Archive for July, 2015

Upward Mobility Restricted in U.K. by “Glass Floor”. Is USA Any Different?

July 31, 2015 Comments off

Last Sunday the Independent published a short article by Siobhan Fenton titled “Middle Class Parents Use Glass Floor to Ensure Their Children Succeed oOver Poorer Peers Study Finds“. The study, conducted in Great Britain, issued a report entitled Downward mobility, opportunity hoarding and the ‘glass floor’, analyzing the lives of 17,000 people born in the same week in the UK in 1970. It’s findings?

“High attaining children from less advantaged family backgrounds are less able to, or at least less successful, at converting this early high potential into later labour market success.”

The reason for this disparity in opportunity?

….wealthier parents were using their resources and influence to give their children an unfair advantage. These included, finding them unpaid internships, using their social networks to form advantageous connections and ensuring they are able to access better education.

So if there are decided advantages offered to the children of relatively affluent parents, what’s the problem?

The report concluded: “A society in which the success or failure of children with equal ability rests on the social and economic status of their parents is not a fair one.

“Not only is it unfair but it is a waste of the talents of those with potential from less advantaged backgrounds; damaging for the individuals, the economy and society.”

And what does a study in Britain have to do with our country? Well, our country, like Britain, has embraced the “Global Education Reform Movement” which assumes that poverty is “an excuse” and not an impediment to learning. This, in turn, places a glass ceiling over those who are less affluent since they lack the “… social networks to form advantageous connections and ensuring they are able to access better education”. In effect, in the US to become better educated one needs to begin life in a family that has connections and wealth. Lana Milburn, who chaired the commission that issued the report, offers a solution to this waste of human resources:

The Government should make its core mission the levelling of the playing field so that every child in the country has an equal opportunity to go as far as their abilities can take them.”

Is our government’s core mission to “level the playing field” or is it to sort out those who are above the glass floor? I think readers know the answer.

$1,000,000,000 for Non-Existent Schools in Afghanistan… But We Can’t Afford $$$ for Schools and Need to Cut Food Stamps

July 30, 2015 Comments off

Ghost Students, Ghost Teachers, and Ghost Schools“, Buzzfeed’s expose on the appalling abuse of USAID funds intended for the construction and operation of schools in Afghanistan, describes how money earmarked for schools went into the pockets of warlords instead. The idea of offering public education to educate young men and especially young women in that war-torn nation is sound and reflects the abiding belief that education is the most effective way to change the culture in a country. And the idea that these schools were thriving was especially heartening to those who hoped some long-term benefits might come from the billions being spent in that country. But sadly, the Buzzfeed journalists found we were being misled:

Over and over, the United States has touted education — for which it has spent more than $1 billion — as one of its premier successes in Afghanistan, a signature achievement that helped win over ordinary Afghans and dissuade a future generation of Taliban recruits. As the American mission faltered, U.S. officials repeatedly trumpeted impressive statistics — the number of schools built, girls enrolled, textbooks distributed, teachers trained, and dollars spent — to help justify the 13 years and more than 2,000 Americans killed since the United States invaded.

But a BuzzFeed News investigation — the first comprehensive journalistic reckoning, based on visits to schools across the country, internal U.S. and Afghan databases and documents, and more than 150 interviews — has found those claims to be massively exaggerated, riddled with ghost schools, teachers, and students that exist only on paper. The American effort to educate Afghanistan’s children was hollowed out by corruption and by short-term political and military goals that, time and again, took precedence over building a viable school system. And the U.S. government has known for years that it has been peddling hype.

The statistics about school construction are disheartening to read. The State Department and Defense Department both overstated the number of schools constructed by at least 20% and the quality of the construction, based on their own internal reports, was shoddy:

As for the schools America truly did build, U.S. officials repeatedly emphasized to Congress that they were constructed to high-quality standards. But in 2010, USAID’s inspector general published a review based on site visits to 30 schools. More than three-quarters suffered from physical problems, poor hardware, or other deficiencies that might expose students to “unhealthy and even dangerous conditions.” Also, the review found that “the International Building Code was not adhered to” in USAID’s school-building program.

This year, BuzzFeed News found that the overwhelming majority of the more than 50 U.S.-funded schools it visited resemble abandoned buildings — marred by collapsing roofs, shattered glass, boarded-up windows, protruding electrical wires, decaying doors, or other structural defects. At least a quarter of the schools BuzzFeed News visited do not have running water.

