Posts Tagged ‘funding equity’

The Foundation Conundrum: Do We Accept Donations That Help Public Schools or Not?

September 21, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week I wrote a post in response to an article written by Lisa Haver in the Philadelphia Inquirer. The post discussed the possibility that some donations from some billionaires might be worthy of consideration despite the fact that they were offered by “unqualified” individuals. The following is a comment I left on Diane Ravitch’s blog in response to her reaction to the same article:

Until we get a change in thinking in our country about the role of government, we are going to be stuck with plutocrats determining where investments should be made in the public good. As this Slate article from 2006 notes (see link below), we’ve been through this before at the turn of the 20th Century… and the result was the construction of libraries in many small towns across America, the donation of lands for several national parks, and the creation of foundations whose funding sources were the result of exploitative practices by plutocrats who short-changed their employees and the government because they believed they had a clearer understanding of the needs of the country. 

I am no fan of the plutocrats… but I am open to the idea that in some cases their intentions are pure (i.e. see the billions Mr. Gates spent to eliminate polio) and am open to the notion that some of their ideas might have merit (i.e. advances in technology, algorithms and brain science that are being exploited by market researchers could be applied to education).

Here’s a conundrum: If billionaires like Ms. Chan and Ms. Jobs are offering additional resources to public education should we reject the money under all circumstances? I don’t have a clear answer… yet… but I do appreciate the libraries Mr. Carnegie provided and the National Parks the Rockefellers gave to our country.

A footnote: to the best of my knowledge no one in the international medical community complained that Bill Gates had no training in medicine and therefore had no business tackling polio… And while it might be possible that his investment portfolio included some stocks in medicine that enriched him, I don’t believe he was driven by the profit motive.


Back to School Means Teachers, Parents Dig Deeper Into Their Pockets… Taxpayers? Not So Much

September 11, 2017 Leave a comment

Philadelphia public school teacher Jan Cohan’s op ed article in described HER back to school shopping list includes basic school supplies and asks parents to accept the reality that THEIR back to school shopping list should include supplies for their children. It wasn’t always so.

When I began teaching in Philadelphia in 1970 the junior high where I worked was on a double shift due to overcrowding, which posed logistical challenges for administrators and teachers alike. As a math teachers I had access to the department’s supply of chalk, paper, its mimeograph machine, textbooks that were appropriate for the grade levels I taught, and the AV equipment needed to teach mathematics: an overhead projector and a box of acetates to use on the projector. That was not all, though. Each teacher on the staff received a stipend they could use to acquire school supplies or instructional support materials of their choice as long as the department head approved. I forget the size of the stipend, but it was sufficiently large that I was able to use it to buy enough paper to put together my own “textbook” that included exercises for my students that matched their abilities, which, sadly, were well below the 8th grade level they were assigned to based on their age.

Throughout my career as a Superintendent, which ended in 2011, the districts I led ensured that teachers had sufficient supplies, though I would not be surprised if some teachers bought supplementary materials out of their own pockets the same way some parents who could afford to bought fancier calculators and tutorial texts for their children. From 1997 on I worked in a relatively affluent districts, which meant that there was no expectation that parents would need to provide basic materials like toilet paper for the bathrooms, tissues for the classroom, or blank paper for the teacher to use to photocopy assignments.

But from 2000 onward, I began to hear anecdotes from my colleagues about shortfalls that resulted in them cutting essentials from their budgets, essentials that led to districts serving children in poverty essentially requiring teaches to dig into their pockets and asking parents to do the same. And since 2008 I am confident the situation has gotten even worse, as inflation adjusted spending for public schools has declined since the so-called Great Recession. Contrast my recollections as a teacher in Philadelphia with this description provided by Ms. Cohan:

In order to adequately educate kids, we have to pick up the slack, spending on average $500 on our classrooms annually.

And first-year teachers spend significantly more. I easily spent a thousand dollars in my first year on basics like pencils and paper and markers, of course, but also on dictionaries, binders, a hole punch, a pencil sharpener, classroom posters (and absurdly expensive lamination), bulletin board borders, crates and bins, and a projector so my students could see all the lessons I prepared.

