Archive for November, 2013

Resegregation Rising

November 21, 2013 Comments off

Two recent articles with different slants came to the same conclusion: our schools are re-segregated to the point where Brown vs. Board of Education is effectively repealed.

Common Dreams blogger Paul Buchheit attributes the resegregation to a combination of privatization and the inherent inequality built into the system of taxation and offers links to reports that support these assertions.

The Civil Rights Project at UCLA shows that “segregated schools are systematically linked to unequal educational opportunities.” The Economic Policy Institute tells us that “African American students are more isolated than they were 40 years ago.”


According to a Center on Education Policyreport, private schools serve 12 percent of the nation’s elementary and secondary students, but only one percent of disabled students. Forty-three percent of public school students are from minority families, compared to 24% of private school students.

Meanwhile, as teachers continue to get blamed, the Census Bureau tells us that an incredible 38 percent of black children live in poverty.

Worse than the resegregation trend is the de-funding that goes along with it:

A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) report revealed that total K-12 education cuts for fiscal 2012 were about $12.7 billion.

Almost 90 percent of K-12 funding comes from state and local taxes. But in 2011 and 2012, 155 of the largest U.S. corporations paid only about half of their required state taxes. That comes to $14 billion per year in unpaid taxes, more than the K-12 cuts.

In summary: schools are becoming more segregated; state and local funding for schools is diminishing in an amount roughly equal to state and local tax cuts offered to corporations; and the increasing number of black children being raised in poverty are attending revenue starved schools…. and the poor performance is the fault of teacher’s unions and can be “fixed” by holding them more accountable.

Earlier this month the Atlantic magazine offered a more dispassionate perspective on resegregation phenomenon, suggesting it was the result of demographics and housing patterns. The demographic reality in America is this:

Whites are nearly a minority in the U.S. population under the age of five, and Census projections predict that by 2043, whites will no longer be the majority of the U.S. population overall. “There’s going to be fewer whites in minority schools because there are fewer whites in the population,” said Fiel.

So if we are trending toward a world where “minority” students are in the majority, are we are trending toward a re-definition of “segregation”? The short answer is “NO”. The problem is that the housing patterns result in what I would call the “Bronxville syndrome”, which is illustrated in the map below. North of NYC on the map is a small unshaded area surrounded by green shaded areas: that is Bronxville and the Atlantic describes the difficulty of solving this resegregation phenomenon in a few paragraphs:

The darker the green, the larger the the black population in the school district. Notice that there are several dark-green (i.e. majority black) districts bordering off-white (i.e. majority white) ones. The Mount Vernon City School District near New Rochelle, for example, has a 62.1 percent black population. On its northern border lies a little off-white dot: the Bronxville Union Free School District, whose population is 0.6 percent black. Student achievement in those districts is similarly divergent: In Mount Vernon, 68 percent of students pass New York State’s high-stakes Regents exam; in Bronxville, 100 percent pass. You can see other, similar contrasts near Newark (on the southwestern side of the map) and on Long Island (on the eastern side).

“The biggest barrier to reducing racial isolation…is racial imbalance between school districts in the same metropolitan area/nonmetropolitan county,” Fiel wrote in his American Sociological Review article.

Inter-district segregation does not come with an easy solution. Creating integrated schools in these areas would require students to travel across district lines—a form of desegregation policy that has been struck down by the Supreme Court.

“We need new policies and new ways of addressing segregation because it’s on a much larger scale now,” Fiel said.

There are no easy answers to resegregation, no easy answers to the poverty that plagues many of the re-segregated systems… but starving public schools serving children raised in poverty of resources and testing children raised in poverty more frequently are clearly steps in the WRONG direction…


Same As It Ever Was….

