Taking High School Courses In College Costs Students And Families Nearly $1.5 Billion

Anya Kamenetz: Andrea Diaz was applying to colleges, she got good news and bad news. The good news was that American University, a private four-year university in Washington, D.C., wanted her. The bad news was that it required her to come to campus early to take two summer developmental-level courses in math and English. “I … Continue reading Taking High School Courses In College Costs Students And Families Nearly $1.5 Billion

w N.J. Lies to Students About College and Career Readiness: A Story

Laura Waters: This article in South Jersey Magazine is two years old, but it could have been written today. Here, journalist Jayne Jacova Feld profiles a young woman named Rebecca Basenfelder, who graduated from Shawnee High School, part of Lenape Public School district in a suburb of Burlington County, and proudly headed off to Burlington … Continue reading w N.J. Lies to Students About College and Career Readiness: A Story

Lawmaker wants to bill K-12 for college remediation

Alisha Kirby: (Tenn.) As the cost and challenge of preparing college-ready students escalates and puts new burdens on higher education – one lawmaker is proposing that districts should pay for remedial courses high school graduates must take in college. Community colleges in Tennessee spent an estimated $18.5 million last year on remedial courses such as … Continue reading Lawmaker wants to bill K-12 for college remediation

“We are spending billions of dollars in our K-12 system and these kids ought to be able to meet these standards”

Scott Rothschild: In the world of remedial education, Shine Adams, a Kansas University student, is the exception rather than the rule. Adams, 38, dropped out of high school, worked for several years and then decided he needed to get his diploma and then a college degree. Adams got his GED, then, using remedial courses, passed … Continue reading “We are spending billions of dollars in our K-12 system and these kids ought to be able to meet these standards”

What’s Holding Back American Teenagers? Our high schools are a disaster

Laurence Steinberg:

High school, where kids socialize, show off their clothes, use their phones–and, oh yeah, go to class.
Every once in a while, education policy squeezes its way onto President Obama’s public agenda, as it did in during last month’s State of the Union address. Lately, two issues have grabbed his (and just about everyone else’s) attention: early-childhood education and access to college. But while these scholastic bookends are important, there is an awful lot of room for improvement between them. American high schools, in particular, are a disaster.
In international assessments, our elementary school students generally score toward the top of the distribution, and our middle school students usually place somewhat above the average. But our high school students score well below the international average, and they fare especially badly in math and science compared with our country’s chief economic rivals.
What’s holding back our teenagers?
One clue comes from a little-known 2003 study based on OECD data that compares the world’s 15-year-olds on two measures of student engagement: participation and “belongingness.” The measure of participation was based on how often students attended school, arrived on time, and showed up for class. The measure of belongingness was based on how much students felt they fit in to the student body, were liked by their schoolmates, and felt that they had friends in school. We might think of the first measure as an index of academic engagement and the second as a measure of social engagement.
On the measure of academic engagement, the U.S. scored only at the international average, and far lower than our chief economic rivals: China, Korea, Japan, and Germany. In these countries, students show up for school and attend their classes more reliably than almost anywhere else in the world. But on the measure of social engagement, the United States topped China, Korea, and Japan.
In America, high school is for socializing. It’s a convenient gathering place, where the really important activities are interrupted by all those annoying classes. For all but the very best American students–the ones in AP classes bound for the nation’s most selective colleges and universities–high school is tedious and unchallenging. Studies that have tracked American adolescents’ moods over the course of the day find that levels of boredom are highest during their time in school.
It’s not just No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top that has failed our adolescents–it’s every single thing we have tried.
One might be tempted to write these findings off as mere confirmation of the well-known fact that adolescents find everything boring. In fact, a huge proportion of the world’s high school students say that school is boring. But American high schools are even more boring than schools in nearly every other country, according to OECD surveys. And surveys of exchange students who have studied in America, as well as surveys of American adolescents who have studied abroad, confirm this. More than half of American high school students who have studied in another country agree that our schools are easier. Objectively, they are probably correct: American high school students spend far less time on schoolwork than their counterparts in the rest of the world.
Trends in achievement within the U.S. reveal just how bad our high schools are relative to our schools for younger students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, routinely tests three age groups: 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds, and 17-year-olds. Over the past 40 years, reading scores rose by 6 percent among 9-year-olds and 3 percent among 13-year-olds. Math scores rose by 11 percent among 9-year-olds and 7 percent among 13-year-olds.
By contrast, high school students haven’t made any progress at all. Reading and math scores have remained flat among 17-year-olds, as have their scores on subject area tests in science, writing, geography, and history. And by absolute, rather than relative, standards, American high school students’ achievement is scandalous.
In other words, over the past 40 years, despite endless debates about curricula, testing, teacher training, teachers’ salaries, and performance standards, and despite billions of dollars invested in school reform, there has been no improvement–none–in the academic proficiency of American high school students.
It’s not just No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top that has failed our adolescents–it’s every single thing we have tried. The list of unsuccessful experiments is long and dispiriting. Charter high schools don’t perform any better than standard public high schools, at least with respect to student achievement. Students whose teachers “teach for America” don’t achieve any more than those whose teachers came out of conventional teacher certification programs. Once one accounts for differences in the family backgrounds of students who attend public and private high schools, there is no advantage to going to private school, either. Vouchers make no difference in student outcomes. No wonder school administrators and teachers from Atlanta to Chicago to my hometown of Philadelphia have been caught fudging data on student performance. It’s the only education strategy that consistently gets results.
The especially poor showing of high schools in America is perplexing. It has nothing to do with high schools having a more ethnically diverse population than elementary schools. In fact, elementary schools are more ethnically diverse than high schools, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Nor do high schools have more poor students. Elementary schools in America are more than twice as likely to be classified as “high-poverty” than secondary schools. Salaries are about the same for secondary and elementary school teachers. They have comparable years of education and similar years of experience. Student-teacher ratios are the same in our elementary and high schools. So are the amounts of time that students spend in the classroom. We don’t shortchange high schools financially either; American school districts actually spend a little more per capita on high school students than elementary school students.
Our high school classrooms are not understaffed, underfunded, or underutilized, by international standards. According to a 2013 OECD report, only Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. Contrary to widespread belief, American high school teachers’ salaries are comparable to those in most European and Asian countries, as are American class sizes and student-teacher ratios. And American high school students actually spend as many or more hours in the classroom each year than their counterparts in other developed countries.
This underachievement is costly: One-fifth of four-year college entrants and one-half of those entering community college need remedial education, at a cost of $3 billion each year.
The president’s call for expanding access to higher education by making college more affordable, while laudable on the face of it, is not going to solve our problem. The president and his education advisers have misdiagnosed things. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of college entry in the industrialized world. Yet it is tied for last in the rate of college completion. More than one-third of U.S. students who enter a full-time, two-year college program drop out just after one year, as do about one fifth of students who enter a four-year college. In other words, getting our adolescents to go to college isn’t the issue. It’s getting them to graduate.
If this is what we hope to accomplish, we need to rethink high school in America. It is true that providing high-quality preschool to all children is an important component of comprehensive education reform. But we can’t just do this, cross our fingers, and hope for the best. Early intervention is an investment, not an inoculation.
In recent years experts in early-child development have called for programs designed to strengthen children’s “non-cognitive” skills, pointing to research that demonstrates that later scholastic success hinges not only on conventional academic abilities but on capacities like self-control. Research on the determinants of success in adolescence and beyond has come to a similar conclusion: If we want our teenagers to thrive, we need to help them develop the non-cognitive traits it takes to complete a college degree–traits like determination, self-control, and grit. This means classes that really challenge students to work hard–something that fewer than one in six high school students report experiencing, according to Diploma to Nowhere, a 2008 report published by Strong American Schools. Unfortunately, our high schools demand so little of students that these essential capacities aren’t nurtured. As a consequence, many high school graduates, even those who have acquired the necessary academic skills to pursue college coursework, lack the wherewithal to persevere in college. Making college more affordable will not fix this problem, though we should do that too.
The good news is that advances in neuroscience are revealing adolescence to be a second period of heightened brain plasticity, not unlike the first few years of life. Even better, brain regions that are important for the development of essential non-cognitive skills are among the most malleable. And one of the most important contributors to their maturation is pushing individuals beyond their intellectual comfort zones.
It’s time for us to stop squandering this opportunity. Our kids will never rise to the challenge if the challenge doesn’t come.

Laurence Steinberg is a psychology professor at Temple University and author of the forthcoming Age of Opportunity: Revelations from the New Science of Adolescence.
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The Vital Link of Education and Prosperity

Paul Peterson & Eric Hanushek:

Americans are aware of public education’s many failures–the elevated high-school dropout rates, the need for remedial work among entering college students. One metric in particular stands out: Only 32% of U.S. high-school students are proficient in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. When the NAEP results are put on the scale of the Program on International Student Assessment (PISA), the world’s best source of information on student achievement, the comparable proficiency rates in math are 45% in Germany, 49% in Canada, and 63% in Singapore, the highest performing independent nation.
The subpar performance of U.S. students has wide ramifications–and not just for individuals. On an individual level, of course, the connection between education and income is obvious. Those with a college degree can expect to earn over 60% more in the course of their lifetime than those with a high-school diploma, according to U.S. Census data. But there is a nexus between educational achievement and national prosperity as well.
According to our calculations, raising student test scores in this country up to the level in Canada would dramatically increase economic growth. We estimate that the additional growth dividend has a present value of $77 trillion over the next 80 years. This is equivalent to adding an average 20% to the paycheck of every worker for every year of work over this time period.

WEAC: An advocate for students as well as teachers WEAC has worked with Republicans and Democrats for the benefit of children.

