The Technology Gap and Public Education

The Common Core Standards ushered public schools into the digital world by requiring students to move from #2 pencils to online testing. As early as second grade students are required to take the nation wide standardized tests on a computer connected to public school broadband alongside their fellow classmates. If that doesn’t sound questionable enough then we should consider the socioeconomic implications of asking low income and affluent public schools to perform equally well on a test that requires a critical understanding of technological interfaces and is largely dependent on resources available to students.

 

“Technology gap” is the commonly used term to refer to the differences in access to digital tools among various income levels. It is frequently described as a symptom of the increased income inequality happening nationwide, but fewer people are concerned about its impact on standardized test scores.

 

When we first met with Ms. Hunter, principal of Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, she gave us some critical insight on the issue. She explained that a majority of the students in her school did not have computers at home. Not only did they not have computers, but in some cases the parents relied on phones without a modern interface. A non-”smart” phone. She said some of her students only had the opportunity to interact with a modern interface while at school. This wouldn’t be as large an issue if the school had a massive Parent Teacher Association purchasing new technology equipment every year, but that isn’t the reality at MLK Elementary.

 

After our conversation with Principal Hunter, we did more research on the technology gap  and found statistics and cases from all over the United States where low income students suffered as a result of the technology gap. As far back as 2012, Pew Research has been recording data on the subject. They report only 60% of people in households making less than $30,000 use the internet while 90% of those making 50,000-74,999 do. This comparison demonstrates the  correlation between internet access and economic well being. It may seem obvious, but Pew puts this into a wider context. 54% of all teachers nationwide said their students had adequate internet access at school, and only 18% said the students had adequate access at home. The majority of our youth at home and at school are being deprived of the necessary resources to succeed, and it has everything to do with wealth distribution.

 

We created Civic Leaders to make a difference in the lives of public school students, but before meeting Ms. Hunter we weren’t sure how we could best do that. We are striving to purchase tablets or chromebooks for Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary so that one less school is left behind by the technology gap.

We Deleted Uber and Maybe You Should Too

On March 19th, 2018 a woman by the name of Elaine Herzberg was struck and killed by one of Uber’s self driving vehicles in Arizona. The media has approached this topic from a variety of angles, but the primary focus has been on explaining what exactly happened. The police chief initially reported the pedestrian jumped out in the street at the last minute making it impossible to avoid. Others said this was implausible considering Elaine had a bicycle in her possession. Finally, a video was released from the cars dash cam which showed a safety driver in the car looking down and away from the road repeatedly just before impact.

Uber failed in three ways to insure something like this would not happen. Clean Technica reports Uber reduced the number of LiDAR units from 7 to 1 per vehicle in 2016 creating blind spots. One such blindspot may have prevented the car from perceiving Elaine as a human being to be avoided at all costs. Uber failed when they began sending single drivers out instead of couples for test drives of their vehicles. Even if the driver had not seen or anticipated a pedestrian then surely another set of eyes on the road would have been helpful. Lastly, Uber failed when they hired Rafaela Vasquez as a safety driver. Ms. Vasquez is a two time convicted felon in the state of Arizona which certainly does not preclude her from the workforce, however, a safeguard position such as this is questionable. Uber was striving to move past needing a driver intervention within thirteen miles of road. So the drivers they hired were certainly not sitting idly for hours on end.

I switched to the past tense to describe Uber’s failings not because the company apologized, said they would take stock of their actions, and change but because of the recent fallout. Arizona banned Uber’s self driving car program from operating in the state any longer, Uber opted to not renew their license with California to run an autonomous vehicle program, and their entire fleet is grounded for the time being.

Why would Uber take these risks? Money. Eric Meyhofer, the head of Uber’s autonomous driving efforts, said the question isn’t whether Uber can make a self driving car, but if they can do so quickly and cheaply enough to solve its revenue problems. Corner after corner was being cut in order to reduce the 2.8 Billion dollars it lost last year. By contrast, Lyft President, John Zimmer, characterizes his company as caring about the cities they operate in, the people they service, and the people that work for the company.

Part tragedy, part comedy, The New Yorker has certainly not missed the irony of their most recent article on Dara Khosrowsahi, Uber’s new CEO charged with cleaning up company culture. The accident in Arizona receives a very small entry at the end of the article as if the actions don’t speak louder than the words, and history of one man in a massive company.

We have deleted Uber from our phones. We believe consumers make a choice with their dollars, and we are taking a firm stance with ours. Uber may be redeemable, and perhaps Dara can actually right the ship, but for now we refuse to support a company that has disenfranchised and humiliated women within their company, and shows such relentless disregard for ethical practices just to continue their growth. We hope you consider exactly what that next UberPool is worth to you and everyone else in the global ecosystem.

