Archives for category: Poverty

Paul Rosenberg, writing at Salon, is outraged that many super-wealthy people–and their apologists at the NY Times–blame poverty on the lifestyles of the poor.

He writes:

“There they go again. Conservatives are back again with their “war on poverty,” which is to say, their war on poor people and any liberals, or sympathizers, who try to help them.

“Unlike Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, which despite 50 years of demonization and policy reversals has cut U.S. poverty by 40 percent (see No. 3 here), the conservative version has little hope of doing anything about poverty. But that’s not the point. Neither is attacking poor people and liberals, for that matter. The point is defending the obscenely rich, and the massive upward redistribution of wealth America has seen going on since the 1970s. At the same time the broad-based increase in affluence of the early post-World War II era has been decisively shut off.

“IRS data compiled by Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saenz and their colleagues at the top incomes database shows how stark America’s shift from a broad-based prosperity model has been. From 1947 to 1973, the average incomes of the bottom 90 percent increased 99.2 percent, compared to 88.9 percent for the top 10 percent, and a mere 7.4 percent for the top 0.1 percent. But from 1973 to 2008, the average incomes of the bottom 90 percent fell 6.1 percent, while the average incomes of the top 10 percent continued rising by another 70.8 percent, and average incomes of the top 0.1 percent skyrocketed an astronomical 706.4 percent.

“With the bottom 90 percent losing ground, on average, and the top 0.1 percent gobbling those losses up like candy, it makes perfect sense to try to distract attention by finger-pointing at the poor—as well as those who might be inclined to help them. Whether it actually makes sense or not is irrelevant. All it has to be believable—for those with a powerful-enough motive to believe.

“A case in point is the recent David Brooks Op-Ed blaming poor folks for their poverty, which Salon’s Elias Isquith wrote about here recently, along with a disturbingly similar poor-bashing piece by neoliberal Nicholas Kristof. Given his high-profile perch at the so-called liberal New York Times, Brooks drew some rather pointed data-informed responses, including ones by Elizabeth Stoker Bruenig at the New Republic (“Poor People Don’t Need Better Social Norms. They Need Better Social Policies. What David Brooks doesn’t understand about poverty,” Connor Williams at Talking Points Memo, who argued that “David Brooks Is Mistaking Poverty’s Symptoms For Its Causes,” and Noah Smith who responded with a short blog post, providing the links to make his point that “Americans are better behaved than ever.”

All the references are linked to their sources in the article.

How does this connect to education? The leading funders if the charter school movement are billionaires and multi-millionaires who are beneficiaries of income inequality. Their spokesmen, like Governor Cuomo say that money is not the answer to the problems of education. He refuses to pay the schools the billions of dollars the state owes after losing the Campaign for Fiscal Equity lawsuit. He imposed a tax cap so districts can’t raise taxes to cover rising costs unless it is approved by 60% of voters in the district–59% won’t do.

His answer to the needs if districts: open charter schools. That satisfies his patrons, but drains the budgets of public schools even more.

Skeptics suspect that the 1% prefer charter schools as a means of avoiding discussion of taxing the 1% to reduce inequality. When hedge fund managers show as much interest in fully funding the public schools as they do in privatizing them, the skepticism will disappear.

As long as they continue to treat privately managed charters as society’s best (and cheapest) way to fight poverty, they will appear to be paraphrasing the old line misattributed to Marie Antoinette: “Let them Eat Charters.”

A post yesterday reported that Florida is considering eliminating district lines so that students may choose to attend any public school, so long as there is space available and parents provide transportation. Michigan has such a system, and districts spend millions of dollars advertising to “poach” students from other districts because every new student means additional money.


As reader Chiara points out, Ohio has the same system, and it has intensified racial and economic segregation.


