Tuesday, March 31, 2015

This American Life, - two teachers bring together kids from a public high school in the South Bronx (97% black and Hispanic),

I had the chance this morning to listen to a compelling, heart-breaking and poignant recent episode of NPR's This American Life, in which two teachers bring together kids from a public high school in the South Bronx (97% black and Hispanic), located in the poorest congressional district in the country, and Fieldston, an elite private school – also in the Bronx, only three miles – but, in truth, a world – away. It also tracks some of the poor kids to see where they end up.
Here's the summary with a link to the one-hour audio and below is the transcript:

Three Miles

Mar 13, 2015
There's a program that brings together kids from two schools. One school is public and in the country's poorest congressional district. The other is private and costs $43,000/year. They are three miles apart. The hope is that kids connect, but some of the public school kids just can't get over the divide. We hear what happens when you get to see the other side and it looks a lot better.
Here's an excerpt from the transcript:
So Lisa and Angela thought, let's get them together, visit each other. They honestly didn't think it'd be a big deal. But then Lisa, the public school teacher, says the moment her kids got off the bus at Fieldston, the private school, they had a dramatic reaction to what they saw.
Lisa Greenbaum
They couldn't believe the campus. They felt like everyone was looking at them. And one of the students started screaming and crying-- like, this is unfair. I don't want to be here. I'm leaving. I'm leaving right now. I'm going home.
We were like, Melanie, it's OK. You should stay with the group. Let's talk.
Chana Joffe
Some context-- University Heights, the public school these kids were coming from, it's small and friendly. There are no metal detectors. But it's a public school in a poor neighborhood. The kids share a building and a gym with another school. There's not a lot of frills.
The private school, Fieldston, has an 18-acre campus on a hill. Stone buildings are connected by landscaped paths. Every few windows is the size of a garage door. There's a dance studio, an art gallery, a pool.
So on that first day, the public school kids, almost all of them Puerto Rican and Dominican kids from the South Bronx, walk onto the campus, look around at the quad, the trees, see the school's mission etched into the stone arches. Angela, the private school teacher from Fieldston, came to greet them and immediately noticed that one of the girls seemed upset.
…Chana Joffe
There are hundreds of programs right now that are trying to do some version of this exchange program to help people connect across a growing divide. For a lot of students, American public schools are more segregated than they were a generation ago, not less. The gap between rich and poor is wider than it's been since the Great Depression.
Basically, whatever gap you hear about-- income gap, achievement gap, racial divide-- these two groups of kids from University Heights and Fieldston exist on opposite sides. And just seeing across that divide, something so many of us never do, can be incredibly powerful.
In this case, from the very first few minutes, it was definitely dramatic. This incident when the kids visited Fieldston happened 10 years ago, and I heard this story from so many different people-- the teachers, kids from both schools. Allison Roland was a junior at the private school, Fieldston, at the time. She remembers the girl who freaked out.
Allison Roland
People were like, what happened? That was, like, weird. But nobody really-- it was very behind the scenes.
Chana Joffe
Even more, she remembers the feeling she had seeing the girl freak out, feeling helpless.
Allison Roland
It's uncomfortable when you can't help someone not be uncomfortable. No one wants to feel like they're on the hill school on the top of the hill. It's uncomfortable.
But at the same time, I totally understood where she was coming from in terms of-- like, it is messed up. It's crazy. Like, our educations have been so drastically different, and that's completely unfair. But what do you do in the moment when you're still a high school student and you don't have the power-- like, I couldn't become a politician in that moment and change. Making change can take a long time.
Chana Joffe
A lot of Fieldston students do go on to be politicians and run Walt Disney and The New YorkTimes and host evening news programs and design major American cities. And part of the point of programs like these that try to bridge the divide is-- seeing as the private school kids will likely go on to be important, influential people, maybe write education policy or finance new businesses-- it's good for them to know not everybody's life looks like theirs.
But of course, then there's the question-- what do the public school kids get out of it? Right now there's a popular idea in education-- it pops up all over the place-- about exposure, that exposure is particularly important for poor kids. Not just important-- that it can change destinies. You know, you take a group of kids to tour a college campus, they'll be more likely to go to college. Or if you just know someone who went to college, that'll help.
The idea is that if you want a kid to move from one social class to another, that kid has to see what it looks like over there on the other side. Exposure is a tool for social change and economic mobility.
Or it just sucks. You see how much you did not get, and it's shocking and painful. And you freak out, like that one girl, Melanie.
The people who run programs like these hope that even if it's upsetting in the moment, ultimately this kind of experience helps more than it hurts. But nobody really knows, because this is the kind of thing that plays out over time.
It occurred to me that the group of kids who are part of that first year exchange between Fieldston and University Heights could answer this question. Does it hurt or help the public school kids? It's been 10 years. They're in their mid 20s now, so they've gone to college, gotten apartments and jobs, and it turns out this one experience really has shaped some of the public school kids in profound ways, ways I did not see coming. Today's show-- what happens when you see the other side and it looks a lot better.
Let's begin with Melanie, the girl who freaked out. I wondered about Melanie because she had such a strong immediate reaction that everyone remembered, but also because listen to what happened after that. So apparently Melanie started crying the moment she got to Fieldston, wanted to leave. But the teachers managed to calm her down, and for a while, it seemed like the moment had passed and they were fine.
They partnered all the students up, so the University Heights kids could go with the Fieldston kids to some of their classes. Marlena Edelstein, a Fieldston student, told me the girl who shadowed her-- she doesn't remember her name, but other people told me it was Melanie-- Marlena has never forgotten her.
…Ashleigh Wallace
So me and Melanie were pissed off.
Chana Joffe
What happened?
Ashleigh Wallace
We were definitely pissed off. I mean, have you ever seen Edward Scissorhands?
Chana Joffe
Seen what?
Ashleigh Wallace
Edward Scissorhands.
Chana Joffe
Yeah, yeah.
Ashleigh Wallace
And you know how his house is at the top of the hill and it's all dark and gloomy, and then you have the rest of the town where all the houses are colorful, and it's sunny all day and bright, or whatever the case is? It was just like that. Like, we were leaving the Bronx and going into some complete, totally different Utopian existence.
You know, Lisa kept telling us while we were pen-palling these kids that, oh, they go to a private school, but they're just like us. And "just like us" is you live in a bad neighborhood like we do, you go to a bullshit, shitty-ass school like we do, where we have no cafeteria because it's been converted into a classroom. We have a daycare for mothers who have children. There's, what, one, two, three floors in our school. She's like, oh, they're just like us. They're nothing like us, nothing at all.
Yep. And it was just like, OK, this is private. So everything kind of is a fucking lie that you see your whole life growing up on TV shows or movies. It's like, OK, this is not free. This is not available for kids of color. This is something that only privileged or the elite can have.
I know I looked at it and I said, well, I know that we're only being taught to flip burgers in Burger King or McDonald's or to hold doors for students like them that will probably live in those buildings on Madison Avenue, and we'll be wearing the uniform, servicing these people.
Full transcript

