Job 1: Educating for self-sufficient citizenship

Education young people to be self-sufficient citizens is Job 1 for public education, writes Mike Petrilli on Ed Week‘s Bridging Differences.

“College and career” readiness isn’t enough,he writes. We need citizenship readiness. (Citizenship First suggests that every high school graduate should be able to pass the U.S. Naturalization Exam. See how you do here.)

The most basic requirement of citizenship is self-sufficiency, Petrilli argues.

If we haven’t prepared our young people to be financially self-sufficient once they finish their educations, we have failed our most fundamental duty. And the “we” is meant to be inclusive: our education system, our social service agencies, our families, our churches, all of us.

There are two ways to help children, writes Derek Thompson in The Atlantic. We can try to “make bad parents less relevant” or “make bad parents less bad.”  He puts preschool and education reform in the first category; home visits and parent training — which smack of “Big Mother” — are in the second.

These programs “help at the margins but they aren’t breaking the cycle of poverty,” writes Petrilli.

Let me float a third option: A renewed effort to encourage young, uneducated, unemployed women to delay childbearing until they are ready–emotionally, financially–to start a family. Let’s promote a simple rule: Don’t have babies until you can afford them. If everybody in America followed this rule, most long-term child poverty would disappear, and parenting would improve dramatically.

. . . Social scientists have long known about the “success sequence”: Finish your education, get a job, get married, start a family. Stick to that sequence and you avoid poverty, and so do your kids.

Petrilli asks Deborah Meier, the other half of the Bridging Differences dialogue, if schools can encourage students to follow the “success sequence.” Offer effective pregnancy prevention programs?

Should we consider paying low-income individuals to put off childrearing? Mayor Bloomberg is already experimenting with cash incentives to encourage all manner of positive behaviors. Maybe offer “25 by 25″: All young men and women who graduate from high school get a post-secondary credential, get a job, and avoid a pregnancy and a prison record get $25,000 in cash at the age of twenty-five. Is that worth trying?

Or is the best way for schools to tackle this issue simply to provide a top-grade education to their charges? To instill in them the “hope in the unseen” that they, too, can aspire to college, to a good career, to an early adulthood full of intellectual and social and emotional challenges and experiences, not to include parenthood (yet)?

I wish schools would teach this statistic: Ninety percent of children born to an unmarried teen-ager who hasn’t finished high school will grow up in poverty. If the mother waits to have her first child till she finishes high school, turns 20 and marries, the risk her children will be poor is 9 percent. They could add the stats on the percentage of unmarried fathers are supporting or visiting their children after the first few years.

There needs to be more focus on showing young men from low-income single-parent families how to qualify for a decent job with or without a college degree. One path to success– a bachelor’s degree or bust — isn’t enough.

Update: When parents have conversations with their children, it makes a huge difference, writes Annie Murphy Paul. Robert Pondiscio responds:  ”On my bucket list of ed projects: a PSA campaign to inform low-income parents on the benefits of reading to kids and engaging them in conversation. Cognitive development classes in inner-city hospitals can teach inner city parents the habits that more affluent parents do reflexively. And if the Gates Foundation wants to help, let’s get low-cost books — say 25 cents apiece — into inner city bodegas.”

Study: Harlem charter boosts ‘human capital’

The Harlem Children Zone‘s Promise Academy, a charter middle school, raises test scores, concluded Harvard EdLabs researchers Will Dobbie and Roland Fryer. Sixth-grade lottery winners close the black-white achievement gap by the end of eighth grade.

A new study finds that students are more likely to graduate from high school and enroll in college, less likely to experience teen pregnancy or incarceration.

That’s a huge human-capital boost, notes Education Gadfly.

Six years after winning the admissions lottery, Promise Academy students not only score higher on the nationally normed Woodcock-Johnson math achievement tests than lottery losers, but they are more likely to enroll in college, by 24 percentage points. Additionally, female lottery winners are 12 percentage points less likely to become pregnant in their teens, while males are 4 percentage points less likely to be incarcerated. The Harlem Children’s Zone social and community-building services are well documented, but Dobbie and Fryer attribute Promise Academy’s success to the markers that make it a high-performing school (extended school time, high-quality teachers, data-driven decision making, and heightened expectations).

