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How Harvard University Spends Your Tuition

How Harvard University Spends Your Tuition

I wonder how this compares to the University of Saskatchewan.

Cornhuskers are good for something

The University of Nebraska, Lincoln has the only academic quilt-studies program in the world and the International Quilt Study Center & Museum.  How can you read that and not say that the United States is not a world leader in post-secondary education. via

What are kids learning in college?

Not much according to Bob Hebert.

A provocative new book, “Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses,” makes a strong case that for a large portion of the nation’s seemingly successful undergraduates the years in college barely improve their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing.

Intellectual effort and academic rigor, in the minds of many of the nation’s college students, is becoming increasingly less important. According to the authors, Professors Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia: “Many students come to college not only poorly prepared by prior schooling for highly demanding academic tasks that ideally lie in front of them, but — more troubling still — they enter college with attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment.”

Students are hitting the books less and partying more. Easier courses and easier majors have become more and more popular. Perhaps more now than ever, the point of the college experience is to have a good time and walk away with a valuable credential after putting in the least effort possible.

What many of those students are not walking away with is something that has long been recognized as invaluable — higher order thinking and reasoning skills. They can get their degrees without putting in more of an effort because in far too many instances the colleges and universities are not demanding more of them.

The authors cite empirical work showing that the average amount of time spent studying by college students has dropped by more than 50 percent since the early 1960s.

Rewired for the digital age (and that’s not necessarily a good thing)

From the New York Times

Sam Crocker, Vishal’s closest friend, who has straight A’s but lower SAT scores than he would like, blames the Internet’s distractions for his inability to finish either of his two summer reading books.

“I know I can read a book, but then I’m up and checking Facebook,” he says, adding: “Facebook is amazing because it feels like you’re doing something and you’re not doing anything. It’s the absence of doing something, but you feel gratified anyway.”

He concludes: “My attention span is getting worse.”

The entire article is a must read I am amazed at how passive families and parents are about their kids school work.  I was a noted slacker when I was a teenager about homework but my mother rode me to get it done.  While one student points out that there was distractions out there, there has always been distractions.

But Vishal and his family say two things changed around the seventh grade: his mother went back to work, and he got a computer. He became increasingly engrossed in games and surfing the Internet, finding an easy outlet for what he describes as an inclination to procrastinate.

“I realized there were choices,” Vishal recalls. “Homework wasn’t the only option.”

This isn’t new.  I was grounded from early in grade seven (other than church and hockey) until sometime in grade 8 without a break.  Even over the summer months.  It wasn’t one big grounding but a series of smaller ones that kept being added on.  Eventually my mother took away television, then my radio in my room, my toys and I still found new ways not to do homework but eventually you realize that this world demands something of you and you have to focus.

Students say that their parents, worried about the distractions, try to police computer time, but that monitoring the use of cellphones is difficult. Parents may also want to be able to call their children at any time, so taking the phone away is not always an option.

Other parents wholly embrace computer use, even when it has no obvious educational benefit.

“If you’re not on top of technology, you’re not going to be on top of the world,” said John McMullen, 56, a retired criminal investigator whose son, Sean, is one of five friends in the group Vishal joins for lunch each day.

Well first of all, why does a kid need a smartphone.  One student sent 27,000 text messages last month.  That can be controlled by downgrading her phone, limiting her outgoing messages to a more manageable number, and then demanding that she has to have cell phone minutes and and available text messages if she wants to go out.  Since when is “unlimited texting” and unlimited web access a human right?  The Nokia 1100 is the world’s most popular phone and really does someone going to school needs more than that?  250,000,000 users have gotten by with it but in North America, Rogers, Bell, and AT&T have got us convinced that a $600 smartphone is our only option.

“I’m doing Facebook, YouTube, having a conversation or two with a friend, listening to music at the same time. I’m doing a million things at once, like a lot of people my age,” he says. “Sometimes I’ll say: I need to stop this and do my schoolwork, but I can’t.”

That is why kids need parents.  They can’t always draw boundaries themselves.  Sadly it seems like all of us are having a harder and harder time drawing those boundaries.

