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Make the world a better place for you and your family

Posted by Elena del Valle on January 5, 2011

By Laura Scheiber
Co-author Unequal Fortunes

Laura Scheiber, co-author, Unequal Fortunes

Arthur Levine and I recently wrote a book called Unequal Fortunes: Snapshots from the South Bronx (see Fellowship foundation leader, assistant examine challenges faced by South Bronx youth). It focuses on three Latino teenagers coming of age in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation. For ten years Carlos, Leo, and Juan Carlos shared their worlds with us. It was a scary place where kids went to more funerals than graduation parties. Drug dealers were on every corner and gangs ruled the streets. Kids were forced to go to local schools with inadequate resources, under-qualified teachers, and a high staff turnover rate. The outcome was not surprising: half of the children in the neighborhood would never graduate from high school. By 16 years old, Carlos, Leo and Juan Carlos could count on one hand the number of friends who graduated from high school. Their other friends were either working minimum-wage jobs, unemployed, in jail, or dead.

This story is not unique. A study by the National Center for Education Statistics found a significant difference in student’s educational achievement among those who attend urban and non-urban schools 1. Similar to our study, urban youth across the nation typically attend schools that are substantially underfunded compared to suburban schools. In some cases suburban schools receive twice as much or more per pupil compared to neighboring high poverty urban schools2. The impact of fewer resources is compounded by the fact that urban students are more than twice as likely to be living in poverty as suburban students, and therefore are more likely to face challenges linked to poverty. There is a strong correlation between socioeconomic status and student drop-out rates. 16-24 year olds in the lowest income quartile drop out at more than 5 times the rate of their peers in the highest income quartile3. Since educational attainment has a major influence on one’s chances in the job market, it is not surprising that high school drop-outs have much higher poverty and unemployment rates later in life than high school graduates 4.

When kids are placed on a track to fail, it affects everyone in the United States. On average high school drop-outs pay about half the federal and state income taxes and social security compared to high school graduates5. They are also twice as likely to end up in jail 6. Increased crime rates means public spaces are less safe, and taxes go up to cover increased law enforcement and penal system costs. If the high school completion of all men ages 20-60 were to go up by 1%, experts predict that it would save the United States more than $1 billion a year in costs related to criminal justice. But over the last twenty years, there has been a trend in the United States of spending more money on our prison systems versus higher education. Corrections spending has increased by over 100% while spending on postsecondary education has gone up by 21%7. Our focus is not on educational attainment, particularly for Hispanic youth. While 61% of Whites 25 years old or older enrolled in college, only 33% of Hispanics from the same age bracket enrolled in college8.

An exhaustive body of literature shows that investing in at-risk children when they are young and full of promise in the form of comprehensive educational enrichment programs costs far less and is more effective than paying for young adults who are already broken due to problems associated with poverty and inequality. Our research demonstrates how two of the young men in our study made it to college despite the odds. A network of mentors, educational enrichment programs, college-bound expectations, and the financial, socio-emotional and academic supports necessary to make it to college all played a critical role. Large- scale studies have arrived at similar conclusions, and initiatives that target students at a young age and that involve families & entire communities are most likely to increase high school graduation rates9. Experts estimate that initiatives that enhance high school graduation rates equate to financial revenues 2.5 times greater than the costs to taxpayers10

How can we make sure that our next generation reaches its full potential and how can you be a part of this imperative plan?

  • Invest in effective educational initiatives for at-risk youth

As mentioned, comprehensive educational initiatives such as Say Yes To Education, I Have a Dream Foundation, and Harlem Children’s Zone have proven to be effective in not only enhancing the educational attainment of at-risk youth, but also contributing to their overall development. Such initiatives rely on the support of private donors. Without your support, the programs would not exist.

  • Support college scholarships for Latinos from socioeconomic disadvantaged backgrounds

Only 13% of Hispanics obtained a 4 –year college degree or higher in the United States compared to 33% of whites in the same age bracket11. Latino youth are not only more than twice as likely to be poor compared to white children , but they are also more likely to be in the lowest income bracket among the poor12. College tuition costs present real barriers for disadvantaged youth wishing to attend college. A scholarship can help counter these obstacles.

  • Invest in your employees

If you own a business in which English is a second language for the majority of your employees, provide free English classes for them on the work site, and make it feasible for them to attend the classes. The mothers in our study desperately wanted to learn English, but their work schedules did not permit them to take classes. Had they known English, they would have been better equipped to communicate effectively with their children’s teachers. Researchers have found a positive correlation between parent involvement in schooling and student academic achievement13

As a nation we need to ensure that all children are put on a path for success. This not only speaks to our democratic principles, but also the safety and future financial stability of our nation depends on it.

Laura Scheiber is co-author of Unequal Fortunes, Snapshots from the South Bronx and a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University.

1 http://nces.ed.gov/pubs/web/96184ex.asp
2 Kozol, J. (2005 ). Shame of the Nation: The Restoration of Apartheid Schooling in America. Washington DC: Crown
3 U.S. Department of Education (2008b). Digest of Educational Statistics. (Tables9–10).
4 Belfied, C & Levin, H. (2007). Price We Pay: Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education. Washington DC: Brookings Institute.
5 Rouse, C. ( 2007) Consequences of the Labor Market. In Price We Pay: Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education. (p.p. 99-125). Washington D.C.: Brookings Institute.
6 Moretti, E. ( 2007) Crime and the Cost of Criminal Justice. In Price We Pay: Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education. (p.p. 140-162). Washington D.C.: Brookings Institute.
7 http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2008/02/29/prisons
8 U.S. Department of Education (2008b). Digest of Educational Statistics. (Tables9–10).
9 Belfied, C & Levin, H. (2007). Price We Pay: Economic and Social Consequences of Inadequate Education. Washington DC: Brookings Institute
10 Ramirez, D. & Robeldo, M. (1987) The Economic Impact of the Dropout Problem. IDRA newsletter (April). San Antonio. Intercultural Development Research Association.
11 U.S. Department of Education (2008b). Digest of Educational Statistics. (Tables 9–10)
12 http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/feb10/vol67/num05/The-Latino-Education-Crisis.aspx
13 Atkin, et. al (1988) . Listening to Parents. London: Croom Helm.