Tag Archives: education

Gender and Politics

One point I share with parents on all the time, (and I got this insight from the great Rick LaVoie), is to NEVER confuse Fair and Equal.  From Merriam Webster:

Equal: 1 a (1): of the same measure, quantity, amount, or number as another

Fair has many more defintions, but the important ones here are:

Fair: 5: ample <a fair estate

6 a: marked by impartiality and honesty : free from self-interest, prejudice, or favoritism <a very fair person to do business with> b (1): conforming with the established rules : allowed (2): consonant with merit or importance : due <a fair share>

Simply put, Equal means everyone gets the same, and Fair means everyone should get what the need or deserve.  Things canbe both fair and equal, but frequently they can be either/or, not both, simultaneously.

When we talk about things like gender, we are talking about something that naturally divides people into two categories.  It’s something we can’t do anything about.  Is that fair? Yup.  Is it equal?  No.

Women always have a different part to play in life, because they are capable and frequently do have children.  We can’t outrun or circumvent biology.  As a result, women have certain issues men will never have- Do I get adequate pregnancy leave at work?  If I want to nurse my baby, how do I do that and meet all the requirements they have for me at work?  If I have an unplanned pregnancy, what decision will I make?  All of these decisions are inherent to being a woman.  It doesn’t mean men can’t have feelings or opinions about them, but in the end, the person who is carrying the child has to take responsibility for it.

Notice how we always know who the mother of a baby is, but the paternity can be called into question. It goes like this- one person comes into the hospital, two people come out.  We know for sure who the mother is.  Basic biology.   This is another issue, unique to women.  There aren’t a whole lot of Maternity Suits out there, searching for the unknown mother of a child, to hold them fiscally liable for the child’s expenses.  That would be silly, and unnecessary, since we “register” each new baby by issuing a State birth certificate and now even a social security number, before the baby leaves the hospital.  Except in rare cases of home births and child abandonment, we always know who the Mom is.

So How Does This Gender Difference Affect Politics? Should it?

When women have struggled for equal pay for doing the same job, that is an argument that is about both Fair and Equal.  If both people have the same experience -exactly-, the same education, and the same job, and are performing it equally well, they should be paid the same wage.   Fair and Equal.  If the woman is out of the office more because she has a baby,  her kids are sick, or she is caring for elderly parents, or whatever reason- should this be reflected in her job?  Her job review?

Many working moms watch their sick days and vacation days like a hawk, because they know, sometime during the year, a kid is going to get sick- hopefully not with anything that is like chicken pox, requiring a week or so out of school and thus out of work as well-and if they exceed the maximum number of days they can use, they risk being fired.  Taking a day off to attend a school play or teacher’s meeting?  Great- but you pay for that down the line without a vacation day left for when the child gets sick, you get sick yourself, or you actually want to get away and have a vacation.

Sure, working dads have the same issues.  But in most families, the reality is that when a child is sick or there is an issue at school, 90% of the time it’s the mom who goes in and takes care of the problem.  That may not be equal, and it may not be fair, but it is reality.

Even my husband, a physician, has avoided taking off more than a few hours when we’ve needed him at school meetings, or I have been out of town on business.  It doesn’t ever occur to him to take a sick day or a vacation day-in fact, he’ll sooner have a relative come and help with the kids if I am out of town for an extended period than take a week off of work and use vacation time for child care duties.  And I am perfectly okay with that, and don’t feel it’s a sexist issue at all- I look at it as triaging the situation, and know his patients need him, and this is a high enough need that taking a day off  “because he feels like it” is not part of his nature.    Patients come first.   I get that, and that is part of our family contract, so to speak.  (And I hope all of you out there appreciate that too- you do, and should, come first to your health care provider, often before his own family.)

I doubt this is unusual in most families, even those without wage earners with “important” life or death kind of jobs.  We can argue fairness, equality, and sexism, but reality is  this is the way the world works, liberal or conservative.  Women have a larger share of child care issues, in part because she is the mom, period.  Dads participate and it’s wonderful, but few dads are the sole and primary caretakers of their kids.  Reality, not sexism.

