Education for upward mobility

I’m in Washington D.C. for Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility conference, which will look at what schools can do to help children born into poverty move up in the world.

Mike Petrilli, the moderator, hopes to question the idea that college is the only path to the middle class.

What if by spending all of our efforts trying to boost the proportion of low-income students who are making it through college from 10 percent to, say, 20 percent, we’re ignoring the needs of the other 80 percent?

He hopes to “find a middle ground between the utopianism that characterizes so much of the reform movement (‘Let’s get every child college and career ready!’) and the defeatism that emanates from too many corners of the education system (‘There’s nothing we can do until we end poverty!’).” 

I’m on the Multiple Pathways in High School panel, which will look at adding “high-quality career tech ed and youth apprenticeships to the “college prep for all” model.

In Hard Work, High Hopes, I look at district, charter and private high schools with lots of lower-income, Latino or black students and a college-prep mission.

“President Obama wants the U.S. to lead the world in college graduates, but college dreams
usually don’t come true for the children of poorly educated, low-income parents,” I write.

Half of people from high-income families earn a bachelor’s degree by age 25. Only 10 percent of those raised in low-income families complete a bachelor’s degree.

Florida drops special-ed diploma

Florida’s special-ed students must take college-prep classes required for a standard diploma, reports The Ledger. A new state law has abolished the special diploma alternative. .

At Roosevelt Academy, a school for learning-disabled students in Lake Wales, ninth-graders were transferred from intensive math to Algebra I two months into the school year to comply with the law.

The special diploma is not accepted by state universities and may not be accepted by state colleges, technical centers, employers or the military.

But at Roosevelt Academy, teachers don’t encourage their students to go to college.

“We tell them that if you want to go to college, don’t come to our school,” said Phillip Miles, a life skills math teacher. “We’re preparing you for work, not college.”

Miles’ students are way behind in math. His class taught practical skills such as how to make a budget or calculate sales tax.

About 80 percent of Roosevelt Academy graduates have jobs by the time they collect their special diploma. That’s goal they and their parents set when creating an Individualized Education Plan.

Till now, special-ed students could earn a special diploma by mastering the “employment and community competencies” in the IEP and completing a semester of successful employment.

Now all students will have till age 22 to pursue a standard diploma — or settle for a certificate of completion.

Teachers are supposed to make college-prep courses accessible for disabled students.

In geometry, for example, a student who has trouble writing or speaking might point to an equilateral triangle rather than draw one or explain why it is equilateral.

. . . “They have to fail for four years before they even get a certificate of completion,” said Henry Smith, vocational teacher and career placement coordinator for Roosevelt. “I guarantee you the dropout rate is going to be astronomical.”

Seventeen states offer only a standard diploma, according to a 2013 report by the National Center for Learning Disabilities.

A country of credentials

The U.S. has become a “country of credentials” because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1971 “disparate impact” ruling, argues Bill McMorris in The American Spectator.  Griggs v. Duke Power Company changed how companies hire, pay and promote workers, he writes.

Matt Damon played an MIT janitor who was a  math genius in Good Will Hunting

Matt Damon played an MIT janitor who was a math genius in Good Will Hunting

Black workers complained they had to be high school graduates and pass two aptitude tests to be promoted at their North Carolina plant. Blacks were less likely to pass than whites and less likely to have finished high school.

The court agreed that was racist. “What is required by Congress is the removal of artificial, arbitrary, and unnecessary barriers to employment when the barriers operate invidiously to discriminate on the basis of racial or other impermissible classification,” Chief Justice Warren Burger wrote.

The military used aptitude testing heavily in World War II and businesses followed suit in the post-war era, writes McMorris. Blue-collar workers could rise through the ranks.

“Despite their imperfections, tests and criteria such as those at issue in Griggs (which are heavily…dependent on cognitive ability) remain the best predictors of performance for jobs at all levels of complexity,” University of Pennsylvania Professor Amy Wax has found.

. . . “Most legitimate job selection practices, including those that predict productivity better than alternatives, will routinely trigger liability under the current rule,” Wax wrote in a 2011 paper titled “Disparate Impact Realism.”

The solution for businesses post-Griggs was obvious: outsource screening to colleges, which are allowed to weed out poor candidates based on test scores. The bachelor’s degree, previously reserved for academics, doctors, and lawyers, became the de facto credential required for any white-collar job.

That’s pushed more people to go to college and into debt, McMorris writes. “One out of every four bartenders has a diploma, and though they listen to moping for a living, few majored in psychology.”

Vo-tech grads head to college

Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical senior Jonathan Berry fires up an oscilloscope in the electronic engineering shop. Berry will be headed for W.P.I. this fall instead of immediately heading into the work force.

Southeastern Regional Vocational Technical senior Jonathan Berry fires up an oscilloscope in the electronic engineering shop. Berry will attend Worcester Polytechnic Institute. (Photo: George Rizer for the Boston Globe)

Massachusetts’ well-regarded vocational schools are sending more graduates to college, not to the workforce, reports the Boston Globe.

Once viewed as a place for student slackers with no college ambition, Massachusetts vocational high schools are increasing academic standards, offering honors classes, and producing more college-bound students than ever before.

Employers are seeking more formal education for entry-level workers in the fastest-growing career sectors, such as information technology, environmental studies, engineering, biotechnology, and health care, said Patrick Collins, superintendent at Assabet Valley Tech.

