Snatching defeat from the jaws of (conservative) victory

The odd stance of the conservatives vis a vis college crops up its head in this recent post from Rod Dreher. What catches his eye is this proposal

New Mexico’s high school juniors would be required to apply to at least one college or show they have committed to other post-high school plans as part of a new high school graduation requirement being pushed by two state lawmakers

An anonymous reader in higher education goes on to complain in the post about the inflation, the bubble of the four-year school, thereby reading the proposal as a sort of inflator for the higher education industry.

To say such, is to ignore what actually is said, or rather to limit it only to the four-year school. Look again, is that what New Mexico is asking?

The New Mexico plan specifically includes attendance at a two-year college — a great source for gaining the tech skills and credentialing for getting on with life. As report notes, this is a move especially desired by those in STEM fields. This is not really that surprising. After all, it is the presence of an educated workforce (skilled trade and college grad) that fuels an economy and supports entrepreneurs.

The New Mexico proposal sets up two policy extensions. The first, is that of cost. It is a cruel mockery to have students prepare for a four-year program if that further entails debt. In Michigan, at least, the increase in tuition is substantially driven by the shift of state funds away from the universities, thereby transferring more of the economic burden to the student. Skilled and professional workforces are not commanded as if by magic, but are the stuff of real investment. And second, to push for students to make a plan also means that the universities and colleges accepting those students likewise deliver on that plan; far from sanctioning the presence of liberal arts (oh no, the dreaded SJW) this measure is the premise for the State to demand further accountability of curriculum and outcomes, not less.

Finally, to return to the high school level, asking a student to consider what comes next, asking them to think and not drift — to be responsible — is hardly a burden. The surprising thing (evidently) is that only some schools do this. Talk about building a culture of (cultural) poverty! The New Mexico proposal fights the fight that you want to win; the grief-making is little more than a snatching of defeat from the jaws of victory.

Universities: Too Big To Fail?


He’s B-a-a-a-c-k!

636100783083081844-John-EnglerI’m sure it seemed like a good idea, a defensive idea to be sure: make John Engler the interim president of Michigan State University. What it represents is a failure of imagination, but that has been constant our Great Lakes state for some time.

And as Bridge reports, this won’t be the first time the Governor has had to face abuse scandals. Oh, no. Ignoring the complaints of prisoners led to $100 million in damages for Michigan.




Photo: Kevin Allen, Blackford Capital

MSU Interim President John Engler was dismissive of sexual assault claims as governor

Gravity wins again.

BN-XE716_0721VO_M_20180126115744It has been a long-time conceit on the right that private schools would out-perform those ordinary, “government” schools. And charters, too, one supposes. That is, the problem in American education and in particular the failure to thrive by inner city youth could be attributed to the system. The problem was that their potential was being squelched, that given the right structure they could actually thrive, overcome their surroundings.

So vouchers were introduced.

Two general theories have been advanced about how vouchers would work. The first is borne from the ideas of Milton Friedman and generally of public choice philosophy. When you reduce the transfer costs for schools through vouchers, parents pick the school most suitable for their child. In doing so, the school gets a more committed parent, the student finds a more suitable learning environment, and the community enjoys greater overall achievement.

That’s one theory.

The second looks at education as a means of confirming communal identity; the school is an agent of parents, of a localized group. Vouchers are a means of recognizing theses communal schools, schools typically religious  in nature. Educational outcomes are advanced through the social capital of these communal schools — faith practices can orient children, overcome dysfunction elsewhere and help even poor children thrive. And the experience of Catholic urban education seems to uphold this very idea.

However, as the Wall Street Journal reports, both these theories may not be the golden key they first seemed.

A Wall Street Journal analysis of the data suggests vouchers worked best when enrollment from voucher students was kept low. As the percentage of voucher students rises, the returns diminish until the point when there is little difference between the performance of public and private institutions. The vast majority of private schools participating in the program today have high percentages of publicly funded students.

The article details quite well what vouchers have meant for Milwaukee, and how for some students it has provided a need lift up. Note that when one has large numbers of publicly funded students, students from poverty environments, achievement looks like every one else’s.

All this only confirms what folks like Richard Rothstein have argued, that the problems in our urban schools are structural in nature. It is not the failure to teach, or the failure to lead per se. Rather what we face are a cluster of social and economic difficulties that will require, yes, social capital, but also a lot more in terms of innovative programming.

With this has also come the understanding that when students of low socio-economic status are mixed with middle class peers, they do better. Th middle class environment provides what the students lack: social capital.

In this light the outcomes of the WSJ study are not surpassing. When students are reasonably mixed (up to, it seems, forty percent or so), then achievement blossoms. When schools have a larger percentage of their students from lower SES, then their performance looks much the same as the urban schools they left. It is not the institution, but the mixing of classes that matters. Unintentionally, the study does not so much validate the role of private education or charters, as it does the necessity of integration.

You can’t beat poverty. Gravity wins.

