Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Knocked Up...and Knocked Out?

Maybe I'm just a little too sensitive these days. After all, women at the end of their third trimester can be like that. But when I read about a new campaign, one to prevent unplanned pregnancies among community college students, I was a bit taken aback.

According to the nonpartisan group in charge, 48% of community college students "have ever been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant." And this is a problem, the group contends, because dropout rates are higher among students who get pregnant while in college. So, presumably in order to increase degree attainment in the public two-year sector, we need to slow this trend and prevent unplanned pregnancies.

Ok, on the face of it, this seems like a plausible argument and approach. After all, it's hard enough to get a degree while working full-time, let alone while parenting too. And sure, there's plenty of research suggesting that the children of planned pregnancies are more likely to be raised in stable, intact families-- and to benefit from that arrangement. With college being the new high school, it makes some sense to continue the conversation about healthy relationships and safe sex in the postsecondary environment. And bringing social and health services onto campus makes everyone's lives a bit easier. All good things.

But something about this effort worries me. Let's go back to those initial stats-- nearly half of all students attending community college either have been pregnant or gotten someone pregnant. Well, the average age of a community college student is 29, and nearly 60% of community college students are women. Furthermore, we know that childbearing has a time horizon-- the peak age of fertility and egg qualityis around 27. So, all this statistic tells me is that many community college students are parents--which could mean that after becoming parents adults are more likely to choose to attend a community college or that attending community college increases the likelihood of getting pregnant. Which do you believe? And in a society that values children and higher education, what is the optimal percentage of community college students who should have had this experience?

These aren't easy questions to answer. We could try and make it simpler to accept the Campaign's argument by focusing on what seems negative-- college dropout. But it's not entirely clear that these are causal effects-- that getting pregnant causes college dropout. Sure, that seems like a rational connection, but it's also plausible that an overwhelming (biological?) desire to have a child now-- even an unspoken, "unintended" desire-- leads some to get pregnant and also drives a decision to leave college (for now). What's most important is that we see women returning to college after having children-- so these aren't dropouts, so much as stopouts.

We might also ask ourselves, what is the function of the American community college, if not to serve as the "second chance" institution where adults can return to resume an education after starting a family? Participating in this campaign must cause at least some community college leaders to pause and wrestle with that question. Doesn't the community college have the potential to be one of the healthier educational institutions, where real life meets academic life-- and childbearing and parenting occur without the usual stigma? After all, this is a place where we educate adults-- not teenagers.

I'll raise just a few more thoughts before leaving it open to discussion (which I have no doubt this little post will generate):

1) There's some evidence that rates of college entry and completion are lowered not by childbearing, but by marriage. In fact, unmarried mothers are more likely than married mothers to attend college. Sure, again, that's not necessarily a causal relationship-- but shall we begin to discourage marriage among community college students too?

2) There's also evidence that while parents finish college at lower rates, that's largely a function of having to take longer to finish. They tend to work and enroll part-time, so when we look at a typical window of time for completion, their rates look low. Give them longer, and parents finish up. Is this a problem? I can only argue yes from a purely economic perspective that says the sooner the economic returns begin, the better.

And that perspective is one that may be limiting our views here. After all, don't we treasure higher education for its intergenerational benefits-- what it allows us to pass on from parents to children? Presumably these benefits only occur if we do, in fact, have kids. Some demographers (and also some right-wingers) are concerned with the delays in fertiility among college-educated women -- and we're bringing pregnancy prevention efforts into colleges?

It's all a bit confusing. We don't want students to get knocked up and knocked out, sure. But maybe instead of trying to alter student behavior we should instead invest more in supportive services to help parenting students complete degrees? The Campaign notes that community colleges already offer childcare-- but it doesn't make it clear that campus childcare centers are notoriously over-enrolled, and sometimes too expensive. Increasing the availability of high-quality, inexpensive, on-campus childcare seems like another good way to promote degree completion among parenting students. Another approach would be to increase students' financial aid so that they can afford to purchase decent health care, to ensure healthy pregnancies and healthy children.

