by Grady Brown
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the Commonwealth received a federal Gear-Up grant to improve low-income student college preparedness earlier this week. But the University’s decision to cut AccessUVA funding and the Commonwealth’s deep budget cuts are sending mixed messages about the Virginia’s commitment to low-income student college going.
The Federal government recognized the importance that college preparedness plays in increasing college access to low-income students by introducing Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs grants. GEAR UP states receive a six or seven year matching grant to increase the state’s capacity for early intervention and college preparedness programing for low-income students. State officials aim these grants specifically at cohorts of low-income students, no later than 7th grade, and follow them through high school graduation and into their first year of college. Officials set aside portions of the grants for financial aid and scholarships. Several states who successfully implemented GEAR UP grants reported increased AP test completion, gains in graduation rates, and higher college application completion rates among low income students.
by Grady Brown
There’s an age-old saying: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” That sentiment was translated into policy in February of last year when the Virginia legislature created the Opportunity Educational Institution and Board (OEI and OEI Board). The bill gave the OEI authority to regulate low-performing schools that had either been denied accreditation from the state or had received a “warning” status for three consecutive years starting on July 1. The bill would have impacted only six schools, but set a precedent for more state power in education. It was ruled unconstitutional earlier this summer.
From its introduction to the General Assembly, the bill proved contentious. Although it garnered support from a few Democrats early on, an amendment to the bill to make “warning” status schools eligible for state takeover diminished bipartisan support. Democrats countered with their own bill calling for joint state-local turnaround agreements with local control of struggling schools. While the new bill passed in the Senate, it fell short in the Republican-controlled House. The state takeover bill went on to pass on party lines in the Senate (which required a deciding vote from the Lieutenant Governor) and the House.
Local school districts and teachers unions stood together in opposition. More than 100 school boards and municipal governing boards, including the Charlottesville School Board, gave their support for a lawsuit Norfolk Public Schools brought challenging the law’s constitutionality. Virginia is unique in that its constitution explicitly gives local school districts authority and control of their schools. Opponents of the bill also worried that state takeover would inevitably lead to privatizing education.
by Kyle Schoenbelen
Cleaning my apartment the other day, I came across a mug buried under the couch. The mug is emblazoned with the logo—and heady if not pretentious motto—of my employer from the summer of 2012: “Bridging the gap between thought and action.” I ended summer 2012 one mug up because I completed a full-time internship at a prestigious Washington D.C. think tank, the Center for Strategic and International Studies. This year’s University of Pennsylvania rankings place the organization at as the fourth most influential of its kind in the world, and the intern selection process was correspondingly competitive. I worked hard and learned much from my experience over 3 months at the center. I also made exactly zero dollars.
Not that I have any complaints. The experience was well worth it; the net gain from my time at CSIS far outweighed my temporary lack of beer money. I was an undergraduate and my unpaid colleagues, most of whom were graduate students (and some of whom were married with families) obviously felt the same way.
It is an open secret that large swaths of DC run on the sweat and tears of unpaid interns, and this arrangement is generally taken for granted. Internships for congressional representatives, government agencies, think tanks, and NGOs are almost universally unpaid. This means that if students want to acquire direct experience in policy, they must either live in the Washington area, have parents who are willing to front the cost, or be one of the few who are able to win a scholarship or grant for summer work. For many students at schools like UVA, Princeton, or Georgetown, this isn’t an issue. Taking an unpaid summer is viewed as a necessary sacrifice for long-term career prospects– a sort of price of entry into the field. For the vast majority of people, however, the idea of spending an entire summer working full time for no pay while dealing with DC’s significant cost of living seems downright ridiculous.
Frequently, young adults who raise the issue of unpaid internships are caricatured as whiny, over-educated rich kids upset because they have to order Jim Beam instead of Maker’s Mark during their nights out in Adams Morgan. “The dry-cleaning bill for that bourbon stain on my Barbour jacket isn’t going to pay itself,” thinks the girl whose lobbyist uncle set her up with a Hill gig for the summer. “Good thing I have daddy’s Am-ex card for emergencies like these!” Such dismissive critiques, while humorous, implicitly define a decidedly un-humorous problem— only affluent students are in a position to complain about unpaid DC jobs in the first place. In real life, Charlie Young from West Wing doesn’t even get an interview.
by Anindya Kundu
As defined in the 2010 Western, True Grit implies individual tenacity and passion, a tireless ability to dust yourself off and pull yourself up by the bootstraps. A related idea has emerged in contemporary conversations about public school achievement. Agritty student makes no excuses and meets any and all academic issues: head on.
There is no doubt these are praiseworthy character traits, but there are problems with viewing grit as an essential component of student success. The focus on grit overlooks inter-subjective factors, which shape the public education experience.
University of Pennsylvania psychologist Angela Lee Duckworth has convincingly argued that grit is a desirable trait that directly predicts student achievement. Duckworth also implies that every student has grit and the ability to access it.
But, here’s the problem: grit directs attention away from other factors that affect student success. Saying that student A achieves because she is gritty ignores the hurdles in the path of student B, whose underachievement is then simply attributed to his or her personality deficits. This logic follows that attitude is the sole basis for achievement. The problem is no longer our problem, but just theirs. As such, poor outcomes are due to student behavior and not a failure to address other key issues such as teacher performance.
The same idea underlies our ever-ubiquitous use of the phrase “achievement gap” instead of posing the problem as that of an “opportunity gap.” Hypothetically speaking, if all students had the same initial set of opportunities, then measuring grit would be more valuable and predictive of future success. But, access to opportunity is anything but equal. Social science research has consistently shown that that public school students with higher-income parents should expect to attain higher levels of educational attainment than other students.1 This is one of many reasons that only 6% of Americans born in the lowest income quintile make it to the top quintile. Similarly, only 9% of people from the top quintile ever end up at the bottom. As a result, the United States has the highest income inequality among developed nations.2