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Four Student Presidents at Prestigious Colleges Identify the REAL Admissions Scandal: Inequitably Funded Public Schools

August 13, 2019 Leave a comment

Robert Blake Watson, president of the Undergraduate Students Association Council at UCLA, Trenton Stone, president of the Undergraduate Student Government at USC, Erica Scott, president of the Associated Students of Stanford University, and Kahlil Greene, president of the Yale College Council co-authored an op ed article that was widely published in newspapers across the nation over the past few days. In our local newspaper, the Valley News, it was titled “This is the Real College Admissions Scandal” while the Chicago Tribune titled it “What’s Legal in College Admissions is the Real Scandal“. Both headlines underscore the reality that the general sense that college admissions are based on “merit” is deeply flawed. When one strips away all of the external— test scores, essays, visits, resume-building— college admissions comes down to one factor: money. And when these four student body presidents peel the onion all the way down to the core, they find that money matters most when it comes to funding public schools, and that the property-based funding of public schools is the true scandal in college admissions.

…one of the main mechanisms through which our public schools are funded — property taxes from their local neighborhoods — disadvantages students from low-income areas. High school students at underfunded public schools do not receive the same access to high-quality college prep resources as do their peers at public and private schools in wealthier ZIP codes — resources that are necessary to navigate the increasingly daunting landscape of college admissions.

As students at selective universities, we acknowledge the many ways in which we have personally benefited from this system of privilege. Many of us come from well-resourced parts of the country and were surrounded by people familiar with the college admissions process. As students at selective universities, we acknowledge the many ways in which we have personally benefited from this system of privilege. Many of us come from well-resourced parts of the country and were surrounded by people familiar with the college admissions process. We would not be where we are today without certain opportunities provided to us that other students could not afford, and we want to make sure that this significant injustice is not lost in the sensational headlines about Operation Varsity Blues.

The real scandal is about the millions of kids who will never have an equitable chance in an extremely complex, competitive and costly process.

The college admissions scandal is not confined to a handful of privileged families and institutions. It is embedded in the fabric of the U.S. education system. In a 2017 article for Stanford Politics, “The Aristocracy That Let Me In,” Andrew Granato, a Stanford student, reflected on the ways in which the U.S. has developed a modern-day aristocracy based on the myth of a meritocratic education system. Instead of passing down social status through inherited titles or land holdings, today’s elites are able to provide their children with special resources to prepare them for admission into selective universities, thereby ensuring that they too will enter into America’s top economic tier.

This “secret” is now out in the open thanks to a group of egregiously greedy and manipulative parents who went so far as to photoshop their children’s faces onto pictures of rowers to “prove” they were participants in crew at their high school. Those parents showed the public that the admissions system could be gamed if someone had enough money and, in so doing, enabled writers like the four student body presidents to dig just a little bit deeper, find that they “would not be where we are today without certain opportunities provided to us that other students could not afford“, and bring that core injustice to the attention of as many people as possible.

Their op ed commentary offers several solutions for college admissions offices, solutions that would encourage elite colleges to identify students who are likely to succeed in their programs despite the disadvantages they faced in their high school. And they offer one paragraph on what I have long believed is the primary problem facing public education:

Making our education system a true meritocracy will also require fundamental political and cultural changes outside of individual universities. The way we finance public school districts has to change — using property taxes only serves to reinforce geographic, racial and socioeconomic disparities in education quality. These disparities affect students’ chances of success before they reach middleschool, much less college.

Will anyone listen to four accomplished college students? My answer: they MIGHT if someone running for President echoed this message and amplified it in the months ahead; they MIGHT if anyone running for Governor in a state with inequitable funding (i.e. virtually all the states in the nation) echoed this message and amplified it in the months ahead; they MIGHT if parents and voters in those towns suffering “…geographic, racial and socioeconomic disparities in education quality” echoed this message and amplified it in the months ahead. Absent a groundswell, however, the truth of this article will be forgotten and the myth of the meritocracy will persist. 

