Archive for June, 2012

June 29, 2012

Confidence in public schools at historic low

by Grace

Americans’ confidence in public schools is down five percentage points from last year, with 29% expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in them. That establishes a new low in public school confidence from the 33% measured in Gallup’s 2007 and 2008 Confidence in Institutions polls. The high was 58% the first time Gallup included public schools, in 1973.

This is part of a broader pattern of declining satisfaction with many of our nation’s institutions, but schools, banks, television news, and organized religion have taken a particularly hard hit with record-low ratings.

I tend to write about the negative aspects of our educational system in my blog, and this survey confirms that I’m not alone in my perspective.  We see increasing amounts of money spent on education with increasingly disappointing results.  While these poor results partly reflect our society as a whole, I remain convinced that public schools could make changes that would result in improved achievement levels.  Cost of College recently added a new category, lower education bubble, that includes posts about problems I see with K-12 education.

We still value education, but we have more options beyond traditional public schools

Parents know they have an increasing number of quality education options for their children that extend beyond the hallways of public schools. The lack of confidence in public schools does not mean we have lost faith in the importance of education to improve outcomes or economic mobility.

Speaking of options
Ten years ago this month the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of Cleveland’s school choice program in what some consider the most important education decision since Brown v. Board of Education.

June 28, 2012

Families in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley adjust to rising college costs

by Grace

The high cost of college is playing an increasingly important role in the way Lower Hudson Valley families go about choosing schools.  Students representing a wide range of economic demographics – from New Rochelle HS (41% students qualify for free lunch) to Fox Lane HS (only 5% qualify) – are choosing community college as a way to save money.

A high school guidance counselor sees more students who have decided to cut costs by giving up the dorm experience.

“If it’s their first time around, the price tag is shocking to parents,” said Cleary, noting that in recent years more of her school’s graduates live at home and commute to colleges within an hour’s drive to save money.

One student’s story offered a window into how the faltering economy may actually be causing families to make wiser choices.

New Rochelle High School graduate Chanelle Cawley considered attending Queens College and The Art Institute of New York.

“It was really expensive, basically, to pay that much money for my freshman year,” said Cawley, 17, who graduated Thursday from New Rochelle. She decided against the more expensive schools and opted to start at Westchester Community College, where she will study Web design.

“It’s a great program to start, and once I do my two years I can just go and transfer to a different school,” she said. “I’m planning on going to The Art Institute.”

Yearly tuition at The New York Art Institute (AI) is approximately $25,000, with housing costs adding about $20,000 more.  AI’s parent company, Education Management, is battling government charges it violated federal law in garnering billions of state and federal financial aid.  It is hoped that Cawley will look carefully at potential job prospects before she takes on student loans to study web design at this school.

June 27, 2012

Creating a Facebook page is high on list of high school writing lessons

by Grace

Share My Lesson is a new online resource for teachers developed by the American Federation of Teachers and TES Connect.

Share My Lesson is a place where educators can come together to create and share their very best teaching resources. Developed by teachers for teachers, this free platform gives access to high-quality teaching resources and provides an online community where teachers can collaborate with, encourage and inspire each other.

When I recently checked out this new website, I found that among its most popular writing lessons for high school students was one designed to allow “students to construct a Facebook page for a character from a text or some other context.

Really?  In the context of complaints from college professors and employers about students not learning to write in school, it’s a bit disappointing that the most popular online lesson is one that does almost nothing to teach fundamental writing skills.  Do students really need to be taught better Facebook posting skills?

Granted, this exercise could serve to help students draw out information about a character that they otherwise would have difficulty doing.  It could be lots of fun, actually.  “Miss Havisham went from being in a relationship to single.”   “Atticus Finch is having another tough day in court.”   Dorian Gray:  “Er. Does anyone know how to un-tag yourself from a picture??”

Part of this lesson’s popularity could be attributed to the fact that it’s shiny and new.  Maybe it’s not the end of the world that high school students are spending time creating Facebook pages for literary characters.  It probably has its place.  I just have this nagging feeling that too many of these types of fun assignments are taking the place of the more traditional ones that teach fundamental literacy skills.

