Education News Digest 8/12/2011Posted on: 8/12/2011
A Restructuring Of U.S. Education Could Create Substantial Equity
The pessimistic tone about credit crises, health care, Social Security, aging population, government deficits, taxes, the U.S. dollar, and ways to compete with hundreds of millions of hard working Chinese and Indian youngsters, assumes that there is not much slack within the U.S. The much circulated Mary Meeker USA Inc. study carries that tone when listing solutions.
It suggests increasing the age of retirement and taxes, diminishing Social Security and various health program benefits.
Yet there is another, better solution to create equity.
What if one could complete education up to the high school and college in 15, or even 14 years? Or, in the case of community colleges, get to the finish line in 13 years, as New Hampshire has been proposing? Or 12?
Consider a "Fermi" calculation about the financial consequences of this reduction.
There are about 16 million youngsters enrolled in post-secondary education, say 4 million for each year. Assume that from now on 4 million join the labor force a year earlier. Each subsequent generation could then stay one year longer in the labor force. How much annual income would this generate?
Assume the extremely pessimistic scenario that after graduation the average salary would be $20,000 and stay there. This adds $80 billion to the national income. At an 8% discount rate, and with the worse case scenario of average salary never going up, it represents $1 trillion in added wealth per cohort. With each future generation studying more intensely, and finishing their studies a year earlier, such benefit would be compounded for years.
The added wealth depends on how rosy are the assumptions one makes, be it about salaries or discount rates. Double the salary and you double the effect. Make some assumptions on compounding and you can get into dozens of trillions of dollars in just direct effects. Also, this does not take into consideration the likely reduction in the size of the education bureaucracy.
The indirect impacts may be equally significant. Finishing one’s studies a year earlier brings about greater discipline and maturity. And if youngsters feel they made a bad education choice, they have one more year to correct the mistake. And if near middle age, they become bored, they have a year or two gained to invest in a transition, and correct their mistake too. In financial language, the above would be called "creating equity."
Israeli undergraduates’ stellar performance suggests that doing the studies in three years does not mean less education. It is true that Israeli youngsters arrive at the university two to three years older relative to their western counterparts because of the military service requirements.
But the implication is to let U.S. kids gain experience and avoid dependence upon their parents. Working under greater pressure prepares one to see with whom one gets along, who is a leader, who manages, and who does not. It is not surprising that teams shaped in the army founded the most high tech companies in Israel, which has the second largest number of companies listed on Nasdaq.,
It is not surprising either that team sports are so big on U.S. campuses. They offer the second best method to the aforementioned army service: selecting teams, identifying leaders, commitment, discipline.
All of which brings us to execution. What do high schools and post-secondary institutions have to do to give students the option to spend a year less "delaying real life" (as a popular book title among students puts it)?
It is well documented that there is slack in schools, that kids are bored, that they spend hours watching TV, and that the level of mathematics, reading, and writing have been declining. Public schools worked well both in the U.S. and elsewhere until about the 1970’s, when many highly qualified women had little option to work outside the house except as teachers or nurses. They accepted relatively low pay, difficult working conditions, and gave their very best as teachers. They had very few alternatives.
Subsequently, though dedicated teachers stayed in the public system, many left. Since a broad scale private solution is not on the horizon, letting the kids be bored a year less in the company of uninspiring teachers and getting them out to work and become accountable by leaving post-secondary institutions a year earlier is a vast equity creating solution.
Post-secondary education should be restructured too. This can be done without affecting the quality of learning either. Consider this: in 2005, "accounting" seemed to be among the undergrads’ top choices. Do students specializing in accounting really have to spend four years as "business undergraduates?" The CFA requirements redo almost all their undergrad courses because there is so little confidence in what the university programs provide.
Accounting is a trade that one learns by practicing rather than passing multiple choice exams. Until the 1960’s one could become an accountant or a lawyer by working rather than studying the trade at universities. It makes little sense for 18-year-old kids to enroll in 4-year business programs to start with. What does it mean to take courses in "management?" "Strategy?" "Organizational behavior?" "Psychology of organizations?"
And then being taught by lecturers who, more often than not, have no experience in managing, executing, financing or marketing anything? It is a case of the blind teaching to the deaf. These kids have hardly worked and would not know how to manage and organize their rooms even if their allowances depended on it.
