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Billionaires, Alumni, Asian Parents Prevail… and Admissions Tests Continue in NYC

June 30, 2019 Comments off

Over the past several weeks, I’ve written posts on NYC’s decision to push to change the admissions process to the city’s elite high schools, which is based solely on one test score. The result of using this test is a disproportionate number of Asian students in the elite schools and a substantial under-representation of African-American and Latina students in those schools. To remedy this imbalance, the Mayor de Blasio and his education commissioner Richard Carranza proposed that Instead of using test scores as the exclusive means of admitting students the “elite” schools would admit the top three students from each middle school in the city IF those students scored above a certain level on the test. But, as NYTimes writers Eliza Shapiro and Vivian Wang reported earlier this week, the result of doing this would be the displacement of students who scored higher than those top students on the existing test, students who presumably “deserved” their placement because the test is a better predictor of student success than the grades the students earned in their Middle School.

As recently as a few weeks ago it seemed that the NYS legislators, who need to approve this change for reasons that are convoluted and intertwined with NYS politics, would endorse the Mayor’s proposal… but a coalition of billionaire donors, esteemed alumni of the “elite” high schools, and Asian parents joined forces to get the Mayor’s idea shelved. The Times writers described the backlash, which included “...a well-funded opposition effort led by a billionaire graduate of one of the specialized schools sent African-American parents to lawmakers’ doors, urging them to reject the bill.” But no billionaires or parents showed up to support the bill:

There were no rallies in support of the mayor’s plan on the Capitol’s grand staircase and almost no lobbyists pushed it — except Mr. de Blasio and Mr. Carranza and their staff members. During a visit to the Capitol last week, Mr. Carranza said he had not spoken with the bill’s main sponsor, Assemblyman Charles Barron of Brooklyn, about whether the bill might be brought to the floor.

Absent any groundswell of support for the bill, and given the extreme pushback from parents whose children were admitted and alumni who felt compelled to ensure the “elite” status of their alma maters, the bill to change admissions became so “radioactive” it was never even considered.

The Times noted that a “victory” would not change the demographics of the “elite schools”.

Even under the mayor’s plan to expand a program aimed at enrolling more low-income students in the specialized schools, offers to black and Hispanic students will increase to only 16 percent from 10 percent. Black and Hispanic students make up nearly 70 percent of the school system as a whole.

But that statistical reality notwithstanding, the Mayor sees the abandonment of tests as an important step the city needs to take if it hopes to increase the educational opportunities for ALL students in the schools:

“Cities all over the nation have turned away from completely unfiltered, high-stakes testing and our state remains stuck in the past,” Mr. de Blasio said Friday. “Session may have ended, but our quest to provide our kids with the best opportunity possible has not.”

The article noted that the Mayor’s run for the Presidency drew some energy away from this fight… but maybe if a Democrat wins the election they might consider replacing Betsy DeVos with Bill de Blasio… and he might be able to take his opposition to standardized tests to the next level.

 

DeVos Adopts Caveat Emptor Approach to Student Debt… Profiteers Smile!

June 29, 2019 Comments off

In an unsurprising “Dog Bites Man” development, Betsy DeVos repealed the Obama era guidelines designed to punish for-profit schools for misleading consumers and replaced them with a set of guidelines designed to provide consumers with more information…. and letting the profiteers off the hook entirely.

NYTimes reporter Erica Green describes it thusly in her article on the topic:

The so-called gainful employment rule was issued by the Obama administration in 2014, right before huge for-profit chains collapsed, leaving students stranded with debt and worthless degrees. Under the new standards, career and certificate programs, many of which operate in the for-profit sector, would have to prove their graduates could find gainful employment to maintain access to federal financial aid. It also would have required schools to disclose in advertisements a comparison of the student debt load of their graduates and their career earnings…

Education Department officials have argued that transparency, not regulation, is the best way to hold all schools — public nonprofits, community colleges and for-profits — accountable for their results. Instead of any accountability measures, it promised to expand an existing database, called the College Scorecard, to provide information on student debt and earnings prospects. The database, which provides information, including loan debt information, for 2,100 certificate granting programs, was unveiled last month.

