Tag Archives: EdReform

Friday 5: Finland, Swim Class, Sod Schoolhouses

The one-room schoolhouse is the stuff of legend in modern-day North America, and in an era when 4,000-student high schools are not uncommon, it’s easy to forget that one-room schools still exist. In “Lessons to be Learned from a One-Room Schoolhouse” from CBS News, we hear about how in some towns across the country, education is still flourishing the old-fashioned way. Continue reading

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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

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.

How Can We Encourage Confidence in Girls?

But what if I mess up?

Failure can be a scary thing.

The Confidence Code, a new book authored by ABC’s Claire Shipman and BBC’s Katty Kay, reveals new research into the differences between men’s and women’s confidence and how those differences affect important areas of life such as workplace performance. This dynamic certainly begins even earlier, in the classroom. As Shipman points out, girls of today tend to work hard and strive for perfection in their grades rather than take academic risks. When they graduate from college with impressive degrees, the skills that helped them earn those degrees don’t necessarily transfer to the workplace. In an article posted today on ABCNews.com, she notes of women, “Perhaps we’ve contemplated taking a larger step – a run for local office or a change of career – but we opt for caution over risk.  For most women, such feelings are so commonplace we’ve discount[ed] them. But, in truth, they represent a profound confidence gap between men and women, especially in the workplace.” In contrast, men tend to be assertive in their contributions to discussion, decision making, and leadership. Women often take a back seat, fearing that they might make mistakes or be perceived as over-bearing.

As an educational researcher, I can’t help but wonder what educational structures and practices reinforce this confidence differential in schools. The article states that there are genetic and physiological determinants of an individual’s confidence levels, but the study also finds that individuals have agency in this. How can we teach girls the same non-cognitive skills of self-confidence and assertiveness that help boys succeed in the workplace? How can we encourage girls to take risks and view failure as a learning opportunity? Answers might be a long time coming, but the discourse generated by this research could go a long way in shifting educators’ approaches to preparing boys and girls alike for success in their careers.

Interested in taking The Confidence Quiz and contributing to this research? Click here for the link.

 

Trying to Improve Education? Talk to Some High School Dropouts

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I’ve learned more about education from high school dropouts than I’ve learned from any book, article, or lecture. Despite holding a master’s degree in educational studies, working as a GED instructor for adult minority students in Southeast Washington, DC opened my eyes more than any other experience to the realities that students face as they go through the American educational system.

In many ways, my classroom was a microcosm for larger systemic educational issues. Students were shockingly lacking in basic math and literacy skills. Most of them had been repeatedly told as children that they were lazy or stupid because school was difficult for them and to this day experience anxiety just from walking into a school building. I even had a mother and her 18-year-old son in my class, evidence of the cyclical nature of academic failure and lack of opportunity in families.

Although these students should have been in adult basic education programs, my supervisor informed me that the organization had abandoned that program years ago. Many students received negative pressure in their social circles about going back to school, but being able to say, “I’m getting my GED,” still held a good amount of social prestige. There was no prestige, however, for those students to say that they were learning basic math and literacy skills. Due to sharply falling attendance, the basic education program was dropped in favor of an all-GED program.

While I was frustrated that my students were underprepared, their desire to be in my class signaled some important realities to me: they took pride in their decision to go back to school and were emotionally invested in doing well. Their reasons for returning to school were noble. Most wanted to get good jobs or hold onto the ones they had. Others wanted to be able to help their children or grandchildren with their homework. A couple even told me that they wanted to go onto college.

In all likelihood, many of those students will need to study for years before they pass the GED, and many will never pass it. And yet, they maintain hope. Perhaps merely having a positive educational experience was enough to put them on a good path after years of discouraging encounters with education.

My students knew very little of the scholarly theories we use to explain their situations. I am sure that few of them have ever learned about social capital theory, non-cognitive skills, or the legacy of Brown vs. Board of Education. They made no excuses for why the American educational system did not work for them.

As scholars, we rarely understand high school dropouts as anything other than a set of statistics. I was fortunate enough to learn at an early age that these people are valuable for much more than that. In our discourse about educational reform, these should probably be the first people we talk to about how we can improve our system, not the last. They prove that it is just as important to learn from education’s failures as its successes. And they prove that the people behind those statistics can share with us a wealth of knowledge and perspective.

The Psychology Behind Terms Like ‘Failing Schools’

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It’s a term that we’ve been hearing a lot lately. It’s a term that I’ve used myself. But I never thought twice about it until I was in one of my master’s classes last year. The course was entitled “The Social Context of Schooling.” Usually we discussed the social environment in which teachers run their classrooms, administrators run their schools, and policy makers shape our education system.

That day, however, we turned the lens on ourselves as educational thinkers. We all know that many, many schools are struggling. Struggling to give kids the education they deserve. Struggling to meet the expectations that have been put upon them by AYP and the policies behind it. Many of those schools feel that they are on the chopping block, bound to close, be turned over to the state, or be turned into a charter school.

This limbo is undeniable, but what are the implications of labeling a school as failing, even if that term is informal? My professor urged us to consider the impact that our language can have on our own thoughts and behaviors, along with those of others. She also wanted us to think about how we would feel if the school we worked in or sent our children to had garnered that label. What’s the likelihood that we would feel any power to turn that situation around? Probably pretty slim. What’s the likelihood that we would throw in the towel and accept that if those around us have given up on our school, we probably should too? Probably pretty high.

Talking about the challenges that schools face is essential, particularly in this era of standards and accountability. However, my professor was absolutely right in asserting that we need to show compassion in our thoughts and words. Education is all about building people up. Everyone deserves to feel like his or her school has a fighting chance.