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Daniel Powell

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Why isn't REAL reform taking place in our education systems? Education is broken, but do any of the current reforms really change anything?

Of the 34 developed countries in the OECD, the United States ranks in the bottom one-third in math and science scores and graduation rate. Our nation isn’t catching up, either, it’s falling further behind. At least 11 countries are making academic gains at double and even triple the rate of American students. Despite nearly 30 years of reform efforts, little has changed. None of the proposed reforms by President Obama (listed on the White House page for education reform) fundamentally change the educational system.

“…overall, the United States has the same teachers, in the same roles, with the same level of knowledge, teaching in the same schools, with the school day organized the same way, with much the same set of tracked courses, with the same materials, and much the same level of parental support.” –Jal Mehta, of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In making this comment, Mehta urges us to look at educational reforms that will upend the current system. Education reform is needed, we all agree. If we’re going to change education in America, then we need to be serious about making real changes that fundamentally reshape our educational institutions. I challenge educators in America to join the conversation, and to propose profound changes to the system that will disrupt the status quo and challenge traditional education.


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    Jul 19 2013: here is my take. because education is a public issue. if an issue is public, a solution has to be nation wide. to reform education, you need the majority of politicians agree on it, and most teachers agree on it, and most parents agree on it.

    for politicians to agree on it, the reform must be popular. otherwise they would lose votes.

    for parents to agree on it, they would have to watch less oprah and reality shows, and educate themselves on the issue.

    for teachers to agree on it, they would have to be willing to take the extra effort of learning stuff and changing stuff.

    what is the chance that all these will come together at any point in time? let me assert that it is nil.

    the solution is of course to make education private. in that case, you don't have a nation wide agreement. all you need is 30 parents and 5 teachers to make a decision. if they are successful, others will follow them.
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      Jul 19 2013: So, then, do we eliminate public education altogether? Do we give parents vouchers for their children to attend private schools?

      Is there a proposal out there already to take action in a way that you agree with? Do you have your own ideas about how this could be accomplished?
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        Jul 19 2013: voucher is one idea. i'm a little bit more extreme, and i suggest that we don't need the government in education at all, in any way. there should be no public schools at all, and people can buy the education to their children on the market. there could be funds and there could be free schools maintained by churches, corporations or other organizations.
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          Jul 19 2013: Do you believe that this solution would provide for every child to receive an education with the opportunity to become economically independent? My problem with your proposition is that only the rich parents would have the capability to provide their children with a great education. How do you solve the issue of equal opportunity?
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        Jul 19 2013: no. just like today's system does not provide that. today, millions are failing every year, they dropped out of school, or attending but not learning anything useful.

        food is distributed in similar manner. yet, nobody complains that rich people get better food. this is how things are. there is no mass starvation, so there is no reason to take over the food market, and invade liberty in such a violent way. we accept the fact that people have different opportunities. the best way to deal with it is to let them work on it.

        the same principle should apply to education. the fact that some people are poor, and struggling is not enough reason to "publicize" education. if you care about the poor, provide them free education, and leave others alone.
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      Jul 19 2013: Right, lets have more Yale's and Harvard's and start even earlier at private kindergarten, private preschools and private elementary schools so that we can ensure that those who can afford those private school fees, stay undisturbed as long as possible from those who can't, such as the mob, the poor, the stupid ... :o) It'll be soon enough to face that crowd anyway, the moment you haven't found a way around but to hire them, being on the side of 'job creators' ...

      Who cares for talent as long as your wallet is big enough?

      This would be the end of education, not its beginning!
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        Jul 19 2013: you are saying that a major percentage of the population could not afford schooling?
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        Jul 19 2013: i think that you don't say things because you actually believe in them. you are just having fun. that is what i think.
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          Jul 19 2013: Then, you are mistaken. But I see that there is a chance, that my humor could be misunderstood at times. In my longer comment above, the humor used was irony to contradict the sadness about what it contains.

          So let me ask you again, do you think I was 'saying that a major percentage of the population could not afford schooling' or not?
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        Jul 19 2013: yes i think. because today, the school system does not serve a significant portion of the population, and they happen to be the poor ones. so unless you expect a larger portion getting no or unsatisfactory education in a free system, your comment does not make sense.
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          Jul 19 2013: You are partly right with your assumption, because, taking Europe for example, the school system does serve a significant portion of the population AND is free of charge, yet despite its debatable quality, it is not 'educating' the people for their own good, talents and interests, but for the purpose to 'function' within, lets call it, 'the system'.

