Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Thanks for visiting my blog

Thank you for visiting my blog. I sometimes don't have time to post here everything that I send to my school reform email list, so if you want to receive my regular (approximately once a week) email updates, please email me at WTilson at In addition, in between emails, I regularly tweet the most interesting articles I come across, so sign up to follow me on Twitter at:

For more about me and links to my favorite articles, posts and videos on education reform, see my School Reform Resource Page at, in particular my Powerpoint presentation entitled A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform, which is posted at

The idea for this came to me after watching An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's documentary about global warming. After seeing it, I thought to myself, "That's exactly what school reformers need as well!" My presentation is meant to be a collection of data and arguments that forcefully advocates for an urgent school reform agenda. It was made into a documentary in 2010 that you can watch at

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1 in 5 college women say they were violated

College sexual assault

1 in 5 college women say they were violated

 Evelyn Hockstein 
Published on June 12, 2015

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Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Thank you for visiting my blog

Thank you for visiting my blog. I sometimes don't have time to post here everything that I send to my school reform email list, so if you want to receive my regular (approximately once a week) email updates, please email me at WTilson at In addition, in between emails, I regularly tweet the most interesting articles I come across, so sign up to follow me on Twitter at:


For more about me and links to my favorite articles, posts and videos on education reform, see my School Reform Resource Page at, in particular my Powerpoint presentation entitled A Right Denied: The Critical Need for Genuine School Reform, which is posted at


The idea for this came to me after watching An Inconvenient Truth, Al Gore's documentary about global warming. After seeing it, I thought to myself, "That's exactly what school reformers need as well!" My presentation is meant to be a collection of data and arguments that forcefully advocates for an urgent school reform agenda. It was made into a documentary in 2010 that you can watch at

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Monday, June 08, 2015

Rebutting proposals to eliminate the US Dept of Education:

 Frank Bruni with a thoughtful article rebutting proposals to eliminate the US Dept of Education:

It has been around long enough now that its outright elimination would be an extreme measure. Qualms with the way it functions are one thing; debates about its power and size are legitimate, even necessary. But what some of the Republican presidential candidates are doing is the equivalent of looking at a person who's having a really bad hair day and recommending decapitation.

While more thoughtful conservatives like Alexander have sketched out how things might work without an education department, these firebrands are engaged in theater, not real debate. They're after applause lines, not solutions.

And that's one of my chief gripes with the battle cry to banish the Department of Education. It's policy by sound bite. There's too much of that already.

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Sunday, June 07, 2015

The law that could save our schools

If you live in NYS, please contact your state senator and assembly member to urge them to support this:

There are only a few weeks left to get the NY State Assembly to approve a bill that would increase substantially the amount of money available for scholarships for low-income families sending their students to out-of-district public, parochial, or private schools.  The annual tax-credit plan has four basic planks as described in a recent press release:

·        Up to $500 in tax credits for low-income families who send their children to nonpublic and out-of-district schools;
·        $50 million in tax credits to individuals and businesses that donate funds to nonprofits offering scholarships to low-income students attending nonpublic schools;
·        $20 million in incentives to public schools offering enhanced educational programming, such as after-school programs; and,
·        Tax credits of up to $200 for public school teachers who purchase classroom supplies.

Governor Cuomo has proposed a Parental Choice in Education Agenda that includes this Education Tax Credit to encourage donations to scholarship funds serving parents with children in religious and other schools. 

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Senate are already on board.  But, Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Assembly Democrats are blocking this important bill.  They are blocking this bill for one simple reason: the influence of teacher-union leaders who don't believe that parents should have the right to choose where to send their children to school.
We can win this, but only if parents and voters speak up on behalf of the children and families who are simply looking for a better alternative to the failing schools in their neighborhoods. 
Please speak up by signing onto today. Type in your street address and zip code, and the website will identify your state legislator and give you a sample email which you can customize, if you like.  Then press "Submit Email" and you're done.  Take a few moments now to let your legislator hear, loud and clear, that you demand action on this important legislation. 
Please don't set this aside to do later.  Go to   Help us help the children who most desperately deserve the option of sending their children to schools where they know they can learn.  

