The ostensible reason behind the OWS movement-if one can discern such a reason- was to address the apparent income disparity in the US. There will always be income disparity in a capitalist society as there will always be the haves and the have nots. And there is certainly greed and some ill-gotten gains along the line. It is often difficult to introduce the correct amount of transparency into the process through regulations lest those regulations become overbearing. I also truly doubt that there are very few Republicans who advocate for absolutely no regulations. The difference between the Left and the Right is in the intelligence of those regulations with a design to increase transparency so that anyone can make laerned decisions and succeed, or fail.
However, the efforts of the ambiguously vague OWS people are clearly misdirected. While they come after the “1%” with pitchforks and torches, perhaps their efforts would be put to better use by improving the lot of the 99%. Leave aside this notion of the 1% versus the 99%. The primary reason there is such income disparity in this country has nothin to do with corporate greed, executive pay, exotic financial instruments and the like. There is clear and convincin evidence from studies on the Left and the Right regarding the importance of education in determining income levels and, thus, the disparities. We all know that despite the occasional exception to the rule, high school graduates earn more in their lifetime than high school drop outs and that a college degree increases one’s eventual income level even more. It is also true that high school drop outs are more apt to cost society more in public assistance and that they are more likely to be incarcerated. These are not secrets. If you really want to help the 99%, then it is incumbent that we fix our broken, but reparable educational system.
Years and years of talk of reform and billions of dollars later, the problems still remain. A case can be made that as the Federal government has increased their role in K-12 education, student performance has either stagnated, or gotten worse. This is the liberal, one-size-fits-all mentality which often translates into throwing more money at the problem. Obviously, that theory is laid to waste as concerns education. Considering that 30% of all Federal dollars dedicated to education goes towards overhead and that Federal dollars account for about 9% of any school district’s budget, one sees that this has been a tremendous waste of money for minimal output. If one is lookin for budget cuts, this would be a nice place to start. It is long past time for the Federal government to get out of K-12 education and let state and local governments get on with the task of true reform.
Admittedly, on some areas, money could very well be the answer, but that is the state’s concern. In New Jersey, we have this perverse school funding program that, despite Christie’s efforts, basically rewards failig schools with more money. For example, in one school district, the per pupil spending is $18,000 for a less than 50% graduation rate. Meanwhile, another district spends $11,000 per pupil for a 90% graduation rate. I don’t deny that the lower performing district needs money to operate, but certainly at not such a discrepancy. It is also proof that money alone cannot solve the problems.
Likewise, conservative ideas like charter schools, choice, vouchers and teacher merit pay cannot be a one-size-fits-all proposition. However, it should be up to the local schools to decide what is best for them and how to proceed without interference from the Federal government. By holding out a very small carrot, they dictate an inordinate amount of power over state and local governments. In the abstract, I have nothing against the concept of No Child Left Behind (NCLB). However, I have seen up close and personal NCLB in action. As a substitute teacher one day, the regular teacher called me and I told them that I was helping one particular student to understand areas and perimeters. They informed me that I did not have to worry about that student since they did not have to take the test. And I thought NCLB was directed at those very students. I cannot count the number of times I have heard, in response to a student question, “You don’t have to worry about that because its not on the test.” NCLB has created an educational community that has abandoned a well-rounded integrated curriculum in favor of one that teaches to some monolithic test. But, I digress.
The fact remains that the success rate of charter schools is somewhere near 50%, but 50% is better than nothing. We know that the successful ones are composed of people of similar interests be that performing arts, computers, technology, science, math, or creative writing. The fact remains that merit pay for teachers- something that goes against the grain of teacher unions- does create a bump in student performance and even a little bump is better than the status quo. We know that offering parents a choice of where they send they children to school whether through vouchers, cross- district registration, or tax credits increases parental involvement. And we know that the bureaucracy of the Federal Department of Education is and has been been beholden to the teacher unions who will fight innovation and reform tooth and nail. Instead, they would rather divert union dues towards political outcomes. I find it odd that teacher unions decry things like test scores and graduation rates in determining the effectiveness of a teacher, then turn around and rely on those very metrics to tout their achievements, if such exist.
There is so much that can be tried and done to improve education in the United States. However, it is the Federal government that stands in the way. Some have argued for abolition of the Education Department. Their new limited role should be in higher education- community colleges and 4-year programs. Not every child is cut out for college. There should be no need for remedial courses at this level. But, that does not mean that these students cannot be functional and contributing members of society and earn a decent wage commensurate with their intellectual abilities. Vocational education and community colleges are often overlooked in most equations when it comes to education. There will always be a need for carpenters, plumbers, hair dressers, and electricians and community colleges do a fine job in preparing people for the allied health fields and certain tech jobs.
While the OWS people occupy bridges, plazas and parks in our major cities, one should ask them who is on the school board of their local town. It is doubtful any more than 5% would name anyone. Better yet, ask them who is the teacher union leader in their home state. You would get the same results. If they really want to change income disparity in America, they would do a better job of it by protesting outside their local school board or teacher union office rather than creating filth in major cities.
The time for talk is over. While we talk, other countries move ahead. All the protesting on Wall Street will not change these facts. Educational reform, not protesting the perceived excesses of corporations, is the true key to shrinking the income gap in America. Alas, even the most educated among the OWS people to understand this and that alone speaks volumes about the state of education in the United States.