Why do Republicans want to undermine Oregon’s public schools?

publicschoolclassroom

What were they thinking?

Oregon’s traditional brick-and-mortar public school system is under stress and needs support. So what did the Republicans propose coming into the special session that started on June 24?  They wanted to make it easier for students to transfer from their district’s brick-and-mortar public schools to virtual public charter schools, taking State School Fund dollars with them.

Oregon law provides that a school district may deny a parent’s request to shift their child to a virtual public charter school if more than 3% of the students who reside in the district are enrolled in virtual public charter schools not sponsored by the district.

Senate Republican leader Fred Girod (R-Stayton) proposed raising that 3% figure to 8% to allow more students to abandon their district’s schools. “Given this pandemic, people are going to want an alternative, and that alternative is going to be virtual schools,” Girod said.

Not only would this have potentially siphoned millions from already stretched district budgets, but research on virtual charter school performance outcomes across the country generally paints a distressing picture. In other words, Oregon’s traditional public schools clearly have their problems, but the virtual public charter schools are even worse.

The desire of some parents for school choice is understandable, but numerous studies have concluded that full-time virtual charter schools are not the right option for many K-12 students. The fact is many K-12 virtual charter schools are like tribute bands, just a facsimile of real education.

“Current online charter schools may be a good fit for some students, but the evidence suggests that online charters don’t serve very well the relatively atypical set of students that currently attend these schools, much less the general population,” the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University said in a report. “Academic benefits from online charter schools are currently the exception rather than the rule.”

In the same vein, a report from the Colorado-based National Education Policy Center (NEPC) concluded, “There is…little high-quality systematic evidence that the rapid expansion of (virtual charter schools) the past several years is wise. Research has …consistently found that students enrolled in full-time virtual schools have performed at levels well below their face-to-face counterparts.”

A Fordham Institute study of virtual charter schools reached similar conclusions. “Online schools offer an efficient way to diversify—and even democratize—education in a connected world,” the study said. “Yet they have received negative, but well-deserved, attention concerning their poor academic performance, attrition rates, and ill capacity to educate the types of students who enroll in them.”

As most educators and parents learned in the widespread switch to online schooling spurred by COVID-19, it has been a worst-case outcome for most students. “There’s a sense that this has been an unmitigated disaster,” Dana Goldstein, a national correspondent for The New York Times, said in a June 28, 2020 Innovation Hub interview.

A recently published study published in Educational Researcher examined the effects of attending a virtual charter school on student outcomes. “We find the impact of attending a virtual charter on student achievement is uniformly and profoundly negative,” the authors wrote in a Brookings article.

The study authors concluded that “virtual charter schools are ill-equipped to take on a more prominent role” in light of the COVID-19 crisis. “Based on their dismal track record, policymakers should instead focus on greater oversight and accountability for these schools. Perhaps the worst policy response during the COVID-19 crisis is to promote these schools…”

Thankfully, Girod’s proposal didn’t go forward as a bill in the special session. It would be a shame if it rears its ugly head again.

Further reading:

Oregon’s Public Virtual Charter Schools Don’t Compute

COVID-19 and student learning in the United States: The hurt could last a lifetime

Too Many Schools Leave Learning to Chance During the Pandemic

Oregon Connections Academy: Still a Virtual Calamity

Alternative Schooling in Oregon: Is the Cure Worse than the Disease?

 

 

 

 

 

 

“War, huh. What’s it good for?

On this Memorial Day, it seems like the United States has been at war for most of my lifetime. The cost in American lives has been unbearable. Parents of friends, and friends themselves, have died. The financial cost has been astronomical. The impact on our culture has been massive. The resulting erosion of trust in government has been substantial. What have we accomplished?

Vietnam

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson used reports of attacks on two American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin as political cover for a Congressional resolution that gave him broad war powers in Vietnam. There were only two dissenting votes, Senators Morse of Oregon and Gruening of Alaska.

As American involvement in the war and body counts escalated, so did anti-war protests at home. The end came when Saigon in South Vietnam fell to the communists in April 1975.

