Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Last Civil Rights Movement, pt. 3 - As it is wont to do, the Left focuses much of its effort on achieving and maintaining "equality", even when such a state is impossible or impractical. This does not surprise, given liberalism's penchant towards equalism. Liberal equalism becomes self-evident when one examines the obsession of progressives with per-pupil spending (PPS) as a factor in K-12 educational outcomes. In spite of overwhelming empirical and anecdotal data to the contrary, liberal special interest groups like Educational Trust continue to aver that PPS is directly and inextricably linked to student performance.

As discussed previously, Education Trust recently presented a report that presents three analyses of educational spending within and between states. Their conclusions are straight from Liberalism 101, with the report commenting that, "low-income and minority students, in particular, get less of what matters most; these students get the fewest experienced and well-educated teachers, the least rigorous curriculum, and the lowest quality facilities." While in and of itself this is a demonstrably true statement, it is not clear how increased PPS would directly or necessarily remedy these shocking defects in the education process. Unfortunately, none of this deters Education Trust. Their study persists in proposing that deliberate, if not malicious actions on the part of federal, state and local governments create disparities in education spending that negatively impact those most at risk.

Of course, the fundamental issue is what constitutes sufficient PPS in the first place. For its part, the report sidesteps this question. Indeed, it goes on to say that the report itself, "does not examine whether funding in any particular state is adequate. Rather, taking current spending as it is, this analysis asks whether the districts with the highest concentrations of low-income students and students of color are getting their fair share of state money." (Emphasis added.)
As one pores through each analysis, the futility of federal involvement in educational spending becomes patent. With each state haggling for a share of federal Title I funding for its poor children, it becomes difficult for the Feds to cut a pie into 50 representative pieces; disparity is built in from the outset, as low-poverty states like Wyoming and Vermont will not allow themselves to feel shortchanged in favor of states such as California or New York.

And on the score of PPS variances between "high-minority" and "low-minority" districts, the study's results are less than compelling. Across the board, minority students perform worse academically than whites, while differences in spending between high-minority and low-minority districts are less consistent. For the 10 Southern states that have 47% of the black population according to the 2000 Census, half of them (Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Virginia, South Carolina and Mississippi) already provide more funding for districts with high numbers of minorities.

This roughly corresponds with the study's findings nationally; the report noted, "[i]n 26 of the 49 states studied, the highest poverty school districts receive fewer resources than the lowest poverty districts" - which is of course to say that 47% of high poverty school districts received more money than their low poverty counterparts. (The tragic irony is that most of the states with large black populations and glaring disparities between high- and low-minority districts are blue states, such as New York, and Illinois.)

But the salient weakness of this report, and most others that attempt to look at PPS is that it merely "examines school district revenues, not practices or policies in terms of how the money is spent." And there is the rub for most conservatives.
Left unsaid is how more money spent in already dysfunctional system will do anything other than buy more dysfunction. (As documented elsewhere, past efforts to increase PPS certainly have not positively impacted test scores, graduation rates or post-graduation career prospects.) As we can fairly intuit, school districts are able to achieve disparate results with similar amounts of money. That organizations like Education Trust do not advocate allowing students - and their dollars - to move from low-performing districts in Illinois, Washington, D.C. or New York to high-achieving districts elsewhere speaks to their bias.

And so we can neatly and succinctly define the last civil right worth fighting for. Namely, the right of every student to sit in a classroom where he or she can get a high-quality education (as opposed to sitting in a classroom with an acceptable number of students from other races.) If such an education can be acquired outside of the government-dominated system, so much the better. The mission of any school reform agenda should neither be to fully fund a system that has so repeatedly and manifestly failed those most in need of its services, nor to relocate minority students to "white" schools simply for the sake of diversity. School districts must allow all students to move both their minds and their individual share of school funding monies to institutions that will best meet their educational needs.

More per-pupil spending allocated to support an uncaring and non-functioning bureaucracy will never be more than a placebo for what ails education in the U.S. Increased spending is doomed to fail from the outset, as it attempts to purchase that which cannot be manufactured for sale: engaged parents, motivated students and competent teachers and administrators. All of these enabling factors must spring from the milieu of the school itself. As the culture of the society that the school serves is debased, so will the school itself be.

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