Credit recovery goes online

As high schools struggle to raise graduation rates, many have turned to online credit recovery programs, writes Hechinger’s Sarah Carr on Education Next. Are students learning — or just being moved along? It’s not clear, but many are dubious.

“There’s a political motivation,” says David Bloomfield, professor of educational leadership, law, and policy at Brooklyn College. “It’s an end run around higher standards.”

Oceanside Unified in California improved graduation rates after opening three centers that offer online credit recovery. Superintendent Larry Perondi believes “the centers have improved the life prospects of students who would have dropped out otherwise, including young parents and teens battling drug addiction.”

Perondi “encourages the district’s best teachers to work” in the centers and assigns extra counselors and social workers to support students.

Three New Orleans charters enroll only students who’ve fallen behind in coursework.

Their supporters argue that the schools provide a much-needed safety valve for students who don’t work well in conventional settings and prefer to move through courses at their own pace; critics worry about the quality of the online courses and fear they take the onus off of traditional high schools to meet the needs of all students.

At the Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy, the average student is an 18-year-old sophomore. “Some of the students failed the same classes multiple times; others dropped out for a period of months, or years,” writes Carr. “The school supplements the online courses with in-person tutorials and small-group instruction.”

The NET, another charter for high-risk students, combines online courses with traditional in-person classes and “advisories.”

Students and teachers say the online courses have some universal benefits: the teenagers can move at their own pace and get instant feedback on how they are doing.

. . . The biggest drawback, however, is that many of the courses are either too easy or too hard. . . . stronger schools and teachers are increasingly figuring out how to use the online courses as a jumping-off point to address individual students’ needs, supplementing easy courses with more challenging material, for instance, or harder courses with extra in-person tutorials.

But some schools rely exclusively on the online courses.

Study: Tracking 9th graders prevents dropouts

Tracking ninth graders’ progress reduced dropout rates in Chicago schools, reports Education Week. Teachers intervened — calling home to report missed classes, helping with homework and other strategies — before students fell too far behind, according to Preventable Failure, a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research.

The number of students deemed to be “on-track” for graduation has risen from 57 percent in 2007 to 82 percent in 2013. Grades have improved for low, average and high achievers.

Following  the graduation rates of students at 20 schools, the study found that student gains in the 9th grade continued through the 10th and 11th grades, resulting in increases in the graduation rate ranging from 8 to 20 percentage points in schools that saw early improvements, to up to 13 percentage points in schools that showed improvements later.

African-American males and students with the weakest skills improved the most.

An “on-track” ninth grader has failed no more than one core subject and earned enough credits to be promoted to the 10th grade.

Graduation rates are climbing in Chicago, notes Ed Week. “Last year the city trumpeted its 65.4 percent graduation rate, a figure that surpassed 2013’s 61.2 percent rate and was significantly higher than the 44 percent rate of nearly a decade ago.”

Ninth grade is the “make-it-or-break-it” year for high school students, concludes a second University of Chicago Consortium study, Free to Fail or On-Track to College.

All students struggle with the transition from middle school to high school, the study found. Grades decline significantly, often because students cut school more and study less. But closer monitoring makes a difference, researchers found.

 (One) school rearranged the school day, scheduling the advisory period as the first class of the day so that tardiness would not become an issue. A teacher also called home every time a student missed class. And the school implemented a discipline policy that relied less on suspensions. Another school reached out to students who received Fs during the semester to find out why they were failing and craft a plan to get them back on track.

It’s easier for small schools to keep track of all students, but Chicago is doing it in larger schools too.

Today’s students, tomorrow’s jobs

(Academic) college isn’t for everyone, wrote Fordham’s Mike Petrilli in Slate. Some students who are failing in college might succeed if they pursued job training, he argued.

It sparked a huge response. Many argued that students need college prep and career prep.
Others accused Petrilli of “the soft bigotry of low expectations” for low-income and minority students.

“Community college ready” should be the minimum goal for all cognitively able students, responded Sandy Kress, an aide to George W. Bush. That means high school graduates should be able to take academic or vocational classes at a community college without the need for remediation.

Kress “prays” that “CTE advocates make these courses as rigorous and valued as they promise they will, and not just a dodge for them to avoid teaching and learning in the so-called old fashioned courses.” In the past, dead-end vocational education has been a “trap” for low-income and minority kids, writes Kress.

Preparing Today’s Students for Tomorrow’s Jobs in Metropolitan America, edited by Penn Professor Laura Perna, looks at the gap between school and the workforce.

