The best bang-for-the-buck colleges

The University of California at San Diego tops Washington Monthly‘s list of the top colleges for social mobility (enrolling and graduating low-income students at an affordable price), research and service. Next in line are Texas A&M, Stanford, University of North Carolina and Berkeley.

Only one of U.S. News‘ top ten schools, Stanford, makes the Washington Monthy’s top ten. Yale fails even to crack the top 40. New York University, which has floated to national prominence on a sea of student debt, is 77th. NYU does particularly poorly on the new “bang for the buck” measure.
Thirteen of the top 20 Washington Monthly universities are public, while all the top-ranked U.S. News colleges are “private institutions that spend more, charge more, and cater almost exclusively to the rich and upper-upper middle class.”
Also in the Washington Monthly, Stephen Burd calls for Getting Rid of the College Loan Repo Man who fails to distinguish between deadbeats and people who just can’t pay.

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.




Sebastian Thrun, who drew 160,000 students to his free, online artificial intelligence course, is quitting Stanford University to create a free online university called Udacity.

There were more students in his course from Lithuania alone than there are students at Stanford altogether, said Thrun in a talk at the DLD Conference in Munich, reports Felix Salmon of Reuters. Of 248 students who earned a perfect score, all were online students.

Thrun was eloquent on the subject of how he realized that he had been running “weeder” classes, designed to be tough and make students fail and make himself, the professor, look good. Going forwards, he said, he wanted to learn from Khan Academy and build courses designed to make as many students as possible succeed — by revisiting classes and tests as many times as necessary until they really master the material.

And I loved as well his story of the physical class at Stanford, which dwindled from 200 students to 30 students because the online course was more intimate and better at teaching than the real-world course on which it was based.

“I can’t teach at Stanford again,” Thrun said. He hopes to enroll 500,000 students for his first Udacity course on how to build a search engine.

It’s too bad Thrun has to leave Stanford to create Udacity, Salmon writes.

Stanford refused to issue a certificate to the 20,000 online students who finished Thrun’s course and a second open computer course, notes NPR. Instead, online students received a letter from the professor indicating their class rank.

“We are still having conversations about that,” says James Plummer, dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering. “I think it will actually be a long time — maybe never — when actual Stanford degrees would be given for fully online work by anyone who wishes to register for the courses.”

By contrast, MIT will offer a credential, for a small fee, to online students who succeed in courses offered by MITx.  “A world-famous university with an unimpeachable reputation” is putting “its brand and credibility behind open-education resources,” writes Kevin Carey.

It’s the great unbundling of the university, writes Alan Jacobs in The Atlantic. Universities used to offer a bundled package of knowledge and credentialing.

People attended university in order to learn stuff that they couldn’t learn elsewhere — because the experts weren’t elsewhere — and to be certified by those experts as having actually learned said stuff. The bundle has been a culturally powerful one.

But now: unbundling. Clearly, many universities have come, or are coming, to the conclusion that their primary product is the credentialing, and that they can give knowledge away either as a public service or as brand consolidation (choose your interpretation according to your level of cynicism).

Can universities continue to control credentialing?

I wrote about digital badges, an attempt to challenge universities’ credentialing monopoly, on the U.S. News site.

Stanford ‘brands’ online high school

Stanford University is attaching its name and prestige to an online high school that will graduate 30 students in June, reports the New York Times. What’s been known as the Education Program for Gifted Youth will become Stanford  Online High School

Yes, that Stanford — the elite research university known for producing graduates who win Nobels and found Googles, not for teaching basic algebra to teenagers. Five years after the opening of the experimental program, some education experts consider Stanford’s decision to attach its name to the effort a milestone for online education

While other universities have sponsored virtual schools, Stanford’s cachet make this significant. Graduates will have no edge in admissions to the university, but graduation from a Stanford-sponsored program can’t hurt. The Times interviews a student with near-perfect SAT scores.

The program isn’t a roll-your-own affair.

In a typical class session, about 14 students simultaneously watch a live-streamed lecture, with video clips, diagrams and other animations to enliven the lesson. Instead of raising hands, students click into a queue when they have questions or comments; teachers call on them by choosing their audio stream, to be heard by all. An instant-messaging window allows for constant discussion among the students who, in conventional settings, might be chastised for talking in class.

. . . Students taking a full five-course load must be present for 10 seminars per week, each of them 60 to 90 minutes, with an additional 15 to 20 lectures of about 15 minutes that are recorded by the teachers and viewable at the students’ convenience. Fridays are reserved for activities like a student newspaper and an engineering team. Papers are submitted electronically, and students are required to find a Stanford-approved proctor to oversee exams.

Stanford should go beyond a “small, selective program for gifted students,” writes Bill Tucker of Education Sector. Stanford should expand to reach more students and study how it works, he writes on Education  Next.

Perhaps Stanford’s move will push other institutions to consider the real game-changer – offering elite quality education, at an affordable cost, on a more massive scale. When will the University of Michigan, UVA, UNC, Berkeley, or any of our other great public universities do this for an entire state?

My daughter did Education Program for Gifted Youth algebra in seventh grade to escape from a horrible pre-algebra class taught in “new new math” style. Ray Ravaglia, who still runs the program, told my ex-husband that students didn’t need to be gifted to handle the classes. He put “gifted” in the title so that schools wouldn’t be scared of losing too many students. I thought it worked for Allison because she was highly motivated, self-disciplined and could get math questions answered immediately by her father.  Without a parent’s help, it would have been very frustrating. Of course, this was nearly 20 years ago when the technology was practically at the smoke signals level.  But I think motivation and self-discipline are still important to make online learning work.

Larry Cuban graphs the hype cycle for online schools.

Virtual Stanford course draws 58,000

So far, 58,000 people in 175 countries have signed up for a free-, no-credit, online course in artificial intelligence, one of three pilot classes by Stanford computer science professors.

The online students will be ranked in comparison to the work of other online students and will receive a “statement of accomplishment,” reports the New York Times.

Introductory courses in database software and machine learning also will be offered.

The three online courses, which will employ both streaming Internet video and interactive technologies for quizzes and grading, have in the past been taught to smaller groups of Stanford students in campus lecture halls.

. . . How will the artificial intelligence instructors grade 58,000 students? The scientists said they would make extensive use of technology.

In place of office hours, they will use the Google moderator service, software that will allow students to vote on the best questions for the professors to respond to in an online chat and possibly video format. They are considering ways to personalize the exams to minimize cheating.

“I personally would like to see the equivalent of a Stanford computer science degree on the Web,” Dr. (Andrew) Ng said.

Dr. (Jennifer) Widom envisions allowing smaller colleges to supplement locally taught classes with online Stanford classes.


Ha-Ya or community college?

It’s 2020. Harvard and Yale announce their merger. Ha-Ya’s new president, “tiger daughter” Sophia Chua-Rubenfeld, pledges to slash tuition to attract students. Shanghai University is buying Princeton. Stanford is shedding its undergraduate division to focus on law, medicine and business schools.

Instead of attending a high-cost bricks-and-mortar college, debt-averse students are taking online courses, studying with freelance professors and using a portfolio of test results, essays and reports on activities to qualify for jobs without a college degree. It’s Jane Shaw‘s fantasy of the future of higher education.

It all started, Shaw writes, on May 28, 2010, when “Your Money” columnist Ron Lieber wrote about  Cortney Munna, a graduate of New York University who owed $97,000 in student loans and works for a photographer earning $22 an hour.

All it requires to become reality is an accepted way for people to certify what they’ve learned.

On Community College Spotlight: Where should collegebound students go in the fall: Harvard or their local community college?

Is a college degree worth the debt?

