Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

The Student Loan Crisis and the Debtfare State

May 27, 2015 Leave a comment

The Student Loan Crisis and the Debtfare State.

This article explains how the current system is rigged against those who must borrow money to go to college. What is DOESN’T emphasize is:

  • The cuts to colleges at the state level have made it more expensive for students to get post-secondary schooling without getting a loan
  • The USDOE is a major beneficiary: if the USDOE lost the $101,000,000,000 generated since the advent of quantitative easing it would be in difficult straits
  • Because of the revenue it receives, the USDOE cannot be an advocate for indebted students. Indeed, USDOE is effectively contributing to the stress student debtors face by employing loan collectors to help support itself
  • The privatization of public loans places shareholders at the forefront, not the students.
  • The whole student loan structure moves money upward: the banksters get lots of guaranteed money while the striving students get race-to-the-bottom wages and must pay outlandishly high interest rates on their loans

The answer is either a direct infusion of funds into publicly funded colleges or an indirect infusion of funds by forgiving loans issued for bogus degree programs and/or lowering interest rates to a manageable level.

“Long Odds in the Game of Life” Could be Shortened with Public Employment

May 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Two NYTimes articles published on two consecutive days underscore the important role the governments play in the economy, particularly in creating and sustaining middle class jobs.

Long Odds in the Game of Life“, today’s NYTimes op ed page essay by restaurant server/UNLV English professor Brittany Bronson, describes the struggles her first generation college freshmen face as they try to earn enough to pay for college while trying to meet the academic demands. She implicitly and explicitly compares their experiences with those of more affluent students who attend elite colleges, and notes that many of the students she teaches will find it challenging to even make a middle class wage when they graduate.

An article in yesterday’s NYTimes explains why this is the case. “Public Sector Jobs Vanish, Hitting Blacks Hard” by Particia Cohen describes the impact budget cuts have had on families in the Miami FL area. Noting that government employment has been a favored route for blacks to reach the middle class, Cohen notes that cutbacks in those jobs has affected blacks more than whites. She also reports that the current trends do not favor the restoration of those jobs:

Even now, with the economy regaining strength, public sector employment has still not bounced back. An incomplete recovery is part of the reason, but a combination of strong anti-government and anti-tax sentiment in some places has kept down public payrolls. At the same time, attempts to curb collective bargaining, like those led by Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, have weakened public unions.

After reading these two articles in succession it is clear to me that the way out of the woods is to use the trillions of dollars currently in offshore tax shelters to create more public jobs. Doing so would not only restore employment to those laid off during the recession but also create jobs for those first generation college students who want to do community service work. We have the resources to make this happen… Let’s do it.

WND Reports that “Socialist Utopians” Control Schools

May 26, 2015 Leave a comment

The Google Alert on Public Education occasionally includes some conspiratorial articles about education policy, and today’s aggregation of articles included one from WND titled “Public Schools Called “Gigantic Criminal Enterprise””. Not being familiar with WND, I clicked on the article expecting it to be about the for-profit charter school movement… but I was way off base! It seems that the criminal activity involves “globalists” who are intentionally dumbing down America’s schools to achieve “planetary totalitarianism”.

How are the socialist utopians accomplishing their goal of intellectual enslavement? Writers Alex Newman and Samuel Blumenfeld have a list of ways:

  • …progressive education gurus have caused dyslexia and other learning disabilities by teaching children to read using the “whole word” method … instead of phonics and as a result of this “quackery” Americans “…won’t even be able to bypass the propaganda and get a book, get the Bible, get the Constitution, get the Declaration of Independence and read it”.
  • through the use of “…“cooperative learning” (which) is evidence of communist influence in the classrooms.” The authors view cooperative learning’s small group approach where all in the group “...receive the same grade for their work, even if they took a quiz or test separately” as a “...collectivist mindset (that) will come in handy in the new global society”
  • through the teaching of “...evolution and secular humanist doctrines which erode the students’ religious beliefs, beliefs that a totalitarian society destroys.
  • by collecting massive amounts of personal information about students, information that the USDOE is using to develop “...massive dossiers on every student in the country, in the government schools, including information that parents wouldn’t imagine in their wildest dreams…
  • by implementing the Common Core, which many teachers are rejecting because it prevents them from teaching students properly.

