Free College Education: What does the Kalamazoo Model Tell US!

Dear Commons Community,

As a result of initiatives in Tennessee and Oregon, there has been much discussion about the promise of free college education as a game changer in improving high school retention and college attendance, and reducing the achievement gap for minority students. Kalamazoo, thanks to the generosity of anonymous donors, has provided free state college tuition for its residents for more than ten years. The overall goal of the Kalamazoo Promise was to create a more level playing field for all students  According to recent data as reported in the Los Angeles Times, this program is achieving some of its goals.

“The Kalamazoo program is now mature enough to provide some useful data. As always, there is good news and bad news.

First the good news: High school graduation rates have shot up, and almost 90% of Kalamazoo high school seniors are enrolling in college, compared to around 70% for the state. Most encouraging of all, low-income and black high school graduates are almost as likely to enroll in college as their affluent and white peers. In fact, the black/white gap in college enrollment rates has completely disappeared in Kalamazoo, according to research from Timothy Ready at Western Michigan University.

Now for the bad news: Gaps by race and income reemerge when it comes to actually gaining a post-secondary qualification. The Promise has lifted college completion rates, but quite modestly, and far from equally.

Take the Kalamazoo high school class of 2006: White students were twice as likely as black students to earn at least 24 credits, and twice as likely to end up with a four-year degree (54% versus 26%).

This completion gap may be attributable to the fact that black and white students attended different types of educational institutions. While 56% of black high schoolers graduating in 2012 enrolled in a local community college, just 28% of their white classmates did. Inversely, 59% of whites enrolled in four-year colleges compared to 32% of black students.

President Obama is just one of many who praised the so-called Kalamazoo Promise, flying to the city five years ago to speak at the Kalamazoo High School graduation. More than 35 cities, from Denver and Pittsburgh to Ventura and Long Beach, have since adopted their own versions of the Promise. These schemes vary. Some have minimum GPA requirements, or target only low-income students. But they share the goal of bringing college within financial reach for all.

For good or ill, a college education is steadily becoming an entry requirement for the America middle class. But not everyone has the same chance of securing a bachelor’s degree. Most high schoolers from affluent backgrounds will finish college; few from poor backgrounds will join them. Right now, the U.S. college system serves to reinforce inequality over the generations, rather than reduce it.”

The article goes on to discuss the need to direct more students into postsecondary programs other than those leading to a four-year degree.   I would caution, however, that we not establish a higher education tracking system where the majority of white students attend four-year programs and the majority of minority students attend community college and certificate programs.



Poaching for Academic Superstars!

Dear Commons Community,

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article (subscription required) today describing the competition for superstar faculty researchers.   Using the state of Texas as an example, the article explains:

“At a time when American research universities face growing financial pressure, driven largely by cuts in federal and state financing, Texas stands as something of an anomaly — and, perhaps, a role model. By laying out millions of dollars to lure premier cancer scientists from other universities across the country, the state is drawing criticism and skepticism as well as envy and emulation.

Some embrace the practice as recruiting; others deride it as poaching. Either way, it’s a tactic pretty much as old as universities themselves. The centuries-old quest to accumulate the most celebrated scientific minds has always come with benefits both financial and emotional.

But in more recent years, the economic value of the strategy has moved to the fore. Beyond Texas, several states have made an explicit practice of figuring out which fields of scientific research are most important to their economic futures, and then giving their universities money to go out and hire established scholars, and rising stars, in those fields.”

The article goes on to describe several recent hires in Texas universities:

“Sean J. Morrison, professor of pediatrics: $10 million. James P. Allison, professor of immunology: $10 million. Nancy A. Jenkins and Neal G. Copeland, deans of cancer biology and genetics: $7.5 million each.

Such are the hefty recruiting packages that lured four researchers — along with their labs and staffs — to Texas. They’ve joined 80 other leading cancer researchers who have moved to Texas’ universities and institutes over the past five years thanks to a $250-million state-aided spending spree on science superstars.”

