It’s time for a smarter (and cheaper) sheepskin

High-tech start-ups are retooling college instruction, writes venture capitalist Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn, in The New Republic. We need to “make certification faster, cheaper and more effective too,” he writes.

. . . a diploma is essentially a communications device that signals a person’s readiness for certain jobs.

But unfortunately it’s a dumb, static communication device with roots in the 12th century.

We need to . . .  turn it into a richer, updateable, more connected record of a person’s skills, expertise, and experience. And then we need to take that record and make it part of a fully networked certification platform.

There’s a lot more to college than earning a diploma, responds Michael Gibson, who works for the anti-college Thief Foundation, in Forbes. To lower the debt to party ratio, we need to consider “all the friendships formed at school, the esprit de campus, all the networks.” What about beer pong?

College consists of: the clock tower, the stadium, the frat/sorority house and the admissions office, Gibson writes.

Taken together this is like an awful cable TV package. To get HBO, you also need to pay high prices for all those unwatchable stations like the Hallmark Channel. The future of higher education will involve unbundling this package and offering cheaper, higher quality substitutes.

The clock tower represents the amount of time spent studying a subject.

 Classes are measured in hours per week; exams are given in hour length chunks; and students need some requisite number of hours in any subject to signal mastery. It is remarkable that we still use the hour as a substitute measure for learning to this day.

. . .  we are on the cusp of having the technology to unbundle and decentralize this piece of the college puzzle. Coursera, Udacity, and other massively open online courses are only getting started in their effort to demolish the clock tower and provide the customized certification Reid Hoffman describes. What the fireplace, another medieval invention, is to the cold, the clock tower is to learning: proximity used to matter. And now it doesn’t. Central heating is better.

The stadium represents the tribal experience, which is very important to alumni. The frat house represents the friendships that lead to future networking. The admissions office confers status. These will be harder to replace than the clock tower, writes Gibson.

In the near future, the residential college experience will become a luxury item, I predict. Most people will decide it makes more sense to hang out with their friends, play beer pong, root for a professional football team and earn a low-cost career credential.

NCEE: Only 5% need calculus

Only 5 percent of students will use calculus in college or the workplace, concludes a new report on college and career readiness by the National Center on Education and the Economy. Most community college students could succeed in college courses if they’ve mastered “middle school mathematics, especially arithmetic, ratio, proportion, expressions and simple equations.” Many have not.

The report calls for providing an alternative track — less algebra, more statistics — for high school students who aren’t aiming at university STEM degrees.

In a few years, high school diplomas in North Carolina will show whether a graduate is prepared for a four-year university, a community college and/or a career.

Too much cheering = no diploma

Darren isn’t the only one annoyed by yahoo-ing family members at graduation ceremonies.

In Cincinnati, a graduate was denied his diploma because of too much cheering by family and friends. He’ll have to perform 20 hours of community service — or get family members to do it — before the school will release his diploma.

A South Carolina mother was arrested for disorderly conduct when she cheered for her daughter. School officials had warned before the ceremony that people cheering or screaming would be booted. At least the penalty — a $225 fine — will be borne by the offender, not the student.

Oklahoma may cancel graduation requirements

Oklahoma may repeal its brand-new graduation requirements for fear of high failure rates, reports the Tulsa World.

The class of 2012 is the first group of students to face the state graduation requirements created by lawmakers in 2005 as part of Achieving Classroom Excellence legislation.

Each student is required to pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams to get a high school diploma. The exams are in Algebra I and II, English II and III, Biology I, geometry and U.S. history.

Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, predicts 80 percent of legislators will support repealing the higher standards.

Even Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, a co-author of the original bill, wants to rethink the legislation. Schools haven’t been able to give students enough remedial help, she said.

Several states are backing off on higher graduation requirements, notes the Hechinger Report. Georgia eased its requirements last year, cutting the number of exams from four to one.

Other states are raising standards to ensure a passing score signifies college readiness.

New York has vowed to make its high-school graduation exams tougher after a study last year showed that even students who pass the math test may be placed in remedial math classes in college. Florida recently raised its cut-off scores on all standardized exams, including those in high school, and is developing additional end-of-course assessments.

Statistics showing that large numbers of high-school graduates are unprepared for college coursework have fueled the push to make tests more difficult. Right now, many of those who do earn a diploma must enroll in at least one remedial course in college.

Nearly a quarter of high school graduates who seek to enter the military fail the entrance exam, which tests subjects such as word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, arithmetic reasoning and general science, Hechinger reports.

California grads can earn ‘seal of biliteracy’

California will affix a “seal of biliteracy” to high school diplomas for graduates who show proficiency in English and another language, including American Sign Language. Just speaking another language won’t be enough to qualify, reports Learning the Language.

Among other requirements, students must demonstrate proficiency in one or more languages other than English in one of four ways: Passing an Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam with a passing score of 3 or higher; completing a four-year high school course in the same foreign language with an overall grade point average of at least 3.0; passing a district’s foreign-language exam at a proficient level or higher; or passing a foreign government’s approved language exam.

I like honors diplomas for students who’ve excelled in a particular area. However, I wonder how they test proficiency in English.


A second (or third) chance for dropouts

Dropouts who want a second, third or fourth chance can apply to an Indianapolis charter school designed to help them earn a dipoma, reports Sarah Butrymowicz of the Hechinger Report in the Indianapolis Star. But there’s a long wait list at the Excel Center, operated by Goodwill Education Initiatives.

The charter school is designed for adult students: The average age is 25. It offers small classes, is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, and provides a range of academic and social supports. Students can work for a diploma, which impresses employers more than a GED.  There’s room for 300 students; another 800 are on the wait list.

