Some of the News Fit to Print
MERROW WINS THE MCGRAW PRIZE
John Merrow, a PBS NewsHour education correspondent, Learning Matters president, and former scholar-in-residence here at Carnegie was one of the winners of this year’s prestigious Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education. The prize annually recognizes outstanding individuals who have dedicated themselves to improving education in this country and whose accomplishments are making a difference today. Honorees are chosen by a distinguished panel of judges made up of influential members of the education community. Each winner receives $50,000 and a bronze sculpture. The Prize was established in 1988 to honor McGraw’s lifelong commitment to education, and to mark the Corporation’s 100th anniversary.
WHY MEN FAIL
David Brooks writes in The New York Times: Over the years, many of us have embraced a certain theory to explain men’s economic decline. It is that the information-age economy rewards traits that, for neurological and cultural reasons, women are more likely to possess. To succeed today, you have to be able to sit still and focus attention in school at an early age. You have to be emotionally sensitive and aware of context. You have to communicate smoothly. For genetic and cultural reasons, many men stink at these tasks. But, in her fascinating new book, “The End of Men,” Hanna Rosin posits a different theory. It has to do with adaptability. Women, Rosin argues, are like immigrants who have moved to a new country. They see a new social context, and they flexibly adapt to new circumstances. Men are like immigrants who have physically moved to a new country but who have kept their minds in the old one. They speak the old language. They follow the old mores. Men are more likely to be rigid; women are more fluid.
NATIONAL SCHOOLS DEBATE IS ON DISPLAY IN CHICAGO
CHICAGO — What started here as a traditional labor fight over pay, benefits and working conditions has exploded into a dramatic illustration of the national debate over how public school districts should rate teachers. At stake are profound policy questions about how teachers should be granted tenure, promoted or fired, as well as the place standardized tests will have in the lives of elementary and high school students. One of the main sticking points in the negotiations here between the teachers union and Mayor Rahm Emanuel is a new teacher evaluation system that gives significant and increasing weight to student performance on standardized tests. Personnel decisions would be based on those evaluations. The article is in The New York Times.
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COMPLETION AGENDA COULD REDUCE ACCESS
Tying a college's Pell Grant eligibility to completion rates could undermine college access for poor and minority students, especially at community colleges, Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org, wrote in an analysis Monday. Rather than focus on completion rates, Kantrowitz argued, more focus should be placed on increasing the number of Americans with college degrees -- a focus that could even cause completion rates to fall if more students enroll and do not all complete college. Focusing solely on completion, as some fear a Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-supported panel that will focus on student aid as an incentive might do, could end up hurting low-income students, Kantrowitz wrote: "One of the easiest ways to increase graduation rates is to exclude high-risk students. So efforts to boost college completion may directly or indirectly shift eligibility for the Pell Grant program from financial need to academic merit, hurting college access by low-income students." The article is in Inside Higher Ed.
WHY COLLEGE ISN’T A BUBBLE
Talking about "the price of a college education" is like talking about "the price of a car." Just as it's not so useful to discuss the cost of a BMW Z4 and a Ford Focus in the same breath, it's hard to put Harvard and Iowa State in the same discussion about tuition, because they operate on very different economic rules. Beyond that, your average undergrad probably won't pay the full sticker price for a degree. Need-based grants and scholarships play a big role in determining the final "net price" each student has to lay out for a year of school. So what's a fair way to judge the cost of college? The article is in The Atlantic.
WHEN STATEWIDE PAYS OFF
North Carolina’s community colleges are putting the finishing touches on a sweeping curriculum review, the sort that perhaps only a strong, centralized system could pull off. The project is an attempt to update course offerings and program tracks to better tie them to the state’s energy economy, particularly green jobs. It will result in a wave of program consolidation across the 58-college system, as well as the elimination of almost 100 systemwide courses. The new curriculums will also feature a new “stackable” system of credentials, which are designed to be more seamless as workers go back and forth between jobs and community college. The article is in Inside Higher Ed.
CHICAGO STRIKE HIGHLIGHTS DIVISION ON TEACHER EVALUATION
One of the key disagreements driving Chicago teachers to the picket lines this week is also a central component of President Barack Obama's education policy: evaluating instructors in part on how much their students improve. Through its $4 billion Race to the Top competition and No Child Left Behind waivers, the Obama administration has encouraged states to change how teachers are assessed and include data on student growth as a component. That policy has hit a nerve in the education community, and not just among the unions. Critics note there is little if any evidence basing evaluations on test scores will improve student achievement and argue it is being implemented at a large scale too quickly. Those in support of the revamped evaluations argue that far too many teachers are retained and given above-average reviews without any real assessment. The article is in the Huffington Post.
