Think, Know, Prove: Merit Pay–Some Considerations

Think, Know, Prove is an occasional Friday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

Our current contract went into effect on July 16, 2013 and includes a little provision in Article VI, Section C, as you might recall, called “Student Success Pay.” This was, shall we say, a controversial aspect of the contract. Our Union leadership at the time made the case that we should like it because, “Hey, free money!” (I’m paraphrasing). And now, one month short of halfway through our contract, I’m not sure that anyone is any closer to understanding this provision than when it was proposed. Two important considerations jump out–one is principle and one is practical. We’ll take the easier of the two first.


Think, Know, Prove: More Stats, More Questions

Think, Know, Prove is an occasional Friday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

Yes, yes, I know I promised a look at the college by college numbers last week, and I meant it. But in the interim, I was contacted by somebody with a request to include the system-wide completion numbers from 2015 as soon as possible, numbers I didn’t have, but which the person provided for me (with assurances of their accuracy and the suggestion that they could be confirmed through Open Book). If you watched Chancellor Hyman’s speech to the Civic Club of Chicago, you saw a preview of these, but not the breakout by degrees (a breakout, which our Chancellor told us is just a tangle of “alphabet soup,” a rather flippant dismissal of one of our concerns, especially since it comes  RIGHT AFTER her telling the story about how her own AGS degree turned out not to have prepared her well for transfer! Amazing, again!! But I digress).

Suffice it to say that the numbers were interesting enough that I decided to delay my college-by-college account of changes in degree granting for a week (or two–I have a couple posts on “Merit Pay” that I’ve wanted to do for awhile now) to give another look at the system-wide completion numbers with our most recent year included. Here they are (click on the chart to make it bigger):

Degrees--System (2015)The numbers are astonishing. AA degrees increased almost 40% last year alone, while AS degrees more than doubled! AGS degrees are still much larger than they used to be, but down 17.4% from last year. So what happened? Something must be working…I don’t see how it could be the Pathways since they’re minimally rolled out at this point. Can’t be “Campus Solutions” Course Planner, since that just rolled out last spring. So…what the hell? I know I’m supposed to just clap and say, “Good job, everybody!” but it seems rather strange, doesn’t it? I mean, it feels kind of “Enron-y” doesn’t it? What am I missing?

I would be curious to see how many of these graduations were of students who were enrolled in 2014-2015 (and how many were students whose completion was a function of having completion credits reverse transferred from the school they transferred to. I wish I could take a survey of the recipients and find out how many were surprised to find out that they’d earned a CCC degree. Maybe none. Maybe lots?

And, per Anthony’s point (in the comments on my last week’s post) the increase probably has something to do with the huge enrollment spike we had during and over the couple years following the Great Recession of 2008. I also wonder how many of these students benefited from the relaxation of the home campus requirement to just 15 hours (when was that changed, 2014? I’m too lazy to look). But even with all of that, 575 AS degrees? I didn’t see that coming. It’ll be interesting to see what the school to school breakout is on those.

Anyway, there it is–a surprising set of numbers. What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Think, Know, Prove: Statistics I Want to Be Proud Of

Think, Know, Prove is an occasional Friday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

So a while back, over a holiday break, I put together some numbers to try to put the lie to some suspicions that I held about Reinvention and the growth in degrees. I put it all together and then put it all up in one post and, frankly, think that it was so many numbers and so many charts that only a handful of people actually read through any of it (thanks for being one, Jen Asimow, and John Hader, and Mike Davis!).

When I did it, I found that my guess about the types of degrees that were driving the increase was a little bit right and a little bit wrong. I had guessed that the number of Associates in Arts (A.A.) and Associates in Science (A.S.) degrees might have gone up slightly, but that the vast majority would be the result of increases in Associates in General Studies (A.G.S. degrees). What’s the difference? Well, if you know, you can skip down. But if you don’t, there’s a big difference. A.A., and A.S. degrees are our traditional transfer degrees. Students completing those degrees will have completed the “General Education Core Curriculum,” including English 101, 102, Speech, 3 Humanities, 3 Social Sciences, a Math, and Two Sciences (one with a lab). It’s true that the world of Higher Ed has changed a lot in recent years so that not all of those courses are requirements of Bachelors degrees at all (even most) schools these days, but it also remains true that students who complete those classes, especially those who were underserved or mis-served by their high schools benefit from the learning. Meanwhile, A.G.S. degrees are different in that they require a few less hours (60 instead of 62), but also in that they have much less in the way of requirements. Students only have to take English 101 (not 102 or speech), students have to take one humanities, not three, one science instead of two (and no lab is required), etc. In my early years at HWC, students were always steered toward the A.A or A.S., rather than toward the A.G.S. degree. It was a degree for low ambitions or low achievers, generally. There were, of course, exceptions, but typically students who got that degree were done with their schooling.

