Archive for ‘education reform’

February 16, 2015

Scott Walker — destroyer or savior of higher education?

by Grace

In defending his proposal to cut Wisconsin’s higher education budget by $300 million over two years, Governor Scott Walker admonished professors to “work harder”.

“Maybe it’s time for faculty and staff to start thinking about teaching more classes and doing more work and this authority frees up the [University of Wisconsin] administration to make those sorts of requests,” …

Maybe he should have focused more on administrative costs, which have far outpaced instructional costs in American universities.

But now comes word from UW Chancellor Rebecca Blank that the cuts would come in the form of layoffs of administrative personnel”.

Deans, directors and department heads will be responsible for making decisions on how budget cuts are allocated, but administrative units will take will take larger cuts in an effort to preserve educational functions, she said.

It seems that common sense may prevail, but concern remains that the governor and possible presidential candidate may be trying to kill liberal arts education.

Walker proposed to rewrite the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement. He apparently wanted to strip out its frills (stuff like “extended training,” “public service,” improving “the human condition,” and “the search for truth”) and inject it with a more practical goal: meeting “the state’s workforce needs.”

Walker later backtracked and ‘blamed the changes on a last-minute “drafting error”‘.  But skeptics remain suspicious that liberal arts will increasingly take a back seat to vocational programs.

Liberal-arts and humanities programs at public universities are increasingly under siege as state legislatures cut the institutions’ funding, forcing school administrators to make tough decisions about what to eliminate. The obvious targets are the programs that yield a lower return on investment—at least in a concrete, monetary sense—and are more nebulous in their impact on the economy. What sounds like it has more dollar signs and productivity attached to it: philosophy or America’s favorite new acronym, STEM?

Maybe these critics should also focus on New York’s Democratic Governor Cuomo, who has pushed for increased funding of vocational programs in state colleges, and incentivized partnerships between business and schools that promote workforce training through his START-UP NY initiative.  Cuomo also established a STEM scholarship program last year.

I have not heard of any states pouring additional resources into liberal arts higher education.  Which may be a shame, but is understandable.

This workforce-centric approach “is designed for short-term learning and long-term disaster.”

The problem is that, unlike most STEM fields, universities have lowered standards for liberal arts education.

In theory, a college liberal arts degree is a valuable commodity in the job market. In reality, the way colleges have diluted the curriculum means a liberal arts degree offers little added value in qualifying workers for today’s job market.

So the question is, who is actually trying to kill liberal arts education?

———

Lucy McCalmont, “Scott Walker urges professors to work harder”, Politico, January 29, 2015.

Ann Althouse, “How will the University of Wisconsin—Madison absorb something like $90 million in cuts from Scott Walker’s new budget?”, Althouse, February 12, 2015.

Alia Wongfeb, “The Governor Who (Maybe) Tried to Kill Liberal-Arts Education”, Atlantic, February 11, 2015.

January 30, 2015

More money, better schools?

by Grace

Spending More Money Won’t Fix Our Schools

or

When public schools get more money, students do better

Which is it?  Does the United States need to increase its spending on education?

On one side, economist Eric Hanushek and others have argued that decisions to increase education spending were simply “throwing money at schools.”

…  His research found that there was little correlation between how much schools spent and how well their students performed on tests.

But wait, a new study shows more money does improve student outcomes.

More recent research, however, has found that when schools have more money, they are able to give their students a better education. A new study on those who went to school during the school-finance cases a few decades ago found that those who attended districts that were affected by the rulings were more likely to stay in school through high school and college and are making more money today.

The authors, Kirabo Jackson and Claudia Persico of Northwestern University and Rucker Johnson of the University of California, Berkeley, released a revised draft of their as-yet-unpublished paper this week. The benefits were most obvious for students from poor families. They found that a 10 percent increase in the money available for each low-income student resulted in a 9.5 percent increase in students’ earnings as adults. A public investment in schools, they wrote, returned 8.9 percent annually for a typical pupil who started kindergarten in 1980.

The findings are evidence that public schooling can be a way for children who grow up in poverty to overcome their circumstances, Johnson argued.

“Those increases in instructional expenditures proved to have large dividends, significant economic returns, in the lives of these children,” he said. “We’re always searching for what can break that cycle of poverty from one generation to the next.”

The common opinion among everyone participating in this debate is that it is not the amount of spending, but the way the money is allocated.

Still, the authors don’t advocate simply throwing money at the problem of education, either. “Money matters, but it matters how it’s spent,” said Jackson of Northwestern.

Megan McArdle makes a similar point in how to address failing schools.

