The vast American lumpenproletariat

Taking social class into account, U.S. students are doing better than it seems on international tests, compared to students in France, Germany, Britain, Canada, Finland and Korea, according to a study by Martin Carnoy, and Richard Rothstein. “U.S. students’ scores are low in part because a disproportionately greater share of U.S. students come from disadvantaged social class groups,” they argue.

Stuff and nonsense, responds Paul Peterson in Education Next.  The Carnoy-Rothstein studied ignored family income, which is just as high in the U.S. as in the comparison countries. It uses one factor to determine social class:  The number of books 15-year old students estimate are in their home.

Only 18 percent of U. S. students say they have many books in their home; in the other countries this percentage varies between 20 percent and 31 percent. In the United States 38 percent say they have few books in their home. In the other countries, this percentage varies between 14 percent and 30 percent.

Students’ estimates of book in the home is a good predictor of student achievement, writes Peterson. But there’s a chicken-and-egg issue.

. . . reports of books in the home may be as much a consequence of good schools and innate student ability as an independent cause of student achievement. Students who find it easy to read are likely to report more books in their home, because they are more aware of them. Students attending an effective school are more likely to be good readers who are then aware of the resources at home. Countries that expect students to perform well on a national examination when they finish secondary school may induce higher rates of reading than countries that do not set clear standards for high school students.

Only 14 percent of Korean students come from few-book homes, compared to 38 percent of U.S. students, and 31 percent of Korean students come from homes with many books, while only 18 percent of American students do. It’s “bizarre” to assert that Korea’s upper class is nearly twice as large as in the U.S., and that our lower class is nearly triple the size of Korea’s, writes Peterson. The U.S. does not have a vanishing bourgeoisie and a vast proletariat.

The study encourages people to think that U.S. schools are just fine — except for inner-city schools, which face an impossible challenge because the kids’ homes are no good, Peterson writes. Good reading habits — which schools can do something about — “are much more important to achievement than family income and other measures of social class.”

Are teachers conservative by nature?

If Republicans showed respect for teachers, they’d discover people with “conservative values” who might enter the “big tent” writes Colleen Hyland, a New York teacher, in The Weekly Standard.  by nature.

Conservative values go hand in hand with teaching. Teachers see the evidence every day that stable families produce well-adjusted kids who succeed in the classroom. Many teachers are people of faith. Most of us are proud Americans who say the pledge every day with our students and mean it. We teach kids how to show respect and use proper manners by modeling them ourselves. We stress personal accountability.

Teachers are receptive to the idea of limited government and local control, Hyland writes. “Layer upon layer of government bureaucracy” forces teachers to  ”spend too much of their day with redundant paperwork, wrestling with standards that are overly complex and often contradictory.”

Get the Department of Education off our backs. . . . Speak about deregulating our classrooms and we are all ears.

Of course Republicans would have to “talk about teachers as if you actually like them,” Hyland writes. Treat them with respect.

Whether it’s coming from administrators or politicians, teachers resent -top-down demands that belittle their expertise and ignore their experience. Give teachers credit for what we do as professionals. We are facing a collapsing American culture that is at odds with education in general. It is that same collapsing culture that unites conservatives in support of traditional -values. Despite voting consistently for liberal candidates who actively court their votes, most teachers I know lead fairly traditional lives that respect faith, family, country, and community.

While some teachers are “entrenched liberals,” others feel “the only respect they receive comes from the Democratic party,” Hyland writes. “They would welcome an invitation into the big tent of the GOP.”

Does she have a point?

 

Merry Christmas

I’m taking the day off to celebrate with family.  Well, not all the family. My mother, who made a near-miraculous recovery after her horrible fall last December, was supposed to join us for a week. She fell again last week  – it’s our Christmas tradition! — and had to stay home. My niece stayed with her and my sister drove down.  The rest of us are flying or driving down to see her tomorrow. (My nephew has to work, but that’s a near-miracle too.) I’ve decided to embrace the stress.

Anyhow, thank you for reading the blog, commenting and being part of the community of people who care about education and family issues. Happy holidays to all.

Helping the poor — without conditions

“The vast majority of America’s charitable dollars are donated to local religious and educational institutions” or to worthy causes, writes Dana Goldstein. But the most effective way to help the poor is to give them money to do with as they see fit, she writes in The Atlantic. In other words, don’t buy a Christmas goose for the Cratchits. Give them cash. (Was Bob Cratchit a spendthrift?)

In the Third World, at least half of government aid for the poor is lost to corruption and private philanthropy is “heavily skimmed” as well.  Micro-credit efforts don’t the very poor and “many recipients default on their loans, leaving them further in debt,” Goldstein writes.

Mexico and Brazil give “conditional cash transfers” to poor families who enroll their children in school or take them to the doctor, but that’s hard to do in very poor countries where there aren’t enough schools or doctors.

