Posts Tagged ‘College and Career Readiness’

Rahm Emmanuel’s Big Idea Will Require Big Dollars, and a Big Shift in the Role of Counselors

September 15, 2017 Leave a comment

As a HS administrator in the late 1970s, I concluded that the students who succeeded in high school were the ones who entered ninth grade with some idea about what they wanted to gain from the experience. Those students who sincerely aspired to college would enroll in the wide array of college prep classes the high schools offered, apply themselves, and in most cases gain entry to some kind of post secondary school. Students who wanted to pursue a specific trade enrolled in Vocational Education courses and often moved right into the workforce upon graduation, some of them outlearning the teachers who trained them. Any student who participated in activities like band, chorus, drama, and athletics worked hard enough to retain their eligibility and graduated on time and often found themselves with a life long avocation. These students were easy to schedule into classes, hardly ever came to the office as disciplinary cases, and enjoyed their years in high school.

There was a sizable group of students— roughly 20-30%— who didn’t have an idea about what they wanted to get out of high school, who could find no courses or activities that engaged them, struggled mightily. When I worked with them to find courses beyond those mandated for graduation they shrugged and asked me to assign them to whatever class had an opening. In most cases the parents of these children had given up on them: their indifference to school and aimlessness developed over their years in school and came into full bloom beginning in their sophomore year.

Given this experience, which many of the high school administrators I worked with over the years concurred with, I am in complete support with Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel’s idea that “…all Chicago Public Schools and public-charter-school students must have a postsecondary plan in order to graduate”. But Mr. Emmanuel’s implementation plan for this sweeping mandate falls far short of the mark… and not for the reasons I read in many articles on this issue. Alia Wong’s Atlantic article, “The Controversy Behind Chicago’s Diploma Mandate” is a case in point.  In the article, Ms. Wong interviews  teachers, parents, administrators, and students and, in doing so, identifies one major flaw with Mr. Emmanuel’s mandate: he has not provided nearly enough funding to address the 20-30% of students who have no idea whatsoever what they want to get out of high school let alone those who want to go to college. Chicago is woefully short of counselors:

And even if counselors were able to dedicate their entire workday to guiding students through the postsecondary-planning process, there still aren’t enough of them. Although the American School Counselor Association recommends that each counselor be assigned to no more than 250 kids, across CPS there are 326 high-school students per counselor, according to 2016-2017 data provided by Brooks. The ratio varies significantly depending on the school. (Across the United States, each public-school counselor is responsible for 436 high-schoolers on average, according to 2014 data from the National Association for College Admission Counseling.)

But neither Ms. Wong nor any of the folks she interviewed flagged the biggest flaw: High School guidance counselors are typically trained to help students get into college and have limited training as vocational counselors…. and in-depth vocational counseling is what is needed for those students who do not want to enroll in college.  And as it stands now, the students who do not want to attend college go to the end of the line in the counselor’s office… even though their needs are often higher than those students who aspire to college.

One other issue is glossed over: the transient nature of the population attending high schools and the high number of special needs students. Here’s a quote from Maurice Swinney, Principal at one of such school, who generally supports Mr Emmanuel’s idea but fears that the funding will fall short:

Disaster will only occur, Swinney said, if the city doesn’t do enough to support schools like his that serve high-needs populations. Almost all of Tilden’s studentsare low-income, and roughly four in 10 of them are in special education. What’s more, the school’s mobility rate (essentially the percentage of students who either transfer in or out in the middle of the year) is 36 percent—nearly twice the CPS average. Educational-attainment levels are just as dismal: According to 2016 data, just 50 percent of students graduated within five years, and just 32 percent of graduates enrolled in college.

“Every time someone in education or in politics has a bright idea and a way to raise the bar, it always sounds good in theory,” Swinney said. “But we know some schools are going to have a tougher time with this, and we need to make sure we as a district … help the schools be as successful as they want to be and as we want them to be.”

I get dismayed when good ideas like Rahm Emmanuel’s get sabotaged (or in this case self-sabotaged) by politicians who are unwilling to provide the time or resources needed to bring them to fruition. And like so many good ideas, this one will not only take time and money, it will require a shift in the thinking of middle and high schools as they work to engage students who are currently disengaged and, in many cases, challenged by circumstances.


