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What happens when your college crush won’t commit? Posted on December 28, 2014 What happens when your college crush won’t commit?

By Haskell Flender You fell for a college; they deferred your application. What next? “I knew you and I were a perfect match,” the young man begins, “ever since I laid eyes on you at my sister’s graduation. And spending time together this past year, learning everything there is to know about you, has only made me more convinced that you’re the one for me. “And I believe you know everything there is to know about me,” he continues. “That I’m a hard worker, a deep thinker, extremely accomplished in and committed to my field but, at the same time, open to new ideas and adventures. “I’ve told you that I volunteer at an afterschool literacy program and develop water-filtration systems for Third World countries. You know how much I value teamwork: I abandoned my high jump prospects in the 2016 Olympics in order to run the anchor leg on my school’s relay team. “I’ve shared that MP3 of me playing oboe — at the White House. I’ve discussed my favorite books with you, including a few I’ve written, and I confided in you the story of how breaking my leg at summer camp set me on a path toward becoming a doctor. “I’ve laid myself bare; I believe we have a future, that together we can accomplish great things. So, how about it?” the young man says. “Are we a match?” He gets silence in return. Lots and lots of silence. Six weeks of silence. Finally, the reply: “Can I get back to you in a few months? I want to see if there’s someone out there I like better.” This is my story. Not all the details — those stand in for every student’s over-amped college application resume. But a few months ago, I proposed to a college. Two weeks ago, the college deferred my application. We’re not breaking up, exactly; we’re just giving each other some space. I can’t say it doesn’t hurt. It wasn’t a mutual decision since I was 100% prepared to commit. But the university needed more time to decide if we were right for each other. I’m trying to respect that. I’m resisting the temptation to bombard the admissions office with arguments as to why this school would be lucky to have me. I’m trying not to parse too closely the logic behind its saying that while I didn’t rise to the top among 5,000 other early action candidates, perhaps I will when the applicant pool expands to 35,000. It may just be the school’s way of letting me down easy, instead of rejecting me outright. It’s hard to know. But here’s what happens when the university you’re smitten with puts you on ice: You start looking around. After all, you’re a pretty great guy, an excellent student with diverse accomplishments; you’re not going to be unattached forever. There are other fish in the sea. You consider a school you don’t know very well, the one with killer U.S. News and World Report ranking and a campus that just won’t quit. You ask around. Everyone has great things to say. And it offers an interdisciplinary major in the two subjects most interesting to you. Let’s just say you’re intrigued. And another one will allow you to take any class Pass/Fail so you can dabble in unfamiliar subjects without having to be concerned about your GPA. It never occurred to you before how liberating this might be. What new passions might you discover ? There’s one that’s already hinted at a yes. It knows you want to be a writer/director, has seen one of your movies and wants you to know that it’s shoring up its media studies department. It feels good to be wooed. Another flirts with you by showing off its student-teacher ratio. It’s impressive. Maybe a more intimate college experience is what you want after all. The risk a college takes in deferring a candidate for admission is that its ambivalence may make the student’s heart wander. The college can weigh its options, but so too can the student. My first-choice college is going to take the next three months to reconsider me. I’m going to do the same. I am imagining how it might feel to walk across the quad of a different school, in a different state, with different initials on my sweatshirt. And if it turns out that, after a three-month reprieve, my first choice chooses me back, I will approach my decision to accept or decline admission better informed about what alternatives are available, with a clearer sense of what I want and where I see myself. Regardless, come next fall, I’ll be hitched, either to a long-time love or a new flame. Even though our relationship is unlikely to last more than four years, I fully expect that once we both decide we are meant for each other, there will be champagne and dancing.

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Posted in Community, Education, Lifestyle, News, Opinion, Politics, Popular culture, Public School, Social Issues, Social Media, Society, Teachers, Top Stories | Tagged college application, college crush | Leave a reply

Is This the End of The Magic School Bus Era? Posted on December 27, 2014 Is This the End of The Magic School Bus Era?

