Long Beach leads the way

Arie’ann Velasquez, 10, and her classmates tour Long Beach City College.

Long Beach, California has created viable kindergarten to high school to college pathways for its predominantly working-class students, reports The Atlantic.

Long Beach Unified, Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach collaborate closely to ensure students know their college options and are prepared to succeed.

Test scores, graduation rates, AP enrollment and college attendance rates have risen, even as the number of Latino students has increased, writes Lillian Mongeau.

When high school graduates with B’s and C’s were testing into remedial courses at City College, the college instructors got together with high school teachers to figure out how to strengthen the curriculum and raise expectations.

A collection of bills dubbed the California College Promise will “make several of Long Beach’s practices into state policy with the aim of seeing more California children to and through college,” reports The Atlantic.

Minority kids advance in choice schools

Urban minority students are more likely to complete high school aand enroll in college if they attend a charter or voucher-accepting school, writes Martin West in Education Next. Test scores may not be higher in urban schools of choice, but students go farther in school — and often in life.
Boston’s charter middle school students are closing the achievement gap in math, one study has found.

In Boston and New York City, other studies have found charter students are likely to avoid teenage pregnancy and incarceration and more likely to enroll in four-year colleges rather than two-year options.

In Washington, D.C., voucher usage greatly improved students’ chances of graduating. New York City voucher students are more likely to enroll in college and earn a bachelor’s degree than a control group.

“The chief beneficiaries of policies that expand parental choice appear to be urban minority students,” says West. “The benefits of school choice for these students extend beyond what tests can measure.”

New SAT requires more reading

My 16-year-old niece won’t take the new SAT, which debuts in March. Uncertainty about the redesigned SAT — and fears that it will be harder — persuaded her to take the ACT instead. Apparently, she’s not the only one.

Serena Walker took a sample test in preparation for the SAT at Match charter school in Boston in January. Photo: Shiho Fukada, New York Times

Serena Walker took a sample test in preparation for the SAT at Match charter school in Boston in January. Photo: Shiho Fukada, New York Times

The new SAT will demand more sophisticated reading skills — even in math — experts tell the New York Times.

It will be harder for students from non-English-speaking families to excel in math, Lee Weiss, the vice president of precollege programs at Kaplan Test Prep.

SAT dropped the vocabulary section of the test, saying it forced students to learn arcane words. But the new exam features longer reading passages that “contain sophisticated words and thoughts in sometimes ornate diction,” reports the Times.

The math problems include “a lot of unnecessary words,” said Serena Walker, a college-bound junior at Boston’s Match charter school, who was working on a practice quiz.

“An anthropologist studies a woman’s femur that was uncovered in Madagascar,” one question began. She knew a femur was a leg bone, but was not sure about “anthropologist.” She was contemplating “Madagascar” just as she remembered her teacher’s advice to concentrate on the essential, which, she decided, was the algebraic equation that came next, h = 60 + 2.5f, where h stood for height and f stood for the length of the femur.

“Students will need to learn how to wade through all the language to isolate the math,” wrote Jed Applerouth, who runs a national tutoring service, in a blog post. The new math test is 50 percent reading comprehension, he estimated.

The Times asks: How Would You Do on the New SAT? Check it out. I thought the math questions were ridiculously easy. Are they making the reading harder and the math easier?

Building a future in construction class

At Woodward Career Tech High in Cincinnati, Channell Rogers and Sierra Buster are preparing for construction careers, reports Outside the Box, a PBS series reported by high school journalists.

What does a high school grad need to succeed?

Many years — perhaps 25 — ago, I was asked my advice on a school district’s new graduation requirements. I said, “Go to your local community college and to employers who hire high school graduates. Ask what skills and knowledge one of your graduates would need to have a chance of passing an entry-level course or qualifying for an entry-level job. That’s what your diploma should require.”

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. (Photo by Elizabeth Redden)

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. Photo: Elizabeth Redden, Hechinger Report

A high school diploma should signify the graduate is ready for the first year of college, writes Marc Tucker in Education Week. That “is a far higher standard than most high school diplomas are set to currently.”

He envisions states setting the syllabi for required core courses and writing the exams, which would be graded by outside teachers. That’s a radical power shift.

Well-prepared students could complete the core in two years, he believes. Some would have two years for Advanced Placement or other high-level courses. Others could learn high-level technical skills, like vocational students in Singapore and Switzerland, at a community college or their high school.

Everyone would be expected to pass by the end of 12th grade.

We would be doing high school in high school, not in college, and therefore saving enormous amounts of money for both states and families.  We would have more brain surgeons and more specialty welders.

High schools could be held accountable for the proportion of students who earn the new diploma and the proportion who complete two-year and four-year degrees, Tucker writes.

What do you think? Is it doable? Should it be tried?

Elite degree doesn’t matter for STEM grads

Graduating from an elite college doesn’t boost earnings for science, math and engineering graduates, conclude Eric R. Eide and Michael J. Hilmer in the Wall Street Journal. A prestige degree does help business and liberal-arts majors, according to the Journal‘s analysis of a survey of graduates.

