How parents ruin Halloween

No trick-or-treating child ever has been “killed by a stranger’s poisoned candy,” says Lenore Skenazy in Three Ways Parents are Ruining Halloween.

Teachers’ unions lose unity, clout

“The teachers unions now face an environment in which their traditional enemies are emboldened, their traditional allies are deserting, and some of their most devoted activists are questioning the leadership of their own officers,” writes Mike Antonucci of Education Intelligence Agency on Education Next. But,”even weakened, together the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) constitute the single most powerful force in American education policy.”
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Both unions peaked in 2008 “with a combined membership approaching 4 million and annual revenues at all levels estimated at nearly $2 billion,” he writes.

Since then, NEA member has fallen by more than 9 percent. The AFT has held membership steady by affiliating with non-education unions, not by recruiting new teachers.

Today, a slight majority of teachers are not union members.

In both unions, a radical faction “wants to man the barricades, fight over every inch of territory, and take no prisoners” in the fight against education reform, writes Antonucci.

Union leaders want to appear to be “forward-thinking and innovative” rather than constantly rejecting reform. They need political allies.

While both national unions decry the corporate influence on education, they have partnerships with large corporations on many levels: sponsorships of union events, discount arrangements and credit cards as part of member benefits packages, funding for joint projects, etc.

. . . Union activists often depict the Gates Foundation as the mastermind behind corporate education reform. But in 2009, when the foundation announced it would award $335 million to a number of school districts and charter schools to promote teacher effectiveness, the union response was a far cry from the anticorporate rhetoric it regularly delivers to its internal audience.

. . . The NEA’s own foundation received $550,000 from the Gates Foundation to “improve labor-management collaboration.” The AFT accrued more than $10 million from the Gates Foundation, until internal pressures forced the union to end some of the grants.

The militant wing sees Common Core standards as part of the “corporate education-reform agenda,” while the establishment wing “has been forced to triangulate by defending the standards but attacking the way they have been implemented.”

The NEA and the AFT won’t disappear, concludes Antonucci. “But their days of dominating the education environment are on the wane.”

Have unions flipped on Common Core?

Have the teachers’ unions joined the anti-Core pushback? asks Alexander Russo. The “unions’ rhetoric and tone have changed,” he writes. But it’s not clear that it matters in “concrete substantive ways.”

Before Core-aligned tests were developed, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association were strongly pro-Core. Then the Education Department pushed states to use test scores to evaluate teachers in order to get No Child Left Behind waivers. And it was clear scores on the new tests would be low, at least at first.

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“They’re trying to walk a fine line in which they still support the standards but don’t like the way they’ve been implemented,” says Bob Rothman, a Common Core supporter at the Alliance for Excellent Education. “But they haven’t reversed themselves.”

“If the standards go down the tubes because of fear-mongering and misinformation, the NEA is going to look really bad,” one union official explained to Education Week. “Why would anyone take us seriously if we had a seat at the table, and then we turned our backs on the standards?”

But core-haters in the rank and file aren’t satisfied with the union’s stand, writes Russo.

In Oregon, 13th grade = free year of college

Some Oregon students are signing up for a fifth year of high school — that’s really a first year of community college. Districts use state per-pupil funding to pay for community college tuition, fees and books — and throw in a counselor to help students handle the transition.

Carnival of Homeschooling

The Carnival of Homeschooling is up at HomeGrown Mommy.

College advising targets lower-income students

Low-income and working-class achievers will get advice on applying to selective colleges as part of a campaign led by Bloombert Philanthropies, reports David Leonhardt in the New York Times. The goal is to persuade more top-performing students from families with below-average incomes to apply to colleges with high graduation rates.

Many strong students from lower-income families don’t apply to selective colleges, according to research on “undermatching.”  They choose nearby colleges that may offer less financial aid and a greater risk of going into debt without completing a degree.

Dozens of school districts, across 15 states, now help every high school junior take the SAT. Delaware’s governor has started a program to advise every college-qualified student from a modest background on the application process. The president of the College Board, which administers the SAT and has a decidedly mixed record on making college more accessible, says his top priority is college access.

. . . “If we really believe that America is the world’s greatest meritocracy — and I do — then we can’t sit back and tolerate a situation where so many talented young people who have the grades to get into top colleges are not going to them,” Mr. Bloomberg told me, by email, on Monday. “We’ve got to change that.”

The coalition will hire college counselors — a mix of professionals and college students — to help students choose colleges and apply for fee waivers and financial aid. It plans to reach out to as many as 70,000 students a year, about 5 percent of all 12th graders from the bottom half of the income distribution.

A country of credentials

The U.S. has become a “country of credentials” because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1971 “disparate impact” ruling, argues Bill McMorris in The American Spectator.  Griggs v. Duke Power Company changed how companies hire, pay and promote workers, he writes.

