Posts Tagged ‘College and Career Readiness’

Why Are Schools Funding the SAT? They Should Instead Focus on the PSAT!

March 18, 2018 Leave a comment

An article by Nick Anderson in yesterday’s Washington Post described how Maryland school districts are underwriting the costs of the SAT in an effort to encourage students to enroll in colleges. This is misguided. Here’s the comment I left expressing the reasons why:

It would be far better to pay for the PSAT for two reasons. First, the PSAT scores are the basis for National Merit Scholarships, which might enable a previously overlooked student to either gain the attention of the school staff or, possibly, even qualify for a scholarship. Secondly, since the PSAT is offered a year earlier, it would provide the student with more time to address academic deficiencies that might be flagged by taking the test.


John Tierney’s Atlantic Article Misses One KEY Point: APs Are Being Taken to Game a Bogus Rating System

March 18, 2018 Leave a comment

Wayne Ridenour, a current Facebook friend who taught my daughter’s AP History Course over two decades ago, posted an article from the Atlantic by John Tierney titled “AP Classes Are a Scam” and left the comment “Sorry but this is all too true”. Both Mr. Tierney’s article and Mr. Ridenour’s comments are valid, but Mr. Tierney’s article overlooks a key factor that is driving the expansion of AP courses and Both Mr. Tierney’s article and Mr. Ridenour’s comment overlook one key positive factor about AP courses.

John Tierney’s analysis of why AP courses are a scam hits all the flaws of the test:

  • AP courses are NOT equivalent to college courses
  • Because fewer and fewer colleges recognize AP courses for credit, the monetary savings that once existed are no longer possible
  • High schools are no longer screening admissions into AP courses (more on that below)
  • Minority students are under-represented in AP enrollments despite the expanded pool of this taking the courses
  • Small, economically challenged schools divert resources to AP courses which has the effect of limiting non-AP courses
  • And worst of all, AP courses are prescribed, robbing the best and brightest teachers of the opportunity to offer their own creative courses that might challenge and engage the best and brightest students in a school.

But Mr. Tierney fails to mention one factor that has driven increases in AP enrollments: the many rating systems that use some form of AP enrollments as a proxy for “quality”. It all began when Washington Post education writer Jay Matthews began ranking schools in his region using the percentage of students enrolled in AP courses as primary factor. While he acknowledged the limitations of such a ranking system, his use of them had a national impact. The result: an explosion of AP course offerings, an expansion of the pool of students who enrolled in AP courses, and the consequent forcing out of “honors” courses with teacher-driven courses of study with AP courses whose course of study was determined by ETS.

But Mr. Matthews use of AP enrollments as a metric DID recognize one practical reality: absent some kind of national standard there is no ready means of determining if a student who received a high grade in an “honors class” at a small or underfunded school met the same standards as a student who earned high grades in an affluent school district. The high school my daughter attended in the early 1990s did not send many students to competitive colleges and so the caliber of its courses was an unknown. I believe that both her SAT scores and her AP scores helped validate the balance of her transcript and provided evidence that she might succeed in the classrooms of those schools, two of which she was accepted to. This reality— that competitive colleges use APs as a validation for transcripts— is why Jay Matthews included AP as a proxy for “quality”. Whether the expansion of AP enrollments that followed is a virtuous circle or a vicious one is open to question. Having led five different school districts, I observe that the more affluent a district is the less it is concerned with proxies: if a district has a well established “brand” in the admissions offices of elite colleges it has no need for AP course and the teachers at those schools eschew AP courses… and that, in my judgement, is a virtuous circle.

No Surprise: Not as Many Foreign Students Coming to US and Colleges Suffer

January 4, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday’s NYTimes featured an article by Stephanie Saul describing the negative impact of President Trump’s xenophobia on the enrollment of foreign students in US colleges and universities. She reports that many colleges across the nation are experiencing a marked decline in the enrollment of foreign students and, as a result, they are facing cutbacks similar to those encountered after the economic crisis of 2008:

At Wright State University in Ohio, the French horn and tuba professors are out. So is the accomplished swimming team.

At Kansas State, Italian classes are going the way of the Roman Empire.

And at the University of Central Missouri, The Muleskinner, the biweekly campus newspaper, is publishing online-only this year, saving $35,000 in printing costs.

Just as many universities believed that the financial wreckage left by the 2008 recession was behind them, campuses across the country have been forced to make new rounds of cuts, this time brought on, in large part, by a loss of international students.

Schools in the Midwest have been particularly hard hit — many of them non-flagship public universities that had come to rely heavily on tuition from foreign students, who generally pay more than in-state students.

Why this is occurring should be no mystery:

And since President Trump was elected, college administrators say, his rhetoric and more restrictive views on immigration have made the United States even less attractive to international students. The Trump administration is more closely scrutinizing visa applications, indefinitely banning travel from some countries and making it harder for foreign students to remain in the United States after graduation.

