Our Children's Future: One Investment that Won't Crash
In the Metro DC area, the Higher Achievement Program works to increase the educational opportunities for low-income middle school students who are eager for more rigor and support in their academic programming. And it cannot keep up with demand, which says two things to me. First, the program is making a difference. And second, some children and parents in low-income areas are eager to engage with this type of learning opportunity. In an era of budget cuts, public schools are being undermined in their mission to provide this opportunity to all children. This reality paints a troubling picture: a lack of resources holding back ambitious and dedicated young students who crave such support is quite simply, undermining our nation’s future one budget slash at a time.
Education is a gateway to success and research suggests that investing dollars in the education system has a good return on investment (ROI). In September 2011, the U.S Census Bureau released a study that more clearly showed the connections between education and employment using data from 2006 to 2008. Annual earnings increase with each successive degree (with the exception of a doctorate or professional degree). Additionally, those with higher degrees were more likely to be fully employed year-round than those with less than a high school diploma at a rate of 68% to 38%. Finally, in an economy where earnings mean income taxes, and a reduced dependency on financial assistance from unemployment insurance to food stamps, higher employment rates are a desirable outcome for our collective economic well-being.
It is a sad reality that we spend between $66,000 and $88,000 to incarcerate one youth for a 9 to 12 month stay whereas according to 2008-2009 U.S Census data, we spend an average of $10,999 to educate a single pupil. Incarceration rates for high-school dropouts are also staggeringly high; one in every ten male drop-outs compared to one in thirty-five high-school graduates. Finally, recidivism rates suggest that imprisonment has a poor return ROI. These figures speak volumes as to our priorities when it comes to the next generation.
Other numbers and trends suggest investments in education that increase achievement: quality early childhood education, reducing class size in early grades, extended learning time, and specific types of professional development such as professional learning communities. These are some best practices that offer instructive guidance. Still, there is no single silver bullet to ensure that every school will produce perfect test scores, or perhaps more importantly, young citizens prepared for the challenges they will face in the 21st century. This reality is a source of constant frustration for policy-makers, tax-payers, parents, and teachers alike. In the end, increasing the quantity of a given variable usually costs money, and so concocting the perfect combination for the smallest dollar amount is the order of the day.
Higher Achievement’s experience contributes to the discussion of best practices and resource investment. The extended learning program adds 650 hours a year onto a child’s school schedule for four consecutive years, beginning in 5th grade and ending in 8th grade, and includes six weeks of summer programming during each of the summers in between. Other components include: volunteer mentors, individual homework assistance, and an accelerated curriculum in the summer. Results so far are promising and the organization is conducting a study over several years to determine which aspects of the program result in the greatest value-add. It costs approximately $4,500.00 a year per child, similar to the increased amount that the Campaign for Educational Equity at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College recently recommended for New York State’s low-income students.
Over the next two years, results from the Higher Achievement study will continue to provide details on which aspects of the program are most effective. Even with positive outcomes, demand outpacing supply and positive testimonials, there is no guarantee that evidence-based findings and lessons fit the profile of a “possible solution.” Ultimately, the price-tag may be too high. Today, decision-makers hollow out the public education system through continuing budget cuts despite what we know: the opposite should be happening. Instead, it seems as though we’re going to avoid a reasonable payment now in favor of a far greater bill in the future.
 This rate varies significantly by state
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- Best Selling Author Dan Ariely
- Family Engagement Expert Dr. Maria C. Paredes
The views expressed in this website's interviews do not necessarily represent those of the Learning First Alliance or its members.
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