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Wednesday, January 11, 2012

TFA & Poverty... What is LEE's role?

(Originally published on December 13, 2011, as part of Leadership for Educational Equity's "Teach For America Alumni of Los Angeles" blog: http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/12/13/12252/453).

We talk a lot about how our students can overcome poverty if we end educational inequity. We talk a good game about social justice and civil rights, but can we truly live up to our mission until we confront all the measurable factors that impede student success, every statistically significant thing that stands in the way of, “One day”?

Now is the time to change educational outcomes for kids by advocating on behalf of value-added measures, as well as the federal DREAM Act, and in opposition to LIFO, as well as laws leading to inequity in sentencing, incarceration, and recidivism.


Later this week, my blog, aimed at the “Alumni of Los Angeles,” group will discuss the results of the vote to approve or reject the Tentative Agreement between UTLA and LAUSD. However, before analyzing that terrain I urge all of you to revisit what I wrote regarding the proposed contract, “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” (http://blog.educationalequity.org/blog/story/2011/12/5/113037/558). My hope is by posting twice this week, I’ll “hook you” into a discussion before your attention spans become completely consumed by travel, shopping, etc. Please leave a comment. It is the gift that keeps on giving.

On the Saturday, December 10, 2011, a number of TFA alumni and LEE staff were able to take advantage of a comprehensive workshop session facilitated by Brianna Twofoot. I won’t dwell on too many of the details in this entry, but I do wish to open up the talk we had regarding the rhetoric of TFA’s public critics:

The diversity of opinions in the room seemed comfortable countering the critique that TFA stood for “teach for awhile” with the data on teacher burnout, RIFs (threatened or actual layoffs), wages (low salaries, lack of bonuses, slow pace of growth), high stakes pressure, and poor working conditions, that explain teacher turnover and attrition writ large (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/08/11/top-5-reasons-why-teacher_n_924428.html). If the problem of recruiting and retaining talent in the classroom were not an industry-wide issue, major organized labor wouldn’t be spending their time and energy researching solutions to the problem (http://www.aft.org/pdfs/teachers/genyreport0411.pdf). Nevertheless, we did agree that two years is a random number, and data demonstrates teachers hit their effectiveness stride at year three, and if TFA is a data driven organization, it should reconsider its fidelity to the current model.

We split over how to counter the critique that TFA is populated with white, middle class to affluent, Ivy League graduates, who seek to apply a competitive, private sector, corporate (for profit business) model to America’s public schools. We split over whether or not the (historically self-described) characterization of TFA corps members as the “best and brightest” was something we should combat. There was a time when “respect and humility” were core organizational values, and it was stressed that our job was to learn from more experienced teachers, and partner with other forces in the community seeking to make change. After No Child Left Behind came into existence, TFA sought to prove that corps members were just as qualified and effective as traditionally selected and trained instructors. This established the rift we live in today in which TFA lives in one corner, and organized labor bodies representing teachers in the other. Many questions arise as a result of this perceived shift away from “respect and humility.” Is it antithetical to, “One day, all children in this nation will have the opportunity to attain an excellent education,” to be so elite, effete, and exclusionary that only one out of every ten college graduates who applies meets TFA’s selection criteria? Is it the selection process guaranteeing student gains, or are support structures, observational feedback, and high performance expectations the engines of success? What would happen if half of acceptance in TFA’s future generations of corps members ran like a typical charter school lottery? Would the randomly selected underperform their pedigreed peers? Or would the data show otherwise? (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/campus-overload/post/teach-for-america-2011-acceptance-rate-11-percent/2011/08/03/gIQAqX8bsI_blog.html & http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/teacherbeat/2011/08/tfa_selection_criteria_linked.html)

The most important and revealing dynamic in our discussion dealt with the amount of funding available to school sites for the provision of wrap around services. We took on the terrain of arguing that what public education needs is not more money, but a better strategy for spending the money it has. Discomfort abounded with the wholesale embrace of this narrative. We were, after all, holding this discussion in California, 43rd in per pupil spending, whose budget shortfalls threaten to shorten the school year to below 170 instructional days, despite the fact that 3/5 of all other states found $ to prevent the school year from falling below a minimum of 180. (http://toped.svefoundation.org/2011/01/12/now-43rd-in-per-student-spending/ & http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2011/11/17/471008ccaliforniabudgetschoolyear_ap.html). With RIFd teachers in the room, the discussion delved head on into LIFO, and seniority based layoffs, but it also acknowledged the Occupy L.A. and Occupy LAUSD protesters gathered in nearby Pershing Square. Teachers, librarians, counselors, etc. were fired because of budget cutbacks, not because of the results of an already implemented, tested, and proven, performance evaluation system. School funding is in crisis. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t see multiple efforts to tackle the issue publicly, through statewide ballot propositions that circumvent the broken legislative process (http://toped.svefoundation.org/2011/11/04/reformrevenue-plan-for-12-ballot/). The most important and critical part of the discussion, however, came from the frank admission that students and their families need more than just highly effective classroom teachers. They need (and deserve) advocates, access to information, protections from domestic abuse and street violence, as well as free or truly affordable (low cost) resources such as doctors, dentists, mental health services, etc.

Earlier this year, S. Paul Reville, the Massachusetts Secretary of Education, blogged in Education Week that reformers need now to think beyond the numbers and “admit that closing achievement gaps is not as simple as adopting a set of standards, accountability and instructional improvement strategies.” In Massachusetts, he wrote, “We have set the nation’s highest standards, been tough on accountability and invested billions in building school capacity, yet we still see a very strong correlation between socioeconomic background and educational achievement and attainment. It is now clear that unless and until we make a more active effort to mitigate the impediments to learning that are commonly associated with poverty, we will still be faced with large numbers of children who are either unable to come to school or so distracted as not to be able to be attentive and supply effort when they get there.” Reville called for “wraparound services” that would allow schools to provide students with a “healthy platform” from which they could begin to work on learning.


Fortunately, there are some programs in place that have had real success in providing “wraparound services” that help children come to school ready to learn. In Northern California, for example, the Making Waves Foundation has for decades run a program providing tutoring, academic advising, college counseling, after school enrichment programs, mental health services, nutritional food, transportation and parent education to more than a thousand low-income children, selected by lottery. In Cincinnati, where more than 70% of children live in low-income households, a program called the Strive Partnership coordinates services and support for school children that include mentoring, health care, arts programs, quality preschool and financial aid for college — and the result, according to a new report from the independent think tank Education Sector, is that, over the last four years, Cincinnati schools have made greater gains than any other urban district in Ohio and have had the most success in reducing the percentage of its students who score at the very bottom on achievement tests.

(http://www.kappanmagazine.org/content/93/3/48.abstract & http://www.educationsector.org/publications/striving-student-success-model-shared-accountability)

John Kuhn, the superintendent of a small public school district in Texas, recently wrote the following:

“As a public school administrator, I have been a steadfast critic of the legacy of No Child Left Behind. But I’ve recently figured out a way that school reformers can get me on their side. It’s very simple… Reformers such as former Washington D.C. Schools chancellor Michelle Rhee and Sandy Kress — a lawyer who was a principal architect of the school accountability system in Texas (during the administration of then Gov. George W. Bush) which served as the basis for NCLB — assure us that all their reforms are really about the children. They repeatedly call on get teachers and administrators to quit making excuses and hold themselves accountable for the educational outcomes of poor and minority students. Who could be against that?... NCLB has done one important thing: By disaggregating data, it has forced teachers and administrators like me to agonize over the outcomes of our neediest students… The deck is stacked against kids who live in poverty not just because their schools are on average worse than others, but also because of the circumstances of their lives when they leave campus… I’m calling on reformers — Kress and Rhee included — to lend support for a new kind of reform, one that steps outside the schoolhouse and shares the onus for achievement with more than just teachers. I’m calling for data-driven equality, modeled on Kress’s work, expanding it to force greater societal changes that will help teachers bridge the achievement gap.”

“Let the 50 states disaggregate equality-related data by ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status, and let us rank the states and reward them for closing all the societal inequalities that are truly at the heart of our achievement gap. There should be an incentive for voters to elect lawmakers who will craft policies that minimize inequalities. Let’s have national benchmarks for equality in incarceration, equality in college enrollment, equality in health coverage, equality in income levels, employment rates, rates of drug addiction and child abuse. Let the states figure out how to close their gaps, but reward results. Citizens in states whose data shows progress toward equality benchmarks should be rewarded with a lower federal income tax rate. Note that the states can figure out how to get there, so no one can accuse me of urging socialist fixes to inequality. I don’t care how you fix it, just fix it.”