By Morris Andrews former Executive Secretary Wisconsin Education Association Council (WEAC) 1972-1992
Lost in the two-month maelstrom at the state Capitol is the role of teachers and their union, WEAC, as the chief advocates for school quality in Wisconsin. Scott Walker and the Fitzgeraids paint WEAC as a destroyer. They say eradicate WEAC, an organization they know almost nothing about except that it opposes their antisteacher agenda. Should they succeed in killing the voice of organized teachers, the real loser wilt be our public schools.
Teachers have fought hard to make schools better over the past four decades. And it was Republican and Democratic votes in support of WEAC issues that resulted in the passage of pro-education bills. Such bipartisanship is but one casualty of today’s polarized politics.
Beginning in the 1970s WEAC became a political force, mainly by deciding to start backing legislative candidates. To receive WE/C’s endorsement, a candidate had to support a list of education-related issues. Many Republicans did support these school improvement issues. And WEAC members consequently worked to help them win election or reelection. One Republican who received a WEAC endorsement was Tommy Thompson when he was in the Assembly.
Today it seems unbelievable that the 1977 collective bargaining bill now reviled by the governor passed with Republican support. At the time, there were 11 Republicans in the Senate; five of them supported the bill. When the law’s three-year trial period was about to expire, a group of Senate Republicans voted to extend it–despite a veto by Republican Governor Lee Dreyfus. Notably, Mike Ellis (then in the Assembly) was among a group of Republicans who jumped party lines on procedural votes that saved it.
Our members then also reflected views across the spectrum. They identified themselves this way: Independents, 37%; Democrats, 35%; and Republicans, 27%. This spectrum was reflected at the annual WEAC convention, held a few days before the 1976 presidential election, when Gerald Ford and Walter Mondale both spoke to the huge assembly. Today, these numbers have changed as the Republicans shift further and further to the extremes.
Did WEAC work to improve teacher pay and benefits? Yes, of course. But we were also committed to changing the wide variation in school quality from district to district.
At the top of WEAC’s school improvement list was getting a set of minimum educational standards that applied to every school district. In 1974, with Republican support, we succeeded. Today these standards are taken for granted. Among the many changes were requirements that every district must:
establish a remedial reading program for underachieving Ke3 student
offer music art, health, and physical education.
have a kindergarten for five-year olds.
ensure that school facilities are safe. (Many aging buildings were crumbling)
provide emergency nursing services.
require teachers in Wisconsin to go through continuing education and to have their licenses renewed once every five years. (Prior to enactment of minimum standards. districts were empbying unlicensed teachers for whom they secured an emergency license that they would hold year after year).
On this foundation of programs Wisconsin students rose to the top of the national ACT scores for decades.
The state Department of Public instruction (DPI), headed by State Superintendent Barbara Thompson, was charged with implementing the minimum standards. She accepted most of WEAC’s recommendations. WEAC backed Thompson, a Republican with strong GOP support for her reelection in 1977.
We sought common ground with Republicans. When Democratic Governer Pat Lucey proposed strict cost controls on school budgets in 1975, it was Republicans and Democrats in the Senate 110 coalesced with WEAC and school boards against Democrats on the Joint Finance Committee to ease the restrictions. Years later, when Republican Governor lee Dreyfus vetoed a measure to raise the cost control ceiling, the WEAC-supported override succeeded with the votes of 23 Assembly Republicans and eight Senate Republicans against the Republican governor.
As late as 1984, Wisconsin had no uniform high school graduation requirements. WEAC supported Gov. Tony Earl’s efforts requiring graduates to have a specified number of credits in English, maths science, social studies, physical education, health, and computer science.
To curb underage drinking, WEAC Joined with a coalition of organizations on a bill that gave teachers and administrators legal protection to remove students suspected of drinking from school premises and events. All Assembly Democrats and all but three Republicans voted for the bill. In the Senate all Republicans voted for it and all but two Democrats voted for it.
WEAC allied with Republicans and Democrats to repeal a longestanding provision that gave city councils in 41 of our largest cities veto power over their school boards’ budgets.
The fate of students with special needs also concerned WEAC in 1973, four years before Congress passed the federal special education law, WEAC successfully lobbied the Wisconsin Legislature for a state special education law that required every district to have a special education program. The chief sponsor was James Devitt, a Republican state senator.
In 1976, the Legislature approved WEAC-backed bills to require tests of newborns for signs of mental retardation, and require children under age five to undergo a test for visual impairment. During this time WEAC successfully supported a bill that required teachers to report suspected child abuse, which has helped protect children across the state from life-altering harm.
In the 1970s, sex discrimination in school athletics was a major issue. In most school districts many sports were for boys only. This changed after WEAC joined with women’s groups to ensure that girls who wanted to play in sports have the same opportunity as boys. There were less than half as many WIAA-sponsored statewide tournaments for girls as there were for boys 14 for boys, six for girls. WEAC filed sex discrimination lawsuits against both the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletics Association (WIAA) and the DPI that helped correct this inequality. WEAC also convinced the Legislature to budget the additional state funding needed to add programs for girls.
Working with the Great Lakes lnter-Tribal Council, which represents Native Americans on ten reservations, WEAC successfully lobbied for a bill that provided state aid to districts that employed home/school coordinators for Native American students. And for passage of a law allowing Native Americans without certification to teach native culture and endangered native languages.
Citizens who wanted to add new or replace old school buildings asked WEAC to help them pass local bond referendums. Monroe was one district where WEAC’s help resulted in passage of a school bond for a much needed elementary school. The measure had failed in four previous elections. With WEAC help it won by a huge margin on the fifth attempt.
Property taxes are a major source of school funding. VVEAC recognized that tax increases place a burden on low income homeowners, especially retirees on fixed incomes. To help these people, we backed an expanded homestead tax-relief program. Another action in support of low income citizens was creation of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB). CUB fights for affordable electricity and telephone service on behalf of Wisconsin customers before regulatory agencies, the Legislature, and the courts. Two organizations that fought hardest for CUB were WEAC and the United Auto Workers. All Wisconsin utilities opposed it.
The key to these achievements in the 1970s and ’80s was the cooperative spirit between WEAC and politicians of both parties. People from different sides of the aisle respected and listened to one another. We socialized outside of the Capitol. We grew to like each other, even if we disagreed on political issues.
Today there is no middle ground. Compromise is deemed “caving in.” Winning is not enough for the extremists. The “enemy must be completely destroyed. But if teacher unions are silenced, who will replace them as effective advocates for students?

Udacity strikes deal to bring low-cost online classes to California university

Amar Toor:

Udacity, a startup that provides online college courses, is set to announce a partnership with San Jose State University this week, in a move that could set the stage for broader, less expensive web classes across California. According to the New York Times, this marks the first time that college professors have collaborated with a massive open online course (MOOC) to create a full slate of for-credit classes, including instructional videos and web-based quizzes.
Under a pilot program set to kick off this month, Udacity will offer San Jose State students both remedial and college-level algebra courses, as well as an introductory class on statistics. For now, each class will be limited to 300 students, with half of the slots allocated to San Jose State students, and the other half to students from nearby community colleges and high schools. The financial terms of the agreement have not been disclosed, but students will have to pay only $150 for each three-unit course, well below the tuition fees for standard classes at San Jose State.
The deal was reportedly spearheaded by California Governor Jerry Brown, who has been urging schools to adopt online classes as a way to deal with the state’s educational shortcomings. According to Ellen N. Junn, San Jose State provost and vice president of academic affairs, more than 50 percent of students entering the California State University System cannot meet basic requirements in math and English. The idea, then, is for Udacity to help facilitate this transition.

Online education: a leg up for high school kids?

Katy Murphy:

I’ve been at San Jose State today, learning about an online education experiment that could affect high school and college students – and would-be college students – alike.
The latest idea is to offer three entry-level or remedial courses online, for CSU credit, at $150 each. San Jose State professors created the course using the platform of a Palo Alto-based online education startup, Udacity.
The pilot will start with just 300 students – 150 from San Jose State and another 150 from community colleges and the two high schools Gov. Jerry Brown started when he was the mayor of Oakland — Oakland Military Institute and Oakland School for the Arts.
If the experiment works – and, as Udacity CEO Sebastian Thrun acknowledges, it might not — the courses might be available to students throughout the U.S. as soon as this summer.
The three courses to launch at the end of the month are already offered at some high schools: entry level mathematics, elementary statistics and college algebra. Often, in college, these same courses have waiting lists, especially at the community college level. As a result, students get caught up in a “bottleneck” as they wait to take and pass them. The failure rate is high. Some drop their college studies after that.

Prince George’s battle with algebra doubts

Jay Matthews:

Don Horrigan, former priest turned public school educator, thought Prince George’s County was a splendid district for an experiment beginning in 1991, requiring all ninth-graders to take Algebra I and all 10th-graders to take geometry. The superintendent and school board were for it. Parents seemed excited.
But when Prince George’s became one of seven districts nationwide to pilot the College Board’s Equity 2000 program, many teachers in the district thought it was too much. Sure, they said, students could learn algebra and geometry eventually, but why so soon? They thought 42 percent of Prince George’s ninth-graders were taking remedial arithmetic because they weren’t ready for anything more.
“It is unwise to push a child — especially a slower-paced learner — who is not ready,” a Prince George’s high school math department chair told researchers Carolyn DeMeyer Harris and Jessica L. Turner. “I believe that when we push them we make them feel like failures when in actuality it was merely a timing issue.”
According to Harris and Turner, who worked for the Alexandria-based Human Resources Research Organization and wrote a report on Equity 2000, one Prince George’s teacher told a supervisor that the program was another loser. “We’re like little pigs at the trough waiting for you to throw more slop at us, and then we wait for it to go away,” the teacher said.
In my new book about Equity 2000, “The War Against Dummy Math,” I devote a chapter to the battle in Prince George’s. It explores clashing attitudes toward acceleration that are still with us and how very long it takes for student achievement to catch up with expectations.

