Sunday, October 28, 2012

"I Am Not a Leader": Russell Means' 1980 Mother Jones Cover Story

In honor of Russell Means who passed away last Tuesday.  Also check out this remembrance by Tom Hayden in The Nation.


Mother Jones

"I Am Not a Leader": Russell Means' 1980 Mother Jones Cover Story

In a provocative piece, the American Indian Movement activist lashed out at European "death culture" and the left.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Expert: By supporting both parents and children together,...

Expert: By supporting both parents and children together,...

Interesting article in today's Statesman.  Wonder how folks will interpret this?  "In today’s labor market, workers need at least a year’s worth of college plus a degree or credential valued by employers in order to reach a tipping point in their earnings."  

A quick reaction is that the over-riding concern of this piece is on employment and  individual earnings.  If we were looking at promoting the power and influence of minorities and the poor in society, that's quite a different matter.  While improving access to good-paying jobs is a must, this intervention is not sufficient for a more equitable redistribution of status, privilege and power in society. 

I do appreciate though the two-generation approach. Increasing mothers' skills and earnings while their children are young is a very positive thing.  To this end, our cities, districts, and universities should, in my view, partner in and with these efforts to promote adult education.  Indeed, we should partner with Mexico to develop binational projects and programs that could accomplish this for our Spanish-dominant populations.

This study by the Center for American Progress spells out exactly what has happened in the U.S. with the withering away of workers' bargaining rights.  They found that legal and political environments the the context of the private sector block workers from freely expressing their rights.  Hence, representation of unions in this sector today stands at >7%  compared to around 30% in the 1960s.  This report further finds that the income of the top 1% of Americans more than doubled between 1974 and 2007.  For the top .1%, their earnings quadrupled over this time period.  They conclude that a 10% boost in unionization would raise Americans' average annual incomes by $1,051 per year. 

Ohio is a political bright spot in this regard.  Voters overturned a Republican-crafted law that eliminated public workers'  collective bargaining rights.  Wisconsin is another bright spot.  A judge struck down most of this legislation that practically ended collective bargaining rights.  President Obama supports bargaining rights for workers.  In contract, Romney supports a national right-to-work law that will restrict bargaining rights. If we are to forestall the further "pauperization" of our city and schools (to use Jean Anyon's words), the choice for the presidency is clear.


Unions Make the Middle Class

Without Unions, the Middle Class Withers

SOURCE: AP/Amy Sancetta
Unions give workers a greater voice not only by promoting political participation among all Americans—ensuring that more of the middle class vote and get involved in politics—but also by being an advocate on behalf of the middle class in the daily, inner-workings of government and politics.
See also: Interactive Map: Stronger Unions Create a Stronger Middle Class by Nick Bunker and David Madland

Read the full report (pdf)

Download the introduction and summary (pdf)

Why should anyone—especially those who are not union members—care that union membership is at record lows and likely to fall even further? Because if you care about the middle class, you need to care about unions.

Critics of unions claim they are unimportant today or even harmful to the economy, but unions are essential for building a strong middle class. And rebuilding the middle class after decades of decline and stagnation is essential for restoring our economy.

Unions make the middle class strong by ensuring workers have a strong voice in both the market and in our democracy. When unions are strong they are able to ensure that workers are paid fair wages, receive the training they need to advance to the middle class, and are considered in corporate decision-making processes. Unions also promote political participation among all Americans, and help workers secure government policies that support the middle class, such as Social Security, family leave, and the minimum wage.

But as unions became weaker over the past four decades, they are less and less able to perform these functions—and the middle class withered. The percentage of workers in unions steadily declined largely because the legal and political environment prevents private-sector workers from freely exercising their right to join or not to join a union. Membership in private-sector unions stands at less than 7 percent today, from around 30 percent in the late 1960s. Public-sector unionization remained stable for decades—it was 37 percent in 1979 and is 36 percent today—but is now under significant threat from conservative political opposition and could start declining as well. All told, less than 12 percent of the total workforce is unionized, and this percentage is likely to continue falling.

Without the counterbalance of workers united together in unions, the middle class withers because the economy and politics tend to be dominated by the rich and powerful, which in turn leads to an even greater flow of money in our economy to the top of income scale. As can be seen in Figure 1, the percentage of unionized workers tracks very closely with the share of the nation’s income going to the middle class—those in the middle three-fifths of income earners.

In recent years, the middle class accounted for the smallest share of the nation’s income ever since the end of World War II, when this data was first collected. The middle three income quintiles, representing 60 percent of all Americans, received only 46 percent of the nation’s income in 2009, the most recent year data is available, down from highs of around 53 percent in 1969.

The middle class weakened over the past several decades because the rich secured the lion’s share of the economy’s gains. The share of pretax income earned by the richest 1 percent of Americans more than doubled between 1974 and 2007, climbing to 18 percent from 8 percent. And for the richest of the rich—the top 0.1 percent—the gains have been even more astronomical—quadrupling over this period, rising to 12.3 percent of all income from 2.7 percent.

as union membership decreases, middle class income shrinks
In contrast, incomes for most Americans have been nearly flat over this same time period, and median income after accounting for inflation actually fell for working-age households during the supposedly good economy in the recovery between 2001 and 2007. The importance of unions to the middle class is not just a historical phenomenon, but is relevant to our lives today. To be sure, not everything unions do benefits the broad middle class, but unions are critical to defending the middle class, and their resurgence is key to rebuilding the middle class.

Indeed, it is hard to imagine a middle-class society without a strong union movement.
Across the globe, the countries with the strongest middle classes all have strong union movements. And in America today, states with higher concentrations of union members have a much stronger middle class. The 10 states with the lowest percentage of workers in unions all have a relatively weak middle class, with the share of total state income going to households in the middle three-fifths of income earners in these states below the average for all states.

Our analysis, more fully described in the body and appendix of this report, indicates that each percentage point increase in union membership puts about $153 more per year into the pockets of the middle class—meaning that if unionization rates increased by 10 percentage points (about the level they were in 1980)—then the typical middle class household would earn $1,532 more this year. This figure indicates how much better off all members of the middle class would be—not just those who are union members— if unions regained some strength. And these gains would continue year after year. To put these results in context, our analysis indicates that increasing union membership is as important to rebuilding the middle class as boosting college graduation rates, results that while shocking to some, are consistent with previous research.

In our democracy, when workers are joined together in unions they are able to more forcefully and effectively speak for their interests. Unions give workers a greater voice not only by promoting political participation among all Americans—ensuring that more of the middle class vote and get involved in politics—but also by being an advocate on behalf of the middle class in the daily, inner-workings of government and politics.

