Tuesday Reading List: Tech in the Bronx, Higher Education Woes, and the Security State in Schools

Hannah Bloch at The Wall Street Journal takes a look at a tech incubator in the Bronx, run by Jerelyn Rodriguez:

In 2014, [Rodriguez] co-founded and became CEO of the Knowledge House, a nonprofit that provides training in technological skills—including coding, Web design and basic digital fluency—and an introduction to tech entrepreneurship to young people aged 16 to 24. Students are trained in software development and can learn programming and markup languages including HTML, Python and JavaScript. The group targets local high-school students and unemployed or out-of-school young adults who otherwise wouldn’t have easy access to IT training. Students are admitted through an application and interview process. Partners such as the boutique engineering consultancy Hackerati offer seminars, classes and career mentoring.

If Rodriguez sounds familiar, that's because she and I did a two part interview about The Knowledge House last year. Ventures like this are critical, because there is a demand for programs that can offer concrete skills and opportunities for youth. Neither the K-12 system, nor higher education institutions, are doing enough. For example, as Catherine Gewertz outlines in Ed Week, dual-enrollment programs often over-promise and under-deliver:

The dual-enrollment movement is having growing pains, as issues with credit transfer arise alongside its well-documented benefits. A lot is at stake for the students who invest time, hard work, hope, and in many cases, money, in the courses they're told will produce college credit. About 1.9 million students—11.4 percent of the secondary school population—were taking some form of dual-enrollment course in 2010-11, the most recent federal data show, up from 1.2 million in 2002-03 ... Even the staunchest advocates of dual enrollment, however, are concerned about the potential fallout of its rapid expansion, such as difficulty transferring credit ... "Accumulating credits that ultimately don't transfer or apply to a major can put students at risk to drop out" or use up their lifetime maximum of Pell grants, [Columbia University administrator Melinda] Karp said.

Too many students arrive at college unprepared for the rigors of higher education. Dual-enrollment is not only supposed to prepare them for those rigors, but also should alleviate the financial burden of acquiring that college education. It seems that both promises are tenuous.

Georgette Pierre, writing at Blavity, provides a first person account of how to prepare for the financial rigors of both undergraduate, and graduate, higher education:

Although you’re presumed to know the basics in financial management coming out of high school, I wish there was more emphasis on that coming into your first two years of college ... Knowing the difference between a fixed rate and a variable on a simple loan was a major key. Although finances were a major lesson I felt was missing, I also would have loved to see conversations around community building, transitioning from an HBCU (historically black college or university) to a PWI (predominantly white institution), transitioning to the “real world” after graduating from an HBCU, and how important networking was to your net worth. I, for example, learned about doing informational interviews way after grad school.

Pierre provides more detail on navigating the student loan process, and her take is an important reminder that transitioning from college to the workforce requires a combination of academic, financial, and networking skills.

Staying in academia isn't necessarily an easier choice than entering the workforce, particularly for students of color. Matt Krupnick at The Hechniger Report looks at racial representation in institutes of higher education:

Only 6.4 percent of U.S. citizen or permanent resident research doctoral recipients in 2014 were black and 6.5 percent were Hispanic, according to the National Science Foundation. That’s the most recent year for which the doctoral recipient figures are available, and a much smaller proportion of both groups than their shares of the American population, which were 13.3 percent and 17.6 percent, respectively ... And even those minorities completing their doctorates aren’t getting hired by some top colleges and universities as easily as their white counterparts. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, added 539 instructional staff members in 2014, more than any other higher-education institution. But only seven of those hires, or 1.3 percent, were black, according to federal Department of Education data. Sixteen — or 2.9 percent of the total — were Hispanic.

Universities, of all institutions, should understand the necessity of attracting candidates from different backgrounds and perspectives. More often than not, however, university departments seek likeminded candidates whose areas of research intersect with existing academic interests ... and we know how THAT goes.

Finally, Melinda A. Anderson, writing in The Atlantic, looks at the disproportionate use of security equipment in schools serving large numbers of children of color:

In the first empirical analysis of its kind, [University of Florida law professor Jason] Nance gained authorization to access a restricted database from the U.S. Department of Education—the School Survey on Crime and Safety conducted in 2009-10 and 2013-14—to examine school security methods pre- and post- the Newtown school massacre. He found a clear and consistent pattern, even after controlling for a host of variables that might explain the presence of stricter student surveillance ... “After controlling for all those things, I still found that the concentration of students of color was a predictor of whether or not schools decided to rely on more intense [security] measures,” said Nance, referring to black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American children. “I questioned why that was [and] it seemed like race was playing a factor in these decisions.”

The presence of metal detectors and other overt displays of surveillance send an immediate - and negative - impression to children. Unfortunately, law enforcement officials conflate the presence of these machines with greater security, while research suggests no correlation. What does happen as the security apparatus increases, however, is that students feel less safe and trusting of their academic environments, which is the opposite of what we should be trying to achieve. Food for thought ...