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Posts Tagged ‘College and Career Readiness’

A Predictable Meltdown Results When a Former Investor in For-Profit Schools Oversees the Dismantling of Regulations Governing Those Schools

March 8, 2019 Comments off

NYTimes reporters Stacy Cowley and Erica Green describe the rapid meltdown of a college chain that resulted when Betsy DeVos aggressively deregulated post secondary schools in the name of giving “new life” to an industry that was “on its heels” during the Obama administration. And why was it on its heels? Because, as the Obama administration’s Department of Education recognized, the profiteers who operated private (mostly proprietary) colleges misled students who went deeply in debt to get the education they understood they needed to be successful in the global economy. The students never got their degrees because the colleges did not have the wherewithal to provide the education they promised. When the Obama administration fined the colleges to help pay back either the students’ personal loans or the government who provided loans for the schools the profiteering colleges either went out of business or transferred their ownership to a different entity. The winners in all of this were the investors and the college administrators who received unseemly high salaries. The losers were the students who hoped to better themselves only to find themselves deep in debt. I am certain that the laissez faire capitalists will shrug their shoulders and say that’s the way the market works: caveat emptor! One can only hope that every disaffected student will at least learn that the policy of deregulation— UNDER-governing— is the problem and not the government itself. But that unit was probably not included in the introductory economics courses offered.

One Phrase Explains Demise of Alternative Colleges: “…a Desire for a Higher Return on Investment”

March 4, 2019 Comments off

I have a soft spot in my heart for so-called “alternative colleges”, a soft spot born from my own personal experience as an undergraduate and my older daughter’s experience as a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA and my younger daughter’s experience at Amherst College.

As one who valued hands-on experiential learning and the opportunity to develop one’s own curriculum, I stumbled into an ideal situation as an undergraduate at Drexel University. When I entered Drexel, it was an “institute of technology” like it’s more famous role model Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It differentiated itself from other “institutes of technology” by offering a five year work-study program that enabled undergraduates to work six-month stints in industry where they could see how the abstract coursework they were completing in the classroom translated to the workplace. When I enrolled, I intended to pursue engineering, but after two six month assignments at the Ford Motor Company and increasingly daunting and uninteresting coursework in mathematics and science I decided to change majors to Commerce and Engineering— a hybrid major Drexel offered to disenchanted and/or challenged engineering majors who wanted to pursue a degree that would prepare them for the workplace at that time. While I found the coursework much more interesting and upgraded my cumulative average, after a successful six-month period at Mobil Oil, I turned down an offer to return there because I had decided to become one of the first students to enroll in Drexel’s fledgling “Humanities and Technology” college— an undergraduate degree that Drexel needed to offer in order to become a university instead of an institute of technology. My plan was to major in English, teach in the City, and find my way to a leadership role in that organization instead of climbing the corporate ladder. While my classmates dreamed of becoming CEO of their own business or of an existing Fortune 500 company, I dreamed of being Superintendent of Schools in Philadelphia.

As a new student in a new and as-yet-undefined program, I was able to design my own major for my final two years. I took a heavy load of poetry, literature, and history courses, was tutored in the design of standardized tests by Drexel’s lone psychometrics professor, and dabbled in introductory courses in biology and pure mathematics (as opposed to the five calculus and many physics and chemistry courses I took as an aspiring engineer) in order to broaden my opportunities for education certification. I also spent three months as a student teacher in English at West Philadelphia HS. When I graduated, I had sufficient courses to be certified in English, social studies, science, and mathematics. Since Pennsylvania only allowed a prospective teacher to have two certificates, my academic advisor recommended that I get certified in English and mathematics. But more importantly, I had a sense that I had in some sense controlled my destiny for the previous five years.

When my daughters were selecting a college to attend, they leaned toward schools that did not have distribution requirements and allowed undergraduates to take a wide array of courses. My older daughter specifically sought out unconventional schools that would allow her to pursue coursework based on her own interests. The colleges we visited included some liberal arts schools that had distribution requirements, but also included Antioch in Ohio and The Evergreen State College in Olympia WA, the school she ultimately selected. My younger daughter was more interested in attending a school that would nurture her desire to become a writer, which led us to visit Brown, Wesleyan, and Amherst where she ultimately enrolled.

Given my personal experiences as an undergraduate and the fact that their mother majored in art as an undergraduate and was working as a fabric artist at the time they were aspiring to college, we supported the idea of them attending liberal arts colleges. We both recognized that once they obtained degrees they would be able to find their way in the world… and, from my perspective, if they could effectively design their own course of studies they would have a sense of agency that many college students who follow a prescribed curriculum lack.

With all of this as a backdrop, I was saddened to read Anemona Hartocollis’ article in today’s NYTimes that one of the groundbreaking “alternative colleges”, Hampshire, was on the verge of closing its doors. The reason?

The problems alternative colleges face point to a larger crisis in higher education: a shrinking college-age population, especially in the Northeast and Upper Midwest, where many of these institutions are clustered. But they are also confronting a growing skepticism of the liberal arts, often a focus of nontraditional programs, and a desire for a higher return on investment.

The shrinking college-age population is a demographic reality, but the notion that college attendance is based on a “return on investment” is a mental construct that exemplifies everything that is wrong with traditional education and the so-called K-12 “reform” movement that perpetuates traditional schooling. A quote from Eva-Maria Swidler, a faculty member at Goddard College, an alternative college in Plainfield, Vermont, offers the best insight on the current state of affairs in undergraduate education:

“What I see happening under the aegis of ‘financial responsibility’ is a purging of colleges that serve unconventional students….What this purge leaves behind is a system of higher education even more focused on either training only the elites in the liberal arts or training everyone else as obedient workers for a corporate work force.

