Tuesday Reading List: City Struggles and Higher Education Missteps

On his great blog about Philadelphia schools, Sharif El-Mekki takes a look at how the city wants to use a soda tax to raise additional education funds:

What was interesting was that our newly elected mayor was proposing the very tax that he vigorously opposed as a city councilman when the previous mayor attempted to secure additional funding. This time, like the last time, the opposition was largely funded by big soda companies ... I am also concerned because Philly continues to add more funding to our schools (a great thing for sure). However, the state apparently looks at our city doing more and becomes determined to do less. A soda tax to address our students’ educational needs does not absolve the Pennsylvania legislature from fairly funding our students’ education.

The city of Philadelphia is locked in a perpetual struggle with Harrisburg, the state capitol, over school funding. The state has never figured out how to equitably fund its schools, and while there's something admirable about the city taking matters into its own hands, El-Mekki is right to worry about letting the state off the hook. Chicago also has perpetual school funding problems, and on top of that, a massive issue with gun violence. Dustin Seibert at The Root examines the factors feeding the violence, including residential segregation:

Chicago is probably the single most segregated city I’ve ever touched, and certainly the most segregated of the largest cities in the country ... The South and West sides of the city are largely black enclaves; most of the neighborhoods within them suffer from poverty and economic blight, resulting in the by-products of lackluster public services, poor schools, food deserts and any other hood-based ailment you can think of. They’re also great breeding grounds for drug and gang activity ... In contrast, the residents of largely white, upper-class neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and the Gold Coast may as well be on another side of the country. Gang drama and gun violence almost never occur on the streets outside of their million-dollar condos, and they have no reason to even step foot in troubled neighborhoods.

Just as separation breeds complacency when it comes to weak schooling, so does segregation fuel lackluster responses to gun violence. Seibert points to three other factors - access to guns, a lack of leadership, and the destruction of housing projects - but residential segregation seems to be a common factor linked to violence, school quality, economic opportunity, and a host of other issues. LaVita Tuff at Blavity looked at how a group of young men took proactive steps to avoid violence during their summer in Georgia:

Dylik, Dennis, Deion and Jalen ages 13 and 14 took their request for a job to Zsa Zsa Heard, head of the LaGrange Housing Authority. Heard was surprised by their interest in finding work. This wasn’t their first time asking. They also inquired during their Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks. Heard didn’t understand at first why they would request jobs on their break. This time around, she asked them why and their response shocked her. They informed her that they wanted to stay away from gangs who continuously approached them. Heard hired them on the spot.

Most big cities run summer jobs programs, not just to provide economic opportunity for youth, but also to keep idle hands busy. Former United States education secretary Arne Duncan is working on an initiative in Chicago to employ youth at a large scale.

Just a baby penguin off to a busy day at the office.

Just a baby penguin off to a busy day at the office.

In other news, Emily DeRuy has a long piece in The Atlantic examining the complicated process of diversifying college curricula:

Proponents say that asking students to acknowledge and discuss ideas and concepts through a variety of lenses with classmates from different backgrounds is every bit as important in an increasingly global society as drilling the fundamentals of essay-writing into young minds. But the idea is predictably controversial, with critics saying the requirements are a left-leaning affront to academic freedom. And even professors who are generally supportive of incorporating conversations about diversity into their teaching sometimes say they don’t know where to begin; lots of schools like to talk about diversity, but it’s a nebulous if nice-sounding word, and schools that espouse the broad concept sometimes fail to define exactly what they mean or expect when they tell professors to weave it into their work ... Diversity curriculum is sometimes championed more by faculty who care to develop it—often people of color who have had personal experiences with discrimination on college campuses—and less by university administrators. And while universities are often willing to pay lip service to the efforts, they’re not always prepared to empower the people behind them.

I've said this before, but we're going to get this wrong as long as we continue to view "diversity" as a "nice to have" or an "add on." The history, literature, perspectives, and contributions of people who are not White men have been underrepresented in the academy for centuries, and a single class or seminar on "diversity" will not change that, and in fact, could make the problem worse. Universities need to cultivate rigorous conversations about the impact of race on American culture, and schools - starting in the K-12 system - need to expose children to a wider range of cultural and academic perspectives.

Elsewhere in higher education, Javier Hernández is in the New York Times examining why Chinese students excel in critical thinking, but only until they get to college:

The study, to be published next year, found that Chinese freshmen in computer science and engineering programs began college with critical thinking skills about two to three years ahead of their peers in the United States and Russia. Those skills included the ability to identify assumptions, test hypotheses and draw relationships between variables. Yet Chinese students showed virtually no improvement in critical thinking after two years of college, even as their American and Russian counterparts made significant strides, according to the study ... The government has built hundreds of universities in recent years to meet soaring demand for higher education, which many families consider a pathway into the growing middle class ... But many universities, mired in bureaucracy and lax academic standards, have struggled. Students say the energetic and demanding teaching they are accustomed to in primary and secondary schools all but disappears when they reach college.

Bureaucracy, lax standards, and uneven teaching quality. Where have I heard that one before?

Finally, Emmanuel Felton at the Hechinger Report interviewed American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten at the Democratic National Convention. Here's Weingarten on Clinton's K-12 agenda:

She’s actually done four major speeches on K-12 education. It hasn’t been covered. I think it’s because it’s not controversial because it’s rooted in the evidence of what works for kids. She calls it TLC: teaching, learning and community. It’s about how do we ensure we have a great teaching force, and how do we nurture them and how do we lift them up? How do we have high standards, but also make sure we meet the needs of individual kids, including kids with special needs and kids who are limited English proficient?

The devil, of course, is in the details. This is a catch phrase, not a plan. Have a great day!