Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The failures of America's Public High Schools and 'Dropout Factories'

And all that is offered to fix them is hot air. Things that WOULD help, such as a revival of discipline or special classes for the less bright, may not be mentioned. Special classes for the less bright would be heavily populated by blacks but why is that worse than letting blacks drop out altogether? -- which very large numbers of them currently do.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan believes we have what amounts to a "once-in-a-couple-of-generations opportunity" to "push a very, very strong reform agenda" for the nation's schools. His view is based, in part, on the Obama administration's intention to spend billions of additional dollars on public education, though Duncan acknowledges that money alone is not the answer. He also says the country has arrived at a moment when we have the necessary political will to make tough changes.

Not least of the problems that must be addressed can be found in America's high schools, where, Duncan said in a speech last week, "Our expectations for our teenagers in this country are far too low."

In fact, change has never come easily to America's approximately 23,800 public high schools. Since the alarming report A Nation at Risk was published in 1983, we have had "wave after wave of reform"- and little progress, according to Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution.

Among the problems: easing the transition into ninth grade, raising retention rates, and preparing teens for college and/or work. "Our high schools are not organized for today's student," Cindy Brown, of the Center for American Progress, told Politics Daily. "Too many kids are surrounded by technology. (They're) getting information in much more diverse ways" than from a teacher standing in front of a class. "So we need to rethink the ways we're doing high school."

Although many states have upgraded their high school curriculum, resetting the focus on academics and accountability, the consensus among educators is that our secondary schools "are not doing the job they need to do at all," Brown added.

The snapshot below of U.S. high schools and high-school students is loosely drawn from "Can the American High School Become an Avenue of Advancement for All?" an essay by Robert Balfanz, a research scientist at the Everyone Graduates Center at Johns Hopkins University. It offers a somewhat contradictory view of their performance. All figures are from current studies.

1. One in four U.S. public high school students drop out before graduating.

2. About 15 percent of the nation's public high schools produce more than half of its dropouts and 75 percent of its minority dropouts, according to the Everyone Graduates Center.

3. The nation's 2,026 "dropout factories," where 40 percent of the freshman class fail to graduate three years later, are found in every state but are concentrated in 17 Midwestern, Northern-industrial, Southern, and Southwestern states, as well as in California.

4. In 2006, America's 15-year-olds scored just ahead of the Slovak Republic and Lithuania in science literacy and on par with Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation in math literacy.

5. More than half of the 81,499 U.S. high school students participating in the 2006 High School Survey of Student Engagement said they spend one hour or less each week reading and studying outside of class.

6. At least 95 percent of students entering high school from the wealthiest communities are proficient in their eighth-grade state exams; in high-poverty, inner-city schools, less than 20 percent of students are proficient, usually possessing fifth- or sixth-grade math and reading skills.

7. Of the class of 2008, 15.2 percent took an Advanced Placement exam and scored a 3 or above-the scores typically required by a college for credit-up from 12.2 percent in 2003. Low-income students made up 13.4 percent of successful examinees, up from 9.8 percent, in five years.

8. Eighty-seven percent of high-school seniors surveyed by the U.S. Department of Education said they expected to go to college. Three-quarters of graduates enroll in college within two years.

9. Approximately 40 percent of college students take remedial courses.

10. The college graduation rate for low-income students is less than 10 percent.

Of course there are pockets of success. Referring to the U.S. education system broadly, Duncan told his audience of educators and reporters, "All of the answers are out there. Adult dysfunction has been at the heart" of the nation's educational ills.

But experts on a Brookings panel last week sounded a more skeptical note about high schools, suggesting the evidence of what works is scant and that we should expect to build on "modest positive effects" rather than to find "a silver bullet."

Still, there's reason for optimism. The good news, one panel member said, is that "people still believe high school improvement is worth investing in." And, the president is poised to do just that. Obama's 2010 budget request includes a High School Graduation Initiative funded at $50 billion, $43.5 billion to fund an Advanced Placement incentive and test fees, and $1.5 billion in Title I grants to turn around low-performing schools.

We have to challenge ourselves to raise the bar, Duncan said. "And I promise you that if we do, our (high school) students will rise to that challenge."


Stupid bureaucratic rigidity about class sizes in Scotland

Why is having 20 kids in a class good but having 21 is completely impossible??

The head of education at a Scottish local authority who was suspended following a row over whether an 11-year-old girl should be allowed to go to the school of her choice has taken early retirement. Ian Fraser, the corporate director of education and social care with Inverclyde Council, announced his decision yesterday, just over a week after disciplinary action was taken against him.

Mr Fraser's suspension centres on the case of Kirstin Airlie, the only one of a 101-strong intake to Gourock High who was refused entry, despite attending a primary in the catchment area. Inverclyde's policy is to cap pupil numbers in S1 classes to a maximum of 20 and, the council argued, allowing 101 pupils into the first year would mean employing an extra teacher.

