Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

My Annual Rant Against US News and World Report’s Ratings

May 13, 2018 Leave a comment

It’s the time of year when newspapers across America trumpet the schools in their states who achieve the highest ratings in their State and, in some cases, in the entire nation based on the US News and World Report’s metrics… and it’s the time of year when bloggers like me remind readers that these ratings are completely bogus because they are primarily based on standardized tests which, in turn, are inextricably linked to family affluence and education.

To find out how the US News and World Report calculates their rankings, one has to scroll all the way to the bottom of the page touting the importance of the ratings past the click-bait headlines listing the top high schools overall, the top charter schools, the top STEM schools, to a hot-link in the lower right hand corner. Once the link is clicked, the reader is led to another series of links where eventually the reader learns that in calculating the rankings:

…U.S. News & World Report teamed with North Carolina-based RTI International, a global nonprofit social science research firm.

RTI implemented the U.S. News comprehensive rankings methodology, which is based on these key principles: that a great high school must serve all of its students well, not just those who are college bound, and that it must be able to produce measurable academic outcomes to show it is successfully educating its student body across a range of performance indicators.

This sounds very high-minded, but the four step process is ultimately based on standardized tests and/or family income. .

Step One, for example, purports to determine “...whether each school’s students were performing better than statistically expected for students in that state (in standardized tests).” How is this done? “...(B)y looking at reading and math results for all students on each state’s high school (standardized) proficiency tests”Schools scoring in the top 10% were automatically carried forward, those scoring in the lowest 10% were dropped, and some manipulations were applied to identify schools serving disadvantaged students that performed “…much better than statistical expectations.” 

Step 2 “...assessed whether their historically underserved students – black, Hispanic and low-income – performed at or better than the state average (on standardized tests) for historically underserved students.

Step 3 looked at graduation rates, eliminating any schools that failed to graduate 80% of the cohort that entered the school. This is indirectly linked to standardized tests since 12 states require the passage of such a test to earn a diploma. But it is inextricably linked to family income since more than one third of all drop outs were raised in poverty.

Step 4 is the clincher. For schools whose students score well on State standardized tests and whose students graduate at an 80% rate, the ultimate benchmark is “college-readiness performance” – which is determined by “...using Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate (standardized) test data as the benchmark for success.” 

So how does a school assure itself of high ratings in the annual US News and World Report’s index? Easy: it attracts students who aspire to college, students who enroll in AP and IB courses, students who pay for the AP and IB assessments, and students who do well on those tests. This creates a barrier to entry that precludes hundreds if not thousands of schools since schools or students must pay fees for each test they take, schools must pay to have teachers trained to offer AP and IB courses, and IB certified schools must pay annual fees in excess of $11,000.

And, as noted in earlier posts decrying these rankings, the whole system is based on the assumption that schools enrolling students who score well on standardized tests are meritorious. One would hope that US News and World Report writers realize that quality should be based on something more than standardized tests scores, but the test scores are seemingly precise and objective, readily attainable from public data-bases that are relatively inexpensive to glean data from from, and provide an easy means for sorting and selecting schools. In the end, the selective public and charter schools and the public schools serving the children of affluent and well educated parent achieve medals… and the vicious cycle of poverty continues.



Is “Reform” on the Ropes… or Getting Doctored in the Corner Before Coming Out For the KO?

May 10, 2018 Leave a comment

In the Rocky movies, Sly Stallone inevitably finds himself teetering on the brink of defeat after surprisingly setting his heavy-hitting opponent on his heels. When he wobbles back to the corner at the end of the 14th round, his “corner men” work to stem the bleeding in his facial cuts and encourage him to not give up. As he rises unsteadily on his feet, he looks at his faithful and beloved wife, Adrian, in the first row and is determined to finish the fight with a flourish.

In one of yesterday’s posts, Diane Ravitch draws on a post from Oklahoma teacher John Thompson to support her conclusion (and his) that reform is on its last legs. She opens the post with this:

In case you hadn’t noticed, corporate reform has failed. It is dying. Only money keeps it going. Its true believers know it is dead but they are paid handsomely to pretend there is still a pulse. If they flat out admitted that test-and-punish reform had failed, that privatization was a flop, the money train would go away.

John Thompson, teacher and historian in Oklahoma, reviews what reformers say to keep their spirits alive and their coffers overflowing.