Politico Report Finds that Metrics Matter… and US News and World Report’s Metrics for Colleges Are Increasing Inequality

September 12, 2017 Leave a comment

We are approaching the time when US News and World Report issues its annual analysis of colleges, a report that was launched in 1983 and became, in the magazine’s own words from a 2008 article , “the 800-pound gorilla” of higher education. Politico writer Benjamin Wermund concurs with that assessment, and in his story issued on Sunday asserts that the 800 pound gorilla has undercut social mobility in our country and offers evidence from a new “report card” to support his contention. He opens his essay with this:

America’s universities are getting two report cards this year. The first, from the Equality of Opportunity Project, brought the shocking revelation that many top universities, including Princeton and Yale, admit more students from the top 1 percent of earners than the bottom 60 percent combined. The second, from U.S. News and World Report, is due on Tuesday — with Princeton and Yale among the contenders for the top spot in the annual rankings.

The two are related: A POLITICO review shows that the criteria used in the U.S. News rankings — a measure so closely followed in the academic world that some colleges have built them into strategic plans — create incentives for schools to favor wealthier students over less wealthy applicants.

As I’ve written on several occasions (see here, here, and here for examples), the US News and World Report’s annual report card is too reliant on test data, has contributed to a horse race mentality among colleges, contributed to the extreme competition that infects affluent high schools, and, most insidiously, reinforces the notion that microscopic differences in algorithmic “scores” reflect qualitative differences in schools.

Mr. Wermund uses hard data from the Equality of Opportunity Project, to demonstrate that the US News and World Report does something even worse: it closes doors of opportunity to individuals in families with low incomes. Mr. Wermund notes that the US News and World Report’s metrics include several components that favor students from affluent schools:

  • student performance (i.e.evidence that their acceptance pool has “the best and brightest” as measured by standardized tests and GPAs)
  • lower acceptance rates (i.e evidence of their “competitiveness”)
  • performing well on surveys completed by guidance counselors (which favors affluent high schools with robust college counseling staff), and
  • alumni giving (which compels colleges to draw from affluent applicants)

At the same time, the US News and World Report ignores economic diversity, a measure that would encourage schools to accept more children from less affluent households. And Mr. Wermund digs deeper into the impact of the US News and World Report’s annual report card by interviewing several past and present college presidents. Their reactions were astonishing, with one, Brit Kiran of the University of Maryland, offering a particularly scathing indictment:

Kirwan cast the problem in simpler terms, saying that U.S. News creates the false impression that schools with the wealthiest students are, based on their criteria, the best.

“If some foreign power wanted to diminish higher education in America, they would have created the U.S. News and World Report rankings,” he said. “You need both more college graduates in the economy and you need many more low-income students getting the benefit of higher education — and U.S. News and World Report has metrics that work directly in opposition to accomplishing those two things that our nation so badly needs.”

Mr. Wermund suggests that this emphasis has had a major impact on politics as well:

“Elite colleges are part of the apparatus that produces Trumpism and produces working class, white resentment,” said Walter Benn Michaels, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“It fits perfectly into Trump’s narrative … Basically, if you’re a low-income or working-class white student who works hard and you find out that what matters in admissions is who your daddy is, or what your race is, you’re completely left out,” said Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation. “When a politician like Donald Trump comes along and says the system is rigged, you’re very likely to believe that. In this case, it is rigged — against those students.”

So… what is to be done? The disheartening news is: “Not much”. Donald Trump and the most conservative members of the Senate want to compel colleges to spend more of their endowments or possibly lose their non-profit status, which might compel them to use their endowments to underwrite scholarships for more children raised in poverty. President Obama suggested developing a Federal metric for colleges that would report on the incomes earned by graduates, an idea that would effectively reward colleges offering degrees in science and technology while penalizing colleges that offer degrees in teaching and social work. But one thing is clear, and Mr. Wermund notes at the end of his article: US News and World Report won’t be making changes any time soon:

Brian Rosenberg, president of Macalester College, said he met with U.S. News officials and raised concerns that the rankings incentivize schools to spend more money when the cost of college is already skyrocketing.

