Even an incompetent weak leader is occasionally prodded into doing something right for his country, even if to get re-elected. No Child Left Behind bill, which was co-sponsored by Edward Kennedy, was signed by George W. Bush in 2001. United States took a major step in improving quality of its workforce.
At least that’s what appeared to happen if only 10th amendment didn’t get in the way of creating a national standard for America’s children. United States never had a national education minister to properly oversee the country’s competitive development versus international rivals. A national education standard regardless of class or race, to which all students strive to, makes solid geopolitical sense. Yet even at the height of the cold war, American constitutional arrangement stood in the way. Such a standard, that many leading Western nations have long had, would help culturally equalize the population, narrow the gap in worker quality between different regions, and allow national leadership to effectively track how much economic value an average American student can bring to the world’s table. As of today, it is rather difficult to assess where an average American elementary kid stands, in comparison to a kid in Australia, Canada, or France.
United Nations tries to do that with its Human Development Index (on which United States is 19th, sliding down, and about to be surpassed by Italy of all countries). UN’s task is drastically complicated by major structural and cultural roadblocks:
1)Structural obstacle-The 10th amendment, which results in each state setting its own standard, and the different ways of measuring, assessing, and comparing state wide education levels between 50 parts of American federal union. Even state wide standards took a while to implement and had to be nudged with No Child Left Behind. In many older northeastern states, local governments have inefficient archaic 19th century structures, compete with each other for educational resources, and are poorly coordinated from the state’s political center. Large states, old as well as newer ones, are prone to inefficiency, redundancy, and waste resulting from American over-emphasis on local educational controls. American Union’s economically poorer regions as well as regions dependent on one crop or resource export, also have their education system come under undue influence of wealthy protestant clergy or local oligarchs with political clout. When federal money is provided to states as incentives for restructuring, secularism is not strictly and uniformly enforced as a condition for aid. This results in a qualitative drop in demographic grasp of hard sciences necessary for high technology production and development. Even demographically smaller states have been given two senators by founding aristocracy. This allows agricultural and resource extraction oligarchs to have relatively cheap influence on senators and governors in states like Iowa.
2)Substantial qualitative gaps between private schooling of the rich, middle class public schooling, and public schooling for the poor. The geographically large 300 million multi-ethnic federal union also suffers from often large cultural differences between regional, racial, and ethnic populations that translate into significant splits within the state wide education system.
No Child Left Behind reaffirmed the political notion that backward underdeveloped regions, like Mississippi and West Virginia, should be left in charge of setting their own education standards. The above mentioned problems were thus codified and in many ways worsened. Some backward regions blatantly lowered their standards to receive Federal resources for adhering to NCLB act. Since NCLB had no enforcement provisions, tax payer money from states with solid education flowed to reward states that publicaly hurt their own students’ future. Predictably, this occurred in states with high populations of poorly educated and disenfranchised peoples not belonging to ruling ethnic coalition (American south). A situation was created (and federally encouraged) where a High School student in one region of the American union, thinks he has an A- in math and English whereas that A- can be a C+ in other regions. Millions of American citizens, their families, and institutions are being psychologically tricked for years to think their grades mean the same throughout the whole country. NCLB however, at least forbid reliance on the average test scores within the states. This was important since hyper educated upper class whites often skew the mean test scores up artificially (the way a millionaire walking into a gas station would bring up the average income of all the patrons in the station).
When High School children around the country reach the time to take a nationally standardized SAT test, many are in for a rude awakening. A “good student”, from a rural locality in a state that doesn’t try to modernize, might think his high grades prepare him well. However, he often scores worse than a “good student” from a state that tries hard to modernize and implement European style standards and assessment.
In 2005, the then chairman of the federal reserve Alan Greenspan, has identified that American students compete well globally at 4th grade level, but that there is a drop off in average quality after that. Greenspan, one of the biggest defenders of the free market, has pinpointed the lack of educational investment for high schools as the leading cause of widening gap between the rich and the poor.
“The income gap between the rich and the rest of the US population has become so wide, and is growing so fast, that it might eventually threaten the stability of democratic capitalism itself” – Alan Greenspan in a public testimony.
( http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0614/p01s03-usec.html )
Such shocking statements, by a man who oversaw nation’s fiscal policy, have gone unnoticed by most of the union’s population. A chart of mean 2008 SAT scores by state can show the extent of the socio-economic divide that is pushing US towards potential social instability in the future ( http://spreadsheets.google.com/pub?key=p5_qQ6maRJmvWRlRIFh6Kbg&output=html&gid=1&single=true ). What is most striking and telling about the state of economic inequality in US, is that the states with the highest average SAT scores, have the lowest amount of students taking the exam.
