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Introducing a Valuable Skill for All the Wrong Reasons: When Economic Development Trumps Child Development

August 18, 2019 Leave a comment

I read with interest a recent NYTimes article by Dana Goldstein about the effort underway in Wyoming to move away from an economy based on diminishing low skill jobs related to extraction toward an economy based more on technology. The rationale for preparing students for a high tech world, though, seems flawed on two scores.

First, by making “economic development” the basis for mandating a course the State Education Department is explicitly linking schools to jobs– which is a fools errand in an age where jobs change far more rapidly than school curricula. Had the schools in the early 1960s tried to adapt their curricula to the emerging technology markets they would have never thought that computers would be available in the homes of the children they were teaching when they became adults and could not have possibly taught a computer language that would be applicable today. When I taught computers in the early 1970s we taught BASIC and used punch cards, the “state of the art” technology at the time— a language that is now as useless as Olde English and a process that seems prehistoric in an era of cloud data collections.

Second is the reality that the skills students need now to succeed in life are the same as the skills needed when I was in school— and they are the “soft skills” that schools avoid because they are not easy to define, harder yet to teach, and do not lend themselves to the “rigorous” (i.e. standardized test-based) measurement that provides a means of sorting students into groups. These life skills are also ones that cannot be replaced by a robot: they cannot be reduced to algorithms for they rely on human interactions.

And the idea of compelling schools to shoe-horn these new subjects into an already stuffed curriculum faces one other daunting challenge: money. As Ms. Goldstein reports:

…low taxes are an orthodoxy in Wyoming, and the Legislature did not dedicate any new dollars to the plan. That has left schools reliant on limited state, federal and philanthropic funds — and on individual educators… to bear the burden of introducing an entirely new subject.

Predictably, affluent schools, schools with wealthy benefactors looking out for them, and schools who obtain grants from philanthropists are doing well at meeting this fiscal challenge and, consequently, presumably preparing their children for a better world.

And just as predictably, the hopes of politicians to attack jobs that will entice students to remain in their home state seem likely to be dashed as well:

Wyoming educators say that despite the rhetoric of politicians and tech giants, they are teaching computer science to enrich their students, not to enrich the state.

“Our job is not to contain our kids in Wyoming,” said Craig Dougherty, the Sheridan superintendent. “They need to compete globally.”

And those who stay? They might benefit more from learning some of those soft skills and using their creative and interpersonal talents to develop businesses that cannot be outsourced. But since those skills are taught to measure… the kids are learning nothing of value.

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Redistributing WEALTH v. Redistributing OPPORTUNITY

August 17, 2019 Leave a comment

A friend on Facebook who published a book recently offered this editorial he wrote for his local paper as a “tease” to entice people to buy his book:

WEALTH INEQUALITY IN AMERICA – DANGER AHEAD

Who owns most of the wealth in America? Evidence from Income Tax data shows that the top 10% of American families owned 77% of our nation’s wealth. The remaining 90% owned only 23%. The nation’s richest wealth holders, the top 1% alone owned 42% of the nation’s wealth. Their share of wealth has steadily grown since the late 1970s.

And get this, most of this increase in wealth happened in the top 0.1%, which includes about 160,000 households. This chart, which appears in my book “Freedom Denied – How ‘Big Government’ and America’s Elites Enslave Minorities,” shows how the top 0.1% share of wealth grew from 7% in 1978 to 22% in 2012, a level comparable to the 25% reached in 1929 just prior to the stock market crash and the beginning of the great depression. That’s when many millionaires became paupers almost overnight. If we project that steep rise from 2012 to 2019, we may have already gone beyond that 25% point. Is another great depression looming?

What has caused the “Rich” top 1% and the “Super Rich” top 0.1% to gain so much wealth while the rest of America has seen their wealth decline? Tax loopholes continue to favor the rich, while among the working class, wage stagnation and falling ‘real’ wages, not keeping up with inflation, are major factors. Mortgage debt, consumer credit debt, and student debt has contributed to falling wealth among the middle class.

A politician’s answer to wealth inequality might be to throw massive amounts of Government money at the problem and even advocate a major redistribution of wealth by taking money (through taxation) from the wealthiest and giving it to those who are less fortunate. However, a much better approach is to determine how we got ourselves into this mess to begin with and then correct those misdirected Government policies that have caused all the damage.

I take an in depth look at how the welfare state, although beginning with good intentions in the mid-1960s, has caused many able-bodied men and women to lose incentive to climb out of poverty. And how an over-supply of cheap illegal immigrant labor, sanctioned by sanctuary cities and states, has caused a massive decline in wages for the working class. Unfortunately, minorities have suffered the most by this downturn in wages. And sad to say Vermont, being a sanctuary State, has done nothing to stop business owners, both Democrat and Republican, from increasing their profits on the backs of illegal immigrant workers.

