Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Frank Bruni Lives in a College Prep Bubble

March 13, 2015 Leave a comment

I just received a copy of Frank Bruni’s Sunday essay titled “How To Survive College Admissions Madness”. The essay describes several anecdotes of college bound students who fail to gain acceptance to top tier colleges and succeed nevertheless. But the essay fails to acknowledge the reality that only 40% of ALL children between the ages of 18 and 24 attend college: that is a majority of students are NOT on the college track even though a majority of high school graduates DO attend college. Bruni writes:

“…a majority (of American families) are focused on making sure that their kids simply attend a decent college — any decent college — and on finding a way to help them pay for it.”

To which I responded:

Sorry to burst your bubble and the bubble of many readers, but roughly 60% of 18 to 24 year olds are NOT in college… which is a reflection of another reality: many parents disengage from their child’s school experience and, thus, are NOT focused on getting their youngster through HS let alone into HS. Engaged students come from the homes of engaged parents… and if we are really serious about improving education in our country we need to find ways to keep parents engaged in the lives of their children. To do so we might need to pay all parents a decent wage, give them and their children medical care, schedule their work at predictable hours, make sure they get sick leave if their child is ill, and schedule teacher conferences at a time that is convenient for them.

Frank Bruni is a true believer in the “school reform” meme— his article includes the story of a 26 year old who didn’t get into the college of her choice, joined TFA, and now, at the age of 26, is leading her own charter school. He, like many who have not witnessed the dispiriting nature of poverty, believes ALL parents think like his parents and the parents of his college attending friends. If that were the case we would not have struggling students or disparate earnings. Until those in the “reform movement recognize that poverty is an obstacle that must be overcome and not “an excuse” for the struggles many children have in school we will never get at the root of the problems in education.

Painful Lessons Lead to Moynihan’s Rehabilitation

March 12, 2015 Leave a comment

Nick Kristoff’s NYTimes column, “When Liberals Blew It“, marks the nearly complete rehabilitation of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a sub-Cabinet member of the Johnson administration who later became a member of Nixon’s cabinet and ultimately was a three term senator in New York. Moynihan was a persona non grata to the liberal wing of the Democrat party in the 60s based on a report he wrote describing the adverse impact of both slavery and single parent households on the upbringing of young blacks. At the time he issued his report, he was excoriated by many on the left and many black activists for their perception he was “blaming the victim” for their station in life. Kristof selected one quote that captured the antipathy Moynihan generated at the time:

“My major criticism of the report is that it assumes that middle-class American values are the correct values for everyone in America,” protested Floyd McKissick, then a prominent African-American civil rights leader.

When I was a graduate student at University of Pennsylvania in the early 1970s I wrote a report advocating early intervention for children being raised in poverty, recommending more funds for structured preschool education programs like the ones in Ann Arbor Michigan. Many of my classmates at the time echoed McKissick’s criticism, and others, who privately agreed with my proposals later, were quiet— as were other moderate liberals at the time.

The government’s role in mitigating against family dysfunction is not easy to define. We tend to favor keeping children with biological parents for as long as possible even if those parents have limited resources and/or limited parenting skills. We tend to impose economic penalties on wives who want to move out of abusive relationships even though remaining in those relationships exposes their children to violent and aggressive behavior. And, as Kristof notes, we tend to imprison the fathers of too many children reinforcing the vicious cycle of crime and poverty in impoverished neighborhoods. Here’s Kristoff’s analysis of the conservatives’ fundamental error in the fight against poverty:

Conservatives shouldn’t chortle at the evidence that liberals blew it, for they did as well. Conservatives say all the right things about honoring families, but they led the disastrous American experiment in mass incarceration; incarceration rates have quintupled since the 1970s. That devastated families, leading countless boys to grow up without dads.

The conservative’s belief that “government is the problem” also damaged any hope of meaningful early childhood intervention and their ongoing objections to “government schools” makes any expansion of preschool to help needy children highly unlikely. And many of today’s liberals, like their predecessors, are likely to push back at any effort to have the government impose “middle class American values”, especially if those “middle class American values” involved funding any religious organizations or advocating mindless consumption.

