|Undermining education undermines jobs|
Education, particularly public education, is a dirty word these days.
Depending on who you listen to, education is either the primary cause of Pennsylvania's budget deficit, a financial black hole into which the public's money is recklessly and unthinkingly flung, the refuge of lazy teachers who get every summer off; or, in some extreme cases, "factories" where "weird socialization" occurs.
To which I say, even if all of that were true, and I doubt it is, that does not do away with the need for the function.
Why can't we agree to fix public education, instead of "throwing the baby out with the bath water," or trying to starve public education into some kind of stasis, so we then can blame it for not adequately educating our kids.
|The educator bubble?|
At the same time, not many of us can say we've spent any time in their world, struggling to deliver a mandated curriculum to a room packed with 20 to 30 6-year-olds, several of whom have severe learning disabilities but are nevertheless judged by the same standardized tests which have become the only measure for the value we place on education.
What got me started on all this was, first, this article in The Atlantic about how complicated manufacturing jobs have become in America and the need for an educated work force to man the factory jobs for which a high school education is no longer adequate.
Then I saw this article in Sunday's Washington Post and I really got riled.
|Today's manufacturing machines are complex|
The U.S. has lost nearly 4 million manufacturing jobs in the past 10 years.
(And how is China preparing to receive those jobs? A massive public education effort.Would that we had that much foresight.)
But significantly, the Post also revealed that a recent report for the Manufacturing Institute found that as many as 600,000 manufacturing jobs in this country are going unfilled.
A shortage of skilled workers.
Factory floors these days look more like laboratory clean rooms than grease and metal-filing filled machine shops, with high-tech computers doing the work once done by 10 un-skilled laborers.
Lament it if you will, but we won't be going back -- ever. Time to adjust to the present and plan for the future.
Here's the thing, those machines need at least one skilled workers to run, program and maintain them. Add to that the fact that many of the workers who remain and run these machines are aging and we may soon find even more jobs leaving for overseas, not because it's cheaper, but because the workers there are better educated.
So what's our plan?
Apparently, cut public funding for public education.
Have we not learned yet that it's cheaper to educate our citizens, then to imprison them or support them indefinitely on Welfare?
The Post article quotes 27-year-old Greg Rowles who got a job paying between $18 to $28 per hour because he "took some classes at the local community college."
Pottstown's Western Campus of Montgomery County Community College is among the 50-fastest growing in the country, but when it comes time to prepare for a future of high-tech manufacturing jobs, what is our plan?
Cut community college funding.
In a Feb. 7 article I wrote for The Mercury, MCCC President Karen Stout lamented this short-sighted approach as is proposed on Gov. Tom Corbett's budget.
|Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett|
This will apparently be achieved with a 4 percent cut to MCCC's budget, on top of last year's cut of 10 percent.
“On a per-student basis, we’re looking at the same level of state funding that we received in 1994,” Stout told me.
Like the Post story, Stout said that manufacturers here in Montgomery County need qualified workers.
|A Feb. 17 lasagna dinner raised $1,187 for West Campus scholarships|
The cuts will, in all likelihood, lead to an increase in tuition costs and a need for more lasagna dinners like the one shown here to raise more money for more scholarships.
Which brings me to another aspect of how we're sabotaging our best chances of growing our way out of this recession.
|Rich kids are doing better than poor kids in testing|
The achievement gap between rich and poor students is now twice the gap between white and black students.
More worrisome is information that indicates when it comes to college-completion rates, the rich-poor gulf has grown by 50 percent since the 1980s, according to the Reuters report, which was based on this more detailed report in The New York Times.
|Poor kids are now 50% less likely to finish college than rich ones|
As The Mercury reported last year, Pennsylvania's lopsided method for public education funding discriminates against the Commonwealth's children based solely on their zip code.
Poor communities like Pottstown are getting the scraps. Under Corbett's proposals, state funding was to be cut by $600 per student last year in Pottstown, leading to the painful contemplation of cuts to music and art.
But in places like affluent Lower Merion -- where two new high schools, one complete with an indoor pool, had just been completed -- Corbett wanted to cut funding by a mere $83 per student.
This year's spread, shown below in a chart I made for this story in Sunday's edition of The Mercury, is less extreme, but the pattern remains the same.
Children, the workers of tomorrow, from low-income families have less chance of doing well in school and even less of a chance of completing college; so we cut the funding to their primary and secondary schools; this while the increasingly well-paying manufacturing jobs left in the U.S., will require even greater education; this while we cut funding to community colleges, the cheapest and most applicable college education to allow those poor children to access those jobs; and therefore make it even less likely those children can afford the education they need to get those jobs, and perhaps improve the odds for success of their children, the next generation of American workers after them.
Someone please explain to me how this is a sustainable plan for long-term success.
Maybe I'm missing something, but I just don't see it.
Tell me how the above ensures the future success of all Americans and the continued success of our nation.
And don't tell me what you don't want to pay for.
I didn't want to pay trillions for the Iraq war, but that's the price we pay for living in a Democracy.
I agree, no one wants to pay for failing schools. But why can't we figure out how to make them successful schools? Is it really that hard?
Shouldn't every politician prefer to pay for schools over prisons? Shouldn't we the taxpayers?
So enough fulminating, the real question is, what to do about it?
The answer, I believe, is to fix what's wrong with public education, not torpedo it and hope "the market" will get the job done. That's the easy way out.
(The market works for some things. I believe that now. I've seen it. But it is not a panacea for everything that ails us.)
Admittedly, fixing what's wrong with public schools -- and I take a moment here to point out that there is a lot that is right with public schools -- is hard, complicated and politically explosive work.
But we don't elect our public officials to make easy choices do we? If that were the case, we could leave it all in the hands of Pottstown Borough Council.
It will require sacrificing some sacred cows.
In all likelihood, it will mean lower pensions for educators, more contributions toward their health benefits and consolidation of school districts, perhaps to the county level as is done in Maryland.
It will also require a state funding formula closer to the one implemented by the prior administration which is based on the "costing out study," which looks at a district's actual costs in determining how much aid it should receive and uses that to close the achievement gap between rich and poor students.
It could be funded by (shudder) a tax hike or a revenue source from, say, a natural resource we have in abundance and now being harvested at bargain basement prices.
But we have to do something other than let public education die on the vine. The founders realized this and saw the need for an educated population to make this republic work.
Until the founding of the United States, society had two models to choose from: either elites ran everything and enjoyed all the benefits, or, as was the case before that, there was chaos and all that mattered was who was strongest.
The founders tried to walk the line between those two, envisioning "the best" of the nation naturally assuming leadership (which, admittedly, to them, meant white, land-holding males); but they also pictured "the best" leading an educated populace, one that could understand the issues facing the nation and come to logical well-reasoned decisions (and votes) about how to face them.
To accomplish this, they favored a radical plan of raising public discourse and decision, by educating the public, at the cost of the public.
Thomas Jefferson proposed an extensive system of free public education in Virginia, and, as president, submitted to Congress in 1806 a proposed amendment to the Constitution to legalize federal support for education.
"Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right," Jefferson said.
Even Pennsylvania's founders enshrined it in our own Constitution.
Article III, Section 14 of the Pennsylvania Constitution requires it: "The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth."
Raise your hand if you think there is anything "thorough" or "efficient" about their efforts to provide for public education these days.
Seriously, raise your hand. I realize this is a volatile subject, post your thoughts on what should happen to public education. Maybe you think I'm totally off base on this. I invite you to say so civilly here.