Gideon’s Bible Asshole Award for December

In honor of the jackasses in every neighborhood who give little green half-bibles instead of candy…

Bill Gates – For throwing teachers under the school bus and shitting on students.

Bill Gates and fellow education “reformers” such as Michelle Rhee, Davis Guggenheim, US Dept. of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, etc, have concluded that children fare poorly in school because there is little accountability for educators (facilitated by evil teachers unions).  I like it when rich people shit in my halloween bag and tell me it’s a Baby Ruth.  I know, I know…Gates has already been intellectually spanked by Diane Ravitch (see also this by Doug Henwood at Left Business Observer), and I don’t want to repeat what has alredy been said (much better than I could say it); instead, I want to apply data from local school districts (local to me, anyway) to support quite strongly what we know and they dismiss, that there are very clear, very strong correlations between student achievement and student material security.

For example, in a recent assessment of all 9-12 graders in a local county (northwoods, rural), respondents were asked how often they went hungry because of limited access to food during the past 30 days – Never – 65%; Rarely – 16%; Sometimes – 10.5%; Most of the time – 3.5%; Always – 3%; Refused to answer – 2%. However, when the data are organized according to student achievement…

Mostly A’s Mostly B’s Mostly C’s Mostly D’s Mostly F’s Total
Never 76% 62% 57% 44% 38% 65%
Rarely 12.5% 18.5% 19% 22% 31% 16%
Sometimes 6.5% 13.5% 14% 18% 0% 10.5%
Most time 2.5% 4% 4.5% 7% 8% 3.5%
Always 2% 1.5% 3% 4.5% 23% 3%
Declined 1% 1% 3% 4.5% 0% 2%

Notice that 31% of the students who reported receiving mostly F’s went hungry “most of the time” or “always” – contrast that with the 4.5% of those who reported receiving mostly A’s. On the other hand, 38% of students who reported receiving mostly F’s “never” went hungry, as compared with 76% of students who reported receiving mostly A’s. Looking at a more specific context…

On how many of the past seven days did you eat breakfast?

Mostly A’s Mostly B’s Mostly C’s Mostly D’s Mostly F’s Total
0 days 4% 15% 8% 23% 31% 9%
1 day 5% 8% 8% 12% 15% 7%
2 days 3% 5% 15% 6% 8% 7%
3 days 7% 11% 12% 6% 0% 9%
4 days 3% 9% 10% 6% 8% 7%
5 days 6% 7% 4% 12% 8% 6%
6 days 11% 8% 8% 12% 8% 9%
7 days 58% 37% 36% 24% 23% 44%
Declined 2% 1% 0% 0% 0% 1%

The trends clobber you over the head.  Leftover Halloween Candy knows these school districts and their students well and is familiar with some of the ‘between the lines’ stories hidden by the stats. For example, several students who fare poorly academically work to support not only themselves but also their families.  They might not indicate food insecurity in the assessment, but that is largely because of their contributions to the family economy – contributions that come at the expense of attention to academics.

During an average week when you are in school, how many hours do you work at a paying job outside your home?

Mostly A’s Mostly B’s Mostly C’s Mostly D’s Mostly F’s Total
0 hours 61% 57% 55% 56% 38% 58%
1 to 4 hours 15% 11% 13% 11% 15% 13%
5 to 8 hours 9% 11% 10% 7% 0% 9%
9 to 12 hours 4% 6% 7% 7% 0% 6%
13 to 20 hours 4% 7% 5% 9% 16% 6%
21 or more hours 4% 3% 6% 2% 23% 4%
Declined 3% 3% 6% 9% 8% 4%

These assessments indicate that student and institutional access to resources significantly influence student achievement. In other words, if the data mean anything and there is at least a small causal relationship between material security and achievement (and remember, how we conceptualize achievement regarding this particular set of data is tricky – student perception of their own grades), then there are very tangible, immediate, and relatively simple ways to improve student achievement .

Public education is a small, imperfect, but significant measure to ensure at least some measure of equal access to and creation of knowledge. As education is privatized and dismantled as a public good it becomes wed to profit imperatives, students grow increasingly like commodities, and education becomes merely an input into the production process in service of the capitalist class, i.e. education will be “worth something” *only* if it can produce profit. Imagine, then, the range and depth of influence that the profit imperative would have on what knowledge is offered to students and the kinds of knowledge students are allowed or encouraged to create. Public schools and teacher unions are small, sometimes impotent and often imperfect, assurances against such trends by maintaining at least a small degree of collective responsibility for the production and distribution of knowledge – this is why they are under such fierce attack from “reformers” such as Gates, and why they must be defended with equal vigor.

If we are really concerned about kids – beyond the sanctimonious sophistries of the politicians and pundits proposing budget cuts (which will, without question, adversely affect students – disproportionately poor students) – we would  address poverty and the ways wealth is created and distributed, not merit pay based on test scores, and certainly not unions.


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