Tag Archives: education

Elections, Tolbert and Brown, Vouchers, Pope Francis, and Stone/Spitzer

30 Jul

1949_poll_tax_receipt1. Who would have thought that striking down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act would result in certain conservative, mostly Southern, states moving immediately to placing restrictions on people’s right and ability to vote?

2. Has the Bernie Tolbert campaign explained why he’s running to anyone’s satisfaction? Compare Brown’s ad, which is positive and sets a tone and theme right away, to Tolbert’s. Brown’s ad has people setting forth a specific alleged Brown accomplishment. Tolbert’s just has random people saying that they “believe in Bernie”. Believe in what, precisely?

3. Republicans and the tea party don’t believe in public education – most of them just don’t have the balls to come right out and say it in so many words. They want to incrementally abolish what they will inevitably call socialized education, using Frank Luntz-style weasel words. You don’t say you want to abolish public education and throw every kid into a private or parochial setting; you don’t say you’re going to allow big business to set up mediocre for-profit schools that will accept whatever cheap, underfunded voucher program the conservative dystopia will offer to worker-drones with few rights or privileges of citizenship (remember – the system has made it costly and difficult for them to vote – see supra). But when they set up a system to judge the quality of these private education “choices”, the right people will be able to change their scores because they’re big political donors. This is the future that Americans for Progress and Donn Esmonde foresee for America, and it can best be described as a rapid descent into Central American plutocratic despotism. The third world is the conservative model.

4. It’s news that the leader of the largest Christian denomination in the world decided not to heap fire and brimstone hatred and eternal damnation on gay people. Well, gay priests, to be specific, but there’s hope that the new Pope may hold a more conciliatory view towards gay people in general. The last Pope thought that being gay was an inherent evil and a mental disorder. So, progress, I guess.

5. If you thought Anthony Weiner sending post-resignation dick pics wasn’t odd enough, Republican political dirty trickster Roger Stone Tweeted this yesterday:

Clarence Revote Budget : Tip of the Iceberg

19 Jun

tumblr_mdsy9hESN61qg4knbClarence overwhelmingly passed its revote budget last night. So did most other revote budget districts – Bemus Point passed its original, above-cap budget, but Wilson will be finding out about austerity next year. 

In Clarence, 5,358 voted – less than May 21st’s record, but about double what the town usually sees for school vote turnout. On May 21st, 8,232 people voted, and the results were No: 4,801 Yes: 3,431

Last night, we had 3,541 yes votes and 1,817 voted no. That means we gained about 100 yes votes, and the no votes stayed home in droves. To the extent that the formerly warring factions came together last week to urge, in unison, a “yes” vote on this revote budget, we didn’t get a lot more “yes”, but at least the “no” weren’t energized enough to make the trip anymore. 

A quality education is something to which every child is entitled (yes, entitled). There is a concerted effort underway in this country to dismantle the very things that helped lurch us from a frontier backwater into the superpower we are today. There is an organized and well-funded movement to fight a war on the middle class, protecting and comforting the very rich while punishing the poor and destroying the middle class that built this country.

On June 6th, serial entrepreneur Nick Hanauer testified before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing & Urban Affairs. (Website here) I think that what he said is a fundamental truth that helps inform why providing equal opportunity for America’s middle class families to thrive, excel, and do better each day as compared to the last. 

For 30 years, Americans on the right and left have accepted a particular explanation for the origins of Prosperity in capitalist economies. It is that rich business people like me are “Job Creators.” That if taxes go up on us or our companies, we will create fewer jobs. And that the lower our taxes are, the more jobs we will create and the more general prosperity we’ ll have. Continue reading

Esmonde Demands Magic

17 Jun

And with these passages

To me, it’s not about bragging rights, or to label schools as “good” or “bad.” It is not to prop up the wrongheaded notion that suburban teachers run laps around their city counterparts.

No, I like the rankings, which are based solely on test scores, for one reason – they confirm what education experts have said for decades: The biggest factor in how well kids do in school is not quality of teachers, variety of programs, class size, access to computers or how often pizza is served in the cafeteria. No, it’s socioeconomics.

Donn Esmonde (who is an Ass™) lays his anti-suburb prejudice bare with his dopey strawman argument. (Where have you ever read anyone write that suburban teachers are better than city teachers, much less that they “run laps around” them? Nowhere, you say? Me, neither.)

The city/suburbs performance divide underlines the grim reality of not just how racially segregated the region is, but – more to the point – how economically segregated it is. The median family income in towns housing the top five schools ranges from $84,155 (Aurora) to $98,914 (Clarence). Median family income in Buffalo? $36,700.

The researchers who wrote the Coleman Report would not be surprised. The landmark 1966 study concluded – with plenty of backup since – that the main factor in school performance is his how much money kids’ parents make and how educated they are. Period.

Yes, successful people with good educations place a high value on education and work hard to make sure their kids get a good one, too. But then, so do many poor people who want their kids to do better and have things that they themselves could never have. It’s a thing called social mobility – the American dream itself – and what do we make of these people who are low on the socioeconomic ladder, but want and demand better? And what of the teachers? Seems as if Esmonde takes a very complicated equation, dumbs it down, and denigrates teachers and poor families as hopelessly stuck. 

Of course, a lot of people – including, sadly, test-obsessed state education officials – do not factor socioeconomics into test scores. If they did, they would – and should – grade on a demographic curve. Instead, they see the numbers as “proof” that high-ranking schools have better teachers, superior programs or some magic juju that spurs students. Teachers in tax-controversy Clarence are just the latest to use the rankings to justify $90,000-plus salaries, raises and nearly fully paid health care.

As a veteran columnist and journalist for the sole daily paper in town, one would expect Donn to write truthfully. Had he chosen to do so, or decided perhaps remotely to be accurate, he’d know that the teachers have almost completely stayed out of the tax controversy in Clarence. The teachers’ union has been, alas, too busy determining which members would need to lose their jobs in the wake of the defeat of the crisis budget, rather than engaging in a massive PR blitz to justify anything to anyone.

Simply put, Esmonde’s assertion that Clarence teachers have been making any argument at all in recent weeks is a baldfaced lie, and an insult to them. He also repeats his newfound tea partyism to denigrate the notion that a teacher with 30 – 40 years’ experience are entitled to make a good living with decent benefits. (Teachers in Clarence toil for 20 years before they even hit $50k per year). He is scapegoating people who had nothing whatsoever to do with the cause of the budget crisis in the first place. What a despicable and detestable liar. 

I don’t want to diminish the good work that teachers do. But, for the most part, test scores are not about how good a particular school’s teachers are. Instead, they reflect the background of the kids they teach.

You just did, asshole. You should say these things to your teacher wife, to her face. 

Doubt it? Then imagine this: Take all the kids from, say, Buffalo’s Burgard High and send them to Williamsville East for a year. Take the Williamsville East kids and send them to Burgard for a year. You don’t have to be a school superintendent to guess what would happen: Test scores at Burgard would skyrocket, test scores at Williamsville would nosedive.

It would not be because the Burgard teachers suddenly upped their game, or because the Williamsville teachers lost their touch. It would be about who is sitting at the desks.

That’s why regionalism guru David Rusk has long pushed for fairer housing policies, to ease the overload of poor families in inner cities. Everything from mandated mixed-income housing in the suburbs, to sprawl-reversing business tax breaks, fuels the economic integration that would level the field in classrooms across the region.

Hypothetical. Theory presented as fact. Ignorance of the fact that (a) anyone can pay a cheap tuition and send their kids to any public district in NYS at any time; and (b) there was (may still be) a program whereby kids were bused from Buffalo into Amherst schools. I can’t find the name of the program, or whether it’s still going on, but there it is. 

Sprawl – the bogeyman for everyone who willfully ignores that North and South Buffalo are little more than, respectively,  Tonawanda and West Seneca that happen to be accidentally within city boundaries. Sprawl – the word people invoke to effectively demand a Maoist long march of families from the evil suburbs to the joyful city – just carry what you can and stay on the path, lest the comrade guard beat you with a bamboo shaft! 

“Housing policy is school policy,” wrote Rusk in a still-relevant 2001 report on Erie County schools. Inner-city classrooms “cannot overcome the many problems and minimal home support many children bring to school … With 80 percent poor children, you aren’t going to ‘fix’ the Buffalo schools.”

There is no reason for suburban teachers to check the school rankings and feel smug. Just as there is no reason city teachers – of whom my wife is one, although not in a classroom – to feel defensive. But given what is at stake, I think there is every reason to understand what these test scores are really about.

