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Posts Tagged ‘social mobility’

Schooling is Now a Commodity

September 21, 2014 Leave a comment

Why Federal Ratings Wont Rein in College Cost”, the Upshot column by Susan Dynarski in today’s NYTimes, asserts that the proposed USDOE college rankings won’t have an appreciable impact on the spiraling costs of college. Why?  Because the costs of public colleges that enroll “the vast majority” of the students enrolled in post-secondary schools are controlled by State legislatures and they are increasingly shifting the burden of those costs to students. Dynarski summarizes this phenomenon in these paragraphs:

First, consider public colleges (attended by about 80 percent of undergraduates), where tuition has grown faster than inflation for decades. From 1988 to 2013, average tuition at four-year public colleges more than doubled, even after adjusting for inflation.

Yet here is a surprising fact: Public colleges are collecting about the same revenue per student today as they were 25 years ago. In 1988,educational revenue per full-time-equivalent student at public colleges was $11,300; in 2013, it was $11,500. (These amounts are adjusted for inflation and are expressed in 2013 dollars.)

That’s just a 3 percent increase. How can this be? If tuition has doubled, shouldn’t public colleges be getting double the revenue?

This reader was not at all surprised that public college operating costs are flat over the past 25 years. The same is probably true for public education costs. As I noted in the comment I wrote, this same shift is subtly taking place in K-12 schools where fees are increasingly levied for athletics, registration in AP courses, textbooks and materials of instruction, busing, etc. This is happening because politicians do not want to raise taxes for any reason. As a result, the costs of educating the next generation are being borne by local property taxes that only affluent communities can afford leaving economically disadvantaged and minority students in the lurch. Instead of asking taxpayers to cover the costs, the political “leaders” are developing ranking systems for schools that provide parents and students with “consumer information” so they can make “an informed choice”.

After explaining the reality of cost-shifting, Dynarski spends the balance of the article explaining the need for a well-conceived measures based on solid data. This call for ratings accepts the view that schooling is not the responsibility of the community but rather a commodity that K-12 parents and post-secondary students can intelligently “buy” if they have enough money or are willing to take out a loan. This kind of thinking contributes to the inequality of our country and erodes our sense of community. EVERY child is entitled to have access to a high quality education and EVERY citizen should share in that cost.

Fenno’s Paradox and Schools

September 20, 2014 Leave a comment

Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell’s recent column, “Actually Public Schools are Getting Better, Not Worse”, describes a political science phenomenon known as “Fenno’s Paradox”:

It’s a bit like “Fenno’s paradox,” named for political scientist Richard Fenno Jr.: Americans hate Congress but like their own congressman; they hate the public school system but like the school they actually interact with.

There is a difference between Congress and public education, though: as Rampell notes in her column there is clear and unambiguous evidence that public education is functioning effectively and improving over time. The problem, as she describes it, is that the public’s expectations are ever increasing, adult’s memories of “the good old days when schools were tougher” are likely distorted, and the media’s “public school’s are failing” meme has gotten more and more traction over time.

She concludes her column with this somewhat measured praise for public education:

The truth is, today’s young people do need more, or at least different, kinds of training and education to succeed in the global marketplace for talent. And plenty of policy changes — like making the most challenging school districts more attractive places to work — could help improve outcomes for our most disadvantaged students. But in the meantime, let’s stop denying the measurable, if modest, progress that U.S. schools have made in the last half-century.

Making the most challenging school districts more attractive places to work” is a nice turn of phrase, but it glosses over the reality that accomplishing this high-minded outcome would require huge sums of money. To make the most challenging districts attractive places to work would require Congress to upgrade facilities, provide support services for children raised in poverty, increase staff so that teachers have manageable class sizes, and improve wages so that teachers in challenging districts have the same baseline compensation as teachers in affluent districts. That would require Congress to improve IT’S performance to the same level as public education… and require voters to insist that funds be available to improve every student’s opportunities. Alas, Congress’ action may be a reflection of the public’s silence on this issue. Another paradox, I’ll call it Goldstein’s Paradox (for the late MD politician Louis Goldstein) is that when it comes to paying taxes everyone wants to go to heaven but no one wants to die.

