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.”

Education for upward mobility

I’m in Washington D.C. for Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility conference, which will look at what schools can do to help children born into poverty move up in the world.

Mike Petrilli, the moderator, hopes to question the idea that college is the only path to the middle class.

What if by spending all of our efforts trying to boost the proportion of low-income students who are making it through college from 10 percent to, say, 20 percent, we’re ignoring the needs of the other 80 percent?

He hopes to “find a middle ground between the utopianism that characterizes so much of the reform movement (‘Let’s get every child college and career ready!’) and the defeatism that emanates from too many corners of the education system (‘There’s nothing we can do until we end poverty!’).” 

I’m on the Multiple Pathways in High School panel, which will look at adding “high-quality career tech ed and youth apprenticeships to the “college prep for all” model.

In Hard Work, High Hopes, I look at district, charter and private high schools with lots of lower-income, Latino or black students and a college-prep mission.

“President Obama wants the U.S. to lead the world in college graduates, but college dreams
usually don’t come true for the children of poorly educated, low-income parents,” I write.

Half of people from high-income families earn a bachelor’s degree by age 25. Only 10 percent of those raised in low-income families complete a bachelor’s degree.

Tech credentials pay for low-income students

Vocational certificates and associate degrees in health, transportation, construction, manufacturing and security lead to relatively high pay for disadvantaged students and low-scoring high-schoolers, according to a Florida study.

Different diplomas for different kids

What does a high school diploma mean? Common Core standards are supposed to guarantee that all graduates are ready for “college and career.” (Which college? Which career?)

Absent a miracle, that would man denying most 12th graders a diploma, writes Checker Finn in Education Next. Today, somewhere between 26 percent (ACT) and 40 percent (NAEP) are prepared for college.

Different Kids Need Different Credentials, Finn argues. States should issue a gold-star diploma that signifies college readiness and a conventional diploma that shows the student has passed mandatory courses “to the satisfaction of those teaching them.”

This is akin to the practice for many decades (until 2012) in New York State, where a Regents Diploma denoted a markedly higher level of academic attainment than a local diploma, and it’s somewhat similar to the practice in today’s England, where you can complete your schooling with a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE), but if you’re bent on university, you stick around to earn a more-demanding A-level certificate.

Finn is “unpersuaded that college readiness is the proper goal of everybody’s high-school education” or that the new academic standards “are truly needed for success in myriad careers.”

. . . much as I admire the Common Core standards and hope that they gain enormous traction across the land, I have never seen, in any line of endeavor, a standard that was both truly high and universally attained.

About half the states have graduation exams, but they’re typically set at 8th, 9th or — at most — 10th-grade levels, writes Finn. Even then, some 12th graders — disproportionately disadvantaged students  — have trouble passing after multiple tries.

Ed Next has set up a discussion, but everyone agrees that differential diplomas make sense.

Support low-income and minority students to earn stronger diplomas,” writes Richard D. Kahlenberg.

States should award a “diploma plus” to students who’ve achieved career or college readiness, writes Sandy Kress.

Career planning starts in 8th grade

Is 8th Grade Too Early to Pick a Career? asks the National Journal. In South Carolina, counselors help middle schoolers set career goals through the Personal Pathways to Success program.

(Patricia) Reid begins by meeting and talking with each student about her interests, hobbies, and academic preferences. Together, the two identify a career path that the student can focus on during high school—perhaps technology, engineering, veterinary science, or manufacturing.

Then Reid meets with the student and parents to develop an individual graduation plan, which allows students to take electives throughout high school to bolster particular interests. So, if a student expresses interest in becoming, say, a veterinarian, he could sign up for an agricultural science or animal-care classes in high school in addition to enrolling in required courses such as English, math, science, and history.

South Carolina saw textile jobs move overseas in the 1990s. Attracting new manufacturing jobs was hampered by a shortage of skilled workers.

The state has required schools to include career exploration in the curriculum since 2005. By eighth grade, students meet one-on-one with counselors, choose a career cluster and take a few career-related electives in high school.

Counselors are the key to success, a five-year study concluded.

“School counseling used to be focused on college, college, college,” says Natalie Stipanovic, an assistant professor at the University of Louisville, who has extensively studied the counseling portion of the South Carolina program. “With all of the kids who don’t go to college, what do we do? This program makes sure that every student is seen as important to talk to.”

Career discussions should be more than college or bust, says Anthony P. Carnevale, director and research professor of the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce. “If you want upward mobility in America for low-income kids, you have to get them to think about how they will use their education to make a living,” Carnevale says. “Right now, we act like there’s only one pathway.”

In southern California, San Bernardino Unified hopes to put every student on a career path by 2017.

Students in career pathways programs have higher graduation and college enrollment rates, research shows. “Programs in visual and performing arts, construction technology, finance, and digital design and communication are joining long-standing district pathways, such as the Educators for Tomorrow program, and others in public safety, green technology and business,” reports EdSource.

