Let students choose career-tech path

Rob Friedman “learned very little” in high school — except in “small engines” and “auto shop” classes, he writes in Education and the Art of Minibike Maintenance in the Wall Street Journal.

Many of his vocational classmates quit high school, he writes. They were being “force-fed” college-prep courses.

His parents — a doctor and a teacher — pushed him to earn a college degree. Friedman enrolled in junior college, but dropped out to run his car-repair business.

Jordan Smith, 15, left, and Andrew Carson, 16, work on a small engine at their Placerville (CA) high school.  Photo: Pat Dollins/Mountain Democrat

Jordan Smith, 15, left, and Andrew Carson, 16, work on a small engine at their Placerville (CA) high school. Photo: Pat Dollins/Mountain Democrat

He promises to go back to school when business slowed down, but it never did.

Half our students want an academic education leading to a university degree, Friedman writes. But his auto-shop classmates — and many others — do not.

In many other countries, ninth graders can choose  to pursue an academic high-school diploma or a technical/vocational high-school diploma, he writes.

Imagine what would happen in the U.S. if young men and women were offered interesting, real-life curricula that appealed to them, such as auto shop, computer repair and fashion design. Not only would they learn real-life skills, but along the way they would be taught real-life math. I’m talking about merchant math and accounting, balancing a check book and insurance practices.

Many skilled blue-collar workers can make a better living than the average university graduate, Friedman writes. He’d like to let students choose whether to attend a college-prep-for-all high school or a school that blends academic and vocational courses.

Defining ‘college readiness’ down


Naesea Price teaches a lesson on sentence and paragraph structure in a remedial English course at Baltimore City Community College.

“College readiness” has been redefined as ready to take middle-school courses in college, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

A movement for “co-requisite remediation” is placing remedial students in college-level courses, he complains.

Massachusetts will stop requiring a placement test for new students with a 2.7  grade point average (in all subjects). Those with a 2.4 grade point average who’ve passed four years of math also will be placed in college-level math.

A kid with a D in math but good grades in photography, gym, and basket weaving could easily end up with a 2.7 GPA, notes Finn. Four years of D’s in math and he needs only a 2.4 (C) average.

Florida’s open-access state colleges (formerly community colleges) now let students skip remediation and start in college-level courses, if they choose, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Alarmed by the high dropout and failure rates for college students who start out in remedial classes, Florida lawmakers voted last year to make such courses, and even the related placement tests, optional for anyone who…earned a [high school] diploma….The optional-remediation law is forcing professors in college-level composition classes to spend time on basic sentence structure, while mathematics teachers who were ready to plunge into algebra are going over fractions.

These students are earning college credit for learning middle-school skills, writes Finn.

There’s an easy way to make the reform look like a success.

Just teach fractions and sentence structure to students in courses that you label “college-level” — even though they’re not. Dumb ‘em down. Cheapen the currency. And again defraud the students (and anyone who might someday contemplate employing them) into believing that they really were prepared for college and are now getting a college education, even though neither of those statements is actually true.

Employers already are concerned that college graduates lack important skills, writes Finn. There’s “mounting evidence” that many graduates haven’t learned very much. Sending more unprepared students to college further cheapens the meaning of “college-educated,” he argues.

College pays for ‘marginal students’

Enrolling in a four-year college brings large benefits to marginal students, concludes David Leonhardt in the New York Times. Students who barely qualify for a four-year university — say, a C+ average and an 840 SAT — go much farther than those who just miss the cut-off, according to two new studies. Lower-income students and men see the largest gains.

In a Georgia study, about half of those who just made it into a state university earned a bachelor’s degree in six years. That compared to a 17 percent graduation rate for those who just missed, many of whom started at a community college.

“I fell in love with learning,” said Carlos Escanilla, a graduate of Florida International University.  Photo: Brian Smith/New York Times

Carlos Escanilla “fell in love with learning” at Florida International University. Photo: Brian Smith/New York Times

Florida students who just cleared the cut-off earned 22 percent more by their late 20s than those who just missed.

“It’s genuinely destructive to give people the message that we’re overinvesting in college, that we’re in a college-debt bubble, that you’ll end up as an unemployed ethnomusicologist with $200,000 in debt working at Starbucks,” David Autor, an MIT economist, told Leonhardt.

The story’s anecdote features Carlos Escanilla, a C+ slacker with a 900 SAT (out of 1600) who squeaked into university. He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and now a psychotherapist.

There are late bloomers. But how many?

Unions wasted $1.4 million in Chicago

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrates his re-election victory.  Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel celebrates his re-election victory. Photo: Nam Y. Huh/AP

Angered by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s school reform agenda, the Chicago Teachers Union and its state and national allies spent $1.4 million on his challenger, reports Rishawn Biddle on Dropout Nation. They lost.

CTU chief Karen Lewis must “choose between continuing the union’s hardcore traditionalist stance that merely empowers Emanuel” or take a softer stand that risks alienating supporters, writes Biddle.

