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Archive for June, 2015

USDOE Budget Update: No Way to Sugar Coat It— Bad News

June 27, 2015 Comments off

According to an Education Week blog post by Lauren Camera on June 23, the Senate Appropriations Committee has increased the funding for USDOE by $1,100,000,000 over the House budget. That’s still not good news since it represents a cut of $1,700,000,000 over the current level. This is all in advance of the real budget battle, which will likely take place in the fall… but it does show where both the House and Senate agree on cuts… and it doesn’t look good for at risk children. Here’s where cuts seem inevitable:

…the proposal would slash funding for a slew of education programs and eliminate 10 others, including Investing in InnovationPreschool Development Grants, and Striving Readers.

…School Improvement Grants would be cut by $56 million,Promise Neighborhoods would be cut by $20 million, and 21st Century Community Learning Centers would be cut by $117 million. Other cuts would include:

  • Migrant Education would be cut by $9.8 million

  • Teacher Quality State Grants would be cut by $103 million

  • State Assessments would be cut by $28 million

  • Safe and Drug-Free Schools would be cut by $10 million

  • Elementary and Secondary School Counseling would be cut by $26.6 million

  • Teacher Incentive Fund would be cut by $5 million

  • Magnet Schools Assistance would be cut by $6.6 million

  • Advanced Placement would be cut by $5.6 million

  • English Language Acquisition would be cut by $25.3 million

Eventually it appears the conservative wing will get its wish and the Department of Education’s budget will be small enough to drown it in a bathtub… and if the test-and-punish regimen persists few will lament it’s passing.

Special Education Services: Neediest Get The Least

June 26, 2015 Comments off

The title of Wednesday’s NYTimes op-ed article by Paul Morgan and George Farkas posed this question: “Is Special Ed Racist?” The short answer is “No”. The reason?

Black children face double jeopardy when it comes to succeeding in school. They are far more likely to be exposed to the gestational, environmental and economic risk factors that often result in disabilities. Yet black children are less likely to be told they have disabilities, and to be treated for them, than otherwise similar white children.

Based on my experience, poor children of any race face the same double jeopardy because in the final analysis the root of special education’s problem is funding. Everyone agrees we need to meet the unique individual needs of children and everyone agrees that the warehousing of severely needy children is abominable… but no one wants to pay the costs needed to provide these services. When the federal government passed 94-142 it promised to provide 40% of the costs. That has never happened. Worse, the mandated services effectively require districts to hire case managers who serve as quasi-administrators, instructional assistants who often shadow students all day long, and central administrative staff to oversee this personnel and make sure that the program is in compliance. This all costs money… and since the federal mandate is not matched with federal money there is no incentive for schools to aggressively identify children with special needs, especially in districts that are financially strapped to begin with.

But in affluent districts, engaged and informed parents seek the services of attorneys who serve as advocates for their children. Sadly, the parents of the poorest children in the most impoverished schools are often uninformed with it comes to special education services and, as a consequence, their children are underserved. While it is unimaginable that any level of government would fund advocates and perhaps equally unimaginable that some attorneys would take on this work pro bono, absent such a movement children raised in poverty will miss out on the services they are entitled to and schools will be incapable of providing children with the services they need to afford an equal opportunity to all children.

The Street Where You Live Leads to a Better Chance for Success

June 25, 2015 Comments off

David Leonardt’s Upshot column last Thursday reported on several reports that underscored the importance of place.. and highlighted the shameful reality that black middle class families live in markedly poorer neighborhoods than white middle class families. This resonated with me based on my experiences as a young adult in Philadelphia where banks, realtors, and politicians conspired to “red-line” certain neighborhoods,  practice that led to the phenomenon called “block-busting”,  practice that took place subtly and explicitly in many northern cities.

I witnessed this block-busting first hand when I rented an apartment in West Philadelphia in the late 1960s in a neighborhood that was bordered on one side by a railroad line and on the other by the University of Pennsylvania. The homes on the “Penn Side” of the rail line were becoming gentrified as the University City neighborhood moved slowly and inexorably westward. The homes on the “other side” of the tracks, however, were slowly deteriorating. One of my many part-time jobs in college was working for Philadelphia Gas, doing door-to-door canvassing in the neighborhood on “the other side of the tracks”. That neighborhood was targeted by Philadelphia Gas because many “new residents” were moving in due to “turnover” in houses because “older people” were moving to the suburbs. After spending a week knocking on doors it became evident to me that every “new resident” was black. Some of the blacks were clearly middle class: their living rooms looked like the one in my suburban home and they were interested in doing everything they could to improve the new home they purchased. Other blacks, though, were clearly struggling. I recall one family in particular who had spent every dollar they had on their home. They had hardly any furniture and could barely afford their electricity let alone gas heat conversions. The man who answered the door was clearly exhausted from working, but he told me he was proud that he had put together enough money to buy the home and hoped someday he’d have the furniture to fill it and maybe someday he’d be able to get gas heat. The few white residents who answered the door did so cautiously: they looked through the curtains to see who I was and peered through a cracked door. They were not interested in any home improvements because like their former neighbors they were looking to move elsewhere.

Fast forward fifty years and you have the reality described in Leonardt’s article: “the typical middle-income black family lives in a neighborhood with lower incomes than the typical low-income white family.” And where you live matters greatly in terms of the schools you attend and the quality of your life. As Leonardt notes at the end of this piece, which is full of data from many carefully researched reports, improving the quality of housing is the best way to address poverty… but it is not a policy that is likely to be pursued any time soon:

Housing developments that allow low-income families to move into higher-income neighborhoods appear to be a cost-effective antipoverty strategy. Vouchers that help lower-income families move into better neighborhoods may be even more so.

Partly inspired by the new research, federal housing officials, including Julian Castro, the housing secretary, have recently shown more interest in varying the value of vouchers to encourage families to move to better neighborhoods. Current policy — both federal and local, on both vouchers and taxes — goes in the opposite direction, creating incentives to put up buildings in worse neighborhoods and for poor families to remain there.

The notion that your neighborhood matters is almost a cliché. But it’s also true — and yet much of the nation’s housing policy effectively pretends otherwise.

Let me conclude this post by concluding my anecdote about life in Philadelphia. Two years after knocking on doors in the neighborhood on “the other side of the tracks” I was teaching in a junior high school in that same neighborhood. The value of the houses had declined and many of the homes were rented. The school was overcrowded and among the worst in the city in terms of its standardized test scores (yes… even in the early 1970s they ranked schools by test scores). As I patrolled the halls and bathrooms to ensure that fights did not break out I often wondered how the homeowners I visited two years earlier felt about their neighborhood.