Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

NYC Free Lunch Frees Up Family Funds for More and Better Food, Helps End Food Insecurity

September 17, 2017 Leave a comment

A short post in Wear Your Voice provided an insight I had missed when I first read about NYC’s decision to provide two free meals a day to ALL NYC students:

This program will directly benefit an additional 200,000 students who weren’t eligible for free lunch before the announcement and will save families around $300 per year.

The $300/year is, in all probability, a low ball figure in direct savings… the hassle working parents face in preparing meals, planning for them, and making certain their children remember to take their lunches each and every day can take a toll when both parents work.

And the 200,000 figure is probably a low ball figure in terms of students who benefit because in some cases parents are reluctant to admit that their children qualify for the free lunch and so do not complete the necessary paperwork.

And here’s one other fact that has been underreported: by avoiding the paperwork at the Central Office level the NYC school district should be able to save in administrative costs at the district and school building levels.




Rahm Emmanuel’s Big Idea Will Require Big Dollars, and a Big Shift in the Role of Counselors

September 15, 2017 Leave a comment

As a HS administrator in the late 1970s, I concluded that the students who succeeded in high school were the ones who entered ninth grade with some idea about what they wanted to gain from the experience. Those students who sincerely aspired to college would enroll in the wide array of college prep classes the high schools offered, apply themselves, and in most cases gain entry to some kind of post secondary school. Students who wanted to pursue a specific trade enrolled in Vocational Education courses and often moved right into the workforce upon graduation, some of them outlearning the teachers who trained them. Any student who participated in activities like band, chorus, drama, and athletics worked hard enough to retain their eligibility and graduated on time and often found themselves with a life long avocation. These students were easy to schedule into classes, hardly ever came to the office as disciplinary cases, and enjoyed their years in high school.

There was a sizable group of students— roughly 20-30%— who didn’t have an idea about what they wanted to get out of high school, who could find no courses or activities that engaged them, struggled mightily. When I worked with them to find courses beyond those mandated for graduation they shrugged and asked me to assign them to whatever class had an opening. In most cases the parents of these children had given up on them: their indifference to school and aimlessness developed over their years in school and came into full bloom beginning in their sophomore year.

Given this experience, which many of the high school administrators I worked with over the years concurred with, I am in complete support with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s idea that “…all Chicago Public Schools and public-charter-school students must have a postsecondary plan in order to graduate”. But Mr. Emmanuel’s implementation plan for this sweeping mandate falls far short of the mark… and not for the reasons I read in many articles on this issue. Alia Wong’s Atlantic article, “The Controversy Behind Chicago’s Diploma Mandate” is a case in point.  In the article, Ms. Wong interviews  teachers, parents, administrators, and students and, in doing so, identifies one major flaw with Mr. Emmanuel’s mandate: he has not provided nearly enough funding to address the 20-30% of students who have no idea whatsoever what they want to get out of high school let alone those who want to go to college. Chicago is woefully short of counselors:

And even if counselors were able to dedicate their entire workday to guiding students through the postsecondary-planning process, there still aren’t enough of them. Although the American School Counselor Association recommends that each counselor be assigned to no more than 250 kids, across CPS there are 326 high-school students per counselor, according to 2016-2017 data provided by Brooks. The ratio varies significantly depending on the school. (Across the United States, each public-school counselor is responsible for 436 high-schoolers on average, according to 2014 data from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.)

But neither Ms. Wong nor any of the folks she interviewed flagged the biggest flaw: High School guidance counselors are typically trained to help students get into college and have limited training as vocational counselors…. and in-depth vocational counseling is what is needed for those students who do not want to enroll in college.  And as it stands now, the students who do not want to attend college go to the end of the line in the counselor’s office… even though their needs are often higher than those students who aspire to college.