He predicts AFT President Randi Weingarten will “go back to embracing watered-down versions of systemic reform efforts.”

Why Johnny can’t read, write or calculate

U.S. education has been dumbed down, writes Marc Tucker in Ed Week.

High school textbooks for 12th graders are written  at the 7th- or 8th-grade level, while community colleges have labeled basic algebra — usually taught in 8th- or 9th-grade  — “college math.” And many of their students can’t pass it.

Why have our education standards collapsed? he asks.

Forty years earlier, Grandma was the first in the family to finish high school.  Twenty years ago, Dad was the first to go to college.  Now, all the kids have to go to college.  . . . In other countries, grades are the result of a student’s performance on an externally graded test.  Everyone gets together to help Junior meet the high standards.  In the U.S., the land of second chances and wobbly standards, it is far easier to put pressure on the principal to put pressure on the teacher to give Junior the grades required to get into college.

Teaching is no longer a high-status job — and one of the few jobs open to talented women and minorities, Tucker writes. Teacher quality has declined.

Then the standards movement was stolen by the accountability movement.  Facing tough sanctions from the federal government for low test scores, many states lowered whatever standards they had for high school students, so they could escape the consequences of poor student performance.

. . . the best of our high school graduates, seeing the pressure teachers were under to produce under appalling conditions, decided not to choose teaching as a career. Applications to schools of education started to fall and are now falling ever faster.

Unlike other nations, the U.S. has not raised standards for entering teachers’ colleges or earning a license, he writes.

Colleges have lowered standards to retain students “admitted irrespective of their academic performance,” Tucker writes. At the same, “have more or less destroyed what was once a first-class vocational and technical education system.”

Performance-based parenting

The children of the meritocracy are bathed in conditional love, writes David Brooks in the New York Times.

 Parents unconsciously shape their smiles and frowns to steer their children toward behavior they think will lead to achievement.

. . . Children in such families come to feel that childhood is a performance — on the athletic field, in school and beyond. They come to feel that love is not something that they deserve because of who they intrinsically are but is something they have to earn.

. . . These parents unconsciously regard their children as an arts project and insist their children go to colleges and have jobs that will give the parents status and pleasure — that will validate their effectiveness as dads and moms.

Meritocratic parents “use love as a tool to exercise control.”

High expectations  are to blame for a wave of suicides at Palo Alto High School, suggests Motoko Rich, also in the New York Times. Paly is my daughter’s alma mater.

“Across the street to the west, Stanford University beckons as the platonic ideal,” she writes. “To the east, across a bike trail, are the railroad tracks where three boys from the school district have killed themselves this year.”

This is Palo Alto’s second suicide cluster. “Five students or recent graduates of the district’s other high school, Gunn High School, killed themselves beginning in 2009.”

Students at Palo Alto's Gunn High School  mourn a classmate. Photo: Jim Gensheimer, Mercury News

Students at Palo Alto’s Gunn High School mourn a classmate. Photo: Jim Gensheimer, Mercury News

There are now guards posted at the railroad tracks, but they can’t be everywhere.

Parents say, “All I care about is that you’re happy,” said Madeline Levine, a local psychologist. “The kid walks in the door and the first question is, ‘How did you do on the math test?’ ”

I want you to be happy — at Stanford, Yale or MIT.

In high-achieving communities, children believe “that only the best will do — in grades, test scores, sports, art, college,” said Denise Pope, an education expert at Stanford. “In everything.” It’s Stanford or flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

“It’s awfully hard to be the best here, given the curve” is the line that resonates the most with my daughter, she wrote on Facebook. “Yes, growing up in Palo Alto, I felt pressure to succeed. But I am also grateful that I learned, very early on, that it was ok not to be the best.”

 

Early childhood ed: Can we all play nicely?

To get beyond the education wars, reformers should focus on early childhood education, advises New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof.

He thinks the reform movement has “peaked,” leaving “bruised” zillionaires and “dispirited” idealists. “K-12 education is an exhausted, bloodsoaked battlefield,” Kristof writes. “It’s Agincourt, the day after.”

It’s possible to break the poverty cycle with high-quality preschool, reading and home visiting programs and coaching parents to stimulate their children, Kristof argues.

Furthermore, early education isn’t “politically polarized.”

New York City liberals have embraced preschool, but so have Oklahoma conservatives. . . . Republicans and Democrats just approved new funding for home visitation for low-income toddlers.

Can we all play together nicely?

I don’t think early education is a no-brainer. If everyone’s for “high-quality” preschool, that does that mean expensive, intensive, language-developing, parent-coaching programs for very disadvantaged kids? Or adult-supervised play time for everyone? “Universal” preschool is popular with voters, but it sucks up the money needed to fund the kind of programs that might make a lasting difference.

Reformers don’t feel stalemated, writes Alexander Russo. They’re taking a few hits, adapting and moving forward.

