The Robert F. Kennedy Community Schools complex opens today on the site of the demolished Ambassador Hotel, the site of RFK’s 1968 assassination during his presidential campaign. It cost $578 million to build.
This is insane. There is no reason whatsoever to start building such palatial facilities for primary schooling. I don’t get it. Defenders of the project argue that it was funded by voter approved bond revenues. Great. Whoever put that on the ballot ought to be indicted. I think that every kid has a right to go to a school with adequate facilities, but spending almost six hundred million dollars on a campus of schools is just crazy.
Americans reflexively want to throw more money at education. Many people think the best way to improve education for everyone, is to up the funding. And this is an attitude that has been clearly demonstrated not to work. The same is true of health care. We spend more money on education and health care than any other nation in the world, and yet we’re still ranked near the bottom against the rest of the developed world on both counts.
The problem is not funding. We already have tons of money in the system. And for those of you that argue that the funding is not equal in all parts of the country, you have a point. But, take for example the city of Detroit. The city spends more money per student than most other municipalities in the state, and it’s still consistently the most dysfunctional district in the state of Michigan.
The problem is culture. As this article points out, the emphasis in China is not on funding or facilities or teachers, but, rather, on the core areas of competence and proficiency. Chinese educators focus on rote learning and drills, an educational technique that I’ve always found to be effective. Chinese students are also subject to almost constant testing, not necessarily standardized, but quizzes that indicate what areas need improvement. Chinese educators also basically ignore the concept of ‘self-esteem,’ a move I agree with wholeheartedly. As my old high school German teacher memorably said in the late 1990s, if you teach a kid to do something, and do it well, the self esteem part will take care of itself.
We could fund every school district in the country to the tune of $50,000 per student, per year, and the results we would see would largely be the same. The problem is that if you have students who do not come from a culture that values education and the academic competence, an area in which our country is increasingly failing, it doesn’t matter how much money you throw at the problem, the result are going to be abysmal (Exhibit A: Our underperforming public educational system).
And the idea that spending $578 million on one complex of schools is utterly delusional. I bet, after a few years, that the graduation rates and test scores for these kids are going to be no different from any other group of kids in the LA School District.