Monday, July 21, 2014

Education, Inequality, and America

Opinion Piece.

Born in the inner city? Chances are you'll be poor your whole life. 
Born in the 90210? Most likely rich. 
Born in the suburbs? You could go either way.

The rich get richer, the poor get poorer and the middle class is slowly disappearing. The great divide between the upper and lower class is based in education and increases further with each generation. But why is this?

Someone once wrote that the biggest determining factors of how well a student does in school is 1/3 in-school factors and 2/3 family characteristics (ie poverty, housing, parental education etc).
They're saying that if your parent is poor and uneducated, most likely you move from house to house within a poor district, and you get sick a lot because you lack healthcare, that you do not do as well in school as your suburban or rich counter-part. 

They're saying: You are less educated because you are poor.
I say: You're poor because you have less education.
A small but perceptible difference. 

Why do I say you're poor because you have less education? 

Because every once in a while, a student from a poverty-stricken area will defy the odds and end up at Harvard or Yale or Princeton. Hard work is available for ALL students, no matter how rich or poor the district. This type of student usually takes it upon his or herself to get educated. To find out what they needed to know and do to get into an institution of higher learning. Because their parent certainly didn't know and the poor, usually inner city public school wasn't (or more likely couldn't) offer the resources needed because of minimal funding.
That type of student is an exception. Not the rule. 

So it is not just because your family is poor. It is because your family isn't educated enough to help you. You the student, on the other hand, have always had the power to break the cycle.

Let's take a look at how schools are funded:

In a simplistic nutshell-
School districts' money is spread evenly across their schools...and by evenly I mean the calculation used (based on attendance (not enrollment) and teacher load) is the same for all schools within a district. The initial funding comes from property taxes. 

Some schools/districts qualify for state and federal funding like Title I.
Many times, if a school is in need of specialists like a gang intervention spec or a homeless expert or language coordinator, the school doesn't get extra money for them. The school must find the salaries for the extra positions from their existing allotment of funding. Poor schools, like people, tend to get poorer as time goes on, and then attendance drops so the funding drops. Lower school funding means students are not getting a quality education because of classroom overcrowding, deteriorating buildings, less supplies and resources, and many more resulting factors.
Let's not forget that the federal government is tying test scores to funding. As you can imagine, this is a disaster of epic proportions playing out in slow motion. 

You can now see how schools being funded by property taxes is another big failure. Rich districts have higher property taxes so school funding is higher.  Poorer districts have lower property taxes, so the base funding starts out much lower than its higher-tax counterparts.

Because I am an economics major, let me explain it this way-
In economic terms all the problems together form what is known as 'Economies of Scale' in the public education system. In microeconomics terms, Economies of Scale are the cost advantages that businesses obtain due to size, output, and scale of operations with cost per unit of output generally decreasing with the increasing scale (since fixed costs are spread out over more units of output).

Got that?
In layman's terms- the bigger the operation, the less it costs per unit.
Now think of the school system the same way....larger, richer schools can do more for less cost than a poor, or inner city school can. The product produced is an educated child. 

Over time, this process increases the educated rich and uneducated poor alike, which increases the gap between the two while the middle class is slowly dissolved.

Would increasing the funding for poorer schools have an effect on the number of poor students attending school and obtaining a higher education degree? Possibly. In the short run it could lead to more students attending school. In the long run it could increase the number of students attending college and eventually moving to the upper class category (because in reality how many poor kids go back to their poor neighborhood to live once making it big?).
If this falls true, then the upper class increases as does the divide between the upper and lower classes. There's just more people now in the upper class than lower class.
And if we continue on this track, eventually the lower class (poor) would be eliminated- which sounds like a good thing, doesn't it?
But if the truly poor are eliminated, does that mean there are no more class distinctions?

I doubt it. Because you still have the distinctions on the amount of money individuals earn. Is Bill Gates the same as Micky Arison?
Now you're wondering who Micky Arison is, right?
Both Bill and Micky are billionaires. So why have you heard of one and not the other? 

Because they are not equal, not even in the world of the rich.
Gates, as you know, runs Microsoft and practically every computer in the world has one program or another of his on it.
Micky Arison on the other hand- the best he can do is sell you a trip to the Bahamas or Alaska. Arison is the CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines. 

Gates is worth just shy of $80 billion- a stark contrast to Arison who is worth right around $6 billion.
This difference is the equivalent of living in the North Shore of Chicago or living in Cicero.

While I fully support educating all students equally so they have the same resources, class-size and activities available (and yes, this means that funding is unequally distributed to be higher in some places and lower in others)- adequate funding alone will not correct the bigger problem.

What exactly is the bigger problem?
The bigger problem is that virtue and honor and hard work are no longer desired. As a people, we have divorced knowledge from experience- devaluing the kind of knowledge that comes from hands-on experience and instead substituting classroom lectures by an individual who likewise has no practical experience because he was also taught by a lecturer with no practical experience. 'Upward mobility' and 'social mobility' are the catchphrases of most social programs. 
The American Dream was the idea that everyone has the opportunity for prosperity. Anyone could own a house, start a business, and be a leader in their community. Making laws that directly affect him or herself and the citizens of the community in which they live. However, no longer are communities self-governed within a self-governing state. Instead, a large and imposing centralized government is at the helm making decisions that affect communities in which the rulers do not even live or are connected.

Because of this centralized government, the individuals who do rise to the top become the new ruling class, the elite. They now make the rules that govern your livelihood. And they want to stay there, so they keep the status quo in their favor.

No, what America needs is a return to a more localized form of government. (Big government has a place, but it should not be allowed to overstep its bounds like they do now.)
A focus on all students being educated equally. Male, female, rich, poor, black, white. Doesn't matter.
Hard work and practical application trumps higher learning ( except those in the medical profession- I would really like my doc to have gone to medical school!).
A limit on the number of years an individual can serve in public service positions (total, not each position). Public service was never meant as a career, but a duty you served then went back to your own life.
Eliminate lobbyists.
Eliminate corporation or business donations to political parties and groups.
This all is just a start. There are more things that could be done (or undone) to help- the list is mighty long.

America needs their original American Dream back, without the convoluted cloud of centralized government bureaucracy and ruling elite.
But first, we must raise individuals that believe that life is valuable and that virtue, honor and hard-work are important and worthy characteristics to have.
Then we must convince the new ruling elite to change the status quo for the benefit of future generations, and to vote themselves out of office.

(You can stop laughing now.)

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