The authors of the piece comparing the school privatization program in Chile with what we are now seeing in the United States were Alfredo Gaete of Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile and Stephanie Jones of the University of Georgia.
The pair sent me a second essay that addresses some of the criticisms:
Newspaper editorials are not the ideal form for opening up complex problems, and yet they play a key role in informing the public and generating dialogue and ideas of what might be possible.
We wrote an essay that was criticized by institutions that support the privatization of education and the idea that an unregulated free market is the best way to organize a society, including the public education system.
We responded to one of the critiques and largely perceived the second critique as a public relations effort. The Cato Institute has published a second critique, however, and we wish to respond to that criticism here.
Both criticisms focused on one or both of the first two points, out of seven, that we made in our original essay about the results of Chilean market-based education reform after 30 years of implementation. We acknowledge these two statements could have been phrased more precisely – and we will do so here.
But before doing that we want to note that even if we cut off these two points from the list, there are still five points virtually untouched by the criticism we have received so far – and also that these five points alone are everything needed to raise serious doubts about the desirability and success of the market-based educational model in question.
We claimed that the following seven facts were helpful to assess “the Chilean experiment" (the last 3 decades of market oriented educational policy in Chile):
Now, regarding point one, we neglected to include up-to-date data showing that in fact there are some relevant gains both in PISA and SIMCE scores (the two measures invoked by our critics) during the last 10 years or so.
Yet, researchers (including Professor Elacqua, whose work was cited against our assertions) have reasons to believe – and our critics have neglected to report this in turn – that these gains are not due to the competition mechanisms of the market-oriented scheme, but rather to other factors such as, for instance, the implementation of the “Ley SEP," a recent affirmative action legislation developed precisely to alleviate the inequalities of the scheme.
It is this same affirmative action legislation that may explain the improvements in the last decade that have been made on equality, especially regarding the academic achievement gap. So it would not be in order, we think, to invoke this progress as evidence of the alleged advantages of the privatization of education. Nor does this render false our second point, namely, that Chilean society is more unequal (both academically and economically) today than it was before the privatization of education and that the correlation between family income and student achievement is clear.
And finally, we regret to acknowledge that in our original essay we fell into the trap of highlighting and questioning test scores as part of our argument against the privatization of public education. The testing and accountability fetish being used to support privatization efforts is destroying the integrity of the teaching profession, engaging in what we consider child labor where children’s forced and repetitive work on test preparation and testing has financial benefits for adults and private companies, and diminishing what the word education means in practice and theory.
Regardless of the “miracles" claimed by proponents of competition and privatization efforts, it seems as though the dirty – and much more complex – truth comes out at some point. The Texas Miracle used to design No Child Left Behind was a case of cooking the books; the Atlanta Miracle included systemic cheating to save jobs and schools from being closed and educators are now sentenced to serve time behind bars; the New Orleans Miracle continues to be an embarrassment with the retraction of research reports indicating success and criticisms about bad data; and in 2013 there was confirmed test cheating in 37 states and Washington D.C., but surely it is more widespread than that given the high-stakes of the very tests that have been criticized for their bias, invalidity, very high cost, and damaging effects on what schooling has become.
Not everything is a competition, not everything should be designed as a competition, and education – especially – should not be treated as a competition where there are guaranteed winners and losers.
No one should lose in education.
Education is a public necessity that calls for collaboration; the sharing of resources, information and practices; and justice. It should be the job of a healthy state aiming for the common good, not a game for businesses with a focus on profits, losses, and hedging financial bets.
JOANNE RATHE/GLOBE STAFF
Regis College’s renovations include an extension of Maria Hall (center), which will look onto a grassy quad that is replacing a parking lot.
Antoinette M. Hays spent decades as a nurse, teacher, and college administrator before becoming president of Regis College. But what could prove to be her most valuable credential isn’t on her resume; it’s in her genes.
Hays grew up in Waltham watching her parents launch and grow businesses — her mother, a dancing school and her father, a construction firm.
“I was encouraged to be open-minded and take risks," she said. “ ‘Be a leader, not a follower,’ my mother would often say."
Hays has used this entrepreneurial pedigree to help transform the Weston campus from a struggling all-women’s Catholic college into a coed university with a global footprint and aspirations to be a national leader in health care education. A little more than a decade ago, Regis appeared on the verge of closing after years of losing students and money; now, the school is in the first stages of a $75 million expansion and upgrade of its facilities.
