Three things to read this weekend

Congratulations to all of my fellow Boston-area commuters on surviving another week! While I’m hoping against hope that the storm forecast for this weekend gives us a pass, it’s looking likely that I’ll be stuck inside again. If you’re in the same boat, pass the time by checking out some of the most interesting things I read this week.

Rich School, Poor School: Looking Across the College Access Divide (NPR): The juxtaposition of two very different schools in the Detroit area: Cranbrook Schools, the $30,000-a-year alma mater of Mitt Romney, and Osborn Collegiate Academy of Math, Science and Technology, a public school that enrolls many students who could be the first in their families to attend college. This story highlights the growing disparity in the level of college counseling high school students receive. Not surprisingly, wealthier, suburban schools (not to mention private schools) tend to have more counselors and/or counselors with more training and experience; poor urban and rural schools are more likely to have counselors overburdened by large caseloads and with little formal training in college admissions. What does this mean? The students who need the most help navigating an increasingly complex college admissions process get the least assistance – which can exacerbate the already troubling income-based gaps in post-secondary achievement (see more on that in this story from last week’s weekend reads).

Saving School Choice without Undermining Poor Communities (The Atlantic): Chief among the many contentious issues in the NCLB reauthorization debate is whether federal funds for low-income students (i.e., Title I funding) should be “portable” – allowed to follow students to schools they choose. Republicans are largely in the let-the-funds-go-with-the-students camp, while most Democrats take the opposite position (shocker). Research has shown that reducing socioeconomic isolation – the effect that’s created when low-income students attend a school that enrolls almost entirely other low-income students –is more effective at improving the academic performance of low-income students than keeping them enrolled in a high-poverty school but spending more money on them. Given that, the article argues that structuring portable Title I funding so that it encourages wealthier public schools to recruit low-income students could reduce economic segregation and lead to larger improvements in student outcomes. I’m not entirely sure I buy the argument (what happens to the students left behind at the low-income schools? Do they all transfer? More details needed.) but it’s certainly an interesting read.

The Promise and Failure of Community Colleges (The New York Times): Community colleges have been getting a lot of attention recently, what with President Obama’s proposal to give students two years of community college for free. This article agrees with the president that community colleges have a lot of promise as a pathway to middle class stability for the huge percentage of American students who have neither the money nor the grades to go right to a four-year university. However, what Obama’s proposal ignores (or at least skirts around) is that community colleges aren’t doing a very good job at fulfilling that promise: only 35 percent of community college students attain a degree with six years, and the graduation rates have been declining over the past decade, according to the article. While the real solution to this problem probably lies in high schools or even earlier in the academic trajectory, the articles argues against giving up on community colleges, pointing to a successful experiment at City University of New York that doubled the three-year graduation rate for the most disadvantaged students.