Recently elected Newark Mayor Ras Baraka’s op ed column in yesterday’s NYTimes is a case study of why State takeovers of urban districts have failed… but Baraka downplays major reason for the State’s failure, which is inadequate funding. Instead, Baraka emphasizes the loss of local control as being the primary reason for Newark’s persistent failure. While I agree that the loss of local control is detrimental and the restoration of an elected Board is necessary, it will be insufficient without a corresponding increase in State funding…. and if I were Baraka I’d be looking for a substantial increase in the range of well over a billion in capital spending a millions in annual spending.
In the column Baraka recounts the history of the State’s takeover, which he insinuates was linked to a 1994 NJ Supreme Court ruling on inequitable funding in the State. He recounts the endless cycle of experimental programs that were abandoned if they failed to achieve breakthrough success levels. He also recounts the way a recent $100,000,000 grant from Facebook magnate Mark Zuckerberg was wasted on a merit pay program and the current mismanagement of the schools by State appointed Superintendent Cami Anderson.
One citation in Baraka’s essay jumped out at me: Over the years, the court-ordered remedies for Newark’s schools were eroded or ignored. A $6 billion schools construction program never materialized. He wrote these two sentences near the beginning and never returned to this fact later…. and this is the kind of promise that was the underpinning of most state takeovers. One of the rationales for State takeovers of urban districts was that the local boards were corrupt and that in their effort to provide patronage jobs and construction contracts to cronies the locally elected boards ignored the needs of children. As part of their takeovers the States promised new schools, more funding, and better programs for children. Instead, urban school systems served as de facto patronage for hedge-funders seeking profits for new schools and the facilities were closed or sold to developers seeking to gentrify neighborhoods. The patronage shifted from the cities to the States and while children didn’t benefit from the changing of the guard the state political leaders did.
While I DO believe restoring local control is imperative… I think it is more important that STATE money be provided to upgrade the facilities in Newark (and as noted in an earlier post Zuckerberg’s $100 million won’t come close to helping) and to increase the operating budget so proven programs like those Baraka advocates can be funded. Without more funding Newark schools– and all schools under the control of the State— will not improve.
The headline of Matt O’Brien’s Wonkblog in the Washington Post summarizes the whole story that, in turn, summarizes everything that’s wrong with our economy: “Poor Kids Who Do Everything Right Don’t Do Better Than Rich Kids Who Do Everything Wrong“. The article describes the findings of Richard Reeves and Isabell Sawhill describing the glass floors and glass ceilings that make our class system more rigid than it once was and make it difficult for children raised in poverty to move into the higher tiers of earning. This chart from Reeves and Sawhill’s report shows this graphically:
…rich high school dropouts remain in the top about as much as poor college grads stay stuck in the bottom — 14 versus 16 percent, respectively. Not only that, but these low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells. Some meritocracy.”
It’s an extreme example of what economists call “opportunity hoarding.” That includes everything from legacy college admissions to unpaid internships that let affluent parents rig the game a little more in their children’s favor.
As he notes earlier in the post, things are unlikely to improv given that affluent parents outspend other parents nearly 3-1 in providing enrichment opportunities for their children… and some of the folks at the very top of the pyramid are spending billions to convince the rest of us that all children raised in poverty need is “grit” to get ahead. O’Brien concludes his post with this:
It’s not quite a heads-I-win, tails-you-lose game where rich kids get better educations, yet still get ahead even if they don’t—but it’s close enough. And if it keeps up, the American Dream will be just that.
I was frustrated to read a Christian Science Monitor article titled “As Overtesting Outcry Grows Education Leaders Pull Back on Standardized Tests” for several reasons. The comments and/or questions following quotes from the article will provide some insights into my frustration:
As the outcry against the overtesting of American children has grown, state and local education leaders – in a move endorsed by President Barack Obama– have announced a new focus on dialing back the volume of standardized testing and dialing up the quality.
“I have directed [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan to support states and school districts in the effort to improve assessment of student learning so that parents and teachers have the information they need, that classroom time is used wisely, and assessments are one part of fair evaluation of teachers and accountability for schools,” Mr. Obama said in a statement Wednesday night.
Wait a minute! He’s supporting an improved assessment of student learning that is linked to a “fair evaluation of teachers and accountability for schools? As long as teacher and school evaluations are linked with STUDENT test results districts will have a de facto incentive to test students early and often. And hasn’t the President read ANY of the research on VAM? There IS no valid means of linking test scores to teacher performance!
Whether a student faces a large number of tests is not solely determined by federal or state testing mandates, but is largely the product of local district decisions, concludes a report released Thursday by the Center for American Progress.