by Alexandra Ossola Children’s science media is shifting away from books, but it can still be effective as long as it hinges on narrative. I recently came across a copy of a relic from my childhood: The Magic School Bus Inside the Human Body. In it, Ms. Frizzle, the “strangest teacher in the school,” shrinks down her class (and their bus) so they can travel through the human body. They see the digestive system hard at work, blood cells up close, and muscles in action, with quips from characters in the comic book format. On Amazon, where the book has 4.5 stars, mom Melissa Skordoulis wrote, “My daughter is 3 1/2 years old. I got this book and wasn’t sure if it would be to [sic] complicated for her. She loves it!…She even drew a picture of her Daddy’s red blood cells!” When I was a kid that’s how I felt, too. I even feel the same way now, reading it again. Behind the colorful illustrations and goofy jokes, books like The Magic School Bus are packed with real science, and kids who read them come away with a better understanding. But “old-school” science media like The Magic School Bus is being phased out of today’s classrooms; the way young students are engaged in science these days doesn’t look at all like it used to. iPads are pervasive in classrooms, and field trips are replaced with webcams. The new technology has many parents panicking about the quality of their kids’ learning. But they might find comfort in knowing that, despite the shift toward digital devices and computerized instruction, the heart of science communication still hinges on narrative. That could mean that today’s children receive science information just as effectively as—perhaps even more effectively than— their parents did when they were children. It’s just that they’re probably not receiving as much of that information through reading. Though disputed, some research suggests that distracted, plugged-in kids today absorb the world differently, that activities requiring undivided attention—like reading—happen less often. A report released earlier this year compared how frequently American kids of different ages spent time reading over the course of several years. In 2006, children ages four through six spent an average of 42 minutes per day reading or being read to; by 2013, average daily reading for a similar cohort—children ages five through eight—had dropped to only 32 minutes per day. Seven out of every 10 13year-olds in 1984 read once per week or more; in 2012, that number had dropped to roughly five out of every 10 kids that age Communicating complex scientific information clearly and concisely may sound less important now that Google and Wikipedia are just a few clicks away. But those values are still integral to effective children’s science media; when done right, such media is carefully crafted and executed. Like many other forms of science communication, an ideal children’s science book logically walks students through fundamental information and leads them to the main point. To achieve that, the creator has to make difficult editorial decisions about how much information to include and how indepth descriptions should be. “When you’re writing about a science subject you have to take a step back and ask yourself, ‘In order for students to comprehend this story or science topic, what background knowledge do I have to make sure they have?’” said Patty Janes, who oversees the math and science publications at Scholastic, which also publishes books for students and lesson plans for teachers. Subjects that require a lot of contextual information, like chemistry, are harder to craft into a good story. Whether or not reading is a popular pastime among today’s children, other forms of media are increasingly driven by narrative, such as video games, movies, and websites. Narrative is what resonates with students and their parents, said David Dockterman, who teaches at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. “Our fundamental draw to find out what happens is part of what makes narrative compelling,” he said. It makes the difference between, say, a student who learns about the digestive system courtesy of Ms. Frizzle’s imaginary class field trip through the mouth and esophagus to the human stomach and one who has to do so by analyzing a textbook diagram or reading a straightforward description. Narrative isn’t a particularly efficient way to transfer information, but at least it helps kids retain it well—and allows them to have some fun while they’re learning. It would seem, then, that narrative helps draw more people to science, and this is noteworthy particularly as it pertains to groups underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). Girls in particular are captivated by stories, including those that involve science. But their tendency toward strong verbal skills means they often pursue careers outside STEM, such as those in communications or the humanities. By integrating STEM and narrative literature, educators hope that more girls will stick in those fields. Dockterman developed a program called Math 180 (also put out by Scholastic) that’s designed to re-engage teenagers who are lagging several grades behind in math. Science and technology, according to Dockterman, are key to achieving that mission. For example, one video lesson about fractions takes place in the cooking class at Frankford High School in Philadelphia, where students must figure out how much of each ingredient to add in a modified recipe or what size to cut certain vegetables. “Science seems more engaging because it’s applied—it’s real—and math is often not perceived that way,” Dockterman said. Books and movies can’t always replace hands-on science experiments. But as kids get older, new forms of media can help students better understand abstract scientific concepts. “A lot of chemistry and physics is invisible, so things like apps give kids mental models to better visualize it,” Dockterman said. Like good teachers and parents, quality science media exposes students to new information without overwhelming them. And the best way for parents and teachers to help kids absorb this new information, according to Dockterman, is by “giving [them] the right mindset.” When equipped with that mindset, kids don’t get discouraged when they try something new that seems hard; they don’t call it quits when learning new material and instead rise to the challenge. Scholastic’s Janes advises parents and teachers to remember students’ inherent curiosity about the world and to use both digital and traditional forms of media to help them explore it. “I think no matter what direction educational publishing takes, the heart of it will always be the same,” she said. “That’s the solid nonfiction component, getting that good story no matter the medium.”

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Posted in Community, Education, Lifestyle, News, Opinion, Politics, Popular culture, Public School, Social Issues, Social Media, Society, Teachers, Top Stories | Tagged Alexandra Ossola Children's science media, David Dockterman, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Magic School Bus, science media | Leave a reply

How the “Billionaire Boys Club” Shaped Education in 2014 Posted on December 26, 2014 How the “Billionaire Boys Club” Shaped Education in 2014

