I heard a news report over the weekend on NPR regarding the NAACP’s controversial resolution calling for a level playing field for privatized charters and public schools. Instead of characterizing the moratorium as a desire to stop the expansion of charter schools, it called it an effort to stop charter schools completely. This kind of misrepresentation reflects the meme undoubtedly launched by the privatizers who have riled up charter parents who, in turn, showed up to protest the NAACP’s pending action to endorse a resolution seeking the cessation of charter expansion pending a through analysis of it’s impact. A report in Cincinnati.com, a part of USA Today‘s network, includes a quote from the NAACP’s leader that sets the record straight:
Cornell William Brooks, NAACP national president, told The Enquirer in an interview that the NAACP has always stood for quality public education and that it and the Memphis protesters are largely in agreement.
“The resolution calls for the suspension on the expansion of charter schools,” Brooks said at the Westin, “at least until, No. 1, we subject charter schools to transparent standards of accountability. The same rules for everyone.”
The NAACP wants no more public money diverted to charter schools at the expense of public schools, and it calls for charter schools to stop expelling students that public schools then must educate and to stop perpetuating what the NAACP calls “de facto segregation” of highest performing students from those who are currently as successful.
“It does not call for the doomsday destruction of all charter schools in existence now,” Brooks said. “What it does call for is let us have a season of reason, a pause in the expansion while we figure this out.”
This is not only eminently reasonable, it is urgently needed. The NAACP is asking that until some mechanism for equity is developed in charter school expansion. the expansion should cease. What is needed is a mechanism that ensure that ALL students have access to charter schools, including those students whose parents are either disengaged in the schooling of their children or so stressed for time that they cannot complete the sometimes daunting requirements for enrollment in charters… including those students who struggle in school because of disabilities… including students who might struggle to conform to rules that require some adjustments in their behavior… and including those students who might struggle in school because they are behind in their schoolwork as compared to their age peers. And most important, the equity should include assurances that money spent on for-profit schools that serve select students is not money diverted from public schools who serve any child who walks in the door. The NAACP is not opposed to charter schools who enroll all students and who value children and meet the same regulations as public schools. They are opposed to de-regulated for-profit charter who value shareholders over children and take only those children who meet their criterion.
In Guardian writer George Monbiot’s thought provoking article, “Neoliberalism is Creating Loneliness. That’s What’s Wrenching Society Apart”, he describes the epidemic of mental illness besetting young women in Britain:
A recent survey in England suggests that one in four women between 16 and 24 have harmed themselves, and one in eight now suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. Anxiety, depression, phobias or obsessive compulsive disorder affect 26% of women in this age group. This is what a public health crisis looks like.
And what is the root cause of this? Mr. Monbiot posits the following:
There are plenty of secondary reasons for this distress, but it seems to me that the underlying cause is everywhere the same: human beings, the ultrasocial mammals, whose brains are wired to respond to other people, are being peeled apart. Economic and technological change play a major role, but so does ideology. Though our wellbeing is inextricably linked to the lives of others, everywhere we are told that we will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.
The parallels between what is happening in Britain and our country are clear: statistics show that roughly 1 in 5 adults have some form of anxiety disorder and the consequences of the self-medication that accompanies that problem plague our country and the isolated adult child playing video games in the basement is a trope cited by pundits and politicians, often in derisive terms. Mr. Monbiot’s description of the cycle of physical distress that emerges from loneliness paints a different picture:
It’s unsurprising that social isolation is strongly associated with depression, suicide, anxiety, insomnia, fear and the perception of threat. It’s more surprising to discover the range of physical illnesses it causes or exacerbates. Dementia, high blood pressure, heart disease, strokes, lowered resistance to viruses, even accidents are more common among chronically lonely people. Loneliness has a comparable impact on physical health to smoking 15 cigarettes a day: it appears to raise the risk of early death by 26%. This is partly because it enhances production of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system.
Studies in both animals and humans suggest a reason for comfort eating: isolation reduces impulse control, leading to obesity. As those at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder are the most likely to suffer from loneliness, might this provide one of the explanations for the strong link between low economic status and obesity?
And as I read Mr. Monbiot’s article I was struck by how our public schools contribute to the ideology that Mr. Monbiot links to the onset of mental distress experienced in Britain and how little we are doing to combat it. The premium placed on getting good grades and developing a good resume to get into college discourages the kind of social bonding that overcomes loneliness and implicitly encourages the consumerist mentality that attempts to address problems with the acquisition of “stuff” and/or the use of some kind of medication. Schooling today, with it’s emphasis on competition between students and the need to get to a good school so that they become wealthy or retain their economic standing reinforces the message that they will prosper through competitive self-interest and extreme individualism.
