Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

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.

David Brooks’ Isn’t Buying Larry Summers’ New Ideas, He’s Misrepresenting Them

March 7, 2015 Leave a comment

Yesterday Diane Ravitch wrote a post that drew heavily from Peter Greene’s blog post reacting to David Brooks’ NYTimes op-ed piece on Hillary Clinton’s supposed conversion from “…human capital progressivism to redistributionist progressivism.” Brooks didn’t mention it explicitly in his column, but IF Hillary Clinton is abandoning “human capital progressivism” her conversion mirrors that of Larry Summers.

Here’s Brooks’ definition of  “human capital progressivism”:

For many years, Democratic efforts to reduce inequality and lift middle-class wages were based on the theory that the key is to improve the skills of workers. Expand early education. Make college cheaper. Invest in worker training. Above all, increase the productivity of workers so they can compete.

Brooks then suggests “populist progressives” do not agree with this line of thinking:

The real problem, some of them say, is concentrated political power. The oligarchs have rigged the game so that workers get squeezed. Others say the problem is stagnation. It’s not that workers don’t have skills; the private economy isn’t generating jobs. Or it’s about corporate power. Without stronger unions shareholders reap all the gains.

People in this camp point out that inflation-adjusted wages for college grads have been flat for the past 14 years. Education apparently hasn’t lifted wages. The implication? Don’t focus on education for the bottom 99 percent. Focus on spreading wealth from the top. Don’t put human capital first. Put redistribution first.

There is one major problem with Brooks’ premise: more and more economists, including Larry Summers, are realizing “human capital progressivism” is a dead end street. They look at the fact that “… inflation-adjusted wages for college grads have been flat for the past 14 years” and are coming to the conclusion that more education will NOT lead to better jobs, the jobs need to be in place first… and Summers is not looking for a direct transfer of funds from the 1% to the 99%: he’s advocating more government spending on infra-structure and higher pay for all workers.

As noted in yesterday’s post, Larry Summers’ change of thinking on this issue is a big deal for education because he has been the go-to economist for the neoliberals and they— as much as the conservatives— have been the driving force behind the test-and-punish model. Because neoliberal economists and conservatives believe our economy can only be “competitive” if we provide “college for all” AND believe that schools must be subjected to the “competitive” forces of the marketplace, this political coalition promoted the development of a “Common Core” curriculum based on the premise that everyone MUST be ready for college AND endorsed the use of standardized tests based on that curriculum as the yardstick for “competition” between “government” schools and “charters” of all kinds. Consequently members of this coalition were able to sidestep the whole question of poverty because their premise was that if students could not pass these new rigorous tests TEACHERS in the “government monopoly” schools were to blame: THEY needed to work harder to get ALL children ready for college and if they failed to do so the whole economy would continue to decline.

Larry Summers looked at the facts— inflation-adjusted wages for college grads have been flat for the past 14 years— and adjusted his thinking. When will “reformers” look at the facts— test scores have remained flat for the past 14 years despite the test-and-punish regimen— and conclude a new line of thinking is necessary?

More Education Will NOT Lead to Better Jobs… Better Jobs Need to Be In Place First!

March 6, 2015 Leave a comment

For the past several years neo-liberals, wanting to be on the “right side” of the “Government is the Problem” meme promulgated by Ronald Reagan and embraced by Republicans ever since, exhorted people to get more education if they want to get better jobs. This message resonated with educators when it was first broadcast. After all, “more education” would help them persuade the public to invest more in public schools and help address many of the problems they faced like increasing class sizes, dilapidated facilities, and relatively poor compensation– especially in schools serving children raised in poverty.  But in judo-like fashion businesses turned this notion against schools by claiming that there were lots of jobs available but they couldn’t find enough qualified applicants to fill them because of the failure of public education. To make matters worse, they claimed that spending was already too high and that if schools were subjected to market forces they would become more efficient and effective. Rather than push back against these claims, in 2002 a coalition of neo-liberals and Republicans passed No Child Left Behind whose accountability guidelines virtually guaranteed that ALL public schools would be failing within a decade.

One of the champions of neo-liberal economics, Larry Summers, has now shifted his thinking about the link between education and jobs. As reported by Dean Baker in the AlJazeera blog, Summers now believes that “…the problems of the labor force — weak employment opportunities, stagnant wages and rising inequality — were not going to be addressed by increasing the education and skills of the workforce. Rather, the problem was the overall state of the economy.” While this flies in the face of conventional wisdom, it IS supported by facts. In a report issued over a year ago,

Larry Mishel, John Schmitt and Heidi Shierholz have shown, inequality has continued to grow since 2000 even though demand for workers in highly skilled occupations has not increased. Similarly, there has been little change in the wage premium that college-educated workers enjoy relative to less-educated workers, as pay for the typical college grad has barely risen since the turn of the century.

