Income-based repayment soars

Graduates at George Washington University’s 2015 commencement. Photo: Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Student loan holders are jumping to sign up for income-based repayment plans, writes Mikhail Zinshteyn in The Atlantic. That will be costly for taxpayers.

Depending on the program, the qualified borrower pays either 10 or 15 percent of his or her income over a duration of 20 or 25 years (10 years if the borrower spends that entire time employed at a government or nonprofit position). Any amount not paid off after those periods is excused, a perk that can translate into hundreds of thousands of dollars for borrowers with high student-debt loads.

Borrowing is limited for undergrads, but not for graduate students who who average much higher earnings than four-year graduates.

Income-based repayment programs are costing taxpayers $11 billion a year, estimates New America analyst Jason Delisle. But that could rise quickly, writes Zinshteyn. Colleges “could charge higher tuition and encourage students to assume the costs, with Uncle Sam swallowing their debt loads.”

In 2013, Delisle and colleagues wrote about an administrator at Georgetown University’s law school encouraging students to take out large amounts of debt that’d be excused after 10 years as part of the income-based repayment program’s public-service provision.

“We have a federal program that will provide $150,000 of loan forgiveness to someone who graduates from Georgetown Law, but a poor kid who wants to go to Georgetown undergrad can only get $5,000 a year,” Delisle said. “I would struggle to find a more regressive federal education policy.”

Small borrowers are the most likely to default, writes Susan Dynarski. “Defaults are concentrated among the millions of students who drop out without a degree, and they tend to have smaller debts.”

College payoff is shrinking

What Is College Worth? asks John Cassidy in The New Yorker.  Despite increasing costs, the number of young people going to college keeps going up, he writes.

Some 70 percent of high school graduates enroll in college and half of Americans between 25 and 34 have a college degree.Product Details

“College has been life changing for most people and a tremendous financial investment for many of them,” writes Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at Wharton, in his new book, Will College Pay Off? Yet, for some, “it has been financially crippling.”

The “college wage premium” has stopped growing, writes Cassidy.

In 2001, according to theEconomic Policy Institute, a liberal think tank in Washington, workers with undergraduate degrees (but not graduate degrees) earned, on average, $30.05 an hour; last year, they earned $29.55 an hour.

Other sources show even more dramatic falls. “Between 2001 and 2013, the average wage of workers with a bachelor’s degree declined 10.3 percent, and the average wage of those with an associate’s degree declined 11.1 percent,” the New York Fed reported in its study.

New graduates with bachelor’s degrees have been hit hard by falling wages and rising unemployment. Non-graduates are doing even worse, but that’s little comfort.

“The big news about the payoff from college should be the incredible variation in it across colleges,” Cappelli writes. “The payoff from many college programs—as much as one in four—is actually negative. Incredibly, the schools seem to add nothing to the market value of the students.”

SAT: 42% are college ready

Only 41.9 percent of SAT takers are prepared for college success, reports College Board. Scores have slipped to 1490 out of 2400.

While 61.3 percent of Asian students and 52.8 percent of white students met the benchmark score of 1550, just 22.7 percent of Latinos and 16.1 percent of black students did that well.

Scoring a 1550 predicts a 65 percent probability of earning a B- average in the first year in college, which is associated with a high likelihood of college success.

Only 28 percent of students who took the ACT are fully prepared for college and 40 percent are prepared in three of four subject areas, concluded an ACT report earlier this week.

More students are taking both tests. States are encouraging — and sometimes requiring — students to take a college-admissions test, usually the ACT.

Even on the SAT, the number of low-income and minority SAT takers increased slightly, reports College Board.

In March, the College Board will introduce a new SAT linked to Common Core standards. The essay will be optional. The highest score will be 1600, just like in the old days.

Khan Academy is providing free online SAT practice tests and study aids.

When Cookie Met Sally

Sesame Street’s When Harry Met Sally parody is kid-friendly, and charming, writes Laura Bradley on Slate. Cookie learns to wait in line.

Fun with slavery

Letting middle schoolers earn game points by stacking bodies in a slave ship turns out to be offensive, reports Liz Dwyer on TakePart. A Danish company has withdrawn the Tetris-style component of Playing History: Slave Trade 2 after a social media backlash.

“Travel back in time to the 18th century and witness the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade firsthand. In this episode, you will be working as a young slave steward on a ship crossing the Atlantic,” reads the description of the game at the Steam store. “You are to serve the captain and be his eyes and ears—reporting any suspicious activities is your duty. But what do you do, when you realize that your own sister has been captured by the slave traders?”

Students could then earn points as the game took them through various scenarios of Africans being captured, held in cages, and suffering in chains on the slave ship.

