Monday, March 08, 2010

Proof That Money Doesn't Solve All Education Issues

In the mid-80's, a judge decided that Kansas City's schools still needed to be desegregated. Oh, there was no formal or legal segregation going on; no, it's just that white people lived in one area and blacks in another, and the schools reflected that. The school district was still operating under a desegregation order related to the Brown v. Board decision, though, and tried to get out from under that order in 1994. The Clinton Administration opposed this move:

The Clinton Administration, taking a position in a school desegregation case for the first time, told the Supreme Court today that it planned to oppose the State of Missouri's request to have the Kansas City public schools declared successfully integrated and no longer in need of Federal court supervision...

The Justices have agreed to hear Missouri's appeal of a Federal appeals court ruling that requires the state to keep paying more than $200 million a year for an extensive magnet school program and other improvements aimed at overcoming the legacy of segregation. The case poses basic questions about how the success of a court-ordered integration plan is ultimately to be judged.

What's that? $200 million a year? Did that get your attention? Here's the Cato Institute's view about what happened, going back to the 1985 decision requiring continued federal oversight to alleviate the effects of segregation decades before:

For decades critics of the public schools have been saying, "You can't solve educational problems by throwing money at them." The education establishment and its supporters have replied, "No one's ever tried." In Kansas City they did try. To improve the education of black students and encourage desegregation, a federal judge invited the Kansas City, Missouri, School District to come up with a cost-is-no-object educational plan and ordered local and state taxpayers to find the money to pay for it.

Kansas City spent as much as $11,700 per pupil--more money per pupil, on a cost of living adjusted basis, than any other of the 280 largest districts in the country. The money bought higher teachers' salaries, 15 new schools, and such amenities as an Olympic-sized swimming pool with an underwater viewing room, television and animation studios, a robotics lab, a 25-acre wildlife sanctuary, a zoo, a model United Nations with simultaneous translation capability, and field trips to Mexico and Senegal. The student-teacher ratio was 12 or 13 to 1, the lowest of any major school district in the country.

The results were dismal. Test scores did not rise; the black-white gap did not diminish; and there was less, not greater, integration.

Even in late 1995 the failure was already evident, as this article points out:

The effort to integrate the Kansas City public schools is one of the most costly, misguided, and ineffectual programs ever undertaken in America in the name of racial equality. This billion-dollar effort has been so utterly a failure that only good can come of it. Catastrophe as complete as this may shake even a liberal’s confidence. This may well be the high-water mark of the astonishing efforts whites have made to build a society in the name of an illusory equality.

Kansas City came to national attention ten years ago, when federal District Judge Russell Clark ordered the school district to build and staff the best, most expensive public schools in the country — perhaps in the world. They were to be so dazzlingly good that they would both lure white students out of their safe suburbs and raise black student achievement to the white level. Judge Clark was even willing to wield dictatorial power to get what he wanted, looting both the city and the state to fund the gold-plated schools that desegregation was thought to require.

Of course, the grand experiment failed. The wondrous schools were duly built but blacks learned no more in them than before. Whites stayed in the suburbs.
So where is Kansas City today, after building and staffing these Taj Mahals of education?

Kansas City was held up as a national example of bold thinking when it tried to integrate its schools by making them better than the suburban districts where many kids were moving. The result was one school with an Olympic-sized swimming pool and another with recording studios.

Now it's on the brink of bankruptcy and considering another bold move: closing nearly half its schools to stay afloat.

Schools officials say the cuts are necessary to keep the district from plowing through what little is left of the $2 billion it received as part of a groundbreaking desegregation case.

Two billion dollars, and nothing to show for it except the possibility of shuttered classrooms.

The ABC News story continues:

Kansas City appeared headed for a recovery when a federal judge in 1985 declared the district was unconstitutionally segregated. To boost test scores, integrate the schools and repair decrepit classrooms, the state was ordered to spend about $2 billion to address the problems.

The district went on a buying spree that included a six-lane indoor track and a mock court complete with a judge's chamber and jury deliberation room. But student achievement remained low, and the anticipated flood of students from the suburbs turned out to be more like a trickle. Court supervision of the desegregation case ended in 2003.

And to this day, the district continues to lose students. In the late 1960s enrollment peaked at 75,000, dropped to 35,000 a decade ago and now sits at just under 18,000.
This is what happens when... ah, heck, I don't even need to say it, do I?

8 comments:

Mr. W said...

well you might have to say something once mazenko reads this post.

I will be re-posting this one on my blog if you don't mind :-) great find.

allen (in Michigan) said...

Contradicting Wallis Simpson, maybe it is possible to be too rich. Maybe the problem isn't too little funding but too much - both in the Kansas City district and the U.S. in general.

I know that's heretical but since the funding increases don't actually produce educational solutions it's reasonable to wonder whether funding increases produce educational problems. Otherwise funding increases are neutral with regard to educational improvements and that seems unreasonable.

mazenko said...

This is what happens when money is mis-spent and mis-managed. The issue is always administration - with the ability to impose high expectations.

However, more funds can make a huge difference when well managed - witness Geoffery Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. When extra funds are used to feed and clothe the kids, provide basic health care, after-school programs, Saturday school, extensive tutoring, longer school days, and greater attention, student achievement among the poorest improves.

Of course, it also only happens if the expectations of kids and families have consequences - a key component of public charter schools - with the demand accountability of the student with the possibility of dismissal.

It's not about the funds - it's about the management. And public schools can manage the money well. My school district does. Canada's schools do.

The "money helps" versus "money doesn't help" is oversimplified. Clearly, the KC program was a mess - but it doesn't prove anything other than that the program was incredibly poorly managed. Put Joe Clark or Geoffery Canada or Jaime Escalante or even Michelle Rhee in charge of those public schools, and the result is different.

Darren said...

On this we agree, which is why I said that it doesn't solve *all* problems. And just pulling a number out of thin air--"You must spend $200M a year", as the judge said--certainly isn't connected to reality.

allen (in Michigan) said...

And the likelihood of money being well-spent is directly proportional to the connection between the continued employment of those responsible for making the money-spending decisions and the success, or lack thereof, that results.

Since there's essentially no connection between continued employment - and by "employment" I also mean the reelection chances of school board members - and whether the money's properly spent the bulk of the money's going to be wasted. If there's no reason to do it right it'll be done wrong.

In fact, there's a pretty good case to be made for too much money being spent on public education and that in no small measure that superabundance of funding is a cause of many of public education's woes.

No one's up to contest a bit of heresy? Oh well, means I'm onto something.

Darren said...

To be honest, I don't quite follow your logic. It's pretty clear that spending extravagant sums of money doesn't guarantee any specific educational outcome, but I don't see how spending less than a certain "reasonable" amount would guarantee better results, either. Your logic strikes me as that of the post hoc type, unless I've missed something.

Anonymous said...

"And just pulling a number out of thin air--'You must spend $200M a year', as the judge said--certainly isn't connected to reality."

The judge didn't pull a number out of the air. The judge asked the plaintiffs (after they had won), what they wanted to spend money on. He encouraged them to dream big. So they did. The financial bill for their dreaming big was a very hefty hunk of change (and a very hefty hunk of ongoing expenses ... so when the money got turned off you had a seriously out-of-whack budget).

But the judge didn't just pick a large random number.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

This article:

http://www.cato.org/pubs/pas/pa-298.html

provides details.

-Mark Roulo