“The question I asked was, ‘Doesn’t this seem to run counter to what’s really in the public’s interest?’” he recalled.

“The answer was, ‘Yes, we know it — but we don’t care.’”

Morse, of U.S. News, denied that, saying, “We do meet regularly with college presidents and admissions deans and we’re definitely aware of what’s written about U.S. News.”

To many presidents, though, prodding U.S. News to change feels like a lost cause.

Said Rosenberg, “It feels a little bit like shaking your fist at the gods — there’s nothing I can do about it.”

An Examination of Jobs of the Future Shows Little Need for Massive Numbers of College Graduates

September 5, 2017 Leave a comment

Diane Ravitch’s Labor Day blog post featured a link to a recent Bureau of Labor spreadsheet that displayed “Occupations with the Most Growth” forecasted between now and 2024, and it doesn’t provide any evidence that the workforce will be requiring more college degreed workers and offers little evidence that the STEM programs are needed to prepare workers of the future.

2014 National Employment Matrix title and code Employment Change, 2014-24 Median annual wage, 2016(1) Percent of
2014 2024 Number Percent Growth
Total, all occupations 150,539.9 160,328.8 9,788.9 6.5 $37,040
Personal care aides 1,768.4 2,226.5 458.1 25.9 $21,920 4.68%
Registered nurses 2,751.0 3,190.3 439.3 16.0 $68,450 4.49%
Home health aides 913.5 1,261.9 348.4 38.1 $22,600 3.56%
Combined food preparation and serving workers, including fast food 3,159.7 3,503.2 343.5 10.9 $19,440
Retail salespersons 4,624.9 4,939.1 314.2 6.8 $22,680  
Nursing assistants 1,492.1 1,754.1 262.0 17.6 $26,590 2.68%
Customer service representatives 2,581.8 2,834.8 252.9 9.8 $32,300
Cooks, restaurant 1,109.7 1,268.7 158.9 14.3 $24,140
General and operations managers 2,124.1 2,275.2 151.1 7.1 $99,310 1.54%
Construction laborers 1,159.1 1,306.5 147.4 12.7 $33,430
Accountants and auditors 1,332.7 1,475.1 142.4 10.7 $68,150
Medical assistants 591.3 730.2 138.9 23.5 $31,540 1.42%
Janitors and cleaners, except maids and housekeeping cleaners 2,360.6 2,496.9 136.3 5.8 $24,190
Software developers, applications 718.4 853.7 135.3 18.8 $100,080 1.38%
Laborers and freight, stock, and material movers, hand 2,441.3 2,566.4 125.1 5.1 $25,980
First-line supervisors of office and administrative support workers 1,466.1 1,587.3 121.2 8.3 $54,340
Computer systems analysts 567.8 686.3 118.6 20.9 $87,220 1.21%
Licensed practical and licensed vocational nurses 719.9 837.2 117.3 16.3 $44,090 1.20%
Maids and housekeeping cleaners 1,457.7 1,569.4 111.7 7.7 $21,820
Medical secretaries 527.6 635.8 108.2 20.5 $33,730 1.11%
Management analysts 758.0 861.4 103.4 13.6 $81,330 1.06%
Heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers 1,797.7 1,896.4 98.8 5.5 $41,340
Receptionists and information clerks 1,028.6 1,126.3 97.8 9.5 $27,920
Office clerks, general 3,062.5 3,158.2 95.8 3.1 $30,580
Sales representatives, wholesale and manufacturing, except technical and scientific products 1,453.1 1,546.5 93.4 6.4 $57,140
Stock clerks and order fillers 1,878.1 1,971.1 92.9 4.9 $23,840
Market research analysts and marketing specialists 495.5 587.8 92.3 18.6 $62,560 0.94%
First-line supervisors of food preparation and serving workers 890.1 978.6 88.5 9.9 $31,480
Electricians 628.8 714.7 85.9 13.7 $52,720
Maintenance and repair workers, general 1,374.7 1,458.1 83.5 6.1 $36,940

As the chart above indicates, there are only four of the fast growing jobs that clearly require a college degree: registered nurses; software developers, applications; computer systems analysts; and market research analysts and marketing specialists. Combined, these jobs consist of 9.08% of the growth, with more than half of the number of new jobs resulting from the demand for more registered nurses.