Open enrollment, which allows children to transfer from one school district to another, leads to widespread racial segregation and concentrates poverty in many of Ohio’s urban school districts, including Cleveland and Akron.
That’s one finding of a Beacon Journal study of more than 8,000 Ohio students who left city schools last year for an education in wealthier suburban communities.
The majority of students who participated in Ohio’s oldest school choice program are disproportionately white and middle class. Students attending the schools they left, however, are nearly twice as likely to be minority and seven times more likely to be poor.
The program gives parents the option to enroll children in nearby school districts without changing their home address. By doing so, parents must find their own transportation — an act that in itself narrows who is able to make the change.


Where is the NAACP, the Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU? If a state adopts a policy that demonstrably promotes segregation, shouldn’t someone sue them for knowingly enacting a program to segregate children by race and income?

George Joseph in The Nation has written a sharply researched article about the nine billionaires who have been planning to impose their ideas on New York state since at least 2010.


They are, as you might expect, hedge fund billionaires. They have given millions of dollars to Andrew Cuomo in both his election campaigns. They have also given millions to a group called New Yorkers for a Balanced Albany that campaigned to maintain Republican control of the State Senate. Their handiwork can be seen in organizations such as Families for Excellent Schools (no, these are not families of children in the public schools, they are the families of hedge-fund billionaires), StudentsFirst, Education Reform Now, and Democrats for Education Reform. Their goal: More privately-managed charter schools.


Joseph has done a stunning job of connecting the dots, showing the collaboration among the billionaires, Joel Klein (then chancellor of the New York City public schools), and John White (then an employee of New York City public schools, now state superintendent of Louisiana).


Why do they want more charter schools? Well, you could say, as some do, that they care deeply about the poor children of New York City and want each and every one of them to be in an excellent charter school (although most charters are not willing to take certain children, like those with severe disabilities, those who don’t read and speak English, and those with behavioral problems).


But Joseph thinks there is another reason for Wall Street’s passion for charter schools. They claim that charter schools are the best way to end poverty. It is certainly cheaper to open more charter schools with state money than to pay the billions that the state owes to New York City as a result of a court decision in a case called the Campaign for Fiscal Equity.


Cuomo has said that he is tired of spending more money on the schools. We tried that, he says, and it didn’t work. But a parent advocate does not agree: “Zakiyah Ansari, a parent and public schools advocate with the labor-backed Alliance for Quality Education, called such reasoning shameful, “Why do Cuomo and these hedge funders say money doesn’t matter? I’m sure it matters in Scarsdale. I’m sure it matters where the Waltons send their kids. They don’t send their kids to schools with overcrowded classrooms, over-testing, no art, no music, no sports programs, etc. Does money only ‘not matter’ when it comes to black and brown kids?”


Joseph explores the question of why the New York hedge fund leaders are passionate about charter schools, test-based teacher evaluation, and ending teacher tenure.


He writes:


Their policy prescriptions—basing 50 percent of teacher evaluations on student test scores, for instance—are not in any way grounded in mainstream education research.


“The problem is that Cuomo’s backers aren’t paying much attention to the people who actually understand how Value-Added Modeling works,” explains Professor Julian Vasquez Heilig, an education policy researcher at California State University. “Education statisticians have come out many times saying these models are being used inappropriately and are unstable because other things happen in students’ lives outside of the teachers they encounter. When a kids’ parents in a high needs district are deported, and their achievement plummets, this actually has nothing to do with the teacher.”


Vasquez Heilig added that the reform proposals seem founded on a desire to destroy the development of long-term professional educators, rather than any empirical analysis: “We know 70 percent of teachers will bounce between high performing and low performing from year to year. So this is creating an impossible high stakes testing gauntlet between a young excited teacher and their path to quality, veteran expertise. If you’re looking for a cheap churn-and-burn teaching force, this is your policy, but if you want experienced, qualified teachers, committed to a schools’ long-term success, this is a disaster.”