Vocational schools still are seen as academically inferior, said Daniel O’Connell, superintendent of North Shore Tech. Some 29.7 percent of seniors in the class of 2013 went on to four-year colleges and universities, up from 15.1 percent five years earlier.

“Vocational education has changed so drastically,’’ he said. “If you were a vokie you worked with your hands and were a discipline problem. That’s archaic. But it’s still a process to educate the public. Each year that goes by, people realize more and more what the opportunities are with a technical education.’’

All students take the Massachusetts curriculum and must pass the state exam to graduate.

Only 30 percent of young people will earn a four-year degree, says Bill Symonds. He’s co-author of Harvard’s 2011 Pathways to Prosperity report, which argued that U.S. high schools should provide a variety of paths to adulthood.

Chris Symonds working in the kitchen at Blue Ginger.  Chris is heading to the elite Culinary Institute of America. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

Chris Symonds working in the kitchen at Blue Ginger, a Wellesley restaurant. Chris is heading to the elite Culinary Institute of America. (Photo: Emily Hanford)

His son attends Minuteman, a 21st century vocational high school in Lexington, Mass., reports American RadioWorks

Chris, was a C- minus student who loved to cook. The local high school had no courses to prepare students for a career in cooking.

In the wealthy, well-educated Boston suburbs, “there is a tremendous bias against” vocational education,  says Symonds. But Chris knew it was the right choice for him.

In middle school, he asked himself, “Why am I learning this?” Always behind, “I just felt so stupid.”

. . .  once he got to Minuteman, he started to see why he needed to learn math and English. Chris is now a senior, about to graduate in the top 10 percent of his class.

“In culinary arts, there’s not just the side of, ‘Make this recipe and put it out,’” he says. “There’s the side of, multiply this recipe. Break it down. Make more, make less. There’s the side of hospitality, and learning how to write out business plans, pay wages, make a profit.”

Students who’ve failed in traditional schools can do well at Minuteman, says Michelle Roche, the director of career and technical education. “They’re standing on their feet, they’re working with their hands, they figure out a problem,” she says. “And success breeds success.”

“Every year, some one million students leave before earning a high school degree,” writes Symonds in Pathways to Prosperity. “Many drop out because they struggle academically. But large numbers say they dropped out because they felt their classes were not interesting, and that high school was unrelentingly boring. In other words, they didn’t believe high school was relevant, or providing a pathway to achieving their dreams.”

Career and technical education can engage students and widen their options — including going to college — says Symonds.

U.S. lags in vocational credentials

The U.S. isn’t first in the world in college-educated adults — the Obama administration’s goal — because Americans earn fewer vocational degrees than our competitors.

Skilled trades don’t appeal to students

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is trying to persuade students to train for welding, carpentry, machining and other skilled-trades jobs, but job training programs are having trouble recruiting students. Many don’t believe a community college credential will lead to a good job.

Houston business leaders also are having trouble persuading young people to train for blue-collar jobs that are seen as “dirty jobs.”

School choice isn’t enough

School choice shouldn’t just be about “which one” but also about “what kind or how much or even whether or not,” writes Michael Mazenko in the Denver Post.

American education is almost exclusively designed to prepare students for university study and bachelor degrees. Even kindergarten teachers talk to kids and parents about “college readiness.” The added emphasis on STEM subjects in recent years narrows the focus even more.

Excluded from the system, however, are students who would prefer to learn a trade and work in skilled labor. Excluded are the kids who focus predominantly on the arts. Excluded are students who won’t sit passively in rows for 12 years completing worksheets and bubbling in standardized tests. Excluded are many children who don’t fit the “common” profile with “common” goals and standardized dreams.

Public education “should be offered as an opportunity,” writes Mazenko, a high school English teacher. It shouldn’t be a “mandate.”

ACT: College readiness gap is wide

Only 26 percent of 2014 graduates who took the ACT are prepared to succeed in college, according to ACT’s college readiness report. Another 13 percent passed three out of four benchmarks in English, reading, math and science. Thirty-one percent didn’t pass a single benchmark and 16 percent passed only one.

That’s no worse than in previous years, despite the growing number of students taking the test.

Nationwide, 57 percent of the class of 2014 took the ACT. While 86 percent want to go to college, but some live in states that require all students to take a college admissions exam. Last year, only 69 percent of ACT test takers actually enrolled in college that fall.

A student who meets a benchmark has a 50 percent chance of earning a B or higher, or a 75 chance of a C or higher in first-year college courses, estimates ACT.

While 57 percent of Asian-Americans and 49 percent of whites met three or more benchmarks, that dropped to 23 percent for Latinos and 11 percent for  African-American test-takers.

Overall, 64 percent of test takers tested as college-ready in English, 44 percent in reading, 43 percent in math and 37 percent in science.

Average composite scores ranged from 23.5 for Asians, 22.3 for whites, 18.8 for Latinos and 17 for blacks.

Massachusetts students had the highest composite score, 24.3 points. Hawaii ranked lowest, with an average of 18.2.

What if everyone went to college?

What If Everyone Went to College? asks ABC News. Would baristas need a master’s degree?

Swiss: Voc ed is key to prosperity

In Switzerland, which has one of the strongest economies in the world, 70 percent of high school students are in their vocational education system, while only 20 percent prep for universities. All vocational students spend part of their time in multi-year apprenticeships.