Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Neuroscience Demonstrating What We Already Know: Poverty Impacts Learning and Early Intervention is Essential

September 22, 2016 1 comment

A cover story by Mike Kemp in Newsweek earlier this month reported on the findings of neuroscience researchers in CA who found that “…children with parents who had lower incomes had reduced brain surface areas in comparison to children from families bringing home $150,000 or more a year.” Given that test results have manifested this for decades, the results are unsurprising. But here’s what researchers MAY be able to impress on policy-makers IF the policy-makers are swayed by science:

“We have [long] known about the social class differences in health and learning outcomes,” says Dr. Jack Shonkoff, director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University. But neuroscience has now linked the environment, behavior and brain activity—and that could lead to a stunning overhaul of both educational and social policies, like rethinking Head Start–style programs that have traditionally emphasized early literacy. New approaches, he says, could focus on social and emotional development as well, since science now tells us that relationships and interactions with the environment sculpt the areas of the brain that control behavior (like the ability to concentrate), which also can affect academic achievement (like learning to read). “We are living in a revolution in biology now,” Shonkoff says, one in which new findings are finally giving us a real understanding of the interaction between nature and nurture.

For decades educators have attempted to offset the effects of poverty by immersing disadvantaged children with books and manipulative and engaging them in intellectual activities analogous to those that more affluent children experience on a daily basis. But researchers are finding that the intellectual stimulation is less important that the social and emotional stimulation. After recounting the trend toward oversimplification of the research findings, Mike Kemp concludes with this potential means of addressing the impacts of poverty on the development of a child’s brain:

Schools could add social and emotional learning courses to their elementary through high school curricula, designed to help children recognize and pay attention to their feelings, especially while coping with trauma and stress. Such courses could become requirements, like reading and math. That would require a massive re-evaluation of the priorities of our educational and development institutions—and some way of funding any new programs and tools deemed necessary.

Getting that to happen could take the kind of power wielded by Congress, local governments, school boards or the U.S. legal system. In 2013, Clancy Blair of the New York University Neuroscience and Education Lab, led a study that found the time a child spent in poverty, and in a household filled with chaos, was significantly related to higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Blair says similar findings could be leveraged the way research in the past linked detrimental health outcomes to tobacco, sugar-filled drinks and junk food, and ultimately changed policies and regulation of those industries. Similarly, findings like those in Blair’s study could be used support legislation or even a landmark lawsuit targeting overcrowded living conditions, or unaffordable housing and child care.

Other systems that reinforce the cycle of poverty—inferior schools and community infrastructure; poorly protected neighborhoods and unchecked child abuse; environmental pollution; or lack of health care, public transportation and green space—could face legal challenges or new laws.

As one who is swayed by research findings and who believes that public education can make a difference, I would readily support any legislation that addressed the findings of researchers like Clancy Blair. But as one who witnesses legislators who deny climate change, who demonize teachers instead of making investments of any kind in public schools, and who want cheap, fast, and easy fixes to the complicated problems cited in this article, I fear that nothing will happen…. and the results of doing nothing will be an increase in the kind of heartless children like those described at the beginning of the article: ones who can witness a videotape of Malala Yousafzai and feel “nothing”. If we spend nothing on the improvement of social development we will get children who feel nothing.

At Last! Pennsylvania’s Disparate Funding Challenged In Court

September 13, 2016 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Channel 6 newscast featured a story on the State Supreme Court’s hearing today on the funding equity lawsuit between the William Penn School District and the Pennsylvania Department of Education. From my perspective, this case is forty years late!

Some background:

As a part-time graduate student in 1971 I wrote a paper for a School Law course on the effects of exclusionary zoning on school funding. The conclusion was that suburban school districts who had zoning ordinances that required larger house lots effectively excluded low income housing which in turn drove up the cost of homes which in turn expanded the real estate tax base which in turn enabled those districts to spend more. The whole situation was exacerbated by the way State funds were distributed at that time.

As a graduate fellow a year later I worked in Springfield (Montgomery County), one of the most affluent suburban districts in the Philadelphia region as an intern. The assignment was eye opening after working for two years as a middle school math teacher in Philadelphia, which this district bordered. The 1930s vintage junior high I taught in had 3000 students on a split shift in my first year and over 1600 the second year. Class sizes ranged from 32-36 and the halls were thick with students when classes changed. In Springfield, which bordered Philadelphia on the Northwest, the junior high was built in the 1960s and had no more than 28 students in a class. The halls were spacious as were the athletic fields that surrounded the building, a marked contrast to the asphalt that served as a de facto moat around the fortress-like building in Philadelphia. While the school board in the affluent district worked diligently to contain spending in Springfield, they did so without giving ANY consideration to expanding class sizes to those encountered a mile away in Philadelphia. And while some of my colleagues thought that unions were the problem in Philadelphia, they were reaching agreements with the local unions that resulted in total compensation for their teachers that matched Philadelphia’s.

