menu search recent posts
July 11, 2010 standard

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I examine the debate between congressional Democrats, President Barack Obama and centrist Democrat school reformers over the edujobs bill. The proposed $10 billion school bailout bill will do little to advance school reform or stem (ever-dwindling) teacher and school employee bailout numbers. Instead of another bailout, President Obama, outgoing House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey and his fellow congressional Democrats should focus on building parent power and making families true decision-makers in education.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod, MP3 player or smartphone. Also, subscribe to the podcast series. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley, the Education Podcast NetworkZune Marketplace and PodBean. Also, add the podcast on Viigo, if you have a BlackBerry, iPhone or Android phone.

June 21, 2010 standard

The argument over whether kids need high-quality curricula -- and higher education -- is redundant and moot in this day in age. Every child needs high-quality education. (Photo courtesy of Forbes)

A dominant debate in education reform is over whether or not students should have to take on high-quality, college-preparatory curricula or should be able to choose a vocational-oriented curricula that allows them to get jobs immediately. Defenders of the first group (including the Gates Foundation and Kevin Carey of the Education Sector) rightly point out that children need college prep curricula in order to avoid being part of the 50 percent or more of college freshmen who end up in remedial courses and thus never graduate. The other side (a motley crew that includes Charles Murray and defenders of traditional public education) argues that far too many kids are going to college anyway, that they are going for degrees in jobs that don’ t actually need higher levels of preparation, that the curricula is too challenging for most kids, and that they would be best apprenticing for positions.

This isn’t a new argument. In fact, it is as old as the debate over whether high schools should be college prep-oriented (as legendary Harvard University president Charles Eliot envisioned and successfully pushed in the late 19th century) or the comprehensive track-based system that has been predominant for the past 70 years. The racialist origins of the latter (that blacks and immigrants couldn’t succeed academically) notwithstanding, the argument remains active especially in the age of No Child Left Behind and modern school reform. For those who believe in vocational education — shop classes and the like — the emphasis on academic curricula to them is a bias against blue-collar work.

But a list compiled earlier this month by Forbes should put an end to this counterproductive argument. The evidence is clear: All kids need a high-quality curricula that prepares them for higher education of all kinds, be it college, vocational college or apprenticeships.

The list, America’s Best Paying Blue-Collar Jobs, notes that just about all the top-paying positions that don’t involve working at a desk require some form of higher education. An elevator repairman and installer, for example, must apprentice for four years before being ready to take on a complex job that involves aspects of mechanical engineering, structural engineering and electrical engineering. Another position, rotary drill operators in the oil industry, usually need to have an Associate’s degree in order to get through the door. Electrical and electronics installers — including those who work on power plants and substations — also need community college education and will spend a few years working alongside veterans to gain experience. The only job that doesn’t require such experience (in theory) are long-hall truck drivers; even then, many of them go to technical school to learn how to drive big rigs and buses (if they don’t already have such experience from working at Greyhound).

In essence, all of these positions require some sort of higher education — not in the 19th century sense of just the Ivy League campus, but in a much-older sense of apprenticeships, technical colleges and yes, traditional private and public universities. This shouldn’t be a surprise. As I’ve mentioned on this site, welders need higher-level math skills such as trigonometry just to qualify for apprenticeships within the automotive industry, and machine tool-die manufacturers are often experts in algebra, calculus and other mathematical subjects. Highly-skilled blue-collar professionals need high-level math skills — and the underlying reading skills that help young men and women learn how to master the underlying symbols and knowledge that girds all of mathematics — as much as their white-collar counterparts.

The coming generation faces even more complexity. Thanks to the Internet and the advancement of data systems in every sector, mastering statistics  is now critical for journalists, marketers and many other white-collar and blue-collar professionals. Plumbers — often cited by opponents of high-quality curricula as the ultimate high-pay no-skill job — requires technical education (and strong underlying K-12 education) in order to make it. Even auto repair work — once grease monkey work in the minds of previous generations — is now a knowledge-based sector thanks to the widespread use of computers in engines and other sections of cars.

What all children need is a high-quality curricula, no matter where they live or what school they attend, in order to choose their own path in a much-more expanded concept of higher education that includes traditional college, vocational school, community colleges and apprenticeships.  So do our communities, especially the poor urban communities that suffer as a result of the failures of dropout factories and the rest of traditional public education; they cannot be revived without a core group of middle-class white-collar and blue-collar professionals to lead the way. So does society: Plumbers should be able to easily cite Chaucer in polite conversation, if they so choose; after all, Western Culture cannot survive and thrive without highly-educated people at every level and professional rank. If we all truly believe in lifelong learning, eliminating all limitations on that is crucial to encouraging all children to become well-studied adults.

It is no longer a question of whether children need high-quality, higher ed-driven curricula or not. It is a question of whether they will get it before we all pay the price. Or in short, the Kevin Careys and the Charles Murrays just need to stop arguing and get to work.

February 7, 2010 standard

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I explain why the NAACP, the Civil Rights Project at UCLA and New Jersey’s Education Law Center should abandon their tried and truly counterproductive approaches to improving equity and equality for the nation’s poor black and Latino children and embrace approaches offered by the school reform movement.

You can listen to the Podcast at RiShawn Biddle’s radio page or download directly to your iPod or MP3 player. Also, subscribe to get the podcasts every week. It is also available on iTunes, Blubrry, Podcast Alley and the Education Podcast Network.

Update: You can now download the Podcast from Zune Marketplace.

February 3, 2010 standard

Your editor will be busy finishing up a project. But you should watch this scene from rapper Saul Williams’ cinematic tour de force, Slam. More than any other movie currently at Sundance (sorry Waiting for Superman), this movie offers some of the most-compelling lessons on the costs paid by children and society for America’s academic and community failures. Watch, think and take action.

November 30, 2009 standard

The Los Angeles Unified School District has long been renowned for its academic failure and bureaucratic intransigence. But, as I report today in National Review, the dysfunctional district is now looking to bring school choice of a sort to the district. Read more and check out the special gallery with statistics on the district’s academic and bureaucratic troubles.

November 8, 2009 standard

Special education is the place where graduation doesn’t happen. Less than one-fifth of students ever graduate. Seventy-three percent of students with learning disabilities or emotional disturbances will end up being arrested and incarcerated over time. Yet despite evidence that overdiagnosis of learning disabilities is leading to more labeling of students, especially black and white males, there is ample fiscal incentive for school districts to engage in the gamesmanship.

A look at Atlanta’s public school district offers some clues as to what is happening to far too many young men and women, especially black and poor whites:

2,181: Number of special ed students in Atlanta’s public schools in 2005-2006, as funded by the Georgia state government. This doesn’t include kindergartners or elementary school students who are special ed, but are served under the state’s program for early intervention. About 3,035 students in Atlanta schools are diagnosed with a learning disability.

$7,550: The amount given for each special ed student by the State of Georgia. The state just provides $2,181 for each student in regular academic programs and $2,705 for every student in gifted and talented programs.

49: Percentage of special education/learning disabled students who spend 60 percent or more of their time outside regular classes, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Essentially, they are not likely to participate in academic courses that lead to college and beyond.

1,515: Number of special ed students (all served under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or other federal laws) either suspended, expelled or subject to corporal punishment  in 2005-2006. The more often children are suspended, the less likely they are to graduate from school.

9: Percentage of black males labeled with a specific learning disability — and likely in special education classes; this is three times higher than the likely occurrence of such disabilities.  Three percent of black females are labeled.

4: Percentage of white males labeled with a specific learning disability. Just slightly above the likely occurrence of such disabilities. Only two percent of white females were labeled.

92: The percentage of the labeled learning-disabled enrollment who are black; blacks make up 86 percent of all student enrollment overall in Atlanta public schools. Whites account for three-hundredths of one percent of learning-disabled students, despite making up eight percent of overall enrollment.

42: The percentage of Atlanta’s gifted and talented program students who are white; that is eight times higher than their overall enrollment. Blacks do account for 53 percent of students in the gifted and talented program; but that is below their overall enrollment in the school district.