November 20, 2013 Comments off

My daughter fed me a link to a Huffington Post article that featured four charts displaying the cold truth about the NAEP test results: students raised in relative affluence score higher than children who qualify for free and reduced lunch.  The article invited comments… and I couldn’t resist:

To quote David Byrne: “Same as it ever was….”. In the 1960s we declared a war on poverty… In the mid 1970s i started my career as a public school administrator and our state administered tests to all students. At that time the correlation between parent’s socio-economic standing and test performance was the same as it is today… did we use those findings to double down on the war on poverty? Sadly, we did not. In 1981 we learned that we were a Nation at Risk because our test scores were in precipitous decline. Did we use that clarion call to improve test scores to make a greater effort to fight against poverty? No… we abandoned the War on Poverty because it was easier to fight teachers unions, the government bureaucrats, and welfare queens than it was to fight the nascent anti-tax and anti-government movement. Every Department of Education Secretary since has advocated some form of test-and-punish regimen and the results have been consistent through the decades: students in affluent and middle class districts show modest improvement and students raised in poverty remain stuck at the lowest performance levels. Until some national politician links the problem with schools with the problems of poverty we will continue to test everyone to prove what we already know: students raised in poverty face daunting challenges in public schools…. and the problem ISN’T the schools.

No need to worry, though… the legislators have figured out how to fix this problem: they are reducing funds for free and reduced lunches as part of the recent agriculture bill so that fewer students will qualify. That’s one way to eliminate the poverty problem.

Arne Duncan’s Legacies

November 19, 2013 Comments off

Three recent blog posts capture Arne Duncan’s legacies… and it isn’t a pretty picture.

A few days ago, as reported in Valerie Strauss’ blog, Secretary Duncan spoke to a group of state superintendents and made an incredible statement regarding the implementation of the Common Core State Standards testing regimen. He expressed fascination that opposition to the common core is coming from:

…white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.

Not satisfied that many mainstream teachers are disenchanted with the rapid implementation of tests that are linked to the common core, Arne seems eager to pick a fight with the core supporters of his boss and seems eager to overlook facts doing so. As Diane Ravitch and a host of bloggers and writers have repeatedly pointed out, US suburban schools are performing as well if not better than the other countries in the world on the godforsaken standardized tests that he and his colleagues seem to believe are the be all and end all of performance measurement… So if anything, IF the tests he is rolling out show anything different than that reality, then they ARE specifically designed to show schools are failing in hopes that the privatization movement can gain traction in the suburbs where parents are supposedly overlooking their schools’ shortcomings.  Oh, and as Strauss’ post points out, the “game-changing tests” are not likely to be as effective as anticipated. Why? Read on:

As it turns out, neither the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium nor the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers have had enough time or money to develop truly “game-changing” exams in terms of how they can really measure the broad range of student abilities, according to a report by Gordon Commission on the Future of Assessment in Education, a panel of educational leaders, which said:

The progress made by the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia in assessment development, while significant, will be far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes.

Those old bugaboos: time and money! Like all of his predecessors of late, Duncan seems to think that there is a cheap, fast solution to the problems facing classroom teachers… and his cheap, fast implementation of the testing is likely to backfire.

As for his notion that “…white suburban moms” will be upset with test results… he’s absolutely right, they WILL be upset, but not for the reasons he believes. Cameron Blazer, a self-proclaimed “white suburban mom” wrote an insightful blog post on her opposition to the common core, which was based on the fact that it was NOT developed democratically from the bottom up but rather dictated from the top down by a group that was predominantly non-educators. Her concluding paragraphs:

In our era of sharp polarization and in a country of such cultural, social, regional, ethnic, and religious diversity, it may seem that there can be no hope of a broad-based agreement on what matters, on what our kids need to know, or on how best to measure what they do know. Perhaps that is true. But where there is no widespread buy-in from parents–many of whom oppose the Common Core and even more of whom simply do not know or understand the standards it proposes–the failure of an effort like the Common Core seems destined.

