Archive for August, 2012

August 31, 2012

Which curriculum would you choose? watered down, or content-rich rigorous

by Grace

Would you rather have a dumbed down curriculum for your children or a content-rich, rigorous one?

Which of these two examples would you rather have for your children’s middle or high school English course?  They are pulled from two different teacher guides.

Example A – five lessons that cover a section of The Outsiders.

The Outsiders, a young adult novel with a 5th grade reading level, has become a standard assignment in many public schools.   These lessons feature cooperative learning, hands on projects, and self-reflective writing.

1.  Hands-On Project – “Tuff” collage

“Tough and tuff are two different words. Tough is the same as rough; tuff means cool, sharp–like a tuff-looking Mustang or a tuff record.”  –  Ponyboy

… For this project, make a collage or montage of what is tuff.

Suggested materials include:  a large piece of posterboard for the display; magazines, newspapers, and other print media; fabric samples; jewelry; nail polish and lipstick; pictures of tuff people.  (Not very gender neutral?)  The finished display is shared with the class.

2.  Cooperative Learning Activity – Making Rules

Students are assigned to work in small groups to plan how they would manage if their parents left them alone for a month.  They assign jobs to each member, plan meals, make house rules, schedule activities, determine emergency procedures, and resolve conflicts. This activity relates to the main characters in The Outsiders who managed to live without their parents.

3.  Reading Response Assignment – Personal Journal

Students are asked to create a reading response journal to record their thoughts, observations, ideas, and questions as they read The Outsiders.  They can use a “diary-type” format, with personal reflections to be read by the teacher in a non-judgemental way with no corrections or letter grades.  A list of suggested teacher responses is provided, including “Wow!  That’s interesting stuff!”

The two other lessons included a social science group project and a quiz.

Example B – three lessons that cover the Gettysburg Address.

The Gettysburg Address (11/12th grade reading level) is typically studied in history class, but these lessons are intended for an English course.

1.  Understanding The Gettysburg Address

Students are divided into groups and each group is assigned to “translate” one sentence from the Gettysburg Address. Students will use a dictionary and/or thesaurus to rewrite the sentence in their own words.  These student sentences are compiled, and the meaning of Lincoln’s speech is discussed in class.  Afterwards students complete a worksheet and a quiz that tests their understanding.

2.  The Language Of The Gettysburg Address

Students receive instruction on rhetorical devices used by Lincoln – grammatical parallelism, antithesis,
alliteration, and repetition.  Using a worksheet, students are asked to identify examples of these devices and then create a persuasive speech modeled on Lincoln’s presentation.  It is suggested that students present their speeches to the class.

3.  A Civil Conversation

This exercise takes the form of a respectful debate, where students are asked to discuss ideas from the Gettysburg Address.  They select areas of agreement and disagreement, using the text to support their ideas.  They are instructed to focus on ideas not on personalities, and to find areas of common ground among other class members.

Among the objectives of the Gettysburg Address lessons:

  • Learn the main concepts of the Gettysburg Address and understand its place in history
  • Apply word analysis and vocabulary skills in comprehending the speech.
  • Write a concise persuasive speech.
  • Identify and apply various literary devices
  • Practice respectful and fact-based debate

A few observations:

  • I would rather have the Gettysburg Address lessons for my own children.
  • From what I have seen, The Outsiders lessons are more typical of  public school English curriculum.  Students spend hours and hours on poster projects and group projects, which apparently tend to lower IQ.
  • When I say that I believe more rigorous curriculum could improve SAT scores, these examples are what I have in mind.  Class days spent on poster projects, group discussions about menu planning, and uncorrected personal journals are not likely to teach the skills measured by SAT exams.

HT Kitchen Table Math


August 30, 2012

SUNY reacts to state cuts by aligning enrollment with projected job growth

by Grace

The State University of New York (SUNY) reacts to state-aid cuts by curbing growth, but plans to align future enrollment expansion with projected areas of job growth.

After surges in recent years, enrollment at New York’s public universities and colleges has stabilized, with two consecutive incoming fall classes that are slightly smaller than the ones before.

