Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Who Wants This Prize?

Who Wants this Prize?

The Mayor of Baltimore is offering free tuition to the Baltimore City Community College for all 2018 graduates of Baltimore City high schools.  Such a deal!   Except that fewer people every year want to attend BCCC.  In fact, 8000 Baltimore City students bypassed BCCC and its reduced tuition of about $1,573 per semester to attend Baltimore County Community College at a cost of just over $3000.  That is double the total number of students currently attending the City Community College.
Why is that?  Well for one thing the outcomes from BCCC are terrible.  Only 3.3% of the entering class in 2010 graduated four years later with an associate degree.  This is the lowest percentage of any community college in the state.  The percentage of students transferring to 4-year colleges is the second lowest in the state.  The State pours more money into BCCC more than any other community college and yet the outcomes are still terrible.   What’s the answer?
First of all, 93% of the entering freshmen need remedial coursework before they can even begin to do college work.  That is the highest of any community college in Maryland.  The State legislature has recently shaken up the composition of the Board of Trustees to shift the emphasis to help the college realign its priorities and connect to employers.
This may be terribly undemocratic but when it comes to college preparedness, we cannot simply declare college readiness and move on.   The vast majority of Baltimore City high school graduates, all that testing notwithstanding, are not anywhere near prepared for college.   Additionally, many of these kids do not come from a background where college graduation is a value.   That is not bad, it is just different.   What many of these kids need and want is a decent job with a basic income.   The same can be said for students attending Coppin University but that is a blog for another day.
The emphasis at the City Community College needs to shift to preparing students for emerging and existing jobs.   The certificate programs at the College are one of the few bright spots and graduates are doing well in passing the exams.   We should stop wasting students’ time preparing them for more advanced academics.  Let’s teach them the math they need to become an auto mechanic, an HVAC repair person, a PT or dental assistant or a practical nurse.  The same can be said for the reading necessary for these jobs.   Literature and algebra can come much later if at all.  A basic course in civics would be good as well to help create an educated electorate. 

Right now, only about 250 Baltimore City high school grads entered BCCC last year.  The Mayor wants to increase that number to 1000.   Unless the program changes dramatically, that will be throwing good students after bad ones and offer a prize that few people want.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Intersting solution, wrong problem

Interesting Solution-Wrong Problem

Last week the mayor of Baltimore City, Catherine Pugh, sought to solve the problem of violence in Baltimore by providing other options and opportunities for Baltimore City kids.  A very worthy goal.  However, her solution did not begin to address the problem.
Mayor Pugh declared that all graduates of Baltimore City high schools will be entitled to free tuition at the Baltimore City Community College.   Based on her logic, having this opportunity would have kids better educated; and thereby, send them into better jobs and deter them from the violence of the streets.  Equating a community college education with less violence on the streets is a feel good but false equality.
This solution is based on the assumption that the reason kids are not going to the Community College is because they lack the funds to do so.  There is not empirical evidence for this assumption.
What we do know is that students are graduating from City schools without even a basic education, all that testing required by the feds to the contrary.   We also know that the Baltimore City Community College is already the worst-run and most highly funded community college in the state as we continue to throw money at some institutions out of guilt.  To make matters worse, Coppin University, which is a university name only, has announced  that it too will provide free tuition to students completing the community college program.
People, let’s be honest here.   City schools are a mess.  In fact, 5 high schools and 1 middle school report that they did not have A SINGLE STUDENT who tested proficient in math or English.  Even the Community College has reported that OVER A 3-YEAR PERIOD only about 100 City students were college ready when they arrived.  The graduation record from Coppin is even uglier.
The problem is not the lost opportunity for post-secondary education.  The problem is the lost opportunity for a basic education in our City schools.   We need to acknowledge that  the union needs to care enough to get on board with a complete overhaul of the schools.  That means we need to stop the patching job and start digging a new foundation.   Start at kindergarten and first grade.  Revamp the teaching and bring in social workers to work in the community to teach and train parents.  Add afterschool care if that is needed.  Keep kids off the streets and teach them and their families how to parent.  The process might take 12 years as the City begins in the lower grades and gradually builds to the upper grades.  Many of these kids do not come from college educated families.  Just having a decent job would be a big achievement for many.  So let’s use the Community College and Coppin, if needs be, to teach vocational skills.  Give these kid a trade.  They can always do the real college thing later.  In the meantime, they would have a job, earn some money and the younger kids could learn to read and write.

Now that would be a solution to what the problem is- BAD education

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Kids know all the right answers

Kids have all the right answers
Kids have all the right answers, we just don’t ask the right questions.   Let’s look at some of the questions we ask.   We teach lots and lots about world history.   We teach the story of the Pilgrims over and over again. We teach about algebra and skills that few people ever need.   We have a very limited amount of time to teach our students.  We need to spend that time on what really matters and be prepared to give a thorough justification for why we are using up a child’s time with this stuff.
What are some of the questions we neither ask nor teach about?  How do I manage a bully besides filling out some form?   How do I change my community?  How can I make my community a better place to live? 
Our school does a follow-up survey of our graduates every year.   One of the questions we ask is, “what else could we have taught you?”  One of our respondents answered, “how to wrap my sandwich with aluminum foil”.  Pretty basic and this is a smart kid who has a good job.
So, what should we be doing in school?   We already know that the tasks required by the Common Core are not only mostly irrelevant but are beyond the developmental levels of the students involved.  We know that the testing program required by No Child Left Behind has not improved the proficiency level of students starting college at all. The testing require by ESSA will do no good as well.  In fact, the number of students requiring remedial classes as freshmen has gone up not down.
Everyone agrees there are problems in our educational system but no one is interested in looking at student outcomes and student needs.  Decisions seem to be a poker game of who can up the ante the most and who can have higher standards, whatever those are.
Every child does not need to go to college.   Every young adult does need a job, either after 4 years of post-secondary education, after a 2-year training program or after high school.  Why not sort kids out based on skill set and interest and prepare them for what they want not what looks good on a politician’s resume.
Kids will tell you what they want out of their future lives.  Some of those things are not very likely.  But others are very realistic. 
We need to ask the questions that will yield the information we need for an education that is learning process based, not one that is based on storing up lots of information.  Information is all too easily found these days.  Students don’t need to answer those questions.  They want to give us answers to the how-to questions and we need to start talking about what those significant questions are.

Kids know the answers.  Let’s start asking them the right questions.