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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More on rising cost of colleges and universities

In fact, public investment in higher education in America is vastly larger today, in inflation-adjusted dollars, than it was during the supposed golden age of public funding in the 1960s. Such spending has increased at a much faster rate than government spending in general. For example, the military's budget is about 1.8 times higher today than it was in 1960, while legislative appropriations to higher education are more than 10 times higher.

In other words, far from being caused by funding cuts, the astonishing rise in college tuition correlates closely with a huge increase in public subsidies for higher education. If over the past three decades car prices had gone up as fast as tuition, the average new car would cost more than $80,000.

…Interestingly, increased spending has not been going into the pockets of the typical professor. Salaries of full-time faculty members are, on average, barely higher than they were in 1970. Moreover, while 45 years ago 78 percent of college and university professors were full time, today half of postsecondary faculty members are lower-paid part-time employees, meaning that the average salaries of the people who do the teaching in American higher education are actually quite a bit lower than they were in 1970.

By contrast, a major factor driving increasing costs is the constant expansion of university administration. According to the Department of Education data, administrative positions at colleges and universities grew by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, which Bloomberg reported was 10 times the rate of growth of tenured faculty positions.

Even more strikingly, an analysis by a professor at California Polytechnic University, Pomona, found that, while the total number of full-time faculty members in the C.S.U. system grew from 11,614 to 12,019 between 1975 and 2008, the total number of administrators grew from 3,800 to 12,183 — a 221 percent increase.

The rapid increase in college enrollment can be defended by intellectually respectable arguments. Even the explosion in administrative personnel is, at least in theory, defensible. On the other hand, there are no valid arguments to support the recent trend toward seven-figure salaries for high-ranking university administrators, unless one considers evidence-free assertions about "the market" to be intellectually rigorous.

What cannot be defended, however, is the claim that tuition has risen because public funding for higher education has been cut. Despite its ubiquity, this claim flies directly in the face of the facts.

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For the love of God, rich people, stop giving Ivy League colleges money

This post, entitled For the love of God, rich people, stop giving Ivy League colleges money, is getting a lot of traffic. I tend to agree that Ivy League schools are the least needy charities on earth:

The New York Times's Robin Pogrebin describes Schwarzman's contribution as an "act of philanthropy." It is not. Sure, it's not the absolute worst thing one could do with one's money. I suppose it's a bit better than literally piling $150 million in dollar bills together in one location and then setting them on fire, insofar as building a performing arts center employs more people than assembling a massive money pile would. It's definitely better than using the money to set up a private island upon which to hunt man for sport.

But it's hard to imagine a worse way to use the money that still entitles Schwarzman to a charitable tax deduction. Yale is not a charity. It is a finishing school that overwhelmingly serves children of wealth and privilege. Supporting its scientific and particularly biomedical research is worthwhile, but the school is already far richer than all but one of its peer institutions and has access to considerable federal funds in that area, as well. And, of course, Schwarzman isn't supporting Yale's biomedical research. He's giving its dancers a nicer stage upon which to pirouette.

Two kids in Kenya show they've swallowed their deworming pills.

Literally any other charity, save maybe Harvard, is a better choice. Schwarzman could give $150 million to distribute bednets in sub-Saharan Africa, a highly cost-effective way to save lives. He could give $150 million directly to poor people in Kenya and Uganda through GiveDirectly. He could give $150 million to deworming efforts that spare children ailments that can cause immense pain and poverty. He could give $150 million to the Open Philanthropy Project or the Gates Foundation or another group doing careful, rigorous work to determine the best ways to use charitable resources to make the world a better place. He could, in fact, do all of the above because he's crazy stupid rich.

For the love of God, rich people, stop giving Ivy League colleges money

Updated by Dylan Matthews on May 12, 2015, 8:50 a.m. ET  

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The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much

The Real Reason College Tuition Costs So Much 

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Kudos to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the inaugural winner of its $1M prize, Vassar.

Kudos to the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation and the inaugural winner of its $1M prize, Vassar. I hope Franklin & Marshall, led by its incredible President, Dan Porterfield, wins it next year:

Top colleges have many reasons to avoid enrolling a lot of low-income students.

