Archives for category: Poverty

Jeff Bryant writes here about promising developments in New Mexico. where educators are reimagine the future of schools.

Not many people would think of New Mexico as an educational paradigm. Its test scores and very low, and it’s child poverty rate is very high. It endured eight years of a Republican Governor who believed in Je Bush’s ideology of high-stakes testing, test-based evaluation of teachers, and choice. That model produced no improvement, but quite a lot of teacher alienation.

Bryant interviewed the state president of the NEA,who filled him in on the union’s dreams for the future.


“I think we’re all going to be different after this,” Mary Parr-Sanchez told me in a phone call, “but I don’t know how.” Parr-Sanchez is the current president of NEA-New Mexico, the National Education Association’s affiliate in the Land of Enchantment, and “this” of course is the profound trauma of schooling amidst COVID-19…

Our current governor [Michelle Lujan Grisham] is showing impressive leadership, but our previous governor of eight years drove education into the ground,” she said, referring to former Governor Susana Martinez, whose administration’s response to the economic downturn during the Great Recession was to slash education spending, expand privately operated charter schools to compete for funding, and impose a punitive regime of evaluating teachers and schools based on high-stakes standardized testing.

Some of the heavy-handed evaluation systems Martinez championed have been repealed by Governor Lujan Grisham, but New Mexico still funds its schools less than it did in 2008.

Much of what Martinez imposed on New Mexico were pillars of education policy that started with No Child Left Behind legislation passed during the George W. Bush presidential administration and extended under the Barack Obama presidency.

“I loved being a teacher in the 1990s,” Parr-Sanchez recalled, “but since No Child Left Behind [which became law in 2002], all the joy was taken out of teaching. The test-and-punish program got us nowhere, and for the past 10 years, teachers have felt like they’ve been under assault.”

Despite these onerous policies, Parr-Sanchez saw the emergence of a different, more promising school model in her state.

“When I first learned of the community schools model, it hit me like a lightning bolt,” she told me. “I loved it because it focused on [the academic and non-academic needs of children], and the focus was on learning and a culturally relevant curriculum, not just test scores. The movement for community schools brought the joy of teaching back for me.”

Now, she is convinced the community schools model is the most promising way forward for schools as they reopen to the new realities of recovering from the fallout of COVID-19.

“In our state’s response to the pandemic, we’ve had to be very sensitive to issues of poverty, and the state has challenged districts to reach all children, including special education students and homeless students,” she explained. In this kind of emergency situation, she believes community schools have an advantage because “the model enables you to look at the whole child.” (A whole child approach considers more than just students’ academic outcomes to include attention to students’ health, mental, socioeconomic, and cultural conditions that often have more impact on students’ abilities to learn.)

“What happens during the school day is not enough to improve the trajectory of children until you deal with what is really going on in children’s lives. Are they hungry? Are they homeless? The testing agenda took us away from addressing this. Community schools can bring us back.”

For those of us old enough to remember the protests against racism and police brutality in the late 1960s, the outrage of African Americans has a sad and sickening familiarity. It’s sad because yet another black man was killed by police officers although he was not resisting arrest (and even had he been resisting arrest, the officers were wrong to apply lethal force to an unarmed person). It is sickening because so little has changed in 50+ years.

We don’t have to think back to the 1960s for examples of racism and racial profiling. We see it now, with disgusting, appalling frequency.

Some important things have changed: our nation twice elected a black man as president. Yet so much remains unchanged: segregated neighborhoods, segregated schools, persistent inequality and disparate treatment.

And now a federal administration that exploits and encourages racism, as it did in Charlottesville when neo-Nazis marched and brazenly displayed their bigotry and hatred. And a president who appoints federal judges who can’t say whether the Brown decision was correctly decided in 1954.

Black Lives Matter. Colin Kaepernick was right. Symbolic statements and gestures matter but they don’t change injustice. We need change in enforcement.