I was interested to see a conservative identify wealth inequality as a major problem in our country, and also interested to see how he linked it to the government programs in the “welfare state”. One of his friends pushed back softly with this rejoinder:

From about 1950-1970 income and wealth grew evenly at all levels. This was largely caused by two factors: the GI bill and investment in infrastructure (e.g. the Eisenhower interstate highway system).

To which I added:

And the last time I looked these were government programs… it’s no accident that the money is trickling upwards. The plutocrats are paying good money to get those loopholes written in to the tax laws to starve the government programs that COULD restore the mechanisms that were in place in 1950-1970 to provide opportunity redistribution.

To the best of my knowledge, OPPORTUNITY redistribution has never been used as a response to the conservative/libertarian argument that “WEALTH redistribution” is a losing proposition… and it is the lack of opportunity that discourages people from entering the workforce… especially if the entry into the work force results in the total loss of health care and limits the access to many of the services they receive if they are “on welfare”. It isn’t easy to enter the workforce if you are a single parent whose job was eliminated by offshoring or the advent of robots. The best way to get able bodied workers off of welfare is to offer them OPPORTUNITY instead of money: past them into jobs that pay a living wage and offer them an opportunity for stability or advancement and they will gladly work instead of doing nothing. How to do that? It seems to be that a stronger government-funded safety net of vocational services in needed. But maybe I’ll need to buy my Facebook friend’s book to see how free enterprise can solve the problem better.

This Just In: Recess Helps… A LOT! It Allows Children to Be Children and Not Data Points

August 16, 2019 Leave a comment

In yet another study that proves the sun will rise every day, researchers gathered data that proves the value of recess. “Becky” who writes for Your Modern Family reports:

…research is actually showing how schools with more recess have happier, smarter, and more focused students.   In fact, recess even helps students to be more friendly and social.

“Recess is the only place in school, maybe the only place in their social life, where kids have the opportunity to develop social skills with their peers,” says Murry, former chairman of the AAP’s Council on School Health.

And why was recess ever considered unworthy? If you guessed that it ate into time needed to prepare for standardized tests you’ve been a careful and diligent reader of this blog for the past eight years. And guess what country assures recess at all costs AND consistently outscores the US in international tests? FINLAND!

Strong research in Finland shows that children who engage in more physical activity and play do better academically than children who are sedentary.  From kindergarten through eighth grade, students in Finland spend 15 minutes of every hour in recess, enjoying unstructured outdoor play. During that time, they love to make up games, expanding their imaginations and creativity.”

15 minutes per HOUR… as opposed to our country that often tacks 15 minutes of recess onto the end of lunch period. For those who scoff that it would never work in our country, Becky has some news for you. A program called the LiiNK Project provided more recess for students and, voila, test scores went up!

A school in Texas took part in the LiiNK Project, where students in K-1 had four 15-minute recess breaks a day.   “Adopting LiiNK requires eliminating one hour of instructional time each day. That is a high risk for educators who believe more instruction leads to higher test scores. But research shows vast benefits to providing kids recess.”

“In districts that have adopted LiiNK, the teachers, administrators, and parents raved about its effects on students. The additional recess, they said, helped their kids focus better, misbehave less, and even lose weight. There were benefits for teachers, too. Sandra Hill, a third-grade teacher at Chavez with 18 years experience, said better-behaved kids improved her morale. She described the difference between teaching LiiNK kids and the kids at her previous schools as “night and day.”   “This year was hands down, the easiest year I’ve had with behavior.”

Cindy Griggs, a kindergarten teacher at Eagle Mountain Elementary, a LiiNK school in Fort Worth, described a similar change. Recalling her students’ behavior before LiiNK was implemented four years ago, she said, “They were always antsy, messing with the name tags on their desks, poking each other, rolling around on the floor.”

But now with the extra recess: “They’re able to get all that energy out. Coming in, they’ll just be sitting on the carpet zoned in and engaged for 45 minutes.”

A Texas college professor and elementary school Principal were given the last words on this topic, which included lots of links to lots of reports substantiating the value of recess and unstructured play:

Professor and associate dean at Texas Christian University, Debbie Rhea, launched the recess initiative, reminding her of her childhood.   “We have forgotten what childhood should be.   And if we remember back to before testing—which would be back in the ’60s, ’70s, early ’80s—if we remember back to that, children were allowed to be children.”

“Test scores don’t tell you everything you need to know about a child,” she said. “I hope people can understand that. In this age of accountability and testing, I think we’ve forgotten that we’re dealing with these little kids with their little hearts,and they need to be nurtured too.” – Principal Elizabeth Miller, Chavez Elementary School.

