English professor Kurt Hochenauer presumably grades student essays on the basis of both style and logic. By those criteria, his July 7 Commentary (“At what price?”) calling for more school spending is stylistically fine, while rating a D-minus on common sense.
Hochenauer is mistaken on at least three key points.
First, he equates per-pupil spending with the amount Oklahoma spends to incarcerate a prison inmate, suggesting that those numbers can be compared and are thus disproportionate. In fact, sending Johnny to class for six hours a day for 180 days is entirely different from keeping John Robber in stir, with lodging, meals, clothing and medical and dental care 24/7 year-round.
Comparing prison and school costs isn’t just apples and oranges; it’s honeydews and kumquats, an elemental logical flaw any English professor would redline.
Second, there is no correlation between per-pupil spending and student achievement. If anything, the reverse seems to be true.
The 2008 Oklahoma Indicators Report, the statistical bible for our schools, listed 25 schools where students attained average scores on the ACT exam of 22 or better. Eighteen of those 25 schools spent less than the state per-pupil average.
If spending isn’t the difference, what is? The 25 top-performing schools offered more courses, especially college-prep and advanced placement classes. The 58 lowest performing schools almost all offered the bare minimum of classes.
Hochenauer’s final logical flaw lies in ignoring the obvious: A disproportionate share of our school budgets go to finance administrative overhead and never reach the classroom. It’s not how much we’re spending that is wrong, but where it is being spent.
That is partly a function of the large number of districts in Oklahoma, and partly a result of decades of mindlessly shoveling more money into the education machine in the vain hope that it would buy something of value, without giving thought to sensible priorities.
There are reforms that can improve Oklahoma schools at current levels of spending. Consolidation is neither necessary nor desirable, but we can bring small districts together to share administrative, transportation and food service functions at real savings.
Fewer mandates and less red tape would also help free more dollars for the classroom. We could also dramatically expand the charter school movement, involving more districts and the communities they serve in efforts to focus on academics while building parental involvement, which any teacher will tell you is vital to student success.
Professor Hochenauer’s simplistic answer ” mindlessly spend more! ” has failed time and time again. The same tired old answers inevitably yield the same tired old results, cheating another generation of students.
It’s not what you spend, Kurt; it’s how you spend it. You flunked this lesson big-time.
Brake is a former Oklahoma Gazette contributor and former college English instructor.