Friday Reading List: Tourism v. Schools, Eyeglasses, Affirmative Action, and School Closures

Emily Richmond of The Atlantic looks at an evergreen issue for educators:

In some states, the question of school calendars is being considered through an economic lens—not just with an eye toward their students’ potential as future members of the workforce but on the impact a shorter summer break might have on local tourism. Among them is Michigan, which since the 2006-07 academic year has prohibited most districts from starting prior to Labor Day, a move intended in part to protect the state’s many resort communities that depend heavily on summer visitors ... more than 100 other districts and charter schools [have] received a waiver from Michigan’s requirement, after demonstrating that an earlier start to the academic year is necessary to meet other academic mandates.

In New Jersey, where I grew up, we not-so-jokingly referred to this phenomenon as the power of "The Six Flags Lobby." Richmond explains how various public and private interests intersect in legislatures, and how education officials can end up playing defense. This is a perennial issue in schooling, but I'm not sure I can muster legitimate outrage on this one.

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Blavity looks at a simple program that could improve student performance in Baltimore schools:

A study from Johns Hopkins University conducted three years ago discovered that many of the students in Baltimore public schools did not have access to eye exams to get glasses to improve their vision. This economic shortcoming prevented many from achieving and maximizing their learning ability. In 2016, the Baltimore Health Department created a public-private coalition that included the city’s public school system, Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins School of Education, eyeglass retailer Warby Parker, and a national nonprofit called Vision To Learn in order to give students vision screenings. Vision for Baltimore is the official name for the coalition and 3-year program that aims at performing 60,000 screenings. As of August, the program has conducted 18,000 screenings and have given out 2,000 pairs of glasses to students who needed them.

Solving this problem at a systemic level probably isn't best achieved under the aegis of public school systems, but children cannot perform well in school if they literally cannot see! It's nice to see both departments of health and the private sector stepping up to the plate. I would for someone with both creativity and deep pockets tackle this problem, with the goal of covering every child in America who needs, but cannot afford, eyeglasses.

In other news, Jeremy Ashkenas, Haeyoun Park, and Adam Pearce of The New York Times found that, after thirty-five years of affirmative action programs, nonwhite students are even LESS represented in higher education institutions than they were before:

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Even after decades of affirmative action, black and Hispanic students are more underrepresented at the nation’s top colleges and universities than they were 35 years ago, according to a New York Times analysis. The share of black freshmen at elite schools is virtually unchanged since 1980. Black students are just 6 percent of freshmen but 15 percent of college-age Americans ... More Hispanics are attending elite schools, but the increase has not kept up with the huge growth of young Hispanics in the United States, so the gap between students and the college-age population has widened.
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The article contains a huge set of line graphs, broken out to show the disparities across different types of colleges and universities. This study is part of the reason I have absolutely NO patience for the argument that social policy helps Black and Brown folks at the expense of White people. Even with four decades of significant efforts at diversifying our institutions of higher education, White people have become EVEN MORE overrepresented in those institutions. 

Finally today, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looks at a new study of school closures:

Shutting down schools with low test scores doesn’t help student learning and disproportionately affects students of color, according to one of the largest studies ever of school closures. The results, released Thursday by the Stanford-based group CREDO, indicate that closing a school doesn’t help student achievement as much as advocates have hoped — or harm it as much as some have feared.

I have watched this issue for many years, and these results do not surprise me. Some policymakers have treated school closures as a moral necessity, while ignoring the fact that closing a school alone is insufficient to provide a better educational experience for children. It's a little bit like the wonky "value over replacement player" theory in baseball. Sure, you can find someone new, but do you know for sure that the new person is better than the one you're losing?

Have a great weekend!