The students need financial aid, which can strain a university's budget. Although many of the students have stellar grades, they often have somewhat lower SAT scores than affluent students, which can hurt a university's ranking. Low-income students also tend to lack the campus sway of other groups, like athletes or children of alumni, in lobbying for admission slots.

In an effort to push back against these incentives — even just a little — a foundation in Northern Virginia on Tuesday is announcing a new no-strings-attached $1 million prize. It will be awarded each year to a college that excels in enrolling and graduating low-income high achievers. The inaugural winner of the money — from the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, which also runs a large scholarship program — is Vassar College.

Almost one in four Vassar students have family incomes low enough to qualify for federal Pell grants. Among colleges with a four-year graduation rate of at least 75 percent, none has done more than Vassar to enroll low-income students and give them large scholarships, according to an Upshot analysis last year that Cooke Foundation officials said influenced their decision.

New Prize Rewards Economic Diversity at Colleges

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Mattress Protest at Columbia University Continues Into Graduation Event


Here is a link to add to my other comments.

Mattress Protest at Columbia University Continues Into Graduation Event

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Date rape - Update Colombia

Emma Sulkowicz, the Columbia student who claims she was raped and became famous for carrying a mattress everywhere, graduated yesterday – yes, carrying the mattress across the stage:

Aided by four friends, and to the cheers of some of her classmates, the student who protestedColumbia University's handling of her sexual assault complaint by carrying a mattress around campus all year hoisted it for the last time on Tuesday as she crossed the stage at a graduation ceremony.

Until seconds before the student, Emma Sulkowicz, walked onstage, Columbia officials had asked her to leave the mattress behind. President Lee C. Bollinger turned away as she crossed in front of him, failing to shake her hand, as he did with the other graduates.

Ms. Sulkowicz's graduation, and the end of her protest, brought to a close a tumultuous year, in which Columbia became a focus of the movement to change how universities address sexual assault.

While I believe date rape on college campuses is an extremely serious and widespread problem, the more I read about Ms. Sulkowicz, the more I question her story. The student she accused, Paul Nungesser, who also graduated yesterday, has fought back, denying the accusations, speaking to the media, filing a lawsuit, and presenting extensive evidence that casts serious doubts on Sulkowicz's story.
Here's an excerpt from a Daily Caller story about his lawsuit:
While Sulkowicz has become a national hero in the campaign against campus sexual assault, the lawsuit uses Facebook messages and other evidence to paint a picture of Sulkowicz as a jilted love interest whose deep obsession with Nungesser transformed into a savage hatred. The complaint extensively draws from Facebook conversations between the two, quoting Sulkowicz as regaling Nungesser with tales of her past and present sexual experiences. At one point, she expresses fears for her reputation after contracting an STD following drunken sex at a party.
"i've officially had sex with all of John Doe' best friends," she said in the exchange, according to the complaint. "did lotsa drugs – jk just got very drunk – well anyways – now i have an std i actually hate John Doe like if a girl is about to puke – don't put your unprotected dick into her. . . I realy don't want to be known as the girl who contracted an std because she was drunk you know? it is more his fault for fucking me unconscious – i mean i was conscious but clearly not in my right mind. . . i was literally blackout. . . like i puked all over the place."
The complaint also argues that Sulkowicz showed an intense romantic interest in Nungesser during the summer of 2012, which Nungesser spent in Germany. She sent him more than a dozen messages along the lines of "PAUL I MISS YOU PAUL I MISS YOU PAUL I MISS YOU PAULLL" and "I would LOVE to have you here – omg – we could snuggle."
The lawsuit even argues it was Sulkowicz herself who first broached the possibility of anal sex with Nungesser, even though claims of forced anal sex are central to her claim of rape.
"f**k me in the but," she said bluntly during one Facebook exchange.
And here's an excerpt from a detailed article in The Daily Beast:

Now, Nungesser has agreed to speak to The Daily Beast and tell his version of the events. This story, partly backed by materials made public here for the first time and corroborated by a former Columbia graduate student who played a secondary role in the disciplinary process, is dramatically at odds with the prevailing media narrative. On one point, however, Nungesser and his supporters agree with the pro-Sulkowicz camp: A grave injustice has been done.

