Tag Archives: poverty

Heastie/Skelos to the Governor: You’ve Failed, A Receivership Model for Economic Policies


Jim Malatras
Director of State Operations
State of New York
Executive Chamber
Albany, NY 12224

Dear Mr. Malatras,

Over the last few months you have communicated with the Chancellor of the Regents, the Commissioner and the Acting Commissioner of the State Department of Education, sharply criticizing policies, demanding responses and directing the Chancellor/Acting Commissioner to “investigate” removing schools from supervision of schools districts and turning them over to “receivers.”

We share your concern with the education of the children of the State of New York; however, we note that the schools that you designate as “failing” schools are also schools in low wealth, high poverty sections of the state. Your just-released report fails to indicate that the schools and school districts highlighted in the report also lead the state in “risk factors,” namely, poverty, unemployment, English language learner, students with disabilities, children in shelters and foster care, single parent households, parent incarcerated, crime data in school catchments areas and other factors.

The Gap Elimination Adjustment and the 2% Property Tax Cap inhibit the ability of school districts to effectively fund schools. The entire school funding system in New York State should be rethought, not slashed.

The purpose of this letter is not to argue the governor’s education policies; the purpose is to question the effectiveness of the governor in addressing the economic issues plaguing too many cities around the state.

The Annual New York State Poverty Report is discouraging,

[Using the following indicators:] child- hood poverty, the gender wage gap, racial economic disparities and living wages: New York has the fourth largest number of people living in poverty, behind only California, Texas and Florida … The gender income gap continues to grow and African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos experience poverty at more than double the rate of white New Yorkers.

Our cities continue to have very high levels of childhood poverty – several more than triple the national poverty rate: Syracuse (51.3%), Rochester (51.1%), Utica (48.5%), Binghamton (47.9%) and Buffalo (46.5%). Statewide, 22.1% of children under the age of 18 live in poverty – nearly a million (935,477) children! Across the state, 54% of children are eligible for free or reduced cost lunch (76% of children in New York City and 40% of children in the rest of the state).

Blaming cities, school districts and teachers for the failures of the governor are unacceptable.

Each year legislators listen to the State of the State message, a long list of promises and priorities, and each year we are disappointed.

The governor has failed to revive the urban and rural areas across the state, jobs continue to erode, childhood poverty numbers grow, tax revenue shrinks, and the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been invested have not reversed the economic and social disintegration of too many areas across the state. (See county by county poverty data here)

We no longer believe the governor’s policies will revive the state.

We are considering establishing “receiverships” for sections of the state, removing designated sections of the state and turning these areas over to “receivers,” organizations with turnaround experience in reviving cities and counties that will work closely with local stakeholders.

We increasingly believe that the answers are not on the second floor of the Capital, the answers are in the town halls across the state. Local elected leaders, community organizations, unions and faith-based organizations, working with “experts,” perhaps universities or other not-for-profits, can be more effective than state agencies directed by the governor.

As expeditiously as possible we are asking you to explore a process that will enable the state to relinquish economic development and other revenues to the local level and report your findings to us.

At the national level the Congress is increasingly uncomfortable with the Executive driving policy outside of the usual legislative process; an example is the Department of Education. At the state level we have lost confidence in the ability of the governor to drive economic recovery, and, blaming schools and teachers is absurd.

We look forward to exploring the empowerment of cities and counties.

Yours truly

Carl E. Heastie
Speaker of the Assembly

Dean Skelos
Majority Leader of the Senate

Charter Schools and the Education Reform Agenda: Fabulous or Failures? Why Top Down Reform Will Fail and Bottom Up Teacher/Parent Driven Reform Will Succeed.

“As charter schools continue to expand, new research indicates liberal opponents are failing to make effective arguments aimed at curbing the education reform movement.”

In a peer-reviewed article in the Policy Studies Journal University of Michigan political scientist Sarah Reckhow finds,

“Conservatives outnumber liberals in this country, and only liberals tend to oppose charter schools. They are failing to persuade even fellow Democrats who are more moderate…. Those who want more regulation of charter schools will have to find more effective ways of persuading people because their base is small and their arguments are falling on deaf ears.”

