Improving High School, #HighSchool Graduation

Last month, the issues in DC Public Schools brought down its relatively new schools chancellor. This week, The Washington Post is reporting the graduation scandal now poses a clear and present danger for many DC students who have long thought that they would be graduating from high school this spring.

The District of Columbia isn’t the first school district to recognize its path to a high school diploma may indeed be broken. For decades now, we have heard of both dropout factories and those districts that responded by treating diplomas as nothing more than certificates of attendance, recognizing those who stuck with school for 12 or 13 years, 180 days or so each year.

In response, the Fordham Institute has focused its annual #Wonkathon on whether high school graduation requirements need to change to make the diploma more relevant. A number of smart people — including Peter Cunningham, Michael Petrilli, and Peter Greene — have already responded.

Of course, dear ol’ Eduflack couldn’t pass up the chance to suggest we need to a completely different frame for the high school school experience, once that emphasizes mastery of content and an ability to apply what is supposedly learned, rather than just rewarding students for “time served” in the classroom. As I write:

Today, we remain caught up on what is taught and how it is taught, not necessarily what is learned and how it is put to use. The student population today is nowhere close to being as homogenous as it was when the Carnegie Unit was adopted. In any given classroom, we have students of different backgrounds, different language abilities, different learning challenges, different preferred learning styles—different everything. A student adept at Algebra II shouldn’t need to sit through the class for 180 days because others don’t grasp the concepts. A student with a deep understanding of American history shouldn’t be asked to sit through the basics yet again because it is expected in ninth grade. Once a learner is able to demonstrate a mastery of the content and is able to apply that content in an appropriate manner, he or she should be able to move on to the next content area. Mastery-based high school allows us to prioritize the LEARNER in a way most high schools today simply do not.

I hope you will give all the entries a read. It is an important issue that warrants real discussion, disagreement, and action.

 

Of Vocational Schools, Career Tech, and Learners

Years ago, I worked for an education entrepreneur who drilled in me the notion that American high schools were fundamentally broken, built for an era that was long gone. Today, we know that postsecondary education – in some form – is a non-negotiable. For one to have a successful career, to be able to take care of a family and keep a roof over their heads, a high school degree alone was no longer sufficient. High schools needed to become passageways to the successful pursuit of postsecondary education.

It wasn’t always this way. One can look back to the post-World War II era and see a time when only a third of high schoolers went on to college. A third of students graduated from high school to directly enter the workforce or pursue military service. And yes, a third would fail to earn a high school diploma, but still were able to obtain and keep employment.

Recently, President Donald J. Trump spoke longingly on those good ol’ days, noting how America’s future economic success may very well lie with a return to vocational schools. And while most do not use the term anymore, he may indeed be correct. It’s tough to deny that career and technical education is more important than ever. But it is careerteched that is vastly different than the shop class that President Trump may remember from high schools of decades past and is calling for. And it is at a time when we now look to community colleges to provide much of what those good ol’ voke ed schools used to offer.

It’s career and technical education that today is largely delivered by community colleges, either to recent high school graduates seeking that non-negotiable postsecondary education or to career changers needing to update their skills and knowledge to compete in a digital, information economy. It’s for those who recognize that the future economy demands a strong blend of all of the educational buzzwords we’ve heard over the past decade or two, whether it be STEM, 21st century skills, or the like.

It is also a reminder that the education offered and the students pursuing it are not nearly as homogenous as we’d like to believe. Sure, we all have this picture of the “typical” college student pursuing a “typical” liberal arts education at a “typical” four-year college. But there is nothing typical about students today, their aspirations, or the pathways one takes to get there. Nothing typical about the K-12 experience, and certainly nothing typical about the postsecondary experience.

I was reminded of this, yet again, this morning when watching Good Morning America. As a transition, Robin Roberts spoke briefly with student representatives from the Family, Career, and Community Leaders of America, or FCCLA. It was an organization that the edu-wife, the product of a private high school in New England, was completely unfamiliar with. And she works in education.