Jeb Bush, with cash and clout, pushes contentious school reforms

Stephanie Simon:

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush soared to rock star status in the education world on the strength of a chart.
A simple graph, it tracked fourth-grade reading scores. In 1998, when Bush was elected governor, Florida kids scored far below the national average. By the end of his second term, in 2007, they were far ahead, with especially impressive gains for low-income and minority students.
Those results earned Bush bipartisan acclaim. As he convenes a star-studded policy summit this week in Washington, he is widely regarded as one of the most influential education reformers in the U.S. Elements of his agenda have been adopted in 36 states, from Maine to Mississippi, North Carolina to New Mexico.
Many of his admirers cite Bush’s success in Florida as reason enough to get behind him.
But a close examination raises questions about the depth and durability of the gains in Florida. After the dramatic jump of the Bush years, Florida test scores edged up in 2009 and then dropped, with low-income students falling further behind. State data shows huge numbers of high school graduates still needing remedial help in math and reading.

Newark teacher contract a turning point for teachers, students

Star-Ledger via Laura Waters:

The long effort to improve Newark schools faces a critical test on Wednesday when teachers will vote on a pioneering new contract that would put city schools on the vanguard of national reform. It’s an opportunity that can’t be missed, one that is good for kids and generous to teachers.
Despite the huge investment, half of Newark kids drop out of school. And of those who make it to college, 90 percent need remedial help. Clearly, money is not the entire answer. Reform of the teaching profession is needed as well.
The contract provides generous increases averaging 14 percent over three years. It offers highly effective teachers $5,000 bonuses, another $5,000 if they agree to work in struggling schools, and yet another $2,500 if they teach subjects such as math and science, jobs that are harder to fill.

Frequently Asked Questions About MDRC’s Study of New Small High Schools in New York City


On January 25, MDRC released the latest findings from its ongoing study of new, small, academically nonselective high schools in New York City, called “small schools of choice” (SSCs) by the researchers. The new brief reported that SSCs have:

  • Sustained impacts on graduation with Regents diplomas: Average four-year graduation effects have reached 8.6 percentage points (meaning nearly nine more graduates for every class of 100 entering ninth-graders). This effect is driven by an increase in Regents diplomas attained.
  • Positive graduation effects for virtually every subgroup, including students with low entering proficiency in math and English (levels 1 and 2, in New York City terminology), males and females, blacks and Hispanics, and students eligible for free and reduced-priced lunch.
  • A positive effect on a measure of college readiness: a 7.6 percentage point (or 25 percent) impact on scoring 75 or higher on the English Regents exam (which exempts students from remedial English at the City University of New York). There was no effect on scoring 75 or higher on the math Regents exam.
  • A five-year graduation effect: Students in the new small high schools are 7.1 percentage points more likely to graduate in five years than their control group counterparts (75.2 percent vs. 68.1 percent).

Where Schools Fall Short

The New York Times:

Millions of students attend abysmally weak school systems that leave them unprepared for college, even as more jobs require some higher education. The states have an obligation to help these students retool.
More than 35 percent of students need remediation when they reach college, according to the federal government. A study by the organization that administers the ACT, the college entrance exam, finds that only a quarter of the 1.6 million 2011 high school graduates who took the exam met college-readiness benchmarks in English, reading, math and science.
Some students need one or two remedial courses before they can enroll in credit-bearing college classes. Others need so much remedial work that they will exhaust state and federal student aid without ever getting a degree. This is especially troubling because many of these students have passed state exams that are supposed to certify them as ready for college.

Lies, damn lies and the myth of “standardized” tests

Marda Kirkwood:

[Note from Laurie Rogers: Recently, results from the 2011 state standardized test scores came out, and the general impression given to the public — for example from the state education agency (OSPI) and from media in Seattle and in Spokane — was that improvements had been made. It’s all in the definitions: How do you define “improvement”? Did some of the numbers go up? Assuredly. Did that mean that real improvments in real academic knowledge had been made? It’s best to remain skeptical.
Most students in Spokane are as weak in math skill this year as they were last year. Given a proper math test that assesses for basic skills, many high schoolers still test into 4th or 5th-grade math. College remedial rates are still high. Parents are still frantic, and students are still stressed out about math. So … what do those higher scores actually mean? I’ve been trying to find out. It’s hard to say.

An “Extreme Makeover” for U.S. Education — Can We? Should We?

Beverly Eakman:

A front-page August 16 Washington Times’ headline screamed: “Scores show students aren’t ready for college — 75% may need remedial classes.”
Seventy-five percent is a number that gets people’s attention. It isn’t the usual trifling stuff the U.S. Department of Education puts out about math or reading scores being up by two percent one year and down by three percent the next. Add to that another finding reported in the same article: “A 2008 report by the education advocacy group Strong American Schools found that 80 percent of college students taking remedial classes had a high school GPA of 3.0 or better.”
So are we saying that even when students score well, they don’t know much? Apparently. Readers who have been following this series (see links to other articles below) may recall U.S. Commissioner of Education Statistics’ Pascal D. Forgione, Jr., Ph.D., who famously admitted in a speech, “Our idea of ‘advanced’ is clearly below international standards.”
According to the news article, “75 percent [of college freshmen] likely will spend part of their [first] year brushing up on high-school-level course work.”

The Search for a New Way to Test Schoolkids

Bill Tucker:

Excerpt from Greg Toppo’s article:
“…In other places, educators are experimenting with different ways to test what kids learn. Bill Tucker, a managing director at Education Sector, a Washington, D.C., think tank, says states like Oregon have led the way with so-called adaptive tests, computerized assessments that actually change as students answer questions right or wrong. Such tests satisfy the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law. Students sit for these tests any time they’re ready, from October on, and the tests allow schools to find out more about how much kids have learned. And since each test is essentially different from the last, they’re “harder to game,” Tucker says.
In a bid to look beyond bedrock skills such as reading and math, a few states are also looking at other measures, such as how many of their high school graduates had to take remedial classes in college, Tucker says. Federal Race to the Top funding, part of the Obama administration’s education stimulus plan, is pushing states to develop databases that would allow states to track graduates.
The federal government has also invested in two separate efforts by the states to overhaul tests; 45 states are participating. One project is aimed at developing so-called “through testing,” which would sample every few months how much students learn, then combine those scores with the score on an end-of-year test. The other project focuses on computer-adaptive tests, like those used in Oregon, to be given at year’s end.

What the Department of Education’s “82 Percent of Schools Are Failing” Statistic Really Tells Us

Rachel Sheffield:

According to the Obama Administration, the majority of the nation’s schools could be failing.
In a statement to the House Committee on Education and the Workforce just over a week ago, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that under the current No Child Left Behind law, 82 percent of the nation’s schools may not be sufficiently educating students. But this is debatable.
It is true that far too many schools in the United States are not providing students with a good, or even remedial, education. Children in the U.S. continue to fall behind their peers internationally, and too few students are able to reach proficient levels in crucial areas like reading and math. This spells tragedy for the future of our nation.

High School graduation and college readiness: Is there a problem here?

Everyone knows that for many years, at least in this part of the Land Between the Coasts, high schools have been judged based on what percentage of their students graduate within four years of entering as freshmen. I start with this fact deliberately. More on this later.
Recently, I read this online from the St. Louis Post-Dospatch, and I include it here in its entirety in case it suddenly disappears and online news articles are wont to do. Please note the parts I have boldfaced:

More than 40 percent of area public high school graduates in 2009 entered Missouri colleges and universities so far behind in reading and math that they took at least one remedial course once they arrived on campus, data show.
Of the 7,067 area graduates who enrolled that year as freshmen in state-funded schools, 3,029 of them landed in academic purgatory, taking catch-up classes that didn’t count toward a college degree, according to the Missouri Department of Higher Education.
The proportion of Missouri public school students who end up in remedial college classes has risen only slightly in recent years but is up sharply since 1996. Thirty-eight percent needed remediation before moving on to college-level courses in 2009, compared with 26 percent 14 years ago.

Incomplete Standards

The new national standards are too timid to recommend that high school students read complete history (or other nonfiction) books, or that high school students should write serious research papers, like the Extended Essays required for the International Baccalaureate Diploma.
Even the College Board, when it put together “101 books for the college-bound student” included only four or five nonfiction books, and none was a history book like Battle Cry of Freedom, or Washington’s Crossing.
For several reasons it has become taboo to discuss asking our students to read complete nonfiction books and write substantial term papers. Not sure why…
In fact, since the early days of Achieve’s efforts on standards, no one has taken a stand in recommending serious history research papers for high school students, and nonfiction books have never made the cut either.
Since 1987 or so it has seemed just sensible to me that, as long as colleges do assign history and other nonfiction books on their reading lists, and they also assign research papers, perhaps high school students should read a nonfiction book and write a term paper each year, to get in academic shape, as it were.
After all, in helping students prepare for college math, many high schools offer calculus. For college science, high school students can get ready with biology, chemistry and physics courses. To get ready for college literature courses, students read good novels and Shakespeare plays. Students can study languages and government and even engineering and statistics in their high schools, but they aren’t reading nonfiction books and they aren’t writing research papers.
The English departments, who are in charge of reading and writing in the high schools, tend to assign novels, poetry, and plays rather than nonfiction books, and they have little interest in asking for serious research papers either.
For 23 years, I have been publishing exemplary history research papers by high school students from near and far [39 countries so far], and it gradually became clearer to me that perhaps most high school students were not being asked to write them.
In 2002, with a grant from the Shanker Institute, I was able to commission (the only) study of the assignment of history term papers in U.S. public high schools, and we found that most students were not being asked to do them. This helped to explain why, even though The Concord Review is the only journal in the world to publish such academic papers, more than 19,000 of the 20,000 U.S. public high schools never submitted one.
The nonfiction readings suggested in the new national standards, such as The Declaration of Independence, Letter From Birmingham Jail, and one chapter from The Federalist Papers, would not tax high school students for more than an hour, much less time than they now spend on Catcher in the Rye, Lord of the Flies, and the like. What would the equivalent be for college preparation in math: long division? decimals?
High school graduates who arrive at college without ever having read a complete nonfiction book or written a serious term paper, even if they are not in remedial courses (and more than one million are each year, according to the Diploma to Nowhere report), start way behind their IB and private school peers academically, when it comes to reading and writing at the college level.
Having national standards which would send our high school graduates off to higher education with no experience of real term papers and no complete nonfiction books doesn’t seem the right way to make it likely that they will ever get through to graduation.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
http://www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

A Right Denied

Dear Public Education Advocate:
Yesterday I attended the premier showing of A Right Denied produced by Bob Compton who also produced 2 Million Minutes and few other related documentaries about education systems in the US and the world.
In between watching the Masters or the Yankees lose a few ballgames this weekend, please review this information and in particular, the attached 240 slide PPT presentation prepared by Whitney Tilson who is featured in A Right Denied. Whitney’s research and factual data took a few years to compile and is the basis for the documentary. I have been following Whitney’s work closely for a few years and if you asked me if I could have dinner with any one person in America today who would it be; my answer (after my wife of course) Whitney Tilson. Please review his material and feel free to share this with those you know.
While the achievement gap among racial groups and the sad inequities based solely one’s zip code are illustrated, so is the decline in the U.S. education system on a whole – the data is alarming.
Some select pieces from the PPT slides (5.5MB PDF):
Why hasn’t additional money resulted in improved results?