One thing IS clear: continuing what we’ve done for the past 50 years will get us nowhere… and one thing we HAVEN’T been doing is spending too much money on this issue. My thought: if we want to break the cycle of dysfunction that has existed for decades and is getting worse, we need to be willing to spend more on early intervention and one unarguable need is access to medical and mental health services for all children, not just those fortunate to have been born in the right zip code. Maybe a latter day Moynihan will emerge— perhaps someone like Robert Putnam— and call for something along these lines so that we can move the debate away from moral issues related to single parent households and toward ameliorating the physical and psychological pain their children struggle with on a daily basis.

Vermont’s Personalized Learning Plans COULD be the New Reality… IF…

March 11, 2015 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch devoted a blog post yesterday to an ongoing debate involving the Rivendell school district just north of where I live and the Vermont Agency of Education (AoE). The Principal of Rivendell Academy, Keri Gelenian, wrote a letter to Rebecca Holcombe, the State Commissioner of Education. Full disclosure: Rebecca Holcombe was a parent in the district I led for seven years and I have some awareness of Vermont’s school districts having consulted in several of them… so I am not an innocent bystander to the balancing act Rebecca Holcombe faces nor am I impartial: I have a deep respect for her ideas about education and her principles.

I also have respect and admiration for the Vermont legislature. Unlike many states that have passed boilerplate ALEC legislation, the Vermont legislature crafts their education bills carefully. They create study committees that include educators and convene hearings that influence the ultimate passage of the laws. Once laws are passed, the State Board, the governing board of the agency responsible for developing regulations, also convenes hearings and seeks input form all those who would be affected. This is the way democracy is supposed to work, which is why it is maddening to read about states like Wisconsin, Florida, Texas and New York who’s governors unilaterally impose “reform” without seeking input from studies involving practitioners.

One of the laws passed during Dr. Holcombe’s tenure as Commissioner is Act 77 which required the implementation of Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs). As described on the Vermont AoE webpage, PLPs will “… help students achieve academic success, be prepared for post-secondary opportunities, and engage actively in civic life.”  By law, all Vermont schools

…will need to ensure that they have designed a PLP process for implementation beginning in the fall of 2015. Schools will be expected to initiate a process for students to identify their goals, learning styles, and abilities and align this with the school’s academic expectations and student’s pathway toward graduation.

If you were the parent of a student attending a middle or high school,

  • Would you rather have one-size-fits-all-standardized tests as the basis for measuring your child’s progress or an individualized learning plan that matches their unique abilities with the academic program offered at the school?
  • Would you rather have the teachers and counselors at the school your child attends give you feedback on your child’s progress or have a print-out from a corporate testing company give you the results?
  • Would you rather have the teachers assess your child’s performance on academic goals YOU set or have a corporate testing company assess your child’s performance on academic goals set by a team of “national leaders”?

As Buckminster Fuller wrote: “The best way to change the current reality is to create a new reality that makes the old one obsolete.” PLPs are a new reality that should make the old reality of standardization obsolete… but the old reality cannot change until the federal government gets out of the way! With all of this as context, here is the comment I left on Diane Ravitch’s blog:

Keep Rebecca Holcombe on your heroes list… as her exchange with Arne Duncan indicates, she is resolute on this issue but needs to tread carefully because of the budget impact to the entire state IF the federal government decided to “make an example” of VT. Under her leadership VT has done a good job in keeping their perspective on the test results.

Instead of protesting the AoE for carrying out the SBAC because of the political realities, I would encourage VT educators to get behind the full and complete implementation of the Personalized Learning Plans (PLPs) developed by the AoE. The PLPs are a better means of measuring student performance than standardized tests. They compel students and parents to plan for the future and they use the insights of teachers and counselors instead of the cold numbers generated by tests. As Buckminster Fuller wrote: “The best way to change the current reality is to create a new reality that makes the old one obsolete.” PLPs are a new reality that should make the old reality of standardization obsolete… but it will only happen if the federal government gets out of the way!


