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Good News About Educational Inequality in NYTimes is Not THAT Good: More Work is Needed!

August 27, 2016 Leave a comment

Today’s online NYTimes featured an article by three education professors— 

The enormous gap in academic performance between high- and low-income children has begun to narrow. Children entering kindergarten today are more equally prepared than they were in the late 1990s…From 1998 to 2010, the school readiness gap narrowed by 10 percent in math and 16 percent in reading. The gaps that remain are still vast. But even this modest improvement represents a sharp reversal of the trend over the preceding decades.

OK… that IS an improvement and a reversal of a trend, but, as the article acknowledges later implicitly and explicitly, the change is so small that it is impossible to know what caused it and so small it would take another four generations at least to close it completely. After listing a host of specific programs that might be making a difference in preparing disadvantaged children for Kindergarten, the researchers conclude that poorer parents are mimicking their affluent counterparts by  “…rapidly increasing their investment of both time and money in their children’s cognitive development” and this, combined “…with public investments in home-visiting programs and high-quality preschool programs” has narrowed the gap by the small marginal amount found in their study. While the article has an upbeat title, it ends on a sobering note:

As encouraging as this new evidence is, we have a long way to go. Poor children still enter kindergarten nearly a year behind their richer peers. Even if school readiness gaps continue to narrow at the rate they did between 1998 and 2010, it would take another 60 to 110 years for them to be completely eliminated.

Changes in parenting are not going to be sufficient to sustain or speed this progress, although more paid leave would help. Economic inequality still constrains poor children’s horizons. Low-income and middle-class parents still struggle to find affordable, high-quality preschools. The elementary, middle and high schools that rich and poor students attend differ markedly in resources and quality. And it isn’t clear that the recent reductions in school readiness gaps will automatically translate into greater equality in high school, college and beyond.

My concern is that those who want to avoid investing in public education to avoid higher taxes will seize on the headline and translate the findings of this research into a narrative that makes the acquisition of skills the sole responsibility of the parents… while simultaneously advocating less benefits for the parents and fewer resources for “government schools”. I’ll be on the lookout for such assertions in the future….

Civil Rights Organizations Pushing Back Against “Reformers” Who Advocate For-Profit Charters

August 23, 2016 Leave a comment

After years of reading that “school reform” is rooted in and allied with the civil rights movement, it is heartening to read that three civil rights groups— the NAACP, Black Lives Matter, and the Southern Poverty Center— are pushing back. Sunday’s NYTimes featured an article by Kathy Zernike highlighting the emerging rift between civil rights organizations and the for-profit charter schools they portray as “...the pet project of foundations financed by white billionaires”:

In separate conventions over the past month, the N.A.A.C.P. and the Movement for Black Lives, a group of 50 organizations assembled by Black Lives Matter, passed resolutions declaring that charter schools have exacerbated segregation, especially in the way they select and discipline students.

Instead of standing on the sidelines as charter schools take over public education in urban areas, civil right groups are beginning to see the corrosive effects of charter school cherry-picking on the students left behind in underfunded public schools. As Zernicke notes:

Although charters are supposed to admit students by lottery, some effectively skim the best students from the pool, with enrollment procedures that discourage all but the most motivated parents to apply. Some charters have been known to nudge out their most troubled students.

That, the groups supporting a moratorium say, concentrates the poorest students in public schools that are struggling for resources.

But the NAACP and Black Lives Matter are not alone in their disdain for charter schools. The Clarion-Ledger, a part of the USA Today newspaper chain, reports that the Southern Poverty Law Center is filing a suit against the Mississippi state government to “…strike down the Mississippi Charter School Act” because:

The Mississippi Constitution requires schools to be under the supervision of the state and local boards of education to receive public funding. But under the act, charter schools receive public funding even though they are exempt from the oversight of the state Board of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education and local boards of education.

While only 3% of the state funds currently go to charter schools, those filing the suit know where this train is headed and want to make sure it doesn’t leave the station.

“I sent my children to a public school because I believe in traditional public schools,”Cassandra Overton-Welchlin, a plaintiff in the case and mother of two children enrolled there, said in the news release. “I’m outraged that state and local tax dollars are funding charter schools in a way that threatens the existence of important services, including services for those with special needs, at my child’s school. As a taxpayer, I expect my property tax dollars will be used to support traditional public schools, which educate the vast majority of students in Jackson.”

Here’s hoping these public actions by traditional and new civil rights groups compels “…the pet projects of foundations financed by white billionaires” from making the claim that their efforts to tap into what they call the “potentially profitable public school market” is a civil rights issue!

This Just In: PA Charter Schools Spend MUCH More on Administrative Overhead

August 19, 2016 Leave a comment

After months of FOiA requests, the Pennsylvania School Boards Association (PSBA) finally got some financial information on charter schools that enabled their staff to analyze charter spending vs. public school spending… and the results were astonishing. As Caitlin McCabe reported yesterday in the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Charter-school administrative expenditures are nearly double those of conventional public schools, and their highest-ranking officials are paid far more.

They spend less on instruction than school districts, but more on support services and facilities.

And while charter-school enrollment has jumped significantly over time, payments to the schools are far outpacing their actual rates of growth in admission.

The charter school advocate’s response was both predictable and laughable:

Charter-school advocates have countered that charters provide more choices for families, and can increase learning opportunities and encourage innovation.

“Charter schools are already subject to the same accountability and transparency laws as district schools,” the (Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools) said in a statement. It said that despite some opposition from the school boards association, the legislature has been working to pass legislation that would increase charter school accountability.

The “choice” and “innovation” arguments are based on the false assumption that market forces will yield higher quality and more innovations when all evidence indicates that the driving force behind for-profit charters is, well, profit for shareholders. The “transparency” claim is completely bogus given the efforts PSBA had to make to get clear and concise financial information from charters, 47% of whom did not reply until PSBA filed an appeal with the Office of Open Records and 11% of whom never replied. And that “opposition from school boards association” is based on the fact that the PA legislature is attempting to bundle all education issues into one comprehensive bill. Here’s a statement from the PSBA on the legislation:

 House Bill 530 contains some good provisions, however it also contains provisions that are questionable. Several organizations have reviewed the legislation and we feel it is important to provide a comprehensive review of the entire bill. The sheer size of the measure that attempts to obtain a grand compromise perhaps is a reason for why confusion will continue to arise. This issue would be far better if it could be debated and finalized issue by issue.

As noted in my previous post, maybe it’s time for the Justice Department to intervene and insist that charters conduct themselves in accordance with the same regulations as public schools… but in PA the AG’s office has been as opaque and dysfunctional as the charter schools. A better hope would be for voters to realize where their tax dollars are going and stop the trickle up economics.

Given the Choice, White Parents Seek Schools Serving Affluent Children… Who Are Mostly White

August 16, 2016 1 comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday based on a blog post written by Durham NC educator Rita Rathbone for Education Post, a site that is generally favorable toward charter schools. In the post, Dr. Rathbone describes how charter schools in Durham have desegregated schools over the past decade. Noting that “… researchers at Duke University have pointed out that 20 percent of all charter schools in the state are 90 percent or more White”, Dr. Rathbone provides hard evidence that given the choice, white parents prefer enrolling their children in schools that are predominantly white. The result is that when school choice is introduced schools tend to resegregate. She writes:

Both research and anecdotal evidence tells us that White parents prefer schools where their child will be in the majority, often as a more important factor than school quality. Research by Helen Ladd at Duke University on White parents in the state found that a 20 percent Black population was the threshold that White parents preferred.

In Durham, a district of roughly 45,000 students that is 82% African American, the charter schools have attracted 1200 White students. In her concluding paragraphs Dr. Rathbone describes the challenges the region faces in trying to maintain some semblance of racial and economic justice:

While each student who leaves the district for a charter school takes with them their per-pupil spending, the district has been left with students who are more expensive to educate. In a district with a 30 percent child poverty rate, Durham Public Schools now has a 65 percent free- and reduced-lunch rate as well as higher concentrations of students with disabilities and English-language learners.

