Archive for September, 2018

To Boost Test Scores, Address Poverty’s Effects on Childhood

September 30, 2018 Comments off

A few days ago Colorado Chalkbeat writer Matt Barnum wrote a research based article that offers evidence that should be obvious to politicians, voters, and compassionate human beings: the effects of poverty result in lower academic performance. After describing the academic travails of the children of a Memphis homeless parent and their academic success once she found a home, Mr. Barnum asserts that a set of robust Anti-Povert programs might be the answer to improving “failing schools”:

In other words, many policies with a shot at changing the experience of low-income students in school don’t have anything to do with the schools themselves. That also means, as these findings pile up, they get relatively little attention from education policymakers who could be key advocates.

We’re so compartmentalized when we think about kids,” said Greg Duncan, a professor at the University of California, Irvine who has researched the effects of anti-poverty programs. “For people who are interested in promoting well-being of children … these safety net programs should be very much on people’s mind.”

Chalkbeat identified more than 20 studies published in the past decade that examine how increasing family income or benefits, like food stamps and health insurance, affect children’s outcomes in school in the U.S. This research does not simply restate the well-known fact that less affluent children do worse in schools than more affluent ones; the studies try to pin down the effect of providing additional resources to families in poverty.

Over and over, they find that more money or benefits helps kids in school.

As one who has long advocated the need for coordinating resources (see this article I wrote for Education Week in 2003), this is a completely unsurprising “discovery”. Public school advocates should be anti-poverty advocates whether the advocates live in the affluent suburbs or in poverty stricken neighborhoods or communities.

After offering several caveats on the findings that associate high poverty with low academic performance, Mr. Barnum does offer some broad conclusions that he finds unassailable:

  • Higher family income means fewer problems in schools
  • Health insurance and supplemental funding for food help
  • Housing vouchers have not yielded any evidence change in academic performance

Mr. Barnum’s final caveat leading into this concluding list describes the biggest problem anti-poverty advocates face— trade-offs that are required to put the research findings into place:

Finally, the studies generally don’t say much about trade-offs. What are the costs — perhaps higher taxes — of expanding such initiatives? Might other programs be a better use of scarce dollars? They also don’t tell us anything about bigger philosophical debates surrounding anti-poverty programs, or about the value of making sure people have adequate food and housing.

Unstated are the two tenets it appears most voters believe: taxes are confiscatory and “government is the problem”. Anti-poverty advocates need to change the voters’ thinking on both of these tenets… and to do so will require politicians to appeal to the higher angels in voters and point to the many places where government DOES succeed and DOES solve problems.

Exercise + Sleep – Screen Time = Increased Brain Power…. the OPPOSITE of What Schools (AND Parents) Are Doing

September 29, 2018 Comments off

The NYTimes featured a short article by Nicholas Baker describing a recent study reported in Lancet that determined that:

At least 60 minutes of physical activity a day, nine to 11 hours of sleep a night, and no more than two hours a day of recreational screen time were tied to higher mental test scores.

In the meantime, to boost test scores schools are eliminating recess, lengthening the school day, introducing more screen-based technology into the school day, and increasing homework. Taken together, these have the opposite impact on children. Moreover, when this is combined with the desire of middle class parents to engage children in structured activities and tutoring AFTER school to improve their academic performance, with the fear factor that compels some parents to prevent their children from engaging in free play outdoors, and the desire of some parents to fully book their children’s weekends with structured athletic competitions instead of pick-up sports, you have a toxic mix that works against the findings described above. For children in poverty, the situation is no better because poor communities lack sufficient playgrounds, green spaces, and other venues where children are encouraged to engage in physical activities.

In short, our test-centric schools, helicopter parenting, and frayed infrastructure make it impossible for children to get the exercise and sleep they need and increase the escape into screens. Maybe we need to give children the time to be children.

We Don’t Need New Report Cards: We Need Equitable Funding

September 28, 2018 Comments off

Here’s another verbatim excerpt from yesterday’s Politico feed:

The Education Department’s Office of Educational Technology and the nonprofit Data Quality Campaign are teaming up for a “challenge” centered on designing new state report cards under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The new law “requires states and school districts to make more than 2,000 data points about their public school systems available to families in a concise, understandable and uniform format,”the agency’s ed tech office writes in a blog post. “A key challenge is ensuring these digital report cards are user-friendly, engaging, and incorporate best practices for data visualization and human-centered design — a new approach for many states.”

— The Education Department and DQC are calling on experts to “design tools, templates, and other innovative solutions that will support states in tackling the ESSA data reporting requirements.” The challenge will be Nov. 8-9. More details.

I went to the link at the end of the post and offered my two cents:

My prediction: the report cards will show that districts serving children raised in affluent families with well educated parents will “outperform” districts that have large numbers of children raised in poverty.

My deep concern: the issuance of these report cards will reinforce the notion that public schools are a commodity that compete in an unregulated market. NCLB launched us on that path… RTTT reinforced that idea… and Betsy DeVos has put it on steroids.

We don’t need better, easier to read report cards: we need more equitable funding and a means of engaging all parents— especially single parents who are working multiple jobs.

