What killed Kevin Green?

U.S. doesn’t underfund education

U.S. education spending is in line with spending in other developed countries, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. It’s higher in dollars per student and average as a percentage of gross domestic income.

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“We spend more than many of our peers on college and late secondary education, less than a few on primary and early secondary school,” she writes. But “Japan and Switzerland, which spend less than we do, are hardly Third World hellholes.”

. . . there is obviously an inequality problem in our schools, but that the big problem is not at the college level, but rather in the primary and secondary schools that are overwhelmingly government-funded. And those disparities are also not primarily about the dollar amounts going into schools — Detroit spends well above the U.S. average per pupil, and yet one study found that half the population of the city was “functionally illiterate.”

Fixing bad schools might require spending more, she writes, but “it is just as likely that improvements will come from changing methods and reallocating resources.”

The new segregation is socioeconomic

The New Segregation is a matter of social class, not race, argue Richard Kahlenberg and Carl Chancellor in the Washington Monthly.

Starting in 2000, Montgomery County, Maryland schools have spent an extra $2,000 per pupil in high-poverty schools. The money funds all-day kindergarten, smaller classes and teacher development.

In addition, zoning policies have placed some public housing in affluent areas.

Lower-income students in low-spending, low-poverty schools far outperformed similar students in high-spending, high-poverty schools, concluded a 2010 study by Heather Schwartz

. . .  public housing students attending low-poverty schools began to catch up with their well-to-do classmates—cutting in half the initial achievement gap in mathematics, for example. . . . Schwartz found that roughly two-thirds of the positive effect was attributable to attending a lower-poverty school, and one-third to living in a lower-poverty neighborhood.

We should put “money and energy into economic integration in schooling and housing,” they argue.

Inequality has destroyed a once-great black high school, writes Chancellor after a visit to his old school, Kennedy High, in Cleveland’s Lee-Miles neighborhood. “Four decades ago, Eagles were the sons and daughters of doctors, lawyers, small-business owners, and white-collar professionals, factory workers, civil servants, and skilled craftsmen.”

Graduation rates were high and a majority of graduates went to four-year colleges and universities. “In the school’s first decade, the Eagles won several statewide competitions in science, math, and music — along with a state track championship and two city football titles.”

Over time, middle-class blacks moved to the suburbs. The community declined. Kennedy now serves “economically disadvantaged” children; many are raised by single mothers. On the state report card, the high school earns straight F’s.

. . . at least 75 percent of students can’t pass the state test at the minimum level in any area: mathematics, reading, science, social studies, and writing. Equally dismal was the school’s four-year graduation rate of 50.2 percent—though that was a significant improvement over the rate in 2010, 38.9 percent.

A $3 million foundation grant is paying to divide Kennedy into three themed high schools. Chancellor is dubious. “Unless they find a way to change the school’s economic mix—by putting poor kids in classrooms with more-affluent students—I am afraid this latest reform experiment will also fail to meet expectations.”

Once middle-class families have abandoned a community or a school, what can be done?

New York City is losing upper-middle-class blacks and gaining upper-class white singles and low-income Latinos, according to a new report.

Public schools for the rich

Fordham’s Metro D.C. School Spending Explorer looks at per-student spending at Washington D.C. public schools.

It also shows the relative wealth of each school’s attendance zone, writes Mike Petrilli, who lists the 25 richest elementary schools in the area.

Several years ago, Janie Scull and I identified several thousand of what we called “private public schools”—public schools that serve virtually no poor students. This is another way at looking at that phenomenon—public schools that are “public” only for families who can buy extremely expensive real estate.

Take Carderock Springs Elementary in Bethesda (Maryland). The average income of households in its attendance zone is almost $250,000 per year. Is this school really more “public” than an inner-city Catholic school serving poor minority children? The public spends $12,000 per child on the former and $0 per child on the latter. Tell me again why that’s fair?

In wealthy suburbs, affluent parents donate thousands of dollars to their children’s public schools, reports the New York Times.

In Coronado, Calif., a wealthy enclave off the coast of San Diego, for example, local education groups, which support about 3,200 students in five schools, raised more than $1,500 per student in 2010. These private funds helped pay for arts and music classes at all grade levels, sports medicine courses at the high school and a digital media academy at the middle school, where students are learning animation and designing buildings with 3-D printers.

By contrast, the combined fund-raising of groups affiliated with schools in the San Diego Unified School District — where the median household income is about two-thirds that of Coronado — amounted to $19.57 per student.

School-supporting nonprofits have increased, according to a new study.  Most states cap or redirect local property tax revenues to equalize public funding between affluent and poor districts, say researchers. Instead of raising property taxes, well-to-do parents donate money to their children’s schools.

Ed Trust: Cut aid to low-quality colleges

Cut federal grants, loans and tax benefits to “college dropout factories,” “diploma mills” and “engines of inequality,” argues Education Trust in a new report. The “engines” are institutions — including some state universities — that admit few low- and moderate-income students eligible for Pell Grants.

A ‘teacher hater’ confesses

Conor Williams has a (sarcastic) “confession” to make on Talking Points Memo.

I am a “teacher hater.” I’m also bent on “undermining public education” in service of my “corporate overlords.”

