The other day, I heard an interview with Eva Moskowitz, an educator in New York City who runs and avocates for charter schools. She was defending the article that she wrote for the Washington Post. Have a look at what she wrote:
Her argument, as far as I can understand it, is that when we limit class sizes, we also limit the number of gadgets that we can give to each child.
Let’s run the numbers. She wants each student to have a laptop and a Kindle. The cheapest laptops run around $250, and a Kindle, without the 3-G option, goes for $140. It’s difficult to figure out how much Smart Boards cost, largely because there are the typical profusion of needless features and associated accessories to factor in, but $2,000 looks like a reasonable estimate for the low end.
This makes a minimum cost of around $400 per student, plus the costs for the classroom devices. We’re not taking into account the upgrades. Inevitably, once we become addicted to some new product of technology, the dealer comes around with the latest thrill that we must have. And what about the prices of the books that will be loaded on the Kindles? E-books run anywhere from free to fuggetaboutit, just like physical books, but not all books are equal. The good ones are the spendy ones.
Compare those costs to teacher salaries. According to the New York City Department of Education (http://schools.nyc.gov/NR/rdonlyres/EDDB658C-BE7F-4314-85C0-03F5A00B8A0B/0/salary.pdf), the base annual salary for a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience is $45,000. The maximum that a teacher can earn by gaining degrees and years of teaching, is $100,000 a year. That means that an individual teacher is worth between 112 and 250 laptop-Kindle combinations.
Moskowitz doesn’t let us know one embarassing fact: her own salary. Juan Gonzalez, reporter for the New York Daily News, tells us that she receives more than $300,000 per annum (http://articles.nydailynews.com/2009-02-26/local/17916998_1_charter-schools-salaries-eva-moskowitz). It’s good to be an administrator.
But so much for the numbers. We can tweak the balance sheet in a variety of ways to argue that one solution is more economically effective than another. The real question here is what we mean by education.
Did you notice in Moskowtiz’s argument that increasing class size will allow “access to a catalogue of lesson plans and videotaped lessons”? This looks a lot like outsourcing teaching. Think of how much money we could save by buying lessons from a “master teacher” in Freedonia (who gets paid the exorbitant figure of a dollar a day) and then showing them to all the students of a city who will be gathered together in a warehouse. My objection to this is that we are taking the humanity out of school. Certainly, we have to afford buildings and supplies and teachers. What are our priorities?
What we need in our school system is teachers. A teacher is someone who has the skill of imparting knowledge and (more importantly) wisdom to students. That’s not something that can be measured on a scale. Education is a human process: the human interactions that happen in a classroom that isn’t crowded. My priority in this age of technological inflation is to preserve what makes us human. Moskowitz obviously has other goals.