As 64% take ACT, scores fall

ACT scores are dropping as more students — 64 percent of 12th graders — take the exam. Some states require the ACT, even for students who aren’t planning to enroll in college.

Only 38 percent of test takers tested as college ready in at least three of the four subject areas (English, math, reading and science). Thirty-four percent are not prepared to pass entry-level college courses in any subject, according to ACT.

Image result for 2016 national ACT college benchmarks condition of college readiness 2016

“While 60 percent of Asian American students and 49 percent of white students showed strong readiness for college coursework, meeting three or more of the ACT benchmarks, just 23 percent of Hispanic students and only 11 percent of African American students earned that same level of achievement,” ACT reports.

Most community college students believe — incorrectly — that they’re prepared for college, according to a study by the Center for Community College Student Engagement (CCCSE) at the University of Texas at Austin.

While 86 percent of new students believe they are academically prepared, 68 percent take at least one remedial class.

Sixty-one percent think they’ll earn a certificate or degree in two years or less. Only 39 percent of first-time, full-time community college students earn a credential in six years, reports the National Student Clearinghouse.

LA’s 75% grad rate: What do kids know?

A “credit-recovery binge” helped Los Angeles Unified raise its graduation rate to 75 percent — while requiring all students to pass college-prep courses, reports the LA Times. Are credit-recovery graduates prepared for college, jobs or anything else?

“When we see kids completing three years of high school in a year through credit recovery, that should raise alarms,” said Pedro Noguera, director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of School Transformation.

The district can’t track how those students earned diplomas, reports the Times.

In some cases, students were allowed to make up work to change recorded grades. All records of the prior grade then disappeared from the district’s central data system, according to school site administrators, making it difficult to track such remediation in order to be fully accountable.

This year, graduates had to earn D’s or better in a college-prep sequence known as A-G that includes Algebra II, two years of foreign language and a year of a college-preparatory elective such as geography or statistics, reports the Times.

“We know 100% of all kids can graduate fully passing the A to G,” said Steve Zimmer, the school board president. (State universities don’t accept grades lower than C in A-G courses.)

Even before the credit-recovery push, many Los Angeles Unified graduates found themselves in remedial classes in college, Noguera pointed out.

College for all is a mistake, writes Walt Gardner, who taught in Los Angeles Unified for 28 years. Many of his former students “who gained skills through high school vocational courses or through certificate programs in community colleges are steadily making a good living working with their hands,” he writes. “In contrast, some former students with a bachelor’s degree have been underemployed for protracted periods of time, all the while struggling to pay off their student debt.”

College degree or competence test?

udacitybillboardUdacity guarantees its “Nanodegree” will lead to a job within six months.

“Alternatives to traditional college diplomas,” such as competence tests, would let students “pursue their own best options for learning” and  “demonstrate educational mastery to prospective employers,” says a new report by the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Colleges would have to cut costs to compete.

“Even as IT and the Internet have created new ways to research, learn, and impart knowledge,” colleges have no incentive to innovate, the think tank observes. Helping students learn outside the classroom “would cut into their revenue.” Raising standards might “drive away customers.”

Students meanwhile have little incentive to push themselves harder than necessary to earn their degrees, since degrees are opaque, deriving their value from institutional brands rather than clear measures of academic achievement.

The report goes beyond “attempts by the Lumina Foundation, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, the Measuring College Learning project and other reform-minded players to determine the right competencies or desired learning outcomes for academic disciplines or degree tracks,” reports Paul Fain on Inside Higher Ed.

The think tank calls for the federal government to encourage “standardized assessments from outside groups, not colleges or other education providers,” to measure learning normally certified by a college degree.

And those assessments should not discriminate based on where a student achieved the necessary proficiency, whether through learning on the job, by taking MOOCs, studying on their own or by attending a four-year university or a community college.

When  hiring, federal agencies should require proof of competence, not degrees, the report said. Student aid should include alternative learning options, such as MOOCs.

Glenn Reynolds wraps up the case against college for all: Most students won’t learn much and many won’t find jobs that use their degrees, he writes. Meanwhile, tuition and debt keep rising.

Udacity’s online Nanodegree comes with a job guarantee: Find work within six months or get your money back. Students pay $299 a month to qualify as an “Android Developer,” “iOS Developer,” “Machine Learning Engineer” or “Senior Web Developer.”

In prison — and in college

Some prison inmates will receive federal college aid under the $30 million Second Chance Pell Grant program.

Under a pilot program, 12,000 inmates at 141 state and federal institutions will receive grants worth up to $5,815 to pursue a two- or four-year degree from an approved college or university,  reports USA Today.

The 1994 crime bill explicitly banned giving Pell aid to prisoners. Secretary of Education John King is using “experimentation authority under the Higher Education Act” to evade the ban.

Donald Daniels, who spent the last 29 years in and out of prison, is now an A student at his California prison's school. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Pro Photography Network

Donald Daniels, who spent the last 29 years in and out of prison, is now an A student at his California prison’s school. Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Pro Photography Network

The program is focused on prisoners likely to be released — and job hunting — within five years, reports Inside Higher Ed.  “Most of the colleges chosen will offer classes in person at the correctional facilities, while some will offer online classes.” In addition,  many “plan to offer a range of support services and tailor their instruction to local labor markets.”

