Term Paper: Funding Education

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Richard Dawkins' the Selfish Gene and Jonathan Kozol's Savage Inequalities: Children in America's Schools

Changing the Meme

The Historical Meme: Education was a Bulwark of Democracy

Paradigm Shift: Failure of one meme

Paradigm Shift: Rise of another meme

Vouchers

Home Schooling

This paper is about the funding for education in the United States. It incorporates a paradigm shift in American education, one which gives the image of choice to parents and children, and reduces schools from their current large, monoloithic, bureaucratic and procedures-oriented paradigm to a small, diverse, experimental and self-directed paradigm.

In addition, this paper will call for a fundamental shift in education thinking. Rather than a coercion model, in which children are obligated to attend a certain school, the model with be a "demand-pull" paradigm, in which children and their parents choose to send their child to a certain school for the specific advantages that that school offers.

Those schools which can compete in the new paradigm will survive and thrive, while those which do not will wither and fade away. Teachers will also face the same circumstance: rather than teaching a group of students who are obligated to be there, and teaching with the assurance of lifetime tenure behind them, will be motivated to teach through an 'up or out' system which encourages good performance, and weeds out bad performance.

Changing the Meme

The current meme for public education is "lowest common denominator." A secondary meme is "obligatory education, backed by the legal system." Although no one who is truant goes to jail, there is nevertheless a reward system for school administrators to ensure that their students come to the institution every day; without regular attendance, the school loses a capitated allowance. In other words, a lower school census means that the school loses revenue.

School administrators and teachers are rewarded ways contrary to the public good. Students can be promoted from one grade to the next in order to increase graduation rates. If students' fundamental rate of learning the basics, such as reading and writing, was not sufficient, they could be "shifted" to the next level.

The advent of "No Child Left Behind" has made it more difficult for teachers and administrators to shift students, but shifting takes place nonetheless. Administrators are encouraged to bring in higher-performing students in order to increase their average scores, while teachers and administrators are strangely incented to let poorly-performing or needy students drop out of high school -- preferably as early as possible. The reason for this incentive is that poorly-performing students bring down the school average, and letting them drop out increases the proportion of higher-performing students, and thus the chances for the school to increase its scores.

The Historical Meme: Education was a Bulwark of Democracy

Our Founding Fathers supported universal education. They felt that an informed electorate was the only assurance that the country would continue on the right path. During the period of the Declaration of Independence, and the later Constitutional Convention, citizens debated the finer points of philosophy, law and history with one another in their homes, their pubs and places of worship. Only 7% of Americans at that time were living in the cities; they relied on newspapers and books to inform their opinions, and most thought a good deal about their position on individual freedoms and independence.

Although the Federal Government was small and ineffectual during the first decades, states followed up on the theme of universal public education, and created free public schools. These supplemented the religious schools and home schooling, which were the primary teaching methods at the time. In comparison to European nations, the United States was literate and well-educated.

The theories of the central role of education in our democracy has been expanded upon by John Dewey and his followers in the early 20th century. Dewey argues that education plays a key role in open-mindedness. Prior to making humans more efficient and effective, it is important to ground their moral and intellectual capabilities. Dewey felt that the functions of education were to produce moral, thinking and curious individuals who could engage in discussion (preferably face-to-face) with others. Such dialogue was necessary to analyze current political events, to convince other individuals and groups of the 'rightness' of one's cause, or to change one's mind in case of a better-realized solution, and to implement new ideas through political consensus based on an open discussion of the need for change and how to arrive at it (Russell, 1986).

Paradigm Shift: Failure of one meme

Any organization can grow corrupt and self-serving as it ages. This is particularly true of a government-led organization, such as the education establishment. The evidence that schools are losing sight of their primary mission is abundant. In the U.S., only 70% of students graduate from high school (Chaddock, 2006).

Those who do graduate from high school and go on to college are obliged, in many cases, to take remedial reading and math courses to follow up on courses that they should have mastered in high school or even middle school (Kozol, 2007).

The core of No Child Left Behind was to measure schools' effectiveness at teaching, and to require that schools improve their results over time. Despite complaints from teachers' unions and school administrators, schools have been forced to administer tests to children and to publish the results. Rather than look upon the results as a wake-up call for change, most teachers unions have hidden behind excuses. The primary excuse -- that there is not enough money to support the conditions of NCLB -- has not been demonstrated to be correlated to student results in NCLB. In other words, schools with low spending per pupil can have much better results than those with higher spending per pupil. Absent this excuse that there's not enough money, the real protest is that teachers' unions do not want the cold light of analysis on their results.

Upon the request to renew NCLB, several state teachers' unions, including Vermont, Michigan and Texas, sued the Federal government to roll back measurements:

The rebellion is growing," said Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based think tank that has been tracking implementation of the No Child Left Behind law. "These actions are all ratcheting up the pressure on the Bush administration to either relax some of the requirements of No Child Left Behind or provide more money to fund it," he said. (Dobbs, 2005)

Paradigm Shift: Rise of another meme

The U.S. primary and secondary education system has evolved in recent years to a two-track system. Those parents who can afford to do so take their children out of poorly-performing public schools and put them in private or church-affiliated schools, or move to areas where the public schools offer acceptable educational results. Those parents who cannot afford these options are left to fend for themselves in poor, non-performing schools.

The result is that educational results in public schools, while bad everywhere, are particularly poor for these "no-option" students. African-Americans and Latinos are especially hard-hit: only 50% of these students graduate from high school (U.S. Dept of Education, 2001).

What are parents in school districts with poor performance to do? They must change the paradigms which have condemned their children to substandard educations. The primary alternatives to the current morass include: voucher systems, home schooling, magnet schools and smaller schools. In the absence of leadership from teachers' unions and school administrations, parents are taking these initiatives with a new set of allies: business leaders and politicians.

Vouchers

The primary idea behind a true voucher system is that the community gives a "voucher," which is simply a promise to pay the average amount of a year's education, and allows the parents to choose whichever school to which they can send their child. In the most open voucher system, parents are free to send their child to a religious-affiliated school, a private school, or any of the public schools which meet their needs. Since the average expenditure per pupil is about $8,000 per year, even if a parent chooses a private school, there is generally enough money available to pay for it (as most private school tuition is at or slightly above that level).

Vouchers were first tried in Milwaukee and Cleveland in poor, inner-city school districts. There were significant protests from the state and national teachers' unions, but the local politicians prevailed. Much to their consternation, the parents and students responded enthusiastically to the new paradigm: rather than go where the School District told them to go, parents could choose to take their children away from poorly-performing schools and put them elsewhere. As a result, some public schools failed, while better ones grew their enrollment.

Vouchers are now being put in place in Colorado and Florida, and poor African-American and Hispanic families are clamoring for vouchers all over the United States.

Home Schooling

Home schooling is a traditional paradigm which had been shelved for a number of years. In 1800, only 7% of… [END OF PREVIEW]

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