If the Campaign has an unintended side effect of stigmatizing pregnant and/or parenting students attending community college, it will have more than failed-- it will have made things worse. We have enough anti-child environments already. Efforts like this one should proceed very, very carefully.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Updates on The Race: 11-23-2009

ARKANSAS: Listening tour a state RttT strategy

DELAWARE: RttT fuels changes to teacher evaluation and school turnarounds

IOWA: More questions than answers?

MICHIGAN: Governor Granholm touts RttT

OHIO: State is in the running

RHODE ISLAND: Ed commish unveils sweeping reform plan

WASHINGTON: State won't apply until round two

Study Demonstrates Link Between Hunger and Children’s Ability to Learn

On this Thanksgiving week, it is appropriate that we acknowledge the large numbers of America’s children who are too hungry to learn as indicated in a new public opinion survey commissioned by Share Our Strength. Teachers – as first responders – witness the toll hunger takes on students in their classrooms every day.

Hunger in America’s Classrooms: Share Our Strength’s Teacher Report shares teachers’ firsthand accounts of hunger as well as a formal national survey of teachers. Share Our Strength commissioned Lake Research Partners to poll 747 elementary and middle school teachers from urban, suburban and rural communities across America, for the study, funded by C&S Wholesale Grocers. The most recent figures released by the USDA paint a dramatic picture of hunger in America: nearly 17 million U.S. children – nearly one in four kids – face hunger today.

In a webinar, experts on childhood hunger and health(Billy Shore, founder and executive director, Share Our Strength; Maria S. Gomez, FN, MPH, president & CEO, Mary’s Center for Maternal & Child Care; Celinda Lake, president, Lake Research Partners; and Christine Gottshall, elementary school teacher, West Roxbury, Boston, MA) will share key findings from the study and address this often invisible American crisis.

WHEN: Monday, November 23, 2009 at 11:00 AM ET

Operated Assisted Conference Line 888-278-8465

Webinar Login Web site:

Webinar Login Participant code: 2025722864

***To access the Webinar you must run the Systems Check link located on the top left hand side of the Web site.

***Please RSVP to Sarah Sandsted at

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Resisting the End of Childhood

As I read the story in Friday's New York Times, my belly twisted with the sharp movements of the nearly 9-month-old fetus inside. My daughter's little hand punched forward when I came to this line: "Children often have to be trained to listen to questions from strangers and to sit still for about an hour, the time it takes to complete the two tests."

It's ok, I found myself whispering to her (out loud): I won't let this happen to you.

But can I really protect Annie from the world outside, a world in which New York City toddlers are being raised by parents willing to spend $90 a session to prep their children for tests used to determine admission to KINDERGARTEN? When my highly-educated counterparts are willing to go this far to secure early education that's a 'step up in caliber,' what kind of mama am I if I resist? Am I giving up the ability to have educational choices which could improve the lives of my little boy and my girl-to-be?

Thankfully every single bit of me -- my brain, my heart, my gut -- answers this question with a resounding "NO." In fact, I'm awfully confident (too confident?) that my resistance bodes quite well for my kids. My instincts stem from a fairly robust research literature indicating that socioeconomically advantaged children like mine will thrive in virtually any school environment. As I've said to many friends when defending my choice of preschool (Waldorf), elementary and secondary schools (public), and my planned choice of college (again public, perhaps even a community college to start)-- you could put my son in a virtual "box" for years and he'd still be exceptionally bright. (For those of you getting concerned please note: by "box" I mean a less-than-stimulating classroom environment with a less-than-highly qualified teacher-- not the cardboard apparatus my Amazon deliveries arrive in.)

