Category Archives: Education Policy

Miss Chris Goes to Washington

LessonPlanI stood at the dusty old chalkboard scratching out numbers, struggling through my third week of trying to teach fractions. I was enveloped in a half-circle of students in desks, but these weren’t ordinary students. They were almost all older than me, a scrappy midwesterner trying to deal with an unprecedented batch of allergies. The flora was so different in DC. Something had been making me stuffy for weeks. I sounded so goofy with every word that came out of my mouth. My students seemed to be immune to the plant life in town, as well as the oppressive heat. Southeast DC is surprisingly scenic for an urban area. In some ways, nature seems to be reclaiming ground from the residents, an almost exclusively black population. It’s a place where white folks are so rare that I was called “Snowflake” on more than one occasion.
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Autonomy: An Ideological Link Between Democratic Equality and Localism

IVotedpicAmerica’s schools are one of the first places where we learn to become citizens. It is the place where we go to learn about our history, our values, and how we will contribute to the common good. Scholars often refer to this vital aim of schooling as the democratic equality goal. Educational researcher David Labaree explains that “ . . . a democratic society cannot persist unless it prepares all of its young with equal care Continue reading

“Improbable Scholars”: Urban Students Can Get a Great Public Education, Too

abrazos

A nurturing culture is at the forefront of Union City’s success.

David L. Kirp’s 2013 book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools, shows us that the average urban school system can be a great one–but that takes a lot of doing. Kirp offers a case study of Union City, NJ, a small but heavily urban district comprised largely of first- and second-generation immigrants from Latin America. While many urban school districts languish, Continue reading

The Capitol Dome and Its Two Cities

Capitol DomeFor a year after I graduated from college, I worked as an educator in the shadow of one of the weightiest symbols in the world, the embodiment of all of the ideals that make up the great ideological experiment that is America. The Capitol Dome feels omnipresent when one travels around Washington, DC, and the city planners have made sure of that Continue reading

Identity Impacts Education, and Vice Versa

Education and IdentityThere’s a growing body of scholarship around how students’ social identities impact their educational experiences, but it’s so important to consider how education affects their identities as well. In fact, I think it’s entirely possible that identity and education interact with each other as a cycle, or even a series of them, in which identity and our experiences in education feed into each other in different and overlapping ways. For some students and teachers, that cycle plays out every day and in some unexpected (and challenging) ways. Continue reading

I Cheated in 3rd Grade Math

Flash CardsI have a secret to share with you all: I cheated on one of my 3rd grade multiplication quizzes, and it was all because I was obsessed with getting to the top of Multiplication Mountain. Many elementary school classrooms feature a similar approach to teaching times tables. Students get to move to the next level after mastering a set of numbers, from their 3s to their 4s, their 4s to their 5s, and so on all the way up to 12s. In my case, that meant the summit of a very impressive peak on our classroom’s massive bulletin board. Continue reading

Kids Are Hurt by NYC’s School Co-Location

Trump

Trump.

Charter schools are the sexiest thing going in New York City education. They are fountains of educational innovation in that city, even as charters languish in many other parts of America. Those schools are not without their own unique set of controversies beyond the typical ones regarding unions and privatization, however. As outlined by Amy Pereira and Trymaine Lee in an article titled “A Day in the Life of a Divided School,” one of the most hotly contested education issues in that city is school co-location, the practice of Continue reading

The Pope, a Bullet, and Character Education

Pet Blessing 1994

My brother and me at our school’s pet blessing in 1994. That fish was definitely holier than any of the public school kids’ fish were.

