Include working-class whites in ed reform

Image result for white "working class" american familiesTrump supporters recite the Pledge of Allegiance at a June campaign rally in Redding, California. Photo: Stephen Lam/Reuters

By framing education as the “civil rights issue of our time” and focusing on the racial achievement gap, reformers “tacitly made education reform a race-based endeavor,” Robert Pondiscio wrote last year. There’s been much praise for inner-city charters for black and Hispanic students, little attention to small-town schools that educate (or fail to educate) white working-class kids.

Pondiscio didn’t think Trump would win. But he saw the people who might be drawn to Trump.

There are about twice as many non-Hispanic whites as blacks living below 150 percent of the poverty line in the U.S.

. . . Keen observers like Charles Murray in his book Coming Apart warned us that we are becoming a nation divided less by race than class. Births out of wedlock, crime and joblessness are not uniquely inner city problems. They are almost as prevalent in Murray’s “Fishtown.” As work disappears, physical disability claims have skyrocketed by millions, creating a new economic underclass helpfully absent from sunny unemployment figures.

“If education reform truly is the civil rights struggle of our time, it’s time once again to widen the definition of rights-at-risk to include working class white people too,” wrote Pondiscio.

I’d like to see a serious push for high-quality career-tech education linking high schools to community colleges to employers. Two-thirds of young Americans do not earn bachelor’s degrees; a majority won’t earn any college credential. They need more than college-failure prep.

If families fail, what can schools do?

Who’s your daddy? asks Ian Rowe, a Fordham fellow, who leads two charter schools in the South Bronx. That’s the message on two mobile DNA testing labs that roam the neighborhood.

Education reformers believe that “a child born or raised in a low-income neighborhood should not be destined for a life of poverty,” writes Rowe. “But what happens when poverty is intertwined with widespread fatherlessness and family disintegration?”

Perhaps it is time to confess, somewhat reluctantly, that even the most high-performing schools are necessary but insufficient to overcome the challenges children face when they live in low-income communities in which family instability is the norm.

Poverty isn’t new, he writes. “In 1960, fewer than 5 percent of all births in the US were out of wedlock; today it’s more than 40 percent.”

Schools should teach children that their life decisions, such as finishing school, getting a job and marrying before having children, will affect their adult success, Rowe writes.


For children born into poor, single-parent families, preschool starts too late, concludes a paper by economist James Heckman and colleagues. Two 1970s’ experiments, which provided full-time care from cradle (eight weeks of age) to kindergarten, provided lasting benefits, they conclude.

Government-funded preschool has failed to deliver on promises of massive social benefits, counters Joy Pullman in The Federalist.

Now Heckman says it must “start at birth” to affect language development.

Advantaged children hear millions more words by the age of five than disadvantaged children, Heckman told NPR. The way to close the gap is “reading to the child, by encouraging the child.”

That’s what parents — especially married parents — do, writes Pullman. Yet, “two in five children” are “born into a kind of home that social scientists on both the Left and Right unanimously agree sets them up to fail.”

Building a prison-to-school pipeline

In its final weeks, the Obama administration is trying to help “justice-involved” youth (kids in juvenile detention) return to traditional schools, writes Hechinger’s Rebecca Klein.

David Williams, who works at Homeboy Industries, fills out paperwork to enroll in a seven-week construction course at Los Angeles Trade Tech College on Monday, April 1, 2015. Homeboy is one of the grantees in a $59 million federal investment announced Thursday. MAYA SUGARMAN/KPCC

Ex-con David Williams applies for a construction course at Los Angeles Trade Tech College. Photo: Maya Sugarman/KPCC

There are more than 50,000 juvenile inmates, the Department of Education reports. They are disproportionately black and male.

Many attribute that to the “school-to-prison pipeline, in which overly harsh discipline practices help push students out of school and into the juvenile justice system,” writes Klein.

Ex-cons who’ve made it to Berkeley and other universities want to help build the prison-to-college pipeline, reports Larissa MacFarquhar in a fascinating New Yorker story.

She profiles criminal go-getters who had lots of time to read in prison.

Steven Czifra, the son of alcoholics, was behind bars from the age of 16 to 30.

The one good thing about solitary in Y.A. (Youth Authority) was a big box there containing hundreds of books. He read until all that was left was a volume of Shakespeare, with four plays in it. At first, he found the language nearly impossible to understand, but he had nothing else to do, so he kept at it. He gradually realized that it was better than anything he’d read before, and he looked for more. He decided that his favorite play was “Richard II,” because of the way it forced you to confront a disagreeable man-child who ruined his life and killed people, and yet, by the end, made you feel compassion for him. When he finished with the Shakespeare, he wrote to a librarian, who sent him ancient-Greek literature in translation. He read Milton and Wordsworth and Dickens.

