Open access, but not open exit

Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida has won this year’s Aspen Prize for community college excellence for a 62 percent graduation and transfer rate, far higher than the 40 percent national average.

Sixty-three percent of transfers complete a bachelor’s degree within six years, the Aspen committee noted. That’s higher than the completion average — 59 percent — for students who start at four-year colleges and universities.

“We’re an open-access college, not open-exit,” the college’s president, Jackson N. Sasser, told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

SFC works closely with the nearby University of Florida to help students transfer and earn a UF degree. In addition, the college offers some four-year degrees in vocational fields, such as information technology.

Students are encouraged to choose a program of study as early as possible.

An online program similar to the travel-booking site Expedia helps them map out classes that meet their degree requirements and are available during the times they can attend class. Instead of a travel itinerary, the program spits out a list of suggested class schedules. A student clicks on one, and a hold is placed for a spot in all of those classes. If he picks a class outside his degree plan, it shows up in red, meaning it’s OK to sign up, but it may not count toward the degree.

Florida high school graduates aren’t required to take remedial courses. SFC offers support to help less-prepared students pass college-level courses.

Teaching math the Shanghai way

Lianjie Lu, from Shanghai, teaches fractions to year 3 pupils at Fox primary school in Kensington, London.

Lianjie Lu, from Shanghai, teaches fractions to year 3 pupils at a London school. Photo: Frantzesco Kangaris/Guardian

Britain has imported math teachers from high-scoring Shanghai to demonstrate teaching techniques, reports The Guardian.  

Lilianjie Lu stands in front of 21 seven and eight-year-olds in a London classroom, struggling slightly with her English but with a winning smile on her face, as she attempts to teach them all about fractions.

The classroom has been reconfigured to resemble a Shanghai classroom. The carpet has been taken up, desks which are normally clustered in friendly groups are in straight rows, and all eyes are on Lu and her touchscreen.

. . . The class is repetitive, going over and over similar territory, stretching the children slightly further as the lesson progresses, picking up on mistakes and making sure that everyone is keeping up.

British teachers move more quickly, says Ben McMullen, deputy head at Fox school and senior lead in the local maths hub. Chinese teachers “dwell on it for what seems a long time so every single child understands exactly what’s going on.”

Lu is now asking the children what a fraction is. “If the whole is divided in to three equal parts, each part is a third of the whole,” one child explains. The other children follow suit, repeating and adapting their answer to explain the fraction written on the board.

“There’s a lot of chanting and recitation which to our English ears seems a bit formulaic,” says McMullen, “but it’s a way of embedding that understanding.”

McMullen spent two weeks observing at a Shanghai primary school in September. Math lessons are shorter there, but better, he says. “I saw better maths teaching in 35 minutes than I had ever done in an hour and ten minutes.”

In Shanghai every child of the same age is on the same page of the same text book at the same time.

. . . Children have mastered their jiujiu (times tables) back to front and inside out by the time they are eight. Classrooms are bare and text books are basic, minimal, “not that appealing” to look at, admits McMullen, but of exceptionally high quality and thoroughly researched.

Lu studied math teaching for five years at a university and teaches only math at her Shanghai elementary school. In Britain, primary teachers teach all subjects and have little training in how to teach math.

Online students are ‘telepresent’ — as robots

Thomas Felch uses a telepresence robot to connect with students at Nexus Charter in Columbus, Ohio. Photo by Nichole Dobo

Thomas Felch is a “telepresent” teacher at Nexus Academy of Columbus. Photo by Nichole Dobo

Nexus Academy of Columbus, an Ohio charter high school, is experimenting with telepresent teachers, writes Nichole Dobo on the Hechinger Report.

The school employs some “in-the-flesh” teachers, but others teach online courses from a distance, interacting with students  “through a computer screen or phone call,” writes Dobo. Now, the school has two robots.

Thomas Fech, who teaches social studies from his home in Arizona, enjoys using the robot to talk to students and staff in Ohio.

Lights flash on the robot body when a teacher signs in to control the robot. A screen the size of a small tablet computer shows a live video of the teacher’s face. A webcam flips open above the screen, revealing the Cyclops eye that helps the long-distance teacher “drive” around the school. They zip around the school just like any other teacher – except when the robot crashes into walls and doorways. The depth perception and peripheral vision aren’t great, Fech said. But the technological hiccups don’t bother him.

“It’s fun,” Fech said. “I like driving it around and feeling like I am in the school. It’s neat to feel like I am part of the classroom.”

Michigan State has been experimenting with “telepresent” robots that let online graduate students participate in face-to-face classes.

PhD candidates can take educational psychology and educational technology in person or online.  Until now, online students appeared on a wall-mounted screen. They felt like “second-class citizens” in class said John Bell, an associate education professor.B9c1WIwIUAQ0_ap

In the pilot, two online students used KUBI telepresence robots: The online student’s face appears on an iPad screen, and the student can move the pedestal to control his or her point of view. Two others used Double robots, which can move around the room.

