Friday, June 13, 2014

Should high-poverty communities tell students to flee, or try harder to recruit employers?

Should rural students in high-poverty areas be encouraged to migrate to urban areas in order to make the most of their lives, or should rural areas make a concerted effort to keep students local by recruiting employers? Those questions are up for debate in separate articles on the blog Young Education Professionals, as noted in an editorial by Maureen Downey of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

"There are 384 counties in the U.S. that are 'persistently poor,' meaning they’ve had high poverty rates for at least 30 years, and 83 percent of those are non-metro areas," writes Matt Richmond, a research analyst in Washington D.C. "They are former coal towns in Appalachia, farming communities with few farmers, a rust belt that has slowly . . .  rusted. What, exactly, is the mechanism by which schools are transforming students’ job prospects, given these environments?" (YEP graphic)

Richmond argues that in areas that don't have any jobs, school is a waste of time: "Algebra II, as useful as it is . . . doesn’t make an entrepreneur. Nor is it sufficiently impressive to convince IBM they should build a microprocessor plant in the middle of nowhere. Without outside money feeding back into the regional economy, there will be fewer jobs—with lower wages—across the board. This is why unemployment is so intractable in poor, disconnected areas."

Richmond continues, "The goal of experts (who, almost invariably, live in urban areas) focuses much more on the benefits of sending kids away to college. Rural 'brain drain' is a double-edged sword in that it provides kids opportunities they’d never have at home, yet exports the one thing areas can’t afford to lose: skills and talent. But even if we ignore the negative impact and focus on the positive, this isn’t much of a grand plan for students, either. Any plan to increase opportunity for students needs to focus on building industry first and foremost, because without it the long-term prospects for success are dramatically lower."  (Read more)

Andrew Rowe, who grew up in Washington's Olympic Peninsula (see next post) but attended college in the East and now lives in Washington, D.C., said in a comment on the article that students need to get out of poor, rural areas. "Why do I live in one Washington and not the other?" he writes. "The hard truth is that there are very few reasons for people to build 21st-century jobs, like electronics manufacturing, in rural areas because they are remote and lack flexible infrastructure, investment and tax bases. As in other rural areas, older workers with experience logging or working in pulp mills where I grew up have skills not easily transferable to other more modern jobs."

Rowe adds, "Working to improve the economies of these corners of the country is a worthwhile goal. But for the sake of rural children, we should never assume that rural redevelopment efforts will bring large-scale employment and should drive education policies. The realistic assumption for the large bulk of the children in these areas should, instead, be that economic opportunities are better found elsewhere, and our education policies should follow." (Read more)

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