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July 6, 2011 standard

An Inconvenient Fact: Beltway reformers are lauding the National Education Association’s move earlier this week to ditch some of its opposition to subjecting teachers to performance-based evaluations. But Dropout Nation isn’t all that impressed. The nation’s largest teachers union still opposes the use of standardized testing in teacher performance management (which it strenuously opposes), still defends near-lifetime employment rules and seniority-based privileges that lead to laggard instructors getting the same pay and benefits as good-to-great counterparts, advocates for reverse seniority layoff rules that lead to quality-blind decisions that keep our poorest kids from receiving high-quality instruction, and opposes any effort to reform the ineffective and expensive traditional system of teacher compensation. So its move on the teacher evaluation front is little more than an effort to triangulate reformers while keeping the status quo in place.

What has been interesting is the NEA’s tacit acknowledgement of its changing fortunes. For those who haven’t been paying much attention to the g, the move by the union’s delegates this week to endorse President Barack Obama a year earlier than it had to — and by a 72 percent-to-28 percent margin — is amazing given the union’s steadfast opposition of the president’s  education reform agenda (and it’s condemnation of Obama’s U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan). But not really. With school reformers have captured control of the education policy agenda both at the federal level and, to a lesser extent, in many of the nation’s Democrat-controlled statehouses, the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers can no longer count on the party’s unquestioned support. And with Democrat-controlled states facing the brunt of budget shortfalls, and $1.1 trillion worth of deficits in teacher and public-sector worker pensions, Democrats can no longer avoid dealing with the much-needed reform of costly, ineffective traditional teachers compensation regimes. Actions such as those in New Jersey, where the Democrat-controlled legislature teamed up with Republican Gov. Chris Christie last month on enacting a series of modest cutbacks, will become more common.

NEA affiliates could punish Democrats by withholding their campaign dollars and bodies of rank-and-file members. But that is based on the theory that they can help win elections. As proven in last year’s congressional elections, NEA and AFT dollars don’t necessarily equal success for Democrats at the ballot box. The fact that Obama won the Democratic nomination three years ago with almost no NEA and AFT support also proves this reality. And given the NEA’s tendency to not reach across the aisle to support Republicans at the federal level, the union has even fewer levers of influence than ever.

The NEA is now stuck in a marriage of inconvenience with a Democratic party that knows it will get support from the union regardless of what they do on federal education policy. This means that the union is stuck arguing for a failed, amoral vision of education that has no broad support in political circles. And that school reformers have more opportunities to push further for reform.

When the Libertarian School Reformers Fail to Think: Yesterday’s Voices of the Dropout Nation piece by Sandy Kress chastising Cato Institute’s education czar Andrew Coulson definitely got the latter’s attention. What Coulson proceeds to do this morning was incorrectly spell your editor’s name (it’s a capital “S” as it is on the birth certificate, but nice try), and offer a weak retort that essentially argues that No Child was an expensive and useless piece of federal legislation. Coulson didn’t offer much in the way of examples to prove this point. But he declared that my introduction to Kress’ piece didn’t offer any evidence that No Child has been responsible for creating the conditions that have led to the advancement of choice.

I’ve written about this matter ad nauseam, especially in a piece in March on harnessing the disruptive power of school data. But here’s the Cliffs Notes version. The impact of No Child on advancing choice (along with other systemic reforms) starts with the law’s Adequate Yearly Progress requirements. Thanks to the data culled, the low quality of education in traditional district schools was exposed for all to see, providing parents and school choice activists with the information they needed  to push for the advancement of choice. The law also exposed the long-running gamesmanship by states looking to define proficiency downward (a fact that Cato has used to its own advantage in arguing against expanding federal education policy); this, in turn, has rallied more reformers to move toward advancing school choice.

The law’s focus on graduation rates led to research by scholars such as Michael Holzman, Robert Balfanz, Jay P. Greene and Christopher Swanson that exposed the reality that most states were inflating their numbers, failing to deal with the reality that far too many young men and women were dropping out of school and dropping into poverty and prison. The research by these scholars, along with exposes by publications such as The Indianapolis Star and Time forced states to present realistic numbers that school reformers — including choice activists — have used to advocate for their own solutions.