STEM grads with a degree from a low-priced state university earn as much as those from elite private schools, they found.

The analysis controlled for “factors that might influence earnings, such as family income, race/ethnicity, gender, marital status, SAT score, postgraduate degree and age at graduation and more.”

In STEM fields, “curriculums are relatively standardized and there’s a commonly accepted body of knowledge students must absorb,” write Eide and Hilmer. Employers seem to be looking for skills rather than prestige.

Assessing a job applicant’s competence is harder if the degree is in what we used to call “fuzzy studies.”

College graduates’ “well-being” — financial security, health, sense of purpose and other factors — isn’t related to their alma mater’s selectivity, size or whether it was public or private, concluded the Gallup-Purdue Index in 2014.

Gallup will use its Well-Being Index  to certify universities that produce the happiest graduates. George Mason is the first university to seek  certification.

In schools, teacher quality matters most

Teacher quality is the most important schooling variable that affects student achievement — and life success, concludes Dan Goldhaber in Education Next.

Some teacher characteristics — gender, age, a master’s degree and “even state certification of competence” — make little or no difference, Goldhaber writes.

By contrast, “students assigned to high-value-added teachers are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college, be employed, and earn higher wages,” according to Stanford researchers led by Raj Chetty.

Teachers are professionals — not missionaries

Teachers are skilled professionals — not missionaries, writes Amanda Ripley in The Washingtonian. Talking about teaching as a low-status career for the selfless drives away the smart, ambitious people the profession needs.

In Washington, D.C., public school teachers earn as much or more than other college-educated professionals, Ripley writes. Median pay was $75,000 last year and “teachers who work in low-income public schools and get strong performance reviews can earn more than $125,000 after fewer than ten years.”

In addition, teachers can “apply to become master educators, who formally evaluate teachers and provide targeted feedback.”

Yet, “many people still talk about teachers as if they volunteer in a soup kitchen—as if the hardest part is just showing up,” she writes.

Hope Harrod, DC’s 2012 Teacher of the Year, is tired of being told she’s doing “God’s work.” Teaching is not a sacrifice for her. It’s an “intellectual journey” she finds “deeply engaging.”

By “intellectual journey,” Harrod means the workplace questions that teachers grapple with daily: Why is Juan insisting that the answer is 15.5 and not 18? What’s happening in his head that isn’t happening in Scarlette’s head? How can she give him the tools to take apart his own process and rebuild it, piece by piece?

D.C. “now retains about 92 percent of its highest-ranked teachers,” writes Ripley. Boosting pay and status makes a difference.

That issue comes up in a Tampa Bay Tribune story about a veteran teacher who quit to become a librarian, complaining of mandatory lesson plans, endless meetings and micromanagement.

The profession of teaching comes in for a lot of “bashing,” said Kate Walsh, president of the National Council on Teacher Quality. “The unions and reformers and legislators, whoever, are telling you that teaching is a lousy job and nobody lets you do it the way you want to do it. It has a way of becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Idea: Make it easy to try teaching, hard to stay

To get better teachers, should schools make it harder to qualify as a teacher? No, make it easier and cheaper to try teaching, argue Chad Aldeman and Ashley LiBetti Mitchel in a new Bellwether report. Let would-be teachers try tutoring or co-teaching with a mentor. Fire those who don’t work out.

It’s hard to predict who will be a good teacher, they write. Teacher training or earning a master’s degree makes little difference. There’s some evidence that new teachers with stronger academic credentials are more effective, but “the value of those credentials is relatively small, and they are not a guarantee for any individual.”

So why not open teaching to anyone with a bachelor’s degree, then focus “on measuring and acting on teacher effectiveness in a teacher’s first years on the job.”

Districts should have the authority to license teachers based on “observations of candidates’ performance in real-time classroom settings and demonstrated effectiveness in supporting students’ academic growth.”

It’s a “radically sensible proposal,” writes Matt Barnum on The Seventy Four.  “Give novices the opportunity to learn on the job and figure out whether teaching is right for them, without sinking thousands of dollars into teacher training programs.”

New teachers with low value-added scores usually remain below average, if they remain in the classroom, Allison Atteberry tells Aldeman. Some will improve significantly, but most do not.

District of Columbia Public Schools are replacing low-performing teachers with teachers who are increasing student achievement, according to a newly published working paper.

‘Teachers’ debuts on TV

TV Land’s new series, Teachers, is “really funny at times” and “a little bit raunchy,” writes Mark Walsh in Education Week.

The Katydids, an all-female improv group (all are named some version of Kate or Caitlin), based the show on a series of shorts called Teachers, a Web Series, set in a suburban elementary school.

Hollywood Reporter calls Teachers “wonderfully loose.”

However, the New York Times says the show “mistakes crass for cutting edge” and was better as a web series.