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National commission: 'School inequality threatens U.S. prosperity'

Original post made on Apr 21, 2013

"Not every kid's going to be as lucky as I was," says Mariano-Florentino "Tino" Cuellar, whose work ethic and smarts propelled him from a mediocre high school on California's border with Mexico to Harvard University, Yale University and an endowed professorship at Stanford Law School.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Saturday, April 20, 2013, 7:07 PM

Comments (24)

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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2013 at 4:28 pm

Last year, we were thrilled to read how a homeless teenager was a finalist for a national science fair competition. I related to this because of my own family background.

I come from a family of immigrants. My parents do not speak English and are limited to a 5th grade formal education. However, they impressed upon us the value of education. It was the reason that we immigrated (legally) to the United States. Throughout my childhood, our family traveled around the country performing migrant farm work. We worked in the fields before dawn until well after dusk in Michigan, Arkansas, Kansas, Minnesota and elsewhere throughout the U.S. We saved our money in order to buy land where we eventually built a house (all with cash).

For most of the school year, we lived in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas. We didn't have computers in our home. We only had one vehicle (since my mom doesn't drive). My dad provided for us by mopping floors at local stores. Throughout our childhood, my parents instructed us (in no uncertain terms) that we were expected to do well in school.

Although none of us spoke a word of English when we moved to the U.S., all nine of my siblings and I graduated from college with at least a Bachelor's degree. Nine of us graduated with honors. Five of us have graduate degrees. Several of us became teachers.

I have always felt that a study is needed to determine why certain students who come from poor families and attend poor schools still excel in school. What is it that motivates such students to succeed?

For us, it came from strong parental involvement in our academic endeavors. I can't imagine what it would have been like to attend school without my parents caring about our grades or ambitions. We didn't have encyclopedias, dictionaries, computers or even televisions at home. However, we had parents who told us to do whatever we must to do well in school. We relied upon one another.

Unlike many countries, we live in a nation where children are literally required to attend school at least through a certain age. Unfortunately, many of this nation's children do not grasp the blessing of education. Many students, particularly in poor areas, just lack the motivation to go beyond what is required.

Throwing money at the problem is not the solution. There are kids in rich school districts that are unmotivated just like there are kids in poor districts that are motivated.

A study needs to be conducted to find out just what factors led poor kids to succeed in school. Once identified, these factors should be disseminated so that at-risk students (those who tend to bring down local, district and state scores) can find the same motivation that the rest of us enjoyed.


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Posted by Ruben
a resident of another community
on Apr 21, 2013 at 4:47 pm

maybe a good idea, but do not model any funding on CA's First 5 program - 20 forced resignations and a recent admission that over $300 million was transferred to be spent illegally in violation of the Prop 10 law - [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by minority schools
a resident of Adobe-Meadows
on Apr 21, 2013 at 5:37 pm

A century ago, putting poor quality public schools areas where minorities lived was a way to keep the minorities in check. White supremacists wanted non-whites to be educated enough for menial jobs, but not educated enough to take over jobs traditionally held by whites and certainly not taking over business or government leadership positions. Unfortunately, this is still true today. If you look at the worst 10% of schools in the Bay Area, how many of those have white majority student bodies?


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2013 at 7:02 pm

Hi minority schools:

I will have to disagree with you on this point. In Texas, at-risk schools received even more state and federal funds than rich districts. Teachers were compensated for teaching in those at-risk (mostly minority) schools. Not only were you paid slightly higher salaries, but you also received student loan forgiveness after teaching in such at-risk districts or schools for five years.

In my opinion, the issue isn't with funding as much as it might be with other issues. I don't think that there is any "conspiracy" to keep minorities from receiving a quality education. Didn't Stanford run a local school in an at-risk area only to end up with the same results as similar local schools?


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Posted by poverty
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Apr 21, 2013 at 7:08 pm

Jobs. Grow the economy and take families out of poverty.

22 percent of kids in poverty is a national embarrassment.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 21, 2013 at 8:49 pm

minority schools didn't mention funding in their post, Nayeli. They merely observed where the worst schools are located, & they're right. They also didn't mention any conspiracy. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 21, 2013 at 11:15 pm

@ Hmmm: I don't know everything that you wrote since some of it was removed, but I think that you can ascertain a "conspiracy" out of what "minority schools" posted.

