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Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Where’s The Money For “X”? Jesse Jackson Has the Answer: Cut the Defense Budget!

June 16, 2019 Leave a comment

Jesse Jackson’s recent Common Dreams op ed article offers the solution to the never-ending questions about lowering costs for college, funding Universal Pre-K, providing more resources for urban and rural districts whose tax bases have eroded, and upgrading our infrastructure. The title of the article, “Bring the Troops Home and Send More Kids to College“, gives the solution.

While Mr. Jackson’s article is narrower in scope than the list of needs in the opening paragraph of this post— he’s focussing on cuts to Pell grants that help low income students attend colleges— the fact is that defense spending is increasing while the costs for the safety net services are decreasing… and as I am writing this post it appears that President Trump’s cabinet members are ginning up a need for us to send troops (and, consequently even MORE money) to Iran.

I we REALLY want to make our nation stronger and our economy more vibrant, we need to pay workers more and provide an equitable opportunity for students of all backgrounds to make their lives better. Increasing spending on defense is not the best way to accomplish that.

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Head of Local Private School Touts Role of Schools in Future While Ignoring Public School’s Realities

June 15, 2019 Leave a comment

Brad Choyt, the Head of Crossroads Academy, a nearby K-8 private school wrote a thoughtful and insightful op ed article for our local newspaper describing the need for schools in the future to change their emphasis given the advent of AI-based instructional tools. In the article, after describing the advances in AI, he writes:

Within forward-thinking schools, educators are creating environments that prize the very skills that the most advanced computers programmed with the latest algorithms can’t match. This includes a renewed emphasis on creative problem-solving, cultivating high levels of empathy that foster clear communication skills, a fluency when collaborating with diverse groups of people and an ability to analyze data with a critical eye to determine the sets of information that are relevant and also what needs to be disregarded.

The best schools are also maximizing student engagement in their classrooms and ensuring their coursework meaningfully connects to real-world issues. In these classrooms, students are given ample opportunity to grapple with knowledge and problems that are complicated and sometimes messy to learn, but that often lead toward deeper understanding and insights on complex and nuanced topics.

Also, high-functioning schools are continually enabling their students to develop into self-directed, lifelong learners. Skilled teachers do this by allowing students to explore their specific interests while empowering them to self-evaluate their academic progress. In these classroom environments, students are given ample opportunity to learn from and to teach their peers while fostering greater accountability for their own academic success. All of these qualities allow students to gain uniquely human skills and insight as they strive to internalize a deeper understanding of their communities and the world around us.

One day, a more advanced generation of algorithms might be able to do many of the things the best teachers can do. And these computers will hopefully also create a world with fewer diseases and greener sources of energy. But I also believe there will continue to be a need for places where students and teachers can come together both to learn and to prepare for a brighter future, one where we can continuously perfect our own human neural networks in the company of others who can become both role models and mentors.

Ultimately, my visits to different schools have reaffirmed this essential point: It is the potential and the power of human relationships that inspire students to learn life’s most important lessons, and no computer, no matter how advanced its algorithm, can be a substitute.

These ideas resonate with me. I wholeheartedly agree that schools should focus on interpersonal relations, self-directed learning, and higher order thinking skills. And the ideas Mr. Choyt presents are congruent with the mission of the school he leads, which describes itself as an “Independent, coeducational day school based upon the Core Knowledge Sequence, authored by E.D. Hirsch, and the character education program, Core Virtues, created by founder Dr. Mary Beth Klee.” The webpage for the school also notes that the Crossroads Program “includes a strong focus on the performance arts”. It’s motto is “Strong Minds. Kind Hearts”.  

There is one reality that Mr. Choyt overlooks: as a private school Crossroads does not use annual state test scores as the basis for determining it’s quality. And by the way, neither does it’s nearby public school district— the one I led for 7 years when NCLB was emerging as the coin of the realm for accountability. Why? Because our public school was a de facto selective school in the same way as Crossroads since the real estate within the communities that comprised the school district were among the wealthiest in their respective states.
If we want the kinds of schools Mr. Choyt describes we need to provide those schools with the kinds of resources Crossroads has, the kinds of resources that affluent public schools have, and— most importantly— stop using standardized tests as the primary metric for “quality”. If we want to value creative thinking, self-directed learning, and interpersonal skills we need to find a way to measure them acknowledging that any measure will be imprecise… an acknowledgement that should be made and emphasized even now!

