Archive for February, 2014

Concentrated Housing Wealth and Schools

February 27, 2014 Comments off

The Washington Post reported on a recent study conducted by Demand Institute, a nonprofit group run by the Conference Board and Nielsen, which analyzed prices of owner-occupied homes in 2,200 of the largest cities and towns. The study found that 10 percent of communities held 52 percent of total housing wealth — about $4.4 trillion and the bottom 40 percent held 8 percent of the wealth, or $700 billion. The Post went on to note that:

The disparity has remained constant for years, with little movement in and out of the top and bottom rungs, the report says. Also, although home values rose across the board from 2000 to 2012, the gains totaled nearly $2 trillion for the top 10 percent but $260 billion for the bottom 40 percent.

The authors concluded that the national recovery in home values since then “masks wide local discrepancies, with some markets soaring ahead of others,” a theme that’s been sounded more than once this week with the release of various home value measures that also show wide variations among localities.

Given that schools are funded with property tax, and given that standardized test scores correlate highly with income, is it any surprise that test “value measures” show wide and persistent disparities?

Superhighways and Schools

February 27, 2014 Comments off

Common Dreams posted an essay by Sam Pizzigati titled “The Mess on our Information Superhighway” contrasting the development of the internet access with access to interstate highways. The essay notes that while Americans have generally unfettered access to the publicly controlled interstate highway system,

Americans currently pay much more for Internet than just about everybody else in the developed world. Other countries have established fast, cheap Internet access as a given of modern life. In the United States, we surf the Net at Model-T speeds — and tens of millions of Americans still have no broadband access at all.

The pending merger between Comcast and Time Warner will do nothing to change this and may well make it even worse… and while he didn’t mention it there is more and more buzz about the idea of privatizing highways as a means of avoiding the tax increases that will inevitably be needed to keep the interstate highway system in good repair.

In the comment section, I added this observation:

The battle for public control of a public good is underway in education as well… the USDOE, who should be advocating for public education, has required the administration of standardized tests that “prove” public schools are “failing”and encouraged private for-profit schools operated by wealthy “reformers” take their place… this corporate takeover of public education is cheered on by the mainstream media and politicians of both parties, both of whom are underwritten or controlled by the plutocratic “reformers”…

As noted frequently in this blog, the erosion of trust in the government and the accompanying desire to limit taxes and regulations, first articulated an a national stage by Ronald Reagan, needs to be reversed in order to restore public control of services like roads and to provide public funding for baseline services like internet access. Sadly neither political party has expressed support for public control of services and neither has been honest about the need for tax revenues to fund these services… and this is true at all levels of government. At the same time, faith in the private sector to provide these same services at a lower cost is undiminished despite the lack of evidence that this is true.

How to Privatize in 4 Steps

February 25, 2014 Comments off

This info-graphic from YES is a clear and succinct description of HOW privatization yields high profits in four simple steps:

  1. Develop profitable tests that prove schools are failing
  2. Get legislation passed that makes it possible to “reform” failing schools through “takeovers” (i.e. privatization)
  3. Get rid of all teachers and administrates during the takeover, thereby eliminating legacy costs associated with pension payments, benefit costs, and salary schedules
  4. Don’t worry about the consequences… in the worst case your privatized school fails and gets taken over by one of your competitors and you keep the money and go somewhere else… if you get the same results the taxpayers are happy because they are saving money… and if you get better results by skimming the best and brightest from the public schools you contribute further to their demise by increasing their “fail rate”…

What the article didn’t describe was WHY this is possible: the corporations are able to take over public services by playing to the resentful electorate whose jobs they eliminated as part of the downsizing and outsourcing movements that resulted from globalization. That is, the folks who lost jobs when corporations used this same algorithm to close factories and move them elsewhere are bitter about their fates and are unconsciously— or, in most cases, EXPLICITLY— resentful of public employees whose livelihoods have not been affected by the forces of globalization… ESPECIALLY when those public employees are funded with taxes! Bottom line: Teachers get no sympathy from former middle class workers who lost pensions, benefits, and salaries to low wage countries with no regulations…. especially when “their money” is stolen from them by taxes.

