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Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Child Care, Prekindergarten and Vouchers

November 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Today’s editorial praising the bi-partisan Child Care bill reinforced my notion that preschool programming is a vehicle for getting vouchers into schools… and that both the neo-liberals and conservatives are on the same page on the privatization movement. Here are some excerpts from the editorial that led to that conclusion:

The new law, the Child Care and Development Block Grant Act, makes safety and other improvements to the $5.2 billion child care program, which provides grants to states to help low-income parents who work, or are enrolled in job training or school, obtain child care, mostly through federal vouchers.

Existing statutory provisions untouched by the new revisions allow parents to use the vouchers at religious facilities, as long as the child care provided does not involve religious instruction or worship. The wording does leave room for discrimination on the basis of religion in hiring for some positions, although not in admissions. Using public money for hiring that is based on religion raises constitutional concerns. But in 2002, the Supreme Court dismissed constitutional objections to a similar voucher plan in a case involving Cleveland public and parochial schools.

The quid pro quo in the near unanimous support for the voucher model was not explicitly stated, but likely revolves around the need for all members of congress to show they can pass SOMETHING to help working parents and the hope on the part of bona fide liberals and progressives that more money might be forthcoming for programs to help children in need, something the editorial endorses at the end:

What the country needs is high-quality child care that provides an enriching learning environment. And that takes more money.

Here’s the multi-billion dollar question, though: IF a substantial sum of money is available for “… high-quality child care that provides an enriching learning environment” contingent on that funding is contingent on the use of vouchers. It’s no surprise to readers that my answer is: “Do NOT expand the use of vouchers! Allow public schools to oversee the funding an operation of preschool programs.”

Charters, Tracking, Real Estate, and Re-Segregation

November 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Two recent articles illustrate how charter schools and tracking amplify the trend of re-segregation in public schools, a trend that is tied inextricably to zip codes.

Last week Atlantic blogger Sonali Kohli posted an article titled “Modern Day Segregation in Public Schools” that described how the longstanding practice of tracking exacerbates the emerging trend of resegregation using a recent NJ State Board decision to illustrate her point. The problem local districts face is that their use of standardized test scores, GPAs, and teacher recommendations to determine who qualifies for advanced courses or “gifted and talented” courses results in a disproportionate number of white students being placed in classrooms. The USDOE, which requires States to use standardized testing to identify “failing schools”, is intervening and recommending some sort of de facto quota system whereby the districts who using tracking of any kind must ensure that the student populations in advanced levels and/or gifted and talented programs mirror the racial patterns of the district as a whole.

Today’s NJSpotlight features an insightful blog post by Laura Waters titled “Self Selection of Public Schools, New Jersey’s Double Standard” which uses a recent quote from Newark’s CEO Cami Anderson as the jumping off point:

In response to a question regarding a four-point drop in test scores among Newark students enrolled in traditional elementary schools, Anderson acknowledged that the city’s growing sector of public charter schools serves children who are less poor and less likely to be classified as eligible for special-education services.

“I’m not saying they [the charter schools] are out there intentionally skimming,”said Anderson, “but all of these things are leading to a higher concentration of the neediest kids in fewer [district] schools.”

Charter advocates winced and went on the defensive. Charter detractors grinned and high-fived. Both reactions miss the point.

The point Ms. Waters makes is one that I’ve made in this blog on several occasions:  parents in affluent zip codes get a wider range of choices than parents in urban areas serving children raised in poverty:

Given a choice between Newark and Millburn, motivated parents of any means would most likely choose to send their kids to school in the latter, as long as they could afford the freight of the median house cost of $665,000 and an average annual tax bill of $20,439. This sort of self-selection — skimming, if you will — is regarded as a cause for applause, an emblem of good values and good parenting. In New Jersey we embrace school skimming. With our ZIP code-driven district-assignment system, town choice is school choice. If you can afford granite countertops then you can afford great public schools.

