Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

“Knowledge Building”, Like Test Scores, Correlates with Poverty

December 13, 2018 Leave a comment

Forbes education writer Natalie Wexler’s recent article, “Why Knowledge Building Curricula Matter More Than School Choice” overlooks several fundamental realities. Contrasting the positions of “choice” critic Diane Ravitch and Robert Pondiscio, a senior fellow at the pro-charter Thomas B. Fordham Institute, Ms. Wexler analyzes school choice to the choice one can make when purchasing toothpaste. She asserts that such a choice is bogus because:

…the vast majority of schools—especially at the elementary level—offer the same dangerously flawed approach, regardless of whether they’re charters or not.”

And what is that “dangerously flawed approach?

Government ratings focus on annual reading and math scores, just as the toothpaste ratings focused on yearly cavity rates. Schools can sometimes boost test scores in the elementary years by focusing on comprehension “skills.” But, as cognitive scientists have long known—and as few educators, education professors and education reformers are aware—the most important factor in comprehension is background knowledge. In high school, when the classwork and the tests start assuming more knowledge and vocabulary, things fall apart.

Kids with highly educated parents arrive at school with more knowledge and vocabulary and continue acquiring it outside school… (and) that enables them to get higher test scores, because they’re better able to understand the reading passages. But their schools get the credit, regardless of whether they actually provided the knowledge.

In Ms. Wexler’s world, the lack of a curriculum based on knowledge-building is the problem, a problem that she believes is slowly being addressed:

The good news is that several elementary curricula that do focus on building knowledge have recently been developed, and an increasing number of schools—in both the charter and traditional public school sectors—are adopting them. But they still constitute only a small fraction of the total, and school rating systems, which place primary weight on test scores and little or none on curriculum, don’t help parents find them.

But Ms. Wexler’s world, like that of E.D. Hirsch, the founder and chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation, poverty is an immaterial exogenous factor and test scores that measure “core knowledge” replace those that (presumably) measure academic achievement. And that world, devoid of the realities of poverty and politics, has nothing to do with the real world public education lives in.

Ms. Wexler concludes her essay with this analysis of the school choice debate:

I agree with Pondiscio that it’s unfair for wealthier parents to have the ability to choose a school while lower-income parents don’t. And I agree with Ravitch that charter schools have drained resources from traditional public schools and made it harder for many to succeed. But I also think that, given the far more fundamental problems with our education system, those issues are largely beside the point.

Unfortunately, by viewing the “fundamental problem with our education system” as being the lack of a curriculum based on “knowledge building” Ms. Wexler overlooks the REAL fundamental problems, which are the underlying disparities in preparedness for school caused by poverty and the overriding desire to use standardized testing to measure “school effectiveness”.


Paul Buchheit’s Alarming Look at the Inequitable World We Live in Now… And Our Children Will Live in Tomorrow

December 11, 2018 Leave a comment

The Inequality to be Suffered By Our Children” Paul Buchheit’s latest post for Common Dreams, describes the increasingly privatized world we live in and how that environment is impacting the world today and in the future for our children… and it is a disturbing reality. As always, Mr. Buchheit pulls no punches, offering this lead paragraph to set the stage for his essay:

The fortunate ones will not be suffering. In the past eight years, the richest 5% of Americans have increased their wealth by $30 trillion — almost a third of total U.S. wealth — while the poorest 50% have seen their average wealth drop from $11,500 to $9,500. There is ample evidence for a nation soon to be made even more unequal by the transfer of wealth from rich baby boomers to their children and grandchildren, who will have done little if anything to earn it. The middle class will be further crippled by the ongoing growth in inequality. Unless progressive policies are demanded by American voters, most of our children and grandchildren will suffer from the continuing expansion of a Great-Depression-like wealth gap that already “dwarfs” the rest of the developed world.  

Mr. Buchheit then offers several illustrations of how privatization of public services, an idea endorsed by both political parties, prevents the suffering of the most affluent Americans while adding onto the suffering of everyone else. And what is the income of  “the richest 5%”? A quick Google check indicates it could be anywhere from $130,000 upward based on a statistical calculation. But one chart in Wikipedia indicates how the income of the highest wage earners is unbelievably higher than that: As this chart illustrates, the top 400 wage earners have colossal earnings compared to the top 1.5%, whose earnings approach $1,000,000 per annum. And Mr. Buchheit cites studies and analyses that show that more and more of the wealth at the top is being transferred to heirs, many of whom are transferring it completely out of our economy through tax shelters.

