Archives for category: Poverty

New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie is devoted to charter schools. As he has repeatedly demonstrated, he despises the New Jersey Education Association, and charters seldom are unionized. So he gets a twofer: he can privatize and bust the union at the same time. In his state of the state speech, he said he would expand the charter sector. No surprise. But David Hespe, the state commissioner of education, made the goal concrete: 50,000 charter “seats.” 

 

Hespe’s remarks at the state’s annual School Choice Summit at Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City echoed Christie’s Jan. 12 speech. The governor called charter schools a resounding success for the state and said he would “aggressively prioritize” regulatory relief for charter schools.

 

Charter schools are public schools that operate independently from traditional school districts. If a student leaves their home district to attend a charter school, that district must send a portion of it’s average per-pull funding to the charter school.

 

Christie has authorized dozens of new charter schools since taking office but the initial flood of new schools has slowed in recent years. Overall, Christie has added 39 new charter schools while closing 17 charter schools for poor academic performance or organizational and fiscal issues.

 

The state has about 41,500 students enrolled in charter schools and the number will expand to 46,000 as existing charter schools add more grade levels, according to the state Department of Education. The state has not identified a specific timeline for the 50,000 seat goal.

 

In total, New Jersey more than 1.3 million public school students, Department of Education spokesman David Saenz said.

 

Christie said his administration will explore ways to create greater flexibility in the teacher certification for charter schools and ways to make it easier for charter schools to find buildings.

 

To sum it up, the charters take money away from public schools, causing them to lose teachers, increase class size, and cut back programs. This is odd because the state has 1.3 million students, but not quite 50,000 in charters. So the vast majority of students will suffer harm so that the small number in charters can get some of the money the district schools need.

 

The state will lower standards for teachers in charter schools, thus providing greater flexibility.

 

The state will seek ways to fund the construction of charter schools or give them  public space. One way to ease that problem would be to seek contributions from the New Jersey hedge fund managers who are strong supporters of charter schools.

 

The strangest thing about this scenario is that New Jersey is one of the highest performing states on the NAEP, usually scoring either second or their behind Massachusetts. At the same time, it has some cities that contain desperately impoverished families. Charter schools will not diminish their poverty nor will it alleviate the segregation that characterizes these districts, like Newark, Camden, and Paterson.

 

What Governor Christie’s plan will do is to damage the overall condition of public education, in order to push forward his goal of more “charter seats.”

A few days ago, I wrote a post about the determination of North Carolina’s Tea-Party dominated legislature to allow charters, including for-profit ones, to take over low-scoring schools, a proposal modeled on Tennessee’s Achievement School District. My post was a refutation of an editorial in the Charlotte Observer, which endorsed the idea of using the ASD as a model for North Carolina. My post was titled “North Carolina: Yes, Let’s Copy a Failed Experiment.” Pamela Grundy, a public school champion in North Carolina, also complained to the newspaper and proposed that NC should try reducing class sizes.

 

The author of the editorial, Peter St. Onge, is associate editor of the editorial pages. He didn’t like my post at all. He says that the Tennessee ASD has not failed; it hasn’t had enough time. This follows on a Vanderbilt report about the ASD that concluded the program had “little or no effect” on student achievement. (Here is the link to the report.) NPR summarized the finding of the Vanderbilt study thus:

 

While there were some changes year-to-year — up and down — there was no statistical improvement on the whole, certainly not enough to catapult these low-performing schools into some of the state’s best, which was the lofty goal.

 

St. Onge says the Vanderbilt study didn’t say the experiment failed, it just hasn’t succeeded yet. That is true. The Vanderbilt study did not propose closing down the ASD; it said reform takes years. But please recall that Chris Barbic, who led the ASD, said he could turn around the lowest-performing schools in five years and make them among the state’s highest-performing schools. Clearly that will not happen. Of course, a child attends an elementary school for only four-six years, so they can’t wait ten years. So if we take the original promise of the ASD, it will fail to reach its goal of turning low-performing schools into high-performing schools in five years.

 

One of the lead researchers in the Vanderbilt study, Professor Gary Henry, was in North Carolina this week, where he spoke to a public policy forum. The legislature happened to be holding hearings on the NC version of ASD, but Professor Henry was not invited to testify. Why didn’t the legislature want to hear from him? He told the forum that the model sponsored by the public schools, called the iZone, had significant improvements, but the ASD did not. He said the study was based on only three years of data, so cautioned not to jump to conclusions.

