Author: RiShawn Biddle

The AFT’s Triangulation Strategy Falls Apart

Earlier this month, Dropout Nation revealed that the American Federation of Teachers’  presentation on how its Connecticut affiliate went into “kill mode” to unsuccessfully stop the passage of Connecticut’s Parent…

Earlier this month, Dropout Nation revealed that the American Federation of Teachers’  presentation on how its Connecticut affiliate went into “kill mode” to unsuccessfully stop the passage of Connecticut’s Parent Trigger law, made sure to exclude Parent Power groups from negotiations over the eventual bill, and used “karma” ( actually, electioneering) to make sure that the state representative who championed the law, Jason Bartlett, lost his re-election bid. For that, the union’s president, Randi Weingarten, had found herself issuing two non-apology apologies for the language in the presentation.

Then last week, Ben Smith of Politico reported that the AFT helped start Rheefirst, the Web site known for its vitriol against the former D.C. schools chancellor and longtime Weingarten foe. The union didn’t bother responding to Smith’s requests for response or confirmation, possibly hoping that this latest revelation would roll over.

But then, Rhee’s organization, StudentsFirst, issued a public statement today declaring that the Web site was “unbecoming” of “the civil discourse” the union declared last week it was trying to pursue. The AFT couldn’t possibly stay silent. So it issued a release essentially admitting that it was behind Rheefirst, proudly proclaiming that it was a “truth squad” against Rhee’s “agenda”.

Your editor has already made plain the hypocrisy of the AFT’s false arguments about the supposed incivility of school reformers (for their strong advocacy). I have also made clear in this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast that school reformers don’t have to apologize for speaking plainly on behalf of overhauling American public education. But the bigger story isn’t about civility or transparency or even tough advocacy tactics. It is about how the union’s efforts to triangulate school reform has fallen apart.

Faced with a decade-long decline in influence and the reality that its rank-and-file workers work in the big cities that are the centers for pioneering school reform efforts, the AFT has played upon its idiosyncratic history as militant unionizers and backers of such innovations as charter schools to pursue a third way of sorts, embracing some reforms while otherwise preserving the status quo. Building off Weingarten’s experience losing battles with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg during her tenure as head of the AFT’s Big Apple affiliates, the AFT has launched an initiative to help its locals experiment with their versions of small-scale reform, nudged locals to accept contracts that weaken the use of seniority in teacher layoffs and allow for some form of performance-based pay, and even launch its own charter schools. And though most of the AFT’s moves were driven more by its political losses than any desire to embrace systemic reform, the union had successfully positioned itself as the more reform-minded of the two major teachers’ unions.

But in the last three months, the AFT’s strategy has fallen apart. One reason why? The union’s Baby Boomer members, now a minority of its rank-and-file, but still in control of union locals, have been unwilling to embrace even the modest reforms Weingarten has pushed. As seen in cities such as Chicago and D.C., moderates have lost to hard-liners such as Karen Lewis and Nathan Saunders, who have pushed harder to keep the status quo in place. As seen with Lewis’ rejection of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s proposal to offer a two percent wage increase in exchange for teachers working longer school days (and ending the district’s unenviable distinction of having the shortest instructional day among the nation’s largest school districts), it’s all about keeping the deals in place and not about any moderation.

But the strategy really began falling apart in June, when the AFT’s New York City local teamed up with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Big Apple unit to sue Mayor Bloomberg over his plan to shut down 20 of the city’s failure mills and allow 22 charter schools to share space with the city’s traditional schools. The public relations nightmares that followed — including the declaration by NAACP honcho Hazel Dukes to a charter school parent that she and her fellow families were “doing the business of slave masters” — along with the accompanying loss in court, made the AFT’s positioning seem like mere posturing. And now, this month’s revelations this month have further weakened the legitimacy of the AFT’s third way.

It will be interesting to see how the AFT responds to these public relations and political blunders. Weingarten may need to hold a retreat with her P.R. counselors and come up with something that will be less-prone to exposure. Meanwhile, the more-quiet Dennis Van Roekel and his folks over at the National Education Association can smile at their counterpart’s misfortunes and pursue their more-hardline strategies with a little more satisfaction.

