Loan forgiveness rewards big spenders

The public service loan forgiveness  (PSLF) program offers big benefits and bad incentives, writes New America’s Jason Delisle in Zero Marginal Cost. For graduate students planning careers in teaching, social work and government, it’s likely “the federal government will finance the entire cost, without limit, including all living expenses.”

Combining PSLF with Income-Based Repayment encourages graduate and professional students to borrow more and sign up for degree programs of questionable value. Colleges will be able to raise tuition once borrowers realize they’re not going to have to pay back their loans.

At a minimum, lawmakers should cap loan forgiveness under PSLF at $30,000, aligning it with the limit for Pell Grants to low-income undergraduate students. (There is currently no limit.) The federal government should not provide more in loan forgiveness to graduate students than it is willing to provide in grant aid for a low-income student to pursue an undergraduate education.

There is also a case for eliminating PSLF altogether. Because IBR makes any loan size affordable, PSLF isn’t a necessary component of the insurance IBR provides. Rather, it makes IBR do double duty as generous graduate school tuition assistance for those who want to work in non-profit or government jobs—even high-paying ones.

Teachers can use several, overlapping loan forgiveness programs, if they can navigate the complex, confusing federal aid system.

KIPP boosts academics, but not character

KIPP schools do a great job of teaching academics, but the stress on character education isn’t producing students with more “grit,” persistence, self-control or other character strengths,  writes Laurence Steinberg, a psychology professor.

KIPP charters — primarily middle schools — recruit low-income, minority students. In addition to “factors proven to bolster academic success (high expectations, parental involvement, time spent on instruction),” KIPP schools try to develop “seven character strengths — zest, grit, self-control, optimism, curiosity, gratitude, and social intelligence,” writes Steinberg.

Mathematica study compared students whose families had applied to a KIPP middle school but lost out in the lottery to students who’d won the KIPP lottery. If KIPP kids have more motivated parents, so do the children in the control group.

 . . . KIPP students outperformed the comparison children on numerous measures of achievement, across a range of subject areas. KIPP students also spent more time on homework. . . .

However . . . the KIPP children showed no advantage on any of the measures of character strengths. They weren’t more effortful or persistent. They didn’t have more favorable academic self-conceptions or stronger school engagement. They didn’t score higher than the comparison group in self-control. In fact, they were more likely to engage in “undesirable behavior,” including losing their temper, lying to and arguing with their parents, and giving teachers a hard time. They were more likely to get into trouble at school. Despite the program’s emphasis on character development, the KIPP students were no less likely to smoke, drink, get high, or break the law. Nor were their hopes for their educational futures any higher or their plans any more ambitious.

While nearly 90 percent of former KIPP students enroll in college, only a third earn a degree. That’s triple the graduation rate of students from comparable disadvantaged backgrounds, but far below KIPP’s expectations.

Ryane Burke, assistant principal at KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Academy, leads sessions in mindful movement to help students stay focused and energized.  - See more at: http://www.kipp.org/careers/kipp-team-and-family#sthash.rDwbdhNJ.dpuf

Ryane Burke, assistant principal at KIPP West Philadelphia Preparatory Academy, leads sessions in mindful movement to help students stay focused and energized.

Steinberg believes character education is not the best way to develop students’ self-regulation. Other approaches include: meditation, yoga, aerobic exercise and “cognitive behavioral programs, such as those used to help children learn impulse control.”

Some KIPP schools do use these techniques.

Parents can’t do their kids’ homework


Sixty percent of parents have trouble helping with their K-8 children’s homework, according to a new survey by the National Center for Families Learning (NCFL). That’s up from 49.1 percent in 2013. One third say they don’t understand the subject matter, while others don’t have the time or can’t persuade their kids to let them help.

I almost never helped my daughter with homework. I figured I’d already done elementary, middle and high school. It was her turn. And, apparently, they’ve invented more geometry since I was in school.

‘Some college’ pays — for some

California faces a shortage of “middle-skill” workers with technical certificates and associate degrees. The wage premium is high in “allied health” fields, where demand is growing. However, “some college” workers in other fields, such as child care and solar installation, earn no more than people with just a high school diploma.

What’s missing?

image from scholasticadministrator.typepad.com

Computer tutors ‘read’ learners’ emotions

Computer tutors are learning to read students’ emotions, so they can provide better feedback, reports Annie Murphy Paul on the Hechinger Report.

Analyzing students’ posture in a special chair,  how much pressure they exert when they click on a special mouse or the pitch of their voices can reveal “academic emotions” such as “curiosity, delight, flow, engagement, confusion, frustration and boredom.”

Some systems use wireless skin conductance sensors or cameras that analyze facial expressions and track students eyes.

“One computerized tutoring program uses ‘mind-reader software’ to identify 22 facial feature points, 12 facial expressions and six mental states,” writes Paul.

Detecting the learner’s feelings is just the first step.

A computerized tutoring program called Wayang Outpost, developed by researchers at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, features an onscreen avatar that subtly mirrors the emotions the learner is feeling. When the learner smiles, the avatar smiles too, making the learner feel understood and supported. When the learners express negative feelings, the avatar mirrors their facial expression of, say, frustration, and offers verbal reassurance: “Sometimes I get frustrated when solving these math problems.”

Then — in a shift that researchers have found to be essential — the avatar pivots toward the positive. “On the other hand,” the avatar might add, “more important than getting the problem right is putting in the effort and keeping in mind that we can all do math if we try.”

Researchers try to encourage a “growth mindset,” the belief that ability improves with effort.

If the learner seems bored, for example, (Notre Dame’s Affective) AutoTutor might respond with the comment, “This stuff can be kind of dull sometimes, so I’m gonna try and help you get through it. Let’s go.” If the AutoTutor senses that the learner is confused, it might advise, “Some of this material can be confusing. Just keep going and I am sure you will get it.”

