Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Net Neutrality Is Dead… and So, Too, is the Opportunity for Technology as a Means of Achieving Equitable Education

November 22, 2017 Leave a comment

To no one’s surprise (or at least not to MY surprise), the GOP dominated FCC yesterday announced that it was repealing a set of regulations that resulted in “net neutrality”. As described in Steve Lohr’s article in today’s NYTimes, this does not appear to be a big deal for public schools. Here’s his description of th backdrop:

The net neutrality rules were passed in 2015 during the Obama administration when Democrats controlled the F.C.C.

The goal was to adapt regulations in such a way as to acknowledge the essential role of high-speed internet access as a gateway to modern communication, information, entertainment and economic opportunity. So the F.C.C. opted to regulate broadband service as a utility — making the internet the digital equivalent of electricity and the telephone.

By making “the internet the digital equivalent of electricity and the telephone” the FCC was guaranteeing that every customer served would receive the same level of service… which means that every customer would have the same rate of uploading and downloading speeds. Thus, presumably, a child who has a smartphone in public housing in the Bronx would get the same speed internet as a child in a posh penthouse in Manhattan and a school with internet access in a poverty stricken community in Appalachia would have the same speed internet as a student at, say, Phillips Exeter Academy.

But with the repeal of net neutrality, these rules no longer apply. As Mr. Lohr writes, the biggest concern of those who support net neutrality:

…is that the internet will become pay-to-play technology with two tiers: one that has speedy service and one that doesn’t. The high-speed lane would be occupied by big internet and media companies, and affluent households. For everyone else there would be the slow lane.

If this rule applied to electricity and telephone service, electrical companies and phone companies could charge higher rates for those in geographically remote areas and, arguably, lower their baseline services to offer different levels of service for different kinds of customers. This is what could easily occur with the internet where homes like mine (and similar “geographically remote” homes) that are not served by cable companies will never get the same level of service as homes a half-mile away that DO have connectivity to the cable system. Moreover, the current speeds for the internet will be the baseline moving forward, which means that those seeking higher speeds (and the computer applications that are available with hose higher speeds) will need to pay more or settle for what they have. This will inevitably result in a widening divide between the affluent and the-rest-of-us and will bake in the existing disparities forever…. and potentially make them worse in rural America where competitive markets do not exist, as Mr. Lohr explains:

But a weakness in the free-market argument, industry analysts say, is that in some regional and rural markets, households have only one internet provider available to them. That undermines the theory that competition will protect consumers.

Roger L. Kay, an independent technology analyst, predicted that larger bills — not content blocking — would be the most likely result. If the big internet and media companies will have to pay their carriers more for high-speed services, the expenses will trickle down to households.

Consumers, Mr. Kay said, “will end up paying higher prices for essentially the same service.”

The parents of children in affluent households will pay the bills and their children will have access to all the advances that occur in the delivery of services… and so will the schools that serve those children. The parents of children in poverty-stricken households and the schools they attend may opt out of the internet altogether… And, as a result, their children will miss out on learning opportunities and the economic divide will widen.


School Choice Bill Advances in New Hampshire… Depressed District Budgets Sure to Follow

November 19, 2017 Leave a comment

I read with despair a brief report from AP describing the narrow passage of SB 193, erroneously referred to as “the school choice” bill. Here’s the description:

The House Education Committee last week narrowly approved an overhauled version of a Senate-passed bill that would allow parents to use public money to send children to private schools.

The bill would provide parents with the state’s basic per-pupil grant of roughly $3,000 to be used for private school tuition or home schooling.

To qualify, parents would have to have a household income less than or equal to 300 percent of the federal poverty limit, live in an underperforming school district, have a child with an individual education plan or tried unsuccessfully to enroll a child in a charter school or get an education tax credit. Opponents argued the program would violate the state constitution, which says no person shall be compelled to pay to support a religious school.

