Colleges asks: How much math?

Math is the largest barrier to high school and college graduation for Washington students, reports Katherine Long for the Seattle Times. Now community colleges are lowering math requirements and redesigning remedial math to help more student earn a degree.

Students who are studying to become nurses, social workers, early-childhood educators or carpenters may never use intermediate algebra, much less calculus. Yet for years, community colleges have used a one-size-fits-all math approach that’s heavy on algebra and preps students for calculus.

. . . Some colleges . . .  have started to offer a math sequence that focuses on statistics, and persuaded the state’s four-year colleges to accept it as a college math credit. Others are offering a learn-at-your-own-pace approach.

Seattle Central is using Statway, a remedial math alternative developed by the Carnegie Foundation. By the third year, 84 percent of students passed the three-course series, which includes college credit in statistics. That year, only 15 percent of remedial students completed one quarter of college math by the end of one year.

Statway credits transfer to all of the state’s public four-year universities, though only on a trial basis at University of Washington. Janice DeCosmo, a UW associate dean,  warns Statway “can limit students’ career choices because it doesn’t prepare them to take calculus,” writes Long.

Learning statistics enables students to “interpret the world around them,” argues Paul Verschueren, a Statway instructor.

Other community colleges are using the “emporium” approach to remedial math. At Big Bend Community College, instructors record short video mini-lessons on math topics. “Students watch the videos, then test their understanding, entering answers in a computer program that gives them immediate feedback,” writes Long.

Students progress at their own pace.

Is personalization the future of learning?

Should Personalization Be the Future of Learning? asks Education Next.

Ben Riley questions whether students will learn more if they have control over what they learn and when and how quickly they learn it.

Effective instruction requires understanding the varying cognitive abilities of students and finding ways to impart knowledge in light of that variation. If you want to call that “personalization,” fine, but we might also just call it “good teaching.” And good teaching can be done in classrooms with students sitting in desks in rows, holding pencil and paper, or it can be done in classrooms with students sitting in beanbags holding iPads and Chromebooks. Whatever the learning environment, the teacher should be responsible for the core delivery of instruction.

Technology can help teachers teach well, Riley writes. For example, “using a tablet with a screencasting app, teachers can record their students grappling with a problem and reflect on what led to their understanding (or failure to understand).”

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon

In addition, technology can provide “almost real-time data on student learning that can be quickly analyzed and acted upon.”

Also Francis Bacon

Also Francis Bacon

But he’s seen technology-rich, learning-poor classrooms where students write “essays on Baconian science with texts about the 20th-century British artist Francis Bacon and on the problems that Martin Luther King had with Pope Leo X and Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.”

“Teachers are best positioned to lead cognitively challenging activities like Socratic seminars, deep reading, and math talk,” responds Alex Hernandez. “Personalized learning environments are better suited to teach basic skills and background knowledge than to teach critical thinking.”

Students can spend part of the day using technology to develop basic skills and background knowledge, he writes. That will free teachers to create “challenging tasks and compelling experiences.Teachers should be in the business of creating ‘aha’ moments for children, not figuring out seven different math lessons for 25 different students.”

Cristo Rey: Work, study, get ahead

Students from Cristo Rey Jesuit High School, Baltimore, at their employer’s office.

Combining academics, Catholic values and work experience is working for the Cristo Rey network of high schools, according to a new Lexington Institute report.

Twenty-eight Cristo Rey schools serve 9,000 students, nearly all low-income and working-class Latinos and blacks. Each student’s family contributes $1,000 for tuition, on average. Employers pay the rest — and provide one day a week of work experience for students.

Ninety percent of Cristo Rey’s 2014 graduates enrolled in college.

A new San Jose school is using self-paced, “blended” learning to help students catch up in an intensive summer program.

Cristo Rey is showing that “education can untie the Gordian knot of poverty,” writes Daniel Porterfield in Forbes.

The weekly work experiences helped students mature. They learned work etiquette and became problem-solvers. They figured out how to talk with adults of all ages and ethnicities. They discovered that they liked working. It gave them new skills and self-confidence.

The jobs showed them why school matters too. They could see that there was real opportunity in their city’s local economy—and that adults with college degrees had interesting careers that paid well.

In Putting Education to Work, Megan Sweas explains how Cristo Rey creates a culture of high expectations — and keeps improving.

Hacking higher ed

Online “competency-based education” (CBE) is a faster, cheaper, more flexible way for adults to earn college credentials valued by employers, I write on Mozilla’s new e-mag, The Open Standard.

CBE lets students progress at their own pace. They may watch mini-lectures, read, work through exercises, chat with virtual classmates, consult with a faculty mentor – or apply what they’ve already learned on the job, in the military or through independent study.

“The idea of divorcing learning from seat time – rewarding people for mastery – has radical implications,” said Julian Alssid, chief workforce strategist at Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America.

To earn credit, students demonstrate mastery of a “learning objective” by taking quizzes and tests, writing papers or completing a project. Those who haven’t fully mastered a competency don’t get a B or a C. They keep trying until they learn it.

Most programs work with employers to design the competencies, so students — nearly all are working adults — will have the skills employers are seeking.

