Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Lower Prices for TVs and Lower Wages Are Moving Us Away From Democracy

October 3, 2015 Leave a comment

Paul Theroux’s blistering op ed article that will appear in tomorrows NYTimes contrasts the billionaire’s magnanimous desire to “help the poor” in economically deprived nations with their practice of off-shoring jobs and neglecting the problems created here at home. He offers this blunt description of globalization:

To me, globalization is the search for a new plantation, and cheaper labor; globalization means that, by outsourcing, it is possible to impoverish an American community to the point where it is indistinguishable from a hard-up town in the dusty heartland of a third world country.

Mr. Theroux could have written this article about New England mill towns a couple of decades ago when corporations decided to relocate their factories to the south in an effort to avoid paying union wages. There are communities in New England where most people made their living working in factories and now scramble to make ends meet…. and there are urban areas and Rustbelt communities that have the same third-world feel to them.

The problem is two-fold: shareholders and CEOs want to maximize profit and consumers want low prices. The deregulated capitalism and free trade advocated by political candidates in both parties reinforces this and the anti-government mantra of the right makes it even worse. Shareholders need to look at the effects of maximizing profits by moving jobs abroad and taking advantage of tax loopholes… and consumers need to ask themselves if they are willing to save money at the expense of their fellow Americans jobs… and we have to face the fact that the consequence of this will mean substantially lower incomes for the billionaires, higher corporate taxes, and a trade-off for rank and file workers of higher taxes and higher costs for goods in order to earn higher wages.

Here’s the bottom line: If everyone dug a little deeper to pay taxes and spend more on consumer goods we COULD restore the economy in our country. Otherwise, we will continue devolving into a plutocratic oligarchy. I’m willing to pay higher taxes and pay higher prices on my “fixed income” to help my neighbors in Arkansas, Detroit, California, and New England earn a decent living and have an opportunity to advance. Is anyone else ready to do the same?

In Pennsylvania, Race Results in Lower State Funding, Diminished Opportunity

October 1, 2015 Leave a comment

I have written many blog posts on funding inequities and the reasons behind those inequities. The primary reason for funding inequity is our country’s reliance on property taxes to fund public education. The suffering of children in communities with depressed housing values and/or the lack of a business tax base is compounded because it often means that they reside in substandard homes and their parents have difficulty ending work. Like most Americans, I want to believe that the disparate funding formulas that result from this vicious cycle of poverty created by reliance on property tax is free of racial bias. As an article in yesterday’s Atlantic indicates, however, this is NOT the case in Pennsylvania where Gillian White shares the findings of a report written by data scientist David Mosenkis. In examining funding data from Pennsylvania, Mosenkis made an “unsettling” finding:

“If you color code the districts based on their racial composition you see this very stark breakdown. At any given poverty level, districts that have a higher proportion of white students get substantially higher funding than districts that have more minority students.” That means that no matter how rich or poor the district in question, funding gaps existed solely based on the racial composition of the school. Just the increased presence of minority students actually deflated a district’s funding level. “The ones that have a few more students of color get lower funding than the ones that are 100 percent or 95 percent white,” Mosenkis said.

Fixing this disparity will be extraordinarily difficult because over the past several years STATE funding for schools has withered. Consequently, in order to develop a funding formula that restores level funding for these minority districts and restore the funds cut during the recent downturn in the economy, the legislature will either need to increase taxes or redistribute the scarce funds they appropriate to schools. Since neither of these options is deemed to be acceptable, Pennsylvania has not passed a budget and those schools that rely on State funding the most, the schools serving poor students and especially poor minority students, a struggling mightily. And there is no end in sight. Ms. White offers a bleak outlook in terms of finding a remedy for the funding and racial inequities:

Pennsylvania isn’t the only state that has a problem with poor minority schools and rich white ones. White flight has left low-income, minority students in failing urban public schools. The compounding issue of low-income neighborhoods and scarce (or biased) funding leaves such schools with little money or resources to educate their students, and thus little hope of breaking the poverty cycle. These disparities become especially disheartening when looking at the current state of school segregation. Purposeful attempts to create more integrated schools, like busing, are virtually nonexistent in the present day. And even changes that would unintentionally result in greater student diversity, like redistricting, are often passionately rejected by the inhabitants of richer, whiter, districts.

In 1954 the Supreme Court rendered a decision that effectively required the end of segregated schooling and the “separate-but-equal” standard that was purportedly in place for the preceding sixty years. Sixty years later we have the worst of both worlds in Pennsylvania: the schools are more segregated than ever and more unequal than ever. Here’s hoping that the people of good will and fairness will raise up their voices to help break the cycle of poverty and end the racial injustice that is embedded in the funding of their public schools.

