Expanding AP: Does it hurt smart kids?

The Obama administration is pushing schools to admit more minority students to advanced classes. Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP

Expanding access to Advanced Placement classes is good policy, even if some students aren’t quite ready for the challenge, argues Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. But he gave space in his column to two high achievers who charge schools are ruining AP courses by pushing in unprepared students

Daniel Guth, now at Cal Tech, and Jacqueline Stomski, now at the University of Maryland, took many AP classes at Annapolis High.

“The students who signed up for the AP classes by choice were not challenged to the degree to which they should have been, because the instructors were consumed with catching up the less-prepared students,” Stomski told me. Guth said he thought the less-ready students “are worse off and everyone else suffers from a reduced learning environment.”

Annapolis High ranks in the top 2 percent on the Washington Post’s list of America’s Most Challenging High School, which Mathews invented. It ranks schools by participation in AP, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge tests, not by how well participants score.

Stomski and Guth say “their school shoved so many students into those courses and made them take the tests just to look good on the list,” writes Mathews.

 Guth said when he took the two AP calculus courses, AB and BC, simultaneously “most of the time was spent reviewing precalculus to get students up to speed. For the actual calculus topics, the grading had to be such that students who didn’t learn calculus . . . still passed.”

That meant, Guth said, that he didn’t get the challenge he desired: “I was placed in Caltech’s remedial math class because I didn’t understand basic calculus enough from this class.”

When districts open AP to everyone, the passing rate typically falls, but the number of students who succeed goes up, writes Mathews.

In 1997, when (Annapolis High) restricted access to AP, as most U.S. schools still do, it had a 79 percent passing rate on AP exams and a total of 150 passed exams. Last year, it had a 34 percent passing rate on AP, and a 77 percent passing rate on IB, but it also had 599 AP and IB exams with passing scores.

In 2006, the percentage of graduating seniors with at least one passing grade on an AP exam was 21 percent. Last year it was 54 percent.

“Even students who have struggled in those programs tell me years later that the experience made college easier,” concludes Mathews.

(Ex-)boy wins state honors in girls’ track 

Tia Goward, “Ice” Wangyot and Joei Vidad competed in the 200-meter sprint in the 2016 Alaska State Track Championships in Anchorage. Photo: Bob Hallinen/Alaska Dispatch News

A (biological) boy won all-Alaska honors in girls’ track and field, reports the Daily Caller.  Nattaphon “Ice” Wangyot, 18, who identifies as a girl, won fifth place in the 100-meter dash and third place in the 200-meter.

“I’m glad that this person is comfortable with who they are . . . but I don’t think it’s competitively completely 100-percent fair,” said Saskia Harrison, who just failed to qualify for the finals.

“Genetically a guy has more muscle mass than a girl, and if he’s racing against a girl, he may have an advantage, ” another runner, Peyton Young,  told the Alaska Dispatch News.

Wangyot, who moved to Alaska from Thailand two years ago, also competed in girls volleyball and girls basketball earlier this school year.

Is it fair to let someone who’s physically male compete against girls?

Unwanted: In automated future, who needs skills?

If most jobs are automated, what skills will people need? wonders Marc Tucker. Who will be educated and how?

Some Silicon Valley entrepreneurs are proposing a guaranteed basic income — everyone gets a check, regardless of need — to deal with the consequences of automation. Sam Altman, the president of Y Combinator, is funding a trial of the idea.

Matt Krisloff, the manager of the project, sees a day when “95 percent— or a vast majority — of people won’t be able to contribute to the workforce.”

Since the Great Recession, most of the job growth has been among knowledge workers, writes Tucker. Workers doing routine tasks may not have a future.

Raising the minimum wage for low-skilled jobs will encourage employers to replace workers with technology. Self-driving cars, trucks and trains could put millions out of work.

Those on this new dole will have time “to think deep thoughts about protecting the environment,” as one advocate suggests. They can write poetry, create art, grow vegetables or . . . play video games.

If there are a few challenging jobs for the highly educated, and the dole for everyone else, educators would have to decide who’s worth educating, Tucker writes.

There’d be plenty of recess, music, art and sports for those destined for the dole.

Would teaching be automated? I think content delivery might be, but there will be a need for humans to interact with humans. I hope.

On Sunday, Swiss voters soundly rejected a guaranteed income proposal, reports Business Insider. “Supporters had said introducing a monthly income of 2,500 Swiss francs ($2,563) per adult and 625 francs per child under 18 would promote human dignity and public service. Opponents, including the government, said it would cost too much and weaken the economy.”

