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Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Duncan’s Memo Redux

October 29, 2014 Leave a comment

A few weeks ago I posted on an article the NYTimes wrote touting a 37 page letter from Arne Duncan urging “…state officials, superintendents and principals to monitor policies and facilities and to make sure they are equitably distributed among students of all races.” As I noted in my earlier post, the letter is full of data that readers of this blog and other progressive blogs are well aware of: black students have fewer opportunities to take AP courses, advanced math courses, to be taught be certified teachers, and to attend school facilities that are equal to those available to affluent students. This letter is no different from ones I recall receiving from secretaries of education from the Reagan administration through this one… and they have probably been coming out since Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954.

Today the Times editors wrote a piece touting this memo again… but instead of focussing on the need for equitable allocation of school funds at the State level, they focused on teacher quality. at the district level. Here’s the closing paragraph:

The new guidance rightly focuses on teacher quality and says the department’s investigations will seek to expose school districts that unjustifiably provide minority children with ineffective, poorly trained teachers. Policies don’t have to be intentionally discriminatory to be illegal; race-neutral but ill-considered strategies can also have a terrible effect on minority students.

Residential housing patterns and historic town boundaries create the inequities that exist among school districts NOT district practices. Demonstrably unfair funding formulas create resource disparities NOT district practices. Duncan and Obama and the NYTimes are all blaming school districts from inequities that are not of their own making. Given this reality, I wrote the following letter to the editors of the Times: 

Secretary Duncan and President Obama need to stop exhorting DISTRICTS to equalize resources and take action where STATES have failed to do so. Over the past several decades all but five states have been sued over inequities in school funding. At the same time federal funds have been allocated to every district in the country, even the most affluent. Mr. Duncan wanted to ensure that resources applied more equitably he could take action in states where legislatures have not responded to court decisions calling for changes to the funding systems by directing all federal funds to those districts that state courts identified as being short-changed. If State legislatures fail to provide every child with an equal opportunity, the federal government has a responsibility to do so…. and writing persuasive memos will not change anyone’s behavior in the next two years any more than it has for the past 60.

 

You cannot expect the Philadelphia school district to adhere to a guideline that resources be equitably allocated when their budget provides roughly $7,000/student less than Lower Merion School District. It is not Philadelphia’s fault that they are under-resourced and allocating scarce funds among decrepit undermanned schools is no remedy. Secretary Duncan, President Obama, and the Times should put the spotlight where it belongs: on State legislatures who have not addressed lawsuits that call for changes in the funding formulas.

Disinvestment in Public Education

October 28, 2014 Leave a comment

This just in: most states are spending less on colleges and K-12 education. As a result:

  • Tuition costs for colleges are increasing (see chart below) making it increasingly difficult for students raised in poverty to afford college and increasing the debt of those who CAN afford to get in.
  • School districts who serve children raised in poverty and therefore rely heavily on State funding are receiving less per pupil making it increasingly difficult for them to succeed in schools
  • Public colleges and K-12 schools are either increasing class sizes or laying off teachers or both… and neither public colleges or public schools are compensating teachers at the levels they received before the recession.

We are in the midst of state and national campaigns… and no one running for office in my state (NH) is talking about increasing funding levels for public education at any level and from what I’ve read NO one is campaigning on a platform that advocates increased spending for education… but EVERYONE who is running claims to be in full support of “improving” education. It would be nice if those seeking improvements acknowledged that school improvement, like , say, home improvement, required more money. When it comes to college, the cost is shifted to students and when it comes to K-12 schooling, the cost is shifted to homeowners, and affluent homeowners can and will dig a little deeper to retain good schools while those in less affluent areas cannot increase their taxes to get the same yield. …. and the divide widens….

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Fee-For-Service Redux

October 24, 2014 Leave a comment

Yesterday I wrote a post describing the latest funding scheme advocated by the business community and taxpayers groups whereby schools are starved of funds and private foundations and/or school fundraisers are expected to fill the void. The post was prompted by a NYTimes article by Mokoto Rich describing how this gambit is effectively adding to the disparity between affluent schools and schools serving children in poverty and effectively diminishing the support for increases in broad based taxes needed to increase the base funding for public education.

For readers who might have concluded that this was a problem only in the Northeast because it was reported in the NYTimes, today’s Google feed offered evidence that the same phenomenon is occurring in the heartland by providing a more detailed analysis of the study completed by the University of Indiana-Bloomington that was the basis of Rich’s article. According to the study, private funds for schools have increased but the schools serving lower income students have benefited least and… the increase in “voluntary funds” has not offset the aggregate loss in taxes:

Nonprofit organizations dedicated to helping support public schools have grown dramatically over the past two decades. And they are raising a lot more money than a few years ago.

