Schools are given a grade on how their graduates do
Hunching over her notebook at Borough of Manhattan Community College, Sharasha Croslen struggled to figure out what to do with the algebra problem in front of her: x2 + 2x – 8 = 0.
It was a question every ninth grader is expected to be able to answer. But even though Ms. Croslen managed to complete three years of math and graduate from high school, she did not know how to solve for x.
“It’s incredibly frustrating,” she said during a break from her remedial math course, where she has spent the last several weeks reviewing arithmetic and algebra. “I know this is stuff I should know, but either I didn’t learn it or I forgot it all already.”
In most school systems, what happens to students like Ms. Croslen after they obtain their diplomas is of little concern. But the New York City Department of Education acknowledges that despite rising graduation rates, many graduates lack basic skills, and it is trying to do something about it.
This year, for the first time, it has sent detailed reports to all of its high schools, telling them just how many of their students who arrived at the city’s public colleges needed remedial courses, as well as how many stayed enrolled after their first semester. The reports go beyond the basic measure of a school’s success — the percentage of students who earn a diploma — to let educators know whether they have been preparing those students for college or simply churning them out.
The city’s analysis, which it intends to reproduce every year, comes as policy makers nationwide have been calling for higher standards for schools. Most states have committed to adopting a “common core” of what each student should learn in each grade, and in New York, state education officials recalibrated their scoring of standardized tests this year, saying that the bar for passing had fallen too low.
Illinois began tracking how its high school graduates fared in college several years ago, after dismaying reports about freshmen floundering at state schools. Officials in Denver and Philadelphia are now following suit.
New York, like other cities, has made a considerable effort to improve its high school graduation rate — now 59 percent, up from 47 percent in 2005 — and push more of its students to enroll in college. But many of those students are stumbling in basic math and writing: 46 percent of New York City public school graduates who enrolled in one of the City University of New York two-year or four-year colleges in 2007 needed at least one remedial course, and 40 percent of them dropped out within two years.
At a third of the city’s 250 high schools, at least 70 percent of the graduates who went on to CUNY needed remedial help.
“You’re always very excited with the kids who are crying on graduation day, assuming they are going on to bigger and better things,” said Josh Thomases, who oversees academic programs for the city’s education department. “But heretofore that assumption has been largely untested.”
The city chose to study the class that entered CUNY in 2007 so it would have at least two years of college data. At the High School for Public Service in Brooklyn, for example, more than 90 percent of the 80 students who entered as freshmen in 2003 graduated in 2007, with the vast majority enrolling in college. But of the 26 students who enrolled in CUNY colleges, more than half needed to take a remedial math course.
“We have students who come with a real need and have to catch up,” said Ben Shuldiner, the principal. “Our job was to do our very best with them. We’re very proud of that, but clearly they still need more.”
Mr. Shuldiner said that in the last four years, the school had enrolled more students in advanced placement courses and had begun offering advanced algebra classes in ninth grade.
For Bronx Leadership Academy High School, where Ms. Croslen received her diploma, nearly 60 percent of the class of 2007 had to enroll in a remedial class. Kenneth Gaskins Jr., the principal, said that was hardly surprising, given that so many students arrived at his high school far below grade level.
“We’re expected to get them caught up in four years, which we try very hard to do and often succeed,” he said, adding that teachers often spend hours helping students with strategies to pass the Regents exams required for graduation.
While schools and principals are not being judged on their remediation rates, Mr. Gaskins noted that the city still rates them on their graduation numbers, which can be a factor in principals’ pay and, in the worst cases, whether a school is shut down.
“For the school’s own survival you are going to help kids get over that hurdle,” he said. “But they may not have a solid enough base to really show they’ve mastered the subject.”
Instructors at the community colleges say they have seen the effects of poor preparation for years. Elizabeth Clark, who teaches remedial writing at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, says her students do not have a sense of what a college-level essay should look like. Many follow a simple five-paragraph, elementary school formula: introduction, three points and summary.
