Wednesday Reading List: Pre-K, Civil Rights, Demographics, and Disappointment

The United States Department of Education shared a trove of data related to Civil Rights earlier this month. Researchers and journalists subsequently jumped for joy.

Live footage of America's education researchers.

Live footage of America's education researchers.

Then they saw the data and realized that the numbers revealed a bunch of uncomfortable truths.

BREAKING: the data sinks in.

BREAKING: the data sinks in.

For example, NPR pulled out some of the most stunning statistics, including this one:

Black preschoolers are 3.6 times more likely to be suspended than white preschoolers.

You read that correctly. PRESCHOOLERS. Black students are more likely to be suspended at every grade level, which is unjust no matter the age of the student. For the record, preschoolers are three- or four-years-old, which is a whole new level of absurd. That said, there are a lot of challenges with early childhood education, including the compensation for providers, which Emily Deruy looked at in The Atlantic:

Whitebook’s research suggests that when wages are better, particularly for childcare providers who have invested in a college degree , the quality of the teachers increases, turnover decreases, and, most importantly, the quality of care and education that kids receive goes up. Yet, as the report outlines, only a slight majority of caregivers and teachers in center-based settings and not quite a third in home-based settings have an associate’s degree or more. “You can’t separate the preparation, the reward, and the support of the workforce from the quality of care that children receive,” she said. “They’re inseparable.” Right now, what teachers earn has little to do with their qualifications and a lot to do with where they work and how old the children are, so there’s little incentive to pursue higher education and those who do often leave the field for something more lucrative.

This seems like a textbook chicken/egg issue: we can't improve the quality and compensation until we elevate the prestige of the profession, but we can't elevate the prestige until we increase pay. Still, Deruy suggests that there's political consensus about the value of early childhood:

The expansion of preschool is one of the few topics where both Republicans and Democrats in Congress find common ground; while lawmakers don’t always agree on how programs should be funded or structured, the belief that good early-childhood education can help prevent later gaps in test scores and graduation rates from emerging between poor and well-off children is widely shared.

This is an expansive, and perhaps unhelpful, deployment of the term "common ground." For example, lawmakers also have "common ground" about the idea that mass homicide events are bad, but there's only one political party that wants to do anything about it ...

While we're on the topic of data, Peter Cunningham wants the country to grapple with the reality of public school demographics:

In addition to being over 50 percent people of color, the system is also 50 percent “poor” for the first time in history, with “poor” defined as qualifying for free and reduced lunch. So what are the political and educational consequences of a system that is Blacker, browner and poorer? Will middle-class America adequately fund the system or will inequity worsen? Today, America spends about $1,500 less per pupil on poor students than on wealthier ones and about $2,000 less per pupil on poor students who are Black or Hispanic.

This is an existential question for public schooling in the next generation. I know Californians who speculate that the decline in public support for funding education in that state was a direct consequence of the increase in the proportion of nonwhite students in schools. Anything is possible in a country with a history of racial injustice like ours has:

More than a century after Georgetown University used some of the profits from the sale of 272 enslaved African-Americans to help ensure its survival, John J. DeGioia, the university’s president, took a first step on Monday toward making amends to their descendants ... More than a dozen universities have recognized their ties to slavery and the slave trade. But historians say they believe this is the first time that the president of an elite university has met with the descendants of slaves who had labored on a college campus or were sold to benefit one.

The lingering effects of slavery are anything but abstract, and a century encompasses only a few generations. There are families and institutions in this country that still benefit from the downstream financial effects of slavery, and needless to say, there are families that remain uncompensated for having been enslaved, not to mention the century of housing discrimination and legal racism that followed.

Finally, Betheny Gross and Ashley Jochim have a piece in Education Next examining the reform agenda of the Baltimore schools. The report looks at disappointing results achieved after trying to decentralize authority to principals in the system. I'm not surprised that the reforms didn't stick, because autonomy is hard to protect without statutory protections and/or legally enforceable contractual arrangements, which Baltimore did not use. That said, this tidbit jumped out at me:

... a landmark 2010 contract with the Baltimore Teachers Union, signed with reform-oriented intentions, actually undermined principals’ autonomy over staffing. The agreement sought to reward top-performing teachers with more pay, replacing the traditional “step and lane” system of pay increases based on seniority and levels of education. While principal input is one factor in a performance evaluation system, the contract also included provisions that enabled teachers to rapidly earn advancement and increased pay through professional activities, including completing college courses and professional development programs. As one district observer told us: "I think the teacher contract between the district and the union has just gutted any autonomy or authority principals have. I mean you have teachers getting promotions with very little input from principals. You can easily have a mediocre teacher go through the model teacher process and get a $30,000 raise . . . We need to re-establish the principal’s position as a position of real authority."

While it's easy to lump all "reforms" together, we shouldn't pretend that each significant change is inevitably reinforces with all of the others. In this case, it seems that compensation reform, because of its top-down nature, compromised decentralization. One could make a similar argument about the fact that implementing the Common Core was more politically challenging because states tried to implement new high-stakes teacher evaluation systems at the same time ...

(Things that make you go "hmm" ...)

(Things that make you go "hmm" ...)