And John Thompson’s post DOES illustrate the fact that many “reformers” acknowledge that despite their belief in the test-and-punish method of school improvement the test scores they insist on using as a metric have not moved at all. But are the reformers going to lose this fight… or will their corner men encourage them to get on their feet and win one for Adrian?

A Washington Post op ed article by Margaret Spelllings and Arne Duncan, two of the corner men for NCLB and RTTT, suggest that “reform” hasn’t failed! All schools need is more “vision… will… and political support”. This conclusion is not surprising given that these two “corner men” believe that children raised in poverty don’t suffer in school because they lack food, clothing or shelter…. they lack grit— the  determination to push ahead despite adversity. And in this op ed piece they call for the creation of a new national coalition to address the “failing” education system:

After decades of momentum across different administrations (sic), all of us believe we’re headed toward another round of unilateral disarmament. Federal education policy is rudderless and adrift.

What, today, is the national priority for K-12 schools? For higher education? What policy proposal exists today that can plausibly achieve the progress we need?

At a moment when students are marching in the streets for their right to a safe, quality education; when teachers across the country are demanding attention and investment from their political leaders; when every economic indicator confirms the growing importance of a sound education in forging a full, productive life, what is our shared national vision for our children?

From what I’ve seen, politicians prefer spending money to protect children from gun owners exercising their rights to acquire weapons designed for warfare to spending money on health care for those same children. They prefer giving tax cuts and tax incentives to corporations to giving living wages to the teachers or decent housing to those who cannot afford a roof over their heads.

But Ms. Spellings and Mr. Duncan don’t want to acknowledge that we have the money we need to improve our schools and we are spending that money on the wrong things. They would rather insist that our vision is warped, our will is weak, and our efforts are lacking… because their “Adrian”, the corporate sponsors of the political leadership, wants things to stay just the way they are in terms of “reform”.

Here’s hoping Apollo Creed wins this fight…


The Desegregation Conundrum: Can Schools Move Faster Than the “Speed of Trust”

May 8, 2018 Leave a comment

Late last month the new New York City schools chief Richard Carranza weighed in with a tweet on a desegregation effort that is resulting in pushback from affluent Upper East Side parents, and in one short message he indicated that there may be some changes in the efforts to integrate schools in the city. The Chalkbeat blog noted that by tweeting an NY1 video of Upper West Side parents angrily pushing back against a city proposal that could result in their children going to middle school with lower-scoring classmates, Mr. Carranza indicated a sift in the thinking in his administration.

Carranza didn’t add any commentary of his own to the message generated automatically by the site that amplified the NY1 video, Raw Story. He didn’t have to for his Twitter followers to see an endorsement of the site’s characterization of the video — “Wealthy white Manhattan parents angrily rant against plan to bring more black kids to their schools.”

…Since taking the chancellorship, Carranza has signaled that he believes the education department has a central role to play in desegregating schools — offering a contrast to the chancellor he replaced, Carmen Fariña. She called school diversity a priority but argued that integration efforts should happen “organically” and be driven by school leaders and local communities, not department officials.

Last week in a NYTimes article,  First Test for New York Chancellor: A Middle School Desegregation Plan, education writer Elizabeth Harris weighed in on the change in Mr. Carranza’s administration. Citing the fallout from the same tweet, Ms. Harris wrote:

Mr. Carranza said in a partial apology on Monday that the language was not his — it had been automatically generated from the headline on the site hosting the video, a local news story that was first broadcast on NY1. But he did not back away from the issue.

“The video speaks for itself,” he said. “And the video of the comments that were made, I don’t know how anybody could be O.K. with that. I know that I’m not O.K. with that.

To observers, after four years in which Mayor Bill de Blasio and his first schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, took only small bore action on the issue, Mr. Carranza’s language sounded like a sea change.

The new middle school desegregation plan that will test Chancellor Carranza would give priority for 25 percent of the seats at all the district’s middle schools to students who score below grade level on the state tests. Given the fact that test scores generally mirror socioeconomic status and race, the plan would likely increase the number of poor and minority students at middle schools that rely on test scores as a primary admissions criteria, schools that have much higher ratings because they unsurprisingly have much higher pass rates on subsequent standardized test scores. But parents at these high scoring schools are afraid that teachers will be unable to adapt their instruction to meet the needs of incoming underprivileged students use “the lack of a plan” to support teachers as a defense for maintaining the status quo. And some parents are even more caustic in defending the status quo that results in resegregation, like the woman in the video that prompted Mr. Carranza’s late night tweet: :

“You’re talking about telling an 11-year-old, ‘You worked your butt off and you didn’t get that, what you needed or wanted,’” a woman yells. “You’re telling them, ‘You’re going to go to a school that’s not going to educate you in the same way you’ve been educated. Life sucks!’”

