Thursday, January 30, 2014

Half of Texas Households Are One Crisis Away from Slipping Into Poverty

Texans are hurting—and they have been hurting.  These are not good news.

To read an analysis of key findings from the 2014 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard, click here. To access the complete Scorecard visit
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Press Contacts:
Kristin Lawton, 202.207.0137
Don Baylor, Jr., 512.823.2879

Half of Texas Households Are One Crisis Away from Slipping Into Poverty
State ranks 37th overall in financial security of residents,
41st in policies adopted to help struggling families
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Despite an improving national economy, 49.8 percent of Texas households are in a persistent state of financial insecurity, according to a report released today by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED). The number of households who have little or no savings to cover emergencies or to start building a better life has barely budged from last year’s 49.5 percent level. The report also found that state policies are doing little to improve the financial security of Texans.
CFED’s 2014 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard defines these financially insecure residents as “liquid asset poor,” which means they lack adequate savings to cover basic expenses at the federal poverty level for even three months in the event of an emergency such as a job loss or health crisis. Included among Texas’ “liquid asset poor” are a majority of those who live below the official income poverty line of $23,550 for a family of four, as well as many who would consider themselves middle class. Fully 32 percent of households earning $54,049 - $90,468 annually have less than three months of savings (i.e., less than $5,887 for a family of four).
The Scorecard provides rankings for the 50 states and District of Columbia on both the ability of residents to achieve financial security and, for the first time, policies designed to help them get there. On both measures, Texas ranks near the bottom with an outcomes ranking of 37 and an overall policy ranking of 41.
“Nationally, policies at all levels of government helped stem the tide of the recession’s damage to household finances. They protected consumers from foreclosure and abusive financial practices, helped raise wages and connected families to the financial mainstream,” said Andrea Levere, President of CFED. “Without strong policies that address the challenges facing low- and moderate-income families, wealth and income inequality will continue to grow and our nation’s economy will continue to struggle.”
The Scorecard evaluates how residents are faring across 66 outcome measures in five different issue areas—Financial Assets & Income, Businesses & Jobs, Housing & Homeownership, Health Care and Education. Texas received:
  • A “D” in Financial Assets & Income, reflecting a high level of income poverty and the large number of residents with subprime credit rates.
  • An “F” in the Health Care category, mainly because 25 percent of residents lack medical insurance.
  • A “C” in the Businesses & Jobs category. Texas ranked 42nd in the number of low-wage jobs (27.8 percent of jobs are considered low-wage), but it ranked 5th in average annual pay of residents ($51,983), reflecting a large division in income levels. 
  • A “C” in Education, ranking 51st for the number of adults with a high school degree and 32nd for the number of adults with a four-year college degree.
The Scorecard also evaluates 67 different state policy measures to determine how well states are addressing the challenges facings residents. Texas ranked moderately on policies aimed at creating more opportunities for low- to moderate-income families in the Housing & Homeownership (11th) and Health Care (17th) areas. The state ranked low in the policy areas of Financial Assets & Income (48th) and Education (34th), underscoring the link between inadequate policies and ongoing challenges confronting the state’s low- and moderate-income families.
“Despite steady job growth and low unemployment rates, many Texas residents are still struggling with persistent financial insecurity and have difficulty moving up the economic ladder,” said Tim Morstad of AARP Texas and RAISE Texas Board Chair. “The data from the 2014 Assets & Opportunity Scorecard should motivate state and local policymakers to build on an emerging consensus to improve household financial security.”
Our leaders can take immediate steps to create more opportunities for low- and moderate-income families and build an economy that works for everyone by:
  • Empowering all families to open college savings accounts.
  • Curbing abusive payday and auto-title lending.
  • Removing barriers to household savings and asset building.
“With 1 in 12 Americans now living in Texas, and our state at the leading edge of a profound demographic shift, a snapshot of economic opportunity in Texas is a window into the future of our country,” noted Don Baylor, CFED Board Member and Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Public Policy Priorities. “These common-sense recommendations provide a roadmap for policymakers to improve the bottom line for Texas families and the state economy.”
Published annually, the Assets & Opportunity Scorecard offers the most comprehensive look available at Americans’ ability to save and build wealth, fend off poverty and create a more prosperous future. It explores how well residents are faring in the 50 states and the District of Columbia and assesses policies that are helping residents build and protect assets across the five issue areas listed above.
Nationally, the Scorecard data reveal that five years into the economic recovery, millions of American families are still treading water in the deep end. While indicators such as unemployment, foreclosure rates and credit card debt show a slow but steady decline, the general picture remains one of declining economic mobility and widening wealth and income inequality. Among other key findings:
  • The average college debt for students graduating increased eight percent from $27,150 in 2011 to $29,400 in 2012. As student loan debt increased, so did the student loan default rate. Fifteen percent of borrowers in 2012 defaulted on their student loans within three years of starting repayment, up from 13 percent in 2011.
  • The percent of employees participating in employer-provided retirement plans continued to decline from 47 percent in 2007 to 44 percent in 2012.
  • Although the racial wealth gap narrowed slightly between 2010 and 2011, households of color still fall far behind white households. They have approximately one-tenth the median net worth of white households ($12,377 and $110,637, respectively) and are considerably less likely to own a home. The homeownership rate for households of color is 26 percentage points lower than the rate for white households (46 percent and 72 percent, respectively).
  • Only eight states (Maryland, New York, Maine, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, Minnesota and Rhode Island) have adopted 50 percent or more of the 67 policies that can support family financial security. Meanwhile, seven states (Idaho, Missouri, South Dakota, Alabama, Alaska, Mississippi and Wyoming) have adopted fewer than one-quarter of the policies.

# # #
Center for Public Policy Priorities is a nonpartisan, nonprofit policy institute committed to improving public policies to make a better Texas. You can learn more about us at
CFED empowers low- and moderate-income households to build and preserve assets by advancing policies and programs that help them achieve the American Dream, including buying a home, pursuing higher education, starting a business and saving for the future. As a leading source for data about household financial security and policy solutions, CFED understands what families need to succeed. We promote programs on the ground and invest in social enterprises that create pathways to financial security and opportunity for millions of people. Established in 1979 as the Corporation for Enterprise Development, CFED works nationally and internationally through its offices in Washington, DC; Durham, North Carolina; and San Francisco, California.
To improve policies and programs that promote financial security and opportunity, CFED is the backbone organization for a national Assets & Opportunity Network, which is comprised of more than 1,300 advocates, service providers, researchers, financial institutions and others representing all 50 states and DC. To learn more about the Assets & Opportunity Network, visit
RAISE Texas, the statewide asset-building coalition, includes several statewide organizations such as AARP Texas, CPPP, Texas Appleseed, United Ways of Texas, and numerous community-based and faith-based organizations as well as for-profit partners, including several financial institution partners. Texas currently has two lead local organizations, YWCA of Metropolitan Dallas and United Way of Greater Houston.
For more information on local efforts to increase financial success, contact:
Woody Widrow, RAISE Texas (Lead State Organization in the Assets & Opportunity Network), 512.705.9063
Jennifer Ware, YWCA of Metropolitan Dallas (Lead Local Organization in the Assets & Opportunity Network), 214.584.2314
Renee C. Lee, United Way of Greater Houston (Lead Local Organization in the Assets & Opportunity Network), 713.685.2380
Together we can make a better Texas!
Support our work
T 512.320.0222  F 512.320.0227

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Common Core Assessment Myths and Realities: Moratorium Needed From More Tests, Costs, Stress

Common Core Assessment Myths and Realities: Moratorium Needed From More Tests, Costs, Stress
Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), each state set its own learning standards and developed tests to measure them. But NCLB’s failure to spur overall test score gains or close racial gaps led “reformers” to push for national, or “common,” standards. With millions in federal Race to the Top money and NCLB “waivers” as incentives, all but a few states agreed to adopt Common Core standards. Two multi-state consortia — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — won federal grants to develop Common Core tests, which are due to be rolled out in 2014-15. Here are the realities behind major Common Core myths.  

Myth: Common Core tests will be much better than current exams, with many items measuring higher-order skills.
Reality: New tests will largely consist of the same old, multiple-choice questions.

Proponents initially hyped new assessments that they said would measure – and help teachers promote – critical thinking. In fact, the exams will remain predominantly multiple choice. Heavy reliance on such items continues to promote rote teaching and learning. Assessments will generally include just one session of short performance tasks per subject. Some short-answer and “essay” questions will appear, just as on many current state tests. Common Core math items are often simple computation tasks buried in complex and sometimes confusing “word problems” (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). The prominent Gordon Commission of measurement and education experts concluded Common Core tests are currently “far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes” (Gordon Commission, 2013).