The 2014 midterm elections were a Republican romp; Republicans strengthened their majority in the House and pummeled the Democrats to seize control of the Senate. The national education debate was not around charter schools, the debate centered around excessive testing, Common Core, and, generally, the expanded role of the federal government in the formation of education policy

Charter schools are popular among conservatives primarily, according to Reckhow, due to their anti-union bias, as well as among the large swaths of progressive Democrats. At a recent panel of former Clinton staffers one of the speakers, who had a high-ranking policy position in the Clinton White House, praised Clinton for his support of charter schools. Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) actively campaigns within the Democratic Party for the “reform” agenda: charter schools, weakening tenure, abolishing layoff by seniority and generally weakening the power of unions.

The consumers of charter schools, inner city parents of color, routinely flock to charter schools in lieu of the local public school.

What is particularly distressing is that the “evidence,” piles and piles of research, shows that charter schools are on a par with public schools, or have slightly better data, many stumble and fail, and this is in spite of their obvious advantages, few students with disabilities, fewer English language learners, high rates of “pushouts” and expulsions, and a recruiting system that favor parents with “social capital.”

Joshua Corwin, “Charter Schools: Fabulous or Failure,” takes a deep dive into the research findings,

Depending on whom you ask charter schools may be either an important solution to persistent educational inequality, or a misguided attack on public schools as Americans know them. Both sides are firmly entrenched in this debate, which remains one the more polarizing arguments in American education.

Corwin parses the studies that differ in their conclusions. Although not part of the Corwin’s article New York City is a good example, the large charter networks, Success, Harlem Children’s Zone, KIPP and Uncommon Schools perform reasonably well while the hundreds of single entrepreneur charter schools frequently underperform neighborhood public schools. The article concludes,

The answer then to the question of whether charter schools provide opportunities for students in struggling public schools appears to be “yes, but…”

The important word here is “opportunity.” For some students, attending certain charter schools may lead to significant improvements in their educational experiences. How those effects occur remains a matter for debate; explanations for charter successes and failures are as varied as the results themselves.

In the realm of cyberspace there are enumerable blogs critical of charters and the so-called “:reform” agenda, there are over 200 bloggers within in Diane Ravitch’s Network for Public Education churning out post after post and thousands upon thousands of tweets. Are the anti-charter school bloggers and tweeters talking to each other or impacting opinion in the public sphere?

One of the main arguments of the anti-charter school, anti-reform folks is that they are fighting against the corporatists, the “rich and powerful,” the Bill Gates, the Eli Broads, the donor community, who are funding the support of charter schools and the reform agenda. Reckhow in an earlier book, Follow the Money: How Foundation Dollars Change Public School Politics, examined the role of foundations in influencing education policy.

Jay Greene, a scholar on the conservative side, in a review of the book wrote,

Reckhow confirms that total foundation giving to K–12 education may exceed $1 billion … Reckhow shows that large foundations have recognized the need to focus on influencing how public monies are spent, and that they are now devoting a significantly larger share of their giving on policy advocacy … Reckhow extends this analysis by warning us that shifting to policy advocacy won’t necessarily result in policy success, especially on an enduring basis…

Without building authentic and lasting support among local constituencies, philanthropic dreams of policy change may be ephemeral … New York City may have been easier, faster, and cheaper for reform-oriented foundations to accomplish their goals, but that speed came at a price. The support for reform policies is so narrow in New York City that Reckhow doubts it will survive for long after Mayor Michael Bloomberg leaves office. [And, yes, many of the Bloomberg era policies are eroding]

If large foundations can build and control a national machinery to shape education policy nationwide, then they have no reason to worry about how broadly based support is for their preferred policies. As long as national elites favor their agenda, they hope that the national machine they are constructing can force policies from the very top all the way down to every classroom.

Reckhow’s implication is that this national reform machine is doomed to fail. Both state and local education authorities will resist the national reforms before they can be completed, or they will ignore and subvert policies that actually go into effect. Millions of teachers and thousands of schools cannot all be monitored and compelled from the top. Reckhow’s lesson is that enduring and successful reforms require a broad and deep base of support, which top-down reform efforts are failing to develop.

… there is an alternative to trying to convince the education establishment to buy into reform. Donors could mobilize the most important yet most ignored constituency of all: parents.

