Monday, September 14, 2015

Back to School

The nation's school children and their families are well into the time of year we know as "back to school," filled with excitement and anxiety that accompany a new school year. Summer is also over for teachers and school leaders, who face controversies over testing, teacher evaluation, fundraising, and even the academic standards used to guide their work. Add to this a presidential campaign that's bound to stir up the politics of what we teach our kids and how we teach it, and you've got fuel to burn. Let's try to shed some light on a few of the issues that seem to generate the most heat to Rink Rats.

1). There is too much testing in U.S. classrooms.

There is no question that education is enamored with data, inching closer to its own version of Moneyball every day. Much of those data come from student assessments, including those that are state-mandated, plus an assortment of local tests and demographic indicators. Much of the debate over Federal education legislation involving education centers on reducing testing in public schools. But the clamor over too much testing obfuscates and masks three more important questions: Are the tests we are giving the right ones? How are educators using test results? What aren't we assessing that we should? The argument over too much testing is not the right one. If we care about outcomes and dollars spent, and about ensuring all American schoolchildren learn, then we need data that is visible to the public and to educators. We need multiple, valid indicators of the quality of classroom teaching and children's learning. We need data, but most importantly we need to know how to use it.

2). The “Reply All” mentality

An email storm (also called a Reply Allpocalypse) is a sudden spike of Reply All messages on an email distribution list, usually caused by a controversial, misdirected or worthless message. Such storms start when multiple members of the distribution list reply to the entire list at the same time in response to the instigating message. Other members soon respond, usually adding vitriol to the discussion, asking to be removed from the list, or pleading for the cessation of messages. If enough members reply to these unwanted messages this triggers a chain reaction of email messages. The sheer load of traffic generated by these storms can render the email servers inoperative, similar to a DDoS attack. But, more importantly, fellow colleagues, I do not care what you think!!! Keep me out of it.

3). All teachers in this school are terrific.

This is the "back to school night" mantra of every principal/school leader in the country. And as the leader of an organization with responsibilities for morale and the public face of a school, it is understandably the right thing for leaders to say. It's also not true and everyone knows it. A more nuanced version could be, "Every teacher in this school is prepared to teach your child and participates in this school's continuous improvement plan through which teachers will receive critical feedback and supervision to ensure they are not only prepared but performing at the level your child needs to be a successful learner." See #1 about data and measurement because to make this statement true, we have to be smarter about collecting the right data and using it well. We have a long way to go to make the more nuanced version of this mantra the reality in American schools. Unfortunately, by some estimates, including observations of almost ten thousand U.S. classrooms, 25 percent of teachers (across public, private, and charter schools) are not all that effective in fostering students' engagement and learning. The responsibility for this lies with unions that have stonewalled efforts to put metrics into teacher evaluation, reformers who have dogmatically stuck by narrow and controversial assessments of student learning and effective teaching, policies more focused on firing bad teachers rather than improving everyone, and teacher preparation programs that are more accountable to state bureaucrats than to learners. It's sad, but this is where we have landed 15 years after No Child Left Behind and dozens of reports calling for improvements. Shame on everyone; we all own this one.

4). Territorial world of Higher Education

The constant “ego” and territorial management of higher education departments; time to grow up people the students are the only ones who get hurt here: the lack of communication, cooperation, planning between departments/programs/colleges is inefficient and expensive.

5). Common Core is a federal takeover of a state role; winner or loser.

Educational standards describe what students should know and be able to do in each subject in each grade. In California, the State Board of Education decides on the standards for all students, from kindergarten through high school.

Since 2010, a number of states across the nation have adopted the same standards for English and math. These standards are called the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Having the same standards helps all students get a good education, even if they change schools or move to a different state. Teachers, parents, and education experts designed the standards to prepare students for success in college and the workplace. This canard is being perpetrated actively by every Republican candidate for U.S. president except Jeb Bush, and even he is waffling his way through the questions. The Common Core State Standards Initiative was launched by governors, including many Republicans, and at one time was supported by 46 of them. The reason Common Core was so popular among governors was that they saw it as a way to raise standards for students and boost economic productivity and community well-being. And much of the impetus for higher standards came from the business community. Federal dollars were used to articulate standards and build assessments. Teachers' unions were supportive at first because these new standards required a way of teaching that wasn't the reviled "drill and kill" that was driven by the first wave of accountability testing. But once teachers' evaluations were tied to student performance, and it was looking like students might not perform so well on these new, higher standards, the unions joined forces with ideology on the right to undermine political will in statehouses across the country. The federal government also shares blame here. Had they developed and deployed the assessments for Common Core at a faster pace, we would now be focused on students' performance on skills far more relevant for their success now and into the future. And don't forget that the assessments for Common Core would also allow comparisons of how states' systems performed against one another on the same test, enabling the states to really be a laboratory of experimentation. And with similar tests and standards across states, the 30% of students who move across state lines would not have not start fresh every year.