As the article indicates, this is not a new practice but has been going on for decades. Regardless the amount of the recruitment packages are startling. Also the fact that the funding of these recruitments is part of an overall state development strategy should cause other states to consider this type of investment.



Taking Harper Lee as a Serious Critic of Race Relations!

Dear Commons Community,

I have just finished reading Harper Lee’s recently published old book, Go Set a Watchman. The media has been all over the reviews of this book mainly because it completely turns around the image of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird from defender of a wrongly accused black man to segregationist. Patrick Chura, a professor of English at the University of Akron, has a piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education (subscription required) that calls for scholars to now take Harper Lee as a serious critic of race relations in this country. Chura states: 

“Read together, Lee’s two novels complicate each other in beautiful and profound ways, offering a compelling case of textual revisions made during a politically contentious period and valuable possibilities for comparative study. Asking students to weigh the difference, for example, between vigorously defending the rights of a black man — as Atticus famously does in Mockingbird — and affording all blacks full humanity — as Atticus clearly does not in Watchman — can elicit opinions about an issue that has arisen frequently in history and literature, that has attended such figures as Harriet Beecher Stowe and Abraham Lincoln, and that is relevant now. Are the heroic Atticus of Mockingbird and the anti-heroic Atticus of Watchman different people? Not necessarily. Students should be pressured to articulate the many meanings of this paradox…

Had Harper Lee kept to her original civil-rights manuscript and been allowed to direct her energy toward developing Go Set a Watchman, we might have had a greater book than To Kill a Mockingbird. As it stands, we have a thought-provoking and powerful new novel that deserves to be read and discussed in culture-studies classrooms beginning immediately.”

I agree fully.  In Watchman, the exchanges between a grown-up Scout and her family especially her father are deep thoughtful commentary on the complexity of race in the United States and especially the South. It should be required reading in any course where race and racism is a topic.



New York City Parents Overwhelmingly Satisfied with Their Children’s Public Schools!

Dear Commons Community,

A new survey released by the New York Department of Education indicates that parents are overwhelmingly “satisfied” with their children’s public and charter schools.

“The results suggest high overall satisfaction with the city’s schools, as 95 percent of parents report satisfaction with their child’s education,” boasted the press release during what was Chancellor Carmen Fariña’s first full year chancellor.

One observer commented that “Education experts said this shouldn’t be surprising, even if there’s growing dissatisfaction with larger issues like high stakes testing and the increasingly difficult Common Core standards.

“This follows national data that parents tend to like their individual schools and teachers, but think less of the state of education generally,” David Bloomfield, education professor at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center said.

People are generally satisfied with the micro-level of their school and their children’s teacher but may take issue with the bigger picture of where the education system is heading, he said.

“That’s just the way it goes,” said Bloomfield, noting that people also generally report satisfaction with their local politicians too while complaining about the bigger picture state of politics.

No school saw less than 70 percent of parents satisfied with their children’s education.”

It is has been my contention that the value and worth of public education should be determined by the parents of the communities in which the schools operate. The testing and assessment policies of the U.S. Department of Education as well as many state education departments in recent years have been seen as unwanted interference.



Michigan Colleges and High School Online Course Requirements!

Dear Commons Community,

Michigan was the first state to require that all high school students take an online course or its equivalent. An article (subscription required) in The Chronicle of Higher Education reports on interviews of  a number of college personnel for their perspectives on students who met this requirement. Here is an excerpt:

“Nine years ago, when Michigan began requiring high-school students to take an online course before graduating, it was the only state to do so. Since then, though, five other states — as well as some school districts — have followed suit.

The result is a growing group of students — in Michigan and around the country — who have experienced some form of online learning by the time they get to college. During the 2013-14 school year, 65,130 high-school students in Michigan reported taking an online course, according to a survey by Michigan Virtual University, a nonprofit corporation that provides online professional-development training. That’s about 15,000 more students than took such a course the previous year.

