• Education Left Behind

    Jul 31, 2014Edyta Obrzut

    Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

    Young people in Illinois recognize that many aspects of the state's education system are broken, and they have some first steps for improving it.

    “Part of what is at risk is the promise first made on this continent: All, regardless of race or class or economic status, are entitled to a fair chance and to the tools for developing their individual powers of mind and spirit to the utmost. This promise means that all children by virtue of their own efforts, competently guided, can hope to attain the mature and informed judgment needed to secure gainful employment, and to manage their own lives, thereby serving not only their own interests but also the progress of society itself’”   — A Nation at Risk, 1983

    In August of 1981, Secretary of Education Terrell Bell chartered the National Commission on Excellence to review and synthetize scholarly research on public schools nationwide, with a special focus on the educational experience of teenage youth. In their report, A Nation at Risk, they promised a comprehensive change to the students, their parents, and teachers. Years after National Commission on Excellence’s promise was made, The Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network and Young Invincibles have banded together under the NextGen Illinois project in order to bring a youth-led agenda to state government officials. It is time to assess what has been done and what needs to be improved to completely fulfill the dream of equal access to the quality education and equality of opportunity for young people in the state of Illinois.

    To that end, the NextGen project is hosting a series of caucuses across the state that offer an opportunity for young people to brainstorm and create a youth-lead policy agenda for the state of Illinois on issues that matter most to them. They foster discussion about state level politics and some of the most significant problems that are facing Illinois today. Through their participation, young adults offer their own insight about potential solutions to those problems that can result in positive change in their communities.

    The NextGen project held its second caucus at DePaul University on Tuesday, May 27, where students pointed out several problems with the current education system in Illinois, including inequality in the distribution of education funding and challenges created by a centralized curriculum. In this system both teachers and students feel pressures created by the demands of accountability and insufficient resources.

    Youth from the DePaul caucus further explained that demand for academic achievement and penalties for low-test scores have put extraordinary emphasis on accountability with both students and teachers being measured on their efficiency. The idea of consequences vs. high achievement creates a problem in which teaching in public schools is mostly directed toward test preparation rather than challenging and interesting classes. The lowest scoring schools are struggling with fewer funds and risk being placed on probation or being closed.

    The use of standardized tests in high stakes decisions about the individual student is also problematic, as not all students receive an equal opportunity to learn. As recently as 2010, Illinois received a grade of F in equitable distribution of funds per pupil and in relation to the students’ poverty. Education funding distribution in Illinois has been assessed as regressive and unfair. And to make matters worse, in 2009, Illinois law makers cut assistance for P-12 education from the General Fund by more than $861 million (12%). Without addressing these problems, current practices focused on test scores and accountability may only deepen inequality. The top-down accountability model is shifting responsibility for the failure of the educational system from the state to the individuals and hurts not only teachers and parents, but most of all, kids. NextGen youth believe that market-style competition is not working well for them and that it is time to change it.

    What can we do to get education back on track? Young people who participated in the caucus at DePaul argue that Illinois has to reevaluate its budget and increase funding for education. Students believe that improved support from the state to schools, granted on a per student basis, will be more effective. They believe that each student should have the same access to quality education and resources so youth can obtain proper preparation for college and competition on the job market. NextGen participants also stress the importance of early career exploration courses and financial counseling, which will help students in their life after high school.

    Students’ commitment to the issue of improving the Illinois public schools demonstrates the significance of the problem. They emphasize that improving educational outcomes of students in Illinois requires an effective educational reform that can only take place by including parents, teachers, and most of all- youth into the policy making process. High rate of participation in the NextGen caucuses by Illinois youth proves that if we try hard, we can make a difference!

    Edyta Obrzut is the NextGen Illinois Research Fellow for the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network.

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  • Leadership Wanted: The College Access Crisis Needs You, Mayor de Blasio

    Jul 31, 2014Kevin Stump

    Focusing on programs that help at-risk college students achieve doesn't get them in the door, so the mayor must put more energy and funding into college access.

    Focusing on programs that help at-risk college students achieve doesn't get them in the door, so the mayor must put more energy and funding into college access.

    This time a year ago, New York City residents were knee-deep in sorting through the promising rhetoric offered by hopeful bureaucrats vying to become the next Mayor of New York City. "The Tale of Two Cities" – the signature campaign phrase that helped propel Bill de Blasio into becoming the next chief executive of America’s largest city – speaks to the severity of the economic inequality that exists in New York City and across the country.

    Mayor de Blasio’s election was an overnight mandate for progressive reform, which greatly emphasized increasing resources for New York City’s schools. This year’s final New York City 2014 budget did take steps in the right direction by investing more in the City University of New York (CUNY) and programs like the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs and the Black Male Initiative to help the most at-risk students succeed while at college. These investments are necessary – especially given that 42 percent of CUNY community college students experience housing insecurity, 39 percent experience food insecurity, and 65 percent come from households with incomes less than $30,000.

