Monday, September 12, 2005

Leave No Tax Dollar Behind

Back in the early 1990s, the Chicago Tribune Magazine published a story on a suburban high school principal who had retired from one of the wealthiest public high schools in the nation and subsequently took a job as an English teacher and administrator at an inner-city Catholic high school whose students were predominately African-American. It was a great piece of reporting and the story it told was so enlightening that I wish that I had saved the magazine.

The former principal, a man named Geer I believe, told of an incident in which the brightest student in his English class, a young man who had already been accepted at Princeton, had stopped turning in his assignments and had become almost completely unresponsive in class. He risked failing the class. Geer was dumbfounded by this unexpected decline in performance, but when he related the situation to his colleagues, they were disappointed but not surprised.

Those teachers who had worked with inner-city kids for years knew well the phenomenon that plagued even the brightest of students. These kids are taught two things in their neighborhoods that teachers had to constantly battle: school is for white people and you can’t escape the ghetto. And even those kids who rebel against the first notion, as the student mentioned here did by excelling at school, often succumb to the second just as they are about to break free.

I thought of this article as I was reading the SJ-R’s excellent two-part series on Michelle Cana, a teacher at Harvard Park School, as she prepared her students to take the Illinois State Achievement Tests. In it, we learn that the same conceits that caused a high school student in Chicago to give up an Ivy League education is also causing third-graders in Springfield to turn their backs on education as well. Which makes me wonder if we know where the real battle needs to be fought to improve education in this country?

Economists conducted regression analysis on mounds of data collected by the U.S. Department of Education in the late 1990s. What they found was that success in school wasn’t determined by modern classrooms, up-to-date text books, or even having teachers as dedicated as Cano. Rather, one of the most significant factors they found to predict a child’s chances at educational success is the educational level of their parents or parent (even a two-parent family wasn’t found to be a significant factor.) This was found to be true regardless of race. Those parents who had a higher level of education, this implied, value education more and motivate their children to do better in school.

If it’s true that social influences, both at home and in the community, are the determining factors for a child’s success, then it’s no wonder that the current practice of simply demanding more funding for schools has proven to be ineffective. Newer schools, higher teacher salaries, more resources, these all may be needed in some cases, but not at the expense of finding a solution to help children escape the web of low expectations and indifference towards schooling that they have been born into.

I don’t think that the solution is to put teachers such as Cano under the type of pressure she and her students endured last year in preparing for the standardized test, although I do think that teachers and schools both need to be subject to some sort of performance review. I do think that while the government considers fairer ways to generate revenues for schools, such as a reduced reliance on property taxes, they also need to subject that which is being funding to performance reviews to make sure that it is making a positive difference and not simply appeasing the teachers' unions.

(Full disclosure: My children attend parochial schools. But as a taxpayer in good standing I reserve the right to spout off on public education.)


JeromeProphet said...


I've talked with many teachers who were opposed to No Child Left Behind, most from inner cities in large urban school districts.

I'm not sure from your post if this is the broader issue to which you address, but I will say that we need to look at what your argument states carefully.

Parental influence is crucial, and certainly must be recognized as the leading factor influencing student achievement levels.

However, if the pressures, and expectations of parents plays a critical role in student achievement, then can't it also be argued that expectations, and the pressure brought upon the teachers, and schools from legislators can play a role too?

If the head really does wag the tail, can't one part of society play a role in setting standards which teachers, and schools are expected to meet?

I don't feel that forcing schools to meet minimums is wrong, nor is it the problem, what the issue is, and always was is funding.

Schools need to be kept in session longer. Both longer days, and longer school years are needed. Parity needs to be established for teacher pay. There should be no rich school districts vs. poor school districts.

Funding for schools should never be so low that teachers need to spend their own money to pay for childrens school supplies out of their meager salaries.

While some school districts are islands of utopia, others are struggling with decaying infrastructure.

