Archives for category: Economy

Laura Chapman, a frequent contributor to the blog, comments here in response to an article in the Boston Globe about whether the Common Core was “killing” kindergarten:

THE BIG LIE: “The United States is falling behind other countries in the resource that matters most in the new global economy: human capital,” declared a 2008 report from the National Governors Association. Creating a common set of “internationally benchmarked” standards was seen as the best way to close the persistent achievement gaps between students of different races and between rich and poor school districts.”

THE BIG LIE: I have found only two international benchmarking documents in the early history of the Common Core. The first was in 1998 with comparisons of standards in two states and the math and science standards in Japan and standards available from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMMS). The second report in 2008. titled “Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U.S. Students Receive a World-Class Education,” was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates and GE Foundations. The author was a professional writer of reports. The advisory committee included seven governors or former governors, CEOs at Intel and Microsoft, three senior state and large metro area education officials, three advocates for minority groups, one foundation, and five university faculty, only two of these scholars in education. The most important source of information was the data analytics expert at the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD). In this report, benchmarking is little more than a process of: (a) identifying the nations that score high on international tests, then (b) assuming the scores reflect higher expectations, and then (c) looking at some economic descriptors for those countries.

The result is a set of dubious inferences– high test scores and high standards are predicates for economic prosperity. Dubious should be written DUBIOUS, especially because this publication was rolled out with great fanfare in the midst of the 2008 crash of the world economy…for reasons that have no bearing on international test scores, no bearing on educational standards, no bearing on the nation’s children and teachers and public schools.

Nevertheless, “The executive summary (p.6) calls for the following:
Action 1: Upgrade state standards by adopting a common core of internationally benchmarked standards in math and language arts for grades K-12 to ensure that students are equipped with the necessary knowledge and skills to be globally competitive.

This is a very big lie. It is a dangerously misleading one when tossed into a discussion of kindergarten. There is no way to internationally benchmark standards or tests for every grade or subject because the meaning of “internationally benchmarked” is limited to test scores on international tests in at most three subjects, no international tests yet in kindergarten.

On top of those insistent misrepresentations from the nation’s governors and those involved in the whole Common Core Experiment to save the economy is it not strange that we find no demand at all for more and better knowledge of geography, cultural history including the arts, political history, and world languages–all of which might actually bear on functioning with savvy and grace on an international stage?

If the only or the prime value of our nation’s children and youth is economic, we are back to the same wretched outlook on children as that which existed before child labor laws. The Governors are still using this appalling rhetoric, treating the nation’s children and youth as more or less useful and productive for the economy. The same for their teachers. What will it take to get a reversal of this narrow and attitude that “It is perfectly OK to think of kids as economically worthless, or worthwhile, or somewhere in between?

The real causes of the so-called achievement gap are the result of thinking that test scores are objective…when they are not. It is the result of thinking that humans should all be thoroughly standardized to perform in the same way, at the same time, to the same level on a set of test questions that only predict scores on other tests. And those tests and scores are the marketing tools of choice for the unregulated testing industry.

Test scores have been a major weapon in the arsenal of federal and state policies designed to produce, reproduce, and not to reduce the huge disparities in income and opportunities in this nation and to distract attention from real fraud and abuse. Children are not responsible for the fate of the economy. They did not tank the economy in 2008. Nor did their teachers.

This nation is in desperate need for more ample education and for more generous views of humanity than has come from the National Governor’s Association, the Secretary of Education, corporate leaders, billionaires, and the press. The press has become too lazy. This piece about kindergarten does little more than recycle talking points from easy to find and ready-made sources.”

Gene V. Glass, emeritus professor at Arizona State University and an associate of the National Education Policy Center, ponders the ubiquity of the “Shoe Button Complex” among leading “reformers” of education.

In this essay, he recalls a story of a man who became the nation’s leading vendor of “shoe buttons” a century ago. He cornered the market on shoe buttons. He knew everything there was to know about shoe buttons, and he became a very rich man. His great success persuaded him that he was an expert on everything. The essay then refers to the “reformers” who think that their fabulous wealth entitles them to opine on how to re-engineer schools. They don’t listen to people who work in schools or people who are researchers and scholars of education, because those people are not fabulously wealthy; in the eyes of those who have cornered the market on shoe buttons or computers, the opinion of mere educators counts for nothing. Educators, in the eyes of “reformers,” are the status quo because they are educators. Better to trust someone who has never taught or studied the subject in depth.

