Thursday Reading List: Racial Earnings Gaps and Betsy DeVos's Infatuation With Terrible Policy

GIllian White of The Atlantic looks at racial earnings gaps in America:

In both 1979 and 2015, poor black Americans worked more hours than poor white Americans. The poorest black workers have increased their annual hours of work to 1,524, a gain of 22 percent from 1979, compared to the 1,445 hours and 17 percent gain of white workers, according to EPI. Unsurprisingly, in both groups, women had the largest gains when it comes to the number of hours worked, in part because more women entered the workforce. But low-wage black women in particular have seen the largest increase in the amount they work each year of any racial, gender, or income- group combination, logging 30 percent more time on the job since 1979. With the increased hours of labor and climbing education levels, it would stand to reason that black workers in 2015 were in a better economic position than they were in 1979—but that’s not really true. Black-white wage gaps are actually larger now than they were in 1979.

She continues:

The racial wealth gap has also widened since the Great Recession, according to Pew Research. In 2004, white families held about seven times as much wealth as black families; by 2013, that ratio had grown to 13. And economic downturns such as the Great Recession have long hit black families harder than white ones; the Economic Policy Institute observed similar effects after both the 2001 and 1990 recessions. Over time, these differences only grow ...

Read the whole article, as there are other stunning details like the ones above. To tie this back to education, this information is the reason that nobody should believe that improving educational outcomes alone will cure racial disparities. Institutional racism also is baked into the public and private systems that dominate the American workforce. People of color often get a great education, then work EVEN HARDER than their white counterparts, only to make less money and accrue less familial wealth. That's 👏🏻 not 👏🏻 okay.

In other news, Erica Green of The New York Times covers Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos's first major policy speech since her confirmation:

The Trump administration’s budget proposal includes $168 million in spending on charter schools and $250 million for providing families with vouchers to use at private schools ... Ms. DeVos offered no more details about how the new program would be structured, the size of individual vouchers or the families that would be eligible ... The administration’s plans have been derided by critics as potentially devastating for traditional public schools, which would lose students and money. The choice plan has especially drawn the ire of congressional Democrats, as well as Republicans who represent rural areas where alternatives to local schools are limited and where voters favor improvements to local public schools.

I've mentioned that last part before: while Republicans in Washington love the idea of vouchers, because of their ideological commitment to the free market, the idea is WAY less popular among rank-and-file party officials, particularly those from communities where the school district is not just the only school option, but also tends to be the biggest employer.

Sarah Darville of Chalkbeat has more on the DeVos address, which she delivered at The Brookings Institution yesterday:

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos isn’t concerned that a push for more school choice could inadvertently harm America’s schools, she said Wednesday — because she believes the nation’s achievement is already too abysmal for that to be possible ... The comments reveal an unflinchingly negative guiding premise for the nation’s top education official: With nowhere to go but up, any disruption of the current system is, by definition, going in the right direction. (She pushed that idea further by invoking the fight between Uber and taxi companies as a parallel for the push for school choice.)

Madison Gray, writing at Education Post, had something to say about that particular analogy:

... the argument that data transparency, like Uber reviews and ratings, is enough to hold schools, districts and states accountable is laughable. Not only does it shift the burden of action entirely on parents and the public to interpret the data, it also doesn’t repair the underlying issues with the institution itself. There’s no app that apologizes for your 1-star-rating and then just voluntarily offers you a different school to make up for your bad experience. This transparency is just not sufficient enough to ensure minimal student outcomes and protections for vulnerable students who may have disabilities, are learning English or are from low-income families and/or minority backgrounds.

Vouchers are just a bad policy idea. I have a number of colleagues who support them, because they provide a safety valve for families who have no other option besides persistently struggling traditional public schools. That safety valve, though, is an illusion. Students who use vouchers usually attend schools that are as weak, if not worse, than their neighborhood schools. Couple that data with the fact that private schools that receive vouchers are not accountable to the public, and you have a recipe for the worst policy idea of all time.

Have a great day!