To help the poor, give them money

To prepare children from low-income families for school success, U.S. policy and funding has focused on Head Start and universal pre-kindergarten, writes Brookings’ Russ Whitehurst. But research shows that giving more money to low-income parents is more cost effective, he writes.

The Earned Income Tax Credit, which raises the income of  low-income working parents, is more effective than providing free pre-K for four-year-olds, he writes. The chart also shows the modest effects of class-size reduction and Head Start.

Northern European countries focus on supporting family incomes rather than providing preschool or pre-K, writes Whitehurst. “A policy midpoint” could be giving families more money, but limiting it to expenditures on their young children. He envisions something like food stamps.

In Finland, working parents of young children can choose from a variety of child-care providers or “opt to receive a financial subsidy that allows them to reduce their work hours in order to be home more with their child,” he writes. “They can also take unpaid leave.” The rate of enrollment in child-care centers is very low for children under four.

School-based pre-K doesn’t work

School-based pre-K doesn’t improve the lives of disadvantaged children in a “significant, sustained” way, write researchers Katharine B. Stevens and Elizabeth English on the American Enterprise Institute blog.

Some early childhood programs do make a lasting difference, they write. “Intensive, carefully designed, well-implemented programs” such as Abecedar­ian, Nurse-Family Partnership and the Perry Preschool Project, “target very young children, engage parents, and teach a broad range of skills.”

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Social services alone won’t improve learning

Cincinnati has piloted community schools, which “wrap health, dental, therapeutic, and family support services around existing schools” to “improve students’ learning and life prospects,” writes Paul Hill of University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. The idea has spread to New York City and Philadelphia.

However, social services along won’t improve student outcomes, he warns. Students from poor families need a high-quality academic education in addition to social supports.

Oyler School in Cincinnati offers a full range of support services -- at a high cost.

Oyler School in Cincinnati offers a full range of support services, but costs are high and the effect on achievement is not clear.

Oyler School, Cincinnati’s model community school, provides an array of health services, including vision and dental care and mental health counseling.

However,  “the links between even intensive services and student learning are weak and tough to find,” Hill writes. “In Cincinnati, the strongest link between wrap-around services and outcomes like normal progress in school comes from attendance gains: on-site health services mean a parent or guardian no longer needs to take children out of school to wait all day to be seen at an emergency ward.”

“Careful studies” have found that students’ learning growth in the Harlem Children’s Zone “is a result of improvements in the schools,” rather than improved social and health services, he writes.

“Despite enormous support from Cincinnati hospitals and businesses, only Oyler has the full menu of services,” Hill notes. Community schools are expensive.

20,000 NYC students apply to Success charters

More than 20,000 New York City students have applied for 3,228 available spots at Success Academy charter schools, reports the New York Post.

Admission is by lottery.

The network is opening five more elementary schools and two new middle schools this fall. Success will use a $25 million donation to fund expansion.

Test scores are very high for Success charter students, who are predominantly black and Latino. The schools have been criticized for tough discipline policies. Apparently, many parents don’t care.

Why poor kids don’t try for top colleges


Genesis Morales works on the computer at Bryan Adams High School in Dallas. Photo: Cooper Neill, Texas Tribune

“One Dallas-area high school sent more than 60 students to University of Texas-Austin last year,” report Neena Satija and Matthew Watkins in the Texas Tribune. A few miles away, a high-poverty, high-minority school sent one.

Students who rank in the top 10 percent of their senior class are guaranteed a spot in any state university. (At UT-Austin, a student usually needs to be in the top 7 percent.)

Yet, across the state, many low-income, first-generation students don’t apply to top colleges, write Satija and Watkins. Some fear they don’t belong at elite schools like UT-Austin.

Genesis Morales, a senior who ranks 8th in her class at Bryan Adams High, qualifies for automatic admission to UT-Austin, but didn’t apply.

. . . her parents, who are from Mexico, didn’t graduate high school. Her dad is a landscaper, and her mom is a factory worker. For years, her only impressions of college came from watching television shows.

“It’s people who have money, people who are, like, prodigies and stuff, [who] end up there. For me, I was never surrounded by those people — people who went to college.”

Persuaded to aim higher than community college, Morales set her sights on going to Texas Woman’s University in Denton. She prefers a lower-ranked school. “I feel I’m not going to be as smart. So when it comes to tough schools, I kind of stay away,” she said.

Many top-ranked students at Bryan Adams are applying to UT’s less-selective campuses in the Dallas area, reports the Tribune.

. . . most low-income students of color prefer to stay close to home, said Jane Lincove, an assistant professor at Tulane University who studies college access.

In addition to that, at the branch campuses, “there’s more students who look like them, and there’s more students who went to their high schools,” Lincove said of minority students.

Despite her high grades, Morales’ SAT score is in the 43rd percentile, which is low for UT-Austin students. She believes she’d have trouble completing a degree.

“At the state’s two flagships, UT-Austin and Texas A&M University, 72 percent of Hispanic students graduate within six years, compared with 49 percent at Texas Woman’s,” write Satija and Watkins. Of course, that ignores the apple-orange issue: The flagship schools enroll academically superior Hispanic students compared to Texas Woman’s.

Some believe affirmative action can hurt minority students by getting them into top colleges, where they’ll struggle academically, instead of less-elite colleges, where they’ll be as prepared as their classmates. Mikhail Zinshteyn looks at the debate on “mismatch theory.”

If Diddy can do it . . . Start your own schools

Sean “Diddy” Combs, shown giving the commencement speech at Howard University in 2014, is helping start a college-prep charter school in Harlem.

