Category Archives: Secondary Education

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.

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Friday 5: My Favorite Education Discoveries From Around the Internet This Week

Science TeacherI wasn’t able to find a citation for this beauty, but easily my favorite comment on it was “For every action, there is an equal and opposite class action lawsuit.”

University of Michigan Law Library

A place for people to learn how to file all of those class action lawsuits mentioned above.

In honor of National Library Week, CNN posted this article and accompanying photos of 27 libraries from around the world. I could sit and look at those pictures all day long. The article doesn’t include these photos of the University of Michigan Law Library, but I’m posting them because that building is near and dear to my heart. The place is basically a cathedral of books. Even undergrads are allowed to spend endless stressful hours in there.

Law Library at Night

Source: Lord, Aeck, Sargent Architecture

FLI LogoNext, I’m excited about  the latest newsletter from the Family Learning Institute, an education nonprofit in Ann Arbor, Michigan. I did an internship there while I was studying for my master’s degree. FLI provides one-on-one after school tutoring to low income children in Washtenaw County. Students are paired with a volunteer math or literacy coach, and they work together for just one hour a week during the school year. Despite the small time frame, FLI’s model gets big results in terms of academic improvement. The organization also offers programs to combat summer learning loss and help rising 6th graders prepare for the social and academic challenges of middle school. And new this year, FLI is expanding its reach through an Algebra Academy, college prep workshops, and a community access television show for parents and families.

There is a ton of information and discourse about schools and colleges on the internet, but there’s comparatively little that addresses nonprofit education. I want to give people an opportunity to learn more about the really important contributions that nonprofits make to education. If you’re interested in learning more about FLI, here’s a link to their website.

Teachers After School

Source: Aliza Eliazarov

 This article from the Huffington Post details a brilliantly simple photo and interview series for photographer Aliza Eliazarov. The series, titled “See Me After School”, captures the appearance and emotions of NY teachers during the part of the day that few people but teachers think about. This is a diverse selection of people who work teach the gamut of subjects, but there’s a common thread: Just about everybody is exhausted at the end of the school day, and these educator’s days aren’t even over yet.

And finally this week, I absolutely had to include this gem of a video, or as The Huffington Post calls it, “The High School Lib Dub to End All Lip Dubs.” Students at Avon High School in Indiana put together this massive undertaking to raise money for a local children’s hospital. If you’re interested, you can donate through this link. I promise this will make your day.

 

 

 

A Thank-You to Library Workers: National Library Week

Library BooksLibrary workers aren’t just caretakers of books. They’re caretakers of the children who read them. I have such wonderful memories of my little school library when I was growing up. There was a nice soft carpet on the floor in the children’s corner, where we would sit while the librarian read books to us like The Stinky Cheese Man, a new crowd favorite. Every book had an orange card in the back, which I could write my name on as I looked at the names of the kids who had checked it out before me. The only computer in the room was used by the librarian for inventory, but with all those books, who needed a computer?

Working in a school library has changed quite a lot in the last 20 years, probably more than any other job in education. The orange cards have been replaced with bar codes. Card catalogues have been replaced with computers. The internet is just as ubiquitous as books and magazines. However, the mission of school libraries hasn’t changed: to expose children to ideas that are much bigger than themselves, and to connect children with the people who come up with those ideas. It’s a big world outside the school gate, and media has a way of making that world seem bigger and smaller at the same time. Throughout these technological advancements, library workers have been at the forefront of learning and implementing new educational technologies. They’re the ones helping kids put together their research projects on the Amazon rain forest. They’re the ones helping teachers experiment with math games on a new set of iPads. They’re the ones making sure that the whole school has access to the best online periodicals.

That said, they’re still the ones introducing a new class of kindergarteners to the newest, silliest books. Some things never change. When you’re a little kid, libraries can seem like magical places, but they’re not created through magic. People make them possible.

Want to support libraries in your schools and neighborhoods? Visit ilovelibraries.org and sign “The Declaration for the Right to Libraries.”

A Jarring Encounter with an Ignorant Counselor

My first impression of my urban high school at the age of 16 came in my guidance counselor’s office at my orientation. My family had just moved from a very small, very white town earlier that summer. My counselor felt the need to give me some background on the student body of the school.

“You’re going to experience quite a culture shock,” he said. He went on to tell me this was a very diverse school, but he was eager to add that there was no gang activity there, citing a lone example of a group of kids that had made a habit of rolling up one pant leg. He insisted that the administration had quickly put that to rest.

“Keep your head up, look assertive, and you’ll be fine,” he added. I can only imagine what my poor mother was thinking as she sat next to me.

