Archive for ‘before college’

December 29, 2014

A New York high school diploma is too easy to attain

by Grace

What’s the point of helping students graduate from high school if that doesn’t prepare them for college and career success?  This question arises from a study seeking ways to improve the public schools in Yonkers, New York.

The holy grail for urban school systems has long been to increase their graduation rates. In other words, hand out those diplomas so students have a chance to make it.

But the people at Yonkers Partners In Education, a private group obsessed with helping Yonkers students thrive, began to see that mere graduation is not enough. They wanted to find the keys to preparing students for college success….

But too many Yonkers students were not making it in college. YPIE began to doubt the point of helping students graduate from high school if they weren’t ready for college work.

“If they are not prepared to be successful in college, are we doing them a service or disservice?” YPIE Executive Director Wendy Nadel said. “We don’t want to throw time and money at things that won’t make a real difference for students.”

The study, College and Career Readiness in the New York State Public Schools, found the utterly predictable “strong link between poverty and students’ readiness for college”.

Class size doesn’t matter.

While some study results were not surprising, other findings contradict conventional wisdom by showing that “class size and per-pupil spending” have little correlation to student readiness for college.

New York high school graduation standards are too low.

A major problem, Kroll found, is that a high school diploma has been too easy to attain in New York. Students need to pass only one Regents exam in math, for instance, to earn a Regents diploma. Because of the way the state curves its algebra exam, a student could get a 65 “passing” score on the June 2013 exam by earning only 34 percent of all points on the test.

“The graduation bar is too low,” Kroll said. “A 65 on a Regents exam gets you nowhere.”

The next challenge will be finding the elusive best practices in high-performing schools and then implementing them in the low-performing schools.

The ultimate goal is to identify districts that outperform their poverty levels, analyze how they do it and share the results.

“We don’t want to provide an excuse, like, ‘Don’t judge us because we have poverty,’ ” he said. “But we need to filter out the effects of poverty so we can judge how districts and teachers are doing. Let’s find out why some (districts and schools) get better results in poor communities.”

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Gary Stern, “Statistics show poverty’s impact on student success”, Journal News, December 20, 2014.

Bud Kroll, College and Career Readiness in the New York State Public Schools, Yonkers Partners in Education, YPIE Research Report 14-01, May 2014.

November 26, 2014

Choice of major is likely to be biggest determinant of student loan burden

by Grace

The Undergraduate Student Loan Calculator offered by the Hamilton Project allows you to illustrate what percentage of your future earnings are likely to go toward paying off your student loan.  Among other variables, you can select your major course of study.

Here’s an illustration comparing a petroleum engineering major with an ethnic studies major, showing a dramatic difference in outcomes, particularly in the first year after graduation.

20141122.COCHowLongPayLoan2

 

The ethnic studies major starts out paying almost 26% of his earnings toward his student loans.

Year One:
Petroleum Engineer      Monthly Income: $3,816   Monthly Loan Payment: $277
Ethnic Studies              Monthly Income: $1,073   Monthly Loan Payment: $277

Income is based on the median earnings for that major.  The loan assumptions are based on average student debt of $26,500 as of 2012 and current federal student loan interest rate of 4.66%.

Run your own illustrations at the Hamilton Project site.

November 17, 2014

The value of A.P. classes

by Grace

The New York Times Motherlode blog asks the question, “To A.P. or Not to A.P”?

Students, parents, and school administrators have mixed feelings about A.P. classes.  Students sometimes feel pressured to take these advanced courses even when it’s not appropriate, but in many cases taking at least a few A.P. courses is the right decision.

When taught well, A.P. and I.B. courses can offer high school students the opportunity to study college-level material while in high school. Administrators and teachers may be divided on the merits of offering A.P. courses, but they agree that secondary schools feel pressure to offer them to appear academically rigorous.