When I looked at the degree numbers, though, I was surprised at (and happy to find) the size of the increases in our A.A. and A.S. numbers, but they were there–significant and real. Unfortunately, I also found a rapid and troubling increase in the number of A.G.S. degrees granted, and I worried that we were passing students through a set of classes and handing them a degree that said they were ready to transfer when the degree itself did little (or not enough) to actually prepare students for the reality of their upper level classes. I worried that our students would be hurt by their lack of preparation due to the reduced rigors of the degree requirements (compared to the A.A./A.S.) and that our school reputation would be hurt by having a large pool of under-educated graduates walking around with degrees from Harold Washington, hurting our mission and all of our students who walked out with a “real” General Education degree. At the time I didn’t even know about the fact that students receiving a degree from us could no longer use financial aid with us, meaning that a student who receives an A.G.S. degree and then upon transferring finds out they need English 102 or a Fine Arts class or whatever is then paying out-of-pocket for everything they take with us because they have graduated. But now I do, and so I also worry about the students who have to pay a lot of money with us or a WHOLE lot of money at their transfer institution for a class that they could have taken with us on financial aid if they’d been put on a different degree track.

Today, it’s a few years later, and I find myself seeing the increase in degree numbers being touted in the first or second paragraph of nearly every article about the city colleges and in every response to faculty. Most often, it seems, they are invoked as justification for whatever plans are being made, and I get that. It’s a powerful hammer. Their aim, at least one of them, was to increase the number of completions, and they’ve done that (and significantly). Furthermore, I’ve been reluctant to put it under the microscope because I do not want to even appear (much less actually be) in the position of denigrating the achievements of our students, many of whom are proud of their degrees and accomplishments, no matter what sort, and rightly so. But those worries still nag. I brought it up in August in an email exchange with someone who told me later that he thought it was a kind of “red herring,” and that the A.G.S. degree is actually a good option for a lot of students who were having to take classes they didn’t need and suffering credit loss upon transfer. Also, it was suggested that the increase in A.G.S. degrees was in part due to students being defaulted into A.G.S. programs a few years back, and that it had since changed so that students were now defaulted into A.A. programs. It was even suggested that many of the students receiving A.G.S. degrees had actually completed the G.E.C.C. package of classes. What percentage? The person didn’t know, but promised to get back with that data point. (Ahem.)

Anyway, what do those numbers look like now? Well, I’m not going to make the same mistake of pushing everything at you all at once. Oh, no. Working like Plato, I’m going to let you see the big picture first and then take you through the individual cases one by one. So, here is the data for the district. What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

District Degree Data (Through 2014)

Think, Know, Prove: Chicago is #1

Think, Know, Prove is an occasional Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra from All the President’s Men: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

Here’s one for your thinker. It’s going to be a bit scattered and jumbled. I don’t mean it to be a carefully developed argument, but rather something more like a journal entry than an essay. Still, I hope you’ll bear with me while I think out loud. I don’t have any answers to any of the problems that I raise here, even if I make it sound like I do at points in what follows, and I am genuinely at a loss regarding all of it. So, let us count the ways that Chicago is #1, shall we? And maybe play a game of connect the dots…

We are the world’s deadliest city! Such a puzzler isn’t it? It’s not violent where I live. Not violent where I go. And yet, there’s a body count every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday morning in the Tribune, but no information on the whys and whatfors and questions that need asking. Plenty of important stuff in the newspaper pages, though. (Oh, if only fiction were real…but I digress.)

Why do we have dozens of young people dying every weekend in our city? Why indeed. If only someone had a theory that made a lot of sense. If only someone  did some research on the connection between poverty and violence in our city and the near complete segregation of both (which would help to explain the political indifference to both). Maybe if someone had some really compelling data and insight about the deadliness of poverty in general, then the ongoing tragedy of thousands of years of life lost–not just because of gun violence continuing to go unaddressed but because of a lack of moral imagination–would be recognized as a civic crisis…then maybe, just maybe we’d get a better response from a city leader than “Take it to the alleys.”

(If you click decide to click on only ONE link in this whole post, it is my sincere hope that you choose one of the three bold ones in the paragraph above)

Ah, but that’s not all! We can also boast about having the “widest gap in suspension rates between black and white students“! Maybe some sharp mind somewhere might figure out that this finding might have something to do with the “record setting” 60%, 5 year graduation rate .

And maybe, just maybe, that will get some people talking about the fact that this rate is unconscionably low and would be for a 4 year rate. I mean, especially given what we know about the employment and social prospects (and costs) for people without a high school diploma.

