Tom Patterson: Schools need more than money to improve

I once saw a collage of newspaper headlines from states around the country. Each at the same time (maybe eight or nine in all) announced that their state was 49th in education funding. Obviously, manipulating statistics is a common way to shame lawmakers into doling out more cash.
But I think we need to get away from our obsession with our ranking among the states and focus on the amount of learning in our classrooms. After all, if you look at the bigger picture, Arizona’s per-pupil spending is near the top compared to other countries in the developed world, most of whom handily outperform us academically.

Gov. Ducey’s plan to spend more money doesn’t, to my knowledge, include any components to actually improve academic achievement. It should. As our history has shown, recent bumps in education spending, including Brewer’s sales tax increase, haven’t produce measurable results of any kind.

That makes sense when you think about it. If you change a teacher’s pay from $40,000 to $60,000, for now it’s still the same teacher. If you reduce the class size of a lousy teacher, you still have a lousy teacher who costs each student up to a half year of learning each year. If you add more “services” at school or more administrators, you’re unlikely to move the needle for learning.

Our worst schools are so woeful, it’s almost hard for reformers to know where to start. One idea would be to drastically change the union-inspired work rules. Principals must have the authority to fire incompetent teachers – and not have them drift off elsewhere in the system. Without that, principals can’t really be held accountable for their schools.
Tom Patterson
Editor’s note: Mr. Patterson writes a blog on the Independent’s website at

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