We as a nation need to make the decision that education is a fundamental right for all children no matter what community they live in.

As long as politicians are committed to providing the upper class with tax breaks at the expense of the long term good of this nation we will not realize the great society which we could someday be.


Dan M. said...

JeromeProphet strikes me as someone who has had little contact with the "poor children" he seeks to help. His answer to the problem is to pour more money on top of it and hope it disappears.

Have you ever noticed the professional athletes who come from poor backgrounds and become millionaires seem to revert back to their old ways in many cases? Trying to "re-program" a person who has grown up in an environment that is detrimental to them in nearly every way is next to impossible. Money and education help but only if a person is interested in obtaining it and has the ability to use it wisely.

I challenge you Jerome to take a drive on Springfield's Eastside at about 3:30 A.M. to see all the two and three year olds out in their front yard with their poor "oppressed" "parents" who are drinking and smoking up all those tax dollars that you want to put to good use. How much money will it take to get those kids interested in going to school? If you think for a minute that by sending those type of kids to a nice school facility with well-paid teachers that it will make a difference with 99 percent of them you are dreaming.

I don't claim to have the answer to the education problem but I sure know by your comment that you don't either.

Anonymous said...

I'm no expert, but to me, your post infers a strong need for continuing education for adults, particularly parents.

JeromeProphet said...

Dan Said: "His answer to the problem is to pour more money on top of it and hope it disappears."

JeromeProphet Said:
No! No! No! I have repeatedly said that we must end the costly occupation in Iraq, and stop wasting money that needs to be spent on the needs of the people here in this nation!

Dan said: "Have you ever noticed the professional athletes who come from poor backgrounds and become millionaires seem to revert back to their old ways in many cases?"

JeromeProphet said: Exactly, sports needs to be deemphasized! We're willing to exploit poor kids for our amusement, passing them from grade school, college, and if they're lucky professional sports. But this should not be happening! They deserve the educational opportunities whether they play sports for us or not!

Dan said: "Trying to "re-program" a person who has grown up in an environment that is detrimental to them in nearly every way is next to impossible".

JeromeProphet Said: Which is why I advocated the death penalty for Bernard_Ebbers, and his type - they're a menace to society. No amount of rehabilitation will ever make them clean - no amount!

Dan Said: "Money and education help but only if a person is interested in obtaining it and has the ability to use it wisely"

JeromeProphet said: Well, look at President Bush, there's wisdom for you? If he's the creme de la creme of the monied, and educated in society I shudder to think what you consider to be the worst. Children shouldn't have to be wise to get a good education in this country Dan.

Dan Said, "I challenge you Jerome to take a drive on Springfield's Eastside at about 3:30 A.M. to see all the two and three year olds out in their front yard with their poor "oppressed" "parents" who are drinking and smoking up all those tax dollars that you want to put to good use".

The parent's bad choices shouldn't become an excuse for society to neglect those children - in fact your characterization only points out that society has a greater obligation to those children not less!

Dan Said:
How much money will it take to get those kids interested in going to school?

JeromeProphet Said:
Well let's see there's three hundred billions dollars which this corrupt administration has thrown down a "shithole", pardon my french, which could have been spent right here in the United States of America - rebuilding schools, employing more teachers, etc. I guess it's a matter of priorities - which nation is more important? Iraq, or the USA? I for one vote USA!

Dan Said:
"If you think for a minute that by sending those type of kids to a nice school facility with well-paid teachers that it will make a difference with 99 percent of them you are dreaming."

JeromeProphet Said:
Those type of kids?
What type are we talking about? Yes, people say I'm a dreamer, I dream of a day when we can all just get along, a day when greed, and corruption doesn't rule the day - one in which one class isn't sicked upon another in an attempt to keep us all down. A day when we invest in our society's future instead of simply strap them with deficit spending.

Dan Said:
I don't claim to have the answer to the education problem but I sure know by your comment that you don't either.

