Recently, I had a conversation about the funding of education in the US. In the US there is a great diversity of schools, in just about any category one can think of - including quality. The average private school is not better than the average public school either - so diversity is within each type of school as well (here's an article about math scores in Private vs. Public schools). Funding disparities among schools in the US come from many sources, but typically if you go to a 'rich' neighborhood you will find a well funded school and if you go to a 'poor' neighborhood you will find a school in disrepair and/or lacking materials. In a country that has "the largest and most technologically powerful economy in the world, with a per captia GDP of US$46,000", we don't fund education as much as others. In a 2003 report done by the OCLC (an online librarian cooperative that has an immense data set available to them :-), the US "ranked tenth in education spending as a percent of GDP at 4.8 percent" in 2001. Saudi Arabia, Norway, Malaysia, France and South Africa were the top five countries - all spending more than 5 percent of GDP.
Of course, based on percentage that may not seem too bad; however, per capita spending on education for the US was US$1,780 (a ranking of second) and Norway was number one at US$2,850.
Another factor to consider about US school funding, is the US system itself - or lack thereof. There is no coordinated national school system in the US. We have 50 state systems and within those there are many more school district systems. If a child leaves one school to go to another, then there is no guarantee that she will have the same subject classes or be needing remedial lessons or be far ahead of her new classmates. This diversity can be a strength; however, we tend not to take advantage of learning from what works and what doesn't within this mixed experiment. Do you think there may be some waste of funds through redundancy?
In 1996, a set of National Science Education Standards were created by the National Academy of Sciences. It was, and is, a good framework for a science curriculum. Take a look at them and especially read how they frame the pedagogy for science - inquiry and process have great importance. They were not written to be a prescriptive, day-by-day lesson plan. Soon after the NSES were created, states started making their own standards (or altering what they already had) to sometimes reflect the NSES, sometimes expand on the NSES, and/or deviate greatly from the NSES. How much did it cost to create those state standards? We still have 50 states with separate science standards and we even have many school districts with district specific standards!
Regardless of the exact amount we spend towards students learning, we do a poor job of distributing the funding we put towards education in a just manner. I use the word 'just' and not 'equal' on purpose. A just educational system would lend to providing every student an opportunity to explore and empower themselves according to his/her effort and strengths. I do not envision a system that is the same for every child, where on day 56 of kindergarten each learns letter 'R', etc. Each child, as noted in an earlier posting, has gems within and our job is to help them recognize those gems, polish them, and serve humanity.
From the often quoted scripture from Baha'u'llah's Hidden Words..."O Son of Spirit! The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice; turn not away therefrom if thou desirest Me, and neglect it not that I may confide in thee. By its aid thou shalt see with thine own eyes and not through the eyes of others, and shalt know of thine own knowledge and not through the knowledge of thy neighbor. Ponder this in thy heart; how it behooveth thee to be. Verily justice is My gift to thee and the sign of My loving-kindness. Set it then before thine eyes."
Now, if we consider the education of all children, worldwide, then we have much to reflect on in terms of justice. Do we consider a nation spending US$5 per capita on education (Uganda) reasonable? Is the spending of 1.8% of GDP (2000-2002) by Pakistan justice? How many gems are going unfound and not being brought to the surface in a resplendent light? Can our future afford such lack of investment?