Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

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.

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!

“With All Deliberate Speed” or “At Once” Means “Never”

October 31, 2015 1 comment

Yesterday, Sumeer Rao, a writer for Colorlines whose mission is to cover race matters “...from the perspective of community, rather than through the lens of power brokers”, wrote a brief post noting that October 29, 2015, was the 46th anniversary of the Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education ruling by the US Supreme Court. While less celebrated than Brown v. Topeka, it was intended to underscore the urgency to put an end to dual school systems and make it clear that “all deliberate speed”, the language in Brown, meant now. Rao summarized the decision as follows:

In Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education—which was decided on this day in 1969—the Court ruled to underscore their previous mandates in Brown and Brown II and ordered immediate desegregation of public schools. Noting that the “all deliberate speed” language in Brown enabled Southern states to procrastinate, the Court’s decision took no chances, saying, “The obligation of every school district is to terminate dual school systems at once and to operate now and hereafter only unitary schools.”

Brown effectively put an end to Jim Crow laws and practices because it overturned Plessy v. Ferguson, an 1896 case that allowed for “separate but equal” facilities… a phrase, like “adequate schools”, allowed separate substandard facilities to be designated for blacks because some whites had the same kinds of facilities. Ten years after Brown Congress passed the Civil Rights Act which reinforced the court ruling and seemingly put an end to legalized discrimination.

In a fifteen year period during the time I was growing up in Oklahoma and Pennsylvania, our nations leaders passed legislation that was intended to put an end to our country’s legacy of racial discrimination. 46 years later, little has changed. Based on my personal experience as a child, student, teacher, public school administrator and parent, I find that the only way one can overcome prejudice is to share a seat in a classroom, a playground, a church pew, or a neighborhood with someone of a different race or culture. When one experiences an individual from a different race or culture, prejudice quickly disappears and that person’s humanity shines through. I know that moving from where we were then and how we are now to a world where we stop thinking of different races and cultures as “the other” will not happen now and cannot be forced. I fear that our current housing patterns and stereotyping will prevent us thinking of different races and cultures as “the other” making it impossible to achieve the kind of world our forefathers and religions of all stripes want us to live in.

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.

A Closer Look At Obama’s Testing Pronouncement: There’s No There There

October 27, 2015 Leave a comment

After reading several articles on President Obama’s recent pronouncement that we are over testing children and that we should therefore limit testing to 2% of a student’s class time I have come to the conclusion that nothing substantive will change. Unsurprisingly, the Network for Public Education (NPE), Diane Ravitch’s think tank, issued the most insightful response to the President’s announcement. In a Press Release published yesterday, blogger and NPE officer Anthony Cody offered this observation:

“Limiting testing to 2% is a symbolic gesture that will have little impact so long as these tests are used for high stakes purposes.

While the Department of Education remains wed to annual high-stakes tests, it is time for states and districts to call their bluff regarding flexibility. The research coming forward is clear. The overuse of standardized testing is educational malpractice. States should drop the destructive pseudoscience of VAM, empower educators to create their own meaningful assessments of learning, and get off the testing juggernaut.”

Formative testing– periodic tests and/or quizzes to make certain students have grasped the content presented by the teacher– is a bedrock of good instruction and has always been a crucial element of public education. Summative testing– annual or tri-annual standardized examinations designed to compare students to others in their age cohort– have also been used to help schools determine if they are setting sufficiently high curriculum expectations. When summative examinations are used to rank students, teachers, and schools they are destructive and unproductive because they drive the pace and content of instruction limiting the creativity of both the students and the teachers. After 12 years we know that this is true: we’ve seen schools whose students are not performing well on these standardized tests replace arts, science, recess, and related arts courses and units with test preparation courses and units. Students in these schools know how to take tests but don’t know how to think independently. Worse, they never get the opportunity to read for pleasure or read to explore areas of interest to them.

Carol Burris, a retired NYS administrator, NPE officer, and blogger, concludes the press release with this:

“Testing is the rock on which a host of destructive corporate reforms are built.  That era must end.  It is time that we commit to well-funded, vibrant public schools that are democratically governed by the communities they serve”

The last sentence, the one calling for a commitment to “…well-funded, vibrant public schools that are democratically governed by the communities they serve“, is the one we want to hear a Presidential candidate say. Until schools are well-funded and democracy is restored, the percent of time spent testing is immaterial.

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.

This Just In: Bill Gates Believe in His “Reforms” Despite Evidence They Don’t

October 21, 2015 Leave a comment

I just finished reading Carol Burris’ Washington Post op ed article on Bill and Melinda Gates’ recent interview with PBS journalist Gwen Ifill at the U.S. Education Learning Forum and came away bewildered at how someone who made billions of dollars in software development could not see that his “reform” agenda has failed miserably and completely derailed the efforts to provide equal opportunity for children born into poverty.

Burris began her article with an extended set of quotes from a prescient Education Week blog post Rick Hess wrote in 2012 about the true believers in the Common Core, one of Gates’ major “reforms” that included these quotes:

First, politicians will actually embrace the Common Core assessments and then will use them to set cut scores that suggest huge numbers of suburban schools are failing. Then, parents and community members who previously liked their schools are going to believe the assessment results rather than their own lying eyes. Finally, newly convinced that their schools stink, parents and voters will embrace reform.

Common Core advocates evince an eerie confidence that they can scare these voters into embracing the “reform” agenda. And this conviction has become the happy Kool-Aid that allows would-be reformers to ignore the fact that they’re not actually offering to tackle the things–like world language mastery, and music and arts instruction, that suburban parents care about.

After pointing out that this abandonment of schools by suburbanites has not happened, Ms. Burris goes on to eviscerate other elements of the Gates “reform agenda” including VAM, charter schools, and choice. She concludes her analysis with this paragraph about the Gates’ inability to acknowledge that “reform” is NOT succeeding:

They don’t seem likely to admit that in a school where 98 percent of the students receive free or reduced priced lunch, 50 percent do not speak English and 1 in 5 students have learning disabilities, you need to spend a lot of money, far more than is being spent today, and even then it will be an uphill battle. And they certainly will not take a long and hard look at a harsh economic system that benefits the mega-rich on the backs of the poor — a system in which losers are needed in order to create the unimaginable wealth and power that we see today in the hands of Bill Gates and other billionaire education philanthropists he praised.

I still believe Bill Gates’ heart is in the right place, based on the work he’s done to address international poverty.… but I remain distressed that in light of evidence indicating that nothing is changing in terms of equity of opportunity as a result of his “reforms” he is persisting in staying the course. As often as he’s changed and upgraded Microsoft office it’s hard to believe he hasn’t changed his thinking about school reform.