How easy it would be if all it took was more money to enable all of our children to succeed in school. I wish it were that simple.
Of course, money helps. But it is not the be-all and end-all determiner in education. Education is more complex than that. This often eludes the understanding of some school reformers and many politicians who over-depend on money alone to do the job.
Getting money for education is a big challenge. Using it well also can be hard to manage. Let's take a look at what money (when it is used effectively) can buy.
For openers, if I could trade a roomful of computers for even a few good teachers, I would do it in an instant. If I could trade a truckload of tests (tests and their grading are very expensive budget items) for trained educators whose job it is to link schools and families, I would do it in a second.
Good investments for schools include:
Teacher training: Teachers today need to learn how to reach a wider diversity of children's needs than ever before. Teachers need to learn how to work with and mobilize families. Teachers need time for planning and reflection. It's rare to find this happening today.
Equipment: New equipment and software are desirable. But let's buy what teachers want and will use. Closets in almost every school are filled with costly equipment that never gets used.
Books: Let's stock the schools with more books. But this is not enough. We need librarians and volunteers who will talk about these books and get them into the hands of children.
School fix-up and construction: Let's use scarce construction funds to help create schools that do not look and feel like prisons. We need schools that say, in effect, by their look: "Come on in. This is a swell place."
What can't money buy? For starters: wisdom, motivation, confidence, common sense, caring. For teachers, this means knowing your subjects and wanting to teach them, to get them across, to reach the children. For parents, this includes giving children a sense that their parents care and that it matters that they learn and do well in school.
There is a buzz that somehow CEOs and lawyers know better than educators how to manage schools. In business, the idea is to manage money to make more money. That is a different goal and orientation from managing money to build student achievement.
What does it take to make education money really work? It takes dedicated parents, knowing what they can and must do to help children. It takes teachers able to imbue in children the fierce desire to keep on learning. It takes children who eat well, sleep well and have hope.
It takes morale building and leadership, even beyond money, to inspire children to do better and for their teachers to work as hard as they can and their parents to do all that can be done.
Money can help buoy optimism when it is used well. It takes wisdom and common sense to use it well.
Dorothy Rich is founder and president of the nonprofit Home and School Institute, MegaSkills Education Center in Washington.