And the most distressing news is that the lion’s share of the new jobs are low wage jobs: only four of the high growth jobs have salaries above $80,000 (see bold red rows) and only three others have salaries above $60,000 (see bold green rows). Given the number of jobs that require no college degree, this ending is unsurprising.

What does this mean for public education? It strikes me that instead of focussing on preparing all children for college we should be focussing on preparing more children for the workplace they will be entering by providing them opportunities to enter the workforce earlier if they so desire and we should be focussing more on the medical professions and careers than careers in technology. 20% of the growth in new jobs is in the medical field while only 2.6% is in computer related fields.

In the broader picture, though, it is clear that if we ever hope to restore middle class jobs we need to increase the minimum wage. If the minimum wage for a 40 hour per week job was increased to $15 per hour the average annual wage would be $31,200…. and 11 of the jobs on this list, those in bold, are forecast to earn less than that figure in 2024. How will we ever reduce poverty unless we pay more for the “jobs of the future” that will be needed no matter how much STEM education we provide in schools?



There is a Relationship Between the Skills Gap and the Gig Economy

September 1, 2017 Leave a comment

When I was in graduate school in the 1970s there was an emerging trend whereby corporations were abandoning their lifetime commitment to employees and abandoning the notion of retaining horizontal functions in favor of “right-sizing”, “out-sourcing”. This change was occurring at the same time as writers like Daniel Bell and Alvin Toffler wrote about the transition from an industrial society to a post-industrial society where workers would be expected to “change their profession and their workplace often” because “professions quickly become outdated”. As a result, workers in the post-industrial society would expect to have many careers in a lifetime and people would be expected to look more and more for temporary jobs.

This notion was appealing to many in my generation who saw our parents as slaves to a hierarchical corporate world where they were expected to go where “headquarters” sent them and perform whatever tasks the “higher-ups” wanted them to do. We saw the opportunity to change jobs as we pleased as an advantage. We would be more independent than our parent’s generation, freed from the corporate bondage, and no longer “cogs in the machine”.

The emerging post-industrial economy also worked for corporations who strived to reduce their overhead. Instead of being burdened with operational and legacy costs associated with divisions like HR, payroll, and training that had nothing to do with their primary mission of manufacturing, corporations outsourced those functions to contractors who could perform those tasks more cheaply and effectively by using technology. These nascent businesses initially offered their employees relatively higher wages but fewer benefits and no pensions. But as computer technology made the tasks easier it became possible for these contractors to employ fewer and fewer skilled laborers which, in turn, reduced their costs and increased their profits.

One area that many major corporations abandoned altogether was training. Instead of having high salaried corporate staff training employees, major businesses hired ad hoc consultants for those services. The consultants didn’t require benefits or pensions and could be replaced if the skills they taught were no longer needed.

in a recent article in the MIT Technology Review. Andrew Weaver suggest that this lack of corporate training may be the real cause of the so-called “skills gap” that has been blamed on public schools and colleges. Mr. Weaver asserts that despite the conventional wisdom that there is a gap between the needs of employers and the workforce, there is no data to support that conclusion. Instead, the problem is the lack of training provided by employers themselves:

The manufacturing survey data indicate that only half of U.S. plants provide formal training to their production workers. By contrast, in the 1990s—the last period for which nationally representative survey data on training are available—70 to 80 percent did so. Meanwhile, only 52 percent of IT help desks have relationships with institutions from which they hire workers or receive training services. For clinical labs, the absence of a local training institution is a significant predictor of hiring difficulties.

Instead of fretting about a skills gap, we should be focused on the real challenge of knitting together the supply and demand sides of the labor market. Thinking about the real financial and institutional mechanisms necessary to make, say, apprenticeships work is far more productive than perennially sounding alarms about under-skilled workers.

