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.

U.S. grads are weak in math

U.S. college graduates lack numeracy skills compared to graduates in other countries, concludes the 2013-14 Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.

Overall, U.S. adults met the international average in reading skills and fell below average in math, according to PIAAC. Americans did worse in math than adults in Japan, Finland, Estonia, Cyprus, Canada . . . it’s a long list. 

U.S. high school graduates knew as much math as high school dropouts in other countries, writes Jenny Anderson in Quartz.

In “problem solving in technology-rich environments,” also known as digital literacy, Americans were dead last.

“This is not a high-level test of math or critical-thinking skills,” Stephen Provasnik, a research scientist at the National Center on Education Statistics, said. PIAAC measures “basic workplace skills.”

The costs of opportunity

San Jose is the land of opportunity — or used to be, writes Alana Semuels in The Atlantic‘s City Lab. “A child born in the early 1980s into a low-income family in San Jose had a 12.9 percent chance of becoming a high earner as an adult,” according to a 2014 study by economist Raj Chetty. That’s the best upward mobility in the country.

“Children in the 25th percentile of income at birth in San Jose ended up, on average, in the 45th percentile as adults, while kids in Charlotte who started out in the 25th percentile of income only ended up in the 36th percentile as adults,” she writes.

But do today’s poor kids have the same chance to thrive in Silicon Valley?

The percentage chance that a child born in the early ‘80s in the bottom quintile of income made it to the top quintile in selected cities across the country (Datawrapper / Equality of Opportunity Project)

The percentage chance that a child born in the early ‘80s in the bottom quintile of income made it to the top quintile in selected cities.(Datawrapper / Equality of Opportunity Project)

“San Jose used to have a happy mix of a number of factors—cheap housing, proximity to a burgeoning industry, tightly-knit immigrant communities—that together opened up the possibility of prosperity for even its poorest residents,” she writes. “But in recent years, housing prices have skyrocketed, the region’s rich and poor have segregated, and middle-class jobs have disappeared.”

San Jose is a city of immigrants — 38 percent of the city’s population is foreign-born, writes Semuels. Researchers found “a low prevalence of children growing up in single-parent families, and a low level of concentrated poverty.”

Tri Tran and his brother fled Vietnam on a boat in 1986. Tran was 11. They moved in with an aunt and uncle, a semiconductor factory tech and a data entry worker who earned enough to buy a small home.

A refugee from Vietnam, Tri Tran is now a millionaire entrepreneur.

A refugee from Vietnam, Tri Tran is now a millionaire entrepreneur.

Their uncle, who knew highly educated engineers at work, urged the boys to go to MIT. Tran founded the food-delivery start-up Munchery, which is valued at $300 million. “I think that in this land, if you are really determined and focused, you can go pretty far,” he told her. His brother is an engineering professor at Johns Hopkins.

Many of San Jose’s low-income families in the 1980’s were Vietnamese refugees who valued education highly and pushed their children to work hard in school. Others were Mexican immigrants with a strong work ethic. In San Jose, the poor are very likely to be working poor.

I don’t think middle-income jobs are disappearing in Silicon Valley, as Semuels suggests. There are lots of jobs — and not enough housing. A couple with middle-income jobs can’t afford to live here — unless their parents can loan them money to get into the inflated housing market. The median price for a Silicon Valley home is $875,000. The poor are being pushed farther away from the jobs.

Get real: Most grads aren’t college ready

Forty percent of A students are placed in remedial classes in community college, according to a new report, Expectations Meet Reality, by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Over all, 86 percent of new students say they’re well prepared academically and 68 percent start — and usually end — in remediation.

Most remedial students quit before earning a credential, writes Meredith Kolodner for the Hechinger Report. Colleges are trying alternatives, such as starting unprepared students in college-level courses with access to basic skills help, to raise low success rates.

Stop with the political correctness and admit the truth that “ordinary people” already know, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. “Lots of high school graduates aren’t ready for college

Less than 40 percent of 12th graders are ready for college, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), he writes. Yet nearly all are urged to enroll in college.

