Monthly Archives: June 2010

National Standards Survey Final Results

Do you think the United States should have national standards for K–12 education?

• Yes, we need consistency.
• Yes, it would improve the standards in my state.
• No, setting the standards should be done at the state level.
• No, it would lessen the standards in my state.
• Other (please specify).

This month, along with some blog posts on standards, we asked you to consider your stance on the subject and vote in our survey. In conjunction with this, we switched to a one-question survey that provided four set answers as well as the choice to fill in an answer of your own.

By this morning, 186 people had answered the survey, so the number has more than doubled since the interim report on June 18, when there were 92 respondents. Today, I’m providing final results, but keep in mind that this is not a scientific survey.

Comparisons with Interim Report

On June 18, I reported that more than half of respondents favor national standards, either for consistency or because they feel it would be an improvement over their state standards. On June 30, the number who favor national standards approaches three-quarters.

On June 18, I reported that more people who do not want national standards chose that option because they thought that it is a task that belongs to the local level rather than because it would lower their own state’s standards. On June 30, the preference is even more pronounced, at a little less than 6 to 1.

On June 18, there were 12 responses that were ‘Other.’ On June 30, with more than twice as many respondents, the number has only increased to 16.

Final Stats

• The overall vote was 129 for ‘Yes’ and 41 for ‘No,’ with 16 entering an answer in ‘Other.’ In percentages, that’s 69.3% for ‘Yes,’ 22.1% for ‘No,’ and 8.6% for ‘Other.’

• The response with the absolute greatest number of responses was ‘Yes, we need consistency,’ which garnered 59.1% of all responses.

• The second-place response was ‘No, setting the standards should be done at the state level, with 18.3%.

• While 10.2% of respondents thought that national standards would improve the standards in their state, 3.8% felt that national standards would lessen standards in their state.

• 77.4% of respondents based their answer on the principle of where the standards should be set, while 14% based their answer on the practical results.

Some of the comments in ‘Other’ are difficult to add in. My best assessment is that there are 7 Yes’s—most of them conditional—and 4 No’s. If this is correct, it brings the overall tally to 136 ‘Yes’ and 45 ‘No.’

• The ‘Other’ responses specified some ways in which respondents think the national standards and local standards should interact, but there is not agreement on what that relationship will be (some responses have been lightly edited for spelling and grammar so as not to detract from content):

—”[W]e need national standards that … each state may choose to build up from but not down.

—”National Standards [should be treated as] a core so as not to negatively affect the standards in some states with more rigorous standards but … these core standards [should be] incorporated in every state’s curriculum.”

—”Yes, and [the national standards] should be higher than that of the state with the highest standards. America needs to catch up with the rest of the world.”

• ‘Other’ respondents also had some comments on testing. For example, one respondent said that if national standards would necessitate more testing, s/he would vote ‘No.’

• One ‘Other’ comment suggests that the business of education is better left to free enterprise than to the government at any level.

• One ‘Other’ response suggests that education decisions be made by educators, and specifically suggests that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is not qualified [n.b., Duncan worked in a tutoring program for inner city children (run by his mother) in Chicago and has administered education programs, helped start a school, and been CEO of the Chicago Public Schools; his college major was sociology, and he does not seem to have an education degree, or to have spent time as a classroom teacher, but his career has been focused on education.]

• One ‘Other’ response says that if there are going to be federal standards, there should be federal funding to go with.

• One ‘Other’ respondent points out—correctly, I might add—that constitutionally, the power to make decisions about education belongs to the states. From Cornell University Law School “Education Law: An Overview“:

“Each state is required by its state constitution to provide a school system whereby children may receive an education. State legislatures exercise power over schools in any manner consistent with the state’s constitution.” One special exception is the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), a federal law covering special education.

These points raise some interesting questions . . . What do you think, now that the survey results are all in? Please comment!


National Standards Survey Final Two Days

There are still 2 days left to respond to our survey on national K–12 education standards, and I’ll be providing a final report on Wednesday. Then we’ll go on to the July survey.

As of 9 am Eastern time today, 163 people have responded, 71 more than June 18, when I gave the mid-survey roundup. Since we have 168 likes, that’s still not everyone, so for those of you who haven’t yet voted, I want to mention that we’ve moved to a one-question survey, so it won’t take much of your time to answer.