Winning the charter lottery had little effect on students’ health or likelihood of using drugs and alcohol.

City schools dispense morning-after pills

Pregnant girls can get Plan B “morning after” pills at more than 50 high schools, reports the New York Times. Nurses dispense the pills, at no cost, after checking to see if a parent has signed an opt-out form.

After that first time, the girl took Plan B at school two or three more times. She said her mother had not signed the opt-out form, because she had wanted to have sex and so had never given it to her. “My mom, she doesn’t even know they have this stuff,” the girl, a junior from Coney Island, said.

If an independent provider, such as a clinic or hospital, dispenses contraceptives then no parental permission is needed.

Until recently, only those 17 and older could buy Plan B over the counter. But schools in New York City, Baltimore, Chicago, Oakland and Colorado let high school girls of any age obtain the drug in school health centers or nurse’s offices.

By contrast, “half of all school-based health clinics are prohibited from handing out any contraception, including condoms,” according to the School-Based Health Alliance.

Critics say the morning-after pill encourages teens to have sex. A Brooklyn 17-year-old who’d used Plan B “less than five times” this year, thinks it does. Like several other students in the Times story, she did not give her parents the opt-out form. She blames two of her pregnancies on her mother, who took her birth control away. Mercifully, the school nurse set up an appointment for her to have an intrauterine device implanted.

Researchers say the morning-after pill doesn’t increase sexual activity, but also doesn’t decrease the pregnancy rate. Teens have unprotected sex, get pregnant, take Plan B, go out and have unprotected sex again, get pregnant again and say, “I just didn’t think I would get pregnant,” says Dr. Elizabeth G. Raymond, senior medical associate with Gynuity Health Projects.

At Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn, a 17-year-old junior from Crown Heights said she had taken Plan B at school three times this year. Despite the threat of disease, which is drilled into students during sex education courses, she was less likely to use condoms because she knew she could get the morning-after pill, she said.

Girls who lack the maturity or intelligence to understand the consequences of their actions aren’t likely to become competent mothers. It’s good these girls are deferring motherhood. But why can’t they use Norplant, an IUD or some other form of reliable, long-term birth control?

Will this boy graduate high school?

subwayThe other day, on the subway in NYC, I saw this ad. It turns out there has been some commotion over it. (Approved and defended by Mayor Bloomberg, it is part of New York City’s recent campaign to raise awareness about teen pregnancy.)  I would like to add my own two or three objections to the mix.

First, this is an example of the “precision fallacy” in statistics. (That’s the best term I could find; there may be better.) Specifically, the ad confuses the individual’s probabilities with those of the group. It may be that “kids of teen moms are twice as likely not to graduate than [sic] kids whose moms were over age 22,” but this probability doesn’t hold for individuals.

Second, adults put words in this child’s mouth (and banal words at that). A baby or toddler would not say anything remotely close to this, unless someone had prepped him to do so.

That brings up a larger problem: from a young age, children are trained to describe themselves in statistical terms, at school and elsewhere. They learn to say, “My growth in such-and-such a skill is 30 percent,” or “I was one of the sixty percent who had the right answer.” In measure, in the right context, this may be fine–but when it’s the dominant lingo and mode of thought, it crowds out substance and meaning. (I wrote a satirical piece about this tendency.)

Beyond that, I did not bear this child as a teen, nor did 99.999999 percent of NYC subway riders, in all likelihood. (For all we know, this kid’s mom might have a chauffeur.) The “you” is not a real you, nor the “I” a real I. Yet here’s a tear-streaked face bringing sadness to a passenger’s day–and to what end?

What good does it do even for the target audience, teens who might get pregnant or father a child? If I were a teen looking at the picture, I’d want to wipe the little boy’s cheeks. I’d want to take out a book and read to him. Yet I wouldn’t be able to do so. I might dream of being a parent one day–and, if I were foolhardy enough, I’d want that day to come soon.

Worst of all, this ad gives the impression that the boy’s existence is a mistake and his fate sealed (or at least tipped in a direction). This is wrong. Once a child comes into the world, he or she is no mistake. Nor do we know what that child’s life will be.