He/She wrote, "White supremacists wanted non-whites to be educated enough for menial jobs, but not educated enough to take over jobs traditionally held by whites and certainly not taking over business or government leadership positions. Unfortunately, THIS IS STILL TRUE TODAY."

I don't know any mass confederation of "white supremacists" who are controlling the education system in this country or any group that wants to keep other groups "uneducated" to the point that they are only prepared for menial jobs. In fact, the poor benefit from higher education funding more than any other group because they receive guaranteed grants and loans, whereas most middle class families are forced to find the funds themselves.

The point that I was making is that the best preparation for life is often a motivated college education. The best preparation for a college education is in motivated primary and secondary education. I suggest that research should be done to see why certain at-risk students excel in school while others do not. While funding is undoubtedly necessary for the tools that students need (including teachers, books, etc...), it isn't the "end all" solution.

There is a problem in America's schools today that goes beyond the teachers, proximity to technology and specific academic standards. I believe that much of it comes from the encouragement received from the family unit. Perhaps we should be pondering how to motivate students who often don't receive the motivation that you or I received at home. What can be done to perk the interest in learning and help broaden the horizon for students so that they know that their academic endeavors will pay off in the end?


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 21, 2013 at 11:16 pm

Way back in 2011 when Sargent Shriver passed away Terry Gross did a retrospective on his life on the Fresh Air program on KQED. The audio is still out there here:

Web Link

Listen to it please.

I'll never forget in that short program what Shriver, who founded numerous social programs and organizations, including Head Start, VISTA, Job Corps, Community Action, Upward Bound, Foster Grandparents, Legal Services, the National Clearinghouse for Legal Services (now the Shriver Center), Indian and Migrant Opportunities and Neighborhood Health Services, in addition to directing the Peace Corps spoke about how these program all worked, and none of them were welfare, they gave disadvantaged people a path up if they wanted to take advantage of it and work hard - said in one of his interviews.

The problem was not fraud, the problem was not defective people, or criminals, what killed these programs was their own success.

When people began to get jobs, money, pride and some confidence they began to stand up and demand their rights. They began to challenge the existing political authorities in the cities where they were run, and the existing authorities did not want to be challenged. In effect the phrase we know today in a different format - "Too Big To Fail" was "Too Big To Assail".

It simply cannot be that we have a school system what was imperfect but took this country into the industrial age fought a world war on two fronts, won, and built built a world's largest middle class and now we have forgotten how, or somehow lost the ability or that our people are worse quality now than they were 50 years ago? Nonsense!

This is all about power, about money getting funneled and fed back into a reinforcing loop of existing power that has taken over the entire country and wants to enforce its agenda and values on people and the country by keeping our public space and government small and drained of energy and vitality.

And as this process has taken place our country has changed from one that was progressing democratically to one that has been reducing to elites and a managed message of anxiety and threats in order to force central power while at the same time in order to undercut democracy and justice have been fed cognitive dissonance about how government never does anything right and central corporate power must be the driver of all authority in the country while never really holding it accountable for the messes it has made or the progress it hasn't.

Education is a large piece of this issue, but not the whole issue and alone does not show what is going on. Why when we are so powerful and emerged as the sole superpower is life for our citizens harder than ever with less opportunity, less support and less hope, and more junk media, food and environment?


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Posted by Looking-For-Answers-In-All-The-Wrong-Places
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2013 at 8:11 am

> America's education system "fails our nation
> and too many of our children" by not distributing
> opportunity equitably.

Professional educators (like Mariano-Florentino "Tino") are always looking for explanations to the poor performance of sub-groups of the American populace in all the wrong places. The key to educational performance is "the parents". They bring their children into this world; they hold their hands; they teach them to talk; they (hopefully) teach them the basic of "right and wrong"; they teach them about "families"; they often teach their children the beginnings of reading and writing. Strong parents are the basis of strong families, which are more-often-than-not, the basis for strong student performance. If parents don't drive the education of their children, no one else will.

