Don't throw money at schools

March 06, 2001|By Jennifer J. Garrett and Christopher B. Summers

WASHINGTON -- If your child brought home straight Ds and Fs, would you reward him or her with more money? Not likely, but that's what's happening in Maryland public schools.

If per-pupil expenditures are any indicator of student performance, then Maryland public schools have grossly failed to demonstrate this. Maryland, with a per-pupil expenditure of $7,034, exceeds the national average of $6,189 by 12 percent.

Yet Maryland public school students consistently score lower on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exams than many states in the nation with much lower per-pupil expenditures, including Virginia, Colorado and Texas. The NAEP is given every two years to fourth- eighth- and 12th-graders.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening is requesting $2.57 billion for education for the coming year, a record 8.5 percent increase for Maryland's public schools. And despite having one of the largest education budgets in Maryland history, the public schools have failed to increase students' test scores on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program (MSPAP).

Maryland public schools are failing their children.

Overall, the proposed $203 million increase means that state spending on public education for K-12 will have increased by $1 billion since the governor took office in 1995. Since 1995, $14 billion has been spent on education, but students are consistently performing poorly with little improvement.

Overall, only 45.3 percent of Maryland students scored at a state satisfactory level of 70 percent on the 2000 MSPAP. Only 19.9 percent of Baltimore City fifth-graders scored at a proficient level of 70 percent in reading, while only 27.4 percent of fifth-graders in Prince George's County scored at a proficient reading level.

Further, test scores dipped from 44.1 percent in 1998 to 43.8 percent in 1999. These scores indicate that more than half of Maryland public school students do not have a basic command of the subjects they are studying.

These scores, however, are no longer one of Maryland's dirtiest little secrets. The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, in a recently released annual report, gave Howard County an "F" for the continuing dismal scores of African-American students.

There are 102 schools on Maryland's list of schools for state takeover, including 15 in Prince George's County, 86 in Baltimore County and one in Anne Arundel County.

Governor Glendening's solution to the problem is all too familiar: Spend more money. Yet the state has been unable to demonstrate a link between higher spending and significant gains in student achievement. Maybe that's because, as Martin Peters, a teacher at Baltimore's Overlea High School put it, "schools do not see the direct impact of the funds in the classrooms."

The fundamental question policy-makers, teachers, administrators and the governor should be asking is: What are we getting for all of the money we're spending on education?

Money is not an indicator of academic success. Academic success is the product of high standards and accountability as well as teacher quality, discipline, choice and leadership. The emphasis on money without accountability for results has proven a recipe for academic failure.

President Bush's accountability plan may be just what Maryland schools need. Schools would receive an increase in funds only if they demonstrate improved academic performance. Schools that fail to demonstrate that could face sanctions, including the use of federal money to help students in failing schools transfer to better-performing schools.

It is time for parents and taxpayers to ask why they should continue to pour money into a system that is not producing results? Before the governor shovels out billions more dollars to Maryland public schools, he should force them to first demonstrate that the money is improving student learning.

Jennifer J. Garrett is a research assistant in the Domestic Policy Studies department at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington policy organization. Christopher B. Summers is the president of the Maryland Public Policy Institute.

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