Sustained Outrage

Education reform: What about child poverty?

With lawmakers and Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin talking so much about education “reform”, it is strange that a key challenge facing so many West Virginia schoolkids isn’t necessarily one of the main things they talk about. What is it? Poverty.

The good folks at the West Virginia Center for Budget and Policy raised the issue yesterday, in a blog post in which executive director Ted Boettner argues that, “Addressing Child Poverty is the Best Education Reform We Can Make“:

As state lawmakers and others review and debate the findings of the recent education audit, it is important that they consider the economic and social conditions of our state’s children. This is especially true when evaluating our state’s K-12 education outcomes, which likely has more to do with the income of a student’s parent than any other factor.

As professor Stephen Krashan of the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California recently pointed out in the Pittsburgh-Post Gazette:

“The problem is poverty: Our average test scores are mediocre because the United States has such a high level of child poverty, the second highest among economically advanced countries (23 percent). Study after study shows that poverty has a devastating effect on school performance.”

While pursuing education reform to find cost savings and improve programing is very important to our state’s future, it is equally – if not more – important that we look at underlying factors such as child poverty that appear to play a much larger role in education outcomes. One important step West Virginia could take to address child poverty would be to ensure that every child in West Virginia has access to quality child care and other early childhood development programs. This program not only ensures that young children get a better start in life, it also makes the state a better place to live, work, and raise a family.

It’s important to note that the much-touched “education audit” by Public Works LLC barely mentions poverty or poor kids, and certainly doesn’t spend any significant time or energy offering proposals specifically aimed at helping this particular population of students. That sure seems odd, given that poverty is such an important indicator of school performance, and that childhood poverty in West Virginia remains very high:

The state’s child poverty rate was 25.8 percent in 2011, up from 25.5 percent in 2010. 97,677 children lived in poverty in 2011. West Virginia ranked 12th highest among the 50 states in child poverty.

Beer-sale comments at WVU released

West Virginia University on Monday released the 326 comments it has received concerning a proposed policy change that would allow beer sales at football games and other athletic events.

Many people who commented are adamantly opposed to alcohol consumption at Milan Puskar Stadium at Mountaineer Field. Ed Dicken simply wrote “NO!” in large type. His was among one of the first comments that WVU received between April 8 and May 13.

“Enough money is being made off football games without throwing alcohol into the equation,” wrote Mike Snyder of Harman.

Other fans say it would further a negative image of WVU as a “party school” and make Mountaineer Field even less family-friendly.

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Charleston’s brain gain?

Richard Florida published an interesting piece, “Where the Brains Are Going,” over at The Atlantic this week, which noted that several aging Rustbelt cities have apparently started gaining adults with college degrees after previously experiencing losses, or a so-called “brain drain.”

Florida explains:

Cities and regions across America and the world have made significant efforts to attract and retain young college graduates over the past decade or so. This has been driven by growing awareness that the ability to attract human capital, as well the ability to attract companies, plays a key role in economic competitiveness. And since young adults are the most mobile members of the population — people in their mid-20s are three to five times more likely to move than middle aged folks — the ability to attract them early in life can pay big, lasting dividends.

A new study by Brookings demographer William Frey examines trends in the migration decisions of young adults and college grads (as separate groups) over the years 2007-2009. His findings are especially interesting and relevant, since they cover the period since the onset of the economic crisis and reset.

The economic crisis has caused a significant decline in migration, with the mobility of Americans hitting record lows. Young adults and college graduates are no exception, Frey finds, with a growing number of them staying put or moving back with their parents. That said, the mobility of both college grads and young adults remains considerably higher than for Americans as a whole, according to Frey’s analysis.

Frey’s study, which provides a broader view, notes that overall migration has declined to its lowest rate since America began tracking it in 1948.

While there is some debate about how accurately the survey documents the timing of this decline, there is no doubt that the last three years have seen a plateau in migration for interstate moves and, in fact, total moves.

The stall has affected college graduates and young adults—groups usually among the most mobile and coveted—which tend to be the lifeblood of the labor force and responsive to shifts in national job networks. Between 2008 and 2010, the annual interstate migration of this group fell to 2.1 percent, well below the levels of 3 percent and above earlier this decade and in the 1990s. This is indicative of young adults encountering a brutal job market, as many double up or remain at home with their parents or other families. The annual migration rate for adults aged 25 to 29 fell to 3.2 percent in 2009–2010, also an historic low point for this usually highly mobile group.

Consequently, according to Frey, big cities like New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Chicago have seen a reduction in their losses of college educated adults, while cities like Pittsburgh, Columbus and Baltimore have actually seen losses become gains.