The State University of New York’s flat enrollment — preliminary headcount for fall 2012 was down 0.2 percent from 2011, or by about 750 students — does not reflect waning interest in the state institutions, SUNY officials said. Rather, it’s an effort to contain enrollment amid state-aid cuts….

The 64-campus SUNY system, which includes community colleges, four-year colleges and doctoral-granting research universities, has been cut $1.4 billion over the last six years….

Many campuses have reached “right-size” enrollment, but student applications are still flooding in, with some four-year colleges receiving 10 to 12 times the number of bids for admission than they have spots in a freshman class, Lavallee said.

Community colleges are handling the overflow students.

The enrollment controls at the four-year colleges has fueled a surge in the growth of community colleges, which also provide a less expensive option in a difficult economy, officials said.

SUNY is realistic about not expecting increased state aid.

In a recent interview, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said complaining that the system needs more money is not a viable solution.

“Our longer-term solution is (to) help New York,” she said.

The way to “help” New York is to produce graduates who will play a role in stimulating the economy.

As a system that not only creates jobs but trains future members of the workforce, SUNY is particularly situated to stimulate economic recovery, Zimpher said.

“New York is never going to be able to realize its former level of investment if New York doesn’t get back on its feet,” Zimpher said. “So, the altruistic part of (SUNY’s strategic plan) is that we should help New York do that — that is our obligation.

“The more selfish rationale for helping New York get back on its feet is that New York will be able to invest more in public higher education,” she continued.

The Albany-approved plan for future growth in SUNY enrollment includes stabilized state funding and tuition increases.  Using this model, Binghamton is expected to “grow by 500 students a year for the next four years”.

Enrollment expansion will be managed to align closely with projected job growth.

But the increases will be targeted at programs that teach skills that are in high demand in the workforce, Zimpher said.

Student interest does not always align with the needs of employers, Zimpher said.

“We’re an enrollment management business, so we do have to pay attention to what students say they want,” she said.

“But we also have sort of a moral obligation to say to students: ‘You know, the truth of the matter is we’re not hiring social studies teachers right now, and I know if you’re wedded to that, we want to help you get that degree, but really we should be talking to you about a double major, or a major/minor,’ ” she said.

This SUNY strategy probably does not portend strong growth in liberal arts majors.


August 29, 2012

Quick Takes – Alabama NMFs, recruited athletes at top colleges, & surplus of college professors

by Grace

—  240 NMFs in the freshman class this fall at the University of Alabama

This report comes from a CollegeConfidential thread that mentions last year’s number was 182 National Merit Finalists.  The bad news is that Alabama recently downsized its NMF scholarship to pay for only one year of housing instead of four as it previously did.  And instead of a laptop, the package now includes an iPad.  It’s still a sweet deal, however.

Related:  University of Alabama scholarships – Roll Tide! (Cost of College)

—  ‘Recruited athletes make up 20 percent of the class’ at most top colleges.

Like other hooked students, recruited athletes get a boost in their chances for admission.

Like it or not, 40 percent of the class at most top colleges are reserved for “hooked” kids — the largest group is generally recruited athletes (up to 20 percent), the rest are legacies, underrepresented minorities, development cases (donors) and V.I.P.’s (famous people’s kids). It’s hard for me to say legacy preferences are not fair because the truth is that the process isn’t fair and legacies take up a relatively minor percentage of the class (typically 10 percent).

Their boost? Generally only two to four times the general admissions odds. To put this in perspective, for a school that has a 15 percent admission rate, legacies might get in at 35 percent, but recruited athletes are more like 80 percent and minorities closer to 90 percent (at least for African-Americans and native Americans).
Athletes Are the Problem (New York Times)

—  The US will no longer need hundreds or thousands of organic chemistry professors.

Writing in the Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell suggests that the online higher education trend may lead to a surplus of some types of college professors.

A great consolidation of personnel must be the result of this technological shift. Once courses are online, best practices will emerge. The US will no longer need hundreds or thousands of organic chemistry professors. Network effects will bring a stampede of students to the courses of the best universities. Students will abandon even excellent professors at excellent universities to learn code-writing the “MIT way” or the “Stanford way”, if they believe that is the idiom their future bosses are most likely to speak in.

