Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Social Workers in School

August 26, 2014 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes op ed page features an essay by Daniel Cardenali advocating that schools serving children in poverty require the services of a social worker. I completely agree with this assertion since social workers possess a different skill set than guidance counselors, psychologists, special education case managers, and– in some cases– classroom teachers, the staff members who typically try to assume some of the responsibilities that a social worker could do more effectively. Here’s a key paragraph from Cardenali’s op ed piece:

The key is to put dedicated social-service specialists in every low-performing, high-poverty school, whether they are employed by the school district or another organization. This specialist must be trained in the delivery of community services, with continued funding contingent on improvement in indicators like attendance and dropout rates.

As I noted in the comment section, this can be accomplished economically by having school districts providing space for the Department of Social Service (DSS) staff in their schools. When I was a superintendent in MD in the 1990s we set up offices for DSS staff in two of our high poverty schools. The DSS agency head and I reasoned that we were needlessly competing with each other for scarce $$$ and his staff’s services and ours meshed. We saved DSS the costs for office space and he saved me adding much needed and arguably duplicative services. Moreover, it created opportunities for interagency cooperation and communication that helped the students and parents. Teachers could meet and confer with a student’s social worker face to face and share insights that would help them work with the families.

My experience in MD indicated that when schools duplicate social services it adds to the net costs to the public. When schools create partnerships with service providers it is a win-win. The best example of this was when the State mandated that we place a school nurse in each of the 42 schools in our county. At the time this requirement was put in place, we had four on our payroll, all of whom were paid on the teacher’s pay schedule which made them among the highest paid nurses in the region. By forming an alliance with the County Health Department whereby THEY hired and supervised the staff, we saved thousands of dollars in hiring staff and avoided the need to add another administrative position to oversee health services. Finally, as I wrote in an essay published in Education Week that I posted earlier, this kind of interagency co-housing helped break down the silos of confidentiality that work against providing the kind of support children in poverty need.

Cardenali concludes his essay with this paragraph:

Putting social workers in schools is a low-cost way of avoiding bigger problems down the road, analogous to having a social worker in a hospital emergency room. It’s a common-sense solution that will still require a measure of political courage, something that all too often has itself been chronically absent.

My take: it will require a measure of COMMON SENSE, something that seems to be completely lacking in Washington DC. This could be another case where a State will lead the way.

CCSS: A Victory for Reagan, Friedman, and Nordquist

August 16, 2014 Leave a comment

In a blog post yesterday, Diane Ravitch described Bill Gates’ latest efforts to ensure that the Common Core becomes the de facto national curriculum. The Gates and Helmsley Foundation have underwritten a new non-profit with “… plans to review textbooks and other instructional material for fidelity to the Common Core.”  So Gates has underwritten the writing of the Common Core, the implementation of the Common Core, the evaluation of the Common Core, and is now underwriting the effort to bake the Common Core into textbooks for years to come.

Thank Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman, and Grover Nordquist for this development. The “problematic” government (e.g. the State Departments of Education) got small enough to drown in a bathtub and the “free market” is now “coming to the rescue”. RIP State and local control of the curriculum and hello to the curriculum driven by the oligopoly of standardized test makers.

I am concerned that in their ad hominem attack on Bill Gates many progressive educators are missing the bigger picture…. and some of the problems Gates and his fellow philanthropists are solving are ones created by the complaints of teachers and administrators.

The biggest problem, as described repeatedly in this blog, is that Ronald Reagan and his progeny have persuaded the people that government is the problem… and among the people who bought into this idea were teachers, school board members, and administrators who bemoaned the mandates of the bureaucrats at the State Department of Education. Many educators were happy to see cuts to the State Departments of Education instead of cuts to their districts and many school boards preferred hiring their own curriculum coordinators instead of relying on those “bureaucrats” at the state level.

Nordquist and his acolytes, who wanted extreme limitations placed on spending helped brand public education as “government run” schools and that, in turn, led to cuts at all levels of public education.