“They don’t know how long it should be; they don’t know how to develop an argument,” Ms. Clark said. “They have very little ability to get past rhetoric and critically analyze what is motivating the writer, and you have to push them past simple binaries.”
There are also more basic problems, Ms. Clark said, such as students not knowing that each sentence must begin with a capital letter or using “u” instead of “you.”
John Garvey, who recently retired as the liaison between CUNY and the public schools, said the experience of remedial classes — known as developmental courses in academic parlance — could be discouraging, making students more likely to drop out.
“This is a student who thinks he or she has been doing pretty well, but their first experience is being told you are not good enough,” he said. “All of their confidence and determination is being undermined.”
The city is actually making progress. Even as the number of graduates enrolling in CUNY has increased, the percentage of students taking remedial classes has gone down.
About 58 percent of the city’s college-bound graduates in 2007 went to CUNY schools; 15 percent went to State University of New York colleges, with the remainder attending private colleges or public colleges out of state.
Mr. Thomases said the city was trying to develop a way to get data from other colleges.
Susan L. Forman said that many of the issues have remained the same for the four decades she has taught remedial math at Bronx Community College, including students easily confused by fractions and negative numbers and becoming paralyzed when they are told they cannot use calculators.
What has changed, she said, is that students are often overly confident.
“Their naïveté is just extraordinary,” she said. “They have a tremendous underestimation of what they do not understand.”
Source: New York Times
How 'Race to the Top' is rewriting U.S. education
When Education Secretary Arne Duncan inserted a half-page program description into the economic stimulus act last year, few except top Democratic leaders knew that it would create Race to the Top, a multibillion-dollar sweepstakes to overhaul U.S. schools that gave Duncan's department unprecedented power.
With only $4.3 billion — less than 1 percent of federal, state and local education dollars — Race to the Top is one of many small, relatively inexpensive projects that lawmakers plopped into the recovery act. What's striking about the competition, which awards millions to the states that best adopt Duncan-backed policies, is that the secretary arguably got more states to buy his brand of change in 18 months than any other U.S. school chief had in the Cabinet-level Education Department's 29-year history.
Forty-one states applied for the first round. Tennessee and Delaware were declared victors in March, and state education leaders spent the spring badgering their legislatures to pass Race to the Top-friendly laws for round two. Thirty-five states and the District of Columbia submitted applications by the June 1 deadline. Duncan selected 18 finalists in late July and will announce the winners of the latest go-around in September.
Last month, the secretary referred to it as part of a "quiet revolution" in U.S. school systems.
"States were willing to change their policies based on a gamble," said Brenda Welburn, the executive director of the National Association of State Boards of Education . "I didn't think they would invest the level of energy they really did."
It wouldn't always have worked out this way. The biggest teachers' union, the National Education Association , and other critics oppose making federal school dollars — usually controlled by formula — a contest. Lawmakers are loath to give so much control to the White House .
The inclusion of Race to the Top in the stimulus package, however, gave Duncan a unique opportunity: a peaking movement for change, a stimulus package laced with $100 billion in education money and a country of cash-starved states.
"The talk at the time was about this was going to be Arne Duncan's slush fund," said Grover "Russ" Whitehurst , a former Education Department official who's now with The Brookings Institution , a center-left policy research organization in Washington . "I don't think the administration knew what it was going to be or that Congress knew what it was going to do."
Duncan set aside most of his agency's stimulus money for quick cash injections such as student aid or propping up school budgets. Race to the Top, on the other hand, wasn't an economic stimulus measure but a chance to influence education policy while Congress was preoccupied with jobs bills, regulatory restructuring and a Supreme Court nominee.
When Duncan announced the first winners in March — $100 million to Delaware and $500 million to Tennessee — it became pretty clear what he wanted: The finalists generally had lifted limits on charter schools, found some way to tie teacher ratings to students' test scores and signed on to the Common Core Standards, a national curriculum movement that sets benchmarks in English and math through the 12th grade.
The program springs from a single sentence inserted in the stimulus law. Though it suggests that Duncan account for things such as teacher quality, data use, new standardized tests and school turnaround, it also allows for "criteria as the secretary deems appropriate."
