Archives for category: Poverty

Paul Thomas here reviews many of the public statements of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and finds a common theme: the cause of low test scores is low expectations.

 

If only society, the schools, and parents had higher expectations, no child would be left behind, no child would ever get low test scores, children with disabilities would excel.

 

Embedded in this claim is the strange belief that poverty, hunger, homelessness, racism, and other social maladies have no effect on students’ ability to learn in school.

 

Thomas refers to a list of popular but misguided beliefs that Duncan loves to repeat because they support his narrative of blaming teachers, parents, and schools:

 

In a recent blog post, Jack Schneider identified 10 popular reform claims offered by the current slate of education reformers, including Bill Gates, Michelle Rhee, and Duncan himself:

Claim 1: American teachers need more incentive to work hard….

Claim 2: Schools need disruptive innovation. The status quo is unacceptable….

Claim 3: The public schools are in crisis….

Claim 4: It should be easier to fire bad teachers. Tenure is a problem…

Claim 5: Schools need to teach more technology….

Claim 6: Teachers should be paid for results….

Claim 7: We need more charter schools…

Claim 8: We’re falling behind the rest of the world….

Claim 9: Teacher preparation is a sham….

Claim 10: Teachers only work nine months a year….

 

What do these claims have in common? First, each can be found repeatedly in comments made by Duncan, media reports, and the day-to-day assumptions held by the public. Second, each claim is misleading at best, and false at worst.

 

Obama’s USDOE and Secretary Duncan, however, use these widely accepted though false claims as partisan political distraction, rather than relying on evidence-based cases to target politically volatile and unpopular issues related to poverty, racism, inequity, and the short-comings of the free market. That’s not just a shame, it’s deplorable.

 

Thomas says that the U.S. Department of Education has a “twisted culture inside the USDOE—a culture that maintains a message of high expectations for students, teachers, and schools and thus diverts attention away from the more powerful influence of poverty and inequity in both society and schools.

Yet it seems increasingly evident that the only place where low expectations are the main sources of failure is inside the USDOE itself—specifically with the appointment of Duncan.” Duncan is not the only Secretary of Education who never taught, but he is the only Secretary with the arrogance to chastise teachers for their failures and low expectations, as if he knew how to do their job better than they do. Thomas writes that the USDOE is “a collection of appointees under Obama that lacks the experience, expertise and political will to lead the needed reforms facing U.S. public schools. Once the brief flurry of outrage passes, we must admit that the Obama education agenda will remain one of the greatest failures of the hope and change that Obama once promised.” So long as the USDOE continues to ignore the root cause of poor performance, none of their “reforms” will make any difference.

 

Corporate education reformers often say that poverty is just an excuse for bad teachers. Michelle Rhee said that often, but seven years after she took charge of the D.C. Public schools (and was replaced by her deputy Kaya Henderson), D.C. remains one of the nation’s lowest-scoring districts.

Arne Duncan has often called poverty an excuse. Wendy Kopp and Bill Gates have said that if “we” fix schools first, poverty will take care of itself.

The rest of us are waiting for proof of this claim. One consequence of believing that corporate education reform cures poverty is that none of the 1% feels it necessary to do anything to reduce poverty. Just test more often, adopt Common Core, fire teachers whose students don’t get high test scores, close schools with low scores, and open many more charters.

None of this reduces poverty. But it makes the 1% feel righteous without raising their taxes.

A comment by a reader on this subject, with one correction. The U.S. is #1 in child poverty among advanced nations, not #2. Romania is not an advanced nation; its economic development was repressed by decades of Communist dictatorship.

The reader writes:

“I think it is very difficult to sustain the argument that the US does as much to promote child well-being as many other advanced nations. Most measures as indicated by this report (http://www.oecd.org/els/family/43570328.pdf) don’t appear to be in the US’ favor:

“High overall levels of child well-being are achieved by the Netherlands and Sweden and low levels by the United States and the United Kingdom. Even at the top performing end, both the Netherlands and Sweden have a dimension along which performance is at best only adequate (material well-being for the Netherlands and Family relationships for Sweden). At the bottom, both the United States and the United Kingdom perform worse than the median country on all dimensions.”

