U.S. spends big on schools, but results lag

The U.S. “is one of the world’s biggest spenders when it comes to education,” but is not keeping up with other nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

The United States spends 7.3 percent of its gross domestic product on education from pre-kindergarten through the university level, the fifth highest in the world.  “But other countries have done a lot better at getting their resources where they will make the most difference,” said Andreas Schleicher, an education policy adviser to the OECD.

America used to have one of the highest college completion rates for young adults in the world. It has now dropped to 14th place, behind countries including Korea, Russia, Ireland and Canada, according to the OECD report

The United States also falls behind in early childhood education. Just half of 3-year-olds were enrolled in preschool in 2011 compared with more than 90 percent in nations such as France, Italy and Norway, according to the report.

In kindergarten through 12th grade, meanwhile, the U.S. posts middling test scores, dragged down by the high numbers of children living in poverty whose schools tend to receive lower revenues from property taxes.

“The U.S. is one of the few that invests in a regressive way,” said Schleicher. “Children who need (public funding) the most get the least of it.”

The U.S. spent $15,171 per student in kindergarten through college in 2010 — including more than $11,000 for K-8 students and more than $12,000 for high school students –  more than any other nation in the OECD report.

Switzerland’s total spending per student was close at $14,922; Mexico averaged $2,993.  The average OECD nation spent $9,313 per young person.

Public spending accounts for 70 cents of every education dollar in the U.S., down from 72 cents a decade earlier. Parents picked up another 25 cents and private sources paid for the remainder in 2010.

The average OECD nation spent 84 cents of every education dollar, down from 88 cents a decade earlier.

In the U.S., taxpayers pick up 36 cents of every dollar spent on college and job training, compared to 68 cents in other OECD nations.

The average high school teacher in the United States earns about $53,000, well above the average of $45,500 among all OECD nations. But other countries are raising teachers’ pay more quickly than the U.S.

2/5 of grads aren’t ready for college or work

Two-fifths of high school graduates are unprepared for college or the workforce, according to a new study. One third of graduates are ready for college and one fourth are ready for job training. The rest, who typically passed  lightweight, faux college-prep classes, make up a “virtual underclass” with a bleak future.

While more Americans are earning college degrees, the U.S. is not on track to meet President Obama’s goal — 60 percent of young adults will earn a degree by 2020 — or College Board’s more modest goal — 55 percent by 2025.

KIPP on college completion

One third of KIPP’s middle-school graduates go on to complete a bachelor’s degree. That’s a tad higher than the national average and much higher than the average for the low-income black and Hispanic students that KIPP educates. But it’s much lower than KIPP’s goal. KIPP Foundation CEO Richard Barth tells Rick Hess what the 99-school network is doing to meet the college completion challenge.

The number one thing is academic rigor. We’ve committed to going kindergarten through twelfth grade in KIPP schools across the country. The original cohorts that we just [reported upon] only got fifth through eighth grade. So [we're going to] start with our kids earlier and stay with them longer. The second thing is we’ve got to do a much better job of finding the right match when it comes to college. We are sending too many of our kids off to campuses that have low graduation rates. . . . one of the simplest and clearest things we can do is to form partnerships with colleges that are doing a better job of not just taking kids, but seeing that they finish. We also think we can do a better job of making sure our KIPPsters are better aware of the financial costs of college and are preparing for that. It is pretty clear that as the original KIPPsters went off to high school, they weren’t sure what it was going to take from a financial standpoint to get to college. We’re piloting a match savings program, so for every dollar a family commits, they can get a match dollar.

KIPP is partnering with  the University of Chicago on a financial literacy program to help families plan for college costs.

The network also hopes to start 25 pilot programs on college campuses to help first-generation students cope with choosing the right classes, financial aid and other demands. In addition, KIPP will strengthen counseling to encourage more KIPPsters to choose the same colleges, so they can support each other.

KIPP, which started as fifth-to-eighth-grade middle schools, now has 15 high schools and is building more.  “We sent a lot of our kids to high schools that we thought would keep the progress going and they didn’t.”

KIPP is rethinking its academic program, Barth says.

As we’ve gotten into the high school business ourselves, there’s been a really big push on writing, which we think is a proxy for critical thinking skills. And we’re trying to learn how to let go of the supports and scaffolding [so as] to let kids be more responsible for decisions on their own. Our middle schools are highly structured, and as we’ve gotten into high schools, we’ve realized we have to prepare them for a world with far less structure. We’ve got to get better at that.

