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Low-Income Students

The Case Against Exit Exams

  • By
  • Anne Hyslop,
  • New America Foundation
July 15, 2014
In the 2013-14 school year, twenty-four states required students to be proficient on standardized tests in order to graduate from high school. But starting next year, and in the years to come, states will launch more rigorous, college- and career-ready assessments aligned to the Common Core. As they do so, they should revisit the stakes on these tests for students and consider eliminating, or modifying, their exit exam policies.

A Simple Policy Change To Help More Hungry Kids Eat? Sounds Great. Where Do We Sign Up?

May 27, 2014
Back in September, Marketplace reported that children at a New Jersey elementary school were not served lunch because their school lunch accounts were empty of funds. According to one parent, "There was a room full of kids who were not fed. Some of them did qualify for reduced lunch, which amounted to 40-cents per meal. The principle then informed us that she spoke to parents on the first day of school and that it was their responsibility to make sure their kids are fed." The school district had apparently decided that it could not afford to continue providing its back up meal to kids because they were already running a $200,000 deficit in their lunch program. As Marketplace noted, “In many other states, debt collectors are hired to go after parents with unpaid bills. There is even a debt collection agency that specializes in collecting lunch debt from parents.”
Debt collectors going after parents for lunch money? First graders going without food? This is a mess. It is bad for kids be denied food – health-wise, academically, psychologically, any way you slice it. And yes, while there may indeed be some parents out there who can afford to pay for their children’s lunches and are simply neglecting to do so, the reality is that the cost of kids’ lunches is a real financial burden for many lower-income families.

Why George Washington U. is Doing Low-Income Students a Favor

October 29, 2013
Over the last two weeks, George Washington University has been all over the news for lying to its students about its admissions policies. For years, GW has said that it is “need blind” when in fact it isn’t. Every year the university chooses not to admit a certain percentage of students not because of grades or test scores or what admissions officers see as being a “good fit.” Rather they don’t admit these students simply because their families are low-income.

Most of the news coverage has been critical of the school for doing financially needy students a disservice. But, in fact, the opposite is true. GW is actually doing these individuals a tremendous favor since the school does such a lousy job supporting the small share of low-income students that it does enroll.

GW does not come close to meeting the full financial need of the low-income students it admits. Instead, it leaves these students with substantial funding gaps – forcing them to take on hefty debt loads. In 2011-12, GW students from families making $30,000 or less faced a daunting average net price – the amount students pay after all grant aid has been exhausted – of nearly $21,000 per year. That means low-income families have to pony up the equivalent of 70% or more of their annual income for their children to attend GW.

Now it’s true that GW has a relatively small endowment for its size. But this isn’t just a question of money. It’s also one of priorities. The university is a very active participant in the “merit-aid” wars. According to data the school provided the College Board, 19 percent of freshmen had no financial need yet received “merit” scholarships from the university in 2011-12, with an average award of over $17,000. Meanwhile, only 12 percent of GW freshmen received Pell Grants, which go to the most financially needy students.

GW is clearly more interested in recruiting, enrolling, and funding wealthy students than financially needy ones. For that reason, the low income students that GW passes over should know that they dodged a bullet.

The Way We Talk: Choice

September 27, 2013
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This is the fourth in a series of posts reflecting on terminology pervading today’s polarizing debates about American education. In each post, we ask how various buzzwords—“professionalism,” “accountability,” “equity,” and the like—influence the conversations we have. What are the strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots that come with framing our arguments in each of these terms? The hope is that assessing the implications of the way we talk will prompt more productive discussions about improving PreK-12 education.

In the last “The Way We Talk” post, I argued that equity is the closest thing that American public education has to a sacred purpose. We expect our schools to be equal opportunity catalysts; once students complete their PreK–12 (or sometimes PreK–College) education, we generally act as though society has provided them an adequate platform for determining the course of their lives. Put another way, public schools are our community’s most tangible, most democratic commitment to sustaining the American Dream.

But democratic equity only covers part of the story. The United States is a liberaldemocracy. Its attitude towards education (and politics more generally) also stems from individualist liberals like Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and John Locke. If we care about equity for all, we also care about choice. We care about freedom.

