Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Great piece by Jason Stanford. Stalin would be proud. -Angela

Texas budget tale that would make Stalin proud


by Jason Stanford on January 26, 2013
Screen Shot 2013-01-26 at 8.33.24 AMMy next column on the Viewpoints page of the Austin American-Statesman comes Monday. Republican Matt Mackowiak and I take on the budget. That’s Matt on the right in the photograph. Fun fact about this column: I called Sen. Tommy Williams’ office to ask his new press guy, Gary Scharrer, whether he thought his boss’ quote was more Kafkaesque or Orwellian. I left a message but did not get a call back.
Whenever a Texas Republican makes the national news for saying that “ping-pongs are more dangerous than guns”, for alerting Anderson Cooper to the danger posed by “terror babies”, or for shooting a coyote while jogging, friends from the boring states ask me, “How can you stand to live in Texas?”
It’s not just because of these colorful threats, though they do lighten the mood. I majored in Russian in college and lived in Moscow for almost two years after that. I studied the state-sponsored balderdash of Socialist Realism that paid artists to paint record harvests while peasants starved. I experienced the free-market dystopia that followed Communism’s fall and preceded the rise of the Putinocracy. The oft-comic consequences provided relief from the grinding stupidity of a false economic ideology.
This prepared me well for Rick Perry’s Texas. Keep reading here.


Thursday, January 24, 2013

The feds' education power grab

Excellent analysis of the education policy landscape. -Angela
The feds' education power grab

It's time to have a conversation about the issue before we find that the executive branch, or even the entire federal government, has become our national school board.

By Marc Tucker
January 24, 2013

In December, California's application for a waiver from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act was denied by the U.S. Department of Education . This, we were told, was because California had failed to embrace the federal department's reform agenda, especially on issues of evaluating teachers.
The denial is disturbing for what it reveals: namely, that the American education system is being reshaped in a truly fundamental way, and with little debate. National policymakers now behave as if they believe their role in making education policy ought to be much the same as that of the states in setting goals and standards, creating accountability systems, defining teacher quality, determining strategies for producing high-quality teachers and improving low-performing schools. Left unresolved, the conflicts this creates about who is in charge are likely to worsen.
Today's situation represents a sharp departure from previous policy. Historically, the federal government's role was to aid, assist, prod and push schools, districts and states. But the key word was always "aid." From the 1950s to the 1990s, there was never a question about who was in charge of schools, and it was not the federal government. The feds avoided interfering in any important way with the design of a state's education system unless issues of civil rights were involved, and in those cases, it was generally the courts rather than the executive or legislative branches that sparked the intervention.
Over the last few decades, the federal role in education has undergone a massive transformation. This process, which started during the George H.W. Bush administration, has continued under Presidents Clinton , George W. Bush and Obama.
The increasing federal involvement was initially fueled by frustration in Congress and the executive branch about a lack of improvement in student achievement, despite decades of increases in state and federal spending on education.
Building on the work of George H.W. Bush's administration, which had pushed for more clarity in education goals, Bill Clinton went further, calling for explicit standards for student academic performance. Building on those standards, George W. Bush and a bipartisan coalition followed by passing the draconian No Child Left Behind legislation, which employed standardized tests to measure whether goals had been met. Under the terms of No Child Left Behind, schools that didn't make adequate progress toward the goals defined by the standards and the tests would be punished.
To avoid sanctions, many states simply lowered their standards. That led the Obama administration, during the height of the fiscal crisis, to make certain federal education funds contingent on states adopting national standards for student performance.
His administration also redesigned the accountability system to focus less on schools, as it had under No Child Left Behind, and more on teachers. The idea is to improve teacher quality by identifying and getting rid of teachers who fail to sufficiently raise student performance on standardized tests. The Obama administration has also pressured states to allow more charter schools and to institute merit pay for teachers.
The result of these decades of federal education reforms has been a massive reshaping of the American education system. Its key features now include national standards aligned with national tests, a push for evaluating (and rewarding or punishing) teachers based on their students' test scores, and a strong emphasis on marketplace pressures, including charter schools, to ensure the survival of successful schools — and the failure of weak ones. Some of these reforms have been shown to be effective, others have shown mixed results or have little research to support their use.
In the early years of this process, Congress and the executive branch largely agreed on the agenda. More recently, since the onset of the fiscal crisis, the executive branch has acted independently to implement its agenda without the agreement of Congress. One way it has done so is by granting waivers from the requirements of No Child Left Behind to states that embrace the administration's agenda. While Congress gave the secretary of Education authority to waive provisions of the law, it is unlikely lawmakers envisioned that the authority would be used in this way.
The U.S. Constitution leaves responsibility for education policy to the states. In recent years, however, the federal government has ignored the framers' intention. The changes have been instituted without any significant debate about the role of the federal government in elementary and secondary education. And now, the executive branch alone is setting education policy without the active participation of either the states or Congress.
No nation has reached the top ranks of education performance without clearly defined roles for the national government and the state or provincial levels of government. In the United States today, the roles are ill-defined and overlapping.
Do we really want the executive branch of the federal government to decide, pretty much by itself, what the aims of American education should be and how they should be achieved? Do we want the federal government to be the principal architect of a national education system? Do we want the states to be in the driver's seat? Or do we want both the federal government and the states to have important, but complementary, roles in education policy?
There are many options for allocating responsibilities for education policymaking, and it is by no means obvious what the right path is. But it is time to have a conversation about the issue before we wake up one day to find that the executive branch, or even the entire federal government, has become our national school board.
Marc Tucker is president and CEO of the National Center on Education and the Economy, a Washington-based nonprofit think tank. This piece was adapted from the Hechinger Report, an education news outlet based at Teachers College, Columbia University .

Texas vs. No Child Left Behind

Posted By Tom Pauken On January 23, 2013 @ 12:45 am In | 16 Comments

Seventeen months from now, every American student will be proficient in reading, and mathematics. On what basis do I make such a bold claim? It’s the law.

When the No Child Left Behind Legislation was signed by President George W. Bush 11 years ago, it required that by the end of 2013-2014 school year, “all students… will meet or exceed the State’s proficient level of academic achievement on the State assessments.”

If you find it absurd that we can make all our students above average with the stroke of the presidential pen, you’re not alone. The 100 percent proficiency goal of NCLB is now widely acknowledged to be a pipe dream. Recent trends indicate that schools are not even headed in the right direction; and, in much of the press, the 100 percent proficiency goal has become something of the punch line of a joke. Meanwhile, in a move that tacitly acknowledges the unworkability of the current law, the Department of Education is granting NCLB waivers to states which will make it easier for them to skirt the requirements.

So how did we get to the point where we confused legislating high standards with achieving high standards? To find the answer we have to go back in time. Even further back than January of 2002 when President Bush, flanked by a bipartisan group of legislators including Sen. Ted Kennedy, signed NCLB into law at a high school in Hamilton, Ohio. We have to return to the president’s home state of Texas.

Texas is where the failed policies of NCLB, along with an almost pathological obsession with testing, had their start.

And Texas, in a serendipitous turn of events, is poised to lead the way in reforming our nation’s approach to education. Diane Ravitch is a native Texan who served as assistant secretary of education under President George H.W. Bush and once championed many of the policies associated with NCLB before becoming one of the nation’s most outspoken critics of the law. Ravitch has recently written that “Texas brought No Child Left Behind to the nation” but that thanks to a recent revolt among parents and educators in the state, there is a new message: “Don’t Mess with Texas. The Revolution Begins Here.”

“Texas has to be the place where a stake is driven through the heart of the vampire,” Ravitch bluntly stated.

For the past two decades, excessive emphasis on high-stakes standardized testing and a one-size-fits-all focus on preparing all students for college came to dominate education policy in Texas and later, in Washington, D.C. with the passage of the Bush-Kennedy “No Child Left Behind” legislation. In addition, vocational education came to be neglected—even denigrated—in this massive push to make all students “college-ready.” Meanwhile, the principle of local control over education (which historically had been a deeply-held belief of Goldwater-Reagan Conservatives) was abandoned by Republican politicians in Texas and Washington, D.C., in their rush to be known as “educational reformers.”

The existing system relies heavily on how students score on the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness—commonly referred to as the STAAR tests. Under the STAAR, students have to take up to 12 end-of-course exams during their time in high school; and the tests are supposed to account for 15 percent of the student’s final grade in the subject tested. However, implementation of the 15 percent grading requirement was delayed because of a public outcry.

