How to Stop Cheating in College

Cheating is omnipresent in American higher education. In 2015, Dartmouth College suspended 64 students suspected of cheating in—irony of ironies—an ethics class in the fall term. The previous school year, University of Georgia administrators reported investigating 603 possible cheating incidents; nearly 70 percent of the cases concluded with a student confession. In 2012, Harvard had its turn, investigating 125 students accused of improper collaboration on a final exam in a government class. Stanford University, New York State’s Upstate Medical University, Duke University, Indiana University, the University of Central Florida and even the famously honor code-bound University of Virginia have all faced cheating scandals in recent memory. And that’s just where I stopped Googling.

The nationwide statistics are bleak, too. The International Center for Academic Integrity (ICAI), which has studied trends in academic dishonesty for more than a decade, reports that about 68 percent of undergraduate students surveyed admit to cheating on tests or in written work. Forty-three percent of graduate students do the same.

It’s easy to blame high levels of student dishonesty on new technologies, which can make cheating a matter of a swipe of a finger, rather than a stolen answer key or elaborate plot to share answers in the testing room. In a 2011 Pew study, 89 percent of college presidents blamed computers and the Internet for a perceived increase in plagiarism over the previous decade. Meanwhile, colleges are turning technology against the cheaters, using software products that proctor tests with webcams or check written work for plagiarism.

A Classroom Where No One Cheats


But Don McCabe, a retired professor at Rutgers University who led the ICAI student surveys for many years, is hesitant to blame today’s student cheating rates on easy access to the Internet, computers, mobile phones, and more. His survey data shows a more complicated portrait: The percentages of student cheating did begin to increase once the Internet became ubiquitous, but now are actually trending down again, toward pre-Internet levels. But he also sees a diminishing level of student participation in his surveys—fewer responses, and fewer thoughtful responses. His theory is that there’s a growing apathy toward school and cheating at school among today’s students.

What is the best way for universities to catch today’s ever-evolving cheaters—and discourage them from cheating in the first place?

One approach is to take advantage of a number of new technological tools like Turnitin that are designed to make academic dishonesty easier to sniff out. Turnitin, for its part, is a web service used at institutions around the globe to analyze written schoolwork, giving students who run their papers through it computer-generated advice on their writing’s organization and sentence structures. And it gives professors a grading platform that compares every sentence in a student essay to a big database: billions of archived web pages, millions of academic articles and—perhaps most interestingly—most of the other student papers submitted on Turnitin in the past, more than 337 million, according to the company’s website.

Some new ways of uncovering cheating may feel a little creepy. Proctortrack, a software that monitors online test-takers through a webcam, identifies slouching, stretching, shifts in lighting and picking up a dropped pencil as potentially dishonest behaviors. The company behind it, Verificent Technologies, says that Proctortrack is currently installed on 300,000 student computers, with over 1 million online exams proctored since its release.

Other data experiments happening in higher education could have implications for how schools patrol for cheating in the future: many universities are starting to use demographic data like the student’s age and family education history alongside information on classroom engagement to predict a student’s likelihood of passing a course or even of graduating in four years. It doesn’t take much to imagine how quantifying expectations for how well a student will do in class might sharpen the search for cheaters.

case notes from the Williams College Honor and Discipline Committee’s rulings on cheating accusations bears this out. In one situation, “[t]he student was a first year student from a high school abroad in which citation was not taught at all,” but still was punished by flunking a paper that didn’t have appropriate citations. In another, a student who had taken a test early tried to respond in a “vague yet supportive” way to a classmate who wanted to know if her notes had been useful to him in studying for the exam—and lost a letter grade on his test for his trouble. In a third, a freshman claimed that he hadn’t cited ideas taken from footnotes in the course’s text because he had thought that they were his own. The committee failed him on the assignment, but not the course, “because some felt that he genuinely was unaware that the ideas had their origin outside of his own thinking.”

Fishman points out that while students usually understand the “gross boundaries” of cheating, the specifics are much fuzzier, especially when it comes to paraphrasing and citation. “Frankly, I’ve been in many, many groups of teachers who are discussing where the borders are of plagiarism, and most of the time [they] can’t agree on where the exact boundaries are,” she told me. The definition of common knowledge—which determines what information needs attribution, and what doesn’t—is one such point of contention. “That’s a really complicated idea,” she explained. “There’s no one box of stuff that we can say, ‘Okay, this is common knowledge,’ because it varies from community to community. What’s common knowledge amongst a group of medical students, and what’s common knowledge amongst a group of engineering students is going to be different.”

Behavioral research shows that people who were reminded of moral expectations—by writing out or signing an honor code, or copying down the Ten Commandments—before they took a test reduced cheating. McCabe’s surveys have found that honor code schools have lower rates of cheating than other institutions by around a quarter, provided that honor code was made a central part of campus culture.

At Agnes Scott, that translates to a number of things: Students under investigation for honor code violations can request a public hearing, open to the whole community. The student-run Honor Court and the faculty, administrators and students who serve on the Judicial Review Board work to have guilty students reflect meaningfully on their behavior before dispensing a punishment. Kiss recalls a Judicial Board hearing where a student had copied an incorrect answer off of a neighboring student—despite the fact that her own calculations were correct. “She compounded it by trying to come up with more and more ridiculous and outlandish reasons for why she would have gotten that answer. So our job was to get her to have a breakthrough.”

Fishman argues that these kind of academic community-wide discussions about what constitutes integrity reverberate beyond the classroom. “What we hear from employers is that when they get students from a Bachelor’s degree, they’re really good at doing what they’re told to do, but they’re not necessarily good at looking at the situation and figuring out what needs to be done. So that points to the idea that instead of more structure and more consistency, what we need to do is provide a range of problem-based scenarios and let the students try to figure it out.”

Even McCabe, who thinks that today’s students are apathetic about school, is convinced that honor codes are universities’ last best hope. “The only reason I imagine students stop cheating is because they’re being trusted,” he says. In other words, chicken or egg?

Can the Next President Actually Save Public Universities?

The nap pods that popped up recently at the University of California, Berkeley, may be exacerbating a problem they were designed to fix. Intended to help relieve student stress, the egg-like pods cost approximately $100,000 total. A significant student stressor at Cal is rising tuition, and while the pods add up to about $3 per student, paid for in student health fees, the symbolism is galling to students who will graduate with as much debt as the pods cost.

As the editors of The Daily Cal, the university’s student paper, wrote, students aren’t sleep-deprived because of lack of beds but “because of the overwhelming pressures they face.” More naps do nothing for mounting student fees, and the pods appear to ignore deeper structural reasons for student stress: The average Berkeley student leaves the school more than $17,000 in debt (the national average is $29,000, for public and private colleges).

The two Democratic presidential candidates have responded to the student-debt crisis with plans for “free” or “debt-free” college. But it’s not clear how much the federal government can do about the underlying factors driving the rise in tuition, which is largely under control of the states. “There is not a lot of mystery about how [public colleges] are funded,” says Chris Hoene, the executive director of the California Budget and Policy Center. “They have two major funds: what the state can provide and tuition and fees. If one goes down, one goes up.”

