Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

More on VERY Early Intervention

September 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Nick Kristoff’s Sunday op ed column witten with Sheryl WuDunn, “The Way to Beat Poverty“, reinforces the ideas put forth in earlier posts on this blog. Kristoff cites anecdotal evidence and research evidence supporting the notion of providing support to parents who face adversity in child rearing as a result of their own suffering in childhood and the suffering brought about due to poverty. He also cites evidence on how diet, alcohol consumption smoking, and exposure to lead paint during pregnancy and a child’s first years of life adversely affect children.

He then describes how a visiting nurse program can reduce the effects of poverty at a relatively low cost. This program, which has been researched a replicated, consists of nurse visits from the time an at-risk child is born until the child turns 2, “…with the nurse encouraging the mom to speak to the child constantly, to read to the child, to show affection. Later there are discussions of birth control.” In a later paragraph he writes:

The visits have been studied extensively through randomized controlled trials — the gold standard of evidence — and are stunningly effective. Children randomly assigned to nurse visits suffer 79 percent fewer cases of state-verified abuse or neglect than similar children randomly assigned to other programs. Even though the program ends at age 2, the children at age 15 have fewer than half as many arrests on average. At the 15-year follow-up, the mothers themselves have one-third fewer subsequent births and have spent 30 fewer months on welfare than the controls. A RAND Corporation study found that each dollar invested in nurse visits to low-income unmarried mothers produced $5.70 in benefits.

So here we have an anti-poverty program that is cheap, is backed by rigorous evidence and pays for itself several times over in reduced costs later on. Yet it has funds to serve only 2 percent to 3 percent of needy families. That’s infuriating.

Any reader of progressive blogs will likely point fingers at conservatives who don’t want to have birth control the part of any poverty program and/or who don’t want the government intervening in the lives of parents. There are, however, other culprits. School districts are often in complete support of these programs as long as they don’t take money from them… and universities and colleges who rely on government spending are also leery of supporting a program that might reduce their spending levels. Kristoff acknowledges this reality, and comes down on investing where the dollars will make the greatest difference, and offers a better place for the Federal government to find money:

We certainly would prefer not to cut education budgets of any kind, but if pressed, we would have to agree that $1 billion spent on home visitation for at-risk young mothers would achieve much more in breaking the poverty cycle than the same sum spent on indirect subsidies collected by for-profit universities.

He concludes his article with this challenge:

We wish more donors would endow not just professorships but also the jobs of nurses who visit at-risk parents; we wish tycoons would seek naming opportunities not only at concert halls and museum wings but also in nursery schools. We need advocates to push federal, state and local governments to invest in the first couple of years of life, to support parents during pregnancy and a child’s earliest years.

Here’s what’s really infuriating: this isn’t going to happen unless the advocates get behind a candidate outside the existing sphere of the two political parties… because while both political parties claim they support early intervention, NEITHER party will seek additional taxes to fund it, and NEITHER party will recommend the diversion of the indirect subsidies for-profit colleges receive, and last but not nearly least, NEITHER party is willing to state the obvious: one billion dollars is chump change compared to the trillion dollars we’ve spent thus far on the misbegotten wars in the East.


Religious Freedom Cuts Both Ways

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment

The title of this Washington Times article, “Satanists to Distribute Religious Pamphlets in Schools” tells you all you need to know about the rationale for the separation of church and state. If schools distribute Gideon’s Bible will they allow the distribution of the Koran? FL legislators might want to take another look at this issue before some school board is asked this question.

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Skills Gap… AGAIN

September 14, 2014 Leave a comment

I got a major case of deja vu reading the Wall Street Journal’s article, “Skills Gap Bumps Up Against Vocational School Taboo”, a flashback to the 14 years I led school districts that incorporated regional vocational-technical schools. The Regional Vocational Center in Exeter NH provided vocational-technical education for the six communities that fed into Exeter AREA High School and five or six surrounding AREA and small town districts and the Washington County (MD) school district included a vocational center as well. As Superintendent in these districts, I was responsible for the oversight of vocational education from 1983-87 in Exeter and from 1987-97 in Washington County MD…. and the “stigma” of vocational education was in place then, a stigma that was going to disappear as a result of renaming them (it was too early to “re-brand” a couple of decades ago) Vocational-Technical Education Centers and by offering courses that appealed to more college bound students. I wish I could report that the re-naming effort was a success, but as the WSJ article reports, the stigma of enrolling in vocational education remains despite the efforts of educators across the country to widen its appeal. Having been out of the fray of vocational center oversight for 17 years and read several articles on the success of vocational programs in other countries– particularly Germany, I can see where the problem lies… and it isn’t with the schools.

