Talking about race — in 3rd grade

Can Racism Be Stopped in the Third Grade? asks Lisa Miller in New York Magazine.  Can it be stopped by getting kids to think about their racial identity?

Fieldston, a very liberal private school in New York City separated third, fourth and fifth graders by race to discuss their racial identity for five weeks this spring. After the weekly “affinity groups” meeting, there was a mixed-race debriefing.

Slightly less than half the students at Fieldston’s Lower School are white, 20 percent are black or Latino, 20 percent multiracial and “the remainder are Asian or won’t say.”

Sorting by race offends many parents, who posted an online petition protesting the program, writes Miller. They wonder why the school is “forcing these children to define themselves and their families so narrowly” and at such an early age.

Ben Hort, an Irish-Jewish parent described as “blue-eyed” and “devilish,” calls it segregation. His wife is a Colombian-American with “dark-brown skin and black hair.”

 Two of their children look white, or whitish, and one is browner, with his mother’s black hair and almond eyes. To them, making racial identity a multiple-choice proposition diminishes who they really are. . . . “The kids are Colombian, they’re Jewish, they’re Irish. They’re from New York; they’re American. We are mixed.”

Like his older brother, 9-year-old Jacob Hort rejected “multi-racial” to join the “not sure” group. Asked to write on a Post-it the things that make him unique, he wrote “American. Dog lover. Me.”

Two black parents — both with Ivy League educations — tell Miller they support the program. Their kids are identified by race and need to be able to deal with it. (Wouldn’t the parents do a better job of this than anyone at the school?)

A black third-grader likes “to be with people I can share my race with” without feeling uncomfortable.

However, a fifth-grader in the Asian group complains it’s “so fricking boring . . . The conversations we have are mostly about the tensions between whites and blacks, and never about Asians or Hispanic people.”

“Here is fancy, expensive, and elitist Fieldston Lower School instituting a program that’s whole purpose is to crystallize out-dated, divisive ideas about race,” complains White Boy Rants.

What will parents be told about kids’ readiness?

“Common Core standards are more challenging than what preceded them in most places” and scores on the Core-aligned PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests will be low, writes Checker Finn. Will parents be told their little darlings are on the remedial path? He fears states will “soft-pedal” the bad news about student performance to avoid fueling the revolt against Core testing.

Students meeting Common Core standards are supposed to be on track “to succeed in college without remediation, or to succeed in a job with good future prospects,” writes Finn. Parents and teachers need to know as early as possible when students aren’t progressing toward that goal.

Yet the sample score reports for parents now being promulgated by PARCC appear to pussy-foot around the concept of college readiness, at least until high school. Check them out yourself. They talk about children’s test score performance in relation to being prepared for “further studies” and “the next grade level,” but they don’t say a word about college and career—or help parents (particularly those who haven’t graduated from college themselves) parse the meaning and implications of “further studies”.

In a sample PARCC report for the algebra II assessment, a hypothetical 11th grader’s parents are told he will “likely need academic support to engage successfully in further studies.”

That means he’s heading for a remedial math class in community college. But do parents realize that?

Smarter Balanced provides models to help states design reports. “College and career readiness” information is not supplied till eighth grade. “The hypothetical fifth grader report recently approved for use in California makes no mention of college or career — nor even readiness for further study, Finn notes.

1/3 of 8th graders think Canada is a dictatorship

“What do the current governments of Canada, France, and Australia have in common?” reads a multiple-choice question on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics exam. One-third of 8th graders think Canada, France and Australia are dictatorships, notes CBC.

Of the four potential answers, “They have leaders with absolute power” was selected by 23 per cent of respondents. Another 10 per cent of students said: “They are controlled by the military,” while 12 per cent chose “They discourage participation by citizens in public affairs.”

A bare majority — 54 percent — said “they have constitutions that limit their power.”

Millionaire turns around poor Florida town

Harris Rosen visited a day care center he funds in Tangelo Park, Fla. Credit: Melissa Lyttle, New York Times

For 21 years, a Florida millionaire has funded day care centers and college scholarships in a small, low-income, mostly black town near Orland, reports the New York Times. With $11 million of Harris Rosen’s money, “Tangelo Park is a striking success story.”

Once, nearly half the town’s students dropped out of school. Now nearly all graduate and most go to college or trade school with full scholarships.

Property values have climbed. Houses and lawns, with few exceptions, are welcoming. Crime has plummeted.

The son of immigrants, Rosen grew up poor in New York City and made his money in the hotel business.

For the youngest children, he created a system of free day care centers in Tangelo Park homes, ensuring that the certified providers, who are also the homeowners, instruct children as young as 2. He also started and finances a prekindergarten program in the local elementary school and offers parents training through the University of Central Florida on how to support their children.

The Tangelo Park Program doesn’t fund K-12 education.  “It is run almost entirely by volunteers, mostly community leaders,” reports the Times.

Next year, Rosen will begin funding early education in a downtown Orlando neighborhood with housing projects and few neighborhood institutions.

Money matters — for neediest students

Spending more on schools improves high school graduation rates and adult earnings and family stability, concludes a new study published in Education Next.

When per pupil spending increases by 10 percent in all 12 school-age years, students from low-income families complete an extra half year of education and their probability of high graduation increases by 10 percentage points, according to C. Kirabo Jackson, Rucker C. Johnson, and Claudia Persico. ednext_XV_4_jackson_fig03-small

As adults, they earn 10 percent more per hour.  They’re 10 percent more likely to marry and stay married; future family income increases by 17.1 percent and the likelihood of poverty decreases.

Spending increases also benefit students from non-poor families, but the effect is much smaller.

