Sunday, November 27, 2011

Texas education board opts to stay out of dispute over new tests

By TERRENCE STUTZ | Austin Bureau, Dallas Morning-News
November, 17 2011

AUSTIN — State Board of Education members indicated Thursday they will not get involved in a dispute over the new high school end-of-course exams and how much they must count toward student grades in the 12 subjects that will be tested beginning this year.

Several board members said they were unwilling to modify a law passed by the Legislature that says the new test must count for at least 15 percent of the final grade in each of the core subjects.

Under the 2007 law, high school students must get a passing average on the three end-of-course tests in each of four subject areas — English, math, science and social studies — to receive a diploma. The law also spells out how the test results will be calculated into the final grade in each course.

School superintendents across the state have complained that the testing law is unclear about how such things as course credits, grade-point averages and class rankings should be determined after inclusion of the end-of-course test scores — and the Texas Education Agency has been reluctant to issue guidelines on the 15 percent requirement.

State Board of Education member Thomas Ratliff, R-Mount Pleasant, proposed Thursday that the board adopt a rule that students failing an end-of-course test still be given credit for a course if they had a grade of 70 or better in the course — exclusive of what they scored on the end-of-course exam for the subject.

His proposal was backed by superintendents, who argued that it would maintain local control of grading policies in school districts and allow students who met all passing standards in the course except for the final test to still get credit for their work.

“I can’t find a school superintendent who is not in favor of this proposal,” Abilene ISD Superintendent Heath Burns told the board in voicing support for Ratliff’s plan. “This is a change that needs to happen.”

But several board members said they could not favor such a move, particularly since a similar effort in the legislative session earlier this year failed.

“The Legislature had a purpose in mind, that students have to pass these exams to get a diploma,” said board member Terri Leo, R-Spring. “You need to go to the pink house [state Capitol] if you’re having problems with this requirement and not ask us to lower standards. This would lower the bar for students when we’re supposed to be raising it.”

Board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, said the proposed change would send the wrong message to students and teachers.

“The state is just asking for some accountability, just 15 percent,” he said. “This initiative will send a message to dumb down our standards. Everybody will get a trophy and nobody will fail.”

Ratliff rejected the notion that the proposal would diminish standards, saying, “What we’re trying to do is protect kids who are passing their class as determined by 180 days in a school year and not four hours on a test.”

With less than a majority of board members inclined to take action, Ratliff said he would set aside his proposal for now.

“My goal was to raise awareness of this issue so that we could see the unintended consequences of the law,” he said.

Ratliff noted that some school districts have already revised their grading policies so that any failing grade on an end-of-course test will be converted into a score of 69, making it impossible for a student to fail a class solely on the basis of the test score. Students would still have to get passing averages on each group of tests to earn a diploma.

Big expansion, big questions for Teach for America


MIAMI (AP) — In a distressed neighborhood north of Miami's gleaming downtown, a group of enthusiastic but inexperienced instructors from Teach for America is trying to make progress where more veteran teachers have had difficulty: raising students' reading and math scores.

"These are the lowest performing schools, so we need the strongest performing teachers," said Julian Davenport, an assistant principal at Holmes Elementary, where three-fifths of the staff this year are Teach for America corps members or graduates of the program.

By 2015, with the help of a $50 million federal grant, program recruits could make up one-quarter of all new teachers in 60 of the nation's highest need school districts. The program also is expanding internationally.

That growth comes as many districts try to make teachers more effective. But Teach for America has had mixed results.

Its teachers perform about as well as other novice instructors, who tend to be less successful than their more experienced colleagues. Even when they do slightly better, there's a serious offset: The majority are out of the teaching profession within five years.

"I think ultimately the jury is out," said Tony Wagner, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and an instructor to the first class of TFA corps members.

Teach for America teachers work with not just the poor, but also English language learners and special education students. They provide an important pipeline of new teachers. But critics cite the teachers' high turnover rate, limited training and inexperience and say they are perpetuating the same inequalities that Teach for America has set to eradicate.

"There's no question that they've brought a huge number of really talented people in to the education profession," said Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, which advocates on behalf of low-income and minority children, and a longtime supporter of TFA.

But, she said, "Nobody should teach in a high poverty school without having already demonstrated that they are a fabulous teacher. For poor kids, education has to work every single year."


Wendy Kopp started Teach for America while studying public policy at Princeton. For her senior thesis, she developed a plan to place top college graduates in the poorest schools. She sent the plan to dozens of Fortune 500 executives. Within a year, she had raised $2.5 million and had 2,500 applications.

Over the past 20 years, thousands of recent college graduates have taught for two years in some of the most challenging classrooms in hopes of helping close the achievement gap. Applications have doubled since 2008. Foundations have donated tens of millions.

With Teach for America's guidance, groups are being established in India, Chile and other places with deep educational inequalities.

Many countries, including those where students perform higher in math and reading, send the strongest and most experienced teachers to work with the lowest performing students. The U.S. has done the reverse. There are nearly twice as many teachers with fewer than three years' experience in schools where students are predominantly low income and minority.

Family income is one of the most accurate predictors of how well a student will perform. Just 18 percent of low-income eighth-grade students, for example, scored as proficient or above in reading on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress.

"When we started this 20 years ago, the prevailing notion backed up by all the research was socio-economic circumstances determine educational outcomes," Kopp said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We've seen real evidence it does not have to be that way."

How to overcome the challenges of poverty is at the center of the debate over education reform, with an increasing focus on effective teaching.

Highly effective teachers are hardest to find at the least advantaged schools.

"The reality, particularly in urban centers in America, is they aren't there," said Tim Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute at the University of Chicago, who served as the founding director for Teach for America in New York City.


Teach for America believes it can create a corps of such teachers in a short time.

Research, however, shows that beginning instructors improve with experience.

A Harvard study of students in Texas found that a teacher's level of education, experience, and scores on licensing exams have a greater influence on student performance than any other factor. North Carolina research on teacher training programs, including Teach for America, showed that elementary students taught math by a first-year teacher lose the equivalent of 21 days of schooling compared with students who had teachers with four years of experience.

If inexperienced teachers don't perform as well, then why pair them with students who struggle the most?

"When they started, we were staffing our high poverty schools ... with anything that breathed," said Haycock. But, she added, "Saying their solution is better than what came before it is not to say it's the right thing."

Wagner noted that his master's degree in teaching from Harvard hardly prepared him for the challenges of being a first-year teacher. "Unless and until we have a dramatically different system, and a universally high quality system for preparing teachers, I think TFA is a stop gap, and an important one," he said.


Most who apply for Teach for America have not studied education or thought about teaching, but consider it after speaking with a recruiter or program graduate.

For Ryan Winn, it was a picture of a recruiter's third-grade class in Phoenix that persuaded him to apply. The recruiter told him that half the students were expected to drop out by the eighth grade.

"That struck me as incredibly unfair and I was upset about it," said Winn, a teacher this year in Memphis, Tenn.

At Holmes Elementary in Miami, the classrooms of Teach for America teachers are filled with posters reminding students of the ambitious goals set for them.

"I have to make a change," said Michael Darmas, a first-year teacher at Holmes. "I have to make a difference."

Teach for America training starts with thick packages of readings and then five weeks co-teaching a summer class, usually in an urban school district, with students who have fallen behind and are taking remedial coursework in order to advance to the next grade.

The fledgling teachers are overseen by another instructor. That could be a more veteran public school teacher, or current or former Teach for America corps member.

"It was a real steep learning curve," said Sarahi Constantine Padilla, a recent Stanford University graduate teaching at Holmes.

When the summer is over, teachers are sent to their assigned districts, which pay up to $5,000 to Teach for America for each corps member they hire, in addition to the teacher's salary. Many don't find out exactly what they'll be teaching until shortly before school begins.

In interviews with nearly two dozen Teach for America corps members, many described classroom triumphs. Several also acknowledged feeling dubious about their abilities as first-year teachers.

"I struggled personally with my ability to be effective, and I think the gains my kids achieved were largely in spite of me," said Brett Barley, who taught in the San Francisco Bay area. "I thought the key thing I was able to bring to them was communicating the urgency of the predicament they faced and having them buy in to the idea they could be successful."

Most of the fourth-graders Barley taught entered reading and writing at second-grade levels. About 30 percent weren't native English speakers; two were classified as blind.

"The biggest challenge was trying to learn on the job to meet all the kids at their different skill levels," Barley said.

In her book, "A Chance to Make History," Kopp tells the stories of several Teach for America teachers who achieved remarkable success in the classroom. But it's not hard to find teachers who come out with a very different story about their experience.

Megan Hopkins, a Spanish major in college who was placed in Phoenix as a bilingual teacher, said she did not receive any training on teaching English language learners.

"I had no idea how to teach a child to read," Hopkins said. "I had no idea how to teach a second language learner to read in Spanish, much less in English. After five weeks of training, I really had no idea what I was doing. I felt that was a big disservice to my students."

