Miami-Dade wins Broad Prize

Miami-Dade’s school district has won the Broad Prize for Urban Education, after five years as a finalist, reports Ed Week.

More black and Hispanic students are scoring “advanced” on state tests and graduating, the foundation said. In addition, more students are taking the SATs and earning higher scores.

(Superintendent Alberto) Carvahlo drew attention to improvements in some of the district’s lowest-performing schools, which he attributed partly to the Data/COM (short for Data assessment, technical assistance, coordination of management, according to Carvalho) process. During Data/COM, school officials analyze a school’s challenges and debate solutions, Carvahlo said.

. . . The district’s budget has also improved dramatically under Carvalho’s tenure, which was noted by the jury. “This may seem strange, but we actually embraced the economic recession as an opportunity to leverage and accomplish change,” he said. The district found additional government and foundation funding and made sure all spending was directed at improving student achievement, Carvalho said.

Runner-ups were Palm Beach County (Florida), Houston and Corono-Norco (California).

Boston Superintendent Carol R. Johnson was honored as the best urban superintendent by the Council of Great City Schools.

Spending skyrockets, scores don’t

While spending per-student has “taken off like a moonshot ,” SAT “scores have stayed the same or declined, reports Neal McCluskey at Cato @ Liberty. The fact that more students are taking the SAT doesn’t account for “the overwhelming lack of correlation between spending and scores,” especially as National Assessment of Education Progress scores also have flatlined.

Conservatives are incoherent on federal education policy, McCluskey adds, criticizing Rick Hess and Andrew Kelly of the American Enterprise Institute for their analysis of federal micromanaging. An addiction to spending federal money and a love of ”standards and accountability” leads to “a great big refuse heap of squandered money, red tape, educational stagnation, and political failure.” Yet Hess and Kelly don’t call for the feds to get out of education policy.

Unprepared in SAT prep class

A straight A student in Los Angeles schools, Andrea Lopez went to a SAT prep workshop and realized she was way behind students from other high schools. Will my best be good enough? she asks in LA Youth. She couldn’t do a single math problem. Other students knew vocabulary that she’d never learned, such as “spurious” and “cogent.” After years of being the best student in class, she felt stupid.

Her advisory teacher at Social Justice Humanitas, an academy within a larger high school, explained that her fears were reasonable.

Most of our parents, he pointed out, can’t help us with school because they didn’t finish high school or don’t speak English. Or they have to work all day to put food on the table. He was right. My parents stopped helping me with homework around fourth grade.

. . . “Most of those kids will have it easier than you guys because their parents are able to provide them with what they need,” he said.

“Wouldn’t it be better to know that you put in a strong effort to get to that dream college?” he continued. “That you made it work because you were determined and you understood everything you learned in school and you didn’t just wing it?”

Later, Lopez talked to Social Justice Humanitas graduates at UC Irvine, UC San Diego and San Diego State, who said they’d taken community college classes in high school, performed community service and joined clubs “to show colleges that they were well rounded.”

“I know we can make it if we are determined to work our hardest,” Lopez concludes.

With straight A’s, she’ll make it to state universities, but she’ll need reading, writing and some math skills to earn a degree. I’m a big fan of hard work, but I’d feel better about her chances if she’d talked to her high school math teacher about how to solve those math (advanced algebra?) problems. What can she do to learn it so she’ll have options in college? And her English teacher may be able to help too.

This girl has met every expectation in school. Now, with one year of high school to go, she learns the expectations were too low. She got a pep talk. She needs a study plan.

Success in numbers

It takes a “posse” to create a college graduate: By sending disadvantaged students to college ing groups of 10, the Posse Foundation has boosted success rates, reports the New York Times.

Posse chooses students with leadership, problem-solving and teamwork skills through a very competitive process.  A group of 10 meets during their senior and through the summer, then goes to the same elite college.

Posse Scholars’ combined median reading and math SAT score is only 1050, while the median combined score at the colleges Posse students attend varies from 1210 to 1475. Nevertheless, they succeed. Ninety percent of Posse Scholars graduate — half of them on the dean’s list and a quarter with academic honors. A survey of 20 years of alumni found that nearly 80 percent of the respondents said they had founded or led groups or clubs. There are only 40 Posse Scholars among Bryn Mawr’s 1,300 students, but a Posse student has won the school’s best all-around student award three times in the past seven years.

This is not about the SATs’ predictive power, as the Times seems to think. It shows that college students do a lot better if they have friends who support their academic goals and no financial worries.

DePauw was so impressed by the Posse Scholars’ success that the college now assigns all first-year students to small groups.  They meet regularly with an upper-class student as mentor “to talk about topics like time management, high-risk drinking and preparing for midterms.”

