Archives for category: Poverty

Mississippi boasts about its gains on NAEP reading scores, but those “gains” were largely the result of holding back students who didn’t pass the third grade reading tests. It’s a form of “gaming the system,” aka cheating.

This article by Bracey Harris for the Hechinger Report tells a different story, a story of unequal opportunity for black children in the state, a history of racism and segregation, a legacy of underfunding black schools, of crumbling schools and high teacher turnover.

Large proportions of black children live in deep poverty, and their schools are ill-equipped to prepare them for college or career.

State leaders offer nothing but gimmicks that have failed elsewhere: merit pay, A-F grades, bonuses for new teachers, and state takeovers. What they have not offered is the funding necessary to give the schools and students and teachers the resources they need. The conservative white legislature has not been willing to do what is needed.

State leaders have attempted to improve the state’s poor educational outcomes in recent years by requiring third graders to pass the state reading test before they can enter fourth grade, offering $10,000 bonuses for Nationally Board Certified teachers to work in the Delta, assigning schools and districts A-F ratings and, on occasion, taking over failing school districts. Mississippi’s newly elected Gov. Tate Reeves, who took office in January, has also proposed paying new teachers a one-time $10,000 bonus to instruct in struggling areas like Holmes.

Mississippi has also made some positive traction after investing $15 million per year, in part to train and coach the state’s teachers on the science of reading and reading instruction, an investment that some officials said helped boost the state’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Mississippi ranked No. 1 nationally in gains in fourth grade reading and math, and near the top in eighth grade score gains in math.

To some observers, the NAEP scores suggest the state’s focus on these reforms have helped, a lot. But locals say the reforms don’t go far enough, failing to address the deeper issues of racism and poverty that are embedded in the marrow of the Mississippi Delta. Each year, districts in the region hold back dozens of third graders. At one school in Holmes, Durant Elementary, more than 80 percent of third graders failed the reading test on their first try.

Ellen Reddy, an advocate who has pushed to improve education in Holmes County said the state’s solutions haven’t reduced the challenges that dominate the average school day. Reddy, executive director of the Nollie Jenkins Family Center, said the state has to step in to help districts that struggle to raise money. “The reality is we’ll always fail. We’ll always be a step behind until they put in more resources,” she said. “You get what you pay for.”

Strapped for cash and teachers

Strapped for cash and teachers

Children in communities with a high rate of poverty are at a greater risk of poor health and high levels of stress that require more support in the classroom. Years of research have documented that poverty “creates constant wear and tear on the body” and that safe learning environments, coupled with “responsive parenting and high-quality childcare” can help children progress. But it costs money to train teachers on how to support students and to hire support staff like guidance counselors.

Never underestimate the power of poverty and racism.

This powerful article appeared recently on the front cover of the New York Times Week in Review section.

Nicholas Kristof and his wife Sheryl WuDunn returned to his hometown of Yamhill, Oregon. They discovered that an extraordinary percentage of the hardworking, ordinary working class people Nick grew up with had died an early death. They asked “Who Killed the Knapp Family?” I regret that they include the obligatory swipe at “failing schools,” since the schools attended by this family did not fail them and did not kill them, but the rest of the article is indeed an indictment of the vast social, cultural, and economic unraveling of our society, as represented by this one community.

YAMHILL, Ore. — Chaos reigned daily on the No. 6 school bus, with working-class boys and girls flirting and gossiping and dreaming, brimming with mischief, bravado and optimism. Nick rode it every day in the 1970s with neighbors here in rural Oregon, neighbors like Farlan, Zealan, Rogena, Nathan and Keylan Knapp.

They were bright, rambunctious, upwardly mobile youngsters whose father had a good job installing pipes. The Knapps were thrilled to have just bought their own home, and everyone oohed and aahed when Farlan received a Ford Mustang for his 16th birthday.

