Gates put $472 million into college completion

The Gates Foundation has spent $472 million on higher education reforms since 2006 with most of it going to help low-income people complete college credentials. Gates-funded research has spurred state lawmakers to limit remedial coursework and link higher ed funding to graduation rates and other success measures. Is there pushback? Yes indeed.

Wealthy philanthropists are transforming public — but not private — higher education, warns a professor who thinks the economic elite are too powerful.

Schools vs. poverty, racism

Can Schools Overcome Poverty and Racism? Deborah Meier tackles Mike Petrilli’s question on Ed Week’s Bridging Differences.

. . .  it isn’t money “alone” (it actually rarely comes alone) that damages the children of the poor. Still, we both agree that money helps. For example, the poor are more likely to be in school while suffering from pain (e.g. toothaches, nausea, or a fever or untreated wound.) Going to the doctor, finding someone to stay home with the baby, taking a day or two off work are advantages that money buys.

It’s worse when poverty is generational, Meier writes. And it’s also about race. “There’s a difference when you know, for sure, that your poverty is not a reflection of your racial inferiority.”

For today’s poor, schools probably are better than before World War II, “but not good enough to wipe out poverty,” Meier writes.

Children need “to belong to a place that embraces them, their families, and their communities.”

 If from Day One we acknowledge their rich language (yes) and ideas and the experiences they are trying to understand we’ll do better than imagining they come to us as blank slates. We also need space so that a group doing “x” can get excited without bothering Group Y. So that “projects” don’t have to fit inside a notebook for lack of space to think bigger or get finished in an hour for lack of storage and display space.

We need quiet places and noisy places, places full of books and computers and others full of paint and clay. We need adults with the freedom to make spontaneous decisions—shifting the conversation in response to one of those “wonderful moments” and deviating from any designed curriculum. Teachers need the time to mull over what they have learned from student work (written as well as observed) and collegial time to expand their repertoires. We need feedback from trusted and competent colleagues. We need time for families and teachers to engage in serious conversations. We need settings where it seems reasonable that kids might see the school’s adults as powerful and interesting people who are having a good time.

Success should be defined “in broader ways than test scores or college completion,” Meier concludes. And “we need to also tackle poverty directly.

She recommends My Life in School by her “hero,” Tom Sobol, New York state commissioner of education in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Does it work? asks Petrilli inPoor kids need a hand up, not a hospice.

Does your vision of schooling work to help poor children gain the skills and knowledge and confidence and connections that will allow them to climb the ladder into the middle class? Does it help them do better than they otherwise would have, if they had gone to a “regular” (boring!) school?

. . . If you were seeking an “accountability waiver” for Mission Hill, or similar schools, what would you be willing to promise in terms of student outcomes? Higher graduation rates? Lower teenage pregnancy rates? Lower incarceration rates? Higher voting rates? Higher college matriculation and completion rates (including at the AA level)? Lower unemployment rates? Higher wages?

Without some way to assess student outcomes, “we’ve turned your beautiful educational vision—complete with books and computers, paint and clay—into a form of childhood hospice—a respite from life’s daily struggles, but also a surrender to the inevitable.”

Flipping the factory model

Despite national honors, long wait lists and a feature spot in Waiting for Superman, California’s Summit charter schools needed radical change, CEO Diane Tavenner decided.

. . . “we took the factory model high school and did it significantly better,” Tavenner explains. “We made it smaller, more personal, with no tracking, longer hours, more support for kids. We recruited very talented teachers and fully developed them. But it’s still a factory model and kids are moving through that system.”

In Learning Optimized on Education Next, I explain Summit’s experimental “optimized learning environment” at its two new San Jose charter high schools.

 Two hundred 9th and 10th graders at a time spend two hours a day studying math and brushing up on basic skills. They start at a work station by opening their personal guide, reading e-mail from the math teachers, and setting goals. Students can choose from a “playlist” of online learning resources, seek help at the “tutoring bar,” participate in teacher-led discussions in breakout rooms, or work on group projects, such as designing a water fountain.

When they’re ready, students take an online test to see if they’ve reached their goals. The math team, five teachers and two coaches, keeps students on track.

Nearly all Summit graduates go on to college, but Tavenner was disappointed with graduation rates for the first graduating class. Taking AP classes isn’t enough, she decided. Students need to be “self-directed learners” to handle the challenges of college. Summit is opening new schools and expanding its “optimized” experiment.