In his essay Caldwell also makes the point that one way for online schools to become profitable is a variation on the “bait and switch” tactic.  Many courses are free now, but that will can change at some point.

… It is wiser not to start charging until habits, dependencies and institutional ruts have made online education indispensable.

August 28, 2012

University of Maryland College Park merit scholarships for out-of-state students

by Grace

University of Maryland – College Park is a selective state institution that offers merit aid to out-of-state (OOS) students.  Ranked 55 on US News list of National Universities, total enrollment is about 27,000.  UMCP has  its own stop on the Metro transit system, giving it convenient access to Washington DC.  The estimated total Cost of Attendance is $22,433 for residents and $39,804 for non-residents.  About one-third of its students are from out-of-state, and 53% are male.

Each year Maryland’s Honors College, which offers living-learning programs for students with exceptional academic talents”, invites about 1000 undergraduates to its highly selective program. 

The Honors College welcomes a nationally and internationally diverse group of students each year. There is no quota for in-state versus out-of-state students.

Out-of-state incoming freshman are eligible for several Maryland scholarships.

Banneker/Key Scholarship: The University of Maryland seeks to identify and select some of the brightest high school seniors in the nation to continue their education as Banneker/Key Scholars. There are two award levels for Banneker Key Scholarships. The first award level covers the costs of tuition, mandatory fees, room and board, and a book allowance each year for four years. The second award level provides a partial scholarship to go towards tuition and a book allowance each year for four years. Scholarship recipients will also be admitted to the Honors College and will be afforded many other opportunities as they participate in intellectual enrichment programs. For full consideration, students must submit an admission application, application fee, official transcript, essay, recommendations, and official copies of SAT or ACT scores to the Office of Undergraduate Admissions by November 1 for the following academic year.  Selected semifinalists are given a personal interview by the Banneker/Key Selection committee.  Factors such as a candidate’s involvement in community service, talents or skills, leadership, and character all play a part in the final awards. Contact the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at for more information.

President’s Scholarship: This award provides talented prospective freshmen with scholarship support for four years. Awards ranging from $2,000 to $12,000 per year are offered to incoming freshmen. Students are selected through the admissions process with primary consideration given to academic performance in high school (high school courses and achievement), results of standardized test scores (SAT or ACT), extracurricular activities, awards, honors, recommendations, and the essay. For full consideration, students must submit a complete application for admission by November 1. Contact the Office of Undergraduate Admissions for more information.

Deans’ Scholarship: This award provides talented prospective freshmen with scholarship support for one to two years. Awards ranging from $1,500 for one year to $4,500 for two years are offered to incoming freshmen. To be considered, students must submit a complete application for admission by November 1. Contact the Office of Undergraduate Admissions at for more information.

Is financial need a factor in these awards??
Because all three scholarships strongly suggest that the FAFSA be completed as part of the application, I suspect that financial need is considered in some way when recipients are selected for these awards.

How many scholarships are awarded each year?

I don’t know the split between OOS and in-state (IS) recipients for these awards, but I believe it can be assumed that most are awarded to Maryland residents.

Test scores are important.  Top statistics are typically required, and these awards have been described as SAT-driven.  Here’s how one student who received a Banneker/Key Scholarship described it.

… In general, if your kid is competitive for admittance to a top 20 college(which you can determine by browsing decision threads), then you are in the running for top merit aid at Maryland.

Related:  Psst – one of Duke’s so-called merit scholarships is actually need-based (Cost of College)

August 27, 2012

Tough choices – the political tug between funding healthcare and education

by Grace

Michael J. Petrilli lays out the options for choosing between healthcare or education spending.  The choices are easier if economic growth is robust.

You can either “ration” health care or you can “ration” education (and all other social spending). Take your pick.

The basic challenge—this is hardly news—is that America is aging and, as a result, is spending a lot of money on healthcare and retirement expenses. These expenses will go up and up in coming decades; they’re built into our demography. Unless economic growth can outpace the cost increase, however, that means less money for everything else—education included.

So let’s say you want to protect the education budget and other investments in the young—in the future. The first thing you need to do is constrain public outlays for the old—which mostly means holding the line on healthcare spending. And the second thing you need to do is encourage maximum economic growth. Get both of these things right and you avoid Armageddon.