While government officials describe these as necessary national security measures, a number of American colleges have been casualties of the policies.

The notion that our nation would make it more difficult for upwardly mobile students from other countries to enroll in our colleges and universities is contrary to what our country stands for— or maybe I should say stood for. The Trump administration’s decision to make it difficult for foreign students to attend colleges is based on xenophobia, that decision is also compelling many colleges to make cut backs due to the loss of revenue from those students… And while liberal arts majors like me are saddened to read that one of the the college’s response to their economic challenges is cutting foreign languages, orchestral music, and a swimming program, many neoliberal and conservative commentators would see that as progress because those pursuits don’t yield high incomes or strengthen the economy. College, after all, is about getting a degree so you can earn money. The notion that education is intended to cultivate higher order thinking and a broadening of one’s perspective used to be embraced by politicians and voters no matter what their party affiliation. The real loss is not the revenue those foreign students brought, but the programs that will no longer exist.

Higher Education IS in a Bind… But Debt Burden and Non-Profit Status is a Bigger Problem than Anti-Intellectualism

January 1, 2018 Leave a comment

Yesterday Frank Bruni’s NYTimes op ed piece described the hard times higher education is facing in this country despite the bullets they dodged in the recent tax reform package. As Mr. Bruni noted in the opening paragraphs, the tax reform bill wasn’t as bad as it could have been: “Americans who were deducting interest on student loans will still be able to do so. The tuition waivers that many graduate students receive won’t be treated as income.” But, as he notes, the fact that these items were even on the table is unsettling, especially given the need for more education in our current economy. In light of the need to change the public’s attitude toward higher education, Mr. Bruni offers his ideas about what caused the fall from grace of colleges and universities and suggests some fixes. In doing so, though, Mr. Bruni overlooked one major problem: college debt, a problem flagged earlier in the week in a Truthdig article by Ellen Brown. He also overlooked the fact that despite their pushback against traditional colleges and universities, the Trump administration has changed the rules at USDOE in a fashion that offers backdoor support to for-profit post-secondary schools.

Mr. Bruni’s conclusions about post-secondary education are based primarily on the results of recent polls indicating a loss of confidence in those institutions:

Just how far they’ve fallen was suggested by a Pew survey this year that sent shock waves through the world of higher education. Asked if colleges were having a positive or negative effect on America, 58 percent of Republicans and conservative-leaning independents said negative. That was up from just 37 percent two years earlier.

A Gallup poll found that only 44 percent of all Americans had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the country’s colleges and universities, while 56 percent had only “some” or “very little.” College — once a great aspiration — was now a polarizing question mark.

That’s not so surprising, given Americans’ intensifying resentment of anything that smacks of elitism and given Republicans’ attacks on science and intellectuals. As Ron Daniels, the president of Johns Hopkins University, recently told me, “Even if we were completely unblemished in the way in which we pursued our mission, it would be hard to imagine that in Trump’s America, we wouldn’t be targets for scorn.”

For the balance of the column Mr. Bruni talks about ways colleges could package themselves better, seeming to think that the problems colleges face are due to poor marketing and/or the presumably false perception that they are bastions of “illiberal liberalism”. And he draws from three university presidents who all view the problem through the same lens and concludes that the problem can be solved by providing the public with a better understanding of higher education:

They’re trying to explain themselves better — a simple, obvious thing that somehow fell by the wayside over recent decades. Not all Americans accept on faith the value of higher education to individual students and to society as a whole. Not all Americans understand how universities function as vital engines of many cities’ and states’ economies or as cradles of the very innovation that keeps America great.

“Higher education has enjoyed this sort of send-us-the-money, leave-us-alone luxury for a long time, and that’s just not the case anymore,” (UNC Chancellor Margaret) Spellings said. “We’ve got to prove what we do.”

What Mr. Bruni overlooks, however, is a major source of discontent: colleges graduates and former college students who never graduated face mountains of debt… and they are increasingly unable to see a way to pay their debt off. This, I believe, is an underlying factor in the poll results Mr. Bruni cites in his article. Here are some facts about debt drawn for Ms. Brown’s article:

Graduates leave college with a diploma and a massive debt on their backs, averaging more than $37,000 in 2016. The government’s student loan portfolio now totals $1.37 trillion, making it the second highest consumer debt category, behind only mortgage debt. Student debt has risen nearly 164 percent in 25 years, while median wages have increased only 1.6 percent.

Unlike mortgage debt, student debt must be paid. Students cannot just turn in their diplomas and walk away, as homeowners can with their keys. Wages, unemployment benefits, tax refunds and even Social Security checks can be tapped to ensure repayment. In 1998, Sallie Mae (the Student Loan Marketing Association) was privatized, and Congress removed the dischargeability of federal student debt in bankruptcy, absent exceptional circumstances. In 2005, this lender protection was extended to private student loans. Because lenders know that their debts cannot be discharged, they have little incentive to consider a student borrower’s ability to repay. Most students are granted a nearly unlimited line of credit. This, in turn, has led to skyrocketing tuition rates—because universities know the money is available to pay them—and that has created the need for students to borrow even more.