These children of the ultra rich, though, are joined by their colleagues in the top echelons when it comes to displacing public services though privatization… and it isn’t hard to see where this is leading us:

The kids (raised in top earning households) will never have to worry about health care. They’ll continue their parents’ trend of paying ‘concierge’ doctors to visit their mansions or yachts, where emergency rooms are equipped with heart monitors, ultrasounds, x-ray machines, and blood analyzers. If a hospital stay is required, they might look into a $2,400 per day penthouse hospital suite complete with butler and grand piano.

In case of fire, they can follow the example of Kanye and Kim and hire a private firefighting service.

For security, the already proliferating private police forces are certain to fill the protection needs of the kids with newly-acquired estates. But private officers tend to be undertrained compared to public police; their acts of aggression are rarely reported; and in some states private forces are not even subject to investigation through the Freedom of Information Act.

And since the individuals who make these stratospheric wages are unwilling to share their largesse to provide services for everyone else by paying their fair share of taxes, public services are diminishing and more and more middle class children will experience the kinds of hospitals, schools, and emergency services that poor children encounter today.

Mr. Buchheit concludes his essay with this sobering news for those who see the Democrats as the group that can turn our current system around:

Democrats have not been the answer to all this. Both Barack Obama and Bill Clinton were buddies with Wall Street; Obama spent public money on drone warsClinton decimated the safety net and increased mass incarceration.

Greater equality of wealth and opportunity can only be achieved through progressive policies, now and in 2020. That is the hope of people who care about the needs of society rather than one’s position on a billionaire list.

Mr. Buchheit didn’t say so, but as readers of this blog know both President Clinton and President Obama advocated the privatization of public schools and public services as a means of “reinventing government” and playing into the overarching message of Ronal Reagan that government is the problem and running-government-like-a-business is the solution. Here’s hoping that Mr. Buchheit’s message about the need to expand progressive policies reaches a large audience.



Firing– well make that REPLACING— All the Teachers Didn’t Work… So… Now What?

December 9, 2018 Leave a comment

Anyone who follows public education closely remembers the Central Falls (RI) school district’s inglorious 15 minutes in the national news in 2010. When their test scores tanked the “reform minded” State Superintendent, local Superintendent, and elected school board had the solution: fire all the teachers. Here’s Diane Ravitch’s summary of the events at that time… and what happened earlier this month:

One of the lowest performing districts in the state is Central Falls, the impoverished district where everyone was fired in 2010 to “reform” the schools (then the firing was withdrawn, but almost every adult in the school was gone within two years, because [as “reformers” insist] low scores are caused by “bad teachers”).

So why no improvement?

Remember Central Falls, the smallest and poorest district in the state?

The harsh treatment of the entire staff of the high school in 2010 received national attention. It was one of the first blows of the corporate reform movement. Those who led the campaign threatened to fire the entire staff—the teachers, lunch room ladies, and everyone else. The leaders were treated as heroes by Arne Duncan and President Obama. Zero tolerance for staff!

Now, eight years later, apparently less than 10% of the students are “meeting or exceeding expectations,” whatever that means.

In 2010 “meeting or exceeding expectations” was based on NECAP scores— despite the fact that NECAPs were not designed to measure such a thing. Now it is based on RICA scores, and those scores are no better now than they were eight years ago. Why? According to an article by Kevin Andrade in the Providence Journal one of the parents who attended a recent meeting shed some light on the reasons:

Maria Cristina Betancur took hold of the microphone as 42 people looked on in the Central Falls High School cafeteria Wednesday night. She spoke passionately in Spanish — often fighting back tears — about the difficulties that many families in the school district face. After a minute, she paused and asked a question of her audience.

“Those of you who don’t speak Spanish, did you understand me?” she queried, looking around the room and into the silence before switching to English. “So, now you know how people feel at homes where they do not understand the language. They do not understand assistance. They need to understand more.”

And the school “reformers” need to understand that “more” is the answer: more bi-lingual teachers who can work with parents (54% of the residents do not speak English as their primary language); more funds to provide more services to children in need (the budget increases have been a paltry 1.9% per annum since the school staff was recommended for dismissal), and, as MS. Betancur noted, more understanding.

As the comments continued, another parent described how the “failing school” is failing children and, in so dong, explained where some of the funds might be found:

When public comment began, Jahaira Rodriguez spared no one’s feelings, listing several incarcerated men who she said attended Central Falls schools.

“Today they are serving terms in prison, and we did that,” she said. “This [education system] is a disservice to our students because they will not be considered hard-working because of where they come from.”