Glass suggests that Bill Gates and his wife Melinda may be prime examples of the Shoe Button Complex. And then there is Arizona, where he finds this scenario:

Jan Brewer, Republican governor of Arizona and famous for issuing a tongue wagging to President Obama, appointed Intel ex-CEO Craig Barrett to chair a council—Ready Arizona–to study and recommend public education reform for the state. It is unclear what Barrett knows about education. One suspects that we are encountering another case of the Shoe Button Complex. Barrett is urging businesses to push school reform. His public utterances strike familiar chords: the future of the entire state rests on the test scores of little kids; more science and math majors will attract businesses to the state; it’s a global economy. After all, the public schools are “suppliers” of labor for businesses. And at Intel, “if a supplier didn’t meet our specifications, we would call the supplier and say, ‘Meet our specifications or we will fire you.’” Apparently, Barrett shares his fellow Republican Mitt Romney’s pleasure in firing people.

Of course, what Barrett is actually and unknowingly talking about is crony capitalism: Linking government and business in relationships that favor the economy. Whether the intellectual, moral, physical, and aesthetic well-being of young people is benefited by their education probably never occurs to Barrett and his ilk. Or perhaps “well-being” to Barrett means having acquired a taste for consumerism and a job to support it. In fact, most industry leaders would like to see specialized training pushed down as early in the curriculum as possible so that high school graduates appear in their HR departments job-ready, trained at public expense. And if training kids for Intel just happens to involve piping a bunch of online courses into Arizona public schools, well so much the better since Barrett also serves on the board of K-12 Inc., the nation’s #1 supplier of cyber-courses. Whether the former CEO of Intel knows everything there is to know about selling microprocessors AND education, or whether this is merely another manifestation of the Shoe Button Complex remains to be seen.

The corporate reformers like to say that “school choice” is the civil rights issue of our time. This is a view shared by Jeb Bush, the Walton family, Scott Walker, and various other rightwingers whose real goal is to shrink the public sector by privatization and to eliminate unions.

But a recent story in the New York Times said that the loss of public sector jobs hurts African American workers disproportionately.

“Roughly one in five black adults works for the government, teaching school, delivering mail, driving buses, processing criminal justice and managing large staffs. They are about 30 percent more likely to have a public sector job than non-Hispanic whites, and twice as likely as Hispanics.

“Compared to the private sector, the public sector has offered black and female workers better pay, job stability and more professional and managerial opportunities,” said Jennifer Laird, a sociologist at the University of Washington who has been researching the subject.

“During the Great Recession, though, as tax revenues plunged, federal, state and local governments began shedding jobs. Even now, with the economy regaining strength, public sector employment has still not bounced back. An incomplete recovery is part of the reason, but a combination of strong anti-government and anti-tax sentiment in some places has kept down public payrolls. At the same time, attempts to curb collective bargaining, like those led by Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, have weakened public unions.

“The Labor Department counts half a million fewer public sector jobs than before the start of the recession in 2007. That figure, however, understates just how much the government’s work force has shrunk, said Elise Gould, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented research organization in Washington. That is because it fails to account for the normal growth in the country’s population: Factor that in, she said, and there are 1.8 million fewer jobs in the public sector for people to fill.

“The decline reverses a historical pattern, researchers say, with public sector employees typically holding onto their jobs even during most economic downturns.

“Because blacks hold a disproportionate share of the jobs, relative to their share of the population, the cutbacks naturally hit them harder.”

The decline in unions has also harmed black and Hispanic families, because union jobs provide a path to the middle class with better wages and a measure of job security.

Anyone who claims that privatization promotes civil rights is purposely distorting the facts. Getting a voucher or a charter (to a school thay may be worse than the public school) does not compensate for the loss of your parents’ employment. It is a devil’s bargain.

This is the story of Mell Zinn. She got her teaching credentials, but she couldn’t find a job. She opened a licensed early childhood center in her home. Her husband is earning. Graduate degree. She is the sole support of her family. It is below the poverty line.

This is not what it should mean to be a professional in America in 2015.

The Néw York Times reports that the top 25 hedge fund managers took home $11 + billion in 2014, even though it was not a good year.

Readers of this blog know that certain hedge fund managers have used their wealth to advance the privatization of public education , not only in Néw York, but in other states as well.

If only we could find one hedge fund manager who understood the value of educating all children.

Conor Lynch writes in Salon that the rightwing media is having fun blaming liberals and liberal social policies for the unrest that followed the death of Freddie Gray.

 

He quotes commentators from Fox News who see the civil disorders and riots as the fault of the protestors.

 

What Lynch points out, however, is that Baltimore (like Detroit) was once a thriving industrial city. As globalization and technological change produced deindustrialization, jobs dried up, especially for those striving to rise from poverty to the working class. The war on drugs, he writes, led to mass incarceration of black men, even though whites use drugs as often as blacks. And then there is the historic residential segregation in Baltimore, enforced by federal, state, and local policies.

