High school was too easy, graduates say

College is great, say recent high school graduates, but they weren’t prepared for college-level math, science and writing.

College Board’s One Year Out (pdf) survey asked members of the class of 2010 how their high school experience prepared them for work and college. In addition to wishing they’d taken harder classes in high school, 47 percent said they should have worked harder, reports College Bound.  Thirty-seven  percent said high school graduation requirements were too easy.

Ninety percent agreed with the statement: “In today’s world, high school is not enough, and nearly everybody needs to complete some kind of education or training after high school.”

Those who went on to college found the courses were more difficult than expected (54 percent), and 24 percent were required to take noncredit remedial or developmental courses. Of those taking remedial programs, 37 percent attended a two-year college and 16 percent did not make it through the first year of college.

To succeed, 44 percent of graduates said they wished they had taken different classes in high school. Among those, 40 percent wished they had taken more math, 37 percent wished they would have taken more classes that prepared them for a specific job, and 33 percent wished they had taken more science courses. Others thought they would have benefited from more practical career readiness and basic preparation for how to engage in a college environment, including how to manage personal finances, the College Board survey reveals.

Curriculum Matters has more on the study.

Students choose lower-cost colleges

Families spent 9 percent less on college last year, the first sign of resistance to ever-higher tuition, reports Sallie Mae. More students are starting at community colleges and living at home. In addition, more students are qualifying for grants.

Also on Community College Spotlight: How to earn a debt-free degree.

Teachers can learn from tests

Once a foe of standardized testing, Ama Nyamekye improved her teaching by analyzing her students’ scores on New York’s Regents exam, she writes in Ed Week.  When she asked her sophomores to take the English Regents exam a year early, she discovered “holes in my curriculum.”

I once dismissed standardized testing for its narrow focus on a discrete set of skills, but I learned that my self-made assignments were more problematic. It turned out they were skewed in my favor. I was better at teaching literary analysis than grammar and punctuation. When I started giving ongoing standardized assessments, I noticed that my students showed steady growth in literary analysis, but less growth in grammar and punctuation. I was teaching to my strengths instead of strengthening my weaknesses.

Grading is subjective, she writes. Emotionally invested in her students’ success — and implicitly judging her own effectiveness — she was quick to see signs of achievement.

By contrast, her students’ Regents essays were graded by English teachers who didn’t know them and who used detailed rubrics.

When I “depoliticized” the test, I found a useful and flawed ally. The exam excelled where I struggled, offering comprehensive and standards-based assessments. I thrived where the test fell short, designing creative, performance-based projects. Together, we were strategic partners. I designed and graded innovative projects—my students participated in court trials for Shakespearean characters—and the test provided a rubric that guided my evaluation of student learning.

All her students who took the exam passed it. Most earned high scores.

Is the college push working?

More students — including many more Hispanics and somewhat more blacks — are enrolling in college, reports the Pew Research Center. Enrollment is outpacing population growth because more minority students are graduating from high school.

What are we doing right? asks National Journal. What more can we do?

Black and Hispanic student achievement is rising, writes Sandy Kress, one of the architects of No Child Left Behind.

Tom Vander Ark credits the movement to prepare all students for college and careers.

I’d like to see how many of these college students earn a certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree.

Carnival of Homeschooling

No Fighting, No Biting! is hosting this week’s Carnival of Homeschooling.

‘Skills gap’ includes college graduates

Education doesn’t guarantee job readiness, according to ACT’s new report on workforce skills gaps.

For manufacturing, healthcare, construction and energy-related target occupations requiring a middle or high level of education, a majority of test takers were unable to  “locate, synthesize, and use information from workplace graphics such as charts, graphs, tables, forms, flowcharts, diagrams, floor plans, maps and instrument gauges.”

The gap between job seekers’ skills and the skills employers want “widens as the level of education increases.”

 

Seeking wise, creative students

Colleges admit students with strong analytical skills, but may reject creative, wise and community-minded students who’d also do well, argues psychologist Robert Sternberg.  After trying his ideas as a dean at Tufts, which attracts very well-qualified students, Sternberg became provost at Oklahoma State, which takes 70 to 75 percent of applicants.  The university is testing new essay prompts to identify applicants with hard-to-measure qualities, reports Inside Higher Ed.

Oklahoma State accepts students with a 1090 SAT (without the writing test) or a 3.0 grade point average and top-third-of-the-class ranking. Students with lower grades and scores can get in by doing well on an essay question, which might ask about their goals or special interests.