Ms. Waters chides those who criticize charters in urban systems for skimming of the best and brightest children of engaged parents without challenging the de facto segregation that results from real estate choices.

But in Newark, a system that allows families to choose more successful, albeit nontraditional, public schools is suddenly suspect. A proud N.J. tradition is transformed into a scourge, simply because we’re talking about poor parents and not rich ones.

Waters describes offers a lukewarm proposal for solving the problem but closes with a statement that poses a conundrum for those of us who do not want to see the expansion of for profit charter schools:

So what’s the answer? Paul Tractenberg half-heartedly suggests county-wide school districts, although he concedes that such a conversion is a “quintessential political third rail” due to New Jersey’s addiction to local control. Whatever that answer is or, indeed, whether it exists, let’s agree that parents should be able to make school choices for their children, and that their right to do so shouldn’t rest on their ability to afford granite countertops.

Here’s the conundrum from my perspective: politics is the art of the determining what is possible as opposed to what is ideal… and what is possible NOW under the system we have in place is offering choices within districts and ensuring that those choices within districts do not result in segregation by race. Charter schools, be they for-profit or not-for-profit, are the most politically viable solution we have NOW. The political reality as I see it is that any solutions that approach the “ideal” (e.g. choice among all schools, equitable funding across the board, early intervention programs for children raised in poverty, county districts that enable the re-drawing of boundaries to achieve racial and socio-economic balance, etc.)  are, to echo Mr. Tractenberg, a “quintessential third rail”.

In earlier posts I’ve proposed a third rail solution with relatively voltage: the redirection of ALL federal funds to less affluent districts in states, like NJ, where civil rights violations are found and/or courts have determined that existing funding mechanisms are unconstitutional. It’s been 60 years since Brown vs. Board of Education and in those years the Federal funding for public schooling has increased substantially and enrollment patterns driven by zip codes have increased segregation across the country. One look at the data cited in each of these articles should persuade anyone that segregation continues within school districts and between school districts and the current tools in play, “strongly worded directives” and de facto quota systems are unsatisfactory and simplistic solutions to deep and complicated problems. Redistribution of federal funding to address issues decided in State and/or federal courts would promote local solutions to these problems.

From my perspective, the ideal solution to all equity issues would be the institution of constitutionally equitable per pupil allocations, the abandonment of age-based cohorts, and the implementation of individualized instruction programs. Such a reformatting of school would help schools develop self-actualized learners who have the interpersonal skills to thrive in the multi-cultural world our students are living in. If we want a fully engaged electorate of well-informed voters we cannot continue operating public schools that segregate students based on their learning rates, the knowledge they bring into schools when they enter, and whether their parents can afford granite counter tops. Such a system only reinforces what we have in place today and the direction we are heading.

Keep Your Eye on the .01%

November 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Several articles of late have emphasized that “the 1%” aren’t the real problem with the effects of inequality in our country, it’s the .01%.

Progressive economist Robert Reich’s essay titled ” If you Want to Know What’s Happened to Our Democracy, Follow the Richest .01%”, describes the effects of inequality in stark terms. After providing lots of statistical information detailing how wide the spread is between the 16,000 people who control 11% of the total wealth in our country, and a description of how this is affecting the debts of the bottom 90%, Reich outlines the political reasons for why we should care about this:

…the top .01 percent have also been investing their money in politics. And these investments have been changing the game.

In the 2012 election cycle (the last for which we have good data) donations from the top .01 accounted for over 40 percent of all campaign contributions, according to a study by Professors Adam Bonica, Nolan McCarty, Keith Poole, and Howard Rosenthal.

This is a huge increase from 1980, when the top .01 accounted for ten percent of total campaign contributions….

All this money has flowed to Democrats as well as Republicans.

In fact, Democrats have increasingly relied on it. In the 2012 election cycle, the top .01 percent’s donations to Democrats were more than four times larger than all labor union donations to Democrats put together.

