Archives for category: Economy

This curious story caught my eye as I was reading the business section of the New York Times yesterday. A man named Jesse Busk is suing Amazon because, after his 12-hour shift at its warehouse in Las Vegas, he was required to wait in line for a security screening along with other workers to see if they had stolen any goods. Busk maintained that he should be paid for the additional 25 minutes because it was a required part of his workday. His employer and other employers obviously were opposed to paying him for the extra time.

Mr. Busk has since been laid off. He said it was unfair not to be paid for the extra time after such a long day.

Two things got my attention in this story. First, I thought this country had long ago accepted that a man or woman should. Not work more than eight hours a day, forty hours a week. I was wrong. As I continued reading about the rationales for and against Mr. Busk’s contention, I discovered that the Obama administration was supporting employers, not the worker. Naturally, I found myself wondering what would Harry Truman or FDR or JFK have done. Which side would they be on.

Mercedes Schneider has put together the pieces and figured out what lies behind “reform.”

It is not about better education. It is about converting our schools into an assembly-line to produce workers for the economy. It is not about helping schools meet the needs and develop the interests of students. It is about fitting children into the slots where the economy needs them. Their purposes, interests, and personal goals don’t matter.

To make her case, she looks at three representative documents. One comes from Indiana Governor Mike Pence, who created a “Department of Workforce Development” to compete with and supplant the state’s Department of Education. Of course, we know that Pence will do anything to cut down State Commissioner of Education Glenda Ritz. But it is revealing that he sees the noble profession of education solely as “workforce development.”

Then she looks at a 1992 document by Marc Tucker, who envisioned “labor market boards” to align curriculum and jobs. Of course, that was more than two decades ago. Does he still see education solely in economic terms? I for one would not want to be held strictly accountable for things I wrote in 1992.

Schneider then considers an article written by a South Korean teacher who described the cruel and inhumane pressures endured by South Korean students in pursuit of high test scores. Yet, harsh as it is, Arne Duncan looks longingly at this system because of its results.

Schneider has anephany:

“After reading and meditating on these three articles today, I had an epiphany of sorts regarding privatizing utility of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

“Now, I know a lot about CCSS. This summer I wrote a book on its history, development, and promotion. However, what occurred to me this afternoon is the reason for the business push for CCSS particularly and the spectrum of privatizing reforms in general.

“It has nothing to do with “competing in the global economy.” That’s just a distractor.

“The goal of business in aggressively promoting CCSS while bashing the teaching profession into false, test-score-riddled “accountability” is to reshape the purpose of education into streamlined, assembly-line-to-market service.

“Yes, CCSS is about corporate profits, but it is about more than companies like Pearson making potential billions off of selling CCSS products and services.

“The true business goal behind CCSS and other market-driven “reforms” is to make American education completely economic — which means completely dehumanized in its purpose.

“It is about corporate America funneling the nation’s youth into predetermined, objectified service of the corporate, gluttonous market needs. And a crucial component of that goal is to break the spirit of teachers and make us nothing more than the trainers of What the Market Requires.”

She concludes:

“There is certainly money to be made in promoting “reforms” that, ahem, “benefit the economy.” But we must recognize this “cradle to grave” shaping of the American education system for what it is: A purposed effort to separate America into two groups, the privileged and the serfs. Indeed, the privileged are trying to finesse the message of serfdom as one that “concerned citizens” seemingly cannot say no to: a falsified image of national economic health that, if ingested by the American consciousness, will prove to be nothing more than caustic gluttony that dehumanizes most members of our society and corrodes our democratic foundation.”

Hal Salzman, sociologist and professor of public policy at Rutgers University, says there is a shortage of jobs for graduates who have studied science and engineering. The so-called STEM jobs, he says, have an excess of applicants.

Salzman wrote recently in U.S. News and World Report:

“All credible research finds the same evidence about the STEM workforce: ample supply, stagnant wages and, by industry accounts, thousands of applicants for any advertised job. The real concern should be about the dim employment prospects for our best STEM graduates: The National Institutes of Health, for example, has developed a program to help new biomedical Ph.D.s find alternative careers in the face of “unattractive” job prospects in the field. Opportunities for engineers vary by the field and economic cycle – as oil exploration has increased, so has demand (and salaries) for petroleum engineers, resulting in a near tripling of petroleum engineering graduates. In contrast, average wages in the IT industry are the same as those that prevailed when Bill Clinton was president despite industry cries of a “shortage.” Overall, U.S. colleges produce twice the number of STEM graduates annually as find jobs in those fields.”

The “crisis narrative” about these fields is wrong, he says.

