Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Broadband’s Potential as Equalizing Force Could Expand Thanks to FCC

May 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Several months ago the FCC was wavering over whether internet access was a utility. Today’s NYTimes  reports that Tom Wheeler, the FCC Chair, is advocating in increase in the subsidy for poor people to have access to the internet. Why?

The effort is the F.C.C.’s strongest recognition yet that high-speed Internet access is as essential to economic well-being as good transportation and telephone service. Mr. Wheeler will propose potentially giving recipients a choice of phone service, Internet service or a mix of both, the officials said. He will also suggest new measures to curb fraud, a source of criticism in recent years.

Given how integral internet access is to seeking employment, handling financial matters, and becoming an informed voter, it is hard to imagine why anyone would want to deny an unemployed or underemployed individual from having to choose between essentials like food, clothing and shelter and having access to communications. As for those who worry about “abuse” of welfare funds, my suggestion would be to look at the LIBOR rigging fines to help defray these costs… or the off-shoring of assets to avoid taxation… or the estate tax. There is a lot of fraud that results in massive losses to the federal government but it isn’t because welfare recipients are spending food stamp money on candy and beer. If you want to provide an opportunity for welfare recipients to get a good job, to provide their children with opportunities to supplement their learning at home, and to be informed of various programs and services that will help them improve their quality of life, providing internet access is essential. Bravo to Mr. Wheeler for advocating this needed change of thinking!


“Long Odds in the Game of Life” Could be Shortened with Public Employment

May 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Two NYTimes articles published on two consecutive days underscore the important role the governments play in the economy, particularly in creating and sustaining middle class jobs.

Long Odds in the Game of Life“, today’s NYTimes op ed page essay by restaurant server/UNLV English professor Brittany Bronson, describes the struggles her first generation college freshmen face as they try to earn enough to pay for college while trying to meet the academic demands. She implicitly and explicitly compares their experiences with those of more affluent students who attend elite colleges, and notes that many of the students she teaches will find it challenging to even make a middle class wage when they graduate.

An article in yesterday’s NYTimes explains why this is the case. “Public Sector Jobs Vanish, Hitting Blacks Hard” by Particia Cohen describes the impact budget cuts have had on families in the Miami FL area. Noting that government employment has been a favored route for blacks to reach the middle class, Cohen notes that cutbacks in those jobs has affected blacks more than whites. She also reports that the current trends do not favor the restoration of those jobs:

Even now, with the economy regaining strength, public sector employment has still not bounced back. An incomplete recovery is part of the reason, but a combination of strong anti-government and anti-tax sentiment in some places has kept down public payrolls. At the same time, attempts to curb collective bargaining, like those led by Wisconsin’s governor, Scott Walker, a likely Republican presidential candidate, have weakened public unions.

After reading these two articles in succession it is clear to me that the way out of the woods is to use the trillions of dollars currently in offshore tax shelters to create more public jobs. Doing so would not only restore employment to those laid off during the recession but also create jobs for those first generation college students who want to do community service work. We have the resources to make this happen… Let’s do it.

Can a Millionaire’s Largesse Be Replicated?

May 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Yesterday afternoon’s NYTimes web page featured a heartwarming story about a Florida millionaire who has donated over $11,000,000 to the Tangelo School district outside of Orlando FL, an investment that has turned around the school district. Harris Rosen, a 75-year old hotel owner, provided these funds to Tangelo, which has roughly 900 youngsters under the age of 18, over an extended time period.…. and the results are unarguably impressive:

Nearly all its seniors graduate from high school, and most go on to college on full scholarships Mr. Rosen has financed.

Young children head for kindergarten primed for learning, or already reading, because of the free day care centers and a prekindergarten program Mr. Rosen provides. Property values have climbed. Houses and lawns, with few exceptions, are welcoming. Crime has plummeted.

