No, I won’t raise your grade

On the Chronicle of Higher Education, Stacey Patton asked college professors and TAs how they’d respond if a student who received a C grade on a paper asked for a higher grade because they “worked so hard on it.”

This appears to be a sore subject. Several offered to consider raising — or lowering — the grade on a second read. Others vented.

“The grade you received is reflective of the fact that what I got was a mash-up of poorly constructed sentences and last minute fooleywang,” wrote Takiyah Nur Amin, associate professor of dance at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Jennifer P. Simms, an adjunct visiting professor of sociology at University of Wisconsin at River Falls, advised the C student that “grades in college are based on performance, not effort.”

 I know elementary school teachers, coaches, and your parents told you that all that matters is that you do your best. Unfortunately, they all lied to you. In the real world, of which my college classroom is a part, trying hard does not count for squat. Demonstrated mastery of the material, no matter how much or little effort it takes to achieve it, is what is important.

I know that it is unfair that some students spend no time at all on schoolwork and get A’s while others struggle and barely scrape C’s. I suggest you quickly cry a river, build a bridge and get over it. In the meantime, reflect on whether you want other students graded based on how hard they try. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather that papers for Surgery 101: How Not to Kill the People You Cut Open and for Architecture 101: How to Build Bridges That Do Not Collapse and Leave People Plummeting to Their Deaths were graded on students’ demonstration of correct understanding of the concepts, not how much effort they put into writing it.

Many of the commenters thought the academic snark was mean.

Should high schools pay for remediation?

Tennessee high schools would have to pay for recent graduates who require remedial courses in community colleges under a proposed bill, reports the Times Free Press.

Seventy percent of new community college students are placed into at least one remedial class, according to state estimates. Last year, the remediation bill totaled $18.45 million.

Asian students face diversity penalty

Playing piano or violin -- like the daughters of "tiger mother" Amy Chua -- fits the Asian stereotype, but hurts in college admissions, say counselors.

Playing piano or violin — like the daughters of “tiger mother” Amy Chua — looks “too Asian” on college applications, say counselors.

Asian-Americans have “turned against affirmative action policies” that make it harder for them to get into elite colleges, reports Frank Shyong in the Los Angeles Times. “In the San Gabriel Valley’s hyper-competitive ethnic Asian communities, arguments for diversity can sometimes fall on deaf ears.”

In a tutoring center’s workshop on college admissions in the valley, Ann Lee tells Asian-American parents about a Princeton study on how race and ethnicity affect admissions. Being black is worth 230 SAT points, according to the study. Hispanics receive a “bonus” of 185 points. Asian applicants are penalized by 50 points, says Lee. “Do Asians need higher test scores? Is it harder for Asians to get into college? The answer is yes,” Lee says.

For immigrant parents raised in Asia’s all-or-nothing test cultures, a good education is not just a measure of success — it’s a matter of survival. They see academic achievement as a moral virtue, and families organize their lives around their child’s education, moving to the best school districts and paying for tutoring and tennis lessons. An acceptance letter from a prestigious college is often the only acceptable return on an investment that stretches over decades.

Private college-prep academies counsel Asian-Americans on how to stand out. “Everyone is in orchestra and plays piano,” says Lee, founder of HS2 Academy. “Everyone plays tennis. Everyone wants to be a doctor, and write about immigrating to America. You can’t get in with these cliche applications.”

Crystal Zell, HS2’s assistant director of counseling, urges students to volunteer in poor neighborhoods and find activity other than tennis, taekwondo or chess.

“One parent asked Zell whether it would help to legally change the family name to something more Western-sounding,” reports the Times.

Some Asian-American students have filed lawsuits against colleges that rejected them, but admitted blacks and Latinos with lower grades and test scores.

‘Better job’ is #1 for college students


Source: The Cooperative Institutional Research Program at the Higher Education Research Institute at U.C.L.A., 2014 Freshman Survey. Responses refer to incoming college freshmen.

Why do Americans go to college? asks a UCLA survey of first-year students. First and foremost, they want better jobs, observes Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post.

The survey has been given every year since 1971. Students today are more likely to rate every objective as “very important,” Rampell writes. “Entitled millennials just expect colleges to do everything for them!”

But the biggest jumps, in percentage-point terms, were for the share saying they went to college to “make more money” (44.5 percent in 1971, versus 72.8 percent in 2014; an increase of 28.3 percentage points that was mostly gained in the earlier years of the survey) . . .

Women are more likely than men to cite intellectual curiosity, notes Rampell.

