October 31, 2014

Common Core Math Standards will reduce participation in higher-level math courses

by Grace

Common Core Math Will Reduce Enrollment in High-Level High School Courses

Will the adoption of CCMS push some school districts to lower standards for all students?

Common Core math standards (CCMS) end after just a partial Algebra II course. This weak Algebra II course will result in fewer high school students able to study higher-level math and science courses and an increase in credit-bearing college courses that are at the level of seventh and eighth grade material in high-achieving countries, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

Federal pressure to eliminate higher-level math courses

Low-income students will also be hurt the most by the shift to weaker math standards. Since the Common Core math standards only end at a partial Algebra II course, nothing higher than Algebra II will be tested by federally funded assessments that are currently under development. High schools in low-income areas will be under the greatest fiscal pressure to eliminate under-subscribed electives like trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus.

Lower chances of graduating from college

Research has shown that the highest-level math course taken in high school is the single best predictor of college success. Only 39 percent of the members of the class of 1992 who entered college having taken no farther than Algebra II earned a college degree. The authors estimate that the number will shrink to 31-33 percent for the class of 2012.

20141030.COCHighestLevelMathCollege2

CCMS are ‘not for STEM’

Two of the authors of the Common Core math standards, Jason Zimba and William McCallum, have publicly acknowledged the standards’ weakness. At a public meeting in Massachusetts in 2010, Zimba said the CCMS is “not for STEM” and “not for selective colleges.”

Incentives have consequences.

What can we expect for results in our high schools? Because CCMS-aligned SAT and ACT tests will cover, at best, only the first two years of a high school curriculum (that is as far as the CCMS go, despite all the misleading rhetoric about how advanced they are), they will incentivize our students to learn nothing beyond what is in a junior-high-school level curriculum in high-functioning education systems. Indeed, the CCMS tests will encourage our high schools to spend four years teaching students what is taught in two years—and by grade 9—in the educations systems of our economic competitors. As we have seen, two of the three CCMS lead writers have publicly admitted the college readiness level is “minimal.”

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“Common Core Math Will Reduce Enrollment in High-Level High School Courses”, Pioneer Institute, Sept. 8, 2014.

Richard P. Phelps and R. James Milgram White, The Revenge Of K-12: How Common Core And The New SAT Lower College Standards In the U.S., Pioneer Institute, September 2014.

October 30, 2014

Vocational high school diploma gets a boost in New York

by Grace

New York endorses the vocational high school option with new graduation requirements.

Earlier this week the “Board of Regents approved a plan for a “4+1″ option, which would allow students to pass an exam in career-and-technical education, the arts, a different math or science, or a language other than English in lieu of one of the history exams”.  The new plan is called Pathways To Graduation.

Proponents of the change say it would underscore the academic value of career training and because tests often drive what is taught, it would spur schools to expand vocational programs.

Now, students need to pass five Regents exams: one each in math, English and science, and two in social studies.

Under the proposal, students could choose to skip one of the social studies exams—either American history or global history—and take one in Career and Technical Education, or an extra science or math exam. If adopted Monday, the change would affect current seniors.

The options could grow, but 13 proposed Career and Technical Education tests now include graphic arts, electronics, carpentry and hospitality management, and the exams would reflect several years of coursework. They are industry-certification tests such as the CompTIA A+, a test created by a consortium of information-technology companies.

The expectation is for improved graduation rates, now at 75%.

…The union, business leaders, and the commissioner are all supportive of the plan.

Proponents deny that Pathways is just making it easier to graduate.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said while many people assume vocational education has less rigor and fewer opportunities, career and technical-education courses have become more complex and demanding, and prepare students for fields with good pay. He said rather than diverting students from college, such routes often inspire them to pursue higher education, even if after a stint in the workplace.

He said the technical tests would be at least as tough as the Regents exams. He said the National Electrical Code studied by teenagers who want to be electricians, for example, has a “degree of text complexity that is at least as high, if not higher, than novels that would be typically read by 12th-graders.”

Final approval is expected in January, and changes could be implemented in time for this school year.

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Leslie Brody, “New York Prepares a New Exam to Boost Career Training”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 19, 2014.

Debra Viadero, “Vocational Pathways Approved for Graduation in New York State”, Education Week, Oct. 22, 2014.

October 29, 2014

Moving toward competency-based college degrees

by Grace

A trend in higher education away from “time served” to “stuff learned” could mean significant savings in both time and money for many college students.

The trend seems clear.

According to Inside Higher Ed, more than 350 institutions now offer or are seeking to create competency-based degrees. So it’s a safe bet that we’ll be hearing more about this trend soon….

The “Flexible Option” at the University of Wisconsin currently offers five competency-based degrees. It’s the first public institution to receive permission to offer this kind of program….

The Lumina Foundation has been one of the most influential nonprofit groups pushing the idea of competency-based education….