JeromeProphet Said:
I wasn't claiming I did.

La Lubu said...

JeromeProphet, thank you. You just made my day!

Dan M., I'm well acquainted with "those types of kids", as you so eloquently put it; there's nothing quite like "othering" the young and defenseless, is there? Glad to see that prejudice is alive and well in the Land of Lincoln too, as per your post, everyone on the East Side is swilling beer, taking drugs, and hanging out on the front porch at 3AM....oh, and on welfare too. Swweeeeet.

Wanna throw Enos Park in there too while you're at it? My daughter and I get to deal with pretty much the same stereotypes thrown our way, and she's only five---not quite aware of the full nuances of those stereotypes and how they impact/will impact her; she is able to pick up on bad "vibes", and when someone is trying to lay a superiority trip on her---she calls it "being mean". Smart kid.

I've read similar things regarding parental education as a determining factor...specifically the mother's level of education (which probably explains why there is negligible difference between two-parent and single-parent families). You want solutions? How about this: free tuition and child care assistance for any single parent willing to put forth the effort for a four-year degree? (and by "child care assistance", I'm not just talking about funding, but about access to child care, too. Funding doesn't help if there are no open slots.) Yes, I'm talking about full-boat college scholarships for all, as an investment in the future of our nation---still cheaper than the Iraq debacle, too.

How about addressing the problem of economic segregation in the U.S.? (I mean, y'know, since white folks don't seem to want to admit that racial segregation is still going on.) White flight to the suburbs started not because of urban crime, but because of bigotry---white people who didn't want to live next door to upscale blacks who were pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. Combine that with housing policies that promote the manufacture of new suburban homes over the restoration of older, urban housing stock (not to mention loan rates and redlining policies---official or unofficial). Fiscal policies that reduce the amount of economic segregation will have a salutary effect of the lives of working class and poor citizens (i.e., by giving us access to better schools, better parks and community resources for our children, better police protection, etc.)

Funding schools primarily through property taxes amplifies inequity. More reliance on state and federal funding through the general tax base will spread the wealth of the richest nation on earth to some of its poorest and most vulnerable citizen---children.

Let's start using our hard-earned and hard-paid tax dollars to benefit the lion's share of our citizenry, rather than lining the pockets of Bechtel and Halliburton. Let's have a New Deal for the New Millenium, hmm?

Dan M. said...

Gosh, La Lubu you have it all figured out too. Life is real easy for you isn't it? I love you sheltered liberals who would wet their pants at a real confrontation with the "great" kids you want to educate.

Did you happen to catch the newspaper last week when the angels you are going to educate (whether they like it or not!) sliced each other up at 11th and North Grand?

You are naive and need to get over yourself. My comments are real world, like it or not. Your's are utopian crap that will never work Did it work when the great liberal hope, Bill Clinton, was President?

And for the record you jackass, my views cover white or black. A criminal is a criminal no matter how much of your touchy-feely garbage is spewed out.

Anonymous said...

My my. Touchy, aren't you Dan? I guess you just can't handle it when a bona-fide working class liberal refutes your conservative swill that you have swallowed whole from your elitist, corporate masters.

You must be the only person in Springfield that believes Enos Park residents are "sheltered". No, living in (and my daughter attending school in) one of the neighborhoods you love to denigrate strengthens my resolve to fight against the bigoted notion that the rest of us should be judged negatively for the actions of a few individuals. Come on down out of your sheltered suburban world sometime, and see what really goes on in our neighborhoods. That is, if it's not too challenging to your view that we aren't really human beings. Might cause an identity crisis, or something.

Your delving into third-grade name-calling only reflects the fact that you have neither the intellect nor the vocabulary to engage in critical dialogue. (translation: get back on the porch; you can't run with the big dogs yet)

Consider this: do you know any old people? No? Well, perhaps you should. If you don't have a relationship with your own elders, go down to one of the hi-rises and strike up a conversation with some senior citizens. They had the same "utopian" ideas I have; in their generation it was called "the New Deal". Put a lot of people to work. Put food on the table of millions of families. Gave dignity back to the lives of working Americans.

