Do education spending cuts spell trouble for the country?
Thursday, November 02, 2017
President Donald Trump's proposed $9.3 billion cut to the federal education budget in May has angered concerned citizens as well as many educators. The logic is that less investment in education translates into a bleak future for today's youth, especially in marginalized areas.
Interestingly, a recent report reveals that while federal spending has been fairly stable, overall education spending in the United States has been subtly diminishing over the past few years, even prior to the current administration.
The annual report of education indicators released recently by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that while other nations are increasing their investment in education, U.S. funding for primary and high school on the local, state and national level dropped by 3 percent between 2010 and 2014. Taking into account student population increase, this means a 4 percent decrease in spending per student.
On the other hand, 35 other countries in the OECD have shown a commitment to their young people by raising their spending, according to an article on The Hechinger Report. Unlike the U.S., which has experienced a period of economic growth, some of these countries have made significant investments in education despite economic hardship.
Among them is Portugal, which upped its education spending by 27 percent between 2008 and 2014. During the same time period, spending in Turkey rose 76 percent, and the United Kingdom saw a 32 percent increase.
In spite of the reported decline in spending across the three governing levels, an average of $11,319 was provided for each elementary school student in 2014 in the U.S. as compared to the OECD average of $8,733.
The stats for the U.S. are in sync with an analysis by the Committee for Education Funding, which looked exclusively at federal education spending. According to a 2016 report, federal funding for education has risen by 36 percent, from $50 billion to $68 billion since 2002. Examining the advocacy organization's chart of overall federal spending, it becomes evident that spending has pretty much leveled off around $67 billion since 2010.
While the commitment other nations appear to be making toward their students' future doesn't necessarily reveal a lack concern on the part of policymakers in the United States, The Hechinger Report does pose the question whether the country's decreased educational investment will affect the competitiveness of our work force down the road.
To complicate the debate further, countries that spend less on education don't necessarily demonstrate lower levels of student performance, if you look at the level of results on international standardized tests as a benchmark. Students from countries with lower expenditures have been known to consistently score higher on such exams.
Not only how much but how the money is spent on educating a nation's populous warrants scrutiny. While the United States places an emphasis on smaller class size and invests a great deal in hiring teachers to fill a large quantity of positions, nations in Asia have larger classes and invest more in teacher development.
In addition, teachers in the U.S. are expected to carry a considerably heavier load than their counterparts in places like Japan or Korea. In Asia, 600 hours per year is the rough average versus almost 1,000 here in the States, explains writer Jill Barshay in The Hechinger Report article.
"In the U.S., teachers have less time for professional development, teacher collaboration, lesson preparation, working with students individually," said Andreas Schleicher, head of the OECD directorate that issued the report. "In other countries, teachers have a lot of time to watch each other's lessons, design lessons and evaluate lessons."
So the question of how money is spent is of equal concern as how much is spent — something policymakers are hopefully examining in response to the proposed education budget.
In Part 2 of this article, we'll look at whether it's reality or myth that education itself is the key to a brighter future for our nation's youth.
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