Yet today about one-quarter of the children on that No. 6 bus are dead, mostly from drugs, suicide, alcohol or reckless accidents. Of the five Knapp kids who had once been so cheery, Farlan died of liver failure from drink and drugs, Zealan burned to death in a house fire while passed out drunk, Rogena died from hepatitis linked to drug use and Nathan blew himself up cooking meth. Keylan survived partly because he spent 13 years in a state penitentiary.

Among other kids on the bus, Mike died from suicide, Steve from the aftermath of a motorcycle accident, Cindy from depression and a heart attack, Jeff from a daredevil car crash, Billy from diabetes in prison, Kevin from obesity-related ailments, Tim from a construction accident, Sue from undetermined causes. And then there’s Chris, who is presumed dead after years of alcoholism and homelessness. At least one more is in prison, and another is homeless.

We Americans are locked in political combat and focused on President Trump, but there is a cancer gnawing at the nation that predates Trump and is larger than him. Suicides are at their highest rate since World War II; one child in seven is living with a parent suffering from substance abuse; a baby is born every 15 minutes after prenatal exposure to opioids; America is slipping as a great power.

We have deep structural problems that have been a half century in the making, under both political parties, and that are often transmitted from generation to generation. Only in America has life expectancy now fallen three years in a row, for the first time in a century, because of “deaths of despair.”

“The meaningfulness of the working-class life seems to have evaporated,” Angus Deaton, the Nobel Prize-winning economist, told us. “The economy just seems to have stopped delivering for these people.” Deaton and the economist Anne Case, who is also his wife, coined the term “deaths of despair” to describe the surge of mortality from alcohol, drugs and suicide.

The kids on the No. 6 bus rode into a cataclysm as working-class communities disintegrated across America because of lost jobs, broken families, gloom — and failed policies. The suffering was invisible to affluent Americans, but the consequences are now evident to all: The survivors mostly voted for Trump, some in hopes that he would rescue them, but under him the number of children without health insurance has risen by more than 400,000.

 

 

We have all heard Trump’s boasts about our booming economy, but Jan Resseger points out those who are left bond as tax cuts fatten the 1%.

She begins:

Donald Trump has been at Davos this week exalting the United States’ soaring economy. While Trump brags about more people working, however, he neglects to mention the ongoing collapse of manufacturing and its replacement—gig and temporary employment—along with the paltry wages of many workers. Last week Paul Krugman more accurately described how many families are faring  in greater Cleveland, Ohio, where I live.  Krugman writes: “The other day a correspondent asked me a good question: What important issue aren’t we talking about? My answer, after some reflection, is the state of America’s children.”

The problem starts with today’s jobs and today’s low minimum wage, but Krugman explores a range of other ways the fraying social safety fails to support the poorest children: “What’s especially striking is the contrast between the way we treat our children and the way we treat our senior citizens. Social Security isn’t all that generous… but it doesn’t compare too badly with other countries’ retirement systems. Medicare actually spends lavishly compared with single-payer systems elsewhere. So America’s refusal to help children isn’t part of a broad opposition to government programs; we single out children for especially harsh treatment… The answer, I’d suggest, goes beyond the fact that children can’t vote; while seniors can and do. There has also been a poisonous interaction between racial antagonism and bad social analysis.” Krugman describes all the myths about social programs causing “a culture of dependency” among the poor, and he continues: “At this point, however, we know that cultural explanations of social collapse were all wrong. The sociologist William Julius Wilson argued long ago that social dysfunction in big cities was caused, not by culture, but by the disappearance of good jobs. And he has been vindicated by what happened to much of the American heartland, which suffered a… disappearance of good jobs and a similar surge in social dysfunction… Multiple studies have found that safety net programs for children have big long-term consequences.  Children who receive adequate nutrition and health care grow up to become healthier, more productive adults.”

Here are just some of the issues that have emerged in recent articles in my clipping file about the plight of America’s children.

At the top of the list is the persistence of family homelessness in America’s cities.  At the end of October, New York City’s Advocates for Children reported that for the fourth year in a row: “The data… from the New York State Education Department show that in the 2018-2019 school year, New York City district and charter schools identified 114,085, or one in ten, students as homeless.  More than 34,000 students were living in New York City’s shelters, and more than twice that number (73,750) were living ‘doubled-up’ in temporary housing situations with relatives, friends or others.” While the lack of affordable housing is most extreme in NYC, the problem is growing in other gentrifying cities. 

