Homeless Students

I usually write about adults here since that is my experience and expertise. But this is too impactful an issue here in the city – and certainly relates to adult learners, as their parents are unlikely to succeed without further education – to just consign to those who focus on K-12 students. As the Times wrote yesterday, about 10% of NYC public school students are homeless.

The word homeless conjures up images of mentally ill men and women (but mostly men) on subways and street corners, and surely these individuals deserve our care and empathy rather than the scorn they usually receive. But the vast majority of New York’s homeless are in shelters or “doubled-up,” living with two or more families in a home built for one. It’s particularly prevalent in certain parts of the city, and the funding is just not there, as these students and their families struggle in plain sight.

The city first earmarked $10.3 million for homeless students in 2016, and increased spending on social workers and other services for homeless students to $13.9 million last year, with the City Council pitching in about another $2 million from its own budget. For perspective, the Department of Education’s total budget for the current school year is $32.3 billion.

The amount set aside for services pays for about 70 social workers — or roughly one social worker for every 1,660 homeless students. The funding also pays for more after-school programs and additional staff to help homeless families apply to schools.

In addition, the city started to send students in kindergarten through sixth grade who were living in homeless shelters to school by bus in 2016.

But the mayor left that funding out of the city’s preliminary budget for the last two years, only to plug it back in the final budget, in a process critics call the budget dance.

Richard A. Carranza, the New York City schools chancellor, recently said he was startled by the lack in lines of support for homeless students when he took over the country’s largest public school system in the spring.

He found himself asking, “‘Who owns that issue?’” he recalled in an August interview with The Times. “It was in three different departments,” Mr. Carranza added.

On Sunday, Mr. Carranza said the issue of students living in temporary housing was “deeply important” to him.

Unfortunately, nothing is really being done. These students and their families need specific and dedicated support, but, as the article suggests, it’s not exactly a high priority when the city isn’t even sure which department to pass the buck to.

The lives of public school students are stressful  and challenging enough without the added strain of homelessness and/or shelter living. And the shelter system itself is overburdened beyond recognition, even without considering the education of the children within it.


Sources of Funding

File this under “sounds good until you look under the hood,” but a massive donation with very clearly-attached strings is causing turmoil at one school.

The donation is the largest in the private, Catholic institution’s history, and many say the resulting research center investments have the potential to considerably raise the institution’s profile in the region and nationally. The contention, however, stems from shifting donor expectations of their influence in decisions related to their gifts, something today’s cash-strapped colleges are reconsidering.

The problems with this are clear: schools need money, especially small private schools (not to mention public schools). So they raise tuition and/or accept such gifts. And it’s hard to say no to funds when you need them. You end up with funding streams that are designed to shift the school itself. And until we break out of our cycle where schools – of all types – are underfunded, this will probably continue. Except…

Massive donations could be on the decline, however, with the latest tax bill making fewer taxpayers eligible for tax-deductible contributions through a higher standard deduction, Bloomberg reported. Some wealthy donors may be less likely to donate part of their estate because estate-tax regulations have been loosened.


We Can’t Forget The Liberal Arts

Commentary from the Washington Post last week.

Together, academics and administrators have championed a soft and directionless core curriculum, one that fails to challenge or inspire students. Often the result is students who complete their general education requirements with little engagement and seldom stray from their major area of study.


We have lost sight of the fact that our courses may be stale, overly dogmatic and uninteresting to students, accepting our role as an often unwanted requirement on the path to a diploma.

The result of these unforced errors is that, for many, the liberal arts no longer are an integral part of what constitutes a college education. They are easily replaced. A three-week overseas study class has become acceptable to fulfill the sole humanities component of a plan of study.

I understand why schools focus on STEM. “It’s where the jobs are,” people say. And I was told many times that I should study something more “real” than literature in college, nevermind the fact that I was privileged enough to be able to choose.

But the humanities are vital. Even for technical jobs, being unable to think critically and express yourself in writing renders a person relatively limited. And as much as AI will do its best to replace us, I suspect that truly original writing will be one of the final jobs it takes way.

Ultimately, as I study more about education policy, I think that agreeing upon an expansive group of needed skills for college entrance and graduation, a group that should include STEM but also humanities to different extents, and an eventual transition to a P-20 educational system would help students of all levels, backgrounds and ages.

Most important is what our new approach to the liberal arts offers students: communication and creative thinking skills to prepare business leaders, well-rounded scientists and good citizens.

Billionaire Funding, Bezos-style

Another tech billionaire wants to save education. This time it’s the world richest man.

Bezos’s donation seems to be rooted in good intentions, and it comes at a time when early-childhood education is dominating talks of how to revamp nationwide learning efforts. The First Five Years Fund, which aims to get more federal support for early education, says preschool enrollment has continued to increase, but that there still isn’t enough money to match this uptick and create high-quality programs. Bezos’s pledge could be one of the biggest ever to be given to preschools, the Los Angeles Times reported.

