Archive for September, 2014

September 30, 2014

Low-income students face ‘unseen’ barriers to graduating from college

by Grace

Poor academic preparation may be a big challenge for poor students who struggle in college, but another important barrier is social isolation and alienation”.

The effort to increase the number of low-income students who graduate from four-year colleges, especially elite colleges, has recently been front-page news. But when I think about my students, and my own story, I wonder whether the barriers, seen and unseen, have changed at all.

In spite of our collective belief that education is the engine for climbing the socioeconomic ladder — the heart of the “American dream” myth — colleges now are more divided by wealth than ever. When lower-income students start college, they often struggle to finish for many reasons, but social isolation and alienation can be big factors. In “Rewarding Strivers: Helping Low-Income Students Succeed in College,” Anthony P. Carnevale and Jeff Strohl analyzed federal data collected by Michael Bastedo and Ozan Jaquette of the University of Michigan School of Education; they found that at the 193 most selective colleges, only 14 percent of students were from the bottom 50 percent of Americans in terms of socioeconomic status. Just 5 percent of students were from the lowest quartile.

It’s often a struggle for poor students just to gain admission to college, but once on campus their background can create another challenge to graduation.

But once those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds arrive on campus, it’s often the subtler things, the signifiers of who they are and where they come from, that cause the most trouble, challenging their very identity, comfort and right to be on that campus. The more elite the school, the wider that gap. I remember struggling with references to things I’d never heard of, from Homer to the Social Register. I couldn’t read The New York Times — not because the words were too hard, but because I didn’t have enough knowledge of the world to follow the articles. Hardest was the awareness that my own experiences were not only undervalued but often mocked, used to indicate when someone was stupid or low-class: No one at Barnard ate Velveeta or had ever butchered a deer.

Urban students face different slights but ones with a more dangerous edge. One former student was told by multiple people in his small Pennsylvania college town not to wear a hoodie at night, because it made him look “sketchy.” Standing out like that — being himself — could put him at risk.

A related factor is the alienation from their families, who may not be fully supportive of the distance and growth these students have chosen.  One low-inocme, first-generation University of Chicago student wrote poignantly about the social isolation that almost derailed her graduation.  Affordability is only part of the problem.

… My scholarship opened the doors for me, but it didn’t see me through my four years here.

Adult mentors can help, and the Posse Foundation goes a step further by creating a supportive peer group.

How Did Posse Get Its Name? In 1989, Posse Founder and President Deborah Bial was working with talented urban young people. She watched these students go off to college, only to see them return within a semester having dropped out. Knowing that these students were bright and capable, she couldn’t understand what was making them leave college. When she asked them what happened, one student replied, “If I only had my posse with me, I never would have dropped out.” That simple idea, of sending a group—or posse—of students together so they could “back each other up,” became the impetus for a program that today has sent hundreds of students to top colleges and universities throughout the United States.

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Vicki Maddensept, “Why Poor Students Struggle”, New York Times, September 21, 2014.

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September 29, 2014

Allow college students to forego climbing walls to save money

by Grace

Extraneous luxuries help drive up the cost of college. Matthew LeBar of The Center for College Affordability and Productivity (CCAP) suggests that going à la carte would enable families to make wiser choices and curb rising costs.

Colleges have become more than just a place of education. They are as much homes for their students as they are classrooms. As such, many colleges are competing to provide the most lavish amenities to attract students. Some services are generic and uncontroversial, but many are exorbitant and beyond reason. Although these extra amenities may not feel burdensome, they are not free. Student services are financed through student tuition and fees, driving up both.

Some services are sensible, like basic room and board.  But other perks like a jumbo Jacuzzi or a climbing wall are unnecessary and unused by many students, yet they add thousands of dollars to a college education.

Give students choices to pay for what they can afford.

Instead of forcing their students to pay for all sorts of extravagant amenities, colleges should give their students the option way to pay for what they want. If a student wants to pay for a gym membership or a climbing wall, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be able to. Only the students who want and use a service should be charged for it. Although taking away Jumbo Jacuzzis also removes the university’s ability to teach student how to relax in style, there are always costs, and it seems doubtful it’s worth the $2,000 students are paying for it.

The schools could still advertise that they offer these amenities, but emphasize that they personalize students’ choices while offering them the best value for their tuition dollars.  This might exacerbate class divides that exist within some elite colleges, but no solution is perfect and many families would welcome such choices.

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Matthew LeBar, “‘Free’ Student Luxuries Contribute to the Rising Cost of College”, Forbes, 9/18/2014.