Vocational training is a well-recognized career in Germany that offers good income opportunities, whereas in the U.S. it is often associated with people who did poor at high school,” said Robert Lerman, an American University economics professor who studies apprenticeships.

Unlike in the U.S., where workers are largely hired and then trained for a company’s particular needs, German vocational training normally takes three years and is supposed to give apprentices a broader qualification beyond a single employer’s needs.

The students, paid by the companies, spend three to four days a week doing on-the-job training within companies and the rest of the time taking classes at public vocational schools. Curricula are developed by employers’ associations, trade unions and the federal government. Costs vary but average roughly $20,000 a year, typically for three years.

These three paragraphs offer three major differences between the US and Germany:

  1. There is a clear path to higher earnings for someone with a vocational degree
  2. The vocational degree requires more time and provides students with a broader training than “…a single employers needs”
  3. The corporations pay the students for on-the-job training that is linked to curricula developed collaboratively by employers, trade unions, and the government

In our country, the attainment of a vocational degree does not assure employment of any kind let alone “good income opportunities”.

In our country vocational education isn’t “…associated with people who did poor at high school”, it is more often than not explicitly designed for “nontraditional learners”, which— more often than not— is defined as those who are doing poorly in academics.

Finally, in our country, businesses want to hire unpaid or poorly paid interns, want to unilaterally define the curriculum, oppose any efforts by trade unions to interpose their values on prospective employees, and ignore any “government curriculum” that would provide broader training that might benefit their competitors if a prospective employee is lured away.

If the private sector wants to improve vocational education they should do what they implore educators to do: replicate the best practices of their successful competitor. In the meantime, doing more of the same will yield more of the same.

OECD Finds US Teachers are Overworked and Underpaid

September 14, 2014 Leave a comment

If you listen to the mainstream media and Governors like Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and– yes– Andrew Cuomo you’d think that US teachers need to work harder and be less greedy if we ever expect to become competitive in the global marketplace. But, alas, the reporting in the mainstream media and the exhortations of “reform minded” Governors are all too often NOT based on facts. If FACTS were the basis for the debates about education, it would quickly become evident that we can’t expect our teachers to work harder because they already work more hours than those in any developed nation and we can’t expect them to work for less because they are already relatively underpaid compared to other developed nations. And the source of this information is not the NEA, AFT, or the “liberal media”, it is the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development or OECD.

Here’s my frustration as one who wants to have an informed dialogue about how to improve schools: when the OECD issues test results demonstrating that US do poorly compared to students in other developed countries the “reformers” use this data to excoriate teachers. When the same organization reports that US teachers work longer hours, receive less compensation, and have middling pay increases compared to other developed countries the data is ignored. It is possible— indeed LIKELY— that these two pieces of information are linked, especially given the Center For American Progress’ findings that “…mid- and late-career teachers are not earning what they deserve, nor are they able to gain the salaries that support a middle-class existence”. 

Here are some highlights from the report, drawn from a Huffington Post article from earlier this week:

  • American middle school and high school teachers spend more time educating students than peers in every OECD country except Chile
  • U.S. teachers are required to be at school for more hours than most of their international peers.
  • While U.S. raw teacher salaries are high compared with the rest of the world, the pay lags behind that of similarly educated American workers.

The charts that accompany the story give graphic details on this and the 500+ page report provides more information than I have time to glean… but I’m certain that some cherry-picking will occur on the “reform” side of the aisle. When hear a reformer use data from the OECD, keep this bullet point in mind:

“Teacher pay relative to other countries, in absolute terms, is quite competitive in the United States,” said Schleicher. “But when you look at this relative to the earnings of other people with college degrees, actually the United States is pretty much at the end of the scale.”