Below is an op ed in the NY Post about this:

The Education Investment Tax Credit is an idea whose time has come. For years, I have been a supporter along with Timothy Cardinal Dolan and the rest of the diocesan bishops across New York. The bill also counts as supporters Gov. Cuomo and a majority of state legislators.

So why isn't it the law? After all, it has overwhelming bipartisan support.

Time is running out. We have to act now to convince the state Assembly to pass this bill, which will substantially increase the funds raised for scholarships in the Diocese of Brooklyn and every other diocese across the state.

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New York State Education Commissioner Brings Blunt Style to Tough Job

Speaking of NYS, we have a new state ed superintendent, MaryEllen Elia, about whom I've heard good things – namely, that she:
·       Was a fairly innovative district superintendent in Hillsborough, FL, which received a $100M grant from the Gates Foundation because of her and her collaborative relationship with the local teachers union. 
·       Is known for being direct and very approachable.
·       Was Jeb Bush's favorite superintendent, mainly because of her willingness to be open to new ideas.
Here's a WSJ profile of her:

Ms. Elia, appointed last week to be New York state education commissioner, was known by many for such innovative problem-solving in her last job, as superintendent of a large, diverse district in Florida.

While some critics said she was intimidating or failed to take their concerns seriously, the Hillsborough County system she ran for a decade won national recognition as a model of teamwork between district and union leaders.

Now she is preparing for her July 6 start heading a sprawling agency that serves nearly 2.7 million public-school children. Reporting to the Board of Regents and earning a $250,000 salary, she will also oversee state universities, museums, libraries, professional licensing and adult education.

Ms. Elia, 66 years old, arrives at a time of intense acrimony between Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the statewide teachers union over school funding, testing and teacher ratings.

New York State Education Commissioner Brings Blunt Style to Tough Job

MaryEllen Elia was known as innovative problem solver as superintendent of Florida school district

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The graduation gap is even wider than the enrollment gap

Another study showing a very troubling phenomenon:

Rich and poor students don't merely enroll in college at different rates; they also complete it at different rates. The graduation gap is even wider than the enrollment gap.

In 2002, researchers with the National Center for Education Statistics started tracking a cohort of 15,000 high school sophomores. The project, called the Education Longitudinal Study, recorded information about the students' academic achievement, college entry, work history and college graduation. A recent publication examines the completed education of these young people, who are now in their late 20s.

…Thirteen years later, we can see who achieved their goals.

Among the participants from the most disadvantaged families, just 14 percent had earned a bachelor's degree.

That is, one out of four of the disadvantaged students who had hoped to get a bachelor's had done so. Among those from the most advantaged families, 60 percent had earned a bachelor's, about two-thirds of those who had planned to.

For the Poor, the Graduation Gap Is Even Wider Than the Enrollment Gap

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10 Colleges Doing Right By Kids

Some colleges are doing great things to address this terrible problem – Craig Robinson, who runs the KIPP Through College program, highlights 10 of them:

Setting students up for college success doesn't end when they graduate high school. In fact, that's just the beginning. Students—especially those from low-income backgrounds—need support all the way through to college graduation day.

Over the years, we've heard back from many KIPP alumni about what's helped and hindered them most as they navigate the challenges of college. We know that where a student goes to college has a huge impact on whether or not they will graduate. This is one of the reasons that KIPP Through College is so serious about helping our students find a college that's the right match for them.

Today I want to feature 10 colleges and universities that are leading the way in supporting first-generation and low-income college students. These institutions are large and small, public and private, urban and rural. What they have in common is a deep commitment to providing students with a meaningful college experience, and helping them ultimately make it to graduation day.

Each of the institutions on our list is doing a remarkable job on many levels. We've chosen to celebrate each school for its work in a single area that we know is crucial for students like ours.

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Teacher assails practice of giving passing grades to failing students

Kudos to this teacher for highlighting the problem of failing students being giving passing grades – and passed along…

Caleb Stewart Rossiter, a college professor and policy analyst, decided to try teaching math in the D.C. schools. He was given a pre-calculus class with 38 seniors at H.D. Woodson High School. When he discovered that half of them could not handle even second-grade problems, he sought out the teachers who had awarded the passing grades of D in Algebra II, a course that they needed to take his high-level class.

