Archives for category: Inequity

Imagine this: an emergency room nurse gives birth to a premature baby. She gets a bill for $898,984 from her employer. She thought she had insurance coverage. Her employer says she didn’t sign up in time for the baby. What is she to do?

ProPublica gets involved.

This obviously is not an education issue. But it is an issue about what kind of society we are.

“Lauren Bard opened the hospital bill this month and her body went numb. In bold block letters it said, “AMOUNT DUE: $898,984.57.”

“Last fall, Bard’s daughter, Sadie, had arrived about three months prematurely; and as a nurse herself, Bard knew the costs for Sadie’s care would be high. But she’d assumed the bulk would be covered by the organization that owned the hospital where she worked: Dignity Health, whose marketing motto is “Hello humankindness.”

“She would be wrong.

“Bard, 30, had been caught up in an unforgiving trend. As health care costs continue to rise, employers are shifting the expense to their workers — cutting back on what they’ll cover or pumping up premiums and out-of-pocket costs. But a premature baby, delivered with gaspingly high medical claims, creates a sort of benefits bomb, the kind an employer — especially one funding its own benefits — might look for a way to dodge altogether….

“Bard’s saga began, traumatically, when she gave birth to Sadie at just 26 weeks on Sept. 21, 2018, at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center in Southern California. Weighing less than a pound and a half, tiny enough to fit into Bard’s cupped hands, Sadie was rushed to the neonatal intensive care unit. Three days after her birth, Bard called Anthem Blue Cross, which administers her health plan, to start coverage. Anthem and UC Irvine’s billing department assured her that Sadie was covered, Bard said.

”But Dignity’s plan, like many, requires employees to enroll newborns within 31 days through its website, or they won’t be covered — something Bard said she didn’t know at the time.

“Meanwhile, believing that everything with her health benefits was on track, Bard spent nine of those first 31 days recovering in her own hospital bed and then had to return to the emergency room because of a subsequent infection. She spent as much time as she could in the neonatal intensive care unit, where Sadie, in an incubator, attached to tubes and wires, battled a host of critical ailments related to extremely premature birth. At times, doctors gave her a 50-50 chance of survival.

“Right from birth she was a fighter,” Bard said.

“Then, eight days past the 31-day deadline, UC Irvine’s billing department alerted Bard to a problem with Sadie’s coverage. Anthem was saying it could not process the claims for the baby, who was still in the NICU.

“Bard, an emergency room nurse at St. Bernardine Medical Center in San Bernardino, called Dignity’s benefits department and made a sickening discovery. Sadie wasn’t enrolled in its health plan. It was too late, she was told, she could no longer add her baby.

”Dignity bills itself as the fifth-largest health system in the country, with services in 21 states. The massive nonprofit self-funds its benefits, meaning it bears the cost of bills like Sadie’s. And it doesn’t appear to be short on cash. In 2018, the organization reported $6.6 billion in net assets and paid its CEO $11.9 million in reportable compensation, according to tax filings. That same year, more than two dozen Dignity executives earned more than $1 million in compensation, records show.”

Bard was facing bankruptcy when ProPublica found out about her dire situation.

One reason I am posting this story is because I was moved by the injustice of it. Another is because a reader in the South chastised me for writing an appeal on behalf of the Southern Poverty Law Center. He sent me the SPLC 990 form for the IRS, showing that it has nearly $500 million in assets. There are many worthy organizations that need crowd-funding. ProPublica is one of them.

Wendy Lecker is a civil rights attorney who writes frequently for the Stamford (CT) Advocate.

In this article, she takes issue with a public-private partnership that fails to address the state’s woefully School finance system.

Ray Dalio, a billionaire who wants to do good, has created a partnership with the state government that will operate outside public scrutiny. Dalio and the state will each contribute $100 million and raise another $100 million. This amount, she writes,  will barely scratch the surface of the state’s neediest children and schools.

Controversially, the Partnership insists on being exempt from Connecticut transparency and ethics rules. Supporters maintain that “innovation” is required to solve entrenched problems like poverty and struggling public schools, and addressing these sensitive issues can only be done in private.

When it comes to public education, the issues have already been addressed in a public forum- the CCJEF trial. The trial judge made thousands of public findings of fact in his 2016 decision in Connecticut’s school funding case, all based on evidence presented during the months-long public trial.

