Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

The Disappearing Middle Class and Burgeoning School Population in Poverty

January 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Over the past several days, several articles cited a the Southern Education Foundation report indicating that more than half of the students in public schools qualify for free and reduced lunches. Yesterday’s Kennebec Journal editorial posted on line in had the strongest response to this finding. Titled “Public Schools Must Lead the Fight Against Poverty”, the editorial leads with this paragraph:

In the fight against poverty, public schools are the first line of defense. Teachers, counselors and administrators are in the best position to notice when a student is not getting enough food, doesn’t have the proper clothing or is otherwise experiencing something at home that makes learning difficult, and it is those adults who are in the best position to see that student gets the help he needs so that school is not such a struggle.

The article then enumerates all the ways public schools can intervene and assist students who enter with deficient academic and social skills and pulls no punches when it comes to the solution: more funding will be needed to accomplish all that public schools can and, according to the editors, must achieve if we hope to overcome the effects of poverty.

Midway through the editorial there is a brief paragraph offering an explanation of why the percentage of public school students raised in poverty is increasing:

There are a number of reasons for the increase — a rise in single-parent households and immigration, increased enrollment at private schools by those with means and stagnant wages amid rising costs — but the latest recession is not one of them.

NYTimes article in today’s newspaper provides a more detailed picture of the economic forces at play and the demographics of the “middle class” today as compared to 15 years ago:

But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom. At the same time, fewer of those in this group fit the traditional image of a married couple with children at home, a gap increasingly filled by the elderly.

The Times article shows that as people of my generation retire with pensions and social security, the percentage of over-65 members of the middle class is increasing. At the same time the unionized manufacturing jobs that offered decent wages and benefits to my generation are disappearing and being replaced by lower paying part-time jobs. The Times articles offers several profiles of middle class wage earners with school aged children who have fallen into the poverty range and while it doesn’t describe the impact on children it is obvious: job losses and wage decreases can only cause stress at home.

The Kennebec Journal editorial concludes with this assessment of what the public needs to do given the presence of so many children being raised in poverty:

The solution is a commitment to public education and all it has to accomplish.

That means not only valuing and rewarding the best educators, but also funding the pre-K and literacy programs that help low-income students get a fair start to school, as well as the preparatory and counseling initiatives that help them apply for and go to college.

That also means supporting the school-based social service programs that feed, clothe and counsel low-income students, and keep them engaged and learning after school and during the summer break.

It’s not easy, and it is certainly not cheap. But it is necessary. Failing to provide an equal education to low-income students is unfair when they make up a third of all students. When they make up more than half of all students, it’s a potential disaster.

To which I can only say: “Amen”.


This Just In: Spending More For Schools DOES Matter

January 25, 2015 Leave a comment

In a study that was cited in many articles over the past few days, economists C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker Johnson and Claudia Persico report that spending more for schools makes a difference… especially in schools service children raised in poverty. Specifically, their study shows that “a 10 percent increase in spending, on average, leads children to complete 0.27 more years of school, to make wages that are 7.25 percent higher and to have a substantially reduced chance of falling into poverty.” And wait… there’s more!

  • An educated work force earns more and spends more, increasing the strength of the overall economy.
  • An educated electorate is more civil and forward thinking making discourse more rational and decision making more sound.
  • Educated citizens commit fewer crimes thereby reducing social costs.
  • An evenly educated workforce would have less inequality, making it increasingly easy and less expensive to educate children in the future.

But there IS one hitch, as BloombergView blogger Noah Smith notes:

The (study) finds that the benefits of increased spending are much stronger for poor kids than for wealthier ones. So if you, like me, are in the upper portion of the U.S. income distribution, you may be reading this and thinking: “Why should I be paying more for some poor kid to be educated?” After all, why should one person pay the cost while another reaps the benefits?

While I wish Smith’s questions were rhetorical and irrelevant, they are, sadly, direct and practical. Maybe in our country where we still believe a good education is important in order to achieve a good life we might convince voters that providing more money to schools serving children who are raised in poverty is the right thing to do because it provides every child with an opportunity to succeed.

Kansas: Funding For Shareholders and Fundamentalists?

