College students don’t think they’re smart enough


Once chancellor of New York City schools, Rudy Crew now runs Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

Rudy Crew, New York City schools chancellor in the late 1990s, now runs Medgar Evers College, a four-year City University of New York campus where fewer than one in five students graduates in six years. Crew talks about college readiness with Chalkbeat’s Patrick Wall.

Students come to institutions with a question in their mind. The question is, Do I deserve to be here? Am I prepared to be here? And if I’m not, Who will find me out and when? There is a certain sort of lost confidence that manifests itself in their questions about their own efficacy. They’re quiet about it.

They don’t think they’re smart enough, capable enough.

Students have taken low-level classes, says Crew.

They don’t read well. They don’t read very much. They are conflicted about math. They don’t think of themselves as good analytical minds.

More and more, the real question is not if they can learn it; the question is, can we teach it? They have not been exposed [to learning] at a higher-order level.

Crew started the “Pipeline” program in 2014 to reach students before they enroll, writes Wall. “Partnered with 80 public schools in central Brooklyn, the college offers enrichment classes for elementary and middle school students, early-college courses for high school students, training for teachers, a lecture series for principals, and workshops for parents.”

The percentage of Medgar Evers freshmen who need remediation is down from 85 percent to 68 percent.

Forget ‘passion’ and find your purpose

Colleges want applicants to declare their “passion,” but what they really need is persistence and purpose, writes B.K. Marcus, editor of The Freeman, for the Foundation for Economic Education.

“The good news for stressed-out college-bound teens is that passion is easier to fake,” writes Marcus. However, the rush to find an easily marketable passion by the age of 17 can be damaging.

Thomas Edison said genius is "1% inspiration and 99% perspiration."

Thomas Edison said genius is “1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

Well-rounded students are out of luck, writes Steve Cohen, co-author of The Zinch Guide to College Admissions, in Top 10 Myths of College Admissions“Colleges want a kid who is devoted to — and excels at — something. The word they most often use is passion.”

Harvard’s Turning the Tide proposal calls for admitting students based on passion — “passionate involvement in social causes” is stressed — rather than test scores and grades, Marcus writes.

Passion “burns hot, and it can burn out,” writes Marcus. For long-term success, young people need purpose and persistence.

In “Our Push for ‘Passion,’ and Why It Harms Kids,” parenting author Lisa Heffernan writes, “By the time a child rounds the corner into high school … the conventional wisdom is that he needs to have a passion that is deep, easy to articulate, well documented and makes him stand out from the crowd.”

Kids feel compelled to “grab onto an interest, label it a passion and buy the requisite instrument or equipment.” The problem, she warns, is that “Fake passions crowd out real ones.”

Also being a big phony is debilitating.

Do I belong?

Victoria Baskerville, right, and BUILD Training Program colleague Isis Cabassa prepare dilutions in their SCI 101L class on Sept. 15, 2015, at University of Maryland--Baltimore County.

Isis Cabassa, left, and Victoria Baskerville, right, prepare dilutions in a University of Maryland–Baltimore County lab. First-generation and minority students, and female STEM students, may feel they don’t belong. Photo: Laura Ott

When students feel they don’t belong, it has “devastating effects on student motivation,” said Stanford psychologist Geoffrey Cohen in a talk at Yale recently. First-generation college students, women in math and science fields and African-Americans and Latinos on mostly white/Asian campuses may feel an “apartness” that makes it harder to engage in class and keep trying.

Transitions — from elementary school to junior high, from high school to college — are critical, writes Annie Murphy Paul.

Three interventions can counter the lack of belonging, says Cohen.

Students receiving feedback on an essay are told, “I’m giving you these comments because I have high standards and I know you can meet them.”

Students experiencing a transition are told, “It’s normal and natural not to feel comfortable in a new situation. It will get easier.”

Students facing a challenge are asked to write about a value that’s important to them, an exercise that leads them to feel that “I’m bigger than this. This challenge doesn’t define me.”

