All that money poured into failing schools and nothing to show for it

The School Improvement Grants program poured $7 billion down the drain between 2010 and 2015, as a recent Washington Post article pointed out.

One of the Obama Administration’s signature efforts in education, which pumped billions of federal dollars into overhauling the nation’s worst schools, failed to produce meaningful results, according to a federal analysis. Test scores, graduation rates and college enrollment were no different in schools that received money through the School Improvement Grants program — the largest federal investment ever targeted to failing schools — than in schools that did not.”

$7,000,000,000: That’s a lot of zeroes that produced close to zero for children trapped in our nation’s worst public schools.

This lack of results is not a surprise. If our education establishment continues to insist that jacking up high school graduation rates by ignoring weak educational outcomes is a benefit to our students, then all the money in the world is not going to fix what ails our schools.

If the education “experts” persist in proclaiming that homework harms our students, we are going to see yet another generation graduate without having learned that sustained study is a necessary precursor to learning.

If we can’t find the will to insist upon reasonable behavior from students and educators—and impose consequences upon those who trash the educational environment—we deserve only the chaos that is the norm in far too many public schools.

Unfortunately, these issues have little place in our discussions about improving our public schools. The system instead focuses on keeping our nation’s diploma mills on full churn because it keeps the parents and students content, sweeps any and all problems under the rug (at least until our nation’s uneducated high school graduates finally flunk out of college years down the road), and keeps the money flowing and the public placated.

The system is a sausage machine that grinds up students—and any silly do-gooders who try to change it.

It is, to be fair, not the case that our nation’s public school systems are filled with heartless employees. Many teachers and administrators are, in fact, decent individuals who are trying to do their best. However, public education is perhaps the most insular and ossified of all government services, and everyone on the inside knows that the system, no matter the ruin it leaves in its wake, must always survive.

The $7 billion most recently wasted by the Obama administration is simply the last car of a long train of futility, over 30 years of education reform efforts sabotaged by public schools impervious to any real changes. It is frustrating to see so many futures—and human potential—sacrificed year after year.

I hope that incoming Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos can actually push forward programs that will help millions of students escape currently failing schools through greatly expanded school voucher programs. However, any move to give parents more control over their children’s educations is an existential threat to a status quo that will fight to maintain its enormous power and excessive prerogatives.

Perhaps it is likely that she will crash into a brick wall of lawsuits and restraining orders, but let’s hope that she can persevere and make a positive change. We can no longer afford to wait.

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Andrew Wilk

Andrew Wilk

Andrew teaches both English and English as a Second Language (ESL) at Parkland College in Champaign, Illinois, and during the 2014-15 academic year he was nominated for the Teaching Excellence Award at the college in recognition of his work in the classroom. In addition to teaching at both the secondary and college level, he worked for many years in the private sector, holding professional and administrative positions in advertising, journalism and healthcare. Andrew has published over 100 commentaries on topics ranging from politics to education, and he has also published a novel, “A Day at the Fair with Chili Boy.” He writes on his blog, Common Sense. He is the dad of two grown children, who attended public schools in Urbana.

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