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.

———

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”.

———

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”.

———

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.

———

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”.

———

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

October 17, 2014

The booming test prep industry offers questionable value

by Grace

20141016.COCTestPrepCentersByState1

…The number of test prep centers in the U.S. more than doubled to 11,000 from 1998 to 2012, the last year for which Census data are available.

There’s a multibillion-dollar market for tutoring services in the U.S., with franchises such as Kumon and big chains including Kaplan and Princeton Review. The test prep industry promises to help students score better on everything from the SAT to Advanced Placement courses to med school entrance exams.

Strictly speaking, Kumon and similar centers do not focus on test preparation.

Washington DC, New Jersey, Hawaii, New York, and California lead in locations with the highest concentrations of tutoring establishments, as shown by the chart on the right.

All the money and effort devoted to commercial test preparation seems to have a relatively low payout.

… Contrary to the claims made by many test preparation providers of large increases of 100 points or more on the SAT, research suggests that average gains are more in the neighborhood of 30 points….

———

Patrick Clark, “The Test Prep Industry Is Booming”, Businessweek.com, October 08, 2014.

October 16, 2014

It’s surprisingly hard for residents to get into some state universities

by Grace

Many in-state colleges and universities are accepting fewer in-state applicants into their freshman classes. Why?

The Wall Street Journal has a short video that gives the example of a California high school valedictorian with top Advanced Placement scores and an overall impressive resume (quarterback for his football team).  This student was rejected at two public schools in his home state — UC Berkeley and UCLA.  But he was accepted to an Ivy League University.

In many public universities and colleges in-state enrollment is declining and out-of-state enrollment is increasing.

20141014.COCDecliningInstateEnrollment2

 

20141014.COCIncreasingOutofstateEnrollment2

 

Colleges want students who ‘can pay full price’

To make up for budget shortfalls, state schools are actively seeking out-of-state and international students who will pay higher tuition than in-state students.  In some states, limitations on out-of-state students place restrictions on an institution’s desire for higher revenues.  Last time I checked, out-of-state students allowed in the UC system are capped at 10%.

California presents a particular challenge for many students because “residents must adhere to very specific requirements to gain admission” to the University of California system”.  UC Berkeley, UCLA, and UC Irvine are considered the most selective public schools in that state, but it surprises me that the student featured in the video did not get in.

Tags:
October 15, 2014

Before starting college, consider your chances of actually getting a degree

by Grace

20141013.COCNotGraduatingCollege1

 

A dual penalty for dropping out of college

Those students may find themselves doubly damned: cut out of consideration for professional-track jobs, and starting their careers years behind their peers who entered the workforce with just high-school diplomas. Many have student loans to boot.

October 14, 2014

It looks like ‘the demand for lawyers will keep shrinking’

by Grace

The surplus of lawyers looking for jobs has been apparent for several years now, “and the number of jobs is apt to shrink further as technology sinks its teeth into legal work”.

In his recent City Journal article Machines v. Lawyers, Northwestern Law School professor John O. McGinnis explained why the demand for lawyers will keep shrinking. “Law is, in effect, an information technology – a code that regulates social life. And as the machinery of information technology grows exponentially in power, the legal profession faces a great disruption not unlike that already experienced by journalism, which has seen employment drop by about a third….”

Throughout the 60s, 70s, and 80s, law was a growth industry and a great many people (especially students who had taken “soft” majors in college) figured that earning a JD was an attractive option. Naturally, law schools expanded to accommodate the throngs of degree seekers, who were aided by federal student loan programs. Going to law school both delayed the need to start repaying undergraduate loans and appeared to be the pathway into a bright and lucrative career.

That’s not true anymore.

McGinnis gives details on how technology is disrupting the legal profession.

Discovering information, finding precedents, drafting documents and briefs, and predicting the outcomes of lawsuits—these tasks encompass the bulk of legal practice. The rise of machine intelligence will therefore disrupt and transform the legal profession.

Fewer lawyers will be needed, but superstar lawyers will prosper.

A relatively small number of very talented lawyers will benefit from the coming changes. These superstars will prosper by using the new technology to extend their reach and influence. For instance, the best lawyers will need fewer associates; they can use computers to enhance the value that they offer their clients. Already, the ratio of associates to partners in big law firms appears to be declining. In complex cases, lawyers will continue to add value to machine intelligence through uniquely human judgment. Even now, when computers regularly beat the best chess grandmaster, a good chess player and a good computer combined can often beat the best computers. Thus, for important cases and transactions, good lawyers will still add substantial value, even if computers do more of the work.

As McGinnis noted, journalism is another profession severely impacted by technology, possibly pointing to a future where computers will be handling many of today’s white-collar jobs.

———

George Leef, “The Canary in the Law School Coal Mine?”, Minding The Campus, October 9, 2014.

John, O. McGinnis, “Machines v. Lawyers”, City Journal, Spring 2014.

October 13, 2014

Student debt doubled for high-income families

by Grace

Borrowing for college among high-income families increased from 24% to 50% over the last twenty years.  Similar increases occurred among middle-income families.

… A new Pew Research Center analysis of recently released government data finds that the increase in the rate of borrowing over the past two decades has been much greater among graduates from more affluent families than among those from low-income families. Fully half of the 2012 graduates from high-income families borrowed money for college, double the share that borrowed in 1992-93.1.

20141008.COCPewHiIncomeBorrowers1

 

These numbers show how college affordability is no longer just an issue for low-income families, but now affects families across the income spectrum.

What has changed over the course of roughly two decades then is the pervasiveness of student borrowing across income groups: In the early ’90s, only among graduates from low-income families did a majority of graduates finish college with student debt. Now, solid majorities of graduates from middle-income families (both lower-middle and upper-middle) finish with debt, and half of students from the most affluent quartile of families do the same.

———

Richard Fry, “The Changing Profile of Student Borrowers”, Pew Research, October 7, 2014.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 178 other followers

%d bloggers like this: