Posts Tagged ‘
college readiness ’
I suspect I’m like many parents nowadays, who wonder how to be helpful to high school-aged children when advising them what fields of study and career paths to consider pursuing. As opposed to when I was getting an education, there is a much higher level of anxiety about employability for young people. It used to be, you went to college, got a degree and assumed a job would be available. Given the current realities of the American economy, that is no longer the case.
For better or worse, this means there is a higher premium on educational programs that result in marketable skills. Sisters School District is hoping to beef up such programs with a two-pronged effort that would 1) get high-achieving kids aware of and well positioned for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and other academically-intensive fields of study, and 2) get kids who are vocationally-oriented informed about what it takes to be qualified for work in those sectors.
Dependent on the results of private grant requests, the District intends to “strengthen the jobs pipeline” by providing an integrated program of career-related learning, work-based experience and college admissions preparation to complement grade 5 through 12 instruction.
I like to ask my fourth graders what college they are planning to attend. Of course, they think I’m asking them if they are a Duck or a Beaver. I am really serious about this though. Kids and parents need to know that some sort of post high school education is the goal for all Oregon kids.
This economy has taught us all that education is vital. Economists can debate whether current unemployment is cyclical, a downturn that will rebound, or structural, a result of a tipping of economic needs away from low skilled labor to the need for a more educated workforce. Whatever the case, the jobs of the future will require more advanced math skills and the ability to quickly master new skills. We can’t have kids think that ending their education after high school is an option that will lead to future financial security.
Since post secondary education is a necessity, I like to peruse the web in search of what college prep schools are doing. What are charter school expectations? What are elite schools doing for their students? I checked in with the Dalton School (NYC) to see what their fourth graders will be doing. The Dalton School has a $38,000 price tag and 60 staff for approximately 350 students. It may sound unfair but graduates from these schools will be competing with my students to get into top colleges. Their 4th graders have an hour and half of homework a night and an extensive reading list. We should expect our public school kids to have the same. We should also expect families to realize this new reality and do what it takes to support a more vigorous program and to expect their child to attend college.
In looking further I found charter schools in low income areas with graduates in elite colleges. This week the New York Times reported about efforts in Houston public schools to replicate effective charter schools like KIPP and Harlem Children’s Zone where a high percentage of graduates head to college (“Troubled Schools Try Mimicking the Charters” Sept. 6).
I really appreciate these charters for showing us what is possible. It’s too easy to look at impoverished neighborhoods and think that kids there can’t make it at competitive colleges. With concerted effort effective charter schools are cranking out the productive citizens of the future from some of the least productive neighborhoods.
In the article the author cited the 5 common policies of effective charters.
- longer school days and years;
- more rigorous and selective hiring of principals and teachers;
- frequent quizzes whose results determine what needs to be retaught;
- “high-dosage tutoring”;
- and a “no excuses” culture.
The policies that public school teachers like me can control are limited. Without more support staff, high dosage tutoring is out. Without a better funding structure we are severely limited in the amount of instructional time we can give kids. For example, KIPP kids typically get twice as much math instruction as public school kids. Even the Texas schools mimicking the model of KIPP fell short by 300 hours of instructional time (50 6 hr school days).
My colleagues and I are working hard to tailor instruction to meet individual needs through data collection and targeted standards-based instruction. Along with this comes a beefed-up “no excuses” culture.
Teachers will continue to look at research and mimic what works. Meanwhile, we’ll look to the citizens of this state to fill in the other requirements on the list. How will we provide more instructional time? How will we mobilize tutors to target failing students? When will we start showing kids in Oregon that they are important, and give them the tools they need to make college an attainable goal?
I love reform. I’m excited that as a state and nation we are looking at making changes to public education. But sometimes in moving forward, it’s good to look back.
I’ve been moved to look back at my earlier career by the publicity around Jose Vargas, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and product of the California middle school where I taught. I’ve been thinking about the Jose days (mid-90s) and the staff and organization of that school. Of course, he is only one student, but there were many new immigrant kids who did quite well there. So what were we doing there that worked?
One thing that we did have was lots of faculty communication across the grade levels. I taught an intense and rigorous program partly because it was jointly developed by all the teachers on the 5th grade team. We met every Wednesday during prep, opened our plan books and shared. As a 5th grade teacher in a 5-8th grade school, I was reminded in staff meetings and in passing about where kids needed to be in order to be successful in later grades. There was a mindset that we were preparing kids for college. It helped that we were a Silicon Valley school sitting in the shadow of Yahoo, Netscape and SGI, where innovation and hard work were cultural norms in the neighborhood.
Story #1: I teach International Relations at West Linn High, a course juniors and seniors can take to fulfill a social studies requirement. Part way through the spring semester, I was discouraged to realize that over half my 100 IR students were missing assignments. Considering we’d averaged only one homework assignment per week, and a couple of the assignments were quite easy, I was troubled. It is my goal only to assign homework I believe will benefit students, and when they don’t complete homework it hampers their ability to succeed.
