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“Take a Knee or Take a Seat” Policies in Public Sports Likely to Create a Turmoil

September 29, 2017 1 comment

Earlier this week I was distressed over what I viewed to be the extreme attention being diverted to the question of the NFL players’ decisions to stage various forms of protest in response to President Trump’s inflammatory and needless tweets regarding an action a second string QB took over a year ago. But now I am starting to see that the President’s actions might result in a net benefit. Why?

First and foremost, it is calling attention to the righteousness of the rationale for Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest. As noted in an NYTimes article by Kaepernick’s teammate and fellow protester Eric Reid, the reason for the initial protest had nothing to do with the flag, the National Anthem, or the troops. It was about racism. Here are the key paragraphs from that powerful article:

I approached Colin the Saturday before our next game to discuss how I could get involved with the cause but also how we could make a more powerful and positive impact on the social justice movement. We spoke at length about many of the issues that face our community, including systemic oppression against people of color, police brutality and the criminal justice system. We also discussed how we could use our platform, provided to us by being professional athletes in the N.F.L., to speak for those who are voiceless.

After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former N.F.L. player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the next day during the anthem as a peaceful protest. We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.

It baffles me that our protest is still being misconstrued as disrespectful to the country, flag and military personnel. We chose it because it’s exactly the opposite. It has always been my understanding that the brave men and women who fought and died for our country did so to ensure that we could live in a fair and free society, which includes the right to speak out in protest.

Articles like Mr. Reid’s and respectable news outlets like the NYTimes made a concerted effort to keep the nation’s attention on the real reason for the protests. Posts a post on social media also helped reinforce the core message of the protests… a message that is reinforced by this picture:

But not everyone in our country believes the protests are “appropriate”, and some school districts, as noted in Politico, have gone so far as to ban any kinds of protests at this weekend’s football games. In response, lawsuits are likely to follow. Here’s the synopsis from Politco’s Morning Education feed:

The principal of Parkway High School in Bossier Parish wrote in a letter that the school “requires student athletes to stand in a respectful manner” during the anthem, and that those who don’t comply could be kicked off the team. A picture of the letter was posted to Twitter by Shaun King of the Intercept and was retweeted thousands of times. Another district official told the Shreveport Times that potential punishments range from “extra running to a one-game suspension.” The school’s Facebook page was flooded with angry comments, as well.

The ACLU of Louisiana issued a statement calling the Bossier Parish school officials’ threats to punish students who protest “antithetical to our values as Americans and a threat to students’ constitutional rights.” Marjorie Esman, the executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana, told Morning Education in an interview that “the Supreme Court has been very clear that schools, government officials, cannot suppress a student’s right to protest – even on a team, even during a game. To refuse to salute the flag, say the pledge, all of those thing – they are protected by the United States Constitution.”

But the constitutional right to free speech does not seem nearly as important to the so-called “strict constructionists” of the Constitution as, say, the right to bear arms. And while the school district is seemingly unlikely to prevail in any case brought against it, as long as the reason for the protests remain clear and in the forefront, the general public will be reminded that racism still exists in this country and the hatred that underpins that racism is poisoning our discourse as citizens, our democracy, and our well-being… and MAYBE those who chose a course of love over hate will let their views be known by electing officials who share that perspective.

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“Professionalism of Kids Sports”, Athletic Fees in Public Schools Create a Two Tiered Athletics System Where “Amateurs”, Poor Children Lose

September 29, 2017 Leave a comment

I was deeply saddened and full of nostalgia when I read “What’s Lost When Only Rich Kids Play Sports“, Linda Flanagan’s Atlantic essay. In the essay she describes the experience of a poverty stricken female athlete who came of age in the early 1970s an benefitted from her participation in athletics. She laments the loss of that kind of opportunity today, noting that the cost of participating on an organized sports team has created a two tiered system:

…the fruits of America’s fixation with youth sports are largely concentrated among children with means: According to data recently released by the Aspen Institute’s Sports and Society program, household wealth is the primary driver of kids’ athletic participation. Compared to their peers whose families make more than $100,000, children ages 6 through 12 whose family income is under $25,000 are nearly three times as likely to be “inactive”—meaning they played no sport during the year—and half as likely to play on a team sport even for one day. “Sports in America have separated into sports-haves and have-nots,” said Tom Farrey, the executive director of the Sports and Society program.