Where You Live Effects How You Do in School

September 19, 2014 Leave a comment

Thomas Edsall’s NYTimes op ed piece poses the question “Does Moving Poor People Work?”, and the bottom line answer is “Yes BUT…”

In the article Edsall reviews several longitudinal studies involving the effects of relocating poverty stricken families from public housing. In a study done by University of Chicago researcher Jens Ludwig that triggered the essay on housing vouchers, the researchers found “mixed results”. While some measures of well being improved,

“…a housing voucher that allowed recipients to move into a “low poverty” area – had “no consistent detectable impacts on adult economic self-sufficiency or children’s educational achievement outcomes, even for children who were too young to have enrolled in school at baseline.”

Ludwig’s findings were challenged by “some of the nation’s most prominent social science researchers”, notably William Julius Wilson who contended the study was flawed because those

“…who left public housing moved into segregated neighborhoods nonetheless, far from employment opportunities and with equally bad schools – often the same schools.”

Robert Sampson, a colleague of Wilson’s in the sociology department at Harvard, expressed additional concerns with the study, noting (with my emphasis added) that:

“…many of the adults in the program had lived in extreme poverty for decades and that the children, who were on average 11 years old when they entered the program, had spent their early years living in adversity. “The result,” he wrote, “is that developmental effects are difficult if not impossible to study in the research design,” which does not reveal the “lagged effects of severe disadvantage.”

Moreover, James Heckman, who has studied cognition in depth, concludes that by age 11 the opportunity for cognitive growth is limited. This makes any conclusions about the effects of this voucher program on academic performance questionable.

While the results of the Ludwig study were mixed, a study by the Rand Foundation done I’m Montgomery County demonstrated that moving poverty stricken families into decidedly middle class neighborhoods and schools DID make a difference:

The low-income minority children from public housing all started with similar math scores. But after seven years, those who went to schools where fewer than 20 percent of their classmates were poor shot ahead of those who went to schools where 20 to 80 percent of their classmates were poor. This difference in trajectories is shown in Figure 1 (below), in which the green line tracks math scores for poor children (defined as those receiving “free and reduced-priced meals” – a.k.a. FARM recipients) in relatively affluent schools, and the red line tracks math scores for poor children attending schools with much higher percentages of fellow students receiving FARM assistance.edsall-chart-master315Edsall concludes his article with this paragraph:

We have to figure out a better way to approach intervention, whether it’s education-based or neighborhood-based or both. Otherwise how can we interrupt the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage we are only beginning to understand?

Edsall didn’t note in the article that any decision to locate public housing in relatively affluent neighborhoods is likely to be contentious… nor did he note that “education-based” interventions will require additional revenues. My take on this: we already understand what we need to do to “… interrupt the intergenerational transmission of disadvantage”… we just don’t have the political will to do it.

Let’s Be Like China!

September 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Today’s NYTimes features an interview with Yong Zhao, a professor of education at the University of Oregon who immigrated from China and has written extensively contrasting the Chinese education system to ours. The article should be read in its entirety, for it reinforces many of the assertions set forth in this blog and the blogs of progressive educators. Namely:

  • The focus on test scores results in a narrowing of the curriculum
  • The focus on test scores damages the self-confidence of many students
  • Test scores measure “…something very different from the quality of education… parents, educators and children desire.”
  • The Common Core State Standards Initiative has been pushed to many states, creating de facto national standards in math and English language arts. So American education today has become more centralized, standardized and test-driven, with an increasingly narrow educational experience, which characterizes Chinese education.”
  • “We need an education that enhances individual strengths, follows children’s passions and fosters their social-emotional development. We do not need an authoritarian education that aims to fix children’s deficits according to externally prescribed standards.”

Zhao describes the difficulty China is encountering in transforming its authoritarian system. He states that in order to make the kinds of changes he advocates will require “…the people and leaders to consider different pathways, different voices and different values without automatically assuming evil intentions in dissenting opinions.”

We do not have a culture of authoritarianism in our country, but we do have a culture of competition, a “winner-take-all” culture that, taken to its ultimate conclusion, can result in de facto authoritarianism. Corporations do not operate on democratic principles and are frustrated when democratically elected officials enact regulations that limit profits and/or expect the kind of public disclosures that are necessary in a democracy. All of this led me to leave this comment;

The convergence of US and Chinese education systems mirrors the convergence of US and Chinese economic systems. Opportunities for economic advancement are diminishing in our country because opportunities for educational advancement are diminishing. We cannot claim that every child has an equal opportunity to learn until every child in our country experiences the kind of education program offered in our most affluent public school systems. Setting high standards and administering rigorous tests will only move us further down the path of authoritarianism China is striving to escape.