Deep learning requires struggle, say researchers in affective computing. “Students show the lowest levels of enjoyment during learning under the conditions in which they learn the most, and the feeling of confusion turns out to be the best predictor of learning.”

However, repeated failures turn confusion into “frustration, disengagement and boredom (and ultimately, minimal learning).”

What’s wrong with close reading

Common Core’s push for “close reading” goes awry when it ignores the reader’s background knowledge, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham on RealClearEducation.

As I’ve seen it described, close reading has three critical features. First, we assume we will spend a good deal of time with a text. We will not simply read, but reread, and likely reread again. The first reading may be devoted to straightforward comprehension, but further readings will uncover other layers of meaning, allusions, techniques of authorship, and so on.

Second, the extended time spent on a text will be devoted mostly to the author’s words. We will pay close attention to the particular words used, to the structure of the argument, and so on.

Third, we will view a text as being self-contained. We will only draw conclusions that are defensible via the author’s words. In fact, we will read the text as though we know nothing about the subject at hand; the author’s words will be not only necessary for our interpretation, we’ll consider them sufficient.

That last part is crazy, writes Willingham. “Pretending that one’s knowledge is not relevant to interpreting a text conflicts with how writers write and with how readers read,

Researchers Eli Gottlieb and Sam Wineburg showed the importance of background knowledge when they asked clergy, scientists and historians to read George Washington’s Thanksgiving Proclamation of 1789.

Clergy and scientists focused on Washington’s invoking the “providence of Almighty God,” and other religious phrasing, with clergy applauding the Christian tone, and scientists upset by it.

Historians, in contrast, focused on what the document did not say; it did not mention Jesus, nor salvation, nor Christianity. They saw the document as Washington’s self-conscious attempt to craft a statement that would be acceptable to the diversity of religions practiced in the United States, and in so doing send a message of religious tolerance and separation of church and state. That Washington knew his audience may be adduced from the fact that clergy at the time protested the lack of overt Christian references.

No amount of close reading restricted to the text would lead present-day students to this interpretation.

Reading in a knowledge vacuum makes no sense, Willingham concludes.

Skilled trades don’t appeal to students

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is trying to persuade students to train for welding, carpentry, machining and other skilled-trades jobs, but job training programs are having trouble recruiting students. Many don’t believe a community college credential will lead to a good job.

Houston business leaders also are having trouble persuading young people to train for blue-collar jobs that are seen as “dirty jobs.”

Why Minecraft is really cool

What’s so cool about Minecraft? On The Verge, Ben Popper explains why parents and kids are hooked on the game.

In Minecraft, users move around a virtual world, harvesting resources like wood, gold, and iron ore that they can use to build whatever they like. Everything is made of textured 3D cubes. The graphics are extremely low-fi. There are bad guys to watch out for and defeat, and technically a dragon you can slay to beat the game, but what has captivated millions is the total freedom Minecraft offers to wander around and build, often collaboratively, a huge world of you own.

Steven Sorka, a 36-year-old software developer from Toronto, plays with his 20-year-old stepson and 11-year-old daughter. “Minecraft seems to be a perfect storm of Lego and adventure,” Sorka says.

Parents see Minecraft as a teaching tool. Players learn about architecture and use “redstone circuits” to create “simple mechanical devices, even entire computers.”

. . .  the incredible variety of worlds to explore and items you can build comes from “mods”, modified software created by the community that can be installed on a server to reshape that world or the rules that govern it. For many young players, mods become a gateway to the world of computer programming . . .

Minecraft is “more than a game,” writes Abby Ohlheiser in the Washington Post.  “Minecraft is also an ecosystem of dedicated fans who play, create and share within and beyond the game’s open world.”

Last week, Microsoft paid $2.5 billion for Mojang, which crafted Minecraft.

Core quest

A screen shot of an Amplify game under development

“Really cool video games” may turn out to be a benefit of common standards, reports Benjamin Winterhalter in The Atlantic. By creating a national market, the Common Core has created a huge incentive for ed tech companies to develop learning games.

Amplify may be “the frontrunner in this Common Core-driven gold rush,” writes Winterhalter.

During a unit on Shakespeare, a student can watch a short video of actors performing the “out, out, damned spot” scene from Macbeth, which appears side-by-side with the passage’s text. Or the student can have the software quickly provide the definitions of unfamiliar words in reading assignments, which are added to a custom database of new vocabulary.

In a game called 12, “the universe is under attack by the largest known prime number, and the player, assuming the role of the number 12, must battle to save it.”

. . . the number 12 must combine itself with other numbers using “operation gates,” which look like sci-fi warp portals, representing +, –, ×, and ÷, and reach a desired result.

For instance, suppose the desired result is “54.” The player can track down a 4, go to a multiplication gate, become 48, and then track down a 6, go to an addition gate, and arrive at 54. This system can present puzzles as simple as order of operations and as complex as differential equations.

Lexica, a multiplayer literary game, lets players explore a “game world that looks and feels a lot like World of Warcraft.” They complete quests by talking to literary characters, such as Jane Austen’s Emma, and reading the classic books in the game’s library. “The game’s characters will talk to you about what you’re reading.”

Some games let kids be designers and coders, writes Emmanuel Felton on the Hechinger Report.

In Globaloria, students learn how to code Flash, said Shubha Tuljapurkar, director of Globaloria West.  “That’s an important skill. But that’s not necessarily something a kid wants to do, but they do want to create their very own monster.”

Zulama, which lets students design and built games, was developed by Nikki Navta, the mother of teenage boys obsessed with Minecraft and World of Warcraft. Students work collaboratively to master 3D modeling and mobile game design.