Building a future in construction class

At Woodward Career Tech High in Cincinnati, Channell Rogers and Sierra Buster are preparing for construction careers, reports Outside the Box, a PBS series reported by high school journalists.

What does a high school grad need to succeed?

Many years — perhaps 25 — ago, I was asked my advice on a school district’s new graduation requirements. I said, “Go to your local community college and to employers who hire high school graduates. Ask what skills and knowledge one of your graduates would need to have a chance of passing an entry-level course or qualifying for an entry-level job. That’s what your diploma should require.”

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. (Photo by Elizabeth Redden)

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. Photo: Elizabeth Redden, Hechinger Report

A high school diploma should signify the graduate is ready for the first year of college, writes Marc Tucker in Education Week. That “is a far higher standard than most high school diplomas are set to currently.”

He envisions states setting the syllabi for required core courses and writing the exams, which would be graded by outside teachers. That’s a radical power shift.

Well-prepared students could complete the core in two years, he believes. Some would have two years for Advanced Placement or other high-level courses. Others could learn high-level technical skills, like vocational students in Singapore and Switzerland, at a community college or their high school.

Everyone would be expected to pass by the end of 12th grade.

We would be doing high school in high school, not in college, and therefore saving enormous amounts of money for both states and families.  We would have more brain surgeons and more specialty welders.

High schools could be held accountable for the proportion of students who earn the new diploma and the proportion who complete two-year and four-year degrees, Tucker writes.

What do you think? Is it doable? Should it be tried?

Elite degree doesn’t matter for STEM grads

Graduating from an elite college doesn’t boost earnings for science, math and engineering graduates, conclude Eric R. Eide and Michael J. Hilmer in the Wall Street Journal. A prestige degree does help business and liberal-arts majors, according to the Journal‘s analysis of a survey of graduates.

STEM grads with a degree from a low-priced state university earn as much as those from elite private schools, they found.

The analysis controlled for “factors that might influence earnings, such as family income, race/ethnicity, gender, marital status, SAT score, postgraduate degree and age at graduation and more.”

In STEM fields, “curriculums are relatively standardized and there’s a commonly accepted body of knowledge students must absorb,” write Eide and Hilmer. Employers seem to be looking for skills rather than prestige.

Assessing a job applicant’s competence is harder if the degree is in what we used to call “fuzzy studies.”

College graduates’ “well-being” — financial security, health, sense of purpose and other factors — isn’t related to their alma mater’s selectivity, size or whether it was public or private, concluded the Gallup-Purdue Index in 2014.

Gallup will use its Well-Being Index  to certify universities that produce the happiest graduates. George Mason is the first university to seek  certification.

In schools, teacher quality matters most

Teacher quality is the most important schooling variable that affects student achievement — and life success, concludes Dan Goldhaber in Education Next.

Some teacher characteristics — gender, age, a master’s degree and “even state certification of competence” — make little or no difference, Goldhaber writes.

By contrast, “students assigned to high-value-added teachers are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, be employed, and earn higher wages,” according to Stanford researchers led by Raj Chetty.

Teachers are professionals — not missionaries

Teachers are skilled professionals — not missionaries, writes Amanda Ripley in The Washingtonian. Talking about teaching as a low-status career for the selfless drives away the smart, ambitious people the profession needs.

In Washington, D.C., public school teachers earn as much or more than other college-educated professionals, Ripley writes. Median pay was $75,000 last year and “teachers who work in low-income public schools and get strong performance reviews can earn more than $125,000 after fewer than ten years.”

In addition, teachers can “apply to become master educators, who formally evaluate teachers and provide targeted feedback.”

Yet, “many people still talk about teachers as if they volunteer in a soup kitchen—as if the hardest part is just showing up,” she writes.

Hope Harrod, DC’s 2012 Teacher of the Year, is tired of being told she’s doing “God’s work.” Teaching is not a sacrifice for her. It’s an “intellectual journey” she finds “deeply engaging.”

By “intellectual journey,” Harrod means the workplace questions that teachers grapple with daily: Why is Juan insisting that the answer is 15.5 and not 18? What’s happening in his head that isn’t happening in Scarlette’s head? How can she give him the tools to take apart his own process and rebuild it, piece by piece?

D.C. “now retains about 92 percent of its highest-ranked teachers,” writes Ripley. Boosting pay and status makes a difference.

That issue comes up in a Tampa Bay Tribune story about a veteran teacher who quit to become a librarian, complaining of mandatory lesson plans, endless meetings and micromanagement.

The profession of teaching comes in for a lot of “bashing,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “The unions and reformers and legislators, whoever, are telling you that teaching is a lousy job and nobody lets you do it the way you want to do it. It has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Idea: Make it easy to try teaching, hard to stay

To get better teachers, should schools make it harder to qualify as a teacher? No, make it easier and cheaper to try teaching, argue Chad Aldeman and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel in a new Bellwether report. Let would-be teachers try tutoring or co-teaching with a mentor. Fire those who don’t work out.

It’s hard to predict who will be a good teacher, they write. Teacher training or earning a master’s degree makes little difference. There’s some evidence that new teachers with stronger academic credentials are more effective, but “the value of those credentials is relatively small, and they are not a guarantee for any individual.”

So why not open teaching to anyone with a bachelor’s degree, then focus “on measuring and acting on teacher effectiveness in a teacher’s first years on the job.”

