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Joanne Jacobs

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Woe Is…Not Me

Friday, December 9th, 2011 - by Joanne Jacobs

California’s middle-class families — once 60 percent of families in the state — have lost ground, reports the San Jose Mercury News. Only 49.7% are middle class, earning $44,000 to $155,000 a year, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, which dubs it “Recession’s Toll.”

Woe is . . . Wait a second! The graph shows a sharp rise in upper-income families. Since 2007, their share has grown from 5.5% to 13.7%. The share of low-income families has grown slightly from 33.9% to 36.6%.

That suggests most of the “lost” middle class climbed up the economic ladder.

The poor are even poorer, concludes the PPIC. Earnings are down 21 percent for families in the lowest bracket.  But low-income people don’t suffer more because other people are well-off. In fact, the 13.7% can give more to charities to help the 36.9%. The 49.7% should kick in too. We’re doing OK.

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To and through college

Friday, February 4th, 2011 - by Joanne Jacobs

In Our School: The Inspiring Story of Two Teachers, One Big Idea and the Charter School That Beat the Odds, I wrote about a San Jose school that recruits low-achieving students and tries to prepare them to succeed in four-year colleges. “To and Through College” is the motto. With six graduating classes, Downtown College Prep has released a college success report.

While only 10% of low-income students complete college within six years nationwide, DCP graduates earn their degrees at the rate of 47%. We are encouraged by the results we have achieved thus far but remain determined to close the college achievement gap that exists in our community and our nation.

Nationwide, 57 percent of four-year college students complete a degree in six years.

Since 2004, DCP has graduated nearly 400 students. Ninety percent come from low-income families, 97 percent are Latino and 92 percent are first-generation college students.

Some 94 percent are eligible for the University of California and the California State University system; 82 percent enroll in college. DCP’s college counselor stays in touch with graduates through college to help them cope with academic, financial and personal problems. That improves the odds students will make it through.

It’s not possible to quantify the difference DCP makes for its students, but most of these kids were not succeeding in elementary or middle school. The average ninth grader enters with fifth-grade reading and math skills — and the belief that homework is optional. Many are not on track to complete high school, much less qualify for college.

As one comparison, only 29 percent of Latino graduates are UC/CSU eligible in San Jose Unified, even though the district made the college-prep sequence a graduation requirement years ago. Graduates aren’t eligible because they earned D’s in some classes.

The Silva family took a chance on DCP in its first year. His older son, Jose, is now a Chico State graduate; Elizabeth is a junior at UC Davis and Benny Jr. is a freshman at San Francisco State. At an event honoring teachers and staff, Benny Silva Sr., who works for Roto-Rooter, was asked to speak:

“Every day I go into other people’s homes to repair their toilets. What they don’t know about me is that my children are college graduates.”

Or on their way. Below is Elizabeth Silva’s graduation photo, which includes her grandmother. Including family members in the picture is a DCP tradition.

Elizabeth Silva, Class of 2008

Elizabeth Silva, Class of 2008, with her abuelita

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How to make the DREAM Act come true

Monday, January 24th, 2011 - by Joanne Jacobs

In reporting for Our School, my book on a college-prep charter school in San Jose, I met many kids who’d come from Mexico as young children without papers. They were working hard to qualify for college, but couldn’t work legally once they earned a degree. (The illegal students, who didn’t qualify for state or federal aid, were more likely to earn a bachelor’s degree in four years than their classmates who were citizens. They couldn’t afford to go slow.)

Some of the female college graduates took under-the-table jobs as nannies; one male graduate was working as a waiter.  Some are on long waiting lists; other have achieved legal status through marriage.

The DREAM Act promised a path to legalization for young immigrants who’d graduated from U.S. high schools and completed two years of college or military service. I wasn’t surprised that it didn’t pass. When unemployment is high, illegal immigrants are very unpopular.

I think there’s a way to revive the Dream Act in 2011: Link citizenship only to military service, which Americans see as a sacrifice, dropping the link to college attendance, which most see as a subsidized benefit to the individual.

Two years of college enrollment, with no degree required, doesn’t guarantee a productive citizen. Anyone can enroll in community college, if only to take remedial classes. (Only 22 percent of full-time students earn a two-year degree in three years.)  It’s much harder to qualify for the military.

As veterans, the newly legalized could use their GI benefits to pursue a college degree. I think most Americans would be happy to welcome them to citizenship.

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