The Meta-Messages of Conservatives and Liberals

March 10, 2015 Leave a comment

“The Cost of Relativism”, David Brooks column in today’s NYTimes, provides an overview of a book by Robert Putnam that describes the widening gap between children raised by high school educated parents as compared to those raised by college educated parents. In keeping with my reaction to previous Brooks columns, I find that he lays out a compelling argument for government intervention but ultimately backs away from that idea because it is in direct conflict with his deeply held convictions about free market capitalism. Here’s an example of the Putnam’s findings that Brooks highlights:

Roughly 10 percent of the children born to college grads grow up in single-parent households. Nearly 70 percent of children born to high school grads do. There are a bunch of charts that look like open scissors. In the 1960s or 1970s, college-educated and noncollege-educated families behaved roughly the same. But since then, behavior patterns have ever more sharply diverged. High-school-educated parents dine with their children less than college-educated parents, read to them less, talk to them less, take them to church less, encourage them less and spend less time engaging in developmental activity.

After providing some specific examples drawn from Putnam’s study, he writes:

The first response to these stats and to these profiles should be intense sympathy. We now have multiple generations of people caught in recurring feedback loops of economic stress and family breakdown, often leading to something approaching an anarchy of the intimate life.

After detailing the rending of the moral fiber of our society that led to this situation and offering some high-minded pablum, Brooks comes to this conclusion:

Social norms need repair up and down the scale, universally, together and all at once.

After noting that some readers have been disturbed by the “spiritual and moral direction” his columns have taken of late, he suggests we move in the direction of a “moral revival” whereby we somehow engage in an “…organic communal effort, with voices from everywhere saying gently: This we praise. This we don’t.” He doesn’t suggest how we do this… but I do know this, David Brooks would never suggest the government might want to take a leadership role in this effort… and that led me to leave this comment:

David Brooks turn in a “moral direction” puts him in an awkward position politically. If parents are incapable of providing their children with moral guidance who will do it for them? In David Brook’s world it surely would NOT be the government! Indeed, Mr. Brooks analysis overlooks how the conservative’s position that “government is the problem” and “the free market is the solution” has contributed to the acceleration of the social and economic divide Mr. Putnam describes in his study. The meta-message of unregulated free market capitalism is “You’re on your own” and “regulations are bad”… Is it any surprise that when that message trickles down many parents feel free to do their own thing and don’t feel that society’s rules apply to them? And here’s the conundrum for David Brooks: the meta-message of liberalism is “we’re all in this together” and “I AM my brother’s keeper”. JFK’s inaugural address that asked us to look at what WE could contribute to our government was an ideal and standard that could have guided us to a different future. Reagan’s call for us to abandon the government’s guidance led us to where we are today.

I often leave comments on articles that I don’t incorporate in this column because they have more to do with economic, social and moral issues than they have to do with education… but inasmuch as columnists like Brooks typically see poverty as “an excuse” and assume that teachers can miraculously cure the deep seated problems students bring with them into the classroom I believe Putnam’s findings and Brooks’ reaction to them relevant. Until we actively engage the government in supporting parents who want the best for their children and intervening in cases where children are being neglected we will continue to see the divide increase. The meta-message in a democracy needs to be “we’re all in this together” and “I AM my brother’s keeper”.

The NYTimes Editorial Board’s TFA Findings Show They Are Beginning to See The Light

March 10, 2015 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes oped article in the Taking Note series shows that the editorial board MAY be seeing the light in terms of Teach For America…. and makes me hold out some hope that they might take a step back and examine the results of the entire reform movement! After publishing several articles championing TFA, the Times wrote this terse summary of the a study on that organization:

study has found no significant difference in test scores between students taught by Teach for America teachers and those whose teachers weren’t affiliated with the program. The Teach for America teachers in the study also felt worse about their jobs, by several measures, than those who weren’t part of T.F.A.

Now that the Times has examined the facts on TFA it might be time for them to examine the facts on the premise and the results of the “reform” movement. After all, they recently wrote about the ultimately negligible impact Jeb Bush’s test-punish-and-privatize regimen had on FL schools and the similarly negligible impact of NCLB and RTTT on one generation of students. They’ve also published several op-ed essays describing the devastating effects of poverty and violence on children and how this effects their ability to focus on school work. When these findings are examined together with the TFA results, here’s my conclusion:

=> Children raised in affluence score higher on tests than children raised in poverty

=> After an initial bump in performance that results from students learning how to take tests, the scores “stagnate”

=> Spending on schools matters. If it didn’t matter taxpayers in affluent suburbs wouldn’t support it.