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Friday, March 20, 2015

9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York's Public Schools—Here's Their Story

I view it as a badge of honor to be one of the lead villains in a silly hatchet job of an article like this one. It's so laughably wrong in so many ways, I'm not going to dignify it with a detailed response, but a couple of points:
·       A key pillar of the article, that greedy billionaires oppose increasing education spending, is wrong. Contrary to the selective quotes the author uses, here is what I actually said during my presentation at the Harvard Club last week (the slide I used is page 90 of my school reform presentation, which is posted at:www.arightdenied.org/presentation-slides):
o   In the absence of genuine reform, simply increasing spending has proven to be a waste of money
o   (e.g., Kansas City); in fact, it can do harm by further entrenching the status quo (e.g., New Jersey)
o   However, more money is a critical element to grease the wheels of reform
o   The key is to marry reform with additional resources (e.g., NYC, Washington DC, Austin)
·       The IRS never fined ERN or Joe Williams – the reporter is just repeating union propaganda (which is pretty much the entire article, come to think of it).
The true story here is very simple and the opposite of sinister – it's inspiring to me: a number of very successful New Yorkers – believing in the power of education and that every kid deserves a fair shot at the American dream, and disgusted with an educational system that does just the opposite, in which the color of your skin and your zip code pretty much determine the quality of public school a kid gets, an unjust reality that goes on, year in and year out, not because the system is broken, but because it operates just the way it's supposed to, to serve the economic interests of the adults in the system and the political interests of the gutless weasel politicians who kowtow to them – decided to donate millions of dollars, despite having absolutely nothing to gain personally, to create a counter-weight to the status quo, in which the unions historically said "Jump!" and the governor and legislature would respond, "How high?!"
I'm very proud to say that we've been enormously successful. Despite being outmanned, outspent, and outgunned 100:1, a small group of incredible people – in part the funders, but more importantly the people on the ground – have turned the tables on the entrenched powers, in part by, yes, finding and strongly supporting a courageous ally in Gov. Cuomo. What a beautiful example of the classic Margaret Mead quote: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
But the forces of the status quo won't give up their power and perks easily, so one part of their strategy is to smear their opponents by filling the ears of some biased and/or clueless "journalists" to write hit pieces like this one. 
It won't work. We are winning this titanic struggle (albeit in a three-steps-forward-two-steps-back way), not because we're all-powerful billionaires, but because, to quote MLK, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice."

