Millions, Master Plans and Mediocrity
Five years ago, in Newark, New Jersey, the state where 2016 Republican presidential candidate Chris Christie has been governor since 2010, a supposed “bold new paradigm for educational excellence in the country" was attempted, in which 100$M from Facebook founder/CEO Mark Zuckerberg was supposed to be funneled into programs "to get all the assets and resources" necessary to bulk up and buck up learning and teaching in the mostly-public schools in a city run by a Democratic mayor, Cory Booker.
And 55 years ago, on the west coast of these same United States, the California Master Plan for Higher Education was conceived, during the governorship of Democrat Pat Brown, in which free, public community colleges were to serve as an open-to-all gateway to learning, and in which teaching was to be prime.
But here and now, in late 2015, neither millions nor master plans seem to have brought us Americans beyond mediocrity, as a University of Pennsylvania Institute for Research on Higher Education ( http://www.gse.upenn.edu/pdf/irhe/California_Report.pdf ) study has reported.
So, what's the problem?
In a pre-election season of late 2015, when email servers and hair cuts, attitudes about Planned Parenthood and the rights of immigrants to vote are argued ad infinitum, it seems that bi-coastal problems are at play: As the Penn study on California pointed out a year ago, "increasing political indifference" to education, "the absence of any long-term strategic finance policies to address higher educational needs...in the twenty-first century", and "the lack of effective educational transitions..." have combined with "dollars flow(ing) not to schools but to outside consultants," as Democracy Now reports having taken place in New Jersey.
And so, as a married couple of competent students of French have stated during our conversations on current events that begin each week's class in language and culture in francophoniein California, "When it's not sex, it's gotta be money."
Teachers are notoriously ill-paid, we know, and consultants get regal sums for tiny tasks: The Democracy Now report cited consultants "making up to $1,000/day," and in California, consultation fees are typically higher than the $63,000 cited by payscale.com as typical nationwide.
Do we always "get what we pay for"?
Public schools and community colleges were born of a liberal idea: Be free to educate, be free to learn, and keep the schooling free in all ways. That is, these institutions should be free from political or philosophical fetters, on the one hand, and they should be gratis, on the other.
And so why must we remain the political footballs that we have become? Why must we grovel to our states' Departments of Education, run by bureaucrats and politicians who spend more time seeking to retain their jobs than they do doing those jobs? Why must we "justify" ourselves, "give evidence" of learned "Learning Outcomes," design "rubrics" to please? And why must these activities be performed during each political mandate, right now, urgently, without an eye on the future?
The Master Plan, for its part, was supposed to be a plan for the future, but it has become an underwhelming road map. Why? Dissent magazine holds that a principal reason is that the socioeconomic "class mobility" that was fostered in the plan is now anathema to our country's leaders. Yes, these people's theory goes, "you do get what you pay for, and if you pay too little, you will both get too little value from what you have paid and you will not appreciate it enough, either." Pay more, the idea goes, and you will assign more value; pay more, and you will appreciate it more.
But the paying more is not giving its proper yield.
Neither are educators nor researchers receiving increased pay nor are students getting back what they pay. It is the administrators and the consultants, as well as the outside donors, who are receiving the benefits.
This is twisted.
Dissent points out that the political climate in California is in the same sort of drought that is desertifying the state's terrain: For every $1,000 of personal income in the state, the state's government pays slightly more than $7 for higher education; 25 years ago, that amount was $12.86. Our math students can figure that one out, I submit.
Into this breach has leapt the "for-profit" college movement, and I submit that we must let our public, our politicians, our peers, and our students know that this is a truly regressive option.
If we want success, if we want to make our students masters in learning, we must take the high ground. We must be the ones to tell legislators and governors, voters, and administrators, how to prioritize. And we must do this without screaming desperately. We must do it with our own plan, created together, using numbers and data, generated for new generations who will be able to take advantage of Zuckerberg-like ideas, who will create a true paradigm shift in the Kuhnian manner, making the core changes that will shift the ground under not just our earthquake-prone state in the west, but under all our 50 states.