“Cries that “the STEM sky is falling” are just the latest in a cyclical pattern of shortage predictions over the past half-century, none of which were even remotely accurate. In a desert of evidence, the growth of STEM shortage claims is driven by heavy industry funding for lobbyists and think tanks. Their goal is government intervention in the market under the guise of solving national economic problems. The highly profitable IT industry, for example, is devoting millions to convince Congress and the White House to provide its employers with more low-cost, foreign guestworkers instead of trying to attract and retain employees from an ample domestic labor pool of native and immigrant citizens and permanent residents. Guestworkers currently make up two-thirds of all new IT hires, but employers are demanding further increases. If such lobbying efforts succeed, firms will have enough guestworkers for at least 100 percent of their new hiring and can continue to legally substitute these younger workers for current employees, holding down wages for both them and new hires.

“Claiming there is a skills shortage by denying the strength of the U.S. STEM workforce and student supply is possible only by ignoring the most obvious and direct evidence and obscuring the issue with statistical smokescreens – especially when the Census Bureau reports that only about one in four STEM bachelor’s degree holders has a STEM job, and Microsoft plans to downsize by 18,000 workers over the next year.”

Read his article for the links.

Marc Tucker recently published a position paper arguing that our current system of test-based accountability, testing every student every year in grades 3-8, has failed and that we need a new approach. His approach, as Anthony Cody argued, would test at transition points but would still have high stakes and would test more subjects. Tucker wrote a post criticizing Cody and me and arguing that high-stakes testing is necessary to raise test scores and improve education.

Yong Zhao here weighs in with a brilliant response to Tucker, sharply disagreeing with him on the value of high-stakes testing.

Zhao points to Tucker’s inconsistency thus:

“Why does one who condemns test-based accountability system so much want more test-based accountability? The inconsistency exemplified by Marc Tucker does not make sense to me at all. Yet it is widespread so it must make sense in some way. I try to put myself in the shoes of Tucker and other similarly minded people and learned the chain of reasoning underlying their inconsistency:

“Premise #1: Education quality matters to individual and national prosperity.

“Premise #2: Education is a top-down process through which students are instilled the prescribed content and skills (curriculum) deemed universally valuable by some sort of authority.

“Premise #3: Teachers and schools are responsible for the quality of education, i.e., instilling in students the prescribed knowledge and skills.

“Premise #4: How well students master the prescribed knowledge and content is measured by tests.

“Conclusion #1: Thus test scores measure the quality of education, and thus the capacity for individuals and nations to be economically prosperous.

“Conclusion #2: American students have lower test scores on some international tests, thus American schools offer a lower quality education than countries with higher test scores.

“Conclusion #3: Therefore, American teachers must be less effective than their counterparts in other countries.

“Conclusion #4: Therefore, to prepare Americans to succeed in the global economy, American teachers and schools must be held accountable for improving the quality of education, which is to raise test scores (Tucker’s goal: “the only acceptable target for the United States is to be among the top ten performers in the world” [I assume top 10 on the PISA league table]).

“Conclusion #5: Hence we must improve the test-based accountability system, which then leads to higher quality education, which then leads to economic prosperity.

“Bait and Switch

“Marc Tucker’s objection to Anthony Cody’s questioning his assertion that “the economic future of our students will only be guaranteed if we educate them better” is a standard bait-and-switch tactic, playing with the afore-mentioned logic. It starts with the premises. Education is a term that has a positive connotation, but in practice it has many different, sometimes, contradictory, incarnations, in the same way the word “democracy” is used in reality. For example, some of the worst dictatorial countries claim to be democratic. Thus whether education matters to the prosperity of individuals and nations depends entirely on what it means.

He concludes:

“When economies change, as Tucker notes, so fast and on a global scale, it has become even more difficult to predict the skills and knowledge that matters in the future. But one thing seems to be clear. Even if Americans are equipped with the same skills and knowledge as Chinese and Indians, America’s favorite competitors, Americans won’t have an economic advantage simply because it costs much less for these countries to develop the same skills. So more of the same skills and knowledge won’t work, neither will the same education. America does not need a quantitatively better education, it needs a different kind of education.

“There are of course other problems with Tucker’s chain of reasoning; for example, are American teachers truly worse educators than their counterparts in other countries? Again it depends on the definition of education. Is education about test scores? Or is it about cultivating diverse, creative, passionate, and curious innovators and entrepreneurs?

“Tucker has much faith in this plan. “We know this form of accountability will work because it is already working at a national scale in the countries that are outperforming us.” Even if Tucker were right, America will at best outperform the top performing country—China. But is that what we want? My answer is NO and my reasons are in my book ‘Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon: Why China Has the Best (and Worst) Education System in the World.'”

