Learning English — pronto

The fall issue of Education Next is out, including my article on what’s changed in how schools are educating students who aren’t proficient in English.

Pushed by No Child Left Behind’s (NCLB) accountability measures and the college-for-all movement, educators nationwide have raised expectations for children from immigrant families.

More ELLs are learning in English, as old-style bilingual ed fades away. However, “dual immersion” bilingual programs are proving popular with educated, English-speaking parents.

There’s a greater sense of urgency about getting kids to proficiency in elementary school.

College pays — for some, not all

College pays — on average — but your results may vary, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg View. That last part is important: College doesn’t pay for the poorly prepared, who are unlikely to earn a degree.

The college wage premium has risen sharply in the last 30 years for U.S. males, concludes a working paper. However, there’s a much larger gap between high-earning and low-earning graduates.

“More people start college than did in 1985,” writes McArdle. “It’s just that they don’t finish.”

Dropping out may be a sensible decision for low-tier students who are likely to end up in low-paying jobs that don’t require a degree. Why borrow to be a barista?

While we’d like to think of enrolling in college as a guaranteed route to a stable, well-paying job, in reality it’s more like a lottery ticket. There are good jobs out there that are available only to folks with a college diploma. But not everyone with a college diploma gets one. You can also end up underemployed.

. . . Of course, it’s not exactly like a lottery ticket, because the distribution of the rewards isn’t random. Not every college graduate is entered in the “investment banker” or “Silicon Valley software engineer” draws.

According to this model, “the gains from pushing marginal students into college are likely to be small, for both the students and for society,” McArdle concludes.

People who’ve had trouble learning — and getting their work done — in high school occasionally bloom in college. But not very often.

Learning English: Good teaching is #1

With a rising tide of immigrant and refugee students in U.S. schools, helping “English Language Learners” actually learn English — and master academic subjects — is more critical than ever. ELL education is moving beyond the bilingual vs. English debate, I write in Education Next.

I visited Hoover School in Redwood City (south of San Francisco), where 95 percent of students coem from low-income and working-class Latino families.

Ocean animals was the theme in pre-kindergarten classes at a California school in early May. Some pre-K teachers introduced “octopus” and “tentacle,” while others taught “pulpo” and “tentaculo.” In all the pre-K classes, children acted out vocabulary words with hand movements, sang songs, and played a guess-the-ocean creature game. Then they moved to tables, where some of them painted paper octopuses, while others gingerly smelled, touched, and then dangled little octopuses from a local fish market.

Starting in pre-K, Hoover students “talk, sing, chant, move, explore, experiment, and play in language-rich, text-rich, information-rich environments,” I write. “They dictate stories to volunteers, write letters, keep journals, and see their writing “published” in bound books.

“Pushed by No Child Left Behind’s accountability goals and pulled by college-for-all expectations, English Learner education is shifting “from the language of instruction to the quality of instruction,” says Kenji Hakuta, a Stanford professor who specializes in language learning.

Nearly all students at Hoover School in Redwood City, California come from Spanish-speaking families.

Hoover students are expected to be proficient in English by 4th grade.

Common Core exams are accelerating the move away from the old bilingual model. Principals want kids who will be tested in English to be taught in English.

However, “dual immersion” schools are growing in popularity. Educated suburban parents want their kids to be fluent in two languages. Quality tends to be high: These schools can’t dumb down expectations or use bilingual aides instead of teachers, because middle-class parents won’t stand for it.

In 1998, Californians passed Proposition 227, which limited bilingual education. A measure to repeal most of 227 is on the November 2016 ballot. It would let children be placed in non-English instruction without parental waivers. I think it has no chance of passing.

“When 227 passed, I thought it would be a disaster,” Frances Teso, a former bilingual teacher, told  me. “Now I think it was a good thing in some ways. It eliminated a lot of low-quality bilingual programs and opened the door to better-quality programs.”

Teso founded Voices College-Bound Language Academy, a high-performing K-8 charter school in San Jose that uses a modified dual-immersion model.

Early college for all — in the Rio Grande valley


Krystal Balleza earned her associate’s degree two weeks before her high school graduation. Photo: Pharr-San Juan Alamo Independent School District

In a high-poverty district on the Texas-Mexico border, all high school students take “early college” classes, reports Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz in the Washington Monthly‘s College Guide.