As the “college preparation gap” grows, completion rates are trending downward: The six-year graduation rate is 53 percent for those who started college in 2009.

We should stop encouraging unprepared students to go to college, writes Petrilli. “Why saddle them with debt and regret? Why allow colleges to cash checks from Pell Grants that aren’t going to do the students, or taxpayers, any good?”

Telling the truth about unprepared students’ high failure rates in college is politically impossible because most public schools don’t offer real alternatives — or the truth — to students who are on the remedial track. They need a chance to catch up in high school and choose (real) academic college prep or (real) career prep leading to a two-year degree or certificate with workplace value.

Udemy’s top teacher earned $6.8 million

More than 10 million people — mostly working adults — have taken a Udemy course, the company reports. The online learning platform helps professionals learn workplace skills — and offers personal development courses in music, fitness and other fields, reports Time. It’s not trying to compete with traditional higher education.

Rob Percival, a former high school teacher in Britain, has earned $6.8 million from his Udemy web-development course. Entrepreneur Rob Percival Picture:Richard Patterson

Rob Percival, a former high school teacher in Britain, has earned $6.8 million from his Udemy web-development course. Photo: Richard Patterson

The platform’s instructors can monetize their skills. The most viewed course on web development has earned $6.8 million for Rob Percival, a former high school teacher in Britain. He spent three months creating the course, says Percival. “The amount of good you can do on this scale is staggering. It’s a fantastic feeling knowing that it’s out there, and while I sleep people can still learn from me.”

 

Blacks graduate in lowest-paying majors

Black college graduates are likely to choose low-tech majors that lead to low-paying jobs, according to a report by Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Twenty percent of black students major in human services and community organization (median earnings of $39,000). They’re also over-represented in social work ($42,000), early childhood education ($38,000) and psychology.

Few major in engineering, science or math. Those who do often choose the lowest-paying speciality, such as biology for black women and civil engineering for black men.

Early childhood education, one of the lowest-paying majors, is a popular choice for black students.

Blacks are more likely to major in the “caring” professions, such as early childhood education, which lead to low-paying jobs.

Two-thirds of black college graduates are female, which surely explains some of the lean toward the “caring” and underpaid professions.

In addition, most black graduates have attended an open-admissions college that may have limited majors and inadequate counseling, the report observed.

Many Americans — and especially those who are the first in their families to attend college — think any degree guarantees a decent job and a middle-class life. Someone should tell them they’ll have trouble repaying student loans for a non-technical degree from an unselective college.

Building a future in construction class

At Woodward Career Tech High in Cincinnati, Channell Rogers and Sierra Buster are preparing for construction careers, reports Outside the Box, a PBS series reported by high school journalists.

Elite degree doesn’t matter for STEM grads

Graduating from an elite college doesn’t boost earnings for science, math and engineering graduates, conclude Eric R. Eide and Michael J. Hilmer in the Wall Street Journal. A prestige degree does help business and liberal-arts majors, according to the Journal‘s analysis of a survey of graduates.

STEM grads with a degree from a low-priced state university earn as much as those from elite private schools, they found.

The analysis controlled for “factors that might influence earnings, such as family income, race/ethnicity, gender, marital status, SAT score, postgraduate degree and age at graduation and more.”

In STEM fields, “curriculums are relatively standardized and there’s a commonly accepted body of knowledge students must absorb,” write Eide and Hilmer. Employers seem to be looking for skills rather than prestige.

Assessing a job applicant’s competence is harder if the degree is in what we used to call “fuzzy studies.”

College graduates’ “well-being” — financial security, health, sense of purpose and other factors — isn’t related to their alma mater’s selectivity, size or whether it was public or private, concluded the Gallup-Purdue Index in 2014.

Gallup will use its Well-Being Index  to certify universities that produce the happiest graduates. George Mason is the first university to seek  certification.