Archives for category: Poverty

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.

Helen Ladd, Professor of Public Policy at Duke University, and her husband, Edward Fiske, former education editor of the New York Times, reviewed the recently released letter grades for schools and here explain what they mean. 

 

They write:

 

In a nutshell, we need to figure out how to break the link between poverty and achievement in our schools. A crucial first step is to support policies and programs that directly address the particular challenges that poor students bring with them to school.

 

The most striking pattern that emerged from the letter grades from the NC Department of Public Instruction was the near-perfect correlation between letter grades and economic disadvantage. The News & Observer reported that 80 percent of schools where at least four-fifths of children qualify for the federal free or reduced lunch received a D or F grade, whereas 90 percent of schools with fewer than one in five students on the subsidized lunch program received As or Bs.

 

The fact that, on average, students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school than peers from more advantaged backgrounds has been documented at all levels of education.

 

What can we do? Ladd and Fiske say there are three possible strategies:

 

1. Reduce poverty directly. That will be politically difficult and take time, even though it is the best response.

 

2. Ignore the problem. This is the approach of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top.

 

They write about this approach of denial:

 

Policymakers often rationalize their denial of the relationship between poverty on achievement because they sincerely believe that schools should offset the effects of low socio-economic status. Others fear that setting lower expectations for some groups of students – what President George W. Bush called the “soft bigotry of low expectations” – will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. But in both cases, simply wanting something to be true does not make it true.

 

Still other policymakers cite examples of schools serving low-income students, such as some of the Knowledge as Power Program (KIPP) charter schools that have managed to “beat the odds” with disadvantaged students. Consistent with such exceptions, according to The News & Observer, about 5 percent of North Carolina schools where at least three-fifths of students qualify for subsidized lunches, received As or Bs as letter grades, some of them charters. But such successes are often largely attributable to these schools’ success in attracting students from the high end of the ability or motivational spectrum, or to substantial supplemental funding from foundations, or to extremely hard work of their teachers. Absolutely no evidence exists that the few success stories can be scaled up to address the needs of large proportions of disadvantaged students.

 

3. A third – and far more preferable – approach is to acknowledge that while we are not going to be able to eliminate poverty any time soon, we can find ways of targeting the specific ways in which poverty hampers learning. Put another way, we can address the particular challenges that disadvantaged children face as they pursue their education.

 

Fortunately, we already know a lot about these challenges. A wide body of research has demonstrated how poor health care – both physical and mental – and the lack of quality early childhood education translates into low cognitive performance. Research by one of the authors, Helen Ladd, and two colleagues has shown that quality early education programs reduce the need for spending on special education later on.

 

Other research has documented how poor children often have limited access to the language and problem solving skills that serve as springboards to future learning. We know how family poverty also translates into limited access to books and computers at home or to the enrichment that comes from vacation travel….

 

The challenge for policymakers is to look for ways to minimize the impact of the particular challenges that many disadvantaged children face. We should, in short, look for ways to provide children from low-income families with the same sort of education-enriching experiences and resources that middle-income children take for granted.

 

They give examples of valuable interventions such as school-based health clinics, early childhood programs, after-school and summer programs, and other “wraparound” services.

 

The message of the letter grades, say Ladd and Fiske, is that the relationship between poverty and low school achievement can no longer be denied.

 

 

 

 

Arthur Camins, Director, Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education, Stevens Institute of Technology, critiques here the now-popular idea that the best way to end poverty is by improving education. While both parties continue to talk about race and poverty, they have given up on integration as a strategy. What they propose, he says, is that education is the best anti-poverty program. Unfortunately, this claim has neither evidence nor  logic to support it.

 

He writes:

 

Integration has largely evaporated as a key driver in the struggle for equity. It has been replaced by the idea that education is the most effective anti-poverty program. The argument is framed by the following ideas:

 

“A high-quality education offers the best path out of poverty and into to the middle class. The new and improved, common-core aligned, standardized tests will accurately reflect the differential levels of student learning in areas that matter for their own future and that of the nation. Students who perform poorly on these assessments are unlikely be very successful in their post-secondary college and career endeavors. As a result, they are headed for low paying jobs or unemployment. Therefore, if we can increase their performance on these tests they will be more likely to succeed and escape poverty.”

