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Pay Disparities for Teachers Will Never Disappear… But They CAN Be Closed with Thoughtful Legislation AND More Money

August 31, 2019 1 comment

In Teacher Shortage, Protests Complicate Educator Pay Dynamics, AP writers Morgan Smith and Sally Ho describe the experience of districts in the west as they try to remediate the pay differentials between districts by expanding the amount of money allocated at the state level. Using a Utah teacher who increased her pay by 25% as the result of switching districts as their exemplar, the writers describe the shortage of teachers across the nation without stating the obvious: districts serving the children of affluent parents are not encountering this problem while districts serving children raised in poverty are. Why? Because until states abandon or greatly limit their reliance on local property taxes it will be impossible for proper poor districts to ever close the gap with affluent districts. But Mss. Ho and Smith sidestep this issue altogether, instead relying on this quote to make it sound like improving teacher compensation packages will require some kind of mathematical genius:

It’s difficult to compare school pay scales because of the endless variables across classrooms and campuses, said Dan Goldhaber, director of the Center for Education Data and Research at the University of Washington. But merely increasing salaries for all without differentiating for other factors such as student population challenges and regional issues means pay disparities will remain as they always have existed.

“If it doesn’t address the relative differentials between school systems, there’s no reason to think it would help with teacher equality,” Goldhaber said.

In describing what is happening in Washington State, they write:

Recalibrating the complexities of the state’s overarching funding model has put school finances on a rollercoaster as lawmakers tried to redo or undo aspects of the financial levers the schools have long depended on, such as local levies.

“We see the impact of districts nearby offering a signing bonus,” Grassel said. “In that way, we’re still behind the game. We’ve not yet figured out how to get ahead of that curve.”

This just in I: All “local levies” require property tax increases so if your district is property poor or populated by people who cannot afford a marginal increase in their property taxes, a tax levy will not pass and the pay differentials will increase.

This just in II: Any teacher with a fundamental understanding of salary dynamics understands that a “signing bonus” or any “bonus” that does not add to their base pay is not going to be a retention factor OR an attraction. An astute teacher will look at the length of time it takes to reach the top salary (i.e. the number of steps on the pay schedule) and the value of the top step and intuitively understand that a compressed wage scale with a higher figure at the top is superior to multiple-step pay schedule with a low to middling pay schedule. Offering a “$5,000 signing bonus” will not change that reality and, consequently, will not attract the best and brightest to the neediest districts. Bonuses do not work as an enticement to move from one district to another and will not draw more college graduates to teaching.

This just in III: BOTTOM LINE: Improving teacher compensation requires more money which, in turn, requires higher taxes…. and with more and more requirements being shifted to States it is hard to imagine that tax increases will be occurring any time soon… which means the disparities will continue.

Contrary to the implied complexity put forth in the article, the ultimate solution is easy: raise broad-based taxes and distribute the revenues raised based on the relative wealth of each district with poorer districts getting more money. There… fixed it.

Underfunding in New Hampshire Will Continue Until Broad Based Taxes Replace Property Tax

August 30, 2019 Comments off

I accepted an assignment as Superintendent of Schools in New Hampshire in 1983, moving into the state from Maine where I served three years as Superintendent. When I accepted the position, a colleague of mine who had moved FROM New Hampshire TO Maine warned me that I was about to leave what was then one of the most robust State funding systems to the worst. He was right. Maine provided 90% reimbursement for bus purchases, transportation expenses, special education, and building aid. It also had a formula in place that supported schools based on their property wealth with property poor districts receiving substantial aid and wealthy districts getting less. In New Hampshire there was diminished aid across the board… to the extent that in one of the more affluent towns I served we got just over $25,000 in state aid.

At one of the first meetings I attended with my colleagues, most of whom led districts far more property poor than the six towns under my jurisdiction, I recall one of them saying that the current finance system was unsustainable and that he expected to see wholesale changes in the coming years. Surely the new GOP candidate, John Sununu who was an engineer, would see that more revenue was needed to ensure that schools in property poor districts across the state would need more state funds to provide equal opportunities. Now… 36 years later… nothing has changed. Lawsuits filed by property poor districts have been won and governors in both parties have done nothing to provide the revenues needed to help the struggling districts. And now, CHRIS Sununu, son of the engineer who could not see the need for more revenues, is governor and, like his father, sees no reason to increase the funds for schools. Worse, like his counterparts in the GOP, he DOES see a need to provide tax cuts for businesses on the theory that attracting businesses to the State will somehow bring more revenue to the property poor districts. But after decades of experience, he and his colleagues in the GOP should know that when businesses ARE attracted they tend to be attracted to the affluent communities that offer their employees good services, good schools, and good housing. Cuts to business taxes help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

