Archive for February, 2012

A Government “Scorecard” for Colleges?

February 4, 2012 Comments off

Of late there have been several articles written about President Obama’s desire to make colleges more accountable, with a particular focus on the ned to curtail tuition costs. Today’s NYTimes has an editorial on this issue that includes the following sentence: “President Obama’s proposed reform plan would require colleges that receive federal aid to create “a scoreboard” that gives actual costs, graduation rates and potential earnings for graduates.”  

A “scoreboard” is the last thing we need for colleges, particularly given the values that are implicit in the inclusion of “potential earnings for graduates”. If colleges are ranked based on graduation rates and the earnings of graduates, there will be a high correlation between those metrics and costs. Ivy League and selective elite small colleges have high tuitions, highly compensated graduates and high graduation rates. Smaller state colleges that take all comers have lower graduation rates and lower compensated graduates: teachers make less than bankers; doctors make more than office staff at the hospital; lawyers make more than para-legals. Moreover, is earning a high salary the primary purpose of higher education?

Clearly some for-profit schools (i.e. Phoenix and some of its online competitors) charge high tuitions, have low graduation rates, and have graduates whose earnings are not helped by a degree. Instead of devising a rating system for schools that will tell us what we already know the Obama administration should develop an index based on something like the ratio of the administrative costs (salaries + marketing) to the graduation rates of students and penalize schools who are outliers.

This just in: E-School News reports that affluent districts spend more on technology than underfunded districts in an article entitled “Budgets Block Access to Technology”. Among the findings from the article:

Socio-economic status also plays a role in other areas: 38 percent of teachers in affluent school districts reported high levels of parental support, compared with just 14 percent of teachers in low-income communities; and 38 percent of teachers in high-income areas have school board support, compared to 21 percent of teachers in low-income areas.



Conservatives expropriate technology

February 3, 2012 Comments off

Common Dreams features an article by Dustin Beilke with the sinister title “Corporate Education Reformers Plot Next Steps at Secretive Meeting” describing a secret meeting convened by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in Florida. The article has links to documents from this organization, including their National Report Card (with a forward by Mitch Daniels) that assesses States on their policies regarding things like homeschooling laws, charter school laws, and availability of on-line learning. Sadly, on-line learning– an idea that progressives should be championing as a way to de-school society, is being championed instead by the conservatives as a way to privatize schools. Jeff Greenfield said more things in politics happen by accident or exhaustion than happen by conspiracy… and in this case it is the exhaustion of ideas by progressives is giving privatizers an opening and they are rushing in…

A NYTimes article reports on recent research that reached the unsurprising finding that Kindergarten Engagement Matters: that is, if a student is engaged in Kindergarten they are more likely to succeed in upper grades. The article concludes with this sentence: “That leaves parents, policy makers and voters with a still unresolved question: How can we best ensure that all children come to kindergarten ready to learn?” The answer: coordinated services (see A Homeland Security Bill for Public Education written by this blogger and published in Education Week in 2002)

Diane Ravitch wonders if President Obama is aware of what Race to the Top is about in her latest blogpost in Education Week. I am glad that someone with her cache is expressing bewilderment at what is going on with our education policy…

Restructuring is not all its cracked up to be, according to Larry Cuban in this ASCD article that advocates for the use of technology to facilitate differentiation in classrooms… his telescoped history of the graded school is great!




This Just In: “A School With Adequate Resources Does Better…”

February 1, 2012 Comments off

Over the past two days I gleaned several articles that all made the same point: resources make a difference. This should be self-evident and irrefutable… but, alas, resources can only increase if we pay more for schools and put a more coordinated effort to work with pre-school students in place. Herewith are today’s posts, leading off with the stories on resources….

Michele Chen’s essay from In These Times, cross posted by Common Dreams, includes this mantra:  “…a (school) system with adequate resources does better than one without”. The article includes this quote from Jim Horn:

The reason we have an achievement gap is because we have so many kids living in poverty. So raising standards is very cheap… You can raise standards and it won’t cost you a nickel. To do something about poverty, however, is going to be a costly endeavor. But doing something about poverty is the only way to ever change the low performance by children in school…. Until that changes, the rest of it is going to be continuing to blame schools for something that schools are not responsible for and can never fix.

If money wasn’t an issue public schools would cost the same as, say, Dalton, which has a sticker price of over $40,000 per year. Money IS an issue, though, when it comes from taxpayers and so we  get cheap solutions to complex problems.

Rankings rankle educators according to the Orlando Sentinel article describing FLA’s new means of measuring schools that calls for highest-to-lowest ratings based on, what else, standardized test results! At the elementary level they are exclusively based on test scores and at the high school level they are based on test scores and “…other factors such as high school graduation rates and student success in advanced classes”. Which schools score highest as a general rule? Hm-m-m-m. That would be the magnet schools that have a low free-and-reduced lunch count and the schools with the most resources. As Yves Smith would say: “Quelle Surprise!”

Parents and teachers argue against turning a Chicago school around, according to a report from WBEZ in Chicago. One of the teachers worked at two other schools in CPS reported that “The other schools I’ve taught at were were high-performing, but they were located in more affluent neighborhoods and had more resources available to them. These things – and not the teachers – are the issues we must tackle together.”

What gets measured gets done… AND paid attention to… and manipulated. Case in point: the US News and World Report’s annual ranking of colleges. This NY Times article describes how several colleges tinkered with things like SAT scores, application numbers, pass rates, etc. to work their way up in the rankings. The article quotes Bruce J. Poch, dean of admissions at Pomona until 2010 on the ratings: “They’re not benign instruments,” but conceded that they are easy for a college to fall back on as evidence of its status. “The pressure is real,” he said. “God forbid you go down in those numbers.”  The article concludes with this quote from Blake Bennett, a senior who has volunteered in the admissions office at Claremont College, the school whose recent SAT manipulation precipitated the article: “I don’t worry about the rankings or how this will affect them, because they tend to be pretty arbitrary. They change from year to year in order to keep selling books. Working in admissions, we pay attention to them, although we wish we didn’t have to. It’s just sort of a sad state of American colleges and higher education.” Of course ranking PUBLIC schools will make them MUCH better!