In short, the USDOE shifted the burden of proof and responsibility from profiteers to consumers… a move that likely foreshadows how the marketplace might work should Ms. DeVos and her libertarian minded charter school advocates have their way with vouchers. The consequence of this shift is described by Ms. Green:

But in rescinding the rule, the department is eradicating the most fearsome accountability measure — the loss of federal aid — for schools that promise to furnish students with specific career skills but fail to prepare them for the job market, leaving taxpayers on the hook to pay back their loans…

Bob Shireman, a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and an architect of the rule when he was in the Obama administration, called the repeal “disturbing and shortsighted.”

They are opening the door to operators whose singular focus on gobbling up federal grants and loans for their investors will steer the business toward manipulative recruiting and poor quality training,” he said.

Meanwhile, the relief for thousands of indebted former students of those schools “…whose singular focus on gobbling up federal grants and loans for their investors” is in limbo as the USDOE delays decisions on how to handle the money they owe to the government:

…Ms. DeVos has moved to overhaul that “borrower-defense” rule as well, hoping to give some students only partial relief. That process has been tied up in court proceedings, leaving more than 150,000 student claims in limbo.

“Borrower Defense” is replaced by “Caveat Emptor” and the businessmen “…whose singular focus on gobbling up federal grants and loans for their investors” are relieved and elated… and the edu-preneurs are getting their ads for charter schools geared up for the day when vouchers expand.

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Kamala Harris Scores Points in Debate #2…. but Is Busing the Way Forward?

June 28, 2019 Comments off

The NYTimes and myriad other news sources recounted an exchange between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden in the second Democratic Party Debate. Here’s a synopsis from a “Top Stories” email I received written by Lisa Lerer:

Last night, former Vice President Joe Biden had a moment. And it wasn’t pretty.
It started when Senator Kamala Harris interjected into a conversation about racism with a request: “As the only black person on this stage, I would like to speak on the issue of race.”
She then laced into comments Mr. Biden made at a fund-raiser earlier this month where he fondly recalled his working relationships with segregationists in the Senate, as well as his active opposition to busing in the 1970s.
“It’s personal,” she said. “It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country.”
She continued: “There was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me.”
Mr. Biden, an experienced debater, looked defensive and a bit offended, and he struggled to respond. He noted he’d worked as a public defender in 1968, unlike Ms. Harris, who was a prosecutor. And then, he seemed to simply give up: “Anyway,” he said, “my time is up.”

As noted above, in recounting her personal experience Ms. Harris DID unsettle Mr. Biden… but, as Ms. Lerer noted later in her synopsis, busing has not proven to be an effective means of desegregation. In an NPR report from 2016, which was linked to Ms. Lerer’s email, Arizona State professor Matthew Delmont offered this analysis of why busing failed:

A couple things happen that make it difficult to sustain busing programs into the ’80s and ’90s.

One is the tremendous amount of white flight that happens in cities like Boston, so there just simply aren’t enough white students to go around to have meaningful school desegregation. This is true in Chicago, in Los Angeles, in New York.

The other thing that happens is busing placed a tremendous burden on black students and on students of color. In most cases, they were the ones that were asked to travel to the suburbs, travel sometimes to hostile neighborhoods. For many parents, that simply isn’t worth it after a number of years.

If Democrats are committed to racial equity, they may want to avoid hitching their wagon to busing and instead look at ways to provide desegregated affordable housing in each and every district in the country and/or provide each and every student— rich or poor, white black or Latina—  with the same opportunities for learning that students in affluent school districts receive routinely. The argument cannot be focused on busing as the ultimate solution, for there is no evidence that busing worked for the wider population of Africa Americans even though it clearly worked for Ms. Harris.

