Ratings may reward colleges for selectivity

President Obama’s proposed college ratings may reward colleges for how selective they are in admissions, not on how effective they are at educating students.

Poll: 60% oppose Common Core

Sixty percent of Americans now oppose the Common Core, fearing that the standards will limit teachers’ flexibility to teach what they think is best, according to the annual PDK/Gallup poll. Last year, almost two-thirds had never heard of the CCSS. This year, 81 percent have heard of it and 47 percent have heard a great deal — mostly negative.

Seventy percent favor charter schools and 54 percent believe charter schools provide a better education than other public schools.

However, many believe — incorrectly — that charter schools are private schools, allowed to teach religion and charge tuition and allowed to select students on the basis of ability.

Americans are more hostile to federal intervention in education, the survey concluded. Only 27 percent of respondents give President Barack Obama a grade of “A” or “B” for his performance in support of public schools,  down from 41 percent in 2011.

Fifty percent gave their local schools a grade of “A” or “B” but only 17 percent thought the nation’s schools deserved a “B” or higher.

NPR looks at how differences in wording change responses in this poll and Ed Next’s poll, which also asked about Common Core.

Obama signs job training bill

President Obama signed the bipartisan workforce training bill and said federally funded training programs will have to make public how many of their graduates find jobs and how much they are paid. That’s been the law for years, but the Labor Department has granted a lot of waivers.

Promises, ineptitude and overreach

Race to the Top was a loser, writes Rick Hess on the fifth anniversary of the Obama administration’s $4.35 billion education competition. RTTT has become “a monument to paper promises, bureaucratic ineptitude, and federal overreach.”

Instead of letting states come up with reform ideas, the administration created a list of 19 “priorities.” States could “ace three of the 19 priorities if they promised to adopt the brand-new Common Core and its federally-funded tests.”

 Applicants produced hundreds of jargon-laden pages in an attempt to convince the Department-selected reviewers that they would do what the administration asked. As one reviewer described it to me, “We knew the states were lying. The trick was figuring out who was lying the least.”

. . . States promised to adopt “scalable and sustained strategies for turning around clusters of low-performing schools” and “clear, content-rich, sequenced, spiraled, detailed curricular frameworks.”

. . . winning states relied heavily on outside consultants funded by private foundations. This meant that in-house commitment to the promised reforms could be pretty thin.

At the height of the Great Recession, dangling billions in federal dollars encouraged state education leaders to dream up new spending programs, Hess writes. Yet the value for grant winners amounted to “about one percent of a state’s annual K-12 budget.”

The Common Core might have been “a collaborative effort of 15 or so enthusiastic states,” writes Hess. RTTT transformed it into “a quasi-federal initiative with lots of half-hearted participants who signed on only for federal dollars.”

Given that Race to the Top also pushed states to hurriedly adopt new teacher evaluation systems and specifically to use test results to gauge teachers, not-ready-for-primetime evaluation systems are now entangled with the Common Core and new state tests.

Now, states are running from their Race to the Top promises, threatening the Common Core enterprise.

STEM gets broader — and shallower

In a vain attempt to make STEM appealing to right-brained students, educators are ignoring and alienating the left-brained math and science guys, writes Katharine Beals in Out in Left Field.

Efforts to Inspire Students Have Born Little Fruit, reports the New York Times. The story cites President Obama’s Educate to Innovate initiative and the lack of improvement by U.S. students on the Program of International Student Assessment (PISA) tests.

Beals sees it differently.

. . . our schools, and our society more generally, are no longer encouraging and educating the kind of student who is most likely to persevere in STEM careers. These are the left-brained math and science types, more and more of whom face a dumbed-down, language-arts intensive Reform Math curriculum, and a science curriculum that increasingly emphasizes projects over the core knowledge and quantitative skills needed to succeed in college level science courses.

At the expense of encouraging this type of student, K12 schools are trying to broaden the appeal of math and science—by making them even less mathematical and scientific. And so we have algebra taught as dancefraction muralsphotosynthesis as dance, and science festivals featuring showy displays of gadgetry as well as theater, art, and music.

“The kind of student who finds these approaches engaging and enlightening” isn’t likely to persevere through a STEM major, she predicts. Those with the potential to be STEM specialists want to learn math and science.

At Auntie Ann’s school, the science fair used to require students to conduct an experiment. Now they can make a Rube Goldberg machine or a robot or research an environmental issue. “This year they’ve also connected it to an art exhibit to make it the full STEAM experience.”

It used to be the only time students did a research project and wrote a “serious paper,” she writes. Now students get full credit for writing 30 sentences. “The kids who did Rube Goldberg machines had nothing to write a paper about, so they had to write a biography of Rube Goldberg.”

Borrowing trouble

President Obama’s expansion of income-based repayment offers short-term relief, but will encourage reckless borrowing, enable colleges to keep raising tuition and promote the idea that everyone needs a four-year degree.

As long as college loans aren’t linked to the degree’s value — which varies depending on the major — young people will borrow too much.

Obama extends 10% cap on loan repayment

Using an executive order, President Obama extended generous income-based repayment terms to an estimated five million more student loan debtors. People with student loans will be able to limit payments to 10 percent of their discretionary incomes. Loans will be forgiven in 20 years — or 10 years if they take public-service (government) jobs.

The big winners are people who borrowed for graduate school and private colleges, which can keep raising tuition without fear of scaring away students.

Obama: Train solar energy workers

President Obama called for training “50,000 workers to enter the solar industry by 2020” in his climate change speech last month. However, solar trainees are having trouble finding work in an unstable industry dependent on government incentives.

Colleges rattled by Obama’s rating plans

President Obama’s college rating proposal has “rattled” college presidents, who fear it will be simplistic and misleading. It didn’t help when a top education official said it would be “like rating a blender.”

Obama wants Congress to link student loans and grants to college ratings, which will be based on graduation rates, student debt, graduates’ earnings and other factors. Highly selective universities are likely to do very well, but most students can go to college only if they can afford a not-very-selective or open-admissions college or university.

Obama touts job training, but where’s the money?

President Obama’s “rhetorical support for vocational training” hasn’t been matched with money. In 2012 the federal government spent more than $180 billion on aid and tax benefits for college students, but only $1 billion on vocational education.