And this means, as a result of my gender, as a result of being a Mom, I see what happens at our local schools more than my husband.  I know the Teachers and Administrators.  I know my child’s physicians. I also know the other parents, my kid’s friends and their parents, and I am the social hub of the family as a result.  Education is a big political issue, and while we all want a good education for our kids, I would imagine most Moms have a better sense of what is happening in the school than Dads, at least 8 out of every 10 times.

There are very few dads on most PTA and PTO committees.  Dads may sit on the school board, but few are out there baking cookies for bake sales and setting up the book fair, independently of their spouse.  Just the facts- gender plays a role, but it doesn’t make it a sex discrimination or sexist issue.

Gender in the Election

When I hear people complaining that Sarah Palin is being treated differently than a man, I answer- “You Bet!  Because she is a woman!  And that is perfectly normal and ok!”

Being a woman doesn’t make Palin any less of a politician, nor does it make her a better one, either.  It doesn’t make her more or less competent as an executive or administrator.  And her husband could be an example for men all over the Country, on how to have a spouse in national politics, and be a role model for stay at home dads.  That’s fantastic and I applaud this.

But I think we do ourselves a disservice if we say we need to factor out gender from politics; that “we would never say that or ask that question if she were a man”.  If women want to play on an even playing field, then they need to compete on the same playing field as men and be okay with it.  They have to be comfortable with their gender and all the questions- good, bad, indifferent, and even the nasty questions that might be asked.  If male politicians can be hounded and examined for every woman they have ever taken out for dinner, women politicians should undego the same scrutiny and be asked if they ever use their gender for their advantage.

Gender does matter, and I think it’s silly to think it isn’t a factor in the election or in politics.  Of course it is.  Some day, maybe it truly won’t matter.  But it does now.  And we shouldl feel very free to discuss it, without apologizing for doing so.

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Are Social Networks for Everyone?

A friend of mine asked what I thought about lawyers using social media tools for communication and networking.  I wrote a long email back, and it became clear there was a blog post brewing, so here it is- my thoughts on the use of social media for professions, specifically law and medicine.

Lawyers And Doctors – Special Considerations

Lawyers have a duty of privacy and privilege.  So we can’t just let it all hang out there, so to speak.  We have  an aspect of confidentiality in our business relationships with clients.  So we have to be careful, because many communications, especially when they are written or recorded, may become “discoverable”- that is, subject to a court ordered disclosure for the purposes of a lawsuit.  This may make some kinds of social networks more difficult online for lawyers in particular.  While a non-recorded skype call or video chat would not be discoverable, since there is no recording, if you send an email, record a conversation or chat, that may indeed become a record or business record subject to discovery rules under certain scenarios.

Doctors, on the other hand, have duties of patient privacy.  While it is less likely that all the communication back and forth will lead to a law suit, what would happen if someone relies on your advice over twitter, for example, and ends up having serious medical consequences as a result?  Were you engaging in treatment over the internet?  Were you practicing medicine in another jurisdiction without a license?  What are the privacy issues about talking about someone’s condition online?  These are things to at least consider.

Communication & Business Generation

Lawyers tend to communicate with others for two purposes- one is client or potential client communication, and the other is work based- referral, negotiation, etc. I might want to get to know other attorneys online so when, as happened last week,  someone I know through a social network needed a lawyer in another State, I had someone I already had a relationship with to refer the case.   So work can be generated for attorneys through sites like twitter, but it is secondary to the majority of the content contributed and gleaned from that particular network, on most days.

Other social networks would seem better suited for certain types of contact.   MySpace, for example, strikes me as a site you might choose for trying to generate business (somewhat like ambulance chasing) rather than make professional connections; Facebook is not bad, but there’s not too much to really do there that’s sticky and interesting- if there were some forums to discuss issues openly, it might be more useful, but as it stands, it’s basically a placeholder for me.

Linked-in is the professional site, and where I might start to search for referral out to other attorneys, but it’s not where I would go necessarily to develop a client base. Find an expert witness, yes; find new clients and make rain, no.

