Policy Corner: January updates with Janet Forbush

Written by Janet Forbush, Senior Policy Advisor with the Center for the Advancement of Mentoring

January 2018

The month of January is an especially important marker in the mentoring field, having been designated as National Mentoring Month.  During January of 2018, over 1,000 mentoring researchers, advocates, and program practitioners came together in Washington, DC to participate in the 8th Annual National Mentoring Summit.  MENTOR, the key sponsor of the Summit, distributed to participants a thoughtful and inspiring letter from former President Obama encouraging each and all of us to renew our commitment to lifting up equality, inclusion, and “bridge-building through meaningful relationships with our youth.”  What a wonderfully positive tone-setting message for us as we continue the much needed advocacy for our most vulnerable young people.

Federal and State Developments

President Trump delivered his first State of the Union address to the American people on January 30.  Unlike remarks he offered to Congress in 2017, shortly after being sworn in as President, this year he barely referenced education needs of students.  He neglected to characterize acute problems associated with infrastructure needs in countless public schools throughout the United States.  The only mentions of schools in Trump’s State of the Union involved “opening more great ones of the vocational variety to train workers” and his lament as to how members of the violent MS-13 gang used loopholes in the immigration law to gain entrance to a Long Island high school.  And he avoided addressing the upcoming March deadline facing close to 800,000 DACA youth facing a March deadline of possible deportation.

Investigators in Washington, DC issued a report on January 29 showing that all but two of the city’s high schools violated the district’s graduation policy and permitted seniors to graduate without having completed course requirements.  Though a widespread graduation scandal has focused for months on Ballou High School, this latest report highlights a district wide pattern in which administrators rarely followed attendance policies and appear to have engaged in a culture where educators were pressured to pass and graduate students irrespective of merit.

Rhode Island legislators are considering legislation that could dramatically increase funding for the state’s tax-credit scholarships.  The 10-year-old program has a cap of $1.5 million a year and serves just over 400 students.  However, by allowing businesses to donate up to $5 million annually could triple the number of students served according to state Representative Robert Lancia.  The intent of the legislation is to help underserved students and are already in effect in 17 states.

An interesting ‘big idea’ in education that appears to be gaining traction is the movement by teachers to focus more on learning rather than on the process of using letter grades to rate student performance.  Among the proponents is Mark Barnes, founder and CEO of Times 10 Publications headquartered in Cleveland.  Barnes founded a Facebook group named “Teachers Throwing Out Grades Facebook group which he reports has 8,000 members.  The group has identified four steps to creating a no-grades classroom which they recommend:  1) Be accountable first to students; 2)  Tell parents exactly why you want to eliminate grades; 3) Team up with school and community leaders; and 4)  Bring students into the report-card conversation.

Suggested Reading

Rebecca Zwick’s 2017 “Who Gets In? – Strategies for Fair and Effective College Admissions” is both a ‘good read’ and a potentially useful resource for mentors who are working with students who are preparing to begin the college application process.  She takes a straightforward look at the admissions process and tackles evidence of the inherently unfair circumstances that surround the game of ‘getting in.’  Zwick notes that colleges should be free to include socioeconomic and racial preferences among their admissions criteria, however, argues they should strive transparency about the factors used to evaluate applicants. Ms. Zwick is Distinguished Presidential Appointee at Educational Testing Service and Professor Emerita at the University of California, Santa Barbara.  The book was published by Harvard University Press and is available here.

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