Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Homelessness Caused By Liberals??? What???

January 11, 2020 Leave a comment

I don’t know which part of this Fox News report is crazier: Betsy DeVos’ notion that offering options will help homeless children or the Fox Friends’ notion that liberal policies contribute to homelessness.

Puerto Rico’s Template for Regulating Athletics Makes Sense… Having Fun is Ultimate Goal

January 11, 2020 Leave a comment

This past weekend I attended a family gathering where I learned that one of my wife’s extremely talented great nephews had decided to quit soccer completely, turning his back on a sport he played since he was a young child. Why? His mom said he wasn’t experiencing any joy in playing.

Yesterday I read a story in the New York Times by Tom Farrey, a journalist, director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, and author of “Game On: The All-American Race to Make Champions of Our Children.” In the article he reported on how Puerto Rico is reining in youth sports… and how the parents are in despair. The reason for the government initiating a limit on participation in sports?

The catalyst was the death of Roberto Quiles Jr., 15, who collapsed during a five-day Junior Olympic basketball tournament sponsored by Jeep. His father, Roberto, said that the cause of the heart failure had not been determined, but that his son had been “exhausted” from year-round play and that medical attention was slow to arrive on site.His death elevated island-wide concerns about pressures placed on children and families by a youth sports system that had been transformed — industrialized — over the past decade or so.

As in the United States, the emphasis on travel teams had taken over. There were expensive basketball and volleyball tournaments at the Puerto Rico Convention Center for hundreds of teams from all over the island, at ever-earlier ages. Teenagers were playing eight games a week between their club and school teams. Children were kept at practice past 10 p.m. on school nights. Family dinners were sacrificed. There were overuse injuries and occasional fights in the stands. Abuse from parents was directed toward referees — or their own children.

In short, the joy of sport had been taken away from children and replaced by the grim fear of failure. Instead of encouraging their children to play among themselves in self-regulated games on playgrounds Puerto Rican parents were pushing their children to compete for slots on travel teams who played in stadiums full of angry adults screaming at referees and children whose every mistake was magnified.

So who would complain about restrictions limiting the number of games per week and the intrusion on family life?

Some private schools have objected. So has the Olympic committee, whose annual funding from the department has been slashed in recent years amid the island’s economic troubles and worries about its ability to train athletes who win medals. “Our federations have autonomy, and that’s not to be negotiated,” said Sara Rosario, the Olympic committee’s president. Basketball has also taken that position…

The argument in favor of sustaining these soul crushing athletic leagues is that some excellent athletes might not have a chance for the Olympics or athletic scholarships. But Mr. Farrey offers a different and healthier perspective:

But the most effective sports systems in the world don’t produce athletic talent as much as prevent it from being ruined before it ripens. It is less about spending money and more about spending time getting the youth model right, committing to build the base and being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests. In Puerto Rico, it’s just government taking the lead and dragging the sports organizations along.

The phrase that jumped out at me in this paragraph was this:

…being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests.

Patience with children is clearly NOT a virtue in our culture, and our lack of patience is reflected in the way we measure learning in children, the way we compel them to compete with each other at ever earlier ages, and the way we emphasize unyielding standards based on the assumption that all children mature at the same age. If we organized schools and structured learning based on the premise that we needed to be patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests we would not force them to compete with children in the same age cohort, expect them to learn at the same rate, or track them into courses and schools when they are long adolescents. In our country,  instead of being patient with children as they grow into their bodies and true interests we seem to be committed to sorting and selecting them based on standardized test scores at ever younger ages, rating the effectiveness of their schooling on their earnings as adults, and training them to accept their position in a “race to the top” based on how quickly they mature intellectually and score high on tests administered to the competition in their age cohort.


International Education Deficits Dwarf Those in US

January 8, 2020 Leave a comment

As this article indicates, the education deficits in our country are not nearly as bad as those in other less developed and poorer nations. BUT instead of closing the gap in our country there appears to be an unsettling resemblance between the description of the way schools function in poor nations and the way we seem to be headed in ours. Unless we can become more equitable in terms of opportunities to learn we will become a Third World education system,

Deseret News Examines Impact of Philanthropy on the Public Sector and Finds it Wanting

January 5, 2020 Leave a comment

Gillian Friedman of the Deseret News recently wrote and compelling article based on this question:

Is philanthropy a threat to democracy?

It will come as no surprise to readers of this blog that I believe the answer to that question is a resounding “YES”… and while Ms. Friedman’s response is more equivocal, her overall response is the same as mine. Indeed, a couple of her quotes show that her concerns mirror mine in this regard:

….when billionaires step in to provide public services, it can also give them disproportionate influence over public policy and circumvent taxpayer input or oversight, argues Rob Reich, co-director of Stanford University’s Center on Philanthropy and Civil Society, in his book “Just Giving: Why Philanthropy is Failing Democracy and How it Can Do Better.”

