States of educational decay

By Phil Plait | April 4, 2011 2:28 pm

You know what happens when you cut education in your state? Businesses may start to leave.

Basically, Arizona is looking to cut hundreds of millions of dollars to K-12 and University education in order to save money — despite the incredibly obvious problem that cutting that money means gutting your future work force and depriving them of the education they need to get the high-paying jobs. This did not escape Craig Barrett, a former Intel Chief Executive, who serves on the Arizona Commerce Authority. In that article it’s clear he thinks cutting education makes Arizona a less desirable place to set up business.

I’ve often wondered if biomedical research companies would start leaving states that promote creationism over evolution teaching. Now I have to wonder if I was being too narrow in my thinking. I would be interesting indeed if big businesses start telling state legislators that if they cut education funding, businesses will have to look elsewhere for their future employees. Hopefully Arizona will get that message… one that many other states (like oh, say, Tennessee) need to hear as well.

I think it’s clear that a lot of legislators don’t care all that much about education when it comes to actually teaching the kids science (aka reality). Maybe a poke at their bottom line will stir them to do the right thing, even if not for the most important reason.

Tip o’ the brow ridge to a) Fark, and 2) Robert Luhn of NCSE for the Tennessee article. In fact, you should use their RSS feed to keep up with their tireless fight against antireality!

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Antiscience, Piece of mind, Science

Comments (74)

  1. Scott Davis

    I wish I wasn’t raised in America.

  2. Jim

    Ew. I don’t want to poke their bottom line. However, if their actions come back to bite them in the butt, they have no one to blame but themselves. Unfortunately, it’s the kids who pay the greatest price.

  3. Derek

    This happens all too often. The city I live in recently had a vote to raise property tax by a marginal amount, only a hundred or so dollars for the average family, that would have had the money going into the school system. Needless to say, it did not pass, and the schools, in a largely expanding district, will be forced to have larger student to teacher ratios and will require having to get trailers to park on school grounds as the current facilities lack the room for the children.

  4. Eric A

    I hope the folks in Harrisburg, PA are listening – they’re planning on cutting the higher ed appropriation by 50%… and that is the money that gives in state students their tuition break.

    I doubt it though.

    Dr E.

  5. I think this would have been an appropriate place for the “DOOMED” graphis. But instead of just Arizona (and Tennessee), you probably could have siad the entire US given the state of our education system.

    America, where no child gets left behind, because no one is getting ahead.

  6. KeepTheLearn

    How sad that the education budget is always cut. Sucks for future generations!

  7. Ed

    I wouldn’t pick on AZ, I live in California and the cuts are way worse here. Currently projecting cuts between $300-$800 per student, removing 2 weeks from the school year, laying off an incredible number of teachers, increasing class sizes, etc…

    It’s not just these two states either, and frankly if we can’t keep our budgets balanced, then we’re in for more of this.

    I can really only speak about California, but here’s the proposed state budget for next year:
    http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/agencies.html

    You’ll see that k-12 and Health & Human Services are by far the largest portions of the budget, and if you add Higher Ed to it then combined you’re looking at 65% of the budget in basically two areas.

    So, when you have a $20 Billion budget shortfall, where are you going to cut? I hate it when politicians spend time and political capital arguing over what amount to pennies in the budget (NASA, NSF, NPR, etc.) and don’t address the things that make up the meat (Social Security, Medicare, Defense (in terms of the federal govt.))

    So it’s sad about the AZ budget cuts, but don’t single them out when all the states (Red and Blue) are facing the same issues and often having to resort the same conclusions.

  8. Doc

    Given the ongoing trend of outsourcing, what makes you think corporations care about the state of education in America? From their mindset, the majority of their educated employees will be overseas, leaving nothing in the US but retail sales jobs that require little or no education. What’s more, an under-educated population of consumers is better for business.

    (ok, maybe I’m feeling a bit pessimistic today)

  9. Doc,

    I believe that the contention is that businesses want people with particular skills. If these skills are not taught in the US, then businesses will find people in other parts of the world with those skills. It is not a question of where those people can be found most cheaply (the general motivation behind outsourcing), but where those people can be found at all. Basically, if schools don’t provide the basic level of education that research companies need, then they will be forced to look elsewhere, whereas if those skills are taught, there is still a chance that Americans will be hired.

    While these companies might ultimately hire people outside of the United States because it is cheaper, a well educated populace has a better chance of competing against outsourcing than a poorly educated populace.

  10. Randy A.

    Governor Brewer is quoted in that article as saying “I think I have staked my career . . . my governorship on education.” That’s good news! It means she’ll be resigning any day now, as soon as she sees how badly her policies have affected education…

  11. rbelyell

    the biggest problems facing us as a nation are structural in nature. in this instance, every citizen, NOT JUST PROPERTY OWNERS, has an interest in a well educated citizenry, for numerous reasons, business being only one. that pre collegiate education is funded only by the ‘landed gentry’ is an anomaly, like employer funded health care, that needs to be drastically changed, because those lucky enough to be able to hang onto their homes in the face of the present economic maelsteom hitting the vanishing middle class, cannot afford ANY increase in property taxes, in the same vein that ever rising health care costs have eviscerated the competitiveness of US business. in the same vein that we cannot deal with our severe budget issues by continually cutting from 20% of our budget because we refuse to deal with the 80% of the budget that is social security, medicaid and the military. in the same vein that public employee legacy costs like full pensions and non contributory health care cannot be sustained by our citizenry. its not at case of an extra $100 in taxes, its a case of nothing less than the absolute need for the courage to totally restructure these malformed edifices that never made sense and that we can no longer afford in their present incarnations.

    this is not a matter of am extra $100 of property taxes

  12. Keith Bowden

    Or as they say in Tennesseee: “Y’all want fries with that there Bible?”