Read the rest of the post. It’s excellent, as always with Jan’s thoughtful critiques.

Arthur Camins wrote a beautiful review of SLAYING GOLIATH at The Daily Kos. 

In light of Camins’ experience as an educator and his passion for justice, I am most grateful for his close and sympathetic reading of this book. Until recently, he was Director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at Stevens Institute of Technology.

He writes, in this excerpt:

Ravitch’s first chapters, Disruption is Not Reform! and the Odious Status Quo, set the context for a thorough repudiation of the state of education in the United States: Endemic historic inequality made worse by decades of focused effort to disrupt a bedrock of American democracy, public education; Support for standardization linked to punishment of students, teachers, and schools by test scores; and, A determined effort to shift essential financial support from democratically governed public education to a competing private sector that includes privately governed charter schools and vouchers for private schools. The perpetrators call themselves reformers. Ravitch calls them disrupters. In her telling, that is a descriptive accusation, not a complement.

“No one likes the status quo,” she writes. “Disrupters claim to oppose the status quo, but they are the status quo.  After all, they control the levers of power in federal and state governments. They write the laws and mandates. They define the status quo. They own it.”  They are a somewhat disparate collective of market ideologues, self-regarding billionaires, technology titans, hedge fund managers, and entrepreneurs out to make (or steal) a fortune at the public trough.  What unites them in an unwavering faith (ideas not supported by evidence) in the power of competition to drive human behavior.  

Slaying Goliath upends the myths of declining achievement and the lies that teachers unions and incompetent teachers are responsible for poor children’s failure to rise to their potential (or do well on standardized tests.  Instead, Ravitch centers blame where it belongs, on our systemic failure to address the systemic- and personally debilitating effects of poverty.

I hope you will open the link and read the review in its entirety.

The book’s official publication date is TODAY! January 21!

Valerie Strauss, veteran education writer at the Washington Post, interviewed me about my new book SLAYING GOLIATH. 

Her questions get to the heart of the book. I hope you will read the exchange.

Lyndsey Layton of the Washington Post interviewed Bill Gates in 2014 and told the full story of the origin of the Common Core “State” Standards.

In case the Washington Post is behind a paywall, the full text of the Layton article is here.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and other friends of the CCSS insisted that the standards were developed by governors, state superintendents, education experts, and teachers. No, they were developed by David Coleman, formerly of McKinsey, now CEO of the College Board, and a committee whose members included no working teachers but a full complement of testing experts from ACT and SAT. Google David Coleman and “architect” and you will see that he is widely credited with shepherding the CCSS to completion.

It would not have happened without the enthusiastic support and funding of Bill Gates.

Layton writes:

On a summer day in 2008, Gene Wilhoit, director of a national group of state school chiefs, and David Coleman, an emerging evangelist for the standards movement, spent hours in Bill Gates’s sleek headquarters near Seattle, trying to persuade him and his wife, Melinda, to turn their idea into reality.

Coleman and Wilhoit told the Gateses that academic standards varied so wildly between states that high school diplomas had lost all meaning, that as many as 40 percent of college freshmen needed remedial classes and that U.S. students were falling behind their foreign competitors.

The pair also argued that a fragmented education system stifled innovation because textbook publishers and software developers were catering to a large number of small markets instead of exploring breakthrough products. That seemed to resonate with the man who led the creation of the world’s dominant computer operating system.

“Can you do this?” Wilhoit recalled being asked. “Is there any proof that states are serious about this, because they haven’t been in the past?”

Wilhoit responded that he and Coleman could make no guarantees but that “we were going to give it the best shot we could.”

After the meeting, weeks passed with no word. Then Wilhoit got a call: Gates was in.