If you haven’t done so yet, please cast your vote here.

As of now, the clear leader in the answers to the question, “Do you think the United States should have national standards for K–12 education?” is “Yes, we need consistency.”

More analysis to come on Wednesday!

Community College Developments

Community colleges made the news several times this week for reasons associated with budget, but with two very different outcomes. In Arizona, USA Today reports the approach of a mainly online community college that has revamped its course texts in “Arizona college cuts textbook costs the old-fashioned way.” Rather than shifting to ebooks to save students from expensive textbooks, Rio Salado College allowed its 26 full-time, on-campus faculty to designate one text for all sections of a course, even those sections taught by the over 1000 off-campus faculty, who have no voice in the matter.

Because of the large numbers of identical books ordered, the college is able to cut a deal with a publisher—in this case Pearson—that saves students a lot of money.

Off campus instructors, all adjuncts, are able to personalize their sections of courses to a certain degree using the course learning management system, but there are serious limitations to this. However, with the change, students still have a physical book and it is estimated that they have saved $6 million in textbook expenses in the 2 1/2 years since the approach began.

It is worth noting that other colleges are moving entirely to ebooks (full disclosure: I’m trained as a reading clinician, and I find that approach problematic), and that the other colleges taking this approach are largely for-profits.

Community colleges are also the subject of a New York Times article “Community Colleges Cutting Back on Open Access.” This article reports on the over-enrollment and underfunding of community colleges that is leaving students who have begun a program—whether to achieve vocational goals or to complete enough courses to transfer into a 4-year program—stopped in their tracks. Course cuts have eliminated some courses that students need, and sometimes there isn’t room in the classes that are offered.

In short, the reality of the community college as an open access institution is failing.

But there are those ready to fill the gap, if they can. The New York Times also reported in “For-Profit Colleges Find New Market Niche” that Kaplan University, a for-profit, is offering those students who want to go to a California community college but have been wait-listed for admission or a class, a chance to take Kaplan online courses with a tuition discount…. a discount that means that the course only costs nearly 10 times as much as it would cost at a California community college. Princeton Review has a similar relationship with a Massachusetts community college, but charges only double the community college rate.

The faculty of the California college voted in the spring to urge that the understanding with Kaplan be withdrawn.

For background on community colleges, we invite you to check out our article “University vs. Community College.”

Take a Step Back

Gregory Bateson in his introduction to Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, wrote, “… nothing has meaning except it be seen as in some context.” Of course, a lot depends on the context chosen. Today I want to provide one sort of context for the American ideas about elementary education.

In the United States, we assume that children go to school. We assume it to the extent that some children are told that school is their “job.” This isn’t true everywhere.

An article today in The Times of India, “Right to Education Act will show results: Sibal” provides the response of Kapil Sibal, Minister for Human Resource Development, to criticisms of the roll out of the Right to Education (RTE) Act.

The RTE Act was passed by Parliament in August 2009 and took affect April 1, 2010. The Act mandates a free compulsory education for every child in India aged 6 to 14, including 10 million children who were previously excluded from education, either because they were working, differently abled, very poor, migrants, or lived in places too remote from a school. The Act allows states three years to develop schools and five years for the improvement in the quality of teaching. The Minister is quoted as urging people to give the Act time to take effect, as changing the infrastructure cannot happen overnight.

Rethinking tertiary education is also on the agenda, including the presence of foreign universities—including from the United States—in India. Some Institutions of Higher Education are already contributing. The minister, himself, has an LLM from Harvard University.

I’m not going to tell you what conclusions to draw from this, but I am going to suggest you look at our article “Compulsory Education ” for a bit of history about compulsory education in the United States and the United Kingdom, with a summary of the compulsory education requirements in the United States.


Free & Compulsory Education Act of 2009 Becomes Law in India

Federal Student Aid Rules Rollout

On June 16, the US Department of Education issues a Notice of Proposed Rule Making (NPRM) dealing with higher education. Thirteen of fourteen issues under consideration were announced, with the fourteenth being taken under advisement. These proposals are shaped by testimony and subject to public comment. Here’s a round-up of the proposed reforms:

Student Eligibility for Federal Funding

• In the face of an increasing number of high school “diploma mills” (organizations that grant diplomas that do not represent the legitimate of a legitimate secondary school course of study) Institutions of Higher Education (IHEs) and postsecondary vocational schools must find a way to validate diplomas that are in doubt.