This man clearly thought that he was doing me a favor my telling me to be on my guard. Instead, he was perpetuating a whole slew of stereotypes. Why did he assume that he needed to say these things to me? Did he think I couldn’t deal with kids who were different from me? Who were poorer than me? Did he expect me to become a victim in this situation because I was white?

It’s hard not to see the latent racism and ignorance in his words. For all I know, this was a decent man who had spent over 30 years counseling kids. He had probably seen the school and its student body change a lot. More poor families, more immigrant families, fewer white families. But why assume that a scrawny white girl from Northern Michigan would have a hard time flourishing in a diverse urban environment?

I went on to make friends with a lot of kids who were quite different from me in many ways. My life has been much richer for it. I don’t think I was a uniquely kind or open-minded teenager. Rather, my happiness and success were thanks to the kids at that school who were kind and friendly enough to want to be friends with the new kid.

Children are so perceptive, and they pick up on so many of the thoughts and emotions of adults. However, it’s also possible that they choose not to adopt the ignorant notions of older generations.

When I think back on that moment, the most difficult part for me to deal with is the fact that I wasn’t the one who was harmed in that exchange. Instead, that mentality harmed the minority kids at my school. I was 16 years old and I was already scared to be starting at a new school anyway. His planting of that suspicion of my fellow students in my head was nothing but destructive. In a different situation, that suspicion may have turned into an ignorance to match his. I’m so thankful that the diverse student body and group of teachers were welcoming enough to dispel those suspicions.

I’ve come to understand, though, that I had no reason to expect anything other than kindness. We send kids to school so that they learn to engage with other kids and become a community of learners. Growth doesn’t come from exposure to people just like ourselves. It comes from working with people who are different. There’s no reason to lead kids to believe that they won’t be able to handle those differences. Doing so only perpetuates ignorance, fear, and self-segregation. And worse yet, minority kids are always the ones that are harmed, not the white students who are told to be cautious and vigilant.

#TeacherTuesday: Tony Danza Is Sorry, and So Am I

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I’m not a parent, but it seems to me that every parent I know experiences a wave of remorse from time to time. Remorse for every crummy thing they ever said or did to their parents while growing up. It’s the type of remorse that only comes from all of a sudden having to deal with that same crap from their own kids.

Recent years have shown me that many teachers experience the educational version of this exact same dynamic. I certainly dealt with it when I was teaching in AmeriCorps, and those guilty feelings pop up the more I research education and teaching. For the most part, I was a good kid who liked school, but there were plenty of times that I made things way too hard on my teachers while growing up.

My interest in this was sparked by reading Tony Danza’s book I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had. Perfect title. Danza talks extensively about how he was your quintessential ‘too cool for school’ student when he was a kid, giving his teachers a hard time and not taking school seriously. He felt like he really got his comeuppance when he became a 1st-year teacher at an urban high school in Philadelphia, where he finally discovered just how difficult it is to teach kids who don’t always want to learn.

Reading that book made me wonder if other educators experienced the same feelings of guilt, which led me to plan an interview series with some close friends and colleagues. I’ll be kicking that off tomorrow with an interview with Dan Frechtling, an old college friend who is currently working in education through the Peace Corps in Liberia. Through this series, I hope to learn more about the connections that these people make between their lives as students and their practice as educators. It’s also a good excuse for me to hear about people’s personal experiences in education, which I can never get enough of. I hope that you will enjoy these interviews as much as I will.

Further Reading

Danza, T. (2012). I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High. New York: Crown Archetype.

 

“Medora”: A Team, A School, A Community

medora-film

On this week’s episode of Independent Lens, we see PBS’s answer to March Madness in “Medora.” This documentary, surprisingly produced by Stanly Tucci and Steve Buschemi, relates the struggles of a high school basketball team, and those struggles directly mirror those of its tiny rural Indiana town. The team is the worst in the league. They haven’t won a game in over a year. But they just keep on trying. Basketball in Indiana is akin to football in Texas, and this film has all of the drama of an extended episode of “Friday Night Lights.”

“Medora” isn’t just a sports documentary. It’s about a school and its vital place in a community doing whatever it can to survive the fallout of a decimated local economy. As in so many rural areas, the school is innately tied to the town’s identity. “This town will die when that school leaves,” one local observes. With a swelling budget deficit, the school must consider consolidation, following the lead of all the other districts in the area.

The students and the team are caught in the middle of these politics. They have as many personal problems as the school and town do. I have to wonder if the responsibility for lifting the town up is a burden on the shoulders of these players or if that responsibility makes them stronger. Or maybe it’s both.

This film is difficult to watch at times, but it’s a wonderful reminder that small triumphs matter. Anybody who loves sports and loves schools should take the time to watch it. You can find a link to the entire film below.

http://video.pbs.org/video/2365195424/