One other issue is glossed over: the transient nature of the population attending high schools and the high number of special needs students. Here’s a quote from Maurice Swinney, Principal at one of such school, who generally supports Mr Emmanuel’s idea but fears that the funding will fall short:

Disaster will only occur, Swinney said, if the city doesn’t do enough to support schools like his that serve high-needs populations. Almost all of Tilden’s studentsare low-income, and roughly four in 10 of them are in special education. What’s more, the school’s mobility rate (essentially the percentage of students who either transfer in or out in the middle of the year) is 36 percent—nearly twice the CPS average. Educational-attainment levels are just as dismal: According to 2016 data, just 50 percent of students graduated within five years, and just 32 percent of graduates enrolled in college.

“Every time someone in education or in politics has a bright idea and a way to raise the bar, it always sounds good in theory,” Swinney said. “But we know some schools are going to have a tougher time with this, and we need to make sure we as a district … help the schools be as successful as they want to be and as we want them to be.”

I get dismayed when good ideas like Rahm Emmanuel’s get sabotaged (or in this case self-sabotaged) by politicians who are unwilling to provide the time or resources needed to bring them to fruition. And like so many good ideas, this one will not only take time and money, it will require a shift in the thinking of middle and high schools as they work to engage students who are currently disengaged and, in many cases, challenged by circumstances.

Stanford Report Finds that Privatized Charters Do Worse Than ANY Type of School.. Why Isn’t THIS a Big Story?

September 10, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this week, both Diane Ravitch and the Atlantic magazine reported on the release of a report from Stanford University that studied the effectiveness of various kinds of charter schools, and the results show that so-called “government schools” with their “regulations that strangle innovation” do far better than privatized de-regulated charter schools. Here’s the understated finding from the of the Executive Summary of the report on “For Profit” charter school results:

Results also vary by the for-profit/non-profit status of the charter organization. Charter schools which are non- profit have an average effect size of 0.02, equivalent to an additional 11 days, in both math and reading. Charter school students attending a school run by a for-profit company have math growth which is 0.02 weaker than their VCRs and reading growth which is not significantly different from the VCRs. The difference in growth between for- profit and non-profit charter schools is equivalent to 23 additional days of learning in math for students attending a non-profit charter school and 6 days additional learning in reading for non-profit charter students.

And later in the report, the for-profit charters (or Vendor Operated Schools— VOS) are singled out for the mediocre performance:

…Schools that contract with external vendors for much or all of the school operations post lower results than network operators that maintain direct control over their operations.

…For-profit operators have results that are at best equal to the comparison traditional public school students (reading) or worse (math).

I have grave misgivings about the expansion of charter schools, mainly because as they function today they primarily draw from a pool of engaged parents who have the wherewithal to complete applications for their children that are time consuming and require an understanding of process that many parents might find daunting. Drawing from this pool of parents, it is not surprising to find that charters in general do better than their so called “local market”, a term that implies that schools should be engaged in a completion with each other for students. And when a for-profit entity draws from this group of select parents and does the same or worse, there is only one group who benefits: the shareholders of the for profit enterprise. That is NOT what our economy or our country wants from its public schools.

This Just In: Statistics Support Segregation, Inequality In Public Schools

September 10, 2017 Leave a comment

I often write about the trends toward resegregation and inequality, so often I sometimes think that I might be overstating the case for each. But today’s NYTimes article Education by the Numbers by Alice Yin offers hard evidence that, if anything, I might be understating what is transpiring in our public schools. The article features charts showing that students of color are filling our schools more rapidly, that they are attending schools that are increasingly segregated by race, and the schools students of color attend get fewer resources. Unsurprisingly, those schools do worse on achievement tests. In an effort to find something positive to report, Ms. Yin offers this silver lining: “…attendance at specialized high schools in New York almost always leads to on-time graduation, and pre-kindergarten programs have proven to be remarkably beneficial for black children.”

Ms. Yin’s “good news” does nothing to offset the otherwise disheartening findings. Only a small percentage of students of color are accepted into “specialized high schools” and with funding for public schools on the decline one can only wonder how long before recently introduced pre-kindergarten programs fall by the wayside. If evidence mattered, schools serving children of color would be integrated to a greater degree, would receive comparable resources to schools serving white children, and “specialized high schools” would open their doors to more of them. Instead, since some children of color do get into these “elite” schools it is viewed as evidence that any child of color could get in if only they applied themselves and showed sufficient grit. And so the vicious cycle of poverty continues.