VietnamUStroops

David Halberstam wrote “The Best and the Brightest” about the overconfident people in leadership roles in the United States who pursued the war.

“The basic question behind the book,” he said, “was why men who were said to be the ablest to serve in government this century had been the architects of what struck me as likely to be the worst tragedy since the Civil War.” (The term “Best and the brightest “ has often been twisted since then to mean the top, smart people, the opposite of Halberstam’s original meaning)

Now, 41 years later, the U.S. and Vietnam are reconciling. The U.S. wants the business opportunities that are expected to open up in Vietnam and a counterweight to Chinese adventurism.

vietnamObama

President Obama reviewing a guard of honor during a welcoming ceremony at Vietnam’s Presidential Palace in Hanoi, May 23, 2016.

 

Cost of the Vietnam War to the United States                                            $173 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War                                             58,220

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties of the Vietnam War       58,220

 

Afghanistan

The Afghanistan war began in October 2011 to oust the Taliban that sheltered al Qaeda chief Osama Bin Laden after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

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The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan ended its combat mission in December 2014, according to the White House.

In terms of Western goals — things are right back where they started: needing to keep Afghanistan free of extremists and a viable country for its people, CNN recently reported. The result is thousands of refugees and a continued safe haven for ISIS.

The Taliban currently controls more territory than at any time since 2001, when it ruled from the capital, Kabul, Western defense officials say, and the United Nations says civilian casualties are at a high since it began keeping records in 2009, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The United Nations said 3545 civilians were killed in 2015 as Taliban stepped up attacks after British and American troops left at end of 2014.

Furthermore, U.S. intelligence agencies have been warning the White House that the Taliban could seize more Afghan territory, including population centers, during this summer’s fighting season, in part because the Afghan government and its military forces are so weak, according to the Journal.

 

Cost of the war in Afghanistan to the United States                            $686 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the war in Afghanistan                          2,381

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties                                      2,381

Iraq

On March 19, 2003, the United States and coalition forces, began a war in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, the Sunni leader of Iraq.

When explosions from Tomahawk cruise missiles launched from U.S. fighter-bombers and warships in the Persian Gulf began to rock Baghdad, President George W. Bush said in a televised address, “At this hour, American and coalition forces are in the early stages of military operations to disarm Iraq, to free its people and to defend the world from grave danger.”

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U.S. soldiers hold back crowds as the statue of Saddam Hussein falls in Baghdad, April 9, 2003, by Peter Nicholls

The Shia-led governments that have held power since Hussein was toppled have struggled to maintain order and the country has enjoyed only brief periods of respite from high levels of sectarian violence. Violence and sabotage have continued to hinder the revival of an economy shattered by decades of conflict and sanctions.

Politically and economically, Iraq’s trajectory is currently a negative one, Brookings said recently. The country is politically fragmented at all levels and the centrifugal forces appear to be gaining strength. This, in turn, has paralyzed the government, suggesting that the most likely paths for Iraq are toward a situation analogous to the Lebanon of today.

Cost of the Iraq War to the United States                                             $818 billion

U.S. military fatal casualties of the Iraq War                                             4,491

Grieving families of U.S. military fatal casualties of the Iraq War       4,491

 

“War, huh

Good God, y’all

What is it good for?”

      “War” by Edwin Starr

 

 

We’re waist deep in the Big Muddy: the Oregon Convention Center hotel

The 990,000 sq. ft. Crystal Palace opened at Britain’s Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London’s Hyde Park in 1851.

The 990,000 sq. ft. Crystal Palace opened at Britain’s Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations in London’s Hyde Park in 1851.

For some reason, politicians are infatuated with building stuff. They’re objectophiles, aroused by, even obsessed with, things rather than people

In Portland, politicians have fallen head over heels in love with the idea of building a Convention Center hotel. The object of their desire is a subsidized $212 million 600-room Hyatt Hotel.

But the fact is, it was a bad idea right out of the gate and it’s an even worse idea now.

