Archive for ‘before college’

April 16, 2014

How to talk to your kids about paying for college

by Grace

When should parents have the “talk” with their children?

Of course, I mean the talk about how their college education will be financed.  According to comments in a recent College Confidential thread, fourteen is too early and 12th grade is too late.  And just like sex education, kids should not be hit with everything all at once.

It’s like the sex talk … Tell them a little at a time in chunks they can understand.

“Parents of High School Juniors: Talk Finances NOW” is the title of the thread, and the original poster wants families to avoid the disappointment that sometimes occurs this time of year for high school seniors.

If you are the parent of a high school junior who will be applying to colleges next year, now is the time to take a close look at what you will be willing and able to pay toward your kid’s college education–and to make sure your kid understands it. You may never have told your kid about your family’s finances–now, you must do so, even if you’d rather not. Don’t be the subject of a thread next year when your kid says, “My parents told me I could apply to any college I wanted and they’d make it work, but now they’re saying I have to go to the relatively undesirable college that’s giving me a scholarship.”

So, look at some price calculators on college websites, get financial advice, think about whether your kid will have to have scholarships, what you feel comfortable borrowing (if anything), what you will expect your kid to contribute, whether you will expect your kid to pay back any of the money you spend on education, etc. And share the result with your kid. There should be no unpleasant surprises when acceptances come in next year–at least, there should be no surprising changes in your position.

In US News, Ryan Lane outlines a series of steps in planning for the talk.  It’s important to set clear expectations, and he even suggests putting it in writing to instill a better understanding.  Whatever else they do, parents should avoid the mistake of making a vague and uninformed promise that “we’ll find a way to pay” for college.

One way to begin the process is to run a few Net Price Calculators for some prospective colleges, including both private and public institutions.  It can serve as a reality check in laying the groundwork for the big talk.

April 10, 2014

‘College and career ready’ students should be reading at a 1450 Lexile

by Grace

Paige Jaeger, Coordinator of School Library Services for WSWHE BOCEs in New York, offers the basics of Lexiles 101, including how they fit into Common Core Standards.

  • The Common Core has defined where “college and career ready” (CCR) students should be reading and it’s a 1450  Lexile.  Therefore, they scaffolded in reverse levels to graduate students at the appropriate level.  These Lexile levels are more difficult than where typical students are reading.
  • Lexile is an algorithm. It is a mathematical assessment of a linguistic product. 
  • Lexiles (and other readability statistics) are fallible. (For instance, it is not valid for prose or drama and is less valid for fiction in 1000+ Lexile range.) 
  • The parent organization to the CCSS, (CCSSO formally called the Governor’s convention) recently released a white paper verifying the validity of text complexity. Therefore, we have to pay attention to this essential shift to embrace “rigor” in reading.
  • To read the recent white paper from the Council of Chief State School Officers click here. This article compares a number of algorithms and the summarizes text complexity for the CCSS. 
  • Text complexity formulas were meant for instructional purposes.
  • Pleasure reading should be allowed at any level and this is validated in the Common Core, Appendix A, page 9, paragraph 1:

CCS does not require teachers to select texts based only on complexity.

The Common Core has asked teachers to evaluate classroom materials for quality as well as quantity.  Complexity is only one piece of the puzzle. In addition, a teacher, librarian, or educator, has to pay attention to:

  •  Complexity - Lexile, vocabulary
  •  Qualitative measures -value
  •  Reader and the task -is there enough in the text to foster good discussion, value -added assignments, and begin a knowledge exploration. How can I use this novel or passage to foster critical thinking skills?

Jaeger writes that “Microsoft Word’s Flesch-Kincaid measure has also been proven valid”.  That’s good to know since I find it is a handy tool to use in assessing writing.

Related:  High school students are assigned too many FIFTH-GRADE books (Cost of College)

March 7, 2014

What is the most important secret for a SAT ‘Perfect Score’?

by Grace

20140304.COCPerfectScoreProject1The Perfect Score Project: Uncovering the Secrets of the SAT by my friend Debbie Stier is described as “one of the most compulsively readable guides to SAT test prep ever”.

