WHAT IS THE PROBLEM WITH OUR PUBLIC SCHOOLS?

SUMMARY: Every child should receive high quality educational experiences that lead to a trajectory of progress and success throughout his or her years in school, as well as in life beyond school. Many children who are educated in public schools in the US are very successful. There are, however, two problems that face US public school systems overall:

  • Our public school systems vary tremendously in their quality and funding.
  • Students arrive at school with significant variation in their school readiness.

These two problems negatively reinforce each other. As a result, many of our public schools in low socio-economic status (SES) communities are failing to adequately serve children from low SES families. Our society, not just our schools, is failing these low SES families; we frequently do not provide them with the support and services parents need to be able to nurture and support their children. As a result, their children often are not ready to learn and succeed when they enter school.

It is not the teachers who are to blame for the failure of these children. Teachers in schools and early care and education (ECE) care tremendously about their students, work extremely hard, and do everything in their power to help their students succeed. To overcome the disadvantages and learning delays many children from low SES families have, not only would they need to be great teachers, they would also need the resources and supports any professional requires to do his or her job successfully in a challenging environment. Unfortunately, many of the schools and ECE programs they work in are in low SES communities and lack the good physical facilities and learning environment that are required.

The forces pushing charter schools say that US public schools are failing and it’s because teachers are performing poorly. Neither assertion is true.

FULL POST: Every child should receive high quality educational experiences that lead to a trajectory of progress and success throughout his or her years in school, as well as in life beyond school. We all know that this does not occur for every child in our public schools. So what’s the problem?

Many children who are educated in public schools in the US are very successful. They graduate from high school and go on to selective and rigorous higher education and then to highly successful lives and careers. This is true for most children who attend public schools in communities where parents are well educated, have good jobs, and good incomes. In other words, children in communities and families with high socio-economic status (SES) are well served by our public education system. They do well in comparisons with students from around the world.

There are, however, two problems that face US public school systems overall:

  • Our public school systems vary tremendously in their quality and funding. Because they are locally based and largely locally funded, schools in high SES communities tend to have much better quality and resources than schools in low SES communities.
  • Students arrive at school with significant variation in their school readiness. Children from low SES communities and families are typically significantly behind their better-off peers.

These two problems negatively reinforce each other because children who arrive at school behind in their school readiness, often arrive at schools that are low in quality and resources. As a result, many of these children never catch up to their better-off peers. And when the US public schools are viewed as a whole, these children drag down the US averages so that our public education system appears to generate mediocre results when international comparisons are done.

Many of our public schools in low SES communities are failing to adequately serve children from low SES families. Moreover, our society, not just our schools, is failing these low SES families. We frequently do not provide them with the support and services parents need to be able to nurture and support their children. As a result, their children are often not ready to learn and succeed when they enter school; they do not have appropriate cognitive skills in early literacy and numeracy nor the social-emotional skills for working in groups and controlling emotions, and the often have health issues (e.g., asthma, obesity) or nutritional issues (e.g., they are hungry, undernourished, or have unhealthy diets). As a result, they are unable to succeed when they enter school and that failure typically continues throughout their school years.

It is not the teachers who are to blame for the failure of these children. The great, great majority of teachers, including those in low quality schools in low SES communities, care tremendously about their students, work extremely hard, and do everything in their power to help their students succeed. (In the interests of full disclosure, I attended high quality public schools in high SES communities from kindergarten through high school and taught in private schools for three years in the 1970s when I was just out of undergraduate school. My wife recently taught for ten years in the Boston Public School system.)

The same can be said for the teachers in our early care and education (ECE) system that serves children from birth until school entry. They work hard and often make heroic efforts to nurture children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, whether they are in private ECE centers or home-based child care programs, or in Head Start programs (which are for children from families living in poverty), or in public school pre-kindergarten programs. And these early childhood teachers are poorly paid – often making under $25,000 per year – and typically with few if any benefits (e.g., health insurance, paid sick time, vacation time, retirement plan).

To overcome the disadvantages and learning delays many children from low SES families have, teachers in schools and early care and education would not only need to be great teachers, they would also need the resources and supports any professional requires to do his or her job successfully in a challenging environment. Unfortunately, many of the schools and ECE programs they work in are in low SES communities and lack the good physical facilities and learning environment that are required – and that schools and programs in high SES communities typically have.

These teachers also need the support of colleagues to help them respond to the challenges and stress they experience, and to maintain high morale. My guess is that an average teacher with great morale is a more effective teacher than a great teacher with low morale because the stress and challenges can be overwhelming in the absence of a supportive, highly qualified supervisor, supportive peers, and a positive working environment.

