Good Kung Fu

Items to wrap up the week:

On the school choice front, overall the new changes to the voucher program in Milwaukee make sense (yes, requiring teachers to have a bachelor’s degree is an “input” but the input v. output debate can quickly become reductio ad absurdum, a B.A. is hardly an unreasonable standard for teachers.  Howard Fuller’s comments on all of it are pretty telling (some backstory on all that here).   And, Mike Petrilli notes some interesting data from the new Condition of Education.

On higher education this David Frum column is worth reading and this Kevin Carey. Rick Hess, Mark Schneider, and Andrew Kelly paper (pdf) is must-reading.  It’s also sparking a lot of buzz along this whole leaky pipeline issue.

Common Core has a new report looking at other countries and curriculum, relevant right now with all the standards activity.

Here’s a good achievement gap op-ed from MI with more evidence that the further you get from vested interests, the more in demand Teach For America teachers are…And in a HuffPo op-ed former Secretary of Education Richard Riley previews the big Carnegie report on math and sciecne that is moving next week.

This June 9th AEI event on courts and school reform looks like it could be very lively.   And the Young Education Professionals are having a happy hour on June 16th with DC City Council Chairman Gray.   You can join their Google Group here, or email the organizer here.

The UN’s World Food Programme has new resources for students and teachers.

And looking for an edujob?  The Education Trust needs a legislative director.

5 Replies to “Good Kung Fu”

  1. RE: the leaky college graduation pipeline…. Living as I do in the cradle of public higher education (first US public university circa 1790, I believe) I’ve seen the results of this “leaking” first hand. Here at our major institution, I’ve noticed a fascinatingly disturbing trend that seems to differ from my own college experience just 25 years ago: we’re accepting different kids now; kids with lower abilities, less drive, and a profoundly disturbing sense of entitlement.

    While college entrance has become seemingly more competitive, the vast numbers of kids we’re letting into the vast majority of institutions are not the kids who went to college just a generation ago.

    Here’s a “funny” thing we’ve noticed: we can’t hire interns like we did 10 years ago. A decade back, we had a fleet of sturdy young souls who, in spite of their lack of experience, could get real work done and even handle running a small company for a day or two if we had to be away. Now, we have created a new policy: NO MORE COLLEGE INTERNS.

    This is a terrible loss for us but after firing (yes, firing, from an intersvhip!) the last half dozen youngsters we brought on, we realized that the kids of today are not the kids of yesterday.

    The camel’s back was broken the day a very promising intern actually yelled at us for giving her mild feedback on a short piece of writing. Her defense? “Well, they never told me anything like this at school. And I had a 4.25 grade average from Marin Academy!”

    So, obviously, here’s a gal who THINKS she’s so smart that her work is above reproach when, in actuality, she’s decidedly a mediocre performer at best – with an appalling work ethic to boot. Unfortunately, neither her elite private high school or her professors at the university she attends feel like telling her this.

    All this leads me to believe that the reason so many kids don’t graduate from college is that so many kids don’t belong there to begin with — even kids with good GPAs from swanky private schools.

    Yet colleges are expanding faster than Hubble’s Law. And more kids are being admitted all the time. Why?

    It’s all about the Benjamin’s, my friends. What better way to grow an institution than to lower admissions standards, admit more kids, and raise tuition costs at far higher rates than the rate of inflation? It’s better than a Ponzi scheme!

    From the institution’s standpoint, size really does matter. (Or at least it matters to the people who run it. After all, they benefit more than anyone from the hoopla surrounding sustained growth and a larger potential endowment base.) The more kids we can pack in, the more money we can make, and the more prestigious projects we can embark on that make us look good. Bottom line: if you can build a new research center, who cares whether the money comes from kids who graduate or kids who don’t?

    The town and gown relationship being what it is, as our local university grows, there will always be tensions to be resolved. But from the university’s point of view, moving up over a generation from 25,000 kids to 40,000 or even 50,000 will be a tremendous boon. Even if the percentage of graduates drops, the total number will probably still rise and thus more people will be endeared to the institution as they explore their professional futures.

