Some Education-Related Policy Snippets

Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAP)

The ASVAP has been a powerful recruiting tool for the Pentagon, with hundreds of thousands of student test scores being routinely being sent to the military each year, typically leading to follow-up calls from recruiters. About 621,000 students nationwide took the ASVAP test in 2006-07, yielding 23,000 military recruits — 9.3 percent of total enlistments, according to the Department of Defense (DoD). Of the 11,900 schools nationwide that gave the test, 92 percent allowed military recruiters to receive test results and personal contact information.

Civilian DoD employees seeking to market the ASVAP attend education conferences, give talks in schools, and can spend up to $1,000 for events where they make presentations or give training to school employees.

The 693,600 student LA Unified School District mandated  in the 2011-12 school year that no ASVAP information go to recruiters. About 2,700 students still took the test.

Among the changes that critics — notably Safe Passage USA — propose are: equal access for organizations offering alternatives to military careers; reporting policy violations to school boards; and possible banning of recruiting organizations after two violations.

Charter School Fraud

Between 2005 and 2011, the U.S. Department of Education opened 53 investigations of charter school fraud, resulting in 21 indictments and 17 convictions. Nineteen of Philadelphia’s 84 charter schools were under investigation by state and/or local authorities.

Effects on Student Performance

“Withering Opportunity” is the title of a recent study that reported the major influence on student performance as being the family, topping both school and community. It is the latest of a series of studies showing how difficult it is to overcome a bad family environment in educating a child.

In 2010, the results of international testing comparing students in 34 developed countries showed a stunning decline in U.S. test scores. Given that No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had been in effect for a number of years, it may be that NCLB has not had a beneficial effect on student performance.

These two outcomes relate to President Obama in the sense that he has tied teacher evaluations to student performance on high stakes testing. Teachers working in poverty-stricken areas have an additional hurdle to overcome in raising their students’ test scores. Secondly, although Obama proposes to remove the emphasis on failing students and schools found in NCLB, he doesn’t propose to kill it.

The Drawbacks of On-Line Education

When President Obama held a well-publicized meeting with former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the GOP’s “go-to” guy on educational issues, he gave prominence to the GOP’s ultimate goal of breaking teachers’ unions through the use of vouchers, increasing the number of mostly non-union charter schools and promoting on-line education. Jeb Bush has a possible conflict of interest problem, because a brother sells educational products tailored for on-line education. Bush also travels the country promoting for-profit on-line education.

On-line education has a number of drawbacks: it siphons money from public institutions into for-profit companies; it undercuts public employees and their unions; it is beset with allegations of fraud; on-line schools rank among the most troubled schools; and the digital learning products tend to be of low-quality.

There tends to be little teacher involvement in on-line education, as parents do much of the teaching. Class sizes tend to be large, as illustrated by more than 100 students in some Wisconsin on-line schools. Also, teachers’ salaries comprise just 17 percent of the budget for the on-line company, ECOT; in contrast, in Ohio’s public schools, teachers’ salaries may comprise 75 percent of the education budget.

Spending priorities may be very skewed at on-line companies: Q Academy Wisconsin spent $424,000 on ads to attract students.

Finally, a CREDO research study shows learning gains significantly worse in on-line schools compared to  traditional public schools.


The High and Escalating Cost of Warplanes

A piece I wrote for the Peace Action network on July 13, 2009 points up the sharp cost escalation of warplanes. It is timely, in a sense, to reissue that communication, since the Obama White House will not cut a single plane in the $487 billion, ten-year projected Pentagon budget cuts announced in January.

The fact sheet on the F-22 “Raptor” Fighter shows that the per unit cost increased from $148.8 million in early 1992 to $350.8 million in late 2008. This substantial increase in the cost of a very sophisticate but fragile jet fighter is not unusual, as the cost of military fighter planes and bombers has historically wildly escalated. In her book, The Baroque Arsenal, the defense analyst, Mary Kaldor, writes that between the Second World War and 1980, the cost of bombers increased 200 times and fighter planes, 100 times.

The B-1B bomber had a per unit cost estimate of $30 million in 1972 but the per unit cost was about nine times higher in 1987. When first proposed late in the Reagan administration, the estimated cost of a 132-plane B-2 Stealth bomber wing was equaled by the coat of a 75-plane wing a few years later in 1991.

Not only is the F-22 a costly plane to build, but according to a July 10, 2009 Washington Post article, it requires 30 hours of maintenance for every hour of flight, or $44,000 for every hour of flight. Ever since jet fighters began to be crammed with electronics — a process Mary Kaldor called “positively rococo in their elaborate and frivolous features” — failures requiring maintenance work have been a common occurrence. Kaldor said the time between failures varied from 12 minutes for the F-111D to 18 minutes for the F-14A and F-45 fighters. In comparison, the A-10 general-attack aircraft was a maintenance marvel, as it could commonly fly for 72 minutes without a failure requiring maintenance work.

