NYTimes Columnist David Leonardt’s Analysis: Big Business is Winning… My Analysis: It WILL Win in the Public Sector if Voters Don’t Stop It

June 21, 2018 Leave a comment

David Leonardt writes compelling op ed columns on the economy and I tend to agree with almost all of his findings… with one notable exception. Mr. Leonardt is among the many NYTimes editorialists who unwittingly (I hope) buy into the notion that education is not a public good but a commodity. Mr. Leonardt, like many of his colleagues on the Times, is a school choice advocate and, as part of that advocacy, wants schools to compete in a lightly regulated marketplace. What he and his colleagues fail to recognize is that public schools, unlike private corporations, are governed by locally elected officials who will tend to make decisions that favor local needs and concerns over the needs and concerns of shareholders who reside in distant cities and make their decisions based on spreadsheets.

In Mr. Leonardt’s column earlier this week, The Charts Show How Big Business is Winning, Mr. Leonardt offers this overview of how the “big fish” have gobbled up the “small fish” in the national economy:

The changes over the past quarter-century are pretty remarkable.

In the late 1980s, small companies were still a lot bigger, combined, than big companies. In 1989, firms with fewer than 50 workers employed about one-third of American workers — accounting for millions more jobs than companies with at least 10,000 employees.

Since then, though, many small businesses have struggled to keep up with the new corporate giants and with foreign competition. You can probably see a version of the story in your community. The hardware store has given way to The Home Depot. The local hospital and bank are owned by a chain. The supermarket is Whole Foods, which is now owned by Amazon. The family-owned manufacturer may simply be out of business.

The share of Americans working for small companies fell to 27.4 percent in 2014, the most recent year for which data exists, down from 32.4 in 1989. And big companies have grown by almost an identical amount. Today, companies with at least 10,000 workers employ more people than companies with fewer than 50 workers.

After reading the column, I left the following comment:

For Mr. Leonardt and his colleagues at the NYTimes who believe that the way to improve public education is to commodify it so that it competes in the marketplace, here’s what to expect in the decades ahead: Amazon.com (or Walmart) Public Schools that employ thousands of teachers and answer to shareholders and executives in a faraway city will soon supplant your local public schools that employ 50 or fewer teachers and are beholden lo local voters who elect school boards from citizens in their community. If you don’t see this happening, you aren’t learning from the trends Mr. Leonardt describes in this column.



Given the Choice Between Home Depot and the Local Hardware Store… or KIPP and the Local Public School

June 20, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch posted a heartwarming story yesterday about how two predominantly African American public schools in San Francisco are outdoing their privatized counterpart, KIPP, the national chain that touts its high test scores and tough discipline. The 5th graders at one of the schools, Malcolm X, outscored the 5th graders at KIPP on the standardized tests used for accountability purposes. The other school, Carver, a partnership with Umoja, a group that works with African American young boys at recess and after school, has resulted in a marked decline in discipline issues and an increase in math scores. What do Carver and Malcolm X have in common? Parent engagement, community partnerships, the provision of an array of social services under the roof of the school, and robust co- and extra-curricular offerings. Given the “choice” between a cookie-cutter factory school and a customized academic environment that is networked with the community, it is unsurprising where parents want to see their children go.

Ms. Ravitch analogized KIPP to Walmart, describing it as “…the Walmart of charter schools, opening in communities where they are not wanted and destroying local public schools where parents are heard.” I think that a better analogy is Home Depot, who, like Walmart, is willing to crush small local businesses. But Walmart often provides remote communities with comprehensive purchasing options in small communities that are otherwise absent altogether making it impossible for small niche stores to compete because local people find the allure of one-stop shopping too strong. If Walmart took over schooling they might incorporate social services, dental and medical services, and mental health providers under one roof. A case could be made that Carver and Malcolm X are using a variant of the Walmart model in their approach to incorporating a wide range of services under one roof… an approach that I contend more public schools should take. Home Depot, on the other hand, would just obliterate the small local hardware stores and local construction supply companies and replace them with a big box store that requires contractors and homeowners to drive a few miles further to get crappy service and less customization.

Both Walmart and Home Depot and stores of their ilk are ultimately evil because they undercut the local economy and the local identity of communities. When the ownership is remote and the shareholders are more interested in profits than community building one can expect small towns and cities to trade empty storefronts for low prices… and the result is the kind of alienation we are encountering today.

