Tuesday Reading List: The Terrible Twos, Cash Bail, and Good News for Charters

Lillian Mongeau - in partnership with The Hechinger Report, Slate, and the Columbia Journalism School's Teachers Project - has a new series on the care of two-year-olds in the United States:

Parents dread the terrible twos, but what makes the year so tough for many families isn’t just tantrums in supermarket aisles or toilet-training disasters. It’s the difficulty of finding safe, high-quality child care in a country that offers parents limited choices of questionable quality and little guidance on how to make those choices. This neglect could have far-reaching consequences—research shows that a toddler’s daily environment can have a lasting effect on her brain structure for a lifetime.

The rest of the series looks at childcare, education, psychology, and the other aspects of terrible-two-dom. The United States BARELY considers the fate of three- and four-year-olds to be a public responsibility, so two-year-olds are on the edge of what our education, healthcare, and public welfare systems consider to be important for the health of the country. We should re-evaluate our fundamental responsibility to families and children, and Mongeau's series is a nice contribution to our understanding of why that reassessment is important.

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Speaking of reinventing public systems to make them more humane and responsive, the team at Blavity looks at new apps aimed at simplifying the cash bail system:

Cash bail happens before trial to ensure that defendants come to court to settle their charges, with the alternative being that they’re held in jail until the bail fee is addressed. Unfortunately, if they cannot afford the bail amount, this can force low-income people to miss work, lose time with their children and otherwise have their lives unfairly destabilized. A prime and heartbreaking example of this system at work is Kalief Browder, the young man from the Bronx who was held on Rikers Island in New York City for three years at only 16 years old for a crime he maintained he did not commit, simply because he couldn’t meet his $3,000 bail. Browder committed suicide in 2015 after his release.

The use of bail before trial is one of the most ridiculous components of our extremely unjust criminal justice system. There is a bubbling movement in New York to end cash bail, which would be a huge benefit to socioeconomically insecure communities. To put the numbers in perspective, more than half of the people incarcerated at Riker's Island are there because they can't afford bail, and not because they have been convicted of crimes.

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Finally today, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looks at the performance of charter schools in Chicago:

... a major study recently released by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research joins a growing body of research that moves beyond tests to judge charters. This analysis focuses on charter high schools in Chicago, which now educate over a fifth of Chicago high school students ... Attending a charter high school in Chicago led to substantial improvements in test scores, high school attendance, college enrollment, and college persistence. These effects were relatively big: charter students were in attendance about eight more days on average and scored a full point higher on the ACT (which is out of 36 points). They were nearly 20 percentage points more likely to enroll in a four-year college, and also much more likely to persist in college through four semesters.

It's great to see researchers looking beyond test scores to assess the quality of schools. Understanding college attendance and persistence requires difficult, longitudinal research, but those measures are much more robust than test scores alone. The student turnover data at charter schools is less flattering, but it's important to note that the study includes ALL students who enter a school in the ninth grade, meaning that if the student leaves the school - for any reason - his/her data is still included in the study. In other words: pushing students out cannot account for improvement on other measures.

Have a great week!