Wait a minute! As noted frequently in the blog, Race to the Top was a de facto mandate that States adopt the Common Core and also adopt standardized tests that had to be used, to quote the President, “as one part of fan evaluation of teachers and accountability for schools”. While the number of standardized tests administered throughout the year IS a local decision, the administration of a minimum number of high stakes tests is not… and the consequences of administering such tests is described above.
“As states and districts work to clear out unhelpful, unnecessary tests, it would be a grave mistake to stop annual statewide standardized assessments,” noted the Education Trust, a nonprofit working to close achievement gaps for disadvantaged students. “Parents deserve to know how their students are performing … when compared to their peers.”
We know how the comparisons will play out right now: well funded schools serving affluent students will outperform underfunded schools serving children raised in poverty. This isn’t a mystery. It’s been true for at least fifty years. How will MORE assessments help us unless we provide ALL students with the same level of programming and opportunity as the students in the most affluent schools receive?
More than 30 state and urban school leaders endorsed the new statement of principles, which supports Common Core aligned state testing. Among them was John King Jr., the education commissioner in New York. The state recently received a federal waiver to avoid double-testing 8th grade math students, and has offered grants to districts to help reduce nonessential testing.
When John King pushes back on the legislature’s unwillingness to provide equitable funding to public schools and pushes back on Governor Cuomo’s decided favoritism toward deregulated for profit charter schools and disavows VAM, he can be singled out as a school chief pushing back against testing.
Two paragraphs DID hit the nail on the head:
“Hollow pledges to ‘review the entire array of assessments’ are insufficient. In the short run, we need … an elimination of test-based consequences for students, teachers and schools,” said a statement from FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, applauded the state and local leaders’ effort to reduce testing and ensure high quality, but said in a statement that it “addresses the symptoms, not the root cause, of test fixation…. It’s unconscionable that everything about our schools, our kids and our teachers is reduced to one math and one English high-stakes standardized test per year” under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
Finally, and most importantly, President Obama could end this madness. He ignited the over testing with Race to the Top: he can end it abruptly by eliminating all standardized tests except NAEP, which is minimally disruptive to schools and provides the most statistically significant findings. I hope that at least one candidate running for President will make a pledge to do that… otherwise the factory model will persist and we will continue to sort and select students based on their parents education and income and the wealth disparity will increase.
Huffington Post features a blog post by Diane Ravitch titled “What Matters More Than Test Scores” that underscores the misplaced priorities in our country. She repeats several of the themes from her blog and her latest thinking, focussing primarily on how we’ve overemphasized standardized achievement tests and underemphasized the kinds of child and parent supports needed for children raised in poverty.
Here’s what I believe: Testing can be used to persuade our taxpayers and parents that our “government schools” are failing thereby setting the stage for deregulated for profit schools to get a foothold. As noted in an earlier post, we were told we were “falling behind the Russians” when they launched Sputnik in the 1950s and told we lived in “A Nation At Risk” when the Japanese economy was thundering in the 1980s… and now we’re “losing our economic competitiveness” in the 2010s because China’s students are outscoring us on arguably bogus and meaningless standardized tests… and during this sixty year period the drip-drip-drip of the meme of “failing public schools” has penetrated the American psyche to the point where the public seems willing to turn over our schools to the private sector. When that day comes, inequality will be even worse than it is now.
Bottom line: We’re not spending money wisely when we fund deregulated for-profit schools and fail to provide food, clothing and shelter for our infants and toddlers. When we rank 131 out of 184 nations in providing prenatal care programs something is amiss in our priorities.
Over the past few days I read two interrelated articles about how our country handles misbehavior in schools and in our society in general.
“Juvenile Injustice”, a Slate article by Dana Goldstein describes the problem of youth incarceration in rural states by telling the story of Junior Smith, a West Virginia teen whose struggles with addiction and mental health issues resulted in him behaving badly out of school and ultimately being put in jail for an altercation in the high school he attended. Goldstein doesn’t hold back on her descriptions of Junior Smith’s behaviors: he smoked dope, took too many pills, robber a neighbors house, bullied a student to the point of suicide in a previous high school he attended, and admitted to swatting a classmates “…groin with an open-faced palm” in the altercation that ultimately led to his imprisonment.
What was particularly appalling about Junior Smith’s “crime”- an altercation in the classroom that was not even reported to the Principal in the school— was how it was reported to the police:
The scuffle hadn’t attracted the attention of the teacher, and Junior didn’t think much about it afterward. What he and his parents did not know was that the other boy had reported the incident to Chad Kennedy, a county police officer who worked full time at Philip Barbour High School and who was paid, in part, by a federal “juvenile accountability” grantintended to assure “individualized consequences” for juvenile offenders, including community service and mediation. But those were not the consequences for Junior.
