Fact-Checking Gov. Rendell and Bill Cosby
This afternoon. Gov. Ed Rendell, school superintendents, and Bill Cosby held a press conference on improvement in Pennsylvania test scores, and calling for funding increases. Unfortunately, they got a number of facts wrong:
- While state test scores have improved, there are questions about how difficult the state test is. The PSSAs are a much lower standard of performance than the nationwide NAEP exam – inflating the “proficiency rate” by 80%. As a result, students are graduating high school (yes, even many that fail the PSSAs) without being adequately prepared for college or careers. Furthermore improvement has little to do with increased spending, as Gov. Rendell claims.
- I hate correcting the venerable Dr. Cosby, nonetheless, his statement that we spend “only $4,000 to educate children” underestimates actual spending by Pennsylvania school districts by 70%. The average per-pupil spending is actually over $13,000. Normally, I might let this factual error go…but polls show many people underestimate what we spend on education, and when they have the facts correct, their support for spending increases wanes. Perhaps Bill Cosby is among those, and had he realized what Pennsylvania is really spending, would not in Harrisburg advocating for more.
- In response to a question – perhaps predicated on our noting that school districts have 2.4 billion in reserve balances, the superintendent of Otto-Eldred school district made the claim that school districts can only keep a max 12% reserve – this is factually incorrect. The limit only applies for schools when issuing new debt. In fact, at the end of the 2007-08 school year, 237 school districts – more than half – had fund balances greater than 12%, including the Otto-Eldred district, which has $2 million in reserves or 21% of their spending.
- Cosby and others repeated the refrain, “no more cuts” – yet no one is proposing cuts, but debating how much more funding. The Senate budget would increase school district support by 12% over last year's. Nor have Pennsylvania schools ever had funding cut.
I was also disappointed in the lack of mention of the role of parents in education. In fact, the superintendent who spoke , after mentioning Bill Cosby's book Fatherhood, told the students in the attendance that there were “Two role models…teachers…and celebrities like Mr. Cosby.” While I have the utmost respect for both teachers and Bill Cosby, failing to mention parents (which I have to say I was fully expecting) seemed odd. But it was consistent with the lack of discussion of parental choice in education which is a huge part of Pennsylvania's test score improvement.