Category Archives: Equity

A Poor People’s Campaign for Education Reform? What We Can Learn from LBJ and MLK

On April 11, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson sat in front of a one-room schoolhouse in Stonewall, Texas — the rural setting where he received his formative education — and signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). By his side was his former teacher, an elderly white woman bedecked in pearls and cat-eye glasses, and a group of Mexican-American former students he had taught in the Texas border town of Cotulla. This framing was no accident: the undercurrents of Civil Rights policy were in the air as Johnson had signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 the previous summer. And to further spotlight race equity in the ESEA, the date was selected to fall nearly 100 years to the day that the Civil War concluded.

President Lyndon Johnson signing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act on April 11, 1965. Photo by Frank Wolfe / LBJ Library

Johnson was staunch about his commitment to education. In a March 1965 conversation with newly inaugurated Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Johnson said: “Don’t ever argue with me. I’ll go a hundred million or a billion on health or education….Education and health. I’ll spend the goddamned money.” With ESEA’s role in providing significantly expanded resources (like library books, special education centers, and college scholarships) to vulnerable students, Johnson served as a human bridge between underserved populations: rural students, minorities, and immigrants. Looking at Johnson’s cleverly staged ESEA photo makes me think there are again opportunities for underserved student interests to unite in their demand for access to educational and economic equality. Identifying the intersection of class interests — as LBJ did — might have powerful political ramifications for the U.S. school system. 

A few years after the signing of the ESEA, Martin Luther King, Jr. carried the racial and economic unity torch forward. In 1968 he initiated the Poor People’s Campaign, which sought economic justice for the American poor. The first march of the Campaign included an interracial group of protestors — and would be King’s last. At his famous speech directed at striking Memphis sanitation workers, he urged:

We’ve got to stay together and maintain unity. You know, whenever Pharaoh wanted to prolong the period of slavery in Egypt, he had a favorite, favorite formula for doing it. What was that? He kept the slaves fighting among themselves.

But what if the photo opp Johnson arranged in Stonewall or the Poor People’s movement King envisioned stepped off the pages of history? What would a united populist movement for education and economic equality look like? How would it affect the classrooms our children fill each morning and the neighborhoods they return to each afternoon? As schools begin de facto resegregating, how might a united front across all underrepresented classes and underfunded schools provide a more equal education for all? Continue reading

Media: “Three Win-Win Opportunities for Middle- and Low-Income Students” in Education Next

Last week, I had a post on the Education Next blog about why we shouldn’t forget the needs of middle class students. The post was inspired by a new report from Melissa Steel King, Justin Trinidad, and me about how private schools seek to remain affordable for middle- and low-income families. An excerpt of my post:

Many education reformers focus their talents and attention on the most vulnerable children: low-income students stuck in the lowest performing schools. This focus reflects a dismay at persistent differences between students of different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic backgrounds, a dedication to equity, and a belief in opportunity through education.

Alongside this focus on high-need students, however, we must not forget middle class students. In fact, there are at least three win-win opportunities for policymakers, advocates, and practitioners to support middle class students while also advancing the needs of low-income kids.

Read the rest of this piece at Education Next, and dive into the report here.

What Are Microschools and Should We Have More of Them?

For our new report, “Working Toward Equitable Access and Affordability: How Private Schools and Microschools Seek to Serve Middle- and Low-Income Students,” we identified almost 200 intentionally small schools, often called “microschools,” across the country. Microschools’ small size — typically between 20 and 150 students across multiple grade levels — allows them the flexibility to implement innovative educational approaches such as multi-age classrooms, highly personalized and student-led learning, blended learning, experiential learning, and teachers as the primary school leaders.

Some proponents see microschools’ intensely relational, customized classrooms as a potential vehicle to improve educational opportunity for low-income students and students of color who are disproportionately underserved in our traditional public system. But is it a good idea to expand the model beyond the private school sector, where it largely lives now?