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (PSJA) Superintendent Daniel King pioneered early college for all at nearby Hidalgo. His goal is to persuade low-income, minority students — not just the motivated achievers — to raise their aspirations.

Nationwide, 90 percent of early college students graduate from high school, 10 percentage points above the national average, and 30 percent of students get either an associate’s degree or a certificate, according to Jobs for the Future, the Boston-based nonprofit that runs the national Early College Designs program.

Research has shown that students selected for early college schools by a random lottery have higher high school graduation rates and college attainment levels than those who lose the lottery and attend a traditional high school.

Incoming ninth-graders in all of PSJA’s high schools will take a college entrance exam used to show who’s ready for college-level work. They’ll take prep courses until they pass the exam, then move on to community college courses — usually taught at the high schools — and summer courses at University of Texas- Pan American.

Once enrolled in college courses, PSJA students average Bs, according to data provided by the district. Out of PSJA’s roughly 1,900 graduates this May, 60 percent took at least one college course. About 215 students graduated with an associate’s degree and 270 got a certificate.

By 2019, district officials hope that at least 90 percent of graduates will earn at least some college credit, with 1,000 students earning an associate’s degree or certificate, a one-year credential given out in fields like welding, IT and medical technology.

The district helps students make college plans and fill out financial aid applications. District staff advise first-year students on local campuses.

With an average ACT score is only 17.3, college degrees for all — or even most — is unlikely. But I’d bet these kids go farther than the PSJA students of the past.

I wrote about Hidalgo Early College High School and talked to King for my chapter on high-achieving high schools for disadvantaged students, part of Fordham’s Education for Social Mobility (soon to be a book!). It’s a very gutsy idea.

Second-chance system backfires

U.S. educators scorn “tracking” students into college-prep or vocational lanes, writes Marc Tucker in Ed Week. We brag that our system offers second chances — and third, fourth, fifth and sixth chances. Yet, our second-chance system ends up sorting students from first grade on, he writes.

Teachers know the low achievers will get another chance, so “they just keep passing them up the system, unchallenged and uneducated,” writes Tucker.

By high school, former Bluebirds are loading up on AP classes, ex-Robins are ambling toward unselective colleges and the Sparrows, if they haven’t dropped out, are headed nowhere.

Social class and parental education are more predictive of educational achievement in the U.S. than in most other industrialized countries, according to OECD data.

One alternative advocated by the Pathways to Prosperity network is to combine academics with work-based training that leads to skilled jobs. Some schools are collaborating with employers to provide pathways.

But many more are replacing tracking with covert tracking, writes Tucker.

How about 1) headed for selective colleges (at least a couple of AP courses with scores of 3 or better), 2) headed for open-admissions state four-year colleges and lower-tier private ones (at least an 8th grade reading level and some college credit), 3) headed for community college (same as #2), 4) headed for minimum-wage work (high school diploma/managed to show up for four years of high school), 5) headed for unemployment, poverty and prison (couldn’t read high school texts and so dropped out).

Vocational pathways are controversial unless they lead to college as well as careers. What’s not controversial is letting students pass classes labeled “college prep” with B’s and C’s, then go to community college or unselective universities, take remedial courses and drop out.

28% are ready for college

ACT scores 2015.JPG

Only 28 percent of 12th graders who take the ACT are prepared to pass introductory college classes requiring English, reading, math and science skills, according to the new ACT report. Thirty-one percent of test-takers did not meet a benchmark in any subject.

Overall, scores are flat, even as more students are taking the ACT. Some states require students to take the test in hopes of encouraging college aspirations.

Remediate in high school, not college

Education Realist’s policy proposals start with banning remediation at the college level.

 My cutoff would be second-year algebra and a lexile score of 1000 (that’s about tenth grade, yes?) for college, but we could argue about it. Everyone who can’t manage that standard after twelve years of K-12 school can go to trade school or to adult education . . .

The community college system could be split into a tier for college-level work and another for adult education, Ed Realist proposes. Money spent on remediating college students could beef up adult education, which has “withered and nearly died.”

(Some states already separate “community colleges,” which offer academic classes, from “technical colleges,” which do only job training. The tech colleges have much higher success rates.

Instead of placing all students in college-prep classes, high schools should offer remedial classes to those who need them, proposes Ed Realist.

In 1997, Chicago Public Schools wanted all freshmen to take algebra, so all remedial and pre-algebra classes were dumped. . . . A decade ago, Madison, Wisconsin did the same thing. California effectively banned pre-algebra in high school by docking test scores of students who weren’t taking algebra in 8th grade (drop one score category) or, god forbid, 9th grade (drop two score categories).

