First-gen students help each other through UT

“La Raza” members kayak on Barton Springs in Austin with visiting friends from home during Spring Break 2014. From left to right: Perla de la O (foreground), Zarina Moreno, Xenia Garcia, Bianca de la O, Jose R. Peña. Photo: Courtesy of Perla de la O.

Going from Roma, Texas, a ranching town on the Mexican border, to the University of Texas in Austin is a huge leap, writes Lillian Mongeau in the Washington Monthly.

“It was overwhelming,” Jesús “Nacho” Aguilar, 23, said. “It was also liberating.”

Mongeau, who taught English in Roma for Teach for America, asked Jesús, Tomás González, 23, Perla de la O, 22, and Eduardo Rios, 20, how they succeeded at UT despite the culture shock.

They helped each other, the Roma grads said. They call their homegrown network La Raza or just “the group.”

The group holds potlucks featuring food from home. They get each other jobs. They help the newest Roma-grads-cum-UT-freshmen find housing, the laundromat, and free food on campus. They share textbooks and help each other with homework. They carpool home for the holidays. They ask each other: How do you sign up for health insurance? Can you explain this financial aid form? Where is the registrar’s office? When someone is sick, they cook him dinner. When someone is lonely, they talk. When someone is struggling, they encourage her to reach out to resources on campus they know can help.

. . . “You think you’re the only one struggling,” Jesús said. “But no. Everyone is in the same boat.”

Seeing each other struggle, knowing you’re not the only one crying in the shower that first desperately hard semester — that’s what gets you through, Tomás said.

Students who’d aced AP Calculus at Roma High discovered they were not prepared for UT classes.

“On his first college test, Jesús, a star student at home, earned a 50 percent,” Mongeau writes. He worried he was letting others down. “When I experienced failure, it wasn’t just my own failure,” he said.

The Roma students found helpful programs at the university, “special scholarships, offices full of mentors, friendly professors and former Roma TFAs who live in Austin and host welcome dinners for freshmen,” writes Mongeau. Now they advise younger students to join organizations and look for help.

“There are people looking out for people like us,” Eduardo said. “But we have to find them.”

Several members of La Raza “posed” for a photo at Lady Bird Lake in Austin, Texas in 2013. From left to right: Valeria Molina, who now lives in New York City, Jonathan Peña, Travis Pham, Tomás González, Jesús Aguilar and Ziyad Alghamdi, who is not from Roma but was adopted by the group. Photo: Courtesy of Perla de la O.

Get practical: ‘A BA in every pot’ is a fantasy

Credit: Christopher Corr, Getty Images/Ikon Images

Vocational education, now known as “career tech ed (CTE),” is back in vogue, says Anthony Carnevale, director of Georgetown’s Center on Education and the Workforce. Young people need a “middle path” to middle-class jobs that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, he tells KUNC reporter Claudio Sanchez. However, Carnevale wouldn’t want his own son or daughter in CTE.

. . . a huge number of technical certificates that take a year to complete, pay more than a [four-year] college degree. You can make a lot more money with a certificate in heating, ventilation and air conditioning.

Still, “high school to Harvard” is the “tried-and-true path” to success, says Carnevale. “Until we invest enough to build an alternative pathway and respect real work in the U.S., I wouldn’t risk my child’s [education], even though I know that learning by doing is more powerful than learning with your head alone in school.”

Thirty to 40 percent of young people say ‘school is irrelevant.’ But saying to [parents], ‘I’m going to send your kid to trade school,’ will not appeal to people.

CTE will succeed if it develops a broad set of skills while teaching technical skills, Carnevale says.

In Europe and Singapore, businesses help design training programs and hire the graduates. That’s a “long shot” in the U.S., says Carnevale.

For more than 30 years, the U.S. has rejected practical, applied learning.