But the lack of accountability doesn’t stop with money spent on the construction of schools:

By obtaining internal records from the Afghan Ministry of Education, never before made public, BuzzFeed News also learned that more than 1,100 schools that the ministry publicly reported as active in 2011 were in fact not operating at all. Provincial documents show that teacher salaries — largely paid for with U.S. funds — continued to pour into ghost schools.

Some local officials even allege that those salaries sometimes end up in the hands of the Taliban. Certainly, U.S.-funded school projects have often lined the pockets of brutal warlords and reviled strongmen, which sometimes soured the local population on the U.S. and the Afghan government.

So we spent billions to construct non-existent school, even more money to pay the salaries of non-existent teachers, and no one seems to know where the money went!

Since 2002, the United States has invested more than $1 billion to provide education to Afghan children. But the American government does not know how many schools it has built, how many Afghan students are actually attending school, or how many teachers are actually teaching. What’s certain is the numbers for all of those are far less than what it has been peddling.

Education can make a difference. Unregulated education cannot. I loathed the mountains of paperwork we needed to do when I was a Superintendent for 29 years… but in the end it assured that the money we raised in taxes was accounted for carefully and went into the pockets of teachers who delivered instruction to students. At the very least, our government should spend money to make certain that the dollars we are spending to educate children in Afghanistan are not going to warlords who only want to teach the Koran.


$chool$Fir$t NY and Familie$ for Excellent School$: Money Talk$ in Albany

July 29, 2015 Comments off

“Follow the Money” was the advice Deep Throat gave Woodward and Bernstein in the book All The President’s Men NYTimes reporter Kate Taylor did just that in researching her article titled “Groups that Back Bloomberg’s Education Agenda Enjoy Great Success in Albany” and here’s what she found: three individuals who are on the Board of StudentsFirstNY, the lobbying group that advocates for “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” contributed over $250,000 to Cuomo’s re-election campaign and are in the process of amassing a “War Chest” to make certain legislators who believe in “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” are elected in 2016 so that Cuomo can pass the bills that will permanently enshrine those policies. And what are those policies?

Making teacher evaluations more dependent on test scores, reforming tenure and increasing the number of charter schools in the city were all priorities of StudentsFirstNY and became significant pieces of the governor’s agenda for the 2015 legislative session, which he announced in his State of the State speech on Jan. 21.

This Governor, who managed to undercut any competition from the progressive voters in the State by winning the endorsement of the Working Families Party by promising to work tirelessly to get a Democrat majority in the Senate, acted to implement an education agenda from a group that was working twice as hard (and spending millions of dollars) to accomplish the OPPOSITE goal. From here, it appears that Mr. Cuomo used none of his political capital to promote ANY Democrat running for the Senate and used lots of capital from StudentsFirstNY to implement the market-based for-profit model Bloomberg advocates. And the billionaires funding StudentsFirstNY did act alone in advancing “Bloomberg’s Education Agenda” in Albany. Taylor’s article also profiles Families for Excellent Schools. who are they and what do they stand for? Taylor writes:

Last year, it spent $9.6 million on lobbying, more than any other entity in the state, according to state records. Much of this money was spent on advertisements attacking Mr. de Blasio for his opposition to charter schools and a later ad praising Mr. Cuomo for coming to their aid.

The group has also become closely associated with Eva S. Moskowitz, the chief executive of Success Academy, the city’s biggest charter school network, and one of Mr. de Blasio’s sharpest critics.

Families for Excellent Schools is approved by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501(c)3 organization, referring to the section of the tax code regarding charities, meaning that donations are tax-deductible, and, under New York State law, it need not disclose donors.

So two lobbying groups, one of whom spent more than “any other entity in the State”, are promoting the “Bloomberg Education Agenda” and StudentsFirstNY has extraordinary influence in legislation:

(StudentsFirstNY) is so plugged into the capital that (it’s Executive Director) Ms. Sedlis has sometimes served as a go-between among different government offices, relaying messages and scouting information about education bills being considered.

When the Executive Director of a lobbying group that has three board members who donated $250,000 to the Governor’s campaign serves “…as a go-between among different government offices” it appears that our government has been bought and sold. Here’s hoping the NYTimes digs a little deeper to follow the money and amplify its corrosive effect on legislation.

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The Battle Over Education and Civil Rights

July 29, 2015 Comments off

The Battle Over Education and Civil Rights.

Good article on the politics involved in the reauthorization of ESEA… and it included this synopsis of the original intent of the legislation:

The original Act, signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, was part of a civil-rights-era drive to rectify glaring inequality.

It dealt with disproportionate funding within and among the states. It created grants to help low-income students, built libraries and provided text books to schools in poor areas.

