Saturday, March 10, 2012

OK, So Now Everyone Knows About The GOP War Against Women-- What About The GOP War Against Education?


Friday Paul Krugman had everyone buzzing with a wake-up call: Ignorance Is Strength, in the NY Times. The best anyone can say about the Republican Party's attitude about education is that they'll get behind projects to monetize it for private gain. Other than that... they just want it to go away.
One way in which Americans have always been exceptional has been in our support for education. First we took the lead in universal primary education; then the “high school movement” made us the first nation to embrace widespread secondary education. And after World War II, public support, including the G.I. Bill and a huge expansion of public universities, helped large numbers of Americans to get college degrees.

But now one of our two major political parties has taken a hard right turn against education, or at least against education that working Americans can afford. Remarkably, this new hostility to education is shared by the social conservative and economic conservative wings of the Republican coalition, now embodied in the persons of Rick Santorum and Mitt Romney.

And this comes at a time when American education is already in deep trouble.

...[W]hy are Republicans so eager to trash higher education?

It’s not hard to see what’s driving Mr. Santorum’s wing of the party. His specific claim that college attendance undermines faith is, it turns out, false. But he’s right to feel that our higher education system isn’t friendly ground for current conservative ideology. And it’s not just liberal-arts professors: among scientists, self-identified Democrats outnumber self-identified Republicans nine to one.

I guess Mr. Santorum would see this as evidence of a liberal conspiracy. Others might suggest that scientists find it hard to support a party in which denial of climate change has become a political litmus test, and denial of the theory of evolution is well on its way to similar status.

But what about people like Mr. Romney? Don’t they have a stake in America’s future economic success, which is endangered by the crusade against education? Maybe not as much as you think.

After all, over the past 30 years, there has been a stunning disconnect between huge income gains at the top and the struggles of ordinary workers. You can make the case that the self-interest of America’s elite is best served by making sure that this disconnect continues, which means keeping taxes on high incomes low at all costs, never mind the consequences in terms of poor infrastructure and an undertrained work force.

And if underfunding public education leaves many children of the less affluent shut out from upward mobility, well, did you really believe that stuff about creating equality of opportunity?

So whenever you hear Republicans say that they are the party of traditional values, bear in mind that they have actually made a radical break with America’s tradition of valuing education. And they have made this break because they believe that what you don’t know can’t hurt them.

Let's take a look at a subchapter in Joshua Holland's book, The 15 Biggest Lies About The Economy, A Closer Look: Is the Value of Education Declining? The Republican War Against Education is palpable in every paragraph.

In 2007, George W. Bush tried to explain why the gap between the haves and the have-nots had widened so dramatically during his presidency. “The reason is clear,” he said, “we have an economy that increasingly rewards education and skills because of that education.”

He was only halfway wrong! In the middle of the last century, at the height of America’s industrial dominance, there were a number of ladders that people could use to climb out of poverty and into the middle class. One of them was higher education. After World War II, the GI Bill sent millions of vets to college (and lent them money to buy homes and start new businesses). The middle class was thus born of very direct “government intervention” in the economy. And for those who earned a college degree, economic security was all but guaranteed.

There were also opportunities for people without degrees. They could land apprenticeships or otherwise work their way up to stable and secure jobs that paid enough to provide for a family and maybe send the kids to college. Each generation was doing better than their parents had before them.

But then something changed. For decades, the economic boost one can expect from earning a college degree has fallen (even while the cost of getting that degree has skyrocketed). This isn’t a new phenomenon. Writing in The Review of Economic Statistics in 1977, economist R. B. Freeman noted that during that decade, “The once sizeable premium to the college graduate diminished; attainment of professional and managerial job status became less frequent; and the rate of return to the college investment dropped after having risen in the 1960s.”

