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Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

David Brooks’ Bogus “Meritocracy” Definition

September 13, 2019 Comments off

David Brooks column today, “The Meritocracy is Ripping America Apart“, rightfully calls out the impact of the “savage exclusion” of what he calls “the exclusive meritocracy”. Here is his definition:

In the exclusive meritocracy, prestige is defined by how many people you can reject. The elite universities reject 85 to 95 percent of their applicants. Those accepted spend much of their lives living in neighborhoods and attending conferences where it is phenomenally expensive or hard to get in. Whether it’s the resort town you vacation in or the private school you send your kids to, exclusivity is the pervasive ethos. The more the exclusivity, the thicker will be the coating of P.C. progressivism to show that we’re all good people.

As US News and World Report rolls out its annual report “ranking” colleges and universities, it is ironic to read that David Brooks has accepted their definition that “…prestige is defined by how many people you can reject”… Before US News and World Report adopted that as a proxy for “quality” colleges did not even keep track of that data point but since it became a variable that colleges could control they’ve gone overboard in encouraging as many people as possible to apply so that they could tout their rejection rate as evidence of their “excellence”. What passes for “merit” in our era of Big Data and standardized testing is what can be measured easily, cheaply and quickly.

And Mr. Brooks also rightfully notes that the highest wage earners from “exclusive meritocracy” work ungodly hours to accumulate their wealth:

People in this caste work phenomenally hard to build their wealth. As Daniel Markovits notes in his powerful new book, “The Meritocracy Trap,” between 1979 and 2006, the percentage of workers in the top quintile of earners who work more than 50 hours a week nearly doubled.

What Mr. Brooks fails to mention is that this hard work has the effect of the “meritocrats” justifying the requirement that everyone else work equally hard to earn a living. Consequently, they often have little sympathy for the individual who works more than 50 hours a week at two part-time jobs neither of which offer them health benefits, vacation, or leave time.

It might be a better world if the “meritocrats” shared their work load as well as their largesse. It’s possible that corporations who spend millions to retain these 50+ hour/week “meritocrats” could spend less on having multiple individuals performing the same tasks for less money– say $125,000/year– and less time– say 30 hours per week. The human resources are out there. The money is out there. We need to look at hour we spend time and allocation resources in order to improve the lot of our workforce.

Kids Don’t Vote, and the Parents of Poor Kids Don’t Donate… So Poor Children Suffer

September 13, 2019 Comments off

Our Children Deserve Better, Nick Kristof’s recent NYTimes op ed column, describes the sad plight of children in America. He writes:

UNICEF says America ranks No. 37 among countries in well-being of children, and Save the Children puts the United States at No. 36. European countries dominate the top places.

American infants at last count were 76 percent more likely to die in their first year than children in other advanced countries, according to an article last year in the journal Health Affairs. We would save the lives of 20,000 American children each year if we could just achieve the same child mortality rates as the rest of the rich world.

Half a million American kids also suffer lead poisoning each year, and the youth suicide rate is at its highest level on record.

And yet, he notes, America’s politicians are silent about this issue when the campaign for office. Indeed, by his count the issue of child poverty has not come up in over 140 consecutive Presidential debates. He wonders why this is the case, particularly given the massive research that supports this investment. He concludes his article with this response:

We don’t lack the tools to help, or the resources. The challenge is just that in our political system, children don’t count — and never get mentioned in presidential debates.

Kids don’t vote,” notes Nadine Burke Harris, the surgeon general of California and an expert on the lifelong costs of childhood trauma. “They require us to speak for them.

The real problem is NOT that the KIDS don’t vote. The problem is that the parents of kids who are adversely impacted by the bad drinking water, the lingering lead paint, the lack of a strong safety net, are overlooked by politicians in both parties because they do not make any kind of financial or political contribution to the system. They cannot make a financial contribution because they are poor and they cannot make a political contribution by volunteering for campaigns and participating in political party meetings because they are working two jobs to make ends meet. The system is set up so the affluent parents, who reside in the nicest neighborhoods and communities, whose children are enrolled in the best public schools in the nation, and whose children are well taken care of at home, are not at all impacted by the adversity faced by children raised in poverty. Until affluent parents are willing to speak up for their brothers and sisters who are struggling to make ends meet, we will never leverage the tools to help or the bounteous resources available to us.