We need a Justice Department committed to protecting the rights of all Americans and to defending the most vulnerable and to enforcing civil rights laws. We need a president who sets a moral example and stands forcefully against racism in word and deed.

Whoever is president creates a tone and climate that others take as a signal of what is appropriate.

Vote. Vote. Vote as if your life depends on it. It does. Vote for justice. Vote for decency. Vote to defend civil rights.

A few days ago, I had a Zoom meeting with educators at Rutgers University, where I was invited to talk about education and social justice. Of course we talked about the pandemic and what happens next. But the theme of the day was equity.

I hope you enjoy it.

Senator Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, the ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, publicly questioned Betsy DeVos’s guidance to states to include private schools when distributing federal funding of coronavirus relief. DeVos says the money should be divided according to enrollment. Alexander says it was supposed to follow the Title I funding and go to the neediest students, who are not in private schools.

Politico Morning Education reports:

ALEXANDER, DEVOS PART WAYS ON STIMULUS GUIDANCE: DeVos is now getting pushback from Alexander for controversial guidance calling on school districts to distribute stimulus funds to private school students more expansively than they would under regular federal education aid through Title I.

— Her policy says schools should spend money on services for private school students based on the total number of all students enrolled, rather than poverty levels.

— “My sense was that the money should have been distributed in the same way we distribute Title I money,” Alexander told reporters on Thursday. “I think that’s what most of Congress was expecting.”

— DeVos defended her interpretation of the law when asked by POLITICO during a video conference to respond to Alexander’s comments. “In our implementation of Congress’ action under the CARES Act, we have indicated it’s our interpretation that it is meant literally for all students and that includes students, no matter where they’re learning,” she said.

— DeVos later said that public schools should work with their private counterparts to understand student needs and to help provide services, such as tutoring or teacher professional development for teachers.

Indiana’s superintendent Jennifer McCormick has announced that she will ignore the DeVos guidance. Tennessee, however, will divert money from needy public schools and give it to private schools with advantaged students.

As DeVos’s response shows, she doesn’t care what Congressional leaders think, not even when they are members of the Republican party. She does what she wants, without regard to Congressional intent or authorization or rebuke. She was born a billionaire, she is privileged, and she is spoiled. She is a hardened ideologue. She doesn’t care about helping poor kids as much as she cares about funding private schools. She doesn’t care about the law. She, like Trump, thinks she is above it.

The Southern Education Foundation explains why the virus is hitting the South hard, especially poor people. It’s the result of decisions made by callous leaders:

SEF Statement on the Impact of
COVID-19 in the South

“The rapid spread of COVID-19 has produced devastating effects for virtually every sector of our society. With schools and businesses shuttered, under-resourced hospitals inundated with patients, and nearly every state mandating residents to stay at home, the crisis resulting from this global pandemic has brought our nation to its knees. While the spread of COVID-19 has occurred indiscriminately, the crisis has been particularly ruinous for the South, where higher levels of poverty and lower access to healthcare have plagued our communities for generations.

“While underlying medical conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, and heart disease are primarily responsible for higher infection and death rates in the South, the common denominator for both underlying conditions and higher COVID-19 infection rates has been the deliberate policy action taken by many states to reduce access to healthcare for low-income people and people of color. 10 out of 17 southern states have not expanded Medicaid, a federally-funded program that has closed coverage gaps for vulnerable populations.

“Failure to expand this program has left vulnerable populations, particularly many low-income and Black families, without access to any form of preventive care. As a result, a disproportionate amount of the South’s Black population is affected by COVID-19. In Louisiana, for example, 32 percent of the population is Black, but 70 percent of the individuals who have died from COVID-19 are Black. In Alabama, 53 percent of confirmed COVID-19 deaths are Black, while 26 percent of the state’s population is Black. Surging infection rates in neighboring southern states have given the region among the highest infection and death rates, per capita, in the nation.

For low-income students and students of color, healthcare and education are inextricably linked, and much like education, healthcare throughout the South is extremely underfunded. One way to help address health and education issues related to COVID-19 can come in the form of implementing a community schools approach to serve the whole child and the entire family.

