The agencies that administer the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) and the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) are close to including character assessments as a measure of student performance.
We need to fully fund our public schools to meet the needs of all students. That means more funding, services and opportunities for the underserved than for those who already have the best of everything and don’t need to rely as heavily on the school system for support.
We need wraparound services, counseling, tutoring, after school programs, community schools, jobs programs, continuing education for adults and other services to help heal the trauma of growing up poor in America.
The marble columns, wood paneled studies and ivy encrusted gardens.
It’s never really been a place for everybody. But in rhapsodizing the college experience, our lawmakers have pushed for universities to enroll an increasing number of students. The demand for free or reduced tuition – especially for low-income students – has meant more kids putting on a letterman jersey and giving it the ol’ college try.
Teenagers who wouldn’t dream of higher education in previous decades are going for it today.
That’s a pretty simple axiom. I know business-minded number crunchers will extol the virtue of “doing more with less” and other such self-help platitudes, but much of it is nonsense.
You never hear them explain how cutting CEO salaries will mean corporations will run more effectively. It’s only workers and schools that they think deserve tough love and penury.
Look, schools with less funding mean fewer teachers. That means larger class sizes. That means it’s more difficult to learn – especially for students who don’t already come from privileged backgrounds.
Speaking from experience, I was a C student in math through high school. It wasn’t until I got to college that I started to excel in that subject and earned top marks.
I didn’t have to take any remedial courses, but I was forced to take a quantitative reasoning course as part of my liberal arts majors.
I’m not alone in this. Many people aren’t cognitively ready for certain concepts and skills until later. That doesn’t make them deficient in any way nor does it betray any problems in their schooling.
That’s just how their brains work. We can whine about it or we can accept human nature and do what we can to help students cope.
And this brings me to my final reason behind the college remediation trend – a problem that is more insidious than all the others combined.
5) The elitism behind the whole post-secondary system.
For centuries, higher learning has been seen as a privilege of the wealthy and the upper class. Sure a few exceptional plebians were let into our hallowed halls just to “prove” how egalitarian we were.
But college was never seen as something fit for everyone.
As such, the attitude has always been that students are on their own. Many who enroll will not end up graduating. And that’s seen as perfectly acceptable. It’s part of the design.
The defining moment of Pennsylvania’s one and only gubernatorial debate wasn’t made by incumbent Tom Wolf or his challenger Scott Wagner.
It was made by former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett.
At least it was made by him seven years ago.
Before voters overwhelmingly choose the Democratic Wolf to replace him, Corbett told a whooper about his administration and education funding – namely that he DIDN’T cut almost $1 billion from the poorest schools in the Commonwealth.
“Trebek: What you have not mentioned is education suffered immensely about seven years ago when Gov. Corbett knocked off about a billion dollars. And…
Wagner: That’s totally false.
Trebek: Oh, it’s false.
Wagner: That’s totally false. Those were federal stimulus dollars. Gov. Wolf went around and told that. It was a lie. Gov. Corbett … (Clapping)… And the stimulus money came in during Gov. Rendell’s administration. And so Gov. Corbett’s here tonight. People need to know that Gov. Corbett did as much for education as really any governor. (Clapping) And he needs to be remembered for that. He didn’t cut the billion dollars. It was a billion dollars of stimulus money that came in and they were told – the education system – I wasn’t there – Don’t hire teachers, don’t… They did all that. Guess what? Here’s the problem with the system, Alex. The billion dollars. It’s gone. We have nothing to show for it.”
Here’s the crux of the bedtime story he’s telling.
The big bad federal government gave us money, and when that money was spent, we didn’t have it anymore. So what mean ol’ Gov Wolf calls a budget cut was no one’s fault.
It’s as if someone gives you a couple hundred dollars for your birthday and then your boss stops paying you your salary. That may work this week, but next week you need your paycheck. Otherwise you don’t have money to pay the bills.
Your boss can’t say to you: I’m not cutting your wages. Look I gave you just as much money this week as last week.
But now that his campaign has seen how unpopular that position is, very recently he’s changed his tune.
Suddenly he says we should increase education funding.
And good for him.
However, if he’s using the Corbett playbook, it seems that “increase” really won’t be anything of the sort.
It will just be more creative accounting and fantasy storytelling. He’ll pay for pensions and say he’s increasing school funding. Or maybe he’ll fudge something else from column A and pretend it’s funding column B.
It’s disingenuous, dishonest and Pennsylvanians aren’t going to put up with it.
Perhaps that’s why Wolf is leading in the polls.
