MM: Waiting for Superman – Misperceptions about American Schools

From Michael Robertson..

Waiting for Superman – Misperceptions about American Schools
I was recently asked to participate in a panel discussion with the head of the San Diego teacher’s Union and SD school board president after a screening of a new documentary about US government run schools called Waiting for Superman <> then, you can watch the rest of the recordings from "Panel Talks About Education in San Diego" here <> . Common Misperceptions About San Diego Unified School District Myth: Education spending is reduced every year requiring large cuts that are hurting education and there’s nothing left to cut. Facts: There has been no major cuts in total revenues to SDUSD over the last 8 years. The numbers have remained fairly steady. (Source: 1 <#sources> )
2002-03 – $1.15 Billion 2006-07 – $1.22 B
2003-04 – $1.06 B 2007-08 – $1.18 B
2004-05 – $1.07 B 2008-09 – $1.19 B
2005-06 – $1.11 B

Myth: Next year’s budget is dramatically reduced requiring large cuts.

Facts: According to the school board President next year’s budget will be $1.2 Billion which is similar in size to the budget the last few years. (Source: 3 <#sources> )

Myth: Spending per student in San Diego is continually declining illustrating a lack of commitment to education.

Facts: If you look at school spending and divide that by average daily attendance you see the total per student spending is more than $10,000. If one includes in the analysis total costs including capital expenditures and pensions then the per student spending would be even higher. Over the 7 year period examined below per student spending rose more than 33% or 15.5% after accounting for inflation. (Source: 1, 3 <#sources> )

Myth: There are too few teachers so classroom size is growing to 35 and sometimes 40.

Facts: There are more than 7,000 certified teachers in SDUSD. Latest enrollment numbers are 131,541. Dividing those 2 numbers results in 18.8 students per teacher. If reduced classroom size were a goal of the administration there are ample teachers employed by SDUSD to achieve this, but too few teachers are engaging in actual instructional duties.

Myth: Giving more money to schools means more will be spent in the classroom.

Facts: Statewide total K-12 spending increased by $10 billion over the five-year period 2004-2009, from $45.6 billion to $55.6 billion. It rose at a rate greater than the increase in inflation or personal income. Yet classroom spending dipped from 59 percent of education funding to 57.8 percent and spending on teacher salaries and benefits dropped from 50 percent of statewide spending to 48 percent over the same period. Spending on administrators and supervisors, staff travel and conferences all increased faster than teachers’ pay. (Source: 5 <#sources> )

Myth: More money to schools will mean better results for students.

Facts: Over the last 40 years the cost of a K-12 education at government operated schools has tripled and now exceeds $150,000 per student yet there has been no increase whatsoever in test scores. There’s no data to suggest that spending even more money would produce different results. (See chart below.)

Myth: District administration is slimming down.

Facts: Employee growth at government schools has grown 10 times faster than enrollment over the last 40 years. SDUSD has considerably more non-teachers than teachers on their payroll. Approximately 16,000 employees of which 7,000 are certified teachers.

Conclusion: These misperceptions are part of a campaign to disguise actual spending on government schools in an attempt to garner continually greater spending on education by taxpayers.


  1. Center for Education Policy and Law, San Diego Unified School District Status Report: 2003-2009 <>
  2. San Diego Unified School District, About Us, <>
  3. San Diego Union Tribune,
  4. Cato Institute,
  5. Davenport Institute, Pepperdine University, An Analysis of K-12 Education Expenditures in California,


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