    A poor educational system is a good reason to take your home somewhere else, too, but there don’t seem to be too many alternatives.

  13. Aiser

    Sometimes these cuts are needed. The article does not go into listing where these cuts are going to be. I am guessing that plait and most readers here think that the science will be first on the list which is not always the case.

    One thing i do know is that Jan Brewer is certainly planning to abolish “ethnic studies” ( garbage useless courses and even dangerous in cases like Arizona).

    Also, what would your solution to the education crisis be? increasing spending on ED? money is not the solution to all problems. What is needed is more quality education. Quality always beats quantity.

    But what about the ever rising cost of higher education for college/university? With technology rapidly advancing higher ed cost should be plummeting not sky rocketing. Yet we are seeing this in both North America and Europe.

  14. Beau

    The same goes for your favorite state, Texas. Districts are making huge cuts ahead of the anticipated state budget cuts. Dallas ISD offered severance packages as part of their attempt to get rid of 3 THOUSAND (yes, thousand) teachers. It’s a tough time to be a teacher right now…

  15. Valdis

    Randy A: “as soon as she sees how badly”… That’s the fatal flaw in your logic – when you’re reality-challenged enough that cutting back education by hundreds of millions of dollars sounds like a long-term winner, you almost certainly are unable to see/admit the results.

  16. TheBlackCat

    @ Aiser: “Sometimes these cuts are needed.” I will believe that when the biggest corporations in the country aren’t raking in tens of billions of dollars of profits while not only paying no taxes whatsoever, but actually getting paid tens of millions of dollars by the IRS.

  17. Jamie

    Michigan is in the same boat too.

  18. Michael Swanson

    @ The BlackCat

    Hear, hear!

  19. Michael Swanson

    @9. Doc Says:

    “Given the ongoing trend of outsourcing, what makes you think corporations care about the state of education in America? From their mindset, the majority of their educated employees will be overseas, leaving nothing in the US but retail sales jobs that require little or no education. What’s more, an under-educated population of consumers is better for business.
    (ok, maybe I’m feeling a bit pessimistic today)”

    I wish I didn’t feel that this was true. I don’t know of anyone that identifies the US as a society of innovators anymore without using the past tense. Yes, there a lot of people doing excellent and brilliant work in the States, but it’s almost as though it is in spite of or in defiance of the population and the government, not because of their support.

  20. Gonçalo Aguiar

    It is more than obvious that there is a system in power that wants to perpetuate themselves. To achieve that they need to dumb down people in to doing whatever they want. It is less likely that an uneducated person will revindicate his rights than a person who knows them.
    If people are not educated enough to get a high paying job, they (the top 1%) don’t have nothing to lose and everything to gain since it is one job less that they have to pay.
    It pains me that in a world where a total of 600 Trillion dollars are transactionated in derivative markets, making the rich richer, there isn’t enough money to fund education, medical care and a sustainable and environmental friendly energy system.
    We’re not saving money, we’re actually wasting it.

  21. Ed

    @TheBlckCat, corporate taxes and tax rates are complex, and in the end reasonable arguments can be made from each side about incentives vs. revenues, corporate responsibility vs global competitiveness, etc. I don’t think this is the best forum for it, but we’re not in the hole because a few mega companies have escaped paying taxes. Our whole tax structure is insane, and unethical if you ask me. It’s not ethical that if I pay someone more (presumably better) to do my taxes vs doing them myself or someone cheaper, that I end up paying less. It’s supposed to be math, it should be the same result either way.

    With all that said, we spend to much and/or take in to little. Tax rates are always tricky, you want to maximize revenue without sending companies and/or their jobs elsewhere, even just across a state line. And as i said in a previous post, governments have very few places to cut that don’t trigger a massive emotional response.

    Where would any of us cut? Healthcare for the poor? Education for all? Unemployment benefits? Pensions , jobs and salaries for teachers, police, fire? Roads, bridges, other infrastructure? Clean Air/Water?

    Whatever you choose you’ll be raked across the coals in the blogesphere and be labeled someone who hates one group or another.

  22. Grand Lunar

    News like this makes me yern for my former home of Florida (moved to AZ last December).
    Still, can’t help but think that other states may follow suite.

    And to think that also in this state, there was a much bigger outcry for more gun rights (after the Tuscon shootings even!).

    I doubt that cuts to educaiton will recieve as much of an outpouring of protest.

    And that is what is hurting our nation.

    What will it take before we rally together and say “No more!”?

  23. Joel

    Phil, it depends what’s being cut. It’s dishonest to equate a disagreement on fiscal issues to creationism. throwing money at a problem doesn’t always work. http://wac.0873.edgecastcdn.net/800873/blog/wp-content/uploads/US-Spending-and-Test-Scores-Cato.jpg

  24. Don Gisselbeck

    A good education (as opposed to mere training) is likely to cause students to join the reality based community and the righties can’t stand to have that.

  25. Chris

    In Hawai’i, the teachers are mandated to “sit” (and not teach) for so much time during the day, this was a requirement of their wonderful teacher’s union contract. One of my daughter’s friends told us last week that her teachers don’t care when someone sleeps in class.

