By Elizabeth Hovde
Pass the eggnog if you think more money will fix education outcomes. People need to stop blaming schools and lawmakers for all the children who get left behind. They aren’t the ones leaving them there.
The subpar outcomes we see — from the fact that many students are not ready for kindergarten to Oregon’s abysmally low graduation rates — aren’t primarily about money. For starters, some states that spend less than Oregon on education get better results.
Instructional spending is a concern, but societal issues including broken families, parents who are uninvolved, regional norms and the technological black hole we’ve helped kids fall into are arguably bigger factors. No wonder we’re hopeful more money will offer a fix. Addressing root causes is always more difficult than opening pocketbooks.
Last month, a well-intentioned Gov. Kate Brown issued her ideas for the state’s next big tax-and-spend plan, and said she’ll be focusing on negotiating a large revenue increase to improve public education.
“How our state provides for the needs of our children is a marker of who we are as a community,” Brown said, according to The Oregonian/OregonLive’s Hillary Borrud.
No pressure or guilt, people.
The governor opined on getting Oregon’s education system back “to a level Oregonians can be proud of.” (Make Oregon schools great again?)
“For the children” is always a good bet when asking for more of people’s money. It makes a lot of people forget the trouble with government misspending and its failure to set priorities.
Critics of the proposal are rightly calling it a PERS tax. In many ways, it would be. Public Employees Retirement System costs are derailing the education budget. While the state does have an obligation to pay for the pension system’s misguided promises and the overly generous payouts workers have built financial plans around, students shouldn’t pay the price for the state’s shortsighted job perks.
While fiscal conservatives fight for better budget priorities that Oregon’s Democratic lawmakers will never agree to, public unions and others suggest taxpayers should start chipping in more money. The Oregon Education Association, Oregon School Boards Association and Confederation of Oregon School Administrators are jubilantly applauding the tax increase Brown is lobbying for.
If Brown’s proposal is adopted, the money boost might improve things, such as the length of the Oregon school year. That should be a huge priority. I’m glad Knute Buehler’s presence in the governor’s race helped put that firmly on everyone’s to-do lists.
However, I bet the tax increase won’t bring education outcomes back to “a level Oregonians can be proud of.”
Families and society need to work on that, regardless of the money picture. Research shows more parent involvement is key.
“Students with involved parents or other caregivers earn higher grades and test scores, have better social skills, and show improved behavior,” says an NEA Today article. Divorce and family breakdowns make it that much harder for parents to get involved in their children’s education. Marriage still matters.
Governments should be finding ways to encourage family stability and engagement, instead of just taking on more of a family’s job. Creating a system of education that runs from “cradle to career,” which Brown and many other education leaders tout, is a goal that makes me cringe.
Cradles belong in homes, not schools.
Parents — involved and uninvolved ones — should also think twice about devices they put under the Christmas tree this week. French children under age 15 are no longer allowed to use cell phones at any point during the school day. The government passed a national law banning the practice, concerned that students are becoming too dependent on and distracted by their gadgets. Ya think? Holding off on giving cell phones to kids is one way parents can improve educators’ jobs and hopefully student achievement.
Another way families can help? Volunteering to shoulder some of the school workload, especially in today’s behavior-challenged classrooms. An OPB series about behavior challenges in classrooms quotes Tad Shannon, the president of the Eugene Education Association, saying, “We’re in the midst of a behavioral crisis.” He added “although it might be tempting to conclude this is a problem concentrated at a few schools — this is not the case.” Teachers I know, and others interviewed by reporters, say out-of-control classrooms may drive them out of their profession.
There isn’t enough money in Oregon to fix what ails schools, and Oregonians won’t be happy with their return on an even larger investment. Government can’t always save us from ourselves. Families and society members need to stop setting students and schools up for failure.
Elizabeth Hovde’s column appears on the fourth Sunday of the month.