• Students without a (valid) high school diploma would become eligible for federal student aid if and when they complete 6 credits of college credit.

• IHEs and postsecondary vocational schools must implement “satisfactory academic progress policies” (the policies that determine if—by the institution’s standards, students are eligible for financial aid; moreover, they must abide by them.

• The process for verification of information reported by students (and parents) on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) will be streamlined, reducing—for some students—the amount of additional information they will have to supply.

Consumer Protection

• The USDOE’s authority to act against IHE’s and postsecondary vocational schools that deceive students in advertising, sales, and/or marketing is strengthened.

• Changes to the rules about admissions recruiters compensations intended to help discourage recruiting practices in which students were pushed towards programs were a bad fit for them, either because the financing was beyond their likely means to repay, they were not qualified for the program, or they were unlikely to succeed in it.

• States—some of which have not satisfactorily establish an approval and monitoring process for IHE’s and postsecondary vocational schools—must now do so.

Course Eligibility for Federal Funding

• A new definition of a credit hour, which has here-to-fore not been standardized, and new procedures for accrediting agencies to determine if IHEs and postsecondary vocational schools are using the assignment of credit hours appropriately.

• New regulations on the amount of a program in one IHE or postsecondary vocational schools that can be delivered by another institution, and eligibility requirements for all bodies involved.

• New rules for counting repeated coursework towards eligibility for full-time standing.

• Closing loopholes in the student withdrawal from studies process so that unused funds are properly returned to the USDOE.

• Changes in disbursement to rectify the situation in which students who need their federal funding before the start of school (e.g., to purchase books) will receive it earlier.

For Profits

• In the proposal that is being held, the USDOE is considering requiring for-profit IHEs and postsecondary vocational schools

a) to disclose the program’s graduation rate and job placement rate to prospective students;

b) to disclose information so that the USDOE can calculate student debt and income after completing programs.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the for-profit schools were very pleased that the final NPRM was held for reconsideration because according to industry lobbyists, it could have a profoundly negative effect on the for-profit schools

More Information

You can find more information about the process here.

You can find a Microsoft Word version of the complete NPRM in the small “Related Resources” section to the right of the first paragraph of the press release here.


Survey Interim Report: National Standards

There are still 13 days left to respond to our survey on national K–12 education standards, but I wanted to take this opportunity to tell you how the preliminary results are looking and to encourage you to respond if you have not yet done so.

As of 10 am Eastern time today, 92 people have responded, and this is a little less than half of those who have liked the page, so I know that some of you haven’t yet voiced your opinion. For those who haven’t, I’d like to point out that we’ve moved to a one-question survey, so it won’t take much of your time to answer.

Cast your vote here.

Because the survey is not over, I’m going to give general results: I’ll provide a more detailed level of analysis at the end of the month. What the results show so far:

• More than half of respondents favor national standards, either for consistency or because they feel it would be an improvement over their state standards.

• More people who do not want national standards chose that option because they thought that it is a task that belongs to the local level rather than because it would lower their own state’s standards.

• Respondents have used the “Other” category to raise issues concerning—

• the qualifications of the current Secretary of Education
• the Federal government’s goals for education
• the funding of programs to support education standards
• the role of testing in education
• whether the education system should be under government control or
be carried out as free enterprise

More to come at the end of the month: in the meantime, please vote if you have not done so.

What Is the Value of Higher Education?

In the first half of June, online material discussing the value of higher education has been dramatically contradictory.This post will discuss some reasons behind this and some basic suggestions on how to understand the articles. I’ll take them in chronological order.

Article 1

On June 3, an opinion piece in Inside Higher Ed called “Higher Education’s Big Lie” by Ann Larson, a writing fellow at Hunter College with a Ph.D. in English, argues that a) its debatable whether college degrees will be required by the majority of future jobs; b) many students who begin a college degree will not complete it, while many still do not have access to college; c) the investment in a college education may not pay off.

Larson exemplifies the third point with the story of a student who wracked up $60,000 in student loans and whose degree—from a private nonprofit college—did not give her access to the type of job that would allow her to repay the loan. She claims that academia is silent about the issue of unpayable college debt that many students face, although, she says, another writer for the same publication in which her article appears has documented it.

Her goal is to have everyone rethink the idea that higher education can “facilitate social mobility,” and sites a study from 2008 to support this, and in her conclusion, she claims, again, that “these are all factors unacknowledged in the push to convince people” to invest in higher education.

Article 2

On June 14, a brief note by Jacques Steinberg, a reporter who focuses on education, called “More Employers to Require Some College, Report Says” in the New York Times ‘Education’ section gives a summary of the “Help Wanted” report, released on June 14 by the Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW), Georgetown University.

This article emphasizes the growing need of workers with at least an associate’s degree (a two-year degree, largely available at community colleges). Although the article quotes the study’s main author, Anthony P. Carnevale, as saying that “the demand for workers with postsecondary degree continues to surge,”—that is, not only associate’s degrees, Steinberg says nothing about any need for bachelor’s degrees.

Article 3

On June 15, Charles Wallace, a financial writer, contributed “Two-Thirds of All Future Jobs Will Require a College Education“—another summary of the CEW report—in AOL’s Daily Finance. This article shares statistical data from the report and quotes another author of the report, Jeff Strohl, several times.

Wallace reports that of the 47 million jobs created by the year 2018—a combination of new jobs and replacing workers who move on—some college training and/or an associate’s degree will be required for about 30 percent, and a bachelor’s degree will be required for about 33 percent. He adds that the study anticipates demand for workers with college degrees exceeding supply by 3 million by 2018, and that a Ph.D. is still worth more than a bachelor’s degree, with is worth nearly twice as much in lifetime earnings as a high school diploma.

Parsing the Articles

Article 1 is by a non-specialist, and it’s an opinion piece. It suffers from being published before important new information about the state of education and the job market was available, as well as from the use of old sources. Larson’s claim that nobody’s paying attention to students left with unpayable loans flies in the face of the large amount of attention being paid this year to this very problem in looking at for-profit schools, and undercuts her position.

Article 2 by Steinberg is simply too brief a summary that—both for brevity and by means of a slanted headline—casts the report in quite a different light than it appears when the data on bachelor’s degrees is taken into account.

In article 3, it appears that Wallace gave the report a closer read and a fairer shake, and—by using up-to-date information, discussing it at some length, and concentrating on data rather than anecdotes—appears to be the most useful take on the value of higher education of the three.

The study itself, “Help Wanted: Projections of Jobs and Education Requirements Through 2018,” is available here. The Executive Summary states:

“America is slowly coming out of the Recession of 2007—only to find itself on a collision course with the future: not enough Americans are completing college . . . By 2018, we will need 22 million new workers with college degrees—but will fall short of that number by at least 3 million post-secondary degrees . . . At a time when every job is precious, this shortfall will mean lost economic opportunity for millions of American workers.”

Three Ways the Oil Spill Affects Education

When the terms “oil spill” and “education” are mentioned in the same sentence, the first and most obvious connection most people make is likely to be to teaching children about the oil spill. How does one convey to them the importance and impact of the situation in an age appropriate way. I have made an attempt to help educators do this with a video “Thoughts on the Oil Spill—There Is Only One Water,” which uses clips of the oil spill combined with a song from my opera Kiravanu that talks in very simple terms about the water cycle, the problem that pollution in one spot affects everyone, and the importance of stewardship.

The copyrighted words are sung by children in Kindergarten through fourth grade who are playing the roles of the Elements—Fire, Earth, Water, Air, and Wood—asking humanity to steward resources thoughtfully:

There is only one water
Only one Earth and one air.
If people pollute, it spreads to others,
Though that really isn’t fair.

Only so much water.
Only so many trees.
If folks use them up, then the whole world has less,
So please pay attention, please!

We must be true to our natures:
We cannot act as we choose,
So while we burn or flow, erupt or blow
Please go give people the news:

There is only one water.

© 2008 James Humberstone and Mary Elizabeth For question, comments, republication, or performance permissions, please contact

There are several other important connections between the oil spill and education. One that has come to the forefront through a speech last week by the Alabama State Superintendent of Education Joe Morton is that when a state has an Education Trust Fund (ETF) funded by a variety of taxes, a catastrophe that impacts those taxes—whether through loss of general sales, loss of tourism, etc.—will impact education funding of public education in that state.

An interview in the Salt Lake Tribune with a Utah resident—formerly an Alaskan fisherman, whose career in that line of work was ended by the Exxon Valdez tanker incident in the 1980s—brings out another way in which the future of education is connected to the oil spill. This article points out that with the cap that Congress put on compensation in the Oil Pollution Act of 1990 and the way that the award from the Exxon Valdez spill dragged through the courts, parents’ ability to finance their children’s college educations was impacted.

Absent Parents

It used to be that if you mentioned an “absent parent,” it meant a parent who wasn’t—for whatever reason—physically present with his or her child. Today, however, with the wonders of technology, it is possible to be present to be in a room with one’s child, even holding the child on one’s lap, and be completely absorbed in the important business call on one’s cellphone, the solitaire game on one’s netbook, shopping on one’s laptop, surfing the web on one’s smartphone, etc.

Whereas previously, parents pushing children on the swings would talk to their children (“Look at the squirrel!”) or each other, they’re now often engaged on the phone—physically present; mentally absent.

I’ve even seen a mother too engaged in her mobile phone conversations to stop talking while crossing a moderately busy four-lane street with four children in tow.

In the Handbook of Child Psychology: Social, emotional, and personality development (ed. Damon and Lerner, 2006), an essay “Socialization in the Family: Ethnic and Ecological Perspectives” by Parke and Buriel states: “Quality rather than quantity of parent-child interaction is the important predictor of cognitive and social development” (p. 438).

What is to be concluded, then, when it’s evident from a trip to the local playground or articles like “The Risks of Parenting While Plugged In” in the New York Times this week, that parents are often not spending quality time with their children?

They may be physically present, but their minds are engaged elsewhere, and parent-child interaction is reduced to the coincidence of bodies in proximity in space. This suggests that the cognitive and social development of at least some young children in our society is at risk—

Something to think about….


Staying on the Technology Donkey

After a weekend of articles attacking the excesses of technology and implicit urgings that it should be abandoned, Monday brought a bit more sanity to the discussion. The New York Times, on Monday, ran a new edition of its “Room for Debate” series, “First Steps to Digital Detox,” in which —in this case — a group of academics and authors (including, btw, Nicholas Carr, who wrote the article in the Wall Street Journal cited in Monday’s blog post)—answer questions about strategies for unplugging and whether multitasking can go too far.

And, in this forum, the discussion becomes a bit more nuanced, in most cases. Suggestions tend toward controlling one’s use of the tools, not throwing the tools out or damning them as inherently damaging, but necessary evils.

In this debate, Carr’s advice is threefold: turn off devices from time to time; check email less often; spend time each day in pursuits like reading, engaging in a hobby, or conversation.

Gary W. Small, professor of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at UCLA (please see full credentials for Small and others in the article), recommends making an effort to focus on one task at a time and take regular breaks.

Steven Yantis, professor of psychological and brain sciences at Johns Hopkins, differentiates between true multitasking and switching, which is what is really occurring in most cases, and discusses the meaning of “switch cost,” the cognitive price we pay for changing our focus.

Russell A. Poldrack, professor of psychology and neurobiology at UT, Austin, points out that people often are mistaken in assessing their own multitasking abilities, and recommends practices such as yoga and meditation to improve focus.

Timothy B. Lee, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, points out that lamenting the effects of new technology is neither new nor as insidious as the Richtel article suggested. He points out the increased ability to stay in touch with his spouse when they are separated, nurture long-distance friendships, and making new friends, and concludes that time spent on line is not always damaging to family life and may, in fact, be more important in some moments than the work of the moment on the desk in front of us.

Clifford Nass, professor of communications and cognitive science at Stanford, urges making a distinction between multitasking to seek new, interesting information or to avoid current, boring tasks, in which case, he suggests a real world break of walking or stretching and then getting on with it.

FInally, Gloria Mark, professor of informatics and UC, Irvine, points out that surfing websites, Facebook, and Twitter provides rewards at random intervals, and this kind of reinforcement is, she says, the most difficult to turn away from. She also points out that workplaces are often set up with an expectation of multitasking—whether to answer one’s coworker’s question, and the client call, etc., and when the need to check email, IMs, and phone calls is required to keep up with one’s jobs requirements, it may be quite difficult to step away.

But these are just summaries, and I encourage you to read the whole debate to get a better feel for what’s involved in the topic.