Even longtime proponents of high-stakes, standardized testing are starting to question the wisdom of the current system of school accountability. As reported by Paul Burka in Texas Monthly, the former commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, Robert Scott, made this startling admission in a speech to the Texas Association of School Administrators: “I believe that testing is good for some things, but the system that we have created has become a perversion of its original intent, the intent to improve teaching and learning. The intent to improve teaching and learning has gone too far afield, and I look forward to reeling it back in.”

How did Texas education policy become so centralized at the state level?

H. Ross Perot began the process of having the state assume more control over public education in Texas with his well-intentioned effort in 1984 to improve standards of education by requiring students to pass a basic skills test to earn a diploma in Texas. The current, test-based accountability system really began to gain momentum during Gov. Ann Richards’s term in office in 1993 when, at the insistence of Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock, the Texas legislature passed a school accountability plan which used an annual statewide test for all public school students in Texas (the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills or TAAS) as the primary measurement for school and student performance.

The new Texas accountability system neatly categorized schools into four easy-to-understand labels: “Exemplary,” “Recognized,” “Acceptable,” and “Low Performing” (which was later changed to “Academically Unacceptable”). These categories were based on passing rates on state exams and on dropout rates, but had little to do with measuring whether schools were preparing students for success in college or for meaningful employment.

But the labels played well from a public-relations standpoint for respective governors, beginning with Ann Richards, who could tout their support for “education reform.” Realtors often include in their report on homes for sale not only the name of the public schools serving that neighborhood, but also the state’s accountability ratings.

The principal architect of Texas’s accountability system was a lawyer from Dallas named Sandy Kress. The most thorough analysis of Kress’s role in pushing Texas’s education policy in the direction of a high-stakes testing system was one written by Mark Donald for the October 19, 2000 issue in the Dallas Observer right before George W. Bush’s election to the presidency. Entitled “The Resurrection of Sandy Kress,” [1] Donald’s article [1] described how Democrat Kress and Republican Bush came to be close allies in pushing Kress’s vision of “educational accountability.”

I had gotten to know Sandy Kress when he was the Dallas County Democratic Chairman, and I was an active Republican. Later, I was elected State Chairman of the Texas Republican Party in 1994, the year in which George W. Bush defeated Ann Richards in the race for governor of Texas. What I didn’t know at the time—but soon learned after the November election—was that Sandy Kress already had been a major advisor to George W. Bush on education issues for some period of time. I found that unusual since Sandy Kress was a liberal Democrat whose views on education and other domestic policy issues were very much at odds with the views of conservatives like myself who believed in local control of education and decentralization of governmental power, wherever possible. Moreover, Sandy had not exactly distinguished himself in the early 1990s when he chaired the board of the Dallas Independent School District (DISD), during one of the most tumultuous periods in DISD history.

But I soon learned how influential Sandy Kress was with the incoming Republican Governor. Bush wanted to appoint Kress as his Education Commissioner, but the objections of conservatives like myself and others to his appointment resulted in Gov. Bush naming an educator Mike Moses to that position, instead. (Ironically, Mike Moses and Sandy Kress now find themselves on opposite sides of the school accountability fight in Texas.)

Nonetheless, Sandy Kress remained a key strategic advisor to the governor. He worked closely with Margaret LaMontagne (later Margaret Spellings), who was Gov. Bush’s education advisor, in expanding the statewide accountability system. During Bush’s tenure as Governor, the state consolidated power over education in the office of the Texas Education Agency and the Education Commissioner who was appointed by the Governor. Meaningful local control over education in Texas continued to erode as the accountability ratings system caused local school districts to focus more attention on the performance measurements put in place by the state particularly the testing system. Since that system did not include evaluation of the effectiveness of vocational education instruction, that area of preparation became de-emphasized in many Texas school districts.

During the Bush years, much of the opposition to the high-stakes testing was muted. Some parents and educators expressed frustration with the state’s performance measurements, but the system was new at the time. And, much of that opposition was dismissed as political. Or, when educators and members of the business community complained about the shortage of skilled workers and the lack of opportunities for career training at the high school level, those critics were accused of wanting to “lower standards.”

Fast forward 15 years, and the current system has lost most of its luster. Texas has worker shortages in the skilled trades, and improvements on state tests aren’t reflected in college entrance exams such as the SAT or ACT. In fact, average SAT reading scores in Texas have declined eight points in the last decade. A recent review by the National Academy of Sciences shows that high-stakes testing is not improving academic achievement. In fact, it may do more harm than good. While there is a debate about how to calculate dropout rates, just about everyone agrees that Texas has a serious problem with high school dropouts.

Many students get frustrated with the current one-size-fits-all test-based system with its emphasis on
pushing everyone towards college; and they drop out because they don’t see education as relevant to them.

Texas policy-makers are coming to the realization that the high-stakes accountability system is fundamentally flawed. The accountability system assumes all students are headed to college, even though a mere 25 percent of high-school graduates attend a four-year university upon graduation. It also assumes that the state knows what is best for students being educated in such diverse settings such as Houston or a small, rural town.

We all are created equal, but we sure aren’t created the same. People have different strengths, abilities and interests. The state’s one-size-fits-all accountability system pressures school districts to spend an inordinate amount of time teaching to the test. As one teacher told me, it all becomes a numbers game to get the most students to pass the single test. Certain students in her class are going to pass it, and others likely will fail, so both groups tend to get neglected while most of the attention is focused on those students who are “on the bubble.”

High-achieving students, and their parents, feel that they are wasting their time on multiple-choice testing drills and practice tests rather than reading Shakespeare. And businesses are fed up with the fact that high schools are producing a lack of students prepared to enter skilled trades due to our neglect of vocational education at the high school level. That has resulted in a shortage of skilled workers and a greying workforce. For example, the average age of a welder is 55, a plumber 56, and a stone masonry craftsman 69.

Sandy Kress was very effective in the early years of this new state accountability system in getting business leaders behind his vision of making everyone “college-ready” by selling his vision as raising educational standards. He enlisted important business allies in advancing his agenda.
But the shape of the education debate is beginning to change. Frustration on the part of parents, employers, and educators with the current system has built up for years. Change is long overdue, and we need the courage to propose bold, meaningful solutions to these issues, rather than just tinkering around the edges. And, that is just what we are doing. A growing coalition of legislators, business and labor leaders, school board members, parents, other community leaders, and educators recognize that this is a serious issue and are working to fix it. The solution is simple, if not easy.

We need to allow for multiple pathways to a high school degree. One academic pathway would emphasize math and science. Another, the humanities and fine arts. A third would focus on career and technical education. All students would get the basics, but there would be greater flexibility than under the “one size fits all” existing system which pushes everyone towards a university degree.
This is a common sense approach to preparing young Texans to be college-ready or career-ready. It is time to end this “teaching to the test” system that isn’t working for either the kids interested in going on to a university or for those more oriented towards learning a skilled trade. Let’s replace it with one that focuses on real learning and opportunities for all.

In the past, when public frustration hit the boiling point, the testing establishment would simply roll out a new test with a new acronym and promise that the new test will fix everything. That is why, from 1991 to the present, the acronym of the Texas standardized test has gone from TAAS to TAKS and, now STAAR.

But that trick isn’t working this time. Supporters of the existing high-stakes system tried to address opposition by introducing the restrictive 4×4 curriculum in 2006 and unveiling the STAAR testing program in 2009. But far from mollifying the opposition, these changes made the system worse.
The 4×4 curriculum made it more difficult for students interested in career and technical education to take enough courses in their field of interest to get an industry-certified credential by the time they graduated from high school.

As the 2013 session of the Texas Legislature convenes, a major priority for many of us in this legislative session is to fix a broken system of education which isn’t working all that well for either those students who are college-oriented or for those students who want to get training, and an industry-certified credential, in a technical field.

But there are powerful interests arranged to protect the existing testing system. Pearson is the testing contractor and has an existing state contract that pays it nearly $500 million over a five-year period. Sandy Kress, a principal architect of our existing education policy in Texas and President George W. Bush’s “No Child Left Behind” legislation, is not only a paid lobbyist for the testing contractor but is also determined to preserve the educational structure he worked so hard to put in place.

Just as Texas started this failed approach to educational accountability, the Texas Legislature has the opportunity to replace it with a common-sense system that focuses on real learning and opportunities for all.