Chris Stewart, who writes as Citizen Stewart, isn’t an education expert, he writes. A former school board member in Minneapolis and a father, he’s a “civilian” with “questions about the gulf between what black kids – including my own – are capable of achieving, and what they are currently achieving.”

He has a question for academics and teachers who oppose school reform.

Why aren’t they establishing their own schools to demonstrate all they have learned about learning? Where is the Pedro Noguera Academy of Teaching Black Boys To Read and Write? Where is the Julian Vasquez Helig School of Succeeding With Marginalized Children? What about the Diane Ravitch Center for Graduating Literate and Numerate Children of Color?

Those schools don’t exist.

Linda Darling Hammond and her Stanford colleagues did start a school in 2005, partnering with a low-income, all-minority district. Despite the university’s resources and expertise, it failed, writes Stewart.

“Maybe this demonstrates that schools alone cannot solve the very deep problems kids bring to school,” wrote Diane Ravitch when the school failed. “You cannot assume that schools alone can raise achievement scores without addressing the issues of poverty, of homelessness and shattered families.”

That’s “system-preserving, elitist nonsense,” writes Stewart. Then comes the rant:

It is one thing to speak from a vaulted perch where you are not responsible for a single kid, and preach the paleoliberal gospel of the one-best-system; to write missives against school reform as you cash under-the-table paychecks from reform funders; to sit on panels sponsored by education labor cartels and interrogate the motives of school reformers while never interrogating the motives of labor cartels; to put your own kids in private schools and then assail school choice as a misguided gift to the ignorant poor who won’t make decisions as well as you have; and to basically fill the world with useless pablum about thinking broader, bolder, more holistically, without focusing intensely on developing, administrating, delivering, and measuring the effectiveness of instruction and learning in the most important place, the classroom.

“The leaders of new schools . . . design, establish, and operate schools that fight the nihilistic, racist, and classist mantra that demography affixes melanated people without money to academic failure,” Stewart writes.

Hip hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs is helping start a New York City charter middle and high school. Capital Prep Harlem, which opens in the fall with sixth and seventh graders, will share a building with El Museo Del Barrio in East Harlem. The Museum of the City of New York is next door.

Steve Perry, who created Capital Prep Magnet in Hartford, Connecticut, will oversee the replication of his year-round, college-prep model.

Charters help close achievement gap

The achievement gap between students from low-income families and more advantaged students stagnated or grew between 2011-14, according to the Education Equality Index released by Education Cities.

urlOnly two in 10 low-income urban students attend a school with a small or nonexistent achievement gap, according to the study.

“Nearly 30 percent of the 610 achievement gap-closing schools recognized in this study are charter schools,” pointed out Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In Hialeah, Fla., which has the smallest achievement gap, “80 percent of the gap-closing schools are charter schools.”

About 6.5 percent of public schools are charters.

Disadvantaged big-city students did the best in Miami-Dade County, El Paso, San Francisco and New York City.

Gaps were the largest in Des Moines, Madison and Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Paul, St. Louis and Durham and Raleigh, North Carolina.

 

Integration or neighborhood schools?

“A wealthy Virginia county is considering a return to neighborhood schools that would concentrate children from a poor, largely Hispanic neighborhood into two schools,” reports the Washington Post.

Children arrive at Evergreen Mill Elementary School. Photo: Douglas Graham, Loudoun Now.

Children arrive at Evergreen Mill Elementary School. Photo: Douglas Graham, Loudoun Now.

Since 2012, Loudon County has created economic integration by busing children out of their low-income, largely Spanish-speaking neighborhood.

A group called Educate Don’t Segregate opposes the plan, reports Loudon Now.

School board members who back the plan said predominantly low-income schools receive extra staffing to meet students’ needs. In addition, “we’re taking into account the benefits of having a school within their neighborhood, a chance to be involved in school activities, summer school, giving parents easier access to attend parent-teacher conferences,” said school board member Jill Turgeon.

How to help working-class kids

Poor and working-class Americans are falling further behind college-educated workers, writes Mike Petrilli, editor of Education for Upward Mobility. Their frustration, expressed in the improbable rise of Donald Trump, is finally drawing attention.  We need ways to help kids from left-behind families “learn the skills they need to compete for middle-class and high-wage jobs.”

Earning a four-year degree is one route to upward mobility, but it can’t be the only option.

Only 14 percent of students from lower-income families will complete four-year degrees, estimates Andrew Kelly. There’s a big pay-off for those who graduate, but what about everyone else?

“High-quality career and technical education, culminating in industry-recognized post-secondary credentials” is a viable path to the middle class, writes Petrilli.

But most students follow the “bachelor’s degree or bust” model. For disadvantaged students, that often leads to remedial classes at a community college, frustration and failure.

Petrilli also makes a pitch for paying attention to the learning needs of high-achieving, low-income students and encouraging young people to follow the “success sequence.”

Even young people with just a high school diploma can make it into the middle class if they complete high school, work full-time and delay parenthood until they are 21 and married, writes Petrilli, citing research by Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins.

What can schools do? Persuading students they’re on the path to a decent job is a good first step.

The way up

51ek6vWlGBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Education for Upward Mobility, edited by Fordham’s Michael J. Petrilli, asks how schools can help children born in poverty to “transcend their disadvantages and enter the middle class as adults.”

I wrote the chapter on high schools — a dual-enrollment public school, a charter and a private school — that work to prepare lower-income, minority students for college.

Other chapters question the “college for all” movement, look at “non-cognitive skills” and analyze the role of early childhood education, poverty-fighting elementary schools and middle-school tracking.