Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Economic Inequality and Opportunity to Learn

By Michael Holzman, Schott Foundation for Public Education

The Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board, Dr. Benjamin S. Bernanke, said in a recent interview that rising economic inequality in the United States is “a very bad development . . . It’s creating two societies. And it’s based very much, I think, on educational differences . . . If you’re a college graduate, unemployment is 5 percent. If you’re a high school graduate, it’s 10 percent or more. It’s a very big difference” (New York Times, December 5, 2010).

Employment, as Chairman Bernanke pointed out, and consequently income and wealth, is highly correlated with education. Americans tell our census takers that 30% of White adults 25 years of age or older have finished college, as compared to 18% of Black adults and 13% of Hispanic adults. It is twice as likely that a White, non-Hispanic, adult will have finished college as a Black or Hispanic adult. The Schott Foundation’s Opportunity to Learn study has shown that those ratios begin at the k-12 level, where it is twice as likely that a White, non-Hispanic student will be in a good school as a Black or Hispanic student.

Half a chance in school leads to half a chance to graduate from college leads to twice the unemployment rate.

Two societies: The top ten percent of US wage earners received half the total non-capital-gains income in 2007. Disparities are even more extreme for wealth: In 2007 the wealthiest 1% of households owned 35% of all privately held wealth while the bottom 80% held only 15%. America being what it is, these inequities manifest by race and ethnicity. While the median annual household income in 2006 for White, non-Hispanic families was $50,000, for Black families was $30,000 and for Hispanic families was $35,000. Again, the situation is more extreme for wealth: Median household net worth (including the value of homes) in 2007 was $144,000 for White families and $9,000 for Black and Hispanic families. Excluding the value of homes, median household net worth was $44,000 for White families and negligible for Black and Hispanic families (Deohoff, 2010).

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Education policies pushing Black males out of schools at ever-increasing rates

By Dr. Pedro Noguera, New York University
Guest blogger Dr. Pedro Noguera is the Director of the Center for the Urban Education at The Steinhardt School of Culture, Education &  Human Development at New York University. He is a professor of sociology and education, the author of City Schools and the American Dream, and a Research Advisor to the NYC Black Male Donor Collaborative.

Across the nation, alarming numbers of Black males, particularly those from low-income inner-city neighborhoods, are dropping out of schools in record numbers.  According to national reports , graduation rates for Black males hover between 38% and 42%.  Even in cities like New York and Atlanta where graduation rates have increased, graduation rates for Black males have largely remained stagnant. From 1973 to 1977 there was a steady increase in African-American male enrollment in college; however, since 1977 there has been a sharp and continuous decline. The problem is so pervasive and intractable that a growing number of policy makers and commentators have described the Black male dropout problem as a crisis.

Closer analysis of the drop out crisis reveals that it is actually a symptom of a much larger problem. On every performance indicator related to academic success—performance on standardized tests, grades, college entrance exams, etc.—Black males are under-represented, and on those indicators related to failure they are overwhelmingly over-represented. Nationally, Black males are more likely than any other group to be suspended and expelled from school. Black males are also more likely to be classified as mentally retarded or to be identified as learning disabled and placed in special education. They are also more likely to be absent from gifted and talented programs and advanced placement and honors courses. In contrast to most other groups, where males commonly perform at higher levels in math and science related courses, the reverse is true for Black males.

The educational challenges confronting Black males profoundly influence the types of opportunities that are available to them later in life. Today, Black males between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four are the only segment of the population with larger numbers in prison than in college; they are also the only segment of the US population with a declining life expectancy.

Given the broad array of challenges confronting Black males, it is essential that we begin to find ways to increase the number of Black males who are succeeding in school and who are able to avoid the pitfalls and hardships that beset so many others.

For the last few years the Schott Foundation has emerged as a leader in drawing attention to the educational challenges confronting Black males.  Now it is stepping forward to lead the way to create an Interactive Black Boys Report that will serve as a tool for policy makers and educators to take action.  