September 26, 2014

Women place greater importance on steady employment when seeking a spouse

by Grace

Almost twice as many women as men consider it “very important” that their future spouse have a “steady job”.

… Never-married women place a great deal of importance on finding someone who has a steady job—fully 78% say this would be very important to them in choosing a spouse or partner. For never-married men, someone who shares their ideas about raising children is more important in choosing a spouse than someone who has a steady job.

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Could it be that women still think they’d like to stop working when they have children?  Yes.  One recent survey found that 84% of working women want to stay home to raise their children.

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Wendy Wang and Kim Parker, “Record Share of Americans Have Never Married”, Pew Social Trends, September 24, 2014.

September 25, 2014

Seven myths of education are hobbling education reform

by Grace

Author Daisy Christodoulou argues that the “chief barriers to effective school reform are not the usual accused: bad teacher unions, low teacher quality, burdensome government dictates”, but instead are the Seven Myths about Education:

1 – Facts prevent understanding
2 – Teacher-led instruction is passive
3 – The 21st century fundamentally changes everything
4 – You can always just look it up
5 – We should teach transferable skills
6 – Projects and activities are the best way to learn
7 – Teaching knowledge is indoctrination

E. D. Hirsch, Jr. points out the relevance of these myths today, with the nationwide embrace of Common Core Standards that comes after the failure of No Child Left Behind reform.

Ms. Christodoulou’s book indirectly explains these tragic, unintended consequences of NCLB, especially the poor results in reading. It was primarily the way that educators responded to the accountability provisions of NCLB that induced the failure. American educators, dutifully following the seven myths, regard reading as a skill that could be employed without relevant knowledge; in preparation for the tests, they spent many wasted school days on ad hoc content and instruction in “strategies.” If educators had been less captivated by anti-knowledge myths, they could have met the requirements of NCLB, and made adequate yearly progress for all groups. The failure was not in the law but in the myths.

While Hirsch focuses most on reading skills and how CCS employ ‘the same superficial, content-indifferent activities, given new labels like “text complexity” and “reading strategies”‘, the entire list of myths is in play to doom the latest reform efforts.

… If the Common Core standards fail as NCLB did, it will not be because the standards themselves are defective. It will be because our schools are completely dominated by the seven myths analyzed by Daisy Christodoulou….

Despite some rhetoric to the contrary, CCS implementation continues the educational establishment’s crusade against “knowing things” and “being taught things”.  Instead, in accordance with the seven myths it downplays outside knowledge and encourages a “discovery-oriented” approach instead of direct instruction.

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E. D. Hirsch, Jr.,  “A Game-Changing Education Book from England”, Huffington Post, 06/27/2013.

September 24, 2014

Negative consequences of believing the STEM shortage myth

by Grace

In his book Falling Behind: Boom, Bust & the Global Race for Scientific Talent, author Michael Teitelbaum challenges the commonly held belief that the United States suffers from a shortage of STEM workers.

The truth is that there is little credible evidence of the claimed widespread shortages in the U.S. science and engineering workforce….

A compelling body of research is now available, from many leading academic researchers and from respected research organizations such as the National Bureau of Economic Research, the RAND Corporation, and the Urban Institute. No one has been able to find any evidence indicating current widespread labor market shortages or hiring difficulties in science and engineering occupations that require bachelors degrees or higher, although some are forecasting high growth in occupations that require post-high school training but not a bachelors degree. All have concluded that U.S. higher education produces far more science and engineering graduates annually than there are S&E job openings—the only disagreement is whether it is 100 percent or 200 percent more. Were there to be a genuine shortage at present, there would be evidence of employers raising wage offers to attract the scientists and engineers they want. But the evidence points in the other direction: Most studies report that real wages in many—but not all—science and engineering occupations have been flat or slow-growing, and unemployment as high or higher than in many comparably-skilled occupations.

Although some STEM fields are booming and employers find it difficult to fill professional positions, by no means is that true across the board.

Teitelbaum lists five episodes of STEM ‘“alarm/boom/bust” cycles since World War II’ where in all cases government policies intended to address false claims of shortages only exacerbated the problem.

… Each lasted about 10 to 15 years, and was initiated by alarms of “shortages,” followed by policies to increase the supply of scientists and engineers. Unfortunately most were followed by painful busts—mass layoffs, hiring freezes, and funding cuts that inflicted severe damage to careers of both mature professionals and the booming numbers of emerging graduates, while also discouraging new entrants to these fields.

