Sunday, January 31, 2016

Did the Public Schools Kill Mickey Mouse?

IF YOU WORK in the public schools you’ve heard these lines a thousand times. America’s schools are failing. We’re not preparing kids to compete in a global economy.

The nation’s young are doomed.

Well—doomed if we don’t jam Common Core down their throats—doomed if we don’t get Teach for America “game-changers” into classrooms across the land—and doomed, doomed, doomed, if we don’t let Big Corporations break the public school monopoly and start schools and run them according to healthy business principles. That is: piling up profits for Big Corporations.

I’m increasingly having my doubts. According to multiple sources the U.S. economy is not on the verge of collapse. Housing starts last year were the highest since 2007. The stock market is up 10,000 points since March 9, 2009, when it bottomed out. Car sales set a record for numbers, 17.5 million units sold, and value, $570 billion worth of new wheels, in 2015. Almost 300,000 jobs were added in December. 

According to Forbes the numbers were good all year:

The numbers were also impressive in 2014. According to CNN 2.95 million jobs were added, the best figure since 1999.

Of course, we’ve also been told repeatedly that teachers in Finland are doing a stupendous job—whereas our teachers are chopped reindeer liver! Finnish schools are amazing! Everyone graduates! Some kids graduate twice!! Boy, oh, boy, everyone in Finland is prepared to compete in a global economy.

That’s why Finnish unemployment stood at 9.4 % in November 2015, almost double the U.S. rate.

THE BIGGEST, BADDEST school reformers keep insisting we must prepare students to compete in a global economy. But what if problems facing U.S. workers today—stagnant wages, declining benefits, lost pensions—have nothing to do with the system of education? Let’s consider scores for the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 2012, the last year available.

Sure. Finland looked good:

True…the United States was mired in the middle of the pack:

But look at Mexico! Mexican teachers weren’t exactly tearing it up when it came to preparing kids to compete in a global economy. They finished 53rd in mathematics, 55th in science, and 52nd in reading.

Yet none of it mattered. The Mexican unemployment rate at the end of 2015 was just under four percent. That means Mexico was doing better than a number of countries scoring in the top ten on PISA tests, including The Netherlands, 6.6%, Canada, 7.1%, Ireland, 8.8%, and Poland, 9.8%.

And Finland, too.

WE KNOW JOBS in the U.S. auto industry rebounded between 2009 and 2013, from 560,000 to 690,000, a 23% bump. But the educational preparation of students had little to do with the jump. Jobs in Mexican auto plants soared during those years, from 368,000 to 589,000, a gain of 60%. We know, too, since 2009, that U.S. wages in the auto sector have fallen by 12.7%. It doesn’t take a renowned economist to explain that teachers are blameless in all of this. Jobs in the auto industry drained from the U.S., not because our students aren’t prepared to compete and Mexican students are. It boils down to manufacturing costs in the U.S. (wages plus benefits) which averaged $35.67 per hour in 2013. Companies could send jobs to Mexico and spend $6.36.

The idea that bad U.S. schools are to blame for current economic woes is absurd on its face and harmful in effect. Do we really believe, for example, that it’s going to turn out great if we let Big Corporations sink their greedy claws into the schools? To put it plainly, the people who run the Big Corporations are the people we should be worried about. From steel to electronics to women’s underwear, the story is the same, of jobs lost, sent overseas.

In 1992 U. S. textile and apparel industries employed 1.8 million workers in the USA. Fourteen years later 576,000 jobs remained. Were teachers in Bangladesh, where many of those jobs ended up, doing really great? In 2013 workers in the textile and apparel industries there saw a whopping 77 % increase in wages and benefits. It had to be the schools! And the teachers! And maybe it had to do with the fact that, even with that raise, workers in Bangladesh were earning an average of $67.40 per month.

In the end, if we want to help America’s next generation we can start by focusing on the hypocrisy underlying the blame-the-schools game. We can expose the lies. We need to point the finger in a proper direction and elect men and women who want to protect the American middle class.

It might even help if we stopped buying goods and services from Big Corporations that keep outsourcing jobs.

ACCORDING TO THE Economic Policy Institute, between 2001 and 2013, 3.2 million American jobs were eliminated or displaced as a result of a trade imbalance with China. Who then, we should ask, loves producing in and/or buying Chinese-made products and selling them to us? Who loves doing business in China even if the Chinese government arrests a hundred human rights lawyers in a single weekend? Who loves sucking up to communist officials, building “good business relationships,” even when those officials kidnap publishers who criticize corrupt communist rule? And which Big Corporations are only too happy to turn a blind eye, if profits are high, when China’s chief of naval operations warns the U.S. is in danger of touching off a war with “provocative acts” in the South China Sea?

Who loves doing business with China? Walmart does. Loews Hardware does. Apple does, too.

The Big Corporations cry in their beer over all the “lousy” graduates our schools send their way. “Oh, we do wish we could hire more of them!” they wail. “But, they’re just not well-enough prepared.”

Also: they want to earn more than $67.40 per month.

So let’s turn our attention, finally, to the Magic Kingdom and see how this line of hooey almost always plays out. Last fall, Disney Corporation cooked up an elaborate cost-cutting scheme. Disney would hire an outsourcing firm in India to send 250 workers to Florida, all on temporary visas. Once here they would be trained by their American counterparts, the very workers the U.S. public schools supposedly cannot produce. Disney would get rid of the American workers, send the Indians home, and let them work from a call center overseas. “I just couldn’t believe they would fly people in to sit at our desks and take over our jobs,” said one newly-unemployed American worker. 

YET THEY DID. And if some Big Corporate type can ever figure out how to outsource Mickey’s job, good old Mickey will be out on his ear.

Don’t let yourself be fooled by those who keep trying to pin the blame for economic woes on America’s public schools. 

Sorry, Mickey, we're outsourcing your job!


  1. Great piece. Rarely does reform explicitly blame public education for economic woes,but it definitely seemed a guilt by association. If only test scores were higher those jobs would come back type stuff. You notice operation enduring achievement has replaced shock and awe, though. Less failing school talk and more "every child deserves" PR.

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  3. On the Facebook page of "The War Report on Public Education," a gentleman named Joe Schoenewerk replied: Public schools didn't kill Mickey Mouse, but the public school unions certainly killed any chance of a black kid receiving a decent education.

    1. My reply to him:

      Oddly enough the same kind of unions operate in all U. S. public schools and in no middle class or upper class areas do you see the phenomenon. You do, however, see the same problems on Indian reservations, where poverty again comes into great play.

      I would humbly submit that poor black kids do worse in school for reasons other than the membership of teachers in unions. For the same reasons, African-Americans have shorter life spans in this country than whites. I doubt there is any connection to the fact that doctors are all members of AMA. As always, however, it is possible I am wrong.