How are schools competing with other modes of learning?

The New Media Consortium and I hosted a panel discussion about Competition from New Models of Learning.  Four amazing people explored this concept from very different perspectives and with tremendous energy.  It was all I could do to keep up.

Those panelists are Cathy De RosaRebecca J. Griffiths, Deborah Howes, and Will Richardson.

Here, watch and listen:

Many thanks to the fine contributors, and also to Alex and the NMC crew for supporting the event.

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Reading Robert Putnam, _Our Kids_, together online

Robert Putnam, _Our Kids_Last week I mentioned wanting to read Robert Putnam’s new book, Our Kids (Simon & Schuster, 2015).  That’s because it’s an important, attention-winning new work, and because it bears closely on inequality and education issues I’ve been examining.

So let’s read the thing, together, online and/or offline.

Everyone interested should get a copy through whichever way you prefer.

Like the Second Machine Age reading, I’ll post here about each chapter, offering a summary of its contents plus some questions to chew over.   Folks can comment on each post.  We can also fling reflections across Twitter, Goodreads, Facebook, other blogs, podcasts, and other social media, as we did in the Exploded Twitter Book Club.

Pacing: for simplicity’s sake let’s assume one week per chapter.  So far the prose is accessible and thoughtful, not a light read nor an especially dense one.  Each chapter is about 40 pages long.

There’s no pressure if it’s a bad time to read.  No need to feel bad if you can’t comment right now.  Please feel free to dip in and out based on your interests and schedule.  For my part I vow to prepare those summaries and questions, while keeping up with discussions.

Here’s a rough schedule, assuming a few days for people to find a print, ebook, or audiobook copy:

April 1: chapter 1, “The American Dream: Myths and Realities”

April 8: chapter 2, “Families”

April 15: chapter 3, “Parenting”

April 22: chapter 4, “Schooling”

April 29: chapter 5, “Community”

May 6: chapter 6, “What is to be Done?”

Will you join us?

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Piketty on student debt

Thomas Piketty, one of the most important economists of our time, guru of economic inequality, offers some brief and pithy observations on student debt in American higher education.  Let’s break it down.

First, the general observation:

[T]he amount of household debt and even more recently of student debt in the U.S. is something that is really troublesome and it reflects the very large rise in tuition in the U.S. a very large inequality in access to education…

Piketty links student debt to mortgages, which is an underappreciated combination.  (Yes, I am still paying both at 48 years of age)

Second, student debt has reached crisis proportions.  Not just for the students, but also for the economy and nation as a whole:

[I]t’s not possible to have such a large group of the population entering the labor force with such a big debt behind them…

this is a situation that is very troublesome and should rank very highly in the policy agenda in the future in the U.S.

“It’s not possible.”  Are we approaching an economic and/or political limit? Continue reading

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Did we just enter the age of extractive democracy?

extraction_by FishhawkLet me turn my blogging in a somewhat more political direction, at least for this post.  Working on higher education as a futurist, I have to wrangle dozens of major contextual factors from the worlds of politics, economics, and society.  In the course of doing so a hypothesis has come to mind, and I want to try it out here.

The idea is that American society is becoming an extractive democracy.

Short version: our economy and political institutions are now constructed to draw money and other resources from the lower half of society in order to transfer it to the wealthiest.  It’s a kind of plutocracy.

Longer version?  Let me draw together the intertwining strands.  Ten of them, in fact.  Ferguson will play an exemplary role.

First, local governments have ramped up their extraction of money from citizens through fees and bureaucracy.  This is probably obvious to most readers, but let John Oliver explain.

Note that Oliver relies on what the nation has learned about Ferguson and surrounding areas.

Second, such practices scale up to the business and federal government levels, as David Graeber observes.  Hence the epic-Kafka bureaucracies and exfoliating fee-charing systems. (No, I haven’t read Graeber’s most recent book)

“Almost every institution in America—from our corporations to our schools, hospitals, and civic authorities—now seems to operate largely as an engine for extracting revenue, by imposing ever more complex sets of rules that are designed to be broken.”

Once more, Ferguson’s shakedown policies are in view, but here as microcosm for the bigger machinery.

Third, American police forces are increasingly militarized, as Radley Balko has most extensively documented.  This gives local authorities more power to extract wealth from citizens.

