Moving on up

From the Equality of Opportunity Project.

With less ambitious criteria — colleges where most bottom-fifth students reached the upper three-fifths in earnings — the list of upward-mobility colleges starts with New Jersey Institute of Technology, Pace and Cal State, Bakersfield. Xavier of Louisiana, a traditionally black college, ranks sixth.

Most college grads aren’t paying down loans

Three years after college, less than half of former college students are paying down their student loans. Only 46 percent of borrowers “pay even a dollar towards their principal loan balance three years after leaving school,” write Kim Dancy and Ben Barrett of New America.

After fixing an error in its repayment rate calculations, the U.S. Education Department reports much lower repayment rates.

Years After Entering Repayment Old Repayment Rate Corrected Repayment Rate
3 66.3% 46.2%
5 66.4% 52.6%
7 70.3% 61.3%


An increasing number of former students are using deferral or income-driven repayment (IDR) options. Those who pay some of the interest, but none of the principal, are not listed as repaying their loans.

‘Free college’ plan: Who benefits?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “free college” plan won’t help low-income and working-class students, writes Mikhail Zinshteyn.

The Cuomo plan is “completely a handout to the middle class,” says Matt Chingos, an Urban Institute scholar.

Students from families with incomes up to $125,000 would benefit. Those whose families earn $40,000 or less would not. They already receive enough federal and state aid to pay for tuition, though they may struggle to pay for living expenses.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rides the subway. Photo: Mark A. Hermann/MTA New York CityTransit

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton proposed “first-dollar” programs, meaning that students would receive free tuition in addition to federal grants, explains Zinshteyn. Cuomo proposes a “last-dollar” plan. “The free-tuition benefits kick in only after all other federal and state grants are applied to a student’s tuition bill.”

Cuomo’s plan doesn’t cover room and board, which often costs more than tuition, or the hefty fees charged by some state universities. Nationwide, student fees “inflated the tuition bill by 27 percent on average, a recent report found.

That’s why the cost estimate is so low: $163 million.

While other states cover the first two years of college, Cuomo wants to provide four years of free tuition, writes Judith Scott-Clayton of Columbia University’s Teachers’ College on Brookings’ blog.

Skeptics would prefer spending the money on targeted supports for needy students, such as the counseling and structure in CUNY’s highly effective  ASAP program, she writes.

States are trying different models, writes Robert Kelchen in Washington Monthly. We’ll see what works best.

College ‘degree premium’ goes flat

Is a college degree the new high school diploma? asks Jeffrey Selingo in the Washington Post.

The “degree premium” — the earnings gap between high school and college graduates — grew rapidly in the 1980s, slowed in ’90s and has plateaued since 2000, according to a new study by Robert G. Valletta of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.

Technology investments in the ’80s and ’90s increased the demand for college graduates, displacing lower-level workers, writes Selingo. After 2000, “the money started to flow to automation and artificial intelligence,” supplanting workers with four-year degrees.

 Overall, higher education leads to higher lifetime earnings, stresses Valletta. However, young people should remember that not all colleges or majors have equal value in the workplace. The degree premium numbers may be affected by the growing number of for-profit college graduates who often see little or no increase in earnings. (Here’s more on the degree premium.)

Cosmetology students have the most trouble repaying student loans.

Cosmetology students have the most trouble repaying student loans.

The U.S. Education Department’s new “gainful employment” report targets career programs at for-profit colleges. These colleges cost a lot more than community colleges for the same training, the report concluded.

Overall, about a quarter of programs failed — or nearly failed — the debt-to-earnings test.

A string of art institutes produced graduates who didn’t earn enough to pay off their loans, the report found.

Some majors, such as cosmetology and culinary arts, led graduates to poorly paid occupations.

Sixty-one percent of cosmetology graduates who received federal aid graduated from low-value programs, notes the Center for American Progress. “These results suggest the need for serious reconsideration of licensing rules that may be forcing students to attend and borrow money at programs that are tied to occupations that will never pay enough to justify the price.”

Criminal justice graduates also did poorly in the workforce. It’s likely they hoped to be hired as police officers and ended up as security guards.

The Trump administration should expand “gainful employment” rules to all college programs whose students use federal loans and grants, not just those that are explicitly vocational, writes New America’s Kim Dancy. Students should know before they borrow, she argues.

Work, study, dream — and stay poor

(Linda Lutton\/WBEZ)

Chicago’s North Lawndale neighborhood. Photo: Linda Lutton/WBEZ

“School is what makes the American Dream possible,” writes WBEZ reporter Linda Lutton in The View From Room 205. That’s what desperately poor kids are told. But is it true?

On the first day of school, September 2014, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, then head of Chicago Public Schools, told Penn Elementary students they could achieve anything. “No matter where you’re from, what neighborhood you call home, and no matter what your dreams are in life, it is right here at Penn that our children are going to get their start — so that they can have that dream, chase that dream, capture that dream and live it,” Byrd-Bennett tells the kids and their teachers.

