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Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Don’t Call Them “Reformers”; Call Them Plutocratic Profiteers

December 3, 2018 Comments off

Diane Ravitch featured two posts yesterday (here and here) that discussed the desire of  “Reformers” to be called something different. Diane Ravitch has a good idea why this is the case:

It seems the term “Reformer” has become toxic. But the money backing “reform” is so huge that it just keeps stumbling forward, certain about what other people should do, loaded with money and power, but without any examples of success.

She’s right about the toxicity of the term “reformer”… in addition to being inaccurate it is toxic in the minds of those who work in school. I would suggest the term “reformer” be replaced with the term “plutocratic profiteer”.

Reform “think tanks”, especially those underwritten by hedge funders, tend to promote ideas based on the premise that the marketplace is pure and anything that interferes with the marketplace is a problem. The market rewards those who can deliver a product cheaply and efficiently… and government regulations stand in the way of that ethos and democracy slows everything down. The algorithm of hedge funders is to strip away any regulations, disempower employees, find a way to tear up “costly” agreements that are in place, and view any adverse community impact as inconsequential collateral damage.

One of the initial problem business-minded reformers faced was measuring the output of education. That problem was solved when NCLB passed and standardized test scores became the metric of choice for politicians, taxpayers, voters, and the media. By setting cut scores based on norm-referenced tests it was no surprise that 50% of the schools were labelled as “failing”, thereby opening the door for the “takeovers”… the language of hedge funders!

Look at the way vulture capitalists work and look at “school reform” models espoused by the GOP and neo-liberals… and tell me if you see a difference. The public’s imagination has been captured by the idea that the business takeover of schools and government will result in the elimination of “waste, fraud and abuse” and an increase in productivity, which in the case of public education means higher test scores…. And if the latter doesn’t happen, it’s OK because taxes are not going through the roof. Welcome to the plutocracy where the system never changes and the results remain the same: the .01% get richer and the rest of us pay rent.

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Are We Becoming Bosnia? The Need for Economic AND Racial Desegregation is Urgent

December 2, 2018 Comments off

As I read this NYTimes article by Barbara Surk about Bosnian schools I was struck by the similarities between the schools described here and the so-called “co-location” of charter schools and public schools in New York City. To make my point I offer these two paragraphs:

The first is a paragraph is taken from the NYTimes article describing the a prototypical divide schools in Croatia:

The school in Travnik, a town 56 miles west of the capital, Sarajevo, embodies the divided country.

The right side for Croat students has been newly refurbished and painted blue by the Catholic Church. The left side for all other students has been left with chipped bricks and peeling yellow paint. Classes are staggered, with a half-hour gap between the two sides, to prevent students from socializing during breaks.

Then there’s the sprawling, indoor gym that only the Croat students use, while all those in the state school attend gym classes in the nearby park, including during hot summers and cold winters.

Now compare that to these paragraphs from a 2014 Room 241 blog post:

As charter schools enter shared space, the lack of bureaucracy and red tape that public schools face is readily apparent. For example, charter school administrators can order (and afford) upgrades like air conditioning, new paint for their spaces and remodeled bathrooms. While this advantage might seem minor, it creates visible differences between the public and charter schools housed in the same building.

Public school students in the building see these visible differences and wonder why their school goes without. The significant amount of private investment in charters allows them a variety of economic advantages as well, leading to catered lunches, upgraded technology, and a variety of other signifiers of their differences from public schools.This creates a clear impression of either being a charter school “have” or a traditional public school “have-not”.

A recent photo essay at MSNBC, “A Day in the Life of a Divided School,” illustrates these differences. The photos contrast PS 149’s crowded classrooms and unused violins in a storage closet — the consequence of a music program closed due to lack of funding — with Success Charter students shown in crisp uniforms with matching backpacks and the space and opportunity to play chess.

According to the NYTimes article, the Croat government is intentionally underfunding the schools for Serbs because they want to:

…(carve) out a Croat-only autonomous region in Bosnia, akin to what the Serbs have achieved in the war through brutal campaigns of expulsions and mass killings of non-Serb population. The Croats did not achieve that in the war, but nationalists have been pursuing it ever since peace took hold.

With some editing, I offer this rationale for the NYC’s decision to provide deregulated Charter schools with classrooms in public schools:

…The mayors want to carve out space in their schools for the children of upper-middle class families to offer them the kind of education those families might experience if they moved to the affluent nearby suburbs. The city government could not achieve that by fully funding all public schools to provide the same kinds of courses and services offered in those suburbs, but by providing “choice” for engaged parents they are able to avoid flight to the suburbs.

The collateral damage in this is that the tests used to screen the students eligible to participate in the “choice” programs that qualify children to attend these deregulated charter schools tend to result in social, racial, and economic segregation. This, in turn, hardens the division between the “haves” and “have nots” in the city. And the shame of this is that NYC parents, politicians, and “reformers” view this direction in their public school system as immutable, irreversible, and— int the minds of some— desirable because “throwing money at the problem” has never worked.

The Croats’ decision to underfund Serbian schools is clearly malevolent. Is the decision to underfund urban public schools equally so?