Fourth, financialization.  That means an ever-increasing proportion of the American economy is based on financial services, rather than on manufacturing things.  For a neat example, some readers may recall when General Motors made more money on loans than on actual cars.   Continue reading

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What American educational oligarchy looks like in 2015

It seems like the fact of drastic educational inequality is becoming more widely known in the United States of 2015.  At the same time, gaps of race and class are widening and normalizing.  And we refuse to do anything about it, basically, preferring to accept, if not celebrate our entrance into Thomas Piketty’s world.

Fieldston logoCase in point: a heartbreaking This American Life story, “Three Miles“.  Take the time to listen to the stream, or at least read through the whole transcript.  “Three Miles” follows several poor, nonwhite New York City people from being K-12 students to entering adult life, tracing how their educational fate was powerfully determined – i.e., restricted –  by race and especially class.

Listen/read carefully to this opening depiction of a yawning gulf between two nearly neighboring schools:

Lisa Greenbaum’s school, University Heights High School, is a public school. It’s 97% black and Hispanic. It’s located in the poorest congressional district in the country, the South Bronx.

Angela Vassos’ school, Fieldston [full name: the Ethical Culture Fieldston School], is also in the Bronx, but it’s one of New York City’s elite private schools. It’s 70% white. It’s known as a progressive school. One in five kids gets financial aid, which is helpful, because last year tuition was $43,000.

That’s where this starts.  Realize that UHHS isn’t the worst high school – there aren’t any metal detectors, for example.  We don’t follow the normal paths of UHHS children, in fact, but trace several extreme outliers.  Unusually ambitious and talented students, apparently well supported by their schools, aim for the academic stars, get broken, then fall back to where they started.

Here’s the main character of the story describing her reaction to visiting Fieldston:

Melanie I know I looked at it and I said, well, I know that we’re only being taught to flip burgers in Burger King or McDonald’s or to hold doors for students like them that will probably live in those buildings on Madison Avenue, and we’ll be wearing the uniform, servicing these people.

Chana Joffe You thought that when you were at Fieldston?

Melanie Definitely.

Continue reading

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One law school faces a stark future

Can a law school perform a queen sacrifice?  I haven’t been blogging about the law school crisis, although I’ve been tracking it for years (!) at FTTE.  So let me remedy that with the sad story of the Appalachian School of Law.

Appalachian School of Law_Sign_in_FrontASL faculty numbers have fallen to a stark level:

[F]aculty numbers have dropped from 14 full-time professors in the Spring of 2014 to eight in the fall to seven this semester, that’s down 50%.

Why?  Enrollment has plummeted as the law school crisis continued:

At the height of enrollment, there were approximately 150 students in a graduating class at ASL…

[T]he incoming class for 2014 … was approximately 45…

This has led to income reductions: “Revenue has dropped from $9 million in 2010 to $6.9 million in 2013.”

How is Appalachian Law responding?  One move explores affiliating with another institution, Emory & Henry College, about 55 miles away.  Another involves lowering LSAT demands from incoming students.

I don’t think they can cut more faculty and still offer basic classes, which means a queen sacrifice might not be in the cards.  As with Lyndon State, cutting back on academic offerings weakens a school’s ability to compete.

There are other examples of law schools being crunched.  Time permitting, I’ll blog about them.

(thanks to Shel for the pointer)


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Vermont college cuts staff, adjuncts, classes

Lyndon State CollegeLyndon State College announced a series of cuts this week, responding to all too common challenges in today’s higher education.

The Vermont campus starts by laying off five administrators.  Then the reductions continue:

Lyndon State will not reappoint some of its adjunct faculty, the college will reduce the number of courses taught by adjuncts and cut “overloads” paid to full-time faculty for taking on additional teaching responsibilities.

Why is this happening?  My readers will be unsurprised to learn:

Joseph Bertolini, president of Lyndon, said the cuts were necessary to address a budget deficit caused by declining enrollment… a $1.5 million gap between income and expenses…

At the start of the 2013-14 school year, Lyndon State had 1,519 students. Last fall the college attracted 1,430 students…

This falls just short of my queen sacrifice model, because no tenured/tenure-track faculty have been cut.  But it does include direct cuts to academic programs being offered:

Lyndon State spokesman Keith Chamberlin said the college was already offering about 60 fewer courses than it did in the fall. The new cost-saving measures, he said, will eliminate another 15 courses from next year’s catalog.

Now follows a realistic and disturbing comment: Continue reading

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