Wagner may have found a way to get his supporters into the debate hall – they certainly clapped loud at his points – but they are a minority among voters.
I wish Trebek had called him out on it.
I wish Gov. Wolf had challenged him.
But time was running short and Wagner still had to complain about a college swimming coach with too high a pension, and he had to whine about mean old Wolf demanding the Marcellus Shale industry pay its fair share of taxes.
There were plenty of other sparks at the debate.
Wagner raged about this and lied about that. He thinks running a state like Pennsylvania is like managing his $75 million garbage hauling company. But if given the chance, it will be our children’s future’s that are left in the trash.
Meanwhile, Gov. Wolf looked like the adult in the room, soberly explaining the improvements he’d overseen in his term in office (a balanced budget, healing some of the Corbett education cuts, etc.) and outlining where we need to go in the future.
Every time Wagner slammed him for taking support from unions, I wished he’d spoken up. But he just let it pass like Casey at Bat looking for a perfect pitch.
Twitter squeaky wheels thought the Jeopardy host’s moderation was weird. I’ll admit a tangent into the Catholic church and pedophile priests may not have been necessary. But he made the entire event more watchable and he called out Wagner’s lies more often than not.
The Johnson administration admitted that schools with a high concentration of students living below the poverty line needed extra support to succeed at the same levels as students from middle class or more affluent backgrounds. So the law promised to provide an additional 40 percent for each poor child above what the state already spent per pupil.
And then it promptly failed to fund it. In 1965 and every year since!
These are not just numbers. With this money, high poverty schools could provide:
“health and mental health services for every student, including dental and vision services; and
a full-time nurse in every Title I school; and
a full-time librarian for every Title I school; and
a full-time additional counselor in every Title I school, or
a full-time teaching assistant in every Title I classroom.”
A decade later, in 1975, the same thing happened with The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
Congress told local districts they’d have to do more to help disabled students succeed academically. However, doing so costs money. Lawmakers admitted that disabled students cost more to educate and that local districts often struggle to find the funding to help them succeed.
Once again, Congress pledged to pay up to 40 percent of that additional cost, with local and state funds covering the remainder.
Once again, Congress failed to fund it.
STATE AND LOCAL FAILURE
But it’s not just the federal government that has shirked its duties to school children.
Beside the federal government, public schools are funded by their local municipalities and the state. Local governments pay for about 45 percent of school budgets.
However, since most of this allotment is determined by property tax revenues, it ensures the poor get fewer resources than the rich. Kids from rich neighborhoods get lots of resources. Kids from poor areas get the scraps. Inequality is built into the funding formula to ensure that students don’t start out on an even playing field and that economic handicaps are passed on from one generation to the next.
As such, they are in the position to right the wrongs of the local community by offsetting the inequality of local governments – but only 11 states do so. Twenty states close their eyes and provide the same funding to each school – rich and poor alike – regardless of need or what each community can afford to provide for its own children. But 17 states are even worse. They actually play Robin Hood in reverse – they funnel more money to wealthier districts than to poor ones.
As a result, schools nationwide serving mostly students of color and/or poor children spend less on each child than districts serving mostly white and/or affluent children.
Nearly every state levies a much greater share of taxes from low- and middle-income families than from the wealthy.
And that’s before we even start talking about corporations!
While the US federal corporate tax is 35 percent, the effective tax rate that corporations pay after loopholes and deductions is only about 14 percent. This costs the federal government at least $181 billion in annual revenue, based on 2013 estimates by the Government Accountability Office. Local and state corporate tax and abatement programs make it even worse.
This is a choice. We are not requiring the rich to pay their fair share.
“In 2017, the National Association of School Resource Officers claimed that school policing was the fastest-growing area of law enforcement. The school safety and security industry was reported to be a $2.7 billion market as of 2015. Most of that $2.7 billion is public money now enriching the private security industry instead of providing real supports to students.”
According to the US Department of Education, 1.6 million students go to a school that employs a law enforcement officer but not a guidance counselor.
That is not an unalterable economic reality. It is a failure of priorities. It is the mark of a society that is not willing to help children but will swoop in to punish them if they get out of line.
Cost studies in San Diego, Los Angeles, Nashville, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Durham and other localities have come to the same conclusion: “the privatization of schools has contributed to austerity conditions in traditional public schools.”
Yet Congress continues to appropriate millions of dollars to the Department of Education’s Charter Schools Program (CSP), which funds new charter start-ups and expansions. The program has a budget of $500 million this year, alone. It is the largest single backer of charter schools in the nation.