"Nothing is certain but death and taxes" - Ben Franklin

Whether you’re a 501c3, for-profit, or somewhere in-between we believe you can make a difference in the world. So when we heard of friends in the nonprofit world fearing for their organizations because of the new tax plan our ears perked up. Then we started digging, and what we found might be described as cautious optimism.

Nonprofit concern

The Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at Indiana University estimates the new tax plan will result in charitable donations to nonprofits shrinking by 13 billion or more each year. This number is being echoed across numerous media outlets, and lives at the core of current nonprofit anxiety.

How is this going to happen?

The new tax plan doubles standard deductions for individuals and couples from 6K to 12K and 12K to 24K respectively. This means the majority Americans have a greater incentive to select the standard deduction in lieu of an itemized deduction where charitable contributions are stated. Americans were previously incentivized to give more to charities so that their itemized deductions would be greater than the 6K and 12K standards. Additional commentary out of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy argues Americans won’t completely stop giving, but they will give less.

(For our younger or confused readers: a standard deduction is the amount the government allows you to deduct from your full taxable income. That standard deduction is essentially not subject to income tax like the rest of your income. The standard deduction is the preferred method of deducing taxable income because of the complexity associated with line item deductions. It is a catch all for deductions like costs associated with work, donations, etc..)

Recent Historical Context

From 2012 to 2016, individual contributions to charities have gone from $228.93 billion to $281.86 billion. That’s slightly more than a 23% increase in just four years. By contrast, total GDP in the United States has seen 15% growth over the same time period. Individual donations have outpaced economic growth by a whopping 8% over four years.

Total contributions have continued to reach record highs, with 390.05 billion dollars of contributions in 2016 when the most recent data is available. It isn’t difficult to understand non-profit anxiety when levels of growth like this have been the norm for almost five years.

Worst Case Scenario

The average American could potentially decide to donate less money because of the tax plan, and it could be a direct result of the increased standard deduction. The Council of Nonprofits states the estimated loss in donations amounts to 250,000 jobs being lost in the nonprofit sector. That’s assuming every dollar lost is spent on a salary, but the statistic is meant to contradict the idea that the tax plan would lead to more jobs. A potentially worse impact of this loss in donations is a loss of food, medical, or other support services delivered to those in need.

Best Case Scenario

In addition to raising the standard deduction, the tax plan also raises the cap on charitable deductions. Theoretically the 10% increase in max deductible donations means the wealthiest in America would at the very least make up the difference lost as a result of the standard deduction increase. Ideally the estimated losses are overstated, and wealthy donations increase which would most certainly allow the nonprofit sector to continue their period of record growth.

Taking Action

As this tax season ends, FM-31 will be keeping a close eye on the data captured by the government and NGOs. Corporate charitable donations were the smallest portion of all contributions from 2012-2016. We were disappointed to hear this for a number of reasons. As social entrepreneurs we believe businesses can and do make a massive impact, but sadly data on the collective social impact made by organizations like TOM’s, Warby Parker, CauseGear, and others does not exist. We plan to publish a report of the 2017 social impact made by for profit organizations like these over the 2018 summer so we may have one more potential bright spot in the fight for good.

There's Always a Storm

I am writing this from the south shore of the Turks and Caicos reflecting on a year and considering the future. I came here on a diving excursion to get away from the day to day and to refresh for the new year.

I am writing today to say thanks and to seek the future actively. I want to say thanks first and foremost to all of our supporters. Those holding a note book, those reading the invasive hitlist, and those around the world who are wearing FM-31 scrubs or winter clothing. You all give us so much passion, and drive to continue innovating, to continue driving forward and to continue growing. Thank you all for your willingness to embrace change, your interest in helping others, and for sharing your stories with us.

Jesse and I go around to a lot of different places and ask people what they are passionate about. What they want our next project to be, what they care about, and what they wish they could do more of. These stories, are beyond encouraging. They demonstrate that everyone has some inner passion to start something that matters.

When I first arrived in Caicos, the airport was half built, and the existing structures were torn apart by the same hurricane that crashed into Puerto Rico. Homes, restaurants, shops, and almost any other building you could think of had its roof torn off. Coral was destroyed on our dives and half the mooring balls were ripped from the bottom of the ocean. Now South Caicos and most of the Caribbean islands are no strangers to hurricane season, but after talking to dive instructors and locals on the island, this felt different. South Caicos is on a road to recovery lasting a year and a half, and while tourism is returning, the islands have a long road ahead of them before they can shake off the storm.