9 Billionaires Are About to Remake New York's Public Schools—Here's Their Story

George Joseph on March 19, 2015 - 5:07AM ET 
Governor Cuomo speaks at a rally in support of charter schools on the steps of the state Capitol in Albany. (Tim Roske/ AP)

Hedge-fund manager Whitney Tilson stands at a Harvard club podium in midtown Manhattan, facing a room full of investors eating eggs and bacon, and eager to learn more about charter schools. The walls of the wood-paneled room are lined with the portraits of Tilson's Harvard forefathers. Above the podium where Tilson stands hangs an ornamental gold ship, swaying. In the corner of the room is a large screen, on which the logos of the day's sponsors, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Sam Walton Foundation, float like guardian angels. Two large stone fireplaces dominate the west end of the room. Their exaggerated mantelpieces are each decorated with two empty crests and a laurel—symbols of power drained of any purpose.

Tilson begins an enormous PowerPoint presentation, speaking of the inequities black and Latino children face in the public school system. "Your entire prison population is in these red bars," he explains, showing red bars indicating the high percentage of poor black and Latino children who could not read at a fourth-grade level. No such children, nor their parents, seemed to have been invited to this presentation.

Despite the role poverty plays in determining whose kids gets stuck in those red bars, Tilson declares to the room of Ivy League investors, "This is not rocket science. Notice on my list there's no #5, no Spend More Money. You get new facilities and smaller classrooms but nothing changes. Nobody believes anymore that if you give us more money we'll solve all the problems."

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Bridge International Academies

A nice article about Bridge International Academies in the WSJ. I think this is the most exciting thing happening in education anywhere in the world. I first wrote about it more than two years ago – see www.tilsonfunds.com/Bridge. I am about to invest personally and will join the board as an observer as part of a $6 million investment by the Pershing Square Foundation, on whose board I sit. It's the first new board I've joined in 4+ years, and I'm delighted.

An army of teachers wielding Nook tablets and backed by investors including Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg is on a mission to bring inexpensive, private education to millions of the world's poorest children.

In rural Kenya, 6-year-old Sharon Ndunge, sitting in a rough-built classroom with chicken-coop wire for windows, a tin roof and wooden benches, is among 126,000 students enrolled at the more than 400 Bridge International Academies that have sprung up across the country since the company was founded in 2009.

Bridge's founders are challenging the long-held assumption that governments rather than companies should lead mass education programs. The company's goal is to eventually educate 10 million children and make money by expanding its standardized, Internet-based education model across Africa and Asia.

The Internet and Barnes & Noble Inc. Nook tablets are used to deliver lesson plans, which are then used by teachers. The tablets also are used to collect test results from students scattered across hundreds of towns and villages and serve as a means of monitoring their progress.

"It's like running Starbucks," said Greg Mauro, a partner at California-based venture-capital firm Learn Capital LLC, the largest shareholder in Bridge with a 15% stake, likening it to the coffee chain with standardized systems and procedures that can be replicated across new locations. If all goes to plan, the American-run, Nairobi-based education startup will seek a stock-market listing in New York in 2017, according to Mr. Mauro.

Mr. Mauro has invested alongside Microsoft co-founder Mr. Gates, e-Bay Inc. founder Pierre Omidyar's Omidyar Network, textbook publisher Pearson PLC and others who already have put more than $100 million into the company, of which about 90% is equity investments, according to Bridge. Facebook Inc. co-founder Mr. Zuckerberg this month invested $10 million in the company, according to Bridge. The investment comes as the social-network company expands into emerging markets to potentially reach billions of new customers.

