Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

Poverty Narrows the Bandwidth of the Brain… and the Scale Isn’t Binary

July 1, 2015 Leave a comment

Kathleen Ebbitt’s Global News article, “This is Your Brain on Poverty: 5 Facts” describes the neurological impact of poverty using the metaphor of bandwidth. She uses her personal experience of moderate financial stress as a starting point and then enumerates five broad findings on poverty:

  1. Research shows that a lack of money affects cognition
  2. Everyday hardships affect those in poverty more than those who are affluent because those with affluence can effectively buy coping mechanisms and/or their status makes them exempt from some stresses. For example, if a CEO is five minutes late for a meeting because his limo gets caught in traffic there are no consequences. A lower level employee, on the other hand, could lose their job if the bus they are taking makes them late for work.
  3. Children are impacted by poverty more so than adults.
  4. Brain scans show that the surface of the brain is different in those experiencing poverty…. and the brains of children whose parents earned $30,000-$50,000 varied considerably from those whose parents earned $90,000 to $110,000.
  5. The last “fact” is that something CAN be done about this… ranging from better school lunches to systemic changes to income distribution.

Alas, getting the things done that would change all of this seems increasingly unlikely as most politicians and many stressed people in the $30,000-$50,000 income range push back against efforts to help them and those who earn less.

USDOE Budget Update: No Way to Sugar Coat It— Bad News

June 27, 2015 Leave a comment

According to an Education Week blog post by Lauren Camera on June 23, the Senate Appropriations Committee has increased the funding for USDOE by $1,100,000,000 over the House budget. That’s still not good news since it represents a cut of $1,700,000,000 over the current level. This is all in advance of the real budget battle, which will likely take place in the fall… but it does show where both the House and Senate agree on cuts… and it doesn’t look good for at risk children. Here’s where cuts seem inevitable:

…the proposal would slash funding for a slew of education programs and eliminate 10 others, including Investing in InnovationPreschool Development Grants, and Striving Readers.

…School Improvement Grants would be cut by $56 million,Promise Neighborhoods would be cut by $20 million, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers would be cut by $117 million. Other cuts would include:

  • Migrant Education would be cut by $9.8 million

  • Teacher Quality State Grants would be cut by $103 million

  • State Assessments would be cut by $28 million

  • Safe and Drug-Free Schools would be cut by $10 million

  • Elementary and Secondary School Counseling would be cut by $26.6 million

  • Teacher Incentive Fund would be cut by $5 million

  • Magnet Schools Assistance would be cut by $6.6 million

  • Advanced Placement would be cut by $5.6 million

  • English Language Acquisition would be cut by $25.3 million

Eventually it appears the conservative wing will get its wish and the Department of Education’s budget will be small enough to drown it in a bathtub… and if the test-and-punish regimen persists few will lament it’s passing.

Special Education Services: Neediest Get The Least

June 26, 2015 Leave a comment

The title of Wednesday’s NYTimes op-ed article by Paul Morgan and George Farkas posed this question: “Is Special Ed Racist?” The short answer is “No”. The reason?

Black children face double jeopardy when it comes to succeeding in school. They are far more likely to be exposed to the gestational, environmental and economic risk factors that often result in disabilities. Yet black children are less likely to be told they have disabilities, and to be treated for them, than otherwise similar white children.

Based on my experience, poor children of any race face the same double jeopardy because in the final analysis the root of special education’s problem is funding. Everyone agrees we need to meet the unique individual needs of children and everyone agrees that the warehousing of severely needy children is abominable… but no one wants to pay the costs needed to provide these services. When the federal government passed 94-142 it promised to provide 40% of the costs. That has never happened. Worse, the mandated services effectively require districts to hire case managers who serve as quasi-administrators, instructional assistants who often shadow students all day long, and central administrative staff to oversee this personnel and make sure that the program is in compliance. This all costs money… and since the federal mandate is not matched with federal money there is no incentive for schools to aggressively identify children with special needs, especially in districts that are financially strapped to begin with.

But in affluent districts, engaged and informed parents seek the services of attorneys who serve as advocates for their children. Sadly, the parents of the poorest children in the most impoverished schools are often uninformed with it comes to special education services and, as a consequence, their children are underserved. While it is unimaginable that any level of government would fund advocates and perhaps equally unimaginable that some attorneys would take on this work pro bono, absent such a movement children raised in poverty will miss out on the services they are entitled to and schools will be incapable of providing children with the services they need to afford an equal opportunity to all children.

Presidential Politics: “Appearances” vs. “Assurances”

June 21, 2015 Leave a comment

Let me put my biases regarding the 2016 election on the table: I am 100% behind Bernie Sanders for President because he is the only candidate to date who has made it explicitly clear that he would abandon the practice of relying on standardized tests to “measure” school and teacher performance, made it clear he opposes the privatization of public education, and made it abundantly clear that he opposes the gutting of union contracts.

