February 1, 2006
The Rude Cactus State of the Union Address
Last night, we learned that the state of the union is strong. I don’t disagree…but I think it could be stronger. Last night we learned about initiatives intended to decrease our dependence on foreign oil, reduce government spending, deal with immigration and deal with Iran. Yet, there are some fundamentals that, without attention, make even the best ideas unattainable.
Education - The F Bomb
The United States Department of Education is responsible for an overall budget of $71.5 billion (that’s with a b) dollars. Yet, despite the fact that more money is spent per child than almost anywhere else in the world – the national average is $7,524 - only 31% of the fourth graders across the country are proficient in reading. Overall, only 32% of kids in the United States are proficient in math, 29% in science and 18% in American history. On the world stage, American eighth graders rank 19th out of 38 countries when it comes to performance.
Reason #1 – Teachers aren’t fairly compensated.
The average teacher salary is $46,579. During the past year, there’s been only a 2.2% percent increase in salary. This falls short of the overall 2.7% inflation rate. In the last 10 years, teachers’ salaries have only increased overall by $1,011. During the current administration as a whole, salaries have increased 1.1%. Since this increase again falls short of present-day inflation rates, this is actually a loss for most teachers.
Reason #2 – No Child Left Behind.
No Child Left Behind is a noble yet inherently flawed program. It seeks to increase the quality of education through several initiatives. These center around progress measured on an annual basis, increase in parental involvement, choice in public schools, educational and professional development based on scientifically based research strategies, and teacher quality. Nice and all yet No Child Left Behind represents an 11% increase in Education spending yet leaves an estimated 97% of the actual costs unfunded.
I’m no education expert but the folks in Washington with the big titles should be. I do know this – teachers have to be able to earn a living. What they do shouldn’t be a sacrifice. What they do should be noble, a sought after profession. In order for any program to succeed, it must be given the resources to succeed. No Child Left Behind never had a chance. It has taken initiative away from teachers, forced them to gear everything towards a set of standards at the expense of more innovative criteria, and allowed schools to continue steady declines, encouraging parents and students to abandon institutions instead of fixing them.
The United States has long been thought of as the Land of Opportunity yet, since the turn of the century, the government has consistently failed to ensure the welfare of its people. In 2004, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 12.6% of the population lived below the poverty line, up from the previous year’s numbers. For the record, as a single individual, you’d have to make less than $9,570 to join that club. A family of four would have to maintain a household income below $19,350. This designation encompassed 37 million Americans, up 1.1 million from the previous year. Imagine Oklahoma City, Oklahoma or Richmond, Virginia – each with a population around 1.1 million people - falling into poverty overnight.
An oft-overlooked statistic is the number of “working poor” – those pulling down an income yet are unable to get by without assistance – estimated to be around 7.5 million people. Of the 140 million people employed in the country in 2003, 4% fit the definition of working poor. 60% worked full-time jobs. These 7.5 million working poor constituted 4.2 million families among the working poor.
Since 2000, the percentage of those living below the poverty line has risen two points, with consistent growth occurring each year. This represents 5.4 million people joining the ranks of the poor over the last half-decade.
This is perhaps the most mind-blowing and astonishing to me – 46% of African American kids and 40% of Latino kids below the age of 18 live in poverty. Overall, 21% of the kids in these United States are existing below the poverty line.
In situations like these, I like to apply the “alien test”. If an alien were to land in Washington right now, watch our television, read the newspapers, really investigate society, what would they think? I think they’d be confused. I’d think they’d see a vital, energetic country with limitless potential, bound only by self-imposed restraints. They’d also see legions of working poor and kids going to bed hungry at night. They’d see a country in which millions of dollars are awarded on game shows and, maybe justly, assume that America is a land of prosperity for the most part with little, if any, tolerance for the poor and disadvantaged. How else can you explain Paris Hilton, a woman with only one purpose in life – an example to my daughter of everything I don’t want her to become. Otherwise, she’s just a pretty but ultimately useless whore…but she’s everywhere.