You clearly lack a sense of history, Dan. Perhaps you sincerely feel that the United States is better off with a tiny minority of rich and powerful, and a vast underclass of citizens whose jobs have been outsourced in a great global rush to the bottom. Perhaps you really feel that the U.S.A. would be better off as a banana republic. Rest assured that you have little company.

La Lubu

Monkey Boy said...

O.K. La Lubu, why don't you meet me at 13th and Cass tomorrow night and we can discuss this issue? I can almost guarantee that I will be the only one there.

Should you muster the courage to show up I will introduce you to some of the people who's children you wish to dump a bunch of money on in your little sociological experiment to educate them. We will see how interested they are in educating their children as opposed to seeing how much money you have in your wallet.

And please spare me your ridiculous rants about my rich, elite, suburbanite attitude. I grew up on the eastside and attended the same school as your daughter, McClernand. You don't know what you are talking about when it comes to my current standing (which is par for the course when speaking to a liberal and should not be a surprise). I just happen to believe that people are programmed at an early age by their environment to be in a good or bad position to take advantage of whatever educational opportunities are put in front of them. As I said before, no amount of money or "bleeding hearts" is going to make a "thug" want to be anything more than a "thug." As the "thug" matures he may change his mind and be more accepting to a lifestyle change or lament his early choices, but by then it is too late. This is a societal problem that is bigger than you, me, and our education system. With hard work and the right choices it may still take one hundred years to solve.

As for you, it is the same with you as it is with the "thug". I am still holding out that you will mature intellectually someday and understand that society's ills are not easily solved by whatever liberal ideological pabulum you have ingested on the web. Change in important issues like this takes rational thought and compromise by both sides of an issue which Dan pointed out in his blog about Bono.

Now get back to wishing that things will suddenly get better while I, and others like me, work on actually getting it done.

Anonymous said...

monkey boy: So you went to McClernand. Bully for you. You should then be quite ashamed of yourself for assuming that you are somehow "special", while other children who attend that school are all destined to be thugs. I'm sorry you've forgotten where you came from.

The sweeping generalizations shown in your post and that of Dan M. stand in stark contrast to what is actually going on in the neighborhoods. Do you really believe that entire neighborhoods can be characterized by the negative actions of a relative few people? Particularly when most of those arrested for wrongdoing in most of Springfield's so-called "bad" neighborhoods are not from the neighborhood?

Look. Folks over on 13th and Cass are organizing to solve the problems in their neighborhood just like we are in the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association. I have no doubt that if they keep at it, they'll get the same results---but it takes years. You have to organize as a political base before you'll get any attention from politicians.

Where do you think drug customers are coming from? One of the active members in my neighborhood organization had the misfortune of living near a house that became a drug house. Many of the young people she saw entering and leaving the property were wearing designer clothing and/or school jackets that indicated quite clearly that they weren't from the neighborhood. She kept track of the license plate numbers. She gave the license plate numbers to the police. Eventually, the drug dealer was arrested. I doubt any of the customers were.

And see, that's the thing. I resent the fact that others from outside my neighborhood want the option to use illegal, dangerous, "recreational" drugs, but don't want to be bothered with the violence, street crime, and break-ins that come with the drug trade. Neighborhoods like mine are allowed to become dumps for that crap. Until we organize and fight for change.

I also resent the fact that police, schoolteachers, and conservatives like yourself and Dan M. assume the worst of everyone who lives in a particular neighborhood. I'm every bit the law-abiding, hard-working, hail-fellow-well-met citizen; why can't I be assumed to be such instead of a drug-using, promiscuous, welfare queen?

