Making Childhood Pay: Arthur Rolnick, Steven Rothschild, and ReadyNation

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Pre-K Teachers Heart Tech

The push for early childhood education access is NOT being driven by a desire to meet the basic human needs of children. Rather financial interests that view children as cogs in a national workforce development program are pushing it; and they see preschoolers as lumps of human capital to be plugged into economic forecasts. This is all happening at a time when human services are being privatized in the name of scalable, outcomes-driven social entrepreneurship. The trailer for a new documentary, The Invisible Heart, on social impact bonds indicates how much capital is flowing into this new market.

This post provides additional background on the ReadyNation Global Business Summit on Early Childhood Education that will take place at the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York City November 1-2, 2018. No U.S. educators or policy advocates may attend unless they come with at least four pre-approved business sponsors. Review the draft agenda here.

This is the second in a series. Read part one here.

Where did ReadyNation come from?

The idea emerged from a conversation three men had on a conference call during the summer of 2003:

  • Arthur Rolnick, senior researcher at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve
  • Robert Dugger, financial policy analyst and venture capitalist
  • James Heckman, University of Chicago economics professor

Its first incarnation, the “Investing in Kids Working Group,” focused on researching returns on early childhood investments, developing finance mechanisms, and crafting policy recommendations. Over the past fifteen years Dugger, in consultation with Heckman and Rolnick and with support from the Pew Charitable Trusts, gradually built a structure to undergird a global investment market fueled by debt associated with provision of early childhood education services.

The push for early childhood education access is NOT being driven by a desire to meet the basic human needs of children. Rather financial interests that view children as cogs in a national workforce development program are pushing it; and they see preschoolers as lumps of human capital to be plugged into economic forecasts. This is all happening at a time when human services are being privatized in the name of scalable, outcomes-driven social entrepreneurship. The trailer for a new documentary, The Invisible Heart, on social impact bonds indicates how much capital is flowing into this new market.

Arthur Rolnick, Steven Rothschild, and Pay for Performance

Much of my research has focused on the Boston area (global finance), the Bay Area (tech), Chicago (blockchain), and New York (urban policy). So I was surprised to find what may be a key piece of this puzzle actually comes out of Minneapolis Minnesota. Though perhaps the fact that Minnesota is home to the nation’s first charter school, City Academy that opened in St. Paul in 1992, indicates local conditions favor neoliberal reforms.

Arthur (Art) Rolnick spent his 40-year career as a senior economic researcher at the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank. During that time he also served as an associate professor in the economics department of the University of Minnesota and was co-director of the Human Capital Research Collaborative in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs. The Collaborative houses the Chicago Longitudinal Study whose researchers are tracking the short and long term effects of early intervention on 1,000 students who attended Chicago’s Child-Parent Centers in 1984-85.

The Chicago Child-Parent Centers were service providers for one of the nation’s first two early childhood social impact bonds, begun in December 2014. The Chicago SIB included payout metrics tied to third grade literacy scores. Thus far the program has issued maximum payments to investors including Pritzker, Goldman-Sachs and Northern Trust. According to this report from the Institute for Child Success, it is possible that over the seventeen-year time horizon for the SIB, $34 million could be paid out on the initial $16.9 investment.

Click here for the interactive version of this map.

Rolnick connected with Steven Rothschild, a former vice president at General Mills who left the corporate sector and launched Twin Cities RISE!, an “innovative anti-poverty” program that provided workforce training for low income adults, in the mid 1990s. Rothschild arranged with the state of Minnesota to provide services via an outcomes-based contracting arrangement where the organization was only paid when the “economic value” they provided to the state by increasing taxes (paid by those placed in jobs) and decreasing state expenditures (reduced costs for social services or incarceration) met approved targets.

Arthur Rolnick and Gary Stern of the Minneapolis Federal Reserve worked with Rothschild and Twin Cities Rise! to develop the economic analysis in support of the outcomes-based contracting initiative. Rolnick’s work with Rothschild eventually led him to examine the economic implications of early childhood interventions using data from the High/Scope Perry Preschool Study. In 2003, the year Rolnick had that auspicious phone call with Robert Dugger and James Heckman, he and and Rob Grunewald, regional economic analyst, put out the following report for the Minneapolis Federal Reserve: Early Childhood Development: Economic Development with a High Public Return.

In a 2006 profile of Rolnick, Minnesota journalist and blogger Kevin Featherly notes that report catalyzed $1 million in seed money for the Minnesota Early Learning Foundation, a project of the Minnesota Business for Early Learning. It also put Rolnick and Grunewald on the lecture circuit for the next several years where they touted early childhood education as a prudent economic investment. Weatherly likened Rolnick’s schedule after the release of the report to that of a presidential candidate, sharing the stage with Jeb Bush at the National Governor’s Convention, the head of the Gates Foundation at the National Council of State Legislatures, and presenting to a global audience at the World Bank.

