Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

“Flexible Scheduling” Undermines Parent Engagement, Stymies Social Mobility

March 31, 2015 Leave a comment

When I was an undergraduate trying to make every dollar I could to pay my tuition and cover my living costs I worked part time as a cashier in a grocery store chain and in the stockroom of a retail chain. In both of these jobs I was given my schedule a week in advance. Both employers worked around my class schedule and, in part because I was a reliable employee and, in the case of the grocery store, because of the union, I was able to trade hours with other employees to get time off for family events. While I appreciated the relative flexibility of the employers, I was relieved when my earnings as a newly hired teacher combined with my wires earnings meant I could stop working part time.

Today’s part-time employees live in a different world— one where flexibility works for the employer and one where unions have no say whatsoever in the wages and working conditions of employees. As Michele Chen reported in a recent article in Nation, 

Many retail workers are stuck in a segment of the labor force known as “involuntary part-time”: those forced to work fewer than thirty-five hours a week and who would generally otherwise work full-time, but can’t, due to a lack of available jobs.

And these involuntary part-time workers face horrific scheduling for their work. Using scheduling algorithms that optimize the wages paid to employees, corporations employing large numbers of part-time employees– like Walmart, Starbuck, and any number of fast food and retail franchisers– require part-timers to be on call 24/7. The result?

The consequence is not just impoverishment but deepening long-term instability in workers’ family lives and crushing personal stressAs Esther Kaplan points out, low-wage workers face intense pressure to adhere to unstable schedules and to ramp up speed and productivity at the same time—no time to schedule daycare, but always on-call to take a last-minute night-shift.

This plays out in schools in having fewer parents available for scheduled parent conferences, more parents scrambling at the last minute to send their children off to school with proper attire and completed homework assignments, and lots of stress in the homes of children whose parents are often working more than one of these involuntary part-time jobs to make ends meet.

Walmart and Starbucks received lots of relatively favorable coverage when they unilaterally decided to raise wages, but, as Chen notes, more is needed:

An extra dollar-an-hour for impoverished Walmart associates helps, but they want good jobs, equitable schedules and real control over their labor, not just higher wages. Countless workers are still forced to take whatever they can get—which is often simply whatever the boss is willing to give them.

Shareholders want profits which means they want to impose flexible hours on employees more than they want to empower employees to arrange flexible work hours among themselves and to have the flexibility to schedule doctors appointments for their children… let alone volunteer in their child’s school or coach their child’s little league team. Those making decisions about which scheduling algorithm is the most cost effective for the company need to look at what algorithms are most effective for the well being of their employees and see that the two are, in some cases, mutually exclusive. If we want strong communities and a stable work force, increasing the minimum wage only gets us part way there.

This Just In: Takeovers Don’t Pan Out!

March 21, 2015 Leave a comment

In the latest item to add to the “failed assumptions of reform” file, add this report from Detroit where Detroit News op ed writer Nolan Finley laments the failure of three “emergency managers” to rectify the financial problems with Detroit’s school system and the likely failures of the fourth one, Darnell Early, who has just taken over. But here’s the kicker: Finley mentions in passing that Governor Snyder has a plan for fixing the schools… and it’s one that will work very well from the Koch Brothers standpoint:

There’s talk of placing all schools, traditional and charter, under a new education czar, who may or may not be (Detroit) Mayor Mike Duggan. Where that leaves Earley and his plan, who knows?

Well I’ve got a wild guess as to where it leaves Darnell Early: on the outside looking in! And where does it leave Detroit school children? The same place. And where does it leave the privatizers who are likely the ones who are promoting the “talk of placing all schools, traditional and charter, under a new education czar”… laughing all the way to the bank. Welcome to the 21st century version of for-profit public schools.

Frank Bruni Lives in a College Prep Bubble

March 13, 2015 Leave a comment

I just received a copy of Frank Bruni’s Sunday essay titled “How To Survive College Admissions Madness”. The essay describes several anecdotes of college bound students who fail to gain acceptance to top tier colleges and succeed nevertheless. But the essay fails to acknowledge the reality that only 40% of ALL children between the ages of 18 and 24 attend college: that is a majority of students are NOT on the college track even though a majority of high school graduates DO attend college. Bruni writes:

“…a majority (of American families) are focused on making sure that their kids simply attend a decent college — any decent college — and on finding a way to help them pay for it.”