In 1975 after concluding my fellowship program at Penn, I began my administrative career at William Penn, a recently merged blue collar and racially diverse school district that bordered Philadelphia on the Southwest. The school facilities were superior to Philadelphia but no where close to those in the affluent district, and the housing stock in the district where I worked was more like Philadelphia than Springfield: row houses; duplexes; and single dwellings with postage sized lots. The tax base was marginally better than Philadelphia, but the class sizes at the High School where I worked were larger than those in Springfield and the array of courses was much more limited. Because the district had just merged there was a belief that over the course of time the salaries for teachers and the opportunities for students would both increase since one of the districts in the merger had more resources. As time went on, however, the school board members represented those parents who sent their children to private and parochial schools and those taxpayers who did not have children in school. The result was suppressed spending on public schools. As a result, William Penn is one of many PA schools who suffer underfunding as a result of a State formula that starves public education and state spending that does not compensate for the inherent inequities that result when districts rely on local property taxes.

Forty years ago the students I taught in Philadelphia and worked with at William Penn suffered from the State’s inequitable funding formulas. Today, their grandchildren are saddled with the same disadvantages. the State Supreme Court will hear a case that will determine if future generations will continue to face an uphill battle as they strive to move ahead.

State Courts Rule Funding Formulas are Deficient… But… Nothing Changes

September 8, 2016 Leave a comment

Two newspaper articles, one in the New York Times and another in the Valley News in Lebanon, NH, tout recent court rulings that flag inequities in funding… but each ruling has inherent problems and neither is likely to result in changes any time soon.

In the NYTimes article Elizabeth Harris reports that Connecticut Judge Thomas Moukawsher of State Superior Court in Hartford said that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty” to give all children an adequate education. His lengthy decision was rendered in response to a suit filed in 2005— over ten years ago— and includes directives to comprehensively review and overhaul the entire Connecticut education system. His sweeping decision effectively acknowledges that while funding equity is clearly required, improvements in the quality of teaching and increased accountability are equally important. After citing the gross inequities in Connecticut school districts, he calls for “…the attorney general’s office to submit plans within 180 days to fix the areas he had found deficient.” As Ms. Harris notes, “It was not immediately clear who might draw up the proposals or whether the state would appeal the decision.”

Here’s my take on what will happen in Connecticut: 180 days will pass and no plans will be developed and before the 180 days is up the decision will be appealed. Another possibility is that Governor Malloy, a neoliberal “reformer”, will use this as a path for him to introduce privatized deregulated schools into the 30 drastically underfunded districts. Either way, after 180 days pass another school year will be lost making it exactly 12 years between the filing of the lawsuit and any change in the ways schools are funded in Connecticut: exactly the time it takes for a student to progress through school. The bottom line: another generation of children raised in poverty will be lost.

Meanwhile, in New Hampshire Valley News reporter Tim Camerato reported that a Judge ruled in favor of plaintiffs from several districts who claimed that the state shortchanged them in the funding of their schools. He writes:

As part of New Hampshire’s constitutional obligation to provide every child with an adequate education, the state funds are based on a formula that considers a district’s student enrollment, the number of children using free and reduced lunch programs, those in English as a second language classes and special education programs, said Caitlin Davis, an internal auditor at the state Department of Education.

Since 2009, each district’s adequacy aid also has been subject to a cap based on a percentage of what the district received in previous years.

Since 2012, the cap on the city of Dover, N.H., short-changed the Seacoast community by more than $7 million and left other communities without $79 million in necessary funding, according to the city’s lawsuit against the state.

In its lawsuit, Dover argued the cap violated the New Hampshire constitution, which previous court rulings have determined calls for state funding of education. Dover also wanted the state to repay all of the money lost to each affected community.

Judge Brian Tucker ruled in the city’s favor on the first argument, but said school districts only are able to collect on the 2016 fiscal year because the money needed to reimburse school districts for previous fiscal years hasn’t been raised.

