Archive for ‘Uncategorized’

May 12, 2014

How important are cognitive skills in escaping poverty?

by Grace

A Brookings Institute study tells us that cognitive skills are very important in escaping poverty.

87 percent of poor smart kids escape poverty 

The green bar on the far left of this graph shows that 87% of children with the highest level of cognitive skills who grow up in the lowest income quintile move out of that quintile by adulthood.  The orange bar for that same lowest quintile shows that only 46% of low-income children with the lowest cognitive skills escape poverty.


Furthermore, the chances for these top-scoring poor children to become rich are the same as those of comparable middle-class children.

… High-skill adolescents in the bottom quintile have a 24% chance of making it to the top quintile similar to the rate seen among high-skill students in the middle-income quintiles.

Cognitive skills were measured using the Armed Forces Qualifying Test (AFQT).  The study also found that conscientiousness, measured by the coding speed section of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB), is similarly associated with the ability of poor children to escape poverty.

A college degree improves the chances “of upward mobility for smart, poorer kids”.

… those with a degree had a 42% higher chance of making it from a lower-income household as a child into the higher-income bracket as an adult….

This data suggests ideas for policy changes, including one that would improve the opportunities for high-achieving children from low-income families to attend college.

An important caveat from the study:

… Needless to say, adolescent AFQT and coding speed scores are far from a pure test of merit, or market ability. They simply measure certain skills that have developed up to the time of test taking. A whole host of factors—family background, formal education, and social environment—will have influenced this development. It is important to stress that our measures do not—cannot—capture innate levels of skill or ability.

Related:  How do public schools treat below-average students? (Cost of College)


Dylan Matthews, “87 percent of poor smart kids escape poverty”, Washington Post, November 20, 2013.

Richard V. Reeves and Kimberly Howard, “The Glass Floor:  Education, Mobility, and Opportunity Hoarding”, Center on Children and Families at Brookings, November 2013.

February 18, 2014

Cost of College seminar in New York

by Grace

Please join me at this upcoming event.

If you live in the New York City area and are interested in learning more about the rising cost of college, its impact on families, and strategies for handling college costs, I invite you to join me at a seminar next Tuesday, February 25.

The Cost of College and Its Impact on Families
February 25 at 7:30pm
Curious on Hudson Learning Center
145 Palisade Street, Suite 412B
Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522

To register, go to the Curious on Hudson site.

January 17, 2014

Facebook: teens are leaving and old folks are rushing in

by Grace

We’ve been hearing that young people are leaving Facebook and migrating to Instagram and Snapchat.  The report on 2014 Facebook Demographics & Statistics shows some numbers behind this trend.

Top Insights:

1) Teens (13-17) on Facebook have declined -25.3% over the last 3 years.

2) Over the same period of time, 55+ (perhaps those teens’ parents and grandparents?) have exploded with +80.4% growth in the last 3 years.

3) Of the major metropolitan areas, San Francisco saw the highest growth with +148.6%, a stark contrast with Houston which saw +23.8% growth.

Young adults age 18-24 have also been leaving Facebook, although at lower rates than younger teens.


Based on my limited anecdotal evidence, Instagram is currently one of the hottest online tools for teens.


January 6, 2014

Advice to high school seniors: fill out the FAFSA right now

by Grace

Advice for high school seniors from NextStepU includes this important tip.

Fill out the FAFSA as soon as you can
For your freshman year, you need to send in your FAFSA very early (check specific deadlines). It is a pain, but make sure that you sit down with your parents and apply for federal financial aid as close to Jan. 1 as possible. *Note: Make sure you or your parent goes in and makes the appropriate changes to the FAFSA once the family receives its tax returns.*


Also check for any additional forms required by your state to determine eligibility for their financial aid program.

Click on Five New Year’s financial aid tips for seniors to see the complete list of recommendations.