What Will Future Generations Condemn Us For?

From the Washington Post

…a look at the past suggests three signs that a particular practice is destined for future condemnation.

First, people have already heard the arguments against the practice. The case against slavery didn’t emerge in a blinding moment of moral clarity, for instance; it had been around for centuries.

Second, defenders of the custom tend not to offer moral counterarguments but instead invoke tradition, human nature or necessity. (As in, "We’ve always had slaves, and how could we grow cotton without them?")

And third, supporters engage in what one might call strategic ignorance, avoiding truths that might force them to face the evils in which they’re complicit. Those who ate the sugar or wore the cotton that the slaves grew simply didn’t think about what made those goods possible. That’s why abolitionists sought to direct attention toward the conditions of the Middle Passage, through detailed illustrations of slave ships and horrifying stories of the suffering below decks.

With these signs in mind, here are four contenders for future moral condemnation.

I think of how the world ignored HIV/Aids in Africa and disparity in our educational systems.  Anything else?

Make Inner City Schools More Like Law Firms

From Good

This past weekend, The Daily Beast held its Innovators Summit in New Orleans, which gathered 300 leading thinkers to discuss big ideas for changing the world. One of the most interesting innovations, according to senior reporter Jacob Bernstein, came from a former lawyer named Rafiq Kalam Id-Din, who has a radical idea for stemming the flood of more than 1 million kids who drop out of American high schools every year: Make school more like a law firm, what he calls a "teaching firm."

He wants to blend the taut, professional structure of the law firm with the success that home schooling-type situations have shown for minority students to create, in essence, one-room schoolhouses where a teacher is in charge of guiding students through their entire elementary school years. The teachers in these unique charters will be wholly accountable for their charges and will make the sort of salary that might normally lure education-minded young adults into law or finance: $150,000 to $300,000 per year.

While I like the idea, it also throws a lot of the blame (too much) or credit for a child doing well into school on the teachers and ignores the responsibilities of the parents (and neighborhoods).  The solution is an interesting one (my mother taught in one of Saskatchewan’s last one room schools and loved it) and I like the idea of paying excellent teachers more but it ignores the fact that clients of law firms are generally extremely motivated.  Arguably if kids and their families were that motivated to be in school, you wouldn’t need this kind of educational model.

7 Essential Skills (We) Didn’t Learn in College

Wired Magazine gives us a list of seven useful skills we will need in the future

Maybe we are in the top 500

The bad news is that the University of Saskatchewan is not listed in the top 400 universities from around the world.  Here are the Canadian universities that are well respected.

  • #18 McGill University
  • #29 University of Toronto
  • #44 University of British Columbia (UBC)
  • #78 University of Alberta
  • #131 Queen’s University
  • #136 Université de Montréal
  • #145 University of Waterloo
  • #163 McMaster University
  • #164 University of Western Ontario
  • #165 University of Calgary
  • #212 Dalhousie University
  • #215 Simon Fraser University
  • #231 University of Ottawa
  • #241 University of Victoria
  • #271 Laval University
  • #333 York University
  • #358 University of Manitoba

The good news is that if you live in almost any other region of the country, you can go to a great university. via

Concentration of Poverty in Riversdale

This is the second post in a series on poverty in the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon.  You can find the first post here.

A lot of you have asking why my blog series on Riversdale stopped.  The quick answer is that I found a question that I had no answer to.  Of course the long answer is that I started writing about an article that Dave Hutton wrote back in May.  As I started to write about it, I got to a point where i was going to talk about the concentration of poverty in Riversdale (and to a lesser degree, the other core neighbourhoods in Saskatoon).  As I was writing, I remembered hearing Leonard Sweet talk about growing up in poverty in West Virginia.  While I am sure all of us idealize parts of our childhood, he was describing both poverty and a strong sense of community that existed in his youth and even now while West Virginia ranks at the bottom of most indicators of economic strength and standard of living it also have very low crime rates, an issue that has defined Saskatoon’s inner city for a number of years.

