Sunday, March 11, 2012

Columnists on education

First, Thomas Friedman writes on the negative correlation between natural resources and national educational attainment, here.

Second, economist Paul Krugman writes about the surprising attack on education by some elements of the conservative right, here.

Both are well-written, provocative, and insightful. Coming after my attendance at a Douglas County School Board meeting last week - an experience that was alternately hilarious and appalling - I think these columnists are on to something. The folks who would dis-invest in education are avidly pursuing precisely the things that will most harm our nation, and its citizens.

Back to that school board meeting.

* There were numerous attacks by the board against unions. My favorite was the railing against the travesty of "taxpayer funded subsidies" to unions, who then (horrors) had the temerity to spend some of it on political lobbying. This remark came from an oil and gas lawyer, who -- is this possible? -- perhaps is not aware of substantial public subsidies for his industry, which assiduously lobbies the federal government for preferential treatment. Are we to believe that such activity is fine only for business?

* There was considerable crowing about the preservation of a bond rating, saving money in interest on renegotiated debt, and establishing the principle of "not needing to go back to the voters for more money." Good financial management -- and renegotiation of debt is an example long employed by the school district -- is certainly praiseworthy. But the firing of teachers, the staggering increase in class size across the district, is not something to be proud of. If I followed all the numbers, a $20 million reduction in spending earned $254 thousand in bond savings. Yay?

One public commenter said, "schools are a business." But that's wrong. They have to be run well, certainly, but success isn't measured by the bank statement. Public schools are not for-profit agencies; they are mission-driven. That mission is the education of our young. Does anyone believe that having fewer teachers - far fewer than is necessary to balance the budget - is an intelligent path to that end? Apparently a lot of people do believe that unions are all that's holding us back -- an assertion already disproven here in Douglas County by charter schools with waivers from the state.

* The appearance of a "pimp," a "Sugar Daddy for education." This was a guy dressed up in orange velvet pants and cape, white plastic platform shoes, and a broad-brimmed big hat with a long feather. This is the kind of low-draw, high-entertainment stunt so beloved by the conservative radio aficionado. As this guy strolled around with a mock check from the federal government, his buddy ranted into the microphone. The point? Um. Or maybe there wasn't a point. It didn't seem to matter.

Who needs evidence when you've got attitude?

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