Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

Deregulated For-profit Charter Schools… What Could Go Wrong?

April 17, 2015 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes features an editorial calling for the USDOE to forgive loans issued to students who enrolled in deregulated for profit colleges who knowingly enrolled them in programs that led nowhere. After reading the article I left the following comment:

Deregulated for-profit schools… what could go wrong? We now know the answer: underpaid and unqualified teachers offering a wholly inadequate education to misled students!

But wait! Many governors (including NY’s) promoting deregulated for-profit charter schools as the “solution” to “failing public schools” and taxpayers, like the misled students of for-profit colleges, seem to be willing to allow these deregulated for-profit schools to loot the public coffers.

Deregulated for-profit charter schools… what could go wrong?

MAYBE the Times will see the inconsistency in their advocacy for the deregulated for-profit charters that “reformers” advocate… but their magical thinking on charters seem to mirror the magical thinking of the students who enrolled in deregulated for-profit colleges.

Unpredictable Work Schedules Plague 17% of Workforce

April 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Several days ago I wrote a post on the havoc “flexible scheduling” wreaks on the lives of parents of school children and yesterday’s Atlantic blog by Gillian White featured an article on the same topic. The article offered a good explanation of how this scheduling strategy, which affects 1/6 of the workforce, plays out:

For Americans who work traditional nine-to-five jobs, the life of a worker with a constantly-changing shift schedule can be difficult to fathom. Employees can wind up spending time, and money, commuting to their job, only to be told to leave early, or that they’re not needed at all that day. A sudden call to work can mean scrambling for child care, or turning down much-needed hours. And a constantly shifting schedule can lead to uneven earnings, with income spiking in some months and plummeting in others, making it incredibly difficult to budget. For students using part-time jobs to make ends meet, schedule changes can mean making a choice between attending class and earning enough money to pay tuition. For workers with kids, it can mean a constant struggle to find and afford child care. The problem is bigger than mere inconvenience.

As if research were needed to prove it, the Atlantic cites studies that link this kind of just-in-time scheduling to “…lower levels of job satisfaction… greater levels of work-family conflict… diminished cognition and physical health…and, decreases in their ability to reason, think, and recall information.” As noted in my earlier post, when I worked part time as a grocery store cashier I was in a unionized store. While I did not appreciate it at the time, I now realize that one of the reasons I was able to schedule time-off a week in advance and trade-off with colleagues on an ad hoc basis was because of the contract the provided these rights. The loss of worker’s bargaining power has resulted in corporations being able to schedule full and part-time workers on an at-will basis making it impossible for their employees to make even weekly plans for their families. As White understates in the paragraph above: “The problem is bigger than mere inconvenience.” The problem undercuts parent involvement in the lives of children and consequently makes it more difficult for their children to have an equal opportunity for success in school.

Corporate Welfare’s Link to Parent Dis-Engagement and Underfunding of Schools

April 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article describing the massive number of workers in this country who are drawing government benefits because their employers underpay them, refuse to give them benefits, and work them at irregular times. Not only are these corporations increasing their profits by underpaying their employees and refusing to provide health benefits, they are getting subsidies from state and local governments that effectively erode the tax bases. Oh, and the banks are only too happy to see this happen since these struggling employees incur interest charges on their credit cards in order to pay their bills.

This practice is not only undermining the economy, it is undermining public education. Children in households where parents cannot make ends meet are not having their fundamental needs met… and as this article notes many of these working parents have onerous and unpredictable work schedules making their engagement in the lives of their children an impossibility. To top it off, the reduction in the tax base makes it increasingly difficult for schools to raise the funds THEY need to support these children.

And here’s the kicker: privatization will be presented as the solution to the problem of underfunded schools…. and perversely privatization will work the same way in schools as it works in retail and fast food. Chains will employ at-will adjunct teachers at the lowest wage possible and, like McDonalds did, offer advice to their at-will adjunct staff on how to collect government benefits.


Jill Lepore’s New Yorker Article Full of Great Insights on Inequality

April 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Because I was out of town for nearly a month, I fell behind in reading New Yorker articles and missed the March 16 issue that featured Jill Lepore’s “Annals of Society” article on economic inequality titled “Richer and Poorer“.  The article reviews three recent books on the topic of economic inequality: “Our Kids: the American Dream in Crisis” by Robert Putnam; ““The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power” by Steve Fraser; and, “Inequality: What Can Be Done?,” by Anthony Atkinson– which is scheduled for publication later this spring.