Because of the limited resources in many schools, it’s common for teachers to ask parents to provide supplies not just for their own children, but supplies like tissues to be shared with the entire class. It’s helpful to the teacher, who otherwise will be spending even more  out of pocket, but community supplies also reinforce sharing and cooperation and give students ownership of their classroom.

Most parents support their children’s teachers and graciously provide these community supplies, but I have to roll my eyes at the parents I’ve seen posting about greedy overpaid teachers having the nerve to ask for some glue sticks and pencils…

My colleagues and I have relied on crowdfunding to make ends meet. Our engineering teacher raised money on DonorsChoose last year to buy a robot kit and enter our students in a robotics competition. We crowdfund to defray the cost of field trips so our kids can experience the world outside the classroom. English teachers raise the money to buy class sets of novels for their students. Science teachers raise money for labs and experiments.

Ms. Cohan has been teaching for six years, which means she has only experienced budgets that shortchange teachers on supplies, fail to provide needed equipment for activities like a robotics, fail to provide “frills” like field trips, and fail to provide essentials like novels for literature classes and materials to perform experiments in science class. Consequently she sees the lack of supplies as an opportunity for students learning the value of “sharing and cooperation” and giving them “ownership of their classroom”. And she also turns to online sources that effectively equate public schools to charities.

I find this acceptance of deficient budgets distressing. Taxpayers of all ages should dig a little deeper in their pockets to “crowd fund” schools so that teachers can focus their time and energy on preparing for classes. If they did so in a spirit of sharing their resources with children in the community they might regain the sense of ownership in their schools that my community experienced when I attended schools in the late 1950s and early 1960s and in the districts I served during my career.


This Just In: Statistics Support Segregation, Inequality In Public Schools

September 10, 2017 Leave a comment

I often write about the trends toward resegregation and inequality, so often I sometimes think that I might be overstating the case for each. But today’s NYTimes article Education by the Numbers by Alice Yin offers hard evidence that, if anything, I might be understating what is transpiring in our public schools. The article features charts showing that students of color are filling our schools more rapidly, that they are attending schools that are increasingly segregated by race, and the schools students of color attend get fewer resources. Unsurprisingly, those schools do worse on achievement tests. In an effort to find something positive to report, Ms. Yin offers this silver lining: “…attendance at specialized high schools in New York almost always leads to on-time graduation, and pre-kindergarten programs have proven to be remarkably beneficial for black children.”

Ms. Yin’s “good news” does nothing to offset the otherwise disheartening findings. Only a small percentage of students of color are accepted into “specialized high schools” and with funding for public schools on the decline one can only wonder how long before recently introduced pre-kindergarten programs fall by the wayside. If evidence mattered, schools serving children of color would be integrated to a greater degree, would receive comparable resources to schools serving white children, and “specialized high schools” would open their doors to more of them. Instead, since some children of color do get into these “elite” schools it is viewed as evidence that any child of color could get in if only they applied themselves and showed sufficient grit. And so the vicious cycle of poverty continues.

North Carolina Legislators Haven’t Looked at the Evidence About For-Profit Schools… And Public Schools are Short-Changed as a Result

September 8, 2017 Leave a comment

An op ed article in today’s Charlotte News-Observer by Keith Posten, president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on public education in NC, describes how the North Carolina Legislature’s decision to expand funding for for-profit charter schools has diminished the opportunities for public education students across the state. His article highlights four broad initiatives that effectively re-directed education funding away from public education: private school vouchers and Education Savings Accounts; for-profit charter school management; so-called “innovative school districts; and on-line virtual schools. Here’s a synopsis from his article:

Private school vouchers. Lawmakers continue pushing the state’s private school voucher program… spending nearly one billion taxpayer dollars (since 2006). They’re doing this despite the fact that these funds go to private schools that aren’t required to tell the public whether they are doing a good job of educating students and to what degree they profit off of the taxpayer at the expense of providing high-quality educational experiences. And coming right behind vouchers are new Education Savings Accounts, similarly unaccountable and likely to drain public coffers at an even faster rate.

