Thursday Reading List: Writing, The New Gender Gap in College, and Union Money

Dana Goldstein is in The New York Times, exploring why children (and adults) struggle to write:

Three-quarters of both 12th and 8th graders lack proficiency in writing, according to the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress. And 40 percent of those who took the ACT writing exam in the high school class of 2016 lacked the reading and writing skills necessary to complete successfully a college-level English composition class, according to the company’s data Poor writing is nothing new, nor is concern about it. More than half of first-year students at Harvard failed an entrance exam in writing — in 1874. But the Common Core State Standards, now in use in more than two-thirds of the states, were supposed to change all this ... So far, however, six years after its rollout, the Core hasn’t led to much measurable improvement on the page.

In all seriousness, I'm not sure there ever existed a reasonable expectation that the Common Core would cure America's writing woes in under a decade. Goldstein dives into the disparate approaches to teaching writing, but no matter where you live on that philosophical continuum, the basic challenge seems consistent: most teachers are not prepared to teach writing.

In other news, Jon Marcus is in The Atlantic examining the widening gender gap in college attendance:

Where men once went to college in proportions far higher than women—58 percent to 42 percent as recently as the 1970s—the ratio has now almost exactly reversed. This fall, women will comprise more than 56 percent of students on campuses nationwide, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Some 2.2 million fewer men than women will be enrolled in college this year. And the trend shows no sign of abating. By 2026, the department estimates, 57 percent of college students will be women. The new minority on campus? Men.

The rest of the article looks at efforts to attract more young men to college. Because men are not historically underrepresented in America's corridors of power, I'm not sure what can or should be done about this new disparity. When you couple that story with the news that Harvard's incoming class this year is majority nonwhite, it's obvious that America continues to become a more diverse place, despite the primal screaming of the folks who want to preserve the current power arrangements.

Elsewhere, Pete Cook did extensive research to determine where and how teachers' unions spend money on political elections. The numbers are sort of stunning, and he created a mapping tool to accompany the data:

According to campaign finance data from the National Institute on Money in State Politics, AFT and NEA spent a combined total of $72,661,520 during the 2016 election cycle. Nearly three-quarters of that amount – $53,534,015 – came from NEA, while the balance ($19,127,505) was spent by AFT. Below, I’ve broken down that campaign finance data into four broad categories – contributions to candidates, ballot committees, party committees, and independent expenditure groups – and highlight some interesting facts along the way. You can also search through the data yourself using the search and sorting functions in the tables under each category. 

The major teachers' unions are membership organizations that represent the interests of their members in collective bargaining; they also play a significant role in politics. Folks can argue about whether or not that role is appropriate, but that's just reality right now, and we should understand how they leverage their resources and power, just as we do with other major political players.

Have a great day!