D.C. plans ’9th-grade academies’

District of Columbia plans “ninth-grade academies” to separate new ninth-graders from repeaters with bad attitudes, reports the Washington Post. First-time high school students will get extra support in small schools within the school while repeaters may go to after-school “twilight academies,” evening credit-recovery programs or alternative schools.

(Chancellor Kaya) Henderson  says she will be more aggressive about removing overage, credit-short students from neighborhood schools and assigning them to programs, such as the city’s two STAY schools for adult learners, that can provide a different and perhaps more successful path to graduation.

In short, triage.

D.C. elementary and middle schools promote students who lack grade-level skills in reading and math, reports the Post. Then they hit high school: 40 percent of first-time ninth graders have to repeat the grade because they’ve failed English, algebra or more.

The result is a history of freshman classes that bulge with challenged students. There were nearly 4,000 ninth-graders in the city’s traditional schools in fall 2012, compared with just 2,200 eighth-graders and fewer than 2,600 10th-graders.

Dunbar High used a grant to lengthen the school day by an hour and a half for freshmen.  Ninth-grade teachers work with a counselor and social workers to help struggling students. The promotion rate for first-time ninth-graders jumped from 47 percent in 2011 to 71 percent in 2012 and could hit 90 percent this year. Truancies and suspensions are down too.

Repeaters go to a four-hour “twilight” (afternoon) program. They can’t return to day classes till they make up their missing credits. Dunbar officials couldn’t give the Post information on how many caught up, dropped out or transferred.

Ninth grade is a make-or-break year for many students, reports Ed Week. Many districts are trying academies or other ways to focus attention and support on new high school students.

Creating ninth-grade academies proved to be a challenge in Florida’s Broward County, according to an MRDC study. Only 3 of 18 schools implemented the program strongly, MRDC concluded.

In a 2005 study, MDRC found “significant and substantial academic and attendance gains during students’ first year of high school,” reports Ed Week.

Teachers lay blame for finals failures

In a suburban Maryland county known for high-performing schools, 62 percent of students flunked their geometry finals in January, 57 percent failed their Algebra 2 exams and 48 percent earned F’s on the precalculus final, reports the Washington Post.

Montgomery County high schools give the same math exams:  For the last five years, results have been poor countywide, though worse at some schools.

Under county policy, students can fail the final but pass the course.

For example, with C’s in each of a semester’s two quarters, an E on the final exam would still result in a C for the course. A student with two B’s going into the final exam needs only a D or better on the test to maintain a B for the course, according to the chart. The exam, worth 25 percent of a course grade, holds sway but can be greatly outmatched by daily classroom performance over time.

“Maybe the teenagers are blowing it off because the district is blowing it off,” said Tom Loveless, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies student achievement. “If the district doesn’t take the exams seriously, I don’t understand why they give them.”

Failure rates are high in biology, English and history finals as well.

Math teachers at Poolesville High school start their list of causes with acceleration of students through math to meet “unrealistic targets.”  Too many students don’t fully understand math, the teachers write.

Honors math courses are not substantively different from regular courses (to allow greater upward mobility), and as many students as possible have been placed in honors.  The result is that higher-performing students lack sufficient challenge and the small percentage of students not in honors find themselves in classes with no peer role models and a culture of failure.

. .  .The ubiquitous use of calculators in the early grades has resulted in students who lack number sense and basic skills and thus struggle to make the leap to algebra.

In all content areas, Montgomery County has undercut students’ motivation to work hard, the Poolesville math teachers charge.

High school students know they can fail the final and pass the course. They can skip assignments and receive the minimum grade of 50 percent.  Absenteeism is up because students face no consequences for cutting class.

What it feels like to be bad at math

Every math teacher should understand What It Feels Like to Be Bad at Math, writes Ben Orlin on Math with Bad Drawings.

As a math teacher, it’s easy to get frustrated with struggling students. They miss class. They procrastinate. When you take away their calculators, they moan like children who’ve lost their teddy bears. (Admittedly, a trauma.)

Even worse is what they don’t do. Ask questions. Take notes. Correct failing quizzes, even when promised that corrections will raise their scores. Don’t they care that they’re failing? Are they trying not to pass?

Because of his experience with mathematical failure, Orlin understands why his students don’t ask for help. “Math makes people feel stupid. It hurts to feel stupid.”

7 - Symptoms (smaller)

Orlin excelled as a math major at Yale –until he took topology in his senior year.