    Doesn’t matter to me, personally, because like a growing majority, we’re homeschooling our kids. They master everything they work on, move faster than their peers, have a very busy schedule of activities with other kids…. (don’t get started on the “they need interaction with….” when in actuality kids are kids, thus, a small majority treat each other like crap, destroying the self-images and self-concepts of the bright-minded youths who actually “have potential.” This small majority of crap-heads learn in their early adult lives to treat others decently or they go to jail….. why then do we subject our kids to an increasingly overly-tolerant public school system which is neutered to change these kids who lack proper parenting…. and no I’m not talking about beating them.)

    The “academic” homeschoolers I know are absolutely freaking brilliant. They are well-adjusted, socially adept, open-minded and very, very smart. Most are at least a grade ahead of their peers (we won’t permit our to proceed beyond a grade ahead…. we just stuff more content…. violin, piano, foreign language, astronomy.) How much more can a kid get done when they’re not waiting for a group of slow ones to catch-up…, conversely how much quicker can the slow one “get-it” when they have someone tailoring their lesson specifically for their deficiencies. When we have extra time, we’ll attend a lecture at the Institute for Astronomy or work with a fantastic professor here close with the homeschool group who will let the kids point the Faulkes telescope. Perhaps, we’ll go the Pacific Whale Foundation and listen to a marine biologist give a lecture on cetaceans prior to a whale watch.

    People sell their kids short all the time, whatever you do, don’t ever, ever sell your kids short…. they can learn and do so much more than you ever thought possible. They absorb from their earliest of days….. Read, read, read, everyday… picturebooks to infants (my daughter was “glued” to long picture books by 2 months… at 3 years old it was 4 hours per day…. yes it’s work…. but the rewards!)

  26. JustAComment

    Confusing Federal tax revenues with local State spending is a strawman argument. Cuts need to be made, bills need to get paid. It’s only going to get worse.

  27. James H.

    I teach in Texas, this is my 23rd year. The cuts happening here are absolutely amazing. Nearly 100,000 (yes that number is correct) teachers are probably going to lose their jobs with the cuts that are coming down. Rick Perry balanced the budget two years ago with Washington money, all the while railing against the Establishment. Now that the money is gone, this state is 25 BILLION dollars short, and 9 BILLION is being cut from education.

    BUT, all is well because NO TAXES WILL HAVE BEEN RAISED. It is the dumbing down of the educational system here, and these idiots will continue to vote for Perry as long as he wants the job. They cannot think for themselves at all. The keep hurling insults at the POTUS, as if he’s the source of all the problems.

    Someone above said that money doesn’t solve everything. I beg to differ, yes it does. Go look at Highland Park ISD, and many other north Texas districts. Money makes a HUGE difference.

  28. Bottom line or not, anything to keep teaching children…

  29. Chris,

    A couple of minor quibbles. First, children who are being home schooled do not form a majority, growing or otherwise. While the proportion of children who are home schooled has been rising over the last decade or two, this group comprises less than 3% of the total population of students (according to the Department of Education: http://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d09/tables/dt09_038.asp). A “growing minority” might be a better term.

    Second, comparing the performance of home schooled children to children in public schools is difficult, at best. Public schools seek to teach everyone, regardless of socio-economic class (among other variables). Home schooled children, on the other hand, are a self-selected group. Parents who choose to home school likely have a greater income and are more invested in their children’s success than the average parent of a publicly schooled child.

    There are students with well-to-do and involved parents in the public schools, and these students tend to do much better than their peers. While you note that home schooled students tend to do better than the average publicly schooled student, you are failing to take into account the positive bias in the mean when you select a sample that does not adequately capture the entire population. Compare home schooled children to publicly schooled children of the same socio-economic status, and the differences are much less pronounced, falling to the level of statistical noise.

  30. Messier Tidy Upper

    @23. Grand Lunar : What will it take before we rally together and say “No more!”?

    As I understand it there have been many rallies orf people marching together to say “no more” – often fiercely opposed to each other.

    The Taxed Enough Already Party has held some monster rallies against big government and excessive taxation. Didn’t Glenn Beck or somebody like that lead a million man march type deal on MLK day or something last year?

    Then there was the big counter-rally for restoring Sanity &/or Fear led by Colbert and Jon Stewart in response or so I gather, right?

    The anti-choice /pro-life mob has held some big rallies in the USA (saw one on the TV news a month or two ago) against abortion.

    The USA’s anti-life /pro-choice mob equally I’d think holds some big rallies in favour of women having abortion. (Although I don’t recall hearing about one for a bit.)

    Here in Oz there’s recently been big and controversial rallies both for and against the “Carbon” (co2) tax that our PM is going to slug us with despite promising pre-election she wouldn’t impose one – & despite nobody else in the world doing anything much about Global Warming. (Which is real but not sure what Australia which is 1% of the world’s emissions can do by itself or whether a tax is really the best answer, btw.) The Australian Opposition leader, Tony Abbott, often accused of being a climate change denier was heavilycriticised for appearing at one rally attended by some extreme groups and in front of some rather nasty placards. Others onhis side of politics then pointed to even worse placards and behaviour by previous rallies against then PM John Howard eg. during the anti-Iraq war rallies.

    In London groups marched peacefully for something or other theywere upset about -and then a mob of anarchist thugs went on ariot spree and smashed everything – and bailed up Prince Charlie and Camilla in their car – which, of course, was what we heard most about.

    Before the Iraq war, there were massive anti-war rallies with lots (millions even?) of people marchingand vehemently protesting – and these were, of course, ignored when it came to the leaders making the final decisions.

