Around the Edu-Horn, July 14, 2010

RT @ewrobelen As of today, half the states have OK’d the new common standards. S.C. is the latest to sign on:

Teaching principals to save schools —

For-profits, e-learning, and K12 schools, oh my!

DC elementary school test scores decline; middle, high schools rise —

Are Latino students being shortchanged?

Continued Thoughts on Higher Ed ROI

Last week, Eduflack opined on Businessweek’s efforts to put some meaning around the topic of college degrees and return on investment.  The discussion led me to wonder if we are looking at the right roadmarkers in determining ROI (and whether we are even looking at the right institutions when we do it).

So over at edReformer, I have a new post on the need to broaden our view on higher ed ROI.  You can read the full post here.  And while you are at it, check out some of the other posts over at edReformer.  There are some interesting discussions happening over there.


Around the Edu-Horn, July 13, 2010

RT @wpnick WP’s Turque has it first: D.C. elementary scores declined this year under #edreform star #Rhee.

RT @markkerr Draft Framework for ‘Next Gen’ Science Standards Issued

The myth of teacher tenure?

RT @jeneps Harkin takes #4profit battle to the oped page of the LA Times. “The threat of a new bubble…”

Can Gates Remake K-12 Education?

Yesterday, Nick Anderson offered up a front-page story in The Washington Post on the influence and impact the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is having on education reform in the United States.  For many, this was not new news (particularly since Libby Quaid and the Associated Press did a similar story about two years ago), but the size and scope was bound to attract attention.  When we start to see the number of grants awarded, the total dollars doled out, and the influential individuals who have moved from Gates into either government or practitioner roles, and you start to see the possibility of the Gates Foundation and education improvement.

But Eduflack is struck by the same thinking that has dogged him for years.  Anderson’s well-written piece portrays the current K-12 public education environment and how the Gates Foundation needs to work within the confines of that system.  It continues to be about refurbishing existing homes, not about tearing down and building new.  And if anything was clear from the Anderson article, it is that Gates is in a position to do it its way, and not simply as we have always done.

So it had Eduflack going back into the archives to look at some past writing.  In March of 2009, I opined on this topic as well, riffing off another WaPo piece, that time from Editorial Page Editor Fred Hiatt, on how Bill Gates could repair our schools.  Rather than reinvent the wheel, let’s look at how smart Eduflack appeared nearly a year and a half ago:

“So who says Gates has to play by the rules and the confines of the current system?  After all, this is a man who released a box full of mosquitoes as an international conference so all could feel the possible threat of malaria.  This is a man who built a global corporate giant out of his garage by refusing to abide by mores and by never hearing the word no.  This is a man who is investing significant wealth into American public education, despite so many people telling him it was a lost cause and he was throwing his money into a pit that will never yield a return.

