Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Homeless Students Increase in NYC… Underscoring Impact of Externalities on “School Quality”

August 16, 2017 Leave a comment

Elizabeth Harris’ article in today’s NYTimes opened with this unfathomable fact:

There were 100,000 homeless students in New York City public schools during the 2015-16 school year, a number equal to the population of Albany.

The article, which was triggered by the release of a report to be released on today by the Institute for Children, Poverty, and Homelessness, assesses the impact of homelessness on students, noting that on average those 100,000 children missed 88 days of school during the year they were homeless. Ms. Harris provides many facts like that in her article, but the facts understate the impact of homelessness because data cannot capture what the stress must be like for children who are exposed to the threats of losing their homes over extended periods of time. Nor can the data accurately capture the number of near homeless children: children whose parents are threatened with the need to move because of higher rents, lost employment, and family tragedies.

Nor does the article delve into some of the ways homelessness undercuts the efforts of public school teachers and administrators to improve their schools and undercuts the accountability measures used to determine the “quality” of schools. A few examples:

  • How can schools in the Bronx, which had over 10,000 homeless students, be compared with schools in Bayside Queens, which had “only” 823 homeless students?
  • How can the parents of the 100,000 students who are homeless be expected to complete the daunting paperwork necessary to apply for entry into a charter school?
  • And if the charter schools do not include homeless students in their applicant pools or student bodies, how can their results be compared to those of schools like those in the Bronx where there are high concentrations of homeless children?

The overarching questions, then, are these:

  • How can public schools whose attendance zones include the worst housing in the city and highest levels of homelessness be expected to perform as well as public schools whose attendance zones include the best housing and lowest levels of homelessness?
  • How can “school choice” be any kind of solution for families who wonder where they will live?

Reformers need to answer these questions before offering solutions.

This Just In: Our System is NOT as Fair as We Claim… and Once Middle Schoolers Figure That Out Their School Performance Sags

August 9, 2017 Leave a comment

Josh Hoxie’s recent Common Dreams post analyzes the results of a recent study of disadvantaged Middle School students in AZ and concludes that we are kidding ourselves but not the children raised in poverty.

A just released study published in the journal Child Development tracked the middle school experience of a group of diverse, low-income students in Arizona. The study found that the kids who believed society was generally fair typically had high self-esteem, good classroom behavior, and less delinquent behavior outside of school when they showed up in the sixth grade.

When those same kids left in the eighth grade, though, each of those criteria had degraded — they showed lower self-esteem and worse behavior.

Erin Godfrey, the NYU professor who conducted and wrote this study, concluded that this decline in self-esteem and behavior was the result of children beginning to understand society’s expectations: “there’s this element of people think of me this way anyway, so this must be who I am.”  Hoxie describes it as having the students experience the cognitive dissonance for the first time: students hear politicians and the media tell them if they work hard and play by the rules they can succeed but they witness something completely different in their daily lives.

Hoxie sees this as a relatively easy and straightforward problem to fix:

we need major investments in universal public programs to rebuild the social safety net, ensure early childhood education as well as debt-free higher education, and good-paying jobs.

In other words, we need to help those born without inherited assets to get the same shot at education and employment as everyone else — and also reassure them that if they fail, they won’t end up homeless.

Those who claim the country can’t afford such programs should look at the massive subsidies lavished out to the ultra-wealthy. In 2016, half a trillion dollars were doled out in tax subsidies, overwhelmingly to the already rich.

Spend more on the safety net, transfer money from inheritances to early intervention programs, and transfer money from the tax subsidies for the affluent to those families who need to start at the same point as the children of affluence. A straightforward and easy to explain program that, if executed, would restore the fairness of our economic system. But, alas, it seems easier to look at the very few children raised in poverty who succeed against all odds and stick to our myth that every child therefore has a chance.

NAACP Dispels Myth That Charters and Choice Are a Civil Rights Solution

August 7, 2017 Leave a comment

A July 26 Washington Post article by columnist Valerie Strauss reported on the NAACP’s recently released analysis of charter schools.  The report, which was based on the findings of a 12-member task force that held hearings in seven cities to take testimony about charters and the quality of education for children of color in inner-city schools, reinforced the controversial stand the NAACP took in fall 2016 calling for a moratorium on the expansion of charters in cities across the country. This stand was especially problematic for “reformers” who promoted the expansion of privately operated and publicly funded charter schools as the “civil rights” issue of our time and asserted that their school choice model would provide a way for more children raised in poverty to have a greater opportunity. But, as the NAACP’s task force discovered, the “reformers” assertion was wrong:

“Charter schools were created with more flexibility because they were expected to innovate and infuse new ideas and creativity into the traditional public school system. However, this aspect of the promise never materialized. Many traditional inner city public schools are failing the children who attend them, thus causing parents with limited resources to search for a funded, quality educational alternative for their children. …

With the expansion of charter schools and their concentration in low-income communities, concerns have been raised within the African American community about the quality, accessibility and accountability of some charters, as well as their broader effects on the funding and management of school districts that serve most students of color.”

Ultimately, the task force said, “while high quality, accountable and accessible charters can contribute to educational opportunity, by themselves, even the best charters are not a substitute for more stable, adequate and equitable investments in public education in the communities that serve our children.”

In sum, the Task Force completely undercut the argument that charters and choice are the way forward for public schools serving minority children raised in poverty. Ms. Strauss’ article then incorporates a post from blogger Carol Burris that offers some additional insights on the Task Force Report and includes some of the recommendations on how the NAACP might proceed.

Among the unsurprising findings of the Task Force Ms. Burris reported was this:

Weak overall academic results in urban schools are the result of a lack of adequate funding, according to the report. The task force heard consistent testimony that a lack of sufficient resources for urban schools is not only the root cause of student struggles, but a rationale to pit charters and traditional public schools against each other, creating a competition that does not serve students well.

The most stunning and blunt task force recommendation was the call to not only eliminate for-profit charters but to also eliminate all of the for-profit management companies that run many nonprofit charters thereby draining taxpayer dollars from the classroom. Ms. Burris’ post concludes with this:

Will the charter school establishment take the NAACP’s recommendations to heart and begin to advocate for internal reform? Only time will tell. One thing, however, is certain. When the NAACP expresses high criticism of charters, it is impossible to argue that school choice “is the civil rights issue of our time.”

It may be “impossible to argue” based on the findings of the NAACP’s Task Force and hard data collected by researchers, but we are currently in a political environment where facts are immaterial and slogans too often prevail… especially when the slogans are coined by campaign donors. Here’s hoping we can begin listening to those who are affected most by policies crafted by billionaires.

Reopening a Can of Worms that Will Reinforce the Use of Standardized Tests to Sort and Select

August 3, 2017 Leave a comment

Given the current administration in the White House, it is not surprising to learn that the the Justice Department plans to gut affirmative action programs. For decades women, African Americans, and minorities have strived to gain entry to higher education that was denied to them based on their gender, skin color, and/or nationality.Because institutions of higher learning had de facto and de jure obstacles to entry as well as “traditions” that blocked entry, the federal government established Affirmative Action guidelines to help women, African Americans and other minorities gain access to higher education. But, as Mark Walsh reports in an Education Week article all of that is about to go out the window:

Education advocates are reacting with dismay to a report that President Donald Trump’s administration is recruiting lawyers within the U.S. Department of Justice for an initiative to investigate and potentially sue colleges and universities over racial preferences in admissions that discriminate against white applicants.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that there is a compelling interest in higher education institutions having diverse student bodies,” said Anurima Bhargava, a former Justice Department civil rights official under President Barack Obama. “My sense of the way this [Trump initiative] is playing out, the idea is to instill fear and intimidation” among educational administrators, she said.

The article was written in response to a NYTimes report of an internal memo that was leaked indicating that the Justice Department was seeking attorneys interested in working on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions”. As Mr. Walsh reports:

The project would be run from the “front office” of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, the paper said, meaning it would be run largely by political appointees, rather than from the division’s educational opportunities section, which consists of career lawyers and employees who enforce civil rights laws in the educational context.

While the Education Week article did not say so, the practical reality of this will be an emphasis on the criteria used to admit students to these institutions of higher learning, particularly “objective” criteria like SAT, GRE, LSAT, and AP scores, and, to a lesser degree, class ranks. In most of the previous lawsuits against affirmative action the white applicants based the arguments for their wrongful rejection on the fact that some of those admitted to a college or graduate school had lower LSATs, GREs or lower GPAs in HS or college and that using race and/or gender in any fashion is “unfair” since it serves to allow “less qualified” applicants to enroll in college based solely on their race or gender. In effect, then, standardized tests become the yardstick for entry. In the coming days it will be interesting to see if colleges push back on this direction the Justice Department is taking. I would hope that the flagship state universities and “elite” colleges unite to rebut this direction.

