Obama/Duncan/King Legacy: Good Return on Investment = Good Education

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment

I was pleased to read in Politico that John King, Arne Duncan’s replacement as Secretary of Education, discovered that none of the 15 minority students in a classroom he was visiting in Coolidge Senior High School were familiar with the College Scorecard, the abominable metric devised by the Department of Education to measure the “good outcomes” students should expect from a college program. But I was also distressed to read that Mr. King found this “worrisome” because he thought this College Scorecard provided the kind of information students needed to make their decision about where to enroll in college. And what are the “good outcomes” measured by the College Scorecard? The descriptor of “Affordable Four Year Schools With Good Outcomes” offers the answer:

These four-year public colleges offer their students an affordable higher education, with relatively high salaries. As students weigh the costs and benefits of higher education, it’s especially important to find schools that can offer them the best possible outcomes. For students looking for a high return on investment, these institutions may offer good opportunities.

As progressive liberal arts majors dreaded, the government algorithm used to determine a “good outcome” is driven by the mean wages of graduates… and as a result schools offering technical degrees fare far better than those offering liberal arts degrees. This means that a school like Drexel University, my alma mater, where grads earn over $62,600 is presumably nearly twice as good as Evergreen State College, my daughter’s alma mater, where the average grad earns $32,800. This is, of course, absurd given that Drexel graduates are predominantly engineering and science majors and Evergreen graduates mostly liberal arts majors who work in social services and education.

Over the next several months we’ll read a lot about President Obama’s legacy. Sadly his legacy will include the fact that income is the primary measure of a “good outcome” when it comes to post-secondary education.

School Spending Lower Now than 2008 in 35 States… and No End In Sight

October 24, 2016 Leave a comment

One graph from the Center on Budget and Public Priorities recent report titled “After a Decade, School Investments Still Way Down in Some States” provides a good synopsis of the bad news: 10-20-16sfp-f10

The bad news on funding is even worse for high poverty districts where local property taxes have been unable to fill the gap, particularly in those districts serving children in poverty where the tax bases are low and already overburdened.

The bad news is made even WORSE YET by the fact that Federal spending on education programs like Title One and Special Education is lower as well. Title I, funding for high poverty districts, has declined by 8.3% since 2010 and Special Ed funding is down by 6.4% over that same time period.

And to add insult to injury, spending on school facilities has declined by $28 billion or 37 percent between fiscal years 2008 and 2014 (the latest year available), after adjusting for inflation and employment i education has declined by over 220,000 while enrollments have increased by over 1.1 million during the same time period. This has not only hurt local school districts but eliminated jobs in education and construction, not to mention jobs lost due to the loss of purchasing power in schools as their budgets diminish.

And the real kicker is that in five of the states with the deepest cuts and three other states who cut resources to schools they also cut personal and corporate tax rates during that same time period, presumably on the theory that the savings to the wealthy would trickle down to the schools.

Spending on schools matters, as parents in affluent districts know well. That is why their property taxes and/or fees for public schooling have increased along with their housing values. It would be hopeful if either Presidential candidate saw this as an issue, but neither one has spoken out on the issue and to the bet of my knowledge no Governor is basing his or her platform the need to spend more on public education. Instead, canards about runaway spending on schools are repeated and the need for “reform” is echoed… but the evidence shows that money makes a difference. Too bad evidence doesn’t matter in this day and age.

All Work and No Free Play is a Toxic Mix: Enter the “Playborhood”

October 23, 2016 Leave a comment

The “Anti-Helicopter Parent’s Plea: Let Kids Play” in today’s NYTimes Magazine offers a new name for an old idea: the “playborhood”. The article, by Melanie Thernstrom, describes the effort Silicon Valley parent Mike Lanza had to make to provide his children with the opportunity for free play. Having grown up in a neighborhood where play was unstructured and thus required imagination and initiative on the part of children, Mr. Lanza was distressed at what he witnessed in Silicon Valley as a parent:

Mike found himself up against the fact that in America, the ethos of wealth and the ethos of community are often in conflict: Part of what the wealthy feel they are buying is privacy and the ability to be choosy about whom they socialize with. Mike was determined that his kids would not only know their neighbors but would also see them, every day.

