Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Education Tax Credits Save Taxpayers Money, Destroy Public Education

July 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Late last month a Progressive article by Dora Taylor outlined four things about education tax credits (aka Education Savings Accounts in NH) that Betsy DeVos and her allies at ALEC do not want the public to understand. Marketed as a means of providing low income students with “scholarships” that enable them to enroll in private schools, they actually divert state funds to middle class parents who are already enrolled in parochial schools. Ms. Taylor opens the article with a description of how these tax credits work:

Education tax credits are similar to school vouchers. A voucher is money paid by the state to cover private school tuition for a student. Voucher money comes straight out of public school funds.

Vouchers are unconstitutional in eighteen states and one of the reasons is that the money can go to a religious school, crossing the line between church and state.

In a “scholarship tax credit program,” the money bypasses the state and instead goes through a go-between, a “scholarship granting organization” to a private school to pay a student’s tuition in full or in part. Typically, these organizations keep 10 percent of the money as they pass through funds to private schools.

A scholarship granting organization distributes money to students, who are purportedly “low income”, to attend a private school the organization has selected to include in its portfolio. Granting organizations can select the schools they do business with, whether they are religious schools or schools that are unaccredited.

While these groups have set a standard for “low income” —a family of four with an income of $64,750 or less—family income is not a determining factor for many of the students who receive the scholarships.

This convoluted system effectively replaces locally elected school boards with a state appointed scholarship granting board that determines schools worthy of scholarships and the eligibility of students who can attend those schools…. but this aspect of the law creating “education scholarships” is not part of the marketing campaign…. and that is intentional. After providing an overview of the tax credits, Ms. Taylor identifies four elements of education tax credits that Betsy DeVos and ALEC do NOT want the public to realize:

  1. Education Tax Credits Deplete State Budgets: Instead of providing additional resources to enable “poor” students to choose private schools to attend, ALEC’s boilerplate legislation diverts current education funding to these scholarship funds…. and that’s on top of revenue they lose when billionaires make tax-deductible donations to these scholarship funds, some of which might go to for-profit charter schools the self-same billionaires invest in!
  2. Education Tax Credit Programs Benefit the Wealthy: ALEC’s boilerplate legislation calls for donors to scholarship funds to effectively receive a subsidy for making a contribution. As Ms. Taylor reports, donors receive “a dollar-per-dollar write off on Federal taxes and, in some states, it can be used as an additional write-off on state taxes. With a donation to a scholarship grant-making organization, a person, company or corporation can benefit financially, sometimes doubling the tax write-off.” So a billionaire can “donate” a large sum to a scholarship fund and receive both a federal and a state deduction that offsets the donation… and a corporation that likely gets some kind of local tax-credit to locate or remain in a state similarly receives a tax credit at the federal and state level! And in both cases, the donors can claim they are helping disadvantaged children expand their opportunities. Also, as noted above, states can set a “low income” standard that is relatively high and thus enable middle class parents who are currently sending their children to a private school to qualify for a scholarship… even if that school is a parochial school (see #4). 
  3. Education Tax Credit Programs Pose Significant Risks to Children: Since the schools receiving scholarships are overseen by a non-public entities, they are not subject to federal or state standards. Thus schools receiving scholarships can discriminate, barring special needs students and permitting religious instruction… which leads to the fourth factor.
  4. Education Tax Credit Programs Divert Public Money to Religious Indoctrination: While there is evidence that Betsy DeVos wants to use her position to allow public funds to flow to schools with religious affiliations, I do not believe ALEC’s shares that intent. However I do believe the billionaires who underwrite ALEC appreciate the political clout they can garner if they develop programs that appeal to the evangelical base of the GOP. Thus, an essential element of all legislation is to permit public funds to flow to all private schools, including those operated by churches, synagogues, and mosques.