As noted frequently in this blog, the public sees our schools as factories and, consequently, strives to have them operate “efficiently”. We use standardized tests to sort and measure the progress of students who are “efficiently” batched in age cohorts, ignoring the reality that not all children mature at the same rate and not all children enter the “factory” with the same backgrounds. Because of this our definitions of “failing schools” are flawed given the practical reality that children raised in poverty often begin school with a weaker “academic” background than children raised in affluent homes. We’ve administered standardized achievement tests for decades and we know that schools serving children raised in poverty have lower get scores than schools serving children raised in affluence. When will we acknowledge that POVERTY is the underlying cause of this “failure” on the part of schools and NOT the teachers or the “government monopoly”?  When? When “…the people and leaders to consider different pathways, different voices and different values without automatically assuming evil intentions in dissenting opinions.” You see, we ARE already like China!

More on VERY Early Intervention

September 17, 2014 Leave a comment

Nick Kristoff’s Sunday op ed column witten with Sheryl WuDunn, “The Way to Beat Poverty“, reinforces the ideas put forth in earlier posts on this blog. Kristoff cites anecdotal evidence and research evidence supporting the notion of providing support to parents who face adversity in child rearing as a result of their own suffering in childhood and the suffering brought about due to poverty. He also cites evidence on how diet, alcohol consumption smoking, and exposure to lead paint during pregnancy and a child’s first years of life adversely affect children.

He then describes how a visiting nurse program can reduce the effects of poverty at a relatively low cost. This program, which has been researched a replicated, consists of nurse visits from the time an at-risk child is born until the child turns 2, “…with the nurse encouraging the mom to speak to the child constantly, to read to the child, to show affection. Later there are discussions of birth control.” In a later paragraph he writes:

The visits have been studied extensively through randomized controlled trials — the gold standard of evidence — and are stunningly effective. Children randomly assigned to nurse visits suffer 79 percent fewer cases of state-verified abuse or neglect than similar children randomly assigned to other programs. Even though the program ends at age 2, the children at age 15 have fewer than half as many arrests on average. At the 15-year follow-up, the mothers themselves have one-third fewer subsequent births and have spent 30 fewer months on welfare than the controls. A RAND Corporation study found that each dollar invested in nurse visits to low-income unmarried mothers produced $5.70 in benefits.

So here we have an anti-poverty program that is cheap, is backed by rigorous evidence and pays for itself several times over in reduced costs later on. Yet it has funds to serve only 2 percent to 3 percent of needy families. That’s infuriating.

Any reader of progressive blogs will likely point fingers at conservatives who don’t want to have birth control the part of any poverty program and/or who don’t want the government intervening in the lives of parents. There are, however, other culprits. School districts are often in complete support of these programs as long as they don’t take money from them… and universities and colleges who rely on government spending are also leery of supporting a program that might reduce their spending levels. Kristoff acknowledges this reality, and comes down on investing where the dollars will make the greatest difference, and offers a better place for the Federal government to find money:

We certainly would prefer not to cut education budgets of any kind, but if pressed, we would have to agree that $1 billion spent on home visitation for at-risk young mothers would achieve much more in breaking the poverty cycle than the same sum spent on indirect subsidies collected by for-profit universities.

He concludes his article with this challenge:

We wish more donors would endow not just professorships but also the jobs of nurses who visit at-risk parents; we wish tycoons would seek naming opportunities not only at concert halls and museum wings but also in nursery schools. We need advocates to push federal, state and local governments to invest in the first couple of years of life, to support parents during pregnancy and a child’s earliest years.

Here’s what’s really infuriating: this isn’t going to happen unless the advocates get behind a candidate outside the existing sphere of the two political parties… because while both political parties claim they support early intervention, NEITHER party will seek additional taxes to fund it, and NEITHER party will recommend the diversion of the indirect subsidies for-profit colleges receive, and last but not nearly least, NEITHER party is willing to state the obvious: one billion dollars is chump change compared to the trillion dollars we’ve spent thus far on the misbegotten wars in the East.

 

VERY Early Intervention Needed

September 16, 2014 Leave a comment

A recent post by Marty Solomon in Kentucky.com, the Lexington Herald-Leader online publication provides a concise overview of the points Diane Ravitch makes in her book Reign of Error, concluding that poverty, not ineffective teaching is the problem with US test scores:

The U.S. public school system is among the best in the world for middle class children; but for kids from poverty, there is a problem. The problem is that most children from poverty suffer almost insurmountable hurdles.