From a purely business standpoint, however, such cost-effective education reform proposals do make sense for the hedge-fund community, especially given the alternative education reform option: the legally required equitable funding of New York public schools, as mandated by the state’s highest court in 2007. Low-income New York school districts haven’t received their legally mandated funding since 2009 and the state owes its schools a whopping $5.9 billion, according to a recent study by the labor-backed group Alliance for Quality Education. Yet somehow in this prolonged period of economic necessity, billionaire hedge-fund managers continue to enjoy lower tax rates than the bottom 20 percent of taxpayers.


As a recent Hedge Clippers report pointed out, the hedge-fund community has achieved these gains over the last decade and a half by buying political influence and carving out absurd breaks and loopholes in the New York state tax code. Since 2000, 570 hedge fund managers and top executives have poured $39.6 million into the campaign coffers of New York state politicians. Thus, despite New York’s progressive reputation, its school-district funding-distribution system is actually one of the most regressive nationwide, similar to that of states like Texas, North Carolina and Missouri.


According to Michael Kink, an advocate of fair share taxes with the labor-backed Strong Economy For All Coalition, “We could fund the court order completely with fair share taxes.” This would include closing the carried interest loophole that allows hedge funds to pay a smaller share of their income in taxes than, according to Hedge Clippers, “their limousine drivers, dry cleaners, servants, helicopter pilots, and doormen.” Taxing hedge fund fees and profits fairly would bring New York hundreds of millions of dollars that could go straight to local schools. A recent Hedge Clippers analysis found that fair-share taxes and fees targeting hedge funds, billionaires, high-income LLCs and major corporations could raise between $3.1 and $4.2 billion dollars per year—well over the annual minimum required by state law’s school funding formula. But Cuomo’s hedge fund–backed proposals fail to even approach these standards, instead parroting the convenient logic of corporate education reformers that the problem is not the lack of school funding, but the way in which it is spent.


“It was outrageous when the governor said the lack of school funding was not an issue,” explains New York State Senator Liz Krueger (D). “And it’s consistent with his attempts to fail to make good on the CFE lawsuit commitment, somehow ignoring the fact that the poorest-achieving schools are also the most underfunded.” Commenting on the hedge fund forces backing such proposals, Krueger continued, “I can never know what people’s actual intentions are. But it does seem that there is a pattern of spending enormous lobbying money in lobbying and attempting to influence campaigns…. Hedge funds seem in particular to have made a fine art of not paying their taxes, allowing fundamental public services to be inadequately funded.”


Putting it more explicitly, Jonathan Westin of the labor-backed New York Communities for Change, argues the main point of the hedge fund–backed education reform push is thus “about shaping and controlling the public school system so that they will continue to get away with not paying hundreds of millions in taxes.”


In this light, the hedge-fund community’s fervent advocacy of the charter-school movement reflects its neoliberal social vision for the state and society. Charter schools are imagined as institutions where students can be reshaped to prevail against structural barriers like racism and poverty. As hedge-fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II claimed, contrary to decades of empirical evidence, “We proved with the charter school that the achievement gap was a myth, that with the right schools, kids from the poorest neighborhoods could do every bit as well as kids from the richest ones.”


To “make up for” pervasive inequality, in lieu of correcting it, hedge-fund billionaires like Daniel Loeb of Success Academy and Larry Robbins of KIPP have promoted charter schools that envelop students in hyper-disciplined and surveilled school environments in which their every decision, down to their most minute physical movement, can be measured, assessed and addressed. This “no excuses” pedagogical approach signals to students that the only barrier to their success is their character. In other words, as Cuomo put in his the State of the State address, students under the charter school paradigm should understand their educational opportunity as “the great equalizer.”


Read the article to see the links. Everything is carefully researched and sourced. It confirms what many of us have long known about the role of Wall Street in financing privatization and other policies that hurt teachers and public schools. And it is still scary. And anti-democratic.


I recall reading Robert Putnam’s previous book, Bowling Alone, about the decline of civic life in America. It caused quite a stir. I am looking forward to reading his new book, Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. It seems certain to upset the “reformers,” as it blows away their assumptions that the schools are failing our children. As I read this review in Education Week, our society is failing our children, and we are not funding our schools in ways that help the neediest kids.


Sarah D. Sparks writes that Putnam “gathers a flood of research on the unraveling web of formal and informal supports that help students in poverty succeed academically and in life.


“If it takes a village to raise a child, the prognosis for America’s children isn’t good: In recent years, villages all over America, rich and poor, have deteriorated as we’ve shirked collective responsibility for our kids,” Mr. Putnam wrote. “And most Americans don’t have the resources … to replace collective provision with private provision.”


The attack on public education by the elites funding privatization is part of the shirking of collective responsibility. The drumbeating for “choice” is a way to replace collective responsibility with individual preferences, which are sure to intensify racial and economic segregation.


Sparks writes:


Mr. Putnam directly ties education to economic and social class; he speaks interchangeably of poverty and earning a high school degree or less, and of wealth and earning at least a four-year college degree.


Schools are not to blame for the academic gap between rich and poor students that starts before kindergarten, but, Mr. Putnam said, “the American public school today is as a kind of echo chamber in which the advantages or disadvantages that children bring with them to school have effects on other kids.”


He pointed to an analysis by the School Funding Law Center which found that as of 2009, 16 states had funding systems that provided less money per pupil to high-poverty school districts, while only 17 provided more per-pupil spending for districts with greater poverty. (An update of the study suggests those trends have worsened, with only 14 states providing significantly more money to high-poverty schools, and 19 states providing significantly less.)


Schools with 75 percent poverty or more offered one-third the number of Advanced Placement courses in 2009-10 than did wealthier schools—four each year on average compared to nearly a dozen each year at schools with 25 percent poverty or less.


Even where high-poverty schools get compensatory funding, Mr. Putnam told me: “Equalizing inputs is not equalizing outputs. Just because you have the same student-teacher ratio, just because you are investing the same dollars per kid, does not mean you are closing those gaps.”


For example, he noted in the book that high-poverty schools have more than twice as many disciplinary problems as low-poverty schools, and “equal numbers of guidance counselors cannot produce equal college readiness if the counselors in poor schools are tied up all day in disciplinary hearings.”


As a result, nearly 15 years after the federal education law was revised to “leave no child behind,” an analysis of the National Education Longitudinal Study data finds that even the brightest students in poverty can’t get ahead. Students in the poorest quarter of families who performed in the top third on national mathematics achievement were slightly less likely to graduate college than the worst math performers in the wealthiest quarter of families, 29 percent versus 30 percent.


The graph reproduced in this article starkly shows how poverty affects academic achievement and college graduation rates. This is not a problem that can be solved one student at a time. It requires a rearrangement of school funding so that schools enrolling poor students get the resources they need, not equal funding but more funding. It requires that the federal government invest in infrastructure programs that rebuild our crumbling highways and bridges and tunnels and sewers while creating meaningful work for men and women who can’t find jobs. That’s a tall order, but sooner or later our society must make decisions to do something significant to reduce poverty and inequality or to continue with the illusion that more high-stakes testing and more privatization of public education will solve those problems.

For some reason, the New York Council of School Superintendents invited Mike Petrilli of the conservative Fordham Institute to attend their annual meeting in Albany and tell them how to end the war over school reform.


I say “for some reason,” because Mike is one of the most determined warriors in the war over school reform. His idea of ending the “war over school reform” is for people to share his views. He loves charters, he hates unions, he is a fierce advocate for the Common Core, he thinks that poverty doesn’t matter, and he believes that charters are for strivers, not for unmotivated students. I know Mike fairly well, or I did, since I used to be on the board of the Fordham Institute. I don’t think we have had a conversation since I left the board in 2009. So far as I know, he has never been a teacher or a principal or a superintendent. He is not a scholar of education; he has no experience as a researcher in any discipline. He has worked for a conservative think tank with a strongly partisan point of view, and he worked as a political appointee of the George W. Bush administration in charge of “innovation.” He is now president of the Fordham Institute, which makes him a big player inside the Beltway and in conservative circles.


Peter Greene read his speech (I have not) and called Mike out on a number of points. Mike dissed defenders of public education (like me) because we think that poverty is an obstacle for poor kids and affects their ability to attain high test scores. People like me think that schools that enroll high numbers of poor kids need smaller class sizes, and more of everything that is taken for granted in well-resourced suburban schools. He thinks we are making excuses, despite the fact that standardized tests everywhere serve as measures of family wealth–with children of the affluent at the top and children of the poor at the bottom. However, as Peter points out, Mike is quite willing to exclude kids from charters who don’t meet their expectations.


Peter Greene writes that Petrilli’s views are:


……also insulting to the millions of teachers who are in the classroom day after day, doing the best they can with the resources they have. Hey, teachers– if you’re not succeeding with all of your students, it has nothing to do with obstacles and challenges in your path. You just don’t believe enough.


Then Petrilli pivots to criticize reformers, mostly for creating unrealistic definitions of success and failure. All students will not be ready to go to college, and not all schools labeled failing are, in fact, failing. 


He suggests that superintendents advocate for growth measures in evaluating schools. He calls on them to call out schools that are failing, because it will increase their credibility. He does not take any time explaining what standards the individual student growth should be measured against, nor why.


He also throws in a plug for vocational education, and on this I’m in complete agreement with him.


But in this section Petrilli has mapped out a “sensible center” that I do not recognize. On the one side, an extreme straw-man version of reform opponents, and on the other, a tiny concession that assumes the fundamentals of reform are sound. Petrilli’s sensible middle has nothing to say about the destructiveness of test-driven accountability, the warping of the system that comes from making schools accountable to the federal government, or the lack of full funding and support. On the one hand he dismisses anyone who wants to talk about the effects of poverty on education, but on the other, he acknowledges the unfairness of comparing schools where students arrive already behind on their first day. Petrilli’s sensible middle is a bit of a muddle….


Petrilli acknowledges that his charter love might be why eyebrows have been raised to ceiling height for his appearance at the supers’ gathering, but he says New York is charter territory because Albany leads the nation in production of education red tape. The awesome thing about charters is that they get to run without all that tapiness, and the superintendents should agitate for the same tapeless freedom. And if they can’t get it, they should get in on the charter fun.


This third point is brief, perhaps because there are no details to add to this. How does one elaborate on these points. Ask Albany for freedom that they won’t grant you in a zillion years? Join the charter game by finding millionaires to back you? Stop being so resentful that politicians, with the backing and encouragement of outfits like the Fordham Foundation, have been steadily stacking the deck against public schools and in favor of charteristas? Yes, it’s probably just as well that Petrilli didn’t dwell too long on this point.


I am sure Mike didn’t mention that two of Albany’s most celebrated charters–the Brighter Choice middle schools–were closed a day or so before Petrilli spoke to the superintendents–for poor performance.



John Kuhn, Texas superintendent, is a brilliant orator and writer. In this article, he skewers the cheerleaders for high-stakes testing in Texas by showing how they cherry pick data to buttress their case for testing kids more and more instead of providing adequate resources for them to learn.


He begins by demonstrating how they situate their love of testing as a civil rights issue. They cite the Brown decision and in other ways claim that they love the children who are poor and needy and want the best for them. But what they never do is to advocate that the Legislature restore the billions of dollars that were cut from the schools attended by the children they claim to love.


Here is a small sample of a smartly argued and well documented analysis:


In “The Big Idea of School Accountability,” their slick apologia for high stakes testing and punitive accountability, both of which have dominated American education politics and pedagogy since the 1980s, Bill McKenzie and Sandy Kress start out on the high road. McKenzie is a high-ranking opinion-shaper at the George W. Bush Institute and a former editorialist for the Dallas Morning News. Kress was an architect of Bush’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and, though he leaves this out of his bio attached to the essay, a long-time lobbyist for Pearson, the world’s leading vendor of K-12 standardized tests. The two edu-lobbyists begin their essay by mentioning historical moments in education policymaking and politics that would seem to appeal to a wide audience. They condemn segregation and celebrate Brown v. Board of Education. They praise the Elementary and Secondary School Act of 1965 (later renamed ESEA) and they celebrate its noble intention that “schools in disadvantaged communities would receive the resources to provide their students a decent education.”