The War On Terror - War on an Idea
The events of 9-11 were tragic. Many important lessons were learned and it forced the nation as a whole to understand the larger threat represented by terrorists and extremists from all over the world. However, it’s disingenuous to use the tragedy felt by a nation for less than noble purposes.
The war in Iraq has thus far claimed 2,242 lives. On average, one American or British soldier dies every day. Countless others are injured. And these tragedies aren’t limited to the good guys. Thousands of innocent Iraqi citizens have been killed or injured since the start of the conflict.
I’ve talked about it here quite a bit. I think the war is wrong, the justification completely lacking in, well, facts. And while we shouldn’t be expected to give up our soldiers, we shouldn’t have to forfeit our civil rights. No one should ever keep track of the books checked out from the library. No one should ever be privy to phone calls or emails of others without a warrant. No one should ever have to worry about speaking out for what they believe in. To further the spread of democracy we can’t beat others into submission. Instead we must lead by example. We must develop the means to take care of the nation as a whole – by providing adequate healthcare, education, and job opportunities and protecting the people living within our borders. Ideological fire-fights do nothing to win converts. Instead, we must lead with calm confidence, by succeeding in making our system of government work.
I’d argue that anyone who is, through circumstance, unable to exercise his or her talent, strength and intelligence isn’t truly free. In order to create the free society we tout on the international stage, we need to ensure that everyone is indeed afforded the opportunities to live, breathe, learn, eat, sleep and earn and it is up to us, as a society, to ensure no one slips through the ever-widening cracks. No child should be left behind but if words aren’t backed up with commitment, with resources, and with intent, they just form another cute sounding slogan that doesn’t mean a damn thing.
So, what are the answers? I don't know. But then I'm not the guy who was elected to lead this country. I shouldn't be responsible for having the answers. The President should. And he doesn't. And frankly, he doesn't seem to care.
Posted by Chris at February 1, 2006 7:37 AM
good post, Chris. Thoughtful, well, written, concise- with none of the annoying applause. We could have heard this and moved on to House, no problem.
The Left Behind policy is one I really struggle with- it doesn't work, it diminishes our teachers and children are still "left behind." It's as though this administration can't deliver more than a sound bite.
That's it? From an open-minded flaming uber-liberal I expected more. Maybe you haven't gotten enough caffeine in ya yet.
I have a semi-related thought here... Take the money out of the prison system. Criminals don't need to play Monopoly, watch TV, work out, etc... Make prison a place where they DON'T want to be. I read a number of years ago that it cost tax payers $1 million every year just to house Charles Manson. Just Charles Manson. I say, a box of ammo only costs a few bucks at Wal*Mart... Yes I support the death penalty for those who are so obviously guilty.
Anyway what I'm getting at is, take the money out of the prison's and put in in the schools. If we had more funding in school's then maybe less people would be headed to prison.
Like Vicki said. No Child Left Behind doesn't work. The idea is noble, but the way it is set into place and conducted is ALL wrong. It just doesn't work.
Here is Indiana they want to start grading teachers based on their student's performaces on tests. This would open a huge can of worms. This can NOT happen! The Director of Education here is an idiot. She says that all jobs are based on performance. But all other employers get to pick their employees...teachers don't get to pick their students they are dealt and are forced to teach.
What a stupid idea. How do these kinds of people make it up the educational ladder?
Teachers are treated like 2nd class workers but are some of the most important people in our society. This needs is what needs to change.
BTW - I'm not a teacher...though I've thought I would like to be one, but don't feel it's my calling, nor do I have a passion for it. I was a substitute for over two school years. My passion is sports and coaching. Of which I do nothing with. I am a computer support consultant.
Very nice post, Chris. However, you forgot to blame gay marriage for all of the above. I blame gay marriage for my moodiness lately. It's obviously not the hormones, it's the gays!