Lumina is about to release the final version of a document called the “Degree Qualifications Profile.” It aims to provide a common basis for understanding the competencies required for an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree in any field.

In its draft form, around 400 institutions from small liberal arts colleges to large community colleges have begun to use the document in their strategic planning.

The University of Michigan is one of the latest to join the movement.

The University of Michigan is now on course to become one of the first public higher education institutions to offer a degree that can be achieved not through credit hours but on demonstrated proficiency in the subjects studied. According to Inside Higher Ed, Michigan’s regional accreditor has just approved a competency-based Master’s of Health Professions Education. The program is designed to give health professionals training in “carry[ing] out the full range of responsibilities of a scholarly educator-leader.”

Rigorous oversight will be essential to the success of this new way to grant degrees.

Freed of the credit-hour constraint, competency-based programs need to be a lot more rigorous and transparent about designing assessments. Otherwise, they risk turning into diploma mills.

Employers may find this change produces more competent workers.

… The more schools have the freedom to grant degrees on the basis of proficiency rather than “time served,” the more relevant to the demands of today’s economy higher education will become.

———

Anya Kamenetz, “Competency-Based Education: No More Semesters?”, NPR, October 07, 2014.

Walter Russell Mead, ‘New Degrees Challenge “Time Served” Model’, The American Interest, October 25, 2014.

October 28, 2014

Millenials expect to rely on work income during retirement

by Grace

Personal savings and income from work will become increasingly important to future retirees.

Working in retirement is likely to become even more commonplace as Generation Xers and Millennials eventually head toward their retirement years. While many of today’s retirees say they can count on Social Security and employer pensions to fund most of their retirement, future generations are far more likely to say they will need to rely primarily on personal savings and income from working during retirement (FIG 8).

EXPECTED SOURCES OF RETIREMENT INCOME

20141026.COCRetirementIncomeSources3

CLICK ON IMAGE FOR DETAILS.

 

Although I was initially surprised that 12% of Gen Xers and Millenials still expect pensions to fund their retirement, I realized these might represent the views of government employees, one of the few groups still covered by traditional pension plans.

And those who expect personal savings to cover retirement expenses need to start saving more.  The latest alarming news on this topic is that “middle-class people in the USA have a median of $20,000 saved for retirement, far short of the $250,000 they think they’ll need during that time of their lives”.

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Work in Retirement: Myths and Motivations, Merrill Lynch with Age Wave, June 2014.

October 27, 2014

Houston, Nashville, and Denver are hot cities for young college graduates

by Grace

Where are young college graduates choosing to live?  And as they age, will they flee to the suburbs as earlier generations have done?

When young college graduates decide where to move, they are not just looking at the usual suspects, like New York, Washington and San Francisco. Other cities are increasing their share of these valuable residents at an even higher rate and have reached a high overall percentage, led by Denver, San Diego, Nashville, Salt Lake City and Portland, Ore., according to a report published Monday by City Observatory, a new think tank.

And as young people continue to spurn the suburbs for urban living, more of them are moving to the very heart of cities — even in economically troubled places like Buffalo and Cleveland. The number of college-educated people age 25 to 34 living within three miles of city centers has surged, up 37 percent since 2000, even as the total population of these neighborhoods has slightly shrunk.

20141022.COCYoungCollegeGraduatesMoving2

 

These trends bode well for the top cities.

“There is a very strong track record of places that attract talent becoming places of long-term success,” said Edward Glaeser, an economist at Harvard and author of “Triumph of the City.” “The most successful economic development policy is to attract and retain smart people and then get out of their way.”

The economic effects reach beyond the work the young people do, according to Enrico Moretti, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of “The New Geography of Jobs.” For every college graduate who takes a job in an innovation industry, he found, five additional jobs are eventually created in that city, such as for waiters, carpenters, doctors, architects and teachers.

“It’s a type of growth that feeds on itself — the more young workers you have, the more companies are interested in locating their operations in that area and the more young people are going to move there,” he said.

Will millenials flee to suburbia as they start to have families?

How many eventually desert the city centers as they age remains to be seen, but demographers predict that many will stay. They say that could not only bolster city economies, but also lead to decreases in crime and improvements in public schools. If the trends continue, places like Pittsburgh and Buffalo could develop a new reputation — as role models for resurgence.

Not so fast.  According to New Geography, “the first group of millennials who are now entering their 30s … are beginning, like preceding generations, to move to the suburbs”.

Here’s how the geography of aging works. People are most likely to move to the core cities in their early 20s, but this migration peters out as people enter the end of that often tumultuous decade. By their 30s, they move increasingly to the suburbs, as well as outside the major metropolitan areas (the 52 metropolitan areas with a population over 1,000,000 in 2010).