Good to see Esmonde finally owning up to the source of his anti-suburb / anti-suburban school animus. But this entire column is based on a false premise of crowing teachers. Quite the contrary, I haven’t seen any crowing about much of any of it, anywhere.

Some places do. There is a growing national movement to economically integrate schools. Studies show that poorer kids do better when surrounded by Hollister-wearing classmates. The upscale kids, in return, get the diversity benefit – hugely touted as a selling point by colleges – of meeting kids from a different background. It works all around.

Check the school rankings, if you insist. But if you want to put any weight behind the numbers, I think you first have to level the playing field.

Esmonde doesn’t detail what the hell he’s talking about. Which is it – redistributing poor kids into rich schools and vice-versa, or a unified Erie County school district? Since more kids in wealthier towns tend to come from families that value education, we should better integrate them with kids who come from homes with no such value in schooling, and what will happen, precisely? The kids who come from homes where no one gives a shit will somehow magically excel? 

If you present the problem as being one of fundamental socioeconomic divergence – whereby one population is rich, white, and cares about schools – and the other is poor, black, and doesn’t care about schools – what specific solution does Esmonde provide here, except to bus poor kids to rich districts and vice-versa? If the socioeconomic problem is so stark, shouldn’t we be talking about much, much more than a long bus ride? Aren’t there systemic, societal problems that go deeper than “sprawl” and ‘teachers are greedy’? 

Socioeconomic factors matter, but the worst school district has the 2nd best high school. How can that be possible?

Well, it’s possible because socioeconomics are just part of a larger, more complicated equation – not the sine qua non of school or student success, as Esmonde suggests. That equation is made up by home makeup, parental education (which is the most significant factor in predicting a child’s educational achievement), parental values and expectations, but also good teachers and quality programs. Programs that kids who come from poor or middle-class homes need more than the richer kids whose families can afford private replacements. 

A correspondent tells me that Amherst’s Windermere elementary school is a Title 1 poverty district, and 40% of kids there are ESL or in special education. Socioeconomics without parental involvement, however, aren’t a predictor of success, and that parental involvement is the bigger factor. By no means should anyone reduce or discard the importance that an inspiring teacher can have on a kid’s education and lifelong success. Without parental support, involvement, and valuing education, even the best teacher will fail. 

Buffalo itself is segregated into families that care and families that don’t. Does Esmonde recommend kids who did poorly in school or have a track record of being absent more than present come in to City Honors to maintain the equality he demands from suburban districts? No, of course not – City Honors is the school for Buffalo’s elite and Esmonde would never dare to upset them or their suburb-in-the-city existence. He is one of them. Imagine if someone had suggested they simply arbitrarily mixed in some kids from Burgard at City Honors, as Esmonde recommends? Why not? 

The key isn’t money – the key is whether the family values education as a path to lifetime success. Because what we’re talking about is social mobility and improving upon one’s family history, and to that end, Esmonde gives up on the poor from uneducated households and assigns to them a lifetime of failure and misery that could only be alleviated if you move them in with rich white people. What a cop-out. What a capitulation. 

My God, Donn Esmonde is an Ass.™

An Education in Education

4 Jun

Speaking of education, here are a few things I learned over the past few weeks. 

1. When Clarence’s school board decided to submit an above-cap budget for 2013-2014, it could only be passed by a 60/40 supermajority. The practical effect of that is that my yes vote is worth only about 5/8th of a no vote. That’s not “one person/one vote” and that’s not fair. There is a bill in the Assembly to right this wrong

2. Elections that are governed by the election law, which includes races for school board, are barely regulated and shadowy groups using untold amounts of money can operate with absolute secrecy. If, for instance, you want to spend more than $25 towards the election of another person who is running for a school board, you’re prohibited from doing so. But the penalty for breaking that law is non-existent. For an ultra-right wing group that wants to take over a school board or defeat a school budget, unlimited people can spend unlimited money to do it. In Clarence, that’s happening right now. 

3. There are no exceptions to the tax -cap legislation to allow for, e.g., paying court orders and school safety.

4. The Annie E. Casey Foundation is based in Maryland and was set up by one of the founders of UPS to, “build better futures for disadvantaged children and their families in the United States. The primary mission of the Foundation is to foster public policies, human service reforms, and community supports that more effectively meet the needs of today’s vulnerable children and families.” Frankly, the sort of things a government should be doing. AECF ranks states in terms of the quality of the education children there receive. New York is number 19.  Clearly, there is work to do. 