At the turn of this century, when the F-22 passed from drawing board and prototype to actual production, analysts were generally agreed that the U.S. did not need to build a single new fighter, as it would have jet fighter superiority until at least 2020. So when the argument is made that the 187 F-22s are sufficient, the honest answer is that we didn’t need to build a single one.

Parts for the F-22 are made in 44 states, meaning that it is difficult to curtail the F-22 program due to the job-loss argument. To those who say we can build more F-35 Joint Strike fighters to offset losses from production curtailment of the more trouble-plagued F-22, the reply should be that we didn’t need the F-35 either.

After I wrote the article for the Peace Action network, it was revealed by the Pentagon that fuel for U.S.warplanes and for other military uses, carries an amazing price tag. Based on the 2009 dollar, the “:fully burdened” cost of a gallon of gasoline used by the U.S. military in Afghanistan was $400: this includes the cost of shipping, the loss of fuel when supply conveys are ambushed and the voracious consumption of fuel by military vehicles and combat aircraft.

The F-16 jet fighter and the B-52 bomber illustrate this voracious consumption. The F-16 uses in less than an hour as much fuel as the average motorist uses in two years, but this rate of consumption pales in comparison to the B-52. According to the Book, At the Abyss, written by Thomas C. Reed, a former Secretary of the Air Force, an eight-engine B-52 at full-throttle uses a ton of fuel every four minutes. At a fully burdened cost of $400 a gallon, the one-hour fuel cost of a B-52 would be $1,440,000. Some B-52s have been used in bombing runs in Afghanistan.

Some Pitfalls of E-Verify

In  a presidential debate on February 22, Mitt Romney singled out Arizona’s E-Verify program as a model for the nation. The Public Policy Institute of California has said that the 2010 SB 1070 law was probably the reason that 92,000, or 17 percent of the Hispanic population of Arizona — most of them probably illegals — left the state. However, Magnus Lofstrom, a coauthor of the study, said that most who stayed increasingly shifted into a shadow economy nearly doubling the self-employment rate among non-citizen Hispanics in Arizona. Lofstrom says the shadow, or informal, economy would grow significantly if a national E-Verify system were established. There would likely be an increase in the informal economy rather than a higher potential toward self-deportation.

An increase in the informal economy would likely result in lower tax revenues, higher poverty rates and a higher potential for employer abuse.

Another problem with E-Verify is that according to a 2009 government-commissioned study, E-Verify only flags illegal immigrants half the time, because it can’t detect when a worker is using documents that belong to someone else. Mitt Romney supports biometric ID cards but universal ID cards have run into a lot of political opposition in the past.

Arizona does have a state-wide system to make sure businesses are using E-Verify: individual citizens must expose employers who break the law. In the first three years of E-Verify, only three businesses have been prosecuted. Business owners are worried that E-Verify’s high error rate would expose them to prosecution.

Lowering Corporate and Manufacturers’ Tax Rates Problematic

President Barack Obama is proposing to lower the corporate rate to 28 percent and close some tax loopholes. Some manufacturers would get a tax rate of 25 percent. There are a number of reasons why these proposals might not be a good idea:

1) the Congressional Budget Office has found that about two-thirds of U.S.- chartered corporations do not pay any federal income tax;

2) a study of the top 100 companies in the Fortune 500 found that 25 of them pay their CEOs more than they pay in federal income tax;

3) several surveys have shown than lack of consumer demand, not taxes, is the major reason companies cannot expand and hire more workers;

4) before the Reagan tax cuts, corporations provided about three times as much in federal government revenue as they do today — they also provided almost double the revenue for state governments than they do today;

5) closing the tax loopholes previously identified by President Obama would not make a significant dent in the national government’s budgetary debt;

6) although U.S.-chartered corporations have a higher tax rate than do most of the other industrialized nations, when you factor in exemptions, deductions, generous depreciation rules and tax credits, U.S.-chartered corporations wind up paying lower rates than the aggregate of the other industrialized nations; and

7) since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Citizens United that corporations can contribute unlimited amounts of money to political campaigns, they should not be taxed at a rate lower than those individuals in the higher tax brackets — if corporations are people, they should not pay a lower rate than many people do.

President Obama has largely bought into the GOP position that lowered taxes are the solution for many of the economic problems being faced by the U.S. Obama has made frequent mention of how much he has cut middle-class taxes in his tenure in office. With the extension of the payroll tax cut through 2012, the total tax cuts in the last three years approach the $1 trillion mark. Since Obama proposes to raise $1.5 trillion in revenues over the next ten years, two crucial questions must be asked: 1) Will that $1.5 trillion be an aggregate increase of about $2.5 trillion to cancel out the nearly $1 trillion that has already been cut? and 2) How much of the tax increase will take place after President Obama has left office, assuming he wins a second term?