    Extremist Muslim groups have rampaged through the streets on many occassions calling for books to be burned, tgheir writers (eg. salman Rushdie to be murdered, cartoons to be banned and opponents of their “prophet” to be beheaded or if they’re lucky just brutally flogged – saying “no more” to infidels y’know running their own countries and believing as they please. :-(

    I guess my point is that people are always marching and talking and protesting “No more” this-&-that or “More!” this-&-that and sometimes we agree with their causes and sometimes they don’t.

    I really wonder how many of these protests have made any difference and had any positive effect? There was a time when I thought they did or might but that was long ago. ‘Spose all I’m saying is that what you call for there, Grand Lunar, happens and is often dubious and rarely productive.

    So I don’t know what, if any, answers there may be, politics is just messed up. Kinda liek human nature and life in general. (Shrugs.)

  31. Messier Tidy Upper

    D’oh! Out of editing time. :-(

    I guess my point is that people are always marching and talking and protesting “No more” of this-&-that or “More!” this-&-that and sometimes we agree with their causes and sometimes we don’t.

    Is how that’s meant to read. Naturally.

    Sometimes some protests & political rallies might make some sort of difference but, I fear, more often than not, they don’t. :-(

    In a nutshell :

    What I think you’re calling for there, Grand Lunar (#23), happens and yet what good comes of it? What ever really changes? Will it this time?

    I don’t know what – if any – answers there might be.

    Politics is just messed up. Kinda like human nature and life in general. (Shrugs.)
    Depressing but, I fear, true. :-(

    Bad news in the OP here but I’m not surprised. Wish we could do something about it but what?

  32. MTW

    Phil,

    Don’t let your skepticism desert you when it comes to the things politicians do. Education costs have skyrocketed in the last two decades without, I would guess, a corresponding increase in the knowledge and skills of the graduates of the schools receiving the money. It follows that reducing funding, by itself, won’t affect the skills and knowledge of future graduates. The question is: where is the money going and from where is it being taken.

  33. ethanol

    Just a quick point: the economic impact of a failure of education for the current generation is a huge problem, but not one that has an immediate impact. The more immediate economic impact comes from the current generation of educated professionals refusing to live and work where they can’t get a good education for their children.

  34. Jessica

    We’re facing the same education funding issues here in Indiana, where the so-called “brain drain” is already a huge issue b/c of students leaving for more metropolitan, less Midwestern locales. Even a great research university like Purdue is faced with the spectre of losing almost all funding from the state, while being prohibited by same from raising tuition costs to the same level as similar institutions.

  35. VinceRN

    While I do think Arizona is making a mistake with these cuts, I have to point out that dollars have nothing at all to do with outcomes in education. The exact opposite is often true in fact, many of the areas that spend the most have the worst outcomes. Our own district here in Washington spends in the near neighborhood of $10,000 per kid per year and graduates kids that are only marginally literate.

  36. Hierro

    @23.Grand Lunar : News like this makes me yern for my former home of Florida
    Don’t pine too much for Florida. Things are starting to get worse here.
    Our governor recently passed a bill that would make half a teacher’s salary dependent on the FCAT (a horribly made test in itself), even though research has shown no educational improvements through high-stakes testing based pay. New teachers are now stuck with 1 year contracts, meaning they can be fired (“contract not renewed”) for just about any reason. This has basically left teachers with no defense against a bloated and inefficient and sometimes down-right stupid administrative system.
    So ya, good quality teachers have very little incentive to remain in the school system now. Instead of cutting teacher pay, they should start getting rid of the huge waste of administration. There are jobs paying incredibly well that no one knows what they’re for.

    I’ve always felt that private companies would find it in their benefit to fund schools and programs in schools. Those students may very well end up working for those companies just from the inspiration they provide to students. I recall a TED talk by Ray Anderson where he found that in taking up a righteous cause (however you want to define “righteous” is up to you) their employees were inspired and productivity increased.
    I feel the same can happen if corporations sponsor school programs that have a positive effect on student achievement. I heard of a school that was sponsored by a local company in which honor roll students were given free laptops but those laptops were taken away upon losing honor roll status. Graduation rates increased significantly. I have not been able to verify this story, but it sounds plausible to me.

  37. Nigel Depledge

    Aiser (14) said:

    Sometimes these cuts are needed.

    I cannot answer this any better than The Black Cat (17).

    The article does not go into listing where these cuts are going to be. I am guessing that plait and most readers here think that the science will be first on the list which is not always the case.

    Even if cuts are equally distributed across subjects, science is one of the most expensive subjects to teach in the first place, because you need labs and equipment to do a proper job of it.

    Some UK schools have ceased teaching chemistry as a practical subject, because the labs and chemicals are too expensive. So there’ll be bunches of school-leavers who won’t understand that chemistry follows simple rules, because they’ve never seen it in action.

    I have heard runmours that some UK universities have shut down their chemistry departments for much the same reason, but I did not investigate to find out if it is true.

    One thing i do know is that Jan Brewer is certainly planning to abolish “ethnic studies” ( garbage useless courses and even dangerous in cases like Arizona).

    What is “ethnic studies”?

    Also, what would your solution to the education crisis be? increasing spending on ED? money is not the solution to all problems. What is needed is more quality education. Quality always beats quantity.

    And one of the easiest ways to increase the quality of education is to reduce class sizes. Another is to have more rigorous training for teachers, and higher salaries for teachers to attract better teachers to the public schools. Without money, these things are impossible.

    At the end of the day, even the best teachers will be demoralised by being paid less than people in other professions with equivalent levels of training and expertise.

