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Posts Tagged ‘vicious cycle of poverty’

My Niece’s Son’s Picture on FaceBook Begging for Money at a Street Corner Worth a Thousand Words

October 7, 2019 Comments off

From everything I’ve witnessed on family vacations and FaceBook posts over the year, my niece’s son is a very gifted athlete. He’s a strong cross country runner, plays soccer well enough to make traveling teams, and seems to be a natural at every sport he takes on.

Like any student-athlete he has a full schedule with practices, homework, and family commitments. But because he is a student-athlete, he has one other responsibility: he needs to stand on a street corner to collect money to pay for his activity. Meanwhile, the state he lives in, Ohio, has lowered the support it receives from businesses though various tax sources and, because of lost revenues that resulted, not increased school spending in real dollars for over a decade.

I find his begging at intersections infuriating and demeaning. It appears to me that teaching children to beg at traffic signals now part of the hidden curriculum at schools just as subjecting themselves to surveillance cameras, metal detectors and shooter drills are part of the curriculum.

I guess Ohio voters think it’s more important for billionaires to get tax cuts than it is for x-c teams (and other organizations) to beg at street corners. More important to reward shareholders than it is to provide time for student-athletes to do their homework.

To paraphrase an old aphorism: it will be a good day when billionaires have to have bake sales to increase their wealth and schools receive largesse from the State governments…. and student-athletes no longer have to beg on street corners.

Fanfare Over Business Roundtable’s Commitment to Responsible Leadership Undercut by Investors

September 29, 2019 Comments off

This morning’s NYTimes features an article by business writer David Gelles titled “The Week CEOs Got Smacked“, a recounting of the decision of boards of directors to fire some of the leaders from the Business Roundtable who advocated corporate responsibility. I read this article on the heels of watching the Netflix Documentary “American Factory“, a clear-eyed look at the trade-offs necessary if our country hopes to re-enter the manufacturing marketplace given the current political and corporate governance structure. That governance structure is controlled by a small group of plutocrats who explicitly set government policy in China and Russia and have an increasingly large voice in setting government policy in our country. I have long believed that both economic systems are regressing toward a mean where a small group of shareholders of borderless corporations and autocratic governments control the remainder of the global workforce. This perspective makes me want to strengthen democracy in hopes that our elected officials will create a government that will develop regulations that assure corporate responsibility.

China’s de facto form of economic control is best described by the term “command capitalism”, which is defined in a 1998 book by J. L. Porket here,  The current US economy is best described as “state capitalism”, which is defined by Wikipedia here. Neither of these systems has a place for corporate responsibility and neither has a place for democracy.

Porket’s description of “command capitalism, as noted above, was written in 1998— before the advent of Big Data and before China emerged as the economic powerhouse that it is today. One section of Porket’s analysis of the inherent flaws of command capitalism should be re-examined. He suggests that the government cannot exert full control over the economy because “...at least some information received by it is insufficient, incomplete, unreliable, inaccurate and distorted.” With todays trove of data and the ability to synthesize that data to identify consumer tastes and trends, the government may be able to exert near full control over the economy. Moreover, as the American Factory movie illustrated, the lack of opportunities for unskilled labor in the US is compelling our country to accept the wages, hours, and working conditions that exist in China in the name of “efficiency” and profit.

At the same time, our country is increasingly beholden to a faceless group of “shareholders” whose insatiable demand for profits drives corporate and government policy. This section of the Wikipedia definition of “state capitalism” describes my perception of where the US economy stands:

Noam Chomsky, a supporter of libertarian socialism, applies the term ‘state capitalism’ to economies such as that of the United States, where large enterprises that are deemed “too big to fail” receive publicly funded government bailouts that mitigate the firms’ assumption of risk and undermine market laws and where private production is largely funded by the state at public expense but private owners reap the profits.[11][12][13] This practice is in contrast with the ideals of both socialism and laissez-faire capitalism.[14]

Chomsky’s description of the economy is captured in the aphorism that in our economic system today “corporate leaders pocket profits while taxpayers cover the costs of risk”. In the movie, Fuyao Glass received $10,000,000 from the taxpayers in Dayton Ohio to bring 800 jobs to the area, which sounds like a large number until that is compared to the 2000 jobs that GM provided… and sounds even worse when views learn that the new jobs pay $14/hour, roughly half of what GM workers received.

