Archive for August, 2016

PDK Poll Indicates Public’s Perplexed Perspective, Magical Thinking on Schools

August 31, 2016 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a post on Phi Delta Kappa’s annual poll on public education aptly titled “Same Old, Same Old”, concluding that

Nothing new except that Gallup is no longer the polling company. No headlines. The only obvious conclusion: the American public is confused about why we have schools and what they should be doing and whether they are doing it well.

After reading the Executive Summary of the poll I concur with Ms. Ravitch’s conclusion: Nothing has changed about the public’s perception and there does appear to be confusion about the purpose of schooling given the finding that “Less than half (45%) of adult Americans say preparing students academically is the main goal of a public school education, and just one-third feel that way strongly. Other Americans split between saying the main purpose of public schools is to prepare students for work (25%) and for citizenship (26%).“. But I did see a change in the language used by PDK, a change that seems to be leading toward a purely functional purpose for public schools:

“There’s a real question today about education’s return on investment. While we know that a college degree is essential in today’s economy, parents and the public want to see a clearer connection between the public school system and the world of work. Policy makers and leaders need to understand what their publics want from their schools,” said Joshua P. Starr, CEO of PDK International.

The phrase “return on investment” seems to imply the purpose of education is NOT purely academic: it’s to make certain that taxes spent on schools result in a tangible good that can only be measured in dollars. And the conclusion that “…parents and the public want to see a clearer connection between the public school system and the world of work” is not supported by the data in the survey where only 25% say the main purpose of schooling is to prepare students for work.

One other element of the survey that jumped out at me was the public’s magical thinking. Consider the inherent contradictions in these findings:

  • By the most lopsided result in the survey, the public by 84% to 14% says that when a public school has been failing for several years, the best response is to keep the school open and try to improve it rather than closing the school. But if a failing school is kept open, then, by a 2-to-1 margin, Americans say replacing administrators and teachers is preferable to giving the school more resources and support staff.
  • For the 15th consecutive year, Americans say lack of funding is the No. 1 problem confronting local schools.
  • More Americans support (53%) than oppose (45%) raising property taxes to improve public schools, but there is broad skepticism (47%) that higher spending would result in school improvements. If taxes are raised, there’s little consensus on how the money should best be spent. A plurality (34%) says it should go to teachers but divides on whether that means more teachers or higher teacher pay.

So if “lack of funding” is the number on problem, how could more funding NOT be the preferred solution to fixing a failing school? How could higher spending NOT result in school improvements? How could a substantial majority NOT support an increase in taxes? Maybe the public thinks they can get a better return without any investment… and maybe they believe in unicorns as well.


Higher Taxes or Robots? Which Do YOU Think We Will Choose?

August 30, 2016 Comments off

New York magazine’s Intelligencer blog today featured an article on the decline in spending on public education, a phenomenon writer Eric Levitz characterized as a “disinvestment from our nation’s future”. The diminishment of public education spending described in the article is appalling:

In May 2008, U.S. school departments employed 8.4 million teachers, administrators, and other staff. Today, they employ just 8.2 million, despite the fact that those schools now serve 1 million more students, according to Department of Education estimates. And while those teachers are being asked to serve more students, they’re making less money: According to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, weekly wages for public-school teachers have declined 5 percent over the past five years… Between 2008 and 2014 (the last year for which we have full data), state public-education funding declined 6.6 percent. While the stimulus money was still flowing, Uncle Sam was able to ameliorate this austerity somewhat, but still left schools spending 2.4 percent less per student over that period, when adjusting for inflation. And when the stimulus wore off, state and local governments failed to pick up the slack: In 2012, total school funding fell for the first time since 1977. As FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman notes, this cutback wasn’t concentrated on administrative salaries or extravagant construction — instructional spending has fallen at roughly the same rate as overall budgets.

The New York article covered some of the same ground as the NYTimes editorial I blogged about yesterday, emphasizing the impact (and preposterousness) of State-level Reagonomics. Noting that the graying of America will drive up retirement and health care costs and that the reduction in pay for teachers is making the profession less attractive, Eric Levitz concludes with this mind-boggling choice:

In the long run, it will take either a drastic increase in federal investment — and/or the proliferation of low-cost robots — for American schools to truly leave no child behind.

Given the choice between “pro-union Government run schools” and a robot that can teach children at home or in, say, a church basement, what do you think taxpayers will vote for?

The Broadband Fight Isn’t Over as the Telecom Oligarchs Win in Court

August 29, 2016 Comments off

As one who has long ascribed to the belief that expanded broadband is a civil rights issue, I am distressed to read articles like the one by Cecilia Kang in today’s NYTimes describing the recent “victory” in federal courts that prevents local governments from expanding their municipal broadband services to nearby communities who are less affluent. Titled “Broadband Law Could Force Rural Communities Off Information Superhighway”, Kang’s article describes a law passed by NC legislators that made it illegal for municipalities to extend their broadband to neighboring communities even though those municipalities already offer electricity to those communities. Sadly, the federal district court in NC and TN did not buy into the notion that broadband is a utility the same way electricity is and instead bought into the wrongheaded thinking of NC legislators that offering broadband might pose a risk for taxpayers. Here’s the background on the case:

In 2011, companies like Time Warner Cable, represented by the cable lobbying association, asked the North Carolina legislature to adopt a law to limit Wilson’s ability to serve customers outside Wilson County, even though the city serves electricity customers in four additional counties.

Grant Goings, Wilson’s city manager, said the court decision made it unclear “how we can bridge the digital divide and create economies of the future when there are corporate interests standing in the way.”

But some lawmakers and free-market-oriented think tanks say public broadband projects should be carefully scrutinized by local regulators because they are costly and, if unsuccessful, can be a financial burden on taxpayers. In addition, the F.C.C. cannot intervene in state laws, they said.

The court decision “affirms the fact that unelected bureaucrats at the F.C.C. completely overstepped their authority by attempting to deny states like North Carolina from setting their own laws to protect hardworking taxpayers and maintain the fairness of the free market,” Thom Tillis, a Republican United States senator who pushed through the 2011 bill when he was North Carolina’s House speaker, said in a statement.

The bottom line is that those who can afford broadband see their advantage as an example of “the fairness of the free market” while those who look at this issue from afar see those without broadband as unfairly disadvantaged. The small rural communities in NC and TN should thank their lucky stars that Mr. Tillis and his ilk were not in power when FDR decided electrification was needed or else they would be in the dark today since some unelected bureaucrat at the FCC determined they needed to have power lines extended into their towns. Time Warner doesn’t want rural customers to get broadband unless they can pay a premium price for it and they are willing to contribute whatever it takes to make sure the free market’s “fairness” is maintained.