Archive for Education
Their vision reflected a deep belief at the time, among Republicans as well as Democrats, in public services that transcended class. The result was the world’s best public school system at the time, networks of public libraries, public parks and beaches, and later a broad system of public universities and community colleges.
Those are at risk today in a venal culture driven more by bottom lines than common goods. One half expects any day to hear a plan to sell off Yellowstone or Yosemite as “weekend homes for Internet tycoons,” as Kristof suggests. The Midas cult has not yet taken drills and sledgehammers to our heritage the way ISIS has to the cradle of civilization. But while our financial cult’s methods are more subtle, its goals are similar: to erase the very memory of a culture. Here, monuments to collective achievements dim the gleam of personal shrines erected to Self.
Public universities accessible to all are under threat from the cult’s policy drills and sledgehammers. Washington Monthly profiles LSU Chancellor F. King Alexander, whose fight to preserve public higher education puts him at odds with efforts to remove the public from higher education. At a Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee hearing this summer chaired by Republican Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, LSU’s King Alexander argued for more federal regulation:
The “greatest challenge facing public universities,” King Alexander explains, is that states today spend about half as much on higher education on a per capita income basis as they did in 1981. This is a direct result, he says, of a regulatory failure built into federal law. In other areas of federal policy, such as transportation and health care, federal dollars come with strings attached—states have to pitch in a set amount of money too. That’s not the case for higher education, where money follows the student to private and public colleges alike, and states have no requirements to fund public universities at a certain (or indeed any) level. The result is that when states are under budget pressure, as they have been in the years since the financial crisis, they slash spending on higher ed. The burden of those cuts then gets shifted to students, in the form of higher tuition, and to the federal government, in greater spending on grants, tax credits, and subsidized student loans.
Pouring more money into federal higher education support, argued Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, will do no good so long as states keep disinvesting in it. Freshman Republican Bill Cassidy of Louisiana reluctantly agreed, “I’m against states being mandated to do something, but it appears unless states are mandated to do something they’re not going to do so.” The hearing did not go in the direction Lamar Alexander had wanted. He hopes to rewrite the Higher Education Act (HEA) to remove “costly and burdensome federal red tape imposed on states and colleges.”
To that end, King Alexander wants federal dollars to come with strings requiring states to live up to their obligation to provide adequate public funding as so many state constitutions (and statehood enabling acts) require. He believes “that as a condition of federal higher education aid, states should be required to provide a minimum amount of their revenues to their public colleges and universities.” King succeeded in getting a “maintenance of effort” provision into a piece of 2008 federal legislation that set a floor for state funding as a qualification for federal support. While many states cut their funding to within 1 percent of the floor, they did not go below it. Not until the law expired.
The disagreement over maintenance of effort is one over the proper role of the federal government. Lamar Alexander reflected the Republican Party’s view on states’ rights when he told me that maintenance of effort “usurp[s] the prerogative of the constitutional authority of governors and legislators to decide how to spend state dollars by, in effect, being coercive.” King, for his part, describes himself as a “federalist” when it comes to education policy and says “states’ rights is George Wallace standing in front of the Alabama admissions office not letting anybody in.” To King, the debate over maintenance of effort is nothing less than a battle over whether Americans of modest birth will have anything like the same opportunities as the affluent to better themselves through higher education. Spend enough time around King, and you get the sense that he became a public university president less because he wants to run a school than because it provides him a parapet from which to fend off the hordes trying to destroy public higher education.
King has been making his arguments for twenty years, but until recently Democrats were more focused on expanding the direct student aid program to help poor and middle-class students by increasing Pell Grants and middle-class tax credits, and creating generous repayment plans for student loans. But as student loan debt has risen and governors like Bobby Jindal and Scott Walker in Wisconsin cut higher education budgets, Democrats are increasingly realizing that their unquestioning advocacy of federal direct aid has allowed states to play Washington for a sucker. That’s why they chose King Alexander as their witness.
There is a cost to maintaining a country and its character. Not just in blood, but in treasure. Too many of our leaders quick to spend the former are more miserly when it comes to the latter.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
I am a glorified temp. White collar Manpower. A contractor. I have worked for national and international corporations for years. I never trusted them. Not the people, necessarily, but the machine. To the machine, I am not a person. I am the hired help. A “human resource.” Consumable. Disposable. If work gets slack and I have to move on, it’s not as if anyone is breaking any promises to me I knew they wouldn’t keep. I never let them make them. Like Chaplin’s tramp, just a cog in the machine.