Reform Pay$

February 25, 2014 Comments off

A few days ago I posted on President Obama’s tacit acceptance of the privatization movement and over the past several days blog posts and columns reinforce the notion that privatizers are earning lots of profit providing public services at taxpayers expense… and doing so without any interference from any political party and any spotlight from national media.

Last Thursday Common Dreams posted an article summarizing the findings of a Center for Media in Democracy (CMD) report on “government” salaries indicating that the highest paid “government employees” are “…

…a group of private corporate executives across the country (who) have increasingly pushed for the privatization of public services while maneuvering high-paying contracts with the government “and then pay themselves and other executives eye-popping salaries.”

While the summary post of the CMD report focussed on an $8.3 million salary paid over three years to the head of a waterworks company and the high salaries raked in by private prisons,  it noted that “These high-payed privatized service providers are involved in the fields of education, corrections, waste management, water treatment, transportation and social services” and that these same providers “…muddy accountability, and cut corners when it comes to public health and safety.”

Diane Ravitch’s blog has been full of reports of grossly high salaries paid to CEOs in failing charter schools in Ohio, one of which included a link to an article in Plunderbund which reported on one executive, William Lager, who was paid $28,354,826 over a seven year period without submitting any invoices documenting his services. The article comments “…don’t you think Ohio’s and national newspapers be running front page stories if a public school superintendent in the state of Ohio was drawing an annual salary of over $1,000,000?”

The most blatant description of how to earn megabucks as an education entrepreneur comes from Education Next,in an article titled “For Education Entrepreneurs Innovation Yields High Returns” . The article describes how three technology mavens cashed in on the movement to use data from assessments to make millions of dollars. The article was of particular interest to me because I crossed paths with one of the entrepreneurs when he was just launching his business. The circumstances are too complicated to recount in this post, but at the time– in 2001— data warehousing was just beginning to emerge as a possible means of cataloguing local formative assessments we hoped to develop and data we wanted to collect and organize systematically to facilitate student transfers from school-to school and level-to-level. The difference between then and now: NCLB and RTTT, both of which put a premium on data collection and analysis, though the data being collected is summative instead of formative and being used for bogus purposes like teacher evaluation through VAM.

Here’s what’s alarming: high salaries and high profits are being valued more than high ideals… and when the profits are earned by turing teachers into automatons and student test scores into the ultimate “product” we are losing middle class jobs and the souls of our children.

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Underfunded Prekindergarten and ADHD

February 24, 2014 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article written by UCal Berkeley professors Stephen Hinshaw and Richard Sheffler titled “Expand Pre-K, Not ADHD”. The article describes the explosion of ADHD diagnoses in K-12 schooling and expresses concerns that as younger and younger children enter school more and more of them will be diagnosed with ADHD. As Sir Ken Robinson pointed out in his celebrated TED talk captured in this RSA Animation, Ritalin (and now Adderall) prescriptions began spiking around the time high stakes testing began, and as readers of this blog know, high stakes testing is an essential element of the factory school model.

As I noted in my written comment to the article in the Times, as a nation we want fast, cheap, and effective solutions to every problem… and drugs do the trick! The budget figures Cuomo and even deBlasio are projecting for prekindergarten will not provide the funds needed to operate a developmentally appropriate preschool program… let alone a program that would provide the kinds of wraparound services the most exemplary preschool programs provide. The politicians have sold the public on prekindergarten programs that push the traditional factory school model to three and four year olds. The programs advocated by “reformers” call for school to administer standardized tests beginning at age 3 or 4 and use those test results to sort students earlier and earlier into “compliant” and “non-compliant” bins… not exactly the terms used by the “reformers”… but an exact operational definition of the sorting.

