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What the Polling Showing Sustained Support for Post-Secondary Schooling REALLY Shows

June 25, 2020 Comments off

Yesterday Forbes published an essay by contributor Michael Nietzel describing the findings of a pre pandemic survey on the public’s perception of post-secondary education. Conducted by New America, a public policy think tank, here are some of the findings:

  • Democrats and Republicans are in more agreement about numerous aspects of higher education than has been suggested by previous surveys.
  • Americans continue to believe in the value of post-secondary education
  • Americans agree that higher education brings more opportunities, but white and Asian Americans agree at higher rates than Black and Latinx Americans.
  • Americans express more support for public institutions than for private, non-profit or for-profit schools
  • Americans believe higher education needs to change.
  • Only half of Americans think postsecondary education is affordable.
  • Americans Believe In Contingencies of Accountability— that is “Americans endorse using indicators such as graduation rates, graduate earnings, and student loan default rates to evaluate postsecondary institutions and they support linking federal and state financial support for institutions to these outcomes.”

What this pre-pandemic survey shows is that the general public is still buying into the idea that unless one goes to college they will lose out on opportunities to advance in their career, to earn higher wages, and to, therefore, lead a less than fulfilled life. They are agreeing with the messages they’ve heard from the schools they attended, the parents who raised them, and the politicians who pandered to them.

In earlier blog posts I’ve written that tests that screen for gifted and talented students have the effect of sending a message to all who “fail” the test that they are UN-gifted and UN-talented. When 92% of those polled believe post-secondary education offers pathways to upward economic mobility and only 40% of the graduates from high school attend college, what message are the other 60% getting about their chances in the future? Is it any surprise that many in our country are resentful of those who got a college degree? Is it any surprise that many in our high schools who are not in the college bound track are disengaged from schooling altogether and unenthusiastic about entering the workforce?

A new message needs to be sent to students and parents across the country: there is no shame in not attending college and no limit to opportunities or especially happiness if one doesn’t pursue post-secondary schools. Oh… one message that cannot be emphasized enough is this: despite what you’ve been taught implicitly or explicitly, there is no correlation between income and happiness.

Standardized Tests COULD Be COVID Casuality

June 25, 2020 Comments off

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The Superintendent of Shelby County TN, the state’s largest, is calling for the suspension of the State Standardized Tests for 2020-21, a move that many of his colleagues support. Other articles on reopening are also addressing this issue, and the support for continuing the tests in the face of the closure last year and the uncertainty in the year ahead is tepid at best. Why? Because the justification for using tests to rank and rate schools is now clearly linked to the digital divide and that, in turn, is clearly linked to income… and if test results are clearly and incontrovertibly linked to income their validity will be questioned. As long as there is some degree of separation between parents’ income and a child’s performance on tests the notion that tests can be used to “measure” schools seems valid. COVID-19 is showing the world that tests don’t measure the effectiveness of schools… they measure the wealth of parents. MAYBE the standardized test movement will be a Covid casualty.

Oh Boy! Poor Performing Online Platform Sees “Great Tailwind” On the Horizon… While Public Schools Face Unparalleled Headwinds

June 24, 2020 Comments off

The headline for Hechinger Report’s Sarah Butromyowitz’ latest article reads:

Education companies see an “upside to the pandemic” for business

Online education company K12 Inc. told shareholders it expects increasing acceptance of online education, increased enrollment

The article goes on to describe the rosy forecast issued to K12 shareholders based on the premise that online education will continue and parents will be seeking out alternatives to the slapdash programs put together by public schools. This might be acceptable if some kind of regulations or some kind of oversight was in place to monitor the performance of online schools… but because none exists a flawed enterprise like K12 could rake in millions as a result of the pandemic. And, Ms. Butromyowitz’ article notes, K12 DOES have a flawed performance:

K12 Inc. has faced frequent criticism about poor student performance and been subject to legal scrutiny. In 2016, the company reached a $168.5 million settlement with the California attorney general over allegations that it used ads that misled parents about student success and parent satisfaction, and that it inflated attendance numbers to get more money from the state. The company paid the state $8.5 million and expunged/wiped clean $160 million owed by the schools it managed. K12 has denied all wrongdoing and says it had never attempted to make schools pay this money.*

And as posts over the years on this site and others have noted, the problem is not limited to a single corporation: it is baked into the business model used to turn a profit:

Problems such as low graduation rates, dismal student achievement and high student turnover at many K12 schools are the result of a business model that prioritizes keeping down the costs of educating students, said Neil Campbell, director of innovation for K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy institute.

“They can have their marketing materials talk about all this personalized attention and all this increased flexibility, but what they don’t talk about is they massively understaff all these schools … and unload all of that on to parents,” Campbell said.

And therein lies the problem: the kind of online programs public schools pulled together on short notice often came across as supported homeschooling as opposed to computer assisted tutoring. This shifting of responsibility to parents could make them susceptible to advertising pitches like those made by the likes of K12, and profiteers like K12 are ready to roll out all kinds of advertisements in the months ahead:

(K12) also plans to spend more advertising dollars to reach prospective students and parents through websites such as Facebook and YouTube. “We’ll have more digital and viral messages than we’ve ever had before,” (K12 CEO) Davis said. Between 2017 and 2019, K12 spent on average $37.4 million annually on advertising, according to SEC filings.

Assuming K12 pays its teachers $35,000 per year (which is probably on the high side), they could have used their advertising budget to hire over 1000 teachers— which almost assuredly would have improved the performance of its students without sacrificing its bottom line. But K12 sees no reason to change its model…. it sees only happy days on the horizon:

On the earnings call (to major shareholders and investors), Davis emphasized that the pandemic could increase acceptance of online education. “This moment will permanently change how the general public, school districts and regulators think about our business,” Davis said. “The short-term positive impact of the pandemic may be modest … The long-term effect we see providing a great tailwind to our business model.”

Just what public schools need: a “great tailwind” to a failed business model and the very time they are facing a headwind unlike any experienced since the Depression.