The current administration has fallen into the same trap, pushing for more STEM graduates who may actually find jobs in short supply.  This year New York began allocating taxpayer funds to encourage college students to pursue STEM majors.

Ignoring “science-based evidence” produces “large unintended costs”.

Ironically the vigorous claims of shortages concern occupations in science and engineering, yet manage to ignore or reject most of the science-based evidence on the subject. The repeated past cycles of “alarm/boom/bust” have misallocated public and private resources by periodically expanding higher education in science and engineering beyond levels for which there were attractive career opportunities. In so doing they produced large unintended costs for those talented students who devoted many years of advanced education to prepare for careers that turned out to be unattractive by the time they graduated, or who later experienced massive layoffs in mid-career with few prospects to be rehired.

George Leef is another critic of these government interventions.

… Strong business and educational groups lobby for nice-sounding policies that benefit themselves, frequently employing dubious arguments and misleading claims. The costs of the resulting pro-STEM policies are dispersed among the public, and fall particularly hard on the unfortunate individuals who invest a lot of money and years of their lives in pursuit of credentials that are apt to become almost worthless.

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Michael S. Teitelbaum, “The Myth of the Science and Engineering Shortage”, The Atlantic, March 19 2014.

George Leef, “True Or False: America Desperately Needs More STEM Workers”, Forbes, June 6, 2014.

September 23, 2014

Which colleges meet full financial need?

by Grace

Only 62 colleges will meet 100% of a student’s demonstrated financial need.

Schools that meet 100 percent of need can use a combination of loans, scholarships, grants and work-study to fill the gap between the cost of attendance – tuition, fees, room, board and other expenses – and the expected family contribution, a number determined by the information you provide on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, including tax data, assets and family size. ​

Of the 1,137 colleges and universities that submitted financial need data to U.S. News, just 62 of them cover full need.

Many of these schools rank high, with about one-third placing in the top 10 in their categories.

Among them are Princeton University and Williams College, ranked No. 1 among National Universities and National Liberal Arts Colleges, respectively.

Just three public schools are included on the list that meet full financial need.

  • University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill
  • University of Virginia
  • United States Merchant Marine Academy

Here’s an explanation of how “full financial need” is defined:

FULL-NEED SCHOOL — One that claims to meet the student’s full financial needs, defined as the Cost of Attendance (COA) minus the Expected Family Contribution (EFC). It is worth noting that many families are surprised to learn that the school’s determination of financial need is often lower than the family’s own assessment. Also, the school may decide that a loan “award” will be used to meet all or part of the student’s need.

The complete list of schools can be viewed at the U.S. News website.

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September 22, 2014

Getting a college degree doesn’t seem as important as it used to be

by Grace

Amid a national debate about the worth of a college education, a respected annual poll about the education views held by Americans has found that only 44 percent of Americans now believe that getting a college education is “very important” — down from 75 percent four years ago.

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…. Similarly, in 2010, 77% of parents said it was somewhat or very likely that they would be able to pay for college for their oldest child. That percentage declined to 69% this year.


Interestingly, confidence in being able to pay for college dropped down to the same level seen in 1995 after rising in 2010.

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I will be on the lookout for an update to the 2011 Pew Research survey that found 80% of parents believed paying for their child’s education is an extremely important (35%) or very important (45%) goal.

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Valerie Strauss, “Poll: Most Americans no longer think a college education is ‘very important’”, Washington Post, September 16, 2014.

September 19, 2014

How does an increase in minimum wage affect employment figures?

by Grace

Economics professor Mark J. Perry explains a discrepancy seen in the debate on how increasing minimum wage affects existing employment figures.

… Most of the minimum wage debate centers on the issue of whether minimum wage increases have any effects on employment levels. Specifically, does the empirical evidence point to any significantly negative effects on employment levels following minimum wage hikes, as clearly predicted by economy theory? Some empirical evidence like the much-cited 1994 study by Card and Krueger found “no indication that the rise in the minimum wage reduced employment” at fast-food restaurants in New Jersey following a minimum wage increase to $5.05 per hour compared to nearby fast-food restaurants in Pennsylvania where the minimum wage remained constant at $4.25.

While then number of workers may not decline, the “number of unskilled work hours demanded by employers” does decrease.

Bottom Line: It’s more accurate to say that the Law of Demand predicts: a) a negative relationship between higher wages and the number of hours of unskilled work demanded by employers, rather than b) a negative relationship between higher wages and the number of unskilled workers employed. Therefore, it’s possible that a minimum wage hike won’t always negatively affect employment levels for entry-level unskilled workers, but will affect the number of hours demanded by employers for unskilled labor. That’s how we can reconcile the apparent inconsistency between economic theory and some of the empirical evidence…..