January 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Earlier this week, the US edition of  The Guardian posted an article by Sarah Smarsh on the state of public education in Kansas.  As reported in  earlier blog posts, KS finds itself in a funding crisis because their Governor has lowered taxes to entice the expansion of business and recently lost a Supreme Court case filed by a parent who felt that KS was not sufficiently funding its schools and that lack of funding resulted unconstitutional inequities. The Guardian suggests that the Governor or the legislature, which is sympathetic to his cause, might offer a solution that would not only please the court, but would also please privatization advocates like the Koch bothers who live in KS and the large number of fundamental Christians: vouchers. If the legislature closed public schools and offered vouchers to parents that could be used in any school at all, fundamentalists could open private academies to address their concerns about the secular humanism rampant in public education and the Koch brothers’ kindred spirits could open for profit charters and taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay any more money at all. It would be a win-win-win for the taxpayers, the fundamentalists, and the profiteers… but it would be dreadful for the very students whose parent filed the lawsuit because it would end public education as we know it today.

Smarsh notes parallels between Brown v Board of Education in 1954 and this case today, one of which was that the plaintiffs in both cases were pastors of churches. She writes:

It was a good legal strategy that a longtime Christian clergyman became the namesake for Gannon v Kansas (the lawsuit seeking funding equity), a lawsuit bent on increasing funding for a secular institution. Similarly, in Brown v Board some 60 years ago, Topeka dad Oliver Brown took the title spot for being a respected pastor. The two cases contain plenty more parallels, and if there was a poor people’s movement to match the civil rights movement of the mid-20th century today, people would be marching in the streets – not to desegregate schools but to keep them open.

Unfortunately for those of us who want to see a strong and vibrant public education system, the poor people whose children are being shortchanged cannot see how the system is working against them and taking tax revenues to either promote religion or increase profits. The war against the poor is subtler than racism but every bit as pernicious… and seemingly as intractable.

NYC Reorganization’s Underlying Rationale

January 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Wednesday’s NYTimes reported on a reorganization of the NYC central office administration, eliminating the network organizational structure put in place during the Bloomberg administration and replacing it with a more traditional regional hierarchical model. As the article notes, changes like this are often invisible to parents and teachers. But in this instance, the change is likely a signal that the privatization trend in NYC may be coming to an end. Here’s why:

          The earlier models described in the Times article assumed a hierarchical, geographically defined, and centralized management of services and staffing. But most importantly, the previous organizational models assumed a monopolistic and “socialist” economic model whereby administrators in a central office would determine how to fairly and equitably distribute resources.  Bloomberg’s management structure based on the assumption that a market-driven “capitalist” economic model would be put in place. Instead of centralized management services and staffing based on geography, Bloomberg envisioned small, nimble, and entrepreneurial network offices who would compete with each other to provide services to schools.
          The biggest difference in Bloomberg’s approach to public schools was how he dealt with schools that failed to meet the accountability standards he set forth. In the “traditional monopolistic” governance structure, schools that “failed” received additional support from the central office… support in the form of additional staff development, additional supplementary resources, additional funding, or, in some cases, the replacement of the leadership. Under Bloomberg’s model, when schools failed to meet standards set by the accountability office, they were closed and replaced with unregulated charter schools. The charter schools were given complete autonomy in hiring, staffing, and setting wages, hours, and working conditions for their employees. Bloomberg’s vision, which is shared by the Governor, was to privatize the schools across the board. By doing so, schools would compete with each other for “customers” and all of the “bloated bureaucracy” would disappear. Market forces would drive down costs and drive out inefficiency and ineffectiveness. Unfortunately, as we’ve witnessed on a macro level with our market driven economy, those forces work against equality and social mobility, which are the linchpins of public education. Moreover, when regulations diminish, as they have been on a macro level, our environment and health degrades.
           Bloomberg’s way of dealing with poor performance resonated with voters and the media because it implied a fast, cheap, and effective means of dealing with a complicated problem that requires more money, more time, and more patience than voters typically have. Unfortunately for the children raised in poverty, Bloomberg’s methods and those of his kindred “reformers” has not improved the academic performance of those who were formerly enrolled in “failing schools”, but at this point that fact has not penetrated the narrative the “reformers” advance to the public.
          This means that Farina and de Blasio have a challenge on their hands. They need to find a way to show they will deal with failing schools firmly and clearly. The restoration of the geographical hierarchy is the first step in developing a means of systematically intervening when a school needs help. The kind of intervention they provide will need to be as visible and politically appealing as the dramatic school closings and wholesale firing of teachers Bloomberg, Christie, Walker and Cuomo advocate or the public’s patience will wear thin. The bullies are winning for now… but in the end one hopes that evidence will show that Farina and de Blasio’s more measured response to struggling schools and students will result in real improvement.