Newman and Blumenfeld see education as a key to pushing back against this movement toward planetary totalitarianism:

“Education is really at the heart of it, because if you don’t have a dumbed-down population, if you don’t have a population that’s sufficiently indoctrinated into this nonsense, it’ll never fly,” Newman said. “And so education, we consider, is really at the heart of this globalist effort to really, to be blunt about it, enslave the world. Without the education system, it would never be possible. Without mass-producing illiterates and collectivists, they could never build something like this.”

As you have probably determined by now, WND is an ultra-conservative web site… and yet many of the assertions could come from Truthdig’s Chris Hedges or Diane Ravitch or even George Orwell. I recall taking a Political Science course in college where the teacher contended that political views were not linear but circular. That is the views of extreme conservatives and extreme liberals often overlapped and while both were fearful of totalitarianism both wanted to see their perspectives embraced by society as a whole. The final paragraphs of this article, which could have been taken from a Bernie Sanders campaign speech, reinforce this idea:

Newman said it’s important for people to educate themselves about what’s going on and to organize within their communities, because as more Americans become aware of the globalists’ plans (NOTE: insert “oligarchs’ plans” here), they will be better able to resist.

“We’re going to have a great opportunity here to put a stop to all this,” Newman promised. “And if we miss it, it’s going to be a disaster for humanity, but if we seize it, it would be absolutely wonderful and amazing.”

Newman longs for the day when the American people collectively wake up, put their foot down and deliver this message: “Enough of this! We’re going to keep our rights. We’re going to keep our nation, thank you very much. We’re going to educate our children. We’re not going to let you dumb them down, and we’re not going to have your New World Order (NOTE: Insert “plutocracy” here). Take a hike, you’re a criminal, that’s enough.”

Newman is right: enough IS enough… we need to make certain that the governance of public education is returned to its community roots and not taken over by business, we need to get our children to ask probing questions and seek the truth, and we need to restore the opportunity for any child in our country to reach their full potential…. and this might be a place where the view of a “secular socialist Utopian” overlaps with that of a fundamentalist conservative.



Can a Millionaire’s Largesse Be Replicated?

May 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Yesterday afternoon’s NYTimes web page featured a heartwarming story about a Florida millionaire who has donated over $11,000,000 to the Tangelo School district outside of Orlando FL, an investment that has turned around the school district. Harris Rosen, a 75-year old hotel owner, provided these funds to Tangelo, which has roughly 900 youngsters under the age of 18, over an extended time period.…. and the results are unarguably impressive:

Nearly all its seniors graduate from high school, and most go on to college on full scholarships Mr. Rosen has financed.

Young children head for kindergarten primed for learning, or already reading, because of the free day care centers and a prekindergarten program Mr. Rosen provides. Property values have climbed. Houses and lawns, with few exceptions, are welcoming. Crime has plummeted.

This past year, Tangelo schools and child care centers received $500,000, funds that were used to man day care centers and provide scholarships for the 25 students who graduated from high school. But is the project replicable? The bold face, italicized, and underlined words answer the question:

…Tangelo is perhaps hard to mimic… The community is small – with only 3,000 people – and filled with homeowners, a compactness that is unusual for an urban area. Tangelo has organized leaders who were fighting the drug trade even before Mr. Rosen’s arrival. And it has had Mr. Rosen’s focus and financing over 21 years.

“It’s not inexpensive,” Mr. Rosen said. “You stay until the neighborhood needs you.”

But, he added, there are a lot of wealthy people with the resources to do the same thing if they choose.

The factors that made a difference in Tangelo are money and commitment.

How much money?

The $500,000 Rosen donated to Tangelo this year works out to $555/child under 18 years old, an amount that would require 0ver $600,000,000 per year to fund NYC schools and over $17,000,000,00 per year to support every child receiving free or reduced lunch.

How much commitment?

