• August 26, 2014 05:23 PM I’d Rather Black, Superhuman Student-Athletes Just Be Human

    What happens when prep athletes take off their uniforms?

    The same black males who are beloved heroes on schools’ playing fields can be treated as violent trespassers off of them. Between being a celebrated superhero and a profligate thug, black students just need to be seen - as human.

    Last week, Jackie Robinson West became the first all black Little League team to win the American title and to advance to Little League World Series. My heart raced like my sons played on Jackie Robinson West or faster than a Mo’ne Davis’ fastball. Davis, 13, also starred in the same tournament and had me wanting to #throwlikeagirl. As a former prep and collegiate athlete, I know the personal as well as community fantasies and joy athletics generate. Likewise, I cheered excessively for Jackie Robinson West and Mo’ne.

    Members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Chicago, Ill., ride in the Little League Grand Slam Parade as it makes its way through downtown Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. The Little League World Series tournament begins Thursday, August 14, in South Williamsport, Pa.. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

    Members of the Jackie Robinson West Little League team from Chicago, Ill., ride in the Little League Grand Slam Parade as it makes its way through downtown Williamsport, Pa., Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014. The Little League World Series tournament begins Thursday, August 14, in South Williamsport, Pa.. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

    My plaudits may have been symptoms of my need to exhale from the previous two weeks of depressing Ferguson, Missouri coverage. My raucous applause may have expressed society’s unhealthy exalting of black athletes in sports. In a more optimistic light, I might have cheered for real amateur athletics and the incredible stories they almost always produce.

    However, I’ve come to believe that my jubilation for those particular young baseball players expresses a deeper need for validation. I rooted because I want black lives to matter. I need some recognition of my and my peers’ humanity. But I know that I shouldn’t look for this type of validation from sports - especially prep or collegiate athletics. The reality is my sons can very easily be adored for his play on an athletic team and be preyed upon during his way home. Away from an athletic fields, kids apparently lose their cuteness.

    Click to read more Andre Perry.

    I’d rather not have the fear of my sons being killed by police than have some glory with being sports stars. I’d rather they be valued citizens than superheroes.

    The killing of Michael Brown has prompted a national conversation on policing in America, but it’s not just the police that have negative attitudes of blacks. We should ask: Who are police protecting? Police exercise public will. Certainly, police officers are part of the public, but they also serve the will of those deemed worthy of protection. I felt good about the accomplishments of Jackie Robinson West and Mo’ne, but being an athlete won’t necessarily make them citizens of value.

    Athletic accomplishment probably inflates a sense of belonging. Being a sports hero makes you superhuman - not human. Race matters. Superman transformed into Clark Kent. When a black student athlete removes his uniform, he becomes Black Man. At best an athletic uniform provides a temporary visa contingent on athletic ability and utility.

    What happens to black lives when the uniforms are off is what really matters. The boys of Jackie Robinson West will eventually remove their uniforms and walk the streets of Chicago. They’ll eventually drive and shop. Don’t have the baseball players of Jackie Robinson West make sophomoric mistakes of stealing, fighting, selling drugs or going to get snacks, which for many provide justification for fatal force. Mo’ne will grow up and look for the same opportunities as her male counterparts. She may ask for help like Renisha McBride. In other words, don’t let these sports heroes become human.

    The accolades for Jackie Robinson West and Mo’ne Davis don’t offer metaphors or evidence for how most Americans view black children. ESPN writer Melissa Isaacson penned Mo’ne Davis’ Impact Reverberates Far Past Williamsport. No, America is comfortable cheering black athletes. Black brilliance on the athletic fields is nothing new, and we should all act as if it happens every day because it does. In the midst of historic cheers for black athleticism, we’ve built policies that have led to the disproportionate jailing, killing and expelling of black people.

    And people of color have come to hail any brilliance that rises through the tilted odds of discrimination, prejudiced policing, under-resourced schools and biased laws. People of color have an extreme willingness to celebrate victories yet have a deep humility to know we’re problems. This oscillation enrages, yet it instills temerity to take a stand.

    The students of Jackie Robinson West are simply amazing. However, I just want students to have the freedom to be human.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • August 26, 2014 05:18 PM Lessons from Hawaii: Tracking the Right Data to Fix Absenteeism

    Good school attendance is associated with all sorts of good educational outcomes, especially higher grades and higher test scores. It’s obvious: if you’re not showing up for school, you’re not going to learn as much. But only 17 states track and report chronic absenteeism data, according to the Data Quality Campaign and Attendance Works, a non-profit organization that advocates for more focus on absenteeism data and ideas for getting students to come to school.

    “People aren’t tracking the right data now. They’re paying attention to average daily attendance and truancy, but not the kids who are at academic risk,” said Phyllis Jordan, a spokeswoman for Attendance Works. Truancy is generally defined as unexcused absences, but many chronically absent children don’t get captured in the truancy data because they had a reason for missing school or a parent-signed slip excusing their absence.