A Billionaire Who Gets It: Our Education System Cannot Compensate for the Injustices of Our Economic System

June 12, 2019 Leave a comment

Billionaire entrepreneur Nick Hanauer offers a mea culpa in an Atlantic article that appeared inCommon Dreams titled “Sorry, But Just Having Better Public Schools Will Not Fix America”. He opens the post with this confession:

Long ago, I was captivated by a seductively intuitive idea, one many of my wealthy friends still subscribe to: that both poverty and rising inequality are largely consequences of America’s failing education system. Fix that, I believed, and we could cure much of what ails America.

This belief system, which I have come to think of as “educationism,” is grounded in a familiar story about cause and effect: Once upon a time, America created a public-education system that was the envy of the modern world. No nation produced more or better-educated high-school and college graduates, and thus the great American middle class was built. But then, sometime around the 1970s, America lost its way. We allowed our schools to crumble, and our test scores and graduation rates to fall. School systems that once churned out well-paid factory workers failed to keep pace with the rising educational demands of the new knowledge economy.As America’s public-school systems foundered, so did the earning power of the American middle class. And as inequality increased, so did political polarization, cynicism, and anger, threatening to undermine American democracy itself.

But Mr. Hanauer came to understand that this narrative lays the blame for all of society’s ills on public education without acknowledging the impact of those same ills on the schools…. and he came to conclude that the “egg” of economic dysfunction led to “chicken” of “failing schools”.

What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me. Americans are more highly educated than ever before, but despite that, and despite nearly record-low unemployment, most American workers—at all levels of educational attainment—have seen little if any wage growth since 2000…

For all the genuine flaws of the American education system, the nation still has many high-achieving public-school districts. Nearly all of them are united by a thriving community of economically secure middle-class families with sufficient political power to demand great schools, the time and resources to participate in those schools, and the tax money to amply fund them. In short, great public schools are the product of a thriving middle class, not the other way around. Pay people enough to afford dignified middle-class lives, and high-quality public schools will follow. But allow economic inequality to grow, and educational inequality will inevitably grow with it.

By distracting us from these truths, educationism is part of the problem.

And educationism has distracted us mightily with its efficiency driven spreadsheet mentality whereby schools are “measured” and rank-ordered using seemingly precise standardized tests and other cheap and easy metrics and penalizing those schools that fall short for reasons that have nothing to do with their effectiveness and everything to do with the socio-economic factors of the children attending them. Mr. Hanauer goes on to burst other bubbles of his billionaire brethren, undercutting the narrative of the “skills gap”, the “under-educated workforce”, the need for more STEM, and the underlying belief that better schools will take care of the unarguable economic divide. And Mr. Hanauer does so with facts and data that counter the story lines embraced by the edu-philanthropists. His solution for improving public schools is one that is unsettling… and one rooted in de facto redistribution:

All of which suggests that income inequality has exploded not because of our country’s educational failings but despite its educational progress. Make no mistake: Education is an unalloyed good. We should advocate for more of it, so long as it’s of high quality. But the longer we pretend that education is the answer to economic inequality, the harder it will be to escape our new Gilded Age.

However justifiable their focus on curricula and innovation and institutional reform, people who see education as a cure-all have largely ignored the metric most predictive of a child’s educational success: household income.

Mr. Hanauer then lays out a series of facts his counterparts will, alas, be unlikely to accept and ideas they will also be unlikely to embrace:

Indeed, multiple studies have found that only about 20 percent of student outcomes can be attributed to schooling, whereas about 60 percent are explained by family circumstances—most significantly, income. Now consider that, nationwide, just over half of today’s public-school students qualify for free or reduced-price school lunches, up from 38 percent in 2000. Surely if American students are lagging in the literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving skills our modern economy demands, household income deserves most of the blame—not teachers or their unions.

If we really want to give every American child an honest and equal opportunity to succeed, we must do much more than extend a ladder of opportunity—we must also narrow the distance between the ladder’s rungs. We must invest not only in our children, but in their families and their communities. We must provide high-quality public education, sure, but also high-quality housing, health care, child care, and all the other prerequisites of a secure middle-class life. And most important, if we want to build the sort of prosperous middle-class communities in which great public schools have always thrived, we must pay all our workers, not just software engineers and financiers, a dignified middle-class wage.

