Head Start is 50 years old

Head Start got its start 50 years ago as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program. What’s its legacy? asks PBS NewsHour.

The story quotes the head of the Ford Foundation, who was a Head Start kid, but it also includes Russ Whitehurst, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies preschool programs. Federal studies have found Head Start graduates do no better than a control group by third grade, he points out.

They were not better readers. They were not doing math better. They didn’t have better social development. They didn’t have better health outcomes.

It costs $8 billion a year and makes no difference in anything we can measure.

Schools sued for not being ‘trauma sensitive’

Beaten and sexually abused by his addict mother’s boyfriends, Peter P. did poorly in school. When he was kicked out of a foster home, the 11th grader slept on the roof of his high school till he was discovered — and suspended.

Kimberly Cervantes, 18, is suing Compton Unified for failing to provide "trauma-sensitive services."

Kimberly Cervantes, 18, is suing Compton Unified for failing to provide “trauma-sensitive services.”

Peter P., four other students and three teachers have filed a lawsuit against Compton Unified, which serves a low-income, high-crime city near Los Angeles. Students who’ve experienced violence, abuse, homelessness, foster care and other “adverse childhood experiences” need “trauma-sensitive services” in school, the suit argues. It calls for “complex trauma” to be considered a learning disability.

“The lawsuit is seeking training for staff to recognize trauma, mental health support for students to cope with their condition and a shift from punitive disciplinary practices to those based on reconciliation and healing,” reports the Los Angeles Times.

Traumatized students are kicked out of school rather than helped, according to the suit.

Another student at age 8 first witnessed someone being shot and killed and has seen more than 20 other shootings since then — one of them resulting in the death of a close friend, according to the lawsuit.

Another student, Kimberly Cervantes, 18, a senior at Cesar Chavez Continuation School, said she stopped attending school for weeks at a time after multiple traumas, including being told by teachers at a different school that her bisexuality was “wrong.”

Los Angeles Unified provides counseling for traumatized students. One Guatemalan boy had witnessed rebel soldiers killing villagers, then saw gang violence in Los Angeles, said Marleen Wong, a USC social work professor who designed the program.

. . . Martin learned about trauma, how to calm himself and how to apply the relaxation techniques in his daily life, she said. Techniques included walking to school with others so as not to be alone and seeking teachers to support him.

. . . “He was able to go back to school, calmed down, had fewer fights and better attendance.”

There’s no question that some students have been through hell — and that it may affect their ability to behave and learn. But do we want to consider them disabled?

Family stress is their students’ greatest barrier to school success, say state Teachers of the Year in a new survey. Next came poverty, and learning and psychological problems.

I’m back

Thanks to Darren of Right on the Left Coast for blogging up a storm while I was traveling.

I had a moment in St. Petersburg that reminded me that comprehension depends on knowledge. We were walking along Nevsky Prospect, the main drag, when police cars blocked the road. We saw several jeeps with elderly women leading thousands of young, jovial rollerbladers in red T-shirts with a word in Russian. (Not being able to read Cyrillic was very, very frustrating for me.) Some were carrying the old Soviet flag with the hammer and sickle.  Pro-Communist demonstrators? They seemed too young. Then I saw the shirts said “1945.”

I knew the city — then Leningrad — had survived a 2 1/2-year siege during World War II. The Soviet flag had been the country’s flag in 1945, the flag of victory. When I got a wi-fi connection, I asked an app to translate “victory” to Russian. Yep. It was the word on the shirt.

I’m now in Kentucky for a family wedding. I believe the reception is at a bourbon distillery.

Pell Grants For Prisoners

What conditions are different from 1994 such that this program would now be considered?

The U.S. Department of Education is poised to announce a limited exemption to the federal ban on prisoners receiving Pell Grants to attend college while they are incarcerated.

Correctional education experts and other sources said they expect the department to issue a waiver under the experimental sites program, which allows the feds to lift certain rules that govern aid programs in the spirit of experimentation. If the project is successful, it would add to momentum for the U.S. Congress to consider overturning the ban it passed on the use of Pell for prisoners in 1994…

Even a limited experiment will provoke controversy. Spending government money on college programs for convicted criminals is an easy target for conservative pundits and for some lawmakers from both political parties…

The administration estimated that roughly 4,000 of the 60,000 incarcerated juvenile offenders would be eligible for federal aid. That investment makes sense, they said, given that it costs an average of $88,000 per year to lock up a juvenile offender. And inmates of all ages are half as likely to go back to jail if they take college courses.

When Should AP Tests Count At College?

