Liberals, stop ‘awfulizing’ my kids

Schools can’t defeat poverty by ignoring it, writes Anthony Cody, a veteran teacher in Oakland, in an exchange with the Gates Foundation. “In the US, the linchpin for education is not teacher effectiveness or data-driven management systems,” he writes. “It is the effects of poverty and racial isolation on our children.”

Dear Lord, Stop These Liberals From Awfulizing My Kids, responds Chris Stewart on Education Post.

Every possible chart, graph, study and statistic paint an ugly picture where all poor kids of color live in violent urban neighborhoods and suffer from PTSD. Exposure to violence has reduced their test scores. Bad parents have not taught them to speak enough words. Indeed, their parents are socially, emotionally or intellectually unfit.

One in six of these kids is in “extreme poverty.” This breaks their brains and leaves them developmentally delayed.

The numbers “receiving free or reduced price lunches has grown significantly,”  “one child in ten has been foreclosed upon” and more “than one million students are homeless.”

All this encourages teachers to lower expectations, writes Stewart. “Why is it failing teachers so often discuss poverty and successful teachers discuss pedagogy, curriculum, instruction and learning?”girl_englewood-716x320

Cody slams “education reformers” for pretending that teachers can “push students to new heights with our high expectations.”

Teachers account for no more than 20 percent of the variance in student test scores, writes Cody, while more than 60 percent correlates to out-of-school factors. “We cannot solve the problem of educational inequity while we ignore the inequitable and inadequate resources available to low-income children in their homes and communities, as well as their schools.”

Stewart wonders: “How does it feel to be a ‘teacher’ who sees teaching as futile?”

It may feel compassionate to enumerate all the life problems of our children, but it isn’t. It is limiting and hurtful. Bright poor kids are as likely to be discounted as struggling ones.

Stewart teaches only his own five children, he writes. “Still, I interview talented teachers and committed administrators often, and they speak differently than the fatalists . . . They are students of success, not experts on failure.”

In The Smartest Kids In The World, Amanda Ripley recounts a conversation with a Finnish teacher.

When she asked him about educating poor students, he was “visibly uncomfortable labeling his students,” she says. He responded, “I don’t want to think about their backgrounds too much…There are twenty-three pearls in my classroom. I don’t want to scratch them.”

. . . “I don’t want to have too much empathy for them, because I have to teach. If I thought about all of this [their poverty] too much, I would give better marks to them for worse work. I’d think, ‘Oh, you poor kid. Oh, well, what can I do?’ That would make my job too easy.”

That attitude does more to help children who live in poverty than “awfulizing” them, concludes Stewart.

For $25K per pupil, Camden still fails

Camden, New Jersey is a very poor city with very high school spending and very low-performing schools, reports Reason. Camden raised per-pupil spending to more than $25,000.  The public schools remain “notorious for their abysmal test scores,  the frequent occurrence of in-school violencedilapidated buildings and an on-time graduation rate of just 61 percent.”

Reason also takes a look at LEAP, one of Camden’s best charter schools: Last June, 98 percent earned a high school diploma and all graduates went on to college.

What killed Kevin Green?

Most students aren’t ‘in poverty’

Fifty-one percent of public school students were eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch in 2012-13, according to a Southern Education Foundation report.  That means low-income students are a majority, some have reported. 

Not really.

Qualifying for a subsidized lunch is a very unreliable measure of poverty. It both undercounts and overcounts the poor, explains Kevin Drum on Mother Jones. But, mostly, it overcounts. 

A family of four earning $44,000 a year, less than 185 percent of the poverty line, would qualify for the reduced-price lunch. That’s about 7 percent of the total. Forty-four percent get a free lunch because family income is under $31,000.

. . .  lots of poor kids, especially in the upper grades, don’t participate in school lunch programs even though they qualify. They just don’t want to eat in the cafeteria. So there’s always been a bit of undercounting of those eligible.

On the other hand, a new program called the Community Eligibility Provision, enacted a couple of years ago, allows certain school districts to offer free meals to everyone without any proof of income. Currently, more than 2,000 school districts enrolling 6 million students are eligible, and the number is growing quickly. For example, every single child in the Milwaukee Public School system is eligible.

A few school districts — typically those with affluent students — are dropping out of the school lunch program because students don’t want to pay for the new smaller, healthier meals.

Instead of fooling with inaccurate school lunch data, why not ask about family income directly (and parental education while we’re at it)?

Child poverty increased in the recession, but is now trending down, writes Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution The National Center for Education Statistics estimates 21 percent of school-age children were in families living under the poverty line in 2012. Child Trends estimates 20 percent in 2013.

Unemployed, out of school, at risk of jail

By 2011, more than one-quarter of young black males were neither employed nor enrolled in school or job training, reports Black Men and the Struggle for Work in Education Next.

ednext_XV_2_wilson_fig01-smallInner-city black children grow up in violent neighborhoods, often with only one parent. “As a result of the escalating incarceration rates among less-educated black males, poor black children are more likely than white or Hispanic children to experience a period when at least one of their parents is incarcerated,” the authors write.

They’re less likely to be enrolled in high-quality child care and often “clustered in failing schools,” where they’re more likely to be suspended, placed in special education and fail to graduate.

Compared to white youth, young blacks are more likely to be arrested and placed in a detention facility. That keeps the cycle going.

Modern family: Fatherless kids do worse

The children of unmarried mothers do much worse in school and in life, just as Daniel Patrick Moynihan predicted in his 1965 report on the black family, conclude Sarah McLanahn and Christopher Jencks in Education Next. Many more children — especially those with less-educated mothers — are growing up in single-parent families.
Forty percent of families with children headed by an unmarried mother live in poverty, they write in Education Next. That compares to 8 percent of families with children headed by a married couple. “Among blacks, the rates were 46 percent in single-mother families and 12 percent in married-parent families. Among Hispanics, the figures were 47 percent and 18 percent, and among whites the rates were 32 percent and 4 percent, respectively.”

In 1960, 95 percent of single mothers had been married; by 2013, only half of all single mothers had ever been married. “The shift to never-married motherhood has probably weakened the economic and emotional ties between children and their absent fathers.”

Growing up with only one biological parent reduces a child’s chances of graduating from high school by about 40 percent, though it doesn’t appear to affect test scores.

. . . a father’s absence increases antisocial behavior, such as aggression, rule breaking, delinquency, and illegal drug use. . . . Thus it appears that a father’s absence lowers children’s educational attainment not by altering their scores on cognitive tests but by disrupting their social and emotional adjustment and reducing their ability or willingness to exercise self-control. The effects of growing up without both parents on aggression, rule breaking, and delinquency are also larger for boys than for girls.

Unmarried mothers often have “problems that marriage cannot solve” and mates with serious problems of their own, McLanahan and Jencks write. Persuading women to delay motherhood — and improving “the economic prospects of their prospective husbands” — would give more children “the benefits that flow from a stable home,” they write. But how?

Moynihan was shocked by the fact that nearly a quarter of black families were headed by a single mother. Since 1965, the percentage of children living with an unmarried parent has gone up from 24 to 50 percent for blacks and from 3 to 19 percent for whites.

Poor kids do worse in Baltimore than India

It’s harder to be a poor teenager in Baltimore than in Nigeria or India, according to a Johns Hopkins study, reports Vocativ.

Researchers analyzed health challenges faced by 2,400 15- to 19-year-olds from impoverished areas in Baltimore, Shanghai, Johannesburg (South Africa), Ibadan (Nigeria) and New Delhi.

Baltimore's slums are not far from skyscrapers (AP Photo)

Baltimore’s slums are not far from affluent areas (AP Photo)

In Baltimore, “adolescents exhibited considerably high rates of mental health issues, substance abuse, sexual risk-taking, sexual violence and teen pregnancy.” Johannesburg teens also fared poorly.

Baltimore and Johannesburg teens “don’t feel safe from violence,” said Kristen Mmari, a Johns Hopkins assistant professor. By contrast, Shanghai adolescents had little to fear from violence.

Half of young females in the Baltimore study said they’d been pregnant.

I suspect it’s harder to be poor in a wealthy country.

Can schools build character?

“Performance character” strengths — qualities such as prudence and drive — lead to success in school and work, concludes a Brookings study, The Character Factor.

“Family income and maternal education are positively associated with higher levels of performance character strengths,” the study concludes. That is, the children of educated, middle-class mothers tend to be better at deferring gratification, working toward a long-term goal and persisting in the face of obstacles.

Brookings has posted essays on character and opportunity, such as Ross Thompson on how chronic adversity leads to self-regulatory problems.

Brookings researchers want policymakers to pay attention to the “cultivation” of character skills, notes Robert Pondiscio. What does that mean? “Character value-added measures?”

A figure in the report is headlined “Drive and Prudence Matter as Much as Book Smarts for HS Graduation” (“Book Smarts?” Seriously, Brookings?), but the bar graph clearly shows “high reading skills” matter a lot more.

“Schools need no additional reasons to short-shrift academics,” Pondiscio writes. Telling “fad-prone” educators that grit trumps academics “wouldn’t be prudent.”

Poverty casts a long shadow

Poor kids usually grow up to be poor adults, concludes The Long Shadow. Johns Hopkins researchers followed 790 Baltimore first-graders until their late twenties. Nearly half had the same income status as their parents; only a third of the poorest moved out of poverty.

Four percent of those from low-income families had a college degree at 28, compared to 45 percent of their higher-income peers.

