Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Graduates Versus Oligarchs

From Paul Krugman and the Times by way of O'hanian.

Is it myth that a college education will make you well off?
I think of... the 80-20 fallacy. It's the notion that the winners in our increasingly unequal society are a fairly large group — that the 20 percent or so of American workers who have the skills to take advantage of new technology and globalization are pulling away from the 80 percent who don't have these skills.

The truth is quite different. Highly educated workers have done better than those with less education, but a college degree has hardly been a ticket to big income gains. The 2006 Economic Report of the President tells us that the real earnings of college graduates actually fell more than 5 percent between 2000 and 2004. Over the longer stretch from 1975 to 2004 the average earnings of college graduates rose, but by less than 1 percent per year.

So who are the winners from rising inequality? It's not the top 20 percent, or even the top 10 percent. The big gains have gone to a much smaller, much richer group than that.

A new research paper by Ian Dew-Becker and Robert Gordon of Northwestern University, "Where Did the Productivity Growth Go?," gives the details. Between 1972 and 2001 the wage and salary income of Americans at the 90th percentile of the income distribution rose only 34 percent, or about 1 percent per year. So being in the top 10 percent of the income distribution, like being a college graduate, wasn't a ticket to big income gains.

But income at the 99th percentile rose 87 percent; income at the 99.9th percentile rose 181 percent; and income at the 99.99th percentile rose 497 percent. No, that's not a misprint.

Just to give you a sense of who we're talking about: the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center estimates that this year the 99th percentile will correspond to an income of $402,306, and the 99.9th percentile to an income of $1,672,726. The center doesn't give a number for the 99.99th percentile, but it's probably well over $6 million a year.
The notion that it's all about returns to education suggests that nobody is to blame for rising inequality, that it's just a case of supply and demand at work. And it also suggests that the way to mitigate inequality is to improve our educational system — and better education is a value to which just about every politician in America pays at least lip service.

The idea that we have a rising oligarchy is much more disturbing. It suggests that the growth of inequality may have as much to do with power relations as it does with market forces. Unfortunately, that's the real story.

Should we be worried about the increasingly oligarchic nature of American society? Yes, and not just because a rising economic tide has failed to lift most boats. Both history and modern experience tell us that highly unequal societies also tend to be highly corrupt. There's an arrow of causation that runs from diverging income trends to Jack Abramoff and the K Street project.

And I'm with Alan Greenspan, who — surprisingly, given his libertarian roots — has repeatedly warned that growing inequality poses a threat to "democratic society."

It may take some time before we muster the political will to counter that threat. But the first step toward doing something about inequality is to abandon the 80-20 fallacy. It's time to face up to the fact that rising inequality is driven by the giant income gains of a tiny elite, not the modest gains of college graduates.
— Paul Krugman
New York Times

Is this really dangerous? Let's make the tax cut permanent and keep voting for the same old same old and find out. Or not.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Something Loose in the Brain

Conferences are coming and I can almost guarantee that I will not be posting as often. So, with that in mind I refer you to this great recent post against NCLB by Jim Horn over at Schools matter. The bullets at the end are worth quoting:

  • If one has to choose, which seems to be the case with the all-or-nothing national testing policy that is intended to leave us with nothing in terms of public education as we know it, would you continue to choose the same scheme with the impossible expectations that will guarantee the failure of tens of millions of children over the next 8 years, largely represented by the handicapped, brown, and poor?
  • Do you really believe that the only alternative to the bigotry of low expectations is the racism of impossible demands?
  • Do you really believe the Big Lie that the intent here is to leave no child behind, rather than to introduce a repressive chain gang model for schools in urban America?
  • Will you not see the increasing number of planned failures that heedlessly and arrogantly sacrifice children on the ideological altar of school privatization?
  • Can we see allow ourselves to see the shame and the crime in the violence that we are perpetrating against our children, our schools, against the future of the Republic?
  • Can we?
  • Will we?
  • When?

Friday, February 24, 2006

Privatization or social control?

By Dave Stratman fom New Democracy world via Susan O'hanians' website.

Mr. Stratman has a take on this whole Business Roundtable push against public education that, I believe, bares listening to:
In my view NCLB and various state-based reforms represent a systematic intensification of the problematic nature of the public education system itself. The public education system is designed to legitimize and reinforce the inequalities of capitalist society. NCLB and the host of corporate-led ed reform plans of the past 20 years or so are intended to intensify the stratification and competition which are at the heart of the public school system and are essential to the mission envisioned for it by policymakers.

