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.
David Kirp’s Fixes column in today’s NYTimes describes an intervention used at a college that halved the failure rate of Freshman “students from disadvantaged backgrounds”. As part of their orientation to college, these incoming students were asked to either read “…upperclassmen’s accounts of how they navigated the shoals of university life” or “…were introduced to research online showing that intelligence isn’t a static trait or the luck of the genetic draw, but can grow through hard work.” My reaction: if this works for college freshmen who have been subjected to years of schooling, imagine how influential this might be for Kindergarten students whose parents struggled in school, parents who were repeatedly given the message that they were failures, and parents who unwittingly transferred that message to their children. And if these messages can’t be absorbed by Kindergartener’s through reading or self-directed study, maybe successful “graduates” from their elementary school could visit class and explain “…how they navigated the shoals of elementary school life” or a visit from a respected community member who would explain that “… intelligence isn’t a static trait or the luck of the genetic draw, but can grow through hard work.” And maybe the teachers and administrators in the school would learn something from the show-and-tell activities like this as well.
Crude But Accurate Tweet Rant Captures Conundrum of Towns Left Behind… and the Need to Change “The School Game”
Chris Arnade, a Ph.D. physicist who worked on Wall Street for 20 years spent three years traveling around our country to places most people never see… and he came away frustrated at what he witnessed and full of insights about poverty. In a succession of 29 tweets, Arnade describes the major conundrum faced by those who find themselves stuck in towns with no future. Noting that “the elites” advise those who reside in factory towns where the factory is no more to move. But as Arnade observes, that is easy advice in the abstract but often impossible in the real world. In a tweet he rebuts that notion:
Move where? Moving is giving up on one of the few things they have. Their family. Their roots. Some also can’t move. Because obligations… Because moving means competing on a playing field built by the elites primarily for the elites… It means assuming another set of values…
Sure. Some will move. Some should move. Primarily the younger folks who buy into the system. Get an education. Get out….For the rest. Those not great at playing the school game. Those who place value on more nebulous things than $s.
Sh** will keep sucking
As one of the “elites” derided in Arnade’s rant I think he’s onto something. If you can’t “play the school game” or value “family and roots” or have “obligations” of one form or another, then moving out of a city, town, or backwater with no economic future is out of the question. And as things are set up now, to succeed at “playing the school game” often does mean assuming another set of values, and those are often values that place one in an uncomfortable and/or untenable position with regard to family and friends.
There IS a way out of this, though, and that is to change the rules of the school game to honor and accept those who place a higher value on “family and roots” and adapt to those who don’t strive exclusively after money. Maybe instead of seeking compliance with norms as defined by those who are good at the school game we talk to those in the community who are good at the LIFE game and adapt schooling to meet their standards.
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.
Free and Reduced Lunch Eligibility is a Misleading Metric… and it Masks the Widening Inequality in Schools
Today’s NYTimes has an op ed article by Susan Dynarsky describing the flaws with our country’s current metric for measuring poverty in schools: free and reduce lunch counts. And the biggest flaw of all, according to Ms. Dynarsky, is that it’s use understates the widening gap between children raised in persistent poverty and those who qualify for free and reduced lunches off an on. She describes the parameters for subsidized school as follows:
Nearly half of students nationwide are eligible for a subsidized meal in school. Children whose families earn less than 185 percent of the poverty threshold are eligible for a reduced-price lunch, while those below 130 percent get a free lunch. For a family of four, the cutoffs are $32,000 for a free lunch and $45,000 for a reduced-price one. By way of comparison, median household income in the United States was about $54,000 in 2014.
Then, using data from Michigan she examined the student performance on tests more closely and determined that “...the achievement gap between persistently disadvantaged children— those who qualified for free and reduced lunch throughout their elementary school years– and those who were never disadvantaged is about a third larger than the gap that is typically measured.” Dynarski found that by eight grade these persistently poor children were three grade levels behind their peers… and on closer examination she found that they almost consistently begin Kindergarten behind their peers and, worse yet from a policy perspective, the persistently poor could be identified very early.
When we look back on the early childhood of persistently disadvantaged eighth graders, we see that by kindergarten they were already far poorer than their classmates.
We can see this with national data. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, run by the Department of Education, tracks a sample of children who started kindergarten in 1998. Among children who were eligible for subsidized meals through eighth grade, household income during kindergarten was just $20,000. For those who were only occasionally eligible, it was closer to $47,000, and for those never eligible, $80,000.
Is it any surprise that a child whose household earnings are four times as much as another child has a better background entering school? And is it even less surprising when you examine these data?
These data also show that persistently disadvantaged children are far less likely than other students to live with two parents or have a college-educated mother or father. Just 2 percent of persistently disadvantaged children have a parent with a college degree, compared with 24 percent of the occasionally disadvantaged (and 57 percent of those who were never disadvantaged).