Having worked in New Hampshire in the 1980s and again in the 2000s I am painfully aware of the New Hampshire legislatures reluctance to meet court mandates. The original lawsuits regarding funding inequities were filed in the 1980s and when they were inadequately addressed another set of suits were filed in the early 2000s. The adequacy aid referenced in Mr. Camerato’s article was the latest effort to address inequity and it, too, has fallen short of the mark because it was insufficiently funded. Will this suit solve the problem? Probably not:

The affected Upper Valley school districts celebrated the decision, but were cautious of a possible appeal.

As intervenors in the case, House Speaker Shawn Jasper and Senate President Chuck Morse, both Republicans, can pursue further court action.

“Thinking that this ruling may be appealed, it could be a while before we know if this (reimbursement) will actually happen or not for Grantham,” Superintendent Jacqueline Guillette said in an email on Wednesday. “In the meantime, we will be working with our attorney to review the judge’s ruling and to explore all options that the (School Board) will have should Grantham receive this money.”

Like the children raised in poverty in Connecticut, New Hampshire’s poor children will need to wait a little bit longer to see if something can be worked out…. Sadly, children raised in poverty in over 40 other states will also be waiting….


Getting the Lead Out A Good Example of Government Acting on Scientific Evidence

September 4, 2016 Leave a comment

Paul Krugman’s column on September 2 described our country’s decision to allow the poisoning of thousands of children due to lead contamination to continue. Why? Two reasons: the children are almost all poor and minorities; and the solution to the problem would involve government intervention and cost lots of money. And how do politicians explain this decision to ignore this state of affairs? By denying the scientific evidence or accepting evidence gathered by “scientists” funded by corporate donors.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because we’ve witnessed it before with cigarettes, with acid rain, with lead paint and tetra-ethyl lead in gasoline (both eventually outlawed), and with flouro-carbons, which were also eventually outlawed. But we are also witnessing it now in our denial of climate change, in our continued unwillingness to get the lead out of water in many communities across the country… and in our continued belief that we don’t need to address poverty in order to improve our public schools. Indeed, Krugman emphasizes the link between lead in the water and education:

But I’ve just been reading a new study by a team of economists and health experts confirming the growing consensus that even low levels of lead in children’s bloodstreams have significant adverse effects on cognitive performance. And lead exposure is still strongly correlated with growing up in a disadvantaged household.

But how can this be going on in a country that claims to believe in equality of opportunity? Just in case it’s not obvious: Children who are being poisoned by their environment don’t have the same opportunities as children who aren’t.

I guess it isn’t obvious to those who insist on administering standardized tests to children who are being poisoned by their environment and then concluding that their poor performance is the result of attending “over-regulated government schools”.

Mississippi Legislators Following Reform Playbook

September 3, 2016 Leave a comment

Retired English professor TJRay wrote an op ed piece for the Oxford (MS) Eagle decrying the recent action of the legislature and State Board in Mississippi, actions that follow the ALEC inspired “reform” playbook to a “T”. Mr. Ray’s essay describes how the legislature passed a bill that makes it possible for public schools to be closed and replaced with charter schools if they are graded lower than a “B”. And now, only weeks later, the State Board– appointed by the same political party that is in the legislature– is ready to enact a new rating system that limits the number of schools that can receive an “A” rating and mandates a minimum number of schools that must receive an “F” rating.

As Mr. Ray notes:

The object (of the bill that passed) was not to improve the public schools in question; it was to feather the nests of the corporations and groups that set up charter schools. An interesting inquiry might pose the question: How many names on those corporate charters match names on generous campaign donors? Well, obviously they’re getting their payback for putting the folks back where they can wreak havoc in the state.

And Mr. Ray also questions the rationale for the “reform” movement in Mississippi offered by the State’s Commissioner of Higher Education:

The Commissioner of Higher Education said that the foundation of education that students will need to succeed in universities is not being provided. One response might simply be that every young person doesn’t need to succeed at a university, may not even be suited to academics at all.

The oligarchs manufactured need to prepare all students for college leads to artificially high standards which leads to artificially difficult tests which leads to high failure rates in public schools which leads to the need to close those schools and replace them with privatized schools run by the oligarchs. And to make sure this machinery is well-oiled the oligarchs help elect politicians who support this “system” that keeps them enriched and a large number of children on a path to “failure”…. or at least on a path to work for lower wages.