Essentially No Child has led to the amassing of data needed to foster the political climate conducive to pushing for systemic reforms — including the embrace of school choice and the development of Parent Trigger laws. Its choice provisions, unsuccessful as they were, have also forced a national conversation on developing the tools needed to give parents the ability to get their kids out of dropout factories. Without No Child, there is no Race to the Top, which forced states such as New York to allow for the expansion of charter schools. And without No Child, school choice activists in 13 states wouldn’t have succeeded in creating new voucher programs and tax credit deals, or in expanding existing initiatives.

This isn’t to say that No Child is perfect (last week’s Dropout Nation Podcast made that clear). Nor am I saying that a strong federal role in education is a wonderful thing. As a small-L libertarian (you know, the first-principles-as-guide kind, not the dogmatic big-L crowd), I’m look at federal education policy as more of a necessary evil; after all, school districts are subsidized by federal dollars, and we must remember that education is a critical reason behind the nation’s economic malaise. But you cannot ignore No Child’s positive impact on advancing school reform overall, and school choice in particular.

Of course, Coulson and his team will not be impressed by any of this. They are unwilling to seeing the connections between policymaking and advocacy, and how a law can actually foster the conditions that allow reformers to move the needle on their efforts. More importantly, they are caught up in dogma. As with so many reformers, the Coulson gang are more-interested in touting their one silver bullet instead of accepting the reality that it will take numerous solutions to address the nation’s education crisis. Their argument that choice alone is the only solution fails to consider the fact that parents — especially those in poor and minority communities — need high-quality data and advice on school options in order to make the best decisions for their children. Their general response to that point — that robust data systems cannot happen until we get free market choice — ignores the important role that federal policy has already played in forcing states to offer more-accurate data.

But the emphasis on the silver bullet is just one problem. The other problem is that Coulson and company are far more concerned with ideological purity — that is, school choice options must be closest to their free market ideals — than with providing families with an array of options that are steps closer to their ideal.  As a result, Coulson and company find themselves both arguing against and for school choice. For example, Coulson’s team spent much of this year denigrating vouchers in favor of tax credit plans because the former no longer dovetails with their worldview; they ignore the success of existing voucher plans such as those in Milwaukee and in Florida while ignoring the fiscal problems of tax credit plans. Coulson particularly abhors charter schools, the most-successful form of school choice (both in terms of improving student achievement and offering options for parents to escape the worst that American public education offers) because they also don’t fit into his vision of what choice should look like.

This pursuit of the silver bullet and obsession over school choice purity hasn’t served Coulson or Cato well. It has relegated Cato to the sidelines in education policy and advocacy discussions, rendering it incapable of offering cohesive and coherent strategies that can actually advance school choice and lead to systemic reform. It cannot offer strategies that would move the nation closer to a system of education where all parents can actually choose from an array of high-quality school options. And because Coulson is less-interested in offering practical steps than in speechifying, his team cannot embark on practical steps such as creating guides and databases on school performance that would provide parents data they can use to support efforts to expand school choice.

Although Coulson’s rant gives me a chance to fill up today’s Three Thoughts with some fodder, I take no pleasure in noting all of this. I admire the work Coulson and his team have done in advancing the philosophical arguments for school choice. As a libertarian (albeit a less-than-doctrinaire sort), I want to see Cato play a more-prominent role in the education reform arena. But Coulson and his team have to do more than offer one pure silver bullet. They need to play a more-thoughtful, less-dogmatic role in the education policy arena if they want to advance school choice.

November 22, 2010 standard

Since taking office as Indiana’s Superintendent of Public Instruction two years ago, Tony Bennett has managed to make the kind of meaningful changes in reforming how the Hoosier State recruits and trains teachers — including requiring ed schools to screen out laggard aspiring teachers by using the Praxis I exam — that his predecessor, Suellen Reed, never deemed worth doing in her 16 years in office. This, along with his defense of the state’s charter schools from efforts to essentially abolish them, has certainly angered the state’s educational ancien regime. But it has also made him one of the more-fervent school reform-oriented state school chief executives — a role that will become more prominent as Indiana’s governor and state legislature consider a new round of reform initiatives in a state that dearly needs them.

In this Three Questions, Bennett — who will be coming to D.C. next week to speak  on an American Enterprise Institute book panel, offers a few thoughts on reforming American public education on the ground. Read and consider.

What is the one surprising thing you have learned during your tenure as Indiana’s superintendent from public instruction and how has it shaped your work and thinking?

It is surprising to me how infrequently children are the focus of conversations regarding education reform. Too often, the focus is on how change will affect adults in the system and not on how changes will benefit our students.  This inspired me, early on, to make putting kids first our top priority—and I look at everything through that lens.
What is the one thing school reform activists inside the Beltway don’t consider in their policy discussions and proposals and why?

Much of what we’re trying to do in Indiana aligns with federal policymakers’ vision for education reform. But specifically, I’d like it if the policymakers and leaders in D.C. removed as much of the bureaucratic red tape as possible.  I’d like to see them get rid of the superfluous reporting requirements that have nothing to do with educating children and instead pull educators away from focusing on their core mission to teach kids. In this regard, I think the feds have good intentions, but it’s difficult for them to envision how data and reporting requirements handcuff us at the state and local level.

What are the most-critical next steps that Indiana will need to take in order to improve the quality of teachers in classrooms? What are the challenges?

Our agenda is four-pronged: 1. Increase flexibility so that school corporations can meet the needs of their students. 2. Increase options for all students. 3. Increase accountability. 4. Recognize and reward great teachers.  Key in achieving these will be making sure teacher and leader evaluations are multi-faceted and fair—and can consider student achievement growth, which is currently prohibited by state law.   We must also work to ensure pay and promotion are based on factors other than seniority and degrees held. We need to make sure every parent has access to high-quality educational options for their child. Finally, we must act with fierce urgency to make all these changes now to benefit students—especially in our chronically underperforming school buildings.

The biggest challenges we face is opposing adult interests that seek to maintain the ineffective status quo.

How do you think charter schools will further reshape Indiana’s education landscape? What steps will you take to ensure that charters are of high-quality?

Charters are a powerful piece in our efforts to increase high-quality educational options for all students.  We have to provide a more hospitable environment for charters to develop.  And I believe charters should be held to the same high standards to which we hold traditional public schools.  If they aren’t demonstrating student growth and quality education, they should be closed.

November 17, 2010 standard

The End of Ed Schools — and Professional Development?: When it comes to training teachers and improving their skills, this is clear:  The nation spends a lot on it ($7 billion alone on training aspiring teachers); there are a lot of ed schools involved in handling this work (1,200 of them); professional development can be profitable for the players who provide it (including consultants like “culture of poverty” promulgator Ruby Payne, and ed schools); and the results are atrocious. Forget the low quality of instruction in our nation’s schools and a dropout crisis which saps the futures of 1.3 million kids every year: Teachers, administrators  and policymakers alike don’t even think the training is of any value.

The critical reason is that teacher training and professional development is garbage in, garbage out and garbage in-between. Former Teachers College President Arthur Levine pointed out in a 2006 study that 54 percent of the nation’s teachers are taught at colleges with low admission requirements. Once aspiring teachers are admitted, they’re not likely to get the training they need to get the job done. As the National Council on Teacher Quality noted in its recent study, just one in five of the 53 ed schools it surveyed in Illinois adequately trained their students in reading instruction, and only five schools had strong, rigorous undergraduate elementary school instruction. Many ed school professors think they don’t have an obligation to actually ensure that teachers have strong subject knowledge competency or skill in instructional methods (much less actually have entrepreneurial drive, strong leadership ability and care for all kids); they would rather focus on theories of learning that involve some vague notions about schools as democracies instead of teaching teachers how to teach. The fact that Jason Kamras’, John Taylor Gattos and Jaime Escalantes emerge from the muck and mire is more a testament to their fortitude than to the ed schools from which they graduated.

Meanwhile the professional development is well, abysmal. Just 132 of 1,200 professional development programs surveyed by the U.S. Department of Education focused on reading, math and science; only nine actually met federal What Works Clearinghouse standards for quality and outcomes. Meanwhile there is little evidence that site-based professional development teams — in which teams of teachers meet to brainstorm and learn from one another — works either. Which makes sense: If America’s teacher corps is largely mediocre, then all you have happening is laggard teachers learning from other laggards. Meanwhile the one area of professional development that doesn’t really get called that — graduate and post-graduate training by ed schools — essentially functions as a way for teachers to take advantage of degree-based pay scales. If the ed school did a poor job of training teachers at the undergrad level, then it won’t do such a hot job in post-grad.

So should we save ed schools or professional development. The organization that is supposed to ensure that teacher training is of high quality, the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, declared this week in its report that ed schools must move to a “clinical practice” model that emphasizes mentoring by experienced teachers. As reported by Education Week in its special report on professional development, there are new and novel efforts going on to improve post-graduate teacher training. This is all nice. But it may be too little too late.

For example, the NCATE study suggests that ed schools should work with traditional school districts — especially urban systems — to develop training programs that actually match their needs. Ed schools have called for this for years to no avail. Some have already begun to move on from ed schools, working with outfits such as Urban Teacher Residency United and The New Teacher Project to form their own training programs. Suburban and rural districts, who struggle with the same issues, could begin doing so as well. Just imagine if consortia of districts or even, say, states such as California, Nevada and Arizona teamed up with a Teach For America to do mass-scale teacher training? One could also imagine groups of high-quality teachers developing apprenticeship programs of their own independent of teachers unions, districts and ed schools, taking aspiring teachers under their wing and having them work in classrooms; this throwback to the old guild concept would certainly work better than the high-cost system in place today. Such efforts, along with private-sector run teacher training courses, could be the wave of the future.

Sure, as NCTQ President Kate Walsh points out, ed schools train more than 90 percent of all new teachers. But at this point, there are only a few ed schools — notably Teachers College — that deserve the name.  If the rest were shut down and replaced with alternative certification programs, American public education wouldn’t be any worse for wear. In fact, we may actually get better teachers and better schools. As for the professional development? What is needed is something better than the status quo.

Why House Republicans May Not Be So Good for the NEA and AFT After All: Soon-to-be House Education and Labor Committee Chairman John Kline’s opposition to the accountability elements of the No Child Left Behind Act have certainly garnered headlines. But one aspect of his agenda that hasn’t given much attention is his general opposition to near-lifetime employment for teachers in the form of tenure. While Kline is certainly arguing for a return to local control, he is also supportive of President Barack Obama’s efforts to reform teacher quality. So one could expect one part of Obama’s blueprint for reauthorizing the No Child Left Behind Act — requiring the use of student test scores and other data in teacher evaluations — to actually pass the House in the form of a separate bill. This step would begin clearing the way for states to move in the direction that Colorado has taken and end teacher tenure altogether.

This does create a conundrum for congressional Republicans such as Kline, which have railed against expansive federal policy especially in education. But as I have pointed out last month in The American Spectator, Republicans have been rather flexible in their opposition to strong federal education policy. From launching the committee that wrote the pioneering school reform report A Nation at Risk, to creating the now-defunct D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, to the passage of No Child itself, Republicans are no more interested in small government except when it suits. This is also true now: Kline likely opposes AYP because it exposes the failings of suburban districts such as the ones in his congressional district. Requiring the use of test scores in teacher evaluations, on the other hand, only hits teachers and their NEA and AFT representatives (the latter of which will not like the idea of losing bodies, the very source of their revenue).

More importantly, Kline and other congressional Republicans will get pressure from reform-minded GOP governors, who appreciate the cover No Child and other federal laws give them cover for taking on reforms of their liking. Teacher quality is already on the mind of one possible (but unlikely) presidential aspirant, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels; Kline will listen and behave accordingly. At the same time, weakening the NEA and AFT is something that would play well to movement conservatives and others who generally oppose unions — and also find favor with centrist Democrat and progressive reformers who have equal disdain for the unions.

There are also other aspects of the NEA and AFT agenda — including items that have little to do with education policy — that will be affected by a House Republican majority. The Employee Free Choice Act, whose consideration had stalled under House Democrat leadership, will whither and die under GOP control. Also unlikely to be considered: Any efforts to spur a federal bailout of woefully insolvent public defined-benefit pensions — including even more-underfunded pensions for teachers. There could end up being an investigation of union-managed health insurance funds such as the now-insolvent fund managed by the NEA’s Indiana affiliate, opening up a new can of worms. And don’t expect another Edujobs-style effort to stem teacher layoffs; Kline opposed the $10 billion effort the last time around and considering his more-powerful position, the Obama administration won’t even bother.

Essentially the NEA and AFT may be somewhat happy with the presence of Kline — and that’s only if he can somehow weaken AYP.

June 22, 2010 standard

Photo courtesy of PopTech

Steve Barr probably didn’t think he was taking a new, grassroots-centered approach to school reform when he started the Green Dot collection of charter schools back in 1999. A decade later, before stepping down as chairman of the charter school operator, Barr managed to rally the city’s Latino parents to revolt against the systemic incompetence of the Los Angeles Unified School District, took control of one of the district’s dropout factories, and formed a charter school in New York City in partnership with the American Federation of Teachers that broke with traditional union work rules. He also proved that the poorest Latino children — many of whose parents are immigrants legal and otherwise — can achieve academic success, even if the Heather Mac Donalds of the world choose to think otherwise.

Barr took some time during a drive from L.A. to San Francisco to offer his thoughts on school reform, working in the grassroots on improving education, and the disconnect between Beltway-based reformers and those who work on the ground. Read, think and consider.

What is the one surprising thing you have learned during your work starting up Green Dot? How did that affect your own approach to school reform and civil rights?

The most surprising is a daily surprise. You have to challenge all preconceptions. People don’t like to talk about it, but [those preconceptions] come down to race and politics. I have yet to meet a group of people who don’t care about the conditions of education. What’s surprising to me is no matter where you from, who you are, is how intensively interested people who are about education because they love their own kids. But if you listen to people, they think that only certain people care about education. They say “you only succeed because you get only these kind of children or they have these kind of parents.

What people don’t realize is how bizarre that statement is. There are only one or two percent of people out there who don’t care about kids. But that’s not most people. Out of the 8,000 kids we have [at Green Dot], only a dozen of them are white.

When I started Green Dot, I didn’t have kids. I wasn’t married. I wasn’t even close to being married. Now that I have kids and I’m married, I get it more. I get why [Green Dot’s parents and others] are intensely interested in education. Every day, I find it reassuring that people care about improving education. It gives me hope.

Is there a disconnect between school reformers inside the Beltway and community activists – and why does it exist (if it does)?

I think it is hard to stay connected in Washington. This is why I’m loathe to go to Washington. It’s a company town. It is also an incredibly segregated town. Once you are there, it is hard to stay connected. It is also an elite class of folks. It doesn’t mean you can’t work with folks. It doesn’t mean there isn’t any good work done. It’s just that it is hard to make the connection between them and what is done out here.

How can school reformers and grassroots activists work together to improving education for poor Latino and black children?

If you truly want to improve education for the urban poor, you have to truly immerse themselves in their communities. You have to approach it with an open mind. When we open a school, we do a lot of outreach. When I go into an African-American church, I have to realize that they have been lied to by people for a lot of years. It means I have to come back there again and again and build trust. The first time, it may not go well. But that’s the work. You have to understand where people come from. Over time, you build trust with them. They will become reformers as well.

June 4, 2010 standard

Tackling youth violence and educational decline all at once.

When Phillip Jackson founded the Black Star Project in 1996, few school reformers had fully focused on the crisis of low educational attainment among young black men. Fourteen years — and numerous reports on racial and gender achievement gaps — later, the former Chicago Public Schools Chief of Staff’s grassroots efforts have fostered organizations focused on improving education for young black men such as UCLA’s Black Male Institute and Success for Black Boys. But Jackson still sees plenty of ground uncovered — especially among inside-the-Beltway school reform types and major education reform philanthropies — on addressing the black-white achievement gap.

In this week’s Three Questions, Jackson offers some of his own thoughts on achievement gaps, school reform, and the role of families in improving education and stemming youth violence. Read, think and consider.

Why should African-Americans care about achievement gaps and the quality of education in their schools?

The educational achievement gap is predictive of the social and economic achievement gaps in life.  If Black children are not trained, equipped and empowered to do well in school, their chances of doing well in life are severely limited.  The educational achievement gap is a precursor to a generational curse of failure, cultural destruction and genocide.

What is the one thing school reform activists inside the Beltway seem to ignore when it comes to addressing education and youth issues and why?

The number one solution ignored by theorist inside the Beltway is the role of parents in producing successful students.  Schools cannot produce successful students without the support of caring, nurturing and demanding parents, guardians, families and communities.  Until Washington realizes this and invests in this, the United States will never be a 21st century global educational power.

Given your experiences working on youth violence and educational issues, what are the three solutions you offer for dealing with youth violence?

Rebuild the family.  The current epidemic youth violence, mostly in Black communities, can be traced back to the degeneration of the Black family.  The police have no ability to stop youth violence. They have arresting powers and can disperse mobs, but they cannot eliminate the source of youth violence.  Failed families is the source of youth violence.  The family is the most important social unit in human society.  Without strong families, education, economics, spirituality, physical health, emotional health, morality, etc. are all in jeopardy.

