Reinventing high school

In Reinventing High School in The Atlantic, Deborah Fallows profiles The Center For Advanced Research and Technology (CART), which provides half-day career programs for 11th- and 12-grade students in Fresno County, California.

Inside a CART robotics lab

Inside a CART robotics lab

CART offers 16 career tracks, “from forensics to game design to law and order, robotics, biotech, engineering, business and finance, environmental science, psychology and human behavior, and many more,” writes Fallows.

Teachers all have work experience in their fields.

Students work on projects such as “cloning carrots, making movies, designing online games, and making toys,” she writes. In addition, students go on field trips and “do internships or projects that take them to hospital operating rooms, senior centers, and wildlife refuges.

CART also tries to develop confidence, self-esteem and teamwork. When students work together on projects, someone who lets down the team can be demoted to lesser responsibilities or kicked off the team.

Seventy-one percent of CART students enroll in community colleges, compared to 60 percent of similar students who didn’t participate, according to a a 2011 Irvine Foundation study of the graduating classes of 2003 to 2009. Twenty-three percent of CART students enrolled in universities, a bit more than the 21 percent of non-CART students who did so.

Can tech break the college monopoly?

Online courses will revolutionize higher education when learners can earn low-cost credentials that lead to jobs, writes Kevin Carey in the New York Times. Carey is the author of The End of College: Creating the Future of Learning and the University of Everywhere

. . .  traditional college degrees are deeply embedded in government regulation and standard human resources practice. It doesn’t matter how good a teacher you are — if you don’t have a bachelor’s degree, it’s illegal for a public school to hire you. Private-sector employers often use college degrees as a cheap and easy way to select for certain basic attributes, mostly the discipline and wherewithal necessary to earn 120 college credits.

However, Carey believes alternative credentials such as badges will break colleges’ “near-monopoly” on job qualifications. And most students go to college to get a better job, he writes.

Not so fast, responds economist Bryan Caplan.

Degrees signal an array of traits: not just intelligence, but work ethic, conformity, and more.  “Harvard dropout” tells the job market, “This person was promising enough to get into Harvard, but so lazy and/or non-conformist that he wasted this golden opportunity.”

Conformity to social norms is a valued job attribute, adds Caplan. “Employers focus at least as much on workers’ general competence and people skills” as they do on specific skill sets.

He’d love to believe Carey is right, but he concludes “the status quo has a massive built-in advantage” because of the importance of “conformity signaling.” Furthermore, “governments at all levels annually cement the status quo’s advantage with hundreds of billions of dollars of subsidies.”

Obama: You don’t need a degree

After years of encouraging young Americans to earn college degrees, President Obama is telling them they just need technical skills, not a degree. The $100 million TechHire initiative will try to persuade employers to hire technical workers with alternative credentials.

“It turns out it doesn’t matter where you learned code, it just matters how good you are at writing code,” Obama said in a speech to the National League of Cities conference. “If you can do the job, you should get the job.”

Dev Bootcamp promises to turn novices into web developers in 19 intensive weeks

Dev Bootcamp promises to turn novices into web developers in 19 intensive weeks

High-tech employers see “non-traditional training as a viable alternative,” writes Issie Lapowsky on Wired. “Training startups like Codecademy and General Assembly, as well as online course companies like Coursera, have been pushing” the idea for years.

TechHire will try to develop “standards for alternative education” and “a guide for employers on how to recruit tech workers from less traditional places,” reports Lapowsky. A company called Knack will “make a standard tech aptitude test free to employers and training organizations.”

The president says employers are losing money by leaving technical jobs unfilled. So, don’t they have an incentive to figure out how to test technical aptitude?

The $100 million would fund programs that help women, minorities, veterans and people with disabilities qualify for tech jobs. More than 300 employers have agreed to consider hiring graduates of these programs.

‘Better job’ is #1 for college students

Source: The Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A., 2014 Freshman Survey. Responses refer to incoming college freshmen.

Why do Americans go to college? asks a UCLA survey of first-year students. First and foremost, they want better jobs, observes Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post.

The survey has been given every year since 1971. Students today are more likely to rate every objective as “very important,” Rampell writes. “Entitled millennials just expect colleges to do everything for them!”

But the biggest jumps, in percentage-point terms, were for the share saying they went to college to “make more money” (44.5 percent in 1971, versus 72.8 percent in 2014; an increase of 28.3 percentage points that was mostly gained in the earlier years of the survey) . . .

