Archives for category: Poverty

How many times have you heard people like Bill Gates, Arne Duncan, Joel Klein (remember him?) and other so-called reformers say that poverty doesn’t matter, that poverty is an excuse for poor teaching?

I have always believed that poverty imposes tremendous burdens on students and their families: hunger, homelessness, lack of medical care, illness, etc.

The best evidence of the difference that poverty makes is SAT scores. The poorest kids have the lowest scores, the most affluent have the highest. The difference from bottom to top is nearly 400 points. To be exact, it is 398 points.

The Wall Street Journal suggests a new name for the SAT: the Student Affluence Test.

What does the SAT measure? Family income and family education.

Those with vast resources of their own probably think that poverty is a personal defect rather than the inevitable result of an inequitable tax system.

Robert Reich clearly explains the importance of poverty on educational achievement.

He writes (see his article for the links to sources):

“American kids are getting ready to head back to school. But the schools they’re heading back to differ dramatically by family income.

“Which helps explain the growing achievement gap between lower and higher-income children.

“Thirty years ago, the average gap on SAT-type tests between children of families in the richest 10 percent and bottom 10 percent was about 90 points on an 800-point scale. Today it’s 125 points.

“The gap in the mathematical abilities of American kids, by income, is one of widest among the 65 countries participating in the Program for International Student Achievement.

“On their reading skills, children from high-income families score 110 points higher, on average, than those from poor families. This is about the same disparity that exists between average test scores in the United States as a whole and Tunisia.

“The achievement gap between poor kids and wealthy kids isn’t mainly about race. In fact, the racial achievement gap has been narrowing.

“It’s a reflection of the nation’s widening gulf between poor and wealthy families. And also about how schools in poor and rich communities are financed, and the nation’s increasing residential segregation by income.”

Because property taxes supply about 42% of school funding, schools in poor neighborhoods never have the resources of SCHOLS in affluent communities. Many states cut their school budgets since the Great Recession of 2008-09 and never restored what they cut. In poor communities, the schools must make do with larger classes, a narrowed curriculum, and often no arts or librarians, and not enough social workers, guidance counselors, psychologists, teaching assistants, and other support staff. And of course, despite their tight budgets, they must spend more on testing and test preparation.

Reich points out, “The wealthiest highest-spending districts are now providing about twice as much funding per student as are the lowest-spending districts, according to a federal advisory commission report. In some states, such as California, the ratio is more than three to one.”

“As a result of all this, the United States is one of only three, out of 34 advanced nations surveyed by the OECD, whose schools serving higher-income children have more funding per pupil and lower student-teacher ratios than do schools serving poor students (the two others are Turkey and Israel).

“Other advanced nations do it differently. Their national governments provide 54 percent of funding, on average, and local taxes account for less than half the portion they do in America. And they target a disproportionate share of national funding to poorer communities.

“As Andreas Schleicher, who runs the OECD’s international education assessments, told the New York Times, “the vast majority of OECD countries either invest equally into every student or disproportionately more into disadvantaged students. The U.S. is one of the few countries doing the opposite.”

The U.S, under the complementary policies of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, pretends that more and more testing will improve achievement, but after nearly 15 years of high-stakes accountability, it should be obvious that these policies have failed.

The U.S., encouraged by President Obama, Secretary Duncan, and a bipartisan mix of governors and legislatures, imagines that school choice–charters and vouchers–will close the achievement gaps and compensate for the unequal funding of schools in poor and affluent neighborhoods. No other nation in the world is pursuing so foolish a path. If anything, school choice exacerbates segregation, and there is no evidence that it leads to better education for the nearly one-quarter of the nation’s children who live in poverty. Advocates of choice point to anecdotes, to one school, or one charter chain, to show that they did get higher test scores, but no one can identify an entire school district where choice has obliterated the effects of poverty. Even the anecdotal evidence of a successful charter, charter chain, or voucher school has to be carefully scrutinized for attrition and other statistical legerdemain.

One need not be cynical to conclude that choice through charters and vouchers has become a means by which wealthy and powerful policy elites change the subject and avoid talking about inequality of resources. To quote Reich, “Money isn’t everything, obviously. But how can we pretend it doesn’t count? Money buys the most experienced teachers, less-crowded classrooms, high-quality teaching materials, and after-school programs.”

There is no way around the conclusion that poor kids need what affluent kids expect and get: smaller classes, experienced teachers, well-resourced classrooms, beautiful facilities, after-school programs, medical care, and a full curriculum.

Paul Karrer, who teaches in Castroville, California, writes a scorching review of what is laughingly called “reform.”

He begins:

“Arne Duncan and his patron President Barack Obama have gotten themselves in a bit of an educational bind. Big news came out of the White House on Aug. 21 but a lot of America missed it. It seems a collision course of: 1. sunsetting of the year 2014 and the imbecilic impossible fatwa of No Child Left Behind (the obscenity of schools held accountable for testing without a morsel of input for poverty); and 2. a large push by teacher unions to dethrone he of the basketball — Sir Arne Duncan.”

So Duncan made his statement about testing “sucking the oxygen” out of teaching, a typical Duncanism in which he denounces the policies he promote and still enforces.

Says Karrer of Duncan’s fancy step:

“Is it a complete flip flop? No, it is a little greasy middle-of-the-road weaseling meant to gain favor from Obama’s once-upon-a-time education supporters and to patch the rebellious hemorrhaging of his pet bamboozle Race To The Top and its ugly stepsister Common Core. Ever since Obama initiated his slash and burn policy regarding public education with pro-privatization, the green light to pro-charter corporations, his relationship with publishing-testing companies, and his knee in the groin and knife in the backs of teachers with rigorous evaluations based on kids’ test scores, he’s been trusted about as much as a pedophile at a playground by those who once-upon-a-halo included him in their sacred prayers.”

Karrer says time is running out for the Age of Test and Punish. More and more people are speaking up and the public is catching on to the failure of test, test, test. The momentum is growing. Time is running out.

Inda Schaenen is an eighth grade English language arts teacher at Normandy Middle School in Ferguson, Missouri. She writes in Education Week about how students were affected by the death of Michael Brown and how she as a teacher was affected.

School started nine days after the shooting.

“Even before the shooting and the dramatic aftermath broadcast around the world, our district was accustomed to being and bearing bad news. Normandy is a poor, predominantly African-American community beset by challenges in housing, employment, and access to social, emotional, and physical health care.

“In January 2013, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education stripped the Normandy school system of its accreditation. The district consequently lost close to 25 percent of its students (and related education funding) to a transfer program that was upheld by the Missouri Supreme Court. Then, on July 1 of this year, the state board of education officially took over the Normandy district; meanwhile, the transfer program’s fate continues to play out in the state courts….

“I was assigned to teach 8th grade language arts; I now work in circumstances that daily, even hourly, challenge the most seasoned of the seasoned veterans. Middle school teaching is a new experience for me, and my learning curve is beyond steep; it’s a cliff. In rock-climbing terms, I am “crack climbing”-locating available seams, trying any grip, using all of who I am to gain purchase during my ascent. I am working 18 hours a day.”

The tragedy is the background and often in the foreground of school.

She writes:

“Will I be able to make what happens in my classroom so compelling that these children will feel it’s worth their time to come in and take a seat alongside the 32 others in my classroom?

“Now, factor in the shooting, followed by the protests, the looting, the hyper-militarized reaction to the protests and looting, and the local reaction to the reaction. Many of our students showed up at school traumatized; teachers, too. The granddaughter of one of my colleagues was related to Michael Brown. Another staff member was his great-aunt. In many ways, north St. Louis County is one community….

“Since Aug. 9, there is the unspoken but ever-present awareness, especially among the boys, that life can end in a flash, even for the kids-like Michael Brown-who manage to navigate the system and graduate…..

“Over and over, I assure my students that I will not leave. That I am here for them. That principals and teachers are working together to figure out how to get our school right, or at least more right…..

Are we as a society willing to address the needs of these children, these communities? The answer seems to be no. We want them to have higher scores, and the state will punish their teachers if they don’t get higher scores. But we refuse to address or acknowledge the conditions in which they live, or our obligation to change them.”

Anthony Cody was not heartened by Marc Tucker’s vision of a new accountability system with fewer tests. In this post, he explains why. If ever there was a need for close reading, he believes, this is it.

Cody writes:

“Tucker’s plan is confusing. In a proposal in which accountability remains closely tied to a set of high stakes tests, Tucker cites the “Failure of Test-based Accountability,” and eloquently documents how this approach doomed NCLB.

“Tucker speaks about the professionalization of teaching, and points out how teaching has been ravaged by constant pressure to prepare for annual tests. But his proposal still seems wedded to several very questionable premises.

“First, while he blames policymakers for the situation, he seems to accept that the struggles faced by our schools are at least partly due to the inadequacy of America’s teachers. I know of no objective evidence that would support this indictment.

“Second, he argues that fewer, “higher quality” tests will somehow rescue us from their oppressive qualities. He also suggests, as did Duncan in 2010, that we can escape the “narrowing of the curriculum” by expanding the subject matter that would be tested.

“It is worth noting that many of the Asian countries that do so well on international test contests likewise have fewer tests. This chart shows that Shanghai, Japan and Korea all have only three big tests during the K12 years. However, because these tests have such huge stakes attached to them, the entire system revolves around them, and students’ lives and family incomes are spent on constant test preparation, in and out of school.

“Third, and this is the most fundamental problem, is that Tucker suggests that the economic future of our students will only be guaranteed if we educate them better. Tucker writes:

“Outsourcing of manufacturing and services to countries with much lower labor costs has combined with galloping automation to eliminate an ever-growing number of low-skilled and semi-skilled jobs and jobs involving routine work.

“The result is that a large and growing proportion of young people leaving high school with just the basic skills can no longer look forward to a comfortable life in the middle class, but will more likely face a future of economic struggle.

“This does not represent a decline from some standard that high school graduates used to meet. It is as high as any standard the United States has ever met. And it is wholly inadequate now. It turns out, then, that we are now holding teachers accountable for student performance we never expected before, a kind and quality of performance for which the present education system was never designed. That is manifestly unfair.”

“Tucker then repeats what has become the basic dogma of education reform. The economy of the 21st century demands our students be educated to much higher levels so we can effectively compete with our international rivals. Education — and ever better education to ever higher standards — is the key to restoring the middle class.”

But Cody objects:

“I do not believe the economy of the 21st century is waiting for some more highly educated generation, at which time middle class jobs will materialize out of thin air.

“Corporations are engaged in a systemic drive to cut the number of employees at all levels. When Microsoft laid off 18,000 skilled workers, executives made it clear that expenses – meaning employees, must be minimized. Profits require that production be lean. There is no real shortage of people with STEM degrees.

“On the whole, it is still an advantage for an individual to be well educated. But the idea that education is some sort of limiting factor on our economic growth is nonsense. And the idea that the future of current and future graduates will be greatly improved if they are better educated is likewise highly suspect.

“Bill Gates recently acknowledged in an interview at the American Enterprise Institute, “capitalism in general, over time, will create more inequality and technology, over time, will reduce demand for jobs particularly at the lower end of the skill set.”

“This is the future we face until there is a fundamental economic realignment. Fewer jobs. Continued inequality and greater concentration of wealth.”

Cody argues for a different vision, in which accountability goes far beyond teachers and schools:

“For far too long educators have accepted the flagellations of one accountability system after another, and time has come to say “enough.”

