Category Archives: Education / Youth

Brian Bosma’s Very Good Bill

As Indiana’s legislative session gets underway, there is (as usual) plenty to criticize. (Senate Bill 100 –which ThinkProgress has dubbed “The most anti-LGBT LGBT Rights Bill Ever”–probably tops the list. See their analysis of the bill or Doug Masson’s if you want to understand why), but it’s certainly not the only item on that list.

In the interests of balance, however, it’s worth noting that the news is not all negative.

Speaker Brian Bosma has introduced a really good bill, one that will actually support public education in Indiana. (Given the beating that public education has taken at the hands of Indiana’s Administration and legislature the past few years, this is a really positive change.)

The idea is to incentivize young people to go into education; the Next Generation Hoosier Educator Scholarship program promises to give Indiana’s top high school students an opportunity to earn a full scholarship to any accredited in-state school of education, so long as they spend five years teaching in an Indiana classroom after graduation.

The five-year commitment is based upon research suggesting that, after five years, a new teacher is “hooked”–likely to remain in the profession for the long haul.

Although it is very early in the process, the indications are that the bill–or at least the general approach–enjoys widespread, bipartisan support.

Wouldn’t it be great if the upcoming session of the General Assembly turned out to be one in which Republican and Democratic lawmakers worked together on this and other measures to address the actual problems Indiana faces, rather than yet another iteration of the culture wars that have dominated past sessions? (Just the thought makes me tingly all over…)

Good for you, Speaker Bosma!

Now, can you bury S.B. 100? Somewhere deep?

A Perverse Idea Whose Time Has Definitely Not Come

I think I’ve written before about how profoundly stupid this is. But I may have neglected to mention that it is also perverse.

And I was shocked to see a Brookings Institute “report” seemingly endorsing it.

“It” is Income-Sharing Agreements (aka “indentured servitude”), currently being promoted by former Indiana Governor and current Purdue President Mitch Daniels as a private-sector remedy for the growing burden of student loan debt.

Income Share Agreements are an innovative tool that will, as I have argued elsewhere, allow students to finance college by selling “shares” in their future earnings. Graduates pay back in proportion to the pecuniary value they get from their degree. If the degree proves worthless, the students will pay little or nothing. If the degree is immensely valuable, then the students will pay back a lot. Either way, the payments are, by construction, affordable.

This is a great idea, if your definition of “education” is job training.

How many “investors” are going to finance that philosophy major’s education? How about the student pursuing a degree in English literature? Or romance languages? or basic scientific research that doesn’t promise a quick payoff, as opposed to training in   technologies that generate prompt turnarounds to satisfy consumerism?

Even for students in more “promising” fields, the plan doesn’t eliminate debt; it simply changes the identity of the creditor and the schedule of repayment.

Ultimately, this is one more step on the road to devaluing scholarly inquiry–one more bit of evidence (as if the current crop of Republican Presidential candidates wasn’t evidence enough) of the triumph of American anti-intellectualism.

If it can’t be monetized, it evidently isn’t worth knowing.

Speaking of Education…

David Schultz–with whom I collaborated on a textbook a couple of years ago–has written a thought-provoking article on the coming decline of the “corporate” university.

The corporate university is being undone by the very forces that created it. The defining characteristic of higher education in the last forty years has been its corporatization, which has transformed the university from an educational community with shared governance into a top-down bureaucracy that is increasingly managed and operated like a traditional profit-seeking corporation.

David points out that–at least since World War II– there have been two very distinct “business models” that have characterized American higher education. The first model was based on public investment in education, and it lasted until the 1970s. “The second, a corporate model, flourished until the economic crash in 2008.”

Public institutions were central to the first model.

The business model was simple: tax dollars, federal aid, and an expanding population of often first-generation students attending state institutions at low tuition. Let us call this the Dewey model,after John Dewey, whose theories emphasized the democratic functions of education.

Beginning with the 1980s, support for all public institutions and programs–including but not limited to universities– began to diminish, and a near-religious belief in the power of markets to cure everything that ails us replaced it.

The corporate university took control of the curriculum in order to generate revenue. The new business model found its most powerful income stream in professional education, including programs in public or business administration and law school, which became the cash cow of colleges and universities. This was especially true with MBA programs, which rapidly multiplied. These programs were sold to applicants with the claim that the high tuition would be more than offset by future earnings.

This business model in part used tuition from professional programs to finance the rest of the university. Students in these programs were able to secure loans to finance their training. The model relied heavily on attracting foreign students, returning baby boomers in need of additional credentials, and recent “baby boomlet” graduates seeking professional degrees as a shortcut to professional advancement.

The consequences of this shift are all around us: ballooning student debt loads, the emphasis on narrow job/professional training and the corresponding neglect of the liberal arts curricula that taught students how to think, the ever-growing dependence on poorly-paid (okay, exploited) adjunct faculty, and the rise of for-profit institutions that promise quick credentialing without the inconvenience of an actual education, among others.

