Posts Tagged ‘College and Career Readiness’

Philadelphia’s School Without Walls is Re-Born 50 Years Later

November 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Medium sends me thought provoking articles every day on a range of topics I get to select, and an edition earlier this week included an article describing the latest “new idea to reinvent high schools” from XQ: The Super School Project, the brain child of Laureen Jobs Powell. The “Super School Project” was launched in 2016, announcing 10 winners in a competition to “re-think high schools”. From the outset, there have some questions raised about the ability of a foundation to pull this off, but I sincerely hope that this group will succeed where others have failed, their funding source notwithstanding.

The article in Medium breathlessly reported on four practical ideas to “deepen school and community connections”, ideas that XQ presumably believes are innovative, original, and creative. In fact the practical ideas were developed and implemented over 50 years ago in Philadelphia when Superintendent Mark Shedd teamed with Board President Richardson Dilworth to introduce progressive reforms to Philadelphia’s struggling schools. One of the ideas was the Parkway Project a.k.a the “School Without Walls”. The concept behind the Parkway School incorporated all four of the “practical ideas” described in the XQ article. The Parkway Project:

  • Co-located schools in existing institutions: the art museum, Franklin Institute, the Museum of Natural History, and the Public library line the Parkway in Philadelphia and each was to offer classroom space to public school students.
  • Ensured that students learned from experts: the idea was for professors from colleges and staffs from the museums to co-teach courses with public school staff
  • Provided students with early access to the professional world: another element of the program was that students could devise their own courses and curriculum by working in internships and/or co-operative work study programs
  • Create opportunities for students to experience higher education early and often: since the Parkway Program envisioned the courses to be co-taught by local professors the students would experience college-like courses ad expectations throughout their schooling.

As a college student at the time the Parkway Project was launched, I was excited at the prospect that high school was on the dawn of reinvention. In the late 1960s everything was changing in the world and many of us on campus believed it was changing for the better. 50 years later, schools are even more segregated than they were in the 60s, poverty is more intractable than ever, students in elementary schools are still batched by age cohorts, and high schools still require students to pass a specific set of courses based on seat time.

I sincerely hope Ms. Jobs succeeds where Mark Shedd failed… for his ideas ultimately died as a result of budget cuts and traditionalists who believed high school should remain the competitive battleground where students compete for grades in an artificial environment that has no parallel in the world of work.


Betsy DeVos Takes the Side of Private College Scammers: Is Anyone Surprised?

October 30, 2017 Leave a comment

Late last week, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the USDOE was changing its stance on the forgiveness of loans to students who were scammed by private for-profit colleges. Instead of the virtual blanket forgiveness provided by the Obama administration, Ms. DeVos was limiting the number of bilked students whose loans wold be forgiven. As reported in the New York Post by the AP:

The Education Department is considering only partially forgiving federal loans for students defrauded by for-profit colleges, according to department officials, abandoning the Obama administration’s policy of erasing that debt.

Under President Barack Obama, tens of thousands of students deceived by now-defunct for-profit schools had over $550 million in such loans canceled.

But President Donald Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos, is working on a plan that could grant such students just partial relief, according to department officials. The department may look at the average earnings of students in similar programs and schools to determine how much debt to wipe away.

The consequences of this decision will be favorable for the profiteers and the banks that issued the loans, but deleterious to the borrowers who were misled by the fraudulent schools. It is particularly problematic since some students have already received complete forgiveness for their loans while 65,000 others, whose reviews were underway, might get only partial forgiveness… or MAYBE the full forgiveness will be rescinded! The AP report indicates USDOE indicated to a contractor trying to resolve the loan repayments that “policy changes may necessitate certain claims already processed be revisited to assess other attributes”. It went on to say that “The department would not further clarify the meaning of that notice.

This whole episode was  lampooned by Gail Collins in NYTimes, who noted throughout her column the fact that Trump University was one of the many for-profit colleges forced to pay millions of dollars in fines for misleading advertising, excessive tuition costs, and usurious loans. She concluded her column noting that Mr. DeVos’ suspension of loan forgiveness would provide the public with a constant reminder of Mr. Trump’s mismanagement of his “University”:

For instance, the Department of Education has stopped approving new fraud claims against for-profits, leaving a backlog of more than 87,000. Every time the number goes up, we could say, “This is even more than the number of students who complained about their loans for Trump University.”

If DeVos says what the country needs now is less regulation, we can recall that Trump University had instructors allegedly handpicked by Donald Trump himself, although it turned out that he’d never even met them.

Consider it a teaching moment.

