MOOCs are a buffet

Only 5 percent of MOOC enrollees complete the course, but that says little about MOOCs’ educational value, argue Brandon Alcorn, Gayle Christensen, and Ezekiel J. Emanuel in The Atlantic.

With no cost to enroll, no penalty for dropping out, and little reward for actually earning a certificate, MOOCs are fundamentally different from traditional classes— and students use them in fundamentally different ways.

Data from more than 1.8 million students enrolled in 36 MOOCs offered by the University of Pennsylvania show that students treat MOOCs like a buffet, sampling the material according to their interests and goals. Some are curious about the subject matter and just watch one or two video lectures; others use the discussion forums to connect with their intellectual peers around the world. Of all enrolled students, nearly 60 percent watch at least one video, complete at least one assignment, or post at least once in a forum.

The Rule of Thirds applies, they write. Roughly one-third of students who sign up for a course watch the first lecture, one-third of those students watch the Week Four lecture, and of those, another third watch the Week Eight lecture and, finally, one-third of the remainder go on to complete enough of the assignments, quizzes, and exams to pass the course and receive a certificate.

What’s more important is the 60 percent engagement rate, they argue.

CC, for-profit grads compete equally for jobs

Job seekers are as attractive to employers with a for-profit certificate or degree as with a community college credential, concludes a new study, which sent fictitious resumes to employers. Community colleges charge a lot less, the researchers pointed out.

Applicants with “some college” did little better than those with just a high school diploma.

Teacher Power!

On PBS NewsHour tonight, John Tulenko visits a teacher-led school, Mission Hill in Boston.

Checking out of the Hotel California

A California teachers’ union leader thinks membership will become voluntary — and is OK with that — writes Larry Sand in Checking Out of the Hotel California.

Intercepts has posted “declassified” California Teachers Association strategy documents. Doug Tuthill, a former union leader, urges the CTA to prepare for the courts to invalidate “fair share,” mandatory dues for all teachers, in Not if, but when: Living in a world without Fair Share.

Tuthill suggests ways to persuade teachers that it’s in their interest to join the union, notes Sand. Teachers could adopt the model of the “two most effective unions” in the U.S.,  the National Rifle Association and the AARP.

Unlike today’s teachers unions, the NRA and AARP do not require their members to be part of a centralized bureaucracy. Their members are united by common values and interests, not by location. An NRA-AARP type teachers union would be able to advocate for teachers working in a variety of settings, including museums, libraries, district schools, virtual schools, art galleries, charter schools, homeschools, tutoring businesses, private schools, YWCAs, and Boys and Girls Clubs. The work setting would be irrelevant, just as where NRA and AARP members work — or where American Bar Association lawyers and American Medical Association doctors work — is irrelevant.

A former classroom teacher, Sand is president of the California Teachers Empowerment Network. 

Once a lunch lady, García will run NEA

Lily Eskelsen García will become president of the National Education Association. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Her first job after high school was “salad girl” in a school cafeteria. She worked her way through college playing the guitar in coffeehouses and became Utah’s teacher of the year. On Sept. 1, Lily Eskelsen García, 59, will take over as head of the National Education Association, reports the Washington Post.

The NEA is the nation’s largest labor union, representing one in 100 Americans. But it’s been losing membership and political support.

She is already fighting back with blunt talk, urging teachers nationwide to revolt against “stupid” education reforms and telling politicians to leave teaching to the professionals.

Her first priority: Putting the brakes on standardized testing, an issue she says she believes will resonate not only with her members but also with parents — important potential allies for the political clashes she sees ahead. García says that the country is in the grip of testing mania, the quest for high scores killing joy, narrowing curriculums and perverting the learning process.

“I’ll be damned if I will sit quietly and play nice and say diplomatic things about something that has corrupted the profession I love,” García said.

The union has clashed with the Obama administration on testing and teacher evaluations, notes the Post. In July, the NEA demanded Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s resignation.

Duncan and Rep. George Miller, a liberal Democrat, “shocked teachers in June when they applauded a Los Angeles judge’s ruling that California’s teacher tenure laws were unconstitutional,” reports the Post.

The movement to weaken teachers’ job protections has gone national.

García, an elementary teacher, got into union politics after being chosen “teacher of the year.” At a union conference, she played her guitar and sang an original composition: “I’m-a-Teacher-and-I-Got-To-Work-In-Utah Blues.”

The daughter of a Panamanian immigrant, Garcia was the first in her family to go to college.

Her husband of 38 years committed suicide three years ago after struggling with depression for years.

“Both her sons have struggled with drug addiction,” reports the Post. The younger son, has spent time in prison for theft and burglary. García, who adopted Jared when he was 4, rescuing him from an early childhood of abuse, said, “I thought: ‘I’m a great teacher. I’ve got all this love.’ But that’s not how it works.”

Meme me this

Darren used the meme generator to introduce students to his classroom rules. For example:

Dollars for degrees: Engineering pays

North Carolina is making it easier for students to predict the dollar value of college degrees. A new state web site will provide median earnings and employment by major, degree and campus.

All the top-paying two- and four-year degrees are in engineering and technology. A four-year graduate in nuclear engineering can expect to earn nearly $90,000 in five years, while the median income for theater graduates is $10,400 after five years.

Paying poor kids to go to school

Can You Fight Poverty by Paying Kids to Go to School? asks Glenn Thrush on Politico.

A Memphis experiment is paying low-income parents and their teens for working full-time, getting medical check-ups, going to school, taking a college entrance exam and the like.

A student who compiles an acceptable school attendance record gets $40 a month, showing up for an annual dental or medical check-up means a $100 check, grades are monetized ($30 for an A, $20 for B, $10 for a C) and taking a college entrance exam like the ACT gets you a $50 check. Parents are also rewarded: Adults get a $150 monthly bonus, up to $1,800 a year, simply for working full-time.

Even supporters admit they’re a bit dubious, as when the caseworkers administering the program in Memphis pointedly asked me why they couldn’t get a little extra cash for being responsible grown-ups. “No joke. I could use an extra $150 a month for showing up at work,” one of them told me. “Do you really think our clients are that much worse off than we are?”

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg paid millions of dollars of his own money to fund an experiment in cash transfers in 2007. Despite meager results, Memphis is trying the idea, funded by the city, federal grants and Bloomberg’s philanthropy.

New York City’s experiment offered “large, intermittent payouts for big achievements instead of more frequent rewards for smaller achievements that would give families a greater sense of forward progress,” writes Thrush.

Students could earn $300 to $350—big money for a family earning $25,000 a year—for passing their standardized assessment tests in the fourth and eighth grades, or a whopping $600 for annual subject-based high school tests known as Regents Exams. But as incentives go, they were too big, too delayed. . . . Other mistakes seem obvious in retrospect; offering a kid $50 for obtaining a library card doesn’t mean they’ll use it take out a book—especially if they are already reading below grade level.

. . . education incentives “had few effects” on the academic performance of school-age children who received the cash, according to MDRC’s 2013 report.

The program “worked best as a boost for students already moving in the right direction, rather than a lever for digging the poorest of the poor out of their deep hole,” writes Thrush.

In Memphis, it was hard to recruit families, says Coasy Hale, who works for Memphis HOPE, one of two organizations picked to counsel clients and deliver program materials. People thought it was a scam. “They were like ‘Who is really going to pay us to do stuff we should already be doing anyway?”

Once enrolled, parents split into two distinct groups: “One segment of parents was highly motivated to earn rewards and pushed their kids in school, and an equally large group tuned in and out, and did just the bare minimum to get a few checks.”

. . . most poor people have parents, grandparents, even great-grandparents who received some form of government assistance and they tended to view the new rewards system as just another entitlement that would come and go. “People don’t really have to worry about food or housing. They go from crisis to crisis but they basically can survive,” says Gwen Price, whose staff at Porter-Leath oversees the other 300 Memphis families in the program. “They figure my mother got by, and I’ll get by, so why change?”

Counselors try to help the lowest-income families improve their planning and time management skills. But “it’s been a slog,” writes Thrush.

Cash transfers may help the “hardest-working poor” stabilize their lives, but do little for people who wouldn’t get their kids to school without a bribe.

I reported on welfare reform when I worked at the San Jose Mercury News. I met poor people whose lives could be transformed if someone gave them a reliable car.  (I gave a bicycle — with a lock and helmet — to a poor Vietnamese family who were thrilled. One of my daughter’s high school friends had abandoned the bike at our house when he got his driver’s license.) And there are poor people who need a lot more than money.

Los Angeles may bribe people to vote in municipal elections.  The Ethics Commission has voted to recommend a study of offering cash — perhaps as a lottery prize worth up to $50,000 — to boost turnout. 

Self-schooling

Rye Hewitt putting his pack basket, which he wove himself, to good use. Photo: Penny Hewitt

Horribly bored, Ben Hewitt dropped out of school at 16. Later, he earned a GED and got through two semesters of college. He writes and runs a small farm in Vermont with his wife. They’re unschooling their two boys, who are 12 and 9. Or, as they prefer to call it,  “self-directed, adult-facilitated life learning in the context of their own unique interests.”

. . . the moment we stopped compelling Fin to sit and draw or paint or write was the moment he began doing these things on his own. It was the moment he began carving staves of wood into beautiful bows and constructing complex toys from materials on hand: an excavator that not only rotated, but also featured an extendable boom; a popgun fashioned from copper pipe, shaved corks, and a whittled-down dowel; even a sawmill with a rotating wooden “blade.”

In other words, the moment we quit trying to teach our son anything was the moment he started really learning.

Both boys “learned to read and write with essentially zero instruction” when they were eight Hewitt writes. “They can add and subtract and multiply and divide.” He estimates Fin and Rye “spend no more than two hours per month sitting and studying the subjects, such as science and math, that are universal to mainstream education.” After farm chores and breakfast, the boys usually head for the woods.

Sometimes they grab fishing poles, uncover a few worms, and head to the stream, returning with their pockets full of fish, fiddlehead ferns, and morel mushrooms. Occasionally I join them, and these journeys are always marked by frequent stops, with one boy or the other dropping to his knees to examine some small finding, something I would have blithely, blindly stumbled over.

“Papa, look, wild onions.” And they’ll dig with their young fingers, loosing the little bulbs from the soft forest soil. Later, we’ll fry them in butter and eat them straight from the pan, still hot enough that we hold them on the tips of our tongues before swallowing.

Hewitt thinks his sons will grow up to be whatever they want to be.

Overprotective parents raise ‘lazy’ teens

Overinvolved parents are raising “lazy,” unmotivated teen-age boys, writes therapist Adam Price in the Wall Street Journal.

Parents complain their children — especially their sons — aren’t achieving their “potential.” His practice is seeing more “college students, home for a year because when the parents, tutors, coaches and, yes, therapists were no longer around, they failed.”

It’s hard to be motivated by someone else’s goals. Teens crave autonomy, Price writes. Many parents won’t let their children make their own decisions and live with the consequences.

. . . the lack of motivation is not the root problem: For many children, it is the lack of accountability. Parents remove that when they try to protect their children from suffering in the future by doing everything possible to make them successful today

He suggests parents stop telling their kids they’re smart or too “special” to take out the garbage. Set limits. Don’t “saddle children with unrealistic expectations.”