So, in 2019, New Hampshire finds itself at an impasse. Their GOP governor vetoed the budget passed by the Democratically controlled legislature because he thought too much money was going to schools and not enough was being provided to business. The result: the state funds for school districts are the same in 2019-20 as they were in 2018-19. Consequently the towns who adopted budgets based on the legislator’s budget figures will be scrambling. Should they hire new staff based on the legislature’s budget or not? How about those bus purchases? How about the new technology they wanted to provide?

Our local paper reported on this situation and had this one poignant quote:

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier called Sununu’s proposal “unacceptable.” He begged lawmakers to hold fast to the funding they included in the budget and described the city’s struggles after it recently closed its elementary school and consolidated its middle and high schools.

Kindergarten students, including his grandson, are now in a building that was built as a high school in 1919, he said.

“That’s the legacy I’m leaving my grandson. I’m putting him in a building that was built before my father was even born,”he said. “There will come a point in time where property-poor communities like Berlin will be totally unattractive to new investment, further exacerbating the decline that poor communities are facing now.”

Sadly, the “point in time where property-poor communities like Berlin will be totally unattractive to new investment” came decades ago. When the paper mill closed in that community and the stores were shuttered there might have been a chance to entice a new business there… but the town is so forlorn and the schools so underfunded that it is highly unlikely that anyone would want to relocate there. 

What would help? An infusion of government funding from all levels is the only way to make dilapidated communities like Berlin come back to life… but as long as we are in the thrall of low taxes governments will never have the resources needed to help communities like Berlin.

Gifted and Talented Programs Fail on Two Accounts: They Segregate Based on Race and Economics AND They Tell 90% of Students They are UN-gifted and UN-talented

August 29, 2019 Comments off

Today’s NYDaily News op ed article by Alison Roda and Judith Kafka describes one of the major pitfalls of NYC’s current arrangement that separates “Gifted and Talented” students into programs designed to meet their needs: it ends up segregating white and Asian children from the economically disadvantaged African-American and Latina students:

The just-unveiled proposal to eliminate New York City’s Gifted and Talented programs, while also doing away with selective admissions for most middle schools, has predictably alarmed critics who fear that restructuring a system that sorts young children into academic “winners” and “losers” will hurt those who currently benefit from it.

Yet the city’s G&T programs do not serve a highly specialized population of children with exceptional academic needs. Instead, they help to maintain racial and socio-economic segregation by creating exclusive educational spaces. Middle schools that base admissions on students’ test scores, grades and attendance records serve a similar function: They promote segregation while framing high quality education as a scarce resource.

Instead of having gifted and talented programs that sort and select students based on test scores, grades and attendance— and implicitly on parents’ ability to navigate a systems complex as application to college— Mss. Roda and Kafka are seeking de-tracking and “…eliminating exclusive programs”. So if these programs vanish, what will take their place? Based on a Chlakbeat article by Ms. Roda, it would be school-wide enrichment, which she describes as follows:

(School-Wide enrichment) is an approach that tasks school staffers with identifying students’ interests and then developing mini-courses, more detailed units of study, and electives for older students centered on those topics.

Schoolwide enrichment “is really flipping the whole idea on its head,” said Allison Roda, a professor at Molloy College who has studied the city’s gifted programs. “Instead of sorting students based on perceived ability and whether they can pass a test when they’re 4 years old, the school’s job is to find out what those gifts and talents are and to develop them.”

For younger children, that could mean setting up small groups of students who are pulled out of their classrooms to learn the basics of photography. In middle and high school, staff can give students questionnaires about their interests and use that information to set up electives that could include topics ranging from robotics to journalism.

The idea, experts said, is to create additional learning opportunities that foster curiosity for all students in a school instead of walling off opportunities for students labeled “gifted.”

In sum… school-wide enrichment, which was popularized in the late 20th century by University of Connecticut teacher Joseph Renzulli– is based on the constructivist theories rooted in John Dewey’s philosophy and Jean Piaget’s psychology— the student-centered approach that reinforces the “notion that he learner has prior knowledge and experiences, which is often determined by their social and cultural environment. Learning is therefore done by students’ “constructing” knowledge out of their experiences.” This paradigm is the opposite of the behaviorist approaches used to break learning into its component parts and then have teachers pour the information into students… an approach that also assumes that a student’s capacity for learning can be measured by standardized intelligence tests and assume their “performance” can be measured by standardized achievement tests.

