Tag Archives: public education

Remembering the Lessons of Dr. King: An Inclusive, Quality Education for All

Steve Volk, April 9, 2018. Contact at: svolk@oberlin.edu

Two weeks ago, I explored John Dewey’s understanding of how reflection impacts teaching in the “Article of the Week.” For Dewey, I noted, reflection was an intricate process in which we derived meaning from our experiences in a systematic and disciplined way, “in community,” and in a context that led to growth not just of the individual but of others as well. Reflection was a central part of learning and, learning, in the context of an educational setting, always took into consideration the purpose of education itself. For Dewey, this purpose was not simply the abstract intellectual development of the individual, but the way that the individual’s intellectual, emotional, and moral understandings came to support and sustain democratic society.

I was drawn back to Dewey’s views on the purpose of an education this week as I, and millions of others, solemnly observed the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Many of us used the moment to search for lessons from Dr. King that could inform a search for ways to counter the dismal moment the country is living through. In particular, I was looking to understand what are our responsibilities as a community of educators at this time. Like Dewey, Dr. King understood that an education that only taught one to “think intensively” or to think “efficiently” was insufficient. “The most dangerous criminal,” King wrote while still a student at Morehouse College in 1947, “may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”  “If we are not careful,” he warned, “our colleges will produce a group of close-minded, unscientific, illogical propagandists, consumed with immoral acts.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington Temple Church (1963), Library of Congress and World Telegram & Sun photo by O. Fernandez. Public domain

I was not surprised, then, to learn that the United Federation of Teachers awarded Dr. King its “John Dewey Award” in 1964. King’s acceptance speech, delivered on March 14, 1964, was not one of his more memorable talks, but I was staggered to see its continuing relevance more than a half-century later, a sign both of the power of King’s insight and of the fact that so many struggles that he took on remain uncompleted today.

For Dr. King, 1963 represented a high-water mark in terms of the accomplishments of the non-violent direct action movement in its fight for civil rights. Still, he warned that the “civil rights issue…will now be faced and solved or it will torment and agonize the political and social life of the nation.” To read, only in the last two weeks, of the shooting by police of Saheed Vassell or Stephon Clark is to recognize that the killing of black people by law enforcement continues to be a national crisis, and that the political and social life of the nation is still agonized by racism, King’s unsolved civil rights issue.

Dr. King and Education

In his speech accepting the John Dewey Award, Dr. King identified education as a central “battleground in the freedom struggle.” Because he understood that education was a road, perhaps the road, to equality and citizenship, he argued that “it has been made more elusive for Negroes than many other rights.” Depriving Blacks access to equal and quality education was “part of the historical design to submerge [them] in second class status.”

Racism complicated access to a quality education for Blacks, but that wasn’t the only factor involved. “First,” he charged, “education for all Americans, white and Negro has always been inadequate. The richest nation on earth has never allocated enough of its abundant resources to build sufficient schools, to compensate adequately its teachers, and to surround them with the prestige their work justifies. We squander funds on highways [at least, we used to], on the frenetic pursuit of recreation, on an over-abundance of over-kill armaments, but we pauperize education.”

Draft of King speech, UFT-Dewey Award, 1964: Courtesy of King Center archive: http://www.thekingcenter.org/archive/document/notes-uft-address#

And yet, although he saw all children, White and Black, as well as all teachers, as being negatively impacted by the “pauperization” to which education was subjected in the United States, for Blacks, the quest for education was “literally a question of life or death…In a society requiring ever higher standards of knowledge, the Negro is doubly handicapped by discrimination and lack of education.”

Dr. King’s sobering words were fresh in my mind when I read two reports on education issued this week. They underscore that not only does the “civil rights issue” remain unsolved today, but that this country has in significant ways retreated from the explicit demands, not to mention the implicit hopes, of Brown v. Board of Education (1954), as well as from many of the legislative landmarks passed 50 years ago, especially the Voting Rights Act. Public schools in the U.S. are now more segregated by race (and class) than at any time since Brown. As Beverly Tatum recently observed,

Nationwide, nearly 75 percent of Black students and 80 percent of Latino students attend so-called ‘majority-minority’ schools. Both Black and Latino students are much more likely than White students to attend a school where 60 percent or more of their classmates are living in poverty. Separate remains unequal as schools with concentrated poverty and racial segregation are still likely to have less-experienced teachers, high levels of teacher turnover, inadequate facilities, and fewer classroom resources.