Ah, but “Modern Times” was 80 years ago. And now? The New Yorker‘s John Cassidy observes that this weekend’s New York Times article about Darwinian workplace conditions for white-collar workers at Amazon under Jeff Bezos has drawn more comments to the Times’ website than any other it has published. Cassidy writes:
Perhaps Times readers, who tend to be well educated and reasonably well off, like reading about bad things happening to people like themselves. But I think it goes deeper than that. As the “New Economy” celebrates its twentieth anniversary—on August 9, 1995, Netscape’s initial public offering took place—it is becoming harder to ignore some of its negative aspects. Behind all the technological advances and product innovation, there is a good deal of old-fashioned labor discipline, wage repression, and exertion of management power.
Even as Jeb! Bush and Hillary Clinton prepare for their close-ups, out in bayou country a GOP presidential wannabe is trying to keep from being the next Sam Brownback.
Republicans’ approach to taxes is not unlike Biblical literalists’ approach to confronting evolution. Christian fundamentalists will construct an elaborate house of cards on the shakiest of foundations and spend enormous time and effort trying to keep a puff of breeze from knocking it over before they will question their crappy theology. (Visit the Creation Museum on Bullittsburg Church Rd.
in Petersburg, Kentucky, and don’t forget to stop by the gift shop.)
Republicans — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, for example — will concoct an elaborate edifice of nonsense to create the illusion that they are not raising taxes, you know, to pay for services their constituent public actually wants. Like funding universities and hospitals. Facing a potential $1.6 billion budget shortfall (that’s another story), Jindal has gone to Creation Museum lengths to keep from offending Grover Norquist and Americans for Tax Fairness.
Here’s how the local paper explained it last week:
State Rep. Joel Robideaux, R-Lafayette, and 10 other Louisiana House members sent Norquist a letter (PDF) Sunday night, asking Norquist to rethink his approach to Louisiana’s budget and the “no tax” pledge….
The governor has threatened to veto any budget plan or tax bills that don’t meet Norquist’s “no tax” requirements. Currently, the governor is pushing the Legislature to adopt a controversial higher education tax credit — commonly called SAVE — that Jindal says will make the budget comply with Norquist’s wishes.
These are leaders, mind you, elected by the people of Louisiana, sending a mother-may-I letter to a gadfly in Washington, DC for permission to do their jobs. And their governor wants to be president of the United States and stand up to terr’ists.
Jeff Bryant’s alarming post at Salon details some of the financial services sector’s inventive, new schemes for funding education. Wall Street already saw K-12 schools as “the last honeypot,” a steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars just waiting to be tapped by charter schools. It first had to convince states to increase competition – meaning eliminating teachers and other public employees standing between investors and their money.
One could argue that the right’s small government, low taxes mantra always had as its goal eliminating the “creeping socialism” of government providing education and other public services on a not-for-profit basis. (What, no middle-man markup?) “Starving the beast” was never about the size of government, but about eliminating public-sector competitors and making sure the right people take a percentage of vital services funded at taxpayer expense.
Since the collapse of the housing market, the giant pool of money is looking for other places to invest. So it’s out with the NINA loans and the CDOs and in with the SLABS, CABS, PPPs, and ISAs. Jeff Bryant writes:
It’s not hard to see the allure of SLABS [student loan asset-backed securities]. Student loans seem to be an endless stream of revenue as colleges and universities continue to increase tuition, economic conditions and employment transience feed the unemployed back into continuing education, and political leaders urge everyone to attend college. The income stream is nearly guaranteed to pay off because the loans are next to impossible to discharge in bankruptcy.
A Huffington Post article by Chris Kirkham states, SLABS offer “seemingly unlimited growth potential at virtually zero risk. The burden of college loan repayment falls entirely on students’ backs, shielding corporations from the consequences of default.”
The reason business interests want to undermine public education, I argue, is to get their hands on the largest portion of the annual budget in all 50 states. At Salon this morning, Thom Hartmann argues that conservatives hate public education because “it’s hard to sell the Conservative brand” to people who know their own history:
So now, thanks to the war on education that began with Ronald Raegan, we have come to that remote period in time Jefferson was concerned about. Our leaders, ignorant of or ignoring the history of this nation’s founding, make a parody of liberty and flaunt their challenges even to those rights explicitly defined in the Constitution. And, perhaps worse, they allow monopolistic corporations to do the same.
Our best defense against today’s pervasive ignorance about American history and human rights is education, a task that Jefferson undertook in starting the University of Virginia to provide a comprehensive and free public education to all capable students. A well-informed populace will always preserve liberty better than a powerful government, a philosophy which led the University of California and others to once offer free education to their states’ citizens.