American Factory describes the course we are on… one where the need to reward shareholders exceeds the need to retain a civil democracy where the pursuit of happiness is differentiated from the pursuit of money or, as is increasingly the case, the pursuit of survival.

How can we change direction?

On the governance level, we need corporate leaders to stay the course of the direction of the Business Roundtable and, ideally, advocate that all corporations adopt the B-Corp principles that place employee well being in the forefront of their mission.

On the political level, we have to place a higher value on the “pursuit of happiness” and a lower value on the pursuit of material well being. In the framework described by Arthur Brooks at a recent lecture at Dartmouth College, we need to emphasize endogenous goals and deemphasize exogenous goals.

But the ultimate transformation that is necessary to change our thinking is one of spirit. We need to spend more time and energy helping each other and less time trying to “beat out” the competition.

And last, we might want to examine our compulsion to be as efficient as possible. Throughout the movie there was a relentless focus on efficiency— a focus that was in place in the factory where I worked in Work Standards in Dearborn Michigan in 1966. In the concluding scene of the movie, a Chinese engineer was proudly demonstrating how he would improve efficiency in the Fubayo glass factory: he had designed robots to replace the humans. The ultimate standard for efficiency IS a robot: it will do a job with repeated and uncomplaining precision for hours on end without any interference from life outside the factory. Humans cannot compete with robots if efficiency is the standard.

 

 

 

 

Bernie Sanders Tries to Keep 500,000 Hungry Children in the Limelight

September 28, 2019 Comments off

With everything else garnering headlines in Washington DC and on the campaign trail, I’m glad to see at least one candidate hammering home the importance of providing children with the nutritious meals they need to succeed in school. Common Dreams writer Jake Johnson describes how the Trump administration sidestepped Congress by issuing a rule change that diverted funds intended for school children to… well… who knows?

Congress last year approved a farm bill that excluded SNAP changes sought by the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers, so the president and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue have worked to unilaterally slash eligibility for the program, which is widely recognized by policy experts as an effective way to reduce hunger.

As Mr. Sanders notes, the notion of providing food to hungry children hardly seems like a radical idea:

“In America today, one in every six kids goes hungry,” Sanders states on his website. “Instead of addressing this crisis, students with lunch debt are sometimes denied meals, have debt collectors sent after their families, and are even denied their diplomas. Unacceptable. It is not a radical idea that no child in this country should go hungry. We must ensure that all students have access to healthy school meals.”

It evidently is not a radical idea that funds Congress wanted to send to school districts to feed hungry children can be unilaterally diverted for other uses…. We are truly living in an upside down world.

Yet ANOTHER Study Proves Poverty’s Power to Diminish Performance… and Desegregation is the Path Out of Poverty

September 24, 2019 Comments off

The Hechinger Report posted an analysis of research done by Stanford University Education Professor Sean Reardon that demonstrates the detrimental impact of poverty of student performance as measured by standardized achievement tests. Here are Reardon’s findings as described by Hechinger Report writer Jill Barshay:

In the study, Reardon finds that racial segregation is a very strong predictor of the gaps in academic achievement between white and black or Hispanic students, but it’s school poverty — not the student’s race — that accounts for these big gaps. When the difference in poverty rates between black and white schools is larger, the achievement gaps between black and white students are larger. When the difference in poverty rates between black and white schools is smaller, the achievement gaps are smaller. The two phenomena — racial segregation and economic inequality — are intertwined because students of color are concentrated in high-poverty schools.

“There’s a common argument these days that maybe we should stop worrying about segregation and just create high-quality schools everywhere,” said Reardon. “This study shows that it doesn’t seem to be possible.”

Reardon said he couldn’t find a single school district in the country where black and Hispanic students were learning apart from white students and performing well with test scores that weren’t lagging behind those of white students.  In the cases where achievement gaps were small, such as Detroit, achievement was low for both black and whites students. They’re not models to copy.