Why intensify these already-existing traits of the system? There are three principal reasons:

1) as US society becomes more dramatically unequal and less democratic, the education system must be reshaped to sharpen its powers of social control;
2) as the economy is reshaped by automation and outsourcing to yield fewer and fewer jobs that require skilled workers, the self-confidence and potential of countless students must be crushed so that they will accept their place in society;
3) the active resistance--which takes multitudinous forms--of teachers, parents, and students to schooling as social control must be beaten back and undermined.

The question of whether there is money to be made in education reform seems to me beside the point. There may or there may not be. But entrepreneuers like Chris Whittle or corporations like Harcourt Brace would never be able to effect such a massive development in US domestic policy as NCLB represents. These are bit players compared with the Business Roundtable and the other major forces behind these developments--such as the Republican and Democratic Parties.
The effects of the public schools on our children and grandchildren is decidedly mixed. The mix of effects come about because of the conflict over goals at its heart. On the one side are the structures of official school policy and practices, designed to sort students out and reinforce the inequality of American society. On the other side are students, parents, and teachers, who want to see students educated to the fullest of their abilities and who work in the ways they can to succeed in this goal.

To be effective champions of public education, we cannot simply defend the schools against false or misleading information, low funding, and carping politicians. The people who are in the public schools often have very real and reasonable complaints against them. We need to be the most reliable allies of these people. As defenders of the schools, we have also to be their severest and most insightful critics.

To do this we must differentiate between the system and the people in it. The problem is not demoralized teachers or lazy students or indifferent parents. The problem is a system that is designed to undermine the hopes and self-confidence and critical thinking and abilities of the people involved in it.

This is why any serious movement for school change must be a revolutionary movement. Public schools do much that is good and irreplaceable. The damage which they do they do as instruments of social control wielded by the rulers of our society to reinforce their rule. It is that rule--which would be mortally threatened by our young people achieving their full potential--which is the source of the problem.

Dave Stratman

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Under No Child Left Behind, States Submit Growth Model Proposals, Outside Peer Reviewers Selected

Ms. Spellings is at it again. It seems that my fair state A;aska is one of the states, us being a good conservative Republican state, being considered for the "growth model." This is supposed to be a big consession but read further:

Growth models...must be based on the following seven principles of No Child Left Behind:

  • Ensure that all students are proficient by 2014 and set annual state goals to ensure that the achievement gap is closing for all groups of students;
  • Set expectations for annual achievement based upon meeting grade-level proficiency and not upon student background or school characteristics;
  • Hold schools accountable for student achievement in reading/language arts and mathematics;
  • Ensure that all students in tested grades are included in the assessment and accountability system, hold schools and districts accountable for the performance of each student subgroup, and include all schools and districts;
  • Include assessments, in each of grades 3 through 8 and high school, in both reading/language arts and mathematics that have been operational for more than one year and have received approval through the NCLB standards and assessment review process for the 2005-06 school year. The assessment system must also produce comparable results from grade to grade and year to year;
  • Track student progress as part of the state data system; and
  • Include student participation rates and student achievement as separate academic indicators in the state accountability system.
Nothing has changed. The system is still set up for failure. The aim is still privatization. It is beyond time for everyone to stand up to this attack on our public school system.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Watchdog of Test Industry Faces Economic Extinction

This bad news is from Micahel Winerip of the NY Times. Please get out your charge card and help keep this important group going. We need them now more than ever.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Behind the White House's Billion-Dollar Propaganda Push

They cut, cut, cut funding for social programs, including education and NCLB but, according to a new GAO audit, they can still find $1.4 BILLION for propaganda, no I mean public relations for their pet programs. Does this outrage anyone else?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Report: Charters create school segregation

Another report, this one from Michigan, that shows what anyone who is paying attention already knows:

LANSING -- The number of schools in Michigan listed as "segregated" has jumped dramatically over the past decade, driven by the charter school movement.

A Michigan State University report found that Michigan had 294 schools that were composed of at least 80 percent African-American students in 1992-93, and that number had increased to 431 by last year. The MSU Education Policy Center uses the 80 percent figure as the benchmark for being considered "segregated."

Of the 137-school increase, 87 were charter schools

African-American students make up 55 percent of the charter school population, compared to 19 percent statewide, according to the Michigan Association of Public School Academies, which represents charters.

"It's not to blame it on charter schools but to say, if anything, charter schools are exacerbating the problem," said David Plank, co-director of the policy center. "What we're doing is providing African-American parents whose children are in racially isolated schools the choice of attending other racially isolated schools."