Tom Pauken is a Texas Workforce Commissioner and author of Bringing America Home: How America Lost Her Way and How We Can Find Our Way Back [2].

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Should 8-Year-Olds Be Reading Stories That Glorify Rape? | Alternet

Should 8-Year-Olds Be Reading Stories That Glorify Rape? | Alternet

Wow!  This is horrifying.  And all a matter of course....


Teachers refuse to give standardized test at Seattle high school

This is major.  

"According to Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, an organization devoted to stopping the misuse of standardized tests, the boycott is the first such school-wide effort in the country in a decade." 


Teachers refuse to give standardized test at Seattle high school

Posted by Valerie Strauss on January 11, 2013 at 10:28 am

This appears to be a first: Nearly all of the teachers at a Seattle high school have decided to refuse to give mandated standardized district tests called the Measures of Academy Progress because, they say, the exams don’t evaluate learning and are a waste of time.

Almost all of the teachers and staff at Garfield High signed a letter explaining that they oppose the MAP because it is a flawed test that students don’t take seriously and that is being used by administrators to evaluate teachers, a purpose for which it was not designed.

Individual teachers have in the past refused to administer standardized tests; in Seattle, three have been disciplined in recent years for doing so, the Times said. But this action appears to be the first time that virtually all of the teachers at a school have agreed to boycott a mandated standardized test, according to people who follow the issue.

The decision is part of a growing grass-roots revolt against the excessive use of standardized tests to evaluate students, teachers, schools, districts and states. The high-stakes testing era began a decade under No Child Left Behind, and critics say that the exams are being inappropriately used and don’t measure a big part of what students learn.

Parents have started to opt out of having their children take the exams; school boards have approved resolutions calling for an end to test-based accountability systems; thousands of people have signed a national resolution protesting high-stakes tests; superintendents have spoken out, and so have teachers. It has been building momentum in the last year, since Robert Scott, then the commissioner of education in Texas, said publicly that the mentality that standardized testing is the “end-all, be-all” is a “perversion” of what a quality education should be.

The Seattle Times reported that district administrators released a statement defending the test, saying that it does help them evaluate student achievement but that the MAP, along with all tests that students take, are under review.

Read the rest here.

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Standardized Testing Revolt

A Standardized Testing Revolt

Abby Rapoport
January 10, 2013

Over the past year, there's been a steady and ongoing revolt in Texas. Not about secession or guns or the many other fringe topics that the state is usually associated with. This battle has been waged primarily by parents and teachers, and the demand is relatively simple—cut back on testing our kids. There's been similar sentiments simmering in states across the country, but in Texas a new set of tests, put in place last year, sparked the outcry. Now, the push that began in school board and PTA meetings has finally reached the halls of power.

When the biennial state legislature gaveled in on Tuesday, it didn't take long for newly re-elected Speaker of the House Joe Straus to mention testing. "By now, every member of this house has heard from constituents at the grocery store or the Little League fields about the burdens of an increasingly cumbersome testing system in our schools," he said. "Teachers and parents worry that we have sacrificed classroom inspiration for rote memorization. To parents and educators concerned about excessive testing: The Texas House has heard you."

Read the rest here.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Pew Report Finds that College Degrees Shelter Economic Stability

For all those nay-sayers who say that a college degree makes less sense for so many graduates right now in a down economy.  The real question is how can our youth NOT have a degree in a down economy?


Pew Report Finds that College Degrees Shelter Economic Stability

by Cherise Lesesne

Dana Elliott, Pew Research Center Manager

As recent college graduates have continually struggled with finding employment upon the economic downturn, many have questioned the validity and strength of a college degree. However, a recent report released by Pew Charitable Trusts found that graduates holding four-year college degrees are in actuality more protected in a pernicious economy than those with lesser education credentials.
Although young adults between the ages of 21 and 24 years old experienced shrinking wages and employment rates post-recession, the decline was significantly more pronounced among high school graduates and even those holding associate degrees. Prior to the recession, approximately 55 percent of high school graduates were actively working full-time positions compared to 64 percent of associate degreed graduates and 69 percent of graduates from baccalaureate programs. Of the young adult demographic, over 10 percent of high school and associate degreed graduates lost their jobs, while only 7 percent of bachelor’s degreed graduates suffered from job loss.

According to Diana Elliott, research manager of the Economic Mobility Project on behalf of Pew Charitable Trusts, the employment gaps among those with an associate degree and those with a high school degree were “quite interesting” in their sharp differences. Since those graduates holding an associate degree found more recovery within the job market compared to the slower, gradual recovery of high school graduates, Elliott suggested, “any amount of postsecondary education does improve the labor market outcomes for those recent graduates, aged 21 to 24.”

In the midst of the recession, the population of non-working individuals including high school graduates, associate degreed graduate, and bachelor degreed graduates unsurprisingly increased. Of that same group of graduates, there was not an increase in school enrollment. Approximately two–thirds of all graduates without work attended school, although the proportion among those in school did not differ by degree type.

Along with a stark decline in employment positions for entry-level candidates, there was also a considerable plunge in wages among the particular group. For recent college graduates, particularly at the baccalaureate level, the change in employment wages suffered at merely 5 percent, while high school graduates and associate degreed graduates endured over a 10 percent loss in their annual income rates. While only examining those college graduates with a bachelor’s degree — nothing beyond the graduate level — higher wages seemed to promote upward mobility in their blooming careers.

“Even despite the recession and the labor market outcomes that individuals experienced, the college degree still offers a great deal of potential for upward mobility and it certainly helps individuals weather many of the negative labor market outcomes that those with an associate or high school degrees experience,” Elliott commented.

Even though college graduates are expected to experience longer trajectories in their careers, they are beginning at a slower pace, turning to “high school” jobs such as restaurant servers, retail clerks and sales workers in order to compensate for the instability of the recession, as illustrated within the report. While settling for jobs that tend to be reserved for those lacking postsecondary education credentials, college graduates are “camping” out in their parent’s households, as they endure the adversity from the economic slump. However, the starting point for college graduates mirrors the starting point of high school and associate degree graduates, the long-term outcome outweighs the initial standstill for bachelor’s degreed individuals, according to the Pew report.

For college graduates, the possibility that many will remain unemployed to the labor force is inevitable, according to Pew’s research findings. Unemployed graduates, including those with a high school, associate, or bachelor’s degree are referred to as “marginally attached” to the labor market, indicating a group of individuals who are not actively looking for jobs, but perhaps are available for jobs. Graduates who typically fall into this sector are those facing financial barriers, and thus, are unable to further training, hindering them from seeking an ideal job. Graduates who may be holding off for higher wages also fall into this category.

While the deterioration of employment positions for recent graduates, as a result of the recession, have caused a decline in the amount of graduates working “college-level” jobs, a decline in wages and certainly a decline in job availability, the report has shown that postsecondary education has equipped young adults to withstanding economic disparities.

5 Ways Michelle Rhee's Report Puts Students Last

This report by The National Opportunity to Learn Campaign talks back to Michelle Rhee's Group Grades States, And No One Gets an A.


5 Ways Michelle Rhee's Report Puts Students Last

On Monday, the pro-privatization education group StudentsFirst, led by former D.C. public schools chancellor Michelle Rhee, released a State Policy Report Card, ranking states and giving each a letter grade based on their implementation of a slew of education reform policies. Rather than focus on issues facing students and families, particularly those affected by unequal access to school resources, the policy benchmarks in the new report reveal StudentsFirst’s obsession with charter schools and de-professionalizing the teaching profession. The report pushes policies that are either untested or disproven — but happen to be welcome in the halls of right-wing think tanks and politicians.

States are given a clear choice in this report, and for that at least we can thank its authors: either you care about students, or about StudentsFirst. There’s little room for both. Thankfully, many educators and policymakers across the country recognize this. That’s why Richard Zeiger, California’s chief deputy superintendent, called his state’s F grade “a badge of honor.”

Here’s a list of 5 reasons why this State Report Card is a veritable wish list for privatization advocates and a recipe for failure for everyone else:

1. Ironically, It Ignores The Needs of Students

Missing from this report card is any evaluation based on multiple success measures, including student graduation rates, a college ready curriculum, access to art and music classes, or learning benchmarks that will prepare students to be critical thinkers and leaders in their community. All that is presented is a simple ideological litmus test: do states adhere to StudentsFirst’s preferred policies, regardless of their effects?

