Educational Equity- Legislative Solutions

Blog Post from Luke Laurie’s Teacher Blog: https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com/

Good Administration or governance requires knowledge.Our Democracy rests on the quality of public education.

The fundamental unfairness in funding, opportunity, and achievement in America’s schools is the underlying reason for a significant portion of federal education funding (Title 1), and is both a reflection and contributing factor to the continued divisions and disparity between socioeconomic, geographic, and racial groups in the U.S.

It’s well known that the funding and offerings in schools vary greatly between states, and greatly within states. It is a sad fact that we have poor schools. These are schools that serve low income students, are underfunded themselves, and are saddled with all the baggage of the worst social problems that plague our youth. What do we do?

Within education, there is extensive dialog, tremendous effort, and massive amounts of research into the fundamental causes of the problems in so-called low performing schools. The coffers of philanthropy have opened to the problems as well. These schools are receiving targeted assistance and microscopic scrutiny. But there’s something else going on.

Schools are not equal. More than that, they are not equitable. On a basic, fundamental level, public schools that primarily serve the children of wealthy people have superior facilities, more diverse learning opportunities, superior academic offerings, and fewer obstacles to instruction. We have schools with endowments and foundations, and others with lock-downs and portables. Why do the children of the wealthy deserve more than other children?

There are legal, geographic, and historical reasons for the inequities in schools, and the inequities in funding. Often, policy-makers throw up their hands at this glaring issue, because the barriers seem so great. Without getting too much into the fine detail, the following is a list of suggestions from one lone philosopher of ways to address the inequities in education from the federal level:

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions

1) Amend ESEA

  1. Require minimum adequate education and facilities in schools

  2. Prevent the narrowing or limiting of the curriculum

  3. Require states to report on inequities and to address inequities

  4. Monitor and assist states from the federal level in addressing inequities

2) Create an office of Education Equity in the Department of Education

3) Amend the U.S. Constitution: Establish Education as a Civil Right

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions (detail)

1) Amend The Elementary and Secondary Education Act ESEA (currently also called No Child Left Behind-NCLB) four ways are proposed to amend the next reauthorization:

  • Include language in the bill that establishes the requirement of a minimum adequate education and adequate school facilities for all school age children in states receiving funds under ESEA. The definitions of these terms would be vital, but could include items such as course offerings, athletics, class size, staff to student ratios, individualized assistance, and so on. Such an approach could be similar to H.R.2373 – The Student Bill of Rights (Fattah).
  • Include language in the bill that prevents the limiting of curriculum and educational offerings in schools in states receiving funds under ESEA. Such language could be included in the bill both to clarify the purpose of providing federal funds for education and to prevent the kind of abuses that occurred in response to No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB, schools were rewarded for “gaming the system” by reducing course offerings or redirecting time away from the subjects that were not tested to Mathematics and Language arts. By reducing time spent on PE, science, history, and the arts, schools could show marginal gains in achievement, while depriving students of uncounted and undocumented learning opportunities. This provision could specify that education should be well rounded, and should include a wide variety of subjects for all students, regardless of their language ability, ethnicity, or disability. Such language was circulated in the 110th Congress by Congressman Mike Honda.
  • Establish State Reporting Requirements that will strong-arm states into addressing the inequities in their schools. ESEA requires states to report on all kinds of data about schools, students, teachers, and learning. Why not require in these reports efforts and progress by states on creating equal educational opportunities in their education systems? Such a report could include, for example:
  • The degree of inequity in funding in the state; highest publicly funded schools vs. lowest, as well as average funding levels, etc. Perhaps in coordination with the National Center for Education Statistics or one of these research bodies.
  • The racial and economic makeup of the lowest funded schools and highest funded schools
  • The educational offerings, programs, and facilities in highest and lowest funded schools (is there music, athletic facilities, etc. in low funded schools)
  • The efforts being taken by states to promote equity in both funding and offerings in schools
  • Legislative and legal factors that inhibit implementation of an equitable education system
  • Steps being taken to address the legislative and legal factors

States could then be required to be assessed on whether they are meeting the requirements of pursuing educational equity within their state, and could receive guidance from the fed on how to address these issues- see below.

