Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

Food Insecurity in Childhood Lingers… and With 40% of US Children Experiencing it we MUST Act Quickly

May 12, 2020 Comments off

I wrote a post yesterday suggesting that given the role schools play in providing food to needy children ,a priority needs to be placed on opening schools in high poverty areas first. A Washington Post editorial that is reprinted in today’s local newspaper includes this conclusion regarding food insecurity that underscores the need for prompt action:

Food insecurity affected an astonishing 40.9 percent of households of mothers with children age 12 and under. As the report notes: “It is clear that young children are experiencing food insecurity to an extent unprecedented in modern times.” The pernicious physical and psychological effects of child hunger may linger long after this crisis. Food insecurity in children can contribute to toxic stress, which can negatively impact brain development and increase the risk of depression, anxiety and substance abuse later in life.These effects are especially pronounced in the early years, though the effects of food insecurity are damaging at any age. Many of the traumas facing children across the country — shuttered schools and collapsing social routines — may be unavoidable in a pandemic. Hunger is avoidable.

Hunger IS avoidable… yet as the editorial notes, many states have still not provided the relatively SNAP benefits that were included in the huge stimulus package, SNAP benefits that did not extend beyond the end of the school year and benefits that did not match the levels provided after the Great Recession of 2008. Hunger IS avoidable… we need to take action to prevent the calamitous long term effects on 40% of today’s students.

Reopening Schools in the Name of Addressing the Lowest Levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

May 11, 2020 Comments off

Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes, “The Hunger Pains of a Pandemic”  describes the potential impact of hunger on the well-being of 40% of American families and at least a similar percentage of families around the world. His column offered this astonishing set of statistics:

As a Brookings report last week detailed: “By the end of April, more than one in five households in the United States, and two in five households with mothers with children 12 and under, were food insecure. In almost one in five households of mothers with children age 12 and under, the children were experiencing food insecurity.

David A. Super, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, wrote last week for Talking Points Memo:

“In addition to the sudden disappearance of jobs, our other defenses against hunger are collapsing. Tens of millions of low-income children lost access to free and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches when their schools closed. Tens of millions more have lost access to subsidized meals in child care centers.The summer food programs that try to fill the gap when schools close will face formidable challenges this year.”

And Mr. Blow reminds readers that America families and children are not alone in this shortage of food:

The effect of this pandemic on the vulnerable isn’t limited to America. This is likely to be a world crisis of hunger and instability. As David M. Beasley, executive director of the U.N. World Food Program, wrote last month in The Washington Post:

The coronavirus pandemic “now threatens to detonate an unprecedented global humanitarian catastrophe. Millions of civilians living in conflict-scarred nations will be further pushed to the brink of starvation. The numbers are shocking: On any given day, the World Food Program offers a lifeline to nearly 100 million people. This includes about 30 million people who literally depend on us to stay alive. Most of them are trapped in war zones and can’t leave.”

I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that a majority of those struggling to put food on their tables are also struggling to cover the costs of their rents and based on what I’ve read about the coronavirus’ impact it is also likely that those struggling to put food on their tables are residing in neighborhoods where the pandemic is hitting hardest.

This backdrop of increased food insecurity and– in all likelihood housing insecurity– makes it all the more important for schools to reopen as soon as possible with a focus on those schools that serve the children experiencing the most adverse childhood experiences. And this strategy of serving the neediest children poses a dilemma for policy makers in many ways.

  • SPACE: If space in schools will be at a premium due to social distancing then the most overcrowded schools will be the most hard pressed to reopen.
  • SOCIAL SERVICES: The schools serving the neediest children are currently underfunding the social services their children require, social services that will be even more in demand as a result of the food and shelter insecurities.
  • STAFFING: The schools serving the neediest children rely more on state and federal government funding than affluent districts. If State coffers are low the funding for schools will suffer and the layoffs in public schools serving the neediest children will be higher than ever.

More money for states will help… but the amount of funding they will need to compensate for lost revenues is daunting and the likelihood of there being MORE funding to provide the ADDITIONAL services needed to support the hungry, unsheltered, and– over time– poorly clothed children will be hard to find.

There are no easy solutions to this set of “wicked problems”– problems that are difficult or impossible to solve because of the many interconnected factors involved… and tough solutions require us to acknowledge what Anirban Mukhopadhyay describes as the need for us to develop “the know how to engage constructively with those who differ” forms in our thinking and opinions and to update our thinking and opinions based on emergent facts. As the ground shifts under us, that kind of flexible thinking is the only way forward…. and may offer us some insights into solving these dilemmas.

Axios Assessment of Pandemic Impact and Potential Changes is Thoughtful and On Target

May 10, 2020 Comments off

Axios writers Kim Hart and Alison Snyder assessment of the impact of the pandemic on public education and the possible changes is thoughtful and on target. Hot and Snyder force the possibility of major changes given the findings of a recent survey conducted by the National Parents union indicate that “32% of parents want schools to revert to the way things were before the pandemic began” and an astonishing “61% said schools should focus on rethinking how to educate students and should come up with new teaching methods as a result of the COVID-19 crisis”. That astonishing opportunity cannot be wasted! The article then highlights four broad changes that “experts” foresee:

  • A redefinition of assessment, moving away from standardized tests and toward mastery learning
  • More power in the hands of students and parents, as they realize that aspiring to college may not be the best direction for all children. At the same time, public schools are seeking input from parents on what schools should look like when they DO reopen.
  • More personalization, meaning using CAI to pace student learning and the curriculum itself as opposed to relying on a fixed curriculum
  • A deeper appreciation of the inequities that exist, which Hart and Snyder note are not limited to internet access but also include “the availability of a parent to steer at-home learning“.

Each of these changes are interconnected and, if taken together, would move schools away from the outdated factory model that persisted for nearly a century. There is, however, one caveat that Hart and Snyder do not downplay:

Despite the opportunities to make changes, there will be a strong pull toward the status quo because people are longing for a return to pre-pandemic life, especially for parents of K-12 students.

And they followed this caveat with this quote from Todd Rose of the Harvard Graduate School of Education and co-founder of Populace, a think tank: “People are craving normalcy — the last thing they want is disruption even if that would be good for them.”

As noted in many earlier posts, normalcy is undesirable in the case of public education and unattainable in the future given the fiscal and medical challenges schools will face. Here’s hoping the changes Mss. Hart and Snyder describe come to pass.

More Medical Realities on Reopening… and More Evidence that More Medical Spending AND More Staff Will Be Needed

May 6, 2020 Comments off

Earlier this morning I posted an article from my newsfeed from an ABC local TV station describing the conditions required to reopen schools. In reading today’s NYTimes, I read a more detailed description of ongoing research on the issue of the infectiousness of children that concluded with, well, no clear conclusion. New Studies Add to Evidence that Children May Transmit the Coronavirus  by Apoorva Mandavilli describes the new studies, each of which is rigorous in its design and none of which offer conclusive evidence that opening schools is a wise medical decision. After elaborating on several of the studies, the article concludes with these paragraphs:

The experts all agreed on one thing: that governments should hold active discussions on what reopening schools looks like. Students could be scheduled to come to school on different days to reduce the number of people in the building at one time, for example; desks could be placed six feet apart; and schools could avoid having students gather in large groups.

Teachers with underlying health conditions or of advanced age should be allowed to opt out and given alternative jobs outside the classroom, if possible, Dr. Nuzzo said, and children with underlying conditions should continue to learn from home.

The leaders of the two new studies, Dr. Drosten and Dr. Ajelli, were both more circumspect, saying their role is merely to provide the data that governments can use to make policies.

I’m somehow the bringer of the bad news but I can’t change the news,” Dr. Drosten said. “It’s in the data.

It is a statement of fact and not a political judgment to declare that our President and many politicians are averse to data based decision making. Here’s a series of questions for State lawmakers and the governing agencies that will decide on the opening of public schools:

  • Will decisions to re-open be based on data or political pressure?
  • To what extent will decisions on what schooling looks like be based on medical recommendations?
  • How will the costs for added medical and technological services be covered?

I have ideas on what schools could look like, the changes in the existing paradigm that are required to transform schools, and the sacrifices that will be required to make it possible. I have no idea how to get from where we are to where we need to be given the current lack of leadership from either political party… and I despair at what kinds of slapdash programs will be cobbled together in the name of efficiency. We seem to be willing to view a higher death rate as “collateral damage” to return the economy to normal. Are we willing to accept a higher transmission rate of Covid 19 AND increased inequality as “collateral damage” in order to reopen schools without spending more money?


Online Learning Underscores Importance of Well Being, Structure

May 5, 2020 Comments off

Over the past several weeks I’ve read countless articles on the impact of online learning. This Verge article “Online Schooling Has a Tech Issue No Apps Can Fix” by Nat Garun stood out because it dug deeply into some underlying issues that contribute to the inequities that online learning exacerbates: inequities in student well-being and the structure of student’s lives.

Grain opens his article with data describing the digital divide, covering issues I’ve cited in previous posts:

Only 56 percent of households with incomes under $30,000 have access to broadband internet, according to Pew Research Center. Where students are located also presents connectivity issues, with kids in rural areas unable to connect to mobile hotspots and cellular service from their homes.

Even when there is stable coverage, some families simply lack the laptops, tablets, or other devices required to log online.

But Garun turns to the more subtle issues that impact these students: the differential in their well-being and their daily lives. He notes that students raised in poor households often have parents who work in the low wage jobs that are deemed “essential” and therefore have no adult supervision. This, in turn, leads to a situation where the student’s daily schedule is non-existent or they are temporarily moved to the home of a relative or caregiver. In both instances, many of the students become depressed and unmotivated to do their classwork. When this lack of well-being is combined with the lack of digital resources the effect can be calamitous. The majority of the article describes how teachers are coping with these circumstances, how they are finding themselves working 24/7 to connect with students who fail to return phone calls or students who turn to them for moral support.

