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Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

NY Times Article Offers Glimpse of Public Education’s Fight Ahead Under DeVos… and it Will NOT Be Easy!

February 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Yamiche Alcindor’s NYTimes article on Betsy DeVos’ first week as Secretary of Education is titled “Rough First Week Gives Betsy DeVos Glimpse of the Fight Ahead”. It could just as easily been titled “Betsy’s First Week Gives Public Education a Glimpse of the Fight Ahead”, and the fight will be daunting!

Ms. Alcindor described some of Ms. DeVos mis-steps, including one doozy where she told a conservative news outlet that that teachers at a DC school she visited were “wonderful” but their “attitude is more of a ‘receive mode.’ They’re waiting to be told what they have to do, and that’s not going to bring success to an individual child.” Unsurprisingly, this created a tweet storm where several DC teachers and the ex-chancellor of DC schools took her to task to the point where Ms. DeVos was compelled to send a tweet clarification: “Great teachers deserve freedom and flexibility, not to constantly be on the receiving end of government dictates.” 

As noted in earlier posts on interviews she conducted, Ms. DeVos restricted her interviews to friendly news sources. But the quotes emanating from those interviews, like the tweet she sent to teachers after her visit, indicate her intentions to scale back government oversight, even though it is needed now more than ever. The penultimate paragraph indicates where DeVos’ thinking is on her department:

She did say that the Education Department has historically helped protect students and keep them safe, citing segregation and providing equal opportunities for girls’ athletics, but she said there were few current issues that warranted federal intervention.

I guess that problems with racial and gender equity are all taken care of and the inequities with regard to funding, internet access, and opportunity are all taken care of as well. Nothing to see here… move along…

This Just In: There is “..Clear Evidence of the Truth” that Desegregation Works

February 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Thomas Edsall’s column in today’s NYTimes poses what I have to believe is a rhetorical question:

Integration Works. Can It Survive the Trump Era?

As I am certain Mr. Edsall realizes, the Supreme Court Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 was based on research demonstrating clear evidence that desegregation made a difference and the notion of “separate but equal” schools was unfair and unconstitutional. And, as I am certain Mr. Edsall would acknowledge, that decision didn’t result in any substantive changes coming out of the Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, or Obama administrations— ten consecutive administrations!

Neither party wants to accept the “..clear evidence of the truth of these findings” because they both know from the experience of politicians who did so that there is a price to be paid. This unwillingness to accept the “…clear evidence of the truth of these findings” led both parties to embrace failed ideas like NCLB, Race to the Top, and now, vouchers. While there is “…clear evidence of the truth of these findings” regarding the positive effects of desegregation and– to a lesser degree— more spending, there is NO “…clear evidence of the truth of… findings” that closing schools based on low test scores, launching charter schools, privatizing public education, or using vouchers works. Yet these ideas have bi-partisan support because they don’t cost money AND they require no political courage…. oh, and in some cases the privatizers will make campaign contributions— something that those seeking the desegregation of neighborhoods cannot do.

Evidence that desegregation works WILL survive the “Trump Era”… and evidence that closing schools based on low test scores, launching charter schools, privatizing public education, or using vouchers is NOT the way to fix schools will continue to be gathered…. But unless a political is willing to appeal to the best instincts in voters segregation will continue and public education will continue to be a bi-partisan whipping boy.

President Trump’s Appointments, Republican Actions Undercut Equity, Opportunity

February 9, 2017 Leave a comment

When I entered public education as a career I did so with the conviction that public schools provided the best means to lift people out of poverty and into the middle class. In the late 1960s there was hope among those who shared this view that the provision of equal opportunity through quality schools would end racism, poverty, and injustice. This clearly did not come to pass in my lifetime and, based on Mr. Trump’s appointments and the actions of the newly installed Congress, it appears that we will be moving backward for the next two to four years. Here is a sick summary of the decisions made to date:

  • Betsy DeVos, an inexperienced anti-public school fundamentalist Christian is now Secretary of Education. Her “solution” to inequity is to provide vouchers for parents. This “solution” has been tried in several cities and states and has consistently failed to provide equity. Instead it has subsidized the tuitions to sectarian schools, for profit-charter schools, and schools that exclude students with special needs or whose “behavior” is unacceptable. If her agenda is implemented it will be a huge step backward for public schools.
  • Jeff Sessions, an Alabama politician with a track record of gutting legislation that attempted to provide equitable funding for impoverished African American children and working to deny voting rights to African Americans, is now the nation’s Attorney General. Any efforts to resolve funding inequities through legislation or the courts will cease.
  • Ben Carson, who believes that housing subsidies are unnecessary, is now the Head of the Department of Urban Development. Under his leadership, efforts by HUD to place low income housing in affluent communities will cease.
  • Amit Pai, who does not believe internet access is a utility, is now FCC chair. This makes it likely that the telecomm industry will be able to institute it’s tiered system of services which will make it impossible for low income parents to provide streaming for their children which, in turn, will limit schools serving children raised in poverty with the same kinds of technology-enhanced programs as children in affluent communities. As noted in a previous post, Mr. Pai has already suspended the implementation of a program instituted to subsidize the costs of high speed internet.
  • Mr. Trump’s administration, with the full support of Congress, has abandoned the requirement that federal funds be used to supplement State funds and not supplant them. This means that the original intention of federal funding, which was to compensate for deficiencies in state formulas that relied on property taxes, is eliminated.

These are the broad actions taken to date… and there are rumored changes to the laws for disabled children, social security, and health care that will make life even more challenging for those raised in poverty.

Despite the recent election and the recent actions by the new administration and Congress I still believe public education is the best means of achieving economic and racial justice and for uniting our country. And despite the negativity and divisiveness we are witnessing now I believe that in the long run voters will support politicians who strive to bring out the best in our citizens. My evidence for this belief is the work I have done and observed with grassroots  politics… namely school boards. I’ve seen school boards “taken over” in a stealth fashion by fundamentalist Christians, tax-cutting tea party members, and privatizers only to be brought “back to center” in a subsequent election cycle. In my State, New Hampshire, I’ve seen the Tea Party occupy the State House and legislature and then voted out. At all levels, voters disdain negativity and hate. Given the choice and the opportunity, voters prefer a harmonious and tolerant community and a state that provides a reasonable safety net for those who cannot help themselves.

In the coming months, I believe it is important to make certain voters realize that some actions are taking away their opportunities to vote, shredding the safety net that helps those less fortunate, and working to divide us. If the electorate sees this happening, I am confident they will take corrective action.

Two News Stories from Parallel Universes Illustrate the Challenge of Getting a Unified Front on Connectivity

February 9, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the past few days I’ve read two articles on the e-divide that seem to have been written in parallel universes. eSchool News, which tends to be a reliable (if boosterish) site for developments in on-line learning published an article by Laura Ascione with a title that posed the question “Why are rural schools still struggling with high speed internet access?”

Had Ms. Ascione read Walter Eineckel’s Daily Kos article from last Friday, she’d have an answer in the form of its title: “New FCC Chairman Reverses Course and Prevents Nine Companies from Providing Low-Income People Internet”. Mr. Eineckel’s article describes the decision of the newly appointed Republican FCC chairman Ajit Pai to abandon the Lifeline program instituted last year by the Obama administration. While the Lifeline Program was not specifically set up for rural outposts, it WAS designed to provide a healthy subsidy for those who have economic challenges… and given that schools in rural areas typically have 50% of the students qualifying for free and reduced lunch it is clear that they would have benefitted at least indirectly from this program.

As readers of this blog know, I was among those who were frustrated with former FCC Chair Tom Wheeler’s dithering on the decision to make internet access a utility. His delay deferred action on the rules needed to implement this program and made it possible for it to be undone quickly. Had Mr. Wheeler and President Obama made a decision on the status of internet access earlier, as Mr. Obama did with the ACA, undoing the Lifeline Program would have been as difficult as undoing the ACA. This foot-dragging on the widespread provision of internet services has widened the digital divide and limited the possibility of technology serving as a tool for equity. That will be a sad part of Mr. Obama’s legacy and an even sorrier chapter as Mr. Pai jacks up the cost for consumers no matter what their income is.