After following a veteran fourth-grade teacher’s class, Lutton begins to doubt that schools can overcome poverty, neighborhood violence and family instability.

To her dismay, Lutton witnesses Penn teachers looking at the standardized test a week early, planning to give it as a practice test and letting students use notebooks with reference information on the test. Cheating doesn’t help: Penn kids still do poorly.

School improvement flop: $7 billion = 0

After seven years and $7 billion in School Improvement Grants, low-performing schools showed no improvement, concluded a federal analysis. The final evaluation found “no evidence that SIG had significant impacts on math or reading test scores, high school graduation, or college enrollment” compared to similar low-performing schools that didn’t receive grants.

To receive up to $2 million per year for three years, school had to adopt one of four Education Department models.

School Improvement Grants could “change the lives of tens of millions of underserved children,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Half of SIG schools chose the “transformation” model, which called for replacing the principal and adopting new instructional strategies, teacher evaluations and a longer school day. Nearly all the rest adopted the similar “turnaround” model, which included firing half the teachers.

Robin Lake, director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington-Bothell, studied SIG schools in the state. “Not much had really changed,” she told Ed Week‘s Sarah D. Sparks. “They were being asked to do different things, but the fundamental culture of the school, organization of the school, the fundamental design wasn’t reorienting toward dramatically higher intervention strategies, dramatically higher expectations, or dramatically better teacher training and support.”

The SIG failure aligns with earlier research showing that money can’t save dysfunctional schools and systems, Andy Smarick, an American Enterprise Institute fellow and president of the Maryland Board of Education, told Emma Brown of the Washington Post. “I can imagine Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump saying this is exactly why kids need school choice,” he said.

Smarick predicted the debacle he writes.

On December 6, 2009, I wrote:

The Obama administration’s Department of Education recently launched what I believe will become its most expensive, most lamentable, and most avoidable folly.

In a 2010 Education Next article, The Turnaround Fallacy, Smarick  “recommended a different approach to helping kids assigned to failing schools (namely, new schools, a diversity of options, and parental choice).”

Common Core: Threat or menace?

“Six years after Common Core’s debut,” its critics “have produced enough books to collapse a sturdy bookshelf,” writes Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio. However, most “traffic in fear mongering and paranoid conspiracy theories about corporate greed.”

For example, teacher/activist Kris Nielsen, author of Children of the Core (great title!), believes the “Common Core network” is trying to “dismantle public education.”

Common Core and the Truthby Amy Skalicky, billed as a “parent’s journey,” asserts that the standards are designed to create “new markets for corporations” and “centers of indoctrination to create ‘global citizens’ with all the right behaviors, attitudes and beliefs, otherwise known as puppets.” Nielsen wrote the intro.

It’s the nefarious cabal of billionaires, stupid.

In The Story-Killers, Terrence O. Moore argues that the standards are “deliberately killing off what is left of the great stories of Western literature.” Common Core is designed, Moore insists, “to smear the Western and American tradition with the brush of sexism, racism,” etc.

Brad McQueen, a teacher and “former Common Core insider” (whatever that might mean), wins the prize for hyperbole by comparing Common Core to the Holocaust in his book The Cult of Common Core: Obama’s Final Solution for Your Child’s Mind and Our Country’s Exceptionalism.

Many of the books by teachers aren’t really about the standards, writes Pondiscio. They are attacks on education reform.

For example, Mercedes K. Schneider’s book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?,  claims “corporate-minded education ‘reformers'” are plotting a “power grab” by promoting the idea that public education is in crisis.

The best of the anti-Core books is Drilling through the Core: Why Common Core Is Bad for American Education from the Pioneer Institute, writes Pondiscio. It’s deals with the real Core problems.

The book includes essays by Sandra Stotsky, who helped Massachusetts write its excellent standards (abandoned for the Core), as well as Peter Wood, Mark Bauerlein, R. James Milgram, and Williamson Evers.

. . . Wood’s takedown notes that Common Core critics cannot agree whether the new standards are too rigorous in K–12 or not rigorous enough, leaving students underprepared for college. “The standards are vague and ambiguous and invite manipulation by those who are charged with filling in the details,” he writes, noting Common Core is “ripe for hijacking.

A Common Core supporter, Pondiscio wishes the Drilling critics would fight the hijacking rather than the standards themselves.

He thinks the Core’s foes are exaggerating the transformative power of standards. “Academic standards cannot create anything close to a uniform experience for students in K–12 education in a country as large and diverse as the United States, any more than building codes force us into identical houses, or USDA standards compel us all to eat boiled eggs for breakfast,” Pondiscio writes. “All standards can do—and it’s not nothing—is to create something close to uniform expectations.”

Parents protest ‘I love Sharia’ worksheet

Soon to be a man’s second wife, Ahlima feels “very fortunate” to live under Sharia law in Saudi Arabia, she writes. “I understand that some foreigners see our dress as a way of keeping women from being equal, but … I find Western women’s clothing to be horribly immodest.”

