Misleading Brookings study latest attempt to bury student debt crisis

Malcolm Harris:

For the last few years, even higher education’s most ardent boosters have admitted the industry has a serious cost problem. They try to console borrowers with stories about the value — both transcendent and practical — of a college diploma. The best salespeople liberally sprinkle in empathy for families who are paying truly outrageous attendance costs. As student debt grows unabated, however, we’re now witnessing the emergence of a new line: The problem is not so bad.

Earlier this week, a report from the Brookings Institution made waves for implying that the answer to its titular question “Is a Student Loan Crisis on the Horizon?” is “no.” The report’s authors Beth Akers and Matthew Chingos conclude, after a very narrow evaluation of cherry-picked data sets, that borrowers can afford the cost of higher education, and that the system is not out of whack. David Leonhardt, managing editor of the New York Times explainer vertical The Upshot, more or less reprinted a dissent-free summary of the report as fact on the paper’s third page — near-perfect traction for Brookings.

Some other commentators have poked holes in the Brookings report, but the Times placement means it’s probably too late. Already in offices and classrooms and bars across the nation, citizens who fancy themselves well informed are no doubt third-hand-explaining away the student debt crisis. Maybe the incoming class of 2018 took a deep sigh of relief when they opened Tuesday’s paper and emailed it around. Akers and Chingos have changed the conversation on student loans, but not for the better. At least not for borrowers.

9 Things I Learned as a Software Engineer

Manuel Ebert:

Three years ago I was working in a neuroscience lab in Barcelona, busy putting electrodes on people and teaching classes on cognitive systems. Today I design and write software for a living.

Of course back in science I wrote a lot of software — if you want to make any sense of 40 GB of brain scan data you’ll have to roll up your sleeves and write scripts to crunch those numbers, and I was always a good programmer. But it wasn’t until I quit my job (and possibly my future) in academia and started working for a small and ambitious start-up that I understood what being a software engineer — and more importantly, being in the business of software engineering — is really about. It’s not knowing more programming languages, libraries, algorithms, and design patterns. It’s a mindset.

Poor progress of UK disadvantaged pupils a waste of talent, says Alan Milburn

Richard Adams:

England’s education system is wasting young talent “on an industrial scale” because of poor progress made by the brightest disadvantaged children once they leave primary school, Alan Milburn, chair of the Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission, said after publication of a report detailing the educational differences that emerge by the age of seven.


The report found that children from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds who achieve the highest levels at primary school have in most cases fallen behind their less able but better-off peers by the time they sit GCSE exams five years later.

Of almost 8,000 disadvantaged students who achieved top grades in English and maths standardised tests at age 11, only 900 went on to study at an elite university. But if disadvantaged children performed as well at secondary school as their better off peers, another 2,200 would later study at the likes of Oxford or Manchester universities.

Related:“They are all rich white kids & they will do just fine – not”.

LAUSD shifts gears on technology for students

Howard Blume:

Los Angeles school district officials have allowed a group of high schools to choose from among six different laptop computers for their students — a marked contrast to last year’s decision to give every pupil an iPad.

Contracts that will come under final review by the Board of Education on Tuesday would authorize the purchase of one of six devices for each of the 27 high schools at a cost not to exceed $40 million.

In the fall, administrators, teachers and students at those schools will test the laptops to determine whether they should be used going forward.

What they learn will affect the future of an ongoing effort to provide computers for all students in the nation’s second-largest school system.

Nearly 40% of Fairfax County, VA Requires additional English Instruction

at Rees Shapiro

The kindergartners of the Class of 2026, who finished their first year in Fairfax County schools Wednesday, constitute the largest and one of the most ethnically, culturally and socioeconomically diverse groups of students the county has seen, a fact that school system administrators say could pose significant challenges in the decade to come. 

Long an enclave of predominantly white, middle-class families with a top-class school system, Fairfax has experienced a dramatic demographic shift in recent years that is nowhere more obvious than in the county’s kindergarten classrooms. The white student population is receding and is being replaced with fast-growing numbers of poor students and children of immigrants for whom English is a second language. 

More than one-third of the 13,424 kindergartners in the county this year qualified for free or reduced-price meals, a federal measure of poverty, and close to 40 percent of the Class of 2026 requires additional English instruction, among the most ever for a Fairfax kindergarten class.

The demographic changes in Fairfax are likely to have long-term implications for the school system: Most of this year’s kindergarten class will spend the next 12 years in county schools. Schools officials believe that the challenges that come with a less-affluent and less-prepared population will exacerbate the system’s struggles with a widening achievement gap for minorities and ballooning class sizes.

The rising enrollment — the overall student body has surged by more than 22,000 since 2004 — is not sustainable at the current funding level, schools officials said, which could intensify already contentious battles for tax dollars with the county’s Board of Supervisors. School Board member Ted Velkoff (At Large), chairman of its Budget Committee, said the increasing number of immigrant families in Fairfax has affected — and will continue to affect — the school system’s bottom line.