The Game is Rigged for Girls and Women, Too

How frustrating is it when you’ve grown skilled at playing a game with one set of rules, only to have everyone else start playing a different game without telling you? In a way, that’s what happens to women in the transition between education and employment.

A recent meta-analysis of hundreds of studies found that girls have tended to get better grades than boys across subjects for almost a century. As the authors emphasize, this is not a recent development. Somewhat more recent is the translation of that disparity to women’s advantage in higher education attainment, with women surpassing men in degree attainment during the early 2000’s. If one accepts the idea that the U.S. is a meritocracy, it would suggest that women are poised to assert economic dominance over men in the coming years.

Of course, there’s still the problems of the workplace to deal with. Men still tend to be paid more than women for similar work, and are far more likely to be represented at the highest executive levels. Men tend to be rewarded for having children, while women tend to be penalized. The behaviors and attitudes that help men climb the corporate ladder to the C-suite are likely to backfire for women, and women tend to ask for less money when negotiating. That’s not a coincidence.

This difference between how girls and boys are graded in school and how the workplace pays and advances men and women is in some ways a cruel set up for frustration and disappointment. Those who believe in following the rules and excelling within their constraints, trusting the authority figure to distribute rewards fairly, will do well in school. Applying the same approach to the contemporary workplace is a recipe for being a well-thought-of worker, but it will likely also come with lower pay and fewer chances for advancement.

Again, we see that the U.S. is not, and has never been, a true meritocracy. Women, like people of color, are working in a system that’s rigged against them and maintained through a mixture of conscious and implicit biases. Women of color sit at the intersection of the two, making it even harder to get ahead.

There are exceptions, but they’re notable for being exceptions. As a matter of trends, we’re still a long way from a system where educational equity will feed social equity more broadly.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: Higher Education  Job Growth  Gender Inequalities 

The Many Paths to Improvement

Despite what it may look like from a distance, there are more than two sides to the conversation about education reform. One presentation of a different approach comes from Minnesota-based Education Evolving, whose Ted Kolderie recently wrote an intriguing commentary for Education Week.

Kolderie’s piece gets right to the heart of the matter by criticizing the tendency in education policy conversations to want to find one “right way” and bring it to scale everywhere. He argues that this is a fundamentally flawed approach, preferring instead to focus on allowing many different change efforts to play out simultaneously.

In his words, “‘Reform’ today is still about driving change into an inert system, rather than changing what makes K-12 an inert system.” He goes on to condemn the entire system of thought we use when considering these matters, arguing that, “Conventional policymaking is unlikely to produce a radical redesign of school and learning.”

To illustrate his point, he points to the dramatic change in course that the charter school movement underwent. It may have sprung from dreams of schools and teachers trying many new things, but in Kolderie’s telling that all changed around 2004 when, “it was turned by its new leadership toward doing conventional school better,” rather than trying genuinely new things. This echoes other concerns that charter schools have too often been used to further standardization and destructive competition rather than innovation and collaboration.

It’s not just about charter schools, of course. Kolderie also criticizes the way district hierarchies have interacted with the top-down emphasis on standardization to strip teachers of the ability to make positive change. “The way out is a new deal,” he writes. “Teachers get the authority to decide what matters for student success and, in return, accept accountability for student success; the quality issues are internalized within their professional group.”

Ultimately, Kolderie’s view is one where positive changes spread based on persuasion, not coercion. This suggestion that entrusting teachers with both the autonomy and the responsibility to produce success for all students is a radical departure from the assumption that most teachers can’t be trusted, which serves as the foundation for too much of today’s policy. Given an environment of suspicion, coercion, and fear-driven competition, is it any wonder we’re not seeing the kind of changes we’d like for more students?

Posted in Education | Related Topics: Education Reform  Teachers 

Bringing Early Childhood Excellence to Scale

Minnesota may be the best-positioned state to use research effectively in spreading strong early childhood education practices at the system level. The University of Minnesota has a long history of research on the subject, and counts some of the top early childhood researchers in the country among its ranks. We’re also a state with a history of investing in education, and expanding early childhood opportunities should be part of how we carry on that tradition in the future. When looking to spread these opportunities, a few programs stand out as starting points.

The Chicago Child-Parent Centers represent one of the best opportunities for delivering high-quality early childhood opportunities systemically. The University of Minnesota’s Arthur Reynolds (not to be confused with Art Rolnick, who has also done significant work on early childhood education) has spent years evaluating the long-term effects of this program, and has identified a significant return on investment for the public, with at least $7 worth of long-term benefit (often through savings) for every dollar invested. It’s a program run through the school district, and expansion efforts in other cities, including Saint Paul, are being studied right now.