    A recent presentation by a state education official from Hawaii, one of the 17 states that does track chronic absenteeism, showed just how misleading it is to focus on average daily attendance rates. Dave Moyer, speaking at the 2014 National Center for Education Statistics data conference on July 31, 2014, found that even at Hawaiian public schools where 95 percent of the students show up every day, chronic absenteeism can be a gigantic problem where as many as one in four kids  – 25 percent — are missing 15 or more school days a year. Hawaii schools boast of 95 percent daily attendance rates. But when Moyer first drilled down into the data, he found that more than one in five students throughout the state were chronically absent.

    It’s worth pausing a moment to understand how these seemingly opposing statistics  – high daily attendance and high chronic absenteeism — can coexist. Imagine a school with 100 students and a 95 percent daily attendance rate. On day one, 95 of them show up and five play hooky. Then imagine that the same five students play hooky 15 days in a row. Already, you have 5 percent chronic absenteeism just 15 days into the school year. Now pretend those truant children decide to mend their ways and attend school again. And grab a new group of five kids (from the 95 that had been attending every day) to skip school. Again, you still have a 95 percent attendance rate. But if this second group of 5 skips school for 15 days, then you’d have a total of 10 kids, or 10%, of the student body that would be considered chronically absent. That’s after only 30 days. You could theoretically get to 20% chronic absenteeism just 60 days into the school year.

    In other words, it’s a small group of, say, 20 students who are frequently missing school. Maybe only five of them miss school on any particular day. Most of the remaining 80 percent have fairly stellar attendance records. And the school can still boast of a 95 percent attendance rate overall.

    Since too few states track it, it’s hard to say if Hawaii’s absenteeism problem is worse than, better than or about the same as the national average. Even the states that track absenteeism have different definitions for what it means to be chronically absent. Hawaii’s threshold of 15 days is believed to be one of the lowest in the nation. Most other states or districts wait until 18 days, or until 10 percent of the 180-day school year is missed, before labeling a student “chronically absent.” A 2012 Johns Hopkins study estimated that 10 to 15 percent of students in the U.S. are chronically absent each year.

    Solving absenteeism is another matter. “I don’t know how to fix the problem,” Moyer said. Moyer found that the reasons that kids don’t show up for school are many and varied. Some students suffer from asthma and have trouble coming to school on what Hawaiians call “voggy” days, when volcanic particles are thick in the air. On the big island of Hawaii, a two-mile hike down a steep mountain to the bus stop can be too arduous in bad weather. Bullied kids can be too scared to go to school. Others simply cut school to go to the beach.

    Race and ethnicity seem to be a factor, too. Native Hawaiian, Micronesian and Samoan students were disproportionately represented among the chronically absent population.

    But Hawaii has had some success in lowering chronic absenteeism statewide from 21.8 percent to 19.7 percent over the last few years, after making principals accountable for it. Five percent of an elementary’s school performance rating is now based on its chronic absenteeism rate. One community noticed that students were hanging out at the Seven-Eleven instead of showing up for school on time, so they persuaded the convenience store to shut down at 7:30 in the morning. “One Seven-Eleven closing had a big effect,” said Moyer. “The best solutions are local.”

    So which days of the year are students least likely to cut school? Moyer counted attendance on every day of the school year and found two of the highest attendance rates on Halloween and Valentine’s Day. “Really, the takeaway here is that candy drives attendance,” Moyer jokingly concluded.

    Source: NCES STATS-DC Dave Moyer presentation on Chronic Absenteeism in Hawaii

    Source: NCES STATS-DC Dave Moyer presentation on Chronic Absenteeism in Hawaii

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • August 26, 2014 05:15 PM The Tensions Between Pre-K Politics and Research

    With the federal government rancorously gridlocked for the last four years, some folks have taken to a familiar—and understandable—way of expressing their frustration. Why, they ask, can’t politicians just “listen to the research?” Why must every policy argument descend into ideological bickering when we already know what works? We especially hear this a lot in the early education world.

    The tension between democracy and expertise is a longstanding theme. After all, if we really know what works in early education, why would we bother asking Joe and Jane Public to weigh in? There’s a lot wrong with that line of argument, of course—but the biggest problem is that we don’t actually know everything about what works. Even the best researchers are humble about their findings. So while we may know that expanding early education access can help students in the short-and long-term, we’re still sorting out the specific characteristics that contribute to these programs’ success.

    To be fair, “this will work to varying degrees—depending on conditions, demographics, funding, and fidelity of implementation” isn’t exactly a political rallying cry.

    A new brief from (the always very good) researchers at the University of North Carolina’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute nicely illustrates this point. It surveys the last decade of research on North Carolina’s public pre-K program and concludes that available data on the program are largely encouraging. For instance, the authors found that “children who participate in the NC Pre-K Program make greater than expected gains in all domains of learning.” They also found that pre-K participants scored better than non-participating peers in kindergarten and in third grade. Finally, they found that dual language learners benefited more from the program than other students.

