There’s a lot for reformers to consider from this week’s Dropout Nation analyses of the National Education Association’s $131 million in political influence-spending. And a few key lessons can be gleaned from the data on how the nation’s largest teachers’ union is using its dollars to fight against reform efforts in statehouses and on the ground.
The first? The movement must work more-closely with impromptu leaders and grassroots activists yearning to support reform within black and Latino communities, especially emerging Parent Power groups outside of the old-school civil rights circles, as well as with bellwethers that have become reform-minded such as the National Urban League and the United Negro College Fund. Particularly with those groups working in the grassroots, reformers must put down some dollars, build stronger ties, listen to the concerns of those groups and the families they represent, and get to work. This also means targeting dollars in better ways than the NEA has for the past few years; even with the union rethinking its strategy and demanding more from social justice and civil rights groups, the union remains scatter-shot in how it spends the dues it forcibly collects from both high-quality and laggard teachers in classrooms.
But this goes beyond money. Chat with civil rights-oriented school reformers and they will tell you that one reason why the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers still retain some influence among their old-school counterparts in the civil rights movement is because the two unions are quite willing to give a helping hand in ways beyond money. From allowing groups to convene meetings in their lavish offices inside the Beltway, to allowing school-level PTA units to use their fax machines and copiers, the two unions have long-ago realized that resource-strapped groups are the easiest to pick off and co-opt to their side. The school reform movement’s biggest players, including Teach For America — which has extensive facilities throughout the nation — could easily provide free meeting space to grassroots reformers on the ground if they so choose.
Dollars should also be focused on helping grassroots outfits, especially Parent Power groups, develop their capacity; this includes financing advisory services that can aid these groups in developing strong financial controls as well as craft robust governance structures that can help such groups work more-effectively against NEA and AFT affiliates and locals. Certainly this should be an activity embraced by the big school reform philanthropies which are sometimes criticized privately among reformers for cumbersome request-for-proposal processes and for not fully understanding what building capacity really means. But the big philanthropies themselves may be far too bureaucratic to do embrace such an approach. So it may take the emergence of smaller philanthropies embracing an approach similar to what angel investors do in providing seed money to start-up ventures in the technology field in order to make this a reality.
The second lesson for reformers: They must get better when it comes to the political ground game and embrace the brass-knuckle tactics increasingly being used by teachers’ unions and their allies among progressive groups (as well as the approaches taken by Democrats and Republicans in political campaigns outside of education). The NEA, along with the AFT have always done a solid (if not always effective) job of leveraging their coffers and rank-and-file members on the ground. But as yesterday’s follow-up has shown, the NEA is directing more of its dollars to voter registration drives, supporting ballot initiatives, and using get-out-the-vote tactics that can make the difference between victory and defeat in political campaigns. Reformers have always been skillful in working statehouse corridors and policymakers. But politicians count votes and cash, and they won’t stand by any reform if they have to take on NEA affiliates with plenty of both.
Certainly some reform outfits, including Michelle Rhee’s StudentsFirst and Jonah Edelman’s Stand for Children, understand the reality that political action is critical to sustaining reform for the long haul. The emergence of Teach For America as a training ground for reform-minded politicians is also wonderful to see. But more needs to be done on the political front. So reformers must embrace the single-issue voter approach that was crafted by the legendary Wayne Wheeler of the Anti-Saloon League, who understood that having allies was more important than backing particular parties. This means embracing a bipartisan approach — including a willingness by reformers within both parties to back politicians on the opposite side who support reform goals. It also means taking on simple tactics such as holding voter registration drives, which can serve both as opportunities for civic engagement and for getting the message out to communities about why reforming education matters.