It was a humbling reminder of how in the midst of a reflective calm, the storm lingers. I am emboldened and reminded of my ideals, and grounded in the understanding that in order to craft the world we want, we must understand the work that lays ahead. At FM-31 we believe in the power of storytelling, and I can feel that the beginning of ours is just starting to be written. It will be a long road, and most likely uphill, but we look forward to the challenge.

Happy new year to all, and peace and prosperity to all those affected by the great storms of our time, both literal and metaphorical.

New Beginnings

FM-31 had a meeting with the Invasive Hitlist task force November 9th, 2016. The date is significant because I remember the frustration on Noah’s face before we headed to Virginia. I remember him telling me that he stayed up most of the night watching election night coverage as I glanced at the bags under his eyes. I remember thinking this could be the end for FM-31. After all our first product was edited and purchased en masse by organizations under the purview of the EPA, and we assumed it would be gutted.

We persisted in our work, and even wrote two more editions to the series. Then the responses from our government contacts slowed. We talked, and we worked, and we planned, but it all felt wrong. The project we had been pouring effort into suddenly felt like a house of cards propped up by chopsticks. We found ourselves talking more and more about others being adversely affected by the budget, policy, and social media decisions of our leaders.

We initially crafted the Helping Hands Journal Series as an instrument of brute force. We wanted to sell something and make an impact with some of the money. Simple. Specific. Straightforward. Then we started talking to people in our community. In particular, our current partners at Sarah’s Circle and MLK elementary. They really opened our eyes to the vast potential for positive social impact. Then came the insights from our inner circle.

People wanted to do more than buy notebooks. They wanted to be part of a communal social good. We received offers not just to buy notebooks, but people offered their time, energy, and resources to help make a difference. In short, they were quick to offer a helping hand. We couldn’t be more grateful for those early conversations because they showed us a better way. The notebooks are still being sold, and money and/or resources will still be donated, but that is just a gateway. Through that gate is a tribe of people that want  to do more for the people in their local, regional, and global communities. We look forward to standing shoulder to shoulder and offering our hands side by side with our tribe.

As we proceed we will be sculpting the typical traits of for-profit companies into our own image. We will be organizing community events and seeking, offering, and creating volunteer opportunities. These aspects of FM-31 exist as part of our DNA. They are part of how we think and interact with the world. We will simultaneously be pursuing opportunities to increase revenue generation, but all of our products will also serve a social goal. We thank you all for joining us on what is sure to be a long, difficult journey and for being a part of our ever expanding community. Without your support and guidance, we would be a rudderless ship. Until next time friends!

Winter is Coming...

We are organizing a winter clothing drive this Fall to help make the holiday season a little warmer for everyone! If you have any of the following that you don't wear, send us a message at contactus@fm31.org. Every little bit helps!

  • Shoes
  • Socks
  • Winter Jackets
  • Hats
  • Gloves
  • Long Sleeve T-Shirts
  • Scarfs

We will make every effort to meet you where you are, so if you have anything that may be of use, reach out, and we will work with you to find the best way to pick up your donations! 

Stay Warm!

DC Design Week

For a limited time the Helping Hands Journal Series will be on sale at Cherry Blossom Creative from Thursday-Sunday this week! We are part of the DC Design Week Pop-Up Shop, and our work will be displayed alongside other established DC Artists and Designers. There will be a launch party at Cherry Blossom Creative with free drinks on Thursday at 6pm, and we will be in attendance to answer any questions. Drop by and say hi!


Address: 2128 8th ST. NW, Washington DC 20001

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A Short Poem & A Little News

Hi everyone!

As a thank you for the support you've all shown, we wanted to share a poem from one of the seniors we are featuring in the Senior Stories Journal Pack. This was workshopped at Sarah's Circle with the help of Emmy Lu's friends and fellow senior residents. 

A Day in the Life of a 92-Year-Old

Getting up, Being up, Staying up, Keeping up, Letting Go

By Emmy Lu Daly

Getting Up

Putting feet on the floor, wait, ready? Stand.

So far so good. 

Being Up

Deciding which clothes. What's the weather today?

Hate being cold, or hot. Oh well, grab a sweater.

Staying Up

Trying to read. Nodding off. 

Stand up. Do yoga stretches. Eat something. 

Keeping Up

Confusing. What are all these things that keep people tuned in?

iPads? iPhones? Kindles? MacBooks? Texting? Twitter?

Letting Go

Recognizing you're OK. You're still here. 

There's love and laughter all around. Relax. 

 

And now for the bit of news! We are meeting with a cool, creative brick and mortar store in D.C. this week to discuss selling our journals. We are super excited about this opportunity! We would love to have 2K pledged by the time we meet so please please please tell your friends about us! 

We will be sharing a video, and more news soon!

Wishing you all nothing but the best!

Jesse & Noah

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