Archives for category: Poverty

Ras Baraka, Mayor of Newark, was a teacher and principal at Central High School. Few elected officials in the nation understand education and students as he does.

In this article in The Hechinger Report, Baraka describes the daunting challenges that Newark’s children face. And he shows how schools can succeed in overcoming those challenges for large numbers of students.

In the nation, nearly a quarter of children live in poverty. In Newark, it is an appalling 44%.

Baraka shows how schools are building on the framework of a plan called the Newark Global Village School Zone. The framework was designed by NYU Prifessor Pedro Noguera, working with parents and communities in Newark.

Baraka writes:

“Creating successful schools is not a mystical process. It is grounded in research on best practices and is based on empirical data. Quitman Street School in Newark is an example of how aligning school improvement efforts with investments in health, social services, student supports, and community engagement equip schools with the level of school and community capacity required for success. All schools have challenges. Quitman Street School is no exception.

“However, Quitman’s steady progress toward transformation is linked to its strategic focus on weaving together resources from inside and outside the school and using those resources to build a responsive culture, integrate student supports and drive a focus on learning. In the spring of 2014, the school, led by Principal Erskine Glover, saw the highest reading gains in the district and the fourth highest in mathematics.”

“Prior to its designation as a Renew School in 2012, Quitman Street School was part of another school reform initiative called the Newark Global Village School Zone. Global Village was a reform strategy based upon an expanded conception of education that addresses the importance of academic skills and knowledge, as well as the development of the whole child. The Village brought social service agencies, community-based organizations, business, universities, and families together to build partnerships that supported the instructional and educational goals of schools in the Global Village network.

“Quitman Street School and Central High School, where I was principal, along with five other schools in Newark’s Central Ward, collaborated with New York University to develop the Global Village strategy from 2009 until the Renew strategy was implemented in 2012. Community partnerships, school-based professional development and collaboration, academic enrichment, extended learning time, and integration of student supports were core to our improvement plans. Developing these systems in the Global Village shifted the paradigm for school reform in our schools and established comprehensive and cohesive systems to help students bypass barriers and create opportunities for learning so they could thrive. Of course, the implementation of the Global strategy varied school by school. It is, however, safe to say that Quitman Street School embraced being part of the Global Village wholeheartedly so that by the time it became a Renew School a solid foundation on which to accelerate the school’s transformation had been established.”

Collaboration with parents and social service organizations; teamwork; respect for parents and students and teachers. Start there.

Bret Wooten, a businessman in a small town in Texas, was puzzled about why his wife, a second grade teacher, spent so much money on her students. At tax time, he reminded her that the purpose of working was to make money, not to rack up expenses that were not tax-deductible.


She invited him to visit her classroom. And he did.


“When I came by that next afternoon, I found myself surrounded by the children doing projects and I jumped right in. I dropped by the school as often as I could, so the children were used to me at this point. But one young man always kept his distance. After the kids had gone, I asked Michelle why. She then revealed her dark secrets, the histories of the children in her classroom.


“These kids endured everything from true poverty to sexual abuse. Her list of questionable deductions started to make sense: granola bars, orange juice, cereal, milk, jackets, band aids and endless school supplies.


“The young man that would not approach me? She told me about him last. He had endured the worst. All the men in his life injured this child in ways that still bring tears to my eyes and a rage in my soul.


“Then she said: “He needs shoes.”


“The only thing I could mutter was: “What size?”


“These days we think we will find the answer to so many questions within the pages of a book or the folds of a standardized test, but this is the reality of many children in America. I wish stories like this were on the news or touted by politicians.


“Unfortunately, acts of kindness are far too common in education and thereby deemed unnewsworthy. If these stories were aired, maybe we could actually solve some problems instead of just pointing them out.”



In today’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof offers a list of “gifts with meaning” for Christmas giving.


He can’t avoid making a gratuitous slap at public education.


He writes:


We’re seeing painful upheavals about race on university campuses these days, but the civil rights issue in America today is our pre-K through 12th grade education system, which routinely sends the neediest kids to the worst schools. To address these roots of inequality, a group called Communities in Schools ( supports disadvantaged kids, mostly black and Latino, in elementary, middle and high schools around the country.