After a one-hour discussion of the college transition,black college students earned significantly higher grades, shrinking the minority achievement gap by 52 percent, according to research by Cohen and a colleague.

No bells, many choices

In a Forensic Science class, students learn from police department forensic investigator Ryan Andrews how to calculate the angle of impact of individual bloodstains and use strings to determine the area the bloodstains would have originated.

Forensic investigator Ryan Andrews shows students how to calculate the angle of impact of bloodstains.

Salt Lake City’s Innovations Early College High School uses personalized learning to put teenagers in charge of their education, I discovered in a visit last fall. My story is now up on Education Next.

There are no bells at Salt Lake City’s Innovations Early College High School, and no traditional “classes.” Students show up when they like, putting in six and a half hours at school between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Working with a mentor teacher, students set their own goals and move through self-paced online lessons. They can take more time when they need it or move ahead quickly when they show mastery.

Innovations, a district school, not a charter, is located on a community college campus, so it’s easy for students who qualify to take college classes. It also shares space with the district’s career-tech center, so students can take vocational classes in subjects ranging from web design and emergency medicine to cosmetology.

It seems very loosey-goosey, but mentors monitor students’ progress closely to make sure they’re on track for graduation.

The rich get more educated (and richer)

Americans are earning more bachelor’s degrees since 1970, but a larger share go to students from families in top half of the income spectrum, concludes a Pell study. In 2014, 77 percent of four-year graduates came from families in the top 50 percent. Students from the bottom 50 percent earned 23 percent of bachelor’s degrees, down from 28 percent in 1970.

Lower-income students tend to enroll in colleges with low graduation rates, such as community colleges and for-profit colleges, the report found. Middle-class and upper-income students are more likely to attend selective colleges with higher graduation rates.

Overall, only a third of students enroll in selective colleges and universities and only 14 percent in those rated “most,” “highly” and “very” competitive.

Rising college costs make it hard for lower-income students to stay in college, writes Stacey Teicher Khadaroo in the Christian Science Monitor. “There is good progress in high school graduation and college [entry] for low-income kids. Then these enormous financial barriers … just clobber them when they get to college,” says Tom Mortenson, a senior scholar at The Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education.

College encourages lively consensus

Trescott University encourages a lively exchange of one idea, president Kevin Abrams told The Onion.

“We recognize that it’s inevitable that certain contentious topics will come up from time to time, and when they do, we want to create an atmosphere where both students and faculty feel comfortable voicing a single homogeneous opinion,” said Abrams, adding that no matter the subject, anyone on campus is always welcome to add their support to the accepted consensus.

Counseling is available for any student made uncomfortable by the viewpoint.

College prep for all lowers grad rate

Requiring all students to take college-prep courses — and earn C’s or better — is raising the number of students eligible for state universities in San Diego, concludes a Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) report. It’s also lowering the graduation rate.

About 10 percent more students in the class of 2016 will meet the minimum requirements for University of California and California State University campuses, researchers estimate. However, 16 percent more students may fail to graduate from high school, pushing the graduation rate down to 72 percent,

Career academies challenge college for all

Most 12th graders aren’t prepared to succeed in college, according to NAEP, but nearly all are told it’s the only path to a decent job. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates go directly to college. Two-thirds of high school graduates go directly to college. Those who fail to earn a degree — about 45 percent — will struggle to earn a living and pay back student loans.

Students including Joshua Espinosa, left, steady the head of Jacqueline Villalobo during an exercise in EMC First Responder class as emergency medical technician Gretchen Medel, background left, supervises at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, Calif. Photo: Ben Margot, AP

Students practice paramedic skills at Dozier-Libbey Medical High School in Antioch, Calif. Photo: Ben Margot, AP

“Vocational education is “making a comeback,” reports AP. However, the goal of new “career pathways” programs isn’t to get students from high school to the workforce. Often the aim is to motivate students “to pursue some post-secondary education — whether it’s a certificate from a two-year school or a four-year degree.”

Educators are afraid that the new career-tech will be a lesser alternative to the college track.

