The costs of opportunity

San Jose is the land of opportunity — or used to be, writes Alana Semuels in The Atlantic‘s City Lab. “A child born in the early 1980s into a low-income family in San Jose had a 12.9 percent chance of becoming a high earner as an adult,” according to a 2014 study by economist Raj Chetty. That’s the best upward mobility in the country.

“Children in the 25th percentile of income at birth in San Jose ended up, on average, in the 45th percentile as adults, while kids in Charlotte who started out in the 25th percentile of income only ended up in the 36th percentile as adults,” she writes.

But do today’s poor kids have the same chance to thrive in Silicon Valley?

The percentage chance that a child born in the early ‘80s in the bottom quintile of income made it to the top quintile in selected cities across the country (Datawrapper / Equality of Opportunity Project)

The percentage chance that a child born in the early ‘80s in the bottom quintile of income made it to the top quintile in selected cities.(Datawrapper / Equality of Opportunity Project)

“San Jose used to have a happy mix of a number of factors—cheap housing, proximity to a burgeoning industry, tightly-knit immigrant communities—that together opened up the possibility of prosperity for even its poorest residents,” she writes. “But in recent years, housing prices have skyrocketed, the region’s rich and poor have segregated, and middle-class jobs have disappeared.”

San Jose is a city of immigrants — 38 percent of the city’s population is foreign-born, writes Semuels. Researchers found “a low prevalence of children growing up in single-parent families, and a low level of concentrated poverty.”

Tri Tran and his brother fled Vietnam on a boat in 1986. Tran was 11. They moved in with an aunt and uncle, a semiconductor factory tech and a data entry worker who earned enough to buy a small home.

A refugee from Vietnam, Tri Tran is now a millionaire entrepreneur.

A refugee from Vietnam, Tri Tran is now a millionaire entrepreneur.

Their uncle, who knew highly educated engineers at work, urged the boys to go to MIT. Tran founded the food-delivery start-up Munchery, which is valued at $300 million. “I think that in this land, if you are really determined and focused, you can go pretty far,” he told her. His brother is an engineering professor at Johns Hopkins.

Many of San Jose’s low-income families in the 1980’s were Vietnamese refugees who valued education highly and pushed their children to work hard in school. Others were Mexican immigrants with a strong work ethic. In San Jose, the poor are very likely to be working poor.

I don’t think middle-income jobs are disappearing in Silicon Valley, as Semuels suggests. There are lots of jobs — and not enough housing. A couple with middle-income jobs can’t afford to live here — unless their parents can loan them money to get into the inflated housing market. The median price for a Silicon Valley home is $875,000. The poor are being pushed farther away from the jobs.

A perfect score


Cedrick Argueta, right, is congratulated by his calculus teacher, Anthony Yom, left. Photo: Al Seib, Los Angeles Times

Of 302,531 students who took the Advanced Placement Calculus exam last year, only twelve earned a perfect score, reports the Los Angeles Times. Cedrick Argueta, the son of a Salvadoran maintenance worker and a Filipina vocational nurse, was one of them.

At Lincoln High in a heavily Latino neighborhood of Los Angeles, students shouted, “Ced-rick! Ced-rick!” when Principal Jose Torres announced his score, reports the Times.

Math has always just made sense to him, he said. He appreciates the creativity of it, the different methods you can take to solve a problem.

“There’s also some beauty in it being absolute,” Cedrick said. “There’s always a right answer.”

He credits “everybody else that helped me along the way.”

Both parents are immigrants. His father, Marcos, never attended high school. His mother, Lilian, said that she told Cedrick and his younger sister to finish their homework and to “read, read, read.”

His math teacher, Anthony Yom, says all of his AP Calculus students have passed the exam for three years running. Last year, 17 of 21 earned a 5, the highest score.

Yom, 35, said he treats his students like a sports team. They’d stay after school, practicing problem solving for three or four extra hours, and they’d come on weekends. On test day, they wore matching blue T-shirts sporting their names, “like they’re wearing jerseys to the game,” Yom said.

Cedrick also earned perfect scores on the science and math sections of the ACT, he said. He’s taking four more AP exams this year, including Calculus BC.

He hopes to earn a scholarship to Cal Tech to study engineering.

NYC schools skip Regents exam, raise grad rates 

Graduation rates have soared at New York City schools that don’t require students to take Regents exams, reports the New York Post.

Ten percent of the city’s high schools are allowed to use alternatives to the state exam. Many are “international” schools that cater to immigrants who aren’t fluent in English.

Science students at Pan American International High in Queens.

Science students at Pan American International High in Queens.

