Tuesday Reading List: Supporting Off-Track Students and State Policy in the Trump Age

Emily DeRuy at The Atlantic examines a program in Washington DC, which is designed to help students who are struggling to complete high school:

...in a move that mirrors a broader national conversation about how to help kids who have more than a few obstacles in front of them succeed, the district this year put what it’s calling “pathway coordinators” into its schools to make sure kids at risk of dropping out get a diploma—and to help students who’ve gotten off track rebound. Through a mixture of number-crunching, mentoring, and occasionally good-natured cajoling, these pathways coordinators track how students are doing and help those who are behind come up with plans for moving forward. Right now, the district has about 1,300 students it categorizes as overage and under-credited, meaning students who are under the age of 24 and more than two years behind. The ultimate goal is to get as many kids as possible through high school in four years and to help even those who need a little longer earn a diploma and move into either higher education or the workforce.

The program is a mix of rigorous data collection and personalized attention. It's a significant expense for the city, but as DeRuy points out, the up-front investment in off-track students is a smart one. Adults without a high school education struggle to contribute to the broader economy and community. That's part of the reason why we, you know, have public schools in the first place.

Christina Veiga, writing in Chalkbeat, follows two New York City parents who want more integration in their children's schools:

Robin Broshi and Shino Tanikawa, both members of the District 2 Community Education Council, point to the middle schools in their district, which includes lower Manhattan, Chinatown and the Upper East Side. Most middle schools there are unzoned and supposed to be open to everyone. But with a highly selective application process, many of the schools end up divided academically — and by race and class. Broshi and Tanikawa are determined to change that, but first they’ll have to convince their peers that academically integrated schools work for everyone — even students who are already high-achievers ... Their effort is rooted in an understanding of how race and class impact student achievement, and how using test scores and report cards in admissions decisions can shut vulnerable students out.

If we're going to have greater class, race, and academic integration in public schools, it will only happen through both policy, and deep, local personal work, like this. Neither will be sufficient alone. Perhaps most importantly, more privileged parents will have to give up the idea that their children deserve more from the system because of the privilege they have.

In other news, Arianna Prothero and Corey Mitchell of Education Week look at state education policy after the appointment of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education:

As the Trump administration appears poised to make school choice the centerpiece of its education agenda, Republican-led legislatures in Arkansas, Arizona, Kentucky, Missouri, Texas, and elsewhere are rolling out charter school and voucher bills in what could be a more receptive environment. U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos—now the nation's most visible school choice advocate—takes the helm at a time when Republicans control the governor's house or the state legislature in 44 states and have full control of the executive and legislative branches in 25 states. That GOP dominance of state-level politics could set the stage for a nationwide shift on school choice legislation, even more so than DeVos' confirmation, said Kenneth Wong, an education policy and politics professor at Brown University, in Providence, R.I. "When you combine the federal leadership change with the shift in state leadership, we will be seeing a growth and expansion of state involvement in school choice issues," Wong predicted.

The big question is whether the federal government is going to do anything to accelerate this work, like providing federal funding for choice. It's also possible that the feds could issue policies make it easier for states to bypass local governments to advance their school choice schemes ... but that would trample on the principles of local control that are so important to conservatives ... right?

Finally, in honor of Black History Month, Vesia Wilson-Hawkins honors the teachers who supported her:

I was a solid “C” student, doing just enough to stay in school as the building was my refuge. For six hours a day I didn’t have to be home, and I did the bare minimum in order to maintain this arrangement. So, while my peers were doing things like preparing for the ACT, visiting colleges and working on their hope chests, I was content to think no further than the next day. There were a couple of teachers who looked beyond my aimlessness and lack of motivation, and instead saw a sliver of potential. Mrs. Williams and Ms. Evelyn, both Black, seemed to have organized in a fit of urgency to save me prior to graduation. Both invited me to their homes—no doubt to illustrate to me my potential—and offered to pay me to do odds and ends for them. The work never seemed to match the money. I know now they were introducing me to another way of life and taking me out of the life to which I was accustomed. I’m forever grateful for these two fighting on my behalf.

It's a beautiful story with which to start your day!