The trend appears to have accelerated in recent years. In 2008, the Wall Street Journal reported that during “the economic expansion that began in 2001 and now appears to be ending, the inflation-adjusted wages of the majority of U.S. workers didn’t grow, even among those who went to college.” When the article was published, people with bachelor’s degrees were earning almost 2
percent less than they had in 2000. The economy was growing, but, as Jared Bernstein told the Journal, “The fruits of growth are flowing largely to a relatively small group of people who have a particular set of skills and assets that lots of other people don’t.”

Economists attribute the decline in value of a college diploma to globalization-- computer nerds in Seattle competing with programmers in Mumbai-- to new technologies that have made many middle-level positions for college grads obsolete and, more than anything else, to a greatly expanded pool of workers holding a bachelor’s degree.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were fewer than 1,000 colleges in the United States, with only 160,000 people enrolled.4 In 1948, almost 15 percent of the adult population had a college degree,5 and between 1973 and 2008, the share of 18- to 24-year-olds enrolled in college increased by more than 15 percent-- almost 4 in 10 young adults were hitting the books that year. Much of that increase can be attributed to the loss of those solid manufacturing jobs. In an “information economy,” more and more kids rightly feel the need to get a decent education. But with an increase in supply-- in this case, workers with bachelor’s degrees-- comes a drop in price, and that’s manifested in the dwindling economic advantage of having a secondary education.

At the same time, the relative value of a high-school degree has risen, because the wages of high-school dropouts have fallen dramatically in real terms since the 1970s. Yet as economists James Heckman and Paul LaFontaine noted, “It is surprising and disturbing that, at a time when the premium for skills has increased and the return [on] high school graduation has risen, the high school dropout rate in America is increasing.” The scholars added, “America is becoming a polarized society. Proportionately more American youth are going to college and graduating than ever before. At the same time, proportionately more are failing to complete high school.”

How to Train Wage Slaves

Higher education is obviously pretty important, but to understand how education shapes economic outcomes, you’ve got to start earlier, in primary schools. U.S. students don’t stack up well against those in other advanced economies, in terms of being prepared for a good secondary education. According to a 2008 study, one-third of new college freshmen require remedial courses in math, English, and other basic academic skills.

And although every wealthy country offers a basic education that results in very high literacy rates, the United States doesn’t stack up well against its competitors when you look at the rate of high-level literacy (basic literacy simply means that you can read signs and fill out forms). A study of fourteen wealthy countries found that only one in five U.S. adults had a high level of literacy, half the rate in Sweden and the fourth-lowest rate in the group. That shouldn’t come as a surprise; a study of fifteen-year-olds ranked the United States twelfth out of seventeen advanced countries in high-level reading skills.

Exactly why our kids do poorly in international comparisons-- it’s also true of math and science skills-- is a subject of much debate, but one thing is clear: it’s not that we’re trying to educate our children on the cheap. Among the thirty countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), only Norway spent more per student on primary education than the United States did.

That’s a nationwide average, however, and the quality of education in various school districts-- and in public versus private schools-- is anything but consistent. Just consider how kids in different districts are prepared to succeed in our high-tech economy. University of New Hampshire scholars Virginia Garland and Sara Wotton wrote that the tech gap separating students of different economic strata hasn’t narrowed in recent years, despite being the subject of much discussion among education advocates:

Unfortunately, the “digital divide” between the “haves” and the “have nots” is widening. While some well-financed suburban schools have installed “wireless” computers and have trained teachers to use the new technologies, poorer urban and rural schools are lagging behind with outdated computers and insufficient Internet access. This gap has serious negative consequences for the future of the next generation. Those students from urban and rural working-class families, largely racial and ethnic minorities, will be unable to compete with their wealthier, better educated, and more technologically advanced peers in the global marketplace.

