College rah rah bah

“Millions of young people will never attend four-year colleges,” writes Sarah Carr in the Wilson Quarterly. “America must do more to equip them to secure good jobs and live fulfilling lives.”

From President Obama on down, “college for all” is seen as the solution to poverty, writes Carr. In New Orleans, the city of Carr’s book, Hope Against Hope, reformers created college-prep charter schools for low-income, black students.

At schools that have embraced the college-for-all aspiration, career and technical education is seen as being as outdated as chalkboards and cursive handwriting. Instead, the (mostly poor and mostly minority) students are endlessly drilled and prepped in the core humanities and sciences—lessons their (mostly middle- or upper-income and mostly white) teachers hope will enable the teenagers to rack up high scores on the ACT, SAT, and Advanced Placement exams and go on to attend the four-year college of their dreams (although it’s not always clear whose dreams we’re talking about).

Idealism should be tempered with pragmatism, Carr writes. Only one-third of low-income college students earn bachelor’s degrees by their mid-20s. Drop-outs may be thousands of dollars in debt.

A 2011 Harvard report, Pathways to Prosperity, described strong demand for “middle-skill” workers with vocational certificates or associate degrees. For example, electricians average $53,030, dental hygienists  $70,700 and construction managers $90,960, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“College for all” isn’t a smart state or national education policy, but can make sense as the mission of a single school, responds Michael Goldstein, founder of MATCH, a high-performing charter school in Boston.

In Boston, many traditional high schools describe themselves as college prep, but they’re sort of half-hearted about it. Few alums actually graduate from college. College rah-rah is absent. But so is career rah-rah. There is no rah-rah. I’m not sure how Carr thinks about such schools.

College is the dream of low-income black and Hispanic parents, Goldstein writes. When a large, open-admissions high school in Boston surveyed parents — mostly black or Hispanic single mothers without a degree — more than 80 percent wanted their son or daughter to go on to college.

I’m not sure I agree that educators in urban college prep charters, see career and technical education as “outdated.”

. . . I think more typically — there’s a perception that the vo-tech offerings themselves are terrible, with really bad track record of actually connecting kids to the right jobs, the air-conditioning repair jobs that Carr writes about.

Boston’s vo-tech high school is considered by far the worst public school in the city.

MATCH has considered launching an “excellent” vocational charter school, then measuring how graduates do in the job market, he writes.

I think everyone wants their kids to go to college because everyone thinks it’s the only way to get a good job. A high-quality school focused on qualifying graduates to train as electricians, mechanics, welders, dental hygienists, X-ray techs, etc. would be very popular.

Good To Great to . . . not-so good

MATCH founder Michael Goldstein, now blogging on Starting an Ed School, looks at what happened over time to the companies praised in Jim Collins’ influential management book, Good to Great.  After analyzing 1,435 companies, Collins 11 that had gone from “good to great.”

Corporate transformations don’t rely on a “miracle moment,” Collins wrote.

Instead, a down-to-earth, pragmatic, committed-to-excellence process—a framework—kept each company, its leaders, and its people on track for the long haul. In each case, it was the triumph of the Flywheel Effect over the Doom Loop, the victory of steadfast discipline over the quick fix.

Doom Loopers “launch change programs with huge fanfare,” then change direction. “Disappointing results lead to reaction without understanding, which leads to a new direction—a new leader, a new program—which leads to no momentum, which leads to disappointing results. It’s a steady, downward spiral.”

Many people in the K-12 world use Collins’ “ideas for how a school might go from good to great,” writes Goldstein. “Or mediocre to good. Or crappy to mediocre.” Yet urban teachers know the Doom Loop all too well.

Doom Loop is why my teacher friends in some traditional large urban schools have indigestion when they hear about any sort of “reform.”

In their direct experience, all they’ve seen is Doom Loop. More precisely, Doom Loop masquerading with claims that this time it would be Flywheel. This time. Righto.

Only two of the 11 companies in Good to Great, published in 2001, are still Great when measured by stock prices, Nucor and Philip Morris, Goldstein discovered. Five have posted average performance. One, Gillette, was bought out. That leaves three that went from Great to Lousy:

Pitney Bowes is half its market cap of 2001.

Circuit City is defunct.

Fannie Mae (securities fraud, delisted by NYSE, contributed to gigantic financial meltdown)

So does that mean Collins was wrong — or that well-managed companies couldn’t keep it up over time?

Training teachers like ice skaters

Teachers should be trained like ice skaters, argues Mike Goldstein, founder of the very successful MATCH school in Boston. That means lots of “deliberate practice.” From Jay Mathews:

“A kid who practices 10 hours playing sloppy pick up basketball with his friends might develop less than a kid who has a focused two hours of practice with measurable, highly specific, small chunk feedback,” Goldstein told me in a long email. “Similarly, a rookie teacher who simply student teaches or acts as an assistant teacher might simply be repeating the WRONG moves.

“Deliberate practice means (1) specific & technique-oriented, (2) high-repetition, and (3) paired with immediate feedback which includes telling the novice what to do.

“That’s what we do: ‘Do X. Now you say it, right in front of me. Tone needs to be firm: do it again.’ High dosage feedback, after every day of student teaching. And feedback that is directive. Don’t say ‘Here’s 5 different ways you could try.’ Cut through that.”

Goldstein’s school recruits bright college graduates for its MATCH Corps. Most live in a dorm on the school’s top floor and serve as tutors for students who need more help.  Teacher training is scheduled for Friday, Saturday and the summer.  In interviews on the MATCH site here and here, two Corps members, graduates of Brown and Princeton, describe a typical 12-hour day of tutoring, grading, prep, parent phone calls and support duties. Teaching FTW (for the win) is a Match Corps’ veteran’s blog.

. . . “to develop an intuitive sense for how kids learn, we think 1,000 hours of sitting next to kids and tutoring, 1-on-1 or 1-on-2, is the way to go. This frees you from classroom management issues, and gets right to the heart of actual learning and learning breakdowns.”

The MATCH teacher trainees also practice classroom management using The Gateway, “simulated classroom environments with real kids executing coordinated small potatoes misbehaviors.”

Most MATCH Corps members go on to teach at “no excuses” charter schools.

Challenged

America’s Top Public High Schools — as defined by how many students take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge classes — is up at Newsweek.  Magnets and charters tend to rate high on the “challenge-index.” Some high-poverty, high-minority charters  — Preuss in San Diego, MATCH in Boston, KIPP Houston — make the top 100.

Jay Mathews, father of the challenge index, has a Catching Up list of schools with high rates of AP participation but very low pass rates on the exam. He argues students benefit from the challenge, even if they don’t do well enough to earn college credit.