Let’s take a look at the rankings. Comparing StudentsFirst’s list to The Opportunity to Learn (OTL) Index, which is our synthesis of numerous indicators of student achievement, is revealing. Of their top ten states, eight of them fall in the bottom half of the OTL Index. It’s even more startling when you look at national achievement measures like NAEP scores, which are some of the best ways to compare states to each other. Every single state in StudentsFirst’s top ten is in the bottom half of NAEP states for eighth grade reading, and only one manages to break into the top half for eighth grade math (Indiana, ranked 23rd).

There is also little correlation between StudentsFirst’s rankings and the graduation gap between Black and White students — a key indicator of whether a state’s policies promote equity or erode it. For example, while StudentsFirst ranks the District of Columbia #4, the Schott Foundation found that D.C. has the worst graduation gap in the nation (

2. It Opposes Personalized and Student-Centered Learning

Citing a single Brookings Institution literature review, the StudentsFirst report argues that reducing the number of children in each classroom is both only marginally effective and a poor use of education funds. That particular Brookings review has been roundly criticized for its methodology and the logic of its policy prescriptions. As the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado put it:

“In the end, Class Size: What Research Says and What It Means for State Policy fails to make the case that increasing class sizes is either relatively harmless or cost-effective. It is not a report that state policy makers can trust as a valid guide to policymaking.”

Research has consistently found that the teacher-to-student ratio is an important variable in ensuring that all students have an opportunity to learn. And for a report that wants to empower parents, it’s curious that they would reject small class size: it’s something that parents consistently clamor for.

3. It Argues That We Don’t Have Enough Quality Teachers... While Advocating That We Lower the Bar for Teacher Preparation

The official line for Alternative Certification (alt cert) proponents goes something like this: existing teacher certification programs are inadequate or aren’t producing enough teachers, so there should be multiple ways for people to become teachers, particularly those with subject matter expertise.

In practice, alt cert has meant that countless individuals, often with very little training in how to teach (as little as a few weeks for those in Teach For America, for example), can become teachers and take charge of a classroom full of kids. They are also twice as likely to teach in a classroom of students of color.  Not surprisingly, the StudentsFirst report is in full support of weakening requirements for those entering the classroom.

If you jump over to the report’s “Alternative Certification Accountability” benchmark, listed separately, you’ll notice that no state that received a top mark of 4 in alternative certification also received a 4 in holding their certification programs accountable. A whopping 46 states received a score of 1 or 0 in accountability. The report itself concedes that “only five [states] have any meaningful processes by which to evaluate and decommission programs.” It appears that StudentsFirst is more interested in applauding alternative certification for simply existing than alternative certification that’s actually working.

Also important to note: the report is opposed to any regulations as to where alternatively certified teachers are placed. Given that even by StudentsFirst’s own standards very few states can ensure quality alternative certification, why policymakers should allow them anywhere and everywhere is baffling. As a recent report from The Education Trust details, uncertified teachers and teachers lacking subject expertise are more likely to teach in high-poverty secondary schools. First-year teachers are also more likely to be found in high-poverty schools in cities and towns. The very students who need fully certified, experienced teachers are the most are the ones least likely to have them. That districts can save a few dollars by hiring a TFA graduate or someone with a similar lack of experience is likely cold comfort to the students and families being shortchanged.

4. It Continues the Disastrous High-Stakes Testing Drumbeat

StudentsFirst is adamant that both evaluations and teachers' salaries should be determined primarily (50%) on “objective measures of student growth,” i.e. test scores. This will raise a red flag for anyone who has been following the standardized test craze that has enveloped America over the past 10-15 years. In a recent column in The Washington Post’s “The Answer Sheet,” teacher Adam Heenan relates:

“This year alone, my colleagues and I have devoted a significant chunk of the additional time we were supposed to have for teaching and collaborating to testing. By mid-October, our school had already sacrificed a week’s worth of teaching and learning time for Chicago’s standardized beginning-of-the-year exams for students in their regular classes, to be repeated for the middle-of-the-year and end-of-the-year exams as well. There have been two days of “testing schedules,” where teachers and students in grades 9, 10 and 11 have had to sacrifice instructional time for EPAS exams (the system of grade-aligned tests from ACT).”

It’s not just high school, either. Up to a third of the school year in kindergarten is now spent taking standardized tests, not even counting all the prep time.

In Louisiana, one of two states to which StudentsFirst gave its highest overall mark, a teacher rated “ineffective” when it comes to test scores will automatically be branded “ineffective” overall, regardless of other measures like classroom observations by principals and other administrators. Louisiana also mandates that each year 10% of its teachers, no matter what, must be considered ineffective. Fall into that category two years in a row, and you’re fired.

And the research shows how ineffective these test-based “value added” rating systems are. In March, Phi Delta Kappan published a review of those systems, showing just how dangerously inconsistent they can be — and pointing to more accurate solutions that can actually gauge what goes on in the classroom.

5. It Advocates “Equal Funding” and “Equitable Access” for Charter Corporations and Private Schools, Not Students

The reader can be forgiven for perking up with hope upon seeing sections of the report titled “Fund Fairly” and “Enable Equitable Access to Facilities.” As the OTL Campaign and our allies have long argued, the lack of equitable funding between wealthy and poor districts and schools is a critical problem facing children across the country: inequitable funding means that a student’s access to educational and instructional resources is largely defined by what zip code he or she lives in. Every child deserves a fair and substantive opportunity to learn, and that includes access to everything from AP courses to up-to-date textbooks.

Unfortunately, that isn’t at all what StudentsFirst is interested in here.

Instead, what concerns StudentsFirst in these two sections is making sure that the non-profit and for-profit corporations that run charter schools get every last penny of public money they can. “Enable Equitable Access to Facilities” means charters should get first dibs at public property and pay at or below market value for it. Especially in an age of school budget cuts, suggesting that charter corporations make off with public resources below market value is unconscionable. The report even promotes voucher programs (called “scholarships” in StudentsFirst parlance), one of the oldest ways to siphon public money into private hands. They insist that vouchers should provide a “tuition amount that is competitive with private school tuition.”


One of StudentsFirst’s crowning achievements is its consistent deployment of Orwellian language — using a term to mean its opposite.

What they call “elevating the teaching profession” is little more than its wholesale de-professionalization. Removal of workplace protections, evaluation and compensation based on crude productivity metrics, public shaming of those whose metrics drop regardless of reason, competition between teachers for scarce resources – these are the management techniques of a sweatshop assembly line, not methods for promoting excellence in teachers.

The report claims “each and every public school student deserves a quality public education” while simultaneously pushing privatization: advocating ever more transfers of public education dollars to charter corporations and private school vouchers.

There are many more problems with StudentsFirst’s state report card (including the infamous “Parent Trigger” and its open disdain for democracy and elected school boards. But the overall picture is clear: for the authors and their right-wing benefactors, ideology trumps proven results. Our students, parents, teachers, and community members deserve better.

Monday, January 07, 2013

View from the Heartland: Do Milwaukee's children deserve art and music clas...

Haven't seen the video but plan to. -Angela

Do Milwaukee's children deserve art and music classes?

By Barbara J. Miner
Do young children deserve art and music classes?
Or, instead of art and music, should kindergarten and first-graders spend two hours a day in Dilbert-like cubicles, keyboarding answers into computers while uncertified aides monitor the room and maintain order?
Such questions should be part of a much-needed public discussion on the City of Milwaukee’s expectations for its charter schools.
A PBS Learning Matters report on Dec. 29 provided a fascinating glimpse at the privately run Rocketship Education network of charter schools in California that, beginning next year, will be in Milwaukee. The show, which aired Dec. 29, is available online and is worth the nine minutes it takes to watch.

From school testing to water resources, Legislature faces long...

From school testing to water resources, Legislature faces long...

Good summary of what the Texas lege will be looking at this session.


Texas revenues up 12.4 percent to $101 billion

Texas revenues up 12.4 percent to $101 billion

Good news for Texas.