But as the product of Jefferson (County Consolidated) High School in Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia, I knew the organization well. Or rather I knew the organization as it once was known, the Future Homemakers of America. In my high school, FHA was a more popular student group than the Future Business Leaders of America. It was almost as strong a student organization as our Future Farmers of America contingent, which spent every fall missing classes to make apple butter out in the high school parking lot.

In my day, our county high school had about 1,200 students in total. About a third of our high school graduates went on to college. We weren’t a large enough school district to have a fully functioning vocational high school or career/technical education program. At the time, we didn’t even have a community college in our part of West Virginia (my father, when he was president of Shepherd University, actually created the community college that is now the state’s largest and most successful, to meet the growing demands).

So career and technical education was largely supported by clubs like FFA, FHA, and FBLA. Such organizations supplemented what was learned in the classroom. They provided much of the “vocational” training that President Trump now seeks, and did so largely because of teachers who were willing to give their time and knowledge to do so.

In the nearly three decades since I graduated from Jefferson High, those organizations have adjusted their approach and their services to their members. They’ve continued to serve as a gateway for so many seeking postsecondary career and technical education. And they’ve turned out generations of individuals with the skills, knowledge, and passions to pursue a wide range of careers.

When we debate the successes or failures of K-12 education, it is easy to get bogged down in test scores and growth measures. It is easy to focus on those learners who beat the odds to get accepted into a dozen Ivy League schools. And its easy to point out how much that used to fall to K-12, from remediation to career and technical ed, has now been pushed onto our local community colleges.

It is far harder for us to recognize, acknowledge, and celebrate the ways communities do come together to provide for their students. It harder to see the value in the student who will soon run his family’s farm also knowing how to code (and knowing the comedies and tragedies of Shakespeare).

Preparing for a strong economic future does not mean needing to return to the bricks-and-mortar good ol’ days of voke ed. Instead, it means recognizing the importance of instilling a wide range of skills, knowledge, and ability with today’s learners, and recognizing that such lessons can – and should – be taught beyond the traditional classroom in the little red schoolhouse. And it means seeing how community colleges and clubs and OST programs can contribute.

(A version of this post also appeared on LinkedIn Pulse.)

Hillaryland, We Have an Edu-Optics Problem

Typically, Eduflack tries to stay away from purely political issues here. Yes, I love to write about the intersection of education policy, politics, and communications. But there has to be a real education slant to it. Even though Eduflack is a former campaign hack and flack, and has worked to elect Democrats (and a few Republicans) to political office, and even though I am a former elected official myself, this isn’t a political platform.

So I’ve largely bitten my tongue (at least on this blog) when it comes to the rookie mistakes and amateur actions that we have seen month after month from Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. I’m not going to rehash those here, but with her experience, with the experience of the best political team money can buy, let’s just say I expect much, much better.

But this morning, those problems oozed out into the edu-sphere, so I see it as fair game on Eduflack. As many news outlets are reporting, today Hillary Clinton is announcing a $350 billion college affordability plan. Bloomberg’s account of the plan is here, while The Washington Post’s is here and Politico’s can be found here.

Let me make clear. I don’t have any issue with any efforts to increase the number of college-going (and college-completing) Americans, nor do I oppose efforts to make college more affordable (even if it is by loan, rather than grant). And I don’t even take issue with a plan that, as reported, sound remarkably like the idea that Toby and Josh hatched in a bar on West Wing when they missed the campaign plane in Indiana and got stranded in a local bar and met a dad who didn’t know how he was going to pay for college for his daughter.

No, my real issue is with the optics of today’s announcement. While every major media outlet has already reported on the Clinton affordability plan, the official announcement will be made today in New Hampshire. In Exeter, New Hampshire.

For those unfamiliar, Exeter is the hometown of the Phillips Exeter Academy, one of the most elite private high schools in the nation. The uber-wealthy who send their children to this private high school pay, according to the school’s website, $46,905 a year in tuition, room, and board. They also have to pony up $180 for linen service, $365 for a student health and wellness fee, and $340 for a technology fee. For an optional $2,060, families can also buy a student accident/sickness insurance plan (for when, I’m assuming, the student health fee and mommy and daddy’s corporate insurance just won’t do).

