Archive

Posts Tagged ‘College and Career Readiness’

David Callahan Persuasively and Reasonably Defends the Billionaires

October 23, 2018 Leave a comment

Are ALL billionaires trying to undercut democracy or are they trying to inject innovative ideas into an ossified bureaucracy? In his thought provoking essay that appeared in Inside Philanthropy, “Enemies of the State? How Billionaires Think About Government“, David Callahan asserts that the great majority of philanthropists are not trying to undercut democracy, they are trying to inject it with innovative ideas.

While acknowledging that some philanthropists are eager to line their own pockets by reducing taxes and deregulating their businesses, he contends that most are interested in supporting and sustain democracy and, to that end, are interested in improving public education by injecting it with innovation. Early in his essay, Mr. Callahan asserts that most philanthropists are not aligned with those who have been demonized in this blog and the blogs of other anti-privatization writers:

The crusade to shrink government down to the size “that it can be drowned in a bathtub”—to paraphrase Grover Norquist’s memorable phrase—has never been a shared project of the upper class, but of a powerful libertarian faction within that class. Even the ceaseless drive for tax cuts over a generation has mainly animated wealthy people on the right. Many less ideological rich people aren’t so worked up over taxes; after all, when you’re loaded, you can easily afford them. And while polls show that the wealthy are more fiscally conservative than the public writ large, it’s also true they tend to favor many government functions: a globalist foreign policy, infrastructure, education, scientific research, space exploration, environmental protection, and so on. They understand that these things cost money…

If you put aside the libertarian ideologues like the Koch brothers and the DeVos family, what you’ll find is that most of today’s wealthy philanthropists think about government in much the same way that big donors and foundations have always thought about government: as a sector with enormous power to solve problems, but also with major limitations—such as a reluctance to take risks and experiment with new ideas, an inability to move quickly or pivot easily, and a tendency to neglect causes or concerns that don’t animate ordinary voters or which antagonize powerful interests.

In this assessment, I fear that Mr. Callahan overlooks the powerful grip the “…libertarian ideologues like the Koch brothers and the DeVos family”  have on the public’s impressions of “government schools”. He also fails to grasp the fundamental reality that those who have been identified as “successful” as a result of the existing paradigms in education are the most reluctant to “take risks and experiment” with the dominant paradigm because the rules inherent in the dominant paradigm have worked in their favor. Why should the existing method of sorting a selecting be changed if the changes might result in their children being placed at a disadvantage when the time comes for them to apply to the elite college their parents attended?

Mr. Callahan is especially upset with the way the Gates family has been cast in the privatization debates and the notion that ALL philanthropists share the world view of the Koch brothers and Betsy DeVos. He acknowledges that the Gates Foundation has been ham-handed in implementing it’s views, but believes that they truly value public education. He writes:

On education, the Gates Foundation has sometimes been cast as a key player in a philanthropic cabal to privatize public schools. This is a caricature. Rather, the foundation’s goal has been to influence how public education works in order to improve student outcomes. The huge Gates role in education is problematic; it gives a private couple way too much power over a key democratic institution. And that power has been abused, too, as a high-handed foundation has pushed through ill-conceived reform ideas.

Still, let’s be clear what’s going on here. Bill and Melinda Gates are not libertarians. Quite the contrary. Like many technocratic donors, they often want to expand the reach and authority of government.

The huge Gates push to enact the Common Core standards is a case in point. This has been viewed—rightly, I think—as a backdoor effort to enact national education standards in an area where federal power has always been limited. It’s not surprising that the right mobilized against the standards early on, pushing back against what they saw as an elite bid to elevate the power of a know-it-all state over the wisdom of local leadership—familiar battle lines that date back to the clash between Jefferson and Hamilton.

To be sure, there are some K-12 philanthropists who really do dream of substantially privatizing public education. But most of these donors, including top charter school funders, don’t believe in true privatization, and that’s not what they’re after.

