Schools as Scapegoats

Thanks to Doug over at Borderland for the tip to
Mishel and Rothstein outline the history of recent rhetoric linking the state of the economy to educational achievement and argue, as the have so effectively elsewhere, that schools alone cannot be held responsible for declining wages and growing income inequality.  They write:

It is cynical to tell millions of Americans who work (and who will continue to be needed to work) in low-level administrative jobs and in janitorial, food-service, hospitality, transportation, and retail industries that their wages have stagnated because their educations are inadequate for international competition. The quality of our civic, cultural, community, and family lives demands school improvement, but barriers to unionization have more to do with low wages than does the quality of education. After all, since 1973 the share of the workforce with college degrees has more than doubled; over 40 percent of native-born workers now have degrees beyond high school. Additionally, the proportion of native-born workers that has not completed high school or its equivalent has decreased by half to just 7 percent.

They go on to argue:

These are not problems that can be solved by charter schools, teacher accountability, or any other school intervention. A balanced human capital policy would involve schools, but would require tax, regulatory, and labor market reforms as well.

I think that in the end, I think that  I’m agreeing with Doug when I note that Mishel and Rothstein are suggesting that  even kids with stable and loving –but underpaid – parents  are stressed in ways that few expected, because their hard work is supposed to be paying off.  And it’s not.

Early childhood education, parents in stable relationships, and homework turned in neatly every day are not going to solve the problem of declining wages and growing inequality.

Scapegoating in any form is merely a diversion from the bigger policy questions that have to be addressed.

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8 thoughts on “Schools as Scapegoats

  1. Joanna Barker September 3, 2008 / 8:01 am

    I agree that it is a combination of all these things, however you must agree that our school systems can’t compete with those in other countries.

    For example, I went on a mission trip to Thailand last year, and there were also missionaries from Sweden there, students just like me. So when we recieved instructions, we recieved them in English and Swedish, even though these students already understood the directions in English. So when they told us what to do in English, they then started babbling in Swedish. These students also knew, fluently, Thai, Mandarin, French, German and Italian. You can imagine how inferior all of us from America felt.

    Everything needs to be reformed if America is going to be able to compete in the more competitive job market. While only 7% of working class people haven’t graduated high school or some equivalent, it doesn’t change the fact that high schools and high school teachers aren’t preparing students well enough. There’s a high school in Pennsylvania that doesn’t even teach cursive to grade schoolers. When they get to high school, they don’t even know how to sign their name.

    I think it is perfectly illogical to assume that people will not campaign for better conditions when they want to go on to get an education. When you assume that, you also assume that people don’t care about the people who will be working there after they leave. It is amazing that those security guards campaigned and got what they needed, but I can almost guarantee you that some of those who were a part of that are not anymore, because they sought something they thought was better.

    The gist of what I’m trying to say is, it IS the school’s fault as well, we need a reform everywhere, not just in the economic markets.

  2. Alex July 19, 2009 / 1:33 pm

    There data is wrong. The high school graduation rate is around 70%, and falling. Only half the people who graduate from high school recieve college degrees. That is 35%. The US is now is behind at least 6 countries in college completion rates and proportion of population as college graduates (from being first). These are serious macro economic problems, and hurt US competitiveness. If unionization was encouraged, it would simply spur automation, so that those low service sector jobs disappeared (as is happening with manufacturing). So, I don’t understand where those authors are drawing their conclusions.

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