I’m all for sending money to Communities in Schools, but it is an outright lie to say that our K-12 education system “routinely sends the neediest kids to the worst schools.” Some of our nation’s most dedicated teachers and principals are working in schools in the nation’s poorest communities. The children they serve include disproportionate numbers who have disabilities and who don’t speak English. Many live in unsafe neighborhoods, seldom get routine medical care, do not have food security or even a home. Almost all so-called “failing schools” are located in neighborhoods that are racially segregated and impoverished. Why would Kristof smear the professionals who work there in a spirit of service?


I got an email from the celebrated children’s book author Jean Marzollo, who wrote that she was outraged by Kristof’s derogatory comments about the schools:


My anger came from what I thought was a sweeping insult to the people who work in his so-called “worst schools.” When visiting schools over the years as a children’s book author, I have met many wonderful teachers, principals, and other staff members in his so-called “worst schools” that serve our “disadvantaged kids, mostly black and Latino.” The word “routinely” is a bit insulting, too, because it implies that people in charge of schools don’t care.


I wish Mr. Kristof had said that “…the civil rights issue in America today is our pre-K through 12th grade education system, which for various legal and financial reasons sends our neediest kids to schools with the highest populations of poor kids. The fundamental problem of our neediest kids and our neediest schools is poverty.”


The civil rights issue of our time is to reduce poverty and eliminate segregated neighborhoods, so that all children have the opportunity to have a good life and the opportunity to go to a good school.


Of all the people writing for the New York Times today, Nicholas Kristof should understand the link between poverty and low academic outcomes.





When I was writing “Reign of Error,” I researched the proportion of children who live in poverty and learned from what seemed to be the best source (UNICEF) that the United States has the highest child poverty rate of any advanced nation. Actually, UNICEF in another report says we have the second highest child poverty, second to Romania. However, I have been to Romania, and it does not belong in the same ranking with the United States, Norway, Finland, Sweden, France, the U.K., and other Western European nations. Unlike them, Romania is and has long been a very, very poor country.

Another survey by the Southern Education Fund recently found that 51% of American children live in “low-income” homes. In 40 of the 50 states, low income students comprised no less than 40 percent of all public schoolchildren. In 21 states, children eligible for free or reduced-price lunches were a majority of the students in 2013.

Recently I have noticed that apologists for America’s yawning income inequality say either that child poverty doesn’t matter (“great” teachers can overcome it) and/or that we don’t really have so many poor children. Some have even said that poverty is just an “excuse for bad teachers.”

Here is an addition to that discussion by Matt Bruenig in Demos. In this post, he ranks the advanced nations and shows that the U.S. does have an exceptional child poverty rate. It shouldn’t be necessary to explain why poverty matters. Children who are poor tend not to get medical care when they need it; tend not to have educated parents; tend to have more school absences, because of illness; tend to experience periods of homelessness. As compared to children who grow up in secure, middle-class homes, children in poverty carry many burdens not of their making. Western Europe tries to reduce poverty and to make health care and child care accessible and free.

Given the well-known correlation between poverty and low test scores, it seems reasonable to believe that the most effective way to improve school performance would be to reduce poverty.

How could we do that? Bob Herbert’s book Losing the Way suggests the answer: rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. This would create millions of jobs and improve the lives of millions of families. Or better yet, read this article in the New York Times about our collapsing bridges, tunnels, dams, and highways.

We spent 2 trillion on the wars in the Middle East in the past decade. How about spending the next 2 trillion to rebuild our country?

Dr. Yohuru Williams, historian at Fairfield University in Connecticut, recently delivered a blockbuster speech to a conference on educational justice in New York City.

He begins by quoting FDR on the Four Freedoms, then moves on to weave together the current movements and issues of our day. It is eloquent and powerful rhetoric on behalf of children, justice, and equity.

I promise if you start watching, you won’t be able to stop.

Over the weekend, I attended a board meeting of the Network for Public Education. Xian Barrett, a teacher in Chicago on the board, made a startlingly perceptive comment over lunch. He said to me, “The reformers are often right when they describe the problem, but they are always wrong when they offer a solution.”

You won’t find a better, clearer demonstration of this axiom than this post by Peter Greene.

Peter analyzes the “social justice” argument for charters and choice. Reformers are right, he says, when they charge that schools in poor communities are often grossly inadequate:

“Reformsters start here with the premise that non-wealthy non-white students must be rescued from the terrible schools that are inextricably tied to poor support, poor resources, poor staffing, poor neighborhoods, and the lousy local control that leads to all of these poor inputs.”