“Furthermore, the US’ relative child poverty rate (defined as living in a household that earns less than half of the national median) is extremely high when compared to other developed countries: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/04/15/map-how-35-countries-compare-on-child-poverty-the-u-s-is-ranked-34th/

“Just looking at how we stack up with Australia and Canada should be illustrative given our similar income levels, immigration rates (actually higher in those nations), and shared cultural heritage.”

Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University offers common-sense ideas about closing the achievement gap. She says that testing is less important than teaching. No surprise there.

She reviews an OECD study about teachers. What it shows is that teachers in the U.S. work longer hours under more difficult conditions than teachers in many other nations.

“Now we have international evidence about something that has a greater effect on learning than testing: Teaching. The results of the Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS), released last week by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), offer a stunning picture of the challenges experienced by American teachers, while providing provocative insights into what we might do to foster better teaching — and learning — in the United States.

“In short, the survey shows that American teachers today work harder under much more challenging conditions than teachers elsewhere in the industrialized world. They also receive less useful feedback, less helpful professional development, and have less time to collaborate to improve their work. Not surprisingly, two-thirds feel their profession is not valued by society — an indicator that OECD finds is ultimately related to student achievement….

“Nearly two-thirds of U.S. middle-school teachers work in schools where more than 30 percent of students are economically disadvantaged. This is by far the highest rate in the world, and more than triple the average TALIS rate. The next countries in line after the United States are Malaysia and Chile. Ignored by our current education policies are the facts that one in four American children lives below the poverty line and a growing number are homeless, without regular access to food or health care, and stressed by violence and drug abuse around them. Educators now spend a great deal of their time trying to help children and families in their care manage these issues, while they also seek to close skill gaps and promote learning.

“Along with these challenges, U.S. teachers must cope with larger class sizes (27 versus the TALIS average of 24). They also spend many more hours than teachers in any other country directly instructing children each week (27 versus the TALIS average of 19). And they work more hours in total each week than their global counterparts (45 versus the TALIS average of 38), with much less time in their schedules for planning, collaboration, and professional development. This schedule — a leftover of factory-model school designs of the early 1900s — makes it harder for our teachers to find time to work with their colleagues on creating great curriculum and learning new methods, to mark papers, to work individually with students, and to reach out to parents.”

She offers specific proposals for supporting teachers.

She concludes:

“We cannot make major headway in raising student performance and closing the achievement gap until we make progress in closing the teaching gap. That means supporting children equitably outside as well as inside the classroom, creating a profession that is rewarding and well-supported, and designing schools that offer the conditions for both the student and teacher learning that will move American education forward.”

Jeff Madrick, journalist and economic policy consultant, wrote an important post for the New York Review of Books blog about the inequalities that begin at birth.

Madrick writes:

“Pre-K is not enough…Indeed, two studies completed in 2013 relate neural deterioration directly to poverty. A group of researchers from six universities measured the brain activity of adults who had been poor at age nine and found that the areas that control emotions were physically underdeveloped. A Washington University study found that poor children who are nurtured adequately, thus avoiding constant stress, usually have normally developed brain tissue, while those with less nurturing have less white and grey matter and smaller control centers, such as the hippocampus.

“What’s been discovered is that human beings have a chemical reaction to stress that at first protects them from damage. But the defense is limited. Should a young child, whose brain is still forming, be bombarded by constant stress—from violence at home, lack of food, parental drug abuse, and, not least, chronic lack of attention or nurturing—the overloaded mechanism fails and the brain is adversely affected.”

But poverty and the stresses it causes are not inevitable, Madrick writes:

“What concerns me most, however, is that our political leaders and legislators have until now largely overlooked the connection between poverty, poor educational attainment, and even neural malfunctions—and the extent to which effective poverty reduction itself can correct the problem. Economists Janet Gornick and Markus Jantii analyzed data across nations and concluded that child poverty is far lower in European nations, not because their economy produces higher wages for lower income workers, but because of more robust social programs. Most of these nations, and many in Latin America, for example, provide direct cash allowances for parents with children.

“More and better paying jobs are vital to combating child poverty and the problems it leads to. A full employment economy, with good jobs, is still possible with substantial fiscal stimulus, especially including public investment in infrastructure.

