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  • The Biggest Issue

    What is the biggest issue facing America as it enters another Presidential election? The economy? The wars? Oil? Immigration? Equal (gay) rights? Moral compass (ugh)?

    David Brooks put forth a pretty compelling op/ed yesterday citing what he sees as the biggest issue - the 'skills slowdown' in both techological advancement and education that has been dying in America since 1975:

    Originally posted by Brooks
    Between 1975 and 1990, educational attainments stagnated completely. Since then, progress has been modest. America’s lead over its economic rivals has been entirely forfeited, with many nations surging ahead in school attainment.
    ...
    The pace of technological change has been surprisingly steady. In periods when educational progress outpaces this change, inequality narrows. The market is flooded with skilled workers, so their wages rise modestly. In periods, like the current one, when educational progress lags behind technological change, inequality widens. The relatively few skilled workers command higher prices, while the many unskilled ones have little bargaining power.
    ...
    I point to these two research projects because the skills slowdown is the biggest issue facing the country. Rising gas prices are bound to dominate the election because voters are slapped in the face with them every time they visit the pump. But this slow-moving problem, more than any other, will shape the destiny of the nation.
    To bring this into the light of the current Presidential runoff, he makes another compelling point:

    Originally posted by Brooks
    Third, it’s worth noting that both sides of this debate exist within the Democratic Party. The G.O.P. is largely irrelevant. If you look at Barack Obama’s education proposals — especially his emphasis on early childhood — you see that they flow naturally and persuasively from this research. (It probably helps that Obama and Heckman are nearly neighbors in Chicago). McCain’s policies seem largely oblivious to these findings. There’s some vague talk about school choice, but Republicans are inept when talking about human capital policies.
    I found myself naturally agreeing with his conclusions, both in terms of fact-based observation and also in my belief that the G.O.P. has consistently shrugged off the importance of 'human capital' policies such as public scholarship and child welfare since, well, Nixon's administration - which just so happens to co-incide with the beginning of this marked decline in American vibrance. While I don't see any signs of salvation in the Democratic party, I do see some hope. I'm not finding anything like that among the flailing Republican party, who still (so far as I know) holds fast to exact theory that's failed this aspect of the country for the past quarter-century - increasing the net wealth of a few by no means 'trickles down' to the education, skills, or general prosperity of the faster growing masses. That is unless you count Wal-Mart and the near dependence on the 401K as positive change. Reducing the impact of federal policy only serves to increase, and not decrease, the damage done by lagging socio-technological change.

    What says the sandbox?

  • #2
    Re: The Biggest Issue

    That is a tough one, that's like when people ask me what my favorite movie is.......there isn't really one answer, and the least important issue to someone might be the most important issue to another.
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    • #3
      Re: The Biggest Issue

      Education makes since. Education molds the next generation, which in turn effects the economy, which then effects so many other things. I'd agree that the G.O.P.'s record on education has been appalling, but I also haven't seen the Dems prove themselves to be any better. In theory, yes. At least they have some plans, BUT I haven't seen any positive results due to one side or the other. No one can put the blame of our poor educational system square on the shoulders of the Republicans, as President Bush pretty much let significant Democrats craft the educational policies of our nation. He did the same thing in Texas. He recognizes that Democrats are better on that issue, so he lets them write the plans. Too bad he still carries the blame for it.

      One things for sure. No matter who is to blame, we need to do something about it.

      The biggest issue for me, though, is the war. I am still for it and will vote for who I believe will be a better Commander in Chief.
      "Common sense is not so common." -Voltaire

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      • #4
        Re: The Biggest Issue

        Brooks is pretty funny. He attempts to sideline school choice, perhaps the most promising potential public school system advance proposed in decades, as irrelevant and ineffective. A second major potential advance would be to hand teachers more responsibility and greater leeway - let them teach what interests them, so long as it meets the general goals of their course.

        The US already spends considerably more than virtually all other developed nations on education on a per pupil basis. The most frequent and consistent top performers, Finland and Japan, are not even near the top of per pupil spending.

        I agree that the largely Republican focus on graduation/advancement tests is foolhardy, but so too is the Democratic focus on early education, increasing teacher salary, and "skill focused education."