In 90 of the 95 largest cities in the United States by population for which data is available, more students of color than White students attend public schools where most of their classmates are poor or low-income – and this by a substantial margin.

It is nothing less than a national disgrace that 64 years after Brown, as the Rev. Dr. William Barber II recently critiqued, “we’re still funding schools with property taxes where the quality of a child’s school can be determined by the size of the parents’ bank account rather than the potential of the child’s brain.”

Punishing Students of Color

The first of these studies released this past week examined “Discipline Disparities for Black Students, Boys, and Students with Disabilities,” and it both confirms and adds to the stark evidence of the discrimination faced by students of color, particularly Black boys, that had been published previously. According to the authors of the GAO report, using the latest data available from 2013-14, Black students, boys, and students with disabilities were disproportionately disciplined through suspensions and expulsions in K-12 public schools. Further, “these disparities were widespread and persisted regardless of the type of disciplinary action, level of school poverty, or type of public school attended.”

Black students, for example, accounted for 15.5 percent of all public school students, but represented some 39 percent of students suspended from school—an overrepresentation of about 23 percentage points. Black students were similarly overrepresented in other types of discipline including corporal punishment and arrests (see chart below). (Students with disabilities were also overrepresented in each of these categories, but not by as high a proportion.) Earlier studies have shown that disproportionate levels of suspensions and expulsions for Black students begin in pre-school. Black children represented 18% of preschool enrollments in 2014, but received more than one out-of-school suspension in 48% of cases.


What the new GAO study indicates that other studies haven’t examined is that Black students were overrepresented in all forms of punishment regardless of the income level of the school, although the degree of overrepresentation does go up in conjunction with the poverty level of the school. In terms of suspension from school, for example, Black students were overrepresented by 12% at schools at very low poverty levels and double that amount at schools with 75-100% poverty levels.

The GAO study recognizes that the issue of who gets disciplined and why is a complex one, but the authors reviewed a variety of studies that maintain that “implicit bias—stereotypes or unconscious associations about people—on the part of teachers and staff may cause them to judge students’ behaviors differently based on the students’ race and sex.” (See, as well, Smolkowski et al, 2016.) The report also cites studies that have found that the types of offenses that Black children were disciplined for were largely based on school officials’ interpretations of behavior. One study, for example, found that “Black girls were disproportionately disciplined for subjective interpretations of behaviors, such as disobedience and disruptive behavior.” Finally, a different research study used eye-tracking technology to show that, among other things, teachers gazed longer at Black boys than other children on video clips when asked to look for challenging behavior. 

Persistent Inequality in Postsecondary Education

The second study to emerge this past week that calls our attention to all that remains to be done to advance Dr. King’s work, concludes that students of color are systematically underfunded at the postsecondary level compared to White students.  In “Gaps in College Spending Shortchange Students of Color,” written for the Center for American Progress (CAP), Sara Garcia examines how the underfunding of schools that serve students of color in the K-12 years carries over into higher educationl. It is well known that public school funding for K-12 education has persistently discriminated against students of color, creating understaffed and underperforming schools. The CAP’s report confirms that “these inequitable patterns do not end when a student graduates from high school put persist through postsecondary education.” According to the study, public two-and four-year colleges spend, on average, more than $1,000 less per year on students of color (identified in the report as Black and Latino) than what is spent on their White counterparts. When added up nationally, “public colleges spend approximately $5 billion less educating students of color in one year than they do educating white students” (emphasis added).

A variety of factors contribute to this significant funding disparity; the CAP report suggests that one of the most important is that students of color are “disproportionately more likely to attend institutions that have lower revenue and government funding per student—meaning that those institutions also spend less on education for each student.” To take California, a state with a relatively high level of postsecondary education funding, as an example: California is slated to spend $33 billion on higher education this year, but considerably less is directed to the state’s community colleges where students of color are overrepresented. Louisiana offers an example of a state which spends comparatively little on higher education: While there is no major gap in spending across different racial or ethnic groups, the state spends around a third less on higher education than the national average, and so all students, White as well as students of color, are disadvantaged financially.