  1. Teacher quality has been falling rapidly over the past few decades
  2. Our school systems have become more bureaucratic and unaccountable
  3. As a nation, have been so rich for so long that we have become lazy and complacent. Our youth are spending more time watching TV, listening to iPods, playing video games (up 25% in the last four years), going to sporting events, etc. rather than studying hard. These two pictures capture what’s happening in China vs. the U.S. (see slide number 15).

Americans watch more than twice as much TV as any other country. (Watching the Masters or Baseball is exempt however.)
Achievement Gap #1 – We are falling behind all economic competitors.

  • 15-year-olds trail almost all other OECD countries in Math and Science.
  • Our High School graduation rate lags nearly all OECD countries.
  • US is among the leaders in college participation but ranks in the bottom half or college completion.
  • The college completion rate in the US has stagnated and our competitors have surpassed us.
  • American students score highly in self-confidence. 72% agree or strongly agree; “I get good marks in Mathematics”, yet we are near the bottom internationally in mathematics.

Achievement Gap #2 – Academic achievement of low-Income, minority students is dramatically lower than their more affluent peers. You already know this but, did you know;

  • The black-white achievement gap is already one year in kindergarten?
  • The majority of Black and Latino 4th graders struggle to read a simple children’s book.
  • The achievement gap widens the longer students are in school.
  • Black and Latino 12th graders read and do math at the same level as white 8th graders.
  • Massachusetts and NYC have made great strides in math the past six years.
  • Very few children from low-income households are graduating from any four-year college, and this has stayed consistent for the past 40 years.
  • 74% of students at elite colleges are from the top quartile of households and only 9% are from the bottom half of households.
  • Even the better high school graduates today are alarmingly unprepared for college. Close to half need remedial courses.

Two general approaches to fixing our schools

  • Improve the current system and create alternatives to the current system. Adopt both strategies.
  • Too many school systems today are dominated by the “Three Pillars of Mediocrity.”
    • Lifetime Tenure
    • Lockstep Pay
    • System Drive by seniority (not merit)
  • Teacher Quality and Effectiveness. Teacher quality has been declining for decades. College seniors who plan to go into education have very low test scores.
  • Teacher certification has little impact on student achievement.

Please review the trailer http://www.2mminutes.com/films/ and the slide presentation attached which I know you will appreciate. I would encourage you to purchase the CD too or you can borrow mine if you like, I also have 2 Million Minutes and 2 Million Minutes: The 21st Century Solution.

What Students Do

In the 1980s, when I was teaching history at the high school in Concord, Massachusetts, one day there was a faculty meeting during which some of my colleagues put on a skit about one of our most intractable problems: students wandering in the hallways during classes. One person played the principal, another the hall monitor, and others the guidance counselor, the vice-principal, and I can’t remember who else from the staff. One teacher played the student who had been in the halls.
They did a good job on the acting and the lines were good, but as it went on, I noticed something a bit odd. Everyone had a part and things to say, but the only passive member of the show was the student, who had nothing much to say or do.
I notice a parallel to this in the majority of discussions about education reform these days. With some exceptions, including Carol Jago, Diane Ravitch, Paul Zoch, and me, edupundits seem occupied with just about everything except what students do academically.
There is a lot of discussion of what teachers do, and what superintendents, curriculum coordinators, principals, financial officers, mayors, legislators, and so on, do, but the actual academic work of students gets very little attention.
This observation was reinforced for me when the TCR Institute did a study in 2002 of the assignment of serious term papers in U.S. public high schools. It was the first (and last) study of its kind, and it found that the majority of HS students are not being asked to do the sort of academic writing they need to work on to prepare themselves for college (and career).
In the last eight years, I have sought funds for a study of the assignment of complete nonfiction books in U.S. public high schools, but no one seems interested. Of course, many billions have been spent since 2002 on school reinvention and reorganization, assessment plans, teacher selection, training and retention, and so on, but again, the academic work of the students (the principal mission of schools) is “more honored in the breach than the observance.”
My perspective on this is necessarily a bottom-up, Lower Education one. I publish the serious research papers of high school students of history. Most of the 20,000+ U.S. public high schools never send me one, which is not a great surprise, because most history departments, other than in IB schools, do not assign research papers.
But it gives me a curiosity over the neglect of student work which does not seem to be present in those whose focus is at a Higher Level in education. Those who live on the Public Policy level of Education Punditry can not see far enough Down or focus closely enough on the activity of schools to find out whether our HS students are reading history books and writing term papers.
I believe this is because foundation people, consultants, education professors, public policy experts, and their tribes mostly talk to each other, not to students or even to teachers, who are so far far beneath them. They hold conferences, and symposia, and they write papers and books about what needs to be done in education, but from almost none of them come suggestions that involve the academic reading and writing our students should be doing.
Of course what teachers do is vastly important, as well as very difficult to influence, but surely it cannot be that much more important than what students do.
Naturally, we should design curricula rich in knowledge, but if they don’t include serious independent academic work by students, the burden will still be on the teacher, and many too many students can slide through under it and arrive in college ready for their remedial classes in reading, math and writing, as more than a million do now each year.
Tony Wagner, the only person I know at the Harvard Education School who is interested in student work, did a focus group with some graduates of a high school he was working with, and they all said they wished they had been given more serious work in academic writing while they were in the high school. I asked him how many schools he knows of which take the time to hold focus groups with their recent graduates to get feedback from them on their level of academic preparation in school, and he said he only knew of three high schools in the country which did it.
We do need improvements in all the things the edupundits are working on, and the foundations and our governments are spending billions on. But if we continue to lack curiosity about and to ignore what students are doing academically, I feel sure all that money will continue to be wasted, as it has been so many many times in the past.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

Meaningful Academic Work

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
22 March 2010
In Outliers [2008], Malcolm Gladwell writes [p. 149-159] that: “…three things–autonomy, complexity and a connection between effort and reward–are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying…Work that fulfills these three criteria is meaningful.” (emphasis in the original)
One of the perennial complaints of students in our schools is that they will never make use of what they are learning, and as for the work they are asked to do, they often say: “Why do we have to learn/do/put up with this?” In short, they often see the homework/schoolwork they are given to do as not very fulfilling or meaningful.
In this article I will argue that reading good history books and writing serious history research papers provide the sort of work which students do find meaningful, worth doing, and not as hard to imagine as having some future use.
In a June 3, 1990 column in The New York Times, Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote:

“…It is also worth thinking about as we consider how to reform our education system. As we’ve known for a long time, factory workers who never saw the completed product and worked on only a small part of it soon became bored and demoralized, But when they were allowed to see the whole process–or better yet become involved in it–productivity and morale improved. Students are no different. When we chop up the work they do into little bits–history facts and vocabulary and grammar rules to be learned–it’s no wonder that they are bored and disengaged. The achievement of The Concord Review’s authors offers a different model of learning. Maybe it’s time for us to take it seriously.”

His point has value twenty years later. Even the current CCSSO National Standards recommend merely snippets of readings, called “informational texts,” and “literacy skills” for our students, which, if that is all they get, will likely bore them and disengage them for the reasons that Mr. Shanker pointed out.
Students who read “little bits” of history books have nothing like the engagement and interest that comes from reading the whole book, just as students who “find the main idea” and write little “personal essays,” or five-paragraph essays, or short “college” essays, will have nothing comparable to the satisfaction that comes from working on and completing a serious history research paper.
Barbara McClay, a homescholar from Tennessee, while she was in high school, wrote a paper on the “Winter War” between Finland and the Soviet Union. In an interview she was asked why she chose that topic:

“I’ve been interested in Finland for four years or so, and I had read a book (William Trotter’s A Frozen Hell) that interested me greatly on the Winter War; after reading the book, I often asked people if they had ever heard of the Winter War. To my surprise, not only had few of them heard about it, but their whole impression of Finnish-Soviet relations was almost completely different from the one I had received from the book. So there was a sense of indignation alongside my interest in Finland in general and the Winter War in particular: here was this truly magnificent story, and no one cared about it. Or knew about it, at least.
“And it is a magnificent story, whether anyone cares about it or not; it’s the stuff legends are made of, really, even down to the fact that Finland lost. And a sad one, too, both for Finland and for the Soviet soldiers destroyed by Soviet incompetence. And there’s so much my paper couldn’t even begin to go into; the whole political angle, for instance, which is very interesting, but not really what I wanted to write about. But the story as a whole, with all of its heroes and villains and absurdities–it’s amazing. Even if it were as famous as Thermopylae, and not as relatively obscure an event as it is, it would still be worth writing about.
“So what interested me, really, was the drama, the pathos, the heroism, all from this little ignored country in Northern Europe. What keeps a country fighting against an enemy it has no hope of defeating? What makes us instantly feel a connection with it?”

Perhaps this will give a feeling for the degree of engagement a young student can find in reading a good nonfiction history book and writing a serious [8,500-word, plus endnotes and bibliography] history research paper. [The Concord Review, 17/3 Spring 2007]
Now, before I get a lot of messages informing me that our American public high school students, even Seniors, are incapable of reading nonfiction books and writing 8,500 words on any topic, allow me to suggest that, if true, it may be because we need to put in place our “Page Per Year Plan,” which would give students practice, every year in school, in writing about something other than themselves. Thus, a first grader could assemble a one-page paper with one source, a fifth grader a five-page paper with five sources, a ninth grade student a nine-page with nine sources, and so on, and in that way, each and every Senior in our high schools could write a twelve-page paper [or better] with twelve sources [or better] about some historical topic.
By the time that Senior finished that paper, she/he would probably know more about that topic than anyone else in the building, and that would indeed be a source of engagement and satisfaction, in addition to providing great “readiness” for college and career writing tasks.
As one of our authors wrote:

…Yet of all my assignments in high school, none has been so academically and intellectually rewarding as my research papers for history. As young mathematicians and scientists, we cannot hope to comprehend any material that approaches the cutting edge. As young literary scholars, we know that our interpretations will almost never be original. But as young historians, we see a scope of inquiry so vast that somewhere, we must be able to find an idea all our own.
In writing this paper, I read almanacs until my head hurt. I read journal articles and books. I thought and debated and analyzed my notes. And finally, I had a synthesis that I could call my own. That experience–extracting a polished, original work from a heap of history–is one without which no student should leave high school.”

This paper [5,500 words with endnotes and bibliography; Daniel Winik, The Concord Review, 12/4 Summer 2002] seems to have allowed this student to take a break from the boredom and disengagement which comes to so many whose school work is broken up into little bits and pieces and “informational texts” rather than actual books and term papers.
If I were made the U.S. Reading and Writing Czar at the Department of Education, I would ask students to read one complete history book [i.e. “cover-to-cover” as it was called back in the day] each year, too. When Jay Mathews of The Washington Post recently called for nonfiction book ideas for high school students, I suggested David McCullough’s Mornings on Horseback, for Freshmen, David Hackett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing for Sophomores, James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom for Juniors, and David McCullough’s The Path Between the Seas for all Seniors. Naturally there could be big fights over titles even if we decided to have our high schools students read nonfiction books, but it would be tragic if the result was that they continue to read none of them. Remember the high school English teacher in New York state who insisted that her students read a nonfiction book chosen from the New York Times nonfiction bestseller list, and a big group of her female students chose The Autobiography of Paris Hilton…
When I was teaching United States History to Sophomores at the public high school in Concord, Massachusetts in the 1980s, I used to assign a 5-7-page paper (at the time I did not know what high schools students could actually accomplish, if they were allowed to work hard) on the Presidents. My reasoning was that every President has just about every problem of the day arrive on his desk, and a paper on a President would be a way of learning about the history of that day. Students drew names, and one boy was lucky enough to draw John F. Kennedy, a real coup. He was quite bright, so, on a whim, I gave him my copy of Arthur Schleshinger, Jr.’s A Thousand Days. He looked at it, and said, “I can’t read this.” But, he took it with him and wrote a very good paper and gave the book back to me. Several years later, when he was a Junior at Yale, he wrote to thank me. He said he was very glad I had made him read that first complete history book, because it helped his confidence, etc. Now, I didn’t make him read it, he made himself read it. I would never have known if he read it or not. I didn’t ask him.
But it made me think about the possibility of assigning complete history books to our high school students.
After I began The Concord Review in 1987, I had occasion to write an article now and then, for Education Week and others, in which I argued for the value of having high school students read complete nonfiction books and write real history research papers, both for the intrinsic value of such efforts and for their contribution to the student’s preparation for “college and career.”
Then, in 2004, The National Endowment for the Arts spent $300,000 on a survey of the reading of fiction by Americans, including young Americans. They concluded that it was declining, but it made me wonder if anyone would fund a much smaller study of the reading of nonfiction by students in our high schools, and I wrote a Commentary in Education Week [“Bibliophobia” October 4, 2006] asking about that.
No funding was forthcoming and still no one seems to know (or care much) whether our students typically leave with their high school diploma in hand but never having read a single complete history book. We don’t know how many of our students have never had the chance to make themselves read such a book, so that when they get to college they can be glad they had that preparation, like my old student.
As E.D. Hirsch and Daniel Willingham have pointed out so often, it takes knowledge to enrich understanding and the less knowledge a student has the more difficult it is for her/him to understand what she/he is reading in school. Complete history books are a great source of knowledge, of course, and they naturally provide more background to help our students understand more and more difficult reading material as they are asked to become “college and career ready.”
Reading a complete history book is a challenge for a student who has never read one before, just as writing a history research paper is a challenge to a student who has never been asked to do one, but we might consider why we put off such challenges until students find themselves (more than one million a year now, according to the Diploma to Nowhere report) pushed into remedial courses when they arrive at college.
It may be argued that not every student will respond to such an academic challenge, and of course no student will if never given the challenge, but I have found several thousand high school students, from 44 states and 36 other countries, who did:

“Before, I had never been much of a history student, and I did not have much more than a passing interest for the subject. However, as I began writing the paper, the myriad of facts, the entanglement of human relations, and the general excitement of the subject fired my imagination and my mind. Knowing that to submit to The Concord Review, I would have to work towards an extremely high standard, I tried to channel my newly found interest into the paper. I deliberately chose a more fiery, contentious, and generally more engaging style of writing than I was normally used to, so that my paper would better suit my thesis. The draft, however, lacked proper flow and consistency, and so when I wrote the final copy, I restructured the entire paper, reordering the points, writing an entirely new introduction, refining the conclusion, and doing more research to cover areas of the paper that seemed lacking. I replaced almost half of the content with new writing, and managed to focus the thesis into a more sustained, more forceful argument. You received that final result, which was far better than the draft had been.
In the end, working on that history paper, [“Political Machines,” Erich Suh, The Concord Review, 12/4, Summer 2002, 5,800 words] inspired by the high standard set by The Concord Review, reinvigorated my interest not only in history, but also in writing, reading and the rest of the humanities. I am now more confident in my writing ability, and I do not shy from difficult academic challenges. My academic and intellectual life was truly altered by my experience with that paper, and the Review played no small role! Without the Review, I would not have put so much work into the paper. I would not have had the heart to revise so thoroughly; instead I would have altered my paper only slightly, enough to make the final paper a low ‘A’, but nothing very great. Your Concord Review set forth a goal towards which I toiled, and it was a very fulfilling, life-changing experience.”

If this is such a great idea, and does so much good for students’ engagement and academic preparation, why don’t we do it? When I was teaching–again, back in the day 26 years ago–I noticed in one classroom a set of Profiles in Courage, and I asked my colleagues about them. They said they had bought the set and handed them out, but the students never read them, so they stopped handing them out.
This is a reminder of the death of the book report. If we do not require our students to read real books and write about them (with consequences for a failure to do so), they will not do that reading and writing, and, as a result, their learning will be diminished, their historical knowledge will be a topic for jokes, and they will not be able to write well enough either to handle college work or hold down a demanding new job.
As teachers and edupundits surrender on those requirements, students suffer. There is a saying outside the training facility for United States Marine Corps drill instructors, which says, in effect, “I will train my recruits with such diligence that if they are killed in combat, it will not be because I failed to prepare them.”
I do realize that college and good jobs are not combat (of course there are now many combat jobs too) but they do provide challenges for which too many of our high school graduates are clearly not ready.
Some teachers complain, with good reason, that they don’t have the time to monitor students as they read books, write book reports and work on serious history research papers, and that is why they can’t ask students to do those essential (and meaningful) tasks. Even after they realize that the great bulk of the time spent on complete nonfiction books and good long term papers is the student’s time, they still have a point about the demands on their time.
Many (with five classes) now do not have the time to guide such work and to assess it carefully for all their students, but I would ask them (and their administrators) to look at the time put aside each week at their high school for tackling and blocking practice in football or layup drills in basketball or for band rehearsal, etc., etc., and I suggest that perhaps reading books and writing serious term papers are worth some extra time as well, and that the administrators of the system, if they have an interest in the competence of our students in reading and writing, should consider making teacher time available during the school day, week, and year, for work on these tasks, which have to be almost as essential as blocking and tackling for our students’ futures.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

Plan Would Let Students Start College Early

Sam Dillon:

Dozens of public high schools in eight states will introduce a program next year allowing 10th graders who pass a battery of tests to get a diploma two years early and immediately enroll in community college.
Students who pass but aspire to attend a selective college may continue with college preparatory courses in their junior and senior years, organizers of the new effort said. Students who fail the 10th grade tests, known as board exams, can try again at the end of their 11th and 12th grades. The tests would cover not only English and math but other subjects like science and history.
The new system of high school coursework with the accompanying board examinations is modeled largely on systems in high-performing nations including Denmark, Finland, England, France and Singapore.
The program is being organized by the National Center on Education and the Economy, and one of its goals is to reduce the numbers of high school graduates who need remedial courses when they enroll in college. More than a million college freshmen across America must take remedial courses each year, and many drop out before getting a degree.
“That’s a central problem we’re trying to address, the enormous failure rate of these kids when they go to the open admission colleges,” said Marc S. Tucker, president of the center, a Washington-based nonprofit. “We’ve looked at schools all over the world, and if you walk into a high school in the countries that use these board exams, you’ll see kids working hard, whether they want to be a carpenter or a brain surgeon.”