    Which is all very exciting for early education advocates. But the report cautions that it’s difficult to isolate the variables that are supporting these outcomes. North Carolina’s program has high standards for key elements, like a 6.5-hour school day, high qualification requirements for teachers, and so on. This means that it’s difficult to work out which factors are truly critical for supporting students’ success—and which might be superfluous.

    For policymakers trying to design new pre-K programs, this sort of finding can be challenging. In Seattle, for instance, efforts to expand pre-K access are fraught with political pressures related to questions of class size and teacher certification. If the city’s proposed pre-K initiative could be designed in a hermetically sealed laboratory, it might incorporate all elements of the successful North Carolina program. But that’s not how democracy works: The proposal has to go before the voters, which means that leaders need to craft it to meet the city’s political realities. If they knew which elements of a quality pre-K program were essential, they could prioritize those and compromise on other aspects. Without that information—and in the context of enthusiastic national rhetoric that makes few distinctions between the quality of various pre-K programs—Seattle’s policymakers are more likely to shape pre-K expansion to suit the politics than the kids. Given what we know so far, telling them to “follow the research” simply isn’t going to solve the problem.

    In other words, the tension between research and politics is particularly sharp in early education. While innovative research showing that early education investments can pay off in the long run helped bring early education advocates political dividends over the last decade, it also raised the stakes. That is, while we know that some early education programs have a high return on investment—say, 10 dollars in benefits and savings for every dollar spent—we’re still working out how to design and implement programs that reliably get these results.

    That is, if we see pre-K as a key year in an aligned PreK–3rd grade system, it should be measured only by how well it prepares students for kindergarten. We have reasonably strong research on how to do that. If we see it as a salvific public investment that should guarantee low rates of child poverty and criminal recidivism in the coming decades (without improving the rest of the PreK–12 system), we’re asking a question that research hasn’t yet fully answered. That leaves more room for political interests to influence (and perhaps distort) the debate.

    To be fair, “this will work to varying degrees—depending on conditions, demographics, funding, and fidelity of implementation” isn’t exactly a political rallying cry. Nor is “just be patient and we’ll see better outcomes eventually.” And frustrating as education politics can be, they’re not going anywhere anytime soon (N.B. Common Core supporters). So while the prospect of political fights attracts very few healthy-minded individuals, we shouldn’t pretend as though research can help us skip the unpleasantness.


    Note: With this tension in mind, I’ll be writing a few end-of-summer posts over the coming weeks that highlight interesting new research findings, with a particular focus on supporting dual language learners.

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • August 25, 2014 11:26 AM How One Ohio Mother is Trying to Take Down Common Core

    CINCINNATI - The several hundred people that filled the sanctuary of Faith Christian Fellowship Church on the outskirts of Cincinnati on a Monday evening in July murmured their indignation as Heidi Huber blasted a book that taught that homosexuality was normal. The book wouldn’t be important except it had popped up on a Catholic school association’s website as an example of what elementary school students might read under the Common Core State Standards.

    “We are arming the enemy by allowing them in our classroom,” Huber said.

    Huber’s talk was billed as an information session on Common Core, a set of instruction guidelines that specify the skills students should have in math and English from kindergarten through high school graduation. But it included a PowerPoint presentation of President Obama’s 2008 campaign platform that promoted preschool access for all children and the Affordable Care Act, both of which she saw as an encroachment on parental rights. Huber’s message to parents was that the problem with the standards is more than academic; they represent the agenda of corporate interests and the left wing.


    Five of the 45 states that initially adopted the Common Core have voted to repeal the standards, and, when state legislatures convene again this fall, more may do so. The opposition has been stoked by conservative and progressive pundits alike, but the reversals have been largely the result of state leaders responding to opposition from parents, spurred to action by talks like Huber’s.

    “There are a bunch of different reasons people oppose Common Core,” said Patrick McGuinn, an associate professor of political science at Drew University. But “the arguments that are being made by the opponents are … rarely about the standards themselves. They’re a symbol of other things.”

    For some, Common Core has become emblematic of over-testing in schools. For others, like Huber, it’s a matter of personal freedom. And while the parents have serious academic concerns - that the standards will limit the teaching of literature or that they aren’t developmentally appropriate for younger children - those are often intentionally overshadowed by bigger issues that unify and rally people.

    “What I try to convey in presentations is that while the standards are untested and unproven and, in my opinion, horrible, the reason we are concerned about them is who controls them,” said Huber, a finance manager at a private Christian school and a regional leader in the conservative Ohio Liberty Coalition. “While you can argue about the quality of standards, what ultimately is the violation is the fact that you have usurped state and parental authority.”

    And that message is resonating. An incumbent Republican in the Ohio Assembly was defeated in a spring primary, “completely on the issue of Common Core,” Huber said. (Although two other Common Core opponents lost to incumbents.) A bill to repeal the standards stalled in committee, but a second one has been introduced and legislators have a strategy to quickly bring it to the house floor. About 150 Ohio residents attended Monday’s hearings on the new bill.

    Common Core was developed in 2009 by a coalition of states led by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers and initially received bipartisan support. It was generally acknowledged that standards in many states across the country were weak, and Common Core was an attempt to raise them. In math, students would be required to understand concepts and be able to explain how they arrived at their answer, rather than just providing the correct answers. In English, they would be asked to support arguments with texts rather than opinion.

    The standards aren’t a federal mandate, but have been backed by the Obama administration. The Department of Education tied federal grant money to adopting “college and career ready standards,” which most states took to mean Common Core.

    Since March, Indiana, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma and South Carolina have repealed Common Core, and similar legislation has been introduced in at least 16 other states, although few of the bills have made it to a vote. Still, fierce battles are raging in a handful of states like Louisiana, where Gov. Bobby Jindal tried to repeal the standards with an executive order and was sued, and Arizona, where November’s election could give Common Core opponents the majority in the legislature.

    The opposition has been successful because of tactics like Huber’s, McGuinn said. “The arguments for supporters are more pragmatic, intellectual, technical - about the need for Common Core and what it is and what it isn’t. [But] it’s hard to combat impassioned, ideological rhetoric with fact sheets,” he said.

    Despite the efforts of both sides, surveys show that the majority of Americans still don’t know what Common Core is, and McGuinn is wary of overstating how large the grassroots movement is. Indeed, Facebook pages set up by opponents typically only garner a few thousand likes. Ohio’s falls just short of 3,000 for instance.

    In some ways, however, the small numbers only add to the David versus Goliath narrative these groups are crafting. “This is a true populist driven movement,” said Emmett McGroarty, education director of the American Principals Project, a DC-based conservative advocacy group.

    McGroarty has connected parents around the country with experts like Sandra Stotsky, an English curriculum expert who was one of two people of the 29-member Common Core validation committee who refused to sign off on the standards. He also gives them talking points to post on websites, which he often helps set up. “What we’re seeing is that a mom armed with the facts and defending her children is far more powerful than any kind of corporate donor or elitist view,” McGroarty said.

    Common Core supporters, though, frequently question the accuracy of the opponents’ arguments - including what the American Principals Project promotes – and say there is too much confusion about what Common Core does and does not involve. For instance, some Common Core opposition groups warn that schools are mandated to collect data on students’ health history and family income.

    Supporters argue that this is not the case. The standards’ rollout coincides with an Obama administration push to improve states’ data systems. Some of the same players are involved in each, but the two are not directly connected, and they say the data collection will not be as intrusive as portrayed.

    The anti-Common Core sites also often include things like Planned Parenthood’s National Sexuality Education Standards, which suggest an outline for sex education from kindergarten through 12th grade. They are self-described as being informed by the Common Core, and opposition groups portray them as an inevitable next step for states that adopted Common Core or even as a part of it, despite their having no official affiliation.

    In her talk at the Faith Christian Fellowship Church, Huber brought up the Planned Parenthood standards, drawing gasps from the crowd. She presented them as part of a federal school takeover that starts with the Common Core and ends with the total indoctrination of children. After the event, she perched on the edge of the stage as women flocked to her, asking if she would come speak to their group, snatching up her business cards and telling her they would pray for her.

    Huber, who has been involved in education policy for the Liberty group for the past five years, first heard about Common Core early in 2013 and began researching the standards, surprised to learn that Ohio adopted them in June 2010. “My Spidey senses first went up because if this is off the radar, it’s probably on purpose,” she said.

    Although Huber’s son attends a private Christian school, which has not opted into the Common Core curriculum, she still has led the Buckeye’s state fight against them.

    In part, she sees the statewide adoption as undermining the school choice movement. If even private schools in Ohio adopt the Common Core - as many have done - homeschooling parents worry that there won’t be any non-Common Core-aligned curriculum for them to use. Both the SAT and ACT, at least one of which Huber’s son will have to take to get into college, will also be aligned to Common Core.

    Since getting involved, Huber has helped organize hundreds of people to come to rallies and Senate hearings and become a link for parents who started reaching out on social media about changes they were noticing in their children’s schools.

    Sarah Lewis, a mother of four in Celina, Ohio first noticed something was different last fall. Her third-grader was consistently brought to tears by his math homework and her straight A sixth-grader was bringing home English assignments so confusing even she couldn’t make sense of them. That’s when she started to research the standards. “It was a full-time job. Staying up late at night, getting up early in the morning,” she said. “That’s where I drew my own conclusion of the federal overreach, of the coercion.”

    Lewis connected with several other parents in her area to form a local group of Ohioans Against Common Core and Huber made the two-hour drive from Cincinnati to give them a presentation. Driving around the state from group to group has become commonplace for her this year.

    With every talk Huber gives, she assigns homework: Call the governor. Call your legislator. She’s determined to force politicians to address the objections and take a stand in their political campaigns. She’s hopeful the momentum is in their favor.

    McGuinn isn’t so sure that’s true nationwide. “There’s a perception, a narrative of mounting opposition,” he said. “You have to put it in perspective. There’s a ton of smoke, but there’s relatively little fire thus far.”

    He thinks many states may repeal Common Core, and Ohio could be among them, but pointed to Indiana, which repealed the standards and then adopted ones that were very similar. “I think you may see a lot more of the Indiana thing,” he said. “States drop the Common Core and then quietly replace it with something that’s the Common Core. That serves the political purposes.”

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • August 25, 2014 08:28 AM A Lot of College Students Are Living with Their Parents. That’s Normal.

    According to a piece in Forbes, more college students are now living at home while in college.

    This might sound a little depressing, for those of us who had the traditional dorm-frat-apartment college living experience, but it’s maybe not so important. What does this mean? Well, probably not much.

    The story explains that:

    More than half of college students (54%) chose to live at home to make school more affordable, according to Sallie Mae’s most recentHow America Pays for College report. That’s up from 43% just four years ago. “Our research shows that families are making deliberate decisions to save on their college bills, and they are adopting multiple strategies to reduce the cost of college,” says Abigail Harper, a spokesperson for Sallie Mae. “One of the strategies they’re using is living at home, and another is living closer to home to reduce travel expenses.”

    The move from 43 percent to 54 percent, in only four years, looks pretty dramatic. And this move is pretty clearly a sign of changing spending patterns with regard to college educations, which have been documented elsewhere.


    And this might continue, too. While the great recession is now over, we’ve not returned to the overvalued houses and happy-go-lucky stock market of the early 2000s. Parents aren’t going into massive debt to send their kids to college anymore. Or, well, at least if there’s a way to save money they’re going to find it. People aren’t willing to pay more to put their kids in dorms if they can live just as well for free at home.

    In fact, the brilliant minds over at Sallie Mae, the source of so much of that debt students find so troublesome, appeared to say the same damn thing back in 2012.

    We get it: economic times are changing. But this might just represent a reversion to the norm. The development of the dorm is relatively recent. In fact, college students always lived at home. That’s always been pretty common.

    Sallie Mae has only been doing its “How America Pays for College” survey for the last decade or so. We don’t, admittedly, have comparable data for all of America, but a look around the average American campus makes this very clear. Even at comparatively older schools, most of the dormitories date from the 1960s or 70s. Students did, of course, live in fraternities or rooming houses while studying, but living at home seems to have been pretty common.

    It’s pretty recent development, expecting to live away from your parents when you went to college. I certainly never even would have considering commuting to school when I was in college, but my father did that. So did a few of my aunts and uncles, to attend private colleges.

    It’s normal to live with your parents. Anything else, when your college is local, is ridiculously impractical.

  • August 22, 2014 12:42 PM Michelle Rhee Leaves the Education Reform Trenches

    Just about no one has a mixed view of former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor Michelle Rhee. Even the announcement that she’s stepping down from leadership at the education reform organization Students First prompted a firestorm of commentary. So I decided to add a few (quieter) thoughts about Rhee’s departure in a TPM column this week:

    …if Rhee’s departure feels like a surrender, her critics have badly misunderstood the state of American education debates. There are many ways to interpret her fall, but it’s hard to see it as a body blow to the project of education reform. That’s sort of how a proxy works: Rhee’s departure doesn’t so much alter the country’s education dynamics as remove a lightning rod.

    Click here for the whole thing!

    [Cross-posted at Ed Central]

  • August 22, 2014 11:00 AM Transfer Students Often Don’t Get Credit

    A frequent recommendation of financial planners is that for parents want to save money on college they should sending their kids to inexpensive community colleges and then transfer to a four-year schools after two years. That way the student gets the name brand degrees at half the price.

    While I’ve long questioned how appropriate a solution this really is to the cost problem—If more students want to go to community colleges, how do the community colleges cope? They don’t have unlimited capacity. California’s community colleges ran into lots of problems during the great recession because lots of middle class students decided they wanted to study at community colleges, which can’t turn people away based on academic qualifications—there’s a bigger problem.

    While it’s true a transfer student might help someone get in the back door to a more selective institution than he could ordinarily attend, it turns out, according to a piece at The Hechinger Report, that almost 40 percent of transfer students don’t get any credit from their original institutions when they transfer:

    The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, found that 35 percent of a sample of more than 18,000 students who began in the 2003-2004 academic year changed schools at least once. And nearly 40 percent got no transfer credit, losing an average of 27 credits apiece, or almost a full year of college.
    Lost credits aggravate the already slow progress of students toward degrees. Only 4 percent of community college students complete an associate’s degree within two years, and 36 percent of students at public universities earn a bachelor’s degree in four, according to the advocacy organization Complete College America. The National Student Clearinghouse reports that 60 percent of community college and more than 40 percent of university students still have not received those credentials after even six years.


    And so they have to start all over again. Why is this?

    A lot of this might have to do with the dreaded problem of remediation in America’s community colleges.

    In order to start courses at many colleges, students have to take tests to determine whether or not they’re ready for credit courses. But because the test isn’t very good, and because students don’t know it’s coming and can’t, say, review the Pythagorean theorem beforehand, many don’t do that well, and have to take, and pay for, semesters of remedial courses they pay not really need.

    Merely going to a nonselective, community college puts one in a track to remedial course, which students still have to pay for, but which don’t earn them any academic credit.

    It’s more complicated than that, of course. Someone who transfers from a community college to a four-year university surely does transfer most of the credits. But students often transfer in the other direction, from a four-year school to a community college, and from one community college to another.

    Anyone who transfers from a four-profit college, of course, has an incredibly hard time transferring any credits at all.

  • August 21, 2014 10:01 PM Mills College: Now a Women’s College Any Way You Slice It

    Women’s colleges have for the last few years had a little trouble with how to address transgender students. Historically these schools were created to help address discrimination and gender imbalances in higher education. Many of the country’s colleges back in the 19th century only admitted men. The reason we have women’s colleges is to fix that, and give women an education.

    But with transgender students the question became a little more complicated. Many women’s colleges have become dramatically more liberal since the 1960s. If they’re here to combat discrimination, after all, doesn’t it make a lot of sense to be welcoming to transgender students, who are surely facing a lot of discrimination?

    But others reasoned that if the school existed for women, there were plenty of women available for admissions. We need not open our doors to everyone who comes along.

    At least one historically female college has decided to split the difference. According to an article in the San Francisco Chronicle:

    Of the nation’s 119 single-sex colleges for men or women, Mills College in Oakland is apparently the only campus that explicitly lets applicants choose a gender and be considered for enrollment - if that choice is female.
    The new policy will be in place for the first time as students return to class on Aug. 27. The trustees’ enrollment committee unanimously approved it in May, clarifying a host of what-ifs at the stately women’s college founded in 1862:
    Applicants “not assigned to the female sex at birth” but who self-identify as women are welcome.
    Applicants “who do not fit into the gender binary” - being neither male nor female - are eligible if they were “assigned to the female sex at birth.”


    As long as one might be, in any sense, a woman, admission is allowed.

    A student will be eligible for admission if she is a women, or if she is transgender and identifies as a woman, at the point at which she is applying to college. So basically, if you identify as a woman, either the normal way or because you’re female-identifying trans, you’re good.

    People who are born female and then become male are not eligible, though someone who applies as a woman and then subsequently becomes a man does not get kicked out, and will still be allowed to graduate.

    Note that this transgender question realistically only applies to women’s colleges since there are, nationally, virtually no men’s colleges left.

  • August 20, 2014 03:52 PM Thousands of California Kids Don’t Get Past Middle School

    LOS ANGELES - Devon Sanford’s mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer when he was in the eighth grade. After barely finishing at Los Angeles’s Henry Clay Middle School, he never enrolled in high school. Instead, he spent what should have been his freshman year caring for his mother and waiting for the police to show up asking why he wasn’t in school. No one ever came.

    “That was the crazy part,” he said. “Nobody called or nothing.”

    Although the majority of dropouts leave in high school, thousands of California students never make it to the ninth grade. Legislative efforts to draw attention to the problem have fallen by wayside. With most dropout prevention and recovery efforts centered on the upper grades - and previous statewide budget problems that cut resources - these students slip through the cracks early on and are faced with bleak futures unless they find their own way back.

    “How these kids never get on the radar - how is it that nobody realized they never started high school - it’s baffling,” said Phil Matero, director of YouthBuild Charter School of California, a school that enrolls former dropouts in the Los Angeles area.

    For more than two decades, California, like several states, has recorded the thousands of students who leave school during seventh and eighth grade. In 2012-2013, for instance, more than 6,400 middle schoolers dropped out, according state Department of Education data.

    A 2009 bill pushed the state to go further and required publication of a middle school dropout rate, which, much like a high school dropout rate, would compare all students who started in seventh grade to those that enrolled in ninth grade two years later. The state has never produced this figure.

    Tina Jung, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, said that it does not receive extra funding to comply and that calculating the middle school dropout rate requires additional money.

    Budget cuts aren’t an excuse, according to former-State Senator Gloria Romero. “The Department of Education can’t just pick and choose what it wants to do because it doesn’t like the funding,” said Romero, who sponsored the 2009 legislation. “The law is the law.”

    Middle school “has too long been ignored,” she added.

    California’s high school dropouts are more numerous, and receive more attention. For the class of 2012-2013, California had an 11.4 percent high school dropout rate, losing more than 56,000 students. Annual press releases about high school graduation statistics only briefly mention the fact that many students drop out before ninth grade.

    But research has shown that warning signs that a student might drop out appear as early as middle school, even if the student doesn’t drop out until later. A number of educators have fought for more attention to be paid to middle school and middle school dropouts.

    “If you’re waiting until high school to do dropout prevention, you’re waiting way too long,” said Debra Duardo, executive director of the Los Angeles School District’s Office of Student Health and Human Services.

    Middle schoolers drop out for any number of reasons. Some join gangs and some struggle with academics and lose interest in their classes. Others are bullied or have problems at home. Often it’s a combination. One student who sought help at El Nido Family Center, a Los Angeles social service nonprofit, began spending time with gang members. His middle school ultimately kicked him out and he was assigned to another more than an hour away by bus, El Nido staff said. He was too disinterested in school to make the commute worthwhile and dropped out.

    California requires students to attend school until they are 18, meaning these young dropouts and their parents are breaking the law and could be fined as a result. But parents busy working to make ends meet might not be able to carefully monitor their child’s attendance, said Melissa Wyatt, executive director of Foundation for Second Chances, a Los Angeles-based community organization.

    Other times, parents are the ones who pull their children out of school to work or care for younger siblings or elderly relatives. “Kids are taking care of their grandparents and parents at a younger and younger age,” said Wyatt, who has tried to help many middle school dropouts get back to school. She said the problem is particularly acute among immigrant parents who may not “understand what [being a] dropout means, how that effects them for the rest of their life.”

    Sanford’s mother didn’t want him to drop out, but the two had limited options. His father no longer lived at home. His older sister helped when she could, but with a newborn to take care of her attention was divided. So it was Sanford, 14 at the time, who accompanied his mother to radiation treatments and helped her bathe.

    His former middle school, Henry Clay - which has since closed and been reopened as a charter school - used to be one of the leading producers of school year seventh and eighth grade dropouts in Los Angeles. Eighteen dropped out in the 2009-2010 school year alone.

    Most middle schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) report a much smaller number of dropouts to the California Department of Education - but they add up. As the largest district in the state, it consistently has the highest number of seventh and eighth graders leaving school.

    According to the state Department of Education data, about 75 percent of Los Angeles schools that enrolled seventh and eighth graders in 2012-2013 reported at least one student in those grades who dropped out. In total, more than 1,000 LAUSD students dropped out of seventh or eighth grade.

    At Thomas Edison Middle School, a predominately Hispanic and low-income school in South LA, staff say budget cuts in recent years have made it difficult to keep track of students. In the 2011-2012 school year, five seventh and eighth graders out of 1,151 dropped out.

    “I’m happy to say we only have five,” Lua Masumi, community school coordinator, said last winter. “But I’m sad we have five.”

    There is one full-time employee to crunch the attendance numbers and call parents to get excuses for absences. She rarely succeeds in getting a reason. The school used to have a full-time Pupil Services and Attendance (PSA) counselor to help the attendance clerk go after truants. Last year, they shared one with four middle schools.

    The school’s dean also pitches in to contact parents if a student is frequently absent - five times in a month, for instance, would merit his attention. But occasionally, a student’s absences go unnoticed for longer. In early December, the school’s PSA officer realized that one child had missed three straight weeks.

    Thomas Edison’s situation is not unique. Last school year, Hollywood’s Thomas Starr King Middle School had more than 1,500 students, a 90 percent attendance rate and no PSA councilor. It had one attendance clerk, down from four seven years ago. The school, which had nine dropouts in 2012-2013 and where nearly three-quarters of students qualify for free- or reduced-priced lunch, relies on robo calls to follow up on absences.

    “You get what you pay for,” said Linda Guthrie, who teaches English at King. “Do you devote resources to the kids who are here or not here? I know it sounds really cruel, but out of sight out of mind… Schools don’t have the resources to go out and find those no shows.”

    It’s a problem that the school district is well aware of. It’s trying to relieve the schools of some responsibilities, like notifying parents after three unexcused absences, and Duardo’s office now sends out a monthly attendance report to schools with trends and suggestions.

    LAUSD officials are also pushing dropout programs down to the middle school level with a program paid for by an $11.6 million federal grant from the Obama administration’s High School Graduation Initiative.

    Using these federal funds, school districts in Mississippi, New York and Texas have set up programs that work with both middle school and high school dropouts. Under LAUSD’s program, the Diploma Project, district officials crunched numbers for indicators like test scores and attendance rates for students at six middle and six high schools to identify those most at risk.

    From there, it’s up to the designated staff at each school to ensure those students keep showing up. The program started at Robert Peary Middle School in 2010 with about 70 students. Beverly Evans was assigned the task of monitoring their grades, attendance and behavior and doing whatever it takes to improve those things or squash problems early on. She meets with parents, teachers and the students themselves on a regular basis to find out what’s causing issues or just to reiterate the importance of trying in school.

    “Our title is graduation promotion counselor,” she said. “But I really call us mother, father, brother, sister.”

    LAUSD officials cited early signs of success of the program. Dropout rates at all the Diploma Project high schools are down. Only 2 percent of students at the middle schools didn’t matriculate to ninth grade in 2013, compared to 11 percent of students in 2011.

    The middle schools in the program continue to lose students throughout the school year, though, according to state data. At Peary, for instance dropouts have ranged from seven to a dozen of students annually since 2010. But Evans says that none that have been enrolled in her program have dropped out. She and other staff members have even followed up with former eighth-graders to make sure they’ve made the transition to high school.

    It’s the kind of attention that Sanford never got. His mother passed away about a year after he dropped out. He says it was always understood that he would go back to school, but after a year off and still dealing with his loss, reentry was difficult. He bounced around a few schools in LAUSD before ending up at San Bernardino’s YouthBuild Inland Empire, a charter school for former dropouts. He graduated this summer at age 19.