A longer time commitment than we’ve allowed for schools to show improvement in ANY state in the country! I doubt that there is a Governor in the nation would seek millions of dollars this year to realize a payback 21 years from now… and there are even fewer shareholders who would be willing to wait that long for a payback. And do I do NOT think those with pockets deep enough to provide the funding Rosen offered will choose to do so and I doubt that any politician will seek to raise taxes from those individuals to direct funds for community based schooling.

And a deeper community commitment than we’ve expected in years past. The newspaper only mentions the community leadership in the one sentence extracted above… but I know from experience that without that level of commitment making any school improvements is a daunting challenge.

The story underscores the preposterousness of those who believe there is a fast, cheap and school-centered way to “fix” public education. Money, patience, and commitment are the only way to make the kind of changes Tangelo experienced… but I imagine we’ll be reading about the “Tangelo Miracle” and that some Presidential candidate visiting FL will make sure they get their picture taken with Mr. Rosen as evidence that voluntary philanthropy will give students the hope they need to succeed.

The Productivity Paradox: Why Hasn’t the Expansion of Technology Improved the Quality of Life?

May 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYTimes, “The Big Meh“, revisits paradoxical questions that emerged from the expansion of technology in the late 1970s:

…the era of the “productivity paradox,” a two-decade-long period during which technology seemed to be advancing rapidly — personal computing, cellphones, local area networks and the early stages of the Internet — yet economic growth was sluggish and incomes stagnant.

Krugman offers some thoughts as to why productivity never materialized and intimates that technology may be oversold as a means of improving the quality of life for most people. He concludes his piece confessing that he is at a loss to explain why technology hasn’t changed our quality of life for the better:

So what do I think is going on with technology? The answer is that I don’t know — but neither does anyone else. Maybe my friends at Google are right, and Big Data will soon transform everything. Maybe 3-D printing will bring the information revolution into the material world. Or maybe we’re on track for another big meh.

Craig Lambert’s Politico article, “The Second Job You Didn’t Know You Had“, answers part of the question. Lambert’s article suggests that DIY tasks taken on by consumers have eliminated the bottom rung of the employment ladder and thereby eliminated opportunities for many non-college educated workers to enter the job market. Shareholders and CEOs who want to cut costs love this because ATMs and self-service scanners don’t join unions, never take sick leave, and make fewer mistakes than those pesky employees…. and the elimination of these lower rung jobs has created an oversupply of workers for middle tier job suppressing those wages. At the same time the cost of benefits drives employers to find more and more ways to limit wages and jobs creating a vicious circle that diminishes opportunities for employment. Indeed, computer technology is now replacing or facilitating the outsourcing of high-end analytic jobs like x-ray technicians, para-legal reviewers, and—yes— even teaching!

Robert Shiller, Yale economic professor, offers some insights into how teaching can avoid becoming obsolete in his Sunday NYTimes Upshot article “What to Learn in College to Stay One Step Ahead of Computers”:

Two strains of thought seem to dominate the effort to deal with (the) problem (of computers and robots replacing humans) . The first is that we teachers should define and provide to our students a certain kind of general, flexible, insight-bearing human learning that, we hope, cannot be replaced by computers. The second is that we need to make education more business-oriented, teaching about the real world and enabling a creative entrepreneurial process that, presumably, computers cannot duplicate. These two ideas are not necessarily in conflict.

Shiller cites a study completed in the early 2000s by Richard J. Murnane and Frank Levy that concluded people with “...complex communication skills and expert knowledge” would fare well in future economies. This leads Shiller to conclude that changes are needed at the college and universities in our country:

…the study certainly suggests that a college education needs to be broad and general, and not defined primarily by the traditional structure of separate departments staffed by professors who want, most of all, to be at the forefront of their own narrow disciplines. But this old departmental structure is still fundamental at universities, and it is hard to change.

Shiller offers one workaround to the ossified and seemingly unchangeable departmental structure: preparing students for “entrepreneurial opportunities” suggested by each department’s disciplines… and Shiller describes how he has done this in economics course where he strives to “…connect mathematical theory to actual applications in finance.” But Shiller’s teaching practice keeps him one step ahead of computers; he now provides his lectures on-line and uses his time to modify the content of the class to match current changes in the economy and works with his students to guide them in a way a robot cannot:

Since its beginnings, the course has gradually become more robotic: It resembles a real, dynamic, teaching experience, but in execution, much of it is prerecorded, and exercises and examinations are computerized. Students can take it without need of my physical presence. Yale made my course available to the broader public on free online sites: AllLearn in 2002, Open Yale in 2008 and 2011, and now on Coursera.

