Tuesday Reading List: End of Year Lists, Aspirations, and Generational Warfare

Happy New Year! After a long break, your reading list is back.

Today's list is a combination of "Year in Review" articles, and a few of my favorite pieces from the end of the year.

Isabel Fattal of The Atlantic pulls out some charts that describe the state of education in America circa 2018, with a heavy emphasis on higher ed:

The accessibility of elite colleges to low-income students has long been a topic of concern in higher-education debates. Recent research by Stanford’s Raj Chetty, based on data on students born between 1980 and 1991, conveyed the urgency of the problem: among the cohorts of students at elite colleges that his team studied, just 3.8 percent of students came from the bottom 20 percent of families, while 14.5 percent were raised as 1-percenters.  

You'll have to click through to see the actual charts, which deal with everything from sexual violence on college campuses to public perceptions of segregation in K-12 schools.

In the meantime, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat tries to sum up what we learned about schools in 2017:

Education research comes out faster than most of us can keep up with — and staying up to date gets even harder when advocates on every side claim that the newest study supports their views. We’re here to help. Here are some of the most important lessons we’re taking away from 2017, thanks to the researchers who do their best to separate fact from fiction. (The typical caveats apply: these are all subject to change based on new evidence, and each study has limitations.)

Barnum covers teacher certification, school turnaround, union protections, and other topics.

After two decades of near constant changes in education policy at a national level, perhaps the most striking thing about our current milieu is the complete lack of consensus over whether to do anything significant to improve schools beyond local tinkering. In the last couple of years, education reformers, who pushed for dramatic changes in state and federal policy, met an equal and opposite reaction from forces who want to preserve the status quo (or pursue change on other terms), and the result is stalemate.

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Perhaps the most depressing thing about the stalemate is the fact that some of the combatants think they're still in the midst of total war, while continuing to deploy destructive rhetoric and tactics that do nothing to advance the cause of improving schools for vulnerable children.

To the extent that there is any real momentum for radical policy change, pundits have coalesced around the idea of reinvigorating desegregation efforts in schools. Abel McDaniels of the Center for American Progress chimed-in at the end of December:

Contrary to popular opinion, schools are not most segregated in the South but rather in large metropolitan areas in the Northeast and in the West—in places with hundreds of school districts that align with municipal boundaries and that reinforce segregated housing patterns. To successfully enroll large numbers of students in racially and socioeconomically integrated schools, policymakers must look beyond current school boundaries and work to consolidate school districts. Because of the legacy and persistence of housing segregation, in many densely populated areas, it is simply impossible to integrate schools within current district boundaries ... While district consolidation can make integration possible, there must also be community support and political will among leadership.

McDaniels's final point is the one that is missing in almost every conversation I hear about school integration. There are plenty of technical challenges inherent in creating more racial balance in public schools, but the technical problems are dwarfed by the political ones. In 2018, I hope that education writers will resolve to focus more on the places where elite enthusiasm for integration is coupled with a significant political strategy to achieve its intended ends, otherwise we are engaging in magical thinking.

In particular, there are two kinds of stories I am super interested in reading. First, are there local community organizations or politicians who are tackling school integration while having the support of a significant political base? Second, is there any appetite to create state and or federal policies that create a financial incentive for local governments to pursue more integration? This was the theory behind "Race to the Top," where federal money was dangled in front of states and districts as motivation to pursue public policy that would be impossible to implement under normal circumstances.

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Changing the subject, both Sean Illing of Vox and and Michael Hobbes of HuffPost wrote end-of-year pieces on one of my favorite topics: how Baby Boomers ruined America, then blamed Millenials for everything that's wrong with the country.

In Illing's piece, he interviews Bruce Gibney, who wrote an entire book on this topic - A Generation of Sociopaths: How Baby Boomers Betrayed Americawhile Hobbes's piece has some of the most exciting animation and graphic design I have ever seen in mainstream online journalism.

I bring significant bias to this topic, as I am either an "Old Millenial" or a "Xennial," depending on whose definition of the zeitgeist you buy. Either way, I am amazed by the fact that Baby Boomers inherited the mantle of American political leadership at a time of unparalleled strength and financial prosperity, and now continue to cling to power while they pour gasoline on our dumpster fire of a political system.

Have a great year!