While this may cause some sticker shock for many of us parents, don’t fret. Phillips Exeter boasts that it is able to provide financial aid to those families who suffer by earning less than $400,000 a year. (No, that isn’t a typo, that’s $400k, not $40k.)

Let that sink in for a moment. We are off to talk about the struggles of middle class parents paying for college in a town where the private high school costs more than most middle class parents’ take-home income for the entire year. We are preaching “affordability” in a community where those earning just under a half-million-dollars a year are considered needy and demanding of financial aid.

The sunny-eyed optimist in me would like to believe that Hillary is going to Exeter to proclaim that every student, even those who attend the elitist Phillips Exeter Academy, should have the opportunity and ability to attend the college of their choice. But the steely-eyed realist knows Exeter was chosen because it was in New Hampshire, with no real symbolism at all.

I hate to break it to those making campaign decisions these days, but the average American family doesn’t quite relate to a private school that charges upwards of $50,000 a year FOR HIGH SCHOOL. They bristle when one suggests $400,000 a year in income qualifies for financial aid.

Hillary’s advisors may see today as the declaration of a “mandate to act on college affordability,” as they told Politico. But for far too many families who currently don’t qualify for grants and yet can’t afford college for their kids next year, they will see it as just another example of the millionaire class just not getting it. Particularly when Hillary’s standard $275,000 speaking fee was more than adequate, with just one speech, to pay for daughter Chelsea’s four years at Stanford University.

Face. Palm. Repeat.

UPDATE: For those who want to give Hillary the benefit of the doubt, and have asked some questions, I’ll offer up a little more data. The grand unveiling of the plan will be at Exeter High School. As for the town of Exeter, New Hampshire itself. I’m sure it is lovely. It has a little more than 14,000 residents, more than 95 percent of whom are white. Two percent of the population is Asian-American. A little more than half a percent of the population is African-American. Latinos don’t even register. And the median family income falls just short of $100,000 per year. Ain’t that America?

“Don’t Call Them Dropouts”

Over at GradNation, America’s Promise Alliance is running a blog series on its new report, “Don’t Call Them Dropouts.” The report is an important one, making clear there is no quick-and-dirty explanation as to why so many fail to earn their high school diplomas. More importantly, America’s Promise Alliance has launched a valuable discussion on what the report really means and how we can move its findings and observations into meaningful policy that increases high school graduation rates and pathways to success.

Eduflack was proud that he was asked to contribute to this series, and my post is up this morning. In Driving To a Better Future, I write about how we can better engage students at risk, and how it could have impacted my family.

From today’s GradNation post, in telling the story of my grandfather:

Oh, how times have changed. A high school diploma is now a non-negotiable. My grandfather would not have been able to join the Army without a high school diploma. And the chances that he would be able to buy a house and raise a family where all five of his kids would graduate from high school would be slim. 

I urge you to check out the full post, and spend some time exploring some of the other posts on the GradNation blog. It is well worth the read.

 

Dream School, Seriously?

“Pregnant, neglected or bullied; the students all have one thing in common — each had a life experience that caused them to take an unexpected left turn.  Dream School’s celebrity teachers will have one mission — to excite these young minds, reignite their passions, and get them to graduate from a real, accredited high school.”
And so begins the introduction to Dream School, the latest television spectacle from the Sundance Channel, a subsidiary of the AMC Networks.  Based on the website, the show has been on for at least a month and a half (if we do the math from the six episodes up for viewing on the site now.  But dear ol’ Eduflack (a self-confessed television junkie) honestly hadn’t heard about it until this week.
The premise is fairly simple.  A team of “celebrities” decide to play teacher as they seek to change the lives of young adults in need of life changing.  For the enormity of the challenge, Sundance has turned to successful educators such as 50 Cent, David Arquette, Oliver Stone, and Jesse Jackson.  They are supported by a superintendent from California and three teachers (all from California charter schools, interestingly).
So it begs an important question.  Where is the public outrage on Dream School?  
For all of those who grow short of breath ranting about Teach for America and its lack of proper teacher preparation, where is the outrage of placing inexperienced and untrained celebrities in classrooms with the very definition of at-risk students?
For all of those who get red in the face questioning the value of charter schools, where is the outrage of only using teacher coaches who come from public charter schools?
For all of those who argue good teachers cannot overcome poverty and family situations, where is the outrage that a celebrity can step in and do the job that entire school system was supposedly unable to do?
For those who talk of overcrowded classrooms, where is the outrage that Dream School is essentially a one-to-one intervention?
For those who fear the “profiteering” on our public schools, where is the outrage over where all of the ad revenue for this new show is going?
And how can we pass up responding to a gem like, “But how will they perform as teachers to some of America’s toughest high school dropouts?”
Yes, our schools shouldn’t be test tubes.  But they also shouldn’t be the settings for reality television experiments.  Some of these students seem to have real problems.  They need knowledgeable, experienced educators who can provide them the support and attention they need.  Somehow, “no, I’m not a teacher, but I play one on TV” doesn’t quite seem to be the full answer these at-risk students need.

