Colleges not ready for ‘college ready’ Core grads

Students who pass Common Core-aligned tests in high school could end up in remedial college classes, writes Allie Grasgreen on Politico.

The new standards are supposed to represent “the knowledge and skills necessary for students to be college- and career-ready.” But most university systems won’t use Common Core proficiency to decide who’s placed in college-level courses.

State universities in California and Washington plan to use students’ test scores to guide college placement, writes Grasgreen. Colorado and Ohio are moving in that direction. But most universities are holding back. They’re not sure what “proficient” will mean.

Support raises remedial students’ grad rates

ASAPASAP students at Bronx Community College

With intensive advising, tutoring and financial assistance, poorly prepared low-income community college students nearly doubled their graduation rate, concludes a study on Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP).

The City University of New York program cost $16,300 more per student. However, the cost per graduate was lower after three years, reports the Chronicle of Higher Education. ASAP participants also were more likely to transfer and earned more credits than the control group.

Forty percent of the students in the study graduated within three years, compared with 22 percent in the control group. Nationwide, only about 15 percent of community-college students who start out in remedial education earn a degree or certificate within three years, the report notes.

While 60 percent of community college students are part-timers, ASAP requires full-time enrollment. Most participants are young, living at home with parents, single and childless.

ASAP provides three years of financial aid, including a tuition waiver, free textbooks and a free bus pass.

They are required to meet frequently with advisers whose initial caseloads (60 to 80 students per adviser) are much smaller than the typical caseload of 600 to 1,500 students at CUNY’s two-year institutions. The program also includes mandatory tutoring, career advising, and seminars on topics like study skills and goal setting. Students can register for courses early, which helps them get into classes they need to graduate on time, and they can enroll in blocked or linked classes with other ASAP students in their first year.

Priority registration is a huge benefit, writes Michael Feldstein. But CUNY plans to expand ASAP from 1 percent of incoming students to 19 percent. It will be harder for ASAP students to get into classes at convenient times. And what about the students who also need those classes but can’t afford to enroll full-time?

Several Ohio community colleges also are trying ASAP.

No, I won’t raise your grade

On the Chronicle of Higher Education, Stacey Patton asked college professors and TAs how they’d respond if a student who received a C grade on a paper asked for a higher grade because they “worked so hard on it.”

This appears to be a sore subject. Several offered to consider raising — or lowering — the grade on a second read. Others vented.

“The grade you received is reflective of the fact that what I got was a mash-up of poorly constructed sentences and last minute fooleywang,” wrote Takiyah Nur Amin, associate professor of dance at University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

Jennifer P. Simms, an adjunct visiting professor of sociology at University of Wisconsin at River Falls, advised the C student that “grades in college are based on performance, not effort.”

 I know elementary school teachers, coaches, and your parents told you that all that matters is that you do your best. Unfortunately, they all lied to you. In the real world, of which my college classroom is a part, trying hard does not count for squat. Demonstrated mastery of the material, no matter how much or little effort it takes to achieve it, is what is important.

I know that it is unfair that some students spend no time at all on schoolwork and get A’s while others struggle and barely scrape C’s. I suggest you quickly cry a river, build a bridge and get over it. In the meantime, reflect on whether you want other students graded based on how hard they try. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather that papers for Surgery 101: How Not to Kill the People You Cut Open and for Architecture 101: How to Build Bridges That Do Not Collapse and Leave People Plummeting to Their Deaths were graded on students’ demonstration of correct understanding of the concepts, not how much effort they put into writing it.

Many of the commenters thought the academic snark was mean.

Should high schools pay for remediation?

Tennessee high schools would have to pay for recent graduates who require remedial courses in community colleges under a proposed bill, reports the Times Free Press.

Seventy percent of new community college students are placed into at least one remedial class, according to state estimates. Last year, the remediation bill totaled $18.45 million.

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.”

College prep in 1st grade

First graders wear hats with the name of their first-choice college. Credit: Travis Dove for The New York Times

Is Your First Grader College Ready? asks Laura Pappano in the New York Times.

At a rural North Carolina school, Kelli Rigo’s first graders choose colleges and careers, then write applications.

(A) future Harvard applicant wants to be a doctor. She can’t wait to get to Cambridge because “my mom never lets me go anywhere.”

. . . “The age-old question is: ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ You always ask kids that,” Ms. Rigo said. “We need to ask them, ‘How will you get there?’ Even if I am teaching preschool, the word ‘college’ has to be in there.”

Rigo was the first — and only — person in her family to complete college.

It took eight years at three institutions in two states. “I was lost,” said Ms. Rigo, who dropped out first semester, aghast to discover textbooks cost $600. “I didn’t have anybody to talk to about that.”

