Study Identifies Nation’s Most Fiscally Disadvantaged Districts… But Overlooks One Clear Solution

February 26, 2017 Leave a comment

The Education Law Center issued a report earlier this month identifying the 200 districts in the United States with the greatest financial disadvantage. The method they used to identify these districts was straightforward, but, as the highlighted language indicates, it effectively exclude every small rural district in the country.

A fiscally disadvantaged district is one in which the state and local revenue per pupil is lower than the labor-market average while the child poverty rate is higher than the labor-market average. To achieve a manageable list of school districts for further exploration, somewhat arbitrary cutoff levels were applied as follows:

Fiscally disadvantaged =
State and local revenue per pupil < 90 percent labor-market average and
U.S. Census poverty rate > 120 percent labor-market average

Only those districts enrolling at least 2,000 pupils were considered, as they should be able to operate with efficiency of scale. Non-rural districts were given particular attention. These districts are in either metropolitan areas—based around a population hub of 50,000 or more residents—or micropolitan areas—based around a population hub of 10,000 to 50,000 residents.

The report did identify a solid rationale for why some districts require more funding than others:

Put simply, districts with higher student needs than surrounding districts in the same labor market don’t require the same total revenue per pupil to get the job done. They require more. Higher need districts require more money for higher salaries to recruit and retain similar quantities (per pupil) of similar quality teachers. In addition, higher need districts must be able to provide the additional programs, services and supports (including smaller classes and early childhood education) necessary to help students from disadvantaged backgrounds, while still maintaining advanced and enriched course options.

Given the recent happenings in Washington in terms of federal funding, I felt the report’s conclusion was disappointing. It focussed on the responsibility of STATES to fix their funding mechanism and overlooked the role the federal government did play and, more importantly, could play in encouraging better funding. As noted in several earlier posts, the elimination of the “supplement-not-supplant” regulation as part of the ESSA rule making process will exacerbate financial disparities in funding. Moreover, if progressive principles were applied, the federal funds could be specifically targeted to those “most financially challenged” districts instead of being spread to every district that serves any financially disadvantaged child.

 

Trumplandia: When Facts are Immaterial, Easy Answers to Complicated Problems are Unchallenged

February 25, 2017 1 comment

One of the most distressing elements of the new administration in Washington is its willingness to create and promote “alternative facts” thereby creating a reality that enables them to propose easy answers to complicated problems. The latest instance of this was Sean Spicer’s rationale for cracking down on the use of recreational marijuana. Why?

In explaining the rationale of greater enforcement of federal marijuana laws, Spicer cited growing problems with other illicit drug use.

“I think that when you see something like the opioid addiction crisis blossoming in so many states around this country, the last thing we should be doing is encouraging people,” Spicer said. There is still a federal law that we need to abide by.”

In a statement Thursday afternoon, the National Cannabis Industry Association took issue with that argument.

Science has discredited the idea that marijuana serves as any kind of gateway drug, and the addiction and death rates associated with opioids simply do not occur in any way with cannabis,” said Aaron Smith, the organization’s executive director.

There is NO link between the use of cannabis and the opioid epidemic. The opioid epidemic is the result of the under-regulation of prescription medication production and the over-prescribing of opioids as pain-killers. But in the alternative-fact universe the current administration operates in they begin with a counter-factual premise and then offer an easy solution to the problem… a solution that inevitably involves the need for more order.

By deregulating everything from education to oil and mineral extraction to banking, by writing Executive Orders that are almost certainly going to be appealed, and by behaving in a way that it far outside the norms, Mr. Trump and his administration are intentionally creating chaos by overloading the courts and legislative systems. To what end? The more I watch this slow motion train wreck, the more I am convinced that the ultimate endgame of this tsunami of disorder is the imposition of a “new order” that benefits the rich and squelches protest from “the elites”. Stand back and take a look at who might benefit from a new order and who might lose out.

  • The NEW order calls for the deportation of “illegal immigrants”, which requires an expansion of law enforcement and prisons
  • The NEW order calls for the criminalization of protest (18 states are proposing such legislation), which requires an expansion of law enforcement and prisons
  • The NEW order encourages the arming of all citizens and the opportunity for armed citizens to “defend themselves” when they feel threatened, which enables citizens to take the law into their own hands
  • The NEW order calls for the elimination of state and local environmental regulations, which enables corporations to “fast track” projects that involve pipelines, fracking, and mining
  • The NEW order calls for the transfer of public assets, like parklands, schools, hospitals, municipal services, and even police and fire protection to private enterprises which enriches the investor-class while diminishing democratic control over these assets.