Do schools and universities have incentives to restructure along the above lines? No. But the pressures are coming from outside, from many directions. Indian and Chinese youngsters are ambitious and hard working. The U.S. middle class is more squeezed than ever and they question the validity of both the curriculum and the tuitions.
Since letting large numbers of young, ambitious immigrants into the U.S. does not seem to be on the political agenda, the aforementioned solution would allow for the "internal" migration of talent, gaining at least one year for each coming generation, and having powerful intangible effects. It is one way to create substantial equity in the U.S.
Adults struggle to grasp “new” bullying
Youngsters may feel constantly harassed by threatening text messages or hurt by ugly posts on online bulletin boards, but fear keeps them from telling their parents.
It’s not so much fear of the cyberspace bully as much as fear of their parents’ reaction if they find out.
“The reason they’re so reluctant to tell their parents is they’re afraid they’ll take away the technology, which is the last thing they want to happen because that’s how they connect with everybody in their world,” said Christine Harms, outreach coordinator for the Colorado School Safety Resource Center.
Parents and teachers have huge amounts to learn about the complex dynamics of bullying today, say experts in the field.
While playground bullying may look much as it did a generation ago, that’s not even the half of it any more, they say – and adults may not fully appreciate how bullying has changed and how it may be impacting a child’s physical, emotional and academic health.
On Friday and Saturday, Aug. 12 and 13, Sewell Child Development Center presents its third annual Teaching Beyond “Normal” conference, and will focus on bullying prevention through early intervention.
Among the topics participants will look at: cyberbullying; how to raise resilient and bully-proof children; and how changes in the law – including new anti-bullying laws in Colorado and recent court rulings – may impact how schools handle bullying.
“The question I get asked most often is ‘What’s different now?’ ” said Linda Kanan, director of CSSRC. “Bullying happened when I was a kid. But what’s different is the persistence of the bullying and the nature of it, given the cyberworld.
“Years ago, going home at night was a haven of safety away from incidents that might happen with their peers at school,” she said. “Now, because of 24/7 communications, text messaging, Facebook and other online media, a lot of bullying goes on at home and into the night, all the time for kids. They can’t get away from it like they used to.”
Bullying remains, at best, a widespread but sometimes difficult to identify phenomenon among children. In Colorado, the only recent bullying data comes from the 2009 Healthy Kids Survey, which found that 19 percent of high school students report being bullied on school property.
“But we know that bullying goes down after the middle school years,” said Kanen. “Awhile back the Colorado Trust did some research and found up to 57 percent of kids grades five through twelve reported bullying.”
Particularly at risk of bullying are gay or lesbian youth, or those who are perceived as anything other than heterosexual. The Colorado School Climate Survey, taken in 2009 but just released last month by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network, found that 97 percent of LGBT students reported regularly hearing homophobic remarks at school, 52 percent were pushed or shoved because of their sexual orientation, and 30 percent said they’d been physically assaulted.
In July, a California school district, the Tehachapi Unified School District in Kern County, near Bakersfield, became the first school district in the nation forced to settle with the U.S. Justice and Education departments after federal officials found it violated the civil rights of a 13-year-old gay student by failing to stop persistent bullying of the boy. The boy committed suicide.
As part of the settlement, that district must enact new policies and strategies to eliminate gender- and sexuality-based harassment. The implications for school districts nationwide are clear — schools have both a moral and a legal obligation to intervene in such bullying.
This past spring, the Colorado Legacy Foundation released A Statewide Blueprint for Bullying Prevention, a report based on the Statewide Bullying Prevention Summit in April. Summit participants found that schools and teachers in Colorado are committed to addressing bullying, but that actual practice sometimes falls short of intentions.
While 98 percent of teachers said it was their job to intervene in bullying, only 54 percent reported receiving training in their district’s bullying policies. Teachers identified the greatest areas of need for training as cyberbullying and sexting, as well as bullying related to sexual orientation, gender issues and disability.
This year, the Colorado legislature beefed up the state’s anti-bullying statutes, adding language to address the growing problem of cyberbullying, and making evidence-based resources available to schools, Kanan said.
“They also added some encouragement for schools to take a look at dress code policies, to look at surveying the nature of bullying on campuses and to think about having a team of people who can respond and guide the school,” she said.
She said Colorado schools must also now have in place appropriate disciplinary consequences for students who bully, and must prohibit retaliation against students who report bullying. In addition, schools are now required to report incidents of bullying when they file reports of other disciplinary procedures with the state.
Increasingly, however, much bullying takes places in cyberspace, which may be beyond the reach of schools to control. National surveys indicate about 20 percent of young people report being victimized at some point online or through text messages.
“A study published in April 2010 found that 14- to 17-year-old girls send and receive an average of 100 text messages a day,” Kanan said. “That’s the impact of technology on our kids.”
Cyberbullies have one huge advantage over traditional playground bullies: they don’t ever have to look their victim in the face. They don’t have to see first-hand the pain they cause.
“The cyber world doesn’t allow us to see impact on another person,” Kanan said. “I can’t see you crying or see how upset you are because you’re removed from me. It takes away the feedback loop that teaches children ‘Oh, I just did something to hurt someone.’ We want kids to have face-to-face interactions so they can see how their actions impact others.”
Kanan says parents must be intentional about teaching their children to be empathetic.
“Lots of parents teach a child not to take a toy away from someone else but they fail to go one step further, to show that child how taking a toy away hurts another person,” she said. “You have to be explicit about that.”
Teachers Feeling 'Beat Down' As School Year Starts
As students prepare to begin another school year, their teachers are hopping mad. They're facing layoffs and deep budget cuts and many say they're tired of being blamed unfairly for just about everything that's wrong in public education. They're so mad that many are bypassing their unions and mounting a campaign of their own to restore the public's faith in their profession.
Betsy Leis, a middle school teacher in Florida, is one of these angry teachers.
"I give my heart and my soul to every single student in my classroom and all I see on the news is that we aren't doing our job. We're constantly beat down. That's why I'm angry," Leis says. "I don't make any money and part of me is OK with that because I don't do it for the money."
And it's not enough that people don't appreciate teachers, they've become punching bags, says Claudia Rueda-Alvarez, a high school counselor in Chicago.
She says if people believe this country is going down the tubes, why don't they single out the people on Wall Street who are still getting million dollar bonuses?
"But everybody seems to be talking about a teacher making $50,000 to 60,000 a year — 'Oh my God, greedy teachers!' — so that passion that I feel for my profession will not be taken away by fear. If anything, it energizes me more," Rueda says.
This energy and need among teachers to speak out is not just in a few places. It's all over the country.
The group of 2,000 to 3,000 teachers who participated in a rally in Washington, D.C., late last month was tiny compared to the protests earlier this year in Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana and other states where lawmakers have curbed teachers' collective bargaining rights. But organizers of the "Save Our Schools" event in D.C., say they're different. They say they speak for classroom teachers who are not being heard on the issue of tenure, for example. Karen Klebba, a teacher from Illinois, says the unions' defense of tenure is wrong.
"If you're doing your job and you're doing a great job and you have an evaluative process that works, then there really should be no reason to have tenure and there really should be no reason to hide behind it," Klebba says.
The consensus though is that the Obama administration's education policies are no less prescriptive or punitive than the much maligned No Child Left Behind law. And high stakes tests are undermining quality instruction and good teachers, especially if test results are used to evaluate teachers or decide how much they should be paid.
"Testing is a more of a means of addressing the accountability issue despite the way it's been portrayed," says Joe Williams, who heads the Democrats For Education Reform, a liberal lobbying group that focuses on teacher quality issues.
Williams says no one is trying to punish teachers or make testing more important than children. The problem is that this discussion is taking place in a very polarized political climate.
"The notion that education reform could get wrapped up so closely with attempts to eliminate collective bargaining has made it very difficult to have this conversation all over the country," Williams say.
But it's not just about politics, says Mike Petrilli of the conservative Fordham Institute.
"The reason that these debates are happening now is because of the economy. You see policymakers seeing that this crisis is an opportunity to fix some things that have been broken for a long time," Petrilli says.
Petrilli says tenure and seniority policies are good examples. With teacher layoffs on the horizon, how do you decide who to let go?
