New Forumulas on Graduation Rates Still Don't Tell The Whole Story

Great news, looks like we’re slowly getting real about the graduation crisis in our nation’s high schools. Reports from AP News across the web report that states are beginning to change how they measure high school graduation rates.

There are several ways to measure high school graduation, these new rules get us a bit closer to realistic estimates.

Here is the quote of how many states artificially inflate their gradation numbers:

“The method, used by about half the states last year, works like this: If a school had 100 graduates and 10 students who dropped out from their freshmen to senior year, 100 would be divided by 110, giving the school a graduation rate of 90.9 percent.”

This “leaver method” doesn’t tell the whole story about what is occurring in many of our schools, especially those with large numbers of black/Latino/disadvantaged students.

Counting those who “drop out” vastly underestimates how many students leave high school without attaining a high school diploma. The new formulas are an improvement, but here is a list of students who we need to count when we consider the state of high school graduation:

-Not counted are the students leave by getting a G.E.D. (as Chris Rock says, a “good enough diploma”).

-Not counted are the student who don’t officially “drop out.” That is, in order to “drop out” you have to show up to school and fill out official paperwork saying that you are withdrawing from school. Black and Latino males, in particular, don’t drop out: they just simply stop showing up at school. I like calling these students “drift outs”: after awhile, they just disappear, and no one knows or cares where they went.

– Not counted are the student who take more than four years to graduate. When I spent time in Baltimore City Public Schools, I often met 10th graders who were 19 and 20 years old! Getting “held back” is detrimental to student outcomes. Some of these kids will eventually graduate, but often it is just to get rid of them.

-Not counted are student who are “pushed out” of school. Again, many black and brown and male students, in particular, face indefinite “suspensions” and expulsions from high school. In the face of zero tolerance policies, racist teachers, etc, black boys are 2X more likely to face this kind of punishment.

These are limitations of traditional drop out measurements. A better estimate, in my opinion, is to consider the “holding power” of high schools. By tracking individual students from freshman year to senior year, how many of those individual students actually walk across the stage and receive a real diploma?

When “holding power” is examined, we often see that high school graduation rates are closer to 50%-60% for undeserved and minority students! Black males in large urban districts graduate at 40% when holding power is considered. To get the whole story, we need to consider the holding power of schools, not just the aggregate count of how many students drop out.

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States brace for grad-rate dips as formula changes

States are bracing for plummeting high school graduation rates as districts nationwide dump flawed measurement formulas that often undercounted dropouts and produced inflated results.



Why Google + Is Not an Education Game Changer

My July mornings have been filled with +1s, circles, reshares, and streams. Yes, I’ve been playing around with Google’s new social network Google +. It’s neat, and it’s better than the failed Wave and Buzz properties. One plus is that it sits in my main email box. So far, it is a good tool for sharing articles and short messages with friends and family. I’ve used Gmail since 2004, and have about 5Gbs of email. This makes adding everyone I know to Google + very easy and seductive. Since I never used Friendster, MySpace, or Facebook, Google + could become the first social network in my personal life.

However, I am skeptical about using Google + in my classes. I am not sure that Google + will continue to hold my attention after September 1, 2011, when the fall semester begins.

Liz Dwyer has declared Google + a game changer in education:

“There’s a good chance that Google+ is going to become a powerful communication and collaboration tool in the classroom. In fact, it could end up being a serious education game changer…Even at the college level, Google+ seems like it’s poised to revolutionize things.”

Really? Also, The Good Doctor imagines at least four ways Google + could become part of the academic’s work flow:

“Using Sparks to collect research-related web items

Using Circles to create networks of academic interest

Using Google Docs to share content

Using hangouts to teach, host mini-conferences, and host writing groups”

Is Google + really poised to revolutionize education? And is there a compelling reason to incorporate Google + into our professional, academic lives?

My gut reaction so far is…probably not. And here are my reasons why, in no particular order:

1.There is nothing really new about Google +. Beyond the hype, Google + is just another social networking platform, or if you will, a cloud application package. All functionality of Google +, besides those pretty circles, can be duplicated using other services. Putting aside public services like Facebook, Dropbox, or Twitter, many institutions already have purchased expensive services like BlackBoard that contain blogging software, collaboration tools, study groups, gradebooks, chatrooms, etc. Other places use OpenSource programs similar to blackboard. Cornell, my home institution, pays for Edublogs, a great place for sharing web items, allowing students to comment on each other’s papers. Everything that Google + offers is already available through the university.

2.Google + doesn’t deal with the problem of privacy or security. One argument is that the circles will make it easier for teachers/professors to firewall their personal lives from their students’ lives. I doubt it. I predict that too many students will accidently make their drunken photos “public,” or a student will reshare nasty comments about the professor to other circles. Google + is no more “private” or “secure” than anything else, because all social networks are inherently non-private and insecure.

3. Requiring every student to sign up for Google+ is questionable. Professors weld a great deal of power over young people, and it is my experience that most students will do anything you tell them to if you use the magic phrase: “this will be on the exam.” However, should we require students to sign over their identities to Google in order to take a class?