2) Create an office of Education Equity in the Department of Education to study and to provide assistance to states to address the inequities in their schools. The office could be responsible for assimilating state data on educational equity, publishing reports on nationwide equity issues, in coordination with other statistical bodies. The office could also act in a capacity to assist states in revising their tax codes, budgets, and education codes in order to implement equitable education in their state.

3) Amend the U.S. Constitution to establish education as a fundamental civil right to be preserved and maintained by the federal government. This is a ‘hammer of the gods’ approach to addressing a broad variety of issues, while creating a whole new set of problems to deal with. The U.S., in spite of what you may read or hear, does not have a cohesive education system, it has 50 separate ‘systems’ that are often in competition with one another for Federal funds. The Federal government doesn’t coordinate our education system, it herds the United States of cats.

Education is not one of the powers explicitly given to the Federal Government in the U.S. Constitution. Receiving a quality education is not explicitly listed as a fundamental civil right in the bill of rights. Therefore, the obligation to provide education falls to the States, who accept the duty with varying degrees of commitment, and with different priorities. Part of the reason why NLCB was such a catastrophe was because it was an attempt to exert greater authority over the states, who prior to the bill saw the federal role in education as one of benefactor, not overseer.

I would imagine that some states would fight the idea of federal control of education tooth and nail, but I would imagine that some states would be happy to shrug off the burden they’ve neglected for so long.

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Money Makes Money Better Than Work

Luke Laurie- Teacher Blog    https://lukelaurie.wordpress.com

Money Makes Money Better Than Work

I’ve always been a believer in hard work. Indeed, for most of my life I’ve worked hard, probably too hard sometimes, at my job, my hobbies, and my projects. Weekends, evenings, and vacations have all been sacrificed for my commitment to my career.

For the most part, I’ve been rewarded for my efforts. But I recently came to a conclusion that made me question almost everything I do, when I suddenly realized the cards are stacked against me. My bootstraps are tearing.

I realized- Money makes money better than work.

I’ve been going about this all wrong. My efforts at work barely matter in our economic structure, unless I do something differently, my family will be confined to our caste for my entire life.

No matter how much I devote myself to my work and extra projects, I will never be as well off as someone who started out rich, even if that person never worked a day in their life. In this blog entry, I’ll explore some of the financial differences between the rich and the working, and show a principal flaw in “trickle down” economics. This brief analysis will no doubt be simplified, but be no less true than a more complex analysis.

Work makes money, but not very well

Over the course of my career, I will make an estimated 2.5 million dollars total.

I’ve been a teacher for 12 years. For my first few years, I was paid at poverty level, my next decade at lower middle class, and for the rest of my career, I’ll be paid a middle class salary. If I had not quickly achieved my master’s degree, the poverty level wages would have continued for most of a decade. Most teachers don’t stay in the field that long. When my home is paid off, I should be comfortable, barring a medical catastrophe. I will never be rich. I will be able to retire if the system remains solvent.

How does my income and lifestyle compare to someone, who, instead of working, begins the game with the same amount I will make over the course of my life?

Let’s image that someone is fortunate enough to begin their adult life with 2.5 million dollars. They didn’t earn it. They just got it. Perhaps there was some “death tax” on it, perhaps not, but there are very easy ways around estate taxes, and when you’re rich, its easy to pay someone to figure them out.

In this comparison, I’ll refer to the person with income like mine as the worker, and person who begins with 2.5 million as the heir.

Income

Worker: Early in the worker’s career, she survives on about 20k annually. She drives a used car, rents an apartment, and bargain shops. Her income is entirely devoted to basic living expenses. Food, housing, medical expenses, and transportation. She likely is accruing debt during this time in her life, with the hope that future earnings will allow her to pay this debt off. She has no disposable income.

Heir: Without any work at all, and without any creative investing whatsoever, the heir can expect to make a minimum of 100,000 dollars on simple interest annually. Naturally, the heir would be tempted to make investments with higher potential return, but would be equally likely overspend. By spending a million dollars upfront on cars, real estate and other luxury items, we can chop the Heir’s savings down to only 1.5 million. With very safe investments, the Heir can still look at making an easy 7% return, which puts him back to generating $100,000 annually without work, with a million in swag. He eats well, he drinks well, his expenses are not confined to necessities. He has tens of thousands of dollars in disposable income.