He’s also dubious about an early childhood consensus. “Previous Obama-led efforts to increase federal spending on ECE have fallen flat, and the merest hint that ECE is a strong issue for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign means that it won’t pass unchallenged by the Bush and Rubio campaigns.”

University removes ‘Straight Pride’ posters

“Straight Pride” posters proclaiming “nobody cares about what you want to have sex with” were removed from Youngstown State’s campus by university officials, reports the Huffington Post.

“With the help of a bunch of students, we quickly went out to take them all down,” (public information officer Ron) Cole said. “While we recognize the right to free speech, this is counter to our mission of being a diverse and accepting campus.”
straight pride

Tim Bortner, president of Youngstown’s LGBT group, YSUnity, said gay students now “feel unsafe.”

Some of the posters were pinned on top of YSUnity fliers advertising a May 9 rally for marriage equality, said Lisa Ronquillo, the group’s vice president.

It went way further than a free speech issue,” said Student Government President Michael Slavens. “There were swear words and took it a little further than the average free speech should go.”

Further than the average free speech should go.

The First Amendment protects anti-gay speech as well as pro-gay speech, writes Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor.

Speech is protected even when it runs “counter [to] the school’s mission to create a diverse campus.” Speech is protected even when it “miss[es] the point of minority activism.” And speech is protected even when it contains vulgarities, as the famous “Fuck the Draft” jacket case, Cohen v. California, makes clear.

In a public forum, such as bulletin boards open to all, “the government cannot discriminate based on viewpoint in choosing what is posted,” Volokh writes.

A policy to ban vulgarity — on a college campus? really? — would be OK, only if it was applied to all viewpoints. So would a policy saying posters can’t be placed over existing posters.

This is so incredibly obvious. How could university officials not know this?

College pays — in different ways

It’s hard to estimate the labor market returns of college, concludes a new Aspen Institute report.

A Harvard graduate who becomes a teacher may earn less than a community college-trained engineer or nurse. A bachelor’s in history may have little market value — till it’s used to earn an MBA.

An associate of arts degree has no stand-alone market value, but it can be a low-cost step to a four-year degree that raises earnings.

Career-tech students — especially adult workers — improve their earnings even if they don’t finish their community college programs.

The Onion reports on Maryland senior Kevin Grant, who doesn’t realize that rejection by his first-choice college means his future is over.

“It sucks, but the good news is I did get accepted to Rutgers and Maryland, which are both really solid schools,” said Grant, somehow managing a smile even though his inability to attend his top-choice university has obliterated any possibility he will ever get into a good graduate school, embark on a satisfying career, or make enough money to support himself, let alone a family. “Tufts was probably a long shot, anyway, but I’m still glad I applied.”

“I’m sure I’ll be happy wherever I end up,” added the student destined for a life of limited opportunities, unending frustration, and bitterness.

It’s satire.

The upwardly mobile barista


Alicea Thomas is a full-time shift supervisor at Starbucks — and a full-time online student at Arizona State.

Going to college is easy. Nearly all U.S. high school graduates enroll somewhere. Completing college is hard, especially for first-generation and lower-income students.

“Thirty-five million Americans now have some college experience but no degree, writes Amanda Ripley in The Upwardly Mobile Barista. Starbucks has teamed with Arizona State to help employees finish their degrees online.

As long as they worked 20 hours or more per week, any of the company’s 135,000 employees in the United States would be eligible for the program. Those who’d already racked up at least two years’ worth of credits would be fully reimbursed for the rest of their education. Those with fewer or no credits would receive a 22 percent tuition discount from Arizona State until they reached the full-reimbursement level.

As it turned out, the tuition aid wasn’t the most critical part of the plan, writes Ripley. Starbucks enrollees were promised “an enrollment counselor, a financial-aid adviser, an academic adviser, and a ‘success coach’ — a veritable pit crew of helpers.” A special orientation course teaches time management.

Advising has been critical. Baristas need lots of help to pry transcripts out of former colleges, track down missing paperwork and overcome their fears, writes Ripley.

Alicea Thomas, 23, works 35 hours a week as a shift supervisor, earning $11.46 an hour. When her computer was stolen, she dropped out of orientation. How do you take online courses without a computer?

But then she did something crucial. She reached out to her academic adviser at Arizona State, who got her signed up for another orientation class happening later that month and encouraged her to find a way to get online.

That’s when Thomas began taking her classes on her iPhone. She was amazed at how much she could do on the device. After work, she’d take it to Applebee’s, get a margarita, and start doing her reading and tapping out her discussion posts. Problems arose only when she needed a webcam to take the remotely proctored quizzes. In those cases, she usually borrowed a computer from a relative.

In her first semester, Thomas earned two A’s. She’s majoring in communications with hopes of working in public relations.

Only a small percentage of Starbucks workers have applied to ASU so far, but 85 percent of those who did were accepted. So far, persistence and pass rates are similar to other ASU online students.

Job retraining is the focus of today’s Upskill Summit at the White House.