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Op/ed: Brown’s school funding plan won’t save our dysfunctional education system

By   /   Saturday, June 29th, 2013  /   Comments Off on Op/ed: Brown’s school funding plan won’t save our dysfunctional education system

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By Steven Mintz on June 29, 2013

Will Gov. Jerry Brown’s legacy be that he transformed the state’s dysfunctional school funding system?

The general consensus seems to be “yes.”

The reason is Brown’s Local Control Funding Formula, which is designed to fund all school districts more fairly and direct more resources to disadvantaged students, who need the money most.

Who can argue with the premise that all California kids will have a far better opportunity to reach their full potential given the shift in budget philosophy? Me, that’s who.

Don’t get me wrong, equalized funding is a good idea as a general concept. The state’s increased funding for K-15 sounds like a good idea especially since we have endured years of budget cuts to education since the recession.

However, money alone will not solve the problem. What’s needed is a revolutionary change of mindset. We need to realize that the failure of our kids to reach their full potential, whether disadvantaged or advantaged, in poor or rich districts, is tied to the involvement of parents in their kids’ education and a work ethic that is missing today.

I’ve taught college kids for more than 30 years, including 25 years in the California state system at four different campuses. During that time I’ve noticed a change in students’ attitudes, from respecting teachers’ decisions to always challenging them on the grade received. I have observed a shift from learning for learning’s sake to an attitude of “tell me what I need to know to get an ‘A’ in this course.”

The classroom environment has gone from attention to the material being taught to playing with smart phones, tablets and laptops during lectures. Sadly, I’ve seen students go from respecting their teachers as educators to treating them as someone who makes their lives more difficult by holding them to strict standards.

How do we develop a work ethic that truly gives our kids a chance to succeed not only in education but in their lives so that they can contribute to the betterment of society? On the pessimistic side, I fear that the train has left the station and we can’t catch up to it. In our country we have morphed from a society that works hard for the sake of working hard — whether in the classroom or the workplace — to looking for a way to earn a lot of money and gain the trappings of wealth and/or prestige as a measure of success.

It is a fact that we have to bring foreigners into this country to fill certain skilled jobs that go unfilled in areas such as science and technology. Sixty-five thousand H1B visas are given to companies every year, and 20,000 are given to foreign workers with a U.S. master’s degree or a higher degree.

The number of such visas that allow foreign workers in specialty occupations to temporarily remain in the U.S. for six years dropped from 195,000 to 65,000 in 2003. Still, demand for foreign workers remains high. In 2010, there were, in total, nearly half a million workers on H1B visas in the U.S., 18 percent higher than in 2001. Proponents such as Bill Gates — the founder of Microsoft, the largest employer of high-skilled foreign workers — say the program for high-skilled foreign workers should be extended and that U.S. immigration policy should have “an exception for smart people.”

We need to expand the H1B visa program to insure we remain competitive globally with countries such as China. A report by the Technology Policy Institute in March 2009 found that in the absence of green card and H1B visa constraints in the 2003-2007 period, roughly 182,000 foreign graduates of U.S. colleges and universities would likely have remained in the country and raised the gross domestic product (GDP) by roughly $13.6 billion.

Why are so many foreigners seemingly smarter than their U.S. peers? I can tell you from teaching many foreigners and American kids over the years that immigrants to this country tend to have a more developed work ethic.

A strong work ethic starts with the family. Years ago there was one parent who worked and one who stayed home with the kids to see they did their homework and monitored what they do, with whom, and how they do it. In other words, both parents served as role models for their kids.

Today, the role models are on YouTube and other social media. Children aged between 8 and 18 spend an average of 10 hours and 45 minutes a day, seven days a week with media. That translates into 75 hours and 15 minutes per week, nearly twice as many hours as their parents put into full-time jobs. Those numbers are according to research published by the Kaiser Family Foundation in January 2010. I’m sure those numbers have gone up in the last two-plus years.

A 2007 study by the National Center for Education Statistics reports the following number of hours spent on homework by school-age kids: white (6.8); Hispanic (6.4); black (6.3); Asian (10.3); and others (7.1). The overall average for all kids is 6.8 hours. While this study was done five years ago, I have no doubt the results today would be similar or even show a bigger spread between Asians and non-Asians.  Asian parents stress hard work and achievement from the earliest of years. All too many American parents are too busy to care, perhaps because they need to be two-wage-earner parents, or they’re just indifferent toward their kids’ education. It is a cultural issue and one my own experience confirms.

So, is there any way to turn things around? I am not optimistic. The lack of a work ethic and stronger social media-driven interest in watching others do stupid things (i.e. YouTube), and maybe engaging in such acts to gain one’s 15-minutes of fame, is now embedded into our culture. The one thing I will say is we can’t turn things around as a nation until we first recognize the root cause of the problem and that money alone will not solve it.

• Steven Mintz is a professor in the Orfalea College of Business at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He has an ethics blog at www.ethicssage.com.

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