“Watchdogs that don’t bark” Mislead Students, Add to Loan Defaults, Rip-Off Taxpayers, Reward Shareholders
A New York Times article by Patricia Cohen describes an ongoing scam in the issuance of student loans that has an eerie resemblance to the scams that led to the meltdown of banks in 2008. Here’s the way it works: a bunch of shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions get together and create an accrediting agency whose “seal of approval” the pro-privatization US Education Department accepts as evidence that an institution is providing a quality education. The Department’s acceptance means that students attending the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institution can receive student loans from the US Government. A deregulation minded Congress supports this cycle of corruption because the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions make campaign contributions to them and, in addition to favoring deregulation, they love the idea of privatization.
But here’s where the problem occur: the students who receive loans to these shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions do not get a good education and they are unable to pay back their loans. In the meantime, the government has guaranteed the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions that they will be paid in full. So… where does the money to the the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions come from? If you guessed “the taxpayers” you win a higher deficit that your grandchildren will pay for. If you guessed the shareholders of the shady for-profit post-secondary educational institutions you must also believe in trickle down economics and maybe even unicorns.
Neuroscience Demonstrating What We Already Know: Poverty Impacts Learning and Early Intervention is Essential
A cover story by Mike Kemp in Newsweek earlier this month reported on the findings of neuroscience researchers in CA who found that “…children with parents who had lower incomes had reduced brain surface areas in comparison to children from families bringing home $150,000 or more a year.” Given that test results have manifested this for decades, the results are unsurprising. But here’s what researchers MAY be able to impress on policy-makers IF the policy-makers are swayed by science:
“We have [long] known about the social class differences in health and learning outcomes,” says Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. But neuroscience has now linked the environment, behavior and brain activity—and that could lead to a stunning overhaul of both educational and social policies, like rethinking Head Start–style programs that have traditionally emphasized early literacy. New approaches, he says, could focus on social and emotional development as well, since science now tells us that relationships and interactions with the environment sculpt the areas of the brain that control behavior (like the ability to concentrate), which also can affect academic achievement (like learning to read). “We are living in a revolution in biology now,” Shonkoff says, one in which new findings are finally giving us a real understanding of the interaction between nature and nurture.
For decades educators have attempted to offset the effects of poverty by immersing disadvantaged children with books and manipulative and engaging them in intellectual activities analogous to those that more affluent children experience on a daily basis. But researchers are finding that the intellectual stimulation is less important that the social and emotional stimulation. After recounting the trend toward oversimplification of the research findings, Mike Kemp concludes with this potential means of addressing the impacts of poverty on the development of a child’s brain:
Schools could add social and emotional learning courses to their elementary through high school curricula, designed to help children recognize and pay attention to their feelings, especially while coping with trauma and stress. Such courses could become requirements, like reading and math. That would require a massive re-evaluation of the priorities of our educational and development institutions—and some way of funding any new programs and tools deemed necessary.
Getting that to happen could take the kind of power wielded by Congress, local governments, school boards or the U.S. legal system. In 2013, Clancy Blair of the New York University Neuroscience and Education Lab, led a study that found the time a child spent in poverty, and in a household filled with chaos, was significantly related to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Blair says similar findings could be leveraged the way research in the past linked detrimental health outcomes to tobacco, sugar-filled drinks and junk food, and ultimately changed policies and regulation of those industries. Similarly, findings like those in Blair’s study could be used support legislation or even a landmark lawsuit targeting overcrowded living conditions, or unaffordable housing and child care.
Other systems that reinforce the cycle of poverty—inferior schools and community infrastructure; poorly protected neighborhoods and unchecked child abuse; environmental pollution; or lack of health care, public transportation and green space—could face legal challenges or new laws.
As one who is swayed by research findings and who believes that public education can make a difference, I would readily support any legislation that addressed the findings of researchers like Clancy Blair. But as one who witnesses legislators who deny climate change, who demonize teachers instead of making investments of any kind in public schools, and who want cheap, fast, and easy fixes to the complicated problems cited in this article, I fear that nothing will happen…. and the results of doing nothing will be an increase in the kind of heartless children like those described at the beginning of the article: ones who can witness a videotape of Malala Yousafzai and feel “nothing”. If we spend nothing on the improvement of social development we will get children who feel nothing.
Over the past several weeks, the daily Google Alerts on Education I receive have included multiple articles on the devastating cuts the Oklahoma State legislature made to public education. Several, like this one from earlier last week, described imaginative partnerships between schools and businesses that provide some funds to plug the gap. While I have long been an advocate of public schools forgoing partnerships with businesses and other social service agencies, the mathematically reality is that gambits like the one developed between TTCU The Credit Union and the Union Public schools can only work for the short term, do not begin to fill the gaps created by State level cuts, and have a dis-equalizing effect on public school funding.
