Archive for ‘high school’

July 2, 2015

Teen employment rate continues to decline

by Grace

Teen summer employment has been in steady decline since the 1970s.


To understand what’s happened to the Great American Summer Job, we looked at the average employment rate for 16- to 19-year-olds for June, July and August (teen employment typically peaks in July of each year). Since 1948, which is as far back as the data go, through subsequent decades, teen summer employment followed a fairly regular pattern: rising during economic good times and falling during and after recessions, but generally fluctuating between 46% (the low, in 1963) and 58% (the peak, in 1978).

That pattern began to change after the 1990-91 recession, when the teen summer employment rate barely rebounded. Teen summer employment again fell sharply after the 2001 recession and again failed to rebound, and fell even more sharply during and after the Great Recession of 2007-09. After bottoming out in 2010 and 2011 at 29.6%, the teen summer employment rate has barely budged – it was 31.6% last summer.

For younger teens, the summer-jobs picture is especially bleak. Last year’s summer employment rate for 16- to 17-year-olds was 20%, less than half its level as recently as 2000. For 18- and 19-year-olds, the summer employment rate last year was 43.6%, still well below the 62.6% average rate in the summer of 2000.

Why the decline?

… Researchers have advanced multiple explanations for why fewer young people are finding jobs: fewer low-skill, entry-level jobs than in decades past; more schools restarting before Labor Day; more students enrolled in high school or college over the summer; more teens doing unpaid community service work as part of their graduation requirements or to burnish their college applications; and more students taking unpaid internships, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not consider being employed.


Drew DeSilver, “The fading of the teen summer job”, Pew Research, June 23, 2015.

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.”


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 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.


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.

November 7, 2014

Artificial intelligence software is getting better at taking tests

by Grace

Artificial Intelligence Outperforms Average High School Senior

Artificial intelligence in Japan is getting closer to entering college. AI software scored higher on the English section of Japan’s standardized college entrance test than the average Japanese high school senior, its developers said.

The software is getting better.

The software, known as To-Robo, almost doubled its score on a multiple choice test from its performance a year ago, indicating progress toward a goal set by its developers to eventually pass the entrance exam for Tokyo University, Japan’s most prestigious college.

I hear those exams are not easy.

T0-Robo answered multiple choice questions, and it “still needs to improve at understanding more complex exchanges and comprehending the emotions of speakers”.


Jun Hongon, “Artificial Intelligence Outperforms Average High School Senior”, Wall Street Journal, Nov 4, 2014.

October 31, 2014

Common Core Math Standards will reduce participation in higher-level math courses

by Grace

Common Core Math Will Reduce Enrollment in High-Level High School Courses

Will the adoption of CCMS push some school districts to lower standards for all students?

Common Core math standards (CCMS) end after just a partial Algebra II course. This weak Algebra II course will result in fewer high school students able to study higher-level math and science courses and an increase in credit-bearing college courses that are at the level of seventh and eighth grade material in high-achieving countries, according to a new study published by Pioneer Institute.

Federal pressure to eliminate higher-level math courses

Low-income students will also be hurt the most by the shift to weaker math standards. Since the Common Core math standards only end at a partial Algebra II course, nothing higher than Algebra II will be tested by federally funded assessments that are currently under development. High schools in low-income areas will be under the greatest fiscal pressure to eliminate under-subscribed electives like trigonometry, pre-calculus, and calculus.

Lower chances of graduating from college

Research has shown that the highest-level math course taken in high school is the single best predictor of college success. Only 39 percent of the members of the class of 1992 who entered college having taken no farther than Algebra II earned a college degree. The authors estimate that the number will shrink to 31-33 percent for the class of 2012.


CCMS are ‘not for STEM’

Two of the authors of the Common Core math standards, Jason Zimba and William McCallum, have publicly acknowledged the standards’ weakness. At a public meeting in Massachusetts in 2010, Zimba said the CCMS is “not for STEM” and “not for selective colleges.”

Incentives have consequences.

What can we expect for results in our high schools? Because CCMS-aligned SAT and ACT tests will cover, at best, only the first two years of a high school curriculum (that is as far as the CCMS go, despite all the misleading rhetoric about how advanced they are), they will incentivize our students to learn nothing beyond what is in a junior-high-school level curriculum in high-functioning education systems. Indeed, the CCMS tests will encourage our high schools to spend four years teaching students what is taught in two years—and by grade 9—in the educations systems of our economic competitors. As we have seen, two of the three CCMS lead writers have publicly admitted the college readiness level is “minimal.”