And so Mr. Lanza constructed a free-range play area in his back yard that included many dangerous features and a complete lack of structure and adult supervision:

He designed big neon-yellow plastic signs like those used to warn of wet floors, emblazoned with an icon of children playing and the word Playborhood. He invited kids to parties and gave the signs to their parents, to put in their yards and on the road in front of their houses so their children could “reclaim the streets from cars.”

His notions of free play were not completely embraced by his neighbors, one of whom was Ms. Thernstrom, and some of his ideas of freedom are a little over the top (e.g. allowing his sons to play on the 25′ high roof of their house), but the notion of de-emphasizing achievement and emphasizing liberty resonated with me. Mr. Thenstrom describes the typical Silicon Valley parent’s perspective on child-rearing and offers Mike Lanza’s contrary vision of childhood, which matches my perspective:

 Just as Silicon Valley leads the way in smartphones, Silicon Valley parents think they should be producing model kids, optimized kids, kids with extra capacity and cool features: kids who have start-ups (or at least work at one); do environmental work in the Galápagos; speak multiple languages; demonstrate a repeatable golf swing; or sing arias. To a comical extent, parents here justify the perverted ambition through appeals to research (enlarging the language center of the brain and so forth) while ignoring research on the negative effects on children of being micromanaged.

“What strikes me is that there is this extraordinary level of anxiety,” Mike told me. “Parents don’t have fundamental faith in their offspring.” He dislikes the vast expansion of the role of parenting into every aspect of children’s lives, including curating their children’s hobbies with excruciating care, and he says he aspires to be “the opposite of a tiger parent.” “As a libertarian, one of the biggest problems we have in American society is that children don’t have enough freedom” — children thrive on benign neglect. “Look, there is always a power struggle between children and adults,” he says. “One way to see the present is that the children have been decimated.It’s not good for children that adults have so much control over them.”

One of the books that influenced my thinking about parenting was Neil Postman’s The Disappearance of Childhood. Written in the 1980s, Postman decried the loss of freedom children were experiencing because of the desire of parents to ensure their children were safe and successful. He lamented that the self-regulated pick-up games he experienced as a child were being replaced with formal leagues governed by adults and that the opportunities he had to explore freely in his neighborhood was being lost as anxious parents organized play dates. Thirty years later it seems that the concept of neighborhoods requires an intentionality that used to occur organically, and too many children are suffering from loneliness as a result.

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Christian Science Monitor Asks If Satanists Should Be Allowed to Form Clubs in School… and the Answer is Clear

October 22, 2016 Leave a comment

In an op ed piece in Wednesday’s online version of the Christian Science Monitor staff writer Rowena Lindsay poses the question “Should Satanist Be Allowed to Run After School Clubs in Public Schools?”. The answer is clearly “Yes”. As Ms. Lindsay notes in her articles in a 2001 Supreme Court ruling (Good News Club vs. Milford Central School) the court ruled that the government cannot discriminate against free speech in “limited public forum” – such as after-school clubs in public schools. Those who support Christian clubs are, in many cases, opposed. Based on the CSM’s overview of the issue, though, they don’t have the Constitution on their side:

Rather than advocating evil and devil-worship, the club meetings will focus on games and activities to promote free thinking, according to Lilith Starr, founder of the Satanic Temple of Seattle. After School Satan Clubs have been proposed in Atlanta, Detroit, Washington, Portland, Ore., Tacoma, Wash., Salt Lake City, Tucson, and Los Angeles, and while theses clubs may also be protected under the US constitutional right of freedom of speech and religion, many parents are not happy.

“We believe strongly in religious plurality and we fight for equal representation for all religions,” Lilith Starr, a Harvard graduate, told the Los Angeles Times. “Whenever religion enters the public sphere, like the Good News Club at public schools, we take action to ensure that more than one religious voice is represented, and that is our intent with the After School Satan Club.

