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Dollar Stores Around the Country Siphon Millions from Public Education… but that is NOTHING Compared to NYS’s Annual “Donation” to Businesses

November 17, 2019 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed article about how the city of Tulsa is trying to limit the number of Dollar Stores in the poorer neighborhoods in hopes of attracting a bind fide grocery store. Op ed contributor Victor Luckerson writes:

“Since 2001, Dollar General and Dollar Tree have received more than $130 million in tax breaks and other financial incentives around the country, according to Good Jobs First, an organization that tracks government subsidies.”

Who lost when towns offered tax breaks and other financial incentives? Public education.

And while $130,000,000 over 18 years might seem inconsequential, what this story DOESN’T report is that a 2004 study on economic development indicated that states and localities were devoting some $50,000,000,000 to tax incentives every year! And a NYTimes report in 2012 indicated that income tax breaks for businesses added up to $18,000,000,000 and sales tax relief around $52,000,000,000 of the overall $80,000,000 billion in incentives NY offered at that time.

Oh… and to give those big numbers some perspective, a 2017 report from the Empire Center indicated NYS spent New York’s public elementary and secondary schools spent about $59,000,000,000 to educate 2.6 million pupils in 2014-15.

I find it hard to believe that we cannot afford the money needed to provide an adequate and equal opportunity for all when we manage to afford $80,000,000,000 per annum in tax breaks. It will be a good day when public schools get the same level of funding as corporations.

A Fly in the Ointment for Choice Advocates Who Want to Promote Marketplace Panacea for Inequitable Public Schools

November 17, 2019 Leave a comment

For more than a decade the mainstream press and politicians have adopted the stance that if schools competed for students the same way as grocery store compete for customers the inequities that have plagued schools for decades would disappear completely. There is one city in America where this notion has been put the test… and that is New York City where over a decade ago Mayor Bloomberg launched a program to offer choice to all secondary schools in the city. Why White Parents Were at the Front of the Line for the School Tour, a recent NYTimes article by Liza Shapiro, describes one phenomenon that illustrates why the free-market-choice paradigm is no solution for the inequities among schools in the city. Having a grandson who just went through the grind of applying for high school, I observed that he had some decided benefits compared to some of this classmates.

First and foremost, my grandson had two fully engaged parents who were capable of grasping the byzantine application process, willing and able to do the research necessary to identify the schools that were the best match for him, and worked for employers whose work schedules made it possible for one or both of them to accompany him on the school tours that are a critical factor in determining whether or not he might get into the school of his choice.

Secondly, he is the kind of student who is not intimidated by standardized tests. I know from my experience as a building level administrator that many highly capable students do not perform well on standardized tests and, consequently, their scores do not accurately capture their capabilities in the classroom. In New York City the primary means of screening students for gifted and talented programs and “competitive” high schools is a single standardized test. According to the test, he wasn’t quite gifted and talented when he entered elementary school but his scores were sufficiently high to enable him to enter one of the “competitive” schools. Readers of this blog know that I do not believe that the use of a single test to make these determinations is highly objectionable and without merit… but advocates view them as an objective means of determining qualifications.

Third, he lived at the same address throughout his school career. In an article that appeared in October 2018, Elizabeth Shapiro reported that 1 in 10 students in New York City lived in temporary housing during the previous school year. The article noted that in 144 of the schools in the city, 1/3 or more of the students are homeless! My grandson was never homeless and his parents never moved during his years in public school.

Finally, as the information above implies, my grandson had no Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) growing up. According to research by Childtrends, at the national level 45% of his classmates have experienced at least one such experience and 10% of his classmates have experienced three or more. Child trends defines “Adverse Childhood Experiences” as: psychological, physical, and sexual abuse, as well as exposure in the home to substance abuse, mental illness and suicide, incarceration, violence, physical and emotional neglect, parental separation and divorce, exposure to violence outside of the home, living in unsafe neighborhoods, homelessness, bullying, discrimination based on race or ethnicity, and experience of income insecurity. A child who has experienced ACES did not choose to have those experiences and the adversity he or she faced as a consequence of those ACES is not going to be offset by being able to choose a school to attend.

In short, had my grandson been raised in a different environment, one where he had an absent or disengaged parents, one where he was homeless or moved from year-to-year to different neighborhoods, or one where he had one or more ACEs, it is unlikely that his parents would not have been in line at the Beacon school. And if he was the kind of student who froze when he took a timed standardized test his parents might not have bothered to stand in line realizing his chances of getting into the school were slim. In short, the “choice solution” is no solution at all.

 

No Evidence Supports Fear-Based Stop-and-Frisk Policy… Just as No Evidence Supports Most Fear-Based “Solutions”

November 11, 2019 Leave a comment

NYTime columnist Charles Blow wrote a column today damning the latest candidate for the President, former NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The basis for Mr. Blow’s condemnation was Mayor Bloomberg’s racist and failed stop-and-frisk policy, a fear-based policy that was presumably designed to seize illegal weapons and contraband. In the final analysis, though, the policy failed to accomplish that goal and instead resulted in the increased incarceration of people of color who were overly represented in the group that was stopped and frisked on the street.

After reading the column, I left the following comment:

Fear of “the other” drives many bad policies.

Have the billions spent on the so-called global war on terror made made us any safer? What data have we collected to prove it?

Has the caging and separation of immigrant children from their parents made us any safer?

Has millions spend on the widespread installation of surveillance cameras and the placement of police officers in public schools made us any safer?

These practices designed to protect us from “the other” are as odious as stop-and-frisk and yet we continue to spend billions based on the faith that we are protecting ourselves.

In the meantime we are unwilling to face the cold hard data of climate change. Why? Because in order to address climate change we need to accept that the enemy is US….