This makes sense.
Related: Janet Mertz’s enduring effort: Credit for non-MMSD Courses

College- and Career-Ready Using Outcomes Data to Hold High Schools Accountable for Student Success

Chad Aldeman:

According to the Florida Department of Education, Manatee High School was not a place parents should have wanted to send their children in 2006. The Bradenton-based school received a “D” rating on the state’s A-F scale of academic performance that year while failing to meet federal No Child Left Behind proficiency standards for the fourth year in a row. At the same time, Boca Raton Community High School was flying high, having just earned its second straight “A” rating and being named among the best high schools in the country by Newsweek magazine.
But while Manatee got dismal marks from state and federal accountability schemes, it was actually quite successful in a number of important ways. It graduated a higher percentage of its students than Boca Raton and sent almost the same percentage of its graduates off to college. Once they arrived on college campuses, Manatee graduates earned higher grades and fewer of them failed remedial, not-for-credit math and English courses than their Boca Raton peers.
In other words, D-rated Manatee was arguably doing a better job at achieving the ultimate goal of high school: preparing students to succeed in college and careers. But because Florida’s accountability systems didn’t measure college and career success in 2006, nobody knew.

Literacy in Schools: Writing in Trouble

Surely if we can raise our academic standards for math and science, then, with a little attention and effort, we can restore the importance of literacy in our public high schools. Reading is the path to knowledge and writing is the way to make knowledge one’s own.
17 September 2009
by Will Fitzhugh
Source: Education.com Member Contribution
Topics: Writing Conventions
[originally published in the New Mexico Journal of Reading, Spring 2009]
For many years, Lucy Calkins, described once in Education Week as “the Moses of reading and writing in American education” has made her major contributions to the dumbing down of writing in our schools. She once wrote to me that: “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much.” This dedication to contentless writing has spread, in part through her influence, into thousands and thousands of classrooms, where “personal” writing has been blended with images, photos, and emails to become one of the very most anti-academic and anti-intellectual elements of the education we now offer our children, K-12.
In 2004, the College Board’s National Commission on Writing in the Schools issued a call for more attention to writing in the schools, and it offered an example of the sort of high school writing “that shows how powerfully our students can express their emotions”:
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up, the student wrote,

“High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life.”

It is obvious that this “Excellent” high school writer is expressing more of his views on his own high school experience than on anything Herman Hesse might have had in mind, but that still allows this American student writer to score very high on the NAEP assessment of writing.
This year, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has released a breakthrough report on writing called “Writing in the 21st Century,” which informs us, among other things, that:

National Standards

The Concord Review & The National Writing Board
8 September 2009
Specific, detailed, universally-accepted national standards in education are so vital that we have now had them for many decades–in high school sports. Athletics are so important in our systems of secondary education that it is no surprise that we have never settled for the kind of vague general-ability standards that have prevailed for so long in high school academic aptitude tests. If athletic standards were evaluated in the way the SAT measures general academic ability, for example, there would be tests of “general physical fitness” rather than the impressive suite of detailed measures we now use in high school sports.
The tests that we require in football, basketball, track and other sports are not called assessments, but rather games and meets, but they test the participants’ ability to “do” sports in great detail–detail which can be duly communicated to college coaches interested in whether the athletes can perform in a particular sport.
These two different worlds of standards and assessment–athletics and academics–live comfortably side-by-side in our schools, usually without anyone questioning their very different sets of expectations, measures, and rewards.
The things our students have to know when they participate in various athletic activities are universally known and accepted. The things they have to do to be successful in various sports are also universally known and accepted across the country.
The fact that this is not the case for our academic expectations, standards, and rewards for students is the reason there has been so much attention drawn to the problem, at least since the Nation at Risk Report of 1983.
At the moment there are large efforts and expenditures being brought to bear, by the Department of Education, the Education Commission of the States, the Council of Chief State School Officers, many state governments, and others, for the development of academic National Standards for the United States.
There has been, and will continue to be, a lot of controversy over what novels students of English should read, what names, dates and issues history students should be familiar with, what languages, if any, our students should know, and what levels of math and science we can expect of our high school graduates.
The Diploma to Nowhere Report, released by the Strong American Schools Project in the summer of 2008, pointed out that more than one million of our high school graduates are enrolled in remedial courses each year when they get to the colleges which have accepted them. It seems reasonable to assume that the colleges that accepted them had some way of assessing whether those students were ready for the academic work at college, but perhaps the tools for such assessment were not up to the universal standards available for measuring athletic competence.
One area in which academic assessment is especially weak, in my view, is in determining high school students’ readiness for college research papers. The Concord Review did a national study of the assignment of research papers in U.S. public high schools which found that, while 95% of teachers surveyed said research papers were important, or very important, 81% did not assign the kind that would help students get ready for college work. Most of the teachers said they just didn’t have the time to spend on that with students.
Imagine the shock if we discovered that our student football players were not able to block or tackle, in spite of general agreement on their importance, or that our basketball players could not dribble, pass, or shoot baskets with any degree of competence, and, if, when surveyed, our high school coaches said that they were sorry that they just didn’t have time to work on that with their athletes.
Whatever is decided about National Standards for the particular knowledge which all our students should have when they leave school, I hope that there is some realization that learning to do one research paper, of the kind required for every International Baccalaureate Diploma now, should be an essential part of the new standards.
If so, then we come to the problem of assessing, not just the ability of students to write a 500-word “personal essay” for college admissions officers, or to perform the 25-minute display of “writing-on-demand” featured in the SAT writing test and the NAEP assessment of writing, but their work on an actual term paper.
As with our serious assessments in sports, there are no easy shortcuts to an independent assessment of the research papers of our secondary students. Since 1998, the National Writing Board, on a small scale, has produced three-page reports on research papers by high school students from 31 states and two Canadian provinces. Each report has two Readers, and each Reader spends, on average, one hour to read and write their evaluation of each paper. Contrast this with the 30 papers-an-hour assessments of the SAT writing test. The National Writing Board process is time-consuming, but it is, in my biased view, one serious way to assess performance on this basic task that every student will encounter in college.

Writing in Trouble

For many years, Lucy Calkins, described once in Education Week as “the Moses of reading and writing in American education” has made her major contributions to the dumbing down of writing in our schools. She once wrote to me that: “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much.” This dedication to contentless writing has spread, in part through her influence, into thousands and thousands of classrooms, where “personal” writing has been blended with images, photos, and emails to become one of the very most anti-academic and anti-intellectual elements of the education we now offer our children, K-12.
In 2004, the College Board’s National Commission on Writing in the Schools issued a call for more attention to writing in the schools, and it offered an example of the sort of high school writing “that shows how powerfully our students can express their emotions“:
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up, the student wrote,
“High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life.”

Easy grades equate to failing grads

Heather Vogell:

Some metro Atlanta public high schools that don’t grade rigorously produce more graduates lacking the basic English and math skills needed for college, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has found.
Many graduates of those high schools are sent to freshmen remedial classes to learn what high school didn’t teach them. As many as a third or more college-bound graduates from some high schools need the extra instruction.
Problems with classroom grading came to light in a February state study that showed some high schools regularly awarded good marks to students who failed state tests in the same subject.
The AJC found that metro high schools where classroom grading appeared lax or out-of-step with state standards tended to have higher rates of students who took remedial classes. And at dozens of high schools, most graduates who received the B average needed for a state HOPE scholarship lost it in college after a few years.
Unprepared high-school graduates are a growing problem for the public university system, where remedial students are concentrated in two-year colleges.
Statewide, the remedial rate has climbed to 1 in 4 first-year students after dropping in the 1990s, said Chancellor Erroll Davis Jr. of the University System of Georgia. The cost to the system: $25 million a year.
Students such as Brandon Curry, 20, a graduate of Redan High in DeKalb County, said they were surprised to learn decent high school grades don’t always translate into college success.

Georgia remedial class database – very useful.

Muscular Mediocrity

It is excusable for people to think of Mediocrity as too little of something, or a weak approximation of what would be best, and this is not entirely wrong. However, in education circles, it is important to remember, Mediocrity is the Strong Force, as the physicists would say, not the Weak Force.
For most of the 20th century, as Diane Ravitch reports in her excellent history, Left Back, Americans achieved remarkably high levels of Mediocrity in education, making sure that our students do not know too much and cannot read and write very well, so that even of those who have gone on to college, between 50% and 75% never received any sort of degree.
In the 21st century, there is a new push to offer global awareness, critical thinking, and collaborative problem solving to our students, as a way of getting them away from reading nonfiction books and writing any sort of serious research paper, and that effort, so similar to several of the recurring anti-academic and anti-intellectual programs of the prior century, will also help to preserve the Mediocrity we have so painstakingly forged in our schools.
Research generally has discovered that while Americans acknowledge there may be Mediocrity in our education generally, they feel that their own children’s schools are good. It should be understood that this is in part the result of a very systematic and deliberate campaign of disinformation by educrats. When I was teaching in the high school in Concord, Massachusetts, the superintendent at the time met with the teachers at the start of the year and told us that we were the best high school faculty in the country. That sounds nice, but what evidence did he have? Was there a study of the quality of high school faculties around the country? No, it was just public relations.
The “Lake Woebegone” effect, so widely found in our education system, is the result of parents continually being “informed” that their schools are the best in the country. I remember meeting with an old friend in Tucson once, who informed that “Tucson High School is one of the ten best in the country.” How did she know that? What was the evidence for that claim at the time? None.
Mediocrity and its adherents have really done a first-class job of leading people to believe that all is well with our high schools. After all, when parents ask their own children about their high school, the students usually say they like it, meaning, in most cases, that they enjoy being with their friends there, and are not too bothered by a demanding academic curriculum.
With No Child Left Behind, there has been a large effort to discover and report information about the actual academic performance of students in our schools, but the defenders of Mediocrity have been as active, and almost as successful, as they have ever been in preserving a false image of the academic quality of our schools. They have established state standards that, except in Massachusetts and a couple of other states, are designed to show that all the students are “above the national average” in reading and math, even though they are not.
It is important for anyone serious about raising academic standards in our schools to remember that Mediocrity is the Hundred-Eyed Argus who never sleeps, and never relaxes its relentless diligence in opposition to academic quality for our schools and educational achievement for our students.
There is a long list of outside helpers, from Walter Annenberg to the Gates Foundation, who have ventured into American education with the idea that it makes sense that educators would support higher standards and better education for our students. Certainly that is what they hear from educators. But when the money is allocated and the “reform” is begun, the Mediocrity Special Forces move into action, making sure that very little happens, and that the money, even billions of dollars, disappears into the Great Lake of Mediocrity with barely a ripple, so that no good effect is ever seen.
If this seems unduly pessimistic, notice that a recent survey of college professors conducted by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that 90% of them reported that the students who came to them were not very well prepared, for example, in reading, doing research, and writing, and that the Diploma to Nowhere report from the Strong American Schools program last summer said that more than 1,000,000 of our high school graduates are now placed in remedial courses when they arrive at the colleges to which they have been “admitted.” It seems clear that without Muscular Mediocrity in our schools, we could never have hoped to achieve such a shameful set of academic results.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

