Education

The Conversation: Joshua Steckel and Andrew Delbanco

AP Images/Mel Evans
I n the fall of 2006, Joshua Steckel left his job as a college counselor at an elite private school in Manhattan for a public high school in Brooklyn. His new work, guiding low-income students, put him on the front lines in the effort to bring more socioeconomic diversity to the nation’s selective four-year campuses. Far from assuming that college was a choice, many of the students who entered Steckel’s cubicle had internalized the message that higher education was a world from which they were excluded. Steckel’s book, Hold Fast to Dreams ( New Press, March 25), folds his students’ stories into a larger social perspective on the barriers that exclude low-income teenagers from the nation’s colleges. The book, a collaboration between Steckel and his wife, the writer Beth Zasloff, follows ten of Steckel’s students as they apply to and then enter college. The students’ challenges are vast and varied. Mike lives in a homeless shelter, caring for his younger brothers while his mother,...

SXSWedu: How to Keep Friends and Influence No New People

AP Images/Erich Schlegel
AP Images/Erich Schlegel A nyone who survived high school knows just how much blood, sweat, and tears must come before someone gets voted “Best All-Around” in the school yearbook. Being liked is one thing, but to be liked by lots of groups often requires that one always stay on the safe side of every conversation, never fully engaging. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the same is true in education policy, where ideological differences rule the community. The cliques and lunchroom politics are serious business, and the jargon makes it all the worse. EdTech-ers sit at a table near EdReform-ers, while community-schools people sit beside the teachers’ unions. And because no one talks much to each other, it’s easy to affirm your beliefs and vilify your opponents without much challenge. So to its credit, the education-technology conference South by Southwest EDU—SXSWedu, as it’s known—is trying really hard to be friends with everyone. It’s trying to become a platform for serious policy debate, it’s...

Stress, Poverty, and the Childhood Reading Gap

AP Images/LYNN HERMOSA Most Americans think education is the key to upward mobility, that all we need to do to break the cycle is to help the next generation do well in school and rise into the middle class. A growing body of research, however, is showing that poverty and hunger can harm children’s cognitive development. The challenges of poverty, and the often-violent neighborhoods poor children live in, are impeding their progress in school. Late last month, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that works to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children in the United States, released a report that added evidence to that idea. It showed only a fifth of low-income fourth-graders were reading at a proficient level, compared to more than half of high-income children. What’s alarming for researchers is the fact that every subject in every class after third grade requires a textbook and critical-reading skills for full engagement in the classroom. Children already need...

The Urban Poor Shall Inherit Poverty

Sociologist Patrick Sharkey proves a mother’s insecure upbringing harms her child as surely as a neighbor’s broken window.   

A n apparent conundrum bedevils our understanding of African American students’ inadequate school performance: Blacks from low-income families have worse academic outcomes—test scores and graduation rates, for example—than similarly low-income whites. To some, this suggests that socioeconomic disadvantage cannot cause black student failure; instead, poorly motivated and trained teachers must be to blame for failing to elicit achievement from blacks as they do from whites. This was the theory motivating the George W. Bush administration’s No Child Left Behind law and the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program. That flawed conclusion overlooks the fact that low-income blacks differ considerably from low-income whites in their social-class backgrounds. Conventional analyses consider students similarly disadvantaged when their families have incomes below 185 percent of the poverty line, making them eligible for lunch subsidies. Yet zero to 185 percent of poverty is a big span; it...

Reversing Broward County's School-to-Prison Pipeline

AP Images/Phil Sears
AP Images/Phil Sears W hen, 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. “One of the first things I saw was a huge differential in minority students, black male students in particular, in terms of suspensions and arrests,” he says. Black students made up two-thirds of all suspensions during the 2011-2012 school year despite comprising only 40 percent of the student body. And while there were 15,000 serious incidents like assaults and drug possession reported that year, 85 percent of all 82,000 suspensions were for minor incidents—use of profanity, disruptions of class—and 71 percent of all...

The Radicalism of Dallas, 1963

Extremism was in the city's air when John F. Kennedy was killed, fed by rhetoic not unlike that of today's Tea Party. The authors of Dallas 1963 on the city's social turmoil.

AP Images
B y early 1963, Dallas was the most singular city in America—it had become, without question, the roiling headquarters for the angry, absolutist resistance to John F. Kennedy and his administration. A confederacy of like-minded men had coalesced in Dallas: the anti-Catholic leader of the largest Baptist congregation in America, the far-right media magnate who published the state’s leading newspaper, the most ideologically extreme member of Congress, and the wealthiest man in the world—oilman H.L. Hunt. Together they formed the most vitriolic anti-Kennedy movement in the nation. And they began to attract others who were even more extreme to the city. Ex-Army General Edwin A. Walker had been relieved of command by Kennedy for brainwashing his troops with John Birch Society propaganda. After angrily resigning from the service, Walker knew exactly where to go to lead his new anti-Kennedy campaign. He moved to Dallas, where he was welcomed by the mayor and given an honorary Stetson in a...

From White Collars to Pink Slips

Americans have been told that a college education will help them avoid the fate of workers whose jobs have been shipped overseas. A new report pours water on that idea.

AP Photo/Wally Santana
AP Photo A t first glance, Kingston Technology doesn’t appear to have much in common with big auto manufacturers like General Motors (GM). Based in sunny Southern California, the computer-technology company makes small memory products and primarily employs white-collar programmers and designers. But Kingston and GM have at least one thing in common: They ship jobs overseas. Kingston recently handed out pink slips to 80 employees and moved its RAM and flash-memory production operation to China. “Our company has been, and continues to shift primarily production work from the U.S. to China,” Kingston wrote in a disclosure to the Department of Labor. But the company is also letting go of "finance, engineering, and IT positions." Outsourcing is usually associated with blue-collar jobs that require a high-school education or less. But an increasing number of workers in the technology industry with a bachelor’s degree or more—electrical engineers, computer designers, and audio and visual...