In order to decide which pupil was excluded, a ballot was held of all 101 applications, which resulted in Kirstin being told she had to go to Greenock Academy. However, her parents successfully appealed the decision. An independent review of the circumstances surrounding the decisions regarding admissions to Gourock High was then put in place and Mr Fraser was suspended.

Mark Airlie, the father of the schoolgirl, said: "I don't have any animosity towards Ian Fraser himself, but we felt the education department acted in an aggressive way. "What is most important to us is to get to the bottom of what happened with the ballot and whether or not it was engineered."

Last year, the council lost another high-profile placing request battle after a sheriff ruled against them, and there has also been controversy over the introduction of a 33-hour school week, different school holidays and plans to cut the role of attendance officers.

However, others pointed to the fact that many of the significant events and internal procedures central to the case involving Kirstin pre-dated his appointment in 2006. In addition, despite dealing with significant issues of poverty and deprivation, Inverclyde schools have regularly outperformed similar schools in exam performance under Mr Fraser's leadership.

More here

An academic arms race

At the Independence Institute, we’re tough on the University of Colorado, questioning excessive spending, censorship in the classroom, and political bias. But now we’d like to praise CU President Bruce Benson for taking a fiscally responsible step by cutting some salaries as a way to help mitigate anticipated tuition increases. Still, much more work needs to be done.

In March, we wrote to Benson, calling on him to cut CU’s six-figure salaries by 5 percent. A similar proposal backed by leading Republican lawmakers, including Senate GOP leader Josh Penry and Sen. Bill Cadman, followed as an effort to alleviate a $1.4 billion state budget gap. The estimated savings to taxpayers: as high as $4.5 million. Unfortunately, the proposal was rejected by Democratic leadership.

As part of Friday’s announcement, Benson presented an alternative plan, saying CU will cut 54 administrative positions, shutter a faculty newspaper, and implement 5 percent cuts to salaries for top officials, including his own. The move will save $6.3 million in administrative costs. But now CU must cut an additional $23 million to balance its books for the coming school year. The weakest part of Benson’s plan is that the 5 percent salary cut is limited to presidential, vice presidential, and chancellor salaries - saving only about $155,000.

In the last three years, CU’s budget has ballooned from $1.9 billion to $2.4 billion, with raises eating up much of the total. Between 2006 and 2009, CU’s three chancellors received a collective annual taxpayer-funded raise of more than $500,000. And even after Friday’s cuts, Denver Chancellor Roy Wilson could still make over $700,000 this year.

Students have been forced to foot the bill through skyrocketing tuition increases. CU-Boulder undergraduates saw an average tuition increase of 9.3 percent this year; in Denver, the average was 8.5 percent; and in Colorado Springs, 7.5 percent. These increases followed 2007-2008 hikes ranging from 7 percent at CU-Colorado Springs and 14.6 at CU-Boulder.

CU Regent Tom Lucero voted against the tuition increases, saying Friday, “we’ve clearly got to cut more waste before we go back to Colorado’s working families and ask for more money. The time is now to get innovative.” Lucero faces an uphill battle.

As economist Richard Vedder, an Ohio University professor who once taught at CU, points out, “There is an academic arms race going on and everyone is trying to stay ahead of their peer institutions; like arms races in the real world, they cost an awful lot of money. Everyone has this vision they want to move to next level and can be the greatest thing between Berkeley and the East Coast.”

Certainly CU is not alone in its aspirations. Other universities have also implemented extravagant raises in recent years. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, the average public university president now makes $427,000 a year (more than Benson’s $359,100 base salary).

But times are changing as institutions, both large and small, today pursue meaningful salary cuts. It’s a smart political move. As a recent Business Week report articulates, “Given an economic climate in which tuition is outpacing inflation, endowments are plummeting, and colleges are pleading for more government aid, the public may sour on (high compensation).”

Faculty at the University of North Carolina will take pay cuts after the state legislature cut $150 million from UNC’s budget; Idaho State University anticipates an across-the-board 10 percent pay cut; news reports and blogs suggest that New York University is moving toward a nine-month compensation model that could cut some salaries up to 25 percent.

Voter outrage over Cal State vice presidential salaries averaging $225,000 (below what multiple CU vice presidents make) led Lt. Gov. John Garamendi to call for executive pay freezes.

According to CU’s salary database, just over 2,000 of its 14,901 employees receive an annual base compensation of over $100,000. Tack on fringe benefits, which range from 17 to 27.7 percent, and it’s clear that the total number of individuals compensated in the six figures is more than 3,000 - about one in every five employees.

A few years ago, CU might have been able to effectively argue that it needed to raise salaries to compete with the nation’s best. This just isn’t the case today. As students face the threat of yet another tuition increase, faculty and staff should be expected to do their part by taking modest pay cuts.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I don't understand how higher ed professionals justify these cuts when they could've banded together and taken a 5% pay cut in order to keep those 50 odd people working and paying taxes. Just cutting the jobs doesn't really help anyone. If the people in the jobs aren't willing to negotiate, get rid of them. And if professors refuse to take a cut for now, fire them instead.