The recent passing of beloved TV personality Anthony Bourdain and fashion icon Kate Spade has pushed suicide back into the cultural dialogue spotlight. Social workers who work in suicide prevention every day remind us, however, that suicide is, and always has been, part of the human condition and not the dramatic exception that celebrity suicide seems to suggest.
Jim Langford, born and raised in the small town of Calhoun, is a faithful son of Georgia. After earning an MBA from the Harvard Business School, Jim went on to create a $2.5 billion technology company with a team of fellow alums. Then he turned his efforts to public service and began his tireless work for a better Georgia by writing the legislation to preserve Georgia’s Native American archaeological sites threatened by looters and development. Later, as head of Georgia’s Trust for Public Lands, Langford spearheaded the development of the Atlanta BeltLine, a series of multiuse paths and parks running in a rough loop around the city’s center.
Charter schools and school choice are no longer experiments. Nationwide, they have become important components of public education. Since this blog began a discussion of educational improvement almost two years ago, we have heard from countless educators, administrators, and social workers both pro and con on school choice and the advantages and disadvantages of charter schools. Today we would like to catalogue the input we have received to give you an overview of what education professionals are saying about this all-important public policy issue.
Guns in the United States
- In 2016, firearms were responsible for more than 38,000 deaths and over 116,000 nonfatal gunshot wounds in the United States.
- The United States owns approximately 250 million guns, nearly one for each citizen, and grows about 7 million each year.
- Each year, the United States has a bit over 8,000 murders with firearms.
- According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a total of 346 mass shootings (5 or more victims) occurred in the U.S. in 2017.
- As of May 17th 2018, 101 mass shootings have already occurred this year.
A colleague recently wrote us and noted that we rarely cover the American Indian community in this blog. She was correct. We confess that our oversight is probably a reflection of a broader cultural blindness to Native American social issues in general. Perhaps this numbed sensitivity comes from the fact that Native Americans do not make as much noise as other underprivileged minorities. It seems to be part of their native dignity to suffer in silence without complaint and, unfortunately, in American social justice “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”.
The DebateMuch of the national debate focuses on how best to make changes to our system of public education. How much should we rely on market forces and parental choice to drive improvement? Should we replace much of the traditional framework with privately run charter schools or by giving public funding directly to each parent in the form of vouchers? Unfortunately, little attention is being paid to how much we spend on education, and what it costs to provide the education we wish for our children.
The Actual Cost of EducationA Rutgers University study, The Real Shame of the Nation: The Causes and Consequences of Interstate Inequity in Public School Investments, reports the following:
- It can cost anywhere between $5,000 and $30,000 a year per student in order to hit average test scores.
- It costs more than three times the amount per pupil ($20k to $30k) to achieve national average outcome goals in very high poverty districts as it does in relatively low poverty districts ($5k to $10k).
- High-poverty school districts in several states fall thousands to tens of thousands of dollars short, per pupil, of funding required to reach the relatively modest goal of current national average student performance outcomes on standardized assessments. In some states—notably Arizona, Mississippi, Alabama and California—the highest poverty school districts fall as much as $14,000 to $16,000 per pupil below necessary spending levels.
Intractable ProblemsThe Rutgers study revealed that two factors mainly determine where a district lies along the cost spectrum: location and mix of students. Some school districts bear higher costs because they’re located in expensive regions where salaries, including those of teachers, are high. Population density matters too. The cost of educating poor children escalates faster in urban areas.
The Rutgers Study Concludes“Even with relatively high effort, some states simply lack the capacity to close the gaps we have identified. These interstate variations speak to the need for a new and enhanced federal role in improving interstate inequality in order to advance our national interest in improved education outcomes across states. Our empirical model shows that federal funding for schools has been insufficient for improving interstate inequality. Arguably, the interstate gaps we have presented strike at the core of our national interest and call for urgent federal action.”