Israel's Brain Drain

AP Images/Eric Risberg
AP Images/Eric Risberg Nobel Prize-winner and Israeli citizen, Michael Levitt. A band was warming up for a free concert on the green quad of Hebrew University's Givat Ram campus before noon yesterday. The vocalist belted out a few lines of Amy Winehouse in English—"They tried to make me go to rehab"—then switched into Hebrew to talk to the soundman. Across the crowded lawn in front of the neural computation and life sciences buildings, a student was learning to walk a low tightrope stretched between two trees, and mostly falling off. The Israeli academic year starts only in October, and classes are finally back in session. Givat Ram is the physical sciences campus of Hebrew University. Among the scientists who do not have labs there, and who will not be teaching there or at any other Israeli university this year, are Arieh Warshel and Michael Levitt. Warshel and Levitt were named earlier this month as two of the three winners of the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Warshel , who was born in...

Restorative Justice's After-School Special

“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.” Growing Fairness was screened at the Thurgood Marshall Center in Washington, D.C., this Wednesday, at an event hosted by Critical Exposure, a local youth group that trains high-school students in photography so they can document problems in their communities. The audience included mostly high-school students and people in their 20s, most of whom were interested in or researched education reform, though a few older community members and attorneys for civil-rights organizations were also present. The event was part of the fourth annual Week of Action organized by the Dignity in Schools...

The Missing Piece in Coverage of Texas Evolution Controversies

Flickr/timuiuc
Once again, there's a dust-up going on over whether students in Texas should be taught about evolution in science class, or whether they should instead be told the lie that there is a scientific "controversy" about whether evolution has taken place, or perhaps be told nothing at all about it, or be told the biblical version of creation. But beyond the obvious, there's something bugging me about this. The current round is about science textbooks, and there's a story you've heard before, which goes like this: Texas is a huge market for textbooks, so big that whatever textbooks get bought by Texas can affect the whole country. The Texas Board of Education appoints reviewers to recommend changes to proposed textbooks, and among these reviewers are a host of young-earth creationists who demand that discussion of evolution portray it as some kind of nutty idea with no empirical support. Then the textbooks get changed in this way, making students across the country just a little dumber. All...

Moses of Mississippi

Bob Moses organized for voting rights during the darkest days of the 1960s South. Today, his fight for civil rights continues, with a project to help inner city kids succeed in the classroom.

B ob Moses did not speak at the March on Washington. The Harvard student turned-rural organizer spent the day before picketing outside the Justice Department, with a sign quoting St. Augustine that read: “When There Is No Justice, What Is the State but a Robber Band Enlarged?” Moses wanted the federal government to protect the civil rights of poor black Americans, who were beaten and killed, whose churches were burned, whose fundamental personhood was under assault for trying to vote in Mississippi. White Mississipians wanted to kill Bob Moses: they shot at him, imprisoned him, beat him savagely on city streets. After one of those beatings—one day in Amite County—Moses rose to his feet, gathered himself, and walked into the county courthouse. Inside, blood dripping from his head, he alerted a baffled clerk that the two men with him wanted to register to vote. “I just couldn’t understand what Bob Moses was,” a Mississippi native said later. “Sometimes I think he was Moses in the Bible...

One Way to End the School-to-Prison Pipeline

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 The Wall 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). As Ben Casselman, author of The Wall Street Journal articles, notes, working during the summer is not only a way for high schoolers to earn money. People who held jobs in their teens are more likely to graduate from high school, and to be employed and have higher earnings in their early 20s than people who didn’t find paid work during the summer, according to a CLMS paper titled “The Continued Crisis in Teen Employment in the U.S. and Massachusetts.” Also worth noting, in that and other CLMS papers, are connections between jobless teenagers and high-school graduation rates that should catch...

Houston Rockets Pre-K to Top of the Priority List

AP Photo/The Paris News,Sam Craft
AP Photo/LM Otero I t’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 10 or 15 years ago, the 2010 Tea Party wave, combined with budget crises in many states, led to big cuts even in states that 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-...

A Break in Teach for America’s Ranks

AP Photo/J Pat Carter
AP Photo/J Pat Carter T each 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 contracts 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. Last month, TFA alumni and members critical of the organization joined students, parents, and community activists at Chicago's Free Minds/Free People education conference for a summit titled “Organizing Resistance to Teach for America and Its Role in Privatization.” (The Education for...

Paying It Forward on Student Debt

Chris Ison/PA Wire
AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File N ext month, lawmakers will return to state capitals around the country, and as many as a dozen legislatures could consider a new proposal to tackle the growing student-debt crisis. The plan, dubbed " Pay-it-Forward " by its creator, would allow students to enter college without having to pay tuition upfront: In exchange, they would agree to pay a small and set percentage of their income after college into a public fund allowing the next generation to do the same. Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat from Oregon, released a plan Friday that would help provide seed money for pilot programs across the country using this model. Almost all of the new initiatives were inspired by Oregon, where the state legislature passed a bill introducing a Pay-it-Forward scheme unanimously on July 1. Barbara Dudley, an adjunct professor at Portland State University who in 2005 helped co-found the Oregon Working Families Party—a third party that has also been influential in...

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