This past year, Tangelo schools and child care centers received $500,000, funds that were used to man day care centers and provide scholarships for the 25 students who graduated from high school. But is the project replicable? The bold face, italicized, and underlined words answer the question:

…Tangelo is perhaps hard to mimic… The community is small – with only 3,000 people – and filled with homeowners, a compactness that is unusual for an urban area. Tangelo has organized leaders who were fighting the drug trade even before Mr. Rosen’s arrival. And it has had Mr. Rosen’s focus and financing over 21 years.

“It’s not inexpensive,” Mr. Rosen said. “You stay until the neighborhood needs you.”

But, he added, there are a lot of wealthy people with the resources to do the same thing if they choose.

The factors that made a difference in Tangelo are money and commitment.

How much money?

The $500,000 Rosen donated to Tangelo this year works out to $555/child under 18 years old, an amount that would require 0ver $600,000,000 per year to fund NYC schools and over $17,000,000,00 per year to support every child receiving free or reduced lunch.

How much commitment?

A longer time commitment than we’ve allowed for schools to show improvement in ANY state in the country! I doubt that there is a Governor in the nation would seek millions of dollars this year to realize a payback 21 years from now… and there are even fewer shareholders who would be willing to wait that long for a payback. And do I do NOT think those with pockets deep enough to provide the funding Rosen offered will choose to do so and I doubt that any politician will seek to raise taxes from those individuals to direct funds for community based schooling.

And a deeper community commitment than we’ve expected in years past. The newspaper only mentions the community leadership in the one sentence extracted above… but I know from experience that without that level of commitment making any school improvements is a daunting challenge.

The story underscores the preposterousness of those who believe there is a fast, cheap and school-centered way to “fix” public education. Money, patience, and commitment are the only way to make the kind of changes Tangelo experienced… but I imagine we’ll be reading about the “Tangelo Miracle” and that some Presidential candidate visiting FL will make sure they get their picture taken with Mr. Rosen as evidence that voluntary philanthropy will give students the hope they need to succeed.

The Productivity Paradox: Why Hasn’t the Expansion of Technology Improved the Quality of Life?

May 25, 2015 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman’s column in today’s NYTimes, “The Big Meh“, revisits paradoxical questions that emerged from the expansion of technology in the late 1970s:

…the era of the “productivity paradox,” a two-decade-long period during which technology seemed to be advancing rapidly — personal computing, cellphones, local area networks and the early stages of the Internet — yet economic growth was sluggish and incomes stagnant.

Krugman offers some thoughts as to why productivity never materialized and intimates that technology may be oversold as a means of improving the quality of life for most people. He concludes his piece confessing that he is at a loss to explain why technology hasn’t changed our quality of life for the better:

So what do I think is going on with technology? The answer is that I don’t know — but neither does anyone else. Maybe my friends at Google are right, and Big Data will soon transform everything. Maybe 3-D printing will bring the information revolution into the material world. Or maybe we’re on track for another big meh.

Craig Lambert’s Politico article, “The Second Job You Didn’t Know You Had“, answers part of the question. Lambert’s article suggests that DIY tasks taken on by consumers have eliminated the bottom rung of the employment ladder and thereby eliminated opportunities for many non-college educated workers to enter the job market. Shareholders and CEOs who want to cut costs love this because ATMs and self-service scanners don’t join unions, never take sick leave, and make fewer mistakes than those pesky employees…. and the elimination of these lower rung jobs has created an oversupply of workers for middle tier job suppressing those wages. At the same time the cost of benefits drives employers to find more and more ways to limit wages and jobs creating a vicious circle that diminishes opportunities for employment. Indeed, computer technology is now replacing or facilitating the outsourcing of high-end analytic jobs like x-ray technicians, para-legal reviewers, and—yes— even teaching!

Robert Shiller, Yale economic professor, offers some insights into how teaching can avoid becoming obsolete in his Sunday NYTimes Upshot article “What to Learn in College to Stay One Step Ahead of Computers”:

Two strains of thought seem to dominate the effort to deal with (the) problem (of computers and robots replacing humans) . The first is that we teachers should define and provide to our students a certain kind of general, flexible, insight-bearing human learning that, we hope, cannot be replaced by computers. The second is that we need to make education more business-oriented, teaching about the real world and enabling a creative entrepreneurial process that, presumably, computers cannot duplicate. These two ideas are not necessarily in conflict.

