LeBron James’ promise to poor Akron kids

LeBron James hopes to help Akron children go to college.

Basketball star LeBron James’ Wheels for Education/I PROMISE initiative has pledged millions of dollars to help poor Akron kids go to the University of Akron. Can he keep his promise to Akron? asks Jesse Washington on FiveThirtyEight.

Theresa Magee, a supermarket clerk, is hopeful.

Her daughter Krystle, 32, who never finished high school, is taking free GED classes paid for by James’ foundation. Krystle’s 10-year-old daughter, Arieonna Maxwell, is in the Wheels for Education/I PROMISE program, which is reserved for kids with low reading scores. The children receive a constant stream of recorded phone calls, letters and website messages from James; after-school tutoring; and trips to places such as the symphony, a TV station, a toy design firm, an amusement park, and Cavs games.

Born to a 16-year-old single mother, James missed most of fourth grade. Then a middle-class couple, Frankie and Pam Walker, took him in to their home. “James shared a room with one of their three children and was absorbed into the family’s emphasis on school, chores, sports, homework, punctuality and responsibility — the kind of values James’ kids recite in their promise.”

“I promise,” the children say in unison, “to go to school, to do all my homework, to listen to my teachers, because they will help me learn.

“To ask questions, and to find answers. To never give up, no matter what.

“To always try my best, to be helpful and respectful to others, to live a healthy life by eating right and being active.

“To make good choices for myself. To have fun.

“And above all else, to finish school!”

The foundation doesn’t release data on results, but there’s been very slight improvement in Akron’s very low test scores since the first group was identified for help four years ago.

Dr. Robert Balfanz, who has studied high-poverty schools for 20 years as director of the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University, said James’ program could use more focused academic interventions during the regular school day.

Research has shown that out-of-school activities are helpful, he said. But it must be combined with changes to the curriculum, better training for teachers, and one-on-one monitoring of students’ attendance and participation.

The state has cut funding for after-school tutoring, a key part of James’ program, but the foundation has pledged to make sure its students get extra help.

GED lowers the bar

Pass rates are way, way down on the new GED — and fewer people are taking the high school equivalency test. So the GED Testing Service is lowering the pass score from 150 to 145, reports NPR.

High school dropouts study for the GED exam in Dayton, Ohio.

Dropouts study for the GED in Dayton, Ohio.

The computerized exam, which replaced the old test in 2014, is aligned, so they say, with Common Core standards that are supposed to measure “career and college readiness.”

That’s a high bar for high school dropouts.

Now, the testing service says a score of 150 is higher than many high school graduates could earn. Earning 165 or higher certifies readiness for college-level work without remediation.

In addition to being harder, the new GED is more expensive. Test-takers have to pass all four sections at one time.

The GED had a near monopoly on high school equivalency certification, reports NPR.  Now 21 states have adopted alternative tests, such as the TASC and HiSET.

No profit left behind

Pearson, the British publishing behemoth,  sells billions of dollars of textbooks, tests, software and online courses in North America, reports Politico‘s Stephanie Simon in No profit left behind.

“Public officials often commit to buying from Pearson because it’s familiar, even when there’s little proof its products and services are effective,” writes Simon.

Its software grades student essays, tracks student behavior and diagnoses — and treats — attention deficit disorder. The company administers teacher licensing exams and coaches teachers once they’re in the classroom. It advises principals. It operates a network of three dozen online public schools. It co-owns the for-profit company that now administers the GED.

Pearson’s interactive tutorials on subjects from algebra to philosophy form the foundation of scores of college courses. It builds online degree programs for a long list of higher education clients, including George Washington University, Arizona State and Texas A&M. The universities retain authority over academics, but Pearson will design entire courses, complete with lecture PowerPoints, discussion questions, exams and grading rubrics.

In peak years, the company has “spent about $1 million lobbying Congress and perhaps $1 million more on the state level,” writes Simon. But, she adds, the National Education Association spent $2.5 million lobbying Congress in 2013.