The Perils of Predicting the Future of Education

December 2, 2018 Comments off

The on-line magazine Quartz offered a series of articles earlier this week on The Future of College, one of which by Natasha Frost, “Experts predicting the future of education would have got an F“, offered some intriguing examples of ideas that were either almost right or completely off base. The predictions included this picture from 1910 by artist Jean-Marc Côte depicting the school of the future:

The article also included predictions that radio, “sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines”, personal computers, “practical use of direct electronic communication with and stimulation of the brain”, and flying classrooms would transform education at all levels and that universities would die off because “Colleges had become such hotbeds of Marxism, feminism, and affirmative action” that they would be inhospitable to most attendees.

As one whose entire blog is based on the premise that schooling in the future will incorporate the coordinated provision of medical and social services, the robust use of technology, and increased training in relationship building, I found the predictions both humorous and unsettling. The humor is evident in looking at the picture above… but the unsettling part is that each of the predictions have a dark side that one could see unfolding in our current schools.

There is a capability to avoid schooling altogether based on parental distaste for the culture that is implicitly taught in public schools and, with the advocacy for vouchers, it is conceivable that funds earmarked for “government schools” will be increasingly siphoned off for de facto madrases that inculcate religious values in children.

There is also the capability to avoid schooling altogether by engaging in on-line learning and passing a test that certifies one’s “mastery” of “career readiness” without experiencing the give-and-take of a classroom or a school. In this way a child could be shielded from contact with peers and become single-mindedly dedicated to, say, coding or micro-biology.

And there is also the capability (or in some cases proclivity) of schools to administer drugs to children to help control their behavior and thereby increase their ability to perform well in the classroom. The most unsettling quote from Ms. Frost’s article offers evidence of this: “A 2008 poll of Nature readers found that 20% of them “used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration, or memory” … and I assume those drugs are stronger than the large cup of coffee I am sipping to help me arouse from slumber and focus my thoughts as I type this post.

Despite the possible adverse directions education could take, I remain optimistic that reasonable minds will see the value of improving human relationships and the importance of having equity in our economy and opportunities. Assuming that is the case, Martin Luther King Junior’s prediction will prevail: “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Let us hope that is true.

Good Guys With Guns + Zero Tolerance + High Stakes Tests + Cuts to Social Services = Criminalization of Youths

December 1, 2018 Comments off

Jacobin writer Alex Vitale describes the vicious circle of criminalization that results when school resource officers are placed in schools with zero tolerance policies, explaining in two concise sentences how the school-to-prison pipeline is constructed.

Young people continue to be criminalized in schools as well. Indeed, delinquency can be assigned to children beginning in toddlerhood — preschools routinely suspend pupils as young as three years old. The undermining of public education through high-stakes testing, cuts to support services, and privatization schemes has been combined with zero-tolerance discipline policies and an increasing number of school police.The result has been high levels of suspension, expulsions, and arrests, especially for students of color and those in special-education programs.

In those two sentences Mr. Vitale connects the dots showing how “reform” of public education as defined by NCLB and RTTT combined with the “hardening” of schools to “protect children” from intruders has created an environment where misconduct in school is criminalized. Worse, though, is the subtle message all children receive when they must pass through metal detectors, remain in a cocoon like campus for seven hours, and endlessly prepare for tests that they must pass if they hope to escape from their incarceration. Unsurprisingly, parents who see their children subjected to this kind of “schooling” long for something different, making the notion of “school choice” especially appealing.

Somewhat ironically and perversely, the only thing that could save the day for our children is the fact that the cost of creating and maintaining a fortress is higher than the cost of providing social service supports… and at some point the taxpayers will revolt and schools just might return to the open and inclusive bastions of democracy that were in place before good guys with guns and high stakes tests were introduced in the name of safety and accountability,

This Just In from the Trump Administration: Their Deregulation is Hurting Our Country

November 23, 2018 Comments off

Today our local paper, the Valley News, ran an article from the Los Angeles Times by Noam Levey and Evan Halper  titled “Administration Analysis: Regulations Hurt”. I fully expected the article to be a summary of all the ways federal regulations hurt free enterprise, and so I was pleasantly surprised to read how department after department within the Trump administration has enumerated all the ways deregulation hurts the average citizen. Among the list was the ways the Department of Education’s changes have hurt borrowers, information that was divulged only after pressure was applied by citizens:

…Under Trump, several major policy initiatives have been undertaken without a full accounting of their potential effects, particularly on vulnerable populations.

The Department of Education, for example, did not report how many student borrowers would be affected by a proposed rule issued earlier this year making it more difficult for students who have been defrauded by colleges or universities to get debt relief. Nor did the agency report how much more debt these students could face.

Only when borrowers sued did the agency acknowledge in court filings that scaling back the federal govern-m ent’s debt relief program had left students with $56.9 million in additional debt.

But no one has been more directly affected than immigrants, whose access to government services has been eliminated completely. The result?

The administration conceded that the proposed rule could lead to “increased rates of poverty and housing instability; and reduced productivity and educational attainment.”

The regulation is nonetheless expected to be finalized early next year.

And so the conscience of our country withers a little bit more.