The marketing of “Education Tax Credits” is artful. What voter wouldn’t want to have more tax credits available to them? What voter could oppose giving parents and children more choices in terms of schooling? What voter could oppose a law that will augment state funds with donations from generous billionaires enabling funding for schools to increase without imposing higher taxes? And what voter would be willing to pay higher taxes to help poor kids in another part of the state when those kids will be able to qualify for scholarships funded by someone else? Advocates of funding equity, of public education governed by locally elected school boards, and of opportunities for all children have a steep uphill fight in the years ahead.



Rahm Emmanuel’s Agreeable Fantasy: A High School Graduation Standard Will Fix Public Schools

July 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Last week Washington Post eduction blogger Valerie Strauss wrote a post titled “Really Rahm? The Chicago Mayor’s Newest Far-Fetched Plan for High Schools“. The post describes Chicago mayor Rahm Emaanuel’s latest idea for “reform”:

“Learn. Plan. Succeed initiative” — which requires any student who wants a high school diploma to prove they have a plan for life after high school — they called it, to be exact, “an evidence-based proposal that is the first of its kind in the country.”

The new graduation standard can be achieved by providing written proof  of a plan after high school with one of these options:

  • College acceptance letter
  • Military acceptance/enlistment letter
  • Acceptance at a job program (e.g. coding bootcamp)
  • Acceptance into a trades pre-apprenticeship/apprenticeship
  • Acceptance into a “gap-year” program
  • Current job/job offer letter

At first blush, this appears to be an eminently reasonable means of assuring that every graduate is ready for college or ready for work. But I know from my experience as a public high school administrator and public school superintendent that such a plan requires an immense effort on the part of counselors… and based on my reading about the staffing levels in Chicago was not surprised to find that they are woefully understaffed in guidance. Here’s Ms. Strauss’ description of the district’s woes in this area:

Emanuel wants students to provide proof that they have something to do — within parameters — when they leave high school. But that requires planning, and Chicago public schools aren’t exactly filled with counselors who can help young people plan their futures. A 2016 article published by the 74 found that Chicago is one of the big-city school districts that has more security staff than counselors. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students, though in Illinois, there was one counselor for every 701 students in 2013-2014, the latest available data period. 

So how does Mr. Emmanuel intend to expand the responsibility of schools without expanding the number of counselors? Training!

In 2013, CPS began training staff to obtain the Chicago College Advising Credential (CCAC), which will best equip staff to support concrete post-secondary plans, with a goal ensuring every high school has a certified counselor or coach. To date, roughly 40 percent of school counselors have obtained this certification and as part of this initiative, CPS will ensure all counselors have the training. Working with the Mayor, CPS is raising the approximately $1 million in funding from the philanthropic and business communities to accelerate this training.

So instead of providing the funds necessary to increase the counseling staff by 280% (the number needed to meet the American School Counselor Association standard, which does not take into account the expectation that counselors would serve as job placement officers), Mr. Emmanuel intends to offer training to existing counselors. Even Arne Duncan, whose op ed piece on high school “reform” was supposedly the impetus for Mayor Emmanuel’s new initiative recognized the need for more staffing. Here’s an excerpt from his op ed piece that was quoted in Ms. Strauss’ post:

For low-income kids, however, those work experiences don’t just happen naturally. That’s where the schools and society have to step up. To give every single student in Chicago a better chance, we need to invest in our schools and our counseling programs. We need to make life-planning as much a part of high school as English, math, sports and the arts.

Maybe the mayor believes that his staff development program addresses Arne Duncan’s call for “the need to invest in… counseling programs”. But the mayor’s failure understand the need to to hire more counselors is only a small if his delusion. The list of options above each require the outlay of government funding at either the federal, state, or local level because there aren’t enough jobs, apprenticeship programs, military openings, or community college seats for the graduates of Chicago high schools. Wishing there were jobs, apprenticeships, “gap year” programs, military openings, and community college seats is insufficient. It will require a united effort on the part of government leaders to provide those kinds of opportunities, and such an effort would require a mayor to look beyond the one time expenditure of “…approximately $1 million in funding from the philanthropic and business communities”. It will require higher taxes and a much stronger safety net.  

Do Poor and Minority Parents Want Socio-Economic and Racial Diversity or Equal Opportunity?

