‘College for all’ includes learning disabled

Amanda Carbonneau (in pink top) laughs with friends at University of Central Florida. Photo: Red Huber, Orlando Sentinel

Amanda Carbonneau, 21, who reads at the fourth-grade level, is enjoying her first year at the University of Central Florida. A new program for students with learning disabilities has made it possible for her to live in a dorm, learning independent-living skills, and participate in campus activities, reports Gabrielle Russon in the Orlando Sentinel.

“We’re paying for a college experience,” said her mother, Janet Carbonneau.

Amanda Carbonneau is living away from home for the first time. Photo: Orlando Sentinel

Disabled students who aren’t seeking a degree can live in University of Central Florida dorms.  Photo: Orlando Sentinel

Amanda has taken an early childhood education course and study skills.

Students in the program take low-level classes (often P.E.) and have access to tutors, but are not working toward a degree. UCF may award a special diploma or certificate.

A new state-funded center in the College of Education and Human Performance “will grant $3.5 million annually in scholarships to students with disabilities.”

I know this is supposed to be a feel-good story, but . . . Shouldn’t the “college experience” including higher education? Florida will spend $3.5 million so young people who lack the ability to do college-level work can live in a dorm and hang out on a university campus.

How to get first-gen students to a degree

Only 11 percent of low-income first-generation college students earn a four-year degree within six years. Academic preparation isn’t the only issue, writes Mikhail Zinshteyn in The Atlantic. Better counseling is helping first-generation students master the “hidden curriculum.”

Reina Olivas, a straight A student in high school, had to improve her study skills to succeed at the University of Texas at Austin. Now, as a Dell Scholars mentor, she advises other first-generation students. When a first-year student said she “was having a hard time with the cultural experience, the college experience,” Olivas asked, “Have you gone to office hours?”

“Well, how do you do that?” Olivas recalls the student asking. “It took me back to the place where I was my first semester—what are office hours, and why do I need to go?”

About a third of college students are the first in their families to try higher education. Most come from lower-income families and many work more than 20 hours a week.

Mentors helped Reina Olivas adjust to the University of Texas, where she's now a mentor for others.

Mentors helped Reina Olivas adjust to the University of Texas, where she’s now a mentor for other first-generation students.

“Simple nudges and regular check-ins from mentors can go a long way toward making such students feel confident that they can navigate the strange waters of college academics,” writes Zinshteyn.

California State University Dominguez Hills, which enrolls many first-gen students, has lifted its graduation rate by offering a two-month summer program for new students with weak math and English scores. In addition, students learn “college knowledge,” such as how to find help, and “forge important relationships with peers and mentors,’ writes Zinshteyn.

The university created “a data tracker that monitors student performance and allows advisers to recommend more relevant coursework and support.”

In 2008, before mentoring and academic changes, the university lost 53 percent of students who’d started two years earlier. Retention rates are rising.

College readiness includes coping, character

I am for peace
Perspectives Charter students organized a peace march in Chicago last year to urge young people to reject violence.

First-generation, low-income college students need more than academic skills to succeed in college, many educators now believe. College readiness includes social and emotional skills, writes Hechinger’s Emmanuel Felton in The Atlantic.

“Plenty of kids” are eligible for college, but not really ready, says Laura Jimenez of the American Institutes for Research. “If your class is at eight in the morning, are you going to be able to get up and get to class? Are you going to seek help when you need it?”

At five Perspectives Charter schools, which serve low-income Chicago students in grades six through 12, every student takes a daily class called A Disciplined Life that stresses what might be called character education. Only 8 percent of Perspectives students passed Common Core-aligned tests last year, writes Felton. However, 93 percent of graduates attend college and 44 percent graduate in six years, a high success rate for disadvantaged students.

Ronald Brown, a senior at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, says Perspectives’s focus on social-emotional skills set him up to tackle the demands of the selective, mostly white and affluent liberal-arts college.

“Perspectives prepared me,” said Brown. “Be open-minded, try new things, challenge each other and yourself intellectually, time management, all of that came easy. And when I hit academic barriers, I persisted and kept moving forward. I took advantage of tutoring, the counseling center, the math center, the writing center, anything that could help.”

At KIPP and YES Prep, predominantly low-income black and Latino students do well on state reading and math tests, but struggle in college. Both charter networks have turned to social and emotional learning to boost their college success rates.

