Saturday, January 26, 2008

WE'RE NUMBER ONE!!! (um....in childhood poverty)

Sadly, it is to the everlasting shame of our nation's leadership that the United States, the richest nation on earth, has the highest rate of childhood poverty of all the wealthy, industrialized nations. But alas, we can breathe a huge sigh of relief and ease our collective conscience, for a solution has been found. What is it? Why, it's for our nation's teachers to "try endlessly until the magic works"!! But of course! No, I did not make up that quote.

The solution to childhood poverty offered by authors Delia Stafford-Johnson and Vicky Dill appeared online today, 1/26/08, at EducationNews.org under the title "Empowering Children Through Effective Education". However well intended Johnson and Dill may be, their solution could have easily been taken right from corporate America's executive manual on how to discredit and dismantle public education.

Johnson and Dill wrongly assert:

Equal and excellent education for all means access to high status jobs for those from poverty backgrounds.
No it doesn't. While we must indeed strive for excellent education for all, and while more equitable education for our nation's poor children is a national imperative, in order for better education to achieve better jobs for our nation's poor, there have to be decent paying jobs available. Lots and lots of them for lots and lots of poor people and our dwindling middle class. There aren't.

They're being outsourced and rendered obsolete by the same corporate elite who work relentlessly to discredit public education, the same corporate elite who would have the nation believe that public schools and teachers are responsible for the societal inequities that afflict innocent children, the same corporate elite who benefit mightily from cheap labor and that Golden Goose of profiteering and opportunism called the achievement gap.

As Jean Anyon, author of "Ghetto Schooling" recently pointed out in her article,
No Child Left Behind as an Anti-Poverty Measure:

For more education to lead to better jobs, there have to be jobs available. However, there are not now, nor have there been for more than two decades, nearly enough jobs for those who need them...the jobs the U.S. economy now produces are primarily poverty-wage jobs ---and only a relative few highly paid ones --- making it increasingly less certain that education will assure that work pays well. Seventy-seven percent of new and projected jobs in the next decade will be low-paying. Only a quarter of these are expected to pay over $26,000 a year (in 2002 dollars).
And how deceptive are statements from Bill Gates and his 60 million dollar ED in '08 campaign:

Two thirds of new jobs being created require higher education or advanced training.
And there is this many times repeated claim from corporate crony and Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, whose most noteworthy qualification for the job is that she doesn't have one:

Eighty percent of the fastest growing jobs require a college degree.
What they and the Business Roundtable conveniently fail to tell the American people is that these "fastest growing" jobs hire very few people, as one can easily find out by checking the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Educational researcher Gerald Bracey notes:
Spellings' assertion...slides past the fact that rates and numbers often paint extremely different pictures of what is going on. "Fastest growing" is a rate. If I make $1 today and double that for each of the next 4 days, my rate of increase in rapid, but at the end of the week I've only made $31. The fastest growing jobs do not account for very many jobs. In the BLS projections from 2004 to 2014, the number of retail sales clerk positions totals more than the top ten fastest growing jobs combined.
If one looks at sheer numbers of jobs, one sees what we might call the "Wal-Martization of America." The occupations with legions of jobs are mostly in the low-skilled, low pay sectors. Nineteen of the 30 occupations with the largest numbers of jobs are in the "low" or "very low" pay categories such as retail sales, janitors, food prep workers, waiters, home health aides, office clerks, etc.
And Richard Rothstein of the Economic Policy Institute nails it too in his article, Schools as Scapegoats:

American middle-class living standards are threatened, not because workers lack competitive skills but because the richest among us have seized the fruits of productivity growth, denying fair shares to the working- and middle-class Americans, educated in American schools, who have created the additional national wealth. Over the last few decades, wages of college graduates overall have increased, but some college graduates -- managers, executives, white-collar sales workers -- have commandeered disproportionate shares, with little left over for scientists, engineers, teachers, computer programmers, and others with high levels of skill. No amount of school reform can undo policies that redirect wealth generated by skilled workers to profits and executive bonuses.
Johnson and Dill rightly seek to elevate the issue of childhood poverty in our national conscience. However, their stated position that our nation's school teachers are the solution to childhood poverty and the poor academic achievement that so often accompanies poverty and its deprivations is unbelievably simplistic. And it continues to place an enormously disproportional responsibility on schools and teachers alone:

Graduating every student with an excellent education is the solution, and effective teachers and principals are the key to achieving this goal.
Not only this, it serves to divert national attention away from social and economic policy changes that are desperately needed to help these children. I do not mean to diminish the importance of quality teaching and quality schools. It's part of the needed mix. I believe the number one IN SCHOOL factor affecting academic achievement is the quality of the classroom teacher. It's critical. However, when it comes to factors impacting academic achievement, especially the achievement of our nation's most disadvantaged students, we know that circumstances outside the classroom over which educators have no control dwarf what takes place in the classroom.