How does state spending impact the chances for student success? A recent Harvard study determined that a 10% increase in total college spending could produce an additional 55 bachelor’s degrees per year at a typical four-year university. Further, while about 60% of students enrolled at 4-year colleges will graduate within 6 years, only 38% of students at community colleges will obtain their credentials either at their initial institution or at an institution to which they transfer in the same time.

Fighting for the Education of All

In 2017, 53 years after Dr. King’s award, the Rev. William Barber II, architect of the Forward Together Moral Monday Movement, received the UFT’s John Dewey Award. His address, like Dr. King’s, highlighted the central role that education must play in the democratic struggle, observing that “the only way we as a nation cannot educate every child is to argue that some don’t matter like others matter, and some children are inferior because of their race, their zip code and their class.” Like Dewey and King, the Rev. Barber said that “fight for the humanity of all children” is central to the “moral revival” of the country. “Public education and access to a high-quality, well-funded, diverse public education and access to college, to community college, and [to the] development of the soul and the brain is a moral issue.”  

So, where does that leave those who teach in private, selective, majority White liberal arts colleges? Is this of concern only for K-12 teachers? Only for those at community colleges or in state-funded, public institutions? Not at all. In fact, we must recognize, as Andrew Delbanco recently put it, that private institutions “need to do a better job of meeting their public responsibilities.”

These responsibilities, I would suggest, point in two directions. In the first place, it means working towards inclusive excellence on our own campuses. Inclusion and equity demands that we look farther than enrollment numbers as we measure whether we are actually inclusive, and that we go beyond what is traditionally valued in terms of how we measure “excellence.” This is not in any sense a “lessening” of standards, but rather expanding our capacity both to recognize and to value the multiple strengths and cultural knowledges and skills that students bring with them from their (less represented) home communities. Sasha Eloi-Evans, of the University of Rochester, captured this when she argued that “Institutions must be supportive of the social and cultural needs, in addition to the academic ones, of all their students, and do so by instituting inclusive habits of the mind and heart in the entire community. Looking forward, the focus should be about eradicating the exclusionary practices that require students to change who they are or fight herculean battles in order to be successful. Diversity efforts at all institutions should be about acknowledging and appreciating students for who they are – making it difficult to dismiss them or their concerns.”

Martin Luther King, Jr., addresses Oberlin College in Finney Chapel, on Oct. 22, 1964. Photo courtesy of the Oberlin College Archives

Secondly,  private institutions, regardless of the size of their endowments, the depth of their resources, or the sweep of their histories, face an uncertain future if they do not take on the struggles of the public sector, both K-12 and postsecondary, as their own. There are many reasons why that is the case. The battles that public sector educational institutions must wage to get the funding they require are, in the end, battles that will determine whether voters see education as a public good or a private consumable. As polling indicates the impact of declining support for higher education in general, will be felt on private and public institutions alike. Further, the walk-outs that teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona and elsewhere are carrying out not only to be paid a living wage but to teach in classrooms where their students can learn and thrive, are efforts that demand our support if we are to fulfill Dr. King’s call to stop “pauperizing” education, “pay our teachers as professionals,” and “surround them with the prestige” their work demands. Finally, the struggles that public school, K-12 educators take on as they try to provide quality, inclusive, free education for all students is a struggle that educators in private higher education must join if, now and in the future, we want to have students in our classes who represent the great diversity of the national and international community, and not just the children of those few who can absorb ever-increasing tuition bills.

In private as well as public institution, our efforts as educators must be, as Dr. King understood, and as the Rev. Barber reiterated in the present, an effort not just to “sift and weigh evidence, to discern the true from the false, the real from the unreal, the facts from the fiction,” but an education that is rooted in both meaning and morality. “The complete education,” King argued in 1947, “gives one not only power of concentration, but worthy objectives upon which to concentrate.” Those objectives are before us.

 

Republicans to Mrs. Nelson: Drop Dead

Steve Volk, December 4, 2017
Contact at: svolk@oberlin.edu

“What You Missed That Day You Were Absent from Fourth Grade”

by Brad Aaron Modlin
(reprinted from Krista Tippett’s “On Being”) 

Mrs. Nelson explained how to stand still and listen
to the wind, how to find meaning in pumping gas,

how peeling potatoes can be a form of prayer. She took
questions on how not to feel lost in the dark.

