Charters help close achievement gap

The achievement gap between students from low-income families and more advantaged students stagnated or grew between 2011-14, according to the Education Equality Index released by Education Cities.

urlOnly two in 10 low-income urban students attend a school with a small or nonexistent achievement gap, according to the study.

“Nearly 30 percent of the 610 achievement gap-closing schools recognized in this study are charter schools,” pointed out Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. In Hialeah, Fla., which has the smallest achievement gap, “80 percent of the gap-closing schools are charter schools.”

About 6.5 percent of public schools are charters.

Disadvantaged big-city students did the best in Miami-Dade County, El Paso, San Francisco and New York City.

Gaps were the largest in Des Moines, Madison and Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Paul, St. Louis and Durham and Raleigh, North Carolina.

 

How to get first-gen students to a degree

Only 11 percent of low-income first-generation college students earn a four-year degree within six years. Academic preparation isn’t the only issue, writes Mikhail Zinshteyn in The Atlantic. Better counseling is helping first-generation students master the “hidden curriculum.”

Reina Olivas, a straight A student in high school, had to improve her study skills to succeed at the University of Texas at Austin. Now, as a Dell Scholars mentor, she advises other first-generation students. When a first-year student said she “was having a hard time with the cultural experience, the college experience,” Olivas asked, “Have you gone to office hours?”

“Well, how do you do that?” Olivas recalls the student asking. “It took me back to the place where I was my first semester—what are office hours, and why do I need to go?”

About a third of college students are the first in their families to try higher education. Most come from lower-income families and many work more than 20 hours a week.

Mentors helped Reina Olivas adjust to the University of Texas, where she's now a mentor for others.

Mentors helped Reina Olivas adjust to the University of Texas, where she’s now a mentor for other first-generation students.

“Simple nudges and regular check-ins from mentors can go a long way toward making such students feel confident that they can navigate the strange waters of college academics,” writes Zinshteyn.

California State University Dominguez Hills, which enrolls many first-gen students, has lifted its graduation rate by offering a two-month summer program for new students with weak math and English scores. In addition, students learn “college knowledge,” such as how to find help, and “forge important relationships with peers and mentors,’ writes Zinshteyn.

The university created “a data tracker that monitors student performance and allows advisers to recommend more relevant coursework and support.”

In 2008, before mentoring and academic changes, the university lost 53 percent of students who’d started two years earlier. Retention rates are rising.

College admissions: Why not a lottery?

Affirmative action is back in court — the U.S. Supreme Court — in Fisher v. University of Texas at Austin.

Abigail Fisher is challenging racial preferences in admission to University of Texas at Austin.

Abigail Fisher is challenging racial preferences in admission to University of Texas at Austin.

Abigail Fisher, a white student rejected in 2008, claims her dream school used “holistic review” as a cover for racial discrimination. “There were people in my class with lower grades who weren’t in all the activities I was in, and who were being accepted into UT, and the only other difference between us was the color of our skin,” Fisher said.

“Affirmative-action policies at selective colleges are very vulnerable,” writes Richard Kahlenberg in The Atlantic. Race is weighed “very heavily” in admissions decisions. That helps “fairly well-off African-American and Latino students.”

“By the 1990s, one study found that 86 percent of African American students on selective campuses were middle or upper class, and the white students were even richer,” he writes.

“Underrepresented minority students receive a 28-percentage-point increase in their chances of being admitted, according to one careful analysis,” he writes. ” Low-income students receive no boost whatsoever.”

University of Texas at Austin uses race as a factor in admission for up to 10 percent of students.

University of Texas at Austin admits the top 10 percent of students at each high school to ensure diversity; about 7 percent are admitted through “holistic review.”

Affirmative action based on economic disadvantage — help for low-income students of all races — could reproduce current levels of racial diversity at 193 selective colleges, a 2014 simulation concluded. “Socioeconomic diversity would rise substantially,” writes Kahlenberg.

Samuel Goldman, a poli sci prof at George Washington University, proposes a lottery open to all qualified applicants to replace the opaque, dishonest and expensive college admissions system.

The application would involve a checklist of more or less objective, externally verifiable criteria. These might include GPA above a certain cutoff, scores of 4 of 5 on a given number of AP tests, and so on. . . . there might be a box to be checked by applicants who played a varsity sport.  The application could even ask about socio-economic status, allowing applicants to indicate that their parents had not attended college or that they grew up in a high-poverty census tract.

Suppose the checklist contained ten criteria. Applicants who satisfied, say, six of them would be entered into a lottery for admission.

“Elite universities might lose a bit of their cachet,” he writes in The American Conservative. He’s OK with that.

A college-admissions lottery would reduce stress, writes Barry Schwartz, a Swarthmore psychology professor.

Every selective school should establish criteria that students would have to meet to have a high likelihood of being successful. Then, the names of all applicants who meet these criteria would be put into a hat and the winners would be drawn at random.

Students wouldn’t have to be “best,” he writes. “Good enough” would be good enough.

U.S. lags in preschool, college graduation

The U.S. is falling behind the world in college-educated workers, concludes a OECD report on education in 46 countries. “The U.S. hasn’t backslid, but other countries have made big gains,”  OECD Education Director Andreas Schleicher said.

In the past, the U.S. ranked second in the world in the percentage of adults with postsecondary vocational or academic education. Today, the U.S. has slipped to fifth position.

South Korea leads the world: nearly 70 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds are college educated. Only 46 percent of young U.S. workers have earned a certificate or degree.

The U.S. is not on track to meet President Obama’s goal of leading the world in college-educated workers by 2020. College graduation rates are falling. according to a new report. Among students who started college in 2009, the year Obama launched his college campaign, only 53 percent had graduated in six years.

College enrollment rates have fallen since 2008, especially for low-income students. In 2013, just 46 percent of low-income high school graduates enrolled in two-year and four-year institutions, according to Census data.

More than 70 percent of young children attend preschool in OECD countries, compared to 41 percent of U.S. 3-year-olds and 66 percent of 4-year-olds. “It’s an area where the U.S. trails quite a bit behind,” said Schleicher.

Mediocre U.S. scores: Don’t blame poverty

When U.S. students post mediocre scores on international tests, poverty is “the elephant in the room,” says American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten. Others point to a “poverty crisis” rather than an “education crisis.”

The elephant is not in the room, write Michael Petrilli and Brandon Wright in Education Next. U.S. schools do as well — or poorly — educating low-income students as other countries. Furthermore, U.S. children aren’t more likely to be poor: Those sky-high child poverty rates really are measuring inequality rather than absolute poverty.

Overall, the U.S. rates 28th in math proficiency for advantaged students among the 34 countries in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA). Disadvantaged U.S. students rank 20th compared to similar students in other PISA countries.

Our advantaged students may do better than poor kids here, but they don’t outperform similar students in developed countries.

While income inequality is high in the U.S., absolute poverty is not especially high, Petrilli and Wright argue.  Including all forms of income, including welfare benefits, the U.S. poverty rate is lower than Britain’s, the same as Germany’s and “barely higher than Finland’s.”

Poverty drags down performance here — and everywhere, they conclude.  The U.S. is not an outlier.

Socioeconomic disadvantage — such as few books in the home — explains some of the gap in scores, according to a report  by three economists. “Once we adjust for social status, we are doing much better than we think,” Stanford’s Martin Carnoy told the New York Times.

“There is no way you can blame socioeconomic status for the performance of the United States,”  countered Andreas Schleicher, who runs PISA for the OECD. “When you look at all dimensions of social background, the United States does not suffer a particular disadvantage.”

According to OECD’s disadvantage index, which includes “parental education and occupation, household wealth, educational resources at home and other measures of social and economic status,” less than 15 percent of U.S. students “come from the bottom rung of society,” reports the Times. “And yet, Mr. Schleicher found, 65 percent of principals in American schools say at least 30 percent of their students come from disadvantaged families, the most among nations participating in the PISA tests.”

Diversifying gifted, honors classes

Broward County, Florida more than doubled the number of low-income students and students of color identified as gifted — without changing eligibility criteria — by screening all second graders rather than relying on referrals from parents and teachers, a recent study found. Those who did well on a nonverbal cognitive test were given IQ tests.

Universal screening raised the percentage of gifted black students by 80 percent, Latinos by 130 percent and disadvantaged students by 180 percent, reports the Orlando Sun-Sentinel.

Sandi Peterson, middle school counselor in Elk Grove, congratulates a student for applying for honors classes.

Sandi Peterson, middle school counselor in Elk Grove, congratulates Kaianna Kelley for applying for honors classes. Credit: Hector Amezcua, Education Week

 The newly identified students “included many students with IQs significantly above the minimum eligibility threshold, implying that even relatively high-ability students from disadvantaged backgrounds were being overlooked under the traditional referral system,” according to researchers.

Schools elsewhere are trying to enroll more low-income, Latino and black students in gifted and honors classes, reports Education Week.

In Elk Grove, a Sacramento suburb, 3.5 percent of lower-income students (based on eligibility for a free lunch) are in gifted and advanced classes, compared to 11 percent of non-poor students. The district has spent “more than $860,000” to rethink procedures for identifying high-potential students.

Screening all third graders has nearly doubled the number identified as gifted.

The district’s Elitha Donner Elementary School, for example, identified 12 low-income students as gifted this year, up from only three last year, and narrowed the white-black gap in gifted education from 4-to-1 in favor of whites to 2.5-to-1 in the last year alone.

Next year, the district will roll out the rest of the changes to the identification system, with teachers and principals developing new rubrics for identifying exceptional creativity and leadership, both in class and in outside activities, such as community volunteering and church youth groups.

“We’re looking at our students differently,” said Michelle Jenkins, Donner Elementary’s principal. “It’s training your brain that ‘gifted’ is not always your top academic students.”

Screening all students for high IQ makes sense. Redefining “gifted” to mean “good kid” does not.

Low-income charter kids earn higher scores

In Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, and Miami-Dade County, low-income charter students scored significantly higher than low-income students in district-run schools on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), notes Education Reform Now.

The difference of 10 scale score points in reading translates roughly into one year’s worth of learning.

On the NAEP math exam, low-income charter students averaged 8 scale score points higher, nearly a year’s worth of learning, compared to low-income students in district-run schools.

‘Dual’ students will get federal aid

Some low- and moderate-income high school students who take “dual enrollment” college courses will be eligible for federal college aid,  U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced in Memphis last week, reports the Commercial Appeal.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan (center) talks with student Shimera Paxton, 13, (right) during chess class at Douglass K-8 School. Credit: Brandon Dill, Commercial Appeal

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan talks with Shimera Paxton, 13, during chess class at a Memphis school. Credit: Brandon Dill, Commercial Appeal

The experimental program will offer Pell aid to cover college tuition for 10,000 students.

Dual enrollment courses are expanding rapidly nationwide. Some states or school districts cover high school students’ college tuition and textbook costs, but others do not.

Pell Grants, which now cost more than $30 billion a year, should be require college readiness, argues Isabel Sawhill, a Brookings researcher.

Targeting college aid to those most likely to succeed should start with counseling in 9th grade or earlier on the courses, grades and test results needed to do well in college. Students who “achieved a basic level of proficiency” would receive more generous support than the current Pell maximum. Low performers would not get college aid, but could receive “support for other training or education programs.”

Linking Pell to readiness misses students who need help most, responds Sara Goldrick-Rab.

Poor kids do well in California charters

More than half of the top-performing schools serving low-income students in California are charters, according to an Education Trust-West analysis.

Seven charters were among the top 10 schools based on eighth-grade student math scores. Five of 10 top schools were charters in third grade and 11th grade English language arts performance.  Nine percent of schools statewide are charters.

America's Finest Charter School students hike in Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary.

America’s Finest Charter School students hike in Silverwood Wildlife Sanctuary on an after-school field trip.

The results will help build the charter sector’s political clout, predicts Cabinet Report, which is geared to superintendents and their staff.

Overall, 44 percent of California students met or exceeded standards in English language arts, 34 percent in math.

Achievement gaps between racial/ethnic subgroups “can’t be explained away by poverty,” concludes Ed Trust-West. “Low-income White students perform about as well as Black students who are not low income.” Low-income Asian students perform far better than Latinos and blacks from middle-income or higher families.

Education Trust-West analyzed data from schools where at least 60 percent of the students come from low-income families, notes Cabinet Report.

At the top of the list for schools finding success in English language arts instruction was America’s Finest Charter in San Diego, where 77 percent of third graders – among a school population that is 95 percent low-income – met or exceeded the standards on statewide tests.

American Indian Public Charter in Alameda, with an 81 percent low-income student population, was the top-performing school in math with 75 percent of its eighth-graders meeting or exceeding expectations.

Downtown Business High, a Los Angeles Unified magnet school, topped the list for 11th grade English scores. About 83 percent of students are low-income.

“Schools like these dispel the damaging myth that schools can do very little to help students overcome the barriers of poverty,” report writers noted.

51% of Pell recipients earn degree

Fifty-one percent of Pell Grant recipients earn a college degree, compared to 65 percent for non-Pell students, according to the Education Trust’s new report.

However, the average graduation gap at each college is only 5.7 percent. That’s because many Pell recipients, who come from low- and moderate-income families, enroll at schools with below-average graduation rates.

The U.S. Education Department handed out $31.5 billion in Pell Grants in 2013-14, but doesn’t track graduation rates, notes Diverse.

The Obama administration’s new College Scorecard includes Pell graduation rates, “but the data are limited and may miss students.”

Education Trust found “similar institutions had significantly different outcomes,” reports Diverse.

Two schools in the State University of New York system, for example—SUNY College at Oswego and SUNY College at Brockport—both have similar enrollments, median SAT scores and Pell recipient enrollment rates. But Pell students at Oswego had a graduation rate of 66 percent, compared to 48 percent at Brockport.

While 22 percent of institutions had no gap between Pell and non-Pell students, 20 percent had a gap of at least 12 percentage points.