Archives for category: Poverty

Thanks to Mike Klonsky for calling attention to this article about state takeovers of districts and schools. A takeover nullifies parent and community voice. A disproportionate number of takeovers have been inflicted on African-American communities. As we know from the failure of the Achievement School District, these takeovers have a bad track record. What do they accomplish? They nullify parent and community voice.

In New Jersey – which, in 1987, became the first state to take over a school district – Camden is among several urban districts that have come under state control. The state hired Camden’s superintendent, while the mayor appoints school board members – a practice that predates the state takeover of the district in 2013.

A judge last week dismissed a lawsuit from Camden residents seeking the right to elect school board members, questioning the rationale for electing a board that has been stripped of its power by the state.

In Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia School District is governed by a five-member School Reform Commission, with three members appointed by the governor and two by the city’s mayor. The Chester Upland district is also under state control. Camden, Philadelphia, and Chester Upland have large minority populations.

Be sure to read the descriptions of districts where democracy was snuffed out.

They are districts hollowed out by poverty, deindustrialization, and white flight. The state takeover didn’t help. It stripped away one of the few ways in which residents had a voice. Now they have lost that too.

This is how the story of Highland Park, Michigan, begins:

“Highland Park, Michigan, a small city within Detroit’s boundaries, was once called the “City of Trees.” Thick greenery lined suburban blocks crowded with single-family homes built for a growing middle class. Henry Ford pioneered the assembly line at his automobile plant on Woodward Avenue, the city’s main thoroughfare. The suburban school district was considered one of the top 10 in Michigan, according to a report from the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights in 1962.

“Today, most of Highland Park’s trees are gone. Overgrown, empty lots and burned-out houses outnumber occupied homes on some blocks. The Ford plant stands empty. And parents say Highland Park’s once-proud school district has collapsed, hastened by four years under state control.”

As you read these stories, ask yourself the question: seeing the problems, why was state takeover of the schools supposed to be a good idea?

Perhaps you don’t know who Peter Cunningham is. I didn’t know until he went to Washington as Arne Duncan’s chief PR guy (Assistant Secretary for Communications). I met Peter a few times, and I thought he was charming. We always disagreed with a smile or a laugh. He knew he would never persuade me, and I knew I would never get him to admit that Race to the Top was all wrong.

I recall a discussion of testing. I tried to persuade him that the most important things in life can’t be measured. He replied, “You measure what you treasure.” I of course responded, “what you really treasure can never be measured.” What about your children? Your spouse? Your parents? Your pets? Come on! I love certain paintings, certain music, certain movies. How much? I don’t know. What difference?

Mike Klonsky has been arguing on Twitter with Peter.

Peter has decided that it’s too late to worry about racial segregation. Apparently he thinks that talking about poverty is a distraction from school reform. Peter has become the voice of corporate reformers. They have controlled the narrative for at least 15 years. Where are the success stories?

School reform officials in Michigan announced that more public schools would be closed based on their test scores over the past three years.

Blogger Bill Boyle called the “The Politics of Cruelty.” It implies that the adults in the building are not trying, don’t care, or are incompetent.

He wrote:


I could write how many of the so-called “failing” schools are under the auspices of the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA), a state-run school district that was created to turn around so-called “failing schools.” We know how that has worked.

Boyle notes a strange coincidence:

Under the state’s emergency control, authorities decided to cut off the water to people who didn’t pay the water bill.


As most know, the city of Detroit was under the control of a state appointed Emergency Manager beginning in March, 2013, before it began the process of bankruptcy. This is important history. In May of 2014, while under the control of the state of Michigan, it was determined that those unwilling or unable to pay their water bills would have their water shut off.

Boyle wrote in an earlier blog:


“In May of this year, the Detroit Water and Sewage Department began a crusade to collect unpaid fees by residents of Detroit. They are currently shutting off water access to any Detroit resident who is either $150 or two months behind in payment. This will affect over 120,00 account holders over a 3 month period at a rate of 3,000 shut offs per week. (The suspicion of many is that the shut offs are occurring in the midst of Detroit’s bankruptcy in order to make DWSD more attractive for privatization.)

Mind you, this is occurring in a major US city, the richest country in the world, that has a poverty rate of 44%, is over 80% black, whose residents have already have their democratic vote similarly cut off, in a state that is surrounded by 4 of the largest fresh water lakes in the world.”

Boyle says that Pershing High School, which was moved into the EAA, is likely to be on the closure list.


It is not surprising to find that this high school exists in one of the neighborhoods most affected by water shut offs and home foreclosures. It’s a neighborhood, in other words, whose existence is in peril. Students show up to school hungry, thirsty and homeless. This is undeniable, but it is obscured by the talk of “failing schools.” And to deny it, to allow it to be obscured, is cruel. To close a school in a community such as this, to take one more piece of property out of a neighborhood that has had its water stolen, its homes stolen, and now its school threatened, is simply, callously cruel.