5. The United States spends over $600 billion on educating its next generation every year. By contrast, our elective war in Iraq cost over $2 trillion.  The difference is that no one got to vote in a referendum on the tax levy for the Iraq war. Using 2007 numbers, the United States spent less than only Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Norway among Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries per pupil. 

6. In a recent ranking of education quality, the United States came in as “average”. The top countries are Finland and South Korea. This has an adverse affect on kids’ abilities to compete in a global marketplace where their peers abroad are simply educated better. 

When it comes to education, “rah-rah US is #1” is untrue and just as jejune as allegations that kids can do well in school regardless of the quality of teachers or class sizes if they come from the right home in the right neighborhood with the right family makeup with a nice income. There is clearly a lot of room for improvement; especially if you live in a place like Arizona, Mississippi, New Mexico, West Virginia, or Nevada. The report which ranks education quality country-by-country comes up with these conclusions

  1. There are no magic bullets: The small number of correlations found in the study shows the poverty of simplistic solutions. Throwing money at education by itself rarely produces results, and individual changes to education systems, however sensible, rarely do much on their own. Education requires long-term, coherent and focussed system-wide attention to achieve improvement.

  2. Respect teachers: Good teachers are essential to high-quality education. Finding and retaining them is not necessarily a question of high pay. Instead, teachers need to be treated as the valuable professionals they are, not as technicians in a huge, educational machine.

  3. Culture can be changed: The cultural assumptions and values surrounding an education system do more to support or undermine it than the system can do on its own. Using the positive elements of this culture and, where necessary, seeking to change the negative ones, are important to promoting successful outcomes.

  4. Parents are neither impediments to nor saviours of education: Parents want their children to have a good education; pressure from them for change should not be seen as a sign of hostility but as an indication of something possibly amiss in provision. On the other hand, parental input and choice do not constitute a panacea. Education systems should strive to keep parents informed and work with them.

  5. Educate for the future, not just the present: Many of today’s job titles, and the skills needed to fill them, simply did not exist 20 years ago. Education systems need to consider what skills today’s students will need in future and teach accordingly.

Clearly, there is work to be done, and each side in the debate in the US have at least one point, but we’re missing the bigger picture because it’s difficult and time-consuming. Note that American teachers are paid wages below the world average. 

The solution, however, is not to cut teachers or to treat them like fast-food workers. It is not to cut programs that encourage learning, fitness, or creativity. We can work for systemic improvement while not sacrificing the quality of education that kids are receiving now. Testing and more testing isn’t the answer, nor is pitting teachers’ unions against everyone else. 

I don’t know whether Carl Paladino’s baseball bat or AFP’s decimation of public schooling are precisely the right solution.  But one thing I do know – I’m embarrassed and ashamed for having not paid closer attention to these things before, especially as it relates to my own town. 

The Morning Grumpy – 7/9/12

9 Jul

All the news, views, and filtered excellence fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

97% of people who enjoy roomy booths also enjoy print newspapers.

1. The Editor of The Buffalo News, Margaret Sullivan, hosted a live chat with readers and subscribers of the newspaper on July 5th. In it, she addressed several questions, but I’d like to focus on a series of exchanges regarding the new paywall digital subscription service the newspaper plans to implement this coming fall.

Reader: Hi, Margaret. What’s the reaction been to the News’ plans to move to digital subscriptions?

Margaret Sullivan: The reaction has been quite positive. People do seem to understand that news gathering is an expensive business and many of them are willing to pay for it in the digital as well as print form, especially since the cost will be quite low — and free to subscribers.

One might think that the challenges presented by declining revenue and a shrinking print subscriber base might push the venerable paper of record to embrace technology, develop new revenue streams, and incent their readers to slowly move to the online version of the product. After all, the online version comes with much less overhead and embracing this opportunity is in the long-term interests of the company. Instead, I was surprised to read that Ms. Sullivan sees this as an opportunity to leverage demand for online content as a means to boost flagging print revenue. Bizarre, I know.

Reader: What’s Plan B if you find out that nobody wants to pay for the News online?