But the growth hasn’t come close to offsetting the reduction in tax revenues for schools that came with the recent recession, according to a study by Indiana University researchers. And the support is uneven, with students in high-poverty schools less likely to benefit from voluntary fundraising.

This whole gambit of shifting the burden to “end-users” has consequences that match my personal experience as a superintendent during the time frame the study covers:

The researchers analyzed trends and relationships in data from thousands of U.S. nonprofit school-supporting organizations that filed annual IRS reports between 1995 and 2010. Findings included:

  • The number of such organizations, including local school foundations, booster clubs and parent-teacher organizations, grew from 3,475 in 1995 to 11,453 in 2010.
  • The money they raised, adjusted for inflation, grew from $197 million to $880 million, or nearly 350 percent.
  • The share of school districts with at least one such nonprofit organization increased from 12 percent in 1995 to 29 percent in 2010.
  • Large school districts are more likely to be served by at least one fundraising organization; but the money raised, per pupil, declines as district enrollment gets larger.

School districts with greater capacity — as measured by property tax revenues per pupil, the share of individuals with a bachelor’s degree or more, median household income, and relatively low unemployment rates — have higher probabilities of being served by at least one school-supporting nonprofit and receive more money, per pupil, from the nonprofits.

While school-supporting nonprofits have exploded in number and revenue, the researchers conclude the money they raise isn’t enough to tip the balance in how schools are funded. Among school districts that got help from one or more nonprofit organization, average voluntary per-pupil funding in 2010 was $28; that compares to approximately $10,600 per student that public schools spent. Meanwhile, state tax receipts — a key source of support for schools in many states — have declined by 12 percent since the start of the Great Recession in 2008.

I believe the researchers were charitable in assigning the decline in state revenues to “the Great Recession”. The decline in revenues has also been helped by an increase in corporate tax breaks and reductions in state income taxes that were sold to the public as a means of stimulating economic growth. The privatization movement has only made matters worse for students in high poverty schools. The fact that these tax cuts and privatization movements happened in States under the leadership of Republicans who want to “starve the beast” and neoliberals who want to “run government like a business” is no coincidence. The sad reality is that once broad based taxes are reduced and privatization is introduced, the funding States ultimately provide to “students in high poverty schools” is unlikely to return unless some politician is courageous enough to insist that better schools will require higher taxes. In the meantime the mainstream media like TIME magazine will run cover stories blaming teachers for the failings of underfunded schools…. and the death spiral will continue.

Born on 3rd Base

October 20, 2014 Leave a comment

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: Poor-Grads-Rich-Dropouts

O’Brien writes:

…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.

Amen….

Getting Our Priorities Straight

October 16, 2014 Leave a comment

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.

Dealing with Bad Behavior

October 11, 2014 Leave a comment

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?

Chicago’s Appalling Class Sizes

October 9, 2014 Leave a comment

Ben Joravsky, a blogger for the Chicago Reader, wrote a post describing the effects of having 36 children in a 5th grade classroom, a fairly typical class size in that city…. and typical of Philadelphia schools in 1970 and today and increasingly typical of all urban schools. The article describes the litany of excuses Mayor Emmanuel offers which echo those of “reform-minded” mayors and governors across the country. The post also describes the mayor’s decision to use millions of dollars to build a new basketball arena for DePaul college while claiming he lacks the funds to build new schools, which is sadly characteristic of many urban mayors who assert the economic development gains from subsidizing stadiums… oh.. and subsidizing businesses as well.

I served as superintendent for 29 years in five different districts in five different states and NONE of those districts would tolerate 36 students in ANY classroom, and in my most recent assignment 24 would be unacceptable when we budgeted. My observation: there is a correlation between engagement level of the parents and class size: the more engaged the parents, the lower the class size. If parents of children in under-served public schools ever unified they would never accept 36 kids in a class and they would insist that their tax dollars NOT be used for stadia and arenas.

But parents of children in under-served public schools lack two resources that allow for engagement: they lack money and time. Invariably the underserved schools are those that serve children raised in poverty, which necessarily means their parents lack money. The parents often work multiple part-time jobs at unpredictable hours and minimum wage. They are often single parents, which makes it challenging to get child care to attend PTO meetings or parent conferences. And, alas, in some cases they are facing their own challenges with medical issues, issues within their extended family, and addictions. They are not disengaged from school or politics by choice but rather by circumstance. These are the parents whose children will be left behind in underfunded public schools if public education becomes entirely “market based” because their neighborhoods are the ones left behind by market analysts seeking locations for drug stores, grocery stores, department stores, and even fast food franchises. They won’t be heard from and as a result their children will be left to fend for themselves in classes of 36 children while children in the nearby suburban schools will flourish in class sizes of 24…. and politicians claim money doesn’t matter.