For-profit charter school management. Since the General Assembly lifted the charter school cap in 2011, the number of charters has nearly doubled. When charter schools are managed by private, for-profit corporations, taxpayer funds intended for instruction are used to pay hefty management fees that can be as much as 10 percent of the state dollars allocated for the school. Plus there are lucrative facility leasing arrangements, often with landlords intertwined with charter operators. (NOTE: The NYTimes article in my previous post about Michigan schools offers some stunning examples of how these leases benefit the profiteers at the expense of taxpayers) 

NC Innovative School Districts. This concept, where charter operators take over local schools, has largely been a total failure in neighboring Tennessee. Lawmakers say it will go differently here in North Carolina, where low-performing schools will, in theory, be catapulted toward high performance by a charter school operator, likely one that operates for profit. (NOTE: MANY posts describe the failure of charter operators taking over public schools in NJ, PA, OH, MI, etc… )

Online virtual charter schools. We’re in the middle of a four-year pilot program through which we’ve diverted nearly $35 million in taxpayer dollars to two for-profit companies that delivered classes online. Over that time these schools have seen staggering student withdrawal rates as high as 31 percent – only to have the legislature tweak the law to allow them to hide those numbers – and their students’ academic gains have been poor, with each school failing to meet growth and earning overall “D” school performance grades.

These decisions were all made in the face of contradictory evidence. Evidence, though, is immaterial when voters want to find an easy, fast, and inexpensive solution to a complex, longstanding, and costly problem. Mr. Posten, though, sees no end to the NC legislature adopting these ideas. He concludes his op ed piece with this:

Looking to the years ahead, even more public dollars stand to be diverted to private, unaccountable, for-profit education. It’s clear we are turning away from our state’s mission – and constitutional obligation – of providing high quality public schools accessible to all. Without a course correction, our children – and our state’s economy – will suffer.

Like many of us who want to see public education restored to its rightful place as a force for democracy and equity, Mr. Posten offers an economic argument as well as a moral one. The more I examine the issues of racial and economic justice, the more I believe we should lean on the moral argument for equitable funding and equitable housing. Martin Luther King Jr ultimately appealed to the higher angels in a majority of voters who, in turn, supported the civil rights bills and various safety net funding that accompanied the War on Poverty in the 1960s. When we argue for equity in the name of strengthening our economy, we are appealing to the baser instincts in voters which, in turn, make it easier to sell ideas like exposing public goods to the free market. I am convinced that a majority of voters in this country want to see their neighbors succeed, no matter what their neighbors skin color, nationality, or economic background. I hope that more people will speak to that element of our humanity.


In an Evidence Based World, Deregulated Charter Schools Would be Banned. In Our World of Magical Thinking About Free Markets, They Will Expand… and Children Raised in Poverty Will Lose

September 8, 2017 Leave a comment

This weekend the NYTimes publishes its semi-annual Education issue, and the articles from that special supplement have been emerging in the past couple of days indicate that our country is ignoring evidence about the seemingly intractable problems facing our public schools.

The title of one of the articles by Mark Binelli, “Michigan Gambled on Charters. Its Children Lost“, provides a sweeping analysis of the profound failure of deregulated charter schools in Michigan. Sold to the voters as a means of equalizing funding and outcomes in public schools across the state in the early 1990s, deregulated for profit charters have done neither. Funding disparities persist and those districts taken over by the state and managed by the private sector instead of local school boards have not improved the outcomes or opportunities for children. Here are a couple of pieces of evidence Mr. Binelli offered in his article that describe the adverse impact of the vaunted free market after more than two decades:

…a Brookings Institution analysis done this year of national test scores ranked Michigan last among all states when it came to improvements in student proficiency. And a 2016 analysis by the Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education policy and research organization, found that 70 percent of Michigan charters were in the bottom half of the state’s rankings…

The 2016 report by the Education Trust-Midwest noted: Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse. In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state in elementary reading and math achievement to the bottom 10 states. It’s a devastating fall. Indeed, new national assessment data suggest Michigan is witnessing systemic decline across the K-12 spectrum. White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income — it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.