Teach for America encouraged her to set a goal of advancing her students 1 1/2 grade levels. She didn't know how to go about building such a measurement, but was able to develop one with other teachers.

Hopkins said she was praised "up and down" for increasing student reading levels, but she questioned the results. One student, a native Spanish speaker, could read fluently in English, "but if you asked him what he read, he had absolutely no idea."


Teach for America, in its own review of external research, concludes that its teachers achieve student gains that are "at least as great as that of other new teachers." In some studies they do better, and in others they do worse.

Teach for America gathers information on how its teachers are performing, but does not release any data to the public. "We just don't feel it's responsible to show," Kopp said. "There are so many flaws in our system."

One consistent finding is Teach for America's high turnover rate. According to the organization, 33 percent of its graduates are still teaching. But in many districts, retention rates are significantly lower. A study published last year from North Carolina, for example, found that after five years, 7 percent of Teach for America corps members were still teaching in the state.

Kopp and others at Teach for America note turnover rates are high across low-income schools. But among teacher preparation programs, Teach for America has one of the highest.

She said requiring a two-year commitment is critical to attracting high quality candidates. The main reason Teach for America teachers leave the classroom, Kopp said, is because they want to have a bigger impact. Sixty percent of the program's graduates are still working in education, whether it's in policy, or for a nonprofit or government agency, according to TFA.

Throughout their time with Teach for America, corps members are frequently told about the organization's "theory of change." It's the idea that, no matter what field they ultimately enter, they will remain committed to fixing educational inequalities.

Many of the graduates interviewed for this story did leave teaching.

Hopkins, the Phoenix teacher, earned a doctorate in education and has focused much of her research on English language learners.

"But what if their theory of change would encourage their teachers to stay in the classroom as a form of change, as a form of leadership in the field of education?" she asked.


At Holmes Elementary, much is at stake.

If the state isn't granted a waiver from the federal education law known as No Child Left Behind, the school could close unless it significantly improves math and reading scores on Florida's standardized assessment.

"I like the pressure," said third-grade teacher Daniel Guerrero. "It makes me want to stay up late and make sure everything is ready."

Assistant Superintendent Nikolai Vitti says clustering Teach for America teachers together has worked in other district schools and he hopes to attract more beyond their two-year commitment.

Davenport, the assistant principal and a program alumnus, said that will depend on whether corps members feel valued.

"If they don't feel that opportunity to exercise their abilities," he said, "they won't be compelled to stay."

Texas Schools Face New Rules on Financial Hardship

This history behind this legislation is sickening.


by Morgan Smith | Texas Tribune

The Texas Education Agency has released new guidelines that set tough thresholds for school districts hoping to take advantage of special legal exemptions passed by the Legislature and intended to help schools cope with significant budget cuts.

A school district's declaration of “financial exigency” is necessary to trigger many provisions of Senate Bill 8, including those that allow districts to streamline mid-contract employee terminations and avoid seniority-based layoffs in certain circumstances. The law, passed during the special session, left it up to the Commissioner of Education to establish a minimum standard for such declarations, which were previously largely in the hands of local school boards.

The rules released Wednesday give several scenarios that allow districts to claim financial exigency — but they are so rigorous that it’s likely that only a small number of districts will actually meet the any of the standards, says Jackie Lain, an associate executive director at the Texas Association of School Boards. The conditions include a funding reduction of more than 10 percent per student or more than a 20 percent decrease in its fund balance.

To put that in perspective, the $4 billion reduction to public education funding during the past legislative session has most districts seeing a 6 percent cut during the first year of the biennium and not more than a 9 percent cut in the second year. Districts vary widely in how much they've used of their fund balances, which amount to emergency savings accounts.

"Before SB8 there weren’t any standards for declaring financial exigency and the bill required the commissioner to adopt minimum standards," says Janice Hollingsworth, who is the interim director of the agency's financial audit division.

Among the other conditions are a decline in enrollment by more than 10 percent over the past two years, an unforeseen natural disaster requiring significant expenditures in excess of 15 percent of a district’s yearly budget, and “any other circumstances approved in writing” by the commissioner of education. Hollingsworth says the commissioner maintained some discretion to anticipate any unforeseen circumstances the other conditions didn't account for.

What the new guidelines mean in practice, says Lain, is that districts may be forced to go through more expensive processes to lay off employees, whose salaries typically make up about 80 percent of their annual budgets, instead of being able to take advantage of the more efficient practices lawmakers approved during the session.

“The thresholds seem to be overly high without any explanations,” Lain says. “How the commissioner uses the discretion will determine if the rules are overly prescriptive, or properly restrictive.”

The TEA will have a period of public comment on the rules. Hollingsworth says they are "subject to change" depending on the feedback the agency receives.

For-Profit, Alternative Teaching Programs Are Booming

Reps. Villarreal and Eissler get to the core of why there's such a "boom" in for-profit teaching programs: for-profit, monied interests strong arm those who would want anything otherwise. If you undermine pre-service teachers' access to curriculum, don't be surprised when they struggle in the classroom.

In Texas, where certain outspoken parents oppose racialized histories out of fear of "indoctrination", they should be asking how these teachers that draw primarily from personal experience void of any preparation on how to create a learning process that allows students to develop their own voices and identities is anything different.


by Morgan Smith and Nick Pandolfo, The Hechinger Report
November 27, 2011

DENTON — One afternoon in mid-November, Jeff Arrington scattered 80 paper gingerbread men labeled with numbers across the floor of his high school disaster-response class.

The numbers corresponded with the severity of injuries ranging from burns to hysterical blindness. His students had to categorize the “men” based on the level of medical attention each required.

Arrington, in the middle of his third month of teaching at the Advanced Technology Complex in the Denton Independent School District, has a background well suited to the subject. He was a police officer for six years — he turned in his badge on Sept. 12 and began teaching the next day.

He is earning his teaching certificate through an online, for-profit alternative certification program, a nontraditional route to teaching that is becoming more common in Texas. Such programs, which can offer certification in three months to two years, are booming despite little more than anecdotal evidence of their success. They draw candidates like Arrington who bring valuable life experience, but there are concerns about how they will perform as teachers, especially since they are more likely to end up in poor districts teaching students in challenging situations.

More than 110 alternative certification programs — including iteachTEXAS, which Arrington is completing, and nonprofits like Teach for America — produce 40 percent of all new teachers in Texas, according to an analysis of Texas Education Agency data by Ed Fuller, a Penn State University education professor and former University of Texas researcher.

For-profit programs dominate that market: Every year since 2007, the two largest companies, A+ Texas Teachers and iteachTEXAS, have produced far more teachers than any other traditional or alternative program. While virtually all paths to the classroom have seen declines since 2003, according to Fuller’s analysis, for-profit alternative certification programs have grown by 23 percent. (While the percentage has increased, the actual number of for-profit alternative certificates granted has decreased since the 2009 economic recession.)

Other states have begun allowing for-profits to enter the alternative teacher training market, but Texas has done so to the greatest extent, according to Emily Feistritzer, president of the National Center for Alternative Certification. Earlier this year, New York began permitting private entities like the American Museum of Natural History and Teach for America to grant teaching certificates and master’s degrees, but they are nonprofits. Some states, like Illinois, require that any alternative routes to the classroom be connected to the university system.

IteachTEXAS, begun in 2003, is the first for-profit, non-university based alternative certification program to expand across state lines, with the newly created iteachU.S. operating programs in Louisiana and Tennessee. Additional offshoots will soon come to Michigan and at least two other states.

Diann Huber, president of iteachU.S., said the program’s goal is to provide a new career opportunity for people who have been laid off in other industries, like auto workers in Michigan, who may be able to use their knowledge to teach high-need subjects like math and science.

Texas began experimenting with alternative certification programs in the mid-1980s. Then, the state “didn’t regulate who was operating private programs, and people saw that was a way to make a fast buck,” said Rae Queen, the president of the Texas Alternative Certification Association, who also runs a for-profit alternative certification program in San Antonio. Queen said the state now has a much more rigorous application and audit process for certification programs. In 2008, the state also instituted a minimum grade-point average of 2.5 for all teaching candidates.

Still, Queen said the reputation of for-profit programs suffers. “There are some companies out there that say ‘you want to be a teacher, start today,’” she said, “and they’ve done that through their own advertising campaigns.”

Some traditional educators believe that for-profits, which typically charge around $4,000 for a program leading to certification, accept applicants with little regard for demand or how they might perform in the classroom. “The for-profits will take anyone,” said Nell Ingram, director of the Dallas Independent School District alternative certification program, adding that her program will not offer courses in subjects that are not in demand.

Principals offer mixed reviews of teachers hired from for-profit programs. Most say those teachers succeed in the classroom at the same rate as traditionally certified ones, but others report that they seem less prepared.

Bettejean Gosnell, who earned her certificate through iteachTEXAS about seven years ago and teaches special education in Argyle, said she was the alternative certification “poster child,” a former Nabisco employee whose busy life drew her to online teacher certification courses. But while she said the program “worked out perfect” for her, she said it did not support her once she was in the classroom.

