8 Things I’ve Learned from Barbara Walters

About a month ago, I authored a post called “An Open Letter to Girls Everywhere,” in which I discussed how the media still fails to fully and accurately represent the work and accomplishments of women working in fields traditionally dominated by men. I addressed the letter to girls who are told in school that they can become whatever they want but then see few examples in the media of successful professional women. Here’s a quote: 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

Educate Yourself About #BringBackOurGirls

#BringBackOurGirls

Please take a moment to read this linked article by Gina Vaynshteyn about the kidnapping of over 200 girls in Nigeria and the international movement aimed at bringing those girls back to their families and schools. “Everything You Need to Know About #BringBackOurGirls” details the heinous crimes of the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram and its ideology of denying education to girls. The group recently declared its intentions to sell these kidnapped girls into slavery. We must urge leaders in Nigeria and in the international community to act quickly to bring these girls to safety.

Please help raise awareness about this urgent issue.

Friday 5: Mobile Art, Solar-Powered Education, Volleyball Smackdown

Father Jim Holy Spirit Catholic School

BRING IT.

Holy Spirit Volleyball FundraiserI speak from personal experience by saying that no Catholic school fundraiser is complete without a sponsorship from a local bar. A friend recently brought to my attention this upcoming volleyball tournament to benefit Holy Spirit Catholic School in her home town of Norway, MI. (Yes, that’s a place, and it’s lovely.) If you happen to be passing through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula along US 2 Continue reading

One Shining Example of Social Studies Education at Work

George Washington's horse.

Original artwork from my niece. We’ll just say that this is George Washington’s horse.

I learned last night that my niece, who is in the 5th grade, is currently in the middle of a social studies unit about American civics. I was practically giddy with excitement over this as I went through some flash cards of terms and concepts with her. (I think my enthusiasm confused her, but she’s more or less used to my nerdiness by now. Also, I’m glad she’s learning about impeachment from her class instead of from Monica Lewinski and CNN like I did when I was in 5th grade.) 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

Friday 5: Band Geeks, Daydreaming, Brian Williams

Brita Thorne Euph Chicks ShirtI was never in marching band, but through serendipity I’ve been surrounded by bandos for the last seven or eight years. (The shirt design was drawn by my best friend Brita Thorne for her euphonium section of the Michigan Marching Band. Even the girls end up with serious guns by the end of the season). This Huffington Post article “17 Signs You Were a Band Geek” caught my eye 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.