Instead of using free and reduced parameters, which were chosen decades ago when granular data was more difficult (and expensive) to gather, Ms. Dynarsky suggests we use “…administrative data on eligibility for means-tested programs such as welfare benefits and food stamps”, data that can “…distinguish between children who are extremely poor and those who are nearly middle class.” By doing so it would be possible to identify the children whose families are the neediest of all and direct more resources to the schools that serve them.
Alas, Ms. Dynarsky works in academia where such obvious data-driven decisions are self-evident and seemingly easy to implement… But here’s the practical reality: to give more to the neediest would either require raising more money for schools (clearly the best solution but just as clearly a non-strarter) or re-directing money from marginally deprived children to those who are neediest: a zero-sum game that is the optimal use of scarce resources but also a non-starter. So we’re stuck where we are until some political leader is willing to speak the truth to voters about public education: money matters and we need more if we hope to restore equal opportunities in our country.
In an op ed piece for Newsweek writer Maryanne Kane argues that public schools should start before age five in order to provide children with the basic skills they need to succeed in the subsequent grade levels. To make her case, Ms. Kane analogizes public education to a car:
Imagine a car sitting in your driveway—without tires. You love this car and continue to improve upon the exterior with new head lights, tinted glass, shiny chrome, a paint job. You continue to improve upon the interior with a state-of-the-art sound system, complete with GPS navigation and Siri. The engine, of course, is efficient, saves on gas, and is environmentally friendly. People in the neighborhood stop by often. Some neighbors are harshly critical, declaring your work has no value. Some neighbors are in awe of your continual, never ending dedication and attention to this car. But guess what? Other than simply looking good, without tires, your beloved car is going nowhere. You can continue to pour hundreds and hundreds of dollars into improving the look, but without tires, your efforts are unproductive.
Of course, it is obvious, a car without tires goes nowhere. What is not so obvious is the following analogy: the car represents elementary education. The exterior improvements to the car represent the various educational interventions, i.e.: PBIS or RTI. The interior improvements to the car represent the various educational/social programs, i.e.: responsive classroom or morning meeting. The well-oiled, environmentally friendly engine represents the hard working, highly prepared teachers, teaching assistants, and principals. The various types of reactions from the neighbors represent those who are critical of education and those who are not critical of education. To continue with this analogy, the tires represent quality and appropriate early childhood education. Just as a car without tires is going nowhere, elementary education without early childhood education is immobile, stagnate, dead.
Let me extend this metaphor to describe the real problem. This tire-less car exists only in neighborhoods where parents are struggling economically. Not only that, the tire-less car lacks the amenities Ms. Kane describes. It has been decaying because no one bothered to maintain it well. Technological advances like “…a state-of-the-art sound system, complete with GPS navigation” are completely absent because parents and neighbors are unfamiliar with them and couldn’t take full advantage of them if they were in place.
In affluent neighborhoods and communities, the car not only has tires, it has steel-belted radial tires… and all-wheel drive. It can function in all kinds of weather and all kinds of terrain because parents and neighbors understand the need for that kind of durability and flexibility. It has more amenities than “…a state-of-the-art sound system, complete with GPS navigation”. It has video screens for passengers and all the latest safety features to ensure accidents will not happen. It also has experts on hand to help parents and students understand the latest developments in auto technology.
In both neighborhoods the basis for determining the effectiveness of transportation is identical: it’s miles travelled over the course of a year. And guess what? The owners of tire-less cars do far worse than the owners of the high-tech cars with steel-belted radials… and the owners of the cars with tires can’t see the reason to spend more money on tires for the dilapidated vehicles sitting on cinder blocks because they need so much more improvement before they can move at all. Their engines are worn out from trying to move a tire-less vehicle and need to be replaced. The rusting bodies need to be replaced too, and they need windows that open and close, AM/FM radios, a new set of paper road maps, seat belts, … you get the picture. So why spend money on tires until you get the vehicle fixed… and why spend ANY money on the vehicle when all you’ve spent so far hasn’t moved it an inch?
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:
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!
Yesterday’s NYTimes features an article by Alison Gopnik that concludes with the sentence that serves as the title of this post. Titled, “What Babies Know About Physics and Foreign Language”, Gopnik’s article reviews research she has done on preschoolers that demonstrates the fact that children learn the most by modeling behaviors they observe. This research validates the aphorism of former Baltimore City Superintendent Walter Amprey who observed that children in Baltimore schools were learning every day. Unfortunately they were learning what they saw on the streets and in their homes not what the teachers were assigning them in school.
Last week’s NYT article by Diane Ravitch decrying the Common Core elicited several letters defending the need to provide children with rigorous standards-based schooling in order to succeed in the future. I hope that those who advocate standards-based schooling and the standardized tests that inevitably accompany this approach will heed Ms. Gopnik’s findings.
- John Oliver’s Ignorance About Public Schools Is Painful
- Presidential Candidates Both Entangled with For-Profit Colleges with Questionable Track Records
- One Texas Teacher’s Note To Parents Starts National Debate on Homework
- Civil Rights Organizations Pushing Back Against “Reformers” Who Advocate For-Profit Charters
- Governor Kasich Condemns Welfare Reform While Embracing “School Reform” That Leads to Joblessness
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