Zooming Out, Part 1

I occasionally go to ed policy conferences.  I'm at one now.  One reason is to zoom out.  You ask yourself: What's the big picture here?

This conference is by Fordham Foundation.  It's at a hotel conference room in DC.  There are some very big blackberries in the breakfast spread.  I'm never quite sure how many you can take.  I may have taken too many blackberries.  They were delicious. 

The first panelist is Ron Haskins.  He's at Brookings.  His paper is here.   He covers the Big 3 --  get high school diploma, wait til 21 and marry before having kids, work full-time -- and you're very likely to be middle class or above. 

I wonder if we should explicitly teach these findings in school.  I could imagine how, if taught the right way, it could be sticky for kids to really think about.  Particularly if we found a way to make a research project where kids interview their family about these issues, trigger some reflection. 

Ron in some ways validates the approach of no excuses charter schools.  There is large and growing payoff for poor kids who attend college. 

So if you're from poorest quintile, you have 2 paths.  The one on the left.  Or the one on the right. 

As you can see, on the right, you have a 90% chance to escape poverty and move up at least one cohort. 

Andrew Kelly, of AEI, writes in his paper

From the perspective of those interested in social mobility, the question of who benefits most from earning a college degree is important. If those born in the upper end of the income distribution benefit more than those born at the bottom, higher education may make it harder to move up, and vice versa.

Recent research has shown that disadvantaged students benefit the most (from college).

So let's pause there.  Let's use that to reinforce the mission of college-prep charters for poor kids.  That is a good goal to have.  It's the most likely path to escaping poverty. 

Now a problem, often discussed in this blog over the years, is that many kids who start college do not finish.  Particularly those from poor families. 

At Match High School, for example, I think the grad rate from 4-year universities is something like 55%.  Two points here. 

A. No Excuses schools are getting something profoundly right, because the alternative college graduation rate for poor kids is < 10%.  Critics think that's because of selection bias.  We'll find out in coming years, as random lottery admission practices will allow economists to answer that question definitively. 

I think what they'll find will validate what seems to be there without a gold-standard study.  High-achieving charters generate a 3x, 4x gain in college graduation rate among students who apply to attend those No Excuses charters.  Remember, this is not the typical charter.  The typical charter doesn't achieve anything like that advantage for the kids it serves.  These are the outlier charters. 

There are no short cuts.  You need several years of hard academic work if you arrive several years behind.

Policymakers shrug.  As we all know, they invent all sorts of "remediation" -- programs that in practice don't actually get the kids to work very hard for very long, whether during high school or as remedial courses in college.  How can that possibly fix things?  It just allows people to say "They're doing something."  It's palliative care, not curative.  Except nobody tells the kids it's palliative. 

Kelly agrees.

But it’s also naïve to think we can reverse years of subpar math and English instruction in a couple of semesters. Needed is a much more coherent pre-K–12 reform agenda—like the one spelled out in this book—that helps prepare more low-income students for the rigors of college and holds K–12 schools accountable when they fail to do so. Playing catch up after students graduate from high school is clearly not working.

Concluding this thought: the playbook of "Work hard, be nice" is not easily replaced by "Work a tiny bit, be nice." 

2. So what about the other 45% at Match?  And the other 90% of poor kids, across the USA, who won't get a college degree?  What about these kids? 

Match is working on that, and we'll have more news on that front soon.  Stay tuned. 

Meanwhile, my next post will tackle some of the ideas from this Fordham Foundation conference about this question.