Alas, it is far easier to stoke fear in “the other” than it is to look at ourselves. And if we DID examine ourselves we might find that our fear of “the other” is baseless.

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“Personalization” Exacerbates Loneliness… and Loneliness Undercuts Our Well-Being

November 10, 2019 Leave a comment

Nicholas Kristof’s NYTimes op ed piece today describes England’s War on Loneliness, a national effort to address a phenomenon that adversely impacts their culture— and one that also impacts ours. As Mr. Kristof acknowledges, the root causes of loneliness are complex and may defy the reach of government intervention. In describing how England is attempting to address the problem by creating a minister for loneliness, Mr. Kristof sidesteps a description of how our country is making things worse. I left this comment to underscore how skewed our spending priorities have become in terms of education spending:

I fear that our schools are not helping the situation. Instead of spending money to fund counselors who might help those children who are lonely we are instead spending money on good guys with guns, surveillance cameras, and ways to “harden” schools. When it comes to measuring the “effectiveness” of schools we focus on things that are easy to measure like standardized test scores, per pupil spending, and the number of computers. Since it is difficult to measure the happiness or connectedness of children and even more difficult to address the underlying causes of those problems they are ignored. And worse, in the name of personalization, we have students spending more time isolating themselves on computers and less time interacting with each other. If we want to improve our connections with each other, we might start by disconnecting from technology in classrooms and re-engaging in dialogue.

Flint, Michigan a Canary in the Coal Mine

November 7, 2019 Leave a comment

My stomach was churning after reading Erica Green’s article in today’s NYTimes about the Flint, Michigan public schools. The article describes how the school system has become overwhelmed with special education students as a result of the lead contamination in the public water supply, contamination that resulted when cost-cutting business-minded officials took over the governance of the town several years ago. Rather than address the root cause of some of the city’s problems, which would have cost millions of dollars in infrastructure upgrades but also created scores of jobs, the State’s overseers decided to privatize the water system. The result was devastating to the residents— particularly the residents who lived in poverty.

As I noted in a comment I left, Michigan’s schools are the fruits of the GOP leadership in the state and a harbinger of where we are headed if we continue down the path of adopting the plan to privatize public services. This article fails to emphasize is that the “problem children” in Flint schools are the result of a political decision to privatize the provision of drinking water to avoid paying for needed infrastructure upgrades.”School choice”– a privatization scheme if there ever was one– segregates “problem children” from those who behave well and play by the rules— the children of parents who can afford to pay for water. The GOP seems happy to live in a world of privatization where the victims of cost-cutting are segregated from those who can pay their way out. This is what the GOP wants when they decry the government and offer free-market “choice” as the solution for clean water, for schools, for health care, for retirement.

Flint is a canary in a coal mine. We would pay heed.

 

Wake Up Call: Teachers WILL Mobilize When They Are Disrespected!

November 6, 2019 Leave a comment
Categories: Uncategorized

The Upshot Reaches an Obvious But Important Conclusion About Advantaged vs. Disadvantaged Children

October 29, 2019 Comments off

The Upshot, an online publication of the NYTimes, features articles that use data analysis to draw conclusions about a wide range of topics. Earlier this week, it featured an article by Emily Oster describing the evidence on child-rearing practices that reaches an obvious but important conclusion about children raised in advantanged homes vs. this raised in dis-adavantaged homes: there is a huge disconnect between the kinds of choices advantaged parents face as compared to those dis-advantaged parents face. While affluent parents debate the merits of nutrition or various pre-school programs dis-advatanged parents are choosing between paying the heating bill versus paying for school lunch. These two paragraphs near the end of Ms. Oster’s article provide a good synopsis of this difference:

This disconnect between the debates parents have and the data on child outcomes has societal implications. Policies in the United States that focus on helping less well-off families and children have a much greater impact. Many families live with limited access to health coverage and are forced to make choices between, say, food and medicine. Children with lunch debt face “lunch shaming” in many districts — and some are denied the option of hot meals. There is good evidence that high-quality pre-K programs like Head Start can improve school readiness.

And yet many of our parenting discussions are driven by, effectively, elite concerns. What is the best organic formula? Food mills versus “baby-led weaning.” Breast-feeding for one year, or two? And, of course, preschool philosophy. These concerns occupy thoughts and Facebook discussions, but they also occupy the news media, at least some of the time.

But, as I am confident Ms. Oster knows, placing a “focus on helping less well-off families” will require those advantaged families to dig a little deeper in their pockets to pay higher taxes or, heaven forbid, asking shareholders to forego a small percentage of profits that they “earn” when the corporations they invest in save on taxes.

Because no one wants to run a campaign that suggests taxes will increase for those who are advantaged, glib “solutions” like school choice come into play. The idea behind “school choice” is that parents would be free to choose whatever school best meets the needs of their child in the same way that they can choose organic formula or breast-feeding or the preschool with the philosophy that matches theirs. The reality is that disadvantaged parents are so bogged down in making choices between food and medicine that they do not have the luxury to examine alternatives the same way as their more affluent colleagues. But the idea of “choices” is an easy and inexpensive salve to a complicated and costly reality.

Until we begin to face the fact that not every parent has the same range of choices and that some choices are limited due to circumstances well beyond the control of the disadvantaged parents themselves we will continue to reinforce the economic system we have an continue to widen the economic divisions in our country.

A few weeks ago, Bernie Sanders posed this question to a crowd of 26,000 who came to a rally for his candidacy:

Are you willing to fight for that person who you don’t even know as much as you’re willing to fight for yourself?”

If we do not answer yes to that question, we are not our brother’s keeper… we are buying into the Social Darwinism that business is based on… we are denying the opportunity for advancement to huge swaths of our country.