Posts Tagged ‘Education’

While looking for a class example recently I came across the graph above comparing Michigan K-12 school revenues with health care expenditures.  In class, I displayed the graph and asked my students what they hear people blame for the rise of health care costs.  They mentioned insurance companies and the uninsured.  Then I asked them what they hear people blame for the rise of education costs.  The first thing they mentioned was teacher pay.  These reasons are given despite the fact that in the past 15-20 years teacher pay has barely outpaced inflation while physician’s salaries have increased a good deal more.

The rhetoric surrounding both of these increases is fascinating because of how clearly it illustrates the low value we place on teachers and the work they do.  I have heard similar claims about faculty salaries in the face of rising tuition (and decreased state support for public colleges and universities).  While I am somewhat insulated from these claims by virtue of being at a private institution, the eroding value of teaching at all levels will undoubtedly affect all of us in the future.

Finally, the poor job market for teachers and professors likely exacerbates these problems, since for every teacher or tenure track professor complaining about declines in benefits and take-home pay there are three claiming that they would be happy to work for even lower wages in exchange for stable employment.

Image Via: Michigan Parents for Schools

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On Saturday, Kevin Huffman, a Washington Post opinion writer, discussed the “keys for success” in our education system, arguing that they go beyond “funding and families” (the former is a topic I have mentioned before).  The article opens with the story of two Teach for America educators who started a series of charter schools in the Rio Grande Valley.  They argue that the success of their students – the first class graduated this year and 100% of them are going to college – was based on:

“the thinking around the problem. I have no control over what goes in on in the kids’ Colonia. But we can create a culture. Kids here feel part of a family, part of a team, part of something special.”

This is in line with the argument that some sociologists (and non-sociologists such as Jonathan Kozol) have made.

Strangely, I expected Huffman to argue that they keys to success were related to creating this type of culture in poor areas, even in schools without high levels of funding.  Instead, he argues that we need to focus on “people, policies, and parents.”  (It is interesting that we can control “parents” but not “families.”)  In fact, none of his keys focus on creating a nurturing school culture.  I agree that we need to get to work on the issue of education, but it would help if we could recognize that giving incentives to good teachers in poor districts will not change the cultures of these schools.

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A recent post on Crooked Timber examines school improvement and the achievement gap.  While the post includes a number of good points, I have to disagree with the following statement:

For a lot of schools this is very likely indeed right now, because the economic crisis will result in more kids being more disadvantaged, and more at (sic) who are quite disadvantaged becoming very disadvantaged. Make sure that you and your staff understand something about the limits of the effects of schooling on achievement, even as you try to improve those effects.

The author seems to argue that if a middle class family falls into poverty, the children of that family will stop reaping the rewards of their parents’ education.  While social class has an effect on student achievement, that affect is likely mediated by cultural factors such as education and parental class background.  Despite changing economic conditions these cultural factors are likely to remain stable for a particular student.  On the other hand, achievement likely will be affected for those at the very bottom for whom the change is more likely to be from being able to afford meals to not being able to afford meals.

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