Monday, March 25, 2013

CEO Blog: Getting America Back to Work Begins In Our Schools

In his State of the Union address last night President Obama reminded the nation that education equals employment.
In the First Lady’s box sat a single mother from North Carolina whose studies at a community college earned her a high-tech position after she had lost a job as a mechanic.
The President wants states to require students to stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18. Given the global economic challenges we confront it is essential we provide every American with the opportunity for a quality education. But that is not possible if our educational infrastructure is in disrepair.
Last September the President proposed spending $30 billion dollars as part of his American Jobs Act to modernize and upgrade schools and community colleges. The President should not retreat from this important proposal. Not only would it be a valuable investment in our children, but it also would quickly create more high-paying jobs here in the United States.
As president of JE Dunn Construction, a construction company that is a national top 10 builder of educational facilities, I have seen first-hand the need for major renovation in outdated school facilities.
We are already working on updating many educational facilities around the country, and there are many more badly in need of repair and renovation to improve the learning environment for our children.
Inner-city schools averaging 60-70 years in age too often have poor heating and inadequate lighting. A child cannot learn well if he is shivering in his classroom while squinting to read his textbook. Other schools have no air conditioning even though the school year in some districts starts during the heat of the summer or extends through the summer. Buildings built for baby boomers are energy inefficient, which causes higher operating and maintenance costs over time. Schools also need state-of-the-art technology to teach students for the 21st century high-tech world.
Sustainable building practices need to be utilized in renovations, additions and new construction. Parents and students are becoming educated on the energy, environmental, and cost benefits at the local and global levels. The saving in energy provides a payback for the improvements and more. We are seeing many educational facilities convert to green building practices systems. That’s responsible spending that pays off in the long run because of the decrease in energy costs.
Though I am a fiscal conservative who wants a balanced federal budget, I recognize the need for spending on essential projects now so I encourage Congress to support President Obama's proposed investment in education. The bill would provide a one-time stimulus for our national education infrastructure at a time when it is desperately needed.
A $30 billion education capital improvements bill could create an economic multiplier impact of three times, resulting in $90 billion back into the economy. It would also create approximately $10 billion in immediate construction payrolls. That’s critical for an industry that is the most depressed sector of the economy right now. Typically every dollar invested in a construction contract results in 30-35 cents reapplied directly into labor. And every dollar spent in take- home money has a positive impact on the economy.
At JE Dunn Construction, we have witnessed the same trend that many construction companies have seen over the past few years – a drop off in hiring due to an industry that needs additional capital to expand. This stimulus would create opportunity for job creation in an industry that has seen decline, while also serving the needs of school facilities in dire need of updating.
The president wants an economy that is fair for all, where opportunity and unlimited potential is available to any student, no matter the income bracket of his parents. I want that too. Upgrading our country’s educational infrastructure is a critical step to achieving that goal for our children, while quickly putting many of their parents back to work.
Terry Dunn is President & CEO of JE DUNN Construction Group, one of the nation’s leading building companies, where he has worked for 37 years. Among his many business and civic leadership positions Terry has served as Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, is a member of the National Executive Committee of the Boy Scouts of America and is Vice Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Kansas City. He is Chairman and Trustee of the Kansas University of Medicine and Biosciences, and a board member of the University of Missouri Kansas City Bloch School and the Midwest Research Institute.

