High school is forever

High school is forever, writes Jennifer Senior in New York Magazine. Teens are stuck with an identity — nerd, princess, jock, brain, rebel — that sticks with them, in some form, even after they move into the adult world.

Until the Depression, most American adolescents worked alongside adults, Senior writes. Now they live in a world of adolescents that she calls “corrosive” and “traumatizing.”

Most American high schools are almost sadistically unhealthy places to send adolescents.

At the time they experience the most social fear, they have the least control; at the time they’re most sensitive to the impressions of others, they’re plunked into an environment where it’s treacherously easy to be labeled and stuck on a shelf. “Shame,” says Brené Brown, a researcher at the University of Houston, “is all about unwanted identities and labels. And I would say that for 90 percent of the men and women I’ve interviewed, their unwanted identities and labels started during their tweens and teens.”

In 2000, three psychologists asked tenth-graders which Breakfast Club they most considered themselves to be. At age 24, the self-evaluations were “immensely predictive,” according to Jacquelynne Eccles, one of the authors.

. . .  one datum was interesting: At 24, the princesses had lower self-esteem than the brainy girls, which certainly wasn’t true when they were 16. But Eccles sees no inconsistency in this finding. In fact, she suspects it will hold true when she completes her follow-up with the same sample at 40. “Princesses are caught up in this external world that defines who they are,” says Eccles, “whereas if brainy girls claim they’re smart, that probably is who they are.” While those brainy girls were in high school, they couldn’t rely on their strengths to gain popularity, perhaps, but they could rely on them as fuel, as sources of private esteem. Out of high school, they suddenly had agency, whereas the princesses were still relying on luck and looks and public opinion to carry them through, just as they had at 16. They’d learned passivity, and it’d stuck.

My identity was formed long before high school. People thought I was smart and funny. Since many of my classmates were Jewish, good students were admired, not teased. Middle school was socially challenging, but I survived. (I was voted “girl most likely to succeed” in eighth grade, though they didn’t specify in what.) High school was tracked, which I loved. I wrote for the school newspaper, yearbook, literary magazine and Student Stunts. Was it really that awful for the average kid? Perhaps I was just lucky.

High school grad rate tops 78%

The on-time high school graduation rate hit 78.2 percent in 2010, the highest in a generation and up 2.7 points in a year.

“If you drop out of high school, how many good jobs are there out there for you? None,” Education Secretary Arne Duncan told AP.

While 93.5 percent of Asian-American students and 83 percent of whites complete high school in four years, that drops to 71.4 percent for Hispanics and 66.1 percent for blacks.

State graduation rates ranged from 57.8 percent in Nevada to 91.4 percent in Vermont.

Comparing graduation rates to any year before 1992 is impossible, writes RiShawn Biddle. The data collection method changed significantly. Some states and districts are reporting very dodgy data. Connecticut reported a 98 percent graduation rate for the class of 2010, which NCES refused to accept. The District of Columbia claimed “only one percent of students officially drop out over a four-year period.”  The key word is “officially.”

Start kids at 3 and abolish 12th grade

Children should start school at 3 but skip 12th grade, writes Linus D. Wright, who served as undersecretary of Education in the Reagan administration, in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

The Center on the Developing Child, at Harvard University, found that in the first few years of life, 700 neuron connections are formed every second. If children do not receive sufficient nurturing, nutrition, interaction, and stimulation during this period of remarkable growth, they may have deficiencies that will affect the rest of their lives.

“A fully financed mandatory early-childhood-education program would do more to change the culture and academic outcomes of students than any other area of reform,” Wright argues.

Step two of the formula for improving education at every level in the United States is to eliminate the 12th grade. It is the least productive and most expensive of all grades, and the money saved by getting rid of it would pay for early-childhood programs, which are the most productive and least expensive.

Most students are taking electives in 12th grade, he writes. They’re focused on their part-time jobs. Move ‘em out and use the savings for the little kids.

Town turns tables on school prank

The cool kids thought it would be funny to elect an unpopular girl to the homecoming court at Ogemaw Heights High, then taunt her for being an outsider, writes Francis X. Donnelly in the Detroit News. But the people of West Branch, Michigan, a small farm town, rallied around sophomore Whitney Kropp.

Kids pointed at her in the hallways and laughed. The boy who was picked with her withdrew.

Students told her that, in case she was wondering why the boy had dropped out, he was uncomfortable being linked with her.

“I thought I wasn’t worthy,” said Kropp, 16. “I was this big old joke.”

But her family persuaded Kropp to go to the game and have a great time.

“Going to homecoming to show them that I’m not a joke,” she wrote on Facebook. “Im a beautiful person and you shouldn’t mess with me!”

Then word spread, thanks to a Facebook support page, and backing the “free spirit” against the mean girls went viral. Local businesses offered to “buy her dinner, take her photo, fix her hair and nails, and dress her in a gown, shoes and a tiara,” writes Donnelly.
Josh Awrey, the football player who’d dropped out, decided he’d join her after all when the homecoming court is presented at halftime.
“Im sick of everyone blaming me. I had nothing to do with this,” he wrote (on his Facebook page). “I think what they (students) did is rlly rude and immature.”

