Accountability Meets the Corporate Achievement Gap

7:33 pm

The Associated Press ran a story on August 12, 2008, citing a report from the Government Accountability Office that revealed that two-thirds of U.S. corporations paid no federal income taxes between 1998 and 2005. About 25 percent of the U.S. corporations not paying corporate taxes were considered large corporations, meaning they had at least $250 million in assets or $50 million in receipts. And, according to the report, about 68 percent of foreign companies doing business in the U.S. avoided corporate taxes altogether over the same period.

How ironic in the age of No Child Left Behind that the GAO – the Government Accountability Office – would be the one that would point out corporate America’s lack of accountability when it came time to paying the bills in this country.

It’s clear to me that we have a Corporate Achievement Gap here. What is the Corporate Achievement Gap? The Corporate Achievement Gap is the difference between what taxpayers paid into the general coffers — for roads and bridges, for schools and fire trucks — and what 25 percent of U.S. corporations did not put in. This gap is an achievement gap because it underscores the potential for achievement if only these corporations would help fill this gap.

But they are simply not doing their part, not shouldering their load, not paying their dues.

Right now, the US federal government pays for between 7 and 10 percent of the total budget for public preK-12 education. The other 90 to 93 percent is paid for by state and local taxpayers.

Imagine, if you would, what kind of impact there would be if the US federal government doubled its current investment in public education from about 10 percent to 20 percent. Imagine the difference this could make.

In his amazing book Class and Schools, Richard Rothstein wrote:

“All told, adding the price of health, early childhood, after-school, and summer programs, (the) down payment on closing the achievement gap would probably increase the annual cost of education, for children who attend schools where at least 40% of the enrolled children have low incomes, by about $12,500 per pupil, over and above the $8,000 already being spent. In total, this means about a $156 billion added annual national cost to provide these programs to low-income children.”

These are 2003 – 2004 data, and they’re probably not completely accurate. But these numbers at least give you an idea of what it might take to actually close the educational achievement gap. They give you the sense that closing the educational achievement gap might actually be something that could be done.

But before we can close the educational achievement gap, we must first close the Corporate Achievement Gap.

Teachers and schools are being held accountable. It’s time to start holding corporations accountable, too. We must demand that they contribute to the health and well-being of the country by paying their fair share.

Note:This article was also posted on Transform Education. –Ed.

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Peter Campbell is a parent, educator, and activist, who served in a volunteer role for four years as the Missouri State Coordinator for FairTest before moving to Portland. He has taught multiple subjects and grade levels for over 20 years. He blogs at Transform Education.

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6 Responses

  1. Comment from joe hill:

    Thanks for posting this here.

    Campbell is quite right to point out corporations’ flouting of the the law and of the spirit of the law. Still, this kind of shaming comes to little. Corporations are the dominant social institutions of our time, and until one of the major political parties is willing to organize on the principle of seriously limiting their power, or until there is such a widespread popular movement to force them to do so as we have not seen since the late nineteenth century – a movement that failed, let’s not forget – we’re just wringing our hands over monsters we can’t control.

    More to the point, I think Campbell underestimates what it would really take to turn around education. Let’s say the situation is ceteris paribus, that is, all things being equal. No universal healthcare, savage inequalities of class, sexism as an indispensable tool of the market economy, racism as the sugar rush of the reptilian hindbrain of body politic. Everything is then as it is now, and we are there.

    In that case, I suggest it takes AT LEAST four times as much money as K-12 education has now to even raise the case to make a dent in evening up life chances, which is, after all, our mission. Hope for everybody. Say it without spitting: no child left behind.

    We need twice as many schools to achieve a 1 to 12 classroom ratio (1 to 9 or 10 in the most needful situations, 1 to 15 in the best off). The schools we have need their infrastructure almost completely redone – teaching is tremendously difficult as it is, no doctor or judge or corporate executive would tolerate their work being compromised by constantly battling with a copy machine or a shortage of colored markers or books. Teachers need to paid approximately twice as much as they make now – that is about 10% – 15% above the average for a professional masters degree. Teaching positions should be competitive the way that surgical positions are at the Mayo Clinic, or tenured positions at any major research university. Part of that means that teachers will be expected to be MUCH more in control of the material in their field. (Pet peeve: I know too many of us who couldn’t pass the AP exam in their subject area.)

    Twice as much? Not going to cut it. Quadrupling the present amount and sticking with that over a couple of decades will get us some actual progress.

    We need to stop thinking about filling in potholes and start thinking about something on the scale of the Interstate Highway System . . . without the carbon footprint, of course.

  2. Comment from Terry:

    Let’s agree that corporations pay far too little in income taxes. They do.

    Let’s also agree with Joe Hill that a massive reinvestment in the national educational infrastructure is necessary to close the “achievement gap”. That’s undoubtedly true.