For medicine, on line generation for business and patients is tricky.  Medicine is largely a local service, and delivered in person, so you are casting an international net with these social networks who may not ever be able to benefit from your services.  Most of the social networks like Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and the like are better ways to communicate than to solicit services.  It is probably a great way to find other doctors and commiserate rather than generate business.

Likewise, Law is like politics- it’s largely a local concern.  Communities are best built locally – only the big class action cases should consider using facebook or myspace…… I think there’s lots of room for lawyers to talk to each other anonymously through a site comparable to what medical residents use to share war stories- ScutMonkey.com.  This kind of group support network can spawn new ideas, help you look at a problem differently, and blow off steam as well.  However, like everywhere else, you have to be really careful, because the whole world can listen in on your conversations, and Google picks up names, so it becomes searchable as well.

Education

There are very successful sites like Web MD that dispense information to patients, so patient education can be done effectively over the net.  Find Law is a similar site for law information.  Lawyers could consider doing more client communication  and education through web based tools like newletters, PDF forms and the like.  All of this can help clients and patients feel more valued and a part of the on going practice than they might otherwise through phone calls and meetings .

So- Use ’em or No?

I think there’s lots of ways for lawyers and doctors to develop trust and relationships through things like twitter, which may become useful down the line, but it also pays to exercise caution using these tools.

But all of that aside, I think lawyers and doctors could be more open with each other. By talking they can learn and build relationships that could build referrals and business, by enhancing their trust relationships.  So many people are very naive about the law, contracts and the like, and building trust by just answering small questions on twitter or other social groups could generate tons of business- a client wants to know the person they are paying to handle their sensitive legal matters is trustworthy and they feel like they know them- it’s personal stuff to talk to someone about real estate, finances, estate plans, legal trouble, etc.

Similarly, being married to a doctor,  I prefer to feel the same sort of social bond with my doctors that  I like to feel with my lawyer(s) and legal friends- I want a more collegial relationship and a less paternal one.  We just have to separate out cooperation and competition, which is often hard in the legal profession, especially.

Professionals still need all the benefits provided by social networking, but this mode of communication poses risks as well.  If there could be some kind of insulated safe harbor of communication, it might actually allow people to be more open with each other, and there might be more movement in making law and medicine more human and transparent professions.

The days of pure reverence for these professions have passed, and it may be time to consider making the information more available.  After all, if you are confident in your abilities to practice your profession, it is unlikely telling someone how to do a hysterectomy will make their ability to do it themselves any easier.  Likewise, showing someone a contract won’t make it any easier for them to draft it themselves, consider all the possible pitfalls, and extricate themselves from disaster later on.

We still need expert prectioners in every field, because despite the DIY culture, we all simply don’t have the time, bandwidth, education or experience to do it all ourselves all the time.  Let’s just make the determination of quality easier to measure- that seems to be in everyone’s best interest.

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The Book Fair Miracle

For the second year in a row, I have helped organize and worked all last week at the Book Fair at our local elementary school. We use a local vendor, rather than Scholastic, and the Fair always has amazing books I’ve never seen before. This is not a fund raiser for the school- we pass on the discounts to the children and families. I love seeing children come in, having emptied their piggy banks, to buy their books- one girl gave me close to $20 in change yesterday to buy a stack of books, and she seemed so proud and happy. The PTO makes sure every child can buy a book, even if they have not brought their own money, making it inclusive as well.

One of the most interesting things is that we have a shortage/overage list. This means if a child is within a dollar of their budget, and is a few cents short, the PTO will cover the cost. Many times, the Moms volunteering will pay the extra few cents themselves. We also put a spot on the forms that go home that allow the families to donate any change to the Book Fair. Some people do, some people do not. Miraculously, every day, when counting up the receipts, the shortage is always much less than the overage. The money always works out. Even though we have the security of knowing that the PTO would cover any of these small shortages, we always end up in the black by a decent margin.

What I love most about this is what it says about community. We could look at something like the book fair as a mere week long store set up in the little gym. Maybe it has educational value by teaching children a bit about money and budgets, but it is largely a small book store. But the way the moms come together to volunteer; the way the donation/shortage money always works out; the joy on the face of the kids; the books bought for the teacher’s wish lists all make it to the classrooms; all of this is part of what drives home the point that our school is a great community. It is a place of joy and learning, of giving and caring, and even when we have small complaints or concerns, the spirit of togetherness and the joy in making sure each child has at least one book of their own to take home- that really makes me proud to be involved with this event each and every year.