Check out “Nancy Hoffman’s excellent chapter on career and technical education,” advises Liz McInerny on Education Gadfly. Education and training for a specific calling  would keep students in school and on track for decent jobs, Hoffman writes.

High school dropouts try college

Dropouts have a chance to finish high school at community colleges participating in the Gateway to College program. Once they earn a diploma, they can start earning college credits.

States dump GED for rival tests

The GED got a lot harder this year to match Common Core Standards. It’s also more expensive. More states are switching to alternatives, writes Catherine Gewertz in Education Week.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire will switch HiSet, an exam developed by ETS and the University of Iowa, joining 10 other states.

New York, Indiana, and West Virginia will use CTB/McGraw-Hill’s TASC as their high school equivalency exam. In Wyoming, Nevada and New Jersey, state testing centers may use TASC if they wish.

Making the GED a test of college readiness sets the bar too high in my opinion. High school dropouts need a way to show mastery of basic skills.

Library to offer high school diplomas

Dropouts will be able to earn high school diplomas at Los Angeles libraries, which will partner with an online learning company. Students will take courses online, but will meet at the library to interact with other adult learners and receive help.

Via Marginal Revolution.

‘GED machine’ includes job prep

While high school dropouts prep for the GED exam at a New York City community college, they also prepare for job training in specific fields, such as health care, business or technology. More students are passing the high school equivalency exam and going on to take college courses at LaGuardia Community College, which has become a “GED machine.”

Showing up

What Does It Take to Get Kids to Stop Skipping School? asks Emily Richmond in The Atlantic

In New York City public schools, one in five students missed a month or more of school last year. However, an intensive, community-wide initiative is raising attendance, according to new report by Johns Hopkins’ Everyone Graduates Center.

New York City’s pilot program includes “mentors, support services, staff training, better tracking and sharing of data of individual student attendance, and community outreach—particularly to parents,” writes Richmond. It’s expanded to 100 schools with more than 60,000 students.

Low-income students were 15 percent less likely to be absent at pilot schools, compared to similar students at similar campuses. Absenteeism fell 31 percent for students living in homeless shelters.

Assigning mentors to work one-on-one with students was the most successful intervention, with kids adding an average of nine days (nearly two full school weeks) of attendance per school year. High school students working with mentors were 52 percent more likely to be enrolled the following academic year than their comparison peers, suggesting the program also contributed to dropout prevention.

Some mentors are AmeriCorps volunteers, social work students, retired professionals, etc. Others are teachers, coaches, security officer and other school staffers. Twelfth graders also serve as peer mentors for younger students.

Raising attendance lowers the dropout rate, the report found. Students who’d been chronic absentees before the pilot started were 20 percent more likely to be enrolled three years later if they attended pilot schools, compared to similar students at non-pilot schools.

U.S. overspends on college

The U.S. is overspending on higher ed, argues Jordan Weissmann in The Atlantic. “We devote more of our economy to postsecondary education than any other developed country (except South Korea, with whom we’re tied),” but we’re rated near the bottom in college spending “efficiency.” That’s degrees earned per percentage point of GDP spent. The chart’s weighted measure gives more credit for graduating students from four-year, rather than two-year, colleges, which boosts the U.S. rank.

“Unlike, say, Germany with its renowned apprenticeship systems,” the U.S. doesn’t offer “alternatives to college if you want a middle-class life,” writes Weissmann. “So ill-prepared young adults flood into degree programs they never finish, leaving the U.S. with some of the lowest completion rates in the developed world.” That means, “we’re spending extraordinary amounts of money to produce college dropouts.”

1912 test for 8th graders: Could you pass?

In 1912, 8th graders in rural Kentucky were expected to know things about  the Gulf Stream, the secretions of the liver, copyright, the battle of Quebec and how to spell (and define) “adjective.”

Were children smarter then? asks the Daily Mail.

Certainly, learning by rote was fashionable. Critical thinking was not. One commenter argued it’s not a bad thing to memorize basic geography.

Doing so allows me to read a newspaper article and understand where it is taking place. Memorizing historical facts allows me to interpret that article and put modern day occurrences into context.

She continued: ‘I work with a lot of “smart” kids who might read about the situation in Israel/Palestine, but can’t find those places on a map, and have no idea about their basic history. Thus, no context, rendering “smart” somewhat irrelevant.’

Others argued poor and working-class children dropped out before 8th grade. However, 845 of 1,032 children aged 10 to 14 in Bullitt County were attending school in 1910. By contrast, only half of children 15 to 17 were in school.