Students are the consumers of education and their success should be the measure of how teachers are judged just like the success of a product is judged by the demand by its customers.
The choices we make today in education will greatly impact America tomorrow and it is time to look at overhauling a system that, for too long, has failed to reward innovation and appears to be more concerned with bureaucracy and perpetuating mediocrity.
Mike Matteo is a resident of Tampa, Florida where he was a public and private high school teacher who taught classes in economics, history, psychology and philosophy. Mike has written twent-two full-length feature films and stage plays that have been produced in NY, Chicago and Los Angeles. He has also written or co-authored three books and will be producing a stage play in Tampa later this year. E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.