From Common Core to College Board

After helping write English Language Arts standards that will be used in 46 Common Core states, David Coleman is going to head College Board, which controls SAT and AP exams. A 42-year-old former McKinsey consultant (and liberal arts-loving Rhodes Scholar), Coleman is The Schoolmaster, writes Dana Goldstein as part of The Atlantic‘s excellent education report.

“I’m scared of rewarding bullshit,” Coleman told Goldstein. “I don’t think it’s costless at all.”

By bullshit, Coleman means the sort of watered-down curriculum that has become the norm in many American classrooms. For nearly two centuries, the United States resisted the idea, generally accepted abroad, that all students should share a certain body of knowledge and develop a specific set of skills. The ethos of local control is so ingrained in the American school system—and rifts over culture-war land mines such as teaching evolutionary theory are so deep—that even when the country began to slip in international academic rankings, in the 1980s, Congress could not agree on national curriculum standards.

As a result, states and school districts were largely left to their own devices, and test-makers were hesitant to ask questions about actual content. Education schools, meanwhile, were exposing several generations of English teachers to the ideas of progressive theorists like Lisa Delpit and Paulo Freire, who argued that the best way to empower children and build literacy skills—especially for students from poor or racially marginalized households—was to assign them books featuring characters similar to themselves, and to encourage them to write freely about their own lives.

Coleman wants students to read challenging materials and learn to answer questions by citing the text, not chatting about their personal experiences. (ACT’s report on building a content-rich curriculum.) His expectations are high. 

But Common Core’s “career ready” is exactly like “college ready,” says Anthony Carnevale, director of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. A “one size fits all” college-prep curriculum will leave behind many students who might be motivated by a career track, Carnevale argues.

When he takes over at College Board, Coleman plans to change the SAT from an aptitude test to a test of knowledge linked to Common Core Standards. He hopes to level the playing field for diligent, low-income students. (Good luck with that.)

Undereducated Americans

The demand for college-educated workers has outpaced the supply, concludes The Undereducated American, a new study by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. The weak economy has hidden the problem, says Anthony P. Carnevale, co-author of the report. “In recession and recovery, we remain fixated on the high school jobs that are lost and not coming back. We are hurtling into a future dominated by college-level jobs unprepared.”

The U.S. economy will need an additional 20 million postsecondary-educated workers by 2025, Georgetown predicts. This includes 15 million with bachelor’s degrees, one million with associate degrees and four million with vocational certificates. Adding these new graduates will stop the rise of income inequality, according to the report, which predicts wages will rise 24 percent for high school graduates, 15 percent for those with an associate degree and 6 percent for bachelor’s degree holders.

All this jibes with President Obama’s push to make the U.S. first in the world in college graduates by 2020, points out Inside Higher Ed.

The shortage of college-educated workers has created a rising wage premium, write Carnevale and co-author Stephen Rose.

College graduates earn 74 percent more than do high school graduates today — a gap that is up from 40 percent in 1980.

. . . (Adding 20 million college-educated workers) would not only allow the wage premium to shrink to 46 percent, much closer to what it was in 1980, but increase the gross domestic product by about $500 billion over what it would be without those better-educated, higher-earning workers.

Increasing college-going and graduation rates requires spending more on higher education — unlikely, Carnevale concedes — or making higher ed more efficient.

Higher education has not historically been inclined to look for efficiency, but it is likely that “as money slims down, there will be kicking and screaming, and higher ed will move toward efficiencies,” he said.

A bachelor’s degree pays off even for secretaries, plumbers and cashiers, asserts New York Times columnist Dave Leonhardt, citing the Georgetown report. Blue-collar workers with a bachelor’s degree earn more and they’re healthier and happier than their high-school-educated colleagues.

“Sending more young Americans to college is not a panacea,” says David Autor, an M.I.T. economist who studies the labor market. “Not sending them to college would be a disaster.”

About 33 percent of young adults earn a bachelor’s degree and another 10 percent receive a two-year degree, Leonhardt writes.

Financial aid cuts the cost:  “Average net tuition and fees at public four-year colleges this past year were only about $2,000 (though Congress may soon cut federal financial aid).”

Meanwhile, the wage premium for college graduates has soared.

According to the Hamilton Project, “college tuition in recent decades has delivered an inflation-adjusted annual return of more than 15 percent. For stocks, the historical return is 7 percent. For real estate, it’s less than 1 percent.”

Perhaps “college filters out people with low cognitive ability, low conscientiousness, and other adverse traits,” writes Arnold Kling.

My elitism comes from the few years I spent as an adjunct at George Mason. The typical undergrad in my course could not write a paper or solve an algebra problem. I doubt that adding more students at this margin is the way to raise people’s incomes.

College attainment will boost economic growth only if it increases cognitive skills, responds Andrew Gillen of the Center for College Affordability and Productivity, citing studies by Eric Hanushek and Ludger Woessmann. “Recent research (such as Academically Adrift) calls into question how much college boosts cognitive skills,” wrote Gillen in an e-mail to Inside Higher Ed.

I don’t see much point in sending more high school graduates to college to take eighth-grade reading, writing and math.

One drop of Hispanic blood

One drop of Hispanic blood makes a student Hispanic, according to U.S. Education Department regulations that take effect this year. Students of non-Hispanic mixed parentage will be classified as “two or more races,” which some says lumps together those who are likely to be disadvantaged (black and American Indian) and those who are not (white and Asian).

The new standards for kindergarten through 12th grades and higher education will probably increase the nationwide student population of Hispanics, and could erase some “black” students who will now be counted as Hispanic or as multiracial (in the “two or more races category”). And reclassifying large numbers of white Hispanic students as simply Hispanic has the potential to mask the difference between minority and white students’ test scores, grades and graduation rates — the so-called achievement gap, a target of federal reform efforts that has plagued schools for decades.

The New York Times’ Room for Debate asks: How should students of mixed ancestry be classified?

Not at all, responds Shelby Steele, a Hoover Institution fellow.

Civil rights leaders don’t like this ruling because they are in the business of documenting racial disparities. In our culture mixed-race children do not carry the same level of entitlement as blacks. Giving them their own category reduces the number of blacks and, thus, the level of entitlement that civil rights groups can argue for.

Identity politics is a cynical and dehumanizing business that, in the end, helps no one. Better to eliminate all such categories and leave race and identity in the private realm.

Race still matters, writes Georgetown’s Anthony Carnevale. His research shows that “being Black still has independent and powerful negative effects on educational opportunity, quite separate from language and class barriers.” That is, blacks do significantly worse on tests even when socioeconomic factors are considered.

People who look black are treated differently.  Other mixed-ethnicity people usually blend in, certainly where I live in California.

My new nephew celebrates his one-week birthday today. Like his sisters, he’s one-quarter Hispanic in ancestry, but nobody will know that by his name or appearance or Spanish fluency. His first cousins are one-quarter Hispanic, one-quarter Chinese, one-quarter Italian and one-quarter German/British, to simplify.  They are middle-class Americans.

If we’re going to classify kids by race, then we should know who’s black-Hispanic and who’s Asian-Caucasian and who’s Samoan-Irish-Cherokee. Computers can do this in nanoseconds. But wouldn’t it be nice to stop.