His idea that employers could find qualified workers if they paid them more seems obvious to any student of Economics 101 in college… but in our era of outsourcing, robotics, and downsizing the profiteers seem content to displace workers in favor of accumulating profits.

Mr. Hanauer concludes his article with this Big Idea which no billionaire is likely to accept and only a handful of politicians are willing to talk about:

Educationism appeals to the wealthy and powerful because it tells us what we want to hear: that we can help restore shared prosperity without sharing our wealth or power. As Anand Giridharadas explains in his book Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World, narratives like this one let the wealthy feel good about ourselves. By distracting from the true causes of economic inequality, they also defend America’s grossly unequal status quo.

We have confused a symptom—educational inequality—with the underlying disease: economic inequality. Schooling may boost the prospects of individual workers, but it doesn’t change the core problem, which is that the bottom 90 percent is divvying up a shrinking share of the national wealth. Fixing that problem will require wealthy people to not merely give more, but take less.

And fixing the problem will require people like me who are comfortable but not billionaires, to accept a reality described in a pin that reads: “End Economic Inequality: Tax Me”.

This Just In: USDA Study Shows That Students Like Nutritious Food!… And THIS Just In: The USDA Findings Were Buried

June 11, 2019 Leave a comment

The Washington Post’s Laura Reiley recently wrote a story describing the findings of a USDA study that effectively supported the reforms to the lunch program introduced by the Obama administration, reforms that increased the nutritional content of the meals without increasing the waste. The findings themselves are compelling:

The best news was that the Healthy Eating Index (HEI-2010), a multi-component measure of diet quality, shot up dramatically for both school-provided breakfasts and lunches.

For the 2009-2010 school year, the score for breakfast was an abysmal 49.6 out of 100 (even lower than the overall American average of 59), rising to 71.3 by the 2014-2015 school year. In that same time frame, the lunch score went from 57.9 to 81.5. The score for whole grains in school meals went from 25 to 95 percent of the maximum score, and the score for greens and beans rose from 21 to 72 percent.

In addition, there was greater participation in school meal programs at schools with the highest healthy food standards. And the study found food waste, a troubling national problem in the lunchroom, remained relatively unchanged.

Better nutrition: check… greater participation: check… food waste unchanged: check. Mission accomplished in terms of achieving nutrition and participation and no increase in food waste. This seems like a story that illustrates how government can work! This seems like a story that warrants wide coverage! But, alas, nutrition, like everything else, is driven by politics and politics is driven by money so this report was effectively buried and ignored. Here’s Ms. Reiley’s opening paragraphs:

The U.S. Agriculture Department has good news it seemingly wants nobody to know about.

On April 23, the USDA released its “School Nutrition and Meal Cost Study,” with no news release, no fanfare. The link on the USDA website disappeared for several days after that and was altogether inaccessible before reappearing under a different URL.

Later in the article Ms. Reiley offers an additional explanation about the (ahem) understated release:

It seems fairly outside of the norm for a federal agency to release a study that directly contradicts what the administration’s position is,” explained Elizabeth Balkan, food waste director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “That’s why it was released very quietly.”

But the current administration is obsessed with deregulation, and loosening the relatively tighter requirements necessary to ensure a healthy meal fulfills their overarching goal:

“The Trump administration wants to tick off the maximum number of regulations it can say it rolled back,” Margo Wootan, vice president for nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said. “It’s another tick mark on the deregulatory agenda.”

And the deregulation of nutritious meals is only one of the deregulatory efforts that undercuts the well-being of citizens. The NYTimes reported recently on 83 EPA rules the administration modified, many of which will increase air and water pollution and almost all of which ignore climate science.

And if the voters and children suffer as a result of deregulation, who benefits? I think anyone who reads this blog knows the answer: shareholders and the plutocrats.

No Surprise: NH Supreme Court Finds Funding Levels Unconstitutional… A HUGE Surprise Would Be Having Anything Happen as a Result

June 7, 2019 Leave a comment

The Advancing New Hampshire Public Education (ANHPE) blog posted a synopsis of NH Superior Court Judge Ruoff’s 98-page decision on the constitutionality of the current funding in NH and once again it was determined to be unconstitutional. Here are a few choice tidbits from the judge’s decision as gleaned from the ANHPE post:

  • “RSA 198:40-a,II(a) sets the current base adequacy aid award for all schools at $3,562.71 per student, based on a formula determined by a legislative committee in 2008. The parties agree that not a single school in the State of New Hampshire could or does function at $3,562.71 per student. ”Because of the dearth of evidence in the legislative record to support such a
    determination, the Court finds RSA 198:40-a,II(a)—which is essentially the gateway to an adequate education in New Hampshire—unconstitutional as applied to the Petitioning school districts.”
  • “Labels aside, we are simply unable to fathom a legitimate governmental purpose to justify the gross inequities in educational opportunities evident from the record…”
  • The distribution of a resource as precious as educational opportunity may not have as its determining force the mere fortuity of a child’s residence. It requires no particular constitutional expertise to recognize the capriciousness of such a system.
  • “As repeatedly found above, the Joint Committee’s [that determined the adequacy funding formula] conclusions were not only unsupported by the legislative record but were clearly or demonstrably inadequate according to the Legislature’s own definition of an adequate education.”
  •  “As every court decision on the matter has recognized, school funding is no small task, and the burden on the Legislature is great. Yet, as every court decision has similarly recognized, the Legislature is the proper governmental body to complete it. As has been the result in the past, the Court expects the Legislature to respond thoughtfully and enthusiastically to funding public education according to its constitutional obligation.”

The Governor’s reaction was as unsurprising as the judge’s decision… and completely contradicts the findings in bold red italics above:

Governor Sununu issued a statement saying, “”The state is reviewing the order, but we continue to believe these critical funding decisions are best left to local elected leaders — who represent the people of New Hampshire — not judges in a courtroom.”

There is no way that “local elected leaders” in property poor communities can EVER provide adequate funds… but the Governor knows enough math to also realize that there is no way the Legislature, “the prosper governmental body” to devise an equitable formula, can accomplish the feat without getting more revenues… which, of course, means higher taxes or more “tricks” like the expansion of the lottery. Will this ever happen in my home state? It’s been over thirty years since the first lawsuit was “won” and it hasn’t happened yet. I’m not at all encouraged.

 

The “Soft” White Nationalism of De Facto Segregation

June 6, 2019 Leave a comment

NYTimes columnist Charles Blow wrote a powerful op ed piece in today’s paper titled “It’s All Rooted in White Panic”. The premise of the article is summarized in these two paragraphs:

Everything that has happened during recent years is all about one thing: fear by white people that they will inevitably lose their numerical advantage in this country; and with that loss comes an alteration of American culture and shifting of American power away from white dominance and white control. White people don’t want to become one of many minority groups in America and have others — possibly from Asia, Latin America, Africa or the Middle East — holding the reins of power, and dictating inclusion and equity.

This is manifested in every issue you can imagine: the Confederate monuments fight, opposition to Black Lives Matter, intransigence on gun control, voter suppression laws, the Muslim ban, the hard line on asylum seekers coming across the southern border, calls to abolish the visa lottery, the defaming of majority black countries, efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade, the addition of a census question that could cause an undercount of Hispanics, the stacking of the courts with far-right judges (the vast majority of whom are white men). You name it, each issue is laced the white panic about displacement.

Later in the essay, Mr. Blow writes about “soft” white nationalists, who he describes as using “…stigmas and statutes as their weapons, those who have convinced themselves that their motivations have nothing to do with American racism and everything to do with American culture.” The phrase “‘soft’ white nationalists” resonated with me, and led me to leave this comment:

“Soft” white nationalism has been with us for decades. How else can one explain the persistent segregation in housing patterns, the resultant segregation of schools, and the resultant divide in incomes between people of color and whites?

The “individual fruits of the poison tree” come from the root reality that many whites have no contact with people of color and see them only through the lens of the news they watch and read. One of the benefits of racial and economic integration is that we get to know each other better on an individual level and gain an appreciation for each other’s challenges. As long as the “soft” white nationalism of de facto segregation remains in place we will continue to struggle with mutual understanding and racism will persist.

 

“Thin Contracts”: The Way Forward for Charter Schools AND Unions

June 5, 2019 Leave a comment

Forbes contributing writer Talia Milgrom-Elcott offers a way forward for charter schools and unions, a way that would provide charter schools with a stable workforce by offering teachers in those schools the basic benefits unions provide: decent wages, benefits, and working conditions. Here’s Ms. Milgrom-Elcott’s opening paragraphs that describe how this might work:

I am part of a growing contingent: a supporter of unions, public schools and public charter schools. This is no easy alliance. Unionizing charter schools can make both parties anxious – even though charters were first conceived by Al Shanker, the then-president of the American Federation of Teachers.

Many charter schools have delivered powerful results for students by focusing on children first. And unions have staked out the teacher-happiness terrain, focusing on satisfaction, retention and job quality. Why have we forced a choice: unions or charter schools; children-first or teacher-first? Personally, I have come to see these dichotomies as false, because students will only thrive in schools where adults are also thriving.

Companies with disgruntled staff don’t make good widgets. How can we expect unhappy teachers to shape thriving humans? As Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, shared in a recent piece in The Atlantic: “As charters go from infancy to adolescence, those who want to succeed for the long haul have to have a stable, vibrant teaching force, and that stable, vibrant teaching force wants a voice and agency.”

Later in the article, Ms. Milgrom-Elcott answers the question she posed above regarding the mental models in place that result in a forced choice between charters and unions:

We can’t ignore the animosity that has long characterized the relationship between charter schools and unions. Charter schools have made explicit structural decisions to side-step some of the more onerous restrictions of traditional teachers’ union contracts, and unions have derogated charter schools’ intentions, in turn.

Ms. Milgrom-Elcott offers a workaround used by several charter chains who have accepted unionization: a “thin contract”. She uses Green Dot’s collective bargaining agreement as an example:

…Green Dot Public Schools, a network of charter schools where in California they are serving about 11,000 students in communities across Greater Los Angeles – (has) unionized teachers and staff have a central role in the organization.

“We want to be agents of transformation in public education, so we have to live and breathe the same context as our peers,” said Chad Soleo, the national CEO of Green Dot. “Ultimately, we want to make sure that our reforms and the lessons we’ve learned in public education are completely replicable in any union setting.

Partnering with an organized workforce has evolved into much more, says Soleo.

“Our educators buy in wholeheartedly to the values of collective decision-making, collaborative leadership, and organized labor,” he said. “In practice, they wanted a different flavor than the status quo.”

Green Dot’s “thin” contract, negotiated in Los Angeles with their unions, both affiliates of the California Teachers Association – itself a joint affiliate of the AFT and NEA, the nation’s two largest teachers’ unions – leaves room for flexibility by both the school administration and teachers to remain responsive to student needs. Organized charter schools have typically worked with unions to create these more streamlined contracts specific to the needs of each school community.

I can see “thin” contracts being a benefit to unions as well as charter schools. Many “mature” contracts I worked with near the end of my career incorporated detailed regulations on the length and structure of classes that arguably hampered the ability of teachers to innovate and often included arcane provisions on leaves that taxpayer groups would quote to illustrate how easy teachers have it. These regulations and provisions often emerged because of a controversy in one school caused by a single incident that led to language being added to ensure that an outlying practice was not repeated. The result was an increasingly thick and complicated contract. From the union’s perspective changing any of the language was perceived as an erosion of protection or benefits, making it difficult to strip away language that was no longer needed even if current practices made the language superfluous. Language changes regarding the time frames for the issuance of report cards, drafted when they were done by pencil-and-paper instead of computers, were often viewed as “concessions” instead of “clarifications” making relationships between unions and school boards contentious. In order to make contracts skinnier and more flexible, a requirement in this day and age of technology, both sides need to abandon their win-lose mentality and find “a different flavor” than the status quo.

Ms. Milgrom-Olcott’s closing paragraphs an apt closing paragraph for this post as well:

We’re at a critical juncture in this country, one that requires courageous leadership. Persistent economic inequality and lack of social mobility threaten the fabric of our nation and the health of our democracy. Public charter schools want to combat this. To fully live into that mission, their boards, leaders, teachers, and communities should embrace unionization and negotiate the details with unions. Charter school leaders have an opportunity to reignite their schools as engines of economic mobility and robust democratic participation for their communities. The American Dream might well depend on it.