Myth: Adoption of Common Core exams will end NCLB testing overkill.
Reality: Under Common Core, there will be many more tests and the same misuses.
NCLB triggered a testing tsunami (Guisbond, et al., 2012); the Common Core will flood classrooms with even more tests. Both consortia keep mandatory annual English/language arts (ELA) and math testing in grades 3-8 and once in high school, as with NCLB. However, the tests will be longer than current state exams. PARCC will test reading and math in three high school grades instead of one; SBAC moves reading and math tests from 10th grade to 11th. In PARCC states, high schoolers will also take a speaking and listening test. PARCC also offers “formative” tests for kindergarten through second grade. Both consortia produce and encourage additional interim testing two to three times a year (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). As with NCLB, Common Core tests will be used improperly to make high-stakes decisions, including high school graduation (Gewertz, 2012), teacher evaluation, and school accountability.  

Myth: New multi-state assessments will save taxpayers money.
Reality: Test costs will increase for most states. Schools will spend even more for computer infrastructure upgrades.

Costs have been a big concern, especially for the five states that dropped out of a testing consortium as of August 2013. PARCC acknowledges that half its member states will spend more than they do for current tests. Georgia pulled out when PARCC announced costs of new, computer-delivered summative math and ELA tests alone totaled $2.5 million more than its existing state assessment budget. States lack resources to upgrade equipment, bandwidth and provide technical support, a cost likely to exceed that of the tests themselves (Herbert, 2012). One analysis indicates that Race to the Top would provide districts with less than ten cents on the dollar to defray these expenses plus mandated teacher evaluations (Mitchell, 2012).

Myth: New assessment consortia will replace error-prone test manufacturers.
Reality: The same, incompetent, profit-driven companies will make new exams and prep materials.

The same old firms, including Pearson, Educational Testing Service and CTB/McGraw-Hill, are producing the tests. These firms have long histories of mistakes and incompetence. The multi-national Pearson, for example, has been responsible for poor-quality items, scoring errors, computer system crashes and missed deadlines (Strauss, 2013). Despite these failures, Pearson shared $23 million in contracts to design the first 18,000 PARCC test items (Gewertz, 2012).

Myth: More rigor means more, or better, learning.
Reality: Harder tests do not make kids smarter.

In New York, teachers witnessed students brought to tears (Hernandez & Baker, 2013), faced with confusing instructions and unfamiliar material on Common Core tests. New York tests gave fifth graders questions written at an 8th grade level (Ravitch, 2013). New York and Kentucky showed dramatic drops in proficiency and wider achievement gaps. Poor results hammer students’ self-confidence and disengage them from learning. They also bolster misperceptions about public school failure, place urban schools in the cross hairs and lend ammunition to privatization schemes. If a child struggles to clear the high bar at five feet, she will not become a "world class" jumper because someone raised the bar to six feet and yelled "jump higher," or if her “poor” performance is used to punish her coach.

Myth: Common Core assessments are designed to meet the needs of all students.
Reality: The new tests put students with disabilities and English language learners at risk.
Advocates for English language learners (Maxwell, 2013) have raised concerns about a lack of appropriate accommodations. A U.S. Education Department’s technical review assessed the consortia’s efforts in July 2013 and issued a stern warning, saying that attempts to accommodate students with disabilities and ELLs need more attention (Gewertz, 2013).

Myth: Common Core "proficiency" is an objective measure of college- and career-readiness.
Reality: Proficiency levels on Common Core tests are subjective, like all performance levels.
Recent disclosures demonstrate that New York State set passing scores arbitrarily (Burris, 2013). There is no evidence that these standards or tests are linked to the skills and knowledge students need for their wide range of college and career choices (Ravitch, 2013). In addition, school officials have often yielded to the temptation to cheat and manipulate test results to bolster the credibility of their favored reforms. Examples include Atlanta, New York, Washington, DC, Indiana, Florida, and more (FairTest, 2012).

Myth: States have to implement the Common Core assessments; they have no other choice.
Reality: Yes they do. Activists should call for an indefinite moratorium on Common Core tests to allow time for implementation of truly better assessments.
High-quality assessment improves teaching and learning and provides useful information about schools. Examples of better assessments include well-designed formative assessments (FairTest, 2006), performance assessments that are part of the curriculum (New York Performance Standards Consortium), and portfolios or Learning Records (FairTest, 2007) of actual student work. Schools can be evaluated using multiple sources of evidence that includes limited, low-stakes testing, school quality reviews, and samples of ongoing student work (Neill, 2010). It’s time to step back and reconsider what kinds of assessments will help our students and teachers succeed in school and life.

Glad to see that the testing issue and the emotional abuse that it results in got some important attention in the New Yorker, Daily Comment.  

