Finance wannabes try Teach for America

With hiring slow on Wall Street, business and economics graduates are applying to Teach for America, deferring the search for a finance job, reports the New York Times.

In the last several years, hundreds of such would-be finance professionals and management consultants have taken their high-powered ambitions and spreadsheet modeling skills to the classroom.

. . .  Teach for America says that its 2012 class contained about 400 recent graduates with a major in business or economics. Of those with professional experience, about 175 worked in finance.

The new recruits bring valuable analytical skills to teaching, reports the Times.

Ross Peyser, a 2011 graduate of Cornell and a second-year teacher in New Orleans, was once an intern at Oliver Wyman, a financial services consulting firm. As a teacher, he still plays the role of data analyst, creating Excel spreadsheets to diagnose his students’ learning needs.

. . .  “I had a stronger basis to do my data analysis compared to all the other teachers in my school,” Mr. Peyser said.

Teach for America requires only a two-year commitment, which means that many corps members leave the classroom just as they’ve hit their stride as teachers. “Of its 28,000 alumni, two-thirds remain in education roles, including as principals and superintendents (about half of those educators are in classroom settings),” TFA tells the Times. But turnover rate is likely to be higher for those with a shot at high-paying finance jobs.

Job outlook for new grads

Employers plan to hire more new college graduates than they did last year. Finance, accounting and computer and information science majors are in the most demand.

Wall Street and Charter Schools

Diane Ravitch has an illuminating, if somewhat overwrought piece up today on Bridging Differences that has an assertion and a question.

The assertion is that the charter school movement is dependent on, tied up with, and owes much of its success to the involvement of hedge-fund managers in New York City.   The question is what will happen when the money leaves?

Ravitch’s piece is implicitly hostile to the modern charter school movement, and sometimes explicitly critical:

Now the charter industry has become a means of privatizing public education. They tout the virtues of competition, not collaboration. The sector has many for-profit corporations, eagerly trolling for new business opportunities and larger enrollments. Some charters skim the top students in the poorest neighborhoods; some accept very small proportions of students who have disabilities or don’t speak English; some quietly push out those with low scores or behavior problems (the Indianapolis public schools recently complained about this practice by local charters).

Still, even putting side this sort of criticism (and one should always be careful with criticisms that rely too much on the word “some”), the question of finance for the charter school movement is an interesting one.  I wasn’t really aware of the close ties to Wall Street Finance that exist in the charter movement (and I’m still skeptical; Ravitch may be overstating the case).

And Ravitch is right to ask, will the cash go on forever?

It probably won’t if the goal is to create a better system of schools; charter schools don’t quite seem to be meeting that goal (for whatever reason).  Ravitch seems to think this is the case:

Wall Street understands success and failure. When companies fail, investors bail out. As studies continue to show that charters on average don’t get better test scores than public schools, will Wall Street continue to be bullish about charters? Will they support only the ones that skim and exclude? When will they cut their losses?

But the money might continue, though, if the goal is the destruction of certain aspects of public education, or the working of systemic sorts of changes.  The question is whether the charter schools are supposed to be the end (as Ravitch thinks) or the means to some other end.

In other words, in trying to guess at the behavior of hedge fund managers, it really matters what it is those hedge fund managers are trying to do in the first place.

N.B. – I know, I know.  I said the c-word.  I’ll say it again: “CHARTER SCHOOLS!”  Please be civil to each other in the comments.

College majors that lead to well-paid careers

Which college majors lead to career success? A Wall Street Journal chart, based on 2010 Census data, looks at unemployment rates and pay for various majors. Nursing  (2.2 percent unemployment, $60,000 median salary) and finance (4.5 percent unemployment, $65,000 median pay), tend to pay off for graduates, the Journal notes.

Education graduates have low unemployment rates and average $40,000 (elementary) to $47,000 (science and computer specialists) in median pay. Education psychologists do much worse and administrators do much better.

The arts category includes everything from visual and performing arts to liberal arts,  geology and earth science (huh?) and cosmetology and culinary arts (lumped together), which rarely requires more than a certificate or associate degree. Still, those cosmetologists and cooks (unemployment is 7.3 percent, median pay is $41,000) do about as well as drama and theater arts majors.