The practical impact of this is that many middle class parents who currently pay for tuitions to private schools and most of the parents who home school children will access the $3,000 voucher depriving public schools of funds they currently use to educate the children who are already enrolled in their schools. The chart below depicts the federal poverty level for the current year:

Given that the median household income in New Hampshire is $70,303 any school-aged family with more that two children is likely to qualify regardless of the school’s performance level. Furthermore, given that the definition of an “underperforming school” is fluid from year-to-year. In 2012 the New Hampshire State Department of Education identified over 300 schools as being in “need of improvement”, and that number is based largely on test results whose cut scores can be manipulated. Finally, national statistics indicate that 14.6% of New Hampshire students have IEPs. The net effect of these factors makes it probable that at least 50% of the students currently enrolled in public schools might be eligible for the $3,000 vouchers that would be made available through SB 193.

But the potential loss of revenue due to the outmigration of current students is the least of the problems for public schools. Based on data from the A to Z Homeschooling site, there are roughly 6,000 homeschooled students in New Hampshire, a number that could be marginally higher given New Hampshire’s relatively lax enforcement of homeschooling. And the Private School Review web page reports that there are 319 private schools in New Hampshire, serving 29,983 students. Assuming that half of the homeschool students and half of the private school students are eligible for and access the $3,000 voucher offered by SB 193, public schools could lose $654,000 to educate students who were not enrolled in their schools based on a formula used by Reaching Higher NH.  Given that many of those private schools are located in communities that serve children raised in poverty, the loss of the revenues will be devastating. Moreover, the funds that would be diverted from these high poverty schools would be given to parents who are relatively affluent, some of whom would be earning more than the median income for the state.

This bill was passed by a 10-9 margin in the House Education Committee, with one Manchester Democrat voting to support the bill. That legislator is clearly in a bind since the city she represents has 30 private schools enrolling over 3,374 students. But if half of those children qualify for the voucher, Manchester could lose over $61,340 in revenue to educate children who are not enrolled in the schools today but might have been at one time in their schooling. That amount is roughly the cost of one FTE teacher.

I am in the process of confirming my analysis on this… but any way one looks at this bill it is wrongheaded and detrimental to public schools in New Hampshire. Alas, that is the direction our Governor, legislature, and Commissioner want the state to take.

Eduardo Porter Calls Out Our Unwillingness to Invest in the Future

November 18, 2017 Leave a comment

In “Considering the Cost of Lower Taxes”, a NYTimes article published earlier this week, columnist Eduardo Porter effectively calls out our nation and voters for their unwillingness to raise taxes to ensure that future generations will have the same level of well being as my generation– the baby-boomers– experienced. Here’s the scene Mr. Porter sets in his opening paragraphs:

In 1969 Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, Jimi Hendrix played “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock, and federal, state and local governments in the United States raised about the same in taxes, as a share of the economy, as the government of the average industrialized country: 26.6 percent of gross domestic product, against 27 percent among the nations in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Nearly 50 years later, the tax picture has changed little in the United States. By 2015, the last year for which the O.E.C.D. has comparable data, the figure was 26.4 percent of G.D.P. But across the market democracies of the O.E.C.D., the share had climbed by an average of more than seven percentage points.

Mr. Porter notes that these other developed countries’ spending was to be expected given Wagner’s Law, which posits that “…government spending as a share of the economy will increase as nations get richer and their citizens demand more and better public services.” In countries that increased their government spending, their citizens are getting “…more and better public services”. In our country, we are not ony getting what we pay for– which is poor health care, an infrastructure that is in disrepair, and widening disparities between the rich and poor— but we are leaving our children and grandchildren with debts that could require them to pay even higher taxes than other developed nations in the future.

Mr. Porter devotes much of his column offering evidence that the US Government’s efforts to change the tax code mirror what is happening in other nations… but he notes that the reforms enacted in other nations are designed to narrow the gap between the plutocrats and the middle class and lower class citizens. This leads him to these conclusions:

I have written about this country’s uniquely stingy tax policy before. Small government, I believe, has proved to be no match for its social ills, too puny to offer much resistance to rampant inequality, stubborn infant mortality or off-the-charts opioid addiction. American voters’ uniquely intense hostility toward trade can, in the same way, be traced back to the government’s ineffectiveness in mitigating trade’s disruptions.

Republicans seem to believe that the best prescription to address the nation’s ills is to slash some $50,000 from the taxes of people earning a million or more. As Isabel V. Sawhill and Eleanor Krause of the Brookings Institution note, the estate tax could generate $1 trillion over a decade just by raising the rate and cutting the exemptions to where they were in the 1970s. Raising the exemption on the estate tax to $11 million, as Republicans propose, will help only a narrow sliver of ultrarich Americans.