While middle-class children generally start school knowing letters and numbers, even words and some arithmetic, far too many from poverty have none of these skills. They are often from single-parent families and have inadequate vision, hearing and medical care. Words spoken in the house are only a fraction of the vocabulary in middle-class families. They start school so far behind that most can never catch up. And while both middle-class and poor children progress in school, the gap persists.

Solomon then offers his prescription for the problem: the creation of “power schools” that offer extended learning for children whose parents want to see their children thrive in school and changes in the funding formula to provide more resources for schools.
James Heckman has a different research based solution: invest in early intervention. In a 20 minute interview posted on the New Economic Thinking blog, Heckman makes a cogent and persuasive case for intervening BEFORE prekindergarten. In the interview, titled “Early Interventions Lead to Higher IQs”, Heckman contends that the Coleman and Moynihan reports of the 60s identified the importance of family structures on academic performance in schools but that the accountability movement hijacked the policy directions because the accountability provisions (e.g. widespread standardized testing) were cheaper and politically easier to implement than the provisions recommended by Coleman and Moynihan (e.g. day-care; parenting supports; and schooling for children under five). Later in the interview he skewers the notion that achievement tests can be used to measure school and teacher performance and reiterates that the only reason they have gained traction is that they are cheap, easy, and politically viable. If you have 20 minutes and want to gain insights into the importance of early childhood education and the unreliability of standardized tests watch this video!

Skills Gap… AGAIN

September 14, 2014 Leave a comment

I got a major case of deja vu reading the Wall Street Journal’s article, “Skills Gap Bumps Up Against Vocational School Taboo”, a flashback to the 14 years I led school districts that incorporated regional vocational-technical schools. The Regional Vocational Center in Exeter NH provided vocational-technical education for the six communities that fed into Exeter AREA High School and five or six surrounding AREA and small town districts and the Washington County (MD) school district included a vocational center as well. As Superintendent in these districts, I was responsible for the oversight of vocational education from 1983-87 in Exeter and from 1987-97 in Washington County MD…. and the “stigma” of vocational education was in place then, a stigma that was going to disappear as a result of renaming them (it was too early to “re-brand” a couple of decades ago) Vocational-Technical Education Centers and by offering courses that appealed to more college bound students. I wish I could report that the re-naming effort was a success, but as the WSJ article reports, the stigma of enrolling in vocational education remains despite the efforts of educators across the country to widen its appeal. Having been out of the fray of vocational center oversight for 17 years and read several articles on the success of vocational programs in other countries– particularly Germany, I can see where the problem lies… and it isn’t with the schools.

Vocational training is a well-recognized career in Germany that offers good income opportunities, whereas in the U.S. it is often associated with people who did poor at high school,” said Robert Lerman, an American University economics professor who studies apprenticeships.

Unlike in the U.S., where workers are largely hired and then trained for a company’s particular needs, German vocational training normally takes three years and is supposed to give apprentices a broader qualification beyond a single employer’s needs.

The students, paid by the companies, spend three to four days a week doing on-the-job training within companies and the rest of the time taking classes at public vocational schools. Curricula are developed by employers’ associations, trade unions and the federal government. Costs vary but average roughly $20,000 a year, typically for three years.

These three paragraphs offer three major differences between the US and Germany:

  1. There is a clear path to higher earnings for someone with a vocational degree
  2. The vocational degree requires more time and provides students with a broader training than “…a single employers needs”
  3. The corporations pay the students for on-the-job training that is linked to curricula developed collaboratively by employers, trade unions, and the government

In our country, the attainment of a vocational degree does not assure employment of any kind let alone “good income opportunities”.

In our country vocational education isn’t “…associated with people who did poor at high school”, it is more often than not explicitly designed for “nontraditional learners”, which— more often than not— is defined as those who are doing poorly in academics.

Finally, in our country, businesses want to hire unpaid or poorly paid interns, want to unilaterally define the curriculum, oppose any efforts by trade unions to interpose their values on prospective employees, and ignore any “government curriculum” that would provide broader training that might benefit their competitors if a prospective employee is lured away.

If the private sector wants to improve vocational education they should do what they implore educators to do: replicate the best practices of their successful competitor. In the meantime, doing more of the same will yield more of the same.