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Investing in the Future

March 29, 2013 Comments off

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYTimes describes a recent “change of heart” on the part of those who as recently as a month ago declared the deficit was creating immediate and urgent problems with the economy. Instead, he writes:

Suddenly, the argument has changed: It’s not about the crisis next month; it’s about the long run, about not cheating our children. The deficit, we’re told, is really a moral issue.

While much of the column describes why deficit spending during a prolonged recession is a fiscally responsible action, he writes:

You don’t have to be a civil engineer to realize that America needs more and better infrastructure, but the latest “report card” from the American Society of Civil Engineers — with its tally of deficient dams, bridges, and more, and its overall grade of D+ — still makes startling and depressing reading. And right now — with vast numbers of unemployed construction workers and vast amounts of cash sitting idle — would be a great time to rebuild our infrastructure. Yet public investment has actually plunged since the slump began.

Or what about investing in our young? We’re cutting back there, too, having laid off hundreds of thousands of schoolteachers and slashed the aid that used to make college affordable for children of less-affluent families.

Last but not least, think of the waste of human potential caused by high unemployment among younger Americans — for example, among recent college graduates who can’t start their careers and will probably never make up the lost ground.

I agree with Krugman’s economics and his politics… but he seems to be the only mainstream columnist who is advocating MORE spending and explaining why. Ten years ago he was one of the few columnists who spoke out against invading Iraq… but we went in their anyway based on erroneous information. Here was my response to Krugman’s essay, which reinforces the need for deficit spending on schools and technology infrastructure:

A recent study indicated we needed to spend $500 Billion to upgrade public schools… and many (if not most) States have moratoriums on school construction finds because of the downshifting of federal costs to the state level… There are roughly 25% of our homes lack ANY internet access and a similar percentage lack broadband, which is virtually required to access any on-line instruction. If we are REALLY serious about the next generation we should be investing in our schools and in the technology infra-structure required to provide every home with broadband. Instead we are closing schools and replacing them with for-profit charters and swallowing the telecom industry’s line that they will provide internet access over time. My conclusion: we are not investing in the future because the majority of our legislators seem intent on privatizing as many public services as possible.

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Public Schools Slowly Withering

March 28, 2013 1 comment

Two articles in today’s NYTimes have me discouraged. One by Fernanda Santos and Mokoto Rich reports on legislation in 17 states that effectively provides some form of vouchers for parents who want to enroll their children in private schools. The thrust of the article deals with the use of public funds to attend parochial  schools. This overlooks the fact that the real opportunity presented by vouchers is to for-profit private schools, an oversight I flagged in my comment:

The for-profit private schools will ultimately be the beneficiaries of this movement in the same way they have benefitted from the “choice” movement in urban districts. The taxpayers whose children finished school or who do not have children benefit as well since for-profit private schools have lower payrolls, lower benefit budgets, and lower operating costs.

The great thing about this privatization movement from a political standpoint is that it has no impact whatsoever on affluent school districts. Parents who can afford to live in an affluent district don’t need school choice: they’ve been able to choose their residence based on the schools their children will attend. And if they are among the majority of Americans who believe government regulation inhibits business growth they are happy to see the private sector tackling public education. Consequently the only opposition to this movement are those who work in public education. The narrative, then, become the “education establishment” against “reformers” with the “establishment” in the role of Goliath and the private for-profit “reformers” assuming the role of David.

Those who read this blog (and those of Diane Ravitch) know how this story unfolded:

  • Federal legislators enacted NCLB, which resulted in most public schools in America receiving “failing” grades based on the performance of one or more cohorts of students at one or more grade level and established a mechanism for states and/or cities to “take over” failing schools. 
  • Profit minded entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to access public funds by creating for-profit charter schools to assist States and cities with the take-over the “failing public schools”.
  • Governors, state legislators and mayors— with the full support of the business community— used the takeover of “failing schools”  as a way to introduce less costly for-profit private charter schools into their States and/or cities.
  • Conservative legislators seized on the changing landscape to introduce ideas like vouchers, eviscerate unions, and diminish the number of  “government run schools”.

The other Times story was Thomas Edsall’s column, “A Republican Right Turn?”. Edsall quotes several Washington insiders who sense that the Republicans are moving away from the divisive cultural issues and trying to focus more on unifying ideas: one of which is the need for less government influence in the lives of Americans. The article included this chilling analysis from Grover Nordquist:

Grover Norquist, one of the leading architects, organizers and cheerleaders of what he calls the “leave us alone” coalition, is bubbling with enthusiasm.

Norquist told me in a phone interview that he thinks policies initiated by Republicans at the state and local levels, by breaking the link that joins individuals and families to government, are laying the groundwork for a continuing expansion of the conservative electorate.

Nearly two million children are now home-schooled, Norquist said, and their families have rejected government-run public schools and decided that they can do a better job on their own. …Along similar lines, Norquist notes, the number of poor students receiving vouchers to attend private schools is rising steadily as the passage of state right-to-work laws is gutting dues-paying membership in public employee unions, a financial mainstay of the Democratic Party.

“I’m reasonably confident that at the state level we are creating more people who want to be part of the ‘leave us alone coalition,’ ” Norquist said. He predicts that within the next decade, Republicans will take control of the Senate and regain the White House.

With public sentiment against higher taxes at any level, against government, against “greedy public employees”, and accepting the “failing public schools” meme, it will be increasingly difficult to restore confidence in public education.

Bubble Tests and Factory Schools

March 26, 2013 Comments off

Lisa Nielsen’s blog The Innovative Educator featured a link to a Jeff Branzburg cartoon entitled “What’s Tested Influences How It Is Taught”. The cartoon provides a clear example of how authentic assessment varies from the kind of formative testing done in the name of accountability today. My comment expanded the ideas in his cartoon to the next level: How it is Taught Influences How Schooling is Organized:

I would take it a step further: how it’s taught determines how schooling is organized. Your example with the bubble test and the pizza shop illustrate this as well. Bubble tests are administered to cohorts of students who are the same age because— of course— everyone learns everything at the same rate the same way everyone grows at the same rate. They are taught in a coccoon-like atmosphere because communication among learners is taboo. And drawing on the expertise of the community is a waste of time because they do nothing to improve test scores.

Developing a business plan with a group of students and a mentor engages students of common interests but of different ages, different learning rates, and different backgrounds. It requires students to talk with one another and collaborate. It requires community involvement.

Is it any surprise that corporations and big-box stores support the factory model?

Given the predatory nature of Walmart and chain stores of all ilks, small town pizza shops will soon go the way of small town grocery stores, department stores, and hardware stores…. and the small town public school will become a franchise business like Subway….