Class Warfare Blog

September 29, 2017

Major College Basketball Scandal Adds to Previous One

There is currently an ongoing FBI investigation into payola in college basketball which is going to result in a number of firings (already begun) and people going to jail (coming soon). In the FBI’s investigation, a shoe company and sports agents illegally funneled money to athletes and athlete’s families in the hopes of reaping a reward later.

Asked to comment, Hall of Fame NBA player and now commenter, Charles Barkley said amongst other things “the value of a free college education has been undervalued” as part of his criticism of the players involved. I happen to like “Sir Charles” because you never have to wonder what he is thinking; he will tell you. In this specific case, though, I disagree. You see the college education he speaks of isn’t “free.”

Basketball players receive “scholarships,” with the NCAA (one of the college sports governing bodies in the U.S.) limiting the number of scholarships to 13 in Division 1 teams (the most competitive). The scholarships often cover tuition, and room and board, and a miniscule per deum, which is what Charles thinks is undervalued by the athletes who took money on top of that. The “scholarship” is really in exchange for the athlete’s services. I had friends who were in college on scholarship, who then had an accident and couldn’t play and voila, they no longer had a scholarship. The scholarship is contingent on the performance. Get cut from the squad and often there goes your scholarship. So, it is not free, in fact it is quite expensive. I played Division II basketball in college at a school which did not offer scholarships. During the season (roughly half the year) I spent three to four hours a day practicing. (Today that is minimal as there are weight and flexibility programs and team meetings, etc. added in.) This is equivalent to working a full-time job for about four months. So, an “opportunity cost” is that one cannot use that time to otherwise gain wages. (Over four years that is a years wages, plus.)

Consider the University of Kentucky basketball program, which in 2014 grossed $40 million and made a $24 million “profit.” (This is just the most obvious program I could find numbers for. Smaller programs don’t make anywhere near this much money, but …) NBA teams pay out half of their gross as salaries to players. UK pays none of this as salaries. I don’t know whether the program reimburses the university for the tuition of the players, I think “not” but it doesn’t matter, as the $24 million in “profits” goes into the university coffers. If, as in the NBA, UK were to pay its players half of what the program grossed, they would be paying the 13 players $20 million dollars in total or $1,538,000 each (note they could afford that).

If one estimates tuition at UK at $25,000 per annum and living expenses at another $25,000, then the cost of the college educations for the entire team would be $1,300,000 or $238,000 less than each player made for the university that year! Each player made enough to fund the entire team’s college educations!

This is why generalities like “the value of a free college education has been undervalued” are not helpful, because the players aren’t spending $50,000 for their education, they are spending $1,538,000 each for their educations. How is that undervaluing the cost of their educations?

Note that the program still had $16,000,000 to cover expenses, including grotesque overpayment for the coach, and would have had a $4,000,000 profit anyway were they to have done this.

Now, some of you will surely say, but Steve, those “profits” go to support the university’s other teams, the ones, unlike football and basketball, which do not make a profit. So, you are saying that exploiting the football and basketball players is acceptable because it supports minor sports? Is that what you are saying?

I mentioned I played NCAA Division II basketball. One of my years, the team made it to what was then called the Small College “Final Four,” so it had some success. We played our home games in a gym that would house about 800 spectators and students got in for free with an ID card. We often only drew 300 for a game. None of the college’s sports offered scholarships and none of the sports made a profit. None of the games were shown on TV (the source of the bulk of the monies made by college programs). The college offered these programs as part of its educational programs (plus it was good marketing as it placed the college’s name in the newspapers). The uniforms were the same one’s the team used last year. The shoes we bought ourselves. The coach taught the team as part (not all) of his teaching load with a bit extra for the extra hours involved. When we traveled we had team blazers to wear in public, the same ones that had been worn for decades. I am not saying this to show the nobility of the effort, I learned a lot and had a great deal of fun while sweating a lot and bleeding a little. The only reason the “major” colleges spend so much on their programs is because of the TV money. They are competing for the TV money because it is so lucrative. The money “earned” off of the players sweat can be used to support all of the other programs, thereby relieving the university from having to pay for them. The way I played was the way it was in the early days of college athletics. Now, TV money has made universities greedy, to the point that the highest paid public employee in every state of the U.S. is now likely to be a major college football coach. The coaches cash in, but the players, well, they shouldn’t be corrupted into thinking their participation is a job, even though other students toil away on campus, doing jobs that need doing and they get paid. And the difference is?

Hey, if the program can’t afford it, then it can’t afford it, but for the major college programs which can, well this is the big scandal. If those kids, often Black kids from very poor families, got paid a small fraction of what they made for their schools, then there would be no incentive to take payola from shoe companies and shady sports agencies.

