Archive for ‘education reform’

April 9, 2015

School choice may follow from opting out of Common Core testing

by Grace

If opting out of Common Core testing is increasingly approved and even promoted, can school choice be the next cause for supporters of parental freedom?

The logical next step for the anti-Common Core ‘opt-out’ movement is opting out of entire schools.

Teacher unions strongly encourage opting out of testing.

… To be clear, the opt-out movement is not some organic happening. National Education Association President Lily Eskelsen García tried to claim it was during a discussion I moderated a few weeks ago at the Council of Chief State School Officers legislative conference. When I asked her about the millions of dollars some of her state affiliates are spending to encourage test boycotts she didn’t have a response. That’s not very grassroots. In New York the state teachers unionis openly encouraging opt-outs and some PTAs are circulating warmed-over versions of union talking points….

Teachers who promote opting out may be paving the way for expanded school choice.

Fundamentally, the call for opt-outs is a call for more parental freedom. In contemporary America, accountability is usually regulatory-based (think financial markets), choice and market-based (for instance clothes) or some combination of the two (like restaurants). It may well be that test-based accountability has run its course in public education. If so, the opt-out movement – ironically fueled by self-interested teachers unions – may be pointing us to what’s next: a lot more choice and unbundling of services in public education.

That might not be so bad. If it turns out we can’t come together around school accountability schemes that look after the poor – especially while the same elite progressives boycotting tests can’t stop talking about inequality – then we at least ought to give the poor real choice about the schooling of their children given how crucial education is to social mobility.

———

Andrew J. Rotherham, “‘Opting Out’ Into School Choice”, U.S. News & World Report, April 7, 2015.

April 3, 2015

Some things about education have not changed

by Grace

While I disagree with the title of a recent Huffington Post article proclaiming that “Everything is Different Now” in parenting, I do agree that many things have changed.

•  A higher level of parent involvement is required for academic success.

In the old days, the primary educational duties for parents were reading to your kid and making sure they got into a good school. There was a high level of trust and respect for external authorities -you assumed that teachers and principals knew best and operated with the best interest of your son or daughter in mind.

With sophisticated Internet “research” projects assigned in elementary grades and developmentally inappropriate organizational skills required in middle school, the student whose parents don’t step in to offer hands-on guidance may easily be left behind academically.

•  A college degree offers diminished opportunity for a secure middle-class life.

In the old days, if your kid got into college they could probably find a job. These days it’s not just about grades, SAT scores, and college admissions-the level of young adult underemployment and debt suggests that bargain is broken.

•  Children are more sheltered and given less freedom to learn independence.

… there is a lot less unsupervised play and less unstructured summer roaming. Given rational safety concerns, most kids are more sheltered and scheduled and less like to explore and learn independence….

I disagree that this trend has been driven by “rational” concerns, unless he means the concerns that parents will run into trouble with CPS.

•  Learning options have expanded.

… There has been a linear increase in formal education options and an exponential explosion of informal learning options.

•  Higher education costs have exploded.

… The bad news is that most post-secondary education is more expensive than ever. The good news is that there are more options….


The message of the documentary film Most Likely to Succeed is that these and other changes cry out for “another transformation” in education.

“What I find shocking is that schools aren’t preparing our kids for life in the 21st Century. Surrounded by innovation, our education system is stuck in the 19th Century,” said Ted Dintersmith, producer of Most Likely to Succeed. “The skills and capabilities our kids need going forward are either ignored or outright trampled.” Ted’s movie outlines the broken bargain of a traditional college prep education and employability.

Dintersmith criticizes that students have to learn “regurgitated facts” and take traditional tests like the SAT.  He offers alternatives.

Invent a science experiment, write a creative essay, come up with an interesting historical perspective on an event they care about.

But facts are important.

The point that Dintersmith and others seems to miss is that facts serve as the basis for innovative scientific experiments and knowledgeable historical perspectives.  This inconvenient truth is at the core of the trouble with many education reforms.

Students need a broad base of knowledge before they can become critical thinkers.

Indeed, evidence from cognitive science challenges the notion that skills can exist independent of factual knowledge. Dan Willingham, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, is a leading expert on how students learn. “Data from the last thirty years leads to a conclusion that is not scientifically challengeable: thinking well requires knowing facts, and that’s true not only because you need something to think about,” Willingham has written. “The very processes that teachers care about most — critical thinking processes such as reasoning and problem solving — are intimately intertwined with factual knowledge that is stored in long-term memory (not just found in the environment).”

———

Tom Vander Ark, “Everything is Different Now: Parenting for Powerful Learning”, Huffington Post, March 25, 2015.

Tom Vander Ark, “Most Likely To Succeed: A Film About What School Could Be”, Education Week, March 6, 2015.

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.

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