6). Education still the most rewarding profession.

Try working in investments these days, Education is a wonderful profession: Students, colleagues, parents, administrators truly care about their work and outcomes. We just ask one and all to relax, lighten the load, and use common sense now and then.

Welcome back to school. It may be a new year, but it hardly feels like a fresh start.

BACK TO SCHOOL IN D.C. - Stay tuned for a busy fall in D.C. and beyond. The Education Department will be issuing a new round of School Improvement Grant data, a final rule that aims to improve teacher preparation programs and a comprehensive report about the Obama administration's signature Race to the Top program, among other things. And the agency is finally supposed to unveil its new consumer tool - the one that started out as a plan to rate colleges. In addition, the department's "special master" says he will continue to oversee the thousands of claims coming in from former Corinthian Colleges students seeking to have their student loan debt forgiven. Already, the department has wiped away $40 million in such debt, with the ultimate price tag potentially in the billions.

- Then, there's the impending demise of the Perkins loan program: The clock is running out on a $1 billion, 57-year-old student loan program that helps the very poor. Perkins, a relatively small, campus-based federal loan program has survived threats before. But with a Sept. 30 expiration looming, key Republicans lawmakers showing no inclination to act, and the Education Department advising institutions not to enroll new borrowers, this could finally be the end of the road for the federal government's oldest student loan program - even in the midst of a presidential campaign focused on college costs. "Extending the Perkins loan program comes at a significant cost to taxpayers and provides little benefit to students," Senate education committee Chairman Lamar Alexander said. Higher education officials say the loans are critical to a student who’s other federal grants and loans don't quite cover costs.

BACK TO SCHOOL BY THE NUMBERS: Based on Census data from 2012, 2013 and 2014:

- $8.2 billion: The estimated amount spent at family clothing stores in August.
- 78 million: The number of children and adults enrolled in school.
- 75 percent: The percentage of 3 to 6 year olds enrolled in school.
- 25 percent: Percentage of K-12 students with at least one foreign born parent.
- $82,720: Average earnings of full-time workers with a bachelor's degree or higher.

BACK TO SCHOOL FOR CONGRESS - WELCOME BACK! SHUTDOWN AHEAD? - Washington really didn't need to make it tougher to avoid a government shutdown when the new fiscal year begins on October 1. But the prospects that no deal would happen, which we estimated at 60 percent at the beginning of August, got worse last week when it became clear the White House would have the votes it needed to prevent Congress from stopping the deal it negotiated with Iran.

The Obama administration's impending win on Iran complicates the already problematical CR debate even further. Because of that, I'm increasing my estimate of the chance of a government shutdown to 67 percent. ... The Iran deal worsens the outlook for a shutdown for two reasons. The first is the amount of time it will take for Congress to debate the issue. ... The second reason for the increasing odds of a shutdown: the continuing resolution will provide those senators and representatives against the deal with a second bite of the disapproval apple.

COLLEGE CHRONICLES - The gap in wealth and income between rich and poor is the worst since the Great Depression, and the gap between the rich and the middle class is at its highest since the government began keeping such statistics 30 years ago. After more than three decades of income growth for the wealthiest 10 percent and stagnation for everybody else, the top 3 percent now has more wealth than the bottom 90 percent.

Meanwhile, Yale University increasingly resembles a large corporation rather than the quiet, if haughty, academic institution that Horowitz and Gillette attended. With an endowment of nearly $24 billion, administrators are constantly expanding their hospital complex and real-estate holdings in New Haven. Recently they awarded the departing President Richard Levin, who had swelled the treasury, a whopping bonus of $8.5 million. As the university grows, its "officials seek to contain unionism and, if possible, shrink its base," writes Jennifer Klein, a history professor at Yale. When "full-time employees retire or leave, they are often not replaced. New corporate vice presidents (from companies such as PepsiCo) work to de-skill jobs as well as to downsize staff."

Whether ivory tower or big business or a fusion of both, Yale continues to provide its chosen ones with the same self-confidence and cultural capital it did during the 1960s. Whatever a student’s race, gender, or sexual identity, she or he has an excellent chance to win a race that most other citizens can barely afford to enter. Unless that begins to change, both Yale and the society its graduates help to rule will stay much as they are.

THE BEST JOBS FOR YOUNG ADULTS: High school seniors and college students might want to consider a career as a physician's assistant, an actuary, a statistician or a biomedical engineer, according to a new report from Young Invincibles. Those jobs are considered the best ones for young adults based on their salaries, projected future growth and access to the positions. About half of the top 25 jobs are in the STEM fields and more than half of the top 25 employ more men than women. Most of the top jobs require an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree, but one notable outlier on the list is elevator installer and repairer. It's a job that requires no postsecondary degree, but is highly in demand, offers significant growth and a competitive salary. While no degree is necessary, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that job candidates often need an apprenticeship under their belt to be considered, "which highlights the importance and potential of the Registered Apprenticeship program as an option for young adults seeking a productive career without attending college," the report says.