When I was a 2nd grader at a Catholic elementary school, Pope John Paul II was like a real-life Santa Claus. Everybody my age liked him so much, we didn’t even care that he was never going to pop down the chimney and leave us presents. Just like Santa Claus, he was always smiling, he wore the same iconic outfit all the time, and whenever he talked, everybody cheered. Many of my Catholic friends to this day refer to him as JP2. Continue reading

Reforming Developmental Education: We Need a Holistic Approach

We might think of developmental education at the college level as the traditional approach to transitions services for students who may not be prepared for college-level coursework. Recent experience has shown, however, that tradition is not helping enough students graduate from college, as detailed in last week’s AP article on college developmental courses. “Only about a quarter of students nationally who take developmental—or remedial—classes ever graduate,” the article points out. That figure is staggering. Postsecondary institutions are dealing with two main problems when it comes to improving those numbers and reforming developmental education (aside from the growing need for it): how to accurately assess whether students need development, and how to best help students who do in fact need that development.

The predictive value of standardized tests has come into question at all levels of education in recent years. Assessments of college readiness, and specifically placement tests, are the latest among them. Thus, colleges’ attempts to find new ways of assessing students’ preparedness are a welcome change. However, some experimental approaches currently in use still do not take the entire student into account and may be just as one-dimensional as assessment tests like the ACCUPLACER. Allowing students to decide themselves whether or not to take remedial courses could be risky for students and institutions. Using GPA as a lone indicator gives only a narrow idea of a student’s needs.

Still, there are plenty of students who clearly are not ready for the rigor of credit-bearing courses. I saw that first-hand when I was an advisor and teacher’s aide for a college bridge program for GED recipients in 2010. The program was designed specifically to reduce the need for developmental courses once students got to college. Although the nonprofit I worked for geared the program toward non-traditional students aged 16-21, the model had the potential to help any students who needed to improve their college preparation. Indeed, most of our students were graduates of The Next Step Public Charter School, which employed an academic model that was a hybrid between a traditional high school and a GED preparation center.

The instructors for our program included actual college professors who had several years’ experience teaching developmental-level courses. To supplement those academic courses, my fellow AmeriCorps volunteer at my site taught a study skills course that was developed at a Big Ten university and had been taught at the college level for several semesters. In addition to my role as a teacher’s aide for those three courses, I also designed and implement a college advising program. Advising focused on college and career research in addition to filling out college and financial aid applications. In short, we took a holistic approach to support as many aspects of the college transition process as possible.

This model showed so much promise, but after just one cycle, the entire organization was shut down due to funding shortfalls. That lack of financial support is telling of how our academic system overlooks students’ transition needs. Solutions to student preparedness are directed at high schools or colleges, but approaches that target both and attempt to bridge that gap are rare. Of course, early intervention is best, and there is no substitute for giving a child a solid educational foundation before she reaches college. However, we can’t turn back the clock for students who are already moving on to postsecondary education. Those students need and deserve help, too.

Developmental students’ struggles to graduate also demonstrate that academic skills are not enough for success in postsecondary education and the workforce. Learning non-cognitive skills such as time management, self-motivation, and effective communication is essential. Those sorts of skills are innate in some students and must be learned by others. Study skills courses can go a long way in guiding students to success, but how often do we hear about high schools that offer those courses? Convincing college students to put some of their valuable financial aid toward a study skills class can be difficult as well. Nonetheless, equipping students with a holistic set of skills should be a priority at all levels of education.

It’s clear that postsecondary institutions, and community colleges in particular, are suffering from a lack of essential information about students’ needs and their potential for success. Grades and test scores can only communicate so much, but a student’s teachers, counselors, and coaches can communicate a wealth of information about his potential. In order to bridge this gap between high school and college for students, we as educators need to bridge that same gap among ourselves. We need to talk to each other. Colleges need to reach out to high schools more to gain a fuller understanding of what students have learned and what they are capable of, and policy makers need to give colleges the funding to maximize those human resources. K-12 schools need to be more aware of students’ postsecondary options and interests along with the expectations of colleges and universities. Further, nonprofit organizations and community college programs specifically designed to help students transition into and persist in college deserve more financial and community support.

As with every other stage in our education system, developmental education programs suffer from a lack of coherence with the stages of education both above and below it. Colleges are taking important steps to find solutions for assessing whether students need developmental courses and which approaches are most successful for students who do need extra help. For the sake of those students, reform efforts should focus on students’ needs and experiences in their entirety.