Does PIAAC Make Accurate Assumptions About Future Skill Needs?

ETS released a new report used the PIAAC data to compare U.S. millennials with millennials in other wealthy countries. Coverage of the study in The Atlantic included an interesting overall critique of PIAAC from Tom Loveless of The Brookings Institution:

…Loveless, an education scholar with The Brookings Institution, said that while the PIAAC results aren’t surprising, the maker of the assessment “is unabashed about its ambitions in this regard … [it] believes it’s measuring skills that matter in the 21st century. Put me in the ‘I’m skeptical of that claim’ group.”

…[He] says that, empirically speaking, the PIAAC results don’t match up with existing data about the U.S. economy’s performance. But a bigger qualm Loveless has is the assumptions that the adult-competencies assessment makes about the skills workers will need going forward. “Let’s say I was alive in 1915 and I gave a test that predicted the job skills and future economic productivity of nations,” he said. “I just don’t see how anyone in 1915 could have foreseen the skills that would have been important for the rest of the 20th century, and I doubt that anyone’s doing that now for the 21st century.”

Breaking News: Many People in Prison Eventually Leave Prison

From a Seattle Times investigative piece on what appears to be a a pretty impressive prison labor scam in Washington:

While lawmakers have pushed to increase the number of inmate workers, they’ve limited the educational opportunities that could help offenders find work outside of prison.

As part of a “get tough on crime” effort, the Washington Legislature in 1995 passed a law prohibiting state money from being used for higher education in prisons. Some taxpayers had griped that inmates were getting college courses for free.

Rep. Larry Springer, a Democrat from Kirkland who serves as deputy majority leader, views the CI jobs as “basic skill” work that may only help former inmates find very low-paying jobs. The better use of tax dollars would be for higher education for higher-skilled jobs. (my emphasis)

The fact that people in prison are often serving sentences that eventually lead to release does seems to escape policymakers sometimes. I’m not sure I understand what the argument is for blocking prisoners’ access to things that are likely to decrease the likelihood that they will commit crimes again once released. But I’m all ears if you have one.

Perhaps the answer has something to do with the fact that most people leaving prison aren’t headed for the communities where those policymakers live.

Does a High School Diploma Add Labor Market Value to the GED?

Interesting reporting here, deep inside a story on D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson’s strategies to improve the D.C. graduation rates, on the debate over whether GED passers in the District of Columbia should be awarded a high school diploma, instead of the high school equivalency credential that is currently awarded:

During a meeting with OSSE officials this month, some board members had questions about the proposal to give a diploma, rather than a credential, to students who pass the GED. As of early December, 374 D.C. residents had taken the GED this year.In the District, you must be 18 to take the test, and many test-takers are older. But the shift could have a significant effect on graduation rates at alternative schools that offer GED preparation classes, such as Ballou STAY, which reported a 4 percent four-year graduation rate in 2013.

Currently, 13 states, including Maryland, award diplomas to those who pass the GED. City officials maintain that those who pass the test are demonstrating the same cognitive skills and abilities as a high school graduate, and a diploma could give them a better chance at getting a job or pursuing higher education.The GED was revised this year to align with Common Core academic standards, and the threshold for passing the test is based on how a sample of high school graduating seniors perform on it.

“I think it’s a valid approach, but I don’t think it’s the same” as actually attending and finishing high school, Laura Slover, an outgoing board member from Ward 3, said during a State Board meeting this month. She recommended that if GED recipients receive a diploma, they should be reported separately.

Some research shows that although GED test-takers can demonstrate comparable cognitive skills, they are less likely to demonstrate life skills such as perseverance that students develop by reporting to school day in and day out.

Great reporting by the Post‘s Michael Alison Chandler. A helpful primer on the issue not just in D.C. but in other states where this discussion is also taking place.

I’m not close to the local D.C. adult education scene anymore, so no special insights here, but I would just add a couple of quick thoughts:

  • Does the fact that the neighboring state of Maryland does award a high school diploma to GED graduates put D.C. GED recipients at a competitive disadvantage? I have no idea, but it’s sort of implied above.
  • There is much enthusiasm in the adult education policy world over initiatives that provide high school or high school equivalency faster for those who have dropped out of school, and in my limited anecdotal experience, not a lot of discussion about the quality and value of such initiatives for students over the long-term. If your system tends to use the number of diplomas or credentials awarded as the primary metric for assessing such initiatives, that’s not surprising.
  • I get that for someone who dropped out of school, earning a diploma quickly may be attractive, and thus encourage more dropouts to return to school, but I would think dual enrollment opportunities that offer opportunities for earning college credit while working toward that diploma (or equivalent) would do the same, and potentially have more lasting value. In any case, evidence that either really works as a motivating factor would be helpful.

Good Ideas Can Be Dressed Up in Bad Proposals

I don’t have an opinion about this, or any useful information to share with you that might help you form your own opinion about it, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that questioning whether the people proposing this kind of financing know what they’re doing does not necessarily mean you are anti-technology or against computers in schools or don’t believe the future is our children etc. As this article notes, the interest alone on $2 billion in bonds could buy a lot of stuff.

One of the things I’m doing in my actual job is to better understand how communities identify the best ways for technology to drive what they are tryying to accomplish, and figure out how to pay for those tools they need in a responsible and effective way. Taking on a lot of debt to do so may not be the best approach. (Again, not saying it’s a bad idea, just that it may not be.)