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Giving thanks now and in the future

Randall F. Clemens

Now is the time to give thanks. I am thankful for having good health, professional successes, and old and new friends and family. When I consider major trends in education, however, giving thanks is more difficult.  Don’t get me wrong: There are people and events for which to be thankful. This year, Governor Brown signed legislation that will allow undocumented students to receive financial aid for college. The Dream Act will absolutely change the lives of many teenagers. In addition, there are numerous examples of hugely successful students, teachers, and schools at every level across the country. Those are important facts and reasons to give thanks. 

And yet, we cannot ignore the realities of our current educational system. Consider a few facts about Los Angeles:

  • One-third of all Black and Latino children are poor and, as a result, less likely to have positive health and educational outcomes.
  • In Los Angeles Unified School District, nearly three out of every ten Black and Latino students drop out of high school.
  • Of the Black and Latino students who do graduate, only four out of ten enroll in college.

Education provides a pathway to social mobility. Unfortunately, millions of children encounter immense barriers. In particular, the 60 young men who are participating in research for my dissertation shape my thoughts during this holiday season. What reforms may have helped them succeed in high school and matriculate to college? I suggest five:

  • First, neighborhood-based reforms like Promise and Choice Neighborhoods in order to alleviate poverty and provide improved job opportunities, healthcare, and access to social services for families. 
  • Second, extended school days and more after-school activities in order to increase learning opportunities and social networks.
  • Third, university-created mentoring and enrichment programs starting with at-risk middle school students in order to increase high school retention and college access.
  • Fourth, thoughtful and well-executed uses of technology in order to provide access to information. Starbucks provides free Wi-Fi to coffee drinkers. Why don’t all high schools provide free access to students? 
  • Fifth, a standard, simplified college application process and automatic enrollment pathways in order to increase access.

These are a few of the reforms that could improve educational and life outcomes, particularly for students in low-income neighborhoods. What changes do you want to occur? 

I wish every one a happy holiday. Now is the time to give thanks, but also plan for more thanks in the future.


Blackwell, A. G., & Pastor, M. (2010). Let's hear it for the boys: Building a stronger America by investing in young men and boys of color. In C. Edley & J. R. d. Velasco (Eds.), Changing places: How communities will improve the health of boys of color (pp. 3-33). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.