It is a teaching moment for anyone in “class” that is paying attention. The question is: are the voters paying attention… or are they distracted by tweets about the NFL players who continue to protest the treatment of African Americans by the police?

Commodification of Education Corrodes Democracy

October 20, 2017 Leave a comment

Henry Giroux, the McMaster University Chair for Scholarship in the Public Interest in the English and Cultural Studies Department and the Paulo Freire Distinguished Scholar in Critical Pedagogy, posted an essay in Truthdig  earlier this week that makes the case that the commodification of education is corroding democracy. Titled “Rethinking Higher Education in a Time of Tyranny“, Mr. Giroux offers six action steps higher education should take to offset this disturbing trend.

After opening his essay with a description of how activists like Martin Luther King Junior and Mahatma Gandhi viewed education, Mr. Giroux suggests that the plutocrats running our country have willfully undercut the mission of higher education by converting it into a commodity, and in so doing have undercut the democracy that requires a well-informed electorate. This lengthy excerpt offers a concise and compelling description of what has transpired over the past five decades:

Institutions that work to free and strengthen the imagination and the capacity to think critically have been under assault in the United States long before the rise of Donald Trump. Over the last 50 years, critical public institutions from public radio to public schools have been defunded, commercialized and privatized transforming them from spheres of critical analysis to dumbed-down workstations for a deregulated and commodified culture.

Lacking public funds, many institutions of higher education have been left to mimic the private sector, transforming knowledge into a commodity, eliminating those courses and departments that do not align themselves with a robust bottom line. In addition, faculty are increasingly treated like Walmart workers with labor relations increasingly designed “to reduce labor costs and to increase labor servility.” Under this market-driven governance, students are often relegated to the status of customers, saddled with high tuition rates and a future predicated on ongoing political uncertainty, economic instability and ecological peril.

This dystopian view feeds an obsession with a narrow notion of job readiness and a cost-accounting rationality. This bespeaks to the rise of what theorists such as the late Stuart Hall called an audit or corporate culture, which serves to demoralize and depoliticize both faculty and students, often relieving them of any larger values other than those that reinforce their own self-interest and retreat from any sense of moral and social responsibility.

As higher education increasingly subordinates itself to market-driven values, there is a greater emphasis on research that benefits the corporate world, the military and rich conservative ideologues such as the Koch brothers, who have pumped over $200 million into higher education activities since the 1980s to shape faculty hires, promote academic research centers, and shape courses that reinforce a conservative market-driven ideological and value system…

Under such circumstances, commercial values replace public values, unbridled self-interest becomes more important than the common good and sensation seeking and a culture of immediacy becomes more important than compassion and long term investments in others, especially youth…

As Mr. Giroux notes at the beginning of this analysis: Institutions that work to free and strengthen the imagination and the capacity to think critically have been under assault in the United States long before the rise of Donald Trump. Indeed, the Obama administration advocated a system of “grading” post secondary institutions on the earnings of its graduates, effectively reinforcing the obsession with a narrow notion of job readiness and a cost-accounting rationality the Mr. Giroux rightfully decries. In response to this trend of commodification, Mr. Giroux offers six recommendations.

First he recommends that higher education “reassert its mission as a public good”. At every turn, those involved in any capacity in higher education need to make it clear that the politician’s and business community’s “obsession with a narrow notion of job readiness and a cost-accounting rationality” is wrongheaded and counter-productive. 

Second, “…educators need to place ethics, civic literacy, social responsibility and compassion at the forefront of learning.” Post-secondary education needs to be about more than getting a good job or earning more and moe money. It needs to focus on creating “…critically engaged and informed citizens contributing not simply to their own self-interest but to the well-being of society as a whole.

Third, our nation needs to view higher education as a right… not something for “the elite” and not a commodity that requires students to go into debt. Moreover, higher education should value and emphasize what Mr Giroux calls a “culture of questioning“.

Fourth, students need to learn how to express themselves and not regurgitate data and master algorithms.

Fifth, higher education needs to restore the status of teaching as a profession and not as a contracted service. Mr. Giroux notes that in America, the corporatization and commodification of higher education has resulted in a situation where “…Seventy percent of all part- and full-time instructional positions are filled with contingent or nontenured-track faculty“. This is efficient from a business-office perspective, but results in a de-professionalization of higher education.

Finally, Mr. Giroux recommends that students be encouraged to develop and use their imaginations: to envision a future that is “…more than a mirror image of the present.

