i've wanted to write about this for some time now.  as i write this, i'm unsure of exactly where this post will take me.  i have many thoughts on this topic, and this could get lengthy.  i'll do my best to articulate my thoughts with as much brevity as possible. 

for my entire life, it has been universal that education is one of the most important things in America.  all politicians have trumpeted the importance of educating our youth.  this has never been a party issue.  some individual politicians were more strident on this than others, but never has there been a disagreement on the importance of education. 

this appears to have changed. 

when this change occurred i don't know.  it's possible that it has been quietly changing for some time now, but recent economic woes of many states have allowed politicians to cut funding for public schools.  hey, they have to cut somewhere, right?  but i wonder if it's more sinister than that.  is this what some (conservative) legislators have wanted to do all along? 

before i delve into the evidence, first allow me to discuss the potential motivations.  why would anyone be against public education?  there are a litany of possible reasons.  

  • lack of religious influence in public schools (i.e. - no prayer allowed)
  • teaching of evolution
  • fear of liberal indoctrination
  • little to no say in the curriculum by parents
  • exposure to diversity
  • power of the teacher's unions
  • poor testing scores vs. private/charter schools

i'm not going to tackle all of these in full.  suffice it to say, these concerns about public schooling have led to a massive increase in homeschooling.  as of 2009, a 75% increase in was reported since 1999.  that is a staggering increase.  while there are legitimate reasons for homeschooling, it is my opinion that the majority of it stems from Religious objections. since it appears as though the religious objections are the most prevalent, so i will start here.  

there has been an ongoing fight on behalf of the Religious right to put God back into schools.  we've seen the battles come and go to allow for prayer in various forms in public schools.  typically, these fights have been won by secularists.  the push for creationism is a bit of an end around to make sure that God is discussed in school.  most of these battles have been won by secularists too.  what is a good God fearing Christian to do?  take their kids out.  if they can't afford a private school, they are choosing to homeschool. 

a new twist has also arisen.  Charter schools have been cropping up more and more.  while this is a complicated issue with many different fronts that can be discussed, i will keep it rather basic.  Charter schools are not so different from public schools, with the exception being that they are not subject to the restrictions of public schools.  this means that the curriculum is not state mandated, and as such, the school itself can dictate the curriculum.  this addresses several concerns on my list.  if desired, parents can influence curriculum, the schools can have sanctioned prayer, and teachers unions are greatly restricted or diminished (about 12% of Charter schools have a form of union).  i will also add that many Charter schools are for-profit organizations, but receive massive funding from the state governments.  not a bad business, if you ask me. 

much of this is driving the reduction in funding to traditional Public schools.  since many Charter schools are showing improvement in testing, an argument is often raised that vouchers for Charter schools should be increased, again limiting funding for Public schools.  Charter schools have a luxury that it's Public counterpart does not - that of selection.  they can pick and choose who gets enrolled, leaving the less than desirable students to the Public schools.  it's no wonder that they are seeing better testing results - it's designed that way. 

no matter that the cards are stacked against the Public system.  legislators have the evidence to back up their claims, the support of many of their constituents who are railing against their lack of Religion in Public Schools, and the majority of the state house to legislate cuts to Public schools in favor of diverting funds to Charter schools and even homeschooling. 

and this is what is happening all across the country, and not just in Red states.  37 states have cut funding for Public schools since 2010.  i can't ever remember funding cuts to education in my lifetime, but i'm sure it's happened.  but i can't imagine it's ever happened at this level.  one could argue, i suppose, that in this economic crisis, cuts have to be made all over.  but largely this isn't the case.  they are coming for Public education FIRST.  and if you are deeply religious, you might even agree with them.  now you have options that weren't available decades ago. 

originally, i asked if something more sinister is happening here.  could it be that Conservative/Religious lawmakers are cutting funding to Public schools to increase the funding of schools that can offer religious practices?  could their intent be to keep the least intelligent students in the Public schools to reinforce their idea that Public education is broken?  could the ultimate goal be to keep students uninformed so as to maintain an ignorant electorate? 

perhaps i'm making a mountain out of a molehill.  i'd love to hear what others think. 


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I do not think that you are making a mountain out of a molehill at all.  I agree very much with your list of objections that people may have towards public education.  I do not think that most of those alone are enough to cause a change in legislation except the first three.

Every student I know who is homeschooled, and it seems that I know of way more than I used too, are extremely Christian.  I can only imagine the science and history being taught there...I think that that GOP, in bed with the Christian Right is very much against public education--particularly science.  As you have pointed out, they lose all of those battles (except in TN).  I would expect that trend to continue if they gain power. 