After the classroom fight, Kennedy launched an investigation of the conflict. He prepared a report for a judge, who on Feb. 27 signed an order for Junior’s arrest. That afternoon, Junior walked out of school in handcuffs.
Goldstein didn’t pursue the question of why this became a law enforcement issue instead of a school discipline issue, but from my reading the criminalization of misconduct is one of the consequences when police officers are assigned to school without having to work under the leadership of the administration.
Goldstein DID emphasize that it was Smith’s addiction and depression that was the root cause of his behavior and further emphasized that had he resided in another state he would have likely received treatment for his illnesses instead of time in prison. While the injustices visited on Junior Smith are hard to read about, it WAS heartening to read that in most states the rate of juvenile incarceration is on the decline. States are assigning fewer and fewer students to prison… but…
The second article I read on this topic in The New Inquiry, “Carceral Educations” by Sabrina Alli posits that this diminishment in incarceration may be the result of public education’s widespread use of discipline systems used in penal institutions and the increased number of youth who are under the direct supervision of probationary officers. Alli asserts that school discipline systems establish “…(r)espect for authority and deference to police dominate (as the) the educational goals of this violent educational system that measures success through standardized testing and student interactions with an omnipresent security apparatus.” Alli later offers this particularly bleak description of urban public school environments to drive her point home:
Schools serve as one of the essential institutions of surveillance intended to criminalize children in economically disenfranchised communities. They can be miserable places for young students, who are gratuitously yelled at by teachers for not getting to the classroom rug fast enough for reading instruction, or for not “tracking” (a term that means follow with your eyes) their teachers when spoken to. Hallways are unnaturally silent and filled with military-style straight lines of small children forced to keep their arms rigid against their sides. Rather than academic discipline, obsession over students’ conduct forms the dominant attitude that controls these learning environments, which are often staffed with inexperienced teachers. Students’ home issues and the stereotypes of poverty supply the fictions by which teachers can excuse ourselves for our classroom failures. Even restorative-justice models of discipline, adopted in some public schools as a more humane alternative to school suspensions and student arrests, signal a system fixated on behavior and control versus learning and exploration. The language of “harm” and restoring justice should not be necessary over infractions that occur in school.
Earlier in the article Alli describes her experiences working in the field of “re-entry”. Here’s the opening paragraph detailing what “re-entry” is and what its goals are:
Re-entry’s primary goal is to induct people back into the workforce once they are released from prison or are mired in the bureaucracy of one of the state’s “community supervision” programs, which include jails, probation, parole, or ATIs (alternatives to incarceration). In practical terms, re-entry provides “services,” broadly construed, to economically disenfranchised people who are targeted by the police and as a result are under some form of surveillance by the carceral network.
The next several paragraphs describe “re-entry” as she witnessed it, and concludes with this:
In order to “reform” and teach participants to become men, the program where I taught had a strict code of conduct with arbitrary rules that begin to disappear the higher up you climb up the income ladder. We regulated behavior on the principle described by Foucault and practiced by Bratton: “The least act of disobedience is punished and the best way of avoiding serious offenses is to punish the most minor offenses very severely.” If a participant came 15 minutes late to class or to a worksite, they were sent home without a paycheck. Instead of fulfilling the primary function of teacher, which is to educate, or case manager, which is to help connect people to social services, we became what Foucault called “technicians of behavior: engineers of conduct, orthopedists of individuality. [Our] task was to produce bodies that were both docile and capable.” We were training students to become capable employees, emphasizing “skills” such as lowering your cell phone ring in public or avoiding certain tattoos. We were training them to become employable by teaching them to follow the orders they would be subjected to as “low-skill” and low-wage workers.
So whether you are incarcerated within four walls or placed in an ATI program the expectations are the same: docility and following directions are preferable to questioning and creativity. Is this what we want from our students? Will this help us become economically competitive? Can we change the way we treat students in schools to reflect what we REALLY want from them once they are out?
Fourteen years ago, the State decided Philadelphia schools were in such horrible condition that they needed to be taken over. The legislature created an agency to govern public schools in Philadelphia and gave it a high-minded moniker: the “Philadelphia School Reform Commission”, or SRC as it is referred to in the media. Over the past 14 years, as noted in several blog posts, the SRC has eliminated staff, lowered costs, increased the number of for-profit charter schools,increased the tax incentives provided to private businesses seeking to locate in Philadelphia, and done nothing to change the academic performance of students or improve the services and facilities for those children. Unsurprisingly, the difference in per pupil expenditures between Philadelphia schools and the neighboring suburban districts, the “white ring” as David Hornbeck called it, has increased.