To which I responded:

Sorry to burst your bubble and the bubble of many readers, but roughly 60% of 18 to 24 year olds are NOT in college… which is a reflection of another reality: many parents disengage from their child’s school experience and, thus, are NOT focused on getting their youngster through HS let alone into HS. Engaged students come from the homes of engaged parents… and if we are really serious about improving education in our country we need to find ways to keep parents engaged in the lives of their children. To do so we might need to pay all parents a decent wage, give them and their children medical care, schedule their work at predictable hours, make sure they get sick leave if their child is ill, and schedule teacher conferences at a time that is convenient for them.

Frank Bruni is a true believer in the “school reform” meme— his article includes the story of a 26 year old who didn’t get into the college of her choice, joined TFA, and now, at the age of 26, is leading her own charter school. He, like many who have not witnessed the dispiriting nature of poverty, believes ALL parents think like his parents and the parents of his college attending friends. If that were the case we would not have struggling students or disparate earnings. Until those in the “reform movement recognize that poverty is an obstacle that must be overcome and not “an excuse” for the struggles many children have in school we will never get at the root of the problems in education.

Painful Lessons Lead to Moynihan’s Rehabilitation

March 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Nick Kristoff’s NYTimes column, “When Liberals Blew It“, marks the nearly complete rehabilitation of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sub-Cabinet member of the Johnson administration who later became a member of Nixon’s cabinet and ultimately was a three term senator in New York. Moynihan was a persona non grata to the liberal wing of the Democrat party in the 60s based on a report he wrote describing the adverse impact of both slavery and single parent households on the upbringing of young blacks. At the time he issued his report, he was excoriated by many on the left and many black activists for their perception he was “blaming the victim” for their station in life. Kristof selected one quote that captured the antipathy Moynihan generated at the time:

“My major criticism of the report is that it assumes that middle-class American values are the correct values for everyone in America,” protested Floyd McKissick, then a prominent African-American civil rights leader.

When I was a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania in the early 1970s I wrote a report advocating early intervention for children being raised in poverty, recommending more funds for structured preschool education programs like the ones in Ann Arbor Michigan. Many of my classmates at the time echoed McKissick’s criticism, and others, who privately agreed with my proposals later, were quiet— as were other moderate liberals at the time.

The government’s role in mitigating against family dysfunction is not easy to define. We tend to favor keeping children with biological parents for as long as possible even if those parents have limited resources and/or limited parenting skills. We tend to impose economic penalties on wives who want to move out of abusive relationships even though remaining in those relationships exposes their children to violent and aggressive behavior. And, as Kristof notes, we tend to imprison the fathers of too many children reinforcing the vicious cycle of crime and poverty in impoverished neighborhoods. Here’s Kristoff’s analysis of the conservatives’ fundamental error in the fight against poverty:

Conservatives shouldn’t chortle at the evidence that liberals blew it, for they did as well. Conservatives say all the right things about honoring families, but they led the disastrous American experiment in mass incarceration; incarceration rates have quintupled since the 1970s. That devastated families, leading countless boys to grow up without dads.

The conservative’s belief that “government is the problem” also damaged any hope of meaningful early childhood intervention and their ongoing objections to “government schools” makes any expansion of preschool to help needy children highly unlikely. And many of today’s liberals, like their predecessors, are likely to push back at any effort to have the government impose “middle class American values”, especially if those “middle class American values” involved funding any religious organizations or advocating mindless consumption.

One thing IS clear: continuing what we’ve done for the past 50 years will get us nowhere… and one thing we HAVEN’T been doing is spending too much money on this issue. My thought: if we want to break the cycle of dysfunction that has existed for decades and is getting worse, we need to be willing to spend more on early intervention and one unarguable need is access to medical and mental health services for all children, not just those fortunate to have been born in the right zip code. Maybe a latter day Moynihan will emerge— perhaps someone like Robert Putnam— and call for something along these lines so that we can move the debate away from moral issues related to single parent households and toward ameliorating the physical and psychological pain their children struggle with on a daily basis.