Zuckerberg-Backed Startup Seeks to Shake Up African Education

Bridge aims to provide cheap, Internet-based education in Africa 

By Matina Stevis and Simon Clark
March 13, 2015 3:42 p.m. ET 


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Skills in Flux

I found David Brooks' op ed in yesterday's NYT to be fascinating and thought-provoking – and had a wonderful and well-deserved shout-out for Doug Lemov:

Several years ago, Doug Lemov began studying videos of excellent teachers. He focused not on their big strategies but on their microgestures: How long they waited before calling on students to answer a question (to give the less confident students time to get their hands up); when they paced about the classroom and when they stood still (while issuing instructions, to emphasize the importance of what's being said); how they moved around the room toward a student whose mind might be wandering.

In an excellent piece on Lemov for The Guardian, Ian Leslie emphasizes that these subtle skills are often not recognized or even discussed by those who talk about education policy, or even by those who evaluate teachers.

Leslie notes that the Los Angeles school system tabulated the performance of roughly 6,000 teachers, using measures of student achievement. The best performing teacher in the whole system was a woman named Zenaida Tan. Up until that report, she was completely unheralded. The skills she possessed were invisible. Meanwhile, less important traits were measured on her evaluations (three times she was late to pick up students from recess).

In part, Lemov is talking about the skill of herding cats. The master of cat herding senses when attention is about to wander, knows how fast to move a diverse group, senses the rhythm between lecturing and class participation, varies the emotional tone. This is a performance skill that surely is relevant beyond education.

I thought some of what Brooks wrote applied to me – but not the listening 70% of the time – LOL!

For example, in today's loosely networked world, people with social courage have amazing value. Everyone goes to conferences and meets people, but some people invite six people to lunch afterward and follow up with four carefully tended friendships forevermore. Then they spend their lives connecting people across networks.

People with social courage are extroverted in issuing invitations but introverted in conversation — willing to listen 70 percent of the time. They build not just contacts but actual friendships by engaging people on multiple levels. If you're interested in a new field, they can reel off the names of 10 people you should know. They develop large informal networks of contacts that transcend their organization and give them an independent power base. They are discriminating in their personal recommendations since character judgment is their primary currency.

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The revolution that could change the way your child is taught

STOP THE PRESSES! In his op ed, Brooks linked to this BRILLIANT article, which appeared in the UK's The Guardian, about Lemov's work. It's the article of the year so far:

After years of debate among academics and politicians over how to raise teacher standards, the problem is being solved by the practitioners. And it has become apparent that the noisy argument over "bad teachers" was drowning out a much better question: how do you turn a bad teacher into a good one?

And what makes a good teacher good?


In 2010, the Los Angeles Times triggered a minor earthquake in a city familiar with such events. The Los Angeles school district – the second largest in the United States – had collected detailed data on the performance of its roughly 6,000 teachers, that it had not released. The newspaper used a freedom of information request to get its hands on this database, and after conducting an analysis, published a list of all the teachers in Los Angeles, ranked by effectiveness. It turned out that the very best teachers were getting results that were not only much better than low-ranked teachers, but twice as good as good teachers. At the very top of the list was a woman called Zenaida Tan.

Tan taught at Morningside Elementary, a decent if unremarkable school with an intake of mainly poor students, many of whom struggled with English. Year after year, students were entering Tan's class with below-average ability in maths and English, and leaving it with above-average scores. You might imagine that before the Los Angeles Times published its rankings, Tan would have already been celebrated for her ability by her peers – that her brilliance would be well-known to fellow teachers eager to learn her secrets. You would be wrong on all counts.

When the Los Angeles Times sent a correspondent to interview Tan, they found her quietly carrying out her work, unheralded except by those who had taken her class and knew what a difference it had made to their lives. "Nobody tells me that I'm a strong teacher," Tan told the reporter. She guessed that her colleagues thought her "strict, even mean". On a recent evaluation, her headmaster noted she had been late to pick up her students from recess three times. It was as if Lionel Messi's teammates considered him a useful midfielder who needed to work on his tackling.

There is entrenched resistance, in the education establishment, to singling out individuals, even to praise or emulate them. The only options for Tan's evaluation were "meets standard performance" and "below standard performance". But if Tan and others like her go unnoticed it is also because they do not look the part. Ask someone to describe a great teacher, and they are likely to conjure up someone like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society: eccentric, flamboyant, prone to leaping on to desks. When we see a teacher effortlessly commanding her class's attention, our instinct is to put it down to some quality of their personality – great teachers, it is said, just have something. They are possessed of an innate ability to inspire.