There are many bewildering stories like this in Rossiter's new book, "Ain't


Teachers will tell you it is a no-no to ask other teachers why they committed grading malpractice. Rossiter didn't care. Three of the five teachers he sought had left the high-turnover D.C. system, but the two he found were so candid I still can't get their words out of my mind.

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A very interesting experiment at NYC’s elite Fieldston School:Can Racism Be Stopped in the Third Grade?

The form arrived in an email attachment on the Friday after winter break."What is your race?"it asked. And then, beneath that, a Census-style list: "African-American/Black," "Asian/Pacific Islander," "Latina/o," "Multi-racial," "White,"   and "Not sure."

The email, signed by the principal of Fieldston Lower School, urged parents to talk about these categories with their children at home because the next week, in school, the kids would have to check the box that fit them best. "I know there may be some nervous feelings about this program," the email concluded, but "I am confident that once you hear more details about it … the value and importance of this work will become clear." 

The parents at Lower, as it's called, are a bighearted, high-maintenance, high-achieving group. They are also, by the standards of the New York City private-school universe, exceedingly liberal — educators and social workers, as well as hedge-fund tycoons. They love the school, and trust it, mostly. But this communication seized their attention. "I was like, Wait. What?" remembers one mother. Another quizzed her 11-year-old daughter as they were driving. "We have to go in our race groups" was how the girl explained it. The mother hoped her daughter had misunderstood.

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Power of collaboration

The Power of Collaboration: Making Education Best Practices a Reality

On May 12, 2015, the NYSED Charter School Office hosted a conference centered on best practice sharing between charter and district schools throughout New York State. Schools participating in the New York State Dissemination Program—a grant funded through the federal Charter Schools Program—were able to showcase their work, best practices, and lessons learned. This conference highlighted the emerging outcomes of the 11 charter schools and over 40 district schools involved in the dissemination grant. Over 120 administrators, teachers, program directors, and evaluators attended.

Watch Expert Panel Video: The Power of Collaboration

Moderated by Lindsey Christ of NY1

Leading education experts from the Dissemination and Replication Grants discuss the challenges of collaboration, how they were able to make the sharing of best practices a reality, and how you can, too.

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A month after the tragic death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg has posted some beautiful thoughts on Facebook:

A month after the tragic death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg has posted some beautiful thoughts on Facebook:

Sheryl Sandberg with Dave Goldberg

Today is the end of sheloshim for my beloved husband—the first thirty days. Judaism calls for a period of intense mourning known as shiva that lasts seven days after a loved one is buried. After shiva, most normal activities can be resumed, but it is the end of sheloshim that marks the completion of religious mourning for a spouse.

A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: "Let me not die while I am still alive." I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do.

I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning. These past thirty days, I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well.

But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.

And this is why I am writing: to mark the end of sheloshim and to give back some of what others have given to me. While the experience of grief is profoundly personal, the bravery of those who have shared their own experiences has helped pull me through. Some who opened their hearts were my closest friends. Others were total strangers who have shared wisdom and advice publicly. So I am sharing what I have learned in the hope that it helps someone else. In the hope that there can be some meaning from this tragedy.

I have lived thirty years in these thirty days. I am thirty years sadder. I feel like I am thirty years wiser.

I have gained a more profound understanding of what it is to be a mother, both through the depth of the agony I feel when my children scream and cry and from the connection my mother has to my pain. She has tried to fill the empty space in my bed, holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep. She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine. She has explained to me that the anguish I am feeling is both my own and my children's, and I understood that she was right as I saw the pain in her own eyes.

I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was "It is going to be okay." That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, "You and your children will find happiness again," my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, "You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good" comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple "How are you?"—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with "How are you today?" When I am asked "How are you?" I stop myself from shouting, My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am? When I hear "How are you today?" I realize the person knows that the best I can do right now is to get through each day.

I have learned some practical stuff that matters. Although we now know that Dave died immediately, I didn't know that in the ambulance. The trip to the hospital was unbearably slow. I still hate every car that did not move to the side, every person who cared more about arriving at their destination a few minutes earlier than making room for us to pass. I have noticed this while driving in many countries and cities. Let's all move out of the way. Someone's parent or partner or child might depend on it.