For more than three decades, state funding for most public universities, including the University of California, has been going down while tuition and fees for students have been going up. (Notable exceptions are the oil-rich states of Alaska and North Dakota, although that trend is changing this year with the decline of oil prices.) The UC system’s tight budget is emblematic of a larger decades-long trajectory in American higher education. According to the D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), state and local governments paid three times as much as students to fund public colleges and universities in 1988; in 2015, funding was about evenly split between the two. States are spending 20 percent less per student today than in 2007, and college costs have grown faster than the median income over the past two decades. The necessity of a college degree, combined with its increasing unaffordability, has helped to fracture the concept of upward mobility and equal access to opportunity—those hallmarks of the mythical American Dream.

That crisis of affordability has become a key plank in the campaigns of the two Democratic candidates. Bernie Sanders plans to push the cost issue to the federal government by eliminating tuition at public colleges and universities, by cutting student-loan interest rates, and increasing federal funding of state colleges, all paid for by a proposed tax on Wall Street speculation fees. Sanders also calls for state schools to reign in costs in order to get their federal money, through a moratorium on merit-based aid and non-academic buildings (such as increasingly lavish student centers). On his website, Sanders cites the historically low tuition the University of California and the City University of New York as proof that free college can work in the United States. But these examples come from an era when states had fewer revenue restrictions—that is, tax caps and budget mandates. Like the University of California, CUNY has been increasing the share of the budget paid by tuition, rather than the state and city, over decades; New York state kicked in more than two-thirds of CUNY’s budget in 1988, while it contributes less than half today. (Even in the mid-century at CUNY, some tuition came from “outsiders”—or night students and nonmatriculants, who helped the bottom line, much as out-of-state students do today.)

Hillary Clinton’s plan calls for free community college, as well as no loans for low-income students, lower interest rates on student loans in general, and income-based repayment. In addition, her plan nods to the need to address state “disinvestment” in higher education by providing grants to states that guarantee loan-free four-year college and free community college, funded by closing tax loopholes. In Clinton’s plan, the federal government would give money to state colleges based on the number of low-and-middle income students they enroll and reductions in debt created by covering living expenses.

Yet, to date, the federal government has had much less control over college tuition than state policies. The federal government funds state universities indirectly, through research grants to faculty, Pell grants for low-income students, and through some student loans that it backs and subsidizes. Direct funding for public colleges and universities comes from the states, and state and local funding cuts are largely due to looming outside constraints, such as tax caps and mandatory expenditures like public K-12 education and health care. Until the problem of reduced revenue is tackled, many experts say, tuition will continue to rise, no matter who is subsidizing it. “The Pell Grant plays a large role in helping low-income students afford college, but revenue is overwhelmingly state budget appropriation,” says Michael Mitchell, a senior policy analyst of state fiscal policy at the CBPP. “State funding is the big game.” As a Pew Charitable Trusts report put it last year put it, in higher education, the federal government funds individuals, while the states fund institutions.

Take California. In the 1950s and 60s, tuition was free for in-state UC students. In 1978, voters passed Proposition 13, limiting property-tax increases to under 2 percent, and squeezing overall revenue for California’s general fund. Tuition at both UC and CSU has tripled, and not, say scholars, because of large spending increases but because of decreased state funding for even more students: Between 2007 and 2013, $2 billion was cut from the state’s higher-education budget, as 32,000 more students enrolled at the University of California alone in the same time period. “Higher ed, corrections, and the social safety net are the places where there aren’t protective mandates or requirements in place,” says Hoene. “The corrections budget has gone up, health care has gone up, and higher ed has gone down.”

California is not an anomaly. State spending on higher education has plummeted to the point that some researchers suggest it may soon reach zero in states such as Colorado or Louisiana, as tax policies change. Overall, between 2003 and 2012, state funding for all public colleges decreased by 12 percent, according to the Government Accountability Office, while tuition rose by 55 percent; tuition surpassed state funding as the major revenue source for public colleges for the first time in 2012.

grant model that it says maintains access for low-income students, with Berkeley ensuring tuition-free attendance for students whose families make under $80,000. At the same time, the university is raising tuition and eliminating grants for out-of-state students in response to a budget crisis. Among those in the $100,000 debt club is Virgie Hoban, a senior and former editor at The Daily Cal, who is something of an endangered species at Berkeley—a low-income out-of-state student. This academic year, the university eliminated aid for non-resident students, as one response to the budget and enrollment trends. “I feel lucky to have been a student in better times,” Hoban says, citing the new out-of-state aid policy. Still, “I will be in debt half my life.”

Grants for low-income students are helping to drive the increase in federal funding for all higher education, which matched state spending for the first time in 2013 (excluding loan programs), largely because of an increase in Pell Grants. Yet a high price still looks high, no matter how many grants a student is awarded later—or loses over time. A $50,000 price tag starts to make a year of college look like a luxury item. A 2015 study found that published tuition increases at non-selective public four-year institutions can decrease diversity. Moreover, says the California Budget and Policy Center’s Hoene, “even if you provide grants and scholarships, if the state has disinvested over time, the calculus doesn’t work because the out-of-state and international students are still a better deal financially.” In fact, the proportion of out-of-state undergraduates at UC has tripled over the last eight years, at the expense of Californians, claims a recent state audit.

To really solve the tuition crunch, tax oil (via an oil-severance tax), tax marijuana, and fix Prop 13, says Kevin Sabo, a senior at Berkeley, the president of the University of California Student Association, and a community-college transfer himself. “The revenue pipeline is not big enough; our state is too hamstrung to service the needs of 40 million,” he says.

As a recent New America report by Ben Barrett puts it, federal aid for students is, essentially, a voucher system, “backfilling” broken state budgets; instead, writes Barrett, “states must be reinstituted as a primary partner in financing higher education.” Presidential-campaign platforms don’t usually have room for the workaday complexities of state tax policy. But, as Sabo points out, there may be no better way to lower tuition than to focus on just that.

Math for Girls, Math for Boys

The small Romanian town of Busteni is known for its skiing and stunning sights. But for some, the sight of 147 teenaged girls doing math in the main hall of the town’s Sports Hall earlier this April may be even more stunning. Aren’t girls supposed to hate math? Or at least, as Barbie once told us, find it “tough”?

Not these girls. Thirty nine teams from 39 countries, including the United States, Ecuador, Russia, and the United Kingdom, participated in this year’s European Girls Math Olympiad, up from 30 teams in 2015. This is an encouraging development, considering the week-long Olympiad, which started in 2012, was intended to encourage more girls to participate in math competitions in the first place, said Geoff Smith, the mathematics professor at the University of Bath who came up with the idea.

“There’s a problem in international mathematics competitions that the proportion of girls participating is very low,” Smith said, noting that it’s particularly low at world championships such as the International Math Olympiad, where only one in 10 contestants are female and many teams have no girls at all. (Last year’s Team USA, which took gold for the first time in 21 years, was all male.)

Smith noticed that, once China started having an annual contest only for girls in 2002, the country began adding girls to its co-ed international team. While he hesitates to say this was the direct cause, he decided it might be a good idea for European girls to have their own Olympiad, too—one whose questions would be just as challenging as those at male-dominated events.

But not everyone loved the idea. “Some were doubtful and suspicious, some were enthusiastic,” he said. “There are two ways to view the separate competition for girls. One is that it’s a feminist act attempting to promote opportunities for young women with a view to eventually the competition abolishing itself because it would have achieved its goals. The other is that it’s an insult to women because it says that the girls are simply not strong enough to get into the open competitions.”

Oliver Holmes in The Guardian last year focused on the latter view, quoting a Swedish International Olympiad female participant and female math professor in charge of Sweden’s scholastic math competitions in concluding that the Girls Olympiad is a “second-class competition.”

But many women who have actually participated in the European Girls Math Olympiad disagree. Jenny Iglesias, the leading coach for this year’s Team USA, sees it as an opportunity for girls who enjoy math to not just gain vital competition experience, which increases their confidence to try other events, but also network, mingle, and “not to be the only girl in the room.” Iglesias, who is working on her math doctorate at Carnegie Mellon University, participated in the Chinese Girls Math Olympiad, and got a lot out of it, including a chance to travel.

But if the European Olympiad’s growing popularity is a sign that girls are, indeed, interested in math competitions, why does the gender gap remain at the International Olympiad? A 2009 study on gender and math competitions by the economists Glenn Ellison and Ashley Swanson found fewer American girls than boys took the exams needed to qualify for events like the International Olympiad. Also, the girls who did take those exams most came from small group of elite schools; the boys, meanwhile, were from all over, leading the authors to conclude that most schools are failing to encourage girls in math.

Only one in five test-takers who scored 100 points on American Math Contest 12, the most difficult exam, were female. Scores above that (a perfect score is 150, or 25 questions worth six points each ) showed an even bigger gap, with only one out of 10 coming from a girl. While the authors cited systemic sexism and stereotype threat as possible reasons—and rejected Larry Summers’s infamous “innate” differences argument—they refused to make any definite conclusions, saying the field needed “more study.”

* * *

gender gap in math favors boys overall, but that it also varies from country to country, with some, like Albania, favoring girls by more than 10 points. Sweden’s gap also favored girls, but so slightly that it may not be statistically significant. The U.S., however, regularly shows girls doing worse than boys, and in 2009 showed a 20-point gap.

This, said Maria Charles, a sociology professor at UC Santa Barbara who has studied the math gender gap globally, may have a lot to do with the educational culture in the U.S., which emphasizes personal growth over practical pursuits. “One thing that changes in very affluent societies is that our understanding of the nature and purpose of careers and education changes from being more practical, an investment in material security, to self-expression,” Charles said.

For more than a century, the country has embraced progressive education, which encourages students to pursue their individual passions. But the general population’s lack of interest in STEM, and its ingrained math phobia, may be due to the fact that even before the progressives existed, this country did not have a strong math culture. The European settlers who established the first schools were far more focused on literacy for the good of one’s soul than on numeracy. Math was seen as necessary only for practical tasks, and it wouldn’t be until the 19th century that the U.S. produced its first internationally renowned mathematician—the Harvard professor Benjamin Peirce. (Speaking of Harvard: It didn’t appoint a math professor until almost a century after its founding—a professor who, perhaps tellingly, was a “confirmed drunkard.”) Interest in the subject increased in the 19th century as the Industrial Revolution took hold, but it would take another century for American mathematicians to really encroach on the world stage.

Charles found that, when given the choice to pursue one’s educational passions, girls today in industrialized countries like the U.S. all too often rely on gender stereotypes that say math is for boys—stereotypes that start as early as second grade—because they are still learning about themselves . Many girls lose confidence in their math abilities in middle school.

“If you [ask] a young girl, ‘what do you want to do?’ most don’t know what they want to do, what they enjoy, what they’re going to be really good at,” Charles said. That makes it easy to absorb stereotypes,” according to Charles, as opposed to in poorer countries where girls are encouraged to at least try math because a STEM career pays better and will increase the family’s coffers.

This also appears to be the case in certain populations in the U.S. immigrants from China, India, South Korea, Japan, and Iran, to name a few, tend to encourage their girls into mathematical professions, like STEM or medicine, particularly if their children are first-generation citizens.

Where the U.S.’s stereotypes about girls come from, however, is interesting, because they’ve changed, even in the last 60 years. In her article, “What Gender is Science?” Charles writes that more 19th-century girls took physics, astronomy, and chemistry classes than boys, because it was good training for housework and was seen as requiring less capacity for higher reasoning than the humanities.

In the early 20th century, arithmetic and coding were considered menial clerical tasks, which is why so many of the “human computers” and computer coders were often female. These fields finally became male-dominated starting in the ‘50s, when they became lucrative. This makes sense, since the Space Race and the Cold War both led to a massive tech boom. Silicon Valley’s rise in the ‘70s and ‘80s further cemented the computer tech field as a brilliant boys’ club.

The Man Who Tried to Kill Math in America


But when trying to solve the math gender gap in this and other countries, it may be most useful to look at the girls who didn’t absorb the stereotypes, like Iglesias, the European Olympiad’s Team USA coach;  Sherry Gong, a doctoral student at MIT who also coaches the team; and two of its competitors, Celine Liang and Demi Guo, both high-school seniors from California. All four have at least one parent who works in a STEM or medical field. And all four say they were encouraged by teachers, at different school levels, to pursue math competitions. These factors have been shown to make a difference when it comes to encouraging students to pursue STEM.

And then there’s self-confidence. “It would be a little disappointing when you can’t do a problem, but don’t be discouraged if you can’t do a problem,” Liang said, directing her advice at middle-schoolers.

But confidence can waver even in the most dedicated. Gong, who in 2007 was the second American girl in International Math Olympiad history to get the gold medal, recalled getting a pep talk during a competition from her coach, Melanie Wood (who was the first American girl to ever get on Team USA). “I thought I was doing really badly, but … she said girls tend to underestimate how well they are doing,” Gong said.

And while current participants hope the U.S. team will continue competing in the European Girls Math Olympiad for years to come, these young mathematicians aren’t dismayed by the thought of a future where it isn’t needed.

“It’s a good thing to have a chance for more girls,” Guo said. “It’s necessary for now because there aren’t other alternatives.”

Why Lowering Interest Rates Won’t Fix the Student-Debt Problem

Lowering interest rates on student loans would not do much to lower defaults or encourage more young people to earn college degrees, according to a new analysis by the Brookings Institution.

The fact that cutting interest rates is being touted by Hillary Clinton, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and others in recent months isn’t exactly surprising in an election year. It’s more broadly politically palatable than, say, making college free à la Bernie Sanders. And it sounds nice at a time when college costs are ballooning and more so-called “nontraditional” students (often older, first-generation college-goers with families of their own, jobs to hold down, and bills to maintain) are pursuing higher education.

But cutting interest rates doesn’t make much sense, argues Susan Dynarski, a senior fellow at Brookings. An across-the-board cut, she points out, benefits all borrowers, even those who earn a lot of money and don’t need the help. Current income-based repayment plans, which borrowers have to opt into, create an interest subsidy that is a “poorly targeted, expensive tool for reducing loan default,” she argues, by effectively offering people of all incomes a subsidy at the end of their loan repayment period. (In 2013, Dynarski outlined a single, income-based loan-repayment plan that, like Social Security, would automatically vary payments based on the rise and fall of a borrower’s earnings.)

Instead, Dynarski invokes behavioral psychology and suggests that to really increase college-going in the United States, “tangible and salient incentives at the moment of decision-making are most effective in changing behavior.” In other words, actually lowering tuition or offering grants while someone is in college makes more sense than telling them they’ll have to pay less interest at some point in the future. And, she points out, cutting interest rates often saves people just a few hundred dollars, which isn’t much use for seriously distressed borrowers. “Cutting interest rates on student loans won’t get more students into college, and siphons off revenue from the grants than can do this important job,” Dynarski writes.