According to the report, “In other words, the U.S. Department of Education is operating a program that directly undermines public schools.”
But the report isn’t just about what’s wrong. It outlines how we can make it right.
A. “Make the wealthy pay their fair share of taxes.
Rescind the 2017 tax code changes, which overwhelmingly favor the top 1 percent of income earners.
Close the federal carried interest loophole, a step that could increase federal revenues by between $1.8 and $2 billion annually or, according to some researchers, by as much as $18 billion annually.
If the carried interest loophole is not closed at the federal level, states can impose a surcharge on carried interest income at the state level, raising millions for state budgets.
Enact so-called “millionaire’s taxes” that increase the tax rate on a state’s highest earners. New York and California have already passed such law.
B. Require wealthy corporations to pay their fair share.
End or reduce corporate tax breaks that cost the federal government at least $181 billion annually.
Reduce state and local subsidies to businesses for economic development projects and hold school funding immune from tax abatements.
Enforce and strengthen programs like Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) to ensure that wealthy institutions pay their fair share towards local budgets.
C. Divest from the school-to-prison pipeline.
School safety and security is now a $2.7 billion industry. Much of that money is public money, going to profitable corporations instead of schools.
Divest from expensive security systems, metal detectors and legions of school-based police officers and instead invest in counselors, health and mental-health providers and other supports that make schools safer.
D. Place a moratorium on new charter schools and voucher programs.
A moratorium on the federal Charter Schools Program would free up $500 million annually, which could be used to support the creation of Sustainable Community schools.”
The executive summary concludes with the following statistic.
Even a 10 percent increase in funding for each high poverty student maintained through 12 years of public school can dramatically change the likelihood of academic success. It can boost the chances that students will graduate high school, achieve 10 percent higher earnings as adults and a 6 percentage point reduction in the annual incidence of adult poverty, according to a 2015 report.
“Ten percent is pocket-change for a nation that has orchestrated the rise of an unmatched billionaire class. In the richest nation in the world, it is possible to fully fund all our public schools, and to provide Black, Brown and low-income children with the educational resources and additional supports and services they need to achieve at the highest levels.”
The facts are in, folks.
We can no longer gripe and complain about a public education system we fail to support without recognizing the cause. We have failed to meet our responsibilities to our children – especially our children of color.
The solution is simple – equity.
We need to demand the rich do the right thing.
We cannot achieve greatness as a nation when wealth and privilege continue to shirk their duties and our lawmakers do little more than enable greed and corruption.
He hates science. He hates schools. He hates teachers. And if students get in the way, he’ll hate them, too.
These are the qualities he thinks Pennsylvanians are looking for in their next governor.
The York Township Republican will challenge incumbent Democrat Tom Wolf on Nov. 6, 2018.
So who is this guy?
Wagner’s a college dropout who made a fortune starting a garbage hauling firm. He became a state senator four years ago after winning a write in campaign during a special election where only 17% of the electorate could be bothered to vote.
And ever since, he’s been consistent about one thing: he really, Really, REALLY hates teachers.
“We have 180,000 teachers in the state of Pennsylvania,” Wagner said in 2015. “If we laid off 10 percent of the teachers in the state of Pennsylvania, we’d never miss them.”
That’s a deficit we still haven’t recovered from. Even today, state schools are staffed at a 10-year low. Class sizes are at an all time high.
Yet Wagner wants to fire even more teachers!?
That’s not the policy of a man who wants to help improve life throughout the state for all. That’s not the policy of a man who wants to help kids learn.
It’s the policy of a man who has a personal grudge against educators.
And his other legislative objectives?
Wagner wants to further slash education funding. He wants to spend whatever is left inequitably. And he really wants to help his heroes Donald Trump and Betsy DeVos enact school vouchers so business people like him can continue to cash in on children from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia and all places between.
By contrast, in his four years in office, Gov. Wolf has pushed to increase education funding, pushed to spend it more fairly, and even cut the time it takes for students to take high stakes standardized tests.
The good news: voters throughout the Commonwealth have never had a clearer choice for governor.
The bad news: when has that ever stopped them from getting it wrong?
“We have created a special class in this state and the special class is the public sector union employee,” Wagner told Keystone Crossroads in a 2015 interview.
“Teachers are doing very well in this state,” he said. “People would be appalled if they knew what their teachers made, in certain areas.”
Unfortunately, Wagner has no idea, himself.
He keeps quoting a bogus salary figure that I’m not going to repeat. It’s not true statewide, it’s not an average, nor is it true in his home district.
