ACT: 23% are ready for college

Only 23 percent of ACT-taking high school seniors tested at the college-ready level in all four subjects, concludes the latest report on the class of ’09.

While 67 percent of the test-takers in the class of 2009 met college-ready benchmarks in English and 53 percent did so in reading, only 42 percent did so in math and 28 percent did so in science, according to the test results.

Based on ACT’s research, students who meet college readiness benchmarks have at least a 75 percent chance of earning a C or better in first-year, non-remedial courses.

Seventy percent of the test-takers said they had taken a core curriculum: four years of English and at least three years each of natural science, social science and math.

In the past, only students applying to selective colleges took the ACT or SAT.  Now, five states require all juniors to take a college admissions exam in the hopes of encouraging college aspirations. That tends to depress scores by including less-capable students, notes College Puzzle. So perhaps it’s not surprising that college-readiness scores have remain flat since 2005.

Update: Guestblogging on Eduwonk, Michael Goldstein complains that we have the worst of all college-prep options.

1. The top one would be vast numbers of 18-year-olds legitimately prepared for college, which I think is a key driver of the Gates Foundation mission.

2. The middle option is at least honest — and common in certain countries.  Many who won’t end up with college degrees are steered during high school to some sort of vocational training.

3. Our system tells lots of 9th graders they’ll be taking classes to prepare them for college, knowing statistically that, except in some suburban and private schools, the majority of those 9th graders will never graduate from college.

Only about half of students who start college complete a four-year degree within six years. The quit rate is highest in the first year.

Why she quit teaching

Sarah Fine explains why she quit teaching after four years at a Washington, D.C. charter school. It starts with burnout.

I describe what it was like to teach students such as Shawna, a 10th-grader who could barely read and had resolved that the best way to deal with me was to curse me out under her breath. I describe spending weeks revising a curriculum proposal with my fellow teachers, only to find out that the administration had made a unilateral decision without looking at it. I describe how it became impossible to imagine keeping it up and still having energy for, say, a family.

The workload and workday got longer, while “more and more major decisions were made behind closed doors, and more and more teachers felt micromanaged rather than supported.”

The teaching itself was exhilarating but disheartening. There were triumphs: energetic seminar discussions, cross-class projects, a student-led poetry slam. This past year, my 10th-graders even knocked the DC-CAS reading test out of the water. Even so, I felt like a failure. Too many of my students showed only occasional signs of intellectual curiosity, despite my best efforts to engage them. Too many of them still would not or could not read. And far too many of them fell through the cracks. Of the 130 freshmen who entered the school in 2005, about 50 graduated this spring.

Furthermore, teachers get little respect, Fine writes. Teaching is seen as a nice profession for people without ambition.

She plans to travel, write and relax. I wonder what she’ll end up doing as her next career.

On Eduwonk, Maria Fenwick, also with four years’ experience, explains why she’s voting with her feet, leaving a troubled inner-city school.

The best way I can describe what happened over the course of four years is a gradual wearing down of my spirit. . . . I. Just. Couldn’t. Do. It. Any. More.  It was not a question of effort.  It was certainly not a question of efficacy.  It was, however, a perfect storm: change-resistant colleagues, a principal unable or unwilling to motivate and lead them.

. . . The most shocking thing to admit – even to myself- was that my own intrinsic motivation was not enough.  I did not have the energy, the passion, or the self-discipline to truly carry out the work of an excellent teacher each and every day.

Fenwick is not leaving teaching. She’s switching to a city school where she hopes to find supportive colleagues and a principal who knows how to lead.

Cargo Cult Education

Cargo Cult Education — the idea that it’s enough to “find what works, adopt it and spread it around ” — is all the rage, writes Allison at Kitchen Table Math in response to Curt Johnson’s Eduwonk post on innovation vs. replication.  She quotes physicist Richard Feynman on “Cargo Cult Science“:

In the South Seas there is a Cargo Cult of people. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So they’ve arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides of the runways, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas—he’s the controller—and they wait for the airplanes to land. They’re doing everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn’t work. No airplanes land. So I call these things Cargo Cult Science, because they follow all the apparent precepts and forms of scientific investigation, but they’re missing something essential, because the planes don’t land.

Districts need to “understand what’s underneath the ‘lessons of the high performing school’” in order to make a difference, Allison writes.

Reading instruction — all strategies and no substance — is an example, writes Robert Pondiscio on Core Knowledge Blog.

Its entire point is to teach children “what good readers do” and the habits of mind that are reflexive to able readers. It’s the exactly the same thing – you teach kids to mimic the behaviors that lead to comprehension – but without the background knowledge that actually makes it possible.

