Why Aren’t Public Schools Too Big To Fail?

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There’s a new fad sweeping the nation.

It’s called “Educational Accountability.” Here’s how it works.

If your neighborhood school can’t afford to pay its bills, just close it.

That’s right. Don’t help. Don’t look for ways to save money. Don’t look for new revenue. Just lock the doors.

It’s fun! And everyone in the federal and state government is doing it!
It’s the saggy pants of United States education policy. It’s the virtual pet of pedagogical economics. It’s the cinnamon challenge of learning-centered legislating.

Sorry, poor urban folks. We’re closing your kids’ school. What? Your little tots are entitled to an education!? Fine! Take them to some fly-by-night charter or else they can get stuffed into a larger class at a traditional school miles away. It’s really none of my business.

Meanwhile, as government functionaries pat themselves on the back and give high fives all around, academic outcomes for these children are plummeting.

Moving to another school rarely helps kids learn. They lose all their support systems, social networks, community identity, and self esteem while spreading resources even thinner at their new location often putting it on the chopping block for the next round of closings. Or worse they’re subject to the unregulated whims of a for-profit company devoted to cutting student services in the name of increasing shareholders profits until some charter CEO shutters the building, himself, and sneaks away like a thief in the night.

But what else can we do? If a school can’t pay its bills, it’s got to go. Right?

Wrong.

Is it really so surprising that poor schools can’t pay their bills? We force them to make ends meet by relying heavily on taxes from local residents – most of whom are dead broke!

How is someone who can’t feed himself going to support a robust school system? How is someone working three minimum wage jobs going to have enough left over at the end of the week to fund a broad liberal arts education? How is someone with the wrong skin color who can’t get a home loan or a well-paying job going to provide the capitol necessary for a 21st century learning experience?

But whatever. Close the poor schools and blame it on the poor.

Tee-Hee!

Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Puerto Rico – You have to admit, there’s a kind of glee about the whole prospect. It’s one of the few things that both Democrats and Republicans agree on.

In fact, they love it so much they’ve found all kinds of excuses for shuttering schools that aren’t even so obviously based on their budgets.

Look at how we evaluate schools effectiveness.

Does your school serve a mostly poor, undernourished, minority population who start kindergarten already years behind grade level? Those kids need help. They need extra assistance, tutoring, counseling, health screenings, and a whole host of wraparound services. But instead of providing any of that, we demand one factor – the school – provide everything without providing them any resources.

That’s like judging a soup kitchen by weighing its customers before you give them any soup!

My God, Man! This poor fellow is malnourished!

Yes, he came in that way.

What are you putting in that soup!?

It doesn’t matter. He hasn’t had any yet. Besides. He needs more than just soup.

Enough of your excuses! I’m closing you down!

Moreover, we use the worst possible measurements of student achievement – standardized test scores – to tell if our schools are doing a good job. Never mind that these sorts of assessments repeatedly have been shown to demonstrate parental income more than academic achievement. And surprise! Surprise! They show our poor kids have poor scores!

And just in case a few kids somehow manage to overcome the odds, we sabotage the learning they might otherwise get from their schools with top down policies like Common Core State Standards.

How does this cripple educational outcomes? By hobbling the one group most in a position to actually make a difference – teachers.

Instructional autonomy? Bye! Bye! After all, who wants to hear from the people on the ground who can empirically judge the situation, determine what needs to be done and how best to do it? Instead, we give the power to think tanks and the testing industry to decide what is taught, when and how.

Common Core has never been proven to help kids learn. In fact, most teachers despise it, saying the standards are developmentally inappropriate, ill-conceived and unwieldy. Even under the best of circumstances, why would you take someone who barely has the resources to get by and then make things MORE difficult? That’s like taking an 80-pound starving child and forcing him to lift a 200 pound barbell over his head in order to qualify for his dinner.

Put your back into it, youngster!

I’m trying, Sir, but I’m so hungry.

Just use your grit!

Grits! Yes, please. I’m famished.

So what do we do? We close their schools! That’ll show ‘em!

And somehow we call this accountability.

Would you solve a measles outbreak by closing the hospital? Would you solve a burning building by closing the fire department? Would you solve an asteroid hurtling toward Earth by closing NASA!?

NO! OF COURSE YOU WOULDN’T!

In fact, when the wealthy are at a disadvantage, we do just the opposite.
Take the banking industry.

When Wall Street crashed the economy with risky speculation and absurdly short-sighted practices, did we close the banks?

No way! We bailed them out.

Why? They were too big to fail.

If we had let them spiral into insolvency – which everyone agrees they deserved to do – it would have had too large an impact on the country. Middle class folks would have lost their savings. Retirees would have lost their pensions. Businesses throughout the nation would have closed. The economy would have come to a grinding halt.

So the federal government saved the banks.