by Matthew Lynch, Ed.D. In today’s educational landscape there are a lot of players vying for influence over the future of America’s P-20 educational system. Of these players, none have been as influential as the “Billionaire Boys Club.” To be in this club, you have to have a net worth of $1 billion dollars, and be a staunch advocate for P-20 education reform, whether through a foundation, or some other form of activism. I was impressed by the philanthropic acts of this group in 2014 and wanted to take a few minutes to highlight some of their biggest accomplishments this year. Mark Zuckerberg donated $120 million to San Francisco Public Schools. This is not the first time that Facebook founder Mark Zukerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan have donated money to public education. In 2010, the couple donated $100 million to schools in Newark, N.J. As part of that deal, then-mayor Cory Booker had to front an additional $100 million in matching funds, sought out through other private donations. The impact of Zuckerberg’s gift will certainly set a precedent for future donations and the principle surrounding them. Howard Schultz promises a free college education to Starbucks employees. Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz announced the company’s plan to provide a free online college education to thousands of its workers, and employees who take advantage of the free education have no obligation to stay with the company. The arrangement with Arizona State University provides the opportunity to any of the 135,000 people employed in the United States who work a minimum of 20 hours weekly and have the ability to gain admission to the school. A barista with two years of college credit will receive full tuition paid and those with less credits will still have part of their college paid for — although for many it will end up free with financial aid. While many employers offer tuition reimbursement to its employees, it’s usually with strings attached. Typically new employees are exempt or the employees are required to stay with the company for a specified number of years. Starbucks is giving this opportunity to all of its employees from the day they start with the company. They can study anything they would like and leave Starbucks at any time — and of course many will leave knowing they can obtain higher-paying jobs. Starbucks has offered its employees things that many food and drinks chains do not, such as health insurance for even those who work part-time and giving employees stock options. These perks may contribute to the company’s great success. While the number of employees who will take advantage of the program are unknown, the company states that employee surveys show that many of its employees have stated that they want to earn a degree. What Starbucks is doing for their employees will change their lives and our country. Bravo to Howard Schultz for giving thousands of people the opportunity to graduate college debt-free and making the world a better place. Bill Gates gave a $40M grant to Pittsburgh Public Schools. It’s no secret that Bill Gates’ efforts to improve public education are focused on teacher evaluations. Gates’ gave a $40 million grant to Pittsburgh Public Schools for a project that centers on evaluation systems and performance ranges for teachers. Four percent of the teachers received an unsatisfactory rating in the past year’s evaluation. These teachers will now be on a support plan aimed to promote growth and improvement. Upon receiving a second unsatisfactory grade, the teachers may be fired, although the goal is to not allow teachers to receive a second unsatisfactory rating. I am pleased to see that an agreement on the evaluation system in Pittsburgh has been made and agreed upon. Bill Gates’ efforts are proving worth it based on other places he has made donations — and hopefully this grant will take the same course. I know that I didn’t discuss a few members of the club, but it wasn’t a slight. There are only so many hours in a day. So tell me, who did I miss?

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Posted in Community, Education, Lifestyle, News, Opinion, Politics, Popular culture, Public School, Social Issues, Social Media, Society, Teachers, Top Stories | Tagged Billionaire Boys Club, Howard Schultz, Starbucks | Leave a reply

Ignoring One of the Big Problems With Charter Schools Posted on December 25, 2014 Ignoring One of the Big Problems With Charter Schools

By Marian Wang A top official in the New York State Comptroller’s Office has urged regulators to require more transparency on charter-school finances. The response has been, well, non-existent. Add another voice to those warning about the lack of financial oversight for charter schools. One of New York state’s top fiscal monitors told ProPublica that audits by his office have found “practices that are questionable at best, illegal at worst” at some charter schools. Pete Grannis, New York State’s first deputy comptroller, contacted ProPublica after reading our story about how some charter schools have turned over nearly all their public funds and significant control to private, often for-profit firms that handle their day-to-day operations. The arrangements can limit the ability of auditors and charter-school regulators to follow how public money is spent— especially when the firms refuse to divulge financial details when asked. Such set-ups are a real problem, Grannis said. And the way he sees it, there’s a very simple solution. As a condition for agreeing to approve a new charter school or renew an existing one, charter regulators could require schools and their management companies to agree to provide any and all financial records related to the school. “Clearly, the need for fiscal oversight of charter schools has intensified,” he wrote in a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Put schools on notice that relevant financial records cannot be shielded from oversight bodies of state and local governmental entities.” It’s a plea that Grannis has made before. Last year, he sent a similar letter to the state’s major charter-school regulators—New York City’s Department of Education, the New York State Education Department, and the State University of New York. He never heard back from any of them. “No response whatsoever,” Grannis said. Not even, he added, a “‘Thank you for your letter, we’ll look into it.’ That would have been the normal bureaucratic response.” We contacted all three of these agencies and the mayor’s office for comment. None of them got back to us. The charter-school debate in New York, as elsewhere, is politically fraught. De Blasio’s cautious stance on charters has put him at odds with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose financial backers include some big-dollar charter-school supporters. The state comptroller’s office has faced repeated lawsuits from charter groups and operators challenging its authority to audit charter schools. To Grannis, though, his efforts aren’t about politics. His office is “agnostic on charters,” as he put it. His office also audits the finances of traditional public-school districts, he pointed out. “We’re the fiscal monitors. We watch over the use or misuse of public funds,” Grannis said. “This isn’t meant to be anti-charter. Our job is not to be pro or anti.” Grannis has not yet gotten a response from the mayor’s office about the letter he sent. As to the charter-school regulators who got his letter the year before? He’s still puzzled why they wouldn’t be more interested in a possible fix, or why the charter regulators never bothered to respond. “I honestly don’t know,” Grannis said. He said he’s going to send another round of letters to them.