Every year, more than 400,000 young people in the top half of their high school class go to college, and eight years later they have not earned either a two- or four-year degree or certificate. So at some point, failure matters. Education reform in pursuit of academic excellence is floundering. We need to change our curriculum. The notion that the Common Core will make people college and career ready is largely a fantasy.

“Politicians want to put a BA in every pot,” says Carnevale.

Two girls, different futures

As a 12th grader, Guadalupe Acevedo started thinking about college, but learned she qualifies only for community college. Photo: Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles Times

Lizbeth Ledesma and Guadalupe Acevedo grew up in low-income, immigrant families in Los Angeles, but their college futures are very different, write Joy Resmovits and Sonali Kohli in the Los Angeles Times.

A straight-A student in public school, Lizbeth earned a scholarship to Chadwick, a private school, in ninth grade. She pushed herself to meet higher academic standards. By 10th grade, expert counselors were helping her plan for college. A counselor helped her get a full scholarship to Babson College, near Boston, her first-choice school.

Lizbeth Ledesma meets with her colleague counselor, Beth Akers, at her private school.

Lizbeth Ledesma discusses college plans with counselor Alicia Valencia at Chadwick, a private school.

At Roosevelt High, a Los Angeles Unified campus in a low-income neighborhood, Guadalupe didn’t think seriously about college till her senior year. Even then, “I was so lost. I didn’t know how college worked.”

California students must complete a college-prep sequence of courses with C’s or better — and an overall B average — to qualify for a state university. Guadalupe realized too late she qualified only for community college.

She’ll start at East Los Angeles College and “hopes to transfer to USC, where she wants to take dance and Chicano studies and be a cheerleader,” reports the Times. (And ride a purple unicorn.)

Someone who earned mediocre (or worse) grades in low-level classes at a not-very-demanding high school is almost certain to be placed in remedial classes in community college. Most remedial students drop out in their first year, sometimes in their first few weeks.

Guadalupe could work hard and beat the odds. But her USC dreams show she’s still not getting useful advice.

College students don’t think they’re smart enough

Once chancellor of New York City schools, Rudy Crew now runs Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn.

Rudy Crew, New York City schools chancellor in the late 1990s, now runs Medgar Evers College, a four-year City University of New York campus where fewer than one in five students graduates in six years. Crew talks about college readiness with Chalkbeat’s Patrick Wall.

Students come to institutions with a question in their mind. The question is, Do I deserve to be here? Am I prepared to be here? And if I’m not, Who will find me out and when? There is a certain sort of lost confidence that manifests itself in their questions about their own efficacy. They’re quiet about it.

They don’t think they’re smart enough, capable enough.

Students have taken low-level classes, says Crew.

They don’t read well. They don’t read very much. They are conflicted about math. They don’t think of themselves as good analytical minds.

More and more, the real question is not if they can learn it; the question is, can we teach it? They have not been exposed [to learning] at a higher-order level.

Crew started the “Pipeline” program in 2014 to reach students before they enroll, writes Wall. “Partnered with 80 public schools in central Brooklyn, the college offers enrichment classes for elementary and middle school students, early-college courses for high school students, training for teachers, a lecture series for principals, and workshops for parents.”

The percentage of Medgar Evers freshmen who need remediation is down from 85 percent to 68 percent.

Black, brown boys need change — not grit

Schools are pushing “soft skills” such as “grit,” compassion and a “growth mindset” to prepare students for college and careers. Black and Brown Boys Don’t Need to Learn Grit; They Need Schools to Stop Being Racist, writes Andre Perry, an education consultant and writer, in The Root.

Soft-skills training is disguised bootstrapping, which insidiously blames youths for failing in racist systems designed to block their success, and it absolves the middle class of any responsibility to uproot inequality. It is racism that really keeps students out of college and careers, not a child’s lack of resilience. Students are ready for college and jobs. Postsecondary institutions and employers are not ready for black and brown youths.

“Men and boys of color need to learn how to deconstruct systems rather than adapt to broken ones,” writes Perry.

