The kindergarten exodus

The kindergarten exodus

Children across Louisiana are returning to schools this week, amid another round of bickering between elected officials about whether masks should be required in classrooms. But in Louisiana and across the country, many of the most vulnerable students won’t be in class at all. A new analysis by Dana Goldstein and Alicia Parlapiano of the New York Times, in collaboration with researchers from Stanford University, found that nearly 1 million children who were expected to show up for school failed to do so – either in person or online. The decline was steepest in kindergarten, a foundational year of learning that is critical to later academic success.  

(T)he most startling declines were in neighborhoods below and just above the poverty line, where the average household income for a family of four was $35,000 or less. The drop was 28 percent larger in schools in those communities than in the rest of the country. … Given how many kindergartners went elsewhere, the challenge now is to re-establish relations between the schools and families who left them. That task is made harder by continued anxiety about infection in classrooms as the Delta variant sweeps the nation. “A lot of Black and brown families kept their children home for good reason,” said Kayla Patrick, an analyst at the Education Trust, an advocacy group focused on low-income students and students of color. “They need to know in-person instruction is proven to be better. We want to make sure that schools are rebuilding that trust.”

In Louisiana, disruptions caused by Covid have led to a decline in test scores. As The Advocate notes in a weekend editorial, the latest results come in a state where educational achievement already lagged the rest of the country.

The decline came across the board, across all grade levels, subjects and subgroups, education officials said. In grades 3-8, a total of 29% achieved “mastery,” down from 34% two years ago. Among high school students, the proportion achieving mastery fell from 37% in 2019 to 32% in 2021. None of this was unexpected, given the number of students who spent at least part of the year learning remotely and precautions taken for those in the classroom. In fact, some officials thought the news would be even worse.

Education department rejects anti-racism teaching
The Louisiana Department of Education has experienced unusually high turnover since Cade Brumley took over as state superintendent in June of last year. The latest departure is Dr. Kelli Peterson, who oversaw the agency’s racial equity and inclusion work and said she felt marginalized in her role because of her race and gender. The Advocate’s Will Sentell reports that Peterson complained about a range of indignities, large and small, but that a key source of friction appears to have been over the way issues of race and racism are taught in public schools. 

Peterson told Brumley she has raised questions that stem from critical race theory — the view that racism has played an outsized role in U.S. history that continues to affect daily life. The issue has sparked controversy during the ongoing update of social studies standards for public schools. Brumley said last month the theory has no place in public schools. … Peterson has a different take. “Critical race theory is not the ‘boogie-man’ that many have attempted to make it to be,” she said in her letter. “It is a theoretical framework that can be applied to assert that it is not that our Black and Brown children are incapable of high achievement but rather institutional racism that has led to structural systemic racism as the cause.”

College, debt and the racial wealth gap
A college education was supposed to be the great economic equalizer for Black Americans, helping to reduce or eliminate the deep racial disparities in income and wealth grounded in systemic discrimination. But the opposite appears to have happened, driven by skyrocketing levels of student debt combined with sluggish income growth. Rachel Louise Ensign and Shane Shifflett report for The Wall Street Journal

Now, the generation that hoped to close the racial wealth gap is finding it is only growing wider. More than 84% of college-educated Black households in their 30s have student debt, up from 35% three decades ago, when many baby boomers were at the same age. The younger generation owes a median of $44,000, up from less than $6,000. By comparison, 53% of white college-educated households in their 30s have debt, up from 27% three decades earlier. The median amount rose to $35,000 from $8,000. All figures are adjusted for inflation. Meanwhile, Black graduates’ household incomes have grown more slowly than those of college graduates in general, according to a Journal analysis of census data. Median income for Black college-educated households in their 30s increased 7% from the early 1990s to late 2010s to about $76,000. Income for their white counterparts rose 13% to about $114,000.

Recovery plan would boost social mobility
A bipartisan infrastructure bill is nearing final passage in the Senate, and congressional Democrats unveiled a separate, $3.5 trillion budget blueprint on Monday that would make historic new investments in families and communities. Tony Romm reports, for the Washington Post: 

The measure also proposes universal pre-kindergarten, reform of federal immigration laws and fresh efforts to lower prescription drug prices, marking fresh attempts on Capitol Hill to adopt long-stalled priorities and campaign promises from the 2020 presidential election. … The blueprint paves the way for significant new spending on child care and education, as Democrats look to fulfill a promise to make community college free for two years. The budget resolution also opens the door for lawmakers to extend a recent set of expanded federal tax credits that help low-income families with children. 

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in a new paper, reviews decades of research showing long-term benefits for children from programs that reduce poverty by boosting family incomes.  

Multiple studies demonstrate significant benefits for children and young people from investments in child tax credits, rental assistance, child nutrition, quality child care and preschool, higher education, and paid leave. Children of color, who are more likely to experience economic insecurity and lower-quality schooling, would especially benefit from these investments. 

Number of the Day
340,000 – Decline in kindergarten enrollment in the United States during the 2020-21 academic year, compared to what would be expected before the Covid-19 pandemic (Source: The New York Times)