Predicting the Future of Schools Serving Diverse Students in Poverty
By Dr. Martin Haberman
A great many people claim to love America; they just hate most of the people who live here. Providing all children and youth with a high quality education remains high as a stated value but not as a behavior. The census of 2000 revealed that 80% of American households do not have children in public schools. We profess our belief and support for public education as we do our love for America – as an abstract ideal that requires taking no action.
Fourteen million diverse children in poverty are currently being miseducated; the seven million in urban poverty, disproportionately represented by children of color, attend school in the 120 largest school districts. Every one of these districts is a failing school system in which greater size correlates positively with greater failure. Every miseducated child represents a personal tragedy. Each will have a lifelong struggle to ever have a job that pays enough to live in a safe neighborhood, have adequate health insurance, send their own children to better schools than they went to, or have a decent retirement. In most cases their lives are limited to dead end jobs, or wasted away in street violence or prison. Living in the midst of the most prosperous nation on earth, the miseducated will live shorter, less healthy lives characterized by greater stress and limited life options. Miseducation is, in effect, a sentence of death carried out daily over a lifetime. It is the most powerful example I know of cruel and unusual punishment and it is exacted on children innocent of any crime. Most Americans avoid the personal tragedy aspect of this massive miseducation by not sending their own children to school in these failing urban districts. This includes a majority of the teachers who work in them! In effect, those with options cope with miseducation as a personal tragedy by fleeing the major urban districts in order to protect their loved ones from the contamination of miseducation. While flight can appear to be a successful strategy for coping with miseducation as a personal tragedy it does not address the question of how miseducating other people’s children on this massive scale affects the survival of the total society. There are 2,000 high schools identified as drop out factories where fewer than half of the students ever graduate but which have been kept open for decades. The major dropout factory in my city has, in some years, had an 18 percent graduation rate. Every day an average of 3,000 students drop out of high school. While a majority of these youngsters are white, African America and Latino students are conspicuously over-represented. By the end of a typical school year as many as 540,000 tenth to twelfth graders will have “disappeared”. The Southern Regional Education Board has stated that even these appalling graduation rates are suspect. They report that in 13 of the sixteen states in their region graduation rates declined between 1992 and 2002. My estimate is that the horrendous rates cited in the typical drop out study overlooks an equal number of youth who are never counted because they never make it into high school. They are the victims of failed middle schools. Imagine using high stakes testing in a failing middle school as a criterion for admission into a failing high school! Every major urban district with which I am familiar follows this practice.
Predicting the Future
It is abundantly clear to reasonable, thoughtful people who consider the development and state of education in America, that schools reflect society they do not change it. Indeed, our schools are the primary vehicle for maintaining a stable social order in a changing world. If the founding fathers were to return today for a look around they would not know what a wired computer bookstore was; neither would they recognize the purpose of an eight screen movie house, or a shopping center, or a car wash, or a laundromat, or a stock broker’s officer, or a real estate agency, or a gas station or a baseball stadium, or a fire house, or a tanning parlor. There are probably only two things we could be certain they would recognize: churches and schools. Were it not so serious a matter it would be laughable to constantly hear from educational change agents who keep up a steady barrage of how to use the schools to transform society. The public supports the schools for the express purpose of maintaining the social order not for transforming it.
A second misguided assumption made by those who see the schools as the vehicle of social transformation is that schools can be analyzed, understood, funded,managed and researched in a vacuum; as if schools were free standing and separated from the larger society. Schooling cannot be viewed as a closed system which operates only within the boundaries of federal, state and local school boards. Because schools reflect our total society they are impacted by all the same vicissitudes and serendipitous events: wars, hurricanes, pandemic diseases, economic depressions, tsunamis, oil shortages, terrorism and numerous other unplanned-for crises. In truth, all of these predictable as well as unforeseen disasters have actually occurred in the last half century and the schools have remained stable in their structure and constant in the nature and direction of their trends. Indeed, it is possible to argue that our schools are the most stable institutions in our society and among the least responsive to forces which would reasonably be expected to cause them to change.