Matt Damon played an MIT janitor who was a  math genius in Good Will Hunting

Matt Damon played an MIT janitor who was a math genius in Good Will Hunting

Black workers complained they had to be high school graduates and pass two aptitude tests to be promoted at their North Carolina plant. Blacks were less likely to pass than whites and less likely to have finished high school.

The court agreed that was racist. “What is required by Congress is the removal of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment when the barriers operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of racial or other impermissible classification,” Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote.

The military used aptitude testing heavily in World War II and businesses followed suit in the post-war era, writes McMorris. Blue-collar workers could rise through the ranks.

“Despite their imperfections, tests and criteria such as those at issue in Griggs (which are heavily…dependent on cognitive ability) remain the best predictors of performance for jobs at all levels of complexity,” University of Pennsylvania Professor Amy Wax has found.

. . . “Most legitimate job selection practices, including those that predict productivity better than alternatives, will routinely trigger liability under the current rule,” Wax wrote in a 2011 paper titled “Disparate Impact Realism.”

The solution for businesses post-Griggs was obvious: outsource screening to colleges, which are allowed to weed out poor candidates based on test scores. The bachelor’s degree, previously reserved for academics, doctors, and lawyers, became the de facto credential required for any white-collar job.

That’s pushed more people to go to college and into debt, McMorris writes. “One out of every four bartenders has a diploma, and though they listen to moping for a living, few majored in psychology.”

College aid for dropouts?

High school dropouts with college-ready skills lost access to federal student aid in 2012. Now there’s bipartisan support for restoring “ability to benefit” aid for people seeking job skills. Most employers have ceded job training to community and for-profit colleges. There are few non-college paths to a skilled or semi-skilled jobs.

In a Washington Post story on “disconnected” youth — not working or in school — a mentor advises an unemployed parolee who left high school at 14 to take a U.S. history class that could earn him college credits. Doesn’t this guy, who’s trying support a nine-year-old son, need job skills?

What kids cost

The cost of raising a middle-class American child to age 18 will exceed $245,000 for a baby born in 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That includes food, housing, childcare and education and other child-rearing expenses.

Then the college costs kick in.

The Onion itemizes some of the expenses:

$224.99: The same kind of shoes Dylan has
$75: Quick succession of turtles
$900: Better video games than ones at ex-husband’s house
$49: All-day park admission for less than two hours at zoo

And there’s more.

Many years ago, I told my daughter I was tracking my expenditures for her favorite baci di alassio cookies at the Italian bakery. If she ever wrote a tell-all, Mommy Dearest-style book about her horrible childhood and abusive mother, I’d present her with the bill with interest. Otherwise, I’d eat the costs. And some of the cookies. She’s now 33 and has not written a memoir. (How many women her age can say that?)

Voc ed can be a path to college


Minuteman’s biotechnology students, here seen dissecting dogfish, aspire to careers in biomedical engineering and forensic science. Most go to college. Photo: Emily Hanford

Massachusetts’ vocational high schools are preparing students for college, not just for the workforce, writes Emily Hanford on Marketplace.

At Minuteman Regional High School in Lexington, students can learn carpentry, plumbing and welding — and “high tech fields such as video game design, engineering, and biotechnology.”

Minuteman students spend half their time in vocational classes – often referred to as “career and technical classes – and half their time in academic courses. About 60 percent of the school’s graduates go on to college. That’s not the way things were when principal Ernest Houle learned welding at a vocational high school back in the 1980s.

“The highest-level math I ever had in high school was an Algebra 1,” says Houle. “And that only happened my sophomore year because it fit in the schedule.”

These days, “career tech” students can take a full range of college-prep courses.

In 2013, students at regional vocational high schools in Massachusetts did as well on the state English tests (92 percent proficient) as students at traditional high schools (93 percent proficient), notes Hanford. In math, 78 percent of vocational students were proficient compared to 82 percent at traditional high schools.

After years in private school, Sean and Brandon Datar chose Minuteman.

“Being an engineer myself, I like the fact that schools like this cater to making an actual living,” says their father, Nijan Datar. He wasn’t impressed by the top-rated public and private high schools in the Boston suburbs.

. . .  the main goal seemed to be getting students into the best, and most expensive, colleges. But no one seemed to be talking about what kids were going to do with their college degrees once they got them.

His wife, Teresa Datar, says high school students need more direction.

“My feeling is that in many high schools, students don’t know why they’re in the classes that they’re in. They’re just kind of biding time,” she says. “And then they go off to college and they flounder.”

Brandon is now a freshman at the Colorado School of Mines, working on a bachelor’s degree in geological engineering. Sean is a sophomore at Minuteman, majoring in robotics.