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The Guide on The Side- Knowledge Evangelists

At a session at Podcamp NYC on Education and the Web, Chris Hambly spoke about teachers becoming “Guides on the Side” rather than simply talking heads in the front of a room. This neatly summed up something I have been thinking about for some time, which is how we integrate concepts like project-based learning into k-12 classrooms in a meaningful way.

I remember tons of times as a student, both in high school and in college, where the sharing of knowledge did not seem to be the main objective in the classroom. Many times, in fact, there seemed to be a goal of hiding or obfuscating the actual knowledge for reasons I cannot fully grasp. I’ve heard stories from colleagues who do training in the public school system of closets full of brand new textbooks that administrators and teachers won’t let students use, for fear that they’ll damage the book. Yet the books do no student any good at all, sitting unused on a shelf, unopened and unexplored.

How can we get teachers away from the concept of being Gatekeepers to Knowledge but instead to be Knowledge Evangelists?

This is a central question when we look at education reform. Are teachers in the classroom facilitating learning, or trying to create filters and obstacle courses to separate students out across the bell-shaped curve? Do we really want all students to succeed, or is the acquisition of knowledge actually some type of competition where some students will win and others must lose? Why must school be a zero-sum game? Why can’t there be a long-tail for education the same was there is a long tail for commerce- where everyone may not be a superstar, but the majority of people do quite well and succeed as their talent and interests allow?

I really want to know why we look at learning and “getting it” as some magic secret formula, requiring an initiation rite before you can qualify to enter the hallowed halls?

Of course, there are many excellent teachers, and I have had my share of truly gifted teachers, who are excited about the topic they teach and infect students with this same enthusiasm. It’s not uncommon for an undergraduate to enter school, thinking they may want a business degree, for example, but the sociology or anthropology course they took by one of these wild-eyed Knowledge Evangelists totally changed the direction of their lives. That one course, that one unexpected subject and gifted teacher turns on the light in the brain of a student and the world can change in an instant- that is the magic of teaching.

Unfortunately, too many teachers seem beaten down by repetition, administration, and the business aspects of teaching, rather than the joy of being on-stage with a captive audience you can excite and bend to your will. I never liked the teacher who approached their course as if to say “I am smarter than you and let me prove it” or those who came in as if to say “I will separate the wheat from the chaffe here, and whether you will succeed or fail in life will be determined by whether or not you are able to please me.” Yes, this is painting with a broad brush to be sure, but haven’t we all had at least one of these teachers over the years, whether in formal education, or even in a job environment?

I don’t think we can make meaningful change in education without convincing teachers that sharing knowledge and making people excited about it is key.  This is also central to preventing teacher burn-out (happening at record rates here in the US).

Where do we start to make this real, however, than just more hot air?  Being an evangelist for educational change is fine, but if we can’t get people to carry the message and transmit it into meaningful change in the classroom, it’s all just more hot air.  So you have any ideas for concrete steps we can make toward this change?  Or is it really all about the talk, since the fundamental issue here is a cultural change, a non-economic cost attitudinal change?  How can we spread the message and help it take root?

Please share your thoughts here!

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Public vs. Private Education

K-12 education in this country is an institution.  Massachusetts was the first state to enact compulsory school attendance laws in 1852, followed by New York in 1853. (1)  By 1918, all states passed laws requiring children to attend at minimum elementary school, and a Supreme Court ruling in 1925 held that private schools, as well as public schools could satisfy the compulsory education laws.

I’ve attended both public and private schools, as have my children.  My husband and I debate regularly what the difference is between the two, and the differences come down to:

1. Private schools tend to have smaller teacher to child ratios, allowing your child to receive, on average, more attention;

2. Private schools tend to be more responsive when parents call- someone answers the phone and generally gets back to you promptly.  This means you are paying for better customer service.