And here’s what is saddening to this retired veteran school superintendent: anyone who entered the teaching profession after NCLB has NEVER known of a time when “children were allowed to be children”.We now have a generation of teachers who know of nothing except accountability based on standardized testing… teachers who themselves were subjected to passing fill-in-the-bubble tests to prove they had the ability to deal with little kids with their little hearts. The sooner we move away from this “meritocracy” based on tests the better!

University of Kentucky Study Shows Charter Schools More Segregated than Public Schools

August 15, 2019 Leave a comment

In a study that illustrates the Law of Unintended Consequences, Julian Vasquez Heilig, dean and professor of educational policy studies and evaluation at the University of Kentucky College of Education, found that “charter school students are more likely to attend racially isolated schools than their public school counterparts.” In carefully examining the publicly available school-level common core data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Mr. Vasquez Heilig and his co-authors T. Jameson Brewer, of the University of North Georgia College of Education, and Yohuru Williams, of the University of St. Thomas College of Arts and Sciences found that “...all schools — both charter and public — have become increasingly segregated by race and class in the past two decades.” But, contrary to their avowed purpose, charter schools are adding to the resegregation of schools:

Across the United States, 43% of public schools are majority non-white, compared to 65% of charter schools. Even in neighborhoods with a more balanced ethnoracial mix among residents, the researchers found charter schools were more likely to be comprised of more non-white students than the public schools in the area.

“While geography and residential segregation patterns contribute to segregation, we found local demography does not explain why charter schools feature more racial isolation than public schools,” Vasquez Heilig said. “In other words, when looking at the same zip code, charters are not more segregated than public schools because of their location.”

So… why ARE charters more segregated? Is it because segregation is desirable to children of color or is it because integration is undesirable to white parents? Mr. Vasquez Heilig sees it as an extension of white flight:

“In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to abolish the practice of separate educational facilities. However, our nation has allowed practices in the ensuing years that result in segregation of schools. As white flight has occurred, schools have been increasingly segregated by race and class. Nowhere is the problem more acute than in the nation’s charter schools,” Vasquez Heilig said.

“Charter schools have been seen as a means of providing equity through offering greater choice to low-income and minority students. However, we must carefully consider the impact these choices have on students. It is important to examine the data and work toward policies that improve the ethonoracial and economic diversity of all schools our nation’s children attend. The benefits of schooling in a diverse environment cannot be overlooked.”

The solution to this thorny dilemma is not easy… but one set of data offers a stopgap solution:

Students attending schools with predominantly poor students of color face reduced resources, less academic rigor in the form of limited access to advanced coursework, and largely untrained or inexperienced teachers.

We already know that the federal government will not intervene to compel racial balance despite the Brown decision. At the very least, though, they should intervene to ensure that the resources, teaching quality, and opportunities are equal. Brown ended “separate but equal” schools… and in its wake we now have separate and unequal schools. I’m certain that was not the endgame Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP was seeking… but that’s where we are today.

My Answer to an Internet Meme About the First Day of School

August 14, 2019 Leave a comment

A FaceBok friend posted a meme that suggested these questions to replace the traditional “What Did You Do Over the Summer”?

  1. What do you LOVE learning about?
  2. What do you most look forward to this school year?
  3. What are three awesome things about yourself?
  4. What is the one thing you’d like your teacher and classmates to know about you?
  5. What is something new you’d like to make, create, try, build and/or learn about?

Here are my answers to these based upon the way schools are now:

  1. What do you LOVE learning about? I LOVE preparing for standardized tests
  2. What do you most look forward to this school year? I can’t wait to spend time on my laptop! 
  3. What are three awesome things about yourself? I am really good at video games; I love YouTube; I can hack your computer
  4. What is the one thing you’d like your teacher and classmates to know about you? I cam make sure everyone in class gets straight A’s on their report card 
  5. What is something new you’d like to make, create, try, build and/or learn about? I want to build a robot friend I can talk to….

Welcome back… and smile for the cameras in the hallways, be nice to the good guy with a gun, and don’t make any jokes. This is also good training for future travel…

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Where Democrats Land on Charter Schools is Less Important Than Where They Land on Testing

August 14, 2019 Leave a comment

I was heartened to read an American Prospect article last month by Rachel Cohen indicating that virtually all of the Democrats running for President have taken a position in opposition to for profit charters. The positions range from Bernie Sanders, who echoes the NAACP language verbatim, to Beto O’Rourke, who issued a squishy statement saying that “there is a place for public nonprofit charter schools, but private charter schools and voucher programs—not a single dime in my administration will go to them.” Even Cory Booker, the man who brought for profit schools to Newark, is equivocating on his pro-charter stance. Here’s a twitter post he issued:

Sen. Cory Booker speaks in Newton, IA: “I’m a guy who believes in public education and, in fact, I look at some of the charter laws that are written about this country and states like this and I find them really offensive.”

