Small high schools help in NYC

New York City’s small high schools, once derided as a Gates-funded flop, increase students’ odds of graduating and going to college and cost less per graduate, concludes a new MRDC study that compared small school students with applicants who applied but lost a lottery.

Some 200 small schools were created between 2002 and 2008, usually serving disadvantaged students in buildings that had housed large, low-performing high schools.

Black males showed the strongest gains, writes Patricia Willens on NPR.

Because more students earned a diploma in four years, rather than five, costs were 14 to 16 percent lower per graduate, MDRC estimated.

While critics have labeled the Gates effort a failure, other researchers have been monitoring small schools for decades and have found generally positive impacts.

review of studies published between 1990 and 2009 found “the weight of evidence … clearly favors smaller schools.” An MIT study of New York City public small high schools also found positive effects: higher graduation rates, better test scores and an increase in college enrollment.

Mayor Bill de Blasio has been critical of closing large high schools to create smaller specialized schools, notes the New York Times editorial board.  He pledges to help improve schools before closing them. “Given the clear benefits that have accrued to the city’s most vulnerable students, Mr. de Blasio should not shy away from the option of shutting down big schools and remaking them from scratch, particularly in cases where the school has been failing for a long time and its culture is beyond repair.”

How to prevent college dropouts

The best way to prevent college dropouts is to stop admitting unprepared students to four-year colleges and universities, argues Richard Vedder. People with “some college, no degree” earn little more than high school-only workers, but most have student loans to repay. If they’d started at community college, they might have job skills without the debt.

74% of teachers use games to teach

Seventy-four percent of teachers are using digital games for instruction, according a Joan Ganz Cooney Center survey, Level Up Learning. About half of game-using teachers do so at least weekly.

Seventy-one percent say games help teach math concepts, but they’re less persuaded that games help students learn science and other subjects.

Most teachers play digital games at home, at least occasionally.

No more school sports?


Sayreville High canceled its football season in response to charges of locker room assaults. 

A New Jersey high school canceled its football season after seven varsity players were charged with hazing and sexually assaulting younger players.

Should high schools eliminate sports teams? asks the New York Times‘ Room for Debate.

Gandalf says . . .

On a visit to a school in England, Sir Ian McKellen channeled Gandalf to advise students.

Here’s Gandalf facing the Balrog in Lord of the Rings:

‘Reverse transfer’ could add 2 million degrees

As many as two million students could earn associate degrees through “reverse transfer” of credits. Seventy-eight percent of students who transfer from community college to a four-year institution leave before completing an associate degree. If they fail to complete a bachelor’s degree, they may have earned enough credits for a two-year degree.

The vultures circle

“Newsvulture vans” are parked in front of Darren’s Sacramento high school “fanning the flames and needlessly putting some people on edge,” he writes on Right on the Left Coast. Graffiti threatening a school shooting was found in a restroom.

The hysteria started last week. A student claimed the vice principal manhandled her after she tried to grab a confiscated book report — and bit him. Students protested in support of the 17-year-old girl.

‘Word gap’ is about quality, not just quantity

By age 3, the children of poorly educated, low-income mothers have heard 30 million fewer words than the children of educated, middle-class mothers, a study showed nearly 20 years ago. The “word gap” is about the quality of parent-child conversation, not just the number of words, reports the New York Times.

For 2-year-olds from low-income families, quality interactions involving words — the use of shared symbols (“Look, a dog!”); rituals (“Want a bottle after your bath?”); and conversational fluency (“Yes, that is a bus!”) — were a far better predictor of language skills at age 3 than any other factor, according to a new study.

“It’s not just about shoving words in,” said lead author Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple. “It’s about having these fluid conversations around shared rituals and objects, like pretending to have morning coffee together or using the banana as a phone. That is the stuff from which language is made.”

Talking more is the first step, said Ann Fernald, a Stanford psychologist. “When you learn to talk more, you tend to speak in more diverse ways and elaborate more, and that helps the child’s cognitive development.”

Fernald advises Providence Talks, a Rhode Island program that outfits babies and toddlers with devices that record the number of words they hear each day. Counselors evaluate the children’s exposure to language and teach parents communications skills.

Hacking higher ed

Online “competency-based education” (CBE) is a faster, cheaper, more flexible way for adults to earn college credentials valued by employers, I write on Mozilla’s new e-mag, The Open Standard.

CBE lets students progress at their own pace. They may watch mini-lectures, read, work through exercises, chat with virtual classmates, consult with a faculty mentor – or apply what they’ve already learned on the job, in the military or through independent study.

“The idea of divorcing learning from seat time – rewarding people for mastery – has radical implications,” said Julian Alssid, chief workforce strategist at Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America.

To earn credit, students demonstrate mastery of a “learning objective” by taking quizzes and tests, writing papers or completing a project. Those who haven’t fully mastered a competency don’t get a B or a C. They keep trying until they learn it.

Most programs work with employers to design the competencies, so students — nearly all are working adults — will have the skills employers are seeking.

President Obama has endorsed the idea. The Education Department is experimenting with student aid for CBE students.

Western Governors University was the pioneer, but now state universities — the University of Wisconsin and, just this week, the University of Michigan — are offering online CBE programs.

Colleges limit borrowing, cut defaults

Under pressure to cut student loan defaults, colleges are refusing to accept unsubsidized federal loans that require students to begin making interest payments immediately. Florida’s Broward College won’t accept private loans. Would-be borrowers have to attend a money-management workshop. Defaults are down.