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.

Teaching with comic books


Ms. Marvel is a Pakistani American; Spider-Man, aka Miles Morales, is a Black Hispanic teen; and Faith is a plus-size crime fighter. 

Comic books and graphic novels can engage students in history and current events, says Tim Smyth, a Pennsylvania social studies teacher.

“Comics are a gateway drug to literacy,” said Art Spiegelman, creator of the graphic Maus books on his parents’ experiences as Polish Jews who survived Auschwitz. That inspired Smyth to think how he could teach social studies using comics.

His students can identify with “a female Thor (who is also fighting breast cancer), a black Captain America, a gay Iceman, a strong (and now fully dressed) Wonder Woman and Batgirl, a Korean-American Hulk” and more traditional characters, Smyth writes.

Spider-Woman’s storyline focuses on her pregnancy and whether she will need to abandon her superhero role. It brings up the point that male superheroes never have to struggle with the question — can I have a career and a family?

Recently, his class discussed the March issue of “Spider-Man” in which superhero Miles Morales says he doesn’t want to be “the black Spider-Man.” He just wants to be Spider-Man.

Loving Latin as a way to teach vocabulary

First-graders are learning about “de-” at Hatton Community Learning Center in Akron, Ohio. Photo: Dustin Franz, Education Week

Learning Latin and Greek roots — starting in early elementary school — can help children build vocabulary, reports Liana Heitin for Education Week. Teachers can turn learning language into a game.

With students gone for the day, 6th grade teachers Joy Ford and Ryan Rusk sat in a classroom discussing the Latin root temp.

After determining that “contemporary” and “temporary” share the root, which refers to time, the two Woodlawn Elementary teachers then turned to the word “temptation.”

“I’m tempted to eat this chocolate,” said Ford. “That doesn’t have to do with time.”

“But if I’m tempted, I want it now,” responded Rusk. “So could it?”

At the Virginia elementary school, K-6 teachers meet weekly to learn how to use Greek and Latin roots to build vocabulary, writes Heitin.

Learning one root can enable students to “unlock” more than 100 words, said Joanna Newton, the reading specialist at Woodlawn. It’s a lot faster — and more liberating — than memorizing vocabulary lists.

Chris Schmidt, a 3rd-5th grade gifted education teacher in North Carolina’s Buncombe County district, uses a program called Caesar’s English, writes Heitin. His students enjoy trying to “break the code.”

Spanish-speaking students should be whizzes at picking up Latin.

In seventh grade, I learned Greek and Latin words in Ms. Ericksen’s Vocabulary Reading class. I still remember the excitement of realizing that “bio” means life and “graph” is writing, so “biography is writing about someone’s life. And “auto” means self, so you get “autograph” and “autobiography” and . . .

I still think about things like the “temp” in “temptation” and the “temp” in “temporary.” (The first derives from the Latin temptare “to feel, try out, attempt to influence, test,” according to the Online Etymological Dictionary, while the second comes from the Latin tempus, which means “time, season.” )

Remembering the butter — and the bread knife

Mamacita ran into a former student — now a father of three — in Kroger’s. He told her his fondest memory from eighth-grade English was making butter, just like pioneers did in “that olden-days book.”

Farmer Boy, by Laura Ingalls Wilder

“My kids and I love to make butter, just like you showed us in 8th grade,” he told her.

Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy “was perfect for a low-ability class of 37 14-to-17 year old students, all boys, who hated reading,” recalls Mamacita. The boys saw no connection between books and the outdoors lives they led, which included hunting, farming, 4H, cattle raising and fixing things.

Using a churn was too complicated, Mamacita recalls. “We poured the cream into a big Tupperware thing and passed it all around the class and the boys shook it while listening to me read.”

When the butter “came,” the boys went into action.

(They) poured off the buttermilk and squeezed the butter until it stopped weeping. They sprinkled just a little salt into the butter and kneaded it in. Then they all washed their hands and whoever’s turn it was that day sliced the bread and they all put napkins in their shirt collars and tucked in. We used KNIVES to slice the bread and to spread the butter. Heavens to BETSY.

