Tuesday, April 10, 2018

The Real Source of Teachers’ Struggles

Striking teachers in West Virginia recently made headlines in their efforts to increase their pay and benefits, which are among the lowest in the country. Teachers in Oklahoma, Arizona, and Kentucky have followed suit with similar protests. The dominant narrative, pushed by Democrats and their allies in the labor movement, presents these protests as part of a larger struggle between underpaid educators and miserly state Republicans more concerned with cutting taxes than with investing in children.

While politically convenient, this story is largely a red herring distracting us from the real reason teachers in West Virginia and elsewhere are currently underpaid and unlikely to see substantial pay increases any time soon.

The problem is fiscal capacity. This is the ability of governments to raise enough revenues for the provision of basic public goods. Some states have greater total taxable resources (income, wealth, natural resources, etc.) than others. Typically, social scientists discuss fiscal capacity in regard to the inequality that results from the ability of rich suburbs to spend more on education than poor urban areas.

While reformers have made great strides in reducing the disparities between urban and suburban school spending, they have paid almost no attention to disparities among states. It is impossible to address the teachers’ grievances without addressing limited fiscal capacity among poor states.

Comparing West Virginia and New Jersey helps us understand the underlying problem. Each state dedicates the same proportion of its resources to spending on education salaries and benefits — about 3.5 percent of its GDP. In other words, they are putting in the same effort. The crucial difference is that New Jersey is a very rich state, which gives it more fiscal capacity. West Virginia, on the other hand, is a very poor state, which severely limits its fiscal capacity.

The difference in fiscal capacity translates into about $5,800 more per pupil for teacher salaries and benefits in New Jersey relative to West Virginia ($15,203 versus $9,409). If you want to know why the average teacher salary in West Virginia amounts to only 65 percent of the average teacher salary in New Jersey ($45,701 versus $69,623), then look no further than the fact that per-pupil spending in West Virginia amounts to only 62 percent of per-pupil spending in New Jersey.

Some of this gap can be attributed to regional differences in the cost of living. A $45,701 salary gets you more bang for your buck in West Virginia than in New Jersey. But when it comes to student learning, New Jersey ranks near the top of the National Assessment of Student Progress while West Virginia ranks near the bottom. Like any other service, you get what you pay for when it comes to education.

Critics contend that Republicans could simply raise taxes to pay teachers better. This misses the fundamental problem with West Virginia’s limited fiscal capacity. In order to attain per-pupil spending on par with New Jersey’s, West Virginia would need to substantially increase the tax burden on its already poor residents far above and beyond that of any other state. Even if West Virginia introduced a trendy new millionaire tax, it would not raise anything close to the necessary revenue because the state ranks near the bottom in terms of millionaires per capita.

The only way to ensure that underpaid teachers in poor states receive the pay raises they deserve is to directly address disparities in fiscal capacity across states. The most effective way to do this is through a federal equalization block grant targeting states with below-average fiscal capacity.

An equalization grant would enable poorer states to provide the same level of public services afforded to residents in richer states without adding crushing new tax burdens. Most states already do this when doling out local aid to municipalities by accounting for variations in property-tax bases in their formulas. This has helped reduce disparities in spending across school districts.

The United States is actually the only country with a federal system without an equalization grant. Introducing one would have similar effects in reducing spending disparities across states by raising education spending in the poorest states. That means more money for teachers and a better education for students in West Virginia.

An equalization grant is a tough sell politically, though. An effective grant would distribute the vast majority of its benefits to poor states that also happen to be red states. Rich blue states such as California, New Jersey, New York, and Massachusetts would receive nothing. Unfortunately, it is hard to imagine blue-state Democrats voting for a policy, even a progressive one, that offers no benefits to their labor constituents at home. Likewise, it is hard to imagine Republican leaders lining up to introduce an expensive new block grant, even if it primarily benefits the states they represent.

Despite these obstacles, the implications remain clear: Labor struggles at statehouses across the country will largely be fought in vain until the federal government begins to provide poor states with the funding they need to boost their fiscal capacity and provide basic public services to their residents.


Breaking Up the Public School Monopoly

“Give me four years to teach the children and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted."—Vladimir Lenin

Every serious problem this nation currently endures can be traced back to a single source. To be blunt, we’re creating legions of useful idiots in public schools across America. At least two generations of Americans can no longer add and subtract simple numbers in their heads, know next to nothing about the nation’s history or government, and cast a jaundiced eye toward inalienable rights guaranteed by the Constitution — all while remaining well-versed in progressive ideology. The time for complaining is over. It’s time to do something about it.

