Archives for category: Poverty

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:

Fred LeBrun is rapidly emerging as the most astute education writer in New York State. He writes for the Albany Times-Union so there is a good chance that the Governor’s staff and the legislative staff read what he writes. I hope so.

In this article, he skewers Cuomo’s plan to put struggling schools into “receivership.” That’ll fix them. Millions will be burned while the state ignores the root causes of low-performance in school: poverty. It seems that all the schools on the Governor’s list are in poor communities. Black and brown children will be Cuomo’s playthings, as teachers and principals and other staff are fired and new ones brought in, who will also be fired.

It is painful to read. You know that millions of dollars will be spent on consultants, and by the time the money is all gone, there will be more schools to hand over to Cuomo’s hedge fund buddies to turn into low-performing charters.

LeBrun writes:

While New York public education struggles to resolve an idiotic dependence on standardized tests, waiting in the wings is another poorly-thought-out plan threatening more harm than benefit: school receivership.

So far you haven’t heard a great deal about it because the dramatic consequences are a year off, but you will. And, unlike the statewide disgust over Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s testing obsession that affects every school district and has gotten a lot of press, the threat of receivership at the moment hangs over only 144 “struggling” schools — not districts — all of them among the state’s poorest. Of these, 20 are labeled by the state Education Department as “persistently struggling” because of the length of time they’ve been “struggling” and need to turn themselves around in just a year, or else. The rest have two years.

In the Capital Region, only Albany’s William S. Hackett Middle School is on the persistent list, but if a handful of schools in Albany, Troy, Schenectady and Amsterdam, including Albany High School, don’t show appropriate progress, they will join Hackett next year.

What happens now for schools like Hackett is as complicated as directions to Atlantis, and about as reliable.

Albany school Superintendent Marguerite Vanden Wyngaard becomes the acting school receiver, with broad powers, for the next year. A required community engagement team composed of the principal, staff, teachers, parents and even students from Hackett will forward recommendations for improvements to the superintendent, who will use them to help create her intervention plan to turn the school around. The plan is due at State Ed for approval by the end of this month. Over the next year, the community team will look over her shoulder as the intervention plan unfolds.

In the meantime, the school receiver can do pretty much what she wants (with approval from State Ed): change the curriculum, replace teachers and administrators, increase salaries, reallocate the budget, expand the school day or year, turn Hackett into a community school, even convert to a charter school. Although there’s enormous rigmarole attached to much of it, including going charter. Remember, the receiver in this case remains the superintendent for the rest of the district, so she is answerable for any wild and crazy ideas to the voters through the school board.

Anyway, to help start the process, Vanden Wyngaard can apply for a grant from a $75 million pot set up by the state, although she’ll have plenty of competition from other “persistently struggling” school receivers in Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Yonkers, New York City and elsewhere. She has a year to do her turnaround. Or the hammer falls and we are off to Neverland.

Then the state would appoint an independent receiver who is answerable only to State Ed. At which time the process of community involvement, an intervention plan, and the rest are repeated, only now change is apt to be far more radical, with wholesale staff firings. An independent receiver can be a person from an approved list that doesn’t yet exist, or an institution or charter school. Although charter schools upstate have been mostly a bust, as Albany well knows. Middle school charters in Albany could not save themselves, let alone others.

So. If you’re getting the idea that this receivership idea seems like a plan designed to fail and thus prepare the way for school privatizers to make a bundle, move over.

For one thing, the state has yet to give school receivers a clear idea of what would constitute appropriate progress to avoid an independent receiver. Presumably, we’ll know by the end of the month when intervention plans have to be approved. What is expected and how reasonable it is will answer a great deal.

Because just a year to show any marked improvement on any front for a school like Hackett, no matter how thoughtfully considered, broadly accepted by the community, or earnestly pursued, is absurd. Real change needs time for all stakeholders to become invested. Teachers at Hackett today are still complaining that attendance and discipline as major problems, just as it was when I substituted there, oh, a half century ago. These are, after all, manifestations of the poverty and despair underlying most of Hackett’s problems; they don’t go away. They are the community’s problems, not just Hackett’s.