I've only had one break-in---my garage. The only thing stolen was my mountain bike. I immediately called the police, only to be given a stern lecture by the police officer about how I should know better to try and have anything nice in this neighborhood. Excuse me? I busted my ass saving up the down-payment for my house! I said, "Did I forget to mention that I'm a member of the Enos Park Neighborhood Improvement Association?" Cop's jaw drops. He immediately brings out a detective, they sweep for prints, and I had my mountain bike back in two days.

Granted, that was before community policing. But....why should I have had to do that? Why are different standards of police protection given to different neighborhoods, hmm?

I'm not wishing for anything to get better; I'm working to make things better. I'm active in my neighborhood, in the McClernand PTO, in my local union, in every damn thing I get involved in. What about you? How and where are you working to make things better for your fellow citizens?

La Lubu

P.S. "meet me at 13th and Cass"....please. How old are you, anyway? Haven't you outgrown that calling out nonsense yet? How about just coming down to the Enos Park celebration on Sunday and listening to good music, eating good food, and having a good time....and realizing/remembering that we're just folks, not thugs?

Monkey Boy said...

Dear La Lubu,

I have no issue with your writing abilities; however, your reading comprehension needs much work.

If you can remember, my initial comments were to counter claims that under-funded school systems were to blame for poor results in education. You saw that as me being a "bigot" to which I took great offense. Since you have strayed far from the original debate, and have turned this into a boring attempt to school me on civics, I choose to end any further correspondence with you.

Let me also address your misconception of my, "calling you out." At what point in my response did I threaten you with violence? The answer; none. So you can relax now.

You and I obviously will rarely agree on anything so there is no point in continuing. Let me give you a little advice before I go. Please refrain from accusing people of being "bigots" or "racists" unless you really know them. I feel comfortable calling you a "liberal" as you have referred to yourself as such. But I would hesitate to call you anything more than that without a face-to-face meeting. It seems to me that you are the one who has conveniently put me into a "box" by calling me a bigot while railing on that I am misrepresenting entire neighborhoods with my comments. Anyone with common sense should see that I am referring to individuals, not races, or neighborhoods. What type of person do you expect to find on the street near 13th and Cass at 3:30 in the morning? Stockbrokers? No, they would be the dregs of society. And one more time for old times sake. You can pour all the money you want into educating the dregs' children, but in the end you are going to see miserable results. I am not saying that we should not try; I am saying we should try with what we already have in place. There are many kids who go through our public school system and get a top-notch education. But in my view it isn't because they had air-conditioning, or $80,000 a year teachers. It is because their mothers and fathers did something right with them early on in their lives.

Peace out.

Anonymous said...

monkeyboy, let me remind you that you were the one to come out swinging in the argument, when you brought up the myth of the sheltered liberal (Robert Redford aside, the vast, overwhelming majority of liberals are working-class folks) with JeromeProphet, and then with me. And snarky comments about East Side or North End folks (not specific individuals, but an entire neighborhood) will lead me to believe that your intention is to bring heat, not light. Referring to the "little angels" that I "want to throw money at" or "educate whether they like it or not".....

How that tends to translate in the real world is that the entire student body of (in that example) Lanphier High School is called to task for the actions of a handful of macho-posturing, wannabe "gangstas". When it comes time to vote on a school referendum that will pay for language classes, an improved science lab, new textbooks or library books, art classes, etc.---voters won't think of all the kids like my neighbor's girls, both recent Lanphier graduates who are working, attending Lincolnland and saving for further education. Naah, they think of the eight to ten punks who were trying to prove how "tough" they were.

Imagery does have an impact on people. That's why your examples ticked me off. Those negative images are not representative, and they do have a major impact on my life. Reagan used the imagery of the Cadillac-driving welfare queen, fleshed out with enough detail to make people think she was real. Except...she wasn't. A large majority (over 70%) of the people who use welfare are on it temporarily (just like unemployment). I'm no supporter of welfare fraud, but there is less welfare fraud than say, insurance fraud, or workman's comp fraud. Those get less press.