On a daily basis I find myself actively resisting what researchers identify as normative behavior for my social class group, what Annette Lareau calls the "concerted cultivation" of children. Instead of signing my kid up for a preschool where ABCs are taught at 3 and children are offered music and language electives and ported from one classroom to another, I chose a school based on feelings of warmth and kinship. That's right-- I put my son in a classroom because I liked its pink walls, filmy scarves hanging on hooks, and the rocking chairs in corners. And because the woman in charge, the glowing, smiley "Miss Itzel," serves Conor peach tea and makes sure he gets to spend at least an hour each day playing outside. You got it--that's what's most important to this professor of education.

In fact, I feel much more kinship with what Lareau deems a working-class approach-- the "accomplishment of natural growth." What I want is for my son to play, to laugh, and to interact with other kids based on what they find fun-- not how many numbers or words they know. Of course I found this other article from the New York Times comforting, since it said my instincts are supported by good research on child development. But the truth is, whether or not research affirms it my husband I aren't going to change what we plan to do.

Given that it seems my mind's made up, I have to wonder--why did this week's article on admissions tests freak me out at all? Perhaps because of the tone of inevitability it expressed- a sense that those in power have decided (affirmatively) that this is the new order. An unethical order perhaps (thankfully, the article at least acknowledged that possibility), but one that's here to stay. Witness the New York City schools expert who purports to have no evidence that test prep is on the rise-- while citing an increase in average test scores accompanying an increase in test-takers. She's turning a blind eye; normally expansions in test-taking are accompanied by declines in overall scores, not the other way around. Something else is going on. And it's being described as "normal."

Well, consider me mad and not going to take it anymore. I want to see a widespread protest in response, the formation of a group of powerful people intentionally not signing up for prep classes. A cadre of folks working to make sure their 3 year olds refuse to sit still for an hour, and actively discourage them from taking questions from strangers (whatever that means). Those are the people I plan to surround myself and my kids with, and we'll fight to protect childhood, at whatever cost. That, I think, is what being the "adult" is all about.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Big Man on Community College Campus

TIME recently crowned 10 college presidents (nearly all men) the "best" in the nation. The article spurred the usual pushback against "top 10" lists and raised questions about the criteria used, but a notable aspect of the list hasn't drawn much attention: one of those presidents is Eduardo Padron, a community college president.

This was a smart, strategic pick on TIME's part. 2009 is the year of the community college, and while Miami Dade is exceptional in many ways (including that it's officially Miami Dade College, since it awards BAs) inclusion of a president from that sector was wise. The signals abound: the status of the public 2-year college is rising, at least in the press. And what a relief.

The role of the "snob factor" in resource allocations and overall treatment of community colleges has gone without mention for far too long. How many of us will openly praise the work of open-access institutions, while at home privately acknowledging there's no way our kids are going to these places? By casting them as institutions of last resort, schools to attend only by default, and excluding their leaders from any awards that aren't strictly focused on "do-gooders", we keep them down. It's got to stop.

So it's a pleasure to see the ambitious, audacious, strategic and smart Eduardo Padron given the credit he deserves. While the profile focuses mainly on his college's open access mission, Padron balances a commitment to that value with a continual attempt to put Miami Dade's work in the spotlight, making it central not only to education in Miami and in Florida, but to the nation. I've had the opportunity to meet him a few times this year, but on a least one occasion the chance to speak was scuttled when President Barack Obama summoned him to the White House for a meeting. Better than TIME magazine recognition for sure-- the nation's president is bringing him in for consultation and discussion. A real step in the right direction.

Next year, I hope we'll see several more community college presidents added to this list. Of course, identifying the best will require TIME to look beyond colleges possessing the most power and resources, and instead work to find those helping students excel without the benefit of all that glitters.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Musical Elective of the Month

The Musical Elective of the Month is Justin Townes Earle.

His music encompasses blues, country, folk, and acoustic rock and he sometimes appears to be channeling a young Hank Williams or Woody Guthrie. He was named New & Emerging Artist of the Year at the 2009 Americana Music Festival.

Yes, the name Earle may sound familiar -- and for good reason. Justin is the son of Steve Earle.

From his record label's web site, one learns this: "With inspirations as diverse as Townes Van Zandt (he was named in honor of the elder Earle’s hero), Jimmy Reed, Kurt Cobain, The Replacements, Ray Charles and The Pogues, Justin forged his own brand of American roots music. Going through life with a namesake of Van Zandt’s stature cannot be easy for a young songwriter, but Earle takes it in stride,” saying, “Anyone who tries to live up to Van Zandt is a fool. I’m honored to carry the name, but if I spent my life trying to live up to it, I’d have a pretty miserable life.” has this to say: "Justin Townes Earle is living proof that despite the freak show that is modern day Nashville, there are still artists out there who revere the deep roots of the American musical tradition while still pushing the boundaries to create something new and wonderful."

Justin Townes Earle has put out an album in each of the last three years, the latest 2009's Midnight At the Movies. It features a stellar cover of The Replacements' "Can't Hardly Wait," the old school "What I Mean To You," the honky tonk "Poor Fool," and a rebuke of his dad in the biting "Mama's Eyes."

And, shit, if music ain't your thing (why are you reading this?), Justin was recently named a 'Style Star' by GQ. "As a Southern man, there are two things I'm not afraid of: bow ties and white pants," he says.

For more, check out his web site. He's touring all over the country in the coming months, so go check him out on tour, too. We saw him in Madison, Wisconsin back in June. And he made quite an impression.

For past Musical Electives, please click here.

Debating College for All

It's easy to get lost in the excitement over what appears to be a New Deal for higher education. This was an exciting year, what with the nation's president stepping forward with substantial goals to increase college attainment, heavily invest in community colleges, and reform the financial aid system. The message is loud and quite clear: more Americans should be thinking about college and moving towards enrollment.

But is the message the right one? The Chronicle Review recently tackled the issue by asking a variety of experts to weigh in on this question: are too many students going to college? The answers from folks ranging from Richard Vedder to Sandy Baum were varied and thoughtful, but some of the most difficult questions and concerns weren't raised. Perhaps it's because even saying some things feels like opening Pandora's box. By articulating questions we don't have easy answers to, we create the possibility that policymakers will too-quickly address them, without engaging in the really hard prerequisite discussions. Even so, there's more that needs to be said-- so here forgive me as I close my eyes and throw more fuel on the fire:

Q: "Are too many students going to college?"

1. The question implies a focus on a critical threshold, an approach that seems appropriate only if one believes the ultimate goal is to produce a college-educated workforce of a certain absolute size or proportion of the population. This belies an assumption that the purpose of college attendance is primarily economic. Think about how the question (and the answer) changes if we instead ask: Are there meaningful disparities in college-going, and if so why?

2. Consider your reaction to #1, and then ask yourself: Why are we (the public) more attracted to (and/or comfortable with) justifications for college-going based on economic competitiveness and return on investment than with justifications based on social mobility and inequality?

3. On the other hand: Why are we pushing everyone to become part of the middle-class by attending college? What does that say about how we value the working class?

4. If we're really concerned with inequality in higher education, are we trying to ensure equality of opportunity (access) or equality of outcomes (degree completion)? If it's the latter, what are we willing to tolerate in order to achieve that goal?

5. Are we moving towards a societal embrace of college-as-privilege to college-as-right? If so, how does that change the debate about who should pay for higher education?

6. Given massive increases in college-going and changes in the composition of college-goers, could our current completion rates be interpreted as an achievement, rather than a failure? What completion rate should we expect, and tolerate, in an even more broadly open system?

These are tough questions, and based on some recent conversations I can tell you that at least a segment of the population is pondering them. But we're pondering quietly, perhaps because where the places these concerns take us are dark ones-- cobwebbed-corners of ambiguity and self-doubt. To make the best policy judgments, however, we need to find our way there and linger, at least a little longer.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Race To The Top: Under The Hood

My colleagues and I at the New Teacher Center submitted revised language during the public comment period to strengthen proposed Race to the Top (RttT) regulations. (8/28/2009: "RttT: Redefining Teacher Effectiveness".) I am delighted that most of our suggestions were adopted. Specifically, three changes I am pleased to see in the final RttT regulations and state application released by the U.S. Department of Education today are:

(1) A focus on multiple measures in teacher evaluation.

We have defined effective teacher to mean “a teacher whose students achieve acceptable rates (e.g., at least one grade level in an academic year) of student growth (as defined in this notice). States, LEAs, or schools must include multiple measures, provided that teacher effectiveness is evaluated, in significant part, by student growth (as defined in this notice). Supplemental measures may include, for example, multiple observation-based assessments of teacher performance.”

We have revised criterion (D)(2)(ii) to read, “Design and implement rigorous, transparent, and fair evaluation systems for teachers and principals that (a) differentiate effectiveness using multiple rating categories that take into account data on student growth (as defined in this notice) as a significant factor, and (b) are designed and developed with teacher and principal involvement.”

(2) A stronger focus on school leaders and the inclusion of positive teaching and learning conditions in the definition of effective principal.

We have changed the definition of effective principal as follows: (a) replaced “States may supplement this definition as they see fit” with “States, LEAs, or schools must include multiple measures;” (b) added ”Supplemental measures may include, for example, high school graduation rates and college enrollment rates, as well as evidence of providing supportive teaching and learning conditions, strong instructional leadership, and positive family and community engagement;” and (c) replaced “so long as principal effectiveness is judged, in significant measure by student growth” with “provided that principal effectiveness is evaluated, in significant part, by student growth.”

(3) Greater attention to the need for high-quality teacher induction, mentoring and professional development.

We agree that induction programs and coaching by accomplished teachers and principals can be important and effective strategies for supporting novice teachers and principals upon their entering the profession. We are revising the criterion to clarify that States’ plans in response to this criterion should provide for coaching and induction programs as supports for teachers and principals. Changes: We have revised criterion (D)(5)(i) to clarify that plans should include providing effective, data-informed “coaching” and “induction.”

We agree that professional development, including mentoring and coaching, are important aspects of teacher effectiveness. For this reason, criterion (D)(2)(iv)(a) focuses on using evaluations to inform decisions regarding developing effective teachers and principals, including by providing relevant coaching, induction support, and/or professional development. Criterion (D)(5) also provides for evaluation of the extent to which a State has a high-quality plan for its participating LEAs to provide effective, data-informed professional development, coaching, induction, and common planning and collaboration time to teachers and principals.

Sources of great analysis on the final RttT regulations here:
  • Education Week (Michele McNeil): "Rules Set for $4 Billion 'Race to Top' Contest"
  • New York Times (Sam Dillon): "After Criticism, The Administration Is Praised for Final Rules on Education Grants"
  • Teacher Beat: "Teacher Elements of Final Race to the Top Guidelines"
  • Eduflack: "Just The Race Facts"
  • Eduflack: "The Race Officially Begins ... Now"
  • Eduwonk: "Racing To The Top"

On Your Marks, Get Set ... Go!

The U.S. Department of Education this morning posted final regulations and the state application for the Race to the Top program. Have at it.

More analysis later hopefully ... but a generally positive set of changes to the proposed criteria originally released by the Department over the summer.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Can Baby Steps Win the Race To The Top?

It looks like the state of Wisconsin may become the canary in the coal mine with regard to data firewalls and the Race to the Top (RttT) competition. Last week, the State Legislature passed legislation, signed today by the Governor, that theoretically removes Wisconsin's statutory firewall restricting the use of student achievement data in teacher evaluations. I say theoretically because the bill prevents student test data from being used to discipline or dismiss teachers. And it requires that any changes to teacher evaluation systems be bargained separately in each of the state's 426 school districts.