It is indeed curious to recognize that the forces of change besieging our society also affect our schools and that the public recognizes these forces. It is as if our collective consciousness operates on two levels. On the first, the public sees the international and national events impinging on their lives acted out on CNN every day. But on a second level, the stated goal of the American people is to protect and maintain a traditional and historically constant system of schooling in spite of these turbulent realities. Locked into the eye of a hurricane may be a trite phrase but an accurate metaphor for how most Americans want their schools to function.
Before considering the future educational trends that are likely to occur, it is important to consider the impact of trends in the larger society. What predictions would a reasonable person make regarding our nation’s future?
1. In the next twenty five years the United States will become a more peaceful place with fewer wars and a decrease in terrorism. Likely or unlikely?
2. As a result of a more peaceful world, the United States will decrease the amount it devotes to the defense budget. Likely or unlikely?
3. In the next twenty five years health care costs will come under control so that higher quality care will be available to more people at more affordable costs? Likely or unlikely?
4. In the next twenty five years the energy crisis will be solved, the United States will be become more self sufficient and energy costs will stop escalating. Likely or unlikely?
5. In the next twenty five years the number of first generation Americans and illegal aliens will decrease thereby cutting down the costs needed for their schooling, health care and social services? Likely or unlikely?
6. In the next twenty five years there will be a resolution to environmental problems such as global warming and preservation of wilderness areas, and a balance will be struck between environmentalists and industrial polluters? Likely or unlikely?
7. In the next twenty five years social security will be made permanently self sustaining and keep up with inflation. Likely or unlikely?
8. In the next twenty five years the United States will turn around its trade imbalance and will export more than it imports? Likely or unlikely?
9. In the next twenty five years the war on drugs will be won and the crushing social and financial impact of drugs on our society will overcome. Likely or unlikely?
10. In the next twenty five years the war on poverty will be won and there will be fewer people in poverty than today. Likely or unlikely?
11. In the next twenty five years there will be a decrease in the two million people in prison and on parole thereby cutting the costs of maintaining a constantly increasing criminal justice system. Likely or unlikely?
12. In the next twenty five years public education will close the achievement gaps; those based on ethnicity, income and sex? Likely or unlikely?
Reading and listening to scholarly as well as popular analysts of our society it is clear that most Americans would answer “unlikely” to the first eleven of these questions. Then, remarkably, they state they are optimistic about question twelve and answer that the schools are “likely” to close the achievement gap. Are schools not impacted by society’s need to finance wars, health care, energy and all these other purposes? Are schools not impacted when these crises are seen as higher priorities than public education? In order to predict that schools will be improved amid general conditions that are deteriorating the schools must be viewed as functioning on their own planet. Unfortunately and strangely, that is precisely the way most Americans view schools. Surveys of the general public consistently show that the public expects the schools to do better in future regardless of the societal conditions surrounding them and to do so with existing resources and by maintaining schools in essentially their present forms. The best example of this commitment to change without changing anything is the means by which schools seek to close the achievement gap. Far and away the most common methods schools use are after school and summer programs. The research is overwhelming and consistent. After school and summer programs do not catch up students lacking in basic skills. Indeed, the further behind students are the less likely they are to even show up in an after school or summer programs. Rather than changing curricula and teaching in the regular school programs offered between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., the public and the educators keep these failed systems in place, largely untouched. The expectation goes something like this: if trained teachers, working with students six hours a day, for a period of thirteen years in schools which spend $!0,000 or more per student, can’t teach basic skills and actually create huge gaps in basic skills, we need to protect and maintain the curricula and teaching in these places and have students come voluntarily after school to work with volunteer tutors or minimum wage employees with little or no training who will catch them up in a few months or less. It is the same rationale used for homework. If the trained teachers can’t teach the stuff, then it's clearly the responsibility of untrained parents to do it. This example of ignoring the research in favor of maintaining traditions illustrates two truths: first, talk of making educational policy “data driven” is merely more educational rhetoric; and second, the “changes” most frequently advocated and funded ensure that the traditional school curricula and instruction will remain untouched and unchanged.
