Policy Corner: June updates with Janet Forbush

Written by Janet Forbush, Senior Policy Advisor with the Center for the Advancement of Mentoring

June 2018

In the late May Public Policy Column for the Chronicle readers were informed of recent testimony of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos regarding the role and policy procedures of public schools in monitoring undocumented students. Civil rights groups swiftly condemned her remarks which suggested that she believed this to be “a school decision.”

The furor over this controversial position of DeVos continues. In a letter dated June 4 sent to her and signed by dozens of congressional democrats, she was directly informed that “Your words and actions matter: Left uncorrected, your testimony leaves state and district officials and public school personnel with the false impression that they may willfully violate the U.S. Constitution.”

Last week, school officials in Maine, Tennessee and Texas reassured students that they would not call immigration authorities on them. Updates on this consequential impasse will continue to be brought to the attention of Chronicle readers.

Federal and State Developments

Early June brings a strong dose of key primary elections in eight states from the far west, e.g., California to the mid-Atlantic region, e.g., Maryland. Voters in California will be selecting two of four candidates seeking the position of state superintendent of public instruction who will then be advanced to the general election ballot in November.

A brief snapshot of two of the California candidates is included here to highlight the unique and vastly different areas of expertise and perspectives voters will be choosing from in this early primary. It reminds us that we need to informed voters in order to cast meaningful ballots that make a difference for our young people.

Among the four candidates in the primary field is Marshall Tuck, 44 and a Democrat, who graduated from UCLA and Harvard Business School. Mr. Tuck led Green Dot Public Schools, a network of independent charter schools in Los Angeles, and Partnership for Los Angeles Schools before he transitioned to the New Teacher Center as educator-in-residence (https://newteachercenter.org/our-approach).

Tuck ran for the state superintendent position in 2014 and narrowly lost to Tom Torlakson. His promotional messaging references mentoring and advocacy for vulnerable youth that is often not front and center among candidates. “We’re going to shift dollars and make sure they go to the kids of greatest need. Secondly, we’re going to bring in additional people to help your school and your school district have more success. Go and coach and mentor and build capacity at a low-performance school. You have to build the capacity of professionals.”

Another of the candidates in this primary field is Steven Ireland, 59, who is a television producer.  He champions his candidacy as being the “parent candidate.” Among issues he is concerned about is the sizeable (and growing) number of homeless students throughout the state. He is asking voters “Why aren’t we helping these kids in our schools?” In addition, he is concerned that the State Board of Education membership doesn’t currently include a parent representative.

Summer hasn’t yet officially begun, however, many mentoring programs, especially those that are school-based, have already completed their academic year and have sent their students/mentees off for the next several weeks.

The individual circumstances of the young people and their families span a range of situations and influence opportunities afforded them during the summer months. A stark reality is that too many youngsters are in families that have been hit the hardest by what is a notable “wealth gap.” A recently published paper by Christina Gibson-Davis and Christine Percheski informs us of the backdrop and causes of this increasing wealth gap.

Gibson-Davis, an associate professor of public policy at Duke University and Percheski, an assistant professor of sociology at Northwestern, examined data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances, a mega-dataset collected every three years that catalogs the total assets and debt of American households.  The researchers drew upon nine survey years of information collected between 1989 and 2013. (“Children and the Elderly: Wealth Inequality Among America’s Dependents – May 2018 Demography (55).  DOI: 10.1007/s13524-018-0676-5)

Their findings reveal that in terms of wealth, people over 65 have experienced the past 25 years much better than families with children. Families with children experienced a decline in wealth of 56% in the same time period. In addition, in 2013, nearly a third of all families with children in 2013 had no wealth, only debt.

A recommendation of the authors of the paper is that the United States “needs a fundamental rethinking of public policy priorities to improve the lives of the next generation of children.” Likely we can agree with this suggestion.

The 2018 Building a Grad Nation report has just been released and shows that the high school graduation rate is now at an all-time high of 84.1 percent. Thirty-nine states have reached rates above 80 percent and not a single one is below 71 percent. Notably, in 2001, the national high school graduation rate stood at just 71 percent.

The report analyzes the most recent data in several ways:  1) High school graduation trends across the nation through the lens of local districts; 2) A 90 percent graduation rate for key student subgroups, e.g., underserved student subgroups and lowest performing high schools; and, 3) The connection between high school and postsecondary including impact of pathways from k-12 to postsecondary and careers.

The report is co-authored by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University School of Education. It was released in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education. (www.americaspromise.org/building-grad-nation-report)

Reading Recommendation

Some Do Care – Contemporary Lives of Moral Commitment, written by Anne Colby and William Damon, isn’t a new book but rather a valuable compendium of beliefs, motivations, and actions of twenty-three “extraordinary altruistic Americans.” It is a beautiful, heartwarming introduction to these individuals and will likely remind Chronicle readers of people with whom you work, mentors in your programs, and people who have influenced you over the past several years.

The book is an invitation to us to call upon better angels in times when acrimony, shouting, and discordant behavior seems to have taken over. This book was published by The Free Press, A Division of Macmillan, Inc., and is available through amazon.com.