(Four economists gave) poor families in rural Kenya $1,000 over the course of 10 months, and let them do whatever they wanted with the money. They hoped the recipients would spend it on nutrition, health care, and education. But, theoretically, they could use it to purchase alcohol or drugs. The families would decide on their own.

Three years later, the four economists expanded their private effort into GiveDirectly, a charity that accepts online donations from the public, as well. Ninety-two cents of every dollar donated to GiveDirectly is transferred to poor households through M-PESA, a cell phone banking service with 11,000 agents working in Kenya.

. . . GiveDirectly recipients are spending their payments mostly on food and home improvements that can vastly improve quality of life, such as installing a weatherproof tin roof. Some families have invested in profit-bearing businesses, such as chicken-rearing, agriculture, or the vending of clothes, shoes, or charcoal.

Unconditional cash transfers aren’t popular with non-governmental organization staffers, says Paul Niehaus, one of GiveDirectly’s founders.  ”If this works, what are we all here for? Why do we have jobs? There’s an industry that exists that tries to make decisions for poor people and determine what’s best for them.”

The very poor in rural Kenya are poor “because they were born in Africa,” says Niehaus. Abject poverty in the U.S. is  correlated with irresponsibility, addiction and illness. Most giving assumes there are deserving poor and undeserving poor, Goldstein writes on her blog.

Deserving poor people work, even if the wages they earn are less than the costs of child or health care. They endure cumbersome bureaucratic processes to seek child support from the absent fathers of their children, even if those fathers are in jail, drug addicted, or otherwise unable to provide for their kids. They open college savings accounts, even if they need 100 percent of their monthly income just to cover the costs of housing and food. They attend classes on why it’s important to get married.

Social welfare systems favor mothers of young children. There’s little help for childless adults without disabilities. Taxpayers aren’t willing to give no-strings cash to the poor.

 . . .  most of us assume poor people need to learn how to best help themselves. The radical premise of GiveDirectly is that poor people already know, much better than their governments or a charity director, what they need.

Even poor Americans think aid should go only to those who do their best to support themselves, reports Reuters in a look at poverty in Indiana.

We need more helicopter parents

It’s fun to make fun of helicopter parents, but we need more of them, writes Brink Lindsey in The Atlantic.

Today’s hyperventilating “helicopter parents” are comic fish in a barrel. Playing Mozart to their babies in utero and dangling Baby Einstein gewgaws over their bassinets. Obsessing over peanut allergies, turning school science fairs into arms races of one-upmanship, and hiring batteries of private tutors to eke out another 10 points on the SAT.

But better too much parental attention than too little, Lindsey writes.

College-educated parents are spending significantly more time with their children then they did before 1995. Less-educated parents spend more time too, but the “parental attention gap” is growing.

There’s also a class divide in parenting styles, according to sociologist Annette Lareau.

 Among the poor and working-class families she studied, the focus of parenting was on what she calls “the accomplishment of natural growth.” In these families, “parents viewed children’s development as unfolding spontaneously, as long as they were provided with comfort, food, shelter, and other basic support.”

College-educated parents have taken on a much more ambitious role – one that Lareau calls “concerted cultivation.” “In these families, parents actively fostered and assessed their children’s talents, opinions, and skills,” Lareau writes. “They made a deliberate and sustained effort to stimulate children’s development and to cultivate their cognitive and social skills.”

In addition, college-educated parents are much more likely to marry before having children and much less likely to divorce.

As of 2011, 87 percent of children who have a parent with a bachelor’s or higher degree were living with two married parents. The corresponding figures for high school grads and high school dropouts were 53 and 47 percent, respectively.

. . . since the ’70s, divorce rates among the highly educated have fallen significantly; among non-college grads, by contrast, they have stayed high. Specifically, only 16.7 percent of women with at least a college degree experienced a marital dissolution within 10 years of a first marriage between 1990 and 1994 – a 31 percent drop from 20 years earlier. For other women, though, the marriage breakup rate in the latter period was now 35.7 percent – 6 percent higher than 20 years before.

So most children of the college-educated — about a third of the population — grow up in stable, child-centered families with two parents determined to cultivate “the skills they will need to thrive in today’s highly complex knowledge economy.” It’s not really the violin, karate or Kumon classes that give them an edge. It’s Mom and Dad.

Black immigrants’ kids do well in school

The children of black immigrants from Africa, the Caribbean, and Latin America are well-prepared for school and well-behaved in the classroom, compared to their native-born black classmates and children born to Hispanic immigrants, concludes a University of North Carolina study released by the Migration Policy Institute.

Black immigrant parents are likely to be married, educated, employed and proficient in English, notes Education Week.

. . . mothers are also less likely to have abused drugs or alcohol during pregnancy and more likely to have breastfed, all of which lead to better health outcomes for young children, the report says.

