Saturday, February 5, 2011

How to prepare middle schoolers for college

Jay Mathews offers advice from some college admissions and education experts.  I strongly agree with many of these suggestions.
1. Notice what they enjoy doing, and help them do more of it. Take your hiker on the AppalachianTrail. Have the kid who is addicted to the Food Network bake something for the county fair. Arrange for the singer in your family to audition for a local choir.
“It doesn’t matter whether the activity is athletic, service, spirit, leadership, journalistic or academic,” said Potomac-based educational consultant Shelley Levine. “Anything will do, as long as they enjoy the activity.” Northern Virginia-based educational consultant Shirley A. Bloomquist said, “If it is history, there are many local places to explore and discuss. If it is nature and/or geology, enjoy an outing to Great Falls Park. . . . A student of mine, now at Barnard, had a book club with her father over many years.”
Embracing a hobby or pastime is the key to career success and life satisfaction, said Zac Bissonnette, author of the recent college admission guide "Debt-Free U.” He advises middle-school parents not to “let yourself or your kid get caught up in the rat race of mindless achievement. Take time to think, and take time to play.”
2. Make sure your child knows that B’s are fine in middle school and that fun is important. Denise Pope, senior lecturer at the Stanford University School of Education and an expert on student stress, said each student needs a somewhat different message. The overachiever should be told, “You don’t need to do three different extracurricular activities in middle school to get into college,” she said. The less-motivated child needs to hear, “Yes, you can go to college, but first that means passing your courses in middle school.”
[B's are fine for some kids, but what about the ones who could earn A's if they worked a little harder?]
3. Enroll them in Algebra I in the eighth grade. Middle-schoolers must apply themselves to high-school-level courses, such as Algebra I. Many colleges count them as part of the high school grade-point average even though they are taken in middle school. Parents should also ensure that their children have finished Algebra I by the end of eighth grade. “I’ve known dozens of kids who would have been up to the challenge of high school level algebra/geometry in eighth grade,” said Philadelphia-based educational consultant David Ginsburg, but they “didn’t have the chance to take it.”
[Mathews responds to a reader's comment that readiness for algebra is a "a developmental issue, not an ability issue" with this:
If you know of any research that supports your view, tell us about it. All that I have seen suggests it is much more a teaching issue than a developmental issue. We could have nearly every child ready for 8th grade algebra if we taught math properly in the lower grades, and had high expectations for all of those kids. Programs that take this seriously, like KIPP, have great success getting even disadvantaged children through algebra successfully by the end of 8th grade.]
4. Insist they develop some practical housework skills. This won’t seem to them to have much to do with college, which is good. You can say that’s the way you were brought up (warn Grandma to cover for you if this isn’t true) and that is the way it is going to be. You don’t have to tell them that if they have to remember to get the trash and recycling out on the curb every Friday and make Saturday breakfast for their siblings while you go cycling, the coping skills they develop will be invaluable.
Kathy Kuhl, a home-school consultant based in Herndon, said, “We taught and re-taught our children time-management skills and life skills: washing clothes, cooking dinner and managing money.” Her kids were self-sufficient enough to juggle a college workload while doing all the other necessary chores of life.
5. Flavor family trips with a bit of college atmosphere. “On the way to summer vacation at the Outer Banks, have lunch at the University of Richmond’s student center, with its stately Gothic architecture and picturesque lake,” Bloomquist said.
6. Encourage children who are curious about the world to take a foreign language. This can be with CDs or at school. Most middle schools do not require a foreign language but nearly all offer some classes.“Chinese or Arabic would be two to consider,” Bloomquist said. “Colleges are increasingly international in nature. Twenty years ago, Yale had one in 50 international students. Today it is one in 11.”
7. Character counts. Encourage its development. “The college admissions process doesn’t necessarily screen for this,” Pope said, “but parents should be fostering good character traits along with health and engagement.” Just how you do this with sullen tweens and teens is not always clear. Being truthful and practicing what you preach is a good start.
8. Do everything you can to encourage reading. David Storper, president of Bethesda-based Prep U Tutoring, said, “The common denominator among the very best test-takers is a strong background with books. This is usually a habit that starts at a very early age. . . . The problem that many students face is that they are only reading assigned books from school, which can be less than inspiring.”
So, he said, give books to kids that suit their individual interests. “Do not pressure them to read it,” he said. “Just give it to them. If they read, great. If not, try again in a few weeks with a different book.”
Plan a weekly reading night during which everyone finds a comfortable chair in the living room, popcorn at their elbows, and enjoys a book of their choice for an hour or so. Leave some good paperbacks in the car. Talk about the books you are reading.
If reading becomes a habit for them, that will, of course, make them look good to colleges. But it will have even more impact on the quality of their everyday lives and their children’s lives and so on. It is never too soon to get started on that.
[I would add that a steady diet of light-weight fiction reading is not ideal.  Background knowledge gained from reading nonfiction is essential in developing the critical thinking skills needed for college level work.]

Friday, February 4, 2011

College applications email account

Some good advice from NYT's The Choice for students applying for college financial aid.
Provide an e-mail address you actually check. The financial aid process is detailed, and we often need to contact applicants or their parents to fact check or request more information. If we can’t reach you, we can’t complete your award.
From the comments, some more advice:
Several parents on a related College Confidential discussion forum thread have suggested creating a college-only email address that parents can access so that Mom or Dad will be able to alert their applicant children to important notices. It may sound very helicopterish, but when thousands of dollars are at stake, it might be wise to start whirring those blades.
— Sally Rubenstone, Senior Advisor, College Confidential
I confess I did this when my son applied to college:  Yup, I wanted to make sure my son didn't miss any important news that might hit us in the pocketbook.  There were times when he changed the email password so that he would be sure to be the first to learn decisions about acceptances, and that was certainly appropriate.

The pension issue from a teacher's perspective

The president of the Westchester-Putnam Retiree Chapter of New York State United Teachers responds to calls for changes to the public pension system.
One of the news articles also stated that the pension system is "taxpayer funded." That is only partially true at present. The vast majority of state pension funds come from investments. When the stock market declined, employer contribution was needed to compensate. But, for a number of years, the various pension funds were basically self-sustaining and in all likelihood will return to that state as the recession fades.
While it is true that they are only partially "taxpayer funded", the fact that the government guarantees teacher pensions has necessitated significant taxpayer contributions.
Defined-benefit plans suit them and the agencies for which they work. These pension plans are cheaper to run than 401(k) plans, according to the New York State Teacher Retirement System.
Consider also that government employees are paid less than their counterparts in private industry, despite similar education and qualifications. Compare the salaries of a high school office manager with that of his/her peer in private industry. The difference is substantial. The trade- off is that the civil service person has more job security and a defined benefit retirement.
I've seen evidence-based arguments on both sides of the private vs. public pay issue.
Given the volatility of the stock market and the turmoil retirees with 401(k) plans experienced in 2008, we should be looking at ways to extend defined-benefit pensions to all workers and to allow them the flexibility to change jobs with no loss of retirement. Instead of attacking a system that supports retirees and in turn their communities, let's look at ways to ensure that all our citizens can enjoy a secure retirement.
I don't think popular opinion supports expanding defined-benefit pensions to more workers.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Graphic organizers - a cheat sheet for parents

As a follow up to my post on the middle school character cluster assignment, I thought I would share a cheat sheet for parents who might be faced with trying to understand the latest graphic organizer (aka concept map) that their children bring home from school

So many choices
Graphic organizers (some of which are also called concept maps, entity relationship charts, and mind maps) are a pictorial way of constructing knowledge and organizing information. They help the student convert and compress a lot of seemingly disjointed information into a structured, simple-to-read, graphic display. The resulting visual display conveys complex information in a simple-to-understand manner. 

Or so they say.  Keep in mind that research tells us that taking a test is superior to using a graphic organizer / concept map for retaining information.  Still, educators continue to use these graphic tools.
[Concept mapping]  — having students draw detailed diagrams documenting what they are learning — is prized by many teachers because it forces students to make connections among facts.
These other methods not only are popular, the researchers reported; they also seem to give students the illusion that they know material better than they do.
And there are so many intriguing choices - Star, Spider, Fishbone, Cloud/Cluster, Tree, Chain of Events, Continuum/Timeline, Clock, Cycle of Events, Flowchart, Venn Diagram, Chart/Matrix Diagram, Y-Chart and many more.  Not to worry, though.  There is even a graphic organizer that helps you choose the right graphic organizer.