Boise State can learn from Boise State

Higher Ed Watch’s Academic BCS, which ranks the top college football teams using academic indicators, shows Stanford as number one and Boise State as number two.

Boise State’s football players are more likely to graduate than non-athletes, notes Ben Miller on The Quick and the Ed.  Boise State’s graduation rate is only 26 percent, compared to 52 percent for football players.

. . .  though the black football players do have lower graduation rates than the white members of the team, their 43 percent completion rate is still 20 percentage points higher than the figure for white males at the school overall.

. . . The academic accomplishments of the Boise State football team should provide instructive lessons for the school overall. The university should take a look at the various tutoring and other academic supports given to football players to see which ones could be adopted for the general student body.

The top-ranked football team, Auburn, ranks 20th in the Academic BCS with second-ranked Oregon at 21st.

Scores rise at Stanford school — too late

Stanford New School’s charter elementary posted much higher test scores in 2010. But signs of improvement came too late.  The three-year-old elementary in East Palo Alto, run by Stanford’s School of Education, was closed in April for poor performance and classroom management problems by the Ravenswood City School District board.

Start-up schools take a few years to get off the ground, Dean of Education Deborah Stipek told the Palo Alto Weekly.

“If you look at many charter schools, the first few years don’t look that great — and then there’s often a jump.”

East Palo Alto Charter School (EPACS), run by Stanford’s former partner, Aspire, posted low scores in its early years, Stipek said. It’s now the top-performing public school in East Palo Alto with consistently high test scores, despite serving an all-minority, low-income student body.

Stipek complained, with justice, that the Ravenswood board had a conflict of interest. By closing the Stanford school, the K-8 district reclaimed 150 students, boosting revenues.

The Ravenswood board kept open the Stanford-run high school, which was started nine years ago. Its scores remain quite low, especially compared to Aspire’s fledgling high school, Phoenix. Why did the board keep it open? Well, East Palo Alto students are much more likely to earn a diploma and go on to college (usually community college) if they go to the  Stanford charter instead of  Sequoia Union High School District schools. But it’s also true that closing the high school would send students and revenues to Sequoia, not to Ravenswood. The K-8 district had an incentive to close the elementary school but not the high school.

Stanford charter elementary will close

A Stanford-run charter elementary school will close in June. Citing poor academic performance and behavior issues, Ravenswood trustees voted 3-1 to deny a one- or two-year extension for the nearly four-year-old East Palo Alto Academy Elementary, which has more than 200 students. (I wrote about the school’s problems here and here.) The Stanford-run high school was offered a charter till 2012 or till another sponsor takes over.  The local high school district, Sequoia Union, already has said no.

More time wouldn’t help the elementary, said Superintendent Maria De La Vega.

It was a “stunning rebuke” to Stanford’s education school, reports the Palo Alto Weekly.

Stanford’s heavy hitters — including the high-profile Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who headed President Obama’s education transition team — were kept waiting for hours and not asked to speak.

Trustees had a financial incentive to close East Palo Alto Academy Elementary, the Weekly notes. Ravenswood’s budget problems will be eased significantly by the return of Stanford New Schools’ 200 elementary students.

Fish-barrel-shooter Greg Forster prints a Whitney Tilson e-mail:

Linda Darling-Hammond (along with Ravitch, Meier, and Kozol) is among the best known of your typical ed school, loosey-goosey, left-wing, politically correct, ivory tower, don’t-confuse-me-with-the-facts-my-mind’s-made-up, disconnected-from-reality critics of genuine school reform.  (Forgive my bluntness, but I can’t stand ideological extremists of any persuasion, especially when kids end up getting screwed.)

LDH and Stanford’s Ed School decided to test their educational theories in the real world, starting a charter school in 2001 to serve the low-income, mostly-Latino children of East Palo Alto.  I credit them for this – in fact, I think EVERY ed school should be REQUIRED to start and run, or at least partner with, a real live school.

Stanford’s original partner, Aspire Public Schools, left after five years due to a “culture clash.”