What followed was one of the swiftest and most remarkable shifts in education policy in U.S. history.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation didn’t just bankroll the development of what became known as the Common Core State Standards. With more than $200 million, the foundation also built political support across the country, persuading state governments to make systemic and costly changes.

Bill Gates was de facto organizer, providing the money and structure for states to work together on common standards in a way that avoided the usual collision between states’ rights and national interests that had undercut every previous effort, dating from the Eisenhower administration.

The Gates Foundation spread money across the political spectrum, to entities including the big teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, and business organizations such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — groups that have clashed in the past but became vocal backers of the standards.

Money flowed to policy groups on the right and left, funding research by scholars of varying political persuasions who promoted the idea of common standards. Liberals at the Center for American Progress and conservatives affiliated with the American Legislative Exchange Council who routinely disagree on nearly every issue accepted Gates money and found common ground on the Common Core.

One 2009 study, conducted by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute with a $959,116 Gates grant, described the proposed standards as being “very, very strong” and “clearly superior” to many existing state standards.

Gates money went to state and local groups, as well, to help influence policymakers and civic leaders. And the idea found a major booster in President Obama, whose new administration was populated by former Gates Foundation staffers and associates. The administration designed a special contest using economic stimulus funds to reward states that accepted the standards.

The result was astounding: Within just two years of the 2008 Seattle meeting, 45 states and the District of Columbia had fully adopted the Common Core State Standards.

Even Massachusetts, the state with the highest academic performance in the nation, replaced its excellent standards with CCSS and won a federal grant for doing so.

Some states adopted Common Core before it was publicly released. The state chief in Texas, Robert Scott, refused to adopt the CCSS sight unseen, but he was a rarity.

Without Gates’ money, there would be no Common Core.

Opposition came from Tea Party groups, then from independent teacher groups like the BadAss Teachers Association.

The promise of the Common Core was that it would lift student test scores across the board and at the same time, would close achievement gaps.

The Common Core was rolled out in 2010 and adopted widely in 2011 and 2012.

Districts and states spent billions of dollars on new textbooks, new tests, new software and hardware, new professional development, all aligned to the CCSS.

This was money that the districts and states did not spend to reduce class sizes or to raise teachers’ salaries.

Test scores on NAEP and on international tests have been stagnant since the rollout of the Common Core.

Teacher morale down. New entries into teaching down. Test scores flat. Achievement gaps larger.

Edu-entrepreneurs enriched. Testing industry happy. Tech industry satisfied.

Disruption achieved.

If you want to read more about the origins of the Common Core, read Mercedes Schneider’s Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools? and Nicholas Tampio’s https://www.amazon.com/Common-Core-Nicholas-Tampio-ebook/dp/B079S2627M/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?keywords=nicholas+campion+common+core&qid=1575909356&s=books&sr=1-1-fkmr0Common Core: National Education Standards and the Threat to Our Democracy.

Bottom line: What the Gates’ billions spent on Common Core proved was that the basic problem in American education is not the lack of common standards and common tests, but the growing numbers of children who live in poverty,  who come to school (or miss school) ill-nourished and lacking regular medical care and a decent standard of living.

He spent more than $4 billion on failed experiments in education over the past 20 years. Wouldn’t it be great if he invested in children, families, and communities and improved their standard of living?

 

 

 

The New York Times recently wrote an article claiming that many black and Hispanic families were disappointed that Democratic presidential candidates were abandoning the charter school crusade beloved by the leaders of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, and currently by Betsy DeVos.

Steven Singer disagrees. He responds bluntly that charter schools exploit children of color. 

He writes:

Go to most impoverished black neighborhoods and you’re bound to find three things in abundance.

Liquor stores, payday lenders and charter schools.

It is no accident.

In the inner city, the underemployed compete for a shortage of minimum wage jobs, healthcare is minimal, public transportation inadequate and the schools are underfunded and short staffed.

But that doesn’t mean money isn’t being made.

In capitalist America, we make sure to turn a profit off of everything – including our peculiar institutions of racial inequality.

Businesses are on every corner, but they aren’t set up for the convenience of those living there.

