Low-SES achievers falter in high school

Black, Latino and low-income achievers — kids who scored in the top quartile as sophomores — lose ground in high school concludes a new Education Trust report, Falling Out of the Lead.

The report looks at sophomores who scored in the top quartile in math and reading. Compared to whites and to students of higher socioeconomic status, top-quartile disadvantaged students complete high school with lower grades and SAT or ACT scores. They’re less likely to pass an AP exam or to apply to a selective college.

“These are the students who arrive at high school most ready to take advantage of rigorous and high-level instruction,” Marni Bromberg, The Education Trust’s research associate and co-author of the report, said in a statement. “But to reach the academic levels that they are capable of, they need exposure to challenging curriculum as well as support and guidance from their schools, including in selecting a college that can really challenge them.”

Blacks and Latinos who started in the top quartile were significantly more likely than high-achieving white students to graduate with a C average.

Displaying EdTrust_FallingOutoftheLead_Fig10.jpgCredit: Education Trust

The report praises Ohio’s Columbus Alternative High School, which pushes nearly all students to college.

A Fordham email suggests college-for-all schools don’t challenge urban achievers. “As Tom Loveless illustrated in a 2009 Fordham report, suburban schools by and large ignored the call to de-track their middle schools and high schools, and kept advanced courses in tact. Urban schools, on the other hand, moved to “heterogeneous groupings. That means the high achievers in the suburbs still get access to challenging, fast-paced courses, while those in the cities generally do not.”

Writing is thinking

Education Realist is teaching Book Club/PSAT, aka “Asian summer school” to a class of straight-A students. Writing is thinking, she tells them.

 “See, when you say you don’t know what to write, you are actually saying…..”

“I don’t know what to think.”

“Bingo.”

“Crap.”

“Indeed. How many of you google other essays and, please god, don’t copy them directly but take the ideas and rewrite them?” A few hands go up. “Yeah. DON’T DO THAT.”

“But I have no idea what to write.”

“Okay. So when you say you want to become a better writer, you are actually expressing the need to…”

“Become a better thinker?”

Her students want to know what their teacher wants them to say. She tells them to say what what’s on their own minds.

“But what if there’s nothing there?”

“. . .  if you don’t know what to think, then I’d rather you write articulately and carefully about why you don’t know what to think, instead of making something up.”

“And that will help my vocabulary?”

Only, if they learn to think about the meaning of words, she replies.

I agree. Clear writing requires clear thinking.

Study: Algebra for all hurt high achievers

Chicago’s algebra-for-all policy hurt high achievers who were placed in mixed-ability classes, concludes a study published in Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, reports Ed Week‘s Curriculum Matters.

Before the 1997 policy change, one group of high schools separated ninth graders into different math classes, including remedial courses for low-achievers. The other group placed most ninth graders in Algebra I.

The study found that the rate of improvement on math tests for high-achievers slowed in those schools that previously placed students into different classes based on ability level.

“When eliminating remedial math classes, schools are likely to put lower-performing students in algebra classes together with high-performing students,” says the study, authored by Takako Nomi of the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research. “Thus, peer skill levels declined for high-skill students.”

She suggests that what may be happening is that teachers are adjusting instruction to the “middle students” in a classroom, and so the declines in peer ability levels could result in “less-challenging content and slower-paced instruction.”

The switch to mixed-ability algebra classes wasn’t accompanied by training for  teachers or extra help for low achievers, Nomi points out, suggesting that might have helped.

Algebra-for-all didn’t help low achievers either, Nomi’s earlier research found.

. . . although more low-achieving students completed 9th grade with credits in Algebra I and English I, failure rates increased, grades declined slightly, test scores did not improve, and students were no more likely to enter college.

Placing struggling urban middle schoolers into algebra, not only fails to improve their achievement on state math tests, but also reduces the likelihood that they will take and pass higher-level math courses in high school,” adds Ed Week, citing recent studies in California and North Carolina.

Art, music haven’t vanished

Music and art haven’t disappeared from schools, despite the pressures of test-based accountability and fears of curriculum narrowing, according to a federal report by the National Center for Education Statistics. Music and visual arts instruction is widely available and has changed little over the past decade, the report concluded.

Music and visual-arts instruction are more widely available at high-poverty elementary schools, but less available at high-poverty secondary schools, notes Ed Week.

“When I look at the big picture, … I see a good-news, bad-news story,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in prepared remarks for the report’s release . . .

“The good news is that the last decade has not generally produced a dramatic narrowing of the curriculum in the arts,” he said. “But there is considerable bad news in today’s report, too—and especially for disadvantaged students.”

“Generally, what we really found is there is no consistent trend of decline in arts education in public schools,” said Jared Coopersmith, a project officer at the NCES.

“At-risk” students involved in the arts – in or out of school – do better in school, go farther in college and are more civics minded, according to a National Endowment for the Arts report.  “Access to the arts” included “coursework in music, dance, theater, or the visual arts; out-of-school arts lessons; or membership, participation, and leadership in arts organizations and activities, such as band or theater.”

However, the report didn’t answer the chicken/egg question:  Do the arts create achievers or attract them?

Why some black men succeed in college

Black males who do well in college have parents — and at least one K-12 teacher — with high expectations, concludes the National Black Male College Achievement Study.

Black male achievers typically come from working-class families, concludes Shaun Harper, an associate professor higher education at Penn who founded the Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education. Nearly half have parents with no college degree. “As a group they shun the idea that they are cognitively smarter than their less-successful friends or cousins or other peers (and their high-school academic records largely back that up),” notes Inside Higher Ed.

In addition to parents who considered college a “non-negotiable” goal, and a teacher who took a special interest, achievers had adequate financial support to pay for college and support from black juniors and seniors when they started college.

Sixty percent grew up in homes with two parents. “Census data show that 35 percent of black children grow up in two-parent homes,” reports Inside Higher Ed.

Harper asked each of the 219 black men to talk not only about themselves but about the experiences of their three best black male childhood friends — and these differences virtually jump off the report’s pages.

“When asked what differentiated their own paths from those of their peers who were not enrolled in college, the participants almost unanimously cited parenting practices,” the study states. “Their friends’ parents, the achievers believed, did not consistently maintain high expectations and were not as involved in their sons’ schooling. By contrast, most of the achievers’ parents and family members more aggressively sought out educational resources to ensure their success — tutoring and academic support programs, college preparatory initiatives, and summer academies and camps, to name a few.”

Like the well-to-do parents in the preceding story, the black male achievers’ parents invested in their children’s success.

U.S. has the most high achievers

The U.S. produces many more high-achieving students in reading and math than any developed nation, write Mike Petrilli and Janie Scull in a new Fordham study, American Achievement in International Perspective. What’s our secret? Size. There just aren’t that many Finns.

Because of our size, the U.S. continues to turn out lots of “innovative scientists and entrepreneurs,” the authors conclude.  When China and India start taking the PISA exam, “we might discover that their high-achieving students outnumber ours many times over.”

The U.S. also produces more low achievers than France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom combined, and our domestic achievement gap is huge.

America’s white and Asian students perform among the word’s best; our black and Hispanic students are battling it out with OECD’s worst. Still, this report identifies an interesting wrinkle, and perhaps a ray of hope: In raw numbers, at least, our high-achieving Hispanic and black American students outnumber the high achievers of several other countries.

At the least, this indicates that they will have a seat at the international table—on prestigious college campuses, in the board room, and in the laboratory. It’s a start.

Fun fact: “Proportionally, Asian-American students are the best readers in the world, and white Americans are bested only by Finns and New Zealanders.”