Where high school is taken seriously

High school is serious business overseas, say U.S. students who’ve studied in Korea, Finland and Poland. PBS NewsHour interviews the three students featured in Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way.

Eric: The biggest positive difference that I took away was that in Korea people have a very palatable sense of how education affects their lives and how it affects their future. People understand that how you do in school, what you do, has repercussions for how successful I am and my opportunities going forward.

But, at the same time that sort of mentality ties into a huge pressure system, where students are really encouraged to just do well on tests so that they have high numbers, go to a good school, and do perhaps, something that makes a lot of money, something prestigious, not necessarily something that they are interested in.

Finnish teachers rely mainly on lectures, said Kim. “There weren’t a lot of assignments during the semester until the end when you did exams in the form of essays.”

Tom: In Polish high school the students took their education much more seriously than American high schoolers do. They considered it unpleasant for the most part, but an extremely necessary duty. People didn’t really have identities besides being good students. There wasn’t really a gauge of success outside of doing well in school, unlike high schoolers here where you can not be the best student, but if you are a really great athlete you can be recruited to a school … But there was none of that in Poland it was entirely academic.

All three countries provide alternatives to college prep. Polish students decide at 16 whether they want to attend an academic high school or start vocational training. Nearly half of Finnish 16-year-olds choose the vocational track. In Korea, 20 percent are in vocational high schools.

From high school A’s to college F’s

Kashawn Campbell, a straight A student at an inner-city Los Angeles high school, went to Berkeley with a great attitude, a great work ethic, lots of “grit” — and weak reading and writing skills, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Raised by a single mother who works as a security guard, Campbell grew up with little exposure to the world outside his neighborhood other than watching Jeopardy. Although Berkeley felt like a “different world,” he embraced it enthusiastically.

He filled his dorm room with Cal posters, and wore clothes emblazoned with the school’s name. Each morning the gawky, bone-thin teen energetically reminded his dorm mates to “have a Caltastic day!”

But he was shocked by the academic expectations.

At Jefferson, a long essay took a page and perfect grades came after an hour of study a night.

At Cal, he was among the hardest workers in the dorm, but he could barely keep afloat.

Seeking help, he went at least once a week to the office of his writing instructor, Verda Delp.

The more she saw him, the more she worried. His writing often didn’t make sense. He struggled to comprehend the readings for her class and think critically about the text.

“It took awhile for him to understand there was a problem,” Delp said. “He could not believe that he needed more skills. He would revise his papers and each time he would turn his work back in having complicated it. The paper would be full of words he thought were academic, writing the way he thought a college student should write, using big words he didn’t have command of.”

Campbell chose to live with other black first-year students in the African-American Theme Program, two floors in a dorm. He became close friends with roommate Spencer Simpson, who was earning A’s in challenging classes at Berkeley.

Like Campbell, Simpson had been raised by a single mother in a tough neighborhood and earned straight A’s at low-performing schools. Both were nerds who “didn’t try to act tough” and were “shy around girls.” But there were differences.

Spencer’s mother, a medical administrator, had graduated from UCLA and exposed her only child to art, politics, literature and the world beyond Inglewood. If a bookstore was going out of business, she’d drive Spencer to the closeout sale and they would buy discounted novels. She pushed him to participate in a mostly white Boy Scout troop in Westchester.

To Spencer, Berkeley was the first place he could feel fully comfortable being intellectual and black, the first place he could openly admit he liked folk music and punk rock.

Campbell coped with depression, kept working, joined study groups and — with an A in African American Studies — raised his GPA above 2.0. But he got an incomplete in the writing class on his second try. He’ll be back for a second year.

Teaching ‘grit’

Teaching “grit” – resilience, persistence, conscientiousness — is the topic of an Education Week roundtable.

Teaching non-cognitive skills blames the victim, writes Darnell Fine, a “multicultural educator who facilitates creative writing and education seminars, as well as social justice workshops.” Low-income kids shouldn’t have to adopt middle-class values, he argues.

The teaching of non-cognitive skills pushes a socialization process that homogenizes students into the mainstream culture if they want to “succeed.” These skills send cultural messages on how a student exhibits “good behavior.” They are built upon mainstream beliefs and values that could prove to be culturally irrelevant. Are low-income students therefore “bad” when they don’t assume mainstream society’s cultural ethos?

I hope Fine’s students enjoy being poor because they’re likely to stay that way.

Alison Wright, a math teacher, takes a more pragmatic approach to teaching her students to learn from mistakes, persist etc.

