Summer reading: On underemployment, social mobility, M-learning, and more

This summer in Ohio has been oppressively hot and (for some reason) rainy. So for those who want to stay cool in the AC, or are looking for beach reading, here are several timely and insightful pieces that relate to education. Read on for our review of these reports and articles, and click on the links to access the entire article! -Angel Gonzalez

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Are Recent College Graduates Finding Good Jobs?

Aaron Churchill

We’ve seen the reports: the 22-year old, newly-minted college graduate—steeped in debt—who’s working at the corner coffee shop. But are these anecdotal reports worst case scenarios or are do they illustrate an emerging trend for college grads?  In a few charts, Richard Deitz from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York looks at what the U.S. Census Bureau and Labor Statistics data say about recent graduates and their employment. Deitz shows that while unemployment rates for recent grads are at a 25-year high, the unemployment rate of recent graduates (roughly 6 percent) remains lower than that of the general working-age population (8 percent).  Now, when it comes to underemployment, recent graduates are in dire straits, depending on their major. Nearly half (46 percent) of recent graduates are presently underemployed, a considerable increase compared to 2000 when roughly one in three recent grads were underemployed. Deitz also disaggregates un- and underemployment by college major. Those with leisure & hospitality and agricultural degrees were the most likely to be either unemployed or underemployed. And, yes, grads with the much-maligned liberal arts major were also quite likely to be un- or underemployed (around 60 percent). Meanwhile, engineering, health, and education majors were the most likely to find employment commensurate with their degree (around 25 percent un- or underemployment).

SOURCE: Richard Deitz, “Regional Economic Press Briefing,” June 27, 2013, Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

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Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education

Angel Gonzalez

Determining what it takes for students to succeed academically regardless of economic background is important for equity and economic reasons. Even so, scholars and policymakers who discuss poverty and its relationship to education have to contend with contentious topics that include the quality of schools in poor urban areas, familial participation in a child’s education, teacher quality in high need schools, and race. Yet sometimes a simple argument with succinct points can go a long way in advancing a discussion. That is what researchers in The Hamilton Project have accomplished in this new report, on the social mobility of low- and high-income families in the United States. They find that even though children are born with similar abilities, not surprisingly, those in low-income families are much less likely to have time and money invested into their education. The researchers, for example, find that in the past four decades, high income families have increased their out-of-pocket education spending (inflation-adjusted) from $3,500 to $9,000 per year while low income families have increased their spending from $850 to $1,300. These expenses include SAT prep classes, tutoring, math camps, and academic enrichment, all of which give high-income children an academic advantage over their lower-income peers. As a result of this and other factors, the achievement gap between high- and low-income students has widened by 40 percent since the 1970s. Consequently, due to the increasing gaps in income, academic opportunity, and achievement, very few low-income students matriculate into America’s most competitive universities.

SOURCE: Michael Greenstone, Adam Looney, Jeremy Patashnik, and Muxin Yu, Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, June 2013).

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Uneven at the Start: Differences in State Track Records Foreshadow Challenges and Opportunities for Common Core

Kevin McDougal

In a recent report by The Education Trust, Natasha Ushomirsky analyzes almost a decade of National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) data to gauge how well states will meet the expectations of the Common Core. In a state-by-state examination, the study looks at two indicators: first, a state’s NAEP gains or losses from 2003 to 2011 relative the national average and second, its 2011 NAEP performance. The researchers found that the variation in academic performance across the states means that some states will have a long way to go to meet the new standards, while others, a shorter distance. When the analyst looked at 4th grade reading scores, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Pennsylvania topped the list, by way of the study’s scoring matrix. Meanwhile, Oregon, West Virginia, and Alaska (a non-Common Core state) fell at the bottom. And Ohio? They clocked in above-average, but failed to reach the nation’s uppermost rung. When the analyst disaggregated by low-income, African American, and Latino student scores, Ohio fell into the below-average category. The study concludes, by urging state leaders to realistically evaluate how far present achievement is from the achievement standards of the Common Core. Ushomirsky writes, “No state can afford to implement the new standards without an honest appraisal of where its students and educators are.”

SOURCE: Natasha Ushomirsky, Uneven At The Start: Differences in State Track Records Foreshadow Challenges and Opportunities for Common Core (Washington, DC: The Education Trust, July 2013).

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Is Urban Public Education a Lost Cause?

Jeff Murray

It is a provocative question: Is Urban Public Education a Lost Cause? It is also the title for a new article written by Pedro Noguera of New York University, who observes that, despite decades of reform efforts, dropout rates remain high and test scores remain low in urban areas across the country. As a result, Noguera views urban school reform as largely unproductive. Yet he argues as vociferously as any reformer that no one should be satisfied with schools that persistently fail students, regardless of the students’ socio-economic backgrounds that a school serves. He points to the Montgomery County (MD) school system, which in the past decade has improved the academic performance of its black and Hispanic students. To achieve these results, the district has implemented a number of reforms—including reduced class size in schools serving high proportions of poor students, expanded recruitment of black, Hispanic and Asian teachers, and revised enrollment policies that expand the reach of AP courses. Noguera’s focus lies in the Pittsburgh Public Schools and his work that has helped craft the district’s “equity plan,” which aims to reduce the district’s racial achievement gaps.  It seems clear from Noguera’s writing that urban education is not a “lost cause.” It is instead a “cause celebre” that demands using all means to achieve the highest level of success.

SOURCE: Pedro Noguera, Is Urban Public Education a Lost Cause? (Pittsburgh PA: The Heinz Endowments, 2013).

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Mobile Learning: Research, Practice and Challenges

Kevin Pack

In this literature review, Mike Sharples of The Open University, a distance learning institution located in England, discusses mobile learning (M-learning) concepts and research. According to Sharples, M-learning is “any sort of learning that happens when the learner is not at a fixed, predetermined location, or learning that happens when the learner takes advantage of the learning opportunities offered by mobile technologies.” Due to the portability and mobility of M-Learning, students and instructors are able to communicate in a variety of locations: it can happen on handheld devices both inside and outside the classroom (such as field trips). To gauge whether M-learning works, Sharples reviews studies that have measured student achievement with M-learning capabilities such as text messages and small group discussions via mobile devices. (By the author’s own admission, the research on M-learning is thin and still emerging—and that the research that does exist, typically has a small number of participants.) But there are some promising results: One study conducted with computer science students in Chile found that, by communicating wirelessly with instructors and classmates, students performed better on midterms and final exams. Another study, this one with Northeast Ohio third through sixth grade students, found that students were more motivated to complete coursework when using mobile devices. Sharples concludes this overview by looking at the success factors of M-learning, which include the availability of technology, institutional support, and integration. In further exploring the opportunity, researchers and  implementers will have to address challenges in M-learning which include privacy and security issues for both students and instructors, staff training, access to mobile devices, and the social acceptance of M-learning.

SOURCE: Mike Sharples, Mobile Learning: Research, Practices, and Challenges (Milton Keynes, UK: The Open University, 2013).

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