 

Back in the mid-20th century, Baltimore was a booming manufacturing hub, as were many other cities that today have become shadows of their former selves, such as Detroit. In 1916, Bethlehem Steel bought a steel plant in Baltimore, and by the Second World War, more than a quarter of a million people were employed in the city’s manufacturing industry. This was the so-called Golden Age of American capitalism, where manufacturing accounted for 50 percent of corporate profits and 30 percent of American employment. Today, by contrast, industry profits have dropped to about 20 percent, and employment has dropped to less than 10 percent. This is not a phenomenon unique to Baltimore — the process of deindustrialization has occurred throughout America, turning formerly thriving cities into impoverished ghost towns.

 

There are various reasons for why America’s manufacturing industry has fallen from grace, but the two major ones are globalization and technological innovation. Globalization, which really began to take off in the ’70s and ’80s, has made capital much more flexible, and today many companies choose to produce in developing countries where labor costs are significantly lower, owing in large part to scant protection for workers, who make a fraction of what it would take to live a decent middle-class lifestyle. Technology has been even worse for America’s middle class; it has been reported that the great advancements in computer and robotic technology over the past few decades have hollowed out the middle class and destroyed jobs faster than it created them.

 

Baltimore was hit hard by deindustrialization – in the latter half of the 20th century its industrial workforce was depleted by 75 percent. And as manufacturing jobs left, so did the middle class and white Baltimoreans. Since the death of manufacturing in the city, the economy became a service-based one, and the incomes have dropped significantly.

 

This is not the story you will hear on Fox News. But it is the context you need to know.

Peter Greene read Marc Tucker’s critique of America’s academic standards and found some things to like, others to sharply disagree with.

Tucker’s essay is titled “Why American Education Standards Collapsed.” He speculates that standards have fallen over the past 40-45 years. Greene reviews Tucker’s economic analysis of the same period, with economic pressure on the middle class and pressure to push everyone to go to college.

It is a good read, and I highly recommend it.

Greene concludes:

Tucker has some points. Accountability has pretty much been a disaster for everybody (except disaster profiteers), and the economic shift in our country has been very, very hard on many of our citizens, making it harder for our children to get the best advantages in life, including education.

And we could certainly use leaders who were better, particularly when we consider that much of disruption of the last forty-five years, from the industrial crash of the seventies to the economic disasters of the 2000s, has been human-created. Here’s the thing– I don’t think the leaders of the car and steel industries, nor the banksters of the Great Recession, would have avoided all that mess if they had had better SAT scores or a better GPA in college.

Tucker reminds me of a person who sits fearfully in his house, hears a gurgle from the kitchen sink drain, and worries that it means that a burglar is coming in the second floor window. Or a chicken who gets hit with an acorn and fears the sky is falling. It’s not that there aren’t real and serious issues, problems that need to be addressed. But he is seeing connections between these issues and other factors that have nothing to do with them. The danger with Tucker is that his core belief, stated through much of his work, is that we need to control everything so that we can make all come out as it should. Any time you find somebody who thinks that kind of control is a good thing and that he totally knows how to manage it, you have found somebody who is dangerous. When you find somebody who believes he can control the entire machine but doesn’t really know how the parts fit together, you have found somebody who could make a serious mess. I’m really glad that Marc Tucker is in the world, but I’m even more glad that he’s not in charge.

One of the central narratives of the faux “reform” movement is that poverty is just an excuse for bad teachers. In my book “Reign of Error,” I documented many reformers claiming that poverty can be overcome by high expectations and great teachers. The fact that test scores reflect family income, they say, demonstrates that poor kids are not getting great teachers.

But social science research has demonstrated for decades that poverty hurts children and families. It means less access to medical care, good nutrition, and good housing. It means that families lack economic security, a decent home, and the many advantages that middle-income and upper-income families take for granted.

Now, new studies of brain development are showing that poverty has even deeper effects on children’s health and well-being than previously suspected. The effects of living without the basic necessities of life can damage children’s life prospects. In this age of affluence and austerity, it seems wildly radical to say it, but I will: education will improve if we reduce poverty. Poverty will decrease if the federal government creates real jobs. Real jobs will be created if the federal government invests in rebuilding our nation’s crumbling infrastructure.

The problems of our society should be addressed by action. Demonizing teachers does not help children or improve education.

To learn more, read Bob Herbert’s powerful book, Losing Our Way.