In the article Lepore describes the history of the Gini coefficient, which is the statistical measure used to determine the extent of inequality in a nation and the recent trend in our country where the Gini coefficient is the highest its ever been, meaning that inequality is at its peak. Lepore notes that there is no dispute over the fact that inequality is higher than ever. but there is a dispute over the cause of it and the policies needed to close the gap.

In the course of the article, Lepore contrasts those who use statistics to make a point versus those who use stories to make a point… and she notes that all three books use a narrative as opposed to statistical approach in reporting on the issue of inequality. Why? Using Charles Dickens’ character Thomas Gradgrind as an exemplar of the “numbers man” who favors statistics over stories Lepore writes:

Numbers men are remote and cold of heart, Dickens thought. But, of course, the appeal of numbers lies in their remoteness and coldness. Numbers depersonalize; that remains one of their chief claims to authority, and to a different explanatory force than can be found in, say, a poem. “Quantification is a technology of distance,” as the historian of science Theodore Porter has pointed out. “Reliance on numbers and quantitative manipulation minimizes the need for intimate knowledge and personal trust.” It’s difficult to understand something like income inequality across large populations and to communicate your understanding of it across vast distances without counting. But quantification’s lack of intimacy is also its weakness; it represents not only a gain but also a loss of knowledge.

This resonated with me because it is evident that the use of test results and other impersonal “Big Data” is used to claim authority… and the cold statistical measures depersonalize the work of teachers and schools and “minimize the need for intimate knowledge and personal trust” that is required when one examines the lives of children in schools. The section on Putnam’s book provides several excellent examples of how unequal economics at home result in unequal opportunities for children at school. Putnam’s recommended solutions also resonated, particularly those that are specific to public education:

(Putnam) proposes changes in four realms: family structure, parenting, school, and community. His policy recommendations include expanding the earned-income tax credit and protecting existing anti-poverty programs; implementing more generous parental leaves, better child-care programs, and state-funded preschool; equalizing the funding of public schools, providing more community-based neighborhood schools, and increasing support for vocational high-school programs and for community colleges; ending pay-to-play extracurricular activities in public schools and developing mentorship programs that tie schools to communities and community organizations.

But… as Lepore notes,

All of these ideas are admirable, many are excellent, none are new, and, at least at the federal level, few are achievable. The American political imagination has become as narrow as the gap between rich and poor is wide.

Indeed as she describes Fraser’s dismay at the lack of anger over inequality and Atkinson’s optimistic perspective on actions that could be taken to reduce inequality, Lepore concludes that things are likely to remain as they are because ultimately only Congress can solve the problem and she finds it unlikely that Congress will take any meaningful action on this any time soon:

The growth of inequality isn’t inevitable. But, insofar as Americans have been unable to adopt measures to reduce it, the numbers might seem to suggest that the problem doesn’t lie with how Americans treat one another’s kids, as lousy as that is. It lies with Congress.

The key to change lies with the disenfranchised Millenials who have lost faith in government. Lepore highlights two exemplars of the economic divide: Chelsea whose affluent parents are actively engaged in her school work and aspires to college and David, who’s lived in several dysfunctional family arrangements and is now laid off from a fast food job. She illustrates how inequality corrodes democracy with two short sentences:

Chelsea is interested in politics. David has never voted.

If the Davids of this nation are engaged, inequality will be addressed. If they remain at home on election day, the Gini coefficient will only get worse.

David Brooks’ “Moral Bucket List” Assumes the Abandonment of Capitalist Ideals

April 12, 2015 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog realize, I find David Brooks to be a maddening pundit. He invariably makes several points in his column that I completely agree with but somehow ends up drawing contradictory conclusions from the points he makes. Today’s column, “The Moral Bucket List“, is a case in point.

In the column, which is based on a book he has recently published, Brooks essentially recounts the major tenets of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings. Indeed, if I had the inclination to do so, I could find quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh that mirror Brooks’ list of “…experiences one should have on the way toward the richest possible inner life”. Yet while Brooks espouses the need for individuals to pursue the kind of inner life Buddhists seek, he remains an unapologetic supporter of free market capitalism and the competitive environment that results from that support.   