Betsy DeVos Is In… Jeff Sessions is Waiting in the Wings… and Children Raised in Poverty Sit on the Sidelines

February 7, 2017 Leave a comment

It’s official: Betsy DeVos is now the Secretary of Education by a vote of 51-50… and, as we’ve learned from the Presidential vote, the margin of victory doesn’t matter in the least: Ms. DeVos has the same level of authority as she would have if she had been a unanimous choice and she will likely be acting as if she has a complete and total mandate.

Her appointment is resulting in a shift in the spotlight to other nominees whose credentials are questionable… and the first name on the list of arguably unqualified candidates is Jeff Sessions, the nominee for Attorney General. Unlike Ms. DeVos he has experience that qualifies him on paper… but unlike Ms. DeVos his experience makes him a demonstrably poor candidate. As Ryan Gabrielson reported in today’s Truthdig post, when Mr. Sessions was State Attorney General in Alabama he worked to derail equitable school funding in that state. As Gabrielsson explains, in the early 1990s several judges ruled that Alabama’s funding formula was unconstitutional and then Gov. Guy Hunt, who initially fought the court rulings, “…accepted defeat, and vowed to work with the courts to negotiate a solution for equitably funding all of Alabama’s schools.”

“This is a unique and timely opportunity to make historic improvements in Alabama’s public schools for our children,” Hunt said at a news conference in 1993, “and we will not miss this opportunity.”

Unfortunately for the children attending the schools in the poorest parts of the State, schools that largely served minority students, Attorney General Jeff Sessions stood in the way.

Sessions, elected Alabama attorney general just a year after the courts had begun review of reform measures, didn’t think the state’s courts should have any role in deciding how Alabama educated its children. He hired expensive private lawyers to fight the findings of the court — first at the district level, later at the state Supreme Court level. He succeeded in removing a judge sympathetic to the plight of poor students from the case. He filed appeal after appeal, insisting he be heard even after the state’s highest court issued final decisions. He fought every effort by the court to require that schools in the state’s poorer communities be funded at the same levels as its wealthier ones.

Sessions’s efforts won out — both in the short term, and in the end. His legal jousting across his two years as attorney general effectively prevented any overhaul to the way schools were financed in Alabama, and as a result helped drag out a case that would ultimately collapse years later when the makeup of the state’s top court turned over.

The article describes in detail how Mr. Sessions’ succession of lawsuits protracted the implementation of the formula and eventually, once the composition of the Court itself changed, the whole case was thrown out. The result?

Today, Alabama’s public schools remain a story of inequality. The poorest districts only receive state funds to cover the minimum instruction, but nothing from local property taxes for music or art, or even enough to buy textbooks for each student. Analyses of test scores have shown Alabama ranks low nationally, especially in math, with both white and black students far behind their peers in other states.

Now, this same man– the one who fought to prevent poor minority children from getting an opportunity to attend decent schools after a State Supreme Court ruling– is going to be responsible for ensuring that the laws of the nation are fairly and equitably enforced… that Supreme Court decisions are respected and their decisions implemented whether he agrees with them or not. Alas, Mr. Sessions is likely to be confirmed… and with his confirmation poor minority children will be overlooked and court cases that are not to the liking of Mr. Sessions or Mr. Trump will either be ignored or fought. It will be a long uphill battle to unseat the Republicans in the House and an even longer and tougher battle to displace Mr. Trump in 2020… but this kind of appointment should make it easier for progressives to activate their base.

Evidence Shows Choice, Vouchers Don’t Help… but Evidence Doesn’t Matter When You Believe in Markets

February 1, 2017 Leave a comment

Dianne Ravitch’s posts yesterday included links to two articles that provide evidence that neither choice nor vouchers provide any improvement to public education nor any greater opportunity to students raised in poverty. While anyone who values evidence based decision making would see these findings as cautionary, it is unlikely that either this administration or the neoliberal “reform” movement will change their thinking on the value of markets as a means of improving education.

The article on the limitations appeared in US News and World Report. Written by Henry M. Levin, the William Heard Kilpatrick Professor of Economics and Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College, the article notes that Chile and Sweden have both instituted choice and voucher programs and witnessed a decline in PISA scores, which are used as a measure of the effectiveness of the education system in a nation. Levin does acknowledge that choice and vouchers DO achieve one outcome:

Where school choice has shown powerful effects around the world is the systematic separation of students by ethnicity, social class and religion. 