“I remember thinking that I wanted constructive criticism,” Gosnell said, “and I wasn’t getting it.”

The state’s most recent effort to regulate the industry came in the last legislative session, when Rep. Mike Villarreal, D-San Antonio, offered a bill that would require potential teachers to spend at least 15 of the mandated 30 hours of practice teaching in classrooms.

The bill struggled to pass — in the end, a watered-down version made it through — because of opposition from some in the for profit industry, who went after it, Villarreal said, because of their interest in “having as much flexibility as possible to deliver a very simple curriculum with limited time commitment” to process clients.

Vernon Reaser, president of A+ Texas Teachers, testified against the bill at a hearing in March. Reaser said it could have unforeseen practical consequences that could burden school districts and would not necessarily raise the quality of teachers in the classroom.

Reaser, who did not return further requests for comment, supported the changes to the bill that ultimately passed.

Evaluating teacher-training programs — regardless of whether they produce teachers through alternative or traditional routes — is “one of the toughest areas to get ahold of,” said Rep. Rob Eissler, R-The Woodlands, who has headed the Public Education Committee in the Texas House since 2007.

Eissler said for-profit programs were no more likely to turn out less-qualified teachers than their nonprofit competitors. “Like anything else,” he said, “there are some that are really good and some that aren’t as good as the others.” He said there is a need for the state to study which programs are getting the best results. Right now, Eissler said, “most of what we know is anecdotal.”

The state’s recent $4 billion reduction in public education spending has led to hiring freezes and layoffs in many districts. Some in the education community still question whether for-profits will be motivated to produce new teachers without a corresponding demand.

Queen said her program tries to avoid churning out graduates who will not get jobs by working with school districts to identify their greatest needs. She frowns upon applicants who she senses want to teach because they think it is easy.

“I will tell them they need to go out and substitute teach and spend time in a classroom,” she said, “and they end up self-selecting. They’ll come back and say, ‘This is not at all what I thought teaching would be — you are right.’"

Thanksgiving in America by Felipe de Ortego y Gasca

From The National Hispanic Reporter, November 1991; posted on the Deming Headlight, November 25, 2010.

By Felipe de Ortego y Gasca

Publisher and Editor-in-Chief, The National Hispanic Reporter, Scholar in Residence and Professor of English, Communications, and Information Studies, Graduate School of Library and Information Studies, Texas Woman’s University in Denton.

In most enterprises, moments of thanks- giving take place for safe arrival or deliverance. The story about the first Thanks-giving in America credits the Pilgrims at the Massachusetts Bay Colony celebrating their safe arrival at the Atlantic frontier of the “new world”.

That band of Pilgrims set sail from Plymouth, Eng¬land, on September 15, 1620 on the Mayflower with 103 religious dissenters on board. Their original destination was the Virginia colony, but they put to at Cape Cod on November 19, and set foot on Plymouth rock (Massachusetts) on December 21 (December 11, Old Style).

It is recorded that these Pilgrims came to America to escape religious persecution in England; they actually came to practice Puritanism, a religious fundamentalism of intolerance that eliminated parliamentary government in England between 1649 and 1660.

The Pilgrims who came to America were not just simple religious conservatives persecuted by the King and the Church of England for their unorthodox beliefs. They were political revolutionaries who meant to over throw the English monarchy and did in 1649. Noble as their victory was, Puritan tyranny simply replaced royal tyranny.
But in 1620, the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony were outcasts who could not fit into English mainstream society. They regarded their Wampanoag Indian benefactors as their enemy, as noted in the Plymouth Thanksgiving sermon of 1623 by Mather the Elder who gave special thanks to God for the devastating plague of smallpox that destroyed the majority of the Wampanoag Indians. He praised God for eliminating “chiefly young men and children, the very seeds of increase, thus clearing the forests to make way for a better growth.

To the Pilgrims, the Indians were heathens and, therefore, instruments of the Devil. Squanto, the only educated Wampanoag among the Indians, was regarded as merely an instrument of God set in the wilderness to provide for the survival of the Chosen Elect–the Pilgrims.

Records are not very clear about when the Pilgrims celebrated that first Thanksgiving. And stories about that first Pilgrim thanks- giving have been embroidered with touches of Indian charity helping those Pilgrims through their first rough winter in America.

But at that first Thanksgiving at Plymouth Plantation in 1621, Pilgrim friendship was feigned and the peace offered tenuous. A generation later when the population shift favored the whites. Puritans slaughtered Indians genocidally in the conflict that has become known as King Philip’s War, after which King Philip of the Indians was beheaded and the Wampanoags sold into slavery. So much for the myth of harmony about that first Thanksgiving.

The myth of that first Thanksgiving actually came into being during the 19th century when the national goal of assimilation emerged as a way to homogenize a diversity of people into a unified nation through a common national (albeit mythical) history.

But the Pilgrim Thanksgiving of 1621 was not the first thanksgiving in America. In 1513, Juan Ponce de Leon proclaimed thanksgiving when his crew put ashore on what is now St. Augustine, Florida. In his account of the Conquest of Mexico, Bernal Diaz notes a moment of thanks¬giving in 1519 joined by Cortez and his men for safe passage to what is now Veracruz, Mexico.

A story of thanksgiving is told about Panfilo de Narvaez and his expedition to Florida in 1526. Another story of thanksgiving is told about Coronado and his men, taking place on the banks of the Rio Grande near present-day San Elizario, Texas, in 1540 near what is today El Paso. And on September 8, 1565, Don Pedro Menendez declared a day of thanks before beginning construction of St. Augustine, Florida. Stories of thanksgiving abound.

Mention is made here and there in American history about a national day of thanksgiving. On October 3, 1863, for example, Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a day of thanksgiving . And in 1905, Theodore Roosevelt issued a proclamation declaring November 12 as a day of thanks¬giving. Not Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving Day did not actually become a national holiday until December 26, 1941, with House Joint Resolution 41 (77th Congress, 1st Session) declaring the 4th Thurs¬day in November as Thanksgiving Day.

Thanksgiving is a day all Americans commemorate. But Thanksgiving is not a proprietary holiday. The Pilgrims didn’t invent it. Nor did the Spanish. But when we think of the first thanksgiving we need to look at the forgotten (some would say “neglected”) pages of American history. For the history of the United States during the period when its lands were Spanish is as much a part of American history as is the history of the period when its lands were English.

More importantly, perhaps, is to remember that as a national holiday, Thanksgiving Day is of recent origin, belonging to the children of the 20th century. It’s time to recommemorate Thanksgiving Day as a day of hope for the American children of the 21st century.

Copyright © 1991 by the author. All rights reserved.


Saturday, November 26, 2011

n+1: Bad Education

Malcolm Harris lays out the student loan debt crisis that we're in. It mirrors the pre-crisis housing market:

"The loans and costs are caught in the kind of dangerous loop that occurs when lending becomes both profitable and seemingly risk-free: high and increasing college costs mean students need to take out more loans, more loans mean more securities lenders can package and sell, more selling means lenders can offer more loans with the capital they raise, which means colleges can continue to raise costs. The result is over $800 billion in outstanding student debt, over 30 percent of it securitized, and the federal government directly or indirectly on the hook for almost all of it."

The way that the working class is getting denied "debt opportunities," if you will, that are available to the middle class that has had greater opportunity in securing four-year college degrees, is through the for-profits like the University of Phoenix or Kaplan. Check out these statistics and this narrative that suggest very real scamming that is taking place currently:

"While the debt numbers for four-year programs look risky, for-profit two-year schools have apocalyptic figures: 96 percent of their students take on debt and within fifteen years 40 percent are in default. A Government Accountability Office sting operation in which agents posed as applicants found all fifteen approached institutions engaged in deceptive practices and four in straight-up fraud. For-profits were found to have paid their admissions officers on commission, falsely claimed accreditation, underrepresented costs, and encouraged applicants to lie on federal financial aid forms. Far from the bargain they portray themselves to be on daytime television, for-profit degree programs were found to be more expensive than the nonprofit alternatives nearly every time. "

Despite this, corporate interests that include The Washington Post Co. University of CA Regent Richard Blum (husband to Senator Dianne Feinstein) means that this for-profit sector is among the fastest growing one in higher education.

The growing debt amount is staggering foreshadowing the possibility of massive default. However, Federal policy via Student Loan Asset-Backed Security (or SLABS)has insulated investors to date. As long as the status quo prevails, universities can keep simply raising tuition costs. However from the consumer side, a $200,000.00 education-related debt should very well provide something to show for it at the end of the day. And it should minimally command a labor market advantage that will actually allow them to get out of debt. A more despairing, if growing scenario, is highly indebted class of college graduates that must go into greater debt to pay off student loans. And student debt is particularly punishing:

"Not only is it inescapable through bankruptcy, but student loans have no expiration date and collectors can garnish wages, social security payments, and even unemployment benefits. When a borrower defaults and the guaranty agency collects from the federal government, the agency gets a cut of whatever it’s able to recover from then on (even though they have already been compensated for the losses), giving agencies a financial incentive to dog former students to the grave."