After lunch she distributed worksheets
that covered ways to remember your grandfather’s

voice. Then the class discussed falling asleep
without feeling you had forgotten to do something else—

something important—and how to believe
the house you wake in is your home. This prompted

Mrs. Nelson to draw a chalkboard diagram detailing
how to chant the Psalms during cigarette breaks,

and how not to squirm for sound when your own thoughts
are all you hear; also, that you have enough.

The English lesson was that I am
is a complete sentence.

And just before the afternoon bell, she made the math equation
look easy. The one that proves that hundreds of questions,

and feeling cold, and all those nights spent looking
for whatever it was you lost, and one person

add up to something.

Photographer: Howard Lieberman, 1942. Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Photographs and Prints Division

Poor Mrs. Nelson, I thought as I contemplated the tax bill recently passed on near party-line votes in Congress (Senate and House versions remain to be reconciled as of this writing). Combing through the bill, looking for something to suggest that the future that was being created by the tax bill included all the Mrs. Nelsons of the country, I could find nothing to give me hope. Indeed, all indications are that quality public K-12 education has been consigned to the dust bin, and that higher education has become just so much road kill.

In a House bill filled with an abundance of shameful initiatives, the removal of one small benefit stood out for me as the embodiment of the Republican Congress’ disdain for teachers. First, here’s what teachers are currently allowed to deduct from their taxes, according to the IRS:

If you’re an eligible educator, you can deduct up to $250 ($500 if married filing jointly and both spouses are eligible educators, but not more than $250 each) of unreimbursed trade or business expenses. Qualified expenses are amounts you paid or incurred for participation in professional development courses, books, supplies, computer equipment (including related software and services), other equipment, and supplementary materials that you use in the classroom.

Let’s be clear: this is not a tax credit (where tax liabilities are reduced on a dollar for dollar basis), but a deduction. Most estimates suggest that it puts about $40 a year into teachers’ pockets. Does it matter? According to a 2013 estimate, teachers spend about $1.6 billion of their own money each year on school supplies, on average $945 per teacher. This matters because schools have long since stopped supplying things like paper towels, tissues, and cleaning products for classes, expecting teachers, parents or PTAs to cough up the items. Districts have also stopped buying books, software, and even chalk. Does it make a huge difference to the teacher’s family budget? Probably not a lot, and it is my guess that teachers being teachers, they will continue to provide for their students with or without the deduction. But yanking away the deduction speaks volumes about the low regard in which the Republican-passed tax bill holds teachers and education. Perhaps the tax writers in the House were just looking for something to make up for their doubling of the estate tax exemption (currently paid by the top 0.1% of tax-payers, some 2,200 individuals) which will cost the economy $151 billion over the next decade. Let them eat cake.

What does one say about a tax bill that eliminates a provision allowing low- and middle-income student debtors to deduct up to $2,500 in student-loan interest? At a moment when tuition at public and private colleges and universities is painfully high and growing?  At a moment when total student loan debt stands at $1.3 trillion and more than two-thirds of college graduates must borrow to go to school? And what does it say about all this given that cutting the corporate tax rate from 35-20% will cost $1.5 trillion?

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and wife. Jacquelyn Martin/AP

And are there words to adequately convey what it means to conjure up, let alone pass into law (on the House side) a measure that would treat the unpaid tuition of graduate students as income while giving millionaires a $1,650 child tax credit? (OK, let’s be fair: those earning minimum wage would see a whopping $75 credit which they can use for, um, wipes for their daughter’s kindergarten class.) Writing recently in the New York Times, Erin Rousseau, a grad student in health sciences at MIT, reports that she earns about $33,000 a year as a stipend for the 40-80 hours a week she works as a research and teaching assistant; she is also waived from paying tuition, which is about $50,000 a year for her program. This is not money that goes into her bank account, that she can use to pay her rent or medical expenses (of which she has many): it’s an expense that she is freed from paying. Under the House plan, with the waiver counted as income, she would have to pay an extra $10,000 in taxes each year, a burden that would likely drive her out of grad school. Well, at least the top 1% of tax payers, according to the Institute on Taxation on Economic Policy (ITEP), will get a  tax break worth the same $50,000 that Erin will now be paying taxes on. That’s $50,000 that stays in their bank accounts to be used for whatever they need.


