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December 29, 2008

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I would like to know what "opponents of No Child Left Behind, proponents of real school reform, and advocates of diverting wasteful federal military spending to rebuilding the infrastructure of public education" have in the way of constructive proposals.

I am not surprised a cadet teacher would look to the federal government to fund a public education renaissance. But I am surprised anyone over 30 would think the federal government already over 10 trillion dollars in debt, would be able to fund this renaissance. And I do not have the time to read all those books on education reform that Peter Campbell recommends.

As a former boss used to remind me: "If you can't reduce your proposal to one single-spaced page or less I do not have time for it.

Here's the succinct proposal, Howard:

"Divert a portion of wasteful, unnecessary and counter-productive federal military spending to domestic AND foreign educational infrastructure."

Hopefully Obama's plan for a massive infusion of cash into the rebuilding of the nation's infrastructure (the one really good idea he has come up with) will also include schools.

Chalmers Johnson is a good source for this. Unfortunately for Howard and me (I'd also like to reduce my work to one-page handouts), one needs to read in order to know.

Howard,
There are many constructive ideas for reform floating around. Unfortunately, you'll have to read more than just a single page to really understand the problems of No Child Left Behind, the expansion of charter schools (including privatization), the reform plans of the two main political parties, mayoral takeovers, and the way education is funded in this country; the devil is in the details.

Yes, the federal government is $10 trillion in debt (well, we may be close to double that given the more than $8 trillion in bad assets we've backed in the last year). Yes, I'm a cadet teacher and, yes, I'm looking partly to the federal government. You might question that - but I do not feel we can justify the over $1 trillion in military expenditures while tossing our children scraps from the federal table. Yes, most of education is paid for by individual states - already stretched thinly with necessary services to provide (education included).

Advocating for a cut in military expenditures and closing corporate tax loopholes while providing more funding for children might be radical idea; continuing to penalize failing schools through high-stakes testing and privatization, allowing many corporations to pay zero taxes (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d08957.pdf), and continuing America's imperialistic wars seems like a much more foolish approach. Education does not exist in a bubble and should not be talked about as though it exists in a vacuum - it is, after all, a reflection of our political thinkers, society, and economic system.

Remarkably, this "cadet teacher" has more experience teaching children than Arne Duncan, a CEO and not an educator.

-Ken Libby

The current financial melt-down is the culmination of 30 years of massive upward redistribution of wealth that started with the policies of Paul Volcker, one of Obama's chief economic advisers.

One way we could rebuild the social safety net, including education, health care, transportation and more, would be to levy a one-time wealth tax to take some of that ill-gotten wealth back.

The Bush administration's plan has been to stick a trillion-plus dollar finger in the dike, with the hopes that it will hold until Obama takes office.

I have no illusion that Obama, an avowed market fundamentalist, will abandon his and his party's faith in markets, at least until history brings them crashing down around him. Then, just maybe, he'll turn to the kinds of social investment that we need to get us out of the hole.

Here's a key piece from Obama's proposed economic agenda:

Save one million jobs through immediate investments to rebuild America's roads and bridges and repair our schools: The Obama-Biden emergency plan would make $25 billion immediately available in a Jobs and Growth Fund to help ensure that in-progress and fast-tracked infrastructure projects are not sidelined, and to ensure that schools can meet their energy costs and undertake key repairs starting this fall. This increased investment is necessary to stem growing budget pressures on infrastructure projects. In addition, in an environment where we may face elevated unemployment levels well into 2009, making an aggressive investment in urgent, high-priority infrastructure will serve as a triple win: generating capital deployment and job creation to boost our economy in the near-term, enhancing U.S. competitiveness in the longer term, and improving the environment by adopting energy efficient school and infrastructure repairs. In total, Obama and Biden's $25 billion investment will result in 1 million jobs created or saved, while helping to turn our economy around.

