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Fall 2014 is an epoch moment for the U.S. educational system; there are more minorities than whites in U.S. public schools

Here’s a new report from NCES; it has a lot of data points on U.S. public school demographics between here and 2022, and this, summarized in Quartz, might be the most interesting: this fall, Hispanics + Asians + African-Americans + Native Americans + multi-racial individuals (in sum, “minorities”) will account for 50.3% of public school students in America. It’s 48% in high school and 51% from Pre-K to 8th grade.

Overall, the United States is classified as 62% non-Hispanic white (as of 2013), but if you take that number and you factor in the 51% number above … the U.S. is clearly trending towards a place where the conventional “majority” becomes the “minority.” At this point, that’s supposed to happen by 2043.

The fact that it’s already happening in public schools is both (a) amazing and (b) troubling, all at once.

It’s amazing because the notion of America as “melting pot” and “land of opportunity” is honestly reflected in this statistic, at least to some extent.

It’s troubling because, broadly-speaking, Hispanics and African-Americans and Native Americans trend academically behind (and sometimes far behind) white and Asian students. If they’re becoming the predominant aspects of public schooling, that might challenge teachers more — or, at the very least, make it necessary to have better teachers. That’s a hard sell sometimes because of compensation models and also because we (as a nation, America that is) tend to over-politicize the education space and confuse the issue. (If you don’t believe me on that, that’s all good — but hey, I did used to be a teacher!)

There’s also this whole context around minorities potentially getting tougher punishments in school:

And of course, as one might expect, the situation in private schools is pretty different. Per Pew:

The composition of the private school student population is markedly different. In 2009, about seven-in-ten (73%) of the estimated 4.7 million children enrolled in kindergarten through grade 12 in private schools were white.

Just an aside there: I’m white, and I grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan (fairly regularly, it’s one of the more affluent parts of the country). My parents themselves were not super affluent for the area (for America, sure), but I always went to private schools. Based on those experiences, I’d almost assuredly send any child of mine to a public school. I think it actually gives you a lot more context on the world and your neighborhood than a private school, which tends to be a much more insular-type place.

There’s also this, from Pew, with an additional thought from Moi:

While those born in the U.S. are driving growth, immigrants are still having an impact in the classroom. Across the country, school districts have had to boost English language instruction for students who are not native speakers. This is because seven-in-ten school-age children who are immigrants or have immigrant parents speak another language other than English at home and will likely be provided English language instruction upon entering school.

If you talk to people who travel a lot, it’s always interesting — the U.S., for how important it is in terms of military might and economic stability and natural resources and all that? It’s an incredibly insular place in terms of people having exposure / access to other cultures. This is a little different if you’re from Miami (my wife is) or from Topeka (sorry, just picked a random “flyover” city), sure — but still, you’ll meet people in Miami that know nothing about other cultures (and you’ll meet people in Topeka who know a ton).

The point is, I actually think it’s a good thing that the numbers are trending up on minorities in public schools. More white Americans could use that additional context on other cultures, languages and experiences. Hell, I think it would be good if we could find the money to shift some of those mid-to-high performing minorities (academically, that is) over to the private school side.



ChromeBook could supplant iPads in schools because of a simple contextual functionality

This is a cool story — it initially appeared on The Atlantic, but I saw it over on Quartz, and ostensibly, it’s about the educational technology sector, which is damn near close to $10 billion/year (up 2.5 percent from last year). There are a ton of players in this space, but the big ones (perhaps unsurprisingly) are Google (via the Chromebook) and Apple (via the iPad). Around 2010, the iPad was all the rage in the educational world — my sister-in-law is a teacher, and I remember going to the Apple Store with her a few times and her trying out different apps that she thought might resonate with her students. I know a ton of teachers — I was one, briefly — and they were all extolling the virtues of the iPad in classrooms. As the thinking went, it would make lessons more dynamic, incorporate more “fun” content, and lead to student presentations that more closely mirrored real-life job presentations and skill sets.

Now, though, Chromebook has somewhat caught up — the market share of Google and Apple in the ed-tech space is pretty similar, but the tide of the situation seems to be heading towards Chromebook — and one of the main reasons why is a simple functionality issue:

While nobody hated the iPad, by any means, the iPad was edged out by some key feedback, said Joel Handler, Hillsborough’s director of technology. Students saw the iPad as a “fun” gaming environment, while the Chromebook was perceived as a place to “get to work.” And as much as students liked to annotate and read on the iPad, the Chromebook’s keyboard was a greater perk—especially since the new Common Core online testing will require a keyboard.

This is interesting. Apple definitely has a lot of money, and the conventional logic behind how they became successful again is that they successfully marketed their stuff as “cooler” (stuff you had to have), which for a long time Google wasn’t doing (you can argue that Google’s ads the last 2-3 years have been more emotional and storytelling-centric than Apple’s, although that might be a post for another day).

Now, though, the simple fact that a Chromebook looks more like something you’d work on — and an iPad looks more like something you’d play on — is hitting Apple harder in the ed-tech space. By no means is ed-tech bigger than “overall consumer,” and like I said before, Apple’s doing fine.

There is also this, and remember — collaboration is something people will claim to value until the end of days:

Hillsborough educators also tend to emphasize collaboration, and they found that Google’s Apps for Education suite—which works on either device—was easier to use collaboratively on Chromebooks.

Whole thing’s interesting, though — Apple built itself on being sleek and cool (probably should have said “re-built itself”) and initially, that worked for them big-time in ed-tech (a $10 billion industry). Now Google is sleek and functional and cheap and performs well, and … you’re seeing that play out broadly too. Apple is now in the midst of what NASDAQ calls “respectable growth,” while Google is in a period that may lead to “hyper growth.” They’re looking at potentially 20 percent sales growth in 2015 and 2016, for example.


Your kids may be eating sand in their pizza at school

From Mother Jones and their visit to a school lunch conference:

While the exhibitors were eager to show off their products’ nutritional stats, few offered actual ingredients lists. When I asked the rep at the Uno pizza booth why ingredients weren’t included on his nutrition information sheet, he told me the list wouldn’t fit on the page.

“Don’t the school nutritionists ask you what’s in this?” I asked. Nope, he said. Most of them just wanted to know whether the product met the legal guidelines. He offered to email me the list later. When he did, I learned that Uno’s Whole Grain Low Sodium Sweet Potato Crust Pepperoni Pizza contained nearly 50 ingredients, including sodium nitrite, which has been linked to cancer. I also persuaded the Domino’s rep to email me a list of ingredients in his company’s specially formulated school pizza, SmartSlice. It was also nearly 50 items long, and included silicone dioxide, otherwise known as sand.
The other notable aspect of this post is something that shouldn’t surprise a soul: the big-name food companies (General Mills, Yum Brands) sponsor the school lunch conference and, as such, get prime tables near the front and center aisles peddling their programs and ideas. Those may not be as healthy as some “mom-and-pop” or smaller outfits who get resigned to the further aisles, where less people actually go. That’s why — well, that’s part of why — the problems persist in the school cafeteria space (the other problem is likely just money; it’s a little bit more expensive to have kids in schools eating super-healthy every day). Then there’s Robert Aderholt and all that.
In some states, the issues around school lunches are becoming a little bit of a fracas.
My two cents: having been a teacher, I know how hard it is to maintain student interest in any topic. I also know a few things about attention spans. It’s unrealistic to expect students to learn really effectively, especially in the back half of the day, when they’re eating essentially sugar’ed-up garbage at that midpoint. School lunches are incredibly important as a topic, but the money just might not honestly be there in a lot of contexts — and when the money is there, it’s likely from corporations and fancy booths at conference events. A shame, but not an unexpected one.

Do universities use inaccurate marketing to get students in the door, especially at the business/grad program level?

This is kind of an interesting topic to me for a variety of reasons. I went to grad school (two-year business program), struggled to get a job, finally did, and now regularly look back on the entire process and reflect. That’s my arc.

I got a message on Facebook from a woman I attended grad school with; we’ve been done for about 2-3 months and she doesn’t have a job yet either. One of the things she mentioned in her messaging back and forth was that she thought “(our program) was better at marketing themselves than actually achieving results.” In some ways, I guess you can argue all companies are like that — they sell one thing and the experience is a little bit different. You see that from base things like hotels and airlines to more nuanced things like Apple products and Honeywell thermostats. It happens.

Then I saw this article on Quartz about unrealistic MBA salary expectations, and it got me thinking a little more about my experience pre-enrollment in graduate school. We (“we” as a collective, as in the entire applicant pool and eventual accepted cohort) were told certain things about the viability of jobs. One metric said something along the lines of 97 percent of students in the program end up with a job by graduation; for the three cohorts I had knowledge of, that number ended up being closer to 65-70 percent. That’s still high and commendable for sure, but it’s not 97 percent. That’s just one small example.