July 14, 2017 Leave a comment

The question posed in the title of this posed emerged after reading two thought provoking articles this morning, both of which offered NYC’s tepid efforts at integration as exemplary.

Americans Oppose School Segregation in Theory- But Not in Practice” Perpetual Baffour’s post in The Nation, describes the two year battle to integrate a public school on the Upper West Side, a contentious effort profiled in earlier posts on this blog. Ms. Baffour’s post includes some heartbreaking quotes from affluent parents who philosophically support integration but don’t want to see it happen in their back yard because they fear for their child’s safety… and a decline in their property values:

 ….affluent parents… may feel territorial over the high-flying success of their school. And property values, neighborhood identity, and a sense of safety feel as though they are at stake.

“A school belongs to the neighborhood where it resides,” said one parent at PS 199.

“It’s not that I don’t want my children to go to school in a mixed school,” said another. “But at the same time we want the best for our children. We want the best for our property value.”

But, as Ms. Baffour notes, it is not only the affluent who have misgivings. In focus groups she conducted in Baltimore and Washington she found that parents of economically disadvantaged white children did not seek to enroll their children in more affluent schools:

For instance, low-income white parents spoke of being looked down upon by the “rich kids.” As one parent put it: “They don’t want us there, so why should we go there?” They pictured affluent families throwing lavish birthday parties, showering the higher-income kids with fancy cars and expensive gifts, making their own children feel insecure.

Having recently read several articles from progressive New York City pundits chastising Mayor De Blasio’s lukewarm effort to integrate schools, it was somewhat surprising to see a progressive national publication posting an article that concluded with paragraphs singling out his efforts as praiseworthy:

The New York City Department of Education recently unveiled its citywide plan for integration, pledging to increase diversity across their entire public-school system.

These changes are promising. Despite rapidly changing demographics in this country, school diversity has barely kept pace, and research shows that all students perform better academically and socially when they learn in diverse classrooms.

Many Americans do believe the time is ripe for change, but it remains to be seen whether all Americans will embrace this change when it arrives in their own communities.

Our Schools Are Becoming More Segregated. Do Parents Care?“, Maureen Downey’s recent op ed article for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, tills the same ground as Ms. Baffour and comes to the same ambiguous conclusion. Her opening paragraphs set the stage:

The resegregation of public schools in the South troubles academics, civil rights activists and researchers. It’s been on the agenda of every major education conference or seminar I’ve attended in the last three years.

However, it doesn’t seem to be on the minds of parents.

Parents worry about whether class sizes are too large, whether math and science courses are advanced enough and whether their kids are competitive for Georgia Tech or the University of Georgia. They don’t seem to fret about whether their child sits next to a child of a different race or ethnicity — and fewer students do, a byproduct of growing residential segregation and school choice programs.

Yes, parents endorse diversity in principle, but not enough to pester the school board or push for rezoning to achieve racial balance.

Her piece is not an apologia for those who want to see schools segregated. Rather, like Ms. Baffour, she describes the conundrum that results when parents’ actions do not match their intentions. She draws extensively from a Penn State University study by researcher Erica Frankenberg, an Alabama native who studies segregation.

In a recent study, Pennsylvania State University looked at the decisions of public school students transferring to charter schools when given the option of schools with different racial compositions. The finding: Black and Latino students tended to choose charters more racially isolated than the public schools they left….

Among the report’s conclusions and warnings:

•From 1954 to 1988 there was an increase in the interracial contact between whites and black students in the South as a result of court-ordered integration. However, resegregation began to re-emerge in 1990.

•The South has a small but rapidly growing share of charter schools, which in the region—as in the country—are even more segregated for black students than the traditional public schools.

Private schools represent about 7 percent of the region’s enrollment and are disproportionately white. In some states, including Georgia, legislatures have provide subsidies to private schools through the tax system. (Georgia’s tax-credit scholarship allows taxpayers to donate money to a private school for student scholarships in exchange for a state income tax credit. The program diverts $58 million a year in income tax from state coffers to private school scholarships.)