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Incivility Looks the AFT in the Eye

This week, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and the mouthpiece for the union’s New York City affiliate, Leo Casey, made plenty of hay about what they call incivility….

This week, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and the mouthpiece for the union’s New York City affiliate, Leo Casey, made plenty of hay about what they call incivility. Weingarten took aim at Steven Brill and his new book, Class Warfare, during Tuesday’s Thomas B. Fordham Institute confab on teachers and school reform, declaring that he was behaving uncivilly. Casey complained on the New York AFT’s Web site that Brill and longtime school reformer Whitney Tilson were hurting the union’s feelings.

The funny thing is that neither Brill or Tilson wrote anything that was even close to being nasty. Strong, certainly, but not exactly nasty. On the other hand, let’s remember that it was the AFT which held a presentation at last month’s TEACH 2011 conference explaining how it went into “kill mode” to unsuccessfully stop the passage of Connecticut’s Parent Trigger law, made sure to exclude Parent Power groups from negotiations over the eventual bill, and used “karma” ( actually, electioneering) to make sure that the state representative who championed the law, Jason Bartlett, lost his re-election bid. Don’t forget as well that Weingarten found herself in what Mike Antonucci would call the “anguished” predicament of having to offer a couple of non-apology apologies for the language in the presentation.

Personally, Weingarten should have apologized not for the language, but union’s longstanding  contempt for families and their interest in becoming the lead decision-makers in education. But let’s be clear: It’s funny that the AFT can actually make such statements about school reformers being uncivil in debate — which is really just thoughtful criticism of its defense of education practices that have denied recognition to good-to-great teachers, have contributed to long-term pension deficits that will burden taxpayers for decades, and have helped condemn millions of young men and women to poverty and prison — when the union uses tough language itself and stands by while its allies verge into even nastier statements.

And now, with Politico‘s Ben Smith reporting that the AFT may have been tied to the creation of Rheefirst, the Web site dedicated to taking aim at the former D.C. Public Schools chancellor and longtime critic of the very practices the union defends, one has to shake their head and just laugh. Since the AFT hasn’t yet responded to Politico‘s calls, I’ll hold judgment on this particular bit of news; after all, I have to see this with my own eyes. But I’ll say this: As your editor, none of this is shocking; such tactics are typical in any political or ideological debate.

As I made clear last week, we should take school reform personally and there is nothing wrong with thoughtfully calling things as they are and engaging in strong advocacy. But others would look at all this news on the AFT’s anti-school reform tactics and so far and call them, well, uncivil. For everyone, including younger teachers within the AFT ranks who embrace school reform, the union is doing itself any favors talking out of both sides of its mouth.

Weingarten, Casey and company may do well to think before they start tossing out terms that can easily be applied to their own rhetoric. Right now, the union definitely has lost the high ground.

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Randi Weingarten’s Dance Around Education Reality

Let’s give American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten some credit. During yesterday’s discussion at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute about teachers and school reform, she had a prop handy…

Let’s give American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten some credit. During yesterday’s discussion at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute about teachers and school reform, she had a prop handy — this time, a copy of the Harvard Business Review‘s June 2011 cover story on innovation — to illustrate one of her points. She played to the education traditionalists in the crowd with her class warfare rants about how states should raise $300 billion in taxes to cover $1.4 trillion in teachers’ pension deficits and unfunded retiree benefits, along with a sermon on how collective bargaining helps raise wages and provide voice for teachers. (Apparently the very existence of the AFT and the National Education Association, isn’t enough in her mind.) And Weingarten even threw a bone to school reformers with such declarations as teacher quality is as equally important to the AFT and its rank-and-file members as protecting their employment. She also noted that more-rigorous evaluation systems would “render last in-first out moot.” (The fact that AFT and NEA locals are fighting the development of more-rigorous evaluations, and that they still defend reverse seniority layoff rules in spite of their harmful effects on teachers, taxpayers, and most importantly, children, doesn’t enter into Weingarten’s thinking.)