The fictional 20-year-old appears on a worksheet given to seventh graders in southern Indiana. Parents are upset, reports the Courier-Journal. There’s no mention of oppression in Saudi Arabia, they complained at a school board meeting.

Sharon Coletti, president of InspirEd Educators, said she created the worksheet to engage students, not indoctrinate them. She described herself as a Christian.

I can see Ahlima’s point of view sparking a good discussion about how hard it is to challenge your society’s values. Can we say Western values, such as equality of the sexes, are superior?

Or maybe there’s no discussion. Students conclude that everything’s swell in Saudi Arabia: Ahlima’s happy.

Trump’s inauguration: Safe for kids?

Image result for inauguration

“Every peaceful transition of power is a historic moment,” a fourth-grade teacher in Michigan told parents in an email. Brett Meteyer will let students watch the inauguration, but not Donald Trump’s inaugural speech. He fears “inflammatory and degrading comments about minorities, women, and the disabled” and “profanity.”

As it turned out, the speech was G rated with a “we the people” theme.

President Trump criticized an  “education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” (Deprived of “all” knowledge?) What does that mean for education policy? No new federal spending initiatives, I guess, so it will be hard for the feds to promote knowledge over skills.

A Tennessee high school won’t let teachers air the inauguration in any class, complains Fox commentator Todd Starnes.

Suzanne Roberts, a parent, complained to the principal.

“She told me that Independence High School is going to focus on learning and moving forward and staying on curriculum and they would not be stopping class for the inauguration,” Mrs. Roberts said. “She told me that news happens every day in this country and they won’t be stopping class to watch the news.”

Greenville County (S.C.) Schools will let parents opt their children out of inauguration viewing. Officials say opt-outs were offered for past inaugurations.

In deep blue Oakland and Berkeley, California, a group of teachers and students called for schools to cancel classes to protest Trump’s inauguration, reports KTVU.

“This is an emergency,” said Yvette Felarca, a Berkeley teacher and organizer with the group By Any Means Necessary. “The lives of our young people are at stake.”

Students should watch the inauguration, writes Rebecca Gruber on PopSugar. It’s “not a sign of support” for Trump. “It is a sign that you believe in our democracy.”

Kids need to see that President Barack Obama and President-elect Trump will ride from the White House to the Capitol together with their wives seated by their sides. They need to see that the military doesn’t need to intervene to place our nation’s new leader in power. They need to see that our elected officials (minus those who are boycotting) come together on the Capitol’s balcony every four years. They need to hear Donald Trump take the oath of office and learn what those 35 words represent. This is civics at its best.

There is also a civics lesson to be learned in the power of the First Amendment, allowing protesters to speak their minds simultaneously.

If her children don’t get to watch the inauguration in school, she’ll watch it with them at home, she writes. “I’m setting my DVR and already have a few books picked out that explain midterm elections.”

Tell the truth about college readiness

Image result for remedial college readiness

“Sam” earned mostly B’s at Average High. Is he/she/they prepared to pass college classes? Maybe, if the B’s were for achievement rather than effort and teachers’ standards were high enough. Maybe not.

U.S. schools don’t tell students the truth about college readiness, writes Chester E. Finn, Jr., former Fordham chief and assistant U.S. secretary of education, in National Affairs.

Then colleges admit unprepared students who require remedial classes. Most will “leave school with nothing but debt and disillusion,” writes Finn.

Ambition and optimism are laudable traits. So is this country’s long tradition as a place of second chances, a land where you can always start over, compensate for past mistakes, choose a new direction, and find the educational path that takes you there. But at a certain point, encouragement becomes damaging.

Nearly all high school students say they want to go to college. They know that college graduates do far better in the workforce than those with only a high school diploma. But don’t realize they’re not prepared to earn a degree.

. . . our K-12 education system has never gotten more than one-third of young Americans to the “college-ready” level by the end of the 12th grade. Twenty percent drop out before finishing high school, and of the rest only about two in five graduate with the reading and math skills that equip them to take credit-bearing college courses.

If colleges stopped admitting unprepared students — or the feds linked student aid to college readiness — people would be very, very angry, Finn writes. But what if it were possible?

We’d see greater seriousness about academic standards and achievement throughout the system and a lot more truth-telling. Fewer people would drop out of college, dejected and burdened by loans they cannot realistically pay back. More young Americans would truly be prepared for good jobs, economic success, upward mobility, and full participation in 21st-century life in a post-industrial economy. The country would be more competitive, too.

The money saved could go to high-quality technical education, he writes. Instead of  “college for all,” the mantra should be “honesty is the best policy.”

While elite students are loaded up with AP courses, most U.S.  high school students are learning less in high school, writes Marc Tucker.  They go to open-admissions colleges “with little more than middle school knowledge and literacy,” well below what it takes to earn a degree or go on to “attain a middle-class standard of living.”

Raising standards requires persuading parents that “their children have more to fear from standards that are too low than from standards that are too high,” Tucker writes. “Therein lies the core challenge for education leaders in the years ahead.”