Kentucky Narrows Graduation Gap Between Low- and High-Income Students


High school graduation rates for low-income students are, on average, 15 percentage points lower nationally than for their higher-income peers.

Not true in Kentucky.

“Kentucky is a state with rates of poverty that exceed the nation’s, but with graduation rates for low-income students that are its envy,” writes John M. Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises, and Robert Balfanz, director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, in the foreword of a new study.

The two organizations released For All Kids: How Kentucky is Closing the High School Graduation Gap for Low-Income Students this week to provide insights to other states and districts working to close graduation gaps of all kinds.

Kentucky’s graduation gap between low-income students and their peers was just 1 percentage point in 2013 and 7 percentage points in 2014, showcasing “steady improvement since 2003.”

The report’s authors, Joanna Hornig Fox, Erin S. Ingram and Jennifer L. DePaoli, cite four factors that have contributed to the state’s progress “in an era of higher standards and at a time when the number of low-income students has dramatically risen.”

  1. Slow and steady wins the race. Kentucky’s been at this for more than 25 years. After the state supreme court found Kentucky’s public school funding system unconstitutional, legislators took a new look at education funding, governance, and curriculum.

The Kentucky Education Reform Act, passed in 1990, “kick-started the process of making school funding more equitable, providing increased support to struggling districts, improving data systems, and engaging parents and community in improving their local schools.”

But this work takes time and tenacity, the report notes. Without “steady, persistent and focused leadership and commitment to children and the state’s future, it is doubtful that the reforms that KERA began would have made such positive changes.”

To read more, go to America’s Promise Alliance.

Diplomas Now Helps Keep Kids in School


Diplomas Now, a program that increases support for students that are at risk of dropping out of school, has been shown to increase those students’ odds of graduating by 50%, America’s Promise Alliance reports.

By helping students improve their attendance, behavior, and grades in middle school, research shows that they stand a significantly better chance of graduating from high school on time.

According to a new report, Addressing Early Warning Indicators: Interim Impact Findings from the Investing in Innovation (i3) Evaluation of Diplomas Now, the research organization MDRC found that the Diplomas Now interventions succeeded by reducing the percentage of students that demonstrated early warning signs. The study also found that this kind of progress is possible consistently across multiple districts, even in the nation’s highest poverty middle and high schools.

Attendance, Behavior and Grades

When researcher Bob Balfanz and his colleagues first discovered the predictive power of early warning indicators, Balfanz says it was a “eureka moment” in education.

For sixth or ninth graders exhibiting even one early warning sign, like poor attendance, their odds of graduating from high school fall to just 25%. On the other hand, preventing students from struggling with discipline, attendance, or grades can improve their odds of graduating by 50%.

To better support struggling students, Balfanz co-founded Diplomas Now. The organization–a partnership between the Talent Development Secondary school improvement model from Johns Hopkins UniversityCity Year, and Communities In Schools–received support from the U.S. Department of Education’s Investing in Innovation (i3) Fund.

Diplomas Now works by training teachers to monitor students’ attendance, discipline, and grades. After identifying high-risk students, the team works with City Year and Communities In Schools to pair students with everything from one-on-one mentors, to counseling, or housing services, depending on the student’s needs.

This whole-school approach focuses on increasing the number of caring adults young people can turn to for support. Research on the program has found that it’s having an impact, particularly on reducing chronic absenteeism. That’s important, because keeping kids in school increases their chances of graduating.

Research also found the following:

  • Compared to students from other schools, students who got support from Diplomas Now were more likely to say they had a positive relationship with an adult at school who wasn’t a teacher.
  • Students at Diplomas Now schools reported being more involved in after school activities that focus on academics.

For more information about Diplomas Now, visit its website.

The One “Fight” Muhammad Ali Did Not Win

Muhammad Ali

In the news this weekend about the death of former heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali, many probably noticed a heartbreaking sentence in one of the many retrospectives on Ali’s dynamic life. The New York Times reports that in the segregated schools he’d attended, the champ had never been taught to read properly. Ali confided later in life that he had never read a book, not even the Quran.

But that was in the past, right? Today’s students of color are literate and learning. If only that were true.

According to Building a GradNation, a report written by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University released in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, the country’s public schools face deep inequities and continued racial and economic segregation, not unlike the schools of Ali’s youth.