A quote (included in the Wisconsin State Journal's editorial criticizing the legislation) from John Ashley, executive director of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, is damning:
"The language that's being presented is more interested in protecting teachers," Ashley said. "It doesn't seem to be in the spirit of what the secretary and the president were talking about."
It seems like the state made the fewest number of changes possible to at least try to create the appearance of reform without actually guaranteeing any real reform will take place. Perhaps it was done with legislative vote counting in mind. Perhaps it was done due to an honest disagreement with the teacher evaluation requirement of RttT. Perhaps it was done because the Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) -- the state teacher's union -- likely would have opposed greater changes and its support was needed to get Democratic votes. The biggest cynics might say that the state is guilty of racing to the trough, chasing money without abandoning the status quo, and that WEAC could decide to recommend that its locals oppose ANY use of student achievement data in teacher evaluation.

Personally, I am not opposed to evaluation being subject to collective bargaining. Getting teachers' buy-in to any evaluation system and, even more ideally, jointly designing a system with teachers is preferable to subjecting them to an undesired one. At the same time, I believe that student learning must come into play as one of multiple factors in teacher evaluation and that states are the appropriate actors to draw that line in the sand. This, too, is what the U.S. Department of Education's proposed RttT regulations require. Wisconsin's bill does not guarantee it. What would have made this bill meaningful would have been the inclusion of an affirmative requirement (a 'shall' rather than a 'may') that student learning be a factor in teacher evaluation. To not go that far statutorily suggests that Wisconsin's baby steps may not help it reach the Top.

The Education Department will soon have its say when it evaluates the first round of RttT applications in early 2010. Final RttT regulations could be issued as early as mid-week.

See Teacher Beat's post here. (Great seeing Stephen at APPAM in DC last week!)

See background from the Education Optimists here, here, here, here, and here.

UPDATE (Wisconsin State Journal, 11/10/2009): Let the controversy erupt...

Friday, November 6, 2009

Using Value Added to Assess Teacher Effectiveness

The Association for Public Policy Analysis and Management -- an organization not widely known outside of academia and technical policy circles -- puts on truly meaty conferences. I've attended three APPAM conferences to date, including the Annual Fall Research Conference going on in Washington, DC this week.

Education is merely one strand at APPAM, but the sessions feature some of the biggest names in educational research addressing some very policy relevant issues. The current conference features sessions on value-added modeling, school choice, teacher certification and teacher induction, teacher performance pay, financial aid, college persistence, and more.

The session I attended yesterday on "Using Value Added To Assess Teacher Effectiveness" was excellent. It featured four papers each of which I will undoubtedly oversimplify in this brief blog post. (I encourage you to seek out the papers and read them closely -- below I've linked to those that are available.) One by Dan Goldhaber and Michael Hansen (University of Washington) suggests that year-to-year correlations in value-added teacher effects are modest, but that pre-tenure estimates of teacher job performance do predict estimated post-tenure performance in both math and reading. A second by Julian Betts (UCSD) and Cory Koedel (University of Missouri-Columbia) suggests that bias does exist in value-added models due to student sorting, but that it can be overcome through the use of multiple years of value-added data; further, the study suggests that data from the first year or two of classroom teaching may be insufficient to make reliable judgments about teacher quality. A third by Michael Weiss of MDRC suggests that that teacher variability carries implications for measuring program effects within randomized controlled trials when those teachers are not randomly assigned. And a fourth by John Tyler (Brown University) and Tom Kane (Harvard University) found that teacher assessments made using classroom observation rubrics (such as Charlotte Danielson's) are closely aligned with value-added ratings of teachers.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

A Little Obama Effect

This is awkward. My 2 1/2 year old son is paying attention to politics and presidents, and as his parents we couldn't be more proud. Except for one problem. He's begun to call every non-white male he sees, "Obama!" As in (pointing) "Look Mama, there's Obama!"

Awkward. Sometimes the man is African-American, or in some cases Indian, or even Latino. In not a single instance has he actually been Barack Obama. (Yes, Obama comes to Madison tomorrow-- but Conor will be on his way to Washington so the two will miss each other.) But that doesn't stop Conor from being ever-so-proud to identify his neighbor, fellow airplane passenger, or even my co-worker as our current president.

Now what? (Seriously, now what?)

There's been plenty of talk about a positive "Obama effect" on America's children, the effect of a highly accomplished role model from a non-majority group. The President himself aspired to this when he decided to run for the country's highest office, telling his advisory team that this is what distinguished him from other candidates:

"When I take that oath of office, there will be kids all over this country who don't really think that all paths are open to them, who will believe they can be anything they want to be...and I think the world will look at America a little differently."

Well, as a white child of privilege (including two parents with graduate degrees and full employment) I have no doubt my son would've come up believing he could be or do anything-- regardless of who was president. But, living where we do-- in near lily-white Stoughton, Wisconsin-- I do worry about his lack of non-white role models. Sure, he'll be indoctrinated as a card-carrying liberal (after all my husband's a former executive director of Vermont's Democratic Party), but so what? Even the most hopeful and tolerant adults tend to have stereotypes formed by an absence of figures, as well as the presence of others.

Raised on the East Coast in a community full of Vietnamese and Latino families, it's often occured to me that my decision to work in Madison and live in Stoughton affects the quality of our life. In so many ways, it's completely a joy-- this place is affordable, quiet, and pretty. But when Conor shouts "Obama" I have to what?

Monday, November 2, 2009

The Prison-Education Connection

An article in today's Chronicle Review covers a surge of scholarly interest in "prison studies." The author does a nice job of capturing key areas of research on this topic, though coverage of work by Bruce Western, Chris Wildeman, Alice Goffman, Nikki Jones, and Devah Pager would have deepened the portrait. For example, a discussion of Goffman's recent ethnography of men in Philadelphia could have illustrated how prison life (and the threat of life in prison) is intimately connected with how daily life--outside prison--is experienced by many of today's young urban men.

I just hope educators are paying attention. It's far too easy (and common) for scholars to focus on a single societal institution (like schools) to the exclusion of all others. But anyone committed to democratizing education must connect to the conversation on prison reform.

For example, here are two reasons why higher education researchers, practitioners, and policymakers should follow the debates over prisons:

(1) We want to find ways to broaden access to new populations and spread opportunities. Just 2% of those in state prisons and 8% of those in federal prisons have attained any form of college degree.

At least one study has found that after prison, African-American men are more likely to attend college, perhaps because they hope it will protect them from future participation in undesirable activities.

(2) College attendance during prison is associated with lower rates of recidivism (though evidence has not yet established the relationship as a causal one).

It is thus highly disconcerting that several recent education policies have made it more-- not less-- difficult to use prison time to enroll in postsecondary education and to access college after leaving prison. Consider the following

--Since the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act in 2000, the "aid elimination penalty" has blocked access to aid for adults with drug convictions. By one estimate, this rule has made over 200,000 students ineligible for federal grants, loans, and work study. While the penalty has since been reformed (currently, only students who receive drug convictions during college enrollment and do not pass two unannounced drug tests are ineligible for aid), some suggest that even in its current form it discourages college enrollment (because the financial aid application includes a question about drugs) and perpetuates dropout among vulnerable populations. Wheelock and Uggen write that "relative to whites, racial and ethnic minorities are significantly more likely to be convicted of disqualifying drug offenses and significantly more likely to require a Pell Grant to attend college...It is therefore plausible that tens of thousands have been denied college funding solely on the basis of their conviction status."

--Since 1994, Pell Grants may not be used to support college course-taking that occurs while in prison, a change that has made college much less affordable for that population. Yet at the same time, the number of state prison systems offering postsecondary education is rising (from 30 in 2002 to 43 in 2003-2004)--in Texas and North Carolina more than 10 percent of all inmates participate in some form of college coursework, typically offered by community colleges.

It's time for educators to start thinking hard about who isn't enrolled in their schools, and why. Looking to the ever-growing prison state in this country is a good place to start.