Michael Horn writes about The Transformational Potential of Flipped Classrooms, also on Education Next.

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.

Miami-Dade wins Broad Prize

Miami-Dade’s school district has won the Broad Prize for Urban Education, after five years as a finalist, reports Ed Week.

More black and Hispanic students are scoring “advanced” on state tests and graduating, the foundation said. In addition, more students are taking the SATs and earning higher scores.

(Superintendent Alberto) Carvahlo drew attention to improvements in some of the district’s lowest-performing schools, which he attributed partly to the Data/COM (short for Data assessment, technical assistance, coordination of management, according to Carvalho) process. During Data/COM, school officials analyze a school’s challenges and debate solutions, Carvahlo said.

. . . The district’s budget has also improved dramatically under Carvalho’s tenure, which was noted by the jury. “This may seem strange, but we actually embraced the economic recession as an opportunity to leverage and accomplish change,” he said. The district found additional government and foundation funding and made sure all spending was directed at improving student achievement, Carvalho said.

Runner-ups were Palm Beach County (Florida), Houston and Corono-Norco (California).

Boston Superintendent Carol R. Johnson was honored as the best urban superintendent by the Council of Great City Schools.

Credit recovery is a scam

Credit recovery programs are a scam, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly.

Universal “college and career readiness,” unless far more carefully defined and monitored than anyone has done so far, is just as fraud-inducing a K-12 goal as “universal proficiency by 2014” was for No Child Left Behind.

Credit recovery is driven by the desire to give people a second chance, “our obsession with ‘graduation rates,’ our fixation on ‘universal college and career readiness,’ and our unwillingness to acknowledge that anybody might actually be a ‘failure’ (and pay the price),” Finn writes.

Whether students are given credits for sitting in class, pleasing a teacher or — more likely — completing a series of worksheets and a test, there are strong incentives to pass students, Finn writes.

. . . who sets the passing score and determines whether the exam-taker meets it? Once again, school districts, private firms, and even states face powerful incentives (as with “proficiency” under NCLB) to set their standards at levels that lots of young people will meet, whether or not that has anything to do with “mastery.” In today’s America, those incentives are stronger than the impulse to demand bona fide “readiness” for colleges and careers.

Common Core Standards, which will come with new assessments for English Language Arts and math, could set a real standard for college and career readiness, Finn writes. So could high-quality end-of-course exams. But  the pressure will be intense to lower the bar.

That would, however, be a bad thing, not just for the integrity of the education system and America’s international competitiveness but also for the young people themselves. Today’s foremost objection to “credit recovery” is not the second-chance opportunity but the painful reality that getting credit in this fashion does not denote true mastery and that colleges and employers won’t honor it any more than the G.E.D., maybe less.

I think the only alternative is to create two or three levels of high school diploma:  Brittany graduates with an academic diploma and honors in math, chemistry and physics, while Biff earns a basic diploma and a woodworking certificate.

High hopes

Hopeful students earn higher grades and are more likely to graduate than no-hopers, researchers say. Can colleges teach hope?

“Accelerated’ learning” – streamlining remedial courses — is all the rage on community college campuses. Is it a bullet train to success? Or an oxymoron?

Why no gains in 12th-grade math?

Math scores are improving, especially among low-performing students, in elementary and middle school, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. But high school math scores haven’t moved much. And reading scores have declined in high school. Are increased graduation rates to blame?

One hypothesis is about fade-out: The improvements at the elementary level are ephemeral, perhaps because the way math or reading is taught doesn’t set students up for future success. In reading, for example, it’s quite likely that a heavy focus on phonics is helping students to decode better—and post better scores as nine-year-olds—but isn’t giving them the vocabulary or content knowledge to keep making progress in middle school. Another hypothesis is that our high schools aren’t as strong as our elementary schools, perhaps because they haven’t been the focus of as much reform and attention.

Higher graduation rates could be a factor too, Petrilli writes. “We have twelfth-graders in school today who previously would have dropped out. And those students are likely to be very low-achieving.”

 

College isn’t for everyone

College isn’t for everyone.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Frustrated by low graduation rates, states are experimenting with performance-based funding of community colleges.

Who’s a graduate?

The U.S. Education Department plans to start counting part-time and transfer students in official graduation rates, but figuring out how to do it will be difficult without tracking individual students.