(And) their political investments have paid off in the form of lower taxes on themselves and their businesses, subsidies for their corporations, government bailouts, federal prosecutions that end in settlements where companies don’t affirm or deny the facts and where executives don’t go to jail, watered-down regulations, and non-enforcement of antitrust laws.

Since the top .01 began investing big time in politics, corporate profits and the stock market have risen to record levels. That’s enlarged the wealth of the richest .01 percent by an average of 7.8 percent a year since the mid-1980s.

But the bottom 90 percent don’t own many shares of stock. They rely on wages, which have been trending downward. And for some reason, politicians don’t seem particularly intent on reversing this trend.

If you want to know what’s happened to the American economy, follow the money. That will lead you to the richest .01 percent.

And if you want to know what’s happened to our democracy, follow the richest .01 percent. They’ll lead you to the politicians who have been selling our democracy.

But why should advocates of public education care about this increasing inequality? An Inside Philanthropy blog post titled “Be Afraid: The Five Scariest Trends in Philanthropy” by David Callahan outlines five reasons:

  1. The growing push to convert wealth into power: (see Reich’s article and this quote from Callahan offers an example in public education: “Look at nearly any sector of U.S. society, and you’ll find private funders wielding growing power. Most dramatic has been the reshaping of public education by philanthropists like Gates and the Waltons, but the footprint of private money has also grown when it comes to healthcare, the environment, the economy, social policy, science, and the arts.

    Whether you agree or disagree with the specific views pushed by private funders, you’ve got to be disturbed by the growing army of hands-on mega donors and foundations that seems to get more clever every year about converting their money into societal influence. Love it or hate it, the Common Core is a great example: In effect, private funders are helping determine how tens of millions of kids will be educated for years to come. And to think that we once saw public education as America’s most democratic institution!”

  2. How philanthropic dollars have become another form of political money: (see Reich’s article for lots of examples)
  3. The decline of the public sector relative to private fundersThis means that as public funding for schools diminishes and schools are privatized the wealth trickles UPWARD instead of ACROSS the workforce. As a result, the extraordinarily wealthy individuals (e.g. philanthropists) who make “generous donations” to public schools have more and more influence in how schools spend money.
  4. The rise of the know-it-all funderSee Bill Gates and any hedge fund manager or technology squillionaire who provides a “generous donation” to schools contingent on the implementation of a program they are certain will be a game-changer. Callahan describes how this is playing out in public education: “In an age of hands-on living mega donors, the possibilities for big screwups are self-evident and we’ve seen some doozies so far—like, say, turning urban school districts upside down to create small high schools and then realizing that this idea wasn’t as brilliant as MS-DOS.”
  5. A rising flood of anonymous moneyThis is playing out as dark money flows into elections for State and County Superintendents, governors, and various referenda on issues like the elimination of tenure, school funding, etc. 

Inequality matters to public education and it matters to democracy. Here’s hoping that the issue gets an airing in 2016… but as long as the richest .01% buy and own our political leaders and buy and control the advertising that is the basis for voters’ decision making having a dialog on this issue will be difficult.

Unions’ Self-Inflicted Wounds

November 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Thomas Edsall’s column today, “Republicans Sure Love to Hate Unions”, describes the systematic efforts of the Republican party to reduce the power of labor unions and, in so doing, diminish the power of the Democrats who benefit from the support of unions. But based on the content of his column, it could just have easily been titled “Neither Party Loves Unions” since he provides lots of evidence that the Democrats are ignoring union issues or— even worse, taking union support for granted— or worse yet, buying into an anti-union stance themselves. The article provided evidence of all three possibilities, noting that the Obamacare penalty for “Cadillac” health care provisions will hurt union members more than anyone else.

