I just finished reading “The Billionaire Boys Reinvesting a Small Percent of the Spoils of Capitalism“, a blog post on The Progressive’s web page written by Jan Resseger. The post opens with this short, concise, and accurate description of why the billionaires have so much to give:
One reason the Billionaire Boys have so much to invest through their mega-foundations is that tax cuts at the federal and state level have been tilted to favor the extremely wealthy and burden those whose incomes are far lower, exacerbating inequality and the plight of those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.
The post then covers the questionable effects of the trickle-down philanthropy-based economy, whereby a small group of extraordinarily wealthy billionaires get to determine public policy based on THIER beliefs and values. The post offers a series of ethical questions raised in a blog post by Reverend John Thomas. He enumerated “…three problems embedded in venture philanthropy”, attributing the identification of these broadly defined problems to Lester M. Salamon, Director of the Center for Civil Society Studies at The Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. The three problems are particularism, paternalism, and insufficiency. That is, philanthropists tend to give to organizations whose missions and values match theirs, whose outcomes are of interest to them, but, in doing so, provide far less money than would have been available to the general welfare had the taxes been collected without loopholes.
The post concludes with a synopsis of an article Joanne Barkan wrote for Dissent magazine, describing the effects of this philanthropy-economy on public education.
Barkan describes the interests and passions in which the three giants of education philanthropy have been dabbling: “choice, competition, deregulation, accountability, and data-based decision making. And they fund the same vehicles to achieve their goals: charter schools, high-stakes standardized testing for students, merit pay for teachers whose students improve their test scores, firing teachers and closing schools when scores don’t rise adequately, and longitudinal data collection on the performance of every student and teacher.”
Resseger is concerned because the funding is continuing for these boilerplate initiatives despite the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that they are working. She concludes the post with this lament:
The fact that the Billionaire Boys can buy an extensive and long-running public relations and media campaign is one reason we haven’t had a thorough public conversation to compare the experiments of the philanthropists with our historic system of public education—publicly funded, universally available, and accountable to the public. We ought to be asking which sort of schools do a better job of balancing the needs of each particular child and family with the capacity to secure the rights and address the needs of all children.
Here is what I find particularly distressing: after the recent Supreme Court decisions determining that campaign donations are a form of “free speech” I see no changes to the “test-punish-privatize” mantra. With “only” 4.35 billion spread over several years, RTTT became a de facto directive for districts to adopt the common core, to use standardized tests to measure everything about schooling, and to begin using Big Data to collect and store information on teachers, parents, and students. This proves Resseger’s point that “…controlling just a few billion dollars” of the $500 billion spent for public schools can make a huge difference.
Looking ahead, I would guess that most of the contributors to both parties campaigns are enthusiastic about the direction the federal government is leading us in terms of privatization of public schools, and the payback to technology companies, for-profit start-ups, and test companies will increase… for the campaign contributions to both parties won’t add up to “billions”… and I’d predict that those political contributions will have a great return on investment for the billionaire boys!
NYTimes Sunday Op-Ed writer Arthur C. Brooks has an interesting and insightful article on happiness titled “Love People, Not Pleasure”, an article that incorporates the Buddhist teachings on clinging and grasping. Brooks notes that money, fame, and sex are hollow aspirations that only lead to suffering because we can never get enough of any of the three. To illustrate this point Brooks quotes from the Dhammapada, the Buddha’s path of wisdom, and follows up with a pithy aphorism:
“The craving of one given to heedless living grows like a creeper. Like the monkey seeking fruits in the forest, he leaps from life to life… Whoever is overcome by this wretched and sticky craving, his sorrows grow like grass after the rains.”
This search for fame, the lust for material things and the objectification of others — that is, the cycle of grasping and craving — follows a formula that is elegant, simple and deadly:
Love things, use people.
After reading an article recommending that merit pay is the best means of recruiting new teachers (see previous post) I was compelled to leave the following comment:
Please inform the “school reformers” who want to interpose the compensation plans from the business world onto public education that not everyone is motivated by money. Many teachers are happier than hedge fund managers and CEOs because they are intrinsically motivated.
Brooks recognizes that his notions are ultimately subversive to the current economic and social system and implies that the desire for these three pleasures are immutable.
This also requires a condemnation of materialism. This is manifestly not an argument for any specific economic system. Anyone who has spent time in a socialist country must concede that materialism and selfishness are as bad under collectivism, or worse, as when markets are free. No political ideology is immune to materialism.
Finally, it requires a deep skepticism of our own basic desires. Of course you are driven to seek admiration, splendor and physical license. But giving in to these impulses will bring unhappiness. You have a responsibility to yourself to stay in the battle. The day you declare a truce is the day you become unhappier. Declaring war on these destructive impulses is not about asceticism or Puritanism. It is about being a prudent person who seeks to avoid unnecessary suffering.