Another trend is the hiring of top-level, very highly paid administrators with concomitant dips in instruction and student services:

"If current trends continue, the Department of Education estimates that by 2014 there will be more administrators than instructors at American four-year nonprofit colleges. A bigger administration also consumes a larger portion of available funds, so it’s unsurprising that budget shares for instruction and student services have dipped over the past fifteen years."

All very sobering and concerning.


n+1: Bad Education

The Project On Student Debt estimates that the average college senior in 2009 graduated with $24,000 in outstanding loans. Last August, student loans surpassed credit cards as the nation’s single largest source of debt, edging ever closer to $1 trillion. Yet for all the moralizing about American consumer debt by both parties, no one dares call higher education a bad investment. The nearly axiomatic good of a university degree in American society has allowed a higher education bubble to expand to the point of bursting.

Since 1978, the price of tuition at US colleges has increased over 900 percent, 650 points above inflation. To put that number in perspective, housing prices, the bubble that nearly burst the US economy, then the global one, increased only fifty points above the Consumer Price Index during those years. But while college applicants’ faith in the value of higher education has only increased, employers’ has declined. According to Richard Rothstein at The Economic Policy Institute, wages for college-educated workers outside of the inflated finance industry have stagnated or diminished. Unemployment has hit recent graduates especially hard, nearly doubling in the post-2007 recession. The result is that the most indebted generation in history is without the dependable jobs it needs to escape debt.

What kind of incentives motivate lenders to continue awarding six-figure sums to teenagers facing both the worst youth unemployment rate in decades and an increasingly competitive global workforce?

During the expansion of the housing bubble, lenders felt protected because they could repackage risky loans as mortgage-backed securities, which sold briskly to a pious market that believed housing prices could only increase. By combining slices of regionally diverse loans and theoretically spreading the risk of default, lenders were able to convince independent rating agencies that the resulting financial products were safe bets. They weren’t. But since this wouldn’t be America if you couldn’t monetize your children’s futures, the education sector still has its equivalent: the Student Loan Asset-Backed Security (or, as they’re known in the industry, SLABS).

SLABS were invented by then-semi-public Sallie Mae in the early ’90s, and their trading grew as part of the larger asset-backed security wave that peaked in 2007. In 1990, there were $75.6 million of these securities in circulation; at their apex, the total stood at $2.67 trillion. The number of SLABS traded on the market grew from $200,000 in 1991 to near $250 billion by the fourth quarter of 2010. But while trading in securities backed by credit cards, auto loans, and home equity is down 50 percent or more across the board, SLABS have not suffered the same sort of drop. SLABS are still considered safe investments—the kind financial advisors market to pension funds and the elderly.

With the secondary market in such good shape, primary lenders have been eager to help students with out-of-control costs. In addition to the knowledge that they can move these loans off their balance sheets quickly, they have had another reason not to worry: federal guarantees. Under the just-ended Federal Family Education Loan Program (FFELP), the US Treasury backed private loans to college students. This meant that even if the secondary market collapsed and there were an anomalous wave of defaults, the federal government had already built a lender bailout into the law. And if that weren’t enough, in May 2008 President Bush signed the Ensuring Continued Access to Student Loans Act, which authorized the Department of Education to purchase FFELP loans outright if secondary demand dipped. In 2010, as a cost-offset attached to health reform legislation, President Obama ended the FFELP, but not before it had grown to a $60 billion-a-year operation.

Even with the Treasury no longer acting as co-signer on private loans, the flow of SLABS won’t end any time soon. What analysts at Barclays Capital wrote of the securities in 2006 still rings true: “For this sector, we expect sustainable growth in new issuance volume as the growth in education costs continues to outpace increases in family incomes, grants, and federal loans.” The loans and costs are caught in the kind of dangerous loop that occurs when lending becomes both profitable and seemingly risk-free: high and increasing college costs mean students need to take out more loans, more loans mean more securities lenders can package and sell, more selling means lenders can offer more loans with the capital they raise, which means colleges can continue to raise costs. The result is over $800 billion in outstanding student debt, over 30 percent of it securitized, and the federal government directly or indirectly on the hook for almost all of it.

If this sounds familiar, it probably should, and the parallels with the pre-crisis housing market don’t end there. The most predatory and cynical subprime lending has its analogue in for-profit colleges. Inequalities in US primary and secondary education previously meant that a large slice of the working class never got a chance to take on the large debts associated with four-year degree programs. For-profits like The University of Phoenix or Kaplan are the market’s answer to this opportunity.

While the debt numbers for four-year programs look risky, for-profit two-year schools have apocalyptic figures: 96 percent of their students take on debt and within fifteen years 40 percent are in default. A Government Accountability Office sting operation in which agents posed as applicants found all fifteen approached institutions engaged in deceptive practices and four in straight-up fraud. For-profits were found to have paid their admissions officers on commission, falsely claimed accreditation, underrepresented costs, and encouraged applicants to lie on federal financial aid forms. Far from the bargain they portray themselves to be on daytime television, for-profit degree programs were found to be more expensive than the nonprofit alternatives nearly every time. These degrees are a tough sell, but for-profits sell tough. They spend an unseemly amount of money on advertising, a fact that probably hasn’t escaped the reader’s notice.

But despite the attention the for-profit sector has attracted (including congressional hearings), as in the housing crisis it’s hard to see where the bad apples stop and the barrel begins. For-profits have quickly tied themselves to traditional powers in education, politics, and media. Just a few examples: Richard C. Blum, University of California regent (and husband of California Sen. Dianne Feinstein), is also through his investment firm the majority stakeholder in two of the largest for-profit colleges. The Washington Post Co. owns Kaplan Higher Education, forcing the company’s flagship paper to print a steady stream of embarrassing parenthetical disclosures in articles on the subject of for-profits. Industry leader University of Phoenix has even developed an extensive partnership with GOOD magazine, sponsoring an education editor. Thanks to these connections, billions more in advertising, and nearly $9 million in combined lobbying and campaign contributions in 2010 alone, for-profits have become the fastest growing sector in American higher education.

If the comparative model is valid, then the lessons of the housing crash nag: What happens when the kids can’t pay? The federal government only uses data on students who default within the first two years of repayment, but its numbers have the default rate increasing every year since 2005. Analyst accounts have only 40 percent of the total outstanding debt in active repayment, the majority being either in deferment or default. Next year, the Department of Education will calculate default rates based on numbers three years after the beginning of repayment rather than two. The projected results are staggering: recorded defaults for the class of 2008 will nearly double, from 7 to 13.8 percent. With fewer and fewer students having the income necessary to pay back loans (except by taking on more consumer debt), a massive default looks closer to inevitable.

Unlike during the housing crisis, the government’s response to a national wave of defaults that could pop the higher-ed bubble is already written into law. In the event of foreclosure on a government-backed loan, the holder submits a request to what’s called a state guaranty agency, which then submits a claim to the feds. The federal disbursement rate is tied to the guaranty agency’s fiscal year default rate: for loans issued after October 1998, if the rate exceeds 5 percent, the disbursement drops to 85 percent of principal and interest accrued; if the rate exceeds 9 percent, the disbursement falls to 75 percent. But the guaranty agency rates are computed in such a way that they do not reflect the rate of default as students experience it; of all the guaranty agencies applying for federal reimbursement last year, none hit the 5 percent trigger rate.

With all of these protections in place, SLABS are a better investment than most housing-backed securities ever were. The advantage of a preemptive bailout is that it can make itself unnecessary: if investors know they’re insulated from risk, there’s less reason for them to get skittish if the securities dip, and a much lower chance of a speculative collapse. The worst-case scenario seems to involve the federal government paying for students to go to college, and aside from the enrichment of the parasitic private lenders and speculators, this might not look too bad if you believe in big government, free education, or even Keynesian fiscal stimulus. But until now, we have only examined one side of the exchange. When students agree to take out a loan, the fairness of the deal is premised on the value for the student of their borrowed dollars. If an 18-year-old takes out $200,000 in loans, he or she better be not only getting the full value, but investing it well too.

Higher education seems an unlikely site for this kind of speculative bubble. While housing prices are based on what competing buyers are willing to pay, postsecondary education’s price is supposedly linked to its costs (with the exception of the for-profits). But the rapid growth in tuition is mystifying in value terms; no one could argue convincingly the quality of instruction or the market value of a degree has increased ten-fold in the past four decades (though this hasn’t stopped some from trying). So why would universities raise tuition so high so quickly? “Because they can” answers this question for home-sellers out to get the biggest return on their investments, or for-profits out to grab as much Pell Grant money as possible, but it seems an awfully cynical answer when it comes to nonprofit education.