Rothschild who served on the boards of the Greater Twin Cities United Way and Minneapolis Foundation, went on to found the consulting firm Invest in Outcomes and write the Non Non-Profit, a book that exhorted non-profits to focus on the Return on Investment (ROI) and measurable economic outcomes of the services they provide. These ideas eventually led the Minnesota legislature to adopt the “Pay for Performance Act” in 2011 that appropriated $10 million for a pilot program to develop Human Capital Performance Bonds or HuCaps.

Rothschild provides a detailed explanation of how HuCaps function in a 2013 article for the San Francisco Federal Reserve’s publication Community Development Investment Review. HuCaps differ from social impact bonds in that they are true bonds and tap into the state bond markets; which, in theory, could give them access to significantly more capital-trillions of dollars rather than millions. In this podcast with the St. Louis Federal Reserve, Rothschild describes the model developed by Twin Cities RISE! as the basis for much of the social impact investing activities that have emerged over the past decade.

Source for this slide.

As structured in the Minnesota legislation, the service provider is the one that takes the risk rather than the investor. If the provider is not able to meet the target metrics they are the ones who will not be paid. As a consequence, HuCaps have not yet taken off; see Propel Nonprofit’s analysis here.

Source for this slide.

Nevertheless, there are those who have not given up on the Human Capital Performance Bond approach. Arnold Packer, former director of the education reform and workforce development SCANS 2000 Center based out of Johns Hopkins University, wrote about HuCaps for the Brookings Institution in 2015 (the co-chair of the Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making is Bruce Haskins also of Brookings). He noted that Milton Friedman was among the first to float the idea of leveraging private investment in human capital development. Take a minute to watch this one-minute video, from Institute for the Future, that portrays a college student contemplating entering into an income-sharing arrangement in exchange for tuition.

The idea that states could issue bonds for human capital in the same way they do for infrastructure like bridges, and that future savings will be created as people attain higher paying jobs due to their improved human capital, is central to the HuCap premise. In order to justify future cost savings, those receiving services must be tracked, so their “outcomes” can be measured over time. According to Arnold:

“This reform requires a shift in thinking on all sides, investors in human resources (early childhood education falls into this category) will have to consider statistically estimated benefits in terms of future cost savings and revenue as equivalent to projected revenue from a toll road. Government agencies will have to coordinate in order to structure attractive Human Resource bonds, since different agencies at different levels of government, benefit from the savings resulting from earlier investments.” Source

This model of finance, if ever widely adopted, would demand all recipients of public services (including education) be part of the government’s statistical estimate. Because many early-intervention services are directed at families, a person’s predictive profile would likely start to be amassed prenatally; babies assigned a Decentralized Identifier (DID), before they are even born. Estimates would be made about the likelihood a person would need to access services in the future, what those services would be, and what they would cost. Assessments would be made about the anticipated tax revenue a person would in turn generate over their lifetime. All of this data would need to be calculated in order to determine the impact metrics for the investors and structure “attractive human resource bonds.”

Before the rise of cloud-based computing, such a level of tracking would have been impossible. Having access to data to make those predictions would have been difficult to obtain. But that is rapidly changing in this world of Big Data, digital identity and “moneyball for kids.” The bi-partisan Commission on Evidence-Based Policy Making concluded public hearings in February 2017, and the vast majority of those providing testimony favored creating enormous pools of data to inform public policy decisions.

Evidence Based Policy Making

Read the report.

Responsibilities of the Commission on Evidence Based Policy Making:

Things seem to be on hold for the moment with Human Capital Performance Bonds, but I feel strongly they may be simply waiting in the wings until Blockchain sovereign identity is normalized. An Illinois state Blockchain task force (note Pritzker, backer of early childhood SIBs is running a well-funded campaign for governor of Illinois now) has developed preliminary recommendations linking public service benefits to citizens using Blockchain technology. They even envision building in behavioral incentives tied to the provision of services through digital economic platforms. See the diagram below for an illustration of how they might incentivize food purchases.

Read the report.

Of course the implications of this type of manipulation for people who live in food deserts with limited access to fresh produce remains unaddressed. And it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to see how other choices might be economically incentivized: which online course to take (the evidence-based one); which training program (the evidence-based one); which therapy provider (the evidence-based one); which medical treatment (the evidence-based one). But by whose measure? Who sets the metrics? Who profits when “evidence-based” standards are imposed?

