Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

Cuomo Sees the Light: the NYTimes… not so much

November 26, 2015 Leave a comment

In an article in today’s NYTimes, Kate Taylor reports that NY Governor Andrew Cuomo has let it be known that he is no longer in support of tying teacher evaluations to test scores and his recently announced Task Force on the Common Core is expected to incorporate such a recommendation in its findings. The Times infers that by creating the Task Force the governor is giving himself political cover to reverse his thinking on testing and now with the abandonment of the Race to the Top waivers that required such a shift he is free to do so.

One intriguing paragraph suggests that some of the Governor’s “school reform” donors have also accepted the political reality that tests are too dominant, but they repeated their bogus charges about the success rate of students:

It also appears that the advocates and donors to the governor who praised his call last winter for a more rigorous teacher evaluation system would not criticize him if it were now unwound.

StudentsFirstNY, an advocacy group that promotes charter schools and other education reforms, on whose board several of those donors sit, strongly endorsed the governor’s campaign to make test scores matter more in evaluations, saying the existing system bore “zero resemblance” to how students themselves were performing across the state.

Asked this week about a possible reversal, the organization’s executive director, Jenny Sedlis, said in an email, “When only a third of students in this state are performing on grade level, even without evaluations, we know that there’s ineffective teaching going on.”

A key fact the article neglects to mention: the passing grade on the test is not based on a percentage of students mastering a set of predetermined standards, it is determined by the setting of an arbitrary cut score. Cuomo’s reliance on tests to “prove” that “there’s ineffective teaching going on” put him in a box as more and more parents realized the tests were driving the joy out of their child’s schooling and the test results “proving” that school were “failing” were determined by state officials, not by their children’s performance on tests.

I keep hoping that someday someone in political office will stand up to this whole test-and-punish scheme and acknowledge that it is a failed policy. As noted in earlier posts, the reauthorization of ESEA was a golden opportunity for someone to step forward. Alas, we will have to wait for another decade or so to have the debate on testing.

Ignoring Refugees Contribute to Terrorism Abroad… Ignoring Poverty COULD Lead to Home Grown Terrorism

November 19, 2015 Leave a comment

I’ve been reading and commenting on lots of articles in the NYTimes about the refugee crisis… and I am distressed about the silence on offering ANY help to the refugees where they are currently re-settled. I’ve heard some conservative chatter about the cost for immigration being 12 times higher than the cost of resettlement in a neighboring country… and lots of talk about how many immigrants we should accept from Syria… and lots of talk about spending money on bombs… but there no talk whatsoever on either side of the aisle about how much we should spend to help our allies in the middle east who are absorbing tens of thousands of refugees. If we don’t want the refugees, and Europe doesn’t want the refugees, we should at the very least spend billions of dollars helping the countries that currently house the refugees. If we turn our backs on Middle Eastern families, orphans, and widows fleeing civil wars how can we be surprised that the young men in the Middle East fall prey to the terrorist recruiters?

As I was reading articles and editorials on the refugee crisis, I also read Eduardo Porter’s latest article, “Electing to Ignore the Poorest of the Poor“. In it Porter offers this synopsis of how we are allocating funds today as compared to the past:

All in all, in the early 1980s more than half of government transfers to low-income families went to the very poorest. Thirty years later these families received less than one-third of the government’s help.

This choice, as a society, to target most of our help only to those who can help themselves exhibits a blinkered understanding of what perpetuates the deep, intractable poverty that affects many communities. But it serves a purpose. By believing the poor are not exerting enough effort, we allow ourselves not to care. This permits politicians — and voters — to go normally about their business while 16 million Americans live on $8.60 or less a day.

Later in the article Porter distinguishes “deep poverty”, a persistent condition that affects the 16 million individuals referenced above, from those who are living in poverty because they are employed in low paying jobs:

Deep poverty, according to the scholars who contributed to the journal, is an ecosystem, where bad individual decisions occur within broken environments, where the social glue has come unstuck. Cognitive abilities and character are important at the individual level, but they can’t be cleanly separated from their environment. Indeed, deep poverty has no single, or most important cause — not family, neighborhood, job or education. Plucking at one or the other, alone, won’t do.