 

Growing Up in Poverty Means Growing Up in Shame

June 28, 2019 Comments off

Parenting in Poverty”, a NYTimes article by Bobbi Dempsey that appeared last week, poignantly describes what it feels like to be a child whose parents rely on food stamps and how frustrating it is to operate as a parent under the guidelines set forth for EBT cards. Ms. Dempsey writes about the feelings she experienced as a child:

I am far too familiar with the seemingly endless array of indignities and flavors of shame that come with living in poverty. You get dirty glances for looking poor — but are also judged if you look “too rich,” by wearing something an observer deems too nice for someone on public assistance. Everything you buy or eat in view of others is up for public scrutiny and unwanted commentary…

During the course of my childhood, I had more embarrassing encounters at the grocery store checkout than I could count…

I’ve overheard snide comments in the lines at grocery stores about the attire of someone using an EBT card or the cars they parked outside of a convenience store where they used a card to buy milk. I’ve also heard faculty room gossip about profligacy of parents who used food stamps back in the 70s when I worked as a high school administrator and read endless articles about the so-called “Welfare Queens” who abused the systems in place. But this article reminded me of the impact that kind of judgment has on a child, especially one who experiences it day-in-and-day-out throughout their entire childhood. And the indignities are not limited to the grocery store:

I never went to birthday parties as a kid because I couldn’t afford to buy a gift. I would “get sick” and have to stay home on field trip days because I couldn’t afford the cost of the trip itself, let alone bring spending money for any souvenirs or food. Joining any activity that involved dues to pay or uniforms to buy would have been inconceivable.

Ms. Dempsey describes how today’s EBT cards draw less attention from those in line than the food stamps her mother used, but the strictures imposed on parents and observed by children still sting:

While the new plastic card may spare those families some shame, it can be difficult to reconcile that buying non-luxuries like toilet paper, tampons or a supermarket rotisserie chicken may be just as wild a fantasy as getting a child a pony.

The brief profile at the end of the article describes Ms. Dempsey with this single sentence:

Bobbi Dempsey is a freelance writer and a communications fellow at Community Change who is writing a memoir about moving 70 times before age 18.

I doubt that her mother was all that concerned about Ms. Dempsey’s test scores or how those scores might effect whatever school she was attending at the time… Until we can provide affordable housing and food security for all children in the country we cannot expect to close the widening gap between the rich and poor.

The Poor People’s Campaign Prepares a “Moral Budget” That Asks the Right Questions

June 27, 2019 Comments off

Common Dreams Valerie Vande Penne’s post describes a report prepared by the Poor People’s Campaign along with the Institute for Policy Studies released a “Moral Budget”:

Poor People’s Moral Budget: Everybody Has the Right to Live,” details how we can extract ourselves from harmful systems, and invest in rebuilding our failing infrastructure, create jobs, provide health care and housing, and alleviate poverty—simply by making some basic moral choices on how we distribute the federal budget.

Her post, which describes the work done by the Poor People’s Campaign leaders Rev. Dr. William Barber II and Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis, describes what Rev. Barber calls the “five interlocking injustices” that create poverty:

  1. Systemic racism, which includes systemic poverty and voter suppression, oppression of people of color and Native Americans, mass incarceration and the re-segregation of public schools.
  2. Systemic economic inequality.
  3. Ecological devastation and the refusal to properly use our resources.
  4. War economy and militarism.
  5. The distorted moral narrative of religious nationalism.

Barber says these injustices are all connected, so when looking to solutions, they all need to be addressed together. Rev. Barber stresses that poverty affects people of all races in this country, a fact that is often overlooked:

…the Poor People’s Campaign isn’t divisive on race lines. Rather, he says, “This movement is made up of people from every corner of this country… We’ve met people from eastern Kentucky to the Carolinas… Massachusetts to the lowlands of Alabama.” There are poor people everywhere in this country. With 140 million poor people in the United States, there are likely poor people where you live.

Ms. Vande Penne describes the steps required to address the interlocking injustices, emphasizing that the funds are available, they are just being mis-allocated.

