Thursday, January 12, 2012

Charming the Cobra: Education and Race in America

Much political noise has been made about providing grants and/or loans for higher education. For minorities, these programs are seen as invitations for full participation in the American system. Many Americans believe changing the higher education equation for minorities is the only way to “level the playing field” economically for America’s minorities.

More specifically, liberals often believe solving the education conundrum is mandatory for our future. Conservatives, however, almost universally declare that the education gap can be addressed by neither federal programs or funding. They both are probably correct in this situation.

Solving America’s education gap is tantamount to our nation fighting a cobra. In cobra fighting, you have two choices. First, you can charm the cobra (typically by playing music), and prevent him from striking you today. Secondly, you can choose to attack him like Rikki Tikki Tavey, the mongoose of Rudyard Kipling fame, and solve your problem permanently. Dealing with our educational woes at the university level, while the majority of minority children are vastly unprepared for life, simply charms the cobra.

To kill the cobra of educational inequities in America, we must begin in pre-elementary school. Although we can do important work at every stage of the educational process, our problem is no one wants to wait the 20-30 years it will take to reform a system. I want to sound an alarm concerning our urgent national need to improve the education of minority students. Further, I want to advocate that resources and focus be directed primarily at charter schools.

Let me explain. While the nation’s high school dropout rate for black and Latino students is 43 percent, in urban centers like Detroit it is as high as 80 percent. This does not mean these young people will never graduate. It simply means they do not graduate on time. Unfortunately, academic failure is only the indicator of much greater problems. High school dropouts have higher rates of unemployment, incarceration (60 percent of black male dropouts are eventually incarcerated), drug use, and violent behavior. Our struggling economy has served to exacerbate these problems: the black unemployment rate nationwide surged to 16.7 percent this fall, the highest since 1984. But for black males in their 20s who lack a high school diploma, the unemployment rate is a shocking 72 percent!

While almost everyone acknowledges these problems begin in childhood, the failure of urban public schools is an extremely touchy subject. Many teachers are quick to point out the chaotic environments poor urban students go home to every day. On the other hand, parents who cannot afford private school are frustrated with the disorderly school environments to which their children are exposed. Unfortunately, both are correct: too many inner city parents do not provide the structure and discipline their children need to succeed, but too many urban classrooms lack precisely the same things.

These are exceedingly complicated problems with multiple causes, and they will not be speedily resolved with one particular intervention. However, that does NOT mean there is nothing we can do: we must increase educational choice for urban parents, and local churches must equip those parents to prepare their children for educational success.

According to Andrew Broy of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, “Across all [Chicago area] charter schools, the average growth rate of 3.8 scale points over those three years is 60 percent higher than the Chicago average, an average that includes selective enrollment high schools.” This means inner city children in Chicago charter schools showed more improvement than middle class children in magnet schools. Most famously, Urban Prep Academy in Chicago has achieved 100 percent college enrollment for its all-male (and almost entirely black) graduating class for two years successively.

How can we duplicate these results? Charter schools that show the most success have comprehensive behavior policies, intense coaching of teachers, longer school days and a “no excuses” approach to education. Better trained teachers are able to offer rigorous instruction as well as be better attuned to the particular needs of their students. For students from a disordered home environment, longer days not only allow for more instruction, but limit the time students are unsupervised or subjected to poor influences.

The “no-excuses” approach is vital to student success. Students of any socioeconomic status who are given excuses not to achieve will find ways to fail, but poor students lack stable parents who can cushion their fall until they determine a course of action toward a future. It is not surprising then how schools that acknowledge the obstacles many urban students face but refuse to accept them as excuses for failure are seeing their students succeed at higher rates.

I want to encourage you to advocate for charter schools in your region. Be sure your county commissioners and state representatives are clear on your opinions regarding the need for quality education from the youngest student to the postgraduate level. We can make a difference today for the future of the next generation of Americans.


Backlog of British graduates struggling to find work creates ‘jobs bottleneck’

Graduates are competing for top jobs against a ‘backlog’ of university-leavers who are still struggling to find work, a report warns today. One in three applications for this year’s graduate vacancies are from students who left higher education in 2011 or earlier.

And almost half of applicants for retail and public sector roles in 2012 are past graduates, according to the annual study from High Fliers, an independent market research company.

On average, there have been at least 48 applications per graduate vacancy, which means that tens of thousands of university-leavers face disappointment in the job market this summer.

To compound the problem, this year’s graduates have been warned that they stand ‘little or no chance’ of landing well-paid jobs with leading employers if they do not have any work experience, whatever their degree class.

The gloomy findings could further deter future students from higher education amid the prospect of spiralling levels of debt.

Figures from Ucas already show that over 23,000 fewer British students have applied for degree courses beginning this Autumn as fees are tripled to as much as £9,000-a-year.

The High Fliers’ report, The Graduate Market in 2012, examines graduate vacancies and starting salaries at 100 of the UK’s most successful employers including Procter & Gamble, Rolls-Royce, Sainsbury’s, Boots and Unilever.

It reveals that employers are expected to increase their graduate recruitment by 6.4 per cent this year. Almost half plan to employ more graduates in 2012 while over a quarter aim to maintain their intake at 2011 levels.

However, bosses have received 19 per cent more graduate job applications so far, compared to the 2010-11 recruitment round. A fifth of employers say applications have risen by more than 25 per cent. The biggest demand is for consultancy jobs which have seen a 75 per cent leap in applications. Some organisations have already closed off the application process for 2012 positions even though the termination date is usually in the summer.

The report says some employers had opened up their applications earlier which could have ‘contributed to a much higher volume of early applications from students and recent graduates’. It adds: ‘Other recruiters felt that a backlog of graduates from previous years who were still looking for work and applications from postgraduate students was contributing to their bumper crop of applicants.’

Meanwhile, a record 36 per cent of this year’s graduate vacancies are expected to be filled by applicants who have already worked for the organisation during their studies.

More than half of recruiters warned that graduates who had no previous work experience at all were ‘unlikely to be successful’ and had ‘little or no chance of receiving a job offer’ on their graduate programmes.

Martin Birchall, managing director of High Fliers Research, said the ‘backlog’ of graduates has been building up for a number of years. He said: ‘It was made much worse by the recession, but if you look at the graduate market as a whole there are somewhere between 150,000-160,000 graduate level vacancies each year. ‘This year we’re on course for about 330,000 graduates to leave university. Inevitably, in recent years, tens of thousands of people who wanted a graduate job didn’t find work.

‘Many chose to go off and do further study or go travelling. But eventually all of them will have to come back and find a job. That does cut down the number of places available for the class of 2012.’

He added: ‘In a highly competitive graduate job market, new graduates who’ve not had any work experience at all during their time at university have little hope of landing a well-paid job with a leading employer, irrespective of the academic results they achieve or the university they’ve attended.’


Australia: Teachers stay with religion

SCHOOLS in Tasmania have overwhelmingly chosen to keep religious chaplains, after a change last year that meant they could also take on non-religious welfare workers.

Of 96 roles in Tasmania, 89 have been set aside for a chaplain or religious worker, four by welfare workers with three not yet determined.

Schools will apply for the next round of Federal Government-funded welfare workers by March 2.

Scripture Union Tasmania said that its chaplains were equally happy ministering to students from a non-Christian background. "The job description of the welfare worker and the chaplain is identical, down to providing spiritual support," chief executive officer Ruth Pinkerton said.

Schools can get up to $60,000 over three years for chaplain or student welfare workers.


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