Thursday Reading List: Making it Rain for High School Design and the Changing Face of Higher Ed

The big education news yesterday was the first round of grants from the XQ Institute. Ten planning groups across the country received a total of $100MM to create innovative high school designs. Elizabeth Harris of The New York Times has the story:

Ms. Powell Jobs, chairwoman of the XQ Institute’s board of directors, was the wife of Steven P. Jobs, the Apple co-founder who died five years ago next month. The Super School Project was announced a year ago by the Emerson Collective, the organization Ms. Powell Jobs uses to make philanthropic investments. The goal was to offer $50 million to schools that offered new approaches to education. Ms. Ali said American high schools had “stayed the same for 100 years” and were badly in need of new ideas and paradigms. Ms. Ali said the organization received far more applications than it expected, so it decided to give more $10 million prizes. The winners are a mix of charter and district public schools, in small towns and large cities. Most of them are new, but some are existing schools that are being reimagined.

Alexander Russo has a great roundup of stories about all of the winners. I'm sure the names Annenberg and Zuckerberg haunt Jobs as she makes these gifts, though, as there is an unfortunate history of huge sums of private money leading to only marginal changes in public schooling. Good ideas in schooling are only as good as A) the quality of execution behind them, and B) a policy environment that doesn't strangle good ideas with superfluous regulations. I hope the XQ Institute has a way to account for both.

Speaking of regulatory environments, Daarel Burnette II at Education Week recommends that we pay less attention to Congress, and more to state legislatures, as the new federal education law is implemented:

Aside from school finance, teacher pay, and transgender students' access to bathrooms, education policy has mostly stayed out of the fray of this year's topsy-turvy election cycle. But, among education scholars, advocates, and lobbyists, it's no secret that state elections this year matter greatly. "It all looks huge for those of us who spend all of our time on it," said Frederick M. Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and an opinion blogger for Education Week ... There are telltale signs that the volatility of education politics could crest in the coming years. Legislators not running for office have in recent months bombarded the National Conference of State Legislatures with technical, in-the-weeds questions about ESSA, assessments, and accountability systems and have requested NCSL's handful of education experts to fly out to state capitals to testify during off-season committee hearings.

Uh oh.

Live footage of state legislators coming back from recess to discuss education policy.

Live footage of state legislators coming back from recess to discuss education policy.

Read the whole piece, because Burnette does a nice job of sorting out the issues that get lots of public attention - charter schools, standards, teacher pay - from broader issues of spending and the separation of powers between the state and federal government that are ultimately just as, if not more, consequential.

Florentina Staigers, an attorney in New Orleans, wants to bring the energy of protest into that policymaking process:

... the policymaking process is set up so that only the elite–those with stable working hours, digital literacy, Internet access, and high education levels—can attend ... Many of the Board’s committee meetings are held during the day, when it is not possible for many employees to take off work ... I often feel disconnected, caught-off guard, and frustrated by all of the coded legal jargon used and the process as a whole. And I’m not your average advocate or resident, I’m an attorney with years of experience in policy.  So I can only imagine how someone without a background in law might feel trying to navigate this field. I rarely see community members or even organizational leaders at these policy meetings, and when I do, it’s the same ones, those who have developed an expertise and understand what’s going on.

The disconnects articulated by Staigers are real, and they permeate the system from top to bottom. Even small numbers of vocal citizens can have a dramatic effect on the outcome of a hearing, so she's right to push for more civic engagement in the weeds of policy.

One area of policy that badly needs an update is the treatment of formerly incarcerated people in hiring and admissions processes. Juleyka Antigua-Williams has a story in The Atlantic about New York colleges that want to change this:

The trustees of the State University of New York voted on Wednesday to completely remove long-standing questions about past felony convictions from its general application starting with the fall 2018 admissions cycle, a decision that could have ripple effects across academia. The change affects 64 colleges in the statewide system that enrolls 442,000 students each year and received 310,000 applications for the 2015 academic year. "This is a historic moment because SUNY is the first university system in the country to reverse its decision to screen for criminal history and remove the question from its admissions application,” said Emily NaPier, the director of justice strategies at Center for Community Alternatives ...

In a country where recidivism is a huge problem, denying people with felony convictions access to opportunity further encourages engagement in risky activities. SUNY's leadership is huge here, and I hope more universities and employers follow suit.

In other higher education news, Timothy Pratt at The Hechinger Report looks at how some liberal arts college are changing their outreach practices:

The proportion of students in kindergarten through 12th grade nationwide that is Hispanic has increased to 25 percent from 19 percent since 2003, while the black, non-Hispanic population has dropped to 16 percent, and the white, non-Hispanic population, to 50 percent from 59 percent. By 2060, more kindergarten-through-high school students will be Hispanic than any other race or ethnicity — 38 percent —while the proportion that is white drops to a third, based on U.S. Census figures cited in a University of Texas, San Antonio study. The result: “The survival of small, liberal arts colleges is predicated on widening outreach to the Hispanic population,” said Deborah Santiago, co-founder and vice president for policy at Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization focusing on Hispanics.

Pratt notes that this trend is most pronounced in Appalachia, and he looks at the challenges of both recruiting and retaining a group of kids who often are the first in their families to go to American schools at all, let alone colleges. The critical point here is that, even though this is a noble cause, the colleges are being pushed to do this by self-interest and -preservation. It's important to look for these areas where institutional imperatives intersect with social justice goals.

Finally, in case you missed it, check out my review of Richard Whitmire's new book - The Founders - over at Education Post. Have a great day!