My failure began as most do: gradually, quietly. I took dutiful notes from my classmates’ lectures, but felt only a hazy half-comprehension. While I could parrot back key phrases, I felt a sense of vagueness, a slight disconnect – I knew I was missing things, but didn’t know quite what, and I clung to the idle hope that one good jolt might shake all the pieces into place.

But I didn’t seek out that jolt. In fact, I never asked for help. (Too scared of looking stupid.)

He copied his girlfriend’s homework. He procrastinated. He blamed others. He panicked. He exhibited “every symptom that I now see in my own students,” he writes. He managed to pass the course, but recalling the experience is still painful.

Tennessee bill cuts welfare if kid fails

Welfare parents could lose up to 30 percent of their aid if their child fails in school, under a bill in the Tennessee legislature, reports Ed Week. Special-education students would be exempt.

Republican state Sen. Stacey Campfield wants to penalize parents whose child is held back for poor performance — unless parents enroll the child in tutoring, attend a parenting course or attend “multiple” parent-teacher conferences. “It’s really just something to try to get parents involved with their kids,” Campfield told the Tennessean. “We have to do something.”

Tennessee already docks welfare parents up to 25 percent of aid if their child is truant.

A walking ray of sunshine (and failure)

“This year, I have been blessed with a student who may be the nicest kid I’ve ever taught,” writes Exasperated Educator, who teaches in New York City.

Always prepared with an ear-to-ear smile and enormous enthusiasm, he is friendly to everyone even the mean kids. . . . No matter how challenging the lesson is for him, he works hard to understand. He is a walking ray of sunshine.

She’s also got a student who can process information in the moment, but can’t retain anything.

I model it. I give him manipulatives. I’ve had other students tutor him. I’ve given him extra homework. I’ve given him no homework. I’ve let him investigate the topic using videos or computer games. I’ve kept him at lunch for private tutoring. If he does understand the lesson, it lasts only a short while and certainly not into the next day.

It’s the same kid. As much as she likes him, she worries his inevitable failure will make it harder for her to be labeled an “effective” teacher. She resents that — and hates herself for thinking of this warm-hearted boy as a problem.

Value-added analysis is supposed to account for this kind of student: He’s maintaining his previous rate of growth — none — in her class. Whether it actually works like that is another story.  Exasperated doesn’t say if he’s been diagnosed with a learning disability. Inability to retain information should qualify him for an Individualized Education Program, though that’s no magic cure.

The power of suggestion

The Power of Suggestion

By Brain Track.com

Parents, let your kids fail

Parents Need to Let Their Children Fail, writes Jessica Lahey in The Atlantic.

Thirteen years ago, when I was a relatively new teacher, stumbling around my classroom on wobbly legs, I had to call a students’ mother to inform her that I would be initiating disciplinary proceedings against her daughter for plagiarism, and that furthermore, her daughter would receive a zero for the plagiarized paper.

“You can’t do that. She didn’t do anything wrong,” the mother informed me, enraged.

“But she did. I was able to find entire paragraphs lifted off of web sites,” I stammered.

“No, I mean she didn’t do it. I did. I wrote her paper.”

Overprotective parents are raising their children without “the emotional resources they will need to cope with inevitable setback and failure,” writes Lahey.

It’s hard to teach children who’ve been shielded from frustration and failure. Kids can’t learn from their mistakes if their parents never let them make any.

. . . teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. We teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight. These skills may not get assessed on standardized testing, but as children plot their journey into adulthood, they are, by far, the most important life skills I teach.

Her students who are “happiest and successful in their lives” are the ones  who were “allowed to fail, held responsible for missteps, and challenged to be the best people they could be in the face of their mistakes.”

 

Egalite, fraternite, no homework

France’s president, Francois Hollande, wants to ban homework because some children get more help from their parents than others. Is this  The End of Homework? asks Louis Menand in The New Yorker.

It’s not true that homework is just “busywork, with no effect on academic achievement,” writes Menand.

According to the leading authority in the field, Harris Cooper, of Duke University, homework correlates positively—although the effect is not large—with success in school. Professor Cooper says that this is more true in middle school and high school than in primary school, since younger children get distracted more easily. He also thinks that there is such a thing as homework overload—he recommends no more than ten minutes per grade a night. But his conclusion that homework matters is based on a synthesis of forty years’ worth of research.

U.S. students aren’t doing more homework than they were in the 1940′s, according to researchers.  A majority of students, including high-school seniors, spend less than an hour a day on homework during the school week.

Finland has the most successful educational system in the world, according to The Economist, writes Gill.  “Students there are assigned virtually no homework; they don’t start school until age seven; and the school day is short.”