Many of the 67 participating colleges are community colleges with expertise in job training, but others are universities such as Rutgers and Ashland University (Ohio) with experience in correctional education.

“Inmates who participate in any kind of educational program behind bars—from remedial math to vocational auto shop to college-level courses—are up to 43 percent less likely to reoffend and return to prison,” according to a 2013 RAND study. “They also appear to be far more likely to find a job after their release, and the social stability that comes with it.”

Every dollar invested in correctional education saves nearly five dollars, RAND concluded, by keeping former inmates out of prison.

Two-thirds of prison inmates are high school dropouts and many are illiterate. But they’ve got plenty of time to study. Online education makes it more feasible to educate prisoners.

From special ed to the workforce


Kelly Custer teaches horticulture students at River Terrace Special Education Center in Washington, D.C. Photo: Grey Korhonen/Atlantic

After years of “inclusion,” only two-thirds of special-ed students earn a regular high school diploma. Those with intellectual or developmental disabilities are even less likely to complete high school. As adults, most are unemployed or underemployed.

Now, “specialized workforce academies for students with intellectual/developmental disabilities are growing in popularity,” reports Alia Wong in The Atlantic.

At the River Terrace Special Education Center in Washington, D.C., mentally retarded students who’ve completed a mainstream high school train for jobs in plant care, hospitals and hotels.

When they’re in the classroom, students learn soft skills—What does it mean to have a job? How do you keep a job? How do you deposit a paycheck?—and practice their work tasks in retrofitted classrooms. (Students in the hospitality track, for example, learn how to prepare a basic meal, make a bed, clean a bathroom, and load a laundry cart in a room that’s equipped with a bed, a hotel-like bathroom, a washing machine, a dining table, and more.) But students spend most of their days doing internships in their respective industries, all of which are paid.

Adrian Bland tried various jobs at Embassy Suites — housekeeping, laundry attendant, dishwasher and door person — before deciding she likes to be a porter. A June graduate, she’s been hired for a permanent job.

Jannika Napper works at a VA hospital

Jannika Napper works at a VA hospital, where she washes tables, stacks trays, restocks the food court and other tasks.

“Many of [my students] have experienced school as a place where, academically, they’re left out,” said Kelly Custer, who teaches in the horticulture track. “In previous experiences they were the ones that were doing very poorly in class; now, they’re getting 100s in their classwork, and you can see . . .  it changes their confidence—and that spills over to the worksite.”

Workforce academies are controversial, writes Wong. Some critics value inclusion above all. Others complain “the programs pigeonhole severely disabled students into a vocational path and as a result never encourage them to consider college.”

Some colleges offer special programs for intellectually disabled students, she writes. However, these focus on social skills, not preparing students for jobs they might be able to do as well as anyone.

Some River Terrace students have exited 13+ years of mainstreaming without having learned how to read. Half didn’t complete their year-long program this year and only five got permanent jobs. Should they rest consider college?

Most young adults with significant disabilities can work in non-sheltered jobs, according to the Collaboration To Promote Self-Determination.

Job training doesn’t require college skills

Students don’t need college-level academic skills to learn marketable job skills, write Northwestern researchers James Rosenbaum and Caitlin Ahearn.

Occupational certificates require 8th to 10th grade-level math and English, according to community college faculty in California and Illinois.

Pump operators with a certificate earn good money.

Pump operators with a certificate earn good money.

A Cisco Certified Network Associate starts at at $45,600 in Florida, they report. Pump operators who’ve earned a certificate are in high demand: 92 percent are employed at an average wage of $56,196. Paramedics and practical nurses also do well with a certificate, but no degree.

Florida’s College and Career Readiness Initiative informs 11th graders if they’re on track for college-level courses, giving them time to remediate in 12th grade, they write. However, it “targets college readiness exclusively, and assumes that the same standards apply to occupational tracks.” Students and teachers have no idea there are community college programs that will admit less-prepared students and train them in marketable skills.

From high school to the workforce

Politicians promise to make college affordable for more people, writes Jeffrey Selingo in the Wall Street Journal.  Yet many won’t earn a degree and nearly half of graduates are working jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree. What young people really need are

Young people need alternative routes to the education and training required for high-quality jobs. writes Selingo, author of There is Life After College.

Apprentices at Siemens’ gas turbine manufacturing facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Apprentices at Siemens’ gas turbine manufacturing facility in Charlotte, North Carolina.

For example, Siemens and other manufacturers “developed a high-school apprenticeship program in North Carolina when they couldn’t find enough workers with advanced skills.” Students who complete a three-year apprenticeship earn an associate degree and qualify for a $55,000 starting salary.

At Walla Walla Community College in Washington state, John Deere trains students to “fix million-dollar farm equipment,” a high-paying job that requires
“advanced math and mechanical skills.”

Only 20 percent of teens have a job while in high school, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down from 45 percent in 1998.