Duncan had championed contests since he was the CEO of Chicago's public schools, where he experimented with competitive pilot projects. The results, by most accounts, were mixed.
Race to the Top was a chance to take the concept national, said Jon Schnur , a former Duncan adviser who's credited with creating the national competition. After repeated talks with Reps. George Miller , D- Calif. , the chairman of the House of Representatives Education and Labor Committee , and David Obey , D- Wis. , the head of the House Appropriations Committee , Duncan gained custody of just over $4 billion . Schnur conceded that Race to the Top probably would have had few supporters in Congress as a standalone project.
When Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut , the No. 2 Democrat on the Senate Committee on Health , Education, Labor and Pensions, was asked whether lawmakers grasped the program's scope, he said: "No. I understood it, but that's because I've been following the issues long enough."
Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California , who was then the top GOP member on the House education panel, still pleads ignorance, and called Race to the Top an "administration deal," though he said he didn't press for answers at a small White House education lunch in February 2009 . As Rep. Dale Kildee , D- Mich. , put it, "You could figure it out if you wanted to."
All three lawmakers said they now generally supported Race to the Top, but none was as effusive as Miller was.
"These are my best hopes," he said in May. "You see people doing things that a year ago they said they would never, ever agree to."
North Carolina Republican state lawmakers cited the White House when they tried to lift the state's cap on the number of charter schools in May. A Democratic majority defeated the measure, however.
Colorado Democratic Gov. Bill Ritter signed a teaching overhaul bill weeks before the round two deadline, despite opposition from the state's largest teachers union.
Lawmakers in Louisiana and Minnesota are considering similar measures, and performance statutes have passed in Connecticut , Maryland , Michigan , Tennessee and Washington state.
Opposition to at least some of Duncan's goals remains, however. Most teachers' groups charge that it makes scapegoats out of educators; old-school Democrats loathe its reliance on charters; and others think that using a contest is unfair.
"We don't want vital school funding to come with Ed McMahon's picture on it," Lily Eskelsen , the vice president of the National Education Association , said in reference to the late American Family Publishers sweepstakes hawker. "You, too, can be a winner."
Still, the Obama administration has requested $1.3 billion for round three next year, and most on Capitol Hill predict that the program will continue.
Source: McClatchy Newspapers/Yahoo! News
Do kids learn as well on iPads, e-books?
Oklahoma State University professor Bill Handy has big plans for the Apple iPad this fall. If the text messages he has received since the school announced he would test the tablet-style e-reader in some courses are any indication, students are eager to get their hands on the devices, too.
Handy, who teaches in the School of Media and Strategic Communications, is quick to stress that his intent is not to celebrate the new technology so much as to evaluate its effectiveness in the classroom.
"This is not research to prove that the iPad is great," he says. "There's a lot riding on what direction the university might take. If it's not beneficial, (I'll be) glad we figured that out early in the game."
Compared with traditional textbooks, the iPad and other devices for reading digital bookshave the potential to save on textbook costs in the long term, to provide students with more and better information faster, and — no small matter — to lighten the typical college student's backpack.
Yet the track record on campus so far for e-readers has been bumpy. Early trials of the Kindle DX, for example, drew complaints from students about clunky highlighting of text and slow refresh rates.
Princeton and George Washington universities this spring found the iPad caused network problems. Federal officials in June cautioned colleges to hold off on using e-readers in the classroom unless the technology can accommodate disabled students.
Though many of those problems are being or have been addressed, some of the most tech-savvy students aren't quite ready to endorse the devices for academic use. And some educational psychologists suggest the dizzying array of options and choices offered by the ever-evolving technology may be making it harder to learn rather than easier.
"The challenge for working in the electronic age is that we have so much access to information but we still have the same brain we always had," says Richard Mayer, psychology professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara. He focuses on how multimedia can enhance learning. "The problem is not access to information. It is integrating that information and making sense out of it."