Yesterday’s Philly.com blog featured a post by Will Bunch describing the latest and most disgraceful action by the SRC: in a technically posted public meeting attended by a handful of people they voted to end their recognition of the contract they agree to with the Philadelphia Teachers Union, increase the cost for health insurance to current teachers, and eliminate all medical benefits to retirees. The action was Draconian in the extreme, leading Bunch to speculate that it was intended to create a anger the union leadership to the extent that they might strike and create a situation where Governor Corbett could show his “support for taxpayers” by upholding the SRC’s ability to suspend the collective bargaining agreement. What Bunch didn’t speculate on is whether Tom Wolf, the Democrat running against Corbett will have the chutzpah to challenge the SRC’s action and stand up for the teachers and CHILDREN in Philadelphia. Here’s where Wolf’s courage will be tested. Will he speak out against this deplorable act by the SRC or let it be? If he says nothing, Philadelphia’s children will not have an advocate in the Governor’s office no matter who is elected… and if the White House’s position on privatization is any indication that will be fine with the national democratic party.
After reading Bob Herbert’s aptly titled Politico article, “The Plot Against Public Education”, I was struck by the fact that no critics of “reform” ever mention how the educational entrepreneurs use the greed of the 99% as a motivating force to persuade voters that their public schools can be operated more cost-effectively by being market driven. Herbert and many of the progressive education blogs emphasize the extent to which the profit motive– greed– drives the “reformers” but underemphasize the reality that voters are motivated equally by greed: they want to pay lower taxes and are heedless to the economic consequences of paying less and, in some cases, indifferent to the social consequences of lower taxes. As noted in earlier posts, if “productivity” is defined as getting the same results for lower costs then the fact that charter schools don’t improve performance doesn’t matter: if the “product”, a decent education, can be obtained for a lower cost (e.g. lower taxes or smaller tax increases) then schools are “more productive”.
And here’s a fact: a deregulated for-profit charter school can operate more cheaply than a highly regulated non-profit public school. This is so for four reasons:
- Deregulated For-Profit Charter (DFPC) schools have no legacy costs: Like any start up company, DFPCs have no retirees to fund and no contractual obligations to meet. They can set health insurance benefits and pensions that help their bottom line without compromising their ability to recruit young teachers who have fewer concerns about these benefits than veteran employees. This lowers the per pupil costs for DFPCs.
- Deregulated For-Profit Charter (DFPC) schools have lower operating overhead: In addition to paying for heating, electricity, and other utility costs school districts typically have to budget for debt service to pay for school construction and renovations projects as part of their budget. School budgets also include personnel costs associated with cleaning and maintaining buildings, bussing children to and from school, serving food to children in the cafeteria, and non-instructional office staff. Many DFPCs are provided with low cost or free space within the public schools. Virtual DFPC schools, like those described in detail in Herbert’s article, pay next to nothing for operating overhead. Still other charters can acquire space in facilities that have lower per pupil operating costs than public schools. This lowers the per pupil costs for DFPCs.
- Deregulated For-Profit Charter (DFPC) schools have lower payrolls for teachers: A start-up school can pay teachers whatever the marketplace will bear… and if the DFPC is a Pre-K through grade 5 school the supply of qualified teachers exceeds the demand making it possible to hire staff at a “discount”. This substantially lowers the per pupil costs for DFPCs.
- Deregulated For-Profit Charter (DFPC) schools avoid regulatory costs: Many states do not require DFPCs to meet State mandates regarding the provision of special education services, ESL programming, school nurses, guidance personnel, librarians, or instruction in “special subjects” like art, music, PE, CTE, etc. Additionally, in some states DFPCs do not have to make contributions to state pension funds. All of this substantially lowers the per pupil costs for DFPCs.
If a DFPC can provide a comparable education for a lower cost, many voters will support the movement toward privatization because they want a lower tax payment. This desire for low taxes is seldom cast as “greed”, and it is arguably less greedy than the huge sums of money for profit companies can make if they offer low cost programs and receive the per diem rate offered by the state as they do in some areas. But the notion of avoiding higher taxes by privatizing public education is motivated by the same thinking as increasing earnings of shareholders by the privatizers. Until the public understands the long run consequences of this kind of thinking we will continue to defer public costs or shift them to other areas. It is easy to rail against the 1% for their desire to make ever higher sums of money. It is more difficult to realize that our desire to cut the costs of education is motivated by the same desire: to keep more money for ourselves despite the impact it has on those less fortunate.
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