I have learned how ephemeral everything can feel—and maybe everything is. That whatever rug you are standing on can be pulled right out from under you with absolutely no warning. In the last thirty days, I have heard from too many women who lost a spouse and then had multiple rugs pulled out from under them. Some lack support networks and struggle alone as they face emotional distress and financial insecurity. It seems so wrong to me that we abandon these women and their families when they are in greatest need.

I have learned to ask for help—and I have learned how much help I need. Until now, I have been the older sister, the COO, the doer and the planner. I did not plan this, and when it happened, I was not capable of doing much of anything. Those closest to me took over. They planned. They arranged. They told me where to sit and reminded me to eat. They are still doing so much to support me and my children.

I have learned that resilience can be learned. Adam M. Grant taught me that three things are critical to resilience and that I can work on all three. Personalization—realizing it is not my fault. He told me to ban the word "sorry." To tell myself over and over, This is not my fault. Permanence—remembering that I won't feel like this forever. This will get better. Pervasiveness—this does not have to affect every area of my life; the ability to compartmentalize is healthy.

For me, starting the transition back to work has been a savior, a chance to feel useful and connected. But I quickly discovered that even those connections had changed. Many of my co-workers had a look of fear in their eyes as I approached. I knew why—they wanted to help but weren't sure how. Should I mention it? Should I not mention it? If I mention it, what the hell do I say? I realized that to restore that closeness with my colleagues that has always been so important to me, I needed to let them in. And that meant being more open and vulnerable than I ever wanted to be. I told those I work with most closely that they could ask me their honest questions and I would answer. I also said it was okay for them to talk about how they felt. One colleague admitted she'd been driving by my house frequently, not sure if she should come in. Another said he was paralyzed when I was around, worried he might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing. One of my favorite cartoons of all time has an elephant in a room answering the phone, saying, "It's the elephant." Once I addressed the elephant, we were able to kick him out of the room.

At the same time, there are moments when I can't let people in. I went to Portfolio Night at school where kids show their parents around the classroom to look at their work hung on the walls. So many of the parents—all of whom have been so kind—tried to make eye contact or say something they thought would be comforting. I looked down the entire time so no one could catch my eye for fear of breaking down. I hope they understood. 

I have learned gratitude. Real gratitude for the things I took for granted before—like life. As heartbroken as I am, I look at my children each day and rejoice that they are alive. I appreciate every smile, every hug. I no longer take each day for granted. When a friend told me that he hates birthdays and so he was not celebrating his, I looked at him and said through tears, "Celebrate your birthday, goddammit. You are lucky to have each one." My next birthday will be depressing as hell, but I am determined to celebrate it in my heart more than I have ever celebrated a birthday before.

I am truly grateful to the many who have offered their sympathy. A colleague told me that his wife, whom I have never met, decided to show her support by going back to school to get her degree—something she had been putting off for years. Yes! When the circumstances allow, I believe as much as ever in leaning in. And so many men—from those I know well to those I will likely never know—are honoring Dave's life by spending more time with their families. 

I can't even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds.

I was talking to one of these friends about a father-child activity that Dave is not here to do. We came up with a plan to fill in for Dave. I cried to him, "But I want Dave. I want option A." He put his arm around me and said, "Option A is not available. So let's just kick the shit out of option B."

Dave, to honor your memory and raise your children as they deserve to be raised, I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. And even though sheloshim has ended, I still mourn for option A. I will always mourn for option A. As Bono sang, "There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love." I love you, Dave.