This savvy must extend to media. As seen last night on MSNBC talk show host Chris Hayes’ eponymous show, the NEA and AFT are also getting better at the public relations, especially in placing rank-and-file members who fail to mention their union affiliations as well as their work with groups supported by the two unions. [In such situations, by the way, reformers appearing on these shows should aggressively raise questions about such ties, which in turn, will also lead talk show hosts to also ask those questions.] Reformers have long had the high ground on the media front, especially in currying auteurs such as Waiting for ‘Superman’? director Davis Guggenheim and M. Nighty Shyalaman. But no advantage lasts forever, especially when traditionalist opposition realize that they are getting beat badly. This is why the NEA and AFT are launching their “Day of Action” this coming Monday to champion the policies and practices that sustain their coffers and influence; it is also why a group called the Institute for Better Education (whose recruitment memo for an executive director was revealed today by This Week in Education‘s Alexander Russo) is being formed by traditionalists to aggressively develop news that takes aim at reformers. Reform activists should already be mounting a counter-campaign that points out how the policies the two unions support have led to an education crisis in which 120 children every hour drop out of school and into economic despair. More importantly, each and every day, reformers should both point out the movement’s positive vision of brighter futures for all children as well as point out how NEA and AFT affiliates help themselves financially at the expense of kids.
The final lesson? Reformers must put more money into politically advancing reform. Consider this: The NEA’s $131 million in influence-spending is double the double the $61 million spent in 2012 by the Walton Family Foundation, the second-largest school reform philanthropy after the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (whose $399 million in funding to reform outfits in 2012 outstrips the NEA’s largesse). The NEA’s political spending is also greater than that of politically-oriented reformers. Stand for Children, for example, spent just $15 million in 2012, according to its most-recent annual report and its political action fund only spent $1.1 million on political campaigns in 2012, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics; StudentsFirst only spent $1.4 million in 2012, according to Dropout Nation‘s analysis of data from National Institute on Money in State Politics and OpenSecrets.org. The NEA’s spend, scatter-shot as it is, is still powerful when one remembers that it faces few restrictions on how it doles out contributions to allies and even fewer encumbrances on what can be considered “representational activities” on behalf of the rank-and-file. Reform-oriented foundations are effectively barred by federal regulations restricting them from engaging in political activities in aggressive ways; this is a legacy of outrage during the 1960s over the social reform efforts of the Ford Foundation and other philanthropies deemed too political by critics of the time (including the school decentralization effort in New York City that led to the Ocean Hill-Brownsville battle between the AFT’s Big Apple affiliate and those who would now be considered Parent Power activists today).
While this spending hasn’t helped the NEA keep its influence over education policy from falling into decline, it has helped the union and its allies score defensive victories against reformers. Certainly one can argue that reformers should continue to devote their money to building up organizations focused on transforming existing institutions, developing alternative teacher training outfits, and even launching alternatives to traditional public schools. At the same time, anyone who thinks that systemic reform can happen without political action — especially in battling for control of school boards that run most districts, as well as winning mayoral races in cities where city chief executives run schools — is not thinking clearly. As seen in Texas this year, where reformers saw two decades of hard-won reforms get rolled back, sustaining and advancing reform requires vigilance and cash. So reformers must spend more on political campaigning — and spend it smartly.
Once again, the NEA’s activities offer plenty of lessons from which reformers can learn. Now it is time to apply them in advancing and sustaining reforms that will help all children succeed.
As Dropout Nation detailed yesterday in its initial analysis of the National Education Association’s 2012-2013 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, grants and donations to supposedly like-minded groups made up a large portion of the $131 million the union spent to preserve its influence. But the NEA also used its money to support its own efforts and that of its state affiliates — especially in Michigan and Ohio — to defend the deals struck with state governments and districts that are the source of the clout it wields.
In the Wolverine State, the NEA handed over $400,000 to Defend Michigan Democracy, a now-defunct group which opposed Proposal 1, a ballot measure that would have validated Gov. Rick Snyder’s successful effort to greatly expanded the scope of emergency financial managers throughout the state such as then-Detroit Public Schools czar Roy Roberts; the NEA’s contribution was on top of the $120,000 given to the group by its notoriously-belicose Wolverine State affiliate, the Michigan Education Association, and the $250,000 given to the union by the American Federation of Teachers. Defend Michigan Democracy succeeded in defeating Proposal 1, along with another ballot measure that would have required have required a two-thirds vote by the Wolverine State legislature to pass tax increases.