“But social programs are critical. Contrary to the widespread cynicism about social programs and welfare, the US knows how to reduce poverty. As Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities notes, the federal safety net, including Medicaid, Food Stamps, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Child Tax Credit, kept 41 million people out of poverty in 2012, including 9 million children. Without government benefits, today’s poverty rate would be 29 percent. Instead, using the best measures of poverty, which include government transfers and tax credits, the rate has dropped from about 26 percent in the late 1960s to 16 percent today. In other words, the War on Poverty begun in the 1960s worked.”

And he concludes:

“Armed with the unambiguous findings of twenty-first-century neuroscience, we can no longer just tell children raised poor to study harder and find jobs as they grow up. A nation that needs all its citizens to be productive workers, and that promises a fair and dignified life to all, regardless of race or color, must now turn its attention to its enormous pool of poor children.”

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at Columbia University, writes that the increasing inequality in the U.S. is neither inevitable nor necessary. Other nations have experienced economic growth while assuring greater equality. We could as well, but the super-rich have managed to capture control of enough politicians to prevent any legislation that might increase their tax rates and assure a fairer society “with justice for all.”

Stiglitz writes:

“So why has America chosen these inequality-enhancing policies? Part of the answer is that as World War II faded into memory, so too did the solidarity it had engendered. As America triumphed in the Cold War, there didn’t seem to be a viable competitor to our economic model. Without this international competition, we no longer had to show that our system could deliver for most of our citizens.

“Ideology and interests combined nefariously. Some drew the wrong lesson from the collapse of the Soviet system. The pendulum swung from much too much government there to much too little here. Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

“But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of “free” markets and deregulation.

“The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality. In fact, as he recognizes, Mr. Piketty’s argument rests on the ability of wealth-holders to keep their after-tax rate of return high relative to economic growth. How do they do this? By designing the rules of the game to ensure this outcome; that is, through politics.

“So corporate welfare increases as we curtail welfare for the poor. Congress maintains subsidies for rich farmers as we cut back on nutritional support for the needy. Drug companies have been given hundreds of billions of dollars as we limit Medicaid benefits. The banks that brought on the global financial crisis got billions while a pittance went to the homeowners and victims of the same banks’ predatory lending practices. This last decision was particularly foolish. There were alternatives to throwing money at the banks and hoping it would circulate through increased lending. We could have helped underwater homeowners and the victims of predatory behavior directly. This would not only have helped the economy, it would have put us on the path to robust recovery.”

Educators see the results of what Stiglitz describe in the unwillingness by politicians to provide equality of educational opportunity. Our Secretary of Education is a champion of privatization who prefers competition to equity and doesn’t care about segregation. State legislatures are cutting school budgets. Class sizes are growing. Teachers pay for school supplies. Public education is dying in urban districts like Philadelphia and Detroit, as rich white bankers pump money into privatization. Some see public education as a sector ripe for profit and plunder. In some states, such as Ohio, Michigan, and Florida, the for-profit charter industry has captured control of the government and suffers little or no regulation.

Stiglitz concludes:

“The problem of inequality is not so much a matter of technical economics. It’s really a problem of practical politics. Ensuring that those at the top pay their fair share of taxes — ending the special privileges of speculators, corporations and the rich — is both pragmatic and fair. We are not embracing a politics of envy if we reverse a politics of greed. Inequality is not just about the top marginal tax rate but also about our children’s access to food and the right to justice for all. If we spent more on education, health and infrastructure, we would strengthen our economy, now and in the future. Just because you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it again.

“We have located the underlying source of the problem: political inequities and policies that have commodified and corrupted our democracy. It is only engaged citizens who can fight to restore a fairer America, and they can do so only if they understand the depths and dimensions of the challenge. It is not too late to restore our position in the world and recapture our sense of who we are as a nation. Widening and deepening inequality is not driven by immutable economic laws, but by laws we have written ourselves.”

EduShyster explains the back story on the new team that has been assembled to eliminate teacher tenure wherever it still survives.

The lead player in this docudrama is Campbell Brown, a one-time CNN anchor who now works full-time to oust sexual predators from our classrooms. EduShyster says she will be rewarded with more airtime and media FaceTime.

Then there is the ex-Obama communications team, free from their D.C. duties to make war on teachers.

EduShyster reminds us that this will be a PR war, so get ready for the anecdotes about how “bad teachers” ruined someone ‘s life. This, of course, is the civil rights issue of our time, far more important than funding inequity, poverty, or budget cuts.

