After 12th grade, it’s back to middle school

“A large fraction of students are leaving the 12th grade with a high-school diploma, and they’re about to begin a course of studies at the 8th grade level,” says Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, of community college students.

Back to basics in college

In a remedial math workshop at Indiana’s Ivy Tech, students stack wooden blocks to visualize math concepts. Students learn basic skills and take college-level math in the same semester, which has tripled the pass rate.

At another community college, a hard-working special ed student fails remedial English for the fourth time. His professor thinks it’s hopeless.

The American dream — without the debt

The community college track to success leads savvy students to a good job without a “mountain of debt,” a new book argues. That’s especially true for those who choose a technical or health care major.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Fast-tracking basic skills instruction — three hours a day, four days a week for three weeks –is helping community college students save time and money.

Rethinking placement tests

Colleges are rethinking or rewriting placement tests to avoid starting students in dead-end remedial courses. Some high schools let juniors take a college placement exam to see what skills they’ll need to improve in 12th grade in order to avoid remedial placement.

Maryland is “accelerating” remediation to get students quickly into college-level, for-credit classes.

Why our kids hate math

“Our kids hate math” because they’re pushed to learn higher math before they’ve mastered the basics, writes Patrick Welsh, who teaches at T.C. Williams High in Virginia, in USA Today.

The experience of T.C. Williams teacher Gary Thomas, a West Point graduate who retired from the Army Corps of Engineers as a colonel, is emblematic of the problem. This year, Thomas had many students placed in his Algebra II class who slid by with D’s in Algebra I, failed the state’s Algebra I exam and were clueless when it came to the most basic pre-requisites for his course. “They get overwhelmed. Eventually they give up,” Thomas says.

Thirty-one percent of eighth-graders took algebra in 2007, nearly double the percentage compared to 1990, reports the National Center for Education Statistics. In California, 54 percent take algebra in eighth grade. But many repeat it in ninth grade — and still do poorly.

My colleague Sally Miller . . . is the first to warn that too much math too soon is counterproductive. When Miller asked one of her geometry classes what 8 x 4 was, no one could come up with the answer without going to a calculator. “In the lower grades, more time has to be devoted to practicing basic computational skills so that they are internalized and eventually come naturally.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s eighth-grade algebra classes have a ”negative effect on most students, especially those students who weren’t stellar in math background,” says Charles Clotfelter, a Duke professor who studied the effects. Doing poorly “knocked them back on their heels.”

“It is time to ensure that all kids absorb the fundamentals of math — computation, fractions, percentages and decimals — first before moving on to the next level,” Welsh concludes.

A frightening number of students never learn math fundamentals. It’s the single greatest barrier to success in community colleges, which attract the un-stellar students. Students who’ve passed high school math classes — including a class called algebra — don’t understand fractions, percentages or decimals and can’t multiply 8 x 4 without a calculator.

Illinois may dump test for would-be teachers

Only 35 percent of would-be teachers in Illinois passed a basic skills test in math, reading, language arts and writing this year. Teacher candidates must pass — they have five tries — to be admitted to a teacher preparation program. The state board of education should resist pressure to eliminate the requirement, editorializes the Chicago Tribune.

Because black and Hispanic candidates are more likely to fail, Chicago-area education college deans oppose the higher standards.

 The Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law may file a civil rights lawsuit against the state because the threshold unfairly creates too high a hurdle for minority candidates who want to be teachers. The cut scores “almost certainly will have a disparate impact on minorities,” Paul Strauss, co-director of litigation for the group, tells us.

Maintaining high standards is worth a fight, the Trib argues.

“The test does not measure traits such as enthusiasm, empathy, ability to communicate effectively with children, and dedication to the teaching profession,” writes Strauss.

It’s certainly possible to have basic reading, writing and math skills and be a lousy teacher. But all the enthusiasm and empathy in the world won’t turn a semi-literate, innumerate person into a good teacher — at least not if she’s supposed to teach reading, writing, ‘rithmetic, history or science.

Illinois may exempt teacher candidates who score a 22 or better — considered “college ready” — on the ACT from taking the basic skills exam. “By comparison, in 2008 researchers at the Illinois Education Research Council reported what thousands of veteran Chicago teachers had scored an average of 19.4 (out of a possible 36) on their ACT exams,” reports the  Trib.

Would-be secondary teachers — those planning to specialize in English, history, math, science, etc. — tend to score above average on college admissions tests. Would-be elementary teachers tend to score below average for college goers.

