I read with dismay an article by Claire Cain Miller in today’s NYTimes Upshot titled “Why the US Has Fallen Behind in Internet Speed and Affordability”. The article opens by describing the places in the world that have far superior internet services to the United States:
Downloading a high-definition movie takes about seven seconds in Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich, Bucharest and Paris, and people pay as little as $30 a month for that connection. In Los Angeles, New York and Washington, downloading the same movie takes 1.4 minutes for people with the fastest Internet available, and they pay $300 a month for the privilege, according to The Cost of Connectivity, a report published Thursday by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute.
Her answer to the question of why our country has fallen behind echoed that of Columbia law professor Tim Wu: we lack competition.
The reason the United States lags many countries in both speed and affordability, according to people who study the issue, has nothing to do with technology. Instead, it is an economic policy problem — the lack of competition in the broadband industry.
“It’s just very simple economics,” said Tim Wu, a professor at Columbia Law School who studies antitrust and communications and was an adviser to the Federal Trade Commission. “The average market has one or two serious Internet providers, and they set their prices at monopoly or duopoly pricing.”
There’s one problem with that response. What do Seoul, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Zurich, Bucharest and Paris have in common? They are located in countries where the internet was provided by the government as a utility. Competition had nothing to do with the provision of their services. Their governments saw an emerging trend and made a substantial infrastructure investment. So students in Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, Hungary and France will have access to high speed internet learning opportunities at home and in school while 25% of our nation has none at all… and we want to expand the use of technology so that we can become competitive with other nations?
Sorry, folks, we might need to raise our taxes and invest in infrastructure to fix this problem that “competition” created because the “winners” in the competition so far are not going to forgo their advantage and the politicians who provide them with money are not going to go without a fight.
The Financial Times featured a blog post that included maps illustrating the impact of the digital divide in the US and… surprise… the most affluent communities have the best connectivity while the communities while low income communities and neighborhoods are left behind. The solution is obvious in a nation where 6% of the workforce has given up on looking for a job: allocate federal dollars to build out the infrastructure needed to provide every household with access to broadband. Here’s one of the maps: The brown sections have less access than the blue sections.
For more appalling data on this, see the article.
A few weeks ago I posted on an article the NYTimes wrote touting a 37 page letter from Arne Duncan urging “…state officials, superintendents and principals to monitor policies and facilities and to make sure they are equitably distributed among students of all races.” As I noted in my earlier post, the letter is full of data that readers of this blog and other progressive blogs are well aware of: black students have fewer opportunities to take AP courses, advanced math courses, to be taught be certified teachers, and to attend school facilities that are equal to those available to affluent students. This letter is no different from ones I recall receiving from secretaries of education from the Reagan administration through this one… and they have probably been coming out since Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954.
Today the Times editors wrote a piece touting this memo again… but instead of focussing on the need for equitable allocation of school funds at the State level, they focused on teacher quality. at the district level. Here’s the closing paragraph:
The new guidance rightly focuses on teacher quality and says the department’s investigations will seek to expose school districts that unjustifiably provide minority children with ineffective, poorly trained teachers. Policies don’t have to be intentionally discriminatory to be illegal; race-neutral but ill-considered strategies can also have a terrible effect on minority students.
Residential housing patterns and historic town boundaries create the inequities that exist among school districts NOT district practices. Demonstrably unfair funding formulas create resource disparities NOT district practices. Duncan and Obama and the NYTimes are all blaming school districts from inequities that are not of their own making. Given this reality, I wrote the following letter to the editors of the Times:
Secretary Duncan and President Obama need to stop exhorting DISTRICTS to equalize resources and take action where STATES have failed to do so. Over the past several decades all but five states have been sued over inequities in school funding. At the same time federal funds have been allocated to every district in the country, even the most affluent. Mr. Duncan wanted to ensure that resources applied more equitably he could take action in states where legislatures have not responded to court decisions calling for changes to the funding systems by directing all federal funds to those districts that state courts identified as being short-changed. If State legislatures fail to provide every child with an equal opportunity, the federal government has a responsibility to do so…. and writing persuasive memos will not change anyone’s behavior in the next two years any more than it has for the past 60.
You cannot expect the Philadelphia school district to adhere to a guideline that resources be equitably allocated when their budget provides roughly $7,000/student less than Lower Merion School District. It is not Philadelphia’s fault that they are under-resourced and allocating scarce funds among decrepit undermanned schools is no remedy. Secretary Duncan, President Obama, and the Times should put the spotlight where it belongs: on State legislatures who have not addressed lawsuits that call for changes in the funding formulas.
- Tuition costs for colleges are increasing (see chart below) making it increasingly difficult for students raised in poverty to afford college and increasing the debt of those who CAN afford to get in.
- School districts who serve children raised in poverty and therefore rely heavily on State funding are receiving less per pupil making it increasingly difficult for them to succeed in schools
- Public colleges and K-12 schools are either increasing class sizes or laying off teachers or both… and neither public colleges or public schools are compensating teachers at the levels they received before the recession.
We are in the midst of state and national campaigns… and no one running for office in my state (NH) is talking about increasing funding levels for public education at any level and from what I’ve read NO one is campaigning on a platform that advocates increased spending for education… but EVERYONE who is running claims to be in full support of “improving” education. It would be nice if those seeking improvements acknowledged that school improvement, like , say, home improvement, required more money. When it comes to college, the cost is shifted to students and when it comes to K-12 schooling, the cost is shifted to homeowners, and affluent homeowners can and will dig a little deeper to retain good schools while those in less affluent areas cannot increase their taxes to get the same yield. …. and the divide widens….
David Brooks’ column today is based on a flawed premise, a premise whose power over the imaginations of the public is a tribute to the power of the media. The premise is that there is such a a marked difference between the political parties that something he calls “Partyism” exists…. and the fact that he can substantiate the existence of “partyism” is proof that the media can create an illusion that the general populous will believe is true. It is also a premise that someone like Chris Hedges would see as further evidence that the free press is dead.
There are differences between the parties, but they tend to be substantially unimportant and tend to be exaggerated. A case in point is this section of Brooks’s article, which summarizes the findings of researchers who measured the level of discrimination shown based on political affiliations:
Politics is obviously a passionate activity, in which moral values clash. Debates over Obamacare, charter schools or whether the United States should intervene in Syria stir serious disagreement. But these studies are measuring something different. People’s essential worth is being measured by a political label: whether they should be hired, married, trusted or discriminated against.
The broad social phenomenon is that as personal life is being de-moralized, political life is being hyper-moralized. People are less judgmental about different lifestyles, but they are more judgmental about policy labels.
The three items Brooks flags as differences between parties are in fact examples of where the parties are on the same sheet but the media have emphasized differences that are more nuanced than substantive. Obamacare is based on a model that came from the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, and a model that a Republican governor, Mitt Romney, put in place in Massachusetts. It is a model that progressives find clunky and needlessly privatized but one that both parties ultimately adopted. There is NO debate over charter schools or public education policy. BOTH parties advocate the use of standardized tests to determine the “success” of schools and BOTH parties advocate the closure of “failing” public schools and accept the notion that for profit charter schools are an acceptable replacement for public non-profit schools. What to do in Syria is not a partisan divide: neither party has presented a unified stance on the issue and both seem to agree that foreign policy should be based on American exceptionalism.
Not only are the the parties NOT substantially different on these policy issues, they are completely unified on the notion that unregulated capitalism is superior to any form of redistribution of resources and unified on the notion that there is no nee to address global warming in any way shape or form. In effect, by perpetuating the notion that the parties ARE different from each other by exaggerating small discrepancies they have been successful in avoiding the BIG questions facing our country: what to do about economic injustice nationally and globally and taking steps to stop the destruction of the planet. While the economic divide widens and the planet deteriorates we’re debating over how much profit pharmaceutical companies and insurance companies should make to provide medical care, how many for-profit charter schools there should be, and who we should give weapons to in a conflict thousands of miles away…. and concepts like “Partyism” reinforce the public perception that there is a REAL difference between the direction either party wants to lead us.
Nick Kristof’s column in today’s NYTimes, “The American Dream is Leaving America”, is on the mark. In the column he draws on the finding of a recent OECD study that showed that our country is no longer turing out the most college graduates and no longer has the class mobility that we WANT to believe is in place. Why? Kristof believes that “THE best escalator to opportunity in America is education” and then offers lots of evidence to support his conclusion that the escalator is broken. To readers of this blog and many other progressive blogs this is not news. Nor is the fact that our funding mechanism for public schools is one of the primary reasons for this breakdown, as Kristof notes in his column:
A new Pew survey finds that Americans consider the greatest threat to our country to be the growing gap between the rich and poor. Yet we have constructed an education system, dependent on local property taxes, that provides great schools for the rich kids in the suburbs who need the least help, and broken, dangerous schools for inner-city children who desperately need a helping hand. Too often, America’s education system amplifies not opportunity but inequality.
The education escalator DOES exist for those who can afford to live in a school district where dollars are available. The less affluent residents of wealthy districts will have an array of academic support services, special education programs, and counseling services that would be the envy of the urban districts where a helping hand would be needed. I believe the escalator is also available for children whose parents are looking out for their children’s interest and WANT their children to succeed in school and do better in life than they did. Kristof implies or suggests three solutions: honoring the teaching profession more, paying our teachers more, and offering more Pre-K programs. In the end he offers the following insight:
Fixing the education system is the civil rights challenge of our era. A starting point is to embrace an ethos that was born in America but is now an expatriate: that we owe all children a fair start in life in the form of access to an education escalator.
As I see it, our challenge now is twofold. First, we need to recognize that pre-K is too late and ACADEMIC pre-K is insufficient. We need to fund early intervention programs to support prenatal care and support for economically disadvantaged parents of toddlers. As many previous NYTimes OpEd columns and blog posts here have noted, pre-K is too late and academic pre-K programs miss the point. The second challenge is to convince parents who are struggling to make ends meet that the system in place today is not rigged against them and their children. The children of the 5% of the workforce who have stopped looking for jobs, the children of minimum wage workers, and the children of single parents working two jobs to make ends meet are unlikely to believe the American Dream is in play for them.
We COULD restore the American Dream if we believed in the fundamental principles that underlie that notion. We COULD restore the American Dream if we thought of ALL children as OUR children and ALL Americans as neighbors. Unfortunately no one is running for office on that platform. Instead of offering solutions to the brown escalator our officials running for office are telling us who broke the escalator or suggesting that it’s still thee for those who are fit enough… those who have grit.
Yesterday I wrote a post describing the latest funding scheme advocated by the business community and taxpayers groups whereby schools are starved of funds and private foundations and/or school fundraisers are expected to fill the void. The post was prompted by a NYTimes article by Mokoto Rich describing how this gambit is effectively adding to the disparity between affluent schools and schools serving children in poverty and effectively diminishing the support for increases in broad based taxes needed to increase the base funding for public education.
For readers who might have concluded that this was a problem only in the Northeast because it was reported in the NYTimes, today’s Google feed offered evidence that the same phenomenon is occurring in the heartland by providing a more detailed analysis of the study completed by the University of Indiana-Bloomington that was the basis of Rich’s article. According to the study, private funds for schools have increased but the schools serving lower income students have benefited least and… the increase in “voluntary funds” has not offset the aggregate loss in taxes:
Nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping support public schools have grown dramatically over the past two decades. And they are raising a lot more money than a few years ago.
But the growth hasn’t come close to offsetting the reduction in tax revenues for schools that came with the recent recession, according to a study by Indiana University researchers. And the support is uneven, with students in high-poverty schools less likely to benefit from voluntary fundraising.
This whole gambit of shifting the burden to “end-users” has consequences that match my personal experience as a superintendent during the time frame the study covers:
The researchers analyzed trends and relationships in data from thousands of U.S. nonprofit school-supporting organizations that filed annual IRS reports between 1995 and 2010. Findings included:
- The number of such organizations, including local school foundations, booster clubs and parent-teacher organizations, grew from 3,475 in 1995 to 11,453 in 2010.
- The money they raised, adjusted for inflation, grew from $197 million to $880 million, or nearly 350 percent.
- The share of school districts with at least one such nonprofit organization increased from 12 percent in 1995 to 29 percent in 2010.
- Large school districts are more likely to be served by at least one fundraising organization; but the money raised, per pupil, declines as district enrollment gets larger.
School districts with greater capacity — as measured by property tax revenues per pupil, the share of individuals with a bachelor’s degree or more, median household income, and relatively low unemployment rates — have higher probabilities of being served by at least one school-supporting nonprofit and receive more money, per pupil, from the nonprofits.
While school-supporting nonprofits have exploded in number and revenue, the researchers conclude the money they raise isn’t enough to tip the balance in how schools are funded. Among school districts that got help from one or more nonprofit organization, average voluntary per-pupil funding in 2010 was $28; that compares to approximately $10,600 per student that public schools spent. Meanwhile, state tax receipts — a key source of support for schools in many states — have declined by 12 percent since the start of the Great Recession in 2008.
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