Should we fix the issues with those schools? Absolutely — and doing so might mean spending more money. But that doesn’t mean that we need to increase the overall level of educational funding. It means that we need to identify ways to improve those underperforming schools, then find out how much more it would cost to implement those programs. It is just as likely that improvements will come from changing methods and reallocating resources as that they will require us to pour more money into failing institutions.

Even Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, long viewed as a stalwart liberal, agrees on this matter.

It’s a view still held by many politicians today, including Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.). “We spend more than any other state in the country,”he said a year ago. “It ain’t about the money. It’s about how you spend it — and the results.”

———

Megan McArdle, “Spending More Money Won’t Fix Our Schools”, Bloomberg, January 14, 2015.

Max Ehrenfreund, “When public schools get more money, students do better”, Washington Post, January 20, 2015.

January 23, 2015

Education jargon

by Grace

Education jargon continues to confuse, sometimes getting in the way of effective reform.

… Edu-speak—the incomprehensible babble used to describe what are often relatively straightforward teaching methods, learning styles, and classroom designs—is plaguing the country’s schools. Intended to help people understand education reform, edu-speak often ends up doing the exact opposite: It muddles those reform strategies and, left unchecked, it could end up making positive change a lot more difficult to achieve. As Liz Willen, the editor of The Hechinger Report, wrote in 2013, it all adds up to a “communication breakdown that hampers education reform.” Just like its cousins in the corporate or legal worlds—synergy! Ex parte!—such jargon only adds confusion to already-confusing things.

Everyone from parents to journalists get caught up in trying to understand the bewildering language used by “educrats”.

Parents get status reports on their kids and are baffled as to what half of the words mean. Teachers are ordered to alter their instruction but left unsure of what they’re actually being ordered to do. Kids are told to take random tests with weird names and remain unconvinced they’re doing anything productive. Journalists like me transcribe soliloquies at school board meetings and legislative hearings, dreading all the translation that we’ll have to do later.

During the first few years of my children’s public school experience, I was often perplexed by terminology used by teachers and administrators.  At first I thought I was the only parent not in the know, but later I realized many parents were in the same boat as I was.  Soon enough I learned that the lovely sounding “enrichment action-items” consisted mainly of mundane arts and crafts activities that almost always made sure to include some type of politically correct message.  “Differentiated instruction” meant that my kids sat around in groups shooting the breeze and wasting time while waiting for the teacher to teach.  And the goal of “life-long learning” seemed to be an excuse for producing high school graduates with significant gaps in what they should have learned in their K-12 experience.

Some random phrases I generated from an education jargon generator:

We will orchestrate visionary strategies throughout multiple modalities.

We will deploy diverse competencies in data-driven schools.

 We will enhance mastery-focused curriculum integration through the collaborative process.

We will integrate real-world assessment within a balanced literacy program

We will engage strengths-based functionalities through the experiential based learning process

———

Alia Wong, “Why Education Reporting Is So Boring”, Atlantic, Jan. 14, 2015

January 9, 2015

Education issues of 2015

by Grace

Among NPR’s “provocative predictions” for K-12 education in 2015:

Interest in school choice will grow.

I predict that in 2015, recognition will grow for the idea that “public” education means publicly financing K-12 education, but means providing instruction in a wide-variety of settings: charters, private schools, online options and more.

Lindsey Burke
Fellow, Heritage Foundation

Blended learning in public schools is here to stay.

…  Blended learning — coupling technology based-instruction with live instruction — is evolving from an idea that was mostly hype to a daily practice for students in all kinds of public schools.

Andrew Rotherham
Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit consultancy

Game-based learning will expand.

… A simple example would be a game like Jeopardy [where teachers can write their own answers and questions] — but a smarter version of that….

Jordan Shapiro
Professor at Temple University and an expert on game-based learning

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is back, and The Daily Caller has some predictions.

The law, passed with bipartisan support in 2001, is now almost universally seen as broken thanks to mandating standards, such as universal proficiency in math and reading, that have proven impossible to reach. Dissatisfaction is so high that Arne Duncan’s Education Department has virtually suspended much of the law by handing out legally dubious waivers from its tougher requirements.

In 2015, however, there are promising signs that the partisan gridlock that prevented any update to the law may finally be breaking down. Sen. Lamar Alexander, who will be taking over the Senate’s education committee, has declared an NCLB update his top priority, and he wants to attack the issue fast, potentially having a bill up for debate before the end of January.