Mr. Giroux concludes his essay with this quote from James Baldwin:

In The Fire Next Time, he writes: “The impossible is the least that one can demand. …Generations do not cease to be born, and we are responsible to them…. the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.” It is one of tasks of educators and higher education to keep the lights burning with a feverish intensity.

When post-secondary education is about earnings, it does not encourage us to keep faith with one another. It, instead, encourages us to blindly compete with one another and, in so doing, turns out the light of compassion that will join us together.

Canary in a Coal Mine? Ohio Charters’ College Graduation Rates Embarrassingly Low

October 19, 2017 Leave a comment

Ohio has had one the most aggressive charter plans at that State level for several years and, as a result, has been able to collect data on the college graduation rates of charter school alumni… and the results are not pretty. As blogger Stephen Dyer reported in his post on October 16,

Ohio school districts have 5 times the rate of students with college degrees that charters have. And Big 8 urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati. Columbus, Cleveland, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) have twice the rate.

Meanwhile, of the 31 Ohio charter schools that have graduates counted for this metric, 7 (23 percent) had zero graduates with college degrees within six years of graduation.

And the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow? That’s right.

Only 109 of 3,794 ECOT graduates from 2010 have a college degree today. That’s an amazing 2.9 percent. Cleveland — which had about 100 fewer 2010 graduates as ECOT (not to mention far greater rates of poverty, special education, and minority students) — had about 3.5 times as many graduates with college degrees as ECOT.

With these data sets, how and why can legislators in Ohio claim that charters and choice are the solution to so-called “failing schools”? And given the performance of ECOT, how can anyone claim that on-line learning is the wave of the future? At the conclusion of his post, Mr. Dyer writes:

According to this data from the state report card, Ohio charter schools, overall, hurt their students’ ability to achieve the million dollar promise of a college education and instead contribute to their students’ ability to access the social safety net over their lifetimes.

Here’s my hunch: in the coming weeks I expect to read that Ohio is revising its report card to de-emphasize this data and placing a greater emphasis on some data set that shows charters in a more favorable light. TO do otherwise would require the elected officials in Ohio to speak against their donors.

More Unsurprising Headlines: On-Line Learning Enterprise Bilked Student Borrowers

September 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Politico reported earlier this week that the Education Department’s Office of Inspector General found that “…the nation’s leading provider of online competency-based education violated federal student aid rules and should return more than $712 million received in student loans and Pell Grants.

After reading Politico’s description of Western Governors University’s wrongdoing, knowing of current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ tendency to give privatizers the benefit of the doubt, and the current President’s personal experience operating a shady “University”, I would be surprised if anything happens to the college. The fact that Western Governors University had to “…navigate a complicated – and sometimes decades-old – set of federal rules governing when they’re eligible for federal aid” and the fact that Western Governors officials “strongly disagree” with the findings led one college official, Scott D. Pulsihper, to conclude that the education department would not follow through on the IG’s recommendations. Mr. Pulsipher was quotes as saying:

We’re willing to think differently (in delivering education to students) There is no doubt that there will be traditionalists who can see some of the things that we do as a challenge.

This traditionalist has some things that Western Governors University as a challenge. Given that “a central issue in the inspector general’s report is the federal requirement that distance education programs provide “regular and substantive” interaction between teachers and students” and the inspector general found that “more than 50 percent of Western Governor University courses don’t provide adequate faculty-student interaction to qualify as “distance education,” I do not see how the school could possibly qualify for federal student aid.

Politico reported that Western Governors University now has 30 days to submit additional information about the audit report – and then the ball’s in the department’s court. There’s no deadline under which the department has to make a decision on the IG’s recommendation… and then they offer the following:

– But many education observers say it’s difficult to envision the Education Department carrying through with such a crippling – and what would likely be unprecedented – $712 million financial penalty against the school. It’s usually politically challenging for the department to impose stiff penalties against any college, much less one that has powerful and bipartisan allies on Capitol Hill. (Some context: The department’s $30 million fine against Corinthian Colleges in 2015 was one of its largest ever.)

– Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in a tweet on Thursday that he was “fully confident the Education Department will reject this Education Department OIG report.”

– And the department is already signaling some support for the institution. “We are currently reviewing the OIG’s report,” department spokeswoman Liz Hill said in an email. “It is important to note that the innovative student-first model used by this school and others like it has garnered bipartisan support over the last decade.”

It may have garnered bipartisan support over the last decade for the same reason that the defense department budget, Big Pharma, and the privatizers of all ills get bipartisan support: lobbyists underwrite campaigns and expect something in return… and the something they all get in return is the mantra that the marketplace will sort these kinds of things out. We know how that’s been working!

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.”