Archive for April, 2014

Ring of Affluence

April 30, 2014 Comments off

Thomas Edsall has a thought provoking column today on the emerging progressivism of several major metropolitan areas. The article draws on two urban experts, Harold Myerson of the American Prospect and Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronot who has written several books on urban planning.

Myerson recently wrote and article titled “The Revolt of the Cities” citing the efforts of six mayors to  implement a progressive agenda. The mayors— Pittsburgh’s Bill Peduto, Minneapolis’s Betsy Hodges, Seattle’s Ed Murray, Boston’s Martin Walsh, Santa Fe’s Javier Gonzales, and…New York City’s Bill de Blasio… are striving to enact legislation at the local level that “…rais(es) minimum wages; requir(es) contractors to hire inner-city residents and to increase pay on municipal projects; back(s) local union organizing efforts; initiat(es) or expand(s) pre-K schooling; extend(s) public transit into poor neighborhoods; and requir(es) police to videotape contacts with citizens.” Myerson’s optimistic take on this is that the changes in these urban areas will spread across the country and thereby re-define the agenda for liberals.

In the article, Myerson notes that the cities enacting progressive agendas have an advantage over some of their counterparts: “…major research universities; financial and high tech corporate centers; substantial and strong artistic and intellectual communities.” These resources are not available in cities like “Peoria, Trenton, Camden, Detroit, St. Louis, Baltimore, Birmingham or Modesto.”

Edsall asked Richard Florida to read Myerson’s article and offer his perspective, which was far less sanguine:

Florida makes the argument that the most successful cities, including New York, are major drivers of growing inequality: “Clustering of talent is a powerful force, the most basic force of economic growth.” New York, San Francisco and other urban hubs, attract the most creative and energetic populations, according to Florida, because of the attractive, dynamic nature of the pre-existing local ecology. At the same time, compared to the country as a whole, cities have a disproportionate share of recent immigrants, and of the dispossessed, the impoverished and the marginalized.

The result, in Florida’s view, is that America faces “a new kind of urban crisis brought on by the success of some of our cities,” with diverging cities “divided by talent clusters, by concentrated disadvantage juxtaposed with concentrated advantage.”

Florida is asserting that what works in NYC might not play in Peoria. When Edsall asked Myerson to react to Florida’s analysis, Myerson acknowledged that regional solutions would be far better than city-based ones:

The city of Los Angeles, he noted, has 3.9 million people, while Los Angeles County has 9.8 million, with 87 separate cities. “While most businesses wouldn’t relocate if the city only hiked the wage, a hodgepodge of differing local wage levels would doubtless entice some.”

Edsall concludes his article with this paragraph:

Urban America is now on a reconnaissance mission for progressive politics. What we’re still waiting to find out is whether the policies and programs developed in the nation’s thriving urban core will prove to be broadly applicable. Can the new progressive mayors lay the groundwork for a national agenda, or will bold and innovative policy experiments that privilege New York and Seattle fail their disadvantaged cousins like Stockton, Detroit, Buffalo and Baltimore?

I recently read an article about Wayne County, MI, in the New Yorker that described how their county executive shamelessly exploited the fears of the Detroit middle class and business community siphoning off businesses and educated residents to the detriment of his neighbor to the south. I know that Baltimore County did the same thing in a more subtle fashion and witnessed the same phenomenon on a smaller scale in Duchess County NY. All of this led me to make the following comment:

Virtually every “disadvantaged cousin” is ringed by “affluent brothers and sisters” some of whom gleefully siphon talent and wealth away from their siblings (see Wayne County in MI for a particularly blatant example). Cities with major universities are populated with individuals who recognize the need to help their fellow citizens. Perhaps this happens because in consolidated environments citizens witness the effects of poverty on a daily basis while those in the affluent ring communities surrounding the “disadvantaged cousin” cities have figuratively or literally put up walls to keep poverty out of sight and, therefore, out of mind. The only way to level those figurative walls is to enact a progressive tax policy that re-establishes the missing equilibrium.

To stretch the family metaphor a step further, only Uncle Sam can help….


Great news: InBloom is shutting down

April 29, 2014 Comments off

In some respects the InBloom bargain is no different than the Google bargain or, for that matter, the “free” internet bargain… We’ve implicitly agreed to share data with people in exchange for a quick and easy way to gather information… and even though I dislike the ads that now permeate Google, I invariably “Google” something when I have a question and DO have my cookies enabled.