They work. They make money for their employer (virtually the definition of economic work) and they are woefully underpaid. Pay them.

 

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September 25, 2017

The Problem with Averages in Education

A recent article on state and local government funding says: “With a GDP of $19 trillion, America is the richest country in the world. However, the IMD World Competitiveness Center recently ranked our education system as 24th out of 61 countries, and the American Society of Civil Engineers recently rated our infrastructure – the roads, bridges, and water systems that were once the envy of the world—as a D+.

Leaving aside the infrastructure issue, let’s look at the education issue. If one uses “business thinking,” and likens the education complex of this country to a factory, clearly that factory needs an overhaul. It is not functioning as we would wish. This is what the current crop of self-proclaimed education reformers claim: “Our public education system is broken, we need to reform it!”

But this is an incorrect analogy. The education system isn’t a single factory, it is a conglomerate of factories. Some of these factories are at the very highest level of performance seen in the world. So, the problem is not one of “we don’t know how to do this task,” we know how to do public education, we are just not doing it consistently and the low performers are “dragging the average down.” This can be seen in the simple expedient of breaking out scores on international tests by state. Massachusetts regular scores at the very top of the list when compared to the highest scoring countries. If our schools are “broken,” how come Massachusetts can perform so well?

So, the question to start with isn’t “how should we remake all of our schools?” but “why are some of our schools way below average and some way above average?” Having schools be “above average” and “below average” would be normal, but our problem is the spread in performances is much too broad.

In business practices, it is commonplace to study the underperformers and figure out how to make their performance greater, thus raising the average performance. Often leaders of higher performing units are tasked with raising the performance of lower performing units, for example.

Interestingly, these studies have been done and the roots of low performance have been found. In a number of experiments, students have been taken out of low performing schools and placed in higher performing schools and their performance went up. (In some cases, there was so much culture shock associated with the switch that the effect was delayed.) From this, some conclude that the problem is with the teachers. This conclusion would be wrong. A careful analysis of student performances shows that teachers account for about 14% of performance. This conclusion runs counter to the personal experience of most of us who went through public schools. There were certain teachers we felt inspired us and we liked them. But this didn’t mean we performed better in their class as compared to having another teacher, or that if we did perform better that the performance improvement was large.

Bigger than the effect of the teachers was the student’s home environment. If the student came from poverty and had an unstable home environment, there was a large negative correlation with school performance. Student’s who show up at school hungry, learn poorly. We have even learned that childhood hunger can lead to a lowered ability to learn in toto.

To explore these effects, experiments could be done to try to ameliorate these effects. Schools could provide breakfast and lunch to hungry students to see if there was an effect. This, too, has been done. While this doesn’t solve an unstable home environment, it does affect school performance in that children not thinking about food constantly do learn better.

If we want to address our problems in public education, we need to address the real problems, because addressing fictional problems rarely leads to effective solutions. Currently, with billionaires funding the research and privatization monies being lavished upon law makers, this is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done. In business terms, we are letting our competitors and know nothings manipulate our actions and that is something no business wants to have happen.

We have taken a bludgeoning approach to education reform, my whole life. I wonder when we are going to take it seriously? We have the research. We have the case studies. We know what works. Heck, high performing public schools systems in Europe are using our research to shape their systems! Why are we mired in mediocrity politically? I suspect that it is because we are getting the best government we deserve. If we can’t stand up to the monied interests attacking our schools, including the ones that work extraordinarily well, we are getting just what we deserve. And the children caught in the cross fire? Collateral damage.

September 19, 2017

Drowning in a Sea of Bullshit

William Mathis is Vice-Chairman of the Vermont Board of Education and Managing Director of the National Education Policy Center. He recently wrote “Losing our Purpose, Measuring the Wrong Things.” Here are a couple of quotes from that document:

Having high test scores was falsely linked to national economic performance. In hyperbolic overdrive, the 1983 Nation at Risk report thundered, ‘the educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people.’

After 35 years of this same Chicken Little jeremiad, the nation is still the premier economy of the world, leads the world in patents, registers record high stock prices, and is second in international manufacturing. (For the nation as a whole, the independent Bureau of Labor Statistics demonstrates that we do not have a math and science shortage).

By declaring schools ‘failures,’ public monies were increasingly diverted to private corporations. Yet, after a half-century of trials, there is no body of evidence that shows privatized schools are better or less expensive. Large-scale voucher programs actually show substantial score declines. The plain fact is that privatization, even at its best, does not have sufficient power to close the achievement gap—but it segregates. It imperils the unity of schools and society. This proposed solution works against the very democratic and equity principles for which public systems were formed.

