Wednesday Reading List: How Hurricanes Affect Schools, Technical Education, and More on School Closures

The Gulf Coast of the country is dealing with the worst storm in a decade. It will be a long time before we know the extent of the damage, and my personal thoughts are with all of the families whose lives are - and will continue to be - upended by Hurricane Harvey.

Hayley Glatter of The Atlantic looks at the schooling implications:

As floodwaters from tropical storm Harvey continue to rise in the nation’s fourth most-populous city, well over 100 districts across southeastern Texas remain shuttered during what for some would have been the opening days of the academic year. The closures affect hundreds of thousands of students ... According to experts, the chaos and emotional upheaval brought on by extreme events can have an especially negative impact on children. Tropical storm Harvey has put students in its path at a greater risk for symptoms of anxiety and depression than they’d otherwise be—not to mention illness and injury. And because schools are closed, some children aren’t getting the nutrition they need—the vast majority of students in Houston Independent School District, for example, receive free or subsidized meals, and the district offers free lunches to all students regardless of income at most of its schools.

Don't forget that final point, as many children depend upon schools for emotional, physical, and nutritional support. If you're looking for a way to help, The New York Times did a nice summary of how to make donations during a crisis like this. If you don't have experience supporting a community on the ground during a natural disaster of this magnitude, my hunch is that your money is far more valuable than your time at the present moment.

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Matt Krupnick of The Hechinger Report looks at a new gap in post-secondary education:

... so much effort has been put into encouraging high school graduates to go to college for academic degrees rather than for training in industrial and other trades that many [fields] face worker shortages. Now California is spending $6 million on a campaign to revive the reputation of vocational education, and $200 million to improve the delivery of it ... Research by the state’s 114-campus community college system showed that families and employers alike didn’t know of the existence or value of vocational programs and the certifications they confer, many of which can add tens of thousands of dollars per year to a graduate’s income.

Krupnick does a nice job of exploring the implications of this shift through the eyes of folks who work in high-need industries. There are a couple of things to consider here. First, to what extent should the industries themselves be sharing the financial burden of job training, re-education, and higher learning? If a gap exists between what industries need, and what learning institutions can provide, those industries should be committing more financial resources to this critical piece of their infrastructure. American culture seems somewhat uneasy with doing this through taxation, but that's a pretty logical place to start.

Second, I always wonder about the general applicability of technical training. It's great to prepare someone for the job she's going to have tomorrow, but what about the job she might have twenty years from now? Technical training can be a good way to get folks into higher paying jobs in the immediate future, but we should also consider what sort of general experience folks need to build a fulfilling life and career in the long-term.

In other news, Monique Judge of The Root digs deeper into the school closure report that I talked about last week:

Low-performing charter and public schools with a larger share of black and Hispanic students were more likely to be closed than low-performing schools that did not have disadvantaged minority students as their student population, which raises questions about equity in the decision-making process when it comes to closing schools. Once schools were closed, less than half of those displaced students ended up at a school that was better than the one they left, and that speaks to the quality of the education post-closure. The study found that the quality of the students’ new schools had a huge impact on student outcomes. Those students who ended up at better schools made greater academic gains than those who did not, and again, the effect was most pronounced for black and Hispanic students in poverty.

The disparities are consistent across types of public schools - traditional versus charter - which should not be an excuse for either type of school to ignore these findings. Both sides can, and should, do better.

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Finally today, speaking of disparities and discrimination, the team at Blavity examines a hate incident at a church in Virginia:

A predominantly black church in Prince William County was tagged with racist and anti-semitic signs posted at the front entrance ... Members of Greater Praise Temple Ministries in Dumfries found a sign with the front cover of the German magazine Der Spiegel of Donald Trump wearing a KKK white hood over his head with the writing, "Now that's white power. Day of the rope is coming [n-word].” A second sign with the words "The Fourth Reich" on it also contained multiple drawings of swastikas.

I don't share every report of a hate crime, because that would be both overwhelming and desensitizing. I share this particular one, because of how explicit the linkages between racism and anti-semitic sentiment are. Since Charlottesville, I have had many conversations with Jewish friends and family members about the similarities between domestic white supremacy and historical European anti-semitism. We're fools if we think the two things are dissimilar.

Have a great day ...