Smart, autistic kids need challenge

Special education isn’t designed for “kids who have both an intellectual disability and a sharp intellect,” writes Education Post‘s Beth Hawkins. Her 14-year-old son, who’s on the autism spectrum, “has a voracious thirst for knowledge.”

His favorite author is H.G. Wells. He loves Japanese calligraphy. Last year he produced a documentary about William Higinbotham, a member of the team that produced the first nuclear bomb and the inventor of the first computer game.

Corey also has Asperger’s. He can’t tolerate the noise a pencil makes on paper, intuit when sarcasm is inappropriate or easily turn his attention from one activity to another. Until this year, the vast majority of the interactions I had with his teachers were essentially discussions about how to make him into a compliant, neuro-typical kid.

A special-ed teacher suggested he might go to a not-very-selective college with a program for autistic students, she writes. Corey is set on the highly rated Macalester College.

To get there he’ll need help persisting when confronted by rigor. The resulting sense of mastery would be liquid gold in terms of motivation. But the only tool in many schools’ kits for managing these tough moments is to remove the challenge.

In Corey’s case, this meant frequent trips to an isolated room where, under the guise of “social skills,” he played board games. No wonder he hated school.

Corey now attends a “public charter school organized around entrepreneurship where a number of students like him are excelling,” she writes. Working with adult mentors, Venture Academy students “decide how they learn best.”

Hawkins hopes K-12 schools will raise expectations, inspired by the increasing number of colleges and universities that are offering supports for students with autism.

Most students with academic disabilities can meet the same expectations as other students, writes special-ed teacher Mark Anderson. He opposes a New York proposal to water down high school diploma requirements for students with disabilities.

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?

B’s in high school, remediation in college

California’s state universities should stop admitting students who need remedial math or English, writes Darren on Right on the Left Coast. Unprepared students should start at community colleges.

He teaches at a college-oriented high school in an affluent Sacramento suburb.  Forty percent of graduates who go to Sacramento State require remediation. Overall, 53 percent of Sac State freshman are placed in remedial classes, reports the Sacramento Bee.

“Experts say the primary factors are a lack of collaboration between universities and high schools, inadequate information about the expectations of college and an increase in the emphasis on attending college for students who previously would have pursued another track,” reports the Bee.

The Cal State system requires a B average or lower grades with above-average test scores. It’s supposed to admit the upper third of the graduating class.

So a lot of high schools are giving B’s in college-prep courses to students who aren’t prepared for college.

At Grant Union High School in Sacramento, all students are enrolled in college prep classes, said Jacqueline Perez, associate superintendent of teaching and learning at Twin Rivers Unified. Despite this, only 10 of the 54 students who were accepted into Sacramento State passed the placement tests in math and English.

Sac State hopes to cut remedial classes by partnering with school districts, community colleges and education nonprofits.

The university is hoping to provide curriculum to schools, as well as math and English courses that could be taught at the high school or at the university. CSUS officials are encouraging high schools to promote exams like the SAT and PSAT and Accelerated College Entrance coursework that will help incoming freshmen avoid remediation and even earn college credits . . .

“Share the standards, let us know what college students need–and let us provide that education to students,” writes Darren.  “Those that master it will be ready to attend a university. Those that don’t, won’t be.”

Sixteen or 17 years ago, when I was on the editorial board of the San Jose Mercury News, the new head of the Cal State system, Charles Reed, came in to discuss his plan for cutting remediation. Statewide, more than half of new students required at least one remedial class.

The big innovation was limiting university students to one year of remediation before they had to go to community college. CSU also put an option readiness test on the state exam, so 11th graders could see if they were on track for college-level courses. And, of course, CSU was going to work with high schools.

Reed said moving all remediation to the community colleges was politically impossible.

Achieve’s How the States Got Their Rates looks at high school graduation requirements. Only a few states require all students to meet “college and career readiness” standards.

ACT: Science, math mandates fail

Requiring higher-level math and science classes doesn’t raise math and science achievement, an ACT study concludes. New graduation requirements affect lower-performing students who tend to do poorly in more advanced classes.

College-prep reqs can backfire

Requiring all students to pass college-prep courses risks raising the drop-out rate, concludes a Public Policy Institute of California report.

San Jose, Oakland, San Francisco and San Diego have raised their graduation requirements:  Unless they sign an opt-out form, all students must pass all the courses required for admission to state universities, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

Without strong supports, weaker students may give on earning a diploma, warns the PPIC report, which analyzed San Diego’s transition to the new requirements.