Nevada is giving more than $1 Billion in tax breaks to woo automaker Tesla to build a huge factory to produce electric batteries.

The deal is controversial but not among Nevada legislators, who expect it to produce economic benefits and 6,500 jobs.

Education also produces economic benefits and jobs, but legislators don’t mind underfunding their schools, increasing class sizes, and short changing the next generation of Nevadans.

The Néw York Times says that Nevada is paying about $200,000 for each job that might be created.

Did Tesla really need the tax break to locate in Nevada?

“Richard Florida, a global research professor at New York University and a frequent critic of development incentives, said the factory would probably have been built in Nevada even without the generous subsidy.

“They had the site picked out; they started on it,” he said in an email. Companies like Tesla “exploit that information asymmetry,” creating uncertainty in a potential host state, he said. “They know where they want to locate, and then essentially game the process to get incentives from states. It is wasteful and it should be banned.”

Angie Sullivan, a teacher in Nevada who keeps me informed, sent out this Roseanne Barr video as a reaction to the Tesla handout: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=0hmfBtk0WaE

Feeling down about corporate ownership of almost everything? So is David Greene. Gates, Walton, Bloomberg, Bezos, Murdoch, Koch. What don’t they own? Our votes.

David thinks back a century. Other oligarchs owned almost everything then. Of course, it didn’t occur to them to monetize the schools.

But we beat them back. We elected people to regulate the oligarchs. We can do it again.

Anthony Cody was not heartened by Marc Tucker’s vision of a new accountability system with fewer tests. In this post, he explains why. If ever there was a need for close reading, he believes, this is it.

Cody writes:

“Tucker’s plan is confusing. In a proposal in which accountability remains closely tied to a set of high stakes tests, Tucker cites the “Failure of Test-based Accountability,” and eloquently documents how this approach doomed NCLB.

“Tucker speaks about the professionalization of teaching, and points out how teaching has been ravaged by constant pressure to prepare for annual tests. But his proposal still seems wedded to several very questionable premises.

“First, while he blames policymakers for the situation, he seems to accept that the struggles faced by our schools are at least partly due to the inadequacy of America’s teachers. I know of no objective evidence that would support this indictment.

“Second, he argues that fewer, “higher quality” tests will somehow rescue us from their oppressive qualities. He also suggests, as did Duncan in 2010, that we can escape the “narrowing of the curriculum” by expanding the subject matter that would be tested.

“It is worth noting that many of the Asian countries that do so well on international test contests likewise have fewer tests. This chart shows that Shanghai, Japan and Korea all have only three big tests during the K12 years. However, because these tests have such huge stakes attached to them, the entire system revolves around them, and students’ lives and family incomes are spent on constant test preparation, in and out of school.

“Third, and this is the most fundamental problem, is that Tucker suggests that the economic future of our students will only be guaranteed if we educate them better. Tucker writes:

“Outsourcing of manufacturing and services to countries with much lower labor costs has combined with galloping automation to eliminate an ever-growing number of low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs and jobs involving routine work.

“The result is that a large and growing proportion of young people leaving high school with just the basic skills can no longer look forward to a comfortable life in the middle class, but will more likely face a future of economic struggle.

“This does not represent a decline from some standard that high school graduates used to meet. It is as high as any standard the United States has ever met. And it is wholly inadequate now. It turns out, then, that we are now holding teachers accountable for student performance we never expected before, a kind and quality of performance for which the present education system was never designed. That is manifestly unfair.”

“Tucker then repeats what has become the basic dogma of education reform. The economy of the 21st century demands our students be educated to much higher levels so we can effectively compete with our international rivals. Education — and ever better education to ever higher standards — is the key to restoring the middle class.”

But Cody objects:

“I do not believe the economy of the 21st century is waiting for some more highly educated generation, at which time middle class jobs will materialize out of thin air.

“Corporations are engaged in a systemic drive to cut the number of employees at all levels. When Microsoft laid off 18,000 skilled workers, executives made it clear that expenses – meaning employees, must be minimized. Profits require that production be lean. There is no real shortage of people with STEM degrees.

“On the whole, it is still an advantage for an individual to be well educated. But the idea that education is some sort of limiting factor on our economic growth is nonsense. And the idea that the future of current and future graduates will be greatly improved if they are better educated is likewise highly suspect.

“Bill Gates recently acknowledged in an interview at the American Enterprise Institute, “capitalism in general, over time, will create more inequality and technology, over time, will reduce demand for jobs particularly at the lower end of the skill set.”

“This is the future we face until there is a fundamental economic realignment. Fewer jobs. Continued inequality and greater concentration of wealth.”

Cody argues for a different vision, in which accountability goes far beyond teachers and schools:

“For far too long educators have accepted the flagellations of one accountability system after another, and time has come to say “enough.”