Sunday, January 06, 2013

The Poverty of Capitalism

     An impassioned critique of capitalism by UCLA Professor Peter McLaren. I agree that social policy (education) is no substitute for direct economic policy development. -Angela    The Poverty of Capitalism
 Peter McLaren
 University of California, Los Angeles

Interview with Peter McLaren
(Audio Only)        Print Friendly and PDF

In capitalist societies such as ours, there are hidden contextual rules in our understanding of poverty and its relationship to education. They hide that fact that the struggle for better schools and the elimination of poverty must include the struggle for a democratic socialist alternative to capitalism.  This is likely to sound provocative to the official guardians of capital and to those unwitting sentinels of feral commerce who feel there is no alternative to the flawed capitalist system that we have, except perhaps to grovel in the presence of that unquenchable vampire who continues to gorge on the lifeblood of those who least benefit from it’s existence.  Since I work in the Division of Urban Schooling, I therefore propose that we begin with the obvious question that needs to be asked in all of our graduate programs of education: “What constitutive limits does capitalism place on urban school reform?”
In my experience, such a question proves uncomfortable to many educators who prefer not to deal with the unbearable fact that there may indeed be better alternatives to organizing our economic life than capitalism.  Are there not, after all, serious structural limits to educational reform imposed by capitalist social relations? What are they? Shouldn’t this be the first consideration that we pose in all of our educational work, regardless of our personal political affiliations?  Conservative colleagues are predictably intransigent on this issue.  But when I try to raise this issue with progressive liberal colleagues—who see income redistribution as a favorite demulcent for soothing the ravages of structural exploitation and who call for the construction of endogenous development under a more humane life philosophy as a means of convincing the capitalist class to treat workers more compassionately—I am often told it should be an issue taken up in specialized courses such as critical pedagogy.  I am advised that it is not something that the program should address in the main. Here my liberal colleagues only participate in the reality they criticize, becoming parasitical upon what they negate and thereby reproducing the very system that they are attempting to remediate, while at the same time pacifying the trauma of class antagonism.
While discussing capitalism in graduate programs in education is hardly forbidden, to my knowledge it rarely occurs.  This strikes me as odd in light of the fact that we not only live in a capitalist society, but most societies around the world are impacted profoundly by transnational capitalism.  One reason for this is obvious: any alternative to capitalism appears to be socialism or communism, two historical formations thoroughly discredited.  While the totalitarian dictatorships that called themselves communist deserve our derision, I remain convinced that a socialist alternative to capitalism still remains a worthy goal, and perhaps our only alternative to the barbarism of capital (I regret that I do not have time in this short blog note to discern the emancipatory potential of socialism). 

We live in an era of neoliberal capitalism or unregulated, casino style, speculative capitalism that creates laissez-faire economic conditions by means of unfettering the economy or freeing it up by removing barriers and restrictions to what entrepreneurs and corporate or business actors can accomplish in order to maximize profits. We hear this echoed in terms such as broadening the tax base by reforming the tax law, limiting protectionism, removing fixed exchange rates, privatizing state-run businesses and deregulating the economy. But a more comprehensive definition of neoliberalism would include the idea that  neoliberalism is a total, universal form of social organization bolstered by a total life philosophy based on the ideal of competition and the marketization of everyday life. The result—for-profit charter schools, voucher programs, NCLB and Race to the Top have created a non-market underclass who dwell in a bottom-tiered netherworld of super-exploited labor that serves those of more fundamental worth to the social order: the more ‘successful’ capitalist class.  
Neoliberal capitalism is like a vampire tying its wings to the smiles of the poor, carrying its unsuspecting victims to their doom. Capitalist social relations take on a certain form of value in which human relations take on the form of relations between things.  It is this form that needs to be abolished and this can only be done through the abolition of value production, that is, through the abolition of capitalism.
Unfortunately this logic, this insidious logic, will odiously continue to shape archetypes of citizenship promoted in our schools, as long as we remain ensepulchured in capitalism’s law of value and structures and relations of domination—economic, political, social, cultural and epistemic.
Hedge fund managers and CEOs have become rabid advocates for market reforms which are driven by the desire to create a less expensive teaching force, one that is shackled by narrow-minded test-based accountability measures, and one that has less union power to fight back. Federal education mandates have moved away from supporting equality of access and outcome and have focused instead on cutting back on school funding, on promoting shame and blame policies, on merit pay or on firing school staff, and on supporting standardized tests based on common core standards which have little to do with the production of critical, meaningful knowledge and problem-solving.  
We know that US students who attend schools that are well-funded score as well or higher than students from other countries in international tests. Yet all too often the struggle for educational equality masks the fact that the US has one of the highest percentages of children in poverty of all the industrialized countries. We also know that children from poor families and that attend underfunded schools score below the international average.
So it is clear that poverty is not only a problem but the problem. We make matters worse when we adamantly refuse to let poverty be addressed other than in the language of ‘socioeconomic disadvantage’. That term itself suggests that it is natural for some people to be poor and some people to be rich, and undresses poverty in such a way that the process of exploitation is leeched out of it. Which is why we need a Marxist approach to class struggle that can uncover the basic causes of poverty in contemporary capitalist society.
I want to make the general argument that the elimination of poverty should be our goal as much as, if not more than, creating equality of access and outcome through educational reform policies. Yet conventional wisdom holds that educational reform is the best way to create job opportunities for the poor. Certainly school reform is a necessity, but education has only a limited role to play in reducing economic inequality. We need the state to attack inequality through more direct policies.  
I also want to argue that the greatest impediment to educational success and prosperity is inequality. The solution to educational reform and the quality of social life in general in the US is more economic rights that are not attached to educational reform.
John Marsh makes the case that education should be treated as a political—not a market—phenomenon and I agree.  Clearly, we need social programs and non-educational interventions into the market. Some of these could include, for instance, redistributive tax rates, massive public works projects, a living wage law, or a renaissance of labor unions.  But it seems clear that more workers with college degrees will not stem the rise of low-wage jobs nor will it reduce inequality.   We can’t use educational programs per se to reduce inequality, because this just won’t work in a capitalist economy.
Part of the reason that the US is one of the most unequal countries in the world is that we have limited economic rights.  The ruling elite maintains that our main vehicle for economic success should be connected fundamentally to our right to a decent education.  But this is a dishonest ploy, I believe.  As Marsh argues, we need more economic rights and every right we have must have an independent status, such as the right to a useful and remunerative job, the right to adequate food and clothing, the right to a decent education, etc.  In the United States, education is seen as a requirement for all the other rights, and it is assumed that once you are given the right to a good education all the other rights will take care of themselves.  This is a flawed assumption.   You can’t make these rights dependent upon one another or an outgrowth of one another.  They must remain separate.   Marsh notes that the US does not generate many more poor people than other countries.  European countries achieve lower poverty rates because they provide more social programs aimed at the poor and unemployed.  Without government programs, Sweden would have 26.7 of its population living in poverty, but with their social programs, the poverty rate is 5.3 percent. To be sure, education helps some people enter the labor market, and indirectly might create a few more jobs, but what we need is direct job creation, higher wages, and better redistribution programs.
Marsh notes that among children whose parents have identical levels of education, those children who lived in unequal countries performed worse on tests of adult literacy.  Children of parents with college degrees in general perform the same, whether they live in Finland, one of the most equal countries, or the US, one of the most unequal.  But children in the US whose parents only attained high school will perform worse on literacy tests than children in Finland whose parents only attained high school degrees.  This is because economic inequality affects the quality of family life, in areas of health, security, rates of substance abuse, etc.  
Education has been made the only available means of addressing injustices that arise from economic disparity, and this to me constitutes one  of the worst crimes of capitalism. As a social policy solution to economic exploitation, it is entirely enfeebling.
The biggest prohibitive obstacle to organizing the left is to develop confidence that an alternative to capitalism can be made viable. Socialism won’t succeed unless it has a socially viable universality, that is, unless it embraces the most developed areas of the world, including if not especially in the United States. Well, what can critical educators do to make this happen?  That’s not an easy question to answer. But it’s not easy to live in the world as it is presently fashioned, either, so we’d best get to work on finding some solutions.

John Marsh (2011).  Class Dismissed?  Why We Cannot Teach or Learn Our Way Out of Equality.  New York: Monthly Review Press.

Peter McLaren is Professor of Education, Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. His recent books include the co-edited volume Revolutionizing Pedagogy: Educating for Social Justice Within and Beyond Global Neo-liberalism (Palgrave Macmillan).