Seated in the same room where he once received that fateful call, now empty on a non-class day, Nungesser looks back on his relationship with Sulkowicz. They got to know each other in their freshman year, he says, mainly as fellow leaders in the Columbia Outdoor Orientation Program (COÖP), a freshman pre-orientation experience with a focus on outdoor activities. Sulkowicz also rushed Alpha Delta Phi (ADP), a coed fraternity with a literary and intellectual bent, which Nungesser joined a few months later. By the end of his first year in college in spring 2012, says Nungesser, "we were beginning to develop a very close friendship; it was an intimate friendship where we would hug each other and so on, but always platonic." That platonic friendship included several sleepovers in Sulkowicz's room—one of which, he says, eventually turned into a make-out session and ended in sex.

"The next morning, we had a talk about it and we both felt that it was not really a good idea," says Nungesser, explaining that they didn't want to risk their friendship. Four or five weeks later, he says, there was another sleepover that led to another sexual encounter, another talk, and another decision to move on—soon after which the two parted ways for the summer break.

After a summer of affectionate and often intimate Facebook chats (screenshots of which Nungesser, who has since deactivated all of his social-media accounts, provided to The Daily Beast), Nungesser and Sulkowicz returned to Columbia in late August and saw each other at an end-of-summer party for COÖP leaders. As the party was wrapping up, they started talking in the courtyard, then began to hug and kiss and ended up going back to Sulkowicz's dorm room—at her invitation, according to Nungesser. He says he had consumed two mixed drinks and was "buzzed, but not intoxicated or anything." (Sulkowicz has previously described him as "drunk" during the incident.)

While Sulkowicz has always said that they started out having consensual sex, her account diverges drastically from Nungesser's at this point. According to Sulkowicz, he suddenly and brutally assaulted her, then picked up his clothes and left without a word, leaving her stunned and shattered on the bed. According to Nungesser, they briefly engaged in anal intercourse by mutual agreement, then went on to engage in other sexual activity and fell asleep. He says that he woke up early in the morning and went back to his own room while Sulkowicz was still sleeping.

Sulkowicz has said in interviews that she was too embarrassed and ashamed to talk to anyone about the rape, let alone report it; an account of her mattress protest by New York Times art critic Roberta Smith says that she "suffered in silence" in the aftermath of the assault. Yet Nungesser says that for weeks after that night, he and Sulkowicz maintained a cordial relationship, and says she seemingly never indicated that anything was amiss.

Nungesser provided The Daily Beast with Facebook messages with Sulkowicz from August, September, and October 2012. (In an email to The Daily Beast, Sulkowicz confirmed that these records were authentic and not redacted in any way; while she initially offered to provide "annotations" explaining the context on the messages, she then emailed again to say that she would not be sending them.) On Aug. 29, two days after the alleged rape, Nungesser messaged Sulkowicz on Facebook to say, "Small shindig in our room tonight—bring cool freshmen." Her response:

lol yusss

Also I feel like we need to have some real time where we can talk about life and thingz

because we still haven't really had a paul-emma chill sesh since summmmerrrr

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Some awful statistics about college drunkenness and the consequences (from Clarity Way):

Some awful statistics about college drunkenness and the consequences (from Clarity Way):
College riots used to be about social justice issues (think civil rights, Vietnam protests) -- now they're about sports and the pursuit of drunkenness:
Another problem area we looked at was the uncomfortable trend of intoxicated people falling out of frat houses:


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Wednesday, May 06, 2015

At Success Academy Charter Schools, High Scores and Polarizing Tactics

Charles Sahm, education policy director at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, just published a lengthy article on Success that I think presents a far more balanced picture. It doesn't shy away from tough issues like teacher turnover, the amount of test prep, student suspensions and attrition, and lack of backfilling (see more on this below), but it also focuses on the many incredible things Success is doing right, that every school and educator can learn from. Here's Eva's note with a link to it:
To our Friends and Supporters: 

As I wrote to you last week, Success Academy can expect continued interest and scrutiny from journalists. This week brings another in-depth report, one that was also months in the works, but which comes to rather different conclusions about the "secret to our sauce." In "What Explains Success at Success Academy?" the writer (Charles Sahm, Director of Education Policy at the Manhattan Institute) particularly credits our curriculum and the excellence of our teachers and leaders:  We know there are many factors that go into creating world-class schools, but I share his appreciation for the extraordinary teaching and learning that is happening across all our schools. I was also happy to note that he noticed and reported on the many joyful aspects of our schools!