Property

Worker: If she’s fortunate and frugal, within a decade, she’ll be able to scrape together a down payment and buy a modest home. She will pay for this home for the next 30 years, and by the time she’s done paying for it, because of compound interest, she will have paid for the home two and a half times. She’ll pay nearly half a million dollars for a home that’s worth $200,000.

Heir: The fortunate son doesn’t need to worry about a loan and overpaying for real estate. He can pay cash for a home worth $500,000. He actually gets what he pays for. If he decides that he wants income properties, he can pay cash for property that will guarantee income. In most markets, he could leverage his cash, putting only half down for the property, borrow the balance, and STILL be guaranteed income. As a landlord, he can write off any improvements, repairs, or upgrades to these properties, unlike the Worker who’s stck with the bill for every broken thingamajig. His 500,000 dollars cash could easily turn into a million dollars in real estate, with the capacity for paying for itself. The Heir does not have a mansion in this scenario, but makes real estate decisions that will not necessitate having to work for a living.

Savings

Worker: Without significant sacrifice, amassing any sizable savings will not be possible in the worker’s first decade of her career. If she has children and a family to support, this will become increasingly difficult. Not until midway through her career will she start to get ahead. More likely than savings, the Worker will be amassing debt. The degree of this debt will affect her ability in the future to accrue savings.

Heir: The Heir starts with income generating savings. By keeping some of this income, the Heir has an income generating perpetual motion machine. Let’s say, for example, the Heir begins with the 1.5 million in savings as described above, and he makes 7% interest on the money from investments. He spends half of the interest income, and returns half to the pot. We’ll say he puts a paltry 3% interest back in to the savings. He’s blowing 60,000 dollars a year in disposable income. Result: In 10 years, the 1.5 million in savings is now 2 million. He does nothing, and his net worth grows.

Work

Worker: Of course, the worker works. She spends most of her days at work. She schedules appointments outside of her work day. She misses some important events because of her professional obligations. She works when she’s sick from time to time because of her limited leave days. She usually has weekends and evenings to herself. After all, she’s a college educated professional and deserves some leisure time.

Heir: The Heir doesn’t need to work. The interest his money makes provides him with more consumable income than the Worker could ever hope to have. Perhaps he’d be tempted to spend even more of that money, because he needs to do something with his time. He has 365 leave days each year. He stays home when he’s sick, and can devote his time to thinking about ways to have his money make even more money.

Investment

Worker: By and large, the worker will have few, if any investments. She might consider her home an investment, and in a good housing market, it might be. More likely, others will invest in her, requiring her to pay them interest. They’ll loan her money for cars, for real estate, for home improvements, and for month to month expenses. They’ll invest in her vacations and earn 10% or more on credit card interest. She’ll feel lucky about all the great things she’s gotten to have and do with the borrowed money, but all the while, she’ll be paying extra for almost everything.

Heir: The Heir’s money makes money. He doesn’t borrow, unless it’s for short term leveraging, or unless it’s like the real estate scenario above, where he can increase the long term earnings on his investments by accruing more appreciation by having a greater number of assets. He may own stocks, bonds, real estate, or other securities. Interest is good for the heir. He is paid interest. Rent is good for the Heir. He is paid rent. He’ll scrape a little off the top to pay a financial advisor who will constantly look for the best ways for his money to make money.

Taxes

Worker: Many might assume that this category is where the tables would be turned, where the worker, due to his deductions and so forth would have a distinct advantage over the Heir. They would be wrong.
The worker pays income tax, sales tax, property tax, and payroll taxes. Approximately 15-20% of her income will go to income tax and payroll taxes, about 5% will go to property tax, but only about 1-2% would go to sales tax. During her career, she will have about $600,000 of her income go to taxes. That’s more than she paid for her home. The taxes the worker pays directly reduce the worker’s quality of life, ability to save, and financial security. But she dutifully pays them out of respect for her country.