Pay close attention to that statement, because it is the last time the authors will refer to resources as a necessary element to ensuring quality education in disadvantaged communities. Through the sleight of hand that has been perfected by the modern education reformer—and McKenzie and Kress are education reformers of the highest order—the writers deftly pivot from any and all talk of the need to provide equitable educational resources across all communities so that schools in even the poorest areas can deliver on the promise of education, and they spend the remaining pages of their article discussing something much easier on the taxpayer’s pocketbook: accountability, or the careful creation of just the right punishments to make teachers and students succeed in making learning happen, without respect to the pesky details of resources available to them (or unavailable to them, as they case may be). In the next paragraph—without establishing that the equity of resources LBJ’s law intended to guarantee was ever successfully attained—the writers begin to speak of campuses being “held responsible,” of the need to “hold schools accountable” and of “what should happen if schools do not show progress for all their students.”


Pivot complete.


The authors have shifted totally from an inconvenient conversation about fair and equitable investment in children and communities—investment that is adequate and comparable regardless of a student’s zip code or skin color—to one about holding children and communities responsible for their own outcomes. Accountability is constructed on the principle of blame and consequences as leverage to move schools and kids forward (blame and consequences, it should be noted, entirely directed at the teachers and students, with no consequence whatsoever reserved for citizens outside the schoolhouse who may or may not provide adequate fiscal supports for schools and children). At the urging of testing advocates like the authors of this essay, educational improvement via punitive test-based policies has eclipsed humane concepts of shared assistance and support for hurting American children (particularly anything resembling the investment of tax receipts) as the “civil rights issue of our time.” Educational accountability is designed as a low-cost replacement for social responsibility.


Children in America’s poorest neighborhoods lack all manner of opportunities and resources from birth that many American families take for granted. This isn’t to say they can’t learn. Of course they can learn, but there are obstacles they must overcome that society has kindly ensured do not litter the path of many other children from middle and upper class areas. From birth weight forward, all the data in impoverished zones is stacked against children, and elevating accountability for schools as our primary lever for improving these children’s lives has the effect of squelching any urgency and attention directed at efforts to feed and clothe and love and help them outside the school. We hear reformers speak of “the fierce urgency of the now” when they speak of improving schools, but we never hear it when they speak of improving lives. More than anyone in the United States, the poor child needs a hand up. More than any organization in the United States, the public school—the place where our children gather, and where they come as they are—needs support…..


Folks in the accountability camp like to say “we can’t throw money at the problem.” In fact, they apparently prefer actively pulling money away from the areas where the greatest problems exist. It is lunacy to believe that a testing program can do anything to help children who are being denied the same educational resources provided to their peers in wealthy communities. And to compare those under-funded students with their better-funded peers is nothing short of cruelty.


Thanks to the shift in focus toward testing and away from resourcing, in 2015 Texas sank to 49th in the nation in school funding (2). The accountability clique convinced lawmakers that funding was of little import; academic success could be forced upon children at a discount via test-based coercion and threats. An analogy might be if the Good Samaritan in the Bible story had stopped beside the injured traveler and, instead of lifting him out of the dirt and paying for his recuperation at an inn, had stood over him with a stopwatch and told him to hurry and get up, and assured him that he was comparing his time with that of uninjured people.


After quickly dismissing the topic of equitable funding for schools in poor areas, the authors praise bipartisanship and claim the legacy of Lyndon B. Johnson and Robert Kennedy as they discuss the debate surrounding ESEA. But even as they quote LBJ opining how his signature education law meant more “to the future of America” than anything he had signed before, they neglect to mention that what they are advocating in this essay—the continuation of required annual standardized testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school and significant punishments for schools, teachers, and students based on said tests’ results—were nowhere in LBJ’s bill.


