Information Can Transform A Life

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Dear reformers: Here’s a thought. Don’t reject an idea just because it’s cheap and easy.

We came across a fascinating piece of research the other day on how to make sure that bright, hard-working kids from low-income families go to college.

Make note for starters that the growing gap between rich and the rest of us continues to widen. The effects appear especially alarming when it comes to education.

For instance, the gap in college attendance rates between the top and bottom income groups has grown by 50 percent in the past 20 years, according to a study by researchers from the University of Michigan. About 54 percent of students from wealthy families (income above $87,000) now get college degrees compared to 9 percent of low-income students (incomes below $26,000).

Another set of researchers set out to determine whether giving information to low-income students with good grades and high SAT scores might make a difference in college attendance rates – especially when it comes to getting into elite institutions like Harvard and Stanford.

So the researchers set up two groups of some 80,000 top-performing, low-income students. One group received a packet about colleges they might apply to — including complete information about scholarships, annual costs and admissions standards. The students also learned that many elite institutions will waive normally hefty application fees for low-income families. Some of the top universities also have a lot more financial aid for low-income students than less expensive, public colleges. All told, the researchers mailed out 40,000 packets, plus follow-up materials. They also set up a second matched group of low-income students as a control group.

The result? A heartening 54 percent of the bright, low-income students who received the packets ended up in college — many of them in elite institutions. By contrast, only 30 percent of the equally qualified students who didn’t get the packet attended college, according to the study conducted by Caroline Hoxby of Stanford and Sarah E. Turner of the University of Virginia.

We hope that the Payson Unified School District is paying attention to such low-cost, high impact interventions. Please note, a dismaying 70 percent of the students in this district come from low-income families. We have many bright, hard-working, capable students who aren’t getting the support or information they need.

And yet instead of embracing such effective interventions, the hard-pressed district has cut its counseling staff and been forced by state dictates to devote more and more resources to unproven — possibly harmful “reforms” imposed by both the state and federal governments.

Many of those forced changes remain complex, expensive and untested. But that shouldn’t blind educators to changes that work — just because they’re so cheap and easy.

Wrong-headed solution

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-Prescott) and Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Flagstaff) have identified a vital problem — but offer a potentially counter-productive solution. They recently joined with 13 co-sponsors to introduce H.R. 1345, which would set tight deadlines on approving forest thinning and cattle grazing projects on federal lands.

At first blush, this sounds like a great idea — at least when it comes to forest thinning.

A century of mismanagement has turned millions of acres into overgrown tinderboxes. U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management should act immediately to thin those forests. The failure to do so poses a grave threat to every forested community in the nation. Moreover, the Forest Service decision-making process remains absurdly slow and convoluted. We could cite particulars, but our doctor said not to bring it up until we get our blood pressure under control.

Still, we have a bad feeling that the approach contained in H.R. 1345 will do more harm than good. We suspect it will merely trigger a fresh round of lawsuits, protests and deadlock .

Instead, we wish Gosar and Kirkpatrick would focus on making the Four Forest Restoration Initiative work. This visionary approach found the common ground between loggers and environmentalists. Although hindered by delays and concerns about the financial abilities of the contractor, it remains the single best way forward.

Moreover, the decision to lump thinning programs in with grazing projects seems odd. Certainly, grazing laws need an overhaul to foster grazing operations that protect rangeland and riparian areas. Ranchers have proven they can make a living without damaging the land. But grazing has very little to do with thinning forests. A thinned forest needs enough grass to restore natural fire cycles.

Still, we’re happy to see the bipartisan approach represented by the sponsorship of both Gosar and Kirkpatrick and hope they’ll continue to cooperate and seek workable solutions to the single greatest threat to the survival of our communities.

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