Does More Money Equal Better Education?

By Phil Krinkie

Last week voters went to the polls in 99 of Minnesota ’s 336 school districts to register their opinions on higher property taxes to fund local schools. While the results were mixed with 61 districts gaining approval of voters for more funds, 32 districts did not convince their voters to raise taxes for more education funding. The remaining 6 school referendums had multiple questions with divided outcomes.

But regardless of the results, one thing is clear, with last weeks referendums behind us, the chant for more state education spending has already begun at the Capitol.

A newly constituted Legislative School Finance Reform Task Force has already had its first meeting, so the call to increase state taxes for the children can’t be far off. But rather than the same worn out refrain of “more money for education” how about a legislative task force to reform education. Isn’t it time to examine the educational process and not just continue to pour more money into the same old system and expect a different result?

Walking into a classroom today is like deja-vu for the over 50 crowd: Thirty smallish desks with chairs, facing the front of the room, a writing board in the front of the class, and the teacher’s desk (larger in size) on the either the right side upfront or on the left side upfront, a flag and sometimes (a new addition) a computer on the teacher’s desk. In addition to the same physical set up, the staffing is the same too, one adult teacher per room, perhaps a student teacher or “para-professional”. I don’t know of any other service industry that has changed so little in its delivery mechanism over the last 40 years.

Perhaps this new legislative task force could start things off with a real discussion about class size. Two months ago, I was invited to address about 100 school board members and administrators brought together by “Schools for Equity in Education.” What I tried to offer the group were some provocative ideas and out-of-the box thinking about education.

One question I posed was if the University of Minnesota can provide quality education with class sizes of 100-200, why can’t high schools? Is there a distinct difference between the learning ability of a high school senior and a college freshman?

Think about it. Teachers and administrators are complaining about class sizes of 40 kids. But in virtually any subject, there is introductory and factual material which can be delivered in lecture format and then there is the more difficult and subtle material that requires personal involvement of a teacher and class discussion. So, let’s consider an example.

Say a school has a group of 120 students taking a subject and three teachers to teach it – 40 kids per class. Might it not make sense for one teacher to provide introductory material to 100 students in a lecture setting while each of the other two teachers facilitated a discussion group of 10 students?

However, the current thinking of the education elite is to hire three more teachers to bring down class size to 20 students – and that is for just this one group of students in one school. Multiply that situation across the statewide education system and we’re talking millions of additional tax dollars with little or no improved outcome for students.

Reducing class sizes is by far THE most expensive school reform we can engage in, and it might be worth it if it produced results. But the evidence suggests just the opposite. A Hoover Institute study actually showed a negative effect of reducing class size. International comparisons back that conclusion up. Teacher quality, not quantity, is a better predictor of student performance, and yet the education establishment fights every attempt to reward better teachers.

There is little chance that this type of discussion about education reform will never take place at the Minnesota State Capitol because there is less political risk in continuing to dump more and more money into a broken funding system that rewards the status quo rather than change the system to improve outcomes for students.

So hold on to your wallet because the education cartel is about to rev-up the rhetoric on the need for more funding for education.

Phil Krinkie, a former state legislator and chairman of the Taxes Committee, is President of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota

This piece originally appeared in the 11/13/07 edition of the St. Paul Legal Ledger