Thursday, May 03, 2018

The Recession Next Time, Failing Schools And The Public Interest

The good news is that the flu virus in Connecticut is on the wane, a bitter winter is hobbling off stage, birds are singing, and the sap is rising in the trees. Spring has sprung.

The bad news, according to Donald Klepper-Smith, chief economist at Data Corp. Partners Inc., is that Connecticut has yet to recover from a recession that ended elsewhere in the nation in February 2010, nearly eight years ago. Since that time, the nation has more than doubled the number of jobs lost during the recession, while Connecticut has recovered only 80 percent of its lost jobs.

Connecticut is suffering from a malingering economic flu. “We see that the state’s economy is not likely to see full job recovery until sometime in late 2019/2020,” Klepper-Smith predicts and, he adds ominously, “odds are we’re likely to see a full blown U.S. recession before that time, if history is any indication.”

Since Connecticut, always inattentive to spending, added an income tax to its revenue stream in 1990, recessions in the state have lasted about ten years. The back-to back national recession Klepper-Smith foresees in Connecticut would mean that the state will have been in recession, with interment intervals of spotty recovery, for three decades. And the life or death question for future governors and legislators is this:  What must be done to make Connecticut recession-competitive with other states?

The obvious answer to the question is:  The state must produce more jobs and jack up its business activity, so that the economic sap once again will rise in its vitals, the chill of lingering recessions will be dispelled, and the long winter of our discontent will give way to a protracted economic spring.

The architects of our state’s dissolution, mostly progressive politicians, must either accept responsibility for the wreckage or be voted out of office. Living in the wreckage, it becomes difficult for anyone with an eye to his own best interests to tolerate with equanimity the arsonist running for office who has just set fire to his house. And there is the trick: How do you convince the electorate to act rationally in its own best interest?

In some major cities, our public schools hardy function at all—other than as holding pens for students who have not been taught by their teachers how to read, write and do simple figures by the fourth grade. Many of these “graduates” are now routinely passed along to colleges heavily fortified with remedial instructors who pamper the students until they receive their sheepskins and are tossed out to fall on the horns of an unforgiving business world.  This objection usually is met, somewhat indignantly, by those who argue plausibly that Connecticut schools are not all equally bad; there are some very good teachers in the worst schools, which happen to be located, astoundingly, in fatherless urban ghettoes, where young thirteen-year-old boys are shooting other thirteen-year-olds with guns that have not yet been outlawed by Senators Dick Blumenthal and Chris Murphy.

Indeed, there are good teachers in bad schools. And there are good schools in pedagogically depressed inner cities.

The Amistad Academy in New Haven, the mother-school of Achievement First, a network of 32 public charter schools in Connecticut, New York and Rhode Island serving students in grades K-12, are rare miracles. Imagine – in these institutions, students do master basic skills. One hundred percent of the students enrolled in an Achievement First public charter school will gain acceptance to a college or university; 97 percent will matriculate; 50 percent are projected to graduate from college. While this last figure may seem slight to some, the percentage is larger than that of college graduates who had attended school at some of Connecticut's most prestigious and successful high schools. Nor does the school skim the crème de la crème of students from the public education system. Access to Achievement First schools is non-discriminatory and much the same as that of public schools.

In a rational world in which the best interests of urban residents were met by urban politicians – nearly all progressive Democrats – every underperforming public school would be dissolved and replaced with an Achievement First school. But this will not happen, and the miracles cannot be replicated.

In Connecticut – but significantly not in New York and Rhode Island – state financing for charter schools is set about 17 percent lower than public school financing. And that is why Achievement First, expanding in New York and Rhode Island, has been nipped in the bud in Connecticut. This underfunding was hard-wired into the legislation that launched charter schools by politicians who, slavishly devoted to powerful union interests, poisoned at the root the successes of Connecticut’s most successful urban pedagogical experiment. But we can be sure these same politicians feel for urban kids locked into failing schools. Compassion dripping from their lips, they feel – they really do. Why else would they support remedial education in colleges and pass-along education in which students emerging from colleges in Connecticut have been schooled but not educated?

And so Connecticut’s remorseless  political machine, stonily indifferent to real problems, successful solutions and the greater good of its population, continues to crank out false solutions and plastic tears  -- mostly because, when push comes to shove, the people of Connecticut do NOT act in their own best interests, but are instead continually bewitched by political fantasies, glowing apparitions and the lure of past successful strategies that now worsen our conditions.

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