In truth, the low end for teachers entering the field nationwide is around $30,000, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE). So go to college, get a four – sometimes five – year degree including a rigorous internship of student teaching and you make a mere $10,000 above the most generous minimum wage!?
According to that data, Pennsylvania teachers make on average $63,063 per year. Of neighboring states, teachers in Maryland ($65,247) and New Jersey ($71,687) make more. Teachers in Ohio (59,063) and Delaware ($59,853) make less.
In other words, if prospective teachers want to make more money, all they have to do is switch majors.
That may be part of the reason for our national teachers shortage. Not only have states like ours laid off tens of thousands of educators, many don’t stay in the field if given the chance. Across the country , 46 percent of educators quit before reaching the five year mark. And it’s worse in urban districts, where 20 percent quit every single year!
“There are teachers that will exceed expectations while teaching a classroom of 100 of the toughest-to-teach students. There are also teachers that would struggle to teach just one student at a time. I want the first teacher to make a small fortune, and I want the second teacher to find a new career that is better suited for him or her.”
So if you teach the best students, you should make the most money? And if you teach struggling students, you should be fired?
But It’s Not Just Teachers. He Hates Other Working People, Too
If there is a corner to cut, he wants to take it – especially if it screws a working person. As a state senator, Wagner even introduced a bill that would exempt school districts from paying laborers the “prevailing wage” on construction projects.
Cheaper labor, shoddier work. That’s surely a recipe for success in buildings housing school children!
I’m sure reducing teaching to a career without benefits, workers rights or protections will do wonders for the educational quality students receive.
Teachers working conditions are students learning conditions. Putting children in a building that has fewer safety precautions because there’s no union to collectively bargain for them is a great way to cut costs. But parents aren’t thrilled about having their kids try to learn in a sweat shop filled with Trump brand Russian asbestos.
Charter schools, funding private and parochial schools with public tax dollars. He’s in for all of it.
So long as it hurts public schools and enriches private businesses without helping students learn at all.
Go ahead! Take scarce funding from public schools and divert it to programs with little to no accountability. Let private school operators fraudulently misrepresent enrollment data. Let them fail to provide safe and academically appropriate learning environments. Let them game the system in any and every way.
That’s what Wagner calls fiscal accountability.
It doesn’t matter that these schools don’t improve student achievement. Evaluations of voucher programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., have all found no statistically significant differences in the academic achievement of voucher students compared to public school students. And recent evaluations of programs in Ohio, Indiana, and Louisiana revealed that voucher students scored lower than their peers attending public school.
But who cares about facts? This is all ideology for Wagner.
Vouchers have a record of undermining student’s civil rights – especially students with disabilities. Private school students give up due process and other rights guaranteed in public schools. Private schools are allowed to discriminate by denying admission based on religion, sexual orientation, citizenship status, English language proficiency and disability. Private schools that enroll students with disabilities may decide not to provide the services or accommodations guaranteed to such students in public schools. Or they may charge parents extra for them. Moreover, there is nothing to stop them from segregating these kids from other children. And, finally, private schools often suspend or expel students without due process.
This may be Trump and Wagner’s ideal. But it is certainly not what Commonwealth voters want for their children.
He Wants to Get Rid of Many State Colleges
Wagner caused an uproar when he said the state’s 14 state colleges will not be around in four years. “So, for those of you who think your school’s going to be around four years from now, it isn’t going to be around,” Wagner said.
Fewer institutions of higher learning. Fewer opportunities to get a college degree. That sounds like the policy of a college dropout.
But that’s either too complicated for Wagner or he just doesn’t care.
He supported Gov. Corbett’s plan to decimate Pennsylvania’s schools. And he doesn’t think the culling should be over.
When asked point blank about Corbett’s cuts in 2011, he said, “Yes, I believe that Governor Corbett needs to stick to his plan.”
He’s said repeatedly that we spend “enough money” on public schools, while stressing the need for frugality and fewer regulations.
He Wants to Play with How Schools Are Funded
He’s an advocate for legislation that would eliminate school property taxes and replace them with increased state sales and income taxes.
True we need a better funding mechanism than local property taxes. But you can bet Wagner’s plan is worse than the current system.
It would lock funding inequities among Pennsylvania’s 500 school districts into place.
He Thinks Global Warming is Caused by the Earth Getting Closer to the Sun
Wagner is an incredibly stupid man who thinks he’s rather intelligent.
But of all the dumb or evil things that come spewing out of his mouth, this one has to be my favorite.