Reckhow thinks donors should court unions, community activists, and local leaders…

The top down reforms, i. e., the Common Core and testing is the subject of grassroots parent advocacy, the “opt-out” movement is spreading from state to state and the reauthorization of NCLB is seriously considering moving away from annual student testing. On the ground parent advocacy may be turning back the climate of testing that has dominated the education scene.

Twenty years ago, David Tyack and Larry Cuban wrote, “Tinkering Toward Utopia: A Century of Public School Reform, they were also sharply critical of top-down public school reform efforts,

“… we suggest that reformers take a broader view of the aims that should guide
public education and focus on ways to improve instruction from the inside out rather than top down … To bring about improvement at the heart of education – classroom instruction has proven to be the most difficult kind of reform … and it will result in the future more from internal changes created by knowledge and the expertise of teachers than from decisions of external policy makers”.

One of the most interesting experiments in “inside out” change began in New York City, the new teacher contract allows for wide latitude in changing provisions of the contract and management regulations. The project, called Progressive Redesign Opportunity Schools for Excellence (PROSE), began with 63 schools and the application process for next year is underway, schools took on a wide range of projects,

Staff members of these schools created a range of plans, including staggering the school day to meet student needs, changing contractually required student-to-teacher ratios to allow for a combination of small group learning and larger lecture-style classes, and using portfolios of instructional strategies to help rate teachers. In close collaboration with their teachers, school leaders in PROSE schools will drive continuous innovation as they look to change some of the basic rules and regulations under which they have historically operated.

Critics of charter schools and the reform agenda are vociferous in their opposition and light on alternatives; except for more funding. Yes, poverty has a severe impact on families and children, however, to imply that poverty is an excuse for struggling schools is no salable. On the other side of the argument, to offer charter schools as a “fix,” to claim that teacher unions, tenure and seniority equals failing schools is equally foolish.

The American Federation of Teachers uses the term solutions-driven unionism and, I was taught when I come to the table always come to the table with solutions. I ran monthly meetings of union building reps, (in NYC called chapter leaders); my one “rule” was no one could bring up an issue that those at the table couldn’t resolve.

Inner city schools with similar students have widely differing results, school leadership and teachers can make differences. The differences may be small, they may be incremental, however, lower suspension rates, better attendance, and a rich engaging curriculum provides a platform for progress.

The large high school in which I taught “competed” with three neighboring schools for students one was a modern building with highly innovative “block scheduling” with an independent study option, another school included a highly selective screened program. The assistant principal in my school who was in charge of guidance services also led the student recruiting efforts. We hosted a lox and bagels breakfast for local middle school guidance counselors, produced a lovely folder advertising the school’s achievements, attended every middle school open house, every community organization; we lobbied elected officials for physical upgrades to the school building and entered every imaginable competition, we were activists and we successfully attracted families. A nearby school complained endlessly that we were “stealing their kids,” which, in a way, we were. One school, with no special circumstances, except their staff successfully retained neighborhood kids and attracted kids from surrounding neighborhoods thrived; the “complaining” school eventually was closed due to poor performance.

A colleague was waiting to meet with a principal, and began to pester the school secretary who kept on telling him the principal would not be available until the second period. “We have other schools to visit; can’t he meet with us now?”

The secretary responded, “No, he can’t meet with you, he’s teaching.”

The visitor, somewhat surprised, “He’s covering a class?”

Secretary, “No, he teaches gym every day first period so teachers can meet and plan.”

My colleague said he was embarrassed, the school leader and the teachers came up with a “fix,” an innovative way of allowing teachers to plan collaboratively…

I thought the PROSE program, as described above, would have many applicants, unfortunately too many schools abjure (“Don’t Move My Cheese”) change. For a dozen years under the Bloomberg/Klein regency teacher voice was diminished, in fact, outspoken teachers were punished.

Teacher, parent and student voice matters: fighting along with parents and students to improve a school and to improve society builds a school community, engages and produces students who are the kind of citizen that enable our city and our nation to prosper.

Should Poverty Be Acknowledged in Measures of School Accountability? If We Acknowledge Poverty How Do We Avoid a Two-Track System?