I very much think that religion, particularly Christianity is behind this movement to slash public education.  Good post Matt!

thanks.  glad i'm not alone in my sensing that something afoul is happening. 

funny, last night i was talking with a friend who is Catholic, and before i even got to the middle of my theory on this he totally guessed where i was going.  i was shocked.  just laying out the start of my argument he was able to put the pieces together and figure out my conclusion.  and he didn't disagree, although his wife was upset b/c she thought i was criticizing Charter schools and she wants her kids to go to one.  i was glad that he pointed out that i was not criticizing Charter schools at all, but simply trying to understand the phenomenon of the rapid increase in its popularity. 

  they can pick and choose who gets enrolled, leaving the less than desirable students to the Public schools.  it's no wonder that they are seeing better testing results - it's designed that way.

That's not a bug it's a feature. Seriously, in many places the schools are completely inundated by the toxic neighborhoods in which they exist that the kids who really can and would do better are stuck in that destructive environment. Unfortunately the public schools cannot eliminate the riffraff and that poisons it for everyone.

Kids that want to learn need a way out of that hell hole.

My cynicism goes even deeper in that I doubt the commitment to education was ever more than lip service. The ruling class has no motivation to ensure the unwashed masses are highly educated, on the contrary.

Education accounts for only 2% of the federal budget. But in California, 53% of the state general fund budget goes to education.  

This problem is very complex and requires lots of avenues of reform. These come to mind:

  1. What Sir Ken Robinson says: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zDZFcDGpL4U
  2. Magnet schools are doing well, why not magnet rather than charter?  
  3. For profit charter schools.  Again with the profit. ugh. 
  4. Class size, class size, class size.  Why doesn't anyone talk about this?  It is fundamental.
  5. Pensions, bargaining, union expectations vs. union busting
  6. Homeschooling is popular even with non-religious people because public school quality is low. 
  7. Bad neighborhoods have mostly good kids but they are marginalized because of where they live. 
  8. Unstable schools budgets due to tax revenue, annual levies etc...
  9. Crumbling infrastructure, low teacher and student moral, poor school management
  10. The waste that is standardized testing and excessive homework
  11. Parental responsibility and lack thereof

This gov site has great numbers for analysis: http://www.usgovernmentspending.com/compare_state_spending_2010b20a

Just a few comments on a few of your points

Education accounts for only 2% of the federal budget

Should this be a surprise? Education is historically state and local.

Class size, class size, class size.  Why doesn't anyone talk about this?  It is fundamental.

it's a truism talked about all the time. Quite a few studies have found it not to be the determining factor in a school's success.

Pensions, bargaining, union expectations vs. union busting

Finally in NJ the union is acknowledging (in their TV ads, anyhow)  that we need enforceable performance standards for teachers. What took them so long?

Bad neighborhoods have mostly good kids but they are marginalized because of where they live.

This is the elephant in the room. Inner city schools often have higher per student expenditures than successful suburban schools. Why is it that some schools do fine without armed police, don't have frequent knife and gun fights, and actually have students learning things? The biggest determinant of a school system is the students and their parents, and there is a problem concentration in some neighborhoods (that's what makes them 'bad neighborhoods'). It comes down to the people, but that's something too many people (especially liberals) are afraid to say out loud.

A final thought: There is nothing particularly sacred about our current public school model. It's not enshrined in the Constitution, it's just the byproduct of 19th century thinking. Maybe we shouldn't be so obsessed with keeping the status quo.

Thanks for the input Jay, not sure why the liberal bashing was necessary. I am liberal but respect you and don't want to alienate you by belittling your opinion. 

Even though I'm liberal, I am glad unions are working toward accountability and I know some current pensions plans are unsustainable. On the flip side I am annoyed by the failures of for profit universities and am adverse to that trend in k-12.  

In my* and many teachers' opinion, class size matters.  This is getting a lot of press right now since Romney mentioned it recently.** 

Of course there are times when class size won't help and of course family involvement is always an essential element. But many kids have to make the jump to success from parents that are poorly educated themselves and/or don't care. Those kids are the ones that need extra help.  

*I have a credential and taught for one year

**cited a non-liberal source in an effort to cross the aisle

Sorry, it was not so much liberal bashing, but as an observation. It was an observation that in an attempt to not be judgemental, liberals sometimes go out of their way to avoid saying things that may be perceived as racist (even when they're not) or culturally judgemental (which they probably should be doing). They're motivations are good in this case, but it causes some blindness.

Small class size is good, but it's not the difference between successful and unsuccessful schools. It can make a decent school better.

As far as the decaying infrastructure, even this is often related to the student population. In suburbia where I went to school, and where my son went to school, there was not a lot of expense repairing broken or vandalized buildings and equipment.  Students acted up occasionally, but by and large the school system was not fighting a losing battle, did not have to constantly replace damaged equipment and books, did not have to lock everything down every second. That's where the difference between a dysfunctional student population, and one from a stable neighborhood is visible.

There are quite a few bright, potentially successful students in these bad neighborhoods. The best thing we can do for them is get them out of there to a place where they can learn rather than attempt to survive.