A dream job? Wake up

Don’t follow your passion, advises Mike Rowe in PragerU’s commencement address. Find a way to make a living — don’t expect a “dream job” –and get good at it.

“Year after year, thousands of aspiring American Idols show up with great expectations, only to learn that they don’t possess the skills they thought they did,” says Rowe. “What’s really amazing though, is not their lack of talent—the world is full of people who can’t sing. It’s their genuine shock at being rejected—the incredible realization that their passion and their ability had nothing to do with each other.”

Rich districts get richer on Title I funds

Title I, the federal government’s largest K-12 program, is increasing the inequality it was created to stop, according to a U.S. News analysis. Due to multiple, convoluted funding formulas, rich school districts get millions meant for poor kids.

Twenty percent of Title I money for poor students – $2.6 billion – ends up in school districts with an above-average proportion of wealthy families.

Struggling Nottoway County, Virginia, where 30 percent of students come from low-income families, receives less Title 1 funding per poor student than wealthy Fairfax County.

Mobility? Non-profit colleges fall short

Upward mobility is a myth for many students who borrow to attend private non-profit colleges, a Third Way report, Incomplete: The Quality Crisis at America’s Private, Non-Profit Colleges.

New, full-time low- and moderate-income students who start at a four-year, nonprofit college have only a 50-50 shot at earning a degree, the report concludes.

Most low- and moderate-income students enroll in less selective colleges with low graduation rates. Looking at net price — what students pay after grants, scholarships and loans — the unselective colleges cost the most.

“Using our mobility metric, the average net tuition paid by low- and moderate-income students was lowest at top-quartile schools ($15,938) and highest at bottom-quartile schools ($18,776),” warns Third Way.

Six years after enrolling, nearly 40 percent of students who borrowed for college don’t earn any more than the average worker with only a high school diploma. On average, 19 percent of borrowers fall behind on repaying loans three years out of college.

Here’s what Third Way doesn’t quite say: College is an engine of upward mobility for students who have the academic preparation to get into a selective college and complete a degree. For those with weak academic skills or shaky motivation, college can lead to debt (that can’t be discharged by bankruptcy) without raising earning power.

“If we’re serious about promoting equality and removing barriers that keep the less fortunate from getting ahead,” we should ban the college box,” writes Glenn Reynolds in USA Today. “If you have to go to college to move up in the world, a lot of people aren’t going to move up.”

How to succeed without a degree

High school graduates with “high credentials” — but no college — earn almost as much as four-year college graduates at the age of 26, concludes a Center for Public Education report. High-credentialed workers earn higher wages and are more likely to be working full-time than those with two-year degrees or “some college,” according to Path Least Taken III: Rigor and Focus in High School Pays Dividends in the Future.

In high school, they completed Algebra 2 and advanced science, earned a C-plus average or better and completed three or more related career-focused courses. After graduation, they earned a professional license or certificate in the same career field.

Acting teaches social skills to autistic kids

Acting out
Children with autism perform at Vanderbilt’s SENSE Theatre.

Acting can teach social skills to students with autistim, writes Laura McKenna in The Atlantic.

How do you join a conversation at a middle-school lunch table? What do you say when someone says hi to you in the hallway and you don’t know her name? How do you delicately correct a member of your lab group in science without calling him stupid?

. . . A set of subtle and complicated social skills is embedded into the entire school experience, from the lunchroom to the classroom.

Drama classes can help autistic students improve their ability to interact with others, concludes a new Vanderbilt study.

Blythe Corbett, an associate professor of psychiatry at Vanderbilt, teaches drama exercises such as role playing and improvisation to children with high-functioning autism in her SENSE Theatre program.

Drama participants are better able to recognize faces, understand others’ perspectives and regulate anxiety, compared to a control group, she found.

Researchers at the University of Kent found that children with autism could recognize more facial expressions after they participated in a drama program. Children who participated in the Social Competence Intervention Program, another drama-based intervention, improved their ability to play cooperatively, share, speak with respect, communicate while smiling, and say appropriate pleasantries, like please and thank you.

MarbleJam Kids, an after-school group in River Edge, New Jersey, provides art, music, and movement therapy to about 120 kids on the autistic spectrum. Founder Anna Villa-Bager wanted a program for her daughter.

Children can role-play responses to social dilemmas, writes McKenna, whose son is a MarbleJam kid. “Improvisation exercises are also useful because so many autistic kids otherwise rely on ‘scripts’ to navigate social situations.”