"One of President Trump’s promises to the American people was that he would provide billions to fund private school choice for parents, especially low-income families,” writes columnist Glenn Delk. “By allocating zero dollars for school choice, congressional Republicans, in their $1.3 trillion spending bill, made it crystal clear, to both the President and families with school-age children, that they have no intention of ever fulfilling that promise. Given the congressional slap in the face, President Trump should now order Attorney General Sessions to file suit on behalf of the United States against all 50 states seeking to break up the monopoly known as public schools.”

Americans should be clear on this point. Despite education being controlled by the states, public schools remain monopolistic, unionized fiefdoms of unaccountability that have promised — and failed — to deliver reform for over 40 years.

And it shows. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey reveals that American 15-year olds who took the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests in 2015 finished in 24th place in science, 38th place in math, and 24th place in reading out of 73 countries. Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy sounded the alarm, warning, “The United States cannot long operate a world-class economy if our workers are … among the worst-educated in the world.”

Why did the decline occur? Tucker insists it’s because “the standards movement was stolen by the accountability movement.” In fact, he writes, “Facing tough sanctions from the federal government for low test scores, many states lowered whatever standards they had for high school students, so they could escape the consequences of poor student performance.”

Thus, as he further reveals, “High school textbooks that used to be written at the 12th-grade level for 12th graders are now written at the 7th- or 8th-grade level,” and “many community college teachers do not assign much writing at all to their first-year students because they cannot write.”

And as night follows day, the lowering of standards engendered the inevitable fraud necessary to maintain them. Two Google searches, “public schools issue worthless diplomas” and “public schools, grade fixing scandals” reveal the intentional dumbing-down of our nation’s youth to satisfy contemptible political interests has occurred all over the nation.

Yet while education dies, progressive indoctrination flies. As columnist Daniel Greenfield reveals, schools in New York City, Minnesota, Virginia and Missouri are force-feeding the Left’s “white privilege” agenda to kindergarten students. That agenda includes “separating whites in classes where they’re made to feel awful about their ‘whiteness,’ and all the ‘kids of color’ in other rooms where they’re taught to feel proud about their race and are rewarded with treats and other privileges,” the NY Post reports.

Unsurprisingly, the transgender agenda has also been inflicted on kindergarteners in California, Washington and Minnesota. Moreover, California’s state legislature purposefully excluded “gender identity” from their parental opt-out requirements — meaning parents must either withdraw their child from school or allow them to be subjected to an agenda replete with LGBT-inclusive textbooks.

Civics? A 2017 report released by the National Association of Scholars reveals that U.S. civics education, “if it exists at all, is being transformed into a political machine to push left-wing causes, undermine American government, and incite civil unrest,” reveals The Federalist’s Joy Pullmann.

Why do so many teachers embrace indoctrination masquerading as education? “Since the publication of the English edition in 1970, Pedagogy of the Oppressed has achieved near-iconic status in America’s teacher-training programs,” explained Manhattan Institute senior fellow Sol Stern in 2009. Stern further revealed how this “ed-school bestseller” serves the progressive agenda, noting that it is “a utopian political tract calling for the overthrow of capitalist hegemony and the creation of classless societies.”

That is only part of the picture. When two Supreme Court rulings made in the ‘60s asserted Judeo-Christian ethics were an “establishment of religion” and removed them from the classroom, an intellectual/ethical vacuum was created. It was filled with the Left’s secular humanist worldview — one that became non-rebuttable as a result.

This paradigm shift — despite the reality the Left’s socialist utopian agenda is as much a faith-based proposition as any religion — remains the status quo.

Steven Calabresi, a Northwestern University law professor, and the Federalist Society’s chairman of the board, envisions a remedy. In a number of law review articles, he makes it clear that a system with a 90% market share that is sole recipient of state education funds is no different than 19th century monopolies.

Monopolies outlawed by the 14th Amendment.

Delk also reminds us that the Justice Department successfully ended monopolies enjoyed by the likes of Standard Oil, IBM, AT&T, and the airlines, and that the same pressure should be applied to public schools. He urges Trump to seek a Supreme Court decision ordering state governments to make vouchers available to any student who wants a private education — secular or religious.