Now hold on, you say, there are other options. You can go after the defense budget. You can raise taxes on the rich. That’s true, and these might help at the margins, at least for a while. But as the chart below shows, defense spending is hardly putting pressure on education spending—healthcare is. And as many economists will tell you, if you tax the rich too aggressively, you’ll drive down economic growth. You might slice the pie more evenly but a smaller pie means less for everyone. (And taxing the rich won’t raise nearly enough revenue, anyway.)

State spending for Medicaid vs. higher education costs

“The two biggest items of every state budget are Medicaid and education,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told IBD recently. “As the Medicaid mandate rises, the educational funding declines. That is passed on to universities and they raise tuition in order to make up for it.”

A report from the State Budget Crisis Task Force found that even before ObamaCare kicks in, Medicaid costs have been growing “faster than the economy” and “faster than state revenue.” As a result, Medicaid now consumes 24% of state funds, and its ongoing growth “can no longer be absorbed without significant cuts to other essential state programs like education.”
Think College Is Expensive Now? Wait Until ObamaCare (

August 24, 2012

Cautious outlook for nursing jobs

by Grace

In recent years nursing has been considered a safe career choice, with the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics report predicting that employment of registered nurses will jump 26 percent from 2010 to 2020″.  But a closer look might make prospective nurses less optimistic about a rosy job scenario.

Thirty-six percent of nursing graduates in the class of 2011 had not secured positions as registered nurses (RNs) as of last fall, according to a survey conducted by the National Student Nurses’ Association in September. Respondents claimed that employers are seeking more experienced RNs, older nurses are slowing turnover by taking longer to retire, and new graduates are inundating the market.

Nurses graduating with bachelor’s degrees and diplomas fared slightly better in finding jobs.

Locally, recent layoffs at several hospitals have included nursing staff.  Earlier this month about 80 layoffs affected physicians, nurses, managers and support staff at Mount Vernon Hospital and Sound Shore Medical Center.  The reasons cited for the cuts were changes in the health care environment, particularly in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement policies, along with providing more than $30 million in uncompensated care to under- and uninsured in our service area.”  Meanwhile, within the last year nearly 700 employees at Westchester Medical Center in Valhalla have lost their jobs.

The growth in outpatient care has affected the need for nurses in hospitals, but suggests that different types of employment opportunities may expand.

… Outpatient care and other less traditional settings, on the other hand, have a need for nurses with innovation, creativity and command of their field.

It’s possible that nurses in these settings may find more difficult working conditions.

My advice to a young person considering nursing as a career:

  • Don’t assume that optimistic job growth predictions will pan out as projected.
  • Get a bachelor’s degree or a diploma*.
  • Investigate the many types of jobs that nurses are doing, both in traditional and non-traditional settings.

* Diploma programs are the oldest and most traditional type of nursing education in the United States. These programs are two to three years in duration and provide nursing education primarily in the hospital setting. Graduates of these programs receive a diploma as opposed to a college degree. Most diploma programs are now affiliated with colleges or universities that grant college credit for certain courses. 

Last year I spoke with a student of a diploma program associated with a highly regarded New Jersey hospital.  She was extremely gratified that she had been offered a job by that hospital, which apparently does not automatically happen in every case.


August 23, 2012

What will happen to second-tier private colleges that charge premium prices?

by Grace

What does the future hold for second-tier private colleges that charge premium prices?

In the evolving landscape of higher education, which parents will want to send their kids to a second-tier private college?  Richard Vedder asks Elite College ($50,000 a Year) or Good State School ($20,000)? in Minding the Campus.

Students who face little chance of getting into an Ivy League school or select liberal arts college (Williams or Amherst in the East, Pomona in the West) are increasingly asking: why should my family pay $30,000 to $50,000 a year (the exact amount unknown at the time of application because of uncertainties arising from  massive price discrimination in the form of so-called “scholarship” aid) to go to a mid-quality private school when for somewhat less, say $20,000 to $30,000 a year, I can go to a top public flagship school of roughly equal quality?

