A Closer Look at the Relationship Between Youth Unemployment and Labor Market Expectations

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While writing a thesis on the current labor market expectations in the 21st  century’s knowledge-based economy, I had the chance to thoroughly examine recent and prospective developments in the labor market. This blog story will focus on the employers’ labor market expectations and explain underlying reasons behind increasing overall unemployment rate.

Labor market expectations have been in a state of flux. In today’s global market, having a broad range of skills in addition to having solid educational credentials is of vital importance. Therefore, a more powerful and sustainable economy depends on equipping employees, particularly young generations, with these skills. When looking at the statistical data and research done by both national and international institutions worldwide, it seems that unemployment rate globally is somewhat on the increase, particularly in developing countries. While unemployment rates and labor market expectations take place at an accelerating pace, research shows that younger generations are badly affected insofar as they fall behind to meet these expectations. So, let’s take a look at some of these data and research and get a better understanding of the causes of increasing unemployment rate.

‘Youth Unemployment Visualization 2013’, which is prepared by ‘World Economic Forum’, provides detailed information about unemployment rate globally based on some descriptive statistics. According to this visualization, “Youth make up 40% of the world’s unemployed and a youth’s risk of being unemployed was three times higher than that of an adult in 2011”. While youth in developing countries are more likely to be unemployed, youth in developed countries have also been struggling to find jobs and have being forced into part-time jobs. The graph below, which is designed by ‘International Labor Organization’, also shows global youth unemployment rate.

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Figure. Global youth unemployment and unemployment rate, 1991–2012

So, what are the underlying causes behind this increasing unemployment rate? In his article entitled ‘Addressing the Youth Unemployment Crisis in the Middle East’, Jamie Mcauliffe mapped out the reasons behind increasing unemployment rate. Although the article particularly focuses on the Middle East, research results shed light on current global unemployment issue as well. According to Mcauliffe, one of the main reasons stem from “the dearth of work-relevant education and skills”. Many college graduates have a hard time upon their graduation since most of them cannot gain practical skills essential for getting a job in the market. This may result from the fact that college education mostly provides theoretical information rather than focusing on practical applications. Hence, gaining practical skills for college graduates may be difficult.

While the lack of practical skills has a detrimental effect on getting jobs, the lack of soft skills such as critical thinking, problem-solving, and communication also has a negative effect on getting employed. Thus, having both soft skills and practical skills is equally important in the labor market.

A growing consensus is emerging among policy makers who claim that “not only more but better education and training is needed in developing economies”. As International Labor Organization’s report “Global Employment Trends for Youth 2012” highlights, it is necessary to address these challenges and take necessary steps in areas such as ‘Macroeconomic and Growth Policies; Active Labor Market Policies and Programmes; Labour Standards and Social Protection for Young People; Social Dialogue and Partnerships for Youth Employment; Supporting Strong Labour Market Information and Analysis Systems’. Active labor market policies such as strengthening close relations between employers and educational institutions, providing skills development programs for younger generations, and addressing skill mismatches can help alleviate unemployment rate to some extent. Besides, only generating jobs would not be enough for a better economy and coping with an increasing unemployment rate. There is also a need to ensure appropriate working conditions for employees and to create a continuous dialogue and partnerships between government and both employers and unions. By contextualizing global youth unemployment in light of these policies, we are more likely to come up with multiple viable solutions for ensuring better labor market prospects.

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Getting into Harvard. The American dream, and other things you need millions for

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You can’t ignore the increasing crossover and interconnectedness of Academics and Economics. The relationship between these two are becoming increasingly publicized as mirror images or exclusively linked, but not in the ways you’d think.

The stronger your financial position, the higher the chances you’ll get into an ‘elite’ education institution. The more ‘elite’ institution, the greater the chance you’ll really achieve wealth/status. Many writers have explored this phenomenon; however, none more influential than Ron Unz’s latest article “The Myth of American Meritocracy.”