Schools that wanted to focus on well being would place a greater emphasis on developing healthy social relationships, on developing self-awareness in students, and on developing empathy for others. Instead, as Monbiot notes, schools respond to the message given by:
…men who have spent their entire lives in quadrangles – at school, at college, at the bar, in parliament – (who0 instruct us to stand on our own two feet. The education system becomes more brutally competitive by the year. Employment is a fight to the near-death with a multitude of other desperate people chasing ever fewer jobs.
THAT message, one of Social Darwinism, is an ideological one, and is a message that divides people, pits them against each other, and leads to the mental distress we are witnessing now. It might be time to find a new ideology.
In Age of Austerity Funding, Foundations in Affluent Districts Offset State Cuts, Perpetuate and Exacerbate Inequality
Writing in Re-Thinking Schools, Ursula Wolff-Rocca describes how she came to realize that her externally funded teaching position in Lake Oswego schools was part of a corrupt system funding system that reduced opportunities for children raised in poverty while affording affluent districts like hers the chance to provide a robust education. You see, Ms. Wolff-Rocca’s classroom initial teaching position was funded by a “foundation” whose funds come from local residents in Lake Oswego who provide $650 on average to, in the words of their website, ” Keep Lake Oswego Schools on Top of the Curve”. As Ms. Wolff-Rocca notes, this scheme of de facto user fees keeps the taxes low for everyone in her town and in the State in general, but in doing so perpetuates gross inequities in public school funding. How so? Ms. Wolff-Rocca provides a good overview of how this all works for the affluent and penalizes those in poverty:
Anyone in education or interested in education policy has heard the claim “You can’t fix what’s wrong in education by throwing money at the problem.” Indeed, claims like this are made every legislative cycle as lawmakers wrangle over how much to budget for K–12 education and again during campaign season, when too many candidates jump on some version of the tax-cutting bandwagon.
But if more money is not a critical requirement for improving education, why have school foundations become so ubiquitous? According to Ashlyn Aiko Nelson and Beth Gazley, who published an investigation of these school funding nonprofits, school foundations have proliferated in the last decades, increasing threefold since the mid-1990s. So has the amount of money they are raising: School foundations and comparable organizations raised about $197 million in 1995; in 2010, the number had more than quadrupled to $880 million.
The Lake Oswego Schools Foundation raised roughly $1.5 million for the 2014–15 school year, with 31 families donating more than $5,000 apiece; almost 100 families donated more than $2,500 and triple that number donated at least $1,250. All said, the average family contribution was $650. These dollars matter in the halls of the schools in my district. Last year, $1.5 million meant 16 additional teachers, smaller class sizes, and additional elective offerings.
What is behind the increasing role of school foundations like the one in my district? In our state, like many others, foundations have been a way of addressing the budgetary limitations caused by the passage of property tax caps—here in Oregon, the property tax limitation, Measure 5, passed in 1990—and changes to education funding formulas. The property tax caps were the work of anti-tax activists; the changes to school funding were the work of those concerned about inequality. Together, these changes have given rise to a system that leaves most schools underfunded (as property tax caps limit revenue), with some schools, particularly in the rural parts of the state, faring better than before (because of the equalization funding formula). Wealthy districts, like mine, saw a net loss in funding with equalization.
In the old system, districts received roughly 60 percent of their funding from local property taxes; in the new system, almost all education taxes go into the general fund, to be allocated relatively equitably, on a per-pupil basis. For a wealthy city like Lake Oswego, property tax caps meant less revenue; and funding equalization meant a smaller piece of the pie.
Lake Oswego and other affluent districts can offset this loss in funds by turning to affluent residents. But that could have a downside:
One danger of school foundations in wealthy cities and neighborhoods like Lake Oswego is that they, too, could exercise outsized influence over policy, shaping the choices of the school board through the seductive influence of scarce dollars. When vital school services—not just “enrichment” activities, but teachers and books—are paid for with foundation dollars, what school board could resist the will of the largest donors, who give in excess of $10,000 year after year?
Ms. Wolff-Rocca acknowledges that thus far her district has not been subject to donors imposing their will on the district, but notes that Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation HAS imposed its will on the entire nation… and while she clearly appreciates the work of the foundation in her district, she sees the bigger picture:
But school foundations that rely on the individual wealth of a district’s residents to provide basic components of a sound education make a mockery of the progressive premise of public education as a public good that should be provided to all. They turn education into just another commodity that can be hoarded by the wealthy to the detriment of everyone else. They dangerously misshape the already-problematic metrics of accountability—where test scores and graduation rates are compared across districts—by obscuring yet one more example of how our society asks poor children to do more with less.
Foundations work for the affluent: they provide a high quality education for the children, keep the housing values in the community high and the taxes low, and in that way do no harm to the children growing up in that town. The “other children”, though, suffer…. and throwing money at their schools is wasteful. The hypocrisy of this funding model is self-evident but somehow the underfunded “government schools” have been cast as the villains in this narrative. Here’s hoping that articles like Ms. Wolff-Rocca’s can get people to see through the scam that is going on.
