Poverty: Joe Nocera takes a look at education and poverty. Worth reading but two big strawmen oversimplify a complicated argument.
First, Nocera writes, “At its core, the [education] reform movement believes that great teachers and improved teaching methods are all that’s required to improve student performance, so that’s all the reformers focus on.” Actually, if you substitute “are key to improving” for “all that’s required” you’d have a more accurate view of the landscape.
Along the same lines, Nocera writes, “Yet the reformers act as if a student’s home life is irrelevant. “There is no question that family engagement can matter,” said [Joel] Klein when I spoke to him. “But they seem to be saying that poverty is destiny, so let’s go home. We don’t yet know how much education can overcome poverty,” he insisted — notwithstanding the voluminous studies that have been done on the subject. “To let us off the hook prematurely seems, to me, to play into the hands of the other side.”
Again, no one in the mainstream of the debate argues it’s irrelevant. The debate is whether, even all else equal, schools can do more than they do today despite the challenges of poverty. With dropout rates for minority student approaching 50 percent, a college completion rate by age 24 of just 8 percent for low-income students, and the enormous disparaties in achievement we see on state and national assessments, disparities in participation in gifted education and special education, etc..etc…I would say the answer is unequivocally yes. But that’s absolutely not the same thing as irrelevant.*
Pensions: New data from Pew Center on the States about public sector pension liabilities. Actual report here. Three cautions. First, while there is obviously a serious problem here some of the data here lags so just as states are still feeling the effects of the downturn they’re not yet feeling the full effects of the recovery. Second, while unfunded liabilities and assumptions in some places are out-of-control it is worth remembering that we probably don’t need to hold public and private sector plans to the exact same standards because there are some differences in the nature of the institutions. Third, look state-by-state, the extent of the problem varies a great deal.
Pre-K: Also from Pew and NIEER is the new Pre-K yearbook with data about the status of pre-k efforts. Worth checking out, will be a big issue in coming months because the new Race to the Top money in the budget deal has a Pre-K component. Also, hard to miss the juxtaposition and the inter-generation fiscal tension…
*Update: James Merriman has a good take on all this, too, well worth a click.