A.P. courses usually look good on college applications.  Selective colleges want to know if students have taken the “the most rigorous academic program available”, so the natural inclination is to take as many A.P. classes as possible.  While some experts advise students that more is not necessarily better, it’s hard to believe that in a competitive situation more high A.P. scores will not add points on a college application.

… “Selective colleges make it clear these days that they will not consider candidates that have not done AP or IB.”…

Students and parents often blame the Ivy League and other selective colleges for perpetuating the current cutthroat environment, insofar as such schools advise taking “the most rigorous academic program available” (as stated on the University of Virginia’s admissions website).

“What parents are saying is that ‘until colleges change their message, I’m not going to let my kid be the sacrificial lamb,’ ” Pope observes.

But colleges say it’s the literal interpretation of this advice that gets students into trouble.

“What admission officers almost always say…is focus on what lights your fire and take advantage of the most challenging offerings in those areas,” urges NACAC’s Hawkins. “That’s a very different message from, ‘Take all of the AP classes.’ ”…

Why take A.P. courses?

A.P. courses can be the appropriately challenging level of study for advanced students, and a way to avoid being bored in classes that are too easy.

Students can earn college credit for A.P. courses when test scores are above a certain level.  This can save money and time, even enable graduation in less than four years.

In some cases colleges do not give credit, but use A.P. test scores to allow a student to skip over introductory classes.  This can be a benefit, but in some cases students should still take the lower-level college class.  For example, a STEM major may wish to take the college calculus course as a way to establish a stronger foundation for advanced course work.

Why avoid A.P. courses?

For some students, A.P. classes add excessive stress, either because of the extra work involved or because the student is not prepared to perform at the higher level.  In these cases, the lower-level course is the more appropriate placement.

There are borderline cases, where the question is whether it’s better to get an A in a regular college prep course or a lower grade in an A.P. course.

The answer that most colleges will give you is that, it’s better to get an A in the Honors/AP class.  Well, of course.  And most highly selective colleges will expect that you do.  But in reality, most colleges would rather see a B in an Honors or AP course.  They want to see that you are truly challenging yourself, but that you are still mastering the material….

The decision to take or skip A.P. courses is not always easy.  Consider it carefully.

ADDED:  Gas station without pumps blog gives commentary and advice on How many AP courses are too many?

Probably the most reasonable course is for students to take AP courses (and exams!) in those subjects that most interest them and pursue interests outside the AP classroom. Community college courses that go beyond the AP courses are also a cost-effective choice, if you can get in.

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Jessica Lahey, “To A.P. or Not to A.P., That Is the Question”, New York Times, November 13, 2014.

Amy Brecount White, “Under Pressure”, Arlington Magazine, September-October 2014.

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October 23, 2014

Educators still believe in the myth of learning styles

by Grace

The vast majority of teachers refuse to give up the myth of learning styles and other fallacies about how the brain operates, even though these beliefs hurt students.

The idea that we only use 10 percent of our brains has been roundly debunked — but, according to Paul Howard-Jones, an associate professor of neuroscience and education, teachers don’t necessarily know that. In an article in Nature Reviews Neuroscience, he reveals the disturbing prevalence of this and other “neuromyths” in classrooms around the world, and explains why they can be so damaging.

In one study Dr. Howard-Jones cites, 48 percent of British teachers agreed with the statement “We mostly only use 10 percent of our brain.” Ninety-three percent believed that “individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (for example, visual, auditory or kinaesthetic)” (research actually doesn’t support this), and 29 percent believed “drinking less than 6 to 8 glasses of water a day can cause the brain to shrink” (it can’t). Sixteen percent thought that “learning problems associated with developmental differences in brain function cannot be remediated by education.”

 A few years ago one of my children filled out a learning styles questionnaire at school, presumably so that the teacher could tailor instruction in the classroom.