This past weekend the NYTimes published an op ed article on the impact of Britain’s shift away from selective grammar schools by Kenan Malik. Titled “Why Britain Fails in Class”, Malik gives a brief history of the English grammar school’s rise and fall since the end of World War II. Immediately after the war, Britain enacted a three tier system of schooling: grammar, technical and secondary moderns. The problem was that few “technical” schools were ever built and so Britain was left with two kinds of schools: grammar schools whose entrance was determined by a test given at age 11; and “secondary moderns” who presumably prepared children for vocational careers. By 1965, the British discovered what Americans should have discovered at that time but instead denied:
Over time, it became clear that what separated pupils in the two types of schools was not ability, but class. A vast majority of children in grammar schools were from middle-class backgrounds; a vast majority of poor children were condemned to secondary moderns. In 1965, the Labour government began replacing grammar schools and secondary moderns with a nonselective “comprehensive” system, under which all children went to a single type of state school.
Since 1965, the number of grammar school has declined to the point where only 3% of the schools are selective grammar schools and the rest are nonselective “comprehensive” schools. But, alas, the anticipated leveling of classes has not resulted. Instead, things have gotten worse!
A landmark 2005 study from the London School of Economics, which described social mobility in Britain as “low and falling,” showed that two children born, respectively, into poor and prosperous families in 1958 were more equal as adults than two similar children born in 1970. More recently, a 2010 report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that on social mobility Britain came near the bottom of the class among rich nations.
Britain’s new Prime Minister, noting that the decrease in the number of selective grammar schools and the corresponding increase in the number of nonselective “comprehensive” schools has decreased social mobility, is advocating a return to the days when selective grammar schools were in place. But Mr. Malik thinks otherwise:
The fact that neither selective nor nonselective school systems have improved social mobility in Britain might suggest that the problem lies in the very idea of using schools to engineer a more equal society. A decent education system can help a few individuals progress beyond the circumstances of their birth, but it is unlikely to change fundamentally the social and economic structures that entrench inequality and restrain social mobility.
In focusing on social mobility, what has gone missing is the idea of education as a good in itself. One of the reasons people regard grammar schools with nostalgia is that they seem to represent a standard of good education. But they do so for only a few.
At the heart of selective schooling is the assumption that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds are better off getting “vocational” training rather than being intellectually challenged. The trouble is, that sentiment has persisted in the nonselective schools, too. The result is that Britain has ended up with a state system in which every child receives an equally mediocre education.
Mr. Malik concludes that social mobility decreased because “comprehensive” schools failed to adopt the higher standards of grammar schools and instead sought to provide less demanding and less challenging “vocational” training.
Can we learn anything from Britain’s failed efforts? It seems to me that our “reformers” are thinking in the same fashion as Ms. May with their advocacy for privatized charter schools that draw from parents who are engaged the schooling of their children and/or set entry standards that effectively screen out the underachievers and disruptive children. At the same time our political leaders are advocating metrics based on job placement, making utilitarianism the focal point of even post-secondary education. Maybe we should look at Mr. Malik’s ideas and compel all our schools to meet higher standards and provide them with the same level of funds that our elite public schools receive to accomplish that end. At the same time we might allow children to enjoy learning for learning’s sake by encouraging them to become self-directed in determining the content they study. That kind of impractical and self-paced learning just might result in better schooling for all children, and, who knows, the children may grow up to be adults who love to learn and, as a result, thrive in whatever employment they seek.
Charlotte’s Organized PEACEFUL Protests Against Inequities Ignored… Disorganized DISORDERLY Protests Against Police Get Headlines
William Barber II, president of the North Carolina N.A.A.C.P., founder of the “Moral Monday” movement, and self-described “pastor and organizer”, wrote a thoughtful and compelling op ed piece that appeared in today’s NYTimes. In the essay, “Why We Are Protesting in Charlotte”, Barber writes:
Anyone who is concerned about violence in Charlotte should note that no one declared a state of emergency when the city’s schools were resegregated, creating a school-to-prison pipeline for thousands of poor African-American children. Few voiced outrage over the damage caused when half a million North Carolinians were denied health insurance because the Legislature refused to expand Medicaid.
When Charlotte’s poor black neighborhoods were afflicted with disproportionate law enforcement during the war on drugs, condemning a whole generation to bad credit and a lack of job opportunities, our elected representatives didn’t call it violence. When immigration officers raid homes and snatch undocumented children from bus stops, they don’t call it violence. But all of these policies and practices do violence to the lives of thousands of Charlotte residents.