But Weingarten’s overall arguments — that teacher quality reform efforts have denigrated the public standing of teachers, and that there remains a need for the old-school unionism of the AFT and the NEA in the 21st century — was rather weak. On the first: As American Enterprise Institute scholar Frederick Hess pointed out in his counter, more than 2/3 of those surveyed this year by Phi Delta Kappa and Gallup in their annual poll on education said they wanted their children to become teachers. In fact, the two leading polls have pretty much shown that teachers as individuals and as a profession, remain as highly-admired as ever. Her argument that teachers will oppose reforms that seem like things are being “taken away” only applies to the Baby Boomers (and retirees who still retain membership) who are an increasingly smaller group within the rank-and-file. The fact that Weingarten failed to note the generational divide within her own union (and the NEA), with younger, reform-minded teachers demanding the use of student test data in evaluations and wanting an end to tenure, made her thesis rather specious.

As for the need for the AFT’s old-school unionism? Weingarten’s argument that collective bargaining can somehow be used for “problem solving” and innovation ignores the reality that the entire process is acrimonious by nature, and ends up being a legalistic exercise. Anyone who has written contracts knows that the more one tries to put in them, the more legalistic the deals (and the actual activities governed by them) become. More importantly, it ignores the reality that many of the issues that govern the compensation teachers get and how they actually operate in the classroom are not contained in contracts, but governed by the very state laws for which the AFT and NEA lobby.

Then there is reality that the old-school unionism is a relic of the last century, shaped by worker-manager relations in the industrial sector that never really applied to education in the first place, and don’t really exist now. The emergence of value-added assessment and standardized testing, the success of teachers in improving student achievement can be easily measured; two decades of studies have proven that value-added stands up to scrutiny. The overwhelming evidence that the very traditional teacher compensation regime that the AFT and NEA continues to defend is ineffective in spurring student achievement, and worthless in attracting aspiring teacher to — and keeping them in — the profession proves that their model of the teaching profession (and their vision of American public education overall) is failed.

Then there is one issue that Weingarten failed to address altogether: The penchant of the AFT and the NEA to regard Parent Power — including vouchers, charter schools, and Parent Trigger laws — as threats to American public education. Weingarten can argue all she wants that she advocates for a vision of education that is shaped by teachers’ unions, families, and communities. But given Dropout Nation‘s revelations about the union’s anti-Parent Trigger stance, she has to offer more than platitudes. This time around, she offered nothing.

This isn’t to say that school reformers can pat themselves on the back. As Hess points out, we cannot simply legislate and regulate our way into high-quality education. While Hess forgets that state law and burdensome teacher dismissal rules are a culprit for why districts have done such a poor job in weeding out laggard teachers, he is right in noting that principals and superintendents should use the flexibility they do have to improve their teaching corps instead of just waiting on the more-rigorous evaluations.

Again, Weingarten is certainly charming. Education traditionalists would be better off touting her as their champion than Diane Ravitch. But Weingarten merely offers the same failed, amoral vision that hasn’t served children well for far too long.

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Three Things Randi Weingarten Should Say Today

When American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaks today at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s event on teachers and school reform, one can expect her to tout her usual…

When American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten speaks today at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s event on teachers and school reform, one can expect her to tout her usual message of embracing some reforms while otherwise preserving the status quo that has helped the union and the National Education Association become the most-influential players in American public education. One also knows that she will offer up some statement about wanting school reform that is led by teachers, parents and communities even though revelations earlier this month by Dropout Nation prove otherwise. And that’s fine: No teachers’ union boss is simply going to roll over and embrace systemic reform, especially that which will rightfully weaken its influence.

But Weingarten should take this time and actually admit to the reality that the education traditionalism for which the union has long advocated no longer works for anyone — especially for the AFT’s own future. More importantly, she must acknowledge that defending a failed, amoral vision of education is a disservice to the very children whose futures she and the union claims to care about. Here are three statements she should make today instead of simply pulling from her talking points:

Weingarten should admit that the AFT’s current model of unionism isn’t fit for good-to-great young teachers, for taxpayers, or for children: Protecting the current teacher compensation system, with its seniority- and degree-based pay scales, seniority-based benefits, near-free healthcare and near-lifetime employment, may do plenty for Baby Boomer teachers. But for teachers with less than a decade of experience — who now make up the majority of the rank-and-file members in both the AFT and the NEA, it is of little value. They want to be evaluated for their performance in improving student achievement, deserve to be rewarded accordingly early in their careers instead of waiting nearly two decades to reap the full benefit packages, and should get recognition for good-to-great work. And that’s what current teacher compensation doesn’t do for them.