 

This argument, while simplistic, sounds reasonable and appealing. However, close examination reveals that it is not evidence-based, nor is it logical.

 

Camins adds:

 

The logic about escape from poverty only works on the individual level. While individuals are certainly better off with the best possible education, there is no evidence that attaining a significantly increased percentage of high achieving students would eliminate the need for people to clean our offices, homes and hospitals, stock our store and warehouse shelves or serve us in fast food restaurants. There is no evidence that employers will suddenly agree to pay such better-educated workers a living wage that would enable them to provide adequate food, clothing and shelter so that poverty would cease to exist.

 

Maybe, more effective teaching will increase the size, diversity and creativity of the nation’s knowledge workforce, who will subsequently spur innovation and new kinds of well-paying employment for others. Maybe, our superior innovation capacity will offset the competitive advantage of lower wage countries. These would be good outcomes, but they will not end poverty. Unless, we commit to real high-quality universal health care, food and housing security, and full employment at fair living wages for all (through, for example public investment in infrastructure improvement), it is illogical to believe that universally high-quality education will significantly reduce, much less end poverty. Imagining that it will do so represents magical, not evidence-based logical thinking….

 

Sadly, too many policy makers seem more committed to enabling profiteering from the results of poverty than ending it. The testing industry is an excellent example. Education policies sanction and encourage multi-billion dollar testing and test preparation corporations that enable destructive punishment and rewards for educators, gaming the system and sorting of students for competitive access to an increasingly unaffordable post secondary system that perpetuates inequity. State and federal education policies support costly, overly stressful and time consuming high-stakes testing in order to verify and detect small differences within the very large socio-economic disparities we already know exist.

 

Well-designed large-scale assessments can contribute evidence for institutional and program level judgments about quality. However, we do not need to test every student every year for this purpose. Less costly sampling can accomplish this goal. I am not opposed to qualifying exams- if they validly and reliably measure qualities that are directly applicable to their purpose without bias. However, imagine if we shifted the balance of our assessment attention from the summative to the formative. Then we could focus more on becoming better at interpreting daily data from regular class work and use that evidence to help students move their own learning forward. Imagine what else we could accomplish if we spent a significant percentage of our current K-12 and college admission testing expenditures on actually mediating poverty instead of measuring its inevitable effect. Imagine the educational and economic benefit if we invested in putting people to work rebuilding our cities, roads, bridges, schools and parks. Imagine if we put people to work building affordable housing instead of luxury high rises. Imagine the boost to personal spending and the related savings in social service spending if a living wage and full employment prevailed. Imagine the learning benefit to children if their families did not have to worry about health, food and shelter. Imagine if our tax policies favored the common good over wealth accumulation for the 1%ers.

 

Such investments are far more logical than the current over-investment in testing and compliance regimes. Education, race and poverty are inextricably intertwined. Let’s do everything we can to improve teaching and learning. More students learning to use evidence to support arguments would be terrific. But, if we want to do something about poverty we need to ensure good jobs at fair wages for the parents of our students. That is where evidence and logical thinking lead.

 

At least since the adoption of No Child Left Behind legislation education reform has been promoted as an anti-poverty program and a way to narrow the racial achievement gap. Maybe that appeal is a good sign about the conscience of US citizens. Apparently, many people still believe that the connection between educational achievement, race and socio-economic status is unfair. However, no policy makers have been forthright enough to reveal or admit to themselves their real underlying logic: We have given up on ending or seriously mediating poverty. The best we can do is to give some kids who are willing and able to work hard a better chance to make good. That is why we support school choice. No one will say this out loud because it sounds so pessimistic and cynical.

 

Maybe it is time to hold policy makers accountable in their own behavior for what they demand of students: At least be clear about your hypothesis, experimental design and collect appropriate evidence. That would allow the public to participate in deciding whether escape from poverty for a few more students is a worthy goal that represents our values as a nation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Peter Greene discovered a bold new policy plan in Milwaukee. It turns the war on poverty into a war on the poor.

He writes;

“On Wednesday, Senator Alberta Darling and Representative Dale Kooyenga released “New Opportunities for Milwaukee.” It’stunning. It’s a blueprint, a plan, a carefully-crafted rhetorical stance that turns the war on poverty into a war on the poor. Does it present new opportunities? It surely does– but they are opportunities for more privateers to use the language of civil rights to mask the same old profiteering game.