“We need to learn (and teach) the real lesson of NCLB – and now the Common Core. The problem with NCLB was not with the *number* of tests, nor with when the tests were given, nor with the subject matter on the tests, or the format of the tests, or the standards to which the tests were aligned.

“The problem with NCLB was that it was based on a false premise, that somehow tests can be used to pressure schools into delivering equitable outcomes for students. This approach did not work, and as we are seeing with Common Core, will not work, no matter how many ways you tinker with the tests.

“The idea that our education system holds the key to our economic future is a seductive one for educators. It makes us seem so important, and can be used to argue for investments in our schools. But this idea carries a price, because if we accept that our economic future depends on our schools, real action to address fundamental economic problems can be deferred. We can pretend that somehow we are securing the future of the middle class by sending everyone to preschool – meanwhile the actual middle class is in a shambles, and college students are graduating in debt and insecure.

“The entire exercise is a monumental distraction, and anyone who engages in this sort of tinkering has bought into a shell game, a manipulation of public attention away from real sources of inequity.”

Cody says:

“We need some accountability for children’s lives, for their bellies being full, for safe homes and neighborhoods, and for their futures when they graduate. Once there is a healthy ecosystem for them to grow in, and graduate into, the inequities we see in education will shrink dramatically. But that requires much broader economic and social change — change that neither policymakers or central planners like Tucker are prepared to call for.”

The ASCD published an eye-popping chart showing that NAEP long-term trend test scores for 17-year-olds were flat from 1971-2012. At the same time, economic productivity soared by 375%, and gross domestic product grew by 100%.

What do you make of that?

I have pointed out repeatedly that our students have never excelled on international tests. On the first international test in 1964, our students came in last of 12 nations. Yet as I explain in my book “Reign of Error,” over the next half-century we outperformed the other 11 nations who had higher test scores.

What do you make of that?

Writing in the International Business Times, investigative journalist David Sirota reports that Microsoft admits keeping $92.9 billion offshore to avoid paying $29.6 billion in taxes, according to the most recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

He writes:

“Microsoft Corp. is currently sitting on almost $29.6 billion it would owe in U.S. taxes if it repatriated the $92.9 billion of earnings it is keeping offshore, according to disclosures in the company’s most recent annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The amount of money that Microsoft is keeping offshore represents a significant spike from prior years, and the levies the company would owe amount to almost the entire two-year operating budget of the company’s home state of Washington.

“The company says it has “not provided deferred U.S. income taxes” because it says the earnings were generated from its “non-U.S. subsidiaries” and then “reinvested outside the U.S.” Tax experts, however, say that details of the filing suggest the company is using tax shelters to dodge the taxes it owes as a company domiciled in the United States.”

He adds:

“Apple and General Electric, which also employ offshore subsidiaries, are the only U.S.-based companies that have more money offshore than Microsoft, according to data compiled by Citizens for Tax Justice. In all, a May report by CTJ found that “American Fortune 500 corporations are likely saving about $550 billion by holding nearly $2 trillion of ‘permanently reinvested’ profits offshore.” The report also found that “28 of these corporations reveal that they have paid an income tax rate of 10 percent or less to the governments of the countries where these profits are officially held, indicating that most of these profits are likely in offshore tax havens.”

“Microsoft’s use of the offshore subsidiary tactics has exploded in the last five years, with the amount of Microsoft earnings shifted offshore jumping 516 percent since 2008, according to SEC filings.”

That kind of money, repatriated to the United States, could underwrite prenatal care for low-income women, provide early childhood education for all low-income children, underwrite medical clinics in low-income communities, and save public education in cities like Detroit and Philadelphia, where it is in dire peril. Imagine $550 billion invested in the well-being of our children! Imagine using that money to reduce our child poverty rate, which is currently the highest among the advanced nations of the world.

In an article in Dissent magazine, four authors argue that the notion of America as a “post-racial” society is wrong. The public and politicians tend to blame blacks for the conditions in which they live, as though racism were a thing of the past and the doors of opportunity are wide open for all. Even the election of a black President has not wiped out historic disadvantages that a significant proportion of black Americans are born into.

Alan Aja, Daniel Bustillo, William Darity, Jr., and Darrick Hamilton lay out the facts of continuing racial disparity in employment, wealth, and self-employment to demonstrate that blacks continue to be severely disadvantaged.

The authors off two proposals to provide economic security to all Americans. One is a universal trust account, which would be larger for those who are needy. The other is a guaranteed federal job. Both are expensive yet considerably less than the cost of the economic stimulus plan, which saved the nation’s banks. Imagine: saving our society.

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