“Funny that we find the money to incarcerate them but not to educate them,” she said.

There is always more money to incarcerate criminals and never enough money to provide the kind of education and support they need to stay out of jail…. and always a way to shift the blame for the struggles of poor children to classroom teachers who work hard in dire conditions but never a way to find funds to help improve those conditions. Welcome to the plutocracy where more money raised by higher tax rates on the most affluent among us is NEVER the solution.

Communities Getting Wise to Corporate Welfare… and Corporations are Pusing Back

December 7, 2018 Leave a comment

A November 5 Atlantic article by Alana Semuels described grassroots movements on the west coast to force large tech companies to pay higher taxes to help their communities deal with problems created by the presence of these corporations. in the article, Ms. Semuels describes the phenomenon thusly:

For decades, technology entrepreneurs have established their headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area, created products that changed the way we live, and reaped millions doing so. But at the same time, the cities around these companies have become harder and harder to live in. Housing prices and homelessness are rising, roads are clogged, transit is over capacity. Tech companies aren’t necessarily causing these problems, but they do have a lot more money than anyone else in today’s economy. So cities are asking those who benefit the most in this economy to pay more money to help solve urban and suburban problems…

In San Francisco, Mountain View, and East Palo Alto, ballot referendums would impose additional taxes on big companies to solve problems related to a lack of affordable housing and funding for transportation. And tech companies are being forced to ask themselves whether they’re willing to play an active role in changing their neighborhoods, not just the world at large.

“We have to come to some kind of reckoning that when you make millionaires out of people, and they buy houses for millions of dollars, other people are going to be on the end of that,” Glenn Kelman, the president and CEO of Redfin, which supported the Seattle head tax, told me about tech leaders. “We’ve always viewed ourselves as the hero of every story, and we’re about to see that we may be the enemy of this one.

They may well be the enemy because when their tax breaks go into the pockets of their billionaire board members and those board members decide to spend their money on foundations that fund projects outside of the local area, residents are forced to ask why their schools are underfunded, housing is impossible to find, and roads are hopelessly clogged.

Much of the article focused on Proposition C, a referendum that sought to modify the tax structure in San Francisco in a way that would help the government— NOT philanthropists–  address homelessness. One tech CEO supported the passage for hard-headed business reasons:

Philanthropy alone also can’t solve all the problems facing some of these cities.Benioff and Friedenbach, of the Coalition on Homelessness, said that the only way to solve San Francisco’s homelessness problem is to spend more — treat more severely ill people, permanently house more people, prevent more evictions, create more emergency shelters and more public restrooms. “With 7,500 homeless, this has gotten way beyond any one particular philanthropist,” Benioff told me.“We all have to come together to make this happen.”

Proposition C DID pass, despite the mixed support it received from tech companies whose CEOs did not see eye to eye with Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce’s CEO. It would be refreshing to see Mr. Benioff gather like minded CEOs to support voters coming together to solve complicated problems like homelessness, mental health… and public education. Maybe instead of focusing time and energy on creating “customer focused” education the CEOs could focus time and energy creating “citizen focused” education.

There IS One Way to Dispel Asian Parents’ Anger: Upgrade ALL NYC High Schools

December 6, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s NYPost featured an article by Selim Algar describing a meeting NYC DOE officials held in Manhattan and the anger expressed by a group of Asian parents upset over the recent proposal that the SHSAT serve as the sole admissions criteria to elite high schools. Ms. Selim described the essence of the BOE’s proposal presented by Deputy Chancellor Josh Wallack as “...a plan that aims to increase black and Latino enrollment at the primarily Asian and white schools by scrapping a single-test-score admission system.” At the gathering attended by 350 people, Mr. Wallack described the current admissions process, which is based on the scores on a single test given early in 8th grade, as “…a needless educational barricade,” saying that the DOE is trying “to find a way that is objective and transparent that gives us more information about a way a student has performed that we believe is better and fairer.”

Many parents, particularly Asian parents, do not find the admissions criteria to be unfair or ineffective. Ms. Selim writes:

Several Asian speakers highlighted the outsized toll the new plan would exact on their community.

Asian kids — including Chinese, Korean, Bangladeshi and Pakistani students — make up roughly 60 percent of the population at the city’s eight specialized high schools.

At the most prestigious campuses such as Stuyvesant HS and Bronx Science, their numbers are higher.

