School Daze

School Daze

• Is the public school system hobbling ‘Generation Next’?

 By Victor Thorn

In an ongoing series of reports, AMERICAN FREE PRESS has been looking at the next generation of Americans and what they face in these uncertain times. In this issue, AFP delves into the American educational system, its achievements, its failures, its high costs and how it compares to foreign countries.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the economic downturn has hit the working class the hardest. The latest figures released by the BLS in late September show that the unemployment rate for United States college graduates is half that of high school grads.

Educating the youth of today is critical to the future of the U.S. With foreign students regularly surpassing U.S. kids in science, mathematics and even English, it’s time to put the focus back on the fundamentals to better ensure an educated workforce in the coming years.

When examining the state of American primary education today, the same criteria that people use when purchasing a home comes to mind: location, location, location.

On October 19, AFP spoke with a mother of two children who attend a high school in Pennsylvania. For personal reasons, she asked that her name not be published.

When asked about the quality of her children’s education, she said: “It’s topnotch because of the school district we’re in. It all depends on where you live. We reside in a fairly affluent area and pay high taxes. Both of these factors add up to better schools.”

On “the other side of the tracks,” she said, the schools are nowhere near as good.

“Across town in another school district, kids are graduating without being able to read,” she said. “Everyone knows how bad it is because each district has to publicly post PSSA scores [Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, a standardized test used by the state Department of Education]. Parents also check into college placement levels before deciding where to move.”

In many cases, teachers remain underpaid for the work they do, but in some cases they earn a great deal more. The national average for teacher pay is less than $40K a year, but in big cities like Los Angeles or New York City, teachers earn on average between $50K and $70K.

Certainly, many excellent teachers around the country earn their pay. Every day, they handle troubled children whose parents have dumped them on the educational system as a form of free daycare. But there are also many bad teachers out there, who are almost impossible to get rid of.

When asked to comment on teaching staff in general, the mother of two was brutally honest: “It’s nearly impossible to get rid of the substandard ones because of their unions. So, kind of like what the Catholic Church did with pedophile priests, school districts keep shuffling them around.”

This practice of bouncing low-ranked teachers from school to school is called a “dance of the lemons.” This inability to terminate poor teachers is probably the largest problem facing American education, today. In New York City, taxpayers have been forced to squander as much as $100M annually to keep defective teachers in what are called “rubber rooms,” according to verified published reports.

To explain this concept, veteran investigative reporter John Stossel, who has won a total of 19 Emmy awards, interviewed Joel Klein, chancellor of New York’s public school system.

Klein cited an instructor who got caught sending sexually provocative emails to a teenage student.

“This was the most unbelievable case,” said Klein, “because the email was there, [and] he admitted to it. It was so thoroughly offensive.”

Stossel continued the story: “Even with the teacher’s confession, it took six years of expensive litigation before the school could fire him. He didn’t teach anything during those six years, but he still got paid—more than $350K total.”

Because teachers unions enter into such lengthy and expensive court battles to protect the worst of the worst, school districts often decide not to fight them and instead keep their lemon instructors.

When The New Teacher Project, a non-profit organization formed “to fight education inequality,” studied Chicago school districts from 2003 to 2006, they claimed that only nine teachers out of 25K received an unsatisfactory rating, while not a single one had been dismissed.

These are the same Chicago teachers who, when on strike last September, carried handheld picket signs with a plethora of misspelled words, such as “neiborhood.” When one female teacher was asked during a televised interview what subject she taught, she replied (verbatim), “I’se dun
teaches English.”

Sharon Sweeney, executive director of New York state’s Four County School Boards Association, summarized the troubles her colleagues encounter.

She told Scott Waldman of Albany, N.Y.’s Times Union newspaper on October 24, 2011, “It’s cheaper to pay them [incompetent teachers] a salary and stick them in a corner somewhere than go through the 3010-A process [hearings utilized to fire sub-par teachers].”