This provides a check on other powerful political interests, such as corporations and the very wealthy, and ensures that our system of government has the balance of interests that James Madison, a chief framer of our constitution, thought necessary to properly function. This counterbalancing role is essential for democracy to function properly and respond to the interests of all Americans.

In the workplace, workers who join together in unions are able to negotiate on more equal footing with their employers, providing a check on the inherently unequal relationship between employer and employee. As George Shultz, secretary of labor during the Nixon administration and secretary of state during the Reagan administration argued in support of trade unions, in “a healthy workplace, it is very important that there be some system of checks and balances."

Indeed, the ability of workers united together to provide a check on corporate power was the very reason Congress guaranteed private-sector workers the right to join a union, writing in the findings section of the National Labor Relations Act of 1935:

The inequality of bargaining power between employees who do not possess full freedom of association or actual liberty of contract and employers who are organized in the corporate or other forms of ownership association substantially burdens and affects the flow of commerce, and tends to aggravate recurrent business depressions, by depressing wage rates and the purchasing power of wage earners in industry and by preventing the stabilization of competitive wage rates and working conditions within and between industries.

And government employers, like corporations, sometimes need to be reminded by organized workers to treat their employees fairly. That’s why Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis in 1968 to help city sanitation workers gain recognition for their union as they faced low pay, terrible working conditions, and racist supervisors. Even the conservative icon Ronald Reagan recognized that publicsector workers should be able to join unions and collectively bargain. Reagan signed a bill to grant municipal and county employees the right to do so when he was governor of California.
Critically, the benefits of workers having a voice in the economy and in democracy spill over to all of society. In these ways, unions make the middle class. The challenge of rebuilding the middle class will take a long time, but would be impossible without a clear understanding of what makes the middle class strong. This paper will explore in detail why we need to do this and how we need to go about it. To rebuild America’s middle class, we need to rebuild the labor movement. It’s that simple—and that challenging.

David Madland is the Director of the American Worker Project, Karla Walter is a Senior Policy Analyst, and Nick Bunker is a Special Assistant with the Economic Policy team at the Center for American Progress.
Read the full report (pdf)
Download the introduction and summary (pdf)
See also:
To speak with our experts on this topic, please contact:
Print: Katie Peters (economy, education, and health care)
202.741.6285 or
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202.481.8181 or
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202.741.6258 or
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202.481.7146 or
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202.483.2675 or
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202.481.8119 or

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Education Profiteering: Wall Street's Next Big Thing?

Wall street and big business infiltrating education dollars is far from a "new" thing.  One of the things I show in my own work is how these monied interests in Texas mask themselves.   We're being robbed right in front of our faces.  One problem is that there are too many "leaders" who control a lot of on-the-ground decision making who are seduced by these investors/interests.

In response to Diane Ravich's comment, "I look around the world and I don't see any country doing this but us. Why is that?" 

The answer, as this article's subheading states, is summed with one word: GREED.  

If you're out to make a profit in a down economy, what's the one "industry" that all state constitutions say will never go bankrupt? Public education.  

So it's not just about equitable and adequate funding and holding our state and local government accountable for providing funds, it's also about knowing WHO ultimately gets that money.  The image of communities rising up fighting for more funding and an old school vacuum shoot sending that money straight to the bank account of a profiteer should appear right about now.

By Jeff Faux | AlterNetBy

October 15, 2012

 The end of the Chicago teachers' strike was but a temporary regional truce in the civil war that plagues the nation's public schools. There is no end in sight, in part because -- as often happens in wartime -- the conflict is increasingly being driven by profiteers.

The familiar media narrative tells us that this is a fight over how to improve our schools. On the one side are the self-styled reformers, who argue that the central problem with American K-12 education is low-quality teachers protected by their unions. Their solution is privatization, with its most common form being the privately run but publicly financed charter school. Because charter schools are mostly unregulated, nonunion and compete for students, their promoters claim they will, ipso facto, perform better than public schools.

On the other side are teachers and their unions who are cast as villains. The conventional plot line is that they resist change, blame poverty for their schools' failings and protect their jobs and turf.

It is well known, although rarely acknowledged in the press, that the reform movement has been financed and led by the corporate class. For over twenty years large business oriented foundations, such as Gates (Microsoft), Walton (Wal-Mart) and Broad (Sun Life) have poured billions into charter school start-ups, sympathetic academics and pundits, media campaigns (including Hollywood movies) and sophisticated nurturing of the careers of privatization promoters who now dominate the education policy debate from local school boards to the US Department of Education.

In recent years, hedge fund operators, leverage-buy-out artists and investment bankers have joined the crusade. They finance schools, sit on the boards of their associations and the management companies that run them, and -- most important -- have made support of charter schools one of the criteria for campaign giving in the post-Citizens United era. Since most Republicans are already on board for privatization, the political pressure has been mostly directed at Democrats.

Thus, for example, when Andrew Cuomo wanted to get the support of hedge fund managers for his run for governor of New York, he was told to talk to Joe Williams, director of Democrats for Education Reform, a group set up to lobby liberals on privatization. Cuomo is now a champion of charter schools. As Joanne Barkan noted in a Dissent Magazine report, privatizers are even targeting school board elections, in one case spending over $630,000 to elect two members in a local school board race last year in Colorado.

Wall Street's involvement in the charter school movement -- when the media acknowledges it -- is presented as an act of philanthropy. Perhaps, as critics claim, hedge funders are meddling in an area they know nothing about. But their motives are worthy. Indeed, since they send their own children to the best private schools, their concern for other people's children seems remarkably altruistic. "Wall Street has always put its money where its interests of beliefs lie," observed this New York Times article , "But it is far less common that so many financial heavyweights would adopt a social cause like charter schools and advance it with a laser like focus in the political realm."

Yet, with the wide variety of social causes and charitable needs -- poverty, health, housing, global warming, the arts, etc. -- why would so many Wall Streeters focus laser-like on this particular issue? The Times suggest two answers. One is that the money managers are hard-nosed, data-driven investors "drawn to the business-like way in which many charter schools are run; their focus on results primarily measured by test scores."

Twenty years ago, one might have reasonably believed that the private charter schools, which are managed to produce the numbers, would produce better outcomes -- as measured by the numbers. But the overwhelming evidence is that they do not. The single most comprehensive study, by researchers at Stanford University, found that 17 percent of charter school students performed better than their public school counterparts, 46 percent no better and 37 percent worse. Stanford's conclusions have been reinforced by virtually all of the serious research, including those at the University of California, the Economic Policy Institute and the policy research firm Mathematica.