We are not perfect, and certainly Mr. Sahm does not gloss over the views of our critics — but we are constantly looking out for what we can do better, how we can help more kids learn and succeed. That is what sets us apart.

Thank you for all that you do for kids,

Eva Moskowitz
Founder and CEO 

At Success Academy Charter Schools, High Scores and Polarizing Tactics

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Speaking of backfill, Democracy Builders just released an in-depth report on this issue, calling on every charter school to backfill (which I agree with):

High Quality Schools Choosing to Keep Seats Unfilled Despite Long Waitlists

 New York, NY, April 10, 2015 - "By refusing to backfill, charter schools across New York City are leaving thousands of high quality seats unfilled every year despite enormous waitlists," said Princess Lyles, Executive Director of the advocacy group, Democracy Builders.


In a report released today, Democracy Builders finds that at least 2,500 NYC students in third through eighth grade withdrew from charter schools from 2013 to 2015 alone. Recent research has shown that mobile students who attrit are lower performing, but slightly less likely to leave a charter school than a district school. Enrollment numbers demonstrate that most of these students were not replaced, leaving empty seats in high-performing and high-demand classrooms. "Charter schools should fill these open seats so that more students have access to the education they deserve," said Lyles. 

Charter schools refuse to backfill for a number of reasons according to the report, but one is the perverse incentive structure set up by Chancellor Carmen Farina and the NYCDOE. Because the DOE eliminated the A-F progress report formula that heavily weighted academic growth (value added by the school), schools are now judged primarily by absolute proficiency (number of students proficient). Under this evaluation system, charter schools have little incentive to backfill in non-entry grades, as  adding new students risks reducing absolute proficiency percentages. "Charter schools in New York City that leave classroom seats empty are artificially inflating perceived performance at the expense of real waitlisted children," Lyles said.


Family demand for charter schools has increased exponentially in New York City since 2006, growing from 15,300 to 83,000 applications submitted in 2014. Governor Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State address, called on lawmakers to approve 100 more charter schools across New York. This school year, nearly 50,000 students were waitlisted at the city's 197 charter schools. "If charters chose to voluntarily backfill empty seats in K-12, they would expand choice and voice for thousands of families that are desperate for the type of education these high-quality schools provide without requiring any new legislation or regulation," Lyles continued. 

Democracy Builders, which advocates for policies that support parent empowerment, is calling on charter schools across the city to voluntarily agree to backfill their empty seats. "A charter school should accept any student, at any grade level, when they have an opening. High-performing charters are better prepared to do this than any other schools. It is the responsibility of ALL public schools, charter or district, to serve as many students as space will allow," said Lyles.


Democracy Builders is also rallying families to support City Council Bill 613 to increase transparency on the issue of backfill. The bill would require the Chancellor to provide a report on student attrition and backfill data to the City Council. A representative from the Coalition of Community Charter Schools, which has endorsed the bill, stated the group is "committed to seeing attrition reduced by public charters and all public schools.  We support increasing the number of seats offered at non-entry level grades in all public schools." The bill has strong backing from local charter schools that already backfill. One such school, St. HOPE Leadership Academy, issued a statement confirming that they will "continue [their] commitment to zero net-mobility by filling all available seats. [They] hope that all schools in New York City will expand their commitment to the most mobile students."

Dozens of backfilled students as well as their family members will join community leaders and elected officials on the steps of City Hall at 9:30am for a rally and press conference and will be available for comment .

 The report, titled No Seat Left Behind, examines publicly available enrollment and proficiency data for almost 150 charter schools across the city since 2006. The report and all data can be publicly accessed at

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Hillary Clinton Caught Between Dueling Forces on Education

DFER, Joe Williams, John Petry and I are quoted in this NYT article on "Hillary Clinton Caught Between Dueling Forces on Education: Teachers and Wealthy Donors":

And the financiers say they want Mrs. Clinton to declare herself.

"This is an issue that's important to a lot of Democratic donors," said John Petry, a hedge fund manager who was a founder of the Harlem Success Academy, a New York charter school. "Donors want to hear where she stands."

The growing pressure on education points out a deeper problem that Mrs. Clinton will have to contend with repeatedly, at least until the Iowa caucuses: On a number of divisive domestic issues that flared up during the Obama administration — trade pacts, regulation of Wall Street, tax policy — she will face dueling demands from centrists and the liberal base of the Democratic Party.