    But what about the ever rising cost of higher education for college/university? With technology rapidly advancing higher ed cost should be plummeting not sky rocketing.

    Why is this?

    Why would you expect advancing technology to decrease (as opposed to increase) the cost of university-level education? Surely the technology itself costs money?

  38. Joseph G

    Eh, I have mixed feelings about this. Obviously, education is necessary, and should be a top priority.

    On the other hand, here in the US we spend more then most nations per student already, despite placing from mediocre to lousy on standardized national testing. It stands to reason that it’s entirely possible to improve our education system without simply throwing more money at the problem.

    Anecdotally, my mom used to teach: ultimately, she left in disgust. Between inept, overpaid administrators who’d never set foot in a classroom (and lots of them), ridiculous red tape, unrealistic parental expectations, large class sizes, etc etc, she just couldn’t deal with it. And don’t even get her started on the waste. She told me that teachers often “dumpster dive” behind the County Office of Education, because the furniture and computers that they THROW OUT are better then anything that the teachers can get for their classrooms.

  39. Nigel Depledge

    Ed (22) said:

    Our whole tax structure is insane, and unethical if you ask me. It’s not ethical that if I pay someone more (presumably better) to do my taxes vs doing them myself or someone cheaper, that I end up paying less. It’s supposed to be math, it should be the same result either way.

    This makes a kind of sense to me.

    However, one of the reasons that taxes are so convoluted is that we let lawyers get involved (I’m assuming that the situation in the US is not too far off the situation here in the UK). Experts in tax law will be advising politicians (hell, some of them may have become the politicians) on how to structure new tax laws.

    New tax laws usually make the system more complex (I guess there are a few exceptions). The more complex the system, the more expertise is needed in order to navigate a person’s income through the maze of tax breaks, loopholes and so on. Thus, the most successful accountants and tax lawyers charge more than their competitors. Therefore, the more you pay for your accountant or lawyer, the less you pay in tax.

  40. Nigel Depledge

    Chris (27) said:

    why then do we subject our kids to an increasingly overly-tolerant public school system which is neutered to change these kids who lack proper parenting

    Litigation culture.

    The school neuters the teachers’ ability to apply discipline in the classroom because it cannot afford to be sued by parents who object to a teacher pointing out their parenting shortcomings.

    (yes, I know I’m oversimplifying, but I hope you can see the general idea).

  41. Nigel Depledge

    Just a Comment (28) said:

    Confusing Federal tax revenues with local State spending is a strawman argument. Cuts need to be made, bills need to get paid. It’s only going to get worse.

    OR taxes need to increase, targeting those who can afford to pay more.

    Hey, how about an increased tax on the bonuses paid to incompetent bankers?

  42. Nigel Depledge

    MTU (32) said:

    nobody else in the world doing anything much about Global Warming.

    I beg to differ.

    Germany, for instance, is doing a great deal about their contribution. They even mandate that power companies must buy surplus electricity from microgeneration plants operated by consumers.

    The UK is doing rather less, but still something. We have an increasing number of wind generation farms (although, to be frank, these will never reliably provide more than about 10% of our power needs until the issue of storing excess elecrticity is addressed). Cars are taxed according to engine size. The London congestion charge has exemptions for electric or hybrid cars (although this creates a loophole for cars such as the Lexus GS450h which is a petrol-electric hybrid that contains a 3.5-litre V6 and weighs nearly 2 tonnes). UK citizens are being actively encouraged to recycle more and to send less waste to landfill.

    France has been generating the bulk of its electricity from nuclear power plants for many years. These are not carbon-neutral (on account of the amount of concrete they require) but their lifetime CO2 emissions are substantially less than any coal- or oil- fired power station with an equivalent output.

  43. Messier Tidy Upper

    @ ^ Nigel Depledge :

    I beg to differ. Germany, for instance, is doing a great deal about their contribution. They even ..

    .. Shut down the hyper-polluting, inefficient, ex-Communist Eastern half of their country? ;-)
    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

    Seriously, I guess you’re right – some other nations are taking some steps as you’ve noted although it doesn’t always seem like it from here.

    I’m not convinced that a tax – or the govt regulating / legislating morality eco-friendliness generally – is the best answer to solving, or even mitigating the problem.

    I don’t think the world will agree to act together as would be needed – as the failure of attempts at “Climate Summits” like Copenhagen illustrate & I don’t think symbolic Western lifestyle tokenism (eg.earth day, hippy-livers, prius driving) will do anywhere near enough to make more than, well a token difference. :-(

    My preferred approach would be more in favour of technological innovations, maybe even adaptation. Oh & yeah I support nuclear as a stopgap too – and maybe we even need to start working on some serious terraforming type ideas like building a giant sunshade in space or feeding the algae extra iron to draw down Co2 or last resort deliberately creating a “nuclear winter” effect even as lesser of evils if things get bad enough. I feel quite pessimistic on this issue (& others) at present. :-(

  44. Joseph G

    @43 Nigel Dipledge: That incompetant banker tax has my vote :D
    Seriously, it is a tricky situation. Personally, I dislike how property taxes are used to fund the school districts here in the US; the places with the lowest property values get the least revenue for their schools, which is precisely the opposite of what’s needed.

    Actually, I think a big problem in the US is the regional nature of school administration in general. Public schools are one of the areas in which individual states are very much running the show, as opposed to the federal government (and it shows). This is why we have ridiculous stuff like the Texas textbook fiascos or Kansas or various other states trying to sneak creationism into the curriculum.