So when Councilor Lorje and Randy Pshebylo comment on the concentration of poverty in Saskatoon, it isn’t just a lack of money that is the issue.

"The issue is not just poverty," she said. "It’s the concentration of poverty."

Lorje is backed on the issue by the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District. Randy Pshebylo says the burden of helping the homeless and drug-addicted needs to be shared by other neighbourhoods.

The concentration of any one thing — be it bars and pubs, pawn shops, retail stores, restaurants or social organizations — diminishes the strength of any neighbourhood, Pshebylo said.

Missions and soup kitchens are better suited for the avenues adjacent to 20th Street than the main business strip, he said.

"We just want an equitable neighbourhood," he said. "You don’t put your sink in your living room."

This interactive map below shows the main social service agencies in Saskatoon.  It isn’t totally accurate as it is building and not agency based (the Family Service Village in Kinsmen Park holds numerous agencies in one place and I chose to include just the YWCA and Crisis Intervention service on the map to give a wider perspective).

As I plotted out the graph, I didn’t include longer term housing like Saskatoon Housing Authority and Quint Development Corporation (which offers below market rent and I would argue don’t serve a homeless or transient population) or agencies that I knew about but when I Googled their name, I wasn’t easily able to determine the address (which is true of shelters catering to women and youth) which means that they aren’t publically known or want to keep a low profile.  I also left out low income suites targeted towards seniors.  In the end, while some of these agencies are spread over the city, others are in the city core so I think the ratio remains similar.

Here is the color guide.

  • Red: Emergency and transitional housing locations
  • Yellow: Support agencies that provide supports to people in the communities
  • Blue: Food security
  • Purple: Drop In Centres

A quick glance at the map makes it obvious that there is a concentration of lower income services in the Riversdale/Pleasant Hill area.  I was shown another map that showed all of the non-profits that are in Riversdale but that also included many of the local churches.  I am going to leave those out of the conversation because some of them have been there for a long time and not all of them are engaged in any ministry or services to the poor (which is a different post in itself).  No matter which way you look at it, there are a lot of sinks in the living room.  The question is why.

Now it does make sense that there would be a lot of services to the poor in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill as they are the two poorest neighbourhoods in the city and the neighbourhoods around on each side of them (Caswell Hill and King George) also have a concentration of poverty. 

Saskatoon realtor Norm Fisher’s website provides an excellent visual breakdown of the economics of Pleasant Hill and Riversdale. (charts used with permission)

Take a quick look at Riversdale’s income breakdown.

Riversdale's income breakdown

Of the 306 households making under $15,000/year, 140 households are making under $10,000 year.  See full neighbourhood profile here.

Head further west on 20th Street and check out Pleasant Hill’s income breakdown

Pleasant Hill's income breakdown

Of the 863 households trying to get by on under $15,000, 450 households are making less than $10,000 year.  See full neighborhood profile here.

South of Riversdale is King George.  One of Saskatoon’s oldest neighbourhoods.

King George's income breakdown

Of the 153 households making under $15,000 per year, 65 of those households are making under $10,000 per year.  You can see the neighbourhood profile here.

Heading even further west you have Meadowgreen.  While it doesn’t have the commercial connection to 20th Street that Pleasant Hill and Riversdale does, it does have a high concentration of poverty.

meadowgreen-income

Of the 407 households with an income of under $15,000, 125 of them are bringing in under $10,000.  Again, here is the full neighbourhood profile.

I was shocked a little by Caswell Hill’s income breakdown. 

Caswell Hill's income breakdown

I spend a lot of time walking through Caswell Hill and the amount of low income households caught me off guard.  Especially considering that there are 125 households making under $10,000 a year.  Even a neighbourhood with a high concentration of homes being renovated, fixed up, and improved, there is a significant concentration of poverty.

In the end you have 2133 households trying to love on under $15,000 a year and another 1662 households trying to get by under $30,000 a year in those four neighbourhoods.  Of those families, a staggering 905 of them are trying to get by on under $10,000 per year (140 households in Riversdale, 450 households in Pleasant Hill, 65 households in King George, 125 households in Caswell Hill). 

Let’s put this another way.