The days of court-ordered mandatory reassignment are over; today’s integration efforts almost always involve carefully designed school choice

Ms. Frankenberg does not believe that diversity and quality need to be trade-offs, but she also flags an important underlying factor:

Parents may not place a premium on classroom diversity because most accountability measures don’t. “We’ve narrowed this understanding of what a good school is to something measured only by test scores.” said Frankenberg.

And Ms. Frankenberg, like Ms. Baffour, sees NYC’s efforts as heartening:

Frankenberg sees some communities resisting segregation, citing the new diversity efforts n New York City where white students represent only 15 percent of the public school enrollment, yet a third attend majority white schools. Those diversity policies have been enabled in part by increased flexibility granted from the federal government.

In the end, though, Ms. Frankenberg, and presumably the op ed writer Maureen Downey, draws the same conclusion as Perpetual Baffour:

While New York and Massachusetts are using this new flexibility to further diversity, the easing of federal oversight could go the other way in some states. “Flexibility might be good for those states,” said Frankenberg, “but is it good for states where diversity is not necessarily on the table?”

Editorialists away from NYC see De Blasio’s incremental approach as the way forward. But if research shows that integration benefits both races and everyone on the socio-economic spectrum and the majority of voters view resegregation unfavorably, bemoan the economic divide, and find the current divisiveness in our politics distasteful, it seems that our nation would benefit from schools that are socio-economically and racially diverse. The question is, can anyone develop a plan to make that happen?

Jeffrey Sachs Names the Problem– “the Reagan Lie”– and Sees a Hopeful Solution– Grassroots Activists

July 12, 2017 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s Boston Globe op ed column by economist Jeffrey Sachs concisely describes the underlying ethos of our country and appropriately titles it “Ending the Ronald Reagan Lie”. The “Ronald Reagan Lie” is familiar to readers of this blog, because, like Sachs, I see it as the root of all of the wrongheadedness in our collective thinking. Here’s Sachs’ description:

Our current political travails can be traced to Reagan. In his jovial way, Reagan would quip, “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” With his sneering disrespect for government, Reagan ushered in nearly four decades of tax cuts, deregulation, and rising inequality that now threaten to devour our future. Trump, Ryan, and McConnell are the scheming and vacuous politicians at the end of a long process of decline.

Now we are faced with a loathing of government at all levels and contempt for anyone who seeks to raise taxes to improve the situation, especially if those taxes are going to be “redistributed” from those who work hard to those lazy and shiftless and welfare recipients. Of course many of those who devise schemes to ensure that redistribution is impossible— like the Koch brothers whose role is underscored in Sachs’ article— inherited their wealth and many of those “lazy and shiftless” welfare recipients work multiple part-time jobs with no benefits for businesses like Walmart in order to make ends meet. And who are the beneficiaries of this system? The very ones who designed it! And how did such a system get put into place?

…the marriage of anti-civil rights politics in the South, West, rural America, and the suburbs, with big money in politics. Presidential aspirants had always had their financial backers. But with the advent of expensive television ads, mass mailings, and big data, campaigns became expensive. Big campaign money flooded in and federal politics became the playground of billionaires.

And nobody played it better than David and Charles Koch. They played the long game. With their lavish funding of libertarian think tanks, advocacy groups, university departments, and political action committees, the Koch Brothers and their brethren (including Robert Mercer, Sheldon Adelson, and the late John Olin) bought the Republican Party and turned it into a radical antigovernment force. It’s be all and end all became tax cuts and deregulation.

The deregulation had one more crucial effect. It enabled the rise of “too big to fail” businesses, and their lobbies in four key sectors: Big Oil, Wall Street, Big Health, and Big Armaments. Antitrust became a dead letter. The billionaires successfully championed tax cuts, deregulation, and deregulated companies that became more influential than government itself, and that when necessary could call on the federal government to do their bidding.

