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Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Graphics Show What Readers Know: Boundaries and Attendance Zones Reinforce Economic Segregation, Prevent Upward Mobility

July 28, 2015 Leave a comment

Two recent blog posts provide graphic illustrations of the way arbitrary school boundaries and attendance zones reinforce economic segregation and limit the opportunities for children board born in poverty to get a high quality education.

In his recent Vox post “Want a Good Public Education for Your Kids? Better Be Rich First“, Matt Yglesias uses a scattergram and a Google Earth map to illustrate how the school attendance zones and zoning practices and in his home city of Washington DC  result in de facto economic segregation and, consequently, unequal opportunities. He acknowledges that charter schools afford some opportunity for children to attend schools outside their attendance zone, but it is a limited opportunity at best:

In DC, you are guaranteed the right to send your kid to your in-zone elementary school, but all charter schools admit students purely on the basis of a lottery. Convenience still counts in life, so the charter system hardly eliminates geographic sources of disadvantage. But it does mitigate them. Shifting to more reliance on charter schools or having public schools admit students without geographic preference would be good for equality. But in this case, equality really is a leveling measure that lifts up poorer households in part by dragging down richer ones. 

The Atlantic City Lab blog provides an interactive map that shows how this phenomenon of attendance zoning plays out across the country. In “An Interactive Map from EdBuild Shows How School district Funding Enforces Poverty Rates” Laura Bliss offers some compelling examples of preposterous attendance zone practices that do what the title indicates. She offers three specific examples of how gerrymandering and town boundaries separate children raised in affluence from those raised in poverty and how black students are segregated from white ones… and all of her examples are north of the Mason Dixon line.

If politicians are unwilling to compel boundary changes that yield equitable funding for schools then fair-minded taxpayers should push their legislators to at least ensure that all children attend schools that offer comparable opportunities. That HAS happened in 42 states where lawsuits have been filed to require equitable funding. The shame is that few of these states have responded by increasing the funds for schools. Instead, they have achieved equality by dragging down rich districts instead of lifting up those serving children raised in poverty and selling the public on the notion that schooling, like breakfast cereal, is a commodity that requires choice.

Want Less Integration? UCLA Study Indicates Charter Schools Are The Way to Go!

July 27, 2015 Leave a comment

A recent Latina article by Cindy Casares described a study conducted by UCLA that indicated that New York City— one of the most multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multiracial cities in the world— has the most segregated school in our country. How did this happen?

The culprit? Educational choice plans without civil rights standards like “strong public information and outreach, free transportation, serious planning and training for successful diversity, authentic educational options worth choosing, and no admissions screening.”

The problem with using tests as the basis for entering NYC High Schools is well documented and referenced in earlier blog posts.  The consequence of this practice: NYC High Schools are far more segregated than the schools zoned by neighborhoods that fed them students. As test results became an entry factor to elementary and middle schools and “choice” without outreach, free transportation, and “authentic educational options” took over, the elementary and middle schools became increasingly segregated. How can this be fixed? Mayor de Blasio is requiring schools “…to report annually on student demographics in community school districts and high schools and any efforts made to “encourage a diverse student body in its schools and special programs.” But here’s a better idea:

Slate highlights a small program in super crunchy Park Slope, Brooklyn, where one school set aside a large percentage of seats for kids who are still learning English or receiving free or reduced meals.

Segregation will not go away on its own… and when it is addressed at the grassroots level it’s chances for success are created than when it is imposed by “the government”. The Park Slope neighborhood that opened its doors to ESL and less affluent students is acting from an internal sense of economic justice and not because of an edict from Washington DC. If more NYC neighborhoods had the heart of “crunchy” Park Slope instead of the elitist attitude that leads to the kinds of charter schools described in this article, de-segregation would happen quickly and without incident.

Study Shows Nature Can Nurture

July 22, 2015 Leave a comment

As one who grew up spending every minute I could outdoors either playing sports or wandering through woodlands, spent my adult life living in cities (10 years), small towns (10 years), suburbs (5 years) and in the country for over 20 year and as one who loves camping in a tent as an adult, I was not surprised to read the research described in Gretchen Reynolds NYTimes article “How Nature Changes the Brain“. I know from my own personal experience that nature is restorative. Watching birds at the feeder, listening to the wind rustling through the trees, watching the ocean or the waters on a lake or pond, or hiking through woodlands, deserts, or to the top of a mountain all bring an inner peace. But Reynolds’ blog post indicates that my opportunities to enjoy nature rare uncommon:

Most of us today live in cities and spend far less time outside in green, natural spaces than people did several generations ago.

City dwellers also have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers, studies show.

These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research. Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

As I’ve written in previous blog posts, research has demonstrated that the stress of poverty has an adverse effect on the brain and based on my experience as a city dweller I know that real estate near “green spaces” demand a premium price that often precludes ready access to those who cannot afford housing.

Two thought exercises:

  • It will be interesting to see if the decision to tear down vacant homes in Detroit and replace them with green space changes the levels of anxiety, depressing and other mental illnesses over time.
  • I wonder how our emphasis on “safety” will limit the access of urban dwellers to the parklands that are already in place… and if that fear generated by “safety concerns” will offset the positive effects of wandering in nature.

Bill Gates Acknowledges His Education Initiatives Fell Short… And Now He Wants to Take on Pre-School?

July 19, 2015 Leave a comment

Nick Kristof’s column today profiles Bill and Melinda Gates, offering an overview of the work of their foundation on it’s 15th anniversary. In general, the foundation’s initiatives in medicine are wholly positive and, like Gates’ corporation, borderless. Absent a well funded international organization with a narrow focus on specific diseases philanthropy can eliminate diseases like polio, Guinea worm disease and, perhaps, elephantiasis and blinding trachoma. These diseases cause suffering to large swaths of the populations of third world countries and can be eliminated through comprehensive immunization and/or infrastructure changes and/or the introduction of specific proven hygiene practices.