Nor do charter schools seem more efficient. Those promoted as the most successful examples have been heavily subsidized by foundations and Wall Street donors. The film, Waiting for Superman that portrays a heroic charter school organizer fighting a selfish teachers union was widely hyped in the media -- including popular TV shows like Oprah Winfrey's. Yet, as Diane Ravitch, an assistant secretary of education under George H.W. Bush and a former charter school supporter turned critic, noted, the film neglected to report that the hero educator kicked out the entire first class of the school because their test scores were too low, that the school was heavily subsidized by the pro-reform foundations and that the hero took an annual salary of four hundred thousand dollars.

Neither do the data on international comparisons support either privatization in general or charter schools in particular. The foreign education systems that out score America's are government-run, unionized, monopolies. Ravitch asks: "I look around the world and I don't see any country doing this but us. Why is that?"

Good question. Although the data do not support the supposedly data-driven privatizers' claims, their enthusiasm is undiminished. In response to an op-ed by Bill Gates that crudely misrepresented the statistics on school performance, education policy analyst Richard Rothstein observed: "It is remarkable that someone associated with technology and progress should have such a careless disregard for accuracy when it comes to the education policy in which he is now so deeply involved."
The Times' other guess about Wall Street's motives was that hedge funders are attracted to the anti-union character of the charter schools. This is undoubtedly true; the attack on the pubic schools is clearly a part of the broad conservative campaign to discredit government.

Wall Street has always loathed the labor movement. And in the last decade it has had even more of a reason since corporate profits now depend more on cost cutting and less on the creation of new products. The Chief Finance Officer of JP Morgan reports that some 75% of the net increase in corporate profits between 2000 and 2007 -- before the financial crash -- was a result of cuts in workers' wages and benefits. Given that unions are the only serious vehicles for resistance to the corporate low-wage strategy, Wall Street's antipathy has become even stronger.

But today unions represent less than seven percent of private sector workers. And the influence of public sector unions on the bargaining position of workers in profit-making corporations is, certainly in the short run, negligible. So while hostility to unions plays a role, is it is not quite credible to believe that Wall Street profit maximizers would be spending so much of their time and money simply to beat up on a proxy for the private sector unions that they have already so beaten back.
As usual, when looking for what motivates capitalists in a market system, the answer is likely to have something to do with making money.

Having been rescued from the consequences of its own folly by the Bush/Obama bailouts with its de-regulated privileges intact, Wall Street is once more on the prowl for the new "big thing" -- a new source of potential profits upon which to build the next lucrative asset bubble.

The landscape of the coming decade is not promising. Most forecasters see a near term future of slow growth, sluggish consumer spending and government retrenchment. Despite the Federal Reserve's commitment to low interest rates there is little demand for equities, indicating widespread investor pessimism about the future. As Bill Gross, the founder of global investment giant Pimco, wrote in August, "Boomers can't take risk. Gen X and Y believe in Facebook but not its stock. Gen Z has no money."

The financial bubble of the 1990s was driven by new business start-ups exploiting technologies whose development had been subsidized by the taxpayers. The bubble of the 2000's was built on the boom in subprime mortgages organized and subsidized by Federal housing programs. But with a virtual Washington consensus on cutting back public spending, investors have little expectation of new government money being poured into some dormant economic sector on a scale sufficient to generate widespread speculative excitement.

Education privatization would not, per se, create a net new stimulus for the economy. But by diverting large existing flows of money from the public to the private sector it would create new profit-making ventures that could be capitalized and transformed into stocks, derivatives and leveraged securities. The pot has been sweetened by a 39 percent federal tax credit for financing charter school construction that can double an investor's return in seven years. The prospect of new speculative opportunities could well recharge the animal spirits upon which Wall Street depends.
Some "liberal" privatization promoters claim that charter schools should not be considered private. But that's an argument the management companies that run the schools only use when they are asking for more government funding. At the same time they argue in courts and to legislatures that as private enterprises they should not be subject to government audits, labor laws and other restrictions.

These companies rent, buy, and sell buildings; make contracts for consulting, accounting and legal services, food concessions, and transportation; and pay their managers far more than public school principals earn. In cases where city governments have given land to charter schools, for profit real estate companies have ended up owning the subsidized land and buildings. In states where charter schools are required to be nonprofit, profit-making companies can still set them up and then organize a board of neighborhood residents who will give them the right to manage the school with little or no interference.

In 2008 Dennis Bakke, CEO of Imagine Schools, a private company that managed 71 schools in eleven states, sent an email to the firm's senior staff. It reminded his managers not to give school boards the "misconception" that they were "responsible for making decisions about budget matters, school policies, hiring of the principal, and dozens of other matters." The memo suggested that the community board members be required to sign undated letters of resignation. "It is our school, our money, and our risk," he wrote, "not theirs."

The potential for private profits from publicly funded education is not limited to K-12. Profit-making universities and vocational schools -- increasingly substituting remote internet learning for classroom teachers -- are among the fastest growing businesses in the country. The sector is rife with high-pressure sales tactics and shoddy training, which leaves students - many of them low-income -- deeply in debt and no further up the job ladder. Most of their growth is financed by Federal aid and Federally guaranteed student loans.

"You start to see entire ecosystems of investment opportunity lining up," Rob Lytle, an business consultant earlier this year told a meeting of private equity investors interested in for-profit education companies. According to Stephanie Simon of Reuters, who reported on the event, investment in for profit education has already jumped from $13 million in 2005 to $389 million in 2011. Among others, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase have created multimillion-dollar funds for education investments.

These "data-driven" investors are not so much interested in students' scores, as in the opportunities to cut costs by using online technology. Ironically, while reformers insist their goal is to develop more skilled teachers, a goal of their financier allies is to get rid of them. The central question, says education entrepreneur John Katzman is "How do we use technology so that we require fewer qualified teachers?"

According to none other that Rupert Murdoch, the U.S. education industry represents a five hundred billion dollar opportunity for investors. In 2010, he hired prominent reformer Joel Klein from his post as chancellor of the New York City Department of Education to run Murdoch's education technology company. A few months later the firm received a $2.7 million contract from the city.