To date, the Gates Foundation is thinking about the right issues.  School structure.  Teacher training and support.  Rigor and relevance of instruction.  Connections between K-12 and the workforce.  Pay structures that reward success.  Student assessments and standards.  Return on educational investment.  The Foundation has tried to implement these issues in a number of ways, trying pilot projects across the nation, looking for promising practice, and hoping to find real solutions that can be adopted at scale across the United States.
The latter is the most important point for reformers.  How do we adopt proven solutions at scale?  To date, we are tinkering around the edges.  We can point to achievement gap solutions in Ohio, early college successes in the JFF network, and virtual options in Texas, for instance.  These issues have come, in large part, from working within the system, as Gates seeks to supplement existing efforts and provide the funding to do more within the current system, essentially layering potential solutions on top of systems that may well be broken at their core.
More than a year ago, Eduflack reflected on this same issue.  How can Gates get more bang for its buck?  How can it move from tinkering to dropping a brand-new engine into our public schools?  How does it move from supplementing what is broken to supplanting?  How does it use its power, vision, and checkbook to literally build that better mousetrap.
In recent months, Bill Gates has laid out his vision for what our schools need to improve.  That vision is reflected in Hiatt’s piece this morning.  Flexibility in structure, evidenced by a greater need for charter schools.  Flexibility in human capital, evidenced by new formulas for training, hiring, and rewarding teachers.  Strong standards by which all students are measured, ensuring all students are embracing both the relevance and rigor of 21st century education.  And an unwavering commitment to success, whereby dropout factories are a thing of the past and dropping out is viable option for no student and no family.
So it has me back to my original thinking.  Forget about supporting existing school districts and trying to layer new programs on top of old, failed efforts.  Now is the time for Gates to be bold and different.  Now is the time for the Gates Foundation to chart a different course.  Now is the time for Gates to reject the status quo, and chart a completely new path for K-12 education in the United States.
It is a simple one.  Gates needs to get in the business of empire building.  Instead of investing in urban school districts and trying to overcome decades of problems that have become ingrained on the schools’ DNA, Gates needs to begin building alternative school districts.  That’s right.  Forget charter schools, we need charter districts.  If the current model is broken, as Gates claims, the answer is not to fix.  The true answer is to create a better one.  Move into an urban center and set up a K-12 charter district.  Determine the most effective, research-proven curriculum.  Train, hire, and support the best teachers.  Reward those teachers properly.  Apply strong standards to every student, accepting no excuses and demanding proficiency and success from all.  Better align our elementary, middle, and secondary school programs.  Engage students early on, so they see the relevance of their academic pursuits.  Offer internships and externships so all students see the career opportunities before them.  Build the buildings, implement the learning structures, acquire the technology and learning materials, and do what is necessary to get us to success.  No boundaries to prevent us from doing what is necessary.  No excuses to fall back on.  
These new school districts can build on the successes of Gates programs to date.  They can take the best of Early College High Schools, of the Ohio High School Transformation Initiative, and of Green Dot Schools.  They can also build on the efforts of KIPP and Teach for America and even from school districts like NYC that are truly thinking outside the box.  They can borrow and steal from the very best in school reform, community engagement, corporate innovation, and some of the news ways of thinking coming from small, nimble not-for-profits.
Then take this new system and provide families the choice.  Those who wish to remain in the traditional school district that has served their family for generations can do so.  Those who are seeking new options, those who are seeking new opportunities, those seeking more choice can opt for the Gates route.  It is about providing options and choice.  If implemented properly, such choices not only offer a strong Gates model, but the competition forces traditional school districts to act differently, improve, and meet the demands of their current customers — the families.  If done well, the rising Gates tide would lift all schools — traditional publics, charters, and privates alike.
I know what many are thinking — what an absolutely ridiculous idea.  Funders don’t do such a thing.  They provide resources to support the current infrastructure. They fund new projects and new ideas.  They supplement, they don’t compete.  Yes, that may have been the way we have traditionally worked, but does it need to be that way?  Do philanthropies need to simply serve as advisors, consultants, and checkbooks, or can they get more active?
When Bill Gates built Microsoft, his mature business model was not to simply advise IBM on the operating software they needed.  He determined the status quo — both in terms of hardware and software — weren’t cutting it.  He tried working as part of that system, and it just didn’t work.  So he turned the industry on its head, positioning software as the driver in the technology industry.  Microsoft became Microsoft because he offered consumers a choice, and he offered them a better one.  After a while, it was no choice at all.  If one wanted to succeed in business, one had to use Microsoft products.
So why can’t we do the same in education?  Why can’t Gates use its investment to build a better school district?  Take all of those great minds that have been assembled at the foundation, and do it differently and do it better.  From the top down and the bottom up, build a school structure that is both student and teacher focused, geared toward real results, and not beholden to the status quo or the ways we used to do it simply because that is how we used to do it.
Could this path be a complete failure?  Absolutely.  The Foundation could get into the middle of it and find that curriculum selection, teacher training, and CBAs are far more difficult than they ever envisioned.  They could discover that managing buildings or dealing with operational issues is not what they want to do.  They could realize that human capital management is simply too difficult a nut to crack, particularly if they are not in charge of the pre-service education that delivers the teachers to their door.  They could even find that the first or second generation of this experiment is a failure, and they have to keep changing and adapting on the fly to meet goals and deliver on their promises to the community.  And, shudder, they could even find themselves lapsing into models and behaviors far too similar to the school districts they are trying to change and offer an alternative to.
Or it could just work.  Gates could pick a four or five cities, invest significantly in those cities and demonstrate how district-wide change can happen at the city, school, classroom, and student level.  They could identify those best practices that can indeed be replicated at scale in districts throughout the nation.  They can find a way to build better pathways and make real opportunities available to more students in need.  They can truly build a better learning environment, particularly for those who have been dealt a bad hand for far too long.
Let’s face it.  If anyone can do it, Gates can do it.  And at this point of the game, not trying is far worse than the risk of failure.  If the EdSec is going to stake a number of school districts with the funds to Race to the Top, why can’t Gates do the same?  We let ED fund internal improvements designed to improve current districts.  Gates funds the construction of new school districts focused on 21st century needs and expectations.  And we see who provides a better education, and a better ROI.  Let the best model win.”

Doesn’t seem so foolish after all, now does it?

Around the Edu-Horn, July 12, 2010

RT @AndresHenriquez 

Draft of “next generation” framework for science standards. EdWeek: 

RT @LuminaFound: VA Gov asks state #highered to create 100,000 new college degrees. Tx to VA helping us to our goal:

RT @ewrobelen A federal institute has just awarded $10 million to create a new math center run by WestEd:

School districts still slow to tap stimulus $$ —

A Choice Between Edujobs and Edureform?