    Many middle school dropouts do attempt to get back to school once they realize how few job opportunities they have, recovery experts say, but often have a hard time coming back, particularly when they’ve missed out on important foundational middle school academics.

    At his school, Sanford is an anomaly, according to counselor Cheryl Traylor. Most of the school’s students made it as far as high school before dropping out. She says other students who dropped out during or immediately after middle school have enrolled at YouthBuild, “but they didn’t stay. They struggled.”

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

  • August 19, 2014 12:04 PM Teacher-School Match: Education Needs Long Relationships, Not ‘One-Night Stands’

    Teacher preparation programs should see themselves as matchmakers.

    We match professionals with schools and students who’ll hopefully consider their arranged partnership happy, healthy and productive. Communities benefit when new teachers share their fates with their surroundings.

    Matriculation and graduation are the few separation rates teacher prep programs should celebrate; in the very least, the public should expect students, schools and districts to get their dowries back. In order to meet this expectation, teacher-prep programs should be measured by quality time served.

    File photo. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    File photo. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

    New teachers, however, aren’t staying in the classroom very long. If teachers aren’t among the 10 percent who leave after the first year, they may leave before reaching their potential. Richard Ingersol among others has estimated that 40 percent to 50 percent of new teachers leave within the first five years of entry.

    The causes for premature exits are multifold. Preparation, a sense of feeling overwhelmed, work conditions and student behavior all are at play. An uncounted number of teachers leave the profession within a few years simply because they had no intention on staying. When becoming a teacher is treated like joining the Foreign Legion, people will simply serve their tours of duty.

    “It’s hard to develop feelings for anyone who’s expecting the educational equivalent of a one-night stand.”

    High teacher turnover creates educational, economic, political, and social costs that hamper schooling and learning. Losing experience and expertise is like leaving your house windows open: you pay a high price to be too hot or too cold. School buildings become so much more effective and efficient when good teachers stay.

    Political climates are more sustainable. The turnover rates of Teach for America are a political as well as an educational liability. Also, schools that have high teacher turnover are forced to have static, prescriptive curricula (boring) that must account for anybody filling role of teacher.

    It’s hard to develop feelings for anyone who’s expecting the educational equivalent of a one-night stand. Ask any sworn bachelor or bachelorette who ended up wonderfully hitched. There are benefits to relationships that only come out of commitment.

    The late, great Rita F. Piersonsaidit best, “Kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.”

    We can break down the Pierson adage even further. Kids can’t learn from people who are detached. This is not a poorly veiled argument against virtual learning, the of the educational world. Whether online or in the schoolhouse, a relationship is both process and product of learning. Some schools even use data-driven selection tools such as Paragon K12 that deploy predictive analysis to select top teachers.

    The quality of the learning relationship is factored in learning outcomes. In her TED talk, Pierson quotedJames Comerwho said, “No significant learning can occur without a significant relationship.”

    Induction programs are the presumed marriage-counseling that address teacher turnover problems due to feelings of being overwhelmed and/or a lack of preparation. As an aside, if you’re burned-out teacher, then leave; studies have shown that burned out teachers who leave have less negative impact on students and schools than those who stay.

    Induction programs provide support for beginning teachers through structured mentoring, coaching and administrator engagement. Think moving into a residence with someone for the first time. You invariably talk with experienced people to cope with the transition. Induction programs come closer to creating an authentic apprenticeship experience that a traditional 12-week student-teaching term doesn’t quite provide.

    However, the theories behind induction can occur earlier in teacher education programs so children aren’t exposed to supposed professionals just trying to figure things out.

    Teacher education programs must move toward required yearlong residencies that give candidates the needed figuring out period. In addition, teacher education programs should give candidates an adequate number of what the Relay Graduate School of Education regard as “at bats,” instructional and management opportunities. These opportunities for skill development should occur under supervision with feedback but before the candidate signs her or his first contract. Most importantly, skill development should happen in the context of building a relationship.

    I’m not the biggest fan of undergraduate degree programs in education in general because they inherently diffuse content and pedagogy. In addition most programs don’t maximize students time studying while neighboring a school district. After spending four years in a place, a candidate has generally become a member of a local community. Undergraduate teacher candidates just need to become members of a school community. Why not spend time training in the schools adjacent to the university? Taking a new job in a new place is like moving in with someone you just met — stressful. Eliminate one of those stressors.

    Finally, the effectiveness of teacher training programs must be measured on teachers’ abilities to positively impact student learning and to create longstanding members of the school and local communities. However, tuition incentivizes colleges of education to stockpile teachers without accountability on how well and long they serve as a graduate. Students and neighborhoods need quality time. Districts can’t shoulder the costs of teacher prep programs’ promiscuity.

    Teacher prep programs can do better to improve turnover and attrition. But we must first recognize that we’re part of the problem. Teacher prep programs can show students, schools and community love by including longevity as one of our key performance indicators.

    [Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

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