First, where the money hasn’t gone: instruction. As Marc Bousquet, a leading researcher into the changing structures of higher education, wrote in How The University Works (2008):

If you’re enrolled in four college classes right now, you have a pretty good chance that one of the four will be taught by someone who has earned a doctorate and whose teaching, scholarship, and service to the profession has undergone the intensive peer scrutiny associated with the tenure system. In your other three classes, however, you are likely to be taught by someone who has started a degree but not finished it; was hired by a manager, not professional peers; may never publish in the field she is teaching; got into the pool of persons being considered for the job because she was willing to work for wages around the official poverty line (often under the delusion that she could ‘work her way into’ a tenurable position); and does not plan to be working at your institution three years from now.

This is not an improvement; fewer than forty years ago, when the explosive growth in tuition began, these proportions were reversed. Highly represented among the new precarious teachers are graduate students; with so much available debt, universities can force graduate student workers to scrape by on sub-minimum-wage, making them a great source of cheap instructional labor. Fewer tenure-track jobs mean that recent PhDs, overwhelmed with debt, have no choice but to accept insecure adjunct positions with wages kept down by the new crop of graduate student-workers. Rather than producing a better-trained, more professional teaching corps, increased tuition and debt have enabled the opposite.

If overfed teachers aren’t the causes or beneficiaries of increased tuition (as they’ve been depicted of late), then perhaps it’s worth looking up the food chain. As faculty jobs have become increasingly contingent and precarious, administration has become anything but. Formerly, administrators were more or less teachers with added responsibilities; nowadays, they function more like standard corporate managers—and they’re paid like them too. Once a few entrepreneurial schools made this switch, market pressures compelled the rest to follow the high-revenue model, which leads directly to high salaries for in-demand administrators. Even at nonprofit schools, top-level administrators and financial managers pull down six- and seven-figure salaries, more on par with their industry counterparts than with their fellow faculty members. And while the proportion of tenure-track teaching faculty has dwindled, the number of managers has skyrocketed in both relative and absolute terms. If current trends continue, the Department of Education estimates that by 2014 there will be more administrators than instructors at American four-year nonprofit colleges. A bigger administration also consumes a larger portion of available funds, so it’s unsurprising that budget shares for instruction and student services have dipped over the past fifteen years.

When you hire corporate managers, you get managed like a corporation, and the race for tuition dollars and grants from government and private partnerships has become the driving objective of the contemporary university administration. The goal for large state universities and elite private colleges alike has ceased to be (if it ever was) building well-educated citizens; now they hardly even bother to prepare students to assume their places among the ruling class. Instead we have, in Bousquet’s words, “the entrepreneurial urges, vanity, and hobbyhorses of administrators: Digitize the curriculum! Build the best pool/golf course/stadium in the state! Bring more souls to God! Win the all-conference championship!” These expensive projects are all part of another cycle: corporate universities must be competitive in recruiting students who may become rich alumni, so they have to spend on attractive extras, which means they need more revenue, so they need more students paying higher tuition. For-profits aren’t the only ones consumed with selling product. And if a humanities program can’t demonstrate its economic utility to its institution (which can’t afford to haul “dead weight”) and students (who understand the need for marketable degrees), then it faces cuts, the neoliberal management technique par excellence. Students apparently have received the message loud and clear, as business has quickly become the nation’s most popular major.

When President Obama spoke in the State of the Union of the need to send more Americans to college, it was in the context of economic competition with China, phrased as if we ought to produce graduates like steel. As the near-ubiquitous unpaid internship for credit (in which students pay tuition in order to work for free) replaces class time, the bourgeois trade school supplants the academy. Parents understandably worried about their children make sure they never forget about the importance of an attractive résumé. It was easier for students to believe a college education was priceless when it wasn’t bought and sold from every angle.

If tuition has increased astronomically and the portion of money spent on instruction and student services has fallen, if the (at very least comparative) market value of a degree has dipped and most students can no longer afford to enjoy college as a period of intellectual adventure, then at least one more thing is clear: higher education, for-profit or not, has increasingly become a scam.

We know the consequences of default for lenders, investors, and their backers at the Treasury, but what of the defaulters? Homeowners who found themselves with negative equity (owing more on their houses than the houses were worth) could always walk away. Students aren’t as lucky: graduates can’t ditch their degrees, even if they borrowed more money than their accredited labor power can command on the market. Americans overwhelmed with normal consumer debt (like credit card debt) have the option of bankruptcy, and although it’s an arduous and credit-score-killing process, not having ready access to thousands in pre-approved cash is not always such a bad thing. But students don’t have that option either. Before 2005, students could use bankruptcy to escape education loans that weren’t provided directly by the federal government, but the facetiously named “Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act” extended non-dischargeability to all education loans, even credit cards used to pay school bills.

Today, student debt is an exceptionally punishing kind to have. Not only is it inescapable through bankruptcy, but student loans have no expiration date and collectors can garnish wages, social security payments, and even unemployment benefits. When a borrower defaults and the guaranty agency collects from the federal government, the agency gets a cut of whatever it’s able to recover from then on (even though they have already been compensated for the losses), giving agencies a financial incentive to dog former students to the grave.

When the housing bubble collapsed, the results (relatively good for most investors, bad for the government, worse for homeowners) were predictable but not foreordained. With the student-loan bubble, the resolution is much the same, and it’s decided in advance.

In addition to the billions colleges have spent on advertising, sports programs, campus aesthetics, and marketable luxuries, they’ve benefited from a public discourse that depicts higher education as an unmitigated social good. Since the Baby Boomers gave birth, the college degree has seemed a panacea for social ills, a metaphor for a special kind of deserved success. We still tell fairy tales about escapes from the ghetto to the classroom or the short path from graduation to lifelong satisfaction, not to mention America’s collective college success story: The G.I. Bill. But these narratives are not inspiring true-life models, they’re advertising copy, and they come complete with loan forms.

Image: Plans for a new athletic center at Ithaca College. From

Monday, November 21, 2011

The 'Thing' Economy and the 'Care' Economy | | AlterNet

Economics and caring are rarely seen together though it's completely sensible that they should be. In this 2003 piece, Fred Block maintains that "What we need are new policies that can reintegrate these two warring economies into one unified structure that is efficient in producing quality things and quality care. This requires abandoning the foolish notion that whatever is good for General Motors or General Dynamics is good for the whole society." This undercuts the neoliberal assumption that Americans can use the free-market to arrive at solutions for social problems (i.e., the problem of inadequate care) since the thing economy is what has significantly contributed to the crisis of care. This piece gives us language for challenging our business-like, high-stakes accountability systems from a perspective of care. -Angela

The 'Thing' Economy and the 'Care' Economy
By Fred Block, AlterNet
Posted on November 10, 2003, Printed on November 21, 2011

The newest conventional wisdom insists that voters are angry because the economy is bad. However, through the last 30 years of ups and downs in the unemployment rate, there really haven't been any periods of great economic satisfaction. Sure, a few years ago, we had the great internet bubble when both computer geeks and financial types got rich quickly, but most families still struggled with too little money, too little time and too much debt. Of course, rising unemployment and cutbacks in government spending make everything worse, but it has been a long time since people were optimistic that their children would enjoy greater financial security than they had.

The problem with current efforts to recycle the Clinton-era slogan, "It's the economy, stupid," is that we really have two different economies. The first is the one that economists always talk about; we can call it the "thing economy" that produces computers, petroleum, autos and missiles. The thing economy is the envy of the world since we have successfully harnessed science and technology to make marvelous machines with greater and greater efficiency.

The second economy is the "care economy" in which people take care of each other and of the natural environment. The care economy includes child raising, childcare, care for elderly relatives, education, health, pensions for the elderly, the criminal justice system, religion and the arts, and all of our expenditures to protect the environment.

To be sure, these two economies are interdependent and interconnected. Without people who are educated, healthy, and sane, we couldn't produce all those marvelous things. And if the thing economy were not efficient, we wouldn't be able to feed and clothe all of the people who are working in the care economy. And, of course, our official economic accounts treat these two economies as though they are one; they do not even attempt to measure their relative size.

If they did, the results would be surprising. The care economy is huge. It is well known that our statistics on Gross Domestic Product completely exclude the unpaid labor that both men and women do in the home-meals, laundry, care for children, and home and yard maintenance. Estimates suggest that the value of this activity could add close to another 50 percent to total GDP, especially if one also includes all the hours spent in volunteer activity and community endeavors. If one adds to this the 13 percent of GDP that we spend each year on medical care, the 6-7 percent of GDP that we spend on every form of education and training, the 7-8 percent that we spend on pensions for the elderly, as well as the billions that we spend on the criminal justice system, funding the arts and religious institutions, and protecting the environment, it seems clear that both in dollar value and in cumulative hours, the care economy is at least as large as the thing economy.

But here is the problem. The strategies that we have been following to increase efficiency in the thing economy often do not work to make the care economy work better. Even worse, there are several ways in which the growth and development of the thing economy actually undermine the care economy. And undermining the care economy means that we end up getting lower quality education and health care for each dollar we spend. It also means a growing "care deficit": Millions of people are not getting either the care they need or are getting caught in a fierce time bind as they juggle to balance work responsibilities and care responsibilities. It is quite possible that this systematic undermining of the care economy is what is making people irritable and angry -- both in "good" economic times and in "bad."