Sam Freedman, the head of research at Teach First, which places high-achieving graduates into schools with disadvantaged intakes, said that even among teachers, there is hostility to the notion that what they do can be analysed and replicated: "The idea of learning heuristics seems bad because you're not discovering your inner teacher." But the myth of the magical teacher subtly undermines the status of teaching, by obscuring the extraordinary skill required to perform the job to a high level. It also implies that great teaching cannot be taught.

At training college, budding teachers learn theories of child development and are told about the importance of concepts such as "feedback" and "high expectations". But they get surprisingly little help with actual teaching. Imagine being told you need to show high expectations of your students. "It's like telling a kid to get better GCSEs," Jenny Thompson, a teacher at Dixons Trinity Academy in Bradford, told me. The reason teachers respond so enthusiastically to Doug Lemov's ideas is that he is right there with them at the front of the class.

Tall and wide-chested, Lemov is built like an American football player. In fact, his favourite sport is soccer, which he played at college in upstate New York. His coaches there did not spend much time discussing the game in the abstract. Instead, they told him to "narrow the angle" or "close the space". In his books and workshops, Lemov talks about what pace to move around the classroom, what language to use when praising a student, how to adjust the angle of your head to let students know you're looking at them. Teaching, he says, is "a performance profession".

Sports coaches know that what looks effortlessly achieved, like the way Roger Federer hits a backhand, is in fact the product of countless hours of practice and analysis. Faced with a problem – a weakness in their game – they break it down into parts and work on the execution of each one before putting it all back together. Successful sportspeople have what the psychologist Carol Dweck calls a "growth mindset" – the belief that talent is intelligently applied effort in disguise. The ones who understand this principle best are those born without the supreme talent of a Federer – the ones who have had to strive for every millimetre of improvement.

The best teachers do not necessarily understand how teaching works, because their own technique is invisible to them; sports psychologists call this "expert-induced amnesia". When the Los Angeles Times asked some of the teachers who topped their list what made them so effective, one replied that great teachers simply love their students and love their job: "You can't bottle that, and you can't teach it."

Doug Lemov is on a mission to prove that talented teacher wrong.

The revolution that could change the way your child is taught 

Doug Lemov believes great teachers are made, not born – and his ideas are transforming education

Doug Lemov says teaching is a performance profession. Photograph: Graham Turner

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What Do Unions Know About Running Schools?

The UFT recently announced that it is closing its K-8 charter school. So they support closing lousy charter schools but not lousy traditional public schools? Here's a scathing piece by the NYT's Brent Staples:

[The UFT] opened its own charter school in the East New York section of Brooklyn. Randi Weingarten, who led the U.F.T. at the time – and who now leads the American Federation of Teachers – upped the ante by predicting that the school would "show real, quantifiable student achievement and with those results, finally dispel the misguided and simplistic notion that the union contract is an impediment to success."

That's not how things have worked out. The school struggled almost from the start. The State University of New York came close to revoking its charter in 2013 – and probably should have done so. This past year, just 11 percent of its third-through eighth-grade students scored as proficient or better on the state reading tests, compared with 29 percent in the city as a whole.

The union admitted defeat last week, saying that it would close the kindergarten-through-eighth-grade portion of the school because of low test scores. The current U.F. T. president, Michael Mulgrew, blamed state test score requirements for the school's problems.

But the record shows that the union failed the children in this school at just about every level. When the school's charter came up for renewal in 2013, the SUNY panel cited all kinds of problems including: excessive principal turnover; poor instructional skills and teacher coaching; and deficiencies in the way the school handled English language learners and special education students.

What's striking is that the school was managed poorly even after the union staked its reputation on the project. This suggests that the union either did not take the charter project seriously – or that it knows less about running schools than it thinks.

What Do Unions Know About Running Schools?