The American Dream Has Been Exported… to China!

November 21, 2018 Comments off

The NYTimes is running a series of fascinating articles on the rise of China, one of which, written by Javier. Hernandez and Quocrtoung Bui opens with this:

There are two 18-year-olds, one in China, the other in the United States, both poor and short on prospects. You have to pick the one with the better chance at upward mobility.

Which would you choose?

Not long ago, the answer might have seemed simple. The “American Dream,” after all, had long promised a pathway to a better life for anyone who worked hard.

But the answer today is startling: China has risen so quickly that your chances of improving your station in life there vastly exceed those in the United States.

How is this possible? One purely mathematical reason, as implied in the last paragraph of this excerpt, is that China’s economy has grown at a faster rate than that of the US, in large measure because it started from such a low point to begin with.
Another reason, though not stated in the article, is that China’s centralized system can single out promising individuals based on psychometrics (i.e. standardized tests) and, in so doing, rapidly improve their standard of living from peasantry to middle class or higher. This is clearly not in keeping with the American Dream as we like to believe in it because it assumes that the government is involved in “choosing winners and losers”. OUR Dream is that a plucky and hard working individual pulls him or herself up by their bootstraps without any help from the government and, in some cases, without any help from anyone. Indeed, the individual the NYTimes chose to exemplify China’s rise is made to closely hew to this concept:

Xu Liya, 49, once tilled wheat fields in Zhejiang, a rural province along China’s east coast. Her family ate meat only once a week, and each night she crammed into a bedroom with seven relatives.

Then she attended university on a scholarship and started a clothing store. Now she owns two cars and an apartment valued at more than $300,000. Her daughter attends college in Beijing.

“Poverty and corruption have hurt average people in China for too long,” she said. “While today’s society isn’t perfect, poor people have the resources to compete with rich people, too.”

Ms. Liya, I am certain, won the government scholarship because at some juncture in her academic career it became evident to the government that she would be of more value to the state and the economy if she went to a university instead of remaining in the wheat fields.

Which leads to this question: is our country that different from China now? It seems that based on statistics from the World Bank that China’s degree of inequality now matches that of the United States and while their earnings are lower on a per capita basis it appears that their economy is growing at a much faster rate than ours which would tend to indicate that it is conceivable that their standard of living will soon match ours. And here’s another area where our nation’s might be more similar than different: our current reliance on standardized testing to award scholarships to students who, like Ms. Liya, are “diamonds in the rough” is not that different from the Chinese method. The only difference is that the government is not the intermediary, which helps reinforce the notion that one can “...pull him or herself up by their bootstraps without any help from the government and, in some cases, without any help from anyone.” I do not believe that the US government should emulate the Chinese, but I DO believe that both the US and China should recognize that it requires teamwork at the community level, the family level, and— yes– the governmental level to create an environment of optimism…. and I fear that the NYTimes writers’ conclusions about China’s intangibles are accurate:

China is still much poorer over all than the United States. But the Chinese have taken a commanding lead in that most intangible but valuable of economic indicators: optimism.

How can our country become more optimistic? It is clear that moving forward we need to emphasize hope over fear… and, alas, all indications are that we are doing the opposite when it comes to raising the next generation.

Bloomberg’s Message to His Billionaire Buddies: Help Pay Tuitions for Neediest

November 19, 2018 Comments off

I wholeheartedly disagree with Michael Bloomberg’s approach to public education and despair at how he “reformed” public schools in New York. I do, however, appreciate his can-do attitude. If he observes a problem, he attempts to fix it using his money and expertise for what he perceives as “good”. His money and expertise helped make NYC a livable city, albeit not an affordable one. In doing so, he unwittingly illustrated the pitfalls in expanding market theories to public schools, but he also exhibited a willingness to use government policy to tackle major problems like obesity, global warming, and fitness. In sum, he used his billions and his expertise to do the best he could to solve serious and protracted social problems: he exemplifies the best instincts of philanthropy.

Quartz recently described Mr. Bloomberg’s latest foray into solving a serious social problem, access to higher education for those who cannot afford college, by donating $1,800,000,000 to his alma mater Johns Hopkins. While others are debating the admissions policies (and politics) of entry to Harvard, Mr. Bloomberg is tackling the issue head on by making a donation to an equally prestigious school that will ensure that Johns Hopkins is “forever needs blind” in its admissions. Quartz concludes with this synopsis of Mr. Bloomberg’s approach to philanthropy:

Bloomberg’s message to other big donors is clear: In lieu of donating yet another fancy building with your name on it, tackle educational opportunities at the root, and liberate young Americans from the decades-long prison of student debt.

And if you must donate a piece of architecture, at least do it with a sense of humility. In 2016, Bloomberg, who grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, donated $50 million to the Boston Museum of Science, the museum’s largest-ever private donation. He chose the Museum of Science because besides his parents, he says the museum was the most profound influence on his life (he earned his bachelors degree in electrical engineering). The money is being used to support the museum’s education center. Its new name: The William and Charlotte Bloomberg Science Education Center, named in Bloomberg’s parents’ honor.

Here’s hoping Mr. Bloomberg’s billionaire boys club buddies heed his message.