Last week, I gave a short 10-question quiz in my Algebra 2 class. Student A and Student B both received a score of 6/10. Student A looked at the paper, rolled her eyes, threw the quiz on the floor, and loudly complained that the assessment was unfair and “shouldn’t count.” Student B, on the other hand, read my comments, reworked the problems to find her mistakes, and then after class asked to set up an after-school meeting so we could go over the assessment together and discuss her study habits.

She wonders how she can help Student A “improve her motivation, self-efficacy and overall academic drive.”

“Self-efficacy” or “efficacious thinking” means the belief that what a person does makes a difference. If I do the homework and pay attention in class, I’ll learn something. If I study for the test, I’ll do better on it. Kids taught they’re the helpless victims of social injustice will see no point in working hard in school or even showing up every day. Why exhibit “good behavior” when you have no chance to “succeed.”

LA students win cars, iPads for attendance

I had perfect attendance in fourth grade at Ravinia Elementary School in 1961-62. The teacher gave me a plastic trophy — painted gold — that he’d won in a dance contest at the Hotel Fontainebleau in Miami Beach.

Los Angeles public schools gave new cars to two graduating seniors with perfect attendance, reports the Los Angeles Daily News. Five elementary students won iPads.

Of 357 seniors with perfect attendance, Vanessa Umana and Euri Tanaka each won the drawing for an $18,000 Chevrolet Sonic. Clear Channel Media donated the cars and many of the other prizes.

Over the last year, LAUSD has awarded monthly prizes to hundreds of kids who answered “here” every time their teacher took attendance. Rewards donated by local companies included bicycles, gift cards to Subway sandwich shops and guest passes to Knott’s Berry Farm and Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach.

Six campuses also will receive $3,000 each to spend on attendance programs. (Does a magnet for gifted students need an attendance program?)

Attendance improved during the year-long contest, said Debra Duardo, executive director of Student Health and Human Services. That means fewer kids miss lessons and the district collects more money from the state, an average of $32 per student per day.

Vanessa credits her work ethic to her mother, Minerva, a pharmacy technician, and father, David, a Navy mechanic who served three overseas deployments while she was growing up.

“That shaped me as a person and taught me how to have goals and be independent,” she said. “They always encouraged me to go to school so it would lead me to have a better life.”

Graduating with a GPA of 4.2, Vanessa has been accepted at UC San Diego. She plans to major in biology, with a long-term goal of becoming a doctor.

The grand prize for attending school is an education, not a Subway gift card or a Chevy.  Vanessa knows that. She didn’t need to be bribed to show up. What about kids with less education-minded parents?

I kept my attendance trophy on my dresser. It disappeared when my parents sold the house, when I was in college. I’ve still got the education.

Schooling makes kids smarter

Schooling Makes You Smarter, argues Richard E. Nisbett, a University of Michigan social psychology professor,  in the new American Educator.  Actually, lots of environmental influences make people smarter — or duller.

People’s intelligence is greatly affected by prenatal and immediate postnatal factors; by home environments; by education, inclding early childhood education; and by changes in the larger culture. How smart we and our children ae as individuals, and how smart we are as a society, is under our control to a marked degree.

As years of schooling rise — from eight years in 1910 to an average of 14 in 2010 — IQs rise too in what’s known as the “Flynn effect.”

. . . in nations that were fully modern and industrialized by the beginning of the 20th century, IQ has increased by about 3 points per decade from the end of World War II to the present.10 That amounts to a gain of 18 points, which is equivalent to moving from a 50th percentile score (IQ equal to 100) to a score at the 93rd percentile (IQ equal to 118).  . . . Nations that have only recently begun to modernize, such as Kenya, Sudan, and the Caribbean nations, have begun to show extremely high rates of gain.

In addition to more years of schooling, curriculum asks more of students and society has become more complex, making greater demands on  intelligence, Nisbett writes.

Culture matters. A study of high school graduates in 1966 found Asian Americans had slightly lower IQs than whites but scored 33 points higher on the SAT — they took more math in high school — and achieved more career success.  ”The picture that results is that Asian Americans capitalize on a given level of intellectual ability much better than do European Americans,” Nisbett writes.

Children from low-income families may not match the achievement of children with educated parents, but “most children in poverty aren’t living up to their genetic potential,” he writes. In experiments, “persuading minority students that their intelligence is substantially under their own control” can raise their academic performance.

“School affects intelligence,” Nisbett concludes. “Better schools produce better effects, and . . .  the caliber of the individual teacher is of great importance.”