And on a completly different subject, check out this statement from Russ Feingold about the Patriot Act on Salon.com. This is important and chances are you will not read it in most papers.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

President’s Budget Would Cut Education Spending

This from EdWeek from today is a fairly detailed account of the presidents proposed budget for education. My personal favorite blurb from the article:

...said Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the ranking minority member on the House Education and the Workforce Committee.

"You're cutting education for disabled students, cutting funding to the most economically disadvantaged students, and at the same time you're going to take $100 million and give it to private schools?" Mr. Miller said in an interview. "It shows such disregard for the public school system."

Exactly, and then there is this about a so-called "bi-partisan" committee to lead a public discourse on NCLB made headed by two of vouchers leading proponents. Lately I am beginning to read more on the blogs that more people are waking up to discover that free public education is being hijacked in this country by the privatization bunch. We need even more voices and we need to get louder.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

AFT NCLB Let's Get It Right

Yes, it's another blog ,but this one is all about NCLB and it is run by the American Federation of Teachers. I have had my differences with them in the past but this looks to be worth the read. Check it out!

Monday, February 13, 2006

The New Advocate is Out --

Check it out! Great reading, as always. Sorry that I have not been blogging. I picked up some awful bug and just have not been able to think about this stuff. I am currently feeling better but I have all that I can do just with work and family stuff. I promise I will get back to this as soon as I feel better. Meanwhile do what I do, check Schools Matter religiously.

Monday, February 06, 2006

The Trouble With Boys --

This article from the January 30, Newsweek is a well written and fairly balanced article on an important subject, and is well worth the read. The authors' make some points that suit my purposes here:

What's wrong with Danny? By almost every benchmark, boys across the nation and in every demographic group are falling behind. In elementary school, boys are two times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with learning disabilities and twice as likely to be placed in special-education classes. High-school boys are losing ground to girls on standardized writing tests. The number of boys who said they didn't like school rose 71 percent between 1980 and 2001, according to a University of Michigan study. Nowhere is the shift more evident than on college campuses. Thirty years ago men represented 58 percent of the undergraduate student body. Now they're a minority at 44 percent.
Boys have always been boys, but the expectations for how they're supposed to act and learn in school have changed. In the last 10 years, thanks in part to activist parents concerned about their children's success, school performance has been measured in two simple ways: how many students are enrolled in accelerated courses and whether test scores stay high. Standardized assessments have become commonplace for kids as young as 6. Curricula have become more rigid. Instead of allowing teachers to instruct kids in the manner and pace that suit each class, some states now tell teachers what, when and how to teach. At the same time, student-teacher ratios have risen, physical education and sports programs have been cut and recess is a distant memory. These new pressures are undermining the strengths and underscoring the limitations of what psychologists call the "boy brain"—the kinetic, disorganized, maddening and sometimes brilliant behaviors that scientists now believe are not learned but hard-wired.
The problem won't be solved overnight. In the last two decades, the education system has become obsessed with a quantifiable and narrowly defined kind of academic success, these experts say, and that myopic view is harming boys. Boys are biologically, developmentally and psychologically different from girls—and teachers need to learn how to bring out the best in every one. "Very well-meaning people," says Dr. Bruce Perry, a Houston neurologist who advocates for troubled kids, "have created a biologically disrespectful model of education."
In elementary-school classrooms—where teachers increasingly put an emphasis on language and a premium on sitting quietly and speaking in turn—the mismatch between boys and school can become painfully obvious. "Girl behavior becomes the gold standard," says "Raising Cain" coauthor Thompson. "Boys are treated like defective girls."
One of the most reliable predictors of whether a boy will succeed or fail in high school rests on a single question: does he have a man in his life to look up to? Too often, the answer is no. High rates of divorce and single motherhood have created a generation of fatherless boys. In every kind of neighborhood, rich or poor, an increasing number of boys—now a startling 40 percent—are being raised without their biological dads.
In neighborhoods where fathers are most scarce, the high-school dropout rates are shocking: more than half of African-American boys who start high school don't finish. David Banks, principal of the Eagle Academy for Young Men, one of four all-boy public high schools in the New York City system, wants each of his 180 students not only to graduate from high school but to enroll in college. And he's leaving nothing to chance. Almost every Eagle Academy boy has a male mentor—a lawyer, a police officer or an entrepreneur from the school's South Bronx neighborhood. The impact of the mentoring program, says Banks, has been "beyond profound."

