Archives for category: Poverty

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

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

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

And they did! They found a great Convergence!

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

All of those concerns are Old School.

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

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

What do you think? I am listening and reading.

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

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

He writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jan Resseger writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But most students will remain poor and hopeless.

Camins writes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– See more at: http://www.arthurcamins.com/?p=90#sthash.tzc6P0o5.dpuf

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.

flebrun@timesunion.com • 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?

“No.

“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.

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