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Posts Tagged ‘Economic Issues’

NYTimes Report on Mike Pence’s Education Record is Appalling!

July 20, 2016 Leave a comment

Kate Zernicke’s article in todays NYTimes describing Mike Pence’s record as a Governor is appallingly inaccurate and unfair. Misleadingly titled “Mike Pence’s Record on Education is One of Turmoil and Mixed Results”, the article describes only turmoil and no positive results for children whatsoever, unless you count the passage of a $15 million dollar preschool program serving a handful of poor children in five counties as “positive”. Worse, instead of seeking quotes from the large number of voters who supported Glenda Ritz, the “anti-reform” candidate who defeated Tony Bennett, his favored candidate for State Superintendent, the Times got quotes from Joy Pullmann, described as “...an education research fellow with the libertarian Heartland Institute“, an organization funded by anti-environmentalists who staunchly oppose public funding for anything and favor Milton Friedman’s magical market solutions for everything. Thus, instead of criticisms of how poorly charters perform, how Mr. Bennett was involved in a financial scandal involving charter schools, and how students raised in poverty are woefully underserved in Indiana readers got complaints about “the fact” that charters are over-regulated because they are required to administer the same tests as public schools, that insufficient public funds are going into the pockets of profiteers and religiously affiliated schools, and that he ultimately accepted the “strings” attached to an $80,000,000 federal grant that would nearly quadruple the funding for pre-school.

Pence’s policies, which are those of the ultra-right reformers, failed children attending public schools in the state pushing more and more middle class students out and starving the poor children who remained. To state otherwise is misleading and dishonest… but since the Times seems to have bought into the basic premise of the “soft reformers” like those endorsed by the presumptive Democrat candidate, they seem reluctant to point out where the privatization “solution” offered by reformers will ultimately lead.

And here’s whats even worse: Pence would be one of those who would champion ESSA since it gives more control to States and loosens the federal “strings” that require things like supplement-vs-supplant. As one who hoped for a robust debate on privatized deregulated schools and the federal role on education I am saddened to see that this will not be on either party’s agenda for the coming months… and even sadder for the children raised in poverty who’ll be neglected as a result.

Three Year Turnaround Timetable Unrealistic, Underscores Inherent Flaws in “Reform”

July 19, 2016 Leave a comment

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.

Fordham Foundation Finds Flaws in Ohio’s Voucher Program

July 17, 2016 Leave a comment

Last week the Columbus Dispatch released a story that reported on the findings of a Fordham Foundation study:

…according to new study that found many students who used vouchers to attend private schools fared worse on state reading and math tests compared with their peers in public schools.

Chad Aldis, vice president for Ohio policy and advocacy at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which commissioned the report and supports vouchers, called the results “disappointing,” but he cautioned that researchers looked at a limited number of students and raised questions that warrant further exploration…

In an effort to make lemonade out of the “disappointing” findings, Mr. Aldis offered this preposterous conclusion:

The report also found “modest” improvements in achievement among public school students who were eligible for a voucher but declined to use one, suggesting competition created by the program might have spurred improvements in the public schools.

“For years, voucher critics have argued that students staying in public schools were hurt by voucher programs,” Aldis said. “It’s heartening to see that healthy competition can improve achievement.”

“Healthy competition” had nothing to do with the disparity. In fact the “modest improvements” experienced by the students who remained in public schools is even more astonishing given that during the time the study was underway per pupil spending on public schools declined by 6.8%!

Maybe it’s time for the Fordham Foundation and other conservative think tanks to look at the results of voucher programs in urban areas and determine that they have made no difference whatsoever. At the same time, they might look at the impact supplemental services make in schools serving children raised in poverty and conclude that more spending in those areas might be worthwhile.

Charles Blow Speaks the Truth on Racism: We ALL Own the Problem Because We Refuse to Raise Taxes

July 14, 2016 Leave a comment

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.

Job Training Expensive? Not Compared to Food Stamps or Prison.

July 9, 2016 Leave a comment

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.  