The Shareholder’s Credo: “Focus on Core Competence and Outsource the Rest”

September 9, 2017 Leave a comment

A New York Times article by Neil Irwin on changes in the employment of janitors by two different technology companies over the past three decades illustrates why our current corporate practices are contributing to the widening divide in earnings and opportunities. To illustrate the change in the nature of these substantive changes, Mr. Irwin profiles two janitors: Gail Evans and Marta Ramos who had one thing in common: “They have each cleaned offices for one of the most innovative, profitable and all-around successful companies in the United States.”

Ms. Evans worked at Eastman Kodak in Rochester NY in the late 1980s. Ms. Ramos is currently working for Apple in Cupertino, CA. Ms. Ramos earns the same amount per hour in inflation adducted wages… but while the wages are identical, the working conditions vary tremendously:

Evans was a full-time employee of Kodak. She received more than four weeks of paid vacation per year, reimbursement of some tuition costs to go to college part time, and a bonus payment every March. When the facility she cleaned was shut down, the company found another job for her: cutting film.

Ramos is an employee of a contractor that Apple uses to keep its facilities clean. She hasn’t taken a vacation in years, because she can’t afford the lost wages. Going back to school is similarly out of reach. There are certainly no bonuses, nor even a remote possibility of being transferred to some other role at Apple.

Yet the biggest difference between their two experiences is in the opportunities they created. A manager learned that Evans was taking computer classes while she was working as a janitor and asked her to teach some other employees how to use spreadsheet software to track inventory. When she eventually finished her college degree in 1987, she was promoted to a professional-track job in information technology.

Less than a decade later, Evans was chief technology officer of the whole company, and she has had a long career since as a senior executive at other top companies. Ramos sees the only advancement possibility as becoming a team leader keeping tabs on a few other janitors, which pays an extra 50 cents an hour.

They both spent a lot of time cleaning floors. The difference is, for Ramos, that work is also a ceiling.

Ms. Ramos’ experience is typical of today’s workforce because, as corporations, small businesses, and— yes— school districts employ more and more contracted employees. Why? The headline of this post is taken from this paragraph that sums up the trend:

In the 35 years between their jobs as janitors, corporations across America have flocked to a new management theory: Focus on core competence and outsource the rest. The approach has made companies more nimble and more productive, and delivered huge profits for shareholders. It has also fueled inequality and helps explain why many working-class Americans are struggling even in an ostensibly healthy economy.

Outsourcing transportation has a long history in public education. But as a result of following the credo to “focus on core competence and outsource the rest” public schools have outsourced things like payroll, custodial services, food services, hall monitors, and substitute teachers. Some “reform” advocates have even outsourced the core competence of teaching, hiring green Teach For America candidates instead of offering career track opportunities.

In the short run, this practice will pay dividends to shareholders as the ancillary costs like paid sick leave, paid vacation, paid benefits, tuition reimbursement, and pensions. But in the long run, this hiring of contractors instead of long term employees will corrode the economic system. In a world where every job is contracted out there will be fewer and fewer stories like that of Gail Evans, an under-educated but highly motivated blue collar worker who was able to advance up the corporate ladder through the largesse of her employer. When “working hard and playing by the rules” has no long term pay-off is it any wonder that fewer and fewer employees are committed to either hard work or adherence to a code of conduct that enables them to stay in one job?