I think this is the key point:

“The policies that Pearson is benefiting from may be wrongheaded in a million ways, but it strikes me as deeply unfair to blame Pearson for them,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, an education historian at New York University. “When the federal government starts doing things like requiring all states to test all kids, there’s going to be gold in those hills.”

The real question is whether schools need the products and services they’re buying from Pearson and its competitors. As long as Pearson has competitors, it can’t jack up its prices or lower its quality without losing business. For example, it’s losing GED customers like crazy because the new test is too expensive and too difficult. I predict they’ll announce a new new GED or lower prices to regain business.

New tests compete with ‘unpassable’ GED

With GED pass rates down by 85 percent, states are turning to alternative tests, reports Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

— In 2012, a total of 401,388 people passed the GED test.

— In 2013, people rushed to take the old test in its final year, creating a bump: A total of 540,535 people passed.

— How many earned a GED credential in 2014? In the general population: 58,524.

The new GED is aligned to Common Core standards, which measure college readiness. It’s much harder — and more expensive — and must be taken on a computer.

“Teachers are telling us that the new test is virtually impossible for students to pass,” says David Spring, who with his wife, Elizabeth Hanson, runs the website Restore GED Fairness.

The High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET, produced by ETS and the University of Iowa is now coming into use in 12 states, reports Kamenetz. McGraw-Hill’s TASC has been approved in nine states.

However, in 34 states, passing the GED is the only route to a high school equivalency credential.

Previously, GED aspirants could pass part of the test, then retake the sections they’d failed. Now they have to pass all of it at the same time or start over from scratch.

People may be scared off by the harder test, said Diane Renaud, who runs the St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center in Detroit. “The vast majority of the people taking the GED are not likely to be college-bound,” she told the Detroit Free Press. “However, to get a job, where you’re able to earn a minimum livable wage, you have to have a GED.”

CT Turner, spokesman for the GED Testing Service, said there are few jobs for people with just a GED or high school diploma. Available jobs require additional job training or education, said Turner.

Pass rates plummet on Core-aligned GED

The new Common Core-aligned GED (General Education Diploma) test is much harder — and more expensive, reports Daniel McGraw on Cleveland Scene. Far fewer high school dropouts have taken the test this year and nearly 500,000 fewer have passed the GED.

In 2012, 401,388 people earned a GED. That went up to 540,000 people in 2013, with many rushing to take the test before it changed. This year, only 55,000 have passed.

Tutor works with GED student at Seeds of Literacy

Tutor works with GED student at Seeds of Literacy

The Seeds of Literacy, a Cleveland nonprofit, helped 131 students pass in the past two years. This year, only two have earned a GED.

At Cleveland’s Project Learn, 29-year-old Derwin Williams has studied all year for the GED, but isn’t ready to take it, reports McGraw. Williams wants to train as a roofer or drywall hanger.

“We are freezing out a large portion of those who would have had a good chance of passing before,” said Robert Bivins, program director of Education at Work at Project Learn.

Like Williams, most GED students want to impress employers or qualify for job training. They’re not aiming at a bachelor’s degree. Yet the Core-aligned exam measures college readiness.

A question from a sample test asks:

Cilia are very thin, hair-like projections from cells. They are 2.0 x 10-4. What is the maximum number of cilia that would fit side by side — without overlapping — across a microscope slide that is 25 millimeters wide?

a. 8.0 x 10-6

b. 1.25 x 10-3

c. 8.0 x 102

d. 1.25 x 105

Is that answerable as written? (Not by me.)

The old GED exam required one personal essay with a question such as: “Who is someone you think is successful and why?” It was graded on sentence structure and grammar.

Now there are two essays evaluated on reasoning.

(A question) asks the tester to read two essays on daylight saving time — one in favor, one against — and then write an essay about which one is better and why.

