Ed Trust: Cut aid to low-quality colleges

Cut federal grants, loans and tax benefits to “college dropout factories,” “diploma mills” and “engines of inequality,” argues Education Trust in a new report. The “engines” are institutions — including some state universities — that admit few low- and moderate-income students eligible for Pell Grants.

A ‘teacher hater’ confesses

Conor Williams has a (sarcastic) “confession” to make on Talking Points Memo.

I am a “teacher hater.” I’m also bent on “undermining public education” in service of my “corporate overlords.”

Not really. But “that’s what my inbox tells me every time I write something about charter schools, Teach For America, or education politics in general.”

Williams writes about American public education for the New America Foundation. He “cares profoundly” about inequality and social mobility, he writes.

When people tell me that the “education reform” movement is a corporate enterprise run by wealthy adults who scorn teachers, I’m genuinely confused. I consider myself part of the education reform movement because I know the dire state of American public school instruction. I know the difference that great teaching can make—because it was so rare in my schooling. Those outstanding few were my heroes.

Inspired by “great educators,” he became a first-grade  teacher in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Of course, I often hear that I am not REALLY a former teacher, since I entered the classroom through Teach For America. During a school visit recently, an administrator snapped that my “teaching as internship experience” gave me no right to call myself a former teacher.

Williams left after two years because he was mugged outside the school, leaving physical and psychological scars.

He and his wife are sending their son to their neighborhood D.C. public school in the fall.

“While I’m open to the possibility that some of the education reforms that make sense to me may not actually work as well I hope, I’m tired of being told that I have no standing in these debates, or that I hate teachers, Williams writes. “You want to have a debate on the merits? Fine. But don’t accuse me of being disingenuous.”

Are college degrees inherited?

Are College Degrees Inherited? asks Ronald Brownstein in National Journal. No, not really. But the children of college graduates are much more likely to enroll in college and earn a degree compared to children from “no-degree” families. Only 23 percent of “no-degree” students went on to complete a college degree.

Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality shows “Midwestern University” co-eds partying a lot and studying a little. Affluent students can choose an easy major, party hearty and use family connections to get a job. Working-class women — often poorly prepared and poorly advised — end up in debt and without a useful degree.

We know what works, but it’s not easy

We Know (A Few) Things That Work to improve high-poverty schools, write economists Greg J. Duncan of University of California at Irvine’s School of Education and Richard J. Murnane of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.  In Restoring Opportunity: The Crisis of Inequality and the Challenge for American Education, they describe the success of Boston’s pre-K program, the University of Chicago’s K-12 charter school network and New York City’s small high schools of choice. 

The class system

In Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools, sociologist Peter W. Cookson Jr. describe how students’ socioeconomic status “affects much more than academic outcomes,” writes reviewer Richard Kahlenberg.

High schools “pass on class position through rites of passage that instill in students the values, dispositions, and beliefs of their class,” writes Cookson. Certain schools groom students to be leaders, while others channel adolescents into the laboring class.

High schools have a “latent curriculum,” a set of rules and norms that are written in considerable measure by fellow students, argues Cookson.

School buildings send “unspoken messages.” “Do I go to a school that is beautiful, well equipped, and mirrors back to me a sense of privilege,” he asks, “or do I go to a school that reflects back to me poverty, disorganization, and confusion?”

Pre-K won’t close achievement gap

Universal pre-K won’t solve the vocabulary gap (or inequality), writes Kay Hymowitz in Time. There’s no substitute for stable, nurturing families.

Two-year-olds from high-income families know many more words than two-year-olds from low-income families, according to a new study that confirms earlier research. Language Gap Study Bolsters a Push for Pre-K, reported the New York Times on the front page.

The idea that pre-K can compensate for family break down is “the preschool fairy tale,” writes Hymowitz.

It’s true that good preschools raise the math and reading scores of disadvantaged kids. The problem is that the gains are almost always temporary.  Study after study of every kind of program since Head Start first came on line in the 1960’s to recent state wide programs in Georgia and Oklahoma has concluded that, with the lonely exception of third grade boys’ math scores in Tulsa, cognitive gains “fade out” by third grade, probably because subpar schools and an unsupportive environment at home were unable to help pre-K kids take advantage of those gain.

Researchers now argue that preschool has the potential to create lasting benefits in students’ “soft skills” such as  attentiveness and self-control.

Nobel Prize-winning economist James Heckman, one of early childhood education’s most prominent advocates, has argued that because soft skills are vital to labor market and life success, under some conditions preschools have actually been able to reduce welfare dependency, teen pregnancy, and crime rates, while also improving educational outcomes and earnings. At least one study has estimated that the resulting higher tax revenues, lower imprisonment and welfare costs have created a return of nearly 13 dollars for every preschool dollar spent.

. . . Heckman’s findings are based on several small, model programs from the 1960’s. The most famous and influential of them, the Perry Preschool in Ypsalanti, Michigan, involved only 58 children.  It takes a heavy dose of wishful thinking to assume that states are any more capable of creating a large system of Perry quality preschools than they have been of designing networks of high quality K-12 schools.

Even if that were possible, it would close the achievement gap, she writes. Perry graduates did better than the control group, but much worse than children from middle or working-class families.  And “these mediocre gains were not passed on to the next generation.”

The first two children of Perry grads (there’s no data on later siblings) were just as likely as the children of non Perry-ites to go on welfare, drop out of school, and to get arrested; their earnings were also similarly anemic.