Black immigrant parents also report strong support for education and were more likely to enroll their children in center-based care during the preschool years.

More than half of black immigrant children come from low-income families, the study found. Apparently, strong parents can ensure that poverty isn’t destiny.

Single with children = poverty

A growing class of single mothers is raising kids in poverty, while women who put college and marriage before childbirth have time and money to invest in their children. That’s not really news, but the New York Times puts faces on the problem in Two Classes in America, Divided by ‘I Do’.

Jessica Schairer dropped out of college to have three children with a man who rejected marriage and eventually abandoned her. She earns $25,000 working at a child care center run by Chris Faulkner, a college graduate with a husband and two children.

Estimates vary widely, but scholars have said that changes in marriage patterns — as opposed to changes in individual earnings — may account for as much as 40 percent of the growth in certain measures of inequality.

About 41 percent of births in the United States occur outside marriage, up sharply from 17 percent three decades ago. But equally sharp are the educational divides, according to an analysis by Child Trends, a Washington research group. Less than 10 percent of the births to college-educated women occur outside marriage, while for women with high school degrees or less the figure is nearly 60 percent.

Unwed motherhood “is growing fastest in the lower reaches of the white middle class,” among women with some college but no degree. Meanwhile, married couples are having children later,  divorcing less and spending more time on parenting.

“The people with more education tend to have stable family structures with committed, involved fathers,” (Princeton sociologist Sara) McLanahan said. “The people with less education are more likely to have complex, unstable situations involving men who come and go.”

She said, “I think this process is creating greater gaps in these children’s life chances.”

Jessica Schairer wanted a husband and  ”the house and the white picket fence,” and still does. She can’t explain why she stayed with an irresponsible man. “I’m in this position because of decisions I made,” she said.

While the Faulkner boys go on a Boy Scout camping trip with their father, Schairer’s son is watching TV in his bedroom while his exhausted mother collapses on the couch.

Nobody can ‘have it all’

Women still can’t have it all, writes Anne-Marie Slaughter in The Atlantic. She left a high-powered State Department job to return to academia to have time for her children. She wants employers to let people — not just parents — work from home when possible and take time for family needs.

. . . women should think about the climb to leadership not in terms of a straight upward slope, but as irregular stair steps, with periodic plateaus (and even dips) when they turn down promotions to remain in a job that works for their family situation; when they leave high-powered jobs and spend a year or two at home on a reduced schedule; or when they step off a conventional professional track to take a consulting position or project-based work for a number of years.

Remember the outcry when Felice Schwartz told employers to create a family-friendly alternative for professionals? It was dubbed the “mommy track.”

Men can’t have it all either, responds James Joyner. His wife died suddenly, leaving him with a toddler and an infant.

Not long after my wife’s passing, I was offered a promotion that would have helped bridge the loss of her income but would have required much more time at the office. Professionally, it was a good move. It also made sense financially, even though it would have meant paying for a few more hours of childcare. I nonetheless declined because my daughters needed me to spend that time with them. And, frankly, I needed to spend that time with them, too.

The fact is that life is full of trade-offs. It’s not possible to “have it all.” It never was. And never will be. For women or for men.

Of course, most people aren’t going to be CEO or Secretary of State no matter how hard or long they work.

Too much cheering = no diploma

Darren isn’t the only one annoyed by yahoo-ing family members at graduation ceremonies.

In Cincinnati, a graduate was denied his diploma because of too much cheering by family and friends. He’ll have to perform 20 hours of community service — or get family members to do it — before the school will release his diploma.

A South Carolina mother was arrested for disorderly conduct when she cheered for her daughter. School officials had warned before the ceremony that people cheering or screaming would be booted. At least the penalty — a $225 fine — will be borne by the offender, not the student.

The myth of the good mother

Today’s women face a new form of oppression — the pressure to be a perfect mother — argues French feminist Elisabeth Badinter in The Conflict.  The good mother is a “myth,” Badinter tells The Globe and Mail. ”A frustrated mother who is denied her own desires and ambitions is not good at all for her child.”

Ms. Badinter argues that yesterday’s patriarchy has been replaced by the tyranny of a suckling baby, and the pressures of “natural” parenting in the form of drug-free childbirth, co-sleeping, and cloth diapers. Moreover, women’s decision to step out of the workforce to devote themselves to their children is setting the cause of equality back to their grandmother’s generation.

When feminists fought to involve fathers in childrearing, bottle-feeding was “very practical,” Badinter says. Now breastfeeding and co-sleeping make fathers de trop.

The new model of super-parenting might work for some women, she concedes, but it’s not right for everyone. “And to those who don’t feel like adopting motherhood as a full-time job, don’t believe you are bad mothers.”

A retired professor, Badinter and her husband have three grown children.