Approximately one third of homicides go unsolved in America. Almost sixty percent of reported rapes never result in prosecution (much less a conviction). And only slightly more than one in ten auto thefts are ever resolved. (All data from the FBI.) So maybe you should worry about what happens when your classmate is a former inmate, but probably not as much as you think. Or at least, only as much as you’re worrying about what happens when your classmate has committed a crime for which s/he was never arrested or convicted — because for every person who is prosecuted, many others are never caught. In other words: not much.
Hand-wringing aside, our policies are starting to catch up with the facts. Today, the U.S. Department of Education announced a proposal with a set of recommendations to minimize inquiries about conviction histories in the college application process in order to improve college access for those who have criminal records.
Many of our current policies are built on a false duality that divides the world neatly into good people and bad people: college students are good people and former inmates are bad people. Young people suspended from school through the operation of “zero tolerance” discipline practices are just kids caught up in the school-to-prison pipeline, but young people serving sentences in corrections facilities are criminals who need to learn a lesson. And this tidy set of categories helps us manage a reality that otherwise makes us very uncomfortable. Continue reading
(Note: This post is an updated version of my 2015 piece on the same topic. The data are new for 2016.)
Tomorrow is College Signing Day, a day to celebrate students and their commitment to complete their education beyond high school.
In anticipation of the day’s events, I pulled the latest state-level data on Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion rates. See the table below for the full results. The numbers are mostly bad news: FAFSA completion rates are down a bit nationally, and only five states have seen increases this year. Continue reading
Rural education wasn’t on my radar until I started to manage the Rural Opportunities Consortium of Idaho (ROCI), a joint initiative between Bellwether, Paul Hill, and the J.A. and Kathryn Albertson Family Foundation. Like many others working in education policy and reform, my attention had been focused on urban America.
Over the past two and a half years, ROCI has released 19 reports on various issues related to rural education—from economic development to talent pipelines to funding formulas. Here’s some of what I have learned about why rural education is important to our field and our future:
Graduation rates aren’t a very good measure on which to hold high schools accountable.
There are a couple reasons for this. First, graduation decisions are mostly left up to the schools and districts that are supposedly accountable for them. If you hold schools and districts accountable for their graduation rates, they have an incentive to just pass more students along and out the door.
Second, graduation rates also have a long time lag between when a student begins his or her high school career and when he or she finally finishes. Although schools and districts have quite a bit of control over these things, there’s still a long time lag, and it will be hard for a superintendent or principal to show any immediate improvements.
Both of these issues can be mitigated in various ways. States adopted high school graduation exams to require all students across the state to meet the same bar. But those exams come with their own problems. To avoid the time lag problem, states could adopt retention measures calculated on an annual basis. But few states have done so. Averaging across multiple years could also help, but few states do that either, and schools still can’t move the needle very quickly.
But worst of all, graduation rates don’t tell us very much about whether students are prepared for life after graduation. Continue reading