Big donor philanthropy … is an exercise of power — the attempt to direct private assets toward some public purpose,” wrote Reich. “It is a form of power that is unaccountable, low on transparency, donor directed, and by default perpetual. Big philanthropy is a plutocratic element in democratic society…”

Because charitable donations are tax-deductible, philanthropy can essentially keep money in the private realm that would have otherwise been managed by the government.

But for the government to spend tax money on a certain program or public service — schools, roads, health care — taxpayers must vote on the expenditure, or vote for the elected official making the decision on their behalf (who can then be voted out). For example, when the Democrats pushed through Obamacare, the blowback was so strong it catalyzed the rise of of the Tea Party Caucus and arguably led to the Democrats losing control of the House.

On the other hand, a philanthropist can choose to spend their money how they like, funding certain kinds of research, or education, based on their own worldview, political orientation, or religious beliefs, without complete transparency.

Ms. Friedman offers the counter-argument to this kind of dark power, but it is weak, especially when one looks at specific examples of philanthropy as it applies to public education:

Because philanthropies aren’t run by people worried about getting reelected or making a profit, they can stay focused on their values and make bolder decisions and riskier investments than politicians or business owners.

“It is precisely that freedom to go against the status quo and be a bit anti-democratic that has allowed philanthropy to move the needle on a lot of social issues because it’s able to go against the public opinion at the time and take on unpopular causes and drive social change,” said Davies.

After all, democracy isn’t a perfect system, said Davies. When the only way to express one’s opinion is by getting the most votes at the ballot box, it can create a “tyranny of the majority,” he said.

Philanthropic foundations can help make up for that by funding important causes that might get overlooked by the will of the majority— such as supporting minority religions, or animal rights, or pushing for innovations in fields such as disease prevention, climate change or cancer research.

Philanthropy has a really important role to play in making sure the minority’s views can be heard, and bringing some of those issues to mainstream political attention,” said Davies. “And that’s good for democracy.”

The most notably philanthropists in education have promoted for-profit charter schools and/or technology-based interaction in charter and public schools that are hardly an effort to make sure the minority’s views are heard… and the most crucial need of education, the abandonment of the long-standing grouping of students by age cohorts… remains unchanged by philanthropists, most of whom base their “innovative ideas” on the continuation of the traditional model for schools. As for its impact on democracy, there are few institutions in the US more democratic than the local school board… and I am not aware of any efforts by any philanthropists to use elected boards to drive change. Rather, virtually every public education innovation funded by philanthropy is managed by an un-elected board whose meetings do not need to conform to public law.

Is philanthropy a threat to democracy?

Absolutely… especially when billionaires starve districts from tax revenue and introduce “innovations” to solve the problems created by short-changing schools.


The Bottom Line from Forbes’ Ten Trends from the 2010s: The Rich are Getting Richer

January 2, 2020 Comments off

As the 2010 decade came to an end, several articles appeared summarizing trends in everything from movies, to fashion to politics. An article in Forbes by Carter Cordriet offered Ten trends in higher education which can be summarized by one phrase: the rich are getting richer. The ten trends are outlined below:

1) The Varsity Blues admissions scandal cast a pall on elite admissions

2) Struggling private colleges are closing

3) Student debt has doubled

4) For-profit colleges have closed, contracted or merged

5) The number of high school graduates has plateaued and is predicted to fall

6) International student enrollment at U.S. colleges has leveled off

7) Private colleges are increasing discounts

8) Elite colleges are becoming increasingly elite

9) Endowments are up at the richest schools

10) Rich people have pledged bigger donations

An examination of this list illustrate an unsettling trend over the past decade that is unlikely to change unless some kind of policy changes occur at the federal level. A vicious circle is in place whereby the wealthiest individuals will be controlling the elite schools through their donations and access to those schools will be increasingly limited to a vanishingly small pool of students who can afford to attend those schools. Worse, students who are saddled with debt, especially those students who attended the for profit colleges that closed, will have little to show for the money they spent and little chance to accumulate the wealth they would need to provide their children with access to an elite college. The “varsity blues” scandal notwithstanding, children raised in affluence will continue to be the beneficiaries of the largess of the billionaires who underwrite the elite schools while children raised in poverty will face increasing tuitions at state funded colleges.

The rags-to-riches American Dream is predicated on a level playing field. The last decade tilted the playing field toward the top 1%. If the American Dream hopes to survive in the 2020s a tile toward the 99% is needed.