  $ income/year % less than $15,000/year
City of Saskatoon 65,487 5.9%
Core neighbourhoods 35,003 13.3%
Caswell Hill 41,454 11.2%
King George 36,805 8.8%
Pleasant Hill 25,776 18.3%
Riversdale 29,441 14.3%
Westmount 34,654 11.4%

Not only is there a concentration of poverty in the core neighbourhoods of Saskatoon, the underlying causes are hard to overcome.  The vast majority of residents in the five listed neighbourhoods do not have a high school diploma or GED.  Those that are employed are working in retail jobs which often do not feature stable hours and/or a liveable wage.   For those who are not working, they are trying to get by on one of the two main Social Services programs, (through either SAP or TEA). 

Rental vs. Ownership
  % Rental % Owned
City of Saskatoon 38 62
Core Neighbourhoods 49 51
Caswell 42 58
King George 33 67
Pleasant Hill 75 25
Riversdale 58 42
Westmount 38 62

If you have a highly educated and mobile workforce, high rental rates can be quite useful, especially in a changing economy (you can move to where the jobs are).  The problem is that the high rental numbers in the core neighbourhoods are combined with a population with a very poor education.

City of Saskatoon 6.0
Core Neighbourhoods 13.2
Caswell 4.6
King George 9.2
Pleasant Hill 18.4
Riversdale 21.0
Westmount 13.0

Take a look at the data… you have low income, low education, low rate of home ownership all in the same neighbourhoods.  Along with it you will see higher rates of violence and crime, despite increased police efforts at curbing it.

Of course does the concentration of services in Riversdale help or hurt the neighbourhood?  You need to separate the business of 20th Street from the equation first.  Does having a business district in the middle of the second poorest neighbourhood hurt things. Toss in the fact that in 2007 StatsCan found that 1/2 of all of the violent crime in Saskatoon (which was Canada’s second most violent city in 2009) was in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill, it explains why one study in Saskatoon found people felt safer on Broadway Avenue at night than they did on 20th Street during the day.  This is shocking.  Riverdale and Pleasant Hill had 300 crime reports per 1000 residents (second only to the neighbourhoods around Confederation Park)

2007 crime rate in Saskatoon

Freakonomics A quick look at the map would show a link between poverty and crime but for those of you who want to study it further, Harvard economics professor Steven Levitt (and co-author of Freakonomics and Superfreakonomics) wrote on the changing link between poverty and crime back in 1999 for the New York Federal Reserve Bank.  As he summarizes his findings of previous research.

In summary, much but not all of the existing empirical evidence is consistent with the conclusion that poverty and income inequality are associated with higher crime rates.

This would coincide with what we see in Saskatoon.  The main point of Levitt’s research is that as income gaps widened, the poor went from robbing those wealthier to those who are also poor.  In other words, the rich in Saskatoon are more likely to be able to afford SaskTel SecurTek (with credit checks being demanded by SecurTek and others, it actually makes it very difficult for low income residents to get the same protection as their wealthier neighbours.  We may not have two tier healthcare, we do have two tier Crown Corporations).  This happens for a lot of reasons that can be linked to the rise of crack cocaine and Reagan’s tough on crime policies (Traditional petty criminals were locked up for longer sentences giving drug dealer a new national distribution network).  Once people realized the money that they could make selling drugs to the masses, it spread across the continent.  Drugs like cocaine used to be for the rich, now with crack out there, drugs became a vice of the poor.  The amount of times I see a dial-a-dope run while at work late shows the depth of the problem.

This matters why?  Lower incomes criminals used to head across the river to the east side to rob people (higher income criminals went to work for Wall Street).  Which more or less spread crime over an urban area.  A combination of technology and wealthy families moving further and further away from the city core turned places like Riversdale, Pleasant Hill and 20th Street into high crime areas.  Wendy and I have experienced this in Mayfair.  We have just seen a lot of property crime on our block… everything from three steering columns being destroyed as people tried to steal our cars to the accompanying smashed windows, to our low voltage landscape lights and Christmas lights being stolen.  Now damage to my car or Christmas lights is one thing.  That is frustrating, annoying, and with a $800 bill even maddening.  Yet it’s nothing compared to how one would feel if someone close to you was violently hurt.

