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Thomas Edsall Describes Problem Brilliantly, Fails to See Solution

June 18, 2016 Comments off

Last week Thomas Edsall wrote a column describing the painful reality of our culture: the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. Using the findings of a recent report from the Russell Sage Foundation as a springboard, Edsall uses graphs to illustrate the underlying problems that create this phenomenon: racism, lack of education, and unmarried parents. Any child born into a lower quintile family where the mother is black, the mother lacks a high school degree, or the mother has never been married has a 50% of remaining in that quintile and at best a 14% chance of advancing to the top 40%. A child born unto a lower quintile family where the mother is white, has a college degree, or is continuously married has at least a 35% chance of advancing. This reality led to the title of Edsall’s piece, “Separated at Birth”.

This is a different story than we want to believe about our country. We want to believe that everyone in our country has an equal opportunity regardless of their mother’s race, martial status, or background. We want to believe that if one works hard, plays by the rules, and does well in school that they will succeed. And we also want to believe that no matter where they live they can enroll in a public school where their hard work will pay off. Edsall cites research done by Katharine Bradbury and Robert Triest, economists at the Federal Reserve in Boston who are the editors of the Sage report, which is called “Opportunity, Mobility, and Increased Inequality”:

Bradbury and Triest, the Boston Federal Reserve economists, follow up by drawing attention to the inexorable disadvantages accruing to already disadvantaged kids:

A 40 percentage-point gap in college enrollment of students born in the early 1960s between poorest-quartile and richest-quartile students expanded to a 51 point gap for the later cohort; similarly, the earlier cohort’s 31 point gap in college completion between rich and poor grew to a 45 point gap for the later cohort.

Bradbury and Triest put forward a bleak assessment of the options available to young people born into the poorest families, even children who possess considerable native gifts:

A key question is whether primary schools, once children come under their care, level the playing field and reduce these disparities. Most research findings suggest that they do not.

Not only do “children of affluent parents graduate from college at substantially higher rates than children of low-income parents,” according to Bradbury and Triest, “the gap persists even when controlling for ability in the form of test scores.”

They cite data showing that

a child’s earnings in adulthood reflect parental investments in his/her human capital (education) as well as his/her endowment of earnings capacity and market luck. That endowment, in turn, is determined by the reputation and “connections” of their families, the contribution to the ability, race, and other characteristics of children from the genetic constitutions of their families, and the learning, skills, goals, and other “family commodities” acquired through belonging to a particular family culture.

Four key factors or mechanisms of intergenerational earnings persistence “that are related to family incomes and that have a return” in the labor market play an outsize role in determining the fate of American children, according to studies cited by Bradbury and Triest: “noncognitive skills, cognitive ability, early labor market experiences, and educational attainment.”

Edsall does offer some hope, however. He notes that Isabel Sawhill and Richard Reeves, both of Brookings, identified

“…impressive gains from a five-stage program of intensive and sustained intervention with poor children and adolescents. These range from “biweekly home visits and group meetings to instruct and equip parents to be effective teachers for their children” during infancy to a “comprehensive high school reform initiative aimed at reducing student dropout rates.” Children whose parents are positioned, materially and psychologically, to take advantage of such interventions are fortunate, but the children themselves have no control over access to these resources.

And what about the children whose parents are NOT positioned materially and psychologically to take advantage of such interventions? Are they not the same children whose parents cannot take advantage of school choice programs? Are the children, through no fault of their own, unable to advance economically? In the world we now live in, the answer is “NO”.

In the meantime, those of us who were fortunate to be born into a white household with college educated parents who stayed married are unwilling to dig deeper into our pockets to provide the “intensive and sustained intervention” needed to assist those children who parents are NOT positioned materially and psychologically to take advantage of such interventions…

 

 

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Diane Ravitch’s Posts Yesterday: Democratic Governance of Public Schools Is At Risk

June 16, 2016 Comments off

I read all of Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday and found one common theme: democratic governance of public education works but is in peril. A summary of the several of the posts illustrates how this is so:

  • One post covered the ongoing struggle in NYS over whether the mayor should control the schools or not. As Ms. Ravitch notes, even though Mayor de Blasio is willing to push back against the effort in Albany to expand charters, the notion of the mayor controlling the schools is an anethema and there is no evidence whatsoever that it leads to the improvement of student performance as measured by standardized achievement tests scores.
  • Two posts dealt with Eli Broad’s second iteration of a “plan” to bring Great Public Schools Now (GPSN) to Los Angeles. The original plan explicitly called for the replacement of all democratically governed public schools with deregulated private schools overseen by businessmen…. and she suggests several things that are likely to go wrong if that happened.
  • One post dealt with a recent NYTimes article suggesting the best way for Liberia to introduce a high quality public education was the introduction of deregulated for-profit charters. Ms. Ravitch noted that the writer of this articles funded by— you guessed it— a group of tech billionaires who stand to profit when 200 million poor third world children are eventually enrolled. While the governance of Liberia is kleptocratic and dictatorial, the introduction of equally kleptocratic and dictatorial for-profit charters does not seem to be the direction to move if one hopes to see democracy eventually flourish.
  • Two posts deal with TX cities (Houston and Dallas) where pro-democracy board members have virtually recaptured control of the school boards where pro-privatization forces were in control. In both cases pivotal elections are on the horizon and the future of public education hangs in the balance. In both cases, privatization has not yielded the results expected… unsurprising given the tendency of those who impose business models on schooling tend to focus on the “incompetent teachers” while ignoring the challenges of poverty.
  • One post deals with a group of Idaho students who put together a video being circulated on social media that undercuts the PR campaign of the pro-privatization Albertson Foundation.

As a Superintendent for 29 years, I know that democracy is painfully slow and seemingly incapable of seizing the opportunities that technology makes possible.  I also know from experience that there are inherent inefficiencies in the way publicly governed organizations function… but I also know that privately operated organizations and bureaucracies have the same inefficiencies. Running schools like a business, replacing the plodding democratic operation with supposedly “nimble” business model, has not resulted in any improvement whatsoever to our schools. We haven’t succeeded in improving our so-called “failing schools” because we haven’t made the investment needed to make them as successful as our “elite public schools”. Until we get full and complete engagement of all parents in the education process, full funding for all public schools, and a strong safety net for children raised in poverty we can expect schools to fall short of the standards set for them.

David Brooks Discovers that Schools Need to Cultivate Loving Relationships Instead of High Test Scores!

June 14, 2016 Comments off

David Brooks’ column today uses Paul Tough’s new book, “Helping Children Succeed” which, unlike his earlier work, “concludes that skills like resilience and self-control are not really skills the way reading is a skill, they are traits imparted by an environment.” This conclusion is akin to the conclusion Diane Ravitch came to after spending years supporting the “standards movement” that predated and set the platform for the NCLB and RTTT era. Tough’s earlier work was one of many that concluded that “grit” was needed to overcome the adverse effects of poverty and “grit” was something that schools could teach the same way they taught, say, algebra. More and more “grit” proponents like Tough have come to the conclusion that Brooks flags: “grit” is NOT a skill the way reading is a skill.

So what are we to do? Mr. Brooks proposes “better policy” might be the solution… but how that suggestion is offered is telling:

The most important educational environment is the one that surrounds a child in the first five years, when the emotional foundations are being engraved. The gap between rich and poor students opens up before age 5 and stays pretty constant through high school. Despite this, the U.S. ranks 31st out of 32 developed nations in the amount it spends on early childhood.

Better policy can help. Some of the best programs help parents do what they are already doing but more consistently — to have “serve and return” interactions with their kids; to practice distanced empathy — to hear their children when they are upset, and to guide them back toward calmness.

After giving an overview of research that supports the assertion that the first five years are crucial, Mr. Brooks concludes with this:

Many teachers sense that students are more emotionally vulnerable today. Social policy has to find a hundred ways to nurture loving relationships. Today we have to fortify the heart if we’re going to educate the mind.

This just in, Mr. Brooks: Good social policy requires two things that are sorely lacking: money and faith in “government schools”.

If we are 31st out of 32 countries in terms of investing in the amount we spend on early childhood education… “the most important educational environment“… we are getting what we pay for… and at this juncture those with money ARE paying for this while those without money are sitting at home with empty stomachs because our Congress is “making tough choices”… and this spending differential on early childhood education exacerbates the economic divide.

