Students need skills that lead to middle-class jobs

Seventy percent of young Americans will not earn a bachelor’s degree, write Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in Bloomberg View. Most community college students drop out without earning a degree or certificate. Schools must provide “effective programs that prepare kids who are not immediately college-bound for middle-class jobs,” they write.

For many students, the college-prep track is a dead end, they argue. Students don’t master the academic skills needed to earn a two- or four-year degree or the technical skills needed to gain entry to a job with chances for advancement.

In New Orleans, education, business and civic leaders have created YouthForce NOLA to help students qualify for “jobs such as EMT, junior software developer and manufacturing process technician,” write Bloomberg and Dimon. Schools will provide career-tech classes and businesses will offer paid internships aligned with students’ coursework and goals.

JPMorgan Chase and Bloomberg will invest $7.5 million in YouthForce NOLA, and plan similar investments in Denver and Detroit.

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.

Many paths lead upward

 From Fordham’s EduWatch 2016: 6 Themes For Education

Top colleges for value, mobility

University of California at Riverside tops the Washington Monthly’college rankings, which give top honors to schools that enroll and graduate “students of modest means” while “charging them a reasonable price,” write the editors.

The rankings also give credit for research — are these schools “creating the new technologies and ideas that will drive economic growth and advance human knowledge?” — and whether they encourage students to join the military or the Peace Corps or perform community service.

You’ll see it doesn’t intersect very much with U.S. News‘ college rankings.

Two years ago, President Obama pledged to rate every college and university in America by “who’s offering the best value,” note the Monthly‘s editors.

The higher ed lobby mobilized to kill the ratings plan. In June, it was canceled.

The Monthly also ranks the best bang-for-the-buck colleges.

 

Acting smart

As a child in Daytona Beach, Florida, Roland G. Fryer Jr. often visited his great-aunt and -uncle’s house, where pancakes were fried in the same pan in which the couple made crack out of water, baking soda and cocaine. Eight of his 10 closest childhood friends went to prison or died young, including a favorite cousin who was murdered.

A Harvard professor who studies race and education, Fryer has won what’s considered the “mini-Nobel” for young economists, reports the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.

“How do you create structures so that people don’t just beat the odds, but so that you change the damn odds?” he said. “It’s not, like, a ‘them’ thing, for me. This is my family, dude.”
Roland G. Fryer, "Acting White," Education Next (2006).Fryer’s most controversial research has found that black and Latino achievers lose popularity if their grades rise too high. African-Americans with grade-point averages of at least 3.5 (B+/A-) had fewer black friends than students with B’s or lower. For Latino students, the cut-off was lower: The more their GPA “exceeded 2.5 (C+/B-), the less popular they were.”

The “acting white” phenomenon occurs in racially mixed schools, he found. “Social pressures could go a long way toward explaining the large racial and ethnic gaps in SAT scores, the underperformance of minorities in suburban schools, and the lack of adequate representation of blacks and Hispanics in elite colleges and universities,” Fryer wrote in Education Next.

Some challenge the theory, notes the Post. In support, Frayer cited an
experiment at Los Angeles high schools. Students — most were Latino — were offered a free SAT preparation class. Those told their classmates would know if they participated were significantly less likely to sign up.

“I didn’t realize I grew up poor until I got to Harvard,” says Fryer. Now he’s raising his own child in a very different environment. “My 2-year-old starts Mandarin immersion in the fall.”

Movin’ on up

Moving from a high-poverty city to a better place improves children’s odds of upward mobility, concludes the Equality of Opportunity study. “Every extra year of childhood spent in a better neighborhood seems to matter,” according to Raj Chetty, a Harvard economist. Chetty and his colleague Nathaniel Hendren, analyzed earnings data for millions of low-income movers.

Some places provide more opportunity, reports the New York Times.

The places most conducive to upward mobility include large cities — San Francisco, San Diego, Salt Lake City, Las Vegas and Providence, R.I. — and major suburban counties, such as Fairfax, Va.; Bergen, N.J.; Bucks, Pa.; Macomb, Mich.; Worcester, Mass.; and Contra Costa, Calif.

These places tend to share several traits, Mr. Hendren said. They have elementary schools with higher test scores, a higher share of two-parent families, greater levels of involvement in civic and religious groups and more residential integration of affluent, middle-class and poor families.

The place where children face the worst odds of escaping poverty is Baltimore, the study found. “Low-income boys who grew up there in recent decades make roughly 25 percent less as adults than similar low-income boys who were born in the city and moved as small children to an average place,” reports the Times.

After the Rodney King riots in Los Angeles 20 years ago, Congress created the Moving to Opportunity experiment. Some poor families got vouchers to move to less-poor, less violent neighborhoods, while a control group did not.

Baltimore was one of the cities in the experiment.

It was considered a failure. Compared to the control group, parents who received the vouchers didn’t earn more; their children didn’t do better in school. “Ten to 15 years after moving, children were no more likely to complete high school, enroll in college or be employed, compared to similar children who stayed in high-poverty neighborhoods,” a follow-up study found.

However, children who moved before they were teenagers went on to earn more as adults, conclude Chetty and Hendren, after re-crunching the data. They didn’t escape poverty, but they were less poor.