Another approach with a demonstrated record of success is the HighScope approach, which was at the core of the Perry Preschool study. It’s a method that can be used in any of a number of contexts, including private and public providers. It, too, has boasted a significant return on investment, with estimates ranging from around $13 to $16 of benefit for every dollar invested.

While these two approaches certainly have differences, they also share some commonalities. Both are focused on many areas of child development (not just the precursors to math and reading proficiency). Both encourage and value parental involvement. Both emphasize small child-to-adult ratios. And both are well-enough studied and developed to be able to be brought to scale in districts across Minnesota.

Many Minnesota districts provide a combination of child care and full-on early childhood education, but too many also have long waiting lists or end up charging child care fees that can prove challenging for some families. We’ve taken some steps forward in investing in early childhood in this state, but there’s still room to do a lot more.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: Early Childhood Education 

Rural Minnesota Needs Teachers

Minnesota is experiencing a shortage of teachers in rural areas that need dedicated and qualified candidates. Minnesota must provide incentives to teach in these districts, or risk a statewide education disparity.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, the number of people who finished teacher preparation programs at Minnesota colleges fell by 723 from 2009 to 2011, a 16 percent drop. Rural Minnesota feels this shortage keenly. A 2014 survey by the Minnesota Rural Education Association examined 22 Northwest Minnesota School Districts with a total of 125 professional job opening. For every high school science position, only 0-2 applicants applied.

Why is it so hard to attract teachers to rural areas? Carrie Brouse, associate professor and co-director of the Center for Education Innovations at Winona State University explains that “The quality of the funding for a school district is usually determined by its zip code,” and that teachers in rural areas of Minnesota are paid less than those who teach in metro areas. The cost of living in rural neighborhoods is also less, which could account for salary differences. However, the lack of metro amenities, conveniences and culture in rural areas can make people reluctant to work there. Paying rural teachers “relative” to metro area teachers is not enough to attract them. Additionally, rural school teachers are often being paid less to do more. The small size of these districts requires more flexibility and adaptive expertise. On any given day, a teacher could be asked to step in as a counselor, “Specials” (Physical Education, Art, Music, etc) teacher, nurse, or school bus driver.   

Brouse suggests that teaching incentives begin shortly after college graduation, when teachers are looking for their initial job placements. “Students often want to go back to the region from which they came when [they are looking to start] their teaching careers…targeted recruitment strategies and the offering of incentives at that point would be the place to start,” she suggests. Teachers would be more likely to stay in areas to which they already had personal connections if given extra financial motivation. Given the limited resources of rural school districts, it’s unlikely that they could provide incentives themselves. When looking to improve educational equity across the state, policy makers should look to especially target struggling rural schools.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: Rural Minnesota  Teachers 

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No Matter the Heat, Think Twice Before Banning Books

MERCUTIO: ...I conjure thee by Rosaline's bright eyes,
By her high forehead and her scarlet lip,
By her fine foot, straight leg and quivering thigh
And the demesnes that there adjacent lie,
That in thy likeness thou appear to us!

That’s Mercutio summoning Romeo in Act II, Scene 1 of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and deploying one of the less intense pieces of sexual innuendo scattered throughout the play. That one of the most commonly taught pieces of literature, from one of the most celebrated writers in the history of the English language, contains such themes and passages is worth keeping in mind as we observe Banned Books Week this year. Schools, naturally enough, are one of the centers of these controversies.

Close to home this year is the Wednesday evening meeting of the Reconsideration Committee in Rochester to evaluate a parent’s request that The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich—a Native American author from Minnesota—be deemed inappropriate for her daughter’s advanced 10th grade English class. Her primary concerns are about offensive language and a sexual theme that she described to the Rochester Post-Bulletin as, “what I call teen erotica.”

Of course, definitions of “erotica” will vary from person to person, but it’s worth noting that neither the New York Times nor Kirkus Reviews evaluations of the book, to pick just a couple of mainstream publications, mention anything of the sort.

Based on the Post-Bulletin’s reporting, it would appear that the teacher provided an alternative text following the parent’s complaint. That this issue is still coming before the Reconsideration Committee suggests that the teacher’s accommodation may not have been enough to settle the matter.

As a former English teacher, I sympathize with the challenge of picking texts. One wants to present a diverse range of authors covering many themes, and most of the great literature will at some point cross someone’s boundaries. Creating a space for discussing important and problematic passages is part of the job. Especially in the age of the Internet, trying to shelter teenagers from sex isn’t a viable option. We shouldn’t let that get between students and the works of anyone, especially well-regarded Minnesotans of color. Accommodating individual requests is fine when necessary, but I’d hope we’d have learned by now that banning books outright isn’t the answer.