Predicting School Trends
Unfortunately for our society and our children viewing schools as insulated from events, conditions and pressures on the larger society has resulted in change of only one kind: continuous deterioration. We need to examine the trends which have occurred in public schools in the major urban districts serving diverse students in poverty over the last half century and predict the likelihood these trends will continue? Will the trends which have come to characterize dysfunctional, failing urban school districts persist into the future? What kind of picture is created when these trends are put together? Are the following conditions likely or unlikely to continue?
1. Will there will be a marked increase in the number of Latino students and others whose native languages are not English?
2. Will the achievement gap for Latino students continue to make them the most at -risk of dropping out?
3. Will there will be a marked increase in the number of special needs students reaching levels higher than 30 percent in many urban districts?
4.Will African Americans continue to be significantly over-represented in the population of special need students?
5. Will the achievement gap between high and low income students continue to make this the widest gap of all?
6. Will the achievement gaps based on ethnicity continue?
7. Will the achievement gap between girls and boys in primary reading and language arts continue?
8. Will the achievement gap between boys and girls in math and science in the upper grades and high school continue?
9. Will school districts continue to report annual improvements regarding all these gaps but not close any of them?
10. Will class size continue to increase particularly in middle schools and reach over 40 students per class in many districts?
11. Will the curricula in urban districts continue to narrow down the mission of the school to teaching basic skills in reading and math?
12. Will science and social studies continue to be tested less and taught less and continue their slide into second order subjects in the school curriculum?
13. In schools serving diverse youth in poverty will the focus of the school administration, teachers and parents continue to remain on school safety and for graduates to "get a job and stay out of jail"?
14. Will the public continue to hold high expectations for schools without increasing its funding for these expectations?
15. Will the public continue to expect improved schools without funding the escalating fixed costs of energy, health insurance, buildings and maintenance?
16. Will doubling energy costs, health insurance and other fixed costs every three years:
-prevent new investments in instructional programs?
-prevent staff development?
-prevent teacher raises?
17. Will almost all of the 2,000 high schools identified as dropout factories over the last twenty five years be kept open?
18. Will many failing high schools be broken down into three or four smaller ones without substantially improving achievement or the dropout rate?
19. Will the substantial number of middle schools going back to K-8 organizations have little impact on achievement gaps or drop out rates?
20. Will over 95% of school principals continue to be promoted from within and not be any more effective than those they replace?
21. Will the job of assistant principal, which is essentially one of being a bouncer in a school, continue to be viewed as preparation for the role of school principal?
22. Will the increasing evidence that teacher led schools can function as well or better without principals continue to be ignored?
23. Will the length of a teaching career continue to shrink from its current level of 11 years?
24. Will the most widespread remedies for at risk students continue to be after-school and summer programs rather than any transformation of the ”regular” curricula during the “regular” day?
25. Will the $2 billion currently wasted on after school and summer programs continue to increase in spite of what research tells us about their ineffectiveness?
26. Will fifty percent of beginning teachers continue to fail or quit in less than five years in the 120 largest urban districts?
27. Will superintendents continue to be hired using present criteria and methods of selection so that ineffective failures are merely recycled?
28. Will the shortage of competent science and math teachers continue?
29. Will science and math teachers be limited to the same salary schedule as other teachers in low need areas?
30. Will the needs for bilingual and special education teachers continue to escalate?
31. Will the practice of paying bonuses to more experienced, veteran teachers to transfer to the poorest schools be continued in spite of the evidence that it does not provide the teachers needed?
32. Will the practice of paying beginning teachers bonuses to take jobs in failing schools be continued in spite of the fact that it does not provide the teachers needed?
33. Will the schemes for recruiting teachers from abroad continue to proliferate in spite of the evidence that they do not provide effective teachers who stay.