 

International test scores have been used by reformers like Arne Duncan, Jeb Bush, Joel Klein, and Michelle Rhee as a fear tactic. During the 2016 presidential campaign, you will surely hear much wailing and gnashing of the teeth about how our scores on international tests are undermining our global competitiveness and economic growth.

 

Horsefeathers!

 

Here is a post that I wrote in 2013; I updated it. It explains why those international test scores don’t matter, except to tell us that if we really wanted to raise them, we would reduce poverty. Let me say that again: if we reduced poverty, we would have higher scores on international tests.

 

“The news reports say that the test scores of American students on the latest PISA test are “stagnant,” “lagging,” “flat,” etc.

 

The U.S. Department of Education would have us believe–yet again–that we are in an unprecedented crisis and that we must double down on the test-and-punish strategies of the past dozen years.

 

The myth persists that once our nation led the world on international tests, but we have fallen from that exalted position in recent years.

 

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

 

Here is the background history that you need to know to interpret the PISA score release, as well as Secretary Duncan’s calculated effort to whip up national hysteria about our standing in the international league tables.

 

The U.S. has NEVER been first in the world, nor even near the top, on international tests.

 

Over the past half century, our students have typically scored at or near the median, or even in the bottom quartile. And yet during this same period, we grew to be one of the most powerful economies in the world. How could that be?

 

International testing began in the mid-1960s with a test of mathematics. The First International Mathematics Study tested 13-year-olds and high-school seniors in 12 nations. American 13-year-olds scored significantly lower than students in nine other countries and ahead of students in only one. On a test given only to students currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students scored last, behind those in the 11 other nations. On a test given to seniors not currently enrolled in a math class, the U.S. students again scored last.

 

The First International Science Study was given in the late 1960s and early 1970s to 10-year-olds, 14-year-olds, and seniors. The 10-year-olds did well, scoring behind only the Japanese; the 14-year-olds were about average. Among students in the senior year of high school, Americans scored last of eleven school systems.

 

In the Second International Mathematics Study (1981-82), students in 15 systems were tested. The students were 13-year-olds and seniors. The younger group of U.S. students placed at or near the median on most tests. The American seniors placed at or near the bottom on almost every test. The “average Japanese students achieved higher than the top 5% of the U.S. students in college preparatory mathematics” and “the algebra achievement of our most able students (the top 1%) was lower than that of the top 1% of any other country.” (The quote is from Curtis C. McKnight and others, The Underachieving Curriculum: Assessing U.S. Mathematics from an International Perspective, pp. 17, 26-27). I summarized the international assessments from the mid-1960s to the early 1990s in a book called National Standards in American Education: A Citizen’s Guide (Brookings, 1995).

 

The point worth noting here is that U.S. students have never been top performers on the international tests. We are doing about the same now on PISA as we have done for the past half century.

 

Does it matter?

 

In my last book, Reign of Error, I quote extensively from a brilliant article by Keith Baker, called “Are International Tests Worth Anything?,” which was published by Phi Delta Kappan in October 2007. Baker, who worked for many years as a researcher at the U.S. Department of Education, had the ingenious idea to investigate what happened to the 12 nations that took the First International Mathematics test in 1964. He looked at the per capita gross domestic product of those nations and found that “the higher a nation’s test score 40 years ago, the worse its economic performance on this measure of national wealth–the opposite of what the Chicken Littles raising the alarm over the poor test scores of U.S. children claimed would happen.” He found no relationship between a nation’s economic productivity and its test scores. Nor did the test scores bear any relationship to quality of life or democratic institutions. And when it came to creativity, the U.S. “clobbered the world,” with more patents per million people than any other nation.

 

Baker wrote that a certain level of educational achievement may be “a platform for launching national success, but once that platform is reached, other factors become more important than further gains in test scores. Indeed, once the platform is reached, it may be bad policy to pursue further gains in test scores because focusing on the scores diverts attention, effort, and resources away from other factors that are more important determinants of national success.” What has mattered most for the economic, cultural, and technological success of the U.S., he says, is a certain “spirit,” which he defines as “ambition, inquisitiveness, independence, and perhaps most important, the absence of a fixation on testing and test scores.”

 

Baker’s conclusion was that “standings in the league tables of international tests are worthless.”

 

I agree with Baker. The more we focus on tests, the more we kill creativity, ingenuity, and the ability to think differently. Students who think differently get lower scores. The more we focus on tests, the more we reward conformity and compliance, getting the right answer.