Among his findings are that Connecticut’s poorest districts have significantly lower levels of children who attend high quality preschool, and that preschool provides significant lasting benefits, particularly for poor children, such as: reduced grade repetition and special education identification rates, decreased behavioral problems, higher graduation and employment rates, higher lifetime earnings, reductions in involvement with the criminal justice system, reductions in the probability of being on welfare, and improved health measures.

The evidence at trial also proved that, despite higher need, Connecticut’s poorest districts could not afford an adequate supply of guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, reading interventionists, special education teachers, and teachers and services for bilingual students. The lack of these essential services prevented these districts from successfully serving their neediest children. Districts often had to spend their Alliance District money, funds intended to be “extra,” to try to pay for at least some of these basic services and staff; and had to divert money intended for general education to cover growing special education costs.

This persuasive public evidence came from people who work in and belong to the communities shut out of the secretive Partnership for Connecticut leadership. They are the ones with the knowledge of what these communities lack and need.

The trial court findings paint a picture of districts in triage mode, trying to plug gaping holes caused by inadequate state education funding.

Unfortunately the same judge who reached these findings did not order the state to remedy the injustice, which only the state can do, not a public-private philanthropy operating behind closed doors.

Back in the early days of school choice advocacy, it was often claimed that school choice would “force” the public schools to compete and they would get better because of the magic of the market.

Now we know that was a selling point, and it was not true.

Deborah Gordon Klehr, executive director of the civil rights group Education Law Center-PA, writes about the negative effects of “school choice” on the public schools of Philadelphia. 

The publics schools in that city have long been severely underfunded, and school choice has stripped them of both students and funding, leaving them even worse off.

Klehr writes:

A study of charter schools in Philadelphia published by the Education Law Center earlier this year is a stark reminder that many parents don’t get to choose and that ultimately it may be the school and not the parent doing the choosing. More charters and more slots haven’t cured an ailing school system.

This is not to discount the successes we know exist for students in many city charters. But Philadelphia’s 22-year history of rapid charter expansion coupled with inadequate oversight is entrenching new inequities in an already unequal landscape.

Sometimes the problem is blatant discrimination: For instance, a recurring pattern we see among families who contact us is charters telling students with disabilities, after they have been accepted, “We cannot serve you.” As public schools, charters are prohibited from discriminating against students with disabilities. And yet, we see this pattern persist.

Sometimes the obstacles to enrollment are more subtle; for example, enrollment documents may only be available in English. The results, however, are clear. The population of economically disadvantaged students is 14 percentage points lower in the traditional charter sector (56%) vs. the district sector (70%). And, the percentage of English learners in district schools (11%) is nearly three times higher than in traditional charters (4%), with nearly a third of traditional charters serving no English learners.

Few of the special education students in traditional charters are from the disability categories that typically are most expensive to serve. And, the vast majority of traditional charter schools serve student populations that are two-thirds or more of one racial group – a significantly higher degree of segregation than in district schools.

In short, the city’s traditional charter schools (excluding “Renaissance” charters charged with serving all students from a catchment area) disproportionately enroll a student population that is more advantaged than the students in district-run schools; as a sector, charters are shirking their responsibility of educating all students.

No independent observer could look at the Philadelphia schools—public, charters, and vouchers—and say that any problems have been solved by privatization.

 

 

Jan Resseger analyzes a new study by Sean Reardon of Stanford University that demonstrates what has been widely known for decades: Schools alone don’t cure poverty.

Those who insist that they do are either uninformed, selling something (TFA founder Wendy Kopp has claimed that inexperienced teachers can overcome poverty and close achievement gaps caused by poverty), or just don’t want to pay taxes to provide the resources schools need (think the Koch brothers, the Waltons, the DeVos Family, or other billionaires).

She begins:

Here is the succinct conclusion of a complex, technical, and nuanced report released on Monday by Stanford University’s Sean Reardon and a team of researchers, Is Separate Still Unequal? New Evidence on School Segregation and Racial Academic Achievement Gaps: “We use 8 years of data from all public school districts in the U.S.  We find that racial school segregation is strongly associated with the magnitude of achievement gaps in 3rd grade, and with the rate at which gaps grow from third to eighth grade. The association of racial segregation with achievement gaps is completely accounted for by racial differences in school poverty: racial segregation appears to be harmful because it concentrates minority students in high-poverty schools, which are, on average, less effective than lower poverty schools… We find that the effects of school poverty do not appear to be explained by differences in the set of measurable teacher or school characteristics available to us.”