… Myths about how children should be taught can be counterproductive in the classroom, said Dr. Howard-Jones. Surveys designed to determine kids’ learning styles (visual, auditory or kinesthetic) can reveal how students would prefer to receive information, he explained in a phone interview, but “the problem is that there’s no evidence to suggest there’s any benefit in teaching them in that way, and in fact psychological research has shown even that some students appear to benefit more from receiving information in the style that they do not have preference for.”

I suspect these myths are still being taught in college education courses.

Daniel Willingham explains that “Learning Styles Don’t Exist”.

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Anna North, “How Brain Myths Could Hurt Kids”, New YOrk Times, October 20, 2014.

October 2, 2014

Excessive homework is not a common problem

by Grace

Excessive homework has been a controversial news item for over 100 years in the United States, and recently it again grabbed headlines.  Tom Loveless uses facts and analysis from the 2014 Brown Center Report on American Education to put this issue in perspective.

Now homework is in the news again. Several popular anti-homework books fill store shelves (whether virtual or brick and mortar).[ii] The documentary Race to Nowhere depicts homework as one aspect of an overwrought, pressure-cooker school system that constantly pushes students to perform and destroys their love of learning. The film’s website claims over 6,000 screenings in more than 30 countries. In 2011, the New York Times ran a front page article about the homework restrictions adopted by schools in Galloway, NJ, describing “a wave of districts across the nation trying to remake homework amid concerns that high stakes testing and competition for college have fueled a nightly grind that is stressing out children and depriving them of play and rest, yet doing little to raise achievement, especially in elementary grades.” In the article, Vicki Abeles, the director of Race to Nowhere, invokes the indictment of homework lodged a century ago, declaring, “The presence of homework is negatively affecting the health of our young people and the quality of family time.”[iii]

A petition for the National PTA to adopt “healthy homework guidelines” on change.org currently has 19,000 signatures. In September 2013, Atlantic featured an article, “My Daughter’s Homework is Killing Me,” by a Manhattan writer who joined his middle school daughter in doing her homework for a week. Most nights the homework took more than three hours to complete.

The Brown Center Report looked at data collected by the NAEP,  the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA, and Met Life in an effort to answer the question “whether strong empirical evidence confirms the anecdotes about overworked kids and outraged parents”.  In fact, the reality is different from hyped-up news stories.

… Homework typically takes an hour per night. The homework burden of students rarely exceeds two hours a night. The upper limit of students with two or more hours per night is about 15% nationally—and that is for juniors or seniors in high school. For younger children, the upper boundary is about 10% who have such a heavy load. Polls show that parents who want less homework range from 10%-20%, and that they are outnumbered—in every national poll on the homework question—by parents who want more homework, not less. The majority of parents describe their children’s homework burden as about right.

Parents who complain about excessive homework usually have children enrolled in the most rigorous levels of course work. and are more likely to have other complaints about their schools.  Often they have the myopic view that everyone shares their situation.

The homework horror stories need to be read in a proper perspective. They seem to originate from the very personal discontents of a small group of parents. They do not reflect the experience of the average family with a school-age child. That does not diminish these stories’ power to command the attention of school officials or even the public at large. But it also suggests a limited role for policy making in settling such disputes. Policy is a blunt instrument. Educators, parents, and kids are in the best position to resolve complaints about homework on a case by case basis. Complaints about homework have existed for more than a century, and they show no signs of going away.

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Tom Loveless, “Homework in America”, Brookings Institution, March 18, 2014.

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September 15, 2014

Which top colleges are most welcoming to low-income students?

by Grace

Which top colleges are most welcoming to low-income students?  The Upshot used the percentage of students receiving Pell grants along with net price of attendance for low- and middle-income families to find the most economically diverse top colleges.

Most Economically Diverse
Vassar
Grinnell
U.N.C.-Chapel Hill
Smith
Amherst
Harvard
Pomona
St. Mary’s (Ind.)
Susquehanna
Columbia

The biggest theme to emerge from our analysis is that otherwise similar colleges often have very different levels of commitment to economic diversity….