Ethnic isolation – whether caused by poverty, legal coercion, safety in numbers or white flight – often puts the segregated at a disadvantage. It creates a quarantined economy set up for profiteers and carpetbaggers to get rich off the misery of the poor.

The system is set up to wring as much blood as it can from people forced to live as stones.

Families struggle to survive in a community where they are exploited by grasping landlords and greedy grocers. And the system is kept in check by law enforcement officers who are either disposed to turn the other way or so overzealous as to shoot first and ask questions later.

As W.E.B. DuBois described it nearly a century ago, “Murder sat on our doorstep, police were our government, and philanthropy dropped in with periodic advice.”

The economy is glutted with enterprises offering cheap promises of relief but which actually reinforce the status quo.

Predominantly black, low-income neighborhoods are eight times more likely to have carry-out liquor stores than white or racially integrated neighborhoods, according to researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

Yet in higher income black neighborhoods in the same cities, you don’t find these same liquor stores.

They are established in the poorest neighborhoods to offer cheap, temporary respite from the trauma of living in poverty. Yet they increase the likelihood of alcoholism, addiction and violence.

The same goes for payday lenders.

These are basically legal loan sharks who offer ready cash at exorbitant interest rates.  Typically these payday loans are meant to last the length between paychecks – approximately two weeks. However, they come with extremely high interest rates. For instance, the average $375 loan ends up costing $520 (139%) in interest.

These businesses aren’t located in the suburbs or wealthy parts of town. You find them typically in the inner cities and poor black neighborhoods. They promise temporary help with one-time purchases and unexpected expenses, but in truth most are used to pay for necessities like rent or food.

They end up trapping users in a debt spiral where they have to take out payday loans to pay off previous payday loans. This is mostly because these loans are made based on the lender’s ability to collect, not the borrower’s ability to repay while meeting other financial obligations.

And these are just two of the most common features of this predatory economy – capitalist enterprises designed to enrich businesses for exploiting consumers beyond their ability to cope.

Others include high priced but limited stock grocery markets, fast food restaurants, gun stores, inner city rental properties and charter schools.

That last one may seem out of place.

Most descriptions of urban neighborhoods neglect to mention charter schools, but in the last few decades they have become an increasingly common part of the landscape. And this is no wonder. They fit the same pattern of exploitation as the other establishments mentioned above.

Think about it: (1) charter schools disproportionately locate in poor black communities, (2) offer the promise of relief from inequality but end up recreating or worsening the same unjust circumstances and (3) they are often owned by rich white folks from outside the neighborhood who profit off the venture.

 

In the era of Bush-Obama education policy, it became conventional wisdom to blame schools for the effects of poverty. Civil rights lawyer Wendy Lecker explains that the test-and-punish regime continues by blaming schools and punishing them for chronic absenteeism. 

She writes:

NCLB measured school quality based on standardized test scores and relied on sanctions such as school turnaround, takeover and privatization. After almost two decades under NCLB, and the acknowledgment that the metric was inaccurate and the prescriptions were ineffective, the federal government decided to try a tweaked version of its failed test-and-punish regime.

The ESSA system employs multiple “indicators” of school quality. Each indicator provides schools and districts with points that together dictate what types of sanctions are imposed. The dashboard showing the schools’ and districts’ points for each indicator are also published online.

Nowhere on this dashboard is the state graded for whether or not it adequately funds Connecticut public schools, even though nationwide evidence proves a causal connection between school spending and student achievement.

One indicator under Connecticut’s ESSA plan is chronic absenteeism. The rationale Connecticut provides for including this indicator is the research and data demonstrating an association of chronic absenteeism to student academic achievement and high school graduation. What the ESSA plan does not detail are the causes of absenteeism.

A new study from Wayne State University tracks the incidence of chronic absenteeism across U.S. cities. The researchers found that nationwide, certain factors are significantly correlated with chronic absenteeism, namely: long-term population change, asthma rates, poverty and unemployment rates, residential vacancy rates, violent crime rates, average monthly temperature, and racial segregation.