“This proposal is nothing about education and all about division,” said objector Wai Wah Chin. “We are going to look at your race and say, ‘Oh, your parents cook the food, deliver it, they wash your clothes, but you can’t get in. Because we don’t like your race or national background.’ ”

For reasons that are complicated and not completely clear, Asian students tend to score better on standardized tests than American students, and students raised in poverty tend to score worse than children raised in affluence. From a cold analytic perspective, this difference would matter less if the tests had any predictive value in terms of a students ability to perform well in class. The SHSAT, like it’s kin the SAT, provides a nebulous “achievement” score that has no ability to determine whether a student scoring in the 95th percentile will succeed in class any more than a student who scores in, say, the 90th percentile. Indeed, on the SAT it is conceivable that missing one question might result in that kind of disparity in results. So, when a single test is the sole basis for admission many children who are arguably qualified to enter an “elite” program are left out.

The answer to this is to either expand the admission criteria to include things like GPA, teacher feedback, and unique student talents or to expand the number of “elite” high schools. As NYC is finding, altering the admissions criteria creates a zero-sum game that divides winners and losers. The second alternative, though, is costly and could result in those seeking to be identified as “elite” feeling that their status is eroded by expanding the number of students who qualify.

It is inevitable that individuals will sort themselves out over time and define themselves  based on comparisons with others. As much as possible, though, that sorting should occur organically and ideally without anyone being identified as a “loser”. The sorting in NYC is analogous to the sorting that happens in high school sports where 50 teams vie for a state championship and all but one team is defined as a loser. No matter how it is presented to an 8th grader, if they took the SHSAT and did not get into an “elite” school, they feel like the runner-up to the State Championship… and they are likely to see themselves as “losers”. The reality is that many of those “losers” will bounce back and be successful despite their relatively low test scores. But if any of those students see their failure to score high on a test as a defining moment, it is a loss to our society. No single test should define winners and losers… and every school system should be designed to offer an opportunity for students to find out where they can shine.

Philanthropy and Democracy Don’t Mix Well… if at all

December 5, 2018 Leave a comment

Medium blogger Hannah Brooks Olson recently posted a story titled “What Can We Expect from Billionaires? The difference between philanthropy and hush money seems smaller than ever“, a story that illustrates the perils of an economy that relies on the good will of philanthropists to fund services that are typically paid for by government. The post if full of juicy quotes, a few of which are offered below:

On the $15/hour wage as compared to Jeff Bezos’ wage:

To a lot of people, $15 per hour sounds like a lot—and indeed, it presents a significant raise to the seasonal workers who reportedly lived in their cars to work seasonal jobs for the online behemoth. It’s the basic minimum wage that millions have been seeking for years, both in the boardroom and at the ballot. But in Seattle, the town that helped make Bezos the billionaire that he is, it’s not nearly enough.

At that rate, a person needs to work more than 100 hours per week to really afford the average one-bedroom apartment in Seattle and not be considered “rent-burdened” by the government. In Washington state, in general, to rent a two-bedroom apartment, you have to earn close to $30 per hour.

Bezos, by comparison, earns nearly $2,500 per second — and pays, by comparison, a fraction in taxes.

Washington State’s regressive tax structure:

…the Evergreen State has the country’s most regressive tax structure. The richest percentile of residents — those who earn more than half a million dollars annually — pay three percent of their income in annual state and local taxes. Meanwhile, those who earn under $24,000 per year — many of whom live below the poverty line — shell out 17.8 percent.

How philanthropy is different from taxes:

Philanthropy is widely believed to be a noble pursuit; we collectively praise those who have more than enough, in part because it’s optional. The ultra-wealthy don’t have to give away their money, but sometimes they do. But it’s worth asking how they got so much money to begin with and whether or not their communities would need it if they had been paying their fair share from the start. Because while philanthropy is great, taxes are essential — and unlike charitable donations, they go to everyone.

And then she gets into the nitty gritty of how taxes are democratic and philanthropy is not… and the consequences of that difference, using pre-school funding as an example:

Whereas philanthropy picks and chooses what gets a benefit, tax dollars are allocated by the will of the people and the people they elect. Philanthropic money goes to whatever organizations wealthy people think are important, with little transparency. And often, those dollars don’t trickle down or benefit the folks who need it the most—for example, a museum filled with sci-fi memorabilia. Arts organizations that cater mostly to other rich people. Sports teams. Pre-schools that are located in “low-income” (as deemed by the organization) neighborhoods and based on a “customer-focused” approach.

