Paying for our schools

The National Conference of State Legislatures has put together some numbers that tell us how our elementary and secondary schools are funded and where Missouri ranks nationally in each category.

The NCSL study says state governments provide the largest share of the funding. The national average is 46.7 percent. That’s down from a few years ago as most states including Missouri have cut funding because of the poor economy.

Local governments (the school districts provide an average 43.8 percent of district funds. Funeral funds account for only 9.5 percent.

The figures are based on the Census Bureau study, “Public Education Finances: 2009.” The study was released last May.

Here’s where Missouri falls:

Missouri schools receive an average of $844 from the federal government. That’s $315 below the national average. Only nine states receive less. Alaska gets the most with $2,401.

The State provides $4,370 per student, $1355 less than the national average. Again, only nine states contribute less to their elementary and secondary school systems than Missouri does. Vermont contributes $15,169 to its schools.

Local support in Missouri amounts to $5,242 per student. That is within $125 of the national average. New Jersey is tops in that category with $10,474. We are 19th on that list of states

Our addition says the national average expenditure on elementary and secondary education is $12,251. Missouri’s total is $10,456. The report also includes the District of Columbia but we have not included DC in our rankings.

Congratulations, Mike.

It always makes us feel good to know that one of our former colleagues has gotten some special recognition. Former Missourinet reporter Mike McKean has been given a prestigious teaching award at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, the William T. Kemper Fellowship for Teaching Excellence. The fellowship carries a $10,000 award. Only five of them are awarded each year so this is a big deal.

Mike got his first job with the Missourinet right out of college back in the 70s. He left us later to work in radio in Houston, Texas, where he picked up a master’s degree in political science at Rice University and then, about 25 years ago, came back to Missouri to teach at the J-School. He has become a leader in preparing future journalists for the rapidly-changing world they will move into when they leave the school.

About six years ago he created the convergence journalism sequence in which students learn skills in radio, television, newspapers, and website reporting so they can move comfortably and competently among the growing number of platforms that distribute our reporting work. More recently he’s been put in charge of an exciting new program, the Futures Lab, at the Reynolds Journalism Institute that is part of the journalism school. The program provides real-world, high-level experiences for students to create applications for some of the leading corporations in communications. They’ve worked, for example, with Google and Apple.

Mike was a terrific reporter for the Missourinet all those years ago and retains that passion for excellent journalism in face of rapid technological shifts. His ability to communicate that new technology enhances good journalism is vital in making sure quality reporting serves the future public, no matter how the public accesses it.

Mike still has a lot of years of teaching left in him and journalism is glad he does.

Congratulations, Mike!

Teacher Accountability

Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce wants teachers to be held accountable for the quality of education their students get. He wants a joint House-Senate Task force to look at ways to link teacher pay with classroom results. It’s not a new idea. Teacher accountability has been a political buzz-phrase for years.

We have yet to meet someone who demands a poorer level of education. The goal of finding a way that guarantees all education is better for all children is a constant one for politicians and educators as well. History shows the goal is elusive but always worth the chase.

One of these days somebody will find a way to link objective factors (salary) with subjective factors (teacher competence). It’s an elusive match.

Our state assessment program tries to provide some objective statistics on student achievement each year and are part of the certification program for our public schools. Teachers and administrators have to find a way to meet average yearly progress goals and gauge competency in this or that subject. Competence (subjective) is measured by test score numbers (objective).

Let’s see a show of hands (an objective measure). How many of you think your level of learning exceeded the numbers on your test scores (a subjective evaluation)?
I had my hand up.

How many of you today have a great respect for at least one teacher in at least one class where you did not get a good grade?
My hand is still up.

How many of you think you are pretty successful although your grade point average at times–maybe all the time–made your parents wonder if you were going to make it?
My hand is up. And waving.

My University of Missouri grade point when I graduated is eight-tenths of a point under what is required for ADMISSION to the journalism school today. I hope it’s not boasting to think that a statistic is now a determination of the quality of education. I am glad the compensation of my journalism school teachers was not based on the statistical results in my grade point.

Pearce’s task force has the same formidable job ahead of it that other task forces, study groups, and commissions have had. A does not necessarily equal B (I didn’t burn the house down in my high school math classes, by the way, although my math teacher for three years was the state teacher of the year). A teacher’s passion for educating children and a teacher’s love of teaching are often not reflected by statistics.

President Bush got a 71 and a 73 in political science and government classes at Yale, and often spoke with some pride about how an average student can become President of the United States. A website (edu in review) says John McCain has made no secret of being ranked 894th out of the 899 graduates of the Naval Academy on commencement day.

There are a lot of us like them, aren’t there?

Let’s also admit that we all had some teachers that were pretty bad (a subjective evaluation) and we wish all of our teachers had been as good as the ones we recall most fondly (a subjective evaluation).

Pearce’s task force is faced with finding an objective way to measure the quality of human beings–teachers—and it’s going to look at the reactions to those human beings by other human beings (the students) and somehow find some kind of objective way to link quality of teaching (subjective) with outcomes.

In a world of subjectivity, will this task force be the first group to create The Great Objectivity Gauge?

It’s a story we’ll be following if the task force comes together