Of course teen pregnancy is no light matter, no matter how it’s handled. I imagine many involved with the ad had good intentions. Still, it  fails to inform, enlighten, or persuade. And what a sad-looking kid.

Teen pregnancy rate hits new low

Teenage pregnancy rates have hit new low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Across all racial groups, the birth rate declined by 25 percent overall from 2007 to 2011, the CDC said in a new report. Birth rates for teenagers ages 15 to 17 years was 15.4 per 1,000, 29 percent lower than in 2007, while the rate for teenagers 18 and 19 years old fell to 54.1 per 1,000, which is 25 percent lower than in 2007.

. . . Among different racial and ethnic groups, declines from 2010 to 2011 for 15- to 19-year-olds ranged between 6 percent and 8 percent for white, black, American Indian and Asians. The birth rate for Hispanic teenagers fell 11 percent from 2010 to 2011 and dropped 34 percent from 2007 to 2011, the largest decline of any population group, the CDC said.

Births for teens 15 to 19 dropped 10 percent from 2010 to 2011, to 329,797, the fewest since 1946.

Girls are waiting longer to have sex, Ed Week notes. When they’re sexually active, more teens are using highly effective birth control methods.

Tennessee: ‘No holding hands’ in sex ed class

“Spurred by a classroom demonstration involving a sex toy,” Tennessee has barred teachers from promoting “gateway sexual activity,” reports CBS News. Critics call it the “no holding-hands bill.

Tennessee’s teen pregnancy rate “has dropped steadily since the first abstinence-focused sex education curriculum was put in place in the 1990s,” but remains one of the highest in the nation.

Study: Great teachers have lifelong impact

Students with an excellent elementary or middle-school teacher don’t just earn higher reading and math scores, concludes a new study that tracked one million students in an urban district over 20 years. A single year with a high value-added teacher leads to higher college attendance, higher adult earnings and even lower teenage-pregnancy rates, according to the authors, economists Raj Chetty and John Friedman of Harvard and Columbia Professor Jonah Rockoff.

All else equal, a student with one excellent teacher for one year between fourth and eighth grade would gain $4,600 in lifetime income, compared to a student of similar demographics who has an average teacher. The student with the excellent teacher would also be 0.5 percent more likely to attend college.

It may be difficult to hire more excellent (top five percent) teachers, but it’s not necessary.

. . . the difference in long-term outcome between students who have average teachers and those with poor-performing ones is as significant as the difference between those who have excellent teachers and those with average ones, the study found.

It adds up: Replacing a low-value-added (bottom five percent) teacher with an average teacher would raise a single classroom’s lifetime earnings by about $266,000, the economists estimate.

“If you leave a low value-added teacher in your school for 10 years, rather than replacing him with an average teacher, you are hypothetically talking about $2.5 million in lost income,” said Professor Friedman, one of the coauthors.

. . . “The message is to fire people sooner rather than later,” Professor Friedman said.

When a high value-added teacher transferred to a new school, student performance went up in the grade or subject area taught by that teacher, matching predicted gains. Scores dropped in the school the high-value teacher had left. Conversely, scores went up significantly when a low-value teacher left and dropped in her new school.

High performing teachers may more than justify much higher pay,” Slate observes.

“Great teachers create great value – perhaps several times their annual salaries,” write the authors. Now a working paper, the study will be submitted to a journal.

Why sex ed doesn’t work

Mandatory sex ed is returning to New York City public schools.

For the first time in nearly two decades, students in New York City’s public middle and high schools will be required to take sex-education classes beginning this school year, using a curriculum that includes lessons on how to use a condom and the appropriate age for sexual activity.

Trying to prevent teen pregnancy is part of the mayor’s campaign to improve the life prospects of young black and Latino males — and their girlfriends, in this case.

Naomi Schaefer Riley is skeptical.

. . . teenagers have sex and get pregnant not because they don’t understand how not to get pregnant (which, let’s face it, is not rocket science) but because they want babies. Teenagers (and many adults) think babies will provide unconditional love. And the longterm responsibilities involved are not fully grasped.

Sex education — abstinence only or condoms-on-bananas — has a poor record of success. Years ago, a Rand report described the most effective contraceptive for black girls: realistic college plans.