Lowering tuition or awarding grants might encourage more people to pursue college in part by simplifying the process of getting there. Nearly a quarter of aid recipients surveyed in a recent Institute for College Access and Success study said they had trouble completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and almost half said they faced long lines at their school’s financial-aid office. But the same report, which looked specifically at community-college students, found that indirect costs, such as paying for transportation to school or housing near campus, often present more of a barrier to college completion than tuition itself, suggesting that grants need to be flexible.

Yet, as cash-strapped states tighten funding for higher education, it’s unlikely that many schools will lower tuition or seriously increase grants anytime soon. And while low-income students do have access to some funding in the form of the federal Pell grant currently, it is generally not enough to cover the cost of going to college and has restrictions on when and where it can be used, which has likely contributed to high dropout rates among recipients. Often, Pell recipients take out relatively small loans (compared to those taking out hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for law school or a medical degree) to fill the gap between what the grant covers and the total cost. But due to a number of factors, including a lack of advising and poor academic preparation, these students are more likely than their peers who do not receive Pell to leave school before graduation but are still on the hook for paying back loans. It’s no surprise then, that borrowers with smaller loans have some of the highest default rates.

There’s also no good way yet for incoming students to gauge the return on investment of their education, including how much they might expect to earn after graduating with a particular degree from a particular school, as plans to provide some clarity in this area have met with fierce resistance. A recent survey of millennials with student debt from Citizens Bank found that 57 percent of young people surveyed would not take out as many loans if they had it to do again, and more than a third said they would not have attended college at all if they had understood all of the costs from the beginning.

That’s a particularly depressing finding, because, despite all of the issues, a college degree is still one of the best paths to success and financial stability, according to research by the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce and other think tanks. The fact that so many young people feel discouraged or confused by higher education in general is a clear sign that, whether by lowering tuition, providing grants, or something else entirely, more needs to be done to open the door to college. Simply talking about cutting interest rates isn’t going to cut it.

How UC Davis Tried to Scrub Its Abuse of Students From the Web

Back in 2011, when Occupy Wall Street protests roiled dozens of college campuses, I published a series of articles about an egregious instance of police brutality at UC Davis, where Lieutenant John Pike, acting under ambiguous orders from superiors, used an unapproved pepper-spray device to chemically assault student activists, who were assembled peacefully and lawfully on a campus quad during the daytime.

At first, lots of news outlets covered the story, but as it faded from the headlines, I kept attempting to hold the culpable parties accountable by publishing followup articles about the findings of an official investigation, the staggering amount of time it took for Pike to be terminated, and the obscene fact that he wound up with a bigger payout than any of his victims. I hoped that the public––especially voters, UC administrators, and legislators here in California––would take notice and act to improve evident flaws in the system.

Imagine how vexing it is to find out, several years later, that after journalists like me worked to document this matter, UC Davis “contracted with consultants for at least $175,000 to scrub the Internet of negative online postings” on the pepper-spraying and “to improve the reputations of both the university and Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi.” So reports The Sacramento Bee, adding that UC Davis signed a 6-month contract with a PR company at a rate of $15,000 per month, and that one objective described in the company’s proposal was the “eradication of references to the pepper spray incident in search results on Google for the university and the Chancellor.”

It was to be “an aggressive and comprehensive online campaign.”

The administrators who approved this expenditure, one that neither the legislature nor the taxpayers would’ve approved in a million years, spent public funds to disappear speech that was core to a vital, ongoing debate at their university. They deliberately made it more difficult for members of the public, academics, prospective students, and parents to learn about the pepper-spraying incident.

What’s more, they subverted the speech of UC Davis faculty like Nathan Brown, an assistant professor of English who posted an open letter on the Web that declared:

I write to you and to my colleagues for three reasons:

1) to express my outrage at the police brutality which occurred against students engaged in peaceful protest on the UC Davis campus today

2) to hold you accountable for this police brutality

3) to demand your immediate resignation

He went on to write, “There must be space for political dissent on our campus.” And then, months later, administrators hired a firm to scrub letters like his from the searchable Web.

UC Davis said this in a statement Thursday:

Increased investment in social media and communications strategy has heightened the profile of the university to good effect. As part of this overall communications strategy, it is important that the excellent work underway at UC Davis with respect to educating the next generation of students, pursuing groundbreaking research, and providing important services to the State is not lost during a campus crisis, including the crisis that ensued following the extremely regrettable incident when police pepper-sprayed student protesters in 2011.

Put another way, administrators still don’t understand why what they did was wrong.

My colleague James Fallows writes:

What happened at Davis nearly five years ago was brutal though not necessarily a “crime.” But it will receive ten times the lasting notice, online and elsewhere, because of this cleanup effort than if the university had just let it be… local and statehouse reporting really matters. Congratulations and thanks to the Sacramento Bee. This is the part of journalism under greatest pressure in this era’s “creative destruction” of the media business, but the Bee’s persistence mattered. Congratulations, thanks, and respect. Now, for those in charge of UC Davis…

Yes, about those in charge. Do they intend to endorse this behavior?

If Donald Trump is elected, does the UC Board of Regents think it would be appropriate for him to spend taxpayer funds on an effort to scrub Google of stories about brutality by federal law enforcement and others which harmed his personal reputation? I suspect that every last person on that body would object vociferously.

The regents should act accordingly in this case, especially given that Katehi had already lost the confidence of many students for moonlighting on corporate boards, at least one of which seemed to pose a clear conflict of interest with her duties.

These latest revelations are, Scott Shackford writes, “another example of colleges no longer fulfilling their roles as defenders of speech and openness, combined with abusive police behavior, with an added dash of the administrative bloat that’s driving up higher education costs.” He adds, “in the years since Katehi took over in 2009, the budget for the communications office has grown from $2.93 million to $5.47 million.” If Katehi could make due with the old communications budget there would be $2.5 million every year to spend elsewhere.

More state legislators are now calling on her to resign. And I hope the Sacramento Bee is looking into whether the office of Janet Napolitano, the head of the UC System, knew about this expenditure, or has ever paid for Google-scrubbing in other matters.

Stay tuned.

The Promise of Teacher-Residency Programs

This is the third story in a three-part series about teacher preparation and whether programs are doing enough to prepare new teachers to take over their own classrooms. The first part is here, the second part is here.

WASHINGTON—In her large, bright, pre-K classroom, the teacher turned to the group of 4-year-olds learning how to give a baby a bath. She sat on the carpet and cradled a doll carefully as eager students strained their necks to watch.

“How am I holding the baby?” the teacher, Alina Kaye, asked, and then answered her own question: “Nice and calm.” She held up a small, empty plastic bottle and mimed squirting shampoo onto the baby’s head.

The kids edged closer. Meghan Sanchez, a 23-year-old teacher in training, watched Kaye’s every move just as intently. Sanchez is in her first year of an immersive four-year training program via Urban Teachers, a nonprofit group that trains aspiring teachers in Washington and Baltimore.

Sanchez whispered to a little boy who had sat up on his knees to get a better view of the doll: “Legs crossed!” she commanded gently. He sat down quickly. “Thank you,” she said.