Do School Vouchers Work? Milwaukee’s Experiment Suggests an Answer



How important is the CHIP funding? This is one of those programs with serious long-term impact as T74 explains

Years of research have shown that access to medical care, especially in the early years, improves life outcomes for low-income children in realms far beyond personal health. A 2014 paper published by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that a 10 percentage point increase in Medicaid eligibility between birth and age 17 cuts the likelihood of not completing high school by as much of 6 percent and boosts the four-year college completion rate by 2.3–3 percent.

As CHIP Funding Nears Expiration, Study Warns that Half of All Kids Under 4 Depend on Publicly Provided Health Care (January 7, 2018)

It was 20 years ago today…

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Amnesia can be wonderful thing, especially in politics. To listen to  John Kennedy, one may think that of course, the teacher pension problem is about poor planning. Then again, that may not be a flaw but a feature. He writes for the West Michigan Policy Forum:

It’s simple math. Today’s vastly underfunded teacher pension systems are not good for our teachers or students. Twenty years ago our state teacher retirement plan was fully funded, but due to poor financial planning assumptions and not meeting the annual funding requirement, there is now a shortfall of least $29 billion.

Here’s where amnesia takes over: twenty years ago the Engler administration raided the teacher pension fund as part of Prop A. Under that same plan, the Engler administration also shifted responsibility for increases in pensions to the local districts. The raid destabilized the funds and the cost shift meant that districts came into fiscal risk while simultaneously losing money to effectively teach their children.

And to spell this out completely: John Engler enjoyed some of his most significant support from the Republican party of W Michigan. This crisis is almost entirely one of their own making.

Right Schooling?

Justin Amash came to town this week, and boldly asserted “something isn’t a right if someone else has to pay for it.” Well, that didn’t sit too well with those in the audience, not least, fellow debate coach, Pam Conley. She pointedly asks
If that is the case how is voting a right?… or the right to a redress of grievances in a court of law, …or trial by jury of your peers, or the right to legal representation if you can’t afford representation? … I have more but EVERY right that requires implementation and/or enforcement comes with price tag. Elections, courts, police, trials, lawyers… none of these are free, all are paid for by taxes, and are by deceleration of the US Constitution or the SCOTUS’s ruling (ie..Miranda rights) rights we as American citizens are insured are “inalienable”.
And since this is the Policy question….  
The question may be put: does education belong to the individual, is it essentially personal in nature? Or is it something of social or communal function, a piece of social infrastructure?
If it is personal, and so a “right” this oddly leads you to Betsy DeVos. If a right, then the mode of delivery is secondary. Indeed, as a right could education be subject to 1A requirements? Does right entail vouchers?
As infrastructure — this seems to be the way the Northwest Ordinance treats, viz. as part of development. Horace Mann (Letter No. 5, if I recall) sees education as building the community and its economic life. Infrastructure does not necessarily mean that funding can vary (ok, Pothole Michigan   ) but it does express a commitment and moreover, it shifts the argument from the moral (Right) to that of justice, of a common good for all.
What complicates the matter is the question of special education. A rights model does seem to be the easier model for this funding. The infrastructure argument falters somewhat (although Mann did promote education for those with these needs — education is something a community does for the community was the reasoning). My own thought is that a 14A approach to the infrastructure framing gives us the better outcome, since it would necessarily involve metrics (Rights as moral considerations often falter on the metric side).

How to build better schools

Randal Jelks pointed to an interesting article from the New York Times on New York’s elite schools, highlighting the terribly small admission of African Americans. 14. The number is shocking. As he notes, the problem is not simply there on Manhattan, but also here on the banks of the Grand. Do our magnet schools, specifically City, suffer from the same disease? Or more accurately, do they function as a distraction from the point. As he notes:

(The magnet schools have) never been about the intellectual development of Black and Brown children who now make over 69% of the school district. Now mind you need middle class parents of all stripes in the GRPS, but not at the expense of majority the population. Too much excuse making in my opinion and reinforcement of race and class segregation with white folk being the power brokers

Perhaps. This does seem to  to pit the middle class against the needs by race. This may miss the issues of class. As Jelks alludes to, numerous studies not that it is poverty, not race which correlates with achievement. Moreover, achievement for low income students rises when they have the chance to be economically integrated; middle class engagement by parents and stakeholders is critical for the overall health of the schools.

Add to these observations the conditions at hand in our city. Of the total school age population in the city, Grand Rapids Public Schools gets slightly more than half. The rest are found in charters, schools of choice transfers, and to a limited extent the parochial. Of the share of the students 72% qualify for student lunch. Note GRPS is ~ 31% white, the census school age population is roughly 35% white. So the question of uplift is less racial than economic in nature; a broader economic base gives more possibility for lifting up more students. Again, integration

And finally, there are graduation statistics released yesterday. GRPS has made decided gains in the past five years, particularly among its black and latino populations, and especially with the men. Further, the graduation rates for  Innovation Central High School and Grand Rapids University Prep are both in the 90+% range, and both have more than 80% minority enrollment. These schools succeed because of stakeholder engagement, and there is simply no question that we need more of that. In short, this is not the district of 10 years ago, or even five.