PISA denial

U.S. educators are downplaying PISA results that show Asian countries excel, while the U.S. rank is slipping, writes Marc Tucker in PISA Denial. After all, few Asians are winning Nobel prizes or “starting game-changing business like Apple, Oracle, Google or Microsoft,” they argue. Maybe PISA measures things that aren’t very important, while U.S. schools are teaching creativity and innovation.

That’s sophistry, responds Tucker.  Those game-changing entrepreneurs are highly educated and innovative and creative. Their companies don’t hire creative people with mediocre reading, writing and math skills.

 They do not have to choose between well-educated and highly competent people, on the one hand, and creative and innovative people on the other. They demand and can get both. In the same person.

PISA measures “the ability to apply what is learned to real world problems” and increasingly is focusing on applying knowledge to “unanticipated, novel problems,” writes Tucker.

Creativity does not take place in a knowledge vacuum. It is typically the product of the rubbing together, so to speak, of two or more bodies of knowledge, of holding up the framework associated with one body of knowledge to another arena that it was not designed to illuminate. When that happens, odds are that the new insights, born of the application of the old framework to the novel problem, will emerge. The literature tells us that this means that you are most likely to get the kind of creativity we are most interested in from highly educated people who are deeply versed in very different arenas.

Asian educators are working hard to learn from U.S. schools, writes Tucker. They want to place more stress on individual initiative without accepting the “violence and chaos” they see as the cultural price. Some Americans want Asian achievement levels with less social conformity, but we’re not really trying to get there. Instead, “we are working hard at denial.”

PISA matters, agrees Eric Hanushek, who disposes of several excuses for U.S. mediocrity.

 While our low ranking has been seen on earlier international assessments, there are many reasons to believe that low cognitive skills (as assessed by PISA) will be increasingly important for our economic future.

We don’t have to be Singapore or Korea. If the U.S. could reach Canadian achievement levels, the average worker would earn 20 percent more, Hanushek writes.

BTW, Silicon Valley, where I live, is filled with entrepreneurs educated in India, China and elsewhere.  Forty-four percent of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrant entrepreneurs in 2012, down from 52 percent in 2005.

From picking berries to programming

“We’re only one hour away from Silicon Valley, but we might as well be on the other side of the planet,” says Zahi Kanaan-Atallah, dean of advanced technology at Hartnell Community College in Salinas. A Japanese-American orchid grower has funded an intensive program to get students — most are the children of immigrant farmworkers — to a computer science degree in three years.

Left behind in Silicon Valley

“When I came to this country, I saw the American dream. You get an education, go to college . . . Even American citizens can’t get the American dream now,” says Roberto Aguirrez, a parent group leader, in Broken Promises: The Children Left Behind in Silicon Valley Schools. I wrote the report for Innovate Public Schools.

Aguirrez is working to bring a charter K-8 school to Morgan Hill, the San Jose suburb where he lives. But it won’t happen soon enough for his fifth-grade daughter. If he can’t get her into a good charter middle school — there are wait lists at all the high-performing charters — he’ll pay for private school.

“You know that movie? I’m not waiting for Superman,” he says.

Aguirrez and his wife earned college degrees. They were able to help their daughter with homework when she fell behind. They could afford to hire a tutor. When teachers said their kids were doing “OK,” they could read the report card and see that wasn’t true. Most Latino parents don’t know their children are scoring below basic, says Aguirrez.

Silicon Valley draws talented people from around the world. In 2011, 64 percent of the valley’s college-educated, high-tech professionals were born outside the U.S.

Only about one in five Latino and black students in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties is on track to complete high school in four years and go on to college, and even fewer will qualify for a high-tech job.

It’s not hopeless. The Alum Rock elementary district, which serves a low-income, heavily immigrant neighborhood in east San Jose, used to have dreadful schools. PACT, a church-based parent group, demanded the district authorize charter schools and start new, small autonomous schools (a bit like Boston’s “pilot” schools). The new schools are doing very well and the traditional district schools are improving. Alum Rock parents have real choices now.

Charters and Alum Rock’s autonomous schools dominate the top-ranked schools for Latino success, notes the  San Jose Mercury News. (Innovate ranked schools with at least 38 percent Latino enrollment, the region average.)

The top five middle schools for Latino algebra proficiency are KIPP Heartwood charter in Alum Rock at 81 percent; Renaissance Academy at 59 percent and Adelante at 53 percent, both in Alum Rock; Solorsano Middle in Gilroy at 48 percent and ACE Charter in San Jose at 47 percent.

At Jefferson High in Daly City, 78 percent of Latino students graduate UC/CSU ready — the highest percentage among comprehensive high schools. Other schools with high percentages of college-ready Latino grads are six charters: Summit Preparatory in Redwood City at 90 percent; KIPP San Jose Collegiate at 83 percent, Aspire East Palo Alto Phoenix at 62 percent, Downtown College Preparatory at 49 percent, Leadership Public Schools-San Jose at 46 percent and Latino College Preparatory at 39 percent.