Kuhn knows that reformers like to say that any reference to poverty means that you don’t believe poor children can learn. He knows that poor children can learn, but he also knows that poor children need at least the same resources as affluent children to learn. The “big error” of the accountability hawks is that they think that high-stakes testing is a substitute for resources. It is not. A brilliant and powerful essay.

Peter Greene here reviews David Brooks’ latest effort to advise the nation about education issues. Brooks argues that it would be a mistake to try to reduce poverty by redistributionist policies (I assume he means such policies as higher taxes on billionaires or direct benefits to those who are poor or government programs for job creation); instead, we should count on education to reduce inequality and poverty.


In earlier columns, he concluded that Geoffrey Canada’s Harlem Children’s Zone charters were “miracle schools” that had closed the achievement gap between white and black students (however, the miracle has not been sustained, even though Canada kicked out the entire entering class whose scores were low, and his schools spend substantially more than public schools with which they are compared); and Brooks endorsed the idea that teachers would produce higher test scores through a trick called “loss aversion,” where they are given a bonus at the beginning of the year, but the bonus is taken away if the scores don’t go up. In 2011, after he heard me speak in Aspen, Colorado, he wrote a column criticizing me for questioning high-stakes testing and charter schools, and of course, he complained that I said that poverty is a leading cause of low test scores. He seems to believe that testing and charters are the answer to poverty, even though after some 13 years of high-stakes testing and 25 years of charters, there seems to be more child poverty, not less.


In today’s column, Brooks claims that the way to prosperity is not to reduce poverty by, for example, creating jobs for people who want to work or raising taxes on the super-rich (that would be redistributionist, which is a very bad thing in his eyes), but by making sure that everyone goes to college. If everyone goes to college, then everyone will get good jobs, and no one will be poor. But where will all those new jobs come from? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the 20 occupations that will supply the most jobs between now and 2022 are mostly low-paying. Except for registered nurses and managers, 18 of the 20 occupations are not high-wage occupations. Do we need to improve our schools? Yes, of course. Will that be enough to reduce poverty? No.


Greene writes:


Mostly Brooks wants to argue for education as the miracle engine of economic justice. And to make his argument, he trots out the work of Raj Chetty, a piece of research that proves conclusively that even researchers at Harvard can become confused about the difference between correlation and causation. (Chetty, for those of you unfamiliar with the “research,” asserts that a good teacher will result in greater lifetime earnings for students. What he actually proves is that people who tend to do well on standardized tests tend to grow up to be wealthier, an unexciting demonstration of correlation best explained by things we already know– people who score well on standardized tests tend to be from a higher-income background, and people who grow up to be high-income tend to come from a high-income background.)


Brooks also cites magical researcher David Autor of MIT, who believes that if everyone graduated from college with a degree, everyone would make more money because, reasons. Because if everyone had a college degree, flipping burgers would pay more? Because if everyone had a college degree, corporations would suddenly want to hire more people? The continued belief in the astonishing notion that a more educated workforce causes higher-paying jobs to appear from somewhere is big news to a huge number of twenty-somethings who are busy trying to scrape together a living in areas other than the ones they prepared for these days.


Brooks isn’t done spouting nonsense:


[Brooks writes:] “Focusing on human capital is not whistling past the graveyard…No redistributionist measure will have the same effect as good early-childhood education and better community colleges, or increasing the share of men capable of joining the labor force.”


Because the vast number of high-paying jobs currently going unfilled is….. what?


Brooks says that redistributionists don’t get it, that they believe that modern capitalism is fundamentally broken, but that their view is biased by short-term effects of the recession. I have two responses for that pair of thoughtbubbbles.


First, it’s not clear whether capitalism is broken or not because we are currently tangled up in some sort of twisted fun-house mirror version of faux capitalism where the free market has been obliterated by a controlled money-sucking machine run by the government on behalf of the oligarchs. I’m actually a fan of capitalism, but what we currently have in this country is not capitalism at all.