Here’s the bottom line: If you want to keep the small stores afloat and your community strong… but local and support your local public schools.

Full Court Press on Illegal Immigrants Has Schools, Children Living in Fear

June 19, 2018 Leave a comment

There is a large group of students who are very happy and relieved that school is ending… and a large number of school officials who are equally happy and relieved. According to a recent NYTimes article by Erica Green, immigrant students in many parts of the country have lived in a state of constant fear and vigilance for the past year. Why? Because in those states a referral to ICE by the SROs in the school could mean immediate arrest, imprisonment, and deportation. And in the uncertain political climate today, federal policy could put even more public schools in the crosshairs of this issue. As Ms. Green explains in her article that used the case of Dennis Rivera-Sarmiento as an example of how public schools with SROs and ICE can “team up”, an infraction by a student who is in the country illegally can result in imprisonment and potentially deportation:

The agency (ICE) still classifies schools as “sensitive locations” where enforcement actions are generally prohibited. But immigrant rights groups point out that the designation has not stopped ICE agents from picking up parents as they drop their children off at school, nor has it prevented school disciplinarians from helping to build ICE cases.

And Education Secretary Betsy DeVos seemed to open the door to more such referrals (in mid-May) when she initially told members of Congress that ICE enforcement decisions should be left to local officials, not established federal policy that prohibits it.

Though Ms. DeVos later corrected herself, assuring children that she “...expected schools to comply with a 1982 Supreme Court decision that held that schools cannot deny undocumented students an education“, her assurance rang hollow because her actions betrayed her words. Ms. Green writes:

But as she offered that reassurance, Ms. DeVos moved toward rescinding an Obama-era policy document on student discipline that could make undocumented students vulnerable. That 2014 policy encouraged schools to revise discipline policies that disproportionately kicked students of color out of school.

Data shows that students of color are disproportionately arrested at school, and advocates and educators contend that schools will increasingly rely on law enforcement to manage disciplinary issues if the guidance is rescinded.

And in some states where SROs are present and the laws mandate that arrested immigrant students get referred to ICE, a small infraction could conceivably lead to deportation.

School officials do not want to be tied to ICE because if they do so the immigrant students entering our country seeking political asylum or a better life will not attend… and if they are not in school their opportunities will be more limited setting up a vicious circle where a virtuous one might be in place.

From my perspective, legislators have this summer to figure out how they are going to deal with the immigration issue going forward. If the status quo is maintained, it appears that the current administration and the majority of GOP legislators will use the crackdown on “illegal immigrants”, many of whom are children, as political leverage to show their base that they mean business when it comes to sealing the borders. If that is the case, teachers, counselors, and administrators will be in a quandary when schools open in September.

NYC Tracking System in the Spotlight… and It Is NOT a Pretty Picture

June 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Over the past several days, numbers articles have appeared in the NY media praising or assailing Mayor Bill De Blasio’s call to expand the number of minority students in NYC’s elite schools by de-emphasizing the SHSAT tests that serve as the de facto sole metric for admission. Today’s NYTimes features an article by Winnie Hu and Elizabeth Harris that brings to light the fact that the kind of screening the exists to gain entry to the elite high schools permeates the entire city school system…. and that screening underpins the re-segregation that is taking place in that city and across the nation. Titled “A Shadow System of Tracking by School Feeds Segregation, Mss. Wu and Harris’ article opens with these startling paragraphs:

No other city in the country screens students for as many schools as New York— a startling fact all but lost in the furor that has erupted over Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent proposal to change the admissions process for the city’s handful of elite high schools.

One in five middle and high schools in New York, the nation’s largest school district, now choose all of their students based on factors like grades or state test scores. That intensifies an already raw debate about equity, representation and opportunity that has raged since Mr. de Blasio proposed scrapping the one-day test now required to gain entry into New York’s eight elite high schools. Black and Hispanic students are underrepresented in many of the most selective screened middle and high schools, just as they are in the specialized high schools.