“We need to learn (and teach) the real lesson of NCLB – and now the Common Core. The problem with NCLB was not with the *number* of tests, nor with when the tests were given, nor with the subject matter on the tests, or the format of the tests, or the standards to which the tests were aligned.

“The problem with NCLB was that it was based on a false premise, that somehow tests can be used to pressure schools into delivering equitable outcomes for students. This approach did not work, and as we are seeing with Common Core, will not work, no matter how many ways you tinker with the tests.

“The idea that our education system holds the key to our economic future is a seductive one for educators. It makes us seem so important, and can be used to argue for investments in our schools. But this idea carries a price, because if we accept that our economic future depends on our schools, real action to address fundamental economic problems can be deferred. We can pretend that somehow we are securing the future of the middle class by sending everyone to preschool – meanwhile the actual middle class is in a shambles, and college students are graduating in debt and insecure.

“The entire exercise is a monumental distraction, and anyone who engages in this sort of tinkering has bought into a shell game, a manipulation of public attention away from real sources of inequity.”

Cody says:

“We need some accountability for children’s lives, for their bellies being full, for safe homes and neighborhoods, and for their futures when they graduate. Once there is a healthy ecosystem for them to grow in, and graduate into, the inequities we see in education will shrink dramatically. But that requires much broader economic and social change — change that neither policymakers or central planners like Tucker are prepared to call for.”

Jersey Jazzman quotes Frank Sinatra and George Carlin to mark Labor Day. Sinatra made more sense than our Harvard-educated pundits.

Sinatra said:

“All I know is that a nation with our standard of living, with our Social Security system, TVA, farm parity, health plans and unemployment insurance can afford to address itself to the cancers of starvation, substandard housing, educational voids and second-class citizenship that still exist in many backsliding areas of our own country. When we’ve cleaned up these blemishes, then we can go out with a clean conscience to see where else in the world we can help. Hunger is inexcusable in a world where grain rots in silos and butter turns rancid while being held for favorable commodity indices. “

JJ commented:

“That was more than 50 years ago, and what has happened since? We’ve actually gone backwards: a 40-year slump in which the working American has seen his or her wages and benefits decrease, while nearly all of the productivity gains in this country have gone to the very, very wealthiest among us……

“One of the central theses of this blog is that the education “reform” project is largely a distraction designed to keep America’s eyes off our predestined inequity. An entire industry has sprung up, using education policy to conflate the issues of social mobility and inequity, to support the tenets of reforminess. The pundit class, largely not our best-and-brightest, has so little historical perspective and so little command of basics in mathematics and logic that they eat this conflation up like it’s ice cream…..

“Which brings us to the true threat of a progressive education: the only hope the American middle class has at this point is for our nation to foster enough critical thinkers who can see through the blizzard of crap that large swaths of our feckless media spew at us daily. Teachers have the power to cultivate such thinkers — and that may well be why some short-sighted plutocrats are spending large amounts of money to de-professionalize us, and why they are pushing to make our teaching increasingly standardized. Divergent thinking is being replaced by “close reading,” which is great for the ruling classes, because they get to determine what exactly is being read closely.

Paul Horton, who teaches history at the University of Chicago Lab School, took his son on a visit to the Delta.

There they went to historical exhibits that were reminders if a brutal past. Reminders of slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, racial subjugation, and resistance to oppression. You won’t read this in the textbooks.

Writing in the International Business Times, investigative journalist David Sirota reports that Microsoft admits keeping $92.9 billion offshore to avoid paying $29.6 billion in taxes, according to the most recent filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

He writes:

“Microsoft Corp. is currently sitting on almost $29.6 billion it would owe in U.S. taxes if it repatriated the $92.9 billion of earnings it is keeping offshore, according to disclosures in the company’s most recent annual filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. The amount of money that Microsoft is keeping offshore represents a significant spike from prior years, and the levies the company would owe amount to almost the entire two-year operating budget of the company’s home state of Washington.