By Brent Staples
March 3, 2015 5:11 pm March 3, 2015 5:11 pm


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Where new college money is going

A story from a friend who runs a restaurant supply/food service business that also designs and builds kitchens for chain restaurants and large institutions like hospitals and universities. Regarding the latter, he's observed that the three largest areas of new spending by colleges and universities are: 1) dining halls; 2) gyms; 3) dorms. The cost of college has skyrocketed, as this chart from page 76 of my school reform presentation (www.arightdenied.org/presentation-slides) shows – and this is where the money is going… How depressing…

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The Hunting Ground

Summary: From the makers of The Invisible War comes a startling expose of rape crimes on US campuses, their institutional cover-ups, and the devastating toll they take on students and their families. Weaving together verite footage and first person testimonies, the film follows the lives of several undergraduate assault survivors as they attempt to pursue - despite incredible push back, harassment and traumatic aftermath - both their education and justice.

It's getting good reviews overall (77 out of 100 on Metacritic):www.metacritic.com/movie/the-hunting-ground

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Summer Search New York City is seeking a highly motivated and dynamic Executive Director

Summer Search, a $20M college success nonprofit in seven cities around the country. Since 1990, we've worked to close the opportunity gap for low-income students by transforming what they believe is possible for themselves.  It is an incredibly exciting time at Summer Search, as we are in the midst of scaling our program significantly, with plans to double the number of students served across our seven sites by 2017.
As part of the national strategic growth plan, Summer Search New York City is seeking a highly motivated and dynamic Executive Director to continue to build upon this region's success. The Executive Director will join a talented and committed staff, deeply engaged Board of Directors, and supportive National leadership team to significantly scale the organizations while ensuring programmatic excellence.
This is a tremendous opportunity for a seasoned nonprofit leader with experience seeing an established organization through growth and scale, as well as brings a deep passion for and knowledge of youth development and education that serve low-income communities.
For details, please find the full job description at http://tinyurl.com/summersearchednyc

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Monday, March 09, 2015

Myth: "There are more black men in jail than in college."

Good to rebut this myth:

"There are more black men in jail than in college."

Ivory A. Toldson — Howard University professor, senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and deputy director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs — called this, in a 2013 column for the Root, "the most frequently quoted statistic about black men in the United States."

It's also dead wrong.


The myth that there are more black men in prison than in college, debunked in one chart

Updated by Jenée Desmond-Harris on February 12, 2015, 10:10 a.m. ET 

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The Promise and Failure of Community Colleges

A very thoughtful and important article about community colleges:

There are two critical things to know about community colleges.

The first is that they could be the nation's most powerful tools to improve the opportunities of less privileged Americans, giving them a shot at harnessing a fast-changing job market and building a more equitable, inclusive society for all of us. The second is that, at this job, they have largely failed.

When President Obama stood at Pellissippi Community College in Knoxville, Tenn., last month and offered every committed student two years' worth of community college at the government's expense, he focused on the first point.

With open enrollment and an average price tag of $3,800 a year for full-time students, community colleges are pretty much the only shot at a higher education for those who don't have the cash or the high school record to go to a four-year university. And that's a lot of people: 45 percent of the undergraduate students in the country.

They are "essential pathways to the middle class," Mr. Obama said. They work for parents and full-time workers, for veterans re-entering civilian life, and for those who "don't have the capacity to just suddenly go study for four years and not work."

What the president chose not to emphasize is that precious few of the students at community colleges are likely to fulfill the promise and complete their education. Of all the students who enroll full time at Pellissippi, for example, only 22 percent graduate from a two-year program within three years. Just 8 percent transfer to a four-year college.

And that's hardly the bottom of the barrel. There are many community colleges with much worse records.

The president's offer of a free ride should increase enrollment: White House officials estimate that the program, if approved by Congress, would lift enrollment by 1.6 million by 2026, bringing the total to nine million students from about seven million today. But that's the easy bit.

Whether his plan ultimately delivers on its promise, however, will depend less on how many students enter than how many successfully navigate their way out. Today, only 35 percent of a given entry cohort attain a degree within six years, according to government statistics.

At public four-year colleges, 57 percent of the students graduate within six years.

And it's getting worse. Community college graduation rates have been declining over the last decade.

It's past time we paid attention. Community colleges have been consistently ignored by policy makers who equate higher education with a bachelor's degree — mostly ignoring the fact that a very large group of young Americans are not prepared, either financially, cognitively or socially for that kind of education.

Meanwhile, American higher education has become a preserve of the elite. Only one in 20 Americans ages 25 to 34 whose parents didn't finish high school has a college degree. The average across 20 advanced industrial nations assessed by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is almost one in four.