Chicago Announces Mass Closing of Elementary Schools

Chicago will close 54 schools and 61 school buildings by the beginning of the next academic year in the country's third-largest public school district, a move that union leaders called the largest mass closing in the nation.
The district will shutter 53 elementary schools and one high school by August, primarily in Hispanic and African-American neighborhoods. The district, which has a $1 billion annual deficit, has said it needs to close underutilized schools to save money.
Enrollment in Chicago Public Schools has fallen 20 percent in the last decade, mainly because of population declines in poor neighborhoods. The district said it can accommodate 511,000 students, but only about 403,000 are enrolled. It said that nearly 140 of its schools are more than half empty.
The controversial decision to close dozens of schools follows a bitter strike by Chicago teachers last September, fought partly over the Chicago Teachers Union's accusation that Mayor Rahm Emanuel was undermining community schools in poor areas of the city.
The school board must approve the closings and will vote on the matter May 22.
The 61 closings account for about 10 percent of elementary school facilities, according to the school district.
"Consolidating schools is the best way to make sure all of our city's students get the resources they need to succeed in the classroom," said Emanuel in a statement.
The union objects to school closings, saying they destabilize minority neighborhoods.
"They keep saying that closing schools is going to save money," said Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis. "This will not save money. It's going to cost money and it's going to leave abandoned buildings, which is another recipe for disaster."
During a news conference at Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, which is marked for closing, Lewis accused Emanuel of being on a ski trip when the announcement was made.
"Mayor Rahm Emanuel should be ashamed of himself. Shanda!" Lewis said, using the Yiddish word for shame or scandal. Both Lewis and Emanuel are Jewish.
The staff of the mayor, whose children attend private school, were not immediately available to comment on his whereabouts.
Several parents don't want to see the schools closed.
"It took three schools to find the right place for my grandchild," said Menjiwei Latham, a grandparent and guardian of a student at the Mahalia Jackson Elementary School, which serves special-needs students.
Chicago Public School CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said that as a former teacher and principal, she knows school closings aren't easy, "but I also know that in the end this will benefit our children."
Declining Enrollment in Urban Schools
Urban school districts around the country have been grappling with the issue of declining enrollment.
Over the past decade, 70 large or mid-sized cities have closed schools, averaging 11 per district, according to the National Education Association, a labor union for school teachers. This includes Washington, D.C., which closed 23 schools in 2008 and plans to close 15 more over the next two years. Philadelphia announced earlier this month that it would close 23 schools.
At the heart of the dispute over school closings in Chicago is the expansion of charter schools, which are publicly funded, but mostly non-unionized. The number of charter schools has risen even as neighborhood public schools are closed.
The union said 88 percent of students affected by Chicago school closings or other actions in the past decade were African-American and most closed schools have been in poor neighborhoods. The union said 86 Chicago public schools have closed in the past decade. The district has not provided its own number.
Chicago has promised a five-year moratorium on school closings, following this year.
Parents and school activists have complained that closing neighborhood schools endanger students because they are exposed to greater gang violence if they cross neighborhood boundaries. Chicago recorded 506 murders largely due to gang violence in 2012.
Many of the schools being closed are in the same neighborhoods that have seen frequent gun violence.
"The greatest impact is on the city's most wounded neighborhoods, places already traumatized by violence," Mark Naison, director of the Urban Studies Program at Fordham University wrote on his blog. "Make no mistake about this, this is both a local and a national tragedy."

Monday, March 4, 2013

Preschool Debate: Opposing Viewpoints

Story first appeared on USA Today -

Preschool debate obscures core problem: Our view

'Fragile families' harm children's development

In the eyes of many parents and most educators, starting a child's schooling before kindergarten is an indisputable virtue. Your kid acquires learning and social skills that give him or her an advantage.

So it's hardly surprising that President Obama used his State of the Union Address to call for extending that middle- and upper-class habit to all children, at government expense.

But before the checks go out, it would be wise to consider a broader question: Can the middle-class experience be replicated that easily? The evidence says universal preschool alone won't get the job done.

A few small, high-quality programs have shown enduring benefits for at-risk kids. But intensive study of Head Start, the nation's largest and oldest preschool program, finds that the beneficial effects, which are real, wear off by third grade.

The probable reason is not hard to deduce. Children are most likely to succeed in school when pushed by parents who provide stability, help with schooling, and instill an education and work ethic. But for decades now, the American family has been breaking down.