Corruption Diminishes Stimulus’ Effect

September 9, 2014 Leave a comment

“Did Corruption in the Building Trades Blunt the Impact of Obama’s Stimulus Package?”, a blog post from yesterday’s Naked Capitalism, may include arcane economics information for those who typically read an educational policy blog, but the post DID describe the following:

  • Sub-contractors used 1099 employees to complete work on projects included, thereby avoiding tax collections and payments into unemployment insurance
  • The loss of these taxes resulted in diminished revenues of over 8,500,000,000 to various states across the country where these stimulus projects were undertaken. TX could have used the $1,200,000,000 it lost as a result of these lost taxes.
  • The owners of construction companies, the 1%, were beneficiaries of the stimulus funds more so than the unemployed construction workers who either accepted 1099 wages or stayed home
  • Undocumented immigrant workers got a larger share of wages because they were more than willing to work for less and accept substandard working conditions

None of these talking points will find their way into either parties’ campaigns. The Republicans will blame it the stimulus’ mediocre performance on “regulations” and the Democrats will blame it on the fact it was too small. This post seems to indicate that UNDER-regulation is the issue… which, unfortunately, makes perfect sense because no one is advocating for more regulations OR for more funds to enforce existing regulations. Too bad because we’re all on the hook for more money as a result… except for the 1% who win given the rules of the game.


The Mainstream Media’s Narrative

September 8, 2014 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a blog post that provides a behind-the-scenes look at how the NYTimes completely ignored her factual critique of Success Academy schools and stuck to the talking points Eva Moskovitz provided. A couple of days earlier she cross-posted Paul Thomas who wrote about NPR’s whitewash of the “New Orleans” miracle.

I try very hard to believe that the mainstream media are in business to provide factual and balanced information to the public, especially organizations like NPR that receive government funding. But when I read that “the newspaper of record” willfully ignores factual information provided by an impeccably reliable source I can reach one of three conclusions:

  1. The Times and other mainstream media are unwilling to accept facts that do not conform with a narrative they’ve created
  2. The Times and other mainstream media employ editors who cannot understand facts that do not conform to the narrative they’ve created
  3. The Times and other mainstream media are fearful that if they DO report facts that do not conform to the narrative they’ve been provided by donors or influential political figures they might lose access to advertising dollars and/or access to political figures

Being charitable, I hope that the first conclusion is accurate, because of it is the facts will eventually require that the narrative change. If, however, the third conclusion is accurate, I am concerned because the public will never see the facts… and Thomas’ post  is especially chilling in that regard. If the public is denied factual information it cannot make an informed decision about the direction our government should take.

Buying “History”

September 6, 2014 Leave a comment

This weekend the NYTimes will feature an article titled “So Bill Gates Has This Idea for History Class…”  which describes Gates’ investment in “Big History”, a course he took while working out on his treadmill. The content of the course looks intriguing: it’s interdisciplinary, topic centered, and covers ALL of history from the dawn of the Universe to today. The delivery of the course is also promising from my perspective: it’s a hybrid course that interweaves on-line instruction with face-to-face interaction. But Gates is encountering some pushback, which surprises him— but not me:

To his bafflement and frustration, he has become a remarkably polarizing figure in the education world. This owes largely to the fact that Gates, through his foundation, has spent more than $200 million to advocate for the Common Core, something of a third rail in education circles. He has financed an army of policy groups, think tanks and teachers’ unions to marshal support for the new rules and performance measurements that have been adopted by 44 states. Many education experts, while generally supportive of the new goals for reading and math skills, have been critical of the seemingly unilateral way in which the policy appeared to be rolled out.

And therein lies the problem: someone who earns $80,000,000,000 appears to be “buying” the narrative that schoolchildren will learn for decades to come. Here’s Diane Ravitch’s reaction as quoted in the article:

…It begins to be a question of: Is this Bill Gates’s history? And should it be labeled ‘Bill Gates’s History’? Because Bill Gates’s history would be very different from somebody else’s who wasn’t worth $50-60 billion.

From what I read in the article, Gates’ history appears to include evolution, revolutions, and questions about the way income and wealth is distributed. It also appears that Gates is making a genuine effort to grow this history course organically– from the bottom up. Here’s the question, though: will the kind of history course HE advocates be supported by politicians? By State Superintendents who are elected by voters who think the constitution and the Bible should be the basis for all history instruction? By his billionaire friends who think that only capitalism should be taught to schoolchildren? Unfortunately in this day and age of Citizen’s United all of these questions will be answered by who has the most money to spend. History, so the aphorism states, is written by the victors. The victors in this case are not a nation state but a group of plutocrats.