Now those students are arriving on college campuses with greater expectations that technology will be an integral part of their academic experience. By exposing students to how technology is best used in the classroom, several Michigan educators say, the requirement has in part led those students to expect college classrooms to also make thorough use of technology.

And their standards are rising. At Michigan State University, students don’t just want technology to feature in the classroom. They’re looking for it to be incorporated in a more productive way, says William Hart-Davidson, associate dean of graduate studies and an expert in online learning.

In other words, students see going online as about more than just turning in homework, he says. Some students come to a campus better prepared to use learning-management systems; others are more able to juggle an online course with other classes on campus. Most of them are savvier about technology.

“They’ve become a bit more critical consumers,” Mr. Hart-Davidson says.

More Demands of Colleges

Experience taking online courses can make students more successful when they take their first collegiate-level course online, says Adam L. Cloutier, director of teaching and learning support services at Henry Ford Community College, in Dearborn, Mich. They’re more focused and “better equipped to navigate the college system and our learning-management system,” he says.

But they haven’t necessarily become expert online learners. Students can fulfill Michigan’s requirement by taking a true online course in high school or by incorporating “online learning experiences” into required courses. Those experiences could include working with a blog or a WebQuest, an inquiry done completely online.

But not all online experiences are created equal, says Allison Powell, vice president for state and district services at the International Association for K-12 Online Learning, and many schools’ attempts to build technology into their courses aren’t well thought out.

“Kids know how to use technology, but they know how to use it for their social lives and for fun,” Ms. Powell says. “They still need a lot of work on learning how to use it for being productive and to use it to learn.”

The article goes on to provide a number of other insights.

Interesting read!



Google to Provide Free Internet Service to Low Income Housing Residents!

Google Free Internet

Dear Commons Community,

Google announced earlier this week that it would provide free high-speed Internet access to public housing projects in select cities.

Google’s plan is part of a larger initiative by the Obama Administration to help low-income American students keep up with today’s online demands. Google announced:

“Today, in all of our Google Fiber markets, we’re launching a program to connect residents in select public and affordable housing properties for $0/month with no installation fee.”

The new public housing program will reportedly be available in every city where Google Fiber is offered. As of now, Google Fiber is accessible in Kansas City; Provo, Utah; and Austin, Texas. The company plans to expand soon to other cities. Google also announced that it will implement digital literacy programs to assist those who lack basic computer skills. Many residents in Austin’s Manchaca Village have already successfully completed the training program. Google Fiber’s free Internet program is part of the larger Obama Administration initiative called ConnectHome, which reportedly intends to cover 275,000 households in 27 cities.

This is a generous move on the part of Google.


Oregon Is Second State to Adopt a Free Community College Policy!

Dear Commons Community,

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) signed into law yesterday a bill that would allow students to go to community college for free immediately after they graduate high school. The legislation sets aside $10 million over the next year to begin an “Oregon Promise” program. Eligible students will need to enroll within six months of graduating high school, according to the Oregonian, and have at least a 2.5 GPA. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Today, we fling wide open the doors of opportunity by expanding access to post-secondary education, the precursor to a better life,” Brown said in a statement. 

Up to 6,000 students could benefit in the first year of the program, a fact sheet on the bill notes, and it is meant to “offset any remaining tuition after deducting any state/federal grants.” Each recipient of the program will get a minimum $1,000 grant to cover tuition, books, supplies and transportation. 

Brown signed the bill into law at a ceremony at Columbia Gorge Community College in The Dalles. Oregon becomes the second state to have such a program, following Tennessee’s lead

President Barack Obama began promoting a $60 billion initiative earlier this year to provide free community college nationwide. Members of Congress introduced a bill this month to make his plan a reality. There is currently no scheduled vote on the federal legislation.”

This is the right move. It is inevitable that free community college policies will pick up steam in other states and nationally! It is no longer a matter of whether but when!


U.S. Senate Overwhelming Votes to Overhaul NCLB!