 

So, yes, Peter St. Onge is right. It is too soon to declare the ASD a failure. But it is certainly not a success. Usually, when you look to copy a model tried elsewhere, you copy a successful model. Why should the state of North Carolina copy a model that has thus far shown little to no significant effects and has not shown success? A track record like that of the ASD does not lend itself to being called “a model.” A model for what? For throwing millions into an experiment that alienates parents and communities and after three years has little to no effect on student achievement?

 

When Chris Barbic resigned as leader of the ASD, following a heart attack, he made a statement boasting about gains that included this interesting observation:

 

Let’s just be real: achieving results in neighborhood schools is harder than in a choice environment. I have seen this firsthand at YES Prep and now as the superintendent of the ASD. As a charter school founder, I did my fair share of chest pounding over great results. I’ve learned that getting these same results in a zoned neighborhood school environment is much harder.

 

This is a sage observation. A brand new charter school can choose its students. Even with a lottery, the families are applying and informed and motivated. That is very different from taking over a neighborhood school, where parents resent that their school was “taken over” by outsiders without their consent. Charter schools have been notoriously unsuccessful at taking over neighborhood schools. KIPP, for example, took over Cole Middle School in Denver, and abandoned it a few years later. KIPP claimed it couldn’t find “the right leader,” but the reality is what Barbic said. It is much harder to take over an existing school than to start a new charter.

 

The Charlotte Observer, or more accurately, Mr. St. Onge, scorns those he calls “public education advocates” as if all those in favor of the model in which the public is responsible for the education of all children are self-interested and impervious to evidence. I think it is fair to say that in the North Carolina climate, those who promote charters are self-interested and impervious to evidence. The charter operators are in many cases operating for-profit, which is certainly not the motive of public education advocates. Those who claim that the ASD is a worthy model for North Carolina, despite its lack of success, are impervious to evidence.

 

If you can’t call the ASD a failure, you surely can’t call it a success. As the subtitle of the editorial states, “Judging Should Be Based on What Works.” We agree. Children should not be subjected to experiments that do not have a track record of success. Do what works, based on evidence and experience. Reduce class sizes where there is concentrated poverty and segregation; recognize that poverty and segregation are root causes of poor school performance and act to address root causes; make sure there are school nurses and social workers; make sure there is a library; hire experienced teachers, with school aides. Add classes in the arts. Give poor children what all parents want for their children. If you want to see the research base, read my book “Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools.” Or closer to home, call Helen F. Ladd at Duke University and get her advice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Over a number of decades, some fabulously wealthy right-wingers and the think tanks they support have determined to convince African-American families that privately managed charters and vouchers would “save” their children from “failing” public schools. If you are very rich and you don’t want your taxes to become outrageous, then it makes sense to persuade people who have little that poverty is just an excuse for bad teachers. Forget about poverty. Why should our society invest hundreds of billions of dollars in restoring our infrastructure and creating good jobs for everyone willing to work, when it is so much less costly to get people angry at teachers and public schools? Who cares if we spent two trillion (with a T) on war in the past dozen years? Why waste time imagining what half of that would have done to reduce income inequality in this country? So the right-wing think tanks adopted the views of their founders and their funders, which was that the 1% are job-producers, and they must not have higher taxes. Nope.

 

This is the background to the nasty confrontation between teacher Patrick Hayes and Dr. Steve Perry of Hartford, Connecticut. Dr. Perry brought his message about how poverty doesn’t matter, how kids are hurt by their teachers, and how they should be in charter schools and they should get vouchers to get away from teachers’ unions. South Carolina doesn’t have teachers’ unions, but that is beside the point. And of course, he talked about the miracles at his school in Hartford.

 

It is somewhat startling to think that African American families in South Carolina might take up the cause that once belonged to White Citizens Councils in the South, supporting vouchers to avoid desegregation.

 

Here is an audio file of the event.

 

Patrick Hayes had the effrontery to challenge Dr. Perry. Dr. Perry referred to Hayes as a Satan and a blogger (yes, a blogger!).

 

Well, read it for yourself. And ask yourself what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., might say today about those who say that poverty doesn’t matter, that vouchers are necessary to escape public education, and that unions are the enemies of oppressed minorities.

 

Someone has been hoodwinked. But let’s not talk about hoods in South Carolina.

John Thompson, historian and teacher in Oklahoma, has reviewed the work of economists Raj Chetty. You may recall that Chetty, a Harvard professor, was co-author of a study that purported to show that teachers could be evaluated by the test scores of their students. An effective teacher, one who raised test scores, would raise lifetime income, increase high school graduation rates, prevent teen pregnancies, and have lifelong effects on students. Raj and his colleagues John Friedman and Jonah Rockoff were cited on the first page of the New York Times (before the study was peer-reviewed), appeared on the PBS NewsHour, and were hailed by President Obama in his State of the Union speech in 2012. Their study became the #1 talking point for those who thought that using test scores–their rise and fall–would be the best way to identify effective and ineffective teachers. As Professor Friedman told the New York Times, “The message is to fire people sooner rather than later.”