Similarly, by looking at schools on the list like Barnard and U.N.C.-Chapel Hill, it’s clear that otherwise dissimilar colleges show similar economic diversity.

How many low-income students actually graduate?

An additional data point that would be informative is the graduation rates for Pell grant recipients at these schools.  That’s a significant measure of how well a college serves its low-income students.

Low-income families can look at these lists and search out other information to help them understand how welcoming a particular college would be for their child.  Schools that partner with the Posse Foundation, a support program for that enjoys a 90% graduation rate for its participants, should be considered.

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David Leonhardt, “Top Colleges That Enroll Rich, Middle Class and Poor, New York Times, Sept. 8, 2014.

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September 9, 2014

Look at this chart before enrolling in college

by Grace

The bottom quarter of earners with a college degree don’t make more money than the average high school graduate. And this hasn’t really changed much in 40 years.

20140908.COCBottomQuarterCollegeGrads1


This chart may explain why “college isn’t for everyone”, but additional considerations are important.

… First, we don’t know for sure how much money this bottom quarter of degree-holding earners would have made without their college education. Furthermore, much of this could boil down to career choice: there are many jobs that require a degree but don’t pay very well. If someone earns a degree for reasons beyond making more money, it could be that the upfront investment is worthwhile regardless.

“On ‘average’, it’s still worth going to college”, but be careful about making personal decisions on the “average” case.

Here’s some good advice:

In the meantime, students who are unsure of what they want to study or do are probably best advised to be very cost-conscious when choosing a college, and to be unafraid to wait until they are sure how they will use their degree before they start to pursue one.

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Chris Matthews, “Why college isn’t for everyone, explained in a single chart”, Fortune, September 5, 2014.

August 28, 2014

Make your college application essay memorable

by Grace

Franklin & Marshall College president Daniel R. Porterfield offers some advice for high school seniors dealing with “college mania”.  His thoughts on how to approach the college application essay seem particularly insightful.

write an application essay that’s so true to you that you’ll want to read it again in ten years as a snapshot of where you were at age 18. What experiences have shaped you? What questions obsess you? What people inspire you? How do you want to give and grow in college?

Approaching the essay this way may be a helpful tactic for applicants, but the piece matters most for its value to you at one of life’s turning points. And, as I’ve learned from my own applications for schools and jobs, when we honestly and authentically present ourselves and then don’t get selected, it doesn’t feel so bad. In fact, we’re often left with a strong sense of personal integrity.

I believe it’s true that most essay readers can tell if an application essay is authentic and genuinely reveals a student’s perspective.  So the advice to “put it in your own words” makes sense.  Thus the challenge sometimes becomes how a teacher or parent can help in editing an essay without changing the author’s voice.  The first time I tried helping with my kid’s essay, I found myself quickly falling into the trap of obliterating his message and inserting what I thought he should be saying.  I learned my lesson, and later I mainly left any editing to his guidance counselor, who seemed to know the right balance between minor corrections and sweeping modifications.

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Daniel R. Porterfield, “Six — Well, Seven — Pieces of Advice for College-Searching High School Seniors”, Forbes, 8/11/2014.

August 22, 2014

Many kids are not emotionally ready for college

by Grace

We already know that many college freshman are academically unprepared for college, but Professor Claire Potter finds that they are also emotionally and functionally unprepared.

By September, one of the biggest topics for discussion — and one of the biggest gripes — among many college faculty will be how emotionally, and practically, underprepared many of your kids are for their freshman year. Although I now teach the non-traditional, adult students who are becoming the majority of undergraduates, for years I welcomed fresh-faced 18 year olds whose academic preparation often far exceeded their ability to navigate school independently of their parents.

The two major changes I observed over those two decades was an increasing lack of emotional separation between parents and children (with an accompanying rise in students having difficulty making their own decisions); and an increasing tendency, on the part of first year students, to presume that college was more or less similar to high school in its expectations and practices.

Academic and emotional development are certainly related in some respects.

