Monday Reading List: Scientist Teachers, the Curse of Student Debt, and "Vouchers"

Jon Marcus of The Hechinger Report looks at a new MIT program, designed to attract scientists to teaching:

This experiment, just getting under way, is called the Woodrow Wilson Academy of Teaching and Learning, named for the foundation that is underwriting it. In the face of a nationwide teacher shortage, especially in science, technology, engineering and math, the academy is not the first program that has sought to attract experts in these areas to teaching, but it offers a significant departure from traditional teacher training programs in several other high-tech ways. In addition to the familiar student teaching routine, for instance, it uses virtual reality avatars to simulate classroom situations and crises.

Despite the vaguely dystopian detail at the end there, this sounds like a promising idea. The important caveat, though, is that the ability to do science is one thing ... and the ability to teach science to other people is a completely different thing. Teachers need to be subject matter experts in the material they impart unto children, but that expertise cannot come at the expense of solid instructional know-how. Finding that balance can be tricky.

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I'm late to the party on this article, but Erica Green of The New York Times looks at how HBCUs might fare under new federal higher education rules:

[Claflin University President Henry] Tisdale and his counterparts at other small, historically black colleges and universities are among an unlikely cohort of supporters for Ms. DeVos’s effort to tighten a wide-ranging regulation that offers federal debt relief to students who were defrauded or deceived by their higher-education institutions. While the rules targeted for-profit colleges with billion-dollar budgets, they apply to all institutions — including small, nonprofit colleges like Claflin that have been educating low-income, minority and first-generation students for more than a century without scandal.

The UNCF (formerly the United Negro College Fund) also is a vocal critic of these rules, creating some unlikely alliances around this corner of higher education policy. The fundamental issue at hand seems to be whether or not institutions should bear responsibility for the debt load of the students who graduate, if said debt load outstrips future ability to pay. It's a complicated question, made even more thorny by the fact that:

A) student debt has become the cornerstone of college financing in this country, and

B) while American states guarantee the right to a free education, no such thing exists for higher education in this country, at either the federal or state level.

On the one hand, the fact that students are graduating with tons of debt, and then not making enough money to justify that debt, sucks. That said, punishing small, historically Black institutions that go out of their way to support the advancement of underserved students seems like a bad way to fix the broader problems.

Finally today, Matt Barnum of Chalkbeat looks at one of the most polarizing words in education policy:

A new poll by the pro-voucher group American Federation for Children is meant to illustrate Americans’ support for school choice. But it also offers some insight into how advocates choose to talk about hot-button education issues. Something striking was buried in the polling memo: Voters said they narrowly opposed school vouchers, 47 to 49 percent, even though similar approaches like “education saving accounts” and “scholarship tax credits” garnered much more support. These findings help explain why advocates of programs that allow families to use public money to pay private school tuition often avoid the word “voucher.”
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In policy and politics, words matter. A lot. Organizations and politicians conduct polling on an ongoing basis to identify the ways in which small differences in phrasing can dramatically affect public perception of important issues. You could call it "public opinion arbitrage."

To that point, don't be surprised if the word "voucher" becomes less common, and you start hearing much more about "tax credit scholarships." But don't be fooled! A voucher under another name is still terrible public policy.

Have a great week!