Ms. Harris notes the underlying rationale for the school boundaries and choice plans in the city, indicating that “… in drawing school zones and allowing parents choice in which schools their children attend, the city has been seen as trying to keep white families in the public schools.” In tinkering with boundaries or changing the rules in terms of school admissions, Mr. Carranza may topple a delicately balanced arrangement that enables affluent whites to remain in the public schools and thus encourage the support for school funding that provides resources for all students.

The solution to the problem of fewer seats in “elite” schools for children of color seems easy. Instead of expanding the number of seats in schools that restrict enrollments based on test scores provide, expand the number of seats in those schools and offer those seats to children who struggle to do well on tests. That is, instead of forcing 100 students out of a school of 500 to make room for struggling students, expand the seats in that school to 600 and offer those seats to students who sought entry but whose test scores fell short of the mark. A parent who was interviewed for the NYTimes put it this way:

For Tracy Alpert, a white parent who has one child at P.S. 191, which was at the center of an earlier desegregation debate in the district, the answer was clear. “They need more good schools. It’s a scarce resource,” she said. “We need more good seats at good schools.

As one who wishes desegregation could happen much faster, I attended a Buddhist retreat where an African American presenter spoke about our tradition’s need to welcome more people of color. I was struck by a phrase she used in her concluding remarks: she suggested that in our efforts to be more accepting, she realized that we could move no faster than the “speed of trust”… and that trust would only occur when we realized that the stories we imagine may not be the stories others believe.

Parents like shrill woman featured in the video believe that her children’s education will be compromised if they are assigned to a school with those children who didn’t “work their butt off”. The story SHE believes is that the children who do poorly on standardized tests are lazier and less motivated than her children… and the parents of those children care less about their children than she does. But she might think differently if her child attended a school with those “other children”. She might find out that those children work as hard as her child and the parents have the same struggles with their children and aspirations for their children as she does. But here’s the conundrum: if she decides to withdraw her child from public schools for fear that their education will be compromised in some way, she will never gain that understanding… she will never have the chance to trust that all parents want the same thing for their children.

And here’s the last conundrum: the “speed of trust” was not the standard the Supreme Court envisioned when it overturned Plessy v. Ferguson in the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954. The court insisted that schools move “at all deliberate speed” to integrate and now, 64 yeas later nothing has changed in terms of segregation. What will it take to accelerate the “speed of trust”? It will take some courageous leadership on the part of school administrators, school boards, and, in many instances, mayors and state politicians. And sadly it will require courage and persistence on the part of parents of children raised in poverty and parents of children of color… for before parents like the shrill woman featured in the video can trust that economic and racial segregation will not harm their children they will have to experience success in racially and economically desegregated schools and change their stories. And changing the stories we believe in is difficult.



Florida Legislator’s “Vision” Results in Mandate: “In God We Trust” Must Be Displayed In Exchange for Cash

May 5, 2018 Leave a comment

Several years ago, one of Jean Shepherd’s books of essays was titled “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash”. That title might have been the inspiration for an amendment passed as part of a recent piece of legislation introduced by Florida legislator Kimberly Daniels. Here’s the way WUFT, an NPR affiliate, describes Ms. Daniels amendment:

A new state law set to take effect July 1 will redirect millions from sales taxes to fund vouchers for literacy tutors and increase the percentage of teachers’ union members required to pay dues. Section 22 of HB 7705 also requires school boards to display “In God We Trust” in all schools and associated buildings. It was amended to add language from another bill Daniels sponsored: HB 839.

“When we remove God,” she said in a February house session, “we remove hope.”

What inspired Ms. Daniels to add this language, which she belied would unify the state?

The day before a Florida House of Representatives session, Rep. Kimberly Daniels was visiting state prisons. The gate on one read: “In God We Trust.”

“I was thinking to myself, ‘Wow, does a child have to wait until they get to prison to see “In God We Trust”’?” said State Rep. Kimberly Daniels, a Jacksonville Democrat.