Two postings this weekend involving lynch mobs led me to an interesting bit of history from the Revolutionary War. Reading the L.A. Times op-ed title, “Southern ‘Hanging Bridge: A monument to Judge Lynch,” made me gasp. It had never occurred to me that lynching derived from someone’s name.
Jason Morgan Ward, associate professor of history at Mississippi State University, begins:
On Feb. 10, the Montgomery, Ala.-based organization Equal Justice Initiative released “Lynching in America,” a searing report that documents 3,959 lynchings in 12 Southern states from 1877 to 1950. The researchers note that their count exceeds that of previous studies by at least 700 victims. The news media seized on the numbers and paid less attention to what the group characterized as an “astonishing absence” of lynching memorials in communities that boast monuments to Confederate soldiers and architects of the South’s Jim Crow regime.
As it happens, an abandoned, rusted bridge on a dirt road near Shubuta, Mississippi stands as a makeshift monument to the lynchings that occurred there between 1918 and 1942. When Ward asked locals if the new road bypassing the “hanging bridge” had anything to do with its history, a local told him, “People don’t need to see that.”
But Ward’s op-ed did not explain who Judge Lynch was.
It was news last week when Oklahoma legislators voted to cease funding an Advance Placement history course, echoing a key critic of the curriculum who believes “the concept of American exceptionalism has been deliberately scrubbed out of this document.”
At Crooks and Liars, Dave Neiwert suggests that one motivation for the legislation may be that Oklahomans do not want to see their own unflattering history revisited: the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921 and the Osage Reign of Terror, also from the 1920s. In the first, white lynch mobs obliterated a prosperous black neighborhood – even dropping fire bombs from airplanes (one might consider that exceptional) – and in the second, white fortune hunters exploited and murdered Osage tribal members to gain control over oil rights. Combined, hundreds died. Neiwert explains:
Something about Sunday mornings brings out the preacher in me. I wrote about this yesterday, but this morning I’m still fuming about misguided efforts by right-wing ideologues to abandon our system of public schools for whatever crazy reasons, or because freedom. Listen:
One hundred and sixty thousand rugged individuals didn’t suddenly decide to grab a gun off the mantle, don uniforms, build landing craft, and separately invade Normandy on June 6, 1944 because if big gummint did it, it would be un-American, add to the debt, and we don’t like France anyway.
There are things we do as a people, together, that make us US.
Educating our nation’s children together is one of those things. Support for universal public education in this country predates ratification of the United States Constitution. It’s built into the state constitutions and enabling legislation that brought new states into the Union all the way up to and including Hawaii, the 50th state.
I don’t know what country chest-thumping, would-be patriots who want to abolish public education think they want to live in, but it’s not the United States of America.
My father in-law law fought on the front lines in Europe during WWII. One of the things he said distinguished the American GI from the enemy is that when their tanks and trucks and jeeps broke down, the Germans would abandon their equipment on the field of battle and walk away. But the American boys had grown up tinkering with their cars, trucks and tractors. It was a point of pride for them, he told me, that when their gear broke down, they could fix it and get it running again with whatever they had at hand. Shoelaces. Rubber bands. “Duck” tape. And get back into the fight.
That’s the spirit that won the war. You don’t hear that spirit from public school abolitionists. Freedom, my ass.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
Jefferson may never have said an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people, but the idea strikes a chord. The urban legend lives on because the idea speaks to American aspirations that predate the signing of the Constitution. Among some of our American cohort, especially among our right-wing, would-be keepers of the flame, that aspiration is dying.
The movement on the right to abolish public education – that all-American institution – has been growing for some time. Ron Paul wants public schools abolished. So does Rick Santorum. So do T-party types from coast to coast. And, of course, Texas.
Now that fringe, fundamentally un-American idea is being mainlined into public via Fox News.
“There really shouldn’t be public schools, should there?” said “Outnumbered” host Lisa “Kennedy” Montgomery during a discussion of the Oklahoma state legislature’s proposal to ban Advanced Placement U.S. History in high schoo for not promoting American exceptionalism. Talking Points Memo notes that this movement is spreading:
Efforts by conservative school board members in Colorado to make the Advanced Placement U.S. History course “more patriotic,” prompted a walk-out by students. Under the changes proposed in Colorado “students would only be taught lessons depicting American heritage in a positive light, and effectively ban any material that could lead to dissent.” In South Carolina conservatives asked the College Board to exclude any material with an “ideological bias,” including evolution. Similar efforts are underway in Georgia and North Carolina.