Two Articles Draw One Conclusion: Being Born Poor is a HUGE Obstacle

September 30, 2015 Leave a comment

Over the past month I’ve read several articles describing the deep hole those born into poverty must dig out of in order to improve there economic standing… and increasingly African Americans are experiencing far more poverty than their white counterparts.

In early September Bloomberg Business published a short article by Victoria Stilwell titled “Here’s How Growing Up in Poverty Hurts American Adults” that offered three factors that described three “…things that tend to happen to Americans who grow up poor“:

  1. They have a harder time finishing high school or college
  2. They struggle to keep jobs as young adults
  3. They have higher rates of teen pregnancy

All three of these factors lead to poverty in adulthood… and citing research from the Urban Institute, the article notes that while 15% of children are in poverty during any one year,

Some 39 percent of children are poor for at least one year before they reach their 18th birthday, according to Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow and economist at Urban. For black children, that statistic is 75 percent, compared with 30 percent of whites.

Michelle Chen, a staff writer for The Nation, wrote an equally gloomy assessment of the effects of poverty in an article that appeared earlier this week titled “In America, the Poorer You Are the Poorer Your Children Will Be”. Drawing on information from a new book “Too Many Children Left Behind,” by Bruce Bradbury, Miles Corak, Jane Waldfogel, and Elizabeth Washbrook, Chen describes how 

…poor children in the US are “doubly disadvantaged relative to their peers in the other three countries (the UK, Australia, and Canada)” because the government’s “social safety net and supports for working families do the least among the four countries to combat inequality”—particularly our national lack of guaranteed paid time off and vacation.

Compounding the lack of a safety net is the increase in expenditures on “enrichment activities” by affluent parents, which is having the effect of widening the gap between rich and poor kids in our country. Looking at this situation, Chen writes:

So poor parents struggling just to cover basic food and shelter face both massive income inequality in their day-to-day lives, plus a seven-fold gap in the amount they can “invest” to help their children thrive in the futureGiven that social mobility is already suppressed at all income levels—with children’s future earnings highly correlated with the earnings of their parents—the Herculean amount of “catch up” poor parents must undertake just to get on the same footing as their higher-earning peers makes the great American wealth gap seem even more devastating, for both today’s working households and generations to come.

The solutions to this situation are familiar to readers of this blog and any writings on social justice: better pay, more flexibility in the workplace, universal prekindergarten, access to quality daycare… in short providing the children of low wage workers with the same baseline of services and education that the children raised in affluence receive.

We could make this happen if we lent a helping hand to those children raised in poverty… but to do so would require helping their parents and that seems less and less likely in today’s world of social Darwinism.

School Rezoning in a Brooklyn Neighborhood Tests Parents Values

September 25, 2015 1 comment

I read a column by Kate Taylor in yesterday’s NYTimes describing an emerging parent protest regarding the need to move some children in one overcrowded school in a nearby neighborhood into a school in another nearby neighborhood that has additional space. Why the protest? Well the overcrowded school is located in an affluent neighborhood where housing values are congruent with those in the area of affected and affluent parents. The under crowded school is located adjacent to a housing project and serves black and Hispanic students.

Reihan Salam, a writer for the National Review saw this protest as an example of inconsistency on the part of Brooklyn’s famously liberal residents and wrote an article titled “Brooklyn – The Capital of Liberal Hypocrisy”. Despite it’s inflammatory titled, the article does a good job of describing the conflicted feelings of residents in a gentrified neighborhood that is compelled to change schools because of overcrowding. He notes that it is the difference in behavioral norms as much as the difference in academics that matters to parents, and describes the importance of providing more support for those children who enter school with learning gaps and behavioral challenges.

Salam, however, conveniently neglects the real factor that makes it difficult for NYC schools to succeed, which is the need for more money. He glibly writes that “New York city spends $20,331 per pupil, almost twice as much as the national average of $10,700, and that much of this money is spent very inefficiently”. 

There is one major problem with Salam’s per pupil spending analysis: the NY State median for last year was $22,552… so NYC spends $2,000+ LESS than the per pupil midpoint in NYS. Oh… and nearby affluent suburb Scarsdale spent over $30,000 per student. Salam mentions the need for more support in classrooms housing students with troubled backgrounds but fails to note that $2,200,000,000— the amount of money needed to achieve the State’s median figure— would provide a wealth of personnel to help classroom teachers. He could have also noted that NYC would need another $8,250,000,000 to catch up with the spending levels in Scarsdale. As for “inefficiency”… either ALL NYS schools are all extraordinarily inefficient or NYC schools are no worse.