There's a lot to like about digital learning. Santa Clara University student Christopher Paschal, 19, for example, appreciated the search function in his economics e-textbook, and said the included video clips offered "an alternative method of learning," and eliminated "the monotony of endless pages of reading."
But ultimately, "I feel that I comprehend material better in regular textbooks," Paschal says. Why? For starters, it's more difficult to look at a computer screen when you're tired, he says, and harder to concentrate when Facebook, YouTube and e-mail are just a click away.
Also, he and others say, it may simply be that the technology is still unfamiliar. Whereas e-readers have taken off in the leisure-reading market, publishers have been slower to jump into the education market. Reasons vary, but one challenge for publishers is that reading for the purpose of gaining knowledge is a more complex process than reading for pleasure.
"Usually in a novel you're going through it from start to finish. In a textbook you're constantly flipping back and forth. You're all over the book a lot more often," says Matt Lilek, 22, a part-time computer science major at Joliet Junior College in Illinois. "Textbook publishers haven't had a chance to tailor things for the iPad. If publishers really get behind the iPad, I can see a day where it's the only thing I would bring to school."
Even then, some evidence suggests students see a downside to 24/7 interactivity when it comes to preparing for exams or doing homework. During visits last fall to libraries, coffee shops and other campus hangouts to analyze how students study, a test-prep company noted that, when it was time to study, cellphones, laptops and Kindles were put away.
"In today's ADD society, textbooks are pleasantly single-dimensional and finite," says Jeff Olson, vice president of research for Kaplan Test Prep and Admissions, whose team conducted observational studies. "When I asked study participants why they didn't use their laptops to look something up, I heard some version of 'because that's my distraction.'"
A host of research over the past decade has shown that even the option to click hyperlinks to related material can create confusion and weaken understanding. One study found reading comprehension declined as the number of clickable links increased. A 2005 review by researchers at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, of 38 studies found "very little support" for the idea that all those links to additional information enrich the reader's experience. A 2007 study published in Media Psychology raised similar concerns about add-ons such as sound and animation.
The online environment "promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning," argues Nicholas Carr, who raises concerns about the long-term implications in The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brain, which was published in June. "The danger is you don't encourage people to think critically and, ultimately, you don't encourage them to think creatively."
Some of the newer devices try to mimic traditional study behavior with features such as the ability to highlight text and take notes in the margins. Still, the gee-whiz technology doesn't necessarily help students study better, suggests a study published this month in Journal of Educational Psychology. Students often highlight too much material, so building a highlighting function into the technology may simply enable students to continue an ineffective habit, the study found. "Worse, they may not even process or understand what they select," says study author Ken Kiewra, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Despite reservations, expectations remain high for e-reader technology on campuses. Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania and George Fox University in Oregon plan to give or phase in iPads for most students starting this fall. At a ceremony Friday, each member of the UC Irvine School of Medicine's incoming class of 2014 received not only the traditional white coat, but also a shiny new iPad, pre-loaded with everything necessary for the first year of course work.
Scores of others, including Reed College and North Carolina State University, plan to offer opportunities for students to test-drive iPads. And two-thirds of campus technology chiefs predicted last fall that e-books will become an "important platform for instructional resources" within five years, according to the Campus Computing Project.
Publishers, meanwhile, have big ideas for personalizing student learning. "That's the great promise," says Don Kilburn, president of Pearson Learning Solutions, a publisher of education materials.
More glitches are perhaps inevitable. But the technological advances "represent very real potential to remake education for the better," says Kaplan's Olson. "The potential for the textbook to come alive with interactivity ... will make the next several years of e-book innovation fascinating to watch."
Source: USA TODAY
Summer science camp for homeless children
Nailah Lewis wasn't frightened by her first encounter with a hissing cockroach. And she didn't jump when she came face to face with a reticent hermit crab and a crow flapping its wings.
The fourth-grader wants to be a biologist, and that interest only intensified during the days she spent at an unusual summer science camp organized by Cal State Long Beach.
