The Most Useless College Majors

We used to joke about those who took classes like “children’s games,” “rocks for jocks,” or even “underwater basket weaving” while in college.  That was then, when college degrees guaranteed gainful employment.  This is now, when a liberal arts degree guarantees very little.

The folks over at The Daily Beast have identified The 13 Most Useless Majors.  The list derives from Anthony Carnevale et al’s recent study, Hard Times: College Majors, Unemployment, and Earnings.  The list was comprised looking at factors such as recent graduate employment, experienced graduate employment, recent graduate earnings, experienced graduate earnings, and projected growth in total number of jobs from 2010 to 2020.
So what undergraduate degrees made the dubious baker’s dozen?
1. Fine arts
2. Drama and theatre arts
3. Film, video, and photographic arts
4. Commercial art and graphic design
5. Architecture
6. Philosophy and religious studies
7. English literature and language
8. Journalism
9. Anthropology and archeology
10. Hospitality management
11. Music
12. History
13. Political science and government
Clearly, the arts don’t seem to be doing well in this economy, with art-related majors holding five or six of the spots, depending on how you look at them.  And it seems that the path to being the next Mike Brady, Indiana Jones, or Woodward and Bernstein don’t look too bright these days.
Our second president, John Adams, once said, “I must study politics and war, that my sons have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy, natural history, and naval architecture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, tapestry, and porcelain.”
Based on Carnevale’s work and the current economy, I don’t think there are many now hoping their kids will be studying poetry and porcelain.  

The Eduflack Theme Song

Loyal Eduflack readers know that, from time to time, I like to write about the personal theme song.  We all should have one, that ditty that inspires or that speaks to what makes you tick.

For Eduflack, that song has long been “Against the Grain,” by Garth Brooks (from his 1991 Ropin’ the Wind album).  Not one of his more well-known songs, but one that describes Eduflack, my work, and my push to a tee.
If you can ignore the cheesy graphics, you can listen to the song here.
And here are those inspirational (at least to me) words:
“Folks call me a maverick
Guess I aint to diplomatic
I just never been the kind to go along
Just avoidin’ confrontation
For the sake of conformation
And I’ll admit I tend to sing a different song
But sometimes you just can’t be afraid to wear a different hat
If Columbus had complied
Then this old world might still be flat
Nothin’ ventured, nothin gained
sometimes you’ve got to go against the grain

Well’ I’ve been accused
Of makin’ my own rules
There must be rebel blood
Just a-runnin’ through my veins
But I aint no hypocrite
What you see is what you get
And that’s the only way I know to play the game.
Old Noah took much ridicule
For building his great ark
But for forty days and forty nights
He was lookin’ pretty smart
Sometimes it’s best to brave the wind and rain
By havin’ strength to go against the grain

Well, there’s more folks than a few
Who share my point of view
But they’re worried if they’re gonna sink or swim
They’d like to buck the system
But the deck is stacked against them
And they’re a little scared to go out on a limb
But if you’re gonna make a difference
If you’re gonna leave you’re mark
You can’t follow like a bunch of sheep
You got to listen to your heart
Go bustin’ in like old John Wayne
Sometimes you’ve got to go against the grain

Nothin ventured, nothin gained
Sometimes you’ve got to go against the grain.”

Why Fear Choice?

According to Section 5210(1) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), the Federal Government offers a comprehensive definition of a “charter school.”  The full definition actually has 12 components to it, including:

* Operates in pursuit of a specific set of educational objectives determined by the school’s developer and agreed to by the authorized public chartering agency
* Complies with the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
* Meets all applicable Federal, State, and local health and safety requirements
* Operates in accordance with State law
But there are two components of the definition that are most interesting, and relevant to the discussion of education reform.
First, A charter school “is a school to which parents choose to send their children, and that admits students on the basis of a lottery, if more students apply for admission than can be accommodated.”
Second, A charter school “has a written performance contract with the authorized public chartering agency in the State that includes a description of how student performance will be measured in charter schools pursuant to State assessments that are required of other schools and pursuant to any other assessments mutually agreeable to the authorized public chartering agency and the charter school.”
So charter schools are public schools.  They have to operate in accordance with all state laws and Federal requirements.  They must meet specific educational objectives.  They must be held accountable for their performance and for the performance of their students.  And they encourage family involvement by giving parents a choice.
Sounds good, right?  Then why do spend so much time fighting about charter schools?  Why do we pit public schools against each other, with charter opponents alleging that public charter schools “steal” money from traditional public schools?  Why do antagonists paint public charter schools, run by not-for-profits, as the gateway to school privatization and profiteering?  Why do we bemoan a lack of parental engagement in the classroom, then condemn those families that demonstrate their engagement by seeking to enroll their children in a public charter school?
There is no one-size-fits-all student, no one-size-fits-all method of instruction, and certainly no one-size-fits-all type of school.  We should be looking for ways we can offer a full portfolio of school choices — traditional publics, charters, magnets, technicals, vo-ags, and the rest — that are designed to meet student needs, family desires, and community expectations.  And we should be positioned to learn from all of the above, using best and promising practices to improve that full portfolio of public schools for all of our kids.
Despite the fear promoted by many charter opponents, public charter schools are not in the business of looking to take over the public schools.  They are public schools looking to provide choice to families looking alternatives.  They are public schools looking to provide opportunity to those who feel locked in a failed situation.  They may not be for every student, but for some, they are the path to possibility. 
Whether a family is looking for a school of choice for better academic opportunities, a safer learning environment, or one of many other reasons, we should be embracing choice.  It improves all of our public schools and, more importantly, improves student learning for all, regardless of race, family income, or zip code.