On Poverty and Systemic Collapse: Challenges to Education Research in an Era of Infrastructure Rebuilding

Interesting solutions to the poverty created by our economic system proposed by Dr. Tanaka. -Angela

On Poverty and Systemic Collapse: Challenges to Education  Research in an Era of Infrastructure Rebuilding
 Gregory K. Tanaka
 Visiting Professor of Education at Mills College 

Interview with Gregory K. Tanaka
(Audio Only)   Print Friendly and PDF

In this essay I argue the economic inequities of today carve out a very large social condition that is orders of magnitude greater than can be conveyed by the term “poverty.” This condition derives from a massive theft of public wealth and abandonment of the principles of representative democracy. 

There is a silver lining: on encountering “systemic collapse” (a breakdown of society’s largest social institutions), we as education researchers are presented with a challenge for which we are uniquely well suited. We do applied work and as such, are predisposed to building something new. But will we be ready to make contributions that match the human need in an “Era of Democratic Renewal?”

Most Americans have become poorer and not as a result of a four-year cyclical downturn. This is systemic. From 1972 to 2012, U.S. hourly earnings adjusted for inflation dropped from $20/hr to just $8/hr (Nielson, Bullion Bulls Canada, 2/7/11). While social welfare benefits made up 10% of all salaries and wages in 1960, today it is 35% (Economic Collapse, 4/16/12). Where in the 1970s the top 1% earned just 8% of all income, this year they earned 21% (Id). In 1950, household debt as a percentage of disposable income was 30% but by 2011 rose to 120% of personal income (Tanaka Capital Management, August, 2011). By 2011, 100 million out of 242 million working age Americans were not working (Seabridge Gold Annual Report, 2011). Today, one-fourth of all children in the U.S. are enrolled in the food stamp program (Economic Collapse, 4/16/12). And since being established in 1913, the Federal Reserve (representing the largest U.S. banks) has destroyed 96% of the dollar value of U.S. family savings by printing money (Economic Collapse, 2/9/12).

Meanwhile, the 1% has truly become “the elites” by boldly stealing from middle and working class Americans. During the 2007-2010 financial crisis, $27 trillion in bailout money was given to U.S. banks that was “off-budget,” meaning it was not derived from taxes but rather taken from Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid accounts paid into by taxpayers over a 40-year period (Catherine Austin Fitts, 9/4/12). In 2009-2010, 93% of all new U.S. income went to the top 1% (U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, 6/29/12). A simple solution is available but Congress won’t act: a return to the tax rates of the 1950s-1970s would result in a 50% tax on the top 96-99% and 75% tax on the top 1%. This alone would cover ¾ of the current U.S budget shortfall. 

The net result is that the U.S. is stuck with $150 trillion in debt and unfunded liabilities, leaving U.S. taxpayers with more debt per capita than citizens of Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland or Spain (Economic Collapse, 7/14/12). Worse, the global overhang from debt, derivatives and contingent and unfunded liabilities and pension accounts is now a whopping $1.5 quadrillion (Greyerz, King World News, 7/20/12). With global GDP at $50 trillion, the financial “overhang” is systemic and unredeemable. 

Is this the end of democracy as we knew it? All three branches have certainly failed the American people. It was Congress that reduced the elites’ income tax from 75% to just 15% (for long-term capital gains). The White House authored NAFTA (exporting millions of manufacturing jobs offshore), launched two oil wars and gave trillions to bankers. Most appalling, it was the U.S. Supreme Court that sanctioned in Citizens United the ability of the super rich to “buy” U.S. elections, thus bringing to an end the “representative” characteristic of representative democracy.

To restore democracy, a massive project of social change is now needed that can model the contours of a democracy that is participatory and might include the following kinds of ideas. (I invite others to offer ideas of their own.)
  • Exempting full-time preK-12 public school teachers from having to pay federal  income taxes;
  • Paying off the U.S. bonds with low yield (and later, cheaper) dollars, followed  by a re-linking of the dollar to gold at $300/ounce, absolving U.S. citizens of all debt (Iceland model), letting banks restart as utilities, seizing illegal accounts held for Americans in the Cayman Islands, etc, and closing down the Federal Reserve;
  • Paying for this renewal by deploying already available technology that can produce far cheaper, clean energy—for example, artificial photosynthesis, splitting water molecules to create ethanol, and passing cars over electromagnetic rods in roads (like charging an electric toothbrush);
  • A second Constitutional Convention that is, this time, “by, for and of the people,” redefines a “person” as a human being, includes term limits, and enacts a participatory democracy; and
  • The creation of independent think tanks that are in the public interest and can conceptualize, operationalize and evaluate initiatives like those above.
To renew this country, and its democracy, education researchers will need to do several things differently. We will need to broaden our work from a tendency to perform narrowly at the “mid-range level” of change in organizations, schools or programs—to a concerted effort to combine three registers in one analysis (“macro” systemic change in the largest social institutions, “micro” reformulations of the self, and “mid-range” change in organizations).

We will also need to shift from “assessment overdeterminism” to an emphasis on infrastructure rebuilding. This will mean more large scale, longitudinal, participatory projects; theorizing the connection, if any, between performing social change and development of the self; replacing NCLB/RTTT with policies that teach critical thinking, creativity, science, history, the arts, and coming into being by helping others also to come into being; new epistemologies that unite a diverse country; and change in reward systems to prize the above. 
The question, then, is whether we as researchers in the public interest will be caught in a propitious moment worshipping old research epistemologies and methodological registers—or be willing instead to alter the reach and aim of our work to match the magnitude of the task before us. 

Gregory K. Tanaka, MBA, JD, PhD, is Visiting Professor of Education at Mills College and author (forthcoming) of Systemic Collapse and Renewal: A Narrative Account of How Race and Capital Came Destroy Meaning and Civility in America and Foreshadow the Coming Economic Depression (Peter Lang Publishing).

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit

This piece came out last April.  Poverty policy in the U.S. is a massive moral issue in our country:

While data on the very poor is limited and subject to challenge, recent studies have found that as many as one in every four low-income single mothers is jobless and without cash aid — roughly four million women and children. Many of the mothers have problems like addiction or depression, which can make assisting them politically unpopular, and they have received little attention in a downturn that has produced an outpouring of concern for the middle class. 
One prominent supporter of the tough welfare law is worried that it may have increased destitution among the most disadvantaged families. “This is the biggest problem with welfare reform, and we ought to be paying attention to it,” said Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, who helped draft the 1996 law as an aide to House Republicans and argues that it has worked well for most recipients. 
Just one in five poor children now receives cash aid, the lowest level in nearly 50 years. 
While federal law allows such flexibility, critics say states neglect poor families to patch their own finances. Nationally, only 30 percent of the welfare money is spent on cash benefits.
one in four low-income single mothers nationwide — about 1.5 million — are jobless and without cash aid. That is twice the rate the researchers found under the old welfare law. More than 40 percent remain that way for more than a year, and many have mental or physical disabilities, sick children or problems with domestic violence.  

The New York Times

April 7, 2012

Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit

PHOENIX — Perhaps no law in the past generation has drawn more praise than the drive to “end welfare as we know it,” which joined the late-’90s economic boom to send caseloads plunging, employment rates rising and officials of both parties hailing the virtues of tough love.
But the distress of the last four years has added a cautionary postscript: much as overlooked critics of the restrictions once warned, a program that built its reputation when times were good offered little help when jobs disappeared. Despite the worst economy in decades, the cash welfare rolls have barely budged. 

Faced with flat federal financing and rising need, Arizona is one of 16 states that have cut their welfare caseloads further since the start of the recession — in its case, by half. Even as it turned away the needy, Arizona spent most of its federal welfare dollars on other programs, using permissive rules to plug state budget gaps. 

The poor people who were dropped from cash assistance here, mostly single mothers, talk with surprising openness about the desperate, and sometimes illegal, ways they make ends meet. They have sold food stamps, sold blood, skipped meals, shoplifted, doubled up with friends, scavenged trash bins for bottles and cans and returned to relationships with violent partners — all with children in tow. 

Esmeralda Murillo, a 21-year-old mother of two, lost her welfare check, landed in a shelter and then returned to a boyfriend whose violent temper had driven her away. “You don’t know who to turn to,” she said.

Maria Thomas, 29, with four daughters, helps friends sell piles of brand-name clothes, taking pains not to ask if they are stolen. “I don’t know where they come from,” she said. “I’m just helping get rid of them.” 

To keep her lights on, Rosa Pena, 24, sold the groceries she bought with food stamps and then kept her children fed with school lunches and help from neighbors. Her post-welfare credo is widely shared: “I’ll do what I have to do.” 

