Poverty And "Guard Labor"

I'm no economist, but this article about the research of economist Samuel Bowles is very, very interesting. Below is just a snippet.

Guard labor supports what one might call the beat-down economy. Community Action’s Porter sees it all the time.

“We have based almost everything we have done on the idea that we always need a part of our workforce that is marginalized—that we can call this group into action at any time, pay them nothing and they will do anything that needs to be done,” she says.

More discouraging, perhaps, is the statistical fact that a person born into this workforce has little chance of rising beyond it.

Again with the numbers:



The first number is the likelihood, expressed as a percentage, that a child born to parents whose incomes fall within the top 10 percent of Americans will grow up to be at least as wealthy.

The second is the percentage likelihood that a person born into the bottom 10 percent of society will stay at the bottom.

Just to drive the point home, here’s a third number: 1.3

That’s the percentage likelihood that a bottom 10 percenter will ever make it to the top 10 percent. For 99 out of 100 people, rags never lead to riches.

These estimates come from research by one of Bowles’ former students, American University economist Tom Hertz, published in Unequal Chances, a 2004 book co-edited by Bowles. To arrive at these figures, Hertz mined the Panel Study of Income Dynamics, a survey of 4,800 American families that’s been updated each year since it began in 1968, the year Martin Luther King inspired Bowles to study inequality.

It may not come as a shock that rich kids who grow up learning to sail eventually buy yachts, while the offspring of burger-flippers might hope to rise to be the night managers for whole crews of burger-flippers. What’s troubling about this research is that poverty tends to persist through generations, no matter how individuals try to improve their circumstances.

So, much of what Americans tell their children is wrong. It doesn’t really matter how long you go to school or even necessarily how hard you work. The single most important factor to success in America is “one’s choice of parents,” as a contributor to Unequal Chances wryly put it.

What about natural intelligence? “The problem with IQ is that it’s just not very important in determining who’s rich and who’s poor. And most people don’t believe that,” Bowles says.

What about education?

“Being willing to sit in a boring classroom for 12 years, and then sign up for four more years and then sign up for three or more years after that—well, that’s a pretty good measure of your willingness to essentially do what you’re told,” Bowles says.

This bodes ill for the American Dream of upward mobility. It also puts the lie to a can-do cliché underpinning much US economic policy: namely, that people in need should get a “hand up” rather than a “hand out.”


Yong Zhao On High Stakes Testing (America & China)

I have posted a couple things by Yong Zhao before, and this piece, from his book, is incredible.  Here is just a snippet:
I was not good at math (although later in life I developed computer software on statistics, learned to do computer programming with complicated databases, and designed computer games). I was not particularly good at English, either, considering that I had only two years of English taught by a teacher who himself was only a high school graduate and barely knew English. But to avoid math, I chose to major in English language education, and luckily my scores in Chinese language, history, and geography were high enough for me to be admitted to the newly developed English Language Education major at Sichuan Institute of Foreign Languages in Chongqing, China. If I had been born a year later and had to take the exam in 1983, I am sure I would not have been able to get into college because I would have failed the entrance exam's math portion, on which I scored 3 points out of 100.
h/t JB

The Military Doesn't Need An Effing Year To End DADT

An email from a Navy submarine officer to Tom Ricks:
The debate may exist in the media, and certainly exists in Congress, but on the ship, if it's talked about at all it with a little bit of confusion about what the big deal is. Don't get me wrong, there is homophobia and there are a few loud, mostly uneducated, mostly very junior, and mostly still well-meaning people who would tell you they think its wrong -- but they're the kind of people who are just saying it because its what they were brought up to say, and even they aren't saying it with much fervor. I can tell you with certainty that if the ban were lifted tomorrow -- no year of preparation -- life would go on exactly as it did before....[emphasis mine]

Life would go on. Mostly what I heard after Admiral Mullen's declaration was, "it's about time." There is no question if the military is ready -- the military is waiting.

... I just want the press to understand that it is the Congress that needs pushing, not the military, and that excuses such as "senior military officials like the CJCS and SecDef are out of touch with the low-level, young guys on the ground" may be true on many issues, but not this one.