What these donors want is forpublic schools to operate with more day-to-day autonomy, so that their leaders have the kind of power that effective leaders need, starting with the ability to hire and fire their own staff and control their own budget and infrastructure. These donors are not hostile to government per se; they are hostile toward government that is overly centralized, with a command-and-control model they view as archaic and ineffective.They see charter schools as a means to get around these institutional obstacles and reinvent how government works when it comes to education.

What the pro-charter investors fail to recognize is that the most conservative districts are the ones that serve children raised in affluence: the districts that reinforce the current mechanisms of college entry. The districts that strive to prepare their students for entry into “elite” colleges need to maintain the status quo because in doing so they are preparing their students for entry into colleges that seek a particular kind of student: the kind of student who is “well rounded”, has high grades, and comes from a stable home and stable community environment.

From my perspective, if philanthropists want to disrupt education they could do so by encouraging the “elite” colleges to accept more students from schools that serve children raised in poverty and offer incentives for the “well rounded” children who come from stable homes and stable neighborhoods and who earned high grades to attend the community colleges in their communities and the universities and colleges funded by their state government. Until the top 5% embrace those institutions and walk away from the “elite” schools the economic disparity in our nation will persist.

Advertisements

ACT Results Show Bi-Partisan Premises Behind NCLB, RTTT, ESSA are Flawed… But They Will NOT Be Easily Overturned

October 18, 2018 Leave a comment

The latest ACT results are worse than ever, which John Merrow believes might drive a final nail in the coffin of the premise that annual high stakes tests will improve schools… but if last year’s debates in Congress and the ongoing debates in state legislatures are any indication there is no likelihood of changing the thinking on accountability any time soon. Why? Because ESSA delegated accountability to States and at this writing 33 states are controlled by GOP legislatures, many of whom are using the ALEC playbook to craft legislation and frame the debates about public education in their states. Add to that the ongoing debates about how best to “harden” schools and the bandwidth for debates about public education is used up.

New Hampshire where I live is a good case in point. In 2016 voters elected GOP candidate Chris Sununu as governor and elected GOP dominated legislature. Once elected, Mr. Sununu replaced widely respected Commissioner of Education Virginia Barry, a Ph.D educator, with Frank Edeblut, a business executive who homeschooled his seven children and ran to the right of Mr. Sununu in the primaries. As a result of the 2016 election there has been no discussion whatsoever about moving forward with a creative accountability plan Dr. Barry developed, a plan that was not exclusively reliant on standardized testing. Instead, the GOP Governor and GOP controlled State Legislature are trying to pass laws that would expand the use of Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) for parents who want to educate their children in private sectarian schools. To fund these ESAs, the GOP planned to divert funds from an equalization formula developed by previous legislatures in response to a court order that would provide more support to property poor districts so their students could meet the “adequate education” mandated by the State Supreme Court. The GOP governor’s solution? Pass a bill that would preclude the courts from intervening on issues involving public school funding and expand choice. The Governor’s thinking? If the parents of students who resided in property poor towns had the opportunity to use tax free savings to take their children out of “failing government schools” and place them in any school they wished their children would ultimately benefit.

Added to the mix of ALEC bills designed to facilitate vouchers that will supposedly allow children who reside in property poor towns to escape the “failing schools” in their community is the ongoing debate on how much to spend to “harden” public schools to make them safe from shooters. This debate about school safety is a double whammy for public education: it inevitably results in diverting funds away from making capital improvements in outdated schools, many of which are located in property poor towns; and it reinforces the notion that public schools are inherently unsafe, making the push for de facto vouchers to attend private schools more politically acceptable.

Because of the ongoing debates on vouchers and school safety, debates on the virtue of standardized testing are pushed to the sidelines. Indeed, the need for these tests is largely settled in minds of most voters. Didn’t voters need to pass test to pass courses that got them promoted to the next grade level and earn a diploma? Didn’t voters who went to college have to attain a minimum score on the SAT to gain acceptance to their higher education? Doesn’t the military and civil service use tests to sort and select applicants? Why, then, doesn’t it make sense to use tests to determine if schools are successful?