TEACHER GRADING OFF TO UNEVEN START
New York state's first system to grade teachers using students' standardized test scores is turning out to be anything but standardized. More than two years after a new law required a complete overhaul of teacher and principal evaluations, the state Education Department has begun approving dozens of agreements hammered out between local districts and unions. Of the state's roughly 700 school districts, 75 had plans approved as of Friday. New York City and its teachers union, which accounts for by far the largest portion of the state's educators and students, have not reached a deal. A review of the first approved plans shows a hodgepodge of methods for determining which teachers deserve to stay and which don't. While the law outlined a broad framework for the job-performance reviews—40% based on tests or other gauges of student learning, and 60% based on principals' observations and other subjective measures—the details were left to the local districts and unions. The article is in The Wall Street Journal.
PUTTING VALUE-ADDED MODEL TO THE TEST: STUDY FINDS STUDENT SCORES CAN PREDICT TEACHER EFFECTIVENESS
Maureen Downey writes in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Get Schooled blog: I joined a conference call today with researcher Marcus A. Winters about his new study, “Transforming Tenure: Using Value-Added Modeling to Identify Ineffective Teachers.” In the study released a few hours ago, Winters examined one of the most controversial approaches to teacher evaluations: Using student test scores to identify how much an individual teacher contributes to a student’s progress over the years. Known as the value-added model or VAM, this approach appeals to lawmakers. However, educators argue that it’s not reliable because it ignores the many variables involved in a classroom. A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and an assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs, Winters examined teacher data and VAM scores in Florida and found that a value-added model did predict which teachers were effective in future years in raising student achievement, but cautioned that the model should not be used in isolation to determine a teacher’s fate.
HOW SCHOOLS CAN KEEP THEIR BEST TEACHERS
Allison Frieze, a special-education teacher at a Washington D.C. public charter school, writes this commentary in the Washington Post: I’m not someone who backs down from a challenge: For the past three years, I’ve taught special education in a “low-performing” public school in Anacostia, a neighborhood with the highest rates of unemployment and violent crime in the District. In my second year of teaching, I was rated “highly effective” by the D.C. Public Schools’ IMPACT teacher evaluation system. But this June, I left to take a job at a D.C. charter school — to teach the same grades and students with similar needs. I’m a teacher that DCPS lost. I’m not alone in this. A report issued this summer by TNTP, a nonprofit group that advocates for teacher quality, shows that nearly two-thirds of highly effective teachers who leave their jobs do so to teach in nearby schools in similar roles or take other positions in education. In other words, most of us aren’t leaving for other career paths or even “easier” teaching jobs. Our school leaders just aren’t giving us reasons to stay.
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COMMUNITY COLLEGES: NO ROOM FOR LINGERERS
The historically wide-open doors of California's community college system will be merely ajar beginning in 2014, when enrollment priority will go to students with clear academic or vocational goals. By contrast, students who linger at college for years, sampling classes, finding themselves or simply enjoying free, noncredit enrichment classes, will go to the back of the priority line and could be shut out altogether if there aren't enough classes or instructors for everyone. On Monday in San Diego, the Board of Governors' unanimous decision to ration college access officially shifted the system away from the practice of college for all that has been part of Californians' consciousness - and the state's Master Plan for Higher Education - for generations. The article is in the San Francisco Chronicle.
MOOCS' MISSING PIECES
Gary S. May, dean of the College of Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, writes in Inside Higher Ed: Late last year, when the Massachusetts Institute of Technology announced MITx, an online learning platform offering free courses for anyone anywhere, Forbes hailed this development as a "game changer" in higher education. Although participants in such courses earn a "certificate of completion" rather than credit or a degree, hundreds of thousands of students around the world have already availed themselves of this opportunity to take online courses from a prestigious university at no charge. Since then, multiple universities have begun venturing into massive open online courses, or MOOCs. More than 200,000 people to date have signed up for the six courses offered through Udacity, another online entity recently started by Stanford University professor Sebastian Thrun. MIT has now partnered with its Cambridge neighbor, Harvard, and the MITx platform has evolved into edX. As with any new phenomenon, the experience of change and the promise of benefit create a measure of hyperbole. Some say MOOCs are the future of higher education; others contend they are over-hyped. The truth is no one knows where the exploration of online courses will lead. What is clear is that colleges and universities must further innovate in a few critical areas if they are to capitalize on MOOCs to their advantage and the people they serve.
