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Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Diane Ravitch’s Recent Post and Steve Nelson’s Recent Article Flag the Debate We Need to Have: How Much is Enough?

February 5, 2019 Leave a comment

A recent post by Diane Ravitch and a recent op ed article by Valley News columnist Steve Nelson underscore the need for us to have a national debate on the question “How Much is Enough?”.

How much is enough for setting income tax brackets? The debate about taxing billionaires sidesteps the question of whether higher tax rates are needed for the top 10%, or top 20% Or the question of whether roughly 50% of the voters are not required to pay ANY income tax?

How much is enough for setting the maximum taxable limit for social security? As written in previous posts, the “social security crisis” could be solved for decades if we eliminated that maximum taxable limit for social security. What aren’t we talking about that?

How much is enough for business tax breaks at all levels? I have railed against the scandalous tax breaks offered to Amazon, Foxconn, and Walmart. But it is possible that small businesses might benefit from some kind of break in their taxes and those kinds of breaks might enable them to stay open and hire local people at a living wage.

How much is enough for the privatization of public services? As a school superintendent for 29 years, there were many instances where it became clear that it was better to hire a contractor to perform work that was to hire staff members. An easy example is plowing snow. In order for school district employees to perform that task the district would need to have trucks capable of pushing large volumes of snow. Tougher questions revolve around the provision of food services, transportation, maintenance, and business support services. Arguing that ALL privatization is bad is akin to arguing that ALL taxes are bad.

How much is enough for regulation? There are undoubtedly regulations that overreach and are needlessly onerous. But the profiteers have persuaded elected officials (and voters) that anything that restricts profits is “over-regulation” and that the market will punish those who pollute too much or treat employees badly. As we witness the dismantling of the EPA, Consumer Protection Agency, and virtually all regulatory controls at the federal level voters MAY be getting to appreciate the role regulations play in their workplace and in our society in general.

How much is enough to ensure our safety at all levels (i.e. national defense spending? local police and fire departments? hardening of schools?) We need to spend SOME money for our Armed Forces and we need to ensure that we take care of those who served our country in the military… but do we need to subsidize corporations that manufacture obsolete fighters, arms manufacturers who supply weapons to our allies (like Saudi Arabia), and private contractors who supply the military at high profit margins (see the question on privatization). We need to have professional police forces and fire departments, but do the police need military grade weapons to protect small towns and suburbs? Do we need armed police officers in every school, church, and shopping mall? We need safe and secure schools, but do those schools need bullet proof windows, 24/7 surveillance cameras, and sophisticated entry mechanisms for every door?

It seems that billionaires can never have enough money and, therefore, to accumulate more and more they can never have low enough taxes. The billionaires have done an admirable job of promoting the idea that ALL taxes are confiscatory, that private businesses can operate more efficiently than government, and that big-hearted philanthropists can move more quickly to solve problems than democratically elected officials and the administrators they hire. Therefore, they have been able to persuade voters that privatization and philanthropy are the answers to the problems facing our country.

As the man elected to the POTUS indicates, the billionaires have done an excellent marketing job. And more importantly, as the appointees to courts over the past GOP administrations indicate, the “long game” of the billionaires is working.

Welcome to the plutocracy.

Maybe we can change our course in 2020.

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NY Times Education Reporter Sees Change Blowing in the Wind as Teachers Reclaim High Ground

February 4, 2019 Leave a comment

Dana Goldstein, a veteran education reporter for the NYTimes wrote an op ed piece recently reviewing the changes she has witnessed in the coverage on public schools over the past thirteen years. The biggest change is that the union and teacher bashing that she witnessed at the outset of her career in 2006 has ebbed and in its place is a new respect for both unions and teachers. She writes:

I was at the Democratic National Convention in 2008, when one of the hottest tickets was to a panel discussion in which rising stars in the party, including Cory Booker, then the mayor of Newark, spoke harshly of teachers’ unions and their opposition to charter schools, which are publicly funded, privately run and generally not unionized. Union leaders argue that charters draw public dollars and students away from traditional schools…

Back then, it was hip for young Democrats to be like Barack Obama, supportive of school choice and somewhat critical of teachers’ unions. But now, the winds have changed pretty drastically.The revival of democratic socialism within the party has left many elected officials — even Mr. Booker — much more hesitant, it seems, to critique organized labor. Across the country, red-clad teachers on strike, sometimes dancing and singing, have won the affection of grass-roots progressives over the past year, leading to a new political dynamic around education, just as the Democratic primary field for 2020 emerges…

At this point, I was in complete agreement with Ms. Goldstein’s analysis. But then at the conclusion of that paragraph, she used an oversimplified, deeply flawed, and tired dichotomy to analyze what is happening:

…The emphasis now is on what education experts call “inputs” — classroom funding, teacher pay, and students’ access to social workers and guidance counselors — and less on “outputs,” like test scores or graduation rates.