Two-fifths of children born in the USA are born to unmarried mothers, an eightfold increase since 1960. Many succeed thanks to the heroic efforts of strong, motivated single parents and other relatives. But research shows that children of single parents suffer disproportionately high poverty rates, impaired development and low performance in school.

Ron Haskins, an expert on children and families at the Brookings Institution, calls single parenthood a "little motor pushing up the poverty rate." In 2011, the rate for children of single mothers was more than four times greater than that for children of married couples.

Researchers at Princeton and Columbia, following 5,000 children born to married and unmarried parents, have found that the effects of single parenthood seep into every aspect of kids' lives.

A typical pattern in these "fragile families" looks like this: When a child is born, most fathers and mothers are in a committed relationship. By the time the child reaches 5, though, many fathers have disappeared. As the mothers move on to new relationships, the children face more instability, often with new siblings born to different fathers. Boys without strong male role models are more likely to turn to gangs and crime.

Single mothers read less to their children, are more likely to use harsh discipline and are less likely to maintain stable routines, such as a regular bedtime. All these behaviors are important predictors of children's health and development.

It is a tragically familiar pattern. In 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then a Johnson administration official and later a U.S. senator, warned about an alarming rise — to nearly 24% — in unmarried births in the black community. His prescient warning created a furor among liberals and civil rights leaders, who accused him of blaming the victim. The rates are now 73% for blacks, 53% for Hispanics and 29% for whites.

Even today, solutions are undermined by ideological warfare. Liberals blame poverty. Conservatives blame the culture. Both are right. The problems are intertwined, and defy easy solutions. Fighting poverty, promoting marriage and stable relationships, intervening with home visits, and improving education all help, but there is no magic answer.

So, sure, explore Obama's plan to expand quality preschool, and make sure kids aren't then dumped into failing elementary schools. But don't miss the core problem. The primary engine of social advancement has always been the family, and it is breaking down.

Preschool Closes Achievement Gap: Other Views

It takes the right kind of program

Brian Resnick, National Journal: "At the very least, it can be argued that preschool does no harm to long-term academic achievement and socioeconomic standing (although one study found it can negatively affect a child's social skills). Because preschool is most beneficial to poorer students, increasing access to it could only help close the stubbornly persistent achievement gap between whites and minorities.

Nevertheless, it will be a tough sell to Republicans who may think the upfront cost of the plan is too much to justify benefits that won't be seen for decades."

Jonathan Cohn, New Republic: "My takeaway is that paying attention to early childhood can help at-risk kids, and in some cases help them a lot. But it takes the right kind of program, which means, among other things, experimenting to see what works best. Fortunately, this seems to be what President Obama and his advisers have in mind."

Tony Perkins, Family Research Council: "Obama and his Big Government supporters think that starting school at a younger age will help solve society's problems. But a study of the federal preschool program Head Start shows that for all the money spent on the program, it had little effect on educational outcomes after preschool concluded. Children need parental involvement and attention. They need strong families. What a 4-year-old needs more than anything is a loving, secure home with a mom and dad who love each other. There is no better way to start a young life. We cannot have secure, well-prepared, confident children if we continue to sustain a culture where no-fault divorce, cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births are the norm."

Erika Christakis, Time Ideas: "The cornerstone of Obama's proposal is a plan to make preschool education available for all 4-year-olds at or below 200% of the poverty line. But the devil is in the details, and in this case, those details may not be developmentally appropriate for young children. If you need a cautionary tale of what goes wrong when politicians and school boards ride roughshod over the developmental needs of children, you need look no further than the dramatic changes to kindergarten over the last decade."

Kevin Glass, "It's important to ... acknowledge the successes and failures of such programs to date. States can and should serve as laboratories of democracy before a heavy-handed federal government turns modest programs into universal mandates. President Obama's early childhood education proposals are incredibly vague, but there's hope on the federal level for targeted early childhood education policy that works. Heavy-handedness and a lack of introspection on previous federal education policy might doom early childhood education reform to failure."