This morning, I woke up and saw that a city North of where I live, North Branch, had instilled a four day school week.  This is actually old news, but it had been past me for some time.  I quickly went on a rant on Twitter about how messed up our system is when cost cutting measures get to this point.

Over the last few years, I’ve met people from tens of countries who were in the US to learn and work in the USA.  The reasons are many, but the main is that our collegiate system of education is still considered the most superior on the planet.   I’ve met people from the Far East, South America, Middle East, Europe and many other areas who came here for an education as it is lauded world wide.  I also work with many people that went through a similar path to find a job here.  It is a rich country in many ways.

That is the graduate level education system.  The system is very good, but the costs of going have absolutely skyrocketed, here’s a look at the last 20 years.  If you go public, it’s still 60K.  If you go private, god bless you.  I’m not writing to take a look at the costs and benefits of public and private education at the undergraduate levels, though it obviously is breaking down in a stuttering economy.  Want to know why this post isn’t related to that?  Because in percentage terms, not all that many Americans go to college:

edustats

Less than 25% of American adults have have completed college of any sort.  Why is that?  There are many reasons behind it, some of it is that these people choose to go different routes, finding vocations that aren’t education intensive, some go to trade schools.  But there is more there.  Our education systems at a public level in elementary and high school levels do not perform well.  We rank near the bottom among developed nations.

There are MANY, MANY GREAT (!!!!!!) TEACHERS though.  I don’t want anyone to read this and interpret that I’m not thankful for my teachers (Mr. Gran, Mr. Mean, hell even Mr. Brown) and what they taught me.  But our system is broken.  There are many documentaries that attempt to encapsulate the problem (here’s a great one), but it’s pretty obvious.  If you go to a public school, like I have my whole life, you see where there are issues.  In elementary and high school there is a serious dearth of captivating teachers that care about what they do and want to empower their students.   Our teachers are given tenure and many, frankly, don’t care after that.  It might just be a waiting game for their pension to kick in.  There is also a huge dearth of interest from students and understanding of why it’s important.

My position is that  the United States educational system needs to change, and change drastically for the USA to be relevant as it has been in decades past.  My fiance is a teacher.  She works at a fantastic school, comparatively speaking to others in the area.  She subbed for two years prior to getting a full time position.  She has seen the other schools and how difficult their situations are, the lack of resources and supplies that are systemic.  The lack of funding causes the Minneapolis district to let starting teachers go after a year in order to subvert tenure or raises.  Getting a job here as a teacher is very difficult and it does not pay that well.  So when President Obama says, the country needs you, I have to question what’s in it for them?

http://youtu.be/qmUzqCKeeaE <—-Embedding disabled, but take a quick look.

Why should people willingly go into a vocation that is unwilling to pay for excellence?  Why should a really talented person not go into the private sector and be rewarded financially which in turn allows them to provide for their family?  The honest answer is that they probably shouldn’t.

So the need to change is apparent to me.  Those people that I have met over the last few years have told me how much their cultures value and focus on education.  Korean children spend most of their waking hours learning in and out of school, U.S. children refer to something being “Chinese” when it is especially skilled.  They know, as well as we should, that other countries are investing in math and sciences which will eventually dwarf our collective intellect.  I shouldn’t even have to state that the war for talent has gone global.  I work with people here in St. Paul from India, South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan, and beyond.  We are already global and the best jobs are going to those with the most talent, not those geographically proximal to the place of work.

How many languages do your friends speak?  If you live here, it’s probably one.  Other developed areas?  They can speak to us and around us, in loops.  The US has gotten fat, dumb and happy.  Can you guess which one of those is the first to go when everyone else catches up?

Again, I whole heartedly believe we need to change.  I want to make that painfully obvious.  On Twitter, a friend of mine, who has more conservative views regarding government spending, stated that “learning and spending are not linked” and that I was making “liberal talking points” about spending more.  Call it what you want, but I believe our country is responsible for educating each other, not by RIGHT, but because it provides the knowledge needed to manifest an effective and strong economy in the long term.