Critics of the stringent system say stories like these vindicate warnings they made in 1996 when President Bill Clinton fulfilled his pledge to “end welfare as we know it”: the revamped law encourages states to withhold aid, especially when the economy turns bad. 

The old program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, dates from the New Deal; it gave states unlimited matching funds and offered poor families extensive rights, with few requirements and no time limits. The new program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, created time limits and work rules, capped federal spending and allowed states to turn poor families away. 

“My take on it was the states would push people off and not let them back on, and that’s just what they did,” said Peter B. Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University who resigned from the Clinton administration to protest the law. “It’s been even worse than I thought it would be.” 

But supporters of the current system often say lower caseloads are evidence of decreased dependency. Many leading Republicans are pushing for similar changes to much larger programs, like Medicaid and food stamps. 

Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the top House Republican on budget issues, calls the current welfare program “an unprecedented success.” Mitt Romney, who leads the race for the Republican presidential nomination, has said he would place similar restrictions on “all these federal programs.” One of his rivals, Rick Santorum, calls the welfare law a source of spiritual rejuvenation.
“It didn’t just cut the rolls, but it saved lives,” Mr. Santorum said, giving the poor “something dependency doesn’t give: hope.”

President Obama spoke favorably of the program in his 2008 campaign — promoting his role as a state legislator in cutting the Illinois welfare rolls. But he has said little about it as president.
Even in the 1996 program’s early days, when jobs were plentiful, a subset of families appeared disconnected — left with neither welfare nor work. Their numbers were growing before the recession and seem to have surged since then. 

No Money, No Job

While data on the very poor is limited and subject to challenge, recent studies have found that as many as one in every four low-income single mothers is jobless and without cash aid — roughly four million women and children. Many of the mothers have problems like addiction or depression, which can make assisting them politically unpopular, and they have received little attention in a downturn that has produced an outpouring of concern for the middle class. 

Poor families can turn to other programs, like food stamps or Medicaid, or rely on family and charity. But the absence of a steady source of cash, however modest, can bring new instability to troubled lives.

One prominent supporter of the tough welfare law is worried that it may have increased destitution among the most disadvantaged families. “This is the biggest problem with welfare reform, and we ought to be paying attention to it,” said Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, who helped draft the 1996 law as an aide to House Republicans and argues that it has worked well for most recipients.
“The issue here is, can you create a strong work program, as we did, without creating a big problem at the bottom?” Mr. Haskins said. “And we have what appears to be a big problem at the bottom.”
He added, “This is what really bothers me: the people who supported welfare reform, they’re ignoring the problem.”

The welfare program was born amid apocalyptic warnings and was instantly proclaimed a success, at times with a measure of “I told you so” glee from its supporters. Liberal critics had warned that its mix of time limits and work rules would create mass destitution — “children sleeping on the grates,” in the words of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat who died in 2003. 

But the economy boomed, employment soared, poverty fell and caseloads plunged. Thirty-two states reduced their caseloads by two-thirds or more, as officials issued press releases and jostled for bragging rights. The tough law played a large role, but so did expansions of child care and tax credits that raised take-home pay.

In a twist on poverty politics, poor single mothers, previously chided as “welfare queens,” were celebrated as working-class heroes, with their stories of leaving the welfare rolls cast as uplifting tales of pluck. Flush with federal money, states experimented with programs that offered counseling, clothes and used cars.

But if the rise in employment was larger than predicted, it was also less transformative than it may have seemed. Researchers found that most families that escaped poverty remained “near poor.”
And despite widespread hopes that working mothers might serve as role models, studies found few social or educational benefits for their children. (They measured things like children’s aspirations, self-esteem, grades, drug use and arrests.) Nonmarital births continued to rise. 

But the image of success formed early and stayed frozen in time. 

“The debate is over,” President Clinton said a year after signing the law, which he often cites in casting himself as a centrist. “Welfare reform works.” 

The recession that began in 2007 posed a new test to that claim. Even with $5 billion in new federal funds, caseloads rose just 15 percent from the lowest level in two generations. Compared with the 1990s peak, the national welfare rolls are still down by 68 percent. Just one in five poor children now receives cash aid, the lowest level in nearly 50 years. 

As the downturn wreaked havoc on budgets, some states took new steps to keep the needy away. They shortened time limits, tightened eligibility rules and reduced benefits (to an average of about $350 a month for a family of three). 

Since 2007, 11 states have cut the rolls by 10 percent or more. They include centers of unemployment like Georgia, Indiana and Rhode Island, as well as Michigan, where the welfare director justified cuts by telling legislators, “We have a fair number of people gaming the system.” Arizona cut benefits by 20 percent and shortened time limits twice — to two years, from five. 

Many people already found the underlying system more hassle than help, a gantlet of job-search classes where absences can be punished by a complete loss of aid. Some states explicitly pursue a policy of deterrence to make sure people use the program only as a last resort. 

Since the states get fixed federal grants, any caseload growth comes at their own expense. By contrast, the federal government pays the entire food stamp bill no matter how many people enroll; states encourage applications, and the rolls have reached record highs. 

Among the Arizonans who lost their checks was Tamika Shelby, who first sought cash aid at 29 after fast-food jobs and a stint as a waitress in a Phoenix strip club. The state gave her $176 a month and sent her to work part time at a food bank. Though she was effectively working for $2 an hour, she scarcely missed a day in more than a year.
“I loved it,” she said.
Her supervisor, Michael Cox, said Ms. Shelby “was just wonderful” and “would even come up here on her days off.”
Then the reduced time limit left Ms. Shelby with neither welfare nor work. She still gets about $250 a month in food stamps for herself and her 3-year-old son, Dejon. She counts herself fortunate, she said, because a male friend lets her stay in a spare room, with no expectations of sex. Still, after feeding her roommate and her child, she said, “there are plenty of days I don’t eat.
“I know there are some people who abuse the system,” Ms. Shelby said. “But I was willing to do anything they asked me to. If I could, I’d still be working for those two dollars an hour.”
Diverting Federal Funds
Clarence H. Carter, Arizona’s director of economic security, says finances forced officials to cut the rolls. But the state gets the same base funding from the federal government, $200 million, that it received in the mid-1990s when caseloads were five times as high. (The law also requires it to spend $86 million in state funds.) 

Arizona spends most of the federal money on other human services programs, especially foster care and adoption services, while using just one-third for cash benefits and work programs — the core purposes of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. If it did not use the federal welfare money, the state would have to finance more of those programs itself.

“Yes, we divert — divert’s a bad word,” said State Representative John Kavanagh, a Republican and chairman of the Arizona House Appropriations Committee. “It helps the state.” 

While federal law allows such flexibility, critics say states neglect poor families to patch their own finances. Nationally, only 30 percent of the welfare money is spent on cash benefits. 

“It’s not that the other stuff isn’t important, but it’s not what T.A.N.F.” — the Temporary Assistance program — “was intended for,” said LaDonna Pavetti of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington research and advocacy group. “The states use the money to fill budget holes.” 

Even in an economy as bad as Arizona’s, some recipients find work. Estefana Armas, a 30-year-old mother of three, spent nine years on the rolls, fighting depression so severe that it left her hospitalized. Once exempt from time limits because of her mental health, Ms. Armas joined support groups, earned a high school equivalency degree and enrolled in community college.

Just as her time expired last summer, Ms. Armas found work as a teacher’s aide at a church preschool.

“It kind of pushed me to get a job,” she said.

Supporters of Temporary Assistance cite stories like that to argue that it promotes a work ethic. Despite high unemployment, low-skilled single mothers work as much now, on average, as they did under the old welfare law — and by some measures, a bit more. As a group, their poverty rates are still lower. And those without cash aid, they say, can turn to other programs.

“We have reduced our caseload, and we don’t have people dying in the street,” Mr. Kavanagh said. 
“There were an awful lot of people who didn’t need it.”

But the number of very poor families appears to be growing. Pamela Loprest and Austin Nichols, researchers at the Urban Institute, found that one in four low-income single mothers nationwide — about 1.5 million — are jobless and without cash aid. That is twice the rate the researchers found under the old welfare law. More than 40 percent remain that way for more than a year, and many have mental or physical disabilities, sick children or problems with domestic violence. 

