Rhetoric and Reality in the “All Charter” Approach to School Reform in New Orleans

Photo courtesy of timlewisnm via flickr.com CC

In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, the devastated city of New Orleans entirely reinvented its system of public schools – by eliminating neighborhood schools and creating a city-wide system of competing, privately managed schools formally open to children regardless of where they live. State authorities spurred this transformation by rating most preexisting schools in the city as “failing” and using the state-run Recovery School District to take control of such schools away from the Orleans Parish School Board. All public school teachers were fired and their contracts nullified. In the weeks after Katrina, school reformers set up charter schools funded with public dollars but managed by private companies or nonprofit organizations. New Orleans became a nearly all-charter city, allowing for what many have called a “grand experiment” in school reform.


Using Alternatives to School Suspension Can Improve Student Success and Community Safety

Barring students from school is all too common in America. Across the country, schools turn to suspension as the preferred solution to many different kinds of student misconduct ranging from fighting to skipping school. Of course school authorities have to take action when students engage in serious misbehaviors. But an accumulation of evidence suggests that schools would do well to find alternative ways to proceed in many situations. Alternatives to suspension can do a better job of correcting student misbehavior – and may also improve safety for everyone at school and in the broader community. On their own, some school leaders are already taking important steps to reduce reliance on suspensions.

Suspensions Can be Ineffective and Harmful

Research shows that suspension is often a temporary solution that may exacerbate the problem it is intended to address. Suspension often seems like a good way to remove troublemakers from the scene of difficulties, improve security, and focus attention from parents and authorities on student misbehaviors. But there are also clear downsides. Suspension isolates students and increases time spent out of school for students who may already have records of truancy. (more…)

New Measures Reveal the True Impact of America’s Anti-Poverty Programs


Half a century ago, President Lyndon Johnson launched America’s War on Poverty; yet by the 1980s President Ronald Reagan famously declared that “we waged a war on poverty and poverty won.” To back up this claim, conservatives point to official U.S. statistics showing that the percentage of Americans living in poverty, around 15%, has changed very little over the decades.

But the official poverty measure is outdated – so I teamed up with several colleagues to produce estimates using a more accurate one. When we use the improved measure, it turns out that U.S. social programs and taxes have had a powerful effect on reducing poverty since the mid-1960s. Back then, government programs did little to alleviate poverty, but today public programs and taxes cut the percentage of people living in poverty by almost half, from the 28.7% it would be without government efforts to 16% after public programs are included. Far too many Americans continue to have inadequate incomes, but U.S. policies have helped millions avoid poverty. (more…)

The Deportation Crisis for Latino Men and Their Families

Immigrant rights activists are pressuring President Barack Obama to pull back on record-high deportations, pointing to the more than two million forced removals that have happened on his watch. Two million is a significant milestone, because it means that President Obama has already presided over as many deportations as President George W. Bush carried out during his entire two terms as president. Before that, the sum total of all immigrants deported prior to 1997 added up to two million, so Bush and Obama have vastly accelerated forced removals.usdeportations

As deportations reach an all-time high, research I have done with Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo finds that they are overwhelmingly targeting Latino men, many of whom have lived with families across the United States. Mass removals heavily focused on a specific segment of the immigrant population are causing major social disruptions with lasting consequences. (more…)

How Passers-by and Policymakers View Beggars in American Communities

Photo courtesy of Eric Parker via flickr.com CC

Many municipalities across the United States have taken measures to keep homeless people and panhandlers out of sight in public spaces. Legislators and government officials justify such steps as necessary to protect the public against unsafe or provocative conduct by “street people.” But some previous studies suggest that many Americans who have frequent interactions with street beggars see them in more benign and nuanced ways. To learn more, I did interviews and collected questionnaire responses from passers-by who recounted their reactions to recent interactions with beggars. My methods allowed me to tap the meanings these interactions hold for people who pass beggars on the street – meanings not usually captured in quantitative studies. (more…)

The Changing Relationship of Congress and the Federal Judiciary

Photo by John Marino via Flickr.com CC

Relationships between members of the United States Congress and the judiciary are shifting, as Democrats and Republicans alike reassess whether the courts are political allies or foes in this highly polarized era. My research tracks what members of the House of Representatives have had to say about judges and the judiciary in recent years—specifically, I have teamed up with a colleague to analyze public statements published on official House websites from 2010 to 2014, a pivotal and contentious period in recent politics. (more…)

Make the First Two Years of College Free—A Cost-Effective Way to Expand Access to Higher Education in America

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Almost half a century ago, the U.S. federal government expanded financial aid to college students to make college more affordable—but today the odds of getting a degree are more tightly linked to family income than ever before. Getting a college degree remains a good investment, but the current distribution of federal and state financial aid dollars leaves many families of modest means out in the cold. Between 1992 and 2004, the odds that a high school graduate who took at least Algebra II would decide not to go to college went up among all income-groups except the very wealthiest. Sadly, students from families of modest means have also become more likely to drop out from public colleges and universities—leaving with debts, not degrees. (more…)

What We Know—and Still Need to Learn—About the Impact of Vouchers on Students and Schools

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After two decades of trial-runs, school voucher programs occupy a growing place across the U.S. educational landscape. In Arizona, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin, public funding supports private school attendance by students with varied needs and limited family resources. At least ten states offset private tuition with refunds or credits offered through their tax codes. As such programs proliferate, it is important to take stock of what researchers have found so far about the impact of vouchers on student achievement and school performance. (more…)

Women Have a Strong Stake in Sustainable Development—and Female Clout Can Help to Achieve It

Photo by FMSC via Flickr.com CC

In 1987, a United Nations report on “Our Common Future” highlighted the importance of environmental as well as economic and social factors in the development of societies that further human well-being. The reason for stressing environmental sustainability is clear. Resources garnered from the environment provide necessities for human life such as food, clothing, and shelter. Harnessing energy and harvesting resources are essential components of production processes that contribute to economic advancement. In fact, without a hospitable and supportive environment, societies cannot exist and economies cannot operate. (more…)

Why Meeting the Global Warming Challenge Is So Difficult

Photo by John LeGear via Flickr.com CC

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently released its Fifth Assessment Report, presenting the latest accumulation of scientific evidence about the threat of global warming and calling for urgent actions to meet the threat. Earlier reports have pointed in the same directions, but the political, economic, and simple human obstacles to facing and coping with the dangers of global warming remain today as they were twenty-five years ago on the eve of the Intergovernmental Panel’s First Assessment Report. People in the United States and across the globe are no more likely to reduce greenhouse gas emissions dramatically in 2014 or soon thereafter than they were in 1990. Modern political and economic systems are not geared to cope with this sort of challenge. And there is an enduring collective action problem: no single individual or organization, not even a few working together, can execute necessary solutions. Most must learn to act together, or the game is over—the causes and dire effects of increasing global warming simply will not be handled in time. (more…)