AP tests have been around for quite some time, so you’d think there might be some consistency by now about how they’re used to allow students to validate college classes.  In Illinois the concerns about consistency are both academic and financial:

A proposed change to state law that has advanced in Springfield could expand high school students’ access to college credit through AP testing — but could also have a financial impact on state colleges and universities in Illinois, which could lose out on tuition revenue.

The AP testing program awards students whose knowledge has surpassed the high school level, and can save them time and money in college because they don’t have to pay to take the equivalent courses.

But college standards for granting credit for AP tests vary widely. The tests are scored on a 5-point scale, but while some colleges and universities will award credit for scores as low as 2, others require the top score of 5 in certain subjects, according to the College Board, which administers the program. At some schools, the standards vary by subject, while the University of Illinois has different thresholds for different campuses.

To standardize the criteria, lawmakers are considering passing a law to require public universities and colleges in Illinois to give course credit for scores of 3 or better…

Last year in Illinois, nearly 116,000 AP tests were awarded scores of 3 or better, according to a coalition backing the legislation that includes state education groups and the College Board. At an average cost of $426 per credit hour, that would add up to $148 million in savings overall, proponents say.

AP credit could cost colleges and universities lost tuition from those students who can skip over classes, but officials say many AP students simply take other classes instead, to add depth or breadth to their education. Or they can use the lightened course load to improve their chances of graduating on time.

And They Say There’s No Inflation

70%, 20%, 10%–add that up and it’s a pretty big increase.  I’d say that’s some inflation:

The bailout of the California State Teachers’ Retirement System enacted last year requires a 70 percent increase in pension contributions from school districts, a 20 percent increase from the state general fund and a 10 percent increase in teacher contributions. When the phased-in increases are complete in 2020-21, CalSTRS will get about $5 billion more a year than it now does, putting it on much firmer ground.

But even at a time when school funding has reached an all-time high, districts are apprehensive at having to spend so much more on pensions. This month, their strategy has become clear: establish separate, specific state funding for districts to cover their increased contributions.

If districts have to spend more on pensions there will be less available for raises.

[T]he education establishment expects to use the flexibility and extra dollars provided by the Local Control Funding Formula to pay for the higher pension costs. But that’s not what the change in how schools are funded was supposed to be about, according to its champion, Gov. Jerry Brown. The governor’s website contains a 800-word account of the signing of the LCFF law on July 1, 2013. It depicts the funding change as being solely about getting more help to struggling English-learners, the state’s “neediest students.”

Money doesn’t grow on trees.  If you had to bet who would get extra money,  students who don’t vote or teachers backed by powerful unions, on whom would you bet?

The “Coming Out Of The Closet” Jokes Just Write Themselves, Sorta

How can any thinking adult be a party to this?

The mother of an eighth-grade student called a news station on Quinton Wright, a math teacher and coach, when she saw text messages between the two. What was the problem with the messages?

According to WSB-TV, they were setting up a sexual encounter for her son with a female student in Mr. Wright’s classroom closet. They included talk of condoms for the 14-year-old boy.

Words fail me.

When Knowing How Isn’t Enough

Barry Garelick and Katharine Beals discuss why knowing how to do math problems just isn’t good enough under Common Core:

At a middle school in California, the state testing in math was underway via the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exam. A girl pointed to the problem on the computer screen and asked “What do I do?” The proctor read the instructions for the problem and told the student: “You need to explain how you got your answer.”

The girl threw her arms up in frustration and said, “Why can’t I just do the problem, enter the answer and be done with it?”

The answer to her question comes down to what the education establishment believes “understanding” to be, and how to measure it. K-12 mathematics instruction involves equal parts procedural skills and understanding. What “understanding” in mathematics means, however, has long been a topic of debate. One distinction popular with today’s math reform advocates is between “knowing” and “doing.” A student, reformers argue, might be able to “do” a problem (i.e., solve it mathematically), without understanding the concepts behind the problem solving procedure. Perhaps he has simply memorized the method without understanding it.

I hear this silliness about “explaining” often.  I assert that a student who can solve a multi-step algebraic problem and get the correct answer shouldn’t then have to explain each step–their comprehension is demonstrated already by the systematic steps taken!  If someone still disagrees with me, I give them this challenge:  “Divide 100 by 6 using long division, and explain to me why that algorithm works.”  99% of people can’t explain why the algorithm works, but does that really matter if they know the algorithm and can execute it flawlessly?  And why does it matter why the algorithm works?  After all, no one does division for its own sake but rather to solve a problem; the division itself is only a tool, not a goal in and of itself.  Yes, it would be nice if someone could explain it, but are they at all mathematically handicapped if they cannot?  Is someone handicapped at driving a car because they cannot explain the 4 strokes of a “4 stroke engine”?