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This is America Today: Bullet Proof Backpacks, Retailers’ Active Shooter Drills… and Fear

August 12, 2019 Leave a comment

I read with dismay that the sales of armored backpacks is peaking and that businesses like Walmart– like public schools and churches– are contemplating active shooter drills. This is our country today, where fear outsells hope and open carry laws and “second amendment rights” are more important than the safety of children, consumers, churchgoers, and citizens gathering in public venues.

Are we headed for a time where we will eventually do everything on-line? As schools scare children with realistic active shooter drills, businesses are invaded by open-carry advocates with AK-47s outfitted in body armor, church activities are invaded by gunmen, public events are disrupted by shootings, more and more Americans become convinced that their lives are in peril whenever they set foot outside their homes. And the 2nd amendment advocates are OK with all of this because in their view everyone will be safe when everyone carries a gun and everyone protects their home, presumably with some kind of rapid fire weapon. Those of us who are presumably foolish enough to believe that being armed is unnecessary will be viewed with disdain should we be shot and killed just as a school that fails to offer active shooter drills would be criticized for failing to provide the training needed should they experience one of the regrettably routine school shootings.

And here’s what I find especially troubling: astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was roundly criticized for a tweet he issued pointing out the cold hard fact that statistically speaking gun deaths are relatively rare. He wrote:

In the past 48 hrs, the USA horrifically lost 34 people to mass shootings.

On average, across any 48hrs, we also lose…

500 to Medical errors
300 to the Flu
250 to Suicide
200 to Car Accidents
40 to Homicide via Handgun

Often our emotions respond more to spectacle than to data.

Mr. deGrasse Tyson did not comment on the rationale for his tweet… but I believe he was trying to stem the groundless fears that compel us to overreact to widely reported sensational news stories. For example, if we used the DATA Mr. deGrasse Tyson gathered to set priorities for how schools might address problems that confront students over the course of their lives, we would spend far more on counseling services and health education, and less on security personnel and surveillance gadgetry. We would be examining the sales of handguns as well as the sales of military grade weapons. We would be spending more to ensure that fewer errors are made in the provision of health care. And last, but not least, children would not be living in fear every time they set foot inside of school. Their parents would not be purchasing bulletproof backpacks. And Walmart would not be worried about conducting active shooter drills.

ICE Raids Leave Mississippi Children Homeless

August 8, 2019 Comments off

This USA Today article describes the impact of the ICE raids on the public schools in one Mississippi County. At the end of the article the Superintendent asks how children who are afraid that their parents will be taken away can possibly concentrate on their school work. With thousands of undocumented parents in our nation this is a question many teachers, administrators, and school board members will be asking in the weeks ahead.

apple.news/AH0nu5hxFRyKsuK9P-9tBrw

Upshot Article Oversimplifies “Solution” to Complicated Problem Congress Created

July 31, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article by Upshot writer Kevin Carey written on July 24 titled “It’s Easy to Forget, but a Program to Forgive Student Loans Already Exists“. There are two problems with the article from my perspective.

First, the “program to forgive student loans” is so convoluted that it’s “existence” is arguable. Contrary to the sub-headline that reads, “Democrats are campaigning to fix an issue that is already starting to resolve itself for many teachers and other public servants“, the article describes an issue that desperately needs to be fixed because the laws underpinning it were ill-conceived, allowed only five days for the initial application process, and changed directions several times over the course of time.  

Second, and most importantly, the implementation was botched because Congress failed to provide the funds needed to provide the staff required to make the implementation possible. Here are the most telling paragraphs from Mr. Carey’s article:

“(The borrowers) needed some good advice. Whom would they call? Not the Department of Education, which subcontracts the work of helping borrowers to “loan servicing companies”. Unfortunately, the servicers didn’t prove up to the task.

Loan servicers are paid a flat rate per borrower for processing loan payments and helping people navigate the repayment process. That means that the more time and effort a borrower requires, the less money the servicer makes. Someone who sets up an automatic debit from a checking account and never picks up the phone is a source of profits. Borrowers who need a lot of time-consuming assistance to ensure that their job, their loan and their repayment plan are all eligible for the forgiveness program are a financial liability.

The results were predictable. In June 2017, a few months before the first public servants were (theoretically) eligible for loan forgiveness, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau issued a report describing the many ways loan servicers were messing things up.

