Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

OECD Finds US Teachers are Overworked and Underpaid

September 14, 2014 Leave a comment

If you listen to the mainstream media and Governors like Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and– yes– Andrew Cuomo you’d think that US teachers need to work harder and be less greedy if we ever expect to become competitive in the global marketplace. But, alas, the reporting in the mainstream media and the exhortations of “reform minded” Governors are all too often NOT based on facts. If FACTS were the basis for the debates about education, it would quickly become evident that we can’t expect our teachers to work harder because they already work more hours than those in any developed nation and we can’t expect them to work for less because they are already relatively underpaid compared to other developed nations. And the source of this information is not the NEA, AFT, or the “liberal media”, it is the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD.

Here’s my frustration as one who wants to have an informed dialogue about how to improve schools: when the OECD issues test results demonstrating that US do poorly compared to students in other developed countries the “reformers” use this data to excoriate teachers. When the same organization reports that US teachers work longer hours, receive less compensation, and have middling pay increases compared to other developed countries the data is ignored. It is possible— indeed LIKELY— that these two pieces of information are linked, especially given the Center For American Progress’ findings that “…mid- and late-career teachers are not earning what they deserve, nor are they able to gain the salaries that support a middle-class existence”. 

Here are some highlights from the report, drawn from a Huffington Post article from earlier this week:

  • American middle school and high school teachers spend more time educating students than peers in every OECD country except Chile
  • U.S. teachers are required to be at school for more hours than most of their international peers.
  • While U.S. raw teacher salaries are high compared with the rest of the world, the pay lags behind that of similarly educated American workers.

The charts that accompany the story give graphic details on this and the 500+ page report provides more information than I have time to glean… but I’m certain that some cherry-picking will occur on the “reform” side of the aisle. When hear a reformer use data from the OECD, keep this bullet point in mind:

“Teacher pay relative to other countries, in absolute terms, is quite competitive in the United States,” said Schleicher. “But when you look at this relative to the earnings of other people with college degrees, actually the United States is pretty much at the end of the scale.”


Do we REALLY Want To Emulate China?

September 13, 2014 Leave a comment

Two recent NYTimes articles led to me posing this question: a September 4 op-ed by Helen Gao describing “China’s Education Gap” and a Sinosphere blogpost from September 10 by Didi Kirsten Tatlow describing what it’s like to go “Back to School, To New Marching Orders”. Both articles reinforced my theory that the US and China are regressing toward a mean whereby both governments are plutocracies and both economies are command capitalism.

Gao’s article includes these descriptions of schools in China:

While China has phenomenally expanded basic education for its people, quadrupling its output of college graduates in the past decade, it has also created a system that discriminates against its less wealthy and well-connected citizens, thwarting social mobility at every step with bureaucratic and financial barriers.

If this sounds familiar, you’ve read many of my posts that are tagged “vicious cycle of poverty” posts that  contain links to articles that describe how zip codes determine destiny in our country and how a college education is increasingly unattainable because of the costs associated. Unlike our country where affluent districts often border districts that serve children in poverty, in China the divide is rural/urban:

A huge gap in educational opportunities between students from rural areas and those from cities is one of the main culprits (contributing to inequality). Some 60 million students in rural schools are “left-behind” children, cared for by their grandparents as their parents seek work in faraway cities. While many of their urban peers attend schools equipped with state-of-the-art facilities and well-trained teachers, rural students often huddle in decrepit school buildings and struggle to grasp advanced subjects such as English and chemistry amid a dearth of qualified instructors.

Again, this has a familiar ring except that in our country the divide is based on the income of the parents and not their locale. China IS behind us in one respect: they still have jobs for those students who don’t go onto higher education.. and in some cases those jobs look more enticing than pursuing a costly degree:

“Rural students stand virtually no chance when competing academically with their urban counterparts,” Jiang Nengjie, a friend and independent filmmaker who made a documentary on the left-behind children, told me. As a result, he said, most young people from his hometown village in central China head directly to factories in Guangdong Province, on the southern coast, after finishing middle school, because “the return is larger than going to a third-rate college.”

This sounds like something I heard in Bethel ME in the late 1970s when disaffected students told me they had a job waiting for them in a paper mill or working in the woods with their family business. Unfortunately for those students, the paper mills have moved north of the border to Canada and their back-breaking but relatively lucrative work in the woods has been taken over by machines. At some juncture, the race-to-the-bottom mentality will move those relatively high paying jobs from the rural countryside of China to a rural or urban landscape somewhere else in the world. At that juncture, China will become even more like our country.

The balance of the article describes the consequences of the “meritocratic” system, which involve parents making every effort to establish residency in those communities with good schools— including bribery, enrollment in study centers, and living in small, inhospitable spaces.

The Tatlow article describes the ultimate example of extreme measures parents are willing to take relative to school enrollment: parents getting Cesarian sections to enable their child to enter school a year earlier.

‘‘Every year at the end of August this happens,’’ Wang Yanli, the head of obstetrics at the Shijiazhuang No. 3 Hospital in Hebei Province, said in the report. The hospital sees two to three times the average number of births in the weeks before Sept. 1, she said.

‘‘This year it’s even clearer,’’ Dr. Wang said of the trend. China has the highest rate of C-sections in the world, the newspaper China Daily reported, at 47 percent of births.

The article also described the steps parents need to take to demonstrate residency to government officials and the marching drills that occur on the first day of school, drills design to quickly separate children who didn’t know their right from their left but also to develop the “…social and personal discipline” their President deems to be vitally important. All of this marching and sorting and development of personal responsibility sounds a lot like the “no excuses” approach advocated by many for-profit charter schools.

So… what’s the answer to the question about our desire to emulate China? I hope the answer is no… but fear the seeds for that emulation are being sown and taking root.

Missing An Opportunity

September 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Tina Rosenberg’s NYTimes “Fixes” blog post, “An Untapped Force in the Fight For Literacy“, describes the success experienced in Minnesota through the use of volunteer readers. Realizing that reading to and with a youngster in pre-school through early elementary school can increase the acquisition of reading skills, MN used AmeriCorp funds to hire tutors to help these youngsters learn to read. The results are promising… but… they WILL require more money. More than anything, though, the post reminded me of something I heard in 1988, which led me to offer this comment:

Hm-m-m-m. This sounds a lot like “a thousand points of light”, the FIRST President Bush’s idea— which was far better than NCLB but nearly as unrealistic. Here’s the reality of the situation in schools: it is difficult to get volunteers without having someone in the school to coordinate their efforts… and with 32 students/teacher its hard to imagine spending “the next dollar” (assuming there WAS a “next dollar” available) on a volunteer coordinator. Bringing an idea like this to scale costs money and I don’t see any money forthcoming in the near future. The USDOE wants to use resources to give tests and philanthropists want to donate to privatization and technology efforts. As a result, untapped human capital remains on the sidelines.

I work in several volunteer organizations and from that experience as well as from my 35 years in school administration I know that volunteers are seldom reliable. They go on vacation, make appointments that match their personal schedules, have to take care of children, grandchildren or elderly parents, and often find other activities that are higher priorities than, say, volunteering to read a child a story or spend time two or three times a week with a child. There are many anecdotes I can offer that contradict this generalization, but more examples where I can illustrate it. The best way to increase the reliability of volunteers is to have someone who is responsible for gently reminding them of their commitment and gently encouraging them to stay with it even if the person they are helping is a reluctant learner or frequent absentee. A better way would be to expand programs like AmeriCorps so that currently underemployed individuals can get an opportunity to gain experience in fields like public school education, child care, primary medical care, and social services fields that desperately need lower level  help to relieve trained professionals to perform other tasks. But, as the post earlier today on Paul Krugman’s column indicated, as long as we are afraid of inflation we will never get the level of government spending we need to sustain programs like the ones described in this article.

Seeing What We Want to See

September 12, 2014 Leave a comment

Timothy Egan’s NYTimes column today describes how our culture today is motivated by video images more than it is motivated by logic, reasoning, and facts. In “Video Nation” he describes how the videos of beheadings and Ray Rice punching his wife moved our country to call for action by the President and NFL respectively. The essay also describes how comparable offenses NOT captured on video did not result in comparable action. His conclusion: we need to SEE something to take action… but…

The body of a young black man lying on a hot pavement for four hours outside of Saint Louis has not had the impact of the videos Egan described in this essay. Nor did pictures of thousands of Syrian refugees lining up to receive animal feed for sustenance. It seems we are still able to filter out uncomfortable truths and take in what we want to believe.

We want to believe that racism has disappeared and that our country helps those who are afflicted by war. Any news to the contrary, be it written word or video, is unwelcome and not processed. In a sense, Egan’s column and Krugman’s (see previous post) are related… and they both prove Adlai Stevenson’s adage that Americans to accept agreeable fantasies but cannot accept disagreeable truths. Stevenson made that statement sixty years ago and nothing has changed since then.. .except we now have videos of disagreeable truths.

A Promising Way to Measure Colleges

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

David Leonardt, the NYTimes Upshot editor, has a column today titled “Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class, and Poor”. In the column he asserts that the increased cost of enrolling in college is exacerbating the economic divide in our country and recommends that we rank colleges and universities on economic accessibility.

This education gap is a problem not only for the teenagers on the wrong end of it. It’s a problem for the American economy. The economic differences between college graduates and everyone else have reached record levels. Yet for many low-income children – even many who get A’s in high school and do well on the SAT – college remains out of reach. No wonder that upward mobility is less common in the United States than in many other rich countries.

A chart accompanying the article ranks colleges based on their accessibility and provides data on their endowment per student, their trends in terms of accepting Pell Grant students (i.e. those whose parents’ income is in the lowest 40%), and their net price for low to middle income students. These data are combined to yield a “college access index”.

As I noted in the comment I left, our country will be on the right track when this access metric gets as much publicity as the US News and World Report’s rankings or the rankings for “party schools”. Alas, the Obama administration seems focussed on earnings when a student leaves college instead of access to a college degree for ALL qualified students. This will only serve to take the spotlight off of this compelling data… which I believe is far more germane to ending inequality than the earnings when one leaves school.

TX Profs Estimate Poverty $$$ Needed

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment

A few days ago courts in TX determined that the funding formula for public education was not meeting the needs to the students in the state. As an editorial in today’s Odessa American Online explains, one reason for the ruling was that many property-rich districts who enroll students raise in poverty send their property tax revenues to Austin where they are redistributed to districts who do not have students raised in poverty. The other reason, embedded in the article is that children raised in poverty require 27.6 percent more money than other children. “What’s that?”, you say.

The cost is not higher in a vague, nebulous or metaphysical way. It’s higher by 27.6 percent in Texas. That figure comes from a report by three professors at Texas A&M University — Timothy J. Gronberg, Dennis W. Jansen and Lori L. Taylor — published in 2009.

Their paper was aimed at defending cost functions in educational analysis.

The number might change with time. But the point is that the cost of educating children who are economically disadvantaged can be measured in a reasonably precise way.

If you accept that, the place to start in the debate about funding for public education ought to be obvious.

Having just written a post that criticizes the use of seemingly precise calculations generated by economists you might call me on the use of this seemingly precise number, and in some respects that criticism might be warranted. But from my perspective, it only underscores the fact that politicians are choosing to emphasize the use of “precise” test data while choosing to ignore “precise” data on the cost impact of poverty. Why? Because it costs much less to administer tests to all children than it costs to increase per capita spending for the 25+% of children who are raised in poverty. Because it is a lot easier to score points politically by criticizing greedy teachers than by asking taxpayers to dig deeper into their pockets. And it may well be that they gain a lot more political donations by promoting for profit privatized schools as the solution to poverty instead of “throwing money away”. Unfortunately the for-profit money that goes to shareholders only adds to the gap between the next generation of the 1% and those 25+% of children struggling in school.


Buying Civility

September 6, 2014 Leave a comment

Mark Walsh wrote a straight-faced report for Education Week on the creation of a new group seeking to dial down the “toxic debate” going on in public education policy. Funded by— you guessed it— the Waltons, the Broads, and the Bloombergs, Education Post intends to “…bring in voices of a lot of people who are turned off by the toxic nature of the conversation to see if we can facilitate a more productive and respectful conversation,” according to Peter Cunningham, the executive director of the new group. And what is Mr. Cunningham’s background? Why he was assistant secretary for communications and outreach at the U.S. Department of Education for most of President Barack Obama’s first term. Here’s the comment I left on the Education Week, which violates my resolution to avoid sarcasm and stay positive:

I LOVE the idea that this group wants to debate “…what works in education” and wants to challenge “…people repeating things that are not true”. Let’s start the debate by looking at the repeated “fact” that high-stakes testing will improve academic performance of all children.

I DO think the level of civility has diminished in public policy debate, but the tone of the debate was set by political leaders like Chris Christie and Scott Walker who’ve characterized teachers as “greedy Government employees” and the education reformers who’ve used test scores to prove that TEACHERS and especially teacher’s unions are the problem in public education. They do this while ignoring the fact that test scores correlate with parent wealth and education and do not correlate with union membership. Indeed, since affluent districts pay higher salaries than non-union districts there is likely a positive correlation between teacher pay and test scores!

Bottom line: an increase civility in public discourse will occur when we stop bashing the classroom teachers who work tirelessly to help all children learn.