Underfunding in New Hampshire Will Continue Until Broad Based Taxes Replace Property Tax

August 30, 2019 Comments off

I accepted an assignment as Superintendent of Schools in New Hampshire in 1983, moving into the state from Maine where I served three years as Superintendent. When I accepted the position, a colleague of mine who had moved FROM New Hampshire TO Maine warned me that I was about to leave what was then one of the most robust State funding systems to the worst. He was right. Maine provided 90% reimbursement for bus purchases, transportation expenses, special education, and building aid. It also had a formula in place that supported schools based on their property wealth with property poor districts receiving substantial aid and wealthy districts getting less. In New Hampshire there was diminished aid across the board… to the extent that in one of the more affluent towns I served we got just over $25,000 in state aid.

At one of the first meetings I attended with my colleagues, most of whom led districts far more property poor than the six towns under my jurisdiction, I recall one of them saying that the current finance system was unsustainable and that he expected to see wholesale changes in the coming years. Surely the new GOP candidate, John Sununu who was an engineer, would see that more revenue was needed to ensure that schools in property poor districts across the state would need more state funds to provide equal opportunities. Now… 36 years later… nothing has changed. Lawsuits filed by property poor districts have been won and governors in both parties have done nothing to provide the revenues needed to help the struggling districts. And now, CHRIS Sununu, son of the engineer who could not see the need for more revenues, is governor and, like his father, sees no reason to increase the funds for schools. Worse, like his counterparts in the GOP, he DOES see a need to provide tax cuts for businesses on the theory that attracting businesses to the State will somehow bring more revenue to the property poor districts. But after decades of experience, he and his colleagues in the GOP should know that when businesses ARE attracted they tend to be attracted to the affluent communities that offer their employees good services, good schools, and good housing. Cuts to business taxes help the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

So, in 2019, New Hampshire finds itself at an impasse. Their GOP governor vetoed the budget passed by the Democratically controlled legislature because he thought too much money was going to schools and not enough was being provided to business. The result: the state funds for school districts are the same in 2019-20 as they were in 2018-19. Consequently the towns who adopted budgets based on the legislator’s budget figures will be scrambling. Should they hire new staff based on the legislature’s budget or not? How about those bus purchases? How about the new technology they wanted to provide?

Our local paper reported on this situation and had this one poignant quote:

Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier called Sununu’s proposal “unacceptable.” He begged lawmakers to hold fast to the funding they included in the budget and described the city’s struggles after it recently closed its elementary school and consolidated its middle and high schools.

Kindergarten students, including his grandson, are now in a building that was built as a high school in 1919, he said.

“That’s the legacy I’m leaving my grandson. I’m putting him in a building that was built before my father was even born,”he said. “There will come a point in time where property-poor communities like Berlin will be totally unattractive to new investment, further exacerbating the decline that poor communities are facing now.”

Sadly, the “point in time where property-poor communities like Berlin will be totally unattractive to new investment” came decades ago. When the paper mill closed in that community and the stores were shuttered there might have been a chance to entice a new business there… but the town is so forlorn and the schools so underfunded that it is highly unlikely that anyone would want to relocate there. 

What would help? An infusion of government funding from all levels is the only way to make dilapidated communities like Berlin come back to life… but as long as we are in the thrall of low taxes governments will never have the resources needed to help communities like Berlin.

Redistricting in Red Hook, Gowanus, Cobble Hill Illustrates Dilemma Posed by Gentrification