At the conclusion of his article on the decline in ACT scores, Mr. Merrow writes:

It’s past time for progressives to speak loudly in support of strong public education….as well as other social initiatives that will address homelessness, hunger, and lack of health care.  Schools don’t function in isolation, not when–for example–about 10 percent of New York City’s public school students are homeless.

I completely agree and persist in writing this blog to that end… but, I don’t see many politicians at any level speaking up for public education or “…social initiatives that will address homelessness, hunger, and lack of health care“. The Social Darwinists in the GOP want to drown government in a bathtub and the neo-liberals who dominate the DNC are comfortable with privatization of public services or relying on the goodwill of philanthropists… and NO politician in EITHER wants to advocate for the higher taxes that would be needed to underwrite these social needs. And alas, as the cold analysis outlined above indicates, I do not see much sentiment today among rank and file voters for “social initiatives that will address homelessness, hunger, and lack of health care” because they know that such initiatives will cost them money.

My bottom line is that unless we reframe the debates about public education away from “choice” and the debates about social initiatives away from their cost we will continue on the path we are traveling and inequality will persist. We need to talk more about the common good and less about the virtue of selfishness.

The Competitive College’s Efforts to Diversify Backfire

October 15, 2018 Leave a comment

In 1996 when my younger daughter was a college senior applying to colleges I was living in Western Maryland in a county that was identified as being a part of Appalachia. My daughter was a strong student and by virtue of pursuing her natural interests, drama, distance running, and writing, she ended up with a “good resume” that enabled her to apply for a get accepted into two “elite” New England colleges: Brown and Amherst. Once accepted into these colleges, she attended their recruitment weekends where the admissions office tries to persuade its pool of accepted applicants to chose their school over others. At both of these colleges we heard the same message from the Admissions Office: they had waded through thousands of applicants and “created” an incoming Freshman Class that reflected a cross section of America that was heterogeneous geographically and culturally but all capable of succeeding in college. That ability of admissions officers to create such a heterogeneous cohort is now under fire.

The recent news that Harvard is being sued by Asian American students is the latest case of an elite institution being sued for “reverse discrimination” of one kind or another, and in “Elite College Admissions Are Broken” Atlantic writer Alia Wong contends that racial discrimination is only a symptom of a much deeper problem: the outsize demand for entry into these colleges is driven by the questionable motive of status-seeking… and colleges can’t really “fix” that problem. As Ms. Wong writes:

How do you stop Americans from associating, to borrow the words of the Harvard law professor and affirmative-action scholar Lani Guinier, “selectivity with excellence”? Universities—both elite and open-access, private and public—are heavily reliant on students’ tuition money and research-grant funding, and are thus forced to compete with each other to stay on top. And even they wanted to band together in an effort to fix the admissions system, those fixes would likely be prohibited by federal antitrust law, as The Atlantic’s Jeff Selingo has reported; many of the proposed solutions would require colleges to share information about applicants with each other and thus cooperate, violating laws pertaining to corporate competition. As one college-admissions expert concluded in a 2012 interview with Inside Higher Ed, students and colleges just keep “chasing each other around a round table.”

And when colleges have thousands of applicants, the ultimate decisions about whom to accept can turn on very arbitrary factors. Ms. Wong quotes college admissions “coach” Naomi Sternberg to illustrate this point:

“You can do everything ‘right’—have a 35 [out of 36 on the ACT]; have a lot of leadership, whatever that means; have all the things on some fictitious checklist of things you assumed you need to do—and you are just as likely or exceedingly not likely to get into insert-whatever-premium-university-here,” Steinberg says, stressing how arbitrary the process can be. “Admissions officers are thinking, ‘I need a red-headed, ambidextrous tennis-star-slash-tuba-player,’ and now they can’t take your application that was thoughtful and wonderful because of the directive that just came down. … They just need a student to fill that spot on the beautiful mosaic they’re creating.”