The obvious way in which the development of the thing economy undercuts the care economy is through the misorganization of time. Several generations ago, we had a simple way of coordinating the two economies. Men worked in the thing economy and women worked -- usually for no or little compensation -- in the care economy. This system "worked" to produce high quality care, but at an enormous cost -- women's opportunities were severely restricted. Hence, this system fell apart as women pressed for equality and the thing economy pulled millions of women into both part-time and full-time jobs. Now, we have the social ideal that all adults should be in the paid labor force until retirement age. Average annual hours of paid work by women have risen dramatically, while those for men have barely changed. The consequence is that millions of families are incredibly harried and are constantly forced to shortchange their care responsibilities.

These intense time pressures have huge costs. The continuing stress of balancing work and family takes a huge toll on our mental and physical health and is linked to rising rates of substance abuse. Moreover, the strains on family life make it harder to keep relationships together. And then, rising divorce rates and ever smaller household units lead to even further time pressures as the vicious cycle intensifies.

All this produces the second undercutting dynamic -- unproductive cost cutting. We have all become more dependent on paid workers to produce some of the care that we need for ourselves and other family members. But when the principles of efficiency from the thing economy are applied to this part of the care economy, the results are often disastrous. In the thing economy, we can keep labor costs down and press workers for more output without sacrificing quality by using increasingly sophisticated technologies. When we do this in the care economy, we get diminishing quality of care. For example, badly paid and badly trained childcare workers or nursing home workers usually produce poor quality care because technology is largely irrelevant. And the resulting institutional failures generate other kinds of costs, from toddlers who do not get the kind of stimulus they need, to the elderly who suffer medical complications because of abuse and neglect. And, of course, worrying about the poor quality of institutional care becomes another huge source of stress.

The last undercutting dynamic can be called "unproductive spillovers." It is most obvious in our system for providing health care (and also evident in many of our environmental problems). While our scientists and physicians have made some extraordinary advances, it is apparent that transferring the for-profit model of the thing economy into the health sector has produced a variety of negative consequences. We have more than 40 million people who lack health insurance and many others whose access to health care is highly uncertain. We also know that the multiple levels of administration and bureaucracy add enormous inefficiencies and drain resources that could be used to provide more and better patient care. Finally, the uncoordinated and often chaotic system for delivering health care both undermines the quality of care and has become another huge time drain for families. Hundreds of thousands of patients are forced to become experts on their own diseases and on the health care system just to find their way to quality care.

The only way these serious problems of the care economy currently enter our political debates is through the issue of whether private or public provision of services is preferable. But privatization is not the solution; in health care and nursing homes, it is part of the problem. Yet it is also obvious that public provision is not a panacea; there are plenty of examples of poor quality public care.

The real problem is that we have imagined that if we get the thing economy organized properly, then the care economy will take "care" of itself. But this is an illusion; the logics of the thing economy are systematically undermining the effectiveness of the care economy.

What we need are new policies that can reintegrate these two warring economies into one unified structure that is efficient in producing quality things and quality care. This requires abandoning the foolish notion that whatever is good for General Motors or General Dynamics is good for the whole society. The string of recent corporate scandals should be a sufficient reminder that when markets are left on their own, small groups of insiders can become enormously rich at everyone else's expense. Who benefits, for example, from the extraordinary success of one giant retail chain that is famous for its low wages and miserly employee health care plan? Certainly not the communities that are forced to subsidize this corporation by providing health care to the firm's large number of uninsured employees. Certainly not the competitors who are being forced into bankruptcy because they are more decent towards their employees. It is both inefficient and immoral for society to give corporations free reign to engage in these destructive forms of cost shifting.

And, in fact, we have abundant evidence that firms can be highly profitable while providing their employees with decent wages and access to quality care. Many of our most dynamic and innovative firms have, in fact, created caring communities for their employees -- attending to the difficulties of balancing work and family, supporting the ongoing development of employee skills, and facilitating improvements in employee health behavior. These policies could and should be pursued more generally since a unified economy would benefit from the enhanced productivity of well-cared-for employees.

But skeptics will immediately note that we live in an era of tight budgets -- can we really afford to create this unified economy? Yes, and in fact, it is actually both realistic and urgent because effective care foregone in the short term means higher costs in the long term. When we fail at early detection with physical and mental illnesses, we obligate ourselves to pay much larger costs down the road. When our schools fail large numbers of young people, we end up paying down the road to expand our prison system. Economizing on these types of care is the purest instance of false economy; it is penny wise, pound foolish.

We already spend so much on the care economy that we cannot afford to keep making the same mistakes. Think, for example, of the health care dollars that we spend each year to respond to work-related stress. Wouldn't it make more sense to try to save a large portion of those outlays by taking steps to reduce the amount of job-related stress? Or think of the not-so-hidden epidemic of addiction to prescription drugs; wouldn't it be better to create a more caring and less stressful society where fewer people were tempted to "solve" their problems through the magic of chemistry?

What is involved in creating this unified economy? A full road map is not possible here, but we can identify three basic principles that should guide the process of unification. All of these principles depend, in turn, on the recognition that the regulation of market activity is absolutely indispensable if we are to create a humane and effective economy. This fundamental truth has been obscured by thirty years of celebratory rhetoric about the magic of free markets and the extraordinary gains that come from the individual pursuit of self-interest. But the lesson of our most recent series of corporate scandals is that the pursuit of self-interest quickly degenerates into criminality in the absence of effective systems of regulation. If we are to remain a civilized society, we have to abandon the fashionable rhetoric of "deregulation" and recognize that government regulators -- whether they are meat inspectors, bank auditors, enforcers of labor standards, or even tax collectors -- are actually quiet heroes defending our society from the insidious threat of runaway greed.

Hence, the first principle emphasizes the importance of regulations that protect and strengthen the care economy. We have constructed such regulations on occasion -- most recently when Congress passed the Family and Medical Leave Act -- but each effort encounters fierce resistance from those who claim that it is both unfair and economically irrational to impose any new costs on private businesses. But it is also wrong that businesses be allowed to impose costs on their employees that undermine the care economy as, for example, when employees are unable to honor their commitments to children and aging parents. As with any regulations, the task is to find the proper balance of these conflicting interests, but to do this, we have to abandon the fantasy that the care economy can survive without being nurtured and supported. For example, we desperately need rules that would keep large firms from expanding their market share by pushing labor costs and benefits to the lowest levels possible.

The second principle centers on the urgent need to reorganize our society's way of managing time. Both the thing economy and the care economy depend on human beings who are constrained by the scarcity of time. Whatever startling gains have been made in productivity, we haven't extended the 24-hour-day by a single second. And new technologies like the cell phone and e-mail are increasingly eliminating the divide between work time and private time. It is hardly controversial that the resulting time squeeze has become a pervasive source of misery and stress in our society. But despite many creative ideas for reconstructing our time economy, we have made very little progress because of a continuing reluctance to impose any new costs on employers. And yet this is extremely shortsighted since employees who were less stressed by problems of time management would certainly be more productive.

Finally, we have to change our way of thinking about the true requirements for quality care. The fashion for some time has been to think that health and education, for example, are just businesses and that tough systems of cost accounting and the use of performance indicators such as the number of patients treated or student test scores will get us the results we want. But the triumph of this bean-counting approach has resulted instead in rushed medical appointments where patients are allowed to discuss only one concern per visit and classrooms where teachers have no time to cultivate curiosity and love of learning because they must teach to the next round of standardized tests. The techniques of the thing economy simply don't work for producing quality health care and education. We have to return to the individual -- the patient or the student -- and figure out ways that each client, working in close cooperation with trained professionals, other clients, and volunteers, can become healthier and wiser.

Much more work has to be done to translate these principles into concrete policy proposals that could be debated in the political arena. And even more effort will be required to overcome the resistance to meaningful reform. But there is great leverage that comes from recognizing the problem of the divided economy and creating a positive vision of a unified economy in which the creation of quality care and the making of things are no longer in conflict. The result would be a moral economy that could reconcile our desire to prosper with our deepest moral and spiritual impulses.

Fred Block teaches economic sociology at the University of California at Davis. He is also a senior fellow with the Rockridge Institute.

© 2011 Independent Media Institute. All rights reserved.
View this story online at:

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Study challenges IDEA charters' success claims

To get a complete picture of the picture that is getting portrayed here, check out Ed Fuller's commentary on his blog:

Important comment that he makes:

Regardless, it does not matter what the intentions of IDEA are. The fact remains that IDEA systematically enrolls students who are more advantaged than students remaining in the local public schools. This directly CONTRADICTS the claim by IDEA that they educate “underserved” students. In fact, IDEA has STILL NOT communicated how they define “underserved” students.

Critics need to consider that he uses the state's own data [2010 Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS)] to draw comparisons on the extent to which IDEA students are as "socioeconomically disadvantaged" as proponents say that they are.

Finally, in my view, there are serious questions and issues of governance. It is simply problematic to move toward any system that eliminates those structures about which parents have a vote. In fact, it is anti-democratic.