Charter schools, for profit on-line universities and other forms of privatization may not in the end fulfill all the dreams of its Wall Street promoters. But there is clearly money to be made here. And where there is money to be made, we can be sure that there will be money to finance political campaigns, to support career ladders that move between government and business and to bribe the media into ignoring the data. So the war on public education will continue. All of course "for the sake of the children."

Jeff Faux is the founder and former president of the Economic Policy Institute and the author of the new book,  The Servant Economy: Where America's Elite is Sending the Middle Class. 

Equity in Texas school funding returns to fore in court

I'm gearing up for next week's opening hearings.  This is a nice overview of the issue.  Also check out IDRA's "Fair Funding for the Common Good" website.  Another good resource is the Texas Tribune's article, "How to Navigate Texas' School Finance System".

Very honored to be a part of these historical battles and look forward to keeping folks updated.


Arguments begin Oct. 22 in sweeping school finance trial involving two-thirds of Texas school districts.

American-Statesman Staff
More than 135 years ago, state leaders etched into the Texas Constitution a commitment for the Legislature to provide an “efficient system of public free schools.” Those words have bedeviled their successors ever since.

Public education was “the most important yet the most difficult question that has or will come before us,” said one attendee at the constitutional convention in 1875, where they struggled with how to raise money for schools and apportion it across a vast and diverse state.

“They were talking kids, taxes, class and race,” said Albert Kauffman, a law professor at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio who litigated a seminal Texas school finance case.
And they still are.

Beginning Oct. 22 in a Travis County courtroom, lawyers representing about two-thirds of Texas’ school districts — which combined educate three-quarters of the state’s 5 million students — will argue that the Legislature has once again failed to meet its constitutional obligations.
At the center of Texas’ protracted battle over school finance is whether the state is providing more than 1,000 ethnically and economically diverse school districts what they need to ensure students are getting the constitutionally required “general diffusion of knowledge” needed to succeed in the 21st century economy.

“It looks to me like this is the granddaddy of all these cases,” state District Judge John Dietz said during a preliminary hearing this summer. “We’ve got every topic that’s ever been discussed.”
Six different groups have sued the state over a laundry list of potential violations, and many of the legal complaints overlap. The issue of “constitutional efficiency” — equity — has emerged as one key issue that divides the different coalitions of school districts. In short, can a poor school district access roughly equal amounts of money to educate students as a rich district?

The fundamental question about equity dates back to a 1984 lawsuit that for the first time successfully challenged the constitutionality of Texas’ school finance system.

Because Texas relies heavily on local property taxes to pay for schools, plaintiffs from the Edgewood school district in San Antonio argued that huge disparities in spending had emerged because of differences in communities’ property tax bases.

The wealthiest school districts — those rich in oil, natural gas and other resources as well as tony residential enclaves — were by and large taxing less than were poor districts. But they were able to spend on average $2,000 more per student because they had much higher property values. Spending across the state ranged from $2,100 to more than $19,300 per student and at least one of the poorest districts did not have the resources to offer instruction in chemistry, physics or any foreign languages.
In a landmark 1989 decision, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that “children who live in poor districts and children who live in rich districts must be afforded a substantially equal opportunity to have access to educational funds.”

For the state’s school finance system to be efficient, the court explained later, “citizens who were willing to shoulder similar tax burdens should have similar access to revenue for education.”
“For the poor districts, it was the greatest quantum leap in equality when the court finally came down on our side,” said Kauffman, who represented the Edgewood plaintiffs as a lawyer with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.

It took the Legislature several tries to craft a system that met constitutional muster. The final outcome pumped more state money into schools, obligated the state to supplement local taxes in poorer school districts and required property-wealthy school districts to share some of their riches with the poor school districts — a provision commonly referred to as Robin Hood.

Over the next decade, disparities crept back into the school finance system, some school districts argued before the Supreme Court in 2005. The justices, however, did not uphold that claim of inequity. Instead, they found the system unconstitutional because the Legislature by imposing caps on local property tax rateshad effectively enacted a statewide property tax, which the constitution explicitly prohibits.

The Legislature’s remedy for that lawsuit, however, made the situation worse for districts on the low-end, they say in the current lawsuit.

In a 2006 special legislative session, lawmakers reduced local school property tax rates by one-third and dedicated more state money to the schools to replace the local money. So that no district suffered as they rebalanced the share of state and local dollars, legislators temporarily froze districts at the amount of per-student funding they were spending at the time and planned to implement a long-term solution the next year.

But the freeze was never lifted. There was no appetite in 2007 to dive back into school finance after years of tortured debate over the issue, and the problems with the temporary system were not immediately evident to legislators.

For some districts, the freeze came at a bad time. Pflugerville, for example, was in the middle of a growth spurt and a leadership change and had yet to invest in the programs needed to serve the districts burgeoning population of low-income students and English-language learners. Yet the district was locked at a low level of funding.

Compared with neighboring Round Rock, Pflugerville gets about $720 less per student. If funded at the higher level, Pflugerville would have an additional $19 million a year in its $160 million budget — or nearly 12 percent more, Superintendent Charles Dupre said.

There is no rational policy reason for the difference, said Dupre, who is also president of a coalition of more than 430 school districts that are advancing theequity argument.

“Pflugerville has always been fiscally lean. We have never had fluff or waste in our budget,” Dupre said. “Since 2006, we have been living in a stressful, perpetual state of budget reduction. … When they set in stone the target revenue, they basically codified inequity in our system.”

Past court rulings have found a $600 funding gap to be “minimally acceptable,” but the funding disparities now have increased by two and three times that amount, according to MALDEF, which is representing one of the plaintiff groups. Funding now ranges from about $4,000 per student to more than $12,000.

School districts with the most wealth have the most to lose, and they are making a different argument against the current finance system. They have avoided the equity argument in their briefs because of concerns that the potential remedy would probably hurt them without helping the overall public education system, lawyer Mark Trachtenberg said.

“To focus on equity doesn’t really capture the real problem with the current system,” Trachtenberg said. That problem, he said, is inadequate funding: The Legislature is asking districts to get students to ever-higher levels of academic performance without providing them sufficient resources to do so.
“We are making claims that, if successful, will benefit all districts,” said John Turner, another lawyer representing the property-wealthy school districts.

From the state’s perspective, the bar is quite low in order to meet the constitutional standard for equity. The school finance system is significantly more equitable than it was when the court originally deemed it unconstitutional in 1989; thus it is not “inefficient as a constitutional matter,” the state’s lawyers argue in a brief.

A spokesman for Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott said the state would not comment beyond its brief.