Now clearly there should have been strings attached to this bail out. Those responsible for the crash should have been prosecuted and forced out. At very least, the banks should have had to make concessions such as more regulation and stopping the risky practices that crashed the economy in the first place. (SPOILER ALERT: That didn’t happen.)

However, the idea was sound.

But why does it only apply to the big banks? Aren’t there other areas of public life that are too big to fail? And isn’t public education one of them – perhaps the biggest one?

Heck! Unlike the banks, our schools did nothing to deserve these wholesale closures. In fact, they’ve done an amazing job with the few crumbs we force them to subsist on.

Moreover, the result of letting them shut down would be just as catastrophic for our nation as a banking collapse. Maybe more so.

If our schools fail, we won’t have educated citizens. Future generations won’t be qualified for any but the most menial of jobs. They won’t be able to navigate the media, commerce, politics, science or any domain of civic responsibility.

Without our schools, we’ll calcify the economic structure. The rich will stay rich, the poor will stay poor and there will be next to no social mobility. Our country will exist as a neo-feudal state and most of us will be relegated to little more than serfs.

Is it too cynical to suggest that this is exactly why we haven’t bailed out our schools? The overwhelming majority of our nation’s wealth is held by only 1% of the population. Disinvesting in public education is exactly the kind of thing that would ensure the status quo is maintained or perhaps even tilted further in the favor of the super rich.

Any sane society, wouldn’t let this happen. If we don’t want this nightmare scenario, it’s time to bail out our schools.

Seriously. The federal government should step in.

Provide a huge influx of cash to the poorest schools so every institution of learning can count on adequate, equitable, sustainable funding. Stop judging them based on high stakes test scores. Stop sabotaging them with social schemes like Common Core. Let the experts – the teachers – actually run their own buildings.

This is what almost every other major country in the world does. Funding is federal. Policy is local. Get with the times, America!

And you can pay for it by enacting a fair tax plan. Worldwide, American companies keep 60 percent of their cash overseas and untaxed. That’s about $1.7 trillion annually. Imagine what that kind of revenue could do for our public schools!

Imagine if we taxed risky Wall Street speculation. Imagine if we made the super rich pay their fair share with tax rates similar to those we had when our national economy was at its best – the 1950s and ‘60s.

You want to make America great again? This would do it? You champion personal responsibility? This is what responsible government would do.

After all, what’s the purpose of government if not to create a level playing field for the next generation?

Call it a bail out, if you want. Or more accurately call it being answerable to the future, taking charge, rising to meet our duties, true accountability.

Stop closing public schools. Save them.


NOTE: This article also was published in the LA Progressive.

 

 

The Credibility Gap Between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton

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I Believe Bernie Sanders. I Don’t Believe Hillary Clinton.

Really. It’s that simple.

These two candidates vying for the Democratic nomination for the Presidency both have things going for them. But at the end of the day one of them is much more credible than the other.

They’re both career politicians.

Sanders has been a Vermont Senator for nine years, a U.S. Representative for 16 years, and Mayor of Burlington for eight years.

Clinton was Secretary of State for four years, a New York Senator for eight years, and – most famously – First Lady of the United States for eight years and of Arkansas for 11 years.

But when they speak, only Sanders seems genuine.

I know that’s a personal value judgement. Maybe it doesn’t hit you the same way.

I just don’t know how it could hit you differently.

For instance, both candidates say they’re going to keep the banking industry in check and stop the risky practices that crashed the economy under President George W. Bush. However, that same industry is Clinton’s main financial supporter while Sanders has almost nothing to do with them.

Look at the facts.

Clinton admittedly accepts a massive amount of donations from Wall Street – $824,000 from Citigroup, $760,000 from Goldman Sachs, $696,000 from JP Morgan Chase, $636,000 from Morgan Stanley and the list goes on and on. More than 760 of Clinton’s over all donors list their occupation as CEO or another form of chief executive, according to CNBC.

Meanwhile, Sanders has accepted almost nothing from Wall Street, doesn’t have a super PAC and still raises nearly as much money in donations as Clinton. Small individual contributions make up 70% of his campaign cash. His biggest contributors are from retirees, unions and progressive political organizations – $105,000 from Machinists/Aerospace Workers Union, $93,000 from the Teamsters union, $89,000 from the National Education Association.

So when Sanders says he’s going to break up the big banks and regulate Wall Street, I believe him. Apparently, they do, too, since they aren’t giving him any money.

But when Clinton says she’s going to hold Wall Street accountable, too, it’s just laughable. Why else would they be giving her all this money? Are they paying her to get tough on THEMSELVES!? As Sanders supporter Dr. Cornell West puts it, “I was born at night but not last night.”

The same thing goes for healthcare.

