What’s working in Hartsville

A poor South Carolina town has the highest graduation rate in the state. 180 Days, Hartsville, which premieres on PBS tonight, goes inside two Hartsville elementary schools.

Liberals, stop ‘awfulizing’ my kids

Schools can’t defeat poverty by ignoring it, writes Anthony Cody, a veteran teacher in Oakland, in an exchange with the Gates Foundation. “In the US, the linchpin for education is not teacher effectiveness or data-driven management systems,” he writes. “It is the effects of poverty and racial isolation on our children.”

Dear Lord, Stop These Liberals From Awfulizing My Kids, responds Chris Stewart on Education Post.

Every possible chart, graph, study and statistic paint an ugly picture where all poor kids of color live in violent urban neighborhoods and suffer from PTSD. Exposure to violence has reduced their test scores. Bad parents have not taught them to speak enough words. Indeed, their parents are socially, emotionally or intellectually unfit.

One in six of these kids is in “extreme poverty.” This breaks their brains and leaves them developmentally delayed.

The numbers “receiving free or reduced price lunches has grown significantly,”  “one child in ten has been foreclosed upon” and more “than one million students are homeless.”

All this encourages teachers to lower expectations, writes Stewart. “Why is it failing teachers so often discuss poverty and successful teachers discuss pedagogy, curriculum, instruction and learning?”girl_englewood-716x320

Cody slams “education reformers” for pretending that teachers can “push students to new heights with our high expectations.”

Teachers account for no more than 20 percent of the variance in student test scores, writes Cody, while more than 60 percent correlates to out-of-school factors. “We cannot solve the problem of educational inequity while we ignore the inequitable and inadequate resources available to low-income children in their homes and communities, as well as their schools.”

Stewart wonders: “How does it feel to be a ‘teacher’ who sees teaching as futile?”

It may feel compassionate to enumerate all the life problems of our children, but it isn’t. It is limiting and hurtful. Bright poor kids are as likely to be discounted as struggling ones.

Stewart teaches only his own five children, he writes. “Still, I interview talented teachers and committed administrators often, and they speak differently than the fatalists . . . They are students of success, not experts on failure.”

In The Smartest Kids In The World, Amanda Ripley recounts a conversation with a Finnish teacher.

When she asked him about educating poor students, he was “visibly uncomfortable labeling his students,” she says. He responded, “I don’t want to think about their backgrounds too much…There are twenty-three pearls in my classroom. I don’t want to scratch them.”

. . . “I don’t want to have too much empathy for them, because I have to teach. If I thought about all of this [their poverty] too much, I would give better marks to them for worse work. I’d think, ‘Oh, you poor kid. Oh, well, what can I do?’ That would make my job too easy.”

That attitude does more to help children who live in poverty than “awfulizing” them, concludes Stewart.

Who’s responsible for poor kids?

Matilde Ascencio holds her 18-month-old daughter Vitzal as she waits in line to receive food aid in a Chicago suburb. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

The U.S. is not the land of opportunity for the children of poorly educated parents, writes social scientist Robert Putnam in Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis.

When Putnam finished high school in 1959 in a small Ohio town, factory jobs provided steady paychecks for classmates who didn’t go to college. Now there are few steady jobs for workers with only a high school diploma.

“There’s such instability in the families of poor kids that 60 to 70 percent of them — of all races — are living in single-parent families,” Putnam told NPR’s Scott Simon. In the wealthiest fifth of families, only 6 percent of children are raised by a single parent.

If you have two educated parents, “you’ll have a larger vocabulary, you’ll know more about the world,” Putnam said, and such children will have “a lot of adults in their life that are reaching out to help them. They tell them about what it means to go to college.”

Not-very-educated single parents, short on time and money, are less likely to take their kids to soccer practice, dance class or church, Putnam found.

Sympathy for poor children isn’t enough, writes New York Times columnist David Brooks. We need to reintroduce social norms, such as what it means to be a good father.