The article reveals the incredible extent that socio-economical strength dictates ‘success’ under the facade of elite academics to drive the now perceived illusion of work effect and the American Dream. Ron Unz exposes, however frightfully, that it’s not meritocracy being rewarded by seemingly high levels of education and therefore social success, but simple politics and economics. Admissions into universities is not a race for premier student selection of the brightest, most highly trained, and highly disciplined students on the planet, but rather a hand-picked demographic unbelievably slanted toward finances and political background.

This current covert system and policies only perpetuate and further establish what is a modern day cast system furthering the economic divide and perpetuating the social elitism. Distribution of wealth and its perpetuation links universities to further lope-siding the status quo while hiding behind the idea of a ‘well rounded individual.’

‘The Myth of American Meritocracy’ reveals prejudices in methodology of following trends, mountains, and valleys of the discriminated minorities of their time.

Harvard’s endowment is now over 30 billion dollars and the Admissions Department that gives such huge support to squash, rowing, and legacy members does nothing but perpetuate the ‘education’ of the best to keep investing in their future. The higher the social capital the better!

Private tutoring, entry fees in sports clubs, prep testing, entrance into private boarding schools, and high end resources go a long way in supplying a better advantage for admissions. Unz also says “its nice if your dad plays polo with the Admissions Director.”

I’ve always thought America truly has a university for everyone. But unfortunately it’s also becoming increasingly apparent that each individual should only strive to small measures higher than their current social status.

To me, the article and the American education system has a mix of ‘the death of the American Dream,’ the rise of neo-liberalism, and the illusion of how this all makes sense. Ivy Leagues seemingly deal in capital. Initially, Unz describes that Harvard dealt purely in academic capital but this obviously has drastically shifted. It now reflects less importance on academics and more on human, social, and economic capital than ever. ‘Does wealth dictate education or education dictate wealth?’ It seems that Unz isn’t confused.

A further example of this is seen in Mike Russel’s Massive Open Online Revenue Generating Entities, which talks about how elite colleges prioritize status over economics and as admissions reveal this isn’t done through academics.

Elite colleges are ultimately in the business of maximizing status, not revenue. Spending a lot of money on things that return a lot of status isn’t just feasible for these institutions—it’s their basic operating principle.”

American society has similarly made the dream of achieving these institutions beyond the reach of ‘us’ mere peasants.

Who Stole the American Dream? “Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter Hedrick Smith reveals a series of events and decisions that have contributed to today’s disparity in wealth and political power. The country is divided sharply and extremely by money, by political power, and by ideology. We have enormous, gaping inequalities of income. And along with that, we have exaggerated and unequal political power exercised by corporate America and by the wealthy, particularly between elections, through masses of lobbyists working in Washington.”

–U.S. News.

My Thoughts on Improving Education in Cambodia

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The tragedy of the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979) left the Cambodian education in ruins. There is a lot to be done to improve the education system in Cambodia. One day I had a discussion with my friend Gareth Mace who said, “Cambodia needs to establish a good school structure and from there she can expand the structure to all over the country.” I do agree with his idea and I think the government has to have a good plan and work closely with the NGOs to improve education in Cambodia.

One of the NGOs working to improve the education system in Cambodia is “
Caring for Cambodia” (CFC), which has worked to support public schools in the Siem Reap region. Although the “success” of their school model has not been measured yet, some changes are visible such as libraries with thousand books, beautiful classrooms, qualify teachers who receive professional training, and free lunches that are available for all students and teachers. As such, we could assume that CFC schools are better than other government schools that rely on very limited resources. In addition, the dropout rate at CFC schools is 1.70% compared to the national average of 8.70% and student retention rate is 93.82% compared with the national average of 61.20% (CFC newsletter, 2011-2012).

CFC is working continuously to improve the curriculum, teacher quality, as well as school management. For example, CFC provides support for the school structure and management by appointing a qualified Cambodian as a country director. 

CFC has also established a partnership with professional groups in Singapore to work on curriculum development. A teacher training director was appointed to ensure the improvement of the quality of the teachers. Teacher training includes a study tour to Singapore, teacher training by international teachers, in-house trainings, and  workshops. The teacher mentor program was established in order to provide ongoing support for teachers in the classroom and to sustain the capacity building of the teachers.

