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Myriad obstacles stand between low-income students and a college education—even for those who beat the odds, graduate from high school, and gain acceptance into a post-secondary institution. Indeed, 20 percent of these young people will not make it past their first semester—which raises a couple of questions: Why is this happening? And how do we fix it? According to authors Benjamin Castleman and Lindsay Page, much of the problem is what happens (or doesn’t) between the last day of high school and the first days of college. They call it the “summer melt.” Things like stacks of enrollment paperwork, complicated financial forms, and daunting tuition bills prove to be substantial hindrances for these kids, many of whom are the first in their families to make it this far. And once they get to campus, they often lack the support to persevere through those difficult first months. In other words, preparing these youngsters for freshman year involves more than academics. To this end, the authors propose three solutions. First, high schools need to expand the role of college counselors, paying them to work in the summer months and encouraging them to spend more time with individual students in need. The Boston-based college access organization, uAspire, did this and saw positive results. Next, higher education institutions should utilize technology to keep students informed and on target throughout the college enrollment process. One example is the SCOPE project, which launched a texting strategy that kept students up to date with their enrollment tasks...

The Cristo Rey Network comprises twenty-eight private schools serving 9,000 students nationwide. Ninety-six percent of network students are minority (largely Hispanic), and 100 percent are economically disadvantaged (defined as households earning less than 75 percent of the national median income). The schools utilize an innovative education model that honors its Catholic roots while simultaneously embracing new ways of preparing economically disadvantaged high school students for future success. This report from the Lexington Institute profiles the Cristo Rey model and looks at how—despite great success—the laudable network is still searching for ways to improve. A defining feature of the schools is a work-study program that requires students to work at least one day a week in the community while keeping up with rigorous high school coursework. In lieu of wages, companies donate money to the schools that’s used to cover most of the operating costs. More than 2,000 employers invested upwards of $44 million in 2013–14, lowering the average tuition costs for parents to $1,000 annually. Other features include extended school days and school years and a summer preparatory program that focuses on both academic and work skills. The results are impressive: All 1,400 of Cristo Rey's 2014 graduates were accepted to college, and 90 percent enrolled. Nevertheless, refusing to rest on its laurels, the network’s newest school—Cristo Rey San Jose Jesuit—is the first to utilize a blended-learning approach that integrates technology into math, English, Spanish, science, social studies, and even religion. Still in its infancy, the experiment has already...

This study, conducted by economists at the University of Toronto, examines the impact of a comprehensive Canadian academic and social support program for at-risk youth called Pathways to Education. The voluntary program starts with a contract, signed by the youngsters and their and parents, that requires each student to participate in twice-monthly meetings with a “support worker” who helps the children deal with any academic or social issues that arise during their high school careers. Participants must also attend free weekly tutoring and group activities such as sporting events, cooking classes, and community recycling projects. They receive career counseling, college transition assistance, free transportation, and college scholarships up to $4,000. Its beneficiaries, who live in the largest public housing project in Toronto, are asked to participate prior to their ninth-grade year; between 80 and 96 percent of eligible students register. Authors compared outcomes before and after the introduction of the program to outcomes for students who resided in other Toronto public housing projects and also attended Toronto high schools between 2000 and 2007, which comprised roughly 6,900 students. In the end, it works: Pathways to Education puts poor kids on a better life trajectory. Five-year high school graduation rates increased from about 38 to 58 percent, and postsecondary enrollment rates increased by more than 50 percent. The program was expanded to two other sites in 2007, and those sites saw an immediate 10 percent increase in high school graduation rates and a similar increase in post-secondary enrollment. (College graduation data...

Emily Hanford

Halfway through my senior year of college, I quit. Why? Because I didn’t want to graduate. I had no idea what I was going to do next.

I was one of those students who did everything she was supposed to do. Good grades, good college, all that. But school was all I had ever known, and not once during my sixteen years of education do I recall anyone ever making an explicit connection between what I was learning in school and what I might actually do for a living once I was done. The goal of high school was to get into college. The goal of college was to get a degree. Then what? I wasn’t at all prepared for that question.

I come from a background of abundant educational privilege. I grew up in the 1970s and ‘80s in an affluent New England town with great public schools. My parents had graduated from college. My grandparents had graduated from college. On my dad’s side even my great grandfather had a bachelor’s degree. I was on the “college track” before I was born.

But there was another track: vocational education. I had friends on that path. Their parents were roofers, hairdressers, secretaries, and janitors. Those kids took basic level academic classes, but their focus was preparing for work. No one expected them to go to college.

Those of us bound for higher education felt like we were on the...

President Obama’s contempt for the Constitution, and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s unfortunate disregard of that document, have been loudly and justly decried by critics of executive overreach. Less heralded, but equally troubling, is the mission creep of the Office for Civil Rights as it works to reshape the education world and to right whatever alleged wrongs it thinks it sees.

All of these officials and agencies are seeking to accomplish policy goals that they believe are good for America, and I’m not impugning their motives. But they are playing fast and loose with their job descriptions and responsibilities under law.

Much has been written and said about Obama and Duncan. Let’s focus here on OCR. Mike Petrilli has already exposed the folly of the agency’s witch hunt for disparate impact in school discipline and explained the challenges it will pose for educators trying to run schools that are conducive to learning. In the matter of sexual harassment, I and others have written about the ill-conceived substitution of university conduct codes, unreasonable evidentiary standards, and star-chamber procedures for longstanding law-enforcement practices. (This carries more than a whiff of hypocrisy, as those whom the government is “protecting” are the selfsame students who would bridle at any effort to constrain their freedom to have sex, get drunk, and skip class.)

The most recent exercise of mission creep and nanny-statism by OCR, and not yet adequately exposed, involves what the enforcers call “equal access to educational resources.” These include gifted-and-talented programs within schools as well as...

