Education Funding Debate Ignoring Education Needs
Posted on September 28, 2016
In deciding how much money the Kansas Constitution requires us to provide for a “suitable education,” I think the Kansas Supreme Court conversation has taken an unfortunate turn. The widespread assumption is that we should set a minimum threshold for suitable achievement by grade level, and try to get almost every child up to that threshold. That approach is cheapskated, ill-conceived, and unrelated to any understanding of how education works and what it seeks.
First, given the variation in children and their backgrounds, and also given the fact that there are different thresholds for each of the different subjects, that goal is a practical impossibility under any existing technology.
Much more importantly, that goal is conceptually wrong: in the modern era, education should seek to raise each child up so far as possible toward his or her greatest potential. That means we should not deprive the talented and gifted of the support they need; we should recognize the full breadth of what education covers–art and music and mechanical skills and ethics and practical life skills and sports and much else as well as the three Rs; and we should not deprive children of pre-K education and year-around education. Above all, we should recognize that each child learns each subject at a different and variable rate.
It is perhaps a bridge too far in Kansas, but very soon I think we need to abandon the idea of classroom grade levels as such. That convenience was adopted to save money, not to improve education. (The old rural Kansas one-room multigrade schoolhouses actually worked quite well.) Naturally, there would be additional costs if rates of progress were different for each child in each subject. However there could also be additional savings, using an “each one teach one” method. That is, final mastery of a topic should consist in the student learning to tutor it–for reasons of pedagogy as well as cost.