3. Private schools tend to have different requirements for teachers than public schools, meaning that a retired lawyer, scientist or other person, looking for a change of career, need not necessarily get a master’s degree in education before teaching.  This means people with a passion for teaching can teach with less pre-requisite red tape;

4. Public schools depend on the tax base for funding, often based on real estate taxes, leading to radically different funding for schools depending on where you live. Private schools are largely funded by tuition, meaning there is usually an ever-escalating yearly costs to fund not only teacher salaries and benefits, but any and all extracurricular activities;

5. Public schools cannot select their students, so they are a catch all for every student and their family.  This means if a student has a troubled home life, these problems may spill over into the school day, and there are few options and resources to help in these situations;

6. Public schools, because of their larger numbers, can have substantially more choices in classes, offering industrial arts, consumer science, more athletics, and other options that can help a child shine beyond the classroom;

7. Private schools depend on their students’ successes to help market and sustain the school while public schools do not depend on student success as a source of economic funding.  Public Schools do value the performance and success of their students, but they don’t depend on it the same way private schools do.

8.  Private schools have a less onerous administrative structure, allowing for nimble change and adaptation, where making changes in public education can involve administrative hurdles that would challenge an olympic sprinter.

Private schools are often “preferred” by many parents, because they assume that if you pay for it, it must be better- affirming the old chestnut that we value what we pay for more than what we get for free.  Yet there have been times where, as a parent, I’ve received more compassionate and personal attention from administrators in public school than I ever have in private school settings.  I am proud to have my kids attend the local public schools, but I will admit always keeping an eye out for anything that would indicate that private school would be a better fit for my kids.

In the end, the fit of a child in a school,  a sense of belonging to the school community, is the most important thing.  This could happen in public or private school.  If one isn’t working, you owe it to your child to find a situation that does work.  Kids spend 3/4 of their childhood in school- don’t you owe it to them to find them a place where they can belong?

As adults, we can leave a job we hate.  Kids can’t leave school or transfer without a parent’s mediation  and consent.  How your child feels about themselves as learners will stay with them throughout their lives.  Public or private, don;t we owe it to them to make the experience as positive as possible?

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Rethinking (and executing) on Education

Educon 2.0 is an education unconference being held in Philadelphia this weekend, at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA). SLA is a progressive, public, magnet school for highschool students, and everything we think about high school has been re- engineered.

Classes are based on project based learning. Every child and teacher has a laptop, but all the tech toy have found their place not as gadgets, but as tools. There is some inevitable goofing off that goes on, but the kid and almost uniformly engaged in their education, in ways I could have only dreamed of before seeing it in action.

I sometimes look at different tools like Facebook and say “So what? I do like being in touch with my friends in this more casual way, but what good is it long term? SLA Knows.

One of the spanish teachers yesterday showed us her Facebook account. She took down her account from college, and placed restrictions on it so it wasn’t accessible and opened up another one to be used in conjunction with her class. She poses questions to her students in spanish, they answer back in spanish; they’ll ask what’s for homework, and the teacher has felt this has been another good way to create relationships with her students that extend beyond the classroom.

The relationships that are forming between teachers and kids are NOT peer to peer. But they are wonderful mentoring relationships, and the classes seem like what I envision all learning should be- explorations, guided by a leader, someone who knows the ropes and the path, and wants you to experience all the wonders for yourself.

It’s clear that the teachers are passionate about their jobs, and amazed at how well the concept is working in practice. The students have done things from create their own biodiesel and look at how efficient it is in engines, to creating their own podcasts and videos, as it fits in as a way to demonstrate their mastery of material.

All of the things Rick LaVoie and Dr. Bob Brooks talk about being essential for learning turn out to be core principals in this school. Learning is cooperative, not competitive. Faculty are cooperative, not competitive. Discipline is needed from time to time, but more often than not, the consequences fit the crime, and because the students can do an assignment not in one set way, but in a way that makes sense to them , there are few hard and fast rules to rebel against.

Rick LaVoie talks about kids having great BS detectors and knowing when assigments are “busy work.” This is a school where empowering the students means they speak up when they think something is BS. One of the teachers yesterday, Mr Kay said, “One of the beautiful things about this schools is we’ve empowered the students. One of the difficult things is we’ve empowered the students. ‘Because I said so’ just isn’t good enough here, and I have to be willing and able to justify myself. It makes me take a closer look at the work I am assigning and what I expect them to get out of it.” I can never imagine this happening in any of the schools I attended, and they were the poorer for it.