On the one hand, given Portland’s vigorous emergence from the Great Recession and a skyline brimming with construction cranes, the assumption that government-mandated subsidies are critical to building a convention center hotel is outdated if Metro believes the hotel’s success is a slam dunk. On the other hand, if the growing competition in the convention market will make adding a subsidized hotel a foolish gamble, then why do it at all?

“Faced with convention centers that are routinely failing to deliver on the promises of their proponents and the forecasts of their feasibility study consultants, many cities wind up, as they say, “throwing good money after bad,” said a Brookings report. “Indeed, weak performance—an underutilized center, falling attendance, an absence of promised private investment nearby—is often the justification for further public investment. A new center is thus often followed by a subsidized or fully publicly-owned hotel…”

A May 2013 rendering of a proposed Hyatt hotel at the Oregon Convention Center.

A May 2013 rendering of a proposed Hyatt hotel at the Oregon Convention Center.

So here we are.

The Portland project would be funded with $60 million in Metro-issued revenue bonds, backed by taxes the hotel would generate, plus $18 million in grants and loans from Metro, the Portland Development Commission and the state lottery.

But there are problems with Portland’s hotel proposal, as well as with the arms race of convention center-related construction going on around the country. According to CityLab, there simply aren’t enough big conventions to justify all the convention center expansions. Since 1995, convention space in the United States has increased by 50 percent, but convention growth hasn’t kept pace. “So many were saying, ‘all you have to do is get one percent of the national market and you’ll do just fine,'” he says. “Three hundred cities bought the same logic.”

In fact, the number of conventions in the United States has fallen over the past decade, as has attendance at the largest conventions.

The optimistic predictions for the Oregon Convention Center and an associated hotel neglect to consider that lots of other cities are expanding, too.

Boston is considering a $1 billion expansion of its convention center with a massive 1,200 room $800 million hotel. A Marriott Marquis Hotel is expected to open in 2016 across from the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston. Hotel operators Omni, Hyatt, Starwood, Peabody and Marcus have shown interest in a request issued by Oklahoma City to develop a 500- to 800-room downtown convention hotel to go with a $287 million convention center scheduled to open in 2019.

Even Des Moines, Iowa is in the game. In Feb. 2015, city and county officials approved a $101 million 10-story 330-room convention hotel project attached to the Iowa Events Center. Officials said they expected the project would draw many more national events to Des Moines and add considerable revenue to the property tax base.

And the list goes on and on.

But not to worry. Portland has advantages because it’s a happening city – food, culture, livability, young professionals – enthused the Oregon Convention Center’s ebullient 2013-2014 Annual Report. That year, the Center hosted 343 events attended by 549,762 people, many of them first time visitors to Portland, the report proclaimed.

But dig deeper into the dry numbers at the end of the report and you’ll find a less glowing story.

The number of events at the Oregon Convention Center actually shrank from 469 in FY2011 to 392 in FY2012, 377 in FY2013 and 343 in FY2014. Meanwhile, net operating results showed losses growing from $10 million in FY2011 to $11.6 million in FY2014.

Despite these numbers, and continuing controversy over the planned subsidized hotel, Metro president Tom Hughes calls critics “short-sighted and selfish” for wanting a public vote on the hotel project.

The hotel plan “promises generous returns for many years to come,” Hughes has said.

So we slog along.

Waist deep! Neck deep! Soon even a

Tall man’ll be over his head, we’re

Waist deep in the Big Muddy!

 

Moving to the suburbs: addiction and poverty

Linda knows poverty in the midst of plenty.

Her family was desperately poor during her childhood, but they lived in a tony Portland suburb, attending school there with kids who were much more affluent.

Her home environment growing up, however, was far from idyllic. Linda and her siblings were exposed throughout her childhood to drug and alcohol abuse as well as domestic violence.

That led Linda (not her real name) to reckless behavior, including her own drug and alcohol addiction, followed by brief trips to jail. She tried to straighten out on several occasions, but slipped back, returning poverty to the forefront.