One other reality: in order for public education to fund data warehousing that could arguably improve information available to teachers, SOME kind of trade-off is necessary. Either taxpayers need to willingly fund technology infrastructure for schools (unlikely given the public’s unwillingness to fund obvious infrastructure deficiencies like water pipes and highways) or some sort of bargain like InBloom has to be worked out.


I’m trying my hardest to resist talking about Pikkety’s Capital because I haven’t read it yet, even though I’ve read a million reviews and discussions about it, and I saw him a couple of weeks ago on a panel with my buddy Suresh Naidu. Suresh, who was great on the panel, wrote up his notes here.

So I’ll hold back from talking directly about Pikkety, but let me talk about one of Suresh’s big points that was inspired in part by Pikkety. Namely, the fact that it’s a great time to be rich. It’s even greater now to be rich than it was in the past, even when there were similar rates of inequality. Why? Because so many things have become commodified. Here’s how Suresh puts it:

We live in a world where much more of everyday life occurs on markets, large swaths of extended family and government services have…

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Kindergarten Program Cancellation

April 28, 2014 Comments off

This Washington Post headline says it all. You can’t make this stuff up! Here’s the headline:

Kindergarten show canceled so kids can keep studying to become ‘college and career ready.’ Really.

Prekindergarten Testing? Ay yi yi!

April 28, 2014 Comments off

Diane Ravitch’s blog post today includes a link to an article written in February 2014 on the ECEPolicy Matter blog titled “Developmentally Inappropriate: ECE’s Faustian Bargain”. In the article Susan Ochshorn describes the implicit trade off being made by accepting the federal government’s intervention into early childhood education: namely, academic standardization based on a child’s age. When politicians fund preschool programs with the expectation that the early childhood programs will “graduate” students “ready for school” they are simultaneously putting some kind of standardized assessment in place that measures “school readiness”… and as long as schools are organized into age-based cohorts those tests will do nothing to promote academic success. Why? Because is all children are expected to hit an academic norm (i.e. the 50th percentile) half of them will necessarily fall short of the mark! After reading the blog post and article, I left the following comment:

The root cause of all of this testing is the preposterous notion that students need to be batched into age cohorts and progress academically in lockstep. If they DON’T match the SLOs set for their age cohorts they are “failures”. This batching process underlies the entire standardization movement. We started batching students this way nearly a century ago for “efficiency”. The “worksheets and exit tickets to check for their understanding” are a by product of the engineering and spreadsheet mentality that “reformers” advocate.

When will we ever seize the opportunity to use the power of technology and the research on child development to come up with a means of individualizing instruction instead of standardizing it?

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InBloom Withers

April 27, 2014 Comments off

The NYTimes reported yesterday on InBloom’s decision to close. The reason given by the CEO was that InBloom was ” ..a victim of erroneous censure“. The Times article did a good job of describing the more complicated reality. InBloom was breaking new ground, operating in a regulatory vacuum, and was a profit-driven enterprise as opposed to a philanthropic undertaking.

The article did contain one paragraph that describes a possible way of moving forward on the systematic gathering of student information, using the eScholar model:

Given inBloom’s challenges, some companies are emphasizing that they have a different business model. Consider eScholar, which sells data warehousing software to about 5,000 school districts across the country. This 17-year-old company doesn’t repurpose student data for other ventures. In fact, eScholar doesn’t store student records; schools run its software and aggregate student data on their own sites.

“It is for us a tremendous sense of clarity that we are getting paid by educators to do what they need done,” Shawn Bay, eScholar’s chief executive, told me.

From my perspective the most optimal solution would be for Bill Gates and the other entrepreneurs who hoped to capitalize on student data collection to donate their services and expertise to help schools and legislators figure out the best way to skin the cat in data collection and retrieval. As Andrew Carnegie provided towns with libraries with no intention of making profit, Bill Gates could use his financial largesse and technological expertise to help public schools by developing some kind of open source software that wouldn’t “…repurpose student data for other ventures.”  


