Friday Reading List: The Original Sin of Schooling As We Know It Is Property Taxes. Seriously.

Everyone needs to read Alana Semuels's long piece in the Atlantic about the historical roots of using property taxes to fund schools. The piece uses Connecticut as a case study:

The discrepancies occur largely because public school districts in Connecticut, and in much of America, are run by local cities and towns and are funded by local property taxes. High-poverty areas like Bridgeport and New Britain have lower home values and collect less taxes, and so can’t raise as much money as a place like Darien or Greenwich, where homes are worth millions of dollars ... In every state, though, inequity between wealthier and poorer districts continues to exist. That’s often because education is paid for with the amount of money available in a district, which doesn’t necessarily equal the amount of money required to adequately teach students ... the fact remains that delegating education funding to local communities increases inequality.

I am a radical on this issue, as I believe that the link between property taxes and schooling revenues needs to be abolished. I get annoyed when defenders of the education status quo say that we need to "fully fund" schools, not because I don't want schools to have more resources, but because that's only part of the problem; the words "fully fund" are meaningless if the definition of "fully" is predicated on the whims of local school boards in segregated, suburban communities, which is where most of the power in public schooling currently sits. This system takes an already classist and racist education system and exacerbates it with all the classism, racism, and segregation built into our country's housing apparatus. In Connecticut, like many states, plaintiffs are using clauses in the state constitution to argue that a funding system based on property taxes in unconstitutional. Because the US constitution is silent on education, state courts are probably the best current venue for remedies, but the system is inequitable to its core.

If you think racism in housing is a thing of the past, The Washington Post has this story of a community in Kansas:

A Kansas grandmother said she is worried about her biracial grandchildren after she received a racist letter saying they were not welcome in the community. Nancy Wirths, 49, told NBC affiliate KSNW that she pulled an anonymous note from her mailbox Monday in northern Wichita from someone who claimed to be a disgruntled neighbor forced to flee his home. “My wife and I have lived in this area for many a year,” it read. “We have noticed that there are some black children at your residence. Maybe you are running a daycare or these are your children. In either case, we have put our house for sale.”
Photo by Nancy Wirths

Photo by Nancy Wirths

Housing segregation is the result of both policy and the agglomeration of individual decisions. Those individual decisions are rooted in a fantasy about the value of White people relative to all other individuals. It would be nice to erase that fantasy.

Chris Stewart goes in on the John Oliver fiasco:

The issue for me becomes the fried chicken and watermelon problem. You take something universal and make it specific and powerfully negative for a targeted minority population. It generates undue bias by projecting the ills we all share onto one group of scapegoats. In education, charter school parents are educational minorities with far too few progressive defenders. Their schools are accused relentlessly of cherry-picking their students, “counseling out” unsuccessful students,” getting results by using some recently discovered educational voodoo called “test-prep,” and making students walk the line in hallways with their fingers over their lips. Somehow critics making these charges refuse to address the serious and fundamental problems on their own system.

As I said on Wednesday, John Oliver can critique the 5% of schools that happen to be charters, but I wonder whether he has an adequate critique of the other 95% whose dreadful service of vulnerable communities made charters necessary in the first place?

Finally, I don't usually love Malcolm Gladwell, but his take on higher education is worth watching. I tried to embed the video from OZY, but I couldn't, so here is a quick snippet of the transcript:

Gladwell’s focus there ... was something called a “capitalization rate.” It may sound like a banking term, but it’s essentially a measure of “what percentage of people in any society get to fulfill their potential,” says Gladwell — an indicator of how good a society is at ensuring its members get to make the most of their abilities. And, much like Jamaica in the 1940s, modern-day America does not do a particularly good job of capitalization, much as we might like to delude ourselves otherwise. Why is our capitalization rate so low? First, says Gladwell, “we suffer from the illusion that talent is scarce,” an assumption he calls “spectacularly wrong.” The Commonwealth offered only one scholarship to Jamaica, a nation of 1.5 million people, not because they were cheap or unserious, but because they thought there was only one deserving student. The fallacy continues: Today, college admissions officers at America’s most elite schools make it their job to identify smart, low-income students to attend their institutions free of charge. According to research from Harvard economists Caroline M. Hoxby and Christopher Avery in 2013, there were up to 35,000 such poor, high-achieving students in the U.S., but around 20,000 of them didn’t apply to any selective colleges.

This jives with the article I posted yesterday, wherein a tech CEO said that the only people who can't find diverse talent are folks who aren't actually looking. If we assume that there are too few great candidates from backgrounds other than our own, that belief will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Have a great weekend!