It’s doubtful that the current litigation will lead to an end of the century-old battle over school finance, experts say.

Michael Griffith, a senior policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States, said a school finance system needs regular tweaking because the demographics, economics and expectations of education evolve, particularly in a growing state such as Texas.

“All of these things are out there, and you will never get a final permanent solution to your school funding issue,” Griffith said. “It will always be there because society always changes.”
Capitol staff writer Kate Alexander began covering education issues 10 years ago in Williamson County. She has spent the past four years reporting on the legislative battles over education spending.

Texas school finance court battles

1876: Texas Constitution adopted. It states: A general diffusion of knowledge being essential to the preservation of the liberties and rights of the people, it shall be the duty of the Legislature of the State to establish and make suitable provision for the support and maintenance of an efficient system of public free schools.

1984: Edgewood school district files suit claiming Texas’ public school finance system violates the state constitution because it is inequitable, failing to provide an “efficient” system of schools.

1989: Texas Supreme Court finds the system unconstitutional. Over the next few years, several different Edgewood-related cases head back to the court as the Legislature tries and fails to craft a response that passes constitutional muster.

1993: Legislature adopts a share-the-wealth system commonly referred to as “Robin Hood.”

1995: Texas Supreme Court upholds the school finance system as constitutional.

2001: A small group of property-wealthy school districts sue the state arguing that a state-imposed tax rate cap had effectively become a statewide property tax, which is prohibited by the constitution. The case was dismissed.

2002: Texas Supreme Court reverses the dismissal. Nearly 300 other school districts join the case and expand the arguments to claim the system is inequitable and does not provide adequate resources.

2005: Texas Supreme Court finds the school finance system unconstitutional only on the statewide property tax claim.

2011: Four separate plaintiff groups representing two-thirds of Texas school districts sue the state, making sweeping arguments that the school finance system is unconstitutional.

2012: Two other groups representing charter school interests join the lawsuit.

Oct. 22, 2012: Trial set to begin in Travis County.
Per-student funding in Austin area districts

In 2006, the Legislature froze per-student funding for school districts, which exposed significant differences among neighboring districts. Those inequities are part of the school finance litigation.
Granger | $4,990
Pflugerville | $5,264
Hutto | $5,504
San Marcos | $5,781
Round Rock | $5,981
Wimberley | $6,022
Austin | $6,101
Eanes | $6,347
Jarrell | $6,641
Source: Texas Education Agency data compiled by the Equity Center

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Arizonification of America

The Arizonification of America

Phoenix, Ariz.

With the “papers please” provision of Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 immigration law now in effect, Bill Clinton roused an overflowing crowd at Arizona State University last week with a special shout out to the state’s “dreamers,” the highly organized ranks of undocumented youth seeking permanent residency either through education or the military (and sometimes both). Appearing on behalf of the former Surgeon General Richard Carmona, whose surging campaign to become the first Latino Senator in Arizona now leads in the latest polls, Clinton drew some of his biggest cheers for his support of the DREAM Act merely by calling it the “right thing to do.”

Welcome to the Arizona showdown.

Underscored by Gov. Jan Brewer’s latest act of defiance in denying state benefits to undocumented youth affected by President Obama’s deferral of immigration action against them, the Republican Party’s full embrace of Arizona’s immigration policy at its summer convention drew a clear line in the state’s sand. The “Arizonification” of America continues to frame the national immigration debate. It has cemented the state’s frontline image as so hopelessly wedded to a punitive approach of “attrition through enforcement” at any cost that the “Daily Show” once referred to Arizona as the “meth lab of democracy.”

Not that the headline-grabbing nativists, frontier justice sheriffs, neo-Nazi marchers, gun-toting militiamen and Tea Party political figures don’t exist in Arizona. But as the estimated 5,500 in attendance for Carmona and Clinton reminded the state, the fringe elements dominating the media and Arizona’s state house may have finally met their match. Case in point: An electrified citizens’ campaign has mounted the most serious get-out-the-vote effort against Joe Arpaio, the notorious Maricopa County Sheriff, in his 20-year reign.

The resurgence of this “other Arizona” signals a revival of the state’s century-old legacy of fighting against such anti-immigrant and thinly veiled racism, a movement that beganmalmost as soon as Arizona’s entry as a territory in the mid-19th century. For example, in Tucson, the pioneering Mexican immigrant Estevan Ochoa not only salvaged public education but single-handedly faced down the Confederate occupation of the Old Pueblo. When the Tucson Unified School District dismantled its acclaimed Mexican-American Studies program in Ochoa’s hometown last spring, Latino youth were quick to rekindle his memory.

I believe that today’s overlooked but growing alliance among Latinos, retiring baby boomers and rooted centrists will have a far a more lasting impact on both the liberal and conservative agendas nationally than the headline-grabbing but faltering Tea Party. This alliance might even have an impact on the 2012 election: Beyond Carmona’s surprising gains, the latest polling data to include Spanish-speaking voters now places the presidential showdown in a dead heat, even as Gov. Mitt Romney hangs on to a healthy overall lead in Arizona.

Is the other Arizona coming back?

Consider the progressive stalwarts who wrote one of the most enlightened constitutions in the country at Arizona’s birth in 1912. In a prophetic speech that he gave after negotiating a nationally watched labor agreement between striking union miners and copper companies, Gov. George W. Hunt spelled out the challenge facing the entire nation:
It will be a happy day for the nation when the corporations shall be excluded from political activity and vast accumulations of capital cannot be employed in an attempt to control government.
Railing against corporate influence and money in politics in Arizona in 1916, Hunt foretold the Occupy Wall Street movement a century in advance:
“The working class, plus the professional class, represent 99 percent,” he declared. “The remaining 1 percent is represented by those who make a business of employing capital.”
For all of his enlightenment, Hunt and his progressive forces succumbed to anti-immigrant pressures from more conservative unions and excluded the very foot soldiers who had built his labor ranks before statehood: in 1903, Mexican-American, native and immigrant workers led the first strikes in the state in Morenci.

The betrayal came full circle in 1917. Driven by a similar anti-immigrant hysteria during World War I, armed copper company thugs led by a border sheriff rounded up and deported striking immigrant miners in the copper capital of Bisbee. The extreme measure drew national condemnation, but also set a precedent of using punitive measures against immigrants over the next century whenever the economy slumped, wars ended or election time heated up.

