Is Free Tuition Europe’s Message to America?

Published November 15, 2015 in Tacoma’s News Tribune.

grad capsBERGEN, Norway.  Should college be free for students, as Bernie Sanders contends?

Those who take this position usually support it with two claims: We need the best-educated workforce in the world, and cost should not deter young people from developing their talent.

In other words, free tuition would lead to a more prosperous and equitable America. And since college in countries such as Denmark and Norway is free, why can’t it also be free for Americans?

Yet if we follow Sanders’ suggestion and look abroad for inspiration, it’s not so clear that “free tuition” is the take-home message. Look closely at other nations, and it is apparent that we almost excessively invest in college. Continue reading

PISA provides Turkey with good news, bad news, and lessons

Published in Today’s Zaman December  22, 2013 (with Turan Kayaoğlu)

Two weeks ago, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) released country-level results from its 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). What typically follows in most news coverage is handwringing and awkward explanations, as few receive the hoped-for good news. Continue reading

Efforts boost college success for low-income and minority students

Published in The News Tribune, May 22, 2013.

Critics of the United States like to single out our large disparities in life outcomes as evidence of our country’s moral failures. As disturbing as differences in income and wealth are, we Americans remain wedded to our foundational story: With hard work and a large dose of determination, even the poorest among us can climb the social ladder.

We probably each can recite such a Horatio Alger story. I see them each year in my classroom, where sit immigrants who have fled poverty and conflict, having exchanged it for the security and success our country offers them. Continue reading

Praising math successes part of fostering big change

Published in The News Tribune, April 24, 2013.

There’s an increasing drumbeat around making sure all high school students graduate with solid math skills.

You could hear it in News Tribune articles this month. One (“Math problems are a problem for job-seekers, employers say,”, 4-4) described how some local employers require their employees to have a basic grasp of math, but were finding that most high school graduates did not.

In another we learned that 16,000 of the state’s high school seniors have yet to pass the state math test, and thus may not graduate (“Thousands might not graduate because of WA math test,” 4-15).

It so happens that between the publication of these two articles, I found myself in Yakima attending the Washington State Math Council’s annual State Mathematics Contests. Continue reading

Higher education exploits its athletes

Published in The News Tribune, April 10, 2013.

When employers gain the lion’s share of the value created in the workplace, we commonly call this economic exploitation. Slavery is the extreme example, but exploitation can occur when workers gain something more than zero percent of what is produced.

A nation’s “wage share” provides a rough approximation of how the value of what a country produces is split between workers and employers. In the United States, the wage share is about 58 percent.

Bear with me a minute, because I’m now going to relate this to March Madness. Continue reading

State’s future tuition program caught in conundrum

Published in The News Tribune, February 13, 2013

Only make promises you can keep.

That’s good, solid advice.  In light of what we now know about Washington’s embattled Guaranteed Education Tuition (GET) program, we might modify that to something along the lines of “Only make promises you won’t regret keeping.”

The good thing about GET is that it reduces the financial uncertainty associated with college by allowing anyone to pay for tuition at a set price today, and receive the value of tuition — whatever that might be — tomorrow.  In this way GET has helped many Washingtonians plan for the expense of college. Continue reading

Op-ed: Approve Initiative 1240 to allow public charter schools

Published in The Seattle Times, October 22, 2012

Three previous swings at establishing public charter schools in Washington came up empty, so why are proponents for them still at bat?

Passion for charter schools is part of the reason Initiative 1240 is on the Nov. 6 ballot. Another reason is that hope springs eternal — a changing political environment opens up new possibilities and with it, perhaps, a different outcome. Finally, a new campaign for charters might succeed in dispelling common arguments against them that could change the debate.

One common argument is that there’s no evidence the average public charter school outperforms traditional public schools. While true, this fact shouldn’t lead to the conclusion that charters aren’t good for Washington’s children. Continue reading

We must give our trust to educators, but we must verify the results

Published in The News Tribune, October 11, 2012

What President Ronald Reagan liked to say about our relations with the Soviet Union, “Trust, but verify” is also true of education.  This is why I think the charter school initiative, I-1240, is a good idea:  it strengthens our trust in schools and it provides new ways to verify that this trust is deserved.