Students qualify for graduation by writing essays, doing oral presentations and other projects that are graded by their own teachers.

The graduation rate at Pan American International HS in Queens went from 50 percent in 2014 to 76 percent in 2015, “leap-frogging past even the citywide average of 70 percent,” reports the Post.

Lyons Community School in Brooklyn raised its graduation rate from 46 percent to 65 percent, “while the International Community HS in The Bronx and International HS at Union Square in Manhattan both produced 18 percent spikes.”

Will these students be prepared for success in college or the workforce? Will the district track them to find out?

Ed Next’s top stories of 2015

Starting in pre–K, children at Hoover School talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, and information-rich environments. Children who aren't proficient in English can learn well in English or their native language -- if they're taught well.

Children at Hoover School in Redwood City, California talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, and information-rich environments. Good teaching is more important than the language of instruction.

Learning English, my story on how “accountability, Common Core and the college-for-all movement are transforming instruction” of students from immigrant families, ranks 10th in Ed Next’s list of the top 20 Education Next Articles of 2015.

That’s not bad considering it didn’t come out till late November.

Overall, readers went for stories on poverty and inequality, say editors. “Five of the articles in the top 20 are from a special issue . .  . on the 50th Anniversary of the Moynihan Report which examined the rise in the number of children growing up in single-parent families.”

A  school for newcomers


PBS Newshour is airing a two part series on how schools are trying to educate immigrant and refugee students.

Las Americas Newcomer School in Houston enrolls newly arrived students who speak nearly 30 languages.  It takes a year or two to understand the language and the culture, says Principal Marie Moreno.

German schools improve — for low achievers


Immigrant children learn German in a “welcome” class at a Berlin school. Credit: Fabrizio Bensch, Reuters

Germany has increased test scores while decreasing inequality, writes Carly Berwick in The Atlantic.

“PISA shock” hit Germany in 2000, when students scored below the international average (and below the U.S.)  in all three tested subjects.

Among the OECD countries,German schools posted the largest gap between top and bottom quartile students. Students with immigrant parents were much less likely to qualify for the college-prep track.

Germany’s reform efforts included the creation of national standards and standards-based tests for students in grades three and eight, which sounds much like the U.S. approach. But unlike the U.S., Germany doesn’t penalize schools for poor performance, nor does it publicize school-level test scores. Experts say its focus instead on providing school-based support, and monitoring and targeting the most disadvantaged students has allowed it to improve performance.

By 2012, German students scored above the OECD average, in part due to “dramatic increases” in math scores for disadvantaged students.

Some parts of Germany are phasing out the lowest high school track, which led only to low-wage jobs.

While Germany has reduced inequality, it’s done little for its high achievers, write Fordham’s Checker Finn and Brandon Wright.

Since 2009, “the percentage of German top scorers has dropped in every math and science measure across age groups—fourth grade, eighth grade, and age 15—as well as fourth grade reading.”

Learning English: Good teaching is #1

With a rising tide of immigrant and refugee students in U.S. schools, helping “English Language Learners” actually learn English — and master academic subjects — is more critical than ever. ELL education is moving beyond the bilingual vs. English debate, I write in Education Next.

I visited Hoover School in Redwood City (south of San Francisco), where 95 percent of students coem from low-income and working-class Latino families.

Ocean animals was the theme in pre-kindergarten classes at a California school in early May. Some pre-K teachers introduced “octopus” and “tentacle,” while others taught “pulpo” and “tentaculo.” In all the pre-K classes, children acted out vocabulary words with hand movements, sang songs, and played a guess-the-ocean creature game. Then they moved to tables, where some of them painted paper octopuses, while others gingerly smelled, touched, and then dangled little octopuses from a local fish market.

Starting in pre-K, Hoover students “talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, information-rich environments,” I write. “They dictate stories to volunteers, write letters, keep journals, and see their writing “published” in bound books.

“Pushed by No Child Left Behind’s accountability goals and pulled by college-for-all expectations, English Learner education is shifting “from the language of instruction to the quality of instruction,” says Kenji Hakuta, a Stanford professor who specializes in language learning.

Nearly all students at Hoover School in Redwood City, California come from Spanish-speaking families.

Hoover students are expected to be proficient in English by 4th grade.

Common Core exams are accelerating the move away from the old bilingual model. Principals want kids who will be tested in English to be taught in English.

However, “dual immersion” schools are growing in popularity. Educated suburban parents want their kids to be fluent in two languages. Quality tends to be high: These schools can’t dumb down expectations or use bilingual aides instead of teachers, because middle-class parents won’t stand for it.