“Deprivations come bundled, packaged, and may reinforce each other over time,” said Robert J. Sampson, a Harvard sociologist who is the co-author of an essay in the journal with his doctoral student Kristin L. Perkins. “The implication for policy is that one can’t just think of extracting out individual causes for policy action.”

Porter doesn’t say so directly, but the implication is clear: you cannot fix a systemic problem with a series of uncoordinated, silted, and piecemeal efforts. This implication resonates with me because I wholeheartedly believe that schools cannot solve the problems associated with the learning deficits that are a consequence of poverty: a coordinated effort involving ALL agencies serving children is needed… and such an effort will likely require more spending by local, state and federal taxpayers.

We haven’t spent that money for several years… and one of the disturbing consequences is that we now have 40% of the young men between 16 and 24 unemployed. The women’s unemployment rate is slightly worse. And the rate for African Americans is at least 10% higher. And where to terrorist organizations look for recruits? They seek out disenfranchised young males.

Given our country’s decision to ignore the poorest of the poor I am not surprised to read comments on social media supporting candidates who want to slam the door on immigrants. I am not surprised… but I am disappointed. This is not the country I grew up in. It’s not the country that passed civil rights and anti-poverty legislation, accepted boat people from Cuba, or absorbed thousands of immigrants from Viet Nam after our misadventures there left some of those who supported our efforts in the cold. Those actions warmed my heart and made me feel proud of our country: we helped those in need and accepted responsibility for the consequences of our actions. I want our country to be that way again.

Goldman Sachs PreSchool Success Problematic on Three Counts

November 10, 2015 Leave a comment

A succession of articles appeared recently on Goldman Sachs’ “success” in preventing large groups of preschool students from requiring special education services through innovative approaches funded by a social impact bond. In a typically insightful post on her Mathbabe blog, Cathy O’Neill explains the design of a social impact bond and how they can be abused to the detriment of those who are presumably helped, by investors, and of science itself.

In the opening paragraphs O’Neill outlines how a social impact bond works:

The idea is that people with money put that money to some “positive” purpose, and if it works out they get their money back with a bonus for a job well done. It’s meant to incentivize socially positive change in the market. Instead of only caring about profit, the reasoning goes, social impact bonds will give rich people and companies a reason to care about healthy communities.

So, for example, New York City issued a social impact bond in 2012 around recidivism for jails. Recidivism, which is the tendency for people to return to prison, has to go down for the bond to pay off. So Goldman Sachs made a bet that they could lower the recidivism rate for certain jails in the NYC area.

Sounds like a good concept on paper… except for a few issues:

  1. Who defines what constitutes “recidivism”
  2. Who looks to see if Goldman is investing in other instruments that bet against the success of the bond
  3. When money is involved, who makes sure the “experiment” involving recidivism is done in a scientifically rigorous fashion?

Later in her post, O’Neill describes the social impact bond “success” touted by Goldman Sachs as evidence that these new instruments can solve thorny educational problems:

Here’s a big red flag on the whole social impact bond parade: Goldman Sachs was caught rigging the definition of success for a social impact bond in Utah. It revolved around a preschool program that was supposed to keep kids out of special ed. Again, it was hailed by the Utah Governor as “a model for a new way of financing public projects.” But when enormous success was claimed, it seemed like the books had been cooked.

Basically, Goldman Sachs got paid back, and rewarded, if enough kids who were expected to go into special ed actually didn’t. But the problems started with how find the kids “expected to go into special ed.”

Namely, they administered a test known as the PPVT, and if the kid got a score lower than 70, they were deemed “headed to special ed.” But the test was administered in English, when up to half of the preschoolers didn’t speak English at home. And also, the PPVT was never meant to measure kids for special ed needs in the first place. In fact, it’s a vocabulary test.

Unsurprisingly, many of the non-English speaking children did NOT require special education services when they got older because… they learned how to speak English more proficiently. That is, they didn’t require special education services later because they never should have been identified as likely candidates for those services to begin with!

