Faulty Foundations

A lot of what I learned in school was wrong. And so was a lot of what you learned.

I don’t necessarily mean the facts. But the context was unspoken and ignored.

I think of the foundational principles I learned, especially in undergrad and my MA program. Do I blame the professors? No, not really. They learned the same things.

But when I say, in my future work, that TESOL training programs need more explicit focus on race and other forms of marginalization, I’m really saying I wish I’d learned this myself. I studied at amazing institutions, but the educational system itself would rather pretend that structural racism doesn’t exist. So when I learned, on my very first day, the list of acronyms for ELT, I wish I’d been able to pause and consider what I thought about each of the terms.

Ultimately, I’m not really mad. I have a chance to increase race consciousness by fighting the defensive shield many social service workers use to avoid self-examination. I will eventually succeed in at least some small way.

But I do wish I didn’t have to unlearn and recontextualize so much of the foundational knowledge on which I once depended. And that so many other capable educators have no idea what they don’t know and may never find out.

In other words, did some piece of knowledge concerning a marginalized group get passed on to you without context? That doesn’t make it wrong, but question it before you accept it.

Literally “Serving” Students in NY

This is good (though it’s bad that it’s needed). Take a look:

Food insecurity is a pervasive issue on college campuses. Four in 10 (36%) four-year students and roughly the same share of community college students (42%) reported being food insecure, according to a survey released earlier this year by the Wisconsin Hope Lab, a research organization that studies student equity issues. The survey covered 43,000 students across 66 campuses in 20 states and the District of Columbia. It notes that food limitations affect learning, and are particularly a problem for disadvantaged students who likely have the hardest time transitioning to college.

And so…

All public colleges in The State University of New York and The City University of New York systems will have a food pantry or similar food access point by the end of the fall 2018 semester, expanding an effort that already put those services in many institutions, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last week.

Non-traditional students, as noted above, really need this sort of support. Hopefully more states can take note and follow this (or maybe we can have fewer Americans with such needs, but I’m not holding my breath on that one).


Report on ways to boost completion from nontraditional students can be found here.

The best way to support adult learners with varied obligations and responsibilities must include nontraditional support.

Though, as many of the experts contended, admission is not enough. Even the most driven students can fall behind when they don’t have access to basic goods — and that’s why administrators must think outside the box to provide supports students of the past may never have needed, said Goldrick-Rab. She suggests, for instance, that counselors consider food pantries.

“How many of us have thought instead of sending an academic advisor to talk to them about their math class that we might give them a meal plan?” she said. “Food pantries are a charitable response and there’s nothing wrong with them but you have to understand that no one has ever been prevented from becoming food insecure because of the campus food pantry,” she continued, adding colleges need to go beyond financial aid and offer students access to programs that do things like help with “filling out the paperwork” for access to services.

Nontraditional students do not study within systems that are designed for them. We have no reason not to adapt to their needs if we want them to not only survive, but thrive.

He also explains that the industry could do a better job of considering real life workforce skills as a type of credit eligible for graduation. And Oakley agreed, noting that this type of move must also happen in order for institutions to truly provide economic opportunity for these students and thus also meet the demands of the workforce.

“I think we need to put the focus every single day on those universities that are the gateway to students of color and low income students and that are providing real economic mobility,” said Oakley, noting that the pressure on elite schools doing that only is not going to make an impact. “These should not and cannot be terminal credentials. We’re trying to deal with a fast moving economy, and we need to ensure that these individuals have some economic security, otherwise their children who are coming through our pipeline are not going to have opportunity,” he said.

“They should be able to continue to pile up those credits and they should lead to a higher level credential [because] when you’re working all day long two and three jobs, it’s very difficult to just drop everything that you’re doing, attend one of our community colleges, wait three or four years and then get your credentials.”

The current model needs updating. Will schools continue to innovate, or will students be left further behind?


It appears there is a need for dissent.

In my most recent post, I shared a Times Op-Ed suggesting that college isn’t worthwhile for many.

But the authors of the study cited actually disagree with it.

So here is the study itself. Take from it what you will.

From a summary thereof:

The research by Bartik and his colleague Brad Hershbein finds huge returns on four-year college degrees for all students, including those from lower-income families. For a typical student, a degree is worth about $500,000.