In the report, Reardon defines academic test score gaps: “We examine racial test score gaps because they reflect racial differences in access to educational opportunities. By ‘educational opportunities,’ we mean all experiences in a child’s life, from birth onward, that provide opportunities for her to learn, including experiences in children’s homes, child care settings, neighborhoods, peer groups, and their schools. This implies that test score gaps may result from unequal opportunities either in or out of school; they are not necessarily the result of differences in school quality, resources, or experience. Moreover, in saying that test score gaps reflect differences in opportunities, we also mean that they are not the result of innate group differences in cognitive skills or other genetic endowments… (D)ifferences in average scores should be understood as reflecting opportunity gaps….”

“In sum, our analyses provide evidence that racial school segregation is closely linked to racial inequality in academic performance.  This implies that segregation creates unequal educational opportunities.  Although our analyses do not identify the specific mechanisms through which segregation leads to inequality, they make it clear that the mechanism is linked to differences in schools’ poverty rates, not differences in schools’ racial composition.”

In their review of the academic literature, Reardon and his colleagues emphasize the importance of studies which have demonstrated the importance of public policy that would invest more in schools serving poor children and in making state funding formulas more equitable.  But they conclude finally: “(W)e have no example of a school district where minority students disproportionately attend high poverty schools that does not have a large racial achievement gap. If it were possible to create equal educational opportunity under conditions of segregation and economic inequality, some community—among the thousands of districts in the country—would have done so… If we are serious about reducing racial inequality in educational opportunity, then, we must address racial segregation among schools.”

I am pleased to see Reardon so clearly describe the realities his research exposes, but I am frankly concerned that—in a society his own 2011 research demonstrates is rapidly resegregating economically as families with means move farther and farther into the exurbs—it will be politically difficult to address the concerns his research uncovers.

What is certain is that this new research confirms what many have believed is a catastrophic mistake in two-decades  of “accountability-based school reform.”  This is the test-and-punish regime imposed at the federal level by the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, followed by programs like Race to the Top and policies adopted across the states to punish teachers who were supposed to work harder and smarter to close achievement gaps or their schools would be punished.

Dr. Anika Whitfield, an education activist in LittleRock, Arkansas, wrote an open letter to State Commissioner Johnny Key and the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education. She appeals to their humanity, forgetting for the moment that the state of Arkansas is owned by the Walton Family Foundation:

 

Mr. Key and the Members of the AR State Board of Education,

Students, families, schools, and neighborhoods in the LRSD community are experiencing almost indescribable losses. 
 
We have witnessed significant losses of students to charter and other school districts during your watch, as we have seen many school closures and observed more funding and attention being given to growing charter schools, primarily in and around the LR community.  
 
We have also witnessed an untold account of the number of students who have been transitioned from the LRSD into a prison pipeline. And, to be clear, most of these students are disproportionately African American, Latinx, and students from low income homes and communities. 
 
We know that many of these actions have not occurred haphazardly, unintentionally, nor unnoticed by most, if not all of you.
 
We appeal to your humanity and the spirit in which your position holds, to represent all children and all public schools in our state with equity and without discrimination.  
 
We appeal to you even moreso as your more recent role has been to oversee directly the LRSD since taking over our public school district, January 28, 2019, to provide all of our students with access to meaningful resources and support in order to experience a world class public education.
 
We rightfully hold you accountable for the losses mentioned above.  And, we consider these to be failures as a result of your actions or inactions. 
 
We appeal to you, as you prepare to return the LRSD to the community of LR and to a democratically elected, local, representative board of directors, to provide and allocate the necessary resources to ensure that every Elementary school has a qualified, certified, school counselor that will well serve the students and schools in which they are hired, without demonstrating discrimination and without oppressing the students in which they are agreeing to serve.
 
Looking forward to hearing back from you soon.
 
