Education giant agrees to $95 million settlement

WASHINGTON — Education Management Corp., one of the nation’s largest for-profit education companies, has agreed to pay $95.5 million to resolve allegations that it engaged in long-running, illegal recruiting practices in which staffers’ pay was based on the number of students they enrolled.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch said the high-pressure recruiting operations resembled a “boiler room” in which prospective students were targeted regardless of their abilities to succeed.

The settlement represents the largest False Claims Act settlement involving a for-profit educational institution in U.S. history, Justice Department officials said.

EDMC, which draws 90% of its revenue from federal student aid, enrolls 100,000 at its schools Argosy University, the Art Institutes, Brown Mackie College and South University.

Lynch said the company’s actions represented a “betrayal of trust and violation of federal law.”

EDMC President and Chief Executive Officer Mark McEachen said in a written statement that the company was “pleased” to have resolved the civil claims.

“Though we continue to believe the allegations in the cases were without merit, putting these matters behind us returns our focus to educating students,” McEachen said.

Failed black education invisible in debates

It’s more likely an innocent oversight than a deliberate slight.

After all, only 3.4% of the population of Iowa, and just 1.5% of the population of New Hampshire — the states with the first-in-the-nation presidential caucuses and primary — are black. That would help explain why the issues of most concern specifically to low-income and working-class blacks aren’t showing up in presidential stump speeches or on debate stages.

Black issues — the educational achievement gap, chief among them — weren’t on the radar at the Oct. 28 Republican presidential debate. It was scarcely any better at the Democrats’ first debate, held Oct. 13, with only a gratuitous either-or question about “Black Lives Matter” versus “All Lives Matter.”

Nor does it bode well for those black issues to get the attention they deserve when the Republicans debate again Nov. 10 in Wisconsin, with just 6.6% of its population black, followed four days later by a Democratic debate in Iowa.

The issue of the educational-achievement gap took on even deeper urgency with the release in late October of the disturbing results of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) standardized tests.

STEM jobs with the most men vs. most women

It is a widely discussed fact that jobs in the science, technology, engineering and math fields, commonly referred to as STEM careers, are held mostly by men. This gender inequality has been the focus of several public policy initiatives, such as President Obama’s plan to bolster STEM education for girls.

However, the current depth of the gender diversity problem in STEM professions was less defined, until now. Our close analysis of the top five STEM jobs with the highest percentage of men working in the profession and the top five STEM jobs with the highest percentage of women working in the profession presents an alarming disparity in gender diversity.

The 2014 data, from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), shows that while the jobs with the most men are completely dominated by men, the jobs with the most women are closer to gender neutral. In fact, the fifth ranked job with the most women, statisticians, still has a higher percentage of men working in the field (49.9% women, versus 50.1% men).

Read on to get an in-depth picture of gender inequality in these ten featured jobs. Note that the 2014 salary data comes from the BLS and reflects the overall salary for both men and women.

Four-year college isn’t only path to career readiness

As president of one of America’s leading educational institutions and CEO of one of the world’s largest financial firms, we see the world through two very different lenses.

But there is one challenge that we both see clearly and are deeply concerned about: too many young people are not on a path to meaningful employment that will enable them to join the middle class. We see it when students drop out of school and struggle to obtain even a minimum wage job. And we see it when well-paying technical jobs go unfilled because applicants don’t have the necessary skills.

Millions of Americans have come to appreciate the value of four-year college degrees. These degrees remain as important as ever. Yet just over half of high school graduates who go on to four-year colleges end up completing a bachelor’s degree within six years. Young people of color and those who come from low-income families fare even worse.

The social and economic challenges these young people face have been exacerbated by the growing economic crisis of high inner-city unemployment and lowhigh-school graduation rates.

The result is truly a national tragedy: today, over five million young people, including close to one in five African-Americans and one in six Latinos, are neither working nor in school. The youth unemployment rate is over 11%; for young African Americans it jumps to over 20%. With many young people out of work or stuck in dead-end, low-wage and low-skills jobs, economic growth slows and social challenges increase.

Universities must do more to support students of all backgrounds who arrive on their campuses. Nonetheless, to tackle youth unemployment and support the needs of today’s economy, students and their families should be informed about all of their education options, including college and career pathways that don’t include pursuing a four-year degree immediately. Students connected to high-quality training programs have a chance to find a way out of poverty and a real chance at economic opportunity.

Microsoft buys Minecraft mod for schools

For years, the phenomenally popular world-building game Minecraft has quietly been making inroads into schools — teachers have been using it informally to teach nearly every subject, mostly through shared, often homemade lessons.

The game’s owner, the software giant Microsoft, has encouraged teachers to use it. On Tuesday, Microsoft took one more step toward formally acknowledging Minecraft’s educational possibilities: it said it had acquired MinecraftEdu, an education-oriented version created by teachers and explicitly for use in classrooms.

Microsoft did not disclose the terms of the deal, but said it was not acquiring TeacherGaming, the startup that created the “edu” version of the software.

Originally a Swedish import, Minecraft became a Microsoft property more than a year ago, when the Redmond, Wash., company bought it for $2.5 billion.

It’s hard to overstate exactly how huge Minecraft is, especially among young players. It boasts more than 100 million registered players in 238 countries and is among the best-selling PC games of all time. More than 160 million people have watched more than 5 billion hours of Minecraft video content on YouTube, Microsoft says, with online maps so large they contain up to 921.6 quadrillion individual blocks.

Microsoft says the educational version is already being played in more than 7,000 classrooms in more than 40 countries, but not without issues, officials said.

For one thing, teachers sometimes have difficulty getting it purchased and configured in their classrooms, said Matt Booty, a Microsoft vice president and part of theMinecraft Education team. Until recently, they were required to buy the software through a purchase order made out to its creator, the Swedish game studio Mojang.