Ignoring the majority of one’s members isn’t a good long-term strategy. Eventually groups such as Educators4Excellence, dismayed by the continued opposition to reform, will break off and form their own professional associations. Reform-minded Republican governors (and even their Democratic counterparts) will pursue efforts similar to that done by Wisconsin’s Scott Walker to end collective bargaining and abolish force collection of dues from teachers. Once such a situation happens, AFT and NEA affiliates will have to prove their worth to their younger members — something they can’t actually do.

But the AFT shouldn’t just abandon 20th-century union model — and its defense of traditional teacher compensation — because it will lose members. For taxpayers and for children, it doesn’t work. The evidence overwhelmingly proves that there is no correlation between these benefits and improvements in student achievement. If anything, traditional teacher compensation is an impediment to improving teacher quality. Poor students are the ones who suffer from quality-blind reverse-seniority layoffs. All students suffer when districts cannot easily remove laggard teachers who commit educational malpractice. And for taxpayers, it isn’t only costly for the long haul — as seen in the case of California and its $56 billion teachers’ pension deficit — but even in the immediate present.

Weingarten can’t possibly defend this system on fiscal, educational or moral grounds. Her union must stop.

She should also accept that the model is also politically untenable: The string of political losses suffered by the AFT and the NEA in the education policy arena over the past few years — most-recently in Wisconsin with the unsuccessful recall votes against six members of the state senate’s Republican majority — are clear signs that no matter how much money the two unions spend, voters aren’t exactly buying their message that traditional public education works and deserves to remain as is.

With states facing $137 billion in budget shortfalls this and the coming fiscal years, governors and legislators can no longer afford to protect school spending from the axe. Given that the cost of the nearly-free healthcare benefits and other perks of teaching have increased by 21 percent within a six-year period — and the $1.4 trillion in pension deficits and unfunded retiree healthcare costs — governors, legislators and the public realize they must restrain future increases. School reformers have also revealed the laggard quality of teaching and curricula in traditional schools and the results in the form of 150 teens dropping out every hour, has shown taxpayers that the nation spends $593 billion on education abysmally; Harvard’s recent report showing that even the nation’s best students lag behind the rest of the world (while our poorest children are falling further behind), is more evidence that American public education as is no longer works. And when teachers’ unions protest about layoffs in an age in which nearly every American is affected by the possibility of reductions in force (and salaries), there is no sympathy to be found for their cause.

Weingarten needs to offer a model of education that is cost-effective, leads to closing achievement gaps, and helps all children succeed in school and in life. What the AFT currently offers isn’t good enough.

Weingarten must publicly abandon the AFT’s internal rhetoric that vouchers, charter schools and Parent Trigger laws are “threats” to American public education: For all the non-apologizing apologizing she has done since Dropout Nation‘s revelations earlier this month about the anti-Parent Trigger presentation at its TEACH 2011 conference, the fact that the union has consistently denigrated school choice and Parent Power efforts, both at its own conferences and in the unsuccessful lawsuit in New York City to prevent charter schools from sharing space with traditional public counterparts, pretty much speaks for itself. In the process, the AFT has essentially made clear that it thinks that families should be barely seen and not heard at the education decision-making table — and no amount of apologizing will help unless stronger action is taken.

What Weingarten needs to do is not just publicly proclaim that messaging to be tossed into the ashbin of the union’s history, but to go further and publicly accept that school choice and Parent Power are critical elements of overhauling an American public education system that has treated families as nuisances and afterthoughts for far too long. The AFT must also end their penchant for dealing arrogantly with Parent Power groups, remembering that ultimately, parents should and must be the lead decision-makers in education.

If Weingarten just took up one of these points, she would actually be able to claim that the AFT is truly embracing reform.

By the Way: Dropout Nation will cover today’s event featuring Weingarten and Rick Hess. Follow at Twitter for the details.