Margaret Sullivan: Newspapers are experimenting, all over the country, with how to survive in a vastly different world. If something doesn’t work, we’ll try something else. It’s important to keep the printed newspaper healthy, which this plan is designed to do. (emphasis mine – CS) It’s also important to develop new ways of making money, such as expanding into commercial printing and distribution. The News has made some big gains there, too.

What she is saying is that The Buffalo News is in the newspaper business, not the journalism business. They are not the same thing. Meaning the product – the thing they produce – is the printed copy of the daily news, not the news itself. It’s a telling statement. The editors and staff will certainly give all sorts of high-minded statements about the mission of The Buffalo News, its editorial direction, and how they believe providing news and features is a sacred trust with the public. And they would be correct. The editorial mission of The Buffalo News and the quality and scope of their news organization is vital to a healthy and informed community. But, when you get down to brass tacks, the owners and management believe they are managing a printing company.

If they didn’t believe that, why would the pricing plan for their online product be designed to drive print subscriptions?  If a reader wants a single day of unlimited online access to the journalism product, he/she is asked to pay $.99. If that same reader only wants access to the printed version of that same content, he/she would pay $.75.  Yes, it’s $.24 cheaper for a customer to purchase a newspaper that has been printed on multimillion dollar equipment using expensive ink, bundled by union workers, placed on diesel trucks and driven and delivered to stores throughout the area than to read the content online.

If a reader doesn’t have a print subscription, he/she will be able to buy a digital subscription for $2.49 a week. Sounds like a deal, right? Let’s crunch the numbers.

The Sunday paper’s newsstand price will be increased to $2.50 later this month. Of course, if you’re a home subscriber to the Sunday edition of the newspaper, you’ll only pay$1.99 for the newspaper. That special subscription rate also entitles you to unlimited/24-7 access to the online content. So, which option will most people choose? If they are rational, they’ll pay $.50 less per week for the physical newspaper/online combination, which allows The Buffalo News to artificially increase Sunday subscriber rates and charge regional and national advertisers higher rates for advertisements and coupon placement in that Sunday edition. This pricing structure reinforces Ms. Sullivan’s point that the digital subscription service is a means to sustain the print newspaper.

Again, just so I am not misunderstood, traditional and establishment media is important. I value The Buffalo News, but I want to see them embrace technology and innovate, not just stem losses on a balance sheet and sustain a dying business model. The Internet is changing everything, and an attempt to replicate an old business model onto it is not a recipe for success. As Jeff Jarvis wrote, paywalls might boost short term revenue, but they also generate long term costs to journalism.

Alan Rusbridger, the innovative editor of the Guardian in London, just delivered a monumental speech arguing that charging “removes you from the way people the world over now connect with each other. You cannot control distribution or create scarcity without becoming isolated from this new networked world.”

There is a huge business opportunity for someone to build a nimble, multimedia, web-savvy, digital news product in this town that hires hungry young reporters, mixes in a dash of old graybeards for credibility, and takes on The Buffalo News where they are weak and blind, on the web. Maybe it’s time to start working on that business plan again.

2. Everything you need to know about Mitt Romney in one Venn Diagram.

3. The money-empathy gap, new research suggests that more money makes people act less human. Or at least less humane.

This research is not intended to prosecute the one percent, those families with an average net worth of $14 million. Nor does it attempt to apply its conclusions about the selfishness and solipsism of a broad social stratum to every member within it: Gateses and Carnegies have obviously saved lives and edified generations, and one of the biggest predictors of a person’s inclination to donate to charity is how much money he has. But when the top fifth of American families have seen their incomes rise by 45 percent since 1979, whereas the bottom fifth has seen a decline of almost 11 percent, these ­researchers want to explore a timely question: How does living in an environment defined by individual achievement—­measured by money, privilege, and ­status—alter a person’s mental machinery to the point where he begins to see the people around him only as aids or obstacles to his own ambitions?

A long, but very interesting read.

4. The conscience of America, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I, VT), gave a robust and rollicking speech on the floor of the United States Senate on June 27th. He takes on Wall Street in the way I wish more of our Senators would and should.

“The Federal Reserve provided a jaw dropping $16 trillion dollars in virtually zero-interest loans to every major financial institution in this country … why can’t they move to protect homeowners, unemployed workers, and the middle class?”

