It’s not directly Alameda related, but could be in context with the need to pass a renewal parcel tax for the School District. It’s also a timely piece given the discussion, particularly around the two Democratic presidential candidates, regarding free college vs. a new college compact.
From the Atlantic:
In 2010, the authors interviewed 150 black young men and women who were born in the late 1980s and early 1990s to parents who lived in public housing. They spent hours with the youth, talking to them in cars, in McDonald’s, in front stoops. In 2012, they followed up with 20 who were representative of the group.
What they found was both hopeful and depressing. The hopeful part: The kids were doing much better than their parents had done. While just 25 percent of parents had a high school diploma and 6 percent had a GED, nearly 70 percent of their kids had a high school diploma. And kids who found what researchers call an “identity project,” essentially a passion or hobby that helped motivate them, went even further, onto college or decent jobs.
About half of the youth researchers studied found this “life raft,” which helped inspire them despite tough conditions. Out of the 116 youth studied who are not still in high school, 90 percent of those with an identity project graduated, while only 58 percent of those without one did so. And 82 percent of those with an identity project were in school or working, compared to 53 percent of those without an identity project
Now, the depressing part: Many of the kids who, like Bob, had seemed destined for a four-year college and a well-paid job a few years ago had veered off track. They weren’t using drugs or on the streets, and they were employed, but they were often making minimum wage in jobs with little room for advancement. Some kids went to for-profit universities and didn’t get degrees. Others wanted to get out of their parents’ house so badly that they took whatever job they could, before they had the chance to get the education or training to excel further.
Even kids with identity projects can struggle. It’s what researchers call the “crabs in the bucket” phenomenon, where the difficulties of environment can drag down promising students. Students whose parents are absent, who are living in overcrowded homes, who are surrounded by crime and blight, often struggled in adolescence despite early promise and despite being passionate about their hobbies.
While it seems so revolutionary to talk about offering free college for everyone, what that sort of discussion doesn’t address are these kids that don’t make it to college for some reason or the other. This is more of a problem with systemic poverty with the added flavor of racial injustice.
Until we are able to address the issues of institutional racism promises of the debt free college experience for a group of people already doing better than a substantial percentage of Americans smacks of privilege.
The authors of the book referenced in the Atlantic report do have concrete policy suggestions, and the majority of the solutions require direct investment in the community and at the K-12 level:
The authors come away with some very concrete policy proposals for how to help students through adolescence and beyond. They suggest creating more robust mobility programs to ensure that kids don’t grow up in the same concentrated poverty that their parents did and more opportunities for “passion projects” in schools and after-schools by investing more in libraries, clubs, and other institutions, and by expanding funding for the arts. Unfortunately, many cities are doing the opposite, disinvesting in libraries and requiring kids to pay to participate in extracurricular activities. Philadelphia, for instance, is cutting music, visual arts, and theater programs from its public schools.
The book also argues for disseminating much more information to low-income students about what happens when they graduate high school, and how the short-term choices they make about where to go to school, what kind of degree to pursue, what kind of job to take, could have very long-term consequences. This means better college and career counseling in high school, more information about how students can parlay community college experience into time at a four-year college, and more information about how different courses of study lead to different jobs.
Which is why it’s so important to continue to invest in local schools and make sure that even the “unaffordable” extras and made available. That would go a long way to investing in our future.