The NEA’s spending in Michigan extended beyond supporting Defend Michigan Democracy and its $1.3 million in subsidies to the Wolverine State affiliate for its efforts to halt reform. The union gave $585,000 to the Michigan League of Responsible Voters, a group also opposing Proposal 1 whose backers included the AFT’s state affiliate and other public-sector union players. It also dumped $1.5 million into Protect Our Jobs, whose effort to win voter passage of Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment which would have enshrined collective bargaining in the state constitution, went down to defeat. All in all, the NEA scored some defensive victories, but didn’t make much in the way of lasting gains, especially in light of Snyder’s success in passing a new round of reforms this year — including a law allowing for the state to shut down financially failing districts.
In Ohio, the NEA gave $1.4 million to Moving Ohio Forward, which advocated for Democratic candidates who supported the union’s efforts against Gov. John Kasich’s school reform efforts; this is on top of the $500,000 the union gave to the group in 2011-2012. Moving Ohio Forward did plenty of spending. This included an ad campaign for three state house candidates, school board member Heather Bishoff, and teachers Donna O’Connor and Maureen Reedy; only Bishoff managed to win her state legislative race. It also poured $50,000 into Innovation Ohio, a group which seems to issue education studies that dovetail nicely with the union’s own agenda. The NEA also spent $5 million to prop up its Ohio affiliate, the Ohio Education Association; without the funds, the Ohio affiliate’s $2.7 million loss (on $100 million of forced teacher dues collected) would have been even larger.
The NEA’s political spending wasn’t limited to Rust Belt states. In Washington State, NEA gave $250,000 to People for Our Public Schools, which unsuccessfully opposed Initiative 1240, which ended the state’s embarrassing status as one of the few that didn’t allow for the existence of public charter schools. The union also gave $200,000 to Class Size Counts, the class size reduction campaign operated by its Washington State affiliate; in spite of the evidence that shows that class size reductions yield little results in improving student achievement, the NEA wants to make sure that its Evergreen State affiliate can increase revenue by requiring districts to hire more teachers (who must then pay dues to the union regardless of their desire to do so).
In Pennsylvania, where the NEA’s affiliate is battling with Gov. Tom Corbett over reductions in state education spending and the governor’s plan to ditch the Keystone State’s virtually-busted defined-benefit pension, the union gave $650,000 to Pennsylvanians for Accountability, a group which has been doing the union’s work in trashing Corbett’s agenda. In Florida, where the affiliate the NEA controls with the AFT is battling fiercely with Gov. Rick Scott and reformers unified under Scott’s predecessor (and rival), Jeb Bush, the union gave $250,000 to progressive outfit Florida Watch Action, and handed over $500,000 to the state affiliate’s Public Education Defense Fund. And in Georgia, the NEA gave $310,000 to Partnership for Public Integrity, a group which doesn’t seem to exist other than for a post office box at a UPS Store in the suburban Atlanta city of Milton. More than likely, the dollars were used to unsuccessfully oppose Gov. Nathan Deal’s effort to amend the state constitution to allow for the state to authorize public charter schools.
In South Dakota, the NEA poured $683,000 into No on 16 Campaign, the group which successfully opposed Referred Law 16, which would have abolished near-lifetime employment for teachers and established a performance pay plan. In Minnesota, the union gave $300,000 to Our Vote Our Future, which also helped beat back a proposed voter identification amendment. The NEA also gave $75,000 to Educating Maryland’s Kids, the outfit which helped pass the Old Line State’s DREAM Act allowing undocumented immigrant children to get funding to attend state universities; and $15,000 to Protect New Hampshire’s Constitution, which opposed three ballot measures not favorable to the interests of its state affiliate; the NEA’s Advocacy Fund super-political action committee also spent $15,883.64 on opposing the ballot measures, according to data from the Secretary of State’s office. The NEA also gave $450,000 to Quality Education and Jobs, an Arizona group which failed in its effort to pass Prop. 204, which would have required the Grand Canyon State to levy a one-penny sales tax in order to increase school funding. In a display of chutzpah, Quality Education and Jobs complained on its Facebook page that the amendment was defeated because of out-of-state funding from so-called “dark money lords”.
All this spending, by the way, doesn’t include the $70.1 million spent by the NEA and its affiliates during the 2011-2012 election cycle, according to a Dropout Nation analysis of data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics. This amount, is more than the $59 million spent during the same period by the Service Employees International Union, or the $34.5 million spent by the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees.
Meanwhile the NEA is still doing plenty on the national political front. It poured $5.6 Million into its Advocacy Fund super-PAC in 2012-2013; this may include the $300,000 OpenSecrets.org reports that the union has put so far into the super-PAC during the 2013-2014 election cycle. The NEA has also bought itself plenty of help from political consultants. This includes $215,000 to the Ballot Initiative Strategy Center; $141,044 to progressive-oriented mobile communications outfit Revolution Messaging; $762,757 to the New Media Firm, whose boss, Will Robinson, helped the NEA and other public sector unions defeat Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s effort to abolish collective bargaining; and $1.3 million on direct-mail help from the now-defunct Mack/Crounse Group. The NEA also spent $141,727 on help from Fort Worth-based consultants Angle Mastagni Mathews, which helped the union and its New Hampshire affiliate make get-out-the-vote calls for seven of their favorite state legislative candidates.
As for the NEA’s bottom line? It generated $387 million in 2012-2013, little changed from revenue levels in the previous fiscal year, thanks in part to a two percent decline in membership (from 3.2 million to 3.1 million) during the period. This included $1.7 million from NEA Member Benefits, the controversial affiliate that peddles annuities and other financial instruments to its members, an 11 percent decline from the previous fiscal year; NEA Member Benefits did manage to earn a profit of $4.5 million for 2011-2012, according to its filing with the Internal Revenue Service, versus a loss in the previous year. The NEA generated a $44 million surplus for 2012-2013, a 72 percent increase over the previous year. This can be credited to a 13 percent decline in the union’s payroll (from $77 million in 2011-2012 to $67 million in 2012-2013) resulting from laying off staff and sending some of its high-cost employees into early retirement; this included 68 staffers earning six-figure sums.
Still, the NEA managed to keep 369 employees earning six-figure sums on the payroll. That group includes Executive Director John Stocks, who pulled down $384,320 in 2012-2013 (a 1.3 percent increase over the previous fiscal year); General Counsel Alice O’Brien, whose $237,495 was 3.9 percent more than in the previous fiscal year; and membership czar Bill Thompson, who earned $235,152 (a nine percent increase over the previous year). Marcus Egan, one of the NEA’s top lobbyists on Capitol Hill, picked up $169,011 in 2012-2013, a 25 percent increase over the previous fiscal year. Once again, the NEA’s payroll shows that it can be a very good life for teachers’ union officials who like to engage in class warfare rhetoric.
The National Education Association filed its 2012-2013 LM-2 financial disclosure to the U.S. Department of Labor, and once again, the nation’s largest teachers’ union spent big to preserve its influence over education policymaking. The NEA spent $131 million on lobbying and contributions to like-minded groups in 2012-2013, a four percent increase over its $125 million spend in the previous year. These numbers don’t include the $51 million the union spent in 2012-2013 on so-called representational activities, which are often just as much geared toward political activity; that number, by the way, is little changed from spending levels in 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.
An analysis of the NEA’s spending shows that while it attempts to use some strategy in order to leverage its contributions to like-minded groups, it remains as scatter-shot as it has been in previous years. Over the past year, the NEA has attempted to get social justice groups it funds to echo its messaging and work more-closely with it in order to advance its agenda. This included meetings between the union’s executive director, John Stocks, with the top executives of past and current recipients. All this effort, however, has not ensured that NEA recipients are any more loyal to the union’s mission than at any other time.
For example, the NEA handed $30,000 to the Leadership Council for Civil and Human Rights, one of the leading civil rights-based players in the school reform movement, and dropped $75,000 into the National Council of La Raza’s political action fund even though the outfit is also a major reform player. Another recipient of NEA largesse is Al Sharpton’s National Action Network. It picked up $100,000 from the union in 2012-21013 in spite of the civil rights leaders longtime support of expanding the very charter schools the NEA opposes, $75,000 more than in the previous fiscal year.