As Regis holds its 85th commencement next week, it can celebrate a remarkable turnaround — the product of vision, innovation, agility, and smart financial management. Regis has launched new multidisciplinary programs at the undergraduate level; vastly expanded graduate and continuing education; forged relationships within the state’s burgeoning biotechnology, medical device, and health care industries; and partnered with universities in Greater Boston and around the world.
Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
Regis College president Antoinette Hays (second from right) talked with students last month. From left: Julia Jones, Sam Jean-Gilles, and Chris Cortez, of Framingham.
The college also built on established nursing programs to refocus curriculum on so-called STEM — for sciences, technology, engineering, and math — skills sought by companies of all kinds. The result: Over the past decade, undergraduate enrollment has jumped more than 40 percent to about 1,100; graduate students have tripled to nearly 900; and annual revenues have quadrupled to $48 million.
“The things that we do are as big [as], if not bigger than, schools that have 60,000," Hays said.
Jeff Denneen, head of the higher education practice at the Boston consultancy Bain & Co., said Regis has positioned itself to prosper by squeezing costs even as it has grown. In addition, Bain projects enrollment in STEM-related master’s programs, such as those offered by Regis, will increase at an annual rate of 7 percent, compared with 3 percent for all master’s programs.
“It seems they’ve really zeroed in on a very good spot in the market in Greater Boston," Denneen said.
Regis was founded 88 years ago in Weston by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Boston, with the goal of educating women and training them for service to the community. The college’s decline began in the closing decades of the last century as students increasingly preferred coed schools to single-sex colleges. Many were drawn to major Catholic universities such as Boston College and Holy Cross, which started admitting women undergrads in the 1970s.
Workers prepared the “Great Walk," curving along the Great Lawn that fronts the Regis campus, for the installation of lights that are part of the Weston expansion.
Regis operated in the red through most of the ’90s, hitting bottom in 2001 with a shortfall of $6.8 million, about a third of the school’s $20 million budget. That year, Regis hired Dr. Mary Jane England as president and Thomas G. Pistorino as vice president of finance and business. While outsiders questioned whether Regis, with an endowment of just $32 million, could survive, its trustees, alumni, and staff committed to keeping the doors open.
The college made hard choices, slashing payroll by 30 percent and eliminating several majors. But the leadership also recognized that “cutting our way out of the red ink would only get us so far," Pistorino said. “The underlying theme has been to grow."
Citing statistics that showed just a fraction of high school women preferring a single-sex college, England led Regis to accept men in 2007 (its graduate programs already were co-ed). Within three years, undergrad enrollment was up nearly 30 percent.
The school also tried to diversify its revenue base. Inspired by Lasell Village at Lasell College in Newton, Regis announced plans in 2005 to build a retirement community on its undeveloped East Campus. It seemed a natural choice, providing the college an income stream and nursing students with training opportunities. Neighbors, however, strenuously objected to the plan, which called for several high-rise buildings.
The legal battles continued through 2011, when Hays became Regis’s president and decided to abandon the project. Hays said the college has no immediate plans for the property, but selling to a developer “would be the least likely option."
The biggest driver of growth at Regis has been graduate programs in health and related fields. Many graduate courses are offered at night, on weekends, and in the summer, which means Regis classrooms are rarely empty.
Caroline Duque, who earned her master’s degree in Regulatory & Clinical Research Management in December, said she was drawn to Regis because it offered both clinical training and courses in how to navigate the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies.
Today, the 27-year-old Marlborough resident coordinates clinical trials for Biogen in Cambridge. Businesses “want more and more specialized professionals," said Duque, who estimated that half her Regis classmates were already working in the industry. “Having a degree in clinical research really helped me."
To accommodate increased enrollment, Regis is building a four-story addition to a dormitory with suite-like accommodations for 70 students. The addition will be completed this fall along with a new entrance to the library.
Both will look onto a grassy quad that will replace a parking lot at the heart of the campus. The school also plans to build an addition to the science building, renovate the student union, and launch a capital campaign to pay for the improvements.
In recent years, Regis also has invested in technology. Students are provided with iPads. Teachers are experimenting with flipped classrooms, where lectures take place online and class time is devoted to discussion and real-world applications. A virtual campus, created through online courses, is in the college’s plans.
Just as it listened to industry in shaping graduate programs, Regis took cues from students in revamping undergraduate curriculum. The “aha moment," Hays said, came as more students began pursuing minors and double majors to create their own interdisciplinary program. That led Regis to encourage collaboration among departments and develop curriculum that cuts across different fields of study.