I know attending unconferences has made going to traditional conferences very difficult for me. I want to hear what other people have to say. I don’t want a pitch. I want to be able to ask questions. Likewise, I think after you see a school like this, everything changes, because you know what you dream of is not a dream, it’s possible.

How can school and education ever be the same once you know what is possible?

Now I will admit about wondering whether this model will work with younger children. I can see it working well starting in middle school, but I can see that it might have some issues in elementary school, just because kids don’t yet have the neural hardware to handle the responsibility this type of education requires. Kids at SLA have projects they need to do all the time, and portfolios to prepare, so there are no lack of standards, but it’s also perfectly clear to me that they are learning that they get out of an experience what they put into it. This is a powerful life message that many adults don’t understand, but it will be part of the educational DNA of these kids.

It would never occur to an o these children not to talk to an adult. They clearly feel nutured and supported by the faculty- the kids regularly come to school early and leave late. They have to kind of sweep the kids out of the school at about 6 pm when they lock up for the day. The faculty says they are still trying to figure out why the kids won’t leave after classes end, but I know why- it’s the same reason why I never want to go to sleep while I’m at podcamp- there is just too much interesting stuff happening, and you don’t want to miss a second of it.

If there was a mecca of education and cognitive activation, it’s this school.

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Funding for Education in this Country

I was reading some of the positions on issues of political candidates, including the internet darling, Ron Paul. One of the bellweathers for me is education, and how we fund it in this country. So I thought it was high time to discuss this openly, and hear what you think on the issue.

In most States, education is funded by a property tax system. Usually it’s a millage system or something similar. This means if you live in a community with expensive real estate, the school district will have more funds; if you live in a less costly area, there will be less money for the schools. Cities can have it hard as well, since things like Hospitals and Churches are often exempt from these taxes. Sometimes businesses get tax preferences, and this also can throw off the tax base to pay for education.

If we assume better funding means better resources, and then in turn, more competition for the teacher positions, you may also get “better” teachers as well in these resource rich schools. Better salaries, better facilities, more money available for special projects, etc. This means that, on average, you get better schools, in theory, where the more “expensive” homes are, and thus suburbs tend to have better funded schools than cities, allegedly making them more attractive, feeding the cycle of people moving away from cities and into the suburbs. (We can talk about sprawl and environmental impact on another post.)

Many political candidates, usually middle to upper class folks, support vouchers. This would mean you could take some money, perhaps a portion of your tax dollars for education, and apply it towards tuition at private or parochial schools. This is looked at as providing public schools with incentive to improve, so they compete in a free market for students. This sounds great to many people, but I have some major probelms with this including:

1. Education is not a commodity like pork bellies. While we may go out there and purchase education at independent private schools, education is not a truly competitive marketplace, like Ebay. For one, we are just starting to scratch the surface on what a “quality education” means, and we have, at best, weak markers for success. In interviewing kids for the University of Pennsylvania as an alumni, I see college bound teens from public and private schools, and can tell you there are gems and duds in both categories. The school alone does not make the student. It’s far more complex than that. What the school probably does do is afford more or less opportunities for exposure to different experiences, but much of that also comes from a student’s home life.

2. Education is less like a widget, and more like long term R & D. Human development is a linear process. Learning to read, write and do math are part of our system, but we don’t see the outcome of tweeks in a system or a curriculum immediately, or within the next quarter. We do see outcomes often several years after the fact.

Take the old Whole Language versus Phonics debate. It turned out that many of the kids that learned to read by the “whole language” only approach ended up having real problems in Middle School and beyond, versus kids who learned to read through an integrated program and approach. In fact, there are “special” reading programs like Wilson Reading that’s used at Landmark College to take students from reading at a seventh grade level up to college level in a very short period of time. That begs the question why we don’t use this approach in every school across the land to teach reading to everyone, but that is a debate we can have another day as well.

