Wednesday, September 05, 2018

How Our Education System Fails Most Students

An attitude of college-or-bust is producing too few college graduates and too many busts.

Watching students move through it, America’s education system can seem to be functioning passably well. Most students complete high school on time. Most high school graduates go on to college. Most college enrollees will complete a degree. Most college graduates find their degrees useful in the labor market.

But gazing back along the pipeline’s length yields a starkly different, distressing picture. The share of students falling by the wayside accumulates higher at each juncture. As I show in a new report published by the Manhattan Institute, How the Other Half Learns, fewer than one-in-five manage to smoothly travel the high school-to-college-to-career pipeline that we take to be the system’s goal.

Nor, despite a generation of intensive reform efforts and spending increases, is the situation getting much better. In 1970, 79% of public school students were graduating from high school within four years. In 2010, that figure was 78%. The past several years have seen increases in the rate, but also troubling evidence that those increases are driven by declining standards, data manipulation, and outright fraud. Standardized test scores have not improved since the 1970s, and SAT scores have declined.

High school graduates enroll in college at higher rates than they used to, but that has not translated to a surge in college graduates. The vast majority of community college enrollees drop out. Four-year schools perform better, but still fewer than 60% of students complete degrees within even six years at the schools where they first enroll. As Harvard University’s David Deming observed in a 2017 report for the Brooking Institution’s Hamilton Project, “Although college attendance rates have risen steadily, bachelor’s degree attainment by age 25 has been relatively flat for the past two decades.”

Finally, even for college completers, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports a consistent trend of labor market frustration going back decades. Every month since 1990, between 37 and 47% of recent graduates report working in jobs that do not require a college degree.

At some point, we have to stop faulting the system for its failure to produce more graduates, and stop expecting the next policy intervention or funding increase to solve the “problem.” The reality is that most students are not going to complete the college pathway as we have defined it, and the actual problem we need to solve is that the education system provides few attractive pathways for the non-college student to travel.

High schools oriented entirely toward college preparation, for instance, fail to engage students lacking the aptitude or interest to pursue that course. Those who continue through graduation find themselves ill-equipped to enter and succeed in the labor market, or in life in general. They watch society lavish resources on their peers headed for college but find no support available to them. The largest segment of the population—those who start college but don’t finish—are perhaps the worst served of all. They have little to show for their efforts except for lost years and enormous debts. An attitude of college-or-bust is producing too few college graduates and too many busts.

If college were truly the necessary and sufficient “ticket to the middle class,” then perhaps we might justify a system that pushes as hard as possible in that direction, even at the expense of those who fall short. But the reality of our labor market is quite different. Yes, the most successful college graduates are the economy’s top earners. But the bottom half of the earnings distribution for college grads—not just enrollees, but graduates—sits lower than the top half of the earnings distribution for those with only a high school education. And that’s before we even invest in helping to set that high school graduate on a successful path.

Good vocational programs exist in the United States that use the teenage years to prepare students for productive work and then launch them into careers after high school graduation. In other developed economies, such programs are the norm. But here, they are few and far between, underfunded and deprioritized, and too many Americans consider such pathways to be only “for other people’s kids.” Those kids are most people’s kids, including some of your kids, and it is long past time to design our education system for serving them too.


School Discipline Policy Belongs at the Local Level, Not Washington

Teacher unions and progressive special-interest groups cried foul earlier this year when the White House suggested that federal directives on school safety could be rescinded.

But if a recent hearing held by the Federal Commission on School Safety is any indication, state and local policymakers don’t need Washington to micromanage student discipline policies. These state and community leaders’ testimonies indicate they are acting on their own to try and make students and schools safer.

In 2014, the Obama administration’s departments of Education and Justice issued a “Dear Colleague” letter to public schools that contained specific instructions on how schools should deal with school safety and student discipline. The letter says schools should limit student engagement with law enforcement and says suspensions and expulsions (exclusionary discipline) should only be used as a last resort.

The agencies also said school personnel should sign a memorandum of agreement with local law enforcement indicating that all involved will try to limit exclusionary discipline.

The letter has attracted public attention after the tragic events of Feb. 14 in Broward County, Florida. The gunman that took the lives of 17 students and adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School had been subject to disciplinary rules that mirror the federal letter.