But because "welfare" pushes "hot buttons" for many people (racist, classist, sexist, whatever), laws were passed that make it more difficult for people to get off the welfare cycle. The best inoculation against poverty in the U.S. is a four-year degree. But if you are an ambitious, hard-working person determined to never be on welfare again----guess what? The time you spend working toward your degree doesn't count toward your work requirement! Left/right----BAH! Doesn't matter your politics; this runs counter to common sense!

Same way in education. In Springfield, not one public elementary school has a librarian. At McClernand, the answer has been to close the library (the room is still used for music classes, but there is no library time). Money would solve this. Schools that have larger classes, especially those with less-advantaged children, do need more resources (like more teachers). Programs like Head Start, Early Start and Parents As Teachers work. They work! (My daughter was in Early Start and Parents as Teachers---it helped immensely). Yet, those programs keep getting their funding cut. Parents As Teachers now only has one evening drop-in per month (as opposed to the two per week when my daughter was an infant and toddler). This makes it more difficult for working parents to take advantage of the program----if they even know about it.

Sigh. Look. If you want to talk, in the same spirit of Bono, I'll talk. I'll pull the sarcasm if you will (and I certainly hope when you referred to me as a "jackass", you were noting my political affiliation!). These are important issues.

But I can't let this one go----there are no public schoolteachers in Springfield pullin down eighty grand. Not one. Administrators, yes. But not teachers.

La Lubu

Monkey Boy said...

"But I can't let this one go----there are no public schoolteachers in Springfield pullin down eighty grand. Not one. Administrators, yes. But not teachers."

Uhhhhh, once again, that is the point. I never said that there were teachers making $80,000. My point is, and try to stay with me here, giving more money to our school system in the form of HIGHER TEACHER SALARIES, or building improvements, etc., will make little difference. Now, you will have to use your imagination with the "etc." part but if you try real hard I think you can do it.

And on the curious side as we wind this thing down, how do you know that the Early Start program helped your daughter? Or are you saying it helped YOU immensely as a working parent? I am not saying that the Early Start program is not effective, as anything is better than nothing. However, since we don't know what your daughter would have been like minus Early Start how can you make that statement? I'll settle for a valid statistical analysis showing it's effectiveness.

Anonymous said...

monkeyboy, I'm sure you know how to use Google; there are scads of valid, statistical studies that compare the kindergarten-readiness of children who have gone through programs like Early Start and Head Start with those (at risk for not being ready) who have not. The results are already in, and the fact remains that at-risk kids who have had the benefit of these programs do much better than those who haven't.

My daughter was considered at-risk because she was a micro-preemie (around a pound and-a-half at birth); she was also the beneficiary of the Early Intervention program, which provides for physical, occupational, speech, and developmental therapy for preemies and/or disabled children for the first three years of life. There is no question that she would not be the child she is today (i.e., not recognizable as a former preemie) had she not had access to those programs. I make a decent living, but even so, there was no way I would have been able to afford the costs of all that specialized therapy, especially in addition to all the medical issues and costs. My insurance would have limited her therapy benefit to an hourly amount that would have been of little benefit.

See, more is understood now of infant and early childhood brain development (I highly recommend "Magic Trees of the Mind", which does a good job of explaining the technical/research knowledge down to parents, with a focus on "so...what does that mean for me and my kid?" was one of several books on childhood brain development I read in anticipation of doing my damnedest by my child), than was known many years ago. Those early years are crucial. But, even though we know more about how the biomechanics of brain function/learning take place, our social policy has not kept up.

Main point? We need to start at-risk children in programs like Head Start and Early Start at younger ages. We also need to educate the parents of at-risk children about early childhood development and effective methods for teaching their children---expanding programs like Parents as Teachers instead of decimating them. It will be more effective at producing children who are ready and willing to learn than what we're doing now (basically, "sink or swim").

La Lubu