An undergraduate program in biomedical engineering that debuts this fall is an example. It not only will require students to understand technology but also health and regulatory issues.
Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
Graduate students sat in the lounge at College Hall.
“The millennial student is looking for an opportunity to tie the liberal arts with professional programs," Hays said, “because they’re looking to be sure that there’s employment at the end."
The Regis community, meanwhile, is fanning across the globe. Faculty and administrators are helping Haitians establish a master’s program in nursing. Also in the works is an exchange program with the Caritas Institute of Higher Education in Hong Kong.
The college already has numerous partnerships with local universities. For example, Regis students take health policy courses at Brandeis University in Waltham, which in turn sends students to Regis for epidemiology and biostatistics.
One thing has not changed at Regis: More than half the students are the first in their families to go to college. Decades ago, nearly all were daughters of Irish, French, Polish, or Italian Catholic immigrants; today, men and women are also Latinos, Asians, or African-Americans practicing many faiths. Some 30 percent of students come from minority backgrounds or abroad.
As this history shows, said M.J. Doherty, an alumna and special assistant to the president, Regis, through all its ups and downs, has remained true to the principles of its founding sisters.
“Their mantra is service to the dear neighbor without distinction," Doherty said. “They also practice reading the signs of the times."
Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff
Antoinette Hays, a Waltham native, took over as Regis College president in 2011.
By MATT RICHTELAPRIL 24, 2015
PALO ALTO, Calif. — PALO ALTO HIGH SCHOOL, one of the nation’s most prestigious public secondary schools, is sandwiched between two stark and illusory paths. Across the street to the west, Stanford University beckons as the platonic ideal, a symbol of the road to Google, the White House, the mansion on the hill. To the east, across a bike trail, are the railroad tracks where three boys from the school district have killed themselves this year.
Suicide clusters are relatively rare, accounting for about 5 percent of teenage suicides. Startlingly, this year’s is the second contagion to visit this city. Five students or recent graduates of the district’s other high school, Gunn High School, killed themselves beginning in 2009.
Experts say such clusters typically occur when suicide takes hold as a viable coping mechanism — as a deadly, irrational fashion. But that hasn’t stopped this community from soul searching: Does a culture of hyperachievement deserve any blame for this cluster?
The answer is complex, bordering on the contradictory: No, the pressure to succeed is not unique, nor does it cause a suicide cluster in itself, but the intense reflection underway here has unearthed a sobering reality about how Silicon Valley’s culture of best in class is playing out in the schools.
In addition to whatever overt pressure students feel to succeed, that culture is intensified by something more insidious: a kind of doublespeak from parents and administrators. They often use all the right language about wanting students to be happy, healthy and resilient — a veritable “script," said Madeline Levine, a Bay Area psychologist who treats depressed, anxious and suicidal tech-industry executives, workers and their children.
“They say, ‘All I care about is that you’re happy,’ and then the kid walks in the door and the first question is, ‘How did you do on the math test?’ " Ms. Levine said. “The giveaways are so unbelievably clear."
Denise Pope, an education expert at Stanford, calls this gulf between what people say and what they mean “the hidden message of parenting."
But here, and in lots of other ultrahigh-achieving communities and schools, Ms. Pope said that children are picking through the static to hear the overriding message that only the best will do — in grades, test scores, sports, art, college. “In everything," she said.
“I hear students tell me that if I don’t get into X, Y, Z college, I’ll wind up flipping burgers at McDonald’s," said Ms. Pope, who is working with Ms. Levine to counsel at the high schools.
Ms. Pope said that wrongheaded idea becomes an emotional and physiological threat when multiplied by at least three other factors: technology that keeps teens working and socializing late at night, depriving them of essential rest; growing obligations from test-prep classes and extracurricular activities; and parents too busy to participate in activities with their families.
“We are not teenagers," Carolyn Walworth, a junior at Palo Alto High School, wrote in an editorial in the local paper in response to the suicides. She described students as “lifeless bodies in a system that breeds competition" and wrote of going to the emergency room to deal with stress, missed periods and having “a panic attack in the middle of a 30-person class and be forced to remain still."
There has been lots of talk in the community about what to do, she wrote, but action has not followed. (The district is providing counseling services, offering a suicide-prevention kit and urging teachers to limit homework hours.)
“Please, no more endless discussions about what exactly it is that is wrong with our schools, and, above all, no more empty promises," she wrote, and noted: “We are the product of a generation of Palo Altans that so desperately wants us to succeed but does not understand our needs."
