Over the past several days, several articles cited a the Southern Education Foundation report indicating that more than half of the students in public schools qualify for free and reduced lunches. Yesterday’s Kennebec Journal editorial posted on line in CentralMaine.com had the strongest response to this finding. Titled “Public Schools Must Lead the Fight Against Poverty”, the editorial leads with this paragraph:
In the fight against poverty, public schools are the first line of defense. Teachers, counselors and administrators are in the best position to notice when a student is not getting enough food, doesn’t have the proper clothing or is otherwise experiencing something at home that makes learning difficult, and it is those adults who are in the best position to see that student gets the help he needs so that school is not such a struggle.
The article then enumerates all the ways public schools can intervene and assist students who enter with deficient academic and social skills and pulls no punches when it comes to the solution: more funding will be needed to accomplish all that public schools can and, according to the editors, must achieve if we hope to overcome the effects of poverty.
Midway through the editorial there is a brief paragraph offering an explanation of why the percentage of public school students raised in poverty is increasing:
There are a number of reasons for the increase — a rise in single-parent households and immigration, increased enrollment at private schools by those with means and stagnant wages amid rising costs — but the latest recession is not one of them.
A NYTimes article in today’s newspaper provides a more detailed picture of the economic forces at play and the demographics of the “middle class” today as compared to 15 years ago:
But since 2000, the middle-class share of households has continued to narrow, the main reason being that more people have fallen to the bottom. At the same time, fewer of those in this group fit the traditional image of a married couple with children at home, a gap increasingly filled by the elderly.
The Times article shows that as people of my generation retire with pensions and social security, the percentage of over-65 members of the middle class is increasing. At the same time the unionized manufacturing jobs that offered decent wages and benefits to my generation are disappearing and being replaced by lower paying part-time jobs. The Times articles offers several profiles of middle class wage earners with school aged children who have fallen into the poverty range and while it doesn’t describe the impact on children it is obvious: job losses and wage decreases can only cause stress at home.
The Kennebec Journal editorial concludes with this assessment of what the public needs to do given the presence of so many children being raised in poverty:
The solution is a commitment to public education and all it has to accomplish.
That means not only valuing and rewarding the best educators, but also funding the pre-K and literacy programs that help low-income students get a fair start to school, as well as the preparatory and counseling initiatives that help them apply for and go to college.
That also means supporting the school-based social service programs that feed, clothe and counsel low-income students, and keep them engaged and learning after school and during the summer break.
It’s not easy, and it is certainly not cheap. But it is necessary. Failing to provide an equal education to low-income students is unfair when they make up a third of all students. When they make up more than half of all students, it’s a potential disaster.
To which I can only say: “Amen”.
In a study that was cited in many articles over the past few days, economists C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker Johnson and Claudia Persico report that spending more for schools makes a difference… especially in schools service children raised in poverty. Specifically, their study shows that “a 10 percent increase in spending, on average, leads children to complete 0.27 more years of school, to make wages that are 7.25 percent higher and to have a substantially reduced chance of falling into poverty.” And wait… there’s more!
- An educated work force earns more and spends more, increasing the strength of the overall economy.
- An educated electorate is more civil and forward thinking making discourse more rational and decision making more sound.
- Educated citizens commit fewer crimes thereby reducing social costs.
- An evenly educated workforce would have less inequality, making it increasingly easy and less expensive to educate children in the future.
But there IS one hitch, as BloombergView blogger Noah Smith notes:
The (study) finds that the benefits of increased spending are much stronger for poor kids than for wealthier ones. So if you, like me, are in the upper portion of the U.S. income distribution, you may be reading this and thinking: “Why should I be paying more for some poor kid to be educated?” After all, why should one person pay the cost while another reaps the benefits?
While I wish Smith’s questions were rhetorical and irrelevant, they are, sadly, direct and practical. Maybe in our country where we still believe a good education is important in order to achieve a good life we might convince voters that providing more money to schools serving children who are raised in poverty is the right thing to do because it provides every child with an opportunity to succeed.
International Business Times reporter David Sirota posted a story on January 23 about a speech given at Davos by Blackstone CEO Stephen Schwarzman, a report that seemed so far fetched that I needed to make certain it was not from a satirical source. Schwarzman, “who was once rumored to have likened tax increases to Hitler invading Poland”, suggested that public education was not lacking resources. Why?
“In the Catholic schools they spend much less money than the public schools, and they get amazing results. Private schools spend much more money than the public schools and they get remarkable results. So as an analyst, this can’t be just about money because you keep having great outcomes regardless of that. And so I would suggest that there are a lot of ways to be successful in education. It’s usually good to have more resources of all types, but you can make due with a lot less and have great outcomes in large scale.”
And how would Schwarzman suggest schools provide more services to children? With volunteer retirees who will work for free and unemployed who will work for “next to nothing”…. oh and “technology and other types of things“. Really!