After my last blog, “Superintendents? Networks?” Eric Nadelstern, the former # 2 at the Department posted a commented:

The structure/plan issue is putting the cart before the horse.

The issue should be less which management structure and more what is the Mayor/Chancellor prepared to be held accountable for around student achievement. Once that is clearly defined, then perhaps, they can figure out how to get there.

Eric is correct, up to a point, the core question is accountability, and how do we define it? How do we measure it? How do we use it to improve schools?

About ten years ago I sat in a classroom in Long Island City and listened to Jim Leibman, the Klein accountability czar (and a law professor at Columbia) explain the school progress report accountability metric… Over the years the plan bobbed and weaved as it was used more for political ends than educational ends.

For a time I worked on a team to improve struggling schools, part of the “answer” was better data management: carefully checking long term absences and finding totally legitimate ways of turning them into “good” discharges resulted in higher graduation rates, and, small high schools with smart school support structures improved, well, improved their data and their Progress Report score.

The new administration has made changes to the school accountability system – the creation of Quality Snapshots for parents and Quality Guides for schools. See a sample of a Quality Guide for middle schools here
Almost all the schools in Brownsville and East New York received grades of “C,” “D.” or “F” while all the schools in Bayside in Queens received grades of “A” or “B.” Were the Bayside kids smarter? Or richer? Or whiter? Were the Bayside principals and teachers better teachers? If we switched teachers from Bayside to Brownsville would they take their school’s progress report score with them?

A large high school in Queens received an “A” and if you wandered around the school you would see mediocre instruction, teachers lecturing and kids writing notes, very little interaction. In an elementary school deep in the poorest section of the Bronx, classroom after classroom of deeply engaged kids, excellent instruction, and no progress on state tests: which school is “better”?

Closed schools are almost entirely in the poorest sections of the city.

Will the new Quality Guides produce different results than the letter grades Reports?

A touchy question: should poverty be taken into account in defining and measuring student progress?

On November 6th the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School will release a report entitled, “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest Income Elementary Schools.” Utilizing research from the Chicago Consortium on School Research and sociologist William Julius Wilson the report identifies “truly disadvantaged schools,” and creates a new metric, “total risk load,” eighteen factors that are high predictors of chronic absenteeism and Common Core scores, and, progress report grades.

Total risk load factors include: male unemployment, housing project and shelters in school catchment zone, adult education levels, poverty rates, principal, teacher and student turnover rates, student suspensions, special education and others.

Should we use the “total risk load” factor in assessing student progress?

The MRDC Small School paper praises the initiative, small high schools outperformed large high schools, Diane Ravitch posts a response from a department insider challenging the findings, and, I ask, was the small schools initiative an example of a more effective school structure or social capital sorting?

If we acknowledge race and class in an accountability system aren’t we creating a race-based two track system? We’re not going to create an Algebra 1 for poor kids, at some point progress must lead to on track.

What happens to the “struggling schools” if they don’t show progress?

Mayor de Blasio called our attention to “a tale of two cities,” how do we address the issue within the school system? Can we create a nuanced accountability system that measures progress and acknowledges the challenges of poverty?

Nadelstern avers accountability must be “clearly defined,” he’s absolutely right, and, until it is the de Blasio/Farina leadership will lack credibility.

Did the War on Poverty Fail? How Can Schools Play a Role in Breaking the Cycle of Poverty?

Let this session of Congress be known as the session.. [that] ..declared all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States …

This administration today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge this Congress and all Americans to join with me in that effort.

It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest Nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot afford to lose it …

Poverty is a national problem, requiring improved national organization and support. But this attack, to be effective, must also be organized at the State and the local level and must be supported and directed by State and local efforts.
For the war against poverty will not be won here in Washington. It must be won in the field, in every private home, in every public office, from the courthouse to the White House.

January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson’s State of the Union Address

Fifty years later the richest country in the world has done little to eradicate poverty. Yes, federal and state governments have provided a range of programs, Earned Income Tax Credits, food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8, etc., all programs which ease the impact of poverty, not erase the causes of poverty.

Taken together, the Supplemental Poverty Measure data and simpler apples-to-apples poverty comparison suggest that poverty is less widespread and severe than it was in the 1960s, but is still quite substantial. Poverty remains higher here than in most other western industrial nations.