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Posted in Community, Education, Lifestyle, News, Opinion, Politics, Popular culture, Public School, Social Issues, Social Media, Society, Teachers, Top Stories | Tagged Charter Schools, New York State Education Department, Pete Grannis | Leave a reply

White Americans who don’t finish high school have better job prospects than black Americans who go to college Posted on December 24, 2014 White Americans who don’t finish high school have better job prospects than black Americans who go to college

by Sonali Kohli The Great Recession might be over (in the US, at least) but it has left behind widened racial inequality in unemployment and wealth. The unemployment rate for white Americans over 25 who had not finished high school was 9.7% in 2013. The unemployment rate for black Americans who went to college but didn’t graduate, meanwhile, was 10.5%. That’s an increase from 2007, before the recession:

This same trend can be seen among recent college graduates. Unemployment for black graduates between the ages of 22 and 27 was at 12.4% in 2013, compared to 5.6% for all college grads in that age range, according to a May report from the Center for Economic and Policy Research (pdf). The number was even lower for white college graduates in the age range—4.9%, the study’s coauthor told the New York Times. That’s a gap of 7.5 percentage points. Compare that to 2007, before the recession, when the gap still existed but was much smaller—1.4 percentage points. Black Americans with college degrees then had a 4.6% unemployment rate, while white Americans with undergraduate degrees were at 3.2%, the Times notes. The recession doesn’t just affect people coming out of college. The median net worth of white households was 10 times that of black households’ median wealth in 2007, and 13 times the median wealth of black households in 2013, according to a recent Pew report.

Why are white Americans recovering from the recession so much better than black Americans? The CEPR study points out that the recession made it difficult for all young people to get jobs, and racial prejudices have always skewed the labor market against black applicants in the US— employers are less likely to call back applicants with names that sound African American. Additionally, black US graduates who do work are more likely to be overqualified than other Americans. Of the recent black college graduates (age 22-27) working in 2013, 55.9% did not require a four-year degree for their jobs, up from 45% in 2007. For all recent college grads, that number has hovered around 44% for the last decade, and was at 45% in 2013, according to the report. And even black Americans who are wealthy recovered at a lower level than white Americans, at least in part because the two groups invest their money differently. Stocks, which white Americans invest in more so than black Americans, have done well since the recession ended, while black Americans tend to pursue more conservative investments like certificates of deposit, life insurance and savings bonds.

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Posted in Community, Education, Lifestyle, News, Opinion, Politics, Popular culture, Public School, Social Issues, Social Media, Society, Teachers, Top Stories | Tagged Black Americans, White Americans | Leave a reply

American college students say they would rather study with real books, not laptops Posted on December 23, 2014 American college students say they would

rather study with real books, not laptops by Sonali Kohli Ebooks, tablets and computer-based learning might be pervading elementary and middle schools throughout the US, but college students are still old-school. A Student Monitor survey of about 1,200 students in 100 American colleges in October found that for almost every type of schoolwork, students prefer to use a book rather than a computer.

If you combine all digital preferences (including desktop, smartphone and other digital, not included in the chart), they outnumber print, which could be bad news for text-book publishers, who are trying to find a way to stay relevant. But in everything other than scheduling assignments or research (with so many academic papers online, students don’t seem to feel the need for a library), students would still rather use the paper version, by a large margin, than any other single option. It’s the smart choice. Some research has shown students are able to focus better using print materials to study, rather than digital media. But that might also be derived from the fact that the current crop of college students doesn’t have much previous experience in learning on screens and tablets, says Jordan Schugar, an assistant professor of English at West Chester University, who has researched the topic. Schugar found, using small samples, that college students who read on Nooks in one study and younger students on iPads in another both saw decreased performance on a test of that material, compared to their performance when reading on print. As tablets improve and become more like books, simulating the page movement and with better note-taking and annotating ability, Schugar says they could become a more viable option for college students.

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Posted in Community, Education, Lifestyle, News, Opinion, Politics, Popular culture, Public School, Social Issues, Social Media, Society, Teachers, Top Stories | Tagged college students, students | Leave a reply

Catholic colleges tell poor students: Go somewhere else Posted on December 22, 2014 Catholic colleges tell poor students: Go somewhere else

By Paul Moses Catholic institutions among the most expensive to the least wealthy At Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., officials sometimes bring in low-income applicants and their families for counseling — not to encourage them to come there, but to suggest they consider going somewhere cheaper. The university needs to spend its financial aid to attract “higher-end students,” said W. Michael Hendricks, vice president for enrollment management — the kind of high-achieving, wealthy students universities typically try to entice because they improve prestige and bolster the bottom line. Besides, said Hendricks, the school’s Catholic identity makes it hesitant to burden low-income families with debt. “It totally flies in the face of our mission.” Despite such sentiment, Catholic University charges the highest net price in America for low-income students — that is, the price once discounts and financial aid are taken into account — according to a study by the New America Foundation, based on information reported to the U.S. Department of Education by the institutions themselves. In fact, at a time of escalating worry over access to higher education for the children of the least affluent Americans, the study found that five of the 10 most expensive private universities for lowincome students, and 10 of the top 28, are Catholic. Some Catholic colleges “seem to have departed from what you would assume the principles of their faith would have compelled them to do,” said Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, a nonprofit organization that advocates for low-income students. “It’s disturbing that institutions give money in these very difficult times to students who don’t need it,” Haycock said, and “don’t focus their resources on those who absolutely need it the most.” Colleges that charge the most to poor families, the New America Foundation researchers said, use their financial aid to attract students who come from well-funded suburban high schools and whose comparatively higher entrance examination scores and high-school grades improve the colleges’ standings in rankings. Officials at some Catholic colleges and universities say that, as a matter of survival, they feel compelled to spread small amounts of financial aid to a large number of students, rather than give more of it to the poor. By making many small grants, they say, they can attract the number of tuition-paying students needed to keep the colleges in business. It’s a sensitive issue for the nation’s 200-plus Catholic colleges, given that church teaching, grounded in biblical passages, calls for a “preferential option for the poor,” which the U.S. Catholic Conference of Catholic Bishops has interpreted to mean that “poor people have the first claim on limited resources.” Some Catholic institutions do succeed at keeping down costs for students with family earnings low enough to qualify for federal Pell grants — generally, $30,000 a year or less. But others are charging those students a net price that is equal to two-thirds or more of their families’ entire annual incomes. At Catholic University, for example, the poorest students pay an average annual net price of $30,770. Philadelphia-based Saint Joseph’s University charges its poorest students $30,503; Saint Louis University, $23,882; the University of Dayton, $21,520; and Loyola University Maryland, $20,672. These schools also enroll low percentages of poor students. Only between 13 and 15 percent of the students they enroll come from families with incomes low enough to qualify for Pell grants.