In 1998, Californians passed Proposition 227, which limited bilingual education. A measure to repeal most of 227 is on the November 2016 ballot. It would let children be placed in non-English instruction without parental waivers. I think it has no chance of passing.

“When 227 passed, I thought it would be a disaster,” Frances Teso, a former bilingual teacher, told  me. “Now I think it was a good thing in some ways. It eliminated a lot of low-quality bilingual programs and opened the door to better-quality programs.”

Teso founded Voices College-Bound Language Academy, a high-performing K-8 charter school in San Jose that uses a modified dual-immersion model.

Refugees ‘torn between two worlds’


Students leaving Patterson High at the end of a spring day include, starting fourth from left, Nadifa Idriss, Mona Al halabi, Manuel Maurizaca and Fayza Al halabi. Credit: Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun

At Baltimore’s Patterson High, 370 of 1,100 students are immigrants, including refugees from the Middle East, Africa and Central America. The number has tripled in the past two years, reports Liz Bowie in the Baltimore Sun in part 1 of Unsettled Journeys.

Many of these students “came to escape war, gang violence and starvation,” reports Bowie.

At the Hispanic Psychiatric Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Donna Fallon Batkis is treating young immigrants who’ve survived kidnappings and rape, “not just rape of women, but sexual abuse of men.”

Reema and Ahmed Alfaheed look at videos of the refugee camp near Iraq-Syria border, where they lived for six years after fleeing Baghdad. Credit: Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun

Reema and Ahmed Alfaheed look at videos of the refugee camp near the Iraq-Syria border, where they lived for six years. Credit: Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun

Thanks to modern technology, students can stay in touch with loved ones  — or watch a beheading in their home country.

Narmin Al Eethawi’s father was kidnapped and tortured in Baghdad. Four uncles were killed.

Her “phone buzzed with Facebook text messages throughout her day with snippets of news from Iraq,” writes Bowie. Her sister is there — and Mustafa, who wants her to return to marry him. “When she got lost in Baltimore and didn’t know what to do, she called 22-year-old Mustafa to help her with directions.”

Even amid the tranquillity of a soccer field, Reema Alfaheed, one of Narmin’s best friends, couldn’t escape. She was on the phone with a friend, a boy in Syria, who was lamenting that, because of the war, he couldn’t play soccer or go to school. Then Reema heard an explosion and people screaming. The phone went dead.

Three days later, she learned her friend had survived the bombing, but was left with a head injury and broken leg.

At his retirement party, Tom Smith, who taught English as a Second Language, encouraged Narmin to break off the relationship with Mustafa and commit to living in America.

Her father, a truck driver, was earning enough for the family to buy a house. Her mother was learning English at community college. Narmin got a summer job at a diner — and a learner’s permit.

By the start of senior year, Narmin “still struggled with English, and anatomy and physiology was a challenge, but she was earning top grades,” writes Bowie. “She wanted a career in medicine.”

She’d decided not to return to Iraq.

Part two focuses on Central American immigrants. Many are here illegally. Exel Estrada, 17, now reunited with his mother after years of fending for himself in Guatemala, works a swing shift as a janitor. “His homework had to wait for the moments he could fit it in: the bus ride to school, a 20-minute free period, lunch or a slow moment during class.”

Undocumented — and very smart

Classics scholar Dan-el Padilla Peralta, a graduate of Manhattan’s Collegiate School, Princeton, Oxford and Stanford, will join the Princeton faculty next year. In Undocumented, he describes his “odyssey from a homeless shelter to the Ivy League.”

Born in the Dominican Republic, Padilla came to the U.S. at the age of four with his parents, who were seeking medical care for his pregnant mother. When the visa expired, she stayed with her two sons. His father, unable to find a job, returned home.

In a homeless shelter’s library, Padilla discovered a book on ancient Greece. He also met an arts teacher who helped him apply for a scholarship to Collegiate, an elite private school that teaches Latin and Greek.

His research focuses on the importance of religion in the rise of mid-Republican Rome.

Chicago schools debut Latino studies

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Chicago Public Schools will teach an interdisciplinary Latino and Latin American Studies curriculum to all K-10 students, Melissa Sanchez reports for Catalyst Chicago.

“Kindergartners can learn about the Mayan counting system while they’re learning numbers, and fifth-graders can learn about African influences on South American percussion during music class,” she writes.

“The history of Chicago cannot be written without celebrating the contributions of immigrants from Central America, South America and the Caribbean,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a district news release.

More than 45 percent of CPS students are Latino.

On The White Rhino, a Chicago English teacher named Ray Salazar called the curriculum well-intentioned but over-simplified.

Chicago already is piloting an African and African American studies curriculum that was released last year.