Wall Street got everything it wanted. What did we get? Incredibly powerful.

5. Thinking about a degree from University of Phoenix or some such similar for-profit “university”, you might want to think again.

A new study from two Boston University economists finds that students at for-profit schools fail to receive any wage boost from obtaining a certificate or associate’s degree. “There is little evidence of a return to any certificate or degree from a for-profit,” the researchers write in a new paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Meanwhile, people with legitimate degrees from public or private not-for-profit universities do receive a significant wage premium after completing their education. In 2010, FRONTLINE did a fantastic hour long expose on the predatory practices of for-profit schools. Absolutely worth watching if you’ve never seen it.

Fact Of The Day: AT&T has a database known as “Hawkeye” that contains 312 terabytes of data detailing nearly every telephone communication on AT&T’s domestic network since 2001

Quote Of The Day: “The weak hate not wickedness but weakness; and one instance of their hatred of weakness is hatred of self.” – Eric Hoffer

Video Of The Day: “This is our planet a.k.a ‘Space Station Porn'”

Song Of The Day: “Potholes In My Lawn” – De La Soul

Follow me on Twitter for the “incremental grumpy” @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com

Caine’s Arcade

11 Apr

Sometimes, a boy’s inventive nature and good heart is met with a lot more good hearts.  Meet Caine and his cardboard arcade.  If you visit the site, there’s a way to donate towards Caine’s college education. As the pitch says, imagine what this kid could do with an Engineering degree. 

Caine’s Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.

The Morning Grumpy – 1/25/2012

25 Jan

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

1. After listening to Mitch Daniels’s rebuttal to President Obama’s State Of the Union address, I was reminded of an article I read a few weeks back in which Paul Krugman wrote, “Nobody understands debt“.

First, families have to pay back their debt. Governments don’t — all they need to do is ensure that debt grows more slowly than their tax base. The debt from World War II was never repaid; it just became increasingly irrelevant as the U.S. economy grew, and with it the income subject to taxation.

Second — and this is the point almost nobody seems to get — an over-borrowed family owes money to someone else; U.S. debt is, to a large extent, money we owe to ourselves.

The first will generate arguments with armchair libertarian economists, but the second point is worthy of discussion. Anecdotal evidence suggest that most Americans have no idea who is responsible for generating our current debt and to whom that debt is owed. Well, that’s why you should subscribe to The New York Times, they’ll help sort it out for you. During the debt limit fiasco of 2011, the New York Times charted our debt using data from the Department of the Treasury, Financial Management Service, and the Bureau of the Public Debt; Federal Reserve Bank of New York; Office of Management and Budget.

If that data is not simple enough for you, here it is in an infographic. Click here to embiggen.

2. A succinct analysis of why Mitt Romney (and people like him) should pay higher taxes.

Most of Romney’s income comes in the form of capital gains and carried interest, which have been taxed at 15 percent ever since the Bush tax cuts went into effect a decade ago. So it’s a good time to get a little wonky and ask why capital gains and carried interest are taxed at only 15 percent, while ordinary labor income is taxed at rates as high as 35 percent.

Capital gains are profits from investments, and a high level of investment is good for the economy. Low tax rates on capital gains encourage investment and therefore benefit the entire economy. But is this true? If it were, you’d expect to see some kind of long-term correlation between capital gains rates and the total amount of capital gains income. The lower the rates, the more the income. Let’s roll the tape.

The data do not support correlation between low capital gains tax rates and increased income.

3. How do private equity firms like Bain Capital make money? Financial gimmicks and manipulation of the tax code.

The real reason that we should be concerned about private equity’s expanding power lies in the way these firms have become increasingly adept at using financial gimmicks to line their pockets, deriving enormous wealth not from management or investing skills but, rather, from the way the U.S. tax system works. Indeed, for an industry that’s often held up as an exemplar of free-market capitalism, private equity is surprisingly dependent on government subsidies for its profits.

The system is broken.

4. Last night during his State of the Union address, President Obama said, “Teachers matter”.  He noted that a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000. Here’s the study that informs that remark.

The study, by Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman of Harvard and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, all economists, examines a larger number of students over a longer period of time with more in-depth data than many earlier studies, allowing for a deeper look at how much the quality of individual teachers matters over the long term.

Replacing a poor teacher with an average one would raise a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by about $266,000, the economists estimate. Multiply that by a career’s worth of classrooms.