Women are more likely than men to cite intellectual curiosity, notes Rampell.

U.S. millennials: Schooled but not skilled

America’s Skills Challenge: Millennials and the Future is depressing and alarming, writes Fordham’s Robert Pondiscio.

Many Americans 16 to 34 years old “lack the skills required for higher-level employment and meaningful engagement in our democracy,” concludes the Educational Testing Service (ETS) report. 

Young Americans have more years of schooling than any previous generation, writes Irwin S. Kirch, director of the ETS’s Center for Global Assessment, in the preface. The U.S. has the highest proportion of millennials who are college graduates of the 22 countries studied.

Yet, the educated and the uneducated “demonstrate relatively weak skills in literacy, numeracy, and problem solving in technology rich environments compared to their international peers,” Kirch writes.

U.S. millennials outscore only their peers in Italy and Spain in literacy. They rank last in numeracy.

It’s not that the U.S. has more low-income or immigrant students, notes Pondiscio. When our wealthiest students are compared to their wealthiest, our best-educated, our native-born, our immigrants, the U.S. falls short.

One of the comforting lies we have told ourselves in recent years is that, while we might have problems, our top performers are still the equal of the best in the world. Alas, the score for U.S. millennials at our ninetieth percentile was statistically higher than the best in just a single country: Spain.

These are “the people who will work, earn, support families, create jobs, make policy, take leadership positions, and be entrusted generally with protecting, defending, and continuing our democracy,” Pondiscio concludes.

As commencement speakers put it, they’re the hope of the future. A slim hope.

College pays — but not much for some majors

Recent college graduates who majored in psychology, social work or the arts earn a median income of $31,000, according to From Hard Times to Better Times, a new report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The median salary of workers with only a high school diploma –including experienced workers — is $32,000.

New humanities and liberal arts graduates earn a median of $32,000. Education majors start at $33,000, on average.

On the flip side, new engineering graduates average $57,000 a year.

Of course, college graduates are likely to move up the salary scale as they gain experience, leaving most less-educated workers behind.

Unemployment rates are declining for college graduates — except for communications and journalism majors, the report finds. College graduates have maintained their earnings advantage over high school-only workers, who are earning less. However, “a full recovery in the employment of college graduates, especially at the Bachelor’s degree level, may be as far off as 2017 and a full recovery in earnings may take longer,” the report concludes.

Good students dominate ed debate

Most people debating how to improve education were good students, writes Andrew Rotherham in U.S. News. “The blind spots this creates are enormous.” They have trouble understanding what school is like for those who aren’t good at it.

Diane Ravitch, the school critic turned school defender, has a policy agenda for improving schools that boils down to making classrooms like the ones she liked most as a student. She’s hardly alone in idealizing a system that in practice worked only for a few. As one colleague remarked recently, “everybody likes the race they won.”

For successful students, education is a linear process, he writes. “But most Americans zig and zag.” For example, a majority of college students are part-timers, yet nearly everyone in the education debate attended full-time.

Most fundamentally, this mindset means almost everyone in education is focused on how to make an institution that is not enjoyable for many kids work marginally better. That’s basically what the top-performing public schools, be they charter or traditional schools, do now. . . .

(Among the abundant ironies is that reform critics deride today’s student testing policies as “one size fits all” while fighting against reforming a system that is itself one size fits all).

School is a bad fit for a lot of people, Rotherham concludes.

Homeschooling has freed some kids from traditional classrooms. What would help others? Technology? Career technical education?

‘Target teen’ gets tie, tips — and a job

Target worker's act of kindness goes viral
A Target employee helps Yasir Moore prepare for a job interview. 

Hoping to ace a job interview at Chick-fil-A, Yasir Moore went to a North Carolina Target for a clip-on tie. The store doesn’t carry them. An employee taught the teenager to tie a real tie. Another employee “showed him how to give a proper handshake and tackle a few tough interview questions,” writes shopper Audrey Mark, who snapped a photo, on her Facebook page. “As the kid exited the store, a bunch of supportive Target team members cheered him on!”

Yasir got the job.

“He went after it,” said David Langston, the owner/operator of the Chick fil-A  at Triangle Town Center in Raleigh. “The biggest thing to me is what I saw is a hunger to grow, and that’s something that you really can’t teach. You just have to already have that.”