A 22 percent increase in per-pupil spending throughout all 12 school-age years could eliminate the education gap between poor and non-poor children, the authors estimate.  That would mean increasing spending from $12,600 per pupil (the 2012 average) by $2,863 per student.

“How the money is spent matters,” the authors conclude. Districts in their study added 1.3 more days to the school year, increased base teacher salaries by 4 percent and reduced student-teacher ratios by 5.7 percent.

“Does money matter?” is an old question in education. The short answer seems to be: It depends on how it’s spent.

In 1989, 15 low-achieving, high-minority Austin schools got an extra $500,000 a year for five years due to a desegregation lawsuit. Two schools improved significantly, while the other 13 did not improve at all, concluded researchers Richard Murnane and Frank Levy. All the schools lowered class sizes, but only the two improving schools used smaller classes to change instruction and adopt a more rigorous curriculum.

This video from the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, via Jay Greene, argues that more spending hasn’t improved student performance.

Homeschooling up by 62%

The number of homeschooled students increased by 61.8 percent from 2003 to 2012, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Nearly 1.8 million children were homeschooled.  

More educated parents are more likely to teach their children at home. An estimated 1.6 percent of students whose parents earned a high school diploma or less are homeschooled. That rises to 2.2 percent of students whose parents have some post high school training or education, 2.4 percent of children of college graduates and 2.5 percent of those whose parents earned a graduate or professional degree are homeschooled.

In addition, homeschooling parents are disproportionately white, married, middle class and living in rural areas.

First Man on the Moon

NOVA will air First Man on the Moon tonight.

‘Addicted’ to bachelor’s degrees

America must break its “addiction” to bachelor’s degrees and recognize other routes to the middle class, said Mark Schneider of the American Institutes for Research, as part of a lecture series on social mobility.  “The contemporary bachelor’s degree takes too long, it’s too expensive and it’s not for everyone,” he said.

Wage data show that one- and two-year degrees and certificates in technical fields lead to rewarding careers, reports Diverse.  Plumbers and technicians with a vocational certificate can earn more than $71,000 a year a decade after entering the workforce. That’s more than many bachelor’s degree holders earn, especially those in non-technical fields. “Where you learn how to fix things, you win,”  said Schneider.

His College Measures web site provides information about expected wages for different degrees or certificates.

We have to make people understand there are cheaper ways to get people into the labor market,” Schneider said, noting that surveys have shown students say high wages and middleclass careers are important goals.

On average, four-year graduates earn more than those with two-year degrees, but “much is hidden in the averages,” said Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“What we have is a big black box in American higher education, a big impenetrable black box. It cost about $450 billion per year. It has 20 million students in it,” Carnevale said. “We’re not sure what produces learning and earning. We drop money in it every year, pay almost no attention to what comes out at the other end, and at some point that becomes intolerable because we don’t have another $450 billion.”

Both agreed the U.S. can’t afford to keep putting money into higher education without considering the outcomes.


Colleges compete on ‘leisure pools’

best-college-pools-Oklahoma State UniversityOklahoma State’s $20 million Colvin Rec Center includes an indoor/outdoor pool, a gym, rock climbing, basketball and racquetball courts, putting greens and golf simulators and a wellness center.

Two-thirds of the “30 best college leisure pools” are located at state universities, notes Rick Hess. What does this say about higher education?

College Rank‘s list includes “institutions that routinely insist they desperately need more state funds, including two University of California campuses and two Cal State campuses,” he writes.

When legislatures trim public spending, universities don’t cut back on the pools; instead, they resort to the old “close the Washington Monument strategy” and wring their hands while explaining they’re going to have to shutter the chemistry department. In fact, outside of Purdue under President Mitch Daniels, in recent years, it’s hard to think of a major university that has really made cutting costs and trimming fat a point of public pride.

“Having an incredible pool on campus (often with lazy rivers!) gives colleges a leg up on competition,” according to College Rank. As tuition rises, students are pickier about the amenities that “complete the collegiate experience.”


Parents don’t choose diversity

Parent choice is making San Francisco schools more segregated, reports the San Francisco Chronicle.

Mural at San Francisco's Cleveland Elementary School.

Mural at San Francisco’s Cleveland Elementary School.

One third of the city’s public schools are “racially isolated,” which means 60+ percent of students are of the same racial or ethnic group.

Overall, 41 percent of the city’s public school students are Asian-American, 27 percent are Latino, 13 percent are white, 10 percent black and the rest “other.” About 30 percent of the city’s young people attend private or parochial schools.

Here’s a non-surprise:

Diversity and integration are rarely cited as top factors in choosing a public school. Instead, district surveys of parents show the safety of a school’s neighborhood, the quality of its staff and its reputation are paramount.

Clarendon, the high-achieving school in the story is about one third Asian, one third white and the rest Latino, black and mixed. It offers a Japanese bilingual program for some students; the rest learn Italian.

At the low-achieving school, Cleveland, 82 percent of students come from low-income and working-class Latino families. Parents choose the school because it’s close to home. It offers a Spanish bilingual program.

Cleveland receives $360,000 more than Clarendon from the state each year — $1,000 per student — because its students are so poor and so many of them don’t speak English. The idea is to direct more resources to the neediest schools, but Clarendon more than offsets that through avid parent fundraising and donations from the Japanese and Italian consulates.

(Cleveland Principal March)Sanchez uses the extra state money for basic support, including separate Spanish and English literacy coaches, a technology teacher, tablet computers and laptops.

After being trained by a nonprofit to be an activist, mother Ana Hodgson is “done with public schools,” reports the Chronicle. She got her son into a summer program for low-income achievers that helped him get a scholarship at a private middle school.