Obama proposes graduation bonuses

President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget includes $7 billion over 10 years to reward colleges that do a good job of graduating Pell Grant recipients. It also funds development of a college ratings system.

Why dads matter

Dad isn’t dispensable, write Lois M. Collins and Marjorie Cortez in The Atlantic. A third of American children are growing up without their biological father. It’s not just a benign “alternative family.” It’s bad for kids.

More than half of babies of mothers under 30 are born to unmarried parents, they write. Forty percent of married couples divorce.

Father-absent families are four times more likely to be poor, the Census reports.

When couples split, Dad usually moves out. Often a new man comes in. And then leaves. Children in such homes experience an average of more than five “partnership transitions,” one study found.

Most children deal with “family churn” and end up OK, said Andrew J. Cherlin, author of The Marriage-Go-Round and director of John Hopkins’ Population Center. But the more transitions a child endures, the worse off he or she typically is, Cherlin said.

“Dad also helps with impulse control and memory and enhances a child’s ability to respond effectively to new or ambiguous situations, for boys and girls,” said Warren Farrell, author of Father and Child Reunion. Children who are close to their fathers tend to achieve more academically, while kids with absent fathers are more likely to drop out. Fathers are the biggest factor in preventing drug use, Farrell said.

The time a father spends with his child predicts how empathetic a child will become, according to a proposal for a White House Council on Boys and Men.

Children who lack contact with fathers are more likely to be treated for emotional or behavioral problems. Girls with absent or indifferent fathers are more prone to hyperactivity.

When fathers are involved, girls are less likely to become pregnant as teens and boys are less likely to become teen fathers.

Simply improving the job market for young adults, especially men, would do wonders to stabilize families—particularly those just starting out, Cherlin said. Experts have been surprised by the real drop in divorce among the college-educated, who still can get good jobs. He said young people need more job training opportunities and apprenticeships, especially if they’re not college-bound. Making sure tax policy doesn’t discourage marriage and providing a modest earned income tax credit for disadvantaged childless young adults would also encourage formation of stable relationships, he added.

“I didn’t have a dad in the house,” President Obama said as he announced the My Brother’s Keeper initiative to help young black males. “And I was angry about it, even though I didn’t necessarily realize it at the time. I made bad choices. I got high without always thinking about the harm that it could do. I didn’t always take school as seriously as I should have. I made excuses. Sometimes I sold myself short.”

Union leaders go cold on Common Core

Teachers’ union leaders have turned against Common Core standards, writes Tim Daly on the TNTP Blog.

National Education Association (NEA) president Dennis Van Roekel is demanding “course corrections” to keep NEA backing. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, also is criticizing Common Core implementation.

Whatever unions leaders say, this is not about “botched” implementation or the standards themselves, argues Daly.

“The unions routinely complain that states are moving too fast in transitioning to the new standards, but the truth is that educators have already had years to prepare. In New York, for instance, the standards were adopted in 2010—four years ago. . . If four years is not sufficient, how long is? Eight years?

“Politics and job protection” are the real issues, Daly writes.

Unions hoped that the occasion of Common Core (and their support for it) might present an opportunity to roll back or dilute teachers’ accountability for results. (Never mind that, even when students begin to be measured against tougher, Common Core-aligned tests, there’s little evidence to suggest a drop in scores will put teachers at any real risk.)

As it has become clearer that no such accountability holiday is forthcoming—and that educators, in addition to schools, will be on the hook for advancing students toward the standards—the union withdrawal has been a foregone conclusion.

“Unions were already fighting accountability measures associated with Common Core at the state and district level,”  he writes. Now the strained alliance with the Obama administration is over. “The unions are now taking aim at the administration’s central education policies.”

President plays with student’s iPad

President Obama had fun playing with a student’s iPad on a visit to Buck Lodge Middle School in Adelphi, Maryland. “Valerie is doing outstanding calculations here, describing right angles,” the president said. Valerie had divided 360 by 4 to get 100 degrees for a right angle, notes Alexander Russo. Which is wrong.

Algebra II or welding?

 States are dropping college-prep-for-all requirements  in a school standards rebellion, writes Stephanie Simon on Politico

Florida students no longer need chemistry, physics or Algebra II to graduate from high school. Texas just scrapped its Algebra II requirement. And Washington state has dropped its foreign language mandate.

. . . They’re letting teens study welding instead of Spanish, take greenhouse management in place of physics and learn car repair instead of muddling over imaginary numbers.

The college-for-all idea is elitist, say career-tech proponents. With rising college debt and more film studies graduates working as bartenders, there’s growing interest in “middle skill” technical jobs. 

President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have been talking up vocational education recently, but they want all students to have college-level skills, writes Simon. “Especially worrisome” is “the risk that low-income and minority students, as well as children with disabilities, could be pushed into the vocational tracks.”

New Mexico state Rep. Mimi Stewart, a Democrat, has introduced a bill to drop the Algebra II graduation requirement. “We are supposed to be doing college and career readiness, not college and college readiness,” Stewart said.

Indiana State Rep. Wendy McNamara, a Republican, wants to design a vocational diploma with input from local employers.

College prep has crowded out vocational options, argue The Jobs for Texas Coalition. “For 20 years, we’ve been ratcheting up the rigor required to get out of high school, and we started to see unintended consequences,” said Mike Meroney, a spokesman for the coalition.

Letting kids opt out of college prep doesn’t mean they’ll spend a lifetime flipping burgers, Meroney said. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics lists two dozen fast-growing occupations that don’t require higher education and pay $35,000 to $55,000 a year, including heavy equipment operator and car mechanic. “What is the real purpose of education if not to prepare your students for jobs?” Meroney said. “Seriously. That’s what we keep asking.”