Matt Yglesias Should Opt Out

A comment for Matt:
As a longtime student of comparative education and father of three children in NYC public schools, I have the following three observations to offer:

1. Whatever the merits of standardized testing and the good intentions of its proponents, which I am happy to aver, I can tell you that testing has ravaged pedagogy, and the psyches of elementary and middle-school teachers, all across the city system. It is a phenomenon verging on a cultural disaster. There is virtually no time or energy available to attend to the developmental needs of my children beyond how well they can fill in the bubbles on multiple-choice tests that are taken in the spring: Everything leading up to those tests involves obsession with training my children how to fill in those bubbles; and after those exams are taken, the rest of the school year is a virtual romper-room of psychic collapse and aimless post-traumatic diddling around.

2. The educational debate as practiced now in America is ideologically attenuated and perversely symbolic of the national political impasse as a whole: That is to say, the right relentlessly and often unscrupulously savages and undermines public education in every way possible; the “reformers” Matt alludes to almost perfectly fit the neoliberal template of the “even the liberal TNR” variety; and the locus of debate centers on the intramural fracas between them and the all-too-often self-wounding stances of the teachers’ unions and those who defend the shortcomings of the status quo as the result not of moral failings and evil intentions but of systemic deficits and neglect and the general lack of will amongst the polity to deal with our deepening educational crisis. Notice how the latter position is actually self-evidently accurate, and the neoliberal position, while seeming so “fresh” and “nonideological,” actually plays into the hands of the cynical right. It’s all so interminably boring that I long ago lost interest (and hope).

3. The only real reforms worth contemplating would be a national reconstruction and equalization of educational funding and a shift to a model of schools as community youth institutions, at-need food kitchens, medical clinics, and youth activity centers open as much as 16 hours per day. Until anyone manages to bring front and center this obvious, common-sense agenda for our society’s needs, I’m going to mostly skip these discussions, as they are tantamount to the proverbial bickering over the placement of deck chairs on the Titanic.


Dave Chappelle Is Alive And In The Hood!!

h/t Sometimes We Mean It

Quote Of The Day: Robert Reich

Commenting on Chris Dodd's assertion that Wall Street lobbyists are to blame:
Call me old fashioned, but I thought Congress was in charge of passing legislation, not Wall Street.

Jim Horn Slams Rep. Miller (D-CA)

In response to George Miller's self-touting of protection from abuse of children by teachers, the irrepressible Jim Horn:
And yet Miller is one of the most adamant and enthused supporters of non-stop testing in schools, a practice that has done more damage to children and their abilities to learn and live than all other abuses against them combined. Harold Berlak has been an active supporter for such a protection act for years, going back to 2000 when Paul Wellstone was the only true advocate for children in Congress.

Will you, Congressman Miller, support a resolution similar to the one below that I first posted in 2007?:
I am neither attorney nor legislator, but here are some ideas that need to be included in any state bill that takes a moral stand against the most socially-corrosive education policy in history. Use what you want of it--no charge, no copyright.

Updated March 30, 2007

The Paul Wellstone Memorial Family and Students Testing Protection Act, in Honor of the Experience, Insight, and Courage that Enabled Him to See What His Peers in Congress Could Not—the Ultimately-Disastrous Consequences of High-Stakes Testing*

WHEREAS, high-stakes standardized testing of children constitutes the year-round focus in public schools classrooms; and

WHEREAS, the over-reliance and continued emphasis on high-stakes tests has a corrosive effect on preparing children for citizenship in a representative democracy; and

WHEREAS, many high stakes standardized tests administered to children are neither reliable nor valid; and

WHEREAS, emphasis on testing math and reading has resulted in the de-emphasis and disappearance of other important subjects and learning activities; and

WHEREAS, high-stakes testing of young children is inappropriate and harmful to their emotional and intellectual health; and

WHEREAS, results on a single test have been used to justify retention policies that ignore scientific evidence regarding the harmful effects of such practices, and

WHEREAS, poor, non-English speaking, and special education students bear the brunt of disproportionate failure on standardized tests; and

WHEREAS, the preponderance of high stakes standardized tests has neither closed the achievement gap, nor has it altered the economic and social factors that are responsible for those gaps in achievement; and

WHEREAS, failure to meet unrealistic testing targets undermines public support for their schools, thus opening the door to privatization; and

WHEREAS, the institutional stress of high-stakes testing undermines the supportive and challenging school climate required for children to learn and grow; therefore be it

RESOLVED, that schools will develop and use multiple forms of assessment to make high-stakes decisions regarding students, teachers, and the curriculum; and be it further