A Democratic legislator said the school closing plan was “irresponsible.”

The state official referred to schools with low scores as “failing schools.” Here’s a prediction: the vast majority of schools identified as “failing” will have large enrollments of children who are poor, children of color, children who don’t read English, and children with disabilities. In addition, they will be highly segregated.

Do you think the state will offer the displaced students the opportunity to enroll in excellent suburban schools?

Neither do I.

Mike Klonsky notes that Peter Cunningham (former flack for Arne Duncan, now paid millions to run a blog promoting charters schools and testing) basically gives up on any meaningful effort to reduce segregation and poverty. Arne himself once said that he opposes “forced integration,” strangely enough, the same phrase used by southern segregationists.

Poverty and segregation may be root causes of poor school performance, but Cunningham says it is just too darn expensive and politically too hard to change things.

Better to keep on reforming schools without addressing root causes.

A high school teacher in Chicago writes a guest post for EduShyster about a charming, charismatic student she calls Darrell.

Darrell was far behind in his school work. His attention was elsewhere. Darrell was murdered.

If Darrell had been born White and privileged, he would have been in the twelfth grade, ready to graduate from high school and move on to college. He would have been an entrepreneur, a politician. He was that charismatic, that magnetic. Peers gathered around him like steam over coffee. He had a sharp wit. He cracked up everyone he met, including his teachers. But because he was poor, lived in the hood, couldn’t read, and didn’t have the patience or inclination for formal education, Darrell used his talents in the ways that he could. Ways his teachers vainly protested, seeing the basic sweetness and goodness in this giant who seemed to us strangely vulnerable, despite his hulking frame and the $1000 in twenty dollar bills he regularly displayed, like a fan, when he couldn’t focus in class.

We, his teachers, knew how he got his money. We called his mother, expressing concern. But Darrell was caught up in something bigger than his block, more sinister than his gang and his guns and his drugs. He was stuck in the purgatory of hopeless, helpless poverty, whose victims know they’ll eventually end up in hell, but plan to enjoy the party while it lasts.

It’s a different thing, teaching the living dead. It’s a different thing to understand that you will likely outlive your students, praying that they’ll be jailed, just so they’ll still be drawing breath. It’s a different thing to see your students rocking guns and bags of drugs on their Facebook pages, the ones you stalk after they die. It’s a different thing to call and call and call and call a parent, and never get an answer, or to hear the parent kicking the crap out of the kid as you listen on the other end, or to hear the parent tell you, as a parent told me earlier this year, that she had no idea where her child even was—a young man in a similar situation to Darrell. Not for that moment or that hour, but for six months.

It’s a different thing when your own peers don’t get why you teach students like these, why you love their infectious enthusiasm, their humor, their undying spirits, the respect they show you when you treat them like human beings.

Do reformers understand hopelessness? They certainly don’t understand teachers like this one. They blame her for Darrell’s poverty and his academic failure. Why?

Jersey Jazzman takes pundit Alexander Russo to the woodshed in this post.

Russo is a good writer who leans reformy and can be counted on to stick a dagger in critics of corporate reform, like me. He recently slammed me on Twitter for daring to express concern about segregation as a problem. He claimed this was unheard of from me. I suggested he read “Reign of Error,” wherein I identify segregation and poverty as a “toxic mix” that harms children.

This is not the first time he has given me one of his not so subtle jabs. Usually I ignore them because I know that he lashes out in hopes of driving traffic to his Twitter account.

JJ doesn’t worry about defending me–I can do that on my own–but he takes the time to correct Russo’s mistaken belief that social justice is somehow disconnected from over-testing and underfunding. JJ argues that you can’t separate these issues from any discussion of social justice in schools, because there will be no sustained social justice in our schools in the absence of adequate and equitable funding.

JJ has honed his research skills and his rhetorical skills to a point where it is fruitless for critics to take him on. He wins every time. That’s what his experience as a teacher, a writer, and a doctoral student has produced. He is formidable. And right.

Mercedes Schneider describes here a lawsuit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center to block the public funding of charter schools.

SPLC cites the state constitution, which requires that all public funds go to public schools that are overseen by the local district and the state. Charter schools are overseen by neither.

Currently the state has three charter schools operating in Jackson, with another 14 set to open this fall. Eleven of the 14 will be in Jackson.

Mercedes provides an excerpt from the lawsuit:

Section 206 of the Mississippi Constitution provides that a school district’s ad valorem taxes may only be used for the district to maintain its own schools. Under the CSA, public school districts must share ad valorem revenue with charter schools that they do not control or supervise. Therefore, the local funding stream of the CSA is unconstitutional.

Section 208 of the Mississippi Constitution forbids the Legislature from appropriating money to any school that is not operating as a “free school.” A “free school” is not merely a school that charges no tuition; it must also be regulated by the State Superintendent of Education and the local school district superintendent. Charter schools– which are not under the control of the State Board of Education, the State Superintendent of Education, the Mississippi Department of Education, the local school district superintendent, or the local school district– are not “free schools.” Accordingly, the state funding provision of the CSA is unconstitutional. …

The CSA heralds a financial cataclysm for public school districts across the state. … The future is clear: as a direct result of the unconstitutional CSA funding provisions, traditional public schools will have fewer teachers, books, and educational resources.

The SPLC is right to point out the devastating financial impact that the funding of charters will have on public schools. This is a point that is always overlooked, ignored, or dismissed by corporate reformers. As long as they get what they want, they don’t care what happens to the majority of children.

Susan Ochshorn of ECE Policy Works offers these thoughts for the Democratic platform:

1) Children are rarely mentioned in this document. They are our precious “human capital,” the future of our nation and a robust democracy. I find their absence disturbing overall, but especially so in the section, “Poverty/Communities Left Behind.”

America’s child poverty rate puts us second only to Romania among advanced economies. The poverty rate for children under age 6 hovers around 22 percent. There are also whole communities of children across the nation living in communities of concentrated poverty, where more than 40 percent of families live below the line. All of this, in the richest nation in the world. [Diane’s note: Romania is not an ‘advanced nation,’ even though Susan correctly notes that some UN organizations created a list in which we ranked behind Romania in child poverty.]

2) Socioeconomic status has been shown to be a key factor in children’s academic success. Children living in poverty are more likely to be exposed to adverse childhood experiences–maternal depression, domestic and community violence, substance abuse, etc.–and suffer from toxic stress, which affects their ability to thrive in school.

3) Given all of the above, we need a much more comprehensive, holistic approach to early care and education. Universal preschool is essential, but families need support from the prenatal period, after birth, with paid parental leave and high-quality infant/toddler care. We must look to effective models of education that attend to the whole child, including community schools, which bring together social and mental health services and supports for parents.

4) We need to re-imagine education for all of our students, but especially for our youngest children, whose natural zest for learning we are squashing under the demands of standards-based accountability and the narrowed curriculum of the Common Core. The Finns, whose educational outcomes are stellar, see schools as laboratories for democracy–places of joy, exploration, and inquiry. They respect the unique developmental path of each child. Their children are not pushed into academic work and high-stakes testing at an early age.

A shocking new study concludes that one in 10 students at Cal State University is homeless, and one in 5 lacks steady access to food.

About one in 10 of California State University’s 460,000 students is homeless, and one in five doesn’t have steady access to enough food, according to the initial findings of a study launched to better understand and address an issue that remains largely undocumented at the nation’s public universities.

“This is a gasp, when you think about it,” Cal State Chancellor Timothy P. White said Monday at a conference in Long Beach, where more than 150 administrators, researchers, students and advocacy groups gathered to exchange ideas, case studies and their personal experiences with the issue.

White, who commissioned the study, emphasized the need for Cal State, the largest public university system in the nation, to tackle the issue systematically across its 23 campuses.

“We’re going to find solutions that we can take to scale,” he said. “Getting this right is something that we just simply have to do.”

David Berliner, the esteemed researcher, sent this story to me, and commented:

I am a proud graduate of CAL State LA, and Gene Glass and I happily teach a summer school course at Cal State San Jose.

These are great “people’s colleges,” not elite, but with quite good staffing, often U of California and Stanford grads, and with some very good students, as well.

Last year they graduated their 3 millionth undergraduate, most of whom in previous decades went there almost free. This why, I think, California is such an economic dynamo, even with its high poverty rates and high ELL rates.

But how can quality education AMONG OBVIOUSLY MOTIVATED STUDENTS take place with 1 in 10 homeless and 1 in 5 with food insecurity?
Shame on us.

What is happening in this country? The best way to make America great again is to address the poverty that is eating away at our people, destroying lives, homes, and families.

Yesterday our friendly reader Raj reacted with outrage to the post about Bill Gates telling poor people around the world to improve their lot in life by raising chickens. Raj said the source was a disreputable British rag, and I should be ashamed for referring to such “sensational” claims.

 

To satisfy Raj’s curiosity (and my own), I did a wee bit of Internet research, and in four seconds, I found the original source of the story: it was an article written by Bill Gates.

 

The guy with $70 billion says if he were poor, he would raise chickens.

 

Now don’t get get me wrong. Raising chickens is a swell thing to do, and I donate to the Heifer Fund to help buy animals for people in poverty. Of course, I can’t raise chickens myself because I live in an apartment building, and it is probably against the house rules to raise chickens in an apartment. Also, I am not poor, so he wasn’t talking to me.

 

Bill Gates is different from me. He has about $70 billion. World leaders listen to him. I would expect him to have more fully developed ideas about how to reduce poverty. There is a big difference between abject poverty and subsistence. Maybe raising chickens would help large numbers of people live at a subsistence level.

 

But with Gates’ billions and his huge staff, I expected deep thinking about the structural nature of poverty. Not chickens.