Two of the articles should be of particular interest to journalists interested in how education can help address issues of poverty. One, by economist Greg J. Duncan of Northwestern, Jens Ludwig an economist at the University of Chicago , and Katherine J. Magnuson of the School of Social Work at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, proposes an intensive two-year, education-focused intervention for all three- and four-year-olds that would charge fees on a sliding scale. The article is unusually specific. One key part of the idea is that the feds would offer incentives to states to participate rather than funding the program directly. The authors are more cautious than some advocates and researchers in that they don’t put a ratio on the return on investment. But they do say that the program’s $20 billion cost would be more than matched by the benefits—in the $2 or $3 per $1 spent range rather than the $7 to $14 that economists have calculated for other comprehensive programs in the past. They do, however, say such a program aimed at poor kids would reduce poverty by 5% to 15%, a very healthy gain.
The other article in the volume that should be of interest to journalists is by Harvard Grad School professor and economist Richard Murnane and is called “Improving the Education of Children Living in Poverty.” Despite the ambitious-sounding title, Murnane’s proposal is both more modest and less sanguine about the positive effects that can be expected. He proposes a number of changes to the No Child Left Behind law (some of which already are being discussed) that would make the law’s achievement targets more realistic and meaningful for teachers. He says the feds should provide states with strong incentives to make their high school graduation requirements better reflect the needs of the labor market and also promote interdistrict transfer programs, such as are in place in Boston, Milwaukee, and St. Louis. And, finally—and this is the big one—he says the feds must provide competitive, matching grants to districts and states to improve the quality of teaching through recruitment, compensation, preparation, and professional development. Cost? $2.5 billion a year. The piece does a great job of providing a clear, quick overview of what’s going on in education policy, context often missing from education reporting.