‘Free’ college won’t raise graduation rates

College is too late, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni in response to President Obama’s call for free community college in the State of the Union speech. Subsidizing tuition won’t help if students aren’t ready to do college-level work.

It’s easy to get students to enroll in community college, writes his colleague, David Brooks. Helping students graduate is hard.

Spending $60 billion over 10 years to make community college free won’t change sky-high dropout rates, Brooks writes.

. . . community college is already free for most poor and working-class students who qualify for Pell grants and other aid. In 2012, 38 percent of community-college students had their tuition covered entirely by grant aid and an additional 33 percent had fees of less than $1,000.

The Obama plan would largely be a subsidy for the middle- and upper-middle-class students who are now paying tuition and who could afford to pay it in the years ahead.

To increase graduation rates, spend some of that $60 billion to subsidize books, transportation, child care and housing, Brooks argues. That way students could work fewer hours and spend more time on their studies.

Community colleges also need funding for guidance counselors to help first-generation students develop a study plan and choose courses that get them quickly to their vocational or academic goal.

And they need to fix remediation, writes Brooks.

Actually, community colleges are trying all sort of remedial ed reforms, but it all goes back to Bruni’s point. If K-12 doesn’t work, then college won’t work.

The education of Jeb Bush

In Testing Time, The New Yorker’s Alec MacGillis looks at Jeb Bush’s approach to education reform as governor of Florida.

In 1995, Bush joined the board of the Heritage Foundation, “which was generating papers and proposals to break up what it viewed as the government-run monopoly of the public-school system through free-market competition, with charters and private-school vouchers,” writes MacGillis. He became a fan of school choice.

Bush worked with Willard Fair of the Urban League’s Miami branch to push a state law authorizing charter schools. It passed with bipartisan support in 1996.

Bush and Fair founded Florida’s first charter school in an impoverished, largely African-American section of Miami.

Bush brought his mother in for classroom visits and dropped by unannounced to make sure that things were running smoothly. If he found wastepaper lying around, he’d leave it on the desk of the principal, Katrina Wilson-Davis. The message was clear, she recalls: “Just because kids are poor and at risk doesn’t mean that their environment shouldn’t be clean and orderly.”

When he made a second run for governor, in 1998, he chose Florida’s education commissioner as his running mate and pushed the A+ Plan to hold schools accountable for their students’ performance. He won easily.

(The plan) provided additional funding to schools with good grades and stipulated that students at schools with poor grades would receive taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private and parochial schools.

. . . By the end of Bush’s second term, fourth-grade reading scores in the state had improved sharply, though eighth- and tenth-grade scores were more middling.

Bush is a strong supporter of the Common Core, which he’s called a “clear and straightforward” path to “high, lofty standards.” That’s hurting him with conservatives, writes MacGillis.

‘Selma’ is too racy for school superintendent


Nearly 50 years ago, civil rights marchers were attacked by police as they crossed this bridge.

The movie Selma isn’t appropriate for high school students because it contains bad language, says an Alabama superintendent. Hugh Taylor refused to bus history club members and other students to the PG-13 movie.

A web site reports two “F-words” and 26 derogatory terms for African-Americans, Taylor said.

“We’re trying to be good stewards of taxpayers money, and sending them off to something that has immoral, unethical language, that may provoke other things, I don’t feel like that’s appropriate,” he said.

“I understand the movie has a lot of historical value,” Taylor said. “I’m not going to send our DeKalb county kids to a movie that has the F-word in it.”

Do kids want tech? Do teachers fear it?

School Sleuth is asking What Do Kids Want? when it comes to classroom technology.

And What Are Teachers Afraid Of? 

U.S. doesn’t underfund education

U.S. education spending is in line with spending in other developed countries, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. It’s higher in dollars per student and average as a percentage of gross domestic income.

chart 1

“We spend more than many of our peers on college and late secondary education, less than a few on primary and early secondary school,” she writes. But “Japan and Switzerland, which spend less than we do, are hardly Third World hellholes.”

. . . there is obviously an inequality problem in our schools, but that the big problem is not at the college level, but rather in the primary and secondary schools that are overwhelmingly government-funded. And those disparities are also not primarily about the dollar amounts going into schools — Detroit spends well above the U.S. average per pupil, and yet one study found that half the population of the city was “functionally illiterate.”

Fixing bad schools might require spending more, she writes, but “it is just as likely that improvements will come from changing methods and reallocating resources.”

Dutch educators run their own schools

Dutch “educators decide what happens in their classrooms — not bureaucrats,” writes Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz in The Atlantic.

An international school in the Netherlands.

An international school in the Netherlands.

“More than 60 percent of the 8,000 or so schools in the Netherlands are private with a religious affiliation” — and public funding, she writes. All schools can adopt their own teaching philosophy.  The “system functions like a group of 8,000 charter schools.”