MAYBE these social impact bonds would be a good idea if someone in the Utah State Department of Education was asked to determine the method for predicting future special needs children… but my hunch is that the Governor of Utah wanted to see this method work to “prove” that financial incentives can leverage solutions to difficult social problems and so avoided seeking advice from social scientists on the best means of screening for potential special needs students.

And here’s my other hunch: IF someone in the Utah State Department of Education determined the method for predicting future special needs children the funds needed to solve the problem through intervention would erode the profit margin… because early intervention requires a net increase in funding for schools and/or social services and not a reallocation of existing funds. Investors and politicians who think that there is enough money in the “inefficient” government system to solve problems rooted in poverty are engaged in magical thinking. The only way to reduce special education spending is to increase spending in regular education.

The Modern Family and the Factory School: A Mismatch

November 8, 2015 Leave a comment

Earlier this week the NYTimes Upshot featured an article by Clair Cain Miller titled “Stressed, Tired, Rushed: A Portrait of the Modern Family”. I read this article through several lenses: as a parent in a family where my wife and I worked for a decade; as a father and step-father observing children and step-children struggling and juggling; and as a retired school administrator/education consultant/blogger.

The article provides a good depiction of what life is like for college educated working parents where the husband and wife have relatively equal responsibilities and relatively equal aspirations and compensation. Their struggles are real and stressful, but they are logistical as opposed to the existential struggles many less educated and less affluent families face and far less severe than the struggles single parents without an education face. When a single parent is compelled to work two part-time jobs to earn enough money to clothe, shelter and feed her children it is far more daunting than the logistical problems of who will stay with the child when he or she is sick and who will order the diapers. There is no one to share with, more hours to work, and every bit as many complications as a married couple face.

The factory school model does little to support either set of parents. Developed on the assumption that mothers stay at home with children while the father works, the factory school operates at the convenience of the employees in the school and during the optimal time that learning can take place. Ideally, schools should be structured to meet the needs of the families they serve. They should provide before and after care for children, offering group activities for children who are dropped off early or picked up late and offering meals and snacks to eliminate the need for parents to deal with those factors when they are trying to devote as much time and energy to their work and to the emotional well-being of their children. But two factors make this expansion of s school’s responsibility a challenge.

First, there are three groups who would oppose this: one for philosophical reasons one because of personal convictions, and a third for (arguably) practical reasons. One group who would oppose an expansion of the role of public education is the group of parents and taxpayers who oppose public schools because they are “government run”. Given that bedrock belief, any expansion of the traditional function of schools would be seen as an expansion of “government”… which is a bad thing. The second group who would be likely to push back are the 40% of parents who have only a single wage earner. Members of this group with the strongest opposition to this would be those parents who are choose to stay home with their children based on their deep conviction that the time they spend with their children is more valuable than time they might otherwise spend at work. The third group is the large group of people who have no children at home and view any expansion of school as worthless.

The other factor is the obvious underlying one: schools are funded by taxpayers who want to minimize costs… and any chance of expanding the hours schools are open and operating is virtually impossible.

There are some models that could be put in place that might reduce taxes and reduce the burden placed on working couples. Some public schools form partnerships with non-profit organizations to create before and after school programs. Others serving children raised in poverty provide wrap around services in the schools and set the hours of operation to provide child care and flexible hours for children to attend. Changing the use of school facilities would not necessarily require additional costs nor result in savings to parents for before and after school child care… but it could make such care easier to access and far less complicated helping those with logistical challenges…. and it will only happen if parents raise their voices to insist that it CAN and SHOULD happen.

Eduardo Porter’s Tough Question for Public School Critics

November 4, 2015 Leave a comment

“School vs. Society in America’s Failing Schools”, Eduardo Porter’s column in today’s paper poses several tough questions for the critics of public education, all of which are framed in the initial two paragraphs:

Here’s the good news: American schools may not be as bad as we have been led to believe.

Ah, but here’s the bad news: The rest of American society is failing its disadvantaged citizens even more than we realize.The question is, Should educators be responsible for fixing this?