Five other Catholic colleges and universities, however, are among the 10 private colleges at the other end of the spectrum, providing a lower-cost education to comparatively high proportions of Pell students. Saint Thomas University in Miami, for example, has an average net price of $8,072 for its lowest-income students, who make up more than half of its enrollment. Others with high proportions of lowincome students and low net prices are Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College and Calumet College of Saint Joseph in Indiana, Holy Names University in Oakland, and Saint Francis College in Brooklyn. “Some Catholic colleges are able to place a high priority on meeting the needs of very low-income families. Others have limited resources, making it more difficult to address those financial needs,” said Michael Galligan-Stierle, president of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities. “While embracing their faith tradition, our institutions still must contend with the realities of education costs that are true of any college or university in the United States,” Galligan-Stierle said. In fact, some of the Catholic colleges that charge the most have robust wealth in the form of their endowments. Saint Louis University has a $956 million endowment; the University of Dayton, $442 million; Catholic University, $264 million; Saint Joseph’s, $193 million; and Loyola of Maryland, $177 million, the National Association of College and University Business Officers reports. Among the other Catholic universities with high net prices for low-income students, Villanova University has an endowment of $419 million and Notre Dame, $6.9 billion. Gerald Beyer, a theology professor at Villanova, thinks high-cost Catholic colleges should try harder. While many American non-Catholic private universities have adopted a “preferential option for the rich,” Beyer argues that too many Catholic colleges echo those institutions’ denial of access to the poor. “By the very nature of their mission, Catholic universities must fight against this trend,” Beyer said. He points to an overlooked passage from Pope John Paul II’s 1990 document Ex Corde Ecclesiae, which says that Catholic universities should seek “to make university education accessible to all those who are able to benefit from it, especially the poor or members of minority groups who customarily have been deprived of it.” Beyer said that any Catholic university with a low proportion of poor students or high net costs for those students “needs to re-examine its financial aid and admissions policies in light of the option for the poor.” Jesuit Catholic colleges and universities in particular stress principles of social justice, but three of the order’s universities rank high on the list of colleges that accept few Pell students and leave them with high net costs: Saint Joseph’s University, Saint Louis University, and Loyola University Maryland. Saint Joseph’s spokesman Joseph Lunardi said the school takes the issue seriously. At an October meeting, he said, trustees discussed its comparatively low proportion of Pell students, asking whether the university is “losing ground in their mission.” Lunardi added that the proportion of Pell students would be higher if 1,000 part-time students were included, since 40 to 50 percent of them are low-income, and that the net-price figures collected by the federal government and used in the report include only students who receive federal financial aid, not all students. Saint Louis University and Loyola-Maryland declined to comment. The University of Dayton, which is affiliated with the Marianist order, said that, since the 2011-12 academic year covered by the New America study, it has instituted a four-year guarantee that students’ net price won’t increase and has taken other steps that are beginning to result in the admission of more Pell students and less student debt. Of all the nation’s colleges, Catholic University is most closely identified with the institutional church. Its bylaws require that 18 of its 48 trustees be bishops. An annual collection in parishes across the country raises about $5 million for the university, which goes for scholarships issued through participating parishes. Hendricks, the enrollment manager, said the school is “always struggling” with the moral implications of admission practices. “At Catholic schools in particular, we like to stay need-blind,” he said, referring to a waning practice under which universities accept applicants regardless of their ability to pay. “That’s our mission. It’s getting more and more expensive to do that.”

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Are you a truly bad teacher? Here’s how to tell. Posted on December 21, 2014 Are you a truly bad teacher? Here’s how to tell.

