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Marsha Ratzel: Taking My Students on a Classroom Tour

Marsha Ratzel on Teaching Math

David Ginsburg: Coach G's Teaching Tips

The Great Fire Wall of China

As my regular readers know, I am writing from China these days, and have been doing so four years so far. Sometimes the blog becomes inaccessible to me, making it impossible to post regularly. In fact, starting in late September 2014, China began interfering with many Google-owned entities of which Blogspot is one. If the blog seems to go dark for a while, please know I will be back as soon as I can get in again. I am sometimes blocked for many weeks at a time. I hope to have a new post up soon if I can gain access. Thank you for your understanding and loyalty.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

Illegal Immigrants Pay Taxes--Who Knew

At least the EdWeek article alludes to a fact many Americans consider unthinkable. Many, many illegal immigrants pay taxes. Furthermore, they pay at higher rates than citizens or legal immigrants. Because of Social Security and Medicare withholding, they pay a flat tax of 7.5%, taken right off the top. Even if they end up at the lowest 10% bracket, they are paying a full 17%. In addition, because they do not have valid Social Security numbers, they do not qualify for tax credits citizens take for granted.

They will never be able to claim Social Security or Medicare benefits because they do not have Social Security cards. “Estimates for 2010 are that ITIN tax filers paid $9 billion in payroll taxes to support Social Security and Medicare, according to NCLR.” Say 'thank you” to illegal immigrants who contribute so much to the rest of us.

Illegal immigrants have never been eligible for the refundable Child Tax Credit on the same basis as the rest us. Their credit is limited by the amount Social Security and Medicare withholding. Presuming they have three qualifying children, someone making $30,000 as cited in the article would not be eligible for the full $3000, but only for $2250 (7.5% of $30,000). Problem is, although they may have children, their non-citizen children do not qualify them for the Child Tax Credit. The payroll tax cut reduces their Child Tax Credit because it reduces Social Security and Medicare withholding. Instead of $2250, this past year the maximum Child Tax Credit for a family making $30,000 with three qualifying children was $1650. Extending the payroll tax cut means this is the second year the potential Child Tax Credit for those filing with ITINS will be reduced.

Illegal immigrants also completely lose the Earned Income Credit, again effectively raising the amount of tax they pay relative to citizens and legal immigrants. At the 10% tax bracket illegal many immigrants pay what is effectively a 17.5% flat tax, higher than Warren Buffet and his secretary.

The article conflates legal and illegal immigrants. It also conflates Child Tax Credit with Child Care Credit, a completely different credit unlinked to Social Security and Medicare Withholding. Again, many ITIN filers, even though they have children, may not qualify for the Child Care Credit.

Furthermore, while it is true that every illegal immigrant will use an ITIN to file a tax return, it is definitely not true that every taxpayer using an ITIN is illegal.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

It's the Poverty, Stupid: Part 2

This is the second part of a two part series. The first part discusses poverty in general, especially as it applies to the Occupy Movement. The second part relates poverty to the link between academic achievement and the economy.

Let me say this very clearly. The 1% are pretty much irrelevant to the education of (most of) the 99%. There is a motivating myth in our society that hard work will pay off financially. True to human nature, people cannot seem to resist putting everything in pendulum-swinging, either-or terms. Get an education and get rich. Forego an education and be poor. As if 1% of the population is rich and the full 99% are not. The Occupy movement got the Gallup people to wondering, so they melded 61 surveys to come up with a demographic comparison of the 1% and the 99%. What they found is startling.

The official top 1% of American households in 2010 includes those with incomes of at least $516,633, according to data from the Tax Policy Center as reported in The Washington Post.

Unsurprisingly, 49% of the 1% have postgraduate degrees, compared with 16% of the 99%. We have all heard critics of the Occupy activists say that if they stopped occupying and worked as hard as the 1%, they too might have a chance at becoming the 1% (a mathematical impossibility, given the nature of percentages, but never mind).

This is not to say that college degrees guarantee vast wealth. To the contrary, only a small fraction of all Americans who report having a postgraduate education (1.5%) or an undergraduate degree but no postgraduate education (0.8%) fall into the top 1% category. However, the comparable rates are many times smaller -- no greater than 0.3% -- at all other educational levels.

Let's get this straight. Although nearly half of the 1% have postgraduate degrees, only 1.5% of postgraduate degree holders are members of the 1%. In other words, the 1% did not get there by virtue of their education; they were born into the 1%.

Maybe we should look at the median knowing full well that raising the median income will also move the median. There will always be an amount that 50% fall above and 50% fall below. The 2010 median income in the US is $49,445. Instead of obsessing on statistics, we should focus ensuring that all students have a fair shot at reaching their potential. Fact is, poverty dramatically reduces those chances. Fact is, Dad's socioeconomic status is the major predictor of children's socioeconomic attainment. Fact is, worthless either-or polarities aside, education is still the best route out of poverty.

More generally, college education is strongly correlated with household income. Nine percent of Americans earning less than $20,000 per year are college graduates; this rises to majorities of adults in all income groups above $100,000. Similarly, few adults in low-income households have postgraduate education, and this rises only into the teens among middle-income adults. But it sharply increases among those earning $100,000 or more, peaking at 49% among those earning between $250,000 and $499,000, and those earning at least half a million.

What the rich do for their children is put them on a different “trajectory” of wealth.

some high poverty schools that were also high performing. These schools were able to lift student achievement, close gaps, and set their students on a trajectory of success.

The different trajectory includes different frames of reference, work approaches and loci of focus. Rich kids “inherit” a different ability to compete and different access to opportunity. Even the family junk mail is different. We could begin by funding all schools equally, ignoring the protests of those who say they do not want their tax money paying for other children, or those who hesitate to donate if they cannot designate which school receives the donation.

In the United States, we actually fund poor schools less than other schools. The highest performing countries do the opposite. More than that, the highest performing countries have less poverty because they invest in infrastructure designed to expand the middle class. In the United States, we are killing the middle class, and our student achievement will pay a dear price.

We could stop pointing to achievement outliers as feasible role models. Just because Abe Lincoln did it does not mean everyone can (and the corollary: it's your own darn fault if you don't). Every field has outliers. Not every highly talented cellist can be Yo-Yo Ma. Not every great tenor can be Pavorotti. Not every terrific actor can be Meryl Streep. Not every highly skilled computer geek can be Steve Jobs. Most of us do not realistically have a chance at being the 10%, never mind the 1%. If you make more than $138,000, you already make more than 90% of the population. $138,000 puts you in the top10%.

In my experience, success at high poverty and high performing schools is not based on merit pay, high stakes testing, vouchers, bureaucratic personnel evaluations systems, alternative certification, or any other glitzy idea that politicians seem to embrace so easily.

In fact, what American education needs most of all is a blessing high performing schools enjoy on an individual basis, a blessing high performing education systems take as a societal given, relational trust. Another disturbing fact: too many powerful stakeholders in our society are well-satisfied with the education status quo for their own self-interested reasons.