Saturday, January 18, 2014

Education Equity or Waste

In an op-ed piece of 13 January appeared this question: “Will groups like the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; banking; businesses, including equine, agriculture and coal, step up and put aside their special agendas, pressuring state government to do the right thing?” [about education]. The answer is NO. In the column was this statement: “Gov. Steve Beshear and the 2014 General Assembly have an opportunity to get us back on track. The tax structure of Kentucky needs to be changed, pure and simple.” This is ho-hum stuff whenever the legislature meets and the governor pontificates...endlessly.

The tax structure may need to be changed but change can be claimed for everything the state does, not just concerning education – nothing new there. The biggest tax increase in the state's history at the time occurred in 1990 in behalf of education...the Kentucky Education Reform Act, which also included mountains of pork, necessary for passage of most everything. Not long after, a gaggle of elected officials and bureaucrats went to the Big House on other matters.

KERA was brought about through a lawsuit by 66 school superintendents claiming the state was unfair in allocation of funds to districts. There was some unfairness, although x-number-of-dollars-per-student across-the-board seemed fair enough. The difference in funding accrued to the fact that in many school-districts citizens taxed themselves for additional funds in order to have better schools, something not done to the same extent if at all by many other districts, especially in East-Kentucky, admittedly a sometime depressed area, mostly depending on coal production, although malfeasance by elected property-valuation-administrators was a huge factor.

To the extent of actual need, KERA helped financially, but in the mix the legislature and governor decided to legislate costly pedagogy—an error of inestimable damage (throwing out the baby with the bath-water), opting for something called “outcomes-based-education,” having individual self-esteem as a primary goal and downgrading academic achievement. For instance, KERA provided for the combining of K through third grade and for each school's site-based council (principal, three teachers, two parents) to determine everything from curriculum to the hiring of the principal.

Teachers and administrators quietly disobeyed much of KERA and subsequent legislatures have virtually disemboweled key elements of the law as tests proved that academic achievement headed south, and fast. About the only academic authority a school-board had under KERA was the hiring/firing of the superintendent.

Concerning funds, the school establishment needs to get its house in order before more whining about being financially disenfranchised. KERA perpetrated a financial disaster that could have been avoided if only by not enacting its plethora of duplicate services and attempts to reward expected efforts with bribes. All other government departments have had to bite the bullet, but a bloated education establishment seems to consider itself immune from a stringent cost-to-performance ratio.

In the Fayette County system there are something like 335 headquarters-entities designated as office/department, complete with often highly overpaid supervisors or directors and whatever staffs are needed, a huge bureaucracy. In the schools are assistant principals, when one or at least fewer might be enough. How many counselors are needed? When the nation's education system after WWII propelled the U.S. to be the world leader in every area from manufacturing to the military there were no frills, just intensive academic endeavor and discipline. Now, the U.S. hugely trails other developed nations, especially in the sciences and math.

A look at the staff of Lexington's Lafayette High School (best band in the land), for instance, easily indicates over 30 administrators/counselors (no custodial staff or food-workers included). According to the U.S. News & World Report for 2013, there are nearly 2000 students and 115 teachers, or one administratively connected person for every 3.5 teachers and 65 or so students. I did a five-year stint in teaching (mostly math) some 60 years ago and make no claim that nothing's changed since then, but I can't believe that the entire local and state systems would suffer if undergoing a 10% cut in all but special-ed areas, saving millions.

Other state workers have had to observe non-paid furloughs but there's no suggestion that this obtain with the schools. Instead, an honest effort to wring out the fat is sorely needed before more whining. The op-ed writer said money would always be a prime feature in educational endeavor. Agreed, with the insistence that stringent housekeeping is in order financially.

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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