Heir: The Heir pays income taxes on the interest income on his investments, and capital gains taxes on the sale of investments. He, of course, will pay significant sales taxes on all of his spending. With the 100,000 annual income described above, he could expect to pay 30,000-40,000 in taxes, considering his properties, transactions, and investments. These taxes aren’t preventing him from getting ahead, they just slow down his disposable income a bit. His investments, holdings, and net worth continue to grow regardless. The high tax rates imposed on the wealthy only slow the rate of the growth of their wealth, they don’t make them poorer, as some may try to make you believe. Income tax on investments and capital gains slice into his profit, not his wealth.

But many wealthy Americans don’t feel obligated to even pay the taxes they are legally obligated to pay. After pressure from the US, Swiss Banks recently agreed to turn over the names of American account holders who were using Swiss accounts to avoid taxes. They all thought they were in a James Bond film. The IRS, in an effort to increase Federal revenues, thought it would be a good idea to pardon some of these felons. They offered an amnesty program in which millionaire crooks would avoid prosecution in exchange for PAYING THEIR TAXES. How many rich American crooks came forward when they knew the game was up? 15,000. Billions in taxes. Thousands of unethical wealthy people. Read this article for more on the amnesty for rich tax cheaters.

Conclusion

The Worker, if she’s fortunate will be able to live a modest, stable life, and be able to retire with some degree of security. The Heir will watch his holdings balloon over time, and could easily have many times the amount he started within a couple of decades. The cards are clearly stacked in the Heir’s favor. The Heir has no grounds to complain about tax policy, estate taxes, etc. His gravy train is firmly ensconced in the tax codes and our economic structure. The Worker, in this case, a public school teacher, must be content in knowing that her life of work is doing good, that the Heir’s tax deductible donations will never do. The rich will get richer, and the workers will keep on working.

Or, one can get cynical, realizing that working is futile, and find a way to get a hunk of cash and sit on it. It’s clearly the American way.

STEM Education: Improving Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Education

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In 2007, I testified at a field hearing on the issues facing science education in the NCLB influenced standards-based era. In light of a forum taking place this weekend at Cal Poly, I am reposting this testimony.

Testimony of Luke Laurie

Science Teacher, El Camino Junior High, Santa Maria, CA

Director: RoboChallenge

mrlaurie@mac.com

given to the

SELECT COMMITTEE ON

SCHOOLS AND COMMUNITY

Senator Tom Torlakson, Chair

October 30, 2007

Cal Poly, Keck Laboratory

San Luis Obispo

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, thank you for allowing me to speak today on the critical issues of learning environments and science education equipment needs for California’s classrooms.

My name is Luke Laurie. I am a science teacher at El Camino Junior High in Santa Maria, California. I have ten years of experience teaching and running after school programs in robotics and engineering. I am a recipient of the Amgen Award for Science Teaching Excellence, and a graduate of Cal Poly.

Last year, as a recipient of the Albert Einstein Distinguished Educator Fellowship, I worked as a legislative assistant in the United States House of Representatives for Congressman Mike Honda, of Silicon Valley, a Member of the Appropriations and Science Committees, and a former science teacher himself. In the House, I worked on education, environmental policy, and appropriations. I worked with Congressman Honda on the Global Warming Education Act, and to end the narrowing of the curriculum, language for the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind to require all schools to provide a comprehensive curriculum to all students.

The school where I teach is not unlike many in California, serving an almost exclusively, low-income Hispanic population, more than half of which are English Language Learners. The opportunities for our students to encounter science and technology professionals in their communities are few, as are the opportunities for them to engage in meaningful science and technical experiences. That said, if we, as educators, do not provide meaningful scientific and technical experiences for students, with hands-on, minds-on learning, they won’t get them.

My time in Washington D.C. last year exposed me to the incredible bipartisan push at the Federal level to enhance science research and STEM education. Members of Congress, scholars, and business leaders agree that STEM education in the U.S. is in dire need of improvement.