One last irony: based on the analysis in this NYTimes article the beneficiary of any screening based solely on “objective criteria” may be Asian students.

The NY Times and National Review Weigh in on “Government Schools” and Both Miss the Point

August 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Yesterday the NYTimes published an op ed article by Katherine Stewart titled “What the Government School Critics Really Mean” and shortly thereafter, the National Review web page posted a rejoinder by Daniel French. Ms. Stewart’s premise is that those who use the term “government schools” are doing so as a “dog whistle”. Ms. Stewart notes that many progressives and liberals associate the use of this terminology with “right-wing think tanks like the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the Heartland Institute and the Acton Institute’ each of whom “…have received major funding from the family of the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, either directly or via a donor group”. She looks more deeply into those who use the term and sees roots in racism.

But the attacks on “government schools” have a much older, darker heritage. They have their roots in American slavery, Jim Crow-era segregation, anti-Catholic sentiment and a particular form of Christian fundamentalism — and those roots are still visible today.

She then recounts the “dark heritage” of racist and xenophobic opposition to public education, offering examples of fringe leaders whose message was rooted in hatred and who used public education’s high-minded mission of universality, cooperation, and integration to generate animus against public education.

After reading Ms.Stewart’s analysis, Daniel French responded on line in the National Review with an article titled “To Defend Public Schools, Supporters Put on the Tinfoil Hat“. As the title indicates, Mr. French finds Ms. Stewarts assertions absurd. He begins his essay describing the algorithm used by “liberals writing about conservative Christians“:

One of the more amusing aspects of life as a conservative Christian is reading liberals writing about conservative Christians — especially writing about conservative Christian political causes. There’s a formula. First, you’re told there are “dog whistle” or “hidden” reasons for the use of common terms. Second, these hidden reasons trace back to racists and Christian dominionists. Third, and finally, if you use this common language and advance mainstream conservative Christian ideas, you’re actually advancing racism and theocracy. The plot is revealed. The true agenda is laid bare.

He then dissembles her argument, eventually offering his rationale for using the term “government schools”:

Why do libertarians and Christians intentionally increasingly use the term “government schools” to describe public education? First, because it’s true. Public schools are government schools. Second, because it’s clarifying. Too many Americans are stuck in a time warp, believing that the local school is somehow “their” school. They don’t understand that public education is increasingly centralized — teaching a uniform curriculum, teaching a particular, secular set of values, and following priorities set in Washington, not by their local school board. The phrase is helpful for breaking through idealism and getting parents to analyze and understand the gritty reality of modern public education. The phrase works.

Mr. French then suggests— inaccurately— that school choice, the favored mechanism for improving public education, will increase the opportunities for children using an unintentionally illustrative example of why it won’t:

The upper middle class seems to be pulling away from everyone else. Spend much time with America’s wealthier families, and it’s not uncommon to see parents with three kids in three different schools. They made choices based on each child’s unique needs. They give their children the best possible chance to succeed. Why deny these choices to poor kids? Should we punish them for their parents’ economic performance? Faced with the difficult task of defending a failing system and limiting parental choice, all too many defenders of government schools fall back on name-calling, conspiracy theories, and their own anti-Christian bigotries… It doesn’t make public schools better. And it certainly doesn’t invalidate the good and decent effort to use greater competition to improve education for everyone — white and black alike.

I am certain Mr. French realizes that his civil rights argument falls apart in the light of day. Can he cite a single state legislature that has suggested that governments are willing to provide vouchers for children that will enable parents in poverty or the working class to have the same kinds of choices as “the upper middle class”? Is any state legislature or state legislator advocating spending levels that would match those of  the schools chosen by the “upper middle class”?

Several weeks ago I researched the term “government schools” and learned that the term was originally coined by Patrick Moynihan, arguably one the “founding fathers” of neoliberalism. As Ms. Stewart and Mr. French note, the term was expropriated and embraced by the libertarian right and, as Mr. French’s article illustrates, has has been purposefully used to emphasize the link between public schools and the government, especially the federal and local government. In my blog post in early July I wrote: 

Public schools, after all, are not governed by some remote and alien force in Washington DC or, in the case of Kansas, Topeka. They are governed by local school boards who still have a say over who they hire, the raising of local taxes, and how the curriculum is delivered.