Students take on a huge debt load with the promise that their degrees will be the doorway to jobs that allow them to pay it back, but for many the jobs are not there or are not sufficient to meet expenses. Nearly one-third of borrowers today have made no headway in paying down their loans five years after leaving school, although many of these borrowers are not in default. They make payments month after month consisting only of interest, while continuing to owe the full amount they borrowed. This can mean a lifetime of tribute to the lenders if the loan is never paid off, a classic form of debt peonage to the lender class.

The tens of thousands of borrowers who heard that college would be the “doorway” to high paying jobs but find themselves working as baristas or temps are unlikely to respond favorably to a survey that asks them if college has a favorable impact on their lives. Nor are they likely to express confidence in colleges and universities as institutions. Neither political party, however, is doing anything to address this issue because both are beholden to the financial institutions who’ve made the loans and they are “booking” the anticipated payback on the loans as an asset when they calculate their own balance sheets.

And here’s what’s even worse: the GOP is loosening the regulations on for-profit colleges and reducing the amount colleges that bilked students must pay to students who were misled by the false advertising of failed for-profit “colleges” like Corinthian.

Margaret Spellings and her colleagues can try to prove what a college education can do, but to do so she and her colleagues will have to seek a way to mitigate the debt slavery tens of thousands of recent college students face, for their parents, their friends, and ultimately their children will never believe college was the doorway to a bright future. Their reality has taught them something completely different.

Update on the GOP Platform I: Colleges and Universities

November 26, 2017 Leave a comment

In November of last year I wrote a post lamenting the fact that President Trump selected Rance Priebus to be his chief of staff. I was concernd because as the former head of the GOP, I believed Mr. Priebus would be pushing for the adoption of the GOP’s education platform. In the intervening months Mr. Preibus has fallen by the wayside, but the GOP’s education platform is alive and well and is advancing without Mr. Priebus’ interventoin at the White House. This is the first of three posts providing an update on the implementation of the GOP’s education platform using Politico’s synopsis of the elements of the 2016 Republican Platform that pertain to education with my assessment of progress made in bold red italics:

— On campus sexual assault: The Obama administration’s crackdown on campus sexual assaults has distorted Title IX “to micromanage the way colleges and universities deal with allegations of abuse,” the platform says. Republicans said that sexual assault reports should be resolved only by law enforcement, rather than by university officials. This has been accomplished with a stroke of Betsy DeVos’ pen. Some campuses welcomed the change, but many stated their intention to retain the standards they adopted in response to the Obama “crackdown”.

— On student loans: Republicans called for ending the federal direct student loan program and restoring greater “private sector participation in student financing.” Even though this will undermine a revenue stream for USDOE, the current GOP budget calls for a marked reduction in loans and includes a plan to increase revenues by ending tax deductions for student loans. Making matters even worse, graduate students will be required to pay taxes on the “compensation” they receive for fellowships and parents who teach in college will have to pay taxes on any in-kind scholarships their children receive. Make no mistake, the GOP does not like or value academics.

— On college accreditation: The platform says that “accreditation should be decoupled from federal financing.” And it also echoes some of the accreditation overhaul ideas that lawmakers like Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) have proposed. The document says, for example, that “states should be empowered to allow a wide array of accrediting and credentialing bodies to operate.” Such a model, the platform says, would “foster innovation, bring private industry into the credentialing market, and give students the ability to customize their college experience.” This has come to pass at the state level thanks to the USDOE’s interpretation of ESSA and thanks, too, to Betsy DeVos’ decision to back off on USDOE suits brought against deregulated for profit schools.

— On for-profit education: “We need new systems of learning to compete with traditional four-year schools,” the platform says. “Technical institutions, online universities, life-long learning, and work-based learning in the private sector.” See above…  

— On recent campus protests and student activism: As it has in previous years, the platform laments “political indoctrination” on college campuses. This year, the document specifically criticizes “zones of intellectual intolerance or ‘safe zones” — adopting the term that some student activists have used to describe spaces on campus where marginalized students feel comfortable discussing sensitive issues. Some conservatives have said such efforts keep out contrary viewpoints and infringe on students’ free speech rights. “Colleges, universities, and trade schools must not infringe on their freedom of speech and association in the name of political correctness,” the platform says. The war on “political correctness” continues while unbridled racist, sexist, and xenophobic insults persist. President Trump’s reaction to the confrontations in Charlottesville VA underscored this change in direction from the top. Unfortunately some campuses have reacted badly, blocking the free speech of academics whose views are distasteful which reinforces the Alt Right’s contention that “political correctness” is a form of totalitarian thinking.

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?