President Obama has endorsed the idea. The Education Department is experimenting with student aid for CBE students.

Western Governors University was the pioneer, but now state universities — the University of Wisconsin and, just this week, the University of Michigan — are offering online CBE programs.

Personalized learning — without fairy dust

Like many high-poverty middle schools, Oakland’s Elmhurst Community Prep is trying to reach students who are all over the map academically. One third are working at grade level in reading and math, says Principal Kilian Betlach. Another third are one to two years behind. The remaining third are three or four years behind — or more. “You can’t teach them by aiming for the middle and providing these little supports,” says Betlach.

“Teachers are told to sprinkle your differentiation fairy dust,” says Betlach. With 32 students in a class, and no aides, “it’s not possible.”

What is possible?

A foundation-funded experiment is testing whether “blended learning” can personalize instruction in eight Oakland schools. I write about how it’s working in Beyond the Factory Model in  Education Next.

Credit recovery goes online

As high schools struggle to raise graduation rates, many have turned to online credit recovery programs, writes Hechinger’s Sarah Carr on Education Next. Are students learning — or just being moved along? It’s not clear, but many are dubious.

“There’s a political motivation,” says David Bloomfield, professor of educational leadership, law, and policy at Brooklyn College. “It’s an end run around higher standards.”

Oceanside Unified in California improved graduation rates after opening three centers that offer online credit recovery. Superintendent Larry Perondi believes “the centers have improved the life prospects of students who would have dropped out otherwise, including young parents and teens battling drug addiction.”

Perondi “encourages the district’s best teachers to work” in the centers and assigns extra counselors and social workers to support students.

Three New Orleans charters enroll only students who’ve fallen behind in coursework.

Their supporters argue that the schools provide a much-needed safety valve for students who don’t work well in conventional settings and prefer to move through courses at their own pace; critics worry about the quality of the online courses and fear they take the onus off of traditional high schools to meet the needs of all students.

At the Jefferson Chamber Foundation Academy, the average student is an 18-year-old sophomore. “Some of the students failed the same classes multiple times; others dropped out for a period of months, or years,” writes Carr. “The school supplements the online courses with in-person tutorials and small-group instruction.”

The NET, another charter for high-risk students, combines online courses with traditional in-person classes and “advisories.”

Students and teachers say the online courses have some universal benefits: the teenagers can move at their own pace and get instant feedback on how they are doing.

. . . The biggest drawback, however, is that many of the courses are either too easy or too hard. . . . stronger schools and teachers are increasingly figuring out how to use the online courses as a jumping-off point to address individual students’ needs, supplementing easy courses with more challenging material, for instance, or harder courses with extra in-person tutorials.

But some schools rely exclusively on the online courses.

Credits for competency

Southern New Hampshire University’s College for America has no courses, credits or teachers. Helped by an online academic coach, students complete assignments that show their mastery of 120 “competencies,” such as distinguishing fact from opinion or conveying information through charts and graphs. Students can move at their own pace to earn an accredited associate degree, paying $1,250 every six months.

CCs look at self-paced, online tutorials

Self-paced, online courses backed by data analytics could help community colleges get remedial students up to speed, said Khan Academy founder Salman Khan in a keynote speech at the American Association of Community College convention.  Some community colleges are creating their own online tutorials, often geared to remedial students.


From cohorts to competency

Technology makes it much easier to personalize education through show what you know” promotion, concludes The Shift From Cohorts to Competency, a Digital Learning Network Smart Series paper.

The cohort model — children are grouped by age — moves on students who aren’t ready and holds back students who could excel, the authors write. “A competency-based system frees up students to learn at their own pace and according to their own needs,” said Carri Schneider, one of the authors. “Competency education is the ultimate path to personalization.”

Khan: Tech-powered teachers can do more

Khan Academy videos — and interactive exercises — will empower teachers, not replace them, writes Salman Khan in Education Week.

Khan Academy’s free videos now cover every subject from algebra to art history for grades K-12, he writes. In additions, students can practice math skills, move forward at their own pace and receive feedback while teachers monitor their students’ progress.

Teachers are struggling to meet students’ different “abilities, motivation levels, and incoming knowledge,” Khan writes.

Some are ready for grade-level content, while others have not fully mastered the prerequisites. Still others have already learned the grade-level material and are ready to move on to more advanced concepts. Ideally, teachers would like to meet all those needs simultaneously, but it is only humanly possible for them to teach one lesson at a time.

. . . when used appropriately, technology can enable teachers to lead differentiated and interactive classrooms. When teachers have real-time data and a clear understanding of every child’s needs, they can use their precious classroom time more effectively and flexibly. When students are learning at a pace and level appropriate to their individual needs, they are less likely to disengage or act up.

. . . Technology will give teachers valuable real-time data to diagnose students’ weak points and design appropriate interventions. It will enable teachers to more quickly gauge students’ comprehension of new topics so they can adjust their lesson plans on the spot.

Khan Academy’s latest platform teaches computer science as a “creative art,” he writes. He hopes to use the platform to “create interactive virtual labs with simulations of projectiles, pendulums, and the solar system.” In addition, a new feature lets users ask and answer each other’s questions, increasing the sense of online community.