In the meantime, Milton Friedman’s concepts about the magic of the marketplace began to take root to the point where his once radical idea of vouchers became seriously considered by both political parties.

All of this created a void that Bill Gates and the tech community were only too happy to fill. Basically, Bill Gates is doing what “the business community” has desired for years: he is standardizing the high school degree so that it has a common definition across the country…. and in developing a national standard he is opening the door for “edu-preneurs” in the technology field to make a profit in education by eliminating the traditional role of teachers. Instead of teachers developing creativity and independent thinking in their students they are being rewarded for developing students who can take tests well. The ability to score well on “objective” tests, in turn, can serve as the “gold standard” for “objectively” measuring school and teacher performance.

In short, decrying Bill Gates misses the point. ALL of Gates’ work on the common core is the result of economic inequality. Because he and his hedge fund friends are able to accumulate wealth that was formerly distributed among school districts and State Departments of Education, ONLY he and his hedge fund friends can provide the services that were formerly provided by “the government”…. and he and his hedge friend funds want to see things standardized across the board. Their motives may or may not be pure, but at this juncture no state government is challenging the federal government’s de facto dictate to adopt the CCSS.


Money Matters: Michael Brown’s HS

August 15, 2014 Leave a comment

Last weekend a policeman in Ferguson shot Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year old under circumstances that are unclear. Riots between citizens and heavily armed policemen have ensued along with looting and tear-gassing. The most poignant article I’ve read about this situation, “Michael Brown’s School“,  came from the Daily Kos. The article should be read in it’s entirety to gain a sense of the preposterousness of the situation, which includes the following tidbits:

  • The senior class at Michael Brown’s school had two graduation gowns that everyone used to have their graduation pictures taken.
  • The taxpayers in Michael Brown’s town, Ferguson, paid the highest rates in the state, but were unable to raise enough money to cover the costs for a quality education
  • The State Board forced Ferguson to merge with a neighboring community whose tax base was equally stressed and both communities enrolled predominantly African American students.
  • The accreditation of the school Michael Brown attended was withdrawn by the State Board and the students from school were allowed to enroll in neighboring districts… until the costs exceeded what the Ferguson taxpayers could pay… at which point the State Board restored accreditation thereby preventing ferguson students from attending neighboring districts.
  • The school district is now operated by Peter F. Herschend of Branson, Missouri. To quote the article: “Herschend isn’t a former teacher, or a former principal, and doesn’t have any training in the education field. He’s the owner of Herschend Family Entertainment, which runs Silver Dollar City and other amusement parks. He’s also one of the biggest contributors to the Republican Party in the state. 

The article concludes with this paragraph, which tells you all you need to know about the future of privatized public education:

So, when you’re wondering who runs Michael Brown’s school district—when you’re wondering who’s in control of an urban, minority district so poor that the students have only two graduation gowns to share—it’s a white Republican millionaire from out state.

A businessman who never taught school, led a school, or has training in education… but knows how to make money. I hope that’s NOT the future of public schooling in our country.

When Fear Dictates Policy

August 15, 2014 Leave a comment

After 9-11, our country responded with fear instead of love. As noted in an earlier post, in September 2001 I received and forwarded an email called bomb them with butter that was written by Rabbi Moshe Woldoks of Brookline MA (this was before Facebook). I just wrote this post on Facebook with a link to the original Bomb Them With Butter email:

In September 2001 I received this email and forwarded it to people on my email list at that time. If we had taken THIS path instead of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan would we still be entangled in the politics of those countries? If we had taken this path instead of providing 400 local police forces with military equipment to protect us from terrorists would we be reading about the riots in Ferguson MO? IF we had spent all of the money we’ve poured into armaments on butter would we be viewed differently in the world? If we spent all of the money we’ve poured into armaments on butter would we view ourselves differently?

Needless to say, the other question that needs to be posed is this: If we spent all the money we poured into armaments on SCHOOLS would we be better off than we are today?

