On School Choice

The nomination and approval of Besty “Eeek! A grizzly!” de Vos for Education Secretary has had me spending some time thinking about education and what I’d like to change about it. There are many things, but in the context of this particular person, I’m thinking about it when it comes to school choice.

School choice is, broadly, the concept that parents should have a choice as to where their child goes to school. In principle, this is a good thing. It means that parents can get their kid out of a public school they judge to be failing and put them into z private school that they judge to be better, and best of all, they can do this with the state paying some or part of this, due to school vouchers.

These vouchers provide a certain amount of money for less well-off parents so that they can afford private education for their kids. Again, in principle, this isn’t a bad thing.

But when someone does this, they’re taking money away from public schools that are generally poorly-funded to begin with. So if a school is already failing, they’re likely to fail even more, due to the fact that they’re now losing money.

It used to be that almost everyone sent their kids to public schools. There were private and religious schools, but either the wealthy sent their kids to them, or the less well-off used scholarships.

With most people’s kids attending public schools, this means that people had a stake in how those schools perform (which we all have anyhow, but you know what I mean). It meant that they were willing to do things to improve them, like volunteer or pay higher taxes.

Sadly, the Republicans continue their desire to privatize everything, including education, and so we get into school vouchers.

I am generally in favor of freedom of choice, and if you can afford, on your own or with scholarships, to send your child to a private school, go for it. But I’m severely against the government assisting you with doing so. If the school your kid is going to isn’t doing as well as you think it should, go find out why, and work to change it. Run for the local school board, even. It couldn’t hurt, and it might help.

But abandoning the idea of public education is stupid, wrong, and just generally terrible, and that’s where this is leading us.


We Don’t Actually Need It

I was at a thing today where someone was talking about high school sports, and how sports in high school, especially football, are extremely important. They help reach students who wouldn’t otherwise be reached, the logic goes, and so that’s a good reason to have them.


Schools are, and should be, about education first and foremost. No school should have its own teams. Football, especially, is expensive, violent, and damaging to the player’s brains, but even more harmless sports require a lot of money that could be better put towards, say, more math or history teachers.

Now it is true that sports have their value and worth, and can indeed help reach students who might otherwise feel distanced from their classmates.

But you know what? Little League exists. So does Pee-Wee Football. So do other sporting organizations at various levels. Let the students go play in youth leagues.

Other countries find it quite bonkers that we have high school sports, and I can’t disagree with that. Other countries also get by just fine without them, and I really think we should, too.

They Do Need Some Education

Slate has an article today about Cardinal Dolan, a man who I largely have little respect for, speaking out in favor of college courses in prison. While I might disagree with him on many, many issues, on this one I can get right up there next to the man.

This really is a no-brainer if you stop to think about it for a few minutes. Studies show time and again that people who are in prison and go through college are far less likely to reoffend and end up back in prison. They also likely get better jobs on the outside than they’d otherwise be able to, thus paying higher taxes and helping to pay down some of their financial debt to society.

If you’re against this idea, you’re an idiot, and probably should go get some schooling yourself. If you genuinely believe there are people who would get sent prison just so they could get a degree, you’re several levels of idiot. I can pretty much assure you that if that ever happens, it’s rare indeed. Very, very few people ever go to prison for the benefits they can access while there.

But if you put forth the argument that it really isn’t fair that people should be allowed to get free college while in prison when people on the outside aren’t allowed to, I’ll agree with you. That isn’t fair. The fact that someone in prison gets education for nothing while someone outside can graduate with a hundred-thousand dollars in debt sucks hard.

Of course, the solution that you, my fantasy person who is putting forth this argument, would have is that educational courses should be stopped in prison. Incorrect. What should happen instead is that everyone should be allowed free college. This would fix many problems and just possibly keep a few people from ending up in prison in the first place.

Of course we can’t afford it. No, we have to spend, as one smart person once put it, “Billions on defense, but not one cent for education.” As long as we keep thinking like that, we’ll continue to have problems that we just should not have.

Free College? Fuck, Yes.

The other day President Obama announced a plan to give all Americans access to community colleges for free. Basically no one would ever have an excuse to not have an associate’s degree.

As someone who has $42,000 in student loan debt and doesn’t yet have a degree to show for it (I’m one class shy!), I think this is a fantastic idea! It means a better educated workforce, and a broadly more informed public, and those are great ideas.