During the 1970s and the 1980s, researchers noticed something else: schools weren’t only funded differently, they also took a different approach to teaching. Scholars noted that children from poorer neighborhoods spent more time doing rote learning and being taught how to comport themselves in a work environment, while children in more affluent districts spent more time developing higher cognitive skills and critical thinking. Researchers concluded that the universal education system-- perhaps the greatest accomplishment of early progressive reformers-- was separating kids into “tracks,” with those in wealthy districts being prepared for managerial positions where they’ll be required to think and act autonomously, and poorer kids being taught to follow instructions and be good wage slaves. Many researchers began to see our school system not as the great democratizing force that most people believe it to be-- preparing all American children to reach their full potential-- but as a means of “reproducing social class” from generation to generation.

That was then. Now, in the era of No Child Left Behind, most kids are being taught to take tests, rather than to think. According to David Berliner, a professor of education at the University of Arizona, high-income kids “typically score well on the tests used to satisfy NCLB requirements,” but, at the same time, “today may actually be worse for poor children in the U.S. than at any time in the last half century.”

This is because the lower classes are being kept from the liberal arts and humanities curricula by design. Using the argument that we must get their test scores up, we in the United States are designing curriculum for poor children, often poor children of color but certainly, numerically, for poor white children, that will keep them ignorant and provide them with vocational training, at best. Their chances of entrance to college and middle-class lives are being diminished, and this is all being done under the banner of “closing the gap,” a laudable goal but one that has roduced educational policies with severe and negative side effects.

So, although George W. Bush was right that we live in a society that “increasingly rewards education,” it’s important to recognize that our educational system is still leaving many, many children behind.
Would Santorum term Bush "a snob" too? I bet that's what he would call Rep. Patsy Keever (D-NC), one of the foremost advocates of quality public schooling in any legislature anywhere. Next Tuesday, March 20, Patsy will be the Blue America guest at Crooks and Liars (2pm, ET) and we'll be talking about the issues that most concern North Carolina voters, including, of course, her signature issue, the quality of education. And you don't have to wait 'til then to help Patsy's congressional campaign against vicious public education foe, Patrick McHenry. Please consider contributing to her campaign here at the Blue America ActBlue page. This is what she told us this morning about the Republican War Against Education. Sounds pretty basic and non-partisan, doesn't it? But these are fighting words to the GOP:
Investment in public education is vital to the wellbeing of our citizens and, thus, the future of our nation. As a public school teacher for 25 years, I know that we must provide a level playing field for all of our children, giving them each the opportunity to make a living, but more importantly, to make a life. For this promise to be realized, we must begin educating our children in their earliest years, and by doing so, we will create a foundation of resourceful and productive citizens.

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At 10:36 AM, Anonymous Mike the Mad Biologist said...

I think another problem is how some states perform relative to others: Alabama, for instance, does far worse no matter what demographic group you look at than Massachusetts.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger John said...

Given that "the best anyone can say about the Republican Party's attitude about education is that they'll get behind projects to monetize it for private gain," it must be made clear that this process is steeped in the radical reich myth that the profit motive guarantees a quality product.

The Vitter amendment doesn't get the total condemnation that it should. This vile ad-on, to a vile bill (no child left behind), by a vile punk (as whose lackey, you tell me), threatens school districts with loss of federal funds for failure to give to the military, for recruiting purposes, contact information of secondary level students. It also permits on campus recruiting.

Its proof of our pervasive democracy-strangling, rank militarism is bad enough but particularly galling is the blatant, cynical opportunism of dangling in front of kids a solution to, what must be obvious to them, namely, scant few civilian jobs available, even for the educated.

John Puma

At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Don Fitch said...

Yup, I can't find anything in your presentation here that seems seriously inaccurate.

And yes, I'm a beneficiary of the System while it still worked -- a Korean War Vet whose way through the University of California (Class of '55) was paid for by the G.I. Bill (tuition was free back then, except for the $5 per semester "Student Body Fee" manadated by the Board Members appointed by Gov. Reagan).

At 5:37 PM, Blogger dkantz said...

Can anyone provide the independent evidence backing Krugman's statement (I think he should have referenced in his article): "among scientists, self identified Democrats outnumber Republicans nine to one."


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