 

SAT asks for essay on reality TV

Asked to write an essay about reality TV on last week’s SAT exam, students are complaining that the prompt — “How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?” — favors TV junkies. From the New York Times:

“This is one of those moments when I wish I actually watched TV,” one test-taker wrote on Saturday on the Web site College Confidential, under the user name “littlepenguin.”

“I ended up talking about Jacob Riis and how any form of media cannot capture reality objectively,” he wrote, invoking the 19th-century social reformer. “I kinda want to cry right now.”

The goal of the essay prompt is to “give students an opportunity to demonstrate their writing skills,” not to show off their knowledge, said Angela Garcia, executive director of the SAT program.

This particular prompt, Ms. Garcia said, was intended to be relevant and to engage students, and had gone through extensive pre-testing with students and teachers. “It’s really about pop culture as a reference point that they would certainly have an opinion on,” she added.

An exam has to “engage” test takers?

The full prompt contained “everything you need to write the essay,” said Peter Kauffmann, vice president of communications for the College Board.

Students read:

Reality television programs, which feature real people engaged in real activities rather than professional actors performing scripted scenes, are increasingly popular.

These shows depict ordinary people competing in everything from singing and dancing to losing weight, or just living their everyday lives. Most people believe that the reality these shows portray is authentic, but they are being misled.

How authentic can these shows be when producers design challenges for the participants and then editors alter filmed scenes?

Do people benefit from forms of entertainment that show so-called reality, or are such forms of entertainment harmful?

The test designers apparently see writing as an isolated skill with no content knowledge required. The student who’s never watched American Idol, The Biggest Loser, Jersey Shore or Kourtney & Kim Take New York can’t cite examples to prove a point or use details to enliven his writing. He has to hope that Jacob Riis doesn’t cost him too many points.

If I faced this prompt — and I’m thankful my test-taking days are over — I’d have very little to say. I don’t think “most people” believe reality shows are authentic and I don’t think it matters. Do people benefit? No. Are they harmed? No.

Teacher bashing

Pay teachers more is the headline of Nicholas Kristof’s latest New York Times column, but the “to be sure” graph “swallows the rest of the piece,” writes Mickey Kaus in the Daily Caller, mock-accusing Kristof of  “teacher bashing.”

 According to Kristof:

(Teachers’ unions) used their clout to gain job security more than pay, thus making the field safe for low achievers. Teaching work rules are often inflexible, benefits are generous relative to salaries, and it is difficult or impossible to dismiss teachers who are ineffective

. . . 47 percent of America’s kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers come from the bottom one-third of their college classes (as measured by SAT scores).

If unions do all those bad things, Kaus wonders, why does Kristof object to Wisconsin Republicans’ move to  “emasculate” them? Does he secretly admire Gov. Walker?

Kristof denies he wants to throw money at the “low achievers” who are now teaching ineffectively. He claims the ”pay should be for performance, with more rigorous evaluation.”  Good idea! But the teachers’ unions are the people who will fight that idea tooth and nail, and probably win.  Again, it seems as if Kristof should back Gov. Walker.

BTW, Kristof is off base on the SAT issue.  High school seniors who say they want to major in education earn below-average SAT scores, but that includes many who won’t earn a degree.  Elementary teaching  attracts some who love children but aren’t into academics.  (Of course, not all elementary teachers fit the sweet-but-dim model.) Would-be secondary teachers who plan to major in English, history, science or math tend to have above-average SAT scores.

‘Crazy U’ for college-crazed parents

Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College is getting great reviews.

The New York Times compares his writing to Mark Twain, Tom Wolfe and Dave Barry.

The admissions process, as Andrew Ferguson puts it in his new book, “Crazy U,” entangles not just our pocketbooks but everything else that, besides world peace and cocktail hour, matters to parents: “our vanities, our social ambitions and class insecurities, and most profoundly our love and hopes for our children.”

. . . As this story moves forward, Mr. Ferguson makes short, shrewd detours into areas that include: the history of American education, how college guidebooks compile their rankings, the SAT tests and its critics, and the headache-making intricacies of college loans and financial aid. He talks to an expensive admissions guru who learns of his late start and fumbling progress and says, smiling: “Oooooh. Baaaaaaad Daaaaaad.”

The book is “compulsively readable, unusually vivid — and thoroughly dispiriting,” concludes the Wall Street Journal.

This is a guy who doesn’t just delve into the history of the SAT. He also takes the test himself. (“Close to a disaster,” he says of the results, with a math score so bad that he won’t divulge it, other than to say “somewhere below ‘lobotomy patient’ but above ‘Phillies fan.’ “)

. . . A series of enervating campus visits is marked by interchangeably chirpy undergraduate tour guides united by their ability to walk backward while extolling the school’s a capella groups and reassuring parents about the high priority placed on security. On a swing through New England, the Fergusons narrowly miss Dartmouth’s Second Annual Campus Sex Screening, a supposedly health-promoting event where, the flyers promised, “sexperts” would be giving “free demonstrations!” and the party favors included dental dams, glow-in-the-dark condoms and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Mr. Ferguson muses: “I may be showing my age, but back when I was a college student we didn’t need free ice cream to get us to come to a sex demonstration.”

The Washington Post reviewer, whose daughter is waiting to hear from colleges,  is rooting for Dad.

There’s the son telling his high school counselor that in college he wants to major in beer and paint his chest in the school colors at football games, prompting Dad to snap later: “It’ll be a big help when he writes your recommendation.”

Then there’s Dad handing his procrastinator a book on successful college essays and watching the boy vacantly turn it over in his hands. “I thought of the apes coming upon the obelisk in the opening scene of ’2001: A Space Odyssey,’ ” Dad writes. “He did everything but sniff it.” And here’s Dad encountering a mother who gloats that she and her daughter worked three solid months on the essays every day after school, plus weekends. “We did three months of work too,” he tells her, “in twelve days.”

My review:  This really is a great read for college-crazed parents and those about to enter the fray. It’s all 12 years behind me now, but I remember the craziness.

DePaul: Show ‘heart,’ not SATs

SAT or ACT scores will be optional for DePaul University applicants starting next year, but those who choose not to submit scores will be asked to write short essays demonstrating “noncognitive” traits such as leadership, commitment to service and ability to meet long-term goals. From the Chronicle of Higher Education:

“Admissions officers have often said that you can’t measure heart,” said Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management. “This, in some sense, is an attempt to measure that heart.”

DePaul hopes to encourage more applications from low-income and minority students with relatively high grades and low test scores.  “Heart” is a better predictor of success than SAT or ACT scores for low-income and minority students, admissions officials say. 

In 2008 the university added four short essay questions to its freshman application with hopes of assessing noncognitive traits said to lead to college success.

One question prompted applicants to describe a goal they had set for themselves and how they planned to accomplish it: “How would you compare your educational interests and goals with other students in your high school?” Another question said: “Describe a personal challenge you have faced, or a situation in which you or others were treated unfairly. How did you react to the situation and what conclusions did you draw from the experience? Were you able to turn to others for support?”

DePaul dropped those questions when it started using the Common Application, which requires a personal essay of at least 250 words. It was too much writing.  The questions will return for students who don’t submit test scores.

SAT scores flat, except for Asians

The class of 2010′s SAT scores were flat, except for Asian-Americans, already the highest-scoring group. From the Wall Street Journal:

Overall, the average score for the graduating class of 2010 in reading remained at 501; climbed in math to 516 from 515; and dropped in writing to 492 from 493, according to scores released Monday.

However, Asian-American students widened their lead by gaining three points in reading, six points in writing and four points in math.  “More than two-thirds took at least four years of science in high school, versus 59% of all test-takers, and 48% of the Asian-Americans took calculus, versus only 28% of the rest of the pool,” College Board officials told the Journal.

Not surprisingly, students who took college-prep courses outperformed those who didn’t. The number of test takers rose by 1.2 percent.

Getting in without SATs

Sarah Lawrence, a small liberal-arts college, picks admits without considering SAT scores. With grades varying so much from school to school, the admissions committee uses “a sample essay graded by a high-school teacher to determine the curriculum’s rigor,” New York Magazine explains.

But the samples also tell something about the readers. “I had one essay that said how awful Twilight was”—the essay was about damaging themes of female submissiveness in the series—“and I was like, ‘Admit her!’?” says Melissa Faulner, a 2006 grad on the committee. Whereas what the readers wryly call TCML essays—“theater changed my life”—are looked at more skeptically.

A girl from Texas scored a three (out of five) in academics while getting top marks in the other two categories. “Her grades really are bad,” Will Floyd allowed. She hadn’t gotten one A in high school. “But her writing was gorgeous,” he noted. The girl explained in her application that she has test anxiety and problems with rote memorization. But she had good recommendation letters. Besides, Sarah Lawrence’s curriculum emphasizes writing over test-taking. She got in.

More than half of applicants are offered a place at Sarah Lawrence.  Tuition and room and board cost more than $55,000 a year: 61 percent of undergrads receive financial aid.