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College Board’s Two Key AP Courses COULD Put Democracy on the Right Track

February 13, 2019 Leave a comment

As readers of this blog may hove noted, I often disagree with NYTimes columnist Thomas Friedman, who reliably supports neoliberal ideas about “school reform” and often reinforces the ideas set forth by Anand Giridharadas’ MarketWorld proponents. But I found myself nodding in agreement with his column today that supported the College Board’s assertion that two AP courses are needed to set a better course for democracy: Coding and the US Constitution.

The coding course focuses not on a specific computer language. Instead it focussed on the self-actualization that is possible when one learns how to DEVELOP uses for the computer as opposed having the computer dictate uses to students. Here’s the pitch the College Board used to attract a larger and more diverse enrollment in AP Computer Science:

What is it that you’d like to do in the world? Music? Art? Science? Business? Great! Then come build an app in the furtherance of that interest and learn the principles of computer science, not just coding, (College Board President David) Coleman said. “Learn to be a shaper of your environment, not just a victim of it.”

Both Mr. Friedman and College Board President David Coleman view the AP US Constitution course s being essential for future success. Why?

Every student needs to understand that, as Coleman put it, “our country was argued into existence — and that is the first thing that binds us — but also has some of the tensions that divide us. So we thought, ‘What can we do to help replace the jeering with productive conversation?’”

It had to start in high school, said (Stefanie) Sanford, (the College Board chief of global policy), who is leading the “two codes” initiative. “Think of how much more ready you are to participate in college and society with an understanding of the five freedoms that the First Amendment protects — of speech, assembly, petition, press and religion. The First Amendment lays the foundation for a mature community of conversation and ideas — built on the right and even obligation to speak up and, when needed, to protest, but not to interrupt and prevent others from speaking.”

This becomes particularly important, she noted, “when technology and democracy are thought of as in conflict, but are actually both essential” and need to work in tandem.

I completely agree with Mr. Friedman’s thinking about the essential need for informed citizens of the future to have a deep and fundamental understanding of both coding AND the constitution. In tandem they offer an opportunity to develop both convergent and divergent thinking and, most importantly, provide the skill sets students need to function in a democracy.

And while I generally oppose high stakes tests, I DO think that requiring all students to pass two AP tests like these would improve the pool of voters substantially. So here’s the question: which state will sign on first to make this happen?

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Boston Valedictorians Struggling Economically… Their Suburban Counterparts? Not So Much

January 30, 2019 Comments off

A recent story on research conducted by Boston Globe reporter Malcolm Gay reported on the current earnings of valedictorians from Boston area schools who graduated in 2005-2007. The headline of the article read:

How can it be true? Many valedictorians of Boston public schools struggle to make a middle class income

How can it be true? Evidently both the headline writer and Mr. Gay have been asleep for the past decade— or make that past several decades— as the difference between funding for suburban and urban schools has widened, the income disparities of parents in suburban and urban schools has widened, and the racism that exists has persisted. Being valedictorian in an underfunded school does not prepare you for the current economy any more that being the best athlete in a small school prepares you to play in the major leagues. But here’s what’s sad: the student who’s an exceptional athlete has a better chance of making the big leagues than the exceptional scholar because scouts are looking everywhere for “diamonds in the rough” who might become extraordinary players… but colleges and businesses do not want to invest their time and money in potential “stars”. Instead, they rely on private schools and affluent suburban schools to feed them the talent they need… and the current system doesn’t limit their pool. And here is what is particularly maddening: despite their protests about the lack of qualified applicants the private sector is not increasing their compensation for entry positions— the classical response to sagging applicants— nor is it making an effort to cultivate the untapped talent that lies in underfunded schools by paying higher taxes or actively engaging in talent searches.

What is the Employers Role in Skill Development? What is Government’s? What is the Individuals?

January 18, 2019 Comments off

I just finished scanning a Politico report titled The Future of Prosperity: Ladders to Success before closely reading the conclusion. Developed by a “working group” of 17 educators, business leaders, and futurists from think tanks, this report examined statistics on post-secondary education and employment and concluded that there is a mismatch between the skills being taught in post secondary education, desired by businesses, and sought by students. Here’s the overarching conclusion of the “working group”:

To meet the needs of a changing economy, the system will need to educate more Americans, in more subjects, at different stages in life, than it has in the past. POLITICO’s working group concluded that to meet that challenge, the current system needs significant disruption—and employers, higher- education institutions and governments will all need to pay a part.