"We get to do a lot of cool experiments," said a grinning Nailah, 8, one recent morning. "We built and flew kites and made airplanes. When we studied earwigs, one of the teachers tried to tell a joke that if they crawled in your ear and got to your brain, you'd die, but I said, 'That's not true.'"
What makes this camp special is that all of its participants are homeless or, like Nailah, have recently experienced unstable living conditions.
Now in its third year, the half-day, two-week program gives the youngsters a chance to explore concepts and career options they might not otherwise. For parents, the camp offers a haven for their children during the day, when many of them must leave the emergency shelters where they stay each night.
"They're learning to respect wildlife and nature and learning to get along with other children," said Nailah's mother, Dana Lewis, whose younger daughter Alaiyah, 5, also attended the camp. Lewis and her children lived in a motel for two and a half months after she was evicted from a Northridge apartment.
Three years ago, the family moved into permanent housing in Long Beach run by the nonprofit group People Assisting the Homeless. Lewis now works at a nearby emergency shelter.
"The camp provides a very secure and safe environment, and my girls come home feeling like they've made friends with adults," she said.
This year the campers, who ranged in age from kindergarteners through eighth-graders, studied animals and bugs, launched rockets and kites and investigated "crime" scenes, including a mysteriously contaminated cake. Teachers kept the group's special needs in mind when they designed the curriculum, avoiding violent themes and structuring each day's lesson to stand alone because some students come and go.
"As someone who prepares future teachers, it's good to know the needs of this group and how to better educate them," said Laura Henriques, who chairs Cal State Long Beach's science education department and has overseen the camp for three years. "You can't look at a kid and tell he is homeless. A lot of misconceptions and stereotypes get shattered."
In one classroom, students experimented with flight, affixing a large wing made of cardboard to one arm to learn about aerodynamics. Later, they were delighted to gently touch the feathery wing of a black crow brought in by teacher Debbie Drab.
After drawing a strong likeness of the crow, Jaynee Herrera, 8, announced that she liked birds.
"It was so soft," Jaynee said of the crow's wing. "I never felt something like that before."
The children are learning not only valuable lessons about scientific observation, Drab said, but also that they can become scientists. She said that she and other teachers have had to be careful with some presentations. She decided not to bring in a real severed bird wing, something she's used in other classes with young people. And in a lesson on what to feed crickets, she made sure to tell the students, some of whom had gone hungry, that the food they were giving the insects was rotten or had been dropped on the floor.
"Many of these kids have experienced hunger, and they would wonder why are you feeding perfectly good food to a cricket," said Drab, who is studying for a master's in science education at Cal State Long Beach.
The camp is funded through a $30,000 grant from the Verizon Foundation, which also pays for a bus that stops at shelters, downtown hotels and motels, and other low-income housing to transport children to Bethune Transitional Center on the city's west side. The camp partnered with the Long Beach Boys and Girls Club to provide afternoon activities for the kids.
The camp serves an increasingly pressing need. An analysis of recently released federal data by the nonprofit child advocacy groups First Focus and the National Assn. for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth found that the number of homeless students in the nation's public schools increased by 41% in the last two years. In California, the number rose by 62%.
At Bethune Center, officials said that about 2,500 students in the Long Beach Unified School District have been identified as homeless, but there are an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 others. The center provides catch-up class work for the children, assesses their progress and helps them make the transition to regular classrooms.
Those counted as homeless include families that are living two to a household and those living in garages or in an unstable sleeping arrangement, said Rhonda Haramis, the center's lead teacher and program head. She pointed to several recent trends, including a growing number of homeless families in which the parents are college-educated married couples who have lost their homes in the economic downturn.
"Unlike the chronically homeless, they don't realize there are services available," Haramis said. "Many end up coming to their kid's school having just lost a job. One of the great things about the science camp is that for many families, it provides their first encounter with a wider array of social services."
Back in the classroom, the students seemed enthralled by California Highway Patrol Officer Travis Ruiz, who described the tools of his trade, including a baton, pepper spray and handcuffs.
For Lorenzo Byrd, 8, there was only one question that needed answering:
"How come y'all can run the red light?"
Source: Los Angeles Times
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