Districts should have the authority to license teachers based on “observations of candidates’ performance in real-time classroom settings and demonstrated effectiveness in supporting students’ academic growth.”

It’s a “radically sensible proposal,” writes Matt Barnum on The Seventy Four.  “Give novices the opportunity to learn on the job and figure out whether teaching is right for them, without sinking thousands of dollars into teacher training programs.”

New teachers with low value-added scores usually remain below average, if they remain in the classroom, Allison Atteberry tells Aldeman. Some will improve significantly, but most do not.

District of Columbia Public Schools are replacing low-performing teachers with teachers who are increasing student achievement, according to a newly published working paper.

‘Teachers’ debuts on TV

TV Land’s new series, Teachers, is “really funny at times” and “a little bit raunchy,” writes Mark Walsh in Education Week.

The Katydids, an all-female improv group (all are named some version of Kate or Caitlin), based the show on a series of shorts called Teachers, a Web Series, set in a suburban elementary school.

Hollywood Reporter calls Teachers “wonderfully loose.”

However, the New York Times says the show “mistakes crass for cutting edge” and was better as a web series.

Using nature to nurture

The classroom is outdoors at The Alaska Forest School, reports Erin Kirkland in the Alaska Dispatch News.

Lia Keller asked preschoolers if they could “find the tunnel from last time” and they led the way to a downed cottonwood, where they could play “foxes and bears” in a pit under the root ball.

Leif Stanbury, 3, catches a snowflake.

Leif Stanbury, 3, catches a snowflake. Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

“I am passionate about getting children outside,” said Keller, who founded the school. “Kids have to get out as young as possible so they learn how to explore and foster a deep love of nature and our wild places.

She also believes “children need more unstructured time” to learn from their play.

Keller offers parents three sessions a week.

Elliott and Harriet Levine, aged 4 and 8, climb under the eyes of mother Maria Levine. The school encourages kids to take "appropriate risks." Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

Elliott and Harriet Levine, aged 4 and 8, climb under the eyes of mother Maria Levine. The school encourages kids to take “appropriate risks.” Photo: Loren Holmes, ADN

The forest school idea started in Europe, but has spread around the world. It seems like a perfect fit for Alaska, says Beka Land, whose daughters are five and three. “The natural consequences of exploring the outdoors and talking through choices is so valuable,” Land said. “As a family, we like the idea of an outdoors-centered program that lets kids pick their own path.”

After 30 minutes of “hollering, discovering and exploring,” the preschoolers were full of questions, writes Kirkland.

Why does snow look like crystals under the frame of a magnifying glass? What happens when you try to climb a tree much taller than your mom and way higher than any recess monitor would ever allow? How can five small kids figure out how to tie up a blue tarp without adult assistance?

Keller answered many questions with: “What do you think we should do?”

I saw the link on OneTree Alaska, a Facebook site set up by Jan Dawe, a University of Alaska botanist who was my best friend in elementary school. We were co-editors-in-chief of The Wednesday Report, which we published twice a month for four years.

College prep, job training — or both?

While most high school graduates go on to college, “nearly 40 percent of those who go to four-year colleges and some 70 percent of students at community college will never earn their degree,” comments John Tulenko on PBS NewsHour. Should more teens train for the workforce instead of prepping for college?

Marissa Galloway, Norton learned cabinet making at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School. Photo: Mike George

Marissa Galloway learned cabinet making at Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical School. Photo: Mike George

“It’s the shame of our nation, when you look at, a student comes out of high school, not knowing what they want to do, goes to college, drops out,” says David Wheeler, principal of Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical High School, south of Boston. “Now they’re in debt, without a job, and not knowing what they want to do.”

In addition to academic subjects, students at Massachusetts’ regional vo-tech schools learn skilled trades.

They do as well academically as students in traditional high schools. (Wheeler’s students outscored the state average.)

They don’t have to “skip college,” as Tulenko puts it. Statewide, 60 percent of regional vo-tech students enroll in college, while others go directly to the workforce.

Gov. Charlie Baker has proposed expanding the state’s vo-tech schools.

Study: Louisiana voucher students do worse

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Voucher students couldn’t stem declining enrollment at Our Lady of Grace School, which was closed by the Archdiocese of New Orleans last year. Photo: Brett Duke, Times-Picayune

Voucher students who left a low-performing Louisiana school for a private school did worse academically — especially in math — than classmates who stayed, concludes a new working paper on the first year of the Lousiana Scholarship Program.

Younger children did the worst, according to the team of Berkeley, Duke and MIT researchers.

Catholic schools serving black students — most with declining enrollment — signed up most of the voucher students. “Struggling private schools may opt in to the voucher program to combat stagnating enrollment,” the researchers noted.

One third of voucher students attend low-performing private schools that “have been barred from taking new voucher students,” reported the Times-Picayune last year.

It could be a short-term effect, but “the size of the negative math impact is pretty large,” Patrick Wolf, a University of Arkansas education professor told the Times-Picayune. Wolf’s two-year study of the voucher program will be published soon. “The results are different in interesting ways,” he said.

Louisiana’s voucher program, which is the fifth-largest in the country, provides about 6,700 students with about $5,300 per student. Only students from families with incomes below 250 percent of the federal poverty line – meaning $60,625 for a family of four, for example – and those whose public school has been labeled by the state as low-performing qualify for the voucher.

“A broader set of evidence” shows positive effects for vouchers, said Wolf. He cited a 2012 evaluation of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program which found higher high school graduation and college enrollment rates.