When, after a nationwide search, he was hired two years ago to serve as superintendent of Florida’s Broward County Public Schools, Robert Runcie began brainstorming ways to close the racial achievement gap. At the time, black students in the sixth-largest district in the country had a graduation rate of only 61 percent compared to 81 percent for white students. To find out why, Runcie, who once headed a management-consulting firm, went to the data.
Yesterday, the Court heard oral arguments in Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action. The case involves a decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals to strike down a Michigan constitutional amendment banning the use of racial preferences in higher education. The oral argument did nothing to dispel the nearly universal assumption of court-watchers that the decision will be reversed, although the argument against the amendment has a stronger basis in precedent than it's sometimes been given credit for.
“Education was where my heart was,” says Tyrone Sinclair in Growing Fairness, a documentary showcasing the impact restorative-justice programs can have in our nation's schools. Sinclair says he was expelled from school at 16, became homeless, and then ended up in jail. Now, he organizes young people in Los Angeles. “I knew that wasn’t the place for me,” he says of prison. “I love to learn every day.”
Jesse Bonds graduated from high school in 2002 in Clinton, Arkansas, a town of 2,600 people on the southern edge of the Ozarks. He tried college for half a semester, but found the computer-programming courses he enrolled in too advanced. After that, he worked for the state’s power utility for about six months building substations, but his crew was laid off once the work was complete. He was looking for a new career when he was hired as an electrician at a new hospital being built in 2003, and when the work was done he realized he wanted to continue working as an electrician. He decided to enroll in ITT Technical Institute to get a two-year degree in electronics engineering. “I saw all the commercials and stuff,” he says. “And I got into the admissions office and they’re like, ‘Oh you scored the highest of anybody that’s come through here on this test in the last couple of years. You’ll be perfect for this program.’” In retrospect, Bonds realizes they were doing a hard sell on the program, but at the time he decided it was a chance to go back to college and make it on his own. “That turned out to be a disaster.”
Since the Great Recession began in 2007, no one’s had more trouble finding work than low-income Asian, black, and Hispanic male teenagers. That’s the main idea in two recent articles in TheWall Street Journal (available here and here) that rely on research from Andrew Sum, a professor who produces a remarkable number of papers for Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies (CLMS).
It’s hard to find a politician these days who doesn’t at least pay lip service to the idea of “early childhood education.” But actually improving pre-kindergarten remains an enormous hurdle—and in some states the situation has gotten worse. While a number of states made investments in pre-K ten or 15 years go, the 2010 Tea Party wave, combined with budget crises in many states, led to big cuts even in states were already had minimal pre-K funding. In the 2010-2011 school year, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities—a progressive economic think tank—reports that 12 states reduced enrollment in pre-K programs while others shortened the number of school days or found other methods of scaling back. It’s not much better at the federal level. While the Obama administration bandies about a new plan to expand pre-K and integrate it with the rest of public education, the sequestration process meant a $350 million cut to Head Start, the public preschool program for low-income three- and four-year olds. For many local activists, particularly in anti-Obama states, help isn’t likely to come soon from either the state or federal level.
Teach for America is at universities, recruiting high-achieving graduates to teach in the nation’s underserved urban and rural areas. It's at school boards, lobbying districts to renew its contract and import hundreds of its members. It's in corporate boardrooms, asking for tens of millions in funding. With more than 32,000 alumni, its former participants helm the majority of Achievement First charter schools, half of KIPP schools, and the superintendencies of D.C., Louisiana, and Tennessee. They dominate the well-funded, well-connected universe of charter schools and high-stakes testing advocacy. Teach for America is, increasingly, America. Now, it's facing a civil war.
On a blistering day in mid-July, several dozen college students rallied on an unshaded plaza in front of the Department of Education’s headquarters in Washington, D.C., wearing their schools’ colors and carrying megaphones. When Martha J. Kanter, the undersecretary of education, heard their shouting and emerged from the air-conditioned building, they handed her a stack of boxes containing a petition with more than 100,000 signatures. The petition called on the government to take a more punitive stance against universities that fail to protect survivors of sexual assault. These schools, the document declared, are in violation of Title IX, a law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in higher education.
Later this week, Troy University, located 50 miles south of Montgomery, Alabama, will open its first-ever faith-based dormitory. The brand-new building—which cost $11.8 million—will house nearly 400 students, and is already at the center of a debate about whether faith-based dorms represent a violation of the separation of church and state at a public university.
To live in the dorm, students must maintain “an active spiritual lifestyle and maintain an active engagement in a campus faith based organization.” Maintaining a GPA of at least 2.5, refraining from drug and alcohol use, and participating in community service projects are also requirements for living in the cushy new quarters. The building will also include a Catholic ministry—which is being leased to the nearby Catholic archdiocese of Mobile by the university—a chapel, and an office for a local priest. Three Catholic and three Baptist residential assistants will live in the dormitory with the students.
In much of recent memory, battles over education reform have been portrayed as pitting Republican governors against teachers’ unions. Lately, though, we’ve also seen hard-line reform-minded Democrats going against the party’s traditional base of labor liberals, exemplified by the Chicago Teachers Union's two-week strike to oppose (among other things) Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s plan to tie compensation to student improvement. But new research shows that there might be something else going on than simple union-versus-education-reform infighting. Instead, battles over education may be tied to a much deeper issue: race.
Last week, Donnell Regusters heard from a co-worker that dozens of young people were occupying the Florida Capitol, rallying around the Trayvon Martin verdict, calling for the repeal of the state’s stand-your-ground law, and demanding an end to what reformers call the “school-to-prison pipeline,” so he decided to head South. “It wasn’t even up for debate,” he says. Regusters, an organizer working to reduce suspensions and school-based arrests in Philadelphia, got together a group of young Philly residents, hopped on a bus, and went down the East Coast, picking up students in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. along the way. The night after Regusters’s crew joined the protest, then going into its tenth day, national news coverage heated up: singer and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, a funder of civil rights actions in the 1960s, made an appearance in Tallahassee. Seeing Belafonte speak in person, says Regusters, “was insanely powerful.”