The Hechinger Report


As a “resident” of Urban Teachers, which receives funding from the schools in which its residents work as well as from private donations, Sanchez shares a classroom with Kaye, an experienced teacher, learning the ins and outs of teaching while taking evening courses to earn a master’s degree.

Sanchez is one of three teachers The Hechinger Report, which produced this story in partnership with The Atlantic, followed over the course of their first year to look at how training programs prepare teachers for the classroom—or not. The Urban Teachers residency program in D.C. is one of many new alternative routes to becoming a teacher that have sprung up as education schools have come under attack for inadequately preparing teachers for today’s challenges, including higher standards, new technology, and stubborn achievement gaps.

Alternative routes are often faster than traditional education-school programs, making them attractive to career changers and noneducation majors like Sanchez. But residency programs like Urban Teachers are something of a hybrid of traditional and alternative routes, and some experts hope they’ll be the wave of the future.

Traditional education schools generally require at least a year or two of education-related courses, but vary in their student-teaching requirements. Programs in Virginia, for example, require 150 to 680 hours. Alternative routes, such as Teach For America, in contrast, put teachers in charge of their own classrooms after one summer of teaching and coursework. Sanchez will spend over 1,500 hours in a classroom this year, overseen by her mentor, Kaye; take two years of graduate-school classes; and receive a total of four years of coaching and support from Urban Teachers.

The Urban Teachers program started with 19 residents in D.C. in 2010 and now has 217 participants teaching across the district. The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) will further expand the program next year, according to officials. Eventually, the district wants all of its new teachers hired through the residency program.

“Urban Teachers has a strong reputation for developing teachers,” said Paige Hoffman, the district’s manager of innovation and design. “We see folks really being able to enter the classroom with a strong foundation because they’ve had that experience of being in our schools.”

The classroom-focused approach of a residency appealed to Sanchez, a native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. She decided she wanted to teach right before her senior year at Haverford College in Pennsylvania, where she majored in history and minored in Italian. She applied and was accepted to Urban Teachers in January.

“I knew I needed to learn a lot more,” Sanchez said. “No other program offered that level of support … I really needed a program that would walk me through what I needed to support my kids as well as myself, as a teacher.”

* * *

Sanchez spent six weeks in Urban Teachers’s “boot camp,” which included teaching each morning in a summer program and taking classes on topics like classroom management each afternoon.

Sanchez was hired by Seaton Elementary School, which serves nearly 300 3-year-olds through fifth-graders. Nearly 100 percent of the students at Seaton qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, a measure of poverty.

Sanchez helps a student with an assignment in her prekindergarten classroom. (Jackie Mader)

This year, Sanchez is full-time in the classroom, where she observes and teaches alongside Kaye, 26, who has five years of experience and also entered the profession through an alternative route.

Sanchez feels lucky she got placed with Kaye. Both have upbeat personalities and can be warm and friendly with students while also being direct and strict. They hit it off from the beginning and often text each other in the evenings, sometimes about school and sometimes about their weekend plans or recipes they’ve tried at home.

Research suggests that mentors should have at least three years of experience, show evidence of being an effective teacher, and be able to provide feedback and lead professional conversations. They should also be willing not only to work with a student teacher, but to hand over their class to an amateur.

The Exhausting Life of a First-Year Science Teacher


“What would you like to make?” Sanchez asked.

“Umm … something beautiful.” She said quickly. “For the bathtub.”

“For the bathtub? So a toy for the baby?”

The student nodded.

Sanchez turned to the little boy who had slowly stopped crying.

“Are you ready to play plan?” she asked gently. He nodded. He had decided to go to the plastic toy kitchen area along a wall.

“OK, so you’re going to the kitchen. What are you going to do at the kitchen?” Sanchez asked.

“I forgot,” he said quietly.

“Do you need a second to think about it?” Sanchez asked.

He looked at her with wide eyes and nodded, wiping a few remaining tears away.

Sanchez continued around the table, dividing her attention among the children. One by one she helped the students draw a picture of their plan for free play and attempt to write a short sentence describing it.

Kaye says that spending so much time in a classroom before inheriting her own means Sanchez will better understand the development of 4-year-olds. “I love that she’s able to see the full year; she can see the flow,” Kaye said. A lot of new teachers want to “plow in” to activities from the beginning, she added, not realizing that early in the year kids may not be ready for even what seems like a simple art project or writing assignment.

“Next year, she’s going to be in such a good place because she knows you need to practice opening a marker first,” Kaye said.

“I don’t think I really understood what it takes to be a teacher,” Sanchez acknowledged after class. “I can imagine when people hear I’m a prekindergarten teacher, they think, ‘Oh you must have an easy job,’ or ‘it’s a daycare’ and I’m watching them. I just want them to know it’s the contrary, and it’s so important to develop them at this age.”

* * *

So far, there is little evidence to show which kind of program produces the most successful teachers. Some research shows that residency-program graduates may not be any more effective—at least in their first year—than teachers trained in other programs. What’s attractive to districts and teachers, though, are the studies showing that a few of the new programs may stem a perennial education quandary: the alarming rate at which new teachers flee the profession.

During the 2014-15 school year, 84 percent of teachers trained in National Center for Teacher Residencies network programs were still teaching after three years, and 71 percent were teaching after five years, according to a report by that nonprofit organization. (Nationwide, studies have found that anywhere from 17 percent to 46 percent of new teachers quit within their first five years.)

However, not all residency programs are considered high quality—and not all are alike. “Very often, alternate routes tend to be heavily, heavily [classroom-based] with relatively small doses of academics,” said Arthur Levine, the president of the Woodrow Wilson Foundation, which funds its own teacher-training program in three states. “In contrast, university programs tend to be heavily academic, with too little clinical experience.”


A student works on a writing assignment in Kaye and Sanchez’s prekindergarten classroom. (Jackie Mader)

Sanchez believes she’s getting the right mix of both. By November, she was teaching the morning lesson alone for a week. She didn’t have lesson plans written out, as she was trying to be better at going with the flow of the classroom. But she found herself having trouble keeping the kids engaged. “That was definitely a wake-up call,” she said. “Although it was a little scary, it was really important for me to see what I need to do.”

So, with the help of Kaye and coaches from Urban Teachers, she started planning lessons for each day she would be solo teaching.

All of her classroom learning is reinforced during her master’s coursework (four to five nights a week, run by Lesley University). She’s up at 6:45 a.m. every morning, teaches until 3:10 p.m. and leaves for grad school by 4 p.m. She’s not home until 8:45 each night, but tries to cook dinner with her boyfriend or watch television or study before heading to bed to do it all over again the next day.

Kaye knows how exhausting it is. “Basically we have 30 minutes [a day] to talk,” Kaye said. “We’re planning during nap time, texting over the weekend. … It’s hard for her to sleep. It’s hard for her social life and her work-life balance.”

* * *

Sanchez returned from winter break refreshed. Many of the lessons from the first half of the year had sunk in, like realizing that 4-year-olds need “body breaks” to help keep them focused during the day.

On a sunny January morning, her growing confidence was clear. She wasn’t thrown off by students who gave wrong answers or moved around on the floor. First, she had all the students stand up and dance (“to get their wiggles out of the way”). The kids smiled and giggled as they sang along with an upbeat song: “Step to the left, step to the right. Throw your hands in the air, try to reach the sky.” At the end of the song, Sanchez calmly directed the students to sit down.