Best of all, Edushyster prepares us for mass confusion when the PR war begins:

“Is it pronounced *tenYEAR* or *tenYUR*? Why do teachers want to establish a caliphate in upstate New York anyway? Who broke the status quo? And when we fix it, will it still be the status quo? How many anecdotes does it take to make data? What exactly is the Levant? And is there any problem that *grit* can’t solve?”

Here is a good example of taking facts to the public: Frank Breslin, retired teacher, writes an opinion article that explains the flaws of Common Core and standardized testing, as well as teacher evaluation based on flawed tests.

A coalition of billionaires, millionaires, corporations, and hedge fund managers have decided that the best way to cure poverty is to fire teachers whose students don’t get higher test scores. This coalition–whose leaders include Arne Duncan, Michelle Rhee, ALEC, and others associated with corporate reform, know that it is lots cheaper to blame teachers than to do anything that will really reduce poverty.

Robert Reich may not be aware of this strategy to reduce poverty by firing teachers.

He here describes three of the “biggest right-wing lies” about poverty.

They are, first, the belief that economic growth will cure poverty. Our nation has experienced economic growth, but the benefits have enriched those at the top, not the bottom.

Second is the belief that jobs reduce poverty. Jobs are good, says Reich, but there is now a growing number of working poor because of poverty-level wages.

Third is the belief that people are poor because they lack ambition (or grit). But there is no evidence that the poor are responsible for their poverty. Reich says we are one of the few nations that under invests in schools that enroll poor children:

“America is one of only three advanced countries that spends less on the education of poorer children than richer ones, according to a study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

“Among the 34 O.E.C.D. nations, only in the United States, Israel and Turkey do schools serving poor neighborhoods have fewer teachers and crowd students into larger classrooms than do schools serving more privileged students. In most countries, it’s just the reverse: Poor neighborhoods get more teachers per student.”

Other nations have figured out how to reduce poverty. We have not, and our society suffers a loss of talent because of writing off so many people.

Peter Greene says that corporate reformers have discovered the secret to generating an endless supply of “ineffective” teachers: just keep proclaiming that teachers are ineffective if their students get low scores.

“In the wake of Vergara, we’ve repeatedly heard an old piece of reformster wisdom: Poor students are nearly twice as likely as their wealthier peers to have ineffective, or low-performing, teachers. This new interpretation of “ineffective” or “low-performing” guarantees that there will always be an endless supply of ineffective teachers.

“The new definition of “ineffective teacher” is “teacher whose students score poorly on test.”

“Add to that the assumption that a student only scores low on a test because of the student had an ineffective teacher.

“You have now created a perfect circular definition. And the beauty of this is that in order to generate the statistics tossed around in the poster above, you don’t even have to evaluate teachers!”

And he adds:

“You can have people trade places all day — you will always find roughly the same distribution of slow/fast, wet/dry. good/bad vision. Because what you are fixing is not the source of your problem. It’s like getting a bad meal in a restaurant and demanding that a different waiter bring it to you.”

In this article, veteran journalist Dale Mezzacappa reviews the tumult in Philadelphia and interviews people who have known the issues for 20 years or more. Given the high poverty in the district and the state’s neglect, not much has changed for the better.

Mezzacappa says there are more choices than ever. But the district is in terrible trouble:

“The state took over the District’s governance. Charter schools proliferated. Dozens of neighborhood schools were closed, including such landmarks as the 99-year-old Germantown High.

“Despite the state takeover, the District’s financial condition has only become more desperate.

“State and federal pressure to intervene in schools with consistently subpar performance mounted; standardized testing became the major driver of school rankings. “

“All these changes have happened within larger shifts – demographic, political, social, and economic. Philadelphia has become the country’s most impoverished big city, with 13 percent of residents – an astonishing 200,000 people – living in deep poverty, or on less than $9,700 for a household of three.”

“As income and wealth inequality have worsened, the dividing lines in this region by race and income are starker than ever. Philadelphia school enrollment is mostly Black and Hispanic and low-income, while the surrounding districts are mostly White and middle- or high-income. Spending gaps between wealthier and poorer districts have never been bigger. Philadelphia schools struggle harder to overcome the effects of concentrated poverty – all while the District’s funding base has crumbled.”

Now charters and district schools compete for limited funds. Schools are stripped to bare essentials.

Read what the veterans say.

Lots of reform. Not much progress.

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