“Make sure your seat belts and safety harnesses are locked in place, because we are about to travel to a place where up is down and forward is backward. The first chunk is directly related to education; the rest is not, but I’m going to go the distance anyway because it helps lay out a particular point of view that is driving some reformsters. The full report is twenty-five pages; I’ve read them so that you don’t have to, but you may still want to. Forewarned is forearmed.”

The report begins with this claim;

“2014 marked the 50-year anniversary of the war on poverty. Since 1964, taxpayers spent over $22 trillion to combat poverty. Little, if any, progress has been achieved.”

“”Two-thirds of the incarcerated African-American men come from six zip codes in Milwaukee and it is no coincidence that those zip codes are also home to the greatest density of failing schools and the highest unemployment in the state.” Boy, and that’s true. It’s also no coincidence that every time I see a building on fire, there’s a fire truck right nearby, or that every time find water dripping off my car, there’s rain. Say it with me, boys and girls– correlation is not causation.”

The plan not only declares the war on poverty a failure (no point throwing money at poverty, even though lack of money defines poverty) but declares the civil rights movement a success, therefore matters like segregation are unworthy of our attention.

Peter, in his inimitable style, dissects the recommendations for ending poverty without spending money. It starts with charter schools…

Rex Smith, the editor of the Albany Times-Union, wrote an excellent column, chastising Governor Andrew Cuomo for picking on teachers. Let’s hope that the mounting criticism of Cuomo’s cynical effort to place the blame on teachers for low test scores persuades him to reverse course. The surest predictor of low test scores is poverty, not “bad” teachers. Rex Smith knows this. Why doesn’t Governor Cuomo?

 

Here is an excerpt from Smith’s column:

 

 

Students come to school with all sorts of problems, starting with poverty. Most low-performing schools are in high-needs communities. Plenty of research underscores the link between learning capacity and poverty, with its attendant problems – including poor housing, inadequate health care and neighborhood violence.

 

 

The governor knows this to be true. He has on occasion been eloquent on this very point. It makes his current campaign of demonizing teachers all the more mystifying.

 

 

Yet we hear him repeatedly attacking “the public school monopoly,” ignoring all the non-public (and taxpayer-aided) schools that make the educational system a lot more competitive already than other government services. You know, police and fire departments are monopolies, too. Should we subsidize competing privately-owned agencies, and blame cops for crime and firefighters for fires?

 

 

And there was the governor during his State of the State presentation last month, juxtaposing two statistics as though one directly related to the other: 96 percent of teachers were rated “effective” or better by the state’s teacher evaluation system last year, but less than 40 percent of students in grades three through eight were at least “proficient” in standardized language arts and math tests.

 

 

The inference he wants us to draw, it seems, is that more teachers should be rated lower so they can be fired, making way for teachers who can raise test scores.

 

 

The problem with this analysis begins with a logical fallacy of seeing a causal relationship where there’s really a coincidental one. Call it the Pirate Paradigm, explained thus: The number of pirates plying the high seas has shrunk over three centuries, even as roughly 40 percent of marine species have vanished. Thus, you may conclude that pirates are good for fish.

 

Good work, Mr. Smith!

Seven outstanding teachers wrote a letter to Governor Cuomo. It was published in the Albany Times-Union, where there is a good chance he and members of the Legislature might read it. Unfortunately, it is behind a paywall. Maybe by now the paywall has disappeared. I hope so as everyone in every state should read this excellent letter.

The teachers write:

The following article was written by seven New York state Teachers of the Year: Ashli Dreher (2014, Buffalo); Katie Ferguson (2012, Schenectady); Jeff Peneston (2011, Syracuse); Rich Ognibene (2008, Rochester); Marguerite Izzo (2007, Malverne); Steve Bongiovi (2006, Seaford); and Liz Day (2005, Mechanicville)

Dear Governor Cuomo:

We are teachers. We have given our hearts and souls to this noble profession. We have pursued intellectual rigor. We have fed students who were hungry. We have celebrated at student weddings and wept at student funerals. Education is our life. For this, you have made us the enemy. This is personal.

Under your leadership, schools have endured the Gap Elimination Adjustment and the tax cap, which have caused layoffs and draconian budget cuts across the state. Classes are larger and support services are fewer, particularly for our neediest students.