It's very difficult to sense that this "academic" has a clue about the role of parents in the "distribution of education", or whatever failed educational paradigm he is trying to sell today.

Education is not something that the State can "paint" on students by forcing them into classrooms. Educating children requires the nurturing, and support, of the parents. Education is more of a cultural condition than one of the application of money.

Professional educators have tried to eradicate the role of parents from the schools. This has been a failure, and will continue be a failure—since there is very little that professional educators can do in a four to six hour day that actually "educates" a child. These people have had over 150 years of State-mandated education to experiment with the process—and they still haven't gotten it right. Based on this fellow's views, they probably won't be getting it right any time soon, either.


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Posted by education
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2013 at 10:39 am

My poor immigrant parents were a classic story, whose foot up was through the GI bill after the Korean War.

WWII and the GI bill flooded our higher education system with money, creating the state university system essentially. When I was a kid, it was part of the zeitgeist that if you worked hard, you could go to college (and get scholarships to pay for it). My parents had student loans, yes, but they also had 4 kids when they were college students and were supporting THEIR parents. Nothing they borrowed was anything like what most students face today. Even our healthcare - like my birth - was covered by the military.

That really changed when Ronald Reagan became president. I still remember, because I was in college at the time. This system where everyone goes into massive debt to finance an education in this country really came out of that time and worldview.

When I was a child, another part of the zeitgeist, related to the American Dream, was that America was cleaning everyone's clocks because we weren't politically and economically hamstrung by concentrations of wealth and old power the way they were in Europe. Ordinary people had opportunities like never before in the history of man, and that was driving a new prosperity. The GI bill funded an entire educated class that drove the boom in technology, discovery, and innovation (that was subsequently carried out by a brain drain from the rest of the world as we stopped making those investments).

But now other nations are making those investments and we aren't. Every other advanced nation in the world has affordable healthcare for everyone, but we won't. (Please, no rants about single-payer -- I don't even support single-payer, I think we're better off with a privatized system like Switzerland's -- we remain the only first-world nation that still allows profiteering in INSURANCE, which seems to be where things go south.) Every other advanced nation has some form of attainable, affordable, or even free higher education. No surprise, but we are no longer leading in upward mobility. We are now leading in income inequality and hamstrung the way Europe once was by their concentrations of wealth.

In terms of higher education -- Perhaps we should go back to a national service model -- military or other national service before, during, and/or after college, to benefit our nation and make that level of opportunity available like it was in the past. Not just a small program, but available to everyone. I just wonder if we will ever have the political will to make those kinds of investments in our people ever again, or to see that plutocracy is fundamentally anti-democratic and set policies to retain our democracy and freedom.


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2013 at 11:25 am

@ education:

Thank you for sharing. Like your parents, we came to this nation because it is the "land of opportunity." My parents saw our opportunity through education -- and they were correct.

I think that your view of the GI Bill is interesting.

I read a study during college in which a student of public policy suggested that petty criminals serving crimes for non-violent offenses be given the opportunity to be "released" into military service. After seven years of military service and financial restitution (taken from their paychecks), he argued that their criminal convictions could be "dismissed." In addition, this would allow those former criminals to be eligible for the GI Bill too.

I've often considered the consequences of such an idea. Not only would it provide a much-needed "way out" for individuals to start contributing to society, but it would also save money by taking people away from an ever-expensive criminal justice system and forming them into meaningful human beings.

I've also felt that the "community college" system should be a "free" (or almost free) alternative to traditional colleges and universities. We have a real problem in this nation with student loan default; so, it may eventually become necessary to point "risky" students to less expensive alternatives (at least for two years) until they can prove that they are a worthy investment for taxpayer-guaranteed loans.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 22, 2013 at 1:06 pm

> I read a study during college in which a student of public policy suggested that petty criminals serving crimes for non-violent offenses be given the opportunity to be "released" into military service.

Don't you think there is most likely a reason we don't didn't do that at some point in history? I think it would have survived if it worked or was a good idea.

Think about how many "problems" ... from attrocities, to rapes, to bad behavior, international incidents have been caused by our soldiers not having the honor and integrity that the US soldier used to have?