So, let’s pretend this never happened. Let’s bring parents and politicians and teachers back together to start working on the really tough issues. And let’s leave the ad hominem, straw men attacks out of the debate. After all, according to Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing #1, we should have all learned to do that in school.

So two elements of Duncan’s legacy, the Common Core and the tests that accompany the Common Core, are under fire. Ah, but there is one element that folks in Washington (and Wall Street): he’s leaving thousands of post-secondary students saddled with debt as he fattens the coffers of USDOE. As reported in Huffington Post and elaborated on in this Common Dreams post, the USDOE “…raked in $42.5 billion in profit from federal student loans—marking its second highest profit margin ever.” 

In a sign of just how important student loan profits have become for the Education Department’s bottom line, its reported gains off lending to students and their families over the last year comprised nearly half of the agency’s total outlays, the biggest share since at least 1997.

So… Arne Duncan’s legacy will be discredited public schools, federally imposed curriculum standards, and indebted college graduates. What’s disheartening for me was the hope that President Obama would do something different than NCLB, something different than the Clintons wanted, something that would change the public’s thinking about education. Instead, we’re getting more of the same… only worse.

Depression or Shared Abundance

November 18, 2013 Comments off

In  reading “A Permanent Slump”, Paul Krugman’s column this morning, I was struck by the fact that economists definition of “slump” is predicated on our belief that “growth” is “good” and the “lack of growth” is “bad”, which led to this comment:

We need to rethink our belief that “more is good” and at the same time our definition of “depression”. If population increase was the root cause of the last “real” growth in the economy in the 1960s and 1970s, the global economy cannot expand without population growth, a direction that is not sustainable for the planet. Yet our current economic model cannot thrive with zero population growth unless we head in the direction of a zero sum game whereby the wealthy get bigger and bigger shares of the pie and the poor suffer increasingly…. and that appears to be a description of the vicious cycle we are in now.

E.F. Schumacher Bill McKibbin’s thinking on the economy needs to move into the mainstream if we want to find a way out of this death spiral we are in. If we began with the premise that “Small is Beautiful” we might not think we are headed toward a “permanent depression” but rather think we were moving toward a world of “shared abundance”.

The “growth is good” model is rooted deeply in our economic system, our school systems, and, one could argue, maybe even in our in our DNA. But I am among those who believe that we need to use our minds to overcome this reflexive way of thinking about growth because it is leading to ecological devastation and, as nations fight over diminishing resources, conflict. I’m not sure how we get from where we are today, where unregulated capitalism is sold as the way out of the “depression” we are in toward a more harmonious economic system… but I hope the new system is not one controlled by a very small percentage of people who persuade everyone else that poverty is inevitable for all but those in power….

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Public Education as Charity

November 17, 2013 Comments off

An article by Edward Husar in the Quincy Herald-Whig breathlessly reported on the many ways Quincy (MA) public schools were raising money… and they are doing an amazing job. Julie Ross, executive director of the Quincy Public Schools Foundation reported that more than $750,000 was donated to the foundation’s Dream Big campaign, which is raising money for pressing needs in the areas of technology, curriculum, fine arts and athletics. Funds also are being allocated for long-term endowments. She reported on large donations received from two families that would be used to “… help implement a major technology upgrade in local schools” and to renovate the school’s band room.

Ross said donations like these — and many others — reflect continuing strong support for Quincy’s schools.”You have to look at what we’re able to do when our community gets behind education,” she said. “We can have better technology. We can have better facilities. We can have more opportunities for our kids.”

If we had to live on tax dollars alone, our kids might get a meager education, despite the fact that we have excellent teachers who do amazing things,” she said. “These are the things that help us go above and beyond. We want to give our kids the very best. We don’t want them to have average.”

I am glad for the children in Quincy that they have businesses and individual donors they can cultivate and, as a result, will receive something more than “…a meager education”, but am deeply troubled to read that essential technology upgrades and facilities improvements are contingent on fundraising. As noted in earlier blogs, over my 29 years as Superintendent from 1981 through 2011 I saw education funding evolve from purely tax-payer funded to one where fees are charged for “non-essentials” and the establishment of a Foundation is a necessity if a district wants to have a high quality arts, music, or athletic program.

