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l Gore vs. George W. Bush On School Funding Presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush are whetting their stances on what is quickly becoming a central issue in the upcoming presidential election - education reform.
Both perceive the issue as an opportunity to draw votes from the other party's followers, especially Bush, who stands to gain ground on minority groups, a segment of the population he is particularly weak with. (Business Week; April 10, 2000) The heat of the debate will center on school financing, who gets what, and how much. Bush, an advocate of school "choice, " will argue the failings of a money-flooded system riddled with mediocre standards. The Texas governor's policies rest well footed on past accomplishments at home, where he had a significant impact during his term. Public schools in Texas improved dramatically over Bush's watch. "Black and Latino children have made galloping gains in math and reading scores... narrowing the achievement gap that bedevils systems around the country, " cites The New York Times. (New York Times; Mar 27, 2000) Al Gore is no weakling on the issue of education, however. He plans to spend an unprecedented $ 115 billion over the next ten years to bring national schooling up to par with other industrialized nations.
He is calling for larger teacher salaries, programs to aid underprivileged children, and pre schooling for children over four. Like President Clinton, he strongly supports the National Education Association and funding to improve struggling schools with substandard resources and technology. (The Economist; April 1, 2000) Both presidential candidates have a tough road ahead of them, though. America's educational status among industrialized nations has slowly declined over the past thirty years, and now dangerously looms near the bottom. By twelfth grade ninety-five percent of American children score below the standards of twenty other rich nations, the greatest shortfalls existing among minority segments of the population where scholastic achievement has historically been quite low, especially in urban settings. According to The Economist, seventy-five percent of American ten-year-olds in the poorest public schools can't yet read or write, and one in seven seventeen-year-olds are illiterate. (The Economist; April 1, 2000) Poor performance amongst inner city schools and minority populations is not new news, however, and states have been fighting back with experimental programs, more school funding, stronger teaching standards, and student standardized testing.
But even with all the efforts made to improve current educational failings, states have only realized limited successes; the US still lags far behind other leading nations. (The Economist; April 1, 2000) The lack of real progress has roused the attention of parents, politicians, and economists, all hungry for answers. In Florida, Illinois, Main, Vermont, and Ohio, experimental vouchers were enacted in an effort to liberate frustrated parents and politicians upset with local school conditions. The voucher system is still quite controversial, however, and has met strong opposition from the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. Court rulings in favor of the NEA and AFT have complicated voucher systems even further. In Florida, the state's supreme court ruled vouchers "unconstitutional, " arguing that the state didn't have the right to use public dollars to finance private schools practicing religion.
In Milwaukee, voucher regulations have zigzagged back and forth between courts and politicians since their implementation over six years ago. In every state now implementing school vouchers, Constitutional objections await court judgment. (Phi Delta Kappa; January 2000) So far, the United States Supreme Court has declined to address the issue, leaving state legislators and state courts suspended in battle. With Al Gore adamantly backing the NEA and AFT, and George Bush diametrically opposed advocating "choice, " the battle between the two promises to be fierce. Although it is too early to tell whose view is truly favored, Bush's campaign currently leads at the polls on education, especially among minorities. Choice schemes are particularly favored among Latinos and black Americans, who, according to Business Week, "see their public schools as unsafe and of poor quality. " But Gore's educational agenda is also luring proponents. "He hopes to tap into suburban fears, that vouchers would drain scarce resources from [suburban] schools, " cites Business Week. (Business Week; April 10, 2000) In the end it all comes down to taxation, though. How many dollars do Americans want to spend on national education, and how does it want to distribute them?
Al Gore's current agenda calls for increased spending, and quite a bit. But the fact of the matter is America already stands tough as big spender on education. According to The Economist, "America spends almost sixty percent of its national income on primary and secondary education, more than any OECD [Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development] country except Denmark and Canada. " In an unsettling examination of government expenditures on national education, Eric A. Hanushek, a professor of Economics and Public Policy at the University of Rochester, illustrated that "there has been a dramatic rise in real expenditure per pupil over the entire twentieth century... after allowing for inflation, expenditures per pupil have increased almost 3. 5 percent per year. " (Hanushek 1996) According to his research, the largest gains were made over the past few decades. Between 1970 and 1990, per pupil spending almost doubled in real dollars.
Hanushek attributes the fiscal growth to three primary factors: better pupil-to-teacher ratios, increases in real teacher salaries, and expenditures on non-instructional staff. According to Hanushek, expenditures focused on improving teacher quality and pupil-to-teacher ratios fueled noticeable changes in those areas. He points out that since 1960 pupil-to-teacher ratios have declined steadily. In 1965 the average number of students per teacher was 25. 6 where as by 1990 it was only 17. 3. He also points out how teacher educational levels have improved over the past several decades. In 1965 only twenty-three percent of teachers had a master's degree, however, by 1990 over fifty percent had a master's degree.
Finally, he shows how teacher-experience lengthened. In 1960 the median years of teacher experience was eleven where as by 1990 the median was fifteen. (Hanushek 1996) But with all the striking advances made in commonly advocated areas, Hanushek points out that students have made little scholastic improvement since 1970. According to data put out by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), performance amongst seventeen-year-olds actually weakened in both math and science over the past thirty years, and reading levels remained constant or only improved slightly. Furthermore, performance amongst minorities and students of low socioeconomic backgrounds has stagnated since 1970. Hanushek explains: The problems of performance appear particularly acute when considering race or socioeconomic status... while the gap in science achievement of seventeen-year-olds has closed little and remained about one standard deviation, the 1. 3 standard deviation gaps in mathematics and reading each closed by about 60 percent.
The most recent data suggest that convergence may have ceased, with the NAEP reading scores, for example, showing significant widening. Hanushek's research also highlights the growth in expenditures on non-instructional staff over the past forty years. He explains, "Expenditures outside those for instructional staff have increased even more rapidly than those for aggregate instructional staff salaries. For example, between 1960 and 1990, salary expenditures fell from sixty-one percent to forty-six percent of total expenditures. " The stark growth of expenditures on non-instructional staff represents a suspicious trend in government spending. It could represent an increase in bureaucratic inefficiencies, though Hanushek concludes that current data can "neither confirm nor deny" such an interpretation. Hanushek concludes in his research that "spending and commonly used resources of schools are not good measures of quality.
Moreover, simply adding more resources to schools as currently structured is unlikely to yield significant results. " Hanushek's controversial conclusion is not accepted by all, however. David Card and Alan B. Krueger argue that there is evidence that school resources positively impact student achievement. Their study in 1996 focused on school resources over the past century in North and South Carolina.
Because South Carolina during the earlier half of the century concentrated their school resources on white Americans by sacrificing the school resources of black Americans, school resources for white Americans in South Carolina were larger than school resources for white Americans in North Carolina. Consequently, school resources were also larger for black Americans in North Carolina and smaller for black Americans in South Carolina. The differences in school resources, according to their study, resulted in better pupil-to-teacher ratios, which they believe positively affected the average educational level of male students. They assert, "trends in relative education between the two states roughly mirror the trends in relative school resources by race. " They also point out that as the differences in school resources converged educational attainment and earnings among males converged as well. (Card and Krueger, 1996) Card and Krueger's research offers hope and theoretically makes sense -- school resources should affect student outcomes. What it fails to identify, however, is whether increased school spending leads to an increase in school resources. While in North and South Carolina school spending seemed to lead to an increase in school resources, and, more importantly, an improvement i...
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