Here is a four month snapshot of assaults in Saskatoon.  These just aren’t minor assaults either but assaults causing bodily harm, aggravated assaults, and assaults with a weapon.

Map of 2010 assaults in Saskatoon

According to police it isn’t that bad.

“If people are suggesting that crime is spiralling out of control over the last five years, the numbers don’t support that,” said Det. Staff Sgt. Jean-Marc Voisard, who heads the personal violence section.

But after 31 years with the Saskatoon police, Voisard has noticed that assaults have become more vicious. Injuries are more serious and knives are more common now, he said.

“When I started, there were stabbings, but not to the extent we see today,” Voisard said.

“Society has become more violent. People are quicker to resort to violence to settle a dispute, and that applies to bar fights just as much as a family fighting in the living room.”

The concentration of crime in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill confirms what Stats Canada is saying and makes it even harder for businesses in Riversdale.  This matters because the perception of crime is more important then the crime rate itself.  Back in the early 80s my friends and I used to as ten year olds take the nearest C-Train station downtown to check out the Glenbow Museum on any given Saturday.  I used to catch a bus by myself that would take kids to Pask-a-poo each Saturday and ski all day supervised.  Now when Mark walks the two short blocks to Safeway from our place, even during the early evening, Wendy’s co-workers show incredible concern that he walked two short blocks.  It doesn’t matter that statistically it was more dangerous growing up in Calgary, the perception is that is more dangerous for us now.  Fear is a powerful motivator.

Not only do you have the fear of crime in the city core, there are several well known links between poverty and mental health.  As the Ontario Mental Health Association puts it.

People with serious mental illness face many barriers over their lifetime, including stigma and discrimination, which may prevent them from securing adequate education and employment. Experiencing a mental illness can seriously interrupt a person’s education or career path and result in diminished opportunities for employment. A lack of secure employment, in turn, affects one’s ability to earn an adequate income. As a result, people may eventually drift into poverty.

Moreover, individuals with serious mental illness are frequently unable to access community services and supports due to stigma, gaps in service and/or challenges in system navigation. Lack of sufficient primary health care and community mental health services, shortages of affordable housing, and inadequate income support further alienate them from life in the community. Exclusion from these social and economic supports results in social isolation, significantly increasing their risk of chronic poverty.

Individuals with work-limiting disabilities are nearly three times as likely to be poor and four times as likely to be in receipt of social assistance as individuals without a disability.

The stigma of people with mental disabilities is incredible.  Many well meaning people have asked me, “How do you work with those people?”  While listening to the radio a couple of weeks ago I listened to one radio host complain about people who were homeless and had mental people out on the same Saskatoon streets as he was.  The suggestion was that they stay inside.  Many people with mental health and addiction issues are living downtown are in Riversdale and Pleasant Hill and that stigma follows them and of course impacts shop owners on 20th.  This is at the core of the creation of suburbia and bedroom communities (although in Saskatchewan I think it has a lot to do with people wanting to connect to rural roots).

If you are a shop owner on Riversdale, you have big time problem.  You are surrounded by some of poorest neighbourhoods in Canada which means that your ability to make money off of local consumers is limited.  You are in one of the highest crime areas of Canada which means that you have to rely heavily on attracting customers to come down and spend money on 20th Street and those consumers don’t feel safe. Even the Little Chief Police Station that was intended to make Riversdale safer is a quiet reminder that by it’s very presence, Riversdale isn’t always a safe place to be. 