It is hard to conclude that the Republican proposal is about anything but that narrow sliver. If it succeeds, it will transform the United States from a low-tax country to a lower-tax one. And the mystery will persist: In cutting taxes as babies die and adults waste away in addiction, what do Americans mean by nation?

Mr. Porter’s closing question is one we must ponder as we review the GOP’s tax bills coming out of Washington. We now know what the GOP vision for the future is… what will the Democratic Party offer as an alternative? 

The Economist Discovers that Dark Money Funds School Board Elections… But Misses What is at Stake

November 16, 2017 Leave a comment

Earlier this month the Economist featured an article on the massive sums of dark money being funneled into school board races across the country. The article offered some examples of the sums spent on local board races:

Chalkbeat, an education news organisation, reported that political committees on both sides of the dispute channelled at least $1.65m into the school-board races that took place on November 7th in Denver, nearby Aurora and Douglas County. Other areas have seen even more expensive contests. In Los Angeles, where three board seats came up for election earlier this year, outside groups poured nearly $15m into canvassing and advertisements on behalf of the candidates. Much of the money came from California Charter Schools Association, which supports charter schools and received nearly $7m from Reed Hastings, the co-founder of Netflix, in the run-up to the election, and United Teachers Los Angeles, a union which opposes charters. According to Carol Burris, the executive director of the Network for Public Education, an advocacy organisation, outside money has also fuelled school-board fights in Louisiana, Minneapolis, and Perth Amboy, a town of just 52,500 in New Jersey.

The Economist’s reporting, though, makes one invalid point and misses a huge point.

The invalid point is that these board contest pit “reformers” who “…champion increasing access to charter schools and expanding educational options in general” against “unions” who “…oppose such an agenda on the grounds that it could attract students away from districts that bargain with teachers collectively” the Economist makes it sound as if the greedy teachers are trying to protect their wages at the expense of a group of concerned citizens who seek “…expanded educational opportunities in general“. This is completely invalid.

Indeed, the huge point the Economist missed is this: the “reformers” are the greedy party. They want to siphon the funds taxpayers provide to public schools and direct them to private schools who take the best students from public schools and are staffed by teachers who are more inexperienced and willing to work for substantially lower wages than those currently working in public education. If the motives of the “reformers” like Mr. Hastings was to “…expand educational options in general” the $7 million he spent to elect board members who favored privatization could have been used to provide more educational options for students like before and after school care that supplemented their educational programs… or memberships to local museums… or summer programs that effectively extended the school year. By casting the dark money contributors as “reformers” who “champion” the expansion of educational options the Economist casts them as high-minded philanthropists. They are not. If they DID champion public education they would not be seeking tax breaks at all levels of the government, they would be making donations to local programs that support children, and they would be working collaboratively with public schools to help make the kinds of changes they  are seeking. But those investing Dark Money in board elections are doing so for one purpose: They are doing so to elect board members who champion privatization in the hopes of earning back their donations many times over by cashing in on the money now being spent on public education.


My Open Letter to NH Education Committee Members and My Local NH Legislators:

November 13, 2017 Leave a comment

Our State legislators seem intent on passing a bill that would create a scholarship fund for students, a de facto voucher plan. This is the letter i will be sending to the chair of the education committee:

I am writing to urge you to vote against the passage of SB 193 because it is based on deeply flawed principles. SB 193 assumes that

  • Public education should function in an unregulated marketplace.
  • Parents should have the complete control over the money raised by taxpayers for public schools and be allowed to use those funds to enroll their children in any school or in no school at all
  • A child can receive an adequate public education with a voucher worth “… 90 percent of the per pupil adequate education grant amount pursuant to RSA 198:40-a, plus any differentiated aid”.

Public education is not a commodity that will benefit from operating in a “free market”. Free markets cannot provide universal services in a fair and equitable fashion. The free market, for example, has not provided access to high speed internet in my relatively isolated part of Hanover, New Hampshire. The free market would not maintain the paved road I live on or the electric service I receive at an affordable rate. And the “free market” will not offer children in New Hampshire an adequate education, especially if the voucher given to parents is worth ”… 90 percent of the per pupil adequate education grant amount pursuant to RSA 198:40-a, plus any differentiated aid”. In a state that is being sued for failing to provide adequate funding for all children, it is inconceivable that 90% of the current funding level will be an adequate amount for any program.