Community schools provide a coordinated system of wraparound services that can turn schools into innovation hubs and deliver services such as coronavirus testing centers, telehealth access points, or locations to access WiFi for academic related projects. States and the federal government can support this approach by funding community school efforts in future COVID-19 relief legislative proposals.

The Southern Education Foundation believes that each family deserves access to high-quality healthcare, a high-quality education, and the opportunity to thrive within their community. With immediate policy action to reverse intergenerational injustice, we will be able to guarantee families and children those rights and close the gaps exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

In community,

Raymond C. Pierce and the SEF Team

Andrew Cuomo has become a national star because of his calm, sane commentaries about New York’s fight to stop the spread of the coronavirus and his compassion for those who have lost their lives and those who risk their lives.

But, Liam Olenick writes, Cuomo is already reverting to his role as a fiscal conservative at a time when additional cuts to public services will endanger those who need them most. Olenick, a teacher, points out that Cuomo steadfastly refuses to tax the richest New Yorkers to help those who will suffer from budget cuts.

The headline says it all: “In Cuomo’s New York, Everyone’s Being Asked to Sacrifice Except the Rich.”

Olenick writes:

Gov. Cuomo just announced another round of $10 billion in cuts to public services in New York, including reductions in aid to public schools, health care and social services. This follows the similarly egregious cuts he imposed on Medicaid and public schools through the state budget process in early April.
Although Cuomo presents these cuts as a virtuous necessity in a time of crisis, they are in fact, entirely avoidable and should be reversed immediately by the Legislature.

As a public school teacher, I know firsthand that these cuts will have dire consequences for public school students in New York City. Our students are already disproportionately bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. The vast majority of students come from the very same historically marginalized communities of color enduring the most death, income loss and instability because of the crisis. Now the governor proposes to dig the knife in further by making it that much harder for schools to support their students through this nightmare…

The governor insists these cuts are needed because we’re in a fiscal crisis and tax revenue is decreasing. But he is conveniently ignoring the fact that New York’s ultra-rich are doing just fine.

But instead of taxing their second, or even third homes via a pied-a-terre tax, implementing a stock-transfer tax or passing an ultra-millionaires income tax, he chose to cut funding for Medicaid, public schools and social services.

If these cuts become permanent, when schools reopen, hundreds of thousands of students who need more academic and mental health support than ever will find that their schools no longer have social workers or counselors, that class sizes are dangerously large and that after-school programs are closed for business. Parent associations will also have a much harder time raising supplemental funds because of the deepening economic crisis caused by COVID and many, many more students will require urgent mental health and academic support as they recover from trauma and missed time in school.

It’s no coincidence that the majority of New York state’s wealthiest billionaires are also Cuomo donors. It’s also not a coincidence that many of these same donors are big charter-school funders.

As public schools grow even more decrepit because of Cuomo’s proposed cuts, the charter schools that Cuomo has allowed to expand in New York state with little oversight will be able to recruit more public school students, justifying even more charter school expansion and public school closures.

Cuomo is a national star when he talks about shared sacrifice in confronting the pandemic. His voice is a welcome contrast to Trump’s incoherence and lack of humanity.

But when it comes to education, Cuomo resembles Trump in his refusal to prioritize and protect public schools and their students.

Jack Schneider, historian of education at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, says that the pandemic lays bare the fact that vast social inequality produces vast educational inequality. So-called reformers have argued that “fixing the schools” will “fix society.” Schneider shows that this is backwards. Readers, please send this article to the teacher-bashers and public-school-bashers at Education Post, Teach for America, the Walton Foundation, the Gates Foundation, and the many other organizations who insist that public schools alone can fix the inequities that harm children before they enter school.

