Thursday Reading List: Back to School and Pre-K, Pre-K Everywhere!

Lots of children, families, and teachers are heading back to school this week, and Quibila Divine has a short list of advice for everyone in the system, including parents:

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) mandates the active engagement and consultation of families in district and state education plans.  Title I funds can be used to educate families about their right to offer input about the creation of state report cards, provide professional development about understanding data and/or offer creative ways to help families reinforce learning at home.  Since many state waivers expire (or are expiring in 2016), families should pay particular attention to the states’ focus areas and progress on developing and implementing a plan that will be sent to the US Department of Education.

It's hard to marry the technical, and sometimes opaque, nature of federal law with the needs of families, but this advice is a good start. There's huge information asymmetry in schooling, and initiatives like the ones Divine suggests could help parents better navigate complex systems and conversations.

Speaking of systemic complexity, the state of Connecticut has been embroiled in a years-long lawsuit about school funding, which came to a head yesterday. Here's Elizabeth Harris reporting in the New York Times:

Reading his ruling from the bench for more than two hours, Judge Thomas Moukawsher of State Superior Court in Hartford said that “Connecticut is defaulting on its constitutional duty” to give all children an adequate education ... What separates the decision from those in dozens of similar suits around the country is that rather than addressing money only, it requires the state to rethink nearly every major aspect of its system ... William S. Koski, a professor of law and education at Stanford University, called the scope of the ruling “highly unusual.” “Most of these school finance lawsuits are about numbers, and about whether adequate funding is being provided for whatever learning outcomes the court establishes,” he said. “Really, it’s typically about the money.” As for the Connecticut ruling, he said, “I would call it a school reform decision rather than a school funding decision.”

The judge threw the case to the attorney general of the state, who has six months to deliver a remedy plan. I'm a big believer in equalizing funding, and I'm also a fan of requiring reforms when new money flows into a struggling system, so my gut reaction is to be excited about this. The devil, of course, will be in the details, and we'd be foolish to think that a single ruling will expunge the politics from the issue. There are lots of wealthy towns that will continue to cling to their privilege.

Zack Linly has a piece in the Washington Post expressing his exhaustion about talking to White people about race. There's a little guidance at the end for White folks:

The fact is, we can fight systemic racism without white validation. We can continue shutting down bridges and highways every time there’s a new Alton Sterling, Philando Castile or Korryn Gaines in the news and let white folks complain about the intrusion on their lives ... And likewise, white people who truly want to be allies can find their path to ally-ship without black validation and without us having to take time out of our days to educate them. They can find their own curriculum and figure out for themselves how they can do their part in fighting the good fight. And they can do it without the promise of black praise. And, I’m not about to keep checking to see if they’re doing that much. Because it’s not my job – and it’s not yours, either.

The whole piece is great, and his premise jives with everything I've heard from leaders of color in the last couple of years. White folks who want to do "the work" need to focus on intransigents in the White community.

Shifting our gaze to early childhood, Dana Goldstein turns in a deeply reported piece in The Atlantic about Mayor Bill de Blasio's "Pre-K Crusade," which she construes as a proxy battle over the nature and size of government itself:

In 2016 there is one central debate, between the left and center-left, about the role of government in America. Can the widening gap in opportunity and life outcomes between the rich and the poor be closed using the dominant policy tools of the last 30 years: tax credits that are supposed to encourage minimum-wage work, and stigmatized, underfunded social programs that serve only the poorest of the poor, like Medicaid, food stamps, and Head Start, the federal preschool program? Or, does the country need to return to an older, and until very recently, largely unpopular idea: taxing the rich to create big, new government entitlements, like pre-k, free college, or single-payer health care—entitlements available to everyone, including the affluent who currently have little trouble procuring such services on the private market? ... There are few places in the United States to look for big, new experiments in universal government entitlements. One of them is New York City under de Blasio.

The program added thousands of seats in the last two years, and there is evidence that the quality has not suffered from the speed of implementation. The big question, which remains unanswered, is whether or not there is a way to provide sustainable access to public services for poor families without simultaneously offering new entitlements to middle- and upper-class families who may or may not need those entitlements. It's a political question, sure, but education policy doesn't exist in a frictionless environment where politics don't exist, no matter how much some educators and reformers wish that were the case.

Elsewhere in The Atlantic, Lillian Mongeau looks at the Clinton campaign's promise of universal early childhood education, and how the expansion of pre-K has always been wound up in other issues:

For the working class and those living in poverty, the economics are even tougher. Such families spend up to 36 percent of their income on child care because there is not enough subsidized care. And not enough of what is available at the lower end of the price scale is high quality. As highlighted in the opening story of this series, the chance of a parent without a high-school diploma finding a high-quality child-care setting they can afford is one in 10, according to Steven Barnett, director of the National Institute for Early Education Research, a think tank. And most of the best public systems, like Boston’s school-based preschool program, are not available during the evening and weekend hours when many lower income workers are working. The one federal program for young children living in poverty, Head Start, helps prepare children for kindergarten, but is too small to serve every child eligible to participate. 

Even the most ambitious of the pre-K plans currently on the political table would leave the United States behind other countries with more developed systems for early childhood, childcare, and family leave. One piece of subtext in both Goldstein's argument about middle-class families, and Mongeau's piece about working families, is the transfer of responsibility for childcare from the family to the state, as more and more families depend on the financial contributions of multiple parents to thrive.