The Music Man’s Harold Hill was ahead of his time. Buy the band uniforms and the instruments — look like a marching band — and you’ll never have to learn the notes.

Replication isn't innovation

The meaning of “innovation” has been twisted, stretched and distorted, writes Eduwonk guest blogger Curt Johnson of Education/Evolving.

For Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, innovation seems to mean grabbing the lessons from schools with records of high performance and grafting them on to problem schools. Finding “what works,” adopting it, spreading it around. Why not call that what it is: replication?

But what works in one place may not work everywhere, Johnson writes. Schools and teachers need the freedom to try new things that might not work out as planned. True innovation won’t be “evidence-based.”  And it won’t be easy.

(Harvard Professor Clayton) Christensen’s career rests on his distinction between “sustaining” innovation — the constant improvements that successful enterprises make in their products or services — and “disruptive” innovation in which a new and different product or business model bursts through from a competitor the established firm cannot emulate.

This highlights a critical problem with ‘innovation’. These disruptive innovations, the truly new models, are never high-quality at first. They appeal just to people not being served well by the mainstream offerings.

“Most people aren’t ready for radical change,” Johnson writes.

We need some true innovators, but we also need replicators who will build on successful school models.

Teachers helping (or firing) teachers

Peer review – teachers working with struggling colleagues — is helping to improve or weed out ineffective teachers in Montgomery County, Maryland, reports the Washington Post. The union is cooperating.

. . . Of 66 Montgomery teachers in peer review in the 2008-09 school year, 10 are being dismissed and 21 have resigned or retired. Five will remain in review for a second year. The remaining 30 will successfully exit.

“We’ve changed the whole culture from ‘gotcha’ to support,” said Montgomery Superintendent Jerry D. Weast.

If teachers don’t improve after a year of mentoring, a panel of 16 teachers and principals “decides whether to recommend termination or a second year of monitoring,” reports the Post. “No one gets more than two years.”

Toledo Federation of Teachers pioneered peer review 28 years ago, but few districts have followed suit. It requires a high degree of trust between the superintendent and the union.

In Montgomery County, a poor job evaluation triggers peer review. 

Each year, the program weeds out 2 to 3 percent of the county’s probationary teachers, along with a smaller number of tenured faculty. (Of 66 teachers in peer review this year, 27 had tenure.) In nine academic years, peer review has pared 403 teachers from the system.

Mentors make unannounced classroom visits and exchange dozens of phone calls and e-mails to help teachers improve.

Peer review doesn’t work without more rigorous standards, use of data and managerial discretion, writes Eduwonk.

All boats rise

Reading and math achievement in improving across the nation, concludes a study by the Center on Education Policy.  The study found no evidence that the federal push for “proficient” performance has shortchanged advanced or low-achieving students.

. . . even though NCLB creates incentives for schools to focus on ensuring students reach the proficient level, states posted gains at the advanced and basic-and-above levels as well. At the basic-and-above level, 73 percent of the trend lines analyzed across various subjects and grades showed gains. At the advanced level, 71 percent of the trend lines analyzed showed improvement.

“If accountability policies were indeed shortchanging high- and low-achieving students, we would expect to see stagnation or decline at the basic and advanced levels,” said Jack Jennings, CEP’s president and CEO. “Instead, the percentages of students scoring at the basic-and-above and advanced levels have increased much more often than they have decreased, especially in the lower grades.”

Students improved more in math than in reading. Most of the gains were seen in elementary and middle school, though high school scores improved slightly.

Update: Eduwonk and Mickey Kaus wonder why the study hasn’t made more of a splash. Eduwonk asks:

Is it too cynical to think it would be bigger news if it went the other way?

Education Week has more on the study; many of the comments from educators dismiss the importance of higher reading and math scores.

Standards and sausage

Forty-six states and the District of Columbia have agreed to work on common K-12 standards. The National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers have taken the lead.

When students get their high school diplomas, the coalition says, they should be ready to tackle college or a job. The benchmarks would be “internationally competitive.”

Once the organizers of the effort agree to a proposal, each state would decide individually whether to adopt it.

I’m with Flypaper, which compared states’ signing on to standards to people joining a health club in January. We don’t know yet who’s committed and who’s not.

Creating national standards is like making sausage, writes Jay Greene. Only harder to do well.

. . . when everyone gets into the sausage-making that characterizes policy formulation, it generally becomes clear that no one is going to get what they want out of national standards. What’s worse is that the resulting mess would be imposed on everyone. There’d be no more laboratory of the states, just uniform banality.

Of course, some people always hope that they’ll somehow manage to sneak their preferred vision into place without having to go through the meat grinder. That’s what is happening now with the National Governor’s Association effort at “voluntary” national standards. In a process completely lacking in transparency and open-debate, some are rushing to announce a national standards fait accompli.