Not everyone will go to college, and those who don’t still need a path to economic security, but college is still one of the best choices for many.

And here goes Betsy again

For-profits will flourish as long as this current administration reigns.

From the Times:

Aaron Ament, a former chief of staff to the office of the department’s general counsel who helped create the team under President Barack Obama, said it had been intended to protect students from fraudulent for-profit colleges. “Unfortunately, Secretary DeVos seems to think the colleges need protection from their students,” said Mr. Ament, who is now president of the National Student Legal Defense Network.


And they aren’t even trying to hide what they’re doing. It’s just about extra money.

I can only hope students don’t continue to fall for this life-ruining scam.


Keeping an Eye on For-Profit Schools

A quick post today.

The Nation has a somewhat disturbing report on how for-profit colleges have resurged in these past two years.

Though the industry has in recent years suffered a regulatory drubbing from federal and state officials over systemic fraud and financial abuse, the scrutiny has evaporated under the Trump administration, and corporate higher education is looking to make a comeback. In an extensive analysis of New York’s higher-education system, The Century Foundation (TCF) warns that without tighter oversight, the state’s upcoming budget may become the primary financier of an industry better known for exploiting rather than educating its students.


I suspect we are not going to escape the grasp of such institutions, especially as funding to public college is slashed left and right. And, yes, I certainly have a personal interest in this, having once worked for a for-profit school that I gradually learn was exploiting its students as surely as typical such schools, but, my own biases aside, if you care about education more than money, and particularly so in the state of New York, this should concern you as much as it does me.

Don’t Call It a Comeback (Please)

What do you know about ACICS? If you haven’t worked with or for a for-profit school, probably nothing.

Please read this article about how ACICS is trying to regain its power and influence.

The gist of it, sadly, is that the current administration is friendly to for-profit schools and is likely to allow them to operate without as much regulation as is needed.

To wit:

For years, the accrediting body gave its seal of approval to institutions plagued by complaints, and oversaw for-profit schools that had some of the lowest graduation rates in the country and some of the highest rates of student loan defaults.

It accredited Corinthian Colleges even as it was declaring bankruptcy in 2015, and the agency did not pull the accreditation of ITT Technical Institute until after the federal advisory panel recommended the termination of the council’s recognition.

ACICS is not to be trusted. People like me, and probably you, will have little reason to worry about the damage they have done, are doing, and will continue to do, as their student population is relatively underprivileged and often convinced to take on loans they are unlikely ever to repay, even if they did happen to get a well-paid position (which they often do not). I speak from experience here, as, two jobs ago, I worked for an institution that sought to be accredited by ACICS, and each step they took towards gaining approval by the council led to more overcrowding, less support for instructors, and a generally less productive educational environment, though more money for school administrators.

Unfortunately, there is probably little that can be done to stop the current administration from warmly embracing ACICS. I write about this only to inform of the impending (and ongoing) danger of unscrupulous for-profit institutions.

The Times article I quoted above ends thusly:

“Yes, our sector has had bad schools like every sector of higher education,” Mr. Gunderson said. “But it is time that everyone across the political spectrum stop, step back and look for ways to work together to establish public policies that treat all sectors of higher education on a fair and equal basis. The ideological wars must end.”

I agree, if only in the sense that helping the people who suffer should be the only agenda that matters, and granting unbounded power to ACICS should not be an ideological battle at all. Yet such is the world of education in our country these days.

Point/Counterpoint on Elite Colleges

Two articles to contrast a bit today.

The first one is from Time, and its thesis is that people who attend state schools can end up just as successful as people who go to “elites.”

So why don’t we tell our kids the truth about success? We could start with the fact that only a third of adults hold degrees from four-year colleges. Or that you’ll do equally well in terms of income, job satisfaction and life satisfaction whether you go to an elite private college or a less-selective state university. Or that there are there are many occupations through which Americans make a living, many of which do not require a college degree.

Not wrong!

He continues:

The problem with the stories we’re telling our kids is that they foster fear and competition. This false paradigm affects high-achieving kids, for whom a rigid view of the path to success creates unnecessary anxiety, and low-achieving kids, many of whom conclude at a young age that they will never be successful, and adopt a “why try at all?” attitude. Many of these young people engage in one of the most debilitating forms of self-talk, telling themselves either, “I have to, but I can’t,” or “I have to, but I hate it.”