19th Century Skills

13 April 2009
John Robert Wooden, the revered UCLA basketball coach, used to tell his players: “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” According to the Diploma to Nowhere report last summer from the Strong American Schools project, more than one million of our high school graduates are in remedial courses at college every year. Evidently we failed to prepare them to meet higher education’s academic expectations.
The 21st Century Skills movement celebrates computer literacy as one remedy for this failing. Now, I love my Macintosh, and I have typeset the first seventy-seven issues of The Concord Review on the computer, but I still have to read and understand each essay, and to proofread eleven papers in each issue twice, line by line, and the computer is no help at all with that. The new Kindle (2) from Amazon is able to read books to you–great technology!–but it cannot tell you anything about what they mean.
In my view, the 19th (and prior) Century Skills of reading and writing are still a job for human beings, with little help from technology. Computers can check your grammar, and take a look at your spelling, but they can’t read for you and they can’t think for you, and they really cannot take the tasks of academic reading and writing off the shoulders of the students in our schools.
There appears to be a philosophical gap between those who, in their desire to make our schools more accountable, focus on the acquisition and testing of academic knowledge and skills in basic reading and math, on the one hand, and those who, from talking to business people, now argue that this is not enough. This latter group is now calling for 21st Century critical thinking, communication skills, collaborative problem solving, and global awareness.

Degree of Difficulty

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
7 March 2009
In gymnastics, performances are judged not just on execution but also on the degree of difficulty. The same system is used in diving and in ice skating. An athlete is of course judged on how well they do something, but their score also includes how hard it was to do that particular exercise.
One of the reasons, in my view, that more than a million of our high school graduates each year are in remedial courses after they have been accepted at colleges is that the degree of difficulty set for them in their high school courses has been too low, by college standards.
Surveys comparing the standards of high school teachers and college professors routinely discover that students who their teachers judge to be very well prepared, for instance in reading, research and writing, are seen as not very well prepared by college professors.
According to the Diploma to Nowhere report issued last summer by the Strong American Schools project, tens of thousands of students are surprised, embarrassed and depressed to find that, after getting As and Bs in their high school courses, even in the “hard” ones, they are judged to be not ready for college work and must take non-credit remedial courses to make up for the academic deficiencies that they naturally assumed they did not have.
If we could imagine a ten point degree-of-difficulty scale for high school courses, surely arithmetic would rank near the bottom, say at a one, and calculus would rank at the top, near a ten. Courses in Chinese and Physics, and perhaps AP European History, would be near the top of the scale as well.
When it comes to academic writing, however, and the English departments only ask their students for personal and creative writing, and the five-paragraph essay, they are setting the degree of difficulty at or near the bottom of the academic writing scale. The standard kind of writing might be the equivalent of having math students being blocked from moving beyond fractions and decimals.

Banging on the PK-16 Pipeline

Jay Matthews:

Why am I so ill-tempered when I read a sensible report like “Bridging the Gap: How to Strengthen the Pk-16 Pipeline to Improve College Readiness”?
The authors, Ulrich Boser and Stephen Burd, know their stuff. The sponsoring organization, New America Foundation, has a great reputation. (Bias alert: It also employs one of my sons as a senior fellow, but he does California politics and direct democracy, not national education policy.)
My problem is that smart and industrious experts like Boser and Burd often unearth startling facts but don’t follow through. “Bridging the Gap,” available at Newamerica.net, details the large percentage of first-year college students in remedial courses and the duplication in federal college preparation programs. This is interesting information of which few people are aware.
But their recommendations follow the standard line: Let’s have more meetings and spend more money. Example: “We recommend that the federal government provide states with incentives to come together and adopt national college and work-readiness standards in math, science and the language arts.”
Or: “The federal government should work directly with states to foster partnerships between high schools and postsecondary institutions to smooth the transition between high school and college.”
You might think that sounds reasonable. I think it misses an opportunity. Why not harness the energy and ambition of a new president to shake things up?
The Obama administration doesn’t have much money to spend getting more students ready for college. The Education Department’s $100 billion in stimulus funds will mostly go to less sophisticated projects that create jobs fast.

Most from class of 2000 have failed to earn degrees

James Vaznis:

About two-thirds of the city’s high school graduates in 2000 who enrolled in college have failed to earn degrees, according to a first-of-its-kind study being released today.
The findings represent a major setback for a city school system that made significant strides in recent years with percentages of graduates enrolling in college consistently higher than national averages, according to the report by the Boston Private Industry Council and the School Department.
However, the study shows that the number who went on to graduate is lower than the national average.
The low number of students who were able to earn college degrees or post-secondary certificates in a city known as a center of American higher education points to the enormous barriers facing urban high school graduates – many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. While the study did not address reasons for the low graduation rates, these students often have financial problems, some are raising children, and others are held back by a need to retake high school courses in college because they lack basic skills.
The students’ failure to complete college could exacerbate the fiscal problems in the state’s economy, which requires a highly skilled workforce, say business leaders and educators. While tens of thousands of students around the globe flock to the region’s colleges each fall, many of them leave once receiving their degrees.

NAEP Writing Assessment 2011

An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: About Assessing Writing EdNews.org Houston, Texas, 24 January 2007
Michael F. Shaughnessy Senior Columnist EdNews.org:

1) I understand that you have just finished a stint on the ACT/NAGB Steering Committee for the 2011 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Writing Assessment. What was that like? (And what does NAGB stand for?)
WF: NAGB is the National Assessment Governing Board, which runs the NAEP, “America’s Report Card,” as they say. I was glad that Diane Ravitch recommended me for the Steering Committee for the new national writing assessment scheduled for 2011. I was very impressed with the intelligence and competence of Mary Crovo, representing NAEP, and Rosanne Cook, who is running the project for American College Testing. Many people on the Committee were from the National Council of Teachers of English and the College Composition world, which have little interest in having students read history books or write history research papers. In fact that world favors, or has favored in the past, personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, which do a terrible job of preparing high school students for the nonfiction books and the academic term papers most will be asked to cope with in college.
2) Given the paucity of writing that goes on in the high schools of America, is it really fair to ask high school students to engage in a robust writing assessment?
WF: It would not be fair to ask high school students to play in a football game if they hadn’t had an opportunity for lots of practice, and it is very hard to ask high school students to do the sort of academic expository writing they should be doing if they have never done it in all their years in school. But we need to start somewhere. Every high school student does not need to be able to play football, but they all need to be able to read nonfiction books and write serious term papers.
3) On the other hand, since so much of the college experience is writing, are high school teachers doing students a disservice by NOT requiring more writing?
WF: High school teachers would make terrible football coaches and their teams would lose most if not all of their games, if the teacher/coaches did not have time to practice their teams. We take football seriously, and we take band seriously, so ample time and money are made available to produce the best teams and the best bands the high school can manage. We allow really no time for a public high school teacher to work with students on heavy-duty term papers. We don’t make time for them, because we don’t think they are that important. Not as important as drama practice, yearbook, chorus, debate or a host of other activities. As a result our high school students are, once again, ill-prepared for college reading and writing. AP courses in history do not require, in most cases, that students read a complete nonfiction book, and most of the AP teachers say they don’t have time to ask the student to write a research paper, because they “have to get students ready for the AP Exam.”

Contentless Writing

Mr. Fitzhugh [fitzhugh@tcr.org] is Editor and Publisher of The Concord Review and Founder of the National Writing Board and the TCR Institute [www.tcr.org].
Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg was short. Indeed, the President had spoken and taken his seat before many in that large crowd gathered outdoors even realized that he had spoken. Fortunately, an alert reporter took down his words. Short as the speech was, it began with a date and a fact–the sort of factual content that is being drained away from student writing today.
The very idea of writing without content takes some getting used to. I was taken aback not long ago to read the comments of a young woman who had been asked how she felt about having a computer grade the essays that she wrote on the Graduate Management Admission Test (Mathews, 2004). She replied that she didn’t mind, noting that the test givers were more interested in her “ability to communicate” than in what she actually said.
Although style, fluency, tone, and correct grammar are certainly important in writing, folks like me think that content has value as well. The guidelines for scoring the new writing section on the SAT seem to say otherwise, however. Readers evaluating the essays are told not to take points off for factual mistakes, and they must score the essays “holistically”–at the rate of 30 an hour (Winerip, 2005).
Earlier this year, Linda Shaw of the Seattle Times (2006), reported that the the rules for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) do not allow dictionaries, but “when it comes to the writing section, there’s one rule they can break: They can make things up. Statistics. Experts. Quotes. Whatever helps them make their point.” According to Shaw, the state’s education office announced that “making up facts is acceptable when writing nonfiction, persuasive essays on the WASL.”
Lest you conclude that writing without content, or writing nonfiction with fictional content–think James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces–is limited to the Left Coast, think again. Across the United States, even the most prestigious writing workshops for teachers generally bypass the what to focus on the how.
All writing has to have some content, of course. So what are students encouraged to put down on the page? In its 2003 report, The Neglected ‘R’, The National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges, gave us a clue. According to the report, the following passage by a high school student about the September 11 terrorist attacks shows “how powerfully children can express their emotions.”
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up and awakens to himself, the student wrote,