It doesn’t take much imagination to guess what happened when, freed of Aspire’s rigor and focus on the critical basics (like teaching children to read properly!), the ivory tower theories ran head on into the reality of East Palo Alto kids.  The results were easy to predict: the school fell on its face:

Darling-Hammond has blamed the students — many are English Learners — and the tests for the school’s failure, Tilson writes. But other schools are educating the same kind of students, including a K-8 charter run by Aspire.

This appears to be your classic “happy school,” a phrase coined by Howard Fuller to describe the most dangerous type of school – not the handful of violent, gang-infested high schools, but rather the elementary schools that are safe and appear ok: the students are happy, the parents are happy, the teachers are happy, the principal is happy…  There’s only one problem: THE KIDS CAN’T READ!!!

I’ve written a Pajamas Media column on this that should run soon.

Stanford's charter called 'failure'

It doesn’t get much more humiliating: A charter school run by Stanford ‘s Education School was denied a renewal of its charter and dubbed a failure for low scores and “ineffective behavior management.” Stanford New School, a K-12, is on California’s list of lowest-achieving schools, despite spending $3,000 per student more than the state average.

Ravenswood trustees voted 3-2 to deny the charter, but left open the door for a two-year extension — if the school works out an improvement plan with the district superintendent.

Stanford’s education professors, led by Linda Darling-Hammond, hoped the school would become a national model, when they started in 2001, reports the New York Times. Students come from low-income and working-class Hispanic, black and Pacific Islander families in East Palo Alto. Some are recent immigrants with limited English skills.

Stanford’s educators expected that with excellent teachers, many trained at the university, they could provide state-of-the-art instruction, preparing students to become “global citizens.”

But Stanford New School is posting lower scores than schools that teach similar students. In the all-minority Ravenswood district, which has many struggling schools, Stanford runs the lowest-scoring elementary school.

The high school is considered more successful because 96 percent of seniors are accepted to college, but “average SAT scores per subject hover in the high 300s,” reports the Times. That suggests most graduates are going to unselective colleges to take remedial classes.

Students receive a rubric of evaluations, not grades. High school students have one teacher/adviser who checks that homework is done, and when it is not, the teacher calls home. Teachers know students’ families and help with issues as varied as buying a bagel before an exam to helping an evicted family find a home. Teachers stay late and work weekends, and tend to burn out quickly — causing a high rate of turnover.

Stanford University provides summer classes, tutors and fund-raising by the football and women’s basketball teams. The medical school regularly sends a health van to the schools.

Perhaps students are learning things that aren’t measured by tests. They’re certainly not learning what is measured by tests: In 11th grade, 6 percent are proficient in English Language Arts, 0 percent in Algebra II, 9 percent in biology, 0 percent in chemistry, 6 percent in U.S. history.

The top-scoring school in the district is also a charter school. Aspire’s K-8 East Palo Alto School (EPAC) consistently outperforms the state average despite also serving an all-minority student body with many students from low-income Mexican immigrant families. (I tutored at the school for a year.) Aspire co-founded the charter high school with Stanford, but bowed out five years ago.

The two cultures clashed. Aspire focused “primarily and almost exclusively on academics,” while Stanford focused on academics and students’ emotional and social lives, said Don Shalvey, who started Aspire and is now with the Gates Foundation.

When I started the reporting that led to Our School, I planned to write about the Aspire-Stanford school, which was being organized. I went to school board meetings, talked with parents eager for a high school alternative, met some of the teachers hired for the first year, interviewed Shalvey and Darling-Hammond. However, I couldn’t get the access I needed — the inexperienced teachers didn’t want to deal with a writer hanging around — so I ended up at Downtown College Prep. I knew the Aspire-Stanford school was struggling in the early years, but I thought they’d adapt and improve. Instead, Stanford assumed sole control and created a K-12, while Aspire took its academics-first approach to EPAC.