In response to the poverty, mental health and addiction issues and crime, it makes sense that several NGO’s moved into Riversdale to help people cope with the poverty.  High end retailers go to where the money is and like it or not, many community based organizations go where societal issues are.  Many of them do very good work but by our very presence in the neighbourhood, we make it harder for businesses to operate here.  Long time readers know that I used to work the 4-12 shift at the Salvation Army’s front desk.  We are right across from what I thought was the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world, The Golden Dragon.  All of the time we would have drunks stumble in to our place and then over to The Golden Dragon causing all sorts of problems for the owners and it’s customers.  That takes a toll on your business and no wonder I have to walk downtown to get a Starbucks.  In the last year or so the Salvation Army has followed the lead of other shelters and has worked hard at keeping the residents and users of our services off the front sidewalk and to the side of the building where we purchased two heavy duty (and quite nice) picnic tables and umbrellas.   Our janitors work hard at sweeping up cigarette butts and garbage but every morning that I come to work there are some guys loitering out front (it is a public sidewalk).  The same can be said about the front of the Saskatoon Food Bank, the Friendship Inn, the Lighthouse, the Bridge on 20th and a variety of other social organizations on 20th Street.  Despite that Wendy has twice been accosted while waiting for me to get off work by guys looking for money and sadly we still get complaints made by people who have had to endure comments by our clients as they walked by.

I don’t know how much it changes the neighbourhood.  What would be the difference between 20th Street if there was no community based organizations there?  Would it be a thriving business district or without the social structures and emergency services that organizations provide would it be worse off.  Is there an alternative way to deliver services?

To answer that, I first want to take a look at what life is life for those that are living under $10,000 / year because without that, we don’t even know what is really needed.  I’ll post more tomorrow.

10 Revolutions in How We Read (other than the E-book reader)

From The Atlantic

The industrial revolution. Gigantic presses powered by steam (and later, electric power) could crank out books and newspapers and advertisements that strained the always-fickle paper supply. Eventually, papermakers were able to invent a variety of mechanical and chemical techniques engineer decent-quality paper out of pulped wood, a supply that (unlike cloth rags) appeared limitless. Print was off to the races, and dozens of other inventions helped make generating texts cheaper and faster. Having beaten back the scroll, our anthropomorphized codex now jostled against increasingly-important nonbook documents glutting the alphabetic information stream, like newspapers and office memoranda. More people were reading too, thanks to cheap primers and a state-driven educational push towards universal literacy: historian David Hall has called this the "literacy revolution." If print in the Renaissance and early modern periods was a proof-of-concept, a limited beta – the Xerox PARC GUI and first-generation MacIntosh of the new modes of producing and consuming text – the age of industrial print was Windows 95.

via

From Mayfair to Caswell

As Wendy wrote, Mark has been transferred from Mayfair School to Caswell School.  The experience has been a really good one for Mark so far which kind of frustrates me.  There are more computers, a better paint job, more extra curricular activities, and resources for kids at Caswell despite the schools only being five blocks away from each other.  There were a lot of factors involving our move but both of these schools are publically funded schools and yet one has far superior resources thrown at it. 

I know school population is part of it.  While Caswell has almost no split classes, all of the classes that Mark would be in until he graduated out of there were split classes but shouldn’t all schools have access to the same quality of library, the same access to computers and the same access to educational resources?  Especially when they are all of five blocks apart.  A good education should not be geographically based.

Of course I would love to be proven wrong.  Too bad the Star Phoenix or Planet S Magazine didn’t have the inclination to compare and rate public schools and compare student – teacher, student – computer, student – teacher assistant ratios, extra curricular activities, and look at what grade students could start entering into a run of split classrooms.  It would be interesting to see.

Life on Skid Row by Sam Slovick

A series of videos about life on Skid Row by Sam Slovick and Good Magazine



Slovick also wrote a series of cover articles for L.A. Weekly which helped shape the debate.

Free Books = Summer School

This is interesting

Such high-level attention to summer reading is welcomed by educators concerned about the way summer tends to sap learning gains. Two-thirds of the reading achievement gap between low-income 9th-graders and their higher-income peers can be attributed to different levels of reading in the summers, according to research cited by the National Summer Learning Association in Baltimore.

Giving away books is a good first step, “and it also helps if a parent or a teacher is working with the child … asking questions [about the books],” says Jeff Smink, the association’s vice president of policy.

Here is how to do it

In a study that compares students who received free books over the summer with students who didn’t, Richard Allington, an education professor at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, found encouraging results. He tracked low-income first- and second-graders in Florida who chose a dozen free books at their reading level for three summers in a row.