The NEA continues its efforts to co-opt old-school civil rights outfits, albeit on a smaller scale. The NEA only gave $5,000 to Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition; Jackson’s group already collects considerable sums from the rival American Federation of Teachers. The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, a longtime recipient of NEA largesse, received $51,050 from the union’s coffers; that is less than the $60,000 it received in the previous fiscal year. The NEA gave $20,000 in chicken wing money to the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation, while doling out $10,000 to the National Alliance of Black School Educators. The black fraternity Kappa Alpha Psi received $10,000 from the union this past fiscal year.
The NEA also seems to be looking to co-opt groups that are major players in fast-growing Latino communities — including the Latino immigrant households for which systemic reform would be the most beneficial at the union’s expense. The union gave $125,000 to the National Latino Engagement Action Fund, which aims to mobilize Latino communities through voter registration drives and other efforts. Another voter registration group, Vote Latino Action Fund, received $110,000 from the union for its get out the vote effort. The NEA also handed $65,000 to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute; this is the first time the nonprofit arm of the congressional caucus has received more money than its CBC rival. The National Latino/a Education Research and Policy Project, a unit of the University of Texas at Austin’s Texas Center for Education Policy focused on recruiting aspiring teachers from Latino communities, picked up $50,000 from the union. The NEA also spent $25,000 on advertising and other public relations costs with Latino Publishing LLC’s Latino magazine.
Meanwhile the NEA’s successful co-opting of progressive groups continued unabated. It gave $332,000 to Progress Now; $100,000 to Progressive States Action, an affiliate of the Progressive States Network; and $25,000 to Committee on States, whose goal is the “strengthening of sustainable, state-based progressive political networks.” Another progressive group, Democracy Alliance, picked up $85,000 from NEA coffers this past fiscal year; the Massachusetts branch of the Fair Share Alliance also picked up $25,000 in NEA cash. The union also gave $10,000 to Good Jobs First, an outfit known for toeing the line of private- and public-sector unions. Engaging in class warfare rhetoric against companies (even though the NEA itself is among the nation’s most-influential corporations with even more clout than most Fortune 500 firms), the union gave $100,000 to the Corporate Action Network’s action center unit. The union also gave $25,000 to Netroots Nation, and $30,000 to the Leadership Center for the Common Good Action Fund, one of the now-defunct ACORN’s many spinoffs.
The NEA also sought out other alliances in order to preserve its declining influence. It gave $200,000 to CASA in Action, a leading player in rightfully advancing immigration reform, and shelled out $100,000 to Committee for American Fairness, which focuses on combating health care fraud and the swindling of senior citizens. Playing on the battle over recognizing same-sex marriages, the NEA also gave $300,000 to Marylanders for Marriage Equality, which helped successfully pass an Old Line State constitutional amendment last year allowing for gay marriages; Marriage Equality Rhode Island, a group working to make gay marriage a reality in that state, picked up $20,000 from NEA coffers. The union also poured $175,220 into the organization charged with building and maintaining the Martin Luther King National Memorial in Washington, D.C., and doled out $112,500 to People for the American Way, the old-line left-leaning group.
Attempting to maintain support among the very teachers it is supposed to represent — and looking to show that it cares about elevating the teaching profession it debases through its defense of quality-blind seniority-based privileges and reverse-seniority layoff rules — the NEA gave $73,500 to the National Network of State Teachers of the Year; that the selection of teachers of the year is usually more of a popularity contest than one based on objective measures of teacher performance is often conveniently ignored by all but the most thoughtful of observers, and thus, serves as a good way to spend union funds.
As for the usual suspects? The NEA gave $250,000 to the Economic Policy Institute, whose reports (including the shoddy work of its Broader Bolder Approach unit) always dovetail with the views of the union and the rival AFT. The union also gave $588,490 to the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, which is charged with overseeing the quality of the nation’s university schools of education; for all the NEA’s declarations that it wants to reform how aspiring teachers are recruited and trained, it continues to subsidize the outfits responsible for the slipshod quality of training by the nation’s ed schools. Joel Packer’s Committee for Education Funding picked up a $17.500 check from the NEA, while Rebuild America’s Schools received $20,000 from the union.