Spot on. How many truth tellers will it take to get people off of the current set of false narratives? I cannot answer that question, except to say “more.”

June 24, 2017

Call Them Scum and See them Flock to Your State!

Who said “ye shall reap what ye sow?” (That particular phrase is not in the Bible, but equivalent phrases are, many times.)

Republicans have been beating on teachers for years, calling them “pigs at the public trough,” and undermining their collective bargaining rights, as well as blaming them for all of the ills of our public schools. (The last complaint is like blaming auto workers for the bad designs of General Motors cars in the late twentieth century.)

The law of unintended consequences applies, though, and Nevada, a leading Republican bastion, is facing a 22% shortage (!), that’s one in five, in qualified teachers in their schools (see here). Who needs ‘em, you ask? Ask the kids in classes that have one of the bodies plugged into place in their stead. The qualifications for teachers were not established by teachers, they were established by democratically-elected school boards and democratically-elect law makers to set minimum standards of competence for teachers. What does it say when your schools boast of having one of five teachers not up to minimum standards?

But then, many in the GOP are in favor of doing away with democratically-elected school boards anyway. Replace them with corporate boards. They are much more responsible to their communities needs.

Missing in all of this is the reason the GOP and their conservative backers have gone after unions: basically teachers tend to vote democratic and had the temerity to form unions which not only work for better benefits and rights for teachers, but also advocate for students. Them students should learn to sit down and shut up and be happy with whatever paycheck they end up with.

Too much democracy is not a good thing. This is also why GOP state governments are disempowered local jurisdictions (cities, counties, etc.) wholesale.

This is not “alt-right” stuff but alternate universe stuff. Sheesh!

We Don’ Need No Regyoolayshuns … Education Edition

Check out “Multi-state investigation alleges Akron-area charter school founder bilked millions from parents, students, taxpayers” (Akron Beacon Journal/Ohio.com).

The “pro choice” education lobby seems to be more of a “pro-corruption” advocacy group as more and more of these scams are popping up. Politicians, paid for by the scammers, insist no public oversight is needed. After all it is just money we are giving them, and the responsibility to teach our children. Nothing to see here, move along.

May 22, 2017

High School Graduation Rates Going Up? Maybe . . .

Filed under: Education — Steve Ruis @ 7:49 am
Tags: , , ,

The Brookings Institution published a piece on high school graduation rates. According to that piece, studies show high school graduation rates had been higher in the 1970s, for example, but from 1990 to 2007 they had been “stable” in the 71%–75% range, but since then have crept up to 82%. Their point was that the statistics, while being soft, were also unexplained; we don’t know why they declined and we don’t know why they have increased lately.

I don’t know either, but I’d be willing to bet a dollar that the cause is that high school students aren’t leaving high school because they got a good job as much as they used to. The years 2007-2008 were pivotal. That is when the Great Recession began. Since then young people have witnessed the impact of the shitty job market and the wage suppression efforts of the plutocrats’ effects on their parents. The economic uncertainty of those parents trickled down to their children, no matter how hard they tried to shield them from it. So, the pressure to “stay in school” was higher and the opportunities to take a “good job” in lieu of graduating were many fewer. Both could increase the high school graduation rate.

Congratulations economy destroying capitalists!

I graduated high school in 1964 and at that time, not everyone went to college. You didn’t even consider it unless you had B average grades. Many of my classmates went off into the world of work right away. It was “normal.” Now, it seems that the only path forward recommended to high school students is college. Trade apprentice programs, the military, technical schools, all of the alternatives available when I was young seem to be no longer in favor. Granted, community colleges offer certificates in cosmetology and welding and auto mechanics, filling the “trade school” gap somewhat, but children are actively discouraged from going into trades for the most part.

So, apparently my generation has effed up the economy of this country sufficiently that while we were unable to use the “scared straight” approach to stop drug use, we apparently have done a good job of scaring youths straight to high school graduation.

May 18, 2017

GOP Gives Lie to Their “Small Government” Goal

The GOP has clamored for smaller government, mostly at the federal level, for many decades. “Big Government” was a term said only as a slur. In particular, the GOP has advocated that the federal Department of Education should be dispensed with as education was the responsibility of the states. (I do not argue with that point.)