After his release, went to community college on a federal Pell Grant, then transferred to Berkeley, where he co-founded Underground Scholars with ex-con Danny Murillo, who also discovered reading in juvenile detention. Both earned their UC degrees in 2015 and now work to turn former inmates into successful students.

Spending more (probably) improves education

There’s new evidence in the old does-money-matter debate, write Kevin Carey and Elizabeth A. Harris in the New York Times. It suggests that spending more in low-income districts improves achievement and long-term outcomes.

Third-grade students work on reading at a Bridgeport, Conn. school. Connecticut, the wealthiest state, also has the greatest levels of inequality in its schools. Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

Third-grade students work on reading at a Bridgeport, Conn. school. Connecticut, the wealthiest state, also has the greatest levels of inequality in its schools. Photo: Melanie Stetson Freeman/The Christian Science Monitor

Test scores rose more in states that increased funding to poorer districts, according to a study by Berkeley and Northwestern economists. “The changes bought at least twice as much achievement per dollar as a well-known experiment that decreased class sizes in the early grades,” write Carey and Harris.

Another paper, published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, “found that for poor children, a 10 percent increase in per-pupil spending each year of elementary and secondary school was associated with wages that were nearly 10 percent higher, a drop in the incidence of adult poverty and roughly six additional months of schooling.”

“The notion that spending doesn’t matter is just not true,” (C. Kirabo) Jackson said. “We found that exposure to higher levels of public K-12 spending when you’re in school has a pretty large beneficial effect on the adult outcomes of kids, and that those effects are much more pronounced for children from low-income families.”

A series of education equity lawsuits have forced states to send more money to low-income districts, write Carey and Harris. This fall, a Connecticut judge “ordered the state to revamp nearly every facet of its education policies, from graduation requirements to special education, along with its school funding.”

For many years, research on the relationship between spending and student learning has been surprisingly inconclusive. Many other factors, including student poverty, parental education and the way schools are organized, contribute to educational results.

“How money is spent is equally important,” said Jennifer Alexander, chief executive of the Connecticut Coalition for Achievement Now. “I don’t think we have enough information about that from these studies.”

Why poor blacks don’t want to be professors

Most science professors are white or Asian males, reported Ed Yong in The Atlantic.

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Furthermore, women and underrepresented minorities are less likely than white and Asian men to be interested in faculty careers.

Readers responded: So what? It’s patronizing to assume that “women and minorities are wrong about their own interests and priorities,” one wrote.

A postdoc recalled trying to persuade two black female lab techs to go to graduate school.

They told us that we were women in our early thirties who couldn’t afford to buy houses or have children, who spent our nights and weekends working, who didn’t have retirement savings, and who were still struggling to get permanent jobs. Why on earth would they want to be like us?

A black scientist who left a Harvard immunology lab for Big Pharma said the biggest issue is pay. After three years at the lab, he earned $32,000. He started in the pharmaceutical industry at $70,000; after a year, he was earning $90,000 with shorter hours.

Michigan: Students have no right to literacy

Literacy is not a fundamental right, argues the State of Michigan. The state is fighting a lawsuit charging Detroit schools are so bad they deny children a chance to learn to read, reports the Detroit Free Press.

Only a small percentage of Detroit students read proficiently.

Only a small percentage of Detroit students read proficiently.

“As important as literacy may be, the United States Supreme Court has unambiguously rejected the claim that public education is a fundamental right under the Constitution,” the state lawyers argue. “Literacy is a component or particular outcome of education, not a right granted to individuals by the Constitution.”

The lawsuit filed Sept. 13 on behalf of seven Detroit schoolchildren claims the State of Michigan has failed to provide them with basic literacy, a foundation of all education and a precursor to active citizenship. It asks the federal courts to order remedies, including “evidence-based literacy reforms,” a systemic approach to instruction and intervention as well as fixes to crumbling Detroit schools.

The suit argues that literacy “is a right because without it, citizens can’t access other constitutionally protected activities such as casting an informed vote, or serving on juries or in the military,” reports the Free Press.

Detroit, which has been run by state-appointed managers in recent years, is one of the lowest performing urban districts in the nation. Overall, fewer than 5 percent of students test as proficient.

Nearly half of Detroit adults are functionally illiterate, according to a 2011 report.

The Detroit Free Press has launched a series looking for solutions to the crime, abuse, poverty, neglect and school failure that affects the city’s children.

