Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Newark’s Failed Efforts at Reform Revealed in “The Prize”

August 27, 2015 Leave a comment

The NYTimes review of Dale Russakov’s new book, The Prize, describes the failed effort of the Newark Public Schools to take full advantage of a $100,000,000 donation from Facebook founder and billionaire Mark Zuckerberg. These two paragraphs from the review, written by Alex Kotlowitz, provide a good synopsis of the idea behind Zuckerberg’s gift and why it quickly headed south:

When Zuckerberg declared his grant, the agenda was pretty clear: Turn the Newark schools around in five years and make it a national model. But from the get-go, there seemed little agreement as to how best to proceed. More than anything, Christie wanted to break the hold of the entrenched teachers’ unions. Booker wanted more charter schools. Zuckerberg wanted to raise the status of teachers and to reward teaching that improved students’ performance.

Their five-year plan gets off to a rocky start. Initial funds go to a bevy of consultants, most of them white, most of them well connected, some of whom are getting paid $1,000 a day. One educator labels them the “school failure industry.” Moreover, it quickly becomes apparent that this is a top-down effort, with politicians and the well-to-do setting the agenda. When Booker sets up a local foundation to handle Zuckerberg’s gift, the seats on the board go only to donors of at least $5 million. You can begin to see where this story’s headed. Booker shows more interest in his own political career than he does in running his city. Christie hires an ideologue as his point person on the Newark schools. And Zuckerberg, a newcomer to philanthropy, seems frustrated by the inability to negotiate a union contract that would quickly raise the salaries of promising young teachers and pay substantial merit bonuses for high performers.

I’ve blogged on Mark Zuckerberg’s largesse in Newark on several occasions, lamenting the fact that the $100,000,000 donation could have done much more for the city and schools had it been used to renovate or replace decrepit schools or provide access to broadband in large swaths of the community, and bemoaning his notion of using the funds to “reward teachers” since negotiated pay scales require that incorporate “merit pay” require assurances of continued funding. But one point that Rusakoff makes warrants emphasis:

Public education is the bedrock of democracy — and yet when it comes to repairing our schools the democratic process is too often ignored. What ultimately derails this grand experiment is the unwillingness of the reformers to include parents and teachers in shaping the reforms.

And why is the democratic process ignored? Because the “reformers” like Zuckerberg are used to operating in a world where they control things without pesky elected boards and opportunistic politicians like Christie and Booker want to make a splash, reward their donors, and advance to the next level of government. In the meantime, the three major players in this drama, Booker, Christie, and Zuckerberg, decided to proceed without a clearly agreed upon plan: they couldn’t even use the democratic process among themselves!

Democracy and business do not mix. Democracy requires deliberative give-and-take and business requires fast and focussed action. Democracy works best at addressing complex problems that have no clear answer. Business approaches work best addressing complicated problems that can be fixed by engineering. I, for one, was not surprised to see the $100,000,000 prize frittered away given the lack of clarity on how it should be spent. Here’s hoping that Zuckerberg’s next foray into supporting schools works better. Given this description of the project, I’m rooting for him:

…The one individual who appears changed by the experience is, somewhat surprisingly, Zuckerberg. Last year, along with his wife, Priscilla Chan, who as a pediatric intern cared for underserved children around San Francisco, Zuckerberg announced a gift of $120 million in grants to high-poverty schools in the Bay Area. This time, though, they declared their intent to include parents and teachers in the planning process. But more to the point, a key component to their grants includes building “a web of support for students,” everything from medical to mental health care. Zuckerberg came to recognize that school reform alone isn’t enough, that if we’re going to make a difference in the classroom, we also need to make a difference in the lives of these children, many of whom struggle against the debilitating effects of poverty and trauma. Here is where this story ends — but also where the next story begins.

Good luck!

NYTimes Column Illustrates Vouchers’ Subtle Shortcomings

August 26, 2015 Leave a comment

Brittany Bronson’s op ed column in today’s NYTimes points out the many flaws with the voucher legislation passed recently in her home state of Nevada. But unlike many of the earlier columns I’ve read on this topic, which tend to focus on some of the obvious problems (e.g. giving $5,000/year to parents who are already paying for private school education and home schooling using computer-assisted-learning modules), Ms. Bronson digs deeper, noting the link between the working conditions parents in poverty face as compared to those faced by typical middle class parents. She writes:

In Nevada, about one in four children live in poverty, not because their schools have failed them, but because their parents juggle multiple jobs on a stagnant minimum wage, have little job security and are denied paid time off.