These norms “were destroyed by a plague of nonjudgmentalism, which refused to assert that one way of behaving was better than another,” he writes. We don’t want to hold people responsible for their choices.

People born into the most chaotic situations can still be asked the same questions: Are you living for short-term pleasure or long-term good? Are you living for yourself or for your children? Do you have the freedom of self-control or are you in bondage to your desires?

Privileged people could do better too, Brooks concludes, though he’s not clear on how.

Liberals made a “historic mistake” 50 years ago when they rejected the Moynihan report’s warning “that the rise of single-parent households would make poverty more intractable,” writes Nicholas Kristof, also in the New York Times.

“From the wild Irish slums of the 19th-century Eastern seaboard, to the riot-torn suburbs of Los Angeles, there is one unmistakable lesson in American history,” wrote Moynihan. “A community that allows large numbers of young men to grow up in broken families … never acquiring any stable relationship to male authority, never acquiring any set of rational expectations about the future — that community asks for and gets chaos.”

Artists transform ‘prison-like school’


wynwood miami artist
Before and after for a Miami middle school in the newly artsy Wynwood neighborhood. 

Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood, once known for empty warehouses, drugs and gang violence, is now a mecca for artists, reports Eleanor Goldberg in the Huffington Post. Jose de Diego Middle School, where 96 percent of students live below the poverty line, no longer looks like a stark white “prison.”

This year, Principal April Thompson-Williams persuaded the district to fund an art teacher for the first time in years. And she worked with local arts groups to get the school painted for free.

“Immediately, I was overwhelmed by the amount of wall space,” said Robert de los Rius, owner of WynwoodMap.com, “just amazing canvas for art.” He organized the painting: 73 artists from Miami and around the world participated.

He also launched a fundraiser to develop an arts program called the “RAW Project” –- Reimagining the Arts in Wynwood.

“This is a critical time where kids choose who they want to be, what they want to be and what they want to get into,” Diana Contreras, a Miami artist who participated in the project, told HuffPost. “And they need a way to express themselves.”

Students feel calmer and safer in the new environment, Thompson-Williams said. The middle school is losing fewer students to charters.

When black kids learn, it’s not a ‘miracle’

Tweeting as “Citizen Stewart,” Chris Stewart, an African-American who’s served on the Minneapolis school board, praised an Alabama school.

George Hall Elementary. 99% black. 98% student poverty. All proficient. You’re not ready for this discussion until you believe in our kids.

The tweet brought out the brought out the doubters, he writes on Storify. They called it a “miracle” — a dubious one.

. . . educators often suffer from an amazing belief gap. That is the gap between what they think our children are capable of, and what our children are actually capable of. For them, the only way our kids can do well is with supernatural intervention.

“White anti-reformers . . . wanted to shut down any talk about teachers not having adequate belief in children of color,” Stewart writes. “They wanted to redirect conversation to the deficits of poor families.”

Finally, some blacks joined the tweet debate.

A turnaround school in Mobile, George Hall Elementary is one of the highest performing elementary schools in all of Alabama, reported Education Trust in 2013.

1-parent families hurt kids, but what can we do?

The sharp rise in single-parent families is linked to a widening education gap, write researchers in Education Next.

Fifty-five percent of black children and 22 percent of whites live in single-parent families.


What can be done? “Encourage young adults to think more about whether, when, and with whom to have children,” writes Isabel Sawhill, author of Generation Unbound: Drifting into Sex and Parenthood without Marriage, in Purposeful Parenthood.

Strengthening education and job training so more young men are “marriageable” is important, Sawhill writes. So is persuading young people to plan their futures. “Where long-acting reversible contraceptives (or LARCs) have been made more affordable, and women have been educated about their safety and effectiveness, usage has climbed dramatically and unintended pregnancy rates have fallen sharply,” she writes.