August 28, 2019 Comments off
A few years ago my younger daughter moved into the Red Hook neighborhood in Brooklyn, drawn by the relatively low rents, its artsy-funky feel, and the spectacular views from the waterfront in that area. The neighborhood consisted mostly of warehouses and small two story houses formerly populated by the families of longshoreman who worked on the docks that formerly dotted the waterfront. When the waterfront docks disappeared, the city constructed multi-story housing projects surrounded by parks and the neighborhood surrounding those projects was, for the most part, vacated.
Now, thanks to the siting of a huge IKEA store, an upscale grocery store, and the immigration of artists and craftspeople drawn to the warehouse spaces that serve as wonderful studios, Red Hook is slowly gentrifying. At the same time, Cobble Hill, an adjoining neighborhood separated by a massive interstate highway, is also expanding and, as a result, some schools are bursting at the seams while others remain under crowded. The problem is that the OVERCROWDED schools serve affluent whites moving into Cobble Hill and some parts of Red Hook while the UNDER-CROWDED schools are almost entirely black.
Last night, my younger daughter called after attending a public meeting in her neighborhood seeking some insights from me on the plans the city plans to implement to address this issue. She was dismayed that those in attendance were mostly from affluent white schools and not from Red Hook and felt that those in attendance did not want to see any changes at all. In looking at the information available on line, it struck me that as is always the case in redistricting, the devil will be in the details. Here’s an excerpt from a June 21 Chalkbeat article that described the two alternatives under consideration and, in doing so, raises more questions than it answers:
For the elementary schools, one of the floated proposals would redraw smaller attendance zones around overcrowded P.S. 29 and P.S. 58, while increasing the zones around schools that have unused space.
The second would move the district to a lottery admissions system, with families applying to the schools of their choice.
Both scenarios would include a priority for 25 to 35% of seats for students who are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch. The aim is for every school to enroll a percentage of those students, who often need more support to thrive, that matches the average across the seven affected schools.
Either approach is likely to face stiff pushback, especially since some of the affected schools are among the district’s most coveted — and least diverse, racially, ethnically, and economically. For example, at P.S. 58, more than 73% of students are white and less than 12% come from low-income families. But at P.S. 676, virtually all students are black or Hispanic and come from low-income families.

Under the first possibility presented, the attendance zones around overcrowded schools would be reduced. P.S. 29 would admit 90 to 100 kindergarten students, down from 153 currently. P.S. 58 would enroll 100 to 110 students, down from 193. 

Other schools would see an increase in their zone size. Those schools are P.S. 15, P.S. 38, and P.S. 32, which is opening an addition with room for more than 400 new students.

P.S. 676 and P.S. 261 would preserve their current zone size.

All of the schools would give an admissions priority to vulnerable students for 25 to 35% of seats.

The education department did not provide specifics for how zone lines might be redrawn, saying they want to hear feedback on both broad approaches before drilling down further into either.

So… from what I understand, at this juncture the education department hasn’t drawn any lines as yet, which, as far as I am concerned, makes any discussion about “…which plan is best” pointless. Indeed, it may well be that those who are arguing most vociferously about staying in their “neighborhood school” might oppose the school board’s definition of “neighborhood” when the boundaries around PS 29 and 58 are diminished to make way for the 25-35% of new students who “…are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.” 

Sine my grandchildren attend PS 15, whose boundaries are expanding, it MAY be in my daughter’s self interest to support plan 1 since it would, in all probability, result in some of the displaced affluent PS 29 and 58 students moving into her “neighborhood” school— because it WILL be the affluent parents who have to move out of their overcrowded “neighborhood” schools to make way for the students who “…are learning English as a new language, live in temporary housing, or qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.” 
 
In looking at the two plans, my daughter tended to favor the lottery pan as being more fair, and that plan does mirror the middle school plan, a plan that seems to be functioning well at accomplishing the goals of diversity and solid academics. To those affluent parents who argue in favor of “providing more resources to needy schools” it might be worthwhile to roll out some data on how much more the affluent parents raise for their schools and suggest that, say, 75% of that supplementary funding be shared with their needier “neighborhood” schools.
In the end, I think the term “neighborhood schools” should be abandoned and replaced with “school communities”… because when gentrification takes place “neighborhood” schools tend to be economically and racially segregated. In NYC, the middle schools-of-choice tend to be more economically and racially diverse… and when kids are pulled from all over the city into a “school-of-choice” it is incumbent on the school administration to create a school community— which many of them do by providing orientation sessions before the opening of school so that the newly created cohort can get to know each other. 
At it was interesting to note that while one of the affluent schools sent parents a notice of this meeting that took place in Red Hook, my daughter did not get anything from her school… which COULD lead the board to conclude that “parents in Red Hook don’t care”.
And here’s what my experiences in MD and NY tell me: redistricting is a lose-lose proposition no matter how it is carried out. Parents are attached to the schools their child attends even if they are overcrowded and dilapidated and are fearful of what will happen if they move to a new place.

