Saturday, July 02, 2005

Los Alamos High School and Government Funding of Education

The next time you hear someone talking about the government throwing money away by giving it to public schools or that the amount of money given doesn't mean much of anything for determining the quality of that school, send them to learn more about Los Alamos High School in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Los Alamos, the city built around the laboratory that created the atomic bomb, has virtually no independent money. Los Alamos County just consists of the city and the laboratory. For many reasons, a large number of lab employees commute from out of the county. The number of homes in the county is limited. The number of businesses is also quite limited. Thus, the city and county have a very small tax base.

What this means is that without a lot of federal help, Los Alamos County could provide only a very limited number of services. This is unacceptable for scientists and their families. They are not going to live in a town with a poor school system. This has been this way since the 1940s. So what was the solution? The federal government has considered it in their interest to pay most of the county's bills, including providing one of the best high schools in the country, in order to keep some of the nation's top scientists in Los Alamos.

Thus the school has incredible math and science programs, great teachers, and all the money in the world. Supposedly the number of "geniuses" among Los Alamos children is among the highest in the world. Could this have something to do with the buckets full of money dumped in there by the federal government? You think? Of course, pressure from parents who have incredibly high expectations of their children plays a big part in the success of the high school too. And there are problems. If you are not good at math and science, you often have lots of problems fitting in to the school. The pressure is enormous. Therefore the use of drugs by Los Alamos kids is unbelievably high.

So I'm not necessarily saying that the Los Alamos school system is a model for the rest of the nation. But what I am saying is that this is one very strong piece of evidence to show that government funding of school systems does make incredible differences in the quality of schools.