Here are some reasons to remember that the fight for educational equity is far from over:

  • There were 2,397 low-graduation-rate high schools in the U.S. in 2014, enrolling a total of 1.23 million students. (A low-graduation high school has a graduation rate of 67% or less.)
  • Nationwide, 33% of all non-graduates in 2014 were enrolled in low-graduation-rate high schools.
  • The number of low-graduation-rate high schools varies widely by state, from one each in Maine and West Virginia, to 203 in Florida and 276 in New York.
  • In 12 states (AK, NM, FL, AZ, GA, NV, CO, OR, NY, DE, WA, ID), low-graduation-rate high schools make up 20% or more of all high schools in the state. In Alaska and New Mexico, low-graduation-rate high schools make up 40% or more of all high schools in the state.
  • Students of color are overrepresented in large, low-graduation-rate high schools. Of the roughly 924,000 students in such schools (with 300 or more students), 65% came from low-income families, and 63% were African American or Hispanic/Latino.
  • In 15 states, African American students made up more than 40% of all students attending large, low-graduation-rate schools. Four of these states – MD, MI, TN, and VA – had African American student populations of 75% or more in these high schools.
  • Literacy rates remain low for black school children. Only 17% of black children completing the 2013 NAEP fourth grade reading assessment performed at or above proficiency.
  • Nationwide, 83% of black fourth graders read below grade level.

Will High School Graduation Rates Reach 90% by 2020?

The majority of black and brown high school students you encounter every day—a startling 63%—attend low-graduation-rate high schools.

In the “greatest nation in the world,” nearly 1 million students attend low-graduation-rate high schools—that is, schools that have an Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate of 67% or below, as defined by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

These sobering statistics are included in a report released by Civic Enterprises and the Everyone Graduates Center at the Johns Hopkins University, in partnership with America’s Promise Alliance and the Alliance for Excellent Education, the four organizations that lead the GradNation campaign.

The 2016 Building a Grad Nation report is the seventh annual update on the challenges states and school districts encounter in their efforts to increase high school graduation rates to 90% by 2020. To stay on track to reach that goal, the national graduation rate needs to increase by 1.3 percentage points annually. The year 2014 is the first year that the rate fell short, increasing just .9%.

If the needs of students who have historically been underserved—particularly students of color and low income students—are not addressed, the graduation rate of 90% will not be met in 2020. The emphasis must be on all students.

“Regardless of the type of school,” said John Bridgeland, president and CEO of Civic Enterprises, in a statement, “we must insist upon results and ensure that every student receives a high quality education. We need to get beyond labels and get all students what they need to succeed.”

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According to the report, in 41 states low income students made up more than 40% of the enrollment in low-graduation-rate high schools; in 12 of those states, low income students made up more than 75% enrollment.

In 15 states, black students made up more than 40% of enrollment in high schools that have a graduation rate of 67% or less.

The report exposes the racial and socio-economic isolation of these underserved students, not only in regular district high schools, but also in charters (30% of which have low graduation rates), alternative schools (which serve at-risk students, 60% of whom are students of color), and virtual schools.

The report includes policy recommendations, including requiring states to develop evidence-based plans to improve low-graduation-rate high schools. It is distressing to note that some states do much better with difficult student populations than others. Would that ineffective states were required to explain why they are not using methods that other states have found more successful.

For more information about the 2016 GradNation report, visit this website.

Lower Your Student Loan Payments Now

When Denesia Rodgers saw her first student loan bill after she completed graduate school, she “freaked out.” Her federal loans for undergrad and graduate school, plus private loans she had taken out to fund her education would total more than $2,000 a month.

[Related: Wages for Young College Graduates Remains the Same as in 2000]

The graduate of Johns Hopkins University and Tufts University graduate school immediately called the number on her statement. “I asked what my options were besides the standard repayment,” Rodgers says. Her provider walked her through the options, and Rodgers chose the income-based repayment plan, or IBR, which provided her with the lowest monthly payment.

Now in IBR for three years, Rodgers recommends the plan to others. “My fear was that I wouldn’t be able to buy a house or a newer car. I wanted to enjoy the fruits of my labor and not be weighed down by a huge student loan debt,” she says.

In addition to IBR, there are three other income-driven repayment plans: Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE), Pay As You Earn (PAYE), and Income-Contingent Repayment (ICR), although having so many options may make it hard for some to determine which plan best meets their needs.