“San Diego students will need to dramatically change the courses they take,” said report co-author Julian Betts, who is also a UC San Diego professor.  “Clear communication with students, parents, and teachers about the new requirements is critical — and that communication needs to begin in middle school, if not earlier.”

The study recognizes that students may have a harder time graduating with the more rigorous standards, unless schools undertake major interventions to ensure they can succeed.

Requiring college prep may discourage students from taking career tech ed courses, PPIC warned.

In addition, districts “will need to guard against two unwanted side effects: the watering down of a–g course content and possible grade inflation that allows students to graduate even though they are not mastering the content of a–g courses.”

When San Jose Unified required college-prep for all, teachers were under great pressure to give students a D- in chemistry, advanced algebra, etc. so they could earn a diploma.

Florida legislators OKs two-track diploma

Florida will create a two-track high school diploma for college-bound and career-minded students under a bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk, reports the Miami Herald.

If the proposal becomes law, the requirements for earning a standard diploma in Florida will change dramatically. Students still will have to pass an end-of-course exam in algebra and a standardized test in language arts. But they no longer will have to pass end-of-course exams in geometry and biology.

Instead, those exams would count for 30 percent of a student’s final grade in that subject.

A passing score on the biology exam would be necessary only for students wishing to add a new “scholar” designation to their diploma. Those students also would have to pass the algebra II exam, earn two credits in a foreign language and enroll in at least one college-level class, among other more rigorous requirements.

Students also can add a “merit” designation to their diploma by earning industry certification in a field such as automotive technology.

A “scholar” wouldn’t be guaranteed college admission and a student who earns vocational “merit” could pursue a bachelor’s degree, reports the Herald.

Not every student is going to go to college, said Rep. Janet Adkins, R-Fernandina Beach, chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Subcommittee. However, all graduates “are going to be college ready.”

Why not say that non-scholar graduates will be ready for job training — in the military, at a community college or on the job — but not ready for academic higher education?

Idaho legislator: Require ‘Atlas Shrugged’

Idaho students would have to read Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and pass a test on it to graduate from high school under a bill introduced by Sen. John Goedde, chairman of the Idaho Senate’s Education Committee.

Goedde said he won’t push the bill, but wants to send a message to the State Board of Education, which repealed a rule requiring two online courses to graduate from high school. “It was a shot over their bow just to let them know that there’s another way to adopt high school graduation requirements,” Goedde said after the meeting.

He hasn’t read the book for 30 years, “but it certainly gives one a sense of personal responsibility,” Goedde said.

In the 1957 novel, productive citizens go on strike against heavy taxation and government regulation. When the innovators and makers disappear, society collapses. Capitalists have better sex too.

Rand’s Anthem would be an interesting choice for teenagers. It’s set in a world in which the idea of “I” has been lost. It’s a lot shorter than Atlas and I don’t think there’s much sex.

I had to memorize the Preamble of the Constitution to get out of junior high. Is there a book that all high school should be required to read?

Oregon may require college credit in high school

Oregon may require all high school students to pass college-level classes, reports Diverse.

A bipartisan group of legislators has introduced a bill that would require college coursework as a condition of graduating from high school. The move would increase the number of students going to college, make their degrees more affordable and encourage students not considering college to continue in higher education, said Sen. Mark Hass, a Beaverton Democrat who is the bill’s chief sponsor.

Oregon students must pass 24 high school classes to earn a diploma. In its current form, Senate Bill 222 would require six of those classes earn college credit, starting with the class of 2020. It promises funding — how much is unstated — to train high school teachers to teach college-level courses.

It’s nice to know Oregon students are so accomplished that all can be expected to complete high school work in three years and move on to college work.

North Carolina is more realistic: A bill backed by Gov. Pat McCrory would create a “career ready” diploma in addition to a “college ready” diploma. The bill passed the Senate unanimously and is headed for the House. “Career and technical teacher licensing requirements also would be revised to help develop more teachers in those fields,” reports AP. There are paths to a decent job that don’t require a bachelor’s degree, the governor believes.

College prep for all relies on false data

Starting with the class of 2002, San Jose Unified raised its graduation requirements: All students must pass the college-prep courses required for admission to state universities. The rule doubled the percentage of university-eligible graduates — and nearly tripled college readiness rates for Latinos — the district reported. Inspired by San Jose’s success, other districts raised their graduation requirements. But requiring college prep classes didn’t work in San Jose, the Hechinger Report discovered. The numbers were fudged.

 For six years, the district misreported its results, counting seniors who were close to completing the college-prep requirements as having done so. San Jose claimed that the percentage of graduates who got at least a C in all these classes rose to nearly two-thirds from just over a third. The rate for Latino students rose to nearly 50% from 18.5%, and for black students to more than 50% from 27%, the district incorrectly reported.

After the district corrected its errors, the district reported only incremental progress that was comparable to school systems without the requirements. Of that class of 2011, a little more than a third completed the college-prep sequence.

In 2000, before the college-prep rule took effect, 40 percent of San Jose Unified graduates fulfilled state university admission requirements by earning C’s or better in college-prep courses known as the A-G sequence. In 2011, the number was 40.3 percent.  Of blacks and Latinos who entered high school in fall 2007, about 1 in 5 were eligible to apply to a state university four years later.

Students could graduate with D’s in college-prep courses, while state universities require at least a C. Failing students were transferred to alternative schools with lower expectations. Thanks to compassionate teachers and the D-, the dropout rate didn’t rise.

While San Jose Unified was claiming success, I was writing Our School, about a San Jose charter school’s fierce struggle to prepare low-income and working-class Latino kids for college. I wondered how kids who’d scored “below basic” on the state math exam were passing advanced algebra and chemistry.

Los Angeles Unified will require the class of 2016 to pass the A-G courses with a D or better, reports Hechinger. Next year’s ninth-graders must earn a C or better.

L.A. school officials said their program will include the support necessary to help students succeed. Supt. John Deasy has insisted that requiring students to get a C or better in these classes is necessary for a diploma to be meaningful and to ensure that low-income and minority students don’t have to settle for coursework that is “orange drink” rather than “orange juice.”

“This is all about a kid’s civil rights,” Deasy said. “I am confident in our students, that they will rise to the challenge.”

Meanwhile, Long Beach Unified also is trying to qualify more students for state universities. Instead of requiring A-G courses, Long Beach sets annual improvement targets for its schools. Only 25 percent of Latino students and 27 percent of black students were eligible for state universities in 2011. That’s not great — but it’s better than San Jose’s real numbers.

Parents block career-tech requirement

I’d love to see more and stronger career-tech courses in high schools, but I’m not surprised that San Diego parents rejected a career-tech requirement. From the Hechinger Report:

San Diego Unified School District  proposed new high school graduation requirements mandating two years of career and technical education courses—or two to four courses. . . .  Parents circulated an online protest petition and school officials spent hours in a meeting to assure hundreds of parents that courses like computerized accounting, child development and website design could be in the best interest of all students.

But afterwards, when parent leaders asked the crowd who favored the requirement, every single parent at the meeting voted against it.

Many San Diego parents said their children needed to take AP courses to compete for selective colleges. They had no time for child development or web design.

After meeting with La Jolla parents, the San Diego Board of Education voted to rescind the requirements.

People think career-tech ed is “great but for someone else’s kids,” said Kenneth Gray, an emeritus professor of education at Penn State. Still, the mandate was a bad idea, he said. “To say everyone has to take it is as ridiculous in my view as saying everyone has to take calculus.”

Few high schools offer a variety of well-designed, well-taught CTE courses that meet the needs and interests of all students, from those striving for elite colleges to those just barely passing. Some students will get turned on by a CTE elective. Others will wish they’d had time in their schedule for jazz band or theater or journalism.

Career-tech advocates are trying to push CTE as college prep plus, not as an alternative to college for all, notes the Hechinger Report.

The quality and availability of the programs vary. At the top end, students in medical courses might spend time at a hospital, learning key vocabulary and technical skills like drawing blood. Students can learn engineering design programs on computers or spend time taking apart electronics to learn how they work. Students in cosmetology programs might study the chemistry behind hair dye.

Why do career-minded students have to do college prep? If you want to learn chemistry, take chemistry. If you want to work in a beauty salon, get a part-time job sweeping up and ask the boss how to move up. Do you need a license? If so, would community college courses help?

Taking vocational college classes in high school boosts graduation rates — and college success — for disadvantaged students and underachievers, reports a new study.  Dual enrollment isn’t just for high achievers any more.