Parent Survey (or Statistics are Dangerous)

We began the week reflecting on an AP poll on parent sentiments about public education.  As we roll into hump day, we now have the 2013 edition of the Gallup/PDK poll of “what Americans said about the public schools.

This year’s Gallup/PDK highlights:
* As we’ve heard for decades, most Americans give the public schools a “C” grade, but give their own schools an “A” or “B”
* 62 percent of parents have never heard of Common Core State Standards
* 36 percent believe increased testing has hurt school performance, 22 percent say it has helped, and 41 percent said it makes no diff at all
* 58 percent oppose using standardized test scores in teacher evals, up from 47 percent in last year’s survey
* 52 percent said teachers have a right to strike (yes, that really is a question PDK asked)
* 88 percent say their child is safe when they are in school
* 66 percent favor educating children whose parents are in the United States illegally
* Only 29 percent favor sending kids to private schools at public school expense
Overall, the survey results aren’t that big a surprise.  They seem to jive with what PDK reports annually in this survey, and they aren’t too big a deviation from what AP released earlier in the week.
What’s disappointing is how PDK decided to present this year.  One would think that a semi-intelligent human being could take a look at polling toplines and understand that when only 22 percent say high stakes testing helps school performance, the majority doesn’t believe it to be so.  Unfortunately, PDK dumbed it down a step further, putting out a “highlights” document that makes sweeping statements without providing any statistical backup,  While one can track down the supports, it is definitely a dangerous document in the hands of the wrong folks.
Some of these self-proclaimed “highlights include:
  • Common Core – “Most Americans don’t know about the Common Core and those who do don’t understand it.”
  • Standardized Tests – “The significant increase in testing in the past decade has either hurt or made no difference in improving schools.”
  • Charter Schools – “Charter schools probably offer a better education than traditional schools.”
  • Online Learning – “High school students should be able to earn college credits via the Internet while attending high school.”
  • Biggest Problem – “Lack of financial support continues to be the biggest problem facing public schools.”
Let’s just take the last item.  Per-pupil public school funding is at its highest rates ever in the history of United States public education.  Do we honestly believe that is the biggest problem facing the schools?  More so than the obscene achievement gap?  More so than a third of all fourth graders unable to read on grade level?  More so than our inability to address the needs of a growing ELL population in our classrooms?  More so than ensuring that good teachers remain in the classroom and get the support and respect they need?
They again, sometimes poll results are just poll results.  But looking at the latest PDK release, Eduflack is left with two thoughts.
“A little information is a dangerous thing.” Albert Einstein
“There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics.” Mark Twain

13th Grade Dual Enrollment?

We often bemoan the lack of connection between K-12 education and higher education.  While we like to talk of the P-20 education continuum, we still can’t get away from the reality that these are two very different, very separate systems.

Over at Hechinger Report, Joanne Jacobs relays the story originally reported in Community College Times of school districts in Oregon and Colorado that are strengthening the connections between K-12 and higher education, offering a fifth year of high school while earning a first year of college credits.

On the latest Eduflack Yack, we opine on the importance of dual enrollment and maximizing those high school years, while asking some important questions on who should be paying for that first year of postsecondary education …