The most obvious change Alexander could pursue against NCLB is the scaling back or elimination of the “adequate yearly progress” requirement, which severely sanctions schools that aren’t quickly progressing towards universal proficiency. …

Another change Alexander could pursue is a major reform to NCLB’s oft-criticized standardized testing requirements. …  If they do, they’ll face initial opposition from President Obama, who has defended annual testing as an essential accountability measure. Even if Obama is opposed, though, Republicans will have an unlikely ally in strongly-Democratic teachers unions such as the American Federation of Teachers, which have loudly called for testing requirements to be changed.

From the right, Alexander will be pressured to take things further, and reform NCLB in order to substantially reduce the federal government’s role and influence over public education (some have proposed letting states opt out of federal control entirely)….

Cynicism compels me to agree with this prediction that we’ll see more of the same tired rhetoric, but not much improvement.

I suspect that with the rumored reauthorization of ESEA that we will see an anti-testing narrative, but the entire system will still be tied to testing. [Politicians] will talk about teacher quality, but we will see a renewed emphasis on sending the least qualified candidates (such as Teach For America) to teach primarily poor children. They will talk about local control and will tweak accountability formulas, but the educational system will likely still be controlled in a top-down fashion instead of a bottom-up approach like California recently introduced for school finance. They will talk about turning around 1,000 schools, when in fact very few of the schools stay “turned around” because the poverty in the communities and special learning needs of the students are not being addressed. In essence, our politicians will give us more of the same failed education policy in 2015, while calling it a new direction and/or reform.

Julian Vasquez Heilig
Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, California State University, Sacramento

———

“Kindergarten Entry Tests And More Education Predictions for 2015″, NPR, January 3, 2015.

Blake Neff, “These Will Be The Five Biggest Education Issues Of 2015″, Daily Caller, January 1, 2015.

January 7, 2015

Republicans and college professors may join to fight Obama’s ranking system

by Grace

Strange bedfellows?  In its report on the top education issues to watch in the coming year, The Daily Caller suggests that Republicans and academia will be allies in the fight against Obama’s new federal college ranking system.

4. College ratings Announced a year and a half ago, just before Christmas President Obama finally unveiled his first tentative proposal for a federal college ranking system. The early proposal, which contains no specific details, centers almost entirely on how much a college costs, how well it prepares students for the job market, and how inclusive it is towards the economically marginalized.

Obama hopes to have the final system in place by the start of the 2015 school year, but his efforts are likely to face substantial resistance from Republicans in Congress as well as the higher education establishment. Once a more substantial system is outlined later this year, Republicans may move to try defunding the rating system, or even prohibiting it entirely. While NCLB reauthorization offers a glimmer of hope for bipartisan cooperation, this issue is almost certain to explode into a bitter partisan showdown between the president and Congress.

———

Blake Neff, “These Will Be The Five Biggest Education Issues Of 2015″, The Daily Caller, 01/01/2015.

October 31, 2014

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

by Grace

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

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

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

Federal pressure to eliminate higher-level math courses

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

Lower chances of graduating from college

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

20141030.COCHighestLevelMathCollege2

CCMS are ‘not for STEM’

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

Incentives have consequences.

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

———

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

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

October 30, 2014

Vocational high school diploma gets a boost in New York

by Grace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

———

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

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

October 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.

September 1, 2014

Will today’s families regret that they “grossly overpaid” for college?

by Grace

20 years from now, people who grossly overpaid for their bricks & mortar college experience and are still paying off their massive student loans, will feel like incredible chumps.

Looking at families digging deep into their pockets to pay exorbitant college tuition, this same thought has crossed my mind.  As college administrators ponder the rough road ahead, Stuart Butler of the Brookings Institution advises that it will take more than a few tweaks for some institutions to survive the coming years.

…  if today’s college leaders—even at the Ivies—believe they can merely tweak their business models to carry them into the future, then they are in for an even more unpleasant surprise. They should ponder the still recent experience of the music industry, film and television, booksellers, and news media. If they did, they would soon recognize that the higher education industry is encountering a multi-pronged and existential threat composed of successive waves of disruptive innovation. This disruption will force top-to-bottom changes in the very concept of higher education and its relationship with the broader economy.

Butler sees a pattern affecting many industries, including higher education.

1. The underserved consumers are targeted first, “leaving the upstarts to occupy a sector of the market of little interest to industry leaders”.  Online news aggregators looked to “young people with distinct tastes and only casual interest in the news”.

…Early versions of online courses appealed to students who could not easily maintain a regular schedule, or who needed more time to understand material….

2. The initial product is substandard.

… The Apple I, introduced in 1976, hardly seemed a harbinger of doom to the managers of IBM’s mainframe monsters. So it is no surprise today to read college presidents denigrating MOOCs and the cheap, no-frills degrees being rolled out in Texas and Florida….

