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.”

Post-college tests could help job seekers

Post-college tests, such as the CLA+, could help non-elite college graduates prove their competence to potential employers.  Grade inflation has eroded the signaling value of a college degree.

Adults will earn credit for what they know

Adults will be able to earn college credit for what they already know from the University of Wisconsin’s competence-for-credits option.

PRI: Flip the regulations

Students are learning more in “flipped” classes that use Khan Academy lessons, concludes a Pacific Research Institute report by Lance Izumi and Elliott Parisi. Furthermore, flipping could save tax dollars and extend the reach of excellent teachers. However, the free-market think tank sees bureaucratic obstacles to the spread of flipped and blended learning.

In a pilot in a Silicon Valley school district, some fifth- and seventh-grade math teachers used Khan’s instructional videos and student-tracking software. During class, students worked on problems and projects in small groups or directly with the teacher. Math scores rose, writes founder Salman Khan in The One World Schoolhouse. Twice as many seventh graders reached grade level. With each student working at his or her own pace, “we were seeing that students who were put in the ‘slower’ math classes could actually leapfrog ahead of their ‘non-slow’ peers,”  Khan writes.

Urban charter schools also piloted Khan math lessons. At an inner-city Oakland charter school, sixth graders who started with a third-grade mastery of math reached the  fifth- and sixth-grade level in six months, Khan writes.

Excellent teachers can work with more students in a flipped set-up, argues the report, citing education technology experts Bryan Hassel and Emily Ayscue Hassel.

. . . if one class out of four in a school’s 4th grade has an excellent teacher, and she spends half her instructional time on whole group instruction and half on more dynamic/personalized learning, then if Khan takes over the former whole-group instruction, two 4th grade classes could have that teacher just for personalized/dynamic learning.

A relatively low-cost aide can supervise computer labs where students view lessons, saving money. That’s the model at Rocketship charter elementary schools, which are posting very strong test scores.

To expand Khan Academy, Izumi and Parisi recommend awarding credit for mastering subject matter rather that “seat time,” changing state funding to follow students to online and blended-learning courses and expanding school choice.

New Hampshire tries credits for competence

New Hampshire schools have moved away from “seat time” to “competency-based learning,” advancing students when they have mastered course content. Strengthening High School Teaching and Learning in New Hampshire’s Competency-Based System, a report from the Alliance for Excellent Education, looks at how this is working at two high schools.

“When people are buying a new car, they don’t ask how long it took to build,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “Instead, they ask how well it performs.”

Sanborn Regional High School and Spaulding High School have replaced A-F grades with ratings that include “not yet competent” and “insufficient work submitted.” Students who haven’t achieved mastery can use online tools, one-on-one tutoring and student collaboration to improve.

Is higher ed creating inequality?

Has higher education become an engine of inequality? 

More colleges are awarding credits for competence rather than class time.

Study: NCLB ruined oral sex for teens

NCLB Blamed for Ruining Teen Oral Sex writes Jay Greene, after translating a scholarly article from “stupid BS” to English.

. . . this study appears to be claiming that an emphasis on individual academic achievement in school “crowds out” “the pleasure, choice, and mutuality” of teen fellatio and replaces it with an emphasis on “competence and skill usually associated with achievement and schooling.”

Greene provides the abstract of “It’s Like Doing Homework” — Academic Achievement Discourse in Adolescent Girls’ Fellatio Narratives published in the journal Sexuality Research and Social Policy:

Young women’s narratives of their sexual experiences occur amid conflicting cultural discourses of risk, abstinence, and moral panic. Yet young women, as social actors, find ways to make meaning of their experiences through narrative. In this study, we focused on adolescent girls’ (N=98, age 12–17 years) narratives of their first experiences with oral sex. We document our unexpected findings of persistent discourses of performance which echo newly emergent academic achievement discourses. Burns and Torre (Feminism & Psychology 15 (1):21–26, 2005) argue that an extreme and high stakes focus on individual academic achievement in schools impoverishes young minds through the “hollowing” of their sexualities. We present evidence that such influence also works in the opposite direction, with an achievement orientation invading girls’ discourses of sexuality, “crowding out” possible narratives of pleasure, choice, and mutuality with narratives of competence and skill usually associated with achievement and schooling. We conclude with policy implications for the future development of “positive” sexuality narratives.

It’s nice to think that teen-age girls value competence and skill.

A generation of ninnies

Are we raising a generation of nincompoops? asks Beth Harpaz, an AP writer.

Susan Maushart, a mother of three, says her teenage daughter “literally does not know how to use a can opener. Most cans come with pull-tops these days. I see her reaching for a can that requires a can opener, and her shoulders slump and she goes for something else.”

Teenagers are so accustomed to either throwing their clothes on the floor or hanging them on hooks that Maushart says her “kids actually struggle with the mechanics of a clothes hanger.”

. . . “It’s so all laid out for them,” said Maushart, author of the forthcoming book “The Winter of Our Disconnect,” about her efforts to wean her family from its dependence on technology. “Having so much comfort and ease is what has led to this situation — the Velcro sneakers, the Pull-Ups generation. You can pee in your pants and we’ll take care of it for you!”

Harpaz saw a visiting 12-year-old stare helplessly at an ice-cube tray from the freezer, unsure how to get the cubes out and unwilling to try.

Lenore Skenazy, who writes Free-Range Kids, said many parents raise their children to be incompetent.

“There is an onslaught of stuff being sold to us from the second they come out of the womb trying to convince us that they are nincompoops,” she said. “They need to go to Gymboree or they will never hum and clap! To teach them how to walk, you’re supposed to turn your child into a marionette by strapping this thing on them that holds them up because it helps them balance more naturally than 30,000 years of evolution!”

When my preschool daughter wore sneakers with Velcro straps, I wondered whether she’d ever learn to tie a shoelace. She learned, because I taught her. If your kids claim they don’t know how to use a clothes hanger or a can opener, teach them. That’s what parents are supposed to do.

Help wanted: BA not required

Jobseekers shouldn’t need a bachelor’s degree, writes Charles Murray in the New York Times.

Here’s a suggested battle cry, to be repeated in every speech on the subject: “It’s what you can do that should count when you apply for a job, not where you learned to do it.”

Murray wants to see tests of vocational skills replace years in college.

The residential college leading to a bachelor’s degree at the end of four years works fine for the children of parents who have plenty of money. It works fine for top students from all backgrounds who are drawn toward academics. But most 18-year-olds are not from families with plenty of money, not top students, and not drawn toward academics. They want to learn how to get a satisfying job that also pays well. That almost always means education beyond high school, but it need not mean four years on a campus, nor cost a small fortune. It need not mean getting a bachelor’s degree.

Students should be encouraged to seek a liberal education for its own sake, not as a job qualification, he writes.

Of course, Murray thinks that most people aren’t smart enough to earn a meaningful bachelor’s degree. I think it’s more a question of preparation than brainpower.  But it’s certainly true that years of schooling — lower or higher — are a very imperfect indicator of competence. Years ago, I worked with a smart, literate woman who turned out to be a high school drop-out. (She listed her high school on her resume, but never claimed to have earned a diploma.) She read books.