But Arizonans also fought back. In 1972, the national media once again focused here, when Gov. Jack Williams signed a bill that banned secondary boycotts and strikes during harvest time, cracked down on collective bargaining rights and union membership procedures, and made it a crime to make “misleading” speeches about boycotted products. The headlines screamed: “Arizona-type legislation is spreading to many other farm states, despite protests.”

Launching his “Si Se Puede” movement, the inspiring slogan that would be adopted as “Yes, We Can” by President Barack Obama’s first presidential campaign, Cesar Chavez, an Arizona native and co-founder of the United Farm Workers embarked in 1972 on a “fast for love” in Phoenix in the “spirit of social justice in Arizona.” Chavez wrote:
The fast is to try to reach the hearts of those men, so that they will understand that we too have rights and we’re not here to destroy, because we’re not destroyers, we’re builders.
President Barack Obama at the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument on Oct. 8, 2012, in Keene, Calif.Larry Downing/Reuters President Barack Obama at the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument on Oct. 8, 2012, in Keene, Calif.
Although Williams’s hard-line anti-union legislation would be fought in the courts for years, the Chavez-led campaign signed up 150,000 new voters, ushering in a new era of electoral participation: Within two years, thanks to Chavez’s work, Raul Castro became the state’s first (and still the only) Latino governor.

In one of the most overlooked major news stories last year, a similar “Si Se Puede” movement once again shocked local and national media observers and entrenched political interests lulled into believing Arizona’s SB 1070 had placed the state on electoral lockdown. Led by Randy Parraz, a labor organizer, new bipartisan movement fed up with the state’s extremist policies took its organizational momentum into electoral politics and carried out the historic recall of former state senator Russell Pearce, the self-declared “Tea Party President” and legislative mastermind behind SB 1070. The historic nature of the recall, dating back to the state’s progressive constitution battle a century ago, was the opening salvo in the 2012 elections, for two reasons.

First, Parraz and his Citizens for a Better Arizona brought together often disparate factions in Arizona —including rising Latino youth, retiring baby boomers, centrists that included the Mormon church, and the demoralized local Democratic Party — in arguably one of the most conservative legislative districts in the nation. “Arizona has been in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons,” Parraz told his forces. “We need a victory now.” And they got it. Pearce, considered one of the most influential voices in the “attrition through enforcement” movement spreading across numerous states, was the first state senate president to be recalled in American history, according to election record keepers.
Speaking about the Pearce recall, Dan O’Neal, chairman of the Arizona Progressive Democrats of America, said: “This election sends a message to other Democratic efforts,” to not be afraid to take on issues and races in red states.”

Secondly, the recall also spotlighted the emergence of a new Latino generation and its role in a historic demographic shift taking place in Arizona and across the nation. With the nation’s highest “cultural generation” gap, according to a Brookings Metropolitan Policy study in 2010 — 83 percent of the state’s aging population was categorized as Anglo, and 57 percent of the children came from Latino families in the last census — Arizona has changed from 72 percent to 50 percent non-Latino in the past two decades. The demographics don’t pull any punches. A new political conversation is about to take place in Arizona. And organizers are not sitting back and waiting.

Working with several other civil rights groups, Parraz and his Citizens for a Better Arizona now lead the “Joe’s Got to Go” campaign against Arpaio, whose one-time insurmountable lead over his opponent Paul Penzone has shrunk to a few percentage points. With the sheriff under investigation for racial profiling by the Department of Justice, the take-no-prisoners challenge of Arpaio’s role as the face of SB 1070 enforcement has already electrified the state’s once timid liberal ranks.

If an Arpaio upset happens, with the state “papers please” law a part of all races in the state and the nation, the rise of the “other Arizona” and its bipartisan rejection of extremism could reverse the “Arizonification of America” push back in the opposite direction. As one of fifteen swing states where the margin of victory often hangs on one to three percentage points, the expected 6-8 percent increase in Latino voters places Arizona on the cusp of electing Carmona to a highly prized Senate position for the Democrats.

In essence: While Arizona may not swing to President Obama, the defeat of Arpaio or a victory for Carmona would be a huge step toward dismantling Republican control behind Arizona’s state immigration policy, and changing a state of mind for the media and outside observers.
No more “meth lab of democracy.”

Inspired by organizers like Parraz, and driven by the changing demographics, electoral change is coming in increments to Arizona in 2012 — and ultimately laying the groundwork for the gubernatorial race in 2014 for either Brewer or a bevy of Republican candidates. A groundwork deeply rooted in the other Arizona’s powerful lessons of history that transcend the state’s borders.
As Phoenix-based Puente human rights advocate Carlos Garcia recently told me, Arizona’s gift to the nation may simply be this legacy of resiliency against extremism on the front lines. “Turning the tide from hate to human rights,” as Garcia put it, sends a powerful message that will reach far beyond the ballot box.

Jeff Biggers is the author, most recently, of “State Out of the Union: Arizona and the Final Showdown Over the American Dream.”

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Only for My Kid: How Privileged Parents Undermine School Reform

From the April, 1998 Phi Delta Kappan

By Alfie Kohn

What the best and wisest parent wants for his own child, that must the community want for all of its children. Any other ideal for our schools is narrow and unlovely; acted upon, it destroys our democracy.

-- John Dewey, School and Society

Mike McClaren, a superintendent in Oklahoma, was attracted to the idea of a "performance-based" curriculum: he believed in specifying his schools' learning outcomes in advance and shifting the emphasis from memorization to problem solving. This made sense to Mike King, principal of a nationally recognized middle school in McClaren's district, who wanted his teachers to have more autonomy and his students to have more opportunity to learn from one another. Neither man was pushing for anything too radical; they just thought educators should be a little less concerned with deciding which students were better than others and a little more committed to helping all of them succeed.

As it turned out, both men felt obliged to find new jobs as a result of this agenda, with McClaren jumping before he was pushed. Key people in the community were unhappy, and three newly elected board members made sure that the changes -- and the people responsible for them -- didn't last. Predictably, the most vocal opponents were affiliated with the Christian Coalition and other ultraconservative groups. But here is the interesting part: even in small-town Oklahoma, the usual suspects on the Right could not have done it on their own. Their allies, who by all accounts gave them the margin of victory they needed to roll back reform efforts, were individuals who were not particularly conservative or religious. King describes them as "your upper-class, high-achieving parents who feel that education is competitive, that there shouldn't be anyone else in the same class as my child, and we shouldn't spend a whole lot of time with the have-nots."[1]

McClaren, who looks back on what happened from his new post several states away, says he made "two fatal assumptions" when he started: "I thought if it was good for kids, everyone would embrace it, and I thought all adults wanted all kids to be successful. That's not true. The people who receive status from their kids' performing well in school didn't like that other kids' performance might be raised to the level of their own kids'."