Until this nation stops using our nation's public schools and teachers as the national scapegoat for poverty and societal ills, until social and economic injustices are confronted and ameliorated directly, we will see little change in achieving a more just and equitable society for all of our nation's children. Can we please stop pretending?










2 comments:

Russ said...

Nice writing! I agree it's ludicrous to blame childhood poverty on schools and teachers. Schools are a tool whereby families educate their children, and teachers are hired to facilitate part of a child's education. If families and parents aren't invested, the results will be poor, regardless of the teachers or the schools.

Schools are full of so-called "students" who will never get a decent education, no matter what is offered. I personally believe teachers should be paid a lot more and held to higher and stricter standards of excellence. I believe kids who will not cooperate in their own education should be placed into an alternative environment where they can at least learn some service or labor skills.

However, just as you object to blaming teachers and schools for society's ills, I object to your blaming "corporate America". I sense your irritation at those who, not understanding schools or teachers or their roles in society, blame them unfairly and in ignorance. I know, then, that you will sense my irritation at those who, not understanding business, globalization, or global labor markets, blame "corporate America" for everything, including so-called childhood poverty.

Corporations in America don't decide to send jobs overseas out of some greedy, heartless, unpatriotic zeal to maximize their profits at the expense of America. I know people believe that, but trust me, it is ludicrous. Imagine a company, based in California, that manufactures automobile wheels. Its competitors are in France, Japan and Italy. Its customers do not care which of the companies they buy from. Wheels are wheels. Each competitor moves its manufacturing operations to the Czech Republic, or to Mexico, or to China, and they do it in order to remain in business and in competition with one another. If the California company, out of a commitment to "keep those jobs in America" does not immediately set up operations in a low-cost labor market, in a very few short months it will be completely out of business, and there will be ZERO jobs in the U.S. As it is, many headquarters and home office jobs, and a fair number of R&D and manufacturing-related jobs, are still in the U.S., because having opted to stay in existence and compete, the American company has in fact continued to employ Americans in America.

Bottom line: low-level manufacturing jobs (and, increasingly, higher level management jobs)are now a matter of global labor markets. It is no longer useful to speak of "American" business as though it was a self-contained entity. This is not going to reverse, no matter how many social ills are blamed on it. Those nasty corporations do not conspire to beef up their profits at the expense of poor American children - that has nothing to do with it, and to continuously harp on the false idea that it does not only undernmines our moral and spreads false gossip, but it does precisely what you accuse others of doing in the area of education -it prevents us from moving on to reality and solutions.

Children in America today have a some choices - they can get a good education and move into new job sectors, including the exploding international business and international relations sectors - or they can relocate to countries where those coveted factory jobs are going (none will do that, because poverty there is REAL poverty - poverty here is high living in comparison), or they can take service and low-paying labor jobs here and live - by global standards - pretty well.

If they opt instead to stand in place, whining and moaning about how they got screwed out of those factory jobs their dads spent 35 years in then retired from with a pension, and how those lousy corporations ruined their lives, they will be standing there a long long time. Victimhood and entitlement thinking will not solve their problem. Rendering America's businesses non-competitive through socialistic and populous measures will cause even worse problems. America's globally competing businesses are already taxed higher than most of their competitors around the world, and the continuous harping on so-called "corporate tax loopholes" is nonsense. I am a corporate tax specialist, and there really aren't any of those to speak of. Ever heard anyone explain any of them? They can't, except in broad, false, stereotyped generalities that lack truth or substance.

By the way, we need a living minimum wage. We also need parents and familiues to pull their heads out of their collective backsides and quit finding every way possible to be victims, blaming evil corporations and "the wealthy" for their problems. We need to embrace sacrifice, personal responsibility, and initiative.

The so-called progressives spend every day lately harping on the need for "change". It's time Americans embrace the fact that the world changes at an increasing rate, and their personal strategies and plans must change as well, or they will fall behind and stay there.

Anne Berry said...

Tauna, thanks for the nice blog post. The message being peddle by ED in '08 is simply the latest in a long line of scare tactics employed to justify why corporations are sending jobs overseas.

I would respect flat world apologists a lot more if they would just say, "We got ours, the rest of you workers can just go to hell" rather than having to sit through their convoluted arguments on why we are better off as a whole when we have to compete for a lot fewer high paying jobs, both blue-collar and white-collar.