This got me thinking: What about Charleston? The Charleston Area Alliance launched Generation Charleston in 2006, an initiative that, according to their website, “strives to attract and retain young professionals to the region, while focusing on fostering the next generation of leadership. Young talent is the future intellectual capital of any economy, and the Charleston Area Alliance is committed to creating both an economy and community that is and will be attractive to this group of professionals.”

I’m not quite sure how Frey calculated his migration figures, so I’m going to use a much clumsier metric. Using information from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, specifically, the “educational attainment” data, I compared figures from the years 2005-2007 and 2007-2009, the same periods Frey used.

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What’s going on with Marshall’s crime logs?

The Gazette’s Zac Taylor first reported yesterday about a gang rape reported to have happened early last month’s on Marshall University‘s campus.

After the story came out, Marshall officials suddenly issued a statement saying that their investigation of the incident was completed, and that they not only didn’t have enough information to file charges — but weren’t even convinced the incident really happened.

But today, the plot thickened even more, with this story in The Parthenon student newspaper, reporting that Marshall officials have been keeping two crime logs, one that included the alleged sexual assault and one that didn’t:

The Parthenon had asked to review the campus crime log for September 2010 earlier Thursday. No sexual assault report was included in the log The Parthenon was given. The Parthenon asks for and reviews the crime log on a weekly basis, and no such report was found at any time.

The Parthenon had been unable to obtain any information on the allegations, despite a story published by the Charleston Gazette on Thursday that a report of sexual assault was obtained from the Marshall University Police Department’s crime log. A Parthenon reporter who asked to review the crime log on multiple occasions during the semester was not given the Clery Act binder.

The collateral economic effects of prison

In 1992, the story goes, Democratic strategist James Carville, in an attempt to keep presidential candidate Bill Clinton on message, boiled down a major campaign issue to four words: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

I couldn’t help but think of that phrase as I read through a new report from the Pew Center on the States, Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s Effect on Economic Mobility, which was released today. The report, based on research by Harvard University professor Bruce Western and University of Washington professor Becky Pettit, documents the devastating impact of prison not just on the economic prospects of inmates, but also on those of their children. And it gives another reason why lawmakers and judges — all of us, really — should make every effort to keep as many people out of prison as possible: It’s the economy, well, you get it.

Some of the figures cited are pretty jaw-dropping. Let’s start with earning potential for convicts released from prison:

Former inmates experience relatively high levels of unemployment and below-average earnings in large part because of their comparatively poor work history and low levels of education. Incarceration further compounds these challenges. When age, education, school enrollment, region of residence and urban residence are statistically accounted for, past incarceration reduced subsequent wages by 11 percent, cut annual employment by nine weeks and reduced yearly earnings by 40 percent.

Prison also makes it harder to move up the economic ladder, the study found.

Put simply, men imprisoned and released between 1986 and 2006 were significantly less upwardly mobile than those who did not spend time behind bars. Typically, one would expect maturity, hard work and experience to gradually produce promotions and bigger paychecks. However, in both relative and absolute terms, those who had been convicted of crimes and incarcerated in this time period had much less success in getting ahead.

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Race to the Top feedback comes back

The state Department of Education received feedback on its unsuccessful bid to become a finalist for Race to the Top, the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion competition for federal education dollars.

State Superintendent of Schools Steve Paine issued a statement Monday, which included:

“According to the U.S. Department of Education, the areas in need of improvement in West Virginia’s educational system are personnel laws related to teachers and principals, charter school legislation, and student test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The West Virginia Board of Education and I will carefully scrutinize the evaluation and make recommendations to the Governor so that our state is better positioned for phase two of the competitive grant process.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Joe Manchin said education is falling behind in West Virginia and he strongly urged state Board of Education members to step up and take a lead on issues like charter schools, further changes to the school calendar and other matters. West Virginia does not have a charter school law, but the legislation could come up in a special session this spring.

The feedback can be found near the bottom of this page.





‘How much do they need to know?’

Kanawha school board member Robin Rector has asked Superintendent Ron Duerring to clarify what information principals receive about students who are released from a juvenile detention center or similar facility and then return to a regular school.

Rector said she was concerned about what she read in a Sunday Gazette-Mail story, where some Kanawha County high school principals said they do not always know what  a student did after they’ve returned to school.

In the story, principals were asked particularly about students who had been charged with offenses related to drugs or violence.

Rector worries “that there is a lack of understanding among principals about what information is available to them.”

“I want to make sure that the principals have all the information they need to deal with this,” she said.