These economic challenges present direct conflicts with the type of parental involvement and support that are necessary for quality education. Erratic and unpredictable work hours make it difficult to organize transportation to and from school and after-school child care. Long workdays limit parents’ ability to ensure that children’s academic responsibilities outside of school are being met. Low wages without benefits make it impossible to afford enriching activities outside the classroom or quality health care that plays a crucial role in academic success.

Ms. Bronson’s analysis of the impact of the “on-demand” workplace and parent engagement is cogent and long overdue. Those who want to find comfort in the fact that charter schools outperform neighborhood schools often overlook the fact that the enrollment process to get into a charter school requires the ability for the parent to make and keep appointments at the school they wish their child to attend or take time off from work to wait in line to register. A parent working unpredictable part-time hours whose continued employment is contingent on showing up for work whenever their employer needs them cannot, in many cases, keep an appointment AND keep their job. Those of us who worked predictable hours in full time jobs have trouble grasping how challenging it is to raise children with the schedules many parents face today.

One other point Ms. Bronson emphasizes is one made by the Anna E. Casey Foundation:

The Anne E. Casey Foundation argues that improving the well-being of children in poverty requires a two-generation approach, meaning you can’t improve the situation for children without addressing the economic realities of their parents. Its 2015 report states that, “Boosting low family income, especially early in a child’s life, can have lasting positive effects on cognitive development, health, and academic achievement.”

As I have often lamented in this blog, politicians and taxpayers want a cheap, fast, and simple solution– like vouchers— to a costly, slow, and complex problem– like the seemingly intractable cycle of poverty. If we want to break the vicious cycle of poverty, we need to show compassion for those trapped in its web, be willing to share some of our resources, and be patient.

NOLA Makeover Myth Exposed As Statistical Shenanigans

August 23, 2015 Leave a comment

Andrea Gabor, a professor of business journalism at Baruch College of CCNY, wrote a detailed expose of the so-called New Orleans Makeover that occurred after Hurricane Katrina damaged 112 of the 128 buildings in New Orleans, a devastating blow that Arne Duncan described as “the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.” In making the statement, Duncan was echoing political “reformers” who were unleashed by George W. Bush, who, looking back on his handling of Katrina in his memoir saw one success story:

The most uplifting change of all has come in education. Public schools that were decaying before the storm have reopened as modern facilities with new teachers and leaders committed to reform and results.

Reformers and conservative and neo-liberal politicians ALL see NOLA as the template. After the hurricane, NOLA laid off 7500 union teachers and replaced them with new, lower paid teachers. They used philanthropic funds to build new high tech schools and used the test-and-punish method to replace nearly all the public schools with privately funded charters. In the years that followed. studies funded by pro-privatization and pro-charter groups crowed about the success story in New Orleans… but Gabor sees through the data they present and sees only misrepresentations and lies. Test scores went up because LA tests were de-graded. Drop outs decreased because methods for their calculation were compromised. And the percent of students attending college increased because the senior cohorts diminished as a result of the “push-outs”. Two paragraphs illustrate Gabor’s findings:

“We don’t want to replicate a lot of the things that took place to get here,” said Andre Perry, who was one of the few black charter-school leaders in the city. “There were some pretty nefarious things done in the pursuit of academic gain,” Mr. Perry acknowledged, including “suspensions, pushouts, skimming, counseling out, and not handling special needs kids well.”…

The rhetoric of reform often fails to match the reality. For example, Paul G. Vallas, the superintendent of the Recovery School District from 2007 to 2011, boasted recently that only 7 percent of the city’s students attend failing schools today, down from 62 percent before Katrina, a feat accomplished “with no displacement of children.” This was simply false. 

Gabor notes that one of the major problems in assessing the effectiveness of NOLA schools is that complete lack of oversight and does not contend that the system devastated by Katrina was exemplary… but she laments the way the NOLA miracle has been unquestioningly reported in the media and the impact of privatization on the neediest children in the city. She concludes her essay with this caution:

For outsiders, the biggest lesson of New Orleans is this: It is wiser to invest in improving existing education systems than to start from scratch. Privatization may improve outcomes for some students, but it has hurt the most disadvantaged pupils.

While it is wiser to build on the systems in place, it is easier to sell the notion that wholesale reform will solve the ills of the schools, especially when it costs less, replaces “union teachers” with “idealistic…educators who are willing to work 12- to 14-hour days”, and does nothing to help the children of “the undeserving poor”. 