Amanda Marcotte looked at this and other ways “Republicans are purposefully trying to make Americans more ignorant.” I’ve looked at the ideological basis for eliminating from the university classroom any ideas that cut across the conservative grain.
What the new abolitionists want, it seems, is either a Disneyfied version of America (without “Small World,” of course); a pre-American one before universal, public education was a hallmark of the American experiment; or one that serves narrow interests of business interests in producing serviceable workers who will do but not think. Any of those options presents a pretty bleak vision of America’s future.
Last fall U.S. News examined the tension between broad learning and and education focused on technical skills:
The prevailing wisdom and research indicate a growing emphasis on and necessity for career-ready degrees such as computer science, engineering and finance – often included as part of STEM disciplines (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).
At the same time, employers readily identify the creative, communicative and problem-solving acumen traditionally associated with liberal arts majors as the most valuable attributes of new hires.
With a sluggish job market and companies still reluctant to reinvest in their workforces, the job prospects for all college grads have actually never been clearer: College graduates with career-ready degrees are best positioned to get hired and earn the quickest return on their educational investment.
But that’s a pretty threadbare method for evaluating an education’s worth, and one the Founders would not have recognized. While studying advanced dynamics, I received a flyer from my old college announcing its 150th anniversary celebration with lectures on medieval arts and sciences interspersed with recorder quartets. Where I was working on my engineering degree, I saw little love of learning for its own sake. Students raised their hands and asked, “Do we need to know this for the test?” The contrast was laughable.
(Cross-posted from Hullabaloo.)
What happens to America and its children once investment gurus decide the K-12 market is no longer the place to invest money? When education is no longer the Big Enchilada? When they dump their charter schools back on the states? Or raze them to build condos?
Those who have followed the school deform movement know that standing just behind parents expressing genuine concern for their children are investors. Millionaires and billionaires are targeting public education for the same reason banksters pimped mortgage loans. For the same reason Wall Street tried to privatize Social Security. For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks.
What is the largest portion of the budget in all 50 states?
The impulse among conservatives to privatize everything involving public expenditures – schools included – is no longer just about shrinking government, lowering their taxes and eliminating funding sources for their political competitors. Now it’s about their opportunity costs, potential profits lost to not-for-profit public-sector competitors. It’s bad enough that government “picks their pockets” to educate other people’s children. But it’s unforgivable that they’re not getting a piece of the action. Now they want to turn public education into private profits too.
But first, the “risk takers” must remove anyone that stands between them and that steady, recession-proof, government-guaranteed stream of public tax dollars. Teachers, and state and local boards of education, for example. The Midas cult won’t stop until it turns our daughters and our sons into gold, and maybe not then. If there is anything more addictive than wealth, it’s the power it brings.
Henry Giroux has been writing about that power for some time. He is back this week at Truthout with “Barbarians at the Gates: Authoritarianism and the Assault on Public Education.” Giroux writes:
Equality, justice and the search for truth no longer define the mission of public education. Economic policies that benefit the bankers, corporations and the financial elite result in massive inequities in wealth, income and power and increasingly determine how the US public views both public education and the needs of young people.
The shortsightedness of the investor class is as stunning as its avarice. And its fickleness. Once the Great Eye looks elsewhere, what will remain of public education and public infrastructure past generations paid for in taxes and sweat to make America a world power? Once demolished, how will we rebuild when the Midas cult inevitably moves on to its next shiny, new investment opportunity? Of these “dangerous times,” Giroux continues:
As someone pointed out the other day, in some circles increased oversight of the police and the military is deemed improper and/or unpatriotic, yet other public employees are fair game. Public school teachers, for instance. Even as tests required under No Child Left Behind come under fire, teachers themselves face increased screening tests using “Big Data, ‘Moneyball’-style” tools. As Politico reports, “Prices vary widely, from $5,000 for a small district to $500,000 for a large district, depending on the product.”
Are they useful, or just another opportunity for investors to turn kids into cash?
The new screening tools slice and dice aspiring teachers into dozens of data points, from their SAT scores to their appreciation for art to their ability to complete geometric patterns. All that data is then fed into an algorithm that spits out a score predicting the likelihood that each candidate will become an effective teacher — or, at least, will be able to raise students’ math and reading scores.
The tools seek to cut through hiring biases that favor “geographic proximity” or “teachers with last names starting with the letters A through G” because résumés get alphabetized. But critics contend there is no magic formula for revealing who makes the best teacher.