Illustration by Bernard Maisner

Illustration by Bernard Maisner

Sawhill and Brookings’ colleague Ron Haskins have identified the “success sequence” for young people: Earn a high school diploma (or more), work full time and wait till you’re at least 21 and married before having a child. Ninety-eight percent of people who do this will live above the poverty line and almost three-quarters will reach the middle class. Three-quarters of those who miss all three success markers will be poor; almost none will be middle class.

Schools can discourage unwed, unplanned parenthood by providing career training and helping young people develop character traits such as drive and prudence, writes Fordham’s Michael Petrilli in How Can Schools Address America’s Marriage Crisis?

Young men who’d enrolled in “career academies” in high school earned more, worked more and were 33 percent more likely to be married as young adults, notes Petrilli, citing a controlled MDRC study. The effect was especially strong for minority males.

A teacher’s job

Rich grad, poor grad

The rich get richer — and more educated:  77 percent of people raised in high-income families — but only 9 percent from low-income families — earned a bachelor’s degree by age 24 in 2013,  according to a new reportchart earns college degree

The graduation gap has grown since 1970, and so has the “divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots,'” the report said.

Sixty-two percent of high school graduates from low-income families enroll in college. That’s up sharply from 1970. But only 21 percent of bottom-quartile students complete a bachelor’s degree by age 24. Ninety-nine percent of top-quartile students earn a degree.

Workers with “some college” but no credential earn no more than high school graduates who never enrolled, concludes The New Forgotten Half.

Tutoring closes boys’ math gap

Intensive math tutoring is helping Chicago boys catch up, writes David Kirp, a public policy professor at Berkeley. It could break the “school-to-prison pipeline,” concludes the University of Chicago study.

Working two-on-one, the tutors worked with ninth- and tenth-grade males with elementary math and reading skills, writes Kirp. Most were black or Latino and poor. “The previous year they missed more than a month of school, on average” and nearly a fifth had arrest records.

Tutor helps students at Chicago high school

Avery Huberts helps Christophir Rangel and Iann Trigveros at Foreman High in Chicago. Credit: Whitten Sabbatini for The New York Times

The tutored students earned higher test scores and passed more classes — not just in math — than the control group, the study found. They were 60 percent less likely to be arrested for a violent crime.

Match Education, which runs a very successful Boston charter school, ran the Chicago program. Tutors use “friendship and pushing” to “nag them to success,” Barbara Algarin, MATCH’s executive director said. “These students can make remarkable progress when they appreciate that their tutor is in their corner. . . . Grades improve across the board.”

The tutors earn about $16,000 a year plus benefits,  so the extra help cost 3,800 a year per student.

Tech won’t close achievement gap

Technology won’t close the achievement gap, writes psychologist Susan Pinker in the New York Times. “Showering students, especially those from struggling families, with networked devices” could widen the class divide, she warns.  

In the early 2000s, nearly one million disadvantaged middle-school students were given networked computers. There was “a persistent decline in reading and math scores,” concluded a multi-year study by Duke economists. “What’s worse, the weaker students (boys, African-Americans) were more adversely affected than the rest,” writes Pinker. “When their computers arrived, their reading scores fell off a cliff.”

It’s likely many kids weren’t using the devices to do school work, she speculates. Most people prefer to play games and surf social media sites.

Babies born to low-income parents spend at least 40 percent of their waking hours in front of a screen — more than twice the time spent by middle-class babies. They also get far less cuddling and bantering over family meals than do more privileged children. The give-and-take of these interactions is what predicts robust vocabularies and school success. Apps and videos don’t.

One Laptop Per Child gives low-cost laptops to poor children so they can “go online and educate themselves — no school or teacher required,” writes Pinker. It hasn’t worked out that way. Children spent more time on games and chat rooms and less time on their homework than before, researchers reported.

In the classroom, “technology can work only when it is deployed as a tool by a terrific, highly trained teacher,” writes Pinker.

The Tech Timeout Academic Challenge asks students to shut down their digital devices for a few days and then discuss or write about their experiences.