LA schools compete for students

Los Angeles Unified schools are competing for students with charters, reports Anna M. Phillips in the LA Times.

In heavily Hispanic Pacoima, a 90-year-old district elementary school, now known as Haddon Avenue STEAM Academy, is advertising on a billboard and a LA Unified delivery truck.

“With a declining enrollment, you have no choice,” says Principal Richard Ramos, who previously worked at a charter school.

Haddon’s enrollment dipped from 890 K-5 students five years ago to 785 last year, reports Phillips. “It didn’t matter that the principal had expanded the school’s mariachi classes or brought in a decorated speech-and-debate coach if none of the neighborhood’s parents knew about it.”

With the help of $9,000 for a billboard (it also advertises Arleta High) and the truck ad, Haddon is starting the year with 848 students, including 39 transfers from charter schools.

Scores are low at Haddon: Only 18 percent of students are proficient in English, 11 percent in math, according to Great Schools. At nearby Montague Charter Academy and Pacoima Charter Elementary, 22 percent are proficient in English and 20 percent in math. Is that significant? Some parents will think so. Others will prefer mariachi and debate.

The KIPP LA charter network spent $18,000 last year to advertise openings in its 13 charter schools in the area, spokesman Steve Mancini said. “We welcome the competition” from the district.“It’s healthy; it keeps you on your toes. One of the best accountability measures is knowing you have to fill your school every year with students.”

At Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the largest charter school network in L.A., the recruiting budget for its 28 schools is $13,000 to $15,000, spokeswoman Catherine Suitor said.

It’s good to see district schools figuring out how to appeal to parents, rather than trying to suppress competition, writes Reason‘s Scott Shackford.

John Oliver mocked the idea that competition might motivate schools to improve.

Focusing on mismanaged schools, Oliver’s rant was “clever, glib and uninformed,” responds Nick Gillespie.

He cited education researcher Jay Greene’s analysis of randomized studies comparing lottery winners and losers (kids with equally motivated parents): Urban students “do significantly better in school if they attend a charter school than if they attend a traditional public school,” writes Greene.

A British comedian’s ignorance isn’t worth all the fuss, writes Robert Pondiscio.

EdNext poll: Core support slides

“The demise of school reform has been greatly exaggerated,” concludes Education Next in reporting on its survey of 10-year trends in education opinion.

“Public support remains as high as ever for federally mandated testing, charter schools, tax credits to support private school choice, merit pay for teachers, and teacher tenure reform,” the survey found. “However, backing for the Common Core State Standards and school vouchers fell to new lows in 2016.”

In 2016, 50% of all those taking a side say they support the use of the Common Core standards in their state, down from 58% in 2015 and from 83% in 2013. Republican backing has plummeted from 82% in 2013 to 39% in 2016. The slip among Democrats is from 86% to 60% over this time period. Eighty-seven percent of teachers supported the initiative in 2013, but that fell to 54% in 2014 and to 44% in 2015, stabilizing at that level in 2016.

When “Common Core” is not mentioned, two-thirds back the use of the same standards.

Nearly four out of five respondents, about the same as in 2015, favor the federal requirement that all students be tested in math and reading in each grade from 3rd through 8th and at least once in high school. However, only half of teachers support the testing requirement.

A “federal policy that prevents schools from expelling or suspending black and Hispanic students at higher rates than other students” is very unpopular, backed by only 28 percent of the general public and of teachers.  In 2016, 48 percent of black respondents express support for the idea, down from 65 percent in 2015. Thirty-nine percent of Hispanics express support, showing little change from last year.

Respondents rated local schools more favorably than in the past, but continued to give low marks to schools nationally.

Welcome to the 4th Grade

Dwayne Reed, a new teacher in Chicago, released this music video.

Student loan crisis is oversold

The student loan crisis is media and political hype, argues Sandy Baum, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and author of Student Debt: Rhetoric and Realities of Higher Education.

Federal Reserve Bank of New York


Courtesy of Federal Reserve Bank of New York

The 23-year-old graduate with heavy debt and a job at Starbucks is “rare,” Baum tells Claudio Sanchez at NPR. Most people who earn bachelor’s degrees will do fine.

But many go to college, borrow and leave with a low-value credential or no degree at all. “They tend to be older. They tend to come from disadvantaged, middle-income families and they’re struggling,” says Baum. But “not because they owe a lot of money.”

Flunking out of college doesn’t raise earnings. Many defaulters didn’t borrow very much, but they can’t handle the payments.

Baum’s book calls “free college” and “debt-free college” proposals “simplistic.”