Given the entrenched attitudes of parents regarding class and race, the solution to disparities in schools might not be to force racial and/or economic integration but rather to spend large sums of money to provide support services to neighborhoods and schools serving children with learning and behavioral challenges. If the blocks surrounding the housing project resembled the blocks surrounding the pricy high-rise and the children from the housing projects had the same preschool enrichment and learning opportunities as the children in the pricy high rise the notion of sharing classroom space might be easier to accept for both parties.

Can Education Create a Level Playing Field for Children Born in Poverty

September 23, 2015 Leave a comment

The title of Eduardo Porter’s column in today’s NYTimes states a blunt truth: “The Education Gap Between Rich and Poor is Growing Wider”. The article draws on findings from various economic studies and particularly on  a new book titled “Too Many Children Left Behind” (Russell Sage) by Columbia sociology professor Jane Waldfogel and colleagues from Australia, Canada and Britain. The book “…traces the story of America’s educational disparities across the life cycle of its children, from the day they enter kindergarten to eighth grade“, and it doesn’t paint a pretty or hopeful picture. As Porter writes:

Their story goes sour very early, and it gets worse as it goes along. On the day they start kindergarten, children from families of low socioeconomic status are already more than a year behind the children of college graduates in their grasp of both reading and math.

Porter offers a litany of statistics that illustrate the extraordinary obstacle that children born in poverty face. He concludes his listing with the one obstacle that prevents schools from being an effective means of intervention, the reliance on property taxes to fund public education and the zoning practices that reinforce the housing patterns:

Financed mainly by real estate taxes that are more plentiful in neighborhoods with expensive homes, public education is becoming increasingly compartmentalized. Well-funded schools where the children of the affluent can play and learn with each other are cordoned off from the shabbier schools teaching the poor, who are still disproportionally from black or Hispanic backgrounds.

Porter sees the need for a comprehensive approach, one that goes beyond what schools can provide by themselves:

The policy prescriptions go beyond improving teachers and curriculums, or investing in bringing struggling students up to speed. They include helping parents, too: teaching them best practices in parenting, raising their pay and helping them with the overlapping demands of work and family.

As noted in previous posts, it is unrealistic to expect a single parent with a high school diploma working two low wage part-time jobs with on-demand scheduling to provide the same level of nurturance as a stay-at-home mom with a college degree… and yet that’s what is implicit in the belief that schools alone can close the learning gaps that children bring with them to school.

Porter opened his article with evidence that schools have succeeded in narrowing the performance gap between black and white students over the past fifty years… but his concluding paragraphs are more sobering:

Fifty years ago, the black-white proficiency gap was one and a half to two times as large as the gap between a child from a family at the top 90th percentile of the income distribution and a child from a family at the 10th percentile, according to Professor Reardon at Stanford. Today, the proficiency gap between the poor and the rich is nearly twice as large as that between black and white children.

In other words, even as one achievement gap narrowed, another opened wide. That kind of progress could dash one’s hope in the leveling power of education.

My hopes remain alive… but only because I believe some act on the disparities described in this article and conclude that we need to provide more of a helping hand to parents if we want our country to have the kind of economic system that enables a child born into poverty to improve their economic standing and that of their children.


This Just In: School Choice Doesn’t Work if Students Can’t Enroll in Affluent Schools

September 20, 2015 Leave a comment

A recent “Education By The Numbers” essay by Jill Barshay in Hechinger Report provided an overview of the findings of a recent study conducted by NYU sociologists titled “Choice, Information, Constrained Options: School Transfers in a Stratified Education System.” The study examined the effects of implementing a voice system in Chicago public schools and came to the conclusion that parents whose children attend “failing schools” chose to keep their children in those schools. Why?

“The reason is geography,” said Peter M. Rich, one of the study’s coauthors and a Ph.D. candidate in sociology at New York University. “The low-performing schools are clustered in high-poverty neighborhoods in the South and West Side of Chicago. They have fewer nearby options to choose from.”

Given the choice of commuting a long way to a high-performing school on the other side of town and transferring to a school in the neighborhood, low-income parents tend to choose the latter. Time-consuming travel is impractical for students with working parents. And no one wants to send elementary school children on public transportation by themselves through crime-ridden neighborhoods. But the choices closer to home are often little, if at all, better than poor students’ current schools…

The overall lesson is that school choice policies that don’t provide transportation or, perhaps, housing subsidies for families to move to higher-income neighborhoods aren’t going to equalize educational opportunities,” Rich concluded.