 

Top students may not be ready for college

Even some top students with high grades and test scores aren’t ready for college, writes Elaine Tuttle Hansen in a Chronicle of Higher Education commentary. Now executive director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, Hansen was president of Bates College and a professor of English at Haverford College.

It’s a problem even at Johns Hopkins, which  is highly selective, says the  director of undergraduate studies in math.

“What they don’t have is a deep understanding of why the techniques they’ve been taught work, the actual underlying mathematical relationships. They walk into to my classroom in September and don’t have the study habits or proper foundation to do the work.”

“Not all of the smartest kids who have jumped through the hoops required for selective college admissions are ready for the demands of college-level work,” writes Hansen. Bright students can earn good grades without working very hard.

Take David, a college student I heard from recently, who loved the summer program he took at the Center for Talented Youth a few years ago. But it wasn’t enough to save him from being so bored in school that he “coasted” through elementary, middle, and high school and his first two years of college. “By the time I found academic work that challenged me, … I realized my work ethic and study skills were atrocious, in large part, I believe, because I had never been forced to use them,” he said. “I would like to know the person I would have become had I been engaged as a young learner.”

Sometimes excellent students have parents who’ve been directing their education from baby play group on up. They don’t have the maturity, self-discipline and time management skills that college demands.  However, you’d think they’d have a solid academic foundation.

Tech college adds work ethic to transcripts

A Missouri technical college evaluates job readiness, work ethic and attendance, in addition to academic performance to help graduates find jobs. Employers had complained that many new hires lack a strong work ethic.

The auto industry is hiring again, but only wants workers with high-tech “cross skills” and “soft skills,” says an industry analyst.

Pew: Second-generation Americans do well

When immigrants’ children grow up, they earn as much as the average American and have more years of education, concludes a new Pew report, Second-Generation Americans. Thirty-six percent of second-generation Americans 25 and older hold a bachelor’s degree compared to 31 percent of the general population.

Second-generation Americans are optimistic: 78 percent of Hispanics and 72 percent of Asian-Americans say most people can get ahead if they’re willing to work hard. Only 58 percent of the general population agrees.

Second-generation Hispanics don’t do as well as Asian-Americans in educational attainment or earning, but they do better than the first generation.

Via Education Gadfly.

Teaching grit

Teachers can help students develop “non-cognitive” abilities such as adaptability, self-control and motivation, argues Northwestern’s C. Kirabo Jackson in a working paper, Non-Cognitive Ability, Test Scores, and Teacher Quality.

Using 2005-10 North Carolina data on absenteeism, suspensions and grades as a proxy, Jackson finds non-cognitive factors predict college enrollment and lifetime earnings more strongly than cognitive ability, notes Education Gadfly.  Evaluating teachers on their affect on student test scores doesn’t capture their full contributions to student outcomes, Jackson concludes, suggesting evaluations should include teachers’ affect on student suspensions and absences.

I fore see problems. Student suspensions would be a less accurate way to measure students’ self-control if teachers knew they’d earn a higher rating — and perhaps more money — for a lower suspension rate. High school grades are a good way to predict college and career success since they measure work ethic and motivation as well as academic learning. But grade inflation would go wild if teachers were evaluated based on their students’ grades.

True Grit: Can Perseverance Be Taught? is the title of University of Pennsylvania Psychology Professor Angela Duckworth’s 2009 TED talk.

“Non-cognitive abilities” are ways of thinking, writes David Conley, a University of Oregon education professor, in an Ed Week commentary.

Are we not observing a higher form of thinking when we see students persist with difficult tasks, such as overcoming frustration; setting and achieving goals; seeking help; working with others; and developing, managing, and perceiving their sense of self-efficacy?

Executive functioning — the brain “monitors and adjusts to circumstances to accomplish specific aims and objectives” — is a critical part of the learning process, writes Conley.

Study: Parent aid lowers college grades

When parents pay their children’s college costs, students earn lower grades but are more likely to graduate, concludes a new study by Laura T. Hamilton, a sociology professor at University of California at Merced.

As parental aid increased, students’ GPAs decreased. “Students with parental support are best described as staying out of serious academic trouble, but dialing down their academic efforts,” Hamilton wrote.

Today’s college students spend an average of 28 hours a week on classes and studying — and 41 hours a week on social and recreational events, another study found.

According to Hamilton’s study, students with no parental aid in their first year of college had a 56.4 percent chance of graduating in five years, compared with 65.2 percent for students who received $12,000 in aid from their parents.

Grants and scholarships, work-study, student employment and veteran’s benefits do not have negative effects on student GPA, said Hamilton. Students may feel they’ve earned the money and take their responsibilities more seriously.