Category Archives: Schools

Poor school buildings turn out poor students


As the lobbyists in Washington and state houses across the country continue their drive to privatize education, poor families who can’t afford the costs of private schools are forced to send their children to aging and increasingly run-down public schools.

Meanwhile, Republican politicians and corporate Democrats are further cutting the budgets of school districts, blocking construction of new schools and reducing funds to maintain existing buildings.

And if you thing the privateers are inflicting terrible damage on the students of these cost-starved schools, you’d be right.

From Cornell University:

Social scientists have known for several years that kids enrolled in run-down schools miss more classes and have lower test scores than students at well-maintained schools. But they haven’t been able to pin down why.

A Cornell University environmental psychologist has an answer.

Lorraine Maxwell, an associate professor of design and environmental analysis in the College of Human Ecology, studied more than 230 New York City public middle schools and found a chain reaction at work: leaking toilets, smelly cafeterias, broken furniture, and run-down classrooms made students feel negatively which lead to high absenteeism and in turn, contributed to low test scores and poor academic achievement.

“School buildings that are in good condition and attractive may signal to students that someone cares and there’s a positive social climate, which in turn may encourage better attendance,” Maxwell said. “Students cannot learn if they do not come to school.”

Maxwell found that poor building conditions, and the resulting negative perception of the school’s social climate, accounted for 70 percent of the poor academic performance. She controlled for students’ socioeconomic status and ethnic background, and found that while these student attributes are related to test scores, they do not tell the whole story. School building condition is also a major contributing factor, Maxwell said.

“Those other factors are contributing to poor academic performance, but building condition is significantly contributing also. It’s worth it for society to make sure that school buildings are up to par,” she said.

Her study [$39.95 to read, thanks to the academic publishing bandits at Elsevier] “School Building Condition, Social Climate, Student Attendance and Academic Achievement: A Mediation Model,” appears in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

In an earlier, related study, Maxwell asked a handful of middle-school students what difference they thought a school building makes.

“I will never forget one boy,” Maxwell said. “He said, ‘Well, maybe if the school looked better, kids would want to come to school.’ And that sparked me to think, ‘OK, they notice.’”

There’s more, after the jump. Continue reading

Chart of the day II: Where our political values lie


From State and Local Expenditures on Corrections and Education, a new report from the U.S. Department of Education:

BLOG Ed

Headline of the day: They once called it payola


Back when esnl was knee-high to a grasshopper, the recording industry was rocked by a scandal: Record companies were paying DJs to air their tunes.

In the argot of the music biz, they called it payola.

Headlines and congressional hearings ensued, all sparked by the naive assumption that decisions should be made based on merit, not outright bribery.

Now the University of California has its own payola scandal, and the regents are finally making a move.

From the Los Angeles Times:

UC Davis chancellor’s outside activities prompts UC regents to consider tightening moonlighting rules

The proposal was prompted by disclosures this year that UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi had taken paid board positions with the DeVry Education Group, which is under federal investigation for allegedly defrauding students, and John Wiley & Sons, a college-textbook publisher. Katehi had received permission for the textbook company position but not the DeVry board seat from the former and current UC presidents.

Mexican gov’t agrees to alter education reforms


There’s only one catch.

The government is in talks with a teachers union, but it’s not the one currently on strike in much of Mexico’s South.

The ongoing action against the neoliberal “reforms” imposed by the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto is the Coordinadora Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or CNTE.

The CNTE represents teacher primarily in Southern Mexico and is fiercely independent of the government, unlike the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Educación, or SNTE, which is considered a house union.

The story form teleSUR English:

Mexican Minister of Education Aurelio Nuño Mayer said Wednesday that he will revise the education reform that has been at the center of intense CNTE-led protests, but that he will only consult the rival SNTE union.

Nuño Mayer has drawn intense criticism for refusing to negotiate with the CNTE teachers, who have been leading months-long blockades across the country that were subject to intense police repression. The teachers, mostly based in rural southern states, argue that the neoliberal reforms put poorer and Indigenous students at a disadvantage. They have demanded meetings with the Education Ministry, but Nuño Mayer has insisted that they accept the reforms before coming to the table.

The SNTE union, which is largely aligned with President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government, did meet with Nuño Mayer.