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When Colleges Use Veterans as Pawns

Kudos to the NYT editorial page for continuing to highlight the abuses of for-profit colleges:

For-profit colleges that burden students with crippling debt — often while giving them useless credentials in return — are luring veterans who receive G.I. Bill benefits to take advantage of a loophole in federal law. On the merits, a proposal in President Obama's 2016 budget that would close this destructive loophole deserves unanimous support in Congress. But because the for-profit industry has considerable power in Washington, veterans may be let down.

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The College Rape Overcorrection

The issue of sexual assault on college campuses is one I care a lot about – and not just because my oldest daughter just started college this year and two more will be doing so in the next 2½ and 5½ years. I continue to view this as a very serious problem, but as I've done more reading on this (especially the article below), I don't think it's as widespread as some advocates have claimed (e.g., 20-25% of all women get raped in college). I also have a greater appreciation for how impossibly difficult many of these cases are, and how guys can get completely railroaded. It's very disturbing to me that three very high profile recent cases of women students claiming they've been raped have turned out to be full of holes: a) The Rolling Stone UVA story; b) the cover story in the NYT Magazine two weeks ago, The Stanford Undergraduate and the Mentor; and c) the story in The Daily Beast that calls into serious question the credibility of Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia student famous for carrying her mattress on campus as a symbol of her burden as a victim and a protest against Columbia's failure to expel the man she calls her rapist.
If this issue is of interest to you, I highly recommend this article by Emily Yoffe in Slate (which I missed when it first came out on Dec. 7th):

The College Rape Overcorrection

Sexual assault on campus is a serious problem. But efforts to protect women from a putative epidemic of violence have led to misguided policies that infringe on the civil rights of men.

 One campus rape is one too many. But the severe new policies championed by the White House, the Department of Education, and members of Congress are responding to the idea that colleges are in the grips of an epidemic—and the studies suggesting this epidemic don't hold up to scrutiny. Bad policy is being made on the back of problematic research, and will continue to be unless we bring some healthy skepticism to the hard work of putting a number on the prevalence of campus rape.

 Government officials and campus administrators are paying more attention to what's going on between the sheets in dorm rooms than ever before. Despite all their newfound efforts to curtail sexual violence on campus, however, they're willfully ignoring the most important single factor running through accounts of such violence: alcohol.

…It is simply misleading to tell young women they have as great a chance of being sexually assaulted while in their dorm studying at 1 p.m. as they do at a drunken frat party at 1 a.m. There are patterns to victimization. The Campus Sexual Assault Study found the majority of victims were freshmen and sophomores, the most common time of year to be assaulted is when school begins in the fall, the most common days were Friday and Saturday, the most common time was after midnight. People who had been previously assaulted were at far greater risk of revictimization. Alcohol was overwhelmingly an element. The United Educators study of insurance payouts for sexual assault found that "Alcohol was a significant factor in nearly all of the claims studied."

And it's not just about conveying to young women the dangers of drinking. It's equally important to tell young men about the jeopardy they face when having an alcohol-fueled sexual encounter at college.

The College Rape Overcorrection

Sexual assault on campus is a serious problem. But efforts to protect women from a putative epidemic of violence have led to misguided policies that infringe on the civil rights of men.

By Emily Yoffe, Slate

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College Women: Stop Getting Drunk

Here's Yoffe with a provocative (and spot-on) article entitled, College Women: Stop Getting Drunk, which (insanely) has caused her to be persona non grata on some campuses:

For these kinds of men, the rise of female binge drinking has made campuses a prey-rich environment. I've spoken to three recent college graduates who were the victims of such assailants, and their stories are chilling.

Let's be totally clear: Perpetrators are the ones responsible for committing their crimes, and they should be brought to justice. But we are failing to let women know that when they render themselves defenseless, terrible things can be done to them. Young women are getting a distorted message that their right to match men drink for drink is a feminist issue. The real feminist message should be that when you lose the ability to be responsible for yourself, you drastically increase the chances that you will attract the kinds of people who, shall we say, don't have your best interest at heart. That's not blaming the victim; that's trying to prevent more victims.

Experts I spoke to who wanted young women to get this information said they were aware of how loaded it has become to give warnings to women about their behavior. "I'm always feeling defensive that my main advice is: 'Protect yourself. Don't make yourself vulnerable to the point of losing your cognitive faculties,' " says Anne Coughlin, a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law, who has written on rape and teaches feminist jurisprudence. She adds that by not telling them the truth—that they are responsible for keeping their wits about them—she worries that we are "infantilizing women." 