        Just let teachers teach what interests them, let parents choose where their children go to school, and let the pieces fall into place.

        http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/ed...school-student
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        • #5
          Re: The Biggest Issue

          Originally posted by xTYBALTx View Post
          The US already spends considerably more than virtually all other developed nations on education on a per pupil basis. The most frequent and consistent top performers, Finland and Japan, are not even near the top of per pupil spending.
          We also spend a boatload on healthcare, and that too doesn't get us much. Is your point that spending need not be directly linked to performance? I would agree with that.

          Originally posted by xTYBALTx
          I agree that the largely Republican focus on graduation/advancement tests is foolhardy, but so too is the Democratic focus on early education, increasing teacher salary, and "skill focused education."

          Just let teachers teach what interests them, let parents choose where their children go to school, and let the pieces fall into place.
          I agree with A, but not with B. Simply letting the pieces fall into place is precisely when economics become the deciding factor, and the rapidly growing-in-number poor kids are pushed right out of the system. This is precisely what Brooks is getting to, I think, and it's crippling the country in a big way. In most places in America today, economically disadvantaged youth don't truly get anywhere near a shot at a good education until they reach higher-ed after grade 12. That's way too late. We could easily do better.

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          • #6
            Re: The Biggest Issue

            Originally posted by xTYBALTx View Post
            The US already spends considerably more than virtually all other developed nations on education on a per pupil basis. The most frequent and consistent top performers, Finland and Japan, are not even near the top of per pupil spending.

            I agree that the largely Republican focus on graduation/advancement tests is foolhardy, but so too is the Democratic focus on early education, increasing teacher salary, and "skill focused education."

            Just let teachers teach what interests them, let parents choose where their children go to school, and let the pieces fall into place.

            http://www.nationmaster.com/graph/ed...school-student
            The funny thing about that is that while the money spent on a per-pupil basis is high, the quality of what its spent on is low. Teachers get paid crap. I know, I used to be one. I couldnt afford to rent a one bedroom apartment in a half-decent part of town because I didnt make enough. For this reason, teachers are jumping to other careers like rats from a sinking ship. Why have a career that pays you a below-poverty line wage?

            The textbooks that I taught out of were so out of date (I was a US/World history teacher) that they ended at the election of Ronald Reagan. The county mandated exams were not written for the textbooks that we are required to use, so the teachers have to cram in extra material so the students can pass.

            Yet somehow, the superintendent of schools where I used to teach made over 300k a year. People were PAID to be on the school board. The county spent over 5 million dollars per year on GARDENING SERVICES for the schools (the grounds staff which maintains the athletic fields and parking lots was not part of this, the 5 million was for outside contracting used to "beautify" the schools). The Superintendents office has an annual budget of 96000 dollars for "public relations expenses", which when investigated by the local news station was found to be spent on lunches at expensive restaurants for the staff and high-end catering for semi-annual staff parties.

            The county put up a 1/2 cent tax to benefit education, but then some genius put a rider on it that the county really didnt want to pass, so they posted the vote on a tuesday when class was in session and the teachers couldnt vote. Then when the tax was defeated, they issued a public statement talking about their disappointment in the failure of the tax because if JUST the teachers had voted for it, it would have passed, like it was our fault that we had to do our jobs that day.

            So the kids suffer, the teachers suffer. But you know what, the schools look fabulous and the superintendent gets a nice fat paycheck to go eat lunch at expensive restaurants. Absolutely ridiculous.

            Education really is the key. We should be pouring every penny we can into education, and making sure that money is used correctly.

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            • #7
              Re: The Biggest Issue

              The problem is that everyone has their pet theory on why "the education system" doesn't work. Forgetting that the "system" is different in every state, county, town, district, school and classroom. What works in one place doesn't work in another, and top-down mandates at the national level frequently backfire.
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              • #8
                Re: The Biggest Issue

                I agree completely. This issue goes a lot further back than the 1970's though.

                This book is a good read to get some insight into the history of the education system and the intellectual climate in the US: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-in..._American_Life

                The full wikipedia article on anti-intellectualism is a pretty good, and relevant, read as well: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-intellectualism .

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                • #9
                  Re: The Biggest Issue

                  I believe we have 3 main pilars, all of which is really tied together right now.

                  The economy, oil, and Islamic terrorism. We could break into other mini catagories about each but those 3 broad ones cover a lot of territory and are tied together.

                  The solution is simply, lower taxes while deregulating, drill here and drill there... drill every freaking where, and un-cuff our troops to let them do what needs to be done and then get the heck out of Iraq and Afgan.
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                  • #10
                    Re: The Biggest Issue

                    As a teacher by profession, I just gotta say something here! :row__573:

                    Schools are screwed up for multiple reasons.