We have made gains in a number of areas and watched gains eroded in other areas.

… incomes and the poverty rate improved in the last 50 years for several reasons. The share of the population that finished high school and went to (and finished) college rose; more women participated in the labor force; the average size of families fell as parents had fewer children; some racial gaps narrowed; and some families, especially working-poor families and families modestly above the poverty line, received more government support, especially non-cash benefits and tax credits.

At the same time, other forces pushed downward on incomes and upward on poverty. These included the decline in wages of less-educated men, increased incarceration, a larger number of single-parent families, and, in recent decades, a weakened safety net for many without jobs.

Perhaps the most disturbing metric is the widening income inequality, in New York City, the rich are getting substantially richer and the poor continue to wallow in the depths of poverty.

The heartrending series in the New York Times, “The Invisible Child” follows the life of a sixth grader living in a bleak, pest-ridden homeless shelter. In her neighborhood, Fort Greene in Brooklyn, “the top 5 percent of residents earn 76 times as much as the bottom quintile.”

The roots of poverty have been a politically explosive topic. “Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s 1965 report for the U.S. Department of Labor, “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action” provoked a firestorm of debate in its probing of the roots of black poverty and the decline of the black nuclear family.” Administration after administration avoided the exploring the social and cultural causes of poverty: why were generation after generation seemingly fated to succeed their forbearers?

Nearly five decades later, “The Moynihan Report Revisited ,” … gauges how the circumstances of black families have changed and how they compare with other racial and ethnic groups; documents how blacks still suffer from intersecting disadvantages that Moynihan referred to as a “tangle of pathologies”; and suggests ways to improve the circumstances of black families and reduce racial disparities.

Among the findings in “The Moynihan Report Revisited”:

• The statistics that so alarmed Moynihan have only grown worse, not only for blacks, but for whites and Hispanics as well. Today, the share of white children born outside marriage is about the same as the share was for black children in Moynihan’s day. Meanwhile, the percentage of black children born to unmarried mothers has tripled, remaining far higher than the percentage of white children born to unmarried mothers.

• In 1960, 20 percent of black children lived with their mothers but not their fathers; by 2010, 53 percent of all black children lived in such families. The share of white children living with their mothers but not their fathers climbed to 20 percent in 2010, up from 6 percent in 1960.

• There has been a marked retreat from marriage. In 1960, just over one-half of all black women were married and living with their husbands, compared with over two-thirds of white and Hispanic women. By 2010, only one-quarter of black women, two-fifths of Hispanic women, and one-half of white women lived with their spouses.

• That the decline of traditional families occurred across racial and ethnic groups indicate that factors driving the decline does not lie solely within the black community but in the larger social and economic context. Nevertheless, the consequences may be felt disproportionately among blacks as black children are far more likely to be born into and raised in father-absent families than are white children.

“Reducing the structural barriers to black economic progress, enhancing the incentives to work in the mainstream economy, and improving family dynamics are all important components for reducing racial and ethnic disparities. Addressing those diverse barriers will require concerted governmental, community, and family engagement,” said Gregory Acs, the lead author of “The Moynihan Report Revisited.”

Presidential administration after administration, governors from coast to coast danced around the underlying issue of poverty. The Obama administration saw education as the key to “reducing structural barriers to black economic progress,” unfortunately the path they chose, the Race to the Top, has morphed into a world of accountability: testing, school closings, charter schools masked as school choice, “grading” principals and teachers and the Common Core.

The billions of dollars in Race to the Top lured state after state, trading dollars for the Obama/Duncan agenda.

New York State jumped on the band wagon, especially with the appointment of John King as Commissioner of Education. The opposition to the range of federal initiatives exploded with the results of the Common Core state tests, two-thirds of students across the state failed the exams, children of color failed at staggering rates. Parents from the suburban school districts attacked the Commissioner and the Board of Regents, in forum after forum parents packed school auditoriums to express their outrage.

While schools may be part of the problem, simply teaching “harder” will not eradicate poverty.