Michael Reagan’s Alternative Universe Where Prop 13 Never Happened

August 26, 2019 Comments off

I get two local newspapers, the reliably liberal Valley News published in Hanover, NH and the reliably conservative Caledonian Record published in St. Johnsbury, VT. Last Friday’s Caledonian Record featured an op ed article by Michael Reagan, Ronald Reagan’s son. Michael Reagan clearly despises Democrats who, he claims, turned the sunny California his father created into “…a social, fiscal and economic s-hole.” How did this happen?

…the California Dream has been transformed into the California Nightmare by Democrats and their liberal ways. Now the Golden State is famous for high taxes, over-spending, failed education policies, overgenerous social welfare programs, a huge homeless population and bad environmental and energy rules.

There’s one fact Mr. Reagan conveniently overlooked in his analysis of California’s woes: Proposition 13 created most of the “failed education policies” in the state and also resulted in taxes being shifted from local property tax to various state taxes— the “high taxes” Mr. Reagan cites.

And there’s another fact the Vermont newspaper failed to mention: California’s tax burden ranks 11th in the nation… and Vermont’s tax burden ranks 4th.

And here’s another fact that is overlooked: California ranks 18th in terms of social benefits. Vermont’s ranking? First.

And here’s a final inconvenient fact: California experienced a population growth of 6.5% while Vermont had a growth of .21%. So… people are not fleeing California’s onerous taxes, bad environmental and energy rules. Nor are homeless people and welfare recipients seeking out Vermont’s generous benefit package.

What Do You DO When an Algorithm Discriminates Based on Race? In the Trump Administration You Protect the Algorithm

August 23, 2019 Comments off

The NYTImes’ Emily Badger wrote an article on the new, subtle method of housing discrimination: algorithms. In her recent Upshot article titled “Who’s to Blame When Algorithms Discriminate” she describes how bankers and real estate agents use algorithms to reinforce segregated housing patterns and deny African Americans an equal opportunity to get decent housing. The way HUD pushed back against these in the past was to develop rules that made it more difficult to claim innocence when “disparate impact” occurred. She writes:

Federal law prohibits not just outright discrimination, but also certain policies and decisions that have a “disparate impact” on groups protected by civil rights laws. It may be illegal, in other words, to design a rental app that has the effect of excluding minorities, even if no one meant to discriminate against them…

Housing discrimination today is largely a matter of such cases: ones where there is no racist actor, no paper trail of intent to discriminate, but where troubling disparities emerge between different classes of people… 

“People don’t just say the things they used to say,” said Myron Orfield, a law professor at the University of Minnesota who directs the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity there.

But some statistical patterns speak just as loudly.

“A black household that makes $167,000 is less likely to qualify for a prime loan than a white household that makes $40,000,” Mr. Orfield said, citing analysis of public mortgage data by the institute. “That looks funny. What the banks say in these cases is, ‘It’s the credit histories, and our models explain the differences.’ But you can’t look at those models. They’re proprietary.”

The Obama administration wrote rules that placed the onus for proving non-discrimination on the loaner or renter. Unsurprisingly, the Trump administration is taking a different view:

The Department of Housing and Urban Development published a proposed rule on Monday significantly raising the bar for housing discrimination claims that rely on such evidence…

By raising the bar for such claims, the new rule would make it harder to hold banks accountable if their underwriting algorithms repeatedly deny mortgages to seemingly qualified black families, or if city zoning laws that make no mention of race still have the effect of racially segregating neighborhoods.

Fair housing advocates see these new rules as onerous and undercutting the Fair Housing Act of 1968 and the guidelines that have been in place since then.

“The problem that we have is that more and more, industry players are relying on artificial intelligence,” said Lisa Rice, the president of the National Fair Housing Alliance. “They’re relying on machine learning. They’re relying on algorithmic-based systems for more and more of the functions of the housing market.”

Online ads for rental housing are targeted in ways that mean, for example, that African-American would-be tenants may never see them. Decisions are based on credit scores that perceive families who use payday lenders — who are more likely to be African-American — as having no credit at all.