“We’ve found $350 billion in military budget cuts,” says report author Lindsay Koshgarian. “Half the Pentagon budget goes to corporate contractors. It’s a sign of corruption in our democracy.”

“We’ve looked at a wide range of economic research,” she says, calling for “Fair taxes on the wealthy corporations and Wall Street.”

It is possible to meet the demands of the 140 million poor people in the United States, says report author Shailly Gupta Barnes. “But it’s only possible when you do it all together. There is enough for everything, because we’re looking at the whole system.”

“So often the response is to pity the poor and believe poverty is the fault of the poor,” she continues. “When we follow the direction that poor people are revealing—we need housing, food, and water—we can make things better for the whole country.”

“We believe in bottom-up organizing,” says Barber. “It is critical we build from the bottom up.”

The Poor People’s Campaign will embark on a nine-month nationwide campaign of raising awareness and voter registration beginning in September and culminating with a June 2020 Moral March on Washington.

Near the end of the post, Ms. Vande Penne writes:

The group has also made a plea to the media, asking them to do more in-depth stories about poverty. Rather, noted one speaker at the report’s press event, “You’re covering the circus on Capitol Hill.”

I will be on the lookout for reports on this “Moral Budget” and the “nine-month nationwide campaign of raising awareness and voter registration” in the mainstream media… but expect if I find it at all it will be buried in the middle of the newspaper while our POTUS’s tweets and misbehavior continue to dominate our national discourse. As long as the circus is in town and the news cycle must be fed entertainment will displace conversations about morality.

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WOW! Forbes Reports US Spent TEN TIMES MORE on Fossil Fuel Subsidies Than it Spent on Education

June 26, 2019 Comments off

Forbes magazine, hardly a liberal media outlet, offered an astonishing article by James Ellsmore that provided an overview of a recent report by the International Monetary Fund indicating that the US spent TEN TIMES more on subsidies for fossil fuels than it spent on education! In what can only be characterized as an understatement, Mr. Ellsmore offered this quote:

IMF leader Christine Lagarde has noted that the investments made into fossil fuels could be better spent elsewhere, and could have far reaching positive impacts: “There would be more public spending available to build hospitals, to build roads, to build schools and to support education and health for the people. We believe that removing fossil fuel subsidies is the right way to go.”

Readers of this blog know that while I would very happy to have more money available for public education, I would prefer that money not flow through Washington where the neoliberal and/or free market theories of Mr. Duncan and Ms. DeVos would siphon the funds to profiteers and/or religious schools… but subsidizing costly fossil fuels at the expense of increasingly cheaper renewables is insanity:

Simon Buckle, the head of climate change, biodiversity and water division at the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development explains: “Subsidies tend to stay in the system and they can become very costly as the cost of new technologies falls. Cost reductions like this were not envisageable even 10 years ago. They have transformed the situation and many renewables are now cost competitive in different locations with coal.”

Buckle’s analysis of the inefficiency of fossil fuel subsidies is illustrated best by the United States’ own expenditure: the $649 billion the US spent on these subsidies in 2015 is more than the country’s defense budget and 10 times the federal spending for education . When read in conjunction with a recent study showing that up to 80% of the United States could in principle be powered by renewables, the amount spent on fossil fuel subsidies seems even more indefensible.

Global warming is the major issue facing our nation… more important than education funding. While having an additional $649 to spend on schools would be wonderful, having to spend that money to relocate schools from low lying areas seems wasteful. It strikes me that a better policy would be to subsidize renewables at the federal level and encourage states and local governments to consider raising more funds for schools through carbon taxes.

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Teacher Shortage is Real and Relentless and Requires Respect, Resources and TRUE Reform

June 25, 2019 Comments off

This report from NBC draws from the EPI report cited in an earlier post… and it underscores the Importance of transforming teaching from a robotic presentation of material that can only be measured by standardized testing, a demeaning assignment that does not warrant the status of a professional, to a role of a caring and informed mentor— an assignment that is increasingly needed in this day and age… an assignment that requires talents that defy ready measurement and warrant much higher compensation.

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