His opponents in the Republican party all hold the opposite view. To a person they want to use “objective measures” to evaluate teachers and schools, apply market forces to public education, and heap public scorn on “greedy teachers” with “tenure” that makes it “impossible for administrators to get rid of bad teachers”.

The position of Mr. Sanders opponent on the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton, is less clear, as a recent article by Allie Bidwell in the US News and World Report indicates. In describing Ms. Clinton’s positions on various K-12 initiatives, Bidwell wrote that she “…appeared sympathetic to union concerns about testing and support for teachers” and she “…appears poised to depart from aspects of the Obama administration’s K-12 education agenda that have alienated some rank-and-file members of the Democratic Party” and that “…the two national teachers unions and national advocacy group Democrats for Education Reform – sides that have often been at odds – all appear pleased with Clinton’s campaign thus far.”


Eight years ago I voted for Barak Obama on appearances. He appeared to be supportive of someone like Linda Darling-Hammond to be Secretary of Education, appeared to be opposed to the mindless testing that drove No Child Left Behind, and appeared to be someone who supported the kinds of anti-poverty programs that were needed to close the widening economic divide. We cannot have another candidate elected on appearances. We need assurance that the standardized test driven eduction policies are eliminated and replaced with policies that will provide equitable resources to all schools and equitable opportunities to all children.

The Shameful Gutting of North Carolina’s Universities

June 15, 2015 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Zoe Carpenter’s extended article from last week’s Nation on-line describing the horrific and defenseless “budget cuts” made to the University of North Carolina’s centers and the sudden and unwarranted firing of the President of the University…. and the story in North Carolina has an eerie parallel to the story in Wisconsin I blogged about last week. In both states a high-rolling multi-millionaire, Arthur Pope, has funded extremely conservative and libertarian think tanks who generate papers that advocate privatization and trickle down economics… has funded the campaigns of candidates who share his arch-conservative views… orchestrates the passage of ALEC-like legislation based on the recommendations of his think tanks… and once his hand-picked candidates have control of the government, they stuff the university boards with conservatives who eviscerate “liberal” programs then based on “budget crises” and/or the program’s “ineffectiveness” and fire administrators who do not share their pro-business philosophy.

I came away from the reading of this article with a knot in my stomach… because it illustrates the ultimate conclusion should multi-millionaires be allowed to bankroll elections… and the ultimate conclusion is not pretty. Here’s what happened in North Carolina:

  • The legislature reduced spending on colleges and universities by 25% since 2008 with tuition rising by 35% during the same time period.
  • In August the Board of Governors effectively limited access to poor students into the university system by capping the amount of tuition revenue that universities can direct to need-based financial aid at 15 percent. Carpenter notes: “Five schools already spend more than that, including UNC Chapel Hill, which currently draws over 20 percent of tuition revenue into aid. The school’s Office of Scholarship and Student Aid estimates the new limit will double the average student’s debt.”
  • Later the 32 member Board of Governors who oversee the university system, (24 of whom twenty-four are white men, the vast majority of whom are Republicans, and many of whom have contributed tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to the legislators who appointed them) voted unanimously to close two “liberal” institutes and one poverty center without giving any reason whatsoever. As Carpenter noted, “ wasn’t for financial reasons; the three centers are funded largely through private grants, and the closures will save the state just $6,000 a year.
  • Then the same set of Governors asked for and got UNC President Tim Ross’ resignation. John Fennebresque, the chair of the Board of Governors and, in Carpenter’s words, “…praised Ross’s work ethic and his “perfect integrity,” but he was, and the board continues to be, unable to explain Ross’s termination beyond saying it was time for a leadership change.” 
  • The miserly actions of the legislature have only made things worse for children born into poverty who want to get into college to make their lives better. Carpenter quoted Gene Nichol, the head of one of the institutes closed by the UNC Board of Governors, as noting that during “…the three years since Republicans took over the state they’ve blocked 500,000 people from Medicaid, shrunk the employment insurance program down smaller than any other state’s, shut 30,000 children out of preschool, eliminated tax credits that primarily benefit low- and middle-income families, and passed one of the most stringent voter-suppression laws in the country.” 
  • And last but clearly not least is this:

Board members have also threatened North Carolina’s five public historically black colleges and universities, which enroll a higher proportion of low-income students than other schools (and have serious financial troubles of their own). In March, the board announced that it would conduct a system-wide review that could result in campus closures or consolidation. Member Harry Smith Jr. told a reporter that HBCUs would be a focus of this “right-sizing,” as he called it. “It’s hard not to think race is a factor,” Chris Fitzsimon, the director of the progressive organization NC Policy Watch, said in response. Nichol was more blunt. “It’s unsurprising that [conservative leaders] would quickly turned on the HBCUs, as they have turned on people of color in every other area.”