34. Will the colleges and universities continue to remain unaccountable for the performance of the teachers they certify, or whether their graduates even take jobs?
35. Will the number of graduates from alternative certification programs continue to increase. Will university based teacher education provide teachers for small towns and suburbs while alternative programs provide most of the teachers for diverse children in poverty and in special education?
36. Will the overwhelming number of mature adult and minority teachers come from alternative certification programs?
37. Will many districts continue to use highly problematic methods for reporting improvements in achievement and dropout rates. (e.g. Which students are tested? What percentage of those enrolled are tested?) Will school scandals, cover-ups and fake self-report data continue to be a problem in reporting the status of failing schools?
38. Will the tragedy of "successful" high school graduates without basic skills for the world of work continue? Will “successful” graduates continue to discover that they have no skills for other than dead end jobs and that they will need lengthy, intensive remediation before they can enter any program of post secondary training?
39. Will the numbers of dropouts as well as the number of GED "graduates" increase?
40. Will the teaching force continue to be comprised of mostly females teachers teaching school within forty miles of where they were raised? Will these teachers continue to be the undereducated victims of inadequate educations particularly in the areas of math and science?
41. Will the pressures on school districts to teach Intelligent Design as part of their science curricula continue and increase?
42. Will the fifteen million children and youth in urban and rural poverty continue to suffer a significant gap in the technological skills needed for living and working in a global society?
43. Will vouchers and charter schools in urban districts continue to increase without data to show they are achieving any better results than failing public schools?
44. After a century of substantial funding and advocacy, will there still be no substantial improvement in the linkages between high school curricula and what is taught in post secondary institutions?
45. Will state courts and legislatures still be debating what constitutes an equitable funding formula?
46. Will research based practices (i.e. what works) still be generally ignored in school districts serving diverse students in poverty?.
47. Will the number of federal, state and local mandates increase and will most be unfounded mandates?
48. Will the number of mandated tests increase?
49. Will the twenty three states in which corporal punishment is legal still permit and enable local districts to implement it?
50. Will the number of adults employed in urban school districts continue to increase while the number of those actually serving as classroom teachers decreases?
What Do The Trends Portend?
What these trends taken together predict is a continuing march toward two Americas. The top quartile of students may continue to get world class schooling but the bottom quartile will increasingly resemble third world schools and expand to include the entire bottom half as the number of children from poverty and near poverty families increase.
Beneficiaries of Failing Urban School Districts
Granting that people see education as a personal good and hold substantially lower expectations for other people’s children, why is there such a widespread and continuing willingness to protect the 120 clearly dysfunctional school districts which prepare so few graduates for participation in the world of work at even the lowest levels and give even fewer the motivation to seek occupational mobility? The answer is easier to explain than to understand. Simply stated, most Americans perceive greater benefits from this massive miseducation than possible damage to themselves and their families if the system were to change. Sadly and incredibly, this includes the victims, their families and communities who are among the strongest advocates for maintaining and enhancing these dysfunctional urban districts. Following is merely a starter list of some of the beneficiaries.
1. Employees of central offices. In some cities there is a 2:1 ratio of “other” employees to teachers. In my city there are 6,000 teachers. The district admits to 12,500 employees. A computer specialist I queried reported that each month the system writes checks to over 17,300 individuals. The truth is that to answer the question, “How many people work in this district?” the superintendent would have to call a meeting. The participants would sit around a table and rather than provide data would raise questions: Do you mean certificated and/or non-certificated personnel? Do you mean part time and temporary help? Do you mean substitute teachers? Do you mean employees whose salaries we pay but who have been assigned to other institutions and agencies? Do you mean people on leave? Do you want to include the employees of regularly contracted vendors (e.g. bus drivers) or only those such as food service workers who we pay? What about after school and summer employees? Do you mean employees covered by grant funds? The number of district employees that any superintendent or school board comes up with should be suspect. They simply do not know how many people work in the district.
