Archive for ‘preparing for 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 12, 2014

Public universities want more ‘smart students who can pay’

by Grace

Public colleges and universities have shifted their financial aid priorities away from need-based to merit-based awards.  Low-income students are feeling the brunt of this change, but pressure on schools to admit only college-ready students and to raise revenue will probably cause this trend to continue.

Public colleges are turning away from their mission to offer access to an affordable college education for all students.

A ProPublica analysis of new data from the U.S. Department of Education shows that, from 1996 through 2012, public colleges and universities gave a declining portion of grants—as measured by both the number of grants and the dollar amounts—to students in the lowest quartile of family income. That trend continued even though the recession hit those in lower income brackets the hardest.

Universities feel the dual pressures of raising their revenues and ratings.

Why have public universities across the nation shifted their aid?

“For some schools, they’re trying to climb to the top of the rankings. For other schools, it’s more about revenue generation,” said Donald R. Hossler, a professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Indiana University at Bloomington.

To achieve those goals, colleges use their aid to draw wealthier students—especially those from out of state, who will pay more in tuition—or higher-achieving students, whose scores will give the colleges a boost in the rankings.

Private colleges have been using such tactics aggressively for some time. But in recent years, many public colleges have sought to catch up, doing what the industry calls “financial-aid leveraging.”

The math can work like this: Instead of offering, say, $12,000 to an especially needy student, a college might choose to leverage its aid by giving $3,000 discounts to four students with less need, each of whom scored high on the SAT and who together will bring in more tuition dollars than the needier student will.

Those discounts are often offered to prospective students as “merit aid.”

The student profiled in the Chronicle of Higher Ed article offered a clue to the reason many low-income students are losing out.  They are academically unprepared for college-level work.

Ms. Epps had a combined SAT score of 820 on mathematics and critical reading…

That score is below the College Board SAT College and Career Readiness Benchmark, indicating a lack of “skills and knowledge that research demonstrates are critical to college and career readiness”.  The same low SAT scores that disqualify some students for merit aid also signal they are at high risk for dropping out of college.

Problem should be addressed before the college years.

The answer is not to give more need-based aid to students who are not prepared for college, but to do a better job of educating students to be college and career ready.  That is the job of K-12 education and community colleges.

Related:  Increasing college merit aid decreases enrollment of minority and low-income students (Cost of College)

March 10, 2014

High school students spend only about half the time expected by teachers on homework

by Grace

We know there is a disparity between the amount of homework teachers assign and the amount of homework students actually do.  Here are some numbers that illustrate that difference.

HOW MUCH HOMEWORK IN HIGH SCHOOL?

Harris Poll 2013 Assigned by teachers: 3.5 hours a day 
National Center for Educational Statistics 2007 Done by students: 1.4 hours a day

Admittedly, this data probably does not show fully accurate numbers.  For one thing, six years separate the times when the two different surveys were conducted.  Plus the information is self reported, so some error is likely for that reason.  Still, I’m willing to accept that it reflects what goes on in real life.

On average, students complete about half of the homework assigned by their teachers.

Or, more accurately:

On average, students spend about half the time expected by their teachers in doing their homework.

Why the difference?

Teachers cannot always accurately predict how long it will take their students to complete assigned homework.  And clearly there are slacker students who simply don’t do their school work.  Another element is the cynicism about the value of homework, sometimes prompting both parents and students to ignore some assignments.

This anonymous comment from a teacher captures some of the reasons for the cynicism felt by families.

Funny I was just thinking about this and other things we do in our school to satisfy parents who want their kids “busy” . I teach kindergarten and we give homework! We do it so the After School workers have something to do with the kids. Most of our kids don’t go straight home they go to daycare or After School so rather than have them do unrelated work we send work for them to do.

I don’t think homework is necessary and find that many teachers use it as an abdication of their own teaching. Many teachers, for example, will tell parents to practice reading sight words because their child is not learning to read in school. Right there parents are made responsible for teaching their child to read. Parents often made to feel guilty about their child not learning. This is just one example of how homework turns into school work.

I spiral the work so it’s always something the kids can do independently.

We have been told as teachers that homework is to teach self discipline but it’s really to show the parents that their kids are doing something in my school.

Some homework is just for show?

20140309.COCHomeworkNoTime1

Related: Asian-American students spend significantly more time on homework (Cost of College)

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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 27, 2014

Ready or not, K-12 is moving to increased online instruction

by Grace

It can be argued that K-12 online instruction in and of itself is no better or worse than traditional teaching.  Sometimes it works well, and sometimes it fails miserably.

In any case, the education industry is eagerly embracing online methods in yet another attempt to “innovate” K-12 education.