And this separation is the result, in large measure, of the “professionalization of kids sports” as described in this paragraph:

Also pushing poorer kids out is the professionalization of kids’ sports: Time reports that the business of kids’ sports has grown 55 percent since 2010, and is now a $15.3 billion industry. Driving that growth is the perception that a child’s athletic achievement might improve her college prospects, lead to an athletic scholarship, and lend some prestige to the family name. Well-off-enough parents invest in specialized camps, leagues, equipment, and travel teams, while children from families without the financial resources or time—competitive kids’ games are often played across state lines, devouring weekends for parents as well as players—fill out dwindling town leagues. On top of these factors, schools with shrinking budgets are dropping physical education or requiring kids to pay for their school teams. Seventy percent of kids leave sports entirely by age 13.

This thoughtful… and very sad… essay understates the impact of athletic fees and school and community budget cuts. The cuts to town budgets, particularly in poverty stricken communities, lead to the abandonment of town funded athletic fields, the closure of playgrounds, and the inability of the communities to sustain YMCAs or churches that once provided indoor play spaces.

I came of age in the late 1950s and attended HS in the early 1960s. As a youngster the town I lived in had well equipped playgrounds, empty lots that we converted into playing fields, and affordable “amateur” teams offered by the YMCA and the churches. My HS had a robust intramural program as well as a wide array of team sports with varsity and JV levels. There were church basketball and softball leagues and community organizations and businesses supported “amateur” Little League teams, basketball leagues, and parks. As a child growing up in that time, I felt like the community wanted the children in town to have a good life even if they were not exceptional athletes.

During my 35 year career as a public school administrator I witnessed the erosion of local support for public parks– particularly in poor communities— and the demise of intramural athletics and the institution of athletic fees due to budget constraints. Both of these phenomena denied opportunities to those “amateur level” students like me to participate in organized team sports and discouraged children raised in poverty from even considering participation in athletics. And the “professionalism” Ms. Flanagan describes was a contributing factor to this trend. Why? Because one of the rationales public schools use to justify athletic fees is the fact that parents are accustomed to paying for their child to participate in athletics and one of the rationales town’s use to allow their play spaces to fall into disrepair is that “no one uses them”. In short, the virtuous circle that existed in my youth, where the public saw organized athletic activities and parks designed for those activities as something worth paying for, has been replaced with a vicious circle today where sports is a frill for all but the extraordinarily talented or those with money.

The solution offered in Ms. Flanagan’s article, a de facto reliance on philanthropy, falls short of the mark. What is needed is a communitarian movement to restore broad public funding to ensure that all children have the same opportunity to benefit from participation in sports, for such widespread participation will help restore opportunities for children of all economic levels to get to know each other and learn from each other. As Ms. Flanagan writes:

A two-tiered system of youth sports—one in which the wealthy play on pricey private clubs and the less well-off are limited to uncompetitive community programs—also undermines one of the quieter virtues of team sports: They can be places of organic integration, where economic and racial differences are supplanted by ordinary friendship and the collective desire to win.

As an “amateur” high school athlete I can attest to the benefits of community sports, for it was in intramural athletics, church leagues, and playgrounds that I experienced “…organic integration, where economic and racial differences were supplanted by ordinary friendship and the collective desire to win“.  I enjoyed cheering for our varsity basketball team as they won the championship in my senior year… but I experienced pure joy when I took the floor myself in church leagues, YMCA leagues, on intramural teams, and on the playgrounds in our community where the nets were replaced with a phone call to the recreation department. It saddens me to know that kids like me today do not have that same opportunity.