Very well written - I feel like you plucked a few thoughts out of my head. The NCLB thing? I did a paper on how it is an under-funded mandate for my last econ class in my masters program. My research showed pretty depressing results. There is nowhere near enough money being spent to do what the act calls for, and states can "choose" not to participate, but then they loose extra funding. It's a lose-lose situation. Some states (I think Massachusetts - it's been a while) have brought suits against the government trying to get out of having to do anything the act mandates that they don't recieve funding for.
Amen. I especially second the working poor part. I work at a community center that assists the needy and there is never a shortage of people to help.
Well said, Chris.
My mother is a teacher over here in the UK. Not a full time teacher, that life was killing her, but a supply teacher.
Thankfully she is such an excellent teacher, and all the kids in the local schools love her so much that she is in constant demand, but it is the system that is making so many teachers leave. Several have been signed off by their Dr. close to, having or having had a nervous breakdown thanks to the stress.
The educational system is being destroyed by supposedly big important people with fancy names and all the answers that have never and will never have to teach children or deal with backbreaking paperwork or have pay bills, buy food and rear their own children whilst having to also buy supplies for the kids in school or try to fit all the "brilliant" new initiatives and ideas in or deal with lack of funding or try to manage unrully shits (excuse my French) with no way of enforcing order because of 'rights' or have to handle disgruntled and sometimes physically or verbally (or both) abusive parents or have to cope with 'inspections' and pressure to perform and produce yet MORE paperwork by men and women who not only don't know how to teach or have no qualifications but receive about £100,000 a year more than they do and work within a corrupt foundation based on lies and prejudgements... The list goes on.
And don't even get me started on the other things.
I need a drink...
I know how to pay for our children's education and that would be to tax porn. The porn industry is making millions and so many americans are addicted to it. Tax the internet websites, membership fees, magazines, videos, and adult bookstores. What politician out there is going to say, "No, not our precious porn." I doubt very many of them. I think not a lot of people will object to this because most want to keep it their dirty little secret and wont want to be exposed. I think its no different than taxing tobacco.
Great post. The problem with education is ADMINISTRATION. We look at the concept of education, see the teachers that our children are with every day, and find it hard to believe that they are not getting paid more.
Across the US, school bond initiatives are passed by voters every year. While this money goes to buying computers and good things, the BULK of this money goes to the "overhead" of running a school district.
School districts have shrunk in the last 20 years, creating "opportunity" for administrators, overseers, and layers of jobs for worthless people. In order to "maintain" the talent pool for these "top educators", *massive* salaries are paid to District Supervisors, assistants, the "District overseer of cafeteria culinary excellence" and the like. This is where your education dollar is spent - not on the teacher, not on your child.
The only way to pay the teachers more is to flatten out *this* overhead. Otherwise, THEY will continue to take the lion's share of ANY education spending increase.
The Minneapolis school board just forced the resignation of their superintendent. Her now-terminated contract included a $700+-a-month allowance to lease a car. The city now has to assume the cost to terminate that lease.
Meanwhile, the starting salary for a teacher with a BA in Mpls is about $32,000. I think our school systems are top-heavy, and NCLB only exacerbates that tendency.
Once again, excellent post, Chris. I love the words "America is addicted to oil." Uh, what state do you hail from, Dubbya????? Give me a break.
Wow, do I know you or what? I suppose it wasn't too hard to guess but last night while eating dinner and watching the "address" I was thinking, "I bet Chris is going to do a post about this today, I'm sure he is going to have a lot to say" :) I just think this blogging is a funny thing, it makes you think of people you don't really know while eating chicken and listening to the President. On another front, as a future teacher I applaud what you said about education...but I'm still in my seat. ;)
Correction, Chris - the war in Iraq has claimed 2,42 AMERICAN lives. Estimates of Iraqis killed are tipping into the 40,000 range. We're destroying a country to save it.