[For] Crying Out Loud

September 24, 2008 By Glenn Ricketts:

Yes, yes, we know that you’ve been an outstanding high school history student and that you’d like to major in that subject in college, but we’re not sure why you’re inquiring about scholarships here. Wait, not so fast: it’s certainly impressive that you’ve had some original research published, and your grades are indeed outstanding. But if, as you say, you’re looking for a scholarship, we’d like to hear about your curve ball. Oh, you didn’t play baseball in high school? Well, then how about football or basketball? No? Lacrosse, soccer, swimming, maybe? Golf, bowling, tennis? In that case, do you sing or dance? You don’t appear to have any disabilities, not that we’d ask.
No, sorry, speaking fluent French is not really what we had in mind by “diversity.” Do you by chance play the xylophone? What’s that? History scholarships? You mean something geared specifically towards outstanding high school history students? Ho! Ho! Good one.
No, not here. Haven’t heard of ’em anywhere else, either. Where’d you come up with that idea anyway? Look, we’re not sure we can do anything for you at this point unless…wait a minute, did you say you were a cheerleader? Sit down. I think we’re finally on to something. Yes, that’s right, we have several scholarships for cheerleaders. Can you send us all of the relevant information about your high school cheerleading experience? We may also be able to direct you to other sources of support for promising college cheerleading prospects. Why didn’t you tell us this at the outset, instead of getting sidetracked with all of that stuff about history? We’re very busy in this office, you know. No doubt you’re an outstanding history student, and by all means major in it if you like, but that’s not going to get you anywhere if you’re looking for a scholarship. Good thing you mentioned the cheerleading angle, especially since we have to be careful to choose only the most outstanding applicants.
I made up this little drama, but it is based on the “true facts.” History scholarships are rare. Cheerleading scholarships are pretty common–even at colleges and universities that one might think value intellectual achievement over human pyramids.
Will Fitzhugh is a former high school history teacher who, frustrated with the lack of opportunities to showcase academic achievement among young students, in 1987 founded The Concord Review, (www.tcr.org) a quarterly journal devoted entirely to outstanding research essays by high school students. Anyone who doubts the possibility of impressive research skills and consummate writing ability among some of today’s secondary school students should read at least one issue of the Review, where future historians and teachers might well be making their first appearances. These students don’t need remedial English, and could probably be bumped up beyond the usual introductory survey courses in history to begin work as history majors on the fast track.
Trouble is, as Will has pointed out to us, the students who write in The Concord Review don’t get much recognition beyond that, to say nothing of scholarship assistance. A few colleges–most notably Reed College–have recently started supporting The Concord Review financially–which is bound to encourage some bright, highly capable students to consider attending college out in Portland, Oregon. But by and large, the prospect for students winning scholarships on the basis of outstanding ability to engage in historical scholarship isn’t very bright.

Sadly, kids’ struggle with writing goes on

In light of West High School Principal Ed Holmes’s budgetary decision to shut down the Writing Lab after almost 40 years in existence, I share this recent column from Barbara Wallraff, who writes the column Word Court.
America’s eighth-graders and high school seniors got their writing “report cards” the other day — the results for the writing part of the 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress were announced. Just a third of eighth-grade students and a quarter of high school seniors are “proficient” in writing. Oh, dear! And yet federal authorities consider this encouraging news — that’s how bad the situation is.
Granted, the average scores are a few points higher than they were when the test was given in 2002. And the improvement is almost across the board, at least among the eighth-graders. Students in every ethnic group except American Indians are doing better, and the gap white and black eighth-graders is narrowing. Also granted, better is better — and mountains of behavior modification research demonstrate that praising successes is a more effective way to bring about change than criticizing failures.
But still, isn’t cheering because a third of the kids are doing well like congratulating ourselves that we made it a third of the way to the finish line in a race? Or that we managed to pay a third of our bills? Speaking of thirds, a 2003 survey by the College Board concluded that a third of employees at America’s blue-chip corporations are pretty bad at writing and need remedial training. And speaking of writing, can everybody see the handwriting on the wall? The message is terribly disheartening. Writing isn’t just a skill that people tend to need to earn a good living — it’s one of our basic means of communication.
The question is what to do about the two-thirds or three-quarters of our young people who are less than proficient. Keeping on doing whatever we’ve been doing isn’t suddenly going to start yielding different results. Admittedly, the sorry state of America’s writing skills is a vast, long-term problem to which experts have devoted whole careers. So who am I to propose a solution?
Writing is different from other skills. In math, you either get the concept or you don’t. In history, you either know who did what when or you don’t. But writing isn’t right or wrong, just better or worse. Learning to write is something each of us does individually, in our own way — which makes me suspect that sweeping initiatives, no matter how brilliant and well-funded (hah!), aren’t what’s needed.
May I suggest, instead, that anybody who has the time , energy and interest in young people encourage them, one at a time, to write — and read? (Reading skills and writing skills go hand in hand.) Ask kids to write you emails. Lend them a favorite book , and tell them what the book has meant to you. Ask them about what they’ve been reading.
If you’re a parent, you’re probably doing this for your own kids, and you probably know the statistics about what a huge advantage it gives kids if their parents take an interest in their education. If you’re only, or also, a concerned citizen — well, there are plenty of kids who aren’t lucky enough to be growing up in your family. Wouldn’t it make you proud to help a few of them?
For more:

Clarion Call: “Windows on College Readiness”

“Your essay, which I have now read twice, is terrific. You are way ahead of everyone on this.” email 17 January 2008 from: Education Reporter Sara Rimer of the New York Times This is the one she refers to: The Bridgespan Group, working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has just released a report … Continue reading Clarion Call: “Windows on College Readiness”

Too Many California Students Not Ready for College

Pamela Burdman and Marshall S. Smith California’s vibrant economy is in jeopardy because we aren’t producing enough educated workers to meet the state’s future needs, according to a recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California. The authors see only one solution: improving college attendance and graduation rates of Californians. High-profile attempts by top … Continue reading Too Many California Students Not Ready for College

South Carolina Ok’s Virtual School Classes for Graduation Credit

Yvonne Wenger: Home-schoolers and students attending public, private or charter schools can take online classes after Gov. Mark Sanford on Thursday signed a new law creating the South Carolina Virtual School Program. The law, which will be administered by the state Department of Education, will allow students a chance to enroll in online courses that … Continue reading South Carolina Ok’s Virtual School Classes for Graduation Credit

Learning the Three R’s – In College

Heather LeRoi: Should he have learned about such math concepts well before getting to college? Probably. But the reality is, he hadn’t. And remedial education classes – or developmental coursework, as many colleges prefer to call it these days – offer Lythjohan, who’s considering a career in nursing or business, that second chance. Lythjohan is … Continue reading Learning the Three R’s – In College

A Study of Core-Plus Students Attending Michigan State University

Janet Mertz recently mentioned (along with UW Placement’s James Wollack recently) this paper by Richard Hill & Thomas Parker [750K PDF]: The latest, December 2006 issue of the American Mathematical Monthly, an official publication of the Mathematical Association of America, contains an 18-page article entitled “A study of Core-Plus students attending Michigan State University” by … Continue reading A Study of Core-Plus Students Attending Michigan State University

The Accuracy and Effectiveness of Adequate Yearly Progress: NCLB’s School Evaluation System

William J. Mathis [16.1MB PDF]: Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) is the key element of the accountability system mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). This report reveals that AYP in its 2006 form as the prime indicator of academic achievement is not supported by reliable evidence. Expecting all children to reach mastery … Continue reading The Accuracy and Effectiveness of Adequate Yearly Progress: NCLB’s School Evaluation System

“How We Dummies Succeed”

Robert Samuelson: If you’re looking for the action in education, forget the Ivy League. Talk instead to Anthony Zeiss, president of Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte. It has six campuses and 70,000 students taking classes in everything from remedial English to computer networking. With about 12 million students, the nation’s 1,200 community colleges help … Continue reading “How We Dummies Succeed”

A Formula for Failure in L.A. Schools

This is from a recent article in the Los Angeles Times. I was alerted to it by the Daily Howler blog http://www.dailyhowler.com/. I mention this because that site has had some great education coverage lately and will soon be launching an all-education companion blog. http://www.latimes.com/news/education/la-me-dropout30jan30,0,3211437.story?coll=la-news-learning THE VANISHING CLASS A Formula for Failure in L.A. Schools … Continue reading A Formula for Failure in L.A. Schools

Secrets of Graduating from College

Jay Matthews: The first Toolbox provided the most powerful argument by far for getting more high school students into challenging courses, my favorite reporting topic. Using data from a study of 8,700 young Americans, it showed that students whose high schools had given them an intense academic experience — such as a heavy load of … Continue reading Secrets of Graduating from College

High Quality Teaching make the difference

Young, Gifted and Black, by Perry, Steele and Hilliard is a little gem of a book. (Hereafter, YGB). The subtitle is “Promoting High Achievement Among African-American Students”. Though specifically addressing African-American kids, the descriptions and proscriptions proposed can be applied to all – important, given the continual poor showing of U.S. students generally on international … Continue reading High Quality Teaching make the difference

Reading program not worth cost; Rainwater pledges that it will continue

This week’s Isthmus includes a damning internal assessment of Reading Recovery, “a remedial first-grade reading program considered a cornerstone of Madison’s school iteracy efforts.” “The district would be ‘well-served to investigate other methods’ to reach struggling reaaders, says the report.” One of those other methods will be presented Sunday, at 1:00 p.m., at the Madison … Continue reading Reading program not worth cost; Rainwater pledges that it will continue