THIS curious idea of a rhetorical divide came up in a number of recent discussions with parents and their children. In one conversation about the suicides, a mother at a Bay Area school in a similarly high-achieving community told me how little pressure she puts on her teens and noted by way of an anecdote how she had succeeded: Her daughter, she proudly recounted, was so well balanced that she decided last year not to go to the best college she got into but, rather, the school that best fit her passions. The school was Vassar.
In this subtle linguistic slip, Vassar qualified as a second-rate school.
Esther Wojcicki, the teacher who oversees the Palo Alto High School newspaper, lamented the competitive environment but noted seconds later that the school paper had just won a “Gold Crown" award from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and that the two dozen students sitting at computer terminals at 4 p.m. that day were thrilled to stay until 9 p.m. to put out the school magazine because they have so much fun doing it.
Alan Eagle, a sales director at Google whose 17-year-old son, William, is a junior at Gunn, was frank about the distance between what he tells his son and what he means.
“I can say all I want that it doesn’t matter where my son goes to college," Mr. Eagle told me. But “I’m sure that as much as I preach that, I’m not being 100 percent authentic and frank."
He added: “I personally went to Dartmouth and it did help. I look at the economy, the difference between haves and have-nots, and I believe a college education is critical."
And a rich high school experience, too. A few minutes later, while acknowledging that his son had given up playing on the basketball team to study more, Mr. Eagle noted that “at least he’s still got track."
Glenn McGee, the district’s superintendent, also seemed to struggle to walk the line between celebrating the exceptional nature of this area while urging students to relax. Sitting in his office and looking across the street at the Stanford campus, he mourned the fact that some parents feel that such a school is the only acceptable outcome.
“In many cases, people have made a big sacrifice to live in this community," Dr. McGee said, referring to exorbitant housing costs (the median housing price last year was $3.3 million, making it the fourth most-expensive ZIP code in the country, according to Richard Florida, an academic who studies demographic trends). Characterizing the attitude of many parents, Dr. McGee said, “To be blunt, what is my return on investment?"
“My job is not to get you into Stanford," he said he tells parents and students. “It’s to teach them to learn how to learn, to think, to work together — learn how to explore, collaborate, learn to be curious and creative."
Some parents hear it, he said, but “a lot of families and parents don’t hear the message and say: compete and compete."
Dr. McGee said he had interviewed 300 students and found that half would be “really embarrassed" to tell their friends they got a B. But the truth is that it’s awfully hard to be the best here, given the curve: The SAT scores are so high on average that a student who finishes in the 75th percentile in the district has a 2,200, the 99th percentile in general for college-bound seniors.
Soon after lamenting the pressure, Dr. McGee raved about a student who was part of a math team that finished first in January in a national competition, and about the new performing arts center under construction, and about the coming $24 million athletic facility funded by a private family foundation.
And why wouldn’t he rave? Why not be thrilled by achievement?
Because the bar for academic success here has become so high that solid performance can feel mediocre.
It puts enormous pressure on a school, or a community, when such consistent, across-the-board greatness becomes a baseline of sorts — what Mr. Eagle described as a culture of “not just excellence but uber-excellence."
Perhaps that explains some of the doublespeak: Parents are searching for language to encourage their children, even push them, but not crush them.
One solution, said Ms. Pope of Stanford, is “downtime, playtime, family time." For parents, too. In other words: Take a leap of faith (well supported by science) that downtime will lead to a healthier perspective.
Dr. Morton Silverman, a psychiatrist and senior science adviser to the Suicide Prevention Resource Center, suggested that another answer is recognizing that the doublespeak also betrays a sense of terror about the future among both students and parents.
With the economy in flux and the income gap growing, parents don’t see a clear path anymore to financial stability — even here, maybe especially here, where things move fast and competition is fierce. In addition, many of the fortunes made here have been based on creating things that destabilize traditional businesses and their workers.
So confront the new realities, Dr. Silverman suggested, urging parents to say something like: “I can’t tell you which path to take or how to get there, but I will support you," he said. “I’m here to back you up."
It’s a hard message to hear in a can-do place like this.
Walking near the train tracks where the children laid themselves down, Dr. McGee said this community, if any, should have answers.
“Can we put sensors up there?" he mused quietly to me, maybe to alert the train operators that someone has climbed onto the tracks. “This is Silicon Valley. There ought to be something we can do."