While Brooks is not arguing “…for any specific economic system” his “…declaring war on these destructive impulses.. to avoid unnecessary suffering” sounds very familiar to this practicing Buddhist…. and I know it would resonate with many who practice the core beliefs of religious traditions as opposed to those who adhere strongly to the doctrines of those traditions. I would be interested in reading Brooks’ ideas on how economic and political systems could embrace beliefs based on fighting the destructive impulses of materialism… and how schools might inculcate these arguably essential notions in students. Maybe instead of reinforcing the “…search for fame, the lust for material things and the objectification of others — that is, the cycle of grasping and craving — that follows a formula that is elegant, simple and deadly: Love things, use people” we could introduce students to a new school of though that eschews the search for fame, the lust for material things, and the objectification of others… a school of thought that might yield a formula that is elegant, simple, and virtuous:
Love People; Use Things
The Business Insider recently published an article touting a compensation system called for in a report issued by Michelle Rhee’s organization, The New Teacher Project (TNTP). The report cites that 90% of the school districts in the United States use a “lockstep pay system” that suppresses entry wages and long term wages. This is true… but not because of the pay system. It’s true because the limited amount of funds available for salaries. Changing the pay system will only increase sallies at both ends of the spectrum if more money is applied. The only way to compensate teachers more with the same amount of money is to have fewer teachers. The TNTP proposed solution?
The report calls for schools to compensate teachers based on performance and offer bonuses for instructors at high-need schools and critical subjects.
Ah yes… merit pay, bonuses for “high need schools”, and teachers in “critical subjects”. This is a new and innovative idea?
As for the article, it is full of misinformation. First and foremost, is states that “…teachers are paid the same whether they work in high- or low-income schools”. this is clearly wrong: the pay scales for teachers who work in affluent districts are markedly higher than those who work in districts that serve children raised in poverty. Secondly, it assumes that graduates who enter teaching are motivated by money, which is not the case. Those who enter teaching want to make a difference in the lives of children, not make a million dollars a year. Third, the folks who are arguing for this kind of pay scale are simultaneously arguing that taxpayers should pay less and/or the total compensation for teachers is too high and/or “tenure” should be eliminated…. at least Michelle Rhee has made some or all of these arguments elsewhere. Finally, as noted above, implementing a pay schedule like the one recommended in this essay would ultimately cost the taxpayers MUCH more if all else remains equal… and the way to make things different from the way they are now would be to reduce benefits and pensions and/or increase class sizes. Sorry, Ms. Rhee, your study is lacking in both new ideas and a grounding in reality.
I read Meredith Broussard’s recent Atlantic article, “Why Poor Schools Can’t Win at Standardized Testing” and shook my head in exasperation: nothing changes in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania… and worse: the solution isn’t more tests or more penalties or more charter schools: it’s more carefully spent money.
Based on the information presented in the Atlantic article here’s what hasn’t changed in Philadelphia since I was a teacher at Shaw Junior High School:
- There aren’t enough books
- There aren’t enough administrators
- There aren’t enough teachers
- The central administration is overwhelmed with paperwork
- Technology is outdated and under-supported
- As measured by standardized tests, students are performing poorly
Here’s what is different:
- The state controls the schools (and has for roughly two decades) because they can do a better job… but student performance has not improved one iota since the State takeover.
- Many of the schools are operated by privatized charters, because the private sector can solve the problems better than the “government run” schools… but for-profit charters have not improved student performance even though they draw from the children of engaged parents.
- The per pupil spending gap is wider as compared to surrounding suburban school districts because “money can’t solve the problems”… even though parents and community members in the suburban districts willingly pay more for their better schools… oh.. and those schools DO have textbooks for each child and sophisticated data systems to monitor the allocation of resources and progress of each-and-every student.
- The central administration emphasizes the ineffectiveness of teachers instead of the needs of students. Mark Shedd and Matt Costanza, the Superintendents in the late 60s and early 1970s, spoke eloquently in defense of the hard work teachers were doing and the challenges they faced given the effects of poverty. Since then: it’s all about bad teaching.
And… based on the information presented in the Atlantic article here’s what hasn’t changed in Pennsylvania since I was an administrator in suburban Philadelphia in the mid-1970s: economically disadvantaged students do poorly on standardized achievement tests and students in affluent districts do better and the test results are used to draw the conclusion that schools serving children raised in poverty are “failing” and schools serving children raised in affluence are “good”.
Broussard’s article presents the stark reality of public education in Philadelphia without judgment… and it’s not a pretty picture.