The university is asking current freshmen to answer questions Sternberg developed. Several will be chosen for next year’s applications.  For example:

“Music spans time and culture. Explain how the lyrics of one of your favorite songs define you or your cultural experience.”

“If you were able to open a local charity of your choice, what type of charity would it be, how would you draw people to your cause, and whom would it benefit?”

“Today’s movies often feature superheroes and the supernatural. If you could have one superpower, what would it be, and how would you use it? Who would be your archenemy, and what would be his or her superpower?”

“Roughly 99 percent” of admitted applicants have qualified on some combination of grades and test scores, Sternberg says. “Who believes, really, that ACTs and high school grades are going to predict who will become the positive active citizens and leaders of tomorrow?”

I do.  The combination of high school grades and test scores predicts who’ll complete a college degree, which predicts active citizenship, such as voting and volunteering.

A good writer can express creativity and devotion to community service — maybe even wisdom — by writing about goals and interests. Just because the question is boring doesn’t mean the answer has to be. A bad writer won’t do any better because he knows a lot about comic superheroes. I suspect few C+ students with mediocre ACT or SAT scores can write a good essay on any topic.

But it’s an experiment. Maybe Oklahoma State will find hidden gems in its applicant pool by tweaking the essay prompts.

Basic skills, job training are team effort

Low-skilled adults will learn basic reading, writing and math in conjunction with job training in a program designed by the Dallas Urban League and El Centro Community College.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  A community college sophomore, 18-year-old Daniel Brusilovsky runs a website for teen entrepreneurs to connect, an annual conference and a six-week summer incubator that matches young entrepreneurs with Silicon Valley funders.

 

The school reform deniers

Steven Brill, author of Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools), takes on “school reform deniers” on Reuters.  Those who argue that schools are doing fine — or would be with more money — ignore the facts, he asserts.

I thought his take on compensating teachers was interesting. We could afford to pay teachers $65,000 to $165,000 a year, instead of $30,000 to $110,000, by rewriting the standard union contract, he argues.

 Among the ways to do that: 1) substitute standard 401 (k) pension plans for the costly back-loaded pensions that benefit the senior teachers who are most likely to vote in the low-turnout teachers’ union elections (and that now costs major urban school systems $10,000-$20,000 per teacher); 2) allow for slightly larger class size (which would free up $7,000-$20,000 per teacher across the country); eliminate the 10-15 sick or personal days in a 34-38 week work year prevalent across the country (and stop allowing teachers to cash in the days they don’t use); 3) stop paying automatic salary increases (now amounting to $5 billion a year nationally) just because a teacher gets some advanced degree, when all the research now shows zero correlation between those degrees and teacher effectiveness; 4) stop paying automatic seniority-based increases above what would now be the higher starting salaries and use that money to pay the top third or top quarter of performers the highest salaries; 5) stop paying teachers for doing union work or for the two or three years that they remain idle pending tenure-required disciplinary or removal hearings; and 6) allow for distance learning that allows more students to take advanced courses and implement other technology-enabled efficiencies that the unions have resisted.

With the saving generated from this “grand bargain” to revitalize public school teaching – in essence by swapping performance for protection — we could give teachers the kind of status, career paths and compensation that countries with the best public education results offer.

Brill doesn’t want to abolish teachers’ unions, he writes. He wants to persuade or force them to engage in real reforms.  He sees American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten as a potential “Nixon to China” figure.

Brill calls the New York Times review of his book “thoughtful” and Michael Winerip’s hostile column  “near-venemous.”

The book is a “surprise page-turner,” writes Liam Julian.

But Rick Hess calls the book readable, reliable and incomplete, but faults Brill for “with-us-or-agin’-us” dogmatism, which “encourages hubris, overreach, and the enthusiastic embrace of silver bullets (whether charter schooling, value-added, or merit pay).”

Never embrace a bullet, even if it’s silver.

Vouchers spike Catholic school enrollment

Catholic schools are attracting voucher students in Indiana, AP reports. Nearly 70 percent of students using the vouchers are choosing Catholic schools.

Our Lady of Hungary Catholic School in South Bend was at risk of closure because few parents could afford tuition.  Voucher students have increased enrollment by 60 percent.

The enrollment boom has forced the school to hire three more teachers. It’s also allowed all but the seventh and eighth grades to be separated into single classes. In years past, the school has combined grade levels because of low enrollment.

Catholic schools attract about 70 percent of voucher students in Ohio, which  gives vouchers to children who’d otherwise attend low-performing public schools.

Urban Catholic schools have a long history of educating children from tough neighborhoods.