Related:  File your FAFSA ASAP – financial aid is often first-come first-served (Cost of College)

December 3, 2013

Would the proposed Affordable College Textbook Act cut costs for students?

by Grace

With the costs of college textbooks rising about three times the rate of inflation, students should be happy to see any change that would save them money in this expenditure.

The 812-percent growth in textbook prices is far greater than the percent growth for college tuition and fees over about the same period. Prices have gone up 82 percent in the last decade alone. The average college student is now paying about $1,200 a year on textbooks and supplies.


The Affordable College Textbook Act

Democratic Senators Al Franken of Minnesota and Dick Durbin of Illinois have introduced the Affordable College Textbook Act, a bill that “would set up a competitive grant program to support pilot programs at colleges and universities ‘that expand the use of open textbooks in order to achieve savings for students'”.

Open-source textbooks are already in limited use, bolstered by programs like Rice University’s OpenStax that offer a selection of free texts for a limited number of introductory courses.  The Gates Foundation is one of its financial supporters.

Franken and Durbin are hoping to speed up the open-source trend. Their bill would set up a competitive grant program to support pilot programs at colleges and universities “that expand the use of open textbooks in order to achieve savings for students.”

Shouldn’t technology already be bringing down the cost of textbooks?

“The dirty secret about textbooks is that they don’t have to be so expensive given the rise of technology,” said Matthew Segal, co-founder of, which endorses the bill….

The reasons for the high cost of college textbooks have been the subject of much debate.

Academic Publishers will tell you that creating modern textbooks is an expensive, labor-intensive process that demands charging high prices. But as Kevin Carey noted in a recent Slate piece, the industry also shares some of the dysfunctions that help drive up the cost of healthcare spending. Just as doctors prescribe prescription drugs they’ll never have to pay for, college professors often assign titles with little consideration of cost. Students, like patients worried about their health, don’t have much choice to pay up, lest they risk their grades. Meanwhile, Carey illustrates how publishers have done just about everything within their power to prop up their profits, from bundling textbooks with software that forces students to buy new editions instead of cheaper used copies, to suing a low-cost textbook start-ups over flimsy copyright claims.

It seems that college professors would be central players in any move to cut textbook costs.  But it’s unclear that anyone has a strong incentive to make books more affordable.

Just as the schools have little incentive to keep their costs down, knowing the bills will be paid thanks to federal guarantees, the publishing industry has even less of an incentive to keep costs under control. Why? Because everyone — even the professors who often profit from royalties from textbook sales — except the student has a monetary incentive to keep things just the way they are.

Related:  Going to all-digital textbooks saves money for private high school students (Cost of College)

October 3, 2013

‘Get your kicks on Route 66′

by Grace

The costofcollege family on a Route 66 stop

On a road trip, the journey is the destination.

Since I’ve long been a fan of road trips, I was thrilled when my family agreed to try a Route 66 vacation this summer.  Although I was a little concerned how we would manage, as it turned out a good time was had by all.

Logistics & planning:

We mapped out a thirteen-day adventure, starting in Santa Monica and ending in Chicago.  Since a westward route seems to be the more common choice, most of the guide books we found are primarily oriented that way.  However, a set of reverse guidelines are usually provided as well.

After researching a bit, we picked out some priority stops.  There is lots to see and do on Route 66, so we had to narrow our choices to those that matched our interests.  This helped flesh out our itinerary, although significant parts were not planned in much detail as we made on-the-road decisions about stops and motels.

We used Google maps to determine driving times.  Sometimes we took the faster highway options, not always sticking to the old Route 66 roads.  Most of our driving days maxed out at four to seven hours of driving, but we had a couple of nine-hour days.  We mostly avoided night driving.  Our trip included two major detours:  Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon.  In total, we drove about 2500 miles over 13 days.

