Archive for September, 2017

SALT Loss in Tax Plan Gives Public Schools Indigestion

September 28, 2017 Comments off

It might be too early to get seriously alarmed… but it isn’t too early to forewarn those who support public education that the Trump Tax Reform plan could have a devastating effect on school funding if the state and local tax deduction, known as SALT, is eliminated as is rumored. Ever since the inception of the federal income tax, wage earners have been allowed to deduct whatever state and local taxes they pay from their gross income, which has the effect of lowering the amount of federal taxes they are required to pay. The logic behind this is clear and equitable and is opposed even by the GOP, as the Politico education feed noted this morning:

“Without the SALT deduction, taxpayers in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia would be doubly taxed – they would pay federal income taxes on the money they pay to their state and local governments,” the Republicans wrote in a June letter . “Such a policy is eminently unfair, as the federal tax code has recognized for the past 103 years.”

While the specifics of the Trump tax plan are vague, it appears that the SALT deduction might be up for grabs since the President seems intent on cutting the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. In the meantime, it appears that there is bipartisan support for keeping the SALT deduction… but as we all realize bargains can be struck that fly in the face of convention.

Does a Quality Education Increase Economic Mobility? Should That Be It’s Primary Purpose?

September 28, 2017 Comments off

Earlier this week Atlantic writer Rachel Cohen posted an article titled Why Education Isn’t the Key to a Good Income”, an article that was full of data drawn from reports that buttressed this finding. Among the findings cited were this of a team of economists led by Stanford’s Raj Chetty who found that where a child was raised had more to do with their upward mobility than the schools they attended. Ms. Cohen summarized Mr. Chetty’s findings, writing this his team:

determined that the chances of a child growing up at the bottom of the national income distribution to ever one day reach the top actually varies greatly by geography. For example, they found that a poor child raised in San Jose, or Salt Lake City, has a much greater chance of reaching the top than a poor child raised in Baltimore, or Charlotte. They couldn’t say exactly why, but they concluded that five correlated factors—segregation, family structure, income inequality, local school quality, and social capital—were likely to make a difference. Their conclusion: America is land of opportunity for some. For others, much less so.

She then cited a recent study by Jesse Rothstein that drilled down into the “five correlated factors” and determined that “local school quality” had virtually NO impact on upward mobility. As Ms. Cohen noted, this finding flies in the face of the bipartisan “Horatio Alger” narrative that asserts that anyone who applies themselves can pull themselves up by the bootstraps and earn more than their parents and ultimately lift themselves into a higher economic stratus. She writes:

The idea that school quality would be an important element for intergenerational mobility—essentially a child’s likelihood that they will one day outearn their parents—seems intuitive: Leaders regularly stress that the best way to rise up the income ladder is to go to school, where one can learn the skills they need to succeed in a competitive, global economy. “In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education,” Barack Obama declared in his 2010 State of the Union address. Improving “skills and schools” is a benchmark of Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s poverty-fighting agenda.

Indeed, this bipartisan education-and-poverty consensus has guided research and political efforts for decades. Broadly speaking, the idea is that if more kids graduate from high school, and achieve higher scores on standardized tests, then more young people are likely to go to college, and, in turn, land jobs that can secure them spots in the middle class.

As Ms. Cohen subsequently reports, there is less and less evidence that this is the case. Indeed, she finds research that undercuts the whole “skills gap” argument that politicians and businessmen promote:

According to Marshall Steinbaum, the research director at the Roosevelt Institute, economists have long believed that differing levels of skills and education (what the field refers to as “human capital”) is the most salient explanation for why individuals achieve such varied economic outcomes. “I think it’s becoming harder and harder to accept explanations like the so-called skills gap,” he says, referencing the popular idea that low-income people merely lack the necessary skills and training to thrive in the modern economy.

In the concluding paragraph of her post, Ms. Cohen suggests that policy makers might want to re-think the notion of promoting education as a vehicle for social mobility and instead focus on the inherent value of more and better schooling:

Ultimately, most Americans would probably agree that leaders should work to build great schools, and that individuals who work hard should be able to improve their economic earnings over time. Devoting the bulk of one’s attention to the former in the hopes that it causes the latter, however, might prove to be a real mistake.

After reading this article, I read two NYTimes articles that might explain WHY education is no longer the ladder to success it once was. One article by Rachel Abrams, “Why Aren’t Paychecks Growing? A Burger Joint Clause Offers a Clue” described a corporate practice that “…prohibited franchisees from hiring workers away from one another, preventing, for example, one Pizza Hut from hiring employees from another. As a consequence, a Pizza Hut employee working in one location could not move to another Pizza Hut location to get better wages, hours, or working conditions. In effect, this limits the mobility of entry level workers and suppresses wages. The title of the other article, by Vindu Goel, ” IBM Now Has More Employees in India than the US”, explains the impact of globalization on economic opportunities in our country. And it leads to this question: why should our schools be churning out students with STEM qualifications if one of the major technology corporations is off-shoring jobs? I’m sure that the IBM narrative would be that they are forced to look offshore because they cannot find qualified workers in our country, but the drive to keep overhead low is every bit as strong.

The bottom line seems to be that we might need to change our narrative about education as a means of increasing economic well being and instead emphasize education as a means of overall well being. As Ms.Cohen noted, emphasizing economic well-being may well be a dead end street…. especially if corporations collude to suppress wages and technology businesses look overseas to secure skilled employees willing to work for lower wages.

Research on Teacher Turnover Proves the Obvious: Teachers Leave Because of Low Pay; Lack of Support; and Poor Working Conditions

September 27, 2017 Comments off

As one who reads a lot of articles on public education, I am often astonished at the lengths researchers go to prove what should be intuitively obvious. A recent report from the Learning Policy Institute by Desiree Carver-Thomas and Linda Darling-Hammond is a case in point. After gleaning through reams of data from the latest National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Surveys, Mss. Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond determined who is leaving teaching assignment, why, and which students are most impacted. Their findings are unsurprising:

Teacher vacancies tend to be higher in the South where wages and working conditions are poorest and lower in the Northeast where the opposite is true. The students most affected by turnover?

…turnover rates are 50% higher in Title I schools, which serve more low-income students. Turnover rates are also 70% higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color.

In short, children raised in poverty and students of color find themselves on the short end of the stick. The policy recommendations to address this issue?

To stem teacher turnover, federal, state, and district policymakers should consider improving the key factors associated with turnover: compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions.

Neither Ms. Carver-Thomas nor Ms. Darling-Hammond say so, but to accomplish these high-minded results states would need to provide more funds to schools serving children raised in poverty and diminish the number of schools with large concentrations of students of color. More money and greater racial justice are the heart of the issue… for it is impossible to improve compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions without those two elements.