To illustrate: Brooks observes that “…our culture and our educational systems spend more time teaching the skills and strategies you need for career success than the qualities you need to radiate (an) inner light. Many of us are clearer on how to build an external career than on how to build inner character.” This is clearly an accurate description of both our culture and our schools. Our culture is based on the capitalist premise that the acquisition of things will make us happy, that happiness comes from the outside and not the inside. Consequently we value our schools based on their ability to prepare students for careers that are financially rewarding and our schools rely on external reward mechanisms to motivate students. If we wanted schools that focus on character development we would eliminate the ranking of students and schools based on test scores and emphasize collaboration over competition. If we wanted a culture that values character over consumption we would have a far different tax structure and far different economic system.


George Orwell Would Have a Field Day with “Reform” Movement’s Expropriation of Civil Rights Language

March 17, 2015 Leave a comment

Late last month Empower blogger Denish Jones posted an essay describing how conservatives, neoliberals, and even Glenn Beck have expropriated the language of the civil rights movement to suit their own ends. One sentence in particular flagged the way the ideas of civil rights leaders of the 1960s have been twisted by politicians today:

King’s famous line “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character” has led some to claim that King was promoting a color-blind society that ignores race and that he would not have supported Affirmative Action policies.

While King’s support for Affirmative Action may be arguable to some, Denish Jones is very confident that Dr. Martin Luther King would roll over in his grave if he knew that corporate education advocates were using his language to “sell” their product. She identifies three areas where “…the corporate education reform movement undermines the struggle for educational equality for all”: privatization; school choice; and alternative paths to teaching like TFA. A summary of each of the undermining that is taking place:

  • Privatization: Based on the premise that in a capitalist system the best products thrive and the worst ones fail, the collateral damage in this movement is not just a failure of a particular business, it is the failure of a particular group of students: those who are raised in poverty. To quote Jones directly: “…when the business model of winners and losers is applied to public education, the losers tend to be children who struggle academically and families without the social capital needed to advocate for their children. The winners are CEO’s and stock holders who earn high salaries with public money but can use their private status to shield themselves from public accountability.”
  • School Choice: Jones cites studies and provides links to relevant articles illustrating that school choice fails to deliver on its promise to offer a high quality education for ALL students and instead skims the highest performing group and dismisses those students who fail to pass muster in classwork and behavior. Despite this skimming, only 17% of the charter school students did better than their public school counterparts. Meanwhile charter operators and their shareholders did VERY well.
  • Alternative Certification: Jones singles out Teach For America (TFA) for particular criticism because TFA has made the most blatant use of civil rights metaphors… As Jones notes: “…hidden behind these nice quotes is the assumption that other people’s children deserve underprepared “saviors” as their teacher… If the model of TFA is what is needed to improve teaching and learning, why are TFA recruits not sent to suburban schools or wealthy public school districts? Could it be that those parents would never allow someone with five weeks of training to experiment on their child? What the richest and most educated parent wants for their own child should be what we aspire to give all children.”

Jones conclusion: privatization, school choice, and programs like TFA are dis-equalizing… and the only ones who benefit from these purported “civil rights” issues are shareholders.

Brown v. Board of Education: “A Frustration Born Out of Perpetual Incompletion”

March 9, 2015 Leave a comment

Charles Blow wrote a restrained and eloquent op ed article in today’s NYTimes describing his attendance at the 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma. In the article Blow places Selma in the context of history from an African American perspective and captures the mood at the event in the following paragraph:

And yet there seemed to me something else in the air: a lingering — or gathering — sense of sadness, a frustration born out of perpetual incompletion, an anger engendered by the threat of regression, a pessimism about a present and future riven by worsening racial understanding and interplay.

The phrase, “a frustration born out of perpetual incompletion, an anger engendered by the threat of regression, a pessimism about a present and future riven by worsening racial understanding and interplay” jumped out at me, because it describes my feelings about Brown v. Board of Education. Brown was supposed to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson, a case the Supreme Court decided roughed sixty years prior to Brown. It was supposed to put an end to “separate but equal” facilities for African Americans, to ensure that they got the same opportunities as white Americans. Now, sixty years AFTER Brown we HAVE “perpetual incompletion”, we HAVE a real regression in terms of housing patterns and educational opportunities, and, unsurprisingly, we have an increasing level of pessimism. It is wonderful that our nation elected an African American to be President. It would have been better if everyone in our country allowed an African American to move into their neighborhood, attend their public schools, and have the opportunities Brown v. Board of Education was supposed to provide them sixty years ago.  I am saddened by this “perpetual incompletion” and hope my grandson witnesses the society Dr. King envisioned, the one the marchers anticipated 50 years ago when they crossed the bridge.