Wealthy families who can easily afford to give their children the full college campus experience may still pay the big bucks, but more alternatives are becoming available for others.

Amongst students who are still poorer academically as well as financially, the lure of borrowing huge amounts to finance an otherwise financially unsustainable college education is declining. Too many college students are ending up with relatively low-paying jobs unrelated to their field of study. Benefits of attending college are falling, costs are rising. For some, the decision may be to “just say no” to college altogether. For others, demand has become highly price elastic: the substitution may be to go to a community college or a for profit school’s certificate program rather than the mid to low quality four year state school.

Elite colleges will continue to  hold their value.

That is why I feel pretty safe in predicting that Harvard, Stanford, Duke and Northwestern will be doing fine 10-20 years from now, cushioned also by their large endowments. But I am far less sanguine about the poorly endowed liberal arts college and state university with a so-so national reputation. The Law of Demand is going to hit these schools with a vengeance as increasingly price sensitive customers look for cheaper substitutes.

A big question is how employers will view these new alternatives.  Will they value a certificate from an online school the same as a four-year degree from a mediocre private college?  But yeah, elite colleges and good affordable state schools will continue to do well.


August 22, 2012

Quick Takes — 2012 college diversity fly-ins, reading is good for leaders, robots replace factory workers

by Grace

—  Fall 2012 Diversity College Fly-In List (Getmetocollege)

My post from last year  gives a brief description of college diversity fly-ins.

 For Those Who Want to Lead, Read (Harvard Business Review)

The leadership benefits of reading are wide-ranging. Evidence suggests reading can improve intelligence and lead to innovation and insight. Some studies have shown, for example, that reading makes you smarter through “a larger vocabulary and more world knowledge in addition to the abstract reasoning skills.” Reading — whether Wikipedia, Michael Lewis, or Aristotle — is one of the quickest ways to acquire and assimilate new information. Many business people claim that reading across fields is good for creativity. And leaders who can sample insights in other fields, such as sociology, the physical sciences, economics, or psychology, and apply them to their organizations are more likely to innovate and prosper.

Reading can also make you more effective in leading others. Reading increases verbal intelligence (PDF), making a leader a more adept and articulate communicator. Reading novels can improve empathy and understanding of social cues, allowing a leader to better work with and understand others — traits that author Anne Kreamer persuasively linked to increased organizational effectiveness, and to pay raises and promotions for the leaders who possessed these qualities. And any business person understands that heightened emotional intelligence will improve his or her leadership and management ability.

Finally, an active literary life can make you more personally effective by keeping you relaxed and improving health. For stressed executives, reading is the best way to relax, as reading for six minutes can reduce stress by 68%, and some studies suggest reading may even fend off Alzheimer’s, extending the longevity of the mind.

—  Robots replace factory workers

This is the future. A new wave of robots, far more adept than those now commonly used by automakers and other heavy manufacturers, are replacing workers around the world in both manufacturing and distribution. Factories like the one here in the Netherlands are a striking counterpoint to those used by Apple and other consumer electronics giants, which employ hundreds of thousands of low-skilled workers.
Skilled Work, Without the Worker (New York Times)

August 21, 2012

‘we need to be able to say out loud that some teachers are better than others’

by Grace

The public has become increasingly unhappy with what teacher unions have come to represent. – rigidity, mediocrity, and a sense of entitlement.

The notion that seniority drives every decision — assignments, promotions, layoffs — is unsustainable.

Frank Bruni in the New York Times recounts how teachers are being put on the defensive.

  • President Obama is not seen as a strong champion of teacher unions.
  • Democratic mayors like Antonio Villaragosa of Los Angeles, who calls teachers’ unions “the most powerful defenders of a broken system.”
  • Popular media – One example is the upcoming movie, “Won’t Back Down”, about a mother fighting against the public education bureaucracy.
  • “Grim economic times” that find many struggling parents who believe teachers are enjoying cushy jobs and benefits rarely seen in the private sector.
  • Tight government budgets mean curtailed spending for public schools, where staffing is typically the greatest expense.

Bruni says we need “constructive dialogue and  real flexibility from unions”.

We have to find a way out of this. Weingarten noted that most public school children are taught by teachers with a union affiliation, if not necessarily a union contract. That won’t change anytime soon. So a constructive dialogue with those unions is essential.