Last week, Eduflack wrote about recent efforts by Congress to provide some needed funding for teachers’ jobs by cutting funding for many of the education reforms, like Race to the Top, just enacted or increased last year.  Today, I’ve got some additional thoughts on the matter over at edReformer.  In this post, I ask whether we really should be sacrificing school improvement for a year of teachers’ salaries, and if we do, who ultimately pays the price?  

Around the Edu-Horn, July 8, 2010

RT @WhiteBdAdvisor ED report: Fewer Low-Income Students Going to College | Whiteboard Advisors

RT @EdEquality Claudio Sanchez (NPR) story on chilling of r’ship btwn teachers’ unions & Obama

Improving college success in NV —

Growing ELL problems for Boston Public Schools —

Can CLEP accurated assess writing skills?

Calculating College Degree ROI

With the economy still lagging, jobs in short supply (particularly for recent college grads), and some private schools charging upwards of $50,000 a year to attain an undergraduate college degree, is it all worth it?  Is six figures of debt for that ol’ sheepskin a worthwhile investment, particularly in the current job market?

These are some of the questions that were recently addressed by Bloomberg Businessweek in its June 28-July 4, 2010 edition.  Using data from PayScale, Businessweek set out to calculate the true return on investment for a postsecondary education. And the results were particularly interesting.  (As an aside, it is important to note that Businessweek has really started to step up its coverage of education, both K-12 and postsec, issues.)

First off, Businessweek looked at those schools posting the best ROI.  Not surprising, they are all private institutions.  Tops was MIT, where $189,300 in costs (tuition and fees) to attain the degree nets nearly $1.7 million ROI.  For Businessweek’s purposes, ROI is defined as additional wages earned over a lifetime when compared to a typical high school graduate.  So if you are debating between settling for that high school diploma or enrolling in MIT, siding with MIT will net you $1.7 million more in your wallet in the long term.

Following MIT was CalTech ($1.64M ROI), Harvard ($1.63M), Harvey Mudd ($1.63M), Dartmouth ($1.59M), Stanford ($1.57M), Princeton ($1.52M), Yale ($1.39M), Notre Dame ($1.38M), and UPenn ($1.36M).  Boy, Eduflack is really glad that the Eduwife holds that bachelor’s and master’s from Stanford and that doctorate from UPenn.  I’m just waiting to live that lifestyle to which I could become accustomed.

Perhaps more interesting was the comparisons of types of colleges, looking at their 30-year net return on investment.  Ivies scored highest, at $1.4MROI.  Private colleges offered an ROI of $559,200, with public colleges coming in at $322,500.

And if you truly want to look at a college education as an investment, a college degree ROI offers a 9 percent return.  Compare that with 11.1 percent return investing in the S&P 500, a 4 percent return investing in 30-year Treasuries, and (despite the TV  commercials) a 2.6 percent return investing in gold.

So why is this so important?  First, there is clearly value in obtaining a college degree.  But we’ve always known that.  For years, the College Board has offered that one holding a college degree will earn $1 million more in a lifetime than one with just a high school diploma.  (Though researchers like Mark Schneider have countered that the true ROI is closer to $275,000, when you calculate the cost of attaining that college degree and the lost years of wage earning to go to college).  So yes, a college degree can be worth the time and expense.

But what Businessweek (and Payscale) clearly demonstrate is the type of college chosen is just as important as whether one goes to college.  No surprise, Ivies offer the greatest ROI.  Looking at public colleges in particular, one has to wonder what happens to ROI when you remove the so-called Public Ivies like the University of Virginia, Michigan, Berkeley, and such.  What is the ROI for attending an open-enrollment public institution?  Are there institutions out there that provide little, or no, ROI? 

Of course, all of this is just looking at the ROI for graduating from these institutions of higher education.  What about the ROI for those who complete three years of college?  Or for those who drop out after the first year?  Is there a value to encouraging all to attend college, even if they are emotionally or academically unprepared for the challenge, knowing that they may drop out that first year?  Yes, there is more to college than ROI, and some will argue the lessons learned in even one year of college are worth it, but that is a harder and harder argument to make as student loans come due and that dream job is nowhere to be found in daylight.

These Businessweek numbers raise a lot of questions that the higher education community must begin to address.  We’re all familiar with colleges who market themselves by talking about how low their acceptance rate is and how high their average SAT scores are.  Imagine those marketing efforts if IHEs are able to talk about the ROI for graduates, the percentage of recent graduates who are employed, the average salary for such grads, and other such measures?  It could truly revolutionize the process of choosing a college, while finally refocusing colleges and universities on truly serving the customer — the student.

Around the Edu-Horn, July 6, 2010

In Detroit, miss parent/teacher conference, go to jail!

Is VA an ed improvement laggard?

Turning around one of DC’s low-performing middle schools —

Obama admin “most anti-educator, anti-union, anti-student environment” ever? Really??

RT @TeacherBeat NEA’s Delegates Vote ‘No Confidence’ in Race to the Top: