Upward Mobility

Nationally and in Ohio, we work to promote policies and practices that help children born into poverty transcend their disadvantages and enter the middle class as adults, with a particular focus on what role our schools can play. Through publications, events, and commentary, we advocate for proven paths to the middle class, including high-quality career and technical education, a focus on high-achieving disadvantaged students, and the "Success Sequence."

Resources:

Our many upward-mobility-related blog posts are listed below.


Fordham’s upward mobility experts:


Since the 1980s, there has been a significant increase in the average age at which women in industrialized nations have their first child. Advanced maternal age, medically defined as ages 35 and up, has in a number of studies shown negative association with infant health, and potentially, development in later life. However, data from three separate birth cohorts in the United Kingdom (1958, 1970, and 2001) indicated a marked increase in the cognitive ability of first-born children over time. At face value, this appears to be a disconnect: Shouldn’t the trend towards later child-bearing correlate to lower cognitive abilities among first-borns? A trio of researchers explored what was behind the unexpected results and recently published their results in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The three birth cohorts were studied separately for different longitudinal research projects and each included more than 16,000 randomly sampled children born in specific windows of time. Cognitive ability of the children was assessed at the ages of 10 or 11 using different tests of verbal cognition depending on the cohort. The researchers in the present study combined the data and standardized the three different test results to ensure the best comparability...

Jesse Lovejoy

Motivating students to pursue their educational passions and grow into the learners they are all inherently able to be is both a simple and complex equation. At its core, it’s about access, inspiration, articulating how educational concepts are relevant to their lives, and tapping into the well of curiosity that exists deep inside each child. One answer, to use a term familiar to many of us, is enrichment.

Removing students from their “normal” learning world and placing them into an environment with new texture and life—assuming there is a standards-aligned, rigorous and passionate approach to teaching—can truly open their eyes to new possibilities and views. If we strategically expose children to new experiences and environments, we can change their trajectories and interest levels significantly.

For the STEAM education program that we run at the San Francisco 49ers, our path to enrichment is paved using football and Levi’s Stadium to demystify and “cool-up” subjects like environmental sustainability, structural engineering, and physics. We leverage the power of the game, our players, and the most tech-savvy sports venue in the world to get kids to open up to the ideas that the subjects for which they may believe they have no aptitude...

This report from the Council for a Strong America provides an alarming snapshot of how ill-prepared many of the nation’s young adults are to be productive members of society.

The Council is an 8,500-member coalition comprised of law enforcement leaders, retired admirals and generals, business executives, pastors, and coaches and athletes. Its inaugural “Citizen-Readiness Index” gives more than three quarters of states a C or below on the index, due to staggering numbers of young people who are 1) unprepared for the workforce, 2) involved in crime, or 3) unqualified for the military.

Ohio received an overall C grade, earning some of the top marks for workforce and crime indicators. More specifically, 12 percent of Ohio’s young people ages 16–24 were reported to be unprepared for the workforce, a relatively low percentage nationally that earned Ohio a B. Ohio also earned a B on crime, with eight arrests per one hundred people (among those ages 17–24)—one of the lowest numbers nationwide. On military readiness, however, Ohio earned a D. A whopping 72 percent of youth ages 17–24 were ineligible for military service. Eligibility to enter the military depends on a range of factors, including physical fitness and attainment of...

College may not be for all, but it is the chosen path of nearly fifty thousand Ohio high school grads. Unfortunately, almost one-third of Ohio’s college goers are unprepared for the academic rigor of post-secondary coursework. To better ensure that all incoming students are equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in university courses, all Ohio public colleges and universities require their least prepared students to enroll in remedial, non-credit-bearing classes (primarily in math and English).

Remediation is a burden on college students and taxpayers who pay twice. First they shell out to the K–12 system. Then they pay additional taxes toward the state’s higher education system, this time for the cost of coursework that should have been completed prior to entering college (and for which students earn no college credit). The remediation costs further emphasize the importance of every student arriving on campus prepared.

Perhaps the bigger problem with remedial education is that it doesn’t work very well. In Ohio, just 51 percent of freshmen requiring remediation at a flagship university—and 38 percent of those in remedial classes at a non-flagship school—go on to complete entry-level college courses within two academic years....

Steve V. Coxon

America’s pipeline for STEM talent is happily expanding, but many groups remain severely underrepresented. This leads to huge disparities in the applicant pool for STEM careers. One reason is clear: family wealth.

Poverty squanders a wealth of STEM potential in childhood. In 2012, 21 percent of children in the U.S. lived in poverty, and that number is increasing. Poverty restricts academic promise in a variety of ways, including inadequate healthcare, lack of access to high-quality preschool and day care, a paucity of school resources, fewer good teachers, and increased school bureaucracy. Despite these disadvantages, there are still more than a million poor children nationwide who rank in the top quartile academically when they start school. Unfortunately, only about half of these children will remain there by the end of fifth grade, and they are twice as likely to drop out of high school as their middle class peer of the same ability. While many have the potential to pursue STEM, the odds are stacked against them.

To ensure that children from low-income families are included in the STEM talent pipeline, we need to start early, provide engaging STEM activities beyond the school day, and connect with families. Certainly by age...

Although recent analyses show that the child poverty rate isn't as high as many people believe, the fact remains that millions of American students attend under-resourced schools. For many of these children, well-resourced schools are geographically close but practically out of reach; high home prices and the scarcity of open enrollment policies make it all but impossible for low-income families to cross district borders for a better education.

Some research shows that low-income children benefit from attending school with better-off peers. Middle- and upper-income children may also benefit from an economically diverse setting. In short, income integration is a win-win for everyone involved. So why do the vast majority of school districts in the United States remain segregated by income? The answer isn’t much of a mystery: Schools are mainly funded by locally raised property taxes, which functionally “give wealthier communities permission to keep their resources away from the neediest schools.”

In order to examine just how isolating school district borders can be for low-income students, a relatively new nonprofit called EdBuild recently examined 33,500 school borders for school districts in 2014 and identified the difference in childhood poverty rates between districts on either side of the boundary line. (For...

A new analysis from the Manhattan Institute’s Scott Winship shows that, measured correctly, the U.S. child poverty rate declined from 13.1 percent in 1996 to 7.8 percent in 2014—a drop of almost two-fifths.

This has huge implications for many policy areas, including education reform, and it’s a development that all parties must wrestle with.

For the teachers’ unions and other traditional education groups, it raises hard questions about their familiar contention that America’s lackluster student achievement is due to poverty—that we must “fix poverty first” before our schools will improve. We haven’t fixed poverty, but we have most certainly decreased it.

It also raises hard questions for reformers about why we haven’t seen greater progress in student outcomes over the past twenty years, considering that these socioeconomic trends should put the wind at our backs. We like to point to achievement gains in the late 1990s and early 2000s, especially for the poorest and lowest-performing students, as evidence that testing and accountability boosted learning.

But what if that was only part of the story?

Let’s excavate a bit deeper. Ramesh Ponnuru has a great overview of Winship’s study at Bloomberg View. Ponnuru writes, “The Census Bureau’s official measurements, it is true,...

It’s no secret that principals are pretty stoked when students who transfer into their schools have a history of high scores on required annual tests. School leaders feel great pressure to perform in the public eye, and having a few more kids to bump those numbers up is certainly a welcome surprise.

It’s usually light hearted and all in good fun when they say, “ooh, we’ll gladly take her,” knowing that with each academically strong test taker, their overall school profile is likely to at least hold steady and hopefully even improve. The more 4s and 5s their students get on PARCC or Smarter Balanced, the better they look to district and state leaders, as well as parents, reporters, prospective home buyers, and the community at large.

I have no problem with a school leader wanting to land a good headline for performing well in every way, including on mandated tests. Who wouldn’t want a new kid coming in who scored double 5s on PARCC last year?

But this relationship needs to be a reciprocal one in which all parties get what they need. And in far too many schools, that symbiosis is missing.

The high achieving test...

  • Good news from out west: According to a new study conducted jointly by Stanford, the University of Washington, and the RAND Corporation, our newer cohorts of teachers are entering the profession with appreciably better academic pedigrees than their predecessors of fifteen and twenty-five years ago. The researchers measured the SAT and ACT scores of about three thousand recently hired teachers across the United States from 1993, 2000, and 2008. While the Y2K-era newbies scored only in the thirty-ninth percentile for average SAT/ACT math, the 2008 group soared all the way to the commanding heights of the forty-sixth percentile! (Hey, any improvement is welcome, even if the beginning of the Great Recession probably played a role in ushering more qualified candidates into the profession.) If the news doesn’t exactly have you rushing for your party hats, consider this: Contrary to popular belief, the era of greater teacher accountability following No Child Left Behind hasn’t dissuaded good young candidates from entering the classroom.
  • You can do a lot to improve education for underprivileged kids—improve teacher quality, tighten up academic standards, institute cultures of accountability—and still not make much progress toward closing the achievement gap separating them from their more advantaged
  • ...

Late July might be famous for potato chips and trips to the beach. But it’s also the time when America’s inequality, like the hot summer sun, is at its zenith, particularly for our children. Affluent kids are spending their days (and often their nights) at camp or traveling the world with their families, picking up knowledge, skills, and social connections that will help them thrive at school and beyond. Needless to say, these experiences are seldom accessible to their less affluent peers.

As Robert Putnam argued in his landmark book Our Kids—and again in his recent report, Closing the Opportunity Gap—there is a growing class gulf in spending on children’s enrichment and extracurricular activities (things like sports, summer camps, piano lessons, and trips to the zoo). As the upper-middle class grows larger and richer, it is spending extraordinary sums to enhance its kids’ experience and education; meanwhile, other children must make do with far less. (Putnam got the data for his chart from this study.)

Source: Kornrich, S. & Furstenberg, F. (2013), Investing in children: changes in parental spending on children, 1972-2007

More critically, that...

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