An article by Kate Taylor in today’s NYTimes explicitly emphasized the fantastical notion that “failing schools” can be “turned around” in three years and implicitly highlighted the flaws in the “reformer’s” notion that grading schools will help school improvement.
The notion that a “failing school” can miraculously change in three years is rebutted by Megan Hester, a principal associate at the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, an organization that is working closely with community organizations involved in the turnaround effort. She said,
“There’s no school improvement initiative in the country that shows long-term success that showed improvement within two or three years.”
Giving schools the time they might need… “is at odds with the political cycle and the political attention span.”
But politics is everything in NYC schools and since mayors are elected every four years and it took Mr. de Blasio a year to get his leadership team in place he needed to set a three year timetable. In my judgment, the mayor missed a teachable moment and picked the wrong battle at the outset. In his first months in office he could have taken on the wrongheaded idea that labelling schools as “failing” based on test scores when the effects of poverty account for nearly all the variance in those scores. He could have emphasized that when a school is labelled as “failing” it is difficult to recruit students and even more difficult to recruit teachers. And while the article points out these realities, it does not explicitly link the realities to the flawed idea of classifying the schools as “failing”, an idea the “reformers” love because it enables them to close the schools and replace them with for-profit charters that repackage the schools, draw engaged parents and hire new teachers, but make no difference whatsoever when it comes to test scores or graduation rates.
Improving schools and addressing the effects of poverty takes time and requires more resources. That combination is a poison pill for politicians… but it is the only medicine that will cure the ills of public education in urban areas. Until a politician is willing to explain this to voters and voters are willing to listen the vicious cycle of “failing” schools for children raised in poverty will continue.
Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes is the first one I’ve read that speaks the blunt truth about what is needed to address the racism in our culture.
Interpersonal racism, when it exists, is only one part of the equation. Another part is systemic, structurally racist policies, and yet another is class conflict between the police and the poorest, most dangerous communities they patrol, and between those who are better off and those who are not. That strand is nearly absent from this conversation altogether….
(T)his issue is about everyone. We have areas of concentrated poverty in our cities in part because of a long legacy of discriminatory urban policies. We don’t sufficiently address the effects of that legacy, in part because it is rooted in a myth of racial pathology and endemic poor choice. We choose to be blind to the policy choices our politicians have made — and that many have benefited from, while others suffered — while simultaneously holding firmly to the belief that all of our own successes and comforts are simply the result of our and our families’ drive, ambition and resourcefulness. Other people lack physical comforts because they lack our character strength.
Mr. Blow offers lengthy quotes from the police chiefs in Dallas where five police were assassinated protecting Black Lives Matter demonstrators and Baton Rouge where police murdered an unarmed black man. Both chiefs lamented the low pay their police forces receive and the increased expectations placed on the police because social services and schools are short-changed. Blow concludes with this indictment:
You may think that you are not a part of this, but you are wrong. That’s just a lie that your willful ignorance and purposeful blindness perpetuates, to protect your conscience. This is absolutely about you, many, many of you. There are more bloody hands than meet the eye.
Mr. Blow is absolutely right. We need more resources for under-resourced communities and under-resourced families. We need to dig into our pockets and pay more taxes. We need to stop being resentful of public employees who have benefits and pensions that the “free market” denies to most employees and ensure that all Americans get health care and social security. We need to ensure that everyone has the food, clothing, and shelter they need even if it reduces the profits of the corporations.
Unfortunately neither Presidential candidate is advocating this… one wants to build walls and one wants to have more “conversations”… We don’t need walls or talk: we need higher taxes at all levels.
Eduardo Porter’s recent article in the NYTimes Economic Scene section champions job training and flags the underfunding our country makes when it comes to job training as compared to our economic counterparts. Using the story of a participant in Per Scholas, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit offering low-income workers training in information technology, Mr. Porter offers evidence like Per Scholas offer a leg up to those who graduate.
As much as I favor the ideas Mr. Porter advances in his article, I fear that he is overselling job training, particularly when he describes those who complete the program as being on “…a career path offering a shot at progress” because she landed an IT job at Barclays. Mr. Porter has presumably noted that “career paths” are few and far between in the workplace and large banks like Barclays are likely to embrace the introduction of technologies that “increase productivity” by eliminating jobs that can be managed remotely by robots. Mr. Porter also presumably understands that corporations who value the bottom line would favor outsourcing IT work to sub-contractors in lower wage foreign countries over paying higher taxes to fund grants to non-profit organizations like Per Scholas. Mr. Porter must realize that bringing programs like Per Scholas to scale— particularly in rural areas and small towns affected by large scale joblessness— is highly unlikely. Last but not least, Mr. Porter must also realize that the biggest challenge to joblessness is the need to create more jobs for those who lack the fundamental skills to gain the IT certifications his exemplary student attained.
I agree with his bottom line, though:
…$6,700 spent to provide one low-wage worker with the skills employers need is a small amount compared with the wage gains she could make in a few years. And there are other savings to keep in mind. More than one-third of workers who entered the WorkAdvance program, for instance, were getting food stamps, which they would not need if they earned more.
Or consider that it costs $31,000, on average, to keep an American in prison for one year. One-quarter of the workers enrolled in the WorkAdvance experiment had a criminal record.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States government spends only 0.03 percent of its gross domestic product on worker training. Denmark, whose policies to bring workers into work have gained praise around the world, spends proportionately almost 18 times as much. France spends 12 times as much; Germany seven times.
Americans’ main problem may not be that there are no solutions for the workers’ plight. It is just easier, not to say more politically rewarding, to scream at the Mexicans and the Chinese.
Maybe one of the candidates running for office will look at the cost-benefit analysis of food stamps and/or prison vs. job training or the economic competitiveness issue implicit in the OECD job training data and conclude that we need to invest more in that area… but instead I expect one candidate “to scream at the Mexicans and the Chinese” while the other candidate sticks to talking points that neglect the underlying problems in our country created by under-taxation and wishful thinking.