Charters continue to be sold in Michigan as a means of unwinding the inequality of a public-school system in which districts across the state, overwhelmingly African-American — Detroit, Highland Park, Benton Harbor, Muskegon Heights, Flint — grapple with steep population declines, towering financial obligations, deindustrialization and the legacy of segregation. By allowing experimentation, proponents argue, and by breaking the power of teachers’ unions, districts will somehow be able to innovate their way past the crushing underfunding that afflicts majority-minority school districts all around the country. In reality, however, a 2017 Stanford University analysis found that increasing charter-school enrollment in a school district does little to improve achievement gaps. And in unregulated educational sectors like Michigan’s, there’s evidence that charters have actually increased inequality: A 2015 working paper by the Education Policy Institute determined that Michigan’s school-choice policies “powerfully exacerbate the financial pressures of declining-enrollment districts” — and districts with high levels of charter-school penetration, the authors found, have fared worst of all.

So the evidence is in: Michigan’s adoption of a free market model has NOT resulted in greater equity of opportunity and, even worse, has diminished the overall quality of education in all schools in the state. In the face of this evidence, one would expect that policy makers and politicians would abandon the idea that the free-market could solve the problems facing public schools. But instead, we have a Secretary of Education whose family funded politicians who support the “wild west” free market approach and who retains her faith in the free market… and we have a political party who also supports the survival-of-the-fittest approach of the free market over the equal opportunity approach of a “nanny state”.

Mr. Binelli matter-of-factly describes the reality of the problems facing public education in Michigan in this paragraph near the end of his article when he describes Mildred C. Wells Academy, a K-7 charter school in Benton Harbor, a small, poverty stricken district in SW Michigan overseen by the Bay Mills Indian Community, an Ojibwa tribe with over 2,000 members and 5.5 square miles of reservation land located over 300 miles away on Lake Michigan. Here’s the assessment of the school offered by B.M.C.C. charter leader Mickey Parish”

The school’s facilities, a pair of modular buildings, were “very poor,” and the same went for student test scores, though Parish stressed the context: “The level of learning is comparable to that of the local public-school system, which is dismal. So ours is dismal.” B.M.C.C.’s curriculum specialist, Kathy Tassier, pointed to selective testing gains, and suggested that the students had been motivated to “really take ownership for that growth” after learning of another local charter’s slated closure. Tassier meant the remark as a compliment. But inadvertently or not, she’d applied the language of market capitalism, of increasing productivity via brutal Darwinist competition, to a group of K-7 students. They could have been assembly-line workers being warned that the factory would close if the Chinese kept eating their lunch.

And why is the performance dismal? Because Benton Harbor’s students are raised in poverty and not afforded the same opportunities as the children in Bloomfield, an affluent suburb north of Detroit where the public schools are exempt from the brutal Darwinist competition because their taxpayers are able and willing to pay a premium for their schools. And why will the performance remain dismal? Because those in Bloomfield who are able and willing to pay a premium for their schools want to believe that the magic of the marketplace will solve the problem more than “throwing money at it”. Evidently, money thrown at schools in their district makes a difference… but money thrown at schools in other districts doesn’t.


Make School Lunch Great Again? By What Measure? By Whose Standards?

September 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Those who value public education have so many fronts to push back against might overlook one area where push back is crucial: the school lunch programs. And, Kim Severenson’s article in yesterday’s NYTimes indicates, school lunch is as divisive an issue as vouchers! Why? Because one of President Obama’s admirable efforts was an insistence that school lunches offer healthy and nutritious meals for children even if that meant introducing them to fruits and vegetables instead of french fries and pizza. Here’s an excerpt from the article on a speech Secretary of Education Sonny Perdue gave to the annual conference of the School Nutrition Association:

After reminiscing about the cinnamon rolls baked by the lunchroom ladies of his youth, he delivered a rousing defense of school food-service workers who were unhappy with some of the sweeping changes made by the Obama administration. The amounts of fat, sugar and salt were drastically reduced. Portion sizes shrank. Lunch trays had to hold more fruits and vegetables. Snacks and food sold for fund-raising had to be healthier.

“Your dedication and creativity was being stifled,” Mr. Perdue said. “You were forced to focus your attention on strict, inflexible rules handed down from Washington. Even worse, you experienced firsthand that the rules were failing.”