“As a teacher I am calling on society to do its part to save these kids! The kind of plan I am describing leaves mechanisms to the states — it merely incentivizes equality. We should all insist that our leaders build a system that guarantees the demise of inequity on these shores. Let’s move together toward a broader social accountability, driven by data and gauged by progress toward statistical, measurable, social equality. Here’s an incentive: As a state moves closer to demonstrable equality according to data, then Washington could reduce the federal income tax rates charged to citizens in that state. Let citizens who opt for equality in so doing opt for lower taxes and more individual liberties. Incentivize equality, and see if kids don’t do better in school. Let’s publish the data in newspapers. Let’s label all 50 states once a year. Let the states stand on their records and compare their progress. Let’s ensure that no more American Dreams get deferred because of unequal opportunity… As soon as the data shows that the average black student has the same opportunity to live and learn and hope and dream in America as the average white student, and as soon as the data shows that the average poor kid drinks water just as clean and breathes air just as pure as the average rich kid, then educators like me will no longer cry foul when this society sends us children and says: Get them all over the same hurdle… And so I as an educator now say to a nation exactly what it has said to me for years: No excuses! Just get results…Disaggregating data forced me to pay attention to minority students. Let’s force society to agonize over equality like teachers now agonize over test scores!”


As TFA corps members, alumni, as LEE members, we talk a lot about educational equity and poverty. Our go to refrain is that we are overcoming poverty by ending educational inequity. Yet, despite the fact that we talk a good game about social justice and civil rights, we have yet to even take the small step of embracing the conclusions reached by researchers who have tracked the successes and failures of wrap around services (http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/04/pdf/wraparound_report.pdf). TFA cannot truly live up to its mission until we utilize LEE to take on the big issues that impede progress in education. We need to take on prisons, immigration, housing, unemployment, and everything else that stands in the way of, “One day.” Just as an LAUSD school needs a cooperative Board of Education, and a California district needs a cooperative set of policies from Sacramento and Washington D.C., TFA corps members and alumni need the backing of a LEE that is willing to stand up and change educational outcomes for kids by advocating on behalf of value-added measures, as well as the federal DREAM Act, and in opposition to LIFO, as well as laws leading to inequity in sentencing, incarceration, and recidivism.

Teach For America is growing the movement of leaders who work to ensure that kids growing up in poverty get an excellent education.
Today, poverty limits educational opportunity - but it doesn't have to be that way.


The Education & Poverty Debate Since NCLB:

Class Matters. Why Won’t We Admit It?


No one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds. But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.

Ending Poverty through Education


As the leader of a school system in a privileged country, I know we cannot have the same conversation about poverty in developing nations as we can about urban and rural poverty in the United States. But when we ask what it will take to ensure that no child anywhere has to "beat the odds" to have viable future choices, the answer is the same whether we are in Washington, DC or in a brave Haiti enduring disaster from a poverty-stricken stance. The obstacle is not one of knowledge but of social and political will, with education as the lynchpin.

Poverty Is Rooted In US Education System, Research Finds


Inequalities are rooted in many areas of the U.S. education system, and the current system's relationship with poverty has not improved, according to a Kansas State University researcher. Kay Ann Taylor, associate professor of secondary education at K-State, has studied the historical and modern aspects of poverty, including its relationship with education. When teachers are not well informed about issues like poverty, Taylor said they are unable to relate to situations students face. For instance, when a child acts out, many teachers neglect to consider possibilities for the student's actions that could be effects of poverty. Taylor said educators should be respectful, caring and empathetic and should create a challenging and engaging learning environment for children at all levels. She said the essential characteristics include a small teacher-to-student ratio, relevant curriculum where the students see themselves represented and an environment where children feel safe.



Just getting through elementary and middle school can be a challenge for children from lower income families. They are faced with obstacles that more-affluent families are not. Since I come from one of those lower income families, I have first hand experience with some of these obstacles: schools running out of paper by November, staying at the free after-school program at the local library until my mother came home at dinner time, apathetic teachers who weren’t motivated to teach a bunch of “unruly” children. Of course, these are merely examples, and they aren’t necessarily the experience everyone has had. However, I know that systematically the quality of education children receive in lower income neighborhoods is severely lacking compared to the wealthy neighborhoods. Where I grew up, we were lucky to have some Apple computers donated to our elementary school by the local bank, yet in a wealthy suburb several miles away, the children had plasma screen TVs in their state of the art gymnasium.