In Morgan Hill, where Aguirrez and his wife are raising their children, 9 percent of Latino high school graduates qualify for state universities. (Update: The district says the number is off because one of its high schools was left out of state data.) Right next door in Gilroy, which has more Latino and low-income students, 20 percent are college eligible. Gilroy also has two elementary schools that make the top 10 list for Latino success in reading and math. Why can’t Morgan Hill do as well as Gilroy?

Educating the children of poorly educated, low-income, immigrant parents is very difficult. But some schools are showing it’s possible.

Roll-your-own higher ed

Young “heretics” with high-tech skills are Saying No to College, according to the New York Times.

Inspired by billionaire role models, and empowered by online college courses, they consider themselves a D.I.Y. vanguard, committed to changing the perception of dropping out from a personal failure to a sensible option, at least for a certain breed of risk-embracing maverick.

Tumblr CEO David Karp dropped out of high school and hopes to “grab 16-year-olds that are going to be brilliant and help them get there,” he tells Tech Crunch. “College isn’t making very good engineers.” Karp’s heroes are Steve Jobs and Willy Wonka.

“Here in Silicon Valley, it’s almost a badge of honor,” said Mick Hagen, 28, who dropped out of Princeton in 2006 and moved to San Francisco, where he started Undrip, a mobile app. He is now recruiting from the undergraduate ranks, he said, which is becoming a trend among other tech companies, too. In his view, dropouts are freethinkers, risk-takers. They have not been tainted by groupthink.

Dropouts can educate themselves without going into debt, says entrepreneur James Altucher, author of 40 Alternatives to College. “I think kids with a five-year head start on equally ambitious peers will be ahead in both education and income,” Altucher told the Times. “They could go to a library, read a book a day, take courses online. There are thousands of ways.”

Most young people are not future high-tech zillionaires, whether they earn a college degree or not. We can’t all be Willy Wonka. But it’s healthy for young people to consider alternatives to a high-debt degree. Or somewhat less debt and no degree.

Young four-year graduates are earning less, while college tuition grows and grows, reports the Fiscal Times.

Asians dominate Silicon Valley jobs

Asian-Americans hold half of tech jobs in Silicon Valley, according to an analysis of Census data by the San Jose Mercury News. Asian tech workers grew from 39 percent in 2000 to 50.1 percent in 2010, while white workers, once a majority, are now 41 percent of the Bay Area’s high-tech workforce.

The dramatic shift in the changing composition of the high-tech workforce represents a new generation of homegrown and imported workers drilled in science, technology, engineering and math studies. But the shift in workplace demographics — at least among tech companies — fails to reflect the gains of California’s Hispanic and Latino population, which lost ground in tech jobs along with African-Americans.

The “failure of STEM education” has created a “crisis,” writes Dane Stangler in Inc. CEOs can’t find skilled workers because young people aren’t learning science and math well enough to learn technical jobs or succeed in STEM majors. And there’s not much economic opportunity for young people who can’t use math or understand science.

Stanford: Too worldly? Too useful?

Is Stanford Too Close to Silicon Valley? asks Ken Auletta in the New Yorker.

The campus has its jocks, stoners, and poets, but what it is famous for are budding entrepreneurs, engineers, and computer aces hoping to make their fortune in one crevasse or another of Silicon Valley.

Innovation comes from myriad sources, including the bastions of East Coast learning, but Stanford has established itself as the intellectual nexus of the information economy.

A former engineering professor, Stanford President John Hennessy also was a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and serves on many corporate boards.

Stanford’s entrepreneurial culture has created a “gold-rush mentality,” writes Auletta. Both faculty and students seek “invention and fortune.”  A quarter of undergrads and a majority of graduate students are engineering majors, roughly six times the percentage at Harvard and Yale.

Some ask whether Stanford has struck the right balance between commerce and learning, between the acquisition of skills to make it and intellectual discovery for its own sake.

David Kennedy, a Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who has taught at Stanford for more than forty years, credits the university with helping needy students and spawning talent in engineering and business, but he worries that many students uncritically incorporate the excesses of Silicon Valley, and that there are not nearly enough students devoted to the liberal arts and to the idea of pure learning. “The entire Bay Area is enamored with these notions of innovation, creativity, entrepreneurship, mega-success,” he says. “It’s in the air we breathe out here. It’s an atmosphere that can be toxic to the mission of the university as a place of refuge, contemplation, and investigation for its own sake.”

Gerhard Casper, the former president and now a senior fellow, thinks top research universities have become too focused on solving real-world problems rather than “the disinterested pursuit of truth.” He fears “ever greater emphasis on direct usefulness,” which might mean “even less funding of and attention to the arts and humanities.”

I don’t spend much time worrying about a university’s enthusiasm for innovation, creativity and solving real-world problems. Perhaps my husband — a former engineering prof, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and a friend of Hennessy — has influenced me. On the other hand, I once took a class from David Kennedy and my daughter spent a summer as his research assistant. And I was a liberal arts major. I learned that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” according to Shelley, but I never believed it.

 

 

Basic skills, job training are team effort

Low-skilled adults will learn basic reading, writing and math in conjunction with job training in a program designed by the Dallas Urban League and El Centro Community College.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  A community college sophomore, 18-year-old Daniel Brusilovsky runs a website for teen entrepreneurs to connect, an annual conference and a six-week summer incubator that matches young entrepreneurs with Silicon Valley funders.