The Excel Center “uses computer-based learning so students go at their own pace,”  Butrymowicz writes.  Students can check out laptops to do online courses at home.

The school provides child care, opportunities to earn college credit through a partnership with Ivy Tech Community College and a life coach to inspire students to think about “what comes next,” said Scott Bess, chief operating officer of Goodwill Education Initiatives, a nonprofit branch of Goodwill Industries of Central Indiana.

Every student’s schedule includes time for tutoring and studying with specialists.

Cities across the country are trying to “recover” dropouts, even when they’ve aged out of high schools. Many are willing to try for a GED or diploma, but few succeed.

In San Bernardino, California, intensive outreach efforts — and unemployment — persuaded 30 percent of dropouts to return to high school, a WestEd study found. Only 18.4 percent of them earned a diploma.

Rhode Island considers tiered diplomas

The best students in Rhode Island’s most rigorous schools may get a Regents diploma showing they’ve met state standards, while most graduates would earn a local diploma, reports the Providence Journal.

Tougher graduation requirements linked to the Regents diploma are supposed to go into effect in 2012. But many districts — including the three largest, Cranston, Providence and Warwick — aren’t ready to teach to that level. Students aren’t ready either.

. . . nearly half of 11th graders for the past two years have scored so low on the math test — “substantially below proficient” — they would be at risk for not graduating if the new standards were already in place.

Under the proposed plan, students who score “substantially below proficient” in their junior year would retake the test in their senior year. Schools would offer programs to help those students improve.

Only students who score proficient or proficient with distinction on the state tests and who attend a high school that has been approved by the state Department of Education would receive a Regents diploma.

Students in approved schools who score partially proficient or who show improvement on the tests between junior and senior year would receive a Rhode Island Diploma.

The plan would give schools and students “incentives to work hard and improve during the last two years of high school,” regents said.

What can school do about 'Beat the Jew'?

Answer Sheet’s Valerie Strauss thinks La Quinta High School in Palm Springs, California should withhold diplomas from students who played an off-campus game they called “Beat the Jew.”

Students recruited participants online to play Nazis and Jews. (There’s no indication the “Jews” were actually Jewish.) In one version, “Jews” were blindfolded, dumped somewhere  and told to find their way back to school.  In another, “Nazis” in cars chased a “Jew” on foot. Losers were subject to “incineration” or “enslavement.”  It was voluntary. Some students said they didn’t know the game’s name, reported the Desert Sun. Commenters said the game is played at local high schools without the name.

School officials say the game was discussed on campus; seven seniors face some sort of discipline.

Strauss calls it a no-brainer.

Such behavior demonstrates a level of idiocy and mean-spiritedness that shows that these kids haven’t learned enough in school to be awarded a diploma and walk around as representatives of a public school system.

I’d withhold the diploma until they took some history and decency lessons. I wouldn’t be sure that these kids would learn much — the home environment plays a big role in how kids perceive the world — but the education effort should be made nevertheless. Prejudice is learned behavior, and it can be unlearned.

I disagree.  A high school diploma indicates graduates have passed the necessary classes; it is not a guarantee of decency, maturity or sensitivity.  I suspect these kids aren’t prejudiced against Jews.  They wanted to play at being bad.

Des Moines eyes 'fast-track' diploma

To graduate more students, Des Moines schools may offer a “fast-track” diploma, reports the Des Moines Register. Instead of the 23 credits now required, fast=trackers could earn a diploma with 18 credits. Yet they’d “meet all state and district requirements as well as the entrance criteria at Iowa’s three state universities,” according to Superintendent Nancy Sebring.

Many school districts have increased the number of credits required to graduate from high school, the Register notes. The extra credits typically are in arts, world culture, economics, foreign language and other electives. However, students who don’t have enough credits to graduate usually are lagging in core courses: They’re flunking English or math or history, not P.E. or music or “international foods” (meets Dubuque’s world culture requirement).

If “fast-track” graduates are eligible for college, why not lower the credit requirements for all students? Strong students might prefer to graduate early and work or travel  (or play music or cook international foods) before going to college.

Toughen the tests

New York needs tougher tests that measure student progress, writes Diane Ravitch. In response to No Child Left Behind, New York made it much easier for weak students to be classified as “proficient,” she writes.

In 2006, a seventh-grade student needed to get 59.6 percent of the points on the state math test to become proficient (Level 3); by 2009, it was just 44 percent. Remember the old days when 44 percent was a failing mark? Not any more.

. . . In 2006, third-grade students had to get 43.6 percent of the points on the math test to earn a Level 2 — but by 2009, they needed to get only 28.2 percent of the points. On the English language-arts test, the cutoff to earn a Level 2 in sixth grade dropped from 41 percent of the points in 2006 to just 17.9 percent in 2009.

New York City wants to end social promotion by requiring students to reach Level 2 to move to the next grade. But students who guess blindly can do well enough to reach Level 2.

The Regents exam also has been downgraded, Ravitch writes.

To get a diploma, students must get a 65 on each of five Regents exams. Sounds tough — but it’s not anymore, thanks to the State Education Department’s statistical magic.

On the algebra Regents, a student collects a passing score of 65 if he or she earns only 34.5 percent of the possible points. On the biology exam, a “pass” requires earning only 46 percent.

Ravitch suggests giving honors, college-ready and work-ready diplomas that  reflect “realistic goals for everyone, rather than a low hurdle that almost everyone can step over.”

I think this makes a lot of sense.