Why charters lost: They worked too well

Michael Siciliano holds a No on 2 sign outside a Holyoke school on election morning. Photo: Dave Roback / The Republican

Michael Siciliano holds a No on 2 sign outside a Holyoke school on election morning. Photo: Dave Roback / The Republican

Charter-school expansion lost in Massachusetts in a 62-38 blowout, writes Richard Whitmire on The 74. Why did voters reject “the best charter schools in the country?”

Unions targeted charters because they’re so good, he concludes. “The better the charter, the bigger the threat.”

Educators fought to defend the premise that schools can’t make a difference for kids in poverty, writes Whitmire.

When a charter operator such as Brooke Charter Schools, which serves a poor and minority student population, turns its students into scholars who rival the white and Asian students attending amply funded public schools in the suburbs along the Route 128 corridor, the question has to be asked: If Brooke can do it, why not others?

The Massachusetts Teachers Association started its anti-charter campaign seven months before the election, focusing on funding rather than school quality, Whitmire writes. Neither unions nor superintendents “can afford to lose the poverty argument. That risks losing everything.”

Eduwonk’s Andrew Rotherham asks how much the unions spent in Massachusetts to “protect jobs and keep poor black kids bottled up in crappy schools?” What if they’d spent that money “in, oh I don’t know, Wisconsin or Michigan or Pennsylvania on politics there?”

 Non-urban school districts with existing charters voted heavily against lifting the charter cap, reports MassLive. Money was the issue: The state pays districts 100 percent of per pupil revenue lost to charters in the first year, but only 25 percent for the next five years.

Education reform in Trump’s America

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Trump supporters at a rally in Iowa. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty

Reformers who’ve “devoted their working lives to improving schools in poor communities,” woke up Wednesday to Trump’s America, writes Elizabeth Green on Chalkbeat. In focusing on urban schools with black and Latino students, have they ignored the needs of poor and working-class whites?

Trump won by mobilizing non-college-educated white voters in small towns and rural areas.

Reformers “largely overlooked a crisis that’s been hiding in plain sight for years,” Robert Pondiscio of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank, wrote almost a year ago, in a piece that was getting recirculated Wednesday among reformers.

. . . “There are about twice as many non-Hispanic whites as blacks living below 150 percent of the poverty line in the U.S.

White men without a college education are falling farther behind college graduates. Their children — especially the boys — are struggling in school.

Trump’s victory wasn’t a shock to education people who spend time in rural America, writes Andrew Rotherham, who splits his time between Trump-voting and Clinton-voting locales. “People who can’t shut up at dinner parties and on Facebook about structural inequality (an idea I happen to agree more with than I disagree) don’t realize that millions of Americans they regard as backwards are actually plenty smart and capable,” he writes. “And in education for all the talk of listening to communities and all that, well, . . . check your privilege I guess?”

I recommend Salena Zito’s story on her pre-election swing through the heartland.

Poor achievers do little better than rich slackers

“Poor kids who do everything right don’t do much better than rich kids who do everything wrong,” writes Matt O’Brien in the Washington Post‘s Wonkblog.

The chart, based on research by Richard Reeves and Isabel Sawhill, shows that 14 percent of wealthy high school dropouts stay in the top income tier, while 16 percent of low-income college graduates stay in the lowest tier. “These low-income strivers are just as likely to end up in the bottom as these wealthy ne’er-do-wells,” writes O’Brien. “Some meritocracy.”

Rich kids who can go work for the family business — and, in Canada at least, 70 percent of the sons of the top 1 percent do just that — or inherit the family estate don’t need a high school diploma to get ahead. It’s an extreme example of what economists call “opportunity hoarding.” That includes everything from legacy college admissions to unpaid internships that let affluent parents rig the game a little more in their children’s favor.

By contrast, low-income graduates are more likely to earn a low-value degree from an unselective college or a “diploma mill.”  Blacks who earn a “good degree” are more likely to “live in impoverished neighborhoods that keep them disconnected from opportunities,” writes O’Brien.

Downtown College Prep, a San Jose charter that primarily educates low-income and working-class Mexican-Americans, offers career networking to help its graduates find professional jobs once they complete college. (Go ahead: Read the book.)

How Hillary’s hometown keeps poor kids out

Hillary Clinton’s high-priced hometown of Chappaqua, New York has great schools for children from affluent, white families, writes Dana Goldstein in Politico. There are no poor kids.

Westchester County was supposed to become a model of integrating well-to-do, white communities, but residents have delayed or blocked plans to build affordable housing, writes Goldstein.

Affluent parents are fighting attempts to desegregate schools on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.