The title of this Washington Times article, “Satanists to Distribute Religious Pamphlets in Schools” tells you all you need to know about the rationale for the separation of church and state. If schools distribute Gideon’s Bible will they allow the distribution of the Koran? FL legislators might want to take another look at this issue before some school board is asked this question.
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.”
“Did Corruption in the Building Trades Blunt the Impact of Obama’s Stimulus Package?”, a blog post from yesterday’s Naked Capitalism, may include arcane economics information for those who typically read an educational policy blog, but the post DID describe the following:
- Sub-contractors used 1099 employees to complete work on projects included, thereby avoiding tax collections and payments into unemployment insurance
- The loss of these taxes resulted in diminished revenues of over 8,500,000,000 to various states across the country where these stimulus projects were undertaken. TX could have used the $1,200,000,000 it lost as a result of these lost taxes.
- The owners of construction companies, the 1%, were beneficiaries of the stimulus funds more so than the unemployed construction workers who either accepted 1099 wages or stayed home
- Undocumented immigrant workers got a larger share of wages because they were more than willing to work for less and accept substandard working conditions
None of these talking points will find their way into either parties’ campaigns. The Republicans will blame it the stimulus’ mediocre performance on “regulations” and the Democrats will blame it on the fact it was too small. This post seems to indicate that UNDER-regulation is the issue… which, unfortunately, makes perfect sense because no one is advocating for more regulations OR for more funds to enforce existing regulations. Too bad because we’re all on the hook for more money as a result… except for the 1% who win given the rules of the game.
Diane Ravitch wrote a blog post that provides a behind-the-scenes look at how the NYTimes completely ignored her factual critique of Success Academy schools and stuck to the talking points Eva Moskovitz provided. A couple of days earlier she cross-posted Paul Thomas who wrote about NPR’s whitewash of the “New Orleans” miracle.
I try very hard to believe that the mainstream media are in business to provide factual and balanced information to the public, especially organizations like NPR that receive government funding. But when I read that “the newspaper of record” willfully ignores factual information provided by an impeccably reliable source I can reach one of three conclusions:
- The Times and other mainstream media are unwilling to accept facts that do not conform with a narrative they’ve created
- The Times and other mainstream media employ editors who cannot understand facts that do not conform to the narrative they’ve created
- The Times and other mainstream media are fearful that if they DO report facts that do not conform to the narrative they’ve been provided by donors or influential political figures they might lose access to advertising dollars and/or access to political figures
Being charitable, I hope that the first conclusion is accurate, because of it is the facts will eventually require that the narrative change. If, however, the third conclusion is accurate, I am concerned because the public will never see the facts… and Thomas’ post is especially chilling in that regard. If the public is denied factual information it cannot make an informed decision about the direction our government should take.
This weekend the NYTimes will feature an article titled “So Bill Gates Has This Idea for History Class…” which describes Gates’ investment in “Big History”, a course he took while working out on his treadmill. The content of the course looks intriguing: it’s interdisciplinary, topic centered, and covers ALL of history from the dawn of the Universe to today. The delivery of the course is also promising from my perspective: it’s a hybrid course that interweaves on-line instruction with face-to-face interaction. But Gates is encountering some pushback, which surprises him— but not me:
To his bafflement and frustration, he has become a remarkably polarizing figure in the education world. This owes largely to the fact that Gates, through his foundation, has spent more than $200 million to advocate for the Common Core, something of a third rail in education circles. He has financed an army of policy groups, think tanks and teachers’ unions to marshal support for the new rules and performance measurements that have been adopted by 44 states. Many education experts, while generally supportive of the new goals for reading and math skills, have been critical of the seemingly unilateral way in which the policy appeared to be rolled out.
And therein lies the problem: someone who earns $80,000,000,000 appears to be “buying” the narrative that schoolchildren will learn for decades to come. Here’s Diane Ravitch’s reaction as quoted in the article:
…It begins to be a question of: Is this Bill Gates’s history? And should it be labeled ‘Bill Gates’s History’? Because Bill Gates’s history would be very different from somebody else’s who wasn’t worth $50-60 billion.
From what I read in the article, Gates’ history appears to include evolution, revolutions, and questions about the way income and wealth is distributed. It also appears that Gates is making a genuine effort to grow this history course organically– from the bottom up. Here’s the question, though: will the kind of history course HE advocates be supported by politicians? By State Superintendents who are elected by voters who think the constitution and the Bible should be the basis for all history instruction? By his billionaire friends who think that only capitalism should be taught to schoolchildren? Unfortunately in this day and age of Citizen’s United all of these questions will be answered by who has the most money to spend. History, so the aphorism states, is written by the victors. The victors in this case are not a nation state but a group of plutocrats.