WUFT’s reporting on this legislation underscored the preposterousness and superfluous nature of this amendment, noting that in Florida there are far more pressing issues than whether a phrase that appears on the State flag and all US Currency needs to be “prominently displayed” in public schools. Using a serious plumbing problem at one of the schools in the station’s broadcasting area as an example, the station underscored a clear facilities problem that trusting in God will not fix. The report also emphasized the potential divisiveness of this amendment:

The American Civil Liberties Union Foundation in Florida is studying the law and looking for ways to protect Floridians’ rights, said Kara Gross, the organization’s legislative counsel.

“Public schools are for secular learning,” Gross said. “The concern is that mandating a religious enforcement goes against the very crux of church and state.”

Gross also said the new law endorses one set of religious beliefs, which she said sends a thinly veiled message: Only students who believe in God are welcome.

“It makes some people feel welcome and makes others feel like they’re not welcome,” Gross said. “That’s why this is so concerning.”

The station also noted how this might impact God-fearing religious practitioners who are NOT Christian, citing the conundrum that Muslims, who trust in God as much as Christians, do not get time off from school to celebrate their Holy Days.

Ms. Daniels’ amendment WILL achieve one result, though: it will shift the conversation away from two issues that are especially problematic for Florida public schools: funding inequities and safety problems caused by the prevalence of guns.


Billionaires’ Kalamazoo Promise Offers Free Tuition to Any Student Accepted into Post Secondary Schools

May 4, 2018 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch wrote a post yesterday offering glowing praise to the anonymous billionaires who fund the Kalamazoo Promise. She describes the program in this paragraph:

Every student who attends the Kalamazoo Public Schools from kindergarten through senior year and graduates receives a full scholarship for any public or private university in Michigan where he or she is accepted. All costs, tuition, books, fees, are covered. For those who attend the KPS schools for four years of high school, 65% of tuition is covered.

For the balance of the post she describes how this benefits all students and the community, noting that since the program was conceived the public school enrollments have increased and the programs offered at the local community college have expanded. But two commenters identified the flaws with this program: instead of relying on the unified support of taxpayers to fund post-secondary opportunities it relies on the whims of anonymous billionaires… billionaires who, in all probability, benefitted from tax breaks themselves.

Commenter Steve Nelson, emphasizing the conditionality of many billionaire donors, wrote:

It is hard to argue against such anonymous generosity. However . . .

The problem with this lovely example is that it is the legacy of GHW Bush’s Thousand Points of Light, which was essentially a way to erode social justice as a part of America’s social contract and replace it with private philanthropy. Charity is not justice. Charity is selective and insufficient.

I agree that it can be an example to other billionaires, but it also perpetuates a system in which we are dependent on and beholden to billionaires. I’d rather we progressively tax billionaires and create systems of justice and equity that serve all people. As we see with Gates, Broad, Walton and others, billionaires seldom give unconditionally. They give to impose their values and policy preferences on the rest of us.

And “Some Damn Poet”, who often provides commentary in rhymed couplets, wrote, in part:

If we wanted to fully fund all of our schools and even build thousands of new schools around the country to replace decrepit and decaying old ones, we could easily do it simply by levying a tax on all corporations, say 1% annually.

And of course, if these corporations just paid the taxes they actually owe, that alone would go a long ways. The recent tax windfall for corporations holding nearly $3 trillion offshore allowed America’s largest companies to avoid paying about half a trillion dollars in taxes. This alone would have financed nearly 17,000 brand new schools at $30 million apiece.

The money is there, but the political will is not

Not for the Republicans and not for the Democrats.

He later qualified his assertions, noting that:

Total US corporate profits for 2017 were about $9 trillion so if that were taxed at 1%, it would bring in about $90 billion.

That’s significant, but nowhere near the amount required for what I claimed.

In an effort to assure him that his original assertions were valid, I offered this comment:

Determining the amount of local and state taxes avoided by corporations and businesses is even more complicated because many state and local governments offer tax breaks and free infrastructure upgrades to businesses… “incentives” in the parlance of politicians and economic development offices. Amazon’s crass bidding for tax breaks and infrastructure upgrades happens all the time. When corporations get tax breaks, someone has to backfill the lost revenues… and that someone is homeowners.

Until politicians recognize that public education benefits everyone— students, parents, communities, and– yes— businesses… we will continue to be beholden to the generosity of billionaires whose whims will determine where investments are made. And we will need to face the reality that many of those billionaires’ profits were created by our tax code.