And for any turnaround plan to stand a chance of success, it will need tons of money and sustained financing for years. Curiously, while the law creating school receiverships is rich in the detail of who can be fired and not rehired, on punitive measures, and what extraordinary powers a receiver may exercise, it does not specify who will pay for an independent receiver.

Keeping in mind, always, that the state has an abysmal record in meeting its education commitments. At the moment, the state owes New York City more than $2 billion in aid; Albany more than $37 million; Schenectady nearly $60 million.

So there you have it. A boondoggle in the making. Cuomo forced us to accept a mandate of an independent receiver for certain schools labeled struggling by his cohorts at State Ed, but so far there isn’t a hint of state money to pay for it. Can you imagine what that burden will do for school budgets like Albany’s?

Oh, and it gets better. Amusingly, the concept of “struggling” public schools is defined by the educational establishment as the bottom 5 percent of all state schools based on a host of criteria. Which means no matter how much struggling schools improve, there will always be 5 percent at the bottom who potentially need a receiver.

What a surprise. • 518-454-5453

Paul Karrer teaches fifth grade in Castroville Elementary School in Southern California, where most of the children are poor. He writes here about the irrelevance of standards to the children he teaches, other than to label them as failures.

He writes:

“The latest education mantra, chant, and canard thrust upon the herds of educators before they are joyously led to the steep walls of the cliff is … “high standards.”

“As with most populist war cries, initially it seems obvious that the maxim is without a doubt unarguable correct. Who, for example, could make any headway promoting the opposite chant? “I’m for low standards.”

“No one.

“But what happens if the mantra is unnecessary? What if the chant rings untrue? How can one fight such a hypnotic zombie tide?”

Karrer decries the idea that “high standards” will solve the problems of his students:

“It is a bamboozle. A fraud. Snake oil sold as gold in the guise of a false solution to the wrong problem.

“Why, pray tell, does the following real hard fact exist? Carmel’s education scores are high, Monterey’s are nearly as high, and North Monterey’s scores are the lowest. Is it because of standards?


“The answer is parent income and poverty. Wealthy cities have children with wealthy outcomes. Desperate communities have desperate outcomes. Nothing to do with higher standards in this place or that.

“The real issues in communities of poverty are: unemployment, underemployment, lack of entrepreneurial traditions, living hand-to-mouth, early birthing, generational established gang influence, lack of printed matter in households, parental incarceration, second-language issues, lack of medical care, drug and alcohol abuse, mental illness, trauma, etc.

“Many kids in areas of high poverty are in survival mode. Before they can even focus on a computer screen, get to school on time or even entertain the idea of completing homework – they need wraparound services – doctors, nurses, psychologists, therapists. Smaller classes would help too.

“High standards are a sickening joke – a money-making bandwagon. A distraction from what is needed. Once again a top-down phony solution.”

No reformer would agree with Karrer. They would say he has low expectations. Maybe he is a “bad teacher.”

Maybe he is right.

Wendy Lecker, civil rights attorney, notes that the release of Common Core test scores proved the adage that the tests measure family income.

“Decades of testing evidence show that the only stable correlation that exists, whether it is the CMTs or the SATs and likely the SBACs, is between test scores and wealth. Researchers such as Sean Reardon at Stanford note that wealthy parents not only can provide basic stability, nutrition and health care for their children, but also tutoring and enrichment that gives affluent children an edge over poorer children.

“The wealth advantage extends beyond test scores. Two studies, by St. Louis Federal Reserve and by the Boston Federal Reserve, demonstrate that family wealth is a determining factor in life success. The St. Louis report, published in August, revealed a racial wealth gap among college graduates. A college degree does not protect African-Americans and Latinos from economic crises as it does for whites and Asians. Employment discrimination figures into the disparity, but a major role is played by family wealth. Without a safety net of family assets, graduates of color must make more risky loan and other financial decisions. Last year’s Boston Fed study noted that wealthy high school drop-outs stay in the top economic rung as often as poor college graduates remain in the bottom economic rung. As a Washington Post article put it, rich kids who do everything wrong are better off than poor kids who do everything right. These reports, coupled with the fact that most job openings in the United States are for low-skilled workers, expose the uncomfortable truth that education is not the great equalizer.”

Instead of providing poor kids with smaller classes and other supports, we spend billions on testing.