While the $105,000 raised for the Union School district by TTCU The Credit Union is helpful, it is only 2% of the funds lost due to budget cuts. In short, that amount of money cannot begin to restore the loss of $5.2 million in State funds that resulted in the elimination of 48 positions for the 2016-17 school year, including 25 teachers and 19 support workers. Moreover, since there is no assurance the same level of funds will be available in the next fiscal year it would be imprudent to use it to hire staff. It’s a short term fix for a problem that will remain for decades unless the budget is increased.
The biggest problem I find with this is the fact that the funds depend on credit card spending by parents. There are many students raised in poverty whose parents do not have swipe cards because they cannot deposit sufficient funds in the back to secure those cards. For districts serving parents who live paycheck-to-paycheck raising money with swipe cards is an impossibility.
Near the end of the article, Tim Lyons, CEO and president of TTCU, is quoted as follows:
“TTCU has been serving schools for more than 80 years. We were concerned about how the education funding crisis was impacting schools, and we wanted to do something about it. We’re grateful to be able to help.”
Mr. Lyons short term assistance to districts like Union is commendable. Here’s my hope: when the next election for State legislators takes place and/or the next budget is reviewed in Oklahoma City, I hope that he will band together with other businessmen to get the broad-based taxes in place to restore funding to public schools in his state.
In their Room for Debate section of the editorial page, the NYTimes posed the question “Is School Reform Hopeless” and got some promising answers. First and foremost, the respondents did not define “reform” using the now-traditional metrics of higher test scores.
Prudence Carter explicitly calls out the methods we currently use to define “success” and goes to heart of the matter:
Generally, (poor and low income) students (are) shortchanged by an emphasis on narrow metrics of student and school success. Many officials desire simple, low-cost solutions for deeply rooted, complex problems. But school success doesn’t come cheaply. Affluent communities and the most successful poor communities know this.
Later in her three paragraph synopsis she cites “…the importance of wraparound services like health care, meals, shelter for homeless youth and support for parents needing skills to obtain jobs paying livable wages” and emphasizes that:
Those struggling with poverty and family instability cannot be expected to succeed at the same rate, on average, as those who will never know hunger and who have little to no exposure to unemployment, homelessness and/or other stresses.
Elaine Weiss criticizes the over-emphasis on the role of teachers, analogizing teachers in poorly maintained schools to surgeons in poorly equipped hospitals:
Like surgeons operating in isolated field hospitals that are short on antibiotics and staff, teachers in some of our toughest schools are trying to keep their patients (students) healthy (learning) in the face of overwhelming odds. If we want to turn around failing schools, we need to get rid of atrocious conditions in too many of them – stiflingly hot classrooms, collapsing ceilings, poisoned drinking water.
Other writers decried the top-down approaches (Robin Lake), called for more services for ELL students, who comprise a large proportion of underserved students (Carola Suarez-Orozco), recommended replicating the methods used in schools that successfully meet the needs of students raised in poverty (Ronald Ferguson), and the need for site-based leaders to make their own decisions on how best to spend the funds they are given (Marguerite Roza).
Here’s what I found to be noteworthy: NONE of the writers who saw a hopeful way forward for school reform recommended a one-size-fits-all solution. They all recognized that insufficient funding was the root cause of the deficiency and all implicitly or explicitly noted that using tests as the basis for measuring school effectiveness was flawed. Maybe more articles like these will restore the true meaning of the term “school reform” and help more people realize what affluent communities already know: school success doesn’t come cheaply.
Jamie Duffy’s Fort Wayne Journal Gazette story on parent Diane Gibson illustrates how one parent can make a difference in the ethos of an entire school district and how one set of parents can help their children succeed in public schools no matter what their racial and socio-economic demographics. A former homeschool parent, Ms. Gibson made a major shift in her thinking about public schools and about her community. Mr. Duffy writes:
“We were always anti-public school,” said Gibson who went to schools in the New Haven attendance area and graduated from New Haven High School. Her husband, Tom, attended St. Charles Borromeo Roman Catholic school before graduating from Snider High School.
But then something changed.
“I really feel like God had other plans for us,” Gibson said. “(We really felt) to stay in the community, we needed to be fully into it and, for us, that was to put our kids in the school here.”
That also meant as a white family with children attending Southwick Elementary School, Prince Chapman and Harding Jr.-Sr. High School, they were in the minority.
“We were very much in the minority. The number I remember was 9 percent white,” Gibson said. “For us, we really loved that, being a minority. We really looked at that more as a great opportunity for our kids,” and as a benefit “where they are exposed to a lot of different cultures.” The community is black and increasingly Burmese.
Huzzahs to the Gibson family for acting on their values and huzzahs to the Journal Gazette for profiling this family. If we want public education to be seen as a means of providing equal opportunity for all children we need to show families like the Gibsons that their children will experience success even if they are in the minority and seeing their minority status as “…a great opportunity for our kids”. For decades I’ve read stories about white flight and the unwillingness of whites to reside in neighborhoods where their children might be enrolled in schools where they would find themselves in the minority. If we read more success stories like these we might have less white flight and re-integrated schools.