But so is real flexibility from unions, along with their genuine, full-throated awareness that parents are too frustrated, kids too important and public resources too finite for any reflexive, defensive attachments to the old ways of doing things.

“Our very best teachers ought to be treated much, much better than they are today,” said Joe Williams, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform. “But in order to get there, we need to be able to say out loud that some teachers are better than others.”

These latest tenure decisions from the New York City school district are good evidence that administrators are now willing to “say out loud that some teachers are better than others”.

Only 55 percent of eligible teachers, having worked for at least three years, earned tenure in 2012, compared with 97 percent in 2007.


August 20, 2012

Reasons for surging college costs, including ‘massive price discrimination’

by Grace

Richard Vedder offers a list of reasons for rapidly rising college costs.  But first he opines on two “rival explanations” for this problem.

University presidents and some economists (e.g., David Feldman and Robert Archibald) often cite the Baumol Effect (named after a Princeton economist), arguing that higher education is a service industry where it is inherently difficult to raise productivity by substituting machines for humans. Teaching is like theater: it takes as many actors today to produce King Lear as it did when Shakespeare wrote it 400 years ago. While there is some truth to the argument, in reality technology does allow a single teacher to reach ever bigger audiences (using everything from microphones to streaming video). Moreover, in reality a majority of college costs today are not for instruction–the number of administrators, broadly defined, often exceeds the number of faculty.

The second explanation comes from former Education Secretary Bill Bennett: rapidly expanding federal student financial assistance programs have pushed up college prices, so the gains from student aid accrue less to students than to the colleges themselves, financing an academic arms race. Recent studies (by Stephanie Rieg Cellini and Claudia Goldin, Andrew Gillen, and Nicholas Turner) support the Bennett Hypothesis. Student aid has fueled the demand for higher education. In the market economy, increased demand for a product made by one company (say the iPhone) quickly spurs competition (other smart phones), so prices do not rise. That fails to happen in higher education, as many providers restrict supply to enhance prestige. Harvard has an Admissions Committee, McDonald’s does not.

12 key “expressions that help explain the college cost explosion”.

  1. Third party payments
  2. Lack of information
  3. Lack of profit motive
  4. Lack of well-defined goals
  5. Resource rigidities
  6. Barriers to entry
  7. Politicized control
  8. Price discrimination
  9. Rent seeking policies
  10. Cross-subsidization
  11. Murky ownership
  12. Governance problems

Vedder comes at this problem from a preference for market driven solutions.  This is  usually my perspective as well, although I haven’t fully reviewed all of Vedder’s assertions.

One of his arguments is that applying price discrimination as a way of achieving diversity inflates costs.

Eighth, universities try to charge what the traffic will bear, engaging in massive price discrimination, favoring some students (poorer ones, extremely bright ones, those with preferred skin colors) more than others (more affluent, less bright kids, those whose skin color is less desirable).

This makes sense.  Charging what the market can bear doesn’t always lead to competitive pricing, especially when the reasons for price discrimination lead to a lower quality product.  While the goals may be worthy, offering massive financial aid in the form of loans to students ill-prepared to succeed in college is a bad idea.  It adds to cost inflation while leaving many college dropouts burdened with debt that limits their future economic opportunities.  Price discrimination combined with some other factors from this list like lack of information and barriers to entry adds to the problem of runaway college costs.

A different perspective on college price discrimination from Kevin Drum at Mother Jones
I’ve highlighted the salient point of my disagreement, which is that the current system is ushering too many unqualified students into college.

Nonetheless, there are some classic cases where price discrimination works. College tuition is one: if you’re rich, you pay full price. If you’re middle class, you get grants and loans. If you’re poor, maybe you get a full ride. In theory, everyone who’s qualified goes to college, and the college itself extracts the maximum possible revenue from its students….

In the case of college, price discrimination is possible because, in fact, colleges can ask for a copy of your 1040 before they ring up the sale. And the end result is widely viewed as fair, since most of us think that poor but qualified students should go to college….

Related:  ‘there has been a severe contraction in the quality of higher education’ (Cost of College)

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