Wednesday Reading List: The Prison-to-College Pipeline, Refugee Education, and Ballot-mania!

Kyle Spencer has a deeply reported piece in The New York Times, looking at one man who went from prison to college:

Part of the Prison-to-College Pipeline, a re-entry program that helps incarcerated and formerly incarcerated men in New York City pursue college degrees, [Juan] Echevarria dreams of one day graduating. But his challenges have been numerous. He grappled with remedial algebra, required of matriculating CUNY students who can’t pass the basic math competency exam. He had to take it four times. Five years in, he is just a sophomore, still 84 credits away from a bachelor’s degree, and has accrued $18,000 in student loans. Money has been a constant source of anxiety. Sometimes he had to rely on friends and family to feed him, and he worried about where he would lay his head at night. He has stayed in seven apartments since his release, in 2012. A day job — as a case manager helping mentally ill prisoners re-enter society — has relieved some of the financial pressure, but it has taken its toll emotionally.

Because our country relies on the prison system to punish, rather than to remediate, the United States not only has the highest per capita prison population in the world, but also some of the highest rates of recidivism. One way to stanch recidivism is to create opportunities for fulfilling, living-wage jobs, and a college education is an effective way of creating those sorts of opportunities.

If it seems hard for a man who was once incarcerated to get an education, being a refugee might be just as challenging. Jon Marcus at The Hechinger Report looks at the issue:

Deep beneath the surface of a massive refugee crisis that’s the worst since World War II is the less well understood reality that tens of thousands of university students leaving Syria and other countries have had their educations interrupted — educations needed for those nations to rebuild if and when the conflicts in them end ... “The United States has a long-term strategic interest in stability and peace and prosperity in the Middle East, and for positive change to take place, we know that education is critical,” LeBaron said. Yet barely 1 percent of college-age refugees are in university courses, compared to the global average of 34 percent, the Institute of International Education, or IIE, estimates. In Syria alone, from which 4.8 million people have now fled, an estimated 210,000 students were enrolled in college when the civil war began.

Marcus outline the various barriers facing displaced Syrian students, including overcrowding in institutions, housing, and perhaps most of all, bureaucracy. While we have all seen shocking images of the human toll of war in Syria, it is hard to capture the multi-generational impact of losing the talent and energy of an entire generation.

Denise Superville of Education Week looks at a Georgia ballot initiative that will decide the fate of that state's mechanism for intervening in schools:

The ballot measure—known as Amendment 1—has generated heated debate and created strange political bedfellows, with teachers' unions, the state's school boards' association, the Georgia PTA, and some conservative Republicans lining up against the measure. On the other side is GOP Gov. Nathan Deal, who proposed and championed a state-run district modeled on Louisiana's Recovery School District and Tennessee's Achievement School District. His allies include the state chamber of commerce, some Democrats, and supporters of charters and school choice.

Ballot initiatives are a strange animal, and their proliferation as a venue for education policymaking is troubling. The tough, technocratic details of improving schools, and the tradeoffs required to do so, don't lend themselves well to pithy messaging and retail politics ...

Finally, Joy Notoma of Seven Scribes went to West Africa to study the presidential election in Benin:

The election fell short of American standards of political drama and it completely contradicted the media stereotype of civil unrest in African presidential elections, but [Lionel] Zinsou was still a biracial man running for president in a West African nation that had only been independent from colonization since 1960. Would qualification alone make him the right person for the office or would his race play a role in the election? ... Where does a person of European descent fit into the cultural consciousness of a West African nation, and the ethnic and geographical politics of north and south? ... The fact that Zinsou’s race likely impacted his chance of winning the election is not a poor reflection on Beninese people, or a unique phenomenon, as we see even in elections in the United States.

First, I love when great writing introduces me to a an unfamiliar topic, and "Beninese electoral politics" checks that particular box. Moreover, living as a White person in America makes it hard to understand race from a perspective that is not Eurocentric; Notoma's piece is a good entry point for folks who want to take that leap. Have a great day!