This sums up the whole problem with government today: it is understaffed and therefore incapable of functioning effectively. Taxpayers want the government to come up with a FAST, CHEAP solution to complicated problems and to run like a business. As Mr. Carey explains later in the article, when USDOE outsourced their work to “loan servicing companies” they operated like a business and got a FAST and CHEAP “solution” to the complicated problem Congress created… a “solution” that padded the wallets of the “loan servicing companies” but left the borrowers high and dry…. and “proved” that government is the problem. The headline to this should read: “It’s Easy to Forget that an Effective Government Requires Bureaucrats”….

Mr. Carey concludes his article with evidence that more and more borrowers are becoming eligible, and seems to think that since the percentage of approved borrowers has increased the problem is taking care of itself. After reading the article and looking at the daunting amount the government is on the hook for, I’m not confident that there will be sufficient funds available to honor the promises they made to public employees— especially since the current administration is intent on keeping its promises to the billionaires and shareholders who received massive tax breaks.

NYTIMES Editors Provide Hard Data on How Progressive Tax Policy Diminishes Income Inequality.

July 21, 2019 Comments off

This editorial on Illinois efforts to change its tax structure should be embraced by Democrats across the country.

www.nytimes.com/2019/07/20/opinion/sunday/inequality-taxes.html

The Question NEITHER Party Wants to Answer: Why are We Spending $649,000,000 to Subsidize on Fossil Fuel?

July 14, 2019 Comments off

Yesterday I read a CNN headline (that could have appeared in any mainstream media outlet) reporting that Secretary of Treasury Steve Mnuchin is alarmed that the US is experiencing a ballooning deficit. This is not a surprise to anyone who passed basic Economics class.  There is no real world evidence that the trickle down theory of economics, the beloved paradigm of the libertarian wing of the GOP, results in economic growth and lots of real world evidence showing that it inevitably leads to a point where politicians must choose between cuts to government programs or cuts to the safety net.

Today I read a June 12 article by Forbes writer James Ellsmore, an article I wrote about a few weeks ago from a purely educational perspective. Titled “US Spends Ten Times More on Fossil Fuel Subsidies Than Education”, Ellsmore’s article has a clear link to schooling. But upon re-reading the article it is evident that the US is not alone in making this subsidy and underspending on education is the least of the problem:

A new International Monetary Fund (IMF) study shows that USD $5.2 trillion was spent globally on fossil fuel subsidies in 2017. The equivalent of over 6.5% of global GDP of that year, it also represented a half-trillion dollar increase since 2015 when China ($1.4 trillion), the United States ($649 billion) and Russia ($551 billion) were the largest subsidizers.

The largest governments in the world are spending more and more money subsidizing an industry that marketed a de facto drug— fossil fuel— to the world knowing that in doing so it was damaging the planet possibly beyond repair. At the same time, these same nations supported environmental deregulation that enabled these fossil fuel pushers  to pollute the air and waters with impunity while enacting labor “reforms” that stripped workers in all parts of the economy of benefits, suppressed their wages, and prevented them from banding together.

China and Russia are not democracies and never have been. It is not news that their governments are operating at the behest of a small group of oligarchs. The US has been a highly functioning democracy, one that has balanced the needs of consumers and citizens with the needs for profits. But instead of marketing democracy to the world, we are marketing capitalism. We are willing to see China and Russia as “trading partners” in order to ensure that our businesses can “compete in the global marketplace”… and we’ve been willing to bargain away our democracy in order to satisfy the needs of a small group of businessmen who promote expansion of their businesses at the expense of civilization and the health of the planet.

And what would happen if the money spent on fossil fuel subsidies disappeared? Where could that money be spent?

IMF leader Christine Lagarde has noted that the investments made into fossil fuels could be better spent elsewhere, and could have far reaching positive impacts: “There would be more public spending available to build hospitals, to build roads, to build schools and to support education and health for the people. We believe that removing fossil fuel subsidies is the right way to go.

And if what if that money had been spent on subsidies for renewable energy instead of fossil fuel?