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Economic and Racial Desegregation in NYC: One Area Where Incrementalism Makes Sense

July 6, 2016 1 comment

As one who believes that racial and socio-economic desegregation are needed for schools to succeed, and one who is extremely disappointed in the direction our schools are headed in this regard, I was heartened to read Elizabeth Harris’ article in today’s NYTimes on the small bore grassroots efforts underway in NYC to change the demographics in city schools. Ms. Harris’ article is not as derisive as it’s headline,”Small Steps But No Major Push to Integrate New York’s Schools”. Instead of decrying the lack of a “major push”, Ms. Harris offers a rationale for the way Chancellor Farina and Mayor de Blasio are approaching the issue of economic and racial diversity. Given the hand they were both dealt, over a decade of school choice and zoning policies that promote gentrification and a disproportionate number of economically disadvantaged children in public schools, Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio are using small bore “controlled choice” and “affordable housing” initiatives. In an early paragraph Ms. Harris describes the “givens” in NYC public education:

In a system in which about 75 percent of students are poor and nearly 70 percent are black or Hispanic, these efforts depend on some degree of local socioeconomic diversity. In gentrifying sections of Brooklyn, rich and poor live near one another, as they do in parts of Manhattan where public housing projects are next to expensive apartment buildings. But in most city school districts, where poor children live near other poor children, no such diversity exists. There, meaningful integration would require major intervention. 

Some politicians, particularly those representing sections of town where gentrification has not occurred, want the kind of major intervention needed to ensure “meaningful integration”. But “major intervention, like bussing children from, say, Park Slope or the Upper East Side to the Bronx or unilaterally redrawing district attendance zones to force 75-25 splits in demographics, will not achieve the kind of “meaningful integration” desired by pragmatic progressives like Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio.

It took 12 years for Mayor Bloomberg to institute the convoluted school-choice system in place and he did it incrementally and persistently. If Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio are given the same amount of time, it is conceivable that they can use “choice” and “affordable housing” to achieve “meaningful integration” to increase the opportunities for all children in the district, particularly if they receive the finding they need to provide wraparound services to the neediest children in the city.

And here is one point that Ms. Harris failed to acknowledge: unlike their predecessor, both Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio have identified diversity as necessary and good and both leaders are taking steps to increase diversity as a result. Instead of blaming teachers and unions for the “failure” of public schools, they are implicitly acknowledging that the environment of children plays a role in their success and improvement of schools requires an overall improvement in the quality of life for ALL children in the city. Here’s hoping Ms. Farina and Mr. de Blasio stay the course and get the funding they need to move forward.

Unpaid Internships Reinforce Inequality: Cooperative Work-Study Programs Do Not

July 5, 2016 Leave a comment

“Breaking a Cycle that Allows Privilege to go to Privilege”, Ford Foundation President Darren Walker’s op ed piece in today’s NYTimes, opens with this assertion:

TALENT is equally distributed, but opportunity is not. And while many Americans believe fervently and faithfully in expanding opportunity, America’s internship-industrial complex does just the opposite.

The article describes the current unpaid internship-industrial-complex as one that favors affluent students with connections over those who are outsiders since only affluent students can afford to work for free. As a result, “…some students take a summer job in food service to pay the bills, (while) others can afford to accept unpaid jobs at high-profile organizations, setting them on a more lucrative path.”

To address this problem, Mr. Walker suggests the government underwrite funding to promote an increase in paid internships. I have a different idea: the government should encourage businesses to expand cooperative work-study programs and increase the compensation for students already enrolled in those programs. As a co-op student at Drexel University in the late 1960s I was able to earn enough money in my six month stints as a trainee to cover my college costs and make a determination that I did not want to work in the private sector. The two major companies that I worked for also benefitted from my work experience. I was assigned tasks that would have otherwise been deferred or required the hiring of another fully compensated employee and had an opportunity to recruit me if they believed I possessed the talent and work ethic they valued in their employees.

Cooperative work-study programs would also shift the burden for job training back to the corporations where they once belonged. At the time I entered college, my father worked for a major corporation in their training department– a job that was outsourced by the time he retired presumably because it was deemed outside the scope of the corporation’s responsibility and/or did not “add value” to the bottom line of the company. The value of corporate training is intangible but important. When new employees, sales staff and managers were trained together within an organization it helped build esprit de corps and helped individuals develop an allegiance to the company they worked for. When profit is the sole driving force, however, issues like “esprit de corps” and “allegiance” are immaterial.

And it is the intense and relentless focus on the bottom line that is the problem here. Neither the Ford Motor Company nor Mobil Oil, the corporations I worked for, can “afford to pay” interns or co-op students enough to cover their college costs because these costs do nothing to help the bottom line of their institutions. Moreover if they spend valuable resources on co-op students like me who ultimately decide to work elsewhere they are effectively using scarce training resources for someone else’s benefit… and that “someone else” could well be a competitor!

Both Mr. Walker’s idea and mine are predicated on a shift in the corporate ethos away from profit toward the common good. In an ideal world this would be commonsensical. But for now we are trapped in a world where individual corporate profit is more important than the commonwealth.