                    1) Parents don't care.
                    Sure, this isn't every parent. But I have had so many parents tell me that they don't give a damn what happens at school, just don't bother them at work or at home. Usually with some more colorful words added. I've been cussed out, threatened and other assorted things simply for calling home. Heck, I could have just suspended your kid, i was hoping to be able to work something out with you INSTEAD of following the rules and kicking your kid out of school for a week. But if you insist!

                    2) Students don't care.
                    Again, not everyone. But so many students don't see a need for school. They are only there because they are required to go. Either by parents, judges or whatever. That means they are not going to try very hard. So a drain at best, a horrible nightmare at worst. Anytime a judge says go to school or go to jail, I just want to say: Please change it to: Get Bs or better or go to jail. Then they would have motivation to do more than just take up a space and socialize.

                    3) Pay.
                    I blame this mainly on the NEA. I'm sure other groups contribute, but the teacher pay scale looks like an spreadsheet. Your number of years of experience is the vertical and your degree is the horizontal. Look up the two and see where they intercept to find your pay.
                    Notice there isn't anything there for doing a good job. Nothing for overtime or whatever. So what is to make me want to work more than the 7 to 3 shift? Why should I come early and stay late to work with the kids. I don't get paid anymore to do it.
                    I was working 80+ hours a week. I was killing myself. I was on antidepresants and spending a lot of my own money on supplies. Then I found out most of the teachers actually arrived late and left early. (supposed to be 7-3, they'd work about 7:10 to 2:30 and then leave).
                    Except for a "good job" from the admin, IF THEY NOTICED, you get nothing except a good feeling. And that good feeling doesn't last that many years.
                    We need to figure out a way to have teacher pay have raises based on evaluations.

                    4) Tenure.
                    Get rid of it. Gee... I can't get fired. I'm not going to work anymore.
                    I think it should still be a little work to get fired, but it should be obvious if you aren't working very hard.

                    5) Preps, subjects and class size.
                    The number of classes that some teachers have to teach is insane. I worked at one school that had 8 periods during the day and you only had 1 for planning. That meant you had to teach 7 classes. Then add in how many of them are completely different classes. Oh, I teach pre-algebra, algebra, geometry, trig and pre-calculus. I also teach a homeroom/life skills class. That's six different classes for lesson plans. Then each class has about 30 kids in it, so that is 30 papers to grade per class. Heck, even if you teach the exact same TYPE of class (say, all algebra), you still have to have seperate lesson plans, because each class is going to have a slightly different make up. You'll have to make allowances for different students (see #6 below) and other factors. And then you still have 7X30 = 210 papers to grade each day.
                    It used to be you could have students grade each other's papers. Remember that passing your paper back and the one in back goes to the front. Then the teacher reads the answers? Can't do that. It's illegal. Privacy and embarassment issues. Can't have them grade their own paper either, most of the time. The admin wouldn't let me. They would assume the students are cheating. Heck, I was even going to go to a class that would only take scores of 1 homework assignment a week (or so) and then the tests. I was told I wasn't allowed to do this. All homework had to be graded.

                    Realize that teachers have to
                    a) write lesson plans for EACH class. Taking into account each kid, etc..
                    b) grade lots of homework. By themselves in most cases.
                    More and more are required to give the type of work that is harder to grade. OK, sure I could just give a bunch of multiple choice homework/tests, but does that really help the student out much? Does just marking it right/wrong help them or do I need to circle where they made their mistake?
                    c) Call home. When a student has been written up for something in my past schools, the teacher better have a record of having called home a few times before they reach the office. (unless it is something big like a fight) My old school also required a face to face visit with the parents of each kid in your home room at least TWICE during the year. That meant somehow scheduling a face to face meeting 60 times during the year. Often with parents who don't want to do so. And if you don't, you can get in trouble.
                    This doesn't count if a teacher needs to CREATE the work. I had to teach a class once without a text. That meant every assignment had to be created by myself and then copied.
                    d) Make up. So when/how do you do make up? Do you have slightly different versions so they can't cheat? Oooh, extra prep. time.


                    #6) Special education.
                    There is a current law/movement that is putting all but the worst special ed students back into the 'normal' classrooms. T his is called mainstreaming. I don't have a problem with it in principal, but it depends on
                    a) the number of special ed kids put into your classroom
                    b) their disability.
                    Imagine having to have hand written notes available. That means that you must now write out clear and understandable notes for someone who may only read at the 5th grade level, even if you are teaching the 10th grade.