When asked about global climate change, he didn’t simply deny that it was happening. He had an alternative theory to why it was taking place.
It’s not business and industry or fossil fuels that is causing global temperatures to rise. He actually said that it’s because the earth is getting closer to the sun every year. Another cause? Human bodies on the planet are giving off enough heat to raise the global temperature.
Perhaps it shouldn’t be surprising that a person who hates schools and teachers so much knows very little, himself.
These comments made him a national laughing stock.
His words were repeated on every late night comedy show across the country for giggles and guffaws.
The question is “Will the joke be on us come Election Day?”
It’s not “How dumb is Scott Wagner?”
It’s “Is Pennsylvania dumb enough to vote for him?”
NOTE: Special Thank you to Sue Goncarovs for the Wagner cartoon with which I began this piece. I love your work!
Moreover, the proposal is a definite step backward. The Department of Education was created in 1980 by splitting the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare into the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.
At that time, its purpose was clear. It was a tool to increase funding equity and transparency while protecting students.
“First, [the Department of Education] will increase the Nation’s attention to education. Instead of being buried in a $200 billion-a-year bureaucracy, educational issues will receive the top-level priority they deserve. For the first time, there will be a Cabinet-level leader in education, someone with the status and the resources to stir national discussion of critical education concerns.”
Unfortunately, those principles were never fully realized.
In the late 1970’s, it was hoped the creation of the Department would be the first step to increasing federal funding of schools to one third of the total cost, thereby leveling the playing field somewhat.
Tell it to the handful of truly terrible teachers who for reasons only they can explain stay in a job they hate through countless interventions and retrainings until the principal has no choice but to give them their walking papers.
Oh, yes. Teachers DO get fired. I’ve seen it with my own eyes numerous times. And in each case, they truly deserved it.
(Any “bad teachers” still on the job mean there’s a worse administrator somewhere neglecting to do his or her duty.)
So what does “Seniority” and “Tenure” even mean for teachers?
Basically, it means two things:
(1) If you want to fire a teacher, you have to prove he or she deserves it. That’s Tenure.
(2) When public school districts downsize, they can’t just lay off people based on their salaries. That’s Seniority.
If you think about it, both of these are good things.
It is not a good work environment for teachers or students when educators can be fired without cause at the whim of incoming administration or radical, newly-elected school board members. Teaching is one of the most political professions we have. Tenure shields educators from the winds of partisanship. It allows them to grade children fairly whose parents have connections on the school board, it allows them to speak honestly and openly about school policy, and it empowers them to act in the best interests of their students – all things that otherwise could jeopardize their jobs.
Likewise, seniority stops the budget butchers from making experience and stability a liability.
It stops number crunchers from saying:
Hey, Mrs. Wilson has been here for 25 years. She’s got a shelf full of teaching awards. Parents and students love her. But she’s at the top of the salary scale so she’s gotta’ go.
I know what you’re going to say: Aren’t there younger teachers who are also outstanding?
Yes. There are.
However, if you put all the best teachers in one group, most of them will be more experienced.
It just makes sense. You get better at something – anything – the more you do it. This could be baking pies, building houses or teaching children how to read and write.
So why don’t we keep the best teachers and get rid of those who aren’t up to their level?
Because determining who’s the best is subjective. And if you let the moneymen decide – POOF! – suddenly the teachers who make the most money will disappear and only the cheapest ones will be left.
Couldn’t you base it on something more universal like student test scores?
Yes, you could, but student test scores are a terrible way to evaluate teachers. If you wanted to get rid of the highest paid employees, all you’d have to do is give them the most struggling students. Suddenly, their students have the worst test scores, and they’re packing up their stuff in little cardboard boxes.
Almost any stat can be gamed.
The only one that is solidly unbiased? Seniority.
You’ve either been here 15 years or you haven’t. There’s not much anyone can do to change that fact.
That’s why it prevents the kind of creative accounting you see from penny pinching number crunchers.
Along with Tenure, Seniority is a safety net. Pure and simple. It helps keep the most qualified teachers in the room with kids. Period.
But look. It’s not perfect.
Neither are seat belts.
If you’re in a car crash on a bridge where it’s necessary to get out of your vehicle quickly before it plunges into the water below, it’s possible your seat belt may make it more difficult to reach safety. This is rather rare, and it doesn’t stop most people from buckling up.
I’ve known excellent teachers who were furloughed while less creative ones were kept on. It does happen.
But if we got rid of seniority, it would happen way more often.