To make youth apprenticeships work in the U.S., policymakers should study Switzerland, where employers take the lead, and Singapore, where the government has created very effective career tech education, writes Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy.

Get practical: ‘A BA in every pot’ is a fantasy


Credit: Christopher Corr, Getty Images/Ikon Images

Vocational education, now known as “career tech ed (CTE),” is back in vogue, says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Young people need a “middle path” to middle-class jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, he tells KUNC reporter Claudio Sanchez. However, Carnevale wouldn’t want his own son or daughter in CTE.

. . . a huge number of technical certificates that take a year to complete, pay more than a [four-year] college degree. You can make a lot more money with a certificate in heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Still, “high school to Harvard” is the “tried-and-true path” to success, says Carnevale. “Until we invest enough to build an alternative pathway and respect real work in the U.S., I wouldn’t risk my child’s [education], even though I know that learning by doing is more powerful than learning with your head alone in school.”

Thirty to 40 percent of young people say ‘school is irrelevant.’ But saying to [parents], ‘I’m going to send your kid to trade school,’ will not appeal to people.

CTE will succeed if it develops a broad set of skills while teaching technical skills, Carnevale says.

In Europe and Singapore, businesses help design training programs and hire the graduates. That’s a “long shot” in the U.S., says Carnevale.

For more than 30 years, the U.S. has rejected practical, applied learning.

Every year, more than 400,000 young people in the top half of their high school class go to college, and eight years later they have not earned either a two- or four-year degree or certificate. So at some point, failure matters. Education reform in pursuit of academic excellence is floundering. We need to change our curriculum. The notion that the Common Core will make people college and career ready is largely a fantasy.

“Politicians want to put a BA in every pot,” says Carnevale.

Students need skills that lead to middle-class jobs

Seventy percent of young Americans will not earn a bachelor’s degree, write Michael Bloomberg, former New York City mayor, and Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan Chase, in Bloomberg View. Most community college students drop out without earning a degree or certificate. Schools must provide “effective programs that prepare kids who are not immediately college-bound for middle-class jobs,” they write.

For many students, the college-prep track is a dead end, they argue. Students don’t master the academic skills needed to earn a two- or four-year degree or the technical skills needed to gain entry to a job with chances for advancement.

In New Orleans, education, business and civic leaders have created YouthForce NOLA to help students qualify for “jobs such as EMT, junior software developer and manufacturing process technician,” write Bloomberg and Dimon. Schools will provide career-tech classes and businesses will offer paid internships aligned with students’ coursework and goals.

JPMorgan Chase and Bloomberg will invest $7.5 million in YouthForce NOLA, and plan similar investments in Denver and Detroit.

College for ‘justice-involved’ (criminal) students

Don’t ask college applicants if they have a criminal record, advises the U.S. Department of Education in Beyond the Box: Increasing Access to Higher Education for Justice-Involved Individuals.

“We believe in second chances and we believe in fairness,” U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. said in a speech at UCLA, which doesn’t screen applicants for a criminal record. “The college admissions process . . . should serve as a gateway to unlocking untapped potential of students,” he said. That includes “those involved with the criminal justice system.”

Applicants for federal jobs aren’t asked about a criminal record in the initial screening and the Obama administration is pressuring employers to “ban the box.”

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“There are better ways to ensure campus safety than stigmatizing those who are trying to better their lives through higher education,” University of California President Janet Napolitano said.

“Campus safety is absolutely paramount in this process,” declares a Department of Education press release. Campuses that screen for criminal justice history don’t seem to be any safer than those that don’t, according to the DoE, but there’s little research on the issue.

When college applicants have to admit and explain their criminal record, many just give up, according to Beyond the Box.  A study found 62.5 percent of State University of New York applicants who checked the box for a prior felony conviction never completed their applications, compared with 21 percent of applicants with no criminal history.

The report recommends “delaying the request for – or consideration of – criminal justice involvement until after an admission decision has been made to avoid a chilling effect on potential applicants whose backgrounds may ultimately be deemed irrelevant.”

In addition, the report calls for offering counseling, peer mentors, college coaches, jobs and support groups for “justice-involved students.”

Last July, the Education Department announced the Second Chance Pell Pilot program to test new models to allow incarcerated Americans to receive Pell Grants and pursue a postsecondary education with the goal of helping them get jobs, support their families, and turn their lives around. In November, the Department also announced up to $8 million in Adult Reentry Education Grants to support educational attainment and reentry success for individuals who have been incarcerated.

The Common App, used by more than 600 colleges, asks about misdemeanor or felony convictions, but no longer will ask about other crimes.

“Ban the box” campaigners cite racial disparities in arrest rates and the “school-to-prison pipeline,” writes Juleyka Lantigua-Williams in The Atlantic.

“Students of color are the most likely to be harmed by putting these questions on the application,” said Natalie Sokoloff, professor emerita of sociology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Most students with criminal records go to community colleges and other open-admissions public schools, she found.

I doubt that would change significantly if applications to selective universities were more welcoming. Most “justice-involved youth” are not on the honor roll. Adults coming out of prison, who may pose a danger to classmates, aren’t likely to be qualified for selective universities.