Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Social Workers in School

August 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes op ed page features an essay by Daniel Cardenali advocating that schools serving children in poverty require the services of a social worker. I completely agree with this assertion since social workers possess a different skill set than guidance counselors, psychologists, special education case managers, and– in some cases– classroom teachers, the staff members who typically try to assume some of the responsibilities that a social worker could do more effectively. Here’s a key paragraph from Cardenali’s op ed piece:

The key is to put dedicated social-service specialists in every low-performing, high-poverty school, whether they are employed by the school district or another organization. This specialist must be trained in the delivery of community services, with continued funding contingent on improvement in indicators like attendance and dropout rates.

As I noted in the comment section, this can be accomplished economically by having school districts providing space for the Department of Social Service (DSS) staff in their schools. When I was a superintendent in MD in the 1990s we set up offices for DSS staff in two of our high poverty schools. The DSS agency head and I reasoned that we were needlessly competing with each other for scarce $$$ and his staff’s services and ours meshed. We saved DSS the costs for office space and he saved me adding much needed and arguably duplicative services. Moreover, it created opportunities for interagency cooperation and communication that helped the students and parents. Teachers could meet and confer with a student’s social worker face to face and share insights that would help them work with the families.

My experience in MD indicated that when schools duplicate social services it adds to the net costs to the public. When schools create partnerships with service providers it is a win-win. The best example of this was when the State mandated that we place a school nurse in each of the 42 schools in our county. At the time this requirement was put in place, we had four on our payroll, all of whom were paid on the teacher’s pay schedule which made them among the highest paid nurses in the region. By forming an alliance with the County Health Department whereby THEY hired and supervised the staff, we saved thousands of dollars in hiring staff and avoided the need to add another administrative position to oversee health services. Finally, as I wrote in an essay published in Education Week that I posted earlier, this kind of interagency co-housing helped break down the silos of confidentiality that work against providing the kind of support children in poverty need.

Cardenali concludes his essay with this paragraph:

Putting social workers in schools is a low-cost way of avoiding bigger problems down the road, analogous to having a social worker in a hospital emergency room. It’s a common-sense solution that will still require a measure of political courage, something that all too often has itself been chronically absent.

My take: it will require a measure of COMMON SENSE, something that seems to be completely lacking in Washington DC. This could be another case where a State will lead the way.

Ferguson’s Demographic Problem is EVERYWHERE

August 17, 2014 1 comment

The Naked Capitalism blog featured a link to a Bloomberg Business Week article by Peter Coy titled “The County Map That Explains Ferguson’s Tragic Discord”. The article described the idiosyncratic governance structure in MO whereby a “city” like Saint Louis is actually comprised of 92 different governmental jurisdictions that:

…set themselves up as municipalities to capture control of tax revenue from local businesses, to avoid paying taxes to support poorer neighbors, or to exclude blacks.

Coy concludes the paragraph with this assertion, which he elaborates upon in the article: “Their behavior has ranged from somewhat parochial to flatly illegal.” 

Having 92 jurisdictions competing against each other is great for business: they all provide ever increasing tax incentives for new businesses in a race to the bottom that depresses local tax bases. It also leads to differences in racial demographics between communities as whites flee municipalities when blacks move in. Having lived in, worked in, and driven through several metropolitan areas I know that Ferguson is no exception to the rule. Darby Township, Chester PA, and Camden NJ all share Ferguson’s plight as does Newburgh, Beacon, and Poughkeepsie NY and several small communities outside NYC. Within cities neighborhoods have the same kinds of issues (see my recent post on the neighborhood surrounding Shaw JHS in the 1970s for a classic example). And the demographic isn’t purely racial: it’s often economic as well. Communities with high property values often “break away” from regional districts in NH when they sense that their resources are being unfairly used to prop up the schools from neighboring communities with a lower tax base.

Unless public services like education are funded through broad based taxes we will continue to create “Fergusons” where there is latent discontent because its citizens sense they are being given the short end of the stick…. but changing governance patterns like those in MO, NY, NH, PA, and virtually EVERY state in the union will require a change of heart, and that is a challenge in today’s world.