Not really. But “that’s what my inbox tells me every time I write something about charter schools, Teach For America, or education politics in general.”

Williams writes about American public education for the New America Foundation. He “cares profoundly” about inequality and social mobility, he writes.

When people tell me that the “education reform” movement is a corporate enterprise run by wealthy adults who scorn teachers, I’m genuinely confused. I consider myself part of the education reform movement because I know the dire state of American public school instruction. I know the difference that great teaching can make—because it was so rare in my schooling. Those outstanding few were my heroes.

Inspired by “great educators,” he became a first-grade  teacher in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Of course, I often hear that I am not REALLY a former teacher, since I entered the classroom through Teach For America. During a school visit recently, an administrator snapped that my “teaching as internship experience” gave me no right to call myself a former teacher.

Williams left after two years because he was mugged outside the school, leaving physical and psychological scars.

He and his wife are sending their son to their neighborhood D.C. public school in the fall.

“While I’m open to the possibility that some of the education reforms that make sense to me may not actually work as well I hope, I’m tired of being told that I have no standing in these debates, or that I hate teachers, Williams writes. “You want to have a debate on the merits? Fine. But don’t accuse me of being disingenuous.”

Are college degrees inherited?

Are College Degrees Inherited? asks Ronald Brownstein in National Journal. No, not really. But the children of college graduates are much more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree compared to children from “no-degree” families. Only 23 percent of “no-degree” students went on to complete a college degree.

Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality shows “Midwestern University” co-eds partying a lot and studying a little. Affluent students can choose an easy major, party hearty and use family connections to get a job. Working-class women — often poorly prepared and poorly advised — end up in debt and without a useful degree.

We know what works, but it’s not easy

We Know (A Few) Things That Work to improve high-poverty schools, write economists Greg J. Duncan of University of California at Irvine’s School of Education and Richard J. Murnane of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  In Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education, they describe the success of Boston’s pre-K program, the University of Chicago’s K-12 charter school network and New York City’s small high schools of choice. 

The class system

In Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools, sociologist Peter W. Cookson Jr. describe how students’ socioeconomic status “affects much more than academic outcomes,” writes reviewer Richard Kahlenberg.

High schools “pass on class position through rites of passage that instill in students the values, dispositions, and beliefs of their class,” writes Cookson. Certain schools groom students to be leaders, while others channel adolescents into the laboring class.

High schools have a “latent curriculum,” a set of rules and norms that are written in considerable measure by fellow students, argues Cookson.

School buildings send “unspoken messages.” “Do I go to a school that is beautiful, well equipped, and mirrors back to me a sense of privilege,” he asks, “or do I go to a school that reflects back to me poverty, disorganization, and confusion?”

Pre-K won’t close achievement gap

Universal pre-K won’t solve the vocabulary gap (or inequality), writes Kay Hymowitz in Time. There’s no substitute for stable, nurturing families.

Two-year-olds from high-income families know many more words than two-year-olds from low-income families, according to a new study that confirms earlier research. Language Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K, reported the New York Times on the front page.

The idea that pre-K can compensate for family break down is “the preschool fairy tale,” writes Hymowitz.

It’s true that good preschools raise the math and reading scores of disadvantaged kids. The problem is that the gains are almost always temporary.  Study after study of every kind of program since Head Start first came on line in the 1960’s to recent state wide programs in Georgia and Oklahoma has concluded that, with the lonely exception of third grade boys’ math scores in Tulsa, cognitive gains “fade out” by third grade, probably because subpar schools and an unsupportive environment at home were unable to help pre-K kids take advantage of those gain.

Researchers now argue that preschool has the potential to create lasting benefits in students’ “soft skills” such as  attentiveness and self-control.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, one of early childhood education’s most prominent advocates, has argued that because soft skills are vital to labor market and life success, under some conditions preschools have actually been able to reduce welfare dependency, teen pregnancy, and crime rates, while also improving educational outcomes and earnings. At least one study has estimated that the resulting higher tax revenues, lower imprisonment and welfare costs have created a return of nearly 13 dollars for every preschool dollar spent.

. . . Heckman’s findings are based on several small, model programs from the 1960’s. The most famous and influential of them, the Perry Preschool in Ypsalanti, Michigan, involved only 58 children.  It takes a heavy dose of wishful thinking to assume that states are any more capable of creating a large system of Perry quality preschools than they have been of designing networks of high quality K-12 schools.

Even if that were possible, it would close the achievement gap, she writes. Perry graduates did better than the control group, but much worse than children from middle or working-class families.  And “these mediocre gains were not passed on to the next generation.”

The first two children of Perry grads (there’s no data on later siblings) were just as likely as the children of non Perry-ites to go on welfare, drop out of school, and to get arrested; their earnings were also similarly anemic.

In other words, the graduates of the best preschool designed for low income kids we’ve ever had in the United States  grew up to become low skilled, low income single parents, less costly to society than others without their early educational advantage, but equally likely to raise children who would cycle back into poverty.

“It’s parents, not formal education, that makes the difference for young children’s readiness for school and success once they get there,” Hymowitz concludes.

If Mama ain’t functional, ain’t nobody functional.