They all seem to be rooted in good intentions. But ultimately, the impact is usually that no one believes education professionals are capable of saving themselves.

This isn’t the first of Bezos’s charitable donations, but he is a little late to the game in getting up to par with fellow billionaires’ pledges. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have said they’ll donate 99% of their Facebook shares to “advancing human potential and promoting equality,” and this year, his charity pledged $30 million to help students learn to read. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has donated billions of dollars to charity, and in August, the organization unveiled $90 million in grants for its student achievement initiative.

If you will indulge me for a bit, I think these giant grants do more for the people giving them than the communities receiving them. The money helps, of course, but it doesn’t actually change the systematic issues that need to be addressed. And it gets them good press so people pay less attention to how they are actually making their money.

“We’re hoping that local, state and federal governments see this as a call to invest more in preschool and child care,” he told the Post. “Frankly, philanthropy can’t fund all of society’s challenges.”

How much do you want to bet that government doesn’t actually listen?

An Analysis of the Teacher Shortage


  • report released last week by the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education reveals that between the 2007-08 and 2015-16 academic years, 23% fewer people completed teacher-prep programs and colleges are taking steps to reinvent their programs to address this challenge, Education Week reports.
  • Some colleges are adjusting their curriculum to better prepare teachers by placing a greater emphasis on pedagogy, focusing on multicultural education in preparation for more diverse classrooms, developing a stronger community focus, and shifting away from standardized testing toward more performance-based assessments approach.
  • Another issue the report noted is that 21% of aspiring teachers are choosing elementary education as their field compared to 8% in early childhood education, 3% in middle school education, 7% in secondary education and 9% in special education. Specific subjects, such as math and science, attracted even fewer applicants, creating a situation where there are shortages in many areas and an overabundance of elementary school teachers overall.

It’s really no wonder this is occurring, as the profession is, in my opinion, simply not viewed very highly, nor is it considered lucrative (though this isn’t entirely true, depending).

Even more concerning is that we, essentially, have a nation of folks who want to teach our youngest students (who surely need support) and there are almost no people (or schools, really) focused on older or lifelong learners.

All of this supports my occasionally wavering but ultimately true belief in the importance of adult education. But please do read the piece to see how the decline has occurred and what schools are trying to do about it.


Helping Adult Learners Succeed

Good work being done here, and necessary work related to what simply isn’t explored as much as it should be. From Education Dive:

Given the profile of the adult student is quite different from the recent college grad as many work full-time, have families and/or are looking for flexible courses with online components, continuing education courses that are targeted, accessible and online are seeing fast growth.

What’s more, they make adult learners attractive candidates. Employers often tell me, “If I’m looking at an individual who has taken the time to further their education, even informally, that tells me they’re committed to learning and development, which makes them a better candidate.”

Perhaps the most significant driver of demand is the evolving job market, an age-agnostic driver that inherently requires lifelong learning. With this reality comes an increasing need/dependency on a highly educated workforce. Predictions show that by 2020, 35 percent of jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree and two-thirds will require some type of post-secondary education showing a bachelor’s degree alone won’t support the advancement of an entire career. Additionally, innovation in technology and evolving professional standards force current and future job-holders to keep up.

I frankly think these numbers are low. But admittedly I live in NYC and work in fields where such things are absolutely necessary, so I’m biased by personal experience.

That said, the days of finishing school (be it high school or even college) and being set for life in a career are over. They just are. You can luck out, of course, but it’s not a good bet, and it’s going to get more and more difficult than it already is. Any school not reaching out to this group is not serving the market or society as well as it could be, and if they aren’t also making their programs affordable, they are likely just increasing inequality, as a handful of students (like me…) amass degrees while the others are thus barred from advancement.


VCs in Education

VCs don’t usually like education funding because it doesn’t tend to bring great returns (since, you know, it’s not usually a profit-making business, nor should it be).

Perhaps that’s changing though. Take a look at this Forbes profile.

“Education is a hard area to invest in,” says Reach Capital partner Jennifer Carolan. “But what makes us excited is how fast education companies are growing now, taking the place of the old. They’re taking their share and just growing so fast.”

Ed tech is still waiting to have the type of massive, multibillion-dollar exit that can kick-start new interest, Reach’s partners know. But it hasn’t been without recent success, Carolan says. Through its first fund affiliated with NewSchools Venture Fund and then its first independent fund, Reach I, Reach Capital has had several positive exits, including WriteLab, which was acquired by Chegg; Zaption, acquired by Workday; and Schoolmint, acquired by HeroK12. Startups such as Repl.it, Epic, Nearpod, Volley and Newsela, meanwhile, have raised significant follow-on funding since Reach’s investment. Add it all up and Reach I has reached a “double-digit” positive IRR for investors, says Carolan, with more exits looming.

