PSSA test scores fell last year, not only in Pittsburgh, but throughout Allegheny County and across all of Pennsylvania ("Pa. Districts Show Steep Drop in Test Scores," Sept. 22). No doubt much of the blame will focus on teachers, principals and district leaders, the usual suspects.
Unfortunately, little attention is being directed at the detrimental effect of cumulative budget cuts on education; it's to no one's advantage. To admit that budget cuts are at fault implies that tax increases are required. To speak of increased revenue is assumed to be political suicide for state and civic leaders, and a public relations nightmare for districts' superintendents. Better to pretend that year after year cutbacks can be made up by increasing efficiency, cutting fat, doing more with less, etc.
Yet the impact of budget cuts on education performance cannot be ignored. Learning, like wealth, compounds exponentially over the years -- second-graders know more than twice what they knew at the end of first grade, and 12th-graders know a lot more than 10 times what they knew in second grade. Conversely, lost learning, like credit card debt, also compounds. The effect of one less hour with an aide each week or one less period of support by a librarian each month multiplies over time.
Students and teachers may not notice the effect of one less librarian, or teacher's aide, or support staff for one year, but over several years, teachers become more tired, students more distracted, administrators more overwhelmed by administrative duties.
Like the proverbial boiling frog, the gradual budget cuts in education may not feel like much each year, but they will kill our children's future and our economy in the long run.
BARRY R. NATHAN