As Mr. Barber knows well, his list of egregious policies that work against the poor and minorities is only partial. He could have mentioned the underfunding of social services while corporations received tax cuts. He could have mentioned the loan practices that left poor and minority families without shelter and the subsequent bailouts that left them on the street while bank executives continue to collect whopping bonuses. And as he points out, the violence school children experience every day contributes to the violent reactions to incidents like the police’s alleged killing of an innocent black man who was waiting at the bus stop for his child to return from school. Barber writes:
Our protests are about more than the Scott case. Every child on that bus — every person in Mr. Scott’s neighborhood — is subject to systemic violence every day, violence that will only increase if Mr. Trump and others continue to exploit the specter of violent protests for political gain.
We have seen this before. After the civil rights movement pushed this nation to face its institutionalized racism, we made significant efforts to address inequality through the war on poverty. We did not lose that war because we lacked resources or met insurmountable obstacles. We lost it because Richard M. Nixon’s “Southern strategy” played on white fears about black power by promising to “restore order” without addressing the root causes of unrest.
Here’s what I find unsettling: North Carolina, like most of our country, is deeply divided politically. It has a progressive streak that led to the emergence of cities like Charlotte and the emergence of regions like the Research Triangle. But it also has a backward element that wants to return to the “good old days” when an elite group of straight Christian white men controlled the writing of laws. Anyone who follows state legislatures knows who is in charge now and can see the kinds of laws they have passed over the past several months since they took charge. When the progressive voters ignored the elections North Carolina took many steps backward… a step toward resegregation, a step toward intolerance for the LGBTs, a step toward ignoring the neediest in favor of the wealthy.
The media ignored Mr. Barber’s Moral Monday movement, a series of organized and peaceful protests designed to bring attention to the backward steps taken by the NC legislature. Now they run headline stories when a small band of protesters react violently to militarized police. As Mr. Barber writes:, “We cannot condemn the violence of a small minority of protesters without also condemning the overwhelming violence that millions suffer every day.” When the media ignore peaceful protests designed to flag the root cause of violence and amplify the violence itself, they are reinforcing the messages of “Mr. Trump and others (who) continue to exploit the specter of violent protests for political gain.”
A post on the Occupy Democrats blog reports that the Michigan legislature has just passed a bill making it illegal for the residents of Flint MI to sue the state for the crisis it created with the tainted water in their community. Why?
House Speaker Kevin Cotter (R-Mt. Pleasant) complained that “a reckless lawsuit could throw the state budget into disarray and undermine everything we’ve done for the city.”
The whole problem with the water in Flint…. AND the schools in Flint… AND the general well-being of the citizens of Flint… is that Mr. Cotter and his friends in theTea Party wing of the Republican party wanted to save the rest of the taxpayers— especially the wealthiest ones— money.
Meanwhile in Oklahoma where fracking is creating a marked increase in earthquakes and draining its most precious resource– water— in order to increase the output of oil, the legislature passed a bill making it illegal to pass a law banning fracking ANYWHERE in the state. So much for local control…
And here’s what’s sad for those of us who advocate for public education: these legislatures are being given more and more control over how federal education dollars are being spent. Do you think the money will be used to help level the playing field in these states? To provide handicapped children with the additional support they need? To supplement local funding in districts where the eroded tax bases and demands for infrastructure upgrades make it difficult to spend on schools? Think again!
NYTimes columnist Frank Bruni devoted his Sunday column to debunking the the rankings published by the USNews and World Report, rankings that tend to overemphasize immaterial things like reputation, the size of the college’s endowment, and “selectivity” while under-emphasizing their ability to provide equitable access to veterans (the focus of Bruni’s recent columns on post secondary education) and minorities and first-time college attendees.
Much of Bruni’s column is devoted to the way colleges “game” the system USNews and World Report devised and the way USNews and World Report promotes its rankings to ensure the sale of its signature issues that do the rankings. But he overlooks an even worse result of the raking mania:, the ranking of high schools. The ranking idea is taking hold at the high school level because it reinforces the notion that public eduction should operate as an open marketplace where parents can choose high schools in the same fashion that they can “choose” colleges… and the choice of high schools is rapidly mirroring the “choice” of colleges: high schools serving to affluent and well-educated children and highly selective public high schools and chatter schools come out ahead of high schools that work diligently to provide an educational opportunity for all the children who attend. This, in turn, adds to the luster of these “high performing” schools and diminish the value and importance of the other schools.
Maybe in a future column Mr. Bruni will see the fruitlessness of the rankings game and focus on the need for ALL children to have the same opportunity as the children of well-educated parents raised in affluent communities.
- Obama/Duncan/King Legacy: Good Return on Investment = Good Education
- School Spending Lower Now than 2008 in 35 States… and No End In Sight
- All Work and No Free Play is a Toxic Mix: Enter the “Playborhood”
- Christian Science Monitor Asks If Satanists Should Be Allowed to Form Clubs in School… and the Answer is Clear
- Why “Competitive Marketplaces” are an Awkward Fit for Education
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