This is all good news… but in the end it dodges the real problem with public education, which is the accountability model that is based predominantly on standardized test results. As long as schools are sorted into “success” and “failure” bins based on their test scores the teachers in public schools will be compelled to teach to the test and the students in most schools in this nation will be subject to curricula and instruction based on passing a test or facing some kind of political consequence that will reinforce two faulty premises: that students can get better test scores if they and the teachers apply themselves; and, if students attain higher test scores they will be successful later in life. Neither of premises have any basis in reality… yet both of them are ingrained in the voters minds.

It would be especially heartening if one of the candidates for President emphasized this point… but I sense that because doing so would require them to question the whole basis for school accountability they will avoid the issue altogether and testing— and sorting— will continued unabated.

Four Student Presidents at Prestigious Colleges Identify the REAL Admissions Scandal: Inequitably Funded Public Schools

August 13, 2019 Leave a comment

Robert Blake Watson, president of the Undergraduate Students Association Council at UCLA, Trenton Stone, president of the Undergraduate Student Government at USC, Erica Scott, president of the Associated Students of Stanford University, and Kahlil Greene, president of the Yale College Council co-authored an op ed article that was widely published in newspapers across the nation over the past few days. In our local newspaper, the Valley News, it was titled “This is the Real College Admissions Scandal” while the Chicago Tribune titled it “What’s Legal in College Admissions is the Real Scandal“. Both headlines underscore the reality that the general sense that college admissions are based on “merit” is deeply flawed. When one strips away all of the external— test scores, essays, visits, resume-building— college admissions comes down to one factor: money. And when these four student body presidents peel the onion all the way down to the core, they find that money matters most when it comes to funding public schools, and that the property-based funding of public schools is the true scandal in college admissions.

…one of the main mechanisms through which our public schools are funded — property taxes from their local neighborhoods — disadvantages students from low-income areas. High school students at underfunded public schools do not receive the same access to high-quality college prep resources as do their peers at public and private schools in wealthier ZIP codes — resources that are necessary to navigate the increasingly daunting landscape of college admissions.

As students at selective universities, we acknowledge the many ways in which we have personally benefited from this system of privilege. Many of us come from well-resourced parts of the country and were surrounded by people familiar with the college admissions process. As students at selective universities, we acknowledge the many ways in which we have personally benefited from this system of privilege. Many of us come from well-resourced parts of the country and were surrounded by people familiar with the college admissions process. We would not be where we are today without certain opportunities provided to us that other students could not afford, and we want to make sure that this significant injustice is not lost in the sensational headlines about Operation Varsity Blues.

The real scandal is about the millions of kids who will never have an equitable chance in an extremely complex, competitive and costly process.

The college admissions scandal is not confined to a handful of privileged families and institutions. It is embedded in the fabric of the U.S. education system. In a 2017 article for Stanford Politics, “The Aristocracy That Let Me In,” Andrew Granato, a Stanford student, reflected on the ways in which the U.S. has developed a modern-day aristocracy based on the myth of a meritocratic education system. Instead of passing down social status through inherited titles or land holdings, today’s elites are able to provide their children with special resources to prepare them for admission into selective universities, thereby ensuring that they too will enter into America’s top economic tier.

This “secret” is now out in the open thanks to a group of egregiously greedy and manipulative parents who went so far as to photoshop their children’s faces onto pictures of rowers to “prove” they were participants in crew at their high school. Those parents showed the public that the admissions system could be gamed if someone had enough money and, in so doing, enabled writers like the four student body presidents to dig just a little bit deeper, find that they “would not be where we are today without certain opportunities provided to us that other students could not afford“, and bring that core injustice to the attention of as many people as possible.

Their op ed commentary offers several solutions for college admissions offices, solutions that would encourage elite colleges to identify students who are likely to succeed in their programs despite the disadvantages they faced in their high school. And they offer one paragraph on what I have long believed is the primary problem facing public education:

Making our education system a true meritocracy will also require fundamental political and cultural changes outside of individual universities. The way we finance public school districts has to change — using property taxes only serves to reinforce geographic, racial and socioeconomic disparities in education quality. These disparities affect students’ chances of success before they reach middleschool, much less college.

Will anyone listen to four accomplished college students? My answer: they MIGHT if someone running for President echoed this message and amplified it in the months ahead; they MIGHT if anyone running for Governor in a state with inequitable funding (i.e. virtually all the states in the nation) echoed this message and amplified it in the months ahead; they MIGHT if parents and voters in those towns suffering “…geographic, racial and socioeconomic disparities in education quality” echoed this message and amplified it in the months ahead. Absent a groundswell, however, the truth of this article will be forgotten and the myth of the meritocracy will persist.