Talk about the “soft bigotry of low expectations.” That is practically the de-facto motto of Colorado’s public schools, given how poorly most black and Hispanic students fare. Recent results from the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) are only the latest indicator of this.
Let’s start with eighth grade math. Among Asian kids, 59.5% met or exceeded expectations. Only 10.8% scored in the lowest tier, “did not yet meet expectations” (students also can “partially” meet expectations or “approach” them). Among white kids, 45% met or exceeded expectations, while 13.5% scored in the lowest tier. That’s bad enough!
Black and Hispanic kids did substantially worse. Among black kids, only 16.9% met or exceeded expectations. And more than a third, 37.1%, scored in the lowest tier. Among Hispanic kids, 15.8% met or exceeded expectations, while 37% scored in the lowest tier.
Turning to eighth grade English language arts, we find that, among Asian kids, 63.3% met or exceeded expectations, while 8.7% scored in the lowest tier. Those stats for white kids are 54.4% and 9.4%. For black kids, 29.8% and 23.9%. For Hispanic kids, 25.6% and 26.2%.
When is the last time you heard an elected official talk about these poor results especially among black and Hispanic students as the crisis it is? When is the last time you heard the Colorado Education Association, the major teacher’s union, talk about this as the crisis it is? But, hey, at least the teacher’s union has the time to pass an anti-capitalist resolution and congratulate a Marx-spouting teacher appointed to the legislature.
Where does the money go?
I am suggesting that the schools are largely to blame for these poor outcomes. Defenders of the schools would counter that they’re doing the best they can with what they have. Relative poverty, sometimes (often not!) associated with less parental support, is a big part of the problem. And the pandemic only made problems worse. If only “we” funded the public schools more robustly, they would be able to turn things around. Color me skeptical.
As Chalkbeat and a legislative report suggest, average per-pupil spending has gone north of $10,000 per year. At this level, a class of twenty students would bring in over $200,000. So where is that money going?
As the Common Sense Institute points out, while the number of students rose by 25% from 2000 and 2022, and the number of teachers rose by 36%, the number of principals and assistants rose by 73%, while the number of administrators rose by 132%. Between 2007 and 2021, while per-pupil funding increased by 47%, average teacher salary increased only by 27%.
A thought experiment
Consider a thought experiment. Let’s say we offered every family with school-aged children a choice: You can continue to send your kids to the public schools, or you can take that $10,000 per student per year tax-free and spend it however you want. If you have four students in public schools, you could take them all out of school and add $40,000 to your household income. Then you’d be responsible for educating them on your own.
The first question is, how many families would take the money? I know some would, because thousands of Colorado families already choose not to send their kids to public schools, even though they continue to pay taxes to support those schools, and they get little or nothing in return. For some additional families, the extra money would mean that a parent could cut back on work and focus more on parenting and teaching their children. Many families would take the money and use it to enroll their children in private schools.
The second question is, would educational outcomes among the families who took the money get better or worse? I am betting that they would get better. It’s hard to believe that parents would fail their kids as badly as the public schools are failing many of them.
Some stop-gap measures
We all know that the current legislature, practically owned as it is by the Colorado Education Association, will do nothing to rock the boat. What we can expect from the legislature is to weaken charter schools and expand funding for those public schools firmly under the union’s thumb.
If the public-school cheerleaders actually believed what they’re selling, they would put a concrete proposal on the table. Exactly what do they think per-pupil spending needs to be, and how many years will it take, before the majority of kids, including a majority of black and Hispanic kids, are meeting expectations at least in math and language? If, say, we increased per-pupil funding by 50%, could the schools meet these goals within five years? And, if not, could we then start talking about some radical alternatives?
Of course no such concrete proposal will be made. The proposal that we will actually get, the same one we always get, is to keep spending more money on public schools, regardless of how many students fail to learn much of anything in them.
But parents and outside groups can take action now to compensate for the failures of the public schools. Parents who are able can homeschool their children. Parents who send their children to school can do what they can to supplement their children’s education. I personally really like the Dimensions Math program for that subject. I’m not sure what sort of tutoring options there are; I’d love to see a nonprofit fund tutoring for struggling students.
Ironically, much of what public schools claim as their success already is a result of parents working with their children or hiring outside tutors.
Racists believe that white children are smarter than brown children. Colorado’s public schools don’t express such ugly beliefs, they merely act as though they were true. Any decent person who notices these disparities will be outraged.
Ari Armstrong writes regularly for Complete Colorado and is the author of books about Ayn Rand, Harry Potter, and classical liberalism. He can be reached at ari at ariarmstrong dot com.
Our unofficial motto at Complete Colorado is “Always free, never fake, ” but annoyingly enough, our reporters, columnists and staff all want to be paid in actual US dollars rather than our preferred currency of pats on the back and a muttered kind word. Fact is that there’s an entire staff working every day to bring you the most timely and relevant political news (updated twice daily) from around the state on Complete’s main page aggregator, as well as top-notch original reporting and commentary on Page Two.
CLICK HERE TO LADLE A LITTLE GRAVY ON THE CREW AT COMPLETE COLORADO. You’ll be giving to the Independence Institute, the not-for-profit publisher of Complete Colorado, which makes your donation tax deductible. But rest assured that your giving will go specifically to the Complete Colorado news operation. Thanks for being a Complete Colorado reader, keep coming back.