Kaye, who was carefully observing the students and Sanchez from the side of the room, moved next to a clapping child and motioned for him to scoot forward. She sat down and started taking notes.

The Hechinger Report.

Color Us Confused

One reason school dress codes are such a lighting rod is that they often have no basis in real-world sartorial standards. Though some rules are common sense, people seem most irked by prohibitions on clothing that wouldn’t be out of place in a business meeting—yet is unacceptable by middle-school standards.

Recently we asked what the strangest dress code was at your school. Dozens of you wrote in, and here are the 11 we deemed most odd:


  1. No holes in jeans, but duct tape is fine:

“This was at a public high school in West Virginia in the mid-2000s—the time just before leggings and yoga pants, which was a dress-code battle after I graduated. The fad at the time was holes in the jeans. The rule shifted every year, from no holes at all to only ones allowed below the knee. The kicker was if you were caught with in appropriate rips or tears in your $50 Hollister jeans, you had to put duct tape over them. Our principal carried a roll of tape with her just in case.

The strangest part was the rule was established because it “looked bad.” But then we were forced to wear duct tape, which makes you look even worse. And of course, this rule completely targeted girls because few boys wore holes in their jeans. The duct tape also ruined the tears, created even bigger holes once the tape was removed. It was bizarre and embarrassing.”

— Taylor Stuck

  1. No little old Russian grandmas:

“I attended a public high school in rural Ohio from 1998 to 2002. It was the only high school in the entire county, and despite the lack of any real problems (save the occasional student caught with a joint), the teachers and leadership felt it necessary to institute an oppressive dress code. At least once a week, the principal would announce via intercom a new standard. Below are some of my favorites:

NO babushkas (meaning headscarves). As far as I know, we did not have any older Russian ladies attending my high school. To reiterate, the principal announced over the intercom that “babushkas” (not scarves, not hijabs) were banned from the high school.

NO clothes making fun of the president. At the time, George W. Bush was in office. I actually contacted the ACLU on this one, who immediately sent my high school a cease-and-desist letter. They re-instituted the ban the year after I graduated.

NO face paint. Admittedly not very weird, but I got called into the principal’s office, where he accused me of wearing white face paint. I am incredibly pale and had to show him my ivory-colored Maybelline foundation as proof.”

— Anonymous

  1. No cornrows, except in February:

“I went to Loyola High School in Los Angeles, graduating 2005. Since we were in Southern California, the dress code wasn’t really as strict as you might expect at a traditional all-boys prep school, but there were definitely rules.The strangest one was that cornrows were banned EXCEPT during Black History Month.” (Update: A reader who says he went to Loyola disputes this. The high school’s current official dress code doesn’t mention cornrows. Update: Another former student stands behind the claim:

— Nick Francomano

  1. No shorts on certain dates:

“I attended public high school in a suburb of Harrisburg, PA, in the early to mid 1990s. Our school had a rule that you could not wear shorts after September 15 or before May 15.

Our school also did not have air conditioning. Harrisburg could be oppressively hot and humid well into September and May was often pretty warm too. The rules allowed girls to wear skirts over the knees and culottes whenever they wanted. This led to the yearly tradition of some boys, protesting the rule, wearing skirts to school on the first day over 80 degrees in May and being sent home to change.”

— Andy Szekely

  1. No mismatched shoes:

“A school in Kentucky where I used to work as a teacher (within the past few years) had many of the standard dress code rules. The one that always stood out, and got the most questions from students when we reviewed the dress code, was that you were required to wear shoes that were of the same style and color. I don’t recall it ever being an issue, but it was never revised or taken out.”

— Ryan Bringhurst

  1. Sweatshirts were fine, but no hoodies, unless you’re a monk:

“At my Catholic high school in rural Illinois in the early 2000s (long before they had taken on any racial-political connotation), hoodies were banned. The monks, when pressed to answer why the addition of a hood to a sweatshirt caused it to fall outside of the dress code, the students were informed that we could easily hide contraband in the hood. (An idea I hadn’t even though of, so thanks for the tip.) The most infuriating part about this rule is that every single monk wore a habit with a hood.”

— Anonymous

  1. Dangerous liaisons:

“Girls could not wear the combination of red and black because the girls counselor thought it was too sexy.”

— Anonymous

  1. No hair clips:

“I went to Catholic school during the ‘80s. Eighth-grade girls were not allowed to wear pantyhose, even for warmth under their knee socks in a Massachusetts winter. But in ninth grade, girls had to wear pantyhose and were not allowed to wear socks, though little ankle socks were very much in style.

Also in style were banana clips—long, curved hair clips that we were forbidden to wear. After the girls repeatedly pressed for an answer as to why these were verboten, we were told that banana clips simulated Mohawks and were therefore insulting to Native Americans.”

— Kathleen Weldon

  1. Na, na, ya grill:

“I went to a public high school in Midland, Texas. In 2006, my school banned ‘grills,’ the mouth pieces popularized by the Nelly ft. Paul Wall classic, ‘Grillz.’”

— Brianna Losoya

  1. The third toe leads to lost productivity:

“A job, recently, where open-toed shoes could not expose more than two toes.”

— Anonymous

  1. Loosely defined Satan:

“In a large public school in the city: ‘No Satanic t-shirts.’ Just that. No explanation, just ‘No Satanic t-shirts.’”

— Anonymous

Why Kids Should Use Their Fingers in Math Class

A few weeks ago I (Jo Boaler) was working in my Stanford office when the silence of the room was interrupted by a phone call. A mother called me to report that her 5-year-old daughter had come home from school crying because her teacher had not allowed her to count on her fingers. This is not an isolated event—schools across the country regularly ban finger use in classrooms or communicate to students that they are babyish. This is despite a compelling and rather surprising branch of neuroscience that shows the importance of an area of our brain that “sees” fingers, well beyond the time and age that people use their fingers to count.

In a study published last year, the researchers Ilaria Berteletti and James R. Booth analyzed a specific region of our brain that is dedicated to the perception and representation of fingers known as the somatosensory finger area. Remarkably, brain researchers know that we “see” a representation of our fingers in our brains, even when we do not use fingers in a calculation. The researchers found that when 8-to-13-year-olds were given complex subtraction problems, the somatosensory finger area lit up, even though the students did not use their fingers. This finger-representation area was, according to their study, also engaged to a greater extent with more complex problems that involved higher numbers and more manipulation. Other researchers have found that the better students’ knowledge of their fingers was in the first grade, the higher they scored on number comparison and estimation in the second grade. Even university students’ finger perception predicted their calculation scores. (Researchers assess whether children have a good awareness of their fingers by touching the finger of a student—without the student seeing which finger is touched—and asking them to identify which finger it is.)

Evidence from both behavioral and neuroscience studies shows that when people receive training on ways to perceive and represent their own fingers, they get better at doing so, which leads to higher mathematics achievement. The tasks we have developed for use in schools and homes (see below) are based on the training programs researchers use to improve finger-perception quality. Researchers found that when 6-year-olds improved the quality of their finger representation, they improved in arithmetic knowledge, particularly skills such as counting and number ordering. In fact, the quality of the 6-year-old’s finger representation was a better predictor of future performance on math tests than their scores on tests of cognitive processing.