The forces pushing charter schools say that US public schools are failing and it’s because teachers are performing poorly. Neither assertion true. Most of the failure in our public schools is because the schools are attempting to educate students who arrive at school not ready to learn. And neither the schools nor the children’s families have the special resources needed to make up this deficit. The proof that our public schools and teachers aren’t the problem is the fact that the charter advocates aren’t pushing charter schools in high SES communities and there isn’t much demand for them from parents in these communities either. Our schools and teachers are doing fine with these students.

In my next post on our education system, I will discuss real solutions to these problem.

WHO IS BEHIND THE PUSH FOR CHARTER SCHOOLS?

There are multiple, powerful forces behind the push for charter schools. Some of them like to avoid the spotlight. In no particular order, the four major forces behind the charter school movement are the following:

Those who are looking to make a profit by tapping into the funding for public education, which is a good chunk of money, approximately $600 billion annually in local, state, and federal spending. There are profit opportunities in developing, administering, and grading tests; developing and selling curriculum materials and textbooks; and ultimately in the privatization of schools themselves, i.e., charter schools.

Those who, for ideological reasons, want to shrink government and the public sector, including public education. Privatization is a core strategy for them. So private charter schools that receive public funding are the goal.

Those who want to weaken the bargaining power of workers and unions in our economy. They also want to weaken the political power of workers and that power is most effectively exercised through unions. They want to shift power to employers, especially large corporations. They have been quite successful in doing this in the private sector and have now set their sights on weakening public sector unions, and teachers’ unions are some of the strongest and most vocal of the public sector unions. Therefore, criticizing teachers and teachers’ unions, while advocating for non-union charter schools, is aligned with their goals.

Those who sincerely want to improve education and student outcomes. They are a small force among those that are truly driving the charter school movement. Many members of the staffs of charter schools and parents who support charter schools do have this as their goal, but they tend to be blind to the larger forces and interests at work behind the scenes.

The forces behind the charter school push have been pitching a narrative forcefully and effectively for 30 years or so now that states that US public schools are failing and that teachers and teachers’ unions are to blame. And that the solution is charter schools, preferably private, non-union ones, but that are funded with public tax dollars. Some charter schools are for-profit and many of them have links to for-profit corporations.

The first three of the four forces listed above have coalesced into a powerful, unified voice pushing this narrative and the implementation of their solution. They use the rationale of innovation to improve education and student outcomes to hide their real motives. They very effectively persuade the public and parents that not only do they have altruistic motives but that parents and the public should support their charter school movement.

Everyone believes that every child should receive high quality educational experiences that lead to success in school and a trajectory of progress and success throughout his or her years in school, as well as in life beyond school. However, those who believe public schools are the best vehicle to realize this vision, have not developed, let alone promoted, an alternative narrative to that of the charter school proponents. They have not mounted an effective, coherent rebuttal of the charter advocates’ statement of the problem or their solution. Without a counter narrative, public school supporters are confused and torn about whether to oppose or support charter schools – and even about how to talk about them.

My next post on our education system will identify the real problems with our public schools. A subsequent post will present some solutions.

THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP SHOULD BE REJECTED

In addition to the concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty raised in my two previous posts (see list below), it lacks provisions for addressing currency manipulation. This has brought criticism from many parties, including some in the corporate world. Although China (which is not a participant in the TPP) is the most notorious manipulator of its currency’s exchange rate, Japan and a number of other countries in the TPP have also manipulated their exchange rates. These countries manipulate the exchange rate between their currency and others to make imports more expensive and their exports cheaper. This has been a significant contributor to the positive balance of trade these countries have with the US and to our trade deficit.

Given the weakness of other arguments for the TPP, the Obama administration is promoting the TPP as a geopolitical response to the growing power of China. The administration says that the TPP will allow the US and the other TPP participants to balance China’s economic and hegemonic power in the region. However, China is already part of the World Trade Organization, has free trade agreements with half of the TPP participants, is the main trading partner of a number of them, and is currently negotiating separate economic partnerships with the others. So the TPP will have little impact on China’s growing influence.

Furthermore, China’s growing economic power is already clearly present even here in the US. It has negotiated the transfer to its shores of manufacturing and technology from the US in a number of areas, including wind and solar energy, high technology batteries, and the building of aircraft (from none other than General Electric).