But Sachs believes that the public is beginning to see that what is good for billionaires is not good for the rest of the country… and beginning to realize that their taxes pay for things that benefit them as well as their neighbors and “other people”…. and maybe the end is in sight:

…A small group of wealthy interests has hijacked the federal government, driving policies that are strongly against public opinion and the public good. Legislation is drafted in secret, pushed without deliberation, and if possible, adopted without regard for the voters. This is obviously the case with the Obamacare repeal, but it’s also true regarding climate change, environmental protection, tax cuts for the rich, antitrust enforcement, and foreign policy.

Obamacare repeal and the Trump agenda have exposed the big lie. Yes, the Koch Brothers have bought the Republican majority, but the policies they espouse, such as slashing health care coverage, are not the policies desired by the American people. We are therefore at a reckoning.

My own belief? We will soon swing back to an era of grass-roots democracy, led especially by young people, in which public activism will trump big money in politics. Stay tuned.

I hope that young people’s voices will be heard… but fear that too many young people of means are now invested in the big lie and believe it to be true and that too many young people who do NOT believe in the big lie have taken to the sidelines in despair. Someone needs to provide young people with hope for change the way Barack Obama did in 2008… someone who, unlike the former President, is not beholden to the donors who will water down the “change” agenda.  I am staying tuned and hoping a message and messenger emerge soon.

South Carolina “Corridor of Shame” Grad Gets Attention of Washington Post. Are SC Legislators Listening?

July 10, 2017 Leave a comment

A paper written by Duke rising sophomore, Ehime Ohue, for a “Introduction to Human Rights” class was published in the Washington Post. In the paper Ms. Ohue describes the impact of inequitable funding through the eyes of a recent graduate of an “elite” high school in South Carolina’s “corridor of shame”, described in her paper as “a string of rural school districts where students receive inferior educational opportunities.” That inferior education became evident to Ms. Ohue as soon as she set foot into classrooms at Duke when she learned of the opportunities her classmates had in high school compared to those she encountered. Her paper matter-of-factly describes the shortcomings of her high school:

We didn’t have enough math teachers and barely enough working calculators. When the school added the International Baccalaureate program, the first class of students completed the program, but none were awarded the diploma. I enrolled the second year the program was offered, and our math teacher was still undergoing training. When he announced he would not be returning, training had to start again for another teacher.

Two AP classes were announced my senior year, but were scheduled at the same time. We were considered a technology center, but our computers were always down. Many of my peers ended up dropping out or flunking out of college.

Ms. Ohue’s paper did offer a ray of hope, though. A lawsuit filed by districts in the “corridor of shame” ruled in the districts favor, which means relief should be forthcoming… but as Ms. Ohue seems to realize what should happen and what will happen are two different things. She offers two ideas for bringing about change:

Businesses also need to invest in schools, since these kids will be the future workers they need. Students who graduate also need support in college. In addition, South Carolina’s public universities should consider waiving tuition for students who succeed in graduating from these schools.

I admire Ms. Ohue’s naive optimism and while I hope it persists, I hope even more that it is rewarded. But in a state populated with businesses who chose their sites based on tax breaks and the availability of low wage non-union workers I doubt that voluntary investments in public schools will be forthcoming… and given the fiscal and philosophically conservative bent of the legislature in that state (and the experience of other states whose legislatures are under court mandated equalization) I doubt that either state funded colleges or underfunded schools will see any new money any time soon.

Welcome to the plutocracy, Ms. Ohue… but please keep fighting against it!

Conservative Conundrum: If Culture Causes Poverty, How Can LESS Government be the Solution?

July 8, 2017 Leave a comment

Conservative columnist George Will’s recent op ed essay, Sequence to Success, describes the findings of researchers in both conservative and liberal camps that conclude that economic success if more likely when parents are married before they have children. He summarizes this formula as follows:

First get at least a high school diploma, then get a job, then get married, and only then have children. Wang and Wilcox (of the conservative American Enterprise Institute), focusing on millennials ages 28 to 34, the oldest members of the nation’s largest generation, have found that only 3 percent who follow this sequence are poor.

