Mechanical

Education in the Red States

According to this article, Toyota has decided to open a factory in Ontario, Canada despite being offered millions of dollars in subsidies from a number of US states. Toyota claims that increased training costs offset the value of subsidies. However, at least one person decided to be more forthright:

[Gerry Fedchun, president of the Automotive Parts Manufacturers' Association,] said Nissan and Honda have encountered difficulties getting new plants up to full production in recent years in Mississippi and Alabama due to an untrained - and often illiterate - workforce. In Alabama, trainers had to use "pictorials" to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech plant equipment.

If you're one of the idiots who thinks you shouldn't have to pay school taxes because you don't have children, read that again. A few times. Or maybe I should make "pictorials" for you to follow along.

Update: the title was meant tongue-in-cheek. I wasn't trying to imply that this is a red state/blue state issue, but that's clearly how it came across. Oops.

Unfortunately taxes won't help much in the states with the higher illiteracy rates. There is a high percentage of folks who do not let their kids go to school because they actually believe schools poison their children's minds...and no, I am not kidding.
That is very true......
...but it is also true that these states put the least amount of money per capita into their public school system nationally.

Mississipi has the highest illiteracy rates in the country...including those who are in the pubic school system. It is so bad that the Republican administration placed an income tax on the ballot last year so they could acually fund the public schools at a rate close to the national average....and it was handedly voted down....so they had to cut public education again significantly last year.
Re: That is very true......
Simultaneous occurrence doesn't necessarily equate to causation according to your preferences. The fact that states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas (formerly governed by a Clinton, by the way) have low literacy rates and low public school funding rates does not necessarily mean that low public school funding is the cause of low literacy rates.

Most of my public school experience took place in California, about as Democrat a state as you're likely to find. California is the bogeyman for Republican presidential candidates and the 900-lb. gorilla of Democrat political interests in Washington, DC. I could easily have gone through all that so-called "education" without learning to read, and I was even in school during some of California's periods of greatest funding for public education. I'm mostly self-educated, truth be told, because I read a lot and wasn't content to just "get by" in school. I even managed to get crappy grades a lot of the time and still know at least 98% of the material in class before it was presented or assigned simply because I was interested in learning and my parents valued education regardless of whether public school provided it.

My experience is that public school funding has very little to do with the causes of education quality. I suspect that the main reason high rates of public education funding tend to occur in states with high literacy rates is that high literacy rates tend to occur in areas where the populace values education, and (mostly erroneously) thinks well-funded public education will somehow ensure greater learning in the population. I think this mistaken impression is part of the reason for declining comparative US education quality in relation to other industrialized countries: people place their faith in money thrown at institutions of public education, and ignore the truly important factors, such as fostering a love of, or at least value for, learning in children. That's something that can only be accomplished at home. This is why homeschooled children that come from families where learning is actually valued (and where "homeschooling" isn't taken as an excuse for "extra farm hand") tend to score far better on standardized tests.

If you really want to use "public" funding to increase literacy rates, you'd be better off spending it on influencing popular marketing meant to influence the minds of the credulous public so that they more greatly value education, rather than giving the same money to school boards who will disburse it amongst the administrative staff of schools and spend it on football field upkeep.
Re: That is very true......
Maybe....

But there is a big differece from spending 12K a year per student, funding a full school year of 180 days, buying computers and decent textbooks, and having a student to teacher ratio of 25 to one compared to spending 6K a year per student, cutting the school days down to 160, not having computers accessible, having textbooks from the 1970's and having a 40 to one student to teacher ratio.

Big difference.
Re: That is very true......
You're right. There's a big difference. It's even possible that the difference produces the effects you suggest.

It's also possible that it doesn't.

After all, for 3k per year, you could attend a decent community college and, with the leftover 3k, buy a car and still have money for textbooks. I haven't looked into the cost of sending a child to a private pre-college school, but if it's necessarily more than 6k, I'd guess that a lot of that is the fault of market conditions produced by governmental regulations that, coincidentally, allow the quality of schooling you'd find in those 6k/yr public schools you denigrate. Meanwhile, homeschooling is even cheaper, if you've got a parent or other relative who's staying home anyway and is capable of providing education outside the classroom.

That's not even taking into account lower cost of living in those areas, and how that affects how far each dollar goes in providing an education. When I moved from California to Florida (and I wasn't even living in LA, San Diego, or San Francisco — I was in Riverside of all places), each dollar I made was suddenly getting me almost twice as far. Much of that is the fault of a number of factors, to include reduced taxes on almost everything. While it's true that government agencies don't usually have to pay taxes, the companies with whom government agencies do business when they contract for construction, purchase materials, and so on are still paying taxes, and those expenses get passed on to the customer. I can only imagine how much lower the cost of living is in a place like Mississippi, where tax collectors still occasionally disappear when they go try to collect from people living in the back country.

