Thursday Reading List: Multiage Classrooms, Religious Vouchers, Student Loans, & Casual Racism

Stuart Miller is in The Atlantic, examining the efficacy of the multiage classroom:

Multiage education is not a return to the one-room schoolhouse of yore, in which students of all ages learned different subjects in one space. Instead, students from (typically) two grades learn together in an environment that, advocates say, encourages cooperation and mentoring while allowing struggling students enough time to master material ... Today, multiage classrooms remain an anomaly in America. Little research is being done on them in elementary schools—and the results are inconclusive—while virtually no research has ever investigated the effects of  multiage classrooms in middle and high schools, likely because so few exist ... Yet multiage advocates say the traditional approach of dividing students into single grades based on an arbitrary birth-date range is illogical.

The model is compelling, and it's the sort of approach that requires flexibility in staffing, scheduling, budgeting, and academic programming. It's no surprise, then, to see this model gaining traction in independent schools and public charter schools, where innovation faces fewer barrier. While this approach might not work for everybody, I have a little secret: NOTHING in education works for EVERYBODY!

Ok, I'll chill, but the point stands. Finding a single educational approach that works for every student at all times should not be the objective of public policy, because that will never happen.

Dylan Peers McCoy of Chalkbeat looks at the religious makeup of schools accepting vouchers in Indiana:

Voucher advocates, including current U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, say they want families to be able to choose from a diverse marketplace of schools. But Indiana’s complicated school choice system offers little incentive for secular schools to take vouchers — leaving largely religious Christian schools benefiting from the state funds ... Private schools that are not focused on serving poor students often charge upwards of $20,000 a year, more than four times the average voucher amount, and usually have their own scholarships to hand out. And private schools with highly unusual approaches might not want to accept the stringent testing requirements that Indiana places on voucher schools. The result: Of the 313 schools across Indiana that received vouchers this year, 306 are either part of a religious network, such as a Catholic diocese; have overtly religious names; or proclaim their faith on their websites, according to a Chalkbeat analysis.

This is a problem. If you create a state program, and the consequence of that program is to send 90% of that program's resources to private religious institutions, I don't care about the "intent." I'm not a constitutional scholar, but this triggers all of my "establishment clause" alarms. This is one of the three major reasons I don't support vouchers:

1) They use state funds to create religious institutions.

2) They lead to WORSE student results, in part because they lack accountability.

3) They are marketed under false pretenses. They do not give poor families the same options that wealthy ones have, as this article makes abundantly clear.

In other news, Susan Dynarski is in The New York Times talking about the Trump administration's recent moves on student loans:

Tens of millions of Americans together owe more than a trillion dollars in student debt ... But with a series of regulatory changes, the Trump administration is taking us in the wrong direction, making student loans riskier, more expensive and more burdensome for borrowers. First, the Education Department has weakened accountability for the companies that administer student loans. Second, it has made it more difficult for borrowers to apply for, and stay enrolled in, income-based payment plans. Third, Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, has given banks more leeway to charge borrowers high fees — as much as 16 percent of the balance owed — if they fall behind.

I understand why some fiscal conservatives are worried about expanding access to higher education, because of the high price tag. They also should be infuriated by the extent to which student loans have become a corporate welfare program.

Finally today, Black Katie of Blavity talks about experiencing casual racism in the nonprofit sector:

The [executive director] and her casual racism came to signify everything wrong with the nonprofit sector.  I had encountered similar racism in academia, the private sector, and government, but I naively thought I would get a racist reprieve at a nonprofit that purported to align with many of my core beliefs ... Not only did I come to the conclusion that the work I was doing didn’t matter, I started to question how effective the nonprofit could be in their mission if they saw a large swath of the people they claimed to serve as a cartoonish monolith instead of whole people ... The implicit bias I witnessed at this nonprofit wasn’t an anomaly; it’s indicative of a larger problem in nonprofits across the country. Despite being 30 percent of the overall workforce, people of color only make up 18 percent of nonprofit staff.

If you work in a nonprofit - particularly if you are white - I encourage you to read this piece. I have encountered many people in my career who think they deserve a "pass" on certain behaviors, because their hearts are in the right place.

Yeah, not so much. Have a great day!