Had nations reduced subsidies in a way to create efficient fossil fuel pricing in 2015, the International Monetary Fund believes that it “would have lowered global carbon emissions by 28 percent and fossil fuel air pollution deaths by 46 percent, and increased government revenue by 3.8 percent of GDP.”

So.. why isn’t our country debating these subsidies? The GOP is clearly and unequivocally in support of the status quo in terms of energy use and the Democratic National Committee has declared the topic of climate change as “of limits” in their debates. Why?

Readers can draw their own conclusion. When I am try to answer this question through an optimistic lens, I believe that both political parties are focussed too much on the sacrifices we might have to make as a nation if we shift away from fossil fuel and not emphasizing the opportunities that would be available if we made such a decision. The fossil fuel industry, who wants to maintain the status quo in our energy policies and spending patterns, promotes the notion that any rapid shift away from their products will destabilize the economy and require the imposition of more government regulations and higher taxes on carbon products. Meanwhile, those who want seek to expand the use of renewable energy try to “out-fear” the fossil fuel promoters, emphasizing a future of weather catastrophes and hardship. As long as the arguments are framed in this fashion there is no upside to debating climate change. In my optimistic moments, I want to believe that some Presidential candidate will re-frame the debate and focus on the potential benefits of addressing climate change. The funds that would be available for public spending to build hospitals, to build roads, to build schools and to support education and health for the people, the jobs that would be created if we subsidized renewable energy over fossil fuel, and the clean air and water that would be sustained if we continued enforcing the environmental regulations put in place. When I answer this question through an optimistic lens I believe that given the facts voters will support a shift of our subsidies away from fossil fuel toward renewable energy and democracy will prevail.

When I try to answer this question through a pessimistic lens, though, I believe that both parties are beholden to the fossil fuel donors who have made it abundantly clear that climate change needs to remain off limits in debates and subsidies need to remain in place at all costs– even if those costs are to the well being of the planet. When I try to answer this question through a pessimistic lens, I see that democracy is in peril as well as the planet.

I hope that as voters realize that our country spent $649,000,000 on fossil fuel they might ask leaders in both parties why this is happening and think of ways this money could have been spent elsewhere without raising any taxes whatsoever.

Charter Schools Acknowledge Flaws, Flaws that Prove “No Excuses” Approach to Discipline Fails

July 6, 2019 Comments off

After reading Eliza Shapiro’s article this morning in the NYTimes I came away with the sense that MAYBE the tide is turning against charter schools in NYC and, if so, it could be a harbinger of a shift everywhere. The article’s title, “Why Some of the Country’s Best Urban Schools Face a Reckoning”, is misleading at best. It implies that the charter schools who are facing “a reckoning” are “some of the country’s best urban schools”, which perpetuates the NYTImes narrative that charter schools are better than traditional public schools. The article, though, pulls no punches because the data on charter schools indicted that while many of the charters flagged in the article have trumpeted their successes they have papered over their failures. The first two paragraphs set the stage:

When the charter school movement first burst on to the scene, its founders pledged to transform big urban school districts by offering low-income and minority families something they believed was missing: safe, orderly schools with rigorous academics.

But now, several decades later, as the movement has expanded, questions about whether its leaders were fulfilling their original promise to educate vulnerable children better than neighborhood public schools have mounted.

From there, Ms. Shapiro describes how zero tolerance discipline policies ended up emphasizing conduct at the expense of academics, demonstrates that many of the criticisms leveled against the charter schools were warranted, and indicates that both the Governor of NY and the legislature have resisted any further expansion of charters in NYC because of the deficiencies in the programs. Ms. Shapiro describes the new political reality in this paragraph:

Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat who has been a crucial supporter of charters, declared that the State Legislature would not lift a cap on the number of new charters issued citywide. By halting charter growth indefinitely, Albany lawmakers have begun to erode the schools’ foothold in the country’s biggest school system.

Will the charter’s loosening foothold in Albany and NYC have an impact on their expansion elsewhere? My belief is that it will except in those parts of the country where charters are unapologetically used to segregate children based on race, religion, and wealth…. and as long as Betsy DeVos has her hand on the tiller and neoliberalism reigns in the Democratic party the resegregation and monetization of public schools will continue and charters will be the vehicle for that trend.