The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL) “identifies five essential aptitudes: self-management, self-awareness, responsible decision-making, relationship skills, and social awareness,” writes Felton. “But none of these skills are straightforward to measure—and how educators stress and relay them to kids looks very different from school to school.”

51gaLpYzZ4L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Educators hope teaching non-cognitive skills “will help students develop the inner fortitude and confidence to push through personal and learning challenges,” writes Katrina Schwartz on Mind/Shift.

Character development programs have become more popular,” but it’s not clear which character strengths improve student success.

In Character Compass: How Powerful School Culture Can Point Students Towards Success, Scott Seider, a Boston University education professor, discusses how three high-performing Boston charter schools, all primarily enrolled black and Latino students, try to develop character.

The strongest predictors of good grades were perseverance and school-connectedness, he found.

Get real: Most grads aren’t college ready

Forty percent of A students are placed in remedial classes in community college, according to a new report, Expectations Meet Reality, by the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Over all, 86 percent of new students say they’re well prepared academically and 68 percent start — and usually end — in remediation.

Most remedial students quit before earning a credential, writes Meredith Kolodner for the Hechinger Report. Colleges are trying alternatives, such as starting unprepared students in college-level courses with access to basic skills help, to raise low success rates.

Stop with the political correctness and admit the truth that “ordinary people” already know, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. “Lots of high school graduates aren’t ready for college

Less than 40 percent of 12th graders are ready for college, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), he writes. Yet nearly all are urged to enroll in college.

As the “college preparation gap” grows, completion rates are trending downward: The six-year graduation rate is 53 percent for those who started college in 2009.

We should stop encouraging unprepared students to go to college, writes Petrilli. “Why saddle them with debt and regret? Why allow colleges to cash checks from Pell Grants that aren’t going to do the students, or taxpayers, any good?”

Telling the truth about unprepared students’ high failure rates in college is politically impossible because most public schools don’t offer real alternatives — or the truth — to students who are on the remedial track. They need a chance to catch up in high school and choose (real) academic college prep or (real) career prep leading to a two-year degree or certificate with workplace value.

If they can’t read, they can’t do well in college

The new SAT, which demands sophisticated literacy skills — even in math — could “penalize students who have not been exposed to a lot of reading,” educators told the New York Times.

College instructors must teach students how to read academic books, writes Amelia Leighton Gamel.

College instructors must learn to teach reading, writes Amelia Leighton Gamel.

It’s not unfair to require high-level reading ability to get into higher-level education, responds Timothy Shanahan, who founded the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois, Chicago. The SAT is supposed to predict college success. Poor reading is an excellent predictor of college failure.

On a recent visit to a Montana middle school, Shanahan taught several lessons which required students to read their math and science textbooks. It was a new experience, the seventh and eighth graders admitted. The teachers were good at explaining things, so the students never learned to work their way through a textbook on their own.

These students won’t be prepared for college if they can’t make sense of what they read and apply it, writes Shanahan.


He grew up in a working-class community and wasn’t on the college-prep track in high school, he writes. But he found a list of books that college-bound students should read and tackled them. “I’m not claiming that I got as much out of reading Moby Dick or Microbe Hunters on my own at 16 as I would have under the tutelage of a good teacher (or as I have upon rereading them as an adult), but trying to understand such touchstone texts pays dividends,” he writes.

Reading challenging books will prepare students to succeed in college, writes Shanahan.  If “college entry is going to become biased against those not prepared for college . . . I think it’s about time.”

Simon Newman, president of Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland, is under fire for suggesting giving tuition refunds to likely-to-fail students who leave early in their first semester. “You think of the students as cuddly bunnies,” he wrote in an email to a faculty member.  “You just have to drown the bunnies.” Or, perhaps, “put a Glock to their heads.”

So, why did Mount St. Mary’s admit these no-hope “bunnies” in the first place?

Long Beach leads the way

Arie’ann Velasquez, 10, and her classmates tour Long Beach City College.

Long Beach, California has created viable kindergarten to high school to college pathways for its predominantly working-class students, reports The Atlantic.

Long Beach Unified, Long Beach City College and Cal State Long Beach collaborate closely to ensure students know their college options and are prepared to succeed.

Test scores, graduation rates, AP enrollment and college attendance rates have risen, even as the number of Latino students has increased, writes Lillian Mongeau.

When high school graduates with B’s and C’s were testing into remedial courses at City College, the college instructors got together with high school teachers to figure out how to strengthen the curriculum and raise expectations.