I recall hearing a variant of this from the Admissions Officer at Amherst when we were visiting there the first time to discuss whether my daughter might qualify for financial aid. He said that if the first oboe in the orchestra was scheduled to graduate an oboist would get in before a Valedictorian with high SAT scores, a response that, to me, was common sensical and reasonable.

What makes even more sense to me is the need for competitive colleges to preserve space for low income students who are attending colleges for the first time. In order to accomplish this, many elite colleges instituted a “holistic” approach to admissions— though, as Ms. Wong notes, their motives were not necessarily high-minded:

In the early 20th century, the country’s handful of elite universities began to request essays, teacher recommendations, and other information regarding candidates’ “background” and “character” beyond an entrance-exam score in their effort to surreptitiously restrict the number of Jewish students on campus. But the scope and purpose of this “holistic” approach to evaluating students has evolved since then, and today in its most genuine form evaluates each applicant through the lens of her context—her interests and personality, yes, but also her race and parents’ educational background, for example, and the ways in which that identity may have hindered her opportunities. These days, elite colleges tend to “laud it as a legally viable method to reduce inequality and promote college access,”according to a 2017 University of Michigan policy brief co-authored by the higher-education professor Michael Bastedo. Holistic admissions can be very effective at achieving those goals: A recent study by Bastedo and several co-researchers published in the Journal of Higher Education that analyzed higher-education institutions across the U.S. found that those that use holistic admissions are far more likely than those that don’t to enroll low-income students. 

But “holistic” approaches defy objective standardization and are thus suspect in the minds of those who believe anything “subjective” is suspect.

As readers of this blog realize, this valuing of standardized “objective” scoring is not limited to those who challenge college admissions standards: it is clearly a part of the ranking systems used by US News and World Report… and the rankings imposed on public education by NCLB, RTTT, and now ESSA. If we ever hope to restore the ideal of our entire nation as a “beautiful mosaic” instead of a shark tank we need to re-think the entire college application process… by making college available to any student who wants to attend at any time in their life.

“Asian Americans” Suit Against Harvard Because of Reverse Discrimination Undercuts Diversity, Opportunity

August 31, 2018 Comments off

Today’s headline story in the NYTimes reads:

Asian-American Students Suing Harvard Over Affirmative

Action Win Justice Dept. Support

Once again our country is witnessing a desire to impose some kind of meritocracy based on testing, a meritocracy that flies in the face of the economic, racial, and skill diversity that makes our country great and makes post secondary education a rich and meaningful experience for all. I expect that not only Harvard but also every other college and university will push back against this effort to base admissions solely on “objective criteria”.

Over two decades ago, one of my daughters was accepted to two “elite” colleges. When we attended the weekends where the colleges invited prospective students to visit campus with their parents one of the points the admissions officers made at both schools was their intent to make the entering population both academically excellent AND geographically, economically, and culturally diverse. One of the schools made a point of emphasizing how many valedictorians and high SAT scorers were NOT accepted because of their efforts to create a class that was more reflective of the nation as a whole. In effect, these “elite” schools wanted to make it clear that their entry standards were NOT based “entirely on objective statistics”… they included other factors as well.

This reality was driven home in our initial visits to campuses as well where more than one school told a group of prospects that if the college orchestra needed an oboist or a strong tennis player that person might gain entry over someone with 1600 on their SATs. In order for colleges and universities to offer broad experiences for ALL students they need to be mindful of areas of excellence outside of the traditional “objective measures”. Indeed, I do not recall ANY school we visited in the mid-1990s who proclaimed they were identifying the “best and brightest” based solely on objective measures.

When objective academic statistics are the sole criteria for admission, music, the arts, and athletics will all suffer… and possibly endowments as well. But, presumably, that is a price worth paying to ensure “fairness” prevails.

The Fruits of Deregulation? Caveat Emptor… and If Too Many Consumers Fail? Blame the Schools

August 19, 2018 Comments off

The headline of this post was the thought that came to me as I read Valerie Strauss’ recent Washington Post article about Betsy DeVos’ decision to hold students accountable for debts they incurred as a result of enrolling in for-profit schools who made false promises and used false information to lure them into enrolling. Here’s Ms. Strauss’ summary of Ms. DeVos’ proposal:

…on Wednesday, the U.S. Education Department followed up on its action in 2017, when it suspended two key rules from the Obama administration that were intended to protect students from predatory for-profit colleges. And the agency had promised to write its own regulations, which emerged this week.

The proposed rules require students to prove that schools knowingly deceived them if they want to qualify to have federal loans canceled. And the agency dropped a provision that allowed similar claims to be processed as a group. Instead, students will have to prove their claims individually.

The net effect of this rule change is cataclysmic for students who owe money to post-secondary institutions that defrauded them but VERY helpful to those who operated the schools and those who loaned money to the students.

And this is the fruit of deregulation: the buyers always pay the price and the bilkers and bankers walk away with money in their pockets. And the politicians’ solution? Blame the schools! If schools did a better job of educating students their graduates wouldn’t be falling for these scams. We need to require graduates to pass courses on consumerism!

 

Christensen Institute’s Michael Horn is Right: It’s Time to Abandon “Gifted and Talented” Label

August 12, 2018 Comments off

Let’s Retire the “Gifted and Talented” Label“, Michael Horn’s recent post in the Christensen Institute Newsletter, had a special resonance with me. Mr. Horn argues against the label because it is inextricably linked to the tests used to identify students who are “gifted and talented” and those tests, in turn, are inextricably linked to the grouping of students in age-based cohorts that fail to take the differences in rates of intellectual maturity. But my personal experience tells me there are at least two more reasons to abandon the label.

In 1957 I was in 4th grade at the Robert E. Lee Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, having moved to that city when my father was transferred by DuPont. I recall being amazed that the math topics offered that year were identical to the math topics I covered a year earlier in Pennsylvania. I also recall one news event that fall that captured the imagination of the nation: the USSR’s launching of Sputnik. One of the immediate responses to the launch was passage of the National Defense Education Act in 1958, an act that included millions of dollars for science education and an act that sought to identify the best and brightest students to help the US win the Space Race that was launched when Sputnik orbited the earth.

At the end of 5th grade, I was identified as one of the “best and brightest” students in Oklahoma and placed in a special program with several of my peers. I am certain my “excellence” in math classes helped in my identification as one of the “best and brightest”, an “excellence” that had more to do with Oklahoma’s lagging curriculum standards than my aptitude. I also am certain that my test scores helped as well, for I have always done well on the tests that stand as a proxy for “intelligence”.  For my 6th grade year in Oklahoma, our group was assigned what would come to be called “inter-disciplinary units” instead of traditional subject-matter classes, working on projects instead of worksheets. It was by far the best year I experienced in my entire K-12 schooling. The teachers and interns worked with us closely and provided individual tutoring and counseling and my classmates were all engaged and committed to learning. We were taunted by others in school on occasion, but once we got on the athletic fields at recess our status as “gifted and talented” students didn’t matter, only our ability to kick a soccer ball (incredibly we couldn’t play football at recess!) and pitch, catch, and hit a baseball.

A year later, my father was transferred back to Pennsylvania and because of the timing of our arrival and the fact that I was “from Oklahoma”, I was placed in the second highest cohort of 60-70 students in the homogeneous groupings in junior high school. I was no longer “gifted and talented”. Instead, I was among the 80% of students at South Junior High Schoo who were identified as UN-gifted and UN-talented. From that day forward I understood the preposterousness of classifying students based on test scores or “academic performance”, for despite the fact that I earned high grades and scored high on tests in 7th grade, there was no room for me in the classrooms in the highest performing cohort and so I was relegated to the second tier for the balance of my secondary education… that is until I qualified to take calculus in 12th grade making it impossible for me to “fit” into second tier classes elsewhere.