As I read this, though, I couldn’t help but notice that in some cases the unions are wounding themselves. In public schools, unions have adopted some of the concepts of their brethren in the auto industry (and, to be fair, Boards have adopted the same concepts in framing their bargaining positions). One particularly short-sighted approach to achieving settlements that enable management to reduce costs while simultaneously enabling veteran union members to get wage increases and retain benefits is to offer lower pay scales and fewer benefits to those to be hired in the future. As these bi-furcated agreements phase in, the newer employees have no reason to support the union and they often harbor resentments against their seasoned partners, resentments that manifest themselves in either NOT supporting the Democratic candidates chosen by the union or by staying home. This lack of enthusiasm for the union is, I believe, an underlying factor in the diminishing number of union members, especially as laws are passed that do not require everyone to pay union dues.

These bifurcated agreements also drive down wages and benefits, and those lower wages and benefits are a drag on the economy.  By agreeing to contracts that undercut wages of new hires the unions, then, are helping the pro-business candidates get elected… thereby closing a vicious cycle.

 

Funding Public Community Colleges

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Friday’s NYTimes featured a lengthy article by Gina Bellafonte titled “How Can Community Colleges Get a Piece of the Billions that Donors Give to Higher Education?”. The article described the plight of LaGuardia Community College using its experiences to described the typically underfunded community college. It offered heartwarming stories of successful graduates who went on to earn college degrees against great odds, contrasted the fund raising apparatus at LaGuardia (a staff of four) with that of Williams College (a staff of 50), and offered several ideas of ways community colleges might “…get a piece” of the billions donors offer to elite colleges. But the primary answer to the question about where money is being donated was embedded in this sentence:

In 2012, more than twice as much money — $297 million — was awarded to charter schools from the country’s largest foundations as was given to community colleges, even though two-year colleges educate nearly four times as many students.

Those charter school donors are often characterized as wanting to help “reform” public education, to provide students raised in poverty with a means of getting a better education so they can get a better life. But there is much evidence that their real intention is to privatize the operation of a public enterprise that is viewed as a potential cash cow— a sector ripe for profiteering.

There was a time, not so long ago, that students who could not afford to go away to college could enroll in a nearby community college and work part time to earn enough money to complete four years of college with no debt. There was a time, not so long ago, when public schools were viewed as essential linchpins of the urban neighborhoods and small towns across the country. There was a time, not so long ago, when public schools held occasional bake sales to raise money to give teachers extra supplies instead of perpetually raising money to fund additional staff members. That time still exists in many school districts across this country: the ones that serve affluent communities. Elite public schools in elite communities have a tax base that perpetuates their standing. Their high school graduates seldom attend community colleges because their high school has provided them with a robust course of studies, with ample academic support if they struggle in school, and guidance services to help them find a school that matches their skill sets. And most importantly, the graduates of elite high schools have the financial wherewithal to go directly to college. Until those in elite communities are willing to pay higher taxes so that children raised in poverty have the same opportunities we will continue to have the economic divide in place today… and donating to for-profit charter schools is no substitute for supporting the broad-based funding of public education.

High Speed Internet for ALL… Not Just Schools

November 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chairman, announced his intention today to advocate a small surcharge to phone bills to help increase the funding for broadband in public schools. In the NYTimes article on Wheeler’s recommendation, tech writer Edward Wyatt reports that one of the goals is to address inequities in the availability of online services for schools:

Greater spending for Wi-Fi and fiber-optic lines is needed, F.C.C. officials said, because schools serving more than 40 million students say they do not have broadband connections that are fast enough to take advantage of the most robust digital learning features.

Imbalances in infrastructure affect some schools far more than others, however. Seven in 10 rural districts say none of their schools can meet high-speed Internet connectivity targets today. Schools in affluent areas are three times more likely to meet speed targets as those in low-income areas, the F.C.C. says.

As I’ve written frequently in this blog, having schools connected to high speed internet is a necessary but insufficient step: each and every household needs to be connected to broadband so that each and every student and teacher has “…broadband connections that are fast enough to take advantage of the most robust digital learning features”. I daresay that students in affluent households are MORE than three times likely to have broadband than children raised in poverty and it is also highly probable that teachers do not have access to broadband at home.