So he has a clear sense of the need to fund existing school projects or projects that are in the works. But he justifies the increased funds by arguing they will "enhance U.S. competitiveness," the only argument that carries any weight in Washington these days. Never mind that "U.S. competitiveness" is an oxymoron. The current global economic collapse has nothing to do with Little Johnny not being able to compete with Little Mao or Little Sanjiv. But even if schools were completely to blame and the US economy tanks because Little Billy can't compete with his global peers, say good-bye to inexhaustible US demand. Since the US imported more than $263 billion in goods from China in 2006 and $20 billion in goods from India in 2006, the end of US demand means curtains for India and China.

There is no "us" and "them" any more. There can be no "success" in a globalized economy at anyone's expense. We all succeed together and we all fail together. Unless somebody changes the game from global capital, the accumulation of wealth, and individual gain at the expense of the common good, this will always be the case.

Ken - here are 10 bullets, even less than your desired one-pager:

1. smaller class sizes at every level
2. comprehensive social services so no child has to go without food, shelter, medicine, and dental care
3. adequate prenatal care and postnatal follow-up so children reach school age healthy
4. free, high-quality, universal pre-K that is developmentally appropriate, i.e., respectful of each child's growth along a broad continuum
5. parent education for young parents
6. comprehensive job training and placement for parents at a real living wage
7. universal healthcare coverage for all Americans, especially the poor and "working poor"
8. free, high-quality onsite child-care or free transportation to and from child-care facilities to make it possible for parents to work and raise children
9. high-quality training and ongoing professional development for elementary teachers in reading instruction (not drill-and-kill phonics)
10. high-quality training and ongoing professional development for all teachers in classroom-based formative assessment

I can hear the objections now: "These are all nice feel good things to do and there may be some good reasons for doing them, but what evidence is there that they would actually narrow the achievement gap?"

Imagine if we applied this logic to Bush's argument about the war on terror, especially the invasion of Iraq. We would say, "Mr. President, these are all nice things to do and there may be good reasons for doing them, but what evidence is there they would actually end the war on terror and make the world safer?"

So let's make a deal: let's take the money we are currently spending in Iraq each week and let's spend it on closing the achievement gap. Then let's look at the results. If we spend $300 billion and achieve absolutely nothing in trying to close the achievement gap, then I grant the nay-sayers full license to run through the streets, shouting, "More money is not the answer!" But until such time, I respectfully assert the following: (1) this country has finally realized that we have a serious poverty problem, (2) rocks are hard, water is wet, the sky is blue, and poverty shapes whether children can learn or not, and (3) we have to do something about it – now.

Recall the words of Kennedy after making the famous moon declaration: "We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win."

So we choose to close the achievement gap not because it is easy, but because it is hard, because this goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.

Peter:

I believe you were responding to my (Howard) post.
If it were up to me, I would endorse your proposal to close the achievement gap in public K-12 education.

My first step would be to identify any school districts that do not have achievement gaps. Do small (Spraking here of Oregon.) districts such as Corbett, Riverdale or others whose size dictates that all students attend the same elementary, middle or high schools have achievement gaps? Is it possible that achievement gaps stem from the unequal distribution of resources among multiple buildings in (urban or centralized rural and exurban) districts as they grow larger and equitable distribution of resources becomes more difficult?

Money? The money we are currently borrowing to spend on Iraq is not the answer. Might it be possible that a more equitable distribution of and more competent management of current public school funds could close the achievement gap the way smaller districts are doing with current funding?

This talk of transfer of $ from Iraq is all well and good, but it will fail to create meaningful change if Obama follows through on his right-wing promises for more military spending and more militarism (and let's be honest: Obama has not promised to end the Iraq occupation; all those troops and mercenaries and hardened bases will continue to drain the economy).

We have 761 military bases in the world that our government admits to (not including Iraq, Afghanistan, and who knows where else). Joseph Stiglitz talks about $5 trillion in eventual spending for the present "wars" (actually occupations), and Chalmers Johnson estimates that the various hidden costs have already increased total military spending to over a trillion a year, leading, he says, to eventual bankruptcy, even if we can stop the current economic bleeding.

So unless we figure out a way to force the two hegemonic parties to change their plans for world-wide domination, you can forget about education.

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