Tell the truth about college readiness

Image result for remedial college readiness

“Sam” earned mostly B’s at Average High. Is he/she/they prepared to pass college classes? Maybe, if the B’s were for achievement rather than effort and teachers’ standards were high enough. Maybe not.

U.S. schools don’t tell students the truth about college readiness, writes Chester E. Finn, Jr., former Fordham chief and assistant U.S. secretary of education, in National Affairs.

Then colleges admit unprepared students who require remedial classes. Most will “leave school with nothing but debt and disillusion,” writes Finn.

Ambition and optimism are laudable traits. So is this country’s long tradition as a place of second chances, a land where you can always start over, compensate for past mistakes, choose a new direction, and find the educational path that takes you there. But at a certain point, encouragement becomes damaging.

Nearly all high school students say they want to go to college. They know that college graduates do far better in the workforce than those with only a high school diploma. But don’t realize they’re not prepared to earn a degree.

. . . our K-12 education system has never gotten more than one-third of young Americans to the “college-ready” level by the end of the 12th grade. Twenty percent drop out before finishing high school, and of the rest only about two in five graduate with the reading and math skills that equip them to take credit-bearing college courses.

If colleges stopped admitting unprepared students — or the feds linked student aid to college readiness — people would be very, very angry, Finn writes. But what if it were possible?

We’d see greater seriousness about academic standards and achievement throughout the system and a lot more truth-telling. Fewer people would drop out of college, dejected and burdened by loans they cannot realistically pay back. More young Americans would truly be prepared for good jobs, economic success, upward mobility, and full participation in 21st-century life in a post-industrial economy. The country would be more competitive, too.

The money saved could go to high-quality technical education, he writes. Instead of  “college for all,” the mantra should be “honesty is the best policy.”

Slower together 

Image result for duke tip talented gifted northwestern
Students in a TIP class at Duke.

Grouping students by ability and accelerating the achievers “can improve school performance for very little cost,” concludes an analysis of “nearly a century’s worth of research.” The Northwestern-Duke study was published in Review of Educational Research.

“Acceleration and most forms of ability grouping” can “increase academic achievement for both lower- and higher-achieving students,” said co-author Matt Makel, research director at Duke’s Talent Identification Program (TIP).

Many believe that mixed-ability classes are OK for the bright kids and better for low achievers. That’s not true, the researchers concluded.

“Individual differences matter,” said Makel. “We need to be constantly responsive to student learning needs.”

Stop ignoring bright students, writes Robert Pondiscio, touting Fordham’s High Stakes for High Achievers report.

Teachers protest discipline reform

Image result for blackboard jungleMaintaining order in the classroom was an issue in 1955, when Glenn Ford starred as a novice New York City teacher in Blackboard Jungle

Under pressure to reduce racial disparities in suspensions and expulsions, schools are turning to “restorative justice” programs that encourage offenders to discuss their actions and make amends.

Earlier this year, Indianapolis and New York City teachers complained about poorly implemented “restorative justice” programs, reported Emmanuel Felton in Ed Week. Now, teachers in Fresno and Des Moines are saying new discipline policies are making it harder to teach.

“As Fresno Unified officials were praising McLane High School’s restorative justice program” at a conference, “teachers at the school were circulating a petition that says those same strategies have led to an unsafe campus plagued with fights and disruptions,” reports the Fresno Bee.

At least 70 of the 85 teachers at McLane High have signed a petition demanding a stricter and more consistent student discipline policy, as well as more say in how students are punished for their actions.

The teachers paint McLane as a place where there are constant disruptions and numerous on-campus fights and where teachers are verbally assaulted.

. . . While suspensions and expulsions at Fresno Unified have dramatically decreased since then, some teachers say the pressure to curb disciplinary action has led to zero consequences for students, and out-of-control classrooms.

“Students are returned to class without consequence after assaulting teachers, both verbally and physically,” the petition declares.

There are problems in Des Moines too. “Students scream, threaten, shove and hit teachers or other students, with little consequence, students, parents and union leaders told the Register.”

Staffer fired for correcting a kid’s spelling

A student, “Nathan,” tweeted “Close school tammarow PLEASE” to Frederick County (Maryland) Public Schools.

Katie Nash, the district’s social media director, replied “but then how would you learn to spell ‘tomorrow’? :)”, reports the Frederick News-Post.

Image result for nash tweet schoolHow do you spell “stupid?”

The exchange was retweeted. District officials told Nash to stop tweeting. Then they fired her.

After only a few months on the job, she said, “I sort of would have expected that there would have been some counseling or some suggestions on how to improve.”

“Nathan,” who’d exchanged other tweets with Nash before she was shut down, told the News-Post he wasn’t offended.

S-t-u-p-i-d.

Via Reason.

Prof: Stop saying ‘microaggression’

Stop using “microaggression” or “training” students to avoid microaggressions, writes Scott. O. Lilienfeld, an Emory psychology professor, in  Microaggressions: Strong Claims, Inadequate Evidence. The core premises of microaggression theory are unproven, he argues. The study was published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a peer-reviewed journal.

Microagressions” — “slights, insults, invalidations and indignities” — threaten the health of “marginalized groups,” say proponents of the theory. Unintentional slights are as bad as deliberate “micro-assaults.”

Image result for microaggressions

“Racial and cultural insensitivities” are real, he writes. But there’s “negligible evidence” that slights and snubs cause psychological harm or that they reflect prejudice or aggression.

On many college campuses, students receive training on microaggressions and warning lists of what not to say, he writes. Occidental College is considering a system to encourage students to report their professors’ microaggressions.

Lilienfeld became interested in the issue when he learned that some colleges were “telling students that statements such as “I believe that American is a land of opportunity” and “I believe that the most qualified person should get the job” constituted microaggressions,” reports Campus Reform.