Is Education the Cure for Poverty?


Economists may disagree a lot on policy, but we all agree on the "education premium" -- the earnings boost associated with more education. But what role can education play in a realistic antipoverty policy agenda? And what are the limits of that role? First, it depends on whether you're talking about children or adults, and schooling versus job training. And second, the extent to which education is rewarded depends on what else is going on in the economy. As Greg J. Duncan's companion piece (page A20) suggests, investment in early childhood has immense benefits. And at the other end of the schooling spectrum, college graduates' wage advantage over those with only a high-school diploma went up dramatically in the 1980s and early '90s. But the premium that high-school graduates enjoy over dropouts has been flat for decades. In 1973, high-school grads earned about 15.7 percent more per hour than dropouts, 15.9 percent in 1989, 16.1 percent in 2000, and 15.5 percent last year. And for adult workers, the historical record for job-training programs is pretty dismal, though more recent initiatives -- with their focus on more carefully targeting training for local labor markets -- show much more promise. Nobody doubts that a better-educated workforce is more likely to enjoy higher earnings. But education by itself is a necessary insufficient antipoverty tool. Yes, poor people absolutely need more education and skill training, but they also need an economic context wherein they can realize the economic returns from their improved human capital. Over the past few decades, the set of institutions and norms that historically maintained the link between skills and incomes have been diminished, particularly for non-college-educated workers. Restoring their strength and status is essential if we want the poor to reap the benefits they deserve from educational advancement.

Importing Poverty: Immigration and Poverty in the United States: A Book of Charts


Since the immigration reforms of the 1960s, the U.S. has imported poverty through immigration policies that permitted and encouraged the entry and residence of millions of low-skill immigrants into the nation. Low-skill immigrants tend to be poor and to have children who, in turn, add to America's poverty problem, driving up governmental welfare, social service, and education costs. Today's immigrants differ greatly from historic immigrant populations. Prior to 1960, immigrants to the U.S. had education levels that were similar to those of the non-immigrant workforce and earned wages that were, on average, higher than those of non-immigrant workers. Since the mid-1960s, however, the education levels of new immigrants have plunged relative to non-immigrants; consequently, the average wages of immigrants are now well below those of the non-immigrant population. Recent immigrants increasingly occupy the low end of the U.S. socio-economic spectrum.

Why Segregation Matters: Poverty and Educational Inequality


Much of the discussion about school reform in the U.S. in the past two decades has been about racial inequality. President Bush has promised that the No Child Left Behind Act and the forthcoming expansion of high stakes testing to high schools can end the “soft racism of low expectations.” Yet a disproportionate number of the schools being officially labeled as persistent failures and facing sanctions under this program are segregated minority schools. Large city school systems are engaged in massive efforts to break large segregated high poverty high schools into small schools, hoping that it will create a setting better able to reduce inequality, while others claim that market forces operating through charter schools and private schools could end racial inequalities even though both of these are even more segregated than public schools and there is no convincing evidence for either of these claims. More and more of the still standing court orders and plans for desegregated schools are being terminated or challenged in court, and the leaders of the small number of high achieving segregated schools in each big city or state are celebrated. The existence of these schools is being used to claim that we can have general educational success within the existing context of deepening segregation. Clearly the basic assumption is that separate schools can be made equal and that we need not worry about the abandonment of the movement for integration whose history was celebrated so extensively last year on the 50th anniversary of the Brown decision even as the schools continued to resegregate. There has been a continuous pattern of deepening segregation for black and Latino students now since the l980s.

Every Nine Seconds in America a Student Becomes a Dropout


In 2004, there were 27,819,000 18-24-year-olds in the United States. Of these, 21,542,000 (78%) had either graduated from high school, earned a GED, completed some college, or earned an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. The balance, 6,277,000 (22%), had not yet completed high school. Some scholars exclude GED holders, resulting in a much higher noncompletion figure. Similarly, if researchers count the adult population over age 24, the high school noncompletion rate would be higher still. An estimated 3.8 million youth ages 18-24 are neither employed nor in school—15% of all young adults. From 2000 to 2004, the ranks of these disconnected young adults grew by 700,000.5


High Performance in High Poverty Schools: 90/90/90 and Beyond


The 90/90/90 Schools have the following characteristics:
• More than 90 percent of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunch, a commonly used surrogate for low-income families.
• More than 90 percent of the students are from ethnic minorities.
• More than 90 percent of the students met or achieved high academic standards, according to independently conducted tests of academic achievement.
The educational practices in these schools are worthy of notice for several reasons. First, many people assume that there is an inextricable relationship between poverty, ethnicity, and academic achievement. The graph in Figure 1 expresses the commonly held belief that poverty and ethnic minority enrollment are inextricably linked to lower levels of student achievement. While the impact of poverty clearly has not been eliminated, the prevailing hypothesis that poverty and ethnic minority status are invariably linked to low student achievement does not conform to the data. Our research on the 90/90/90 Schools included both site visits and analyses of accountability data. The site visits allowed us to conduct a categorical analysis of instructional practices. In the same manner that the authors of In Search Of Excellence (Peters and Waterman, 1982) identified the common practices of excellent organizations, we sought to identify the extent to which there was a common set of behaviors exhibited by the leaders and teachers in schools with high achievement, high minority enrollment, and high poverty levels. As a result, we found five characteristics that were common to all “90/90/90 Schools.” These characteristics were:
• A focus on academic achievement
• Clear curriculum choices
• Frequent assessment of student progress and multiple opportunities for improvement
• An emphasis on nonfiction writing
• Collaborative scoring of student work

Poverty has a Powerful Impact on Educational Attainment, or, Don't Trust Ed Trust


The powerful impact of poverty on literacy development has been well documented. Children of poverty, in addition to the obvious problems they face, have very little access to reading material; they have fewer books in the home, inferior public libraries, inferior school libraries,and inferior classroom libraries, (e.g. Duke, 2000; Neuman and Celano, 2001). This means, of course, that they have fewer opportunities to read, and therefore make less progress in developing literacy.

The Ed Trust report is actually a stunning confirmation of the overwhelming effect of poverty. Even with a very loose definition of high performance, few schools perform in the upper one-third and a careful look at one state reveals that even fewer qualify. California has about five million children in school. Ed Trust claimed that about 230,000 were in high-poverty high-scoring schools for reading. According to this analysis, the real figure is less than 400. It is extremely difficult to "defy the odds." Poverty has a powerful effect on educational attainment.


Why Do High-Poverty Schools Have Difficulty Staffing Their Classrooms with Qualified Teachers?


The failure to ensure that the nation’s classrooms, especially those in disadvantaged schools, are all staffed with qualified teachers is one of the most important problems in contemporary American education. The conventional wisdom holds that these problems are primarily due to shortages of teachers, which, in turn, are primarily due to recent increases in teacher retirement and student enrollment. Unable to compete for the available supply of adequately trained teachers, poor school districts, especially those in urban areas, the critics hold, end up with large numbers of underqualified teachers. The latter is, in turn, held to be a primary factor in the unequal educational and occupational outcomes of children from poor communities. Understandably, the prevailing policy response to these school staffing problems has been to attempt to increase the supply of teachers. In recent years, a wide range of initiatives has been implemented to recruit new candidates into teaching, especially to disadvantaged settings. The data indicate that school staffing problems are not primarily due to teacher shortages, in the sense of an insufficient supply of qualified teachers. Rather, the data indicate that school staffing problems are primarily due to a “revolving door” – where large numbers of qualified teachers depart from their jobs long before retirement. The data show that high-poverty public schools, especially those in urban communities, lose, on average, over one fifth of their faculty each year. In such cases, ostensibly, an entire staff could change within a school in only a short number of years. The data show that much of the turnover is accounted for by teacher job dissatisfaction and teachers pursuing other jobs. The analyses indicate that one reason for high rates of turnover in these schools is, not surprisingly, teacher compensation. Teachers in these schools are often paid less than in other kinds of schools and depart accordingly. But, the data also indicate that low salaries are not the only reason for the high level of turnover in disadvantaged schools. Significant numbers of those who depart from their jobs in these schools report that they are hampered by inadequate support from the school administration, too many intrusions on classroom teaching time, student discipline problems and limited faculty input into school decision-making. From a policy perspective, the data suggest that schools are not simply victims of large-scale, inexorable demographic trends. In plain terms, the data suggest that recruiting more teachers will not solve staffing inadequacies if large numbers of such teachers then leave the profession. This report concludes that if schools want to ensure that all students are taught by qualified teachers, as the No Child Left Behind Act now mandates, then they must be concerned about low teacher retention rates.


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