As it climbs the charts in popularity, this book is attracting praise as “a toolbox of fresh tips”, as well as some criticism that it is the work of a “hyperprotective, status-seeking” helicopter mom.  The criticism seems to stem mainly from some selective editing in the book’s promotion, and clarification is provided over at Kitchen Table Math.  While there’s no doubt that Debbie is a very involved parent, I can attest that she does not fit the image of an overbearing, pushy mother.  In fact, she has helped me in gaining better insight into the type of supportive parenting that is instrumental in launching children to a satisfying and independent adult life.

The revamped SAT may change some details on the best ways to prepare for the test, but I believe that one of Debbie’s core messages will endure:

… if you have a solid foundation, test prep, great test prep works. if you don’t have a solid foundation, no amount of test prep can help you.

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March 6, 2014

SAT will change to look more like the ACT

by Grace

SAT changes that will take effect in 2016 were announced yesterday by College Board president David Coleman.  Changes include an optional essay and a return to the 1600-point scale.

The non-essay part of the new exam will be called “Evidence-Based Reading and Writing.”

A summary of changes is provided by the New York Times:

• Instead of arcane “SAT words” (“depreciatory,” “membranous”), the vocabulary words on the new exam will be ones commonly used in college courses, such as “synthesis” and “empirical.”

• The essay, required since 2005, will become optional. Those who choose to write an essay will be asked to read a passage and analyze how its author used evidence, reasoning and stylistic elements to build an argument.

• The guessing penalty, in which points are deducted for incorrect answers, will be eliminated.

• The overall scoring will return to the old 1600 scales, based on a top score of 800 in reading and math. The essay will have a separate score.

• Math questions will focus on three areas: linear equations; complex equations or functions; and ratios, percentages and proportional reasoning. Calculators will be permitted on only part of the math section.

• Every exam will include, in the reading and writing section, source documents from a broad range of disciplines, including science and social studies, and on some questions, students will be asked to select the quote from the text that supports the answer they have chosen.

• Every exam will include a reading passage from either one of the nation’s “founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights, or from one of the important discussions of such texts, such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.”

Khan Academy will offer free test preparation materials online.

During the transition more students will take the ACT.
As the parent of a teenager, I foresee more students shifting their focus to the ACT until after the new SAT has been in use for a couple of years.  That trend is already in place, and few students will want to rely on the new SAT as the sole test to use in the college application process.

Related:  SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college’ (Cost of College)

February 17, 2014

More students taking AP exams

by Grace

More high school students are taking AP exams, but the passing rate is lower.

  • 33.2 percent of public high school graduates in the class of 2013 took an AP Exam, compared to 18.9 percent of graduates in the class of 2003.
  • 20.1 percent of public high school graduates in the class of 2013 earned a 3 or higher on an AP Exam, compared to 12.2 percent of graduates in the class of 2003.

The goal of the AP program is to promote both equity and excellence in education.  This means increasing access to AP course work while also increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher.

As would be expected, as more AP exams are taken passing rate has dropped.

2003:  61%  of AP exams had scores of 3 or higher
2013:  43%  of AP exams had scores of 3 or higher

These figures exclude those students who take AP courses but do not sit for the exam.  Not all schools follow the policy at our local high school, which requires students who take an AP course to also take the AP exam.

A campaign to help increase AP enrollment among academically prepared minority students

“All In” Campaign: Despite significant progress, African American, Hispanic/Latino, and American Indian/Alaska Native students who show AP potential through the PSAT/NMSQT still typically enrolled in AP classes at lower rates than white and Asian students.

In order to help academically prepared but underserved students access the AP course work for which they are ready, the College Board is currently developing an “All In” campaign, a coordinated effort among College Board members to ensure that 100 percent of underserved students who have demonstrated the potential to succeed in AP take at least one AP course.

Related:  A glossary of high school standardized tests (Cost of College)

February 6, 2014

College 101 Infographic

by Grace

20140202.COCCollege101Infographic1


College 101 Infographic from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis has basic information about choosing a college and paying for it. 