The difference between “to college” and “through college” is huge, Barth says.

This is a challenge facing all the college-prep charter schools that focus on low-income, minority, first-to-college students. It’s easy to get graduates into college because so many aren’t selective. It’s very hard to get students to a college degree. In addition to strong academic preparation, they good work habits and time management skills, financial literacy and the kind of support that college-educated parents can provide to their kids. The school in my book and other college-prep charters now ask their counselors to work with graduates (usually via e-mail) to help them cope with college challenges.

Colleges spend more, students fail

College leaders waste money on ineffective college-completion strategies, such as reducing class sizes, while ignoring cost-effective alternatives, argue two University of Wisconsin researchers.

Also on Community College Spotlight: A non-credit, enrichment class called What is Islam? is off the schedule at a Eugene community college. The community member who proposed to teach the class is anti-Muslim, complained the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Barry Sommer runs the local chapter of a group that warns Islamic jihadists are trying to take over America.

Certificates are path to success

On Community College Spotlight:  For many students, earning a vocational certificate “can be the most direct path to college completion and career success,” says a new report.

To save money, the University of California may expand online classes and encourage students to complete a bachelor’s degree in three years.

Why Obama will miss college goal

President Obama will miss his college goal — he wants the U.S. to lead the world in college completion by 2020 — because he’s ignoring boys, predicts Richard Whitmire. Nobody’s talking about the widening gender gap that leaves males undereducated and unemployed.


Study: ‘Gap year’ motivates students

Australian students who take a “gap year” after high school are much more motivated in college, according to two studies in the Journal of Educational Psychology.  From Education Week:

University of Sydney researcher Andrew J. Martin . . . found that Australian students were more likely to take a gap year if they had low academic performance and motivation in high school. Yet former “gappers” reported significantly higher motivation in college — in the form of “adaptive behavior” such as planning, task management, and persistence — than did students who did not take a gap year.

While Europeans and Australians often take a gap year, only 7.6 percent of 2004 graduates in the U.S. delayed college entry for a year: 84 percent worked and 29 percent traveled or pursued other interests.

In the U.S., students who take a year off the academic track are less likely to complete a degree, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson, co-authors of the 2005 book The Gap Year Advantage, are working on a new book tentatively titled The Gap Year, American Style, Ed Week reports.

. . . students reported their top-two reasons for taking a gap year were burnout and wanting to “find out more about themselves.” Moreover, nine out of 10 students returned to college within a year, and 60 percent reported the time off had either inspired or confirmed their choice of career or academic major.

Students who’ll be the first in their families to college are urged not to step off the academic track for fear they’ll never get back on. But the “gap year” is catching on with affluent parents who are confident their high-achieving children will earn a degree.

“We found we were counseling everybody to [go to] college, and we were finding a lot of these students were just not ready to go on,” said Linda Connelly, a counselor at New Trier High in suburban Chicago. “The parents wanted them out of the house, and we wanted to give students another option.” New Trier now holds a “gap” fair so students can learn about pre-college programs.

“Taking gap time can really save a lot of the floundering around that students do,” said Holly Bull, the president of the Princeton, N.J.-based Center for Interim Programs, which studies gap-year programs and counsels students on options. “Changing majors, changing schools … it gets very pricey to be confused in college.”

I think many students would benefit from a year to grow up, explore and clarify their goals. Those who go to college after a gap year may work harder and party less. But others will drift away from their college goals.

If the gap year catches on in the U.S., we’re likely to see more serious college students and fewer lemmings — those who go to college only because everybody else is doing it. That sounds like a good outcome, but it will undercut the president’s goal of making the U.S. first in the world in college degrees.

Is Obama a college graduate?

The U.S. has dropped from first to 11th in college completion, according to the OECD. But transfers don’t count as college graduates in U.S. statistics, reports Mike Kirst on The College Puzzle. President Obama, who earned a Columbia degree, wouldn’t be considered a college graduate in the OECD tables because he started at Occidental College and transferred. International comparisons aren’t valid or useful unless data is reported consistently.

Increasingly, U.S. students “swirl” through several colleges before completing a degree. Or not. Kirst writes:

We have major problems with completion, but so do other countries. Our completion rate for associates and  two-year technical degrees is the major cause of low international rankings.

For the record, I believe Barack Obama is a college graduate. And a Christian. Born in Hawaii.