Vermont’s Personalized Learning Plans COULD be the New Reality… IF…

March 11, 2015 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch devoted a blog post yesterday to an ongoing debate involving the Rivendell school district just north of where I live and the Vermont Agency of Education (AoE). The Principal of Rivendell Academy, Keri Gelenian, wrote a letter to Rebecca Holcombe, the State Commissioner of Education. Full disclosure: Rebecca Holcombe was a parent in the district I led for seven years and I have some awareness of Vermont’s school districts having consulted in several of them… so I am not an innocent bystander to the balancing act Rebecca Holcombe faces nor am I impartial: I have a deep respect for her ideas about education and her principles.

I also have respect and admiration for the Vermont legislature. Unlike many states that have passed boilerplate ALEC legislation, the Vermont legislature crafts their education bills carefully. They create study committees that include educators and convene hearings that influence the ultimate passage of the laws. Once laws are passed, the State Board, the governing board of the agency responsible for developing regulations, also convenes hearings and seeks input form all those who would be affected. This is the way democracy is supposed to work, which is why it is maddening to read about states like Wisconsin, Florida, Texas and New York who’s governors unilaterally impose “reform” without seeking input from studies involving practitioners.

One of the laws passed during Dr. Holcombe’s tenure as Commissioner is Act 77 which required the implementation of Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs). As described on the Vermont AoE webpage, PLPs will “… help students achieve academic success, be prepared for post-secondary opportunities, and engage actively in civic life.”  By law, all Vermont schools

…will need to ensure that they have designed a PLP process for implementation beginning in the fall of 2015. Schools will be expected to initiate a process for students to identify their goals, learning styles, and abilities and align this with the school’s academic expectations and student’s pathway toward graduation.

If you were the parent of a student attending a middle or high school,

  • Would you rather have one-size-fits-all-standardized tests as the basis for measuring your child’s progress or an individualized learning plan that matches their unique abilities with the academic program offered at the school?
  • Would you rather have the teachers and counselors at the school your child attends give you feedback on your child’s progress or have a print-out from a corporate testing company give you the results?
  • Would you rather have the teachers assess your child’s performance on academic goals YOU set or have a corporate testing company assess your child’s performance on academic goals set by a team of “national leaders”?

As Buckminster Fuller wrote: “The best way to change the current reality is to create a new reality that makes the old one obsolete.” PLPs are a new reality that should make the old reality of standardization obsolete… but the old reality cannot change until the federal government gets out of the way! With all of this as context, here is the comment I left on Diane Ravitch’s blog:

Keep Rebecca Holcombe on your heroes list… as her exchange with Arne Duncan indicates, she is resolute on this issue but needs to tread carefully because of the budget impact to the entire state IF the federal government decided to “make an example” of VT. Under her leadership VT has done a good job in keeping their perspective on the test results.

Instead of protesting the AoE for carrying out the SBAC because of the political realities, I would encourage VT educators to get behind the full and complete implementation of the Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) developed by the AoE. The PLPs are a better means of measuring student performance than standardized tests. They compel students and parents to plan for the future and they use the insights of teachers and counselors instead of the cold numbers generated by tests. As Buckminster Fuller wrote: “The best way to change the current reality is to create a new reality that makes the old one obsolete.” PLPs are a new reality that should make the old reality of standardization obsolete… but it will only happen if the federal government gets out of the way!


The Meta-Messages of Conservatives and Liberals

March 10, 2015 Leave a comment

“The Cost of Relativism”, David Brooks column in today’s NYTimes, provides an overview of a book by Robert Putnam that describes the widening gap between children raised by high school educated parents as compared to those raised by college educated parents. In keeping with my reaction to previous Brooks columns, I find that he lays out a compelling argument for government intervention but ultimately backs away from that idea because it is in direct conflict with his deeply held convictions about free market capitalism. Here’s an example of the Putnam’s findings that Brooks highlights:

Roughly 10 percent of the children born to college grads grow up in single-parent households. Nearly 70 percent of children born to high school grads do. There are a bunch of charts that look like open scissors. In the 1960s or 1970s, college-educated and noncollege-educated families behaved roughly the same. But since then, behavior patterns have ever more sharply diverged. High-school-educated parents dine with their children less than college-educated parents, read to them less, talk to them less, take them to church less, encourage them less and spend less time engaging in developmental activity.