In a vicious, self-fulfilling cycle, the exodus of White and middle-class families may cause the district schools to look more like those very schools those families want to avoid. Concentrated poverty and disadvantaged students have impacted school test data and the district faces greater testing pressures.

The future holds even more uncertainty. While area charters still claim long waitlists, insiders express concerns of a charter market over saturation with some new charters failing to meet enrollment goals and charters investing more time and money into recruitment efforts. Area charter teachers also quietly express concern about practices of grade inflation and lack of rigor as charter schools try to keep students and families satisfied.

The intersection of race and school choice is complex. Given the known benefits of school integration for all students, it is time to consider policy approaches that ensure that school choice leads to more integration rather than contributing to more racial and economic isolation in our public schools.

And this accurately describes the conundrum of school choice. Given the choice, White parents and affluent parents want their children to attend schools that educate children like theirs… and this leads to a situation where the children of less engaged and less affluent parents are left behind to struggle in under-resourced schools. If those schools have more resources they might be able to attract and/or retain more white and affluent children… but until more resources are available we will never know… and more resources for public schools, especially in NC, are unlikely in the near future.

Too Poor to Afford the Internet… But Still Expected to Be Ready for the “21st Century Workforce”

August 12, 2016 Leave a comment

Anthony Marx’ NYTimes op ed article, “Too Poor to Afford the Internet”, implies but never states the obvious: how can children who do not have daily access to the internet be expected to be “ready to work”? Virtually all jobs today— even those at fast food chains and Walmarts— require on-line applications and most retail work today requires some kind of fundamental data entry skill. If someone is unfamiliar with keyboarding skills, how can they possibly complete an online application form? And if a school is serving children who don’t have access to a computer at home, how can they use the on-line programs that are increasingly prevalent in schools today? Finally, how can the likes of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg ever hope to expand their base of sales of technology products or use of Facebook if there is a large group of Americans who cannot afford to buy a computer or acquire on-line services? Maybe the tech titans will realize what Henry Ford did: if you want to sell a product you have to make sure the public is paid enough to buy what you are selling. If they did they math on this, they might find it in their interest to get behind ideas like a $15/hour minimum wage or a guaranteed wage for everyone that enable them to have food. clothing, shelter, and access to the tools needed to land a job.

Two For-Profit Charter Myths Undercut: They are NOT Helping Civil Rights OR Supported by Voters

August 11, 2016 Leave a comment

In “How Populism is Rewriting the Charter School Narrative” Jeff Bryant reports on two recent actions that undercut the myths created by “school reformers” who support for-profit charter schools.  The first myth, that for-profit charters are redressing a civil rights issue, was upended when the NAACP recently adopted a resolution calling for “a nationwide “moratorium on the proliferation of privately managed charter schools.” Bryant writes:

The NAACP resolution, which passed at the national convention in July but will not be official until the National Board meeting later this Fall, cites numerous problems posed by charter schools including their tendencies to increase segregation, impose “punitive and exclusionary” discipline policies on students, and foster financial corruption and conflicts of interest.

As one would expect, the reformers did not take this action lying down. The Democrats for Education Reform declared the resolution a “disservice to communities of color” and charter chain owners characterized it as a sell out to teachers’ unions. But as Bryant notes, the NAACP is only one of many civil rights organizations who are questioning the motives and practices of for-profit charter chains:

…the Movement for Black Lives (MBL)– a coalition of over 50 black-led organizations aligned with Black Lives Matter – also is calling for a moratorium on charter schools… Journey for Justice – an alliance of grassroots community, youth, and parent-led organizations in 21 cities across the country – declares in a statement that its constituency of largely African American local activists is “demanding the end of unwarranted expansion of charter schools.” Another voice for civil rights, the Internet-based collective known as Educolor, also issued a general statement in support of the MBL platform.

Why this change? Because there is no evidence supporting the “fact” that for-profit charter chains improve the educational opportunities for students of color and an increasing amount of evidence that indicate they use the very practices that result in higher suspension rates and the criminalization of misconduct.

The second event Bryant cites is the defeat of dark money funded elections in Nashville, where board members supported by parent advocacy groups defeated a slate of candidates funded by “…charter advocacy groups and the local Chamber of Commerce (who) invested many hundreds of thousands of dollars to knock off their opponents and elect a pro-charter majority to the board.”  The pro-“reform” media has been silent about this defeat, but, as Bryant notes in his closing paragraph, they are probably working on a re-boot… but the public MAY be wise to their game:

Of course, charter school propagandists still have plenty of rhetorical arrows in their quiver. But what’s  abundantly clear is that while they’ve been completely free to write the charter school narrative in their own words, now the people are telling their version of the story. And the ending is no doubt going to look way different.

Here’s hoping that these recent development in grassroots organizing are picked up by the mainstream media and as a result the public’s perception is aligned with the actual results of for-profit charters and NOT the story the “charter school propagandists” have sold to them.

This Just In: Government Spending Good For Economy, Well Being of Workers

August 5, 2016 Leave a comment

Eduardo Porter’s weekly column on economics in the NYTimes offered a wealth of evidence debunking the myth that government spending is bad for the economy and offered some indications that the public is beginning to re-think the notion that all government spending is bad. Titled “The Case of More Government Spending and Higher Taxes”, Porter’s op ed article drew heavily on the findings of Jeff Madrick from the Century Foundation, Jon Bakija of Williams College, Lane Kenworthy of the University of California, San Diego, and Peter Lindert of the University of California, Davis — who published a monograph titled “How Big Should Our Government Be?” (University of California Press). The answer? MUCH bigger— and much more costly than it is now! Porter writes:

The scholars laid out four important tasks: improving the economy’s productivity, bolstering workers’ economic security, investing in education to close the opportunity deficit of low-income families, and ensuring that Middle America reaps a larger share of the spoils of growth.

Their strategy includes more investment in the nation’s buckling infrastructure and expanding unemployment and health insurance. It calls for paid sick leave, parental leave and wage insurance for workers who suffer a pay cut when changing jobs. And they argue for more resources for poor families with children and for universal early childhood education.

This agenda won’t come cheap. They propose raising government spending by 10 percentage points of the nation’s gross domestic product ($1.8 trillion in today’s dollars), to bring it to some 48 percent of G.D.P. by 2065.

He then describes how doing this will not decrease GDP, will not diminish the incentive for workers to work harder, and will not slow growth. He does this by offering examples of how Western European countries have spent 10% of the GDP on government spending and remained economically competitive. He also offered this insight into our country’s priorities as compared to those of other developed nations: “Americans took the fruits of their rising productivity in money. Europeans took it in free time.” 

Porter offers data from surveys indicating that most voters are willing to spend more on government funded projects but offers one sobering reality in his otherwise optimistic outlook— racism:

Americans have long been more suspicious of a big, centralized government than Europeans have been, of course. But in recent decades, the nation’s difficult racial divide has played a crucial role in checking the growth of public services. It is much easier to build support for the welfare state when taxpayers identify with beneficiaries. In multifarious America, race and other ethnic barriers stood in the way.

The American government pretty much stopped growing when the civil rights movement forced whites to share public space with blacks. Tax revenue as a share of the nation’s economic output hit a peak in 1969 that it would not attain again until 1996, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

An examination of our drug policies offers an example of how identity with victims plays a role in our perceptions: Taxpayers didn’t identify with crack users but DO identify with opiod abusers, and so we are now looking at drug abuse as a disease and not a moral failing. Taxpayers who felt that the inability of welfare beneficiaries to get work was a sign of laziness are now seeing that meaningful employment is elusive even for those with college degrees and are more open to some kind of government intervention. We had to hit bottom… but now that we have, MAYBE better days are ahead!