By Valerie Strauss Bad teacher. There was a movie with that title, and now a television series. Time magazine had a recent cover with the title “Rotten Apples” that was not a reference to rotten Honey Crisps. And many school reformers talk about teachers as if nearly all of them are lousy. Certainly some teachers who should be doing something else (and it shouldn’t take forever to remove them from a classroom), but there’s a legitimate reason why polls show that teachers are utterly demoralized. So what is a bad teacher (and I’m not talk about the extremes who commit criminal offenses)? This post answers that question. It was written by Ellie Herman, who for two decades was a writer/producer for television shows including “The Riches,” “Desperate Housewives,” “Chicago Hope” and “Newhart.” Her fiction has appeared in literary journals, among them The Massachusetts Review, The Missouri Review and the O.Henry Awards Collection. In 2007, she decided, “on an impulse,” she wrote, to become an English teacher and got a job at a South Los Angeles charter school that was 97 percent Latino and where 96 percent of the students lived below the poverty line. She taught drama, creative writing, English 11 and 9th grade Composition at a charter high school in south Los Angeles until 2013, when she decided to stop teaching and spend a year visiting classrooms and learning from other teachers. She is chronicling the lessons she is learning on her blog, Gatsby in L.A., where a version of the following post appeared. Herman, who gave me permission to publish this, was awarded first and third place prizes in the 2014 SoCal Journalist Awards given by the Los Angeles Press Club. By Ellie Herman I once had a student who was on crack. It was a nightmare. Before he’d spun out into addiction, Jorge had been one of the most talented students I’d ever had in my Drama class, with the inspired, all-out brilliance and timing of a comedic pro. But crack turned him nasty and out of control. He’d bounce into my class hopped up, sweaty, eyes glinting with rage; we, his teachers, sent each other frantic emails about him. We did an intervention. We called in his weeping, desperate mother, who begged him to get help. Nothing worked. Jorge, a kid who’d once loved my class so much that on facebook during winter break he’d counted down the days till Drama class, now stared me down every day with simmering, unsettling animosity. He took to harassing other students and one day, after calling me a bitch, he lobbed the n-bomb at one of the girls I lost it. I actually only dimly recall what happened next. I’m sure I didn’t actually drag him by the collar into the hall, but that’s what I remember. All I know for sure is that a friend of mine who taught several doors down said that she could hear me yelling at him even with her door shut. When finished, I was shaking. He wouldn’t make eye contact and walked out of school, disappearing for the rest of the day. All I could think was: I am a terrible teacher. I was ashamed of my loss of control. Even the next day, when I had had a chance to calm down and try to have a more rational conversation with Jorge, I couldn’t reach him. To be fair, none of us could. He bombed his classes and did not graduate on time. The incident with Jorge was the most extreme I ever had, but for all the five years I taught, I was dogged by the worry that I was a bad teacher. Despite everything the books tell you, teaching is above all a deeply messy human endeavor; for all the exhilarating highs, there are terrible days when you feel like a profound failure, and those are the days when you long for a reality check. Am I really a bad teacher? How would I know? I know, I know: teacher evaluation rubrics are supposed to alleviate this worry, but if like me you don’t believe that the rubric measures what you’re doing, they’re no comfort and can actually be crazy-making when you score low on something you don’t even value, like the robotic re-iteration of a three-part objective, which would send me into a tailspin of that’s insane! and then no, what if I’m insane? and then a dystopic the whole world has gone insane and I’m completely alone because nothing has any meaning any more! a conviction that rarely leads to good teaching. Now, with the benefit of time, sleep and the chance to observe many, many teachers across Los Angeles, though the vast majority of teachers I’ve observed are excellent, every so often schools will allow me to go from class to class, and occasionally I’ll find myself in the classroom of a truly bad teacher. And let me clear one thing up right away: bad teachers are extremely rare, but if you’re in the presence of a truly bad teacher, as opposed to a good teacher on a bad day, you will have no doubt about what you are witnessing. So in case you’re like me, wracked with doubt about whether you’re a bad teacher, I’ve identified five key tendencies that I’ve observed in the classrooms of truly bad teachers. Take this short quiz and at the end I will tell you if you’re a bad teacher. 1. Do you dislike children? I don’t mean that you love every single one of your students every day. I mean, do children in the age group you’re teaching generally fail to delight you in any way? The number one quality I’ve observed in bad teachers is that they do not seem to like children very much. In high schools, this means they do not seem to find teenagers charming, funny or interesting—ever. 2. Do you find your subject matter dull? If asked “why are you teaching this?” will you respond “because it will be on the test”? Do your eyes glaze over at the thought of your subject area? Every teacher has dud lessons from time to time (believe me) but what I sense in the classrooms of bad teachers is that they have no interest in their entire subject. 3. Do you know what you’re talking about? I recently sat in on the class of a teacher who was teaching students incorrect grammar. Actually teaching it—she’d put an incorrect rule on a slide and then was forcing her students to rewrite sentences in order to conform to this incorrect rule. It was especially upsetting because several students were shyly raising their hands and going “Miss…are you sure? That sounds wrong.” 4. Do you ignore a large subset of your students most of the time? The truly bad teachers I’ve observed tend to engage only with a small number of very compliant, eager students, ignoring the rest except to reprimand troublemakers. 5. Are you totally disengaged? I don’t mean those bad days when you want to flush your head—or someone’s head—in the toilet, or even those days that you’re so burned out you can hardly keep going. I mean have you checked out emotionally as an operating philosophy, day in and day out? A central quality in truly bad teachers is that they seem to have stopped caring; this lack of engagement is reflected not only in their interactions with students (or lack thereof) but in their seemingly random choice of lesson topics. So are you a bad teacher? No. How do I know? Because if you’ve read this far, you care. You may not be great (yet). The inspirational movie of your life may be set several years hence. It may be that you have a tremendous amount still to learn. But you’re not a bad teacher. Because the overriding quality of truly bad teachers, as Azucena Gonzales observed, is that they have given up. And you haven’t. Why does this matter? It matters because as a country we seem to be convinced that our classrooms are infested with bad teachers who must be driven out, and this conviction seems to be the driving force behind most of our supposed “accountability” measures, which are designed like self-guided missiles dropped down to locate and destroy bad teachers first, before installing good teachers. I agree that there are some bad teachers and that they should be coached or, if necessary, fired. But I also think this preoccupation with bad teachers in the absence of the more urgent strategy for attracting and retaining good teachers is deeply unfair to students and in fact, unequally distributed, because it falls much harder on teachers in low-income communities who teach in far more challenging conditions and therefore are much less likely to see visible signs of success on a predictable basis. I think it demoralizes all of us who are in the classroom to feel that we are continually suspected of being “bad,” and that it is this badness, our inadequacy, that is at the heart of the economic inequality in this country. Let me tell you how Jorge’s story ended. He did not graduate but made up his classes in summer school. To everyone’s astonishment, he went to a four-year college. We all lost touch with him for a long time, then last year, when I was chaperoning prom, I saw a young man waving to me: clean-cut, in a pressed tux, sipping a fruit juice. It was Jorge, escorting his younger cousin, beaming. He told me that he’d been sober for two years now. All those years ago, the teachers had been right, he said, and as part of his 12-step program, he apologized for everything he’d put us through. Over and over I tell the same story, right? But the truth is, you never know the effect you’re having on someone. If you care, you’re not a bad teacher–which doesn’t mean there’s nothing more to learn. As the Dalai Lama is said to have observed, “You’re perfect. And you could use a little improvement.” By the way, Jorge will graduate from college this spring. He plans to be an actor. Aaaaaggggghh……