After yesterday’s story on kids who don’t want to grow up, it’s encouraging to see a teen who shows up for a fast-food interview in a suit and tie. As for the Target workers . .  .It’s about as heart-warming as it gets.

Via Darren at Right on the Left Coast, who also has a warmed heart.

Kids don’t want to grow up

Most of Michael Godsey’s high school students don’t want to prepare for college or careers, he writes in The Atlantic. Adolescence is fun. Adult life holds little appeal.

After years of teaching AP English, Godsey now teaches average students. They enjoy reading books written for or about teens, but appear “utterly bored” when counselors talk to them about “college pathways.” They’re not interested in exploring careers either.  They want to stay kids as long as they can. 

Technology lessons don’t appeal. His school’s “Bring Your Own Device Day” was a flop. Only five of his 150 students brought a device they wouldn’t otherwise have taken to school.

 One of the teens explained to me, “We like using our phones and laptops for games and talking to each other, but we don’t really want use them for school.”  

. . . A recent nationwide survey by NuVoodoo shows that while most people, regardless of age, use Facebook, teens say Instagram—which is used by just 16 percent of middle-aged adults—is their “most important” social network. My students for their part prefer to communicate through Snapchat, a photo-messaging application in which the messages “disappear” within ten seconds of being viewed. According to researchers at the University of Washington, most Snapchat users—59 percent—primarily rely on the app to share funny content like “photos of stupid faces.” Not surprisingly, Snapchat is used by just 4 percent of middle-aged adults.

Unless we can find a way to “make adulthood more appealing or adolescence less luxurious,” college and career readiness programs won’t reach their full potential, Godsey writes. That sounds like  job for parents.

Average (non-AP-taking) high school students typically enroll in a community college or not-very-selective four-year institution. Weak on academic skills and motivation, a majority will quit before earning a degree. Some will complete a vocational certificate in a technical or medical field and get a decent job. Many will find adult life just as difficult and unfulfilling as they’d imagined as teenagers.

U.S. “millennials” (16- to 34-year-olds) do poorly in literacy, numeracy and problem solving compared to young adults in other developed countries, according to a new ETS analysis.

Literature, non-fiction, lady or tiger?

Under the Common Core, students are supposed spend half their reading time on non-fiction in elementary school, 70 percent in high school. English teachers aren’t happy about the shift from literature. Susan Pimentel, a lead writer of Common Core standards, defends the stress on non-fiction in a Hechinger Report interview.

The “literacy” part of the English Language and Literacy standards includes reading in social studies, science, and technical subjects, says Pimentel. Seventy percent of reading in all classes should be non-fiction.

It’s really important that in science and history classes, students have access to important primary texts and that they be able to figure out what the speaker is trying to say. In English, there should also be great literary non-fiction, so students can uncover the meaning and understand the author’s perspective.

In talking to college professors and employers, Common Core writers discovered a “four-year gap” between high school graduates’ skills and the demands of college and careers, says Pimentel.

A New York City teacher is using literature to teach computer science, writes Emmanuel Felton on the Hechinger Report. 

“Literary texts are informational texts,” says Lev Fruchter, who teaches at a school for gifted students.

He’s developed a computer science curriculum, STORYCODE.  Fruchter uses works like Moby Dick, where characters talk about science, and “what if” science fiction. However,  he says “implicit” STEM stories are the most powerful.

Frank R. Stockton’s 1882 short story The Lady, or the Tiger?  helps students understand binary choices.

In the original story, a king discovers that his daughter is having an affair. To punish the princess’s lover, the King puts him in an arena with two doors. Behind one door is a woman the king thinks is an appropriate mate for the lover, behind the other is a tiger. Meanwhile, the princess learns from the tiger keeper which door is which, but the question is whether the jealous princess will lead her lover to his death or into the arms of another woman.

In coding terms, this is a 1-bit story, with the solution either being 0 if she chooses to send him to his death or 1 if she sends him to the other woman.

But Fruchter likes to add more layers. Fruchter adds that the lover knows about the princess’s jealousy and has to decide whether or not to trust her. It is now a 2-bit story with four possible versions. Fruchter then adds in that the tiger keeper is in love with the princess, thus introducing the possibility that the tiger keeper lies to the princess, making it a 3-bit story with eight possible outcomes.

Each students writes a version of the story, then retells it in code. For example 110 “could translate to the tiger keeper telling the princess the truth, the princess telling her lover the truth, but her lover doesn’t believe her.”