New technology, same old teaching

Schools aren’t getting much bang for millions of technology bucks, concludes the Center for American Progress. Education leaders buy the latest technology — whiteboards, laptops, e-readers — without thinking through how digital devices will help meet learning goals.

Across the nation, we found that many schools were using technology in the same way that they have always used technology; students are using drill and practice programs to hone basic skills. Students are passively watching videos and DVDs. Too many students do not have access to hands-on science projects.

. . . schools are not using technology to do things differently.

Technology may be widening the digital divide, the report warns. In many schools, “students from disadvantaged backgrounds are being given the least engaging, least promising technology-facilitated learning opportunities.”

School leaders lack “the tools and incentives needed to connect spending to outcomes and reorganize programs in ways that take full advantage of school technology,” the report finds. No state is looking at technology return on investment.

 As policymakers and other stakeholders invest billions of dollars in school technology each year, we should be asking ourselves: Are these investments the best use of our limited dollars? Is technology allowing us to do things that we do not—or cannot—already do? How are we ensuring that students have the skills that they need to succeed?

In some cases, technology is improving learning and widening access to courses, CAP concludes. Technology has the potential to “kickstart the process of leveraging new reforms and learning strategies.” But, so far, it’s usually an add-on to the same old, same old.

President Obama’s ConnectED proposal would revamp the federal E-rate program to fund high-speed Internet access at 99 percent of schools within five years.

The Leading Education by Advancing Digital, or LEAD, commission has released a plan to expand digital learning, reports Education Week. Updating school wiring to support high-speed Internet is #1. In addition, LEAD recommends putting digital devices in the hands of all students by 2020, accelerating the adoption of digital curricula, investing in technology-rich schools of innovation and giving teachers training and support to use technology effectively.

Report: College pays for taxpayers

California reaps $4.50 in benefits — higher taxes and less social welfare spending — for every $1 invested in the state’s universities, concludes California’s Economic Payoff: Investing in College Access & Completion, a Berkeley report for The Campaign for College Opportunity. The study did not look at the state’s investment in community colleges.

The return for college graduates is $4.80, twice the return for those who complete some college but don’t earn a degree.

In 20105, relative to those with only a high school degree, those completing at least a Baccalaureate of Arts (BA) can expect to spend an additional seven years working. While working, they will earn more; between the ages of 25 and 64 they can anticipate earning an additional $1.3 million in wages and salary, and receive more than an additional $1.5 million in total personal income, which includes all other income from sources such as rentals, investments, or transfer programs.

These college “completers” will also put fewer demands on the state’s safety net. On average, they are likely to spend two fewer years receiving aid, four fewer years in poverty, and will spend 10 fewer months incarcerated. As might be expected, the recession has widened the gulf between the more highly educated and those with only a high school degree (or less).

Of course, there’s a big difference in academic performance and motivation between people who never enroll in college, those who start but don’t finish and those who earn a bachelor’s degree.  If more low-achieving students enrolled in college or more marginal students completed a degree, they wouldn’t be likely to do as well as the high achievers.

Payback

Which college graduates will earn enough to pay off their loans? Using PayScale data, SmartMoney looked at college costs and median alumni income two years and 15 years after graduation to calculate the return on investment.

For example, a hypothetical grad who spent $100,000 to attend college and now earns $150,000 a year would score 150. The higher the score, obviously, the better.

The payback rankings show flagship state universities provide faster payback than the high-priced Ivy League or other high-end private institutions. Ivy Leaguers earn more, but they paid a lot more. Georgia Tech, a public university that educates many engineers, has the highest payback rank at 221, followed by the University of Texas at Austin. Sarah Lawrence, a very expensive liberal arts college, is the tail-end Charlie at 60.

At Sarah Lawrence College, in Bronxville, N.Y., graduates often choose careers in education, public administration or social work, and come out earning, on average, just $38,600 after two years. (Officials at Sarah Lawrence say that figure may underestimate alumni salaries but also contend that’s beside the point: “Their rewards are measured not just by earnings but by how much they are giving back to society,” says Tom Blum, the vice president of administration.)

Smart Money analyzed only 50 colleges and universities: the eight Ivies, plus more than 40 of the priciest non-Ivy private schools and public universities (based on out-of-state tuition).

As Cost of College points out, the SmartMoney rankings assume students pay the full cost. Many students get some financial aid, especially at the elite private colleges, which have huge endowments. And public flagship universities are a very good deal for in-state students.

A costly way to identify intelligence

Most people don’t need a college education to do their job, but they need a degree to get hired, writes Daniel Indiviglio in The Atlantic. It’s a very expensive way to identify who’s smart enough to do a job, he writes.