Predictably, Mr. Will and the AEI researchers attribute this to a cultural decline which they link to “the “intelligensia” and Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty. How was this link established, you ask? Here’s why the “intelligensia” are responsible for this problem:

…the intelligentsia see the success sequence as middle-class norms to be disparaged for being middle-class norms. And as AEI social scientist Charles Murray says, too many of the successful classes, who followed the success sequence, do not preach what they practice, preferring “ecumenical niceness” to being judgmental.

And how, exactly, did LBJ’s Wr on Poverty contribute?

In healthy societies, basic values and social arrangements are not much thought about. They are “of course” matters expressing what sociologists call a society’s “world-taken-for-granted.” They have, however, changed since President Lyndon B. Johnson proclaimed “unconditional” war on poverty. This word suggested a fallacious assumption: Poverty persisted only because of hitherto weak government resolve regarding the essence of war — marshaling material resources.

So… what are the solutions Mr. Will’s friends at AEI offers

Wang and Wilcox recommend education focused on high-level occupational skills, subsidizing low-paying jobs, and “public and private social marketing campaigns,” from public schools to popular media, promoting marriage toward the end of the success sequence.

Which leads to several questions:

  • What, exactly are the “high level occupational skills” education should focus on? Won’t the government need to decide this?
  • If these “high level occupational skills” require post secondary education and, if so, how will those who are raised in poverty afford them? Won’t the government need to provide funds?
  • As for subsidizing low-paying jobs, won’t the government need to provide those funds? And where, I wonder, will those funds for the necessary subsidies come from? Higher taxes?
  • Who will develop and write the “public” social marketing campaigns? It would seem to be a role the government would play!
  • And how will the government handle the fact that not all married couples are heterosexual?

As a conservative, I cannot imagine Mr. Will would endorse having the government defining the “high level skills” education should focus on— that would be socialist! Nor can I imagine him endorsing the need for more government funds for scholarships for those children struggling in school… and I certainly couldn’t imagine him ever supporting a government program that would subsidize low paying jobs. As for the government launching social marketing campaigns that promote social values… unless they are rooted in the Bible I doubt that any GOP conservative would endorse them!

As a conservative, I imagine Mr. Will and his AEI think tank colleagues would advocate for some sort of market-based solution that involves cutting taxes on businesses by developing incentives for them to make contributions into scholarship funds or offering some kind of bonuses to low-wage employees. As for setting the norms on marriage, I cannot imagine ANY way ANY conservative would willingly cede this to government.  All of the questions above and the paragraphs that follow describe a conundrum conservatives face when they try to address the seemingly intractable problem of “the intergenerational transmission of poverty” WITHOUT the government.

As a progressive democratic socialist I have no qualms about the government assuming the roles outlined above so long as they are responsive to an informed electorate and not a group of plutocratic campaign donors. My only conundrum is how to inform the electorate that a problem exists and to activate them to see that the problem cannot be solved without help from the government.


Bryce Covert’s Review of Richard Reeves’ New Book Exposes His Timidity, Underscores Need to Reformat Schools

July 6, 2017 Leave a comment

Bryce Covert, the Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress and columnist for The Nation, wrote an insightful review of Brookings Institute’s Richard Reeves’ new book Dream Hoarders. The premise of Mr. Reeves’ book is that the top 20% (i.e. those who earn roughly $117,000 or more) has experienced as many benefits from the economic expansion as the top .01% yet they— and the politicians— erroneously think of themselves as “middle class”. As a consequence, when politicians promise to “protect the middle class” from tax cuts they define the “middle class” as anyone making less than $250,000. Furthermore, as Mr. Reeves points out, those in the top 20% are not being asked to make any sacrifices when it comes to helping improve the opportunities for the bottom 80% to advance. Ms. Covert writes:

While, Reeves notes, individual members of the 1 percent can swing their money around to great impact, the upper middle class as a bloc has outsized influence. “[T]he size and strength of the upper middle class means that it can reshape cities, dominate the education system, and transform the labor market,” he writes. When their interests are threatened, the members of this class have the social capital to fight back….