In what MIGHT pass as good news is the fact that the serious minded businessmen in North Carolina are beginning to turn against Pope’s hand-picked firebrand conservatives in the legislature and “his” Governor, who finds himself in a bind. As described in these two paragraphs, it doesn’t appear this tension is going to abate any time soon:

Simmering in the background is a power struggle within North Carolina’s Republican party, which is most obvious in the acrimonious relationship between Governor McCrory and Senate president Phil Berger, who represents an even more conservative, rurally based wing of the state GOP. The two have recently clashed over business incentives, the budget, and corporate taxes, which Berger wants to reduce further. McCrory, who is up for reelection in 2016, and other business-oriented Republicans from urban districts appear uneasy about overreach. But extreme gerrymandering has allowed other Republican legislators to “go off the deep end,” as one progressive activist put it.

The Pope network is far from satisfied—not with the state legislature, nor with the changes at UNC. “Stuffed with pork barrel spending” is how Civitas characterized a budget proposal released by the Republican-led House in May that would cut UNC’s budget by another $26 million When I approached Schalin after his lecture, he referred to the Board of Governors as “cowardly little—you know.” He elaborated, “They closed three [academic centers]. They could have closed 20.”

So we have a situation where gerrymandering and huge campaign donations by an ideologue has yielded an anti-intellectual legislature that will be difficult to unseat and a once proud and accessible university system that will soon be “…out of reach for many of the state’s aspiring students”.  Just summarizing the results makes the know in my stomach tighten a notch… .especially seeing what is happening in WI, KS, and other states where anti-intellectual demagogues are running the show.


Successful School For Pregnant Teens Closed to Save Money

June 13, 2015 Leave a comment

The Nation does a good job of following up on the fallout from news stories that fall out of view, and an article by Erin Einhorn earlier this month on a Detroit school for pregnant teens is a case in point. “This School Successfully Sent Teen Mothers To College… Why Was It Shut Down?” describes the success and public adulation for the Catherine Ferguson Academy, a public school on the West Side of Detroit that served pregnant teens. At the height of its success, the school provided 300 teens with an interdisciplinary program that gave the students the skills and qualifications needed to get into college, the skills needed to be a successful parent, and a sense of self-worth that most students lacked before they enrolled. The school was featured in a documentary film and highlighted on Oprah and it was visited by people from across the country. But, as Einhorn describes in the article, Catherine Ferguson fell prey to political machinations that led to its closure. The ultimate rationale for the decision to close Ferguson, in keeping with those who want to run schools like a business, was based on cost instead of cost-effectiveness. When Detroit was sliding into bankruptcy in 2011, the Governor appointed an “emergency manager” who was given broad authority to manage the school district. Faced with the need to make rapid budget cuts, the emergency manager looked at Ferguson’s high cost/pupil and determined that it needed to close…. and that was the beginning of a long, sad saga as the school was “rescued” by converting to a charter school :

But the rescue was short-lived. Many teachers quit to avoid losing their public school pensions while working for a charter. Some students left when they learned the new management company—chartered to work with kids who’d been expelled or in jail—would require students to get court referrals to be admitted. And fewer new students arrived because public school principals were reluctant to refer students to a charter school that would draw money from an ailing district.

The lack of referrals is mainly what sunk the school, said Steven Ezikian, interim superintendent of the Wayne County Regional Educational Service Agency, which authorized the school’s charter.

Students were also turned off by the lack of transportation since the school no longer benefited from public school busing.

“It’s hard to sustain a school with under 100 students enrolled,” Ezikian said.

The school later experimented with a project-based curriculum that was so unpopular, a group of students filed suit against the school in 2013 alleging it was depriving them of their right to an education.

And with high expenses from a large, aging building, the school couldn’t survive.

The decision to close a public school successfully providing education and support to pregnant teens because it had higher cost/pupil than most schools and because there was a decline in the teen pregnancy rate is classic short-term thinking, the kind of thinking that leads corporations to shelter tax dollars to get a strong profit while bemoaning the fact that the cities, states, and Federal government can’t upgrade the infrastructure needed to operate a successful business. But as long as we run-schools-like-a-business the short-term thinking will prevail and our human resources will suffer.

The Debate Over Schools in Ohio Illustrates that Inputs are No Longer Debated

June 12, 2015 Leave a comment

I just finished reading an article in the Columbus Dispatch about a report titled “Getting Out of the Way” commissioned by the Thomas Fordham Foundation and delivered by Education First. Unsurprisingly the conservative think tank recommends the complete and total deregulation of public education as the optimal solution for school improvement.

Regulations such as length of the school day, staffing requirements and teacher qualifications — the one-size-fits-all approach — have failed to guarantee student success across Ohio, according to the report authored by Seattle-based Education First.

“What if, rather than asking what more can we tell our schools to do to get better, the state took a different tack? What if the questions were, how can we free educators so they can use their expertise, time and resources to identify and implement strategies that will work best for students?” the report said.

In the report on the ensuing discussion about this report, no one rebutted the assertion that deregulation was necessary and.. worse yet… no one stated the obvious: if Ohioans expect to have better schools without spending more money they are deluded. My conclusion: the article illustrates that those advocating a focus on outcomes have obliterated the arguments for more spending on public education. Outcomes are unarguably important, but expecting better outcomes without spending more on publicly funded social services is magical thinking at its worst.