Guest Column

No Money Left Behind

by Barnett Sturm


I read with great interest how the federal government is going to help education at the local level and how business people are going to straighten out teaching and learning. These are the groups that have done so much to alleviate the medical crisis in our society. We can thank them for this year’s 20 percent increase in medical costs, escalating health insurance premiums and HMO executives getting wealthy while denying services to needy patients.

Now educators will be receiving similar support, and we should be grateful.

All this attention to today’s public schools hearkens back to concerns raised in the early 1980s about how education was destroying our economy. In 1983, “A Nation at Risk” blamed the failure of the U.S. economy on the failure of the American education system.

I am certain it was merely an oversight that when we went through the longest period of prolonged economic growth in our history during the 1990s no one remembered to cite the contribution of public education.

And now the people who were so busy earning huge sums of money, fleecing the public, producing gas-guzzling turnover-prone SUVs, and robbing citizens’ pension funds are advising us how to educate children. They are offering us a new perspective on caring for families and children. Such selflessness is refreshing!

Measure of Success

We’re faced with a credibility problem, though. The economy has taken a turn for the worse due to greed, unethical behavior, fantasy accounting and outright theft. Maybe we educators can come to the rescue of the CEOs and their cronies in finance, law and government whose behavior threatens the well-being of this nation. Of course, we would want to use the same principles and practices they are foisting on us with the No Child Left Behind legislation.

For starters, they need higher standards.

A think tank of educators and PTA members can develop a standards-based set of accountability measures for each cohort—a No Money Left Behind Act or NMLB. A body of consumers—people who shop in Wal-Mart, shop with coupons, have 401(k) plans and consume Saudi oil—will develop and oversee the standards.

This is a group thoroughly immersed in the everyday workings of the industrial complex. They will provide a high-stakes test—a single measure to which those tested have no input and about which they are given the slimmest content framework. The results will determine whether they will keep their jobs. Since remedial education is expensive, we will outsource it to third-world countries so we don’t have to pay living wages or health benefits.

 

Testing Subgroups

The test for attorneys might be difficult to develop. Since lawyers always win no matter what the verdict, failing the test is probably impossible. We may have to use questions such as: “True or false: The more money earned by corporate attorneys, the greater the gain to stockholders.”

As part of their assessment, Justice Department lawyers will receive an eye exam. This, at very least, will help them find their lost copies of the Constitution.

The image of accountants has certainly changed. Who knew they could be so colorful and self-immolating? Perhaps now that the “Big 5” is becoming the “Final 4,” their test should include, “True or false: ‘Greed is Good’ is a basic accounting standard.”

To repay all the employees who no longer have pension funds and the workers whose 401(k)s are now worthless, accountants can demonstrate for the federal government how going deeply into debt will make all Americans wealthier. Other consultant possibilities include educating stockholders as to why they benefit from paying $30 million severance packages to CEOs who lost 90 percent of their company’s stock value. A course in new math, resurrected from the 1970s, would be a valuable tool in this endeavor.

Even CEOs can learn that fiction-based quarterly reports and the amount of compensation the CEO earns are not necessarily indicative of a company’s success. Required reading will involve motivational texts such as How To Increase Your Personal Wealth While Gutting Your Company, co-authored by Dennis Kozlowski of Tyco and Kenneth Lay of Enron. It’s part of the business ethics series.

The test for federal government officials, who are there to oversee and protect the public interest, should be the easiest. Since their knowledge base tends to be reduced to sound bytes, we might simplify the questions. Those who can discuss education without using the terms “phonics only” or “no social promotion” qualify for the Ph.D.

Upon reflection, perhaps a basic language course might be appropriate. We could expand their language use by teaching phrases such as “You know I can’t accept your money—that might create a conflict of interest” and “Perhaps we should pay for what we legislate.”

 

Stepping In

Timeliness is important. We plan to petition Congress for a grant to fund a new think tank to implement these proposals. Several hundred million dollars a year should be adequate to pay our management at private-sector rates. We also will require a larger sum to pay senior executives’ severance pay should the project fail. An alternative source of funding might be test-producing companies that stand to gain considerably by this proposal. They already donate to many politicians; could a few million more hurt?

It seems that only a foreign country intent on destroying the American people could have developed the current system. We need to implement No Money Left Behind and save our economy.

 

Barnett Sturm is superintendent of Lakeland Central School District, 1086 E. Main St., Shrub Oak, NY 10588. E-mail: bsturm@lakelandschools.org