Some possible reasons for students failing to develop independence:

Technology has certainly enabled parents and children to remain emotionally close.  Constant texting can mean that young people are relying too much on their parents to make decisions for them.

I think trends in K-12 education have also contributed to this “over-parenting”.  From the early grades, the schools encourage the wrong kind of parental involvement.  Parents feel forced to help their kids with homework that is developmentally inappropriate, like third-grade projects that require sophisticated Internet research skills.  Then, success in middle school often requires advanced organizational skills that drive parents to intercede lest their kid falls behind to a point where he cannot catch up in high school.  Instead of helping develop independent students who will be ready to succeed in college, schools are inadvertently promoting excessive reliance on their parents and other adults.

Potter offers some advice to help parents in making their kid a “strong and independent college student”.  The first suggestion is to “reduce contact” with a college kid.

… If your kid is going away to college, let him go away. This means not texting and talking every day, or even every other day, or every other other day….

I agree with this advice, and have found it surprising when I hear about some parents who are in constant contact with their adult children.  On the other hand, from personal experience I know that some kids are more verbal than others, and are driven to share many details of their lives.  As a parent, I can see the advantages and disadvantages of this.  Obviously there are some nuances to consider in following Potter’s advice.

Complete details on Potter’s recommendations can be found at the link below.

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Claire Potter, “Bye-Bye Birdies: Sending The Kids Away to College”, Chronicle of Higher Education, July 28, 2014.

August 8, 2014

Common Core proficiency rates were selected to match SAT college readiness rates

by Grace

Passing rates for Common Core New York state tests were selected so that they would match SAT college readiness rates.  Principal Carol Burris of New York City’s South Side High School described the process in a Washington Post article titled “The scary way Common Core test ‘cut scores’ are selected”.

One of the first steps in the process was the creation of a report requested by State Education Commissioner John King.

… The College Board was asked to correlate SAT scores with college grades to create probabilities of college success….

These SAT college readiness scores were then used to “inform” the selection of state test cut scores for grades three through eight.

After coming up with three scores — 540 in math, 560 in reading and 530 in writing– the College Board determined the percentage of New York students who achieved those SAT scores. Those percentages were used to “inform” the cut score setting committee. As the committee went through questions, according to member Dr. Baldassarre-Hopkins, the SED helpers said, “If you put your bookmark on page X for level 3 [passing], it would be aligned with these data [referring to the college readiness data],” thus nudging the cut score where they wanted it to be.

The state test cut scores that were ultimately selected align suspiciously close to the SAT college readiness scores.

When the cut scores were set, the overall proficiency rate was 31 percent–close to the commissioner’s prediction. The proportion of test takers who score 1630 on the SAT is 32 percent. Coincidence? Bet your sleeveless pineapple it’s not. Heck, the way I see it, the kids did not even need to show up for the test.

In a way, it makes sense.  Common Core Standards were created to prepare students for college, so it could be argued that students now in grade school would be as poorly prepared for college as students who have recently taken the SAT.  But the process seems to have been carried out backwards, without looking objectively at the test questions.

Burris puts it this way.

Here is the bottom line. There is no objective science by which we can predict future college readiness using grades 3-8 test scores. You can, at best make assumptions, based on correlations, with score thresholds that are capricious. To make college readiness predictions for 8-year-olds is absurd and unkind.

I think you can assess whether an 8-year-old is on track for college readiness, but obviously with limited precision.  However, I appreciate the point Burris makes.  Moreover, considering the botched implementation of other aspects of CCS, I am inclined to be suspicious about the validity of the cut scores used in the New York state tests.

A local newspaper reported that some committee members involved in selecting cut scores believed “the process was so tightly controlled that the results were inevitable”.

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Valerie Strauss, “The scary way Common Core test ‘cut scores’ are selected”, Washington Post, April 29, 2014.

Gary Stern, “Common Core: Who’s on track for college and who is not?”, Lohud.com, July 27, 2014.

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