    Sheesh, somewhere along the line in the past few years I’ve turned into one of those “Big Guvment Liberals” I keep hearing about :P

  45. Nigel Depledge

    MTW (34) said:

    Don’t let your skepticism desert you when it comes to the things politicians do. Education costs have skyrocketed in the last two decades

    Citation, please?

    without, I would guess, a corresponding increase in the knowledge and skills of the graduates of the schools receiving the money.

    Citation, please?

    It follows that reducing funding, by itself, won’t affect the skills and knowledge of future graduates. The question is: where is the money going and from where is it being taken

    Unless the relationship between education funding and graduate quality is non-linear.

    It seems to me that it is more likely to follow a Sigmoid curve, i.e.:
    1. Below a certain threshold, it achieves nothing because it is not enough to do the job (e.g. pay for the running of the school and the salaries of some teachers).
    2. above that threshold, there is a brief period of exponential increase followed by a section of near-linear relationship, followed by a plateau-ing out.
    3. Above that plateau, increased funding achieves no increase in graduate quality.

    Such is my guess, at least.

    Thus, you’d get the most effect for the least money in the middle of the near-linear portion of the curve.

  46. Nigel Depledge

    Joseph G (46) said:

    @43 Nigel Dipledge:

    That’s “Depledge”, with three “e”s.

    That incompetant banker tax has my vote

    I suspect it would garner a certain popularity, except with those politicians who are in the pockets of the incompetent bankers.

    Seriously, it is a tricky situation. Personally, I dislike how property taxes are used to fund the school districts here in the US; the places with the lowest property values get the least revenue for their schools, which is precisely the opposite of what’s needed.

    Yeah, that seems rather bass-ackwards to me.

    At least here in the UK, schools are funded at the county level (so, for example, all schools in Essex would be funded by the taxpayers of Essex).

  47. Nigel Depledge

    Joseph G (40) said:

    Eh, I have mixed feelings about this. Obviously, education is necessary, and should be a top priority.

    On the other hand, here in the US we spend more then most nations per student already, despite placing from mediocre to lousy on standardized national testing. It stands to reason that it’s entirely possible to improve our education system without simply throwing more money at the problem.

    I didn’t know this. Do you have a reference to that info?

    Anecdotally, my mom used to teach: ultimately, she left in disgust. Between inept, overpaid administrators who’d never set foot in a classroom (and lots of them), ridiculous red tape, unrealistic parental expectations, large class sizes, etc etc, she just couldn’t deal with it. And don’t even get her started on the waste. She told me that teachers often “dumpster dive” behind the County Office of Education, because the furniture and computers that they THROW OUT are better then anything that the teachers can get for their classrooms.

    Yeah, the problem with giving administrators control of the money is that they too-often spend it where they want it spent, not where it does the most good.

    I’ve never encountered this kind of waste myself, but I was shocked to find that at least some UK schools had removed the practical aspects of subjects such as chemistrty (I mention chemistry in particular because it was the focus of the TV documentary a couple of years ago).

  48. Bill3

    This is (WAS) purely speculation, but I think probably a valid assumption – Intel, like most big businesses, gets some sort of tax breaks from the state of Arizona for building their plants there. Perhaps they should invest more in their future work force and pay up like everyone else?

    In fact, I did a little Googling just now and guess what… huge tax breaks for Intel in Arizona. A tax break large enough to drive the entire education funding cutback through.

    http://azdailysun.com/news/local/state-and-regional/article_530fc982-ea45-52d6-a7e2-3dee33f436a6.html

    Big business and politics – SSDD.

  49. MikeS

    If there were any evidence that education quality increase with more spending, I might be more alarmed about this. But we’ve doubled per pupil spending in real dollars over the last 30 years and performance is, at best, flat. Check out the graph here (http://tinyurl.com/4yzuw85), which is based on our own government’s studies.

    I’m not saying, “Woo-hoo, cut education spending”. I am saying, however, that a lack of spending is not the problem with the schools.

  50. Peter B

    Aiser @ #14 said: “Sometimes these cuts are needed. The article does not go into listing where these cuts are going to be. I am guessing that plait and most readers here think that the science will be first on the list which is not always the case.”

    You’re right. You’re guessing.

    As far as I’m concerned, any serious cuts to the academic side of schooling are serious, whether it’s in the English, Maths, Science, History or any other Department. There are lots of things kids need to know to be functioning members of society.

    “One thing i do know is that Jan Brewer is certainly planning to abolish “ethnic studies” ( garbage useless courses and even dangerous in cases like Arizona).”

    Okay, I’ll take your word for it.

    “Also, what would your solution to the education crisis be? increasing spending on ED?”

    How about cutting the amount of money schools spend on elite sports? The idea that schools spend more on their football team than on their (say) English department in the hope that one of their players will make it to the NFL is just depressing.

    “money is not the solution to all problems. What is needed is more quality education. Quality always beats quantity.”

    And the solution for the mice was to put a bell on the cat. It’s all well and good to say what the answer is. I’d like to hear a bit more on the “how”. How do you propose to provide quality education?

  51. JohnW

    MikeS, you took the words right out of my mouth. I think the disparity has gotten even worse since 2003, when that chart ends.

  52. Caleb Jones
  53. Messier Tidy Upper

    @44. Nigel Depledge :

    Hey, how about an increased tax on the bonuses paid to incompetent bankers?

    BTW. Did the huge corporations & stockbrokers ever pay back all their taxpayer funded bail out money from the GFC – preferably with interest like they’d charge for us? If not, why not? :-(

  54. @MTW

    The question is: where is the money going and from where is it being taken.