There is lots more, but as you can see the factors stated here are a direct result of the test, test, test, mind set offered by NCLB. The curriculum is narrowed, seat work becomes more common, and mind numbing cookie cutter lessons become the norm. At the same time, social solutions, like this last one, recieve little notice, and the funding for projects like this becomes less and less available.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Testing industry overwhelmed under NCLB

This news article from USA Today is one from a few days ago that I'm just now getting to. According to a new study the tests that are required by NCLB are in trouble. (Download study here)
The standardized testing industry is "buckling under the weight" of President Bush's education reform plan, with the law's rapidly expanding testing mandates threatening to undermine its high ideals, says a new report out Tuesday from Education Sector, an independent Washington think tank.

Only about $20 of the average $8,000-per-pupil spent on education nationally goes to develop tests under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), the report finds. That's a small proportion, given the tests' importance, says Thomas Toch, the report's author.
But the modest spending on testing could pull the rug out, with many states now forced to buy or create hastily developed, low-quality tests that measure only rudimentary skills, Toch says. Such tests make it impossible for high-performing students' scores to rise above a certain level, despite learning more. So low performers' rising scores make it appear as if the nation's "achievement gap" is closing.

"You're giving a skewed sense of student achievement," Toch says.

What's worse, he says, such tests "are encouraging teachers to make the same low-level skills the priorities of their classrooms." Rather than being a solution, he says, such testing is "fast becoming part of the problem in public education."

Toch recommends that the federal government more than double its funding, from $406 million to $860, to help states develop high-quality tests.

For decades, testing companies have sold carefully developed standardized tests to school districts. NCLB's mandates — that virtually every child in grades three through eight in every public school take annual math and reading tests tied to state standards — have forced testing companies to generate "vastly larger pools of credible test questions" on shorter timelines, the report says. Competitive pressures, high turnover and mistakes by testmakers all take their toll, with more requirements on the way.

The study estimates that public schools, which now give about 33.6 million tests under NCLB, must add another 11.4 million by the end of the current school year, straining testmakers.

I ask you, wouldn't this money be better spent on the kids? And things could get worse, according to Jim Horn over at Schools Matter, (look here for more) Tom Delay's replacement, is the one responsible for making the requirements for NCLB so high that virtually all schools will fail by 2014.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Going beyond No Child Left Behind --

This from the San Diego Union Tribune, an opinion piece by Richard Louv. He has quite a bit to say but this is what struck me:
The brewing rebellion is particularly intense in Utah and Connecticut, states that are political polar opposites. In Connecticut, more than two-thirds of cities and towns have thrown their support in support of a lawsuit against the No Child Left Behind act. Connecticut's attorney general, Richard Blumenthal will argue the case today in U.S. district court, in New Haven.

Like many rebellions, this one has yet to offer much of an alternative for education reform, other than support for local control. If an overemphasis on standardized testing was failing to significantly increase literacy, what approach – or approaches – would work?

The debate about testing should not prevent a closer look at the forgotten environment in and around the school itself. Long before No Child Left Behind, school districts began to isolate students from the surrounding neighborhoods, from nature, from the non-cyber world.

Indeed, during the 1970s, many districts, including San Diego Unified, began to construct new schools with no windows. Educators argued that windows prevented students from concentrating; architects of these schools created “vision strips,” as they called them, thin slots at the tops of the walls that allowed some light to come into the room, but nothing else. Some vision.

Today, school districts are cutting recess and building schools with no playgrounds, even as Johnnie and Jeannie spend more of their time bent over a test or a video game. Meanwhile, a growing body of scientific knowledge points to immersion in the world, especially in nature, as one of the most effective ways – perhaps the most effective way – to help children learn. Standardized test scores might even improve, if no child were left inside.

Why would anyone think a quality environment for learning would be one with "vision strips?" We treat out pets better than this. The man has a point about getting kids outside more, don't you think?

Thursday, February 02, 2006

State needs a rainy day account, not a tier to nowhere

Last spring I reported on the state legislatures' ill-thought reduction of retirement benefits for state workers, including teachers. There were lots of questions at the time about the so called trouble that current retirement funds were/are in. It seemed no one had a good answer. The most that I saw that came from the opposition was that the funds had been under funded over the years by state legislators. Here, in this opinion piece from todays Juneau Empire finally we have some anwers from someone who should know:

Dave Stout has been a retirement counselor for the Division of Retirement and Benefits for much of his 27-year state career.

I have followed with both interest and concern the numerous articles and letters regarding the financial woes of Alaska Public Employees' Retirement System (PERS) and the Alaska Teachers' Retirement System (TRS). I have worked for the Division of Retirement and Benefits since 1980, both as a retirement counselor and as one of the managers. The division administers both programs. Over the years I have developed a good understanding of both retirement plans, and through my job have observed how the plans have been managed.