City after city, state by state, schools took away the “easy” math options: business math, consumer math, general math. At the same time math credits required for graduation became more difficult.

In English, history and science, high school students with elementary reading skills are in the same classes as those reading at the college level, writes ER.

Since I work in a Title I school, the high-ability students I see losing out on more rigor and challenges are also poor students, often Hispanic or black. Teachers can’t adequately challenge strong students while also encouraging weaker students.

. . . To avoid blame, schools and teachers run roughshod over rigor by lowering standards. (Feel free to blame me on this count; I refuse to hold my students to standards they didn’t choose when it’s a choice between failing or graduating.)

Students shouldn’t have to go to college to be taught arithmetic,  basic math literacy, pre-algebra and general-purpose reading and composition, ER writes.

Free college doesn’t attract all students 

College is almost complete free in Norway, yet only 14 percent of the children of non-college-educated parents enroll in college, reports Jon Marcus in The Atlantic. That contrasts to 58 percent of students with college-educated parents, according to a 2013 analysis.

Students pay no tuition to attend Finnmark University in Alta, Norway.

Students pay no tuition to attend Finnmark University in Alta, Norway..

Thirteen percent of U.S. students with non-college educated parents earn a degree, according to the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation.

Wages are high for blue-collar jobs in Norway. Young people don’t need a college degree to earn a middle-class income.

If you want a European college system, consider what that means, writes Jane the Actuary on Patheos. Costs are lower because there’s no general ed, no advising, no football team and no frills. College is for well-prepared, motivated students.

Students are also expected to plunge into their major requirements immediately. It’s assumed that your high school coursework has been of sufficient rigor that you don’t need a set of “general education” courses in composition, the humanities, and the sciences — you’re assumed to have learned that already.

That’s why students are expected to complete a degree in three years rather than four — or five or six.

No money is spent on fancy dorms or facilities, athletics, “school spirit” activities, diversity, sustainability or Title IX, concludes Jane.

How to pop the higher ed bubble

In Against Tulip Subsidies, Scott Alexander explains why the cost of college has inflated and how to pop the higher education bubble.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, now a presidential candidate, has proposed universal free college tuition, he notes.

“If you can’t get any job better than ‘fast food worker’ without a college degree, and poor people can’t afford college degrees, that’s a pretty grim situation, and obviously unfair to the poor,” writes Alexander.

But Alexander has an alternative to subsidizing sky-high college prices.

Make “college degree” a protected characteristic, like race and religion and sexuality. If you’re not allowed to ask a job candidate whether they’re gay, you’re not allowed to ask them whether they’re a college graduate or not. You can give them all sorts of examinations, you can ask them their high school grades and SAT scores, you can ask their work history, but if you ask them if they have a degree then that’s illegal class-based discrimination and you’re going to jail.

Discuss.

Why college in high school mash-ups don’t work

The bipartisan “Go to High School, Go to College Act” would allow Pell Grants to fund college coursework for low-income high school students.

Karen Cordero, an earth science teacher at Bolton High School in Connecticut, leads her class in a simulated county planning meeting. (Photo: Peter Morenus/UConn)

Earth sciences teacher Karen Cordero teaches a college class  in environmental science at Bolton High in Connecticut. (Photo: Peter Morenus/UConn)

“High school-college mashups” — college work in a high school environment — don’t work, argues Georgi Boorman in The Federalist.

As an 11th- and 12th-grader, she attended community college, then finished a bachelor’s degree in two years. She supports letting college-ready students take real college courses taught by professors with college-age (and older) classmates.

But most high school students lack the academic skills and the maturity to handle classes on a college campus, she writes. These days, high schools are placing unprepared students in classes with a college label.

Given that more than a third of all freshmen entering universities have to take at least one remedial class, why should we trust high schools to provide college when they can’t provide sufficient instruction at the high-school level?

Many more students — including average and sometimes below-average achievers — are being urged to take Advanced Placement and dual-enrollment courses. At some low-performing schools, few AP students take the AP exam and even fewer pass.

Often dual-enrollment courses are taught at the high school, not on a college campus, because it so convenient. Sometimes, a “real professor” comes to the high school, but it’s easier to hire a high school teacher as an “adjunct.” Are these “real college” courses?