We don’t know, of course, if President Obama is done cutting taxes: for instance, if recent signs of an economic recovery prove to be illusory and the economy seriously falters, wouldn’t Obama be almost compelled by his argumentative rhetoric of the recent past to seek another extension of the payroll tax cut, at minimum? The 2012 payroll tax cut is seen as a big political victory for Obama but it carries within it the seeds of future serious budgetary trouble.

Israel Exempted From U.S. Austerity Program

Speaking on February 13, 2012 to students at Northern Virginia Community College to unveil his FY 2013 budget, President Barack Obama was in his best cinch-the-belt, austerity mode. He told the students that he had to make “some difficult cuts that, frankly, I wouldn’t normally make if they weren’t absolutely necessary. But they are.” He added that “the truth is that we’re going to have to make some tough choices in order to get this country back on a more sustainable fiscal course.”

As it turns out. Israel is exempted from this austerity straight jacket, even though according to the International Monetary Fund, Israel is the 28th. wealthiest country in the world. Obama proposes to increase military aid to Israel from the $3.075 billion in FY 2012 to $3.1 billion in FY 2013. From 2000 to 2009, the United States provided Israel with $24 billion of military aid. Israel has made use of these weapons, in violation of U.S. law, to commit grave and systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians. The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem says that from 2000 to 2009, Israel killed 2,969 Palestinians “who did not take part in the hostilities and were killed by Israeli security forces (not including the objects of targeted killings).”

While continuing to send billions of dollars to Israel, President Obama has made many cuts in domestic programming, highlighted by the proposed cuts of $360 billion to Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs over the next ten years. Not that we are among the world’s leaders in health care: the World Health Organization rates the United States’ health care system 37th. in performance.

It seems that if President Obama has had to make cuts that he wouldn’t “normally” make, but that were “absolutely necessary,” he should at least have put Israel on a lighter military diet.

The Right to Work — for Less

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and Ohio Governor John Kasich have led the efforts to destroy collective bargaining for public employees. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is intent on destroying private sector unions and to make Indiana a right-to-work state (RTW) — many people leave off “for less” at the end of the term “right-to-work.” It is too bad that an analysis has not been done of the pathology of the residents of those three states, which would  examine what has led them to elect such destructive men to the highest elective office in their respective states.

One of te best indicators that we live in an Orwellian world is that the right-to-work is presented as a job-creation strategy. Oklahoma thought it was being a smarty-pants by adopting RTW; however, in the ten years after the adoption of RTW, manufacturing jobs in the state fell by one-third. Surveys of manufacturers confirm that RTW is not a significant draw, as in a 2010 survey, manufacturers ranked it sixteenth among factors affecting location decisions.

Gordon Lafer, a professor specializing in organized labor issues, says that the impact of RTW laws is to lower average income by about $1,500 a year and to decrease the odds of getting health insurance or a pension through your job.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is very comfortable with political indoctrination when it comes to reinforcing a state’s RTW status but it doesn’t want any independent worker’s organization exercising  any political role in the workplace.

President Obama is unlikely to be a formidable foe of the expansion of right-to-work in the United States in a possible second term, as he has done little to defend collective bargaining or promote the growth of organized labor in his first term.

Law-Breaking Threats on Iran

Article 2(4) of the UN Charter states that “All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.” The United States is a founding member of the UN and has adopted the UN Charter by treaty  Any attack or threat of attack is a violation of both international law and U.S. law.

Based on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NNPT), of which Iran is a signatory, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has had regular access to Iranian nuclear facilities and has not found Iran to be in violation of the NNPT. The latest IAEA report, issued in November 2011, said the agency continues to verify the non-diversion of nuclear material. The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), issued in 2007, found that Iran did not have an active nuclear weapons program.

Brazil and Turkey submitted a plan to store Iran’s nuclear fuel that was very similar to one advanced by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany. The United States rejected the Brazil and Turkey plans, creating the impression that the United States would rather have the issue than have a solution.

We should all recall the erroneous, low-grade or falsified intelligence used to justify military action in Iraq.

U.S. Role in Iran’s Nuclear Program

In 1957 the United State and Iran signed their first civil nuclear cooperation agreement. Over the next two decades the U.S. not only provided Iran with technical assistance but supplied the country with its first experimental nuclear reactor, complete with enriched uranium and plutonium with fissile isotopes. In 1975 the Ford administration approved the sale of up to eight nuclear reactors, with fuel, to Iran and, in 1976, approved the sale of lasers believed to be capable of enriching uranium.