While she recovered somewhat in the next paragraph by acknowledging that “…both inputs and outputs are important” and that “…the battle is ideological, over what role choice should play in our education system”, she missed the overarching ideological battle: whether public education is a commodity that can be changed through market forces or a public good that must be changed through democratic processes. She also did not make note of the reality that there is no “output” measure that can capture what public schools provide. Neither test scores or graduation rates can indicate whether a student is experiencing daily success in the classroom, is motivated to continue learning after his or her formal education, and is gaining the social and emotional skills needed to support a democracy. Those “outputs” elude fast, cheap, and easy measurement yet they are far more important than the content students are learning. She also overlooks the fact that the inputs needed in today’s public schools are far different than those needed even 13 years ago. Schools are increasingly expected to provide mental health, counseling, and nutritious meals for all students… and the span of students they are expected to educate and care for is expanding as well.

Ms. Goldstein concludes her article with a quote from the late Fred Hechinger, who reported for decades on public schools for the NYTimes:

“I began to realize that a country’s approach to education in general, and especially to its children, could tell more about its social, political and economic background than a whole battery of interviews with politicians.”

What does it say that we are spending no more on schools now than we were when Ms. Goldstein started? What does it say that our so-called “thought leaders” believe public education should be marketed like cars and household appliances? What does it say that despite what we call our federal legislation that we are leaving more and more children behind, we are offering wages that race to the bottom, and we are not providing the funds needed to make certain that every child succeeds?

 

The US Expansion of Pre-Schools Provides an Opportunity to Get Funding Formulas Right

February 1, 2019 Comments off

A recent article in the Economist titled “Republicans and Democrats Are Taking Early Education More Seriously” describes the recent consensus that is emerging among politicians in both parties that public schooling needs to extend to younger children. Here;s the paragraph that describes this phenomenon:

The share of three- and four-year-olds enrolled in pre-school has not changed much in two decades. While the average country in the OECD, a club of rich nations, enrolls 80% of its three- and four-year-old children in school, America enrolls just 54%, lagging behind Chile and Mexico.This is true despite abundant evidence of the benefits of early education, especially for disadvantaged children. High-quality pre-school programmes can have lasting benefits, including improving the odds of graduating from school, earning more and staying away from drugs and out of prison. For parents there are gains, too: when their children are in day care, they can work.

In the shadows of a government shutdown and chaotic governance generally, one achievement of President Donald Trump’s administration has gone unnoticed. In 2018 Congress approved more than $5.2bn in “child care and development block grants”, which subsidise child care for low-income families, nearly doubling available funding and indicating a rare example of bipartisan collaboration. Head Start, a federal programme that educates poor children before they enter kindergarten, has also received more funding.

The article, while extolling both the Trump administration’s additional funding that the widespread support for funding at the state levels does NOT look at how that funding will be allocated. If they had examined this, they would find that politicians in both parties are using this expansion of schooling to younger students to promote either vouchers of privatization models for schools. By doing so, they can sidestep the need for government funded buildings, the hiring of teachers at union wages, and the pushback they are likely to encounter if they shift young children out of existing privately operated pre-schools into public pre-schools. If our federal, state, and local governments wanted to do this right, instead of using the expansion of schooling to younger students as an opportunity to privatize they could use it as an opportunity to get the funding for public education more equitable.

Progressive-minded voters need to look closely at how seemingly progressive issues like the expansion of pre-school are being formulated. As I’ve blogged about earlier, the expansion of these programs could well be a means of introducing vouchers into the public schools… an idea I am certain Betsy DeVos has come up with.

Koch Brothers Plan to Disrupt Public Education, the “Lowest Hanging Fruit”

January 30, 2019 Comments off

The Koch brothers are the most disreputable of all the “reformers”, blatantly seeking profit at the expense of those who were unfortunate enough to be born into families where there wasn’t a billion dollars per year in trust funds…

Meanwhile… in the USDOE, Ms. DeVos is contemplating undoing the supplement vs. supplant language… From where I sit this is related to the Koch takeover: it reinforces the notion that efforts to provide equity is “government overreach” and the regulations that accompany federal dollars are onerous and interfere with innovation… just merge those dollars into local budgets, lower taxes, and use more technology that can be managed by low-wage paraprofessionals… and bingo: the low hanging fruit is picked!

via Koch Brothers Plan to Disrupt Public Education, the “Lowest Hanging Fruit”

Boston Valedictorians Struggling Economically… Their Suburban Counterparts? Not So Much

January 30, 2019 Comments off

A recent story on research conducted by Boston Globe reporter Malcolm Gay reported on the current earnings of valedictorians from Boston area schools who graduated in 2005-2007. The headline of the article read:

How can it be true? Many valedictorians of Boston public schools struggle to make a middle class income

How can it be true? Evidently both the headline writer and Mr. Gay have been asleep for the past decade— or make that past several decades— as the difference between funding for suburban and urban schools has widened, the income disparities of parents in suburban and urban schools has widened, and the racism that exists has persisted. Being valedictorian in an underfunded school does not prepare you for the current economy any more that being the best athlete in a small school prepares you to play in the major leagues. But here’s what’s sad: the student who’s an exceptional athlete has a better chance of making the big leagues than the exceptional scholar because scouts are looking everywhere for “diamonds in the rough” who might become extraordinary players… but colleges and businesses do not want to invest their time and money in potential “stars”. Instead, they rely on private schools and affluent suburban schools to feed them the talent they need… and the current system doesn’t limit their pool. And here is what is particularly maddening: despite their protests about the lack of qualified applicants the private sector is not increasing their compensation for entry positions— the classical response to sagging applicants— nor is it making an effort to cultivate the untapped talent that lies in underfunded schools by paying higher taxes or actively engaging in talent searches.

Philadelphia’s de facto User Fees Fund “Frills”… Like School Libraries

January 28, 2019 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a deservedly scathing post about the Philadelphia school district’s school library program (sic), which consists of seven libraries in the entire system! She wrote:

The Philadelphia Inquirer called it “a miracle” when the library reopened at an elementary school. But it was no miracle. It was the schools’ parents, who raised $90,000.

Then the Superintendent, Mayor, Congressman, et al had the nerve to show up at a ribbon-cutting ceremony. No shame! They gave not one red cent, not one bit of support.

As I noted in a comment that I left, the reason “…the Superintendent, Mayor, Congressman, et al” showed up was to make it abundantly clear to other schools that libraries were now a “frill” that parents would need to pay for with a user fee.

I have a long personal history with user fees in public schools. When I was Principal at Telstar Regional High School in Bethel Main in the late 1970s, we were facing budget cuts because of the spike in fuel costs. Faced with the need to cut a teacher, I decided to cut Drivers Education. The rationale for the cut was two-fold: the private sector was already offering courses during the summer and before and after school, courses that enabled students to enroll in elective courses at the high school that they might otherwise have missed; and, parents could use the reduction in their insurance rates to cover the cost they would have to pay for a Drivers Ed course.

Later I used the same rationale to eliminate instrumental music teachers: parents were “buying” lessons independent of the school and the sectional practices and group lessons in schools were pulling students out of academics, which was the primary purpose of school.

Finally, and most reluctantly, I accepted the reality that students who participated in sports should pay a fee. Why? Sadly because fees were being charged for community sports programs… the programs that had taken the place of sandlot games I played when I was growing up.

But as I also noted in my comment, when “frills” are paid for by de facto user fees instead of broad-based taxes, we are increasingly moving toward a world where public services are underfunded and we begin to expect communities to underwrite basics… a world where gated communities have superior police and fire protection and everyone else is covered by low paid and overworked police forces and volunteer firemen. and all of this is touted as “the sharing economy”. From where I sit, it’s called “the sharing economy” because those who can afford “frills” can share them with each other….

No State Money = No Neighborhood School… but Nevertheless, NH North Country Remains Opposed to Broad Based Taxes

January 27, 2019 Comments off

The Manchester Union Leader recently reported on the decision of the Berlin NH School Board to close Brown Elementary School, it’s last neighborhood elementary school… and the reason had everything to do with money. Corinne Cascadden, the Superintendent in Berlin and former principal of the Brown Elementary School was saddened at the news, but declining enrollments coupled with the loss of State “stabilization (i.e. equalization) funds spelled certain doom:

Had enrollment been the only challenge facing the Brown School, Cascadden said the school board might have entertained a closure conversation in three to five years, but the fact that Berlin has not received “stabilization” grants from the state since 2016, moved that date up considerably.

Since 2016, Berlin has lost a cumulative $879,295 in aid and therefore closing the Brown School, while difficult, “was the only choice the school board had,” she said.

The closure is expected to save the school district about $300,000 annually.

The folks in Coos County are reliable GOP voters. The voted for Trump in 2016 and Sununu in both 2016 and 2018… and in so doing continued to vote for the political party that created the problems they face in their local economy and local schools. At some juncture, a page may turn or a light may go on, or a lightening bolt will strike (choose your own tired metaphor)… and the voters in communities like Berlin will see that their community’s decline is the result of the GOPs commitment to increasing the bottom line of corporations… and may even see that corporatist neoliberals are doing the same thing. When that day comes it might be possible for NH to adopt a broad-based tax that could provide the funds needed to make communities like Berlin vibrant again.