The New York Times Opinionator blog suggests economists, sociologists and psychologists have been studying poverty for decades. In a new book Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir, Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much (2013) take a fresh look,

Poor people have more self-destructive habits than middle-class people. The poor don’t plan for the future as much. Compared to middle-class people, the poor have less self-control and are quicker to turn to instant gratification. These habits perpetuate a cycle of poverty … the authors propose a way to explain why the poor are less future-oriented than those with more money. According to these authors, one explanation for bad decisions is scarcity — not of money, but of what the authors call bandwidth: the portion of our mental capacity that we can employ to make decisions.

The bad decisions of the poor, say the authors, are not a product of bad character or low native intelligence. They are a product of poverty itself. Your natural capability doesn’t decrease when you experience scarcity. But less of that capacity is available for use. If you put a middle-class person into a situation of scarcity, she will behave like a poor person.

Mullainathan and Shafir argue that the effects of scarcity go further. Its capture of our brains leads people into a tunnel; your only focus is solving the emergency of the moment. If the rent is due, you use money that would have gone to the car payment. The fact that this will end in getting your car repossessed, and therefore losing your job, doesn’t really register. You take very little notice of what’s outside the tunnel.

Discussions with the poor must take place “inside the tunnel.”

On the “Ideas 42” blog a range of scholars make specific recommendations for addressing the burden of poverty. The site explores limited attention span, personal finance, economic mobility, status quo bias, health, procrastination, etc., and link to a range of basic principles. Take a look: a fascinating site!

One of the few locations where children and families of the poor lives intersect: schools. A possible answer to breaking the cycle of poverty are community schools, schools that are the hub of social services: from health services to job searching and job training, from educating children to educating the parents of children; from working with families in crisis to working with adults whose families have been tied to poverty for generations. Community schools offer the opportunity to use the decades of research to provide interventions.

For the past fifty years the federal government and states have created a range of programs to ease the impact of poverty, there are, however, too few interventions to break the generational cycle of poverty.

Programs to ease the impact of poverty are essential, we all agree that expert teaching and learning are essential, however, if kids are hungry, or poorly clothed, or live in dysfunctional households; if role models are grandparents and parents and relatives who are replicating behaviors that impede any movement out of poverty, poverty will not abate. Community schools offer a hub at which the range of scholarship can be converted to actual meaningful interventions.

What is so sad is that the rush to the Common Core or the other Duncan “(de)forms will do little to break the cycle of poverty.

“The Other America” Revisited: Why Are We Ignoring the Advice of Our Best and Brightest? Our Nobel Prize Winners.

“The greatest capital that you can invest in is human capital, and, of that, the most important component is the mother.”

Since the 2008 burst housing bubble and the resultant “worst recession since the Great Depression” the Republican Party and their acolytes have supported steep deficit reductions: across the board budget cuts – from Social Security to Medicare/Medicaid to virtually every program in the federal government – with the Domino Effect rolling across the states.

Congressman Paul Ryan and his fellow Tea Partyers cry: cut budgets, cut deficits and the economy will recover.

Stock prices and home sales increase while unemployment remains at high levels- the recovery is precarious. (Read “Where Have the Jobs Gone?”)

“Austerity, including sequestration, is the economic version of medieval leeching …Politically, as union power declined, the concerns of Democratic policy makers shifted from working-class issues like jobs and toward the concerns of upper-income constituents, like inflation, taxes and budget balancing.”

Paul Krugman, Nobel Prize winning economist and NY Times columnist has bashed the Republican policies almost daily in his columns and blogs (see his latest, “The Chutzpah Caucus

U.S. conservatives have long followed a strategy of “starving the beast,” slashing taxes so as to deprive the government of the revenue it needs to pay for popular programs.

The funny thing is that right now these same hard-line conservatives declare that we must not run deficits in times of economic crisis. Why? Because, they say, politicians won’t do the right thing and pay down the debt in good times. And who are these irresponsible politicians they’re talking about? Why, themselves.

To me, it sounds like a fiscal version of the classic definition of chutzpah — namely, killing your parents, then demanding sympathy because you’re an orphan. Here we have conservatives telling us that we must tighten our belts despite mass unemployment, because otherwise future conservatives will keep running deficits once times improve.