UPDATE: On Wednesday night, the Reconsideration Committee in Rochester voted unanimously to keep "The Painted Drum" in Mayo High School's American Studies curriculum.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: K-12 education  Curriculum  Libraries 


Reconnecting with the Original Charter Idea

Pay attention to any policy area long enough and you’ll see good ideas twisted out of the hands of their founders and turned into something else entirely. At a certain level, that’s what happened to charter schools. Minnesota just might be the place to start fixing that.

At the Shanker Institute’s blog, Esther Quintero has written a piece revisiting the origins of the charter school concept and the early role played by the Shanker Institute’s namesake, union leader Albert Shanker, in discussing the idea. This was, at its foundation, a vision of collaboration, including the notion of teacher-led schools-within-schools as tools of innovation as well as positive, student-focused interactions between charter schools and traditional district schools. Quintero also discusses the advantages offered by schools working collectively in the same place.

Exploring similar themes, a recent report by the Annenberg Institute at Brown University also calls for a less confrontational relationship between schools, identifying as its first standard for good charter school policy that, “Traditional districts and charter schools should work together to ensure a coordinated approach that serves all children.” They emphasize the counterproductive effects of excessive competition— ideas which we’ve discussed at Minnesota 2020 —and the potential (if too often unrealized) benefits of genuine collaboration between district and charter schools.

This dream of schools and leaders from both sectors working together to build good schools and help each student find the right school is not what most of us have seen, however. The weaponization of charter schools and the market mindset for education minimized the student-centered core of the charter idea. Instead of charter schools being transparent partners with districts in pursuit of equal access to opportunities, we saw the two groups pitted against each other in what were too often marketing and public relations competitions rather than conversations about quality or equity.

As the birthplace of charter schools and a state where some homegrown charter schools are still holding onto the founding dream, Minnesota could be the place to display a healthier kind of charter culture. That doesn’t work if the charter advocates who want to dismantle districts lead the movement, and may well require lower-profile collaboration between individual schools that builds into something better. However it ends up manifesting, a return to the original charter ideal would be better for students than the current arrangement.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: K-12 education  Charter Schools 

Investing in School Infrastructure Means Investing in Internet Access

When I was on the speech team in high school, I spent a lot of time pacing in the libraries and classrooms of schools in small towns around southeastern Minnesota. Even with my focus mostly on the speech I was about to deliver, I still noticed the differences in how old the books and computers were compared to my newer, better funded high school in Rochester. However, there was at least one major difference that I didn’t see because I never turned on a computer: Internet access.

Roughly one out of every four households in Minnesota lacks even the lowest rate of broadband access in line with the state’s goals. This affects families struggling to get by in the metro area, as well as in many rural communities in greater Minnesota.

This isn’t just a Minnesota problem, of course, and the countrywide disparities in rural Internet access received some attention recently from The Atlantic. In its profile, it described one rural district in Maryland which was able to use a federal grant to bring reliable access to its students. Teachers were ready to take advantage of the new infrastructure, enabling expanded learning opportunities for students.

Regular readers will know that I don’t think of technology as a panacea, and we shouldn’t expect much from Internet access that goes untapped or that’s used only to replicate the same teaching and learning that was already happening. This isn’t just about iPads versus laptops. Ensuring that students have access to reliable, high-speed Internet access in and out of school can enable a wide range of opportunities.

As we discuss how best to incorporate technology into our school system in a way that changes pedagogy, we need to make sure our schools have the necessary infrastructure. Only then will we be in a position to work with teachers, families, and students to take advantage of these tools in a way that’s genuinely beneficial for learning. Private philanthropy can help, but to truly get the job done, we’ll need greater public investment.

(If you’d like to learn more, check out the Minnesota Broadband Task Force’s report from earlier this year, the Blandin on Broadband site, and/or the upcoming Broadband Task Force meeting on September 25.)

Posted in Education | Related Topics: K-12 education  Technology 

The Growing College Market

Recently, Campus Pride released its top 50 LGBT-friendly colleges and universities list. Out of all the colleges listed, two University of Minnesota schools made the cut (Twin Cities and Duluth). Colleges are now beginning to welcome the growing population of students who are comfortably out about being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

This is starting to become a trend; colleges and universities are competing to recruit this market of students. According to a Pew Research article, the median age for coming out is 20 years of age. This is right around the time a person is typically in their college years.

Campuses are beginning to launch programs meant to attract and retain LGBT students. These include college fairs, support offices, special graduation ceremonies, etc. “Campuses today want to be called gay friendly. They see they’re going to lose students if they’re not, [and] realize the pool of non-LGBT students is dwindling” says Shane Windmeyer, executive director of Campus Pride, in a Hechinger Report article. It was only three years ago that Elmhurst College, located in Illinois, became the first institution to ask students about their sexual orientation on their college applications.

A guide to college by the Princeton Review states that it’s important for students to do the research and pick a school where they will be the most comfortable. Homophobia still exists in the real world and many colleges still do not support LGBT rights. However, the growing amount of resources available for the LGBT community in the college setting is a good sign that we are on the right path.

As the LGBT rights movement continues to move forward in our country, we should be encouraging colleges to become more welcoming and aware of this diverse group of students. Colleges that are lacking in these programs should look at how they can start better supporting the sexual identity of their students enrolled.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: Higher Education 

Deeper Learning Is for Everyone

There’s a different sort of “different sort of school” out there, and more students should have access to it.

Deeper learning typically combines many different aspects, including a significant focus on student-centered and project-based opportunities and performance assessment that goes beyond the simplistic and decontextualized questions that characterize too many standardized tests. It tends to look very different from the traditional style of education that many adults remember from when they were growing up, and it offers an alternative to the more regimented approaches that get a significant share of the positive attention today.

While no model will be the perfect fit for all students, we should raise questions when only certain groups of students tend to get access to a particular kind of school. Unfortunately, student-centered, deeper learning tends to be concentrated on the higher-paid end of the socioeconomic spectrum, especially when we assume that students from families struggling to get by would do better with tightly controlled, back-to-basics education. Make sure they can read first, goes the argument, and then we’ll see about the other stuff.

However, a recent study by two Stanford professors—Diane Friedlander and Linda Darling-Hammond—challenges the idea that students of color or students from lower income families don’t belong in student-centered environments. Instead, they find significant evidence across a variety of measures (yes, including test scores, but also more telling factors like college persistence) that students whose demographics would put them on the wrong side of the achievement gap can in fact thrive and succeed at the highest levels in student-centered environments.

For schools to achieve these results, the researchers make several recommendations. In addition to always-important characteristics like high expectations and a focus on mastery rather than task completion, they point to small-group advisories for academic support, customization of instruction, and a focus on social and emotional development, among several other attributes. Additionally, when converting from a more traditional model to a student-centered approach, it’s critical that teachers be involved in the process, that staff share the same vision, and that teachers have useful time for collaboration with different groups of their peers for developing and sharing tools and techniques that work.

We need more schools that apply this approach serving all communities, and many teachers are interested in pursuing this kind of work. We need school and district leaders, as well as state and federal policy makers, to give them the freedom, support, and encouragement they need.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: K-12 education  Classroom Methods  Curriculum  Student Assessment 


Defining a “Full-Time” Student

I received my Associate of Arts degree at Century College before transferring to the University of Minnesota to complete my bachelors degree. To do so, I made sure to take enough credits that would count towards my degree each semester to stay on track.

 Graduating on time is still a large problem in the college world. In order to successfully complete a two-year and a four-year degree on time, the typical college student needs to take 15 or more college credits per semester. However, federal guidelines that dictate a full-time student are less than the needed 15 college credits to finish on time.

As Complete College America has stated, without achieving the goal of completing at least 15 college credits per semester, the average student will fail to graduate on time. Interestingly enough, federal financial aid policies have set a minimum requirement of only 12 college credits to be considered a “full-time” student. 

With the already high costs of seeking an education, this would be a heavy burden on those who stick to that minimum.

The University of Minnesota has a 13-credit policy that states that no matter how many college credits you take, you will pay a flat rate tuition that totals 13 credits. This policy was implemented in order to encourage the average student to graduate in four years, which will save time and money in the long run.

At my former school, Century College, fall 2014 tuition rates are per-credit based, with one credit costing $160.60. With the pay-as-you-go method, students cannot be fully motivated to aim for the 15 credit target.

Although the community college is the less expensive alternative, the University of Minnesota had a higher graduation rate in four years in 2012 (50 percent) compared to Century’s graduation rate in 3 years (18 percent). 

Students should be prepared by Day 1 to understand what schedule they need to follow. Although different student resources have been implemented at the college level, such as Century’s GPS Lifeplan, they do not do enough to target the student before they reach college. We should be planting the knowledge of what the future student needs to know before they fall behind. Classes on what to expect in college would make a lot of sense to be taught at the high school level. Better preparedness would go a long way for the incoming student.

Posted in Education | Related Topics: Higher Education 

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