                    #7) Bilingual.
                    Similar to #6, but now imagine you have to teach to someone who doesn't speak English. AND you don't have access to any sort of translator help. yeah, they're going to do well.

                    #8) Low skills coming into your class.
                    How does one teach Algebra to someone who
                    a) reads at the 5th grade level
                    b) can't add/subtract/multiply/divide
                    c) You aren't allowed to help them with b. Not kidding. I was told to not help them with that. "They've been taught that for years and it isn't working. Just set a high expectation and they will come through." Smell some BS anyone?

                    #9) Huge pressure to graduate/pass them.
                    Geez, if our graduation rate doesn't go up, then we'll get in trouble as a school/district. So we need to push them forward. So what if our graduates are a joke and maybe 1 out of 800 can make it at college?

                    #10) Business doesn't care.
                    OK, sure they care about the quality of our students. But they don't do anything about it but whine. How many companies really go in and help schools out? How many Businesses stand up and scream that our schools suck. Instead, they hire people from overseas or whatever. Guess how many people a company has to interview to find someone capable. And this is for jobs that are entry level, no post-high school required.

                    #11) Money
                    Our money is often spent in stupid ways. I've seen schools spend $50,000 for a compute lab. My old school spent about $500 for most of our labs (not counting the tables). You don't need new computers for typing and internet. If computers are donated to a school, microsoft gives a free license for windows 98 and the office 97. Do that for each computer and boom. You're ready to go. If you want to get fance, spend a little extra. We had a program on each computer (deep freeze) that would reset EVERYTHING on a computer when it rebooted. (so you better save to a floppy or a network drive because it'll be gone upon reboot). Keep the kids from downloading viruses and deleting important files.
                    That's just one example. I bought the $1 calculators from walmart for my classes. most of the work only needed + - * / anyway. I didn't need $50-200 calculators with graphing capabilities that would just get stolen or damaged anyway.
                    Kansas city, missouri spent tons of money on fancy sewing machines that stayed in storage. Lots of TV and vcrs. Lots of this equipment "disappeared."

                    #11) Politics
                    Politicians don't want to fix the problem. They want to use it to get elected. They won't work together to solve it, they want to stay in their mind set and not budge an inch. they want to poke at every mistake to get elected.
                    If I was in office, I would begin by doing one thing. Hiring more teachers to
                    a) lower class size
                    b) give teachers more time to prepare.
                    That alone would probably help. If the job is easier (stress wise) then you'd have fewer teachers quit. I know of over 10 teachers that never taught after their student teaching semester.

                    #12) Teacher education.
                    Maybe it is better since I got my bachelors. But when I went through, you barely saw a student/classroom until your LAST semester. Then you're like "OMG, this SUCKS. I ain't doing this for a living."
                    True story:
                    I was supposed to student teach at school x. They decided at the last minute to not take any student teachers.
                    Then they sent me to school y. My cooperating teacher was told about me about 10 minutes before I arrived. He would go read books in the teacher lounge when I was teaching. With 4 different principals in the building, not ONE came to see me teach during the entire semester I was there. I was told to write my own referal letter which he signed without reading it. This is supposed to help me?

                    #13) Teacher health.
                    My last year, during a presentation on the health care, they made a big deal about how antidepressants were no longer the #1 prescribed drug to employees of the school district. Woo-hoo. Now it is #2! Right after iocane powder! (wait, that's not right). Additionally, if I were to try to put my family on the health care, it would literally take HALF my pay. And it would suck. If a new teacher has a family, they give him information on the health care system Kansas has for uninsured kids. (which isn't accepted by most doctors, by the way).

                    That's is just a FEW of the problems that the teachers face.

                    This isn't even focusing on the problems of parents/students/etc except where they overlap.

                    The education system is SCREWED. And fixing it will take a LOT of time and money. None of which will be committed because the politics will screw it up. I can't stand politicians. I don't mind people running for office. It is the STUPID ()@#*%)*#@% jerks who won't talk straight about issues. "My opponent is anti-educaiton because she voted against money for the schools!" Hey, retard. She voted against it because it was going to be $20 million and there was no information in the bill about where the money was coming from. She isn't going to spend money without knowing where it is coming from (Kansas' constitution requires a balanced budget, so the money would either come from somewhere that could matter or who knows what would happen)
                    "Sympathy means a lot, coming from Kulmar. I didn't think it was possible.
                    Good luck getting rid of your disease. If you're infected, though, stay away--I can't afford to be a zombie right now.
                    " Ednos


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                    • #11
                      Re: The Biggest Issue

                      Great post Skylark. I'm curious what you think of school choice programs? School choice seems to be one of the few (only?) simple and viable plans which could conceivably make a bit of headway on many of the deficiencies you highlight.
                      A policy of freedom for the individual is the only truly progressive policy. -F.A. Hayek

                      "$250,000 a year won't get me to Central Park West."