Education policy makers and politicians need to understand that  we will never be able to completely transform our current factory model of learning until we make high speed internet as readily available as electricity and water. Everyone agrees we are living in an Information Age and yet we continue to deny the stream of information to millions of people in our country and wonder why we are “falling behind” in the global economy. Increasing spending on broadband is a good first step. Making broadband a utility and spending money to make it available to all is an essential next step.

PA Joins the State Lawsuit Parade

November 15, 2014 Leave a comment

When I was researching for the series of posts I wrote outlining a recommended platform for President, I determined that all but five states in the union had at one time been entangled in a lawsuit based on inequities in school funding. Earlier this week, six school districts, seven parents, and two statewide organizations filed a lawsuit against the State to change it’s funding formulas. As reported in Common Dreams post by Deirdre Fulton, the complaint states that:

“…state officials have adopted an irrational and inequitable school financing arrangement that drastically underfunds school districts across the Commonwealth and discriminates against children on the basis of the taxable property and household incomes in their districts.”

Among the districts filing the lawsuit is William Penn District, where I worked as Assistant HS Principal from 1975-78. At that time the school board had a critical mass of parochial school parents whose primary goal was to suppress property taxes based on the logic that they were not receiving any benefit from the schools and should therefore not be required to pay as much. Furthermore, at that time the William Penn District was a recently consolidated district. This meant that the affluent towns in the new district were effectively underwriting the budgets of the less affluent communities, and this redistribution of school funds rubbed some of the taxpayers the wrong way. Those dynamics are at play in PA to this day and are compounded by the rise of the Tea Party wing of the Republican party and the “reform” movement that seeks to convert as many schools as possible into for-profit charters. Any effort to redistribute funds to less affluent districts is characterized by conservative lawmakers as “throwing money at the problem” or, worse yet, kowtowing to teachers unions by giving undeserving and greedy teachers higher salaries and better benefits.

One lengthy quote from Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights underscores the reality that this is NOT a PA problem:

Pennsylvania is not alone in denying adequate funding for its students, especially those in high poverty school districts. But this case shows that Pennsylvania is one of the worst offenders in the nation. The disparity in education resources has created an educational caste system that the Commonwealth must eliminate. We will continue to take action to vindicate the state constitutional rights of all students to an education that prepares them for citizenship and the workforce. We also call on the U.S. Department of Education to investigate Pennsylvania for the glaring inequity in essential education resources in schools serving poor and minority school children and to take decisive corrective action on the findings.

As noted above and in my earlier post on a proposed education platform for 2016, those seeking changes to funding in the courts have often prevailed but legislatures have not responded to the court orders in a timely fashion. In NH, for example, two lawsuits have mandated changes in State funding and to date only marginal changes have occurred and they are insufficient. Given this reality, I offered this idea as a plank to the 2016 presidential race:

  • Redirect all Federal funds to constitutionally underfunded districts: Over the past several decades all but five states have been sued over inequities in school funding. At the same time federal funds have been allocated to every district in the country, even the most affluent. If elected I will take steps to see that in states where legislatures have not responded to court decisions calling for changes to the funding systems, all federal funds, including funds for handicapped children in affluent districts, will be redirected to those districts that state courts identify as being short-changed. If State legislatures fail to provide every child with an equal opportunity, the federal government has a responsibility to do so.

I believe the federal government SHOULD intercede meaningfully when the state fails to provide equitable funding and one way they could do so is to redistribute ALL their funds to those districts who sue for equity but fail to receive the relief the courts provided. Doing so would shine a bright light on this issue and compel voters to get their legislators to take action so that federal funds could be restored. If there is are no consequences to the state legislature for ignoring court orders the districts serving children in poverty will continue to get short-changed.