Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Difficulties Low-Income Kids Face Throughout Education

STOP THE PRESSES! My last post was going to be my last one of the year, but then this heart-wrenching article in the NY Times came out – perhaps the article of the year. We all read about the terrible college dropout crisis among poor and minority kids – statistically, it’s DOUBLE the high school dropout crisis (see data on pages 49-65 in my school reform presentation) – but rarely do we see the human face of this crisis. This article presents it by profiling three friends from Galveston, TX in vivid, complex, and heart-breaking detail. Here’s an excerpt:

Angelica, a daughter of a struggling Mexican immigrant, was headed to Emory University. Bianca enrolled in community college, and Melissa left for Texas State University, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s alma mater.

“It felt like we were taking off, from one life to another,” Melissa said. “It felt like, ‘Here we go!’ ”
Four years later, their story seems less like a tribute to upward mobility than a study of obstacles in an age of soaring economic inequality. Not one of them has a four-year degree. Only one is still studying full time, and two have crushing debts. Angelica, who left Emory owing more than $60,000, is a clerk in a Galveston furniture store.

Each showed the ability to do college work, even excel at it. But the need to earn money brought one set of strains, campus alienation brought others, and ties to boyfriends not in school added complications. With little guidance from family or school officials, college became a leap that they braved without a safety net.

The story of their lost footing is also the story of something larger — the growing role that education plays in preserving class divisions. Poor students have long trailed affluent peers in school performance, but from grade-school tests to college completion, the gaps are growing. With school success and earning prospects ever more entwined, the consequences carry far: education, a force meant to erode class barriers, appears to be fortifying them.

Here’s commentary from my friend Dai Ellis:

Fantastic in-depth NYT article today about the unconscionable gap in college completion between students from wealthy and poor families. I wish they’d invested to multimedia it up the way they did the gorgeous, groundbreaking avalanche story the other day — could’ve been even more powerful. But at least the Grey Lady wrote a great piece and had a video companion.

It’s a heartbreaking story. We know the basic narrative already, but it hits you fresh every time you read about another young person’s story. And here there are three. Each of them illustrates a different facet of the tremendously complex web that’s been woven to snag low-income students before they cross the finish line. You can read all the statistics as a citizen, but you read about Angelica or Melissa or Bianca as a parent.

It’s also a maddening story that got me riled. More on that below.

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