“The students were ecstatic,” said Bell. “It changed how they engaged with the class. One student said, ‘This was the first time it mattered to me if I knew the names of the face-to-face students because I could turn and look at them.’ That was a dramatic response.”

Let boys be boys

“Rather than being appreciated for the future explorers, warriors and leaders they were designed to be, boys are viewed as defective little girls,” writes Rhonda Robinson on PJ Media. “What is the real trouble with boys? Well, simply put, they are not girls.” 

Robinson homeschooled five girls — and then two boys. She discovered there’s a difference. “In my house ADD is considered a personality type, not a mental disorder,” she writes.

As a homeschooler, she could spend her boys outside to play when they couldn’t concentrate. Schools can’t do that. Robinson also blames feminist ideology. “Boys with uniquely masculine strengths, once prized, are no longer valued. In fact, these traits of boyhood are considered dangerous, even pathological.”

An ‘F’ school faces teacher turnover

Inside an F school, by a team of Tulsa World reporters, analyzed the struggles of a chronically low-performing Tulsa school. A year later, Andrea Eger returned to find teacher turnover remains a huge problem at Hawthorne Elementary.

Principal Estella Bitson has trouble finding teachers willing to work at a high-poverty, all-minority school with an “F” rating. Some who try don’t make it through the year.

Stephanie Fadness, hired to replace a teacher who quit in the middle of the school year, works with fifth grader J'Shone Williams.  Photo: John Clanton/Tulsa World

Stephanie Fadness, hired to replace a teacher who quit in the fall semester, works with fifth grader J’Shone Williams at Hawthorne Elementary. Photo: John Clanton/Tulsa World

Hawthorne started the school year short a third-grade teacher. The two third-grade teachers have larger classes.

A new sixth-grade teacher recruited by Teach for America “couldn’t handle the kids,” says Bitson. She found the teacher another job in the district.

Last spring, both fifth-grade teachers quit. Some high-achieving students decided not to come back to Hawthorne, says Bitson.

“Some parents took their students to KIPP (a college preparatory charter school) or south-side schools because I couldn’t ‘assure’ them of who my fifth-grade teachers were going to be,” Bitson said. “These were the leaders of our school. They balance out our student body. But, if it was my kid, I would be asking the same questions — and here we go, I didn’t have that consistency.”

By October, the first of the two newly hired fifth-grade teachers quit. The second one followed suit at the end of the first semester.

Bitson pounded the pavement over winter break, tracking down December graduates from teacher colleges. A Northeastern State University grad began in late January, and another recent grad, from a small college in Iowa, arrived in early February.

But that meant weeks on end of substitute teachers for Hawthorne’s fifth-graders.

Students are used to it. “In third grade, I had like eight teachers,” said fifth-grader Cameron Steed. “Other kids have one teacher, and they get to learn and they get used to that one teacher.”

“Some people just can’t deal with the kids,” said Karesha Solomon, the lead third-grade teacher. “The people who take the biggest hit are the students who are on grade level.”

Solomon attended Hawthorne as a child. She was raised by two hard-working parents who expected all their children to go to college. They all did.

CREDO: Urban charter students learn more


All students receive two hours of tutoring a day at Boston’s high-performing MATCH school.

In 41 cities, charter students learn significantly more than similar students in traditional public schools, according to a new report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes, or CREDO. The average gain was the equivalent of 40 more days of learning in math, and 28 more in reading.

Disadvantaged students — blacks, Latinos, English Learners, low-income and special-education students — gained the most. Whites did worse in urban charters than in traditional schools.

Performance varied, notes Sara Mead in U.S. News. Charter schools in Boston, the San Francisco Bay Area, the District of Columbia, Detroit and Newark produced very strong results for students. “Charter students in Boston ended up with over 200 days more learning” in math compared to similar students at district schools.

In 26 of the cities, charter students learned more than their traditional school peers in math, and in 23 they learned more than their peers in reading. But in 11 of the urban areas, charter school students learned less than their peers in math while in 10 of them charter school students learned less in reading.

Urban charters appear to be improving over time, researchers concluded.

Students do much better in their second year at a charter, and even better in the third and fourth year, CREDO found.

“In several cities where traditional districts perform below state averages – Boston, Detroit, Indianapolis, Memphis and Nashville – charters appear to be producing strong enough learning growth to close the gap for children who remain in them for several years,” writes Mead.

Finland: Girls read well, but not boys


Finnish boys don’t read significantly better than U.S. boys, according to the international PISA exam.

For all those sick of hearing about how great Finnish schools are, here’s a fun fact from the new Brown Center Report: Finnish girls do well in reading, but boys do not. The gender gap is “an astonishing 62 points,” writes Tom Loveless. That’s twice the U.S. gap.