Provide positive mentors and role models for youth, especially young Black males.  Children become what they see.  They are going to adopt a model of behavior and a value system that is available.  If we don’t have positive role models and a constructive value system for them, they will adopt negative models and the destructive system.  In fact, negative role models and a destructive value system is heavily marketed to our children. Without a counter-marketing strategy, we have little chance of reaching, impressing and persuading our children not to be violent.

We must provide an education that prepares our youth to become viable parts of our society.  They must have economic alternatives and practical reasons not to engage in negative, destructive behaviors.  We have not helped most young Black men to obtain the necessary skills to be successful in the 21st century.  We should not be surprised at the hyper-violence as their response to our failure to create a viable world in which they can live.

May 20, 2010 standard

Photo courtesy of the Schott Foundation for Public Education

As Research Consultant for the Schott Foundation for Public Education, Michael Holzman has helped shed light on the impact of low teacher quality and systemic academic failure on the educational and economic prospects of young black men. Through his research, Holzman and Schott have done plenty to show in numbers the depths of the nation’s dropout crisis: Few young black men are graduating from school; far too many are being relegated into special education (and placed on the path to dropping out); and that in many urban districts, young black men are subject to the kind of educational abuse that would lead to incarceration for school officials and teachers if it were actual physical abuse. Along with Robert Balfanz, Jay P. Greene and Christopher Swanson, Holzman is one of the leading figures in revealing the nation’s educational decay.

Dropout Nation wondered what reformers such as Holzman were thinking these days, what are some of the surprising conclusions they have reached, and what they think about what’s happening inside the Beltway when it comes to school reform. The result is a new series, Three Questions on School Reform. Holzman offers some of his thoughts below. Read them, give them some thought and, if you so choose, comment and offer your own conclusions:

1) What is the one surprising thing you have uncovered during your research on special education and over-labeling of children as learning disabled and why?

Male African-American students are systematically over-labeled as Mentally Retarded in most districts.  In some cases this reaches levels five to ten times the percentage of male White, non-Latino males.  As percentages of non-institutionalized mental retardation in any large population are approximately the same, this over-labeling seems to be caused by district policies or staff training deficiencies.

2) How is black male academic failure and special ed connected and why?

Given that male African-American students are under-represented in gifted/talented programs in most districts, and very under-represented in Advanced Placement classes, it appears that racial and gender stereotyping takes place in those districts, to the great detriment of opportunities for learning for male African American, and, to a lesser extent, female African American and both male and female Latino and American Indian students.

3) What is the one thing school reform activists inside the Beltway seem to ignore when it comes to addressing education and youth issues and why?

Equal opportunity to learn includes opportunities during traditional k-12 class-time and beyond.  All schools should be equally well-supported, without regard to location and family income.  This means that real estate tax-based school finance methods are inherently inequitable.  It means that variations in the quality of facilities, curriculum and teaching staffs among schools within large districts cannot be rationally justified.  It means that the distribution of students through assignment or “voluntary” methods, as with charters and public school choice, are only equitable when the child least able to protect him/herself is protected by the adults responsible for the schools.

It also means that the educational investments available to the children of middle class families should be provided for children living in poverty by those adults responsible for the schools.  Such investments include 0-3 pre-literacy activities (such as library programs for toddlers), pre-kindergarten programs preparing children for schooling, all-day kindergarten, after-school and summer academic programs, throughout elementary and secondary school.

Another issue, which is not well-framed in most policy discussions is the connection between inadequate schooling and incarceration.  This is not merely a school to prison pipeline.  It is a feedback loop.  As astonishing numbers of male African Americans are imprisoned, it follows that between one-third and half of African American children grow up in poverty, raised by their mothers without financial contributions from their imprisoned fathers (or fathers whose income possibilities have been impaired by involvement with the courts and prisons).

Poverty is a major negative factor in regard to educational achievement, limiting the time of the parents as first teachers, limiting out-of-school educational investments, increasing the likelihood of enrollment in inferior schools.  And limited educational achievement, especially for male African Americans, is highly likely to lead to prison.

There are two lines of work that can break this cycle:  1) End the inequitable targeting of African Americans for drug law infractions; 2)  Make educational investments equitable.