Some want Serious Games Interactive to drop the whole game. “Gamifying slavery trivializes a serious time in history that shouldn’t be fun,” Rafranz Davis, a Texasbased educational technology expert, wrote to TakePart.

Last year, Mission U.S.: Flight to Freedom, which features the escape of a 14-year-old slave girl, faced a backlash for turning slavery into an adventure. “Critics say the game . . . sanitizes the brutal institution,” writes Joseph Williams on TakePart. “By avoiding the perspective of Lucy’s master, they say, the game doesn’t compel students to consider how or why whites perpetuated the oppression.”

I’m offended by the slave trade game, but not by Flight to Freedom. What do you think?

Core aligned? Not so much

In Checking In, Education Trust asks whether classroom assignments reflect higher Common Core standards. The answer is: “Not so much.”

Analysts looked at more than 1,500 assignments given by 92 teachers at six middle schools in in two urban school districts.

Thirty-eight percent were aligned with a grade-level standard — and the rate was lower in high-poverty schools.

Only 4 percent of assignments “pushed student thinking to higher levels,” concluded the analysis. Eighty-five percent “asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts as opposed to prompting for inferences or structural analysis, or requiring author critiques.”

Many assignments were “over-scaffolded,” the report found. “Much of the work was actually done for the students rather than by them.”

Attempts to motivate and engage students were “superficial,” according to Ed Trust. Teachers tried to provide “relevance” through pop-culture references and art activities.

In their attempt to align teaching to Common Core standards, schools and teachers are replicating what’s taught at workshops and picking up online resources, the report concluded. “The majority of assignments included keywords and phrases found in the common-core standards, fostering a comforting sense that ‘we are aligned.’ Unfortunately, this is not the case—much of this is window dressing.”

This is not surprising.

Classroom of the future

Harvard Business School really has created the classroom of the future, reports Fortune.

Is Uber really worth $50 billion? Bharat Anand, a Harvard strategy professor, discusses the question with 60 students whose faces are “portrayed on a curved screen in front of him,” reports Fortune. “Essentially everyone sits front and center, whether they reside in Beijing, Warsaw, Prague, Miami, San Francisco, or Toronto.”

Via Jay Greene’s blog.

Learn to teach knowledge

Julius who?

Julius who?

For decades — long before No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing — elementary teachers have focused on reading and math, spending little time science and social studies, writes Natalie Wexler in a New York Times commentary.

That’s because teachers believe their students need reading skills and strategies, such as “finding the main idea,” she writes. They don’t realize that reading comprehension requires a broad base of knowledge about the world.

Many elementary students spend hours practicing skills-based strategies, reading a book about zebras one day and a story about wizards the next, flitting among subjects.

. . . For students to understand what they’re reading, they need relevant background knowledge and vocabulary.

Common Core calls for “building knowledge systematically,” writes Wexler. But the standards “don’t specify what knowledge students should learn in each grade, because they’re designed to be used across the country.” So most educators are still focusing on skills.

In a comment, Emile, a professor at a “mid-tier university” for more than 25 years, calls for K-12 schools to forget “about instilling love of learning.” Instead, schools should “provide the basic scaffolding for knowledge, and let students take it from there.” Professors won’t have to teach about Enlightenment ideals to students who’ve never heard of the Roman empire.

‘Thinking like a scientist’ — without facts

Memorizing is out, thinking like a scientist is in, thanks to Michigan’s proposed new science standards, reports Lori Higgins in the Detroit Free Press. 

Instead of “memorizing the ins and outs of life cycles, photosynthesis and matter,” Michigan students will “ask questions, investigate, analyze data, develop evidence and defend their conclusions,” writes Higgins. “In short, they’re going to have to think, act and learn like scientists.

What does this mean? Projects.

“There’s a lot more hands-on activities, a lot more getting your hands dirty, trying things out, taking the core ideas and scientific and engineering practices and putting them together,” said Brian Peterson, a fifth-grade teacher at Musson Elementary in Rochester Community Schools.

Take a popular balloon rocket experiment, he said. Nowadays a teacher might give students the basic materials (a balloon, string, straw and tape), then step-by-step instructions. Under the new method, a teacher might provide kids with different sizes of balloons, different lengths of straws, and different materials for string, then turn them loose.

The kids design their own balloon rocket — then defend why they made the material and size choices they did.

“Scientists think like scientist because THEY #$%@! KNOW SCIENCE!,” writes Robert Pondiscio on Facebook.

This isn’t new. In The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill promised Iowans their sons would learn to play music via the “think system.”

Smart teacher vs. smart phones

This phone policy makes sense, says Ellen K at The Sum of All Things According 2 Me. “And if you don’t understand then you’ve never had to try to speak over the texting, movie watching and instagramming of today’s youths.”