Classroom to nowhere

Education, welcome to the party; Wall Street is over by the bar and Detroit is shaking it on the dance floor. Indeed, with Uncle Sam handing out money like education professors hand out As, it was only a matter of time before schools got in line for a piece of the pie. We've already explained what's wrong with bailing out state education budgets (see above), but the stimulus package's support for school construction deserves attention, too. According to the AFT, schools could do with $255 billion in "maintenance, new construction, renovation and retrofitting for computer technology." The NEA places those costs at $360 billion. It's true that some schools are in dire need of repairs but let's get something straight. These construction projects will not improve student achievement, despite wishful thinking. Spiffy new buildings and shiny new desks do not translate into higher levels of learning. Many a fabulous charter school makes do in cramped quarters, for instance; a series of Taj Mahal-esque school buildings in Kansas City failed to boost either learning or integration in that city; and tiny Third World private schools, operating in spaces we'd barely call a room, let alone a classroom, prove that teaching and learning do not depend on surroundings. The point? If Congress wants to spend stimulus dollars on rebuilding schools instead of bridges, that's fine, but let's call this what it is: a public works project, not an education reform initiative.

"Obama pledges schools upgrade in stimulus plan," by Libby Quaid, Associated Press, December 31, 2008