The path out of poverty

A 15-year-old from a poor U.S. family asks you, “What can I do to escape poverty?”  How would you answer? Bryan Caplan poses the question on EconLog. A number of readers suggest: graduate from high school, stay out of jail, don’t get pregnant (or get someone pregnant).

Education Realist agrees with “don’t get knocked up or locked up,” but adds more advice.

First, don’t let your family’s needs drag you down.

No, you can’t stay home to babysit because your little sister is sick. No, you can’t go pick your father up at work at 2 in the morning. No, you can’t drop your niece and nephew off at school and be late to class.

Stay away from people who don’t share your goals. This is a tough one for kids who grow up in lousy neighborhoods, but it’s critical. Your brother, cousin or best friend from elementary school can get you arrested (or shot).

It’s not enough to graduate from high school: Find a mentoring program that helps at-risk youth prepare for college. There’s a lot of support out there. Ask your teachers for help. Work hard to improve your grades.

If you’ve worked hard and still aren’t doing well, “start thinking in terms of training, not academics,” Ed Realist advises.

Whatever you do, don’t lie to yourself about your abilities, and don’t let anyone else lie to you. . . .  Find the best jobs you can, and build good working relationships. Put more priority on acquiring basic skills, and find the classes that will help you do that. Tap into your support group mentioned above, tell them your goals. This doesn’t mean college isn’t an option, but it’s important to keep your goals realistic.

Finally, “do not overpay for college.”

Years ago, I volunteered to help sort donated books for a Christmas giveaway at a library in a mostly Hispanic community. Eighth-grade tutors were supposed to be helping, but only Jorge showed up. The library had hired middle schoolers to tutor elementary students. Despite the pay, most tutors were unreliable, said the librarian. But “Jorge always shows up,” she said with pride. Even when the bus didn’t show up at the middle school, Jorge found a way to get to the library.

I worked with Jorge for a few hours. He made sensible suggestions on which books would be appropriate for which age groups. He was as useful as any of the adults.

Jorge must be in his early to mid-20′s now. I’d guess that he’s earned a college degree. I’m certain that he’s working. He may not earn much yet, but he will not live in poverty. In addition to Education Realist’s advice, I’d add: It’s your life. Show up.

Matt Miller thinks poor kids are buffeted by gale force winds (it’s a Hurricane Sandy metaphor) beyond their control and would get more help if we all realized that everything is determined by luck, including the propensity to work hard. Jorge probably was lucky in his parents. They taught him that he wasn’t a victim of forces beyond his control.

Requiring attendance won’t cut dropouts

“When students are not allowed to drop out, they do better,” said President Obama in his 2012 State of the Union address. “So tonight, I am proposing that every state, every state, requires that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn 18.”

Raising the compulsory school attendance age wouldn’t raise high school graduation rates, concludes a Brookings Institution analysis by Russ Whitehurst and Sarah Whitfield. States that require attendance till 18 don’t have higher graduation rates than states that let students quit at 16 or 17. In fact, states with a higher attendance age have slightly lower graduation rates, even with controls for “state demographics that correlate with graduation rates (e.g., the racial composition of the student population).”

“Compulsory” attendance is a “misnomer,” they write. Teens drop out when they feel like it, regardless of the law.

There are effective interventions for high-risk students, the researchers write. For example, “Check and Connect, a dropout prevention strategy that relies on close monitoring of school performance, as well as mentoring, case management, and other supports, results in a substantially increased likelihood of students staying in school.”

 

A new online college model

A new online two-year college is a partnership between a private university and a for-profit education company.  

Also on Community College Spotlight: Mentoring matters.

Short-term mentors don’t help kids

Mentors can help students’ succeed — or harm their chances, reports Education Week. Long-term mentoring relationships benefit children. Students with short-term mentors — less than six months — do worse than those with no mentor at all, concludes David L. DuBois, a University of Illinois at Chicago researcher and a co-author of a study in the Society for Research in Child Development’s Social Policy Report.

“You could actually see studies where the youth in the treated group end up showing more negative change to things like self-esteem, propensity to get involved in risky behavior” than the control group, Mr. DuBois said in a panel on the studies earlier this month. “So obviously, it’s a handle-with-care intervention.”

Low-performing schools often try to recruit volunteers to serve as mentors. Federal funding for school-based programs peaked at more than $100 million in 2006. But most school-based programs don’t create lasting mentor-student relationships. In three studies, researchers found the mentor-student relationship averaged less than six months.

. . . The Social Policy Report meta-analysis found school mentoring programs improved students’ sense of academic efficacy, the level of peer support they had, and relationships with adults outside the family, while reducing truancy and school misconduct, provided the students remained in the program for a year. Still, the researchers noted that the results suggested those improvements could be lost if the students’ mentoring did not continue.

Most school-based mentoring programs last a semester or an academic year and include only campus activities. But  “41 percent of students in the Big Brothers Big Sisters study continued to meet with their mentor, both in school and out, into a second year.” The “bigs” spent more time with their ”littles” and developed a closer bond.

I just volunteered to be tutor two elementary students in reading. Since I travel quite a bit, I enlisted my sister to fill in when I’m out of town. I don’t want the kids thinking they’ve been forgotten. Of course, Peggy and I no longer pass for identical twins.

Study: Teacher mentoring raises scores

Two years of mentoring for new teachers raises student scores in reading and math, according to an Institute of Education Sciences study (pdf) conducted by Mathematica.  However, the extra support “didn’t  make teachers more likely to stay in their schools, districts, or the profession — nor were they any more likely to report feeling prepared,” notes Education Week.

Comprehensive programs take a more-structured approach to new-teacher support and include a careful selection of teacher mentors, formative assessments to gauge teacher progress, and release time for mentors to observe their charges and provide feedback on their instruction.

This was the third year of the study, which included teachers in 13 states in medium and large urban districts. In the first two years, no effects were found. There were no gains for teachers who received only one year of mentoring.

Results appeared a year after teachers had stopped receiving mentoring and were equivalent to four percentile points in reading and eight in math.

“There is both good news and bad news in this study for policymakers,” said Steven Glazerman, senior researcher and lead author of the report. “Comprehensive induction, which can be quite expensive, did not help districts retain teachers or make them feel more satisfied or better prepared to teach compared to usual levels of new teacher support. However, the two-year intervention raised test scores, and that is often the bottom line for policymakers.”

The New Teacher Center, which provided induction support for some of the teachers, said results would have been stronger if not for delays in selecting and assigning mentors.