Promoting College Match for Low-Income Students: Lessons for Practitioners

September 26, 2013

A recent brief from MDRC reviews lessons learned from an assessment of College Match, an innovative advising program in Chicago designed to provide relevant and timely information to a broad range of academically qualified students and parents to help them make the best decision about college.  Recent research has shown that many low-income and minority students who graduate from high school well-prepared for college often “undermatch,” or enroll at nonselective four-year institutions and two-year institutions. Often low-income, academically talented students are unaware of the postsecondary options available to them and do not realize that certain more selective institutions could increase their likelihood of graduating with a college degree.

The brief highlights the strategies College Match uses as interventions to better match low-income, academically prepared high school graduates with institutions of higher education. College Match uses a combination of classroom activities and one-on-one meetings with advisers:

  • Sharing information and building awareness with students and families on the application process, financial aid, and the concept of a good “match.” For an academically talented low-income or minority student, a good “match” would be a more selective college with a higher college graduation rate.
  • Individualized student advising that includes matching students with a college that fits their interests, academic abilities, and personal and financial situations.
  • Application support for students navigating the college application process.
  • Assistance with decision-making and planning ahead that includes sorting through college acceptances and financial aid packages to find the best match and helping to prepare students to transition to college and campus life.

New Report Shines Spotlight on Negative Effects of Pre-K Absenteeism

September 17, 2013
Allbriton PreK Classroom

This month is labeled the first-ever “Attendance Awareness Month” by the advocacy group Attendance Works, and there is plenty to which we ought to be paying attention. A 2008 study by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) estimated that one out of every 10 children nationally is chronically absent (meaning he misses at least 10 percent of scheduled days) in his first two years of school.

Aligning Investments in Parenting With Investments in Early Education

September 13, 2013

Alignment is critical in early education policy. That goes for curriculum, instruction, standards, and much more. To be highly effective, public early education programs need to be: 1) accessible to those who need them, 2) high-quality, and 3) aligned with the rest of the education system. The last part is certainly key; we know, for example, that pre-K programs work best when they are designed in tandem with the K–12 system into which they feed. However, it is a mistake to think of alignment as perfectly linear, running from pre-K straight through college admission. Students are also their parents’ children—and those parents’ influence can support or undermine educators’ work. Can targeted policies help align parenting with schooling? Should policymakers dare to try?

Event Series at the University of Kansas on Poverty, Assets, and the American Dream

September 6, 2013

The University of Kansas School of Social Welfare, the Assets and Education Initiative (AEDI), and the KU Social Work Administration and Advocacy Practice are convening a series of events over the next few months about the interplay of assets with upward economic and social mobility. Learn more about the series and RSVP for the first event here.

The first event kicks off next week on September 11 at the University of Kansas. Keynote speaker Dr. Mark Rank, a widely-recognized expert on poverty and inequality, will be discussing his research, including a finding that nearly 60 percent of Americans experience poverty at some point between the ages of 20 and 75. His talk, and the panel discussion to follow, will examine why poverty is portrayed as an individual failing despite its prevalence and structural origins, and how institutions can support (or stop hindering) upward economic mobility. 

Check out the details for Wednesday's event below and make a note of the dates of forthcoming events. In particular, note that our Senior Research Fellow, William Elliott, will be speaking at the November event about his work on improving children's educational outcomes through access to savings. The early 2014 events will feature Tom Shapiro, whose work with the Institute on Assets and Social Policy has greatly informed the national conversation on the causes of racial wealth disparities, and Michael Sherraden, whose work laid the earliest foundations of the asset building field.

The series will be available on livestream for those not able to travel to the Lawrence, Kansas area.

The Way We Talk: Equity

September 5, 2013
Publication Image

This is the third in a series of posts reflecting on terminology pervading today’s polarizing debates about American education. In each post, we ask how various buzzwords—“professionalism,” “accountability,” and the like—influence the conversations we have. What are the strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots that come with framing our arguments in each of these terms? The hope is that assessing the implications of the way we talk will prompt more productive discussions about improving PreK-12 education.

"Professionalism" may be a newly fashionable alternative to the dominant hold "accountability" has on education debates today, but neither of these words makes sense without considering its relationship to "equity." When we talk of raising teachers' professional status or of dismissing ineffective instructors, it's almost always in the service of providing every American student a chance to succeed.

Pre-K Debates: Access and Quality

August 26, 2013

In the early education policy world, the research consensus supporting public investment in high-quality pre-K programs is overwhelming. We know that money spent on these programs leads to big savings in the long run.

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