Is Trade School a Good Trade Off for College

June 23, 2017 Leave a comment

One frequent criticism of those who support public education is their implicit (and sometime EXplicit) notion that every child should leave high school prepared for college. Over the past several years there is an emerging consensus that college might not be the best route to economic success for everyone and that trade school might be sufficient for many. In a recent post in the Anova blog, written by education researcher Fredrik deBoer, he describes the emerging thinking on this thusly:

…the idea that we need to be sending more people to trade and tech schools has broad bipartisan, cross-ideological appeal. This argument has a lot of different flavors, but it tends to come down to the claim that we shouldn’t be sending everyone to college (I agree!) and that instead we should be pushing more people into skilled trades. Oftentimes this is encouraged as an apprenticeship model over a schooling model.

But in examining data on whether this intuitively appealing idea can work, Mr. deBoer found the the  recent study conducted by Eric A. Hanushek, Guido Schwerdt, Ludger Woessmann, and Lei Zhang, were discouraging. The study by Hanushek et al compared how workers who attend vocational schools perform relative to those who attend general education schools. Titled “Trade Schools are No Panacea”, deBoer summarized the findings of Hanushek et al in chairs and graphs and concludes that “…In broad strokes, vocational/tech training helps you get a job right out of school, but hurts you as you go along later in life

That conclusion seemed right to Mr. deBoer as it does to me as a liberal arts advocate. He writes:

…vocational training is likely more specific and job-focused than general ed, which means that its students are more ready to jump right into work. But over time, technological and economic changes change which skills and competencies are valued by employers, and the general education students have been “taught to learn,” meaning that they are more adaptable and can acquire new and valuable skills.

As he concludes his post, deBoer notes that because predicting the future is impossible and some jobs require years and years of training, it is far more beneficial to avoid specific training altogether. Instead, de Boer finds it

….far more useful… to try and train students into being nimble, adaptable learners than to train them for particular jobs. That has the bonus advantage of restoring the “practical” value of the humanities and arts, which have always been key aspects of learning to be well-rounded intellects.

His closing sentences provide a sound economic and moral basis for creating a guaranteed minimum wage:

What’s needed is not to try and read the tea leaves and guess which fields might reward some slice of our workforce now, but to redefine our attitude towards work and material security through the institution of some sort of guaranteed minimum income. Then, we can train students in the fields in which they have interest and talent, contribute to their human flourishing in doing so, and help shelter them from the fickleness of the economy. The labor market is not a morality play.

I find the last sentence particularly revealing, because many people view humanities arts with disdain. Those who place a premium on efficiency view liberal arts as “impractical” or— even worse— a “waste of time”. By assigning a higher value on courses that “prepare students for the REAL world” education policy makers imply that the humanities and arts have no value when, in fact, those trained in the arts are often the kind of nimble, adaptable learners who will likely weather any economic storms that brew in the future.

Fighting the Opiod Epidemic in Public Schools

June 22, 2017 Leave a comment

The opiod epidemic has received widespread publicity and affected thousands of families from all strata of society across the entire country. Unlike drugs like heroin and marijuana, opioids are typically highly addictive prescription drugs that are abused by ingesting them in a fashion that leads to a higher probability of overdose.

Two articles earlier this week talked about ways public education is addressing this problem. A NYTimes article on Tuesday by Lisa Foderaro described a “scared straight” assembly being conducted by Frank Whitelaw, a county coroner in Essex County NY. Located in the Adirondacks, Essex County schools serve students raised in the rural and isolated  towns in that region, towns that have been grappling with the problem of opioids among young adults. After the death of a Marine named Justin Ropke, who became addicted to heroin after sustaining injuries in Afghanistan and Iraq, Mr. Whitelaw wrote an op ed article for the local paper

….imploring school officials to risk scaring students in the hope of saving a life. “Are you so afraid to expose students to the graphic and harsh reality in our community that you simply turn a cold shoulder to it and hope for the best?” he wrote.

Several administrators in the region invited Mr. Whitelaw to their schools to give a presentation on opioids, a presentation that featured graphic scenes associated with the deadly use of fentanyl. The efficacy of these assemblies was not readily available… but if the track record of “scared straight” is any indicator the impact is likely short lived, the emotional impact notwithstanding.