January 23, 2014

The Defiant Parents: Testing’s Discontents

 Quote from within:

Last spring’s state tests were an entirely different experience, for children and for teachers. Teachers invigilating the exams were shocked by ambiguous test questions, based, as they saw it, on false premises and wrongheaded educational principles. (One B.N.S. teacher, Katherine Sorel, eloquently details her objections on WNYC’s SchoolBook blog.) Others were dismayed to see that children were demoralized by the relentlessness of the testing process, which took seventy minutes a day for six days, with more time allowed for children with learning disabilities. One teacher remarked that, if a tester needs three days to tell if a child can read “you are either incompetent or cruel. I feel angry and compromised for going along with this.” Another teacher said that during each day of testing, at least one of her children was reduced to tears. A paraprofessional—a classroom aide who works with children with special needs—called the process “state-sanctioned child abuse.” One child with a learning disability, after the second hour of the third day, had had enough. “He only had two questions left, but he couldn’t keep going,” a teacher reported. “He banged his head on the desk so hard that everyone in the room jumped.”

Thursday, January 16, 2014

What’s the Matter With Kansas’ Schools?

This piece by David Sciarra and Wade Henderson is hugely important as the decision rendered by the Kansas Supreme Court and an intractable legislature will have a defining impact on the future of our communities' constitutional rights to—in this case—a "suitable education."  Quote from within:

"A court-stripping constitutional amendment, and defiance of a state Supreme Court order, would shred the very fabric of Kansas’ government and send shock waves through state capitals across the nation."

Todos Somos Kansas!  We are all Kansas!


NYTimes The Opinion Pages|Op-Ed Contributors 

What’s the Matter With Kansas’ Schools?

KANSAS, like every state, explicitly guarantees a free public education in its Constitution, affirming America’s founding belief that only an educated citizenry can preserve democracy and safeguard individual liberty and freedom.

And yet in recent years Kansas has become the epicenter of a new battle over the states’ obligation to adequately fund public education. Even though the state Constitution requires that it make “suitable provision” for financing public education, Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican-led Legislature have made draconian cuts in school spending, leading to a lawsuit that now sits before the state Supreme Court.

The outcome of that decision could resonate nationwide. Forty-five states have had lawsuits challenging the failure of governors and legislators to provide essential resources for a constitutional education. Litigation is pending against 11 states that allegedly provide inadequate and unfair school funding, including New York, Florida, Texas and California.

Many of these lawsuits successfully forced elected officials to increase school funding overall and to deliver more resources to poor students and those with special needs. If the Kansas Supreme Court rules otherwise, students in those states may begin to see the tide of education cuts return.
Kansas’ current constitutional crisis has its genesis in a series of cuts to school funding that began in 2009. The cuts were accelerated by a $1.1 billion tax break, which benefited mostly upper-income Kansans, proposed by Governor Brownback and enacted in 2012.

Overall, the Legislature slashed public education funding to 16.5 percent below the 2008 level, triggering significant program reductions in schools across the state. Class sizes have increased, teachers and staff members have been laid off, and essential services for at-risk students were eliminated, even as the state implemented higher academic standards for college and career readiness.
Parents filed a lawsuit in the Kansas courts to challenge the cuts. In Gannon v. State of Kansas, a three-judge trial court ruled in January 2013 for the parents, finding that the cuts reduced per-pupil expenditures far below a level “suitable” to educate all children under Kansas’ standards.
The judges also found that the Legislature was not meeting even the basic funding amounts set in its own education cost studies. The judges called the school funding cut “destructive of our children’s future.”

To remedy the funding shortfall, the judges ordered that per-pupil expenditures be increased to $4,492 from $3,838, the level previously established as suitable.

Rather than comply, Governor Brownback appealed to the Kansas Supreme Court. A decision is expected this month.

A victory for the parents would be heartening, but if it comes, would Governor Brownback and legislative leaders uphold the right to education guaranteed to Kansas school children?
The signals thus far are not promising. If the Kansas Supreme Court orders restoration of the funding, legislators are threatening to amend the state’s Constitution by removing the requirement for “suitable” school funding and to strip Kansas courts of jurisdiction to hear school finance cases altogether. And if the amendment fails, they have vowed to defy any court order for increased funding or, at the very least, take the money from higher education.

A court-stripping constitutional amendment, and defiance of a state Supreme Court order, would shred the very fabric of Kansas’ government and send shock waves through state capitals across the nation. It would allow elected branches to avoid any responsibility to adhere to the language and interpretation of their state constitutions by the courts. It would gravely undermine judicial independence and shut the courthouse door to vulnerable children who, as a last resort, seek legal redress to vindicate their fundamental right to an education.

