Archive for March, 2014

Intervene Earlier than PreK – NOW

March 29, 2014 Comments off

The solution to improving the school performance and health for children raised in poverty is staring us right in the face… but our will to implement the solution is missing. Yesterday’s NYTimes reported on the findings of the the Carolina Abecedarian Project, in which about 100 infants from low-income families in North Carolina were followed from early infancy to their mid-30s. The longitudinal study began in 1972 and the results are astonishing. Among the findings cited in the Times article were that the group that received intensive care from infancy to age five:

  • Was far healthier
  • Had sharply lower rates of high blood pressure and obesity
  • Had higher levels of so-called good cholesterol
  • Were four times as likely to have graduated from college.
  • Had no instances of had metabolic syndrome, the medical term for a group of risk factors that together substantially raise the chances for heart disease, diabetes and stroke, among the men in the group.
  • Had less likely instances of pre-hypertension or abdominal obesity among women in the group
  • Had higher likelihood of physically activity and good nutrition among the women in the group

And what was the early intervention that took place in the study? “The children were given full-time day care up to age 5 that included most of their daily meals, talking, games and other stimulating activities.” 

And what was the cost of this program? “Professor Heckman (who conducted the study) said the cost of the Abecedarian project was about $16,000 per child per year in 2010 dollars.” For those working on spreadsheets at home, that is significantly less than the cost of a full-day school program like prekindergarten… and the research supporting this is harder to refute than the studies cited by educators who are advocating for early childhood programs.

If the basic kinds of day care provided to Abecedarian participants were augmented with the training described in a March 25 NYTimes article on the “Providence Talks” project it would be possible to provide the kind of wraparound services that make schools like Geoffrey Canada’s charters work effectively. There are several political issues that might preclude the adoption of these kinds of programs, though:

  • They fall outside the structure of “school” as we know it (i.e. they would not be subject to unionization the way a prekindergarten program affiliated with a public school system might be) 
  • They require government intervention as opposed to privately operated programs (i.e. for profit charters won’t be able to offer these programs the way they could conceivably offer prekindergarten)and we have all accepted Reagan’s premise that government is the problem.
  • They require interagency collaboration, which can lead to privacy concerns among parents and interagency squabbling over who controls the program.

These are all adult concerns… and because adults seem incapable of resolving them children raised in poverty will continue to be short-changed. Here’s hoping these recently reported research findings give everyone an opportunity to examine new solutions to persistent problems.

Racial Inequality Persists

March 28, 2014 Comments off

The NYTimes reported on a recent study completed by the USDOE that found “Racial minorities are more likely than white students to be suspended from school, to have less access to rigorous math and science classes, and to be taught by lower-paid teachers with less experience…” This is no surprise to anyone who has worked in or followed public education for the past four decades, and neither the NCLB and RTTT initiatives nor the “reform” initiatives will begin to address this disparity. The report highlights the high suspension rates for black prekindergarten students (you read that right— SUSPENSIONS for PREKINDERGARTEN students), the lack of offerings in algebra, biology, calculus, chemistry, geometry and physics at the high school level, and higher concentrations of first year teachers.

And what is the President proposing to address this problem?

In his budget request to Congress, President Obama has proposed a new phase of his administration’s Race to the Top competitive grant program, which would give $300 million in incentives to states and districts that put in place programs intended to close some of the educational gaps identified in the data.

Now to the average person on the street, $300,000,000 sounds like a lot of money… but if all the money went to NYC is wouldn’t come close to narrowing the ago between per pupil expenditures on the largely minority city students and students attending schools in nearby suburbs… And when $300,000,000 is spent across the country it will have even less of an effect. Indeed, assuming a single teacher’s total compensation package is $50,000, the $300,000,000 would only fund 6,000 teachers, hardly enough to make up for the program deficiencies highlighted in the article.