ADJUNCT JUNCTURE: Carolina Frederickson of the liberal American Constitution Society writes in the Washington Monthly about university adjuncts, concluding that American universities are enriching administrators at the expense of teachers. Adjuncts, Frederickson explains, have been gradually displacing tenured faculty. "In 1969," she writes, "almost 80 percent of college faculty members were tenured or tenure track. Today, the numbers have essentially flipped, with two-thirds of faculty now non-tenure and half of those working only part-time, often with several different teaching jobs." Meanwhile, "universities increased the number of administrator positions by 60 percent between 1993 and 2009, ten times the rate at which they added tenured positions." By 2013, Frederickson writes, less than one third of college and university revenue was being spent on instruction.

EVEN PRESIDENTS CRY- If first day of school goodbyes left you with tears, you're not alone. President Barack Obama admitted Wednesday to crying as his daughter Malia started the first day of her senior year of high school Tuesday. "You know, I was sitting in her room because I was going to see her off ... her first day of school. She puts her head on my shoulder and she says, 'Daddy, you know, you realize this is probably going to be the last time that you ever send me off for my first day of school ... And I started - I had to look away. I didn't want to just be such a crybaby," Obama said from his speech at Macomb Community College in Michigan.

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK – Birthday wishes and thoughts this weekend to: Maria Bartiromo (48) New York, NY, Carly Fiorina (61) Palo Alto, CA,  Hugh Grant (55) London, England, Bob Newhart (86) Beverly Hills, CA, Raquel Welch (75) Carmel, CA

HAPPY RETURN TO FOOTBALL!! - The National Football League's 32 teams received an especially pleasant bonus at the end of its recently completed fiscal year - some $226 million apiece from league headquarters, or nearly $40 million more than each team got the previous year. ... Those funds, from revenue produced mainly by national media and sponsorship deals, are set to rise once again, pushing the NFL's annual take for the new season that kicked off last Thursday in Foxborough, Mass., to more than $12 billion.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICK OF THE WEEK – Saturday 9/19, 12:30 PM ET, ABC: #14 Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (2-0) at #8 Notre Dame Fighting Irish (2-0). Best Irish team we have seen in the Brian Kelly era, Irish 35 Jackets 28Season to date (1-1)

SMALL COLLEGE FOOTBALL PICK OF THE WEEK – Saturday 9/19, 1:00 PM ET, HGTV: #15 Hobart Statesmen (2-0) visit Ithaca College Bombers (1-0), Hobart is the best of the Liberty League, 24 – 21. Season to date (2-0)


(NCAA, Sept. 19) #18 Auburn Tigers (2-0) at #13 LSU Tigers: The Swami likes LSU in a close one; 38 – 35.

(NCAA-SCIAC, Sept. 19) University of La Verne Leopards (1-0) at Whitworth Pirates (1-0): We predicted a 6-3 season for the Leos, this is one of the loses; 35 – 24.

(MLB, Sept. 19) St. Louis Cardinals (89-54) at Chicago Cubs (82-60): the Cubbies are for real; Cubs win 5 – 3.

(Solheim Cup-LPGA Sept. 18-20) LPGA vs. European LPGA: a route in Germany, American women professional golf is in trouble, Europe wins 19 – 9.

Season to date (70-35)

MARKET WEEK – China continues to shake the world. In recent weeks, stocks, currencies and commodities have swung dramatically on signs of a slowdown in Chinese growth. Disappointing economic data out of the world’s second-largest economy, as well as the devaluation of its currency, have exacerbated concerns. Oil prices resumed their downward trajectory today and global stock markets steadied, as investors remain wary. Meanwhile, China is imposing new controls to prevent too much money from leaving the country, with lenders beefing up internal checks on foreign-exchange conversions and regulators aiming to rein in illegal money-transfer agents.

DRIVING THE WEEK - The Fed announcement Thursday is the biggest game in town followed by the GOP debate Wednesday ... President Obama is in Iowa today to talk college access and affordability ... Retail sales Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. expected to rise 0.3 percent headline and 0.2 percent ex-autos ... FOMC makes its announcement at 2:00 p.m. Thursday followed by Yellen presser. Narrow consensus is no change but a stronger hint that labor conditions mean a rate hike is close ... Leading indicators on Friday at 10:00 a.m. expected to rise 0.2 percent.

Next week: Words of the month and Dear Rink Rats.

Until Next Monday, Happy Rosh Hashanah.

Claremont, CA
September 14, 2015


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