It is common knowledge that the Christian Right has opposed all manner of progressive reforms. They may act stealthily to get themselves installed on school boards, and they may read from identical scripts in auditoriums across America about how outcome-based education and whole language will destroy our way of life. But they are ultimately identifiable, and, once their core beliefs are exposed and their claims refuted, their impact (at least in many places) can be limited. Far less attention has been paid to the damage done by people whose positions on other social issues are more varied and more mainstream -- specifically, the affluent parents of successful students, those whose political power is substantial to begin with and whose agenda was summarized by another educator in that same Oklahoma town: "They are not concerned that all children learn; they are concerned that their children learn." 

There is no national organization called Rich Parents Against School Reform, in part because there doesn't have to be. But with unaffiliated individuals working on different issues in different parts of the country, the pattern is generally missed and the story is rarely told. Take a step back, however, and you begin to grasp the import of what is happening from Amherst, Massachusetts, where highly educated white parents have fought to preserve a tracking system that keeps virtually every child of color out of advanced classes, to Palo Alto, California, where a similarly elite constituency demands a return to a "skill and drill" math curriculum and fiercely opposes the more conceptual learning outlined in the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards; from an affluent suburb of Buffalo, where parents of honors students quashed an attempt to replace letter grades with standards-based progress reports, to San Diego, where a program to provide underachieving students with support that will help them succeed in higher-level courses has run "head on into vigorous opposition from some of the community's more outspoken, influential members -- the predominantly white, middle-class parents of high-achieving students."[2]

Jeannie Oakes, author of Keeping Track, calls them "Volvo vigilantes," but that isn't quite accurate -- first, because they work within, and skillfully use, the law; and second, because many of them drive Jeeps. They may be pro-choice and avid recyclers, with nothing good to say about the likes of Pat Robertson and Rush Limbaugh; yet on educational issues they are, perhaps unwittingly, making common cause with, and furthering the agenda of, the Far Right.

The controversies in which these parents involve themselves fall into three clusters, the first of which concerns the type of instruction that is offered. Here we find a tension between, on the one hand, traditional methods and practices, geared toward a classroom that is construed as a collection of discrete individuals, each of whom is supposed to absorb a body of knowledge and basic skills, and, on the other hand, an approach distinguished by active discovery and problem solving by a community of learners.

Test Focus in Schools Raising Concerns: Principals, teachers, and parents sign letter in opposition

Test Focus in Schools Raising Concerns:
Principals, teachers, and parents sign letter in opposition

By Zachary Stieber
October 9, 2012

Students on Sept. 6 at the Harlem Village Academy High School. (Amal Chen/The Epoch Times)

NEW YORK—According to fifth-grader Naomi Henry, the beginning of test prep signaled the end of worthwhile schooling.

During fourth grade last year, Henry and fellow classmates at Brooklyn’s P.S. 217 started preparing in October for April state tests, causing many of the aspects of learning she looked forward to the most—including independent reading—to be “smothered.”

“I was feeling that it wasn’t exactly doing anything to help me as a student,” she said. “I think that actual students—their personality, how they learn, watching them work in class—that means so much more than a test.”

Henry now goes to the Brooklyn New School because it is “anti-test prep,” said Johanna, her mother.
More Rigorous, Longer Testing

Tests are getting harder in line with a shift to Common Core State Standards, a standard-based reform model, including an emphasis on more difficult questions.

Concurrently, critics have expressed disapproval of an increasingly heavy reliance on test scores to measure teachers, principals, and schools performance, saying it has caused a bigger focus on preparing students for tests, at the expense of types of learning that are hard to quantify.

Progress reports for schools are primarily based on students’ test scores. Under an agreement by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state t eacher’s union, approved in February, evaluations of almost all teachers and principals will use tests to account for 20 to 40 percent of the grading, pending local agreements between departments of education and teachers’ unions.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Department of Education use test scores as measures of success. “There’s no question our students are headed in the right direction,” Bloomberg said in a statement in July. He was lauding a three-point gain in the percentage of students meeting the state’s bar for proficiency in math and English.

“New York City school students have once again risen to the occasion,” Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott said in the same statement, adding that “we have much more work to do” preparing students for more rigorous testing.

The city’s Department of Education declined to comment on whether too much focus is being put on test scores and thus test prep. The mayor’s office did not return requests for comment.
Downfalls of Testing

The roots of the current wave of testing can be found in the No Child Left Behind Act that started when George W. Bush was president, according to Dr. Aaron Pallas, professor of Sociology and Education at
Columbia University’s Teachers College. t

The act began with good intentions that of uncovering sub-groups within schools that weren’t performing well, and promoting universal proficiency. But instead the focus it brought to accountability has wrought consequences that include a false sense of precision and reducing the performance of teachers to a number.

Teacher evaluations, such as the no-longer used Teacher Data Reports, are based on test scores. The numbers can entice people into thinking they have some validity, but really mean nothin g, according to

Elizabeth Phillips, principal of P.S. 321 in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Phillips said wildly fluctuating evaluations for her teachers indicated the scores are not an accurate measure of success.

Phillips has signed an open letter—along with more than 1,510 other principals and more than 6,300 other concerned citizens and educators across the state—criticizing the new Race to the Top system approved in February.

On the other hand, 91 percent of the school districts in the state have submitted a Memorandum of Understanding, “confirming their support for” the new system and confirming plans to implement it, according to the state Department of Education.

Pallas and Phillips spoke at a forum on Oct. 3, where panelists discussed the “use and misuse” of high-stakes testing. Though welcoming accountability, many said the reliance on tests is too much.

“We need accountabili ty—it’s essential—but when it’s in the dominant position, it causes people to do anything and everything to reach a quantitative number,” said Kathleen Cashin, regent with the state Department of Education, and former principal at P.S. 193 in Brooklyn.Curriculums should broadly incorporate different subjects into each other, Cashin said, such as strong vocabulary in social studies, and having students read books and write reports about the subjects they’re

“What I’m concerned about is that the social, emotional, [and] mental education is going down the drain, because we are desperate for test prep,” Cashin added.

Before the panel, Marc Parr, a special education teacher at Brooklyn’s P.S. 273K who has a son in middle school, said the assessments are absurd and being “rammed down everybody’s throat.”