Upper classes, that also often have the tools and extra wealth to influence political direction of the state/locality, perpetuate chronic lack of public education funding while getting qualitative preparatory advantage via private schooling. Private schooling techniques and methods, have continued to improve in United States even as overall quality of life declined. US private education for the upper classes is some of the best in the world and analogous to the American medical industry. The states with the highest mean SAT scores, not only have the least amount of people managing to even try to pass the test, but they are also amongst some of the poorest states in GDP per capita.
( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_GDP_per_capita_(nominal) ).
This is taking into account the distortive effect, that those earning over $100,000 a year, have on the average GDP per capita evaluation. Midwestern regions of the union, as well as the non-diversified export states, are under oligarchal control as blatant as seen in parts of South America (where GINI index inequality is even higher than in US). Midwest and the South regions are much poorer than their entrenched strongmen claim. Announcements of high SAT scores or more people getting into college serve to perpetuate the illusion of rural development.
Perhaps the best example, of oligarchal influence on political power centers, is shown by Washington DC. Many nations of the world are judged by the social conditions of their capital cities. Capital cities, show the microcosm of the overall society itself, since that’s where the most power elites are concentrated whose thoughts in turn, shape society. In US, due to its decentralized federal structure, that is less of a case (considering the importance of state capitals, financial/cultural hubs of New York and Los Angeles, and strategic port cities) but still worth a look.
District of Columbia, has the highest GDP per capita, the lowest mean SAT scores, and the highest SAT participation rate (and subsequent disillusionment). Lets dissect this innocent data. The gap, between private schooling for children of oligarchs and public schooling for the poor, has never been more on display than in the capital of the former superpower. 1/3 of the city’s population is functionally illiterate whereas the SAT scores resulting from elite private schools (that are grew 13% annually since 2001) don’t even make much of a dent in mean SAT calculation. The mere fact that DC manages to have such low mean SAT scores, while its mean GDP per capita is the highest in the nation shows that distortive effects of high SAT scores due to public schools can only go so far. We wont see all the upper class high schoolers scoring 1600 equivalent on the new SATs whereas the richest 1% living close to country’s leadership have a drastic effect on mean calculation.
New York for instance, has same level of participation rate in SAT taking as DC, and is only 45th worst mean SAT score performer (DC is 51st worst). However, New York is 6th highest by GDP per capita (DC is first) and we see that nation’s capital is 34% more socio-economically unequal than even the state with the financial heart of the American union, Wall Street. Such striking gap in wealth and ethnic culture is unthinkable in Europe’s capitals (even now that they are becoming cultural segregated by immigrant and native neighborhoods). Even Moscow, with the flashy belligerence of its oligarchs, has not reached such a level of gilded age extravagance. Such reality in the beginning of 21st century, should make any American pause about direction of the country. Past Western accusations, involving materialism gap between Soviet elites and average Soviet citizens, begin to sound ridiculous in comparison to counter Soviet accusations of material gap in capitalist urban areas. Washington DC, of course, also has the best medical care in the country to keep its elderly Brezhnevs functional for decades.
After taking an explanatory background detour, we return to the issue of worker competitiveness. Political realities, make even a rabid modernizing president, unable to create proper educational assessment of citizenry within his own country. Lack of national educational standards will continue to make rural regions of the country more uneven compared to economically growing urban areas. We have seen how groupthink of American elites has led to the financial bubble as well as to the nationally draining occupation of parts of Asia. Doing an American perestroika-style restructuring when the economy is stagnating or declining runs the risk of massive failure. Undergoing needed restructuring itself will require nothing short of a constitutional convention or a number of new amendments. The entrenched regional powers in more distant parts of the union will not allow such a restructuring to happen or to properly succeed even if it begins. Large swaths, of the American population in rural areas, are thoroughly indoctrinated with ideological nationalism. Many sincerely believe the American federal union is in a rather fine shape compared to more consolidated, educated, industrialized, and egalitarian countries of the world. Many also sincerely believe that if they just work harder, to make capitalism more pure, the superpower will be set on the right path. Unfortunately, many of these ideological conservatives are the elderly and about to gain even more power as baby boomers retire. Their neural patterns are thoroughly indoctrinated and they are not as open to education via new forms of media like the internet.
Massive investments in education are not enough if their target is not social equalization of the American workforce. Since United States lacks economic egalitarianism, the least it can do is build egalitarianism of standards in math, English, and science. We must not allow the average American worker to educationally decline to such a degree that even incentives of low taxes and lack of union protection prevents foreign investment. This story, of Toyota deciding to open a factory in Ontario instead of southern US, is a foreshadowing of whats to come ( http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/25/opinion/25krugman.html ). Toyota decided, that although America has workers willing to work for less (and local authorities provide tax incentives), it’s still more profittable to open a factory in Canada, since the workforce is better educated and medically covered. Considering the rate of income growth in US slowed to below growth in inflation in 2008 ( http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/spi/2009/pdf/spi0309.pdf ), we need to start thinking about what to do about the 10th amendment. It’s THAT serious.