MOOCs: A head start on college — but kids need help

High school students could use MOOCS (massive open online courses) to earn college credits, Coursera cofounder Daphne Koller tells Anya Kamenetz on Hechinger Digital.

“There are so many studies that demonstrate the benefit to students in high school in having access to college-level material. It encourages them to go to college and complete college. But that opportunity has largely been available to the most advanced students at highly endowed school districts that have teachers that can teach college-level subjects. It’s been a very inequitable offering.”

With the help of a MOOC, a high school teacher who is “passionate and motivated, but not necessarily expert” can teach a college course, Knoller says.

Ohio is looking at MOOCs to prepare students for college and prevent the need for remediation.

The San Jose State Plus pilot, a partnership with Udacity, offers three remedial and entry-level math courses to high school, community college or university students. The for-credit courses cost only $150.

At the Oakland Military Institute, a charter school with predominantly low-income students, some students didn’t have the computers or Internet access at home needed for the college statistics course, reports the San Jose Mercury News. And “many needed personal attention to make it through.”

To make it work, the institute had to issue laptops to students, set aside class time for them to focus on the online course, and assign teachers to make sure they stayed on task.

. . . With more than 700 students in grades 6 through 12, the school had to devote much of its computer lab space, equipment and staffing to online courses for the roughly 45 students taking the Udacity courses. A donation paid for the course fees.

Answering questions and keeping students on task consumed much of his time, said Omar Solache, a computer teacher with two other job titles. A second teacher was assigned to help ease his load.

“They’re so used to having teachers right there with them,” Solache said.

Students watched short videos, chatted with online tutors available around the clock and moved at their own pace, reviewing what they didn’t understand. An evaluation of the pilot will be available in the fall.

Here’s a research report on San Jose State’s partnership with edX on an introductory engineering MOOC.

It’s harder to teach reading than math

“No excuses” charter schools that target low-income, minority students are raising math scores, reports the New York Times, but it’s harder to teach reading to disadvantaged students.

At Troy Prep Middle School, a charter school near Albany, students start fifth grade years behind in math and reading. Last year, all seventh graders scored proficient or advanced on state math exams; just over half met reading standards.

The 31 other schools in the Uncommon Schools network, which enrolls low-income students in Boston, New York City, Rochester and Newark, also have more students achieving proficiency in math than reading, said Brett Peiser, the network’s chief executive.

“Math is very close-ended,” Mr. Peiser said. Reading difficulties, he said, tend to be more complicated to resolve.

“Is it a vocabulary issue? A background knowledge issue? A sentence length issue? How dense is the text?” Mr. Peiser said, rattling off a string of potential reading roadblocks. “It’s a three-dimensional problem that you have to attack. And it just takes time.”

After three years in KIPP middle schools, students scored 11 months — more than a full year — above the national average in math, but only 8 months ahead in reading, according to a Mathematica Policy Research study.

Large public urban districts also find it easier to raise math scores than reading scores.

Studies have repeatedly found that “teachers have bigger impacts on math test scores than on English test scores,” said Jonah Rockoff, an economist at Columbia Business School.

The children from low-income, less-educated families start school with a vocabulary and knowledge deficit compared to the children of well-educated parents, notes the Times. “By contrast, children learn math predominantly in school.”

 “Your mother or father doesn’t come up and tuck you in at night and read you equations,” said Geoffrey Borman, a professor at the Wisconsin Center for Education Research at the University of Wisconsin. “But parents do read kids bedtime stories, and kids do engage in discussions around literacy, and kids are exposed to literacy in all walks of life outside of school.”

Reading also requires background knowledge of cultural, historical and social references. Math is a more universal language of equations and rules.

Common Core standards could make it harder for disadvantaged children to do well in math, Deborah L. Ball, dean of University of Michigan education school, told the Times.  “As math has become more about talking, arguing and writing, it’s beginning to require these kinds of cultural resources that depend on something besides school.”

Students from Mexican immigrant families can excel in math, teachers and principals at high-performing, high-minority schools told me when I was working on the BrokenPromises report. Math is a new language for all students, they said. I hope Ball’s prediction doesn’t come true.

Diversity without racial preferences

Can Diversity Survive Without Affirmative Action?  The Supreme Court will rule soon on whether the University of Texas can use race and ethnicity in admissions, points out the New York Times‘ Room for Debate blog. If universities can’t use race, can they achieve diversity by giving preferences to low-income students, improving outreach and financial aid or ending legacy preferences?

Affirmative action for low-income students of all races is fairer than racial preferences, writes Richard Kahlenberga senior fellow at the Century Foundation.

Liberals are likely to bemoan any Supreme Court decision reducing racial preferences, but such policies never had the support of the American public and a ruling along these lines could pave the way for better programs. While universities prefer race-based programs that assemble generally well-off students of all colors, the end of such programs will likely usher in a more aggressive set of policies that will, at long last, address America’s growing economic divide.

California has preserved diversity, despite a state ban on race-based affirmation action, writes Stephanie Reyes-Tuccio, who directs the Center for Educational Partnerships at the University of California at Irvine. “Outreach to disadvantaged communities equals more outreach to students of color.”

Academic merit should be the primary criteria for admission, writes Richard Vedder, an Ohio University economist who directs the Center for College Affordability and Productivity.

It is unfair and wrong to accept a black child from a prosperous college-educated family with a $200,000 income while rejecting an equally qualified white person from a poor household with a $40,000 income where the parents never attended college.

“Taking more poor students . . . arguably promotes the American Dream of equality of opportunity, but also works to support minority admissions,” Vedder writes. But they must be qualified academically.

Hispanic grads pass whites in college enrollment

Hispanic high school graduates are now more likely than whites to enroll in college: In the class of 2012, 69 percent of Hispanic graduates and 67 percent of whites enrolled in college that fall. Hispanics are less likely than whites to complete high school, but the gap is closing. However, there’s a large college graduation gap.

Federal programs to help disadvantaged students earn college degrees “show no major effects on college enrollment or completion,” concludes a Brookings study. The U.S. Education Department’s college-prep programs cost more than $1 billion a year.

Study: Vouchers raise college-going for blacks

Black students who used vouchers to attend New York City private schools were 24 percent more likely to enroll in college compared to similar students who lost the voucher lottery, write Matthew M. Chingos, a Brookings fellow, and Paul E. Peterson, a Harvard government professor, in Education Next. But vouchers had little effect on Hispanics’ college-going rates.

In the 1990s, philanthropists created the New York School Choice Scholarships Foundation (SCSF), which offered three-year vouchers worth up to $1,400 annually to as many as 1,000 low-income families with children entering first through fifth grade. With the average Catholic school tuition at $1,728, parents had to pay some of their children’s school costs.

After three years, black students who won the voucher lottery had significantly higher test scores than the control group. The long-term study finds a large effect on college enrollment, but only for blacks.

The vouchers’ impact on college enrollment was larger than the effects of small class sizes in Tennessee, for much less cost. It was much larger than the impact of exposure to a highly effective teacher, Chingos and Peterson write.

They’re not sure why vouchers improved academic outcomes for blacks, but did little for Hispanics.

. . .  it appears that the African American students in the study had fewer educational opportunities in the absence of a voucher. . . . There is also some evidence that the public schools attended by Hispanic students were superior to those attended by African American students.

In addition, many Hispanic families chose private school for religious reasons, while most black families “had secular education objectives in mind.”

CREDO: Boston charters are a model

Boston charter students gain 13 additional months of learning in math and 12 extra months in reading compared to similar students in nearby district-run schools, concludes the latest CREDO study to find significant gains for urban charter students.

Eighty-three percent of Boston charter schools did significantly better than comparison schools; no Boston charter did worse. ”The Boston charter schools offer students from historically underserved backgrounds a real and sustained chance to close the achievement gap,” said Margaret Raymond, who directs CREDO at Stanford University.

Statewide, the typical student in a Massachusetts charter school gains an extra one and a half months of learning per year in reading and two and a half in math.

Mike Goldstein, who founded the high-scoring MATCH charter in Boston, wants more on why the city’s charters outperform Boston’s semi-independent “pilot” schools, which draw students with similar demographics. What are Boston’s charters doing right?

Some 45,000 Massachusetts students are on charter school waiting lists because the state caps the number of charters in Boston and other low-performing districts.

 

Students overboard

Photo: Here in Philly the district is closing nearly 30 schools, sending some kids to other dangerous schools to save $$$.  Meanwhile a few miles away it's laptops for every kid.  This could work for other cities' schools, too.

Philadelphia is closing nearly 30 schools, sending some students to dangerous schools to save money, writes cartoonist Signe Wilkinson. “Meanwhile a few miles away it’s laptops for every kid.”

From ‘cat’ to ‘platypus’

Students who start kindergarten with small vocabularies don’t learn many words in school,  according to new studies. Students from low-income families were the least likely to be taught challenging words.