“Common Core Math Will Reduce Enrollment in High-Level High School Courses”, Pioneer Institute, Sept. 8, 2014.

Richard P. Phelps and R. James Milgram White, The Revenge Of K-12: How Common Core And The New SAT Lower College Standards In the U.S., Pioneer Institute, September 2014.

October 30, 2014

Vocational high school diploma gets a boost in New York

by Grace

New York endorses the vocational high school option with new graduation requirements.

Earlier this week the “Board of Regents approved a plan for a “4+1″ option, which would allow students to pass an exam in career-and-technical education, the arts, a different math or science, or a language other than English in lieu of one of the history exams”.  The new plan is called Pathways To Graduation.

Proponents of the change say it would underscore the academic value of career training and because tests often drive what is taught, it would spur schools to expand vocational programs.

Now, students need to pass five Regents exams: one each in math, English and science, and two in social studies.

Under the proposal, students could choose to skip one of the social studies exams—either American history or global history—and take one in Career and Technical Education, or an extra science or math exam. If adopted Monday, the change would affect current seniors.

The options could grow, but 13 proposed Career and Technical Education tests now include graphic arts, electronics, carpentry and hospitality management, and the exams would reflect several years of coursework. They are industry-certification tests such as the CompTIA A+, a test created by a consortium of information-technology companies.

The expectation is for improved graduation rates, now at 75%.

…The union, business leaders, and the commissioner are all supportive of the plan.

Proponents deny that Pathways is just making it easier to graduate.

State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said while many people assume vocational education has less rigor and fewer opportunities, career and technical-education courses have become more complex and demanding, and prepare students for fields with good pay. He said rather than diverting students from college, such routes often inspire them to pursue higher education, even if after a stint in the workplace.

He said the technical tests would be at least as tough as the Regents exams. He said the National Electrical Code studied by teenagers who want to be electricians, for example, has a “degree of text complexity that is at least as high, if not higher, than novels that would be typically read by 12th-graders.”

Final approval is expected in January, and changes could be implemented in time for this school year.


Leslie Brody, “New York Prepares a New Exam to Boost Career Training”, Wall Street Journal, Oct. 19, 2014.

Debra Viadero, “Vocational Pathways Approved for Graduation in New York State”, Education Week, Oct. 22, 2014.

August 7, 2014

Teen Jeopardy least favorite categories

by Grace

Does it surprise you that these are the last two categories chosen by the contestants in a recent Teen Jeopardy game?

Yeah, me neither.  Pro Sports Teams and Outdoors don’t strike me as the first choices a typical nerdy teen would select, especially since the other categories were The Presidency, The Sound Of Words, Fictional Characters, and Indoors.

Here are the actual questions for the sports category.

For 200:
Of the four Miami pro sports teams, it’s the one team name that’s NOT an animal.
For 400:
They’re the Southeastern NFL team whose logo’s seen here
For 600:
Of pro teams w/ Boston in their names, it’s won more championships than all the others.
For 800:
The two NHL teams based in national capital cities are the Washington Capitals & them.
For 1000:
The Natl. Hot Dog & Sausage Council says this team’s Miller Park is MLB’s only park to sell more sausages than hot dogs.

ADDED:  Link to the answers

Thanks to Redditor DiagnosisMoyder for this photo.

August 1, 2014

What stresses teens the most?

by Grace

US teenagers feel more stressed than adults

27 percent of teenagers reported feeling “extreme stress” during the school year, compared to 20 percent of adults.

It should be no surprise that school-related matters are the most common sources of stress for teenagers.

For teens, the most commonly reported sources of stress are school (83 percent), getting into a good college or deciding what to do after high school (69 percent), and financial concerns for their family (65 percent).

Millenials are the most likely to overeat due to stress

Millennials are more likely than other generations to say they eat too much or eat unhealthy foods due to stress — 50 percent say they have done so in the past month, compared to 36 percent of Gen Xers, 36 percent of Boomers and 19 percent of Matures.5 Millennials are also most likely to say they ate unhealthy foods or overate because of a food craving (62 percent vs. 52 percent of Gen Xers and 53 percent of Boomers).

As we become older we learn better ways to handle stress.

Have US teens always felt more stressed than adults, or is this a recent development?

I suspect that older people have always been better at managing stress.  But today’s “delayed adolescence”, with its postponement of the age when young adults assume primary responsibility for self-sufficiency, may be a reason for a reduced ability to manage stress successfully.  One source of stress that has grown for teens is the complex process of planning and paying for college.  Other past sources of  stress like dangerous industrial working conditions are no longer a problem.  If I had to choose, I would select college planning as my worst problem over many others that adolescents have faced in previous years.