Thus, although under Connecticut’s accountability system, chronic absenteeism is an indicator of school quality, and can contribute to a school or school district being subjected to increasingly draconian sanctions, none of the factors listed above that are significantly correlated with chronic absenteeism has anything to do with school.

Common sense in federal education policy would be nice for a change.

Social scientists have repeatedly documented the close correlation between child poverty and academic achievement. You don’t have to be a social scientist to look at any graph that displays both test scores and family income: the kids from the richest families are at the top, and the kids from the poorest family are at the bottom. It is not surprising, because those with the least income have the least access to food security, medical care, decent housing, and all the other basics of living that affluent families take for granted.

In this blog post, Marc Tucker reviewed the data on child poverty and its relationship to education outcomes. He cites a feature in the Economist magazine about poverty in the United States. He includes a graph showing the dramatic increase in child poverty from 2000-2016. Tucker goes back even further, to 1960, to note that income inequality was not as great then as it is now. Those at the top had “more,” of course, but were not billionaires inhabiting a totally different universe than those at the bottom or those in the middle. Something is terribly wrong with hundreds of people are billionaires, some of them with assets of more than $100 billion, at the same time that more and more families and children live in poverty.

Both the standard measure of poverty and the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which takes benefits and cost of living into account, show that about one in six children in the U.S. is poor. (The current official poverty level is $25,750 for a family of four.) While there are poor families all over the country, the averages are misleading, because the poor are usually concentrated in clusters.

When educators think about poverty among their students, the measure that comes first to mind is the percentage of public school students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch, which is available to children in households with incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level. In the 2000-01 school year, 38.3 percent of public school students were eligible.  That figure climbed to 48.1 percent in the 2010-11 school year, 51.8 percent in the 2014-15 school year and 52.1 percent in the 2015-16 school year. But these figures, like those for poverty overall, are often far higher where poverty is concentrated and its effects far worse and much longer lasting there.

Percent of US students who qualify for free and reduced price lunch keeps growing 

The Economist points out that, when Jack Kennedy was President and Lyndon Johnson became President, it was different. Then, the poorest among us were the elderly. Now, with the growth in Medicare and Social Security, the elderly are doing much better and the young much worse.  The experience of the elderly, however, is instructive. Policy changed the outcomes for them dramatically. There is no reason why that should not be equally true for the young. What is most interesting about The Economist’s article on child poverty is not the statistics, which are well known. It is their comments on the policy options for dealing with the problem of child poverty in the U.S.

The simplest solution is cash transfers. The Economist refers to the work of Stanford professor David Grusky, who calculates that California could end child poverty in that state by spending only $2.8 billion a year, one quarter of what it spends annually on its prisons. Conservatives often oppose cash transfers to poor people on the grounds that they stifle initiative. But we could probably all agree that transfers for young children will not destroy their initiative. Many first-world countries in Asia, North America and Europe award means-tested and non-means-tested allotments to families with young children, especially countries where the domestic fertility rate is falling below the birth rate. The Economist quotes Jane Waldfogel, a Columbia economist, saying that a relatively small universal child credit could cut the U.S. child poverty rate in half all by itself.

But, says The Economist, the problem cannot be dealt with solely with a transfer program, because poverty in the U.S. is so concentrated. Researchers have shown that young children who are doing very poorly in schools serving students in concentrated poverty do much better if they can go to schools serving families in wealthier communities. Those other communities don’t necessarily have more money per student, but they provide much more support to the student in the form of higher expectations, a wider range of experiences and more rigorous schooling. While this strategy is not fully scalable, it could certainly be ramped up.

In this vein, we note that Howard County, Maryland, recently redistricted its schools to allow many more children whose schools were made up of large numbers of students in concentrated poverty to go to schools with wealthier children and spread the number of children in poverty more equitably across that district. They did this because their own research showed that earlier efforts to do this same thing worked to lift performance in students who come from impoverished backgrounds. 