Sincerely, 
Rev./Dr. Anika T. Whitfield

 

Capitol & Main reports that the Healdsburg school district in Sonoma County in wine country was worried about white flight, so it opened a charter school and put it in the same building with the public school. That’s called co-location.

However, the two schools in the same building have very different demographics.

Taking advantage of California’s co-location rules regarding charters, 266 charter school students share the same campus with the public elementary school’s 323 kids. The two student bodies aren’t exactly similar, however. The public school is 89 percent Latino, while Latinos only account for 36 percent of the charter’s enrollment. The divide vividly extends to learning achievement…

Last year only 23 percent of the public elementary school’s students in grades three to five met or exceeded state math standards, while the figure was 55 percent for Healdsburg Charter kids in the same grades. A full 88.5 percent of the public school students were socioeconomically disadvantaged, compared to just 33.5 percent of the charter school students. And 70.6 percent of public school students were English-language learners, while only 13.7 percent of charter school students were ELLs.

One school mostly for white kids, another mostly for Latino kids. One for the middle-class and affluent, the other for the farmworkers’ children.

Committees of the New York City Bar Association sent a statement to School Chancellor Richard Carranza opposing the use of competitive admissions to elementary and junior high schools.

They said:

  • Measures of young children’s ability and behavior through competitive admission screening and testing are unreliable and racially biased.
  • Competitive admissions for very young children are pedagogically unsound because research demonstrates that all children derive educational and social benefits from diverse classrooms with students of differing races, economic status, and learning ability.
  • The practice of excluding the majority of certain socioeconomic and racial groups of young children from a large percentage of public institutions is inequitable and conducive to racial hierarchy.

Such policies, they said, are incompatible with the goal of equal educational opportunity, because opportunities are denied based on flawed measures.

 

 

The privatizers got badly beaten in 2016, when they tried to lift the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts. Funded by the Waltons and the usual coven of billionaires, they asked the public to endorse a proposal to launch 12 charter schools every year, wherever they wanted to open. The referendum was overwhelmingly defeated, much to the surprise of its sponsors.

Governor Charlie Baker is a Republican who has appointed a choice-friendly State Board, so the privatizers have not given up hope for undermining democracy.

Now they are back with a proposal for “innovation zones.” 

Jonathan Rodrigues writes:

In a world where we’re more and more accustomed to jargon inherited from corporate start up world like “disruption” and “big data”, “innovation” stands out as one of the most empty vessels in which we project meaning without much thought of it.

In the education world in particular, almost anything can be “innovative”. Even bringing back purposeful segregation and differential treatment under the guise of educational opportunity. Governor Baker’s latest “Innovation Partnership Zones” may be clever, but it’s certainly not very innovative.

If only segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace had known it would be this easy to fool people, he’d had changed his 1963 speech to “innovation today, innovation tomorrow, innovation forever!”.


So what are “Innovation Partnership Zones” (IPZs), and what would the governor’s bill do? It’s important to note here this idea has prominent Democratic support as well, it was only last year that Education Committee co-chair Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley) and Senator Eric Lesser (D-Longmeadow) sponsored very similar legislation.

The bill allows groups of 2 schools or more (or one school with more than 1,000 students) to create an IPZ which would allow an outside organization to manage these schools and give the “zone” autonomy over things like budget, hiring, curriculum, etc. Essentially third-partying away the public good, but doesn’t “partnership” sounds so much better than “takeover”?

The IPZ can be triggered in two main ways.

  1. Through local initiative of school committee members, a superintendent, a mayor, a teachers group or union, and parents. .
  2. Through the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) Commissioner’s choice from schools determined to be “underperforming” by high stakes testing metrics.

The process would then call for proposals jointly with an outside entity that may include nonprofit charter operators and higher ed institutions….

If past is prologue, the results should look familiar. Brown University Annenberg Institute’s 2016 report “Whose Schools?” analyzed the board composition of charter schools in Massachusetts. 60% of charter schools in the Commonwealth had no parent representation at all. 31% of charter board members were from the corporate sector, heavily from finance.

We should all look forward to our IPZs filled with executives from places like TD Bank, who certainly might live in the “region,”, but have no respect for Boston’s biggest neighborhood.

It is especially worrisome that IPZs will be inevitably pushed on communities of color, continuing a nationwide trend of stripping away voice from families of color from Philadelphia to Chicago, Detroit to New Orleans.