Dear Commons Community,

The U.S. Senate voted 81-17 to overhaul the No Child Left Behind Act yesterday, passing a bipartisan bill that gives states more flexibility to hold schools accountable for students’ test scores. As reported in The Huffington Post:

“Everyone wants to fix No Child Left Behind,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn) after the vote was counted. “That’s the consensus we began with.”

The overwhelming vote passed the Every Child Achieves Act, a bipartisan proposal sponsored by Alexander and Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash). The bill keeps in place current federal testing requirements but gives states more freedom to determine how to hold schools and teachers accountable for students’ test scores. The current testing schedule mandates that schools test children in reading and mathematics every year in grades three through eight and again once between grades nine through 12.

The House of Representatives passed its own version of a NCLB overhaul last week called the Student Success Act.

“This is a complicated piece of legislation,” Alexander said. “There are crocodiles in every corner.” The fact that it passed with a wide margin despite these complexities, he said, is “remarkable.”

“I am so proud that our bill… is a strong step in the right direction to finally fix” NCLB, Murray said. It was a compromise, she added: “It wasn’t the bill I would have written on my own.”

However, the bill’s next steps are unclear, since even its supporters concede President Barack Obama is unlikely to sign it in its current form.

“I commend the hard work of Senator Alexander, Senator Murray, and their colleagues to get us this far,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “However, this bill still falls short of truly giving every child a fair shot at success by failing to ensure that parents and children can count on local leaders to take action when students are struggling to learn.” Duncan’s thoughts echo those of several civil rights groups that oppose the bill because they say its accountability measures don’t go far enough. The bill would also need to be reconciled with the NCLB overhaul the House passed, which Obama has suggested he would veto.”

Regardless of the future of this bill, it is good to see that Republicans and Democrats can agree on legislation that is so important to our children and their education.


Whitehouse Infographic: Digital Divide and Internet Access

Digital Divide 2015

Dear Commons Community,

In preparation for President Obama’s announcement for a new initiative to address the Digital Divide that exists in this country, the White House made an infographic available to illustrate the problem. Accompanying the graphics was the following:

“Right now, even though more than 98 percent of Americans have access to internet service, one in four doesn’t have it at home.

For low-income Americans, that number jumps to one in two.

This is a problem. A high-speed connection is no longer a nice-to-have for the privileged few. Increasingly, you need an internet connection to find a job, to do your homework, and to stay in touch with the people you know. It’s an economic necessity when it comes to communicating, collaborating, and doing business on a global scale.

We’re doing something big to fix this. Today, the President is traveling to Durant, Oklahoma to announce ConnectHome — a new pilot program launching in 27 cities and one tribal nation, and initially helping to connect more than 275,000 low-income households with the support they need to access the internet at home.”

Those of us who have worked in areas with high levels of poverty, know this issue well. It has major ramifications for instructional technology initiatives especially at the K-12 level.



Video and Images: New Horizons Reaches Pluto!


Dear Commons Community,

The Associated Press and AOL have set up a website that contains video and images from NASA’s New Horizon Project. The New Horizons probe reached the planet Pluto earlier this week and has begun sending back images and other data. As stated in the AP article:

“Mankind’s first close-up look at Pluto did not disappoint Wednesday: The pictures showed ice mountains on Pluto about as high as the Rockies and chasms on its big moon Charon that appear six times deeper than the Grand Canyon.

Especially astonishing to scientists was the total absence of impact craters in a zoom-in shot of one rugged slice of Pluto. They said that suggests that Pluto is geologically active even now and is being sculpted not by collisions with cosmic debris but by its internal heat.

Breathtaking in their clarity, the long-awaited images were unveiled in Laurel, Maryland, home to mission operations for NASA’s New Horizons, the unmanned spacecraft that paid a history-making flyby visit to the dwarf planet on Tuesday after a journey of 9 1/2 years and 3 billion miles.”

Congratulations NASA!