RESOLVED, that all standardized tests administered to school children will be psychometrically valid and reliable; and be it further

RESOLVED, that standardized tests will not be used as the sole criterion to make student promotion or retention decisions or as determinants of the curriculum and/or the operations of the public schools; and be it further

RESOLVED, that student scores on standardized tests will be used to help to help teachers address student knowledge gaps; and be it further

RESOLVED, that all testing of children will strictly follow ethical guidelines of the education profession and the professional recommendations of licensed psychologists and pediatricians; and be it further

RESOLVED, that standardized tests will be used to measure individual student gains over time, rather than arbitrary target scores that ignore the disadvantages that accrue from poverty, disability, or language status; and be it further

RESOLVED, that no test results will be used to justify punitive sanctions against individuals or schools; and be it further

RESOLVED, policymakers, classroom teachers, school officials, and parent representatives will constitute the appropriate body of stakeholders to make and to modify testing policies for schools; and be it further

RESOLVED, that school systems will have funded public awareness programs to gather public feedback and to disseminate information on the purpose and limitations of assessment programs.

*Use of Paul Wellstone's name in association with this effort approved by the Wellstone Action Network.

Thursday Cartoon Fun: Support Our Troops Edition

The Border Entry Song

Jim sez, "American born, Stockholm based musician Andy Fite reads the US entry card to music. Musical setting of a found poem. Americans may never have read this text, but visitors from elsewhere scratch their heads and wonder what on earth is up with these people!" 

h/t boing boing


No Nukes

From swimming freestyle:
It's a mystery to me, though, why there continues to be that much interest in nuclear power. The only way nuclear power is funded, and this is true all around the world, is either via government loan guarantees or public ownership. Utility companies are unwilling to make the investment on their own, the cost per kilowatt of electricity produced is higher than existing, albeit dirty, methods, and the nuclear waste disposal issues are still unresolved.
According to one recent analysis, the cost of building nuclear power plants has approximately doubled in the last seven years (due to things such as increasing materials costs). As it stands, this means that the cost of electricity from new plants would be around 8.4 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to about 6 cents per kilowatt hour for conventional fossil fuel plants.

A little bonus No Nukes Nostalgia (David Lindley is my hero):

Campbell's Law And High Stakes Testing

Joe Bower is a new blogger. He teaches in Canada. You should read his blog, often.  This is his latest, sans links:
High Stake Testing's Kryptonite

The effects of high-stakes testing should not come as a surprise to us. That some very good teachers feel the pressure to cheat for their students in a kind of Robin Hood act to save their children and their school from undue harm should make sense. With the proper pressure, even very good people can be forced into doing 'bad' things.

A well-known (but not well-known enough) social-science law called Campbell's Law helps to explain why high-stakes testing will NEVER work the way it was intended. David Berliner and Sharon Nichols explain Campbell's Law in their book Collateral Damage: How High Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools.
Campbell's law stipulates that "the more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it was intended to monitor. Campbell warned us of the inevitable problems associated with undue eight and emphasis on a single indicator for monitoring complex social phenomena. In effect, he warned us about the high-stakes testing program that is part and parcel of No Child Left Behind.
Campbell's Law should disturb anyone who uses data to make decisions. If the stakeholders responsible for caring through with the day to day doing that the data measures feel like their work is attached to a high stakes indicator, they will work to corrupt the validity and reliability of the measurement.

Berliner and Nichols summarize:
Apparently, you can have (a) higher stakes and less certainty about the validity of assessment or (b) lower stakes and greater certainty about validity. But you are not likely to have both high stakes and high validity. Uncertainty about the meaning of test scores increases as the stakes attached to them become more severe.
The high stakes reward-punishment nature of today's testing regime has contributed to its own demise. Everytime someone places more emphasis on testing, the more likely the results gathered will be comprimised - making the data less valid and any decisions based on that data less reliable.

This is a complicated idea with huge implications for policy makers. We can't afford to ignore this law anymore.

No matter how valid or reliable we think certain data is, if high-stakes reward-punishment consequences are to follow the data, then that data becomes more and more invalid and unreliable.

A Librarian Speaks Truth To Power

An Indecent Proposal

Dear Mr. President:

Today I learned through the American Library Association and the American Association of School Librarians that your FY 2011 education budget does not include any additional specific funding for school libraries, additional school librarians, or statues mandating certified school librarians for every state. Equally disappointing is the news that the Improving Literacy for School Libraries grant program has been all but put out of reach for school libraries with the FY 2011 budget proposal that will absorb this grant program into a variety of other Department of Education programs.

