Author Archives: Phillip Burgoyne-Allen

What Good Are Higher Graduation Rates If Students Aren’t Learning More?

On Thursday, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the results of its 2015 science assessment for America’s 4th, 8th, and 12th grade students. Only 22 percent of 12th graders scored at or above the proficient level, compared to 38 percent of 4th graders and 34 percent of 8th graders. And while 4th and 8th graders both saw a small but significant improvement from 2009, high school seniors stagnated — earning the same average score as the 2009 sample.

This was also true across all subgroups. Among students of colors, students with disabilities, English language learners (ELLs), rural students, and female students, not a single group saw a statistically significant score change from 2009.2015 NAEP Science Assessment Scores

We saw a similar trend in April, when NAEP released the 12th grade results of its 2015 reading and math assessments. Seniors’ average reading score did not significantly change — again across every single subgroup. The average 12th grade math score declined.

And yet, earlier this month, data released by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) showed that America’s high school graduation rate has reached a record high of 83 percent, continuing a five year trend. In stark contrast with this year’s NAEP data, rates among students of color, students with disabilities, ELLs, and low-income students have all improved.

While this is certainly good news, it begs the question: What good are higher graduation rates if students aren’t learning more?

According to ED Secretary John King: “Students who have a high school diploma do better in the 21st Century economy than students who don’t. So having a higher graduation rate is meaningful progress.” While high school graduates do earn more than non-graduates, this answer is still deeply unsatisfying.

States will have the opportunity to seriously address America’s stagnant high schools in the coming years. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law last December, provides greater flexibility for states in almost every facet of federal K-12 education policy. The law makes it easier for states to spend Title I money on high school students. It also gives states much greater leeway for using school improvement funds, including an optional set-aside for programs like Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and career and technical education. It remains to be seen exactly how states will implement the law, but luckily we’ll have NAEP along the way to give us a national snapshot of student learning.

We’re doing a better job of shepherding students to high school completion — now we just need to make sure they actually learn something.

Should a Pro Football Player Endorse For-Profit Colleges?

If you’ve watched the Arizona Cardinals play during this year’s NFL season, you may have seen a commercial for the University of Phoenix featuring Pro Bowl receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who earned his bachelor’s degree from the school earlier this year.

It’s a powerful commercial, both heartwarming and melancholy. However, should Fitzgerald — widely regarded as one of the better role models in sports today — really be supporting a for-profit college?

These types of institutions, which offer flexible course schedules and career-oriented education, are uniquely suited to professional athletes, many of whom opted out of finishing college to pursue their athletic careers.

As a result, Fitzgerald isn’t the only star athlete who’s become a University of Phoenix graduate during his career. For example, Arizona Diamondback’s All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt completed his degree in 2013.

However, for-profit colleges have faced criticism for misleading and defrauding students, leaving them with large amounts of debt and little to show for it. Amid the collapse of industry giants like Corinthian Colleges and ITT Technical Institutes, the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has even created a “Student Aid Enforcement Unit.” Continue reading

Rubio and Obama Find Common Ground on the Skills Gap

A statement made by Florida Senator Marco Rubio has received a lot of attention in the days following this week’s GOP primary debate. He said, “For the life of me, I don’t know why we have stigmatized vocational education. Welders make more money than philosophers. We need more welders and less philosophers.” As multiple fact-checkers have pointed out, the statement on relative income is not true, as both philosophy majors and professors make significantly more than welders. Despite the flawed example, Rubio’s larger point highlights a critical and very real issue for America’s economy – a significant gap between the supply and demand of skilled workers.

For example, a report from Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute released earlier this year predicts that America’s manufacturing industry will need 3.4 million workers over the next decade. But there is an expected shortage of 2 million workers. Why? The demand created by an “impending onslaught” of baby boomer retirements will greatly outpace the supply of skilled STEM workers.

An overwhelming number of employers also have challenges filling open positions due to a lack of qualified candidates – more than half report having open positions that they cannot fill. And they cite gaps in education related to specific skills and new and shifting technologies as two of the primary drivers of the problem.

There has been some recent action at the federal level to address this issue. For example, the Deloitte report notes that the Obama Administration has awarded nearly $1 billion in grants to community colleges that support creation and expansion of manufacturing education programs, and another $100 million is now available to establish apprenticeship programs.

Additionally, the Administration continues to implement its Experimental Sites Initiative, authorized under the Higher Education Act. It allows the Department of Education to waive certain statutory and regulatory requirements for Title IV federal aid, allowing for experimental federal aid eligibility to partnerships between colleges and alternative education providers, such as job skills boot camps, coding academies, and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).

Congress is also turning an eye towards the skills gap issue, as both chambers’ education committees have indicated in recent weeks that they will work on reauthorizing the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act. The law, which supports secondary and postsecondary programs that train students for specific careers, has not been revamped since 2006. It’s still too early to tell where these efforts will lead, but maximizing the alignment of career training programs with the needs of employers will be critical.

Post-debate poll results from the Wall Street Journal (one of the debate’s sponsors) indicate a strong showing from Rubio, and he is on a good trajectory to compete for the nomination. He is also the only candidate that has made career and technical education a large part of his platform. But regardless of what happens in the 2016 election, it’s imperative that we continuing building momentum to address our growing skills gap. Otherwise, we’ll have unfilled jobs and unemployed workers that aren’t qualified to fill them.

Tupac Shakur’s Thoughts on Education

This week marks the 19th anniversary of the death of rapper and actor Tupac Shakur. After attending a boxing match in Las Vegas, Shakur was murdered in a drive-by shooting, possibly connected to a prior gang-related altercation. Most people are familiar with this violent side of Shakur’s biography. Fewer, however, know of the more artistic parts of his life. He studied acting, poetry, jazz, and ballet as a child; he famously met Maya Angelou while working on the set of the 1993 film Poetic Justice; and an anthology of his poems was published after his death.

Shakur also had strong views on education. The video below, recorded when he was just 17 years old, reveals some interesting opinions, including support of localized, differentiated curricula, a skepticism regarding foreign language courses, and a focus on practical learning.

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