Milton Friedman, who is the father of school choice, viewed schools as commodities that should be subjected to market forces instead of being a “government monopoly”. He envisioned public school enrollment to be analogous to college enrollment. Informed students and parents could use publicly funded vouchers to attend the school of their choice and schools, in turn, would market themselves to attract students in a form that would garner the most profit. It is an idea that seems reasonable and logical to an economist, especially one who believes in unregulated capitalism like Friedman. But in the real world of sociologists it just doesn’t pan out. Why?

Rich found that the low-performing schools were overwhelmingly filled with poor students, 93 percent of whom qualified for the free or reduced-price lunch program. The few non-poor students at these schools were more likely to transfer, and even more likely to leave Chicago or the public school system altogether. Overall, 84 percent of all students attending a school on the probation list were black, even though black students make up only 54 percent of the total student population in Chicago. Another 15 percent of students in probation schools were Latino, while almost none were Asian or white.

Choice advocates are undeterred by these findings, though:

Jonathan Butcher, education director at the Goldwater Institute, a conservative advocacy group that promotes school choice, praised the study’s methodology, and said he wasn’t surprised that public school choice had failed to produce benefits in Chicago. “In an area that has struggled a long time, there aren’t many good public school choices,” Butcher said. “Just by telling families they can leave, if there are not other things happening to improve the supply, families will have few options.”

For school choice to work, Butcher said, policymakers should give families vouchers to attend private schools, and allow more charter schools to open. He also argues that low-performing schools should be shut down.

NYU researcher Rich contradicts this rebuttal, noting that Chicago has had an open enrollment program for  students attending low performing schools for nearly two decades and it hasn’t made any difference in attendance patterns. He also notes that claims about the effectiveness of charter schools in Chicago are difficult to support, point out that while charters did have somewhat higher scores there were other changes going on that could impact any analysis.

…testing policies were simultaneously changing. Teachers were newly accountable for their student test scores and were using more classroom time to prepare for tests. Both third grade and eighth grade students had to hit minimum test scores to avoid repeating a school year.

Barshay concludes that because it is difficult to disentangle test results from other changes this study s not a condemnation of school choice, but

…it does show that having the freedom to choose and information on school quality aren’t enough. The educational marketplace doesn’t work when poor residents live far away from the neighborhoods with better schools. It’s the old saw:  location, location, location.

Barshay is missing one important point in this analysis: school choice cannot work when poor residents who live close to neighborhoods with better schools are not able to attend those schools because the nearby schools are in different districts or attendance zones. Location DOES matter… and if choice cannot facilitate the attendance of students into schools that provide more services because they receive better funding then most parents of children raised in poverty really have no choice at all.

Kansas Catches Up With the 1990s… AND VT and NH

September 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Peter Hancock of the Lawrence Journal-World reports that Kansas Commissioner of Education Randy Watson is touring the state offering breathless accounts of the findings of a survey he conducted to determine what the public and businesses are seeking in students… and it ISN’T the things that are easy to measure using standardized achievement tests! Instead, Watson found:

…the vast majority of skills people listed as important were nonacademic skills, such as communication, interpersonal skills, citizenship and ethics, and the ability to work in teams with other people. 

And he was astonished to find that those nonacademic skills were especially prized by business leaders. This is not at all surprising to me, since I recall similar findings from surveys of businessmen conducted in the 1990s… and the reason for this should be obvious to anyone who follows the impact of technology. Most jobs today require interpersonal interactions since many factory jobs and “back room” functions have been taken over by robots or other technological advances.

And Weston’s solution to the findings?

Watson said schools will probably be asked to put more emphasis on career planning by identifying students’ passions and interests at an earlier stage, and making individual plans of instruction for each student.

He also said they should work more closely with local businesses to give students more exposure to real-world work environments.

For those who follow education in VT and NH, these “innovations” will song familiar. Both states re emphasizing experiential learning and VT has mandated Personalized Learning Plans for all students entering 7th grade. Will Kansas catch up with New England? Only if they catch up the the state support these state offer, which is arguably insufficient and inequitable but is a king’s ransom as compared to Kansas. Hancock implies that help may be on the way:

The discussion comes at the same time the Kansas Legislature is preparing to craft a new funding formula.

Rep. Ron Highland, R-Wamego, who was recently named to chair an interim committee that will soon start working on a new funding formula, attended Wednesday’s presentation and said the survey information will be useful in helping design that new formula.

My hunch: the new formula will not address the fundamental needs of the state and will not remedy the inequities already in place in Kansas… but I hope I’m wrong!