As with so many things we are told today, we're given only part of the story - usually the part that supports the storyteller's position. For instance, we have been told that the retirement plans are in financial trouble because our retirees live too long, that the cost of health care is draining the system, and because of the downturn in the economy. I'm sure that all of these have some truth, but only to a point. There are other contributing factors that have not been as well-publicized - political pressure and short-sightedness of many public officials.

Benefits paid by both plans are funded by employee contributions, employer-matching contributions, and from the earnings off of the investments. The percentage that each individual pays into the plan is set by statute. However, employer-matching contribution rates vary from year to year. So by statute, the amounts that cities, boroughs, the state, and the school districts contribute into the plan are expected to fluctuate from one year to the next. Nothing new, it has been that way since statehood.

Some 20 years ago several things started to happen. First, the amount that public employees contributed into the retirement plan was increased from 4.25 percent of gross earnings to 6.75 percent, plus medical benefits provided after retirement were reduced for newer members. Teachers soon followed in 1990 with individual rates going from 7 percent to 8.65 percent with similar reductions in health-care benefits. Second, at about the same time, pressure was being put on the plan administrator to reduce the amount collected from the participating employers. To be fair, at the time it appeared that there was a growing surplus of funds, at least on paper. Consequently, employer contribution rates were steadily reduced for the next 15 years, eating away at any possibility to hedge against an economic decline. By the time the "retirement crisis" was finally recognized a couple of years ago, some participating PERS employers were paying no matching contributions - none! Others were paying a small percentage of what was charged in the 1980s. Employees were paying more, while their employers were paying less and less.

Establishing a new retirement system (or tier as we like to call it) that offers fewer benefits to teachers and public employees, especially one that isn't any cheaper than the old one, does nothing to "fix" what we already have. Our public officials (appointed and elected) should have used prudence and foresight by anticipating our investments by their very nature would have periods of decline. Instead of chopping the amount of matching money, the more conservative, fair and balanced approach would have been for modest employer cuts while at the same time keeping some of the surplus to guard against the day that the investments lost value.

It's not too late. The U.S. economy seems to be rebounding and in the next few years the retirement funds will likely be adequately funded. Just watch. When the funds again become healthy, the same politicos will once more clamor for rate cuts. Both the employees and employers should make reasonable contributions into the plan, but both the TRS and the PERS need to be better protected. Each should be allowed to accumulate the capital reserves needed to hedge against the day that history repeats itself. A "rainy day" account is nothing new to the state and one is needed here - we need a reserve account, not a new retirement tier to nowhere.

As I have said before, we are a state that imports at least 25% of it's teachers. To attract high quality teachers we need to be, at least, be competitive. We used to have the highest wages and some of the best benefits. We no longer rate anywhere near the top. Why would anyone come to our notoriously terrible climate and isolation, and stay when they could do better anywhere else? This is still a big topic here because last year they passed only a short term fix. Stay tuned here for more on this important matter.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

What else can we do beside NCLB ?

Here is one idea that I posted a year ago. Recently I have read others' ideas that have led me to the formation of my ideas as they stand today. Unfortunately it takes money. Many are talking these days about universal pre-school. I take this to mean mandatory preschool. What I would like to see is pre-school made available for all that wish it. This should be free or at the very least at a sliding scale. Head start as originally conceived is what everyone needs. That is, not only high quality education for young children, but education for the parents as well. Education in how to create a home environment that will help to insure success in school. Money will be needed to set up these programs, for teacher training and buildings and supplies. Likewise money will be needed to train teachers in underfunded impoverished schools, especially in the inner cities. Money will be needed to create buildings that are safe, sound learning environments. Money will be needed for books and supplies in these same schools.

Many people have mentioned the need for adequate affordable healthcare and a living wage for all. I do not have the answer here but, how can a sick, hungry child be expected to learn? And I believe that "healthcare" means emotional care as well. We need to offer all sorts of help to get and keep families out of crisis. Children in crisis can not learn.

What we do not need is more blame on teachers and students. We do not need more tests. We do not need more punishment.
I believe that conservatives will heartily disagree with what I say here. They might say, "No, I do not pay taxes to help people who won't help themselves. " Just like they are currently saying, "I do not want to pay taxes to put other peoples children through school." Is this the kind of society that we really want? I do not think so. Tests and punishment will not make our schools better, but a hand up offered to those that want and need it just might.