Her allies believe that with no strong primary opponent to force her into the open, Mrs. Clinton has plenty of time to maneuver before taking sides. But advocates will be using what leverage they possess to draw her out sooner.

Mr. Petry said there were many other political contests where wealthy Democrats who favor sweeping changes to education — including a more businesslike approach, and tying teacher tenure to performance as measured by student scores — could focus their resources next year instead, including congressional, state and local races.

…Not surprisingly, supporters of an education overhaul speak apprehensively about Mrs. Clinton's longstanding friendship with Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, which endorsed her in 2007.

"I hope she sees this as a winning political issue," said Whitney Tilson, manager of Kase Capital and a board member of Democrats for Education Reform, a leading left-of-center advocacy group on the subject.

But he said he was concerned: "She has had more longstanding ties to the teachers' union, certainly, than Obama ever had. She's thrown some bones to both sides and I think is sort of trying to triangulate on this."

In another sign of that anxiety, the executive director of Democrats for Education Reform, Joe Williams, recently circulated a memo to its board members highlighting the "strong ally" the group has had in the White House over the past six years and describing the "stiff pushback" the group and its allies are now facing.

Presumably in an attempt to set the terms for a policy discussion with Mrs. Clinton and other candidates, the memo said the group had commissioned polling showing that "voters support our policies, and if candidates want to meet voters where they are, they should, too," according to a copy obtained from a recipient.

Mr. Williams concluded, "Democratic candidates who support education reform are representative of where the American people are, and those who want to roll back progress risk becoming outliers."

Hillary Clinton Caught Between Dueling Forces on Education: Teachers and Wealthy Donors

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Survey in CA shows that the majority of voters agree with every element of the Vergara ruling:

An important new survey in CA shows that the majority of voters agree with every element of the Vergara ruling:
"The average voter may not know the name Vergara, but they tend to affirm the basic tenet of accountability," said Drew Lieberman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research, the Democratic half of the polling team. Voters "realize that not all teachers are created equal and that separating the good from the bad is part of the calculus."
…In California, nearly half of voters surveyed in the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences/Los Angeles Times poll favored a longer period to earn tenure than the two years granted under state law. Among those who favored some form of tenure, the largest group wanted teachers to earn it after seven to 10 years. More than a third opposed any form of tenure.
Voters also placed little faith in the seniority system that governs most layoffs in tough economic times. When given a list of options, only 8% said seniority should be the primary factor driving which teachers are let go.
More than half, 53%, instead said that teachers who have low marks when they are observed in their classrooms should be the first dismissed. And 26%, the next largest group, said that layoffs should first affect teachers whose students aren't progressing on standardized tests.
…In the survey, 77% of voters said it was important to base teacher pay on a range of measures, including student achievement, classroom observation and parent feedback; 64% said student progress on tests and achievement should be important factors.

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Bain v. CTA is the latest lawsuit to challenge teacher union hegemony.

Speaking of important, potentially-precedent-setting lawsuits in CA, here's Larry Sand on the latest one, called Bain, which StudentsFirst is behind (Michelle Rhee founded StudentsFirst, but it's now run by Jim Blew, who's great). Importantly, it is NOT challenging teachers' right to unionize; rather, the way in which unions coerce members to pay to political portion of their dues, whether they agree with what the union is doing politically or not:

For the third time in three years, a lawsuit has been filed in California that challenges the way the teachers unions do business. In May 2012, eight California public school children filed Vergara et al v. the State of California et al in an attempt to "strike down outdated state laws that prevent the recruitment, support and retention of effective teachers." Realizing that some of their most cherished work rules were in jeopardy, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) chose to join the case as defendants in May 2013.

But three days before they signed on to Vergara, the unions were targeted again. On April 29, 2013, the Center for Individual Rights filed suit on behalf of ten California teachers against CTA and the National Education Association (NEA). The Friedrichs case challenges the constitutionality of California's agency shop law, which forces public school educators to pay dues to a teachers union whether they want to or not.