Costs for technology should be paid by taxpayers and should include not only the costs of installation of infrastructure and hardware, but the back-room support and continuous upgrades that are a “given”. The arts are essential and part of the arts program is having studio space, a large room for band and choral practices, an auditorium for performances, and sufficient staff . Taxpayers should also fund an adequate sports program: one that provides uniforms on a reasonable cycle and a coaching staff and medical services that go along with a sound program. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to buy “warm-ups” or multiple sets of uniforms, stadia with Jumbo-trons, or luxury buses to away games, but locker rooms, coaches, bleachers, and athletic fields should be funded by taxpayers to avoid opening the door to the influence of booster groups dictating policy. And ALL teaching and support staff should be funded by taxes to enable to school boards to provide an equitable opportunity for students within the district, a door that is opened more than a crack when parents and private donors are invited to contribute to their favorite cause.

I wish there was a way to put the genie back in the bottle… because every time a newspaper article celebrates the power of public school foundations they undercut the public’s responsibility for funding some portion of the public school. The message in MA will be, “You don’t need to raise money for technology and the arts, start a foundation and THEY will go to donors and find the money for those programs”…. or “You don;t need to fully fund athletics, you can charge a fee to help underwrite the costs”… This strategy exacerbates the economic divide, as affluent districts have a “donor base” and “business partners” while less affluent districts have neither. THIS JUST IN: The only way to improve ALL public schools is to help those with the least resources and that can only happen through broad based taxes.

Network Schools Possible… IF

November 14, 2013 Comments off

A few months ago I became familiar with the work of Sugata Mitra, an Indian systems analyst turned computer-assisted instruction advocate who has done amazing work with children in India raised in abject poverty who, given the opportunity to access information with computers, have made amazing strides in gaining an understanding of subjects like molecular biology. As reported in a recent Wired magazine article, Mitra’s research has been applied in an indigent community in Mexico with the same results, evidence that if left to their own devices children can obtain knowledge quickly and efficiently. The major point of the article, flagged as a margin notation is this:



I am one who believes that we should be willing to cede control of the pace and content of learning to students while focussing the efforts of adults on learning skills. That is, we should teach reading and calculation skills but capitalize on the inherent desire of children to learn content by allowing them great leeway in exploring areas where they want to learn.

There are at least three reasons we are not using Mitra’s methods to capitalize on the natural curiosity of students. One reason is our country’s desire to measure school performance based on items that are easy to test.  The extreme use of tests holds many of our students back and labels another group as “failures” not because they can’t learn more or learn at all but because their learning rates are faster or slower than some mythical norm. The testing regimen, then, controls the pace and content of learning and, as a result, our students don’t learn well.

A second reason we don’t use Mitra’s methods is that they are antithetical to the Western notion that everything is a competition… and by sorting students into “winners” and “lowers” we are preparing them for the competitive world they will be entering once they leave school. No matter that businesses today see the value of collaboration and teamwork, our schools are still operating on the industrial model where competition is vital.

The third reason… and saddest of all… is that we are falling behind technologically. An article in the Atlantic reports that over half of our schools don’t have sufficient wireless network capability to provide access to all students and, what’s worse,  “…teachers of the lowest-income students are more than twice as likely as teachers of the highest-income students to say that students’ lack of access to digital technologies is a “major challenge.”

Children born into poverty in our country in many ways. face more obstacles than children raised in poverty in any other country. We have reduced the food we are putting in their parents’ basket, closing the schools in their neighborhood, starving their community’s resources thereby denying them access to the health and well being children raised in affluence have available, and failing to give them access to the learning tools that could help them improve… They feel responsible for the failure of their schools yet have no way to gain access to books, internet access, or any of the social support systems like youth sports, after school activities, or medical care that middle and upper class children take for granted.