Finnish girls scored 556, and boys scored 494.  To put this gap in perspective, consider that Finland’s renowned superiority on PISA tests is completely dependent on Finnish girls.  Finland’s boys’ score of 494 is about the same as the international average of 496, and not much above the OECD average for males (478).  The reading performance of Finnish boys is not statistically significantly different from boys in the U.S. (482) or from the average U.S. student, both boys and girls (498).

. . . Consider that the 62 point gender gap in Finland is only 14 points smaller than the U.S. black-white gap (76 points) and 21 points larger than the white-Hispanic gap (41 points) on the same test.

Finland’s PISA success has been cited by advocates of various policies such as “teacher recruitment, amount of homework, curriculum standards, the role of play in children’s learning, school accountability, or high stakes assessments,” writes Loveless.

Advocates pound the table while arguing that these policies are obviously beneficial.  “Just look at Finland,” they say.  Have you ever read a warning that even if those policies contribute to Finland’s high PISA scores—which the advocates assume but serious policy scholars know to be unproven—the policies also may be having a negative effect on the 50 percent of Finland’s school population that happens to be male?

Usually, critics care whether a policy hurts some social groups, even it benefits others, he writes.

Where is the reading gender gap relatively small? Japan and South Korea.

Boys are catching up in reading

Girls do better than boys at reading, especially as they get older, but the gap is narrowing, writes Tom Loveless in the 2015 Brown Center Report on American Education.

It’s not just the U.S. “Across the globe, in countries with different educational systems, different popular cultures, different child rearing practices, and different conceptions of gender roles,” girls read better than boys, writes Loveless. 

However, gender gaps are closing, he writes. “On an international assessment of adults conducted in 2012, reading scores for men and women were statistically indistinguishable up to age 35.” After that age, men had higher scores in reading.

Still, women are much more likely than men to be avid readers.  Of those who said they read a book a week, 59 percent were women and 41 percent were men. By age 55, the ratio was 63 percent to 37 percent. “Two-thirds of respondents who said they never read books were men,” notes Loveless.

The report also found that fourth grade reading scores improved more in states with strong implementation of Common Core standards than in non-Core states. Last year’s report found an edge in eighth-grade math for strong Core states. However, the differences are quite small and may be due to other factors.

Is your child ready for first grade — in 1979?

A generation ago, children weren’t escorted everywhere by a parent.

A 1979 guide for parents — Is Your Child Ready for First Grade — shows how much things have changed, writes ChicagoNow blogger Christine Whitley.

In addition to the child’s age and teeth, the list asks:

3. Can you child tell, in such a way that his speech is understood by a school crossing guard or policeman, where he lives?
4. Can he draw and color and stay within the lines of the design being colored?
5. Can he stand on one foot with eyes closed for five to ten seconds?
6. Can he ride a small two-wheeled bicycle without helper wheels?
7. Can he tell left hand from right?
8. Can he travel alone in the neighborhood (four to eight blocks) to store, school, playground, or to a friend’s home?
9. Can he be away from you all day without being upset?
10. Can he repeat an eight- to ten-word sentence, if you say it once, as “The boy ran all the way home from the store”?
11. Can he count eight to ten pennies correctly?
12. Does your child try to write or copy letters or numbers?

These days, most children learn to write letters and numbers and count pennies in preschool. Long before first grade, they’re used to being away from Mom. But they’ve never walked to a friend’s house or talked to a crossing guard.

Whitley has no idea if her six-year-old could walk four to eight blocks, she writes. “I’ve never let her even try! I’d probably be reported to the police if I did try!”

Slate’s KJ Antonia considers herself a “free-range” parent for letting a seven-year-old walk to a friend’s house unaccompanied and leaving a nine-year-old in charge of younger siblings. But she can’t imagine letting a pre-first grader walk “four to eight blocks” alone, even though Antonia thinks she did it herself at that age.

When did it become bizarre for kids to walk in their own neighborhoods? My daughter walked or bicycled to elementary school, the library and to friend’s houses in the late ’80s. Once she got lost for awhile. Another time, she was chased by an older, larger girl, the Catholic school’s official bully. She dealt with it.

Chicago schools debut Latino studies

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Chicago Public Schools will teach an interdisciplinary Latino and Latin American Studies curriculum to all K-10 students, Melissa Sanchez reports for Catalyst Chicago.

“Kindergartners can learn about the Mayan counting system while they’re learning numbers, and fifth-graders can learn about African influences on South American percussion during music class,” she writes.

“The history of Chicago cannot be written without celebrating the contributions of immigrants from Central America, South America and the Caribbean,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a district news release.

More than 45 percent of CPS students are Latino.

On The White Rhino, a Chicago English teacher named Ray Salazar called the curriculum well-intentioned but over-simplified.

Chicago already is piloting an African and African American studies curriculum that was released last year.