Easy Liens’ US News and World Report article on Wednesday described the success of “recovery schools” designed to provide wraparound services to teenagers who are addicted to drugs of various kinds, drugs that in this day and age tend to begin with painkillers and end with narcotics. The article talked mainly about the “high cost” of providing these services…  a cost that is only high if you compare it to traditional public school:

But funding recovery schools is far from simple. Other states such as New Jersey and Pennsylvania, where legislation has passed to build public recovery schools, haven’t seen any results because of funding issues. The cost per pupil at recovery schools ranges from $16,000 and $18,000 per year per student, a steep increase from an average of about $11,400 at traditional public high schools. Recovery schools have fewer students, but they require more resources.

This roughly $6,000 differential pales in comparison to the cost of other treatment centers or prison, which is where far too many addicts end up… and given the data reported in the article is a far more effective intervention than a single school assembly.

But while “recovery schools” are successful, they ARE ex post facto, which leads to the ultimate question, which is what steps can schools take to prevent addiction from becoming more widespread. My idealistic notion is that schools should focus less on external rewards and punishments and more on developing self-awareness. When schools spend as much time developing social and emotional well-being as they do on preparing for standardized testing our addiction problems will diminish considerably.

Faulty “Greatschools” Data Drives Parents Out of School District… Poses Intriguing Question

June 21, 2017 Leave a comment

I read a Mathbabe post earlier this week earlier this week describing the frustration a parent experienced when he relocated to Oregon a few years ago after completing his doctoral degree in biophysics and landing a job at Intel. Here’s the paragraph that describes his problem:

I moved to Hillsboro, Oregon four years ago with my wife and three kids after finishing my Ph.D. at the University of Michigan. Like many parents when choosing a home, I checked on the school scores of the nearby elementary schools and there was a large variance in the Zillow school scores that are taken from After house hunting for a long time, we finally found a home that was perfect for our family but it was in the school boundaries of Quatama Elementary that was ranked a 5 out of 10 and red. Asking around, other parents told us the reason was because there was low income housing in the area which was driving down the score. We felt that if the only issue with the school was that the school boundaries included low income housing, it shouldn’t stop us from buying the home. We could always transfer to a better school if we didn’t like the experience.

The balance of the blog post describes the parent’s experience at the school, which was excellent at all grade levels and with all teachers. Mystified by the discrepancy between his experience and the rating, he made an effort to figure out why the school was so poorly rated. Low and behold, he found that miscalculated the data. As Cathy O’Neill (aka the Mathbabe) recounts:

…after a few emails insisting something was wrong (  realized there was an error in their publishing system for Quatama. They have now updated the rankings and Quatama is now an 8 out of 10 and “green” which is comparable to its high performing peers. The perception that Quatama is a low performing school was completely erroneous and based off a math system gone wrong.

The parent who doggedly pursued the question of’s misrepresentation of Quatama schools offered this insight at the conclusion of the post:

 My thought that the same way there are bandwagon fans, there are bandwagon parents. Now that the school is rated higher, will the parents view of the school change? Will the parental support change over the next few years? If it does change, this will open up a large question about the morality of publishing overly simplified data.

This leads to an interesting legal question as well. Given that many parents who are prospective home buyers rely on school rating systems and the impact of such ratings on homeowner values: could a group of recent home sellers in Quatama sue for deflating the sales price of their homes and/or increasing the number of days their homes remained on the market? If Standard and Poors can be sued for their role in the housing bubble why couldn’t be vulnerable to a lawsuit?

U.S. Is a Sorry No. 36 Among Nations in Quality-of-Childhood Ranking (from @Truthdig)

June 20, 2017 Leave a comment

When the President talks about making America great again he doesn’t look at these metrics…. he looks at our arsenal and the wealth of a few billionaires… I hope that someone running for office will use this data to drive their decisions on the direction our country should move

For 700 million kids around the world, childhood ends too soon. – 2017/06/19

Source: U.S. Is a Sorry No. 36 Among Nations in Quality-of-Childhood Ranking (from @Truthdig)

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Where are Today’s True Philanthropists? They AREN’T Investing in Charter Schools!