And here’s the maddening irony of all this: those who want to impose “market forces” on public schools are imposing the reliance of standardized tests on school boards and, in doing so, are imposing standardized curricula on the schools. Moreover, many of the fundamentalists who are drawn to the notion that “government” is “bad” want to control the material taught in the “government schools”, insisting that religion and patriotism be incorporated in the curriculum at the expense of topics like evolution and global warming.

One point I didn’t make in that earlier post is the point that neither Mr. French nor Ms. Stewart make: the real goal of those using the term “government schools” is the commodification and privatization of public education. Both the neoliberals and conservatives are seeking this outcome because their donors want to see this occur: the tech-based donors and edu-preneur donors because they see the possibility of profits and the corporate donors because they want to pay lower taxes. In both cases the children raised in poverty will suffer and the opportunities for economic advancement will be limited… and in both cases local governance will be undercut and democracy will suffer.

Missouri’s History of Evaluating Schools Illustrates How “Outcome-Based” Metrics Undercut State Departments, Emphasize Demographic Differences

July 29, 2017 Leave a comment

Saint Louis Post Dispatch writer Kristen Taketa’s column on potential changes to Missouri’s accountability system provides a history of accountability in that state which illustrates how “outcome-based” metrics undercuts the role of state departments, effectively dismisses the effects of poverty on school children, and provides a cheap and seemingly accurate means of differentiating “performance”. This shift away from a comprehensive but expensive means of evaluating schools to the simplistic and inexpensive method of using test results reinforces the notion that “throwing money” at the solution and imposing government oversight at the state level won’t help improve schools. Instead the message is that hard work by teachers and relentless grit by students alone will make a difference.

In her article on Missouri’s ongoing review of how best to assess the effectiveness of schools, Ms. Taketa describes the way schools in her State (and most states) was done in the 1970s and 1980s:

Two decades ago, Missouri rewarded school districts with good marks if they got parents involved, offered a variety of extracurricular activities and had safe schools. Districts were applauded if they had deep financial reserves, a competent staff and a school board that got along well with administrators….

When the state created the Missouri School Improvement Program in 1990, its primary goal was to ensure schools were providing the services and resources needed for a good education. Schools were graded not by calculating scores with complex formulas, but by in-person school visits by state education officials and educators from peer districts.

Ms. Taketa never says so in her article, but this system had at least three major problems:

  1. Those who value mathematical precision that provides the ability to rank schools found metrics like “parent involvement, competent staff, and highly functioning school boards” to be too soft. Moreover the narrative reports issued by visiting teams of colleagues and State Department officials often contained subjective descriptions of the districts that did not provide the capability of comparing one district to another in terms of student performance, which many taxpayers viewed as the ultimate determinant of school quality.
  2. For those who value complete local control, the notion of being judged by “outsiders” from the State Department and from “other districts with nothing in common” with theirs was an anathema. If local taxpayers and voters were happy with their schools they did not feel feedback from “outside experts” was worthwhile, even if those experts were assuring that the funds from the state were being invested wisely by the local school board and administrators.
  3. For those who want to limit spending, the cost for these periodic reviews was perceived s daunting and the fact that these comprehensive reviews required a robust state department (i.e. a fully staffed bureaucracy) was especially maddening.

Her analysis of how Missouri moved to testing is a solution to each of these “problems”:

Then in 1993, the Missouri Legislature passed the Outstanding Schools Act, which instructed state education officials to create a standardized test to measure student performance. Student performance began to count for the majority of a Missouri school rating by 2001, the same year the federal No Child Left Behind law was passed by Congress.

By 2012, Missouri school accountability was entirely based on student results, though not all of it on test scores.

Later in the second paragraph, Ms. Taketa describes how the state finessed the problem of helping low performing districts become accredited without having to spend a dime!

The inclusion of non-test criteria, such as attendance and graduation rates, is what enabled two high-poverty, previously unaccredited districts — St. Louis and Riverview Gardens — to earn accreditation upgrades, despite having a majority of students who are not proficient on state standardized tests.

Ms. Taketa then describes the downside of using standardized tests as the primary metric: the narrowing of the curriculum.

While most anyone will agree schools should have high test scores and attendance rates, relying on such outcomes when judging schools runs the risk of schools fixating on earning points and little else. It runs the risk of investing energies solely on students who are a few points below proficient, rather than all students.