As a long term investment, education gives you sporadic results, inconsistent results, and we shouldn’t be surprised, because we are producing people, not widgets. The long term results matter, and the minute by minute measurements don’t tell you alot about the bigger picture.

3. The Education System takes Everybody. Just like most hospitals, the education system takes everyone who loves in the area. They have to. There’s no options. This means schools have to adapt to the changing demographic patterns of its area, changing economic tides- they are a microcosm of the bigger community. Public education has to take and teach, by federal and state law, every child regardless of disability, need, race, economic status- every single child, from the most capable to the most disabled.  This means funds have to go to educate all children, and some children are more costly than others.  Take kids with disabilities or learning disabilities.  They often require more one on one or smaller ratio instruction.  Some children need a full time aide.

And even more interesting, people are starting to move into areas where the school districts provide better services.  A friend reports this year alone, families from Texas, Georgia and even Kenya have moved to Delaware so their children can be part of the Delaware Autism Program, one of the better programs out there for kids with austism spectrum disorders.  This program is run by the public schools, but it is serving a higher proportion of kids with autism than might occur naturally within the State, because the services it provides is a rarity.

Naturally, this means the State of Delaware is paying more money to educate these children on a per child basis as well, but they also profit from the parent’s tax money and talents.  But the State does not have the option to impose a usage tax, nor dissuade parents from doing what lawyers might call “forum shopping” for education.  Delaware must take all eligible students, and if someone moves to the area with an eligile student, even if it’s for that reason alone, they get services.

4. Public Education Talent Drain.  Another interesting historical fact about Delaware is that it had a long nasty issue with bussing. This lead to the development of a huge number of privateand parochial schools within the State, much more per capita than you would expect in a State this size.  Often this means that if you live in Delaware or over the border in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and have the means to do so, you send your kids to private school.  Not always, but frequently.  This means a disproportionate number of the kids from a higher socio-economic class go to private school, leaving the less fortunate kids, and often more troubled kids in public school.

While studies show that kids from both high and low socioeconomic status are more likely to have problems with substance abuse (and less in the middle- see below)* it’s not just the drug problem in each school that’s an issue- you are often chopping off the righ-side of the bell curve- the kids who “need a more competitive environment” or enrichment that get pulled out of the public school system.

Encouraging this “opt out” option with public tax dollars will only serve to exacerbate the current problem and make it worse.  Dollars will drain out of the public schools and into the private ones, while letting private schools pick and choose their pupils, leaving only the most difficult students in the public schools.

We need to fix education, and fix it’s funding.  Decent public education is an infrastructure issue, and it will be what keeps us competitive in  global economy.  But since it is very muchlong term R & D, if we don’t address issues now, we will pay for them dearly in the long term.

One last example:  Steve Graham, from Vanderbilt University has stated that based on 2002 educational testing, 69% of eighth graders and 77% of high school sniors cannot write well enough to keep up with the demands of the curriculum, and American Business spends over $3.1 Billion a year in remediating writing deficits.  So, we can pay for educatin early on, or pass it on to busines later on.  I don’t think it’s something we can afford to pay for on the back end, if we want to stay competitive as a nation.

What do you think?  I think this has to be one of the most critical political issues of our time, as decisions today will haunt us for years in the future.

* From PubMed- recent journal article about the correlation of substance abuse problems in kids with ADHD, showing it is often those in the lowest and highest socioeconomic status that have the biggest issues with substance abuse.

Am J Addict. 2007 Sep-Oct;16(5):403-9.Click here to read Links

Does social class predict substance problems in young adults with ADHD?

Monuteaux MC, Wilens TE, Biederman J.

Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA. mmonuteaux@partners.org

The relationship between social class and substance use problems is unclear. We aimed to clarify this association in a sample of young adult males with and without attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). We included 69 ADHD and 78 control subjects. Substance use problems were measured with the Drug Use Screening Inventory-Revised (DUSI). Among ADHD subjects, we found a U-shaped association, with elevated risk for substance-related problems at both ends of the SES spectrum. No significant association was found in controls. These findings indicate that substance use risk in ADHD subjects is especially vulnerable to social class.

PMID: 17882612 [PubMed – in process]

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