If we get enough lowlifes in our military what's to keep things from happening in the US that happen in other countries with a corrupt military. Carrying a weapon with the license to interfere in people's lives with deadly force is problematic in this country in case you have forgotten that.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 22, 2013 at 1:12 pm

> I've also felt that the "community college" system should be a "free"

I agree with you on that, it is worthwhile and profitable to promote a culture of intellectual and educational sophistication, high-tech training and understanding.

I'd venture to say the reason we do not do that, honestly, is that the status quo power structure is too scared of a rising minority that follows the rules or seems to follow the rules and gets strong enough to displace them. Our "ruling class" so to speak does not want to pay to unseat itself, and far from that, it is paying, and stealing, and warring even to keep itself right where it is and secure its position even more strongly. So far "relatively" benign in its actions, but now some important stresses in major framework of our way of life.


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Posted by education
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2013 at 2:12 pm

@ Nayeli,
I read a really good article in Technology Review many years back that reviewed the GI Bill from WWII and its impacts on education, our economy, and our society. I wish I could link to it, I wasn't able to find it when I looked this time, I've found it in the past.

You make a good point about rehabilitation. We don't really rehabilitate criminals, we send them to criminal-university as a form of revenge! If anyone makes the point that we can rehabilitate some prisoners, and some mistakes really can be overcome so people are productive members of society (especially drug offenses), they run into trouble because how can we invest in rehabilitation when we would then be providing better resources for criminals than everyone else! The answer then is NOT to avoid rehabilitation as we have been, but to provide better opportunities to those who stay on the straight and narrow, and provide rehabilitation for prisoners. But because we don't have an ethic of investing in everyone, we don't do a good job of investing in people with special needs, including the disabled, the elderly (many of whom could be very productive with 3rd, 4th, or 5th careers they are uniquely suited for), the poor, and those who need to re-enter and pay their debt to society.

And although we currently have a GI bill, we're doing a terrible job discharging our responsibilities to our veterans. If we had a commitment to providing good healthcare for everyone anyway in this society, we would find it easier to care for our veterans.

Per the late Steve Jobs: Motivations matter.

But that just gets back to the political will problem, and how we are in this ideological bind. Someone was speaking on KQED Forum today with a book about opportunity and the American Dream --he was making some of those points.

Oh, and the best indicator of whether someone will have good health outcomes is that they are educated!


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

> "Although the world's best-performing school systems recruit their new teachers from the top ranks of their high school and college students, only about 30 percent of U.S. teachers come from the top third of their college class," the report states.

The Commission appears divorced from reality. The problem with students going into teaching is not recruitment but retention. Since at least the 1960s, Schools of Education have had a well-deserved reputation for repelling potential teachers with courses that are widely seen as wastes of time and for idiots. What comes out are mediocrities and people who are so dedicated that they can put up with immense amounts of bullshit. The latter is good for staffing a failed system, but bad because it blunts reforms.

Example: When I was at Oregon State U. (early 1980s), they offered education courses supposed target for the professors of Engineering and Science. Having teachers in the family, I knew enough to be highly skeptical. My colleagues who went were furious: The first class spent its full 50 minutes on the operation of an overhead projector: the 3-pronged plug, extension cords, changing the bulb. Nobody went back for the second class.


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Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 22, 2013 at 3:12 pm

@ CrescentParkAnon:

I understand those concerns. However, I am speaking about non-violent offenders of mostly petty crimes. I certainly am not saying that we should give an assault rifle to violent men or men with rage issues. I am saying that there are many first time non-violent offenders who might find a "way out" by some form of military service in lieu of prison time (or a permanent criminal record).

For instance: If an 18 year old steals a bike (as happens on average of once a day at Stanford), instead of sending the man to prison, give him the option of joining the military. He doesn't have to serve in a position that requires a gun or even a major decision maker.

Such a man (or woman) could serve as a military cook, janitor, clerk or some other responsibility (until he has proven himself for a couple of years). After seven years, his crimes would be erased and he has a fresh start -- with the maturity that comes from military service.

In essence, this would be an "indentured servitude" by which a young man can receive a "tabula rasa."