How will independently-owned, neighborhood-based child care centers fare in this new landscape? If they are shuttered, what will the economic impacts be for communities, especially in economically distressed neighborhoods where such businesses are important sources of employment? Will small-scale providers be willing to collect the “human capital” data required to take advantage of pay for success investments? If they are willing, would they even have the money to purchase the technology (smart tables, anyone?) required to gather their “impact” evidence?

Rob Grunewald, Rolnick’s collaborater on the Federal Reserve Early Childhood paper, is on the ReadyNation Summit planning committee. Rolnick is part of a workshop, “Scalable Success Stories in Early Childhood Programs,” at 11:45 on Friday, November 2nd.

The “pay for performance” finance mechanism dreamed up by Rothschild and Rolnick in the 1990s is particularly well-suited to this age of Internet of Things data collection, surveillance, predictive analytics, financialization, and economic precocity. This is why we should all be very concerned about ReadyNation’s Global Business Summit on Early Childhood; especially because it so clearly discourages early childhood educators and policy advocates from attending.

Next up, Dr. James Heckman and the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

-Alison McDowell

 

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Pre-K Profit: ReadyNation Hosts Global Business Leaders in New York City this November

Reposted with permission from Wrench in the Gears.

Data Driven PreK

The rise of pay for success, social impact bonds, development impact bonds, and outcomes-based contracting will usher in privatization of vast new areas of public services, including education and training at all levels from infants through human resource management (lifelong learning, reskilling). This is not merely a phenomenon of the United States; this summit is intended for a global audience, a neocolonial project driven by late-stage capitalism.

Business executives, government officials, and representatives of non-profits and NGOs from across the globe will gather in New York City this fall to discuss the business of early childhood. These are not people looking to open childcare franchises. No, that is not their “business.” The intent is more sinister, transforming our youngest learners into points of profit extraction under the guise of social justice and equity. Through technology and forms of “innovative finance” they aim to catalyze a speculative market in toddler data, using the lives of young, vulnerable learners as vehicles to move vast sums of social impact venture capital.

ReadyNation, a program of the Council for a Strong America, is hosting the summit, set to take place at the Grand Hyatt Hotel on November 1-2, 2018. Council for a Strong America, a bipartisan coalition of leaders from the law enforcement, military, business, religion, and athletics spheres, has placed influencers guiding early childhood education policy in every state. Their intent is to promote public-private partnerships that will generate investment returns for global finance while shaping children into a compliant citizenry conditioned to accept economic precariousness and digital surveillance while doing the bidding of the power elite.

The rise of pay for success, social impact bonds, development impact bonds, and outcomes-based contracting will usher in privatization of vast new areas of public services, including education and training at all levels from infants through human resource management (lifelong learning, reskilling). This is not merely a phenomenon of the United States; this summit is intended for a global audience, a neocolonial project driven by late-stage capitalism.

Remember the 2007 housing market crash? The fraud Goldman Sachs perpetrated, misleading investors to purchase financial instruments tied to sub-prime mortgage bonds? The $16.65 billion penalty Bank of America had to pay, the largest settlement between the government and a private corporation? Seeing financiers from both companies on stage at a 2014 ReadyNation event promoting early childhood social impact finance should give us pause. Watch the hour-long talk here. The excerpt below is taken from a two-minute clip where the moderator, Ian Galloway, introduces a panel on potential financing structures. Watch that here.

“Christina Shapiro is a vice president at Goldman Sachs. You know, I’ve heard a lot that if you’ve seen one social impact bond, other people may have heard it, too. If you’ve seen one social impact bond, you’ve seen one social impact bond, right? That is true with one exception, and that is that just about every social impact bond out there has Goldman Sach’s fingerprints all over it. They are by far the leaders in the space. They are creating this marketplace out of thin air, and I commend Christina and her colleagues for their hard work on that front.”

Ian Galloway, Senior Research Associate, San Francisco Federal Reserve

To dig the hole deeper, the Council for a Strong America has accepted over $10 million from the Gates Foundation since 2006, including a $4.2 million grant in October 2015 to “engage stakeholders around the Common Core and high quality preschool.” Last summer in the run up to the fall 2018 elections, Gates granted the organization $300,000 to “educate potential future governors about the importance of college and career readiness in their state.”

Gates Grants to Council for a Strong America

ReadyNation’s speakers range from the World Bank, UNICEF, Omidyar Network, and the Girl Scouts to KPMG, the Massachusetts Business Roundtable, Learn Capital, and Sorenson Media (founded by Jim Sorenson, Utah tech entrepreneur and impact investor). A previous summit launched early-childhood campaigns in Romania, Australia, and Uganda in 2015. ReadyNation Romania and The Front Project (formerly ReadyNation Australia) will be participating.