I could make a longer list and welcome other examples… but the direction we are heading is clear. And here’s the problem I face as one individual who tries to spend as little time as possible indoors and as much time as possible in nature: there are too many fronts to fight against. For the past fifteen years I mostly argued against the “reform” movement in public education on this blog. I was distressed that President Obama was unable to enact the kind of agenda he envisioned when he was running for office, that he failed to hold the banks accountable for their role in the mortgage debacle, that he relied too much on drones to fight against terrorism, and that he failed to act quickly enough on Keystone XL and DAPL. But despite his shortcomings,  I was confident he valued and respected democracy and was trying to find some kind of peaceful settlement to conflicts in the world. Now, with norms facing by the wayside daily and democracy being challenged at all levels of government it is easy to be overwhelmed.

In the end, though, facts are facts and solving complicated problems requires time, patience, and a grounding in reality. The only way to make the solution to problems easy is to simply them: to reduce them to binary choices. I cannot allow complicated problems to be simplified by changing the facts that underly them. To do so would be the end of democracy.

 

Contrived Chaos and States of Confusion

February 25, 2017 Leave a comment

I was about to write a post titled “Trumplandia: When Facts Are Immaterial Easy Solutions to Complicated Problems are Unchallenged” when I cam upon this Common Dreams post which suggests that the elimination of a fact-based debate is part of a plan to impose order on the chaos that inevitably follows when arguments are unmoored from factual reality. The ultimate endgame of this tsunami of disorder that results from the planned deregulation of everything is the imposition of an order that benefits the rich and squelches protest from “the elites”. 

There has been a lot of analysis suggesting that the executive-level politics we’re seeing play out right now are about incompetence or irrationality. The psychology of the President himself has been called into question, with bizarre public performances and blatant falsities being propagated, mirroring that of others in the Administration.

Source: Contrived Chaos and States of Confusion

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This Just In: Research Shows Vouchers are a Terrible Idea!

February 24, 2017 Leave a comment

A maddening article by Kevin Carey in the Upshot section of the NYTimes breathlessly wrote:

“But even as school choice is poised to go national, a wave of NEW research has emerged suggesting that private school vouchers may harm students who receive them. The results are startling — the worst in the history of the field, researchers say.”

Which prompted me to write the following comment:

Wait just a minute! The “NEW” research you cite was readily available BEFORE the election… which leads to the question of why it wan’t used by the Democratic party. The answer: BOTH parties have embraced the notion that the free market can solve the problem of “failing schools”, in part because both parties have received generous donations from those who stand to profit if such schools are put in place. Thus they overlook the research that shows “the best charters tend to be nonprofit public schools, open to all and accountable to public authorities. The less “private” that school choice programs are, the better they seem to work.”

From my perspective both the NYTimes editors and staffers like Kevin Carey are complicit in the forthcoming voucher debacle. Why? Because this “new research” was in plain sight in 2015 and 2016 when it was released and they effectively squelched reports on it because it was contrary to their narrative that deregulated charter schools were the solution to the “failing” public schools. By ignoring research on public education because it contradicts their narrative, the NYTimes is behaving the same was as the petroleum industry who ignore proof that their products are not damaging our environment.

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When School Choice Works

February 23, 2017 Leave a comment

This article lists four requisites for school choice to work… none of which are written into any State or federal guidelines that I am aware of. Absent these guidelines, the ONLY requisite for “success” of a for profit school is… well… PROFIT… And therein lies the problem! 

Betsy DeVos strongly supports charter schools operating within the public school framework, and vouchers that help students pay private school tuition.

Source: When School Choice Works

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Elite Colleges Enrollments Predominantly Drawn from Elite Earners

February 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Jacobin blogger Tanner Howard posted an article debunking the Meritocratic Myth that elite universities provide a means for poor and working class students to advance to a higher class. Ms. Howard offered the following data gathered in a recent study conducted by Northwestern University to support her assertion:

The report revealed that most college students at elite universities come from the upper echelon of American society. In fact, thirty-eight institutions enroll more students from the top 1 percent than students from the bottom 60 percent.