It would save money in the short time by not incarcerating a petty criminal. More importantly, it would save taxpayers an enormous amount of money in the long term by providing a detour to a low-wage (with a criminal record) life that would likely have turned to crime or taxpayer dependency.


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Posted by Douglas Moran
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 22, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

The name of the report and the quotes indicate that the Commission intends to stay on the same failed course.

Note that the report title puts "Equity" ahead of "Excellence" and the chairman's comments focus on "Equity". Since the late 1960s, the education establish and various political factions have used "Equity" to (successfully) attack "Excellence" in the public schools. I say "attack" because persistently refusing to address well-known negative side-effects of measures purportedly to improve "equity" cannot be dismissed as unintentional.

I grew up in a factory town and in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the education establishment and the then "New Left" used equity to decrease educational opportunity for children of blue-collar and lower white-collar families. When I talk to people from similar backgrounds, the same thing happened in their schools.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2013 at 6:40 pm

> I've also felt that the "community college" system
> should be a "free"

In California, the cost of a Community College education is almost free to the student, with the bulk of the costs coming from the taxpayers. The budget for the California Community Colleges is about $5B a year--almost more than the combined budgets for the CAL and CSU systems.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm

Hey Bob, when I went to the community college system - pre Prop 13. it was $5 per unit, the books "seemed" expensive at the time at $20-$40, now they over $100 for the smallest of texts. They did not charge for parking either. It was an insignificant cost to be even thought I was working my first job not that far from minimum wage at the time. Today, the expense is much heavier for people, and if you ask people like nursing students, of which I know a few, it is really difficult because they cannot hold enough classes for people, so they have to hold a lottery for some classes or go pay thousands in tuition for private nursing schools. At a time when we really need nurses ... but industry can just grab them from overseas.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2013 at 7:06 pm

> when I went to the community college system - pre Prop 13.
> it was $5 per unit,

Yes, that's true. But do you remember what the total cost of running the CCCs was at that time? Did you happen to catch the faculty salaries for Foothill in the Daily Post over the past couple of years? Many of the "professors" are dragging down $150-$225K per year. That's a lot higher salaries than when you were paying $5/unit. So--who should pay for these gold-plated salaries for teaching students that do not, by-and-large, actually transfer to 4-year colleges, and graduate in a total of four years?

Some one has to pay--if not the student, then who?

It would be a very good idea to charge people who have a degree full cost for the seats in the class, and perhaps 50% of the cost for students who are just "playing around".

Spending $5+B for the CCCs is a crime .. at least given how poor the performance of the students in these schools tends to be.


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Posted by CrescentParkAnon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 22, 2013 at 8:40 pm

I know a guy who has been teaching at Foothill for over a decade and still cannot get a full time job there. For every teacher who has been there a long time making a "gold plated salary" they probably have a lot of temps and fill in teachers that they do not pay very much. To live in this area a family income of $100-150K minimum is probably needed and is not that much. I doubt there are teachers making over $200K, and if there are they certainly are not many and may be head of the department or doing other duties as well.

The cost for the schools should be born by the state.


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Posted by Bob
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 22, 2013 at 8:59 pm

> I doubt there are teachers making over $200K,

Check the Daily Post's edition for Foothill.

What's missing from the Post's salary listings is now many hours each teacher actually works. Also missing from those listing are the cost of "benefits".

It's very unlikely that any of these people are actually putting in 40 hours a week--like the rest of us.

> The cost for the schools should be born by the state.

In California, this is mostly true--except the "state" turns out to be the taxpayers--who are carrying far too much of the load. And by the way, the cost of education is one of the reason that California is slowly drowning in debt.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Apr 23, 2013 at 5:39 pm

>It's very unlikely that any of these people are actually putting in 40 hours a week--like the rest of us.

Bob, are you referring to full time instructors, or the part time?


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Posted by resident
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 24, 2013 at 9:33 am

I think some or much of the blame goes to social promotion, especially in grade 2-3 or higher. Why do we have it? When did it start? Stands to reason that if kids (minority, poor, unmotivated or whatever) fall behind in basic skills they NEVER catch up and keep falling even further behind and of course even more unmotivated and discouraged. Lets get rid of it as in many other states..like Florida. Why are teachers unions against it? It doesn't make sense.


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