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

STOP THE PRESSES! The college drop-out crises

STOP THE PRESSES! The college drop-out crises is one of the most serious problems we face, yet it doesn't get nearly the attention the high school dropout crises gets, despite the fact that it's a far worse problem: roughly HALF of the students who start college in this country never get a degree vs. less than 20% who fail to earn a high school degree. And only FOUR PERCENT (!) of students who start a two-year college earn their degree in two years.
So run, don't walk, to read this important, in-depth story in The Atlantic by Amanda Ripley, author of the brilliant, must-read book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way about the partnership between Starbucks and Arizona State Univ. to offer the 75% of Starbucks' employees without a college degree a path to get one:

When it comes to college, the central challenge for most Americans in the 21st century is notgoing; it's finishing. Thirty-five million Americans now have some college experience but no degree. More Americans than live in Texas, in other words, have spent enough time at college to glimpse the promised land—but not enough to reap the financial bounty. Some are worse off than if they'd never enrolled at all, carrying tens of thousands of dollars in debt, not to mention the scar tissue of regret and self-doubt.

President Obama's recent proposal to have the federal government and states pay for two years of community college is elegantly simple, and would surely prompt more students to enroll. But community college is already close to free for most low-income students, and still only 4 percent of all community-college students earn a two-year degree in two years. (Yes, 4 percent.) Money is just part of the problem.

We like to think of college as a meritocracy, a place where only the dedicated and smart survive. But it seems to be something else. Between 1970 and 2012, the proportion of American 24-year-olds who came from affluent families and had a bachelor's degree rose from 40 percent to 73 percent—quite an enlightenment period for privileged kids. But over the same period, the proportion of American 24-year-olds who came from low-income families and had a bachelor's degree rose from 6 percent to just 8 percent. The country's uneven public-school systems cannot be blamed entirely for this state of affairs. Too many people come to college unprepared academically, it's true. But even those low-income students who outperform their affluent peers on tests are less likely to graduate from college.

Our class-based higher-education divide explains more about America's widening income gap than does any other single factor, according to Anthony P. Carnevale, the director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Declining union membership, frayed social services, low minimum wages—none matters as much as the unequal distribution of college degrees and certificates. "Income inequality started increasing in 1983," Carnevale told me, "and 70 percent of that inequality is derived from differences in access to higher education. It is both a fountain of opportunity and a bastion of privilege. The problem has gotten worse and worse and worse."

Last summer, in an unusual attempt to reverse this trend in his own corner of the service economy, Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, announced that his company would team up with Arizona State University, one of the nation's largest public universities, to help Starbucks employees finish college. As long as they worked 20 hours or more per week, any of the company's 135,000 employees in the United States would be eligible for the program. Those who'd already racked up at least two years' worth of credits would be fully reimbursed for the rest of their education. Those with fewer or no credits would receive a 22 percent tuition discount from Arizona State until they reached the full-reimbursement level. Without saying so, Schultz was acknowledging an awkward truth about working at Starbucks: no one wants to be a barista forever.

Schultz shared the news in a PR blitz that featured tear-jerker testimonials from grateful employees, a cameo by the U.S. secretary of education, and a visit to The Daily Show. He explained that employees could study any of the 40 majors offered online by Arizona State. They'd be held to the same standards as all of Arizona State's on-campus students, and their degrees would look identical. Most surprising, employees would be under no obligation to stay with Starbucks after finishing. "To build a great, enduring company that is so people-based, as Starbucks is," Schultz told me, "we have to bring our people along on this journey and demonstrate we are sharing the success."

Almost immediately, reporters criticized Schultz for exaggerating his beneficence. After all, the program was going to be relatively cheap for Starbucks, given the discount provided by Arizona State. Plus, only students at the junior or senior level would be fully reimbursed—and only after they'd earned 21 new credits, proving their commitment to college and company. All students would be required to apply for federal financial aid, so taxpayers would be covering some of the cost, too.

But those objections missed the purpose of the program, which, admittedly, Schultz had glossed over in his soaring rhetoric about creating "access to the American dream." The goal was not to print a pile of get-out-of-tuition-free coupons. It was something less expensive and possibly more important: to help more students finish what they'd started.

The most revolutionary part of the program had nothing to do with tuition and got far less media attention. In their announcement, Starbucks and Arizona State also committed themselves to providing all enrolled employees with individualized guidance—the kind of thing affluent American parents and elite universities provide for their students as a matter of course. Starbucks students would each be assigned an enrollment counselor, a financial-aid adviser, an academic adviser, and a "success coach"—a veritable pit crew of helpers. Like a growing number of innovative colleges around the country, Starbucks and Arizona State were promising to prioritize the needs of real-life students over the traditions of academia.