$46k? Most of the teachers around here start at 25K and maybe if they get a masters degree and stay 15+ years, they'll reach the national average. Sheesh...cannot imagine why more people want to be nurses than teachers, starting salaries is much better around here :-/
I found myself most shocked by the education portion of the speech (I think; I also remember flipping off the tv and shouting, "NO YOU DON'T!" when he said we cared about genocide in other countries). His plan to introduce these AP classes in high school? Those used to exist. Why don't they anymore? Like yourself, I'm no education expert but I'm pretty sure they've disappeared because education gets no funding. Teachers ARE underpaid. My dad teaches (in Oklahoma) and the last I heard, he made well under the average. That's with him pulling down additional income as a coach and technology director, in addition to teaching 6 or 7 classes a day.
Where does Bush propose to put these AP classes? I suppose he could use those art studios, band rooms, and auditoriums that are being unused because all of the humanities programs have disappeared...
One commenter said: I have a semi-related thought here... Take the money out of the prison system. Criminals don't need to play Monopoly, watch TV, work out, etc... Make prison a place where they DON'T want to be. I read a number of years ago that it cost tax payers $1 million every year just to house Charles Manson. Just Charles Manson. I say, a box of ammo only costs a few bucks at Wal*Mart... Yes I support the death penalty for those who are so obviously guilty. This is ridiculous. As Chris said, the school system is already given massive amounts of money. So why is our school system in the shitter? As a former teacher, I have my theories. But the idea that prisoners are given all this free luxury off our tax dollars is just a neo-con meme that's been tossed into the public consciousness so long that people just assume that it's true. And the idea that we should cruelly shoot convicted criminals is also appalling. You're not advocating personal responsibility here... you're advocating idiotic political policies that have been shown statistically to not be a deterrant for crime.
There are also other ways to skin that cat, but I have my own blog where I can be long winded as much as I please, and won't do it here. But please think before you start spouting off nonsense that means nothing. And also, regarding Walmart: dude, at least go somewhere higher rent, like Target. Geez.
You know what? I couldn't even bear to watch it. I can't stand the sound of his voice, the fact that he obviously has no clue what's really going on in this country. I figured I'd wait 'til you and Jason posted the gist of it.
Isn't it crazy how little our teachers make, especially compared to what is expected of them? My Dad is a high school teacher, with a masters degree. He's been teaching for about 20 years. He brings home less than my Mom (a nurse), who works part time.
As a child we were always eligiable for free lunch from the school. Because *they knew* how poor teachers kids were. I always thought that was interesting. They knew they weren't paying the teachers enough, but they didn't do anything about it.
you are wrong, chris, i distinctly heard clapping.
Jason, excellent point in your comment. The number of Iraqis who have been killed during this invasion is staggering. I'm wondering, though, if you meant to say:
We're destroying a country to "save" it.
I can't agree that the powers that be truly wish to "save" Iraq from anything. They're protecting their own economic interests/power, plain and simple.
It was especially irksome to me listening to the president talk about our 'addiction to oil'.
1. Only a nation of junkies would elect a pusher president.
2. Only a pusher would suggest 'cutting back' as a solution for addiction.
3. If shipping the, apparel workers, factory workers, software programmers, Help Desk support experts and software analyst jobs is 'healthy globalization for our dynamic economy...what's the problem with foriegn oil?
Why do we fool ourselves that the price of oil is based on anything other than supply and demand?
Consevatives have told us for years that we cannot bypass the laws of supply and demand. In that case, doesn't our wealth protect our energy supplies more than our war machine?
As for Iraqi democracy, I say let them earn it themselves if they dare. We have freed them from their dictator, now who will free us from ours?
Don't even get me started on education. I don't know where schools are getting $7542 per student, but it certainly isn't here. We get, I believe, just under $4500 per student per year. And school choice/vouchers are sucking away even more money from the public schools than teacher salaries, pensions, or benefits, though the media won't acknowledge that.