Related:  “‘Every 20-something I know is in therapy for something’” (Cost of College)


American Psychological Association, Stress in America, February 11, 2014.

June 27, 2014

Even in affluent areas, many high school graduates are not ready for college

by Grace

Even in one of the most prosperous and highly educated counties in the United States, less than half of high school graduates are ready for college.

Only 48% of Westchester County high school graduates are prepared to do college-level work.  This measure is based on students scoring “at least 75 on their English Regents exam and at least 80 on a math Regents exam”.

For my local high school, located in Westchester County, 64% of graduates are considered college ready.  This is a school district that spends about $25,000 per student each year and enjoys a student/teacher ratio of 14:1.

Using AP participation figures, US News determined that my local high school has a College Readiness Index of 44.5

On a national basis “SAT scores indicate ‘most freshmen aren’t academically prepared for college'”, so it appears this problem is not limited to high schools near me.

Are these college readiness numbers surprising?  Should they be higher, given the resources being devoted to education?  Or is it unrealistic to expect higher percentages of college-ready high school graduates, even in some of the most affluent areas of the country?

Some possible reasons for the low number of high school graduates who are prepared to do college-level work:

  1. The measures are flawed and do not give an accurate representation.
  2. Teaching and/or curriculum is mediocre, or worse.
  3. Schools do no place sufficient focus on academic goals, specifically on preparing students for college.
  4. We’re not spending enough on education.
  5. The money we spend on education is used inefficiently.
  6. No matter the demographics and despite how much a school tries, a certain percentage of high school graduates will never be ready for college work.
  7. “Kids these days.”
  8. Parents are not doing enough to support their children’s education.

I dismiss the first reason listed, having some familiarity with the New York State tests used to measure college readiness.  A high school student on the college-prep track should definitely be able to meet the scores required.  These tests are notoriously easy and/or graded on a very forgiving curve.

Achievement levels do not correlate closely with money spent on education, so I cannot see #4 being an important reason.

The rest of the listed reasons probably play some role in creating the disappointingly low college-readiness figures.  In theory, schools have the most control over remedying reasons 2, 3, and 5.  In practice, most experiments innovations that schools implement only seem to make things worse.


Gary Stern and Dwight Worley, “Local high school grads not up to more ambitious state goals”, The Journal News, June 23, 2014.

Graduation Rate Data – June 23, 2014, New York State Education Department

June 26, 2014

More students are receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT tests

by Grace

Some recent numbers show the increase in students receiving special accommodations for SAT and ACT testing.

During the 2010-11 school year, 5 percent of all test takers were provided with some feature that was intended to adapt the test to their needs, ACT spokesman Ed Colby said, compared with 3.5 percent of test takers in the 2007-08 school year.

The numbers of requests have been rising among SAT takers, too, along with an increase in test takers overall. Once students are approved for an accommodation, they don’t have to reapply. Of new requests—almost 80,000 during the 2010-11 school year, compared with 10,000 fewer five years earlier—about 85 percent are approved, said Kathleen Steinberg, the spokeswoman for the College Board. The ACT said roughly 90 percent of requests made are granted.

Rich kids are more likely to receive accommodations.

Controversy has swirled for years about which students deserve special help. A 2000 California audit concluded that those getting college entrance testing accommodations “were disproportionately white, or were more likely to come from an affluent family or to attend a private school.”

More than a decade later, the Tribune’s review of data obtained under open records laws indicates that’s true in Illinois, where the percentage of test takers with accommodations doubled the national average.

Schools in wealthy enclaves with predominantly white students were at the top of the list when it comes to students getting ACT testing accommodations in Illinois, the 2011 data show.

A recent report from the General Accountability Office found that testing for qualifying disabilities “can cost from $500 to $9,000”.  Wealthy families can afford to pay these costs when the schools will not.  They also tend to have the expertise and money to force schools to pay for legally required testing.

One local affluent school district recently had a long list of applications for accommodations that was waiting to be submitted, probably typical for high-income locales.

The most commonly requested accommodation is extended time, but some others include “a quiet testing room, a reader or a scribe, enlarged print test booklets and/or answer keys, the use of a computer, additional or extended breaks, and multiple-day testing on the ACT”


Nirvi Shah, “More Students Receiving Accommodations During ACT, SAT”, Education Week, May 14, 2012.

 Diane Rado, “Many Illinois high school students get special testing accommodations for ACT”, Chicago Tribune,  April 29, 2012.

Jed Applerouth, “SAT and ACT Accommodations”, Independent Educational Consultants Association, April 9, 2014.


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