And that “risk” is precisely what led to the State legislature revisiting the formula, a process that has taken five years of debate! Their solution, though, still relies on test scores, using “growth” instead of “proficiency”. While “growth” is better than “proficiency”, it still poses a dilemma:

In a 2008 Association for Education Finance and Policy survey, 68 percent of education researchers said growth is the best way to measure school quality. Only 9 percent said measuring proficiency is.

“It has been highly recognized as a more accurate representation of trying to isolate what schools are actually doing for kids,” said Michael Hansen, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution.

Districts can already earn points for student growth in Missouri’s accreditation system, but they can’t earn as many points for growth as they can for straight test scores.

Prioritizing growth could give higher ratings to districts such as Riverview Gardens, Jennings and Special School District, all of which received zero points for reaching proficiency targets in 2016 but earned all the points they could for growth.

But Chris Neale, assistant commissioner for quality schools at the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, cautions that, in emphasizing student growth, the state shouldn’t lower expectations for students of color or students from low-income backgrounds.

What you have to be careful of is that you don’t even provide by accident an excuse to say children of poverty can’t achieve, people of a particular racial or ethnic background can’t achieve,” Neale said. “We don’t want the unintended consequence of stigmatizing a community.”

The best way to avoid offering an excuse to say that “children of poverty can’t achieve” is to offer those children the same chance to succeed that a student in an affluent school district has. But that would require more funding… and we don’t want the unintended consequence of stigmatizing the legislature as being cold-hearted and uncaring toward the children who were born into poverty.


A Skeptical Blogger Looks at Horace Mann’s Factory School and Proposed a Heretical Fix

July 28, 2017 Leave a comment

The Medium feeds me articles of interest in a wide array of topics ranging from sports to public education, and one of their posts introduced me to a skeptical analyst of history named William Treseder. In a July 4 post titled “One Man Created the Education System Holding You Back “, Mr. Treseder provides an overview of the history of public education that rings true, emphasizing that the system created by Horace Mann was designed to help with the transition from an agrarian economy to a industrial one. But, Mr. Treseder asserts that the values Horace Mann’s ideal school system inculcated are no longer relevant:

Education isn’t really about learning! More specifically, it isn’t about learning how to learn. It’s about learning how to conform. Predictability is the ultimate goal.

This idea should scare you. And even if it is only partially true, the idea explains a lot. We are struggling in the 21st century because conformity is no longer that valuable to companies. Software and hardware increasingly shoulder those burdens. Now the economy wants something else. Something unique, and creative. Something our education didn’t cover.

Later in the article Mr. Treseder provides this synopsis of how the Horace Mann’s “job factory” worked:

It’s worth reminding ourselves now about the key characteristics of the industrial era, and how we can see them manifested in the education system that continues to operate across America to this day:

– Schools focus on respecting authority
– Schools focus on punctuality
– Schools focus on measurement
– Schools focus on basic literacy
– Schools focus on basic arithmetic

Notice how these reinforce each other. You enter the system one way, and are crammed through an extended molding process. The result? A “good enough” cog to jam into an industrial machine.

Mr. Treseder believes that the “good enough” attitude was baked into the factory model espoused by Horace Mann in several ways, but that “good enough” attitude contradicts the needs we have today and results in schools inculcating habits that are counterproductive to success in today’s world. He offers five examples of practices that he believes need to be eliminated and five habits that could replace them. Here are the five that need to be eliminated, a list that resonates with me:

  1. Filling up the day with time-bound activities
  2. Accepting whatever you’re assigned
  3. Completing projects at the last minute
  4. Obsessing over quantified ranks and scores
  5. Sitting still for 8+ hours per day

And in their place, Mr. Treseder suggests we emphasize the following principles and practices:

  1. Replace time-bound activities with outcome-based activities. Focus on meetings — the worst culprit — and the decisions you want out of them. If you can’t think of a decision, don’t have the meeting.
  2. Summarize the goals of a new project to the person who asked for it, making sure you know exactly what is supposed to be accomplished, and why.
  3. Plan to complete a v1.0 of each project by the 50% mark. This is a chance to get valuable corrective feedback from other people, despite how uneasy you may feel with your “ugly” project.
  4. Focus on the “Why?” of each project and knocking it out of the park. Take time at the beginning of the project to get inspired by the work of others, then shut out the rest of the world.
  5. Get off your ass.
 As #5 indicates, Mr. Treseder’s essay is written in a smart-aleck tone, but as the list indicates he is definitely insightful as to the deficiencies of public education today…. and the tone may reflect his abiding belief that making the kinds of changes he advocates will be daunting.