The "Campus Sexual Assault Study" of 2007, undertaken for the Department of Justice, found that the popular belief that many young rape victims have been slipped "date rape" drugs is false. "Most sexual assaults occur after voluntary consumption of alcohol by the victim and assailant," the report states. But the researchers noted that this crucial point is not being articulated to young and naïve women: "Despite the link between substance abuse and sexual assault it appears that few sexual assault and/or risk reduction programs address the relationship between substance use and sexual assault." The report added, somewhat plaintively, "Students may also be unaware of the image of vulnerability projected by a visibly intoxicated individual."

"I'm not saying a woman is responsible for being sexually victimized," says Christopher Krebs, one of the authors of that study and others on campus sexual assault. "But when your judgment is compromised, your risk is elevated of having sexual violence perpetrated against you."

The culture of binge drinking—whose pinnacle is the college campus—does not just harm women.

College Women: Stop Getting Drunk

It's closely associated with sexual assault. And yet we're reluctant to tell women to stop doing it.

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Getting to ‘No’

 A woman writes (many years later) about getting drunk and probably date raped in college – this is the type of behavior that happens all the time I suspect:

The night started, as so many college nights do, with a red cup pressed into a hand. Ubiquitous at tail gates and parties, those bright plastic cups are a harbinger of carnival, of unleashing. The hand around the cup was mine.

I remember many of the details only vaguely, but the cup shines through; I can still taste the sweet-sour drink inside it. No matter how much I sipped — and each sip made the next one easier — the cup remained filled, courtesy of a young man, a fellow college senior, attending to its contents. I liked him, a little; I found his focus — on me — impressive.

I drank from the red cup, and in the next scene from that evening that I can recall, I am on my bed, and he is on top of me. I am resisting, but he is heavy, so heavy, and my limbs so leaden. I am certain he thought he was, as we used to say back then, a totally decent guy. Even now, I can imagine him as someone's loyal husband, a maker of pancakes, his kids' soccer coach. But that night I said no, and still he lay there, massive, pleading, sloppy with beer, for what seemed to be hours (but surely was not), until I finally stopped holding him off. Too close to sleep to rouse myself to outrage, I settled for capitulation, then revulsion.

…In the days following that encounter, I avoided calls from the guy, who so clearly misunderstood the situation that he thought he was courting me; there may have been flowers, but not to apologize. I considered him someone between a brute and an oaf, my own experience falling somewhere between assault and just a bad night. I never felt I was a victim; looking back, I was an English major for whom language failed at a moment when I needed it most.

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Alcohol’s Hold on Campus

 If you really want to dive into the alcohol problem on our college campuses, I highly recommend this seven-part series in The Chronicle of Higher Education entitled Alcohol's Hold on Campus (see attached report and web links below):
Drinking dominates the college experience, but it poses severe risks for students: injury, sexual assault, death—not to mention the more common flunking or dropping out. For years colleges have tried to tackle the problem, but little of what they've done has had real impact. How can colleges control excessive drinking—or can they? Lots of research is out there, but what really works?
1)      A River of Booze: Inside One Town's Uneasy Embrace of Drinking (http://chronicle.com/article/A-River-of-Booze/150221)
2)      Why Colleges Haven't Stopped Students From Binge Drinking: Decades of attention without much difference (http://chronicle.com/article/article-content/150229)
3)      4 Campuses Respond to Risky Drinking (Cal State Chico, Lehigh, Yale, Univ. of Nebraska at Lincoln) (http://chronicle.com/article/4-Campuses-Respond-to-Risky/150235)
4)      Protecting the Party: Students Look to Prevent Sexual Assault While Drinking Just as Much (http://chronicle.com/article/Protecting-the-Party/150233)
5)      If Students Have Time to Get Drunk, Colleges Aren't Doing Their Jobs (http://chronicle.com/article/If-Students-Have-Time-to-Get/150241)
6)      How to Be Intoxicated, With Help from Euripides (http://chronicle.com/article/alcohol/150239)
7)      6 Campuses and the Booze That Surrounds Them (http://chronicle.com/article/Maps-6-Campusesthe/150225)
8)    A Conversation About What Colleges Can Do (http://chronicle.com/article/What-Can-Colleges-Do-About/150243)

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