    Sadly, in my son’s school district, I know where the money is going to: Charter Schools. There has been a big push here to open more and more of them. This is despite the fact that the ones in this area are failing all of their metrics. (They get to select which students they want and self-report test scores with no third party checking of these scores and they still fail!)

    Meanwhile, the money flows away from the public schools to the Charters. Of course, this means the quality of public education declines (class size increases, teachers get laid off, schools are closed, etc).

    So what happens when the public school quality declines? The businesses that own the charter schools lobby to open up more. This secures more money for themselves and drains more from the public schools.

    Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

    We’ve been looking into private schools but our options are limited. First of all, is the cost. We’re just not sure we can afford it. Secondly, all of the private schools in our area are religious institutions. I have a problem with my (Jewish) son going to a school where all of the kids are going to be taught about Jesus Christ in a religious way. Even if he’s excused from those classes, he’ll still be singled out (moreso than in a public school). There is one Jewish day school in the area and we’re considering that but it still triggers our price concerns.

    Meanwhile, we’ve looked into homeschooling. My wife is a teacher by trade even if she’s a stay-at-home mom/freelance writer at the moment. She’s concluded that it isn’t something she thinks she could do and doesn’t think it would be optimal for our son’s needs. (Nothing against home schoolers. No one solution is perfect for everyone.)

    So our options seem to be: 1) Remain at the crumbling public school and hope for the best or 2) Go deep into debt paying for a private school (while still paying taxes to finance the declining public schools and proliferating charters). This has been a very stressful decision to make.

  55. Messier Tidy Upper

    RE : # 32 & 33 : I guess there are occassional successful counter-examples such as the big march(es?) that Martin Luther King led during the struggle for civil rights and Mahatma Gandhi’s long salt tax march .. so I suppose sometimes such protest rallies *can* make a difference if they’re done right and led well. :-)

  56. Ray Wagner

    The CEO of Boeing has, in recent public events, been advising the Washington State legislature to not cut funding for higher education. So, maybe industry IS starting to weigh in.

  57. Joseph G

    @ 49 Nigel Depledge:

    That’s “Depledge”, with three “e”s.

    D’oh!! And I’ve been on this board HOW long? *facepalm* I’d claim ignorance, but it’s right there. My apologies.

    I didn’t know this. Do you have a reference to that info?

    Well, no sources as solid as I’d like – a somewhat wide range of numbers seems to come up in teh Google, and some are outdated – but the overall consensus seems to be that this is true (some states pay less per student, while some pay more).
    Sauce:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_the_United_States#Funding_for_K.E2.80.9312_schools

    http://www.usatoday.com/news/education/2003-09-16-education-comparison_x.htm

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2005/09/13/national/main838207.shtml

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/05/24/us-usa-education-spending-idUSN2438214220070524

    On the other hand, this chart seems to correlate SAT scores very closely to per-student spending, per state:
    http://xenophilius.wordpress.com/2009/11/02/how-per-student-spending-on-education-compares-to-state-sat-score-rankings/

    In any case, it looks like things are only getting worse (again, from an informal scanning of Google hits). It looks like the studies that show US school spending ranking higher globally are all older, and those ranking the US low on test scores are all relatively new.
    It may very well be that increased spending does directly lead to higher scores all around, but our system is just particularly wasteful and inefficient across the board.

  58. Joseph G

    @58 MTU: More recently, Tunisia and Egypt come to mind.

    But it is hard to determine which ones will have an impact and which ones won’t. Someone smarter then me could probably come up with an equation to do it, something like” S=media coverage times violent repression log total numbers times charismatic leadership squared” :P

  59. Chris Winter

    Most state budgets are running in the red, partly because of increased demand, partly because of reduced help from the federal government. It’s clear that cuts have to be made somewhere. Personally, I think that defense spending could be cut safely to help support education, but that seems not to be in the cards.

    It’s in the interest of business to have a well-trained workforce, but not necessarily a well-educated one. As for politicians, it seems they tend to favor ideological fervor in their constituents rather than enlightened insight. There’s precedent for this. Diane Ravitch’s Left Back documents the long-standing view that most people don’t need a well-rounded education, just vocational training. Fortunately this view is not dominant (and it’s one she emphatically does not share), but it does persist.

  60. actuator

    TechyDad, I attended a public high school in Nashville, TN in the late 50′s and 60′s with a 25 – 30 percent Jewish population that generally led the way in academics. (There were some exceptions.) I attributed that to a positive cultural/family bias toward education. I have also seen this positive educational bias in my Asian in-law relatives who more recently attended public schools in Texas and Arkansas. While some schools and school districts are better than than others IMO your nurture, influence and guidance as a parent can overcome most if not all of the negatives that concern you.

  61. Nigel Depledge

    @Joseph G (60) -
    Thanks for all that. I don’t have time to go through it all just now, but I’ll try to get around to it at some point.

  62. Nigel Depledge

    Peter B (53) said:

    How about cutting the amount of money schools spend on elite sports? The idea that schools spend more on their football team than on their (say) English department in the hope that one of their players will make it to the NFL is just depressing.

    This is an aspect of the US system I had forgotten.

    As a kind of analogy, how might we feel if the school our child attends had an elite chemistry lab, that existed only for the best chemistry students?

    I’d probably feel rather conflicted about it. On the one hand, I’d want to encourage my child to excel in that subject and so get the benefit of the facility, and on the other it would be a very obvious sign of elitism. Schools are not really the place for such excessive elitism in education – this should occur mainly in universities.