    But then let’s acknowledge the reality –the prospects for either an increase in corporate taxes or a massive reinvestment in education are virtually nil without –and I can’t emphasize this enough– a radical change in the country’s political leadership.

    Neither of the parties in our governing duopoly has the courage to raise even the most innocuous of taxes, let alone taxes on their corporate benefactors. And neither party is likely to abandon its free market allegiance to expand the role of government in education.

    Both major parties are infected with a neoliberal outlook. Let the market rule.

    In the meantime, there is much the schools can do to enhance the learning of their students.

    It begins with empowering teachers to set the educational agenda. Teachers need to be encouraged to pool their resources, their skills and pedagogical strategies. They need to be given the opportunities collaborate and to begin teaching across the arbitrarily imposed subject area boundaries.

    In short, teachers need to team up and to integrate instruction.

    School and instructional reform won’t cure all ills, but it’s at least a step in the right direction while we wait for our political leaders to see the light.

  3. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Joe – I’m a believer in the power of epistemological frames and the power of language to alter reality. (If you’re not familiar with George Lakoff’s work, I highly recommend reading his little book called Don’t Think of an Elephant.)

    That said, I’d quibble with your belief that “this kind of shaming comes to little.” It’s not shaming. It’s a stark fact that gets hardly any attention at all. The frame I’m using here is the notion of “fair share.” We all have a deep sense of fairness in this country, and we all believe strongly that everyone needs to do his/her part. In reminding people of the fact that a large number of corporations simply are not doing their part in helping kids succeed in school — esp. low-income kids –, we are encouraging them to do so. But, more pointedly, we are encouraging others to encourage them to do so, i.e., applying pressure to them to change.

    Lots of corporations would balk at this notion of paying taxes, saying they do enough already by giving people jobs and injecting funds into the economy through a trickle-down effect. They would also say that increasing their tax burden would make it difficult/impossible for them to be in business.

    Of course, these arguments are all canards. I’m reminded of the arguments that have always been made against raising the minimum wage, i.e., employers saying they could not afford to pay their workers more. Wages were increased (still not enough), businesses did not go belly up, and the standard of living went up as well (albeit not as much as many of us would like).
    Therefore, it’s crucial that we continue to demand that corporations do their fare share by reminding everyone of the key idea of fairness, and to counter their nonsense objections with facts.

  4. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Terry – agreed that teachers need to team up and to integrate instruction. And agreed that “school and instructional reform won’t cure all ills, but it’s at least a step in the right direction while we wait for our political leaders to see the light.”
    But I think the key here is not to wait but to promote a multi-tiered strategy that promotes the sorts of things you’re advocating to be implemented ASAP and simultaneously promote the adoption of policies that will take longer to implement and longer for the results to show up. In other words, we have to do it all, recognizing that some things take longer than others. But the key is to stop promoting “solutions” that focus on only one aspect of the problem.
    For some good resources on this – here’s a link to the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, which has good suggestions for short-term strategies. And here’s a link to A Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, which argues, “Evidence demonstrates, however, that achievement gaps based on socioeconomic status are present before children even begin formal schooling. Despite the impressive academic gains registered by some schools serving disadvantaged students, there is no evidence that school improvement strategies by themselves can close these gaps in a substantial, consistent, and sustainable manner.

    Nevertheless, there is solid evidence that policies aimed directly at education-related social and economic disadvantages can improve school performance and student achievement. The persistent failure of policy makers to act on that evidence—in tandem with a school-improvement agenda—is a major reason why the association between social and economic disadvantage and low student achievement remains so strong.”
    Note that some major league progressive and conservatives have signed this statement.

  5. Comment from Steve Buel:

    Peter, you always have so much interesting material to share, but I have to quibble over the use of the word “achievement”. PPS, and I imagine most of the school districts in the U.S., use this word to denote test score gains. Hence, it has actually no real meaning that is actually relevant to true school “achievement”, the learning of what we are trying to teach as a whole. I have added it to my other lists of meaningless educational words:

    “Educational research” — consistently worthless but often confused by people with scientific research which can be verified, unlike educational research.

    “Closing the achievement gap” —
    a ridiculous idea. If one kid enters the first grade able to read at 9th grade level and the other kid enters first grade without a knowledge of the alphabet and both students spend the same number of years in school then the ramifications of the back kid catching up needs to mean the student who started ahead can not progress fully if he/she is to be caught by the student who started way behind.

    “Accountability” — if a teacher has 150 kids that they contact daily, and each progresses at different rates, and each gains specifically different knowledge and attitudes from the teacher, as well as several other teachers, then how do you hold a teacher accountable for these changes which you can’t even possibly measure?

    “Best practices” — if you can’t do valid educational research then how can you list best practices based upon research?

  6. Comment from Peter Campbell:

    Steve B. – agreed on all your points!