  1. Not much education news to report on again today, but at least most of it is good news. Here’s an update on a Straight-A Fund project in Springfield. The CareerConnectED consortium already includes two school districts, a tech school, and a STEM academy. They are working to align students’ educational experiences with the high tech skills needed by employers in the area.  They are also looking to add at least two more partners in the next five years. Hey guys, how about a charter school or two? (Springfield News Sun)
     
  2. An opinion piece in the PD today extols the virtues of Ohio’s Jon Peterson Special Needs Scholarship. It is written from the perspective of a service provider (author Lannie Davis is VP of the Julie Billiart School…) and from the perspective of a choice advocate (…and is also a board member of School Choice Ohio).  Nice. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. But there’s always some less-good news lurking around the corner. Stay with me on this one. A group of public school zealots have been working hard to create the “feeder pattern” on Columbus’ south side that they would like their children to traverse from elementary through high school. And they had their hearts set on lovely old Stewart Elementary in historic (and tony) German Village. From their base of operations just south of the expensive-old-house zone, they’ve supported renovation of Stewart over the last couple of years. It will likely be a crown jewel for the district
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By Jonathan Supovitz
Gadfly editorial by Michael J. Petrilli and Amber M. Northern, Ph.D.

Over the past decade, the English government has revamped that country’s approach to school leadership. At the center of the reform is the sensible idea that school leadership needs to be a team endeavor. While not a new idea—there’s been for years plenty of discussion about “distributed leadership” on both sides of the pond—the Brits got busy actually making it happen as opposed to jawboning about it. Central to their leadership structure is the formalization of three levels of school leaders, each with distinct roles and responsibilities: headteachers who lead schools (equivalent to the principal’s role in the U.S.), senior leaders or deputy heads who assist the headteacher (similar to the vice principal role in American education but with additional school-wide responsibilities), and middle leaders responsible for the quality of teaching within a certain department, grade-level or grade cluster. Each level (and some differing roles within the level) comes with its own mix of time devoted to teaching and time spent leading.

To see how America's fragmented leadership system might benefit from these ideas and others from our British brethren, download Building a Lattice for School Leadership: The Top-to-Bottom Rethinking of Leadership Development in England and What It Might Mean for American Education....

WE DON'T NEED NO STINKIN' DATA
“There shouldn’t be a whole movement out of charters the month before the test,” said NYC schools chancellor Carmen Fariña last week, implying that some charters are manipulating test scores by pushing struggling students out of their schools prior to testing. Her statements have charter operators and advocates incensed, and many are calling for the chancellor to produce data to substantiate her remarks. “Unless she can back up this statement with facts,” said Jeremiah Kittredge of Families for Excellent Schools, “she should withdraw it.”

WONK ALERT
Teachers are trying out a new way to prepare students for tests through a strategy known as interleaving, or mixing problems and concepts. In studies, students who completed homework in mixed sets performed better on final assessments than those who received traditional “blocked” problems. Psychologists also say students better retain information when they teach to peers. 

DRILLING FOR DEGREES
Amidst multi-year budget cuts to higher education across the country, two states have managed to buck the trend: those profligate spenders Alaska and North Dakota. Flush with newfound petrodollars, both states have sunk millions into their state schools in the hopes of improving job prospects for their citizens. Though Alaska’s spending surge has been more modest, North Dakota has increased per-pupil spending by nearly 40 percent in the last six years.

PROFILE IN COWARDICE
The Hechinger Report has a terrific look at Common Core implementation at Andrew Johnson Elementary School...

  1. Not much to report on in terms of education news over the weekend. We begin with a bit of a rerun: Editors in Columbus opine again in favor of eliminating the mandatory teacher pay schedule in Ohio. They reason that “Making seniority and extra college coursework the primary basis for rewarding teachers has created a system that is incapable of recognizing and promoting those teachers who actually are best at helping their students. In a field desperate for effectiveness, a teacher who is a miracle worker is treated the same as one who is just marking time.” Why the reiteration of their position? Because the bill including this provision passed the House last week and is now on to the Senate for debate. (Columbus Dispatch)
     
  2. Ohio’s teacher evaluation system is on Patrick O’Donnell’s mind in Cleveland. He goes to great lengths to explain how value-add calculations will be done for high school teachers starting this year. He focuses on the way in which “previous year” data will be amalgamated for subjects such as physical science, American history and American government in order to compare to current year data. Skepticism abounds. (Cleveland Plain Dealer)
     
  3. Also on the minds of Northeast Ohio reporters this weekend: population loss and declining enrollment in school districts throughout Cuyahoga County. The Greater Cleveland-Akron area's median age increased from 37.2 in 2000 to 40.3 in 2010; Ohio's birthrate has dropped from 14 births per 1,000 women 2003 to 12.6 births in 2012;
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LICENSE TO FAIL
The pass rate for teacher-licensing exams is usually about 90 percent. However, only 68 percent of candidates passed New York’s new licensing test, which emphasizes understanding of the new Common Core ELA standards and ability to instruct English language learners and special needs students. This data comes at a time when many argue that teaching licenses are awarded too easily, resulting in too many unprepared teachers in America’s classrooms.

NEW LOOK FOR AFFIRMATIVE ACTION FOES
NPR has a fascinating story on the novel approach taken by an organization militating against prevailing affirmative action policies. The Project for Fair Representation, run by activist Edward Blum, charges that Asian American applicants are disproportionately kept out of elite institutions like Harvard and the University of North Carolina by racial balancing formulae that arbitrarily cap the number of spaces allotted to students of their ethnicity. If true, the allegation would confirm some of the arguments in Ron Unz’s mammoth study of the corruption of Ivy League admissions

TRUTH TO POWER
During a panel with fellow Republican...

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