“I’ve always wondered, what you do in a society with people who just retire. If you could get those people, like a board, [to be an] unpaid workforce, pay them next to nothing or nothing, and have them go into the school system to be mentors to kids, and be an example of a certain type of success that you would get dramatically different outcomes. If you can get unemployed people that cost nothing, that can have this dramatic difference, that costs nothing. I love things that cost nothing that have great results. Imagine if you laid on technology and other types of things, you could really set the world on fire with this type of stuff.”
This from a CEO who has also defended the outrageous salaries paid to financial analysts because those sums are needed to attract and retain talent.
This from a CEO who touted Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s efforts to let religious groups run unpaid student mentorship programs in public schools.
This from a CEO who has 1/3 of his investment pool comprised of money from public pension plans — that is, the retirement money of government employees like public school teachers.
To paraphrase one of the commenters to this post, if this is what billionaires are saying publicly, imagine what they are saying when the doors are closed!
Wednesday’s NYTimes reported on a reorganization of the NYC central office administration, eliminating the network organizational structure put in place during the Bloomberg administration and replacing it with a more traditional regional hierarchical model. As the article notes, changes like this are often invisible to parents and teachers. But in this instance, the change is likely a signal that the privatization trend in NYC may be coming to an end. Here’s why:
Thomas Edsall’s op ed column today, “Can Capitalists Save Capitalism“, describes “inclusive capitalism”, an emerging economic theory Democrats are purportedly embracing in response to their defeat in the mid-terms. The basic premise of this economic theory is the same as Henry Ford espoused when he decided to pay his employees a large enough wage for them to buy his product: the Model T Ford. After reading the article, I left the following comment:
President Obama and all elected officials who advocate “inclusive capitalism” have the opportunity to put it into place by treating public employees differently than employees are being treated in the private sector. If the Democrats want to embrace inclusive capitalism they could do so by denouncing the de-regulation and privatization of public schools, which “broadly undermines the wages and working conditions” of those working in schools. The replacement of career-minded unionized employees with at-will teaching staff and contracted services in lieu of ancillary staff results in more job insecurity, lower wages, and, consequently, a hollowing of the middle class. The privatizers of public education”…function much less effectively as providers of large-scale opportunity” because “…their dominant focus has been on maximization of share prices and the compensation of their top employees.” Privatization of public services is a rejection of inclusive capitalism and an embrace of the winner-take-all mentality that the “winners” want to see kept in place.
The “reformers” want to run schools like a business… but the way businesses operate is to limit the number of wages, hours, and/or number of employees… and that, in turn, hollows out the number of employees who earn middle class wages. Maybe instead of schools running like businesses, businesses might want to run like schools.
The Washington Post’s Wonkblog‘s headline says it all:
When public schools get more money,
students do better
Wonkblogger Max Ehrenfreund, citing a recently completed study by Kirabo Jackson and Claudia Persico of Northwestern University and Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley, reports that students in districts where courts ruled that more spending was mandated earned more and were more successful in school than students in similar districts where spending increases did not occur. Ehrenfreund’c conclusion:
The group found that the increased funding had the greatest effect if it was used to raise teachers’ salaries, reduce class sizes or lengthen the school year. That conclusion accords with other research finding that better teachers can have profound effects on how much students learn, since the schools with the smallest classes and the highest salaries can attract the most talented instructors.
Here’s MORE definitive evidence that “schools with the smallest classes and the highest salaries can attract the most talented instructors”. All you folks claiming to favor “evidence based approaches” should take note: small classes + high wages = good teachers. It’s easy and obvious. Let’s stop blaming underfunded schools for their deficiencies and start supporting them at the same level as we support our best public schools.
The title of David Brooks’ column in today’s NYTimes got my attention: “Support Our Students”. Unfortunately, Brooks was writing about the wrong set of students. Instead of writing about the support children raised in poverty require Brooks used his column to criticize President Obama’s proposal to provide free community college to all students. From my perspective both Brooks and the president miss the mark, as my comment indicates:
You could solve a lot of these problems by investing more in public schools. Providing “living expenses” for community college students while cutting SNAP makes no sense. Providing funds for more counselors at the community college while retaining unacceptably high student-to-counselor ratios at high schools makes no sense. Providing funds for remedial education in community college while spending billions on bubble tests makes no sense. Providing child care costs for community college students while cutting back on “welfare” for parents of school-aged children makes no sense. What DOES make sense is providing more money to “strengthen the structures” around Pre-K through grade 12. Unfortunately the people who would benefit most from this spending– the children in those grade levels– are not eligible to vote. Even more unfortunate is the fact that their parents are not major campaign contributors so their voices are not heard.
One more point that neither Brooks or the President are making: the impact of student loans. Because student loans can be used to defray living expenses, many college aged youngsters use the loans to cover their non-tuition costs and if they fail to graduate find themselves struggling to pay off those loans. Reforming the student loan industry should be a part of any legislation that expands the enrollments in community colleges.
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