Google is a company, and its business is selling our private thoughts, identities, and habits to advertisers. Google wants to track everything you do online (not necessarily evil). Those advertisers want to trick us into buying crap that we don’t need. In essence, turning over important classroom functions to Google + could become another example of the corporatization of education. Why should students have to agree to have their online movements tracked so that they can join a classroom discussion? It is against Google’s TOS to create fake accounts on Google +, so using fake names and information is out.

At my university, requiring Google + accounts would seem to be against the rules, because it would raise serious concerns about ensuring student privacy, especially when it comes to grades. Also, office hours and student advising must be done “face-to-face,” according to my reading of the faculty handbook, so yet-to-be-tenured-facutly should ask around before adding Google + to the syllabus.

4. Google + in the classroom assumes that all students possess digital literacy. Like other professors, I am OLD. As such, we assume that young whipper-snappers are all about their Tweeters and Texters. Young people, with their hippie-hop music! However, research demonstrates that there is a huge “digital divide” along the lines of race, social class, gender, and family background. Adding Google + this fall, especially in freshman level classes, may put first-generation/minority students even further behind their peers. Most first-generation college-students don’t finish college, so we need to think this through. In addition to the digital divide, research also shows that there is a serious “participation gap.” This means that black and Latino kids, especially males, don’t know how to use social media tools. These gaps have been shown to persist among middle school, high school, and college students. Arguably, adding Google + might just advantage the already-advantaged students. All kids aren’t “growing up digital,” so using Google + will come at a cost: a substantial amount of class time will have to be spent teaching students how to use Google +. Some of that time will be spent on teaching students how to use it responsibly.

5. Collaborative research on Google+ may reinforce the status hierarchy among faculty. I like Lester Spence’s idea about hosting mini-conferences and writing groups using Google +. For minority faculty members in particular, this could help ease the feeling of isolation, and foster collaboration with folks at other institutions. Plus +1. Still, Google + can also reinforce the elite cliques and social groups who dominate the peer review process, conferences, and the like. Unless these are public groups and discussions, Google + can be just another site exclusion. Reproducing the good ole’ boys club, the faculty club, locker room, or golf course: minus -1. How do junior faculty members, minorities, etc find out able and join the “right” circles?

6.The problem of social media and technology fatigue. Finally, I have to admit that I am usually “technologied out” by 3:00pm on most days. Emails, tweeters, IPODs, Ipads, TVs everywhere at the gym. It would be my guess that many students are overwhelmed with their Facebook updates and YouTube as well. Some of the most important memories I have from college remain those face-to-face interactions with professors. Google + seems a poor replacement for having coffee with students, or giving a lecture on the quad on a sunny afternoon. Having taught at Williams College, an elite liberal arts college in New England, I know that many students/parents believe they are paying good money ($70,000+) to interact in “real life” with professors, not by email, Gmail or plusses. At Cornell, I regularly stop students on campus, ask them to take off their IPods, and talk to me about anything. Whatever Google + turns out to be, we need to unplug (from the Matrix) some of the time.

What do you think? Will you be using Google + in your classes this fall? Leave feedback or talk to me on Google + ( or the Tweeters (@basedprof)

The Educational Crisis Facing Black Boys

Today, 15.5 million children in America live in poverty. More than 20 percent of children under the age of five are poor, and over 40 percent of these children are Black. At nine months of age, poor Black children are already behind their higher-income peers in cognitive development; the gap is even wider by 24 months. By kindergarten, poor Black children have to beat the odds to catch up — and as various tests reveal, many never do.

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Experts Call for Early Focus on Black Boys’ Nonacademic Skills

Given the typically low graduation rates and low scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress of black boys and youth, the symposium’s goal was to identify promising practices and policies to get black males off to a strong start. It focused on how to influence the path for the nation’s 3.5 million black boys under the age of 9.

“When do we begin to focus our energies on the repressive social system black boys are forced to live in in this country?” asked Thurman L. Bridges, during a question-and-answer session. He is an associate professor of teacher education at Morgan State University, in Baltimore.

If the success of black males is, in fact, a barometer for the health of society, he said, “we should focus our attention on assessing their resilience, their ability to survive, given the society is built for their demise.”



More Education Not More Prisons

Michelle Phelps, a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Princeton University, provides more evidence on the school-to-prison pipeline and the nation’s need to begin investing in education, not mass incarceration.

The Dangerous Trade-Off between Education and Incarceration
In recent years, as states around the country have been faced with the worst budget deficits on record, funding for many social service programs has been slashed or cut entirely. A new report from the NAACP demonstrates that during these budget clashes, funding for prisons has won out over spending for education. The report argues that these “misplaced priorities” are ultimately destructive.  Expanding prisons at this point does little to reduce crime and by spending these limited budget dollars on prisons rather than education, we are condemning the next generation of kids in poor neighborhoods to this same cycle of poor education, high crime rates, and mass incarceration.
However, the NAACP report only describes the first half of the problem—the failures of schools and the expansive role of the criminal justice system. The other half of the story is the legacy of these failures—strikingly low levels of education among those who wind up in our nation’s prisons—and the fact that corrections departments today are doing a worse job than ever in providing education inside of prisons as a way out of the revolving door of corrections.
This is important because we know that over 90 percent of inmates are at some point released and roughly half of them will return to prison within the next 3 years. Slashing prison education funding may provide a very small benefit to the current budget, but it also helps to fuel the growth in prisons that has suffocated education funding in the first place.