Oh, and those 30 countries ahead of us probably have not bought into the idea that “government is the problem” and, therefore, government spending on schooling is ipso facto “wasted”.

So Mr. Brooks’ call for “social policy” that has to “find a hundred ways to nurture loving relationships” rings hollow without the call for more GOVERNMENT funding for preschool… and I doubt that we’ll be reading about that in his columns any time soon. Instead we’ll read about some privatization scheme that will reward shareholders and serve a small but select group of children raised in poverty. That model, the “charter school” model, seems to be the one favored by conservative “thinkers” like Mr. Brooks.

The Uphill Battle to Push Back Against the “Failing Public Schools” Meme

June 13, 2016 Comments off

Yesterday Diane Ravitch quoted from a blog post written by Arthur Camins, Director, Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey, who was lamenting the success to date of the “reform” narrative:

“There are real persistent problems in education. Today, failure narratives are the strategy-of-choice for groups who want to privatize education, undermine unions, disempower workers, and open profitable markets for educational technology, testing materials and publically funded, but privately managed charter schools that are unencumbered by government regulation. However, what is said is a smoke screen for what it intended…

As with the hyped Soviet and Iraqi threats, critics of the phony education crisis have also countered, with, “It’s not as bad as they say.” That line of argument always comes up short for two reasons. First, it permits those in power to frame the debate and put critics on defense. Second, there is a believable element in the narrative. Education in the US has, in fact persistently failed poor students…

…a win for equity and democracy.. requires a third step: Promote a new and different proactive agenda for education that resonates with the public more effectively than the current, “We are losing” narrative.

Camins offers such a narrative… but the implementation of the new narrative is going to require more than a new story: it’s going to require the money needed to spread the story, money that will be hard to raise given the billions the billionaires have at their disposal…. and as the ngram link illustrates, it will be an uphill battle to undo the impact of the “failing schools” meme.

 

 

 

 

Inequality in China Mirrors United States… and in Both Cases More Spending COULD Solve the Problem

June 12, 2016 Comments off

Today’s NYTimes article by Javier Hernandez on the problems plaguing the Chinese education system has elements that mirror those in our country and might foretell where our nation is headed if we don’t address the inequality of opportunity that exists in our schools today.

In China students gain admissions to elite colleges based on their scores on a single national exam, the gaokao, Hernandez describes the problem facing Chinese education as follows: :

The exam gives the admissions system a meritocratic sheen, but the government also reserves most spaces in universities for students in the same city or province, in effect making it harder for applicants from the hinterlands to get into the nation’s best schools.

The authorities have sought to address the problem in recent years by admitting more students from underrepresented regions to the top colleges. Some provinces also award extra points on the test to students representing ethnic minorities.

This spring, the Ministry of Education announced that it would set aside a record 140,000 spaces — about 6.5 percent of spots in the top schools — for students from less developed provinces. But the ministry said it would force the schools to admit fewer local students to make room.

If this sounds familiar, you understand how our elite privates university admissions procedures operate: there are seats reserved for legacies and a smaller number of seats effectively reserved for minorities who may or may not meet the ratings standards of students from elite private and public school systems. Since our elite universities operate independent of the government, though, their decisions on the size of the class they will admit and the composition of that entering class is not a decision of the government but of the university itself. But our State governments, like the Chinese provinces, all operate publicly funded post-secondary institutions and their budget cuts are having a similar impact on children from less affluent districts. These paragraphs describe China’s dilemma in that regard:

A set of national universities could rely on the gaokao to admit students from across the country, he suggested, while provincial colleges could focus on recruiting local students so they would look more like public universities in the United States.

But any change is likely to draw criticism, given limited resources and ethnic and regional prejudices. A common complaint, for example, is that students from Xinjiang, the far western region that is home to China’s Muslim ethnic Uighur population, receive a subpar education and should not get extra exam points.

A group of parents in Beijing has filed a complaint with the education ministry contending that minority students at an elite high school who had been recruited from across China should not be treated as residents of the city, and that, instead, spaces should be freed up in Beijing’s universities for other local children.

In poorer provinces like Henan, public anger is often directed at local governments for underinvesting in education and therefore dooming children in a society with a wide gap between rich and poor.