Other teachers criticized her “because watching sourdough rise, and making butter, weren’t proper English lessons,” she writes.

I maintained, and I still maintain, that anything we as teachers or parents do that makes learning come alive is a proper English lesson. Science lesson. History lesson. Math lesson. Life lesson.

Finally, the principal told her to stop. “There really wasn’t time, anyway, what with all the ISTEP prep the boys needed to do.”

U.S. grads are weak in math

U.S. college graduates lack numeracy skills compared to graduates in other countries, concludes the 2013-14 Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies.

Overall, U.S. adults met the international average in reading skills and fell below average in math, according to PIAAC. Americans did worse in math than adults in Japan, Finland, Estonia, Cyprus, Canada . . . it’s a long list. 

U.S. high school graduates knew as much math as high school dropouts in other countries, writes Jenny Anderson in Quartz.

In “problem solving in technology-rich environments,” also known as digital literacy, Americans were dead last.

“This is not a high-level test of math or critical-thinking skills,” Stephen Provasnik, a research scientist at the National Center on Education Statistics, said. PIAAC measures “basic workplace skills.”

All reading and math makes Jack a dull boy


The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David.

All reading and math skills — without exposure to the arts — makes Jack a dull boy — and not much of a reader, argues Jay Greene. “More research is beginning to show that a broader education, including the arts, may be essential for later success in math and reading as well as the proper development of civic values and character skills, including tolerance, empathy, and self-regulation.”

Kindergarten and first-grade teachers are spending less time teaching music, art, dance and theater, research shows.

Long-term success in math, reading and science depends on the general knowledge and fine-motor skills learned through the arts, studies show, Greene adds.

Researchers urge teaching children “a better understanding of the world”  by improving science and social studies instruction and building foundational skills through “the arts, music, dance, physical education, and free play.”

Greene’s research has found that “field trips to art museums and to see live theater” not only build general knowledge, they “change student values to promote greater tolerance and empathy.”

‘Mockingbird’ will cost more — and be read less

imagesTo Kill a Mockingbird is taught in 74 percent of U.S. schools, according to a 1988 survey by the National Council of Teachers of English. That number may decline, reports the New Republic. Harper Lee’s estate will no longer allow publication of the low-cost, mass-market paperback edition. Schools will have to pay more to buy a “trade” paperback.

“The fact that To Kill a Mockingbird is both so accessible to young readers and so widely taught in America is crucial to its cultural importance,” writes Alex Shephard. Next to Romeo and Juliet, Macbeth, and Huckleberry Finn, it’s probably the most assigned novel in America’s middle- and high schools.

Lee’s legacy appears to have fallen into the hands of stupid, greedy people.

 

If they can’t read, they can’t do well in college

The new SAT, which demands sophisticated literacy skills — even in math — could “penalize students who have not been exposed to a lot of reading,” educators told the New York Times.

College instructors must teach students how to read academic books, writes Amelia Leighton Gamel.

College instructors must learn to teach reading, writes Amelia Leighton Gamel.

It’s not unfair to require high-level reading ability to get into higher-level education, responds Timothy Shanahan, who founded the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. The SAT is supposed to predict college success. Poor reading is an excellent predictor of college failure.

On a recent visit to a Montana middle school, Shanahan taught several lessons which required students to read their math and science textbooks. It was a new experience, the seventh and eighth graders admitted. The teachers were good at explaining things, so the students never learned to work their way through a textbook on their own.

These students won’t be prepared for college if they can’t make sense of what they read and apply it, writes Shanahan.

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He grew up in a working-class community and wasn’t on the college-prep track in high school, he writes. But he found a list of books that college-bound students should read and tackled them. “I’m not claiming that I got as much out of reading Moby Dick or Microbe Hunters on my own at 16 as I would have under the tutelage of a good teacher (or as I have upon rereading them as an adult), but trying to understand such touchstone texts pays dividends,” he writes.