 … by the year 2019 half of all classes for grades K-12 will be taught online.

That’s the prediction from Clayton Christensen, author of Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Transform the Way the World Learns.  I will not be surprised to see this come true.

20140226.COCK-12OnlineGrowth1

There is very little good research on K-12 online learning.

… the results of meta-analyses of K-12 studies do not show a decided edge for students taking online courses or in virtual full-time schools performing even marginally above students who are in teacher-led classrooms.  More striking, however, is that only a few studies of virtual instruction in K-12 schools meet the minimum quality threshold for design, sampling, and methodologies….

Online instruction fills a need and is effective for some K-12 students.

“Some kids don’t have the discipline to sit down at a computer every day and do schoolwork with no one looking over their shoulder. … But for the right kid, the online approach offers benefits that traditional school doesn’t.”

Those benefits include flexibility and efficiency. Taking all or a few classes online gives students more opportunities than ever before. They have more opportunities to work while in school, gaining valuable job experience that economists show increases their ability to move up the ladder later in life. They can chase serious interests like athletics, music, or volunteering, and spend more time in the real world than preparing for it.

Any combination of lousy administration, inept teachers, and poor curriculum will produce poor results whether online or traditional methods are used.

Here are letters from Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum high school students defending their fraudulent blended-learning program where one “social-studies teacher had a roster of 475 students in all grades and subjects”.

20140226.COCErrorLettersNYC1

A junior wrote that the program “made it less challenging and more understandable. We watched a video, answer a few questions, and took an online quiz/test. It was simple, and reasonable.” This helped him score 85 in chemistry, he said.

But professors at CUNY — where nearly 80 percent of New York City grads who attend must take remedial classes in math, reading or writing — said online instruction often leaves students ill-prepared.

No kidding.

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 11, 2014

Does ‘expanding equality of opportunity increase inequality’?

by Grace

It seems that expanding opportunity leads to increased inequality.  Would higher taxes be a good solution?

Since “families are the primary transmitters of human capital”, does it follow that “expanding equality of opportunity increases inequality because some people are simply better able than others to exploit opportunities”.  This is the premise explored by George Will in a Washington Post opinion piece last year.

If America is to be equitable, with careers open to all talents and competent citizens capable of making their way in an increasingly demanding world, Americans must heed the warnings implicit in observations from two heroes of modern conservatism. In “The Constitution of Liberty” (1960), Friedrich Hayek noted that families are the primary transmitters of human capital — habits, mores, education. Hence families, much more than other social institutions or programs, are determinative of academic and vocational success. In “The Unheavenly City” (1970),Edward C. Banfield wrote: “All education favors the middle- and upper-class child, because to be middle or upper class is to have qualities that make one particularly educable.”

Some lucky, privileged “people are simply better able than others to exploit opportunities”.

Elaborating on this theme, Jerry Z. Muller, a Catholic University historian, argued in the March-April 2013 issue of Foreign Affairs that expanding equality of opportunity increases inequality because some people are simply better able than others to exploit opportunities. And “assortative mating” — likes marrying likes — concentrates class advantages, further expanding inequality. As Muller said, “formal schooling itself plays a relatively minor role in creating or perpetuating achievement gaps” that originate “in the different levels of human capital children possess when they enter school.”

Would raising taxes on rich people reduce inequality?

Recognizing that a meritocracy doesn’t always work very well for people lacking supportive families or other advantages, Matt Yglesias proposes that the government should tax rich people and “give the money to poor people” as a way to make everyone happy.

Should we guarantee everyone a “great” life?

,,, When you think about physical disabilities this becomes particularly clear. We try to help out people who are blind or who lost a leg in Iraq or who are born with a congenital heart weakness not because providing such assistance accords with a principle of merit, but precisely because people who lack “merit” in the field of seeing or walking or not dying as a child due to heart failure are the people who need help. But lots of people suffer from less visible problems, be it a genetic weakness for alcoholism or the below-average intelligence that afflicts exactly 50 percent of the population. Those people should have great lives, too.

More money is not the solution.

The rich already “pay an overwhelming majority of the taxes in the United States”, but presumably Yglesias means their taxes should be increased.  As much money as we throw at them, I don’t think we can provide every disadvantaged person with a great life.  Add on the problem “that you eventually run out of other people’s money”, and this doesn’t seem like a good solution.  Money can sometimes help improve lives, but it must be spent wisely.  Politicians and bureaucrats don’t have that part quite figured out, and it seems that the more money we give them to control the less effectively they spend it.

