Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Contradictions & ed deform

Has anyone else noticed that the talk and actions don’t jibe?

For example, experienced, high quality teachers are held up as the ideal; people bemoan when poor kids don’t get to have them. On the other hand, recent college graduates with five or six-weeks of summer training are held up as a model of perfection. Which is it folks?

Then there’s class size. Some people argue that class size really doesn’t matter all that much; it's only a matter of teachers trying harder. But then small class sizes with benefits touted are used as a main selling point to entice parents into both elite private and charter schools. Again, which is it folks?

There’s also the issue about reading. If the universal achievement of high reading levels is as important as everyone says it is, then why have school libraries been utterly abandoned in the schools where children need them most? Everyone must realize that this set of kids hasn't been read to since they were babies by educated, middle-class parents and also that they are likely to have very few books in their homes. Since they most definitely can use the inspiration and access to a wide range of lovely books, then why, oh why, have school libraries been barred from their existence?

For example, in 1999 Oakland Unified had librarians and functioning libraries in every of its middle and high schools (14 middle schools + six comprehensive high schools = 20 secondary school librarians). Today, after ten years of the standards and accountability movement and with the closure and/or break-up of secondary schools, the District only employs four librarians, three at the large remaining comprehensives and one that roves around. Many of the libraries in the schools with the lowest performing kids have either been closed or, if they were saved, are skeletally staffed by a part-time library clerk. School counselors have suffered a similar fate.

This mismatch between words and actions betray the true feelings this country has about its poor kids. To me, they are being told they are cared about, while at the same time they are being abused.

And along with contemplating the inconsistencies, I’ve been giving some thought to the idea of “closing the achievement gap.” This brings me to basic poverty facts from the National Poverty Center:

How has poverty changed over time?

In the late 1950s, the poverty rate for all Americans was 22.4 percent, or 39.5 million individuals. These numbers declined steadily throughout the 1960s, reaching a low of 11.1 percent, or 22.9 million individuals, in 1973. Over the next decade, the poverty rate fluctuated between 11.1 and 12.6 percent, but it began to rise steadily again in 1980. By 1983, the number of poor individuals had risen to 35.3 million individuals, or 15.2 percent.

For the next ten years, the poverty rate remained above 12.8 percent, increasing to 15.1 percent, or 39.3 million individuals, by 1993. The rate declined for the remainder of the decade, to 11.3 percent by 2000. From 2000 to 2004 it rose each year to 12.7 in 2004.

How many children live in poverty?

Children represent a disproportionate share of the poor in the United States; they are 25 percent of the total population, but 35 percent of the poor population. In 2008, 14.1 million children, or 19.0 percent, were poor. The poverty rate for children also varies substantially by race and Hispanic origin, as shown in the table below.

Children Under 18 Living in Poverty, 2007


Number (in thousands)


All children under 18



White only, non-Hispanic












SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2008, Report P60, n. 236, Table B-2, pp. 50-5.

Isn’t the whole fantasy behind “closing the achievement gap” to insure that all groups ultimately end up with identical poverty/non-poverty rates, so no group has to suffer more than the other? Presuming that is the point, what will it look like as equilibration proceeds?

It seems like a huge proportion of White and Asian families will need to be moved from the middle class into poverty. Alternatively, a critical mass of Black and Hispanic families will need to be propelled into higher income levels by policies that offer them higher salaries and improved employment. It would be a matter of balancing things out somehow, so everyone ends up in the same place and America is ushered into an era of perfect bliss.

In The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, two British epidemiologist authors demonstrate repeatedly that narrow income gaps are beneficial to the wider society. The United States will talk the talk that it wants the circumstances of its poorer citizens to improve, but I'm not convinced that it actually has the will to do what it would take to do that. From Publishers Weekly:

Wilkinson and Pickett make an eloquent case that the income gap between a nation's richest and poorest is the most powerful indicator of a functioning and healthy society. Amid the statistics that support their argument (increasing income disparity sees corresponding spikes in homicide, obesity, drug use, mental illness, anxiety, teenage pregnancies, high school dropouts—even incidents of playground bullying), the authors take an empathetic view of our ability to see beyond self-interest. While there are shades of Darwinism in the human hunt for status, there is evidence that the human brain—with its distinctively large neocortex—evolved the way it has because we were designed to be attentive to, depend on, and be depended on by others. Wilkinson and Pickett do not advocate one way or the other to close the equality gap. Government redistribution of wealth and market forces that create wealth can be equally effective, and the authors provide examples of both. How societies achieve equality, they argue, is less important than achieving it in the first place. Felicitous prose and fascinating findings make this essential reading.

And speaking about increases to the well-being of children that come about when family income is improved, it's worthwhile to recall the study which showed that children's mental health improved when their family incomes were improved.

The report appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association in October 2003. Here’s the abstract:

Relationships Between Poverty and Psychopathology

A Natural Experiment

E. Jane Costello, PhD; Scott N. Compton, PhD; Gordon Keeler, MS; Adrian Angold, MRCPsych

JAMA. 2003;290:2023-2029.

Context Social causation (adversity and stress) vs social selection (downward mobility from familial liability to mental illness) are competing theories about the origins of mental illness.

Objective To test the role of social selection vs social causation of childhood psychopathology using a natural experiment.

Design Quasi-experimental, longitudinal study.