Given the original intention, I can’t see why Civil Rights leaders are not insisting that the federal dollars be used to deal with disproportionate funding instead of dealing with low test scores, the after effects of the disproportionate funding. And given ALL of the negatives, I remain convinced that NOT passing ANYTHING would be preferable to passing a “compromise” that does absolutely nothing to address underfunding and testing.

Graphics Show What Readers Know: Boundaries and Attendance Zones Reinforce Economic Segregation, Prevent Upward Mobility

July 28, 2015 Comments off

Two recent blog posts provide graphic illustrations of the way arbitrary school boundaries and attendance zones reinforce economic segregation and limit the opportunities for children board born in poverty to get a high quality education.

In his recent Vox post “Want a Good Public Education for Your Kids? Better Be Rich First“, Matt Yglesias uses a scattergram and a Google Earth map to illustrate how the school attendance zones and zoning practices and in his home city of Washington DC  result in de facto economic segregation and, consequently, unequal opportunities. He acknowledges that charter schools afford some opportunity for children to attend schools outside their attendance zone, but it is a limited opportunity at best:

In DC, you are guaranteed the right to send your kid to your in-zone elementary school, but all charter schools admit students purely on the basis of a lottery. Convenience still counts in life, so the charter system hardly eliminates geographic sources of disadvantage. But it does mitigate them. Shifting to more reliance on charter schools or having public schools admit students without geographic preference would be good for equality. But in this case, equality really is a leveling measure that lifts up poorer households in part by dragging down richer ones. 

The Atlantic City Lab blog provides an interactive map that shows how this phenomenon of attendance zoning plays out across the country. In “An Interactive Map from EdBuild Shows How School district Funding Enforces Poverty Rates” Laura Bliss offers some compelling examples of preposterous attendance zone practices that do what the title indicates. She offers three specific examples of how gerrymandering and town boundaries separate children raised in affluence from those raised in poverty and how black students are segregated from white ones… and all of her examples are north of the Mason Dixon line.

If politicians are unwilling to compel boundary changes that yield equitable funding for schools then fair-minded taxpayers should push their legislators to at least ensure that all children attend schools that offer comparable opportunities. That HAS happened in 42 states where lawsuits have been filed to require equitable funding. The shame is that few of these states have responded by increasing the funds for schools. Instead, they have achieved equality by dragging down rich districts instead of lifting up those serving children raised in poverty and selling the public on the notion that schooling, like breakfast cereal, is a commodity that requires choice.

How Big Corporations Cheat Public Education

July 27, 2015 Comments off

How Big Corporations Cheat Public Education.

As noted in previous posts, corporations threaten to move in order to get PILOT (Payment In Lieu Of Taxes) agreements for existing sites to reduce paying local and/or state property taxes. The costs for services are then shifted to taxpayers, many of whom do not connect the dots on the cause of their tax increases and/or want to retain their jobs but don’t want to pick up the costs shifted to their neighbors. This article describes even more blatant examples of tax avoidance. Shame on all those corporations who complain about “bad schools” and then diminish the resources by avoiding state and local taxes.

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Want Less Integration? UCLA Study Indicates Charter Schools Are The Way to Go!

July 27, 2015 Comments off

A recent Latina article by Cindy Casares described a study conducted by UCLA that indicated that New York City— one of the most multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multiracial cities in the world— has the most segregated school in our country. How did this happen?

The culprit? Educational choice plans without civil rights standards like “strong public information and outreach, free transportation, serious planning and training for successful diversity, authentic educational options worth choosing, and no admissions screening.”

The problem with using tests as the basis for entering NYC High Schools is well documented and referenced in earlier blog posts.  The consequence of this practice: NYC High Schools are far more segregated than the schools zoned by neighborhoods that fed them students. As test results became an entry factor to elementary and middle schools and “choice” without outreach, free transportation, and “authentic educational options” took over, the elementary and middle schools became increasingly segregated. How can this be fixed? Mayor de Blasio is requiring schools “…to report annually on student demographics in community school districts and high schools and any efforts made to “encourage a diverse student body in its schools and special programs.” But here’s a better idea:

Slate highlights a small program in super crunchy Park Slope, Brooklyn, where one school set aside a large percentage of seats for kids who are still learning English or receiving free or reduced meals.

Segregation will not go away on its own… and when it is addressed at the grassroots level it’s chances for success are created than when it is imposed by “the government”. The Park Slope neighborhood that opened its doors to ESL and less affluent students is acting from an internal sense of economic justice and not because of an edict from Washington DC. If more NYC neighborhoods had the heart of “crunchy” Park Slope instead of the elitist attitude that leads to the kinds of charter schools described in this article, de-segregation would happen quickly and without incident.