Archive for September, 2015

Two Articles Draw One Conclusion: Being Born Poor is a HUGE Obstacle

September 30, 2015 Comments off

Over the past month I’ve read several articles describing the deep hole those born into poverty must dig out of in order to improve there economic standing… and increasingly African Americans are experiencing far more poverty than their white counterparts.

In early September Bloomberg Business published a short article by Victoria Stilwell titled “Here’s How Growing Up in Poverty Hurts American Adults” that offered three factors that described three “…things that tend to happen to Americans who grow up poor“:

  1. They have a harder time finishing high school or college
  2. They struggle to keep jobs as young adults
  3. They have higher rates of teen pregnancy

All three of these factors lead to poverty in adulthood… and citing research from the Urban Institute, the article notes that while 15% of children are in poverty during any one year,

Some 39 percent of children are poor for at least one year before they reach their 18th birthday, according to Caroline Ratcliffe, a senior fellow and economist at Urban. For black children, that statistic is 75 percent, compared with 30 percent of whites.

Michelle Chen, a staff writer for The Nation, wrote an equally gloomy assessment of the effects of poverty in an article that appeared earlier this week titled “In America, the Poorer You Are the Poorer Your Children Will Be”. Drawing on information from a new book “Too Many Children Left Behind,” by Bruce Bradbury, Miles Corak, Jane Waldfogel, and Elizabeth Washbrook, Chen describes how 

…poor children in the US are “doubly disadvantaged relative to their peers in the other three countries (the UK, Australia, and Canada)” because the government’s “social safety net and supports for working families do the least among the four countries to combat inequality”—particularly our national lack of guaranteed paid time off and vacation.

Compounding the lack of a safety net is the increase in expenditures on “enrichment activities” by affluent parents, which is having the effect of widening the gap between rich and poor kids in our country. Looking at this situation, Chen writes:

So poor parents struggling just to cover basic food and shelter face both massive income inequality in their day-to-day lives, plus a seven-fold gap in the amount they can “invest” to help their children thrive in the futureGiven that social mobility is already suppressed at all income levels—with children’s future earnings highly correlated with the earnings of their parents—the Herculean amount of “catch up” poor parents must undertake just to get on the same footing as their higher-earning peers makes the great American wealth gap seem even more devastating, for both today’s working households and generations to come.

The solutions to this situation are familiar to readers of this blog and any writings on social justice: better pay, more flexibility in the workplace, universal prekindergarten, access to quality daycare… in short providing the children of low wage workers with the same baseline of services and education that the children raised in affluence receive.

We could make this happen if we lent a helping hand to those children raised in poverty… but to do so would require helping their parents and that seems less and less likely in today’s world of social Darwinism.

Rank-and-File Teachers Object As Nation’s Biggest Union Weighs Early Clinton Endorsement

September 30, 2015 Comments off

Source: Rank-and-File Teachers Object As Nation’s Biggest Union Weighs Early Clinton Endorsement

Several years ago Thomas Frank wrote a book titled What’s the Matter with Kansas which described how voters in that state consistently voted against their self-interest. The NEA and AFT members might want to look at Hillary’s willingness to support anti-democratic for- profit charter schools and her silence when some of her neo-liberal friends like the POTUS, Arne Duncan, and Governor Cuomo tout the value of using standardized tests to measure school and teacher performance. When unions turn a deaf ear to their members they can’t be too upset when their members are unwilling to pay dues.

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Washington Posts Concludes That Americans Can’t Write… and Blames Teachers!

September 29, 2015 Comments off

I just read a maddening article by Natalie Wexler from the September 24 Washington Post titled “Why American’s Can’t Write”. Ms. Wexler’s reason for this situation?

Surely one reason so many Americans lack writing skills is that, for decades, most U.S. schools haven’t taught them. In 2011, a nationwide test found that only 24 percent of students in eighth and 12th grades were proficient in writing, and just 3 percent were advanced.

Ms. Wexler writes a well thought out explanation of how writing could be taught in schools, noting that the punctuation and grammar skills need to be developed incrementally and hierarchically and that teachers need to spend time reading and correcting increasingly lengthy pies of writing. She notes that the common core delineates the skills needed but implies that teachers might lack the capability to deliver instruction on those skills.

What Ms. Wexler fails to note is that writing is not tested effectively… and when it IS tested creativity and flow are far less important than consistency and format… because computers cannot “measure” creativity and flow nor can “readers” who must scan “essays” quickly in order to get tests graded quickly.

We are reaping bad writing because grading writing is complicated, slow, and expensive and we want to measure our students with standardized tests that are easy, fast, and cheap… We won’t get good writing until we are willing to provide the time needed to teach it effectively and the time needed to grade it well.