Paul Ryan, the intellectual Republican leader in Congress, “…has argued that any ‘pain’ suffered by working Americans—in the form of restructurings of Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid, post office closures and cuts to state and local aid—was necessary in order to avoid an economic meltdown.” Turns out the Harvard Study that underpins the Ryan argument is based on flawed data. Krugman chides the Republicans, “… the really guilty parties here are all the people who seized on a disputed research result, knowing nothing about the research, because it said what they wanted to hear.”

In spite of the sharp criticism of a Nobel Prize winner, in spite of the use of flawed economic data, in spite of the views of the vast majority of economists the Republicans continue to support policies inimical to the nation, harmful to the 99% and supportive of the 1%.

On the education side the Obama-Duncan agenda is just as maddeningly foolish as the Republican push for austerity and bashing of economic stimulus Keynesian policies.

An OECD report, “Doing Better for Children,” 2009, compares child well-being in the 30 OECD nations, the report divides “child well-being” into material well-being, housing and environment, educational well-being and health and safety. Of the 30 nations the best we can say is “we’re better than Mexico and Turkey.” In three of the four categories the United States is near the bottom of the list.

Child well-being is defined as a “multi-dimensional construct incorporating mental/psychological, physical and social dimensions.”

The OECD reports percentages of child poverty (circa 2005):

Denmark 2.7%
Sweden 4.0
Finland 4.2
US 20.2
Mexico 22.2

In the wealthiest country in the world our child poverty rates are among the highest of the thirty OECD nations.

Nobel Prize economist James Heckman has researched and written extensively about the economic and social impact of early interventions in the lives of disadvantaged youth.

Heckman writes, “Early interventions promote schooling, reduces crime, fosters workforce productivity and reduce teenage pregnancy.” These are no off-the cuff pronouncements, they are the result of decades of deep research. For a detailed look at reams of research findings check out the “Heckman Equation” site, and click on the video link.

The winners of the Nobel Prize are an elite group, a very elite group. The winners are selected by peers and represent the most significant thinkers on the planet.

Sadly, Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Barack Obama and Michael Bloomberg have chosen to ignore research findings that the Nobel committee has honored with their highest award. In “The Case for Investing in Disadvantaged Young Children,” Heckman tells us.

Life cycle skill formation is dynamic in nature … skill begets skill, motivation begets motivation, motivation cross-fosters skill, skill cross-fosters motivation. If a child is not motivated to learn and engage early in life, the more likely it is that when the child becomes an adult, he or she will fail in social and economic life. The longer society waits to intervene in the life cycle of a disadvantaged child, the more costly it is to remediate the disadvantage.

Billions of federal dollars are funneled to the national consortia (PARCC, Smarter Balance) and to states through Race to the Top to create high stakes tests, to drive teacher evaluation systems and data dashboards to collect tetra-bytes of student data – without a scintilla of evidence that these dollars will benefit students.

There is no comprehensive plan to address disadvantaged young children, whatever programs exist are fragmentary and primarily run by states and localities.

Why are the Tea Party Republicans and the education (de)formers so dismissive of the “best and the brightest,” American Nobel Prize recipients?

Clearly the wealthiest, the Gates, the Broads, the Koch brothers, the hedge funders, control the media message. Print media is disappearing while cable and social media flood the ethernet with messages – not news.

A half a century ago Michael Harrington on “The Other America” wrote,

… tens of millions of Americans are, at this very moment, maimed in body and spirit, existing at levels beneath those necessary for human decency….. They are without adequate housing and education and medical care.

The Government has documented what this means to the bodies of the poor . . . . But even more basic, this poverty twists and deforms the spirit. The American poor are pessimistic and defeated, and they are victimized by mental suffering to a degree unknown in Suburbia . . . .

The millions who are poor in the United States tend to become increasingly invisible. Here is a great mass of people, yet it takes an effort of the intellect and will even to see them.

The poor remain invisible as our nation becomes more and more segregated. How many of us have ventured into Brownsville or Hunts Point or South Jamaica, or journeyed down the dirt roads in the Adirondacks or Appalachia?

We are a nation with a long history of anti-intellectualism, and, unfortunately policy decisions have created an underclass – generations of poverty.

If Paul Krugman and James Heckman were the philosophical underpinnings of economic policy our nation would be far better off, and, hopefully, their voices are beginning to be heard.