While Texas has dropped the Algebra II requirement, Minnesota and Connecticut are phasing in Algebra II mandates, writes Simon. 

New York set new college-ready benchmarks, but won’t expect graduates to be college ready till 2022. Louisiana is aiming for 2025.

Colleges fail older, part-time students

Recent high school graduates enrolled full-time at residential colleges make up only 15 percent of college students.  Colleges are failing their older, working, part-time students who make up the “new majority.”

Community college leaders worry that President Obama’s college ratings system will penalize open-access schools. Part-time students, who make up the majority at community colleges, aren’t tracked by the federal data system. Some students — nobody knows how many — say they’re seeking a degree to qualify for federal aid when they’re really trying to learn a job skill.

Top ‘okay’ colleges

Nation’s Parents Release Annual Ranking Of Top 50 ‘Perfectly Good’ State Schools, reports The Onion. It’s satire, but it’s also true.

President Obama wants to rate colleges and universities on accessibility, affordability and student success. Very few schools offer all three, reports the American Enterprise Institute. For example, colleges with a high graduation rate tend to enroll few lower-income students, as measured by Pell Grant eligibility.

Only 19 colleges and universities enroll at least one-quarter Pell-eligible students, have at least a 50 percent graduation rate, and have a net price less than $10,000 a year, reports AEI. The list includes City University of New York (CUNY) and California State University schools, the University of  Washington’s Seattle and Bothell Campuses and West Virginia University. As The Onion puts it, these are “perfectly good” state schools.

Instead of universal preschool …

Federal early childhood programs are “incoherent” and “largely ineffective,” Russ Whitehurst, director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution, told the House Committee on Education and the Workforce.

 The federal government spends heavily on Head Start, Child Care Development Block Grants and other early childhood programs, writes Whitehurst. Head Start produces no lasting gains. CCDBG may harm children, because some end up in low-quality centers, though it helps single parents work or train for jobs.

There’s no evidence state programs do any better, he adds. Researchers compared children in Tennessee’s high-quality Voluntary Pre-K Program (TN-VPK) with a control group. At the end of first grade, children who’d had a year of pre-kindergarten performed less well on cognitive tasks and social/emotional skills than the controls.

The long-term benefits of the Perry and Abcedarian pilots 40 years ago can’t be generalized, Whitehurst argues.

The most vulnerable children and their parents need help that starts earlier than preschool, he writes.

 The CCDBG program should be reformed so that the funding stream is part of a reliable and predictable source of support for out-of-family childcare for low-income working parents and so that it provides parents with useful information about their choices of childcare.

Head Start should be sunset, with the funds redirected to the same purpose as the CCDBG program – a reliable and predictable source of support for out-of-family childcare for low-income working parents.

Whitehurst proposes a federal Early Learning Family (ELF) grant modeled on the Pell Grant.  ELF grants would go to parents as a means-tested voucher that could be used at any state-licensed childcare provider.  “ELF grants would replace most present forms of federal financial aid for early learning and childcare, including Head Start and CCDBG, and would place families in the driver’s seat instead of federal and state bureaucracies.”

Whitehurst questions New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio’s plans for universal pre-K in a New York Daily News op-ed.

How Estiven made it

Teachers and mentors at a New York City school helped a Dominican immigrant prepare for college, said President Obama in the State of the Union speech.

Estiven Rodriguez, a collegebound senior at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning High School (WHEELS), tells Chalkbeat New York (formerly Gotham Schools) how his parents gave up a comfortable life in the Dominican Republic so their sons could have a better future.

On the first day of sixth grade, he understood nothing.

I had two choices. I was either going to complain about it or it was…the way out: learning English, putting in 120 percent and just focusing on that.

So I decided that if my family is working so hard just to be here, like, why can’t I do this? This should be easy for me. If I have to watch TV in English, if I have to go to my aunt’s house, who’s a teacher, for help, I’m going to go. If I have to stay after school until four — or some teachers even met with me an hour before school started —  I was just going to do whatever it took to succeed.

Estiven’s parents gave him the motivation. WHEELS “teachers who are committed to help you at any cost,” says Estiven. “I remember someone stayed with me until 7pm just to help me.” He’s going to Dickinson on a full scholarship.

Obama disses art history

Speaking at a General Electric plant in Wisconsin, President Obama said skilled manufacturing or the trades pays as well as an art history degree.

It was “a cheap shot at the favorite punching bag of people who deride higher education in general and the liberal arts in particular, writes Virginia Postrel.

“Almost no one majors in art history,”  she points out. Those who do are tackling “an intellectually demanding” and “famously elitist” major.

In fact, the reason pundits instinctively pick on art history is that it is seems effete. It’s stereotypically a field for prep school graduates, especially women, with plenty of family wealth to fall back on. In fact, a New York Times analysis of Census data shows that art history majors are wildly overrepresented among those in the top 1 percent of incomes. Perhaps the causality runs from art history to high incomes, but I doubt it.

If the president had been serious about his message, he would have compared learning a skilled trade to majors that are actually popular, such as communications and psychology. It would have been much braver and more serious to take on the less-rigorous majors that attract lots of students. But it wouldn’t have gotten a laugh.

Obama is promoting “job-driven training,” which means training for jobs that exist. That does sound like a good idea.

Vice President Joe Biden will lead a review of the many federal job training programs. The Government Accountability Office reviewed federal job training programs in 2011, but perhaps more have been created since then.