3. Episodes of adaptation and refinement occur amid harsh criticism.

… The clunky Apple I sold just a couple hundred units, but the elegant Macintosh, introduced twenty years later, ransacked the computing industry.

That’s why the shortcomings of MOOCs today should be of little comfort to the higher education establishment….

4. Unbundling is to be expected, as both hospitals and newspapers have discovered.

As with hospitals and newspapers, bricks-and-mortar institutions of higher education are particularly vulnerable to unbundling. Universities are modular institutions, and lower-cost competitors can easily siphon off customers and revenue from individual modules. For instance, universities are partly a hotel and food service industry, and partly sports and entertainment centers. They have invested heavily in buildings and services that package these elements together at essentially one price. But this makes them vulnerable to competitors that find much less expensive ways to provide discrete modules like housing or even basic first-year classes—or that simply shed costly facilities like libraries or student centers, as online colleges have done.

While credentials are highly valued, academic information is priced at nearly zero.

Indeed, the most challenging and decisive feature of unbundling and competition for the low-cost parts of the college bundle of services comes from the fact that the price of academic information is falling nearly to zero. Why pay a ton of money to sit with 300 other freshmen, listening to a Nobel Prize winner you will never actually meet on campus, when you have access to everything he has written, maybe even video versions of his lectures, free of charge on the internet?…

Even the social part of college can be unbundled.

But what about the social “college experience”? Well maybe that can be unbundled, too. Does undergraduate college have to last four years, or could the residential, networking, or sports elements occupy just part of the period of study at much less total cost? Britain’s Open University has for years brought students on campus for just a few weeks each year. It retains a similar model today using online classes instead of its original televised courses. Yet it is number three in the UK for student satisfaction, tied with Oxford. Moreover, for many young people today online networking provides the relationship of choice for professional purposes, not just for social life. For them, Facebook, LinkedIn, and texting can be a more efficient and even more personal way of building and maintaining future career contacts than paying for a dorm or hanging out at a college gym.

How should universities respond?  Brooks recommends that they need to “price discriminate” in a way that supports what they are selling.  And “they will have to determine their true competitive advantage”.  So some schools, Ivies and other elite institutions, will be able to maintain high prices for the exclusive campus experience they are selling.  Other schools will drop their prices for the cut-rate learning experience they provide.

How should families respond?  Butler’s forecast is consistent with other predictions of sharper class distinctions and a  ‘growing bifurcation between elite universities and “trade schools”‘.  So families should be careful about paying premium prices today for what may be heavily discounted 20 years from now.

———

Stuart Butler, “Tottering Ivory Towers”, The American Interest, August 11, 2014.

May 1, 2014

Ten reasons to end affirmative action in college admissions

by Grace

Economics professor Mark J. Perry summarized tengood reasons we should end racial profiling and affirmative discrimination in college admissions”.

1. Racial and ethnic preferences are unjust — reason enough to abandon them.

2. They serve to perpetuate, rather than combat, racial stereotypes.

3. They encourage gaming the system (as when Elizabeth Warren claimed to be Native American).

4. They permit students from certain groups to coast in high school knowing they will get an automatic golden ticket to college.

5. They encourage intergroup resentment.

6. They result in what Stuart Taylor Jr. and Richard Sander have rightly called “mismatching” students — so that all but the very top minority students wind up attending schools that are a little out of their league.

7. Mismatching causes more minority students to abandon demanding majors like science and technology (so necessary for the economy’s flourishing).

8. Mismatch causes minority students to drop out in numbers far higher than other students. Black students are about a third more likely than similarly qualified other students to start college, but less likely to finish.

9. Admissions officers at selective schools pretend they are offering opportunity to “underserved” minorities, but in reality, they are simply lowering standards for already-privileged students with the preferred skin tone. Ninety-two percent of blacks at elite colleges are from the top half of the income distribution. A study a decade ago at Harvard Law School found that only a third of students had four African-American grandparents. Another third were from interracial families. The rest were children of recent immigrants from Africa or the West Indies.

10. Should mixed-race students get half a preference? Should their scores be 50 percent higher than students with two black parents? These are the kinds of absurdities our current system presents.

Speaking as a minority who may have benefited from affirmative action, I agree with these reasons.  I guess that means my views are more aligned with those of Justice Clarence Thomas than with those of Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The “absurdities” mentioned in reason 10 makes me wonder how workable future affirmative action policies will be as we see higher percentages of mixed-race students enter college.

Related:  Coast to coast decline in support of affirmative action (Cost of College)

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