Monday Reading List: Paraprofessional Diversity, Career Education, and Town-Gown Disparities

Amaya Garcia and Shayna Cook are in Slate, examining the diversity of paraprofessionals in American schools:

Currently, many states and local school districts need to fill shortages of bilingual, dual immersion, and English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers to meet the needs of their growing English learner student population. Paraprofessionals more closely match the racial and linguistic diversity of the U.S. student population, with about one-fifth of paraprofessionals speaking a non-English language at home and around 20 percent self-identifying as non-White. It is clear that paraprofessionals can help to diversify the mostly white, monolingual K-12 teacher workforce by filling teacher shortages. Yet they often face bureaucratic, linguistic, and financial barriers to entering the teaching profession.

The authors draw upon research they conducted at New America to make their case. Perhaps their most compelling argument is that we should look at paraprofessionals as a potential source for identifying new teachers. Given that the talent pool in the paraprofessional space is more reflective of the diversity of public school children, this seems like a great place to focus some attention.

In other news, Erik Gleibermann is in The Atlantic, examining the wealth disparities and opportunity gaps in college towns:

Politically progressive university towns with racially integrated schools like Berkeley, California; Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Ann Arbor, Michigan, might seem natural environments for black students to thrive. Each is home to a prestigious university with an activist, social justice-oriented school of education. Each school district has been a part of a network to promote equity for students of color. Each has a large community of well-educated African Americans. Yet in a comprehensive analysis of the standardized-test scores in hundreds of districts nationwide, Berkeley and Chapel Hill have the widest and third-widest achievement gaps between black and white students. Even when controlling for socioeconomic disparities, the gaps remain: The 2016 study, conducted by researchers at Stanford, still placed Chapel Hill and Berkeley toward the top for test-score inequality.

The author goes on to describe the qualitative research he conducted in those cities, which contains some fascinating anecdotes about how inequality and discrimination manifest in those places. Racial stereotyping, the supplemental spending behaviors of wealthier families, and a lack of cultural diversity among the educator workforce all seem to contribute to the disparities. The primary takeaway, however, is that in the country's absolute hotbeds of academic and cultural liberalism, our most vexing educational problem is not just present, but seemingly exacerbated by the milieu of academia.

In other news, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat throws a tiny bit of cold water on the career-and-technical-education-parade:

... new international research points to a significant downside of such programs: students may benefit early in their careers, but are harmed later in life as the economy changes and they lack the general skills necessary to adapt. The study raises concerns about the trade-offs that could come with significantly expanding career and technical training in the United States — at least any version that substitutes for broad knowledge and skills transferable across jobs. “Individuals with general education initially face worse employment outcomes but experience improved employment probability as they become older relative to individuals with vocational education,” write four researchers in the study, which appeared in the winter 2017 issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Human Resources.

This is roughly what I've always suspected about career and technical programs, and I'm disappointed, but not shocked, to see it confirmed. Barnum summarizes how some European countries have adapted to the challenge, while sharing data on domestic job certification programs that intend to fill the academic void for adults who need transferable skills. Whenever we train people for a specific vocation, we should remember that many industries have an expiration date within a human's lifetime. For example, Christopher Ingraham of The Washington Post describes the employment prospects in the coal industry:

There are various estimates of coal-sector employment, but according to the Census Bureau's County Business Patterns program, which allows for detailed comparisons with many other industries, the coal industry employed 76,572 people in 2014, the latest year for which data is available ... Looking at the level of individual businesses, the coal industry in 2014 (76,572) employed about as many as Whole Foods (72,650), and fewer workers than Arby's (close to 80,000), Dollar General (105,000) or J.C. Penney (114,000). The country's largest private employer, Walmart (2.2 million employees) provides roughly 28 times as many jobs as coal.

That's right: Whole Foods employs the same amount of people as the ENTIRE coal industry. Keep that in mind the next time someone tells you that we'll solve all of our problems by getting more kids ready for the careers of the future. Spoiler alert: nobody knows what those jobs are, and the institutional bias will be towards preparing people for the expiring jobs of the present. When I was in high school, most kids still didn't have email addresses, so they sure as heck weren't preparing us to be Instagram engineers.

Finally today, Shaka King directed a satirical video about colorblindness, starring Lakeith Stanfield:

This piece splits the difference between comedy and tragedy, so be sure to watch with an open mind. Have a great week!