"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Children Hungry, Schools Broke: Corporate Reformers Blame School Boards and Teachers

Yesterday the Washington Post had a story of increasing hunger and insecurity among school children, realities that until last fall were largely not seen because they were real for the invisible children that constitute the bottom quintile of school children who have been repeatedly thrown away for generations :

Schools throughout the Washington area are feeding an unprecedented number of poor students as unemployment continues to rise.

One in four students in Fairfax County qualifies for free or reduced-price meals this fall, up from one in five three years ago. In Montgomery County, 29 percent of students were deemed eligible for meal subsidies in October, up from 26 percent in October 2007. In Prince William County, the eligibility rate increased from 29 to 33 percent, and in Prince George's County, from 46 to 52 percent.

As the lunchroom poverty barometer rises, schools are solidifying their role as centers for social services.

"If basic needs are not met, children cannot learn," said Karen Thompson, a guidance counselor at Guilford Elementary School in Sterling. "If we have children coming to school hungry, that is our first concern. We also have to make sure they have shoes, warm clothing. Have they slept? Do they have a place to live?"

Although poverty rates increased only slightly in Loudoun County in the past year, the rate at Guilford Elementary, in a working-class neighborhood near the Fairfax border, rose sharply, to about 68 percent, Principal David Stewart said.

Many parents who work as housecleaners, construction workers or landscapers have lost their jobs, or their hours have been cut. The school and the community have responded.

Guilford officials always keep a supply of winter coats to give to children in need. But this year, they also have dozens of pairs of shoes donated by a shoe store.

At Guilford and scores of other schools in the region, churches and charities are donating backpacks or providing boxes of food for children to take home on Fridays so that they will have something to eat over the weekend.. . .

And now the same capitalist charlatans who ran the national and world economies into the ditch want control over public schools and universities. Not only do these public institutions offer new corporate revenue streams, but the control and brainwashing of the next generation becomes more critical for insuring another few years of governance by multinational corporations. Having already redirected the purpose of schooling to the needs of the global economy, and having taken over the federal role in K12 education, the corporate reformers now seek to achieve corporate control of school operations, themselves. And eliminating publicly-elected school boards and teacher unions constitute Priority One in this phase.

That is why we see sleazy equity managers like Tom Van der Ark spend their time blaming school boards and teachers for the system of privilege that has produced income gaps unknown in this country since the Gilded Age. If there could be a more disingenuous and transparent attempt at manipulating public opinion, I have not seen it. From HuffPo:

. . . .The primary reason we have a federal law like NCLB is that school boards (and state boards) allowed generations of chronic failure. They cut bad employment deals and asked for more money when things didn't go well. Teachers that could went to the suburbs. Most low income and minority kids were getting left behind. Anyone committed to equity could see things had to change.

NCLB reflected a consensus that 1) measurement and transparency would help us understand the problem, 2) that a basic template for school accountability would ensure that things would get better for underserved students, and 3) the federal government should play a bigger role in ensuring equity and excellence.

There were a bunch of technical problems with the bill in 2001 and they never got fixed. But the biggest problem is that 8 years later states and school boards have continued to allow chronic failure--they basically ignored the federal demands to intervene. . . .
Priceless. So now the Oligarchs led by Gates and Broad and the Waltons want the American people to believe this bullshit, and to turn over their public schools to be run by the same corporate crooks who have destroyed the economy and the middle class. Don't count on it, Bill and Eli.

The closing paragraph from the WaPo piece:

As poverty rates escalate, many school systems are also dealing with the most severe revenue shortfalls in more than a generation. School boards are likely to face proposals to cut teachers, social workers or counselors to balance their budgets.

Dianna Sosa, a social worker at Hutchinson Elementary in Herndon, said the effects of increased unemployment are clear there. More students at the Fairfax school are being referred to her office because of non-academic concerns, and she is meeting with more families to connect them with emergency housing or other services. "It's a really stressful time," she said.


  1. The free market believers know when not to give up. They have successfully reversed the realization that neo liberal policies brought about the global crash. With that success, the time could never be better to continue the drum beat of the privatization of government education, but this time from within i.e. Arne Duncan/Obama. Just look at Obama's trade policy.

    From everything you've presented over the past few years, the movement has only picked up steam, even as charter schools have failed, gamed the system with high leases or lost enrollment.

    In Verona, a charter there has lost students and is nearing closure, so now they're resorting to gimmicks like turning to a "green" or Mandarin curriculum. What's missed in all of this is the idea that a private interest can close, but thank god, a public school can't without public approval. Public schools may cost a lot, but they don't leave an entire generation without an education because it's not profitable.

    With this presidency, and a possible 4 more years, I'm wondering if it won't be too late all together.

  2. Anonymous11:00 PM

    News websites and education blogs are abuzz with articles depicting a dismal yet unsurprising aspect of the current economic crisis. The unemployment rate has almost doubled since January of 2008. Homelessness, hunger, and health problems mirror unemployment statistics. While these issues are clearly economic and social problems, it is time for policy makers to acknowledge that they have become, now more than ever, academic problems. In order for our students to be academically successful, schools must adjust to meet their social and economic needs. This adjustment will remain out of reach until the current administration acknowledges their role in alleviating the crisis with funding directed towards social services in schools rather than rewarding schools for high test scores and falling in line with the corporate-model agenda.

    In summary of the many opinions found on this blog, Ronald Reagan fostered a cancerous apathy towards the quality of education received by poor, black, and brown students in America. George W. Bush and now President Obama have been “poverty blind” in developing their education policies. The No Child Left Behind Act ignores social and economic differences in our students and punishes them when these differences inevitably result in lower achievement rates. More recently, President Obama, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and even the First Lady have been accused of implying that students themselves are to blame for the achievement gap. The “no excuses” mentality touted by the Obamas implies to our poor, black, and brown students that, though they are hungry or homeless or beaten or neglected, the only “help” they can expect from above is to be held to the same standards as wealthy white kids in the suburbs. Because of the nature of the site, not many comments run contrary to those opinions mentioned above. I can, however, imagine the neo-liberal, corporate response, each one ignoring the simple truth that students simply cannot be expected to achieve at high levels under the duress of poverty and school districts must be given the resources to meet the social and economic needs of students before they can be held accountable for meeting their academic needs.

    A second-year teacher myself, and admittedly a representative of one of Bloomberg and Klein’s darling alternative certification programs, I am humbled by the passion and eloquence displayed by the educators contributing to this site and dozens like it. Although it seems that much policy is made without teacher input, I’d like to take a stab at making a few observations and suggestions. It seems that policy in Washington suffers from some strange chicken-or-the-egg complex. In short, it’s all backwards. President Obama and Secretary Duncan recently released the final application for “Race to the Top” funding. The government has somehow managed to scrape together over $4 billion dollars and their big plan is to have a competition for it?! I hate to say it but the competition is over and the losers are poor, black, and brown students. Obama must acknowledge that these Americans have been cheated. The “Race to the Top” funding should be redirected towards school districts that have developed sound plans to alleviate the economic and social factors inhibiting students from achieving.

    According to the US DOE website, “The application (for Race to the Top grants) requires states to document their past success and outline their plans to extend their reforms by using college- and career-ready standards and assessments, building a workforce of highly effective educators, creating educational data systems to support student achievement, and turning around their lowest-performing schools.” Sounds like more of the same…cheating.