 

Critics thought the findings were fairly modest. Even the Times said:

The average effect of one teacher on a single student is modest. All else equal, a student with one excellent teacher for one year between fourth and eighth grade would gain $4,600 in lifetime income, compared to a student of similar demographics who has an average teacher. The student with the excellent teacher would also be 0.5 percent more likely to attend college.

 

That works out to about $105 a year for a 40-year career, or $2 a week. But the Times then looked at the results in the aggregate and calculated that the aggregate of gains for an entire class would be $266,000 over the lifetimes of the entire class, or millions of dollars in added income when multiplied by millions of classrooms. Pretty great stuff, even though it means only $2 a week for one student.

 

The Obama administration bought into the Chetty-Friedman-Rockoff thesis whole-heartedly. Fire teachers sooner rather than later. Use test scores to find out who is a great teacher, who is a rotten teacher. It all made sense, except that it didn’t work anywhere. The scores bounced around. A teacher who was great one year was ineffective the next year; and vice versa. Teachers were rated based on the scores of students they never taught. Tests became the goal of education rather than the measure. It was a plague of madness that overcame public education across the land, embedded in Race to the Top (2009) and certified by Ivy League professors.

 

Thompson writes:

 

As it becomes more clear that value-added teacher evaluations are headed for the scrap heap of history, true believers in corporate reform continue to respond with the same old soundbites on the ways that their statistical models (VAMs) can be valid and reliable under research conditions. But, they continue to ignore the real issue and offer no evidence that VAMs can be made reliable and valid for evaluating real individuals in real schools.

 

Gates Foundation scholar Dan Goldhaber recently replied to the American Educational Research Association (AERA) statement which “cautions against VAM being used to have a high-stakes, dispositive weight in evaluations.” His protest recalls the special pleading of VAM advocates Raj Chetty, John Friedman, and Jonah Rockoff in reply to the American Statistical Association’s (ASA) 2014 statement warning about the problems with using VAMs for teacher evaluations.

 

Goldhaber criticizes the AERA by citing a couple of studies that use random samples to defend the claim that they can be causally linked to a teacher’s performance. Using random samples makes research easier but it also makes those studies irrelevant to real world policy questions. Goldhaber then cites Chetty et. al and their claim that low-stakes 1990s test scores resulted in the increased income of individuals during the subsequent economic boom in New York City during the 2000s.

 

Interestingly, Chetty’s rebuttal of the ASA cited the same two random sample studies, as well as his own research that was cited by Goldhaber. Like Goldhaber and other value-added proponents, he acknowledged the myriad of problems with value-added evaluations, but added, “School administrators, teachers, and other relevant parties can be trained to understand how to interpret a VAM estimate properly, including measures of precision as well as the assumptions and limitations of VAM.”

 

That raises two other concerns. First, if educators should be trained in the arcane methodologies, assumptions, and limitations of regression studies in order to use VAMs, should economists not be trained in the logistics of schools so they can conduct research that is relevant to education policy? Secondly, even if they ignore the nuts and bolts of schools, isn’t it strange that Chetty and his colleagues ignore economic factors when explaining economic effects? Why are they so sure that education – not economic forces – explains economic outcomes?

 

These questions become particularly interesting when reading Chetty’s web site. If he was really committed to the use of his Big Data methodology to help improve schools and students’ subsequent economic outcomes, would he not engage in a conversation with practitioners, and ground his methods in reality, so information from his models could be used to improve schools? After all, architects run plenty of quantitative structural analyses of their construction projects but they also interview their clients and listen to how they will use their buildings.

 

Chetty could have gone back and learned what he didn’t know about schools before he joined in the social engineering experiment known as school reform. Instead, he is rushing off to promote policies for problems which seem to be equally beyond his realm of knowledge. And, he seems equally uncurious about the new people he wants to “nudge” into better behavior. His method for studying anti-poverty policy is to ignore what actually happens in schools and communities and to “treat behavioral factors like any other modeling decision, such as assuming time-separable or quasi-linear utility.” The goal of his new project is to create incentives so that policy-makers can rid poor people, especially, of their “loss aversion, present bias, mental accounting, [and] inattention” so they will move to better places.