2. Students outside of the urban school districts competing for college admission. The students in urban districts provide a built in bottom half for every norm referenced standardized test. Because urban students do so poorly advantaged children and youth appear to know more, be above grade level, or appear to have greater ability. This advantage is especially valuable when taking ACT’s and SAT’s. In Wisconsin in 2005 4,230 students took the ACT’s but only 177 were African American and 94 were Latino. These data indicate that access to the high schools who even have students who take ACT”s is a more basic problem than the fact that whites scored higher than African Americans and Latinos.
3. Students outside of the urban school districts preparing for the world of work. Non-urban students are better prepared to compete for and secure entry level career positions. In my city I know of no employers, aside from those with dead-end minimum wage jobs with no benefits, who hire graduates immediately out of high school. Employers claim that even “successful” graduates of the city schools lack not only basic skills but the work habits that would make them employable.
4. Parents outside of urban school districts. Being able to maintain small school districts empowers parents with voice, input and control over their children’s educations. They can actually speak personally to school board members, the superintendent, school principals and influence what happens to their children in school. Urban parents have no way to deal with large dysfunctional bureaucracies. They have no voice and no access. With rare exception they are utterly powerless to affect any aspect of their children’s schooling. In my city I have never found a parent, including college graduates, who can follow the elaborate procedures for transferring their child from a failing school to one that is not.
5. Those “serving” special needs students. There are now app. 19,000 students in my city identified as having special needs with several thousand more in the pipeline to be tested. This is more than 20 percent of the school population and is comprised primarily of African American students. The structure built on the backs of these students includes substantial portions of the federal bureaucracy, state employees and almost 200 million dollars of the local school district’s annual budget. There is a whole world of special education which it is not politically correct to question but which is built on a faulty system for deciding who has special needs and a delivery system that spends substantial time and resources documenting rather than delivering services. In order to protect themselves against lawsuits which they never win, every urban district makes documenting how much is being done a higher priority than actually providing the services. In effect, special education is a dysfunctional system within a failed urban school bureaucracy that provides substantial benefits to adults not to children with special needs.
6. Parents of special needs students. Parents and guardians are entitled to monthly stipends of $400 per month or more from the social security administration (SSOI) if their children are diagnosed as having certain categories of special needs. Parents in poverty love their children as much as advantaged parents but some are co-opted by this money and the assurances of school personnel that their children will receive needed services. School officials make it extremely difficult to de-label a child even if the child stops manifesting the behaviors that caused the labeling since it lowers the financial aid the district receives and suggests that a mistake was made in the first place. As a result, fewer than one percent of children are ever de-labeled even though they may have “outgrown” the behaviors that got them classified as having special needs in the first instance.
7. Parents and community co-opted with jobs. In every urban area the schools are among the top three employers of city residents and the leading employer of minorities. Urban politicians have openly advocated and been elected on the promise that they will spread more school jobs in the community. The maintenance of failing schools is supported by the very people who should be leading the drive to transform or close them but who need to support themselves and their families. Because they need jobs, many poor families in the major urban districts are co-opted into supporting school systems that miseducate their children
8. Lawyers suing urban districts; lawyers defending districts. The number of lawsuits is a function of the potential that lawyers believe can be tapped for damages. Urban districts are the ones with deep pockets that lawyers can readily prove do not provide equal or even all of the mandated services. Except for frivolous cases, individual suits or class actions against urban school districts typically win in court or are awarded settlements.
9. Vendors of supplies and equipment. After defense and health, education is the third largest sector of the economy estimated at $700 billion annually. The amount spent on public education makes it the third largest industry in America. The State of Texas adopted a reading program for 2006 that cost $389 million. Urban school districts are a substantial part of this industry. A successful sale of a book, program or piece of equipment to an urban district is likely to be more profitable than a sale to many states. The current deals with fast food vendors to put dispensing machines into schools is a very small part of this vast and expanding industry. School purchases increase every year regardless of the state of the economy or the number of students in school.