June 26, 2012

What are the reasons for struggling college graduates around the world?

by Grace

College graduates from around the world are struggling and finding themselves “not where they hoped they’d be”.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT:  a 28-year-old deputy manager of a McDonald’s restaurant … in Warsaw, Poland … who has degree in Russian language from Warsaw University … a 28-year-old waitress, serves a customer at Novel  cafe in Santa Monica, California…  studied for five years at Ball State University where she received a degree in painting and business management … a 30-year-old cook, in the Mavros Gatos (Black Cat) tavern in Psiri neighborhood in central Athens, Greece … studied at Athens Technology University (TEI) for four years where he received a degree in civil engineering’

… graduates from around the world who have been unable to find work in their degree fields and have ended up in poorly paid service industry jobs. Although their current positions may be disappointing, the subjects in these photos may count themselves lucky to have any job at all — the International Labor Organization estimates the number of people aged 15 to 24 without a job at almost 75 million. From a cook in Athens with a degree in civil engineering to a waiter in Algiers with a masters in corporate finance, these young people have spent years studying hard to compete in the 21st century, only to discover that even the most desirable qualifications mean little in a distressed global economy.

Even the “most desirable qualifications”?  The first thing that came to mind after seeing these photos is that we know nothing about their grades and other credentials.  They may have graduated toward the bottom of their class and have no relevant work experience.  Even if they earned a 4.0 GPA, did their alma mater provide them with a rigorous education?

Let’s look closely at one portrait of a struggling waiter.

Steffen Andrews, a 24-year-old waiter, serves a customer at Sunny Blue restaurant in Santa Monica, California, on April 24, 2012. Andrews studied for four and a half years at Cabrillo College where he received a degree in communications. He came to Los Angeles to work in the film industry but is now unsure what career he wants to pursue.

Cabrillo College is a community college that offers associate degrees and certificates.  On its website it invites students to “discover” their “passion” in one of the many areas of study offered.  Is it realistic to expect to get a well-paying job in the film industry when your main qualification is an associate degree in communications?

The faltering economy is affecting job prospects for college graduates, especially true in countries like Greece where the outlook is especially grim.  This is all the more reason for young people to consider carefully the practical aspects of the choices they make in higher education.  We should try to learn from examples like the ones in this story.  In the meantime, I wish all of them well in their future employment.

June 25, 2012

The average student will apply to more than nine colleges this fall

by Grace

The average student will apply to more than nine schools this fall, according to the National Association for College Admission Counseling. In an age where students can not only visit schools almost every day, but can also access limitless information and virtual tours from home or their cellphones, this figure seems much too high to those of us working in higher education.

I was surprised to hear the number is that high.  But I disagree with the writer, an admissions counselor who scolds students to be more thoughtful and scale down on the number of their college applications.  She blames students for escalating this crazy “admissions game” as they casually add colleges to their lists without careful research, leading to a situation where “enrollment managers and admissions offices are struggling to forecast how to fill their classes”.  Her advice?

Figure out what you need and want now, and apply to five or six schools, max, which offer you most, if not all of it. Forget about trying to get as many acceptances as possible to places that don’t speak to you.

Most of the commenters disagreed with the author, as did I.  The number one reason for applying to so many (12) colleges in our case was financial.

… for many students, the number of applications is driven by economic uncertainties, not by lack of self-knowledge….

Absolutely unpredictable which schools dished out the most merit money to which kid. Only a fool (or a 1%er) would follow Ms. Suriani’s advice.

Another reason for so many applications is the secretive admissions process at many schools.

Given the lack of transparency on the part of those most competitive schools, it is best to treat acceptance as independent random events, so the more you apply to the greater the chance of getting into one of them.

And then there’s the illusion that most kids really know what constitutes a good “fit” for them.

Sometimes it seems that colleges forget that the other half of the equation in admissions is 17 or 18 year old kids who feel (rightly or wrongly) that their futures are on the line. Kids, really, who don’t have that good an idea what “fit” is good for them. Who don’t yet know if they are a person who likes big cities or small towns, who think they “might” want to study engineering, but also really liked that creative writing class they took senior year in high school. The colleges are the grown ups in this equation. It is time for them to start acting like it.

Until colleges change how the game is played, it’s likely the number of applications will continue to grow.  On the other hand, if the “higher education bubble” bursts, applications to some schools may plummet.

Related:   Is it wrong to be your kid’s administrative assistant?

June 22, 2012

New York high school graduation rates are up, but college readiness is down

by Grace

Statewide high school graduation rates in New York are up slightly, but a lower percentage of students are ready for college and career.