“Last week, I welcomed the proposals brought to me by SNTE, 11 propositions that brought us to various negotiating tables, intense, that would allow us to come to an important agreement regarding the education reform,” he said.

“We have agreed, and the SEP (Ministry of Public Education) has decided, to revise and improve the evaluation of teachers, to make it more appropriate and much more useful.”

The main purpose of the revisions will be to improve implementation of evaluations and make them more context-specific, focusing on its application, the platform for publishing findings, cleaning up databases, accreditation of evaluators, and communication between the school and the teacher. Nuño Mayer said he will also expand the curriculum and raise the teacher’s salary by 3.5 percent.

Support for Mexico’s striking teachers expands


Mexico's administrative divisions [states], via Wikipedia.

Mexico’s administrative divisions [states], via Wikipedia.

Teachers striking against neoliberal educational reforms mandated by the government of Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is spreading across the southern half of the country.

Though the strike was initially concentrated in the state of Oaxaca, where teachers have met with violent and sometimes lethal repression, the spark they ignited has grown into a regional blaze.

The latest from teleSUR English:

A highway blockade in support of Mexico’s striking teachers is increasingly gaining popular support in the capital of the southern state of Chiapas, La Jornada reported on Wednesday.

The protest in the city of Tuxtla Gutierrez is being organized as a popular assembly and has remained active for 15 days, gathering up to 3,500 demonstrators in support of the radical CNTE teachers union.

Teachers and parents from impoverished neighborhoods, medical students, indigenous associations and grassroots movements have also joined the blockade as part of nationwide protests against President Enrique Peña Nieto’s neoliberal education reform.

Popular support of the teachers cause in Mexico has been concentrated in the southern states of Oaxaca, Guerrero, Tabasco and Chiapas, a region historically subject to violence and poverty but also rich in social struggle.

Meanwhile CNTE leaders are holding negotiating talks over the controversial reform with the government at the Interior Ministry headquarters in Mexico City this Wednesday.

So what’s it all about?

It’s the usual thing starring the usual suspects: Standardized testing created by corporateers working in league with the national government to suppress organized labor and am impose an educational system designed to turn our obedient workers rather than independent-minded citizens.

From Spring Hill College history Historian A. S. Dillingham, writing in Jacobin:

The education reform is better understood as an attack on labor. Much like the discourse of recent education reform movements in the United States, the Mexican reformers invoke notions of “accountability” and “quality” instruction.

But the reform itself contains numerous measures aimed at undermining the power of teachers’ unions including measures that weaken the union’s control of the hiring process at normal schools (which they historically controlled), eliminate teachers’ ability to pass down a position to their children, make it easier to fire teachers who miss work, and limit the number of union positions paid by the state.

These measures are all directly aimed at undermining the union’s power, but the central point of contention has been the evaluation of teachers through state-administered standardized tests.

White Boy Privilege: An Atlanta youth nails it


A 14-year-old student won the poetry slam at his private school in Atlanta, Georgia, with a devastating take on the privileges inhering in the simple fact of being born white and male.

To be fair, Royce Mann is a talented professional actor who has appeared in feature films and acted on stage. He also writes, produces, and directs.

From Sheri Mann Stewart:

Royce Mann, Age 14, “White Boy Privilege”, Slam Poem


Program notes:

Royce Mann, 8th grader from Atlanta, GA, USA, wrote and performed this slam poem as part of a competition. He ended up taking home first place.

And the story, from U.S. Uncut:

Royce Mann, a white eighth-grade student and rising acting star, recently brought the house down in a passionate slam poetry performance about white privilege that is spreading like wildfire.

Mann’s poem, “White Boy Privilege,” is about awakening to the fact that the world has set the 14-year-old up to succeed while stacking the deck against women, people of color, and immigrants. In the poem, he at first celebrates his privilege, saying he “loves it” that he has innate benefits as a white male in American society, but later comes to the conclusion that his privilege wasn’t created by his generation, calling on other young white males to reject their privilege and actively demand the privileges afforded to them be shared with the rest of society.

Read the poem in its entirety:

Dear women, I am sorry.

Dear black people, I am sorry.

Dear Asian Americans, dear Native Americans, dear immigrants who come here seeking a better life, I am sorry.

Dear everyone who isn’t a middle or upper-class white boy, I am sorry.

I have started life at the top of the ladder, while you were born on the first rung.

I say now that I would change places with you in an instant, but if given the opportunity, would I?