“The effect was equal to the effect of summer school,” Professor Allington says. “Spending roughly $40 to $50 a year on free books for [each kid] began to alleviate the achievement gap that occurs in the summer.”

The study couldn’t show how many of the books the students actually read, but the students who sent in reading logs answering brief questions about the books showed even stronger achievement gains.

If I was a local church pastor, I would put together a proposal for local companies to sponsor this next summer and run this out of your church.  Some computers, some reading stations, parent volunteers, and a lot of Hardy Boys, Harry Potter, and Diary of a Wimpy books to give out.  via

Christmas Gifts Ideas for Boys Under Two Year of Age | 2009 Edition

Who would have thought that Oliver would be so hard to shop for.  I don’t remember Mark being so hard to shop for when he was a year and a half but then I realized that so many things I wanted to get Oliver are still sitting in storage because we already bought them for Mark.  In case you are struggling to find out what to buy a toddler, here is a short Christmas Gift Guide to give you some ideas.

Wooden Sleigh :: We bought on of these for Mark, used it for a couple of years and it still looks like it is brand new.  This could conceivably last for 12 kids, even if your marriage couldn’t.  While I linked to the cheapest one I could find on Amazon.com, I am pretty sure you can get them a lot cheaper at your local big box outlet.  I know quality is important but it’s not as if you are letting your kids go down K2 in one of these things.

Calgary Flames Mini Stick :: Ollie is about the age where hitting things is a lot of fun.  The secret it to teach him that it is more fun to hit a ball and a puck than it is to hit Mark and myself.  Since we have a dog that loves to fetch, this could be more fun than what we are bargaining for.7

Toy Tool Set :: With the cost of getting repairmen into your home, it’s never to early to teach a child how to fix a furnace or a hot water heater.

Fisher Price Parking Garage :: Right after Henry Ford started to ship the Model T, Fisher Price started to ship the Fisher Price Parking Garage.  I had one, Lee had one, I am sure my grandparents had one.

Fisher Price Laugh and Learn Puppy :: Lee gave Oliver one of these for his birthday.  It sings, it laughs, it tells jokes, it teaches him things, it drives me crazy.  It is currently teaching Oliver the A-B-Cs, 1-2-3’s and parts of the body, plus sing along to ten favorite songs and games.  It is also giving him investment tips and putting together a retirement plan for him.

I have a digital camera, Wendy has a digital camera, Mark has a digital camera.  Oliver can now have a play camera where he can obsess over the backlighting and the shot as we do with this Playskool play camera.  Now of course he is going to find out that the camera we gave him is a toy when his Flickr account doesn’t get that popular but that won’t happen until he is at least three.  If you want to spend even more money on a fake video camera, there is this one with Elmo.  It doesn’t actually do much but it does it with you kid’s favorite Sesame Street character.
Christmas Gift Ideas and Gift GuidesIf I missed anything or if my suggestion made you think I was absolutely crazy, let me know in the comments. You can access the current edition and previous years list of Christmas gift guides here.

Surge in Homeless Pupils Strains Schools

From the New York Times

Surge in Homeless Pupils Strains Schools

While current national data are not available, the number of schoolchildren in homeless families appears to have risen by 75 percent to 100 percent in many districts over the last two years, according to Barbara Duffield, policy director of the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth, an advocacy group.

There were 679,000 homeless students reported in 2006-7, a total that surpassed one million by last spring, Ms. Duffield said.

With schools just returning to session, initial reports point to further rises. In San Antonio, for example, the district has enrolled 1,000 homeless students in the first two weeks of school, twice as many as at the same point last year.

“It’s hard enough going to school and growing up, but these kids also have to worry where they’ll be staying that night and whether they’ll eat,” said Bill Murdock, chief executive of Eblen-Kimmel Charities, a private group in Asheville that helps needy families with anything from food baskets and money for utility bills to toiletries and a prom dress.

“We see 8-year-olds telling Mom not to worry, don’t cry,” Mr. Murdock said.