Waiting to Enforce Complete Criminal Background Checks for Preschool Teachers: What Could Go Wrong???

September 28, 2018 Comments off

Here is a near verbatim excerpt from yesterday’s Politico News Feed:

The Trump administration announced Wednesday it will delay portions of an Obama-era rulethat required Head Start centers to complete background checks with fingerprints for their employees by Sept. 30, Pro’s Mel Leonor reports.

— HHS — which operates Head Start — announced the delay in a notice published in the Federal Register, which says programs will now have until September 2019 to comply. HHS officials said they are concerned that programs won’t be able to meet the background check requirements in time, “without assuming unintended regulatory and administrative burden.

— Before hiring an employee, the rule requires Head Start centers to conduct a sex offender registry check and obtain criminal background checks with fingerprints from a state agency or the FBI.Once those benchmarks are cleared, the rule gives centers 90 days to complete the outstanding criminal background check and run the employee’s name through the child abuse and neglect registry in their state, if one exists.

— The National Head Start Association, which represents Head Start centers, said programs will continue to adhere to current background check requirements until they are able to come into compliance with the new standards. The current standards, which are less stringent, don’t specifically call for criminal background checks that include fingerprints.

Shame on the National Head Start Association for being on the wrong side of this issue… and I hope that none of the employees hired in the coming year turn out to be listed on the FBI’s listing, the child abuse and neglect registry, or the sex offenders listing. But if they are, I expect the National Head Start Association to testify on their behalf.

“Selling” Saint Louis Public Schools Exemplifies All That is Wrong Foundations

September 28, 2018 Comments off

I just scanned Chris King’s article from the St. Louis American titled “Selling Sint Louis Public Schools” that has a subheading that reads:

SLPS Foundation helps district identify needs –

then pay to address them

In a democracy the elected school board identifies the needs of the school district and the taxpayers fund them. In a plutocracy donors identify what they see as the needs and fund them. You don’t need to read the article to see how St. Louis schools are governed.

Massachusetts: The Waltons Won’t Take “No” for An Answer

September 28, 2018 Comments off

This post illustrates the tenacity of the major privatizers whose belief in the marketplace is as unshakeable as any fundamentalists faith in religions. But unregulated markets undercut the well-being of our citizens and democracy. As the commenter “Retired Teacher” writes: “Privatization is both a theft of a public asset and democracy.

via Massachusetts: The Waltons Won’t Take “No” for An Answer

NH “History of Education Funding” Illustrates Why Status Quo Is Hard to Change

September 28, 2018 Comments off

Over the past few months, the Advancing New Hampshire Public Education (ANHPE) blog has provided comprehensive coverage on the efforts of two NH attorneys as they travel across the state to drum up support for equitable school funding. Andru Volinsky and John Tobin, “key members of a legal team that brought the Claremont school funding lawsuit against the state“, are currently barnstorming in New Hampshire in an effort to make the school funding issue a focal point of the gubernatorial race.

Yesterday evening’s post by ANHPE summarized WMUR’s report of their most recent meeting in Pittsfield, NH, a property poor town that was part of the lawsuit brought by Claremont NH in 1993. The post illustrates the dilemma tax reformers face in my home state, which vehemently opposes any form broad based taxation. Yet a consequence of this is that property poor towns have a MUCH higher tax burden than towns with a broad tax base. The result is a stand-off. Most affluent communities are very happy with the current tax structure since their incomes are not taxed and their local property taxes are relatively affordable. Someone earning, say, $100,000 doesn’t mind paying an $8,000 property bill because his income is untouched by taxation. In the meantime, property poor towns have to pay a much higher rate to fund schools but their constituents see no reason to see their income taxes raised on top of their already onerous property taxes.

The article describes how Pittsfield’s representative John Reagan’s bitter opposition to the efforts made by Volinsky and Tobin, and whose candidacy was flagged at the forum:

Volinsky singled out Sen. John Reagan, R-Deerfield, whose district includes Pittsfield.

“He has campaign signs that say he is a tax fighter, but he’s not fighting property taxes. He’s adding to his constituents’ burden every year,” Volinsky said.

Reagan, who chairs the Senate Education Committee, said the agenda of those who complain about the current system has not changed in several decades.

The call is always for more money and that we have to have income tax,” he said. “They are trying to create an income tax because they want a bigger government.”

Unfortunately, neither party is calling for an income tax… and that is a bone of contention with Volinsky and Tobin who are clear-eyed in their understanding that the equity problem cannot be solved without some kind of increase in revenue:

Volinsky and Tobin have prepared a memo titled “school funding talking points” that is distributed at the forums.

The talking points do not specifically blame either major political party. They blame both parties….

“It’s gratifying that people are paying attention, but it’s sad that we are having to do this 20 years later,” Volinsky said.

It IS sad that he and his colleague are still doing this after 20+ years… but it is even more sad that civil rights advocates are witnessing re-segregation after 60+ years… and both problems exemplify the daunting challenge true reformers face when they try to change the status quo. Here’s the sad truth in both cases: until we can view ourselves as a nation that wants to help those who are disadvantaged due to the zip code or race they were born into we will perpetuate the system we have in place and continue to find rationalizations that “prove” the current system is fair. It isn’t.


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