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?

High school grad rate could hit 90%

U.S. high schools are graduating more students and could reach a 90 percent graduation rate by 2020, according to Building a Grad Nation by America’s Promise Alliance.

Gains were strong for minority students: African-American students saw a 6.9 percent increase in graduation rates from 2006 to 2020, and Hispanic students had a 10.4 percent increase.

In the Davis Guggenheim documentary “Waiting for Superman,” Americans learned about “dropout factories,” high schools where fewer than half of all students graduated on time. Bob Balfanz, a Johns Hopkins University professor, coined that term — and in the report out Monday, he found that the number of “dropout factories” has declined. In 2011, according to the report, there were 583 fewer such schools than there were in 2002. “The schools have gotten better, and some have closed,” Balfanz said.

In 2002, 46 percent of black students and 39 percent of Hispanics attended a high school where most students failed to graduate. By  2011, that fell to 25 percent for backs and 17 percent for Hispanics.

Early college for all

A rural North Carolina school district will offer all students the chance to take “early college” courses for credit and will try to create a “college-going culture” starting in kindergarten.

Fewer students need remediation when community colleges work with feeder high schools. South Texas College has helped set up dual enrollment programs at 68 high schools.

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?

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.