"It has never made sense to say that when layoffs are necessary, we're going to get rid of the youngest teachers, regardless of effectiveness. How that could possibly be good for kids? That's crazy," Petrilli says.
And yet, at the beginning of the year, Petrilli says, 14 states mandated that layoffs be based on seniority, not effectiveness. The other huge issue that doesn't get nearly as much attention is the teacher pension crisis.
The reason that these debates are happening now is because of the economy. You see policymakers seeing that this crisis is an opportunity to fix some things that have been broken for a long time
"Many teachers teach for 30 years and then retire for 30 years and for those 30 years, they're making 60 or 70 or 80 percent of their salary indexed to inflation. This is like the Social Security debate. At some point the numbers just don't add up," Petrilli says.
That's why state lawmakers are asking teachers to put more of their own pay into their pensions and health care benefits, which teachers view as attack on their profession.
As for the broader education debate, Petrilli and others agree that Washington will remain in gridlock and the big education battles on the horizon are going to play out in the states.
"This is where teachers unions are at their strongest and this is where you've got some of these bold Republican governors who are ready for a fight," Petrilli says.
Just in time for the 2012 election.
California reports eighth-grade dropout rate for first time
An overlooked corner of the dropout problem became more
visible Thursday when state officials for the first time released the dropout
rate for eighth-graders.
Statewide, about 3.5% of eighth-graders — 17,257 in all — left school and didn't return for ninth grade, according to the state count now available with a system for tracking students individually.
The California Department of Education released the new dropout and graduation rates, the first such report based on unique identification numbers for every public school student. It looked at eighth-graders in the 2008-09 academic year and students who started high school in 2006 and should have graduated four years later.
Overall, 74.4% of California high school students graduated in four years, according to state data; 18.2% dropped out. The remainder were still in school (6.6%), were in non-diploma programs for disabled students (0.5%) or left high school by taking the General Educational Development (GED) Test (0.4%).
Steep gaps persist in the comparative fates of different ethnic groups. The graduation rate is 68% for Latinos, 59% for African American students and 56% for students who are learning English. This compares with 83.4% for whites and 89.4% for Asians.
"The data reveal the sad truth about our state's four-year graduation rates and California's failure to adequately serve all of our students," said Arun Ramanathan, executive director of Education Trust-West, an Oakland-based advocacy organization.
The latest numbers could still underestimate the number of dropouts, because, for example, they depend on school clerks verifying whether a student dropped out, moved or transferred to a private school.
Most experts say the new system is more reliable than what it replaced and that the data on eighth-graders are a helpful, if worrisome, benefit.
Among eighth-graders statewide, about 4,200 dropped out during the academic year; more than 13,000 finished eighth grade but didn't show up for ninth, the traditional beginning of high school.
"That transition from middle school to high school is crucial," said state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson. "Those years are vulnerable years for many students, especially if a student loses hope, gets off track or falls behind."
He said dropping out is the culmination of a problem that probably has been building for years. Students who are behind in reading skills by the third grade, or nonnative speakers who don't make the transition from Spanish to English, can fall increasingly behind in all their subjects. And there is pressure in some families to earn money rather than stay in school.
The Los Angeles Unified School District did not provide figures for its eighth-graders, although it has the data. It did, however, deliver related news: The graduation rate in the state's largest school system has improved slightly but remains low — and worse even than the figure calculated by the state.
"The sobering reality is that the graduation rate for LAUSD is too low," said Supt. John Deasy.
L.A. Unified's estimated graduation rate for the four-year period is 55%. However, the state's new system places the district's rate at 64.2%.
And a broadly adopted formula used by the National Center for Education Statistics credits L.A. Unified with graduating 70.4% of high school students in four years.
L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has long sided with experts who believe dropout numbers are higher than reported, expressed ongoing doubt about the new state numbers.
"We still don't have an accurate way to determine who's dropping out," he said, citing studies that estimate L.A. Unified's four-year high school dropout rate at more than 50%. (The state-calculated dropout rate for L.A. Unified is 26.1%.)
Two high schools managed by the mayor's nonprofit organization —Roosevelt in Boyle Heights and Santee south of downtown — are graduating more students than previously, but still recorded among the worst four-year graduation rates in L.A. Unified, 41% and 44% respectively, the district reported.
Source: Los Angeles Times
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