‘Free’ college could hurt students

President Obama’s “free” community college proposal could hurt disadvantaged students, I write on U.S. News.

Most lower-income students already pay no tuition. The “college is free” message could encourage more to enroll — but what happens when they get there? These students need remediation and counseling to have any chance of success. Community colleges don’t have the funding to provide strong support services.

The promise of free tuition could make the problem worse by drawing more students to already crowded community college campuses, said Michele Siqueiros, president of The Campaign for College Opportunity.

“If states don’t spend more to increase capacity,” community colleges will end up with long waiting lists, Siqueiros said. Affordability doesn’t help if a student can’t get into the right class or find help figuring out what classes to take, she said.

California’s community colleges are free to about half the students and very low cost to the rest. But students have trouble getting the classes they need. Success rates are very low.

Tennessee is making community college free for recent high school graduates by paying whatever they owe after federal and state aid. Ninety percent of 12th graders have expressed interest. Attracting more middle-class students to community college could create more diverse campuses with better-prepared students.

However, the plan is a subsidy to middle-class parents — not a funding increase for community colleges.

Eduardo Porter writes on The Promise and Failure of Community Colleges in the New York Times. Key quote: “Community colleges have the students with the greatest problems — yet they get the least resources,” said Thomas Bailey, director of the Community College Research Center at Columbia University’s Teachers College. “It’s unrealistic to think we can have a better outcome without investing more money.”

College pays — but not much for some majors

Recent college graduates who majored in psychology, social work or the arts earn a median income of $31,000, according to From Hard Times to Better Times, a new report from Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. The median salary of workers with only a high school diploma –including experienced workers — is $32,000.

New humanities and liberal arts graduates earn a median of $32,000. Education majors start at $33,000, on average.

On the flip side, new engineering graduates average $57,000 a year.

Of course, college graduates are likely to move up the salary scale as they gain experience, leaving most less-educated workers behind.

Unemployment rates are declining for college graduates — except for communications and journalism majors, the report finds. College graduates have maintained their earnings advantage over high school-only workers, who are earning less. However, “a full recovery in the employment of college graduates, especially at the Bachelor’s degree level, may be as far off as 2017 and a full recovery in earnings may take longer,” the report concludes.

Black college men outnumber prisoners

“There are more black men in jail than in college” is “the most frequently quoted statistic about black men in the United States,” according to Ivory A. Toldson, a Howard professor and deputy director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. It’s not true.

The phony stat comes from a 2002 report, Cellblocks or Classrooms by the Justice Policy Institute, which claimed, “Nearly a third more African-American men are incarcerated than in higher education.”

Toldson discovered the report lacked data for at least 1,000 colleges — including state universities and historically black colleges, reports Jenée Desmond-Harris on Vox. In addition, the numbers are out of date. black male college enrollment more than doubled to 1.4 million students in 2013.

The comparison is an “apples-to-oranges exercise,” Desmond-Harris points out. “Men (of all races) can be incarcerated at any point in their lives for any length of time, while enrollment in college typically happens during a narrow age range and a short timespan.”

Kids don’t want to grow up

Most of Michael Godsey’s high school students don’t want to prepare for college or careers, he writes in The Atlantic. Adolescence is fun. Adult life holds little appeal.

After years of teaching AP English, Godsey now teaches average students. They enjoy reading books written for or about teens, but appear “utterly bored” when counselors talk to them about “college pathways.” They’re not interested in exploring careers either.  They want to stay kids as long as they can. 

Technology lessons don’t appeal. His school’s “Bring Your Own Device Day” was a flop. Only five of his 150 students brought a device they wouldn’t otherwise have taken to school.

 One of the teens explained to me, “We like using our phones and laptops for games and talking to each other, but we don’t really want use them for school.”  

. . . A recent nationwide survey by NuVoodoo shows that while most people, regardless of age, use Facebook, teens say Instagram—which is used by just 16 percent of middle-aged adults—is their “most important” social network. My students for their part prefer to communicate through Snapchat, a photo-messaging application in which the messages “disappear” within ten seconds of being viewed. According to researchers at the University of Washington, most Snapchat users—59 percent—primarily rely on the app to share funny content like “photos of stupid faces.” Not surprisingly, Snapchat is used by just 4 percent of middle-aged adults.

Unless we can find a way to “make adulthood more appealing or adolescence less luxurious,” college and career readiness programs won’t reach their full potential, Godsey writes. That sounds like  job for parents.

Average (non-AP-taking) high school students typically enroll in a community college or not-very-selective four-year institution. Weak on academic skills and motivation, a majority will quit before earning a degree. Some will complete a vocational certificate in a technical or medical field and get a decent job. Many will find adult life just as difficult and unfulfilling as they’d imagined as teenagers.