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Posted in Community, Education, Lifestyle, News, Opinion, Politics, Popular culture, Public School, Social Issues, Social Media, Society, Teachers, Top Stories | Tagged bad teacher, Desperate Housewives, Ellie Herman, Los Angeles, students | Leave a reply

Teachers or Administrators, who’s the real problem? Posted on December 20, 2014 Teachers or Administrators, who’s the real problem?

by Jordan Shapiro You’ve probably heard all the buzzwords: inquiry- or project-based learning, blended classrooms, gamification, play, etc. Whether the cheerleaders shout “21st Century Skills,” “Character Education,” or “Entrepreneurship,” it is clear that we want children to have a school experience that is not only about facts and content, but also about empowering thoughtful individuals. School administrators and teachers are mostly in agreement about these intentions and objectives. After all, they are browsing the same education blogs, reading the same books, and listening to the same speakers. I should know; I regularly give keynote talks at education conferences, and presentations to principals, superintendents, legislators, education technology developers and classroom teachers. I usually talk about how game-based learning blends content with context, so that students learn not only facts, but also how to use those facts in relationship with other individuals and with the world around them. I emphasize how new technologies can help teachers leverage the power of play and creativity. Afterwards, both teachers and administrators always approach me to share their enthusiasm for experimenting with new tools and teaching methods. The trouble is, each one seems to identify the other as an obstacle. Administrators want teachers to adopt new trendy methods, but they feel that teachers are resistant to change. Teachers yearn to be more creative, but feel it is impossible to do so within a rigid bureaucracy. Both blame the other, creating a gridlock that seems to obstruct innovation. The problem may be that teachers and administrators don’t have a dependable shared language with which to communicate. While the landscape of educational innovation is big on trendy concepts and buzzwords, it is short on specifics. The same term may mean different things to different ears. This lack of shared definitions makes it difficult to evaluate success rates and convey accomplishments. Jessica Millstone is a researcher and educational professional development expert who serves as the director of engagement at BrainPOP, a popular website full of animations and video games for learning. She told me that teachers and administrators aren’t even clear on the definitions of new technologies. For example, “while many teachers say they are using digital games in the classroom, a lot of the time they just mean interactive activities or worksheets.” Millstone suspects that this is why “so much of the research around games and learning shows high levels of adoption, but there are still relatively few teachers or environments to show off as examples.” For example, a recent study from A-GAMES, a research collaboration between New York University and the University of Michigan, last year surveyed 488 K-12 teachers, and found that “more than half of teachers (57 percent) use digital games weekly or more often in teaching.” That’s a pretty high adoption rate. But according to Millstone, “the most frequently used ‘games’ aren’t really games at all.” Teachers seem to label any interactive activity that happens on a laptop or a tablet a ‘game.’ The categories are unclear. To which activity does each buzzword refer? What counts as blended learning? What’s the difference between game-based learning and gamification? At the end of a semester, labels and definitions may not matter as much as demonstrable learning gains. But the A-GAMES study shows that innovative classroom tools add other important values, as well. Teachers are using video games and other interactive digital platforms in the same way they have always used classroom tools: for formative assessment (a fancy term for monitoring and evaluating student performance on a daily basis). Teachers are watching over students’ shoulders as they interact with technology, and making teaching decisions for each individual accordingly. There’s no simple way to slap a sticker on such an experience and file a memo so that administrators see the positive impact. Even if there were, what’s the best term to use? What’s trendy this week? Which language will appeal to administrators? Clear definitions and methods of classification are the fundamental building blocks of good communication. Without a shared language, Millstone explains, administrators struggle to know how to “identify and reward teachers for finding and integrating innovative tools into their curriculum.” Lacking good ways to incentivize teachers to try new things, administrators appear not to be providing the kind of support that teachers deserve. Millstone guesses that this communication breakdown causes some teachers to use lack of professional development as the go-to excuse. Absent a foundation for good communication, the professional culture around education technology and innovative pedagogy sounds like a dysfunctional marriage where both spouses want more romance and affection but each blames the other for an uninspired sex life. With the exception of a few schools and districts, the relationship between teachers and administrators is hindered by a giant communication gap. Like a bad cliche of family therapy, they both want the same thing but don’t know how to say it. Perhaps, if they listened more attentively to one another, they might discover they are more aligned than they imagine.