Make it really hard for kids to fail in school

To prepare “difficult” students for the real world, make it “really hard to fail,” argues Dr. Allen Mendler, an education consultant, on Edutopia’s blog.

An effective practice is to “appreciate and focus on the student’s strengths rather than emphasizing and punishing shortcomings such as lateness, lack of productivity, and disruptive behavior,” Mendler writes.

But critics say that’s preparing students to be fired.

Grading for progress rather than achieving a “group-based standard” also doesn’t work in the real world, critics say.

School isn’t like the workplace, Mendler argues. Students have to go to school and take courses in subjects they may not like or be any good at. In the real world, workers can specialize.

“Make it really hard for students to fail school,” he writes. “Not impossible, just really hard!”

Do what you can to impart important life skills such as a solid work ethic, promptness, patience, and getting along with others. Have rules and, as much as possible, “logical” consequences for unacceptable behavior. (For example: “Work needs to be completed. You can do it in class with others, at home, or during recess.”)

. . . I am far more likely to motivate an uninterested student with poor attendance to show up, and therefore make it more likely that she will pass my class and graduate, by telling how much we missed her during her absence rather than by giving her a zero on missed assignments.

School success doesn’t always predict success in life, he concludes. Of course, school failure usually does predict future failure.

Success paths for all

How can high schools ensure graduates are college- and career-ready, asks an Education Next forum.

Students need multiple pathways, writes Robert Schwartz, a Harvard professor emeritus who coleads the Pathways to Prosperity Network. “We have allowed a very important idea—that all students need a solid foundation of core academic knowledge and skills—to morph into a not-so-good idea: that all students need to be prepared to attend a four-year college,” he writes.

If we follow a cohort of 8th graders, roughly 2 in 10 will drop out before high school graduation, and another 3 will graduate high school but choose not to enroll in postsecondary education. Of those who do go on and enroll in four-year institutions, nearly 4 in 10 will drop out before attaining a degree. Of those who enroll in community colleges, roughly 7 in 10 will drop out. The bottom line: by age 25, only 33 percent of the cohort will have attained a four-year degree, and another 10 percent will have earned a two-year degree.

Many good jobs require some education beyond high school but not a four-year degree, Schwartz writes. He likes the northern European model: “All students pursue a common curriculum up through grade 9 or 10, and then choose between an academics-only pathway leading to university and a more applied-learning pathway leading to a vocational qualification.”

Instead of letting students choose their path, we “force march all students” through a math sequence leading to calculus, a goal few will achieve and even fewer will need, he writes.

Yet most community college students and many university students aren’t prepared for college algebra. “In my view, the vast majority of students in two- and four-year institutions would be much better served by getting a solid grounding in data, statistics, and probability in high school,” he writes.

Common foundational skills are essential, writes Cynthia G. Brown, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress. All students should take a college-prep curriculum, but high school students could choose “curricular options that fit their interests, skills, and plans for the future.”

What about kids who aren’t ‘job material’ either?

Some students aren’t college material and would be better off on a vocational track, Mike Petrilli wrote in Slate. Now, he concedes one of his critics’ points:  Kids who aren’t “college material” aren’t “career- and technical-education material” either. Strong CTE programs require academic skills that many students lack. So what do we do with ninth graders who are way behind?

Sixty-four percent of eighth graders aren’t “proficient” in reading and math, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. They’re not on the college or career readiness track. Even worse, “just 14 percent of blacks and 21 percent of Hispanics are proficient in math at the end of eighth grade; for reading, it’s 17 percent and 22 percent, respectively.”

If we push the “pedal to the metal” on every school reform, we’ll still have many ninth graders who aren’t prepared for a true college-prep route or high-quality CTE, writes Petrilli.

 . . . we encourage such students to muddle through “on-level” quasi-academic courses in large comprehensive high schools. Eventually, they drop out or get labeled as “over-age and under-credit.” At that point, various credit-recovery (or dropout-recovery) initiatives kick in. If the students are diligent and lucky, they squeeze out a credential. And then?

That’s hardly a strategy, a system, or a solution. And keep in mind that in some big urban districts, we’re talking about upwards of 80 or 90 percent of today’s kids—and, for all of our reforming, big fractions of tomorrow’s, too!

What would work best for these students? Petrilli doesn’t have the answer, just the question.

Carnegie’s Opportunity by Design is working with urban districts to design high schools that improve the life chances of underprepared students, respond Michele Cahill and Leah Hamilton. Their goal is to raise the number of underprepared students who complete high school, enroll in non-remedial college courses and stay in college for at least two semesters.

Not ready

Education Trust documentaries, American Grit and Speak Unto Us, follow high school graduates into the working (or not working) world.