Aspirational performance measures (APM) are designed to assess college and career readiness by designating the percentage of students who “earned a score of 75 or greater on their English Regents examination and an 80 or better on a mathematics Regents exam (note: this aspirational measure is referred to as the “ELA/Math APM”)”.

In the Lower Hudson Valley where I live, graduation rates are higher than the statewide average, with 84% of students graduating on time.  Our local high school showed a slight upward trend in college and career readiness last year.

From the New York State Education June 11, 2012 press release:

“New York’s overall graduation rate has improved, but nearly a quarter of our students still don’t graduate after four years,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl H. Tisch. “And too many of those students who do graduate aren’t ready for college and careers.

“These numbers make clear that we need to continue to pursue aggressive reforms in our schools including a new, richer curriculum and implementation of the new teacher evaluation law in districts across the state.”

“Our students are competing globally,” Commissioner John B. King, Jr. said. “That competition demands that we keep improving our graduation rates. But it also demands that we close the achievement gap and make sure students who do graduate are ready for college and careers. Next school year, we’ll be implementing the Common Core standards, which will help more students achieve college and career readiness.

“But another key is keeping students engaged. Whatever that engagement takes – advanced math and science, Career and Technical Education programs, or a humanities focused courseload – we need to make sure all our students are on a path that prepares them for college and careers after they graduate from high school.”

In New York City, only 20.7% of students met the ELA/Math APM.

* Graduation rates measure the cohort of students who completed high school in four years.  APMs are reported as a percentage of the cohort who “earned a score of 75 or greater on their English Regents examination and an 80 or better on a mathematics Regents exam (note: this aspirational measure is referred to as the “ELA/Math APM”)


Related:  High school graduation goals do not include getting students ready for college

June 21, 2012

Can rich families qualify for college financial aid?

by Grace

At what point is a family “too rich” to qualify for need-based financial aid?  The answer varies, but generally speaking the higher the cost of a particular college the better the chance of getting financial aid for that school.

At some elite, expensive colleges and universities, a family making $150,000 to $200,000 could qualify for a decent chunk of need-based aid. There are a lot of factors at play, but it would be unusual to get $25,000 or so in need-based aid in some cases. A family with two children in college simultaneously could qualify for need-based aid with even a higher income because the financial aid methodology assumes that parents can’t pay as much money when they have multiple children in college.

So yes, in some cases it is possible to qualify for need-based aid even with an income approaching $250,000.  Try the Net Price Calculator to check if you might qualify for financial assistance, but be forewarned that aid may come in the form of a loan.

June 20, 2012

University of Wisconsin announces new ‘competency-based degree model’

by Grace

In an announcement that could have implications for the affordability of education and professional development, and possibly help address the skills gap, Gov. Scott Walker, University of Wisconsin System President Kevin P. Reilly, and UW Colleges and UW-Extension Chancellor Ray Cross have announced a competency-based degree model that they claim will transform higher education in Wisconsin.  

Under the self-paced, competency-based model, students will be allowed to start classes anytime and earn credit for what they already know.  Students will be able to demonstrate college-level competencies based on material they already learned in school, on the job, or on their own.  

By taking advantage of this flexible model, and by using a variety of resources to help pay for their education, Walker said students will have new tools to accelerate their careers in a more accessible, affordable way.

The UW Flexible Degree will combine traditional face-to-face courses with online programs. 

One goal is to offer students smaller course segments or “modules.” Rather than molding coursework around a set timeframe, these modules can be designed to contain only the knowledge required within a specific competency. This could benefit working adults who need to start and pause their studies because of work and personal commitments. It could also benefit highly motivated students who are able to move through course materials at a faster pace.

Roll out of this new program is planned for as early as this fall.

The unique nature of the Flexible Degree will allow the UW to lower the net tuition cost to students in a number of ways.

Related:  MOOCs combined with prior learning assessment equals college credits

June 19, 2012

MOOCs combined with prior learning assessment equals college credits

by Grace

MOOCs (massively open online courses) combined with the established practice of prior learning assessment (PLA) may become a more common way to earn college credits, even at traditional schools.  The growing interest in this combination is occurring as the push toward college for all is escalating and college costs are skyrocketing.

Prior learning assessment is a process used by colleges and universities around the world to evaluate learning acquired outside the classroom for the purpose of assigning academic credit.