Shiller cites a study completed in the early 2000s by Richard J. Murnane and Frank Levy that concluded people with “...complex communication skills and expert knowledge” would fare well in future economies. This leads Shiller to conclude that changes are needed at the college and universities in our country:

…the study certainly suggests that a college education needs to be broad and general, and not defined primarily by the traditional structure of separate departments staffed by professors who want, most of all, to be at the forefront of their own narrow disciplines. But this old departmental structure is still fundamental at universities, and it is hard to change.

Shiller offers one workaround to the ossified and seemingly unchangeable departmental structure: preparing students for “entrepreneurial opportunities” suggested by each department’s disciplines… and Shiller describes how he has done this in economics course where he strives to “…connect mathematical theory to actual applications in finance.” But Shiller’s teaching practice keeps him one step ahead of computers; he now provides his lectures on-line and uses his time to modify the content of the class to match current changes in the economy and works with his students to guide them in a way a robot cannot:

Since its beginnings, the course has gradually become more robotic: It resembles a real, dynamic, teaching experience, but in execution, much of it is prerecorded, and exercises and examinations are computerized. Students can take it without need of my physical presence. Yale made my course available to the broader public on free online sites: AllLearn in 2002, Open Yale in 2008 and 2011, and now on Coursera.

The process of tweaking and improving the course to fit better in a digital framework has given me time to reflect about what I am doing for my students. I could just retire now and let them watch my lectures and use the rest of the digitized material. But I find myself thinking that I should be doing something more for them.

So I continue to update the course, thinking about how I can integrate its lessons into an “art of living in the world.” I have tried to enhance my students’ sense that finance should be the art of financing important human activities, of getting people (and robots someday) working together to accomplish things that we really want done.

On-line learning will never mitigate the need for human interaction… but Shiller suggests it will change the way teachers interact with students and the way schools will ultimately be organized. From my perspective, the sooner we integrate technology into the learning process the sooner we will see productivity gains… but integrating computer technology in schools will require the abandonment of age-based cohort grouping in factor of individualization… and the abandonment of that organizational structure will be at least as difficult as the abandonment of the departmental structure at colleges.

VIDEO: How to Reinvent Education to Save the Economy (from @Truthdig)

May 24, 2015 Leave a comment

VIDEO: How to Reinvent Education to Save the Economy (from @Truthdig).

Robert Reich gets it ALMOST 100% right: we also need to abandon the practice of age-based grouping and adopt competency based learning. With that additional step we can reinvent education.

What Do Colleges Need to Know of Applicants?

May 24, 2015 Leave a comment

An editorial in today’s NYTimes poses this question in an essay titled “What College Applications Shouldn’t Ask”, and they respond that any questions about a student’s discipline record should be disallowed and they make a compelling argument for their case. Here’s the arguments against seeking information on this:

  •  …“zero tolerance” policies make it more likely that children will drop out, and they are especially damaging to minority students, who are disproportionately subjected to suspension, expulsion or even arrest for nonviolent offenses.”
  • Discipline policies are inconsistent from state-to-state, district-to-district and school-to-school
  • Infractions that occur in the early years of high school, before a student matures, could make the difference between acceptance and rejection, which is “…unfair on its face
  • Not all schools provide this data for colleges, making it unfair to students whose schools DO provide that information
  • Colleges have “haphazard” procedures for using the disciplinary data

The editorial concludes with this paragraph:

Given the inherent unfairness of this system, school districts should adopt a policy of withholding disciplinary information, and colleges should refrain from using any such information in admissions decisions.