Other considerations factor into what actually happens when the minimum wage is increased, so results cannot be accurately predicted.  More details can be found by reading a section of Chapter 10 in Microeconomics: Theory Through Applications, v. 1.0 by Russell Cooper and A. Andrew John.

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Mark J. Perry, “The Law of Demand and the minimum wage: It applies to number of hours worked, not the level of employment”, Carpe Diem, September 14, 2014.

September 18, 2014

‘Saying 99 percent of your teachers are highly effective is laughable’

by Grace

In New York, the rushed implementation of Common Core Standards combined with the new method of evaluating teachers have produced bizarre results that seem to offer no value in the effort to improve schools.

In Scarsdale, regarded as one of the best school systems in the country, no teacher has been rated “highly effective” in classroom observations. It is the only district in the Lower Hudson Valley with that strict an evaluation. In Pleasantville, 99 percent of the teachers are rated as “highly effective” in the same category.

“Saying 99 percent of your teachers are highly effective is laughable,” said Charlotte Danielson, a Princeton, New Jersey-based educational consultant who has advised state education departments around the country. Danielson’s model for evaluating teachers via classroom observations, Framework for Teaching, is one of the best-known models in the country and believed to be the basis for New York’s evaluation system.

The new method for evaluating teachers is as flawed as the old method.

The fact that 80 percent of the evaluation is based on local measures can inject a lot of subjectivity into the process, critics say. A look at the teacher evaluation data by the state Education Department shows that districts have the most leeway in the classroom observation portion of the rubric, which accounts for 60 percent of the evaluation.

“The local administrators know who they are evaluating and are often influenced by personal bias,” Danielson said. “What it also means is that they might have set the standards too low.”

Administrators feel they must game the system to protect their teachers.

Pleasantville schools Superintendent Mary Fox-Alter defended her district’s classroom observation scores, which use the Danielson model — saying the state’s “flawed” model had forced districts to scale or bump up the scores so “effective” teachers don’t end up with an overall rating of “developing.”

“It is possible under the HEDI scoring band (which categorizes teachers as “highly effective,” “effective,” “developing” and “ineffective”) to be rated effective in all three areas and yet end up as developing,” Fox-Alter said, adding that she understood Danielson’s concern.

“Danielson has said that teachers should live in “effective” and only visit “highly effective’,” said Fox-Alter, president of the Southern Westchester Chief School Administrators.

But adhering to that philosophy might put her teachers in jeopardy, she said.

The use of tests to measure teacher effectiveness is not without controversy, but as usual our public schools have compounded the problematic aspects with their sloppy implementation.  The result is a thorny mess that falls short of achieving previously stated goals.

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Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy, “Teacher evaluations: Subjective data skew state results”, lohud.com, September 15, 2014.

September 17, 2014

GoFundMe can help pay your college tuition bills

by Grace

Education is the second-most-popular category on GoFundMe.

It’s easy to do.

… GoFundMe and other sites, like Crowdrise, let individuals pursue personal fund-raising. You create a profile, including a photo and an explanation of what you’re seeking the money for, and then spread the word on networks like Facebook and Twitter.

The rules are loose.

Unlike Kickstarter, which requires its users to meet a goal to get the money, GoFundMe and Crowdrise allow individuals to keep the donations whether or not the goal is met.

Crowdrise’s chief executive, Robert Wolfe, said his site had recently added an option for individuals — rather than recognized charities — to raise funds and that the educational category is growing….

Neither GoFundMe nor Crowdrise independently verifies the claims made in profiles.

Since most donors are friends and family, low-income students often find it challenging to raise substantial funds.  Another barrier is that contributions to individuals are not eligible for tax deductions.

Other similar sites, like ScholarMatch, use more stringent criteria and do not allow donations to specific individuals.

A dramatic story helps raise more money.

Heart-rending stories tend to gain the most attention and donations from beyond a student’s circle of friends. A Vanderbilt University student whose profile told of her mother’s suicide shortly before her freshman year raised $50,000, double her goal. And GoFundMe says its most successful campaign raised more than a million dollars for a child with a rare genetic disease.

For students who are willing to share their stories, crowdfunding seems like a no-brainer.  Given that young people seem eager to share many details of their personal lives online, I can see how this idea will continue to grow.

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Ann Carrnssept, “That Selfie Is So Good, It Could Help You Pay for College”, New York Times, Sept. 11, 2014.

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