That question is hard to answer, largely because we don’t yet know enough about the quality and impact of existing microschools. Continue reading

Affordable Private Schools? There’s a Will — and a Way

Surveys show that 40% of Americans would like to send their children to a private school, yet only 10% actually do so. With an average tuition of $11,450, it’s no surprise that low- and middle-income families are unable to afford private schools.

Many schools try to be more affordable to families by subsidizing costs with public funds, such as vouchers or tax-credit scholarships, or by securing private donations and endowments to provide financial aid. While these revenue sources certainly help, they are limited.

Over the past several years, a number of private schools have come up with alternative and creative ways to fund their schools without passing the buck to parents. In a new report, we’ve profiled schools and networks such as Cristo Rey and Build UP that use work-study models to make private school education more affordable while also providing skills development and asset-building opportunities for students.

Cristo Rey Network

Founded in 1996, the Cristo Rey Network* has provided low-income students with a college preparatory education complemented by their Corporate Work Study Program experience. For five days a month, students complete a full day of work in a corporate environment such as a law firm, bank, or consulting firm, doing anything from general office work to translation services.

Partnerships with local businesses not only provide students with early exposure to important professional development skills, but also significantly subsidize tuition costs. Rather than paying students wages, students’ earnings go directly to the school to supplement tuition. Half of Cristo Rey Schools’ revenue comes from the Corporate Work Study Program, and families only have to pay a small tuition ranging from $1,000 to $2,500 depending on family income. Family contributions make up 10% of Cristo Rey’s revenues, and the remaining 40% comes from fundraising or publicly funded school choice programs.

Build UP

Build UP in Birmingham, AL provides low-income students with a high school and postsecondary education along with job skills and home ownership, while also contributing to the renewal of blighted communities. Over the course of six years, Build UP students earn a high school diploma and an associate’s degree while renovating abandoned homes through paid apprenticeships. Splitting time between coursework in financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and justice-based leadership, students receive an educational stipend of $15 an hour, half of which goes toward their tuition. Families are only obligated to contribute $1,500 in tuition annually.

Graduates take over the deed of an owner-occupied home and a rental property, and can earn passive income as a landlord after they meet one of the following conditions: Begin a high-wage job with a salary of at least $40,000 annually, enroll in a four-year college degree program, or launch their own business. So far, Build UP — which launched in 2018 — has grown to serve 70 students and has plans to expand even more. By gaining workforce skills and a guaranteed pathway to home ownership, Build UP seeks to create a social and economic safety net for the students and communities it serves. Continue reading

Powerful Conference on Reforming Juvenile Justice Systems Overlooked Education

It’s no surprise that conferences and convenings are often packed to the gills with sessions and speakers, making it difficult to go deep on any one issue.

But when I attended the 3rd annual Janet Reno Forum on Juvenile Justice last week, I expected the topic of education in juvenile justice facilities to get some airtime. I was disappointed that the event, held at at the Georgetown University Center for Juvenile Justice Reform (CJJR), largely overlooked the issue.

As Bellwether demonstrated in a report last year, academic programming at juvenile justice schools is wholly insufficient. For example, students in juvenile justice facilities have far less access to critical math and science courses necessary for high school graduation. Moreover, they have less access to credit recovery programs, which help them catch up if they’re behind. Next month we will release a follow-up analysis delving more deeply into the inadequacies and disparities in juvenile justice education.

As part of the event, the Center released a new report, “A Roadmap to the Ideal Juvenile Justice System,” which stresses eight key operating principles:

  • Developmentally appropriate;
  • Research-based, data-driven, and outcome-focused;
  • Fair and equitable;
  • Strengths-based;
  • Trauma-informed and responsive;
  • Supportive of positive relationships and stability;
  • Youth-and family-centered; and,
  • Coordinated.

But as my colleague Hailly Korman has written, education has to be part of any juvenile justice system. Education is the best and most consistent through line for young people navigating a complex path through juvenile justice and other systems. While CJJR’s report offers an important approach, the success of reforms will be hampered if they do not address education in these facilities.

Nevertheless, several important themes emerged across the panels and discussions: Continue reading