    But to the kids who won’t graduate, and to the university’s real reputation (which only those of us close by will truly know), it will be a boondoggle.

    University’s have a limited financial interest in seeing individual kids through to graduation. Why pick only those kids who can do the last of four years when you can pick a whole new and larger crop who can surely do three?

    How do we fix the problem? Send fewer kids to fewer colleges. That’s right. Send only those kids who we are very certain will finish. And demolish the large number of marginal institutions that have popped up during the last 25 years which are claiming to offer great programs when, in reality, they offer little chance of kids completing them both because of what they offer and who they admit.


    As a brief addendum, it’s pretty easy to tag a school these days as rather liberal in its admissions policy simply by looking at the minimum SAT score they require. Back in my time, it seemed that one needed at least 1050 or 1100 to be looked at by most reputable schools. Now, I see schools which (with the old two subject scoring) will gladly welcome kids with 850. That’s not even near the 1000 point average. And when you think that more kids are taking the SAT than ever, it’s kind of sobering to think about who’s going to college these days. Though it certainly does shed light on why so few are actually finishing.

  2. RE: Voucherama in Milwaukee…

    According to the article cited above, these are the changes that “make sense”:

    “The 120-plus private schools, with about 20,000 students, will have to give standardized tests and report the results, employ teachers who have at least bachelor’s degrees and meet the same minimum hours of instruction as public schools, according to the agreement that is part of the state budget proposal endorsed Friday by the Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee.”

    What I wonder is how these changes will help make those private schools receiving voucher students any better. There’s little evidence so far that increasing the use of standardized testing is very helpful, except to the very lowest kids in the very lowest schools. Presumably, these private schools don’t match that profile.

    Requiring BAs for all teachers will simply be tedious on several levels. Private schools may have to fire a few folks, some truly good folks will be forced into getting degrees they don’t need, and those schools who need lots of degrees for their staff will probably assist them in getting bargain basement sham BAs anyway — just like so many public school teachers get lousy MAs in order to move up on the salary scale. And let’s not forget what we have learned through NCLB’s “highly qualified teacher” component: the a BA does not a good teacher make.

    Regarding minimum hours of instruction, I suppose there’s no harm in this although there is an underlying message that many private schools don’t spend as much time educating their kids as pubic schools do. I wonder how far off they are; is it even 5%? Even if private schools in Milwaukee are only running half day programs, it doesn’t seem to stop people from wanting to pay big $$$ to send their kids to them.

    All three of these changes only make private schools more like public schools. Is this what we want? I thought the whole point of vouchers was to give kids a chance in a different kind of school.

    All of this is just another way of pointing out that vouchers, like charters and testing and standards, are just another red herring reform. Vouchers take our eye off the ball because they do nothing to increase the system’s capacity to provide better teaching.

    Only better teaching will foster better learning. And shipping kids off from one set of bad teachers to another doesn’t help.

    If we really want a voucher system that makes sense, let’s voucher teachers to better training. Why not? It’s totally doable, not very complicated, easily quantifiable, and would, I’m sure, be extremely popular. Let’s let our country’s most “training worthy” teachers gain admission to our country’s best teacher training programs.

    Now that’s a voucher plan that makes sense.

  3. My experience was more than 10 years ago now, but the schools that received vouchers when I was in Milwaukee ran the gamut in terms of profile. Some did serve the “lowest” educational levels, some were very standard Catholic private schools, and some were….well, just wacky, frankly. There was no one “model” of a voucher school. The school where I taught, which received some funding through vouchers, was an inner city high school that attracted students who just felt lost in traditional high schools and wanted a smaller, community kind of experience.

    Sometimes we have a picture in our heads when we hear the term “private school”. That picture isn’t really accurate when you’re talking about schools that receive voucher money in Milwaukee.

  4. Thanks for the shout out on this, Andy. We had a fantastic turnout tonight, and great presentation from the Chairman! Folks should continue to sign up for the google group (as linked above) to hear about future events.

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