“I think we can identify 9th grade students who have career interests and build a rich, challenging curriculum around those interests,” Kevin Welner, who directs the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, said.

“What’s not smart is to identify 9th grade students who are academically struggling and then track them into these separate academic programs that have watered-down expectations and watered-down instruction,” he said.

That concern is the focus of Melinda Anderson’s story on career academies in The Atlantic.

Often a school within a larger school, “career academies generally feature small learning communities, integrate business and industry partnerships, and provide students with a curriculum blending traditional and technical courses,” she writes.

Eighth-grader Keller Wessel works on a project in his Gateway to Technology class at Deer Park Junior/Senior High School in Cincinnati.

Eighth-grader Keller Wessel works on a project in his Gateway to Technology class at Deer Park Junior/Senior High School in Cincinnati.

For “students at highest risk of dropping out, participation in career academies improved attendance and the likelihood of graduating on time,” a 2008 MDRC study found. Several years later, male students had found higher-paying jobs.

However, high schools that serve predominantly white, middle-class students are more likely to offer career pathways that lead to college, she writes.

At Cincinnati’s Deer Park Career Academy, students in grades seven through 12 choose from career pathways that include digital design and civil engineering.

At Atlantic High in Delray Beach, Florida, where a majority of students come from lower-income, non-white families, the career academy is devoted to law enforcement careers.

75% of seniors aren’t ready for college math

Only 25 percent of 12th graders are prepared for college math and 37 for college reading, according to the latest Nation’s Report Card from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Math scores fell over the last two years, while reading scores have been flat since 2009.

Remember that the weakest students have dropped out by 12th grade.

Low performers are doing worse while high achievers are improving, notes Liana Heitin on Ed Week. The percentage of students scoring at the “below basic” level was higher in both reading and math, compared to 2013.

That may be a side-effect of the rising graduation rate, which hit 82 percent in 2014.

Racial/ethnic gaps are huge: 64 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics score as below basic in math; only 7 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics score as proficient or better. By contrast, a third of whites and nearly half of Asian-Americans are proficient or better.

Here’s more on the knowledge and skills required to score “basic” or “proficient” on NAEP’s 12th-grade math exam.

In reading, 49 percent of Asians, 46 percent of whites, 25 percent of blacks and 17 percent of black 12th graders are proficient or better.

“College for all” remains the mantra. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates will enroll in college immediately: 55 percent will complete a degree within six years.

Free speech on campus? Not if it’s ‘unwelcome’

Title IX’s ban on sexual speech harassment trumps the First Amendment on college campuses, according to an April 22 Justice Department letter. “Unwelcome” conduct or speech of a sexual nature is sexual harassment  — and must be investigated — “regardless of whether it causes a hostile environment,” the letter told the University of New Mexico.
“The Department of Justice has put universities in an impossible position: violate the Constitution or risk losing federal funding,” said Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) President Greg Lukianoff.

“An enormous amount of everyday speech” would be sexual harassment under this definition, writes Joseph Cohn on FIRE’s site.

Did you overhear someone retelling an Amy Schumer joke about sex that you found unpleasant? According to the DOJ, that makes them a harasser—even if they only did it once and didn’t do it again after you asked. If that’s harassment, the term is devoid of meaning.

If a professor argues for transgender restroom access, conservative students might complain ze has made unwelcome comments about a sexual issue. Is Camille Paglia a sexual harasser? “Leaving sex to the feminists is like letting your dog vacation at the taxidermist” must be unwelcome to somebody.

Much narrower definitions of sexual harassment have been struck down as “unconstitutionally overbroad” in previous cases, writes Hans Bader, a former Office of Civil Rights attorney, on Liberty Unyielding. “Hostile or offensive” speech about sexual issues is protected speech unless it “objectively denies a student equal access to a school’s education resources,” these decisions have found.

Investigations chill free speech, adds Bader.

Northwestern Professor Laura Kipnis suffered through a “Title IX inquisition” last year after writing an essay on “sexual paranoia” that offended some students. She was cleared of all charges — after an ordeal that will discourage others from writing anything the least bit controversial.