Furthermore, CFC is providing volunteer opportunities for individuals and institutions around the globe. The volunteering is included in the Education Committee and School Liaison Committee. The Education Committee was set up in Singapore and is responsible for holding the workshops and supporting the Cambodian teachers, as well as developing teaching materials for the Cambodian classrooms. The Education Committee members sometime travel to Siem Reap to provide training for CFC teachers.  I think that these strategies provide a great human resource for CFC to support their teachers without much cost.  The School Liaison Committee is responsible for building a network between CFC and school communities from around the world. The school committee is also responsible for promoting CFC, school tour and fundraising, supply drive, mobilize the resources for CFC, and communication. The School Liaison Committee provides a great support to CFC by addressing the needs of human resources and other resources.

My thoughts regarding the education development plan for Cambodian schools is that CFC could engage and network with other public school in other provinces. The CFC school model – for example the teacher training model, curriculum model, and school management model – should be considered for wider dissemination in other public schools. CFC could also facilitate more internship in other schools. Many of the NGOs that have been supporting Cambodian schools should be cooperated with CFC in order to support to the whole educational system in other public schools in Cambodia. There are many areas in which this collective approach would be beneficial, including networking, partnership, curriculum development, teacher training, school materials, library development, learning technology, data management systems and research programs. More importantly there should be a central board that would monitor each components of the education development, for example curriculum development board, teacher training board, or school management board. The central board should provide guideline to the NGOs and manage their work based on the needs of each individual school. These NGOs should be working together closely and collaboratively to establish a good educational structure such as CFC schools.

Threat to the American Dream? Colleges are failing to recruit low-income students

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With high school seniors looking to make important decisions regarding their college choices in the upcoming weeks, a fascinating study has emerged analyzing the effects of socio-economic status on college acceptance and performance rates. The numbers are staggering; 34% of high achieving low-income students make it into any of the U.S’s 238 most selective schools, while that figure is 74% for top students in the highest income bracket. While the racial gap is large but has been decreasing over the past two decades, what’s interesting is that income gaps continue to increase. It has become apparent that colleges are failing to admit or even reach out to applicants of more diverse backgrounds, not only racially but also socio-economically.

A comprehensive study by Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery reveals that 69% of those high achieving low-income students are white. It’s unfortunate that poor and white doesn’t count as “diverse” enough for Ivy League schools, especially in an environment like Harvard where:

“Approximately 45.6 percent of Harvard undergraduates come from families with incomes above $200,000, placing them in the top 3.8 percent of American households. Even more shockingly, only about 4 percent of Harvard undergraduates come from the bottom quintile of U.S. incomes and a mere 17.8 percent come from the bottom three quintiles of U.S. incomes.” (Crimson, 2013)

Perhaps universities aren’t as diverse as they are claiming to be, rather, they are defining diversity simply in terms of ethnicity and race instead of taking a holistic approach and creating opportunities for bright but under-privileged students and really making a difference in the power of social mobility. According to researchers Martha Bailey and Susan Dynarski, 30 years ago there was a 31% point difference between rich and poor Americans with bachelors degrees. Today that gap has risen to 45 points.

One might blame the gap on the inability of lower-income students to thrive in a competitive college environment with a diverse population, suggesting that perhaps they would do better at a local community college. However, the study found that 89% of these students who went to selective schools graduated, whereas only 50% of them graduated from non-selective schools.

Students already living in bad neighborhoods who attend under-performing schools will not have the same information or access to well informed guidance counselors or teachers who can help them make decisions regarding their future. The finest college guidance counselors are recruited to work at schools with the highest masses of high-achievers, and for those few high-achieving students living in rural areas, it is unlikely that admissions staff will come to visit each and every school across America. (Hoxby)

If uninformed guidance counselors and visits from admissions staff at colleges isn’t the most effective way of reaching high-achieving low income students, then what is? Whose responsibility is it to reach out to this portion of “America’s future”? Should colleges let them continue to slide through the cracks or finally own up to their claims of diversity in all regards by allocating funds toward recruiting students from a wider socio-economic backgrounds?

Hoxby and Avery created the Expanding College Opportunities Project (ECO-C), which “combines semi-customized information and low-paperwork fee waivers on students’ application, admissions, and enrollment.” This low-cost (only $6 per student!) form of outreach proved to cause students to submit 19 percent more applications and to be 27 percent more likely to submit at least five applications”. The ECO-C intervention had its greatest effects on high achieving low-income students.

A project like this shows how momentous and useful different forms of outreach can be. If this were applied across the country, tens of thousands more students would have the guidance necessary to make more informed decisions about attending college. If all higher education institutions distributed something similar to ECO-C, perhaps it would aid in making the entire country more prosperous.

Boyhood and Poverty Are Not Medical Conditions

Cross-posted from Open Society Voices

In the United States, boys are more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) than girls, and children covered by Medicaid insurance, an indicator of poverty, are one-third more likely to be diagnosed. This is according to new research from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) on children aged 4 through 17 years old in the United States.

There is significant variation in diagnosis rates by state, which is unusual for other types of learning difficulty, and opinion is divided on how diagnosis rates differ according to race. Some researchers believe that children from minority groups in urban areas, particularly African American children, are disproportionately diagnosed with ADHD. Although rates of diagnosis have increased as a whole, another study in the peer-reviewed journal JAMA Pediatrics finds the rates of diagnosis increasing more rapidly for white children in high-income families, but concedes there has been a significant increase in the diagnoses among African American children as well.

The interaction of socio-economic status, race, and ADHD diagnosis are complex. Qualitative research indicates that some parents have sought ADHD diagnoses to provide their children with the edge of extra time and drug therapies that enhance concentration. There is also a thriving black market in ADHD drugs as study aids on college campuses. On the other hand, there is evidence that children from minority groups are more likely to be placed in special education or separate classrooms with a non-academic track. Thus, a diagnosis of ADHD can ease the path to higher education and subsequent opportunities for some, while possibly limiting it for others.

Regardless of race or class, the drugs used to treat ADHD are stimulants like Adderall and Ritalin. These drugs can help children who suffer from ADHD. However, the guidelines for diagnosis are loose and set to become looser in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to be released in May. While ADHD is a real condition, there is substantial debate in the medical community about what constitutes a level of the disorder requiring medication. The drugs used to treat ADHD are powerful and relatively new. We do not know the consequences in later life for children and teens—whose brains are still developing—of using these drugs now. With such loose guidelines, unsettled professional debates about ADHD and appropriate therapies, and wide availability of drugs, there is ample room for parents and teachers to seek a diagnosis and prescription, when flexibility and additional support in the classroom might also work as solutions.

The collision of health and education policy leads to the results revealed in the CDC study outlined above. To understand how we have arrived at such a huge increase in ADHD diagnosis, we must look at both health and education policy. Of course, parents will have an understandable desire to provide the best opportunities for their children. At the same time, the accountability movement has pushed schools to increasingly focus on the reading and math needed for the standardized tests. A rigid focus on test readiness, and the subsequently narrow definition of success in education, puts children who have difficulty sitting still for long, test-driven lessons at a disadvantage.

Although easy to measure, this type of schooling comes at the high cost of failing to support the whole child with educational experiences that encourage cognitive, social, and personal development. This is particularly true in school districts without the budgetary resources to support both test preparation, and a wider, richer range of educational experiences. These are also the types of educational experiences that support the values of diversity, citizenship, and open society.

Provision by the state of early childhood programs, and individualized support for children who have difficulty in school, are expensive. Although both have been proven to provide good results, budgetary incentives in the current economic environment in school districts work against them. Economists like James Heckman have proven that funds invested in high-quality preschool programs yield significant savings in social services later on. However, the costs and savings of these programs are often realized at different levels of government, which can make the initial funding difficult to allocate.

Finally, ADHD drugs are widely available, and their cost is borne by insurance companies and parents, rather than the school system. They are marketed to both doctors and the general public, and there is a strong incentive for pharmaceutical companies to sell these drugs. Like any company in the private sector, they make profits for shareholders by producing a competitive product. This can encourage research leading to advances in science and therapies for children who need them. However, profit motive should not be confused with a public policy response in either health or education, just as purchasing power should not be confused with citizenship.