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Grass Roots Democracy’s Shortcoming

April 27, 2014 Comments off

An AP story on the Mustang School District’s decision to offer an elective course developed by the Museum of the Bible is a case study in why the Common Core might be a good thing… and why grass roots democracy in the form of local school board governance might be problematic.

Without assigning names to the players in the drama, it seems that a wealthy fundamentalist who serves on the board of directors of a museum devoted to celebrating the Bible found a like minded school board in Oklahoma, “The Buckle of the Bible Belt”, and offered them a chance to pilot a new HS curriculum “…billed as a way to teach archaeology, history and the arts through Bible stories”. The new curriculum uses a textbook that covers:

…the role of religion in early America, discussing the New World as a haven for those seeking to escape religious persecution. It also talks about the role of religion in art, citing the role of patrons such as the Catholic Church and wealthy families during the Renaissance.

The book also uses popular culture, mentioning songs written by U2 that it says are based in the Psalms, to illustrate the Bible’s modern relevance. It does not name specific compositions.

From the outset, the book describes God as eternal, “faithful and good,” ”full of love” and “an ever-present help in times of trouble.”

The wealthy fundamentalist, who declined to be interviewed by AP, “…said he wants the program in thousands of schools by 2017.”

And who is the as yet unnamed wealthy fundamentalist? None other than Steve Green, CEO of Hobby Lobby, whose name has been all over the newspapers because he sued the federal government after the passage of the Affordable Care Act claiming that providing certain types of birth control to its workers would violate the religious freedom rights of the company’s owners.

In years past I’ve witnessed some of my colleagues deal with school boards with a majority of fundamentalists who wanted to ban books, re-introduce prayer, and propose curricula based on Biblical teachings. After a few years these candidates, who often ran without being clear about their intentions, got voted out of office. What makes this story disturbing isn’t that a school board adopted a curriculum that a Religion Professor at SMA described as lacking “scholarly insight”, that kind of thing has happened in the past. What makes this disturbing is that an individual with deep pockets and a penchant for litigation is behind the introduction of the curriculum and intends to expand this curriculum into other schools. And what schools in what states might be open to offering an elective funded by the Museum of the Bible? Methinks it might be the very states that are abandoning the Common Core because they don’t want the federal government meddling with local control.

Bottom line: we live in a complicated world… but one where the person with the deepest pockets will have the biggest megaphone. I think we’ll be hearing more about this in the months ahead.

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NYTimes Gets Partial Credit

April 26, 2014 Comments off

Diane Ravitch wrote a post today praising the NYTimes public editor for publishing a letter from a teacher protesting the implementation of the Common Core. I read the letter and the lead to the letter from the public editor and the initial comments and felt that the Times only deserves partial credit…. and provided them yet again with my feedback on where they fall short of the mark with this comment:

My concern with the Times’ coverage of the Common Core is the characterization that it came from the bottom up: that the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers pushed for it in 2010 “…to bolster the country’s competitiveness”. The Common Core was adopted by states and promoted by Governors AFTER the USDoE required that States use it as a condition to get Race To The Top waivers from No Child Left Behind. Furthermore, the USDoE’s Race To The Top required states to link teacher evaluations to student test results as part of the waiver process. The governors got on board with the Common Core and the standardized tests because the USDoE made it clear that failing to agree would result in the loss of federal dollars. If you don’t think this is true, look at your story earlier this week on Washington state’s potential loss of federal $$$.

My bottom line for the NYTimes: please stop characterizing the Common Core as something that emerged from the bottom up. It was a de facto mandate from the US Department of Education.

As a devotee of George Orwell I know that history can be re-written by the repetition of a mis-statement… and every time the Times publishes a “fact” that “the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers (pushed for) the Common Core in 2010 to bolster the country’s competitiveness” it makes it appear that the USDoE had nothing to do with it… which, as readers of this blog I HOPE realize, is NOT the case. The original requirements to get waivers from NCLB and thereby qualify for continued federal funding were promulgated in January 2010— before the meeting where governors and Chief School officers supposedly set the wheels in motion.

One last political observation: it is interesting to note that while President Obama has been unsuccessful in getting any education bills reauthorized he hasn’t had any pushback from Republicans on Race to the Top. My conclusion: Race to the Top has helped advance the privatization agenda forward, an agenda both Republicans and neo-liberal Democrats support…. and an agenda the main stream media have not picked up on as yet.

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