The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

by Diane Ravitch
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Why do we need to consider both microeconomics and macroeconomics when considering school reform measures?

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The roles of micro- and macroeconomics in educational reform can be stated simply as the socioeconomic roles of individual families as they comprise neighborhood school populations, the economic status of individual schools within districts, and the overall economic health of areas within the state.

In a perfect world, all children would have all of the resources necessary for educational success. They would all have families with steady, sufficient incomes that provide enough food, shelter, clothing, transportation, and recreation to satisfy the physical, emotional, and educational growth of each child equally across the world. Nothing could be more distant from reality.

We'll start with the micro. There are many, many families surviving on incomes that are below the poverty level in nearly every city. The parents are unable to afford to put food on the table every night, let alone travel to cultural centers, experience a variety of cultures, or see different places and people who enable students to build a functional understanding that is the basis of their education. Compounding the problem, these families tend to live in areas where there are other families in the same situation, and children from these families end up accumulating in the schools of the neighborhood. In order to compete with more affluent areas of town, these schools require more significant resources to fill the gaps left by poverty.

The opposite is also true. Schools in affluent areas are chock-full of kids who go to Aspen on holiday or spend summers in France. Their parents can afford tutors or pay for additional learning opportunities like Space Camp or international programs that give their children a larger worldview.

In order to have true educational reform, the microeconomic disparities must be at least somewhat mitigated in order to bring the lower socioeconomic population up. Is this done by providing better opportunities to the low-wage parents? Is it done by supplementing classroom education with field trips and summer camps? Knowing the financial situation of the school communities can help answer these questions for school districts.

In the macroeconomic question, we have to look at how much money is in the public coffers to pay for education. What percentage of property taxes, sales taxes, or other incomes for the city, county, or state are dedicated to education? How many contributors are participating in the funding? A state like California is going to have a much different formula for funding than a state like New Mexico due to average income and population figures. Should each state set its own standards, or should the national Department of Education dictate a national standard and force all states to adhere to a one-size-fits-all ideal? In the example above, would it be fair to hold New Mexico, with a high proportion of lower-income families and much lower population numbers, to the same standards as California, where the median cost of a home is over half a million dollars?

Or perhaps we allow individual states to set their own standard, possibly creating areas of the country where microeconomic issues dictate an undereducated workforce and abundance of low-paying jobs, thus exacerbating the issue.

You can't possibly isolate either macro- or microeconomics when considering educational reform, because they both play significant roles in the educational outcome of individual students, the ability of schools to provide targeted educational opportunities to their communities, and the ability of cities, counties, and states to provide funding for their constituents.

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