And fixing this will not be easy since the cost of attending these elite universities is daunting and most students from the bottom 60% do not qualify for student loans. And even if the lower income students DO get in, they may not have access to all that the university can offer:

Wealthy parents can buy their children into a good school with a strong brand name and a $70,000-plus tuition bill without giving it a second thought. These schools admit and fund a handful of low-income students so they can call themselves economically diverse institutions, even as those students cannot afford to participate in many of their institutions’ quintessential experiences, such as study abroad trips or unpaid internships.

Ms. Howard’s solution to this problem is to offer free tuition to students who qualify for entry into a public university. But, as she notes, public universities have been starved of funds in the recent past, diminishing their appeal to prospective teachers and students alike. She offers City University of New York as a case in point:

The City University of New York system shows that large-scale, well-funded institutions of higher learning can expand access to working-class populations. In fact, five CUNY colleges appear in the top twenty of the 2016 Social Mobility Index, which measures how effectively schools provide low-income students with a low-tuition education and allow them to avoid taking on debt .

The City College of New York, founded in 1851 as the nation’s first free public university, became known as “the Harvard of the proletariat” for successfully educating “the children of the whole people.” City College also established the nation’s first degree-granting evening program, offering numerous opportunities for workers with full-time jobs to work towards a college degree. The CUNY network today serves nearly 275,000 degree-seeking students.

But the neoliberalization of public education has been particularly hard on CUNY students. Between 1990 and 2010, the percentage of funding derived from student tuition at senior colleges nearly doubled, from 21 percent to 41 percent. And in 2016, Governor Cuomo proposed cutting$485 million — a third of the school’s funding — from its budget .

Although Cuomo recently announced his intention to offer free tuition to students coming from families making less than $125,000, his track record gives us reason to pause. Considering that CUNY faculty have received no pay increases in six years, and that adjuncts — many earning less than $30,000 annually — teach half of the school’s students, increasing financial support for students will not restore public universities to their full potential. Robust spending on all aspects of public institutions, including living wages for all faculty and service staff, is just as necessary to promoting successful universities as reducing the cost of admission.

Until quality post-secondary education becomes affordable, the notion of education being a means of economic mobility will remain a myth… and thousands of parents and students will become increasingly disillusion with the way our current system operates. As Ms. Howard writes in the concluding paragraphs:

…Any suggestion that elite schools actually challenge class hierarchy creates a meritocratic myth. Stories like the Obamas’ help perpetuate the illusion that any American, regardless of their origins, can join the 1 percent if they work hard enough. The visibility of a small handful of high-profile success stories obscures the limited possibilities afforded to most poor students.

Elite universities will never offer genuine, mass opportunities for advancement for working-class people. We have to restore public university funding and reduce costs to expand access to higher education to all.

Carroll County MD Removes Classroom Posters Celebrating Diversity Because they are “Political”

February 23, 2017 Leave a comment

Huffington Post’s Dana Liebelson posted an article Tuesday describing the controversial decision of the Carroll County (MD) School board to “take down pro-diversity posters from classrooms because they perceived them as “political” and “anti-Trump,”  Here’s the rest of the background:

Teachers at Westminster High School had put up the posters, which depicted Latina, Muslim and black women and were designed by Shepard Fairey, the artist who created the “Hope” posters featuring President Barack Obama in 2008. The women are rendered in patriotic colors, with messages like “We the people are greater than fear.” The teachers put up the posters as a “show of diversity,” said Carey Gaddis, a spokeswoman for Carroll County Public Schools.

At least one staff member complained about the posters, and the teachers were “asked to take them down because they were being perceived as anti-Trump by the administration,” Gaddis said.

Here’s an example of the “political posters” that the teachers displayed in their rooms:

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I find it ironic that a Trump supporter, who presumably is opposed to the hyper-sensitivity of the “politically correct” liberals, is applying the same logic to remove a piece of art that they find objectionable, especially a piece of art work that is promoting open-mindedness and inclusiveness. But the most astonishing reaction to this poster came from the Carroll County spokesperson:

After taking the posters down, the teachers were initially allowed to put them up again. But the administration did some further investigation online and determined that the posters could be seen as political. The school does not allow teachers to put up political posters in their classrooms “unless it’s part of a curriculum and they represent both sides,” Gaddis said.

And what would the “other side” look like? I have an idea. Since some people see this as a rebuttal to Mr. Trump’s Presidency, teachers could put up two posters: one of Donald Trump and one by Shepard Fairey. Presumably, Mr. Trump’s poster would be placed to the right.

 

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