Show me the money!

The fad of suing states for more education funding has reached the state that can probably least afford it.

More than 60 children and nine school districts across California filed a historic lawsuit Thursday, arguing that elected officials have failed in their constitutional obligation to support public schools.

* * * *

In short, the case seeks to force the state Legislature and governor to fix a broken education funding system – one that has failed to take into account what it actually costs to educate a child, plaintiffs’ attorneys said.

Let me translate that for you: give our schools more money, because the $7500 – $11,000 per pupil that we spend (depending on whom you ask — the lower numbers tend to adjust for California’s higher “cost of living”) isn’t enough.
Part of the reason it’s not enough, we are to believe, is that California is below average:

The lawsuit notes that California lags well behind other states in funding and resources, falling to 44th in per pupil spending among states and 47th when adjusted for cost of living. The state ranks 49th in overall staffing ratios and 50th in librarians, the suit says. To reach the national average the state would need to hire another 104,000 teachers, plaintiff attorneys said.

“What’s most frustrating is that kids in other parts of the country have more opportunity than we do,” said Maya Robles-Wong, 16, the lead plaintiff in the suit and an Alameda High School junior, at a San Francisco news conference. “I’m here today to ask the state to fix this problem.”

There’s something good about the drive to excel: being low man on the totem pole can be a great motivator.  But it should be a motivator to improve.  The problem with looking at states in terms of being below average in expenditures is just that: you’re looking at expenditures.  All you have to do to close the gap is spend more of the taxpayer’s money.  Someone is always going to be below average.  Someone has to be the bottom of the 50-state survey of pupil spending.  (And if states all spend exactly the same, you can make a state below average with a cost of living adjustment!)

The lawsuit is actually funny that way.  Its premise goes something like this: The constitution demands that we do X.  We’re not doing X.  The reason that we’re not doing X is because we don’t have enough money.  Therefore the constitution demands that we get more money in order to do X.  I don’t think it takes a genius to figure out where the problem in that valid but unsound argument is.

In a perfect world, the governor’s office would use this lawsuit as a showcase to ask that question: why is it impossible for schools to work with the money they have?  But we all know that’s not going to happen.

Real men of genius

One of my favourite education writers, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post, writes about a Mr. Eric Hanushek, who in addition to being an economist, may very well be a real man of genius.  Remember all that money that might be flowing to the schools?

I read about a school principal who disliked saying she was firing staff. She preferred the phrase “freeing up teachers’ futures.” That is sort of what Hoover Institution economist Eric A. Hanushek is saying we should do with any new school bailout: use it to pay severance packages for ineffective teachers so they can find their true calling elsewhere.

That’s not going to happen any time soon, of course.

Hanushek’s article actually has a much larger scope: he looks at different possibilities of what will happen to schools (with respect to the economy) and discusses multiple strategies.  Still, the notion of paying teachers to leave has a certain amount of poetic justice to it; and really,who among you didn’t have an absolutely crappy high school teacher that really needed to be asked to go elsewhere to find their calling?  How much better would schools be without much of that intellectual detritus?

Both Mathews and Hanushek see the obvious problem:

My first problem with his solution, as he recognizes, is that we are not really sure which teachers are effective and which are not. Most districts have no dependable way to find out.

That depends on what the meaning of “dependable” is.  As I’ve said often before (here and elsewhere), there are very dependable ways to identify the ineffective teachers.  Students know.  Principals usually know.  When people say that there aren’t dependable ways to find out, what they usually mean is one of three things: (1) There’s no way to prove that a teacher is ineffective, at least not with a strong enough basis to withstand a lawsuit or a union action; (2) A method might have some false positives and false negatives — some good teachers might accidentally get swept up and some bad teachers might be missed; (3) that they don’t want to fire any teachers anyway so they won’t accept any method as dependable.

I really don’t see either (2) or (3) as an actual problem.  (3) is just institutional inertia.  As for (2), when I clean a sticky spill from my counter — some counter molecules come off onto the scrub brush, and some spill molecules are left behind.  So what?  (1) is a thornier problem — for all the reasons that get discussed ad nauseam throughout the edublogosphere.  When it takes half a million dollars and months of time and effort to fire a teacher, you can imagine what sorts of painstaking accuracy and relevance will be demanded by teachers and unions and what sort of holy hell will be raised if it isn’t.  Still, hat’s off to Mr. Hanushek’s thinking outside the box.

