Fifth who drop out face tougher GED

High school graduation rates are up to 80 percent, writes Terry Salinger on The Quick and the Ed. But the 20 percent who don’t earn a diploma face a much tougher — and more expensive — GED.

The General Education Development test (or GED) “now requires a new level of help that too few studying for the GED can get.”

The old test was a pencil and paper affair that took eight hours. The new one, the first update in more than a decade, streams in online and takes a couple of hours less. The old GED had familiar item types, like multiple choice and essays. The new one has new names: hot spot (graphic images with virtual “sensors” to plot coordinates or create models), drop-and-drag, short and long writing tasks, and cloze items (fill in the missing word).

Like the old one, the new GED assesses test-takers’ content knowledge but it also emphasizes their ability to reason in mathematics and language arts and to analyze and write about primary and secondary documents in social studies.

The new GED is aligned with Common Core standards, which are supposed to measure college readiness. (Career readiness too, but that’s an afterthought.) That sets the bar very high.

At $120, the new GED costs about twice as much.

Adult learners “need systematic, intensive, and sustained instruction by teachers with adult-learning expertise,” writes Salinger. But there’s a shortage of adult-learning teachers, classes — and dollars.

Adult charter schools offer one promising way to help more adult learners. Some of the 11 adult charter schools in Washington, DC, combine English language instruction with GED content. Two have child-development centers attached, so adult learners have close-by daycare and those aspiring to childcare careers can get some experience under their belts. In a few others, like Indianapolis and Austin, adult charter schools link to local career-training programs and colleges.

These programs offer “wraparound” social support needed by low-income students, Salinger adds. But few GED students get this kind of help.

If community colleges start turning away low achievers, there will be even more demand for adult learning centers for the 20 percent. And for the high school graduates who never really mastered high school skills.

An open door to debt?

Community colleges provide easy access — to failure and debt, argues a new book by remedial English instructors. Poorly prepared students have little hope of success, they write. Raising admissions requirements would strengthen academic classes for prepared students and redirect the unprepared to short-term job training that might help them improve their lives.

Test-free accountability?

“Concerns” about Common Core standards primarily are about “the consequences of high-stakes tests attached to the standards,” write Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond and American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. They call for a “new accountability.”

Their model is California. Their bad example is New York.

They call for a “support-and-improve model” instead of a “test-and-punish approach.”

The “new accountability” appears to mean no accountability, respond Kati Haycock of the Education Trust and her former colleague, Russlyn Ali.

The Weingarten/Darling-Hammond piece is rife with omissions and unsupported innuendo. Our particular favorite from among their many claims is the assertion that California’s record graduation rates and recent gains on national eighth-grade math and reading exams are the result of new funding formulas and testing policies that weren’t even put into place until after these gains.

Teachers’ unions are trying to get rid of John King, New York’s commissioner of education, write Haycock and Ali. He’s “in a hurry” to improve education, while California’s system suffers from the pobrecito phenomenon. Expectations are low for poor immigrant students and “hugging kids is too often considered an acceptable substitute for teaching them.”

There are “huge real-life consequences” for students who don’t meet educational standards, even if their states link no official “stakes” to exams, Haycock and Ali write. “Those who exit high school with the skills to succeed in college have a real future in our knowledge-based economy; those who do not have strong skills are essentially toast.”

Few off-track students will catch up

Eighth graders who are “far off track” for college readiness have little chance of catching up by 12th grade, ACT reports. Fewer than 10 percent hit college readiness benchmarks.

“Far off track” fourth graders rarely catch up by eighth grade.

The report focuses on at-risk students — low-income, special education, black and Hispanic — who are more likely to fall way behind and even less likely to catch up than their classmates.

To narrow achievement gaps, ACT recommends teaching a “content- and vocabulary-rich curriculum beginning in the early grades” in all subjects.

NAEP: 38% of 12th-graders are ready for college

Thirty-eight percent of 12th-graders read well enough for college coursework and 39 percent have the necessary math skills, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Students who score “proficient” in reading and between “basic” and “proficient” in math are prepared to pass college courses, analysts said. It wasn’t possible to judge career readiness.

High school graduation rates are up, but many students start college in remedial courses. Dropout rates are high for poorly prepared students.

“A lot of times we’re getting kids to graduate by asking less of them, not more of them,” says David Conley, director of the Center for Educational Policy Research at the University of Oregon in Eugene.

“The question we have to ask ourselves is, how is it that we have probably twice that number of kids taking college-type prep courses, and yet only half of them are getting to the knowledge level they need? What’s going on in courses that are supposed to prepare kids for college?” Professor Conley asks.

NAEP is optimistic compared to ACT, which estimates that only about a quarter of ACT test-takers are prepared to succeed in college.

Anti-KIPP: All grit, no morality

KIPP’s grit-heavy character education has three major problems, writes Jeffrey Aaron Snyder, a Carleton education professor, in the New Republic.

The first is that we do not know how to teach character. The second is that character-based education is untethered from any conception of morality. And lastly, this mode of education drastically constricts the overall purpose of education.

KIPP focuses on seven character strengths—grit, zest, self-control, optimism, gratitude, social intelligence, and curiosity — which KIPP believes predict success in “college and life.” Founder David Levin  aims for “dual purpose” instruction to reach both academic and character goals, he says in his online course.

But KIPP’s list of character strengths is “devoid of value judgment,” Levin told Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed. “The inevitable problem with the values-and-ethics approach is that you get into, well, whose values? Whose ethics?”

KIPP’s values are “relentlessly focused on individual achievement rather than “good and evil or citizenship and the commonweal,” complains Snyder.

. . . the key virtues taught during the nineteenth-century were piety, industry, kindness, honesty, thrift, and patriotism. During the Progressive era, character education concentrated on the twin ideas of citizenship and the “common good.” . . . In the 1960s and 1970s, meanwhile, character education focused on justice and working through thorny moral dilemmas. Today’s grit and self-control are basically industry and temperance in the guise of psychological constructs rather than moral imperatives.

. . . This is “tiger mother” territory here — a place where the “vulgar sense” of success prevails.

KIPP’s mission is to help students —  95 percent are African American or Latino — get “into and through” college.  That’s “laudable,” Snyder concedes. But really . . . “Educators who have embraced performance character seem to live in a world where their students are more likely to win a Nobel Prize than earn a living as a beautician, electrician, or police officer.”

We may not know how to teach character, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Perhaps few students will go on to win Nobel Prizes, but that doesn’t mean the school should give up on preparing students for success in college. The future electricians, police officers, teachers and accountants will need that — not just the future nuclear physicists.

I do think that KIPP should consider adding citizenship to its list of character strengths. And stop worrying about whose values the schools are promoting. These are the values of the parents who choose KIPP as their “tiger” school. They want their kids to succeed, however “vulgar” that may seem to others. If they wanted a school that saw their kids as future beauticians, they have other options.

Kindergarten show canceled for college prep

Kindergarteners won’t sing or dance for their parents this year at Harley Avenue Primary School in Long Island. The annual kindergarten show was canceled to because it takes time from college and career prep reports the New York Post.

“We are responsible for preparing children for college and career with valuable lifelong skills and know that we can best do that by having them become strong readers, writers, coworkers and problem solvers,” Principal Ellen Best-Laimit told parents in a letter. “What and how we teach is changing to meet the demands of a changing world.”

In the 21st century, the performing arts have no educational value.

The school was closed for a number of snow days over the winter. Apparently, the five- and six-year-olds have fallen behind.

Why college costs so much

What’s Behind America’s Soaring College Costs? Private college tuition tripled over the past 40 years in real dollars, writes  Ronan Keenan in The Atlantic. “In the last decade the increase was a staggering 25 percent.”

Federal student aid more than doubled from 2002 to 2012, he writes. That enabled colleges to raise tuition. Lenders bear no risk because student loans are guaranteed by the government.

Colleges have effectively been guaranteed an income stream and have used that certainty to partake in an arms race against each other by constructing lavish facilities and inflating administrative processes. The pursuit of education has turned into a vicious circle in which students need bigger loans to pay for higher costs, and colleges charge higher costs because students are getting bigger loans.

University presidents are paid lavishly, like CEOs of big companies.

Professors are teaching less. Only 43.6 percent of full-time faculty members spent nine hours or more teaching, according to a 2011 survey by the Higher Education Research Institute. That’s down from 63.4 percent in 1991. Hours spent preparing to teach also fell. 

The only way to control tuition costs is to reduce government support, writes Keenan. If student loans weren’t backed by the government, lenders would be reluctant to loan large amounts to humanities majors with low earnings prospects and to unprepared students who are unlikely to graduate.

Both colleges and employers must embrace three-year bachelors degrees; the traditional four years is an arbitrary number that just extends the time in education. Institutions can also reduce costs by adapting to the modern age and offer more online learning. But they will only do this is if the government limits the ability of students to pay the prevailing high tuition costs.

The current model enriches the universities while “graduates drown in debt,” Keenan concludes. 

His proposal would cut access to higher education — and it would force colleges to cut costs. Is it worth it?

Remedial reforms face resistance

Community colleges are reforming — or abolishing — remedial education, but some think remedial reforms have gone too far. They fear many students will be placed in college-level courses they can’t handle, while the least-prepared will be shut out of college programs and sent to adult ed.

A Pennsylvania community college has persuaded a local high school to teach the college’s remedial math and English courses to 12th graders. Ninety-two percent  of the high school’s community college-bound graduates place into remedial reading and 100 percent place into remedial math, often at the lowest levels.

ACT: 10% of blacks are ready for college

Most black high school graduates aren’t prepared to succeed in college, according to an ACT study.

Only 10 percent of African-Americans met at least three of the ACT’s four College Readiness Benchmarks in 2013, compared to 39 percent of all graduates who took the test.

Sixty-two percent of African-Americans who started college in 2011 made it to their second year, compared to 73 percent of all  ACT-tested 2011 graduates.

Blacks were somewhat less likely to take a college-prep core curriculum in high school. “While 81 percent of Asian-American students and 71 percent of white students had access to a full range of math and sciences courses, only 57 percent of African American students had full access,” observes Ed Week‘s CollegeBound.