Look, I will be the first to admit that I’m not an economist and likely should stick to what I (perhaps) know the best, teaching, learning, and maybe even history. But taxes, who pays and who benefits, are more than numbers; they speak to our values, and the Republican tax bills in both houses of Congress record at deafening volume the disregard with which they hold public education in general and higher education, in particular. So, no. Now is not the time to remain silent in the face of a massive assault on the educational foundation that we, as teachers, struggle to maintain, improve, and respect.

From Public Good to Private Consumable

A recent article in the Atlantic by Erika Christakis provides ample details of the attack on public education that has been building for years and now threatens to be frozen in legislative concrete. George W. Bush’s Secretary of Education, Rod Paige, called the National Education Association, the largest teacher’s union in the United States, a “terrorist organization” in 2004. President Obama criticized the nation’s schools for falling behind in the world. And Trump used his inaugural address to charge that (“beautiful”) students had been “deprived of all knowledge” by our nation’s schools. (He sought to rectify that by proposing to cut $9 billion from the education sector). His Education Secretary, Betsy DeVos, referred to public schools as a “dead end” and a “mundane malaise” for too many kids.

Two arguments stand out in Christakis’ article: the consolidation of the belief that the public education sector, which serves 90% of the 51 million students in pre-K through 12th grade, has been failing students for decades, and the notion that education is not a public good but rather “private consumable.” In terms of the first, she notes that:

Since the early 1970s, when the Department of Education began collecting long-term data, average reading and math scores for 9- and 13-year-olds have risen significantly. These gains have come even as the student body of American public schools has expanded to include students with ever greater challenges. For the first time in recent memory, a majority of U.S. public-school students come from low-income households [and, I would point out, public schools are now majority minority]. The student body includes a larger proportion than ever of students who are still learning to speak English. And it includes many students with disabilities who would have been shut out of public school before passage of the… Individuals With Disabilities Education Act…

As for the second point, Christakis observes that “Americans have in recent decades come to talk about education less as a public good, like a strong military or a noncorrupt judiciary, than as a private consumable… “[T]he current discussion,” she continues, “has ignored public schools’ victories, while also detracting from their civic role. Our public-education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance not just themselves but society. Unfortunately, the current debate’s focus on individual rights and choices has distracted many politicians and policy makers from a key stakeholder: our nation as a whole.”

The tax bill steaming towards reconciliation strengthens the war on public education in ways both petty and monumental, but all of which suggest the low regard that congressional Republicans hold for the public K-12 system and higher education in general. Senator Ted Cruz’s late-night amendment to the Senate tax bill, a measure that would allow “529’s,” special tax-free college savings account, to be used to shield income to pay up to $10,000 a year in tuition for private and religious K-12 schools, falls in the first category.  The Cruz amendment, a provision that would largely benefit wealthier families who can already afford private schools, was welcomed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who called the plan, “a good step forward,” in that it reflected “that education should be an investment in individual students, not systems.”

Further, in a move whose only logical intent seemed to be the destabilization of public school financing, the tax bill would prevent school districts from using  tax-free “advance refund bonds” to refinance school bond debt, a move that will raise costs for local school districts.

Starving Public Education

Both House and Senate versions of the bill curtail the federal deduction for state and local taxes, a measure which likely will have the most severe and destabilizing impact on all public education, from pre-K through university. This is the most poisonous of all the tax bill’s provisions because public educational institutions receive nearly all their income from state and local tax revenues, which individuals will no longer be able to deduct from their individual tax bills. If the measure seems modest, consider how it works. Eliminating the deduction for state and local taxes raises an individual’s effective tax rate, particularly in high-tax states (which just so happen to be Democratic states, like California, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, etc.). How likely do you think legislators will be to raise taxes again to make up for this shortfall in education dollars – particularly when states will also have to shoulder a larger portion of health care costs that the Federal government seems intent on sloughing off? Of course, low-tax states (e.g. Alabama or Mississippi or Arizona) don’t provide a lot of funding for their educational systems to begin with.

A study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities focuses on what has been a long-term trend in states cutting back on educational funding, particularly at the higher education level. In the 2015-2016 school year, 46 states — all except Montana, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming — were spending less per student in the 2015-16 school year than they did before the recession. In response, at the higher education level, public colleges and universities across the country have increased tuition to compensate for declining state funding and rising costs.  Annual published tuition at four-year public colleges has risen by 33% since the 2007-08 school year, by 90% in Arizona, and by more than 60% in six other states, including California. And at the local level: it’s back to Mrs. Nelson buying supplies for her class.