Education Doesn’t Make a Difference… “Persistent Discrimination” Does

August 18, 2015 Leave a comment

A recent NYTimes article reported on a study conducted by the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank that concluded that minorities with a college degree fared far worse in the last two decades than whites with degrees, leading to the unsettling conclusion that even the attainment of a degree does not assure African Americans and Hispanics with an opportunity to advance in terms of their economic status. The study, which focussed on the economic causes of this phenomenon, concluded that many minorities lacked the wealth base of whites (e.g. their parents were not home owners or the wherewithal to pay for their tuition) and so they ended up needing to borrow more for school and had more debt. Thus, whenever there was a downturn in the economy,they found themselves FURTHER behind in their efforts to accumulate wealth that they could pass along to their children and thereby assure their economic standing.

The study also noted that the kinds of degrees attained and kinds of jobs landed by blacks and Hispanics did not compensate as highly as those of whites, which contributed to the wealth disparity.

But the study also cited “persistent discrimination” as a factor…and persistent discrimination cannot be overcome with degrees or even earnings. It can only be accomplished when whites non longer see blacks and Hispanics as “the other” and accept them into their neighborhoods, classrooms, and circle of colleagues and friends. Unfortunately the means of accomplishing this through courts and legislation seem impossible. Desegregation plans, the construction of low income housing in affluent communities,and affirmative action have been resisted by voters and are no longer championed by either political party…. And changing hearts and minds is a slow and uphill battle.

Overcoming “persistent discrimination” will be difficult. Calling it out is an important first step. In a rational political world we would be asking our Presidential candidates how they plan to deal with this issue. MAYBE this will become a major issue in the campaign and we can work together as a nation to help overcome this deep seated problem.

NYTimes Misses Point of Opt Out Movement, Buys Into Bogus Civil Rights Argument of “Reformers”

August 15, 2015 Leave a comment

The bottom line of two maddening NYTimes articles is captured in the title of this blog post… and until the newspaper of record understands the limitations of testing, the effect of testing on the curriculum, and the need to emphasize funding equity the sooner we will improve schooling for all children. 

As noted in an earlier post, the opt out movement had a real impact in New York State where 20% of the students did not take the examination. The title of Elizabeth Harris’ article in today’s paper, “Test Refusal Movement’s Success Hampers Analysis of New York State Exam Results”, indicates that the officials in the state acknowledge that the opt out movement had its intended effect… and it’s leader summed up the desired impact concisely: 

We always said that compliance just means more of the same,” said Jeanette Deutermann, a central figure in Long Island’s test-refusal movement. “The hope was to disrupt it to the point where it cannot be used,” she continued, to where “there are not enough children taking the test to close a school, or not enough data to fire a teacher.”

The Times, like most mass media, emphasize the second half of Ms. Deutermann’s statement while overlooking the first point entirely: the relentless emphasis on testing reinforces the factory school model that has failed and continues to fail children in all public schools. 

“Opting Out of Standardized Testing Is Not The Answer”, the Times editorial today proves that point, It touches all the talking points of the “reform” movement and casts the opt out movement as a group of parents who “ say the tests are too difficult or do not track with classroom instruction”, effectively echoing Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, and all the neo-liberal reformers who believe that failing to use tests will only hurt those who are most disadvantaged. The only reliable data NYS gets is the same data states have been getting for decades: children raised in poverty do worse on standardized tests than children raised in affluence…. and children in affluent districts with high per pupil spending do far better than students in less affluent districts with lower per pupil spending. 




BIG OOPS in NYS: 20% Opted Out of Tests… Charters No Better Than Public Schools

August 13, 2015 Leave a comment

The NYTimes reported that the opt out movement can no longer be ignored and that the huge increase in opt outs might be posing some major problems for the state… and perhaps the nation.  According to data released from NYSED, 20% of students opted out of the states annual tests, quadruple the number who stayed home in 2014. Worse for the state, most of those who stayed home were from the cohorts that scored the highest. And the increase in NYS opt outs could have national ramifications:

Politically, however, pressure has been mounting on lawmakers to give the opt-out movement a wide berth. Last year, the New York Legislature forbade school districts from basing promotion decisions for students on test scores, and from putting them on their permanent records. There is no legal right in New York to remove one’s child from the state assessments, but no law prohibits it either.

The movement has also been weighing on Congress this year as it debates revisions to the law known as No Child Left Behind. A House bill says that the students who opt out will not be counted against their state’s participation rate. A Senate proposal does not go quite so far, but it would allow states to create their own test-refusal policies.

Those who support tests continue to use the bogus civil rights argument:

“Without an annual testing program, the progress of our neediest students may be ignored or forgotten, leaving these students to fall further behind,” the chancellor of the State Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, said in a statement. “This cannot happen.”

But the data gathered from those who DID take the tests indicate that Ms. Tisch’s “reform” solution to addressing the neediest students, placing them in charter schools, won’t make any difference… unless the charters are like those in NYC that selectively screen students:

Charter school students performed slightly worse than the state as a whole on the English exams and slightly better on the math. But those in New York City did better on both than charters elsewhere in the state. At Success Academy, a fast-growing network of city charter schools known for a demanding approach to instruction and test preparation, virtually every grade tested had at least a 50 percent passing rate, with half the grades achieving at least 85 percent.

MAYBE the opt out movement will enable the general public to see that testing students in grade level cohorts does not result in “…the progress of our neediest students” and for-profit charter schools are no better than traditional public schools at achieving higher test scores. The reality is that our “…neediest students” need more than grit or rigorous academic programs that begin in pre-kinergarten: they need support and care from the outset of their lives and their parents need jobs that pay them a living wage under conditions conducive to good parenting.

“Body Report Cards” Do Not Change Behavior. Do Traditional “Academic Report Cards”?

August 13, 2015 Leave a comment

The title of an article in the Well section of the NYTimes by Jan Hoffman caught my eye:

‘Body’ Report Cards Aren’t Influencing Arkansas Teenagers

The article described the results of a study that reviewed the impact of Arkansas’ attempt to reduce adolescent obesity by issuing letters to their parents describing their BMI. The findings: the letters have had almost no effect, at least on older teenagers.

The article notes that several states of taken similar actions, providing parents with an array of fitness measures including their BMIs, their comparative ability to run a mile, do push-ups and sit-ups, and lift their trunk off the floor. The general consensus among the physicians and researchers quoted in the article seemed to be that spending money to tell teenagers they are overweight is pointless— they already know they are overweight or unfit. One of the reactions, though, was especially provocative:

Martha M. Phillips, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences who evaluated the annual Arkansas data for a decade, said the letters alone were never expected to change behavior.

Arkansas schools, she said, reinforced the message with many efforts. Some school districts banned vending machines or regulated student access to them, and limited the snacks’ calorie count. Others restricted the number of parties a classroom could hold in a year, to cut off seemingly endless supplies of cupcakes and brownies. Others beefed up staff for physical education classes.

The result? Obesity rates among Arkansas schoolchildren have remained roughly the same since the initiative began.

This, some experts say, constitutes good news.

“It didn’t get worse,” Dr. Phillips said, who noted that obesity rates had been rising steadily for some three decades before the new program took effect.

If the issuance of health report cards is not expected to change behavior, why do we think that the issuance of academic reports cards will change behavior. Indeed, the reactions of teenagers to report cards in the article resonated with me as a former high school administrator:

“The typical 16-year-old’s reaction to getting a letter at home and having your parents tell you to eat right and exercise, would be, ‘Don’t nag me,’ ” said Dr. Gee, an assistant professor of education policy at the University of California, Davis.

Is the teenager’s issuance of a quarterly academic report card any different?

”A letter home in high school doesn’t make a lot of sense,” said Dr. Story of Duke, who conducted research in Minnesota on obesity prevention programs for adolescents. “Most teenagers already know when they’re overweight.”

Don’t most teenagers already know where they stand in the academic pecking order the same way they know they are overweight?

The answer in both academics and obesity seems to be the same: earlier intervention and parent engagement is essential. But will an overweight parent who has an unhealthy diet be able to change their eating habits? Will that parent prepare healthy meals to help their child achieve a lower BMI? Will an overweight parent who has not exercised for several years encourage their child to ride their bike or go for a walk instead of playing computer games or watching television? The analogy for academics is self-evident… and, arguably, health, intellectual growth, and well-being are inter-related. Breaking the cycle will require more than report cards, more than increasingly sophisticated measures, and more than schools can provide in six hours beginning at the age of five. More than anything, it will require a belief on the part of parents that their children will have an opportunity for success if they stay fit and study hard. That faith in the future is difficult when all evidence is to the contrary.