Based on my experience as an administrator for over three decades, it is clear to me that the adoption of this “new paradigm” will be an uphill battle… for virtually everyone in public schools has been exposed only to the behaviorist paradigm and it’s basis in “efficiency” seems to fit the Western perspective on teaching and learning and the Western perspective that education is “hard work”.

I hope that Ms. Roda’s advocacy for this approach results in an embrace of school-wide enrichment… for when it IS put in place every child in the school benefits. But it will only happen if those at the top are willing to persist on promoting it, for the parents of those children who have been identified as “gifted and talented” when they are four years old are already in the  pipeline and are benefitting from the special treatment their “special programs” provide them and they will not go quietly.

David Koch’s Heirs Will Enjoy the Biggest Tax Loophole Nobody Talks About: The Elimination of the “Death Tax”

August 29, 2019 Comments off

The so-called “death tax” is robbing the US government of the opportunity to receive billions in revenue and enabling Mr. Koch’s heirs, like Sam Walton’s heirs, to maintain their father’s fortune AND his political leverage. This is not the economy extolled by Alexis deToqueville or the economy most Americans believe in… but by branding inheritance taxes as “death taxes” the GOP has succeeded in adding to the starvation of government revenues and the subsequent dysfunction of government.

Source: David Koch’s Heirs Will Enjoy the Biggest Tax Loophole Nobody Talks About

Categories: Uncategorized

It’s the beginning of the school year and teachers are once again opening up their wallets to buy school supplies | Economic Policy Institute

August 28, 2019 Comments off

It’s the beginning of the school year and teachers are once again opening up their wallets to buy school supplies | Economic Policy Institute. This isn’t news to anyone who has worked on school district budgets for the last three decades as taxpayers pushed costs away from themselves onto the “users” of this public service. Once the shift started there was no turning back
— Read on www.epi.org/blog/teachers-are-buying-school-supplies/

Redistricting in Red Hook, Gowanus, Cobble Hill Illustrates Dilemma Posed by Gentrification

August 28, 2019 Comments off
A few years ago my younger daughter moved into the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, drawn by the relatively low rents, its artsy-funky feel, and the spectacular views from the waterfront in that area. The neighborhood consisted mostly of warehouses and small two story houses formerly populated by the families of longshoreman who worked on the docks that formerly dotted the waterfront. When the waterfront docks disappeared, the city constructed multi-story housing projects surrounded by parks and the neighborhood surrounding those projects was, for the most part, vacated.
Now, thanks to the siting of a huge IKEA store, an upscale grocery store, and the immigration of artists and craftspeople drawn to the warehouse spaces that serve as wonderful studios, Red Hook is slowly gentrifying. At the same time, Cobble Hill, an adjoining neighborhood separated by a massive interstate highway, is also expanding and, as a result, some schools are bursting at the seams while others remain under crowded. The problem is that the OVERCROWDED schools serve affluent whites moving into Cobble Hill and some parts of Red Hook while the UNDER-CROWDED schools are almost entirely black.
Last night, my younger daughter called after attending a public meeting in her neighborhood seeking some insights from me on the plans the city plans to implement to address this issue. She was dismayed that those in attendance were mostly from affluent white schools and not from Red Hook and felt that those in attendance did not want to see any changes at all. In looking at the information available on line, it struck me that as is always the case in redistricting, the devil will be in the details. Here’s an excerpt from a June 21 Chalkbeat article that described the two alternatives under consideration and, in doing so, raises more questions than it answers:
For the elementary schools, one of the floated proposals would redraw smaller attendance zones around overcrowded P.S. 29 and P.S. 58, while increasing the zones around schools that have unused space.
The second would move the district to a lottery admissions system, with families applying to the schools of their choice.
Both scenarios would include a priority for 25 to 35% of seats for students who are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The aim is for every school to enroll a percentage of those students, who often need more support to thrive, that matches the average across the seven affected schools.
Either approach is likely to face stiff pushback, especially since some of the affected schools are among the district’s most coveted — and least diverse, racially, ethnically, and economically. For example, at P.S. 58, more than 73% of students are white and less than 12% come from low-income families. But at P.S. 676, virtually all students are black or Hispanic and come from low-income families.

Under the first possibility presented, the attendance zones around overcrowded schools would be reduced. P.S. 29 would admit 90 to 100 kindergarten students, down from 153 currently. P.S. 58 would enroll 100 to 110 students, down from 193. 