In his heart-wrenching novel, “There are No Children Here”, Alex Kotlowitz followed the lives of two young boys growing up in the projects of the near West Side of Chicago. There they were in the midst of ruinous poverty, rampant drug use, run-ins with the police and dysfunctional families.

The book resonated partly because poverty and associated ills are often seen as synonymous with big cities.

But times are changing. Linda now lives in suburban Tigard, not a rundown area of Chicago or inner city Portland.

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As in her youth, she’s experiencing hardship, but this time she’s getting help through collaborative social service programs that promote self-sufficiency for homeless individuals and families. And she’s making real progress toward getting back on her feet. A big break came recently when she got a job.

The suburbs are struggling with an increasing number of residents living in poverty, including Tigard’s home, Washington County, which has a well-deserved reputation as the economic engine of Oregon with thousands of well-paying jobs.

The shift of poverty to the suburbs occurred around 2001, when data showed that more poor people lived in suburbs than in cities. The trend sped up with the Great Recession, which devastated many families.

One-fourth of poor people living in extremely poor neighborhoods in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas are in the suburbs, according to research at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C. And suburbs account for four in ten poor individuals in those regions who live in areas of high poverty—a neighborhood poverty rate exceeding 20 percent.

Alan Berube, a Senior Fellow at Brookings, argues that contemporary anti-poverty strategies must recognize the different needs of poor families in both cities and suburbs. The suburbs, for example, often lack the density to deliver services in a distinct area, he says.

Poor families often spread over greater distances in the suburbs, and they face different barriers (transportation, for example) than city dwellers do. Moreover, as poverty spreads to the suburbs, it becomes less a neighborhood problem and more of a regional or sub-regional problem.

Berube and Elizabeth Kneebone, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings, say we need to recognize that growing jobs and fighting poverty are not separate initiatives. As U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski put it, the best social program is a job. In addition, we need to engage more partners, particularly the private sector, in efforts to improve outcomes for low-income people and places.

A few years into the painfully slow recovery from the Great Recession, the need remains high.

 

 

Single mothers = singular troubles

It’s no secret that single motherhood is a prescription for economic insecurity for many women.

Single-mother families are nearly five times as likely to be poor than married-couple families and a majority of America’s poor children live in single mother-led households, according to the left-leaning Center for American Progress.

Lone mothers

At the other end of the political spectrum, the conservative Heritage Foundation says marriage is the greatest weapon against child poverty.

“Family disintegration, lack of education, and counterproductive welfare incentives all contribute to child poverty,” Heritage wrote recently. “Rebuilding a strong marriage culture should be at the forefront of our efforts to fight poverty.”

A New York Times story cited a number of studies that attributed the growing income gaps in American society to the changing structure of the typical family with the growing number of single parent families. The article suggested that changing marriage patterns could account for anywhere from 15-40% of growing income inequality across the country, with a surge in births outside of marriage among less educated women pushing single-parent families into the lower end of the socio-economic range.

“College-educated Americans … are increasingly likely to marry one another, compounding their growing advantages in pay,” The Times said. “Less-educated women…are growing less likely to marry at all, raising children on pinched paychecks that come in ones, not twos.”

“It is the privileged Americans who are marrying, and marrying helps them stay privileged,” said Andrew Cherlin from Johns Hopkins University.

Now there’s even more evidence connecting single-motherhood to poverty.

The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit for low to moderate income working persons, particularly those with children.

The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based centrist think tank, put together an illuminating interactive map of the share of taxpayers that claim the EITC at the county level nationwide:

Map: The Earned Income Tax Credit in Your County

Brookings then compared the EITC map with a map of single motherhood in the United States in the most recent year for which complete data is available.

Map: Percent of all households that are single female headed with children in 2010.

The principal conclusion? The map of EITC benefits by county looks a lot like a map of single motherhood.

As Brookings points out, looking at the number of parents in a household as an indicator of financial stability and opportunity, changing marriage patterns could account for anywhere from 15-40% of growing income inequality across the country.

While correlation doesn’t necessarily equal causation, the link between poverty and mothers with children growing up without a father is clearly something that ought to be part of the discussion of income inequality in the United States.