The first type of problems are easy to fix. You can throw more money at broken printers and leaky roofs. However, that's the easy part. Generate enough political will and it will occur.
The other type of problem is systemic cultural issue. I grew up in a poor rural area and teachers could leave us alone and we wouldn't get into their desk drawers which always contained money and candy, let alone steal bathroom passes and laptops. It seems clear to me that this is where the real work needs to be done. I see what you might call a culture of urban poverty slipping into Americas suburbs and rural areas.
Has anyone seen anyone doing anything meaningful to address the harder issues found in the second type of problems?
Can you? Schools receive a lot of money, and have been receiving increasing amounts of funding per student over the last few decades. Some of the worst performing schools spend some of the most per student. I doubt the problem is truly a lack of funds, it's more likely to be a mismanagement of funds. In that case throwing more money at the problem may eventually "trickle down" results to individual class rooms and teachers as a side effect but ultimately is not a solution to the problem.
The second type of problem seems as much of a ready scape goat as anything else. If the school system is horribly mismanaged what would motivate them to enforce discipline in the classroom? Then they couldn't blame the students for the inevitable failure of education.
I'd say that bad schools get more money because they need it. In a school that's practically a war-zone, you need lots of money just to replace the essentials that students wreck.
Bad schools often have good inputs (students per teacher, facilities, etc), but they also have things like ex-students lurking outside the school gate (dealing drugs? signing up gang recruits? heckling the students? who cares); and many of the parents don't exactly help the kids get their homework done.
There are programs (cash transfers to poor parents, if they meet certain conditions) that have been proven to work (through randomised trials - something that Mexican politicians are better at then US ones), but it's more expedient to look for "root causes" (play the blame game) than look for empirical solutions that work (even if you don't understand why).
"No Child Left Behind" should have been "No Classroom Left Behind". Test scores encourage "teaching to the test", and often in crappy classrooms without adequate lighting, heating, etc. Encouraging directed spending at ensuring each classroom meets minimum standards would have been a better use of spending, imo.
In theory, these should be pretty easy to verify. Go in to a classroom - does it meet standards X, Y, Z? It passes, district is reimbursed for spending (or however you want to work it).
"More money" from government bodies would likely just get tied up in top-level budgets, and little or none of it would see its way to real classroom improvements.
Research statistics from any source you find credible. They all point to the fact that high performing schools spend substantially more per-capita on their students education then low preforming ones. Funding isn't the only problem by any means, but it is a crucial one.
It's ok to give them an education, but make them earn it and own it to some degree. I'm not talking about money necessarily, but I am talking about having some kind of investment in the institution.
College dropouts or coasters typically aren't paying for their own education, and high school students who steal and f*ck up school property don't have any feeling of obligation to the school.
I'm not sure exactly how one would do this -- at the extreme, they could participate in the building of the school itself -- or perhaps there would be a requirement to participate or get booted. That sounds a bit draconian, but I can't think of another way to cure apathy other than being emotionally involved.
And parents would (rightly) object to schools that either threw their children out or forced them to do labor to stay in school.
To continue on your second point. I disagree about "(rightly)", I think it depends. It doesn't have to be hard labor, it just has to be significant. Laying bricks was an extreme example -- you could think of things that are worthwhile to the school that aren't necessarily at quite that level. :-)
Honestly, I think the "rightly" reflects a degree of entitlement (not on your part, just generally) that kids tend to feel about schools (because they're kids), but adults should have grown out of. Enforcing some kind of ownership may help kids grow out of it and help adults to participate in the school rather than demand things like it was fast-food joint.
The only solution I see is 2 pronged:
1. The system keeps the community out. It's hard for parents to be involved. Instead we need to somehow incentivize parents/the community to become involved in the educational system. Help them care.
2. Time. Truly teach students great values, inspire them, give them a reason for hope, allow them to have vision, let them focus on what they care about (to an extent of course), and actually make school relevant. As a result future generations of parents may have better understanding of their role. Maybe, for now anyway, that should be a greater goal than (mostly hopelessly) teaching them how to balance chemical equations or learning the inner contents of a cell.
It's one possibility, anyways. (There are a myriad of reasons to be uncomfortable about essentially putting the responsibility for raising poor children on the state, but the SEED schools seems to be working).