No One Speaks for the School Buildings… and So They Deteriorate… Especially in Poverty Stricken School Districts

May 3, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday Diane Ravitch wrote a post on a recent study that indicated Arizona public schools will require an investment of $2,000,000,000 in its facilities to meet the goals set for its schools. The report itemized the funding needs as follows:

  • Early Childhood Education — $200 million to meet the needs of children under the poverty line to improve their success in school
  • Teacher Salaries — $686 million to provide a $10,000 flat raise to Arizona’s teachers to address what may be the worst teacher shortage in the country and maximize the recruitment and retention of young teaching professionals
  • Added Interventions—$250 million to achieve goals for third grade reaching, eighth-grade math and high school graduation
  • Refilling prior state investments: $991.million:
    • District Additional Assistance: $352 million
    • All-day Kindergarten: $265 million
    • New School Construction: $284 million
    • Building Renewal Funds: $90 million

The recent teacher walkouts in that state and others have flagged the need to increase teacher compensation, which constitutes slightly more than a third of the needed funds, and this blog and many other editorials have flagged the need for intervention programs, which constitute another 35+% of the two billion needed, but not too many words have been written about the need for upgrades in facilities, which constitute nearly 20% of the shortfall in funding.

When districts encounter funding crises, like the ones that have plagued public education since the outset of the Great Recession, the first thing that gets cut is maintenance. As a former business manager who worked in one of the districts I led said, kids have vocal parents as constituents, taxpayers are always vocal constituents, but no one speaks up for the buildings. As a result, the buildings suffer, the deferred maintenance costs accumulate, and taxpayers ultimately face a higher cost for repairs than they would have faced if the preventative maintenance costs were funded. This cycle of deferring maintenance expenditures, in turn, is characterized as “neglect” by State and federal politicians whose shortchanging of funding for schools diminished the resources as the local level that forced districts to make the decision to defer maintenance instead of cutting classroom teachers.

This vicious cycle COULD be stopped if state and federal politicians perceived investments in school facilities as an economic development opportunity instead of a drain on taxpayers. By engaging in renovation and construction projects the politicians could create jobs for people that would benefit their communities in two ways: it would improve the local economy and simultaneously improve the learning opportunities for the children. But when politicians talk about the need for “improving infrastructure” public schools do not make the list. Instead “infrastructure” projects are defined as roads, bridges, and utilities. Why? Because the funding for schools is viewed as a local issue. And the result? Affluent districts have far superior facilities to poverty stricken ones. And facilities do not make the list of improvements “reformers”seek when they want improve  “failing schools”. Instead they go after “bloated salaries”. Why? Because the largest percentage of funds are spent on the compensation of personnel. Instead of seeking to improve the brick-and-mortar schools too many reformers– especially those seeking high profits— seek to replace decrepit facilities with on-line “learning opportunities.”

And so the vicious cycle continues… and the divide between affluent schools and those schools serving children in poverty stricken areas widens.

NH Catholic Bishop’s “Sub Rosa” Campaign for Education Savings Account Legislation is Unseemly

April 30, 2018 Leave a comment

Bill Duncan, the Advancing New Hampshire blogger, wrote a post yesterday describing the efforts of the New Hampshire diocese to solicit parishioners support for SB 193, an education savings account bill under consideration in the NH legislature that would provide a means for parents opting into Catholic Schools to secure more funding for their “choice”. The post included an email from the Bishop to parishioners that included a sample letter they could send to their local legislator that included this verbiage:

As your constituent, I write to urge you to support SB 193, the bill to create Education Savings Accounts in New Hampshire. We should continue to support our local public schools, and we also should empower families to make the best decisions for their children. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. An ESA program would support families trying to find the right academic setting for their children but struggling to afford it.

As Mr. Duncan noted, there was no mention of the rationale for this desire to “..empower families to make the best decisions for their children”, which is clearly to transfer taxpayer funds from public education to religiously based education. This lack of explicit connection between the desire of the Catholic church leadership to seek more taxpayer funding is disingenuous at best.

At the end of his post, Mr. Duncan concluded with this:

There’s nothing wrong with the Bishop campaigning for SB 193, but legislators receiving those calls and emails should be clear about the source.

I did some quick Google research and was surprised to fund that even organizations that advocate a bright line between church and state acknowledge the laws on lobbying for legislation from the pulpit or from the Bishop are nebulous. But it seems to me that Biblical laws on honesty and helping the needy would come into play here. I found these 25 verses by entering “Bible Verses on Honesty”, the top one of which came from 2 Corinthians Chapter 8, verse 21:

For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.