What do summit attendees get for their $200 registration fee? ReadyNation touts the event as “the only training ground in the world for business people from outside the children’s sector to become unexpected and uniquely influential advocates for public and private investments in early childhood…Summit attendees from the U.S. must be business people or public officials; those from outside the U.S. can come from other sectors.” Children’s advocates and policy experts in early childhood education are specifically excluded from the conference unless they attend with at least four business people. In order to attend, one must to submit an online request.

Why is ReadyNation so emphatic about excluding early childhood educators and policy advocates? Find out in Part 2: Making Childhood Pay: Arthur Rollick, Steven Rothschild and ReadyNation.

-Alison McDowell

Is Wall Street About to Take Over Public Education Once and for All?

Reposted with permission from Save Maine Schools – Helping You Navigate Next-Gen Ed Reform.

Wall Street

And so, unbeknownst to most of the public, our schools – and the teaching profession – are being remade in order to facilitate this market.

Organizations like the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN),  formed to advance impact investing, are developing banks of metrics on social services like education to help inform investors as they build their portfolios, while nonprofits like Strivetogether are building public-private data sharing networks across cities.

Across the country, teachers are being asked to collect, record, and slog through mountains of data that “experts” insist is meant to improve their practice.

There are pre-assessments and post-assessments, habits of work rubrics, writing prompts, social and emotional screeners, standards-based grading systems, RTI data, student learning objectives, professional growth goals, student surveys, self evaluations, administrator evaluations, office discipline referrals, results from progress monitoring programs  …the data demands go on and on, and all of it must be entered and stored in learning management systems.

Recently, a few brave teachers have begun to publicly state the obvious: that we don’t need all of this data to do our jobs well.

Unfortunately, no one seems to be listening, as there is a far more powerful entity that does need all this data:

Wall Street.

As Pay for Success schemes – also known as Social Impact Bonds – sweep the country, data collection in schools is reaching new heights.

“[It’s] an approach that has come of age,” Andy Sieg, Managing Director and Head of Global Wealth and Retirement Solutions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch said of Pay for Success contracts. “We see the confluence of investor demand, government innovation and access to data leading to the dawn of this new market.”

Here’s how they work: private investors provide upfront capital to start a program (a pre-K, for example). If the program meets a set of agreed-upon metrics of “success” (reducing the number of children receiving special education services, for example), investors get repaid with interest.

Despite ethical concerns and doubts about the actual public benefit of these contracts, they are rapidly advancing nationwide due to promises of big payouts for lenders. Goldman Sachs, for example, put up $16.6 million to fund an early childhood education program in Chicago, yet it is getting more than $30 million from the city.  According to The Rockefeller Foundation and Merrill Lynch, the impact investing market will reach between $400 billion to $1 trillion by 2020.

And they don’t intend for the profits to stop there. Investors also have plans to package these bonds up and turn them into a derivatives market. Using performance-based data to inform risk, investors will be able to gamble on these bond-backed securities just as they did with mortgages.

And so, unbeknownst to most of the public, our schools – and the teaching profession – are being remade in order to facilitate this market.

Organizations like the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN),  formed to advance impact investing, are developing banks of metrics on social services like education to help inform investors as they build their portfolios, while nonprofits like Strivetogether are building public-private data sharing networks across cities.

In addition to directing federal dollars to incentivize Pay for Success schemes, the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2016 is jam-packed with grant money to shift schools to competency-based, blended, and/or personalized learning models – all conduits for data collection.

Meanwhile, Silicon Valley titans have grasped hands with investors to develop products and services that deliver data-based learning.  Most of their products rely on behaviorist-based approaches – a controversial method of stimulation and reward to produce target behaviors that can be easily tracked and measured.

Nationwide, private foundations are seeding the investment market by funding lobbying, “will-building,” and “building public demand” campaigns to remake education into one that facilitates a tradable market.  (See here for one example from education blogger, WrenchintheGears, of the networks that have been built between private foundations, research organizations, and investment firms.)

Teachers, who are being asked to navigate a profession that no longer makes sense, are now leaving in droves.

Fortunately, at least some organizations are beginning to take a stand against the Wall Street takeover of public education.  The Massachusetts Teacher Association, for example, recently announced  its opposition to a public-private partnership between the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and LearnLaunch. The partnership, known best by its acronym, MAPLE, was established with seed money from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation – the primary driver of data-based education reform in New England.

The question now stands: will other organizations follow suit?

Will more teachers get the courage to stand up and say enough is enough?

sheldon-throwing-papers-o

Or will Wall Street takeover public education once and for all?