Neuroscientists often debate why finger knowledge predicts math achievement, but they clearly agree on one thing: That knowledge is critical. As Brian Butterworth, a leading researcher in this area, has written, if students aren’t learning about numbers through thinking about their fingers, numbers “will never have a normal representation in the brain.”

One of the recommendations of the neuroscientists conducting these important studies is that schools focus on finger discrimination—not only on number counting via their fingers but also on helping students distinguish between those fingers. Still, schools typically pay little if any attention to finger discrimination, and to our knowledge, no published curriculum encourages this kind of mathematical work. Instead, thanks largely to school districts and the media, many teachers have been led to believe that finger use is useless and something to be abandoned as quickly as possible. Kumon, for example, an after-school tutoring program used by thousands of families in dozens of countries, tells parents that finger-counting is a “no no” and that those who see their children doing so should report them to the instructor.

Stopping students from using their fingers when they count could, according to the new brain research, be akin to halting their mathematical development. Fingers are probably one of our most useful visual aids, and the finger area of our brain is used well into adulthood. The need for and importance of finger perception could even be the reason that pianists, and other musicians, often display higher mathematical understanding than people who don’t learn a musical instrument.

Teachers should celebrate and encourage finger use among younger learners and enable learners of any age to strengthen this brain capacity through finger counting and use. They can do so by engaging students in a range of classroom and home activities, such as:


Give the students colored dots on their fingers and ask them to touch the corresponding piano keys:


Give the students colored dots on their fingers and ask them to follow the lines on increasingly difficult mazes:

(The full set of activities is given here.)


The finger research is part of a larger group of studies on cognition and the brain showing the importance of visual engagement with math. Our brains are made up of “distributed networks,” and when we handle knowledge, different areas of the brain communicate with each other. When we work on math, in particular, brain activity is distributed among many different networks, which include areas within the ventral and dorsal pathways, both of which are visual. Neuroimaging has shown that even when people work on a number calculation, such as 12 x 25, with symbolic digits (12 and 25) our mathematical thinking is grounded in visual processing.

A striking example of the importance of visual mathematics comes from a study showing that after four 15-minute sessions of playing a game with a number line, differences in knowledge between students from low-income backgrounds and those from middle-income backgrounds were eliminated.

Number-line representation of number quantity has been shown to be particularly important for the development of numerical knowledge, and students’ learning of number lines is believed to be a precursor of children’s academic success.

Visual math is powerful for all learners. A few years ago Howard Gardner proposed a theory of multiple intelligences, suggesting that people have different approaches to learning, such as those that are visual, kinesthetic, or logical. This idea helpfully expanded people’s thinking about intelligence and competence, but was often used in unfortunate ways in schools, leading to the labeling of students as particular type of learners who were then taught in different ways. But people who are not strong visual thinkers probably need visual thinking more than anyone. Everyone uses visual pathways when we work on math. The problem is it has been presented, for decades, as a subject of numbers and symbols, ignoring the potential of visual math for transforming students’ math experiences and developing important brain pathways.

The Math-Class Paradox


It is hardly surprising that students so often feel that math is inaccessible and uninteresting when they are plunged into a world of abstraction and numbers in classrooms. Students are made to memorize math facts, and plough through worksheets of numbers, with few visual or creative representations of math, often because of policy directives and faulty curriculum guides. The Common Core standards for kindergarten through eighth grade pay more attention to visual work than many previous sets of learning benchmarks, but their high-school content commits teachers to numerical and abstract thinking. And where the Common Core does encourage visual work, it’s usually encouraged as a prelude to the development of abstract ideas rather than a tool for seeing and extending mathematical ideas and strengthening important brain networks.

To engage students in productive visual thinking, they should be asked, at regular intervals, how they see mathematical ideas, and to draw what they see. They can be given activities with visual questions and they can be asked to provide visual solutions to questions. When the youcubed team (a center at Stanford) created a free set of visual and open mathematics lessons for grades three through nine last summer, which invited students to appreciate the beauty in mathematics, they were downloaded 250,000 times by teachers and used in every state across the U.S. Ninety-eight percent of teachers said they would like more of the activities, and 89 percent of students reported that the visual activities enhanced their learning of mathematics. Meanwhile, 94 percent of students said they had learned to “keep going even when work is hard and I make mistakes.” Such activities not only offer deep engagement, new understandings, and visual-brain activity, but they show students that mathematics can be an open and beautiful subject, rather than a fixed, closed, and impenetrable subject.

Some scholars note that it will be those who have developed visual thinking who will be “at the top of the class” in the world’s new high-tech workplace that increasingly draws upon visualization technologies and techniques, in business, technology, art, and science. Work on mathematics draws from different areas of the brain and students need to be strong with visuals, numbers, symbols and words—but schools are not encouraging this broad development in mathematics now. This is not because of a lack of research knowledge on the best ways to teach and learn mathematics, it is because that knowledge has not been communicated in accessible forms to teachers. Research on the brain is often among the most impenetrable for a lay audience but the knowledge that is being produced by neuroscientists, if communicated well, may be the spark that finally ignites productive change in mathematics classrooms and homes across the country.

The Slow Growth of College-Graduation Rates

Since 2008 millions of adults have earned college degrees, but still less than half of the nation’s labor force has completed a postsecondary education.

Between 2008 and 2014, the share of people aged 25 to 64 who possess either an associate’s or bachelor’s degree rose from 37.9 percent to 40.4 percent, according to new data released by the Lumina Foundation. (The Lumina Foundation is a financial supporter of the Education Writers Association, which produced this story in partnership with The Atlantic.) The influential nonprofit has also for the first time calculated the number of Americans who have earned a certificate in a postsecondary setting, finding that 4.9 percent of adult workers have completed a program in short-term studies such as auto mechanics, computer services, and cosmetology.

Education Writers Association


Despite the boost from the new certificates data, the pace of degree completion in the United States isn’t fast enough to reach the organization’s goal of seeing 60 percent of Americans holding either a certificate, or an associate’s or bachelor’s degree by 2025, according to Lumina’s president Jamie Merisotis. “In fact, based on our projections roughly 10.9 million additional credentials—degrees, certificates, or other high-quality credentials—are needed to meet the goal. And those need to come from those people who represent our future, particularly low-income Americans, underemployed adults, first-generation students, and students of color,” Merisotis said during a call with reporters.

If the current pace of degree attainment holds, 53.9 percent of the nation’s workforce will hold a degree or certificate in 2025—roughly six percentage points short of Lumina’s goal.

“Global competition has soared. Some 2 million jobs are unfilled in this country, lacking qualified applicants. Three-fourths of American CEOs cite major problems in finding qualified people to fill these jobs. And two-thirds of all jobs being created today require some form of post-high-school education or training, wrote Merisotis in the report.

Several countries have leapfrogged the United States in the share of the workforce with a degree, particularly among workers under age 35. Still, other analysts, such as the scholars behind this World Bank study, remain skeptical of the link between the nation’s long-term economic growth and its ability to produce more adults who are college-educated. President Obama challenged the United States to lead the globe in the percentage of workers with degrees by 2020.

study estimated that in the past four decades the share of jobs requiring college experience rose from 28 percent to 59 percent and forecasted that this trend is likely to continue. It is worth noting, however, that data from the labor-research firm Burning Glass suggests employers are adding college experience as a job requirement when many current employees in those fields don’t have those credentials.