Inclusive Capitalism and Public Schools

January 22, 2015 Leave a comment

Thomas Edsall’s op ed column today, “Can Capitalists Save Capitalism“, describes “inclusive capitalism”, an emerging economic theory Democrats are purportedly embracing in response to their defeat in the mid-terms. The basic premise of this economic theory is the same as Henry Ford espoused when he decided to pay his employees a large enough wage for them to buy his product: the Model T Ford. After reading the article, I left the following comment:

President Obama and all elected officials who advocate “inclusive capitalism” have the opportunity to put it into place by treating public employees differently than employees are being treated in the private sector. If the Democrats want to embrace inclusive capitalism they could do so by denouncing the de-regulation and privatization of public schools, which “broadly undermines the wages and working conditions” of those working in schools. The replacement of career-minded unionized employees with at-will teaching staff and contracted services in lieu of ancillary staff results in more job insecurity, lower wages, and, consequently, a hollowing of the middle class. The privatizers of public education”…function much less effectively as providers of large-scale opportunity” because “…their dominant focus has been on maximization of share prices and the compensation of their top employees.” Privatization of public services is a rejection of inclusive capitalism and an embrace of the winner-take-all mentality that the “winners” want to see kept in place.

The “reformers” want to run schools like a business… but the way businesses operate is to limit the number of wages, hours, and/or number of employees… and that, in turn, hollows out the number of employees who earn middle class wages. Maybe instead of schools running like businesses, businesses might want to run like schools.

This Just In: Spending on Schools Matters!

January 21, 2015 Leave a comment

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog‘s headline says it all:

When public schools get more money,

students do better

Wonkblogger Max Ehrenfreund, citing a recently completed study by Kirabo Jackson and Claudia Persico of Northwestern University and Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley,  reports that students in districts where courts ruled that more spending was mandated earned more and were more successful in school than students in similar districts where spending increases did not occur. Ehrenfreund’c conclusion:

The group found that the increased funding had the greatest effect if it was used to raise teachers’ salaries, reduce class sizes or lengthen the school year. That conclusion accords with other research finding that better teachers can have profound effects on how much students learn, since the schools with the smallest classes and the highest salaries can attract the most talented instructors.

Here’s MORE definitive evidence that “schools with the smallest classes and the highest salaries can attract the most talented instructors”. All you folks claiming to favor “evidence based approaches” should take note: small classes + high wages = good teachers. It’s easy and obvious. Let’s stop blaming underfunded schools for their deficiencies and start supporting them at the same level as we support our best public schools.

RTTT Overreach = Potential for GOP to End Tests = Hobson’s Choice

January 20, 2015 Leave a comment

In today’s NYTimes Mokoto Rich reports that Lamar Alexander intends to “…reverse the “trend towards a national school board” in federal education policy” by shifting the responsibility for setting standards and developing assessments back to the States. In doing so, Alexander said he was open to reducing the mandated annual tests and allowing states to determine how they will assess the progress of schools:

Mr. Alexander, in a conference call with reporters, said he was “open on the question” of whether the federal government should mandate testing. “Generally speaking, I want these discussions about testing, standards and accountability systems to move back to states and communities, where I think they belong,” he said.

As one who recently posted articles on the history of public education policy since Brown v. Board of Education and one who has written MANY posts opposing the use of standardized tests, Alexander’s proposal puts me (and presumably many other’s who share my convictions) in a double bind. If I were to support Alexander’s proposal on the pretext that the elimination of federally mandated annual tests to be used for the purpose of evaluating schools and teachers was the greatest good it is conceivable that I would be supporting a host of state governments where privatization and re-segregation are viewed as acceptable if not desirable. It is not hard to see that many Senators who advocate “choice” would readily trade the opportunity to introduce that concept into their states in exchange for the “nanny state” that Duncan and Obama have imposed through RTTT. Indeed, as the previous post indicates, advocates of choice have declared annual testing and choice as “the civil rights issue of our time”. Consequently if Congress declares that decisions about testing and choice can be executed more rapidly at the State level it would be difficult for Duncan and Obama to oppose legislation that does so… especially if the new NCLB legislation insists on annual testing which seems to be their “do or die” issue. The ultimate responsibility for this emerging Hobson’s choice falls on the President and his Secretary of Education. By determining that annual tests and VAM would replace NCLB and by using the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to infuse schools with substantial sums of money to create “incentives” to do so, the Obama administration has set the stage for the GOP to use the restoration of State control of education to eliminate their misbegotten legacy. Over the past two months it has become increasingly evident that the use of the federal stimulus to support VAM, testing, and privatization was a huge missed opportunity and may ultimately result in the end of public schooling as it existed in the 20th century… and the disruption Obama and Duncan achieved will result in separate but unequal schools and a hardening of the economic classes if states are permitted to introduce vouchers as part of the ESEA reauthorization.