The Painful Facts, State-by-State: How We’re Victimized by Corporate State Tax Avoidance

September 28, 2015 Comments off

Source: The Painful Facts, State-by-State: How We’re Victimized by Corporate State Tax Avoidance

Paul Buchheit keeps state and local tax dodges in the limelight… This is one of the stealth means of corporate welfare that undercuts the public schools’ ability to provide services to children in need.

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Drug Laws Based on “War” Sent Millions to Prisons, Failed to Treat the Disease

September 28, 2015 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes has an op ed piece by CCNY professor Michael Javen Fortner who’s book Black Silent Majority: The Rockefeller Drug Laws and the Politics of Punishment” was recently reviewed in the New Yorker. The Times essay, “The Real Roots of the 70s Drug Laws”, asserts that a silent majority of blacks fully supported the need for tougher laws to remove pushers, pimps, and prostitutes from their neighborhoods. Fortner peppers his article with quotes from black activists of the early 1970s who call for increased police presence, tougher treatment of pushers, and longer sentences for muggings and the sale of drugs. He expresses concern that the current movement to repeal the laws that led to the wholesale incarceration of many blacks will lead to an increase in crime which, in turn, will lead to even more repression.

Fortner’s essay is compelling, but I the recent New Yorker article noted that only a handful of black NYS legislators voted for the Rockefeller Laws and none voted for the laws that led to the so-called War On Drugs. As a teacher in Philadelphia in the early 1970s I DO believe black parents in that time were appalled at how gangs were luring their children into crime and drug use and would support faster and more certain justice for those whose values did not match the ones they held. But I also believe the disconnect between the laws that were written and the way they have been enforced has led to the Black Lives Matter movement and the sense that we’ve gone way too far in dealing with drug abuse. It seems likely that one of the quotes Fortner used to support his argument, a call to “Take the junkies off the streets and put ’em in camps”, was issued in the spirit of rehabilitation and treatment and not in the spirit of the Rockefeller Laws that led to long-term incarceration for petty drug users. Ultimately, the decision to choose incarceration over treatment has been a disaster for drug users of all races…. but once the increased use of illegal drugs was framed as a “war” instead of the “spread of a disease” we started “taking prisoners” instead of “treating patients”.

If we really want to “bolster religious and civic organizations that cultivate stronger social ties, mitigate disorder and fight crime” we should re-define our “War on Drugs” as an effort to “Prevent the Spread of Disease”. Such a re-definition would lead to the expansion of medical and social services instead of the expansion of police forces and encourage self-control instead of external control.

We Need Infinite Compassion Instead of Zero Tolerance

September 27, 2015 Comments off

I have vivid memories of the impact of the Columbine shootings in 1999. At the time I was serving as Superintendent in Duchess County NY and we were in the midst of convening several public meetings on our budget in anticipation of the annual vote in mid May. Once the images of children vacating a suburban Denver HS appeared nightly on the news, though, parents were less concerned about the initiatives included in our budget and overwhelmingly concerned about the safety of their children in school…. because unlike the earlier reports on school violence that focused on urban schools, Columbine looked a lot like the neighborhoods in our school district and the children vacating the school dressed the same and looked the same as the children in our schools.

Pando writer David Forbes posted an article titled “The Zero Tolerance Generation” that describes the history of the “zero tolerance movement” that he traced back to Columbine. (NOTE: you can only read the initial paragraphs of because it is now behind a paywall). The article reinforces the premise of many posts I’ve written: in the name of safety we’ve spent millions on surveillance equipment, door locks, and police presence in school. With more police in school, we’ve criminalized “disobedience”, and created a school-to-jail pipeline that becomes, in the term used by Yves Smith, a self-licking ice cream cone.

To break out of the zero tolerance mentality we need to get parents and politicians to focus on the root causes that lead to violence in schools instead of spending time reacting to the violence itself. If the funds sent providing armed guards in schools, surveillance cameras, and door locks had been spent on early intervention and mental health services we’d be further along in preventing the random acts of extreme violence that occur in school. Most importantly, we’d be limiting the day-to-day misconduct that stems from the problems children face growing up in our  hyper-competitive country. Instead of zero-tolerance we should strive for infinite compassion.

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Computer Using Students Did Worse on PISA in 2012. Time to Re-think Technology as Salvation?

September 26, 2015 Comments off

Alternet cross-posted Jill Barshay’s essay from the Hechinger Report summarizing the findings of OECD research based on the 2012 PISA tests that found that the highest performing students on that test used computers in school the least.

While the findings were not as strong based on home computer use, it was evident that students who used computers the most at school did worse on the tests.

Bruce Friend, the chief operating office of iNACOL, a group that advocates the use of technology in school, suggests that US schools might be overlooking the real power of computer technology, which is the real-time analysis of student performance to tailor instruction to meet the unique needs of each student. As he noted in Barhsay’s article, improving education for each child requires much more than giving each of them a computer: it requires trained teachers to assist in the application of that technology.

Barshay ends her essay with this suggestion: “Perhaps it is best to use the computer money into hiring, training, and paying the best teachers”.