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South Miami resident Dr. Farid Khavari speaks to teacher’s pay

Khavari: 'Education spending is already plenty, but not enough is allocated to Teacher Pay.'

In Florida we spend almost $9,000 per year per student for grades K-12. That is about 50% more than the tuition and fees at Florida State University! How much of that is paid to teachers? Not enough, that’s for sure.

Florida teachers are among the lowest-paid in the nation.

Education Week says Florida’s schools are #5 in the nation. According to Florida’s Department of Education, Florida’s schools are ranked “first in the nation for teacher quality.” Florida’s 4th graders scored #2 in the world on reading, according to the DOE. Whatever the achievements of Florida’s students, we owe that to teachers, not to politicians.

In fact, many government programs to improve education have the opposite effect, such as requiring “teaching to the test”—making sure that students score high on FCAT exams. Connecting teacher pay to standard test results is one way to get higher test scores, but what does that mean for our kids? And our teachers?

Everyone knows that kids learn at different paces. Everyone knows that the circumstances of a child’s life affect his or her ability to learn; kids from middle class families with educated parents, good food to eat and a stable home environment do better in school than kids from poor families. And yet, our system penalizes the schools with the most underprivileged students, the very kids who need the most help and the best teachers. In other states, this frenzy for high test scores has led to widespread cheating and the tendency to encourage poor performers to drop out of school.

Now we are faced with Common Core, another brilliant idea from bureaucrats and politicians to “improve” education. First and foremost, Common Core is a Corporate Welfare program worth billions of dollars per year to poor companies like Apple and Microsoft and testing giants. I-pads for everyone! Exams online! Expensive software to sell! Hooray for the American taxpayer!

The first wave of Common Core tests resulted in 70% of students failing. Did they get dumber all of a sudden? Obviously, the tests were inappropriate. So let’s get every state on the program! Try harder! Teach to the test! By the way, how can a computer grade a writing assignment?

Folks, I don’t have all the answers, but I do have plenty of questions about how we can improve education in Florida. And the people I want to ask about it are teachers. Not administrators, bureaucrats or academics. I want to talk with teachers. I will a call teacher conference within 30 days of taking office and find some answers for all of us.

Let’s see: 20 kids in a class, times $9,000, is $180,000. About a quarter of that goes to pay the teacher, and some more is needed to fund benefits and retirement. That leaves well over $100,000, or $5,000 per student per year. (We could give a free i-pad to each kid every year for only 10% of that). Maybe part of the problem is spending $1,000 per square foot on buildings. Part of the problem is plenty of administrators getting paid way more than teachers. Let’s find out what teachers have to say.

With that kind of money available for each student, it is no wonder that Charter Schools are popping up everywhere. Any rational businessperson can see a goldmine in that setup! The problem is, Charter Schools open, take the money, pass out the i-pads, and then too many of them fail to deliver a quality education, and many go out of business as fast as they started up. We need to tighten up on qualifications for Charter Schools, but the main thing we need to do is to improve public education, especially in less-affluent areas.

Here is one example of real innovation in education: Project CHILD. You take three teachers, and three classes of students (grades K, 1, 2 and then 3,4,5). One teacher teaches mainly reading, one math, and one writing. The kids see all three teachers each day. The teachers work with the same kids for three years rather than one year. That way, the teachers know and can address the individual needs of the students. Then the same group of students moves on to three different teachers for three more years. Same number of teachers and students, far better results.

Another way to improve education to meet the needs of our young people and our society is to shift part of our existing budget to expand trade related courses in high schools. This would keep more young people in school and prepare them for a better life.

Improving education is the best investment we can make for the sake of our children, and for our economy, too. Spending more on education may make us feel good, but just spending more will not make any difference. As we have seen above, we already spend much more per student per year than it costs to attend an excellent university. Clearly we can afford to allocate more to teachers, have all the electronic gizmos kids love, and fancy buildings, too.

High School graduation rates have been increasing steadily in Florida, but still over 24% of students drop out before graduation. We have a long way to go, and it is teachers—not corporations– who will get us there. How can we teach better, so that our kids can excel by world standards?

Here’s an idea: let’s ask the teachers.

Farid A. Khavari, Ph.D., economist is a candidate for Florida Governor in 2014.

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