StudentsFirst and 50Can to Merge

Brown chalkboard with math notation

StudentsFirst and 50Can, two education reform organizations, are set to merge.
Image: Unsplash

Michelle Rhee’s high profile StudentsFirst, a Sacramento-based education group, has announced it will be merging with education advocacy group 50Can. Jim Blew, the current president of StudentsFirst, confirmed the merger today.

StudentsFirst has had a variety of objectives since Rhee launched it on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show in 2010. The most well-known—and contentious—of these goals has been to be a counterweight to teachers’ unions. In addition, StudentsFirst has promoted education reforms like evaluating teachers by their students’ standardized test scores, charter schools, and mayoral control of schools.

A former Washington, D.C. school chancellor, Rhee’s own reputation both helped and hindered the organization. Rhee garnered a lot of attention for her work as chief of schools—including some negative press over the firing of a principal on camera. Rhee’s financial goals with the organization have been challenging, too: She originally set a goal of raising $1 billion in the first year—a goal that was later revised to $1 billion over five years (StudentsFirst only raised $7.6 million in its first year).

StudentsFirst also hit some turbulence over its continuing internal struggle with the definition of education reform. Some criticize the organization for being too narrow-minded in its interpretation of reform, and there have been a variety of internal tiffs over whether or not to support unions and right-to-work laws, leading many Democrat staff members to leave the organization.

Still, StudentsFirst has changed more than 100 education laws, including backing candidates at different levels through political action committees.

Now, says Blew, the combined organization offers the best chance for both to make a difference. With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaces the No Child Left Behind Act, state legislatures have become even more crucial in determining education practices. The combined organization, which will act under the name 50Can and will be run by 50Can Chief Executive Marc Porter Magee, will combine the strengths of StudentsFirst (lobbying) and 50Can (advocacy).

“We should be thinking every day about how to get better and stronger,” Blew said. “We need to always assure our donors that we’re using their money as effectively as possible. We’re completely dependent on these donors.”

3 Times You Can Quit Student Loans

Graduation cap resting on a pile of $100 bills

There are some legal situations in which you could get your school loans forgiven.
Image: Shutterstock

Let’s start with the important part of this article: There is no good way to dodge a student loan. You can’t return your education because you’re unhappy with your school or struggling to find a job in your field. People have tried, have sued, and have gone even further into debt trying to argue their case. There is no warranty or guarantee of value on your college education.

Yeah, that’s bad news. Sorry.

But there are a few scenarios where the school is so in the wrong that they do have to put their wallet where their mouth is–mainly if the school’s fault is not with their teachers, but with their accountants. If the school failed at their due diligence in giving you a federal loan in the first place, they might have to just eat it. These are the three most common examples.

  • If you don’t have a high school diploma or equivalent. Federal loans nearly always require a diploma, a G.E.D., or the like. If you didn’t have one at the time of your loan being granted and the school didn’t check, those loans may be void.
  • If you weren’t able to benefit from your education from the moment you began. For instance, if the school approves a loan for a legally blind person to take truck driving, or a student with a felony record to study law enforcement or education. If you can prove that you legally (NOT situationally) could never have benefited from the education for which the loans were made, you might be off the hook.
  • If you’re not the one who applied in the first place. Identity theft. This one is maybe the most obvious – you never applied those loans, you never got the money. (That part’s important. Even if your parents fraudulently applied for the loan for you, if they then spent money on your education or upkeep, you got that money, and this example does not apply to you.)

In all of these criteria, the point is that you legally did not benefit from the loans. Either you aren’t eligible for your degree/certification by law or the institution’s own rules, or you were straight-up robbed. Each of these will require you to pursue legal action as well. None of them are a way out for the average student, only for those seriously wronged by the loan application process.

Tejas Manohar: Dream Job at 15

Two people working on laptops

For Tejas Manohar, coding has become a way of life.
Image: Shutterstock

For a Millennial, Tejas Manohar is a superhero. Not because he has super strength or can fly or turn invisible, but because he has something much more incredible.

His dream job. At 16.

Actually, Manohar was only 15 when he was hired by AutoLotto, a San Francisco programming start-up.

The kid from Nashville, Tennessee began programming in the fourth grade, tweaking video games and evolving to making his own, building websites and games for practice. He taught himself by scrutinizing the source-info of his favorite sites, backed up by library books and Google searches. In middle school, he began making his own apps and programs from scratch. By high school, he was competing in Hackathons. He won brief internships with the platforms Populr and Hubspot and began homeschooling then to be better able to balance his nascent career and his education.

In April 2015, he saw a video of Matt Clemenson and Tony DiMatteo launching their new start-up app, AutoLotto, at the March 2015 LAUNCH Festival in San Francisco. AutoLotto is an app meant to streamline state lotteries, letting gamblers buy and manage their tickets through the app.

Manohar, who wouldn’t be able to buy a lotto ticket himself for three more years, contacted Clemenson and DiMatteo with some savvy questions about their programming. And in a moment straight out of a daytime movie, they were so impressed with his clever probing and suggestions that they offered him a job. He started almost immediately. Part-time and by telecommuting at first, but by December, he’d moved to San Francisco to be a team-leading engineer.

Even with a full-time job, Manohar has made a point of keeping up his education. He attends virtual classes through MIT’s OpenCourseWare in the evenings and plans to graduate on time. As for college, his plans are still flexible. He thinks a gap year would be good for him, but the most important thing, he says, is that he wants to keep working.

AltSchools Take Education Digital

Two children using a tablet

AltSchool, the brainchild of Google vet Max Ventilla, offers a tech-savvy approach to early education.
Image: Shutterstock

Google veteran Max Ventilla has started a new type of school that integrates technology and personalized education as early as kindergarten. AltSchool is a for-credit network of small schools that use a combination of individualized teaching techniques and massive amounts of tech funding ($133 million to date) to create a unique experience for children. It’s a sort of educational experiment in real time.

Each student has a playlist of all the tasks they have accomplished. A “parent portal” allows parents to view this information and see how their child’s education is progressing.

According to its website, AltSchool is “a collaborative community of micro-schools that uses outstanding teachers, deep research, and innovative tools to offer a personalized, whole child learning experience for the next generation.”

Students range from pre-k through eighth grade, and each classroom is mixed-age. Each micro-school consists of 80-150 students, which allows teachers to adapt as needed based on what specific students and communities need.

Currently these schools are only available in the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, and Chicago, but Ventilla has plans to expand and even offer the AltSchool programming in traditional public schools.

There are no principals, secretaries, or administration. Teachers run all aspects of the school, with AltSchool’s headquarters in San Francsico overseeing things.

Technology is a big focus: Every student entering in pre-k is issued a tablet, which is switched to a laptop later on in their educational career. Students receive instructions for various tasks through a playlist with a set of digital “cards” explaining what they’re meant to do. Some tasks are online, while others involve interacting with other students in the classroom. These tasks are more or less aligned with Common Core curriculum requirements.

AltSchool isn’t available for just anyone, however: A year of schooling can cost up to $30,000. Financial aid is available, but spaces are limited, potentially leading to the cutthroat competition seen for charter school spots.

There’s also the question of privacy. With all that student information being passed back and forth electronically, some education advocates are concerned about potential privacy violations, especially given that AltSchool is a for-profit institution. However, Ventilla is confident that the information collected will never be used commercially and will always be collected in a way that respect’s a student’s anonymity.

Whether or not AltSchools and their methods catch on remains to be seen.