SB 193 as written gives parents the ability to use taxpayers funds to enroll a child in a religious school, to enroll a child in a school that fails to meet the minimum standards set forth by the state, or to complete a program they develop. There is no assurance that any of these unregulated programs will provide their children with the basic skills as measured by the State’s assessment program. In a State that values the US Constitution, fiscal responsibility, and accountability it is hypocritical to pass a law that allows parents to use public funds for religious education or allows them to use funds to enroll in unregulated schools that do not have to meet state standards.

SB 193 does provide cover for legislators who do not want to address the persistent issue of inadequate and inequitable funding for public schools. If a full-blown parent choice program emerges from the passage of this and subsequent laws, the legislature could make an argument that no child is being denied an equitable educational opportunity because all parents have a “choice” as to how they use their voucher. “Choice” shifts the burden of providing an adequate education away from the legislature and onto the parents. In doing so, “choice will ultimately exacerbate the economic divide in the state, especially if the voucher a parent receives for each child is valued at ”… 90 percent of the per pupil adequate education grant amount pursuant to RSA 198:40-a, plus any differentiated aid”. Those parents who can afford to supplement the voucher and those parents who can afford homes in communities with well-funded schools will benefit from “choice”. Other parents will have their choices limited to attending their underfunded local schools or enrolling in non-public schools with the lowest tuition rates.

SB 193 provides one clear benefit: Governor Sununu’s provisos notwithstanding, it will help parents whose children currently attend non-public schools to cover the costs of tuition. This will be accomplished by siphoning funds currently earmarked for public schools, making it even more challenging for public schools to meet the needs of their students and thereby making it more attractive for parents to seek vouchers.

In conclusion, a vote in support of SB 193 is a vote to diminish the opportunity for ALL children to receive an adequate education, particularly the children in families who cannot augment the vouchers the state would offer and the children in families who reside in districts where state funds would be redirected to underwrite the vouchers provided to students who are already enrolled in private schools. A vote in support of SB 193 is a vote against the “government schools” overseen and regulated by locally elected boards and funded by voters who want to provide an equitable opportunity for all children in their community and in the state. I urge you to vote against this ill-conceived legislation.





Navigating the Health Care Market Requires “Agents”… Navigating “Choice” in Schools Will Require the Same

November 12, 2017 Leave a comment

An article in today’s NYTimes by Robert Pear describes an emerging market niche in the health care industry: “…insurance agents and brokers who are often paid by insurers when they help people sign up.” It seems that with the Trump administration’s cuts to support the enrollment process, many people seeking information about health insurance options are turning to consultants, many of whom receive commissions from some of the health insurers. Mr. Pear writes:

The administration said in a recent bulletin that it was “increasing partnerships” with insurance agents and viewed them as “important stakeholders” in the federal marketplace, where consumers are now shopping for insurance. But some health policy experts warned that a shift from nonprofit groups, which are supposed to provide impartial information, to brokers and agents, who may receive commissions for the plans they recommend, carries risks for consumers.

“Insurance agents can educate consumers about the marketplace, and that is a good thing,” said Sabrina Corlette, a research professor at Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute. “But I worry that they work on a commission and therefore have a financial incentive to steer consumers to particular products, which may or may not be in the consumer’s best interest.”

In its bulletin, the administration said agents and brokers who are registered with the federal marketplace can “get sales leads” and new clients. And it offered them tips for “making the most of your marketplace participation during this open enrollment period…”

Buying health insurance is unquestionably complicated, which is one reason why Medicare was put in place. It ensures that the elderly will not be unwittingly taken advantage of by insurance companies and also ensures that the elderly will receive baseline health care. Medicare is also an illustration of how a well functioning and well funded government program can help citizens receive essential– and complex needs– at a relatively low cost since those administering the program have no stake in making a profit. Indeed, the cost-effective operation of Medicare makes many voters question why “the marketplace” is a valid mechanism for funding health care for those under 65!