10. Contractors and builders. This includes not only buildings, grounds, plumbing and the usual contractors, but the wiring for computers and the remodeling done for purposes of access and security. Maintaining numerous and increasing numbers of aging structures adds to costs. The Washington D.C. schools are just one example of a system that simply does not have sufficient funds to keep up with the aging process and bring its buildings up to code. Most of the school districts do spend the funds. School systems are never finished with builders and contractors.
11. Consultants. Endless. In my city one consultant recently sold the school board a $750,000 program that was terminated the following year because of a shift in the school board majority. It is typical for even bankrupt districts under state control to pay consultants thousands per day. The number of consultants and their programs that are purchased by urban districts is technically public information but extremely difficult data to pry loose since it inevitably shows that the district is buying useless advice or paying those who have inappropriate connections and relationships with schools boards and administrators.
12. Food service vendors and employees. In my system of over 80,000 students there are over 60,000 meals served daily. The growth, inspection, packaging, distribution, preparation and disposal of food in schools is a billion dollar industry. The federal system of agricultural support is directly dependent on feeding the fourteen million children and youth in poverty at school.
13. Transportation systems and employees. The schools in my city operate the third largest bus system in the state. Building and selling buses, operating and maintaining school buses, insuring school buses, driving school buses are a billion dollar enterprise nationally.
14. Higher education licensing institutions. By law, all professional personnel are required to not only complete certification programs but to take courses for renewals of licenses and for salary increases. The lack of accountability by Schools of Education is a national phenomena. Central office functionaries, principals, school psychologists, guidance counselors, librarians all have degrees and certifications from universities. In my state the 32 public and private institutions who benefit from this continuous flow of student tuition are in no way held accountable for the quality of any of their graduates’ performances. Indeed, 60% of the certified teacher graduates never even take teaching jobs. The beneficiaries of the higher education practice of selling credit to those required to be state certified in some specialization transcends schools of education and includes entire colleges and universities.
15. Organizations that contract to operate charter and voucher schools. In my city the school district charters special schools serving disruptors and other specific populations. The number of schools which benefit by being chartered by the district now exceeds twenty. My city also leads the nation in state supported voucher schools which have no accountability for reporting achievement but which provide widespread economic, political and religious benefits. While individuals, community groups and churches all benefit from these voucher programs, over 80 of the more than 120 voucher schools are religiously affiliated.
16. Federal, state and locally elected officials. Candidates running for office at all levels use educational reform issues related to urban schools for political purposes. It is no longer possible to be elected without an educational platform and these inevitably focus on problems that are worst in the urban districts. Unfortunately these plans inevitably enhance the politicians and their interest groups not the children and usually saddle the districts with even more unfounded mandates.
17. School board members. In my city school board members receive salaries of $18,000 per year plus full health benefits and numerous other perks. Many urban boards also have their own research staffs since they don’t trust the reports of their own central office people and superintendents. It is also typical for school board members to benefit financially from awarding lucrative school contracts to friends and relatives, to use name recognition as a school board member to run for public office, to get clients (if they are lawyers), sell more real estate (if they are brokers) and to use inside information in a host of legal but unethical ways. The use of school board membership for illegal activities is the type of news that is widely circulated when such events occur. The greater problem however are the numerous activities which benefit those in power at the expense of the children and which go unreported because they are legal but unethical.
18. Superintendents. Inflated salaries and perks are typical. In the major urban districts it is not uncommon to pay salaries seven times those of a beginning teacher. Because certification laws limit the pool of who can be hired and because the school boards look for experienced leaders, the superintendents hired are essentially recycled failures. It is typical for urban boards to buy out contracts of failed superintendents who then take jobs in other districts and collect salary checks from their former as well as from their current employers.