Where Gates’ initiatives fall short is in areas like education, an area that has no clear solution and an area that defies the technological/engineering template that succeeds in fighting diseases. In looking back at the successes and failures of his Foundation, Gates acknowledges that “…the foundation’s investments in education here in the United States haven’t paid off as well” and “…started out too tech-focused”. What Gates DOESN’T acknowledge is the need for him to spend as much time and energy retracting his “tech-focused” solutions to education as he spent promoting them. As written repeatedly in this blog and most other progressive education blogs, the use of standardized test scores as the “hard metric” for teacher and school performance has resulted in drastic and seemingly irreversible changes in public education in this country. Standardized tests require a standardized curriculum the same way that software development requires standardization, and whether the curriculum is standardized at the national or state level doesn’t matter in the end… if the quality of teachers and schools are determined by performance on a standardized test of ANY kind the children in the classes and schools will receive instruction designed to have them succeed on that test. As Gates has learned, though, the narrow bore focus that cures diseases cannot improve public schools. Eradicating the causes and effects of poverty, which is inextricably linked to test results, requires a comprehensive approach and the use of the “squishy” metrics Mr. Gates admittedly disdains. Here’s hoping Mr. Gates has learned those lessons before investing in pre-school education.

A Hotel Run By Robots… and More Unskilled Jobs Disappear

July 18, 2015 Leave a comment

The NYTimes travel section featured an article that consisted of six pictures depicting a hotel that is staffed by robots. It is unclear if the article was written by a human…. but it IS clear that some hotel chains are contemplating the day win they can replace pesky human beings with reliable robots. Future posts will describe even more jobs that are predicted to be assumed by robots… and the nature of schooling will likely change as a result of this takeover.

Social Mobility Stymied by Student Debt, Failure to Be Born to Rich Parents

July 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Atlantic writer Gillian White’s blog post, “Millenials Who Are Thriving Economically Have One Thing in Common – Rich Parents”, describes the sad conclusion of economic mobility in our country today. But the article could just as easily been titled “Student Debt Limiting Social Mobility” given the wealth of data from real estate sites indicating that students who are burdened with indebtedness are unable to make the down payment on housing because they must first reserve funding to pay off the cost of tuition for college and graduate school. The result: Millenials whose parents paid for their college have a better opportunity to buy a house, attend graduate school (which, in most cases, increases their earning power), and avoid the crushing burden of student debt that other Millenials face. On a societal scale this means that the rich are getting richer, the middle class (sic) are losing the opportunity to accumulate wealth, and the poor are incapable of advancing. Got Plutocracy?

The Contingent Workforce: The Future Direction for Public Schools?

July 13, 2015 Leave a comment

Over the past four decades there has been a trend in employment in our country: corporations, in an effort to improve their bottom line have moved away from full-time employees in the direction of “contingent workers”. An article in todays NYTimes by Noam Scheiber titled “Rising Economic Insecurity Tied to Decades Long Trend in Employment Practices” describes how this shift played out in corporate America this way:

Far-flung business units were sold off. Many other activities — beginning with human resources and then spreading to customer service and information technology — could be outsourced. The corporate headquarters would coordinate among the outsourced workers and monitor their performance.

The article described at length how this shift was advantageous for some highly skilled workers whose talents enabled them to earn high wages while working flexible hours. But it downplayed the impact on unskilled employees whose work was scheduled “efficiently” to help the corporations achieve a higher level of profit while viewing their labor as easily replaceable. And here’s the rub: as technology advances more and more iterative jobs will be eliminated and more and more unskilled laborers will be marginalized. Worse, as technology advances, so-called “robots” will be able to perform more and more tasks that now require “skilled” workers, further diminishing the workforce. Those “robots” may take the form of DIY devices like ATMs and scanners that enable shoppers to replace check-out clerks or may be literal robots that take orders and deliver food at restaurants replacing the waitstaff.

Public education has not been exempt from the outsourcing phenomenon. Just as the organization of schools mirrored the corporate organizations in place through the 1950s, today’s schools, particularly larger school districts, are moving toward the corporate models when it comes to the provision of support services. It is not unusual for a school district to outsource food services, custodial services, maintenance, technology support, bussing, payroll, and a wide array of testing programs. All of the jobs associated with these services were once staffed by school district employees who resided in the district and willingly paid taxes to support their local schools. Once the jobs were outsourced, however, the employees no longer had an allegiance to the school district and no longer had the assurances that their jobs would be secure.

Until the past decade or so, teachers have been exempt from this outsourcing phenomenon… but no more. One of the results of NCLB and RTTT is the “takeover” of “failing schools” by non-government organizations who, in many cases, were staffed by uncertified college graduates who could provide the iterative instruction needed to improve test scores which are the primary metric used to determine the effectiveness of schools. And here’s the rub: as teaching-to-the-test increases the skill level required by a teacher diminishes and the availability of on-line instruction increases. This vicious cycle mirrors what is happening in corporate America… and the results have not been beneficial for employees or children.

I believe there is a way out of this cycle for public education. If schools embrace the opportunity to use on-line instruction to provide iterative instruction and demand that teachers use their talents and skills to diagnose individual student needs, to counsel students, and to provide the “soft” skills that cannot be measured by standardized tests but are critically important in our democratic society they can emphasize the craft of teaching  and provide teachers with the same opportunities (and wages) that skilled workers receive in the “contingent economy”. If teaching is reduced to training students to pass tests, however, teachers will quickly become as replaceable as Walmart employees and burger flippers.