I’ve witnessed this screening mechanism as a grandparent of a NYC seventh grader. My grandson is one of the 20% of middle schoolers whose parents “chose” a school for him, a process that was arguably more daunting than applying for college since there is no common application form and one of the factors for admission to a de facto selective middle school is a parents willingness and ability to attend evening orientation sessions for each school a child is considering. This phenomenon is described in the article, using one parent’s experience as a proxy for thousands of parents cross the city:

Edwin Franco, a father of two girls who lives in the Bronx, said that too many selective schools cherry pick the best students — and deprive everyone else of opportunities. “They’re almost like a factory,” he said. “They’re churning out high-performing kids who are doing great while the rest of the kids are trying to figure it out on their own because they don’t have the same resources.”

….And now as many coveted middle schools screen, the competition has moved down to that level as well. Mr. Franco attended neighborhood schools in Washington Heights, and he only went through a selection process for high school. Both his daughters have already been through screening for middle schools.

“As a parent, I’m seeing the same level of intensity to get into middle school,” he said. “That’s what baffles me, middle schools are just as competitive as high schools.”

Mss. Wu and Harris provide a “history” of this tend toward screening, attributing its acceleration to the Bloomberg administration when all eighth grade students were compelled to “choose” their high school and the high schools marketed their programs in an effort to entice parents to select them:

Students rank up to 12 choices, and then get matched to one school by a special algorithm. The idea was to allow students to escape failing neighborhood schools and apply anywhere they chose.

…But as students increasingly chose their schools, the system evolved so that many schools became the ones choosing the students.

The number of high schools that admitted students only through academic screening — including the specialized high school exam, other tests and grades, or auditions — has more than tripled to 112 schools in 2017 from 29 schools in 1997, according to an analysis by Sean P. Corcoran, an associate professor of economics and education policy at New York University. Screening requirements vary from school to school, but the most sought-after schools often require at least a 90 average.

“You’ve set up a system of competition among high schools in which the easiest way for a principal to win is to select the students who are best prepared,” Richard D. Kahlenberg, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation, said. “Certainly having that market-based ideology — without guidelines for equity — appears to have accelerated the growth of screening.

From my perspective, even if Mayor De Blasio’s effort to limit the use of standardized test scores fails in the NYS legislature as appears to be the case for THIS session, by raising this topic now he could conceivably make the commodification of schools a campaign issue in 2018… and THAT would be a tremendous public service. The more parents understand the inter-relationship between choice and screening and the consequences of screening, the more likely it is that public schools might abandon the practice of sorting and selecting and replace it with funds to improve all public schools.

NY Times Upshot Analyses Show that Money Matters. Will the Editorial Board Wake Up to that Reality?

June 16, 2018 Leave a comment

I receive periodic updates from the NYTimes Upshot articles which provide interesting statistical analyses and visual presentations of various data points. Yesterday’s email included two posts that underscore the favorable impact that wealth has on opportunities.

The subtitle of the first post, “Money, Race and Success” provides a synopsis of the information illustrated in their scattergram: “Sixth graders in the richest school districts are four grade levels ahead of children in the poorest districts.” While this news is completely unsurprising given the persistent correlation between wealth and test scores, the accompanying article seems to be mystified as to why it persists. Worse, the analysis reinforces the notion that test scores should be the predominant metric for measuring “success” and the notion that all districts need to do is find a successful formula and replicate it and– voila– the gaps in test scores will disappear. Fortunately, some of the successful districts gently push back on that idea.

The second, post, “Where Boys Outperform Girls“, offers data showing that boys who attend schools in districts that spend more on schooling have better scores than there counterparts in other schools. As Claire Cain Miller and Kevin Quealy report in the opening paragraphs:

In much of the country, the stereotype that boys do better than girls at math isn’t true – on average, they perform about the same, at least through eighth grade. But there’s a notable exception.

In school districts that are mostly rich, white and suburban, boys are much more likely to outperform girls in math, according to a new study from Stanford researchers, one of the most comprehensive looks at the gender gap in test scores at the school district level.

Why is this so? Ms. Miller and Mr. Quealy offer these ideas:

High-income parents spend more time and money on their children, and invest in more stereotypical activities, researchers said, enrolling their daughters in ballet and their sons in engineering.

