Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

We Should Learn from Success as Well as Failure: Coordinated Intervention and Mediation Programs WORK!

January 20, 2017 Leave a comment

I just wrote a post describing the abysmal failure of the SIG “reform” models, suggesting that the $3,500,000,000 used to “blow up” traditional schools might have been better spent on comprehensive wraparound services. This article in the NYTimes, describing the full court press approach used to eliminate gun deaths in a housing project, validates that recommendation.  I fear that our new administration will emphasize “stipend frisk” tactics over mediation and gut funding for the kinds of re-entry jobs that provide credible mediators into dangerous neighborhoods like the one described in this article. It is frustrating to be on the cusp of identifying solutions to seemingly intractable problems only to take a giant step backward.

Welcome to the Plutocracy: the 8 Richest People Have More Wealth than the Bottom Half

January 17, 2017 1 comment

The headline and pictures in the NYTimes article tell you a lot about the world economic condition. Here’s the headline:

World’s 8 Richest Have as Much Wealth as Bottom Half, Oxfam Says

And if you click on the link above you’ll see the picture of eight white men, and here’s a summary of how they gained their wealth:

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, led the list with a net worth of $75 billion. He is scheduled to speak at the forum in Davos this year.

Amancio Ortega Gaona, the Spanish founder of the fashion company Inditex, best known for its oldest and biggest brand, Zara, has a net worth of $67 billion.

Warren E. Buffett, the chairman of Berkshire Hathaway, $60.8 billion.

Carlos Slim Helú, the Mexican telecommunications magnate, $50 billion.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, $45.2 billion.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s creator, $44.6 billion.

Lawrence J. Ellison, the founder of Oracle, $43.6 billion.

Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor of New York and founder of the media and financial-data giant Bloomberg L.L.P., $40 billion.

Technology, finance, and communications dominate the list… and looking at their net worth I have only one question: how much is enough?

We CAN have Both Our Humanity and Technological Advancement

January 16, 2017 3 comments

Today’s NYTimes features an op ed piece by Claire Cain Miller titled “A Darker Theme in Obama’s Farewell: Automation Can Divide Us”. In the essay, Ms. Miller outlines the ways technology is being used to automate jobs in a fashion that displaces low-skilled workers. What the essay fails to emphasize is that this displacement is done to enrich shareholders without regard for the “collateral damage” being done in the name of creative destruction of the marketplace. After reading the essay, I left this comment:

One set of tasks cannot be automated: those requiring a caring, compassionate, and empathetic service provider. These kinds of service providers are valued by retailers— the ideal waitstaff at the restaurant or fast food emporium, the ideal Walmart “associate”, and the ideal help desk worker at the other end of the line when you call to make inquiries about your credit card are all expected to show they care and expected to provide you with the best “customer service” possible, albeit for minimum wage.

In an ideal world— where profit and efficiency are not valued over humanity— health care providers would also be caring, compassion and empathetic. But in our effort to provide efficient and cost-effective health care our insurance companies force health care providers to see as many patients as possible without regard for the way service is provided.

In an ideal world we would find a way to fully fund the jobs that explicitly require caring, compassion and empathy: teachers, social workers, and those who aid the helpless. But, alas, those are all “government jobs” and we wouldn’t want to raise our taxes to fund “government jobs”.

In an ideal world we could realize the benefits of technology without losing our humanity. We could achieve this if we used technology to reduce the workloads of everyone instead of using it to increase the profits of the .01%.

In an ideal world, everyone would work four days, schools would be fully staffed, social service agencies would have larger staffs, and— yes— wealth would be more evenly distributed. We COULD make this happen by design… or we could continue along our current path and achieve the dystopia envisioned by many science fiction writers and, arguably, George Orwell. While we have a choice we should make it.


Martin Luther King Junior’s Other Speech

January 16, 2017 1 comment

On the annual holiday commemorating civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Junior, we often hear excerpts from his inspirational “I Have a Dream” speech, delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in August 1963. That speech captured the uplifting spirit of the movement to end racial discrimination and, some contend, contributed to the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 roughly six months later. Unless this year is different from the past, though, we are likely to overlook one of Dr. King’s most challenging and thought provoking speeches.

Dr. King’s activism did not end with the passage of the Civil Rights bill, nor did his oratory end with the “I Have A Dream” speech. Over the last four years of his lifetime Dr. King became an outspoken advocate for peace and economic justice for all citizens in the world. In April 1967, Dr. King gave a speech at Riverside Baptist Church that is as relevant today as it was in 1967. Called the “Beyond Vietnam” speech, his address to a group called the Clergy and Laymen Concerned About Vietnam included this admonition:

When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

This warning seems particularly pertinent today, because the “giant triplets” have not been conquered and our devotion to “machines and computers, profit motives and property rights” is stronger than ever.

Racism, the first “giant triplet”, is with us more than ever. Over the past several decades we’ve witnessed a re-segregation of our schools and neighborhoods and observed a decline in civility in our public discourse on race issues. Worse, we just concluded an election where 14 states enacted voter suppression laws, some of which federal courts eliminated because they unfairly limited the participation of African American voters. And the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck instituted in 27 states to address “voter fraud” may have prevented over 7,000,000 African American, Asian, and Hispanics from voting.

The extreme materialism Dr. King referenced is our consumer culture that is driven by our belief that “more” is “better”, that possessions— i.e. property rights— are more important than human relationships. To change this perspective, Dr. King advocated a “true revolution of values”, a “shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society”. Looking at his world in 1967, Dr. King urged a chance in perspective:

A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, “This is not just.” It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, “This is not just.” The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

Fifty years later we continue to value things more than people, continue to live in a world and a country that has a glaring contrast of poverty and wealth, and continue to ally with “landed gentry” whose governing principles are antithetical to ours.

And militarism, the third “giant triplet”, dominates our globe today as much as it did in 1967. In identifying the changes needed to achieve his “true revolution of values” Dr, King wrote:

A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, “This way of settling differences is not just.” This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.

Fifty years after this speech, our nation still spends more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift; and many would argue that as a result we are getting ever closer to the spiritual death Dr. King foretold. One of the primary reasons Dr. King decided to oppose the war in Vietnam was the realization that the resources needed to fight poverty were being spent on the military. The situation is no different today. The money spent on fifteen years of war in Afghanistan and fourteen years in Iraq is compounding our debt problems and taking resources away from “programs that contribute to social uplift”.

Were Dr. King alive today I expect he would be discouraged to see the backsliding that has occurred in race issues, frustrated to see how we continue to accept huge disparities in wealth and place a premium on “things”, and disheartened to see how much money we spend on the military. But I also expect he would urge us to seek the same solution he advocated fifty years ago:

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism…

(O)ur loyalties must become ecumenical rather than sectional. Every nation must now develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole in order to preserve the best in their individual societies.

This call for a worldwide fellowship that lifts neighborly concern beyond one’s tribe, race, class, and nation is in reality a call for an all-embracing — embracing and unconditional love for all mankind… When I speak of love I am not speaking of some sentimental and weak response. I am not speaking of that force which is just emotional bosh. I am speaking of that force which all of the great religions have seen as the supreme unifying principle of life. Love is somehow the key that unlocks the door which leads to ultimate reality…

When I recently read Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech I was struck by its prescience and its applicability to our times. But I was also struck by the sense that the speech has been “overlooked” because it’s message is as unsettling today as it was in 1967. Lyndon Johnson, the President of the United States who fought hard to pass the Civil Rights legislation four years earlier, felt betrayed by Dr. King’s opposition to a war the President felt was justified. And Dr. King’s colleagues in the Civil Rights movement also questioned his decision to take a stand on the War in Vietnam, fearing that his focus on the Anti-War issue diverted attention away from their cause. “And 0ver 160 newspapers wrote editorials condemning Dr. King for his “Beyond Vietnam” speech.

As we commemorate Dr. King this year on the eve of the inauguration of a Presidential campaign that divided our country, I believe the overarching message of Dr. King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech is crucial. As we passionately debate contentious issues in the coming years we need to heed Dr. King’s words from fifty years ago:

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.