The last sentence was especially breathtaking: “customer focused” preschools! While the philanthropists spend millions ensuring that their taxes remain low, while they pit city-against-city in a race to the bottom for tax revenues, they work on developing future customers in their “innovative” preschools.
Ms. Olson’s closing paragraphs are piercing and she concludes with a warning for those who think philanthropy is a good trade off for higher wages, more tax revenues, and better government services:

When billionaires choose to increase wages for their workers, it’s a savvy business decision that benefits the workers and the community, but it’s often cloaked as an act of grace. When they give money to charities, it’s generous and kind, to be sure, but it’s often applauded as enough. More than enough.

It doesn’t feel like enough.

At least, not in Washington state, where billionaires have held much of the decision-making hostage and used the promise of their good-hearted acts as bait for sweeter deals. Not in Washington state, where the poorest folks still pay the most in taxes and are expected to thank the billionaires for whatever scraps they decide to toss down. Not in Washington state, where we’ve tried to warn everyone else, and they don’t seem interested in hearing it.

Consider yourself warned…..

GOP’s Latest Gambit: Equity in Funding Schools = Socialism

December 4, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch today featured an extended quote from a post by Arizona State School Board Association President and retired USAF officer Linda Lyon who described a question raised at a recent public forum she attended:

I was recently in a public forum on education when a school board member asked me whether my call to address inequities in our schools was a call for the “redistribution of wealth”.

The phrase “redistribution of wealth” is seen by conservatives is a dog whistle for “socialism”, whereby the government confiscates money in the form of taxes from hard-working God-fearing individuals and gives it to undeserving lazy individuals who choose to stay home, watch TV, and eat snack foods purchased with food stamps.

Ms. Lyon goes on to describe how redistribution REALLY works in her home state:

I offer that the redistribution of wealth can also flow the other way as with the privatization of our public schools. Those who already “have” are redistributing the “wealth” of those who “have not”.They do this by encouraging the siphoning of taxpayer monies from our district public schools, for charters, home and private schools. Once slated for the education of all, our hard-earned tax dollars are now increasingly available to offset costs for those already more advantaged.

In Arizona, approximately 60% of our one million public K-12 students qualify for the free and reduced price lunch program, with over 1,000 schools having over 50% of their students qualifying. As you might guess, schools with the highest number of students qualifying for “free and reduced” are located in higher poverty areas and with few exceptions, have lower school letter grades. Zip code it turns out, is an excellent predictor (irrespective of other factors) of school letter grade. According to a study by the Arizona Partnership for Healthy Communities, “Your ZIP code is more important to your health than your genetic code” and a life-expectancy map for Phoenix released three years ago, “found life expectancy gaps as high as 14 years among ZIP codes.”

But, as Ms. Lyon notes earlier in her post, this is in keeping with the ethos of the GOP who until this year dominated state politics:

Social scientist researcher Brené Brown believes it is because of the “scarcity” worldview held by Republicans/conservatives. “The opposite of scarcity is not abundance” she writes, “It’s enough.”Basically, “they believe that the more people they exclude from “having”, the more is available to them.” And, in this binary way of thinking, the world is very black and white (pun sort of intended), e.g., if you aren’t a success, you’re a failure, and should be excluded.

And the plutocratic profiteers are very happy to reinforce the scarcity worldview and use it to help them inflate their bottom line by privatizing public education and other government services…. and Arizona— depending on your perspective— is either on the cutting edge of this privatization movement or a canary in a coal mine:

This shift of taxpayer dollars from public to private hands is clearly a redistribution of wealth. Worst of all, in Arizona, it is a redistribution of wealth with little to no accountability nor transparency. Private, parochial and home schools are not required to provide the public information on their return on investment. And make no mistake, this investment is significant and continues to grow. In 2017 alone, taxpayer dollars diverted from district schools to private school options, amounted to close to $300 million. About $160 million of this, from corporate and personal tax credits with the other $130 million from vouchers. All told, according to the Payson Roundup, “vouchers have diverted more than $1 billion in taxpayer money to private schools. These dollars could have instead, gone into the general fund to ensure the vast majority of Arizona students were better served.

But HAD those dollars gone into the general fund, they would have been “redistributed” based on a funding formula intended to provide an equal opportunity for all children to succeed in school.

Which brings me to an important and often overlooked point: withholding funds from equalization formulas does nothing to harm the presumably indolent parents who want to freeload off those who work hard: it penalizes their children. And when the day comes that their children realize that a minority of relatively affluent taxpayers held them back by withholding money for their schools, a change might happen. I hope the change happens in the context of the ballot box and not through collective action like we are witnessing in France.