A collection of bills dubbed the California College Promise will “make several of Long Beach’s practices into state policy with the aim of seeing more California children to and through college,” reports The Atlantic.

What does a high school grad need to succeed?

Many years — perhaps 25 — ago, I was asked my advice on a school district’s new graduation requirements. I said, “Go to your local community college and to employers who hire high school graduates. Ask what skills and knowledge one of your graduates would need to have a chance of passing an entry-level course or qualifying for an entry-level job. That’s what your diploma should require.”

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. (Photo by Elizabeth Redden)

Remedial math instructor Robert Fusco teaches at Bergen Community College in New Jersey. Photo: Elizabeth Redden, Hechinger Report

A high school diploma should signify the graduate is ready for the first year of college, writes Marc Tucker in Education Week. That “is a far higher standard than most high school diplomas are set to currently.”

He envisions states setting the syllabi for required core courses and writing the exams, which would be graded by outside teachers. That’s a radical power shift.

Well-prepared students could complete the core in two years, he believes. Some would have two years for Advanced Placement or other high-level courses. Others could learn high-level technical skills, like vocational students in Singapore and Switzerland, at a community college or their high school.

Everyone would be expected to pass by the end of 12th grade.

We would be doing high school in high school, not in college, and therefore saving enormous amounts of money for both states and families.  We would have more brain surgeons and more specialty welders.

High schools could be held accountable for the proportion of students who earn the new diploma and the proportion who complete two-year and four-year degrees, Tucker writes.

What do you think? Is it doable? Should it be tried?

States drop exams, give retroactive diplomas

States are dropping exit exams and giving retroactive high school diplomas to former students who never passed the exam, reports Catherine Gewertz in Education Week.

Georgia, Texas and South Carolina have issued thousands of diplomas to people who passed high school courses but failed the exit exam.In California, 35,000 or more people could qualify for diplomas. Arizona and Alaska also will issue retroactive diplomas.

Misty Hatcher is working toward a degree as a networking specialist at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood, Ga. --Melissa Golden for Education Week

Misty Hatcher, who received a retroactive diploma, is working toward a networking degree at Lanier Technical College in Oakwood, Ga. Photo: Melissa Golden, Education Week

“States are eliminating comprehensive tests in math and English/language arts in favor of end-of-course tests or other measures of high school achievement,” reports Gewertz. Many argue exit exams are “useless because they’re often pegged to 8th- or 9th-grade-level skills.”

That is, the exit exams were too easy.

California dropped its exam because it wasn’t aligned to Common Core State Standards. That is, it was too easy.

So people who couldn’t pass a test of eighth- and ninth-grade skills will receive high school diplomas.

Only 13 states still require students to pass an exit exam to earn a diploma, down from 25 in 2012, according to Jennifer Zinth of Education Commission of the States. Some states are now dropping end-of-course exams too.

They’re too hard.

Hanna Frank, Education Post’s social media manager, threw away her high school diploma, knowing she hadn’t earned it. She took remedial courses at her local community college, using up most of her financial aid, and managed to earn a bachelor’s degree in five years.

GED lowers the bar

Pass rates are way, way down on the new GED — and fewer people are taking the high school equivalency test. So the GED Testing Service is lowering the pass score from 150 to 145, reports NPR.

High school dropouts study for the GED exam in Dayton, Ohio.

Dropouts study for the GED in Dayton, Ohio.

The computerized exam, which replaced the old test in 2014, is aligned, so they say, with Common Core standards that are supposed to measure “career and college readiness.”

That’s a high bar for high school dropouts.

Now, the testing service says a score of 150 is higher than many high school graduates could earn. Earning 165 or higher certifies readiness for college-level work without remediation.

In addition to being harder, the new GED is more expensive. Test-takers have to pass all four sections at one time.

The GED had a near monopoly on high school equivalency certification, reports NPR.  Now 21 states have adopted alternative tests, such as the TASC and HiSET.

Educating the unready

“Corequisite remediation” — letting students take college-level requirements while catching up on basic skills — triples the (very low) success rate for unprepared college students, concludes Spanning the Divide, a new Complete College America report. Success is defined as the number of underprepared students who complete introductory college-level math and English courses.

One in three recent high school graduates — including 56 percent of blacks and 45 percent of Latinos — are placed in remedial courses, according to CCA.

The rate is higher at community colleges, where only 20 percent of remedial students go on to complete an introductory college course in their weak subject within two years.

Corequisite remediation raised the success rate to 61 percent in math and 64 percent in English, according to the report.