After providing some specific examples drawn from Putnam’s study, he writes:

The first response to these stats and to these profiles should be intense sympathy. We now have multiple generations of people caught in recurring feedback loops of economic stress and family breakdown, often leading to something approaching an anarchy of the intimate life.

After detailing the rending of the moral fiber of our society that led to this situation and offering some high-minded pablum, Brooks comes to this conclusion:

Social norms need repair up and down the scale, universally, together and all at once.

After noting that some readers have been disturbed by the “spiritual and moral direction” his columns have taken of late, he suggests we move in the direction of a “moral revival” whereby we somehow engage in an “…organic communal effort, with voices from everywhere saying gently: This we praise. This we don’t.” He doesn’t suggest how we do this… but I do know this, David Brooks would never suggest the government might want to take a leadership role in this effort… and that led me to leave this comment:

David Brooks turn in a “moral direction” puts him in an awkward position politically. If parents are incapable of providing their children with moral guidance who will do it for them? In David Brook’s world it surely would NOT be the government! Indeed, Mr. Brooks analysis overlooks how the conservative’s position that “government is the problem” and “the free market is the solution” has contributed to the acceleration of the social and economic divide Mr. Putnam describes in his study. The meta-message of unregulated free market capitalism is “You’re on your own” and “regulations are bad”… Is it any surprise that when that message trickles down many parents feel free to do their own thing and don’t feel that society’s rules apply to them? And here’s the conundrum for David Brooks: the meta-message of liberalism is “we’re all in this together” and “I AM my brother’s keeper”. JFK’s inaugural address that asked us to look at what WE could contribute to our government was an ideal and standard that could have guided us to a different future. Reagan’s call for us to abandon the government’s guidance led us to where we are today.

I often leave comments on articles that I don’t incorporate in this column because they have more to do with economic, social and moral issues than they have to do with education… but inasmuch as columnists like Brooks typically see poverty as “an excuse” and assume that teachers can miraculously cure the deep seated problems students bring with them into the classroom I believe Putnam’s findings and Brooks’ reaction to them relevant. Until we actively engage the government in supporting parents who want the best for their children and intervening in cases where children are being neglected we will continue to see the divide increase. The meta-message in a democracy needs to be “we’re all in this together” and “I AM my brother’s keeper”.

The NYTimes Editorial Board’s TFA Findings Show They Are Beginning to See The Light

March 10, 2015 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes oped article in the Taking Note series shows that the editorial board MAY be seeing the light in terms of Teach For America…. and makes me hold out some hope that they might take a step back and examine the results of the entire reform movement! After publishing several articles championing TFA, the Times wrote this terse summary of the a study on that organization:

study has found no significant difference in test scores between students taught by Teach for America teachers and those whose teachers weren’t affiliated with the program. The Teach for America teachers in the study also felt worse about their jobs, by several measures, than those who weren’t part of T.F.A.

Now that the Times has examined the facts on TFA it might be time for them to examine the facts on the premise and the results of the “reform” movement. After all, they recently wrote about the ultimately negligible impact Jeb Bush’s test-punish-and-privatize regimen had on FL schools and the similarly negligible impact of NCLB and RTTT on one generation of students. They’ve also published several op-ed essays describing the devastating effects of poverty and violence on children and how this effects their ability to focus on school work. When these findings are examined together with the TFA results, here’s my conclusion:

=> Children raised in affluence score higher on tests than children raised in poverty

=> After an initial bump in performance that results from students learning how to take tests, the scores “stagnate”

=> Spending on schools matters. If it didn’t matter taxpayers in affluent suburbs wouldn’t support it.

=> Poverty isn’t an “excuse”. It’s effects on children are real and long-lasting.

=> Teaching is hard work and those who chose it as a profession are committed to seeing their students succeed

I hope that the Times editors will conclude that Governor Cuomo’s plan to redouble the emphasis on testing while failing to provide equitable school funding is wrongheaded. I also hope the editorial staff will see the flaws in the test-based accountability system and see that its ultimate purpose is the privatization of public schools and NOT success for ALL children.