Save Maine Schools

 

Pay for Success – Also Known as Social Impact Bonds, Senator Orrin Hatch & the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

two garbage trucks colliding

Back in the early 2000’s Sun Microsystems’ Scott McNealy described the pending merger between Hewlett-Packard and Compaq as “the sound of two garbage trucks colliding”.

Whenever I read through the 449 page abomination that is the 2016 re-write of the 1965 ESEA – later rebranded as the ESSA – I can’t help thinking of that phrase.

The law really is a never ending dumpster fire.

Thanks to boastful politicians, like Senator Orin Hatch, the public gets to learn in a round about way some of the awful things tucked into the ESSA.

For example:

From July 16th, 2015

Senate Passes Hatch “Pay for Success” Amendment

“With Pay for Success, state and local leaders will be empowered to fund initiatives that deliver real  results for their communities and schools. Rather than being limited by what federal bureaucrats at the Department of Education think best, funding should be more connected to local innovation and successful outcomes. I’m pleased the Senate has voted to approve my amendment, which builds on tremendous success leaders have already seen in my home state of Utah.”

What’s Pay for Success?

It’s telling that Hatch’s short statement is full of buzz works like “empowered”, “local innovation”, and “successful outcomes”, but really doesn’t explain what Pay for Success means or more importantly, how it works.

I think this is deliberate.

Pay for Success is an upbeat re-branding of social impact bonds or SIBs.

In the case of the ESSA, social impact bonds are a way for investors to speculate on education outcomes; essentially making bets on programs and then measuring if kids meet these benchmarks – which trigger a payout to investors by the state or local government agency that signed onto the contract.

In Utah, Hatch’s home state, Goldman Sachs and the investor J.B. Pritzker agreed to invest millions of dollars in an expansion of a preschool program in the Granite School District and later the state as a whole.

The payoff for investors would occur if the expansion of preschool to underserved populations cut down on the number of students requiring special education services later in their academic careers.

The bet was preschool would reduce the number of kids in special education based on scores determined by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test.

The sell to the school district was the potential savings of $2,600 dollars for every child who didn’t need special education or other remedial services.

The payout plan to Goldman Sacks and J.B. Pritzker is tricky, and makes me wonder if any of the politicians who supported the statewide preschool plan took the time to crunch the numbers and imagine worst case scenarios.

Here’s the terms for The Utah High Quality Preschool Program America’s First “Results-based Financing” for Early Childhood Education.

Determining Pay-for-Success Payments:

— Children participating in the high impact preschool program are given the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test which is a predictive evaluation that will serve as an indicator of their likely usage of special education and remedial services. Students that test below average and are therefore likely to use special education services will be tracked as they progress through 6th grade

— Every year that they do not use special education or remedial services will generate a Pay-forSuccess payment

— School districts receive a fixed per annum payment of approximately $2,600 per student to provide special education and remedial services for students in general education classrooms from the State of Utah. The amount of the Pay-for-Success payment is based on the actual avoided costs realized by the State of Utah

— Pay-for-Success payments will be made equal to 95% of the avoided costs or $2,470 per child for every year, Kindergarten through Sixth Grade, to repay the senior and subordinate debt plus a base interest rate of 5.0%

— Thereafter, Success Payments will equal 40% of the savings, or $1,040 per child per year of special education services avoided, to be paid as Success Fees to Goldman Sachs and Pritzker

And this disclaimer, which in my mind seems to contradict the point made above. I’m thinking interpretation will hinge on whether Goldman Sachs and Pritzker are making money on their investment at the 7 year mark:

— Pay-for-Success payments are only made through 6th grade for each student; but all savings that are generated after that point will be captured by the school district, state and other government entities.

The New York Times took a look at the first year results of the Utah program and found some troubling issues.

First off, Goldman Sachs reported a payout of $260,000 dollars by claiming their program helped 99% of the students enrolled avoid special education, even though the highest rate of prevention in well funded preschool programs is a 50% success rate. Oh, and the Goldman Sachs program isn’t considered to be well funded.

Goldman said its investment had helped almost 99 percent of the Utah children it was tracking avoid special education in kindergarten. The bank received a payment for each of those children.

The big problem, researchers say, is that even well-funded preschool programs — and the Utah program was not well funded — have been found to reduce the number of students needing special education by, at most, 50 percent. Most programs yield a reduction of closer to 10 or 20 percent.

The program’s unusual success — and the payments to Goldman that were in direct proportion to that success — were based on what researchers say was a faulty assumption that many of the children in the program would have needed special education without the preschool, despite there being little evidence or previous research to indicate that this was the case.

