Kudos to Andy Rotherham and Chad Aldeman for taking on, via a nifty new website and this recent Washington Post article, the pressing (and underreported) issue of teacher-pension reform. Before you yawn, at least take note that due to extraordinarily long vesting periods—which, conveniently, help out lawmakers who haven’t properly funded their state’s pension plans—more than half of all teachers won’t qualify for even a minimal pension. As in other fields nowadays, barely a quarter of Maryland’s teachers will stay in this line of work for a full career—and a whopping 57 percent will leave without seeing a penny in pension benefits. Capable young folks who might otherwise try their hand in the classroom cannot be blamed for thinking twice about taking the plunge. Now that you’re awake, get educated.
In last weekend’s New York Times magazine, Paul Tough (of How Children Succeed fame) looked at why so many low-income students drop out of college. Just a quarter of college freshmen whose families are in the bottom half of the income distribution will obtain a bachelor’s degree by the time they are twenty-four years old, while nearly 90 percent of their classmates born in the top income quartile will do so. Tough identifies a number of factors at play, from family obligations and expectations to simply becoming overwhelmed by financial-aid paperwork. He also describes an innovative, and apparently successful, initiative at the University of Texas to provide greater support to disadvantaged students. Yet he barely touches one of the most obvious drivers of the college completion gap: the preparation gap. Simply put, low-income students are coming into many universities with lower SAT scores, weaker skills, thinner knowledge, and less experience in challenging courses. That’s an issue we can’t simply wish away.