Friday Reading List: Charters in Boston, High School Remediation, and Diversity in College Leadership

The Boston Globe editorial board endorsed voting "Yes" to raise the cap on charter schools this morning:

When experiments succeed, it makes sense to replicate them. Voters have the chance to continue a successful strategy in public education by approving Question 2, which would allow the state to continue expanding public charter schools in the communities that need them most, including Boston ... The ballot question has provoked a great deal of confusion, much of it generated by opponents seeking to scare and mislead voters about the fiscal consequences of charter schools. But more than 20 years of experience with charters in Massachusetts suggest those fears are overblown. On the contrary, the history of charter schools in the Commonwealth shows they are working as intended, by providing the kind of choices for poor urban parents that wealthier suburban families simply take for granted.

I bring as much nuance and skepticism as I can muster to almost every facet of public policy, but I cannot find compelling reasons to vote "No." The arguments about charters taking money from the traditional system are untrue. Of course all schools in Massachusetts need to improve, not just charters. If I thought that the majority-suburban legislature, whose leadership comes from towns that are over 90% White, would suddenly prioritize the most vulnerable kids and families, maybe I would cut them some slack and let the issue go back to the legislature. But I have no reason to trust that the state's elected representatives will ever prioritize this issue unless there's federal money on the table - like there was in 2010 the last time the legislature acted on the cap.

In other news, Catherine Gewertz at Education Week looks at how some high schools are helping students avoid college remedial courses:

A few states have long offered 12th grade transition courses. But at least a half-dozen more have joined them in the past few years, haunted by college-remediation rates that show serious academic weakness among graduating high school students. Nationwide, 4 in 10 students at public four-year institutions, and two-thirds of those at community colleges, need remedial classes. For most of the new transition-courses, it's too early to tell whether they boost students' college grades or their likelihood of completing degrees.

I'm troubled by the fact that this shift constitutes "news." If they're not preparing students for the rigors of college, what the heck is the point of high school? Maybe I'm just cranky this morning, but we shouldn't celebrate when high schools offer a shiny new thing in twelfth grade, because they failed to do the bare minimum in grades nine through eleven.

Nicole Lewis of The Hechinger Report has the story of the diversification of leadership at top liberal arts institutions:

Since 2013, seven small, highly selective liberal arts colleges not known for diversity have for the first time chosen college presidents who are black— just as students are demanding a better racial mix on their campuses ... The appointments at largely white institutions come at a time when racial strife has roiled college campuses. Many black students complain they feel isolated and more are opting to attend historically black colleges. At the nation’s top public colleges, black students are drastically underrepresented, according to federal records and enrollment data analyzed by The Hechinger Report, confirmed in a recent report from the Center for American Progress. Latino students are also underrepresented at top schools.

The appointment of Black presidents alone will not solve the issues of inclusivity and representation, but it's a lot harder to ignore those issues when there's a person of color at the head of the table. Underrepresented students - like first generation college goers and young people of color - face significant obstacles, which need to be addressed at the highest levels of administration. For example, Guillermo Camarillo, a freshman at Stanford, explains why he doesn't like being told he is "lucky" to be in college:

The take-away of this is that low-income, first-generation, and/or minority students are not in any way “lucky.” We are students that have crossed mountains, broken down walls, and been beaten down to our knees throughout our journey to a higher education. So, don’t you make us feel like we are “lucky” to be in the same classrooms as you or “lucky” to be able to apply to certain scholarships. We are much more than lucky. We are warriors, survivors, and individuals with amazing stories. Instead of lucky, we are honored. We are “honored” to be at top-tier universities to be able to tell our stories. We are “honored” of being given the opportunity to apply to scholarships that will allow us to attend these amazing universities. The word honored is defined by the Webster dictionary as, “respect that is given to someone who is admired.” We are admirable, so give us the respect we deserve.

Say it again for the folks in the back, Guillermo.

Finally, Hayley Glatter, writing in The Atlantic, pours a little cold water on the enthusiasm for pre-K expansion:

... in a new report published by Dale Farran and Mark Lipsey in Behavioral Science and Policy Journal, the researchers criticize the rapid adoption of widespread, publicly funded preschool programs. They assert that states are failing to adequately research early-education practices prior to implementing them, favoring the adoption of the feel-good issue without stopping to consider what data show is actually working. Additionally, according to a different new policy briefing published by Princeton University and the Brookings Institution, federal and state governments spend about $34 billion annually on early-childhood education. This money, however, may be gravely misallocated. “Children are not well served by a perpetuation of magical thinking about the likelihood of profound effects resulting from poorly defined, state-run pre-K programs,” Farran and Lipsey, who both work at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education and Human Development, state in their report. These findings piggyback on the landmark study the pair released last year, which suggests participation in pre-k does not lead to long-lasting positive gains for low-income children.

Ruh roh. When policymakers balk at expanding pre-K, it's not because they despise little children and their two-income households, but rather because of research that throws doubt on the efficacy of current expenditures. Creating high-quality universal pre-K in America is a worthy goal, but it should be accomplished through focusing on academic rigor, socio-emotional support for our most vulnerable kids, and equity. A haphazard rollout will be the enemy of all of these goals. Have a great weekend!