Second, your argument about the “temporary evidence” of the recession is invalid because the recession was (and is) not the result of some mysterious serious of natural events. The economy went in the tank because the CEOs and Wall Street put it there. The economy broke because the “capitalists” broke it, and consequently the recession itself is Exhibit A in the case against modern faux capitalism and the greedheads who run it.


Throwing all this back at a magical belief in education is simply another way to blame poor people for being poor. So sorry you need food stamps and health care, but if you’d had the guts and character to go to college and get a degree, you wouldn’t be in such a mess. Your poverty is just the direct result of your lack of character and quality. Well, that and your terrible teachers. But it certainly has nothing to do with how the country is being run. It’s all on you, lousy poor person. And also your teachers.

Daniel Tanner is a professor emeritus at the Rutgers University Graduate School of Education. He has long been one of the leaders in the curriculum field.

In this article, he notes that many of our policymakers have come to believe in the magical powers of standardized testing, especially when high-stakes are attached to them. He notes with disappointment that there is no difference between George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and President Obama’s Race to the Top program. Neither has succeeded, he says, and neither will ever succeed. He explains patiently that tests can’t cure poverty, nor can they close achievement gaps rooted in poverty. Only direct action to address poverty can cure poverty.

Wendy Lecker, an experienced civil rights attorney in New York and Connecticut, writes here about the enormous stresses under which low-income children live and how they impair children’s ability to learn.


She writes:


A new UCLA report centers on those out-of-school factors that interfere with learning. The report, titled “It’s About Time,” found that community stressors such as economic distress, hunger, lack of medical care, family problems, unstable housing and violence, result in lost learning time three times as often in high poverty schools as in low poverty schools.


While the report focuses on California, I have heard identical stories from teachers, principals and district officials in Connecticut and New York. Children in impoverished districts often arrive at school hungry, without coats, socks or with broken glasses. High school students miss the first few periods of each school day because they must ensure their younger siblings get to school safely. Children bring to school the instability they experience in their lives.


These are not isolated stories. These are the barriers many poor children encounter every day when they try to learn, and teachers encounter when they try to teach. Before a child can focus on learning, she needs to be fed and clothed and have a way to deal with any trauma she may have experienced the night before. This is why social workers, behavioral specialists, psychologists, counselors and other therapists are essential educational resources. “Support staff” is a misnomer.


In the current fevered atmosphere, teachers are blamed for the low scores of their students who live in poverty; common sense has gone out the window. It takes remarkable dedication to teach in schools where children are burdened by poverty, where resources are often inadequate, where the children come to school without coats and miss school because of illness.


Lecker writes:


One has to wonder why the Obama administration pushes policies that not only fail to correct the inequalities in educational resources, but instead exacerbate them.


The UCLA report revealed that poor schools lose three times more instructional days than low poverty schools to standardized testing and test prep — more than four weeks of instructional time.


It is now well-established that standardized tests do not improve learning, and narrow a school’s curriculum. It is also well-known that yearly testing is unnecessary, since a child who passes a test one year is overwhelmingly likely to pass the next.


Yet U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan clings to the faulty conviction that children must suffer through standardized tests every year so that children “do not fall through the cracks.” How absurd. Teachers know which children are struggling academically.


If policymakers were truly concerned with children falling through the cracks, they would make sure that every school had a safety net to catch them. Too often, our neediest children must face life’s harshest realities. It is time politicians stop ignoring how those realities impact our schools.





Daniel S. Katz of Serin Hall University explains here why the New York Times is wrong about the value of annual standardized testing.

The editorial acknowled that there is too much testing, but failed to acknowledge that this condition is the result of federal mandates. It credits the high-stakes testing regime with higher achievement but doesn’t recognize that test scores increased faster before NCLB.

It is hard to believe that the Néw York Times editorial board is so out of touch with parents, students, teachers, and the realities of school.


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