He writes, on Valerie Strauss’s blog:

For the past generation, we have been talking about the achievement gap in American public education — the fact that low income students and students from historically marginalized racial groups, on average, score lower than their more privileged peers. Chiefly, this matter has been treated as a problem with the schools.
In a news release accompanying No Child Left Behind legislation, for instance, president George W. Bush celebrated that “An ‘age of accountability’ is starting to replace an era of low expectations” in our schools. His Democratic successor, Barack Obama, went a step further, pinning responsibility on educators. “The single most important factor” in determining student achievement, Obama insisted, is “who their teacher is.”



Scholars, meanwhile, have made a very different case.
In the research community, it is widely recognized that students transition into schools not from a blank slate, but from an unequal society. Because of that, young people enter school with vastly different levels of preparation. As renowned teacher educator Gloria Ladson-Billings argued in a celebrated address to the educational research community, the “achievement gap” is a misnomer, implying an expectation that all children would perform equally at school. Instead, she suggested, we should train our collective gaze on the “education debt” — the damage done to particular communities by “the historical, economic, sociopolitical, and moral decisions and policies that characterize our society.”




The achievement gap, in this framing, is merely a symptom of broader inequality, past and present. The implication is that maybe schools are not to blame, after all. Such a position is well-supported by educational research. But for many Americans, it remains relatively abstract.


The covid-19 outbreak, then, may be the best time to actually see the education debt in action. The playing field across schools has been leveled with a bulldozer — differences in school funding, facilities, curricular resources, teacher experience, arts and music education and more are essentially moot. With students at home, schooling has shifted online, dramatically reducing what can happen educationally.

Assume, then, that the schools are now more or less equal. An outgoing tide has lowered all boats.
Yet, some students will make significant educational progress during this hiatus from school, even as many of their peers lose ground.


Consider, first, the parental supports some young people have. Roughly 69 percent of students will have two parents at home with them, tag-teaming to offer support and encouragement. Some of those parents — disproportionately drawn from those with extended formal education — will feel at ease generating a school-like environment.


Those adults who successfully navigated school themselves, especially the minority of Americans who have college degrees, will be more likely to press their children to stay focused on academic work for several hours a day. That is not because they are better parents; it is because they are better situated to pass on their educational privilege.

Parents are a child’s first teachers — teaching language, social skills, dispositions and more — and remain the primary influence on how young people approach school.


Consider, too, the resources that are now differentially available to students.

Unlike their high-poverty peers, children from middle-class and affluent households almost all have high-speed Internet access at home, as well as web-enabled devices. They’ve got enough books to see them through the end of the crisis — twice as many, on average, as low-income families and African American families. Their homes are more likely to be set up in a manner that supports school learning.

Such differences explain why summer breaks from school widen the achievement gap.


Finally, it is important to consider the way that basic needs will be met, or not, in American households over the next several months. Many families have well-stocked pantries and a satisfying rotation of takeout orders; others will struggle to put food on the table.


In Somerville, Mass., where I live, the district is preparing “grab and go” meals to replace the free and reduced-price breakfasts and lunches that children here — and 20 million students across America — ordinarily receive at school.

To relax, some families will take day trips for nature walks or retreat to their second homes; their less privileged counterparts will be stranded in place, often without heat.

Twenty-two percent of the homeless population are children.
Our schools are not equal.

Schools in affluent neighborhoods often have more resources than their counterparts in poor neighborhoods, even as research demonstrates a need for the opposite. White children and middle-class children are generally taught by more experienced teachers than their peers and are less likely to experience schooling as an unending preparation for standardized tests. Privileged students receive a more well-rounded curriculum and maintain better access to arts and music education.




Yet even if our schools were equal, they would not produce equal results. They would reflect the different circumstances that characterize the home and neighborhood environments in which young people spend a majority of their time. For the poorest and most marginalized, this means not just present disadvantage, but also the cumulative effects of intergenerational poverty.

Right now, this is what you will see. Gaps are not closing; they are beginning to yawn.


For two decades, we have been trashing schools and blaming teachers. It is easy to assume 
responsibility rests with them. But the achievement gap is a product of our unequal society — the reflection of an education debt that has never been settled.

It is not something schools alone will fix; and as they remain shuttered, that fact will become painfully clear.
Perhaps the present crisis, then, will prompt some deeper reflection about why students succeed. And perhaps we will awaken to the collective obligations we have for so long failed to fulfill.


Schools will eventually reopen. When they do, we should return with eyes unclouded. Rather than finding fault with our schools and the educators who bring them to life, we might begin to wrestle with what it would take for all students to enter on equal footing. Until then, even an equal education will not produce equal outcomes.

What began as “Grab and Go” locations to feed students has turned into free meal dispensaries for all who are in need of food.

The city Department of Education’s 435 meal hubs for children will be expanded to serve adult New Yorkers with grab-and-go meals, meaning anyone in need of food can access it at one of the locations. Children and families can pick up meals 7:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. Adults with no children are asked to go to one of the hubs from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m.

During the Great Depression, there were soup kitchens. Now there are “grab and go” hubs for the hungry. With millions suddenly out of work, it becomes our obligation as a society to ensure that no one suffers because of hunger and no one is denied healthcare because of inability to pay.

Paul Thomas of Furman University describes two examples of “epistemic trespassing”: Ruby Payne’s theories about poverty and the current advocacy for “the science of reading.”

Epistemic trespassing occurs when a narrative is driven by people who are not experts in their field.

Thomas Ultican is a retired teacher of physics and advanced mathematics who has developed a passionate interest in the inner workings of the Privatization and Disruption Movement (also known as the Destroy Public Education Movement).

This is his account of the new and very well-funded plaything of the Billionaire Boys (and Girls) Club: the City Fund.

It sees itself as part of a movement, but it is not. It is merely a hobby for those who have so much money that they can”t find useful things to do with it, like feed the hungry, fight for a higher minimum wage, create health clinics for children and families, or even restore the arts and libraries in schools that have lost them to budget cuts.

There are a few things you need to know about this “movement.” It is a movement of the elite, the super-rich, the powerful. It has no troops, just well-paid minions. As long as the money keeps flowing, there will be takers, ready to sign on to the job of destroying democratically governed public schools and replacing them with privately managed schools. There is so much money available to them from billionaires like Reed Hastings and John Arnold that they can flood local school board elections with more cash than any of the other candidates and put anti-public school candidates on the board of the district.

The City Fund uses billionaire cash to undermine democracy. It does nothing to alleviate poverty or reduce segregation. Such things are not important to them, other than dreaming that changes in the ownership of schools from public to private will someday, somehow reduce poverty.

Here is the other interesting fact about the staff of the City Fund. Nothing they have done has ever improved education. All of their endeavors have failed. They exist to disrupt and destroy communities and their attachment to their local public schools. As one surveys the disaster of the Tennessee “Achievement School District,” the pathetic results of the New Orleans all-charter district (where nearly half the charters are failing schools), one wonders why the billionaires pay them to sow more chaos. The billionaires sit back and watch the fun from afar.

Ultican has created a sociogram of the main actors. None of them can point to a district that has “closed the achievement gap.” None of them can point to a success story that vaulted an entire district to the peak of excellence. Yet there they are, sitting on hundreds of millions of dollars, primed to impose their will on the people and deprive them of their right to elect their representatives.

How long will the billionaires continue to fund failure?

There is something in the City Fund that is strangely detached from the lives of children and families, something completely indifferent to the importance of communities, something soulless in the work they do to rearrange the lives of other people. It as though they are looking at cities where they never lived from a height of 30,000 feet, deciding the fate of people they never met, people who are not on the payroll of billionaires.

They exist in a luxurious, air-conditioned bubble, remote from the cares of families who worry about feeding their children, paying their rent or mortgage, having a decent job, planning for the future.

They are the outsiders who land in a community to tear it apart, then exit to do the same to another community.

Strange what some people will do for money, a lot of money. Power is intoxicating. So is money.