Another problem was the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test or P.P.V.T. overestimated the kids at risk for special education services, even though this test isn’t really used as a screener for special education in the first place.

Before Goldman executives made the investment, they could see that the Utah school district’s methodology was leading large numbers of children to be identified as at-risk, thus elevating the number of children whom the school district could later say were avoiding special education. From 2006 to 2009, 30 to 40 percent of the children in the preschool program scored below 70 on the P.P.V.T., even though typically just 3 percent of 4-year-olds score this low. Almost none of the children ended up needing special education.

When Goldman negotiated its investment, it adopted the school district’s methodology as the basis for its payments. It also gave itself a generous leeway to be paid pack. As long as 50 percent of the children in the program avoid special education, Goldman will earn back its money and 5 percent interest — more than Utah would have paid if it had borrowed the money through the bond market. If the current rate of success continues, it will easily make more than that. (bold mine)

Did you catch that, if the inflated rate of success continues – which it probably will based on a faulty benchmark not really used to screen for special education – the state of Utah will end up paying MORE than if it had just purchased a bond upfront to fund the preschool initiative.

Talk about selling snake oil to lawmakers who refuse to read the fine print.

Orrin Hatch and Goldman Sachs, Best Friends for Life.

Now that you know the setup and potential pitfalls of these risky investments, here’s some more information pertinent to Hatch’s fondness for social impact bonds.

First, Goldman Sachs is number 15 on Orin Hatch’s top 20 donor list. Second, Hatch has no qualms about going on Fox News to defend Goldman Sachs agains what the Senator claims to be suspicious government inquires into the investment firm’s behavior.

Another interesting aspect to Hatch’s detail-free praise of Pay for Success, was his demonization of federal bureaucrats.

Guess what?

Pay for Success just substitutes one group of bureaucrats for another. In the case of Utah’s preschool program, the bureaucrats come from the United Way, who act as the intermediary between investors and the district.

I find this troubling as well.

Incentives matter on Wall Street and what gets measured dictates the spoils.

Having the United Way run a program like the preschool initiative invites trouble. Who’s interests will be protected, the investors eager for a profit or a child’s right to an education.

By the way, since the United Way is private, they won’t have to answer to parents, school boards, or FOIA requests.

Would children be pressured to show success and be denied special education services? That’s a hard question with no easy answer.

The United Way also seems to be cozy with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable, so meting out some business disciple doesn’t seem out of the range of possibilities.

To sum up, Third Sector Capital has put together a nice graphic which explains how social impact bonds work. Get familiar with the concept. It may be closer to your school than you think.

19702123_10207145606638262_8710604645956238814_n.jpg

Next Up

In my next blog post I’ll explain how some members of the Washington State Legislature see social impact bonds as a way of meeting the funding mandate for McCleary.

Stay tuned.

-Carolyn Leith

Vague, Regressive Taxes – like a Soda Tax, Aren’t Going to Save our Public Schools.

dont-believe

I’m becoming increasingly wary of slick political campaigns which promise to help our resource starved public schools, and once enacted, end up doing more harm than good.

How can you spot one of these campaigns – besides the big money spent on advertising? The lack of details. These initiatives are always short on specifics and high on gushing testimonials on just how much they care about kids.

Evidently, the power of caring alone proves their plan is worthy of support. Messy details are explained away in the same way: We care so trust us with the money.

Inevitably, once the initiative passes, what sounded like a good idea ends up adding another layer of bureaucracy.

Even more frustrating, once created, this bureaucracy quickly becomes more focused on serving the interests of the political class and their financial backers, than helping actual students.

The Families and Education Levy

I learned this lesson the hard way, by supporting Seattle’s Families & Education Levy in 2011.

This $231,562,000 initiative promised to fill in the gaps created by McCleary and help struggling kids prepare for college and career.

It sounded so good, what could go wrong?

Parents found out pretty quickly.

What was billed as Seattle’s way to make up the money Olympia refused to supply, quickly transformed into a mini No Child Left Behind.

Test scores and subjugation to the Levy’s rigid rules of compliance quickly came to the forefront.  Business discipline was meted out to those school who had the gall to refuse to obey the edicts handed down from the levy oversight committee.

A school that lost a principal had their levy money withheld, and later re-instated after a huge public backlash, because the levy oversight committee decided this change violated the school’s grant agreement.

Parents who opt their children out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment learned their kids were pressured by administrators to take the test because refusing carried “financial penalties” for the school.

The City of Seattle Soda Tax

Fast forward to 2017. The Seattle City Council just approved a 1.75 cent an ounce tax on soda pop.