“Education reformers deflect attention from the supports poor kids need and tell us that all kids have to do is develop some “grit” to succeed. In his best-selling book, “How Children Succeed,” Paul Tough claims there is “no antipoverty tool we can provide for disadvantaged young people that will be more valuable than the character strengths” like grit. Connecticut policy makers are trying to develop tests to measure the degree of “grit” our kids have. We are even told that if students have enough “grit” to get high test scores, our economy will be more competitive….

“Robber-baron education reformers such as Gates fight to protect their wealth to pass on their success to their children. For other people’s children their message is clear, as teacher/blogger Joe Bower remarked: “Let ’em eat grit.””

Emma Brown of the Washington Post reports a dramatic increase in student poverty rates and increased segregation of the poorest students since the “Great Recession” of 2008.

The data are supplied by a nonprofit called Edbuild.

It includes a stunning comparison between maps of the United States, showing student poverty, in 2006 and 2013.

Student poverty has increased most in the South and the MidWest.

New Mexico saw a huge increase in student poverty, from half its students to 87%.

The state that has seen the most growth in student poverty is Florida.

Schools and teachers, of course, will be blamed and expected to cure what is a structural economic problem.

The Common Core and rigorous tests will not fix poverty.

This is an appalling commentary on what matters most in the United States today.

Paul Thomas marks the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by looking at Charleston, South Carolina, a coastal city similar to New Orleans but without the devastating hurricane. Proponents of the “New Orleans Model” or the “New Orleans Miracle” imply that school choice is itself a solution to the problems of racism and poverty. School districts across the South are proposing ways to be like New Orleans, without a public school system or with full choice.

But Thomas shows that school choice is a diversion from the root causes of low academic performance.

A large body of research finds that:

Private, public, and charter schools have about the same range of measurable student outcomes, regardless of the school type and strongly correlated with the socioeconomic status of the child’s home. (See this discussion of “charterness.”)

Research on school choice has shown mixed results at best, but even when some choice has shown promise of, for example, raising test scores for black, brown, and poor students, those increased scores are linked to selectivity, attrition, and extended school days/years—none of which have anything to do with the consequences of choice and all of which expose those “gains” as false success.

School choice, notably charter schools, has been strongly linked with increasing racial and socioeconomic inequity: increased segregation, inequitable disciplinary policies and outcomes.

SC advocacy for charter schools as the newest school choice commitment fails to acknowledge that charter schools in the state are overwhelmingly about the same and often worse than comparable public schools (see analysis of 2011 and 2013 data here), and the South Carolina Public Charter School District is among the top four worst districts in the state for racially inequitable discipline with blacks constituting about 19% of the enrollment but over 50% of suspensions/expulsions.

The research on school choice does not support the claims made by SCPC [a free-market think tank], and the rhetoric is also deeply flawed.

School choice advocates often fall back on “poor children deserve the same choices that rich children enjoy.”

However, several problems exist within this seemingly logical assertion.

The greatest flaw is suggesting that affluent and mostly white affluent children are thriving because of choice is itself a lie, a mask for the reality that the key to their success is their wealth and privilege. Being born into a wealthy family trumps educational attainment, and white privilege trumps educational attainment by blacks (see here and here).

In its most disturbing form, then, school choice advocacy is a distraction from the consequences of racism and poverty, both of which are reflected in and perpetuated by the education system.

All the links are included in his article. Read it.

Prachi Srivastava, a professor in the School of International Development and Global Studies at the University of Ottawa, is an expert on the subject of low-fee private schooling. She writes here on the Oxfam blog in response to The Economist’s paean of praise to for-profit private schooling in poor countries. She reviews the research and says that The Economist oversimplified the subject. The research does not support the simplistic view that the private sector is invariably better than the public sector as a provider of education in poor countries. The findings are in fact nuanced.

And this problem remains, after all the research is reviewed:

The growth of the low-fee private sector has been widely attributed to dysfunctional state schools. But state failure should not be tacitly accepted, certainly in light of the evidence. The fact remains that the majority of the poorest, most disadvantaged children in poor countries continue to access dysfunctional state schools. And all of us, including the private sector, have a role to play in making sure they get better.

Edward Placke is Superintendent of the Greenburgh-North Castle Unified School District, which serves students from urban areas who are primarily of African, Caribbean and Spanish heritage. All students are eligible for the federal free lunch program and are identified as disabled, primarily emotionally disabled. He wants the public to know that these students have been shamefully neglected in the state budget, for years.

This is his message:


Shame on New York’s Governor Andrew Cuomo. Shame on New York state’s legislators.
Once again the children with the most significant disabilities who live in our most impoverished communities throughout New York are totally ignored by our representatives. These are the students who their respective community school
districts have been unable to educate due to their significant academic and behavioral challenges. I use this term representatives lightly in that our elected officials only represent major contributors, special interest groups and benefactors; donors who ensure their reelection; contributors who unashamedly advocate for privatization of our public schools, contributors who advocate the dismantling of our unions; public rhetoric that demeans our public school teachers and administrators ;contributors who have little or no training in education and; representatives who support an educational reform movement that is ill conceived and will prove ineffective for students of all abilities.
The New York State assembly, senate and the Governor’s office represent all that is insensitive, corrupt and self-serving in our state and country, particularly around the students we are blessed to serve; those with significant disabilities.
Their latest demonstration of the aforementioned disturbing variables is their inability to pass a law this session that would provide alternative educational programs, which include the 853 schools and the public special act school districts (and I underscore the public nature of the public special act school districts), with a minimal annual increase in funding. Unlike other public school districts in New York, these vital educational programs as of this time will be funded at prior year rates for current year costs. The sustainability of these programs that consistently produce outstanding outcomes are in jeopardy of continuing to educate New York’s most vulnerable students. It should be noted that historically funding for these educational programs have at times been frozen which has caused enormous fiscal stress.
Shame on our so called representatives. Despite their outright disregard for our student bodies my advocacy and the advocacy of those with like minds will not rest until the education we offer is comparable to community public schools. Our mission to ensure our students successfully cross “The Bridge To Adulthood” and overcome the many societal obstacles they had no part in creating. I urge our representatives to rethink their position on this bill and join me in advocating for this highly deserving population of students.
Ed Placke,Ed.D.
Greenburgh North Castle UFSD

EduShyster interviewed Seth Rau, a prominent young reformer in Nevada, about the Silver State’s “universal choice” or “Education Savings Account” program, which gives every student $5,700 to spend in the school of their choice.

Rau is policy director for the reform organization “Nevada Succeeds.” He is an alum of Teach for America; he taught for two years in a charter school. The conservative Thomas B. Fordham named him the “Wisest Wonk” in the nation for a paper in which he said that schools should be regulated lightly, like brothels in Nevada.

Despite his sterling reform bona fides, Rau is not your typical reformer. He does not celebrate the great successes of charters and vouchers. He is honest about the flaws of both, including the ESA that was recently adopted in Nevada.

EduShyster asked where should a student with a backpack full of $5,700 go to school.

He answered that the charters in Nevada were nothing to brag about:

In Nevada, the miracle of the high-performing seats that you’re so familiar with in Massachusetts never happened. For the most part our district charter schools are strongly underperforming. There’s also been a heavy reliance on virtual charter schools. More than a quarter of the students who attend charters attend virtual schools, which have been a disaster for many kids. For example, Nevada Virtual Academy was the largest charter school in the state and had a 32.5% graduation rate in 2011-2012.

The charter sector is growing, he said, especially in suburbs where students are high-performing. The charter scores are rising because “they’re not serving students who are actually in poverty.”

When EduShyster asks about access to private schools, Rau says that those schools are for the children of the 1%. So who will benefit from the ESA-style vouchers?

Rau answers:

I’ve heard people extolling Education Savings Accounts, saying that this is going to be the great solution to poverty, but equity is not the goal of the ESA. This bill will benefit middle class and upper middle class constituencies….That’s going to be the majority of people who use the ESA program. They’ll come from our limited middle class or upper middle class who are dissatisfied with the school district or with charters for one reason or another.

I am not ready to nominate Rau to the honor roll yet, as I save that honor for champions of public education, but I happily name him the “Wisest Wonk” of the reform movement for his willingness to tell the truth about the poor performance of charters and to admit that the ESA (vouchers) won’t help the majority of poor kids. If other reformers owned up to basic facts as Rau does, we would have a different conversation about education in this country.