Mr. Perdue then outlined how his department was loosening some of those rules. He finished with a folksy story about a child who asked whether Mr. Perdue could make school lunches great again.

Some in the audience cheered. Some walked out. School food was not going to escape the sharp political divisions that began to simmer in the Obama years and have been laid bare by the election of President Trump.

The debate on food in schools may ultimately be a local one, but the regulations governing the content of free and reduced lunches will dictate the parameters of the debate in a majority of districts across the country, even those where a relatively small percentage of students qualify for free and reduced meals. Having led five different school districts in four different states, I have witnessed several debates at the district and school level. The board deliberations are over three broad issues:

  • Budgets: School boards tend to agree on one issue: as much as possible school lunch programs should be self sufficient. Invariably, self sufficiency is elusive for two reasons: the government subsidies do not cover the costs of the meals and some parents fail to pay for either reduced price or full price meals their children receive. School boards are then forced to debate policies on how to collect these funds, how much they are willing to divert from the operating budget to cover cost overruns, which leads to the second and third areas of debate.
  • A la carte menus: Boards can increase their revenues by offering an array of unhealthy a la carte items, like the “cinnamon rolls baked by the lunchroom ladies“, cookies, fat-laden menu items like french fries and cheeseburgers, and snack foods. These items can be sold at a price that yields a “profit” that can offset the deficits that result from limited government funding and shortfalls due to parents failing to pay their share. This frames the third debate issue.
  • Out-sourcing: There are many private for-profit firms that can operate a school lunch program at a limited or no-cost basis to school district. These firms often do so by supplanting union employees with lower wage workers and buying government approved foodstuffs through large conglomerates at a deeply discounted price. While such operations are more impersonal and offer meals that are arguably less tasty, they do meet the government meal standards and do guarantee a fixed cost or savings to the local school district.

Over the past several years school boards have also become arbiters of issues like whether schools can serve cupcakes for a child’s birthday, whether vending machines offering snacks and sugar-laden soft drinks can be placed in schools, and what kinds of foods and beverages booster clubs and PTAs can sell before, during, and after school hours. Some boards take a complete laissez-faire attitude while others develop detailed policies on the issue.

Ms. Severnson’s article underscores the reality that even though the federal government sets guidelines for meals, what children eat each day is ultimately a local school board’s call… and districts across the nation realize that the meals they provide need to be as nutritious as possible. She writes:

So far, one thing is clear: School-food leaders on both sides of the political spectrum — most of whom are trying to avoid politics altogether — say the Trump administration’s efforts are unlikely to affect what they agree is a powerful and well-established movement to improve school lunches. Since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act took effect in 2010, most of the key players have bought in: food producers, schools and even the children.

That’s why, in part, Mr. Perdue’s comments about local control resonated the loudest: Many districts are already improving school meals without federal intervention.

“All the conversations about school meals have been unnecessarily polarized,” said Diane Pratt-Heavner, a spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association, an advocacy organization that represents 57,000 school-food professionals and counts many of the country’s largest food companies among its supporters. “People in every district are really dedicated to making sure kids are getting the healthiest food possible.”

The NYTimes article offers some detailed insights into the lunch program, and concludes with this paragraph:

The Trump administration has also called for a 21 percent cut to the Department of Agriculture budget, which could severely curtail school food funding and individual programs that pay for new kitchen equipment and fresh, local fruit and vegetables.

Those who support Mr. Trump will undoubtedly be happy that he is offering fewer regulations and more local control. Will their local school boards be happy to absorb a 21% increase in lunch costs? Will they pass the costs along to children by increasing the costs for lunches by asked to pay 21%? Or will they offset the higher costs by offering more “tasty” a la carte meals and snacks or by outsourcing? The downshifting of funding will lead to a downshifting in decision making and, ultimately, a greater disparity in the meals provided for children. That is the fruit of deregulation.

An Examination of Jobs of the Future Shows Little Need for Massive Numbers of College Graduates

September 5, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s Labor Day blog post featured a link to a recent Bureau of Labor spreadsheet that displayed “Occupations with the Most Growth” forecasted between now and 2024, and it doesn’t provide any evidence that the workforce will be requiring more college degreed workers and offers little evidence that the STEM programs are needed to prepare workers of the future.