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After Ackerman, The Next Step for Philadelphia Schools Should Be the Hollywood Model

Today’s announcement that Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman has been sacked as superintendent isn’t surprising. Her tenure has been wracked with enmity from everyone in the City of Brotherly Love…

Today’s announcement that Philadelphia schools chief Arlene Ackerman has been sacked as superintendent isn’t surprising. Her tenure has been wracked with enmity from everyone in the City of Brotherly Love — especially after last year, when she blocked the release of salary data on district officials. The fact that Ackerman accepted a four percent raise in spite of the district’s perilous financial state proved that she didn’t have the best interests of students and taxpayers in mind. And with just 42 percent of the district’s 258 schools making Adequate Yearly Progress this year, she also wasn’t succeeding in her foremost job of turning around its teaching and curricula.

Ackerman walks away with a sweet $905,000 golden parachute. She also leaves behind the same kind of acrimony she has engendered during a failed stint in Washington, D.C., and more-successful effort in San Francisco. Some other district will her again. Her temporary replacement, current deputy superintendent and former NBA and University of Pennsylvania executive Leroy Nunery, couldn’t do much worse. But the real question is whether Pennsylvania state officials, who have controlled the district for the past decade, should try a different school reform. It is time for the state to follow the New Orleans model and get rid of the traditional district bureaucracy.

Since the state took over Philadelphia a decade ago, the district has gone through an array of overhauls, including the hand-off of school operations to outfits such as Edison Schools, and even the hard work of reformers such as Paul Vallas (who began Chicago’s successful school reform effort and has just finished up a successful stint overseeing the revamp of New Orleans’ school system). But the district still remains one giant dropout factory; just 65 percent of the city’s Class of 2010 were promoted from 8th grade to 12th grade versus 74 percent of students from the graduating class nine years ago, according to a Dropout Nation analysis of data reported to the U.S. Department of Education. In short, Philly hasn’t improved under state control.

There are plenty of reasons why Philly continues its educational malpractice against children.One lies with the reality that none of the reforms have dealt with the bureaucracy at the heart of the district. Shuffling superintendents in and out of leadership isn’t a school reform strategy. Neither is contracting out school operations. The very fact that state education departments are simply not equipped to operate or directly oversee school districts is another; as seen across the river in New Jersey, where the state has taken over districts such as Jersey City with little success, taking over a district doesn’t matter if you don’t actually weed out incompetents from the highly talented.

Then there is is the fact that the district’s contract with the AFT local, along with state rules restricting robust teacher performance management, makes it difficult to address the low quality of instruction that is an underlying cause of Philadelphia’s problems. Student test data is “not among the recommended criteria” for evaluating teachers, essentially preventing the district from rewarding and keeping high-quality teachers and ditching those who can’t make it in the classroom. The AFT has also fought hard to keep its privileges. It successfully blocked the district from sheltering its Promise Academies from revere-seniority layoff rules that force it to send less-senior teachers onto the unemployment line regardless of their success in improving student achievement.

Pennsylvania state officials can’t continue this bungling. It needs to admit that the traditional district model is a failure and should implement a version of the Hollywood Model of Education championed by Dropout Nation. Pennsylvania should follow the example of Louisiana, which essentially transformed New Orleans’ traditional public schools into charters. This could include allowing groups of parents, along with charter management organizations and community nonprofits to take control of the schools. Requiring all the schools to create boards of directors with parents in majority control also makes sense and should be done. The state should also pass a new law allowing schools in Philadelphia, along with those in the rest of the state, to use student test score data in teacher evaluations; this should be part of an omnibus teacher quality reform law that includes addressing the state’s ed schools.

Ultimately, Pennsylvania can’t simply continue with the status quo in Philly. The state must embrace the Hollywood Model of Education and move toward a better way to provide high-quality education for all of the city’s children.

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Why Education is the Best Long-Term Anti-Poverty Program

  A penchant among far too many education writers who embrace the Poverty Myth of Education is to oversimplify the debate over the role of education in stemming the long-term…


A penchant among far too many education writers who embrace the Poverty Myth of Education is to oversimplify the debate over the role of education in stemming the long-term effects of poverty. First, they argue that school reformers proclaim that education is the sole solution for economic development in poor communities — even though no one ever says this. Then they argue that education can’t possibly be either the long-term or short-term solution for poverty — and find some flimsy data or examples to back it up.