Then perhaps someone of importance would become aware that about 1 in 5 male youth in the city are dropouts by one study, and one in 10 females. Suspensions have been connected to dropout rates in all kinds of research (as here–one among many, chosen for its clarity and brevity). And that’s without even considering race and poverty. And that’s after 15+ years of reform! What’s worse is that the life prospects for these kids–and they are kids, don’t forget that–only get worse from there. Think about that.

Take 300 kids, split evenly between male and female. Then take 30 of the boys and 15 of the girls and march them off a cliff. Make everyone in the country watch it. Would it be accepted with a shrug? Multiply that by a million. Would that be accepted with a shrug? It already is. Year after year after year.

Add in race and poverty, and it’s clear that within the city, the dropout rates are wildly divergent from one neighborhood to another (over 30% in some neighborhoods listed in a chart from 2007–certainly higher in other parts of the city over 60+% in North Lawndale, for example, according to what I hear from some educators I know). Look at the dropout rate column in the chart. In particular, look at the amount of variation in the city compared to the variation in the other counties.

Assuming that dropout rates are a proxy for institutional meeting of the educational needs of the population served, we would seem to be at the top of the list of worst at doing that! Think the  chart of schools with the highest drop out rates  would match up with the chart on poverty and violence put together by Steve Bogira for The Reader? And do you think the schools with the lowest drop out rates would be found in the areas with the least poverty and violence? I do.

It’s not news that Chicago is a painfully segregated city–racially, ethnically, socio-economically. Strict segregation has been the de facto ‘solution’ to the city’s challenges for going on a hundred years now and like most institutionally imposed or supported solutions the segregation philosophy and its associated policies have done more to perpetuate and exacerbate problems they were intended to eradicate than to solve any of them.

My guess is that the civic violence and the associated malign neglect perpetrated and perpetuated on huge swaths of Chicago’s population inevitably leads to the (completely rational) inference that aspirational thinking is a form of delusional thinking. “Reforming schools” by introducing new interim assessments and takeover procedures amid such realities is equivalent to destroying a book in the Library of Babel. Yet the reforms keep coming, with ever new targets and leaders  and gadgets to sell, while the roots of the problem remain unchanged and unaddressed. How does one not get cynical about the whole social enterprise? (If you want to get really pissed off about the social trajectory of the last 30 years, read Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow. I bet Toni Preckwinckle’s read it. But I digress. Again.)

Getting back to reform, and Chicago’s 15 years of enduring it in our public schools, I offer you as my next exhibit for thought this beautiful graphic from Alvin Bisarya’s May Board report on Early College Initiatives  (it was also part of his DWFDW presentation):

Check out that first and second bubble. For me, that is the hardest one to believe. Every time I see it, I can hardly believe that it isn’t a national scandal. I also can’t believe that if we were somehow able to take away all those initiatives and all that administrative shuffle and all those deals and promises and political ladder climbing and all of their effects, that it would be any worse. It seems that after 15 years of it, all those very important people over there have been an elaborate clown show.

I mean look at how many CPS students graduated as college-ready in three subjects after graduating from what amounts to 13 years of state mandated college preparation! Even if we were to count all of the other students who enrolled in colleges other than CCC as being college ready (which certainly they weren’t), it would still be an absurdly low number. It would be comical if it weren’t so criminal. It is a fundamental, civic, moral failure of gigantic proportion, and it is ongoing.

Three major unions in our city–the police, the fire department, and the teachers are all without contracts at the moment, representing a little over 60,000 Chicagoans. The police and teachers especially, have been subjected to years and years of leadership imposed initiatives which often invoke, as their justification, some kind of professional failure or moral flaw or both on the part of the people who carried out the previous plans (i.e., cops and teachers).

Teachers, who make up more than half of the 60,000, have been under attack for years now for their failure to fix what decades of policy and widespread apathy/tacit acceptance hath wrought. And higher ed is not immune. Reinvention. 7%. Dropping enrollment. These were our reformers’ pitchforks and torches. Then, after a while, when, one might speculate, their eyes are finally adjusting to the realities of our world,discoveries are made (e.g., turns out that almost all of the enrollment drop is due to drops in Adult Education (i.e. G.E.D. programs) and credit enrollment has been growing steadily for years, up 35% or so over the last five. Just like we said way back when–that their big finding about enrollment at the city colleges dropping, while factually true, was ultimately misleading since credit, which is how most non-insiders interpret “city colleges enrollment,” was booming. Ahem.)

It. Makes. Me. Crazy.