The U.S. college-completion figures in the Lumina report varied significantly by demographic and geographic factors. Some states are inching closer to the 60-percent goal set forth by Lumina, including: Massachusetts, 55.4 percent; Colorado, 54.2 percent; Minnesota, 52.9 percent; and Washington, 51.6 percent. The states with the lowest percentage of degree attainment are: West Virginia, 32.6 percent; Nevada, 35.3 percent; Mississippi, 36.4 percent; Alabama, 36.7 percent; and Idaho, 37.7 percent. Nationally among 25-64 year-olds in 2014, 60.6 percent of Asian-Americans have earned a degree or certificate. The same is true for 28.7 percent of blacks, 20.9 percent of Hispanics, 23.7 percent of Native Americans, and 45.1 percent of whites.

Despite large gains over the past two decades in the number of people enrolled in colleges and universities, completion rates have been slower to catch up. One reason could be the set of challenges low-income students and those who are first in their family to pursue a degree face once they reach college. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development calculated in 2014 that 5 percent of U.S. children with parents who have not graduated from high school will graduate from college, the Lumina report notes. That figure joins other calculations that paint a picture of limited social mobility in the United States. Another widely cited figure shows that only 9 percent of children from low-income households complete a bachelor’s degree, while the same is true of 77 percent of children who grew up in well-off homes.

“When you look at the fast-growing populations in the United States, particularly the Hispanic population, which in many states is growing much rapidly than the overall population,” said Dewayne Matthews, Lumina’s vice president of strategy development, “the fact that the attainment rate for that population today is only one in five adults having a two-year or four-year degrees, we think there’s significant reason to be concerned about that and for the nation to really commit itself to the effort to close those gaps in attainment”

Still, demographic groups that are less likely to possess a degree in the United States have more faith that higher-education attainment leads to better quality of life. In a 2015 Gallup poll commissioned by Lumina and released as part of this report, 36 percent of whites, 50 percent of blacks, and 62 percent of Hispanics agree that a college degree improves the quality of life.

The Lumina report also tallied the metro areas with the highest and lowest concentrations of Education Writers Association.

Meanwhile, in Catholic School …

One reason school dress codes are such a lighting rod is that they often have no basis in real-world sartorial standards. Though some rules are common sense, people seem most irked by prohibitions on clothing that wouldn’t be out of place in a business meeting—yet is unacceptable by middle-school standards.

Recently we asked what the strangest dress code was at your school. Dozens of you wrote in, and here are the 11 we deemed most odd:


  1. No holes in jeans, but duct tape is fine:

“This was at a public high school in West Virginia in the mid-2000s—the time just before leggings and yoga pants, which was a dress-code battle after I graduated. The fad at the time was holes in the jeans. The rule shifted every year, from no holes at all to only ones allowed below the knee. The kicker was if you were caught with in appropriate rips or tears in your $50 Hollister jeans, you had to put duct tape over them. Our principal carried a roll of tape with her just in case.

The strangest part was the rule was established because it “looked bad.” But then we were forced to wear duct tape, which makes you look even worse. And of course, this rule completely targeted girls because few boys wore holes in their jeans. The duct tape also ruined the tears, created even bigger holes once the tape was removed. It was bizarre and embarrassing.”

— Taylor Stuck

  1. No little old Russian grandmas:

“I attended a public high school in rural Ohio from 1998 to 2002. It was the only high school in the entire county, and despite the lack of any real problems (save the occasional student caught with a joint), the teachers and leadership felt it necessary to institute an oppressive dress code. At least once a week, the principal would announce via intercom a new standard. Below are some of my favorites:

NO babushkas (meaning headscarves). As far as I know, we did not have any older Russian ladies attending my high school. To reiterate, the principal announced over the intercom that “babushkas” (not scarves, not hijabs) were banned from the high school.

NO clothes making fun of the president. At the time, George W. Bush was in office. I actually contacted the ACLU on this one, who immediately sent my high school a cease-and-desist letter. They re-instituted the ban the year after I graduated.

NO face paint. Admittedly not very weird, but I got called into the principal’s office, where he accused me of wearing white face paint. I am incredibly pale and had to show him my ivory-colored Maybelline foundation as proof.”

— Anonymous

  1. No cornrows, except in February:

“I went to Loyola High School in Los Angeles, graduating 2005. Since we were in Southern California, the dress code wasn’t really as strict as you might expect at a traditional all-boys prep school, but there were definitely rules.The strangest one was that cornrows were banned EXCEPT during Black History Month.” (Update: A reader who says he went to Loyola disputes this. The high school’s current official dress code doesn’t mention cornrows. Update: Another former student stands behind the claim:

— Nick Francomano

  1. No shorts on certain dates:

“I attended public high school in a suburb of Harrisburg, PA, in the early to mid 1990s. Our school had a rule that you could not wear shorts after September 15 or before May 15.

Our school also did not have air conditioning. Harrisburg could be oppressively hot and humid well into September and May was often pretty warm too. The rules allowed girls to wear skirts over the knees and culottes whenever they wanted. This led to the yearly tradition of some boys, protesting the rule, wearing skirts to school on the first day over 80 degrees in May and being sent home to change.”

— Andy Szekely

  1. No mismatched shoes:

“A school in Kentucky where I used to work as a teacher (within the past few years) had many of the standard dress code rules. The one that always stood out, and got the most questions from students when we reviewed the dress code, was that you were required to wear shoes that were of the same style and color. I don’t recall it ever being an issue, but it was never revised or taken out.”

— Ryan Bringhurst

  1. Sweatshirts were fine, but no hoodies, unless you’re a monk:

“At my Catholic high school in rural Illinois in the early 2000s (long before they had taken on any racial-political connotation), hoodies were banned. The monks, when pressed to answer why the addition of a hood to a sweatshirt caused it to fall outside of the dress code, the students were informed that we could easily hide contraband in the hood. (An idea I hadn’t even though of, so thanks for the tip.) The most infuriating part about this rule is that every single monk wore a habit with a hood.”

— Anonymous

  1. Dangerous liaisons:

“Girls could not wear the combination of red and black because the girls counselor thought it was too sexy.”

— Anonymous

  1. No hair clips:

“I went to Catholic school during the ‘80s. Eighth-grade girls were not allowed to wear pantyhose, even for warmth under their knee socks in a Massachusetts winter. But in ninth grade, girls had to wear pantyhose and were not allowed to wear socks, though little ankle socks were very much in style.

Also in style were banana clips—long, curved hair clips that we were forbidden to wear. After the girls repeatedly pressed for an answer as to why these were verboten, we were told that banana clips simulated Mohawks and were therefore insulting to Native Americans.”

— Kathleen Weldon

  1. Na, na, ya grill:

“I went to a public high school in Midland, Texas. In 2006, my school banned ‘grills,’ the mouth pieces popularized by the Nelly ft. Paul Wall classic, ‘Grillz.’”

— Brianna Losoya

  1. The third toe leads to lost productivity:

“A job, recently, where open-toed shoes could not expose more than two toes.”

— Anonymous

  1. Loosely defined Satan:

“In a large public school in the city: ‘No Satanic t-shirts.’ Just that. No explanation, just ‘No Satanic t-shirts.’”

— Anonymous