The Real Problem In America

Mortar Boards Are Big Money: Student Loan Bubble Bursting

• 23% of students who take a federal school loan will default

By Victor Thorn

After the Internet, stock market and housing bubbles burst within the past dozen years, are student loans the next to follow suit? With total outstanding student loans now surpassing $1T, it’s becoming increasingly apparent that federal officials are acting as middlemen to pad the pockets of the banking cartel.

On May 10, Economics 21, an online nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to economic research, wrote, “Since 2008 the federal government has effectively socialized the student loan market by enacting laws to eliminate private lender participation.”

In the August-September issue of Reason magazine, a publication promoting libertarian principles, Veronique de Rugy noted, “The  overwhelming majority—93%—of [student] loans are subsidized by the federal government.”

In the last decade, government usurers from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac directed banks, under the Community Reinvestment Act, to provide home loans to anyone that could sign their name on a dotted line. Today, this same leniency applies to student loans. Despite low grades, poor credit and diminished job prospects, those directing the government’s student-loan program are scattering money at 3.4% interest in every direction, often to those unqualified to repay it.

During an October 17 interview, an English professor at a Midwest university described the student loan scam. He asked that AFP not publish his
name, concerned that the university would retaliate against him. “My school does a great deal of recruiting in urban areas like Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis,” he said. “They read on a seventh-grade level and live a life of poverty and violence. Most are here because they took out a student loan from the government—a loan they will never be able to repay and money that schools don’t return.”

Ms. de Rugy further placed this matter into perspective: “Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that the share of federal student loan borrowers who default within the first two years of repayment is 8.8%. The overall default rate for those receiving a federal student loan is 23%. That’s huge.”

DEFAULT CONSEQUENCES

Most ominous for students are the consequences when they default. For starters, even if they declare bankruptcy, the process doesn’t apply to  student loans. Secondly, if the government farms these loans out, private collection agencies are permitted under law to garnish their wages, income tax refunds and Social Security payments. On top of destroying their credit rating, some universities are refusing to release graduation transcripts until indebted students begin a payment program.

With a stagnant economy that is sputtering along in neutral, students still borrowed a whopping $106B during the 2009-2010 school year. With unemployment for recent grads officially standing at 8.8%—a full point over the national average—the average student now enters the job force owing $27K. Sadly, many of these graduates are forced to take low-paying jobs that don’t even require a college degree.

Weird Money Trick

College Grads Start New Life—in the Basement

• Growing trend: Parents adding additions to homes so their kids will have someplace to live

By Victor Thorn

The latest real estate trend is “boomerang rooms”—renovations or additions to homes that accommodate returning adult children who can’t afford independent living. Many of those moving back in with their parents are college graduates who are racked by debt or are unable to find decent jobs.

On August 15, Michelle Jamrisko and Christopher Wellisz reported for Bloomberg that the cost of a college degree has skyrocketed 1,120% since 1978. Comparatively, they noted, “Medical expenses have climbed 601%, while food prices have increased 244% over the same period.”

When faced with such exorbitant tuition fees and diminished returns, many are questioning the merits of pursuing higher education.

On October 17, this writer interviewed a man in his early 30s, gainfully employed since the age of 18, who chose to forego college altogether. AFP asked what advantages he’s derived from his decision. “I have no student loans,” he said, “no credit card debt, and I’m well on my way to paying off my mortgage. Friends of mine that went to college are still renting and face debts of $20K or $30K.”

A. J. Dillen, a 29-year-old sophomore at Penn State University, echoed this sentiment during an October 17 interview with AFP: “More kids now than ever are living at home with their parents because they can’t find employment, can’t pay student loans and aren’t earning enough to live independently. We all want to be self-sustaining, but we’re not able to because the economy is generating too few jobs.”

When the cost of secondary education is contrasted with other industrialized nations, the U.S. is by far the most expensive. When averaging public and private institutions into the equation, total annual college costs in America equal $13,856. This figure includes room, board, books, food and transportation. Japan follows at $11,865, while Australia weighs in at $7,692, Canada at $5,974, England at $5,288 and Mexico at $5,077. European countries like Germany, France and Sweden that tout a more socialized approach all cost students less than $1K per year.

Victor Thorn is a hard-hitting researcher, journalist and author of over 30 books.

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