$1,000,000,000 for Non-Existent Schools in Afghanistan… But We Can’t Afford $$$ for Schools and Need to Cut Food Stamps
“Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, and Ghost Schools“, Buzzfeed’s expose on the appalling abuse of USAID funds intended for the construction and operation of schools in Afghanistan, describes how money earmarked for schools went into the pockets of warlords instead. The idea of offering public education to educate young men and especially young women in that war-torn nation is sound and reflects the abiding belief that education is the most effective way to change the culture in a country. And the idea that these schools were thriving was especially heartening to those who hoped some long-term benefits might come from the billions being spent in that country. But sadly, the Buzzfeed journalists found we were being misled:
Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded.
But a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.
The statistics about school construction are disheartening to read. The State Department and Defense Department both overstated the number of schools constructed by at least 20% and the quality of the construction, based on their own internal reports, was shoddy:
As for the schools America truly did build, U.S. officials repeatedly emphasized to Congress that they were constructed to high-quality standards. But in 2010, USAID’s inspector general published a review based on site visits to 30 schools. More than three-quarters suffered from physical problems, poor hardware, or other deficiencies that might expose students to “unhealthy and even dangerous conditions.” Also, the review found that “the International Building Code was not adhered to” in USAID’s school-building program.
This year, BuzzFeed News found that the overwhelming majority of the more than 50 U.S.-funded schools it visited resemble abandoned buildings — marred by collapsing roofs, shattered glass, boarded-up windows, protruding electrical wires, decaying doors, or other structural defects. At least a quarter of the schools BuzzFeed News visited do not have running water.
But the lack of accountability doesn’t stop with money spent on the construction of schools:
By obtaining internal records from the Afghan Ministry of Education, never before made public, BuzzFeed News also learned that more than 1,100 schools that the ministry publicly reported as active in 2011 were in fact not operating at all. Provincial documents show that teacher salaries — largely paid for with U.S. funds — continued to pour into ghost schools.
Some local officials even allege that those salaries sometimes end up in the hands of the Taliban. Certainly, U.S.-funded school projects have often lined the pockets of brutal warlords and reviled strongmen, which sometimes soured the local population on the U.S. and the Afghan government.
So we spent billions to construct non-existent school, even more money to pay the salaries of non-existent teachers, and no one seems to know where the money went!
Since 2002, the United States has invested more than $1 billion to provide education to Afghan children. But the American government does not know how many schools it has built, how many Afghan students are actually attending school, or how many teachers are actually teaching. What’s certain is the numbers for all of those are far less than what it has been peddling.
Education can make a difference. Unregulated education cannot. I loathed the mountains of paperwork we needed to do when I was a Superintendent for 29 years… but in the end it assured that the money we raised in taxes was accounted for carefully and went into the pockets of teachers who delivered instruction to students. At the very least, our government should spend money to make certain that the dollars we are spending to educate children in Afghanistan are not going to warlords who only want to teach the Koran.
As noted in previous posts, corporations threaten to move in order to get PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreements for existing sites to reduce paying local and/or state property taxes. The costs for services are then shifted to taxpayers, many of whom do not connect the dots on the cause of their tax increases and/or want to retain their jobs but don’t want to pick up the costs shifted to their neighbors. This article describes even more blatant examples of tax avoidance. Shame on all those corporations who complain about “bad schools” and then diminish the resources by avoiding state and local taxes.
Fairborn, OH, Loses a Committed and Dedicated Teacher. Somewhere in Ohio An Affluent District Would Welcome Him
Valerie Strauss’ turned over her Washington Post Answer Sheet blog to Scott Ervin, a Fairborn OH third grade teacher who outlined his reasons for quitting as a third grade teacher after 15 years. From his description of his work ethic and dedication to working with the most challenging students in a school that serves children raised in poverty I am confident that there is an affluent school district within driving distance that will be happy to hire him… and in that district Mr. Ervin won’t have to put up with Ohio’s laws that pertain to “failing schools”. As I wrote in an essay published in Education Week several years ago, this is the form of “merit pay” that is already in place in public education.
I base my assertion that Mr. Ervin could land a job in an affluent district on my experience as the former Superintendent of an affluent district in NH surrounded by several districts that had “failing schools” full of dedicated teachers, some of whom would jump into our applicant pools whenever we had an opening. Why? Because they knew that teachers in our district did not have to worry about test results because our students scored at the high end of the bell curve and their year-to-year performances never put the school in jeopardy of failing. Mr. Ervin’s experience brought to mind a teacher we recruited from a nearby district to work with students who were not eligible for special education services but did require one-on-one attention because of their inability to “fit” in the classrooms. Through behavioral interventions we were able to provide these students with the support they needed to do the kind of independent work teachers assigned and parents expected. Such a position was affordable in our district in two respects. First, we had the resources to pay for the position (though it was questioned whenever we needed to consider budget cuts) and second, we did not have to devote any resources to “test preparation”.
I consulted in financially strapped areas of the state after I retired in 2011 and worked in many under-resourced school districts in the pre-NCLB era. In less affluent districts after NCLB the focus was on avoiding designation as a School In Need of Improvement (a “SINI” status) or, as happened over time, working to get out of a SINI designation. The SINI focus meant that every class was dedicated to preparing for the NECAP, the standardized test used to determine whether a school was “failing” or “succeeding”. Many of the administrators and teachers I worked with thought the use of tests to measure their schools was preposterous but they all accepted it as a “given” and worked tirelessly to get enough of their students over the NECAP “cut score” so that their school could get out of the SINI status…. but the practical reality was that even when the school was out of the SINI status it was still obsessed with maintaining that status by, you guessed it, doing well on the next round of NECAPS. I found this vicious cycle astonishing and completely wrongheaded since I had spent seven years in a district that effectively paid no attention to NECAP scores. I also saw that the focus on NECAP scores took time away from the focus on what was most important: the cultivation of the love of learning and the ability of students to work independently on projects that interested them. The obsession with testing was taking the joy out of school for students as well as teachers.
I hope Mr. Ervin continues to teach and has applied to districts in his region that are not “failing” and that a Superintendent in Ohio reads Mr. Ervin’s post, looks through their applicant pool, and invites Mr. Ervin in for an interview. He may be good enough to merit a job in that district… THAT’s the kind of “merit pay” we have in America today.