In fact, if we staffed our schools at South Korean levels, our state and local fiscal headaches would be greatly reduced. According to the latest available data from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics, South Korea has 22.4 pupils per teacher in primary grades, compared to 13.9 pupils per teacher in the primary grades in American schools. In other words, the average Korean school with 1,000 pupils has 26 fewer teacher than the average American school of the same size. On the secondary level, the pupil-teacher ratio was 18 in Korea and 14 in the U.S., which translates into a difference of about 16 teachers in a 1,000-pupil school.
South Korean kids nonetheless score much higher than Americans on international math, science and reading tests. Go figure!
The president's plan would set aside another $30 billion to fix "schools throughout this country that desperately need renovating."
"How can we expect our kids to do their best in places that are literally falling apart?" the president asked. A separate administration fact sheet suggests 35,000 school buildings are in this category. As evidence of the widespread dilapidation of American schools, the White House cited ... well, it's hard to find much evidence of this, actually. But fixing them will create many construction jobs, we are assured.
As you might expect, the nation's top teacher union leader is pleased.
We heard the same sort of thing two years ago, when the big stimulus bill set aside gobs of cash for schools. But that money simply put off the inevitable, allowing school districts to sustain payrolls they couldn't afford for a couple of years while giving teacher unions an excuse to resist pressure for wage concessions. The latest wave of cutbacks in school payrolls are a delayed reaction to the expiration of Obama's first stimulus.
Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association, said his members are e-mailing members of Congress in favor of school construction money and funds that would go to hire teachers.
"This can't be about money," he said. "It's got to be about people."
Even if 280,000 teacher jobs are eliminated, as the White House predicts, we'll continue to have many more teachers per pupil than, say, South Korea.