No bells, many choices

In a Forensic Science class, students learn from police department forensic investigator Ryan Andrews how to calculate the angle of impact of individual bloodstains and use strings to determine the area the bloodstains would have originated.

Forensic investigator Ryan Andrews shows students how to calculate the angle of impact of bloodstains.

Salt Lake City’s Innovations Early College High School uses personalized learning to put teenagers in charge of their education, I discovered in a visit last fall. My story is now up on Education Next.

There are no bells at Salt Lake City’s Innovations Early College High School, and no traditional “classes.” Students show up when they like, putting in six and a half hours at school between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Working with a mentor teacher, students set their own goals and move through self-paced online lessons. They can take more time when they need it or move ahead quickly when they show mastery.

Innovations, a district school, not a charter, is located on a community college campus, so it’s easy for students who qualify to take college classes. It also shares space with the district’s career-tech center, so students can take vocational classes in subjects ranging from web design and emergency medicine to cosmetology.

It seems very loosey-goosey, but mentors monitor students’ progress closely to make sure they’re on track for graduation.

Career academies challenge college for all

Most 12th graders aren’t prepared to succeed in college, according to NAEP, but nearly all are told it’s the only path to a decent job. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates go directly to college. Two-thirds of high school graduates go directly to college. Those who fail to earn a degree — about 45 percent — will struggle to earn a living and pay back student loans.

Students including Joshua Espinosa, left, steady the head of Jacqueline Villalobo during an exercise in EMC First Responder class as emergency medical technician Gretchen Medel, background left, supervises at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, Calif. Photo: Ben Margot, AP

Students practice paramedic skills at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, Calif. Photo: Ben Margot, AP

“Vocational education is “making a comeback,” reports AP. However, the goal of new “career pathways” programs isn’t to get students from high school to the workforce. Often the aim is to motivate students “to pursue some post-secondary education — whether it’s a certificate from a two-year school or a four-year degree.”

Educators are afraid that the new career-tech will be a lesser alternative to the college track.

“I think we can identify 9th grade students who have career interests and build a rich, challenging curriculum around those interests,” Kevin Welner, who directs the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said.

“What’s not smart is to identify 9th grade students who are academically struggling and then track them into these separate academic programs that have watered-down expectations and watered-down instruction,” he said.

That concern is the focus of Melinda Anderson’s story on career academies in The Atlantic.

Often a school within a larger school, “career academies generally feature small learning communities, integrate business and industry partnerships, and provide students with a curriculum blending traditional and technical courses,” she writes.

Eighth-grader Keller Wessel works on a project in his Gateway to Technology class at Deer Park Junior/Senior High School in Cincinnati.

Eighth-grader Keller Wessel works on a project in his Gateway to Technology class at Deer Park Junior/Senior High School in Cincinnati.

For “students at highest risk of dropping out, participation in career academies improved attendance and the likelihood of graduating on time,” a 2008 MDRC study found. Several years later, male students had found higher-paying jobs.

However, high schools that serve predominantly white, middle-class students are more likely to offer career pathways that lead to college, she writes.

At Cincinnati’s Deer Park Career Academy, students in grades seven through 12 choose from career pathways that include digital design and civil engineering.

At Atlantic High in Delray Beach, Florida, where a majority of students come from lower-income, non-white families, the career academy is devoted to law enforcement careers.

45% of adults have degree, certificate

Postsecondary attainment is inching up, according to the Lumina Foundation’s new Stronger Nation report. As of 2014, 31.5 percent of working-age U.S. adults had a bachelor’s degree or more, 9 percent had a two-year degree and 4.9 percent had earned a “high-value” vocational certificate.

Certificates were considered “high value” if the holder was employed in the career field for which they’d earned a credential.

Lumina’s goal is for 60 percent of U.S. adults to hold a high-quality postsecondary credential by 2015.

Pie chart showing levels of education for U.S. residents age 25 to 64.

‘Top colleges’ for who?

“College For All” . . . reinforces the ridiculous notion that college is for people who use their brains, and trade schools are for people who use their hands, writes Mike Rowe on Facebook. “As if the two can not be combined.”