Study challenges IDEA charters' success claims
By Melissa B. Taboada and Laura Heinauer


Updated: 10:47 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011

Published: 10:32 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 15, 2011

IDEA Public Schools, which has basked in accolades for its highly ranked schools and has set its sights on revamping and running some of the Austin school district's most academically troubled campuses, might have an overrated reputation for teaching challenging populations, new research has found.

A study by a Pennsylvania State University researcher shows that the charter operator, which has 10 campuses in Texas, enrolls fewer English language learners and few students who are economically disadvantaged and need special education services. In contrast to IDEA's claims that all of its graduates enroll in college, the study found that 35 percent of IDEA ninth-graders withdraw by 11th grade.

Tom Torkelson, founder of IDEA, said the report has not been peer-reviewed and said the author — former University of Texas professor Ed Fuller — has a history of opposing charter schools. Torkelson said state data show 91.8 percent of IDEA's class of 2009 completed high school in four years.

Austin district Superintendent Meria Carstarphen, who has argued that the proposed partnership would boost academic offerings in East Austin, said Tuesday that Fuller's study isn't what she'd expect from professional scientific research. "He made no pretense about his purpose, and it wasn't to be objective," she said.

Fuller's study, "Is IDEA a good idea for Austin ISD?", was given exclusively to the American-Statesman on Tuesday by education labor groups that question the planned partnership with the charter group, which would use its own staff to teach and manage two or three East Austin campuses.

Fuller, now an associate professor and executive director of the Center for Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis at Penn State, has researched the Austin district in the past. The study is part of a broader body of research on high-performing charter schools in Texas and was funded by the Texas Business and Education Coalition and the Texas American Federation of Teachers, of which Education Austin is an affiliate.

The analysis given to the Statesman on Tuesday focuses on the South Texas charter school from the 2007-08 to the 2010-11 school year. Fuller's study concludes that IDEA's success should be questioned because the charter:

• Starts with a student body that includes lower percentages of students who are economically disadvantaged, are enrolled in bilingual education or have other special needs than the enrollment of surrounding school districts.

• Sends only 65 percent of its students to college. (His report had no comparable figure for other districts.) Although all of IDEA graduates go on to college, more than a third of students who are enrolled in ninth grade leave the charter school by 11th grade. Fuller considered students who left for any reason, arguing that state completion rates cited by Torkelson don't consider students who leave for reasons such as a change to home schooling or private school.

• Outperforms area high schools because the charter sheds lower-performing students , increasing "scores at the school and district levels even if the remaining students made no increase in achievement," the report said.

"No matter how you measure it, they actually have fewer underserved students than the schools that are in the same market that they serve," Fuller said Tuesday.

Fuller also found that fifth-grade students are less likely to enroll in IDEA if they are poor. "If they're going to enroll in East Austin, that's who you need to serve is the poor kids," he said. Fuller said his concern is that the charter is "just going to segregate by ability and further concentrate kids in doomed schools."

Torkelson said IDEA analyses show that students admitted to IDEA schools didn't pass the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills at higher rates than students attending other area public schools. About 19 percent of students enrolling at IDEA in sixth through 10th grades previously failed reading and math exams in 2011; the average for the region was closer to 15 percent, Torkelson said.

Torkelson said he agrees with one point in Fuller's report: "that IDEA is higher performing and that our students achieve amazing results."

"We believe that our results are a product of hard work and great teaching," Torkelson said. "The report implies, without sufficient evidence, that the only explanation for our results is factors outside the control of the school."

Torkelson said Fuller's claims that the charter skims the best kids from area districts is unfounded. Torkelson said representatives go door to door in low-income neighborhoods to inform students about the school, then hold an admission lottery.

Finally, fewer IDEA students are in special education because of successful early intervention by IDEA educators, Torkelson said.

Josie Duckett, a spokeswoman with the Texas Charter Schools Association, criticized Fuller's work, saying he leaves out individual academic growth measures that "would go a long way toward telling the true story about how well these schools are preparing kids."

"If attrition is something we need to look at, then we will — and in fact we already do plan to take a deeper dive in terms of our own data," Duckett said. "Ultimately, presenting data like this in a biased fashion isn't helpful," she said.

Trustee Sam Guzman, who represents neighborhoods IDEA would focus on, said he thinks Fuller's study unfairly attacks the charter operator. "I don't have a problem with people raising questions about IDEA or anything other option or program that we explore, but I would hope that people would be fair and open-minded in doing so," Guzman said.

Officials with Education Austin, which represents about 4,000 district workers, said they want to be sure any partnership focuses on better education for children.

"The (district's) motivation is the ability to appear innovative," said Ken Zarifis, the group's co-president.

Education Austin, which asked its parent labor group to share Fuller's findings, also has been putting together a proposal to run a charter school within the district.; 445-3620; 445-3694

Find this article at:

Parents hear Austin school district proposal for all-girls, all-boys middle schools

Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011

Parents weighed in Saturday morning on an Austin school district proposal to open two single-gender schools in their attendance zones, a move administrators believe could help improve some students' academic performance.

The district's $11.1 million proposal calls for putting the children at Pearce and Garcia middle schools in East Austin.

Boys would attend one school, and girls would attend the other, though the preliminary plans have not specified which campus would hold which school. The schools would serve 650 boys and 650 girls in grades six through eight. The proposal is part of a larger effort to improve the district's facilities.

Debra Clarke, an art teacher at Sims Elementary School who attended Saturday's community forum, said she supports the proposal in part because it helps girls become stronger and more independent without boys to distract them.

"It gives you that confidence," said Clarke, who attended Texas Woman's University.

Paula Rogers, who has two students at Sims Elementary School, urged administrators to ensure that children would not just have teachers of the same gender, but who also shared the same racial background. Rogers said she isn't necessarily in favor of single-gender schools, but she said she's willing to try it because she thinks the district has failed in teaching black children.

Trustees plan to vote on the proposals in December, though Superintendent Meria Carstarphen said it could be as late as 2013-14 before the single-gender schools open if they approve the plan.

"It depends on how ready we feel," she said.

Trustee Cheryl Bradley, who represents the area that includes the schools, said, "We're more concerned with doing it right than how fast we do it."

Other details, such as whether and when students from other attendance zones would be able to attend the schools, are also unknown.

Carstarphen said the district would start with students in the attendance area and then could expand to other zones, potentially using a lottery system to admit students.

The district's current single-gender school — the Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders — opened in 2007 and takes applications from students from across the district.

In June, the Galveston-based Moody Foundation announced that it is giving the Austin district $4.6 million for the creation of a boys school that could open in 2013-14.

The Ann Richards school has earned the state's highest academic rating, but a University of Texas researcher challenged the school's success in a paper published in the journal Science in September.

In "The Pseudoscience of Single-Sex Schooling," co-author Rebecca Bigler, a University of Texas psychology and women's and gender studies professor, argued that single-sex schools don't improve student performance any more than coeducational schools. Bigler said that high test scores were the result of the selective admissions policy and that single-sex education was not a wise investment of taxes.

District officials have countered that there also is a significant body of research that supports single-sex education. Carstarphen said that not all single-gender designs work. The district has pulled together best practices from a number of schools, she said, including Ann Richards.

Bradley, who initially presented the idea of introducing single-gender schools in the area to Carstarphen, called the proposal an "opportunity to help with the distractions that can plague some schools."

Visiting a South Austin middle school last summer where some summer school classes were divided by gender, Bradley said she saw a calmer, more attentive classroom than the classes that were coed.

Some parents at the forum asked why teachers don't already have the higher expectations that Carstarphen said she'd like to create at the proposed single-gender schools. Keisha Jones, who has two students in the district, said that if students had the right support from teachers and administrators, they could be successful regardless of the gender of the student body.

"Fixing the system takes a lot longer than helping this vertical team," Carstarphen said, referring to the elementary, middle and high schools in the LBJ and Reagan high school zones. "In the meantime, we can do a much better job at Garcia and Pearce.";


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Texas Teachers Say Classes Growing, Layoffs Widespread

Check out the findings from Texas AFT's study on "Destructive Budget Cuts Hitting Students and Teachers Hard"


by Morgan Smith | Texas Tribune
November 17, 2011

Since the Legislature's intention to cut $5.4 billion from public education became a reality, one question has dominated the conversation: just how bad will it be?

Not everyone comes up with the same answer. But the Texas American Federation of Teachers, the state branch of the nationwide teachers' association, has released the results of a web survey that reports extensive teacher layoffs, increasing class sizes and deteriorating work environments.

Here's a quick run through their results, which included 3,549 respondents, about 82 percent of whom identified as educators. (And remember, this is a web survey, not a scientific poll.)

· 92 percent said their district had eliminated positions — most reported between 10 to 50.

· 85 percent said the positions eliminated included teachers.
· 79 percent reported cuts to student programs including pre-K, special education, electives, and athletics.

· Tutoring was the program respondents most frequently reported as cut

· 87 percent said that class sizes had increased at both the elementary and secondary level.