It’s not realistic to say we’re going to pay people to go to college [for free]. Someone has to pay. We can have everyone pay much higher taxes. But short of that, it’s not clear how we would pay.

. . . Some schools don’t serve students well. Some students aren’t prepared to succeed no matter where they go to college. We just tell everybody: “Go to college. Borrow the money. It will be fine.”

We don’t give people very much advice and guidance about where … when to go to college, how to pay for it, what to study.

There’s plenty to worry about, Baum says.

. . . we should worry about the single mother of two, going back to school in her late 20s to try to get some training to help her get a job and support her children. We need to worry about supporting her and directing her in a way that will allow her to succeed. . . . We should worry a lot less about 18-year-olds going off to college and borrowing $20,000, $25,000, for a bachelor’s degree.

Student loan debt now totals $1.3 trillion. About half of that is held by 25 percent of graduates. Most borrowed for medical, law or business school, which means they’re high earners, says Baum.

What new college students need to know

The 7 things new college students don’t know that drive professors crazy start with “You’re not in charge.” After 12 years as a high school English teacher and four years as a college instructor, Shannon Reed tells parents to prepare their college-bound teens to respect their professors.

“Too many high school students are used to bossing their teachers around, bullying or whining their way to better grades, or keeping up a line of patter that amuses their classmates,” writes Reed. High school teachers may put up with that. College professors will not.

Reed shocked a student on the first day of class by telling him to put away his phone or leave the room.

Are teachers really that easy to push around?

She also warns that your professor is not your administrative assistant.

It is not her job to show you how to see the comments on a document, remind you about a deadline or explain what you missed when you took a class off. Read your syllabus or ask a classmate.

Students persist in confusing Reed with their mother. They expect a white woman in her 40’s to be “nice” or “understanding,” even though she uses a “rather hard-driving teaching persona” and issues “a clear statement on my syllabus that I am not especially nice.” It doesn’t matter. “Every semester, a clueless student will ask me to boost his grade, give her more time on an essay or let him miss an extra class.”

There are more points, but I’ll summarize: Don’t be a spoiled brat.

Profs, are students really that bossy/helpless?

College remediation — before college

Most high school graduates enroll in college, but one in four will be placed in remedial math or English or both, reports Education Reform Now. At community colleges, a majority of entering students aren’t prepared for college-level work.

Twelfth graders prepare for college math at a high school math lab.

Tennessee 12th graders prepare for college math.

Not surprisingly, poorly prepared students are more likely to drop out. Those who earn a degree take longer and spend more to reach their goals.

Now, a few high schools in Tennessee, Indiana and Colorado are warning students they’re on the remedial track before it’s too late, offering catch-up classes in 12th grade, reports Hechinger’s Jon Marcus.

Fewer students are showing up at college needing remediation.

An analysis of data obtained by The Hechinger Report finds that, from 2011 to 2014, the proportion of high school graduates arriving at Tennessee community colleges in need of remedial instruction fell from 69 percent to 59 percent while the percentage of students in Indiana landing at all public universities and colleges unprepared for college-level work dropped from 31 to 18, and in Colorado from 41 to 34.

The idea is getting a push from new funding policies that reward public colleges and universities based not on their enrollment, but on their students’ ultimate success.

In Tennessee, where only 17 percent of public high school students score at college-ready levels on the ACT, 240 high schools have joined SAILS, the Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support program. Seniors who’ve scored below 19 in ACT math take online or in-person SAILS courses “designed by college faculty in collaboration with high school teachers,” Marcus reports.

Some high schools are adding SAILS help in English.

Here’s more on how colleges are trying to place fewer students in remedial classes and move them more quickly to the college level. One option is to lower math requirements for students who plan low-math majors.

LA’s 75% grad rate: What do kids know?

A “credit-recovery binge” helped Los Angeles Unified raise its graduation rate to 75 percent — while requiring all students to pass college-prep courses, reports the LA Times. Are credit-recovery graduates prepared for college, jobs or anything else?

“When we see kids completing three years of high school in a year through credit recovery, that should raise alarms,” said Pedro Noguera, director of UCLA’s Center for the Study of School Transformation.

The district can’t track how those students earned diplomas, reports the Times.

In some cases, students were allowed to make up work to change recorded grades. All records of the prior grade then disappeared from the district’s central data system, according to school site administrators, making it difficult to track such remediation in order to be fully accountable.

This year, graduates had to earn D’s or better in a college-prep sequence known as A-G that includes Algebra II, two years of foreign language and a year of a college-preparatory elective such as geography or statistics, reports the Times.

“We know 100% of all kids can graduate fully passing the A to G,” said Steve Zimmer, the school board president. (State universities don’t accept grades lower than C in A-G courses.)

