Posts Tagged ‘taxes’

HERE ARE SOME THINGS WE REALLY CAN DO TO ADDRESS THE OPPORTUNITY/ ACHIEVEMENT GAP. ARE WE AS A NATION GENEROUS ENOUGH TO DO THEM?

August 28, 2015

I just finished reading Our Kids; The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam (2015, Simon and Schuster). Throughout the book Putnam does a masterful job of explicating the differences between the lives of lower income children and adults and middle class children and adults. First, Putnam is careful to demonstrate that the differences do not track along racial, ethnic or cultural lines. Although there are certainly more minority and immigrant families within the lower income group, the lives of minority and immigrant families in the middle class are more similar to other middle class families than they are similar to the lives of minority and immigrant families in the low-income group.

But the differences are startling. From birth lower income children have fewer language interactions with parents and family members resulting in slower and less robust language development. This of course leads to lower school achievement. Children and families in the low-income group tend to live with a great deal more stress from a variety of different sources. It may come from the neighborhood in which they live, it may come as result of parents having to work multiple jobs to make ends meet, or it could be as a result of the complex family relationships often seen in the low income population. In any event, research shows that stress impedes brain development, so again many of these children will achieve less in school.

Without trying to summarize a whole book in a few paragraphs Putnum also notes that folks in the lower income group are typically less able to intervene or help on behalf of their children in school or to help navigate the maze of getting into and succeeding at college. Children in this group are also less likely to have adult mentors, nor do their parents have adult contacts that can help the children get started in career or business. Finally children in the lower income group are less likely to participate in extra curricular activities. There is a great deal of research indicating that children who do participate do better in school and life, but most schools now require a fee to participate that lower income families can’t afford.

There is much more to this work than I have described here, including the statistical research, and the first hand stories of families from across income groups. The pictures painted are simultaneously inspiring and heartbreaking. But within these data I see the beginnings of a clear path to change. Putnam notes a few of them but what follows is also my expansion of Putnam’s ideas.

First, we have to abandon the miserly notion that money won’t help. All of the suggestions below will cost money. If we are generous enough as a nation to address this issue here is where we would begin.

  • High quality, free, pre-school for all low income 3 and 4 year olds. This isn’t a panacea but it could begin to address the gaps in language. Current Headstart programs don’t serve enough children. If these programs were full day and had affiliated day care it might allow parents to work and ease some financial pressures as well
  • Smaller class sizes and more para-professionals to insure students’ needs are met.
  • A high quality curriculum that includes music, art, PE and recess for all children. Middle class children often get these benefits while poorer children do not, leaving them farther behind.
  • Development of schools as community centers to provide after school opportunities for children, parent education, and healthcare.
  • Significantly more counselors, psychologists, ELL teachers and translators in schools. This could help with stress issues or help more kids find their way into appropriate colleges. The psychologists would help expedite special Ed placements and help with mental health issues while the translators and ELL teaches would ease the transition for second language students and help their parents communicate with school officials.
  • An end of “pay to play” in extra curricular activities (This comes directly from Putnam). However, if we really believe that these kinds of team/ group activities are so crucial why aren’t they a part of the curriculum? I would recommend that every student should be engaged with some sort of activity for the last period of the school day.
  • Mentorship programs for kids in all high schools. These could be from the community or from local colleges and universities. I think it is particularly important that members of the immigrant communities attending universities and colleges mentor members of their communitiea in the high schools.
  • An expansion of the earned income credit. Again this is directly from Putnam. There is research evidence that even relative small amounts of money (several thousand dollars annually) can make a big difference in the stress level of a family and hence the achievement of their children. Expanding the earned income credit could do this.
  • A national program to insure that schools are physically adequate and safe. Many children still go to school in buildings that most of us would find unacceptable (Jonathan Kozol has thoroughly documented this). Why on earth do we as nation tolerate this?

This where reading Putnam has led me to believe we need to go. It certainly isn’t about better test scores or better teachers, it’s about creating a level playing field for everyone. There may well be other things that need to be added to this list or other ways to start. But the ideas reformers are suggesting are far from the answer because they don’t provide kids with the kind of life experiences and platforms from which they can grow.

We can begin to do this if we want to. Are we generous enough as a nation,  do we care enough about other people’s kids, and can we see how important it is for our country to do it?

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Is your head spinning like mine?

January 10, 2010

A few days ago I attended my monthly meeting of the same Governmental Relations group I referenced in my previous post. Again, much of our time was spent on finance and funding of  public Higher Education in my state. I think I understood what our funding might look like in the next several years, but it took us nearly an hour to get there. The variables included how much money the state will allocate to Higher Education given our budget crisis, the amount of federal stimulus money we will receive for Higher Ed, how much our state funding can be cut without losing the federal stimulus funding, how much tuition will need to go up to cover lost allocations, how the state might divide it’s allocation between the two University Systems it supports, and whether the state can apply to be able to cut allocations further and still maintain stimulus funds.

If your head is spinning trying to make sense of all of this don’t fret. Mine was (and is) too, and I was there. The bottom line is at the end of the day this will affect folks jobs at universities, the availability of classes for students and the amount of tuition students have to pay. Most of the students going to college, and their families have no notion of all of this.. they simply want available classes and affordable, if not lower tuitions. There are other issues at the state level as well such as how much budgets for items like human services and schools will also need to be cut etc. Many different constituencies will want to have a hand in how all of this plays out. It’s probably impossible for most folks to understand the complexity of all. I can’t and I’ve had the benefit of several hours of folks trying to explain it to me.

The real issue here, it seems to me, is that we are not able to have a real national discussion on what it is that we value, and what we are willing to pay for those things. Instead of a rational discourse about what we want for our citizens we have the over heated rhetoric of socialism from the right, and “sell out” from the left. Amazingly all of this nonsense seems to be devoid of any historical understanding. I was surprised to find out this week that the maximum tax rate in the 1950 was 87% of taxable income. In the 1980’s under Reagan it came down to 50%, and the Bush tax cuts will pull it down to 33% of taxable income(the source of this information is http://treasury.gov/education/fact-sheets/taxes/ustax.shtml) Be careful when you read that information though…the bias of the site is that tax cuts lead to economic growth, and that perspective is at least debatable. We had much higher taxes well into the 80’s and we did have huge periods of economic growth during those times.

So how the heck do we get out of this mess? Frankly, I’m tired of stupid rhetoric..our governor here (and a potential presidential candidate too) says stupid things like “We don’t have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem” as if the two are unrelated. He then goes on to solve the “spending” problem by cutting funding to local governments, schools, social services and Higher Education. Unfortunately, there are folks that believe that our foolish spendthrift behaviors in spending money on such trivial matters as social services, government services, health care for the poor, education really are the causes of our financial difficulties.

From what I can see, none of our politicians are brave enough to try and get at these most basic discussions of who we are. President Obama gets it from both sides for trying to walk a rational middle line and actually get something done. Frankly, I’m just plain tired of this foolishness and lack of vision. I just want to yell at the whole damn crew “Will ya shut up and listen to each other!” I used to be able to achieve something like that (with out the yelling) when I was an elementary teacher with my own classroom. But who can do that for the nation when a majority of the population is acting like a bunch of errant 3rd graders egged on by sniggering bullies like Rush and Glenn?

As for me, I’m going to take some Prozac and hide for a while..perhaps that will solve the problem.

Have a happy “whatever you celebrate this time of year.” And if you don’t celebrate anything go have some fun anyway. We’ll find a way through this one too. See you next week.

seh


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