I’ve worked in education for more than 15 years both at a junior college and a high school. And I’ve heard the old canard repeated over and over again, that we have to stop throwing money at education because it doesn’t make a difference. I’ve come to believe that it is bull-o-ney. Money makes ALL the difference.
How did I come to this realization? I’ve taught journalism and media at the same campus for the last 14 years. The campus is in a working class section of a major metropolitan area. The students come mainly from blue-collar homes. Their parents are pipe-fitters, truck drivers, electricians, carpenters, janitors and secretaries. They are not poor, but they are surely not wealthy. They can not provide their sons and daughters with private lessons or expensive extras for school.
There are a number of schools in our metro area where the majority of the students do come from wealthy homes. One school has a two-decade long record of winning a major academic competition both at the state and national level. Many of their tennis players play on full sized courts in their back yards at home. And of course their journalism/media lab lacks for nothing. It has all the most up-to-date hardware and software. Is is any wonder they dominate the state journalism competition?
This year, our school was able to win a silver medal at CSPA and just missed a gold medal. We just won a national photography award. I am very proud of my students, but I am also mindful that our recent success is due to better facilities and funding, especially in photography.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that my students don’t deserve the awards or didn’t work hard to earn them. They did, but so did many of the students who came before them, but lacked the proper resources to do the job. And there is the rub.
I’ve had talented photographers before, but they were forced to use equipment that couldn’t get the job done regardless of the talent of the photographer. Fourteen years ago, my staff had four, tired, old computers and little in the way of software or photographic equipment. Today we have enough DSLRs to equip all of our staff photographers. We have a full lab of 20 computers.
We have the tech. We may not always have the most up-to-date software, but we have tools that are new enough to give my students a chance to learn how to create compelling media.
But it takes a sustained effort and a sustainable money stream.
Too many times in education, we think that equal is what we should be aiming for, when in reality it will never be equal. What we really need is funding that will give each student the chance to make up for the inequities they bring with them to school. So many students can’t read the alphabet when they come to kindergarten. Others don’t speak English. Many don’t have two parents at home, which means that the one parent they have has less time to help them with homework.
Schools can overcome these problems, but it is not cheap. It requires money to hire qualified staff, to train or retrain staff, to keep competitive salaries to retain staff and more money for technology, both up to date hardware and appropriate, well-designed, easy to use software. But lower-income, urban schools are often give the same or even lower funding than schools in well to do suburban neighborhoods. And many teachers flee urban schools for “better” schools as soon as they have sufficient experience, even when pay is less. Teaching in urban schools can be challenging, when you have so many students who need more help, not less.
But anyone in business knows you don’t get any results you don’t pay for, and too often we are getting exactly what we pay for in education. And we can’t blame it on local school boards. They can only work with the resources they have. It is the states and the Federal government who seem hell bent on starving poor schools, while sending them marching to the firing squads of mandated testing.
I think this also goes far to explain why the US is slowly losing its grip as a world leader. First, as the tools of technology become cheaper, more of the developing world will have access. But, if we don’t help our own middle class, working class and working poor rise – we are bound to see our own fortunes fall. It all starts in the classroom – with teachers and with parents. If there is one thing that our new president can do to improve our long term economic health – it is improve education.