Update:  Teacher education programs will be allowed to admit students who fail some parts of the basic skills test on a provisional basis. They must pass the entire test to complete the program.

Chartering for integration

While most high-performing charter schools serve disadvantaged minority students, there’s been a “noteworthy rise” in successful charters designed to serve racially and economically integrated student populations,” concludes a brief by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Three charters designed to draw a mix of students and three focused on low-income students are profiled in A Mission to Serve.

The Century Foundation, an advocate of economic integration, looks at seven diverse, high-performing charter schools in a second report.

Integration raises challenges, notes Education Week.

The “no excuses” philosophy popular in many charter schools, which focuses on discipline and more-traditional teaching practices, has garnered attention for some positive results with disadvantaged students, but “middle-class parents generally aren’t interested in that,” said (Fordham’s Mike) Petrilli.

On the other hand, several models of progressive education that place less emphasis on basic skills have not been consistently demonstrated to be effective for more-disadvantaged students, he said.

Meeting everyone’s needs in one school is very, very difficult to do.

Based on studies that compare charter lottery winners with students who applied but lost the lottery,“students in urban areas do significantly better in school if they attend a charter school, concludes Jay Greene in a research round-up. However, he notes, a national study for the U.S. Education Department found “significant gains for disadvantaged students in charter schools but the opposite for wealthy suburban students in charter schools.

It’s easier to compete with  dysfunctional urban schools than with smooth-running suburban schools. But I also suspect the suburban charters are providing a progressive alternative for middle-class parents — and it doesn’t work as well, at least in producing high test scores.

Khan in the classroom

Can Khan Move the Bell Curve to the Right? asks June Kronholz on Education Next. She visits “affluent, tech-savvy” Los Altos, which is using Khan Academy math for all fifth and sixth graders and seventh graders with average or below-average proficiency.

While teacher Rich Julia met individually with fifth graders to refine their learning goals, everyone else logged on to the Khan web site to work on the math concept they were learning.

Some watched short video lectures embedded in the module; others worked their way through sets of practice problems. I noticed that one youngster had completed 23 modules five weeks into the school year, one had finished 30, and another was working on his 45th.

As youngsters completed one lesson, an online “knowledge map” helped them plot their next step: finish the module on adding decimals, for example, and the map suggests moving next to place values, or to rounding whole numbers, or to any of four other options.

Julian, meanwhile, tracked everyone’s progress on a computer dashboard that offers him mounds of data and alerts him when someone needs his attention. He showed me, for example, the data for a child who had been working that day on multiplying decimals. The child had watched the Khan video before answering the 1st practice problem correctly, needed a “hint” from the program on the 3rd question, got the 7th wrong after struggling with it for 350 seconds—the problem was 69.0 x 0.524—and got the 18th correct in under a minute.

. . . The classroom buzzed with activity, and amazingly, all the buzz was about math.

At Oakland’s Envision Academy of Arts and Technology, an inner-city charter, Ruth Negash uses Khan in her ninth-grade algebra class. While some students are learning geometry, “other students struggled with addition and subtraction, and one quarter don’t know their multiplication tables.”

Khan Academy developers want students to learn basic skills, then move forward, but Gia Truong, superintendent of Envision Schools, worries that students are too far behind. “If you do that, you might never get to the algebra standards” that California students must pass in order to graduate.

If you don’t know how to multiply, you’re not going to learn algebra.

 

 

Steve Jobs: Train factory engineers

Manufacturing could move back to the U.S., if community colleges, tech and trade schools trained enough factory engineers, Steve Jobs told President Obama. According to Jobs biographer Walter Isaacson:

Apple had 700,000 factory workers employed in China, he said, and that was because it needed 30,000 engineers on-site to support those workers. ‘You can’t find that many in America to hire,’ he said. These factory engineers did not have to be PhDs or geniuses; they simply needed to have basic engineering skills for manufacturing.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  Community groups are teaching basic skills as a bridge to job training at community colleges.

Arizona college to require 7th-grade skills

New students will need seventh-grade reading, writing and math skills — plus a high school diploma or GED — to enroll at a Tucson community college next year. Those who don’t qualify can take adult education classes or “learning modules,” but won’t qualify for financial aid. Currently, only 5 percent of students in remedial classes advance to college-level work, says Pima Community College’s president.

Also on Community College Spotlight: Why do A and B students end up in remedial English? High school teaches literature, while college demands writing skills.