Places we stopped:

Hollywood Walk of Fame; Route 66 Mother Road MuseumSouthern California Logistics Airport; Las Vegas; Hoover Dam; Grand Canyon; Standin’ on a Corner Park; Santa Fe; Petrified Forest; Devil’s Rope Barbed Wire Museum;  Cadillac Ranch‘ The Big TexanOklahoma City National Memorial & Museum;  Tulsa Air and Space Museum & PlanetariumMeramec CavernsAbraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Many more stops are not listed, and we also made time to visit relatives and friends.  These visits ranged from a day and a half tooling around Los Angeles with my brother to a 30-minute meet-up with a friend at a Panera in Normal, IL.


As a veteran of the old days using AAA Triptiks, I regained immense appreciation for Google Maps and for the Internet’s ability to deliver all sorts of information to our fingertips.  For the inquisitive mind, it was heavenly to cruise down the highway instantly able to retrieve facts about a wind farm on the horizon, those acres of crops in between small towns, geology exposed by road-cuts, or countless other scenarios along the way.  On the other hand, sometimes it was equally satisfying just to sit mesmerized by the passing scenery.

Observations and insights:

Too much togetherness?
Sitting with their family in a car for hours on end is an inconceivable prospect for many people, but overall we enjoyed each others’ company in spite of a few squabbles along the way.  In our case, the driver/navigator relationship seemed most vulnerable to tense moments.

Ten and ten
About ten days is the minimum time needed to do Route 66, although with our detours and family visits two weeks seemed about right.  For this road trip, I would not bring along a child younger than about ten years old, but obviously this can vary.

Is a road trip very different from other types of vacations?
My husband compared our trip to a cruise — moving along and sampling a little along each stop.  That’s not a bad comparison, and in some ways it can leave a traveler feeling dissatisfied.  For example, a few hours in Santa Fe left me wishing we could spend a few days there.  On the other hand, our Route 66 trip gave us many discrete experiences compressed into a few days, providing unusual insight into the diversity across our country.

For me, Route 66 created many random memories that combined to paint a big, colorful image of our trip.  A few days after we encountered a surfer dude serving fish tacos on Venice Beach, it was priceless to see my daughter’s wide-eyed expression when we found ourselves sitting next to a couple of “cowboys” in a Kingman, Arizona diner.  When we arrived in Springfield, Missouri, I couldn’t help but notice a difference between the boisterous friendliness of Texans compared to the more restrained warmth of Midwesterners.  And when my son started to entertain us by mimicking the subtle but distinctive Southwestern/Native American accent he heard in New Mexico, I realized it sounded so familiar because it was what I had heard growing up in Texas.

Useful resources:

For a different perspective on our trip, you can read what my son wrote on his blog.

August 22, 2013

Increasing college merit aid decreases enrollment of minority and low-income students

by Grace

A recently released report, Undermining Pell from the New America Foundation, charges that colleges are turning their backs on low-income students as they compete for top students with increasingly generous merit-based aid.

To increase their standing on college rankings, more private colleges are giving “merit aid” to top students, who are often affluent, while charging unaffordable prices to the needy, according to the report. The percentage of students receiving merit aid jumped to 44 percent in 2007-2008 from 24 percent in 1995-1996, the report found. To a lesser extent, public universities are using some of the same practices, Burd said.


Increasing merit aid correlates with decreasing minority enrollment.

The report cites other research, including “Keeping up With the Joneses: Institutional Changes Following the Adoption of a Merit Aid Policy” by Amanda L. Griffith.

“It is worrisome, given the already low levels of representation of low-income and minority students at four-year colleges, to find that the introduction of a merit aid policy is associated with a decrease in the percentage of low-income and black students, particularly at the more selective institutions in the sample.”

More federal involvement is recommended.

The New America Foundation proposes a federal “carrot-and-stick” solution.  The carrot would be a Pell bonus program aimed at schools serving high percentages of low-income students, increasing benefits to the neediest students with additional funds and programs.  And the stick would be  a requirement that wealthier schools match a portion of the Pell funds they receive and use these resources to support low-income students.