Bernanke:Educational Differences,Two Societies

Greg Jobin-Leeds is Chair of the Board of the Schott Foundation for Public Education and is Founding Partner of the Partnership for Democracy and Education
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke is certainly correct when he states that educational differences contribute to the U.S. having the biggest income disparity gap of all industrialized nations.  While he overlooks the fundamental and critical issue of economic inequality, he is correct about the relationship between educational disparities and economic opportunity.  Education does have the potential to be an equalizing economic force. 
To be clear, there are other than economic reasons to be concerned about the education disparities that disadvantage low-income children and children of color -- as Americans and as humans we consider access to a sound and equitable education as part of the bedrock of our democratic society.  It is one of the values that we hold dear – to provide our children, all children, with an opportunity to go to a school where they can blossom into healthy self-sustaining young adults and members of our society. 
And it is important to view education as one of the key pillars of our economy.  Increased education opportunities like access to high quality preschool and to teachers who have been supported with professional development lead to higher student educational attainment.  This leads to higher employment and jobs with higher income which means increased tax revenues which, in turn, means more money for more opportunities in schools.   
Recently, I visited with the teachers and students at Banana Kelly High School in the South Bronx.  These caring and talented young teachers and the principal were pleading for coaching and teacher training programs that were being dropped due to funding cuts.  The art teachers worked very hard but had few materials, and while youth obesity rates are growing students had no access to a gym.
My own school growing up in nearby Great Neck, like many wealthy suburban schools, had a gorgeous gym and access to the middle school down the street which had a pool. 
This contrast exemplifies the two societies currently in America.  One set of schools for upper middle-class and wealthy children that provides the opportunity to learn that the teachers, administrators, and Bernanke call for.  And another set of schools for the majority that doesn’t provide an opportunity to learn.
How can we, as a society, ask our energetic healthy kids to go to schools without supplies or gyms?  How can we ask our young teachers to teach their best without adequate coaching, space, or materials?  The increasing reality in much of our country is that teachers are losing their professional development opportunities and art and athletics programs are being cut as state budgets are slashed.  And it's going to get much worse over the long term as state revenues fall because of a shrinking tax (employment) base and, if the current tax cut proposal passes Congress, decreased tax contributions from the wealthiest 2%.

Why do state revenues fall when the need for education is so high and when the chairman of the Federal Bank says it is so important?  One reason is that taxes are increasingly used to benefit the wealthy as tax rates for the wealthiest fall and lobbyists steer government budgets to welfare programs for the rich. 

The vast majority of Americans support increased taxes -- especially for the wealthiest 2% -- when revenues are used for programs such as public education, health and safety, and essential services like the fire department.  

Yet the country’s current economic design (more and more “the free market”)  makes it so that we are not supporting our schools and communities with the basics students need to have an opportunity to learn.  Due to educational research we know that dollars invested in high-quality preschool leads to higher incomes later in life. We also know that dollars invested in teacher recruitment, retention, training (so they can develop the art and science of their craft) result in higher student achievement which would help break down our two-tiered society and lead to fuller employment.

Yet, ironically, on the same day that Bernanke is saying our two-tiered economy is very much based on differences in our education system his boss President Obama joined with the greediest big corporate owners, investors, and politicians to extend tax cuts for themselves and the minority of Americans making more than $250,000 per year.  These tax cuts will require us as a society to cut many school programs of the future as well as many other essential public services such as health programs for children, the elderly, and the disabled.

Many millionaires (who call themselves Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Sustainability) disagree with tax cuts for millionaires, as do many of the working and middle class, and propose instead that the tax cuts should be just for those making $250,000 and less.

During the recent financial crises Obama and Bernanke were able to get billions of dollars for the big banks and Wall Street investment firms.  Now, with all 50 states and the national education system in a deepening crisis, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan asks for relatively meager band-aid sums that most parents and educators know is insufficient.  Instead of calling for funding for internationally and nationally proven techniques like universal preschool and teacher development, the President and his Secretary of Education call for ‘free-market’ based charters and merit pay, which recent research has proven have little grounding in long-term success, yet appeal to the big hedge fund campaign donors, investment bankers, and to parents desperate to try anything new.  But while they create little positive change, they also cost very little.

Our democratic society and our economy cannot afford cuts to our children’s education.  We cannot afford the unequal society that jeopardizes both our children’s and our nation’s future. We must as a nation forge systemic reforms that provide the opportunities that will lead to educational success for all students.