Few kindergarten teachers provide formal, structured lessons on vocabulary, researchers found. Some teachers discussed only two words a day and others as many as 20.  Most words were chosen from stories teachers read aloud, which means ”

they had little connection to other words being taught at the same time.”

“Essentially, what we found was a very haphazard approach to vocabulary instruction,” (University of Michigan Professor Susan) Neuman said.”The ‘challenging’ vocabulary choices were not based on frequency, not based on the supporting academic words children need to know like ‘during’ and ‘after,’ not content-rich words, like ‘predict.’ Why would you choose to emphasize the word ‘platypus’? It makes no sense.”

Reading materials developed in the early 1990s focused on phonics, so kids read about fat cats who sat on mats. Now the stress is on teaching more hard words, says Timothy Shanahan, director of the Center for Literacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

“If the next story has a platypus in it, that’s a hard word; we might as well teach it. … We’ve managed to get publishers off ‘cat,’ but they’ve swung over to ‘platypus.’ “

Study: Low-income achievers aim low

Low-income, high-scoring students usually don’t apply to selective colleges and universities, even though they’d qualify for financial aid, according to The Missing One-Offs: The Hidden Supply of High-Achieving, Low-Income Students, a working paper by Caroline M. Hoxby and Christopher Avery. Those who do apply are as likely to be admitted and graduate as high-income students.

Among students in the top 10 percent on college-entrance exams, but the bottom quartile in income, those in large, urban districts were the most likely to apply to selective colleges. Larger districts can offer selective or magnet high school that expose disadvantaged students to classmates and teachers with high expectations, Hoxby and Avery speculate.

“Open selective public high schools in more areas to reach more high-flying students,” suggests Amber Winkler on Gadfly.

 

“No excuses’ students struggle in college

“No excuses” charter schools send most or all of their low-income, minority students to college. But do “no excuses” students graduate from college? In Education Next, Robert Pondiscio looks at what charter schools are doing to improve their graduates’ college graduation rates.

KIPP is the largest and best known of a class of charter-management organizations (CMOs) that includes Achievement First, YES Prep, Uncommon Schools, Mastery, Aspire, and others. This group shares a set of familiar characteristics: more and longer school days, with a college preparatory curriculum for all students; strict behavioral and disciplinary codes; and a strong focus on building a common, high-intensity school culture. Classrooms and halls are awash in motivational quotations and college banners, typically from the alma maters of the inevitably young, hard-charging teachers who staff the schools. The signature feature is high behavioral and academic expectations for all students, the vast majority of whom are low-income, urban black and Hispanic kids.

Both KIPP and YES Prep track their graduates and report on how well they’re doing. One third of former KIPP middle schoolers have graduated college within six years — four times the average for disadvantaged students, but way below KIPP’s goals.

Black graduates of YES Prep average 1556 in reading, writing and math on the SAT, “far above the national average of 1273 for African Americans, and significantly higher than the 1500 national average for all students.” All graduates have passed at least one AP class. Less than 5 percent of YES Prep grads require remediation in college. Yet the six-year graduation rate is only 41 percent .

 “It wasn’t the academic piece that was holding our kids back,” notes senior director of college initiatives at YES Prep Donald Kamentz. “What we found hands down was it was the noncognitive piece—that tenacity, that grit—that allowed kids to harness those skills and persist when they faced difficulty.”

“What we’ve found with the ‘whatever it takes’ or ‘no excuses’ mentality is that it was very teacher-driven and less student-driven,” says Kametz, acknowledging this is a controversial line of thought in his own halls. A typical No Excuses approach might involve giving demerits or detention for missed assignments or turning in work that’s not “neat and complete.” Kamentz questions whether this tough-love approach helps create the self-advocacy in students they will need to be successful in college. “It’s the largest gaping hole with our kids in college,” he says. “They will constantly say, ‘You structured my life so much that I had to do very little thinking and structuring myself.’”

The no-excuses charters are trying to develop ways to strengthen students’ perseverance, “growth mindset” and grit. Some send  ”posses” of students to “right-match” colleges that provide mentoring to first-generation-to-college students. (I love Pondiscio’s phrase: “in helicopter parentis.”)

KIPP, which started with middle schools, is adding elementary and high schools to strengthen academic preparation. The network also is following its alumni through college to help them cope with academic and social challenges. Now there are 1,000 KIPP graduates in college. In a few years, there will be 10,000. KIPP hopes to raise the college graduation rate to 75 percent, as high as students from upper-income families. The short-term goal is a 50 percent graduation rate.