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The Download: A matter of degrees

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It has become an article of faith that American students need more education to make it in today’s knowledge-based global economy. In school districts throughout the county, that has translated to a message that all students today must aim for college. But has the “college for all” mantra gone too far? That’s the conclusion of a new report that’s making big waves nationally throughout education and skill-training circles.

Pathways to Prosperity, a report issued last week by Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, says a one-size-fits-all focus on college for all students has been a disaster, with many students wasting time and money in pursuit of degrees they never obtain. Meanwhile, the college mantra has crowded out discussion of paths to a wide range of careers in growing fields such as health care that require post-high school training but far less schooling than a four-year degree program or even a two-year associate’s degree granted by community colleges.  “A narrowly defined ‘college for all’ goal – one that does not include a much stronger focus on career-oriented programs that lead to occupational credentials – seems doomed to fail,” says the report.

The report lauds President Obama for calibrating his remarks on education just right. In his 2009 State of the Union address, Obama implored every American to “commit to at least one year or more of higher education or career training.” With that, says the report, “the president is acknowledging that the 'college for all' rhetoric that has been so much a part of the current education reform movement needs to be significantly broadened to become a 'post high-school credential for all.'”

“If we persist with the illusion that everyone is going to college, then we’re cheating those kids who aren’t going,” Harvard Professor Ron Ferguson told the Christian Science Monitor. “A majority of the workforce does not have a college degree, and a majority of the things those people do are going to continue not requiring a college degree,” said Ferguson, one of the leaders of the Pathways project.

The report is sure to set off debate between those endorsing the report and urban education leaders and advocates who worry that low-income kids will be steered prematurely toward non-college career tracks. Today’s Globe reports on proposals for new charter schools submitted by some of Boston’s high-performing charter operators. Classrooms at the Edward Brooke Charter School in Roslindale are decorated with banners promoting each class’s college graduation year.

But that kind of relentless college focus is, unfortunately, far more the exception in high-poverty schools than the rule, say some critics of the report.  "Nobody who spends much time in America's high schools could possibly argue that they are focused on college for all, or ever have been," Kati Haycock, president of The Education Trust, a Washington, DC-based think tank, told the Associated Press in reaction to the report. "Most schools still resist that idea, instead continuing long-standing, unfair practices of sorting and selecting like an educational caste system - directing countless young people, especially low-income students and students of color, away from college-prep courses and from seeing themselves as 'college material.'"

                                                                                                                                                                                    --MICHAEL JONAS

PROBATION

The Globe reported on Saturday that a grand jury is hearing testimony related to the patronage scandal in the state Probation Department.

Sunday's paper editorializes in favor of the Patrick administration's proposal to join probation with parole services and corrections within the executive branch.

EDUCATION

Some Fall River officials want to discuss how to get more teachers to live in the city or give residents preference in hiring as a way to bolster teachers’ stake in the schools.

The Herald praises the anti-bullying plan of Hillcrest Educational Centers in Pittsfield, a private nonprofit residential school for kids with histories of aggressive behavior. The school bans cell phones, monitors classrooms with video cameras, and allows access to the Internet only adult supervision.

HEALTH CARE

More Massachusetts residents are being granted waivers from the state health insurance mandate because of the bad economy, say state officials.

Can your toothbrush make you sick? Slate has the answer.

WBUR reports there may be alternatives to mandating health insurance.

HOUSING

A growing number of senior citizens are unable to pay the tax and insurance costs of their reverse mortgages, depleting the federal fund that insures the transactions, and raising the specter that lenders will soon be forced to begin foreclosing on elderly borrowers, Banker & Tradesman reports

COURTS

With a spiraling rate of defaults clogging the courts, Bristol District Attorney Samuel Sutter has begun pilot program to prosecute absent defendants but defense attorneys claim the actions violate constitutional rights to confront an accuser.

WASHINGTON

C-SPAN loses out again: House Speaker John Boehner denies C-SPAN's latest request to use its own cameras to telecast House floor debates.  The cable network has been angling unsuccessfully for years to have its own cameras in the House.

INENERGY AND THE ENVIRONMENT

Cape Cod Times editorial supports a pay-as-you-throw program to reduce the amount of solid waste generated on the Cape.

Berkshire East
, a family run ski area, unveiled the wind turbine that will allow the business to produce 100 percent of its electricity.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Lawrence Mayor William Lantigua directs city employees not to make public comments, including on Internet social networking sites, without clearance from his office. The Eagle-Tribune has the story and the email notice.

State officials ordered the city of Lawrence to comply with a public records request for crime and licensing records. The city did not respond to either request, according to a story in the Eagle-Tribune.

To save their jobs, six senior fire officials accepted punishments and publicly apologized for their roles in an EMT training scam, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

A Lowell political action committee is pushing city leaders to lower property taxes for businesses, the Sun reports.

Brockton’s Water Commission has had a flood of self-inflicted problems to deal with and now the Attorney General is investigating the board, according to the Enterprise.

SNOWMAGEDDON, PART DEUX

More than 100 roofs have collapsed around the state, according to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. The MetroWest Daily News has the regional update, plus an editorial vote supporting dumping snow into Boston Harbor to relieve the burden on municipalities who have run out of room to put the white stuff. The metro Springfield roof collapse roundup is here.

BUSINESS AND ECONOMY

Elizabeth Warren, the Harvard Law School professor recruited by President Obama to oversee formation of a new financial services oversight agency, is walking a fine line between her fiery watchdog nature and the administration's new more tempered attitude toward Wall Street and business interests, reports the Globe's Donovan Slack.

TRANSPORTATION

MBTA General Manager Rich Davey sits down with Jon Keller to discuss everything from the T’s storm travails to snakes on a train.

A wide array of supporters are pushing the creation of a regional bikeway that would connect the southeast region, from the Rhode Island border to Wareham and as far north as Taunton and Mansfield.

MEDIA

Paul Levy, in his Not Running A Hospital blog, discusses the blurred boundaries between news and opinion in the New York Times and the Boston Globe.

AOL agrees to buy the Huffington Post for $315 million, the New York Times reports. Salon calls the deal an odd arrangement all around.

NATIONAL

The New York Times, in an editorial, suggests some national politicians are exploiting the financial hard times of states for ideological purposes. Letting states declare bankruptcy is one example.

The Super Bowl offers valuable insight into the American psyche, or so says Salon.

STATE OF THE STATES

Governors across the nation are meeting steep deficits with equally steep cuts, not tax increases.

BROADBAND

The FCC is overhauling the $8 billion fund that finances rural broadband construction, calling the current fund "outdated, inefficient and poorly targeted."

EGYPT

Jed Babbin, a defense undersecretary in the Bush 41 administration, writes in the American Spectator that President Obama is asleep at the switch with events in Egypt, while also arguing the administration is constantly changing positions. Hard to be wrong on that all-encompassing analysis. 



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