. . . She wants students to know what she did not: the effort, cost and planning required to earn a degree. “They have to understand there are lots of steps, that you can’t all of a sudden be a teacher.”

Across the country, “college weeks” are as common as the winter band concert, writes Pappano. Campus tours have become popular field trips for middle and even elementary school kids.

College can help you achieve your dreams, Javier Scott, a University of Maryland student told visiting sixth graders. “When you work hard, more opportunities will open up to you.”

However, the story veers to anxious college-educated parents prepping their tweens for elite colleges. Pappano worries that our “competitive culture . . . has turned wide-open years of childhood into a checklist of readiness skills.”

That’s not an issue for Rigo’s first graders. Getting kids whose parents aren’t college educated to think about where they might go, what they might study and how they might use it to make a living is not the same as pressuring Muffy to build her “resume.”

Reading for wisdom — or info extraction?


Laurence Olivier as Hamlet

Literature can teach “wisdom,” writes Michael Godsey, an Advanced Placement English teacher,  in The Atlantic. But Common Core standards favor “objective analysis” and information extraction.

The Common Core promotes 10 so-called “College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards” for reading that emphasize technical skills like analyzing, integrating, and delineating a text

College readiness is not the same as life readiness, Godsey argues.

. . . I’m making plans to teach the students how to “evaluate the sufficiency of the evidence” instead of asking them, “Who here sympathizes with Hamlet, or Ophelia, or any character, and how so?”

A consultant told Godsey to “ditch literature” since “literary fiction is not critical to college success.”

Achieve the Core, for example, an organization founded by the lead writers of the standards, explicitly encourages schools to teach students to “extract” information so they can “note and assess patterns of writing” without relying on “any particular background information” or “students having other experiences or knowledge.”

“None of the state assessments has a single question about the content of any classic literature,” he writes. It’s all about reading skills. There goes the “secular wisdom” of American culture.

‘Free’ college won’t raise graduation rates

College is too late, writes New York Times columnist Frank Bruni in response to President Obama’s call for free community college in the State of the Union speech. Subsidizing tuition won’t help if students aren’t ready to do college-level work.

It’s easy to get students to enroll in community college, writes his colleague, David Brooks. Helping students graduate is hard.

Spending $60 billion over 10 years to make community college free won’t change sky-high dropout rates, Brooks writes.

. . . community college is already free for most poor and working-class students who qualify for Pell grants and other aid. In 2012, 38 percent of community-college students had their tuition covered entirely by grant aid and an additional 33 percent had fees of less than $1,000.

The Obama plan would largely be a subsidy for the middle- and upper-middle-class students who are now paying tuition and who could afford to pay it in the years ahead.

To increase graduation rates, spend some of that $60 billion to subsidize books, transportation, child care and housing, Brooks argues. That way students could work fewer hours and spend more time on their studies.

Community colleges also need funding for guidance counselors to help first-generation students develop a study plan and choose courses that get them quickly to their vocational or academic goal.

And they need to fix remediation, writes Brooks.

Actually, community colleges are trying all sort of remedial ed reforms, but it all goes back to Bruni’s point. If K-12 doesn’t work, then college won’t work.

Universal college, but what about readiness?

President Obama wants to make the first two years of college just like high school. Free, that is.

Robert Fusco teaches division in a remedial math class at a New Jersey community college. (Photo by Elizabeth Redden)

Robert Fusco teaches division in a remedial math class at a New Jersey community college. (Photo by Elizabeth Redden)

“It seems that we can’t fix our high schools, which already send hundreds of thousands of graduates into remedial courses at community (and other) colleges,” writes Checker Finn. Adding two more years of universal education is “nuts.”

Community colleges are heavily subsidized, so tuition is low. In most states, Pell Grants cover the full cost of tuition for low-income students with money left over for books, rent and food.

The challenge isn’t access. It’s readiness—which is the precursor to successful completion of a degree or certificate from the community college. If you’re not prepared for college-level work when you arrive, the odds that you will succeed there are grim.

. . . (Universality) diverts resources and creates windfalls in ways that diminish the likelihood of ever solving the real problem.

Universality is “genius,” argues Richard Kahlenberg in The Atlantic. In Tennessee, almost 90 percent of graduating high school seniors have indicated interest in the state’s tuition-free community college plan, he writes.

The high interest suggests some middle-class and wealthy families whose children would have otherwise attended four-year colleges may be giving two-year institutions a second look. While some argue that free tuition for upper- and middle-class students is a waste of resources, in fact it is in everyone’s interest to ensure that community colleges are socioeconomically integrated.

Community colleges that serve middle- and upper-income students will gain the political capital to get more state funding, he argues.