Here’s the bottom line: When we warehouse more kids in traditional classroom settings at an earlier age we’ll be giving those “noncompliant” kids sedatives so they will pay attention to the teacher! Unless we are willing to spend more to offer a robust preschool program and allow time to be the variable and learning to be the constant we will spend more on drugs and continue turning out the compliant conformists who unquestioningly accept the narratives reinforced by the factory school.

Getting to the Starting Line

February 23, 2014 Comments off

Nick Kristoff’s column in today’s NYTimes depicts the harsh reality of rural poverty, using an indigent family in West Virginia as a lens to examine the issue:

Poverty isn’t just a lack of money, but sometimes a complex web of challenges that keep children from ever reaching the starting line. One home I visited was a trailer jammed with eight people, and some nights it has double that. None of the adults has a job, and most are former drug addicts or alcoholics whose addictions began when they were children. Two are convicted felons, which makes job-hunting difficult. Several dropped out of school. Only one can drive.

They have lofty dreams for their children, but those kids face struggles that middle-class children don’t. Breaking the cycle of poverty means helping those kids get a solid start.

Earlier in the column Kristoff describes what it needed:

What would make a difference? We need an integrated set of early interventions, starting with family planning to help women and girls avoid unwanted pregnancy (four out of five births to teenagers are unplanned or unwanted). We need outreach efforts to help pregnant women curb use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco, as well as free at-home help for new moms who want to breast-feed.

Let’s push for home visitation programs that encourage parents to speak to children and read to them; many low-income homes don’t have a single kid’s book. We also need initiatives to reduce exposure to lead and other toxins. Finally, how about screenings for problems like hearing and visual impairment — all followed by a good prekindergarten.

…(And) all young children should have a primary care physician who screens them for eight barriers to learning: vision problems, hearing deficits, undertreated asthma, anemia, dental pain, hunger, lead exposure and behavioral problems.

Kristoff is absolutely right about this… but as long as we believe “government is the problem” and any government intervention is disrupting family life we will not make any progress in dealing with this vicious cycle of poverty be it urban or rural. As long as the poor stay to themselves, self-medicate with drugs, don’t seek abortions, and don’t complain about water quality they will remain off the radar of most Americans and ALL politicians. We need more mainstream columnists like Kristoff shining a light on this issue, more members of the public seeking government programs, and more taxpayers willing to pay more for services for children if we ever hope to solve this problem.

Preparing Students for the Future

February 23, 2014 Comments off

Tom Friedman, who is an unapologetic and unequivocal supporter of “school reform” wrote a column today about the skills Google seeks in its applicants…. and there appears to be NO connection between what Google wants and what schools are currently measuring. Friedman writes that “Google (has) determined that “G.P.A.’s are worthless…(and) the “proportion of people without any college education at Google has increased over time”. Google, instead, looks for five attributes

  1. General cognitive ability, which ISN’T IQ… it’s learning ability
  2. Leadership, by which Google means knowing when to step up and when to step back
  3. Intellectual humility and ownership, which is the willingness to provide a solution but accept another’s if it’s better than yours
  4. Coding skills
  5. Expertise, which is least important since most people who possess the first four skills can gain expertise over time

All of this led me to write this comment:

So, Mr. Friedman… if degrees are not a “proxy for ability” and the world values “soft skills”… why on earth are you and your friends in the advocating high stakes tests that measure  “college readiness” as a proxy for quality schooling? If we REALLY want to prepare students for the future, instead of spending billions on tests and content standards we should be finding ways to foster “leadership, humility, collaboration, adaptability, and loving to learn and re-learn” in our students.

Stated in education policy terms, how does the common core deal with any of these desirable qualities? How does traditional schooling deal with them? How do the traditional credentials we issue in education relate to them? And the lsat question: Why are we using early 20th century models to prepare for a 21st century workplace?