In the minds of the working group, employers need to “…rethink what degrees and credentials they require of applicants and why, improve communication about what skills and jobs are needed, and provide more on-the-job training, including apprenticeships. They also need to come up with ways to certify skills that workers acquire on the job, and participate in efforts to develop new systems to upgrade workers’ skills and retrain displaced workers.”

The working group also urged colleges and universities to provide continuum of programs for those already employed and lacking degrees, focussing on “…stackable and modular courses and credentials that can combine skills and knowledge learned
in a variety of institutions.” They particularly emphasized the need for public institutions to “…move students’ job-training goals closer to the center of their mission.”

They also believe the federal government has a role to play. They need to help develop a “…new and more flexible approach to financial support (that) could open doors for people at more points in their lives“, and “...also incentivize new types of institutions, such as online education providers, built around training and “upskilling.” Finally, thy thought the government could serve as “…trusted repository of information“, effectively serving as the permanent record system tracking the education credentials collected by individuals as they wend their way through life-long education.

Implicit in all of this thinking are the following notions:

  • Employers have some responsibility for developing the talent they require
  • Post-secondary programs can operate independent of the workplaces but need to focus more on job-skills and less on learning-how-to-learn
  • The federal government should keep track of each individual’s work arc and skill development
  • Individuals can make informed choices about their career paths and change their minds as they progress and are ultimately responsible for developing the skills employers need

To be clear, the report makes no mention of the final bullet… of what is expected of individuals— i.e. students and employees. From the working team’s perspective, the employee/student is a cog in their machinery who should be molded based on changing specifications of the workplace.

The current system IS flawed for several reasons… but the major problem with the thinking behind this report from this liberal arts graduates perspective is that it assumes the primary purpose of schooling is the development of work skills. I think schools should build on the inherent love of learning that I witness in my grandchildren as they develop speaking skills, motor skills, and listen to me red them stories…. and that sense of wonder should be built into post secondary work and, as much as possible, even into the work one does to earn a living. And should that wonder be impossible to find in one’s life work, it should be inculcated into their lives outside of work. When employees and students lose that wonder for the world around them, they can quickly lose the joy of life itself.

 

 

 

The Perils of Predicting the Future of Education

December 2, 2018 Comments off

The on-line magazine Quartz offered a series of articles earlier this week on The Future of College, one of which by Natasha Frost, “Experts predicting the future of education would have got an F“, offered some intriguing examples of ideas that were either almost right or completely off base. The predictions included this picture from 1910 by artist Jean-Marc Côte depicting the school of the future:

The article also included predictions that radio, “sound movies and mechanical tabulating machines”, personal computers, “practical use of direct electronic communication with and stimulation of the brain”, and flying classrooms would transform education at all levels and that universities would die off because “Colleges had become such hotbeds of Marxism, feminism, and affirmative action” that they would be inhospitable to most attendees.

As one whose entire blog is based on the premise that schooling in the future will incorporate the coordinated provision of medical and social services, the robust use of technology, and increased training in relationship building, I found the predictions both humorous and unsettling. The humor is evident in looking at the picture above… but the unsettling part is that each of the predictions have a dark side that one could see unfolding in our current schools.

There is a capability to avoid schooling altogether based on parental distaste for the culture that is implicitly taught in public schools and, with the advocacy for vouchers, it is conceivable that funds earmarked for “government schools” will be increasingly siphoned off for de facto madrases that inculcate religious values in children.

There is also the capability to avoid schooling altogether by engaging in on-line learning and passing a test that certifies one’s “mastery” of “career readiness” without experiencing the give-and-take of a classroom or a school. In this way a child could be shielded from contact with peers and become single-mindedly dedicated to, say, coding or micro-biology.

And there is also the capability (or in some cases proclivity) of schools to administer drugs to children to help control their behavior and thereby increase their ability to perform well in the classroom. The most unsettling quote from Ms. Frost’s article offers evidence of this: “A 2008 poll of Nature readers found that 20% of them “used drugs for non-medical reasons to stimulate their focus, concentration, or memory” … and I assume those drugs are stronger than the large cup of coffee I am sipping to help me arouse from slumber and focus my thoughts as I type this post.