North Carolina Legislators Haven’t Looked at the Evidence About For-Profit Schools… And Public Schools are Short-Changed as a Result

September 8, 2017 Leave a comment

An op ed article in today’s Charlotte News-Observer by Keith Posten, president and executive director of the Public School Forum of North Carolina, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization focused on public education in NC, describes how the North Carolina Legislature’s decision to expand funding for for-profit charter schools has diminished the opportunities for public education students across the state. His article highlights four broad initiatives that effectively re-directed education funding away from public education: private school vouchers and Education Savings Accounts; for-profit charter school management; so-called “innovative school districts; and on-line virtual schools. Here’s a synopsis from his article:

Private school vouchers. Lawmakers continue pushing the state’s private school voucher program… spending nearly one billion taxpayer dollars (since 2006). They’re doing this despite the fact that these funds go to private schools that aren’t required to tell the public whether they are doing a good job of educating students and to what degree they profit off of the taxpayer at the expense of providing high-quality educational experiences. And coming right behind vouchers are new Education Savings Accounts, similarly unaccountable and likely to drain public coffers at an even faster rate.

For-profit charter school management. Since the General Assembly lifted the charter school cap in 2011, the number of charters has nearly doubled. When charter schools are managed by private, for-profit corporations, taxpayer funds intended for instruction are used to pay hefty management fees that can be as much as 10 percent of the state dollars allocated for the school. Plus there are lucrative facility leasing arrangements, often with landlords intertwined with charter operators. (NOTE: The NYTimes article in my previous post about Michigan schools offers some stunning examples of how these leases benefit the profiteers at the expense of taxpayers) 

NC Innovative School Districts. This concept, where charter operators take over local schools, has largely been a total failure in neighboring Tennessee. Lawmakers say it will go differently here in North Carolina, where low-performing schools will, in theory, be catapulted toward high performance by a charter school operator, likely one that operates for profit. (NOTE: MANY posts describe the failure of charter operators taking over public schools in NJ, PA, OH, MI, etc… )

Online virtual charter schools. We’re in the middle of a four-year pilot program through which we’ve diverted nearly $35 million in taxpayer dollars to two for-profit companies that delivered classes online. Over that time these schools have seen staggering student withdrawal rates as high as 31 percent – only to have the legislature tweak the law to allow them to hide those numbers – and their students’ academic gains have been poor, with each school failing to meet growth and earning overall “D” school performance grades.

These decisions were all made in the face of contradictory evidence. Evidence, though, is immaterial when voters want to find an easy, fast, and inexpensive solution to a complex, longstanding, and costly problem. Mr. Posten, though, sees no end to the NC legislature adopting these ideas. He concludes his op ed piece with this:

Looking to the years ahead, even more public dollars stand to be diverted to private, unaccountable, for-profit education. It’s clear we are turning away from our state’s mission – and constitutional obligation – of providing high quality public schools accessible to all. Without a course correction, our children – and our state’s economy – will suffer.

Like many of us who want to see public education restored to its rightful place as a force for democracy and equity, Mr. Posten offers an economic argument as well as a moral one. The more I examine the issues of racial and economic justice, the more I believe we should lean on the moral argument for equitable funding and equitable housing. Martin Luther King Jr ultimately appealed to the higher angels in a majority of voters who, in turn, supported the civil rights bills and various safety net funding that accompanied the War on Poverty in the 1960s. When we argue for equity in the name of strengthening our economy, we are appealing to the baser instincts in voters which, in turn, make it easier to sell ideas like exposing public goods to the free market. I am convinced that a majority of voters in this country want to see their neighbors succeed, no matter what their neighbors skin color, nationality, or economic background. I hope that more people will speak to that element of our humanity.


In an Evidence Based World, Deregulated Charter Schools Would be Banned. In Our World of Magical Thinking About Free Markets, They Will Expand… and Children Raised in Poverty Will Lose

September 8, 2017 Leave a comment

This weekend the NYTimes publishes its semi-annual Education issue, and the articles from that special supplement have been emerging in the past couple of days indicate that our country is ignoring evidence about the seemingly intractable problems facing our public schools.

