Sean Bowie published a letter on Aug. 20 (“Arizona must invest in education,” AFN) which made a plea to provide more money for Arizona education. What is missing in his plea is a discussion of how more funding will lead to a better education for our children. It seems to me that he falls into the trap for “education advocates” — that the relationship between money and education is so obvious that it needs no discussion. Money and education success are synonymous. Arizona is indeed at or near the bottom in education spending. So are other states that have good records in education. And I need not remind anyone of the school systems who lead the world in education spending — Newark, Washington, Chicago — are we trying to emulate them? However, completely contrary to Mr. Bowie’s assertion, average teacher salaries are NOT “among the lowest.” Arizona teachers, with an average salary of $50,000 per school year in 2013, ranked 30 out of 50 (NCES data). It’s also of concern to me how the money he proposes to spend on increasing those salaries of teachers will go to the hard-working teachers, as he recommends. My understanding is that all teachers, hardworking or not, would get those raises. Bowie also asserts that pre-school and smaller classes will inevitably improve education. These are truisms close to the heart of every member of the education system lobby and their desire for the opportunities that growth brings, but are controversial issues when data is examined.
Most studies which examine education results as a measure of success (rather than spending) conclude that these results are dominated by factors outside of the classroom — the background that the child brings to the school. Money, teacher salaries and classroom size have almost no effect compared to these external factors. That is why Bowie is justly proud of the results of our schools — when they are not struggling with students who come from impoverished backgrounds and limited skills in English. We need to rethink the nature of the problems that our education system in Arizona faces, and abandon knee-jerk solutions such as more money. Let’s try to figure out how the money can improve the education of our students, rather than the opportunities for our educators.
Robert C. Sundahl