Be educated and informed. Forecast your financial aid with the FAFSA4caster calculator. Find out what percentage of students received federal financial aid in 2012 and see the results of an April 2013 salary survey. Use a calculator to estimate the size of your monthly loan payment and the annual salary required to manage that payment. Learn about the top 75 college destinations with a link to the College Destination Index. Identify some of the reasons students select particular colleges…and more.


Short videos cover three topics:

  • Choosing a college
  • FAFSA
  • Financial aid

Related:  Ten questions to ask about college financial aid (Cost of College)

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January 22, 2014

The risk of promising your child that “we’ll find a way to pay” for college

by Grace

Don’t make promises you cannot keep.

In the college search and selection process, parents should think very carefully before assuring their child that “we’ll find a way to pay for it.”  That promise could be the cause of deep disappointment or crushing student debt.

In answering the question, “Should Students Apply to Reach Schools?“, Do It Yourself College Rankings discusses the pitfalls of applying to colleges that are financial reaches.

The simple answer is not to apply to any college that you can’t afford to attend.

The more detailed answer would be that it’s fine to apply to a financial reach school if everyone clearly understands that only significant financial aid would make matriculation possible should the student be accepted.  But to avoid unnecessary disappointment and stress in making the final decision where to attend, one recommendation is to get a sense about the likelihood of receiving financial aid by running the Net Price Calculator tool very early in the process.  Also consider the realistic chances of merit aid, which is often not included in the NPC estimate.

For more insight on what makes sense for your family when deciding whether to apply to a financial reach, check out the complete DIY Rankings answer.

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January 21, 2014

Net Price Calculator can help guide your college search

by Grace

Can we afford it?

That question has to be high on the list for a high school student creating a list of colleges she’d like to attend, and the Net Price Calculator can help in answering that question during the early stages of the college search.

What is a Net Price Calculator?
Net price calculators are available on a college’s or university’s website and allow prospective students to enter information about themselves to find out what students like them paid to attend the institution in the previous year, after taking grants and scholarship aid into account.

While it’s fine to stretch aspirations in considering a dream college that may be a financial reach, it’s important to be realistic in understanding practical budget limitations.

Let’s consider the hypothetical case of a New York high school senior, where an NPC calculation can show meaningful cost differences among various colleges.  Here are three possible college choices:

  1. Harvard University:  It’s a reach for almost everyone because chances for admission at this Ivy League school are small at only 6%.
  2. Syracuse University:  A private university with a 50% acceptance rate that is attainable for many students.
  3. Binghamton University:  One of the top New York state universities, it comes with a 43% acceptance rate.

Here are simplified NPC scenarios showing Net Cost of Attendance (COA) based on earned income levels of $50,000 (low income), $80,000 (medium income), and $150,00 (high income).

20140115.SEMNPCChart1

Useful information, right?  This chart illustrates the oft-repeated advice that in some instances a private college may be as affordable as a state school.

Important points about this hypothetical NPC illustration:

At what income level does a family’s chance of aid become zero?

At an income level of $250,000, the net price of attendance in all these scenarios equals the gross price.  In other words, somewhere between an income of $150,000 and $250,000 is the point where a family would not qualify for any need-based financial aid.

The advice?  Run a NPC early on in the process to get a general idea about a college’s affordability.

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November 22, 2013

Do students get too much homework, or too little feedback?

by Grace

… Tales of the homework-burdened American student have become common, but are these stories the exception or the rule?

How much homework do high school students really do?  Here are some numbers.

… The National Center for Educational Statistics found that high school students who do homework outside of school average 6.8 hours of homework per week.

The 2007 MetLife Survey of the American Teacher found that 50% of students in grades 7-12 reported doing one hour or more of homework on weekdays.

20131117.COCHomeworkTimeStudents2

There appears to have been little change in homework time for 17 year-olds over the last 35 years, as shown by this U.S. Employment and Training Administration (ETA) chart based on NAEP data.

20131118.COCNAEPHomeworkOverTime2


The reality is that a heavy homework load is unusual.

Based on National Education Association guidelines that homework should increase by ten minutes each school year, a high school senior should average two hours per night.  A teacher told me she believes local high school students average about three hours per night, and based on other information this sounds about right.  This puts local teens among the fewer than ten percent of American high school students who are doing three hours or more of homework each night.  Keep this in mind when you read stories like the one Karl Taro Greenfield wrote about his middle school daughter’s burdensome homework load averaging about three hours per night.

A ten-hour work day is probably fine for some teens.

Three or more hours of homework is fine for some students, those who are highly motivated and can maintain their focus on school work over a long time.  But it’s overly burdensome for most.  It seems wrongheaded and harsh to expect teens to put in ten-hour work days when many adults would find that same schedule to be onerous.  Under that scenario (7 hours of school + 3 hours of homework + 9 hours of recommended sleep = 19 hours) only five hours are left all other activities.  Meals, grooming, extracurricular activities, commuting, chores, jobs, and relaxing must all be fitted into those few hours left.  Given that sports, theater, and other activities often take up two to three hours after school, it begins to look even tighter for many kids.  And when a doctor’s appointment or other non-routine event comes up, such a schedule can be thrown all out of whack.  Yeah, three hours is too much for most kids.

My strongest objection to the hours of homework is the failure of some teachers to grade or otherwise provide meaningful feedback.

… Effective learning depends on the receipt of timely and useful feedback from teachers so that students can come to a better understanding of what they have learnt and, where appropriate, correct misunderstandings. Sometimes teachers do not provide this feedback to students; in the absence of effective teacher feedback homework is likely to be of little value to students. 

Two important ways that homework can enhance learning are by offering deliberate practice and formative assessment.  But when a student’s work is not evaluated by the teacher, neither is likely to occur.  Students quoted in Fires in the Mind by Kathleen Cushman shed more light on this.

Without an explicit teacher response, Kristian said, her homework did not seem like deliberate practice.
I really want the teacher to evaluate it, so I can know what I’m doing wrong. From there, she can go over what we need, and maybe create another homework assignment to explore something that we didn’t get. – kristian

And unless a teacher intervened, said Christina, practicing something wrong in a homework assignment could be worse than not practicing it at all.
Until you understand what you’re doing wrong and how you can change it, you’re just going to continually do it wrong and think that you’re doing it right. – christina

One reason for hiring a tutor is to grade homework when teachers “don’t have time” to do it.  That just seems wrong to me.

Related:  The Homework Wars:  How much is too much?  (The Atlantic)

November 21, 2013

The Obamacare debacle is not helping the Common Core roll-out

by Grace

Implementation challenges have made the Common Core look more and more like Obamacare.

… States that raced to adopt the standards in 2010, including Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida and Alabama, have expressed second thoughts on participating. In New York, Common Core critics have called for the resignation of education commissioner John King after he threatened to cancel a series of town halls on the topic. At a convening hosted by the Education Writers Association earlier this week, the president of the American Federation of Teachers declared that the implementation of the Common Core is “far worse” than the troubled launch of Obamacare.

Glenn Reynolds finds it interesting “that the opposition comes from a broad political spectrum”.

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan probably regrets injecting race into the debate with this clumsy declaration.

“It’s fascinating to me that some of the pushback is coming from, sort of, white suburban moms who — all of a sudden — their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were, and that’s pretty scary,”

He later “apologized” by basically slapping “himself on the wrist for calling out one group instead of everybody who objects to top-down standardization”.

The reality is that education standards have fallen.

As a “suburban mom”, I agree with Duncan in feeling frustrated at “the educational reality” of low standards that falsely show our children are achieving at high levels.  At the same time, I sympathize with the opponents of the top-down, heavy-handed design and implementation of Common Core.

Its similarities to Obamacare leave Common Core more open to criticism.

In his blog post about problems with Common Core implementation, Andy Smarick writes about the federal government’s promise that “If you like your federal education policy, you can keep it!”  At one point the Department of Education found itself “offering states a waiver from their waivers“.

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