Monday Reading List: Textbooks, STEM Diversity, and School-Based Budgeting

Laura McKenna of The Atlantic finds that, despite technological advances, college textbooks are still ridiculously expensive:

Along with the traditional textbooks, many college classes now require students to purchase access codes—which cost $100 on average—to online platforms created by publishers such as McGraw-Hill and Pearson. Homework and quizzes are hidden on the platforms behind paywalls that expire after the semester, meaning students can’t resell them once they’re done with the course ... It’s hard to pin down how much students spend on classroom supplies each year—based on student surveys, NACS estimates that they spent $579 on their required course materials during the 2016-17 school year, while the College Board analyzed school data to conclude that they spend up to $1,400 annually on materials including textbooks, technology, and binders.

The publishers argue that the online resources are indispensable, but that's cold comfort for the students who could have relied on the resale value of textbooks to cover next semester's tuition. The price of private colleges has become so exorbitant, that I worry folks will see these numbers and shrug. The average in-state tuition at a public college, though, is still less than $10,000 per year. Textbooks can cost between 10-15% as much as tuition itself. If a family is already stretching to afford college, unplanned textbook purchases can be a disaster for college affordability, and thus, persistence.

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Financial barriers aren't the only thing keeping kids from attending and finishing colleges. Here's Stuart Miller in The Hechinger Report:

Students of color studying science, technology, engineering and math (collectively known as STEM) are underrepresented at schools around the country and even though most don’t face overt racism they face a set of challenges that have led to persistent issues of under-representation at the graduate levels and across STEM professions. African-American and Latino workers comprise just 16 percent of the advanced manufacturing workforce, 15 percent of the computing workforce and 12 percent of the engineering workforce, rates that have remained essentially flat for more than a decade ...

Representation matters when trying to attract students, and this continued underrepresentation is taking a toll not just on affected communities, but also on the economy as a whole. As Miller points out, employers struggle to fill STEM jobs with qualified personnel. In the meantime, American universities continue to systematically under-invest in whole populations of American students.

If only we saw diversity and inclusion as the solution to our challenges, and not some box to be checked ...

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Finally today, Dylan Peers McCoy of Chalkbeat looks at the new way Indianapolis plans to fund its schools:

The aim is to give principals more control over their school budgets and send extra money to schools based on how many poor students they educate. But a change in the rules could result in schools receiving less money to educate poor students next year. The district will continue to award schools $500 per student to help educate poor children. Instead of basing that funding on how many students at each school are poor enough to receive free or discounted meals, however, the district will count students from families who qualify for food stamps and welfare programs, and students in foster care. That’s the same metric the state started using to determine poverty aid for districts in 2015. Chief financial manager Weston Young said the district is making the switch because it is a more reliable measure of poverty and many families in the district do not submit the paperwork to qualify for subsidized meals. The district will be giving schools less money overall to help educate poor students because some students who qualify for meal assistance don’t qualify for those state benefits, Young said.

Guess who doesn't get counted when the district excludes people who do not receive state benefits?

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Guess #1: People who don't need government assistance, because they make too much money?


Well, yes ... them.


But who else?

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Still thinking?

The other major category of students who will not be counted here is undocumented children. Families without formal documentation cannot qualify for most forms of government assistance - despite conservative talking points that would have us believe otherwise. This policy, then, would take a disproportionate toll on schools that serve the children of undocumented immigrants ... and possibly discourage schools from enrolling those children altogether.

I'm interested to hear readers' takes on this policy, because the district is pitching the idea in a way that is appealing to school reformers. "School based budgeting" is a popular idea with many technocrats, because those sorts of schemes theoretically reimburse schools according to the academic needs of their students. That said, as is apparent from this Indianapolis example, such policies can go from progressive to regressive quite effortlessly.

Have a great week!