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Money for nothing

"Money for nothing" Continued...

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

Still, the growth in the number of teachers relative to enrollments does not account for all the extra government spending. Education reformers point to the number of school administrators. Nearly 5 million students attended Texas public schools in the 2010-2011 school year, up 19 percent from 2000-2001. The number of classroom teachers in the state's public schools rose 23 percent during the same period. But "administration" and "professional staff"-superintendents, principals, educational program leaders, and other school district bosses who typically hold advanced degrees and earn the biggest paychecks, along with accountants, computer programmers, audio-visual technicians, secretaries, and so forth-ballooned 38 percent to 39 percent in Texas over that same decade.

Texas now employs nearly as many full-time public-school employees who don't work in a classroom as those who do-326,812 compared to 333,090 in 2010.

The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District provides a good case study of administrative bloat in public schools, says Cindy Mallette of The Red Apple Project, the education finance watchdog arm of the Texas chapter of Americans For Prosperity. The Cy-Fair district covers a huge swath of suburbia and exurbia northwest of Houston, and with 100,000-plus students is the third-largest in the state. The Texas Comptroller's office has called it one of the state's most efficient districts in terms of how it spends its money and the results it gets as measured by student achievement.

Yet even that "model" district is so top heavy that it requires 443 secretaries to support 1,329 administrators, managers, and non-teaching professionals. That total includes a superintendent whose base salary before retiring in June was $292,736, plus eight assistant and five associate superintendents, 272 principals and vice and associate principals, 182 counselors, 86 directors and assistant directors, 68 coordinators, 66 media specialists, 43 academic coaches, 73 education diagnosticians, and 16 psychologists.

"If conservative, fiscally responsible Texas has this problem, you can bet that less fiscally sound states are dealing with it too," Mallette says.

Cy-Fair school board member Bill Morris says flatly, "We have not spent money wisely." In late 2009 he won election over the board's former president by focusing on issues like Cy-Fair's $3 billion debt, its attempts to grab more tax money, and a large achievement gap between white and minority students. He also tapped into public outrage over a palatial $80 million football stadium/sports arena/special events complex opened in 2006. Since then the district has sold more construction bonds, but can't afford to staff or cool eight of the new schools that were to have been built with the bond money.

Cy-Fair's former superintendent and supportive board members had argued that the district needed more, not less tax money, and that the district budget had been cut to the bone. Morris says, "I don't buy that. And a lot people here and all around the country don't buy that."

-Dan Reed is a Texas journalist

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

Problem parents

Fixing schools depends on fixing families first

By Mitch Pearlstein

Many conservatives define our public-school problems in terms of teachers unions, administrator organizations, colleges of education, and the rest of the educational establishment holding oligopolistic sway. In essence, they are looking to governmental change to fix what are, in large measure, the results of social and spiritual problems.

Do great educators and great schools make enormous differences in the lives of all kinds of students-from the most fortunate to the least-every period of every day? Of course they do. But many more kids than we may think have such holes and disorganization in their home lives that they find it too hard to concentrate and work hard enough so as to perform well enough academically.

Looking less individually and more communally (as in largely fatherless communities, of which we have vast numbers), it's clear that neighborhoods in which more than 80 percent or 90 percent of children are born outside of marriage are not particularly conducive places for even middling achievement. Peer pressure, for example, can be perverse anyplace, but tends to be especially poisonous-as in epithets about "acting white"-where strong families aren't buffers.

Or consider not just everyday ants-in-pants, but the specific matter of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, a real affliction that affects not a large proportion of people but a large number of them. Many researchers say ADHD's fundamental causes are genetic, not anything social, such as AWOL parents. Let's accept that. But don't constant pressures and accompanying crises-the very kinds often entwined with family fragmentation-trigger and ignite genetic predispositions?

Whether it's ADHD as strictly defined, or some other state of mind with fewer if any explanatory pages in any psychiatric textbook, it's clear that sizable numbers of children have an extra hard time concentrating on their schoolwork because of unfilled holes in their lives. A 2010 Educational Testing Service report concluded that educational progress was unlikely apart from "increasing marriage rates and getting fathers back into the business of nurturing children."

Fixing education, like charity, begins in the home.

-Mitch Pearlstein, founder and president of Center of the American Experiment in Minneapolis, is the author of From Family Collapse to America's Decline

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