19. Media. If Milwaukee were 20 districts of 4,000 students or fewer the media would not be able to cover education with just one reporter. The news would also be much less compelling. Urban school news is essentially bad news. The numerous failures of the district are now a source of interest because of the magnitude of the failures and problems. If the number of truants, or expulsions or dropouts were divided by twenty the media would have education news that is more typical of suburbs involving much smaller numbers. It would be less newsworthy. The basic purpose of the media is to keep the pot boiling with high interest negative stories that keep their ratings high. High ratings lead to more lucrative advertising and more subscribers.
20. Professional organizations. The Great Cities Council, its Director and staff are just one organization with a budget in the millions. There are countless other professional organizations from school board members, to professors of various specializations, whose existence depends on its urban school district constituencies.
21. The NEA and AFT. The thousands of employees in these bureaucracies are devoted to staying employed and supporting the failing school systems on which their jobs depend. These organizations are political structures representing the status quo and resisting all change efforts that might endanger the flow of dues from their membership…and the membership feels more comfortable with the failing urban school districts than with the alternatives being proposed.
22. Unions of school employees. The major urban school districts deal with literally hundreds of unions employing millions of people. The New York City schools still heat over 100 buildings with coal and support a very active coal stokers union. The coal shovellers in New York City are just one example of a constituency benefiting from putting their own interests ahead of the children. Even small urban districts deal with literally dozens of unions. It would be extremely difficult if not impossible for these unions to derive comparable salaries and benefits if they were not bargaining with large districts. No small towns and few suburbs deal with the panoply of unions that the urban districts must keep mollified in order to keep running.
23. The “helping” professions and those who train them. There are several professions involving health and human service workers who “serve” the poor in our cities and schools. Small town and suburban school districts do not employ or contract with social workers, nurses, health professionals, community agencies, child care professionals and others to the same extent as the major urban districts, if at all. All these constituencies have careers because the urban bureaucracies exist. The community colleges and universities which train and certify this wide variety of individuals are also beneficiaries.
24. The test manufacturers have a billion dollar industry which continues to grow. This industry supports a range of professionals as well as marketing and staff personnel. It is not possible to buy stock in the Educational Testing Service.
25. Employees of the U.S. Office of Education. Administering the 49 billion dollar annual budget requires a small army of employees. Most of these funds are awarded to solve problems related to students in poverty, students with some handicapping condition, minority students, students in failing schools, or doing research and demonstration programs related to such students. Grants also focus on preparing teachers and other school personnel for these student populations. The poor and minorities in poverty legitimize not only the funds but the massive number of employees who give it out and track it.
26. Universities and other agencies receiving grant funds. In the first and second order public and private universities whole buildings, new schools, departments, institutes, centers, and programs have been built with the overhead from massive federal funding. The overwhelming majority of this funding derives from efforts to study or improve the problems of educating diverse children in poverty, much of it in the 120 largest districts. As the schools get worse the grant funds increase. The industry benefits those who give out and those who receive the funds, not the children and youth in poverty.
27. The criminal justice system. Over 70 per cent of the more than two million who are incarcerated or on parole were high school dropouts or labeled as having a handicapping condition. Building and staffing prisons is the major industry supporting many small towns and rural areas across America. The criminal justice system, before and after incarceration, provides a small army with employment . So too do the experts, academics and researchers who provide training for these employees.
This is merely the “short” list. The beneficiaries of failing urban school districts are in every sphere and at every level of economic life.