In other words, the graduates of the best preschool designed for low income kids we’ve ever had in the United States  grew up to become low skilled, low income single parents, less costly to society than others without their early educational advantage, but equally likely to raise children who would cycle back into poverty.

“It’s parents, not formal education, that makes the difference for young children’s readiness for school and success once they get there,” Hymowitz concludes.

If Mama ain’t functional, ain’t nobody functional.

Gove: Stop lying to kids

“Lying to children” is a crime, said Michael Gove, Britain’s education secretary, at the National Summit for Excellence in Education in Boston. Children are being “told they’re ready for college, a job or the military” when they’re not, he said.

He compared inflated exam grades on Britain’s graduation exams to Soviet tractor production propaganda, notes the Guardian.

“For years, ministers in previous governments looked at the way more and more people were getting GCSEs and they congratulated themselves, like Soviet economics ministers on the growth in statistics,” Gove (said) . . .

Slipping into a mock Russian accent and syntax, Gove said: “Look in Russia, thousands more get GCSEs. Surely now we are education powerhouse?”

Instead, he told the audience in Boston, “the truth is that we were lying to children” by telling them they would be able to go to university or find skilled work.

“Employers said: ‘You have a piece of paper that says it, you’re qualified in English and mathematics. But you can’t write a business letter, you can’t do basic arithmetic required to work in this store or on this shop floor.’

Both Britain and the U.S. are “houses divided by inequality and lack of opportunity,” Gove said. Access to the best universities in schools is “rationed and restricted, increasingly, to those who live in upscale neighbourhoods, have parents who have access to connections, and are supported by stable families.”

Children without those advantages need “a great school with great teachers,” but many won’t have that chance, Gove said. They’ll never reach their full potential.

Born to an unwed mother, Gove could have been “robbed of opportnity,” if he hadn’t been adopted, he said. Instead, he was raised by parents who made sure he attended excellent schools.

In the name of equity, Gove strongly endorsed Common Core standards, high expectations for all students,  testing (“tests are liberating!”) and competition.

Be skeptical of ‘deeper learning’

Beware of educators promising deeper learning, writes Tom Loveless on Brookings’ Chalkboard blog.

The notion is that schools spend too much time focused on the acquisition of knowledge, especially knowing facts. In the past century, several alternatives have arisen to dethrone the prominent role of knowledge in schools: project-based learning, inquiry and discovery learning, higher-level thinking, critical thinking, outcome based education, and 21st Century Skills.  Now it is deeper learning.

All such strategies claim to transcend learning academic content organized within traditional intellectual disciplines, writes Loveless.  For example, it’s more important for students to be able to analyze any history they study than to learn the major events of U.S. history. It’s better for students to do science than to know about science. “It is less important to learn the algorithms and articulated procedures of mathematics than to apply them in real world contexts while solving real world problems.”

As E.D. Hirsch argued in The Schools We Need: And Why We Don’t Have Them, these anti-knowledge movements lack evidence to support their claims, Loveless writes. Furthermore, “in disparaging academic content” they “exacerbate social inequality.”

If public schools don’t teach algebra or chemistry or history or great literature or how to write well—the old-fashioned learning that has been around for centuries and remains high status knowledge in most cultures—rich kids will get it somewhere else.  Poor kids won’t.

Common Core won’t be able to test deeper learning, writes John Merrow on Taking Note. A recent NewsHour story looked at a four-month “expeditionary learning” project at a Maine middle school.

. . . what sort of standardized paper-and-pencil (or computer-based) assessment can test for grit, teamwork, communication, innovation, ambition and the like?  To test those skills and capabilities, we would have to be willing to go back to the days when we trusted teachers to assess their students.  We would have to back away from our current small-minded policies that embrace test results as a way to judge, threaten and punish teachers–and instead use tests and assessments as we once did, to improve learning and teaching.

In a comment, Merrow calls for spending whatever’s necessary “to develop a sophisticated instrument that can assess those skills and capabilities that we value.”

College’s ‘party pathway’ maintains inequality

Seeking the “college experience,” young women in “party dorms” — especially those from working-class families — are distracted from their academic goals by social pressures, according to Paying for the Party: How College Maintains Inequality Elizabeth-A.-Armstrong, a University of Michigan sociology professor, and Laura T. Hamilton, of the University of California at Merced, followed 53 women for five years after they first moved into a dorm at a middle-tier public university.

Even ambitious students were tempted by the “party pathway,”  which included a Greek party scene and an array of easy majors, researchers found.

. . . Taylor and Emma had strong academic records entering college and both aspired to be dentists. At the end of the study, Taylor was in dental school while Emma was working as a dental assistant—a job that does not require a college degree. Their fates diverged when Emma made it into an elite sorority and Taylor opted into a more studious sorority—a move supported by her college-savvy parents. Without highly educated parents like Taylor’s, Emma needed academic and social supports not offered at this school to succeed.

“College did not act as a pathway to upward mobility for most,” Armstrong said.

“Party schools” cater to “the social and educational needs of affluent, full-freight students,” write Hamilton and Armstrong.  For students who can’t afford five or six years to earn a soft degree — or no degree at all — the “college experience” is too costly.

Students overboard

Photo: Here in Philly the district is closing nearly 30 schools, sending some kids to other dangerous schools to save $$$.  Meanwhile a few miles away it's laptops for every kid.  This could work for other cities' schools, too.

Philadelphia is closing nearly 30 schools, sending some students to dangerous schools to save money, writes cartoonist Signe Wilkinson. “Meanwhile a few miles away it’s laptops for every kid.”