Now in April 2015, the teachers unions are facing yet another rebellion by some of its members.Bain et al v. CTA et al, a lawsuit brought by StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based activist outfit founded by Michelle Rhee, was filed on behalf of four public school teachers in federal court in California. It challenges a union rule concerning members who refuse to pay the political portion of their dues. Contrary to what many believe, teachers are not forced to join a union as a condition of employment in California, but they are forced to pay dues. Most pay the full share, typically over $1,000 a year, but some opt out of paying the political or "non-chargeable" part, which brings their yearly outlay down to about $600. However, to become "agency fee payers," those teachers must resign from the union and relinquish most perks they had by being full dues-paying members. And this is at the heart of Bain.

Bain Explained

By Larry Sand On April 14, 2015 · 1 Comment

Bain v. CTA is the latest lawsuit to challenge teacher union hegemony.

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Match Beyond

My friend and former business school classmate, Andrew Balson, left Bain Capital and has dedicated himself to an exciting new program called Match Beyond, which he describes in this email to me:
Great to catch up the other day.  I enjoyed the chance to tell you more about Match Beyond and what we are doing to innovate and achieve unprecedented outcomes in higher education.  I think that you and I have very similar perspectives regarding our system of higher education--it serves a certain subset of students effectively while failing a vast number of low-income students who lack the financial resources and the flexibility to succeed within the system as it is.  Your posts have often been a source of data on the shortcomings of the system for me and my team at Match Beyond.  A few stats that only begin to highlight the need for new options:
·  Completion rates: 80% of students in the lowest income quartile who enroll in college do not earn a bachelor's degree by age 24.  Only 10% of all individuals from low-income backgrounds earn a bachelor's degree by age 25. (Pell Institute study; White House study)
·         Inflation: College tuition & fees have risen more than 1000% since 1978 -- in comparison, the consumer price index has only risen 260% (see  Among students in the lowest income quartile, the net price of college now represents 84% of annual family income. (National Center for Education StatisticsBureau of Labor Statistics; Pell Institute study)
·         Debt: Among graduating seniors who received a Pell Grant, 88% had student loan debt in 2012, with an average of $31,200 per borrower. (Institute for College Access & Success study)
In the context of these challenges, Match Beyond represents an innovative new approach to empowering low-income students to earn relevant postsecondary degrees--and to leverage these degrees into middle-class careers.  We think we can achieve unprecedented completion rates and jobs outcomes--at low-cost.
Match Beyond serves students in Boston who have earned a high school diploma or GED but not a college degree.  Many of our students previously enrolled in college and dropped out; others never enrolled.  They come from low-income backgrounds and are typically between the ages of 18 and 35.  For most of our students, the federal Pell grant will cover the full cost of tuition such that they pay nothing out-of-pocket and incur no debt (and there aren't the typical auxiliary college costs such as books and activity fees).
Our program is comprised of two primary components:
·         College Services.  Match Beyond provides personal and academic coaching to students who enroll in online Associate's and Bachelor's degree programs through Southern New Hampshire University's College for America (CfA).  Coaches help students to solve barriers to success ranging from transportation to childcare to medical needs.  Coaches also provide motivation and hold students accountable for their progress.  Our college program (online, self-paced, competency-based) is sufficiently flexible to enable students with busy and complicated lives to make regular and substantial progress.
·         Job Preparation and Placement.  CfA's curriculum is rigorous and job-relevant so students obtain the skills they need for success in the workforce.  Match Beyond coaches further help students to prepare for--and to secure--high-quality, full-time employment at graduation.  We coach students surrounding job-readiness, job-search strategies, resume development, and interview preparation. We embed into our program training on key skills that students will need to be successful in their careers.  As necessary, we help students to obtain "last-mile" credentials, such as licenses or certificates required for particular careers.  And, we are building relationships with employers to help place students into quality jobs.
Match Beyond is still very new.  Currently, we have 70 students enrolled.  We plan to grow to 150 by year's end.  So far, the early data are promising.  Of the 47 students in our pilot classes, almost all (45) remain enrolled.  Four have already earned Associate's degrees and progressed to the Bachelor's degree program.  We expect most, if not all, of the remaining students to complete at least their Associate's degrees in the next 18 months and many to continue into the Bachelor's degree program.
For more context have a look at the recent Boston Globe article that I mentioned to you on the phone, and check out our new website.  On the website, I definitely suggest having a look at what people are saying and our student profiles

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