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                      • #12
                        Re: The Biggest Issue

                        What I don't understand is why it cost so stinking much for education? Why do these stupidly expensive computer labs and gardening budgets keep being approved? New elementary schools cost millions and millions of dollars! All while our teachers honestly don't get paid enough.

                        In contrast, my late grandfather went to school in a tiny 1 room schoolhouse for elementary. Graduated from some dump of a town in West Texas is in the 30's. But was well educated enough to put himself through Texas A&M with a degree in Civil Engineering. He was well educated, well spoken, well written, and knew everything about everything. He was learning computer programming in his 70's before he died.

                        Another example. When I was in middle school, I did a short 2 week exchange program where I went to a public school in Mexico. The school was a 2 story building made out of cinderblocks, cement, and no paint. There were no windows even. It was in really sorry shape. Their soccer field was just a dry dusty rectangle. BUT, in 8th grade, these kids were learning freakin' Calculus. They told me they did Algebra back in 6th grade. Their other courses were pretty impressive as well. I'd say their regular 8th grade curriculum was equivalent to our 11th or 12th grade curriculum. AND THIS WAS IN MEXICO!

                        That proves to me that something is seriously screwed up in our educational system. We seriously need to start buckling down on the curriculum and push our kids harder, but without the stupid national standardized tests that waste everyone's time. We could easily do it if without spending tons of money. We need to stop worrying about offending people. That's where we mess up. We worry about the 50% of kids who have "learning disabilities" (i.e. kids who don't care that much), and truly leave behind the kids who do care and do want to better by trying and pretending that all kids have equal capabilities.
                        "Common sense is not so common." -Voltaire

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                        • #13
                          Re: The Biggest Issue

                          I agree - some very good opinions put forth in Skylark's post, but most of the opinions represented have to do with the quality of education and not the equality or access to it. In terms of quality, much of Skylark's post, to me, echoes some ofthe problems in American society as a whole (parents not caring enough, language, race and ethnicicty, etc). These are huge problems in and of themselves, but there is no way that they are all going to be fixed in the name of education or anything else. In reverse, many of them actually would benefit from better public education (think - more smart kids = more smart parents = more smart kids). Plenty of kids in America still have access to a good public education today - I know I did growing up in the 80's. The big problem is that most don't, and the numbers of the latter category are grossly outpacing the former. That factor and its effects on the country as a whole is what Mr. Brooks seems so concerned about.

                          I think you're right that politicians are paying this little mind. It's unfortunate, because it is one of America's biggest issues.

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                          • #14
                            Re: The Biggest Issue

                            Originally posted by War.mongeR1 View Post
                            What I don't understand is why it cost so stinking much for education? Why do these stupidly expensive computer labs and gardening budgets keep being approved? New elementary schools cost millions and millions of dollars! All while our teachers honestly don't get paid enough.
                            Easy warmonger, it happens like this:
                            -County approves annual budget for the schools.
                            -Superintendent's office hires school board members who are going to be on their side.
                            -Superintendent's office puts all budget measures to vote before the school board.
                            -School board, of course, approves since they're getting paid to sit on what is usually a volunteer position.
                            -Ridiculous expenditures are approved and continue to carry on unchecked.

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                            • #15
                              Re: The Biggest Issue

                              Originally posted by Ferris Bueller View Post
                              Easy warmonger, it happens like this:
                              -County approves annual budget for the schools.
                              -Superintendent's office hires school board members who are going to be on their side.
                              -Superintendent's office puts all budget measures to vote before the school board.
                              -School board, of course, approves since they're getting paid to sit on what is usually a volunteer position.
                              -Ridiculous expenditures are approved and continue to carry on unchecked.
                              So in essence:
                              Our public education system = Tammany Hall
                              Last edited by War.mongeR1; 07-31-2008, 03:59 PM.
                              "Common sense is not so common." -Voltaire

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