Businesses of all sorts, from retail to construction to manufacturing, have talked about the need for apprenticeships for decades. But instituting a program of apprenticeships requires that the businesses underwrite training programs, that they cultivate skills in their employees, that is… that they have a commitment to improving the well-being of their employees.

The so-called “gig economy” does provide independence for employees, employees who are perpetual “free agents” as opposed to employees who are committed to an employer. This new economy feeds into a reluctance on the part of employers to invest in training and that, in turn, leads to a perpetual mismatch between the skills employers need and the skills “free agents” possess… and in this day and age the employees, not the employers, are expected to figure out the skills they need and pay to gain those skills over and over again.

Mr. Weaver concludes his article with this:

The danger is not that we will run out of tasks humans can usefully perform or that required skill levels will be catastrophically high; it’s that misguided anxiety about skill gaps will lead us to ignore the need to improve coordination between workers and employers. It’s this bad coordination—not low-quality workers—that presents the real challenge.

I would not want to see a return to the paternalistic and hierarchical corporations that prevailed in the 1950s and 1960s, but it might be worth considering some way for governments to provide life-long learning opportunities for employees as well as life-long health benefits and assured pensions. Unless that kind of shift in thinking occurs, the so-called “skills gap” will persist because no one in the free agent nation can afford to pay the costs associated with re-education over and over again.

In Immigration Debate, AND in School, Don’t Overlook the Value of Hard Work

August 25, 2017 Leave a comment

Over the past several years– and especially over the past year or so, much has been written about the ongoing debate about immigration. Jeff Flake, a GOP Senator from Arizona, wrote a compelling op ed piece in last week’s NYTimes that argued for acknowledging the value of hard work as well as the value of advanced education when developing immigration policy. In deciding whether to admit an immigrant seeking asylum or a better opportunity, many politicians are fixated on credentials. Not Jeff Flake, who argues that immigration policy needs to take the importance of hard work into consideration:

History doesn’t much record the unglamorous and often excruciating work of moving sprinkler pipe, digging ditch, chopping hay or keeping a broken-down feed truck running for just one more year… Without such work there is no ranch. Without ranches, my town and towns like it falter. And so in my estimation, Manuel (a hardworking immigrant who worked on the Flake’s ranch0 is just about the highest-value immigrant possible, and if we forget that, then we forget something elemental about America.

Near the end of the article, which uses the Flake’s ranch hand Manuel as an example, he writes:

When President Trump embraced a proposal this month that would cut legal immigration by 50 percent, I spoke out against it, thinking of the immigrant workers I grew up with. When re-evaluating immigration policy, it is right to give priority, through a point system or otherwise, to those who have skills and abilities unique to the new economy. We did this in 2013, in the bipartisan immigration bill that passed the Senate. But there must always be a place in America for those whose only initial credentials are a strong back and an eagerness to use it.

This line of thinking led me to consider our current education policy, which uses test results and timed progress through “grade levels” as proxies for entry into college and into the higher earnings that are associated with a college degree. Where does public education take hard work into account? If a student makes an earnest effort to complete assignments but works at a slower pace or learns in a different way than his classmates do we reward that student in any way… or punish them because they are “behind”? And if we punish them by giving them low grades or holding them back despite their earnest efforts, why are we surprised when they decide to work less diligently in later years? And here’s the bottom line question: are we diminishing the eagerness of students to work hard and apply themselves by branding them as incompetent because their rate of learning and style of learning is outside the norm?


NC Principal Poses Question: If Schools Are a Business, are Students “Customers” or “Employees”?

August 24, 2017 Leave a comment

In an ASCD Journal article earlier this month, HS Principal Vance Fishback laments the persistent analogy that schools should operate like a business and, in doing so, should treat students like “customers”. He suggests that using a customer service model is the wrong approach: that if the public insists on using the business analogy the schools should conceive of students as employees. He writes:

although we do want our students and their families to be satisfied with their school and feel like it is a great choice, it is inaccurate to operationally define our students as our customers because that assumes education is something done to or for students while they simply consume it. Prior to high-stakes testing and accountability programs, this definition was valid. We just needed students to stay satisfied enough with school to earn their diplomas….