There are others — certain companies were advertised as coming to recruit from my program who never came. One notable example here was Proctor and Gamble. I’m not even remotely saying that I would be good at a job with P&G, or that I’d want to live in Cincinnati — neither is likely that true — but I was intrigued by that company coming to visit. They never did. I heard urban legends that they used to recruit at University of Minnesota (where I went), but too many people they were placing wanted to return to Minneapolis too fast, and they stopped recruiting there. Again, urban legend. May not be true. But they were supposed to come and never did; I can think of about 8-9 other companies in the same boat (we were told they’d come, but they didn’t).

The starting salary discussion is a long-fraught one, so I won’t go deeply into that. (I never expected to make a lot of money, honestly; I wasn’t interested in finance or consulting, and those tend to be areas where you can make more.)

Final individual component: the primary career counselor for my program was very good at working with a select group of students (not a lot of work experience, so that the counselor was selling the program more than the individual — as in, “This program has made this individual into a great early-career resource!”) and very bad at working with another group (the older, a bit-more-experienced section of the cohort). That happens. I’m sure I’d be horrible at the job regardless.

But it got me thinking: there’s a pretty deep disconnect between the “university world” and the “working world” at a lot of levels, isn’t there? Take this whole idea of “Big Data.” That’s a seeming revolution in the corporate world and yet — we’re not really teaching it in universities. Now think about what MBAs learn as regards “the marketing funnel” — it tends to be very traditional, but that funnel has been disrupted by social/online/other channels.

This all could be tied into a greater focus of late on “getting good grades” as opposed to “learning how to learn,” or it could be tied to professors being so busy that they don’t want to update their curricula. It could be tied to literally dozens of things — universities, as a general concept, tend to move a little bit slower than the pace of generalized “business” does — but it leads to an interesting broader question, then: are universities using the wrong marketing approaches (i.e. incorrect ones) to get students in the door? More bodies is better for an university, after all — but unlike more people buying an iPhone, which they can find an alternative to somewhat quickly, more people buying into a business grad program off inaccurate information just sets people back and increases debt levels. That can’t be good, right?

Of course, you should research graduate school programs not just based on what the school itself tells you, and that goes without saying. But many people do begin their searches there, and many still end their searches there — but if the information isn’t accurate, how effective can that be?

Could dishonest or non-contextualized information about university options be harming our future leaders? It is something to consider. And remember: this is all happening at a time when schools, en masse, are boosting up support staff and dropping full-time professors. Is this really the best higher education environment?

Does Robert Aderholt want your children to be fat?

Robert Aderholt is a Congressman from Alabama, and, as a House Appropriations sub-committee chairman, he’s ultimately responsible for setting funding levels on school nutrition programs. You might know that “healthy eating” is a big focus of Michelle Obama — think the White House vegetable garden — and, frankly, should be a big focus of more people. Aderholt is one of 29 Republicans who is trying to pass a waiver presently; the waiver states that if a school has lost money for six or more months, they can get an exemption from, essentially, trying to be healthy. Aderholt is the primary architect of the waiver, which many critics view as ironic because Alabama is clearly part of America’s “diabetes belt.”

This is a moderately complex issue, though: we want children in school to ultimately learn and grow and be healthy, and eating crap isn’t going to help with any of those three words, but there is a cost issue. Healthier food is, generally speaking, more expensive. Aderholt wrote an op-ed for USA Today explaining some of the issues:

While I may not have the White House’s ability to summon Hollywood figures to events to discuss this, I do have Ms. Evelyn Hicks. Ms. Hicks serves more than 300 children every school day in rural Winston County, Ala. In many places in the United States, school lunch is the only full plate of food students will see that day.

She takes her job very seriously, so much so that she called me about this issue and asked her fellow school nutritionist to meet with me in a school cafeteria to talk through these new regulations.

There they explained that while many of the new regulations may seem like a good idea in Washington, in practicality they do not work in the local school cafeteria. Be it the dearth of foods that comply with the new standards, or the lack of new equipment necessary to prepare them, there are real implementation problems out where the food meets the student’s plate.

Zing! on that first paragraph, eh? I used to teach in a public school down in Houston, and I can tell you the school cafeteria prep area is one of the most interesting, and horrifying, places in a given school. In even a smaller school, that place is feeding 300 children five times a week — and in the six or seven school cafeterias I’ve been in, they often don’t seem 100 percent prepared (not their fault; it’s more a supplies thing, often).