But here are some questions the NYTimes and, by extension, colleges need to think through:

  • Criminal records in general: Are criminal records important to admissions officers? As we’ve read of late, there is a difference in how police define “criminal behavior” in some jurisdictions than others… and the tendency is for police in affluent communities to allow a child whose car reeks of marijuana off with a warning while police in less affluent areas will use the odor to search the car and book the student.
  • Specific criminal actions: The editorial asserts that “Disciplinary data is junk information that can hurt students while doing nothing to meaningfully distinguish them from other applicants.” But we also know that some crimes are worse than others. Is a male student who was suspended for assaulting a female someone a college would welcome on campus? Is a student who stole tests from a teacher’s locked filing cabinet someone a college would want on campus? Is a student who vandalized a teacher’s car in retribution for a bad grade a good prospect? Is a student who sold drugs a good prospect for campus? There may be some disciplinary offenses that should be shared so that colleges are making informed decisions about admissions.
  • Internet data: In this day-and-age of willful “sharing” how should colleges deal with students who post compromising and/or self-incriminating pictures on social media? Who post racist or sexist slogans? In an era where local newspapers post arrest information are colleges expected to glean information on incoming students to ensure that they are excluding students who engaged in predatory behavior? For example, if a local newspaper reported that a member of a high school football team engaged in hazing activities should that student be denied admission?

I’ve been a high school administrator and disciplinarian and would tend to side with the initial thinking put forth in the Times editorial… but I’ve also been a Superintendent charged with hiring individuals who will be working with children and in that capacity have dealt with the questions posed above. Applications typically ask candidates to disclose criminal records and many do list offenses like those listed above. In many cases I was asked whether I should automatically disqualify someone from coaching or substitute teaching if they smoked marijuana 25 years ago and got caught? Would I automatically disqualify someone from a night custodial position because they served prison time a decade ago for an assault when they were addicted and impulsive? And near the end of my career Principals and I wrestled with questions about postings on the internet that showed athletes drinking or smoking or boasting of those activities as well as postings that bullied and intimidated other students.

In today’s world where criminalization is situational, where information is widely shared, and where tolerance and second chances are often beneficial to those who are on the lower end of the economic ladder it is increasingly difficult to make hard and fast determinations on admissions to colleges or opportunities to work. What do colleges need to know about applicants? I hunk the answer is: “As much as they can find out so that they can make a fully informed decision.”


Subsidizing Parochial Parents with Public School Funds

May 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Mario Cuomo’s latest stunt involving the use of public funds to subsidize private schools was so blatantly unfair that even the NYTimes editors were appalled! In “A Costly Tax Break for Nonpublic Schools” the Times editorial board saw the effect of Cuomo’s policies. The first paragraph offers a summary of the bill, that would:

…help private and parochial schools, by offering big tax credits to their donors. This… expensive and possibly unconstitutional bill that Mr. Cuomo has named the Parental Choice in Education Act could cost the state more than $150 million a year. That money should be used to help almost 2.7 million public school students in the state, not given to wealthy donors subsidizing mainly private or religious schools.

The editorial goes on to describe who would benefit from the passage of this bill:

The $150 million pool includes millions of dollars in tax credits for donations that could provide scholarships to private or parochial students from families with incomes of up to $300,000 a year, which hardly targets the neediest students.

So while Cuomo is slashing spending on public education he has devised a bill that would effectively provide tax breaks to upper middle class parents who have already enrolled their children in private schools… and called the bill the “Parental Choice in Education Act” to make it sound as if children raised in poverty will have a choice in attending a different school.

In a concluding paragraph the Times editors appear to be onto Cuomo’s ultimate game:

With this misguided bill, Mr. Cuomo may have found plenty of support from religious leaders and private school donors. But his efforts seems jarring, given his record of seeking more accountability in schools. The state has little say in private and parochial schools over testing, the teaching of basic subjects or other data collection required for assessing a good education.

The Times editors have bought into the notion that giving children raised in poverty the opportunity to attend deregulated for-profit charter schools is the best way to address the problem of “failing public schools”. At the same time the editors have overlooked the fact that these schools primarily benefit the shareholders of the schools and that the State has little say in their operations. MAYBE by looking at Cuomo’s motives in securing passage for this bill they will see that Cuomo’s ultimate goal is to monetize a government service that was designed to promote equal opportunity for all children no matter where they were born.