The real solution to the RACIAL inequality is addressing INCOME inequality. The NYTimes Economix section featured an article by Nancy Folbre titled “Helping Low-Income Children Succeed”. The best way to do this? $$$$$. In the article Folbre notes that as school expenditures diminish, middle class and affluent parents are backfilling the gaps:

Parents today spend more money on “child enrichment expenditures,” like private schools, extracurricular activities and home-learning materials, than ever before. Low-income families simply can’t keep up. In 1972-73, the poorest quintile of families spent, on average, about 24 percent as much as the richest 20 percent in this category. By 2005-06, they spent only 15 percent as much.

Folbre cites research findings that indicate that supplementing parents’ incomes can have a beneficial impact on their children’s performance in school. She then writes:

This finding defuses the claim that education reform alone can eliminate disparities. Vast differences in per capita student spending across school districts, and the institutional weaknesses of large bureaucracies, have greatly reduced the potentially equalizing impact of public education. These problems… need to be addressed in unison.

She suggest that “…simplistic recommendations like “just spend more” or “just promote charter schools,” will not work by themselves. Instead schools need to “…bridge the public and private sectors, increase spending in cost-effective ways and, most importantly, improve the quality of educational instruction for low-income students.”

Racial equality and income equality are intertwined, and they need to be addressed in unison and they need to be addressed soon…. a country that accepts high suspension rates in prekindergarten and vastly disparate spending for schools cannot remain egalitarian for long.


Helping Adrift Students

March 27, 2014 Comments off

The Fixes Section of the NYTimes editorial page offers creative solutions to thorny social issues. Today’s article “For Striving Students a Connection to Money”, describes SingleStop, a program that aggregates all of the government services that are available to people living in poverty. This program is designed to make these folks aware of the $65,000,000,000 in unclaimed benefits available to support them if they are seeking to improve themselves through education and training programs. To reach out to people who might qualify for this help, Single Stop is working collaboratively with community colleges, which enroll many students who meet the low income requirements for these jobs.

I believe that reaching out to students in community colleges is waiting too long. HS Guidance counselors spend much (if not MOST) of their time working with college bound students, and pay little attention to the 40-50% of HS graduates who are NOT going to college and NOT in danger of failing to graduate. These are the Adrift students, unsure of what they will do once they graduate, eager to leave home and be independent, and completely clueless as to how to make this happen. An organization like Single Stop could explain to these kids that there are ways they could access government services to help them with that transition and that using these resources is no different than their classmates availing themselves of government subsidized scholarships. For better or worse, and I think it’s for worse, students have gotten the message that seeking government help is a sign of weakness… unless of course you are enrolling in the armed forces (a government “hand out”) or getting s government subsidized loan to enroll in college. As the article states:

(The fact that $65,000,000,000 designed to provide assistance is unspent) should enrage us. It’s better for all of us if children can eat nutritious food, if people can graduate instead of dropping out, if families can live in stable housing instead of shelters and get preventive health care instead of waiting for a problem to require the emergency room. And not just in the my-brother’s-keeper sense; it’s better for our wallets as well. Helping people to live up to their potential is an excellent investment.

It DOES anger me that this money is not being accessed… but what is especially enraging is the reasons outlined in the highlighted section of the next paragraph:

Many people don’t use benefits they qualify for because they don’t know about them. Others don’t want to deal with a sign-up process that seems deliberately designed to discourage use: requiring multiple visits to multiple offices dealing with multiple forms of disrespect, with kids in tow and no money for gas or a MetroCard. Many try to sign up but fail, and then give up.

This just in: the sign up process IS deliberately designed to discourage use in the same way the new requirement for a photo ID discourages voting. Complex enrollment procedures are not a bug: they are a feature. The thinking seems to be if we make it difficult enough to sign up for benefits we can make it difficult for people to use the money we’ve set aside and we can then claim the money wasn’t needed at all. We need to make it as easy to get welfare benefits as it is to get an AK-47 or a handgun.