Monday, January 30, 2006

First Class Education

On Friday's Hugh Hewitt Show (OK, I am behind on my iPod), Patrick Byrne, the president and chairman of Overstock.Com spoke about an initiative being put on the ballot in CO and other states. You can get more info at First Class Education. The plan is simple.
1. By the end of 2008, pass a law in all 50 States and the District of Columbia requiring every Schools District to spend at least 65% of its education operational budgets in classrooms for the benefit of teachers & kids.

2. Keep local control of education, but demand statewide accountability.

I couldn't find the transcript on RadioBlogger or on Hugh's site so I backed up and am attempting to give you the salient points and a couple good quotes.
The US spends $420B educating 46 million kids in public schools K-12. Of that money, only 61.3% gets to what's called the classroom. Now, the classroom is a congressional definition that includes teachers, teacher's aides, supplies, music, art, sports, anything where you've got a teacher in front of a student or a coach teaching them development. The rest of the money goes to some worthwhile things like food and buses and libraries, but that is really a small amount of the 39%. Most of that is now going to bureaucracy. That bureaucracy is expanding year after year so the percentage that goes in the classroom keeps on declining.

By using a standard known well in the business world, benchmarking, they determined that the goal here should be 65%. The top 10% of states (or top 5) are at 64.9% and up. This all presumes that there is not only a correlation between this percentage and performance of schools, which Patrick and his group claim is true (and I suspect he has done his homework), but a causal relationship. He, nor the web site for this movement, claim to have any proof of a causal relationship. They do offer the fact that as our quality of education has declined this percentage has declined. It seems common sense to me that there would be a causal effect to decreasing overhead, ergo increasing the total spent on direct classroom education and putting priorities where they belong. That isn't proof, but it seems to resonate with the voters.

Patrick isn't spending his company's money on the initiative but he is spending some of his own. The amount didn't come out from Hugh's interview but given his passion for this issue and his prominence on the web site I suspect it has a few zeros on the left of the dot.

Hugh asked if he was worried about the precendent of the National teacher's union and other unions throwing tons of money into the CA initiative process last year. The response, and I thought this was brilliant, was that by putting the initiative on the ballot in at least 7 states this year they can dilute the effect of out of state money. They may be able to thwart it in one or two states, but they can't come up with enough money to stop it in 10 at a time.

And the money quote from Patrick:
To me education is the only real social issue that I care about. So many other issues, to me, are just downstream effects. You know, kids graduate from high school, and one kid comes out of a great high school with a great set of human skills, his future is made. And somebody comes out of a crummy school and, you know, the game is rigged against them. It seems to me that a lot of what the political debate is about are really a lot of down stream effects. If we could solve education, other pernicious social problems would wash out over a generation. And if we can't solve this then everything else is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. The jobs are all gonna move to Pakistan.

That is the most succinct explanation of the "American quandary" that I have ever seen. My parents understood it, which is how I went to a good University with no debt from a farming community. Part of it was scholarships because "OK" wasn't acceptable. The other part is the foresight to see what was required to be in the new middle and upper middle class. The sooner the rest of our society gets it, the better.

In case you live in CO, here are the numbers for CO and our districts. There is info on other states at the First Class Education web site.
In fact, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, Colorado ranks 46th in the nation for the percentage of education money that actually makes its way to our classrooms. While Colorado spends billions of dollars on education, only 57.8 cents of each of those dollars gets into the classroom.

More than 25,000 students:
Cherry Creek 64%
Boulder Valley 64%
Aurora 60%
Northglenn/Thornton 60%
Douglas County 58%
Denver 54%
Jefferson County 51%
El Paso 51%

Highest ratios:
Aspen 69%
Branson (Las Animas) 66%
Cripple Creek 66%
Granada 65%
Gilcrest 65%
Greeley 65%
Estes Park 65%

Lowest ratios:
Rangely 41%
Vilas (Baca) 45%
Centennial (Costilla) 46%
Hinsdale 46%
Sierra Vista 47%
West End (Montrose) 47%
Silverton 47%
Campo (Baca) 49%
Parachute 49%
Plainview (Kiowa) 49%


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