Both candidates say they want to reform the system to make it more affordable and fair. However, Sanders supports a single payer Medicare for all system, while Clinton supports tweaking the existing Obamacare system.

Two decades ago, Clinton agreed with Sanders. Now she receives $13.2 million in donations from the medical and insurance industry – $11.2 million when she was a Senator and $2 million since she began her presidential campaign. From 2013-2015 she received more than $2.8 million in speaking fees alone from the industry.
It’s funny how all that cash coincided with a change in her healthcare policy. She just said recently that single payer will “never, ever” happen.

By contrast, Sanders doesn’t receive sizable donations from the industry at all. Though he voted for Obamacare, he made it clear he thought it was a first step toward the better system he still supports.

So I suppose both are credible in this regard, but Sanders seems to be holding his position more because of conviction than monetary gain. Moreover, how much tweaking of the current system would Clinton really support while still in the pay of the healthcare industry?

However, it’s not all about campaign contributions.

Sanders positions have been fairly rock solid throughout his long career. Clinton’s have changed.

Look at mass incarceration – a huge problem in the United States. We have more than 2 million people incarcerated, many for low level infractions, boosting a for-profit prison industry. By contrast, China – with four times our population – only locks up 1.6 million of its citizens. The US has only 4 percent of the world population but locks away nearly a quarter of the world prison population. Thirty Seven states have higher incarceration rates than most nations, large or small.

When she was First Lady, Clinton supported her husband’s tough on crime legislation. “We need more prisons,” she said in 1994, “to keep violent offenders for as long as it takes to keep them off the streets.” Now that the devastating results of that policy have become clear, Clinton has changed her tune. “We must end the era of mass incarceration,” she said in October of 2015.

That’s quite a switch, and its fairly new. The last time she ran for president, she criticized her rival Barack Obama for being soft on crime and not committing to opening more prisons. Now on the campaign trail she tries to convince us she hates mass incarceration MORE than Obama. In 8 years, she went from a prison booster and belittling Obama for not loving prisons to a prison skeptic.

Did she just evolve on this issue? Has she finally come around to seeing things the right way? Or is she pandering to what she thinks voters want to hear?

Sanders, on the other hand, has been against mass incarceration for most of his career. He’s been speaking about the dangers of ballooning prison populations for more than a decade. As far back as 1994, he said, “Mr. Speaker, all the jails in the world, and we already imprison more people per capita than any other country, and all the executions in the world, will not make that situation right. We can create meaningful jobs, rebuilding our society, or we can build more jails.” Compare that with his statement from July of 2015: “The result of kids not being in school and kids not having jobs is that tragically, today, we in this country have more people in jail than any other country on Earth.”

This issue has become a popular rallying cry recently receiving support from people across the political spectrum. But Sanders was championing it when no one else was paying attention. Clinton has suddenly seen the light.

But it’s not even just past policy decisions.

Clinton is guarded and only seems to make statements that will get her political points. Sanders says things that are sure to loose him votes but that he apparently believes.

For instance, he recently came out in favor of the federal government being largely responsible for public school funding. As a nation, we have drastic monetary and resource inequalities in our nations schools, but no one else is talking about ways to fix it. The trend has been to cut funding. Yet Sanders is willing to put forward a common sense solution the rest of the world has proven works. It’s not bound to get him many votes, though, even from some education advocates afraid of recent federal overreaches in school policy.

Another example is religion. No presidential candidate in recent memory – perhaps ever – has openly admitted to being irreligious. Both Democrats and Republicans usually fall all over themselves to prove how pious they are in their everyday lives. Clinton, for instance, responded during this election cycle that her favorite book is the Bible. Conversely, Sanders admitted he is not a part of any organized religion, though he considers himself Jewish.

That might not get him many votes. But it is refreshingly honest. There is no reason to say something like that unless it were true.

Moreover, Sanders seems like more of genuine person than Clinton. In 1987 when he was Mayor of Burlington, Sanders recorded a folk album. Yes, folk music! It’s called “We Shall Overcome.” The late night shows have been playing it and getting laughs at his expense, but when they bring it up to Sanders, he just laughs and admits that he wasn’t much of a singer.

Can you imagine anything like that from Clinton? Sure, Bill played the saxophone, but Hillary? There is nothing so personal that has leaked to the public. Moreover, the folk song lyrics that Sanders sings are in-line with his political ideology.

Heck! The very fact that Hillary is famous for getting a $600 haircut while Sanders often lets his grey locks fly whichever way they want! It seems like Clinton is trying too hard to convince us, while Sanders is kind of like – here I am, this is me, what you see is what you get.

Ultimately questions of credibility are very personal. People will feel differently. However, looking at the facts, I find it impossible to believe Clinton’s rhetoric and impossible not to believe a good deal of Sanders’. We’ll see how voters feel as the primary elections begin today.