But, well, times have changed. In particular, the GOP is in power and positioned to do almost anything they want to do. So what do we get? According to a press release from the American Association of School Administrators:
“Alexandria, Va. – May 17, 2017 – Legislation pending in Congress would create new opportunities for corporations and successful investors to earn huge profits by transferring public funding to private schools, according to a report released today by AASA, The School Superintendents Association, and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.
“The legislation—the Educational Opportunities Act—would put two new federal voucher tax shelters within reach for many more Americans and lead to an explosion in funding for private schools. It would also keep in place an existing federal loophole that permits savvy taxpayers to benefit from ‘double dipping’ practices, where they receive a federal deduction and state tax credit on the same donation to a private school entity. At present, high-income taxpayers in nine of the 17 states offering voucher tax credits can turn a profit using this technique.

So, apparently, federal meddling in the state’s business of educating the next generations is now okay now, because … money.

May 5, 2017

Stop with the Throw Away Lines

Too often now I am seeing lazy writing (too often my own which then needs to be corrected, but that’s another story) in the form of “throw away lines:” President Trump is “good at real estate,” Bill Gates “knows computers,” etc. In truth, Mr. Trump, for example, is involved in real estate deals of a magnitude none of us will ever touch but so what? If you had been given as much startup money as he was, would you have done as well or better? How successful has he been? (You’ll have to consult someone other than Mr. Trump on that; maybe if you could see his tax returns….) What brought this to mind was a line in an article regarding the rage to extract profits from the K-12 education “market.” (Why For-Profit Education Fails by Jonathan A. Knee in the November issue of The Atlantic magazine). This was the line.

“Advocates of for-profit education often understandably emphasize the role that market forces play in improving quality and efficiency.”

Understandably? Market forces improve quality and efficiency? This is a bit generous. Mr. Gates is famous because he captured a rapidly expanding new market. His big idea? That you should pay substantial amounts for the software needed to make the software that you actually want to run on your computer work. (Reasonably, we should have expected that to be free with the price of a computer and upgraded for free). Then he made marginal improvements in his product and charged more and more for every “upgrade.” Some of these “improvements” actually made his product worse. Through hardball business tactics, though, he extracted billions of dollars from a captive market (it is very hard for the average computer user to pick up his marbles and go home; if one decides to scrap one’s “operating system,” one incurs a great deal of expense and no little commitment of time, so this is not something to be undertaken lightly … I know I have done it several times).

“The role that market forces play in improving quality and efficiency,” uh, maybe.

Also, there is no acknowledgement of how those “market forces” accomplish those “improvements” when they do occur. Generally they are accomplished by the crushing of opposing companies, costing their investors money and their workers jobs. Currently Amazon.com is “improving the quality and efficiency” of bookstores (and more). Ask any bookstore owner or worker how that is going.

Also, do any of these people consider whether it is appropriate to apply “market forces” to an endeavor in which we desire there to be no failures? Does anyone interview the parents and school kids involved when a charter school shuts down in mid year and those kids need to be placed into another school (with the money to educate them gone in the disaster)?

Has anyone suggested that the military be run this way? Or the education of doctors? (It is so expensive to educate doctors that great efforts are extended to select students who will succeed and then great efforts are made to help them do so.) Should we be applying the same standards to volunteer soldiers that we are recommending for teachers? (Wash 10% out every year and replace them with better ones!)

Stop with the “the role that market forces play in improving quality and efficiency” throw away statements, especially when they are not even close to being true.

May 3, 2017

The Ann Coulter Brouhaha

Filed under: Culture,Education,Politics — Steve Ruis @ 9:25 am
Tags: , ,

I don’t get it. Ann Coulter is taking umbrage at being denied a speaker’s platform at the University of California’s Berkeley Campus. Commentators are going some what berserk over this as being part of a trend in which well-known conservatives are being shut out of liberal bastions, the universities. Issues of free speech are being bandied about.

In the case of Ms. Coulter I must ask:

  • Has she ever inventing something?
    • Has she ever discovered something?
    • Has she created ideas that are new?
    • Has she ever done anything important?
    • Does she have anything to offer but her own opinions?

Our universities are places in which we educate people, should not these invited speakers have done something, created something, or discovered something that would enable them to pass on their wisdom to newer generations? Is our only criterion an “invitation” from a campus club?

Is having provocative opinions now “enough” in the way of societal credentials to have a platform at a major university?

This Is Ridiculous!

Filed under: Education,Morality,Sports — Steve Ruis @ 9:23 am
Tags: ,

The University of Alabama has just given its football coach a three-year extension on his current contract with a price tag of $65,000,000 additional in salary. This is ridiculous.

If said coach worked as many hours as an average worker, this means he would be making $11,500 per hour, that’s right per hour.

This means that said coach would make more than the average worker in the U.S. makes in a year in one afternoon.

This is madness. This is not for some life-saving surgeon or freedom-ensuring lawyer, this is for an effing football coach, a coach of amateur football.

Do we need any more evidence that capitalism is broken?

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