China manipulates its currency to maintain a very favorable balance of trade with the US and it uses its holdings of $3.5 trillion of US dollar investments (primarily US Treasury bonds) as a strategic global investment fund. In short, China has a comprehensive, global trade and investment strategy that will move forward regardless of the TPP. [1]

Given the problems with the TPP:

  • Enshrining corporate power, particularly through the Investor-State Dispute Resolution tribunals,
  • Lack of effective and enforceable protections for workers and the environment,
  • Excessive patent and copyright protections, for example for prescription drugs,
  • Failure to prevent currency manipulation, and
  • Ineffectiveness as a counterbalance to China’s growing regional and global power,

and that it will have a miniscule impact on actual trade, it should be rejected. I urge you to contact your US Senators and Representative to encourage them to oppose the TPP.

You can find contact information for your US Representative at http://www.house.gov/representatives/find/ and for your US Senators at http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.

[1]       Prestowitz, C., Fall 2015, “Our incoherent China policy: The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership is bad economics – and even worse geopolitics as containment of China,” The American Prospect

THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP: CORPORATE POWER GRAB Part 2

With the full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty now available, groups espousing environmental and workers’ interests state that the actual text is even worse than what they had expected. Environmental groups note that climate change is not even mentioned in the treaty. Workers’ groups note that the TPP will continue the experience under past treaties of US jobs moving overseas to lower wage countries and, therefore, reducing jobs and wages here in the US. This pattern will continue to undermine the middle class. Furthermore, on issues ranging from access to affordable medicines to the open Internet to food safety and labeling (e.g., country of origin and presence of genetically modified organisms [GMOs]), the TPP furthers corporate interests while undermining the interests of the public. [1]

Labor and environmental groups also note that there is no dispute resolution process focused on workers’ rights or environmental protection that parallels the Investor-State Dispute Resolution (ISDS) tribunals for multi-national corporations. If a state or country tries, for example, to ban or limit fracking or stop a coal mine, the fossil fuel corporation can sue the state or national government in the ISDS tribunal to overturn the action or get compensation. There is no similar mechanism for protecting workers or the environment.

The TPP also provides unjustified expansions of intellectual property protections in ways that benefit corporations. It extends and expands patents on drugs so that it will be longer before cheaper, generic versions of drugs are on the market and so that it will be harder for health care insurers to negotiate lower drug prices with the pharmaceutical corporations.

It requires Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to protect copyrights on corporate products such as movies and music. The TPP threatens ISPs with substantial penalties if they fail to shut down or remove protected content from a website that shares copyrighted material. Therefore, ISPs are likely to act in favor corporate copyright holders as soon as a copyright violation is alleged. [2]

The fact that the TPP enshrines corporate power is not a surprise. Corporate executives have been involved in the negotiating process from the beginning while everyone else was locked out. Furthermore, the process of drafting the TPP and now of approving it has been the target of substantial lobbying by multi-national corporations. Over the eight years of negotiations, 487 clients paid lobbyists to meet with or contact lawmakers and administration officials to discuss the TPP. Clients who reported lobbying on the TPP accounted for nearly thirty percent of all reported lobbying expenditures. The TPP has been mentioned 4,875 times in lobbying reports since 2008, when the US began negotiations. Corporations and other groups, such as the US Chamber of Commerce, paid lobbyists $2.6 billion during this period, although that figure includes lobbying expenditures on other issues listed along with the TPP on lobbying reports. The lobbying increased each year as the negotiations continued. Just two organizations mentioned the TPP in their 2008 lobbying reports but that number exploded to 1,317 in 2014. [3]

In a future post, I’ll discuss TPP’s failure to address currency manipulation and its ineffectiveness as a geopolitical response to the growing power of China.

[1]       Fulton, D., 11/5/15, “’Worse than we thought’: TPP a total corporate power grab nightmare,” Common Dreams (http://www.commondreams.org/news/2015/11/05/worse-we-thought-tpp-total-corporate-power-grab-nightmare)

[2]       Popular Resistance Newsletter, 11/8/15, “The secretly negotiated TPP will impact your life in many ways; together we can stop it,” (https://www.popularresistance.org/newsletter-10-shocking-realities-of-the-tpp-join-the-revolt/)

[3]       Tucker, W., 10/6/15, “Millions spent by 487 organizations to influence TPP outcome,” Center for Responsive Politics (http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2015/10/millions-spent-by-487-organizations-to-influence-tpp-outcome/?utm_source=CRP+Mail+List&utm_campaign=3570922ae8-Newsletter_9_24_15&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_9df8578d78-3570922ae8-210762457)

THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP: CORPORATE POWER GRAB

The full text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – a trade treaty and much more – was recently released. It was negotiated over 8 years in secret from the public and even Congress, although corporate executives were routinely involved. The treaty includes 12 countries: the US, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, Peru, Chile, Singapore, Brunei, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Although the countries in the TPP represent over 40% of the global economy, the impact on trade per se – trade volume, tariffs, and quotas – will be small because the US already has a trade treaties with most of these countries, including all of the larger ones. [1]

Now that the full text has been released, at least 60 days have to pass before Congress can act on it. The Obama administration asked for and Congress agreed to consider this treaty under Fast Track rules. These rules require Congress to vote yes or no on the treaty with no amendments and in a limited time window. However, in the negotiations over approval of Fast Track rules, due to strong push back against them and against the treaty itself, the Obama administration agreed to release the full text of the treaty to Congress and the public for at least 60 days before a Congressional vote.

President Obama says that the TPP includes the strongest provisions of any trade treaty for protecting workers and the environment. [2] However, this is not saying much as past trade treaties have done almost nothing to protect workers and the environment. In addition, the TPP provisions for enforcing the labor and environmental provisions are quite weak. [3]

On the other hand, there are strong protections and enforcement mechanisms for corporate and investor interests. The “set of regulations governing investor rights, intellectual property, and … key service sectors, including financial services, telecommunications, e-commerce, and pharmaceuticals … enshrine the power of corporate capital above all … including labor and even governments.” [4]

Corporations and investors are allowed to sue governments if they feel their ability to make future profits is harmed by a country’s laws, rules, or regulations. They can take these claims to private Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) tribunals that make final, binding decisions and that bypass a country’s own courts and legal system. There is significant experience based on similar provisions in previous treaties that the ISDS process can undermine countries’ environmental and public health laws, as well as require governments to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in compensation to multi-national corporations. [5]

Senator Elizabeth Warren has criticized the TPP for giving multinational corporations too much power, in particular by allowing them to settle disputes through the ISDS tribunals and by expanding the ability of the large Wall St. financial corporations to challenge country’s financial rules and regulations. She has also stated that the TPP doesn’t go far enough in enforcing labor, public health, and environmental standards. [6]

Some conservatives are joining Senator Warren and others in expressing concern about the ISDS tribunals because they undermine US sovereignty by giving foreign corporations the right to challenge US laws and regulations. In addition to laws on safety, public health, and environmental standards, any US government law or regulation giving preference to the use of US companies in fulfilling government contracts would be subject to challenge by a foreign corporation under the TPP.

I’ll share more concerns about the TPP in subsequent posts.

My previous posts on the TPP and related matters include:

STOP “TRADE” TREATIES THAT FAVOR BIG MULTINATIONAL CORPORATIONS, 3/9/15, https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2015/03/09/stop-trade-treaties-that-favor-big-multinational-corporations/

HISTORY AND LEAKS MAKE CASE AGAINST “TRADE” TREATIES, 1/20/14, https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2014/01/20/history-and-leaks-make-case-against-trade-treaties/

STOP FAST TRACK FOR CORPORATE POWER GRAB, 1/13/14, https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2014/01/13/stop-fast-track-for-corporate-power-grab/

TRADE TREATIES NEED OPEN DEBATE, NOT FAST TRACK, 1/8/14, https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2014/01/08/trade-treaties-need-open-debate-not-fast-track/

“TRADE” AGREEMENTS & CORPORATE POWER, 9/13/13, https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2013/09/13/trade-agreements-corporate-power/

“TRADE” AGREEMENT SUPERSIZES CORPORATE POWER, 9/10/13, https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2013/09/10/trade-agreement-supersizes-corporate-power/

CORPORATE RIGHTS IN TRADE TREATIES, 7/22/12, https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2012/07/22/corporate-rights-in-trade-treaties/

TRADE AGREEMENTS PAST AND PRESENT, 7/17/12, https://lippittpolicyandpolitics.org/2012/07/17/trade-agreements-past-and-present/

[1]       For more details and background on the TPP and related issues see previous posts that are listed at the end of this post.

[2]       Nakamura, D., 11/6 /15, “Release of text of Pacific trade pact does not quiet critics,” The Boston Globe from The Washington Post

[3]       Sachs, J.D., 11/10/15, “TPP is too flawed for a simple ‘yes’ vote,” The Boston Globe

[4]       Sachs, J.D., 11/1015, see above

[5]       Sachs, J.D., 11/1015, see above

[6]       Jan, T., 11/6/15, “Warren steps up criticism of the deal,” The Boston Globe