Spartans may win bowl, but will they graduate?

LJ Scott runs past a block made by Donavon Clark to help Michigan State beat Oregon on Sept. 12. Credit:  Alice Kole/State News

Michigan State was a winner on the football field this year, qualifying for the national playoffs and the Cotton Bowl, writes Michael Dannenberg on Education Reform Now. But MSU is failing its neediest students.

Only three of 20 black males complete a bachelor’s degree in four years. Given six years, almost 82 percent of whites, 66 percent of Latinos and 57 percent of blacks will graduate.

Michigan State 2013 Race and Gender Gra-1duation Rates

“Florida State, which has a similar average SAT and higher percentage of low-income students and underrepresented minorities compared to Michigan State, has a close to a zero attainment gap between white and underrepresented minority students,” writes Dannenberg.

Michigan State doesn’t have the lowest graduation rate for football players. Among this season’s top-ranked teams, USC is a bit worse and University of North Carolina graduates only 31 percent of football players, according to Ed Central’s Ben Barrett.

Northwestern, Notre Dame and Stanford are at the top.

UNC’s graduation gap is huge: Football players are 57 percentage points less likely to complete a degree than other male students.

By contrast, “Clemson maintained an equally high graduation rate of 79 percent for both its football team and its overall student body.”

Study: School closures helped students

Closing low-performing New York City high schools helped students, according to a NYU Research Alliance report. Most of the middle schoolers who would have gone to the closed schools ended up at smaller, higher-achieving schools. Fifty-five percent earned a diploma in four years, compared to a 40 percent graduation rate for the now-closed schools.

A 2013 MDRC study found students attending smaller high-schools were 10 percent more likely to graduate on time than students at other schools, notes WNYC.

From 2002 to 2008, the city closed 29 large, low-performing high schools and opened more than 200 new, small high schools.

Post-closure students did better, but not well, researchers said. Fewer than half earned a Regents diploma.

California dumps exit exam — retroactively

California has ditched its high school exit exam because it’s not aligned with Common Core standards. (It’s much easier.) Furthermore, the state will grant high school diplomas to anyone who met graduation requirements but failed the exam since the class of 2006, reports Sharon Noguchi for the San Jose Mercury News.

Nobody knows how many people might qualify for a diploma. Some 32,000 people didn’t pass the exam by the end of 12th grade, but some may have passed later in adult ed, while others may have failed other requirements.

Britne Ryan, 25,  finished high school in 2008, but couldn’t pass the exam, reports Noguchi. She “hopes to go back to school and get into the medical field or work in an office.”

Erika Ortega, of Oakland, hopes a high school diploma will enable her to earn a certificate in early childhood education. Photo:  Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group)

Erika Sandoval hopes a high school diploma will enable her to qualify as a preschool teacher. Photo: Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group

“I am really happy,” said Erika Ortega Sandoval, 25, of Oakland. A learning disability made it hard to master English after arriving in the U.S. at age 14. She failed the exam multiple times.

“Now she’s hoping to study child development at Merritt College in Oakland, and become a preschool teacher,” reports Noguchi.

Not surprisingly, failure rates were higher for students with disabilities and English Learners. Critics said that was unfair.

But here’s the problem: Anyone who couldn’t pass the exit exam, with multiple tries, is going to find it very hard to pass community college classes.

The math portion — which had the highest failure rate — was based on sixth-, seventh- and eighth-grade standards. It was a four-option multiple-choice test. Students needed a 55 percent score. If they knew arithmetic and guessed on everything else, they could pass.

The English section, which was based on eighth-­, ninth- and 10th­-grade standards, required a 60 percent. Solid eighth-grade skills and guessing should have been enough.

“How many millions were spent creating the exit exam, training us on its use, actually giving the exam for all those years, grading that exam, and reporting its results?” asks Darren, a California math teacher, on Right on the Left Coast.

In an e-mail, a colleague also wonders about the wasted money and time.

Well, give ’em all diplomas and trophies, too, and I’m all right with it. But I hope that our esteemed education leaders forgive us lowly classroom teachers if we don’t get excited about the next big thing that is going to really make a difference this time . . .

The pendulum has swung back to “it’s all good as long as you try,” writes Darren.

In theory, the state could design a new exit exam aligned to Common Core standards. It would be a much harder exam with a much higher failure rate, so it will not happen.

Math-phobic “Anna” couldn’t “walk” with her class because she’d failed the exit exam, writes Lauren Seymour, a former “math recovery” teacher, in One Point Short. “Despite its worthy goals,” the test “could have robbed her of her future.”

Anna passed the math exam in summer school, enrolled in community college and has a career as a grant writer, writes Seymour. Without the exit exam, she “would not have worked so hard to acquire the minimum math skills necessary for graduation.” But others never quite got to 55 percent.

‘Free’ college may not lead to more degrees

President Obama has called for guaranteeing two years of tuition-free higher education to all Americans. That will raise enrollment, writes Adela Soliz, a Brookings researcher. But free college won’t lead to more degrees unless it’s linked to performance, she predicts.

Soliz suggests using “financial aid dollars to reward students for earning a particular GPA, completing a certain number of credits, or demonstrating other behaviors that may increase student persistence and completion, such as meeting regularly with an advisor.”

Community college already is affordable, writes Jack Soloway on Reason‘s Hit & Run. Subsidizing tuition will incentivize colleges to raise tuition; quality-control measures will require more compliance staffers.

LA: If D’s don’t count, 3/4 won’t graduate

Ten years ago, Los Angeles Unified’s board decided that all students would have to pass college-prep courses required by state universities with a C or better to graduate, starting with the class of 2017. Three-fourths of 10th graders won’t graduate in 2017, the district estimates.

Tomorrow, the board is expected to ease graduation requirements: D students will be allowed to graduate

In addition, the board may let students stay in enrolled until age 22, an option now reserved for special education students and new immigrants who need time to learn English.

Meanwhile, a state bill would eliminate the graduation exam because it’s not aligned to Common Core standards.

This story profiles an 18-year-old who’s “aced” her classes in a home-study program but failed the math portion of the graduation exam.

The state exam measures basic skills: It’s possible to pass the math portion with elementary arithmetic skills and a little guessing. If it were aligned to Common Core, most students would fail.

Four charged for cheering at graduation

Four people face disrupting the peace charges for cheering for a family member at a Mississippi high school graduation.

Senior sues for right to wear eagle feather

Christian Titman performs a Miwok dance at Fresno State’s First Nations Powwow in April.

Denied the right to attach an eagle feather to his graduation cap, a Native American student is suing his California school district. Christian Titman, 18, a member of the Pit River Tribe, claimed his rights to freedom of religion and expression are at stake. He will participate in the Clovis High School ceremony on Thursday.

The tribe considers eagle feathers sacred and symbolic of a significant accomplishment, said his lawyer.

In a letter to Titman’s attorneys, Superintendent Janet Young said the district’s graduation dress code was intended to show “respect for the formality of the graduation ceremony, unity of the graduating class, and also to avoid disruption of the graduation ceremonies that would likely occur if students were allowed to alter or add on to their graduation cap and gown.”

Open access, but not open exit

Santa Fe College in Gainesville, Florida has won this year’s Aspen Prize for community college excellence for a 62 percent graduation and transfer rate, far higher than the 40 percent national average.

Sixty-three percent of transfers complete a bachelor’s degree within six years, the Aspen committee noted. That’s higher than the completion average — 59 percent — for students who start at four-year colleges and universities.

“We’re an open-access college, not open-exit,” the college’s president, Jackson N. Sasser, told the Chronicle of Higher Education.

SFC works closely with the nearby University of Florida to help students transfer and earn a UF degree. In addition, the college offers some four-year degrees in vocational fields, such as information technology.

Students are encouraged to choose a program of study as early as possible.

An online program similar to the travel-booking site Expedia helps them map out classes that meet their degree requirements and are available during the times they can attend class. Instead of a travel itinerary, the program spits out a list of suggested class schedules. A student clicks on one, and a hold is placed for a spot in all of those classes. If he picks a class outside his degree plan, it shows up in red, meaning it’s OK to sign up, but it may not count toward the degree.

Florida high school graduates aren’t required to take remedial courses. SFC offers support to help less-prepared students pass college-level courses.

Black brains matter

Fifty-nine percent of black males earn a high school diploma, according to a new Schott Foundation report on public school students. The rate has risen from an even more dismal 51 percent, but is lower than the rate for Latino males (65 percent) or white males (80 percent).

Only 44 percent of black males in Nevada public schools earned a diploma, the worst in the nation. Of the six states with black male graduation rates of 75 percent or higher, only New Jersey and Tennessee have black populations larger than 5 percent.


California: CCs plan huge growth

California community colleges have set ambitious goals for improving completion rates and increasing the number of certificates, degrees and transfers.