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.

First to college, but . . . 

In The First-Generation College Experience, Kavitha Cardoza travels to Michigan State with Christopher Feaster (see A college dream lost) to explore why he failed there, like so many students from low-income, non-college-educated families.

He joined an interracial fraternity and made friends with other first-generation students, who also were struggling academically. An adviser tried to help. But going from a small, supportive, all-minority high school to a huge Midwestern university was too much.

“I went in with everyone having these titanical expectations, not to mention a full-ride scholarship. And I’m just like, ‘I don’t know if I can do that, I don’t know, that’s a lot,’” he says.

. . . At the time, his mother had moved out of the homeless shelter and into subsidized housing, but was still struggling.

“Honestly when I was here, my main concern was ‘Is mom going to be OK? Does mom have the money to pay the bills this month? Is she going to go without hot water? Is she going to get evicted?’ That was my worry every day,” he says.

“It’s not uncommon to have students who have had some family trauma that they’ve not dealt with, fall into a depression and stop attending classes,” Monica Gray , programs director for the College Success Foundation, tells Cardoza.

First-generation students need academic and emotional support to succeed in college, says Deborah Bial, the president and founder of The Posse Foundation. It takes more than a scholarship.

The foundation sends low-income, first-generation students in groups of 10 to colleges all over the country. Ninety percent earn a degree.

Diana Sanchez and Bernice Hodge, who grew up in Washington, D.C., go to the University of Wisconsin-Madison on full scholarships. Because they’re Posse scholars, they meet with a tenured faculty member weekly for the first two years. They must ask each of their professors to fill out mid-semester evaluations.

“College is so overwhelming, things happen like nonstop. Deadline this, deadline that, sometimes it doesn’t cross your mind,” says Bernice.

“Also, sometimes you question yourself. These kids might be smarter than me; I don’t see anyone else scrunching up their face. So sometimes it’s also sort of like a pride thing. I don’t want the professor to think that I don’t get it,” Diana adds.

Bernice had a 4.2 grade point average in high school, but professors said her writing wasn’t up to par.  “And I just remember thinking back to high school. Why didn’t anybody catch these mistakes or why didn’t anybody correct me before I got to college?”

Diana’s classmates have traveled to places she’s only read about, she says.

“I’m taking a political science intro to Africa. And I only know the information that I’m learning in the class, but these people, they either had a specialized course in high school or they went to Zimbabwe.”

In her freshman year, her mother, who doesn’t speak English, fell ill, says Diana. “She actually was crying in the voicemail and was like ‘I’m lost, I don’t know where I am right now, come home. I miss you.’”

When her mother fell into a coma last semester, Posse staffers talked to her professors, who let her catch up on assignments while she was home. Diana is now back at UW.

A college dream lost

An “academic superstar” at his Washington D.C. high school, Christopher Feaster struggled in college, lost heart and dropped out, writes WAMU’s Kavitha Cardoza.

Christopher Feaster sits at home with his high school awards.

Christopher Feaster sits at home with his high school awards.

Three years ago, as a senior at a small, supportive school called Hospitality High, he “seemed in a lot of ways like the poster child for grit and determination,” she recalls.

“During much of high school, he and his mother were homeless and living in a shelter,” yet he earned high grades, “won every academic award imaginable and received a full-ride, four-year scholarship” to Michigan State’s hospitality business program.

At Michigan State, Feaster was shocked to receive C’s instead of the A’s or B’s he expected. He stopped turning in homework and spent most of his time in his room.

His high school principals, Michael Cucciardo and Tiffany Godbout-Williams, flew out to Michigan — spending their own money — to talk to him.

Christopher told them about his poor grades, how much he worried about his mother, and his fears of not belonging.

. . . They stayed for two days, met Christopher’s professors, sat in on his classes and set up a plan for him — all the structures they had used to help him be successful in high school.

. . . But Christopher slid even further into depression and stopped answering texts or phone calls. He felt he had disappointed everyone.

He failed all his final exams and was told not to return.

Feaster now works at a restaurant as a host and lives with his mother in subsidized housing.

Was it too much support in high school, inflated grades or depression? (Feaster’s mother, who dropped out of college after one year, when she became pregnant with him, suffers from depression.)

Only one out of every four low-income students that attend college will earn a degree, according to the Pell Institute for Opportunity in Higher Education.

The teacher at the door

Teachers are visiting their students’ families at a growing number of schools, writes Blake Farmer on NPR.

“Traditional schools in Washington, D.C., tried out home visits after privately run charter schools used them to successfully engage parents, he writes. Now the National Education Association is encouraging more schools to try home visits.

Hobgood Elementary fourth grade teacher Ashlee Barnes introduces herself to one of her new students at a Murfreesboro apartment complex. Photo: Blake Farmer, WPLN

Hobgood Elementary teacher Ashlee Barnes introduces herself to one of her new fourth-grade students at a Murfreesboro apartment complex. Photo: Blake Farmer, WPLN

Ninety percent of students at Hobgood Elementary in Murfreesboro, Tenn., come from low-income households., while most of the teachers were raised in middle-class families.

“Once a year, just before school starts, they board a pair of yellow buses and head for the neighborhoods and apartment complexes where Hobgood students live,” writes Farmer.

Principal Tammy Garrett wants teachers to meet their students’ parents and see their challenges. “If a kid doesn’t have a place to sleep or they have to share the couch with their siblings at night and there are nine kids with one bedroom or two bedrooms, it’s important for them to see that — not to be sympathetic,” she says. “It’s to empower the teachers to change the lives of the kids.”

Pell costs billions, but most don’t graduate

Billions of dollars in Pell grants are going to students who never earn degrees, reports Hechinger’s Sarah Butrymowicz.

“Since 2000, taxpayers have spent $300 billion on Pell grants . . . with no way of knowing how many of the recipients ever actually earned degrees,” she writes.

The federal college-aid program is designed for low- and moderate-income students. Most come from families earning less than $40,000 a year.

A Hechinger analysis found Pell graduation rates for the largest private and public universities.

Graduation rates were higher at colleges and universities with fewer Pell-eligible students. For example, 97 percent of Harvard’s Pell recipients earn a degree, no lower than the rate for all Harvard students. But only 15 percent receive Pell aid.

At Davenport University in Michigan, 47 percent of students receive a Pell grant. Only 26 percent earn a degree.

According to an Education Department report, which included 70 percent of Pell recipients, 39 percent earned a bachelor’s degree in six years. (Congress ordered the report.)

There are many reasons students who receive Pell grants never finish. At many universities and colleges, the money doesn’t cover the full cost of tuition, fees, and other expenses, and some students don’t have the resources to pay the rest. Others arrive from low-performing public high schools less well prepared than their higher-income classmates.

The National Center for Education Statistics reviewed Pell graduation rates by institution in 2006, but didn’t distribute the results, according to Mark Schneider, who was the commissioner of NCES at the time.

Now a vice president at the American Institutes for Research, Schneider said that publishing Pell graduation rates will cause a backlash. “We’re going to be really, really sorry we have them because they’re going to be so bad.”

Low-income kids want college, but few are prepared

Ninety-six percent of low-income ACT takers plan to enroll in college, yet only 11 percent are prepared to pass college classes, concludes an ACT analysis.

Half the students in the lowest income quartile failed to meet any of ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math, and science.

Forty-five percent of low-income students met the English benchmark, compared to 64 percent of all students and 26 were ready for college reading, versus 44 percent of all student. Only 23 percent tested as proficient in math and 18 percent in science, roughly half the numbers for all students.

Not surprisingly, low-income students who take a “core or more” curriculum (four years of English and three years each of math, science, and social studies) do better than peers take a lighter load. While only 25 percent of “core-or-more” students from lower-income families met the benchmark, that compares to 4 percent of less-than-core students.

However, African-American students who complete the recommended college-prep curriculum are much less likely to be prepared for college than other core-or-more students, reports ACT and the United Negro College Fund.

These students may be taking classes with a “college prep” label but watered-down content, lower expectations or less-qualified teachers, said Steve Kappler, a vice president at ACT.

Core-or-more blacks met the ACT college readiness benchmark at a rate of 36 percent in English, 19 percent in reading, 15 percent in math and 11 percent in science.

Nationally, 67 percent of students who took the core or more met the ACT College Readiness Benchmark in English, 47 met it in reading, 46 in math and 41 in science—essentially anywhere from double to triple the rate of African-American students who took the core or more.

“A vast majority of African-American students desire a postsecondary education, but they’re clearly not prepared for it,” said Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of UNCF. “We must work together to bridge that gap from aspiration to reality by providing quality education and policies focused on college readiness.”

Does money matter?

“Increased school spending is linked to improved outcomes for students, and for low-income students in particular, argue Kirabo Jackson, Rucker Johnson and Claudia Persico in Boosting Educational Attainment and Adult Earnings

Previous research has shown no link between school spending and learning.

This study correlated spending increases with “large improvements in educational attainment, wages, and family income, and reductions in the annual incidence of adult poverty for children from low-income families.”  However, “how the money is spent matters,” the authors write in Education Next.

Ric Hanushek questions the analysis. School spending has increased significantly, he writes.

If a ten percent increase yields the results calculated by Jackson, Johnson, and Persico, shouldn’t we have found all gaps gone (and even reversed) by now due to the actual funding increases?  And, even with small effects on the non-poor, shouldn’t we have seen fairly dramatic improvements in overall educational and labor market outcomes? In reality, in the face of dramatic past increases in school funding, the gaps in attainment, high school graduation, and family poverty have remained significant, largely resisting any major improvement.

How money is spent matters a great deal more than the number of dollars available, Hanushek concludes.

The authors responded to the critique and Hanushek responded to the response.

Congratulations! Now, it’s going to get hard

Fourteen percent of students from the least-educated, lowest-income families will earn a college degree by their late 20s, reports the National Center for Education Statistics, which tracked 10th graders for 12 years.

Only 41 percent of low-income students with high test scores earned a bachelor’s degree, wrote Susan Dynarski in the New York Times. “A poor teenager with top scores and a rich teenager with mediocre scores are equally likely to graduate with a bachelor’s degree.

Democracy Prep's class of 2019 celebrates commencement.

Democracy Prep’s class of 2019 celebrates commencement.

Getting low-income “first generation” kids into college is hard,” writes Robert Pondiscio in U.S. News. “Getting them to graduate from college is harder.

As a teacher at New York City’s Democracy Prep Charter High School, he’s proud to see the school’s 61 graduates head off to colleges that include Dartmouth, Yale, Princeton, Brown and Emory. All are Latino or African-American.

Democracy Prep calls them the “class of 2019” to stress that their goal is a bachelor’s degree. But how many will make it?

For years, pioneering charter school networks like KIPP, YES Prep, and others won legions of admirers by ensuring that nearly every student they graduated went to college, usually the first in their families to do so. A 2011 report from KIPP itself, however, found that only 33 percent of their earliest cohorts of students had actually earned a college degree. On the one hand, that’s roughly four times higher than the rate for disadvantaged students as a whole. But it was far below KIPP’s own internal goals and a wake-up call for a reform movement that had long championed college as an essential path to upward mobility.

Since then, KIPP and others have become increasingly focused on “college match.” This typically means identifying colleges with high graduation rates both overall and for low-income students, generous financial aid, and other factors from high-touch academic advising to a diverse social environment, all of which make it more likely for “first generation” kids to persist, succeed, and earn a degree.

KIPP Through College helps graduates choose courses, keep up their grades and deal with financial aid issues.

Democracy Prep, which has two small graduating classes in college, also stays in touch with alumni. So far, nearly nine out of 10 Democracy Prep students remain enrolled.

In a story on D.C. charters, Debra Bruno describes how Thurgood Marshall Academy has boosted its college-graduation rate. 

Improve K-12 to get ‘college for more’

Reformers want more students from low-income families to earn college degrees, writes Mike Petrilli. But they’re focusing on removing college barriers for well-prepared students. If we want more college graduates, we’ll have to improve our K–12 system, he argues.

“There’s strong evidence that college adds real value in terms of students’ skills, knowledge, and career preparation, value that translates into higher earnings,” he writes. Graduates appear to be healthier and happier too.

But data don’t support the idea that well-prepared students are failing to go to college and earn degrees, he argues.

Back in 1992, 40 percent of twelfth graders were “college-prepared” in reading, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, yet just 29 percent in their age group had earned a bachelor’s degree (or more) eight years later. In the high school class of 2005, 35 to 36 percent of twelfth graders were prepared for college in reading and math;  eight years later, 34 percent of their age cohort had completed a college degree.

Closing the gap between college readiness and college attainment is good news, writes Petrilli. “But it also implies that if we want to increase college attainment, we need to make progress on college readiness.”