Distribution of Available AssetsIn other words, the educational funding system based on local taxes does not properly distribute funding to where it is needed across the national education landscape. What’s needed are revised formulas that risk asking some districts to take a smaller share of school funding so needier districts can be brought up to par. State policymakers are struggling with the politics of creating funding systems that target funds to districts with the greatest challenges. The bottom line, of course, is that while education is a vital tool, using education as a pathway out of poverty is a very expensive proposition that will require a coordinated federal approach.
Nonprofit's RoleThere are 640,000 students currently registered in the Los Angeles Unified School District and 480,000 (75%) of them are Latinos. The LA. School Report reminds us that this past March 1st was the 50th anniversary of the big “blowout” when “thousands of young Latinos marched out of their East Los Angeles classrooms…for their right to be educated.”
ThenWriting for the LA. School Report, Esmeralda Romero notes, “Latino students in 1968 had no textbooks reflecting their history or their culture. They had to refrain from speaking Spanish at school. Teachers and school leaders didn’t look like them. Classrooms were overcrowded.”
NowFifty years later, thanks to the bravery of those students, things are better. Today in LA Unified, 37% of teachers are Latino, as well as 43% of school administrators and 38% of district officials. Now, 480,000 Latino students have access to all classes required for entrance into the state’s public universities. They study in bilingual programs and take ethnic studies courses. Many more are graduating and attending college.
More Progress NeededBut despite all these hard-won advances, Latino academic achievement and college graduation rates still lag far behind their peers. Only 24% rated “proficient” in math and 34% in English. Only 39% of the district’s Latino graduating high school seniors were deemed college or career ready. “We’re not there yet,” said Mónica García, President of LA Unified’s school board. “There are gaps in opportunity. There are gaps in achievement, in performance, and those gaps have roots in the institutional racism and classism that our young people fought against back then.”
The Community Steps UpThe limits imposed by systemic social attitudes and a ubiquitous shortfall in financial assets could only be addressed by the community at large. In the LA Unified School District, the community has responded.
Sunset Bronson Studios – This privately held company became among the first to partner with L.A. Unified by “adopting” Le Conte Middle School. It has donated and installed lighting and curtains for the school's theater and is planning a mentoring program to introduce students to its engineers and other employees who support the creative industry.
“I think it’s good for kids to learn that there are good, solid jobs in the creative side and the support side, which is really core to L.A.," Bill Humphrey, the General Manager of Sunset, said. "And if we can get that across to kids and get them the exposure to say, 'Hey, wow that's in our community, I think I should learn that trade,' that in itself will be a great accomplishment."
The Nonprofit CommunitySunset Bronson Studios may be among the first in the community to offer creative support to Latino students struggling to enter the main stream of American life, but Sunset Bronson is not alone. The following list of nonprofits, large and small, who are taking an active part in supporting the education of LA Unified’s 640,000 students heartens and inspires anyone who takes the time to take a look.
- 826LA - dedicated to supporting student writing.
- DIYgirls - Encourages young women to explore technology and engineering through innovative educational experiences.
- GameDes - Promotes learning through computer games.
- GLADEO - helps young people find and pursue their dream careers.
- HOLA - Heart of Los Angeles gives some of the city’s most vulnerable youth a chance to succeed in life.
- Gumball Foundation - is creating the next generation of inner-city social entrepreneurs by providing access to higher education.
- I.am.angel foundation seeks to TRANS4M lives through education, inspiration & opportunity.
- Imagination Foundation - finds, fosters and funds creativity and entrepreneurship in kids across LA and around the world.
- IOW (INSIDE OUT WRITERS) reduces juvenile recidivism through writing. Paper. Pen. Persistence.
- INNER-CITY ARTS - provides arts education to those children most in need.
- LIBROS SCHMIBROS - champions the pleasures of literature and its power to change lives.
- SCHOOL ON WHEELS - Provides tutoring to homeless children in LA
- TWENTY MILLION MINDS - reduces college costs by democratizing educational content.
- WRITE GIRL - Within a community of women writers, Write Girl promotes creativity and self-expression to empower girls.