But their reforms save a few while making things far worse for the majority.

“This problem is even more damaging in schools that are already underfunded and under-resourced. Losing money to charter-choice systems just makes the troubled school that much more financially distressed. So to “rescue” these ten kids, we are going to make things even worse for the ones left behind.

“The charter-choice system, as currently conceived and executed, promises a possible maybe rescue for some students while making the vast majority of non-white non-wealthy students pay for it, while simultaneously lulling policy makers into thinking that the problem is actually being solved, all in a system that allows charter operators to conduct business without being answerable to anyone.

“The problem (see First Part) is real. The solution being inflicted on public education is making things worse, not better. It is making some folks rich and providing excellent ROI for hedge funders, but neither of those outcomes exactly equals a leap forward in social justice. There’s a whole argument to be had about charter booster motives; I figure that some are in it because they believe it will work better and some are in it because they believe it’s the last great untapped well-spring of tax dollars. Ultimately, their motivation isn’t as important as this: their solution will not actually solve anything.”

Blogger and retired teacher G.F. Brandenburg wrote–after reading this post–that Peter Greene “may be the best blogger in America.”

Blogger Sam Chaltain says that there used to be a monumental struggle between two extremes: on one side were the “New-Schoolers,” led by Michelle Rhee, who were champions of choice, TFA, charters, and so forth. On the other were the “Old-Schoolers,” led by me, representing “tenured elders, district loyalists, progressive die-hards, etc.”

Now, writes Sam, the battle is over, old hat, finished, and done, because he is part of a group that has envisioned a new paradigm for American education that is “that clearly places students at the center by making learning more personalized, relevant, and real-world-situated.”

To wit, check out the website of the Convergence Policy Center’s Education Reimagined project (full disclosure: I’m a contributor). For two years, Convergence has been gathering almost thirty of us – practitioners and policymakers, “Deformers” and “Status-Quo’ers,” Progressives and Conservatives, union leaders and union critics – to spend time together, for the purpose of seeing if they could ever get all of us to agree on anything.

And they did! They found a great Convergence!

The wars are over! Forget the Vergara trial to take away teachers’ due process rights. Forget Eli Broad’s move to take over half the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District and his plans to charterize the District of Columbia. Forget Scott Walker’s efforts to eliminate public education in Milwaukee, and eventually in other parts of Wisconsin. Forget the hedge funders who pour millions of dollars into state and local school board races and who buy politicians with strategic donations. Stop worrying so much about poverty and segregation.

All of those concerns are Old School.

Is Sam right? Are the wars over? Should we stop resisting and get out of the way of the Great Convergence?

If the battle is over, I am ready to quit; is Eli Broad? is Bill Gates? is Scott Walker? is John Kasich? is Rick Scott? is Bobby Jindal? will the hedge fund guys put away their checkbooks? If I stop, and they don’t, what will happen to the teaching profession? What will happen to public education?

What do you think? I am listening and reading.

Vince Guerrieri is a Youngstown native and a writer. He tells the history of Youngstown, Ohio, in this post. Governor John Kasich has targeted Youngstown as a school system that will be taken over by the state, with the assumption that its public schools will eventually be turned over to privately managed charters.

But as Guerrieri shows, the problems of Youngstown do not come from the schools. They are the problems of what was once a thriving city that lost industries, jobs, and population. As industries moved elsewhere, as jobs were outsourced, the population shrank and grew poorer.

He writes:

But the district – and the city – kept hemorrhaging people. The city population, which once peaked around 160,000 and was 100,000 as recently as 1980, is now down to 65,000. With a median household income around $25,000, the city is the poorest in the state and one of the poorest in the country. There are actually a higher percentage of adults in the city without a high school diploma (20 percent) than there are with at least a bachelor’s degree (16 percent). The problems in the city schools go deeper than the board and administration – although they don’t help.

The Youngstown story is a variation of the Detroit story, and a variation of the experience of many other American cities that experienced deindustrialization, loss of population, and a steady deterioration in the economy and in the quality of life.