Sweden’s vouchers have increased segregation by social class and immigrant status. Chile’s voucher system has produced one of the most segregated system of schools in the world by family income. In the Netherlands, studies of the school choice system have pointed to school separation of students by ethnicity, immigrant status and family income. A Brookings Institution study found that U.S. charter schools are more segregated racially and socio-economically than public schools in surrounding areas. The Program for International Student Assessment, an important triennial study of international student performance, finds school segregation by social class is associated with school choice.

Although even public schools have segregation challenges typically caused by residential location, school choice tends to streamline the racial, social class and ethnic isolation of students, as well as separate them by political ideology and religion. 

For a country called the UNITED States of America, this outcome is clearly negative.

Indiana based blogger Steve Hinnefeld reports on the findings of a report published last summer in the Peabody Journal of Education. The study’s co-authors, Julie Mead, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Jessica Ulm, a doctoral student at IU, examined 25 programs in 15 states and Washington, D.C., that provide public funding for private K-12 schools, including traditional tuition voucher programs and voucher-like programs called education savings accounts. Their findings indicate that the laws that provided vouchers often enabled public funds to be directed to schools that “…discriminate on the basis of religion, disability status, sexual orientation and possibly other factors”. But these findings are unlikely to sway voucher advocates:

Voucher supporters argue that religious schools need to be able to set their own admissions criteria and that rejecting LGBT students comes from a deeply held religious belief. But (Suzanne) Eckes (professor in the IU School of Education) points out that the same argument was once made to keep African-American students out of white schools in the South. The first voucher schools, the researchers say, were publicly funded “choice academies” established to get around the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education desegregation decision.

“Discrimination is discrimination,” Eckes said. “If you’re going to take public money, you simply shouldn’t be able to discriminate.”

As with the findings on choice, for a country called the UNITED States of America, this outcome is clearly negative.

But as with any evidence that is contrary to the “reform” narrative that calls for the replacement of the “government school monopoly (sic)” with a free market and the replacement of “failing” public schools with privatized for-profit schools or tickets to religiously affiliated schools, this evidence will be promptly ignored and disputed. in the meantime,  our schools will continue to be segregated by wealth and increasingly segregated by race… and the notion of being the UNITED States of America will be increasingly harder to achieve.

New Jersey Towns’ Foot Dragging on Affordable Housing Infuriates Justices, Punished a Two Generations

January 24, 2017 Leave a comment

The NYTimes editorial board slammed the towns in New Jersey who have dragged their feet to respond to a court order issued over three decades ago. Their editorial in today’s paper describes a case that re-appeared before the court:

The original case dates back to the 1970s. when low-income, minority families found themselves priced out of Mount Laurel, a growing New Jersey suburb not far from Philadelphia, in part because local authorities had blocked construction of a modest affordable-housing development.

The community sued, and in the 1980s the court ruled that towns could not deny affordable housing and, beyond that, had an affirmative obligation to create zoning laws allowing for a “fair share” of affordable housing based on growth, job opportunities and income.

But guess what: rather than comply with the court order the towns went to court and elected officials who suffered and permitted their Fabian tactics to remain in place. As the editorial board noted, current Governor Chris Christie was so opposed to the findings of this decades-old case that he tried to dismantle the state agency charged with implementing fair housing.

Despite the foot-dragging of many affluent communities, the Times reported that the Mount Laurel suit did result in “...more than 80,000 homes that have improved the lives of low- and moderate-income New Jerseyans.” Those politicians like Chris Christie who espouse the “pull-yourself-up-by-your-boot-straps” program as the best mens of addressing poverty should be complaining the loudest about this foot-dragging… but we now have a populist President who, like Mr. Christie, is intent on gutting the very agency that should be helping people improve their lives.  I would like to believe the fact that the original litigants were “low income minority families” has nothing to do with the foot-dragging or the resistance by the towns…. but I know from experience that racism is alive and well north of the Mason Dixon line as well as in the Deep South.