Dana Goldstein of the Nation weakly pulled this funny trick earlier this month in her review of Steven Brill’s Class Warfare, trotting out the famed Coleman study to argue that high-quality teachers cannot help students overcome the consequences of economic poverty. Of course, she ignores the Coleman study’s conclusion that teaching accounts for nearly half of in-school effects on student achievement, and that it concludes that if teaching is of high-quality, schooling will be a bigger factor than socioeconomic background — and conveniently bypasses Brill’s ultimate conclusion that good-to-great teachers alone can’t improve education or stem poverty. (One can also argue about the value of citing a four-decade-old study in an age in which high-quality data on the role of teachers in student achievement are plentiful. But for now, I’ll leave that alone.)

Now, Sarah Garland, generally a more-thoughtful reporter than Goldstein on these matters, does something similar, albeit with less polemical force, in her latest piece for The American Prospect and the Hechinger Institute’s education news site. Focusing on my dear departed grandfather’s hometown of Camden, N.J., Garland argues that efforts by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to reform the state’s public schools — and ultimately, similar efforts across the country — essentially fail to consider that education alone cannot overcome the debilitating effects of poverty. Even if a poor child comes from a home in which the parents are engaged in promoting their success, these kids are affected by peers who come from homeless environments and other factors for which schools cannot possibly control.

Camden isn’t exactly the best example of a high-functioning district. As even Garland admits, Camden’s school district has been plagued by corruption for decades. It has also a prime example of abysmal teacher quality. The average Camden teacher was absent for 11.2 days during the 2008-2009 school year, according to an analysis by the Courier-Post. As a result, the district spent $8,748 each day for 81 substitute teachers to fill in for absent teachers. Essentially, Camden’s children are being robbed of the instruction they need to succeed in school and in life.

But even if Garland could find a high-quality district, the overall argument — that kids can’t get a high-quality education until poverty is addressed — falls on its face. Forget citing the examples of high-quality schools serving mostly-poor students, or the various studies that show that teachers and family engagement are bigger factors in student achievement than socioeconomic background. One only needs to look at the history of government-run anti-poverty efforts, and pay attention to today’s knowledge-based economy, to understand why this version of the Poverty Myth of Education has no standing.

Starting with the Great Society programs of the 1960s, America has spent five decades pouring billions into anti-poverty efforts. If one goes back to the construction of housing projects such as Chicago’s Cabrini Green during the New Deal era, and the mother’s pensions of the Progressive Era of the first two decades of the last century, these efforts have been around for nearly a century. Yet they have largely been failures. If anything, many of the anti-poverty programs (including welfare) has helped foster what Leon Dash would call the pestilences of gang warfare, drug dealing and unwed motherhood that have plagued Black America and Latino communities. Federal welfare rules barring married women from receiving benefits, for example, is one reason why marriage among poor blacks has gone from being the norm to being extraordinarily rare since the 1950s — and why 70 percent of black children are born into out-of-wedlock situations.

The reason why most of these anti-poverty programs haven’t worked all that well goes back to the old proverb about giving a man food versus teaching him how to fish: Short-term anti-poverty efforts ameliorate the problems, but don’t stem those issues for the long haul. After all the food stamps, the Section 8 housing, and the WIC checks, the families still remain poor. In fact, the dependence on the dollars makes things even worse because they would rather be self-sustaining families not having to count on anyone’s dime.  The condescension toward poor and minority families from those in bureaucracies who dole out the benefits, along with the traditional emphasis of these programs on simply handing out dollars without any sweat equity (thus denying recipients their dignity) is also part of the problem.

Add in the corruption of politicians (who tend to use welfare programs as add-ons to their political machines), and the general inability of government to deal with the complexity of family and social issues (as seen in any visit to a juvenile justice system), and the anti-poverty programs are doomed to long-term failure. When the communities in which these efforts are being undertaken are dysfunctional, the programs are just like so much trash on the ground. This is especially true in Camden. As with far too many other cities, including nearby Philadelphia and Detroit, Camden officials have spent plenty of time focusing on giving tax breaks to developers — siphoning off millions in property tax dollars dedicated to schools — and engaging in corrupt activities.  But they have spent little time addressing the quality-of-life issues, including rampant crime, that contribute to economic poverty.  The city’s violent crime rate of 2,300 per 100,000 is twice that of far larger Philadelphia (1,238 per 100,000), and four times the rate for New York City (552 per 100,000).

