Archives for category: Poverty

Sarah Jones is an amazingly perceptive writer who has trained her sights in the real crisis in American education: not low test scores, but underfunding and stark disparities of funding.

Her latest article is brilliant. It begins:

Andrew Worthington’s public school was in trouble even before the coronavirus struck. “We have lead in the pipes,” the Manhattan-based English teacher said. “We have all sorts of rodents. There’s soot in the ventilation system. The bathrooms are constantly out of service.” When school is in session, Worthington said, most classes have over 30 students. About 80 percent of the student body qualifies for free and reduced lunch, and many lack the tech they now need to keep up with classes.

After the pandemic turned classrooms dangerous, Worthington’s students faced widening gaps. The iPads the school handed out could only do so much. “It’s hard for them to write essays on a tablet,” Worthington observed.

Like any natural disaster, the pandemic is a stress test for our systems and institutions. It locates their weak spots, and presses until something snaps. Public education could be its next casualty, advocates and experts told Intelligencer; a victim not just of the virus, but of something older and more deliberate, too. America’s public schools haven’t been properly funded for years. Twenty-nine states spent less on public education in 2015 than they did in 2009, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has reported. Local governments in 19 states cut per-pupil spending over the same time period; elsewhere, small increases couldn’t make up for drastic, state-level reductions. If schools buckle now under the weight of the pandemic, lawmakers bear much of the blame.

With school back in session, administrators and teachers alike must stretch already scarce resources to meet new demands. If school buildings reopen at all, social-distancing demands smaller class sizes and more teachers. If schools keep classes virtual, poor students need tools that their districts might not be able to afford. Because the pandemic helped spawn a recession, schools also face crippling cuts as state and local tax revenue contracts. A new report from the American Federation of Teachers projects a funding gap of $93.5 billion for pre-K–12 education, and an additional $45 billion gap for higher education. Unless Congress and Donald Trump can agree on a rescue package, the union estimates that around one million jobs for pre-K–12 educators will disappear.

Maybe no one could have prevented coronavirus, or something equally drastic, from transforming public life and public schools. But the situation didn’t have to be quite so dire, said Diane Ravitch, an education historian and the founder of the Network for Public Education. “We have been through a long period of devaluing public education, especially the education of children who are poor,” she told Intelligencer by email. “High-wealth communities invest in their schools. In poor neighborhoods, where children have low test scores, politicians have opened charter schools and offered vouchers, which saps funding from schools that need it most.”

Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the president of the National Education Association, put matters in even blunter terms. “I hear the word ‘chronic,’ and that’s a good word,” she said. “But there’s another word that has to be put with it, and that’s ‘intentional.’” Lawmakers, she added, “are intentionally, chronically underfunding our schools.”

In recent days, the public learned that Jeff Bezos’ net worth has soared to more than $170 billion. Bill Gates trails Bezos at “only” $114 billion. The Walton family is in the same range ($150 billion among three of them). This vast accumulation of wealth by a very tiny number of people distorts the entire economy, especially since it contrasts with millions of people who are unemployed, homeless, and living in deep poverty. Is this the America we love? Is this the America that we want?

G.F. Brandenburg has reposted an essay here about the “looting of America” by the super-rich.

To change this imbalance which eats away at the soul of our society, we need the courage to write a new tax code. I don’t know how to write a tax code but I know what inequity looks like. It looks like what we have today.

Time to recommend an important book: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger.

Victor Ray and Alan Aja argue in this article that appeared in the Washington Post that racism can’t be “fixed” by more education. Plenty of highly educated people are racist.
The root of racism, they argue, is systematic inequality of resources and access to power.

Prescribing education as the cure for racism often confuses individual bigotry with a system of domination. As a system of domination, racism can be manipulated, because it is bigger than any individual. Highly educated people, who sometimes know better, contribute to systems of racial harm on a regular basis.

The architecture of American racism is not an unfortunate accident: It was created intentionally to acquire and keep power. The highly educated designed America’s system of segregation and America’s prison system. Highly educated lawyers devise arguments to protect police who kill black and brown folks, highly educated prosecutors decline to bring charges, and highly educated judges assign light sentences. There is no good evidence that educating police about implicit bias works to lessen harm. And whites with high cognitive ability are no more likely to support practical policies that lessen racial inequality. But their education does allow them to offer more sophisticated justifications for privilege…

The problem of racial inequality is not just a lack of knowledge; it is the lack of a willingness among many white people to commit to an equitable distribution of resources.
What movements like those currently in the streets recognize is that systemic problems are not solved by education in the absence of collective action. Solutions to racial inequality require a reorganization of what creates inequality in the first place: unequal access to social and material resources. Seeing education as a necessary but insufficient condition for challenging racial inequality is not pessimistic. It recognizes that knowledge used to confront, rather than accommodate or legitimate authority, can lead to a more equitable distribution of power.

My opinion: When billionaires intervene to disrupt and privatize education, they are diverting our attention. When Trump and DeVos bray that “school choice is the civil rights issue of our time and of all time,” they are changing the subject so as to protect their privilege. The root problem of our divided society is inequality. The billionaires should be lobbying to raise their taxes and to redistribute resources to society’s have-nots, so that we are a nation of haves.

Please read the book The Spirit Level. Its basic argument is that societies with high levels of inequality are unhappy societies. The more equality, the greater the level of social happiness.

I have known Jamaal Bowman as an enlightened educator and a fighter for social justice. Right now, he is running for Congress against a senior Democrat, Elliot Engel. Engel is a 16-term member of Congress and chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee. Most people think of Jamaal as a long shot.

But the times are changing. Jamaal has raised nearly $1 million. He was endorsed by AOC. He is young and energetic and passionate.

Michelle Goldberg, a regular columnist for the New York Times, wrote an extraordinary column about Jamaal.

Goldberg wrote:

On March 1, which feels about 20 years ago, NBC News published an essay by a congressional candidate, Jamaal Bowman, about the scars he bore from life in New York under Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who was then still running for president.

“As a working-class black male educator during the entirety of Bloomberg’s tenure, I got to experience the horrors and the trauma of how his police department treated people like me,” wrote Bowman. He described an inexplicable arrest following a routine traffic stop, and another after he was accused of stealing his own car. He wrote about Eric Garner and Sean Bell, two black men killed by N.Y.P.D. cops, and about the growing police presence in the city schools where Bowman had made his career.

Last March, when the NBC article appeared, Goldberg wrote him off. But the world has changed since the killing of George Floyd.

Now Jamaal Bowman has a shot at winning. He would be a great addition to Congress.

I endorsed Jamaal months ago. He has all the right ingredients to be a strong voice on behalf of his district, on behalf of education, on behalf of the black and brown students he worked so hard to educate as principal of the Cornerstone Academy of Social Action, and on behalf of their families. He would fight for those who have been left behind by poverty, institutional neglect, and racism.

If you live in the Sixteenth Congressional District in the Bronx, please vote for Jamaal Bowman for Congress.

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.