CCSS: A Victory for Reagan, Friedman, and Nordquist

August 16, 2014 Leave a comment

In a blog post yesterday, Diane Ravitch described Bill Gates’ latest efforts to ensure that the Common Core becomes the de facto national curriculum. The Gates and Helmsley Foundation have underwritten a new non-profit with “… plans to review textbooks and other instructional material for fidelity to the Common Core.”  So Gates has underwritten the writing of the Common Core, the implementation of the Common Core, the evaluation of the Common Core, and is now underwriting the effort to bake the Common Core into textbooks for years to come.

Thank Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, and Grover Nordquist for this development. The “problematic” government (e.g. the State Departments of Education) got small enough to drown in a bathtub and the “free market” is now “coming to the rescue”. RIP State and local control of the curriculum and hello to the curriculum driven by the oligopoly of standardized test makers.

I am concerned that in their ad hominem attack on Bill Gates many progressive educators are missing the bigger picture…. and some of the problems Gates and his fellow philanthropists are solving are ones created by the complaints of teachers and administrators.

The biggest problem, as described repeatedly in this blog, is that Ronald Reagan and his progeny have persuaded the people that government is the problem… and among the people who bought into this idea were teachers, school board members, and administrators who bemoaned the mandates of the bureaucrats at the State Department of Education. Many educators were happy to see cuts to the State Departments of Education instead of cuts to their districts and many school boards preferred hiring their own curriculum coordinators instead of relying on those “bureaucrats” at the state level.

Nordquist and his acolytes, who wanted extreme limitations placed on spending helped brand public education as “government run” schools and that, in turn, led to cuts at all levels of public education.

In the meantime, Milton Friedman’s concepts about the magic of the marketplace began to take root to the point where his once radical idea of vouchers became seriously considered by both political parties.

All of this created a void that Bill Gates and the tech community were only too happy to fill. Basically, Bill Gates is doing what “the business community” has desired for years: he is standardizing the high school degree so that it has a common definition across the country…. and in developing a national standard he is opening the door for “edu-preneurs” in the technology field to make a profit in education by eliminating the traditional role of teachers. Instead of teachers developing creativity and independent thinking in their students they are being rewarded for developing students who can take tests well. The ability to score well on “objective” tests, in turn, can serve as the “gold standard” for “objectively” measuring school and teacher performance.

In short, decrying Bill Gates misses the point. ALL of Gates’ work on the common core is the result of economic inequality. Because he and his hedge fund friends are able to accumulate wealth that was formerly distributed among school districts and State Departments of Education, ONLY he and his hedge fund friends can provide the services that were formerly provided by “the government”…. and he and his hedge friend funds want to see things standardized across the board. Their motives may or may not be pure, but at this juncture no state government is challenging the federal government’s de facto dictate to adopt the CCSS.


Chico’s Bail Bonds Redux

August 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Two years ago I opened a post with the following paragraph:

One of my favorite movie scenes is when Walter Matthau’s Bad News Bears take to the pristine suburban Little League field with their new uniforms emblazoned with their sponsor’s name: “Chico’s Bail Bonds”… When one of the coaches questions his choice of sponsors, Matthau gives him a dismissive scowl and makes a snide comment along the lines of everyone’s money being green….

An article in today’s Sacramento Bee compelled me to search for this lead paragraph, because advertising is once again in the news as a way to save public schools! Bee columnist Loretta Kalb describes several examples of how retailers are gaining access to CA school students “for relatively small amounts of money” in an effort to offset “deep budget cuts“. The amounts of money coming to schools do not begin to counter the losses they incurred in budget cuts. In San Juan School district, for example, the schools received $12,600 from Target”for distributing its school supply lists on paper with the Target logo and directing families to an online Target ordering website.” This might sound like a lot of money of a small school district, but San Juan has a $355,000,000 budget! While many parents and districts find this practice objectionable, many parents and taxpayers see this as evidence of “resourcefulness”.

As an administrator who objected to advertising of any kind in schools (and was from time to time criticized and/or over-ruled on the issue) and one who is unalterably opposed to privatization of public services, I see this as incrementally shifting the burden from taxpayers to schools— a shift that will ultimately result in schools being perceived as a fee-for-service enterprise like AYSO soccer or gymnastics programs… and ultimately undermine the high-minded purposes of public schooling.