A 2015 Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools “Out Of Control” report examined the disenfranchisement of black and brown families through mechanisms such as appointed school boards, and state and district turnovers. In their 2014–15 analysis, there were 113 state takeover districts nationwide. 96 were handed to charter operators. 98% of affected students were Black and/or Latinx. In New Orleans, parents had to navigate 44 different governing authorities; in Detroit, 45.

The most important innovation of all would be the full funding of schools in poor communities.

He concludes:

In no place where black and brown families are the majority in the school district is the innovation of a fully funded quality public school with adequate staffing, special education services, mental health supports, art and music, full-time librarians, and school nurses ever even attempted.

 

 

When I first heard about a federal investigation of cheating and rigging of the college admissions process on behalf of wealthy people willing to pay, I completely misjudged the ramifications. I was not surprised.

Why was I not surprised? I was not surprised because admission to elite colleges and universities has long been rigged, though not as blatantly as the latest scheme. In the present story, ringers were paid to take the tests, and test answers were changed by proctors on behalf of students whose parents paid the price. That’s awfully blatant.

The old-time rigging was more subtle. Start with legacy admissions. If the college had eight applicants for every place, a student whose parent or sibling went to the same institution was likely to be admitted despite his or her grades or scores. That’s unfair.

Then there is the rigging that occurs when the college puts too much weight on the SAT or ACT, which favors students from wealthy homes, who have gone to the best schools and had advantageous life experiences. Numerous studies, including some released by the testing companies, acknowledge that the GPA (grade point average) is a better predictor of college success than the college admission test taken on a single day. That is why more than 1,000 colleges and universities have become “test-optional.” Go to the Fairtest website to see the list of test-optional institutions of higher education.

The scores on the SAT/ACT are also affected by tutoring, which is a function of parental income. So, not only do wealthy families begin with a big advantage, they can multiply their advantage by paying for tutors who are skilled in training students to raise their scores. Tutors can be very expensive. They may costs hundreds of dollars an hour. This skews the admissions process yet again towards those with money.

It would have been far simpler for the families involved in the present scam to pay a tutor $5,000-10,000, and they would have not been investigated by the FBI.

But there is one more way to get preferential treatment. Give a large gift to the college or university shortly before your child applies for admission. Daniel Golden, a journalist then at the Wall Street Journal, now at ProPublica, wrote a book in 2006 called The Price of Admission, about how wealthy people gave money to get their children into elite colleges. He referred to a little-known family named Kushner in New Jersey. A real-estate developer named Charles Kushner, who had graduated from New York University, made a gift of $2.5 million to Harvard in 1998. Not long after, his son Jared was admitted to Harvard.

Golden wrote:

I also quoted administrators at Jared’s high school, who described him as a less than stellar student and expressed dismay at Harvard’s decision.

 

From this morning’s Washington Post:

 

— A string of defense attorneys, especially public defenders, pointed to much harsher sentences doled out to people for non-white-collar crimes than what Manafort got from Ellis. Mueller’s team laid out evidence during the Virginia trial that Manafort, by concealing $16 million in income, didn’t pay $6 million he would have owed in federal taxes, among other crimes.

“Scott Hechinger, a senior staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, an organization that provides legal representation to defendants who cannot afford it, used one of his recent clients, who was just offered a 36-to-72-month sentence, as an example. The crime? Stealing $100-worth of quarters from a residential laundry room. Hechinger’s client may wind up doing more time than Manafort, a man who defrauded the Internal Revenue Service out of $6 million,” Reis Thebault and Michael Brice-Saddler report. “Hechinger listed a half dozen more examples. Among them were a Brooklyn teenager who got a 19-years-to-life sentence for burning a mattress in the hallway of his apartment building, resulting in the smoke-inhalation death of an officer who responded to the scene. He also cited the case of Cyrstal Mason, an ex-felon who was sent back to prison for five years after voting in the 2016 presidential election while on probation — an act she says she didn’t know was illegal.”

A defense lawyer tweeted that she had a client serving 3 1/2-7 years in prison for stealing laundry detergent from a drugstore (@DrRJKavanagh)

Two systems of justice. One for rich. The other for poor.