In October of 2009, you issued an official proclamation celebrating and affirming the importance of information literacy with the declaration of National Information Literacy Awareness Month. In this proclamation, you stated,
Our Nation’s educators and institutions of learning must be aware of — and adjust to — these new realities. In addition to the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, it is equally important that our students are given the tools required to take advantage of the information available to them. The ability to seek, find, and decipher information can be applied to countless life decisions, whether financial, medical, educational, or technical.
In your proclamation, you privilege information literacy as being equally important to the traditional literacies and mathematics, yet you are providing no additional funding to provide all schools the primary teachers of information literacy, school librarians. Why are you providing funding for additional resources and teachers to support reading, writing, and mathematics, yet you ignore funding for the experts who are most ready, willing, and able to teach information literacy to our nation’s students in grades K-12: school librarians. Are you aware that not all states legally mandate a fully certified school librarian? Did you know that many school libraries do not have a full time certified school librarian? Do you think students can become informationally fluent in the absence of rich, current, and diverse collections in their school libraries or appropriate access to digital content? How can we as a nation provide students the instruction needed to help students cultivate “the ability to seek, find, and decipher information” without fully funded libraries staffed by highly qualified, certified school librarians?

In this same proclamation, you assert:
Though we may know how to find the information we need, we must also know how to evaluate it. Over the past decade, we have seen a crisis of authenticity emerge. We now live in a world where anyone can publish an opinion or perspective, whether true or not, and have that opinion amplified within the information marketplace. At the same time, Americans have unprecedented access to the diverse and independent sources of information, as well as institutions such as libraries and universities, that can help separate truth from fiction and signal from noise.
Information evaluation. Authority. Social scholarship. Digital citizenship. Content creation. Self-filtering. Mr. President, I teach these concepts and skills regularly in my school library. School librarians are your go-to team for teaching these valuable life skills, skills that today’s students need to grow into citizens who can fully participate in today’s society? Do you think we wait until they are age eighteen or older to suddenly explore these concepts of information fluency, the very ones you declared to be of national importance? Is this charge left only to our public and academic librarians? While our public libraries certainly do an outstanding job in teaching these skills, our most disadvantaged learners often do not have physical or virtual access to a public library, nor can a public library provide ongoing instruction in these skills on a regular basis as part of a child’s daily learning environment like the school library. Ultimately, I feel the instruction of these skills has the most value when taught in the context of the school curriculum and when driven by student’s own inquiry. If you say you support information literacy as the cornerstone of a democratic society and informed citizenry, then you must not marginalize school libraries and librarians, and consequently, the students we serve. The very fact that the words “library, libraries, and librarians” are missing from the Department of Education budget speaks volumes about how you perceive our role in educating today’s youth and that you do not have an authentic commitment to helping today’s young people acquire this form of literacy capital so vitally needed for today’s world.

I find it demeaning and insulting that within a span of less than six months, your actions and your budget betray the very values you purported to support through your presidential proclamation. Change we can believe in?

I think not, Mr. President.


Buffy Hamilton, School Librarian
h/t Jim Horn


Korea At Night: A Comparison

I find it sort of scary that North Korea is basically completely dark, especially compared to its southern neighbor.

Actual satellite photo

Tuesday Cartoon Fun: Funding Edition

Face Of The Day

A U.N. police officer unties the hands of a boy who took part in looting in downtown Port-au-Prince January 29, 2010. (REUTERS/St Felix Evens) #


Did You Get The Email? Single Payer!

From an email I got today:
It's FINALLY Time For The People To Be Heard On Health Care.

What a sad tragedy, that the Democrats had to trash the Senate seat in Massachusetts just to be willing to start to listen to their constituents on health care reform. But this is what President Obama said in his State of the Union address:

"But if anyone from either party has a better approach that will bring down premiums, bring down the deficit, cover the uninsured, strengthen Medicare for seniors, and stop insurance company abuses, let me know. Let me know. Let me know. I'm eager to see it."

That's what he said. OK then, so NOW we the people need to TELL him.

Single Payer Push Action Page:

What are we supposed to do? Not tell him?? He just invited us to the table. What are we supposed to do, not show up, so he can say the people did not respond to his invitation?
Now click on the link and be heard!

Total Pageviews