My friend believes that spending in governance is not effective.  I agree with that, actually.  But I’ve worked briefly in a public institution and seen it first hand.  Spending there can be very wasteful, but that DOES NOT mean that spending/resource allocation (input) and learning (output) aren’t linked.  They very much are. It’s quite obvious if you look at our output.  There is no perfect correlation that tells you for every dollar of spending you get so much learning, and in fact, I agree that our spending there can be wasteful.  But to simply cut our spending strips bare what we have today, it does not cut out “bad” spending.  So conservatives are misguided in thinking that cutting taxes will somehow help our education system, it will hobble it more so.

Arguing that our system needs to change is all well and good, but to argue that we should cut education and not defense is to say that our education system offers no value whatsoever, and that’s simply not true.  I went to public elementary, high school, undergraduate and graduate schools.  I’ve never had assistance from the government and never been on unemployment.  In a sick sense, I’m proud of that, but I don’t look down on others for having used those social assistance programs.  I’m one of many people in this boat.  If you look at the chart above, 80% or so of our American citizens go through high school.  That’s a heavy majority that go through our education system.  It IS valuable, even if it’s suboptimal.  And I’d argue that spending there and attempting to improve it are far more cost efficient than building the another sentinel bomber, for the simple fact that improving our school systems will affect a much larger amount of people.

To illustrate the point, let’s look at US spending, you see a very obvious prioritization of duty.  We have the most powerful army in the world and have for sometime.  I don’t think too many people would argue that point, but if you care to please do.  There’s a very good reason we have the most powerful army in the world, here it is:

2010budgetJ

Pretty simple thinking here.  We are the greatest military force because we choose to be.  We make it a priority and we spend our resources on it, to protect our people.  My argument is that we are overstepping our actual needs.

Bad spending happens across the board, certainly, but the point isn’t that I want to cut everything else, it’s that I want our rationale to be stronger with education.  We should be absolutely TENACIOUS about providing a superior education to our citizens and giving them the opportunity to lead on a world stage.  But we don’t and we haven’t, we’ve continued to focus on Department of Defense; and NOT JUST BECAUSE OF WAR:

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That’s not decades, folks.  That’s yearly increases in spending.  $250 Billion.  Deep breath.  On non war DoD spending.  War is detailed in the red bars, I won’t go there today.  Defense is glaringly obvious as our priority.  And it’s not close.

Education is not our priority.  If you’re curious where it falls in terms of priority, it is categorized under the “Discretionary” budget allocation per the pie chart above.  Here’s a look at what’s in “Discretionary”:

Disc$45 Billion dollars per year on Educating our populace.  That’s roughly a 20 to 1 ratio of DoD to Education.   This is where your tax dollars are going.

My goal here isn’t to pick at the Department of Defense, it’s merely to point out that where we spend our dollars directly impacts our output.  If we doubled the budget for Education tomorrow, would it have an effect on our school systems?  Absolutely it would.  I’m not advocating that, but of course additional resources are going to be utilized and it would likely improve the situation.  We need more than just more money in the system, we need to ESTABLISH AND GALVANIZE our resolve to prioritize education as a major force and priority in the long term health of our country for economic reasons.  We also need to take a hard look at why the system isn’t working and rebuild it such that the good behaviors are rewarded and the bad ones are not.

Cutting across the board is an idealists answer that will have devastating effects on many programs that are not only working today, but are absolutely integral to our very existence as Americans.  Cutting spending on so-called discretionary ideas like education is taking a reverse mortgage out on your house.  Have you ever seen Maxed Out?  There was a scene in the movie where a little old lady explaining how the banks gave her a deal to get cash out of her house on a monthly reverse mortgage.  She was crying saying how she didn’t know that she’d lose her house eventually and why would they do this?  It’s incredibly sad, but she basically impoverished herself unwittingly.

The idea that we can cut education spending in a country where we are ALREADY short on funding and behind other countries, yet still expect to remain a world leader without a talented workforce is an oddity.  I almost called it amusing, but it’s frightening.  It’s goddamn ridiculous, if you ask me.

PS If you’re curious where I got such insightful data, I had to dig deep.