The collision of these health and education policy trends, with private sector interests also in the mix, risks leading to a fragmentation of services, perverse budgetary incentives, and poorer outcomes for society as whole. This is particularly the case for those most marginalized and least able to navigate this complexity.

Right now, we run the risk—through our health and education systems—of turning boyhood and poverty into medical conditions. This will carry real and damaging implications for education in the United States. The incentives of private companies, along with rigidly defined education goals driven by a free-market agenda, may be conspiring to do a grave disservice to our children through the over-diagnosis and over-medication of ADHD. When medication and test preparation are in danger of replacing rich, supportive educational experiences, we deny children their right to education and risk profoundly damaging our societies now, and in the future.

The Future of Public Education in Kazakhstan

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Since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, Kazakhstan began to reform its education system in order to meet the needs of the market economy. Recently, new educational development strategy for the years of 2011-2020 was introduced to further reform the education system in order to meet the needs of the growing economy and European standards in education. Overall, the program relies heavily on the experience of  “developed” countries by diversifying education financing and promoting world standards measured by tests such as TIMMS, PISA, and PIRLS.

The main goal of the program is to develop human capital for sustainable growth of the economy by providing access to quality education. The program states that education should be considered as an investment in knowledge economy. According to the program, growing evidence shows that investments in education have impact on the economic growth of the country. Creating Public Private Partnerships  (PPPs) and new schemes of financing are listed as top goals in order to develop equal access to education for all. Let us take a closer look at the new schemes of financing of public education.

By 2015, per capita funding will be introduced in all educational establishments, which means that funding of schools will depend on the number of students that attend a respective school. What about village schools? Does it mean that some of them might be closed because there will be not enough students?

A proposed new educational savings plan system would supposedly enable families of different socioeconomic backgrounds to afford postsecondary education by letting them save money ahead of time. However, this system builds on the assumption that postsecondary education will be so expensive that you will have to start saving money up to 20 years ahead of time!  While the Minister of Education states that the number of scholarships in universities will increase, the creation of an educational savings plan system raises concerns over the price of higher and professional education in the country.

Attracting private investors in education is said to be of an utmost importance for the future of education and science. It is expected to increase funding of universities by 10 percent by 2014 through PPPs and to integrate education and science through commercialization of science. For the purposes of lifelong learning, employers will be responsible for co-financing education of the employees. The expected outcome of the program is that by 2025 financing of education in Kazakhstan will be similar to the models in the “developed” countries.

The biggest concern is that “Western” education is grossly generalized and overly idealized. There is no evidence that a simple injection of private funds into the public education system would improve the quality of education. Furthermore, privatization of public education is likely to intensify socioeconomic inequities. According to Businessinsider.com, USA is one of the world leaders in spending money on education and its schools are ranked as “average” by international assessment organizations. Moreover, education privatization trends in some “developed” countries also reveal that people with more money may have access to higher quality education. Furthermore, individual private funders – and not necessarily the broader education stakeholder community – have a bigger say in shaping the educational policy as we learnt from the involvement of Melinda and Gates Foundation and Zuckerberg initiatives in New Jersey.

Unfortunately, the strategic plan 2011-2020 did not involve careful critical analysis of “western” educational systems. The content of the program is shockingly similar to the neoliberal policies promoted by the World Bank: education, human capital, and knowledge economy. However, it is not possible to simply borrow educational practices from the US or any other “developed” country and implement them in Kazakhstan due to different political, socio-economic, and cultural contexts. In Education plc: understanding private sector participation in public sector education, Stephen Ball provides an extensive analysis of harmful effects of privatization trends in education that take place in the “developed” world. Moreover, Ball criticizes that the “means/end” logic of education for economic competitiveness is negatively transforming previously complex processes of teaching and learning into a “set of standardised and measurable products.” Education should support students to become responsible citizens, persons with high ethical standards and multifaceted personalities, rather than creating a generation of “test-takers” for the purposes of questionable economic growth.

The Current Debate on Universal Preschool in the U.S.