Meanwhile the NEA spent considerable sums propping up its busted affiliates. It has lent $462,845 to the Indiana State Teachers Association, which is currently under the national union’s receivership, last year; the affiliate now owes $17 million to the parent union. The NEA also gave the affiliate $144,722 for member litigation costs, $170,000 for so-called member communications activities, and $899,324 in Uniserve and non-Uniserv grants. Considering that former Indiana NEA affiliate board member Glenda Ritz is now the Hoosier State’s Superintendent for Public Instruction, the sums the national union is spending to prop up the unit can be considered well-spent. The NEA also took care of the Michigan Education Association, whose liabilities of $181 million for 2012-2013 are far greater than its assets of $69 million; it provided the Wolverine State affiliate $3.7 million in Uniserv and non-Uniserv grants and $1.3 million for member litigation costs. This, by the way, doesn’t include the $1.3 million the NEA gave to the Michigan affiliate for advocacy efforts to beat back reforms put in place by Gov. Rick Snyder and his allies in the state legislature.
As for NEA’s top leaders: President Dennis Van Roekel was paid $411,172 in 2012-2013, a 5.5 percent increase over his pay in the previous fiscal year, while number two Lilly Eskelsen Garcia was paid $347,751 (a 4.6 percent increase over the previous year), and Secretary-Treasurer Rebecca Pringle pulled down $346,436, a 4.2 percent increase over the previous year. These increases come a year after the NEA laid off staff and sent longtime employees into early retirement. Altogether, the NEA’s top three leaders were paid $1.1 million in 2012-2013, little changed from the previous year. As Dropout Nation noted last year, there’s nothing wrong with NEA leaders and their counterparts at the AFT drawing six-figure sums. But remind Van Roekel and his team about their dollars (and the very, umm, corporate ways the NEA and the AFT engage in their defense of traditionalist policies and thinking) whenever they try to use class warfare rhetoric in opposing systemic reform.
Dropout Nation will provide additional analysis of the NEA’s financial filing later this week. You can check out the data yourself by checking out the HTML and PDF versions of the NEA’s latest financial report, or by visiting the Department of Labor’s Web site.
On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast — and part four of the series on Common Core — RiShawn Biddle explains three critical challenges to implementing Common Core reading and math standards — and how families can help reformers overcome them starting with the classroom.
You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle Radio or download directly to your mobile or desktop device. Also, subscribe to the podcast series, and embed this podcast on your site. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Stitcher, and PodBean.
One can easily say that in many ways, outgoing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s 11-year effort to transform public education in the Big Apple has helped improve life for families and communities within it. Between 2003 and 2011, the percentage of fourth-graders reading Below Basic declined by eight points (from 47 percent to 39 percent) while the percentage of fourth-graders reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by eight percentage points (from 21 percent to 29 percent). The declines in illiteracy for the Big Apple’s poorest children were also pronounced, with a 10 percentage point decline (from 51 percent to 41 percent) in that period while the percentage of poor families reading at Proficient and Advanced levels increased by seven percentage points (from 18 percent to 25 percent). Bloomberg’s reform efforts have not been perfect — and as this piece points out, his shortcomings have been especially troubling when it comes to education for black and Latino children regardless of economic background. But the mayor is leaving the Big Apple with a better district than it had before he took it over in 2002. And it will be up to his successor, Bill de Blasio to both build upon Bloomberg’s successes and address the shortcomings of the regime.
Over the next few days, Dropout Nation‘s editors will offer their own advice on what de Blasio should do. Today, Contributing Editor Michael Holzman focuses on what de Blasio should do to address one of Bloomberg’s shortcomings: The low (albeit improving) achievement of the Big Apple’s black and Latino children. Tomorrow, Editor RiShawn Biddle will discuss the choices de Blasio must make to build upon the most-successful aspects of Bloomberg’s reform efforts. And on Friday, Biddle and Holzman will both offer additional thoughts on two problems that have remained unaddressed by Bloomberg: Accurate data on school performance to state and federal agencies; and the $31 billion in unfunded pension liabilities that will complicate New York’s fiscal future (and de Blasio’s plans to expand early childhood educational opportunities for the city’s children).