          So when the purpose of education is not focused on a very individual, it changes into 'branding', into producing 'tools', aka 'workers', which we produce in the given, conveyer belt like 'school industry' today.

          From your former comments I remember you as a 'Neo Liberal' minded person, who blames, in a reflex and right after Canada, the government even when the weather turns bad. So by pretending to have read all the same smart books about economy you appear to have consumed, I figured, that it was logically from this perspective to get the education system privatized. All in all not that difficult, so even I was able to manage that.

          But sometimes reality dares to deviate from beautifully constructed 'business models' and it does not help to insist on the lines written. So taken the fact, that more and more families of the so called 'middle class' are struggling already to earn enough to get through a month, paying additional fees for private schools for their children, didn't appear a good solution to me.

          By doing a bit of math and some averaging in annual income of one teacher, just one, it would cost 130 Euro per month for a family for one child out of a class of 30 students.

          So for 5 teachers, which would count for most STEM + language + one art, it adds up to 650 Euro/month for just one child and this just for the teachers, without any cost of any infrastructure, materials, books, etc.

          So for an average middle class German family with two kids this 1300 + Euro/month is simply not affordable ... and 30 students in one class is doing the rest to education anyway...

          So whats your calculation?
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        Jul 19 2013: here is my calculation. in hungary, a teacher gets approximately the average wage. a teacher instructs 30 children at a time. so if we assume 8 hours school time (which is more than we have today), 1/30 of an average salary would be the monthly fee for a child. that is easily affordable for the absolute majority, only the poorest would have any problems. this does not mean, of course, that they would have no schooling. they would have to look for even cheaper alternatives. finally, the ones that can not afford any education whatsoever, are the ones that has problem with food or heating, that live practically outside of society.

        this effect is compounded by the fact that the government spends (wastes) a whole lot more on education. we have large bureaucratic systems, centrally decided reorganizations. so if we get rid all of this, reduce taxes by the same amount, suddenly a lot more parents can afford schooling for their children without help. remember, the government does not create, just redistributes.

        on the other hand, what we have today is a school system that is literally just a storage facility for about 5-10% of the population. they benefit of it in no way at all. another large part gets enough knowledge to be a useful droid in a factory or office. they spend 12 years of their lives to get to that level. this could be achieved in much less time, or with the same effort much more could be achieved.

        as i see it, almost everyone would win, a few people would remain where they are, and i'm not even sure anyone would lose, but if yes, negligible numbers. i don't see rational reasons on the side of public education.

        let me add that it was never a goal to be useful or beneficial. public education is a control mechanism. the coward and ignorant majority simply wants the misconceptions they grew up with not to be challenged. they just don't want new things.
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          Jul 19 2013: Here are the official numbers:

          Average annual gross salaries of full time fully qualified teachers in public schools in Euro (before tax):


          Pre-primary: 7.839 / no data
          Primary: 8.789 / 46.819*
          Lower secondary: 8.789 / 52.137*
          Upper secondary: 10.106 / 57.669*

          * average of min/max salary


          Example calculation for one Upper secondary teacher:

          Hungary/ Germany
          Upper secondary: 10.106 / 57.669* per year
          842 / 4.805 per month

          For 5 teacher: 4.210 / 24.028 per month (no infrastructure)

          Divided by 30
          families: 140 / 800 per month per family

          2 children: 280 / 1.600 per month per family with 2 kids

          Average family
          income: 872/ 3.600 per month / before tax

          - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

          private school cost
          percentage: 32% / 44% of family income per month

          Max. income tax
          rate **: 16% / 45%

          Average Gross annual Earnings in the business economy (full-time employees) 2011 in Euros:

          Hungary / Germany

          10.467* / 43.300*

          * before tax



          So you are saying, that with reduced taxation we go better in your system?

          How do you explain then, that only the cost of the teachers would already be higher per month per families with two kids, than the given MAXIMUM income tax-rate in both our countries, of which we both know they do not apply to middle class families with kids?

          Run the numbers yourself to get to know what nonsense you are proposing here!
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        Jul 19 2013: what is your profession? let me guess that it does not involve math. you don't multiply with the number of teachers, unless you multiply the number of children too. i deliberately left this out, because it changes nothing, only makes things more convoluted.
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          Jul 19 2013: I don't know about Hungary, but in Germany the gross salaries only reflect a fraction of the true cost of an employee, and we are not running our schools without buildings, maintenance, school dinner, kitchen personnel, health insurance, pension programs, etc., etc.