David Berliner, distinguished educational researcher, has assembled the facts about the powerful influence of poverty and inequality on students. Until now, the linked article has been behind a paywall. It is now available to all.


Here is the background for the article:


This paper arises out of frustration with the results of school reforms carried out over the past few decades. These efforts have failed. They need to be abandoned. In their place must come recognition that income inequality causes many social problems, including problems associated with education. Sadly, compared to all other wealthy nations, the USA has the largest income gap between its wealthy and its poor citizens. Correlates associated with the size of the income gap in various nations are well described in Wilkinson & Pickett (2010), whose work is cited throughout this article. They make it clear that the bigger the income gap in a nation or a state, the greater the social problems a nation or a state will encounter. Thus it is argued that the design of better economic and social policies can do more to improve our schools than continued work on educational policy independent of such concerns.


He writes:


What does it take to get politicians and the general public to abandon misleading ideas, such as, “Anyone who tries can pull themselves up by the bootstraps,” or that “Teachers are the most important factor in determining the achievement of our youth”? Many ordinary citizens and politicians believe these statements to be true, even though life and research informs us that such statements are usually not true.


Certainly people do pull themselves up by their bootstraps and teachers really do turn around the lives of some of their students, but these are more often exceptions, and not usually the rule. Similarly, while there are many overweight, hard-drinking, cigarette-smoking senior citizens, no one seriously uses these exceptions to the rule to suggest that it is perfectly all right to eat, drink, and smoke as much as one wants. Public policies about eating, drinking, and smoking are made on the basis of the general case, not the exceptions to those cases. This is not so in education.


For reasons that are hard to fathom, too many people believe that in education the exceptions are the rule. Presidents and politicians of both parties are quick to point out the wonderful but occasional story of a child’s rise from poverty to success and riches. They also often proudly recite the heroic, remarkable, but occasional impact of a teacher or a school on a child. These stories of triumph by individuals who were born poor, or success by educators who changed the lives of their students, are widely believed narratives about our land and people, celebrated in the press, on television, and in the movies. But in fact, these are simply myths that help us feel good to be American. These stories of success reflect real events, and thus they are certainly worth studying and celebrating so we might learn more about how they occur (cf. Casanova, 2010). But the general case is that poor people stay poor and that teachers and schools serving impoverished youth do not often succeed in changing the life chances for their students.


America’s dirty little secret is that a large majority of poor kids attending schools that serve the poor are not going to have successful lives. Reality is not nearly as comforting as myth. Reality does not make us feel good. But the facts are clear. Most children born into the lower social classes will not make it out of that class, even when exposed to heroic educators. A simple statistic illustrates this point: In an age where college degrees are important for determining success in life, only 9% of low-income children will obtain those degrees (Bailey & Dynarski, 2011). And that discouraging figure is based on data from before the recent recession that has hurt family income and resulted in large increases in college tuition. Thus, the current rate of college completion by low-income students is probably lower than suggested by those data. Powerful social forces exist to constrain the lives led by the poor, and our nation pays an enormous price for not trying harder to ameliorate these conditions.


Because of our tendency to expect individuals to overcome their own handicaps, and teachers to save the poor from stressful lives, we design social policies that are sure to fail since they are not based on reality. Our patently false ideas about the origins of success have become drivers of national educational policies. This ensures that our nation spends time and money on improvement programs that do not work consistently enough for most children and their families, while simultaneously wasting the good will of the public (Timar & Maxwell-Jolly, 2012). In the current policy environment we often end up alienating the youth and families we most want to help, while simultaneously burdening teachers with demands for success that are beyond their capabilities.


Berliner then proceeds to eviscerate the assumptions and theories that undergird the failed policies of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Most politicians share these failed ideas and support these failed policies. Berliner brings research and knowledge to the issue and shows that there is no debate. On one hand is reality, based in research and experience; on the other is ideology backed by money and power.


The conclusion: The so-called “reformers” are hurting children. They are undermining American public education. They are ruining education. They should inform themselves and work to eliminate the sources of inequality and poverty and poor academic performance.




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