The DeHavilland Blog

Monday, October 31, 2011

Aligning K-12 ed and public interests

I occasionally contribute to the National Journal's education page. I recently responded to a new question on encouraging both college and the teaching of financial literacy (response will soon appear here), but thought it worthwhile to repost my comment since it relates to the importance of collaboration and communication between the public and public education.

Here's what I wrote:

There is certainly a link between gauging the ROI of college and promoting financial literacy. But these issues also point to a larger problem: namely, the disconnect between our schools and the communities they were created to serve.

When it comes to postsecondary education, our schools are not preparing students for the opportunities they’ll be presented with upon graduating. We advocate college for everyone, but those going to college are not being prepared for, or directed to, the areas of greatest professional opportunity: the percentage of college students graduating with a degree in a STEM-related area has dropped from 11.1% in 1980 to 8.9% in 2009. And the reality is that many students don’t need to go to college at all: some of the greatest opportunities today for secure jobs with good incomes are found in the middle-skill positions, which more often than not don’t require a college degree. Why not let some students prepare for that path instead, rather than saddle them unnecessarily with an average $24,000 in student loan debt like their college-going peers? It’s past time that we align our K-12 efforts, and the message we send our kids, with the world they’ll encounter once they leave our halls.

Regarding personal finance, just about everyone thinks teaching financial literacy is a no-brainer. So why is it that today, only half the states even touch on it? (Specifically: four states require at least a one-semester length course to be taught in the subject, while 20 require a lesser treatment.) It’s because adding one more course requirement in K-12 education is like trying to put five pounds of flour in a three-pound sack: to get something new in, something else is going to have to come out. We have had no public discussion, let alone consensus, on our priorities, so there’s no way to decide what’s to be removed so this important topic can be introduced.

Both of these examples point to a great need to incorporate public input and circumstance into our K-12 decisions. Our students – and the schools that serve them – would be much better off as a result.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The cost of college

There is a great debate as to whether everyone should go to college. I'm not writing to weigh in on that debate (though I am squarely against it), but rather to note one of the implications that must be considered: The rise in student loan debt.

According to this post at ZeroHedge, the total amount of student loan debt outstanding has, for the first time, exceeded total outstanding credit card debt; at $830 billion, it is the single largest category of unsecured debt in the country today. And remember that it cannot be discharged via bankruptcy; once you take the money, you're going to pay it back or face penalties, garnishments, and the like until it is resolved.

So as we talk about sending more and more kids to college, which has increased in cost much faster than inflation (or even medicine), consider the debt we're saddling them with along the way.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Partnerships/foundations as school board platform?

I sift through a lot of news reports on partnerships and foundations, and over the past few years I've noticed something new: accounts of school board candidates talking about partnerships and school foundations as part of their platform.

The most recent example is found here, which highlights a candidate in California proposing a community-based mentoring program and leaning more heavily on the education foundation as a fundraising tool for the district.

It's encouraging to see community engagement brought up at this level - again, it's not something I saw prior to the 2008 economic crisis. However, while I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, I wish they were talking about more than tapping into the community as a new source of revenue; ultimately that's not going to pay off the way they think it will. It would be far more productive to bring the community to the table as real partners (not just benefactors) to identify desired outcomes and share in the hard work of determining how to reach their shared objectives.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Real partnerships include having a voice

I was unfortunately not able to attend the recent education summit hosted by The News-Press in Southwest Florida, but I'm finding the materials they've published from the event to be fascinating. I have not found newspapers generally interested in promoting outside-the-system solutions, but these folks have clearly identified the need for the community to play a significant role in turning things around.

My concern with this, as with improvement efforts elsewhere, is the way in which the community is asked to help. All too often, the community becomes one more "pocket" for schools to dip into; they get no say in setting the goals or identifying how to reach them, they're just asked to support what the schools have decided they'll do. That's fine to an extent, but if you look at education as the News-Press has framed it, our schools are designed to produce outcomes that are important to the community; the community should therefore have a say in what those outcomes are and how they are achieved.

If we say that workforce preparedness is important, then we cannot limit the community's role to supplemental activities like scholarships and internships; they must have a say in what workforce preparedness looks like and in building the path for students to get there. That means building real (not tangential) partnerships, including getting involved in designing and delivering instruction. It works in career and technical education, where industry helps define success and informs instruction; why can't it work outside of the CTE silo with the entire student population?

The bottom line: if K-12 education is going to remain relevant and ultimately succeed, it's only going to happen through real, hands-on community engagement, and not solely through gifting disguised as partnerships.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Comparing apples to apples

Walt Gardner, a retired teacher who blogs at Education Week, has a new post titled It's Hypocritical to Demand Merit Pay for Teachers that exemplifies the flawed thinking of many who argue against applying the principles of business (or logic) to the teaching profession.

He counters the argument that teacher pay should be based on performance by pointing to the CEOs who undeservedly get golden parachutes when leaving a company. He asserts, “[Fran] Tarkenton insists there is accountability in the private sector, but he is mute about these golden parachutes. The truth is that those at or near the top in corporate America can make more money in a year in spite of their performance than teachers can make in a lifetime in the classroom.”

The comparison, of course, is ridiculous, and unworthy of the (virtual) pages of EdWeek. Using Gardner’s line of reasoning, I’m outraged that Saudi princes have harems filled with beautiful women and teachers don’t. Where is the justice?

Perhaps we could do more a more intellectually honest comparison by looking at teachers, who are rank-and-fine employees, with the rank-and-file employees of the business world, who do in fact work on a merit pay system. Or, if we wanted to pursue Gardner’s fascination with CEOS, would co go apples-to-apples by looking at CEO golden parachutes and the many superintendents who are booted before their terms with scads of “go away” money.

How about Arlene Ackerman, leaving Philly with $905,000 in her pocket? Or how about other superintendents noted in EdWeek’s article, Hefty Superintendent Buyouts Irk Lawmakers, Taxpayers, which notes:

Arlene Ackerman’s $905,000 settlement with the Philadelphia district grabbed headlines, but she isn’t the only Pennsylvania superintendent who has been shown the door in recent months with a generous settlement in hand.

According to media reports, William Hall, who led the 3,050-student Gettysburg district, left in February with $542,000. That included two years of salary and forgiving the mortgage on his house, which he had bought from the district’s vocational education program. In August, Gerald Zahorchak, Pennsylvania’s former secretary of education, was bought out a year into his five-year contract to lead the 17,700-student Allentown district. He will be paid a year’s salary of $195,000 and a $55,000 lump sum.

To be clear, I’m not arguing in favor of golden parachutes for CEOs or for superintendents. It actually brings up another similarity between K-12 education and the business world: namely, that the boards and shareholders of both are asleep at the wheel if they’re allowing this kind of excessive and undeserved compensation.