Diane Ravitch had several posts on this topic yesterday… and this is one I picked to re-blog and comment on. My comment is this:
I wish I could get excited about this… but… those who oppose equitable funding will push back and it will be decades before the funding formula is fixed. I offer my home state of NH as evidence.
One other factor that I am certain comes into play in TX: the race and ethnicity of the students attending the districts who should receive more money. We’ve witnessed a sad reality in our country: most voters are not interested in meeting the needs of African American and Latino children. The one phrase in Brown vs. Board of Education that sticks out like a sore thumb given where we are a half century later is this: “…all deliberate speed”. Fifty years after the triumphant victory at the Supreme Court we have more segregation than ever.
My pessimistic hunch is that it will take at least another decade for this decision to wend its way though courts and maybe another decade after THAT until any action is taken.
I recently subscribed to Pieria, a weekly digest of thought provoking articles that I learned about from a Naked Capitalism link and every week there is at least one thought provoking article that deals directly or indirectly with public education policy. “America in Decay” by Francis Fukuyama’s lengthy Foreign Affairs article (it took me 45 minutes to read it) was this week’s mind opener. Fukuyama’s basic premise is summarized in this paragraph near the end of the article:
Today, once again, the United States is trapped by its political institutions. Because Americans distrust government, they are generally unwilling to delegate to it the authority to make decisions, as happens in other democracies. Instead, Congress mandates complex rules that reduce the government’s autonomy and cause decision-making to be slow and expensive. The government then doesn’t perform well, which confirms people’s lack of trust in it. Under these circumstances, they are reluctant to pay higher taxes, which they feel the government will simply waste. But without appropriate -resources, the government can’t function properly, again creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Earlier, Fukuyama describes how the stability of our political institutions contributes to this dysfunctional vicious circle:
The very stability of institutions, however, is also the source of political decay. Institutions are created to meet the demands of specific circumstances, but then circumstances change and institutions fail to adapt. One reason is cognitive: people develop mental models of how the world works and tend to stick to them, even in the face of contradictory evidence. Another reason is group interest: institutions create favored classes of insiders who develop a stake in the status quo and resist pressures to reform.
These two paragraphs describe the situation in public education, where “decay” is arguably occurring at a more rapid rate than in our state and federal governments.
As noted in the first paragraph, politicians– from federal and state legislators to local school board members– are generally unwilling to delegate decision making authority to the executives charged with operating the schools and thus create “complex rules”— in the forms of legislation and board policy— that result in slow and costly decision-making. This leads to the situation where business minded “reformers”– who are accustomed to operating in a non-democratic setting, want to take over the operation of schools to get something accomplished. This desire for “reformers” to take over is enhanced by the promise of lowering costs (and therefore the taxes that increase the operating costs of their businesses), in some cases, by the promise of providing a profit-making opportunity.
The second paragraph describes a more complicated fact: public education HAS failed to adapt to the changing circumstances and, as the overarching theme of this blog suggests, it’s primarily because we are stuck with the factory school mental model that has not worked in today’s world though it MAY have served its purpose in the early 1900s…. and the “…favored class of insiders” (e.g. teachers, colleges, and parents of high-performing students) with “…a stake in the status quo” are also resistant to change. What happens if these sclerotic institutions DON’T change? Here’s Fukuyama’s concluding paragraph:
The depressing bottom line is that given how self-reinforcing the country’s political malaise is, and how unlikely the prospects for constructive incremental reform are, the decay of American politics will probably continue until some external shock comes along to catalyze a true reform coalition and galvanize it into action.
Last weekend a policeman in Ferguson shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old under circumstances that are unclear. Riots between citizens and heavily armed policemen have ensued along with looting and tear-gassing. The most poignant article I’ve read about this situation, “Michael Brown’s School“, came from the Daily Kos. The article should be read in it’s entirety to gain a sense of the preposterousness of the situation, which includes the following tidbits:
- The senior class at Michael Brown’s school had two graduation gowns that everyone used to have their graduation pictures taken.
- The taxpayers in Michael Brown’s town, Ferguson, paid the highest rates in the state, but were unable to raise enough money to cover the costs for a quality education
- The State Board forced Ferguson to merge with a neighboring community whose tax base was equally stressed and both communities enrolled predominantly African American students.
- The accreditation of the school Michael Brown attended was withdrawn by the State Board and the students from school were allowed to enroll in neighboring districts… until the costs exceeded what the Ferguson taxpayers could pay… at which point the State Board restored accreditation thereby preventing ferguson students from attending neighboring districts.
- The school district is now operated by Peter F. Herschend of Branson, Missouri. To quote the article: “Herschend isn’t a former teacher, or a former principal, and doesn’t have any training in the education field. He’s the owner of Herschend Family Entertainment, which runs Silver Dollar City and other amusement parks. He’s also one of the biggest contributors to the Republican Party in the state.
The article concludes with this paragraph, which tells you all you need to know about the future of privatized public education:
So, when you’re wondering who runs Michael Brown’s school district—when you’re wondering who’s in control of an urban, minority district so poor that the students have only two graduation gowns to share—it’s a white Republican millionaire from out state.
A businessman who never taught school, led a school, or has training in education… but knows how to make money. I hope that’s NOT the future of public schooling in our country.
I just read “The Crazy World of Public Schools” an article from the RealClear Politics blog by Heather Wilhelm and found myself agreeing with the pretext of the article… but bewildered by the conclusions and befuddled by the comments. Wilhelm opens her article with the assertion that our public education system is insane. Here’s the part of the article I found to be on point:
With so many oddities in the public school system, it’s hard to know where to start. Across the country, arbitrarily drawn school district lines radically distort real estate markets. Anyone who has shopped for a house in the United States knows one sad truth: Better school districts command a steep premium. (The other truth, it seems, is that you probably won’t like the kitchen.) Despite our government’s lofty rhetoric of free and equal public education, the fact remains that better-off families can buy their way into better schools.
At this juncture, I expected the article to go in the direction of describing the injustice of this set up… but instead it went in the direction of bemoaning the escalating costs of schooling and the “waste” of money, citing the expansion of administrative and non-teaching positions that have been added since 1950. She concludes with this non-sequitor:
School choice, it seems, should be a no-brainer. Why not give families vouchers, allowing them to make free choices for their children’s education? There’s a reason increasing numbers of inner-city activists in places like Chicago and Washington, D.C., are fighting for charter schools and voucher programs. They know choice would be better for their kids. They know the government has failed them.
The government HAS failed the “inner city activists” in Chicago and DC, but not the federal government. Neither the State nor local governments have addressed the underlying problems that affect children raised in poverty. To make matters worse, local politicians have used slots in schools to reward political cronies and, in some cases, kowtowed to unions. Voters have gotten what they voted for and might be able to rectify the problems if they had a chance to vote for school boards— but in DC and Chicago the school boards have no decision making authority because they supposedly could not manage the schools effectively. What’s crazy is that there is no evidence whatsoever that the new leadership has made any difference whatsoever.
And the comments… ay yi yi! They tended to jump all over the unions and the Democrat party who is “in the pocket” of the unions. The commenters need to read more deeply: the unions are abandoning Cuomo in NY and Duncan/Obama at the federal level: they have no friends at ANY level of government now and have become the easy scapegoat for all that is wrong with public education. Here’s my reaction to the article, which is a decided outlier to others:
This just in: money makes a difference.Based on the metric that everyone loves— namely standardized achievement tests— children from affluent, well educated homes outperform children raised in poverty. It has always been this way. If money doesn’t matter, why do people spend thousands MORE to go to elite private schools? If money doesn’t matter why do people spend thousands more to go to “brand name” colleges instead of State schools? If money doesn’t matter why do parents pay a premium to live in neighborhoods and communities with good schools? If unions are “the problem”, which many commenters seem to believe, why do union dominated states outperform states without unions on standardized tests? And those high-performing affluent districts that require homeowners to pay a premium— they have unions, too. Not every district serving children in poverty is as poorly managed as DC or Chicago… and those affluent district’s per pupil costs often dwarf the examples of urban schools in this article. Sorry, we need to do something to help the kids who have the misfortune of being born in the wrong zip code… and money might help them.
I expect to receive some adverse reactions to this line of thinking… but DO hope that maybe one comment reader will see the irrationality of their reaction to the irrationality of public education funding.
Paul Krugman’s NYTimes column today, “Phosphorus and Freedom” rebuts a weekend article suggesting that many “youngish” people are leaning toward the anti-government libertarian movement by citing poll data that shows the opposite is true. The column goes on to provide many examples of problems that the only the government can solve, using the excessive phosphorous in Lake Erie as the paradigmatic example. Several years ago the government banned the use of phosphorous in dish detergents, a ban that helped restore Lake Erie and other water bodies. Despite its effectiveness, this ban was mocked by libertarians as a government intrusion and was not extended into farms. As farmers expanded the use of phosphorous based fertilizers the algae in Lake Erie multiplied and last week resulted in the ban on drinking water in Toledo, Ohio. Krugman offered this advice to the libertarian-minded legislators:
…before you rage against unwarranted government interference in your life, you might want to ask why the government is interfering. Often — not always, of course, but far more often than the free-market faithful would have you believe — there is, in fact, a good reason for the government to get involved. Pollution controls are the simplest example, but not unique.
As a retired school administrator I cringe every time I hear the phrase “government run schools”, a phrase coined by the “free market faithful” who want to de-regulate and privatize public education and “run it like a business”. I believe that “the free market faithful” see de-regulation and privatization as solutions to thorny problems because they believe that democratic decision making is too slow and cumbersome. The “free market faithful” believe centralized decision making by a group of experts (i.e. plutocrats) is faster and more efficient.
Krugman concludes his column with these sentences:
…Libertarian visions of an unregulated economy do play a significant role in political debate, so it’s important to understand that these visions are mirages. Of course some government interventions are unnecessary and unwise. But the idea that we have a vastly bigger and more intrusive government than we need is a foolish fantasy.
My bottom line: Using “the market” to solve the complex problems facing public education is one of the most foolish fantasies held by the libertarians.
I’ve been out of internet range for several days so I missed this NYTimes article on Monday describing Governor Cuomo’s behind the scene’s work to discredit diBlasio’s pre-Kindergarten program in favor of the one he advanced. I was glad to see that this article was based on the Times continuing exploration of the machinations at work in the Cuomo administration… machinations that I suspect will indicate some connection between campaign contributions and Mr. Cuomo’s advocacy for the privatization of public education.
I also learned that Zephyr Teachout who’s residency is being challenged by Mr Cuomo, is a Hanover HS graduate whose reputation as a leader predates her move to NYC…. and like many in the Upper Valley where I live (and the NYC Mayor) she is a progressive liberal who won’t acquiesce to corporate money. The September 9 primary in NYC COULD be interesting.