When Bill de Blasio takes over as New York City’s mayor, he will face a task his predecessor, Michael Bloomberg, admitted is the most-important of all: Educating the nation’s largest city’s one million children. And the current mayor-elect is right when he declared that the Big Apple has become two cities. This is especially true when it comes to education.
Students from white non-Latino and Asian (especially Indian) homes are more-likely to live in families with two parents who are college-educated. Just four percent of white and Asian families consist of single women with children under age 18. The poverty rate for white families alone is just 19 percent in 2012, lower than the average of 26 percent.
Students from black and Latino households are not likely to be so fortunate. They are less likely to have received baccalaureate and graduate degrees. They are more likely to be single-parent households; 16 percent of black and Latino families in New York City consist of single women with children under age 18. And 40 percent of black and Latino families are living in poverty.
This is a challenge that New York City doesn’t undertake nearly as well as it should. On average, 86 percent of young black and Latino men in eighth-grade, and 82 percent of their female peers score below Proficient and Advanced levels (or at grade level), according to the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress. As a result, most black and Latino students do not graduate college- and career-ready in four years.
The results can be seen in U.S. Census data on college completion for adults in the city. While nearly half of the New York’s White, non-Latino, and Asian adults over 25 years of age have a Bachelor’s degree or higher, only about one-fifth of black adults and 15 percent of Latino adults have achieved that level of education which is a crucial predictor of the educational achievement of their children and increasingly necessary for a middle class income.
The failure to educate black and Latino children is especially problematic because New York City isn’t a majority white or Asian district. Roughly equal numbers of New York’s children are Latino, black and white. Asian students (including Asian Indians, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and others) number between one-third and half the size of the other groups. When it comes to education, New York is a tale of two cities – and not a good one for black and Latino children.
What, then, is the task of the public schools? Is it to allocate public resources in proportion to private resources, so that children from comparatively well-off and highly educated families receive more public resources than others? Or is it to fulfill the ideals of the Founders that the quality of education should not depend on where children live or the class status of their parents?
All evidence points to a de facto decision in New York City to allocate public resources in proportion to the private resources available to students. Pre-kindergarten classes are more available in wealthier neighborhoods. Gifted and talented classes are more available in wealthier neighborhoods (and the qualifying tests are not even given in some poorer neighborhoods).
College-preparatory curricula are available in wealthier neighborhoods and not in poorer neighborhoods, The peak of the system, the selective high schools, as a matter of fact select so few black and Latino students as to be simply a rounding error in some of those schools, and the test is designed in such a way as to be virtually impossible to pass with the courses available in the city’s schools serving poorer (Black and Latino) students, while the city’s students from wealthier families not only have the requisite coursework for a solid foundation in their schools, but benefit from expensive private tutorials.
Given this situation, what is a new Mayor to do? The details are difficult to define. The goals are not.
First, bring equality to the allocation of resources across the school system. The differences in facilities, equipment and maintenance among the city’s schools is grotesque. It is incredible that this situation should exist. It must end.
Second, bring equity to the allocation of resources across the school system. The measure of this should not be clever book-keeping devices, but outcomes: Every school should have the resources to provide every student with a good education. Neighborhood schools in the Bronx and central Brooklyn should offer educations at least as good as those on the upper West Side and eastern Queens.
It is not difficult to measure the resources necessary for providing a student with a good education. The new administration need only identify those schools now providing high quality education, as shown by any of the usual measurements and determine the total resources—public and private—available to the students in those schools. Schools serving students living in poverty, with parents whose own educations are limited, will require compensatory resources: pre-school, all day kindergarten, after-school tutorials, summer school, high-standards for curricula and teaching. Schools serving students from wealthier families may find some of these items to be redundant for most of their students. The budget for each school should follow those determinations.