Once the ordinance passed, there was a raging debate in the local media over what beverages would and would not be taxed.

The question of where the money collected would be spent? Not so clear and really depended on where you got your news.

If you watch King 5 News, the money would fund “programs designed to educate young people”.

If you saw a segment on CBS News the goal of the tax was “to raise millions for programs that promote access to healthy food and help address education disparities between white and minority students.”

And The Stranger weighed in with:

1. Discouraging people from consuming sugar, which is linked to diabetes and heart disease, and 2. Creating a funding stream for programs aimed at closing the achievement gap between students of color and white students.

The text of the actual ordinance paints a somewhat different picture. (CB118965v3 (1) )

First, the ordinance creates a Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board, which is very similar in makeup and duties as the Families and Education Levy Oversight Committee.

Here’s where the fine print matters.

For the first five years the tax is collected, 20% of that money will be used to fund one time projects – which have very little to do with healthy eating or food security.

Instead, the ordinance priorities building education infrastructure that supports the Department of Early Learning’s agenda – and throwing a tiny bone to the groups that opposed the tax.

Here’s the list:

  1. One-time costs necessary to enable the administration of the tax;
  2. Up to $5,000,000 in total as a contribution to an endowment for the Seattle Colleges 13th Year Promise Scholarship Fund;
  3. Up to $1,500,000 in total as funding for jobs retraining and placement programs for workers adversely impacted by the tax; and
  4. Funding of capital projects to construct or enhance classroom facilities for use by the Seattle Preschool Program.

Did you catch that?

The soda tax will create a capital fund that builds and enhances classrooms for the Seattle Preschool Program. Sneaky move, Councilman Tim Burgess.

Wait, there’s more.

Starting on the 6th year of the tax, there will be two funding priorities. One will support healthy eating and the other will be:

Evidence-based programs that improve the social, emotional, educational, physical health, and mental health for children, especially those services that seek to reduce disparities in outcomes for children and families based on race, gender, or other socioeconomic factors and to prepare children for a strong and fair start in kindergarten. (bold mine)

So, buried in a feel good ordinance, which claimed to help kids eat healthy, was a funding plan designed to support Seattle’s Preschool Program.

Why?

Is it because the Seattle Preschool Program hasn’t lived up to the hype used to convince voters to approve the initiative the first time around?

Even worst  – problems –  which critics of the initiative pointed out during the election and were ignored or belittled by the local media – turned out to be true.

Conclusion

The Washington Legislature has made crystal clear that they have no intention of funding our public schools – and Governor Inslee has backed them up.

This puts our schools in a dangerous and precarious situation.

Expect charlatans to start selling alternative ways to fund our schools.

One idea will be social impact bonds. The other, more regressive taxes, like this soda tax.

Don’t succumb to to the snake oil salesmen.

The Washington State Constitution requires the state to provide ample funding for our public schools.

Don’t settle for less.

-Carolyn Leith

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Atlantic: The New Preschool Is Crushing Kids

Kindergarten children will be taking the MAP test this year in Seattle, cruel as that might sound, and preschoolers will be evaluated for “kindergarten readiness” through “evaluations” per the mayor’s “Preschool for All” program.

With the focus on standards, learning and being evaluated by way of computers and test scores, folks who are not teachers or parents have gone overboard in the most ridiculous fashion and doing to other people’s children what they would never consider doing to their own with less than stellar results.

From The Atlantic:

preschool

The New Preschool is Crushing Kids

Step into an American preschool classroom today and you are likely to be bombarded with what we educators call a print-rich environment, every surface festooned with alphabet charts, bar graphs, word walls, instructional posters, classroom rules, calendars, schedules, and motivational platitudes—few of which a 4-year-old can “decode,” the contemporary word for what used to be known as reading.

Because so few adults can remember the pertinent details of their own preschool or kindergarten years, it can be hard to appreciate just how much the early-education landscape has been transformed over the past two decades. The changes are not restricted to the confusing pastiche on classroom walls. Pedagogy and curricula have changed too, most recently in response to the Common Core State Standards Initiative’s kindergarten guidelines. Much greater portions of the day are now spent on what’s called “seat work” (a term that probably doesn’t need any exposition) and a form of tightly scripted teaching known as direct instruction, formerly used mainly in the older grades, in which a teacher carefully controls the content and pacing of what a child is supposed to learn.

One study, titled “Is Kindergarten the New First Grade?,” compared kindergarten teachers’ attitudes nationwide in 1998 and 2010 and found that the percentage of teachers expecting children to know how to read by the end of the year had risen from 30 to 80 percent. The researchers also reported more time spent with workbooks and worksheets, and less time devoted to music and art. Kindergarten is indeed the new first grade, the authors concluded glumly. In turn, children who would once have used the kindergarten year as a gentle transition into school are in some cases being held back before they’ve had a chance to start. A study out of Mississippi found that in some counties, more than 10 percent of kindergartners weren’t allowed to advance to first grade.