[BTW, just so you get a better picture of where I approach this from, I'm not a Romney fan or a GOPer. If you were to categorize me, it would probably be free market libertarian]

Thanks jay H. I suspect we agree more than we disagree despite the labels and what media and campaign managers would have us believe. 

Personally, I'd rather pay a higher tax for better public schools than pay much more  to a private school where the $ goes to religion or stockholders. Both my kids went to magnet schools and they are great, but there aren't enough to go around.  

it's a truism talked about all the time. Quite a few studies have found it not to be the determining factor in a school's success.

Links to those studies?

Finally in NJ the union is acknowledging (in their TV ads, anyhow)  that we need enforceable performance standards for teachers. What took them so long?

What took WHO so long ?  Teachers (I was one for 30 years) have long contended that they are more qualified in judging a teacher's preformance than is the occasional observation by an administrator.  Administrators and school boards have universally dismissed that option.  If a peer review and evaluation team of teachers had the authority to design a strategy for teacher improvement or determination for removing  unqualified teachers, true improvement of tescher quality would be achieved.  Many European school systems use that method successfully.

Those that bloviate about teacher quality are rarely (if ever) teachers and their opinions, for the most part, are useless.


i see the voucher system is working perfectly well.  at least for the Christian schools.  THIS is at the heart of all the public education reform and funding cuts.  THIS is what they want.  and when the results go slightly different than they hope, they get all curfuffled.  they pout, they stomp their feet, and they use their power to get their way. 

ultimately, these types of things will result in big lawsuits and result in the end of any voucher system, IMO. 

I teach in a public school and am sending my own daughter to a non-profit state chartered school (so far, for-profit charters are not allowed in my state).  For two years, I was involved with an educational organization that exposed me to a lot of the corporate-reform-movement rhetoric (I cringe about my participation in this group, I thought it had a noble-minded goal but once involved I saw the sinister underbelly.)  Anyway, education reform, NCLB, RTTT, etc. are all very hot topics for me and I have read MANY books, articles, blogs, etc on the subject - and lucky me, I get to teach at one of the worst schools in my state, which led to our school being a focus of the reforms under RTTT (which is really just an extension of the horror show that is NCLB), so I have a front-row seat at the circus.

Anyway, I do have some strong opinions on the state of public education.   While I do agree that many parents homeschool their children for religious reasons, this is a very small percentage of school-age children total, and its something that has always existed.  (My partner and his siblings where homeschooled on and off by his fundie xtian mom, when the mood took her, and they're in their 30s and 40s).  If anything, I would credit the boom in xtian homeschooling more to the internet - there are so many sites now which support homeschooling parents, providing curriculum, testing, etc. It's just made the whole thing more available.

However, what is going on in public education, with the conservative right cuts and rhetoric, I think is to serve an even more powerful "God" than the xtian one: money.  At the time, I couldn't figure out what George W. and his cronies were going for with NCLB, but when you study the history of all the figures involved, they all have backgrounds in the old voucher movement.  One author I read reflected that after nearly a decade of NCLB, it seems that this legislation was specifically designed to destroy public education so that people would declare it failed and abandon the whole structure. 

The key here is privatization.  There is SO MUCH MONEY in public education - but is it coming into the classroom?  As an English teacher who was given no books upon entering the classroom, I assure you it is not.  However, our poor rural school pays not one, but two private consultant firms tens of thousands of dollars each year for their staff to visit and critique the teachers/environment/curriculum/etc (no tangible goods are provided).  Our state pays hundreds of millions of dollars per year to a private testing firm to administer that state test that measures NCLB.  We are now being heavily courted by textbook manufacturers who promise the world with common core standards alignment - textbooks that are only 2 or 3 years old will be obsolete next year when our state goes to Common Core, a requirement of the almighty RTTT grant (which created a ton of admin positions in our state DOE, and a spiffy new website, but interestingly our school budget has been cut this year - two teacher lines were sliced, meaning classroom sizes will swell, and teachers were given no supply budget at all, meaning that everything from paper to pencils to dry erase markers will now have to come out of our own pockets). And you've already brought up the proliferation in other states of the private charter system.  And the demonization of teachers and teachers' unions - that's an agenda with "Koch brothers & friends" written all over it.

My thoughts?  a group of conservative, government-hating business types (nowadays, most of the Republican party) got together and said, whoa, there are BILLIONS of dollars in state and local funds going into public education.  How can we get our hands on it?  Religion wasn't the driving force - but it sure is convenient, when you can goad that vocal little group of die-hards into screeching about the evils of public education.  But don't be fooled - the real power structure is into the money. Having schools where kids say the Pledge of Allegiance and read "On Pandas" (or whatever the title of that psuedo-textbook by behe is) is just a nice fat bonus. 

Agreed Franny. Now that the wars are dying down, they need some new cash cows.  With prisons firmly in hand, they come for the schools.  Look at the job they've done with health care/big pharma, banking, energy and food. Why do we keep thinking privatizing leads to success? Because the koch brothers tell us so.  Success for a few and a mess for the rest.


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