The High Cost of Low Education

Yesterday afternoon I saw a letter from one of my parents’ schools(they’re both high school teachers) sitting out on the kitchen table. While sitting there I glanced at the letter to see what it was. Being only a couple short paragraphs it was easy to read and understand.

It stated that the school district spent 80 percent of its budget on salaries and benefits.

My first thought was of mockery. Of course the public schools would spend 80% of their budget on salaries, pensions, and other benefits, that’s what public efforts do, bloat the payroll.

However that thought quickly died when I reflected further. Since education and learning requires people and not machinery as its capital form of production it perhaps makes sense that a school would spend more on payroll since that is its key instrument.

Truly, the key is of course eager minds, but the means to facilitate that is what the school does, or should do. Still I can recall the regularity with which the many dozens of local school districts call for further needed funds and budgets so that they can “acquire new tools for learning”.

Every school in the country will easily state its need for the newest, best, and fanciest tools, gadgets, and formulae for teaching and molding young minds. Why if every pupil doesn’t have an ipad, and imac how will they ever learn latin History of American Oppression, without them?

The reality is that every public school in America will do whatever it takes to get more funding, spend 80% of that money of salaries and still claim it needs more money to improve how it teaches your children.

Perhaps you’d get more bang for your educational buck if they spent more than 2 out of every 10 dollars on the needed improvements they always claim to desperately need.

As stated above, I think 80% for salaries in a human versus machine -capital intensive job isn’t that bad. The problem, to me, isn’t that they spend only 20% on ‘materials’ but that they claim that isn’t enough. Materials schmaterials. You’re teachers, teach. If you don’t know the material you have no business being up there. If your own mind isn’t strong enough to know the material it surely shouldn’t be responsible for molding young minds.

They fail to realize that the 80% on salaries counts as money spent on materials. You can spend as much as you want building a hightech racecar to match Ferrari and it wont be worth the hair on your toes if you don’t have someone who can drive it.

Spend whatever you can on extra fancy materials, if a teacher is incompetent and/or the students(and parents) don’t care to pay attention the fanciest touchscreen  monitor built into the desk isn’t going to teach biology any better.

The reason educational results have declined for decades while spending has grown immensely is but part of the picture. The search for educational alchemy turning brains directly into intelligence through some form of magic is what ails American education.

Gizmos and technology can make a great supplement to education and offer new and more ways of engaging students beyond the classroom. However, without a teacher to guide the student along the path to knowledge fulfillment and parents to ensure the journey is completed honestly and earnestly the gizmos are nothing more than a distraction similar to those found in experiments with lab monkeys.

I’ve come full circle on the matter from yesterday afternoon. 80 percent spending on salaries is not horrible(though the total sum is still objectionable), rather the problem is that results are expected to come from the remaining 20 percent of spending and people have forgotten why the 80% is spent the way it is(and that’s not to be a works project).

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Posted on February 18, 2013, in No Hope For America, Problems to Ponder and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Whats interesting is that new technology usually goes unused. I remember when they started putting computers stations in every class. They were hardly ever used. In the end teaching is very low tech, certain technologies help facillitate the process, it’s not required for a good teacher.

    Here’s a question I have. Is that 80% on salaries and benefits just the pay for the teachers themselves? Or does that include the administration up at the district level as well? It’s been a while, but I remember watching a documentary that stated that we spent 300k for every class room in this nation, but less than a 1/3, 80k, was actually used to pay the teachers, rent the class room, and provide all the materials needed. I’m trying to find the source of that quote now.

    • Technology works as a supplement to education, but the two most important things are still the teachers ability and the students effort.
      Technologies biggest impact is that it allows you to reach different students in different ways. Lecturing is awfully boring so some students may benefit more from map exploration online or whatever. Still that is where the teachers ability comes in, it is her(and occasionally his) job to make sure the students are getting it and to facilitate that.

      It was 80% for the school district, so I feel confident to say it was meant to include the administration costs as well. Which if you were to reduce those costs and remove the fluff there you would have even more to spend on either teachers or technology.

  2. My moms a teacher and always has some reason why her day is bad or the kids arent learning well. Oh a kid hates me. Oh a kid transferred classes. Oh my other 5th grade teacher is a pain. Tests. Curriculum. Principle. Food. Tech.


    I’ve stopped listening to her excuses. I’ve heard more excuses from her than any other woman and it seems to be prevalent in teaching. Teaching is like physical exercise -the only thing you get from fancy tools and shortcuts is ignoring a part of what you’re trying to achieve

    • My parents don’t mess around with their students, they’re honest and upfront with them and even the normally bad students respond better to that.

      The failings of education comes down to two things, in this order.
      1) Bad parents. They think they’re doing a good job but in reality all they do is give their kids everything they want and protect them from reality and get upset when their kid gets a C cause he deserves better.

      2) Bad teachers. They think they’re doing a good job but in reality they suck at teaching. It’s not something everyone can do well and they aren’t upfront enough to call BS when they see it so the system continues to crash.

      Each factor is a case of people thinking they do a better job than they actually do.

      • Yup. My own mother is a mediocre teacher surrounded by upper middle class SWPL parents in a public elementary school. She’s simply always been fluxuating between somewhat together and a wreck for the last 10 years, so she doesn’t have the confidence to command the room at all times. Then the politics between the admin, the parents, and the teachers unions just eat her alive.

        I feel sorry for her, but I’ve stopped listening to her unless I can tell she’s in dire emotional straights or actually listening to me. Rare for each of those.

      • Yeah a good teacher really has to stand their ground with the parents. I’ve heard plenty of horror stories about stupid parents, but it’s also harder to do if you have crappy administrators who wont stand with you.
        Teaching kids is just like raising them, you have to be in control but that doesn’t mean being a tyrant, just have a be cool I’ve got this attitude.

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