  63. Nigel Depledge

    From the Wikipedia article linked in #60:

    According to a 2006 study by the Goldwater Institute, Arizona’s public schools spend 50% more per student than Arizona’s private schools. The study also says that while teachers constitute 72% of the employees at private schools, they make up less than half of the staff at public schools. According to the study, if Arizona’s public schools wanted to be like private schools, they would have to hire approximately 25,000 more teachers, and eliminate 21,210 administration employees

    Wow! What the hell do all these people do?

    When I was at school (in the UK) in the ’80s, we had roughly 45 – 50 teachers, a head teacher and deputy head teacher, perhaps 4 technicians, 3 admin staff and perhaps 6 ancillary staff. That’s nearly 80% of the staff actually being teachers.

  64. @actuator,

    Our situation is complicated by the fact that my son is gifted with an anxiety disorder. (He scored a 134 on an IQ test but had a panic attack during it. Doctor said he would likely have scored over 140 had he not had a panic attack.)

    On the gifted front, my son’s school is refusing to challenge him acedemically. In math, he’s still learning that 5 is more than 3 (SECOND GRADE!!!) while he wants to learn multiplication and division (which I introduced him to… he immediately grasped the concepts and wanted to move to fractions).

    On the panic attack fr0nt, the school is very slowly moving forward. Emphasis on slowly. We contacted them 2 weeks before school started to set something up and they are just now getting around to writing something up for to work with my son. Meanwhile, the kids have learned that triggering his panic attacks means they don’t need to learn anything (as teacher needs to deal with my son’s screaming/out of control panic attacks).

    Therefore, our decision needs to take into consideration not just general academics, but how those academics can be adjusted to maximize our son’s learning potential.

  65. Nigel Depledge

    TechyDad (67) said:

    In math, he’s still learning that 5 is more than 3 (SECOND GRADE!!!)…

    They teach that in school in the US?

    I think I had always assumed that such basics of counting would be expected to be taught by parents before the kids reach school age.

  66. News like this on the education front always makes me pessimistic. It was bad enough during my high-school years in the early ’80s, and seems to have gotten worse with time. I’m over time having less and less confidence in the competence of our governing bodies. My sympathies lie with the students who must suffer for the foolishness of others.

  67. #68 Nigel:
    These days in the UK, it seems that kids are no longer taught to count, or taught the absolute basics of arithmetic, either by their parents or at school. ( Most of their parents are probably clueless themselves. )
    I’ve come across adults who literally can’t add two and two! Think of the sheets of stamps which you buy in supermarkets; they used to come in sheets of four and ten. I once asked a checkout girl for “eight second class stamps, please”; she replied, in all seriousness, “We only have fours and tens!” I kid you not!!!!
    Nor was this an isolated incident; I’ve had several other experiences equally as stupid. Our “education” system is now producing entire generations of morons.

  68. Nigel Depledge

    @ Neil Haggath (70) -

    Sheesh!

    No wonder the soft options (“media studies” anyone?) are so popular.

    Bring back GCEs – at least they meant something.

    My fiancée – being a few years younger than I – had no choice but to do “combined science” instead of biology, chemistry and physics at school. And yet it was timetabled as a “double” subject (instead of the three it allegedly replaced).

  69. Darth Robo

    I had the same “double” science classes. We still touched on all three, chemistry, biology and physics, but it all combined into one double-grade.

  70. #71 Nigel:
    Do you know that some British schools now have a subject called “Numbers For Living”? That’s intended for kids whose mathematical ability has no hope of going beyond the most elementary arithmetic, and who are too thick to have grasped even that by the time they are 16.
    To put it another way, they are teaching 16-year-olds what used to be taught to 5-year-olds!!! They actually need a course to cater for those kids who have given up on learning anything remotely academic, to try to prevent them leaving school in the state of total ignorance which I described in #70.

    Also, did you see the TV series a few years ago – I forget what it was called – in which a group of 16-year-olds were subjected to 1950′s style teaching, to see how they would cope with it? The kids involved were among the brightest of their school year, and were expected to do well in their GCSEs. They were taught using 1950s methods, and according to the 50′s curriculum.
    At one point, they were given a genuine maths exam paper from the 50′s, without being told what level it was. They all struggled with it. When asked what level of exam they thought it was, they assumed that it was an O-level paper. It was, in fact, a 1950′s eleven plus paper!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    For non-British readers, O-levels were the exams which the more intelligent kids used to sit at age 16. The eleven plus was the set of exams which they used to sit at 11, in the last year of junior school, the result of which determined whether or not they would go on to grammar school and be taught to the standard of O-levels. So what this experiment found was that the brightest of today’s 16-year-olds are not capable of passing exams which used to be given to 11-year-olds.
    Need I say more?

  71. Nigel Depledge

    @ Neil (73) -

    Oh, deary me.

    Being a bit on the generous side, the 1950s teaching methods may have been successful at instilling academic knowledge, but did they release into society a generation of well-rounded, well-adjusted individuals?

    Personally, I think that the more you get the kids to learn before they hit 11, the more they’ll retain for life. Would that this included critical thinking skills!

    I am not surprised to learn that modern 16-year-olds struggled with a 1950s 11+ maths paper. Year-on-year improvements in GCSE results are a clear indicator that the exams are getting easier. And there was a clear step change from the old GCE O-levels to the GCSEs in the first place (GCSEs gave credit for things that were assumed to be background knowledge for the GCEs).

    I am shocked to learn that Numbers for Living exists as a topic for teenagers – did these kids learn nothing when they were 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or 10?

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