So with complete parental and administrative support, I sprang a surprise on students: If you do not complete every assignment, you will not pass this class. Even if you’re earning a passing grade, if you have even one missing assignment, I will enter “incomplete” in the gradebook and you will not receive a credit. Some were shocked, realizing that no credit could mean not graduating.
I was nervous about the new policy. I wondered whether all students would pull through, and if they didn’t, if I’d be willing to be the one obstacle that stood between them and graduation. I wondered whether at crunch time a parent would challenge the policy.
A new report suggests that Oregon could benefit from significantly changing its school and district accountability system. The report, commissioned by the Chalkboard Project, Stand for Children, OBA, and the Confederation of Oregon School Administrators and prepared by Education First Consulting, recommends that Oregon overhaul the indicators used and reported in its current accountability system to include a richer set of information that suggests how well schools are helping students prepare for college and careers.
The report suggests that states with successful accountability systems communicate results effectively, provide meaningful resources to interpret and use accountability results, and base their systems on rigorous college- and career-ready expectations. The authors of the report synthesized promising practices in state accountability systems and compared those identified promising practices to Oregon’s accountability system.
Additional recommendations for Oregon include revamping and streamlining the state’s reporting system, including considering the reporting timeline, the number of reports, and the usefulness of the data to inform instruction and decisions, and exploring the use of incentives to motivate schools and districts to continually improve or to maintain success. The report also recommends that Oregon improve its measurement and use of student growth scores, and suggests adopting the Colorado Growth Model.
Download the full report. For more about Education First Consulting, see www.educationfirstconsulting.com.
Traditionally, grades have been interpreted as C means average, B means above average, A means excelling, D means below average, and F means failing. Yet no student of mine in fourteen years of teaching believes this. My students view B as average, A as above average, C as below average and D/F as failing.
Furthermore, I’m unsure whether most students know what it means to excel. Most are accustomed to earning As for simply following instructions. It’s not uncommon for a student to ask me why an essay was scored a B, when they listed all the requested information. I’ll reply yes, you listed the information, but you didn’t explain the information, support the information, demonstrate that you truly understand the information. In other words, you met the minimum criteria, but you didn’t surpass them. Often I receive a blank stare in response.
It seems that our students are receiving increasingly better grades, and not necessarily working harder or smarter to earn them. A 2005 study by the organization that administers the ACT test concluded, after analyzing the GPAs and ACT test scores of 800,000 students per year over 13 years, that grades had inflated over 12% over that time period, meaning a student that scored a 20 on the ACT in 2003 had a 12% higher GPA than a student that scored a 20 on the ACT in 1991.
If grade inflation exists, if we instructors are assigning students ever higher grades, then we may be doing them a disservice. They may be learning that top marks are not hard to come by, and that’s certainly not going to motivate them to become the next great innovators and problem solvers our world needs.
I’m not suggesting teachers simply need to grade students harder. In truth, I wish we didn’t have to “grade” students at all. I wish, instead, that we could simply provide students and their families meaningful qualitative information and data to monitor and promote learning and growth. But as long as we do have grades — as long as colleges and communities look to grades, regrettably, as the sole barometers of student achievement — then we owe it to students to hold them accountable to solid standards and evaluate their work accordingly, and resist pressure from students, parents and administrations to grant favorable grades. That means when a student and/or parent asks for extra credit assignments at the end of a semester for the sole purpose of boosting scores, we should reply no, and let scores reflect actual performance.
A number of years ago, I became very interested in the idea of “chain” charter schools. I think it’s an idea that is immediately appealing to anyone who is focused on efficiency and process: Can you pick a system with great results, and replicate it? Is there a magic formula?
For the most part, the answer seems to be no. Most of the chain charter schools seem to have closed, or to be struggling quietly under the radar. Which is probably why there is such a strong focus now on the idea of “teacher quality” (a tricky thing to evaluate, indeed) rather than schools.
But there seems to be one standout that has survived and proven itself over time: KIPP Schools. (more…)
With many of Oregon’s students graduating from high school last month, it seemed appropriate to look at the college and career readiness of Oregon’s high school graduates. So, I decided to conduct an interview with someone who has first-hand experience with Oregon’s grads.
Bob Turner is a former professor of biology at Western Oregon University. Prior to working at WOU, Bob taught at both Wesleyan University and Clackamas Community College. Bob holds a BS in Biology from Seattle University and a PhD in Embryology from the University of Oregon. His research interests include cell interactions in embryos and the immune system, nontraditional teaching methods, and peer mentoring to increase student success. His policy interests include the alignment of high school proficiency and university and community college expectations, the adoption of an internship/residency program for teachers in training, and objective models of student assessment for high school through college. (more…)