kitchen table math, the sequel: "this road is now closed"

Saturday, December 8, 2012

"this road is now closed"

A number of us, over the years, have observed that it no longer seems possible for US public schools to be the engines of social mobility they once were, what with the requirement that parents "help with homework" right up through AP Calculus senior year if their children are to succeed.

Actually, scratch that. "Help with homework" continues apace in Grade 13, sad to say. Ed was up 'til 2am Thursday night dealing with an indecipherable writing assignment C. was trying to complete--indecipherable to Ed, not just to C. I hear the same from other parents.

Anyway, back to K-12. Many decades ago, when schools grouped students according to what they knew, and teachers drilled, killed, chalked, and talked, immigrant children whose parents did not speak the language could learn to read, to write, and to do arithmetic at school. Ditto for working class children and children living in poverty.

As Goldin and Katz show in The Race between Education and Technology, the country's public schools directly increased economic equality until the 1980s.

Then things changed.

Goldin and Katz say essentially nothing about what changed or why, and reviews of the book have also tended to dance around the issue of just what exactly went wrong circa 1980.

Now Brad DeLong has written a post about Goldin and Katz's book that expresses the change in the starkest terms I've seen in any account of the book:
...My teachers Claudia Golden and Larry Katz make an impressive and largely convincing argument that the trends in inequality between the top twenty percent and the bottom eighty percent in the United States, at least, have been overwhelmingly driven by the race between technology and education. Technology has kept running at a more or less constant pace. Education has not. From, say, 1920 to 1980, the United States essentially followed the recipe of Berkeley chancellor Clark Kerr: the United States ought to provide as much education for free to its citizens as they wanted.

Devotees of the right approved of this policy....People on the left noted that if you make education free you get an awful lot of educated and well-trained people, so the return to human capital goes down, the education premium that those who have been to college and have been trained in the professions can demand becomes a lot lower. And as your accountants and lawyers and doctors facing competition in the labor market can demand lower salaries, that leaves more money for the assembly line workers and the janitors and the home health aids and the nurses and the waitresses.

Around 1980, this strategy of growth and equality through education in the United States breaks down. Since then the costs of higher education have been rising at an extraordinarily rapid pace in the United States, as government subsidies are withdrawn, and as private colleges react to rising sticker costs of public colleges by raising their own sticker prices. In addition the universal commitment to pre-college high quality education has been in decline. This has stuck. Thus, unless we see a major change in American political economy, this education road that appears to have been very effective at promoting equality between the 1920s and the 1970s is now closed to the United States.
I've never seen that before.

I've never seen someone say, simply, this road is closed.


Student of History/Robin said...


that strikes me as quite wrong and an attempt to cover up the ideological origins of what led to the stagnancy.

The Rand Change Agent Study that went on for 5 years from 1973 to 1978 at great cost (it's where the Effective Schools research comes from in a rather Orwellian definition) examined why ESEA did not change the nature of US education as the behavioral sciences theories had sought. It didn't but it sure stopped advancement cold.

So 1980 is an important date and I have been tracking the Equality argument to the point that I have read Robert Moses' Radical Equations on the Algebra Project and the footnotes contained in that book recently.

Let me take a look at this because the road is closed for other reasons. But this is not the story of what has happened to K-12 and higher ed. And higher ed is about to get much worse with what is called the Lumina Diploma Qualifications Profile designed to gain Equity in credentialling.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hey Robin - You should read Goldin & Katz. The book is incredible. Brilliant.

It is certainly not an attempted coverup -- although, that said, I did get the distinct feeling, reading the book, that Goldin and Katz were loathe to criticize the schools. I **think** they made a half-hearted stab at pinning the problem on insufficient funding (I'd have to check to confirm), but it was half-hearted at best.

Instead they present a closely reasoned and extremely well-supported history of public education, income, and income equality in the U.S. that shows public schools directly, causally increasing equality for several decades and then abruptly ceasing to increase equality.

They don't explain why or how things changed.

Catherine Johnson said...

Speaking of ideology, I was talking to a colleague of Ed's one night about my '1985' theory .... and he said, "Well, I don't know education history, but just off the top of my head I would say that what happened in 1985 was that the 1960s generation reached positions of authority in education."

I **think** Diane Ravitch makes the same argument (but I have not actually, to this day, read Left Back, so someone should correct me if I'm wrong).

I skimmed one of her closing chapters...and I think her thesis is that progressive education became powerful in the early years of the 20th century and then became much more powerful and extreme after the upheavals of the 1960s and as a direct result of the 1960s.

BUT, as I say, I've only skimmed parts of the book, so take that with a grain of salt.

Student of History/Robin said...

It's DeLong's conclusions I have a real problem with. I went back and pulled the whole transcript of his remarks and found it gag worthy. Constant references to us being in another Gilded Age. It reminded me of his colleague Goodwin Liu's push for social citizenship and getting to FDR's 2nd Bill of Rights with a very unsupported reading of the 14th Amendment.

I wrote about it here because Liu goes on to mention in 2006 the need for the Common Core backed by the feds but seemingly pushed by the states. He saw it as a means to stealthily redefine the nature of citizenship so it became perceived as a matter of personal responsibilities instead of individual rights.

The whole Equality push is bubbling back up and is called the Fair Share Society. I actually see Golden and Katz cited a lot but it is other books. So Equality is a big push of theirs. If they misattribute the causes of what changed the Economic Growth trajectory, which I think they do, that's my concern.

Going back to Babeouf during the French Revolution, there is no role for individual academic excellence in a society striving for equality. That's really at the core of the reading and the math wars.

I know precisely what happened in the 80s down to individuals involved and copies of long lost conference reports laying out the vision sought quite graphically. I suspect Katz and Golden do as well. I had to figure it out and track it down but many academics were simply told by people in those meetings or conferences.

Just be careful. Ed has become an unappreciated weapon and that university in Cambridge can be Ground Zero for weapon plans.

I have several searches since I posted looking for info on the Lumina Diploma Qualifications Profile. That's a September 12 post called "Constructing an Alternative Vision of Either the Natural or Human World As the Basis for a College Degree." The previous post on September 10 explained what the Crucible Report was doing to higher ed in invisible ways.

I have the Katz book at your rec. Will read it fully as soon as I get through some more work on systems thinking responding to outraged parents in Winston Salem.

All the Best,


linsee said...

If you start counting in the 1920s, there were many people who could have benefited from much more education than was available to them; my mother, born in 1909, left school after the eighth grade. Girls did that then; now they don't. (Mostly.) As access to education broadened, there were fewer and fewer people left unreached, and at some point, when we ran out of those people, education stopped making as much difference as it once had.
(Not to say that the other theories are wrong; society is a complicated construction and many factors may have some causal effect.)