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Educational ooze

From tightening budgets to growing charter schools, slow moving trends are changing American public education

Issue: "Back to School," Aug. 27, 2011

WORLD readers seem to value our annual back-to-school issues, but we've heard a complaint: You emphasize Christian schools and homeschools but don't pay enough attention to public schools. So in this issue we're highlighting trends in public schooling: We'll come back to Christian education throughout the fall.

In describing public-school rates of change, "trends" may not be the right word: Change takes so long that we should call them "oozes." One public education ooze: tighter budgets in most states, but not the radical cuts that appeared in newspaper scare headlines this spring. Educational budgets have expanded so much that schools often have as many administrative personnel as teachers, as our article, "Money for nothing," shows.

Is all that extra expense the result of educators' empire-building? Much certainly is, but schools do face more behavioral problems than they did a generation ago, in part because of the growth of single-parenting and the burdens children bring with them to school. The sidebar called "Problem parents" notes that fixing education begins with fixing marriage.

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A second ooze: corruption. Some public schools have great Christian teachers-we profile one. See "'Their lives have value.'" Others have corrupt administrators and teachers. In "Looking for integrity," we have a column on Atlanta's sad story, but throughout the summer similar tales of administrative cheating on tests emerged from Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and elsewhere.

A third ooze: the growth of charter schools, which offer alternatives within public-school systems. Although severely hampered because teachers cannot talk about Christ, charter schools have the potential to innovate, and some emerge from surprising backgrounds: In "Soft sell" we profile a chain of Muslim-originated ones.

One lesson I derive from these varied stories is that researchers have found little correlation between spending and educational success. For example, last year the affluent Carmel (Calif.) Unified School District spent almost $16,000 per student, three times more than the middle-class Norris School District, yet the students had similar test scores. Similarly, the Center for Investigative Reporting found that Oakland spent about $3,000 more per student than the demographically similar Moreno Valley Schools. Students in both districts had similar test scores.

That money can't buy wisdom is even more evident in the higher education realm. More parents are angry about college costs, but so far plenty still are willing to write checks (see "Higher idols"). Many parents and students think that a college degree virtually guarantees a good job, but that's no longer the case (see "Career crisis"). Students may increase their employability by majoring in economics or finance, but parents who think those fields are spiritually safe havens are over-optimistic (see "No safe havens").

We do have some good news. The poor quality of math education has been an oozing story for decades, so in "Math - tears = Khan academy," we tell the story of a free, online math-teaching program, Khanacademy.org, that has caught on both among some public-school teachers but also homeschoolers. No bells and whistles, and its inventor doesn't have a teaching degree, so it's great that America still allows clever innovators to make a difference.

Listen to Marvin Olasky discuss WORLD's Back to School issue on The World and Everything in It.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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