Also true! Not to get too personal, but I know that anxiety intimately.

The article concludes that telling students the truth – that working hard is valuable but that prestige isn’t everything – would motivate them far more successfully than fear of failure. And the author has decades of experience as a child psychologist – although, and it’s important to note, he does not provide his own data.

Yet when you look at another set of statistics, a different picture emerges.

Take a lot at this article from the NY Times, on the particular struggles of black boys attaining – and holding onto – income and wealth.

“You would have thought at some point you escape the poverty trap,” said Nathaniel Hendren, a Harvard economist and an author of the study.

Black boys — even rich black boys — can seemingly never assume that.

The study, based on anonymous earnings and demographic data for virtually all Americans now in their late 30s, debunks a number of other widely held hypotheses about income inequality. Gaps persisted even when black and white boys grew up in families with the same income, similar family structures, similar education levels and even similar levels of accumulated wealth.

The disparities that remain also can’t be explained by differences in cognitive ability, an argument made by people who cite racial gaps in test scores that appear for both black boys and girls.

And so.

On the one hand, I feel like I’m possibly supporting harmful behavior, since pushing said black boys to achieve based on fear of failure surely has the same emotional and cognitive results as it does for other children. But on the other hand, it is a statistical reality that students of color – and particularly black boys – cannot fully take it easy.

In a way, black boys have to be both exceptional and exceptionally lucky to achieve the same success as their peers. And I’m not sure we have yet figured out how to motivate people to achieve exceptional results through the sort of honesty the first author espoused.

The question becomes, how do we help disadvantaged students excel, to the point that they have equal footing with their peers, since being realistic with them would entail telling the truth that they have to work harder to achieve the same results? And is there a way to do this without the fear that leads to anxiety?

I have no answers to this. But I think, while valuable, the first article leaves out a few keys factors for students outside of the norm.

Actual Teacher Salaries

An interesting recent piece from NPR can be found at this link.

A choice quote:

When people (not just teachers and politicians, but reporters, too) talk about average salaries, they often use numbers that haven’t been adjusted for regional differences in cost of living. Clearly, the costs of life — from rents and mortgages to movies, food and day care — vary widely, depending on where we live. Without adjusting for that, comparing teachers’ salaries in New York to, say, California is classic apples to oranges.

There is indeed a lot of noise in the way teacher salaries are discussed.

Frankly, there is no career where “average national salaries” is a useful figure for a place this large and varied.

Another wrinkle:

Before we get into the numbers, a few quick caveats: There is obviously wide variation in the costs of living within states, too, that these numbers can’t clearly capture. In some cases, deep pockets of veteran teachers may also conceal low pay for young teachers. If you’re curious to know what states pay their starting teachers, EdBuild has looked at that, too.

A salary in Rockland county goes farther than it does in the city.

So what does it say about New York? Well…

  • New York ranks first in average salary at $77,957 but, after the adjustment, plummets to 17th.

Interesting. And that’s the entire state…

Click through above, and pore through the data, too. When we talk numbers, we have to use the right ones.

Behavioral Book Breakdown: “Mindset”

Year: 2006 (updated 2016)

Author: Carol Dweck

This is a book from which I’ve been drawing long before I knew it existed. Dweck, a social psychologist, created a “mindset” test that has been shown to predict achievement and growth in learners, and, while presenting in Seattle at the TESOL conference last spring, we had our audience take the test and discuss its results. But admittedly, I hadn’t yet read the book from which it sprung.

This is an essential book for anyone who wants to understand why people behave, think, and learn (or don’t learn) the way they do. The premise is simple, that praising students – particularly youth – for innate ability gives them a short burst of pride but doesn’t encourage them to seek and adapt to new challenges. Dweck cites myriad studies that support her theory, and it’s very convincing.

If there are flaws to the book, it’s that her anecdotes are mostly piles of things we’ve all heard before, particularly when she ventures into the arena of athletics. But every one of us has what she calls a “fixed” mindset – the belief that we can’t or won’t improve – regarding at least some of the activities in which we engage, and it can truly hold us back.

Reading the book was fairly personal for me, as a child who struggled to admit when he had any sort of trouble until it had gotten rather out of hand, and I would urge anyone interested in human development, and particularly education, to check it out.