Too many people mistakenly blame insufficient funding for the failures and inadequacies of elementary and secondary schooling. The knee jerk reaction to budget cuts in K-12 education is to think that policymakers are shortchanging our schools, when in essence they are doing everyone a favor by challenging school leaders to be more effective and efficient. The education budgets at the federal and state levels reflect the ease with which leaders have been willing to throw billions of dollars at situations that should be addressed by improving efficiencies and cost effectiveness. In American public education, the focus must be on how we are spending money, rather than how much we are shrinking education budgets. We need education stakeholders who are courageous enough to make the kinds of decisions and changes that will lead to a more optimal allocation of dollars between administrative and classroom costs. As we shift the focus from simply increasing expenditures, we will be better positioned to invest in those areas which warrant greater investment — curriculum upgrades, classroom reengineering, school renovations, new textbooks, teacher incentive pay, and technology.
Not too many decades ago, America’s schools functioned well in many areas, produced graduates across the learning spectrum who were college ready, and were ranked among the best in the world. During that period of time, teachers and administrators did so much more with less, especially when you consider that many schools were still segregated and the allocation of teaching and learning resources were unequal. The passion and commitment of those educators is what stands out in my mind when I reflect upon what worked then as opposed to now. Their resourcefulness and willingness to use what they had, made things work well in the classrooms and the schools. Classroom teachers taught and created, while principals managed and led, utilizing per-pupil expenditures that did not come close to the billions being spent on education in this era. Those educators were passionate about their work and the academic preparation of their students. In fact, many of them excelled despite working in school cultures that did not always support their professional development or the academic success of every student.
The same spirit and passion that existed decades ago is what continues to set apart our best and most effective classroom teachers and school administrators in today’s environment. These professionals perform at a high level in spite of dismal school cultures or funding shortages in critical areas. They do well because they are called to the profession and possess the creativity and flexibility to adapt to less than optimal circumstances. These professional attributes do not cost more professional development dollars. All the money in the world cannot manufacture will, fortitude, and commitment in teachers and school leaders. The American taxpayer has invested enough money into public education; what we need now is a better allocation of those resources by leaders who know how to administer and manage in ways that lead to greater effectiveness and efficiencies in classrooms and schools.