Yes, reduced expense might have an effect on education. It may not be the effect you expect, however. In my case, I'm sure part of the effect would involve more ease of homeschooling, which I'd probably prefer anyway. I certainly don't recall anyone that attended twelve years of public education declaring that it was responsible for teaching them critical thinking tasks and a love of learning. At best, public school seems to provide an apparently convenient daycare service and an education in dealing with bureaucracy and schoolyard justice — which is all too common outside the schoolyard, as well, and thus kind of a valuable lesson at times.
Re: That is very true......
After all, for 3k per year, you could attend a decent community college and, with the leftover 3k, buy a car and still have money for textbooks.

False analogy. Community colleges are also heavily subsidized by the state.

And here's an amusing story: I was in Anchorage a few years ago in a meeting with, amongst other people, Shirley Holloway, the Alaska Education Commissioner. She was explaining the source of many of Alaska's education woes. A number of years prior to our meeting, the Alaskan government decided they were spending too much money on education. So what did they do? They offered early retirement to their highest paid teachers in a cost-cutting effort. The result? Test scores plummeted.

As it turns out, the highest paid teachers were also the most experienced teachers. By insisting on those idiotic standardized tests and getting rid of their best teachers, Alaska saved a ton of money and screwed their students. It was so bad that the legislature was considering letting those teachers come back and keep their retirement.

The moral of this sad little tail? Having studied pedagogy (if only briefly), worked directly with educators and seen how badly well-intentioned people can screw up the system, I can only say that I am terribly suspicious of education "reform" proposed by those with no experience involved with teaching.

Standardized tests have led to teaching how to take tests and not how to learn. Tying teacher salaries to student performance has done a great job of penalizing special ed teachers (who often have a much harder job.) Voucher programs have led to private schools taking good students (because they need to compete and show that their students have higher GPAs) and leave the students who really need help stuck in an already underfunded school system. We also have problems with many textbooks now having factual errors in science, history, and a number of other areas. However, those errors are unlikely to be corrected for a number of reasons (not the least of which is elected school board officials sometimes following a religious agenda which does not serve the student's interests.)
what you say?
I no understand.

they bad company.....not like us. Must be commies.....

We good cuntry....they bad cuntry. Me pay plenty taxes...they only traters.
Yeah, I read that article earlier and was somewhat flabbergasted.

I mean, I'm happy for the workers in Ontario and all, but to state that the main reason was because you couldn't find enough workers who are LITERATE? Hell, I get bent out of shape if grammar, spelling, and diction aren't employed correctly.

Scary.
I don't personally mind paying taxes for a common school system but...

Maybe some people are pissed off about paying taxes for a school system that is still turning out illiterate kids.

And, hey, at least they didn't set up the factory in a 3rd world nation full of starving people.
Given that there's a strong correlation between lower school funding and poor student performance, I don't think people not wanting to pay taxes for it is going to improve the problem. In my reply to apotheon, I detail some of the issues that I am seeing in education today. Much of the problem appears to be those with no experience in education trying to reform it and doing a very bad job.
I find that another problem with public schools is that most of the teachers have no real world experience in their field. Of course you can't have real world experience for history teachers but maybe they could be older than 22. Over half of them, in the state of Oregon anyway, are not even qualified to teach the subject because they don't get passing grades on subject knowledge. There are problems that go beyond dumping more money into it. People are just sick of throwing money at this problem since the school system is seen as having its hand out at every turn and then have programs that some people find objectionable like sex ed or environmental classes. This doesn't inspire people to pay them especially when they still turn out uneducated children.

I have tons of experience in my field and there's no way I would be a teacher. Why? The pay is atrocious. Those who have the most experience in their respective fields simply aren't terribly interested in the pay cut. Yes, there are exceptions, but not enough of them. So if you have any ideas about attracting qualified teachers on current teacher's salaries, I'd love to hear 'em :)

It's a basic tenet of economics that public goods are going to be underfunded. Education is a classic example. When I was working with the Alaskan educators, I listened to many budget horror stories. Off the top of my head, here are a few common issues:

  • Textbooks are often out of date (sometimes by decades)
  • Teachers having to pay for school supplies out of their salaries
  • Apathetic parents often won't get involved in their student's education (and yet they're quick to say what's wrong)
  • Overcrowded classrooms (tough to provide one-on-one help when you have 40 students)
  • Shorter school years and more "in-service" days
  • Students getting fed junk food instead of healthy meals (which has been repeatedly shown to interfere with education)

So, off the top of my head, many of the most serious problems that we face seem to come down to issues that are directly tied to budgetary constraints. Our students deserve modern, accurate text books. Our teachers who work long hours for low pay shouldn't be paying for school supplies out of their pockets. Students shouldn't be fed crap for lunch, either, but that's what they often get.

This is the reality of many of our public schools. And it's not just Alaska. I've worked with a number of Oregon educators and heard similar stories here and a good friend is a teacher in Texas and they face similar woes. This is a subject I've been keenly interested in for a long time and frankly, very few people have much knowledge (or interest) about this area. It's depressing.

I live in Canada and really the school system here is suffering....My cousin is a teacher at a local school here. they are expected to help out and chair extracurricular activities but are not paid any overtime at all....the benifit package is horrible and the salary is really low. If I worked full time at the casino with maybe 4 hours of overtime a month I would make the same as her or pretty darn close even without the overtime, and to me that si sad