Assuming Higher Taxes on the Rich is a “Solution” Also Assumes that “Markets” Are Acceptable and Just… and Markets are Neither

December 31, 2019 Comments off

The title of UMass-Boston economics professor emeritus Arthur MacEwan’s recent Dollars and Sense article that was reposted in Common Dreams poses this question:

Are Taxes the Best Way of Dealing With Inequality?

The subheading of the headline elaborates on the framing of the question and the article itself. It reads:

Taxes can redistribute income, but relying on taxes means we are accepting the way the system works—the way markets operate—to create inequality in the first place.

Mr. MacEwan then demonstrates that markets are neither natural nor just, illustrating how regulations and legal constructs undermine the natural impact of markets and, in doing so, distort the way the economy works in a way that contributes to inequality. I agreed almost entirely with Mr, MacEwan’s analysis, but differed with his conclusions about schooling. Here is the section he wrote on that topic:

Schooling and the labor market. Schooling, from pre-K through college, shapes the labor market. The U.S. school system is a multi-tiered system, preparing people for different levels in the workforce. Certain areas of education receive attention—which means funds—according to the needs of employers, as demonstrated by the emphasis in recent years on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. The structure of the school system, good or bad, is not a “natural” phenomenon, but it greatly affects the operation of the labor market and the distribution of income.

Mr MacEwan’s belief that “certain areas of education receive attention” in the form of funds misses an important reality. It is not certain academic disciplines like STEM that receive additional funds, it is certain school districts that receive additional funds… and it isn’t the districts serving poverty stricken areas that receive the additional funds, its the affluent districts. And that reality plays into the conclusions he draws about the difficulty faced in making changes:

…Financial institutions, fossil fuel firms, pharmaceutical companies, software giants, and many others use their wealth and power to see that markets are constructed in ways that work for them… They get the rules made the way they want, play by the rules, and then claim they deserve what they get because they played by the rules. Nonsense, yes, but effective nonetheless.

Of course, it is difficult to fight these powerful firms and the individuals who reap their fortunes through these firms. They are quite powerful. But there is no reason to think it is more difficult than raising their taxes.

A first step is to establish a wide understanding of the fact that markets are social constructs and that they can be constructed differently.They have been structured differently in the past, and they can be structured differently in the future… Even if little change comes in the short run, it is important to send the message that just because firms and rich people play by the rules of the markets, this does not lead to the conclusion that the results are just. (And, of course, they often don’t play by the rules!)

Schools have been structured differently in the past… and not necessarily in ways that helped address inequality. Until child labor laws were passed at the turn of the 20th century education was limited to the elite. Until Brown v. Board of Education our social construct of “separate but equal” schooling for minority students was deemed acceptable. We ostensibly offer an equal opportunity to all children and yet the evidence indicates that systemic change is needed if we want to truly offer such an opportunity to all.

Mr. MacEwan is right in his assertion that the “winners” in our system “…get the rules made the way they want, play by the rules, and then claim they deserve what they get because they played by the rules.’ The school district boundaries are social constructs as surely as the markets and the “sorting and selection” structure of our education system whereby students compete with age cohorts is a construct as surely as the “separate but equal” structure was a construct. Until we change the mental models we use to construct the rulebooks that favor those who claim they deserve what they got we will continue reinforcing the economic system we have in place… and the rich will continue to get richer.

Insightful Inquirer Article Sidesteps Segregation that Resulted from Suburban Exclusionary Zoning

December 30, 2019 Comments off

An insightful article by Jason Laughlin in today’s Philadelphia Inquirer describes how racist covenants in the early 1900s restricted black families’ access to some neighborhoods in that city. Drawing on research done by Larry Santucci, a senior research fellow at the Consumer Finance Institute of the Federal Reserve Bank, Mr. Laughlin’s article describes how “...deeds for Philadelphia homes included racially restrictive covenants, with language barring minorities from buying into the neighborhood.”  His research found that “...the practice was especially widespread in two wards in the Northeast” where “…currently, only 18% of the residents in those wards are African American, compared with 49% in the rest of Philadelphia“. He also sensed that his research scratched the surface and offered this understated paragraph:

Philadelphia’s poshest addresses didn’t need (restricted deeds)… There, minorities were excluded largely by housing being out of their price range.

As noted in earlier posts on this blog noting the link between zoning and school segregation, I wrote an essay on this topic when I attended graduate school at the University of Pennsylvania in 1972. That essay noted that exclusionary zoning practices in suburbs that bordered Philadelphia created artificially high housing process that effectively excluded minorities and families who qualified for Title One funds while generating higher property tax revenues that, in turn, resulted in well funded schools.

Nearly 50 years later, nothing has changed….