Politicians think they can cure these deep social and economic problems by privatizing the schools. This is like putting a band-aid on cancer. It makes non sense but they will do it anyway. They will do it because they know how to open charter schools, but they don’t know how to revive cities that lack the resources to provide decent jobs. They will do it because it shows they are doing something. They will do it even though Ohio’s charter schools are among the worst in the nation. They will do it because they lack vision.

Jan Resseger served for many years as program director for education justice of the United Church of Christ. She is a woman with a strong social conscience, who is devoted to the well-being of all children. She lives in Ohio. When I first visited Cleveland, I had the privilege of being escorted by Jan, who showed me the stark disparities between the affluent suburbs and the downtrodden inner-city.

Jan Resseger writes here of the calamities imposed on our nation’s education system by Arne Duncan, who changed the national education goal from equality of educational opportunity for all to a “race to the top” for the few. He shifted our sights from equal opportunity and equitable funding to test scores; he pretended that poverty was unimportant and could be solved by closing public schools and turning children over to private entrepreneurs who had little supervision.

Read Jan’s entire piece: Duncan was a disaster as a molder of education policy. He ignored segregation and it grew more intense on his watch. His successor, John King, was a clone of Duncan in New York state. He too thinks that test scores are the measure of education quality, despite the fact that what they measure best is family income. He too, a founder of charter schools, prefers charters over public education. His hurried implementation of the Common Core standards and tests in New York were universally considered disastrous, even by Governor Cuomo; John King, more than anyone else, ignited the parent opt out movement in New York. And his role model was Arne Duncan.

Jan Resseger writes:

School policy ripped out of time and history: in many ways that is Arne Duncan’s gift to us — school policy focused on disparities in test scores instead of disparities in opportunity — a Department of Education obsessed with data-driven accountability for teachers, but for itself an obsession with “game-changing” innovation and inadequate attention to oversight — the substitution of the consultant driven, win-lose methodology of philanthropy for formula-driven government policy — school policy that favors social innovation, one charter at a time. Such policies are definitely a break from the past. Whether they promise better opportunity for the mass of our nation’s children, and especially our poorest children, is a very different question.

School policy focused on disparities in test scores instead of disparities in opportunity: Here is what a Congressional Equity and Excellence Commission charged in 2013, five years into Duncan’s tenure as Education Secretary: “The common situation in America is that schools in poor communities spend less per pupil—and often many thousands of dollars less per pupil—than schools in nearby affluent communities… This is arguably the most important equity-related variable in American schooling today. Let’s be honest: We are also an outlier in how many of our children are growing up in poverty. Our poverty rate for school-age children—currently more than 22 percent—is twice the OECD average and nearly four times that of leading countries such as Finland.” Arne Duncan’s signature policies ignore these realities. While many of Duncan’s programs have conditioned receipt of federal dollars on states’ complying with Duncan’s favored policies, none of Duncan’s conditions involved closing opportunity gaps. To qualify for a Race to the Top grant, a state had to remove any statutory cap on the authorization of new charter schools, and to win a No Child Left Behind waiver, a state had to agree to evaluate teachers based on students’ test scores, but Duncan’s policies never conditioned receipt of federal dollars on states’ remedying school funding inequity. Even programs like School Improvement Grants for the lowest scoring 5 percent of American schools have emphasized school closure and privatization but have not addressed the root problem of poverty in the communities where children’s scores are low.

A Department of Education obsessed with data-driven accountability for teachers, but for itself an obsession with “game-changing” innovation and inadequate attention to oversight: The nation faces an epidemic of teacher shortages and despair among professionals who feel devalued as states rush to implement the teacher-rating policies they adopted to win their No Child Left Behind waivers from the federal government. Even as evidence continues to demonstrate that students’ test scores correlate more closely with family income than any other factor, and as scholars declare that students’ test scores are unreliable for evaluating teachers, Duncan’s policies have unrelentingly driven state governments to create policy that has contributed to widespread blaming of the teachers who serve in our nation’s poorest communities.

