Posts Tagged ‘Public Education’

How to make public higher education free to all

February 15, 2014

Only about 10 percent of the money that’s spent on institutions of higher education actually goes to educating students, according to Robert Samuels, president of the American Federation of Teachers at the University of California.

The rest goes to athletic programs, hospitals, medical schools, industrial and government research and other programs not related to instruction.

He said that if priorities are redirected, it would be possible to provide free public higher education to all qualified students without raising taxes or increasing spending

He said there should be federal standards for universities receiving government aid, including a maximum number of large classes, a minimum percentage of full-time faculty and a requirement that at least 50 percent of state and federal aid be directed to instruction of undergraduates.  He also would take away tax breaks for college expenses and redirect that money into making college education free to all.

Without knowing the details of what he proposes. I think this is the direction in which to go.

(more…)

What is the purpose of the public schools?

July 20, 2013

CT ct-met-back-school220.jpgIf I had the power to change things, I’d change the prevailing idea of the public schools—the idea that the national purpose of education is to train the work force of the future so as to make this country economically competitive with other countries, and that the individual purpose of education is to give your children a competitive advantage over other people’s children.

If the purpose of education is to gain an individual competitive advantage, it is not enough for your children to succeed.  Other people’s children have to fail.  From that standpoint, the disparity between the schools of the well-to-do and the schools of the poor are not a problem.  If there was less of a disparity, the well-to-do would have less of a comparative advantage.

I don’t intend this as a slur against the well-to-do.   I intend it to show why you shouldn’t think of education in terms of the economic advantages it confers.

The purpose of public schools should be to help children to understand the world they live in.  Yes, of course, this includes the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic.  Yes, of course, this includes the skills and habits needed to hold down a job.  It also should include enough about history, civics, literature and science that they are in a position to judge the information and values of our mass entertainment and advertising culture.

Maybe I look at the past through a distorting golden haze (I’m 76), but it seems to be there was a time when these were goals to which we Americans aspired.

How I’d change the public schools

July 20, 2013

If I were President of the United States, I would convene a commission to advise me on governmental policy toward the public schools.  A clear majority of the commission members would be public school teachers with at least 10 years’ experience, who all had won state “teacher of the year” awards.  The rest of the commission members would be people who attended public schools and whose children attend public schools.

teacher public school Billionaires such as Bill Gates are pushing “reforms” such as charter schools and high-stakes testing, both of which are untried experiments.  The purpose of an experiment is to test a theory, and it is foolish to act on the theory before the results are in.  The billionaire reformers want schools to be more entrepreneurial, but a defining characteristic of entrepreneurs is that most of them fail.  That’s why the successful ones deserve our respect.

They may be right in assuming that educational credentials are no measure of classroom competence, but that’s a different thing from assuming that youngsters fresh out of college know more about teaching than people who’ve been doing it for years.

LINKS

What Teachers Know by Nancy Flanagan for Education Week.

I’m a proud public school teacher; Here’s a glimpse at what I do by a teacher who posts as teacherbiz.

Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools by Joanne Barken in Dissent magazine.

An educational reform that seems obvious

July 20, 2013

If I had the power, I’d give public school teachers who teach in high-crime and high-poverty areas the equivalent of combat pay, so that their wages would be equal to the wages of teachers in affluent, safe suburbs.

The attack on universal service

April 10, 2012

Most of us Americans, down through history, have felt that there should be no upper limit on what an individual can achieve nor (which is different) what an individual can honestly acquire.

Along with that, we have had another idea–that there are certain things that everybody should have, regardless of who they are.   We Americans were pioneers in the idea of free, universal public education.   We have public library in which everybody, regardless of ability to pay, can borrow and read a book.   We have public highways which anybody can use.  The U.S. Postal Service provides affordable mail delivery to all Americans, no matter where they live or hard they are to get to.    Historically our regulated utilities – telephone, electric and gas – were expected to provide a basic affordable service to all customers in their area.  For a time all or almost all states provided affordable or even free college education to everybody who was able to do college work.

In short, there is no ceiling in American society over how high you can rise, but there is a floor under certain things, so that everybody has access to certain basic resources.

I was talking recently with my letter carrier about how the idea of universal service is under attack.   The U.S. Postal Service is burdened with a requirement that it fund its retirement system 75 years ahead–something no other organization of which I know has to do.   Without this requirement, the U.S. Postal Service would be self-sustaining.  Now it is being operated as if it were a corporation in decline, like Eastman Kodak Co. in its last days.