Note: This appeared as an op ed in today’s edition of the Valley News


Betsy Devos Can SAY She Supports Accountability for De-Regulated Charters… But Her ACTIONS Indicate Something Different

January 15, 2017 Leave a comment

Atlantic writer Allie Gross did a comprehensive analysis of the laws Betsy DeVos cites as “proof” that she is all for accountability for deregulated for profit charters, but the crazy-quilt system she helped underwrite in MI shows otherwise.

First, as noted in countless articles and several blog posts on this site, Ms. DeVos and her family and her cronies have invested millions (if not more than a billion) supporting legislators and “think tanks” that advocate for deregulated charter schools. Thanks in large measure to this largesse, MI has become one of the least regulate and most privatized public school systems in America and serves as a good example of where she would take public education if she was given the chance to frame national policy and/or if she was given the responsibility for determining if a State’s accountability plan passes muster. Based on MI’s so-called accountability law, our country’s public schools are about to travel down a path of utter and complete deregulation and greatly expanded privatization… both of which will lead to dismal failure for children if MI’s experience is any indication. Mr. Gross details the way the MI set-up makes a farce of the term “accountability” and opens the door for profiteers. Here’s a synthesis of the ideas instituted based on the laws she’s underwritten:

  • Schools need to be among the lowest 5% for three consecutive years in order to be considered “failing”, which makes them potentially eligible for closure
  • The “authorizers”— those responsible for management of non-public “failing” schools, can determine how to remedy the failures without closing. Since the authorizers have a monetary stake in the operation of the “failing” schools, the likelihood of closure as an option is slim-to-non-existent.
  • The remedies for a “failing” school include restructuring the grade levels it offers, changing the governing board of the school, or changing the vendor who provides the program
  • The “authorizer’s” decision is final and cannot be appealed
  • A failing school may not have to close at all if “…closing a charter would “result in unreasonable hardship” for students or that there are “insufficient other public school options” available.” This has the effect of keeping “failing” for-profit schools that serve children residing in rural areas and, in some cases, children residing in urban areas from being able to “choose” a “passing” school in a nearby district or neighborhood.

Gross’ excellent article provides more nitty gritty substantiating details… but you can get the idea from this overview: the system is rigged in favor of the profiteers and at the expense of children— especially children raised in poverty.









Atlantic Magazine: DeVos is NOT the Only Problematic Cabinet Nominee for Public Education

January 14, 2017 Leave a comment

Yesterday Diane Ravitch wrote multiple posts opposing the nomination of Betsy DeVos. They included a lengthy and thoughtful missive from Randi Weingarten, a letter from 200 deans of education, and numerous blog posts— including one carefully researched analysis of the DeVos family’s devastating impact on MI public education.

I read these thoughtful and well written posts after reading an Atlantic article by Hayley Glatter describing how five other cabinet posts could have an impact on student related policy. The five in question and their potential impact is outlined below:

  • Jeff Sessions, attorney general designee, whose civil rights record and opposition to special education was described in an earlier post on this site.
  • Tom Price, nominee for secretary of health and human services, whose record in Congress shows he opposes spending on these issues and whose potential harm to public schools was described in an earlier post as well.
  • Rex Tillerson, nominee for Secretary of State, whose department oversees multiple overseas study programs, many of which could be subject to budget cuts in a Trump administration.
  • Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Interior designee, whose department administers the Bureau of Indian Education, which provides life long education opportunities to Native Americans
  • Ben Carson, Trump’s HUD nominee, whose belief in bootstraps as opposed to helping hands and opposition to publicly supported housing makes him, like DeVos, a cabinet head who is more likely to dissemble his department than build it up.

This list could clearly go on. Andrew Puzder, Mr. Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Labor, for example. He opposes minimum wages, labor unions, and such “givens” as sick leave, paid vacations, and overtime. His appointment will clearly have an impact on children being raised in poverty and the collective bargaining agreements that currently provide a floor for the wages and working conditions of teachers.

As indicated above, there many fronts to fight against. In the ALL publicly funded programs are targeted for privatization, the environment is imperiled, women’s rights are under siege, Jim Crow laws could be restored, workers are likely to see their rights eroded, and who knows what cases the new Supreme Court will overturn.

These appear to be dark times… but if progressives stick together and take on all of these simultaneously we could come out ahead of where we started. Maybe, like the only businessman-turned-President Herbert Hoover, Trump will be a one-term President who will pave the way for a reformer to emerge.  That optimistic thought enables me to sleep soundly.

