Tag: College and Career-Ready

Maryland’s Educational Shame

As Dropout Nation readers know by now, this publication has long taken the Old Line State’s political and educational leaders to task for continually and deliberately deceiving everyone about its…

As Dropout Nation readers know by now, this publication has long taken the Old Line State’s political and educational leaders to task for continually and deliberately deceiving everyone about its educational malpractice. This has including catching them excluding children with Limited English Proficiency and those condemned to special education ghettos from the National Assessment of Educational Progress in order to burnish the Old Line State’s Lake Woebegone reputation; as well as condemning the state legislature earlier this year for effectively eviscerating accountability in order to keep Gov. Larry Hogan and his appointees on the state board of education from actually holding districts and schools accountable for educational abuse.

But one of Maryland’s worst sins when it comes to educating children is one that is quite familiar in other parts of the nation: The rationing of college-preparatory learning, especially higher-level mathematics, that children need in order to succeed in higher education and in their adult lives. As an analysis of data reported by the state to the U.S. Department of Education reveals, the Land of Crab Cakes continuously shortchanges youth, especially those from poor and minority households.

Just 29.7 percent of Maryland’s high schoolers — a mere 75,126 children — took calculus, pre-calculus, trigonometry, geometry, statistics, and elementary analysis in 2013-2014, according to the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights data collection. Put simply, only three in 10 high schoolers in the Old Line State were provided with the advanced mathematics necessary for graduation from the traditional colleges, technical schools and apprenticeship programs that make up American higher education.

The good news, in theory, is that the numbers are higher than the 23.8 percent of high schoolers taking advanced mathematics in 2011-2012. But as you would expect, those numbers get even worse — and the inequities more stark — once you break the numbers down by demographics.

Black children in high schools are shortchanged the worst. Just 17.9 percent of them — that’s little more than one in eight students — took calculus and other advanced mathematics in 2013-2014, far below the statewide average, though higher than the 15.3 percent of Black high schoolers taking such coursework two years earlier.  Latinos fared little better, with just 21.7 percent (or one out of every five) taking advanced math. This is still better than the 17.4 percent who took advanced math in the same period two years earlier.

Asian children fared the best in getting college-preparatory math, with 54.7 percent (one out of every two) students taking advanced math; that’s far better than the 47 percent who took advanced math in 2011-2012. One out of every three White children — 37.5 percent — took advanced math that year; that’s better than 30.7 percent two years past.

The problem extends beyond those classes to participation in Advanced Placement courses which have proven to be crucial in helping children, especially those from poor and minority households, prepare for success in higher education and beyond.

Twenty seven-point-two percent of Maryland’s high school students — one out of every four — took AP courses in 2013-2014. That’s just 69,085 students that year. The good news is that this is slightly more than the 25 percent of high schoolers taking AP in 2011-2012.

The shortchanging also looms large when you break things down by race and ethnicity. Just 16 percent of the state’s Black high-schoolers (one in eight) took AP courses that year; this is a nine-tenths of one percent drop over levels two years earlier. A mere 21.1 percent of Latino peers took AP; that’s an eight-tenths of one percent increase over the previous period. Both numbers are abysmally low compared to other peers. Some 51.7 percent of Asian students took AP courses in 2013-2014, a five-tenths of one percent increase over 2011-2012; while 34.4 percent of White students taking AP coursework, a four percentage point increase in the same period.

What about Algebra 1 course-taking at the middle school level, a key way of helping children get ready for the rigors of higher education down the road? As you already expect, Maryland’s public education systems are also falling behind on that front.

Just 22.7 percent of the state’s seventh- and eighth-graders took Algebra 1 in 2013-2014. That’s a seven percentage point drop from levels two years earlier. Sixteen-point-four of Black middle-schoolers took Algebra 1 that year, a 10 percentage point drop from levels two years before; while only 19 percent of Latino peers took the coursework, a six percentage point drop over that period. Black and Latino children aren’t the only ones being shortchanged. Some 37 percent of Asian middle-school students took Algebra 1, a 15 percentage point increase, while 26.5 percent of White peers took the math course, a 1.3 percentage point decline over levels two years ago.

The Maryland General Assembly has continuously proven to be opposed to any kind of systemic reform on behalf of poor and minority children.

No wonder why a mere 13 percent of Black and 32 percent of Latino children in the state’s Class of 2017 met ACT’s benchmarks for college-readiness versus 64 percent of Asian and 58 percent of White peers.

What we have in Maryland is what Contributing Editor Michael Holzman calls an educational caste system, one that reflects the legacies of slavery, nativism, and Jim Crow segregation that is at the heart of America’s Original Sin. But it isn’t simply about the past. The Old Line State’s political and educational leaders are making decisions in real time that essentially deny opportunities for all children to gain the knowledge they need to succeed once they reach adulthood.

Nothing in the state’s proposed plan for meeting federal requirements under the Every Student Succeeds Act mentions how it will work to increase access to advanced math and AP courses, especially to Black and Latino children. The state is also silent on how it will require districts and other school operators to help children gain entry into those courses through high-quality curricula and teaching in the elementary grades or how it will end the gatekeeping of gifted-and-talented programs that often keep out poor and minority children.

That the Democrat-controlled state legislature has weakened the ability of the state education department to hold districts accountable for how they serve children, a move done as much to please the National Education Association’s Old Line State affiliate as to weaken the Republican Hogan’s control over education policy, now means that another generation of Black and Brown kids will end up on the path to poverty and prison. That the legislature’s Black caucus was complicit in this move (as were state board leaders through their unwillingness to call up Black reformers in the state who could have helped them out) is especially shameful.

Meanwhile the continued opposition to expanding public charter schools and other forms of choice, which could open up high-quality opportunities for Black and Latino children served poorly by traditional districts, remains the norm. While Maryland has made some progress on that front two years ago by passing a law creating the Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students (which now serves 1,900 children from poor households), the state has all but stifled the expansion of charters.

Another way to expand opportunity for poor-and-minority kids also remains untapped: Providing them with free access to AP courses. Particularly for poor families, the $15 cost for each AP course taken is a roadblock to the opportunities their children can access to move out of economic destitution. But neither the legislature nor Gov. Hogan have addressed this problem when they can clearly do so. Districts could also find ways to provide AP to the children in its care — as well as use advice from the Education Trust on how to support them (as well as teachers and school leaders) in achieving success. There is little interest in doing so.

It is high time for Maryland’s political and educational leaders to stop shortchanging children of the college-preparatory education they need for their success as well as that of the state as a whole. There’s no reason why this is happening — and it must stop.

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The Dropout Nation Podcast: Why We Need College Prep Curricula


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On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I examine arguments made by Charles Murray and others that American students don’t need high-quality college prep curricula — and explain why such thinking…

Dropout Nation Podcast Cover

On this week’s Dropout Nation Podcast, I examine arguments made by Charles Murray and others that American students don’t need high-quality college prep curricula — and explain why such thinking is mistaken. As nearly every aspect of the American economy — and the global economy at large — has become knowledge-based, every job (including blue-collar positions) require strong skills in algebra, trigonometry and the kind of knowledge that used to only be required for college. College prep curricula is also fundamental for American society to keep its place as the economy and culture in which even the poorest can rise to the top.

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.

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The Economic Importance of High-Quality Curricula


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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…

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.

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