Representing Kids … or Adults?

What is the primary objective of a teachers’ union?  Is it to represent the adults in the system with the ultimate zealousness, or is it to improve student learning and outcomes?

In the 1980s, the great Al Shanker, long-time head of the American Federation of Teachers, was quoted as saying “When schoolchildren start paying union dues, that’s when I’ll start representing the interests of schoolchildren.”  And while some believe he may not have said those words, it is easy to see where such sentiment comes from.
For example, let’s take a look at the Connecticut Education Association.  In reading “About CEA” on the labor union’s own website, the CEA defines its role as, “advances and protects the rights of teachers at the bargaining table, and works with state policymakers to continue to elevate the teaching profession.”  
On that same page, we see the list of accomplishments the “state’s largest public employees union” can tout, including creating the State Teachers’ Retirement System, written notice on contract non-renewals, collective bargaining, fair dismissal laws, binding arbitration, pension benefits, indoor air quality programs, and increased state aid.
But something important is missing from CEA and many teachers’ unions like it.  In its nearly 700-word “CEA: The Advocate for Teachers and Public Education,” the word “students” only appears twice.  Once in saying CEA represents college students looking to become classroom teachers.  The second noting that students also benefit from the clean air rules that CEA fought for for its educators.
Let’s be clear here.  There is nothing wrong with CEA and other teachers’ unions advocating, lobbying, and acting on behalf of its members.  That is the point of a labor union.  It is fighting for the salaries, rights, and benefits of those who pay it dues.  In the case of public education, it is fighting for the adults in the room, ensuring those teachers and other educators are protected and don’t lose what is “theirs.”
But it begs the question, who is fighting for the students in the system?  Who is speaking for those kids who are slated to go to an historically failing school?  Who is speaking for the kids predestined to attend a drop-out factory?  Who is speaking for the kids on the short end of the achievement gap?  Who is advocating, lobbying, and acting on behalf of those kids?
In reform fights like those we are having in Connecticut, many school teachers will get up and say they are speaking for their kids (and we’ll try to overlook those scenes of ugliness when, at public hearings, teachers have been telling parents and kids to “sit down and shut up,” saying they had no business participating in the education reform discussion).  And in their heart of hearts, I believe that to be true. 
But when a discussion that began by focusing on student achievement, opportunity, and college readiness has devolved into one of tenure, property rights, termination procedures, and what is “owed” teachers who have put their time in the system, one has to wonder.  Can one represent both the educators and the students in the same fight?  Can you have it both ways when we know the benefits, to students, of excellent teachers yet we have union leaders saying “the last thing I’d want to do is get someone fired?”
There is no question that the rights of the adults in the room are important.  But at some point, we need to shift our attention to the students, the very reason why public education exists.  Over the weekend, Eduflack wrote about this needed shift in the Connecticut Post, in a piece entitled Conversation Needs to Focus on Children, Not the Adults.
In it, I wrote:
We’ve spent the past two months hearing the Connecticut Education Association and its local union heads focus exclusively on what is owed the adults in the room. We have heard teachers shout down parents in public forums, hurling insults and indicating that families are to blame for the failures of our school system. We have seen the CEA ads and publications spreading lies and misleading half-truths about the content and meaning behind proposed reforms, and personally attacking supporters of those reforms. No wonder the statewide conversation about reform has focused so much on fear and punishment and so little on what’s best for kids.

If we are going to have a serious conversation about improving our public schools, we need to bring all parties to the table — educators and advocates, parents and policymakers — and leave the vitriol at the door.  The stakes are too high for us not to focus on what matters the most … real, measurable student learning.

Tenure is “Not a Shield for Incompetence”

“We have made mistakes.  You have to really focus to make sure you’re doing everything you can so that kids are first.  Tenure, for example.  Make sure tenure is about fairness and make sure it’s not a shield for incompetence.”
– Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, acknowledging in The Washington Post that “the unions have been too focused on fairness for their members and not necessarily quality in the schools.”