“Then Raise Taxes!”

There is no question we are asking our states, school districts, and schools to do far more with fewer resources.  The boom years for public education are over, perhaps best emphasized by the end of the multi-billion-dollar Reading First program years ago.  The economic downturn of 2008 and 2009, now coupled with the end of ARRA money for the states means school districts are already pinching the skinniest of pennies.

Regardless of whether I am wearing my ed reformer hat, my school board chairman hat, my pundit hat, or my parent hat, I hate hearing the “do more with less mantra.”  At the end of the day, this is not an issue of doing more.  This is an issue of doing better, pure and simple.  Throughout public education, we must do better with the resources we have, ensuring that those precious dollars are being spent on kids, instruction, and results.  We must demonstrate real return on our education investment, shown through the success of our students.  No ifs, ands, or buts.
That’s why it is so disheartening to continue to see those who defend the status quo crow that it is all about the dollars, that our schools would do more if they only had increased funding.  That the answer, as Diane Ravitch recently put it during a visit to Hartford, CT, is “then raise taxes!”
There is no question that poverty and performance in our public schools are closely linked.  One only needs to look at the achievement gap between wealthy and low-income students to see that reality.  But we also know there is no data that proves increasing the per-pupil expenditure results in improved student learning, student test scores, and student success. 
If it were only a matter of dollars, then cities like Washington, DC would have public schools that were all the envy of the wealthiest of suburbs.  If it were only a matter of funding, New Jersey’s Abbott Schools in Newark, Trenton, and Camden would be our nation’s top performers.  If it were all about the benjamins, the recent influx of NCLB dollars would have turned student test scores on its head, with our previously lowest-performing schools outperforming the world.
Don’t get me wrong, money helps.  It helps a great deal.  But it isn’t just about gross dollars, it is about how those gold coins are spent.  It is also about what one is teaching.  It is about who is teaching.  It is about how families are engaged in the learning process.  It is about empowering students and parents.  Yes, it is as much about how we spend the money as the money itself.
Organizations like Education Trust can provide detailed lists of schools in low-income communities, with low per-pupil expenditures who are succeeding against the odds.  In cities across the nation, we see charter schools (and let there be no mistake, charters are also public schools) that are posting top student performance numbers, despite spending only one-half or two-thirds of what is being spent in a low-performing traditional public school in the same city.  Not only can we do better with less, we have true exemplars that are already doing it.
Yes, it would be fabulous if we were able to wave a magic wand and inject billions of additional dollars into our public schools.  It would be terrific if resources weren’t an issue and poverty weren’t a concern that every educator and community leader needed to worry about.  And it would be great if every child could ride a unicorn to school.
Like it or not, we are now in the new normal.  We must do better with the resources we have.  We must ensure all kids have strong, effective teachers leading their classrooms, and those teachers are adequately supported.  We must ensure all students have access to great public schools, regardless of their zip code.  And we must ensure that all of those in the learning process — be they teachers, administrators, students, parents, or even those dreaded reformers — are focused on the true outcomes of public education, and not just on the inputs.

3 thoughts on ““Then Raise Taxes!”

  1. Hey Patrick,You should respond to your respondents or else they might they think you’re only promoting yourself, which is what education has become for so many involved. Here is my response to Then Raise Taxes!• The mantra might read: Do better with better teachers who are better trained with better education courses that fit the times that are a-changin’. Success will come if we educate our educators so they can educate the kids, that’s when you’ll get the real returns, or perhaps, in a business sense, dividends on your investments.• For money you get honey as my mother of ninety-six always says, but it didn’t seem to work in past education programs and probably will not work now unless you have the teachers to teach children, otherwise duh money is useless. I have seen programs die that on the surface seemed great, workable, and practical. But why you may ask and so do I. Why hasn’t education figured out why their programs don’t work so they won’t repeat the same mistakes they made in the past? Education has no memory bank because they have made bad investments in the schools they would rather forget.• Poverty and performance are more labels that categorize kids and don’t help to change things. I still go back to my original thesis, which is “teachers first,” and then education will rise out of its own ashes.• What one teaches and who is teaching are two keys to resolving the problem facing education today. But then another word comes up that has become painful to listen to because of its repetition, and that is “empowering” (students and parents, but what about teachers and school leaders?) And how are you going to do that: HOW do you empower people? • Just think of the word: E-M-P-O-W-E-R-M-E-N-T and please tell me what other words come to mind? Here are some words that come to my mind: power, command, control, embrace, mastery, might, strength, endurance, perseverance, capability, muscle, strong, independence, responsibility, discipline, passion, knowledge, belief, understanding, competence, mindfulness, self- reliance, self-guidance, self-motivation, self-discovery, self-realization, self- actualization, freedom, open-mindedness, truth, courage, inner peace, enlightenment, self-awareness, expansion, possibilities, self-empowerment…• Charter schools, what are they? Are they really public schools, or are they private schools living cheaply in public school facilities? And how long will charter school teachers last working long hours without feeling the call to teaching? Yes, maybe they are doing more with less, but I don’t think that will play out in the long run and make the needed changes we’re seeking. Are we still waiting for supermen and superwomen? • RESPONSE TO BE CONTINUEDJeffrey Pflaum

  2. Here is the continuation of Jeffrey Pflaum’s original response to: Then Raise Taxes! • Are charters the way to go? Is it about quantity of hours taught that makes Johnny want to read? Will charter schools change the fact that sixty per cent of college students can’t read or handle college textbooks? Will charters chart a new course for kids and actually connect them to their school work? What are the real achievement gaps that we are facing and not addressing? • The “new normal”: What does that mean? • What is a strong, effective teacher? • Just as, or more, important: What is a strong, effective student?• What is teacher support?• Where is teacher support?• Where are the students?• Who are the students?• What are the outcomes of education? Are they the “new normal”?Education is about questions, and we must keep asking questions until we (?) have an answer, or answers, so I leave you with these questions:Can education find its way back home?Is it a good thing for education to be lost in its own world?What are the futuristic, collective selves of education?Can education jump start itself with future shocks?Is there an injection to re-energize our system to make it whole and bring students, teachers, school leaders, and parents back to the same classroom?Are the solutions obvious or are we blinded by our own lights? Jeffrey Pflaum

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