Unfortunately, my time in D.C. also exposed me to the great disconnect between the federal infrastructure that provides guidance for public schools, and the framework that has been tasked with improving science education. Funds for improving K-12 science are appropriated to dozens of programs in NASA, NOAA, NSF, The Department of Energy, EPA, and the Department of Education. Rather than going directly to the schools with the greatest needs, these funds largely go to universities for outreach efforts. The results of outreach are often very good, creating amazing programs and providing unique opportunities for children, but they are also frequently short-lived, and directly affect only a small fraction of schools. The result creates a long and windy road for federal funds to science classrooms, and the trickle down effect often leaves some schools dry.

With frequent reports on the lack of science and technical literacy of American students, the concerns over global competitiveness, and the specter of global warming, one would think that science at all levels would see increased attention, increased funding, and especially, increased time devoted to science. Working down in the trenches, I can tell you from experience, that such is not the case.

Standards-based instruction and high stakes testing, the cornerstones of California education policy and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, have indirectly harmed science education, as well as education in the myriad of subjects beyond Language Arts and Mathematics.

The emphasis on Mathematics and Language Arts in testing and evaluation have created circumstances where well-meaning local administrators have issued directives or modified curricula that effectively discourage science instruction, and reduce or eliminate the time that would otherwise have been devoted to science. They are gaming the system; because they can, and because they believe they need to. In effect, the climate is such that there is no penalty for schools where science isn’t taught at all. The same could be said for other subjects, such as PE, health and nutrition, fine and performing arts, industrial arts, and technical education. The very subjects that may determine our future economic stability are seen as impediments to schools chasing the ever elusive AYP or API, in spite of their cultural and economic value, and in spite of their role in retaining students and preventing drop-outs. The current climate encourages short term gains, even when the trade-off is long term losses.

In the district in which I teach, a block schedule was implemented which provides junior high students with Math and Language Arts courses every day, but PE, Science, and Social Studies, meet every other day or for only half the year. Some English Language Learners have no science at all, or are given one quarter of science, while they are placed in a reading intervention class that is in addition to their language arts class- that’s 160 minutes of language arts in a day. There are only 3 full time science teachers in my school, serving a population of over 600 students.

In some schools, the precious time they have to teach science is taken up with weekly math review, or extra reading time. The time is taken out of science as it is considered a non-essential course.

Some of the greatest impact have been on elementary science instruction. Many elementary teachers I have spoken to who are passionate about science education have been forced to reduce their time spent on science. Some express great frustration, because of drill and kill tactics and extended time on Math and Language arts, they are unable to implement the science units they used to teach, which integrated mathematics, reading, writing, and vocabulary development, and used these skills in context.

Don’t get me wrong, literacy, acquiring English, and mathematics are vital skills, however, the overemphasis on these subjects has been harmful, because science is less frequently used as the context for language development, and context for application of mathematics. The common defense for this overemphasis is that while deferring these subjects, we are providing students with a stronger framework for future coursework. Such could be tested, however, there is a tendency, especially for students in English Language Learner programs to defer science year, after year, after year. It is a disservice to these students to remove them from the courses in which the language is universal, the minds will be engaged, and students will be able to experience success. At the junior high level we are not seeing students more prepared for science instruction because of their work in mathematics and language arts. In fact, we’re seeing fewer students able to apply mathematics skills to real situations, such as the ability to measure or estimate, and we’re seeing less in the way of prior science knowledge. They are likely to have strongly-embedded misconceptions about ordinary phenomena, and they are less prepared to learn science.

Fortunately, in spite of these policies and trends, the programs that I personally work on have been strongly supported by my site administration, and we’re fighting to keep science alive. We have been able to channel grant funds and awards into strengthening my Robotics Science Course for 8th grade students, and we’ve been able to maintain strong participation in MESA (Mathematics, Engineering, and Science Achievement).

But all of the grant funds we have acquired have provided little other than equity with wealthier California schools. We need 5000 dollars in grants each year just to keep pace. The lack of equity in funding requires teachers in schools such as mine to beg and borrow- just to get what may be provided in the next zip code.

With what we have, we have converted some regular classrooms into what you might call labs. We even have a single room designated as “science lab” on our school map. But this old classroom doesn’t have hot water, is poorly lit, has no access to gas for Bunsen burners, and if we plug in too many hot plates, it will blow out the low-amperage circuits. We make it work. Is it  a science lab? I’m not sure.