Baltimore’s low-income blacks do worse than low-income whites, writes Michelle Gininger.

Forty percent of blacks who dropped out of high school were now working, compared to 89 percent of white high school dropouts, the study found.

Black and white women both earned less than their male counterparts, but white women tended to be better off financially with the benefit of marriage or a live-in partner. Black women earned less than white women and were less likely to be in stable relationships.

Growing up poor affects adults’ sense of control, concludes a new study. Even those who’ve reached the middle class may be more likely to make impulsive decisions and “quickly give up on challenging tasks in uncertain situations,” according to lead author Chiraag Mittal, MS, a doctoral student at the University of Minnesota.

Showing participants a photo or news story about economic uncertainty decreased persistence for those who’d grown up poor. So did asking them to recall feeling uncertain about their own finances.

Participants were more likely to persist — even if they’d grown up poor –when asked to recall a time when they were in control of a situation.

“Persistence is directly tied to myriad important outcomes, including self-control, academic achievement, substance abuse, criminal behavior, healthy eating and overspending,” said study co-author Vladas Griskevicius, PhD, also of the University of Minnesota.

However, persistence at an impossible task isn’t necessarily a good thing, the researchers concede. “Time and energy are limited resources, and sometimes it is adaptive to stop expending effort on an endeavor one cannot control in order to pursue more promising opportunities.”

Paying poor kids to go to school

Can You Fight Poverty by Paying Kids to Go to School? asks Glenn Thrush on Politico.

A Memphis experiment is paying low-income parents and their teens for working full-time, getting medical check-ups, going to school, taking a college entrance exam and the like.

A student who compiles an acceptable school attendance record gets $40 a month, showing up for an annual dental or medical check-up means a $100 check, grades are monetized ($30 for an A, $20 for B, $10 for a C) and taking a college entrance exam like the ACT gets you a $50 check. Parents are also rewarded: Adults get a $150 monthly bonus, up to $1,800 a year, simply for working full-time.

Even supporters admit they’re a bit dubious, as when the caseworkers administering the program in Memphis pointedly asked me why they couldn’t get a little extra cash for being responsible grown-ups. “No joke. I could use an extra $150 a month for showing up at work,” one of them told me. “Do you really think our clients are that much worse off than we are?”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg paid millions of dollars of his own money to fund an experiment in cash transfers in 2007. Despite meager results, Memphis is trying the idea, funded by the city, federal grants and Bloomberg’s philanthropy.

New York City’s experiment offered “large, intermittent payouts for big achievements instead of more frequent rewards for smaller achievements that would give families a greater sense of forward progress,” writes Thrush.

Students could earn $300 to $350—big money for a family earning $25,000 a year—for passing their standardized assessment tests in the fourth and eighth grades, or a whopping $600 for annual subject-based high school tests known as Regents Exams. But as incentives go, they were too big, too delayed. . . . Other mistakes seem obvious in retrospect; offering a kid $50 for obtaining a library card doesn’t mean they’ll use it take out a book—especially if they are already reading below grade level.

. . . education incentives “had few effects” on the academic performance of school-age children who received the cash, according to MDRC’s 2013 report.

The program “worked best as a boost for students already moving in the right direction, rather than a lever for digging the poorest of the poor out of their deep hole,” writes Thrush.

In Memphis, it was hard to recruit families, says Coasy Hale, who works for Memphis HOPE, one of two organizations picked to counsel clients and deliver program materials. People thought it was a scam. “They were like ‘Who is really going to pay us to do stuff we should already be doing anyway?”

Once enrolled, parents split into two distinct groups: “One segment of parents was highly motivated to earn rewards and pushed their kids in school, and an equally large group tuned in and out, and did just the bare minimum to get a few checks.”

. . . most poor people have parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents who received some form of government assistance and they tended to view the new rewards system as just another entitlement that would come and go. “People don’t really have to worry about food or housing. They go from crisis to crisis but they basically can survive,” says Gwen Price, whose staff at Porter-Leath oversees the other 300 Memphis families in the program. “They figure my mother got by, and I’ll get by, so why change?”

Counselors try to help the lowest-income families improve their planning and time management skills. But “it’s been a slog,” writes Thrush.

Cash transfers may help the “hardest-working poor” stabilize their lives, but do little for people who wouldn’t get their kids to school without a bribe.

I reported on welfare reform when I worked at the San Jose Mercury News. I met poor people whose lives could be transformed if someone gave them a reliable car.  (I gave a bicycle — with a lock and helmet — to a poor Vietnamese family who were thrilled. One of my daughter’s high school friends had abandoned the bike at our house when he got his driver’s license.) And there are poor people who need a lot more than money.

Los Angeles may bribe people to vote in municipal elections.  The Ethics Commission has voted to recommend a study of offering cash — perhaps as a lottery prize worth up to $50,000 — to boost turnout.