Even before the credit-recovery push, many Los Angeles Unified graduates found themselves in remedial classes in college, Noguera pointed out.

College for all is a mistake, writes Walt Gardner, who taught in Los Angeles Unified for 28 years. Many of his former students “who gained skills through high school vocational courses or through certificate programs in community colleges are steadily making a good living working with their hands,” he writes. “In contrast, some former students with a bachelor’s degree have been underemployed for protracted periods of time, all the while struggling to pay off their student debt.”

Drive-by service: Going to Harvard via Haiti

“Mission trips” are all the rage for affluent high school students with Ivy aspirations, reports Frank Bruni in the New York Times.

High school volunteer abroad trips for teensFeeding the homeless at home lacks cachet. Ambitious teens travel to Africa, Central America or Haiti for a week or two of “service” — it’s always transformative — they can hype in their college essays.

Dylan Hernandez, 17, who attends a Catholic high school in Flint, Michigan, tells Bruni he’s sick of seeing well-to-do classmates posing with little African children. He doesn’t see them volunteering at the Flint YMCA, where Hernandez is a long-time tutor.

Child psychologist Richard Weissbourd told Bruni he’d talked to one set of wealthy parents who’d “bought an orphanage in Botswana so their children could have a project to write and talk about” and other parents who’d done the same with an AIDS clinic in an equally poor country.

However, drive-by charity work can backfire, writes Bruni. Admissions officers are on to it.

“The running joke in admissions is the mission trip to Costa Rica to save the rain forest,” Ángel Pérez, who is in charge of admissions at Trinity College in Hartford, told me.

Jennifer Delahunty, a longtime admissions official at Kenyon College, said that mission-trip application essays are their own bloated genre.“Often they come to the same conclusion: People in other parts of the world who have no money are happier than we are!” she told me.

As the college admissions race escalates, some teens are starting their own charities — even though existing nonprofits may be “more practiced and efficient at what they do,” writes Bruni.

 Meanwhile, working-class and low-income teens can’t afford to travel in search of transformative experiences. Many are working to help their parents pay the bills or to put away money for college.
 Pérez told me that his favorite among recent essays by Trinity applicants came from someone “who spent the summer working at a coffee shop. He wrote about not realizing until he did this how invisible people in the service industry are.”

For some young people, that would not be a revelation.

UW-Stout hides ‘offensive’ painting


French Trappers on the Red Cedar

Two paintings that offended some Native Americans will be moved from public view at University of Wisconsin-Stout. Chancellor Bob Meyer said the artwork created in 1936 “stood in the way of an effort to create an inclusive and comfortable environment for everyone.”

A painting of French trappers and Native Americans in canoes will be moved to a conference room, where it can be viewed by appointment, while a painting of a fort will be in the university archives, which “provides for controlled access.”

“Rest assured, political correctness played absolutely no role in this tough decision,” said Meyer in a statement.

Test our kids, say art, music teachers 

Worried that only what’s tested is valued, art and music teachers are trying to develop common assessments of their students’ skills, reports Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz. It’s not easy.

In New Hampshire, the experimental exam asked high school students “to research an artist, create a piece of art inspired by the artist’s work and then write a reflection about the experience,” writes Butrymowicz.

Teachers met over the summer to see whether they could agree on grading and tweak the assessments.

Elementary school art teachers Sarah Boudreau and Justina Austin “laid out about two dozen self-portraits drawn by their fourth-grade students,” reportsButrymowicz. “They needed to agree on a score of 1, 2, 3 or 4 for each piece, based on predetermined grading criteria, such as drawing skills and oil pastel blending technique.”

Meanwhile, music teachers tried to assign scores to “improvised student performances on the recorder” based on “pitch, tone and rhythm.”

In its arts tests, Florida has incorporated multiple-choice and short-answer questions that are easy to score efficiently. New Hampshire and Michigan are trying something more ambitious: devising tasks that require a student to submit a finished piece of artwork or perform a piece of music. These tests are time-intensive to administer and grade, however, and the results are difficult to translate into a single numeric score.

“When the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP, included an arts test in 1997, it required students to produce real works of art in addition to answering standard multiple-choice questions,” writes Butrymowicz.  NAEP ended up with “semitractor-trailers full of student-created clay bunnies.”

Arts tests in 2008 and 2016 relied on digitized photos and videos.

Even the best scoring systems won’t capture everything, said Timothy Brophy, director of institutional assessment and professor of music education at the University of Florida.“We’re all pretty glad that Monet and Da Vinci didn’t go to a school that said, ‘You need to [paint] in this way to meet a rubric,’ ” he said.