Finally, anti-poverty programs don’t address the real issues of low educational attainment that is at the heart of the economic segregation that perpetuates poverty. In an age in which what you know is more important than what you can do with your hands, high school dropouts and others who have been given low-quality education are going to be left behind economically and socially. Anti-poverty programs can help alleviate a 15 percent unemployment rate for high school dropouts age 25-and-older, but it won’t get them back into the economic and social mainstream. Education equals empowerment, and a high-quality education is what the children of these dropouts need in order to move out of poverty for the long haul.

The three most-successful anti-poverty efforts of the past seven decades — the federal school lunch program, the welfare reform efforts that began with legendary Wisconsin governor Tommy Thompson’s revamp of the dairy state’s system in the late 1980s, and the expansion of the earned income tax credit — have worked because they are also tied to the most-important solutions to poverty: Education, jobs and empowerment. The provision of hot, nutritious meals helps children get the nourishment they need in order to focus on learning. Welfare reform’s emphasis on job training and education helped more women get off the welfare rolls and into decent-paying jobs. And the earned income tax credit provides working mothers who have gotten a better education with the cash they need to sustain families and lifts them above the poverty line; it also flows into communities with at least an additional 50 cents in economic benefit for every dollar spent by families for groceries. These aren’t hand-outs, but helping hands that allow for families to stand on their own.

There are other programs that can help families address poverty — and they all involve schools. After-school programs, for example, can allow for young children to get their learning issues addressed. After-school programs also help single mothers address their child care issues by providing their kids with healthy, learning-oriented environments. Extending the school day, a concept that has worked for students attending KIPP and other charter and traditional public schools, would also help keep kids on the path to academic and economic success.

Another set of anti-poverty solutions start with the systemic reform of American public education. Overhauling how we recruit and train aspiring teachers — ensuring that those coming into ed schools and alternative teacher training programs have strong subject-matter competency and care for all children no matter who they are or where they live — would help foster cultures of genius in which the minds and souls of kids are nurtured so they can become healthy, intelligent, financially-secure adults.

These reforms would especially help poor black, white and Latino men, whose underemployment and imprisonment are among the biggest contributors to economic and social poverty. Remember, the average annual income for male high school dropouts declined by 27 percent between 1973 and 2009, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. When men don’t work, they cannot support families or be productive, active players in their communities. As seen with the 25 percent of male high school dropouts aged 35-to-54 who have never married, they are also less-likely to help build the strong two-parent households needed to help kids get into the middle class.

The simple reality is that the better-educated a person is, the more-likely they are to earn the kind of middle-class income they need to sustain families and build communities. A black man or woman with some form of college education will earn at least $9,142 more in annual income than a high school dropout; the gap grows both with additional higher ed credentials and as the better-educated person attains experience in the workforce in higher-paying fields. The benefits of high-quality education and greater levels of it not only flow to men and women, and their families. The economies of the communities in which they live, also reap the rewards, with high levels of home ownership, robust entrepreneurial pursuits and the emergence of middle-class families on whose energies and dollars civil society is dependent. Education, in short, can help transform low-income communities wrecked by violence, decay, and apathy into middle-class neighborhoods where children are safe, families are strong, and economic growth is the norm.

This isn’t to say that there isn’t a need to ameliorate the immediate effects of economic poverty. This is why the earned income tax credit is one of the best anti-poverty tools that exist. It is also the reason why cities must put a strong focus on quality-of-life issues such as rampant crime; former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s emphasis on fixing the broken windows in communities (which successor Michael Bloomberg has continued) is one reason why the Big Apple has had an economic and social revival. And there are some issues that neither schools nor government programs can adequately address. It will take a village to end rampant unwed motherhood and emphasis the importance of marriage and building strong families.

But when you have 1.2 million high school students dropping out of school every year into poverty and prison, anti-poverty programs and crime-fighting isn’t going to be enough. You have to deal with the long-term consequences of the nation’s education crisis, which is the driving force behind the growing gaps in income between poor and more-affluent families. In short, you can’t fight poverty without systemic school reform.

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