This brings me to a concept I call “Faith-Based” education. I don’t mean faith in the religious sense. What I mean is that, commonly, education policy neglects to provide much needed resources- or fails to institutionalize or require instruction that all students must definitely have. Instead, we take it on faith, that somewhere out there, some courageous teacher will pick up the ball and fill in the holes that were made by omissions of policy or shortages of funding. We see this in the teachers that go around fixing the school’s outdated computers, and the lone elementary teacher who will still take kids on science field trip, or teach their unit on whales, or growing plants from seeds- even when science has been alloted no time in the day. Or the elementary teacher who still goes out to teach PE- every day. We see this in the teachers who are working in my program, RoboChallenge, having students learn language and mathematics skills while designing and programming their own robots.

We should not have to rely on faith that good instruction and a comprehensive curriculum including robust science is being taught in public schools in California. With one of the largest economies in the world, a world-class university system, and the wealth of corporate resources, California should have a world class K-12 education system, and world class learning environments for all students. Increased investment in K-12 science is a drop in the bucket compared to the benefits we will reap from a strong workforce, our ability to curtail and adapt to climate change, and the cultural and technological benefits that will arise from tomorrow’s innovators.

Using Psychology to Solve Education Woes

Richard Nisbett authored an opinion piece in the New York Times on February 7, discussing what he saw as common sense approaches to improving education. The piece is not without merits, and is worth reading, but also requires a response:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/08/opinion/08nisbett.html?scp=2&sq=education&st=cse

While I agreed with some of the discussion of psychological effects on testing data and student performance, there were two main issues about this piece that were particularly bothersome to me.

1) Assessment is not learning. The piece discusses “very small influences” that can have “very large effects.” But the majority of the discussion is about psyching kids up to perform on tests. It’s not about instruction, or improving conditions in schools, or protecting student safety. While you don’t want to psychologically harm students through your instructional practices, there are limits to the degree of achievement that can be achieved through changes of perspective and attitude. I’m not opposed to maximizing the benefits of good psychology, I just don’t believe it’s an adequate replacement for fundamental educational improvements.

So now you psyched up all the kids in America to take the tests, they believe that they will succeed. Now, can you convince students that their class is smaller, so they can benefit from that? Can you talk them into believing that their school is safe and well-maintained when it’s not. Can you convince them that their inequitable access to education resources is fair and just? Undoubtedly, techniques such as this will have a negligibly limited effect, like other attempts at gaming the system in the long run,because in time, all schools tend to implement the measures that work to manipulate test data. Once all students are equally persuaded of their test-taking acumen, we need a new way to bridge the achievement gap.

2) Efficiency. We talk a lot about the efficiency of our education dollars, getting the most bang for our buck. But most social services are not effective when optimized for efficiency that is strictly financial. We are not efficient in many other aspects of Federal and State spending, but when it comes to K-12, hairs are split over the tiniest of details. In higher education, they might have to decide between marble and granite for the facade on fitness center. In K-12, we may have to decide that we can only afford one hour a day of instructional assistants in kindergarten classes of 35.

Any discussion of efficiency in education spending needs to occur AFTER a discussion of adequacy and minimums. I believe in many schools, in many districts, we have never provided adequacy, and any talk of being more efficient is premature.

Let’s talk about efficiency. Let’s end waste. Let’s stop wasting the potential in youth that could be achieved with proper investment, and proper attention. The limited resources allocated to some students in this nation, especially the poor, is wasteful and irresponsible.

A Tax Cut for Every Problem

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(This post is a repost from before the election, but it warrants repeating due to the current debate about spending versus tax cuts for economic stimulus.)

John McCain used to be more honest about tax policy. He voted against the Bush tax cuts on the wealthy. He knew at the time, as most people would agree, you can’t reduce taxes on those most able to pay while dramatically increasing federal spending on a war, during a time in which real incomes of the non-rich (almost all) Americans) are falling. He knew that trickle-down economics was no more valid than any other plumbing analogy is to economics (the feces-rolls-downhill theory of capital gains tax, and the don’t flush a tampoon (Zappa) theory of finance regulation come to mind.)