“It doesn’t seem that we have any knowledge about how to create high-quality schools at scale under conditions of concentrated poverty,” said Reardon. “And if we can’t do that, then we have to do something about segregation. Otherwise we’re consigning black and Hispanic and low-income students to schools that we don’t know how to make as good as other schools. The implication is that you have got to address segregation.”

The nation’s failure to “create high-quality schools at scale under conditions of concentrated poverty” is widely reported and applies to charter schools as well as public schools. But Ms. Barshay notes how Mr. Reardon’s findings amply and clarify this reality:

It’s well known that high-income students perform better on tests than low-income students. Higher income students tend to have better educated parents who not only may read and talk to their kids more but also convey the importance of an education and set high academic expectations for their kids. What’s interesting in this study is that not only does the level of school segregation predict the size of the achievement gap between white and black students, it also predicts the rate at which the achievement gap grows as students progress from third to eighth grade.

In the concluding paragraphs of Ms. Barshay’s report, she describes an interactive website, the “Opportunity Explorer,” “where anyone can see the test scores for every public school in the United States“.  Mr. Reardon offers this important insight on the data he used to determine student performance:

Reardon advises visitors to the website to avoid equating test scores with school quality. “The average test scores that kids have in schools or school districts are the results of all the opportunities these kids have had to learn their whole lives, at home, in the neighborhood, in preschool and in the school year,” Reardon said, “so it’s misleading to attribute average test scores solely to the school where they take the test.”

“If you want to know how good the schools are,” Reardon said, “a better but not perfect measure would be the learning rates because those are measuring how fast are kids learning while they’re in school, regardless of where they started.”

A tool like the Opportunity Explorer offers data geeks a chance to do some comparisons… but such a tool also implies that parents could shop for a school the same way they could shop for groceries… and while grocery stores will allow anyone to come inside and look around and buy what they can afford, schools are not the same because some schools are located in communities where housing prices effectively bar anyone with a low income. Until we figure out a way to encourage people of different social strata and different races to live together we will not be able to solve the problem of unequal opportunities based on wealth and race.

Plessy v. Ferguson Comes to Football… Will Academics be Far Behind?

September 23, 2019 Comments off

This attention-grabbing headline in the NYTimes article by Timothy Williams caught my eye immediately:

The article describes the reality of team sports— and academics in high schools across the country in this analysis by Tom Farrey, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Sports & Society Program, who noted that:

“….the sports achievement disparity between wealthy suburban public schools and their urban counterparts has degenerated into “a competitive gap that is similar to the income gap” in the nation.

The divide has always been there,” he said, “but it has widened.”

The disparity, experts say, is meaningful beyond the world of athletics because sports participation has been found to aid in academic success and college admissions, and is a predictor for professional success.

I’m not at all certain the “divide has always been there”… but I AM certain it is worsening for athletics AND academics.

The notion of using demographics to separate athletic teams is appalling… it seems to be contrary to the Brown v. Board of Education decision that outlawed Plessy v. Ferguson’s “separate but equal” provision of public services like schools. But Iowa is not alone in moving in this direction as Mr. Williams writes:

Over the past few years, officials overseeing high school sports in states including Minnesota, Oregon and Colorado have added provisions allowing schools with high poverty levels to drop down to lower athletic divisions. Washington State will introduce the idea next year, and Iowa is considering it.

This provision puts principals, parents, and athletic boosters in economically disadvantaged schools in a tough position: they can either keep their school in an athletic league where they will be overmatched or agree to being placed in a less competitive league where their students might win some games.

Once poorer schools decide to abandon athletic competition with affluent schools rather than seeking equitable funding will they also decide to abandon their fight for equitable funding for academics and shunt their students into second tier colleges? If athletics is the last bastion of true meritocracy… the last place where an athletically gifted child born into poverty can thrive despite his economic disadvantage… how can we hope to create a true meritocracy in academics if school leaders decide to abandon the effort to provide an even playing field in athletics?

