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In the world of public school issues Bill Owings' road is all uphill - public school finance. Everest would be an easier climb.

Owings began his steep ascent by sending his new book "American Public School Finance," Thompson/Wadworth 2005, to all 50 governors in the United States, including a special, additional letter of preface to Republicans.

"I told them that you can't decrease taxes and increase quality," said Owings, professor and graduate program director for educational leadership at Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va.

Owings and his wife, Leslie S. Kaplan, an assistant principal at nearby Newport News Public Schools, co-authored the tome, which condemns charter schools, the voucher system and the way America assesses students' test scores on the SAT (Scholastic Aptitude Tests). The book also offers solutions for teacher retention and student evaluation issues.

"My goal with this book was not to teach accounting, but to help people become advocates for their schools," Owings explained. "It's a total misconception that public schools are going to hell in a handbasket."

In fact, the book begins with a chapter on "misconceptions" about public school finance. It is divided into "What Is Being Said" and "What Should Be Said."

Owings and Kaplan do not mince words: "Those who say that increasing educational spending will not increase student achievement are wrong."

The book also debunks the method for rating SAT scores and their apparent decline over the past two decades, stating, "The most frequently cited misconception is that costs are increasing while test scores are falling." Owings points out that the statistics most often cited fail to observe the correlation between the number of test takers per state and the resulting scores.

In this case, Owings and Kaplan hinge their debate on the number of students taking SAT tests in the highest scoring states as well as where they fall in the overall picture as college-bound or non-college-bound high school seniors.

According to Owings, states with the highest scores hovered around 5 percent of the senior class (that percentage being mainly college-bound) while low scoring states, such as New Jersey, had a 76 percent rate of students taking the test, most of whom were not destined for higher education. Owings contends that if only college-bound students were tested, the resulting scores for the schools would be much higher overall.

"But, of course, when a team composed of 75 percent of the class goes up against a team made up of a 5 percent elite, the elite will always win," the book quotes Gerald Bracey, author of "Why Can't They Be Like We Were?"

Owings summed up the thrust of the book saying, "We need more money. There's no doubt about that. Fifty percent of new teachers are leaving the field in their first year and the number one reason cited is salaries. We need to invest in human capital."

This article was posted on: October 17, 2005

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