There is also a theory that high-earning families invest more in sons, because men in this socioeconomic group earn more than women, while low-earning families invest more in daughters, because working-class women have more job opportunities than men…

When boys think of academic achievement as desirable and tied to their future success, they do better. Boys who have fathers who are involved in their lives, and who are highly educated with white-collar jobs, are more likely to receive this message, according to research by Mr. DiPrete and Claudia Buchmann, a sociologist at Ohio State…

“We live in a society where there’s multiple models of successful masculinity,” Mr. DiPrete said. “One depends for its position on education, and the other doesn’t. It comes from physical strength.”

What’s good for boys, though, isn’t necessarily good for girls.

Although well-off districts encourage boys in math, they don’t seem to encourage girls in the same way. Researchers say it probably has to do with deeply ingrained stereotypes that boys are better at math.

Teachers often underestimate girls’ math abilities, according to research by Sarah Lubienski of Indiana University and Joseph Cimpian of New York University, who also found the gender gap in math was largest for students from high-income families. They found that as girls move through elementary school, they lose confidence in their math skills – more than they lose interest or achievement.

In the end, though, the bottom line is more resources help both genders. As Thomas DiPrete, a sociologist at Columbia who has studied gender and educational performance notes: “Both girls and boys benefit from being in more academic and more resource-rich environments. It’s just that boys benefit more.”

Researchers know that money matters. Will the NYTimes editorial board ever catch on? Will politicians? Will voters?


What Public Schools SHOULD Be Focused On

June 15, 2018 Leave a comment


The solution to our seemingly intractable problems is found in this thought provoking article.

Higher Education’s Death Spiral: Smaller Entry Cohorts + Higher Tuitions = Fewer Applicants

June 15, 2018 Leave a comment

Atlantic writer Adam Harris recently posted an article on the future of higher education that paints a bleak picture. Titled “A Futurist Predicts the Death of Higher Education“, Harris describes how futurist Bryan Alexander predicts the pending demise of higher education:

Bryan Alexander started grappling with the idea of “peak higher education” in 2013—inspired by the notion of “peak car,” “peak oil,” and other so-called “peaks.” At the time, there were signs that the industry was already struggling. The number of students enrolled in higher education had dropped by a little over 450,000 after years of booming growth, the proportion of part-time faculty—more commonly referred to as adjuncts—had steadily become a more significant part of the professorship, and there was a general skepticism about the skyrocketing costs of college and concerns over whether a degree was worth it. Taken individually, he said, each sign was troubling enough. But when looked at together, they represented the outlines of a bleak future for higher education. Alexander, a self-described higher-education futurist and a former English professor, came to the conclusion that after nearly a half century of growth, higher education might be as big as it could get. It would, he reasoned, only get smaller from there.

Mr. Harris described the factors that appear to lead to an inevitable and seemingly irreversible death spiral: smaller cohorts of traditional students; higher tuitions and more stringent loan applications that drive away alternative learners; a tighter job market that makes employment more attractive than college; more complicated visa applications that drive away foreign students; and lower quality and fewer options that result from cost cutting in order to balance operative budgets. As Mr. Harris notes, flagship state colleges and universities and elite colleges have not been and will not be affected by this phenomenon. But for-profit schools, community colleges, and smaller liberal arts and state colleges are all feeling the impact. As a result, fewer tenure track assignments are offered at any post secondary institutions making advanced degrees and liberal arts degrees less attractive feeding the vicious cycle that is underway.

The solutions offered in the article are not up-lifting. After suggesting that the best and most expeditious means of pulling out of the spiral– providing more state support– is vanishingly remote, Mr. Harris and Mr. Alexander offer this as a means of improving the future for post-secondary schooling:

Maybe colleges will wind up taking a proactive approach and innovate their way out, shifting, as some have already, to serve more adult students alongside recent high-school graduates, and moving more of their coursework and programs online to serve a wider audience of students and reduce campus costs.(Alexander also points out that moving more programs online could help with international enrollments, as students wouldn’t have to worry about potential political issues in the U.S.)

On-line learning is undoubtedly less expensive and more available to non-traditional and international students, but the entire campus experience would be lost as would the opportunity to attend classes and exchange ideas and perspectives with those of differing backgrounds and nationalities. Indeed, the entire social context of education would vanish if this is the direction we head in higher education. And worse yet, it will pave the way for more and more isolation and less and less interaction with our fellow human beings.

Here’s hoping that traditionalists prevail in this arena, and the value and importance of campus experience results in politicians providing the additional support needed to keep higher education accessible to more and more individuals.

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