Pretending that people making six figures are middle class, and then promising to protect them from any tax increases, means politicians are unable to ask these families to pay a tiny tax into new universal benefits like paid family leave. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Real solutions to exponentially increasing income inequality will require extensive public investment. And the tax revenue required can’t all come from the top 1 percent... “[M]ore money can be raised from the upper middle class without plunging them into near poverty…,” he notes. “[I]f we need additional resources for public investment, it is reasonable to raise some of them from the upper middle class.”

But Ms. Covert asserts that it is not sufficient to ask the top 20% for only higher taxes, and she believes that while Mr. Reeves’ recognizes this reality, he fails to offer the tough recommendations needed to change this reality:

(Reeves) also sees this class as not just defined by income, but by better health, education, occupational opportunities, and even different family structure. The upper middle class then uses these assets to hoard opportunities for itself, perpetuating an unfair system: Its members fight to preserve zoning laws that keep the good schools free of poorer children, find ways to pay their children’s way into elite colleges (he takes particular umbrage with legacy admissions), and trade favors to get their kids into unpaid internships. The rich skew the game so that American class structure stays entrenched.

In this way, Reeves accurately names a problem that too often goes unacknowledged. But his solutions for the problem are weak at best.

While he admits that his suggestions for how to solve perpetual class stratification are just a starting point, the lack of teeth is telling. He suggests providing low-income Americans with better access to family planning and home visits from nurses for new parents, ignoring the fact that single mothers fare a whole lot better in countries that actually spend enough on their social safety nets. He wants better teachers in K-12 schools, a less complex college loan process, more support for vocational training, and the end to legacy admissions at elite universities, but stops short of calling for a full-scale overhaul of the educational system, one that would put an end to racial segregation and ensure adequate funding for all…

He doesn’t want the Department of Housing and Urban Development to ensure that communities comply with fair housing rules or even to make upper-middle-class areas accept more high-rises; he just wants more three-story buildings. On taxes, he believes, “As a general principle, it is better for people to be able to spend their own money rather than have it taken away from them,” which leads him to endorse merely limiting some tax deductions used by the well-off.

Ms. Covert believes that “...for all his talk of a rigged system, Reeves doesn’t actually want to transform it“. Rather, Ms. Covert believes that Mr. Reeves wants to ensure that every child born into poverty has an equal opportunity to move into the upper 20%, a possibility that he believes is close at hand. Ms. Covert sees Mr. Reeves’ perception as flawed on two levels. First, it assumes that our economy must be a zero-sum game where there will always be a 20/80 split and secondly, it naively assumes that women and minorities are currently afforded the same opportunities as men and whites. In short, Ms. Covert does not share Mr. Reeves beliefs that a true meritocracy is close at hand. She concludes her review with these paragraphs:

Meanwhile, meritocracy is more often to blame for perpetuating discrimination than heralding its end. One study found that when an organization explicitly calls itself a meritocracy, managers favor male employees over female ones. If a workplace, or a society, believes that all one needs to get ahead is talent, it quickly ignores anything else that might keep someone from rising.

Reeves says he wants upper-middle-class Americans like himself to pay more so that the playing field is leveled for all. But his solutions suggest he’s not willing to take that instinct very far. His class wouldn’t have to pony up very much for the milquetoast solutions he puts forward. Even after his ideal revisions, the basic structure of America’s ruthless market-based society would remain intact. In his world, being a member of the lower classes, even with more mobility, would still destine you to destitution.

I believe Ms. Covert’s analysis is accurate: in order for those born into poverty, especially the young women born into poverty, to succeed, some deep changes in our economic system are necessary, changes that could be presaged by changing the format of our schools. As long as school boundaries are set by socio-economic demographics we will continue to reinforce the rigid 20/80 split in place making it increasingly difficult for those in the lower 80% to advance into the professional class. The imaginative use of technology might make those boundaries disappear… but only if we can make our current format of education— whereby children are grouped by age-based cohorts called “grades levels”— disappear as well.