Friday, January 24, 2014

Tax Cuts Won’t Grow the Economy, Could Further Drain School Funding

Tax Cuts Won’t Grow the Economy | Michigan League for Public Policy

Income tax cuts lock in deep and harmful cuts in education and other public services. Over the last decade—even before the Great Recession—Michigan budget and tax policies resulted in deep cuts in the public services and structures that are the foundation of economic opportunity and growth. To gamble on a personal income tax cut—despite the evidence that tax cuts do little to boost the economy—puts basic public services at risk, and undermines Michigan’s fledgling economic recovery.

Reinvesting in public education is at the top of Michigan’s to-do list. Overwhelmingly, high-wage states are states with well-educated workforces, in part because a pool of well-educated workers attracts high-wage employers.(9)

There are many ways to improve workforce skills in Michigan, including increasing access to postsecondary education, reducing high-school drop-out rates, moving people without high school degrees through GED and associate degree programs, increasing the quality of K-12 education, and offering preschool and family support programs for parents of young children.(10)

Unfortunately, the reality in Michigan is that:

Fifty-five school districts across the state are grappling with deficits. In the decade between 2003 and 2013, the minimum per-pupil foundation allowance for K-12 public schools increased by only 4%, in the face of a 21% increase in inflation.(11)  State funding for K-12 education fell by over 20% between Fiscal Years 2004 and 2013 when inflation is taken account.

Michigan lags behind other states in education spending. A national report found that the state is spending $572 per student less than it did in 2008, a 9% cut (adjusted for inflation), putting it behind 33 other states that cut less, or invested more, in education.(12)

(9)  Berger, N. and Fisher, P., A Well-Educated Workforce is Key to State Prosperity, Economic Analysis and Research Network (August 22, 2013). 

(10) Ibid. 

(11) K-12 Schools Minimum Foundation Allowance, Senate Fiscal Agency (updated September 18, 2012). 

(12) Leachman, M., and Mai, C., Most States Funding Schools Less Than Before the Recession, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (September 12, 2013).

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Equity and the Yellow School Bus

Education Week: The Yellow School Bus: A Model for Equity

Peter W. Cookson Jr., researcher, teacher, and author wrote a thought-provoking piece in the January 8, 2014 edition of Education Week titled "Looking for Equity on the Yellow School Bus." It's based on his research of high schools at various socio-economic levels and the impact each has on the students who attend there. You should read the article or his recent book (Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools, Teachers College Press, 2013) to get the full measure of his argument.

In short, he claims there are a number of factors that "contribute to how high schools reproduce our class system." He goes on to identify four in particular but he concentrates his essay on what he refers to as "social-class rites of passage" which are more or less the "deep curriculum of high schools" that tend to perpetuate social-class distinctions. You'll understand better what he is talking about by reading the complete essay.

In the end, Cookson comes back to where the essay started: the yellow school bus. He uses the bus as a metaphor for our common concern, regardless of income or geography, about the safety of our children and their ability to attend school and be educated. Nationwide, we all acknowledge the yellow school bus and we know precisely what we should do if one is off to the side of the road boarding or discharging it's passengers. We don't only stop when its one of our kids on the bus or just for children from our neighborhood or social status. We do it for all, rich or poor, neighbors or strangers. So why is it so difficult for this country to recognize the inequity of our school system and provide similar economic supports for classrooms, teaching, and learning?

Cookson points to four issues that would lead to extending the equity of the yellow school bus to the rest of the educational experience for all, regardless of wealth or skin color. I'll just briefly summarize them here:

  • Stop the trend of spending more to educate affluent students than poor children.
  • Our curriculum needs revamping to cut across social classes and draw connections between them.
  • We need to put education back into the hands of teachers who know their students.
  • End the current test-craze that serves primarily to perpetuate class divisions.
The last two points are probably the most important. As Cookson puts it, "Finland did not become the No. 1 school system in the world because it spent precious resources paying corporations to manufacture tests that are intellectually questionable and perpetuate these class divisions. Finland became No. 1 by liberating teacher creativity."

A favorite saying of mine fits here: Better sameness is not the answer.