 

Thirty-two years ago, a federal report called “A Nation at Risk” warned that we were in desperate trouble because of the poor academic performance of our students. The report was written by a distinguished commission, appointed by the Secretary of Education. The commission pointed to those dreadful international test scores and complained that “on 19 academic tests American students were never first or second and, in comparison with other industrialized nations, were last seven times.” With such terrible outcomes, the commission said, “the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a Nation and a people.” Yet we are still here, apparently the world’s most dominant economy. We still are a “Nation and a people.” What were they thinking? Go figure.

 

Despite having been proved wrong for the past half century, the Bad News Industry is in full cry, armed with the PISA scores, expressing alarm, fright, fear, and warnings of imminent economic decline and collapse.

 

Never do they explain how it was possible for the U.S. to score so poorly on international tests again and again over the past half century and yet still emerge as the world’s leading economy, with the world’s most vibrant culture, and a highly productive workforce.

 

From my vantage point as a historian, here is my takeaway from the PISA scores:

 

Lesson 1: If they mean anything at all, the PISA scores show the failure of the past thirteen years of public policy in the United States. The billions invested in testing, test prep, and accountability have not raised test scores or our nation’s relative standing on the league tables. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top are manifest failures at accomplishing their singular goal of higher test scores.

 

Lesson 2: The PISA scores burst the bubble of the alleged “Florida miracle” touted by Jeb Bush. Florida was one of three states–Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Florida–that participated in the PISA testing. Massachusetts did very well, typically scoring above the OECD average and the US average, as you might expect of the nation’s highest performing state on NAEP. Connecticut also did well. But Florida did not do well at all. It turns out that the highly touted “Florida model” of testing, accountability, and choice was not competitive, if you are inclined to take the scores seriously. In math, Florida performed below the OECD average and below the U.S. average. In science, Florida performed below the OECD average and at the U.S. average. In reading, Massachusetts and Connecticut performed above both the OECD and U.S. average, but Florida performed at average for both.

 

Lesson 3: Improving the quality of life for the nearly one-quarter of students who live in poverty–and the 51% who live in low-income families– would improve their academic performance. If we had less poverty, we would have higher test scores.

 

Lesson 4: We measure only what can be measured. We measure whether students can pick the right answer to a test question. But what we cannot measure matters more. The scores tell us nothing about students’ imagination, their drive, their ability to ask good questions, their insight, their inventiveness, their creativity. If we continue the policies of the Bush and Obama administrations in education, we will not only NOT get higher scores (the Asian nations are so much better at this than we are), but we will crush the very qualities that have given our nation its edge as a cultivator of new talent and new ideas for many years.

 

The fact is that during the past 13 years of high-stakes testing, American scores on the PISA exam have not budged at all. If anything, they have slipped a few points. Test and punish failed! No Child Left Behind failed! Race to the Top failed! Who shall we hold accountable? George W. Bush? His advisor Sandy Kress? Secretary of Education Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings? Barack Obama? Arne Duncan? Congress? They forced states and districts to spend billions of dollars on testing, and all of this testing didn’t move the needle on the PISA tests. What if those billions had been spent instead to reduce class sizes? To provide health clinics for schools in poor communities? To create jobs? We need a new approach, and sadly, our policymakers continue to push the same failed ideas. The fact is that we have intolerably high levels of child poverty, and children who are poor register the lowest test scores. There is a simple but obvious formula: Reducing poverty will lift test scores.

 

Higher test scores should not be our national goal. Healthy, imaginative, curious children should be. Rather than focusing on test scores, I prefer to bet on the creative, can-do spirit of the American people, on its character, persistence, ambition, hard work, and big dreams, none of which are ever measured or can be measured by standardized tests like PISA.

Read this article in the Boston Globe and ask yourself: “What’s the point of a college degree?”

The article assumes that one gets a degree to get a better job and make more money. It describes a program that is cheap and enables low-income students to get a degree, in large extent through online learning.

A couple of liberal arts professors complain that this bargain basement approach is not really a college education. Because they are poor, the students have no exposure to real education.

““The whole premise of College for America is bargain education,” says Amy Slaton, a Drexel University history professor who has been a vocal critic of the model. “Instead of saying, ‘We’re going to help everyone reach the best of the best,’ we’re saying, ‘Here’s the generic, no-frills version for you.’ It pegs the value of the education to what you’re able to pay, instead of helping everyone to achieve the richest, most varied education they can. Why aren’t we asking about how we can bring more classroom time, more expert teaching to everyone?”

Or another question:

Why aren’t we bringing down the cost of higher education with greater student aid? Why trick poor and minority students with a cheap substitute for a real college education? If having a degree matters most, just give out a generic degree that means nothing except you can say you have one. That’s cheaper still. There are so many fake universities these days, who will know the difference?

If we really cared about students and education, higher education would be free, at least in the public sector.

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