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Are we on the verge of a mass Common Core repeal? Posted on December 19, 2014

Are we on the verge of a mass Common Core repeal?

By Emmanuel Felton Last month’s election spells trouble for the Common Core, a set of expectations for what students should know in English and math by the end of each grade. With the standards increasingly being assailed as an unwanted federal intrusion into public education by conservatives, the Republican sweep of state legislatures – the party is now in control of over two-thirds of state lawmaking bodies – will likely lead to a new round of scrutiny of the standards and the tests tied to them. “To be clear there will be bills in some states,” said Michael Brickman, national policy director at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and member of the ever-shrinking chorus of conservative Common Core supporters. “But once you get past the politics, once you get past the history of the Common Core, there is near universal support for high college and career ready standards.” Thus far, anti-Common Core politicians have chosen from a few paths in their efforts to undermine the influence of the standards: some states have formally dropped the standards but replaced them with standards that are not a great departure from the Common Core, others have put the standards under review or convened committees to write new standards, and some have kept the standards but dropped the tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and Smarter Balanced – the two federally funded state-led groups that created Common Core tests.While the standards originally enjoyed broad bipartisan support from education reform communities on both sides of the aisle, elected officials across the country are lining up to demand changes ahead of legislative sessions starting in January. In many states, party leaders are placing vocal Common Core opponents in key positions. In West Virginia, for example, the incoming vice chairwoman of the state senate education committee, Republican Donna Boley, has promised to push a bill that would delay testing students on the new standards. Last session, when Democrats controlled the chamber, she unsuccessfully attempted to put the standards under review. To the southeast, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey of Tennessee, a Republican, isn’t mincing words; he told local media, “Common Core is going to be replaced. It’s just a matter of what we replace it with.” After years of support, the state’s Republican governor has been backing away from Common Core in recent months, calling for a review of the standards. Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress and a Common Core supporter, doesn’t think that many states will move too far from away from the Core, however. “There is nothing wrong with a review process, standards should be reviewed,” said Martin at a seminar for reporters hosted by the Education Writers Association. “Except Oklahoma [which repealed the standards last summer], at the end of the day when conservatives have asked themselves what is the best thing for our students, they have kept the standards or something very close to them.” While three states have repealed the standards, only Oklahoma has adopted standards that are substantially different from the Common Core, says Martin. After dropping Common Core, Oklahoma lost its waiver from federal requirements that all students be proficient in math and English by 2014 – putting some federal funding in jeopardy. The U.S. Department of Education has since granted the state a new waiver, after the state’s higher education system deemed the state’s decade-old standards, which are currently in place, sufficient. The state’s education department is currently in the process of writing yet another set of standards to take effect in 2016. Oklahoma’s waiver may embolden more states to move away from the Common Core. “All states need is to get their higher ed system to say yes these kids will be ready,” said Brickman, who spoke on a panel with Martin at the conference. “There is no Common Core policeman.”

The opposition isn’t just limited to Republicans in red states. “There is not only conservative pushback but liberal pushback as well,” said Carol Burris, principal at South Side High School in Rockville Center, New York and a frequent Common Core critic, at the same event. “Look what happened in the New York [Democratic] primary with Zephyr Teachout. The group she most courted was teachers, she made a big deal about teacher evaluations and Common Core, and she got 35 percent of the vote.” Toward the end of his reelection campaign this fall, Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York, a Democrat, called for a moratorium on using scores from Common Core tests in decisions about whether to promote students to the next grade after opponents attempted to link him to the controversial standards. Burris is hopeful that elections will force politicians to review problems with the standards. “I think it will be an issue in close races,” said Burris. “And I think over time there will be revisions especially around making sure the standards are developmentally appropriate for the younger grades and around calculus readiness in the higher grades.” Even before the onslaught of anti-Common Core rhetoric in the recent election cycle, the original promise of the standards’ commonness had already been compromised says Michael McShane, an education policy researcher at the American Enterprise Institute, speaking at the EWA seminar. “Forty-three states and D.C. nominally say they are part of the Common Core, but only 27 are using [PARCC or Smarter Balanced] tests. That’s a big change from a couple of years ago,” said McShane. “If a state is using its own tests, setting its own [pass] scores, and using its own materials, to my view that is not common.”

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