Louisiana students called for the state to stop prosecuting 17-year-olds as adults in an April 6 protest at the State Capitol.

Students called for juvenile-justice reform on April 6 at the Louisiana Capitol in Baton Rouge.

For example, the Louisiana Youth Justice Coalition organized teens to call for juvenile-justice reform at the State Capitol. They urged legislators and the governor to support a bill that would end the practice of prosecuting 17-year-olds as adults.

“Saying that a kid from Baltimore, St. Louis or New Orleans needs grit is like saying a mountain climber needs to get rid of her fear of falling,” Perry concludes.

That’s a good line. But is it really true that black and brown youths are ready for college and jobs, blocked only by racism? Do they already have the academic skills — and grit — needed to succeed?

75% of seniors aren’t ready for college math

Only 25 percent of 12th graders are prepared for college math and 37 for college reading, according to the latest Nation’s Report Card from the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). Math scores fell over the last two years, while reading scores have been flat since 2009.

Remember that the weakest students have dropped out by 12th grade.

Low performers are doing worse while high achievers are improving, notes Liana Heitin on Ed Week. The percentage of students scoring at the “below basic” level was higher in both reading and math, compared to 2013.

That may be a side-effect of the rising graduation rate, which hit 82 percent in 2014.

Racial/ethnic gaps are huge: 64 percent of blacks and 53 percent of Hispanics score as below basic in math; only 7 percent of blacks and 11 percent of Hispanics score as proficient or better. By contrast, a third of whites and nearly half of Asian-Americans are proficient or better.

Here’s more on the knowledge and skills required to score “basic” or “proficient” on NAEP’s 12th-grade math exam.

In reading, 49 percent of Asians, 46 percent of whites, 25 percent of blacks and 17 percent of black 12th graders are proficient or better.

“College for all” remains the mantra. Nearly two-thirds of high school graduates will enroll in college immediately: 55 percent will complete a degree within six years.

Parents pay $1.5 billion remedial college bill

One in four first-year college students must take remedial classes, according to an Education Reform study. Their families pay nearly $1.5 billion for no-credit classes.

Forty-five percent of remedial students come from middle- and upper-income families and nearly half are enrolled at four-year colleges.

“People are underestimating the breadth and depth of high school underperformance. They think it’s not their kids,” said Michael Dannenberg of Education Reform Now, a co-author of the report.

Dropout rates are much higher for unprepared students, leaving many with college debts, but no college degree.

61% of grads aren’t ready for anything

Most high school graduates aren’t prepared for college or a career, concludes Meandering Toward Graduation, a new Education Trust report by Brooke Haycock and Marni Bromberg.

Forty-seven percent of 2013 graduates didn’t take a coherent college-prep or career-prep sequence of courses, a study of transcripts showed.  If “mastery” is defined as a 2.5 academic grade point average, only 39 percent of graduates were college and/or career ready.

The dental program, huh?” the community college admissions counselor asked as she looked over Tre’s high school transcript. “Then why didn’t you take more science?”

. . . “I just took the classes my counselor put me in,” Tre stammered. “She knew I wanted to be a dentist.”

. . . The admissions counselor looked at him with empathy as she described the course entry requirements for the dental program, including high school biology, chemistry, and college preparatory math — all passed with a C or better. Tre nowhere near met these requirements, despite passing all of his classes and earning a diploma.

A majority of not-quite-college-prep students missed more than one requirement,commonly Algebra II, a foreign language and chemistry or physics.

Lower-income, black and Latino students were less likely to complete the college-prep sequences and less likely to achieve mastery, according to the report.

Among those who’d completed a college-ready curriculum: 82 percent of white graduates had a 2.5 academic GPA or higher, compared with 51 percent of black graduates and 63 percent of Latino graduates.

Why poor kids don’t try for top colleges

Genesis Morales works on the computer at Bryan Adams High School in Dallas. Photo: Cooper Neill, Texas Tribune

“One Dallas-area high school sent more than 60 students to University of Texas-Austin last year,” report Neena Satija and Matthew Watkins in the Texas Tribune. A few miles away, a high-poverty, high-minority school sent one.