Despite the possible adverse directions education could take, I remain optimistic that reasonable minds will see the value of improving human relationships and the importance of having equity in our economy and opportunities. Assuming that is the case, Martin Luther King Junior’s prediction will prevail: “Let us realize the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Let us hope that is true.

Bloomberg’s Message to His Billionaire Buddies: Help Pay Tuitions for Neediest

November 19, 2018 Comments off

I wholeheartedly disagree with Michael Bloomberg’s approach to public education and despair at how he “reformed” public schools in New York. I do, however, appreciate his can-do attitude. If he observes a problem, he attempts to fix it using his money and expertise for what he perceives as “good”. His money and expertise helped make NYC a livable city, albeit not an affordable one. In doing so, he unwittingly illustrated the pitfalls in expanding market theories to public schools, but he also exhibited a willingness to use government policy to tackle major problems like obesity, global warming, and fitness. In sum, he used his billions and his expertise to do the best he could to solve serious and protracted social problems: he exemplifies the best instincts of philanthropy.

Quartz recently described Mr. Bloomberg’s latest foray into solving a serious social problem, access to higher education for those who cannot afford college, by donating $1,800,000,000 to his alma mater Johns Hopkins. While others are debating the admissions policies (and politics) of entry to Harvard, Mr. Bloomberg is tackling the issue head on by making a donation to an equally prestigious school that will ensure that Johns Hopkins is “forever needs blind” in its admissions. Quartz concludes with this synopsis of Mr. Bloomberg’s approach to philanthropy:

Bloomberg’s message to other big donors is clear: In lieu of donating yet another fancy building with your name on it, tackle educational opportunities at the root, and liberate young Americans from the decades-long prison of student debt.

And if you must donate a piece of architecture, at least do it with a sense of humility. In 2016, Bloomberg, who grew up in Brookline, Massachusetts, donated $50 million to the Boston Museum of Science, the museum’s largest-ever private donation. He chose the Museum of Science because besides his parents, he says the museum was the most profound influence on his life (he earned his bachelors degree in electrical engineering). The money is being used to support the museum’s education center. Its new name: The William and Charlotte Bloomberg Science Education Center, named in Bloomberg’s parents’ honor.

Here’s hoping Mr. Bloomberg’s billionaire boys club buddies heed his message.

My Son-in-Law’s Description of the NYC High School Application Process Underscores Requirement for Parent Engagement

November 11, 2018 Comments off
My Grandson, Evan, is in eighth grade in NYC. This means he is in the throes of applying to high schools in that city, a process that requires much more parent engagement than applying for college, and a process that is much more involved than applying to college because there is no common application form. My son-in-law who has been fully engaged in the process took the time to provide a written synopsis of the process for his sister who lives in Colorado and was mystified by the fact that her nephew had to “apply for high school”. I know from my daughter’s sharing of her experiences on Facebook that most people in the country are unaware of how “choice” plays out in NYC… and when they see what parents are required to do they are astonished. Here’s my son-in-law’s overview in italics with some notations I’ve inserted in bold green and some phrases I’ve emphasized underlined in bold.
In NYC there are 8 “specialized” public high schools that are all very good schools and are spread across the 5 boroughs, some huge (Brooklyn Tech is the largest high school in the US with almost 6000 students) some relatively small (400-500 students). What these have in common is that admission is 100% based on a single 3-hour test–the SHSAT. Evan took that test a couple of weeks ago, and on the test form submitted our ranking of the 8 schools. Next spring the board of ed will run their algorithm on the test scores. Person with the highest score will be offered a spot at their #1 choice, then the next highest scoring person will be placed at their #1 choice, etc., until one or more schools fill all their spots, and some people start getting their 2nd choice, etc.. At the end of this process when each of the 8 schools have awarded all their slots, you can retroactively see a minimum “cutoff” score for each school. Evan took about 3 sample SHSAT tests, and his scores on two of them would likely be above the cutoff for at least a couple of these schools, so we’ll see in the spring whether he did well on the actual test. Of course the large majority of kids who take the test don’t get an offer from one of these schools. To summarize: one test determines whether a child qualifies to attend a “specialized” public school and not all children who take the test get into any school of their choice. 