However, Duncan’s Department of Education has been far less attentive to accountability for its own programs. In June, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, a coalition of national organizations made up of the American Federation of Teachers, Alliance for Educational Justice, Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University, Center for Popular Democracy, Gamaliel, Journey for Justice Alliance, National Education Association, National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, and Service Employees International Union, asked Secretary Duncan to establish a moratorium on federal support for new charter schools until the Department improves its own oversight of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, which is responsible for the federal Charter School Program. The Alliance to Reclaim our Schools cites formal audits from 2010 and 2012 in which the Department of Education’s own Office of Inspector General (OIG), “raised concerns about transparency and competency in the administration of the federal Charter Schools Program.” The OIG’s 2012 audit, the members of the Alliance explain, discovered that the Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement, which administers the Charter Schools Program, and the State Education Agencies, which disburse the majority of the federal funds, are ill equipped to keep adequate records or put in place even minimal oversight.

Most recently, just last week, the Department of Education awarded $249 million to seven states and the District of Columbia for expanding charter schools, with the largest of those grants, $71 million, awarded to Ohio, despite that protracted Ohio legislative debate all year has failed to produce regulations for an out-of-control, for-profit group of online charter schools or to improve Ohio’s oversight of what are too often unethical or incompetent charter school sponsors. The U.S. Department of Education made its grant last week despite that Ohio’s legislature is known to have been influenced by political contributions from the owners of for-profit charter schools.

Arthur Camins, who writes brilliantly about education, left a comment about a post he wrote a few years ago. It is as timely now as it was then.

Arthur is the Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education (CIESE) at the Stevens Institute of Technology where he leads the Center’s curriculum, professional development and research work.

Camins explains why schools could not cure poverty. Sure, some students will doggedly persevere and elevate themselves out of the bottom of the income distribution.

But most students will remain poor and hopeless.

Camins writes:

“Not long ago, an otherwise healthy friend of mine almost died when a localized, microbial infection advanced into full-blown blood poisoning, or sepsis, which is characterized by multiple-organ dysfunction. Only a last-minute intervention saved his life.

“Hospitals treat blood infections with powerful antibiotics, coupled with a multitude of strategies to maintain organ function. They recognize that supporting the essential organs is a critical care necessity, even as they work to resolve the underlying infection.

“Medical professionals understand that a successful treatment plan must address both proximal and distal issues, and that systemic illness must be treated systemically. Indeed, such an approach is now standard operating procedure.

“In stark contrast, the current narrative of education reform says that by focusing on the apparent symptoms (e.g. low test scores and too few students prepared for college and career) and treating single organs, such as teacher evaluation and compensation systems, we can cure the causal infection (poverty). In the early 1990s, there was surge of interest in systemic change in education; however, those efforts were short lived in the face of complex problems and mounting impatience for a quick fix.

“Attempts at systemic change gave way to market-driven competitive solutions and a singular focus on measuring outcomes. We abandoned systemic change for symptomatic change.

“To stretch the metaphor a bit, I would argue that the issues that often plague high-poverty schools — such as an overabundance of inexperienced teachers, low expectations among staff and even among families, insufficient challenge and rigor, inequitable distribution of facilities and resources, and inadequate evaluation processes — are akin to the organs. Their prolonged ill health may exacerbate the disease, but they do not cause it.
As with sepsis, we cannot ignore the organs and simply treat the symptoms of poverty’s infection. As with strengthening human organs damaged by microbial driven infection, we need to build up educational systems so that schools and their students are less vulnerable to the effects of poverty. We can give students a fighting chance.”

He then goes on to identify four school-based reforms that would make a difference.

But he knows those changes are not enough to have a significant impact on reducing poverty.

“The more successful school systems to which the United States are most frequently compared have less skewed income distributions and greater supports for students and their families — a more systemic approach. Our most important investment would be in creating well-paying jobs so that families have stability. In addition, the security of universally available health care, pre-school, after-school and summer programs would bring to poor students, what is a natural part of the lives of their wealthier, and typically more successful, peers. The systemic success of these supports depends not just upon their individual quality, but rather upon their purposeful coherent implementation though community-wide collective action. Finally, we need to abandon the delusion of the last several decades that separate but equal schools are possible at scale. Instead we need to actively promote and incentivize schools that are racially and economically integrated.

“Let’s not forget to use the strongest medicine to fight the real infection, poverty. Let’s not imagine that by getting more accurate measures of educational organ failure, or by propping up one or another organ that we can cure the disease. As a nation we need to do more than that. I think we know what to do, but so far, we never have. In place of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” we now seem to have a war on schools and teachers in the name of ending poverty. We can’t save the patient without attacking the infection. It’s time.”

– See more at:


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