What can we expect in the future, given the tax bill and experience from the past? According to the CBPP, states will rely disproportionately on cutting budgets rather than raising taxes or fees in order to deal with the budgetary shortfalls to come; that’s what they did in the last recession. And budgets were being slashed between 2008-09 and 2013-14 at a time when enrollments increased in public higher education (by nearly 900,000 full-time-equivalent students) and in public K-12 schools (by 803,000 students). When you add to this state and local expenses for a prison population that tops out at nearly 1.6 million and is expected to grow under a “lock-’em-up” Attorney General, and exploding health care costs as the ACA is driven into the ground, it is not a stretch to imagine a consolidation of the shift towards a privatized educational system that serves only those who can afford it.

Higher Education? Don’t Count on It

While the pressure on state and local budgets will be the biggest driver moving education costs from the public sector to private individuals, other elements in the tax bill hone in with laser-like precision on the education sector. Besides the elimination of the provision that allows low- and middle-income student debtors to deduct up to $2,500 in student-loan interest each year, mentioned earlier, the new bill would:

  • eliminate the tax-free status of employer tuition reimbursements, up to $5,250 a year;
  • repeal the Lifetime Learning Credit, available for low- and middle-income families (which offsets 20% of the first $10,000 of qualified education expenses, reducing a tax bill by as much as $2,000) and which typically allows workers to deduct the cost of part-time classes; and
  • axe the Hope Scholarship Tax Credit (which allows taxpayers a credit of up to $2,500 per student, per year, if they paid qualified tuition and related expenses for the first four years of post-secondary education).

And then there’s the endowment tax, a levy on endowments over a certain amount of endowment per student (the precise amount has been batted around between the House and the Senate). This proposal even offered a stunning midnight amendment that would have exempted just one college, Hillsdale, a tiny conservative Christian college in Michigan, from paying the new tax. Hillsdale has been a pet project of the DeVos family. Ultimately, this morsel proved to be too much for four Republican Senators (just four) to swallow. Now, it seems reasonable to me to debate the tax status of endowments that, at institutions like Harvard ($36 billion) or the University of Texas system ($25 billion), have grown to gargantuan proportions and are often used to gobble up local properties while driving out low-income renters from Cambridge, New Haven, and Harlem. But to tax large educational endowments as a means of paying for corporate tax cuts and billionaire pass-throughs  is an act of exceptionally distorted values, and one that, cynically, will bolster the chances that the wealthy who benefit from the tax bill will continue to send their children to those same universities.    

Education as a Partisan Food Fight

Arguments can be made to promote the theory that the corporate tax rate is too high in this country, that the tax structure is too unwieldy, complex, and counterproductive. These can be reasonable arguments (although one would also have to note that annual corporate profits, both gross and net, are near historic levels). What doesn’t seem sustainable, according to the most economists, is that the tax bill rocketing through Congress with nary a hearing, let alone the time to decipher the illegible notes handwritten into the bill at the last minute, will produce a well-funded, publicly supported, high quality educational system. In fact, it seems perversely designed to do just the opposite: to dismantle the public K-12 system, to make it harder to finance both public and private higher education, to discourage low- and middle-income students from completing college without absorbing enormous debt, and to dissuade workers from going back to school for further training.

It’s fair to ask why are the Republicans pushing a measure that is so hostile to higher education. Perhaps it’s because a majority of Republicans, according to a recent Pew Research Center report say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country. Perhaps it’s because liberal arts colleges and elite universities have become favored punching bags for conservative writers, bloggers, and journalists. Perhaps, as Nate Silver argued, “education, not income, predicted who would vote for Trump,” and Republicans sense that college-educated voter aren’t their strongest supporters. Or perhaps, as David A. Graham recently argued in the Atlantic, Trump has decided to simply ignor colleges while offering blue-collar workers a return to the good-paying, non-degree required jobs that they held in the 1950s.

I don’t know which is most accurate, or perhaps all are. What I do know is that the tax bill racing to Trump’s desk will make educational achievement at all levels more difficult for the great majority of the population while eroding a central pillar of civic life in the United States. In the end, it remains up to those of us who care about creating an equitable, inclusive, and high-quality educational system to step up to the challenge.