For public schools, that reality no longer exists. In today’s schools, students are more like employees than customers. They are expected to perform, and schools are held accountable to the results they produce. Instead of looking for ways to make students happy consumers, we need to find the factors that motivate employees.

Mr. Vance suggests this shift in perspective would result in schools operating differently in four ways:

  1. School leaders would rely on motivational theory instead of customer service theory.
  2. Teachers would emphasize leadership over pedagogy.
  3. All educators would need to gain a deeper understanding of what motivates each student in order to have them be productive workers… and understand that “what motivates this generation of workers is not what motivated past generations.” Drawing on the work of Deep Patel, Mr. Vance suggests that today’s “Generation Z” students: “(First), Crave independence and want to take ownership of their work, but they also want formative feedback and social interaction. (Second) Are the first true digital natives but will need help limiting distractions. (Third) Need to understand the meaning of their work—Generation Z employees might be hard workers, but they are not there to just do a job.”
  4. Since schools and businesses are facing similar challenges in motivating the workforce, they should join forces in researching motivational theories.

Mr. Vance’s thinking on this issue is not completely original. In 1990 William Glasser wrote an article for Phi Delta Kappa titled “The Quality School” suggesting that teachers should conceive of themselves as managers and conceive of their students as workers who need to be motivated to want to learn. He hypothesized that if this model was applied that students engagement would increase and, consequently, classroom management problems would diminish and learning would increase. Original or not, Mr. Vance is on to something: if schools are expected to prepare students for the world of work or a world where learning is expected to continue indefinitely, teachers need to focus on what motivates students more than what results students achieve on tests. Understanding each students’ motivations would be the basis for a truly personalized learning environment. Guiding those motivations to be team-oriented as opposed to individualistic is what we need for democracy and civility to thrive.


Reopening a Can of Worms that Will Reinforce the Use of Standardized Tests to Sort and Select

August 3, 2017 Leave a comment

Given the current administration in the White House, it is not surprising to learn that the the Justice Department plans to gut affirmative action programs. For decades women, African Americans, and minorities have strived to gain entry to higher education that was denied to them based on their gender, skin color, and/or nationality.Because institutions of higher learning had de facto and de jure obstacles to entry as well as “traditions” that blocked entry, the federal government established Affirmative Action guidelines to help women, African Americans and other minorities gain access to higher education. But, as Mark Walsh reports in an Education Week article all of that is about to go out the window:

Education advocates are reacting with dismay to a report that President Donald Trump’s administration is recruiting lawyers within the U.S. Department of Justice for an initiative to investigate and potentially sue colleges and universities over racial preferences in admissions that discriminate against white applicants.

“The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that there is a compelling interest in higher education institutions having diverse student bodies,” said Anurima Bhargava, a former Justice Department civil rights official under President Barack Obama. “My sense of the way this [Trump initiative] is playing out, the idea is to instill fear and intimidation” among educational administrators, she said.

The article was written in response to a NYTimes report of an internal memo that was leaked indicating that the Justice Department was seeking attorneys interested in working on “investigations and possible litigation related to intentional race-based discrimination in college and university admissions”. As Mr. Walsh reports:

The project would be run from the “front office” of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, the paper said, meaning it would be run largely by political appointees, rather than from the division’s educational opportunities section, which consists of career lawyers and employees who enforce civil rights laws in the educational context.

While the Education Week article did not say so, the practical reality of this will be an emphasis on the criteria used to admit students to these institutions of higher learning, particularly “objective” criteria like SAT, GRE, LSAT, and AP scores, and, to a lesser degree, class ranks. In most of the previous lawsuits against affirmative action the white applicants based the arguments for their wrongful rejection on the fact that some of those admitted to a college or graduate school had lower LSATs, GREs or lower GPAs in HS or college and that using race and/or gender in any fashion is “unfair” since it serves to allow “less qualified” applicants to enroll in college based solely on their race or gender. In effect, then, standardized tests become the yardstick for entry. In the coming days it will be interesting to see if colleges push back on this direction the Justice Department is taking. I would hope that the flagship state universities and “elite” colleges unite to rebut this direction.

One last irony: based on the analysis in this NYTimes article the beneficiary of any screening based solely on “objective criteria” may be Asian students.