Reading challenging books will prepare students to succeed in college, writes Shanahan.  If “college entry is going to become biased against those not prepared for college . . . I think it’s about time.”

Simon Newman, president of Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, is under fire for suggesting giving tuition refunds to likely-to-fail students who leave early in their first semester. “You think of the students as cuddly bunnies,” he wrote in an email to a faculty member.  “You just have to drown the bunnies.” Or, perhaps, “put a Glock to their heads.”

So, why did Mount St. Mary’s admit these no-hope “bunnies” in the first place?

Instead of ‘beach books’

Hundreds of colleges and universities ask their first-year students to read a book over the summer, so they can discuss it with their new classmates during orientation.

In Beach Books 2014-2016: What Do Colleges and Universities Want Students to Read Outside Class? , the National Association of Scholars complains that the “common reading genre is parochial, contemporary, commercial, optimistic, juvenile, obsessed with suffering, and progressive.”

Most assignments were contemporary memoirs and popular nonfiction that affirmed progressive sentiments about illegal immigration, racial identity, global warming, unjust incarcerations, gay, lesbian, and transgender life, exaggerated fears of terrorism, anti-corporate paranoia, affirmative action, recycling, sexism, or wealth inequality.

. . . Almost no colleges assigned classic fiction or nonfiction, good modern literature, or history.

Easy-to-read books are favored.

In Beach Books, NAS recommends 80 books appropriate for common reading and suggests ways to select “better, more challenging, and more intellectually diverse books.”

It includes Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance (tedious and weird), Cather’s Death Comes to the Archbishop (it didn’t come soon enough for me) and O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night (acutely depressing). But there are inspired choices: Flatland, Lucky Jim, Voyage of the Beagle, Twain’s Life on the Mississippi, The Double Helix, Darkness at Noon and Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography.

When books ‘smell like old people’

In a digital age, turning teenagers on to reading literature is harder than ever, writes David Denby in Lit Up. The book chronicles his year observing 10th-grade English classes at a New York City magnet school, Beacon.

Sean Leon, who gets to select his own reading list, teaches Brave New World and 1984 to students who know little about totalitarianism. He includes Siddhartha, Sartre’s No Exit and Viktor Frankl’s Holocaust memoir, but no Shakespeare.

These are some of the books that change teenagers' lives, writes David Denby.

These are some of the books that change teenagers’ lives, writes David Denby.

A colleague at Beacon teaches the venerable Scarlet Letter by having students act out scenes. They spend a month on the novel.

Denby also made regular visits to a high-achieving school in the affluent suburbs where test scores are high, but few students enjoy reading. Teachers try to sell students on entry-level books, supervise their independent reading and encourage them to move up to more challenging literature.

He also visited a low-performing, all-minority school in New Haven, Hillhouse, where a boy said, “Books smell like old people.”

A Long Way Gone, the memoir of an African boy soldier, was a hit with black students in New Haven.

The memoir of an African boy soldier, was a hit with black students in New Haven.

Many of the students “lacked necessary information — facts, for want of a better word,” Denby writes. “When wars took place, how American politics worked, who were the country’s great men and women, how a bank did its business, what, exactly, they had to do to get into the professions or get any kind of good job — general information about how the world worked.”

The English teacher, who gets students for 80 minutes a day, five days a week, struggles to get them to read To Kill a Mockingbird and Shakespearean sonnets but finds they’re turned on by a Hemingway story about a man who loses his nerve, his wife and his life while big-game hunting.

“Fifteen-year-olds will read seriously when inspired by charismatic teachers alert to what moves adolescents,” Denby concludes.

In a discussion with On Point on how to get teens to read, he talks about books that engage young readers and potentially “change lives.” He includes Waiting for Godot and No Exit.  I read both when I was a teenager — not for school — because I read everything. I don’t think these are the books to turn non-readers into literature lovers.