Diane Ravitch Dissects DeVos’ Cold Reception at Harvard and Provides Withering Assessment of her Agenda

September 29, 2017 Leave a comment

I am re-blogging Diane Ravitch’s post from yesterday regarding Betsy DeVos’ visit to Harvard with an emphasis on one point: 

DeVos agenda of charter schools and school choice… is a flimsy, hard-hearted response to income inequality, poverty, and underfunding of schools that enroll students with high needs.

Source: Despite Stacked Panels, DeVos Gets a Cold Reception at Harvard–from Students and Protestors

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SALT Loss in Tax Plan Gives Public Schools Indigestion

September 28, 2017 Leave a comment

It might be too early to get seriously alarmed… but it isn’t too early to forewarn those who support public education that the Trump Tax Reform plan could have a devastating effect on school funding if the state and local tax deduction, known as SALT, is eliminated as is rumored. Ever since the inception of the federal income tax, wage earners have been allowed to deduct whatever state and local taxes they pay from their gross income, which has the effect of lowering the amount of federal taxes they are required to pay. The logic behind this is clear and equitable and is opposed even by the GOP, as the Politico education feed noted this morning:

“Without the SALT deduction, taxpayers in all 50 states and in the District of Columbia would be doubly taxed – they would pay federal income taxes on the money they pay to their state and local governments,” the Republicans wrote in a June letter . “Such a policy is eminently unfair, as the federal tax code has recognized for the past 103 years.”

While the specifics of the Trump tax plan are vague, it appears that the SALT deduction might be up for grabs since the President seems intent on cutting the tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. In the meantime, it appears that there is bipartisan support for keeping the SALT deduction… but as we all realize bargains can be struck that fly in the face of convention.

Does a Quality Education Increase Economic Mobility? Should That Be It’s Primary Purpose?

September 28, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week Atlantic writer Rachel Cohen posted an article titled Why Education Isn’t the Key to a Good Income”, an article that was full of data drawn from reports that buttressed this finding. Among the findings cited were this of a team of economists led by Stanford’s Raj Chetty who found that where a child was raised had more to do with their upward mobility than the schools they attended. Ms. Cohen summarized Mr. Chetty’s findings, writing this his team:

determined that the chances of a child growing up at the bottom of the national income distribution to ever one day reach the top actually varies greatly by geography. For example, they found that a poor child raised in San Jose, or Salt Lake City, has a much greater chance of reaching the top than a poor child raised in Baltimore, or Charlotte. They couldn’t say exactly why, but they concluded that five correlated factors—segregation, family structure, income inequality, local school quality, and social capital—were likely to make a difference. Their conclusion: America is land of opportunity for some. For others, much less so.

She then cited a recent study by Jesse Rothstein that drilled down into the “five correlated factors” and determined that “local school quality” had virtually NO impact on upward mobility. As Ms. Cohen noted, this finding flies in the face of the bipartisan “Horatio Alger” narrative that asserts that anyone who applies themselves can pull themselves up by the bootstraps and earn more than their parents and ultimately lift themselves into a higher economic stratus. She writes:

The idea that school quality would be an important element for intergenerational mobility—essentially a child’s likelihood that they will one day outearn their parents—seems intuitive: Leaders regularly stress that the best way to rise up the income ladder is to go to school, where one can learn the skills they need to succeed in a competitive, global economy. “In the 21st century, the best anti-poverty program around is a world-class education,” Barack Obama declared in his 2010 State of the Union address. Improving “skills and schools” is a benchmark of Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan’s poverty-fighting agenda.

Indeed, this bipartisan education-and-poverty consensus has guided research and political efforts for decades. Broadly speaking, the idea is that if more kids graduate from high school, and achieve higher scores on standardized tests, then more young people are likely to go to college, and, in turn, land jobs that can secure them spots in the middle class.

As Ms. Cohen subsequently reports, there is less and less evidence that this is the case. Indeed, she finds research that undercuts the whole “skills gap” argument that politicians and businessmen promote:

According to Marshall Steinbaum, the research director at the Roosevelt Institute, economists have long believed that differing levels of skills and education (what the field refers to as “human capital”) is the most salient explanation for why individuals achieve such varied economic outcomes. “I think it’s becoming harder and harder to accept explanations like the so-called skills gap,” he says, referencing the popular idea that low-income people merely lack the necessary skills and training to thrive in the modern economy.