Students who rank in the top 10 percent of their senior class are guaranteed a spot in any state university. (At UT-Austin, a student usually needs to be in the top 7 percent.)

Yet, across the state, many low-income, first-generation students don’t apply to top colleges, write Satija and Watkins. Some fear they don’t belong at elite schools like UT-Austin.

Genesis Morales, a senior who ranks 8th in her class at Bryan Adams High, qualifies for automatic admission to UT-Austin, but didn’t apply.

. . . her parents, who are from Mexico, didn’t graduate high school. Her dad is a landscaper, and her mom is a factory worker. For years, her only impressions of college came from watching television shows.

“It’s people who have money, people who are, like, prodigies and stuff, [who] end up there. For me, I was never surrounded by those people — people who went to college.”

Persuaded to aim higher than community college, Morales set her sights on going to Texas Woman’s University in Denton. She prefers a lower-ranked school. “I feel I’m not going to be as smart. So when it comes to tough schools, I kind of stay away,” she said.

Many top-ranked students at Bryan Adams are applying to UT’s less-selective campuses in the Dallas area, reports the Tribune.

. . . most low-income students of color prefer to stay close to home, said Jane Lincove, an assistant professor at Tulane University who studies college access.

In addition to that, at the branch campuses, “there’s more students who look like them, and there’s more students who went to their high schools,” Lincove said of minority students.

Despite her high grades, Morales’ SAT score is in the 43rd percentile, which is low for UT-Austin students. She believes she’d have trouble completing a degree.

“At the state’s two flagships, UT-Austin and Texas A&M University, 72 percent of Hispanic students graduate within six years, compared with 49 percent at Texas Woman’s,” write Satija and Watkins. Of course, that ignores the apple-orange issue: The flagship schools enroll academically superior Hispanic students compared to Texas Woman’s.

Some believe affirmative action can hurt minority students by getting them into top colleges, where they’ll struggle academically, instead of less-elite colleges, where they’ll be as prepared as their classmates. Mikhail Zinshteyn looks at the debate on “mismatch theory.”

More kids take AP courses, fail exam

Glenbard West U.S. history AP class

Teacher Meghan Rio leads a discussion in AP U.S. history at Glenbard West High in a Chicago suburb. Photo: Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune

As schools push disadvantaged students to take Advanced Placement courses, pass rates are falling on AP exams. Does AP help if students fail the exam?, asks Natalie Gross on the Education Writers Association blog.

“Cicero’s J.S. Morton High School District has pushed its mostly low-income students to take tough Advanced Placement courses and exams — just like teens do at elite high schools,” reports Diane Rado in the Chicago Tribune. The number of students taking AP exams doubled in five years, but “passing rates plunged.”

Trevor Packer, head of the AP program at the nonprofit College Board based in New York, said even students who get scores below 3 can still benefit from AP by attending a rigorous class, becoming familiar with a college-level syllabus, experiencing intensive reading and other benefits.

. . . “We are fundamentally opposed to the gatekeeping that was happening 20 years ago and it continues,” said Packer, referencing roadblocks — such as test scores or grades — that keep kids from getting into honors and AP classes in high school.

However, in 2013, Packer told Politico reporter Stephanie Simon that research showed college grades and graduation rates were no higher for AP students, unless they earned a passing grade of 3 or better.

Earlier research that showed benefits for all AP students was flawed, he said, because it didn’t control for other predictors of college success, such as family income and high-school grades.

A new Illinois law requires state colleges and universities to grant college credit for students who earn a score of 3 or higher on AP exams, Rado notes. Last year, 62.8 percent of public school students did that well.

At an EWA seminar in Los Angeles, Robert Tai, a University of Virginia researcher, said that students who passed AP science exams with a 3, did poorly in first-semester science courses.