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It’s a common philosophy that, to fix the issues of the world, the world needs to invest in its youth, as they are the future. In President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union Address, he announced his plan to push for universal preschool across the US. He proposes $75 billion be spent on universal preschool in the next 10 years, through his 2014 budget that has yet to pass through congress. It calls for an almost 100% increase in cigarette tax to pay for the program.

This additional preschool funding would be in addition to the 50 year-old Head Start program. The Head Start program is a federally funded preschool program aimed at serving the children of low-income families. Its annual budget is around $8 billion; a majority spent directly on services and is primarily run through local nonprofit organizations. It was started in 1965 under the Johnson administration as part of the Great Society campaign, which was aimed at eliminating poverty and racial inequalities. Most of the children who are in Head Start range between the ages of three and five. Early Head Start is also offered for infants and toddlers.

The research done on the effectiveness of the Head Start program, and other high quality preschool programs, is very mixed. It’s often the private organizations that claim the effects of a quality preschool program wear off within a few years, while academics, on the other hand, believe there are many long-term effects that cannot be seen right away. James Heckmen, a Nobel Prize winner for economics, researches the disparities in achievement between children with low and high socioeconomic backgrounds. According to New York Times, his research “confirms that investment in the early education of disadvantaged children pays extremely high returns down the road. It improves not only their cognitive abilities but also crucial behavioral traits like sociability, motivation and self-esteem. Yet, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found that the government spends three times the amount on higher education as it does on preschool. Recently, the Daily Show with Jon Stewart exposed some of the bias hidden behind the research “findings.”

http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/wed-march-6-2013/kindergarten-stop

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Jane Ervin is the current president and CEO of Community Services for Children, the nonprofit that runs the very successful Head Start program of the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. In a recent conversation, she expressed her view of the public opinions on preschool and Obama’s plan. She believes that people are not interested in paying for children in poverty because it’s not their responsibility to help the teenage mothers or the illegal immigrants. What they do not understand is that these children will grow up and keep contributing to the culture of poverty rather than contributors to society. People are not brave enough to step up and fix the problems knowing the results will become visible in 15 or 20 years. Politicians won’t focus on it because there are so many other things that affect people’s lives. This has a negative impact on children and families who are out of sight, and therefore out of mind. It’s difficult to get people to care about children’s education when the economy is under attack. Jane believes everything will come down to the practicality of funding and ability to convince others of the importance of preschool education.

I think that Jane may be right. As we continue to compete with each other, we become only concerned with the things we have and the money we make. We are no longer concerned with those who fall behind and cannot pick themselves back up. And the gap is increasing. Jane reported that 26% of children are currently living in poverty in the Lehigh Valley. When she started at Community Services for Children six years ago, it was 20%. With the world’s population growing as rapidly as it is, we can no longer afford to not invest in our youth.

More to come in my next blog, on my talk with Jane Ervin!

Common Core Standards

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For the past few decades public education in the United States has been the subject of major political debates and ideological revisions. One of the most controversial, a product of the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers is called the Common Core Standards. The Common Core Standards (CSS) cover K-12 language arts & math. The proponents of the Common Core claim that mastery of these standards ensures that graduating high school students are ready to enter college and the workforce. But there are more things at stake with the common core standards than student success. Introduced in June 2010, the Obama Administration made the adoption of the Common Core Standards a requirement by August 2010 for states competing for a share of the dwindling federal funding for education. Why the rush to implement them?
The answer: it’s not about the students. It’s about the money to be made. David Coleman, one of the architects of the new standards, co-founded a non-profit called Student Achievement Partners to specifically promote the CCS. He’s also the head of the College Board and its cash cows, the SATS and AP program. The vastly profitable standardized testing industry receives multi-million dollar support from a variety of sources—chief among them the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. A staunch supporter of measures and programs that attack teacher unions and promote charter schools, the Gates Foundation also advocates for an increased role for standardized testing.
The Gates Foundation (along with other private foundations) has funded David Coleman’s College Board to the tune of 31 million dollars. It also has granted over six million to promoting the Common Core Standards. Its partner in the venture, General Electric, has donated a generous 18 million. What these groups have in common is a privatizing agenda that seeks to funnel public money into corporate hands.
But while advocates of the Common Core standards claim they will ensure student success, they don’t seem to care much about students at all. In his presentation at the New York State Education Building in April 2011, David Coleman declared that teachers must tell students: “When you grow up in this world you realize people don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” With an education system geared toward teaching to standard-driven tests, there’s no need for children to learn to think critically or creatively. Is this healthy for a democracy?
Notwithstanding substantial financial backing, the Common Core Standards have come under fire. Diane Ravitch, a Research Professor of Education at NYU and former US Assistant Secretary of Education, states:

President Obama and Secretary Duncan often say that the Common Core standards were developed by the states and voluntarily adopted by them. This is not true. They were developed by an organization called Achieve and the National Governors Association, both of which were generously funded by the Gates Foundation. There was minimal public engagement in the development of the Common Core. Their creation was neither grassroots nor did it emanate from the states…standards are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.

Stephen Krashen, an emeritus professor of education at USC says, “The mediocre performance of American students on international tests seems to show that our schools are doing poorly. But students from middle-class homes who attend well-funded schools rank among the best in the world on these tests, which means that teaching is not the problem. The problem is poverty.”
Journalist Valerie Strauss has also spoken against CCS. She writes in the Washington Post that when it comes to Common Core Standards, early childhood education experts and educators were not part of the process.

The promoters of the standards claim they are based in research. They are not. There is no convincing research, for example, showing that certain skills or bits of knowledge (such as counting to 100 or being able to read a certain number of words) if mastered in kindergarten will lead to later success in school. Two recent studies show that direct instruction can actually limit young children’s learning. At best, the standards reflect guesswork, not cognitive or developmental science.

Standards for public education are a fine idea. But when they serve as a Trojan horse to hide a profit-making agenda, we should beware of bureaucracies and private foundations bearing gifts. The common core standards demand a vast increase in testing—and testing isn’t free: school districts must now provide funds for new computers, new software, trainings, teacher hours, and grading services. Students who could be learning new things are instead only learning how to take a series of tests. The question is who will pay for this testing—and who benefits—our children or corporations?

The New Culture of Education Privatization: Reflections on the American Graduation Ceremony

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Yes, privatization of education affects our chances of getting or not getting high-quality education. Yes, it contributes to social inequality and destroys the myth of education as equalizer of the society. Yes, the rules of the game are not fair: if you are from a wealthy family – you are in; if you are not, then, well, you are probably out…somewhere out there doing blue  collar jobs, struggling to pay for the utilities and struggling to make a living. What a game. However, privatization and commercialization of public education go far beyond the concerns  “about” or “of” the quality of education. They create a new culture, shape our values and affect our behavior.

In a couple of months I will be graduating from an American university, proudly holding my M.A. degree. Since I received my bachelor’s degree in Russia, I had no idea what to expect from the preparations leading up to the graduation event. First, I received a promotional brochure, advertising graduation packages (caps and gowns, diploma frames, certificates, etc.). The packages varied from $160 up to $500 and even higher with an option of purchasing a golden ring with a university logo and my name on it. “Hmm…what a robbery!”, I thought. I shared the prices with my sister who works for the university in Kyrgyzstan. She was surprised and explained that, in their case, the university buys caps and gowns and rents them for free to students during the graduation. “Lucky you,” I said, “commercialization has not yet overtaken Central Asian universities.”

A couple of days after the conversation with my sister, I attended the graduation fair itself. Calling it a very ‘unusual’ life experience is an understatement – it was a real show! I entered a room with about 50-60 students who were waiting in line. Some were openly mad, complaining about a huge line; others were happy, perhaps, thinking about upcoming graduation. Some students came with their parents; others were accompanied by friends. After five minutes of waiting, an enthusiastic lady came trying to convince us to “give back to university” by pressuring all of us to donate. I looked at people around me to see their reactions: many were embarrassed, some donated right away, only a few openly said that they are not going to “buy it.” I was thinking, well… some students have already paid thousands of dollars for their tuition and did not have a chance to earn money yet… Have  they not paid enough to the university, so far? Others have struggled to afford education by taking out many loans… Wouldn’t it make sense to repay their loans first? More importantly, shouldn’t donations be a matter of a personal will rather than a result of peer pressure and public shame?