Probably not. Because to be honest, being privileged is awesome.

I’m not saying that you and me on different rungs of the ladder is how I want it to stay,

I’m not saying any part of me for one moment has even liked it that way,

I’m just saying, I fucking love being privileged and I’m not ready to give that away.

I love it, because I can say “fucking” and not one of you is attributing that to the fact that everyone of my skin color has a dirty mouth.

I love it, because I don’t have to spend an hour every morning putting on makeup to meet other people’s standards.

I love it, because I can worry about what kind of food is on my plate, instead of whether or not there will be food on my plate.

I love it, because when I see a police officer, I see someone who’s on my side.

To be honest, I’m scared of what it would be like if I wasn’t on the top rung.

If the tables were turned, and I couldn’t have my white boy privilege safety blankie to protect me.

If I lived a life by what I lack, not what I have, if I lived a life in which when I failed, the world would say ‘Told you so.’

If I lived the life that you live.

When I was born, I had a success story already written for me. You, you were given a pen and no paper.

I’ve always felt that that’s unfair, but I’ve never dared to speak up because I’ve been too scared.

Well, now I realize that there’s enough blankie to be shared.

Everyone should have the privileges that I have. In fact, they should be rights instead.

Everyone’s stories should be written, so all they have to do is get it read. Enough said.

No, not enough said.

It is embarrassing that we still live in a world in which we judge another person’s character by the size of their paycheck, the color of their skin, or the type of chromosomes they have.

It is embarrassing that we tell our kids that it is not their personality, but instead those same chromosomes that get to dictate what color clothes they wear, and how short they cut their hair.

But most of all, it is embarrassing that we deny this, that we claim to live in an equal country in an equal world.

We say that women can vote? Well, guess what? They can run a country, own a company, and throw a nasty curveball as well. We just don’t give them the chance to.

I know it wasn’t us 8th grade white boys who created this system, but we profit from it every day. We don’t notice these privileges though, because they don’t come in the form of things we gain, but rather the lack of injustices that we endure.

Because of my gender, I can watch any sport on TV and feel like that could be me one day.

Because of my race, I can eat in a fancy restaurant without the wait staff expecting me to steal the silverware.

Thanks to my parents’ salary, I go to a school that brings my dreams closer instead of pushing them away.

Dear white boys, I’m not sorry. I don’t care if you think that feminists are taking over the world, or that Black Lives Matter has gotten a little too strong, because that’s bullshit.

I get that change can be scary, but equality shouldn’t be.

Hey white boys, it’s time to act like a woman. To be strong and make a difference. It’s time to let go of that fear.

It’s time to take that ladder and turn it into a bridge.

And just for the fund of it, here’s another take on the privileges of being born white and male from comedian Louis C.K. presented in 2014 at the 3% Conference:

Louis CK “White Male Privilege”

America’s fiscal priorities: Prisons over schools


Probably the ominous story we’ve read today, and an augury for a rapidly polarizing nation, comes from teleSUR English:

Funding for prisons greatly outpaced funding for education, according to a report released Thursday.

U.S. state and local spending on prisons and jails grew at three times the rate of spending on schools over the last 33 years as the number of people behind bars ballooned under a spate of harsh sentencing laws, a government report released Thursday said.

U.S. Secretary of Education John King said the report’s stark numbers should make state and local governments reevaluate their spending priorities and channel more money toward education.

Between 1979 and 2012, state and local government expenditure grew by 107 percent to US$534 billion from US$258 billion for elementary and secondary education, while corrections spending rose by 324 percent to US$71 billion from US$17 billion, the U.S. Department of Education report found.

In that same period, the population of state and local corrections facilities surged more than fourfold to nearly 2.1 million from around 467,000, more than seven times the growth rate of the U.S. population overall. The prison population shot up following the widespread adoption of mandatory minimum sentence laws in the 1990s.

Seven states—Idaho, Michigan, Montana, North Dakota, South Carolina, South Dakota and West Virginia—each exceeded the average rate, increasing their corrections spending five times as fast as they did their pre-kindergarten to grade 12 education spending.

In just two states—New Hampshire and Massachusetts—growth in corrections expenditure did not surpass P-12 expenditures, even after accounting for changes in population. The report did not analyze different state policies that could explain these exceptions, King said on a conference call.