An opposing view comes from Michael Petrilli, who argues that Pell Grants should not be used to pay for remedial college courses.

 … A huge proportion of this $40 billion annual federal investment is flowing to people who simply aren’t prepared to do college-level work. And this is perverting higher education’s mission, suppressing completion rates and warping the country’s K-12 system.


July 8, 2013

Job success is the most important factor in picking a college

by Grace

College presidents seem to agree with the general population that jobs are the top factor in determining the value of a college, but do not seem to share their concern about affordability.

Poll: Job Success Most Valued Factor in Picking Colleges.

 A new Gallup Poll has found that the factor adult Americans are most likely to say is most important in selecting a college is the percentage of graduates who are able to find a good job. That factor was picked by 41 percent of those polled, followed by the price of the college (37 percent) and graduation rates (16 percent). The wealthier that respondents were, the more likely they were to say that the job success of graduates was the most important factor.

When asked a similar question, college presidents seemed to rank price lower on the scale of importance.



May 29, 2013

Quick Links – The ‘science’ of psychiatry

by Grace

Up to 20% of American children suffer from mental disorders, but the accuracy of reporting is questionable.

Scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 13% to 20% of American children age 3 to 17 experience mental disorders each year, and that rates have been increasing.

A ‘hodgepodge’ of counting methods

The study also showed there are no standard ways of counting afflictions, but a hodgepodge including parental reports or reports directly from children. Some disorders, such as bipolar disease and anxiety disorders, weren’t included in the overall rates for lack of data. The disorders that were included span a wide range, including hyperactivity and severe autism.

Statistical experts are skeptical of the reported numbers.  Data collection is inconsistent, with random phone surveys of parents yielding higher results than other methods.  Families with health insurance report higher rates, and regional differences raise suspicion about different approaches in diagnosis.  Double counting children with multiple disorders leads to inflated rates.


French children have much lower rates of diagnosed ADHD.

In the United States, at least 9% of school-aged children have been diagnosed with ADHD, and are taking pharmaceutical medications. In France, the percentage of kids diagnosed and medicated for ADHD is less than .5%. How come the epidemic of ADHD—which has become firmly established in the United States—has almost completely passed over children in France?

Different approaches to diagnosis and treatment

 In the United States, child psychiatrists consider ADHD to be a biological disorder with biological causes. The preferred treatment is also biological–psycho stimulant medications such as Ritalin and Adderall….

French child psychiatrists, on the other hand, view ADHD as a medical condition that has psycho-social and situational causes. Instead of treating children’s focusing and behavioral problems withdrugs, French doctors prefer . . . to treat the underlying social context problem with psychotherapy or family counseling…

Different parenting styles

And then, of course, there are the vastly different philosophies of child-rearing in the United States and France. These divergent philosophies could account for why French children are generally better-behaved than their American counterparts….

From the time their children are born, French parents provide them with a firm cadre—the word means “frame” or “structure.” Children are not allowed, for example, to snack whenever they want. …

… French parents have a different philosophy of discipline. Consistently enforced limits, in the French view, make children feel safe and secure. Clear limits, they believe, actually make a child feel happier and safer … French parents believe that hearing the word “no” rescues children from the “tyranny of their own desires.” And spanking, when used judiciously, is not considered child abuse in France.


Psychiatry:  diagnosis is not scientific, but political and bureaucratic

In an interview with The Atlantic, Gary Greenberg, a practicing psychotherapist and author of The Book of Woe: The Making of the DSM-5 and the Unmaking of Psychiatrysays no one can define “mental illness”.

What is the difference between a disorder and distress that is a normal occurrence in our lives?

That distinction is made by a clinician, whether it’s a family doctor or a psychiatrist or whoever. But nobody knows exactly how to make that determination. There are no established thresholds. Even if you could imagine how that would work, it would have to be a subjective analysis of the extent to which the person’s functioning is impaired. How are you going to measure that? Doctors are supposed to measure “clinical significance.” What’s that? For many people, the fact that someone shows up in their office is clinical significance. I’m not going to say that’s wrong, but it’s not scientific. And there’s a conflict of interest — if I don’t determine clinical significance, I don’t get paid.