 

EdBuild Study Provides Evidence of the Persistence of Racism in Public Schools

September 20, 2019 Comments off

EdBuild, whose mission is to bring common sense and fairness to the way states fund public schools, issued a report indicating that black school districts receive $23,000,000,000 LESS revenue than all white districts despite serving the same number of students. Why? Because affluent families flock to districts where property taxes can underwrite higher quality schools leaving poorer non-white students segregated in property poor districts. As the authors of the report write:

The racial and economic segregation created by gerrymandered school district boundaries continues to divide our communities and rob our nation’s children of fundamental freedoms and opportunity. Families with money or status can retain both by drawing and upholding invisible lines. Many families do just that. This, in conjunction with housing segregation, ensures that—rather than a partial remedy—district geographies serve to further entrench society’s deep divisions of opportunity

Because our system relies so heavily on community wealth, this gap reflects both the prosperity divide in our country and the fragmented nature of school district borders, designed to exclude outside students and protect internal advantage.

This residential discrepancy cannot be fixed easily… but it might be possible for the students in poorer schools to receive the same level of funding if we worked at the state level to raise and allocate funds more fairly. And the racial disparities EdBuild flags are intolerable:

For every student enrolled, the average nonwhite school district receives $2,226 less than a white school district.

Poor-white school districts receive about $150 less per student than the national average—an injustice all to itself. Yet they are still receiving nearly $1,500 more than poor-nonwhite school districts.

If we want to continue holding onto the belief that education can be a leveling force in our country, we cannot continue to use the same funding system in place today… and if we want racial and economic justice we need to face the fact that our current system is discriminatory. The report concludes with this:

Even after accounting for income, the average student in the U.S. inherits far more opportunity by attending a small, concentrated white school district. Because each state handles district boundaries and school funding differently, funding policies affect students in divergent areas in different ways.

But a single fact is clear—financially, it is far better in the United States to have the luck and lot to attend a school district that is predominantly white than one that enrolls a concentration of children of color. That is the inherent shame of the system we’ve built, and one we haven’t gone far enough to fix.

David Brooks’ Bogus “Meritocracy” Definition

September 13, 2019 Comments off

David Brooks column today, “The Meritocracy is Ripping America Apart“, rightfully calls out the impact of the “savage exclusion” of what he calls “the exclusive meritocracy”. Here is his definition:

In the exclusive meritocracy, prestige is defined by how many people you can reject. The elite universities reject 85 to 95 percent of their applicants. Those accepted spend much of their lives living in neighborhoods and attending conferences where it is phenomenally expensive or hard to get in. Whether it’s the resort town you vacation in or the private school you send your kids to, exclusivity is the pervasive ethos. The more the exclusivity, the thicker will be the coating of P.C. progressivism to show that we’re all good people.

As US News and World Report rolls out its annual report “ranking” colleges and universities, it is ironic to read that David Brooks has accepted their definition that “…prestige is defined by how many people you can reject”… Before US News and World Report adopted that as a proxy for “quality” colleges did not even keep track of that data point but since it became a variable that colleges could control they’ve gone overboard in encouraging as many people as possible to apply so that they could tout their rejection rate as evidence of their “excellence”. What passes for “merit” in our era of Big Data and standardized testing is what can be measured easily, cheaply and quickly.

And Mr. Brooks also rightfully notes that the highest wage earners from “exclusive meritocracy” work ungodly hours to accumulate their wealth:

People in this caste work phenomenally hard to build their wealth. As Daniel Markovits notes in his powerful new book, “The Meritocracy Trap,” between 1979 and 2006, the percentage of workers in the top quintile of earners who work more than 50 hours a week nearly doubled.

What Mr. Brooks fails to mention is that this hard work has the effect of the “meritocrats” justifying the requirement that everyone else work equally hard to earn a living. Consequently, they often have little sympathy for the individual who works more than 50 hours a week at two part-time jobs neither of which offer them health benefits, vacation, or leave time.

It might be a better world if the “meritocrats” shared their work load as well as their largesse. It’s possible that corporations who spend millions to retain these 50+ hour/week “meritocrats” could spend less on having multiple individuals performing the same tasks for less money– say $125,000/year– and less time– say 30 hours per week. The human resources are out there. The money is out there. We need to look at hour we spend time and allocation resources in order to improve the lot of our workforce.