Because China’s education system is much more monolithic and reliant on test scores that gives the admissions system a meritocratic sheen change WILL draw criticism. But because it is monolithic the Chinese leaders will need to find a solution that unifies the nation instead of dividing it. China is trying to thread a needle: it wants to have more open markets but does not want to have a more open society and protests like those taking place are the result of this tension. In our country, some politicians are using the resentment of parents who insist that the favorable treatment of some children discriminates against their children to make the real problem, which is the overall underinvestment in education that is dooming our nation to a persistent gap between rich and poor.

In the coming months as elections play out across the country, I hope that education is used to unify voters instead of dividing them… but as long as public schools are called “government funded schools” and admissions based on diversity are perceived as “political correctness” I fear that we are dooming our children to a society with a wide gap between rich and poor.

Christine Langhoff: Report from Boston on Our Broad Superintendent’s Trail of Destruction

June 12, 2016 Comments off

Here’s more evidence that EVERY election counts, that every candidate for office should be asked to take an explicit position on the privatization of public education, that giving control of public schools to anyone other than a locally elected school board is a bad idea, and that a small group of plutocrats will do everything possible to lower taxes and make a profit. 

Christine Langhoff is a teacher in Massachusetts, a regular commenter on the blog, and a loyal member of the Network for Oublic Education. She describes what is happening in Boston, which recently …

Source: Christine Langhoff: Report from Boston on Our Broad Superintendent’s Trail of Destruction

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TSA Cuts Yield Understaffing, Long Lines, Calls to Privatize… Sound Familiar?

June 11, 2016 Comments off

This morning I read articles about Oklahoma’s decision to cut over $38 million from public schools, a WA state superintendent suggesting public schools should close in protest to their legislature’s decision to not meet his State’s constitutional mandate to fund schools, and the continuing budget battles in several state legislatures and county districts. The “starve the beast” theory seems to be working in public education the same way Yves Smith described the process in her introduction to an Alternet article in yesterday’s Naked Capitalism blog:

The TSA is a perfect target for privatization, since even at the best of times, it is not well liked. Who wants to be subjected to security theater like taking your shoes off? But this article provides an important overview of how various government functions are made incompetent by cutting their budgets without reducing their duties. That plays into the popular narrative that of course the private sector would be more “efficient” when the evidence is strongly supports the view that private sector contractors treat privatization as an opportunity for looting (contracting in the Iraq War was an extreme case, but there are plent of others, such as privatization of parking meters in Chicago and toll roads).

In the case of public education, its budgets are being cut while its duties and expectations are being increased! And, as endless posts on this blog and even more posts on Diane Ravitch’s blog report looting is continuing apace in public education and especially in the for-profit post-secondary schools where students are encouraged to charge their schooling on credit cards and required to sign agreements stating they cannot participate in class action suits. And in case you haven’t figured it out, here’s the privatization playbook as told to Alternate writer Michale Arria:

Noam Chomsky once described what he considered to be the standard technique of privatization: “defund, make sure things don’t work, people get angry, you hand it over to private capital.” Writing about the fight against TSA unionization in 2011, Mark Ames and Yasha Levine cited Scott Walker’s battle against Wisconsin workers as a valuable insight into how airline fights would go down:

1) Manufacture a fake budget crisis in order to frighten the state’s residents; 2) PR the false-crisis hard enough until it breaks out of the right-wing/libertarian pipeline and into the mainstream media; 3) Blame the fake crisis on a fake villain—“greedy” state employee unions—thereby pitting the public against state workers. That way, when Republicans pass new laws destroying teachers and firefighters unions, they’ll come off as heroes defending the public from greedy unions, rather than as sleazy mercenaries carrying out their corporate sponsors’ dirty work.

To many, it seems that’s the blueprint currently at work. On May 26, CNN ran an op-ed California Representative Darrell Issa calling for the privatization of the TSA. Issa wrote that:

“Ultimately, allowing private companies to take over administration of our airports’ security, under the TSA’s guidelines, would unleash the markets’ power of innovation to improve customer service and undo years of bureaucracy that has squandered billions of dollars dedicated to airport security and done much to make traveling more miserable.”

If this playbook sounds familiar, you HAVE been paying attention to the legislators behind the curtain who are doing everything possible to make public education look incompetent while propping up for-profit privatized services that do the job no better but cost less.