Related:  Changes in marriage patterns have affected poverty and income inequality (Cost of College)

February 3, 2014

An inside look at how college admission decisions are made

by Grace

College applicants can learn some important lessons from an inside look at the admissions process of a private selective university located in Pennsylvania.

Getting bad grades in senior year, even with a stellar record previously and sky-high SATs, could sabotage a student.

A student with a perfect SAT score could find himself on the bubble if he hasn’t visited campus or shown other real interest.

Having a parent, grandparent, or sibling who attended Lehigh – known as a legacy – can help, but it’s no guarantee of admission.

The student’s high school can have a major influence on admission chances, depending on the rigor of the curriculum and whether a student took the intensive courses.

With so much competition, students must distinguish themselves, whether it’s in the essay, in the interview with a staffer, or through an entrepreneurial activity.

Sometimes pure geography plays a role.

Last spring a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer was allowed to sit in on discussions among the admission panel members of Lehigh University, which accepts less than 30% of its applicants.

One applicant was a case of high grades but low SAT scores, with a story behind the numbers.

The applicant from Colorado scored a decent 640 on his math SAT, but 460 on reading. Collectively, he got an 1100, well below Lehigh’s profile. Typical scores for Lehigh range between the low 1300s to mid-1400s on reading and math. (Lehigh doesn’t consider the writing SAT.)

But there are exceptions on both ends.

“A kid who is doing everything he or she can in the high school, but just doesn’t test well, we’d take the kid,” Washington said….

Jessica DeSantis, associate director, advocated for the student with the 460.

“He does fine in his English courses and his writing is good,” she said.

The teen had a 3.95 GPA. He’s a legacy; his grandfather attended. And he started his own business. He purchases sweatshirts, cuts them up, and sews differently colored pieces together. He sells 10 to 20 of the sweatshirts per month, cutting and sewing on his own.

“The question is,” DeSantis said, “do we let the critical reading decide this or do we let the other aspects counterbalance it?”

Staff voted 10-2 to admit, with three to wait-list.

Their decision-making included a goal to create a diverse student body, as well as other factors.

When the team finished preliminary decisions, members analyzed the admitted group, paying attention to gender and racial balance, academic quality, and enrollment in majors. Preliminary admissions to business were running high; some were cut.

Related:  Students ‘baffled’ and ‘dumbfounded’ by 2013 college admissions decisions (Cost of College)

January 20, 2014

Early college high school may save money and improve graduation rates

by Grace

Early college high schools are small schools designed so that students can earn both a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree. Early college high schools have the potential to improve high school graduation rates and better prepare all students for high-skill careers by engaging them in a rigorous, college preparatory curriculum and compressing the number of years to a college degree.

Intended to serve underrepresented groups; designed to “save time and money”

Since 2002, the partner organizations of the Early College High School Initiative have started or redesigned 240+ schools serving more than 75,000 students in 28 states and the District of Columbia. The schools are designed so that low-income youth, first-generation college goers, English language learners, students of color, and other young people underrepresented in higher education can simultaneously earn a high school diploma and an Associate’s degree or up to two years of credit toward a Bachelor’s degree—tuition free.

Distribution of early college high schools throughout the country

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Are early college high schools working?

Data from early college high schools are promising. First, the schools are reaching their target populations. Nationally, roughly three-fourths of the young people attending early college high schools are students of color, while nearly 60 percent report eligibility for free or reduced-priced lunch (a conservative indication of the number of students from low-income families). Most students attending early college high schools will be the first in their families to go to college. …

In 2010, 5,414 students graduated from early college high schools around the country. Their achievements far surpass those of their peers from traditional high schools serving similar populations. Preliminary data show that:

  • More than 250 early college high school graduates earned merit-based college scholarships. Four earned the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship, awarded to 1,000 high-achieving, low-income students each year.
  • 23.3% of graduates earned an Associate’s degree or technical certificate.
  • 77% of graduates went on to some form of postsecondary education: enrolled in four-year colleges (52%), two-year colleges (23%), and technical programs (2%).
  • Of 109 schools reporting data on graduates, more than half (56%) said that students had earned two or more years of college credit.
  • 80% of early college schools had a graduation rate equal to or higher than their school district (54 out of 68).
  • The average graduation rate for early colleges was 84%, compared to 76% for their school district.

Early college students are “more likely to earn a college degree than students in traditional high schools”.

Burges High School in my hometown of El Paso has just been designated an early college high school.  Demographics must have changed considerably over the last 40 years, as my memory is that Burges used to serve higher-income families.  Today almost 90% of its students are Hispanic and about 60% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

AP and dual enrollment courses are a way for students in more affluent school districts to gain college credits in high school.

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