Until recently, school-readiness skills weren’t high on anyone’s agenda, nor was the idea that the youngest learners might be disqualified from moving on to a subsequent stage. But now that kindergarten serves as a gatekeeper, not a welcome mat, to elementary school, concerns about school preparedness kick in earlier and earlier. A child who’s supposed to read by the end of kindergarten had better be getting ready in preschool. As a result, expectations that may arguably have been reasonable for 5- and 6-year-olds, such as being able to sit at a desk and complete a task using pencil and paper, are now directed at even younger children, who lack the motor skills and attention span to be successful.

Preschool classrooms have become increasingly fraught spaces, with teachers cajoling their charges to finish their “work” before they can go play. And yet, even as preschoolers are learning more pre-academic skills at earlier ages, I’ve heard many teachers say that they seem somehow—is it possible?—less inquisitive and less engaged than the kids of earlier generations. More children today seem to lack the language skills needed to retell a simple story or to use basic connecting words and prepositions. They can’t make a conceptual analogy between, say, the veins on a leaf and the veins in their own hands.

New research sounds a particularly disquieting note. A major evaluation of Tennessee’s publicly funded preschool system, published in September, found that although children who had attended preschool initially exhibited more “school readiness” skills when they entered kindergarten than did their non-preschool-attending peers, by the time they were in first grade their attitudes toward school were deteriorating. And by second grade they performed worse on tests measuring literacy, language, and math skills. The researchers told New York magazine that overreliance on direct instruction and repetitive, poorly structured pedagogy were likely culprits; children who’d been subjected to the same insipid tasks year after year after year were understandably losing their enthusiasm for learning.

That’s right. The same educational policies that are pushing academic goals down to ever earlier levels seem to be contributing to—while at the same time obscuring—the fact that young children are gaining fewer skills, not more.

Pendulum shifts in education are as old as our republic. Steven Mintz, a historian who has written about the evolution of American childhood, describes an oscillation in the national zeitgeist between the notion of a “protected” childhood and that of a “prepared” one. Starting in the early 2000s, though, a confluence of forces began pushing preferences ever further in the direction of preparation: the increasing numbers of dual-career families scrambling to arrange child care; a new scientific focus on the cognitive potential of the early years; and concerns about growing ability gaps between well-off and disadvantaged children, which in turn fueled the trend of standards-based testing in public schools.

Preschool is a relatively recent addition to the American educational system. With a few notable exceptions, the government had a limited role in early education until the 1960s, when the federal Head Start program was founded. Before mothers entered the full-time workforce in large numbers, private preschools were likewise uncommon, and mainly served as a safe social space for children to learn to get along with others.

By second grade, the children who had attended preschool performed worse than their peers.

In the past few decades, however, we have seen a major transfer of child care and early learning from home to institution: Nearly three-quarters of American 4-year-olds are now in some kind of nonfamily care. That category spans a dizzying mix of privately and publicly funded preschool environments, including family-run day cares, private preschools in church basements, and Head Start programs in public elementary schools, to name a few. Across all of them, the distinction between early education and “official” school seems to be eroding.

When I survey parents of preschoolers, they tend to be on board with many of these changes, either because they fear that the old-fashioned pleasures of unhurried learning have no place in today’s hypercompetitive world or because they simply can’t find, or afford, a better option. The stress is palpable: Pick the “wrong” preschool or ease up on the phonics drills at home, and your child might not go to college. She might not be employable. She might not even be allowed to start first grade!

Media attention to the cognitive potential of early childhood has a way of exacerbating such worries, but the actual academic consensus on the components of high-quality early education tells another story. According to experts such as the Yale professor Edward Zigler, a leader in child-development and early-education policy for half a century, the best preschool programs share several features: They provide ample opportunities for young children to use and hear complex, interactive language; their curriculum supports a wide range of school-readiness goals that include social and emotional skills and active learning; they encourage meaningful family involvement; and they have knowledgeable and well-qualified teachers.

As an early-childhood educator, I’ve clocked many hours in many preschool classrooms, and I have found that I can pretty quickly take the temperature from the looks on kids’ faces, the ratio of table space to open areas, and the amount of conversation going on in either. In a high-quality program, adults are building relationships with the children and paying close attention to their thought processes and, by extension, their communication. They’re finding ways to make the children think out loud.

ERIKA CHRISTAKIS