Debates About Governance and Privatization Are Beside the Point When AI is about to Displace Millions of Jobs

January 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch linked one of her blog posts to an Education Week article by Marc Tucker that discussed whether the US should follow the UK’s lead in re-instituting a model of schooling that sorts and selects based on aptitude as measured by standardized tests.

Having just reviewed Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and the Economy by the Executive Office of the President, I find myself thinking that the debates on how schools should function and whether they should be privatized to be immaterial and a diversion from the reality that is staring our country in the face and the consequences of that reality on our education system from Pre-K through grade 12. The section the report that is particularly astonishing is “AI and the Labor Market: The Near Term”, which predicts driving jobs are particularly vulnerable to elimination based on “…the current trajectory of AI technology”. Friends who work in investments are forecasting the advent of driver-less trucks and cars within a decade, an advent that would eliminate hundreds of thousands of jobs. Moreover, analyses cited in the report forecast that “…83% of the jobs making less than $20 per hour would come under pressure from automation as compared to 31% of the jobs making between $20 and $40 dollars per hour and 4% of jobs making above $40 per hour”.

If 2,000,000 current jobs that do not require high-level skills are going to disappear forever, what kinds of jobs will take their place and, more importantly, what kinds of skills will the new jobs require? the report foresees four categories of work:

  • Engagement: This refers to engagement between humans and AI technologies. The report foresees AI technology serving as “Augmented Intelligence” in the same way computers augment the work of clerks and managers. This should increase the productivity but will not necessarily expand the workforce.
  • Development: Someone will need to design the AI technologies and write and maintain the software that runs on them. These new jobs will clearly require an advanced skill set. The report suggests that “…development may include those specializing in the liberal arts and social sciences… who can give input as the new technologies grapple with more social complexities and moral dilemmas”. This, of course, assumes that “social complexities and moral dilemmas” will need to be dealt with, an assumption that also assumes that some government oversight of the implementation of technology is both feasible ad desirable.
  • Supervision: The report envisions an increase in jobs related to the “…monitoring, licensing, and repair of AI”. Like the development jobs, these will require a higher level of education than the jobs they are displacing.
  • Response to paradigm shifts: This catch-all category assumes that the advent of driverless cars, for example, will necessitate regulatory and engineering changes as well as changes in urban planning. The report also sees increases in jobs like cybersecurity.

While the report is rosy in its forecasts regarding the advancement of technology, it also includes some sobering notions about what the future may hold. For example, one school of thought (see Brynjolfsson and McAfee) notes that the current economic trends indicate that “superstars” may benefit from technological advancement while most workers will experience a decline in their wages. The report notes that this would “…exacerbate the current trend in the rising fraction of total income going to the top .01%”. 

The report offers some ideas for how publicly funded schooling should respond to this change in the workplace.

  • Prepare all children with college- and career- ready skills in math reading, computer science and critical thinking
  • Address the “…low levels of proficiency in basic math and reading for millions of Americans”, specifically the performance gap between low income children and those raised in affluence.
  • Increase the enrollment in high quality pre-schools, where our country ranks 28th out of the 38 developed economies. This section also emphasized the importance of intervening early with those children raised in poverty since they fall behind early and never catch up.
  • Provide all workers and children with access to affordable post-secondary education.
  • Dramatically expand access to training and re-training. The report cites data indicating that our nation spends .1 percent of its GDP on the training and retraining of active employees other nations spend .6 of their GDP…. and we are currently spending less than half of what we did 30 years ago.

Achieving each these goals for schooling will require more money. Our current paradigm is that displaced workers should fend for themselves. That should either be expected to move where the jobs are or pay for more schooling by borrowing and if they borrow to attend a school or program that is ineffective it is their problem. I would argue that this paradigm is fueled by the notion that “government is the problem” and that, in turn, contributes to the despair that led to the election of Mr. Trump. Those of us who want to see public education succeed need to advocate for publicly funded government sponsored re-training programs and, in so doing, help those displaced workers understand that their support for publicly funded schooling will help them a lot more than railing against the overpaid union teachers and “government schools” that failed to prepare them for the world they are living and working in today.