Direct federal lending

NAS has a Peter Wood piece today on the possibility that student loan reform will be put into the health care bill-like-project currently languishing in Congress.  Here’s the skinny on the procedural move:

The White House and Democratic leaders are considering wrapping a student loan reform bill into the reconciliation “fix it” bill the Senate plans to pass for health care reform. At least nine senators, however, now oppose the plan, complicating Democrats’ plans to finish health care reform as quickly as possible.

I don’t know how worried one should be about this on a procedural level — it seems to me that they are having a hard enough time with health care logistics that they probably won’t want to make it more difficult.  If the House passes the Senate bill, I seriously, seriously doubt that the President will wait for reconciliation to sign it into law — promises and exhortations to the contrary notwithstanding.  The real interesting story is on the substantive grounds of the proposal — direct nationalization of federal student loan programs.  In other words, the government becomes the lender, not just the guarantor.

Wood’s analysis seems accurate (I haven’t been following this nearly as closely as I probably should).  And I think that he is probably justified in the worry that closes his piece:

The real question is whether concentrating federal student loans in the U.S. Department of Education is really going to be an improvement.  If the legislation passes, we may well be trading a flawed system for a disastrous one.  With direct federal control of student loans will come, as surely as a hangover follows a binge, federal control over the content of higher education.

I don’t think that this is an idle worry — direct lending will probably make it a little easier to exert control over higher education.  But at the same time, if that’s really what the federal government wanted to do, they could probably do it now.  Wood’s worry is (I presume) that the federal government could deny loan eligibility to students of schools that don’t toe the line.  But the feds can do that right now with federally guaranteed loans.   If someone wants to go to an “ineligible” school, they can still take out a higher interest, non-guaranteed loan.  And I can’t imagine that this would change under the new legislation.

So the question is whether directly holding the purse strings will make the possibility of direct control more present in the mind of the legislature and the educational bureaucracy.  That’s probably likely.  It’s always easier to play with the toys that are in plain view.

(H/T Instapundit)

An exercise in hypothetical reasoning.

Arthur M. Hauptman, educational policy consultant, gives us this bold 1560-word essay that suggests that public universities facing budget woes should consider expansion:

The recent protests in California and elsewhere reinforce how politically difficult it is to cap enrollments and raise tuition when dealing with cutbacks in state funding for higher education.

The intensity of the protests in California also raises questions about why officials there did not make the less difficult decision of maintaining or increasing enrollments without raising tuition fees, or raising them modestly. This is a strategy that more public and institutional officials across the country and around the world should consider as they deal with continuing shortfalls in public funding for higher education.

Unfortunately, he doesn’t give us the most important part of his “theory” until near the end:
[I]f current tuition fee levels are greater than the marginal costs associated with enrolling more students, such as hiring more faculty or leasing additional space, this strategy makes a great deal of economic sense.
To the word “if” I would add the qualifier, “only”.  The second commenter at the article itself, I think, explains why this is probably solely an exercise in hypothetical reasoning.

Teaching financial savvy

With so many Americans defaulting on mortgages and crushed by credit card debt, the campaign to require “financial literacy” for high school students is growing, reports MarketWatch.

Utah, Missouri and Tennessee require a one-semester personal-finance course, according to the JumpStart Coalition for Personal Financial Literacy. Another 17 states require personal finance to be included as part of another class, such as economics. What’s taught varies widely.

One thing is clear: Students in many states don’t get financial education. High-school seniors answered just 48% of questions correctly, on average, on a 31-question personal-finance survey by JumpStart in 2008. And that’s down from an average of 52% correct in 2006.

I’m reluctant to add more mandates to the curriculum. Perhaps if more students learned arithmetic, they’d be able to figure out how much they can afford to pay for housing, utilities, car payments, insurance, etc.

Update: Some Baltimore middle schools give students small amounts of money for good attendance and grades; students invest the money in stocks and track their returns or losses.  Stocks in the Future was developed by Johns Hopkins.