The No. 2 country is South Korea, “whose schools are notorious for their backbreaking rigidity.” South Korean kids don’t just do homework: 90 percent study with private tutors or go to cram schools.

Yet both systems are successful, and the reason is that Finnish schools are doing what Finns want them to do, which is to bring everyone up to the same level and instill a commitment to equality, and South Korean schools are doing what South Koreans want, which is to enable hard workers to get ahead.

Americans “want everyone to have an equal chance to become better-off than everyone else,” writes Menand.

Supporters of homework say that it’s a way of getting parents involved in their children’s education by bringing school into the home, and that has to be a good thing. But it’s also likely (contrary to President Hollande’s assumption) that the people most hostile to homework are affluent parents who want their children to spend their after-school time taking violin lessons and going to Tae Kwon Do classes—activities that are more enriching and (often) more fun than conjugating irregular verbs. Less affluent parents are likely to prefer more homework as a way of keeping their kids off the streets. If we provided after-school music lessons, museum trips, and cool sports programs to poor children, we could abolish homework in a French minute. No one would miss it.

Homework isn’t the root of all evil, but it’s often counter-productive, writes Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal,  in Ed Week.

If we really want students to be engaged with learning, we should allow them the autonomy to self-explore at home one their own and not give them death by ditto because it makes us feel better about the assignments we provide.

DeWitt quotes teacher Mark Barnes, who thinks homework “fails our students.”  Assigning homework “is undermining effective 21st-century teaching and learning,” writes Barnes. “Most teachers link homework to grades so the students who don’t do homework don’t learn the material — mainly because not enough teaching is being done in class — and many would-be learners grow to hate school because they wind up with poor grades and, ultimately, feel like failures.”

The joy of testing

Rigorous exams motivate students and show who needs more help, said Michael Gove, Britain’s secretary of state for education, in an erudite speech that starts by praising the teaching of “French lesbian poetry.”

Now some people will say that if I believe in the adventure of learning and the joy of discovery,  how can I possibly be a fan of testing and examining? It’s like professing a love of cookery – hymning the beauty of perfectly baked souffles or rhapsodising over richly unguent risottos – and then saying the most important thing about food is checking the calorie count in every mouthful. Isn’t an obsession with measurement the enemy of enjoyment, the desire to assess and examine the death of learning for its own sake?

Gove says he understands the argument. Then he refutes it.

. . . Firstly, exams matter because motivation matters. Humans are hard-wired to seek out challenges. . . . If we know tests are rigorous, and they require application to pass, then the experience of clearing a hurdle we once considered too high spurs us on to further endeavours and deeper learning.

. . . Exams show those who have not mastered certain skills or absorbed specific knowledge what more they need to practice and which areas they need to work on.

For all these reasons exams pitched at a level which all can easily pass are worse than no exams at all. Unless there is stretch in the specification, and application is required to succeed, there will be no motivation, no satisfaction and no support for those who need it.

The fourth reason exams matter is that they ensure there is a solid understanding of foundations before further learning starts.

Gove cited research by cognitive scientist Daniel Willingham, who says Gove got the science right, but not necessarily the policy.

People “enjoy mental activity that is successful,” such as solving puzzles, Willingham writes. However, it’s not clear students will be motivated to work hard enough to pass challenging exams. They could conclude it’s hopeless and give up.

Gove is right about the need for background knowledge, but went astray by using “memorisation,” Willingham writes. That inspired the Guardian to declare Gove is advocating rote learning.

(Gove) emphasized that exam preparation should not mean a dull drilling of facts, but rather should happen through “entertaining narratives in history, striking practical work in science and unveiling hidden patterns in maths.”

But whatever Gove may say about rich content and critical thinking, the teachers who most need to improve probably won’t listen, Willingham warns. In the U.S., many teachers felt pressured by No Child Left Behind to teach to the test and cram in facts.

Teachers believed it was necessary because (1) they were uncertain that their old lesson plans would leave kids with the factual knowledge base to pass the test; or (2) they thought that their students entered the class so far behind that extreme measures were necessary to get them to the point of passing; or (3) they thought that the test was narrow or poorly designed and would not capture the learning that their old set of lesson plans brought to kids; or (4) some combination of these factors.

So pointing out that exam prep and memorization of facts is bad practice will probably not be enough.

Testing is unfair to most students, writes Peter DeWitt on Ed Week.  Gove’s call for exams that can’t be passed easily is “not very sporting.”

Hopeless

“Michael” was graduated from high school with no academic skills and unrealistic expectations. Now he’s at an open-admissions college, where he’s  trying hard, but failing. What can his instructor do?