Monday Reading List: Education's Governance Web, Career Counseling, and College Demographics

Daarel Burnette II is in Education Week with a good look at the murkiness of education governance across the states:

Political scientists have long described state education oversight as a tangled web of elected and appointed technocrats and politicians, many with duplicative and conflicting roles and loyalties. Compounding the problem is the rapidly rotating cast of characters who have taken charge of state education agencies and state Senate and House education committees in recent years. And more than a quarter of the nation's state education chiefs have been in office for less than year ... [the new federal education law] ESSA touches on several key cornerstones of education policy such as assessments, accountability, and teacher quality. While some state constitutions put those tasks within the orbit of state boards of education, other states' constitutions are not as clear. After a series of very public battles over standardized tests, legislatures in some states either overwrote boards' policies or have stripped boards outright of their powers. 

There's a fundamental issue at play here, which is the extent to which public education really is a function of "the state." The United States Constitution does not mention education, and while most of the state constitutions are explicit about the existence of public education, many of them specifically delegate the duty of education to local/municipal governments. The result is the mess that Burnette describes. While this tangled governance web has had an adverse effect on vulnerable communities for decades, it's also having a deleterious impact on more privileged families now. I wouldn't be surprised if education in the next generation becomes like the healthcare system, wherein costs continue to escalate, quality stagnates, accountability is fragmented so much that nobody can be held responsible, and nobody is happy.

The state role isn't the only link in the chain that's problematic. Emily DeRuy, writing in The Atlantic, looked at career counseling in higher education:

While a higher percentage of graduates are visiting career-services offices than at any point since 1940, most aren’t entirely thrilled with what they find. Just 17 percent of those who graduated between 2010 and 2016 said their career-services office was very helpful. The same share said their visit was not helpful at all, while 26 percent said their visit was generally helpful, and 37 percent called it somewhat helpful ... First-generation students (whose parents did not go to college) and transfer students were less likely than their peers to say they’d used career-services offices. Just 49 percent of first-generation students said they visited their office at least once, compared to 55 percent of non-first-generation students. The usage rate for transfer students was even lower at 44 percent Those figures, the report suggests, may indicate that such students have trouble accessing and utilizing such resources—barriers that could stem from confusion or intimidation.

Students with fewer family resources are the ones who most need access to stable careers, so this data is troubling. Jon Marcus at The Hechinger Report throws more fuel on the fire:

College and university enrollment fell during the semester just coming to an end, marking a fifth straight year of decline ... a collective 270,000 fewer students were in college this semester than at the same time last year. The news follows predictions that the number of high school graduates will decline for at least the next two decades, while the proportion of those grads who are lower-income and nonwhite will increase. That means higher-education institutions will need to find new ways of educating a student body with less preparation and fewer financial resources.

In other words, the demographics of higher education are changing rapidly, and the institutions haven't figured out how to deal with that fact. If that's not a microcosm for our current national political situation, I don't know what is.

In other news, Shaina Cavazos, writing at Chalkbeat, looks at the dreadful performance of virtual schools in Indiana:

Since their start in 2009, Indiana’s online schools have grown tremendously, in some cases going from a couple hundred students to a few thousand. Currently, 11,442 Indiana students are enrolled in virtual schools, about 1 percent of all Indiana students. There are no specific restrictions on growth, regardless of performance. Virtual charter schools were meant to help nontraditional students maintain consistent education ... It’s true that some nontraditional students thrive in an online school environment where they can control where, when and how they learn. But for the majority of the Indiana students in online schools, the flexibility and lack of teacher oversight aren’t working. Virtual schools see high rates of student turnover from year to year.

This situation is illustrative of the problem with choice without accountability. The virtual schools in Indiana have achieved explosive growth, because their costs are so low. In the meantime, because of lax oversight, the schools' growth has been untethered to outcomes of any sort, except enrollment and market share. Let this serve as your daily reminder: market share is not a proxy for quality.

Finally, in case you missed it over the weekend, the CBC radio program "Out in the Open" aired their holiday episode, which included a segment by yours truly! In the bit, I narrate the conversations that White folks should have with their family members about race, based on the article I wrote for Thanksgiving. Enjoy!