A New Year’s Musing

A New Year’s Musing

While listening to a story on public radio the other day about the plight of unemployed workforce members over 50 without more than a high school education, I was brought up short by the reality expressed by the commentator’s guest. Asked about the opportunity for these workers to upgrade their education or retrain for a different occupation, the expert replied, “As I think about members of the workforce 50 and older, whose last experience with math was probably in high school, I find it hard to imagine them going back to school now.  There is too much catching up to do.” As disappointing as it was, the expert’s response was also enlightening about the reality these workers face — and how our educational system, in hindsight, may have failed them. When they were in school, the goal for many of these workers was to get enough education to fill the manufacturing jobs available at the time, while a select group pursued higher education. We didn’t foresee the need to provide them with the additional skills necessary to adapt to a world that would change right beneath their feet. A recent feature on Bloomberg.com illustrates the dramatic shift in skills required in the new world of manufacturing, with a focus on people skills and problem solving rather than repetitive tasks — or even computer programming. Today, thousands of dedicated professionals are deeply committed to helping adult workers set new directions for their working lives. We hope this includes providing their clients with tools to help them adapt to, and embrace, change in the future. We tip our hat to them...
Can we afford to leave this glass half full?

Can we afford to leave this glass half full?

A lot has been written about the challenges of helping first-year, post secondary students persist to graduation.  Low persistence rates mean fewer students graduate and enter the workforce as skilled workers. In this sense, our ability to increase persistence has a direct impact on the quality of our workforce and our ability to compete in the future global economy. We’ve written a white paper on this subject, The Need for First Year Experience Programs, that summarizes research on the effectiveness of First Year Experience programs for those institutions still on the fence about offering a robust, accredited program to all entering freshmen. In short, here’s what we learned: According to the Lumina Foundation, there will be a consistent, and widening, gap between the millions of jobs in the future requiring at least a 2-year degree, and the supply of college graduates to fill those jobs. The economic opportunity glass, if you will, will be left unfilled if we do nothing. Filling this gap will require that we prepare more high school students to be “college ready” and increase their persistence on to post secondary graduation. A review of literature on robust, first year programs designed to support students and increase their persistence suggests that these programs are effective. A non-empirical review of the programs currently available to students reveals that many institutions offer a freshman orientation course, usually taking a single day of information on healthy living habits and reviewing the institution’s student conduct code.  Other institutions offer remedial courses in math or English and consider this enough. In our opinion, neither approach is completely adequate. The first year programs that...
Social emotional learning is at the center of improving student achievement

Social emotional learning is at the center of improving student achievement

We’ve all heard about Social Emotional Learning (SEL) programs. Usually they are considered augmentations to curriculum intended to improve standardized test scores.   However, there is growing empirical evidence that SEL programs can significantly impact student academic performance. In a recent article in the peer-reviewed journal Child Development, the authors from Loyola University and the University of Illinois at Chicago provide a meta-analysis of 213 school-based, universal social and emotional learning programs involving 270,034 K-12 students. According to the analysis, “Compared to controls, SEL participants demonstrated significantly improved social emotional skills, attitudes, behavior and academic performance that reflected an 11 percentile-point gain in achievements.” Given the positive impact SEL has on student achievement, we believe more schools should be adopting robust, measurable SEL programs aimed at addressing the student’s social and emotional learning as a core to curriculum. TransformingEd, a nonprofit that supports districts and states in implementing programs to equip students with the mindsets, skills and habits they need to succeed,  identifies four factors in building strong emotional and social skills with students: Developing a Growth Mindset – students with a growth mindset believe that ability can change as a result of effort, perseverance and practice Self Management – the ability to regulate one’s emotions, thoughts and behaviors effectively in different situations Self Efficacy – the belief in one’s ability to succeed in achieving an outcome or reaching a goal Social Awareness – the ability to take the perspective of, and empathize with, others from diverse backgrounds and cultures The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) has developed its own SEL standards in its ASCA Mindsets and Behaviors for Student Success, aimed at building student...
Student success isn’t just about college attainment

Student success isn’t just about college attainment

Much has been written about the need for us to increase attendance and graduation rates at today’s two- and four-year institutions in the national quest to have 60% of Americans holding a degree, certificate or other high quality credential by 2025. According to Lumina Foundation, an independent foundation focused on expanding student success and access to postsecondary education, we’re making progress. The proportion of the U.S. population between the ages of 25 and 64 who hold a two- or four-year college degree reached 40.4% in 2014, a 2.1% increase since this measure was first reported in 2008. Degree attainment has increased even faster among adults aged 25 to 34 during the same period, equal to 42.3% in 2014, a 4.5% increase over the same measure in 2008. As encouraging as these trends are, most experts agree they are not enough to reach our 2025 goal. Lumina projects 35.7 million Americans will earn postsecondary credentials that will count toward Goal 2025. However, they also project an additional 10.9 million Americans between the ages of 15 and 54 would need to be added to reach the 60% goal by 2025. It’s no wonder college attainment is on every educator’s mind these days. But there are those who see the educational challenge as going beyond college attainment to include encouraging development of specific skills that will be necessary for students to thrive and persist in college and in the coming century. Organizations like the Partnership for 21st Century Learning are hard at work partnering with states to make sure K-12 students develop the deeper, critical skills they will need to be productive and...
It’s time to look outside our classrooms to improve student outcomes

It’s time to look outside our classrooms to improve student outcomes

We’ve all heard Albert Einstein’s definition of madness: doing the same thing over and over, while expecting different results.  It seems to me that we are stuck in this kind of endless loop when it comes to improving the educational outcomes of our students. The stakes are high.  One read through a local newspaper or educational journal gives a bleak picture of student performance, achievement gaps and graduation rates. The current round of debate is entrenched around standardized tests, disagreements over what they measure, and how test results reflect on the quality of the education we’re providing students.  It’s a system based on applying more discipline, more testing, more competition, stress and more accountability. This same debate has raged in educational circles for over 25 years, yet student outcomes have not measurably improved during that time.  And in some cases they have diminished. One might be tempted to conclude we’re focused on the wrong thing when it comes to student outcomes.  By extension, you might ask yourself what is working? A recent article in The Hechinger Report points to Finland, and a very different educational system that was built by “breaking all the rules” as we know them in the U.S.  Some interesting differences include: Teachers are encouraged to experiment in their classrooms and aren’t bound by a rigid bureaucracy. They are expected to be the creative engine behind curriculum, not implementers of top-down policy decisions or standardized tests. Teachers are highly trained. No teacher is allowed to teach in a classroom without a master’s degree in education, with specialization in research and classroom practice. Teachers are respected professionals....