Wednesday, February 2, 2011

"functionally bankrupt" New York State cuts aid to schools

When Governor Cuomo released the New York State 2011-12 budget yesterday, we learned that our local school district will lose $456,870 in state aid, a decrease of 11.61% from last year.  Statewide, cuts to schools will be 7.3%.
"It is a perfect storm — and not the snow kind," Mahopac Superintendent Thomas Manko said, referring to reduced state funding, Cuomo's plans for a property-tax cap and taxpayers' growing economic angst.
Details are here, including a listing of cuts to all school districts.  More state budget details here.

School aid accounts for 29% of New York State General Fund spending.

College graduation rates in New Jersey look dismal

The headline says it all. 
At most N.J. colleges, freshmen have less than 50 percent chance of graduating in 4 years

Excellent graphic showing 2004 and 2008 graduation rates.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

How to confuse a middle-schooler

Here is how a teacher can confuse a middle school student and her parents.

Assign a "character cluster" in English class and provide these three slightly different sets of written instructions:
  1. Create a character cluster for Tom and Willie using a minimum of three character traits.
  2. Please create a character cluster for both Willie and Mr. Tom, that utilizes a minimum of three character traits.
  3. Create 3 character clusters for Mr. Tom and 3 character clusters for Willie ( beginning - middle and end)
The first instructions were written on the classroom board and copied by the student.  The second were on the English teacher's web page and the third were on the resource teacher's web page.

When the student asked her mom for help in figuring out the assignment, mom could not assist because she also was confused by the instructions and had her own set of questions for the teacher.
-- What is a "character cluster"?
-- Should one cluster be created for both characters or should three be created for each character?
-- How many traits should be included, three for each character or three in total? If three in total, should both characters share these traits?
The student finally figured it out and wrote her own instructions:
Create two character clusters, one for Mr. Tom and one for Willie, with 3 character traits for each.

It seems ironic that these instructions were written for an assignment in English class, where the teaching of clear writing is an important objective.

Monday, January 31, 2011

In New York, state education costs rose more than twice inflation rate over last 15 years

Governor Cuomo wants to cut aid to schools, while the schools want the state to continue higher tax rates on wealthier taxpayers.  The Governor's budget comes out on February 1.

The state's fiscal picture is grim: a $42 billion budget gap over the next three fiscal years — $10 billion in the upcoming year, $15 billion in 2012-13 and $17 billion in 2013-14. 
"The State of New York spends too much money. It is that blunt and it is that simple," Cuomo said in his State of the State address this month. . . .
Fiscal experts say Cuomo has to retool a state budget with unsustainable growth rates. . . .
Cuomo has said that schools should no longer expect rapid rises in aid from Albany. From 1994 through 2009, inflation was about 2.7 percent a year, but education aid went up an average 6 percent a year, Cuomo has said.
New York spent $17,173 per student in the 2007-08 year, more than any other state and 67 percent more than the national average, according to U.S. census data.
School officials said they already dealt with a $1.4 billion decrease in aid in the current fiscal year and warn that deeper cuts would erode classroom learning. They are calling on Cuomo to continue higher income taxes for people making more than $200,000 a year, a provision set to expire at year's end. It brings in about $5 billion in annual revenue.
"Revenues and cost savings should come to the front of the line before we are cutting librarians, guidance counselors and teachers out of our classrooms," said Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education.
Schools also want relief from state mandates, saying that costs for pensions and health care are driving higher expenses.

For budget cuts, look no further than the biggest expenses - JN, 1/31/11 

U.S. map of college degree holders

It's fun to look at these measurements and speculate about the reasons behind the numbers.   In Westchester County, 44% of adults have bachelors degrees.  The genders are almost evenly represented, with men at 45% and women at 44%.  On the other hand, 19% of Hispanics have degrees while 69% of Asians do.

Adults With College Degrees in the U.S. by County - The Chronicle of Higher Education

Found at Carpe Diem