Population and Setting A representative population sample of 1420 rural children aged 9 to 13 years at intake were given annual psychiatric assessments for 8 years (1993-2000). One quarter of the sample were American Indian, and the remaining were predominantly white. Halfway through the study, a casino opening on the Indian reservation gave every American Indian an income supplement that increased annually. This increase moved 14% of study families out of poverty, while 53% remained poor, and 32% were never poor. Incomes of non-Indian families were unaffected.

Main Outcome Measures Levels of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, psychiatric symptoms in the never-poor, persistently poor, and ex-poor children were compared for the 4 years before and after the casino opened.

Results Before the casino opened, the persistently poor and ex-poor children had more psychiatric symptoms (4.38 and 4.28, respectively) than the never-poor children (2.75), but after the opening levels among the ex-poor fell to those of the never-poor children, while levels among those who were persistently poor remained high (odds ratio, 1.50; 95% confidence interval, 1.08-2.09; and odds ratio, 0.91; 95% confidence interval, 0.77-1.07, respectively). The effect was specific to symptoms of conduct and oppositional defiant disorders. Anxiety and depression symptoms were unaffected. Similar results were found in non-Indian children whose families moved out of poverty during the same period.

Conclusions An income intervention that moved families out of poverty for reasons that cannot be ascribed to family characteristics had a major effect on some types of children's psychiatric disorders, but not on others. Results support a social causation explanation for conduct and oppositional disorder, but not for anxiety or depression.

For more, read a summary of the study called "Relief of Poverty Improves Child Mental Health." Here are the concluding paragraphs:

The study concluded that the increase in income that moved 14% of the American Indian families in the study out of poverty had a major effect on certain types of psychiatric disorders. These results support a social causation theory for behavioral and oppositional disorders among children. In other words, poverty comes first.

After further analysis, the researchers also found evidence to suggest that the primary reason for the decrease in symptoms of mental illness among these children was due to improved parental supervision. There appeared to be two reasons for this. First, the number of single parent homes decreased. Second, among two-parent homes, there were more homes in which both parents were working. This resulted in decreased time-demands on the primary caregiver.

An editorial published in the same issue of the journal stated that the findings of this study go a long way towards demonstrating the reality of the social causation theory. This would suggest that programs designed to treat behavior disorders in poor children must be linked with programs that first and foremost address their underlying poverty.

All I know is that the outcomes in urban schools would definitely improve if they had fewer students with conduct and oppositional disorder. I think it would also help a lot with getting teachers to stick around!

Then there are the results of the 2008 study which showed that the brains of low-income kids and stroke victims have gross similarities:

Study: Poverty dramatically affects children's brains

A new study finds that certain brain functions of some low-income 9- and 10-year-olds pale in comparison with those of wealthy children and that the difference is almost equivalent to the damage from a stroke.

"It is a similar pattern to what's seen in patients with strokes that have led to lesions in their prefrontal cortex," which controls higher-order thinking and problem solving, says lead researcher Mark Kishiyama, a cognitive psychologist at the University of California-Berkeley. "It suggests that in these kids, prefrontal function is reduced or disrupted in some way."

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that shows how poverty afflicts children's brains. Researchers have long pointed to the ravages of malnutrition, stress, illiteracy and toxic environments in low-income children's lives. Research has shown that the neural systems of poor children develop differently from those of middle-class children, affecting language development and "executive function," or the ability to plan, remember details and pay attention in school.

Such deficiencies are reversible through intensive intervention such as focused lessons and games that encourage children to think out loud or use executive function.

To Arne Duncan and the other ed deformers: Why don't you ever publicly acknowledge these types of facts? For your failure, all I can say is shame on you. For that omission on your part there are NO EXCUSES!!!


Anonymous said...

Until we can break through the current Age of Impunity, where facts simply don't matter, these contradictions will become ever-larger and more toxic.

The Perimeter Primate said...

In children with Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), there is an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, defiant, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that seriously interferes with the youngster’s day to day functioning. Symptoms of ODD may include:

* Frequent temper tantrums
* Excessive arguing with adults
* Often questioning rules
* Active defiance and refusal to comply with adult requests and rules
* Deliberate attempts to annoy or upset people
* Blaming others for his or her mistakes or misbehavior
* Often being touchy or easily annoyed by others
* Frequent anger and resentment
* Mean and hateful talking when upset
* Spiteful attitude and revenge seeking


Symptoms of Conduct Disorder

Many factors may contribute to a child developing conduct disorder, including brain damage, child abuse, genetic vulnerability, school failure, and traumatic life experiences.

Children or adolescents with conduct disorder may exhibit some of the following behaviors:

Aggression to people and animals

* bullies, threatens or intimidates others
* often initiates physical fights
* has used a weapon that could cause serious physical harm to others (e.g. a bat, brick, broken bottle, knife or gun)
* is physically cruel to people or animals
* steals from a victim while confronting them (e.g. assault)
* forces someone into sexual activity

Destruction of Property

* deliberately engaged in fire setting with the intention to cause damage
* deliberately destroys other's property

Deceitfulness, lying, or stealing

* has broken into someone else's building, house, or car
* lies to obtain goods, or favors or to avoid obligations
* steals items without confronting a victim (e.g. shoplifting, but without breaking and entering)

Serious violations of rules

* often stays out at night despite parental objections
* runs away from home
* often truant from school