 

I’m not an expert on Chetty’s new The Equality of Economic Opportunity Project but my reading of the evidence is that Robert Putnam, who combines qualitative and quantitative research to document the decline of social mobility, makes a much stronger case than Chetty, who believes social and economic mobility hasn’t declined. It seems to me that Putnam is right and that we must take a generational view in order to show that economic opportunity for the poor has been reduced. I also believe that Derek Thompson nails the case that each generation since the first half of the Baby Boom is seeing an economic deterioration.

 

I can’t help but wondering why Chetty doesn’t stop scurrying around complex social issues, pontificating on simplistic quick fixes, and study issues in depth. He seems more intent on promoting his Big Data methods, and defeating traditional social science, than actually solving real-world problems. Chetty (and other VAM true believers?) appear preoccupied with academic combat against traditional social scientists who still respect falsifiable hypotheses and peer review. Education and child poverty appear to be just the battlegrounds for academic combat with researchers.

 

Traditional school improvement was based on the imperfect process of drawing upon the scientific method to diagnose problems, policy debates, and the imperfect democratic process known as compromise. To do that, educators and researchers studied the history and the nature of the causes and effects of underperformance. Corporate reform sought the opposite. Rather than study and debate the nature of our schools’ shortcomings, problems and solutions, the contemporary reform movement attempted a series of bank shots. Ignoring their actual targets, they sought incentives and disincentives that would prompt others to devise solutions. The job of economists’ regression studies was to suggest rewards and punishments that would make educators improve.

 

An illustration of Chetty’s disdain for evidence-based, collaborative conversations about school improvement is the first graph on his web site. It shows the surge in student test score growth which occurs when a “High VA Teacher Enters,” and replaces a low performer. If Chetty sought to articulate a hypothesis or discuss how his hypothesis, if proven, could improve teacher quality, he would have addressed some issues. But, the graphic resembles a political attack ad more than a presentation of evidence for school improvement.

 

Chetty’s graphic is strangely opaque about what he means by “high VA” teachers or how many of them there are. In fact, those gains he showcased are the educational equivalent of a White Rhinoceros.
Chetty emphasizes the incredible size of his database.  His data spans the school years 1988-1989 through 2008-2009 and covers roughly 2.5 million children in grades 3-8. Because there are 974,686 unique students in the dataset, his Power Points seem impressive. But, it is extremely difficult to find the key number which a traditional social scientist would have volunteered at the beginning of a study. Chetty’s graphs that illustrate such dramatic gains are based on samples as small as 1135. In other words, about 12 to 17 of these top-performing New York City teachers transferred, per year, into low value-added classrooms.
Chetty doesn’t ask why such transfers are so rare. Moreover, he makes it extremely difficult for a reader to learn the most important facts that would prompt that essential question and a constructive discussion of solution. Instead, he indicates that the answer is using VAMs to fire low-performing teachers and, without evidence, he implies that there are enough top 5% teachers who would respond to modest incentives and transfer to those low value-added classrooms. Otherwise, Chetty’s work on transfers might earn him academic awards but it is just theory, irrelevant for real world policy.
Sadly, it looks like Chetty’s new studies are equally simplistic. The problem, he implies, is not that the economic ladder out of poverty is broken. The problem is getting poor families to move from places without opportunity to places where there is opportunity. So, we in Oklahoma City should forget that Supply Side economics incentivized the mass transfer of good-paying jobs to the exurbs. In Oklahoma County, where poor children’s economic opportunity is in the bottom 17% of the nation, we should incentivize the movement of poor families to Cleveland County where social mobility hasn’t declined.
Presumably, the additional good-paying jobs for the influx of poor families would magically appear. In other words, Chetty’s logic on moving to opportunity is the first cousin of his faith that top teachers will flock to the inner city because they want to be evaluated with an algorithm which is biased against inner city teachers.
I wish I didn’t feel compelled to sound so sarcastic. I really do. But, for every complicated question, there is an answer that is quick, simple, and wrong. Why are Chetty et. al so quick to conclude that it is schools – not the totality of market and historical forces – that drive economic outcomes? Even though the market has undermined the futures of poor families, why does he remain convinced that it can fix schools?
And, the inconsistencies of Chetty and other corporate reformers drive me up the wall. He now proclaims, “We find that every year of exposure to a better environment improves a child’s chances of success.” Were he consistent, Chetty might understand that exposure to education environments might improve his chance of studying education in a way that improves his chances of successfully helping students.
Why does Chetty not take the time to understand the environments of poor children, and build better school environments? Why not help create learning environments that would attract high value-added teachers, not drive them out of the profession? Rather than demand that teachers and poor families learn to look at their worlds the way Chetty does, why not listen to the people who he says he wants to help?

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 (communitiesinschools.org) 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.”

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