Throughout the column Porter offers evidence supporting the assertions made in the opening paragraph, drawing heavily on a report released last week by Martin Carnoy from the Graduate School of Education at Stanford, Emma García from the Economic Policy Institute in Washington and Tatiana Khavenson from the Institute of Education at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, which suggests “…that socioeconomic deficits impose a particularly heavy burden on American schools.”

After outlining the impact of socioeconomic deficits on test scores, Porter offers counterarguments to the findings by Andreas Schleicher, the O.E.C.D.’s top educational expert, who runs the organization’s PISA tests whose results triggered the research by Carnoy et al.

“When you look at all dimensions of social background, the United States does not suffer a particular disadvantage.”

…As part of the PISA exercise, the O.E.C.D. collects information about parental education and occupation, household wealth, educational resources at home and other measures of social and economic status — and combines them into one index.

By that standard, fewer than 15 percent of American students come from the bottom rung of society. And yet, Mr. Schleicher found, 65 percent of principals in American schools say at least 30 percent of their students come from disadvantaged families, the most among nations participating in the PISA tests.

“I found this contrast between actual and perceived disadvantage so interesting that I intend to publish it shortly,” he told me.

This discrepancy is relatively easy to explain since “disadvantage” is often defined in schools by whether or not a student qualifies for free or reduced lunch… and over 50% of US school students now meet that threshold.

Schleicher and Carnoy do agree on one issue: parents of disadvantaged students should expect more from their children. This is a glib recommendation that is easy for policy makers to advance but far more difficult for schools to implement, especially when the parents of disadvantaged children have heard and absorbed the message that they are failures and heard and absorbed the message that the schools their children attend are failures.

Near the conclusion of the article, Carnoy contends that policy makers could learn more from comparisons between States that do well on assessments than countries that do well. But Scheicher disagrees:

Comparing the United States with other countries, he notes, allows researchers to identify particularly egregious deficits of American education.

There’s the wide disparity in resources devoted to education, which flows naturally from a system of school finance based on local property taxes. There’s the informal tracking that happens when smart children are grouped separately in gifted and talented classes while the less able are held back a year.

Teachers are paid poorly, compared to those working in other occupations. And the best of them are not deployed to the most challenging schools.

In a country like the United States, with its lopsided distribution of opportunity and reward, social disadvantage will always pose a challenge. What’s frustrating, Mr. Schleicher said, is “the inability of the school system to moderate the disadvantage.”

In this case, I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Schleicher’s perspective, and the bottom line question they pose for politicians and policy makers: What steps are we willing to take to address the “particularly egregious deficits” identified as a result of the tests given to our students? And Mr. Schleicher’s identification of these deficits offers a clear answer to Mr. Porter’s initial question of whether educators should be responsible for fixing these deficits: NO!

We Ended “Welfare As We Know It” and Ended Equal Opportunity at the Same Time

October 29, 2015 Leave a comment

Eduardo Porter’s scathing article, “One Party’s Effort to Ignore Poverty”, in yesterday’s NYTimes describes the horrific impact of ending welfare as we know it and laments the direction one party, the Republicans, is taking to shred the safety net even further. While the article does not say so explicitly, it is clear that school children will be the ones who suffer while taxpayers, shareholders, and politicians reap benefits at their expense.

His article pivots on the recent “confession” of Peter Germanis, one of the White House advisers who help write President Ronald Reagan’s welfare reform proposal of 1986, called “Up From Dependency.”

Over the summer, Mr. Germanis published a startling confession. Writing “as a citizen and in my capacity as a conservative welfare expert,” he apologized for whatever role he may have had in the welfare reform enacted in 1996.

“To the extent that anything I ever wrote contributed to the creation of TANF or any block grant, I am sorry,” he wrote. “As I hope to demonstrate in this paper, a block grant for a safety net program is bad public policy.”

Porter then indicates the many ways the block grant concept failed, the most obvious of which was this:

Among the easier charges to make against the Needy Families block grant is that it was not meant to adjust for inflation. It was $16.5 billion two decades ago; it is $16.5 billion today. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it has lost more than a third of its buying power.