“If you leave a low value-added teacher in your school for 10 years, rather than replacing him with an average teacher, you are hypothetically talking about $2.5 million in lost income,” said Professor Friedman


5. Courtesy of ThinkProgress, some facts to go along with the wild spin you’ll be hearing today as pundits and candidates interpret the President’s speech.

  • Since the last SOTU, the economy has created 1.9 million private sector jobs. [Source]
  • The top 1 percent take home 24 percent of the nation’s income, up from about 9 percent in 1976. [Source]
  • Private sector job creation under Obama in 2011 was larger than seven out of the eight years Bush was president. [Source]
  • The top 1 percent of Americans own 40 percent of our country’s wealth while the bottom 80 percent owns only 7 percent. [Source]
  • Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, 2.5 million young adults gained health insurance. [Source]
  • Last year, China spent 9 percent of its GDP on infrastructure. The U.S. spent 2.5 percent. [Source]
  • 2.65 million seniors saved an average of $569 on prescriptions last year thanks to the Affordable Care Act. [Source]
  • Union membership is at a 70-year low. [Source]
  • Unemployment benefits have lifted 3.2 million people out of poverty. [Source]
  • The United States used to have the world’s largest percentage of college graduates. We’re now #14. [Source]
  • One quarter of all contributions to federal campaigns come from 0.01 percent of Americans. [Source]
  • 47.8 percent of households that receive food stamps are working, because having a job is not enough to keep them out of poverty. [Source]
  • In the last three years, 30 major corporations spent more on lobbying than they paid in taxes. [Source]
  • 50 percent of U.S. workers make less than $26,364 per year. [Source]
  • Since 1985, the federal tax rate for the 400 wealthiest Americans dropped from 29 percent to 18 percent. [Source]

Fact Of The Day: Thorium could be a replacement for Uranium and coal. Pretty awesome research with potentially profound impacts on society.

Quote Of the Day: “A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

Song Of the Day: “Kiss Me On The Bus” – The Replacements

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chrissmithbuffalo[@]gmail.com

Carl Knows the Problem Rests With the Unions and the Blacks

13 Jul

There was a time pre-gubernatorial run, before the emails and the growing anger, when Carl Paladino’s rants and raves were gleefully regurgitated throughout Buffalo’s mediascape. Rich, connected developer was busy rocking boat after boat, and though he was intemperate and rude, it seemed as if he had good intentions.


Now it’s just become sad.

Paladino’s rants seem unhinged. Dangerous, even. His rants and raves now belong in precisely that Craigslist section, posted anonymously by some creep with anger and race issues.

Going with the old adage that you catch more flies with vinegar and diarrhea than honey, Carl is accusing the Buffalo school system literally of being a criminal enterprise. You know what? He might very well be right. But when you include this phrase in your rant to federal prosecutors:

The black and union cabal controls purchasing, contracting, teachers and administrative assignments, appointments, etc., smothering and hindering the district’s ability to teach but nevertheless spending $25,400 per student,

I added the emphasis.

Any reasonable person would look at that and wonder what the hell he’s talking about. It would suggest that the “blacks”, whom he identifies more specifically as Dr. James Williams, Florence Johnson, and others, are somehow conspiring with Phil Rumore and his teacher’s union. I think it’s somewhat clear that there isn’t any love lost between Williams and Rumore, and the suggestion that they’re conspiring to rip kids and taxpayers off is somewhat ludicrous.

But what’s the point of bringing race into this? Scratch the very thin surface of legitimacy, and Paladino is really writing that unions have no business protecting the collective interests of their members (think Scott Walker in Wisconsin), and black people have no business running a school district that happens to have a large black population.

There’s really no other explanation for adding that language. Carl could have made his point in a racially neutral way – he could have just said that Williams and others whom he doesn’t like are incompetent or dishonest. But he used “black” as shorthand for all that, instead.

It’s too bad. The school system really is broken. It really does fail kids. It really does need some new thinking and real reform. There really are myriad socio-economic factors that help contribute to the failures of the schools. Too bad their most vocal critic does so in such a base, offensive way. It detracts from the underlying message and makes the current school apparatus seem quite reasonable by comparison, turning them into victims of Carl’s racialist wrath.