Meanwhile, there are over 200 other public high schools in NYC, at least two dozen of which are also very good. These good schools are all “screened” schools, meaning they look at kids’ 7th grade report cards and state test scores and attendance records (and a few add their own admission test, essay, and/or interview into the mix) and rank applicants accordingly. Some of them also give preference based on what borough or neighborhood you live in, while some of them judge kids without considering where in the city they live. All NYC 8th graders have to submit a ranked preference list of 12 of these (non-specialized) high schools, regardless of whether they also took the SHSAT for the specialized schools.So the open houses I mentioned were a mix of specialized and non-specialized schools to help us submit the two lists of ranked schools. It’s a grueling process, and every kid comes home from school with a paper copy of this giant directory of schools to pore through:

To summarize: my son-in-law and daughter need to become familiar with all 200 high schools in the city to make an informed choice and, having done that background work, need to schedule visits to open houses to both determine and demonstrate their interest in the “screened” schools… and they need to have monitored my grandson’s work and attendance for the years leading up to 8th grade. 
The deadline for submitting Evan’s list is Dec. 3… Basically Evan has a shot at qualifying for Brooklyn Tech, which due to having the most slots generally has close to the lowest cutoff score for the specialized schools. And we have at least 8 smaller, boutique-y non-specialized schools to rank (mostly in Manhattan with one or two in Brooklyn) that we’d be very pleased with, as well as a couple of large Brooklyn “safety schools” that are more comparable to his middle school.. Of all the 20 schools ranked on the two lists, only one is in walking distance from our apt, and most are 20-80 minute subway rides away.  To summarize: there is no such thing as a neighborhood high school in Brooklyn. 
After all this hubbub, nothing much more will happen until March, when we’ll get a letter telling us: 1) SHSAT score 2) specialized school offer (if any) 3) regular school offer (if any). It is possible to end up with a choice to make between offers at a specialized school and a non-specialized school. It’s not impossible that when all is said and done he’ll be walking to that nearby school (Brooklyn Millennium HS), which is relatively young but very impressive. It’s also possible that he’ll be one of the hundreds of city kids going to really engaging schools butspending over 2 hours a day total on the subway to get there and back. Almost-worst case is that he’ll end up in a fine but ego-bruising safety school like his middle school. Worst-worst case is that he wouldn’t get into any of the schools ranked on either list, and would be arbitrarily placed in some other school that didn’t fill up during the first round of applications–… but I think its unlikely. To summarize: a young man who has a good attendance record, done well in his school work, and will presumably do well on the SHSAT, COULD end up not getting into any schools of his choice and may possibly have to settle for a school that is way down on his list of choices. 
The real bottom line in all of this is that the 10% of homeless children in NYC schools are highly unlikely to complete this daunting process…. nor are many of the 74% of the NYC students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.  It requires one resource that those parents lack: time. If a parent is looking for a place to sleep or looking for a better paying job they are unlikely to have the time to perform the kind of analysis my daughter and son-in-law did or the time to visit schools with their child that both my daughter and son-in-law devoted.
According to the Princeton Review, “Out of more than 28,000 students who took the SHSAT in 2016, only about 18% were offered a seat at a Specialized High School.” What the Princeton Review DIDN’T report and what has been underreported in the mainstream media and underemphasized by the “reformers” is this fact: there are roughly 75,000 students in the 8th grade cohort, which means that only 37% of the cohort took the test to qualify for the eight specialized schools and only 6.7% will get into one of those schools. How can “reformers” tout choice when only 37% of the children are taking the test that enables them to HAVE a choice and only 6.7% of those children will attend one of the “top schools” in the city?
I am grateful that my grandson has two parents who are willing and able to take the time to do the in depth research necessary to make an informed choice on his behalf. I wish those who espouse “choice” would realize that making a choice for schooling is inherently inequitable and unfair and stop insisting that it is a civil rights issue or a means of leveling the playing field for students. If “reformers” wanted to level the playing field they would advocate for fair housing, decent wages, and enough money to support the children in all schools in New York City…. and my Grandson might need to apply to a small group of schools that provide specialized programs for gifted and talented students but be confident that if he failed to gain acceptance there would be a high school within walking distance that would provide him with a robust, high quality college preparatory curriculum and a wide range of activities to participate in.

David Callahan Persuasively and Reasonably Defends the Billionaires

October 23, 2018 Comments off

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.