Worse, States used the block grants for purposes other than providing relief to those who found themselves without work and in need of food, clothing, and shelter. As Porter writes:

On average, states use only about a half of their funds under the TANF program to fund its core objectives: Provide the poor with cash aid or child care, or help connect them to jobs.

Ending the poor’s entitlement to government aid is counted as a success because it has reduced the rolls of people on welfare. But that is not the same as helping the poor get a job, overcome dependency and climb out of poverty. Welfare was essentially made irrelevant to the lives of the poor. It is meager yet increasingly difficult to get.

Today only 26 percent of families with children in poverty receive welfare cash assistance. This is down from 68 percent two decades ago.

So… we’ve ended “welfare as we know it” by short-changing those who live below the poverty level leaving 74% of families with children without any cash assistance. And where did the money go? Porter offers his home state, Arizona, as an example of how the money got spent:

Arizona is a prime example of what has happened in states where Republicans rule. By now, only about nine out of every 100 poor families benefit from the cash welfare program, down from 55 percent two decades ago. This has nothing to do with the program’s objective of helping poor adults with children escape the stigma of welfare and get a job, still the best antipoverty tool there is. Arizona simply needed the money for something else.

Specifically, as noted in a report by researchers at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, the state, facing a huge jump in the number of neglected children put in foster care, needed more money to “plug state budget gaps and to fund child protection, foster care and adoption services.” Rather than ask state taxpayers to help fill the gap, lawmakers took it from the pockets of poor people.

Connecting the dots here isn’t that difficult: the Federal government doesn’t want to ask taxpayers to provide inflation adjusted funds for welfare so it hands the states a fixed amount of money to solve the problem of poverty. States cannot fully fund programs designed to help “poor adults with children escape the stigma of welfare and get a job” and they, too, do not want to ask taxpayers to fill the gap. So… what happens to the children: they end up in foster care… and the money to dud foster care comes out of the funds intended to keep children OUT of foster care. This is the paradigmatic definition of a vicious circle… and it won’t be stopped until someone is willing to ask taxpayers to help their fellow citizens find work so they can escape poverty.

Porter casts the Republicans as the villains in this drama… but the deafening silence of the Democrat party makes them complicit and it was a Democrat President, Bill Clinton, who proudly enacted this legislation. Alas, this is not an issue that has gotten much play in the Presidential debates… but it’s early in the election cycle and MAYBE someone will decide welfare as we know it now is failing too many innocent children and MAYBE a remedy will be forthcoming.

Blog Links TFA, BLM, and “Disaster Capitalism”

October 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Naked Capitalism provided a link to “The Movement Lives on in Ferguson” a fascinating post written by Drew Franklin that shows a the link between Black Lives Matter (BLM) and Teach For America (TFA) and how both of these groups use social media to advance their cause. And what, exactly, is their cause?

TFA’s seemingly high-minded cause of providing well educated short term teachers to urban schools has devolved into providing temporary low wage staff to for-profit charter schools that displace underfunded public schools. Some pundits disparagingly characterize TFA as a source of  scab labor for politicians who want to break the backs of teacher unions.

BLM’s cause seems to be akin to Reverend Al Sharpton’s: self-promotion. Like Sharpton, BLM arguably keeps racial injustice in the spotlight but. also like Sharpton, has done little to advance legislation that could change the condition. Instead, BLM provides spokespersons for the mainstream media and in doing so keeps their “brand” in the forefront.

And both TFA and BLM thrive on disaster. TFA can come to the rescue when schools are “failing” and need to be replaced by charters and BLM can come on the scene when a crisis is brewing that requires a group with media savvy.

Fortunately investigative bloggers like Ms. Franklin and Bruce Dixon see through the seeming idealism of these groups. We need a leader like Martin Luther King who can relentlessly push an anti-poverty agenda that provokes legislation that promotes income equality and racial justice. To this point, TFA and BLM have not exhibited that kind of leadership.