Home > Uncategorized > More ESSA Indigestion… US Public Education Can’t Close the Economic Divide if Left To States!

More ESSA Indigestion… US Public Education Can’t Close the Economic Divide if Left To States!

December 12, 2015

I have been relentlessly blogging and commenting in opposition to ESSA, the bipartisan act to replace NCLB with a new bill that will give States the authority to set educational standards, design tests to measure those standards, and determine the consequences when a school fails to meet those standards…. and the primary reason for my disdain for this move is captured in one key sentence of a blog post from the Institute for New Economic Thinking website that was cross posted in Naked Capitalism this afternoon. Here’s the concluding exchange of questions an answers between Lynn Pararmor, who writes for the website, and Peter Temin, MIT economist and economic historian, who draws from “..a powerful model first used by West Indian economist W. Arthur Lewis, the only person of African descent to win a Nobel Prize in economics”:

LP: Then is it fair to say that really none of the presidential candidates is proposing anything that would significantly alter the structure of this dual economy as you’ve described it (in this post)?

PT: I think that’s fair to say, yes. The question of what to do is difficult for the same reason that measuring the output is difficult. The world is changing. We’re not going to go back to some mythical period in the past where everyone was together. The post-war growth left African Americans out of it, left women out of it in large part. So it wasn’t quite such an inclusive period. Looking backwards is not terribly useful. Technology has changed. The world economy has changed.

If I had to choose one thing to focus it would be education. That’s both because it would help determine how people could move from the lower sector to the upper sector, and also because I think very firmly that more education enhances people’s lives. We’ve focused on testing, but the things that happen in sports or art or history are difficult to test, and they’re now being neglected. Here again (as in using the GDP to determine the strength of the economy) we have a measurement problem. This then requires a lot more thought, more investigation.

And here is the key sentence I gleaned from this post, a sentence that was embedded in this exchange:

LP: You’ve noted that race plays a role that is often overlooked. What are we missing? How do racial biases relate to economic circumstances?

PT: I think a lot of the language of political discussion is tinged with the overtones of race and with the residue of the long history of the long history of America, starting with slavery and continuing with reconstruction and then Jim Crow and then finally the Civil Rights Movement and law changes of the 1960s. Today the discussion isn’t overtly racist but it has the aspect of race in it. Take the Affordable Care Act — almost all the states that refused to expand Medicaid even though the federal government would pay for most of it were Confederate states.

Nobody said, “Oh, the Confederacy will rise again.” But the association doesn’t seem to be accidental. The whole concern for more states’ rights is at least in part an attempt to let states with a troubled racial history go their own way. But since it’s not considered polite to use the terms of race today, these connections are rather underground in the political environment. That’s another reason why political decisions don’t seem to get to the concerns of ordinary people. The use of terms like “Welfare Queen” inflames people and they don’t think clearly. It also distracts from the actual policies that help people in what I call the low-wage sector.

“The whole concern for more states’ rights is at least in part an attempt to let states with a troubled racial history go their own way.”

That, in a nutshell, is EVERYTHING that is wrong with ESSA! When Alabama, who blatantly tried to take voting rights away from blacks and poor people, is given the opportunity to make education policy it is abundantly clear where they will head when they are allowed to go their own way. When TX, KS, and TN— all of whom want Creationism in the curriculum— it’s difficult to see how giving them the chance to “go their own way” is god to help our country become more economically competitive or help the children raised in poverty to avail themselves of the education they need to move up the economic ladder. And yet education IS the last best chance for us to close the divide…

I continue to despair at the celebration over passage of this deeply flawed bill…

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