Best of all, it’ll be cheap. How cheap? About $6 billion, apparently. A large number to you or me, but pocket change when you consider the $3.5 trillion federal budget. To put that into perspective, the budget is $3,500,000,000,000 and we’re talking about $6,000,000,000.

There is zero down side to this. It will mean lower student loan debts, and increased educational opportunities. It would have meant that I could have gotten the degree I don’t yet have without spending anything on tuition. That would mean I wouldn’t currently be $42,000 in the hole with nothing yet to show for it.

Of course I expect the usual hue and cry from the Republicans with their standard cry of, “Millions for defense but not one cent for education!” Hopefully they’ll be cowed and come to order so this can be made to happen.

Bye-Bye, School Sports?

Why do we in the USA have sports programs in our public schools? Surely that’s not something we should have. Surely what we should have our schools doing is teaching kids math, science, history, and things like that. We don’t need them playing organized football or anything like that, do we? It’s something that almost no other country in the world does, and all the countries that regularly beat us academically do not have organized sports at their schools.

I write about this because of an article published by The Atlantic. In it, the author wonders why we have school sports and whether or not we might be better off without them. In addition to making the “aren’t schools about education?” argument, she also brings up cost.

In many schools, sports are so entrenched that no one—not even the people in charge—realizes their actual cost. When Marguerite Roza, the author of Educational Economics, analyzed the finances of one public high school in the Pacific Northwest, she and her colleagues found that the school was spending $328 a student for math instruction and more than four times that much for cheerleading—$1,348 a cheerleader. “And it is not even a school in a district that prioritizes cheerleading,” Roza wrote. “In fact, this district’s ‘strategic plan’ has for the past three years claimed that math was the primary focus.”

She also discusses, at length, a high school in Texas that got rid of most sports, up to and including football. To those who don’t get the importance, that’s like if the Pope said, “This whole resurrection of Jesus business. Probably not a thing.” The author goes on to say:

Football is, far and away, the most expensive high-school sport. Many football teams have half a dozen or more coaches, all of whom typically receive a stipend. Some schools hire professional coaches at full salaries, or designate a teacher as the full-time athletic director. New bleachers can cost half a million dollars, about the same as artificial turf. Even maintaining a grass field can cost more than $20,000 a year. Reconditioning helmets, a ritual that many teams pay for every year, can cost more than $1,500 for a large team. Some communities collect private donations or levy a special tax to fund new school-sports facilities.

Now imagine that schools did not have sports programs. What would happen? You’d likely see what you see in other nations. You’d have private clubs form up, probably with sponsors, and there would be youth leagues and such. Those who are interested in paying for such things would pay for them. Meantime, the money that was going to these things in schools would be going, presumably, to more scholastic things.

The article is pretty long, but well-worth reading.

It Begins…

So I am one measly credit shy of my associate’s degree. Joy of joys. I need to finish the semester that started today first, of course. I’m taking a non-fiction writing class, which is good, because if it was just a made-up class, that would suck (“They’re called bunk beds. I don’t why, because they actually exist”). Beyond that, I’m retaking my racial and ethnic minorities class that I failed last semester. I feel it’s generally a good idea to not have an F next to classes that apply directly to one’s major. Finally, I’m re-retaking math 91. Yes, third try’s the charm, I hope. I actually got credit for it last semester and the semester before that. But I need to move on to math 121 for ASU, and so I have to get at least a C in this class.

I’m also scaling back my hours at work. I’ll only be working two days a week, and those will be weekend days. Hopefully money will continue to pour in, plus I’ll have my money from my student loans to pay for my rent for the next few months. That will give me more time to concentrate on school. So…if all goes well, by December, I’ll have my degree. Then I just need to get math 121 and a couple of other prerequisite classes under my belt (though aren’t they actually requisite, if you have to take them to advance?), and then I’m off to ASU in the fall of next year.

I fucking hope.

Schooling Problems

So my latest semester is just about over with. It’s been…not great. I took a biology course about plants (required for graduation, didn’t want it), took math course (required for graduation, didn’t want it), and a sociology course (on a subject of sociology that doesn’t much interest me, but was all that was available). The results weren’t pretty.

In my biology class, it looks like I’m getting a B, which isn’t horrible. However in the sociology course, I’m going to get a C, which isn’t good. To make matters worse, in my math course, I’m getting a D. I’ll need to repeat that one to get credit.

So in every other semester, I got at least one A. Not this time. I also never got any Cs or Ds. Not this time.

Still, I’m on track to graduate in time, and hopefully next semester will go better!