Since 2001, federal law has required every district to appoint a liaison to the homeless, charged with identifying and aiding families who meet a broad definition of homelessness — doubling up in the homes of relatives or friends or sleeping in motels or RV campgrounds as well as living in cars, shelters or on the streets. A small minority of districts, including Buncombe County, have used federal grants or local money to make the position full time.

The law lays out rights for homeless children, including immediate school placement without proof of residence and a right to stay in the same school as the family is displaced. Providing transportation to the original school is an expensive logistical challenge in a huge district like Buncombe County, covering 700 square miles.

While the law’s goals are widely praised, school superintendents lament that Congress has provided little money, adding to the fiscal woes of districts. “The protections are important, but Congress has passed the cost to state and local taxpayers,” said Bruce Hunter, associate director of the American Association of School Administrators.

This story made me cry.  In Saskatoon the accepted number of kids not in school is 1500.  I have talked to teachers and educators and while they all say it’s probably a bit higher or lower, they never seem to mind when we use it as a starting point for discussions.  While many of those kids are out of school because of parental choices and slipping through the cracks, some of them are out of school because of no permanent address at all.  They move between Saskatoon, Regina, P.A., or for some, the reserve.  They get into school for a bit and then are off to the next destination and as I have educators tell me, this is devastating to the child and makes learning almost impossible.  I have heard a couple of teachers say that they have experienced over 100% turnover during a school year which not only is hard on the kids moving in and out but those who stay.  Who do you chose to be your friends when they may be gone tomorrow.  Without a home, stability, education, and emotional development are all deeply affected.

Mark keeps asking me about the women and family shelter the Centre is opening.  His questions all focus on where are the kids going to go to school.  The shelter is to be a short term emergency shelter for those that are homeless.  Women can spend a couple of weeks there before moving on to the YWCA or other transitional housing.  You can spend a couple of months in those places before you move on to another place or get an apartment.  Let’s review that journey.  Homeless > Salvation Army > YWCA/transitional housing.  A kid could spend a couple of months before getting established again and what’s the impact of that their future.  Childhood homelessness is devastating and takes years to recover from.  If there was a place for a church to invest a significant amount of effort into, this would seem to be it.

As you can see from this video, not all school systems are doing that well in helping out and some are even blocking homeless kids.

This story really depresses me.  Not just because I get frustrated with a system that doesn’t value homeless people but when you read the Report Card on Child Homelessness,  Delaware, Oregon, and Wisconsin report few or no barriers to educating homeless children (kudos to them) but then it gets a lot worse. Nearly 86% of subgrantees in Kentucky report that all seven barriers listed in the report were big barriers to getting an education.  Hawaii, Georgia, Pennsylvania, and New Hampshire also have a high percentage of subgrantees reporting significant barriers.

The federal government provides states $58 million to support the education of children who are homeless. For each state, they convert their portion of this funding into a “per homeless child” figure based on the number of homeless children identified in each state. For example, Louisiana receives $6 per homeless child for education, while Rhode Island receives $304 per homeless child. In California child funding is $16 per child. The national average is $64 per homeless child (although this year that is going down)

By comparison we spend about $65.00 (Canadian) this year on Mark’s school supplies (you can see his school supply list here.  He’s in Grade 4).  With that we got him a couple of things he didn’t need but at the same time he still loved his backpack from 2007-2008 and didn’t want a new one which saved us $20.  Him and I were talking today and he said that there are kids in his class that don’t have stuff for school yet and we are a week into it already.

Of course despite there being a million kids who are homeless, how many are struggling tremendously with heading back to school.  This year in Canada, Sleep Country partnered with the Salvation Army in collecting school supplies to send kids back to school.  Locally our board room was packed to the gills with school supplies.  I was going to take a photo of it for this post but when I got my camera, most of it was gone as we had such a waiting list of families who live at or below the poverty line for these supplies.

This represents a big opportunity for the church to make a difference in a neighborhood.  I know Christmas is a big deal but back to school is a big cost for many low income families and the need is bigger than the Salvation Army, Sleep Country, or any organization can deal with on their own.