“I came to the conclusion that although the microaggression concept almost surely contains a kernel of truth, it is highly problematic on numerous grounds and is not close to being ready for real-world application” he explained.

“Sensitizing individuals to subtle signs of potential anger might inadvertently end up making many of them ‘perceive’ slights even when they are not present,” Lilienfeld said. That could “exacerbate racial tensions at colleges.”

Conor Friedersdorf wrote about the rise of the victimhood culture in The Atlantic in 2015.

“You guys” is on the no-say list at University of Wisconsin at River Falls “Ugly” is banned because it “can be connected back to white supremacist, ableist, sizeist standards of beauty.” It’s bad to say “bad.” But, Heat Street points out, “dick” is OK.

Will movie inspire more black math aces?

Hidden Figures, which is getting good reviews, tells the story of three “colored computers” who helped the U.S. win the space race. As blacks in segregated Virginia in 1961 and women in NASA’s very male culture, they overcame many obstacles.

The movie is based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s book about Katherine JohnsonDorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who started at NASA doing data entry and ended up doing the math that put John Glenn in space — and got him back alive.

Andre Perry, writing in the Washington Monthly, hopes the movie will inspire more black women to pursue math and science careers. While 24 percent of black women over the age of 25 have earned at least a bachelor’s degree, just 2 percent of black women worked as scientists or engineers in 2010, according the National Science Foundation, Perry notes.

Like the women of Hidden Figures, high-achieving black students in the sciences are well aware of the stereotypes that brand them incapable. And like their predecessors, many students are driven by these perceptions.

Mathematician Monica Jackson, an associate professor of statistics at American University, says talented black girls need “good schools, challenging classes and quality teachers” — and “parents, friends, teachers and mentors” that provide support.

A Wichita math club for African-American girls in elementary school is named for NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, one of the subjects of “Hidden Figures,” reports Chandler Boese in the Wichita Eagle.

Eleven girls in the Katherine Johnson Scholar Sisters meet twice a week after school for advanced math lessons.

“It’s fun,” said 9-year-old Phoenix Neely. “We get to learn math.”

Another member of the club, Phallin Jackson, said she likes math because “You get to be smart.”

The fourth- and fifth-graders are starting to learn algebra.

I wonder why the club is just for girls.

Onion: Fisher-Price releases Fetal Activity Gym

Fisher-Price has released a new “in utero fetal activity gym,” reports The Onion.

“Whether they’re batting at the friendly toucans in order to harden their cartilage into bone or tapping the multicolored light-up palm tree to test out their sense of vision once their eyes open at 28 weeks, the Fisher-Price Rainforest Friends Prenatal Activity Gym is guaranteed to give your fetus a head start and keep it happy and occupied,” said director of marketing Kevin Goldbaum, adding that the eight different preloaded songs will help fetuses grow the thalamic brain connections needed to process sound.

It’s satire. But just barely.

Teachers like snow days too

In a paean to snow days, Mary Morris, who teaches at Rush Strong School in Strawberry Plains, Tenn., turns Adele’s “Hello” into “Snow.”

Technology is turning snow days into virtual school days in some districts, reports CNN.

King: Opportunity saves lives

Orphaned at the age of 12, John King “was fortunate that I had teachers and mentors who kept my life on the right path,” the outgoing Education secretary tells NPR’s Cory Turner.  “Schools and educational opportunities can save lives.”

His likely successor, Betsy DeVos, is a billionaire philanthropist educated in private schools. Like King, she helped found a public charter school, but that’s about the only parallel.

“What matters is beliefs and actions,” not “biography,” King says in the interview.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary John King, Jr.

President Barack Obama and Education Secretary John King, Jr. Photo: Carlos Barria / Reuters

The new Education secretary should realize that “the department is a civil rights agency with a responsibility to protect the civil rights of students and to ensure that school is a safe and supportive place for all kids,” he says.

In his official “exit memo”, King brags about progress over the last eight years, writes Emily DeRuy in The Atlantic.

He starts with expanding access to preschool,” then “touts record high-school graduation rates, a reduction in what the administration dubbed ‘dropout factories,’ and the expansion of technology (as a tool for creating individualized learning plans) in classrooms.”

He lauds the fact that it has become easier to apply for federal financial aid to pay for college, and the development of a college “scorecard” to help students evaluate which colleges might be a good fit.

The bipartisan Every Student Succeeds Act, a revision of the main federal education law, “has a strong focus on underserved students,” King stresses. All students need “a quality education that prepares them for college and careers.”

Obama’s education legacy

What will be Obama’s lasting education legacy? asks PBS NewsHour.

“In President Obama’s first state of the union, he said . . . that every American needs at least one year of post-secondary training to succeed in today’s economy,” says Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik.

Congress “never touched” the president’s proposal for “free” community college, but “districts all over the country took the idea and ran with it,” he says.

President Obama scored some first-term “victories on teacher quality, academic standards, and school turnarounds,” writes Ed Week‘s Alyson Klein but second-term “backlash threatened the longevity of his signature initiatives and made it virtually impossible to enact similarly sweeping change in new areas, including early-childhood education.”

On the new administration’s way in the door, Obama and (Education Secretary Arne) Duncan were handed $100 billion for education, including more than $4 billion to push almost any K-12 policy they chose, thanks to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was crafted to jump-start the stalled economy.

Obama and Duncan took the money—which came with few congressional strings—and . . . created the Race to the Top competition, which sought to reward states with grants of up to $700 million for embracing the president’s priorities on school turnarounds, tests, state data systems, and teacher evaluation based in part on student outcomes.

Obama’s Education Department used its financial clout to push states to adopt Common Core standards, undercutting its credibility as “state standards.”
Graduation rates are up. Reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress are down.