Boundaries, Degrees, And…No Kids, Everyone Wasn’t Doing It…Plus Loudoun’s Gonna Be A Tell…

At Bellwether we released an analysis last week looking at school boundaries and educational access.

The analysis looks at the relationship between rental housing access, per-pupil funding, and school district boundaries in the 200 largest metropolitan areas. In particular, we look at three questions, access for low-income families, relationship between rental housing and PPE, and how district boundaries affect access to public school options.

Elsewhere, as a parting gift New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is tanking the city’s gifted programs. Unfortunately his preferred solution, relying on teachers, could be rife with bias, too. It’s, you know, complicated.

Couple of things happening here. First the likely incoming mayor, Eric Adams, is a pragmatic sort and he’s not on board with this. So there’s an element of theater here. Second, the city’s gifted program does seem inequitable! Solving that isn’t straightforward though. And clumsy solutions, especially combined with the current chokehold on charter schools, could have the effect of driving more parents out of the city’s public schools, which in the end isn’t good for anyone at least insofar as anyone wants a broadly supported system of public education. And more generally, third, gifted programs are at once strategies that have provided a more high quality and customized education to some students and also sometimes a strategy that’s been used to segregate schools. Not sure why this is another thing where everyone has to pick a side when it’s a both?

But like the idea that you can reduce police presence and not fuel a spate of gun buying, the idea that you can get rid of programs like gifted in a place like New York and at the same time have robust economically integrated public schools seems underpowered. Hopefully the incoming mayor can craft a more robust plan to address multiple issues at once.

Check out this new analysis from G’Town’s Center on Education and the Workforce, it is really interesting. The subhead is “More Education Doesn’t Always Mean More Earnings.” This is true! Especially true if you do something stupid like rack up a quarter million in debt to study film at a fancy school and have few prospects as a filmmaker…But the inverse is also true, sometimes more education does mean more money. It depends! And the report has some interesting data on how.

The key money issue is what you study and the key life issue is what you want to do. I have friends who do a variety of things that don’t involve a college education, are lucrative, and they enjoy. I also have friends who went to college and are glad they did. And a lot of successful people from all walks of life, when they’re being honest, acknowledge how they sort of fell into things either way. I’m not going to start extrapolating from anecdote here, and I will note that some of my friends who are happiest now do jobs, for instance surface transportation, that might be automated in a decade or two. The point is that both choosing – which requires a degree of empowerment and a high functioning school system – and information to make good choices are key. We don’t do a great job with either one for kids.

About a decade ago when the “is college worth it” debate was getting going in earnest I wrote that if you are sure you’re going to be the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg then sure, bail on college. But in general, playing the odds isn’t a bad strategy. That still seems generally true. Play the odds and do what you enjoy. And if you are first generation or low-income, pay extra attention to what the data show about college and social mobility.

This new report from Brookings, here’s an overview from IHE, is important in the same vein.

Our findings, however, suggest that community colleges do have control over important factors that can improve students’ economic circumstances. For example, community colleges and state higher education leaders have some control over the types and mixture of programs they offer (or encourage students to enroll in), the mix of full-time/adjunct faculty they hire, spending on instruction and student services, and, at the state-level, the amount and structure of community college funding. As we demonstrate, these factors are correlated with student outcomes.

Social issues…man. Back in April I caught some grief for writing that the Dems were playing with fire on social issues in Virginia. It seemed combustible. Seems like that might be blowing up before November, which is really bad timing for the Dem ticket. Keep an eye on this Loudoun County sexual assault issue – whichever version of the facts turns out to be right it’s going to be really illustrative about the politics here.

There is a cancel campaign happening at Michigan right now. Here’s a short summary,

What was Sheng’s transgression? He screened the 1965 version of Shakespeare’s Othello in class as part of a lesson about how the play was adapted for the opera. This version stars Laurence Olivier, a white actor, who wore blackface to portray the protagonist Othello, a Moor. The choice was controversial even at the time, and today, the portrayal is considered by many to be akin to a racial caricature.

I don’t have a fancy film degree that cost $250k or a film degree at all, though I did take an amazing and eye opening film history class in college that I doubt you could teach today. But my point isn’t about the substance here. Instead, what caught my eye was the “even at the time.” Whether in public debates, DEI workshops, and too many classrooms we’ve rhetorically slipped into a really deterministic view of history that seems to overlook how at every juncture there were dissenters.

We now argue about the American Revolution from perspectives of whether the founders were sympathetic to slavery, actively pro-slavery, or actually opposed when the answer is all of the above (and some of them changed their views a few times in all directions, they were politicians). Daniel Boone was courtmartialed for being too friendly to Native Americans. Not everyone thought Japanese Internment was a good idea or legal. Acceptance and celebration of LGBT people is not something just discovered this century, there were people a lot time ago who dissented from the prevailing view. There was literally a dissent in Plessy, which in makes the decision that much more egregious.

Anyway, I’m not trying to make a point about agency or even criticize Marxist views of history that are now in remarkably casual use (ironically, especially among the well heeled educated professional class). That’s a different issue. The point is that on a lot of these issues both “sides” argue this or that was “just the times.” One side in order to indict everyone, the other as exculpatory. But in general, even “at the time” there was dissent about various issues. And as we think about how to teach history to students, better than we do today, that seems like a place where the action really is in terms of curriculum and pedagogy. Because it’s at once more complicated and honest, and also more damning for those who didn’t dissent than the “everyone was doing it” ethos that seems increasingly common.

And more American, because dissent is American.