. . . when high school standards declined and college became more popular, some applicants stood out above others as being more educated and potentially smarter than those with only a high school diploma. If the trend keeps up, however, a time will come when a college degree isn’t enough either: masters degrees will be commonly sought, as the value of college degrees fall to be worth as little high school degrees are today, since so many applicants will have them. If this trend keeps up forever, perhaps we’ll one day have locksmiths with PhD’s.

Waitresses with a college degree earn more money, but it’s probably not the degree, argues Andrew Gillen.

College is the best investment on the market (for those who complete a degree), counters  Derek Thompson, also in The Atlantic.  Over a working lifetime, “the typical college graduate earns $570,000 more than the average person with only a high school diploma.”

Let’s say you’re deciding where to invest $100,000 at age 18. Maybe you think to put it in gold, corporate bonds, U.S. government debt, or hot company stocks.

The $102,000 investment in a four-year college yields a rate of return of 15.2 percent per year, more than double the average return over the last 60 years experienced in the stock market” and more than five times the return in corporate bonds, gold, long-term government bonds, or housing, according to a report by Michael Greenstone and Adam Looney.

Note that the associate degree’s rate of return is 20 percent, higher than the pay-off for the  bachelor’s degree. I’d guess that’s because the costs of attaining the degree are lower and many associate degrees go to nurses, who make good money.

Colorado students provide free tax help

Colorado community college students can take a class, earn IRS certification in tax preparation, then provide free tax assistance to low- and moderate-income families.

Also on Community College Spotlight: A rural Illinois college is a good return on the taxpayers’ investment, college leaders argue.

Getting more brains for the buck

Education productivity — the return on our investment in schools — varies widely from one district to another, concludes a study by the Center for American Progress.

Education spending per student has nearly tripled over the past four decades, after adjusting for inflation, the report notes.  Student achievement has remained about the same.

In more than half of the states included in our study, there was no clear relationship between spending and achievement after adjusting for other variables, such as cost of living and students in poverty.

Some districts spent thousands of dollars more per student to reach the same level of academic achievement. For example, Baltimore spends $2,500 more a year per student than Austin, Texas, after adjusting for the cost of living and student poverty. Yet Baltimore’s students are much less likely to score at or above the proficient level.

. . . after accounting for factors outside of a district’s control, many high-spending districts posted middling productivity results. For example, only 17 percent of Florida’s districts in the top third in spending were also in the top third in achievement.

Not surprisingly, the most productive districts make student achievement a priority. Leaders are willing to make tough choices, such as closing schools with low enrollment. The least productive districts spend more on administration, operations and other non-instructional expenditures.

Only Florida and Texas evaluate school-level productivity, the report finds. Often nobody knows which schools are spending money effectively and which are not.

Among the recommendations are improving data analysis, creating “performance-focused management systems that are flexible on inputs and strict on outcomes” and directing funding to students based on their needs.

Here’s a cool interactive map showing the return on education investment in various districts. In California, I see that San Francisco and San Jose rate fairly high in productivity, while Los Angeles is quite low.

Colleges publicize graduates’ pay

California State University campuses are publicizing their graduates’ earnings to persuade the public that college is worth the cost, reports the San Jose Mercury News. San Jose State, which educates many Silicon Valley engineers, reports graduates’ mid-career median salary is $92,900.  Only Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, which also graduates many engineers, boasts higher pay.

California’s public universities raised tuition by 32 percent last year. Cal State plans another 15.5 percent hike by next fall. University of California fees are likely to rise by another 8 percent. For most students, a taxpayer-subsidized state university education will provide a good return on investment: College graduates earn nearly twice as much as high school graduates and have lower unemployment rates. But some majors are more lucrative than others.

Within the next six months, 300 public universities will post salary information compiled by PayScale.com.

The data — which only includes graduates with bachelor’s degrees — shows that students with the greatest “return on investment” are those who do well in technical majors, such as science or engineering, at a rigorous public school.

For instance, graduates of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo earn just as much as graduates of the private Pomona College or University of Southern California — at less than half the cost.

The return on investment is very different for students who go into debt to attend an expensive private college and pursue a non-technical major, says Al Lee, director of quantitative analysis at Payscale. That theater major may not pay off. Those who don’t graduate – - 40 percent don’t complete a degree — are in worse shape.

Private college can be cheaper than the University of California, reports the Sacramento Bee. Middle-income students who don’t qualify for a UC scholarship can get discounted tuition at many private colleges.