“Everybody knows they have absolutely no value, as far I’m concerned,” Parr said, adding that the focus on test prep has pushed back other things such as writing development.
Fixing the System

Conditions of reform mandated by the federal Race to the Top program spurred the agreement between the governor and the state teacher’s union in February. The agreement outlines the new and controversial accountability measures for teachers, known as APPR (Annual Professional Performance Review).

The federal program awarded $700 million to the state’s Department of Education. New York City received between $250 and $300 million.

Assemblyman James Brennan said last Wednesday that the legislation for the new performance review system was delivered to the Assembly at 3 a.m., when members were exhausted, two days before the budget was adopted.

Now he is trying to fix what has been done by sponsoring two new pieces of le gislation. One would make the system a pilot program through 2015, including not making decisions about teacher employment based on the system until then.

Brennan said it would be difficult to persuade the governor that he is making a series of mistakes when it comes to education, but not impossible.

Approximately 314 districts have submitted plans to the state Department of Education, and 107 have been approved.

New York City’s Department of Education and the United Federation of Teachers (the teacher’s union) are still in negotiations about the new evaluation system. Both declined to comment.

The teacher’s union president, Michael Mulgrew, said at the panel they would only approve of a deal that makes 20 percent of the evaluations under negotiation based on “real student work,” such as projects and homework, instead of tests.

Another 20 percent is mandated to be based on st ate tests, and 60 percent is still based on observations
by evaluators and principals, and could include aspects such as student feedback.
Tests Need to Improve

One of the problems of relying on test scores is uncertainty about the quality of the tests. This issue was raised earlier this year when ambiguous parts, such as a story about a hare and a pineapple, were uncovered before being removed from the tests.

Tests today are better than ever, but they still don’t focus enough on telling us how students are thinking, what their thinking processes are, what it is they have yet to learn, and test aren’t designed in a way that gives teachers feedback they can use, said Richard Colvin, visiting fellow at the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, in a phone interview.

Colvin has been studying assessment systems and sees the future of tests as being embedded in teaching and learning instead of being viewed separately.
“Students will learn while they’re taking tests, and teachers will be happy to have kids doing tests, because it will be exactly the kinds of activities they want them to do to learn,” he said. “So testing will become much less visible, but it will become much more powerful.”

The future of testing is being researched, said Colvin, including by game developers.

The Epoch Times publishes in 35 countries and in 19 languages. Subscribe to our e-newsletter.

How Not to Talk to Your Kids: The inverse power of praise

Very, very interesting.  

"For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent.

When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.

But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it."  

Read on.


How Not to Talk to Your Kids

The inverse power of praise.

What do we make of a boy like Thomas?

Thomas (his middle name) is a fifth-grader at the highly competitive P.S. 334, the Anderson School on West 84th. Slim as they get, Thomas recently had his long sandy-blond hair cut short to look like the new James Bond (he took a photo of Daniel Craig to the barber). Unlike Bond, he prefers a uniform of cargo pants and a T-shirt emblazoned with a photo of one of his heroes: Frank Zappa. Thomas hangs out with five friends from the Anderson School. They are “the smart kids.” Thomas’s one of them, and he likes belonging.

Since Thomas could walk, he has heard constantly that he’s smart. Not just from his parents but from any adult who has come in contact with this precocious child. When he applied to Anderson for kindergarten, his intelligence was statistically confirmed. The school is reserved for the top one percent of all applicants, and an IQ test is required. Thomas didn’t just score in the top one percent. He scored in the top one percent of the top one percent.

But as Thomas has progressed through school, this self-awareness that he’s smart hasn’t always translated into fearless confidence when attacking his schoolwork. In fact, Thomas’s father noticed just the opposite. “Thomas didn’t want to try things he wouldn’t be successful at,” his father says. “Some things came very quickly to him, but when they didn’t, he gave up almost immediately, concluding, ‘I’m not good at this.’ ” With no more than a glance, Thomas was dividing the world into two—things he was naturally good at and things he wasn’t
For instance, in the early grades, Thomas wasn’t very good at spelling, so he simply demurred from spelling out loud. When Thomas took his first look at fractions, he balked. The biggest hurdle came in third grade. He was supposed to learn cursive penmanship, but he wouldn’t even try for weeks. By then, his teacher was demanding homework be completed in cursive. Rather than play catch-up on his penmanship, Thomas refused outright. Thomas’s father tried to reason with him. “Look, just because you’re smart doesn’t mean you don’t have to put out some effort.” (Eventually, he mastered cursive, but not without a lot of cajoling from his father.
Why does this child, who is measurably at the very top of the charts, lack confidence about his ability to tackle routine school challenges
Thomas is not alone. For a few decades, it’s been noted that a large percentage of all gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) severely underestimate their own abilities. Those afflicted with this lack of perceived competence adopt lower standards for success and expect less of themselves. They underrate the importance of effort, and they overrate how much help they need from a parent
When parents praise their children’s intelligence, they believe they are providing the solution to this problem. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s important to tell their kids that they’re smart. In and around the New York area, according to my own (admittedly nonscientific) poll, the number is more like 100 percent. Everyone does it, habitually. The constant praise is meant to be an angel on the shoulder, ensuring that children do not sell their talents short.
But a growing body of research—and a new study from the trenches of the New York public-school system—strongly suggests it might be the other way around. Giving kids the label of “smart” does not prevent them from underperforming. It might actually be causing it.

For the past ten years, psychologist Carol Dweck and her team at Columbia (she’s now at Stanford) studied the effect of praise on students in a dozen New York schools. Her seminal work—a series of experiments on 400 fifth-graders—paints the picture most clearly.

Dweck sent four female research assistants into New York fifth-grade classrooms. The researchers would take a single child out of the classroom for a nonverbal IQ test consisting of a series of puzzles—puzzles easy enough that all the children would do fairly well. Once the child finished the test, the researchers told each student his score, then gave him a single line of praise. Randomly divided into groups, some were praised for their intelligence. They were told, “You must be smart at this.” Other students were praised for their effort: “You must have worked really hard.”

Why just a single line of praise? “We wanted to see how sensitive children were,” Dweck explained. “We had a hunch that one line might be enough to see an effect.”

Then the students were given a choice of test for the second round. One choice was a test that would be more difficult than the first, but the researchers told the kids that they’d learn a lot from attempting the puzzles. The other choice, Dweck’s team explained, was an easy test, just like the first. Of those praised for their effort, 90 percent chose the harder set of puzzles. Of those praised for their intelligence, a majority chose the easy test. The “smart” kids took the cop-out.