More Tax Avoidance = Less Internet Access

August 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Gretchen Morgenson’s column in yesterday’s NYTimes “A Corporate Tax Break That’s Closer to Home”, describes how a small internet provider in Arkansas is avoiding paying over $650,000,000 in taxes, money that won’t be available to hep the government fund things like schools and internet access but money that WILL be available to Windstream investors. How does this happen? It seems that the IRS has ruled that Windstream can “…spin off its copper and fiber network into a real estate investment trust, or REIT. That sounds pretty ho-hum until you realize it means that Windstream won’t have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.” 

Rather than retaining the income they earn and paying taxes on it, REITs pass along 90 percent of their income to shareholders, who then pay taxes. This means these companies have little in the way of taxable income.

And who are “those shareholders”? Are they middle class folks who complete their own taxes? Upper middle class folks who have their taxes completed by an accountant who scrupulously follows the rules? Or might they be the .5% who see a great investment opportunity and have figured out a way to avoid paying any taxes on this themselves? I don’t know for certain, but I’m guessing the main beneficiaries of this are the most affluent group and I’m also guessing that Windstream won’t be looking to provide internet access to folks in the back woods of Arkansas or those living in publicly assisted housing.

This is more evidence that our tax system needs to be overhauled and, unless I’m completely missing something, that internet access needs to be a public utility and NOT provided by private enterprise.

Infrastructure Matters

July 31, 2014 Leave a comment

The recent flood at UCLA caused by a broken 93-year old underground pipe SHOULD be a wake up call for legislators across the country: our infra-structure is breaking and we need need to spend money to upgrade it as soon as possible. Broken 93 year-old underground pipes are a clear manifestation of the problem… but our country’s education infrastructure’s “leaks” are comparable. Many of our dilapidated schools need new roofs, new furniture, new HVAC systems, and upgraded windows and doors…. and the schools needing the greatest improvements are those located in economically deprived districts or neighborhoods. Virtually all of our schools have outmoded telecommunication infrastructures and many (if not a majority) of students do not have access to high speed internet. How can we hope to succeed in the future if we don’t invest in our facilities today? How can we expect students attending school in decrepit facilities to believe they have an equal opportunity for success when they watch TV shows illustrating the technology available in the affluent districts in our nation?

Expect More: It’s Easy, Fast and Cheap!

July 22, 2014 Leave a comment

David Leonard’s Upshot article in today’s NYTimes describes the results from a recent study completed by Andreas Schleicher, the director of education and skills research at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the group that brought us the PISA test. According to the OECD, US Principals are more likely than their counterparts in other parts of the world to “…believe that many of their students come from socioeconomically disadvantaged homes.”  The study also reports that “Based on the views of principals, a larger share of children in the United States are “socioeconomically disadvantaged” compared with those in Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Romania and various other countries. 

Leonard offers a rationale for the first finding:

The usual caveats about correlation and causation apply, though. It’s also possible that an outside factor is driving the results of the survey question. The United States, for example, has an extensive and high-profile program of subsidizing lunches for lower-income children. If that program were driving principals’ definition of socioeconomic disadvantage, and other countries did not have similar programs, it could explain why this country is an outlier in the survey. In that case, American principals may or may not have lower academic expectations of their students.

Neither the OECD nor Mr. Leonard posed the question about the student demographics of “…Brazil, Malaysia, Mexico, Romania and various other countries” but I would guess that none of those countries offer universal education to all students through high school and that many of them do not have or aggressively enforce child labor laws. Given those assumptions, it may be true that those countries, in fact, do have fewer “socioeconomically disadvantaged” children in their schools. I did some quick Google research and, using some of the data and some back-of-the-envelope lowball estimates offered the following comment:

Your notion that the principals answered honestly based on free and reduced lunch counts is plausible given the number of students who now qualify for that program, which is a proxy for “sociological disadvantage”. It is interesting that Mr. Schleicher is willing to suggest causality between expectations and performance based on the answer to a question posed to school principals on a questionnaire whose statistical basis is arguable but is unwilling to acknowledge ANY causality between poverty levels and academic performance as measured by a (presumably) valid standardized test (e.g. the PISA). Most voters and taxpayers like the notion that all you need to do is expect more from students and they will perform better academically. It’s an easy, quick and cheap fix to a complicated problem that requires time and— yes—money. 

Add “set higher expectations” to the long list of agreeable fantasies that fuel the fire of those who want easy, quick, and, most of all, CHEAP fixes to improving public education.