“The company says it has “not provided deferred U.S. income taxes” because it says the earnings were generated from its “non-U.S. subsidiaries” and then “reinvested outside the U.S.” Tax experts, however, say that details of the filing suggest the company is using tax shelters to dodge the taxes it owes as a company domiciled in the United States.”

He adds:

“Apple and General Electric, which also employ offshore subsidiaries, are the only U.S.-based companies that have more money offshore than Microsoft, according to data compiled by Citizens for Tax Justice. In all, a May report by CTJ found that “American Fortune 500 corporations are likely saving about $550 billion by holding nearly $2 trillion of ‘permanently reinvested’ profits offshore.” The report also found that “28 of these corporations reveal that they have paid an income tax rate of 10 percent or less to the governments of the countries where these profits are officially held, indicating that most of these profits are likely in offshore tax havens.”

“Microsoft’s use of the offshore subsidiary tactics has exploded in the last five years, with the amount of Microsoft earnings shifted offshore jumping 516 percent since 2008, according to SEC filings.”

That kind of money, repatriated to the United States, could underwrite prenatal care for low-income women, provide early childhood education for all low-income children, underwrite medical clinics in low-income communities, and save public education in cities like Detroit and Philadelphia, where it is in dire peril. Imagine $550 billion invested in the well-being of our children! Imagine using that money to reduce our child poverty rate, which is currently the highest among the advanced nations of the world.

In an article in Dissent magazine, four authors argue that the notion of America as a “post-racial” society is wrong. The public and politicians tend to blame blacks for the conditions in which they live, as though racism were a thing of the past and the doors of opportunity are wide open for all. Even the election of a black President has not wiped out historic disadvantages that a significant proportion of black Americans are born into.

Alan Aja, Daniel Bustillo, William Darity, Jr., and Darrick Hamilton lay out the facts of continuing racial disparity in employment, wealth, and self-employment to demonstrate that blacks continue to be severely disadvantaged.

The authors off two proposals to provide economic security to all Americans. One is a universal trust account, which would be larger for those who are needy. The other is a guaranteed federal job. Both are expensive yet considerably less than the cost of the economic stimulus plan, which saved the nation’s banks. Imagine: saving our society.

Paul Thomas here takes on some of the most sacred beliefs of U.S. culture. He argues that poverty is destiny, and that education is not the great equalizer. He says that wishing it were so does not make it so.

He writes:

“In the U.S. both poverty and affluence are destiny, and those who shudder at that reality are confusing verbs: Yes, poverty should not be destiny, but false claims will never allow us to achieve that ideal.”

Thomas quotes Matt Bruenig, who wrote:

“One convenient way to describe what’s going on is that rich kids are more likely to get a better education, which translates into being richer and wealthier as adults. It is certainly the case that richer kids are more likely to get a college degree, and it is certainly the case that getting a college degree leaves you much better off on average than not getting one. But this does not explain the full picture of social immobility. Take a look at this super-complicated chart, which I will describe below….

“So, you are 2.5x more likely to be a rich adult if you were born rich and never bothered to go to college than if you were born poor and, against all odds, went to college and graduated. The disparity in the outcomes of rich and poor kids persists, not only when you control for college attainment, but even when you compare non-degreed rich kids to degreed poor kids!

“Therefore, the answer to the question in the title is that you are better off being born rich regardless of whether you go to college than being born poor and getting a college degree.”

Thomas says that our popular myths have a dark side. They allow us to blame the poor for being poor, for not working hard enough, for lacking “grit.”

We do not live in a meritocracy, saysThomas, but in a society where race and class determine most people’s destiny.

He does not wish to be considered a fatalist. Instead, he says, we must “Commit to social and education policy grounded in equity, and not in competition or market forces.” So long as we believe that it is up to each individual to rise or fall on their own, without regard to large social and economic forces, nothing will change.

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