Technology is one relatively inexpensive means of providing all children with an equitable educational opportunity… but giving students laptops or I-pads without providing schools and communities with the wireless access required to make those learning tools viable is akin to giving light bulbs to people who don’t have lamps or electrical lines that connect to their houses. There will be no network schools until we have network communities… and without either we may find ourselves struggling to keep our lights on.

Homeless and Traumatized Children Increasing

November 14, 2013 Comments off

Two stories from the NYTimes caught my eye today: one describing an increase in homeless children across the country and another, the Fixes Blog, discussing the need to separate trauma related behavior from the typical misconduct that occurs in schools.  The link between the two articles seemed clear to me immediately: if you are one of the 1,700,000 homeless students attending public schools you are likely to be experiencing enormous stress in your life, stress that might manifest itself in misconduct in school. Indeed, homelessness is among the “Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)” identified by researchers which, if it is combined with one other adverse experience like “…witnessing domestic violence or having a parent who uses drugs or is incarcerated”, has resulted in “…emotional and behavioral difficulties that pose serious barriers to their learning”. The article goes on to note that  students who have two or more ACEs fare poorly when compared with children with no known stresses, Indeed, “… these kids are two to four times more likely to have problems with attendance, behavior, academics and health.” And it was no surprise to me that researchers found that:

…homeless students often end up clustered in high poverty and low-performing schools, and can be disproportionately hurt when low-performing schools close.” In other words, homeless children don’t end up in high-performing schools that could absorb them without being overwhelmed, and that might have a chance of actually helping them.

And what is the reformers’ solution to underperforming schools that serve a large proportion of the 1,700,000 homeless children?  Why closing them, of course! So children who have been uprooted from their homes (one ACE) are then uprooted from the schools they attend, creating another potential ACE thereby thrusting them into the danger zone for problems with attendance, behavior, academics, and health. . How does this make sense?

The Fixes blog suggests schools can address students with multiple ACEs by changing the way adults in schools serving children with trauma sensitively and compassionately.

Just as we send a powerful message about our values when we make accommodations for people with disabilities, schools send powerful messages by the way they treat children whose behavior falls outside the normal bounds. They can mete out punishment in ways that reinforce judgments and hierarchies and perpetuate crises – or respond by deepening the understanding about others and building supportive communities.

This isn’t soft-headed thinking; it’s the only approach that makes any sense.

Unfortunately this ISN’T the way we think of dealing with discipline issues in school. Notions like “zero tolerance” and “no excuses” are based on the assumption that students can control their behaviors and have developed a self-awareness both of which are notably absent from students who have experienced trauma. An elementary child who throws a tantrum and a despondent teenager who sasses a teacher when he or she feels threatened has had their self-control compromised due to external circumstances that have nothing to do with school or the “judgements and hierarchies” schools value.

As a former high school disciplinarian in the mid- to late 1970s I can recall instances where a in the course of my interview with a misbehaving student sent to my office I learned of circumstances outside of school that went a long way to explain the student’s behavior. I found that in most cases where external forces affected the students’s misbehavior that I served as a counselor more than a disciplinarian…. and there were cases where teachers in the school felt I was hard enough on the misbehavior that occurred in their classroom or the hallways. My rejoinder was that my purpose was not to punish students but rather to find a way to motivate them to behave better in the future. I assured the student and the teacher that if the behavior did not change in the future that a more severe punishment would be deserved. There were other cases where a teacher, having learned of the circumstances the student was experiencing outside of school, worked with me and the student to develop some means of allowing the student to get some breathing room if a trigger was pulled.

The bottom line from my perspective is this: school is the last chance for a child to learn how to regulate his or her behavior… and if the school’s response to misbehavior is to suspend or expel the child for misbehavior there is a missed opportunity for teaching that lifelong skill.