Wednesday Reading List: Policy, Rhetoric, Rainbows, and Butterflies

Kate Zernicke is in the New York Times with a comprehensive look at Mike Pence's education record:

When Mr. Pence took office in 2013, Indiana was fresh off a two-year legislative session establising school vouchers and expanding charter schools. Mike Pence pushed harder ... Joy Pullmann, an education research fellow with the libertarian Heartland Institute who lives in Indiana, argued that Mr. Pence spent too much time managing political issues like pushing a state law that allowed businesses to cite religious exceptions in refusing to serve gays and lesbians. “I think it’s because he’s had his eye on the White House, not Indiana,” she said, adding, “His was really four years of lost opportunity.”

It's hard to see how the Republican party can make a plausible case for caring more about the lives of vulnerable kids when their most prominent national politicians wrap their education policies in both rhetoric and laws that marginalize people. Until the voting age in this country is lowered to ten-years-old, there won't be single-issue education voters, and even in that alternate reality, it's unclear that education would supersede other critical issues. You can't talk trash about people out of one side of your mouth, then suggest you have their best interests in mind out the other. Elsewhere in the Times, and on the other side of the aisle, Kevin Carey looks at the problem with Hillary Clinton's college affordability plan:

The problem boils down to the consequences of building higher education policy around a single price: $0. If that’s a given, Clinton will have to choose between an extremely expensive and grossly unfair policy that actually fulfills her highly publicized promise, or a more affordable and reasonable policy that leaves hundreds of thousands of students with more than $0 to pay. Asked for details about the plan, Clinton campaign officials suggested a kind of compromise: In the beginning, high-tuition states like Pennsylvania would get larger amounts of money. Then, over time, the “goal” would be for such states to invest more, so that grant amounts from the federal government would begin to converge with states that are already keeping tuition low or free. But this would still reward states that have historically done the least to make college affordable. And it can be very difficult to reduce public subsidies once they are put in place.

Clinton runs into the opposite problem, wherein her rhetoric is all rainbows and butterflies, the the plan is built on financial impracticalities. Lest we assume there's a false equivalence here, Clinton can - in fact, almost certainly, will - negotiate a more feasible cost structure in the course of actual governing and legislating. Pence and Trump can't put their hate back in the bag once elected.

In other college-going news, White House officials David Johns and Caitlyn James Homol share practical advice for institutions dealing with first generation college students. Support is critical:

Teachers and leaders within higher education must take an active role in supporting first-generation students to reach equitable outcomes in higher education, including increased numbers of students graduating on time, with degrees of value and records of high achievement. Eighty-two percent of non-first generation students enroll in college right after high school while only 52 percent of first-generation students do the same. Once enrolled, stress from making ends meet, social or emotional difficulties from being far from home and poor foundational skills in rigorous programs lead to increased drop-out rates.

It's easy to underestimate how alien the college experience is to a family that has never experienced the phenomenon. It also is important for non-Black people to understand the experience of being Black in America. The Chicago Tribune reprinted parts of a facebook essay that Naperville native Brian Crooks wrote:

In 8th grade, I went to a friend's house to jump on his trampoline. I didn't know the kid all that well, but we had some mutual friends and at that age, if a kid has a trampoline, you're going to jump on that trampoline. He had a couple of neighbors who were probably 6 or 7 year old girls. We're jumping on the trampoline and the girls come out of their house and come over into his yard. Within about 5 minutes, they were laughing while saying "Get off our property, Black boy." They were little, and they were laughing, so I don't think they knew how ugly they were being. After all, they'd probably never had a Black kid in their one or two elementary school classes. But they'd clearly heard that phrase somewhere else before. I wasn't even on their property; I was next door. But it's fair to assume that at some point, someone in their house had said "Get off my property, Black boy."

It's a stunning essay, full of anecdotes like these, interspersed with commentary. At every point in Crooks life, he can point to ways in which his race affected his interactions with the people ostensibly closest to him. In other words, it's not just a set of state institutions that uphold racism.

Finally, for something meta, here's the Columbia Journalism Review looking at the project of making education news accessible to a broader audience! They focus on Chalkbeat:

"... Parents and educators need new ways to get information about what’s working, what’s not, and what solutions may be available.” That’s an attitude that fits in well with Chalkbeat’s broader approach: local journalists, in cities around the country, reporting on strategies to improve schools and address inequity in education. Over the past few years, the nonprofit news outlet has won admirers and awards while attracting a solid base of financial support. Along the way, it has had to navigate the ethics of nonprofit funding, grapple with how to measure the impact of its reporting, and respond to critics. Now, as the outlet looks to expand, it faces the challenge of extending its reach beyond ed-world insiders—while also serving a niche community that can be sharply divided over the very issues Chalkbeat covers.

Education is a tricky issue to cover, in that it's more heavily local than just about any other policy domain, in an era when institutionalized local news coverage is all but dead. It will be interesting to see whether national outfits like Chalkbeat, which have specialization in an issue, but cover that issue in many different places, can replace the hyper-local institutions that covered multiple issues, but all in one place.