“Income-driven plans protect borrowers by allowing them to pay back their loans based on what they earn,” says Jen Mishory, executive director of Young Invincibles, a millennial-focused research and grassroots advocacy organization that has written extensively about these plans.

“They can pay an affordable amount early in their careers or in difficult financial times, and pay back faster when their incomes rise. But with so many loan repayment options, borrowers can have a tough time signing up. Simplifying the system and informing struggling borrowers about this key protection will help lower default and delinquency rates and reduce financial distress for many borrowers,” Mishory says.

More student loan borrowers are taking advantage of these plans, however. Besides lowering your monthly payment amounts, if you stay on the plan and faithfully make your monthly payments, any amount remaining after 20 or 25 years (depending on your situation) is forgiven—it’s only 10 years if you work in the nonprofit sector (including teaching, nursing, and working for state, local, or federal government). However, unless you work in the nonprofit sector, the forgiven amount is considered taxable income.

Income driven repayment plans practically eliminate the likelihood that your student loans will go into default, because the amount you pay is based on what you earn and your family size, not what you owe. Some students qualify to pay $0, but on an income-driven repayment plan, their loan is considered current. You just need to recertify your income every year. “It’s an easy process. It’s all done online. It takes less than 10 minutes,” Rodgers says.

All your pertinent tax information is accessed through your FAFSA PIN, Rodgers says, and is automatically filled in.

Because she hasn’t been constrained by a heavy debt load, Rodgers is able to enjoy the benefits that her undergraduate and graduate degrees have afforded her as a young professional. She’s gotten married, purchased a house with her husband, and had a baby. In 17 years, anything left of her student loan indebtedness will be forgiven.

For most students, income-driven repayment plans are a better option than forbearance, which capitalizes the interest (unless you pay it as it accrues), causing the principal to balloon over time. Depending on the plan, the government will pay a portion of the interest on your loan.

For more information, see the April issue of Black Enterprise magazine.

Do Black Students Need Black Teachers to Excel?


If you’re a boy of color in elementary school, your likelihood of being suspended or missing class rises significantly if you are assigned to a teacher of a race different from yours.

American University researchers Seth Gershenson and Stephen Holt dig into how racial differences between teachers and students may play out in student behavior in a new discussion paper for the German Institute for the Study of Labor.

[Related: Chicago Public Schools as Scrooge]

It’s the latest in mounting evidence of the challenges that can occur when there are racial, gender, and cultural differences between teachers and students. Back in September, Sarah D. Sparks wrote about a prior study by Gershenson, Holt, and Johns Hopkins University researcher Nicholas Papageorge that found that teachers were significantly more likely to believe a student would graduate from high school and go on to college if they were both of the same race, versus if their races were different—particularly if the teacher was white and the student was black.

The current study takes another approach, using state longitudinal administrative data from South Carolina. The American University researchers tracked nearly 990,000 elementary school students from 2006 to 2012. They compared students’ absenteeism and suspension rates to both their own classmates in a given year and changes from year to year, as the students experienced teachers of different races.

Both suspensions and chronic absenteeism—missing 10% or more of the school year—were rare among students, but there were significant differences. Boys were more likely than girls, and black and Hispanic students were more likely than white or Asian students to miss school or be suspended, Gershenson and Holt found.

On average, having a teacher of a different race slightly increased the average number of days a student was absent or times he or she was suspended. But the increased risk that minority boys would miss or be put out of class was huge.

Read more at Education Week.

Black Doctor Withdraws as Johns Hopkins Commencement Speaker

Dr. Benjamin Carson, a neurosurgeon and the director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital announced Wednesday that he is withdrawing as graduation speaker at Johns Hopkins University, after students petitioned to have him removed because of his recent comments about gay marriage, Washington Post reports.

“Given all the national media surrounding my statements as to my belief in traditional marriage, I believe it would be in the best interests of the students for me to voluntarily withdraw as your commencement speaker this year,” Carson said in an e-mail to the dean of the Johns Hopkins medical school, Paul Rothman. “My presence is likely to distract from the true celebratory nature of the day. Commencement is about the students and their successes, and it is not about me.”

Carson mentioned bestiality and pedophilia during a TV interview while arguing against gay marriage.

Do you think Carson should have withdrawn?

Read more at the Washington Post