    However, let's be clear: the mayor is not placing equal priority on college access, a choice that is dangerously shortsighted and will be much more costly in the end. The programs and opportunities that at-risk New York City high school students have available to help them access college are just as important as the programs that help students after admission.

    While most New York City high school students know that a high school diploma is no longer good enough, and acknowledge the need for a college degree, almost 70 percent of students believed that a high school diploma alone would adequately prepare them for college-level coursework. Yet only 25 percent of students are graduating college ready in New York City. Just 29 percent of high school graduates in the class of 2012 had test scores high enough to avoid remedial courses at the City’s public schools. What’s worse is that 74 percent of first-time freshmen entering CUNY community colleges needed remedial coursework in math, up 15 percent from 2002. Nearly three out of four high school students are either failing to graduate on time or lack the basic academic skills needed to hit the ground running at CUNY.

    It is clear that the City should be doing more to help the most at-risk communities access college while simultaneously injecting the CUNY system with enough resources to effectively meet the demand.

    There’s no debate: public higher education, while not perfect, is a proven and successful model to help socially and economically prepare young people to become life-long contributing citizens. However, the critical four years leading up to a young person's path to college can make or break a student’s college attainment. The Mayor should seize the opportunity and lead the nation’s cities and the people of New York to address this issue head on by jump-starting an inclusive public policy process that will lay out an aggressive plan for other cities across America to follow.

    In addition to the obvious players like the NYC Department of Education, New York State Education Department, and CUNY, the Mayor must bring to the policy table local stakeholders like the College Access Consortium of New York and groups like the Goddard Riverside Community Center as well as national models such as College Track and key stakeholders like the Lumina Foundation to put New York City on a collaborative path to increasing college attainment and by doing so, tackling economic inequality.

    To start, initial conversations should include how to best leverage existing government infrastructure and systems to think collaboratively and across agencies about policy solutions. For example, we could analyze programs offered by the New York City Department of Housing to integrate effective and proven programs in public housing facilities. The issue of college access is an intersectional problem and requires intersectional solutions. This issue requires Mayor de Blasio to employ a policy process that is inclusive, grounded in research and analysis, utilizes all the resources we have available, and injects even more resources to change this much-talked about but greatly under-addressed issue of college access or the lack thereof.  

    Kevin Stump is the Roosevelt Institute | Campus Network Leadership Director.

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  • Lawrence Katz: In the Artisanal Economy, Work Is What You Make of It

    Jul 31, 2014

    The Next American Economy project brought together 30 experts from various disciplines to envision tomorrow's economic and political challenges and develop today's solutions. Their assignment: be bold, and leave the conventional wisdom -- and their own opinions -- behind. In today's video, Lawrence Katz imagines a future "artisanal economy" in which crafty workers carve out their own niches.

    The Next American Economy project brought together 30 experts from various disciplines to envision tomorrow's economic and political challenges and develop today's solutions. Their assignment: be bold, and leave the conventional wisdom -- and their own opinions -- behind. In today's video, Lawrence Katz imagines a future "artisanal economy" in which crafty workers carve out their own niches.

    Lawrence Katz, the Harvard economics professor known for his book The Race Between Education and Technology, speculates on the flourishing of an artisanal economy. He imagines a potential rebirth of craftsmanship in which education and training allow workers to transform low-wage work into high-paid business. 

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  • Roosevelt Reacts: NLRB Holds McDonald's Accountable for Labor Violations

    Jul 30, 2014
    Yesterday, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald's is a joint employer for the workers at its franchises, meaning that the corporation could be held liable for any labor and wage violations that occur at its individual restaurants.

    The decision, says Roosevelt Institute President and CEO Felicia Wong...

    Yesterday, the general counsel of the National Labor Relations Board ruled that McDonald's is a joint employer for the workers at its franchises, meaning that the corporation could be held liable for any labor and wage violations that occur at its individual restaurants.

    The decision, says Roosevelt Institute President and CEO Felicia Wong, "rightly recognizes that, in today's changing and more fragmented workplace, workers still need the support and protections afforded by the law. Fast food workers are fighting for a wage that will allow them to care for their families and act as strong community members. This is an essential foundation for economic growth that benefits us all."

    Adds Roosevelt Institute Senior Fellow Richard Kirsch, "The common sense ruling that McDonald's is as much one company in the way it treats its workers as it is when it makes a Big Mac is a major step toward holding the biggest corporations in the country accountable for creating jobs that boost the economy instead of busting it."

    Read more about what the Future of Work Initiative is doing to promote policies that empower American workers and secure prosperity for all.

    Image via Shutterstock

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