I tell this anecdote because it reinforces two adverse elements of identifying “gifted and talented” students. First, when a small group of students is segregated as being “gifted and talented” it simultaneously identifies those NOT identified as “UN-gifted and UN-talented” as my experience with “second tier” students in Pennsylvania demonstrated to me. The teachers who worked with our group in Junior High School constantly told us explicitly and implicitly that most of us in the class “were not college material” and that we needed to work hard if we ever hoped to go on for more education. I know my friends in the top division heard a different and far more positive message from their teachers. Secondly, any isolation of “gifted and talented” students necessarily excludes students who are moving from school-to-school or region-to-region. How many students are affected by this? According to an Education Week article by Sarah Sparks from 2016, 6.5 million students per year! And that same article included this finding:

High churn in schools not only can hurt the students who leave, but also those who remain enrolled. A 2014 report by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement in Georgia found schools with higher concentrations of mobile students had higher percentages of students with disabilities and fewer students in gifted education programs.

In a report on student mobility by the National Academy of Sciences, Chester Hartman, the research director for the Poverty and Race Research Action Council in Washington, noted that high-poverty urban schools can have more than half of their students turn over within a single school year.

“It’s chaos,” he said in the 2010 report. “It makes all the reforms—smaller classes, better-trained teachers, better facilities—irrelevant.

Not only does the identification of “gifted and talented” students penalize “late bloomers”, it also penalizes students attending schools with high levels of transience and stigmatizes all the UN-gifted and UN-talented students who are NOT identified. Michael Horn is right: it is time to retire the “gifted and talented” label for once and for all and begin to identify the unique gifts and talents of all the children.

A 1970 Humanities and Technology Major Reacts to Russ Douthat’s Column on the Death of Humanities

August 8, 2018 Comments off

Russ Douthat’s NYTimes column today, “Oh, the Humanities“, did not afford a comment opportunity… so I am using this post to capture my reaction to the column, which I found to be generally thoughtful and— because I agreed with it’s take on the underlying causes for the demise of humanities as a discipline– accurate.

Using a 1946 poem by W.H. Auden as the framework for his analysis of the decline in the number of Humanities majors in almost every college, Douthat concludes that “Apollonians”, that is technocrats, have won out over the “sons of Hermes”, the artists and musicians. Why is this so? Dothan concludes that in addition to adopting ultra-radical positions on political issues, in an effort to make their discipline seem more analytic (i.e. technical), the humanities professors adopted “a pseudoscientific mantle” that seemed to add “rigor and precision” to their work. Here’s the paragraph that captures his thinking:

In an Apollonian culture, eager for “Useful Knowledge” and technical mastery and increasingly indifferent to memory and allergic to tradition, the poet and the novelist and the theologian struggle to find an official justification for their arts. And both the turn toward radical politics and the turn toward high theory are attempts by humanists in the academy to supply that justification — to rebrand the humanities as the seat of social justice and a font of political reform, or to assume a pseudoscientific mantle that lets academics claim to be interrogating literature with the rigor and precision of a lab tech doing dissection.

The column resonated with me as one who majored in “Humanities and Technology”, a B.S. degree my alma mater Drexel Institute of Technology “invented” in the late 1960s in order to become Drexel University. At that time, the Humanities teachers emphasized the power of poetry and the importance of clear writing and consciously rejected any efforts to inject “a pseudoscientific mantle” that added “rigor and precision” to their work. Those of us who gravitated to this new major were drawn to it because we rejected the ideas that underpinned the emerging technocracy and wanted to see a more just and equitable world.

Douthat concludes his column asserting that all will be well and humanities will be restored to the “sons of Hermes” instead of the “children of Apollo”:

(A) hopeful road map to humanism’s recovery might include: First, a return of serious academic interest in the possible (I would say likely) truth of religious claims. Second, a regained sense of history as a repository of wisdom and example rather than just a litany of crimes and wrongthink. Finally, a cultural recoil from the tyranny of the digital and the virtual and the Very Online, today’s version of the technocratic, technological, potentially totalitarian Machine that Jacobs’s Christian humanists opposed.

I, for one, think it will be restored more rapidly if, like my professors in the late 1960s, the humanities professors focus on the beauty of the arts and avoid injecting “a pseudoscientific mantle” that added “rigor and precision” to their work.