“Team Whitney” — including graduates who hadn’t been to a football game in decades — vowed to pack the stands at the homecoming game to cheer for her. Normally dressed in black, she got a red dress for the occasion.

Study: LA’s new schools help younger students

Los Angeles Unified built 131 new schools in the last decade to end overcrowding. Elementary students who moved into new schools made strong achievement gains equal to another 35 days of schooling, according to a Berkeley study. But high school students improved only a bit in English Language Arts and not at all in math when they moved from a crowded building to a new facility.

“How new elementary schools are lifting achievement remains somewhat of a mystery,” said William Welsh, the UC Berkeley Ph.D. student who carried out the statistical analysis. “New schools in LA Unified are much smaller than older schools, perhaps offering warmer, personal settings that are more conducive to kids’ learning.”

. . . Achievement gains were even stronger for elementary students escaping the most severely overcrowded schools and landing at a new campus – gains equivalent to lengthening the school year by up to 65 days, said the report.

LA Unified spent just under $15,000 per pupil, on average, for the new schools. “We found no evidence suggesting that more expensive school facilities yield stronger achievement,” Berkeley Professor Bruce Fuller said.

 

Reading ‘Hunger Games’ in high school

Few high school graduates are culturally literate, says Sandra Stotsky in an Education News interview. Her new book, The Death and Resurrection of a Coherent Literature Curriculum, comes out next week. In 2010, she surveyed a national sample of high school teachers to see what books they assign.

. . .  most students in this country experience an idiosyncratic curriculum, a fragmented curriculum whose individual titles don’t relate to each other in any way so that there is no accumulation of literary and historical knowledge of major literary traditions, movements, and periods in American, British and World Literature.

. . . what students read from grade 9 to grade 11 didn’t increase in reading difficulty. They were in essence, being pandered to, not intellectually challenged and educated.

Hunger Games is now required reading in some classes, interviewer Michael Shaughnessy observes. Teens can read the book on their own — it’s written at a fifth-grade level — without a teacher’s guidance, Stotsky replies.

Students who take honors, AP or IB courses may be prepared for “authentic college-level work,” she says. But there’s a vast middle group of students who graduate, go to college and find they can’t read well enough.

They have been shortchanged by an incoherent and intellectually flat literature curriculum reflecting idiosyncratic choices in the name of “engagement,” motivation, or relevance, or trendy ideas from the academy.

Bringing back leveled courses would provide more challenge for the top 20 percent of students and let average students read books written at the high school level in high school, she argues.

Why no gains in 12th-grade math?

Math scores are improving, especially among low-performing students, in elementary and middle school, writes Fordham’s Mike Petrilli. But high school math scores haven’t moved much. And reading scores have declined in high school. Are increased graduation rates to blame?

One hypothesis is about fade-out: The improvements at the elementary level are ephemeral, perhaps because the way math or reading is taught doesn’t set students up for future success. In reading, for example, it’s quite likely that a heavy focus on phonics is helping students to decode better—and post better scores as nine-year-olds—but isn’t giving them the vocabulary or content knowledge to keep making progress in middle school. Another hypothesis is that our high schools aren’t as strong as our elementary schools, perhaps because they haven’t been the focus of as much reform and attention.

Higher graduation rates could be a factor too, Petrilli writes. “We have twelfth-graders in school today who previously would have dropped out. And those students are likely to be very low-achieving.”

 

1/4 quit high school — and that’s progress

High school graduation rates increased from 72 percent to 75.5 percent from 2001 to 1009, concludes a new Building a Grad Nation Report. More than half the states increased graduation rates. The number of “dropout factories” — high schools graduating 60 percent or fewer students on time — decreased significantly.

 

The middle school plunge

When students move from elementary to middle school, their scores drop significantly in the first year compared to students in K-8 schools, conclude Martin West and Guido Schwerdt in The Middle School Plunge in Education Next. Middle-school students don’t catch up with K-8 students in high school.

The transition to high school causes a small drop in student achievement, but the decline does not appear to persist beyond grade 9.

Middle schools were created to ease the transition to high school, but gathering large numbers of pubescent children in one place doesn’t seem to create a good learning environment.

A number of urban districts are creating K-8 schools. It’s a good idea,write West and Schwerdt.

 

In Texas, a dog can get a high school diploma

A Texas law meant to help home-schooled students qualify for college has spawned diploma mills, reports KHOU-TV in Houston. Public colleges and universities have to accept the diplomas as valid, though one girl paid $600 for a diploma before learning the Navy considers it worthless. Lincoln Academy awarded a diploma to a basset hound named Molly, who took the test online.

And what was Lincoln’s “test” like? Doggone laughable at times, with questions like “a triangle has how many sides?” or  “the President lives in the White House, true or false?”

In a couple of hours, with our help, Molly passed.  After a $300 payment and a few days later, her diploma and official transcript arrived. Lincoln Academy was even nice enough to e-mail:

“Dear Molly, You have truly reached a new milestone in your educational career… sit back and enjoy your new life of being a high school graduate from Lincoln Academy.”

In fairness to the diploma mills, writes Eduwonk, “I had a basset hound who was pretty damn smart.”