I respect the conservative aims of efficiency in Federal government. No one wants a wasteful bureaucracy, or a disfunctional policy apparatus that encourages favoritism over rationalism. I also respect the tax ideal that people should not be overburdened by taxation, and that taxation should not discourage ambition or innovation. But when these ambitions are placed above national security, economic security, and the PROGRESS of our nation, I have to object.

There is a degree of intellectual laziness, or, at times, outright intellectual dishonesty, when tax cuts are proposed as the blanket solution to all problems; social, economic, or otherwise (other than military or law enforcement).

Let’s carry this philosophy to its logical conclusion: (Note, for those who don’t know me, this is serious sarcasm)

Education: Forget class size, funding shortages, funding inequities, lack of competitive salaries, lack of counselors, flawed evaluation systems, and poor working conditions in inner city schools. The problem with education is the tax burden on teachers. If we lower their taxes, say, with a $500 tax credit for the $2000 materials they buy out of pocket, our education woes will be solved. (Believe it or not, there are dozens of bills in congress proposed by Republicans that promise so much.)

Energy and Climate Change: The reason why we’re so dependent on foreign oil is because of taxes on oil companies. These companies, which have done everything they can to fight the emergence of alternative domestic energy sources could really use a tax cut. If only their tax burden was lower, they would shift massive dollars from R&D and oil exploration to building a new clean, green domestic energy supply, based on wind, solar, and geothermal energy! Less taxes and no global warming!

Manufacturing: Forget that American manufacturers abandoned their commitment to innovation in products and replaced it with innovation in finance, let’s give American based corporations a tax cut (those few that actually haven’t offshored their base of operations due to loopholes, and pay no taxes already). After all, if GM wasn’t paying so much in corporate taxes, they might have put some money into R&D to make cars that could actually compete in a market in which values fuel efficient vehicles. Ok, so they did pour billions of dollars into trying to change the market through advertising, legal action, and lobbying to ensure that their environmental destruction machines could remain on the market long enough to drive them into bankruptcy. But heck, let’s cut their taxes anyway.

Housing and Jobs: Let’s cut capital gains tax. That way, when your house forecloses, you won’t have to pay, umm. wait. uh. OK, but rich people will benefit from a capital gains tax cut. Let’s also cut income tax on the wealthy, so they don’t have to foreclose on their dozens of investment properties that they’re renting to you. They might need a haircut or a shoeshine, so you’re in luck, you’ll get a trickle down job. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to get a job unplugging their clogged plumbing (who flushed that?).

We’ll also benefit from the hope that we’ll gain, that someday, we just might be rich enough to not have to pay our fair share anymore!

My point is, instead of studying the real causes and potential solutions to complex issues, we find too often that conservatives are willing to let the markets solve problems, while simultaneously crafting market conditions that are beneficial for corporate profits, but not, necessarily the greater good.

Educational Equity-Legislative Possibilities

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The fundamental unfairness in funding, opportunity, and achievement in America’s schools is the underlying reason for the existence of a significant portion of federal education funding (Title 1 and IDEA), and is both a reflection and contributing factor to the continued divisions and disparity between socioeconomic, geographic, and racial groups in the U.S.

It’s well known that the funding and offerings in schools vary greatly between states, and greatly within states. It is a sad fact that we have poor schools. These are schools that serve low income students, are underfunded themselves, and are saddled with all the baggage of the worst social problems that plague our youth. What do we do?

Within education, there is extensive dialog, tremendous effort, and massive amounts of research into the fundamental causes of the problems in so-called low performing schools. The coffers of philanthropy have opened to the problems as well. These schools are receiving targeted assistance and microscopic scrutiny. But there’s something else going on.

Schools are not equal. More than that, they are not equitable. On a basic, fundamental level, public schools that primarily serve the children of wealthy people have superior facilities, more diverse learning opportunities, superior academic offerings, and fewer obstacles to instruction. We have schools with endowments and foundations, and others with lock-downs and portables. Why do the children of the wealthy deserve more than other children?