He quotes Sandra Stotsky, who worries that the standards development process is not transparent, and Sandy Kress, who warns in an Eduwonk comment that states will get a lot less enthusiastic about standards when they realize how incredibly hard it is to agree on something decent.

From high school B's to college F's

Students who’ve glided through high school with inflated grades are ending up in remedial English and math in college, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The state gives a Hope Scholarship to B students — but a high school B average doesn’t guarantee passing grades in college.

Students such as Brandon Curry, 20, a graduate of Redan High in DeKalb County, said they were surprised to learn decent high school grades don’t always translate into college success.

“English was my strongest subject,” he said after a remedial reading class earlier this spring at Georgia Perimeter College in Clarkston. “But when I came to college, I was like, ‘Whoa.’

“I’m on this level,” he said, motioning to about knee-level. “And I’m supposed to be up here,” he said, raising his hand above his chest.

In some cases, students wrestle with basic reading comprehension, said Karen Duncan, an assistant reading professor at Perimeter.

“It’s abysmal,” she said. “We’ve got students in there who may be on the fifth- or sixth-grade level.”

At some high schools, there are huge gaps between students’ class grades and their performance on state-written end-of-course exams. At one high school only 2 percent of students failed economics but 57 percent failed the state’s econ exam;  at another,  0.4 percent of students failed economics, but 63 percent failed the state economics test.

Teachers say they’re pushed by principals to pass students along, so they won’t lose heart and drop out, hurting the school’s rating.

They said that some schools bar teachers from giving “zeroes” — or even failing grades — for work never submitted, let students retake classes without penalty, and punish teachers who fail too many students.

Tracking drop-outs accurately is only the first step, writes Eduwonk guest blogger Michael Goldstein.  Track the college success rate of graduates so there’s no reward for dumbing down diplomas.

The athlete’s way through college

Most Division I basketball players leave college without a degree, reports the annual Academic March Madness report. At University of Connecticut, one of the Final Four teams, the graduation rate is 25 percent.

While a select handful of these players will move on the NBA, the vast majority of those that do not graduate will be left with little academic training, minimal career options, and only the fading glory of college hoops as compensation. And the schools these players “studied” at won’t shed any tears — having already made millions of dollars off their talents.  

But non-athletes do even worse, writes Andrew Rotherham on USA Today.

At the typical four-year college or university, according to federal data, fewer than 40% of students graduate in four years, and only 63% finish within six. Minority and low-income students are much less likely to graduate.

As long as athletes are eligible to play, writes Rotherham, their universities provide the support they need to meet minimal academic requirements.

The problem isn’t preferential treatment for athletes. It’s the conspicuous absence of such support for poor and minority students who would benefit from tutoring, special study halls and other programs to help them adjust to college life.

I’m not sure poor and minority students would benefit from taking easy classes, getting special privileges from instructors and letting their tutors write their papers and take their finals. When athletes lose their support systems, many are unable to pass enough classes to earn a degree. That doesn’t seem like a system to emulate.

Via Eduwonk.

Search, cut, paste

Fur is flying over a Partnership for 21st Century Skills’ talk to the National Education Association.  Though reporters were not invited, Lynne Munson wrote on Common Core that P21′s “Paige Kuni explained that in the ‘search cut and paste environment’ students . . . only need to know ‘enough of the most crucial information’.”

She didn’t say who decides when enough is enough or what P21 considers crucial. Is it enough earth science to know that the earth is round? Enough literature to have heard of Shakespeare? Enough history to know that we once fought a civil war because the North and South disagreed about something?

. . .  In their remarks, none of the panelists mentioned science, geography, foreign languages, history, literature, art, civics — the list goes on and on.

Kuni responded in a Flypaper comment.

. . . I believe that students absolutely need to be taught content in combination with instruction that leads to 21st century skills like critical thinking, innovation, and collaboration. I believe that by creating schools that adopt the approaches P21 supports, students will be able to make connections of how a changing form makes butterflies more successful in the ecosystem. That they can think critically about how life cycles connect to evolution. And that they could extrapolate to other topics such as how product lifecycles in business are the same or different from butterfly lifecycles in making companies successful. When they are 25 if they cannot recall the name of one-step in the lifecycle, it isn’t important as long as they possess the learning skills that allow them to access that information when they need it (search- cut- paste).

Eduwonk sees common ground — if P21 adherents get a lot more specific about how students are going to learn the content that’s essential to thinking critically or creatively.

Robert Pondiscio, who’s back and blogging, muses about resistance to “content.” Personally, I prefer “knowledge.”