          Do a better estimation on how cheap your idea is going to be if mine isn't precise enough for your likings, but you won't find anything in your favour.
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        Jul 19 2013: that is the statist thinking. we want a huge building with gym, computer room, etc. but it is not necessary, it is just good to have. poor people buy cheap clothing, cheap car, and cheap education. then can gather in the living room of a volunteering parent. or the church. we are pretending that we can guarantee such high class social services to everyone, but in fact what we are doing is two things: we take liberties away, and we stop progress. that is not the future. that is the present.

        your calculation was wrong. my calculation was simplified, but correct.
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          Jul 19 2013: My calculation was your simplified calculation filled with valid numbers. But it doesn't matter.

          'Poor people buy cheap clothing, cheap car, and cheap education... etc, etc, etc...'

          You got to be kidding me! Are you getting payed for such statements? Are you working for some privately financed PR agency, a Goldman Sachs subsidiary maybe? That is so 'predatory capitalism' like I have never ever heard anybody speak of before.

          You got to change your sort of literature, as it seems you are loosing all points of humanity in case you ever owned them... :o)

          Liberty without equality is leading no where but into a gloomy inhumane future. If this is progress to you, spare me your concept of stagnation ... :o)

          But as your humor is easy to miss too, I take your last comment as such ...
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        Jul 19 2013: some real arguments? no? never mind. you are here to goof around anyway.
    • Jul 20 2013: Krisztian, your understanding of the U. S. school funding is slightly different than the actual system. The U.S. Constitution said that the education of K-12 should be managed by the Individual state, The federal government really doesn't have to interfere if it doesn't want to. The state then requires taxes to finance all the schools, then allocates the funds according to the # of students in each "district". Furthermore, large cities or towns can charge additional taxes from the local residents to supplement the state funding. So some state like Louisiana decided to issue school vouchers;( $2000 per student per year), taking the fund from the school allocation per student, to anyone who like to send their children to charter or private schools (except religious schools).
      So this is not as difficult as you said, but it's not so easy either. However, the states should have the Constitutional right to change the school systems within their states to certain extent. Therefore, the cost factor is not the whole issue. In some state, the funds by the state just go to the charter schools (chartered annually by the state) directly and no private schools are allowed to participate.
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        Jul 20 2013: i think you are mistaken. i don't know the insides of the US school system, but what i have gathered from different discussions is that the curriculum is regulated by law. also i expect to be a lot of red tape around creating schools, which effectively prevents a lot of small organizations and individuals to act. i also know that you have to have a partial picture from the fact that you americans talk about the school system. there is no hotdog stand system. there is no barber shop system. and even if you lament about the power of walmart, there are many other malls around. the free market tends to bring about a great variety of different providers. monolithic solutions suggest state prevalence.
        • Jul 20 2013: You are right about the current curriculum of PUBLIC SCHOOLS are more or less "regulated " by the federal government, but the regulation is not based on the Constitution, and certainly not compulsory to private or schools of special education programs such as KIPP, etc. Furthermore some curriculum like "common core program" were used by states with the CONSENT OF THEIR STATE GOVERNORS. In other word if a state governor does not want to join the common core program, constitutionally they could use their own program materials. Although the program like "no child left behind" were carried out by almost all the states simply because the federal money grant attached to it. If you don't join in, you wouldn't have the money. That's exactly why many of us are complaining about it, the fact that you probably read about them in TED talks before.
          So please note that it was the preamble I said in my post.
          There was another similar federal interference about the Obama Care Program which originally stipulated that the states must be in health program of Medicaid (which insures people at poverty levels financed jointly by the state and federal fund) After a law suit decision by the US Supreme Court, the Medicaid Program managed by the state will get the federal funding at the previous level without the states' obligation of managing the Medicaid with additional insurance participants under ObamaCare. The Court also leaves the states the choice of whether to take up the new Medicaid Program after ObamaCare becomes effective in 2014. Here the choice for the states becomes a little complicated in the money matter. So the current count of states taking up the subsidized Medicaid program is 17 takers and 34 decliners. Because, the choice of accept or decline for the "no child left behind" incurs no additional expenses to implement this federal program with subsidies, while the states will probably pay more of their share of medicaid insurance premiums even with the federal subsidies

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