Archive for June, 2013

Real education reform would focus on ____________

June 26, 2013 Comments off

A few weeks ago, Bill Gates extended an invitation to teachers to write to him. Several bloggers saw this as an opportunity to offer some prompts for the letter, one of which was: Real education reform would focus on_____. I just read one of these that resonated with me by Harry Proudfoot. The essence of the letter is captured in this paragraph:

The real problem with standardized testing is it tests none of the underlying skills each subject was designed to teach. Rather, it encourages teachers to focus entirely on the trivia of the subject instead of the skills useful to an informed and intelligent citizenry. Programs like “Race to the Top” and ‘No Child Left Behind” actually undermine a teacher’s ability to do the actual job we hire them to do.

It’s worth reading. Here’s the link:

via Real education reform would focus on ____________.

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US College Completion Rates Low

June 26, 2013 Comments off

Eduoardo Porter’s Economix column in today’s NYTimes examines the US’ woeful college completion rates and concludes that lack of preparedness and not lack of loans is the problem. He’s right… but for the wrong reasons. As an economist he views education from a cost-benefit perspective. He seems flummoxed that students dropout of college:

And the most perplexing part of this accounting is that regardless of cost, getting a degree is the best financial decision a young American can make.

According to the O.E.C.D.’s report, a college degree is worth $365,000 for the average American man after subtracting all its direct and indirect costs over a lifetime. For women — who still tend to earn less than men — it’s worth $185,000.

College graduates have higher employment rates and make more money. According to the O.E.C.D., a typical graduate from a four-year college earns 84 percent more than a high school graduate. A graduate from a community college makes 16 percent more.

A college education is more profitable in the United States than in pretty much every other advanced nation. Only Irish women get more for the investment: $185,960 net.

I imagine that the “solution” many will offer to this lack of preparation will be more high stakes graduation tests or a course in personal economics to help students understand how to pay for college. These solutions are both rooted in the same false assumption: that the decision to attend and stay in college is purely an economic one. The ultimate “carrot” is earning a lot of money and by explaining to students how they can access the funds needed to attend college and showing them how they can “increase lifetime earnings” students will make the rational decision to enroll in college and stay in once enrolled.

The underlying problem is that many college-age students have no long-term perspective and a very limited sense of what they want to do with their lives. As a result, when faced with mounting debt, the costs of a car and a spiffy phone with a costly data plan, and an opportunity to make enough to get by, many students abandon college to give themselves a chance to figure out what they want to do with a college degree. When many colleges were underwritten by states it was a lot easier to spend four years earning a degree that you knew would eventually pay off… and you could use the four years to figure out what you wanted to do with the degree. Once a student figured that out– and given the number of times students change majors it is evident that it takes time to do so— college completion took care of itself. Students entering college with a clear focus and students entering selective colleges seldom drop out: it is the students who have no direction who fail to cross the finish line… and those tend to be the students from families with no college experience.

The solution to this problem is not more tests but more intensive and early college and career counseling… the very programs that fall by the wayside in high schools focusing on test preparation.  As noted in a blog post earlier this week, what students need in high school is the connection with one caring adult. That will be far more meaningful and helpful than passing standardized examinations in Algebra II.

Misleading NYTimes Headline on Charters

June 25, 2013 Comments off

The headline in my NYTimes Alert in-box got my attention: “Charter Schools Are Improving A Study Says”. Expecting to read about a marked increase in charter school test scores, I instead read this summary the “improvement” over the past four years:

The original (Stanford) study, conducted four years ago, showed that only 17 percent of charter schools managed to raise student math test scores above those of local public schools. The new report said that 29 percent of charter schools performed better in math than local public schools.

And while the 2009 study showed 37 percent of charter schools were actually providing a worse education than local public schools, that figure declined to 31 percent in the new report.

“At both ends of the quality curve, we see that the situation is getting better,” said Margaret Raymond, the center’s director.

So… 29% of charter schools are better than their public school counterparts and 31% are worse and “…the situation is getting better”. Better for whom? The parents in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and New York whose kids are being forced out of “failing” neighborhood schools into for-profit charters? The students whose parents are enticed to enroll their children in “better” charter schools only to find that in 31% of the cases they are attending a worse school and in 71% of the cases they aren’t getting any improved schooling (as measured by standardized tests) and perhaps getting a more minimal curriculum in order to improve their test scores?

The article did note that the results might provide fodder for charter opponents and offered one paragraph that did just that:

“Twenty years after the start of the charter school movement, even with all the private energy and public policy cheerleading it has engendered, students in charter schools roughly perform the same as students in the rest of public education — not the leaps and bounds that were promised,” Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, said in a statement.

This counterpoint, though, reinforces the narrative that unions oppose charters while “reformers” support them… a narrative that overlooks the many progressive educators who decry the charter movement because it is joined at the hip with the testing regimen and because it undermines the neighborhood schools and it is anti-democratic.

In the end, though, it is the headline that is most problematic from my perspective. The person who writes the article doesn’t get to decide on the headline… that falls to the editor… and given the NYTimes editorial support for Bloomberg’s shift to charter schools it is not surprising to see a headline that states unqualified “improvement” when nearly 3/4 of the charters are no better than or worse than their public school counterparts and there are as many “failing” charters as there are “successful” charters… I don’t think the public would buy a medication that had a similar track record…