=> Poverty isn’t an “excuse”. It’s effects on children are real and long-lasting.

=> Teaching is hard work and those who chose it as a profession are committed to seeing their students succeed

I hope that the Times editors will conclude that Governor Cuomo’s plan to redouble the emphasis on testing while failing to provide equitable school funding is wrongheaded. I also hope the editorial staff will see the flaws in the test-based accountability system and see that its ultimate purpose is the privatization of public schools and NOT success for ALL children.

Brown v. Board of Education: “A Frustration Born Out of Perpetual Incompletion”

March 9, 2015 Leave a comment

Charles Blow wrote a restrained and eloquent op ed article in today’s NYTimes describing his attendance at the 50th Anniversary of “Bloody Sunday” in Selma. In the article Blow places Selma in the context of history from an African American perspective and captures the mood at the event in the following paragraph:

And yet there seemed to me something else in the air: a lingering — or gathering — sense of sadness, a frustration born out of perpetual incompletion, an anger engendered by the threat of regression, a pessimism about a present and future riven by worsening racial understanding and interplay.

The phrase, “a frustration born out of perpetual incompletion, an anger engendered by the threat of regression, a pessimism about a present and future riven by worsening racial understanding and interplay” jumped out at me, because it describes my feelings about Brown v. Board of Education. Brown was supposed to overturn Plessy v. Ferguson, a case the Supreme Court decided roughed sixty years prior to Brown. It was supposed to put an end to “separate but equal” facilities for African Americans, to ensure that they got the same opportunities as white Americans. Now, sixty years AFTER Brown we HAVE “perpetual incompletion”, we HAVE a real regression in terms of housing patterns and educational opportunities, and, unsurprisingly, we have an increasing level of pessimism. It is wonderful that our nation elected an African American to be President. It would have been better if everyone in our country allowed an African American to move into their neighborhood, attend their public schools, and have the opportunities Brown v. Board of Education was supposed to provide them sixty years ago.  I am saddened by this “perpetual incompletion” and hope my grandson witnesses the society Dr. King envisioned, the one the marchers anticipated 50 years ago when they crossed the bridge.

The Fruits of Funding Inequity in Ferguson, Missouri

March 5, 2015 Leave a comment

Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes describes the damning findings of the DOJ relative to the police force in Ferguson MO. I believe Blow realizes that the problems Ferguson is experiencing are no different than the problems property poor communities are encountering across the country… and while those communities are not all populated by minorities, they all face daunting challenges because they are economically disadvantaged.

Ferguson, like many towns with high poverty rates and low property values, suffers in many ways. For example, Ferguson schools spend $500 per student less than the State average… and their strained tax base cannot afford the kinds of recreational opportunities for their citizens that more affluent communities provide. They don’t have garden clubs who can plant tulips in median strips in town or have public funds to pay for planters in their town center. They may not even HAVE a viable town center because Dollar Stores and Walmarts have forced small businesses to close. This creates a vicious cycle: housing values decline as schools are underfunded and parks are poorly maintained and police departments turn to ticketing for revenue because they, too, are underfunded.

The solution to this problem— which is happening in New York State and many states across the country— is to increase spending for schools and social services instead of militarizing police departments. If Ferguson had additional state funds to help pay for their schools they might be able to use local funds to underwrite the costs of a police force that doesn’t have to rely on ticketing citizens in the community, a police force that provides support for parents and children who want to live a better life.

The solution to the problem is to recognize that we are interdependent. We need to help the communities in our states who, like Ferguson, cannot get out from under because of the way we’ve rigged the system to ensure that those born in affluent zip codes get the best treatment and those born in poverty have an even harder struggle to advance. And given that 45 states have had lawsuits filed to provide equitable funding for schools– a good proxy for funding disparities– it is clear that Ferguson is NOT an outlier.