The show did not stop there. As the line moved up, we were approached by more enthusiastic students who seemed to pop up every 10 minutes asking for a donation. And, as we were moving along, other people approached us advertising graduation packages – frames…then, rings…then more “donations”…then, personal announcements and envelopes…then, more “donations” again. From time to time, “donation” agents were actively rewarding those who donated and shaming those who did not. When one student openly protested the pressure to donate, the agents’ response was loud and clear: “If you are not going to donate now, you will be bombarded with tons of emails asking for donations later. It is a shame not to give back.”

The graduation fair was like a pure clash of socialism, communism, and capitalism – all in a university setting. Socialism, because we had to wait in a line (I stayed for an hour); communism, since we were expected to donate collectively; and capitalism…I guess, it is not hard to guess why capitalism.

At one moment, I asked myself whether I am at a UNIVERSITY or in a supermarket, where merchants are constantly trying to sell stuff and beggars are asking for money. Perhaps, if one is raised in the context of capitalism, such a graduation fair would seem normal and natural. And, indeed, it is becoming increasingly natural to view people as “walking dollars,” to ask students for donations before their graduation, and to constantly advertise to students in order to sell more “stuff.” I believe the impact of commercialization of education on the broader culture is strikingly disturbing, but has anything been done to assess its impact?

Massive Open Online Revenue Generating Entities

the moocMassive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are being widely championed as the future of higher education. These courses are provided over the web by private firms or non-profit organizations. The massive in the name refers to the course size, which can be in the tens of thousands. The open refers to the fact that anyone can sign up for a course. Currently there are three major providers, Coursera, EdX, and Udacity, and all are affiliated with prestigious national universities. Both Coursera and Udacity grew out of Stanford University, and EdX is a joint venture founded by Harvard and MIT. These platforms promise to offer “world class” courses taught by “superstar professors.”

As their popularity has grown, many people have started asking how MOOCs will make money in the long run. Coursera has one answer: charge for their end-of-course certifications. The new program is described by Inside Higher Ed here:

[Coursera] introduced a “Signature Track” to try to put more weight behind the end-of-course awards issued by universities that offer courses through its platform. Users who pay for this have to submit a photo ID of themselves to the company and are also tracked based on their “unique typing pattern” to ensure that people who take tests or turn in assignments are who they say they are. Prices are set around $50 so far.

The system appears to be working, this week Coursera announced that it is now generating revenue by charging for the credentials and through textbook sales.

Some say the firms are not motivated by profits. In a recent Chronicle of Higher Ed article, Kevin Carey argues that asking how MOOCs plan to make money is missing the point. He believes that MOOC courses are not meant to be profit centers for their universities, they are meant to be prestige generators:

Elite colleges are ultimately in the business of maximizing status, not revenue. Spending a lot of money on things that return a lot of status isn’t just feasible for these institutions—it’s their basic operating principle. It’s not hard to make money when you’re already wealthy—witness the performance of the Harvard Management Com
pany over the past 20 years. The difficult maneuver is converting money into status of the rarefied sort that elite institutions crave.

MOOCs offer that opportunity. Elite colleges are willing to run them at a loss forever, because of the good will—and thus status—they create. Free online courses whose quality matches their institutional reputation (a tall order, to be sure, but MOOC providers have strong incentives to get there) could ultimately become as important to institutional status as the traditional markers of exclusivity and scholarly prestige.

While an interesting idea, it seems as if Carey is the one missing the point. Stanford may not need a business plan, but Coursera does. Brown and Duke may be willing to run MOOC classes at a loss, but Coursera has taken on at least $16M in venture capital funds. Regardless of how the elite institutions feel about it, Coursera and Udacity have bills to pay. Charging for textbooks and credentials may be one way they choose to pay those bills. However, considering that Coursera only brought in $200,000 from 3.2 million users, one must wonder how the model will continue to evolve over time.