That would be a second Supreme court ruling in that regard. In the 1954 case, Brown v. Board of Education, SCOTUS unanimously ruled that education is “a right which must be made available on equal terms.”

Ever since, “Big Ed” has made a mockery of that ruling, and Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean James Ryan spells out exactly why, stating, “Right now, there exist an almost ironclad link between a child’s ZIP code and his/her chances of success.”

In 2013, Slate columnist Allison Benedikt revealed the Left’s genuine public school agenda, insisting that if “every single parent sent every single child to public school, public schools would improve,” she wrote. “This would not happen immediately. It could take generations … but it will be worth it, for the eventual common good.”

Few things are more despicable than the notion one should sacrifice the future of one’s own children for the “common good.” Yet far too many public schools continue to embrace this socialist/Marxist worldview, along with the Left’s unrelenting effort to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” — one indoctrinated child after another.

This de facto sedition must be met head on. While Sessions sues, Congress should hold nationally televised hearings and put the white-hot spotlight on “educators” who see nothing wrong with teaching children what to feel instead of how to think, or using them as cannon fodder for leftist political causes. That same spotlight should also shine on politicians who champion public schools — but put their own children in private ones.

America has endured this contemptible combination of indoctrination, incompetency and hypocrisy long enough.


The charter school movement regroups and looks ahead

IT’S A BITTERSWEET WAY to celebrate the 25th birthday of this state’s education reform law.

But as we approach the quarter-century mark for the landmark law that made Massachusetts the recognized national leader in K-12 education and brought charter schools into being here, the Bay State’s charter school sector is focused on repairing frayed political ties, rebuilding its reputation, and redefining its mission.

Considered a smashing success story nationally, Massachusetts charters found themselves bashed as a drain on traditional public schools in the 2016 charter school ballot-question campaign. And even, in the fevered imaginings of some charter opponents, as the cat’s paw of “corporate” reformers supposedly hell-bent on the privatization of public education. A big campaign-finance violation by a key pro-charter-campaign funding group added image-injuring impropriety to the ideological attacks. For those aware of how hard idealistic charter educators work, it’s been a sad period.

To be sure, there are some bright spots. This fall, Phoenix Charter Academy will open a high school for those who have previously dropped out or are at risk of doing so, to serve students in Lawrence, Haverhill, and Methuen. Map Academy Charter School will start a similarly focused high school to serve Plymouth, Carver, and Wareham.

Meanwhile, Hampden Charter School of Science-West is opening in West Springfield, with the aim of expanding to serve some 588 students in grades 6 through 12 from that community, Agawam, Westfield, and Holyoke.

The city’s innovative initiative to improve education is earning interest inside the state and out.

And the waiting lists for charter schools remain long.

Still, the Question 2 thumping has imposed a widely recognized reality: For the foreseeable future, raising the charter cap is off the public policy table, leaving the movement to look to communities where there’s room under the current cap. The good news there, said Tim Nicolette, 38, who took over last August as executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, is that there’s still space for some 10,000 new charter seats in urban districts.

“We want to have conversations with superintendents and mayors about the needs that they’re seeing, and then we want to have conversations with talented educators who are passionate about those needs,” he said. Charter school proposals that originate that way, Nicolette hopes, will meet with warmer receptions.

Another part of the regrouping effort will focus on strengthening political ties.

“We very much want to rebuild relationships, both with the Legislature and with the local community,” he said. “We want to invite local officials to come out to see our schools, and we also want our schools to be deeply integrated in the community.” Advice: Importune your senators in particular to come visit. Acquaint them with the data refuting the notion that urban charters have a larger attrition problem than the traditional publics. Show them the progress charters are making enrolling more English-language learners.

And make sure they know about the latest research attesting to charter success here. Like the February report from the University of Arkansas’s School Choice Demonstration Project, a research center that studies the effects of school choice, showing that Boston charters are delivering a big bang for the buck. Or the study from MIT’s School Effectiveness and Inequality Initiative, which finds not only that Boston’s “no excuses” charters impart significant education gains but also that those gains have continued as the charter sector has grown. All that is in keeping with past research documenting the big educational gains that Massachusetts charters, and Boston’s in particular, impart.

“We want to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and rebuild relationships with the community and the Legislature, and then identify where the greatest needs are and where the opportunities are for us to continue to serve kids,” Nicolette said.

Keep your chin up, charter educators. You’ve been an important part of this state’s educational success — and ballot-campaign balderdash notwithstanding, fair-minded observers know that.


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