Drop In Nation – A Revolution In Education

12 Jul

Last year, we did a story about the South Buffalo Education Center and how it was changing the lives of people in our city.


Under the stewardship of its Executive Director, Stacey Watson, the center graduated 683 students from what proved to be the most successful GED program in New York State. The curriculum used at SBEC was written by Ms. Watson and her collaborator Susan Mendel-Hausman and is now being implemented at a new center, Drop-In Nation.

A few months back, I was invited to join the Board of Directors of Drop-In Nation and it has been a life-changing experience. The mission of Drop-In Nation is to assist out of school youth as well as unemployed and underemployed adults to obtain a high school equivalency diploma. We accomplish this by providing holistic education, which includes life skills, and career-training opportunities in a collaborative community based setting.

The City of Buffalo has faced a drop-out crisis for many years, and although there has been much attention paid to the plight of in-school youth, there is a population that is completely unrepresented in local, state and national legislation and educational funding: the 16-21 year-old drop-out.

In New York, over 38,000 youth leave the public school system each year. In Buffalo, nearly 50% of our students drop out annually. Leaving our children to fend for themselves results in high crime rates, low employability and social ramifications that will follow our city for decades. Drop-In Nation provides a solution for the many young people who have left school by choice, by release or by circumstances outside of their control.

Dropouts often leave school with significant problems which only grow the longer they are away from school.   Often times, the student just needs someone to provide the emotional support to start the program. “The students just need someone to help them find the way,” says Watson, “Once they get on track, they run with it.  They’re hungry for success and we’ve designed a curriculum which serves the holistic emotional needs of the student, not just the basics.”

The Drop-In Nation Curriculum, focuses on the personal – as well as academic – achievements of out-of-school youth, fostering a sense of responsibility to self and community by creating an “intellectual family” for students who have felt disenfranchised from traditional education. The curriculum exceeds the New York State average graduation rate by 87% and provides youth with opportunities that encourage academic, professional, and personal success.

Last month, Watson was interviewed on WECK1230 about the program and her background. She’s an inspirational lady. If you want to put a hop in your step this morning, I suggest you give it a listen.

The school is currently housed at 700 Main Street in Buffalo and there are plans for satellite locations around the entire city. There are also plans to create a national level of the program, exporting this unique solution to the urban education crisis to cities around the country.

The program is free of charge to City of Buffalo residents, including underemployed or jobless adults, with a primary focus on assisting out-of-school youth. If you know someone in need of the services, or you want to learn more about the organization, please let me know. Follow DIN on Facebook and let us know if you’d like to volunteer your time or donate a few dollars.


4 May

When parents unite in opposition to how a billion-dollar school system is operated, and the results it gets, that’s pretty stark. So often issues surrounding education are discussed and debated in the abstract, but that completely misses the mark. When you’re a parent, the only thing that matters is that your kid obtain a good education, period.  Everything else is secondary, because you don’t get a do-over.

The parents’ group acknowledges readily that individual teachers aren’t the problem, and that they “love good teachers”, and it cites a 1947 teachers’ strike that won pay raises, closing schools in the process.

I wish these parents well, because their urgent concern for their kids’ futures is palpable. It also underscores something we’ve discussed here over the past couple of months.  For years, the big battles have been waged between powerful constituencies; e.g., the teachers’ union battling the school administration on issues such as pay, benefits, student behavior, and implementation of health insurance changes. The administration itself holds the pursestrings and the bully pulpit.  Forgotten time and time again in all of these disputes has been the parents, whose only concern is that their kids get a good education in a competent system.

This is why people seek out private schools – secular and parochial.  This is why people seek out charter schools.  This is why people leave, or choose not to move to, the city. No parent needs this headache.

So, the parents have united, and with one voice, and one act of boycott, will make the teachers’ union and the administration realize that this is a three-party issue, not just a bilateral one. It proves that a group of people with similar interests and goals must unite and take specific actions in unity. This is, frankly, why unions and collective bargaining are extraordinarily important rights.

The News article explains that schools superintendent James Williams admitted to the parents’ union that structural issues exist that contribute to the school system’s failure. He wants a longer school year, a longer school day, and mandatory pre-K and kindergarten.  Fantastic.

But procedurally, it’s heartening that the true and most important stakeholders – the customers, the people who depend on these schools, are uniting and speaking with one voice to protect their interests against two very powerful belligerents.