Mike Rowe hosted Dirty Jobs.

Mike Rowe hosted Dirty Jobs.

From presidential candidates to parents, Americans think everyone needs a college degree, he writes.

Yet “hundreds of thousands of highly educated twenty-somethings are either unemployed or getting paid a pittance to do something totally unrelated to the education they borrowed a fortune to acquire. Collectively, they hold 1.3 trillion dollars of debt, and no real training for the jobs that actually exist.”

He was asked to comment on a list of America’s “Top Jobs” and “Top Schools” that include no trade schools or skilled trade careers, Rowe writes.

Would a sensible person recommend The Godfather to someone who hates violence – just because it won Best Picture? Would a sensible person recommend a Steakhouse to a vegetarian, just because Yelp gives it 5-stars? Would a sensible person recommend The Ritz to a traveler on a budget, just because Trip Adviser says it’s the best hotel in the city? Of course not. But every year, lots of otherwise sensible people recommend a four-year college to kids who would be far better served by Trade School. They defer to someone else’s idea of what a Top School is – regardless of suitability and cost.

“Millions of teenagers” are told that college is a “right” and encouraged to pay whatever if it costs, writes Rowe. “Is it any wonder some politicians want to fix the problem by forgiving the debt altogether and making college free for everyone?”

Arkansas students who take career tech courses are “more likely to graduate from high school, enroll in a two-year college, be employed, and earn higher wages,” concludes a new Fordham study. They are just as likely to pursue a four-year degree as similar students.

Gains are greatest for boys, students from lower-income families and those who focus on a career field.

Dropouts need not apply in Silicon Valley

Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard. Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed. But don’t believe that high-tech companies care more about “the caliber of your code” than your college degree, writes Lauren Weber in the Wall Street Journal.

High-tech companies — especially those in Silicon Valley — are more likely to demand a college degree for software developers than other employers, according to a Burning Glass Technologies survey.

In 95 percent of tech-sector job ads that specify a credential, the employer wants a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“Some firms are experimenting with ‘blind hiring‘ processes—designed to judge job applicants purely based on work samples rather than resumes,” writes Weber. However, that’s the exception.

Via Eduwonk.

61% of grads aren’t ready for anything

Most high school graduates aren’t prepared for college or a career, concludes Meandering Toward Graduation, a new Education Trust report by Brooke Haycock and Marni Bromberg.

Forty-seven percent of 2013 graduates didn’t take a coherent college-prep or career-prep sequence of courses, a study of transcripts showed.  If “mastery” is defined as a 2.5 academic grade point average, only 39 percent of graduates were college and/or career ready.

The dental program, huh?” the community college admissions counselor asked as she looked over Tre’s high school transcript. “Then why didn’t you take more science?”

. . . “I just took the classes my counselor put me in,” Tre stammered. “She knew I wanted to be a dentist.”

. . . The admissions counselor looked at him with empathy as she described the course entry requirements for the dental program, including high school biology, chemistry, and college preparatory math — all passed with a C or better. Tre nowhere near met these requirements, despite passing all of his classes and earning a diploma.

A majority of not-quite-college-prep students missed more than one requirement,commonly Algebra II, a foreign language and chemistry or physics.

Lower-income, black and Latino students were less likely to complete the college-prep sequences and less likely to achieve mastery, according to the report.

Among those who’d completed a college-ready curriculum: 82 percent of white graduates had a 2.5 academic GPA or higher, compared with 51 percent of black graduates and 63 percent of Latino graduates.

Study: Charter high grads earn more as adults

Florida students who attended charter high schools earn significantly more as 23- to 25-year-olds than those who went to traditional public high schools, concludes a large-scale study by Vanderbilt and Georgia State researchers. Charter high school students are more likely to complete high school, go to college and stay in college, concluded the study, which was published in the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management.

Former charter students earned $2,300 more per year, on average, in their early to mid-20s, said Ron Zimmer, one of the researchers.

Test scores weren’t higher at the charters, but these schools may do better at “promoting life skills like grit, persistence, self-control and conscientiousness,” he said.