It's not just teacher salaries, but equitable distribution of funds for education. If $7542 is the AVERAGE, than there must be districts getting much more than that per student - where are these districts, and why do they get so much?? Yes NCLB is eating up big chunks of school budgets these days. And there is no proof whatsoever that improved test scores mean improved learning. Really, those are two different things.
See? You got me started on education, and now I just can't stop. I better hit "post" before I go any further.
Thanks for the great post. You certainly stated your opinions well. I especially would like to thank you (and those who commented) for the kind words about teachers. I retired not only because of the low pay, but the low esteem in which teachers are held. This includes parents, students and the administration of the schools. Teachers do not need the extra pressure from No Child Left Behind. All this does is, at least here in Texas, is force teachers to "teach the test." There is no longer creative teaching going on by teachers who love to teach. Again, well said.
Kristina - most definitely. "Save", in Dane Cook's rock-and-roll quotes.
He's full of it, plain and simple. A friend of mine who went to teach in Texas, after graduation, is now attempting to teach highschool chemistry and physics.
I say attempting cause when asked where the text books were, she received a curt response of, "Well there's really not money for that sort of thing."
No child left behind my ass! As far as giving children a better grounding in math and science, I don't think making textbooks is going to be the cure all he thinks it is.
I was watching the Address for a while on CTV, and I immediately realized that the Republicans were seated on the right, and the Democrats on the left, just by following the clapping and standing people after every half breath.
I was also rather surprised to see the breaking news bulletin at the bottom of the screen before the speech started: Cindy Sheehan had been arrested in the building and escorted out. I looked it up later and found out that she had been wearing a t-shirt with an anti-war slogan ("2,245 dead, How many more?"). Apparently, political demonstrations are illegal on the grounds of the House of Congress. I quote Wikinews: "In contrast, Beverly Young, the wife of Rep. Rep. Bill Young (R-FL), was ordered to leave the gallery but not arrested during Bush's speech because she was wearing a shirt with the words, "Support the Troops Defending Our Freedom".... Capitol Grounds Regulations defining the prohibited activities do not permit "wearing Tee shirts, buttons, or other similar articles of apparel that convey a message."
Ugh. Not even going to go into that, the hypocrisy or the policy.
Anyway, being Canadian, I don't keep up with American politics quite so much, but one thing that gets my goat is that the U.S. has been spending billions on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the hunt for terrorists at home and abroad. But frankly, terrorism doesn't kill very many people, all told. If they spent even one percent of their war budget on international aid, they could put a very serious dent in global poverty (if the money was used right), and that's what kills people in the world: poverty.
You forgot the part of the speech about pushing through his tax cuts and making them permanent (I, of course, am always curious how Bush is going to screw with my chosen profession yet again). Yeah, let's make the gap between the wealthiest Americans and the poorest Americans even wider!
You would think that after a wake-up call like the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that someone in Washington would notice how badly our nation's poor are being treated.
Good post, and pretty much my sentiments exactly.
My husband's a teacher so I've learned quite a bit about No Child Left Behind as well as the numerous other problems with public eduaction. Sadly there is no one solution that will make it better.
I am glad to see someone outside education saying NCLB doesn't work.
"War on an Idea"
I cannot tell you how many times my husband and I have discussed this very issue.
I couldn't agree with you more, on all of it.
As for NCLB, people often forget that special needs kids are in fact being left behind. They are required by the Act to take the tests just like every other kid does, even though many of them can't even hold a pencil without assistance. In our school, the special needs staff encourages the parents to keep those kids home on that day. Their number one concern is the kids; if they are forced to sit there and take these tests they'll be frustrated and setbacks could probably occur. But they're also concerned about the test scores bringing down the rest of the school. It's pitiful.
And our teachers don't teach formal handwriting anymore. They're so busy teaching for (or to) the tests, they can't spend time like they used to helping kids learn to write. I'm not saying that that is such a horrible thing, but if handwriting is going by the wayside, what else is?
We're lucky enough to live in a district that has full funding (and enough left over to have art, phys ed, and music still in the cirriculum). I worry for the kids who don't.
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