The unions and bureaucracy suck the system dry. That's why less-funded private schools in NYC consistently outperform public schools.
Every single rotten thing is the result of either dysfunctional culture or dysfunctional management structure/incentives.
The "less-funded private schools" are also allowed to choose the cream-of-the-crop, are not required to enroll child with special needs and can jettison problem students at the drop of a hat. As I wrote earlier, if the problem was strictly "unions" you would expect states without collective bargaining agreements to outperform states with those agreements and they don't: http://shankerblog.org/?p=895
The rate of single parent families has risen dramatically in the past few decades, with the rates climbing even higher in urban areas. Raising kids takes time and money - two things you have much less of when you are a single parent. There has been a lot written about this subject, but it's politically taboo and not much will (or can) be done about it.
It seems that you are saying that more cash will not help with the problems he has described. Could you clarify why having more cash will not help?
ADDED IN EDIT: Those problems run deeper than the school simply not having enough money.
To answer your question ...
That's not what I said, and I feel it's a misrepresentation of my position. I was answering the question in this comment: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2211298
where the author said:
Could you clarify why having
more cash will not help?
Whether you blame the teachers, the kids, their parents, the social circumstances, the gangs, television, or whatever, the situation is that in some classes there is behavior that prevents any kind of learning. That behavior won't be fixed by mending copiers, or providing laptops.
That's my answer to the question that was asked.
In addition, however, I will say that yes, in some cases I do blame the kids, but in some cases I don't. I don't know that I would be any different given the circumstances that surround them. The challenge is to find a way to give them the skills, tools, abilities and opportunities to go where they can make something of themselves.
My wish for every child is that they have the opportunity to be the best they can. Sounds corny, and it's certainly Quixotic, but I put money and time into it.
And now I am going away for a while.
So... change some of the circumstances. You can't change their home life, but you can spend appropriately to have classrooms that are free of banging pipes, heating/cooling issues, bird droppings, electrical problems, etc.
"...the socio-economic conditions of some kids being dis-engaged, disinterested and actively disruptive would not be helped by throwing more cash at the school..."
It looks like that spending "more money" on the problems this poster pointed out hasn't, in fact, been tried. Students who have crappy home life situations, then have to come sit in a rundown building with all the problems listed earlier might in fact not have a great learning attitude. Demonstrate that we as a society do, in fact, care enough to give them basics like copy paper and decent electrical systems, and - wait for it - they might actually have a different attitude.
This is all just crazy talk, of course.
However, I'll try once more. There's a tl;dr at the end.
Of course I'm not advocating letting these kids continue to rot in these hellholes. I'd love to see the money being spent on schools like this, and others, to give them decent rooms, decent equipment, and more teachers. And that's an essential part of any complete plan to tackle the problems that such schools, such kids and such teachers face.
But it's not the only thing. More cash, decent buildings, and better equipment won't fix the problem that some of the kids see thieving as the only way to get money. More cash, decent buildings, and better equipment won't fix the problem that some of the kids are in gangs that thrive on violence. More cash, decent buildings, and better equipment won't fix the problem that some of the kids have a bad attitude toward learning that has been inculcated in them since birth.
These kids need more. And yes, providing more will take money, but it won't be money spent in the schools. It will be money spent elsewhere in programs to catch them earlier, provide a balance to their lives, to let them see the opportunities that education can provide.
Of course all this takes money. And yes, spending money in the schools is one step among many. Perhaps it's the first step. Perhaps it's the step that will, in fact, provide the greatest value.
But there are problems that spending cash in the schools won't fix.
I could represent your position by saying that all we need to do to fix all the problems for all the kids in all the world is to provide shiny, well lit, well provisioned classrooms with great teachers. Clearly that would solve all the problems, and all the kids would then be engaged, enthusiastic, and eager to learn. But that position seems so ludicrous I can't believe you would hold it.
On the other hand, maybe you do.
But I suspect that we are none of us that far apart. I suspect that we all want to see facilities and opportunities provided that give the kids a real chance to make something of themselves, and to pursue a better life. But I also suspect that we all know that spending money on the buildings and the equipment is only part of the answer. An important part, perhaps the first part, but only part.