This pattern breaks with the conventional wisdom but dovetails with research conducted by Frank Magid and Associates that finds that millennials prefer suburbs long-term as “their ideal place to live” by a margin of 2 to 1 over cities.

Based on past patterns, by the time people enter their 50s, the entire gain to the core cities that builds up in the 20s all but dissipates, as more people move to suburbs and to outside the largest metropolitan areas.

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Claire Cain Miller, “Where Young College Graduates Are Choosing to Live”, New York Times, October 20, 2014.

Joel Kotkin, “The Geography of Aging: Why Millenials are Headed to the Suburbs”, NewGeography.com, December 9, 2013.

October 24, 2014

Trying to teach the enigmatic and increasingly popular skill of critical thinking

by Grace

The mysterious skill of “critical thinking” — schools try to teach it and employers seek workers who have it.  But the definition is  hard to pin down.

Here are some definitions of critical thinking:

  • “The ability to cross-examine evidence and logical argument. To sift through all the noise.”
    -Richard Arum, New York University sociology professor
  • “Thinking about your thinking, while you’re thinking, in order to improve your thinking.”
    -Linda Elder, educational psychologist; president, Foundation for Critical Thinking
  • “Do they make use of information that’s available in their journey to arrive at a conclusion or decision? How do they make use of that?”
    -Michael Desmarais, global head of recruiting, Goldman Sachs Group

I like the first definition the best, but of course employers define it any way that makes sense for their workplace.

In any case, it has become an increasingly sought-after skill.

Mentions of critical thinking in job postings have doubled since 2009, according to an analysis by career-search site Indeed.com. The site, which combs job ads from several sources, found last week that more than 21,000 health-care and 6,700 management postings contained some reference to the skill.

A concrete example of what critical thinking means in the workplace comes from NYU music business graduate Brittany Holloway.

Ms. Holloway, who now works as a content-review and fraud specialist at Brooklyn-based digital-music distributor TuneCore, defines the skill as “forming your own opinion from a variety of different sources.”

Ms. Holloway, 21 years old, says her current job requires her to think critically when screening music releases before they’re sent to digital stores like Apple Inc.’s iTunes.

Critical thinking and problem solving skills are related, and employers report they are having difficulty finding college graduates that measure up in those areas.  Colleges, having “institutionally supported and encouraged [a] retreat from academic standards and rigor”, are regularly chastised for failing to teach those skills.

A broad base of knowledge is needed before we can become critical thinkers.

… Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

Will Common Core Standards help develop critical thinking skills?

Part of the problem is a decline in content-based instruction that affects students from kindergarten to college.  Common Core Standards, with their emphasis on non-fiction reading and evidence-based writing, may remedy that.  But that is still to be determined, partly due to the ongoing implementation problems of CCS.

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Melissa Korn, “Bosses Seek ‘Critical Thinking,’ but What Is That?”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 21, 2014.

October 23, 2014

Educators still believe in the myth of learning styles

by Grace

The vast majority of teachers refuse to give up the myth of learning styles and other fallacies about how the brain operates, even though these beliefs hurt students.

The idea that we only use 10 percent of our brains has been roundly debunked — but, according to Paul Howard-Jones, an associate professor of neuroscience and education, teachers don’t necessarily know that. In an article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, he reveals the disturbing prevalence of this and other “neuromyths” in classrooms around the world, and explains why they can be so damaging.

In one study Dr. Howard-Jones cites, 48 percent of British teachers agreed with the statement “We mostly only use 10 percent of our brain.” Ninety-three percent believed that “individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (for example, visual, auditory or kinaesthetic)” (research actually doesn’t support this), and 29 percent believed “drinking less than 6 to 8 glasses of water a day can cause the brain to shrink” (it can’t). Sixteen percent thought that “learning problems associated with developmental differences in brain function cannot be remediated by education.”

 A few years ago one of my children filled out a learning styles questionnaire at school, presumably so that the teacher could tailor instruction in the classroom.

… Myths about how children should be taught can be counterproductive in the classroom, said Dr. Howard-Jones. Surveys designed to determine kids’ learning styles (visual, auditory or kinesthetic) can reveal how students would prefer to receive information, he explained in a phone interview, but “the problem is that there’s no evidence to suggest there’s any benefit in teaching them in that way, and in fact psychological research has shown even that some students appear to benefit more from receiving information in the style that they do not have preference for.”

I suspect these myths are still being taught in college education courses.

Daniel Willingham explains that “Learning Styles Don’t Exist”.

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Anna North, “How Brain Myths Could Hurt Kids”, New YOrk Times, October 20, 2014.

October 22, 2014

Federal aid programs allow colleges ‘blithely to raise their tuitions’

by Grace

New York Times economics pundit Eduardo Porter explains “Why Aid for College Is Missing the Mark”, allowing ‘colleges “blithely to raise their tuitions,” at little benefit to students’.

