• The Secret To Student Achievement? It's NOT Money

    September 7, 2023
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    Every time state test scores are released, the same cry comes up from the educational and political establishment, " If we had more money, the scores would be better."

    So, when Maryland State scores came out in August, it happened again. Sure, they added the pandemic as part of the excuse, but it still boiled down to money. It didn't matter which jurisdiction was doing the whining, it was still the same.

    Same BS, different year.

    Despite the fact that districts are coming off some fairly fat economic years with all the ESSR funding and the new Blueprint coming into effect, there wasn't enough money to make the scores better.

    For example, let's take a look at the Baltimore City Public Schools. Granted, ESSR II and ESSRIII funds were supposed to be spread out over five school/fiscal years, however, no matter how you look at it, the city got a lot of money. $650 million to be exact. Prince George's County came in second with $396 million.

    On the losing end of the ESSR sweepstakes were counties like Talbot ($14 million), Queen Annes ($10 million), and Worcester Counties ($21 million). Still, a nice windfall.

    As for the Blueprint, the funding formula for districts is based on student population. But, some students earn districts more than others. This inequality in funding is based on the concept of "equity." Students who are English Language Learners, Special Education, or poor cost more money because they need more support or cost the county more.

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    For example, the base per pupil spending in Maryland Public Schools is $8,310 per student per year. For every K-3 "struggling learner" as defined by the state the county gets an additional $665. A special education student will gain the standard per student expenditure plus $7146.00 (86%) or $15,456. An English Language Learner will gain the standard per student expenditure plus $8310 (100%) or $16,620. Compensatory aid for students who get free lunch is $6232.50.

    So, if a county has an ELL, Special Education Student who gets free lunch, they hit the jackpot. You do the math.

    These student numbers are determined by September 30th each year. With all that funding per student, one would think our kids would be knocking the socks off state testing. Apparently, those who developed the Blueprint thought that money would be the answer. You be the judge.

    Here are the recently released Maryland State Assessment Scores for the Spring of 2023:

    The above are the reading scores.

    The establishment will crow about how pleased they are with these scores, and how it looks like they are "not quite as bad" as last year. With the exception of the tenth-grade scores, no other grade level had 50% of the students proficient or above. " Proficient." Not excellent or great, just proficient. This is out of a four-point scale with the top ranking called "distinguished." Let me ask you, do you want a merely "proficient" carpenter building your house or a top level, distinguished carpenter, especially if you are paying top dollar?

    Even more frightening are the math scores. The State doesn't even attempt to spin these numbers. They are just bad.

    There are only 1-2% of students who are considered distinguished in math. It's going to be hard to compete internationally with just 1-2% of our population accomplished in what is basic math.

    Never fear, however, there are a certain percentage of students who are " on the cusp of proficiency" meaning that they are "almost there" in both reading and math. The fact that the state felt they needed to report this on a chart on their page shows you that they know these scores are so bad they have to celebrate "almost."

    No parent wants their child to be the "almost there" student. I don't want bridges build by "almost there" engineers, or the law read by "almost there" judges.

    I understand that these scores cannot be turned around in a year. Maybe not even two or three. It took us a long time (and a lot of money) to sink this low and it will take a while for us to dig our way out.

    Problem is, we keep skirting the issue with all these ancillary, needless and expensive programs like the Blueprint that waste time and take the decision making out of the hands of the local districts and elected officials. School systems are so tied up funding the Blueprint, there's no money left for locally designed and effective solutions.

    I also question the determination of the education establishment and our government to actually fix this problem. When questioned about schools, particularly those in Baltimore City and how bad they are, Governor Moore deflected from proposing a solution or even a serious answer to the problem. He blamed climate change. Yes, he actually did.

    His kids go to private school and so did he.

    Truth is, If the problem gets solved, the Unions won't be able to cry about teachers' wages and local politicians will not be able to demand more money from taxpayers to "fix the problem." It's mediocrity and failure by design, and it is a big money maker.



    Jan Greenhawk

    Jan Greenhawk is a former teacher and school administrator for over thirty years. She has two grown children and lives with her husband in Maryland. She also spent over twenty-five years coaching/judging gymnastics and coaching women’s softball.
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