The First in Their Families, College Bound

It was a frigid morning, but throngs of well-wishers lined the sidewalks of Audubon Avenue on the northern tip of Manhattan in early December anyway, cheering for seniors from Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School (WHEELS). Waving to their supporters, the high school students proudly marched—some danced—past Amore’s Beauty Salon and the Esmeraldo Bakery on their way to the post office on 180th Street.

They were going to do something that many of their parents never got the chance to do: mail out their first college applications.

Known as the College March, this education celebration began in 2011 at WHEELS, a pre-K to 12 public school in New York City that serves 100 percent low-income students, 90 percent of whom will be the first in their families to go to college. Since then, the march has been replicated by thousands of seniors around the country.

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Cory Booker Speaks Out About School Reform

Earlier this year, after noticing that someone with a Senate email was looking at my LinkedIn page, I received an invitation from Sen. Cory Booker’s press secretary to talk about new research showing enormous progress in Newark schools, which he attributed to reforms implemented when Booker was mayor. I gathered up copies of the studies and drafted a few questions for a short January interview with a busy senator.

Rather than a quick question-and-answer session, the senator talked for nearly 90 minutes about his high-profile efforts to turn around Newark’s failing schools with a $100 million grant from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and its spectacular rollout on Oprah Winfrey’s TV show. He spoke about why he decided to tackle education reform and the difficult politics around reforming urban schools.

Frustrated by the negative coverage of the city that came out of Dale Russakoff’s 2015 book The Prize, he said Newark’s rising English and math test scores in grades 3-8, a shrinking achievement gap, and improved graduation rates — up nearly 20 percentage points since 2010 — prove that Newark’s reform efforts were very much a success.

He said he hoped these studies would help turn around the persistent negative narrative.

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With the full interview here.

The Long, Contentious History of the “Word Gap” Study

Back in the 1990s, a team of researchers spent two and a half years visiting the homes of close to four dozen families with young children, starting when the kids were 7 months old. Equipped with tape recorders and notebooks, the researchers—led by two Kansas psychologists named Betty Hart and Todd Risley—spent an hour per week in each home, recording every word a child’s primary caregiver said to the child during the sessions. After transcribing each conversation and then analyzing the exchanges as a whole, the researchers (who have both since passed away) discovered major differences in the number of words spoken in middle-class families and in lower-income ones.

The result of their research was a landmark study published in 1995, which maintained that a typical child whose parents are highly educated and working professionals is exposed to roughly 1,540 more spoken words per hour than a typical child on welfare. Over time, they concluded, this word gap snowballs so much that by age 4, children in rich families have been exposed to 32 million more words than children in poorer ones.

The study was a sensation, with the media and policymakers fixating on the so-called “word gap” as a key source of longer-term academic disparities between poor and rich kids. It was immediately embraced by academic researchers, and was cited in more than 7,000 academic publications. It influenced welfare initiatives, government pilot programs, and grant campaigns. The Obama administration championed efforts to close the “word gap,” organizing a campaign to raise awareness of the issue and to encourage parents to talk more to their children.

Now, a new study has failed to replicate Hart and Risley’s findings, further complicating the legacy of this body of research and renewing a long-standing debate among researchers about just how large disparities of language and vocabulary are among different social classes—and how much those differences matter, if at all.

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Why Colleges Are Embracing the #NeverAgain Movement

As high-school students around the country organize in support of stronger gun-control legislation in the wake of the Parkland shooting, many are finding that, at the very least, one thing they don’t have to worry about is the possibility of disciplinary action hurting their chances of getting into college some day. Superintendents in some school districts have warned that students who participate will face disciplinary actions such as suspension. But over 250 college-admissions offices around the country have respondedto these concerns, most of them with assurances that students’ activism will not hurt their chances at admission, even if their high schools do take disciplinary action.

Because college applicants must disclose whether they have ever been suspended from school or faced other disciplinary measures, many students have been concerned that colleges might rescind an acceptance or look unfavorably upon future applications. According to the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC), many member colleges have reported that large numbers of students have been calling admissions offices worried about the effect suspensions could have on their admissions prospects.

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How Hard Are Professors Actually Working?

If there were a “10 Things That Piss Academics Off the Most” list, ranking near the top would be the perception that academic life is easy and relaxing. Professors get annoyed at having to explain to their neighbors and family members that their work extends far beyond the lecture hall—and far beyond the seven-month-or-so academic year. They might be seen walking their dog in the middle of the day, but chances are they’re going back home to grade papers or prepare a seminar discussion or conduct research.

Despite broad consensus among professors that their job isn’t for slackers, they tend to disagree, primarily among themselves, about exactly how hard they work. While some scholars say they maintain a traditional 40-hour workweek, others contend they have a superhuman workload. Take Philip Guo, an assistant cognitive-science professor at University of California, San Diego, who on his blog estimated that in 2014 he spent 15 hours per week teaching, between 18 hours and 25 hours on research, four hours at meetings with students, between three hours and six hours doing service work, and between 5 hours and 10 hours at “random-ass meetings (RAM).” That amounts to as many as 60 hours per week—which, he noted, pales in comparison to the 70 hours he worked on average weekly as an undergraduate student at MIT.

America’s higher-education system is under increased scrutiny largely because of rising tuition costs and ballooning student debt; concerns about liberal indoctrination on college campuses, which are subsidized by taxpayer dollars, have also started to bubble up. People want to know where their tuition and tax money is going—are professors working hard for that money?

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Why Are Students Still Paying So Much For College Textbooks?

After settling into his dorm this past fall, John McGrath, a freshman at Rutgers University, took the campus shuttle to the school bookstore. He waited in line for 40 minutes clutching a list of four classes—including Microeconomics, Introduction to Calculus, and Expository Writing—and walked out later with an armful of books, some bundled with digital codes that he would use to access assignments on the publishers’ websites. He also exited the store with a bill for about $450.

McGrath, an accounting major, pays close attention to his expenditures. He had researched all the textbooks options—new, used, digital, loose-leaf, rental—and knew about the various online venues that compete with the campus bookstore for sales. His plan was to buy materials that he could later resell. But he was surprised to learn not only that he had to purchase digital codes for half of his classes, but also that those codes were often sold exclusively at the campus bookstore—and for a steep price.

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How Schools Are Bridging the Coding Gender Gap

Turning girls onto computers and coding requires strong leadership, said Superintendent Dr. Kristine Gilmore of the D.C. Everest School District in Wisconsin.

Computer science classes have long been the domain of boys. While girls and boys are now equally represented in advanced science and math classes, girls still are not flocking to classes like Programming in JAVA or Mobile App Development. With the growing need for computer scientists in the workforce, school leaders are trying to convince girls that these classes aren’t just boys’ clubs.

“Things don’t happen by chance,” said Gilmore. “You have to ask, ‘Do all kids have opportunities?’ As a superintendent, my job is to remove barriers for kids.”

Girls only made up about one-fifth of all AP students in computer science in 2013, according to the National Girls Collaborative Project, even though girls are equally likely to take the science and math AP exam. This gender gap continues into college. In 2015, only 18 percent of all computer science college degrees in the country went to women.

Read more here.