Using a different definition of distress, Luke Shaefer of the University of Michigan and Kathryn Edin of Harvard examined the share of households with children in a given month living on less than $2 per person per day. It has nearly doubled since 1996, to almost 4 percent. Even when counting food stamps as cash, they found one of every 50 children live in such a household.

The Census Bureau uses a third measure, “deep poverty,” which it defines as living on less than half of the amount needed to escape poverty (for a family of three, that means living on less than $9,000 a year). About 10 percent of households headed by women report incomes that low, a bit less than the peak under the old law but still the highest level in 18 years. 

Some researchers say the studies exaggerate poverty by inadequately accounting for undisclosed income, like help from boyfriends or under-the-table jobs. They note that asking poor people about their consumption, rather than their income, suggests that even the poorest single mothers have improved their standard of living since 1996. 
Mr. Haskins, the Temporary Assistance program’s architect, agrees that poverty at the bottom “is not as bad as it seems,” but adds, “It’s still pretty darn bad.” 

Trying to Make Do
Asked how they survived without cash aid, virtually all of the women interviewed here said they had sold food stamps, getting 50 cents for every dollar of groceries they let others buy with their benefit cards. Many turned to food banks and churches. Nationally, roughly a quarter have subsidized housing, with rents as low as $50 a month. 

Several women said the loss of aid had left them more dependent on troubled boyfriends. One woman said she sold her child’s Social Security number so a relative could collect a tax credit worth $3,000.
“I tried to sell blood, but they told me I was anemic,” she said. 

Several women acknowledged that they had resorted to shoplifting, including one who took orders for brand-name clothes and sold them for half-price. Asked how she got cash, one woman said flatly, “We rob wetbacks” — illegal immigrants, who tend to carry cash and avoid the police. At least nine times, she said, she has flirted with men and led them toward her home, where accomplices robbed them. 

“I felt bad afterwards,” she said. But she added, “There were times when we didn’t have nothing to eat.”

One family ruled out crime and rummaged through trash cans instead. The mother, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, could not get aid for herself but received $164 a month for her four American-born children until their time limit expired. Distraught at losing her only steady source of cash, she asked the children if they would be ashamed to help her collect discarded cans.
“I told her I would be embarrassed to steal from someone — not to pick up cans,” her teenage daughter said.

Weekly park patrols ensued, and recycling money replaced about half of the welfare check.
Despite having a father in prison and a mother who could be deported, the children exude earnest cheer. A daughter in the fifth grade won a contest at school for reading the most books. A son in the eighth grade is a student leader praised by his principal for tutoring younger students, using supplies he pays for himself. 

“That’s just the kind of character he has,” the principal said.

After losing cash aid, the mother found a cleaning job but lost it when her boss discovered that she was in the United States illegally. The family still gets subsidized housing and $650 a month in food stamps.

The boy worries about homelessness, but his younger sisters, 9 and 10, see an upside in scavenging.
“It’s kind of fun because you get to look through the trash,” one of the girls said.
“And you get to play in the park a little while before you go home,” her sister agreed.

What’s Race Got to Do with It?

Excellent research on the study of artifacts like syllabi in higher education.  Interesting work in light of the current direction in higher ed in terms of moving toward outcomes-based indicators in higher education.

This is a “right tools for the job” argument. Before we can fix a problem we must name it, see it, define it, and find its roots. Conflating race and income accomplishes none of that. The problems must be viewed distinctly.  Such discipline is likely to expand our repertoire of solutions to improve educational opportunity for the poor, because we will also see those problems more clearly.
Alicia C.

Estela Mara

What’s Race Got to Do with It?
Alicia C. Dowd  & Estela M. Bensimon
Co-Directors, Center for Urban Education (CUE)              
University of Southern California's Rossier School of Education  

Interview with Estela Bensimon  (Audio Only)               
Print Friendly and PDF   As faculty members and co-directors of the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at USC, we lead action research using CUE’s Equity Scorecard. The mission of our center is to create the “tools” needed for colleges and universities to bring about racial/ethnic equity in students’ collegiate experiences and outcomes. In the action research process structured by the tools and activities of the Equity Scorecard, our focus is unremittingly on closing the equity gaps found among students of different racial-ethnic groups. These gaps too often shortchange African American, Latina and Latino, Native American, and Southeast Asian students.  That said, it is clear that social stratification, income inequality, poverty, and class-based ideologies matter a great deal and that economic inequities also exist. We are repeatedly asked, “What about income?”, or told outright that class matters as much as or more than race.

To point out that race and poverty are highly correlated, that racially minoritized groups have been deprived of the wealth accumulated in white and Asian communities, that the median value of assets held by white families today is 15 to 22 times higher than that of Hispanic and Black households only gets us so far.  Although poverty is more prevalent and severe in racially minoritized communities, there are more White non-Hispanic people among the poor than people of any other race. The dissenters to our focus on race and ethnicity know these families and communities well and deeply feel their plight. How does our work address those concerns? How does it relate to the AERA theme of education and poverty, beyond the clear (and devastating) overrepresentation of people of color among the poor?

The answer lies in answer to another question: What are we as educational practitioners going to do about it?  To this we answer, take institutional responsibility for reducing race-based and class-based inequities. And do so in particular ways based on knowledge of the problems at hand.
Doing so requires distinct processes of organizational and cultural change specifically designed to address the problems of racism and poverty. We want to be clear we are not making an argument based on hierarchies of oppression. This is a “right tools for the job” argument. Before we can fix a problem we must name it, see it, define it, and find its roots. Conflating race and income accomplishes none of that. The problems must be viewed distinctly.  Such discipline is likely to expand our repertoire of solutions to improve educational opportunity for the poor, because we will also see those problems more clearly.

The change we envision and the work we do to bring it about is centered “in here,” in academia, rather than out there in society, separate from our agency and control. In the doing something about it, we have turned to action research.  The word “tools” in our center’s mission statement has a very “hands on” connotation, and that is apt for what we do. We believe that change will come about by changing, through practitioner involvement in action research, the artifacts that college and university practitioners use in their daily work life, artifacts like data, syllabi, brochures, student learning assessments, admissions policies, and job responsibilities. As action researchers we design protocols, activities, and social interactions intended to spark new ways of seeing and doing among practitioners who are “color blind” to the ways that schools, colleges and universities perpetuate race-based inequities.

If we were to design an action research process focused on addressing class, wealth, and income-based inequities, it would be different from CUE’s current Equity Scorecard process. The tools and aims would differ because the mechanisms of exclusion and marginalization of poor and low-income students differ from the mechanisms of racial discrimination in education.

An equity scorecard for addressing class inequities, if one were to be developed, would focus on affordability, public subsidies for housing and health care, time to degree, parenting and child care, opportunity costs, and job prospects. It would rely on tools intent on redefining notions of the “traditional” student in ways inclusive of the poor. And it would address these issues front and center, rather than issues of meritocracy, because low-income and impoverished students are hampered by these more so than the insistent and insidious questioning of one’s abilities that students of color experience whenever they walk into the classroom, whether prompted by contemporary events and learning environments or by structural, interpersonal, and internalized forms of racism.  Students of color experience financial barriers to college the same as their white peers of limited financial means;   on top of that they experience the racism that is part of education’s history, legacy, and DNA. We focus on race because it is too easy to deflect an accounting of racial discrimination by solely emphasizing financial constraints as the chief culprit of racial inequities.

 So, our contribution to the AERA theme of Education and Poverty: Theory, Research, Policy, and Praxis, with our unremitting focus on racial-ethnic equity, is to suggest that others design and take up with unremitting focus an action research agenda to address the issues of income- and class-based inequities. We have not solved the problems of equity based on skin color—not by a long shot—but we and our partners in schools, colleges, and universities have learned a great deal about what it means to move from deficit-minded to equity-minded assumptions concerning the challenges facing students of color and to take institutional responsibility for them. Racial and income inequality are two sides of the same coin. But they are two sides with distinctive features, each of which must be brought into sharper relief by educational researchers.

Alicia C. Dowd is an associate professor of education and co-director, Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the University of Southern California’s Rossier School of Education. Dr. Dowd's research focuses on political-economic issues of public college finance equity, organizational effectiveness, and accountability and the factors affecting student attainment in higher education.

Estela M. Bensimon is a professor of higher education and co-director of the Center for Urban Education (CUE) at the USC Rossier School of Education. Her current research is on issues of racial equity in higher education from the perspective of organizational learning and socio-cultural practice theories.