In the Netherlands, 94 percent of decisions for middle schools are made by individual school administrators and teachers, while 6 percent are made at the federal level, according to a 2008 OECD report. The country’s schools rank in the top quartile on international tests, well above the U.S., which falls in the middle.

With complete control of their schools’ budgets and no laws about class size or extracurricular programming, principals can opt to have two classes of 15 second-graders each or to have one class of 30 and hire an art teacher, for example. They decide how to evaluate their teachers. They even pick when the school day starts and ends for each grade.

The Dutch government sets standards for what a student should have learned by the end of primary and secondary school. But there are fewer targets than those set by Common Core standards, writes Butrymowicz. And each school can teach in its own way.

“The government inspects the schools once every four years by visiting the schools, meeting with students and parents, and looking at test scores and finances,” she writes. “The small number of schools—a couple hundred or so—that are deemed weak are watched more closely, but the rest are free to carry on.”

100 college students

From the Gates Foundation, here’s America as 100 College Students.

America_100CollegeStudents

After the story tale ending …

Spare Parts, which tells the true story of an underdog robotics team of Mexican immigrants, is inspirational and nearly waylaid by cliches, writes the Arizona Republic.

In 2004, Arizona high school boys — all undocumented immigrants — beat well-funded teams from around the country — including a team from MIT — in an underwater robotics competition. Joshua Davis’ Wired article and book inspired a documentary, Underwater Dreams.

When the movie ends, the boys’ future seems to be bright, writes Joshua Davis in a New York Times op-ed. But, because they were undocumented, only one earned a bachelor’s degree and none work in robotics.

One works as a cook, another as a janitor, according to Davis. A third is unemployed. He dropped out of Arizona State when voters passed Proposition 300, which banned state aid or in-state tuition for undocumented students.

 Oscar Vazquez . . . also had a scholarship to A.S.U., and after working menial jobs for a year, was able to attend. He was a sophomore when Proposition 300 passed, and managed to stay in school only by piecing together more scholarships, all while leading the university’s robotics team to regional championships. He graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 2009 and applied for legal residency.

Not only was his application denied, but he was also summarily banned from the United States for 10 years for living here without a visa. He ended up working on an assembly line in Mexico.

After a year, his ban was reversed when Senator Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois, interceded on his behalf. Mr. Vazquez returned, enlisted in the Army, and served a tour of combat duty in Afghanistan. He is finally a citizen, and repairs trains in Montana for the railroad company BNSF.

Deporting talented young people who’ve grown up in the U.S. is “a startling rebuke to the American dream,” concludes Davis, who argues for President Obama’s executive action granting work permits to undocumented immigrants like the robotics team.

Most students aren’t ‘in poverty’

Fifty-one percent of public school students were eligible for a free or reduced-price lunch in 2012-13, according to a Southern Education Foundation report.  That means low-income students are a majority, some have reported. 

Not really.

Qualifying for a subsidized lunch is a very unreliable measure of poverty. It both undercounts and overcounts the poor, explains Kevin Drum on Mother Jones. But, mostly, it overcounts. 

A family of four earning $44,000 a year, less than 185 percent of the poverty line, would qualify for the reduced-price lunch. That’s about 7 percent of the total. Forty-four percent get a free lunch because family income is under $31,000.

. . .  lots of poor kids, especially in the upper grades, don’t participate in school lunch programs even though they qualify. They just don’t want to eat in the cafeteria. So there’s always been a bit of undercounting of those eligible.

On the other hand, a new program called the Community Eligibility Provision, enacted a couple of years ago, allows certain school districts to offer free meals to everyone without any proof of income. Currently, more than 2,000 school districts enrolling 6 million students are eligible, and the number is growing quickly. For example, every single child in the Milwaukee Public School system is eligible.

A few school districts — typically those with affluent students — are dropping out of the school lunch program because students don’t want to pay for the new smaller, healthier meals.

Instead of fooling with inaccurate school lunch data, why not ask about family income directly (and parental education while we’re at it)?

Child poverty increased in the recession, but is now trending down, writes Alex Tabarrok on Marginal Revolution The National Center for Education Statistics estimates 21 percent of school-age children were in families living under the poverty line in 2012. Child Trends estimates 20 percent in 2013.

Rise and fall of the Third Reich — in Legos

February 1933: Hitler Gets Emergency Powers

Assigned a school report — with visuals — about World War II, a Liverpool teenager depicted the Nazi rise and fall with his Legos. John Denno, 16, feared his lack of artistic skills would lower his grade.

For Hitler, Denno added a mustache with a magic marker. “Stalin was a combination of Star Wars Chancellor Palpatine, Uncle Vernon from Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker,” reports David Moye on the Huffington Post.

Denno concluded with the liberation of the concentration camps in 1945.

It’s oddly compelling.

March 1933: The Nazis Open First Concentration Camp