Comparing international relations and negotiations over nuclear disarmament treaties with education and charters schools deserves explanation.  To do that let’s turn back the clock.  Continue reading

Look to Europe to improve our educational system

Published in The News Tribune, August 29, 2012

Looking to European countries for policy advice these days might seem like an untimely undertaking.  But when it comes to education, Europe is a key place to watch.  And we’d be well advised to not just pay attention, but to climb aboard the same bandwagon that so many European nations are now on.

Over the last several decades many European countries have made great strides in improving their educational systems.  This has been evident not just in international test scores, but also in the growing number of years their students remain in school. Continue reading

In this upside-down world, public college means heavier debt load

Published in The News Tribune, June 6, 2012

With the latest news that tuition at our state’s public institutions of higher education will probably rise another 16 percent next year, it’s easy to imagine that our public colleges soon will be as expensive to attend as are the private ones.

But in fact for many students, private colleges have already become the more affordable option.  Continue reading

How many homeless, hungry? Make statistics public

Published in The News Tribune, May 23, 2012

Do you know how many children in Tacoma School District (TSD) schools are homeless?  Or how many people in Pierce County lived without heat or electricity this winter because their power was shut off?

If you don’t, you have lots of company.  And the invisibility of such problems in our community is itself part of the problem. Continue reading

Ex-offenders face incredible odds against shaking their past

Published in The News Tribune, May 9, 2012

If his warm greeting as you enter the downtown YMCA doesn’t get your attention, his story will.

Mychal Goode is an ambitious, smart and personable young man.  Like thousands of others around the state, he’s counting the days until he walks across the stage that marks the completion of his college career.  In his case he’ll have earned a bachelor’s in Business Administration from the University of Washington Tacoma.

Mychal (pronounced Michael) seems pretty typical – a full-time student holding down a full-time job at the Y, looking forward to the future.  We see a lot of students like that at UWT. Continue reading

When it comes to quality education, it’s the principal of the thing,

Published in The News Tribune, April 11, 2012

Teachers matter.  That’s just common sense.  I bet most of us can reflect back on those middle and high school days when we watched the second hand, seemingly in slow motion, tick away the interminable seconds of a boring class, or those times when an effective teacher launched us into a spirited debate that spilled over into the lunch hour and maybe even our homes.

In fits and starts, policy is very slowly catching up to common sense.  Pretty much everyone now agrees that we should prioritize attracting and retaining the best teachers to public education.  We’ll need money to do this, and there’s still a lot of debate over how we can best accomplish this.  But at least we’ve agreed on the why. Continue reading

No country for young (and undereducated, unemployable) men

Published in The News Tribune, March 28, 2012

Over the last six months Washington’s unemployment rate has fallen from 9.3 to 8.2 percent.  That’s terrific news. The same is occurring in states across the nation as employers are now hiring at a record pace.

Yet as some pessimistic sage surely said, every silver cloud has its dark lining.

The problem with our labor market is one I’ve been highlighting this month:   too many citizens have inadequate job-market skills with few options for upgrading them, and receive too little support for navigating what for them is an unstable job market.

Continue reading

Poor public policies send desperate people to dubious colleges

Published in The News Tribune, March 14, 2012

In my last column I argued that the life line we’re throwing to those at the bottom rungs of society is increasingly beyond their grasp. Truth is, we also don’t provide them with many chances to rise up.  With neither a hand out nor a hand up, too many citizens are consigned to pretty dim life prospects.

What’s more, other efforts taken to assist them have been akin to the actions taken by Captain Renault in the movie Casablanca.  The Captain famously responded to a shooting of a Nazi by a known assailant with the unforgettable instructions to “round up the usual suspects.”  Renault hoped that the appearance of vigilance would protect him from his evil superiors, and we all hope he was right. Continue reading

Safety net continues to shrink for those who need it most

Published in The News Tribune, March 2, 2012

The Obama Administration’s recently-proposed budget continues what has become a troubling trend in federal policy.  And it isn’t the growing debt I’m referring to.

What is is the large number of citizens who we seem to have given up on.  In fact, so forsaken are they, and dire the consequences to us of this abandonment, that I’ll use my next two columns to pick up where this one leaves off.

The trend is this:  We’re supplying our most vulnerable and low-skill citizens with fewer and fewer public dollars.  Instead, our nation’s “safety net” increasingly targets the rest of us, particularly those with jobs and a working- or middle-class income.  I’m all for helping the gainfully employed – especially those with low income — but when public dollars are scarce, the marginalized are the least capable of competing for them because few advocate on their behalf.  Not surprisingly, they’re losing out in the competition for public dollars.   Continue reading

Strike has been resolved, but many problems remain

Published in The News Tribune, September 25, 2011

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll probably recall the cult film The Endless Summer.   We seemed to be living through our own version of that movie the last few weeks.  Summer ends when kids are back in school, and like the perfect wave in that movie, our waiting never seems to end.

It’s hard to think of a better example than a teacher’s strike of an event where everyone loses.  The only way the public can “win” is if the strike provides some lessons about the shortcomings of our school system.  I can think of three. Continue reading

Does the Tiger Mother allow for her Cubs’ Creativity?

Published with Mary Hanneman in The News Tribune, February 23, 2011

In case the state of the economy isn’t depressing  enough, now comes the news that we are lousy parents.  In her new book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, author Amy Chua tells us that the “Western” parenting model allows kids to have too much fun and tolerates mediocre grades like an A-.   By contrast, “Eastern” parents require hours and hours of music lessons and academic drills, accepting nothing less than a perfect 4.0.

There is growing evidence that there may be something to this Eastern model.  The New York Times recently reported that some colleges find that half of their applicants from China have scored a perfect  800 on the math SAT – a score only one percent of American students attain. Continue reading

Leaders must find creative answers to budget crisis

Published in The News Tribune January 25, 2011

Budget woes are coming home to roost in Tacoma.  First came the announcement from Governor Gregoire that she wants to close the State History Museum in order to save $3 million.  Then, Tacoma Public Library announced it is closing two of its branch libraries.  The latest news comes from the Tacoma School District – Foss High School is being placed on the chopping block in order to save $2 million.

Given that all of these government entities are required by law to balance their budgets, cuts are inevitable.  But are these the right ones to make?  I won’t pretend to know the answer to that; but I think we can agree on two priorities. Continue reading

Paying twice for education: We’re spending a lot of money to help college students catch

Published in The News Tribune October 10, 2010

Imagine, if you can, using taxpayer money to build an expensive stadium, then before it is paid off you implode it so that you can build an even more luxurious stadium, again with taxpayer money.

OK, too much of a stretch?  How about this:  We spend millions of taxpayer dollars to build a highway that doesn’t quite meet in the middle.

Sometimes in the public sector is seems like the adage “Measure twice, cut once” should be “Pay twice, get once.” Continue reading

New education standards key to improving schools

Published in The News Tribune August 27, 2010

As a new school year rolls around, there is reason to be optimistic that our educational system might finally be headed in the right direction.

Let’s start first with the bad news, best summarized by a couple of statistics.  According to the federal government, among Washington’s 8th grade low income black students, only 8 percent have achieved 8th grade math proficiency.  Among the state’s nonpoor white students, about half meet this standard.

These statistics point to the two persistent problems facing both Washington and the nation:  the low overall quality of education received by students, and the “achievement gap” – differences in the quality received based on socioeconomic class. Continue reading

Debate over test data signals serious approach

Published in The News Tribune, September 5, 2004

 The recent controversy over charter schools is something to welcome. While both sides of the dispute overstate what recent national test scores do and do not say about the effectiveness of charter schools, the debate over data indicates we may finally be getting serious about education policy.

The controversy started when the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) announced an apparent coverup by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE).  The AFT charged that the DOE had made data unavailable on the performance of charter schools showing that these schools were “underperforming”. Continue reading