The requirement was imposed by people in Congress who do not believe in the ideal of universal service.   They think that what you get should depend on your ability to pay or, if you are a child, on the ability of your parents to pay.  The same impulse, in my opinion, is behind the current attack on the public school system.  If the move to privatize public education is carried to its logical extreme, then the quality of your education would depend on the economic class into which your parents are born (even more than it is now).

The deregulation of public utilities in the late 1970s and early 1980s was based on the theory that the benefits of competition outweighed the benefits of guaranteeing everyone access to energy and communication.   The problem with that is that investment in public utilities requires planning on a much longer-term basis than the average individual investor is likely to entertain.   In the old days, electric and gas utilities were required to have enough reserve capacity to provide for the maximum foreseeable demand plus a substantial margin for error.  This is no longer required, and incentives for short-term profit are not a substitute for this requirement, in my opinion.

I remember reading in my local newspaper, the Democrat and Chronicle, that when a public water supply was first proposed for Rochester, N.Y., many wealthy people, who could afford potable water for themselves, objected to being taxed to provide a universal service.  Only when it became clear that impure water was a source of infectious disease, and that infectious disease did not respect income levels, did they agree to support a public system.

I think the objections to universal service are often based on that kind of attitude.  Of course there are limits to what can be provided.  Reasonable people can differ as to what these limits are.  But I think I am individually better off, not worse off, when others have access to  knowledge, communication and necessities of life.

Why I’m glad I’m not a young person today

April 9, 2012

When I attended high school and college in the late 1940s and early 1950s, everybody I knew took it for granted that anybody who was willing to work could get a job of some kind, anybody with a high school diploma could get a decent job and anybody with a college diploma, even in liberal arts, could get a somewhat better job.  This probably was less true for women and for black people than it was for people like me, but it was a time of advancing prosperity for everyone.

Nowadays young people are told that it is impossible to get a decent job without a degree beyond high school.  Consequently many people are crowding into college not out of a desire for learning, but simply to get the credential that will enable them to have a decent income.   We no longer have state universities that provide an affordable education for anybody who is capable of doing college work.  So unless you’re rich, you have to go deeply into debt to get that education.  But since young people are going to college merely to get a credential, it is not necessary for the college to actually teach them anything.  A college administration that follows the corporate model need only figure out the best balance between maximizing tuition and maximizing enrollment.

From what I hear from my friends in the academic world, more and more colleges are following the corporate model.  State colleges and universities are transforming themselves from public colleges to tax-supported private colleges, with the same goal of maximizing revenue.   I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush.  Not all colleges follow the corporate model.  There are still excellent teachers in colleges whose administrations are trying to force this model.  But this is the way the tide is flowing.

Ex-Senator Rick Santorum has said that college is not for anybody.  He said that many people can do better by getting a job and improving their skills through on-the-job training.   There was a time when this was true, but it is not true today.

He is quite right to say that you don’t have to go to college to be educated.   Years ago I read a great book, The Precious Gift by a man named Cornelius Hirschberg, who never went to college but gave himself a better liberal education than most people have simply by reading classic works on the New York City subway while going to and from work.  The book is out of print, but probably is available at a good public library.

What Senator Santorum said about the advantages of getting a hands-on education by entering the world of work would have been reasonable when I was growing up, and probably was valid when he was growing up.  You could become an apprentice in a skilled trade, such as machinist, and work up to a good wage as a journeyman.  To some extent, this is still possible.  But fewer and fewer companies provide such training.   It is worthwhile only if there is a stable work force, and the employer can count on the employee to hang around long enough to provide a return on the investment in human capital.

I think the answer One thing we need is a rebirth of public higher education – affordable community colleges to provide training in work skills, affordable state colleges to provide college-level education.   But that would mean a change in the whole way we have come to think about things.   We would have to start thinking there is such a thing as the common good, and not merely individuals with no higher aim than to get competitive advantage over each other.

[Update]  Click on Manufacturing Generation Me for a perspective on the “millennial” generation, the Americans born in 1982 or later.  The writer said that many of the characteristics taken for narcissism, such as trying to make yourself a “brand” or being preoccupied with career success and monetary rewards, are merely what young Americans nowadays have to do to survive.   Hat tip to Kmareka.com.

[Afterthought]  I emphasized the wrong thing by ending the post with a comment on the need to restore affordable public higher education.   The larger problem is the combination of a precarious economy, credentialism and the corporate model of education.   Without the fear generated by an uncertain economic future, credentialism would lose its power, and young people would have the freedom to seek out what they’re best suited for.