Making the educational version of the game a Microsoft purchase “makes it easier and more streamlined for teachers and educators to get Minecraft in the classroom,” Booty said. “If a school can piggyback on its existing arrangement with Microsoft for other software that we already make available to schools, it just makes it easier.”

He also said TeacherGaming had done a lot to create “communities of teachers” who collaborate and share student work.

As for branding a phenomenally popular game “educational,” Booty said he and others were proceeding cautiously, calling Minecraft “a game that has application in education,” not an educational game.

“Our belief is that it stays true to its origins as a game and we make sure that it can be used broadly in educational settings, rather than trying to change something about the game itself,” he said.

Kids “are great at sort of seeing through to the truth of things,” Booty said. “They’re probably better than anybody at seeing through labels.” But they’ll soon see that theMinecraft they’re using in the classroom “is the same as the Minecraft that they play elsewhere, and that it perhaps has just some additional things added — we’re not taking things out. I think that they’ll be at ease to understand that it hasn’t been compromised.”

Microsoft will offer a free trial this summer and expects the new version to cost about $5 per student per year.

The company said it would explicitly separate students’ school accounts from their private accounts, mostly for privacy reasons. But Booty said the software would allow students to take assignments home and share them with parents and friends. It would also create a “portfolio” of work that resides in a personal folder.

Lucas Gillispie, a North Carolina educator who has initiated Minecraft programs in more than 23 schools in two North Carolina districts, said he was “really excited” about the acquisition. “Since I’ve been working with teachers and districts with games and learning, no other tool has come close to Minecraft’s ability to unleash kids’ creativity both in and out of the classroom.”

Gillispie, the director of Academic and Digital Learning for Surry County, N.C., schools, added, “I’ve seen amazing things from both students and teachers inMinecraft. I hope this opens up possibilities for even more students.”

Gillispie also said teachers, as well as gamers, probably shouldn’t worry that Microsoft is ruining a good thing. “I’ve been to a couple of events that Minecraft has hosted … and I get a strong vibe that they are paying close attention to the education community and what we value in the game.”

Netflix CEO sets up $100 million fund for education

SAN FRANCISCO — Netflix CEO Reed Hastingshas created a $100 million philanthropic fund earmarked for education.

The Hastings Fund, set up through through theSilicon Valley Community Foundation, will be run by Neerav Kingsland, Hastings wrote in a Facebook post. The first $1.5 million is going to the United Negro College Fund and to the Hispanic Foundation of Silicon Valley.

“The goal of these investments is to provide students of color with exceptional post-secondary educational experiences,” Kingsland wrote on his personal blog. “There are a lot students in this country who don’t have access to amazing schools. Hopefully, this can change.”

Kingsland is also a senior education fellow at the Laura and John Arnold Foundationwhere he focuses K-12 education.

New analysis of math, reading scores ‘very disconcerting’

Decades of bleak results from kids’ standardized tests now seem almost routine, but a new study made public Tuesday scratches beneath the surface to pin down just how many students in major U.S. metropolitan areas can actually read or do math proficiently. The results: Startlingly few.

If all of Detroit’s fourth-graders took the well-respected National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests, just 120 African-American fourth-graders across the entire city, by researchers’ estimates, would score “proficient” or above in math.

“This is not a misprint,” the authors warn.

Researchers at the Center for American Progress, the left-leaning Washington, D.C., think tank, gathered demographic data about the current crop of students in 21 metropolitan areas and combined it with recent results on the federally administered test of math and reading skills.

The figures are estimates based on the demographic data, not actual determinations of individual student scores.

“The problem is stark and very disconcerting,” said Ulrich Boser, a CAP senior fellow and lead author of the report.

The idea to reframe the percentages, Boser said, is an attempt to change how people think about achievement. “I just really feel like our brain is not built to easily understand proportions and fractions. We are much more inclined to think of absolute numbers.”

He added, “We’ve seen these numbers thrown around a lot and well-analyzed, but we hadn’t seen them put in this context.”

Mike Petrilli, of the right-leaning D.C. think tank the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, said, “The minuscule proportion of poor and minority children in some major American cities who are scoring at ‘proficient’ is surely a tragedy, but it shouldn’t be surprising, given the deep, long-term poverty most of their children face.”

Most of the results come from a subset of NAEP known as the Trial Urban District Assessment, or TUDA, administered in 21 cities and metro areas — not just Cleveland, Detroit and Atlanta, but in places like Duval, Hillsborough and Miami-Dadecounties in Florida.

Michael Casserly of the Council of the Great City Schools, which represents 67 urban districts, said its members created TUDA in 2000 “so we could tell where we were doing well, where we were showing improvements, and where we need improvement.”

The researchers suggest that cities and states that have committed to higher academic standards such as the heavily debated Common Core have seen “clear gains” in student proficiency. In Massachusetts, for instance, the percentage of fourth-graders scoring proficient or above in math rose from 41% in 2003 to 54% a decade later. The sheer number of new fourth-graders doing math proficiently or better? About 7,000, the researchers suggest.

In Florida, a similar jump meant about 22,000 more fourth-graders scored proficiently or higher in math; and in Washington, D.C., about 1,000 more fourth-graders scored proficiently or higher in both math and reading.

D.C. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said the improvements appeared “because we have raised our standards, aligned our curriculum to those standards, worked to engage our students and families, and have the strongest workforce in the country working to improve the outcomes of all of our students.”

Petrilli, a proponent of charter schools, said implementing higher standards is worth supporting. “But that’s not going to be enough for the disadvantaged urban children (the researchers) write about. For them, incredible schools are necessary to give them a shot at transcending their current circumstances, and I’m doubtful that traditional school districts can deliver that.”