Core standards: It’s not about the benjamins

Democratic state senators in Pennsylvania have come out against Common Core State Standards “without adequate state financial resources,” reports Ed Week.

It’s not about the benjamins, responds Marc Tucker on Ed Week‘s Top Performers blog. Some high-achieving countries spend substantially less per student than the U.S. ”Top performers . . . redesign their school finance systems” to provide more resources for hard-to-educate students.

When Florida first proposed to raise its standards years ago, some people objected on the grounds that high standards would hurt the poor and minorities, who would not be able to meet them.  The standards were raised and the students whose scores improved the most were poor and minority students.  When Massachusetts set out to raise their standards, the liberals objected that the poor and minority students would be hurt, because they would not be able to meet the standards.  And–you guessed it–when the standards were raised anyway, the students who made the greatest gains were the poor and minority students.

Years ago, he asked parents in a focus group about standards.  An African-American single mother living on welfare said her middle-school son was getting A’s for coloring in a coloring book. “The kids in the suburbs have to work really hard for their A’s,” she said. “When my child graduates, all he will be good for is working the checkout counter at the grocery store.  I want my child to have the same opportunities they have.  I want him to have to do as well in school as they have to do to earn an A.”

It will be very hard for schools with low-income and minority students to meet the new standards, Tucker concedes. Spending more won’t be enough.

We already spend more money on average than every industrialized country except Luxembourg and Norway.  We will have to do what the top-performers everywhere have done: radically change our school finance systems, academic standards, curriculum, instructional practices and tests and exams.  Not least important, we will have to make big changes in teacher compensation, the way we structure teachers’ careers, the standards for getting into teachers colleges, the curriculum in our teachers colleges, our teacher licensure standards and the way we support new teachers.

Rejecting high standards isn’t an option, Tucker argues. Employers will enforce the standards when they decide who to hire. Selective colleges will enforce the standards when they decide who to admit.

Spelling counts

Spelling counts in Jessica Lahey’s English classes because it ‘s going to count when her students apply to college or apply for jobs, she writes in The Atlantic.

She also insists middle-school girls wear skirts long enough to cover their underwear.

I absolutely agree that we should not be judging girls on the length of their skirts any more than we judge them on their ability to discern “affect” from “effect,” but we do. In order to get through the door at an interview or past the threshold of an application process, my students are going to have to meet a standard, and it’s part of my job to teach them about that standard.

. . . This is true even for students who struggle with spelling and grammar because of some glitch in their processing, a learning disability, or a simple lack of exposure to written language. Many of these weak spellers are lovely, intelligent people, and I would love to promise them that society will see past their flawed spelling, grammar, and diction to the ideas beneath. But I can’t.

“If I taught my students that they could go to a job interview wearing a bikini and wielding a wadded resume riddled with errors and still be respected for their brains and skills, I would not be doing them any favors,” Lahey concludes.

In my first job at a chain of suburban newspapers, I helped sort through a stack of applications to hire a new reporter.  In my second job, I helped find an assistant magazine editor. In both cases, we rejected every application that contained a spelling, punctuation or grammatical error. Only a few resumes and cover letters were error free. Those we read carefully.

Spiders show where the jobs are

Artificial-intelligence spiders “crawl through search engines” to read online “help wanted” ads daily, so community colleges can update — or eliminate — job training programs quickly. By contrast, federal labor data can be two years out of date or more.

“College for all” has become a curse, discouraging young people from pursuing job training, writes John McWhorter.

Tech college adds work ethic to transcripts

A Missouri technical college evaluates job readiness, work ethic and attendance, in addition to academic performance to help graduates find jobs. Employers had complained that many new hires lack a strong work ethic.

The auto industry is hiring again, but only wants workers with high-tech “cross skills” and “soft skills,” says an industry analyst.

Low-return college degrees

Teaching makes’s list of  8 College Degrees with the Worst Return on Investment.

A day-care center teacher averages $27,910 per year. If she earned a bachelor’s at a public university — and received no grants or scholarships — she’d get a 43 percent return on investment. The ROI is 13 percent for a pay-your-own-way private college degree.

Of course, K-12 teachers do better.  The median salary of a high school teacher is $54,473, according to That would generate an 85 percent return on investment for a public degree, 25 percent for a private degree.

Other low-return majors are sociology, psychology, communications, fine arts, religious studies, hospitality and nutrition. Generally, the “helping professions” pay badly.

8 degrees that will earn your money back are: math, information technology, human resources, econ, biology, engineering, marketing and English. English? Communications is a loser but English is a winner? (I majored in English and Creative Writing.) says English majors can end up as speech writers ($78,011 median pay) with a 122 percent public ROI. Communications manager ($88,498) earns a 139 percent ROI. Web content managers ($79,674) get to 125 percent. Nobody gets a positive return on investment for private college.

3/4 say college is too costly

Higher education is critical for workforce success — and too expensive, according to respondents to a Gallup/Lumina Foundation poll. Seventy percent of those surveyed favored awarding credit based on mastery of content rather than time in class and 87 percent said students should  receive college credit for knowledge and skills acquired outside of the classroom.


Colorado: Graduates’ skills don’t match jobs

Four-year college graduates’ skills don’t match available jobs, complained employers in Fort Collins, Colorado. A local liquor company employs three people with masters’ degrees, including a beer stocker with a physics degree.

A college degree is a valuable investment, but the first four to five years after college are “tougher than they’ve ever been,” said Martin Shields, a Colorado State economics professor.

In Massachusetts, community colleges are working with employers to design job training programs in high-demand fields.

Veterans go to college, but do they graduate?

Nearly a million veterans have enrolled in college using the Post 9/11 GI Bill, but nobody knows how many graduate and find jobs. 

Thanks to generous federal aid and the recession, more older students are enrolling in Florida community colleges, but
many require remedial classes.Eighty percent of students 20 and older and 90 percent of those 35 an older require remedial math. Dropout rates are high.

Obama stresses community colleges

President Obama’s campaign is talking up community colleges as the route to “good jobs.”

After years of economic decline, Elyria, Ohio is counting on its community college to spark a renaissance, writes the New York Times. Bridgette Harvan, the waitress at Donna’s Diner, is “slowly inching toward degrees in ultrasound technology and business marketing” at Lorain County Community College. If she’d pick one career goal — ultrasound technology is the better bet — she might move more quickly.

Pell isn’t for the poor any more

Designed to help low-income students go to college, Pell Grants increasingly are going to middle-class students, an analyst writes.

What’s a degree worth in job market?  Virginia’s new data base answers that question — at least for graduates who work in the state.