Wednesday Reading List: The School Choices of the Privileged, Career Education, and Rising Ethnic Nationalism

Patrick Wall, writing in The Atlantic, looks at the school choices of the wealthy:

The main way well-off families choose schools is by choosing where to live. Increasingly, they’re settling in districts where most children look like theirs ... Students in some of the richest districts score four grade levels above their peers in the poorest districts, [Stanford Professor Sean] Reardon found. Even within diverse districts, rich and poor students—which often also means white and nonwhite students—are frequently sorted into separate schools. In their analysis of large districts, Owens, Reardon, and Jencks found that segregation between poor and non-poor students in public schools grew more than 40 percent from 1991 to 2012. Rising residential segregation by income has fueled that growth, as most children attend their local public school.

Wall outlines the modest ways in which New York City has tried to curb this segregation by wealth, but the city's - and the country's - schools remain stubbornly divided. While Wall may be  too optimistic about the potential for selflessness among better-off families, he's right to focus on their school choices. De facto segregation is a consequence of the choices of the privileged.

In related news, Christina Veiga of Chalkbeat looks at the city's plan to expand universal pre-K to three-year-olds:

The latest initiative will take a while to reach every 3-year-old in the city. The city plans to fund eight districts on its own by 2021, but also wants to raise enough outside funding to make it universal by that time. Once fully rolled out, the city expects to serve 62,000 children in 3-K at a cost of more than $1 billion — though de Blasio called that price tag “an early estimate.” The city expects to contribute $177 million, on top of $200 million already being spent by the Administration for Children’s Services. The remaining $700 million would come from state and federal sources. Over the past two years, the city has enrolled at least 50,000 additional students in pre-K programs for 4-year-olds, bringing the total to more than 70,000. Still, research has shown the city’s program is highly segregated — a reality schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña has described as a product of parent choice.

First of all, universal early childhood education is a step in the right direction, as a rich pre-K experience seems to have profound effects on literacy. That said, I'm troubled by the segregated nature of the program, and particularly the city's hapless response to that fact. The addition of pre-K is probably the largest expansion of public services in the city since high school became compulsory in the last century, and acquiescing to de facto segregation further entrenches racial and socioeconomic segregation in this public system.  "Parent choice" isn't a new phenomenon, as the decisions of wealthier families are the exact reason that northern schools became de facto segregated during the 20th century. The mayor and chancellor should know this, but they're just shrugging like, "The privileged gonna privilege."

Moving south, Nichole Dobo of The Hechinger Report looks at a new career program in Tennessee:

This student flourished at the Mechatronics Akademie, a modern iteration of career and technical education for high school students. Created through a partnership between the local department of education, the Volkswagen Chattanooga factory and Chattanooga State Community College, it uses online and in-person instruction in an out-of-school setting to prepare students who might not pursue higher education after high school. But this isn’t the easy way out. The students are tackling tough courses, such as advanced math, and classes that qualify them for college credits and job certifications.

When it comes to these sorts of programs, my big questions are twofold. First, do the skills and certifications acquired lead to real jobs with good wages and benefits? "Living wages" aren't enough. Second, are the skills and credits sufficiently transferable, such that the students who participate have some immunity from economic shifts and market vicissitudes. Being ready for a job is great, but being ready for just that job can be economically fatal to individuals and a community. See also: coal.

Finally today, David Leonhardt of The New York Times puts the domestic surge in ethnic nationalism in an international context:

Too many people — well-meaning people on both the left and right — have grown complacent about nationalist bigotry. They are erring on the side of putting other priorities first, and ethnic nationalism is benefiting. Let’s start on the political left. And, no, I’m not about to lapse into false equivalence. Ethnic nationalism is largely a force of the right. But the left needs to decide how to respond, and it hasn’t been effective enough so far. It has underestimated the threat and put smaller matters ahead of larger ones. After France’s first round of voting, the leftist candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon refused to endorse the last person who can prevent [far right ethnic nationalist candidate Marine] Le Pen from becoming president, Emmanuel Macron. A Le Pen presidency, to be clear, would likely tear Europe asunder, marginalize French citizens who hail from Africa and the Middle East and lead to a big expansion of security forces. It would be the biggest victory for Europe’s far right since World War II, by far.

Leonhardt's argument is likely to annoy some people, and that's why it's worth reading. Some of us - whether due to our race, ethnicity, religion, or gender - are uniquely attuned to the risks inherent in the rise of ethnic nationalism. Those risks are much more severe than those that come with empowering deal-making centrists. Have a great day ...