We have also endured a difficult rollout of the Common Core Standards. A reasonable implementation would have started the new standards in kindergarten and advanced those standards one grade at a time. Instead, the new standards were rushed into all grades at once, without any time to see if they were developmentally appropriate or useful.

Then our students were given new tests — of questionable validity — before they had a chance to develop the skills necessary to be successful. These flawed tests reinforced the false narrative that all public schools — and therefore all teachers — are in drastic need of reform. In our many years of teaching, we’ve never found that denigrating others is a useful strategy for improvement.

Now you are doubling down on test scores as a proxy for teacher effectiveness. The state has focused on test scores for years and this approach has proven to be fraught with peril. Testing scandals erupted. Teachers who questioned the validity of tests were given gag orders. Parents in wealthier districts hired test-prep tutors, which exacerbated the achievement gap between rich and poor.

Beyond those concerns, if the state places this much emphasis on test scores who will want to teach our neediest students? Will you assume that the teachers in wealthier districts are highly effective and the teachers in poorer districts are ineffective, simply based on test scores?

Most of us have failed an exam or two along life’s path. From those results, can we conclude that our teachers were ineffective? We understand the value of collecting data, but it must be interpreted wisely. Using test scores as 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation does not meet this criterion.

Your other proposals are also unlikely to succeed. Merit pay, charter schools and increased scrutiny of teachers won’t work because they fundamentally misdiagnose the problem. It’s not that teachers or schools are horrible. Rather, the problem is that students with an achievement gap also have an income gap, a health-care gap, a housing gap, a family gap and a safety gap, just to name a few. If we truly want to improve educational outcomes, these are the real issues that must be addressed.

Much is right in public education today. We invite you to visit our classrooms and see for yourself. Most teachers, administrators and school board members are doing quality work. Our students and alumni have accomplished great things. Let’s stop the narrative of systemic failure.

Instead, let’s talk about ways to help the kids who are struggling. Let’s talk about addressing the concentration of poverty in our cities. Let’s talk about creating a culture of family so that our weakest students feel emotionally connected to their schools. Let’s talk about fostering collaboration between teachers, administrators and elected officials. It is by working together, not competing for test scores, that we will advance our cause.

None of these suggestions are easily measured with a No. 2 pencil, but they would work. On behalf of teachers across the state, we say these are our kids, we love them, and this is personal.

Kiersten Marek writes in Inside Philanthropy that the Gates Foundation seems to be ramping up its interest in the connection between housing and education. The foundation has made a few small investments in this interaction, and it appears to have realized that homelessness and housing instability has a negative impact on educational achievement. One straw in the wind: “The new CEO of the foundation, Susan Desmond-Hellman, recently wrote on the Impatient Optimists blog that a “stable place to call home” is one of the “few things that every child needs to lead a healthy, productive life.” (Along with good schools and a strong community.)…”

 

While the Gates Foundation has long noted the obvious linkages between housing, family stability, and student achievement, it hasn’t done much grantmaking to specifically address that nexus. But that’s changing, and [Gates’ program officer Kollin] Min says the foundation is advancing “partnerships between housing authorities and school districts, to look at the connection between housing stability and educational outcomes.”

 

Min cited McCarver Elementary School in Tacoma, which was recently profiled by the Urban Institute, as an example of the kind of collaboration that the Gates Foundation has created. By enrolling in the McCarver special program, kids and families commit to staying with the same school and receive rental assistance as well as other forms of support. The idea, of course, is that less moving around will allow kids to improve academically—and not only the kids who would otherwise be shuttling around, but also their classmates, who studies show are negatively affected by the disruption of students coming and going.

 

Min says the foundation has seen “positive results” from the partnership between the Tacoma School District and the Tacoma Housing Authority. But he also says this work is still early in the game. “We are just kind of taking baby steps with thinking about these issues.” On the other hand, as Min describes it, all this is hardly rocket science: “We’ve come to the firm point of view that for many children challenged by housing and mobility issues, it really is important to try to bring systems together, and that’s really the only way that we can improve outcomes.”

 

Perhaps the Gates Foundation could become a strong voice taking a stand against school closings, which are needlessly disruptive in the lives of children, families, and communities. The recognition that children are negatively affected by disruption is an important insight. We can hope that these are lessons learned that will change future practice.

 

 

 

 

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