June 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Today the NYTimes published an op ed piece by David Callahan describing the outsized impact of philanthropists as a result of reductions in discretionary government spending. Titled “As Government Retrenches, Philanthropy Booms”, Mr. Callahan’s article covers some of the issues I’ve raised in earlier posts regarding the impact of philanthropy on public education. His essay includes several references to the role philanthropists have played in the expansion of charter schools, an impact that he acknowledges has been both good and bad. But Mr. Callahan overlooks one reality: philanthropy in the 21st Century no longer matches the definition of philanthropy as it existed in previous years.

Webster defines philanthropy as “…an act or gift done or made for humanitarian purposes”. Nowadays it appears to be defined as a gift that yields a return on investment.

When philanthropists in the Gilded Age donated money to build libraries and national parks, they did so with the noble intention of making valuable resources available to less advantaged Americans. I am not so certain that the motives of today’s philanthropists are quite so pure. When the Waltons donate to expand “choice” they appear to be doing so to bring their model of cutthroat competition to schools. They want to see schools standardize, eliminate unions, reduce overhead, and reduce costs. In the long run that would lower their tax burden and increase their profits. It also has the potential to increase the return on their investments in for-profit charters. When technology billionaires donate to public schools to encourage the use of Big Data they, too, stand to benefit from their “gift” since the schools will need to perpetually upgrade the systems they purchase with the “gift” they receive.

I don’t think the philanthropists of the past looked to increase their bottom line. They gave with purer purposes. Andrew Carnegie increased his bottom line when he invested in libraries… nor did the Rockefellers benefit from donating Acadia and the Tetons to the National Park system. Both Mr. Carnegie and Mr. Rockefeller created Foundations who helped public education directly and indirectly, but neither of them attempted to guide the direction of the foundations and the mission of the foundations had nothing to do with their enterprises nor did they expect to gain any benefit from their largesse.

At the conclusion of his article, Mr. Callahan links the impact of philanthropists with the current inequality in our country and makes a compelling argument for changing the regulations governing philanthropy:

In an earlier era, when America had less inequality and stronger mass-member organizations, nonprofits advocating on policy issues typically spoke for lots of ordinary people — not a handful of private funders, as is now often the case. One way to rebalance civic life would be to restrict the size of allowable tax-deductible gifts to policy groups, while encouraging gifts by smaller donors. Another step might be to narrow which nonprofits qualify for tax-deductible gifts, with an eye toward reducing giving to influence public policy.

Ultimately, efforts to level the playing field of civic life won’t get very far as long as economic inequality remains so high, putting outsize resources in the hands of a sliver of supercitizens. Critics of today’s income and wealth gaps tend to focus on who gets what. Yet as a deluge of new wealth pours into civil society, which Alexis de Tocqueville once saw as the realm of the Everyman, we should also be asking who gets heard.

The “super citizens” who own and control today’s mass media and who make outsized donations to both political parties will be doing everything possible to persuade the electorate that the status quo is in Everyman’s interest. Those of us who want to let our voices be heard will need to resort to the comment sections of news media and our blogs.

Trump Administration Quietly Rolls Back Federal Civil Rights Efforts (from @Truthdig)

June 19, 2017 Leave a comment

It appears that the rollback on civil rights issues is not limited to the Department of Education:

“At best, this administration believes that civil rights enforcement is superfluous and can be easily cut. At worst, it really is part of a systematic agenda to roll back civil rights,” said Vanita Gupta, the former acting head of the DOJ’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama.

It looks more and more like Mr. Gupta’s “worse case” scenario… 

New directives limit use of a storied civil rights enforcement tool in the Justice Department and loosen Education Department rules on investigations. – 2017/06/18

Source: Trump Administration Quietly Rolls Back Federal Civil Rights Efforts (from @Truthdig)

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Indianapolis: What the Public Schools Learned from the Charter Schools

June 19, 2017 Leave a comment

This article by Diane Ravitch describes my deepest fears for public education: we now have an entire generation of data-driven “educators” who believe that teaching is about “getting good numbers” on standardized tests… 

Source: Indianapolis: What the Public Schools Learned from the Charter Schools

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