The latest op-ed by Dr. Terry Stoops for EdNC.org’s website (“Debates about funding miss the point”) is another glowing example of glittering generalities that seem to define the talking points of the John Locke Foundation concerning public education in North Carolina.
At least they are consistent.
It is interesting to see the number of shares that his op-eds (and John Hood’s for that matter) do not garner from readers of EdNC.org. And Dr. Stoops and Mr. Hood have written as many as anyone on the site.
Why is that a big deal? Because while the op-ed may be viewed, it is not shared and brought to the attention of others who have some stake other than paying taxes when it comes to public education.
The success of an op-ed doesn’t necessarily rest on the number of shares that it has on social media and other electronic media, but it does serve as an indication of how much of the conversation that op-ed is helping to drive. And when an op-ed uses a lot of words to say really nothing at all, then people will not use it to help fuel more thought and conversation.
Just like this one.
The very first line throws out a strawman so invisible that it barely gets noticed.
“The mainstream media and pundits on both sides of the aisle focus an extraordinary amount of time and energy examining public school funding.”
Of course they do. It matters. It is the number one social service expenditure in the state.
Dr. Stoops then spends the next three paragraphs explaining why the media pays attention to such “trivial” matters. Throw out a bunch of stats, make it sound informative, and then you establish some sort of credibility. Then this happens.
Unfortunately, the media, as well as those in the punditry or advocacy business, often decide how much is “enough” based on who is in charge. Regardless of the actual change in the state budget, education budget increases by Democrats are called “sound investments,” while Republican efforts to boost the education budget are tagged “insufficient” or, more recently, an “election-year ploy.”
Dr. Stoops then makes it more politically charged. To come across a neutral party in such a discussion considering who is writing this op-ed is ludicrous.
Simply put, Dr. Stoops is one of many mouthpieces for the libertarian-leaning John Locke Foundation. In fact, he is their educational expert. His boss, while not on paper, but in funding and ideology, is Art Pope. In essence, Dr. Stoops is paid to say what he says. His boss also is the very person who wrote the first budget under the McCrory administration that helped to frame the funding dynamic that exists today for public education. And Art Pope is still crafting policy.
Ironically, Dr. Stoops pretty much told his readers (however many there were besides me) that the current Republican efforts have boosted the education budget, a budget that is still lagging in per-pupil expenditure compared to those before the Great Recession.
Please remember that funding public education also involves salaries of teachers. And with graduate pay, longevity, and due-process rights taken away to say that things have been boosted is rather false.
Much has been written about the insufficient “boost” to education. One is the op-ed that literally is next in the “Perspectives” tab of the EdNC.org site. It is Billy Ball’s article entitled “Budget cuts take a bite out of DPI’s ability to support local school districts.” Go into the history of the “Perspectives” tab and you will see Rep. Graig Meyer’s op-ed “Does the budget do enough for teachers?” Both of those op-eds seem to totally contradict the claims you make concerning the “boost” to educational budgets.
But I really was amazed by the brief paragraph in the middle of Dr. Stoops’s op-ed which read,
The truth is that the endless debate over “appropriate” funding increases is bootless. (I am trying to revive the word “bootless,” which means “ineffectual” or “useless.” Try it out on a friend today!)
That’s rich. While Dr. Stoops may be splitting hairs over the word “appropriate” he seems to intentionally avoid the difference between fully funding public education and looking at a bunch of stats that appear to barely measure what is happening.
Ironically, Dr. Stoops starts using terms that a corporate reformer would use when looking at public education. “Educational productivity”, “return on investment”, “bang for the buck” are business terms and while it may be effective to talk about inputs versus outputs, it cannot always be measured in quantitative methods because public education is not a marketable business and the very variables that affect student performance cannot be simply quantified and given a dollar amount.
Public education is a constitutionally protected public service. You certainly know when it is not fully funded. It is not fully funded now.
The same people who control the funding of public schools are also the people who can affect change in the elements outside of the classroom that help educational outcomes inside of the classroom – Medicaid expansion and poverty to name a couple.
In only one paragraph does Dr. Stoops even attempt to offer any data to his claims.
According to a 2014 study published by the liberal Center for American Progress, Union County, Davie County, Mooresville City, and Surry County school districts had the highest return on investment in the state. In general, these districts had below-average per-pupil expenditures but above-average test scores. Schools in Hertford, Anson, Washington, and Halifax counties had the lowest return on investment. Per-pupil expenditures in these districts were relatively high, but their test scores were disappointingly low.
He made sure to tell readers that it was a left-leaning study, but he never explains how his rudimentary use of data backs up his claims. He never tells you what test scores were used and how valid they are. He doesn’t tell you how local districts use their monies when Raleigh is giving them less. He doesn’t tell you the why’s. He tells you the bottom lines that are void of any of the socio-economic variables that affect students.
And then Dr. Stoops turns around and contradicts himself.
Productivity research cannot identify specific causes of unproductive schooling, which obviously complicates the turnaround process. School districts are complex organizations embedded in messy social, cultural, and political institutions. What works well in Union County may not work at all in Hertford County. On the other hand, productive school districts may have policies or practices that could benefit their struggling counterparts.
And here is where he actually gets it right. Each school district IS a “complex organization embedded in messy social, cultural, and political institutions.” In the preceding paragraph, Dr. Stoops relied on bottom lines. In this paragraph he actually shed light on the very truth – each school district is different. But he doesn’t admit that unproductive schooling could be a manifestation of other problems like unproductive governing and unproductive funding.
So, who is to decide what each school district needs? Maybe that should be determined by the people in that school district. To say “what works well in Union County may not work at all in Hertford County” is really saying that there are really no standardized school systems, yet Dr. Stoops spent an entire op-ed talking about how standardized measurements should be used to avoid superfluous debate on issues like public school funding.
And not once did he mention the for-profit charter school boom in North Carolina.
Not once did he mention the funding of Opportunity Grants.
Not once did he mention the virtual high schools.
Not once did he mention the Achievement School District.
Not once did he talk about his boss’s work to dismantle NCAE.
Not once did he mention removal of graduate degree pay, or due-process rights for newer teachers.
Not once did he mention removal of longevity pay.
Not once did he try and talk about student growth versus test scores.
Why? It would create too much “debate” probably. And it would force people like Dr. Stoops to explain how these measures are actually boosting public education.
Doesn’t sound so “bootless” now does it?