The President on Education – Choice and Vouchers

In his State of the Union address, President Obama emphasized the role of education in our economic recovery.  It is education that gives the middle class opportunity for participation in our economy.  The President is right.  Education’s potential for producing that outcome depends, however, upon two fundamental elements that underlie his thesis.  The first is market-based choice in education and the second is the money necessary for the children of working class parents.

A local friend of mine produces annually a map of high- and low-scoring school districts from his company, Maps & Facts, Unlimited.  The map is one of my favorites; it uses red for high scoring districts and blue for those that yield low or failing scores on standardized tests.  There is little surprise in the location of the red and blue on the map.  The top-scoring school districts are those with the highest per capita income where the best-educated parents live.

America’s promise of opportunity is belied by the increasingly differential opportunity that our children have based on their parents’ education and income.  If America is to make good on its promise – and sustain its economic prowess – change is essential.  Like their wealthier counterparts, poor children must have access to quality education. The President is right.

What is essential, however, is the means to educational access.  Already the President is making clear that parents deserve choice.  He did so via the Department of Education’s new College Scorecard that reveals important data about costs of higher education.  But that same commitment to giving students and their parents a choice should be extended to K-12 education as well.  Allowing more charter schools and providing students with vouchers makes available to working class parents what wealthier parents and their children already have – choice and the means to pay for it.

All of America’s citizens deserve educational opportunity.  Education drives economic growth along with market-based technological innovation.  Making education available to all, however, is the challenge.

For too long we have been reticent to let the market and market information drive educational choice.  The Department of Education’s website is a step in the right direction.  For too long we have assumed that poor children must accept only their local school.  And that local school may not be the best choice for some children from less wealthy households anymore than it is for some children from the wealthiest.  Vouchers give to the poor what the wealthy have long had – the means to that choice.  Let’s look for more action from Washington that encourages states and local school districts to act in favor of open enrollment opportunity and the money to make choice real for all.


What Business Schools Can Learn from K-12

What we have learned about teaching science in high school matters for higher education as well.  Over a year ago I wrote about the challenge of limited learning in college, described by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa in thier book, Academically Adrift.  Among the causes for limited learning at college was how little undergraduates, especially business students, studied.  Higher education need not accept this outcome of limited learning, nor should business schools, especially, accept it.  Advances in technology coupled with new pedagogical formats can make a difference in higher education, and K-12 is showing the way.

Two decades ago K-12 science education received the benefit of the IBM and Biological Sciences Curriculum Study.  It introduced a model of how students learn science based on the 5Es: Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend and Evaluate.  Still touted by NASA for educators, the model views students as building their own understanding of science from experience and new ideas.  While focused on science, the model has much more widespread application, and one of them is in college-level applied areas like business.

Business students often complain that their classroom instruction is too theoretical.  In turn, employers criticize business schools for students’ failure to learn and for their failure to have the ability to apply what they have learned to practical decisions on the job.  We should expect more from business schools and business students – undergraduates and MBAs.  The 5E model explains how high school science students learn science by becoming engaged in the subject, having the opportunity to explore on their own through experiences, explaining what they are learning to others, and testing their knowledge through application.  If this sounds like how one learns about the applied practice of business, it is.

Now, of course, higher education, like K-12, has the opportunity to couple technology with the 5E learning model.  Digital learning technologies have enabled a relatively new K-12 education concept called the “flipped” classroom to spread.  The flipped classroom uses class time for interaction between student and teacher while off-loading lectures and reading to non-classroom time.  It depends upon an engaged learning model where students study on their own.  Jonathan Bergmann and Aaron Sams have told their story of the creation of the flipped classroom at Woodland Park High School in Woodland Park, CO, and their story credits technology with the origin of the concept.

What the flipped classroom offers for higher education is mostly unexplored, but technology is making exploration easier.  Business education naturally demands applied learning experiences that make the theoretical understandable and useable.  The 5Es of Engage, Explore, Explain, Extend and Evaluate fit the way business and other applied subjects can be learned.  Technology provides the foundation for the learning method’s use in a classroom environment that is characterized by a version of the flipped classroom.  In it the professor can focus on students’ explanations and applications.  Reading and lectures can be completed via digital learning technology outside of the classroom.  The combination of the 5Es, technology and the flipped classroom can increase learning – and the kind of learning that matters to employers.

Balanced Reporting in the For-Profit Sector

With so much negative coverage of private sector colleges and universities in the news, this blog has focused on a balanced view of access and success in higher education.  Some would say that the media’s reporting could hardly be called “fair.”  However, two media opinion pieces this week bring some balance to the issues.  Of particular note is the recognition of several themes of this blog: (a) the need for more “seats” and the capacity of the private sector to provide increased access and (b) the biased focus of the Department of Education on only one sector of higher education while ignoring the need to improve public higher education.  See below for excerpts from these articles:

The Florida Times-Union: “For-profit, ‘career’ colleges play vital role in education

In a society where the haves and have-nots are on increasingly divergent trajectories, education remains a critical path to equal opportunity.


The traditional model of higher education – nonprofit public and private universities and community colleges – is limited in its ability to support this pathway.


In fact, the overcrowding problem is so acute at some community colleges that many students have stopped making progress toward a degree simply because they cannot get access to necessary courses.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: A well-laid plan to cripple needed for-profit colleges

Let’s be clear. We agree with the concern the department is trying to address. The idea is that students should graduate with jobs that pay enough to enable them to repay their loans. We’re committed to students’ successes, so we would like to be part of any solution that helps further their success.


So what has gone awry?


The Department of Education proposed a rule based on anecdotal information from 16 unnamed for-profit colleges that no one is allowed to examine for accuracy. Worse, the “study” does nothing to compare graduation outcomes or debt levels of our students with public or non-profit institutions serving similar student populations.