Author Archives: Laurie Stern

What’s unfair about college grad rates

It’s no coincidence that college graduation rates are highest for the most selective schools. The Department of Education metric considers only first-time, full time, fall-starting college-goers who complete in six years or less. The Department of Ed.’s official graduation rate for these students is 59 percent; for students at schools with open admissions, it’s only 33 percent.

A growing number of college students complete their degrees, but are not counted in a school’s graduation rate because they are part-time, or transfer students, or they take longer than six years to finish.

That’s going to be a big deal if, as promised, the Obama administration ties federal financial aid to “value” metrics like the graduation rate. The Department of Ed. already publishes a College Scorecard, a website where families can go to compare prospective schools.

Our podcast guest Vinton Thompson, President of Metropolitan College of New York, says that the graduation rate is a poor metric that will do more harm than good if it doesn’t change.

How to help students hope

What if  educators looked for strengths rather than weaknesses in students?  A mindset that focuses on assets and talents could change the way that teachers and students feel about school. Brandon Busteed, executive director of Gallup Education, says a strengths-based approach would help keep high school students engaged in learning. Gallup’s 2013 Student Poll found a precipitous drop in engagement between 5th and twelfth grade. Busteed says that could turn around if kids got to do what they’re good at, especially students who don’t excel at traditional academic pursuits.  “We need more rigorous standards,” he writes in a recent commentary for Education Week, “but what we don’t need is more standardized rigor.”

What teachers need

In her new book, Building a Better Teacher, Elizabeth Green explores how teaching works. She says teachers’ skill and knowledge matter way more than their personalities. In fact, she says “the fallacy of the natural-born teacher”  has led to many problems facing schools today.

Photo: C. Daniel Deitch

Photo: C. Daniel Deitch

Green tells education correspondent Emily Hanford that “most teachers are in the middle. They aren’t born great, and they’re not born bad. They’re just people who are trying to do something very hard in a system that makes it even harder than it needs to be.”

In the book, Green introduces readers to teachers who are exploring the intricate science that underlies their craft. She describes what happens in the classroom of a great teacher. She says the skills and knowledge teachers need are available from other teachers.

Green offers examples drawn from research and international experience. She travels with researchers to Japan and notes that American math reforms are more widely adopted there than in the United States. She says the United States produces good ideas but needs more ways to implement them.

Intelligence is achievable and other lessons from The Teacher Wars

Good teachers know that intelligence is achievable. That knowledge informs how they act in the classroom. In part two of their conversation, education correspondent Emily Hanford asks author Dana Goldstein what else she learned while writing The Teacher Wars.

The Teacher Wars

The Teacher Wars

Here are some examples: LBJ’s own teaching  experience helped him realize that public education needs more than good teachers; Curriculum should drive tests, not the other way around; The way forward relies on best practices of working teachers.

Dana Goldstein comes from a family of public school educators. She is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. She has been writing about education since 2007.

Teaching: The most embattled profession

In The Teacher Wars, author Dana Goldstein explores the roots of today’s fights about education. From tenure to desegregation, teacher training to curriculum, Goldstein finds the march through the decades has been more repetitive than progressive.

Dana Goldstein (Photo: Michael Lionstar)

Dana Goldstein (Photo: Michael Lionstar)

On the podcast, education correspondent Emily Hanford talks with Goldstein about the surprising connections she found between historic and modern debates. This is the first part of their conversation. Dana Goldstein comes from a family of public school educators. She is a staff writer for The Marshall Project. She has been writing about education since 2007.

Video games: New literacy for a complex world

Author James Paul Gee says video games are problems to solve that come with their own tools. He challenges educators to figure out which problems need solving, and to integrate video games into their curricula. He even suggests ways video games could and should replace standardized tests.

James Paul Gee

James Paul Gee

James Gee is a professor of literacy studies at Arizona State University. His 2003 book What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy jumpstarted a conversation that is likely to continue for a long time.

Special thanks to KQED’s MindShift blog, where you can find lots more research and tips on the educational value of video games.

Ed researchers: Colleges can do more for students, especially in a bad economy

Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa’s new book, Aspiring Adults Adrift, follows 2009 college graduates into the world of work and civic participation.  “Students who didn’t work hard in college are having a harder time finding jobs,” Arum tells podcast host Stephen Smith.  Arum and Roksa found:

  • 24 percent of graduates are back living at home with their parents;
  • 74 percent of graduates are receiving financial support from their families;
  • Only 47 percent of graduates in the labor market have full-time jobs that pay $30,000 or more annually.

Nearly half the graduates they surveyed rarely talk about current events or politics. On the podcast, Arum says colleges should be tougher academically. He says colleges have more incentives to show students a good time than a way forward.