Obama Administration Draws Line in Sand: Stands Up for Children Raised in Poverty

September 3, 2016 Leave a comment

Earlier this week the Washington Post writer Emma Brown reported that the Department of Education’s rules for spending ESSA funds require that district use their federal dollars to supplement and not supplant local and state dollars. This is a big deal, because it illustrates that the Obama administration is taking a stand in support of directing money to the neediest children in the neediest schools, as described in these paragraphs:

“For far too long the students who need help the most have gotten the least,” Education Secretary John B. King Jr. said. “No single measure will erase generations of resource inequities and there is still much more work to do. … But today’s announcement is a concrete step toward closing these gaps.”

At issue is the portion of the Every Student Succeeds Act that requires school districts to use Title I dollars in addition to — not instead of — state and local money. The outlines of that provision — known as “supplement not supplant” — has been in place for decades, and is meant to ensure that districts don’t underfund schools in poor neighborhoods and then use federal aid to make up the difference.

Many school districts are living up to the law, but thousands of high-poverty schools are being shortchanged, receiving less state and local money per pupil than more affluent schools within the same district, according to the Obama administration.

As one who led two large school districts (i.e. over 10,000 students) I can see that the last phrase in the second paragraph might be problematic since, in many instances, transfer provisions in negotiated agreements often result in experienced teachers migrating from schools serving low income students to schools serving affluent students. This results in a situation where the student-teacher ratios are equal but the cost-per-student is higher in the affluent school because the median salaries of teachers are higher. Moreover, adding more teachers to the schools serving lower income students is often an impossibility because of limitations in the facilities. These are administrative and political complications that effect adults, though. And writing the rules to mitigate these concerns often results in loopholes that perpetuate the disparities within districts and between districts.

In the end, the supplement-versus-supplant issue comes down to one issue that states and local districts do NOT want to tackle: the need to spend more money on schools:

The Education Department said that the proposed rule would ensure an additional $2 billion in spending in high-poverty Title I schools. But a key question is where those billions would come from: Would state and local taxpayers make new investments? Or would money — and faculty — be shifted from more affluent schools?

The agency said it would like to see districts comply not by forcing teacher transfers or by shifting resources but by devoting more money overall to education. That could be a difficult sell in states and districts where education funding has yet to recover from the hit it took during the housing crash and subsequent recession, and where many schools are struggling with tight budgets.

In earlier posts I’ve advocated that the federal government deny any money to any state that is currently in litigation over inequitable funding to provide leverage to those who filed the suits on behalf of poor and disadvantaged students. While I realize that such a proposal would be unlikely to pass, I DO think it would compel parents, taxpayers, and voters to focus on the root cause of disparate test scores— which is the disparate funding provided to children from the time they are born until they graduate from high school. Until we provide all children with basic needs— food, clothing and shelter— we should stop mouthing platitudes about “equal opportunities”. The Obama administration is doing the right thing by standing its ground on this issue.

Higher Taxes or Robots? Which Do YOU Think We Will Choose?

August 30, 2016 Leave a comment

New York magazine’s Intelligencer blog today featured an article on the decline in spending on public education, a phenomenon writer Eric Levitz characterized as a “disinvestment from our nation’s future”. The diminishment of public education spending described in the article is appalling:

In May 2008, U.S. school departments employed 8.4 million teachers, administrators, and other staff. Today, they employ just 8.2 million, despite the fact that those schools now serve 1 million more students, according to Department of Education estimates. And while those teachers are being asked to serve more students, they’re making less money: According to a new analysis from the Economic Policy Institute, weekly wages for public-school teachers have declined 5 percent over the past five years… Between 2008 and 2014 (the last year for which we have full data), state public-education funding declined 6.6 percent. While the stimulus money was still flowing, Uncle Sam was able to ameliorate this austerity somewhat, but still left schools spending 2.4 percent less per student over that period, when adjusting for inflation. And when the stimulus wore off, state and local governments failed to pick up the slack: In 2012, total school funding fell for the first time since 1977. As FiveThirtyEight’s Ben Casselman notes, this cutback wasn’t concentrated on administrative salaries or extravagant construction — instructional spending has fallen at roughly the same rate as overall budgets.

The New York article covered some of the same ground as the NYTimes editorial I blogged about yesterday, emphasizing the impact (and preposterousness) of State-level Reagonomics. Noting that the graying of America will drive up retirement and health care costs and that the reduction in pay for teachers is making the profession less attractive, Eric Levitz concludes with this mind-boggling choice:

In the long run, it will take either a drastic increase in federal investment — and/or the proliferation of low-cost robots — for American schools to truly leave no child behind.

Given the choice between “pro-union Government run schools” and a robot that can teach children at home or in, say, a church basement, what do you think taxpayers will vote for?