To create a control group of students from education-minded, school-choosing families, researchers compared charter eighth graders who went on to traditional public schools with charter eighth graders who enrolled in charter high schools. They crunched the numbers five different ways to show their results were “robust.”

It’s not news that charter schools boost “attainment” — years of schooling — for disadvantaged students, even when test scores are no higher. Going farther in school and college pays off.

Zeeconomics has more on the long-term effects of charter school attendance in Boston, Chicago and Florida.

How to help working-class kids

Poor and working-class Americans are falling further behind college-educated workers, writes Mike Petrilli, editor of Education for Upward Mobility. Their frustration, expressed in the improbable rise of Donald Trump, is finally drawing attention.  We need ways to help kids from left-behind families “learn the skills they need to compete for middle-class and high-wage jobs.”

Earning a four-year degree is one route to upward mobility, but it can’t be the only option.

Only 14 percent of students from lower-income families will complete four-year degrees, estimates Andrew Kelly. There’s a big pay-off for those who graduate, but what about everyone else?

“High-quality career and technical education, culminating in industry-recognized post-secondary credentials” is a viable path to the middle class, writes Petrilli.

But most students follow the “bachelor’s degree or bust” model. For disadvantaged students, that often leads to remedial classes at a community college, frustration and failure.

Petrilli also makes a pitch for paying attention to the learning needs of high-achieving, low-income students and encouraging young people to follow the “success sequence.”

Even young people with just a high school diploma can make it into the middle class if they complete high school, work full-time and delay parenthood until they are 21 and married, writes Petrilli, citing research by Isabel Sawhill and Ron Haskins.

What can schools do? Persuading students they’re on the path to a decent job is a good first step.

Much-praised P-TECH faces problems

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visit a classroom at P-TECH.
President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan visited P-TECH in 2013. Photo: Mandel Ngan, AFP/Getty Images

Pathways in Technology Early College High School — P-TECH — in Brooklyn was praised by President Obama in his 2013 State of the Union speech. At P-TECH, “a collaboration between New York Public Schools and City University of New York and IBM, students will graduate with a high school diploma and an associate degree in computers or engineering,” Obama said. “We need to give every American student opportunities like this.”

The “9-14” model is spreading quickly, writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR. But, now in its fifth year, P-TECH is struggling to meet its ambitious goals, internal e-mails show.

The school, which does not screen students, primarily enrolls black and Latino males. All students are expected to earn a high school diploma and an associate degree in computer systems technology or electromechanical engineering technology  in six years.

P-TECH students

P-TECH students

In fall 2014, 21 percent of grades earned by P-TECH students in City College of Technology (City Tech) classes were D’s and F’s. C is the minimum passing grade in technical majors.

Internal emails show P-TECH and IBM are trying to get CUNY to “bend” the rules for students with low grades, writes Kamenetz. “In one email, P-TECH’s principal, Rashid Davis, called the City University of New York’s academic policies ‘elitist’.”

City Tech has maintained standards but now gives students an early warning of how they’re doing, provost Diane August told NPR. Struggling students, their parents and a high school staffer meet at midterm with the college instructor. “Is more work needed? Is this hopeless? If so, can we withdraw [taking a W instead of a low grade] and have them try again? If it’s not hopeless, can we make a plan and maybe have them drop one course so they can focus harder on others?”

The D/F rate has fallen to 14 percent. By June, about 1 in 4 of students who enrolled as ninth graders five years ago will have completed an associate degree, in addition to their high school diploma, according to IBM.

That seems like a great outcome with a year to go to get more students to an associate degree.

The way up

51ek6vWlGBL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Education for Upward Mobility, edited by Fordham’s Michael J. Petrilli, asks how schools can help children born in poverty to “transcend their disadvantages and enter the middle class as adults.”

I wrote the chapter on high schools — a dual-enrollment public school, a charter and a private school — that work to prepare lower-income, minority students for college.

Other chapters question the “college for all” movement, look at “non-cognitive skills” and analyze the role of early childhood education, poverty-fighting elementary schools and middle-school tracking.