U.S. “millennials” (16- to 34-year-olds) do poorly in literacy, numeracy and problem solving compared to young adults in other developed countries, according to a new ETS analysis.

Literature, non-fiction, lady or tiger?

Under the Common Core, students are supposed spend half their reading time on non-fiction in elementary school, 70 percent in high school. English teachers aren’t happy about the shift from literature. Susan Pimentel, a lead writer of Common Core standards, defends the stress on non-fiction in a Hechinger Report interview.

The “literacy” part of the English Language and Literacy standards includes reading in social studies, science, and technical subjects, says Pimentel. Seventy percent of reading in all classes should be non-fiction.

It’s really important that in science and history classes, students have access to important primary texts and that they be able to figure out what the speaker is trying to say. In English, there should also be great literary non-fiction, so students can uncover the meaning and understand the author’s perspective.

In talking to college professors and employers, Common Core writers discovered a “four-year gap” between high school graduates’ skills and the demands of college and careers, says Pimentel.

A New York City teacher is using literature to teach computer science, writes Emmanuel Felton on the Hechinger Report. 

“Literary texts are informational texts,” says Lev Fruchter, who teaches at a school for gifted students.

He’s developed a computer science curriculum, STORYCODE.  Fruchter uses works like Moby Dick, where characters talk about science, and “what if” science fiction. However,  he says “implicit” STEM stories are the most powerful.

Frank R. Stockton’s 1882 short story The Lady, or the Tiger?  helps students understand binary choices.

In the original story, a king discovers that his daughter is having an affair. To punish the princess’s lover, the King puts him in an arena with two doors. Behind one door is a woman the king thinks is an appropriate mate for the lover, behind the other is a tiger. Meanwhile, the princess learns from the tiger keeper which door is which, but the question is whether the jealous princess will lead her lover to his death or into the arms of another woman.

In coding terms, this is a 1-bit story, with the solution either being 0 if she chooses to send him to his death or 1 if she sends him to the other woman.

But Fruchter likes to add more layers. Fruchter adds that the lover knows about the princess’s jealousy and has to decide whether or not to trust her. It is now a 2-bit story with four possible versions. Fruchter then adds in that the tiger keeper is in love with the princess, thus introducing the possibility that the tiger keeper lies to the princess, making it a 3-bit story with eight possible outcomes.

Each students writes a version of the story, then retells it in code. For example 110 “could translate to the tiger keeper telling the princess the truth, the princess telling her lover the truth, but her lover doesn’t believe her.”

Raising AP pass rates for blacks, Latinos

Rachmad Tjachyadi collects homework assignments from his AP chemistry students at W.T. White High School in Dallas ISD.
Rachmad Tjachyadi teaches AP chemistry at White High in Dallas

Black and Latino students in Dallas high schools pass the Advanced Placement exams at the highest rate in the country, reports KERA News.

The National Math and Science Initiative has encouraged students to try AP courses.  The Dallas nonprofit “offers Saturday study sessions, pays the hefty exam fees for students, gathers teachers together for professional development and even gives teachers better books or lesson plans if they need them,” reports KERA.

In 1996, when NMSI started working with Dallas high schools, 75 black and Latino students passed at least one AP exam. Last year, 1,270 students passed.

As more Dallas students take an AP exam, the pass rate has fallen. But the overall number of passing students is higher.

Anyone can take his AP chemistry course, said Rachmad Tjachyadi, who teaches at W.T. White High School. Not everyone will pass. “We’re not going to drop the standard for students who have gaps in their preparation,” he said.

Gregg Fleisher, NMSI’s chief academic officer,  would rather see 20 out of 40 students pass an AP physics exam, for example, than 10 out of 10, reports KERA. “What is better for our country — to have twice as many proficient and 20 more who tried it?” he says. “Quite frankly, I think 12 out of 40 is better than 10 out of 10.”

NMSI gives $100 to each student who passes a math, science or English exam, and $100 to the teacher for each passing student. That means that if all 55 of Tjachyadi’s students pass the chemistry exam, he’ll get a check for $5,500. Last year, he got a nice $2,600 for his passing students—right at Christmas time.

Even students who fail the exam can benefit from the challenge, he says. A former student, Grace Knott got a 1 on the chemistry exam, equivalent to a D. However, when half of her classmates failed college chemistry, she was “able to keep up was because of the backing that I got in Mr. T’s class,” she said. Knott is now a biology teacher at a Dallas high school.