As the Gannon trial judges noted, matters such as education are placed in constitutions because they are “intended for permanence” and “to protect them from the vagaries of politics.”

Kansans rightfully take pride in their strong public school system. But as Kansas goes, so may go the nation. The Kansas Constitution, like those in other states, demands that every child be given the educational opportunity to meet his or her promise. This requires, at a minimum, adequate and suitable school funding. Governor Brownback and legislators must meet the constitutional command and, by so doing, advance the core American value of equal opportunity for all.

David Sciarra is the executive director of the Education Law Center. Wade Henderson is the president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Study: People Associate 'Education' With Lighter Skin

Important read. A colleague shared this piece with me, as well, that connects to the study appearing below:

Gorski, P. (2012) Complicating White Privilege: Poverty, Class, and the Nature of the Knapsack.  TEACHERS COLLEGE RECORD. ID Number: 16687,  1/12/2014

Study: People Associate 'Education' With Lighter Skin

Research participants remembered 'educated' black men as having a lighter skin tone.

Vincent Kessler/Reuters
Reading an academic paper on racism is like reading an alien's take on the human species.
In their summary of the way humans think, these aliens describe racism as "phenotypic features associated with the social categorization of racial groups [that] have been strongly linked to stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination." Don't those humans know those "phenotypic features" (i.e., genetic factors) that form race only account for 6 to 10 percent of the genetic differences between humans? Silly humans. Often this stereotyping manifests itself in what's called "skin tone memory bias," or, in the common tongue, racism.
For all their academic euphemisms, the psychologists on a new study in the Journal Sage Open, are not aliens. But they do cooly describe the way subjects implicitly associate "ignorance" with dark skin tone, and "education" with light skin tone.
The students tested at San Francisco State University were shown words like "ignorant" and "educated" for 33 milliseconds. These subliminal prompts are part of a phenomenon known as priming, a manipulation by researchers that preps participants' minds for a given experiment. After the subliminal word, they saw a picture of a black man.
Priming is a powerful tool for psychologists. Basically, simple words or cues activate semantic networks in the brain and make the ideas connected to that semantic network easier to access. The effect is commonly illustrated by a simple experiment: When a researcher hands a person a cup of warm water, they're more likely to describe someone as being warm or friendly. In flashing the word "ignorance" before their participant's eyes, the psychologists make everything with an "ignorance" association in their participant's mind all the more accessible.
The array of skin tones the researchers used in the study. When primed for "educated," participants would more often misidentify a black man as having a lighter skin tone. (Avi Ben-Zeev, Tara Dennehy, Robin Goodrich, Branden Kolarik, and Mark Geisler)
What they found was this: The students primed with "educated" were more likely to rate the black man's skin tone as lighter on a memory test later. "Black individuals who defy social stereotypes might not challenge social norms sufficiently but rather may be remembered as lighter, perpetuating status quo beliefs," the authors summarize. That is, when primed to think of a "black person" and "educated" in the same mental space, the black person becomes whiter. The stereotype distorts the memory.

The researchers elaborate:

Whereas encountering a Black individual after being primed with the word educated might pose a challenge to existing beliefs, encountering a Black individual after being primed with the word ignorant would likely not require resolution or a misremembering of skin tone to align with these beliefs.

The effects of skin bias have real consequences: The "more black" a person appears, the more they are likely to be sentenced to death (in an experiment). In the real world, darker-skinned women were found to spend more time in jail.

Now, it's unfair to label this study's participants as outright racists. Just because a subliminal cue changes their perceptions of a person doesn't mean those perceptions change the way they might engage with or treat that person in the real world. What the study does show is that these connections exist, and they can subtly change our behavior without us ever knowing it.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Occupational Outlook Handbook—U.S. Dept. of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

Important read.   Despite all the rhetoric of college readiness, the forecast is bleak for far too many youth in our economy and society.
Occupations with the largest numeric growth, projected 2010-20 will mostly not require very much education at all. 
We know that this impacts policymakers' decisions to sort through high-stakes and tracking those students that are college ready (or "workforce ready") from those who are not. After all, these jobs need to get filled and certainly not by students with a whole lot of education—much less a higher-order, critical-thinking one.
Children of color and low-income whites will be (are are being) disproportionately impacted by this.

U.S. Dept. of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics

Wednesday, January 01, 2014