In the concluding paragraph of her post, Ms. Cohen suggests that policy makers might want to re-think the notion of promoting education as a vehicle for social mobility and instead focus on the inherent value of more and better schooling:

Ultimately, most Americans would probably agree that leaders should work to build great schools, and that individuals who work hard should be able to improve their economic earnings over time. Devoting the bulk of one’s attention to the former in the hopes that it causes the latter, however, might prove to be a real mistake.

After reading this article, I read two NYTimes articles that might explain WHY education is no longer the ladder to success it once was. One article by Rachel Abrams, “Why Aren’t Paychecks Growing? A Burger Joint Clause Offers a Clue” described a corporate practice that “…prohibited franchisees from hiring workers away from one another, preventing, for example, one Pizza Hut from hiring employees from another. As a consequence, a Pizza Hut employee working in one location could not move to another Pizza Hut location to get better wages, hours, or working conditions. In effect, this limits the mobility of entry level workers and suppresses wages. The title of the other article, by Vindu Goel, ” IBM Now Has More Employees in India than the US”, explains the impact of globalization on economic opportunities in our country. And it leads to this question: why should our schools be churning out students with STEM qualifications if one of the major technology corporations is off-shoring jobs? I’m sure that the IBM narrative would be that they are forced to look offshore because they cannot find qualified workers in our country, but the drive to keep overhead low is every bit as strong.

The bottom line seems to be that we might need to change our narrative about education as a means of increasing economic well being and instead emphasize education as a means of overall well being. As Ms.Cohen noted, emphasizing economic well-being may well be a dead end street…. especially if corporations collude to suppress wages and technology businesses look overseas to secure skilled employees willing to work for lower wages.

Research on Teacher Turnover Proves the Obvious: Teachers Leave Because of Low Pay; Lack of Support; and Poor Working Conditions

September 27, 2017 Leave a comment

As one who reads a lot of articles on public education, I am often astonished at the lengths researchers go to prove what should be intuitively obvious. A recent report from the Learning Policy Institute by Desiree Carver-Thomas and Linda Darling-Hammond is a case in point. After gleaning through reams of data from the latest National Center for Education Statistics’ Schools and Staffing Surveys, Mss. Carver-Thomas and Darling-Hammond determined who is leaving teaching assignment, why, and which students are most impacted. Their findings are unsurprising:

Teacher vacancies tend to be higher in the South where wages and working conditions are poorest and lower in the Northeast where the opposite is true. The students most affected by turnover?

…turnover rates are 50% higher in Title I schools, which serve more low-income students. Turnover rates are also 70% higher for teachers in schools serving the largest concentrations of students of color.

In short, children raised in poverty and students of color find themselves on the short end of the stick. The policy recommendations to address this issue?

To stem teacher turnover, federal, state, and district policymakers should consider improving the key factors associated with turnover: compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions.

Neither Ms. Carver-Thomas nor Ms. Darling-Hammond say so, but to accomplish these high-minded results states would need to provide more funds to schools serving children raised in poverty and diminish the number of schools with large concentrations of students of color. More money and greater racial justice are the heart of the issue… for it is impossible to improve compensation, teacher preparation and support, and teaching conditions without those two elements.

Sorry Tech Titans: $300,000,000 is Chump Change!

September 27, 2017 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s NYTimes reported that tech firms across the country are willing to kick in $300,000,000 to augment the $200,000,000 of earmarked funds President Trump promised for STEM projects in K-12 schools. $300,000,000 sounds like a lot of money… but here are two numbers to compare that to:

$3,000,000,000 which is the size of the tax break ONE tech firm, Foxconn received from ONE State, WI

$9,200,000,000 which is the amount the Department of Education budget will be cut

$102,000,000,000 which is the amount of revenues ONE tech firm, Apple, has stashed offshore

Sorry to be sarcastic, but I hope we are not supposed to stand up and cheer for the tech billionaires who generously offer us what amounts to the change a school might find in its petty cash?