2014 National Employment Matrix title and code Employment Change, 2014-24 Median annual wage, 2016(1) Percent of
2014 2024 Number Percent Growth
Total, all occupations 150,539.9 160,328.8 9,788.9 6.5 $37,040
Personal care aides 1,768.4 2,226.5 458.1 25.9 $21,920 4.68%
Registered nurses 2,751.0 3,190.3 439.3 16.0 $68,450 4.49%
Home health aides 913.5 1,261.9 348.4 38.1 $22,600 3.56%
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 3,159.7 3,503.2 343.5 10.9 $19,440
Retail salespersons 4,624.9 4,939.1 314.2 6.8 $22,680  
Nursing assistants 1,492.1 1,754.1 262.0 17.6 $26,590 2.68%
Customer service representatives 2,581.8 2,834.8 252.9 9.8 $32,300
Cooks, restaurant 1,109.7 1,268.7 158.9 14.3 $24,140
General and operations managers 2,124.1 2,275.2 151.1 7.1 $99,310 1.54%
Construction laborers 1,159.1 1,306.5 147.4 12.7 $33,430
Accountants and auditors 1,332.7 1,475.1 142.4 10.7 $68,150
Medical assistants 591.3 730.2 138.9 23.5 $31,540 1.42%
Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners 2,360.6 2,496.9 136.3 5.8 $24,190
Software developers, applications 718.4 853.7 135.3 18.8 $100,080 1.38%
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 2,441.3 2,566.4 125.1 5.1 $25,980
First-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers 1,466.1 1,587.3 121.2 8.3 $54,340
Computer systems analysts 567.8 686.3 118.6 20.9 $87,220 1.21%
Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses 719.9 837.2 117.3 16.3 $44,090 1.20%
Maids and housekeeping cleaners 1,457.7 1,569.4 111.7 7.7 $21,820
Medical secretaries 527.6 635.8 108.2 20.5 $33,730 1.11%
Management analysts 758.0 861.4 103.4 13.6 $81,330 1.06%
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers 1,797.7 1,896.4 98.8 5.5 $41,340
Receptionists and information clerks 1,028.6 1,126.3 97.8 9.5 $27,920
Office clerks, general 3,062.5 3,158.2 95.8 3.1 $30,580
Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products 1,453.1 1,546.5 93.4 6.4 $57,140
Stock clerks and order fillers 1,878.1 1,971.1 92.9 4.9 $23,840
Market research analysts and marketing specialists 495.5 587.8 92.3 18.6 $62,560 0.94%
First-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers 890.1 978.6 88.5 9.9 $31,480
Electricians 628.8 714.7 85.9 13.7 $52,720
Maintenance and repair workers, general 1,374.7 1,458.1 83.5 6.1 $36,940

As the chart above indicates, there are only four of the fast growing jobs that clearly require a college degree: registered nurses; software developers, applications; computer systems analysts; and market research analysts and marketing specialists. Combined, these jobs consist of 9.08% of the growth, with more than half of the number of new jobs resulting from the demand for more registered nurses.

And the most distressing news is that the lion’s share of the new jobs are low wage jobs: only four of the high growth jobs have salaries above $80,000 (see bold red rows) and only three others have salaries above $60,000 (see bold green rows). Given the number of jobs that require no college degree, this ending is unsurprising.

What does this mean for public education? It strikes me that instead of focussing on preparing all children for college we should be focussing on preparing more children for the workplace they will be entering by providing them opportunities to enter the workforce earlier if they so desire and we should be focussing more on the medical professions and careers than careers in technology. 20% of the growth in new jobs is in the medical field while only 2.6% is in computer related fields.

In the broader picture, though, it is clear that if we ever hope to restore middle class jobs we need to increase the minimum wage. If the minimum wage for a 40 hour per week job was increased to $15 per hour the average annual wage would be $31,200…. and 11 of the jobs on this list, those in bold, are forecast to earn less than that figure in 2024. How will we ever reduce poverty unless we pay more for the “jobs of the future” that will be needed no matter how much STEM education we provide in schools?