David pulls no punches: as he says, the corporate business model is an education Ponzi scheme, and like all Ponzi schemes, it is falling apart.

Those of us who care about education, who fear the consequences for self-governance of a credentialed but uneducated population, need to figure out how to go about restoring the university’s civic and intellectual mission.

Diversity and Distrust Revisited

Thanks primarily to the wackier GOP candidates for President (okay, that’s virtually all of them), we’re seeing a recurrence of socially divisive arguments about “political correctness,” abortion, religion and immigration–and an elevation, in unfortunate and not-so-veiled forms, of America’s racist impulses.

I was pondering our current unlovely public discourse, with its rejection of “otherness,” when my eyes fell on my bookshelf, and on Stephen Macedo’s 2000 book, Diversity and Distrust. The book was a meditation on the important civic role played by public schools in multi-ethnic societies like ours. I leafed through it to see where I’d highlighted observations (something that’s harder to do on a Kindle app), and I thought I’d share a few of them:

American public schools have been, in many ways, where the tension between diversity and the felt need to promote shared values has played out most dramatically. This institution has, from its inception, been the principal direct public instrument for creating a shared political culture amid religious, racial, ethnic and class diversity.

..some of the the most basic and widely discussed conflicts around public schools have been the consequence of religious opposition to basic civic ideals.

The [common/public school] was meant to pursue a novel set of civic ends: consolidation under public aegises was essential to the institution’s civic agenda.

The proponents of many orthodoxies, especially perhaps integral and totalistic belief systems, will not be happy with educational institutions that include all of the children within a pluralistic community. We cannot pursue shared civic ends without making it harder for the proponents of some moral and religious doctrines to perpetuate their views.

Macedo’s book was a full-throated–and persuasive– defense of the importance of public education in a diverse democratic country.

In Indiana, we’ve turned our backs on the civic mission of the schools, bowing to the demands of those who value particularist dogma, privatization, interest group politics and profits above the need to create and perpetuate a common American culture based upon our particular (and yes, in that sense “exceptional”) historical and legal commitments.

Perpetuating Inequality

The Washington Post’s Wonkblog recently reported on an education experiment in Ft. Lauderdale that holds so many lessons—not just about inequality, but about institutional and unintentional racism, the waste of human capital, and the difficulty of seeing things that lie outside our comfortable worldviews.

In 2003, Cynthia Park asked her staff to make a map showing where every gifted student lived in Broward County, Fla.

The result was an atlas of inequality.

“All of them were scattered in the suburbs and in the wealthier communities, where parents were more involved in education,” recalls Park, who oversaw the county’s gifted students program. “The map was virtually void in other areas.”

The map convinced Park that the district needed to work harder to identify gifted children from impoverished areas, and in 2005, it began giving a short test to all students in the second grade. Children who scored well on the test were then evaluated to determine whether they should be enrolled in the system’s gifted program.

The result? The district identified an additional 300 gifted children between 2005 and 2006—and the impact on racial equity was huge: 80 percent more black students and 130 percent more Hispanic students were now entering gifted programs in third grade.

Prior to this change in the method for identifying precocious children, the school district had relied upon referrals by teachers—a system used by many, if not most, school districts around the country. (Not, I am pleased to report, in IPS, which uses a system similar to the one in Ft. Lauderdale.) And therein lies the problem. As the Wonkblog notes

Critics say gifted programs amplify inequality because they disproportionately recruit children from high-income families — another example of how opportunity accrues to those already blessed with opportunity.

This is a perfect example of how systemic bias operates.

People who dismiss the notion of structural racism or advantage do so because they see bias as intentional, and success or failure solely as a measure of individual effort and/or merit. They look around and no one is burning a cross on that black family’s lawn, or otherwise displaying hurtful antisocial behavior, so they draw the (not-unreasonable albeit inaccurate) conclusion that bias is absent.

The Ft. Lauderdale teachers who failed to identify precocious poor children weren’t bigots—they wouldn’t have been in those classrooms, working with poor children, if they were. But like most of us, they’d been socialized to connect intellectual capacity with certain markers of behavior—markers that children from disadvantaged families are less likely to exhibit.

A similar phenomenon occurs when businesses have job openings. Positions tend to be filled via “networking.” The word gets out to people already in those networks, who mention the opportunity to their friends, and to people with whom they feel comfortable. People who look and sound and act like them. It isn’t intentionally nefarious—it’s human. It’s the way the world works.

But in the aggregate, these otherwise innocent social networks operate to keep advantage where it is, and to exclude access to those whose talents and abilities are less recognized, because they are expressed differently. These are the “old boy’s networks” that continue to constrain women’s progress, the continuing friendships of alumni from elite schools disproportionately populated by the offspring of wealthy families, and the many other “communities of interest”—professional or social—where, as the old saying goes, “birds of a feather flock together.”

America cannot afford to lose the contributions of talented citizens simply because that talent comes in unfamiliar forms. We need to break through the barriers that keep us from seeing each other accurately. The Ft. Lauderdale approach is one small step in that direction.