Many of the schools that are economically segregated are also racially segregated. The Economist points to data showing that moving students from racially segregated schools to unsegregated schools can, over five years, improve student incomes by 30 percent and greatly reduce the likelihood of incarceration. But, just as poverty is rising among school children, our schools are becoming more, not less, segregated.

In the early days of desegregation, inner-city predominantly African-American school districts were merged with predominantly white ones into a single district. But, in recent years, white, relatively well-to-do areas within large urban districts have been applying to their state legislatures for the right to form their own school districts, or, failing that, their own cities or towns (which would enable them to get their own school district), thereby contributing to the isolation and concentration of low-income, often minority, families in communities where hope for a better future is dying.

The Economist article ends with a reminder of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s warnings, back in the Nixon administration, about trouble in the African American family. Around a quarter of African Americans then were born out of wedlock. That proportion is now 70 percent for African Americans, 50 percent for Hispanic children and 30 percent for whites. The proportion for poor whites living in poverty is, of course, much higher. Research shows that households with single parents are more likely to live in poverty and the children in those families are more likely to experience lower academic achievement than households with two parents. When critics insist that American teachers need to be held accountable for the poor performance of American school children, the teachers shoot back that they are being held accountable for the failure of American parents and taxpayers to take care of their children. 

When some of us point out that there has been no improvement in the performance of all high school students or of protected subgroups of students in the United States on NAEP measures of reading and mathematics in 30 years, they tell us we should consider ourselves lucky that we have teachers who have been able to hold student performance steady while the American people have been sending them students who get poorer and more isolated every year.

I think they have a point.  Don’t you?

 

The Boston Globe published this opinion piece questioning the validity of concepts like grit and resilience. 

Author Alissa Quart interviews Christine White, a woman who grew up in extreme poverty yet managed to build a successful career helping people who struggled as she did. But not by coaching them to have more “grit” and “resilience.”

Christine White, writes Quart, has written

a number of posts on on her nonprofit’s blog questioning this resilience refrain. She believes that when “we are obsessing about resilience it obscures the fundamental issues that people have, like a lack of privilege or a history of trauma.” When “resilience” is applied to at-risk kids, says White, it implies “the solutions reside within an individual and not their context: ‘resilience’ skews conversations away from equity.” The assumption is that having “character” will help traumatized people flourish — and if they don’t flourish, there is an implied lack of character.

“Ninety percent of resilience conversations would be better if the focus was, instead, on racial and economic inequities,” she wrote in correspondence with me.

But “resilience” and “grittiness” have become ubiquitous honorifics — likely to come out of the mouths of not only teachers but also therapists, urban planners, businessmen, and policymakers, all praising individual pluck.

Thanks to Angela Duckworth’s bestseller of the same name, “grit” is now a part of American school life: In New Hampshire, for instance, some grammar school students are taught “grit skills” by teachers who follow a “grit curriculum.” One grit lesson includes interviewing a neighbor, for example, who has shown grit and creating that person’s “perseverance walk,” outlining how they achieved their goals.

The terms have even spawned an industry of books, apps, and gurus:

There is a now even a grit and resilience industry.

“Resilience is knowing that you are the only one that has the power and responsibility to pick yourself up,” says Mary Holloway, a “resilience coach” and the creator of the “Boom Bounce Wow Resilience Method.” There are also dozens of self-help books promising to make you more resilient or more gritty, including one that promises to create resilience with the subtitle “How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness.” One of the biggest resilience bestsellers is “Option B” by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.

Apps have also gotten into the resilience and positive psychology game, with names such as ResilientMe and Happify. And there is even a “resilience planner” bearing the legend “Stay Resilient 2019,” which is currently sold out…

There’s also a growing — though much smaller — academic backlash to the term “resilience.” Critics note the focus on “resilience” can ignore the structural gaps of our economy, for example. Should we really be building personal capacities to triumph over, say, the “adversity” that is the current scarcity of public funding for education?

Call grit and resilience what they are: a substitute for the structural and financial changes that give people genuine opportunity to get ahead.

These terms are an effort to substitute “the power of positive thinking” for equity.