While the thrust of Baker’s article is the change in thinking brought about by examination of the facts, the conclusion that “more education is the answer” will likely have an impact on schools… and it might not be as adverse as one might think. If the push for “college-for-all” is diminished it is possible that the standardized pre-college curriculum (e.g. the Common Core) will be de-emphasized and the need for individualization will increase. Here’s hoping this time the educators can perform the judo move and pin the businesses!

The Perils of Privatization

March 4, 2015 Leave a comment

The Perils of Privatization.

This article shows how privatization has failed in the military and failed in prisons… the conclusion applies to ALL public functions including schools:

For all the rhetoric about public-private partnerships, our society works better when we keep public functions public and private ones private.

NYC Take Heart! Rahm Emmanuel’s Misbegotten School “Reform” MAY Cause Him to Lose Re-Election

March 4, 2015 Leave a comment

As Monica Davey and Julie Bosman reported in today’s NYTimes, Rahm Emmanuel’s public school policy has undermined his re-election as mayor and MAY result in the election of a progressive insurgent candidate, Jesus G. Garcia, who has the full support of the Chicago Teachers Union. While Emmanuel is likely to win in the run off given the massive amounts of money he can raise and the political clout he possesses, Garcia’s ability to force a run-off is an indication that urban areas are wise to what is going on… even if Davey and Bosman are not.

After a lone paragraph citing AFT President Randi Weingarten’s conclusion that Emmanuel’s “… education agenda is based on sanctions and punishing and tests in lieu of the professional judgment of educators”, the Times offers several paragraphs of data supporting Emmanuel’s reforms. In the end, though, the Times was compelled to add this qualifying reality:

A study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research found that 93 percent of the nearly 11,000 displaced elementary students wound up in schools with better ratings. About one in five ended up in schools the district has deemed in its top tier. More than a third of the students, though, remained in schools in the lowest tier, leading the researchers to conclude that while most students had gone to better schools, in many cases the schools were only marginally better.

“That’s because we have very few high-performing schools in these neighborhoods,” said Andrea Zopp, president of the Chicago Urban League and an Emanuel appointee to the Chicago Board of Education. “That’s the ultimate issue that we are trying to address.”

A week ago I posted this link to a 22 minute documentary from Naked Capitalism that gave the answer to the question posed repeatedly in the article, which is “Why Did Emmanuel Need to Close 50 Schools?” The answer is to reward his campaign contributors who want to make a profit from publicly funded schools… or… to put it more charitably… to provide a fast, cheap, and politically expedient means of addressing “failing schools”. Either way, as this documentary and countless blog articles show, parents and the public are getting wise to the “reform” game and are increasingly willing to see that poverty, not bad teachers, is the problem with “failing schools”.


The REAL Violence in Public Education is the Collateral Damage of Class Warfare

March 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Steve Singer’s recent blog post, “The Worst Sort of Violence Against Children” cross posted from The Progressive in Common Dreams describes the collateral damage that occurs when schools are underfunded and, consequently, under-resourced. In the article Singer describes the real violence his students face… not in school… but every day at home and, as was the case in one of his students, overseas where she was exposed to the horrific mall shootings in Nigeria. While suburban parents are raising funds for arguably superfluous safety equipment to protect their children from armed intruders, our country is doing little to help students who encounter real dangers each and every day of their lives. Singer describes the effects of poverty on his students this way:

Students must have their physical needs met first—be fed, have a full night’s rest, etc. Then they have to feel safe, loved, and esteemed before they can reach their potentials.

But meeting these needs is a daily challenge. Our students come to us with a wealth of traumas and we’re given a poverty of resources to deal with them.

How many times have I given a child breakfast or bought a lunch? How many kids were given second-hand clothes or books? How many hours have I spent before or after school just listening to a tearful child pour out his heart?

He emphasizes that he was drawn to teaching because he wanted to help children experiencing distress. But he DOES object to the public’s blaming teachers for their inability to achieve “success” in the classroom:

But what I do mind is doing this alone. And then being blamed for not healing all the years of accumulated hurt.

Because that’s exactly what’s expected of teachers these days. Fix this insurmountable problem with few tools and if you can’t, it’s your fault.

I didn’t shoot up the mall. I didn’t pass the laws that make it so easy for kids to get a hold of a gun. I didn’t pass the laws that allow such rampant income inequality and the perpetuation of crippling poverty that more than half of our nation’s public school children live with every day. And I sure didn’t slash public school budgets while wealthy corporations got a tax holiday.

But when society’s evils are visited on our innocent children, I’m expected to handle it alone. And if I can’t solve it all by myself, I should be fired.

That is where I take umbrage.

The parents in Singer’s school are not worried about intruders coming into school… they are worried about getting a decent meal on the table and a roof over their kids heads. They… and especially their children… are the collateral damage of the class war. And when teachers are expected to do the impossible and lose their job when they fail to do so, they, too, become collateral damage.