Loosely defined, there are four primary methods of assessing learning outside the classroom: through student portfolios; ACE credit recommendations based on corporate or military training programs; reviews conducted by individual colleges; and exams used to verify “learning achievements.” Those exams include the College Level Examination Program (CLEP), Excelsior College Exams and the DANTES Subject Standardized Tests….

Skepticism is understandable.

Not everyone in higher education is ready to shower prior learning with roses. The practice remains controversial in many circles, particularly at more selective colleges that are unwilling to accept credits for experiential learning, sometimes even when ACE (the association to which virtually all of them belong) makes those credit recommendations. More than half of colleges accept some form of prior learning credit, however.

Prior learning assessment is a “shallow measure,” says Johann Neem, an associate professor of history at Western Washington University who has written critically of prior learning. By conflating an education with certification, prior learning fails to take stock of the sophisticated thinking and original ideas that come from real college-level learning, he says.

The bulk of PLA credits awarded today seems to occur at community colleges or online schools.  In one example, restaurant managers attending McDonald’s Hamburger University receive an average recommendation of 23 college credits.  This seems appropriate in the acquisition of a vocational-like business degree, but how does that translate to other fields of study?

The entry of prestigious professors

Many traditionalists in higher education, particularly at selective colleges, have been skeptical of prior learning assessment. But that may be more difficult when the learning occurs with the tutelage of professors at some of the world’s most prestigious universities. And MOOCs might also make contributions to how prior learning is measured.


Here’s how the process could work: A student successfully completes a MOOC, like Coursera’s Social Network Analysis, which will be taught this fall by Lada Adamic, an associate professor at the University of Michigan. The student then describes what he or she learned in that course, backing it up with proof, in a portfolio developed with the help of or another service, perhaps offered by a college.

Generally those portfolios contain a broad array of demonstrated learning, like work experience and training, volunteering or even the voracious reading of a history buff. But MOOCs, such as those from Coursera, EdX, Udacity and Udemy, likely will be part of portfolios in the near future….

… if the final product passes muster with a CAEL-affiliated faculty member with discipline-specific expertise, the student could qualify for a credit recommendation that matches up with an equivalent course from a regionally accredited college. That credit recommendation, say for three credits in a course on social media, would have the backing of the American Council on Education (ACE), which runs the most established credit recommendation service.

With that document in hand, the student could then enroll in one of the many colleges that accept ACE’s recommendations, or the scores of colleges that have agreed to participate in That means the student, having taken a free online course, taught by a professor from the University of Michigan and taken by tens of thousands of people around the world, could walk away with three credits from Argosy University, the University of Maryland University College or George Washington University, to pick a few partner institutions.

June 18, 2012

A college professor on writing – be succinct, multiple drafts, and more

by Grace

Some “truths” about writing that Rob Jenkins, a veteran composition teacher at Georgia Perimeter College, tells his first-year composition students.

1. “If you think you won’t have to write anymore once you’re done with your English classes, you need to think again. As a junior and senior, you’ll probably have to write term papers for most of your classes. And this is the last time anyone will ever spend an entire semester showing you how to write those papers, so you’d better pay attention.”

2. “If you think you’re going to be done with writing when you get out of college, you need to think again. It doesn’t matter what field you’re going into. The minute you get one step above fry cook, writing becomes part of your job. The higher up the ladder you climb, the more important writing becomes. And there’s an inverse relationship, too: The better you write, the higher you’re likely to rise.”

3. “Writing is not a magical ability that some people just have and others just don’t. Writing is a skill, and like any other skill — playing the piano, learning a sport — it can be acquired through hard work and dedication. We’re not all going to write the Great American Novel, but anyone with at least average intelligence can learn to write reasonably well.”

4. “If there is a secret to good writing, it is this: multiple drafts. Writers are not people for whom a piece of writing always comes out right the first time. They are people who realize that it never will and have learned how to cope.”

5. “Good writing comes from having more to say than you have space in which to say it, so that you’re forced to say it as well as possible. Bad writing comes from taking a few meager ideas and puffing them up to make them sound like more than they really are. College students aren’t the only ones who do this.”

None of these are absolute truths, but they are good general principles for students.  From what I read about the declining standards in higher education, #1 may not be true in many cases.  My favorite is #5, probably because writing succinctly is often such a challenge for me.

As for #4, I suspect most students are like this “Lazy College Senior”.

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