In 1987, when he was Ronald Reagan’s education secretary, the conservative culture warrior William J. Bennett wrote a famous essay denouncing federal aid for higher education because it allowed colleges “blithely to raise their tuitions,” at little benefit to students.

Nearly two decades later, it seems, he was broadly right. Indeed, he didn’t know the half of it.

It’s not just that many colleges and universities are bleeding taxpayers. The government’s overall strategy to subsidize higher education is failing at its core task: providing less privileged Americans with a real shot at a college degree. Alarmingly, it is burdening low-income students with risks they cannot bear and steering them into low-quality educations.

“Institutions of higher education in the United States extract a lot of money without delivering value but the government has no way of influencing that,” said Andreas Schleicher, the top education expert at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the research organization for the world’s major industrial powers. “It has very few levers of control over equity-related issues.”

Porter comes down on for-profit colleges, leaders in enrolling low-income students.  But their higher tuition does not produce consistently successful outcomes.

Low-income students in the United States often end up with the short straw: no degree, no job and a bundle of debt that they must pay anyway.

The level of government spending on higher education does not seem to be at the heart of the problem.

State and local financing for public higher education fell to some $76 billion last year, nearly 10 percent less than in 2003 after inflation. On a per-student basis it is 30 percent less than it was a decade ago.

But that doesn’t mean there is less government money in the system. Federal aid to college students more than doubled over the period, to some $172 billion last year. Of that, nearly 25 percent went to private, for-profit colleges.

More accountability is needed.

Porter believes the “case for government financing of college is as strong as ever”, but the method of allocation is “wasting both money and opportunity”.  Although I may disagree with his specific recommendations to fix the problem, I wholeheartedly agree with the need “to curb abuses arising from the haphazard distribution of billions of dollars of taxpayer funds with very little accountability”.

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Eduardo Porter, “Why Aid for College Is Missing the Mark”, New York Times, October 7, 2014.

October 21, 2014

Tax deductions give a big boost in government funding of elite private universities

by Grace

Taxpayers subsidize private elite universities at a rate that is ten times higher than that for public universities.  Generous tax deduction policies are the reason for this imbalance, according to Robert Reich’s opinion piece, “The Ivy League is ripping off America”.

Government subsidies to elite private universities take the form of tax deductions for people who make charitable contributions to them. In economic terms a tax deduction is the same as government spending. It has to be made up by other taxpayers.

These tax subsidies are on the rise because in recent years a relatively few very rich people have had far more money than they can possibly spend or even give away to their children. So they’re donating it to causes they believe in, such as the elite private universities that educated them or that they want their children to attend.

Private university endowments are now around $550 billion, centered in a handful of prestigious institutions. Harvard’s endowment is over $32 billion, followed by Yale at $20.8 billion, Stanford at $18.6 billion, and Princeton at $18.2 billion….

Because of the charitable tax deduction, the amount of government subsidy to these institutions in the form of tax deductions is about one out of every three dollars contributed.

Tax deductions boost per-student government spending at elite private universities to amounts significantly higher than spending at public universities.

The annual government subsidy to Princeton University, for example, is about $54,000 per student, according to an estimate by economist Richard Vedder. Other elite privates aren’t far behind.

Public universities, by contrast, have little or no endowment income. They get almost all their funding from state governments. But these subsidies have been shrinking….

That means the average annual government subsidy per student at a public university comes to less than $4,000, about one-tenth the per student government subsidy at the elite privates.

A flat tax could be the solution.

Reich asserts there is no justification for this inequity, but does not go so far as to propose cutting tax deductions for contributions to private universities.  Perhaps he agrees with the majority of Americans who favor a flat tax, which would likely eliminate most deductions, including those for contributions to private universities.

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Robert Reich, “The Ivy League is ripping off America!”, Salon, October 16, 2014.

October 20, 2014

You probably need a college degree to get hired as a secretary.

by Grace

Only college graduates need apply for secretarial jobs.

More than half of employers now require a college credential for all jobs, and nearly one-third now hire college graduates for jobs that previously went to high-school graduates, according to a 2013 CareerBuilder survey of 2,600 hiring managers. Labor-market analytics firm Burning Glass Technologies recently found that 65% of postings for executive secretaries and assistants call for bachelor’s degrees, but just 19% of current secretaries have such credentials.

I recently heard about a long-time secretary who had been laid off and could not find another job because she did not have a college degree.

But a degree doesn’t necessarily make a candidate more qualified, it’s often just a way to screen applicants.

Few hiring managers say that college graduates are more qualified than nongrads for jobs in retail and warehouses, but as long as the job market is tight, employers say they can afford to be picky.

No wonder “parents push their kids to go to college”.

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Melissa Korn, “A Bit of College Can Be Worse Than None at All”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 13, 2014.

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