More Tax Avoidance = Less Internet Access

August 10, 2014 Leave a comment

Gretchen Morgenson’s column in yesterday’s NYTimes “A Corporate Tax Break That’s Closer to Home”, describes how a small internet provider in Arkansas is avoiding paying over $650,000,000 in taxes, money that won’t be available to hep the government fund things like schools and internet access but money that WILL be available to Windstream investors. How does this happen? It seems that the IRS has ruled that Windstream can “…spin off its copper and fiber network into a real estate investment trust, or REIT. That sounds pretty ho-hum until you realize it means that Windstream won’t have to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.” 

Rather than retaining the income they earn and paying taxes on it, REITs pass along 90 percent of their income to shareholders, who then pay taxes. This means these companies have little in the way of taxable income.

And who are “those shareholders”? Are they middle class folks who complete their own taxes? Upper middle class folks who have their taxes completed by an accountant who scrupulously follows the rules? Or might they be the .5% who see a great investment opportunity and have figured out a way to avoid paying any taxes on this themselves? I don’t know for certain, but I’m guessing the main beneficiaries of this are the most affluent group and I’m also guessing that Windstream won’t be looking to provide internet access to folks in the back woods of Arkansas or those living in publicly assisted housing.

This is more evidence that our tax system needs to be overhauled and, unless I’m completely missing something, that internet access needs to be a public utility and NOT provided by private enterprise.

I Think I Love Lily Eskelsen

August 1, 2014 Leave a comment

I Think I Love Lily Eskelsen.

The new NEA President is speaking truth to power. I wish the American Association of School Administrators and National School Board Association would support the NEA’s position on this issue. Associations representing “management” have planks in their platforms that mirror the NEA’s. We ALL want full funding for special education and support legislation that provides more funding and social services for children, for example.  This isn’t about being “pro-union”, this is about rejecting practices that are not research-based and corrode the public’s support for public education.

Tax Dodgers and Schools

July 28, 2014 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman’s column in this morning’s NYTimes describes the latest development in profiteering:

…the tax-avoidance strategy du jour: “inversion:”… a legal maneuver in which a company declares that its U.S. operations are owned by its foreign subsidiary, not the other way around, and uses this role reversal to shift reported profits out of American jurisdiction to someplace with a lower tax rate.

Readers of this blog should recognize this as the same strategy that corporate tax dodgers use to pit town-against-town and state-against-state in their efforts to race-to-the-bottom on employee compensation… and local and state property taxes.

I believe two underlying principles that “everyone agrees with” make it impossible to change our attitude toward taxation. The first principle, repeated over and over again by BOTH parties in various shades, is the Reagan mantra: GOVERNMENT IS THE PROBLEM. If “everyone agrees” that government is the problem then all taxes are confiscatory and those of us who are being “robbed” by the government taking OUR money have sympathy with the government taking, say, the Koch brothers’ or the Walton’s money… and we don’t begrudge a company for taking steps to avoid paying these onerous taxes.

The second principle is that of shareholder primacy, whereby profit-making trumps any sense of corporate public responsibility. As noted above, this plays out in local and State governments as well as at the Federal level. Pull the curtain back behind any announcement of a corporation locating in a community and you’ll see a sweetheart tax deal.

Both of these principles effect public education. Over the past decades the term “government run schools” was coined, repeated, and entered into the lexicon as evidence that PUBLIC education can’t work because it is run by the government… and we “all know” that government is the problem. And when local corporate taxes are rolled back or limited the burden is shifted to either state sales and/or income taxes or local property taxes and when they start increasing the push back is inevitable… and is often to the detriment of schools, roads, and publicly funded services.

I keep waiting for some politician to make the point that we are all in this together and we need to share in the responsibility for improving our country by paying our fair share of taxes. Doing so would not hurt 99% of the taxpayers…. but for the time being, it appears that the majority of Americans don’t see it that way, in part because no one has taken the time to explain how the system works.