Then there’s this aspect (always follow the money):

As the Environmental Working Group noted Tuesday in a blog posttax records show that $6.7 million of $10.5 million the School Nutrition Association collected in 2012 came from sponsorship fees from food companies like Schwan’s Food Service, a major provider of pizza to schools.

Lobbyists are lurking in this discussion.

So here’s the essential argument/issue: we want kids to eat healthy, but the focus of a school’s finances should be on the base education side, so we don’t want the eating healthy side to decimate the school fiscally, right? I never understood why the major players in the food industry don’t straight up donate more (I’m sure they donate a good deal, but there’s probably more that could be donated). I don’t think public school students should be eating for free (i.e. no one pays a cost anywhere down the line, as that’s ludicrous), but it seems like there’s a way to get local produce over to schools in most areas. That said, of course, the equipment present to prepare that food may not be there at the schools.

There’s another way to look at it, via AgSec (hehe, sounds weird) Tom Vilsack:

So is Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. He says that kids will eat healthier foods if they are provided with them and claims that, overall, school food revenues around the country are up by about $200 million dollars since the changes took effect.

“The facts just don’t basically support the notion that somehow school district are financially strapped to be able comply,” he said.

His advice for schools that are struggling: instead of asking to opt-out, ask for help.


Could Amy Cuddy, Microsoft Kinect, and the NYU Game Innovation Lab help eliminate “math anxiety?”

Remember that TED Talk about body language? (Funny sidebar: I had a class last spring in graduate school where the teacher cancelled the class, or just failed to show up, about 8 times in a class that only met 16 times. Amazing stuff. She spent one entire class that she did come showing that video and then having us discuss it. When there was time remaining, she had people enact power poses, then she just dismissed us. Higher education!)

Well, the NYU Game Innovation Lab saw that TED Talk — as did 17 million people, apparently — and decided to apply it to the ideas of eliminating “math anxiety.”

Here’s how it works:

Isbister and her team decided to apply Cuddy’s concepts and create a game they call Scoops!. Using Kinect, Microsoft’s motion sensing technology, kids look at the screen, line up their bodies to be in power poses, and then match fractions with virtual ice cream cones. Bigger fractions move the player into more powerful poses.

Here’s what it looks like when working:

They’re doing more testing now on Scoops! (the name of the game in the video above). It sees like something that could help with math anxiety — which is a very real thing, by the way, especially if your dad has a background in engineering (mine does) and in 4th grade, you can’t draw a compass rose worth a shite (I couldn’t) and start throwing colored pencils all over the room (I did this too). Meanwhile, according to Quartz, there’s also research around math anxiety that says that if you write in a diary before doing math problems, you’ll do better. Cool — but I would assume boys also don’t like the idea of writing in diaries (although maybe we need more women in STEM, and they might enjoy writing in diaries. Gender roles!)



60 years since Brown vs. Board of Education, and only about 12 percent of African-American/Latino students in major cities have any exposure to white students. Um…

I don’t think you need to have seen The Wire Season 4 to understand this, but perhaps that would help a little depending on your specific background with education (and where you grew up):

The UCLA report notes that Latino students are the most segregated in the country. In major and mid-sized cities, where housing discrimination historically separated neighborhoods along racial lines, black and Latino students are often almost entirely isolated from white and Asian students—about 12 percent of black and Latino students in major cities have any exposure to white students. Half of the students who attend 91-100 percent black and Latino schools (which make up 13 percent of all US public schools) are also in schools that are 90 percent low-income—a phenomenon known as “double segregation.” And the Northeast holds the special distinction of having more black children in intensely segregated schools (where school populations are 90-100 percent minority) in 2011 than it did in 1968. In New York state, for instance, 65 percent of black students attend schools that are intensely segregated, as do 57 percent of Latinos students.

Here’s a link to that aforementioned UCLA report.

Then there’s this chart — look at the stunning growth after Brown vs. Board of Education, then look at where we’re at today:


This was a common theme to discuss as the Brown decision hit 60 years old, FYI: see here, here, here and here.

From a personal context, I taught in an inner-city public elementary school for two years about a decade ago; in a school of 500 or students, there was one – 1 — that anyone would classify as “traditionally Caucasian.” It was about 93 percent Hispanic and six percent African-American, so the quote above and the one in the headline of this post is essentially right. We integrated the schools, yes — and that’s a hallmark/landmark/other marks decision by the Supreme Court — but we didn’t really set up the culture around neighborhoods and options whereby the integration really meant anything. That’s the shame at 60.


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