How the Problem is Manifested
The data on the social costs of miseducation on this grand scale is well known. It is in unforeseen crises however that the problem is brought home most dramatically. The response to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans is an excellent metaphor for the basic argument put forward in this analysis of dysfunctional bureaucracies enhancing themselves and benefiting a range of privileged constituencies as they disserve the very people they claim to be helping. What were the differential effects of Katrina on whites versus blacks and on middle class people versus those in poverty? The federal, state and local bureaucracies dealing with emergencies, disasters and homeland security; the various branches of the military; the police and fire departments of New Orleans; the health and human service providers; the Red Cross and Salvation Army; and numerous other constituencies all claim that the purpose for their existence is to protect Americans and to serve them in times of crises. Yet when a clearly predicted, publicly announced hurricane hit New Orleans it was perfectly clear for whose benefit the myriad of public and private welfare agencies are maintained. The excruciatingly slow and entirely inadequate response to poor folks and especially poor blacks who were left to die, go without vital medication, swelter and be left to their own devices for five days (and in many cases several weeks) under third world conditions was painfully evident. Hundreds of thousands of predominantly low income blacks were literally dying in the streets, drowning in their attics, or being herded into centers without adequate toilet facilities and no communication to the outside world. Television viewers in Sri Lanka and Chile were given more information about the conditions in New Orleans than the folks herded into the New Orleans superdome and told nothing accurate regarding what was happening, or going to happen to them. For months afterward the bureaucrats were still announcing plans, setting priorities, calling for patience and giving assurances that everything possible was being done. The only thing they were effective at was securing immediate and mammoth appropriations from Congress for themselves. The two grants ($10 billion followed by $51.8 billion within the first week alone) required the agencies to do nothing to prove they would be accountable for anything specific; the $2,000 promised each evacuee required identification and a mailing address from individuals who were escaping a flood.
A physician at the Tulane University Medical Center being interviewed by a television reporter announced with pride that all the “regular” patients in the hospital at the time the hurricane hit had been safely evacuated from the hospital. When the reporter asked how many of the “emergency” patients were evacuated, he responded, “As many as possible.” and when asked “How many emergency patients died?” the physician responded, “We just have no way of knowing.”
Throughout the disaster the explanation was given that less help was being given “some” people because their neighborhoods were not safe. Frequently, the explanation was made that there was looting and that the police had to tend to those things. In truth, because the police were unable to distinguish between people in need of food and water and criminals, and because they received no orders from their superiors, they did nothing. Yet, the reporting by television networks repeated the constant theme that the inability to provide the required services was the fault of the victims themselves who were resisting rescue and not cooperating with authorities. The victims were at first even referred to as refugees, as if they were strangers seeking shelter in a foreign land, rather than as evacuees who should be treated with the respect due fellow citizens dealing with a crisis.
There is absolutely no question that New Orleans will be rebuilt. There is too much money to be made from having it function as a tourist Mecca. This analysis of trends predicts that when the city is rebuilt, the public schools will serve primarily poor people of color and will be even worse than the schools in the original city.
The American public is now generally aware of the fact that bureaucracies enhance and enlarge themselves at the expense of those they purport to serve. We can be absolutely certain however, that the public is not about to give up on FEMA, the military, homeland security, the Red Cross, the health and human services and all the other dysfunctional bureaucracies “just because of this one incident”. The constituencies and all the people in them who benefit from claiming to serve the poor will go on being protected and rewarded. The New Orleans police will be back in business and so too will those who continually repair levees that will never hold water. To expect this entire structure to transform itself just because it didn’t serve “some” people would be an incredibly naïve expectation. The myriad of well funded, self serving agencies unable to serve the poor in a crisis is a chilling analogue to the pyramid of local, state, federal and private agencies which only enhance themselves and expand in spite of the fact that they miseducate diverse children in poverty. The victims of miseducation in failing urban school districts will continue to be treated as refugees in a foreign country who should be grateful to those who deign to rescue them from their disastrous lives.
Schools reflect society they do not change it. The same economic, political and social forces which are decreasing the middle class, enabling some to move up but many more to slide toward poverty, are also exerted on the schools. The danger to our society is maintaining the myth that the miseducation of millions for over half a century merely results in personal tragedies. In truth, the miseducation of our youth is of such a magnitude that it is now a far greater danger to our society than terrorism or atomic proliferation or the national debt. For how long can we maintain a free society if dysfunctional school systems produce dropouts at a rate which creates a city the size of Chicago every two and one-half years? Jefferson stated it best; “A society that would remain both ignorant and free wants something that never was or will be.”