Is a child autistic or just awkward?  Special education services and insurance coverage are controlled by committee decisions on what is to be included in the DSM.

… You can’t just ask for special services for a student who is awkward. You have to get special services for a student with autism. In court, mental illnesses come from the DSM. If you want insurance to pay for your therapy, you have to be diagnosed with a mental illness….

Homosexuality was declassified as a DSM disorder in 1973.  And I’m sure I’m not the only one who has considered that Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), characterized by “negativistic, defiant, disobedient, and hostile behavior toward authority figures that persist for at least six months“, is a particularly arbitrary disorder.

March 13, 2013

Quick Links – Washington State pension trouble; NYC high school grads need remedial help; teacher evaluations are ‘costly experiment’ …

by Grace

◊◊◊  Washington State’s public pension may be in trouble.

The problem, similar to that in other states, has to do with the way pension benefits are valued.

Public pensions such as Washington’s operate under special accounting rules, one of which allows them to assume a long-term rate of return on their investments. Most plans have picked a rate between 7 and 8 percent; all but one of Washington’s plans assume 7.9 percent.

That assumed return is significant, because another special rule lets public plans use it as their discount rate — something corporate pension plans were forced to abandon nearly two decades ago.

Critics such as Munnell and Biggs say this rule ignores the fact that pension benefits are effectively almost as guaranteed as state bonds. That, they say, means they should be valued similarly to bonds.

“The way to value a stream of promised benefits is with an interest rate that reflects the riskiness of the promised benefits themselves, not the expected returns,” Munnell said.

This story is being ‘repeated all across the nation’ according to Walter Russell Mead.

… It’s as well-written a summary of a pension crisis story as you’re likely to get, and this is a story that’s being repeated all across the nation. Then, if you haven’t already, have a look at how much you or your loved ones are relying on generous promises made by state bureaucrats to fund your retirement—and start asking some hard questions.

◊◊◊  Most NYC High School Grads Need Remedial Help Before Entering CUNY Community Colleges (CBS New York)

Officials told CBS 2′s Kramer that nearly 80 percent of those who graduate from city high schools arrived at City University’s community college system without having mastered the skills to do college-level work.

In sheer numbers it means that nearly 11,000 kids who got diplomas from city high schools needed remedial courses to re-learn the basics.

◊◊◊  New York teacher evaluations are a “’grand and costly experiment’ with limited benefits”.

N.Y. schools’ teacher-eval costs outpace federal grants

ALBANY — New York’s small-city, suburban and rural school districts expect to spend an average of $155,355 this year to implement the state’s new teacher and principal evaluation plans, a report Thursday from the state School Boards Association found.

The one-year costs outpace the four-year federal grant provided for funding the program by nearly $55,000, according to an analysis of 80 school districts outside the state’s “Big Five.”

“Our analysis … shows that the cost of this state initiative falls heavily on school districts,” said Timothy Kremer, the association’s executive director. “This seriously jeopardizes school districts’ ability to meet other state and federal requirements and properly serve students.”

The evaluation system is a requirement for receiving funds from President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. In 2010, New York was awarded $700 million in Race to the Top grants. About half of the funding will go to local districts over four years to implement the evaluation system and other initiatives.

◊◊◊  20,000 illegal aliens apply for college financial aid under California’s new Dream Act.

More than 20,000 college-bound students are seeking state financial aid for the first time under California’s new Dream Act laws that allow them to get the help despite their immigration status.

While far from a complete picture, that number is the best indicator yet of how many students hope to benefit from a pair of laws that could radically change the college experience for a generation of students whose parents brought them to the U.S. illegally when they were young — the same group that has taken center stage in the national immigration reform debate.


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