How Much Would You Pay?

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints’ Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

What would it be worth to learn how to read?  Would you pay as much as $10,000 for someone to teach you this skill?  Is it possible to assign a dollar amount to the value of learning?  Let me share some rounded data from recent research and perhaps we can come up with a reasonable answer to this question.

There are about 3 million teachers (K-12) in America’s public school system.  They serve about 47 million students.  There are about 5 million independent school students taught by about half a million teachers. 2 million students are home schooled.   (If you are familiar with this last group, you will want me to share that home schooling isn’t free.  You might also want me to point out that many people now call this form of education un-schooling.)

With these numbers in mind, and with the premise that reading is a fundamental skill, let’s do some analysis.

As a nation we spend about $12,000 per student per year in our public schools.  This amount varies significantly by state.  New York and Alaska spend the most; Utah and Idaho spend the least.  But all of the states, and the independent schools, and the home schools, think reading is important.

If one only takes the three R’s (readin’ writin’ and ‘rithmatic) as a divisor, then we are willing to spend about $4,000 a year to learn the skill of reading.   But since we have much more than the 3 R’s going on, this number is much less.  Isn’t this a silly analysis?  (“Dang, honey!  We’re spending $9 per hour for Johnny to learn to read!”)

Truth is, it is impossible to put a price tag on reading.  It is certainly a skill, but it also excites the marvelous and ineffable mystery of human thought.  If it were merely a skill, then schools could use a medical model (bill by procedure) or a legal model (hourly or derivative), or even have a sale! (“Get 2% cash back on all analyses of Millay’s poetry this semester only!).

So how much is it worth to learn the times tables or to understand how government functions or to study the latest in string theory?  What would you pay to have your child be the best speller or to have a winning science project?

How much is it worth to have your child become a lifelong learner?

Perhaps you have come up with a reasonable answer to these questions.  I haven’t.  I cannot assign a dollar amount to the value of learning.  In small segments (the $20 piano lesson or math tutor) the dollar menu might work, but for expanding a student’s total intellect, this approach is a failure.

As an epilogue, you might be interested to know that the states that spend the least on education are not very much different than the states that spend the most when metrics such as graduation rates and college acceptances are used.  There seems to be a thing called “cultural attitude” that matters more than the dollars.  What’s your attitude toward schooling?

Source: Dr. Henry Selby, Headmaster All Saints' Episcopal School, Morristown, TN

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