From my perspective Ms. Starr is doing a tremendous public service by engaging the communities in a dialogue about where public support for schools should begin and end. School districts who open the door for any religiously affiliated organization would be hard pressed to close the door on any particular religion and those who close any door would be hard pressed to demonstrate an open and inclusive ethos. In my opinion public schools should serve as a marketplace for ideas and, to the end, should offer as many opportunities for civil public debate on issues as possible and offer students as many avenues to explore as possible.

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Why “Competitive Marketplaces” are an Awkward Fit for Education

October 21, 2016 Leave a comment

If one picture is worth a thousand words, this set of drawings is a novella worth reading.

Math with Bad Drawings


View original post 20 more words

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Salon: The New York Times and the Washington Post Should Do Their Homework about Charter Schools

October 20, 2016 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch and Salon writer Steven Rosenfeld forcefully and accurately counter the NYTimes and Washington Post editorial boards. in their support for the NAACP. Bravo! 

Steven Rosenfeld, writing at Salon, notes that both the Washington Post and the New York Times warned the NAACP not to pass the resolution to halt the expansion of charter schools. Both editorials …

Source: Salon: The New York Times and the Washington Post Should Do Their Homework about Charter Schools

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963,000 Millionaires in NYC COULD Make a Positive Difference

October 20, 2016 Leave a comment

An essay by Mike Jackson in the Daily Beast has me re-thinking my stance on private donations to public schools. He opens his essay with a startling statistic: 963,000 millionaires reside in New York City! Mr. Jackson contends that asking these millionaires to pay higher taxes to underwrite public education is a bad idea because there is no way public schools could ever raise enough taxes to match the amount spent in private schools. He writes:

…Some activists and educators believe that private support for public schools isn’t “progressive.” They believe that the mere mention of the words “external” or “private” are threats to teachers and insults their understanding of the role that poverty plays in the existence of the achievement gap. In their view, the only ideologically pure way to improve public education is by demanding more public funds.

I believe there’s a practical problem with this approach. This year, the New York City Department of Education will spend $23 billion to serve just over one million students, translating to $23,000 per student. That’s roughly 25 percent of the entire New York City budget, and it’s unrealistic to think there will be the political will to raise taxes enough or cut other areas sufficiently to allow for a doubling of the education funding.

That’s likely what it would take to achieve something close to parity with private schools. At many private boarding schools, tuition now regularly exceeds $58,000 per year. Their boards then direct additional funds annually from multimillion-dollar endowments to offer scholarships to low income students.

Instead, he suggests that some of these millionaires become engaged with a particular public school by committing TIME in addition to MONEY and, in doing so, gain a better understanding of the challenges urban youngsters encounter day-in-and-day-out. That engagement, in turn, might lead the engaged millionaire to make contributions to their adopted public school in the same way an affluent parent makes donations to their child’s PTO. As Mr. Jackson notes:

The difference isn’t just money—it’s the culture of support surrounding the students. Most urban, lower-income parents don’t have the means, the time, or in some cases the education to advocate for their children in the same way a private school’s PTA can. And public schools don’t have individual boards of trustees to advocate for them.

As one of those “ideological purists” who sees the need for moe funding for schools across the board, I am opposed to funding schemes that allocate equal (and and often low) funding levels to all schools in the name of equity and then allow affluent schools to raise millions from their parents. This model DOES undercut funding equity and DOES undercut the notion of equitable opportunity for all students. But as a pragmatist, I find Mr. Jackson’s ideas appealing. In his concluding paragraphs, he notes that there are “…500 millionaires in NYC for each of its 1,856 public schools” and imagines what it would be like for children at those schools if 500 volunteers showed up at an urban school in an under-served neighborhood to help kids write better college essays. He concludes with this heartening idea:

Education reform has barely been a topic of conversation in the general election, let alone the presidential debates. But it’s one of the few areas where there is a proven path for transcending the divisiveness that characterizes contemporary politics while making measurable progress in closing the income gap and achievement gap, one person at a time.

Mr. Jackson, unlike some of his wealthy counterparts, acknowledges that money DOES matter, and also understands that the “culture of support” matters even more. His form of reform makes sense… there must be a way some imaginative and creative politician in NYS or NYC could help Mr. Jackson spread this idea around.