But lets get back to Beals and Garelick:

Despite the goal of solving a problem and explaining it in one fell swoop, in many cases observed at the middle school, students solved the problem first and then added the explanation in the required format and rubric.  It was not evident that the process of explanation enhanced problem solving ability. In fact, in talking with students at the school, many found the process tedious and said they would rather just “do the math” without having to write about it.

In general, there is no more evidence of “understanding” in the explained solution, even with pictures, than there would be in mathematical solutions presented in a clear and organized way. How do we know, for example, that a student isn’t simply repeating an explanation provided by the teacher or the textbook, thus exhibiting mere “rote learning” rather than “true understanding” of a problem-solving procedure?

This is intuitively obvious.  And Garelick and Beals point out the greatest flaw in the “explain your answer” pedagogy:  requiring the types of explanations identified as good by Common Core undermines, and in fact is counter to, the conciseness of mathematics.

The idea that students who do not demonstrate their strategies in words and pictures must not understand the underlying concepts assumes away a significant subpopulation of students whose verbal skills lag far behind their mathematical skills, such as non-native English speakers or students with specific language delays or language disorders. These groups include children who can easily do math in their heads and solve complex problems, but often will be unable to explain – whether orally or in written words – how they arrived at their answers.
Don’t intentionally misunderstand what I’m saying.  I’m not saying that students shouldn’t be able to justify their work or shouldn’t have to explain anything.  I’m saying that what’s put forth as “Common Core” is excessive, it’s geared towards the more verbal and less mathematical among us, and is not good math.
The closing of the linked article says it all:

As Alfred North Whitehead famously put it about a century before the Common Core standards took hold:

It is a profoundly erroneous truism … that we should cultivate the habit of thinking of what we are doing. The precise opposite is the case. Civilization advances by extending the number of important operations which we can perform without thinking about them.

Abusive Fees

If this story were about college students’ not having the maturity or responsibility necessary to keep from racking up heavy credit card debt, my take would be “too bad, so sad” along with some commentary about the real world.  I don’t fault companies when individuals make bad decisions.  I do fault companies, however, when their practices are abusive, and in this case it’s probably good that the federal government is stepping in:

The Obama administration is taking on banks and other financial firms with new rules that would ban certain fees they can charge college students as well as restrictions on how they market products on campuses.

The U.S. Department of Education on Friday unveiled draft regulations on debit cards and other financial products offered on campuses. Consumer advocates have long sought the rules, which have drawn the ire of the financial services industry.

The draft regulations target two categories of financial products. First, the department is seeking to place the most stringent restrictions on debit cards and prepaid cards that colleges use to directly disburse federal grants and loans to students. For those accounts, the department would prohibit point-of-service fees, overdraft or insufficient funds charges, and ATM withdrawal fees.

A second category includes checking accounts or other financial products that are offered on campus or marketed to students under an agreement with the college. For example, some banks offer debit cards that are co-branded with the logo or mascot of a college. Those types of products would be prohibited from charging account access fees or in-network ATM withdrawal fees.

What is the point of having an account if you have to pay to access it?

Of course, as with so much else it does, the federal government regulations go too far–why shouldn’t someone be penalized with overdraft charges?–but other than that these regulations seem both reasonable and overdue.

 

California’s “Mediocre” Graduation Rate

I’m not convinced that Common Core is going to bring us to the Promised Land of all students graduating, or even that all racial and ethnic groups will graduate in statistically-equal proportions:

California’s high school graduation rate has improved in recent years but is still mediocre compared to other states, a new national study reveals.

The study, entitled “Building a Grad Nation,” was done for America’s Promise Alliance, a consortium of civic and business groups headed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and his wife, Alma. Its goal is to raise the national graduation rate, 81.4 percent in 2013, to 90 percent by 2020.

While citing progress in raising graduation rates, Powell says in an open letter accompanying the report that “we are running out of time to close large and lingering gaps in graduation rates among different student populations.”

California’s 2013 graduation rate, 80.4 percent, is a full point below average, although the state was cited in the report for adding 4.4 percentage points to its rate in two years. California’s superintendent of schools, Tom Torlakson, reported last month that the state graduation rate rose again to 80.8 percent last year.

Twenty-eight states had graduation rates higher than California’s in 2013, the study found, with Iowa, at 89.7 percent, Nebraska (88.5 percent), and Texas and Wisconsin (88 percent) coming closest to the 90 percent goal. Oregon had, by far, the lowest rate, 68.7 percent.

I’ll admit that I’m surprised that Oregon’s rate is so low.  Are all these percentages calculated the same way?  If so, what is the explanation for Oregon, and for Texas?