The survey also asked respondents about their schools' climate for students, teachers, and staff — and how that compared to the year before. 81 percent said it was "worse" or "much worse," and 72 percent described it as "stressful and taxing."

The survey confirms the impact that the budget is having an impact on classroom instruction, Texas AFT president Linda Bridges said, adding that its results show that Gov. Rick Perry has been "spinning a tale" about balancing the budget without harming public education. She said that her organization planned a follow up survey in the spring, and noted that because of the way school districts have structured their budgets, most of the worst cuts are still to come.

As the new school year progresses, expect many more attempts at quantifying the effects of the budget cuts in public education.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Two DREAMers ponder their futures

Loren Campos and Juana Garcia were brought to the U.S. by their parents. They have educations, but they can't work in the U.S.

Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011

Loren Campos graduated from the University of Texas in May with a degree in civil engineering. He said he waited until the last minute to buy his cap and gown and class ring.

"Graduation was the last thing that I wanted to think about," he said. "That was a difficult thing to go through."

It's a familiar sentiment among undocumented students. Graduation means confronting the fact that they have earned college degrees that they can't use in the United States.

For now, the 22-year-old Campos is sharing an apartment in Northeast Austin with two friends and selling cosmetics from out of his apartment. He's also active in the University Leadership Initiative, a group for undocumented students.

"I cannot work with my degree," he said. "I cannot get a driver's license."

He says he's watched other undocumented friends graduate from college, "and a lot of them go back to working low-wage jobs. ... It's just a waste of talent. It doesn't make sense to be investing in the education of students without having some sort of return on that investment."

The Texas Dream Act requires students to file paperwork to become legal residents. Campos did that in 2003, when he was 14. His sister, a U.S. citizen, is sponsoring him, and he figures he'll have to wait another seven years before his case is reviewed. That's because the number of people trying to legally immigrate with help from family members who are U.S. citizens dwarfs the limited number of visas issued each year.

And the waiting time depends on a complicated formula based on the immigrant's country of origin and their relationship to the person sponsoring them. According to the U.S. State Department website, Mexican citizens who are being sponsored by siblings and applied for visas in 1996 are just now eligible to get visas.

Campos said his mother brought him to Texas when he was 11 and his sister was 16. They entered the country with tourist visas and overstayed them. He said he begged his mother to take him back to Mexico within a few weeks of arriving in Houston. His mother refused.

He remembers being teased for carrying around a Bible-size Spanish-English dictionary in school while he was in English as a second language classes. By eighth grade, his English was good enough that he was put in regular classes. He applied to the engineering magnet program at Booker T. Washington High School — "just trying to take advantage of the opportunities that were given to me," he said — and quickly jumped into extracurricular activities like the robotics club, the math club and the soccer team.

To earn money, he worked as a baggage handler for a charter bus company that catered to Mexicans, and he worked at restaurants as a waiter, busboy and dishwasher.

He's the only member of his immediate family who is still undocumented — his two sisters married U.S. citizens and became permanent residents, followed by his mother, who was sponsored by one of his sisters. He said his mother is studying for the test to become a U.S. citizen.

He'd like to stay in the United States and design buildings that can withstand earthquakes. He's heard stories of the 1985 Mexico City earthquake from family and friends, and the earthquake in Haiti "inspired me to do something about it and contribute somehow."

"I grew up with the idea that America was the land of opportunity," he said. "I've basically grown up in this country; I don't know another country."

Juana Garcia was born in a village called Juan Aldama, in the state of Zacatecas in Central Mexico — a place she can't find on a map.

"I don't know the geography of Mexico, actually," she said.

She was a year old when her parents brought her to the United States. Now 21, she has no memories of Mexico.

Her father started coming to the United States when he was a teenager, working in Dallas restaurants. When she was born, her father didn't want to be separated from his first child and persuaded her mother to join him in the U.S.

They settled in Chicago, where all of her mother's family had migrated, then moved to Arlington when Garcia was 12. At each stop, her parents found work — her father operated forklifts in a warehouse and cooked in a hotel restaurant, while her mother cleaned hotels and malls and now works at a dry cleaner.

Garcia, who qualified for free and reduced school lunches, did well in school, taking Advanced Placement courses and singing in the choir. Growing up, she hid the fact that she was undocumented from friends, classmates and teachers — until her junior year of high school, when she was forced to confide in someone.

The choir had received a coveted invitation to sing at the American Choral Directors Association conference in Miami, all expenses paid. Excitement about the trip built all year, she said, as the choir rehearsed for the performance. Then her parents said no. She didn't have a driver's license, and they were afraid she'd be detained at the airport.

She had to tell her choir teacher that she couldn't go — and she had to tell her why. "It was so hard for me, because I had never told anyone face to face," Garcia said. "I remember I cried a lot over it." She said her teacher was supportive, which gave her confidence to speak up when she got to college.

Garcia finished in the top 10 percent of her class, went to community college for two years, then transferred to UT last year. She joined University Leadership Initiative and now serves as its social committee chairwoman. She was part of a group that traveled by bus to Washington to tell their story to U.S. senators, urging them to pass a federal DREAM Act. She said "coming out" in such a public way was liberating.

"Being around so many people that have done it already gives you a sense of comfort," she said. "You feel better not having to hide something. You shouldn't have to hide, because it's not your fault."

At times, she said, she's resented her parents' decision to bring her to the United States. When her younger brother and cousins — who are U.S. citizens by birth — would go to Mexico to visit relatives every summer, she stayed home. When her high school friends were learning to drive, she was reminded that she can't get a driver's license. When her college friends began getting summer internships and doing semesters abroad, she swallowed her jealousy.

"I've had my moments," she said, sipping a drink in a West Campus Starbucks, "but I'm glad I'm here."

And now, with a year to go before she gets her degree in elementary education, she knows she won't become an elementary school teacher unless Congress passes the DREAM Act.

"It's a very depressing idea because it's getting really close," she said.

UT Faculty Productivity Gets High Marks in New Report

Check out Musick's full report, "An analysis of faculty instructional and grant-based productivity at the University of Texas at Austin"


by Reeve Hamilton | Texas Tribune
November 13, 2011

Despite the arguments of critics in recent months, Marc Musick, the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Liberal Arts associate dean of student affairs, makes the case in a new faculty productivity report that his institution provides “an incredible return on investment for the state.”

Using data from the 2009-10 academic year made public by the University of Texas System this summer, Musick found that UT professors generated revenue of more than twice their compensation of $257 million in state funds for salary and benefits. By combining the amount of money paid by the state via a student enrollment-based formula and external funding for academic research, Musick concluded that the UT faculty generated about $558 million in total revenue for the university.

Musick’s report is the latest in a series of similar productivity studies that have been released over the course of a year marked by questions about the effectiveness of the state’s higher education system. The studies have come from a variety of sources using differing methodologies and reaching a wide range of conclusions, some of them strikingly negative. The latest release comes at a time when many of the key players in the state’s ongoing debate over higher education are poised to take the discussion on how to measure faculty productivity to a national level.

The topic became a hot-button issue in the spring, due in large part to a set of seven controversial proposals for higher education written by Austin businessman Jeff Sandefer in 2008 and promoted by Gov. Rick Perry and the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank of which Sandefer is a board member.

On Friday, Sandefer and others tied to the TPPF are participating in a higher education conference in Washington, D.C., put on by the Cato Institute, a prominent national conservative organization. According to information the institute posted online about the event, “One key question the conference will take on is how to assess the productivity of faculty members, including examining the groundbreaking — and highly controversial — efforts recently undertaken in the state of Texas."

An early December closed-door gathering in Indianapolis organized by UT President Bill Powers for the presidents and provosts of public universities in the Association of American Universities, an elite organization of research institutions, will also tackle the subject. “In particular, I would like to explore how we might foster richer deliberations about higher education productivity than we have seen recently in Texas and other states,” Powers wrote in his invitation.

While Musick’s new study demonstrates a high level of faculty productivity at the university, he acknowledged that it omits key elements of professors’ workload. “All it’s doing is measuring two things that the faculty do,” he said. “It’s measuring grants and its measuring teaching. But faculty do lots of different things. The data we have are extremely limited in what they can tell us.”

Still, Musick saw in the data opportunities to encourage more productivity. He recommends enhancing offerings for faculty mentorship, since the strongest-performing faculty tend to be more experienced. He said the number of students in some mid-size classes could be increased without sacrificing quality, freeing up resources for more of the smaller classes that students prefer. He also recommended that the university provide greater incentives for professors to pursue grants and more assistance with their submissions so that less of their time is spent on paperwork.

Most importantly, Musick said, faculty need to be evaluated based on accurate, comprehensive data that conveys their productivity over time as opposed to a single year.

“I completely agree with the idea of going out and getting data and analyzing it,” said Musick, who also released a report on university efficiency in September, “but it’s got to be helpful, it’s got to be thoughtful, its got to be done in the right way to make sure we are finding the truth and not just doing what’s easy to find quick answers.”