. . . Another asks a test taker whether a school’s decision to expel a student refusing to salute the flag or saying the Pledge of Allegiance is covered by the freedom of religion or freedom of speech, and how Thomas Jefferson’s writing fits into the question at hand. The essay will be judged, in part, on “your own knowledge of the enduring issue and the circumstances surrounding the case to support your analysis.”

Few are even trying to pass the new GED, says John Eric Humphries, co-author of The Myth of Achievement Tests. “We use the same test” for “a job parking cars as we do for getting into college,” he says.

Some states offer an alternative exam, reports McGraw. Ohio is considering alternatives.

‘Forget the diploma’ or the GED

Penelope Trunk was asked to provide career coaching to a 19-year-old dropout with no formal job experience. When the girl was kicked out by her aunt — after fleeing an abusive stepfather and prostitute sisters — Trunk took her into the family.

Forget about earning a diploma or a GED, Trunk is advising Kate.

Kate told me, “I was good at school… Well. When I went. I didn’t really go enough to be good at school. But I would have been good.”

I think what she means by that is that she is curious and smart. Which is definitely true. It’s just that when kids don’t have a consistent place to live, they don’t have a reliable way to get to school. . . . she stayed with kids who were expelled which made it even harder to get to school.

Trunk believes she can help Kate “get jobs to figure out what she likes to do.” If she wants to go to college, she can say she was homeschooled and explain “how she spent her childhood worrying where her next meal will come from, and where she will sleep next.”

Both employers and colleges know that the GED is for kids who couldn’t get through the system. . . . The GED is a distraction from your real purpose as an almost-twentysomething, which is to explain why you are special and different and will make a good employee or a good student and most of all, a good member of the community you’d like to be a part of.

Kate does not need any seal of approval from a high school or a testing center.

Employers don’t like to hire people who couldn’t handle high school, even with a GED. They like people who show up every day.

Unless Trunk has very good connections, Kate will have trouble finding a job. Without a diploma or GED, she won’t qualify for a Pell Grant to cover college costs. Colleges don’t give scholarships for survival skills — not without proof of academic competence.

I’d recommend lying. Teach Kate to claim she was homeschooled in the conventional sense and that she’s employed as a nanny for Trunk’s kids.

She can use free online resources to assess and improve her academic skills, then take a community college class to redefine herself as a college student. When she figures out what she wants to do . . . It will be hard, but not impossible.

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.

States dump GED for rival tests

The GED got a lot harder this year to match Common Core Standards. It’s also more expensive. More states are switching to alternatives, writes Catherine Gewertz in Education Week.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire will switch HiSet, an exam developed by ETS and the University of Iowa, joining 10 other states.

New York, Indiana, and West Virginia will use CTB/McGraw-Hill’s TASC as their high school equivalency exam. In Wyoming, Nevada and New Jersey, state testing centers may use TASC if they wish.

Making the GED a test of college readiness sets the bar too high in my opinion. High school dropouts need a way to show mastery of basic skills.

‘GED machine’ includes job prep

While high school dropouts prep for the GED exam at a New York City community college, they also prepare for job training in specific fields, such as health care, business or technology. More students are passing the high school equivalency exam and going on to take college courses at LaGuardia Community College, which has become a “GED machine.”

LA’s Parent College raises expectations

At Parent College, which serves low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods, parents learn how to improve their children’s college prospects, reports  PBS NewsHour.

Nadia Solis, a single mother and high school dropout, spends one Saturday each month during the school year at Parent College learning about learning. Her children attend 99th Street Elementary, one of the 17 low-performing schools now managed by the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

The Partnership invests 10 percent of its budget on family and community engagement. Test scores are rising.

One day, Solis told her daughter to study hard so she could go to college.

SOLIS: Her answer to me was, if you didn’t finish high school, why are you telling me? Well, what is this that I have to do it?

I just gave her a simple — a simple answer of, well, I just couldn’t. But the minute that I had Parent College the next week, it was my first question to my teacher: What can I do to get my GED?

Solis has earned her GED.