I'd love to see it tried, I know it will solve some of the problems. But I'm also pretty sure it won't solve them all, and those that it won't solve also need attention and time.
ADDED IN EDIT:
And lest anyone be in any doubt, let me try to make it clear with a TL;DR
IT WON'T SOLVE ALL THE PROBLEMS, BUT I'M IN FAVOR
OF SPENDING MORE MONEY IN SCHOOLS TO GIVE THE KIDS
DECENT CLASSROOMS AND USEFUL FACILITIES.
We should tell the same to CEOs and bankers.
Per student expenditures for public schools in The Bronx can be found here (input district values of 08,09,10, or 11 for Bronx schools):
Per student spending in The Bronx appears to be around $17.5k. This is significantly higher than the national average (of about $11k). More notably it's the same as Stuyvesant High School (also in New York city, http://schools.nyc.gov/SchoolPortals/02/M475/AboutUs/Statist...) which is regarded as one of the top schools in the country: http://education.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/listings/high...
Given this I find little evidence to support the contention that Bronx schools need more money. I think it's quite likely that important things (like supplies and building maintenance) aren't being paid for, but I don't see evidence that this is due to lack of funds rather than mismanagement.
That's an incredibly unfair conclusion to come to based on almost no information. For example, you compare the average expenditure per studend in the Bronx with the average at Stuyvesant - enrollment at Stuyvesant is based on a competitive exam (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stuyvesant_High_School#Enrollme...) and I've be willing to bet that Stuyvesant doesn't have to put up with SpEd and disciplinary problems the author's school does which could easily chew up a whole chunk of money.
As for Stuyvesant's students, yes, it is a special school which takes gifted students. So is your contention that it costs less money to educate gifted students? That building maintenance is cheaper? That gifted students require fewer equipment, can make do with fewer classrooms, or can do without textbooks?
I can buy that it's easier to teach gifted students, but I can't quite buy that it's cheaper to provide them the basic necessities like books, classrooms, and laptops.
If unmotivated/uncaring students are constantly destroying books, and laptops and require more supervision (extra paraprofessionals for example), yes, I can buy that it's cheaper to provide motivated/well-behaved students necessities that they actually care for.
My point is that you took a broad spending per pupil number and immediately jumped to the conclusion that the problem was "mismanagement." Show me that the per-pupil numbers are the same and that the rates of consumption (books, etc), disciplinary, poverty/hunger, ESL, etc data are the same, then I might accept the problem is mismanagement. You haven't come close to doing that.
It's a whole different level. Stuyvesant takes the 99th percentile of NYC students. It's somewhat instructive, but mostly unfair, to compare it to other public schools. What's really interesting is the parent poster's mentality - as if it's the money thrown at kids that makes top schools.
That's not an excuse for ineffective education, but money is not what is primarily going to change things. For starters, figuring out a way to make NYC public schools less like prisons would help.
In regular schools, I assume, that they don't have the extra pressure (and pride) that motivates them. That motivation would have to come from within the students themselves, their parents/family/friends, and their teachers and role models.
When things like that happen in prisons, BBC writes articles about it: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11630152
In contrast, public housing vouchers are given to poor people who can then redeem them with any qualified landlord willing to take them. All parties, the poor person (tenant), the landlord, and the government, must agree before the rental transaction happens. The tenant can choose among among any privately-offered housing. The landlord can choose to reject any tenant that doesn't meet the landlord's standards. And the government only agrees to pay for housing that meets its own quality standards. The result is that good landlords have waiting lists of tenants who want to rent from them and bad landlords are shunned. Similarly, good tenants can find good housing while tenants with a history of bad and destructive behavior find fewer landlords who are willing to accept them.
Public schooling could be operated the same way. Poor people could receive vouchers redeemable with any qualifying school. And schools could set their own standards for the students they want to serve. Government would redeem vouchers only from schools that met its own quality standards. The result would be competition and waiting lists for the best schools, and pressure on students to be accepted into the best schools.
Public financing of college education works the same way. Students and colleges form voluntary agreements and government provides financing only for qualifying schools.
Money won't fix the behavior, but money can provide a legion of full-time parents to do some butt-kicking parental loving discipline to the hell raisers.