The process of tweaking and improving the course to fit better in a digital framework has given me time to reflect about what I am doing for my students. I could just retire now and let them watch my lectures and use the rest of the digitized material. But I find myself thinking that I should be doing something more for them.

So I continue to update the course, thinking about how I can integrate its lessons into an “art of living in the world.” I have tried to enhance my students’ sense that finance should be the art of financing important human activities, of getting people (and robots someday) working together to accomplish things that we really want done.

On-line learning will never mitigate the need for human interaction… but Shiller suggests it will change the way teachers interact with students and the way schools will ultimately be organized. From my perspective, the sooner we integrate technology into the learning process the sooner we will see productivity gains… but integrating computer technology in schools will require the abandonment of age-based cohort grouping in factor of individualization… and the abandonment of that organizational structure will be at least as difficult as the abandonment of the departmental structure at colleges.

Minnesota’s Governor Fights Hard for Public Education— MAYBE Too Hard

May 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Mark Dayton, Minnesota’s Democrat governor, wants Universal fully funded pre-Kindergarten offered in public schools across the state. Because of his approach to taxation (as contrasted with his neighboring state Wisconsin), Minnesota has the $125,000,000 needed to do this and have $1,000,000,000 left over to offer rollbacks on some taxes and/or improve the transportation budget. But the Minnesota legislature has a different agenda for public schools, one that seeks more for-profit charters predicated on the belief that “failing government schools” need to be replaced by imaginative and forward thinking charters. So… when the legislature hammered out it’s budget they gave the governor the funding he requested for public schools but omitted the funding for the pre-Kindergarten initiative that was his major priority. The Governors’ reaction? As reported by NPR, Governor Dayton offered these thoughts about the Republicans who dominate the legislature in a press conference:

“They hate the public schools, some of the Republican legislators,” the governor said. “They’re loathe to provide any additional money for public schools and for public school teachers because all of the good programs I’ve seen around this state for pre-K and all-day kindergarten. All of those programs contradict what they say, which is public schools do things badly.”

Predictably the Republicans pushed back… but not on the substance of his statement— their reluctance to “…provide any additional money for public schools and for public school teachers” because of the fact that doing so contradicts their “failing public schools” narrative. No… the Republicans lashed out at the Governor for characterizing some members of the Republican party as hating public schools.

The stories (see here, here, and here) that followed this press conference predictably focussed NOT on the evidence that some Republicans have animosity toward public schools, but rather on the Republican’s demand that Dayton apologize for saying that they “hate” public schools. One of the articles on the apology demand in the Pioneer Press reported that the Governor was not inclined to apologize. Why? At a subsequent press conference he asserted that “Republicans haven’t shown true support for public schools” and offered this quote:

“Actions speak louder than words,” Dayton said.

The Governor’s words were arguably truthful and honest… but they unfortunately gave the legislators a chance to shift the conversation away from their actions toward his words… Here’s hoping that in the coming weeks someone takes the time to assess the voting records and written and verbal statements of “some” Republicans to buttress the Governor’s assertion that “some” members of the party are adamantly opposed to the idea of “government run schools” and detest everything they stand for. Unless MN is different from most states in the country there will be a t least a handful of legislators who are on record in that fashion… But it might be easier for the Governor to acknowledge he could have chosen his words more wisely and offer an apology accordingly. THAT might help shift the conversation quickly to something more substantive.


‘Zero Tolerance’ in Our Struggling Schools Makes Zero Sense

May 22, 2015 Leave a comment

‘Zero Tolerance’ in Our Struggling Schools Makes Zero Sense.

The beginning of the article shows how “good guys with guns” can become an occupying force in schools… and given our fear of “shooters” and willingness to fund police departments while starving schools more and more schools are turning to those “good guys” and students— especially students raised in poverty— are paying the price.