Grain concludes that the digital divide is not going to be closed any time soon:

The tech gap isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. The Department of Education and the Federal Communications Commission have begun urging states to put $16 billion in educational aid built into the CARES Act toward remote learning. But even if that happens, it’s unlikely to be anywhere close to enough. States are seeing large revenue shortfalls due to the pandemic, leading some states — like New York — to look at billions of dollars in education budget cuts alone to close the gap.

He’s right: legislation that “urges” states to invest a portion of the $16 billion they are receiving in digital technology won’t go far, especially when they are facing billions in cuts in one state alone! And his upbeat description of a Brooklyn teacher’s celebrating of small victories seems to paper over a hard reality that is lurking: those billions of dollars that are lacking are likely to result in a continuing lack of resources for schools… and those resources will be human resources like teachers, mental health workers, and other community supports that contribute to the small victories teachers experience.

In overlooking the inevitable collision course that lies ahead between diminishing financial support and increased student needs the article misses an opportunity to figure out how, exactly, those needs might be met in the future. One thing is clear, if we retain the current paradigm the school district budgets will be woefully inadequate and students will suffer. NOW is the time to begin floating new idea on staffing schools and determining the roles of public schools. For example, teachers might be paid, say, 75% of their current salaries and assigned 75% fewer students. If this approach were taken it would expand the workforce by adding lower compensated new teachers thereby diminishing the unemployment roles and the cost/student ins school district. Such a move would also diminish the pupil-teacher ratio, and thereby enhance the opportunity for teachers and students to interact. This, in turn, would enable teachers to focus on student well-being instead of solely worrying about their academic achievement, achievement that often has its roots in the well-being and not in the student’s “ability”. A student who has his or her own bedroom, his or her own digital device, has nurturing parents who work reasonable hours and provide nourishing meals at predictable hours is far more likely to have “academic ability” than a student who is uncertain where they will sleep, is uncertain who will be caring for them and where their next meal is coming from. The first student might be concerned that their 3 year old computer or phone lacks bells-and-whistles that the latest iPad provides. The latter student is concerned about a lot more….

Sorry Ms. Currid-Halkett, this IS the Time to Abandon the Use of Standardized Tests for College Admissions

May 2, 2020 Comments off

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett’s op ed essay in yesterday’s NYTimes questioning why policy makers are talking about permanently abandoning the SAT and ACT defends the tests as necessary and helpful to students who come from “struggling public schools”. In her essay she analogizes the tests to democracy, which is aphoristically referred to as “the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried.” I don’t see the analogy working here… because there is a form of admissions that hasn’t been tried and now could be tried. Instead of using the SAT’s, I would advocate an emphasis on GPAs and interviews by admissions counselors.

In her piece, Ms. Currid-Halkett states her case for downplaying GPAs with this:

Half of high school students today graduate with an A-average, so how meaningful is an A? Consider that good grades from a struggling public school in Mississippi could be discounted by admissions officers and scholarship committees compared with good grades coming from an elite private or public magnet school that offers AP courses and an honors curriculum.

Her critique of GPAs is valid… indeed in previous (and future posts I am sure) I have criticized the emphasis on grades and called for mastery grading— which is presumably what an “A” signifies. But I believe an emphasis on GPAs would benefit high schools tremendously… especially those from “a struggling public school in Mississippi” and other “struggling” public high schools. When high SAT scores achieved thanks to costly test-prep programs are valued more highly than high GPAs earned by working class kids the kids and guidance counselors in those “struggling public high schools” get the message: getting straight A’s won’t get you anywhere so why bother.

If the selective colleges reserved 20% of their slots for kids from “struggling” public high schools and used teams of admission counselors to interview students to identify those who would thrive on their campus it would send a much different message. How would those interviews take place? Now that colleges expect students to pay full costs for online courses how could they argue that conducting admissions interviews online would be deficient? If selective colleges really wanted to send an encouraging message to “struggling public schools” they might consider sending admissions teams to their campuses to conduct interviews. An emphasis on GPAs combined with the judgment of admissions staff and a bona fide commitment to opening admissions could change the thinking of those high achieving students in “struggling” schools who are currently marginalized.

Coronavirus Collapse Compounds Impact of 2008 Revenue Meltdown

April 25, 2020 Comments off

This recent post from NPR included a statistic about post-recession college enrollment that I found to be simultaneously startling and unsurprising AND unsettling:

With less funding, colleges have continued to lean on tuition. But over the past eight years, college enrollment nationwide has fallen about 11%. Every sector — public state schools, community colleges, for-profits and private liberal arts schools — has felt the decline. Over the years, international students, who often pay full tuition, have helped. But now with travel restrictions in play, schools are expecting very few of them this fall.

I was startled to read that college enrollment declined over the past 8 years, but after thinking about it was not surprised. The cohort group of potential students was undoubtedly smaller during that time period AND the inequities of the economy combined with the numbers of students who could afford the ever increasing meant that the cohort of students who were capable of attending diminished. With the Coronavirus making “normal” fall semesters a 50/50 proposition and revenues plummeting already it’s not a pretty picture.