“We’re just learning what the impacts are of these things,” said Greta Byrum, co-director of the Digital Equity Laboratory at the New School. “That’s why we’re seeing this battle to set policy precedent. HUD I think is trying to get ahead of what everyone is seeing on the horizon now as a big fight to set policy around algorithms.”

In the end the losers in this are the children whose parents want to move into a neighborhood or community where schools are better and services are more robust… but whose parents may never see ads for houses in those neighborhoods due to their online profile and the algorithms used based on that profile… and having banks and renters wash their hands of the problem by claiming: ‘It’s the credit histories, and our models explain the differences.’ But you can’t look at those models. They’re proprietary.” They may be proprietary… but they are also racist if they result in disparate treatment and they should be thrown out if that is the case. We can’t claim to be a fair and just society where everyone has an equal opportunity if we let propriety software deny access to good housing, good schools, and good neighborhoods. But from the Trump administration’s perspective, this is not a software bug… it’s a software feature.

Milliken v. Bradley Decision Undercut Brown v. Board of Education, Stopped Racial AND “Social” Desegregation

August 20, 2019 Comments off

Everyone who ever studied the history of public education in our nation and the history of race in our country has heard of the Brown v. Board of Education decision that not only called for the segregation of schools “with all deliberate speed” but also called for the end of the “separate but equal” provisions that legally permitted the continuation of segregation. But most readers— and this blogger— have overlooked the impact of Milliken v. Bradley, a subsequent Supreme Court decision in 1974 that let hundreds of northern districts off the hook by allowing de facto segregation to remain in place. Jon Hale brings this 45-year old decision to forefront in a recent article in The National Interest:

…the racial makeup of today’s schools actually owes itself to a series of other court decisions – including one issued 45 years ago on July 25, 1974. The Milliken v. Bradley decision sanctioned a form of segregation that has allowed suburbs to escape being included in court-ordered desegregation and busing plans with nearby cities.

The Milliken decision recognized “de facto” segregation – segregation that occurs as a result of circumstances, not law. This allowed schools in the North to maintain racially separate schools at the same time southern schools were being ordered by the courts to desegregate. By giving suburbs a pass from large mandated desegregation attempts, it built a figurative wall around white flight enclaves, essentially shielding them from the “crisis” of urban education.

The decision ruled that social segregation was permissible and therefore exempt from court-ordered, “forced” desegregation plans. That is, the court said, if segregation occurred because of certain “unknowable factors” such as economic changes and racial fears – not a law – then it’s legal.

In reading this article I was struck by the breadth of the decision made on this case, which dealt with a plan to bus students from Detroit to contiguous suburban schools to promote racial segregation. But the ruling went even further, determining that social segregation was permissible. As a result of this decision, the boundaries of school districts, which in most states match the borders of towns, townships, or counties, were impermeable. This meant the building a “…figurative wall around white flight enclaves” not only shielded those enclaves RACIALLY, it shielded them SOCIALLY, not just from the “crisis” of urban education but also from the crisis of funding inequities.

Mr. Hale concludes his article with this paragraphs:

Milliken put forth the convenient narrative that segregation in the North was natural and therefore permissible. It also freed northern school districts from being forced to participate in large-scale solutions to segregation and unequal education outside their boundaries.

I believe continuing to ignore Milliken covers up the ongoing segregation of America’s schools today and the nation’s collective, ongoing failure to improve public education in the spirit of Brown.

And the “spirit of Brown”, that all children should have an equal opportunity to attend a public school that offers them an education that will prepare them for the future on the same footing as everyone in their age cohort, was killed when five justices appointed by Richard Nixon supported the narrative of Justice Potter, who concluded in his written decision that segregation in Detroit was “caused by unknown and perhaps unknowable factors such as in-migration, birth rates, economic changes, or cumulative acts of private racial fears.” Red-lining, block-busting, and other banking and real estate sales “techniques” were hardly “unknown and perhaps unknowable factors” and the disparity in housing prices that emerged from these practices are hardly “unknown and perhaps unknowable factors”… but they persist today and are the root cause of the exacerbation of racial and economic segregation that persists as well.