May 21, 2024

Unlike Other Spending, President’s Teacher Program Too Small

Since taking office just under a year ago, President Obama and the Democrats have tripled the already obscene budget deficit by spending $500 billion on their “stimulus” program, dollars that, in typical federal government fashion, were spent with remarkable inefficiency.

Now comes word of a new initiative sponsored by Mr. Obama that actually does serve a useful purpose – a math and science teacher training program intended to move underachieving “American students from the middle to the top of the pack in those subjects over the next decade”.

"The quality of math and science teachers is the most important single factor influencing whether students will succeed or fail in science, technology, engineering and math," Obama said in a statement. The money will help prepare 10,000 new teachers and train 100,000 more, the administration said.

I know it’s hard, but let’s have a little fun with math, shall we? A typical professional development course costs about $2500 on the open market. There are approximately 100,000 public schools in the United States, so let’s further assume that one lucky teacher from each school would be educated by the president’s program. The price tag for such an endeavor would be $250 billion or about 50% of the amount squandered during the Dems’ prodigious Pork-o-rama last year.

Yes, yes – perhaps the Department of Education, using the feds’ famous ability to make their programs efficient and cost-effective, could magically cut down on the cost-per-teacher. Sure. But remember my other assumption – 1 teacher per school being taught. The reality is that most U.S. schools are staffed by multiple math/science teachers who could benefit from additional training. If anything the number I gave above is low, perhaps by an order of magnitude.

So how serious is the president about the new math and science education initiative? Not very. He’s willing to kick in a mere $250 million for the cause. What a committed leader. That’s just 0.1% of my original number, an estimate that’s probably far lower than the actual cost of training.

Furthermore, I have to question the effectiveness of a week’s worth of training. Certainly every little bit helps. But the problems with match/science education in this country go deeper than a week’s worth of tips and techniques can address. If we’re serious about regaining our place at the top of the technical skills heap then we need to be prepared to spend a lot of money now, before it’s too late. 

(For reference, I highly recommend reading Thomas Freidman’s The World is Flat for background on the consequences of failure in this area.)

The president’s program, while well-intentioned, falls so far short of what’s needed that it would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Perhaps if he hadn’t wasted all that TARP money…

There is some good news. In another area the president has recognized a fundamental problem with the students are educated in math and science.

Through the "Educate to Innovate" campaign, the government will work with major companies and universities to recruit and train teachers. The White House has said a substantial vacancy exists in the so-called STEM field: science, technology, engineering and math. Up to 1 million new teachers will be need to be recruited over the next five years to fill the gap, the White House said.

Involving employers in the education process would be a positive step. Not only do corporations have the correct perspective on what needs to be taught – they are, after all, the consumers of the output the education system produces – but they also have the expertise to fill the gaps the White House speaks of.

It would be a new concept for American children, but why not have them be taught by the people who actually know about the subject material, having applied it in a production setting?

Furthermore, I can envision American companies being willing to do this for less than market rates in order to help ensure the quality of their future work force and thus negating my argument that teacher education will require trillions of dollars to achieve – if the government is willing to give up its monopoly on education.

Call me a dreamer, but inviting corporations into the education mix seems like the only way to make the massive math/science teacher infusion that’s needed happen in a cost-effective way.


Marc is a software developer, writer, and part-time political know-it-all who currently resides in Texas in the good ol' U.S.A.

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