The title of one of the articles by Mark Binelli, “Michigan Gambled on Charters. Its Children Lost“, provides a sweeping analysis of the profound failure of deregulated charter schools in Michigan. Sold to the voters as a means of equalizing funding and outcomes in public schools across the state in the early 1990s, deregulated for profit charters have done neither. Funding disparities persist and those districts taken over by the state and managed by the private sector instead of local school boards have not improved the outcomes or opportunities for children. Here are a couple of pieces of evidence Mr. Binelli offered in his article that describe the adverse impact of the vaunted free market after more than two decades:

…a Brookings Institution analysis done this year of national test scores ranked Michigan last among all states when it came to improvements in student proficiency. And a 2016 analysis by the Education Trust-Midwest, a nonpartisan education policy and research organization, found that 70 percent of Michigan charters were in the bottom half of the state’s rankings…

The 2016 report by the Education Trust-Midwest noted: Michigan’s K-12 system is among the weakest in the country and getting worse. In little more than a decade, Michigan has gone from being a fairly average state in elementary reading and math achievement to the bottom 10 states. It’s a devastating fall. Indeed, new national assessment data suggest Michigan is witnessing systemic decline across the K-12 spectrum. White, black, brown, higher-income, low-income — it doesn’t matter who they are or where they live.

Charters continue to be sold in Michigan as a means of unwinding the inequality of a public-school system in which districts across the state, overwhelmingly African-American — Detroit, Highland Park, Benton Harbor, Muskegon Heights, Flint — grapple with steep population declines, towering financial obligations, deindustrialization and the legacy of segregation. By allowing experimentation, proponents argue, and by breaking the power of teachers’ unions, districts will somehow be able to innovate their way past the crushing underfunding that afflicts majority-minority school districts all around the country. In reality, however, a 2017 Stanford University analysis found that increasing charter-school enrollment in a school district does little to improve achievement gaps. And in unregulated educational sectors like Michigan’s, there’s evidence that charters have actually increased inequality: A 2015 working paper by the Education Policy Institute determined that Michigan’s school-choice policies “powerfully exacerbate the financial pressures of declining-enrollment districts” — and districts with high levels of charter-school penetration, the authors found, have fared worst of all.

So the evidence is in: Michigan’s adoption of a free market model has NOT resulted in greater equity of opportunity and, even worse, has diminished the overall quality of education in all schools in the state. In the face of this evidence, one would expect that policy makers and politicians would abandon the idea that the free-market could solve the problems facing public schools. But instead, we have a Secretary of Education whose family funded politicians who support the “wild west” free market approach and who retains her faith in the free market… and we have a political party who also supports the survival-of-the-fittest approach of the free market over the equal opportunity approach of a “nanny state”.

Mr. Binelli matter-of-factly describes the reality of the problems facing public education in Michigan in this paragraph near the end of his article when he describes Mildred C. Wells Academy, a K-7 charter school in Benton Harbor, a small, poverty stricken district in SW Michigan overseen by the Bay Mills Indian Community, an Ojibwa tribe with over 2,000 members and 5.5 square miles of reservation land located over 300 miles away on Lake Michigan. Here’s the assessment of the school offered by B.M.C.C. charter leader Mickey Parish”

The school’s facilities, a pair of modular buildings, were “very poor,” and the same went for student test scores, though Parish stressed the context: “The level of learning is comparable to that of the local public-school system, which is dismal. So ours is dismal.” B.M.C.C.’s curriculum specialist, Kathy Tassier, pointed to selective testing gains, and suggested that the students had been motivated to “really take ownership for that growth” after learning of another local charter’s slated closure. Tassier meant the remark as a compliment. But inadvertently or not, she’d applied the language of market capitalism, of increasing productivity via brutal Darwinist competition, to a group of K-7 students. They could have been assembly-line workers being warned that the factory would close if the Chinese kept eating their lunch.

And why is the performance dismal? Because Benton Harbor’s students are raised in poverty and not afforded the same opportunities as the children in Bloomfield, an affluent suburb north of Detroit where the public schools are exempt from the brutal Darwinist competition because their taxpayers are able and willing to pay a premium for their schools. And why will the performance remain dismal? Because those in Bloomfield who are able and willing to pay a premium for their schools want to believe that the magic of the marketplace will solve the problem more than “throwing money at it”. Evidently, money thrown at schools in their district makes a difference… but money thrown at schools in other districts doesn’t.