Other schools would see an increase in their zone size. Those schools are P.S. 15, P.S. 38, and P.S. 32, which is opening an addition with room for more than 400 new students.

P.S. 676 and P.S. 261 would preserve their current zone size.

All of the schools would give an admissions priority to vulnerable students for 25 to 35% of seats.

The education department did not provide specifics for how zone lines might be redrawn, saying they want to hear feedback on both broad approaches before drilling down further into either.

So… from what I understand, at this juncture the education department hasn’t drawn any lines as yet, which, as far as I am concerned, makes any discussion about “…which plan is best” pointless. Indeed, it may well be that those who are arguing most vociferously about staying in their “neighborhood school” might oppose the school board’s definition of “neighborhood” when the boundaries around PS 29 and 58 are diminished to make way for the 25-35% of new students who “…are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.” 

Sine my grandchildren attend PS 15, whose boundaries are expanding, it MAY be in my daughter’s self interest to support plan 1 since it would, in all probability, result in some of the displaced affluent PS 29 and 58 students moving into her “neighborhood” school— because it WILL be the affluent parents who have to move out of their overcrowded “neighborhood” schools to make way for the students who “…are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.” 
 
In looking at the two plans, my daughter tended to favor the lottery pan as being more fair, and that plan does mirror the middle school plan, a plan that seems to be functioning well at accomplishing the goals of diversity and solid academics. To those affluent parents who argue in favor of “providing more resources to needy schools” it might be worthwhile to roll out some data on how much more the affluent parents raise for their schools and suggest that, say, 75% of that supplementary funding be shared with their needier “neighborhood” schools.
In the end, I think the term “neighborhood schools” should be abandoned and replaced with “school communities”… because when gentrification takes place “neighborhood” schools tend to be economically and racially segregated. In NYC, the middle schools-of-choice tend to be more economically and racially diverse… and when kids are pulled from all over the city into a “school-of-choice” it is incumbent on the school administration to create a school community— which many of them do by providing orientation sessions before the opening of school so that the newly created cohort can get to know each other. 
At it was interesting to note that while one of the affluent schools sent parents a notice of this meeting that took place in Red Hook, my daughter did not get anything from her school… which COULD lead the board to conclude that “parents in Red Hook don’t care”.
And here’s what my experiences in MD and NY tell me: redistricting is a lose-lose proposition no matter how it is carried out. Parents are attached to the schools their child attends even if they are overcrowded and dilapidated and are fearful of what will happen if they move to a new place.

Video Surveillance in School Hallways + AI = Training Students for a Future WITH Guns and Stealth Mental Illness Screening

August 27, 2019 Comments off

I’ve written several posts decrying the expanded use of surveillance cameras and cautioning against the use of facial recognition software in schools, so when I read that President Trump is proposing to use AI to flag potential mass murderers I was immediately appalled. To be clear as possible, here’s a synopsis of the President’s proposal as reported by Common Dreams reporter Julia Conley:

As The Washington Post reported Thursday, the Trump administration has worked with Bob Wright, a close friend of Trump’s and his collaborator on the reality show “The Apprentice,” to develop a proposal for a new federal agency that would be called the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency (HARPA), within the Health and Human Services Department.

HARPA would be modeled after and led by a top official at the Pentagon’s research office, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has developed drones, artificial intelligence meant to merge with deadly weapons, and technology to help U.S. soldiers detect safety threats during deployments.

Instead of developing military equipment, HARPA would draw information from people—gathered strictly from people who opt in to the program, the administration says—to identify “neurobehavioral signs” of “someone headed toward a violent explosive act.”

This would be disturbing enough if our President supported world leaders who value the rule of law, but given that we have a President who extols the virtues of leaders like Vladimir Putin, whose nation has used psychiatry to deem political opponents as mentally unsound, this proposal is very unsettling.

Since school shootings seem to be an area that everyone agrees is the most distressing and every level of government from local school boards to the Federal government seems to think that “hardening” schools is a good idea, it would not surprise me at all to see this new agency conducting field tests in schools.

We are already training our children to accept video monitoring, limited access to public facilities, and training drills designed to protect them from individuals who are unconditionally allowed to purchase military grade weapons designed to inflict maximum damage on soldiers. Do we now want to subject them to profiling based on untested algorithms? Do we want to use AI to identify “neurobehavioral signs” of “someone headed toward a violent explosive act.”? This voter does not want to allow that to happen.