My daughter lives in NYC where parents are provided with the opportunity to enroll their children in the school of their choice. Witnessing her experiences with the “opportunity”, it is clear to me that providing public schooling is as complicated as providing health care. Indeed, there are a number of parents who seek the advice and counsel of consultants who are familiar with the complicated system needed to navigate the application process and to sift through the schools that are available so that the child can get the optimal experience out of their schooling.

In reading Mr. Pear’s article, it strikes me that public education is like “Medicare for All” with one key difference: where we have effectively defined and funded a baseline of medical care that we, as a society, agree we should provide for all citizens over the age of 65, we have not agreed upon and funded a baseline of education that we, as a society, should provide for the children in our nation. At this writing a majority of states in this country, including my home state of New Hampshire, have pending litigation on the funding formulas for their schools because we are failing to meet the baseline standards set forth in the State’s constitutions. But instead of addressing the root problem with the funding mechanisms, which is the lack of insufficient revenues earmarked for public schools, many states— including my home state– are developing “choice” mechanisms that will presumably address the inequities by allowing parents to “shop for schools” the same way we can now “shop for health insurance”.

The failure of the ACA is a failure of the marketplace. Free markets cannot provide universal services in a fair and equitable fashion. The free market will not, for example, provide access to high speed internet in my relatively isolated part of the community I live in. The free market would not maintain the road I live on or the electric service I receive at an affordable rate. And if I was shopping for health care as a 70 year old I might not be able to afford it in the marketplace.

If the marketplace is incapable of assuring adequate and equitable health care for all of its citizens, why do we think that the marketplace will solve the dilemma of providing adequate and equitable educational opportunities for all of the children in a state?

The bottom line is this: we need to restore our faith in the ability of government to assure the delivery of fair and equitable public services and recognize that unregulated free markets will fail to do so. We need to acknowledge that some basic services and needs can only be met by the government and engage in a debate over which level of government can do it most effectively. And last, but not least, we need to acknowledge that the taxes we pay to the government at any level are the price we pay to live in a safe and healthy world.


International Independent Studies Conclude that Choice Exacerbates the Economic Divide

November 12, 2017 Leave a comment

One of Diane Ravitch’s posts yesterday provided a link to a Global Education Monitoring blog post reporting on a recent study they conducted that concluded that “…school choice often doesn’t work as it’s meant to, and can in fact increase inequalities and undermine quality education.”  The study concluded that this is the case for the following reasons:

  • Studies have repeatedly shown that school choice benefits wealthier families, while further marginalizing disadvantaged parents and schools… In the United States, while all parents used networks extensively, parents with more privileged networks used fewer information sources, relied more on educated peers and had access to more accurate information…
  • An underlying reason why school choice is flawed concerns information. The idea of school choice is based on the assumption that parents have access to and can use information to compare their child’s school to other schools to see if there’s a better option for their child. However, this information, even if accessible, may not be usable…
  • School choice is meant to strengthen accountability but often concentrates disadvantaged students in disadvantaged schools… In the United States, the most disadvantaged families have a limited choice over charter schools, which are public, independent schools that families can choose. This has led to increased segregation. What’s more, a long-term study of charter schools in Michigan showed a negative impact on student achievement and efficiency in public schools.

So wealthy families have better networks which provide them with better information than their less affluent peers which enables them to cluster in “high performing” schools while information starved parents languish in “public” schools. To readers of this blog and other progressive publications this isn’t news… and to some parents who are choice advocates this is not a bug but a feature.

The Global Education Monitoring blog also examined vouchers and found them wanting except in some limited cases where they help students attend college. For K-12 schooling, though, vouchers fall short of the mark:

…making vouchers available may lead to greater inequality in access without necessarily improving student performance, especially if schools are allowed to charge more. Most reviews on voucher programmes in the United States indicated that vouchers did not significantly improve student achievement, and recent studies from Indiana, Louisiana and Ohio showed negative effects

At the end of their study, the Global Education Monitoring blog concluded vouchers are not beneficial:

All these concerns indicate that governments should be extremely cautious in pushing forward reforms that promote an education ‘market’, as school choice may actually have negative effects on the quality and equity of education.

The bottom line: if the US hopes to address the increasing disparity in educational opportunity and results vouchers are NOT the solution!