In fact, Broward County’s so-called PROMISE program predated and inspired the federal Dear Colleague letter. The gunman had been referred to the PROMISE program, but officials have no record of what was done to help the troubled youth.

Experts from The Heritage Foundation and Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty explained the issues surrounding the legality of the letter, issues that warrant rescinding the letter on their own. Namely, the letter violates provisions of the Congressional Review Act and the Administrative Procedure Act pertaining to the review of federal regulations.

But there are also surveys and other empirical evidence that questions the efficacy of limiting suspensions and expulsions.

Manhattan Institute senior fellow Max Eden reports that teacher surveys find instructors feel less safe when school personnel limit exclusionary discipline. A nationally representative survey from 2015 found that 50 percent of respondents opposed school district policies that limit exclusionary discipline. Just 19 percent were in favor of such approaches.

The responses were similar in the 2018 version of the same poll. Respondents opposed these policies at both the school district and federal levels.

Those in favor of limiting exclusionary discipline cite evidence that minority students are suspended at higher rates than their peers. They argue that teachers and school personnel may be discriminating against minority students.

Yet researchers say “the evidence is inconclusive as to whether or not these disparate practices involve racial bias and discrimination.”

In a summary of the research, Matthew Steinberg of the University of Pennsylvania told Education Next:

Particularly in urban schooling contexts, we know that residential location, particularly for minority students, means that these students are coming from neighborhoods with higher crime rates, higher poverty … and what we are doing is sorting these students into the same schools and really concentrating disadvantage and therefore likely concentrating behavioral issues within the same school, and, as a result we may be seeing higher rates of school discipline.

Steinberg also says the research suggests “we really need to think about targeted responses [regarding school discipline] at the school level.”

Still, large school districts around the U.S. are following the provisions in the federal letter, including Los Angeles, Oklahoma City, Seattle, and Philadelphia.

Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey told the safety commission this week that “each school has unique security needs and local districts must be given an opportunity to assess their own security requirements.” Experts on information technology, mental health, school counseling, and school resource officers testified about the decisions being made at the state and local levels to make schools safer.

State and community leaders should be making such decisions. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and the federal commission should put student safety first, restore local school authority, and keep Washington out of school discipline policy.


Indonesian businesses want Australian education

Australia's geographical proximity to Asia and its use of English have made it a strong attractant to Asian parents seeking a Western education for their children.  There is a huge population of Chinese and Indian students in Australia already and now Indonesia wants in

Indonesian businesses are crying out for Australian universities to get involved in skilling up its huge workforce.

Indonesian business leaders are desperate to get Australian universities in to dramatically lift the number of workers in higher education.

They praised the decision to conclude a free trade deal between the two countries, with plans to get it signed before Christmas.

Indonesia has a work force of about 132 million people, but half of them only have a primary school education, and just 13 per cent have a university qualification.

"We want to open up for education, and also the focus on training. We need it very badly," Indonesian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chair Rosan Roeslani told reporters in Jakarta on Saturday. "This is I think the key element for our agreement."

Business leader Shinta Kamdani said the deal was more of a partnership, and it wasn't all about trade liberalisation.  "Services is a big part of this agreement, it's not just about trading goods," Ms Kamdani said. "The fact we can skill exchange, vocational training, I think that's a big thing for Indonesia."

The agreement will free up Indonesia's university sector for Australian investors, allowing up to 67 per cent foreign ownership. Foreign investors are currently barred from majority ownership in an Indonesian university.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Indonesian President Joko Widodo on Friday signed a memorandum of understanding committing the countries to signing the deal this year.

Australia and Indonesia are two of the world's 20 largest economies and close neighbours, but neither are in each other's top 10 trading partners.

"This is one of the earliest bilateral (deals) that we're doing," Ms Kamdani said. "So our government is still trying to work it out. I have to say this is a big achievement for our government."

Both leaders urged Australian businesses to look at how they can get involved in Indonesia's surging economy. "I think this is the best time to come in and invest in Indonesia, because we are simplifying a lot of policy and regulation," Mr Roeslani said.

"We want to encourage more players, not just the same that are the existing ones, but new players," Ms Kamdani said.


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