I won’t pretend I know what half of that means!

That said, no industry is going to exist without a heavy investment in tech going forward. If educators think we are going to operate in a proudly defiant and analog world, we’ll be left behind (if we haven’t already been). EdTech isn’t going away, so the question is merely what can be done with the tools it provides instead of whether or not to develop said tools. And maybe EdTech can help educate those who are still off the educational grid.

On the other hand:

Including their staff, the Reach Capital team combines for 16 years of classroom teaching experience and five advanced education degrees.

That’s not that much experience for what appears to be half a dozen people, you know. But maybe it works out and helps to transform education as we’ve long known it. I suppose we’ll see.

Supporting Vulnerable Latinx Students

Sobering realities on campus these days. Report is here.

Almost 90% of administrators indicated that they had observed behavioral or
emotional problems in immigrant students1 and one in four (25%) indicated that
this was a very big problem. Huge majorities of respondents recounted examples of
fear and anxiety on the part of their immigrant students. One Maryland teacher
writes: “We have one student who had attempted to slit her wrists because her family has been separated and she wants to be with her mother. She literally didn’t
want to live without her mother.” A California high school teacher explained, “I had
one student who came back the day after prom and would not eat or talk to anyone.
I finally found out from one of her friends that she came home from prom to find her mom deported and never had the chance to say good-bye or anything. She was
suffering but did not know what to do.”

So what are we going to do about this? This horror will end someday, but there will be another, for this group or a different one, and we’ll see the impact, and another generation of students will suffer accordingly.

How can we truly support them?

There are also indirect effects on non-immigrant students. In Southern schools
70% of educators reported this impact, with 15% judging it to be extensive. More
than one of seven educators in the South, and one in eight nationwide, reported
that students’ learning was being affected a lot due to concerns for classmates
whose families are targeted. For many, the ecology of the classroom has been
disrupted. One Northern California counselor commented on how the fears of
immigration raids had stressed her out: “I don’t know if it is stressing them [the
students] out, but I feel stressed out about how the San Francisco Chronicle
reported possible raids in California. It is a scare tactic which frightens not only
undocumented immigrants, but those who are around them.”

It’s a fallacy that this only hurts the direct victims. It is stressing out anyone with empathy for the vulnerable, and that certainly includes most college students.

Not a one person is at their best when stressed, and college is a big challenge for most even in the best conditions. We are forcibly pushing down our young, and I am fairly sure that’s what a handful of people want. But for the rest of us, the impact of this is clear and present.

Quite an Uptick

This article is about MBAs, but there’s a particular point in here I want to highlight.

The Wall Street Journal previously reported that MBA programs, which had been a consistent source of steady enrollment and revenue for large universities, have experienced a decline in applications in recent years.

Along with new programs and supports such as “math camps” to shore up student math skills, most MBA programs now accept the Graduate Record Exam, which is structured to be more accessible to social science and humanities students, in addition to the traditional Graduate Management Admissions Test.


But in the next sentence…

About 90% of business schools now accept the GRE, up from 24% in 2009.


This is a major industry change, and it has only taken a decade. Systemic change is slow, but it demonstrates that if institutions truly want to adapt, and their adaptations succeed, their colleagues across the field will follow, and quickly.

Phasing out Hazing

I am not unbiased when it comes to Greek life on college campuses, as I think it’s far more harmful than beneficial. So take from that what you will – I know people close to me who have had wonderful Greek experiences.

Recent hazing injuries and deaths has prompted impassioned responses, as chronicled in the Times recently.

There has been at least one school-related hazing death each year in the United States since 1961, according to Hank Nuwer, a Franklin College journalism professor and the author of multiple books on hazing. Most, but not all, have occurred during fraternity initiation events.

But in 2017, four students, including Mr. Gruver at L.S.U., Tim Piazza, a 19-year-old at Pennsylvania State University and Andrew Coffey, a 20-year-old at Florida State University, lost their lives in hazing-relating incidents. Mr. Coffey died on a fraternity house couch after drinking an entire bottle of bourbon during Big Brother Night. In each case, multiple students were charged.

Almost all of this unchecked aggression and excess descends from a misguided need to prove one’s worth as a growing male, and it’s long past time for us to learn that risking the safety of oneself and others is not required for membership in the club of masculinity.

There’s also this:

“If we were going to create a higher education system from scratch, would we have organizations that year after year kill a student? Probably not,” he said at the conference. “But they are very ensconced in higher education, and if you try to do some kind of ban, which is often what people are asking, you run the risk of underground behavior.”

“Don’t tell me what I can’t do, even if what I do is killing people,” basically. It’s a fair point, though, and see the Netflix film “Burning Sands” for a bleak example of what happens when hazing goes underground.