It's time to think about back to school

By Morf Morford
Tacoma Daily Index

It’s time to think about going back to school. 

Like everything else it seems, the 2018 school year is dramatically different from school years we have known before. Back to school sales are standard – but what is new is that stores (Target for one) are having special sales for teachers who, because of budget cuts, must buy their own school supplies.  (1*)

The average, nationwide, is $500 per teacher (7%of teachers spend over $1,000). My wife was a middle-school teacher for many years – and yes, each late summer, we would take an afternoon – and our own money – and buy school supples for her classroom.

And it is not as if classroom teachers get paid enough to do this.  American K-12 teachers are 30% more likely to have second jobs to earn a livable income.  (2*)

In some countries and cultures, like Japan, Finland, Germany, Norway, South Korea, Sweden, Singapore, France and several others, teachers are treated as professionals – and paid accordingly.

We in the United States used to be proud of our educational system and our near 100% literacy rate.

Photo by Morf Morford
Photo by Morf Morford

Access to education and near universal literacy used to be a benchmark of any sustainable, durable economy. As usual, 2018 has given us another view. Literacy, according to a judge in Michigan, should not be an expectation, and is certainly not a Constitutional “right” when budgets are tight.  (3*)

Every state has it own funding system for public education – and as you might imagine, states vary widely in how much they spend per student – and how that money is spent.  (4*)

Each state also decides what “education” even means. Some states, apparently, have decided that literacy should not be an educational expectation.

States need to decide if education is a cost or an investment.

To review, a cost is something spent, in other words used up. An investment is where something actually increases in value – eventually.

Education is the ultimate investment in our children, our nation and our future.

States that spend more on education have consistently better economies and job creation than states that invest less.  (5*)

Some states and school districts have been experimenting with a four-day school week. Students and parents might like it – almost always for reasons that have nothing to do with education or the state budget. They like to have a day for errands, medical appointments or sleeping in.

I’d say that the results are mixed – except they aren’t – the budget is not helped, test scores go down, college acceptance rates drop and teacher morale tends to languish.  (6*)

As a political philosophy or as a budget cutting measure, the four-day week guarantees economic decline – and an accompanying drop in income and tax revenues.

Oklahoma and Kansas have been leading the way in this thoroughly – and I think obviously – self-destructive set of policies.  (7*)

As in every other category of life, you get what you pay for. If we choose the easy way, the short cut, the discount, we will get the return we have invested in.

School districts, states and nations who invest in education will prosper – as they always have. And those who don’t, won’t.

And as with any individual, once a state gains a reputation as having a second-rate educational system, it can take years, if not decades, to reclaim its place in the professional working world.

The irony is that, no matter how expensive schools and educational systems might be, the alternative is even more vastly expensive.

Education, for individuals and communities, is a major consistent and enduring step out of poverty.

You can see a ranking of state educational systems (and the methodology for evaluation) here –

Finland consistently earns recognition as having the best K-12 public school system in the world. The USA is rarely in the top ten. How does Finland do it, year after year?

If you want to count the ways, you could start here – or here –

None of their strategies are difficult, and few are expensive. Among many other things, Finland treats (and pays) its teachers as if they were professionals, has no private schools, gives each student lunch every day, emphasizes playtime (some US schools are doing this – with positive effects –, requires very little homework and offers higher education for free.  (8*)


For several years now, the Scandinavian countries have had a healthy competition over who can have the most successful and resourceful educational system. Yes, I am sure it is expensive, but can you even imagine a system like that ten or twenty years later?

Do you think a culture with those values would be more – or less – prosperous than its neighbors?

The objective answer could not be more obvious –

We, on the other hand, have cut educational budgets for both primary and higher education and increased the cost as we have cut financial aid, leading to an unprecedented level of student debt that has been impacting our economy (both individual and public) for many years.

Instead of going to graduate school, buying a home or starting a business, recent college graduates are saddled with years, if not decades worth of debt.

You can see a few examples of the problems of lingering student debt here –

To no one’s surprise, there are other positive side effects – according to the United Nations, Denmark, Norway and Finland consistently earn a place as the “happiest” countries (

You can see the full report and its criteria here – The USA holds the number 18 spot.

All of this is developing as we are experiencing an extreme – and worsening – teacher shortage.

But I have to ask, who in their right mind, would take  the overwhelming hours, poor pay, social disrespect, classroom contempt from students and bureaucratic death by a thousand cuts from nameless, clueless  and unaccountable administrators and agencies?

Yes, I know that no one goes into teaching for the money. But there used to be a shred of respect and public recognition – and a sense of making a difference to that one student.

As in every other arena, we can do better. We just need to decide to.









(8*)    Finland also has a deliberate policy that no school should be “better” than any other school – every school should offer the same level of education. We do not even pretend to have such values. Educational inequality is almost hard-wired into our system –

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