There are legal, geographic, and historical reasons for the inequities in schools, and the inequities in funding. Often, policy-makers throw up their hands at this glaring issue, because the barriers seem so great. Without getting too much into the fine detail, the following is a list of suggestions from one lone philosopher of ways to address the inequities in education from the federal level:

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions:

1) Amend ESEA

a)Require minimum adequate education and facilities in schools

b)Prevent the narrowing or limiting of the curriculum

c)Require states to report on inequities and to address inequities

d)Monitor and assist states from the federal level in addressing inequities

2. Amend the U.S. Constitution: Establish Education as a Civil Right

Education Equity-Federal Policy Suggestions (detail):

Amend The Elementary and Secondary Education Act ESEA (currently also called No Child Left Behind-NCLB) four ways are proposed to amend the next reauthorization:

a)Include language in the bill that establishes the requirement of a minimum adequate education and adequate school facilities for all school age children in states receiving funds under ESEA. The definitions of these terms would be vital, but could include items such as course offerings, athletics, class size, staff to student ratios, individualized assistance, and so on. Such an approach could be similar to H.R.2373 – The Student Bill of Rights (Fattah).
b)Include language in the bill that prevents the limiting of curriculum and educational offerings in schools in states receiving funds under ESEA. Such language could be included in the bill both to clarify the purpose of providing federal funds for education and to prevent the kind of abuses that occurred in response to No Child Left Behind. Under NCLB, schools were rewarded for “gaming the system” by reducing course offerings or redirecting time away from the subjects that were not tested to Mathematics and Language arts. By reducing time spent on PE, science, history, and the arts, schools could show marginal gains in achievement, while depriving students of uncounted and undocumented learning opportunities. This provision could specify that education should be well rounded, and should include a wide variety of subjects for all students, regardless of their language ability, ethnicity, or disability. Such language was circulated in the 110th Congress by Congressman Mike Honda.
c)Establish State Reporting Requirements that will strong-arm states into addressing the inequities in their schools. ESEA requires states to report on all kinds of data about schools, students, teachers, and learning. Why not require in these reports efforts and progress by states on creating equal educational opportunities in their education systems? Such a report could include, for example:

1.The degree of inequity in funding in the state; highest publicly funded schools vs. lowest, as well as average funding levels, etc. Perhaps in coordination with the National Center for Education Statistics or one of these research bodies.

2.The racial and economic makeup of the lowest funded schools and highest funded schools

3.The educational offerings, programs, and facilities in highest and lowest funded schools (is there music, athletic facilities, etc. in low funded schools)

4.The efforts being taken by states to promote equity in both funding and offerings in schools

5.Legislative and legal factors that inhibit implementation of an equitable education system

6.Steps being taken to address the legislative and legal factors

States could then be required to be assessed on whether they are meeting the requirements of pursuing educational equity within their state, and could receive guidance from the fed on how to address these issues- see below.

Create an office of Education Equity in the Department of Education to study and to provide assistance to states to address the inequities in their schools. The office could be responsible for assimilating state data on educational equity, publishing reports on nationwide equity issues, in coordination with other statistical bodies. The office could also act in a capacity to assist states in revising their tax codes, budgets, and education codes in order to implement equitable education in their state.

Amend the U.S. Constitution to establish education as a fundamental civil right to be preserved and maintained by the federal government. This is a ‘hammer of the gods’ approach to addressing a broad variety of issues, while creating a whole new set of problems to deal with. The U.S., in spite of what you may read or hear, does not have a cohesive education system, it has 50 separate ‘systems’ that are often in competition with one another for Federal funds. The Federal government doesn’t coordinate our education system, it herds the United States of cats.

Education is not one of the powers explicitly given to the Federal Government in the U.S. Constitution. Receiving a quality education is not explicitly listed as a fundamental civil right in the bill of rights. Therefore, the obligation to provide education falls to the States, who accept the duty with varying degrees of commitment, and with different priorities. Part of the reason why NLCB was such a catastrophe was because it was an attempt to exert greater authority over the states, who prior to the bill saw the federal role in education as one of benefactor, not overseer.

I would imagine that some states would fight the idea of federal control of education tooth and nail, but I would imagine that some states would be happy to shrug off the burden they’ve neglected for so long.