The call for students to be “ready-for-work” creates a demand for cookie-cutter curricula that prepare undergraduates for job vacancies that exist today but are unlikely to exist in the future… and by obediently completing these prescribed course sequences undergraduates who aspire to get a good “return on their investment” are denied the opportunity to control their own destiny, to learn-how-to-learn, to have any sense of agency, or be prepared for an ambiguous future.

Education is not intended to “prepare students for work”… it is, in the words of John Dewey, “life itself”. I did not realize it when I entered college, Drexel was following Dewey’s admonition:

Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as to demand thinking; learning naturally results.

I doubt that John Dewey ever uttered the phrase “return on investment”… indeed, I cannot think of any respected education philosopher who ever used that phrase. Nor did any creative genius.

Goodwill MOOCs Surpass All Others for Enrollment. Why? They Provide What THEIR Customers Need: Job Training

March 2, 2019 Comments off

Many education writers and bloggers, including yours truly, have predicted that MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) would someday replace the traditional post-secondary offerings, But like many others, I was completely surprised to read that Goodwill— yes, THAT Goodwill that sells used clothing— has the second most robust MOOC program in the world! Why? Because while start-ups like Udacity, edX and Coursera all fought over the traditional post secondary market, Goodwill seized the larger and more urgent market: those seeking fundamental job skills. As Brandon Busteed of Forbes writes:

…there’s good reason to believe it could quickly surpass all MOOCs in total users.  Why?  It’s simple.  Goodwill got the premise right.  And that premise is all about jobs.  It’s providing the education and skills that help move people from unemployed to employed, from a low-paying job to a higher-paying one, from a bad or average job to a good job.

And in our country, unemployed and under-employed workers all agree that getting a job that pays well and offers benefits is the way to get off the treadmill of pointless and low-paying work… and that getting job skills is essential to securing a better job! And the good news from my perspective as one who sees the world through the lens of social justice, Goodwill, unlike its competitors, is not interested in profit:

Goodwill’s entire focus, though, is a market of people who arguably have both the highest degree of motivation and the least means of accomplishing their goals.  Their model may be the ultimate application of the MOOC educational model – free courses for those who desperately want jobs and can’t afford to pay for education or training.  If Goodwill and its donors and partners can find ways to sustain offering their courses for free to those who need them most around the world, they will most certainly become the world’s biggest MOOC.

I wish them well, and hope that the Federal government, who seems to feel free to bail out and /or support profiteering private post-secondary schools, might find a way to support Goodwill’s MOOCs.

Betsy DeVos’ Advocacy for Vocational Focus Leads Me to Think: MAYBE We Need to Restore Public Education’s ORIGINAL Mission

February 23, 2019 Comments off

A recent New Republic article about Betsy DeVos’ misunderstanding of the history of public schools written by Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, got me thinking that maybe we should restore the original mission of public education. In the article, titled “Betsy DeVos Is Fabricating History to Sell a Bad Education Policy“, Mr. Schneider asserts that Ms. DeVos is either unknowingly or intentionally misrepresenting the true history of education to satisfy her intent to narrow its mission to vocational training. He writes: 

Over the past several years, DeVos…  has argued, (that schools) were modeled after factories, and “students were trained for the assembly line.” But as the economy shifted over time, schools failed to keep pace. As she has repeatedly insisted, schools remain “stuck in a mode” from 100 years ago.

The solution, then, is seemingly quite simple. Schools need to be overhauled so that they focus on preparing young people for the jobs of the future. According to DeVos, “You have to think differently about what the role of education and preparation is.”

But as Mr. Schneider accurately notes, the factory school was a construct that emerged in response to Taylorism that swept the nation at the turn of the 20th Century, a construct that altered the original purpose of public education. And what was that purpose?

As historian Ethan Hutt told me, “Early advocates of public education were generally unconcerned with what we would think of as workplace training. Their priorities were social and political in nature.”

State constitutions enshrined public education as a right in the nineteenth century, yet they hardly mention vocational instruction. The most common educational aim described in these documents is the “general diffusion of knowledge” for the “preservation of rights and liberties.” Many of these constitutions go so far as to confirm the value of education for its own sake. Tennessee’s, for instance, “recognizes the inherent value of education and encourages its support.” Montana’s states that public schools should “develop the educational potential of each person.” And the Illinois constitution supports “the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities.” Only six states make any mention of training for work.

So the progressive ideals of John Dewey are enshrined in laws and constitutions written well before his time while the ideals of efficiency and training advocated by the Robber Barons are embodied in today’s schools. And Ms. DeVos wants to focus more on the training and less on learning for learning’s sake. Based on historic precedent, Mr. Schneider doubts that this change is focus will occur:

Jobs certainly matter, and the future labor productivity of today’s students will impact the entire economy. Yet even if schools could be reoriented to focus effectively on job training, the result would hardly be an unqualified good. Any shift in the present orientation of schools will come at the expense of school activities organized around the preservation of rights and liberties, as well as the inherent value of education. By and large, Americans of the past were unwilling to make that trade-off. If they’re aware of what’s happening, Americans of the present may be no different.

I share Mr. Schnieder’s broad optimism… but fear that too many of the recent graduates of public education never experienced “education for the sake of education”; they only experienced “education for the sake of passing tests” and, consequently, are comfortable with the notion that “test scores” are a proxy for “merit” and, consequently, are the desired end of education.

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

February 13, 2019 Comments off

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?

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.