Starbucks and Arizona State granted The Atlantic exclusive access to the first semester's students, advisers, and detailed results. Despite all the hype, no one at either institution knew how many employees would sign up—or how they would fare once enrolled. Working students attending college online drop out at notoriously high rates, but if the experiment succeeded, it might suggest that college, designed differently, could still become the equalizer it was meant to be. "We're not trying to save the world," Arizona State's president, Michael Crow, told me. "We're trying to show that the world can be saved."

A very important point here:

We assume that people drop out of college because of the cost. But that's only part of the explanation. Listen closely to former students, and you'll hear them tell stories about bureaucracies losing their paperwork, classes running out of spots, nonsensical tuition bills, and transcript offices that don't take credit cards. The customer service is atrocious.

Simply put, many Americans fail to finish college, because many colleges are not designed to be finished. They are designed to enroll students, yes. They are built to garner research funds and accrue status through rankings and the scholarly articles published by faculty. But those things have little to do with making sure students leave prepared to thrive in the modern economy.

Now, however, there is hope. Ever so slowly, it's getting harder for colleges to neglect their students' needs. That's partly because fewer students are enrolling: the economy is improving, and Americans have other options. The dip in demand means recruiting new students can be more expensive for colleges than keeping the ones they already have. Meanwhile, more colleges are facing embarrassing government and media scrutiny over their students' low graduation rates and high debt loads. For some schools, ensuring that more students stick around is becoming a matter of survival.

And this:

To help students find their way, the school has developed a tool called eAdvisor—a user-friendly system that provides guidance to all 66,000 undergraduates about which classes they must take to graduate on time, and then tracks their progress along the way. If a student falters by, for example, dropping a required class, eAdvisor automatically e-mails the student and his or her adviser. The system has had an immediate and impressive effect. In 2006, the year before the school began using eAdvisor, only 26 percent of on-campus students from families earning less than $50,000 a year graduated within four years. By 2009, that rate had gone up to 41 percent.

Across the country, dozens of colleges are starting to tap into their own data to find simple and sometimes inexpensive ways to keep their students. When officials at Georgia State University looked at their records, they found that a surprising number of students had quit because they'd owed the university small amounts of money for fees not covered by their loans. So the school started giving out micro-grants to help students who were on track to graduate but had run into minor cash-flow problems. During the past academic year, Georgia State gave out more than 2,000 of these grants, mostly to seniors. The average grant was just $900. Of the seniors who received money, 70 percent graduated successfully within two semesters. For seniors in similar financial straits whom the university did not have the budget to help, the graduation rate was less than 10 percent. So far, the initiative has more than paid for itself, since students who stay continue to pay tuition after getting the micro-grant.

But the most telling part of the story is how students reacted to this news. When the university's vice provost, Timothy M. Renick, and his colleagues first began making phone calls to offer the micro-grants, they expected shouts of joy. Instead, a handful of students hung up on them. "They thought it was a scam," Renick told me. It was a sobering glimpse of how students perceived the university and their place in it.

Renick and his team called the students back and convinced them that the grants were real. Over time, the most surprising benefit was the psychological one, Renick said. Many of Georgia State's minority students from low-income families had concluded that they were on their own in college. When they got the micro-grants, students told him, they felt that sense of isolation lift. "We've heard from students," Renick said, "that it makes them feel like someone is on their side, that we want them to succeed."

And this:

Unlike so many other education reforms, coaching has been shown to have significant, measurable effects on student results. In a 2011 study, two Stanford University researchers conducted a randomized, controlled study of the performance of 13,555 students in eight colleges of varying degrees of selectivity. One group of students received coaching from InsideTrack, and a second group did not. After six months, the students in the coached group were five percentage points more likely to still be enrolled. The effects lingered for at least a year after the coaching ended. Five percentage points might seem small, but compared with the results of other, more expensive efforts to increase retention, it is impressive. Other studies have found that every $1,000 increase in financial aid per student leads to about a three-percentage-point increase in retention; InsideTrack was charging schools $500 a semester and getting better results. When Arizona State started using the company to provide coaching for its online students, its semester-to-semester online retention rate rose seven percentage points, from 75 percent in the spring of 2011 to 82 percent in the spring of 2014.

Let's hope other companies follow Starbucks' lead:

Half a dozen other companies have reached out to Starbucks to learn more about the program. As the job market tightens, more companies may begin investing in a college education for their employees. Meanwhile, the Obama administration has vowed to rate colleges based on completion rates, cost, and graduates' earnings, despite widespread objections from colleges. (The first ratings are due from the Department of Education this summer.) "We want people to vote with their feet," Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, told me. "It's not just about your kids going to college; it's about going to the right colleges." He praised Arizona State and other colleges that focus on student services and results but also continually revisit their efforts in order to do better. "These kinds of best practices, these kinds of cultures, need to be the norm," he said. "It doesn't take a billion dollars, but it does take an entrepreneurial spirit and a real commitment."

Here's Alexander Russo's take on the article:

The most interesting thing about reluctant education writer Amanda Ripley's latest piece (The Upwardly Mobile Barista) isn't that it's a big cover story in the new Atlantic magazine or that she -- or Starbucks or ASU -- have discovered the secret to getting millions of American workers through college at higher rates than the current dismal numbers -- but rather that the article shows just how difficult it's been and how many adjustments have been made since the program to give baristas and other workers encouragement to finish their degrees.

Though she give time and space to the program's aspirations and advocates (and perhaps a smidgen too much implicit enthusiasm for the effort for my cranky taste), Ripley details the repeated challenges and setbacks that the program has encountered (and the student/workers have experienced) along the way. The piece is critical of traditional colleges and universities who don't get enrolled students through to graduation, sure, but it doesn't shy away from how hard it has been so far to bring Starbucks' customer-oriented service mentality to even a small number of students. 

Starbucks and Arizona State University are collaborating to help cafe workers get college degrees. Is this a model for helping more Americans reach the middle class?

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L.A. school board challenger Ref Rodriguez surged to an early lead in election returns Tuesday

Great news from LA, where reformer Ref Rodriguez (I sent out an appeal for him in December: defeated an incumbent with 54% of the vote to win a spot on the LA school board, despite the local union, UTLA, spending over $1 million to defeat him:

2 Challengers, 1 Incumbent Finish First in Election for Nation's Second-Largest School System

Posted 4:39 AM, May 20, 2015, by Los Angeles TimesUpdated at 05:40am, May 20, 2015

L.A. school board challenger Ref Rodriguez surged to an early lead in election returns Tuesday. (Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times)

In final, unofficial election returns Tuesday night, two challengers defeated incumbents to win seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education.

In District 5, well-funded challenger Ref Rodriguez bested one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser, winning with nearly 54% of the vote. That area includes neighborhoods north and east of downtown, as well as the cities of southeast L.A. County.

"It looks good," Rodriguez told a crowd of supporters before the final results were tallied. "I decided to run because I knew the system wasn't working for all kids."
Alas, Tony Williams wasn't so fortunate in the Philadelphia mayoral primary.
The rest of this email is focused on higher education.

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Platinum Pay in Ivory Towers

Frank Bruni's op ed in today's NYT entitled Platinum Pay in Ivory Towers:

Too few presidents give adequate thought to the symbolism and dissonance of extraordinarily generous compensation packages, which are in sync with this era of lavish executive pay and glaring income inequality but out of line with the ostensible mission of academia.

Ideally, higher education is dedicated to values different from those that govern Wall Street and corporate America. It supposedly calls students to more soulful concerns, even to sacrifice.

But that message is muddled when some of the people who run colleges wallow in payments and perks that would once have been considered vulgar.

For E. Gordon Gee's final year as the president of Ohio State University, which he left in 2013, he got a package of more than $6 million, as was widely reported. It was a one-time bonanza, including deferred payments and severance, but he'd earned roughly $2 million annually over the previous years.

The Chronicle of Higher Education analyzed salary information for private colleges from 2012, the most recent year available, and found that Shirley Ann Jackson, the president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, received a package worth over $7 million.

John L. Lahey of Quinnipiac University: about $3.75 million. Lee Bollinger of Columbia University: almost $3.4 million.

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