Low-income parents who find a way to move to a more integrated neighborhood — without a voucher — are motivated, hard-working people. I’d expect their kids to do better.

Even the voucher experiment showed the importance of initiative: Some voucher recipients chose to stay in their high-poverty neighborhoods rather than risk the unfamiliar suburbs.

The upwardly mobile barista


Alicea Thomas is a full-time shift supervisor at Starbucks — and a full-time online student at Arizona State.

Going to college is easy. Nearly all U.S. high school graduates enroll somewhere. Completing college is hard, especially for first-generation and lower-income students.

“Thirty-five million Americans now have some college experience but no degree, writes Amanda Ripley in The Upwardly Mobile Barista. Starbucks has teamed with Arizona State to help employees finish their degrees online.

As long as they worked 20 hours or more per week, any of the company’s 135,000 employees in the United States would be eligible for the program. Those who’d already racked up at least two years’ worth of credits would be fully reimbursed for the rest of their education. Those with fewer or no credits would receive a 22 percent tuition discount from Arizona State until they reached the full-reimbursement level.

As it turned out, the tuition aid wasn’t the most critical part of the plan, writes Ripley. Starbucks enrollees were promised “an enrollment counselor, a financial-aid adviser, an academic adviser, and a ‘success coach’ — a veritable pit crew of helpers.” A special orientation course teaches time management.

Advising has been critical. Baristas need lots of help to pry transcripts out of former colleges, track down missing paperwork and overcome their fears, writes Ripley.

Alicea Thomas, 23, works 35 hours a week as a shift supervisor, earning $11.46 an hour. When her computer was stolen, she dropped out of orientation. How do you take online courses without a computer?

But then she did something crucial. She reached out to her academic adviser at Arizona State, who got her signed up for another orientation class happening later that month and encouraged her to find a way to get online.

That’s when Thomas began taking her classes on her iPhone. She was amazed at how much she could do on the device. After work, she’d take it to Applebee’s, get a margarita, and start doing her reading and tapping out her discussion posts. Problems arose only when she needed a webcam to take the remotely proctored quizzes. In those cases, she usually borrowed a computer from a relative.

In her first semester, Thomas earned two A’s. She’s majoring in communications with hopes of working in public relations.

Only a small percentage of Starbucks workers have applied to ASU so far, but 85 percent of those who did were accepted. So far, persistence and pass rates are similar to other ASU online students.

Job retraining is the focus of today’s Upskill Summit at the White House.

Hard work, high hopes

Here’s my take on college-prep high schools for disadvantaged students, which will be part of Fordham’s upcoming (next fall) book, Education for Upward Mobility. 

It starts:

In a Texas border town along a curve of the Rio Grande, everyone takes college classes in high school. Half of the class of 2014 earned an associate degree, a vocational certificate, or a year’s worth of college credits, as well as a Hidalgo Early College High School diploma. For Mexican American students in a minimum-wage town, it’s better to aim too high than to take the easy path, says Superintendent Ed Blaha.

At a San Jose charter high school, Latino students (and a few blacks, Asians, and whites) struggle to get on the college track and stay there. Ganas (Spanish for desire, determination, or—yes—grit) is essential for Downtown College Prep’s students.

“Find a way or make one” is the motto of Providence St. Mel, an all-black private school, formerly Catholic, on Chicago’s West Side. Every year, all graduates are accepted at four-year colleges and universities, and more than half go to selective “tier 1” colleges.

I look at common elements of schools that are making a difference.

Downtown College Prep (see my book, Our School) is fighting San Jose Unified’s plan to move the flagship high school to a site with half the classrooms it needs and no science lab. DCP students would have to walk across the street to a district high school to use classrooms, labs and athletic facilities. Why would the district try to disrupt a successful charter — and disrupt its own high school? It makes no sense.

Environmental science students work on DCP’s teaching garden, a collaboration with a local nonprofit.

Education for upward mobility

I’m in Washington D.C. for Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility conference, which will look at what schools can do to help children born into poverty move up in the world.

Mike Petrilli, the moderator, hopes to question the idea that college is the only path to the middle class.

What if by spending all of our efforts trying to boost the proportion of low-income students who are making it through college from 10 percent to, say, 20 percent, we’re ignoring the needs of the other 80 percent?

He hopes to “find a middle ground between the utopianism that characterizes so much of the reform movement (‘Let’s get every child college and career ready!’) and the defeatism that emanates from too many corners of the education system (‘There’s nothing we can do until we end poverty!’).” 

I’m on the Multiple Pathways in High School panel, which will look at adding “high-quality career tech ed and youth apprenticeships to the “college prep for all” model.

In Hard Work, High Hopes, I look at district, charter and private high schools with lots of lower-income, Latino or black students and a college-prep mission.

“President Obama wants the U.S. to lead the world in college graduates, but college dreams
usually don’t come true for the children of poorly educated, low-income parents,” I write.

Half of people from high-income families earn a bachelor’s degree by age 25. Only 10 percent of those raised in low-income families complete a bachelor’s degree.

This way up

A bachelor’s degree isn’t the only route to the middle class, but the upwardly mobile need “easy on-ramps, goal-oriented job training and a series of ascending steps, with industry-certified credentials to guide the way.”