Autistic actors star in Rule Breaking, production by the NYU Steinhardt Drama Therapy program.

Autistic actors star in Rule Breaking, a production by the NYU Steinhardt Drama Therapy program.

Teaching autistic kids to act like everyone else is controversial, reports Shira Polan in ScienceLine. While Corbett values social competence, Maria Hodermarska, a drama therapist at NYU, doesn’t think autistic people need social skills to improve their lives.

“At NYU, we focus on social justice, instead of addressing these deficits in functioning,” says Hodermarksa, whose son acts in Rule Breaking: Disability as Performance. “Drama therapy gives people who are marginalized a voice, a platform, a place to be seen and heard.”

Some of McKenna’s readers think students with autism should be allowed to pursue their interests rather than being pushed into drama classes.

My nephew, who’s on the spectrum, did a summer theater program in middle school by his own choice. He had no talent, but liked hanging out with theater kids. He tried to get into drama in high school, but didn’t get through the auditions.

Beyond schools: How will kids learn?

Technology is ramping up the possibilities for out-of-school learning, predicts Mike Petrilli.

Venture capital is flowing into “apps, games, and tutoring platforms that are ‘student-facing’ and being sold direct-to-consumer (or available for free),” he writes.

Khan Academy was drawing 6.5 million unique users per month in the U.S. in 2014, according to a study by SRI.

I’m particularly intrigued by its new partnership with the College Board, which allows students to use their PSAT or SAT results to find free, targeted help through Khan Academy. In the lead-up to the new SAT, administered for the first time in March, over one million students used Khan’s official SAT practice modules. And it wasn’t just affluent kids in hothouse high schools logging on; usage was even across all major demographic groups.

For young kids, PBS Kids provides video content, games, and interactive features, writes Petrilli.  His eight-year-old son “has learned much more science from Wild Kratts and the like than from the Montgomery County Public Schools.”

Other good sources are Brain Pop and Brain Pop Jr. and National Geographicboth for videos and for interactive activitiesTinybop has created several “strange and beautiful” apps that make learning fun for preschoolers.

Older kids can get a lot out of Ted Ed or the Art of Problem Solving or Duolingo (for learning languages); many younger kids enjoy the Age of Learning’s products. . . . We at Fordham have even tried our hand at compiling good streaming videos from across the interwebs. And of course, don’t forget about the learning potential of games like Minecraft.

Funders and reformers could offer their own content-rich curriculum with “videos, games, social interactivity, Petrilli writes. “Not surprisingly, that’s what the “teach coding” people are busy doing.”

I like Petrilli’s idea for “a website where an elementary or middle school student could enter his standardized test score, and maybe his GPA, and be informed by an algorithm what kind of a college he’d be on track to attend.” Students on the track to remedial community college courses could be pointed to learning resources to help them catch up.

PBS KIDS has announced its summer schedule with new episodes of Ready Jet Go!, Odd Squad and Nature Cat. Parents can find free games, activities,  educational apps and videos at pbsparents.org/summer.

New ways to do high school 

At Omaha’s Bryan High, students may plant potatoes, care for chickens, tour Union Pacific headquarters or sort and ship books at a school-based distribution center, reports Education Week.

“Students can choose from 16 career clusters and two pocket academies—one focused on urban agriculture and natural resources and another on transportation, distribution, and logistics—or TDL, for short.”

Katrina Whitford, another junior, holds a chicken in her lap as she works in an animal science class at Bryan.

Katrina Whitford, a junior, holds a chicken as she works in an animal science class. Photo: Ryan Henriksen, Education Week

The story is part of Ed Week‘s Diplomas Count report, which focuses on new ways to do high school.

Another story looks at a new Denver high school that’s struggling to make its model work.

Northfield High was designed to place all students, regardless of past achievement, in rigorous International Baccalaureate classes. Students can pursue “pathways” in the arts, business, biomedical sciences and other subjects of interest.

The school also pledged to base grades on mastery, rather than homework completion or class participation.

Teachers were supposed to help run the school and share counseling responsibilities.

However, the principal was forced out in October after complaints about discipline. A majority of teachers will not return next year. The advisory program has been changed.

The second year’s incoming class will be predominantly Latino with fewer white and black students choosing the program.

The four-year graduation rate is up to 82 percent, notes Ed Week. Neerav Kingsland adds: “Expected to hit 102% with new credit recovery program.”