Yesterday, I was poking around on YouTube looking for some video clips to use in my logic class so my students could practice recognizing and paraphrasing arguments. A former student dropped in and mentioned Newsroom as a potential source of some good stuff (hence the link in the first paragraph; he thought I should use this one). While looking through some of those, I came across a couple of George Carlin clips (this was a great interview, I thought). Clips like this (warning–NSFW language–use headphones):

I watched it, laughed (again), and then watched this one on “the illusion of freedom” and this one on education (that first scene is filmed in Chicago!) and then started thinking about Marcuse and the ways his ideas parallel Carlin’s and how that would make an interesting class (something about toleration) and then decided that I need to take a break and get off the computer. So I left and walked to Staples (to get paper–no kidding) and on my way out of the school, I picked up a Reader because I thought I might stop at America’s Dog (I’m working my way through the menu) and opened it up while waiting for the light to change, which is when I saw the piece on poverty and death (linked above), which got me to thinking about all of the other really big stuff on what is happening all around us and all of the insignificant minor crap (100 copies… really?) that takes up so much of our public and individual energy and attention and time and, even while sitting (as it were) on a perch of relative privilege, standing on the corner of Lake and Wabash, I found it pretty hard to fight off complete demoralization. How much harder must it be for our students in the worst of Chicago’s neighborhoods?

If I were a young man growing up in the city of Chicago, I would find it hard to imagine that anyone disagrees with George Carlin. It does not take a huge leap of imagination, then, to figure out why some of our city’s kids don’t exactly live for tomorrow.

This cannot go on. I am embarrassed to be complaining about the number of copies I’m allowed while kids are dying. And, at the same time it all seems of a piece to me. I don’t understand it and can’t make sense of it. Not any of it. Especially not all the blood in our streets. If my math is right, more Americans have died in the streets of Chicago  over the last four years than in eleven years of fighting a war in Afghanistan. Over the same ten year period, 5000 Chicagoans have died violently. Granted, many, many, many more people have died over there than those 2000 Americans, but still–I do not know how to make sense of any of it. Our murder rate is 4x that of New York and triple that of L.A. And nobody is scared in my neighborhood. But they are hopping mad about the police station getting closed down and moved. Apparently there have been a rash of catalytic converter and Honda Fit tire thefts up here. People are hopping mad. One wonders what they would be like if it were their children’s futures being stolen. There are days that I love this city; and there are many when I can barely stand another minute.

And, as Carlin put it, and as reported by education writer Paul Tough: the people (in power) don’t seem to care. So, what can we do? What should we do? What needs to be done?

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Think, Know, Prove Graduation Post: Debriefing the (Ceremony/Debacle?)

This morning, I looked back in the archives to the discussions about last year’s graduation to see if I could figure out why there’s such incredible apathy about this year’s, and, well, let’s just say that it’s pretty clear now.

Too bad.

Anyway, for the 35? 50? faculty who went–what did you see? And for those who went and those who didn’t:

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?

Think, Know, Prove: Midterm Morale Edition

Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

It’s been a quiet week on the Lounge, as I’ve committed myself to catching up on grading the papers, exams and quizzes I’ve already collected this semester (along with the effective writing assessments I’m supposed to have done by Friday)  before the end of the weekend. So far, what was an 14 and a half inch pile has shrunk a bit, it’s down to single digits, but not as much as I’d hoped to have it down by now. Still, the slowest of the grading is pretty much done, so I maintain my optimism.

In the middle of the week, while taking a break, I ran across THIS, which reports that teacher morale across the country is way down:

As a result, job satisfaction among public school teachers is plumbing new lows, according to the MetLife Survey of the American Teacher. The survey, conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of MetLife, found that teacher satisfaction has dropped to its lowest level in more than 20 years, and that the proportion of teachers who report being very satisfied with their work has fallen by 15 percentage points in just two years.

Only 44 percent of teachers surveyed reported being very satisfied with their jobs, compared with 59 percent in 2009…

Some of the findings of the Cutbacks and other economic factors contributed to the decline in job satisfaction. Teachers who expressed low job satisfaction were more likely to work in schools where there had been staff layoffs… Teachers who had seen an increase in the number of students claiming health services or other social services, as well as an increase in the number of students coming to school hungry, were also more likely to report low job satisfaction.

The survey is for K-12 teachers and so doesn’t exactly map to us but I thought it was interesting in light of some of the morale discussions we’ve had here over the last year or so, as well as Don’s recent post on the benefits of a little paranoia.

In other words, I’m wondering about how morale is out there. Worse than four years ago, but better than a year ago? Steadily declining? Steadily improving? Great? Awful? Speak for yourself, speculate about others, provide data or anecdotes–it’s all good here.

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?



Think, Know, Prove: Reinvention Remediation Proposals

Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

I promised this topic as a TKP a long time ago to someone (sorry; I’m too lazy at the moment to search for the comment and promise), and in light of FC4 President Polly Hoover’s address to the board this week, it seems like a good time to follow through on it.

The subject is “The Reinvention Remediation Proposals.” Maybe you’re wondering what they are? Ok, here are a couple of places to go if you’d like to get informed before weighing in: go HERE (and check out pages 52-100).

What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?