Trump’s Education Plan: Use “Redirected” Federal Funds to Get Poor Children Out of “Failing Government Schools”
Like most progressive minded educators, I was distressed that neoliberal Hillary Clinton won the Democrat nomination for President given her embrace of charter schools and the “reform” movement that unpinned NCLB, RTTT, and now ESSA. But after reading the downright scary “detailed plan” for public education on the Trump-Pence web page there is no doubt that Ms. Clinton would get my vote. The Trump-Pence “New American Future” plan is a privatizer’s dream. Here’s the opening salvo from his policy speech on public education:
Our campaign represents the long-awaited chance to break with the bitter failures of the past, and to embrace a New American Future.
There is no failed policy more in need of urgent change than our government-run education monopoly.
The Democratic Party has trapped millions of African-American and Hispanic youth in failing government schools that deny them the opportunity to join the ladder of American success.
It is time to break-up that monopoly.
I want every single inner city child in America who is today trapped in a failing school to have the freedom – the civil right – to attend the school of their choice. This includes private schools, traditional public schools, magnet schools and charter schools which must be included in any definition of school choice.
Our government spends more than enough money to easily pay for this initiative – with billions left over. It’s simply a matter of putting students first, not the education bureaucracy.
The “government school monopoly” meme is a favorite of Tea Party Republicans, who favor vouchers as a means of providing “choice”… but not COMPLETE choice. A child raised in Philadelphia, for example, couldn’t use his or her voucher to attend a school in Lower Merion because even if the voucher covered the child’s total per pupil cost it wouldn’t be sufficient to cover the expenses. Moreover the Lower Merion Schools couldn’t absorb the children even if they could pay. So… where could these children “choose” to attend? In Mr. Trump’s world they could enroll in ANY “…public, private or religious school of their choice.”
And where would the money come from?
My first budget will immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice. This will be done by reprioritizing existing federal dollars.
Specifically, my plan will use $20 billion of existing federal dollars to establish a block grant for the 11 million school age kids living in poverty.
We will give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend. Distribution of this grant will favor states that have private school choice and charter laws, encouraging them to participate.
Can anyone say portability? But wait! There’s more! Mr. Trump was making this announcement for his bold initiative for voice from a charter school in Ohio that was one of hundreds in the state that was deemed to be “failing” based on the State standards… and in that venue Mr. Trump went on to say:
A state like Ohio will benefit greatly from these new funds. Ohio is a leader in school choice. Ohio has 5 private school choice programs that serve over 30,000 students, and 384 charter schools serving 123,844 students.
Mr. Trumps advisors might have looked at some of these reports before touting Ohio’s charter experience… especially the on-line charters that scammed taxpayers out of millions of dollars.
But wait again! Mr. Trump is finished with offering re-hashes of bad ideas! He wants to provide teachers with… MERIT PAY! And… he’s going to add millions of jobs by lifting “…restrictions on the production of American energy (that) will not only make home energy bills cheaper, but (also) add an estimated half a million jobs per year” and by deregulation.
In the final analysis Mr. Trump’s detailed education plan is a regurgitation of Milton Friedman’s theories and those of the “reformers”: he sees education as a product to be sold like his steaks, airlines, and casinos… and if he is elected the schools he is selling will be as bankrupt as his business ventures.
The NYTimes features an article— or more accurately a photo montage— by Angie Smith that pictures a dozen or so refugees who settled in Boise ID in various typical scenes of HS: proms, cafeterias, soccer sidelines, graduations, and with their families. The captions under each picture matter-of-factly describe their personal histories, their reasons for leaving their homelands, and the circumstances they currently find themselves. Having grown up in a small town in Chester County PA I couldn’t help but compare the lives of these teenagers to my life and the lives of teenagers I knew. No one I knew growing up had their families slaughtered or experienced death threats because of their families religious convictions or because their parents worked for the government. No one I knew growing up spent years living in a refugee camp without their parents. These teens all have heroic stories and all of them are finding their way in the world despite the extreme adversity they faced as children.
Boise ID comes across as heroic as well. One quote describing Boise’s acceptance of refugees was especially thought provoking:
Boise has been resettling displaced persons since 1975, when Idaho answered President Gerald R. Ford’s call to states to take in 130,000 Southeast Asians taking flight in the aftermath of the Vietnam War.
In 1975 we had a Republican President who urged our country to take in 130,000 refugees from a country we unsettled as a result of our intervention…. but today we can’t get an agreement to accept more than 10,000 from the war town Middle East where our invasion of Iraq resulted in wars across the sub-Continent? If a small city in Idaho can absorb 1300 refugees— or roughly 5% of their total population— I have to believe schools across our country could take in a similar percentage.