READING, MATH AND GRIT
Joe Nocera writes in The New York Times: In “How Children Succeed,” Paul Tough, a former editor of the Times Magazine, argues that simply teaching math and reading — the so-called cognitive skills — isn’t nearly enough, especially for children who have grown up enduring the stresses of poverty. In fact, it might not even be the most important thing. Rather, tapping into a great deal of recent research, Tough writes that the most important things to develop in students are “noncognitive skills,” which Tough labels as “character.” Many of the people who have done the research or are running the programs that Tough admires have different ways of expressing those skills. But they are essentially character traits that are necessary to succeed not just in school, but in life.
CHICAGO TEACHERS STRIKE; STUDENTS AND PARENTS SCRAMBLE
Chicago public school teachers began manning picket lines instead of classrooms Monday, launching the first teacher strike in the city in 25 years over pay, benefits and other issues. The strike, announced Sunday night, left about 350,000 students without a school to attend and parents scrambling to find alternatives. Teachers say the biggest issues leading to the impasse are maintaining their health benefits and job security, as well as improving classroom conditions. As many as 6,000 teachers could lose their jobs under a new evaluation system based on standardized test scores implemented by the school district, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said. The article is in CNN.
CAN HANDPICKED TEACHERS TURN AROUND AN UNDERPERFORMING SCHOOL?
It was a fight to the finish, but Erskine Glover can honestly say he’s happy with the team of teachers who will be instructing his students this fall. Glover, principal of what’s momentarily known as Quitman Street Renew School, had a grueling summer interviewing more than 100 candidates for instructional positions, with dozens more weeded out by a recruiter. Fewer than half of the 60 teachers greeting children when they arrive back today were on staff when classes let out in June. Because Quitman is part of a showcase initiative to turn around Newark’s lowest-performing schools, Superintendent Cami Anderson handed Glover the unprecedented authority to hand pick who stands before his 530 pre-k through eighth grade pupils this year. And that meant a lot of changes. The article is in The Hechinger Report.
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THE COMMUNITY COLLEGE PIPELINE
The notion that community colleges are key to putting students on a path to a four-year degree is not a new one; large numbers of Americans begin their postsecondary studies at two-year colleges, and transfer is one of the institutions' traditional functions. But new data from the National Student Clearinghouse show just how prevalent a role two-year institutions play in providing an educational foundation for those who go on to get bachelor's degrees. The study -- one of a series on student mobility that the clearinghouse has begun producing to capitalize on the unique data it collects as a repository of student-level information from more than 3,000 colleges -- reveals that 45 percent of all students who finished a four-year degree in 2010-11 had previously enrolled at a two-year college. The article is in Inside Higher Ed.
SCHOOLS FIND NEW WAYS TO WELCOME COMMUNITY COLLEGE TRANSFERS
The 200 transfer students ate Huli Huli chicken and wore plastic leis at a recent luau held in their honor at USC. But more important than food or party favors, participants said, was the camaraderie and encouragement to join the campus mainstream. Among the organizers was Rebecca Obadia, who transferred from Santa Monica College to USC last year and experienced the stress of starting at a new university midway through a degree program. Obadia, 26, a public relations major, helped revive a transfer student group at USC and is now its president. Transfer students "don't have the same needs as freshmen and were not welcomed the way they should have been all these years," she said. That reception and other new efforts at private and public schools are part of a trend here and nationwide to better address the needs of these students and ease "transfer shock" as they jump into new academic and social lives long after other students. Colleges and universities are tailoring orientation sessions for them, requiring special classes, bolstering counseling, establishing clubs, setting aside housing and offering more scholarships. The article is in the Los Angeles Times.
A BETTER WAY TO MEASURE LEARNING
Remember when you got your driver’s license? Remember parallel parking for the licensing instructor? How did you learn how to do that? Some of us learned from Dad; others through drivers’ education courses; and a few lucky ones absorbed it all through manuals. In the end, it didn’t matter which way we learned, as long as we could demonstrate those perfect parking skills on test day. The DMV models competency-based education, where student learning matters instead of seat time. Competency-based education allows students to work independently and learn the best way they can, either in the classroom or through practical experience. When students have understood the course material, they can take an assessment or create a portfolio of work to demonstrate mastery. The article is in Education Sector’s The Quick and the Ed blog.