The question is: How much do they need to know? she said.

Also, Rector wants to keep school board members in the loop and school officials a “little more in tune with how this is handled.”

“The scale seems to be leaning a little more heavily toward [protecting] the student than toward protection of the general population,” she said. “And that’s why I needed to know.”

At the same time, Rector does not want to “create a scare or a stir.” Many students who get in trouble deserve a second or third chance, Rector said, and she hopes that teenagers who return to high school aren’t haunted by a bias because of what the principal learns.

West Virginia files Race to the Top application

State Department of Education officials filed their 133-page application this week for Race to the Top, a competition among states to receive part of $4.3 billion in federal education dollars.

To strengthen their application, the West Virginia Board of Education has asked the Legislature to change laws on how the state takes over struggling schools and county systems and how they fire ineffective leaders. They also want lawmakers to let schools pay teachers more if they’re in a high-need field like math or science.

During his State of the State address, Gov. Joe Manchin said he would call the Legislature for a special session if the state’s first Race to the Top application is denied. A second round of grant money will be awarded in June.

Some observers, like West Virginia Education Association President Dale Lee, have said the Legislature could take up charter school legislation if West Virginia’s first application is unsuccessful and a lack of charter schools is cited as a reason why.

Charter schools often receive public money but operate independent of a local board of education.

President Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who introduced Race to the Top, are known to favor charter schools and federal officials have indicated that states without them might be docked points on their application.

Still, some like state Board of Education member Lowell Johnson believe that the state’s “innovation zones” — where teachers can use new strategies in the classroom and receive waivers of many state laws — are a suitable alternative.          


deborah-howell-thumb-200x250.jpgDeborah Howell, the wife of former interim West Virginia University President C. Peter Magrath, was remembered this week as an ombudsman who called out columnists and reporters, but also those who she believed unfairly criticized the journalists’ work on the pages of The Washington Post.

Howell, 68, died Jan. 2 in an accident in New Zealand, where she was vacationing with Magrath, according to the Post. Howell was considered an innovator and a champion for female journalists. As a top editor for the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, she saw the newspaper win two Pulitzer Prizes.

She took over the Washington bureau of Newhouse News Service in 1990, according to the Post, which noted:

“Instead of concentrating on the government and institutional Washington, she focused coverage on such topics as race, gender and sexuality, technology and  religion.” 

In a statement, West Virginia University President Jim Clements said, “Deborah was an important part of the WVU community during the year Peter was our interim president. While she continued her career as a respected journalist in Washington, she was supportive of Peter’s passion to serve WVU.”     

What we’re reading — water, teens, teachers, smoke

 Welcome to our new Thursday feature, where we will share good reporting from elsewhere, either because it is particularly relevant to our readers, or just plain interesting. Here is a look at what we are reading this week:

  • Is a world water war inevitable?” asks  investigative reporter Andrew Schneider at Cold Truth. The answer appears to be yes. The U.S. military has recognized the 19365173.jpgpotential for decades.  Some West Virginians have been thinking about this issue, too. In 2004, Gov. Bob Wise signed the Water Resources Protection Act. In it, the public claimed the state’s water and required a survey of usage. The Legislature was moved to pass the law after lawmakers realized that distant states were more interested in West Virginia’s water than its coal, as Sen. Earl Ray Tomblin explains in this 2004 story. There’s tons of information about water use in West Virginia at this state Department of Environmental Protection site.
  • The $1.2 billion in federal stimulus money spent to help teenagers find jobs this summer was a whopping failure, reports the Associated Press. This and other updates on the stimulus are available from ProPublica. West Virginia, incidentally, is low on teens and children compared to other states. But the state’s percentage of idle teens ages 16 to 19 — those neither working nor going to school, not counting summer vacation — is higher than the national average. It was 10 percent in 2007, compared to 8 percent nationally, according to Kids Count West Virginia.
  • New York City schools actually send teachers to a form of detention, called the “rubber room,” where they clock in and get paid, but do nothing, the New Yorker reports. New York’s inability to get rid of truly incompetent teachers may interfere with the city collecting stimulus money offered to school systems that improve teacher accountability. West Virginia education officials comment on their efforts to qualify for this money in Gazette reporter Davin White’s recent story.
  • Of interest in West Virginia, with its high rate of heart disease, and especially in Kanawha County, where the local health board continues to be criticized for its anti-smoking ordinance, the Wall Street Journal reports on two studies that showed areas that banned smoking in restaurants saw heart attack rates drop quickly. We caught on to this story at the Pump Handle.