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.

Remediation + job training = success

Jason Broad and Yalchen Abdulkhaliq work on making a scissors clamp in the machine shop during a class at Shoreline Community College. Machining requires students to have a solid understanding of algebra, calculus and trigonometry. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)
Jason Broad and Yalchen Abdulkhaliq make a scissors clamp in the machine shop at Shoreline Community College, where they’re also learning algebra. (Mike Siegel / The Seattle Times)

When community college students have to pass remedial math before taking college-level courses, most give up, writes Katherine Long in the Seattle TimesTeaching basic skills with job training has raised success rates at Washington state community colleges.

The grinding sound of metal on metal filtered through the walls of Chris Lindberg’s math class at Shoreline Community College, but his students had no trouble tuning out the noise.

“We’ve got a 10-inch-diameter grinding wheel, and it’s turning at 1,910 revolutions per minute,” Lindberg said, jotting the numbers on a whiteboard. “What is the surface speed?”

Students will use their new algebra skills in the shop next door, “setting up complex lathes and milling machines, each the size of a small SUV,” writes Long.

Shelley Campbell measures a part she made for a final exam in her I-BEST machine shop class at Shoreline Community College. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS)

Shelley Campbell measures a part she made in her I-BEST machine shop class at Shoreline Community College. (Mike Siegel/Seattle Times/TNS)

I-BEST (Integrated Basic Education and Skills Training) students “are nine times as likely to earn a workforce credential as students who follow the traditional path of taking remedial classes first,” she reports.

Troy Briones, who struggled with math in high school, served in the Army artillery. Now 25, he’s training to be a machinist. “Math is everything in machining,” he said. “The best part of the program is it’s very hands-on. As soon as the lecture ends, you go straight into the lab and try it … the instructors are with you every step of the way.”

Shelley Campbell, 53, is retraining after being laid off by Boeing.

Students can earn a basic manufacturing certificate in one quarter, preparing them for an entry-level job, or go longer to master higher-level skills. Machinists start at $15 to $35 per hour.

In Building paths to the middle class, the American Enterprise Institute looks at four high-quality career tech programs in high school and community college.

Ohio’s 3rd-grade reading law: Is it working?

Two years ago, Ohio required third graders to pass a reading test to be promoted. Ninety-six percent now pass the test, reports PBS.

But how well do they read? A fourth-grade teacher says only half her students read at grade level. Students can try the test multiple times and the bar has been lowered.

Mom: Kids get ‘terror-based sex ed’

Alice Dreger, a sex researcher, sat in on her ninth-grader son’s sex education class, she writes in The Stranger. It wasn’t supposed to be “abstinence-only” sex ed, but sex was depicted as shameful and birth control as so unreliable as to be pointless, she found.  It was “terror-based sex education.”

A P.E. teacher supervised while visiting speakers told students that sex leads to “consequences” — always bad ones.

“Jerry” said he’d started using alcohol and drugs at a young age, then got his girlfriend pregnant when her birth control failed. After 11 years of drug abuse and failure, he met a beautiful, abstinent girl, wooed her chastely, married her and then fathered two children. “If you find one who says ‘no,’ that’s the one you want,” Jerry told the students.

. . . we had learned that sex is associated with drug abuse, drug overdose, disease, unwanted pregnancy—pretty much every horror you can name except shingles and Lawrence Welk.

And that good girls say “no,” and you don’t want you no slut who says “yes.”

The other visiting speaker, “Ms. Thomas,” warned that “it takes only one act of sex to get pregnant.”

I wanted to raise my hand and blurt out, “Not if it’s anal or oral!”

She moved on to a “game.” The game involved everyone getting a number from one to six. She rolled the dice. If your number came up, your condom failed. But your condom didn’t just fail. A pregnancy resulted. And from the pregnancy came a baby. When your number came up, you raised your hand and Ms. Thomas handed you a paper baby.

It took all my willpower not to go up to the regular teacher at this point and ask if there weren’t some scissors in his desk we could use to hand around for paper abortions to prevent all these unwanted paper babies. But I didn’t. Within a few minutes, the entire class was preggers. Even the boys.

In “a progressive school district in a liberal college town,” students are taught to fear sex, Dreger complains.