Friday, March 20, 2009

Bearing Bad News / Counselors Must Make Low College Graduation Rates Transparent

Why do so many students matriculate in colleges with such poor graduation rates? A key factor is that many students are unaware of college graduation rate information and how their college choices affect their chances of degree completion. A new paper by Northwestern researchers James Rosenbaum and Jennifer Stephan applies the term “poor completion transparency” to the obfuscating maze between high school and college and then employment. According to Rosenbaum and Stephan, the many confusing degree options in our varied higher education model combine with weak college counseling to create poor completion transparency.

To address the transparency problem, Rosenbaum and Stephan call for better counseling to inform students about the labor market prospects associated with each college option. In this vision, college counseling needs to provide students with blunt, dream-killing facts about future prospects. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Friday Night Lights / “College” on TV

Friday Night Lights is the one show on TV that I make it a point to watch. (If I miss an episode, I catch it online.) Set in Dillon, TX, the high school football drama captures the coming of age of a cast of characters more authentic than anywhere else in tv-land.

The aspiration of college-going and the striving towards college is a consistent theme of the show. For Lyla, Landry, Smash, and Tyra, college is the way out of provincial football-obsessed Dillon.

In the most recent episode, Riggins, the star running back who has partied away his high school years, is offered an on-the-spot athletic scholarship to a Texas state college by a football scout. Paraphrasing, Riggins says to his girlfriend, “You know, there’s paperwork to complete, but it’s basically a done deal.” The double-standard in admissions for college athletes and the irresponsibility of college scouting is vivid.

The most tragic part of Riggins’s college acceptance is his lack of college readiness. If there was a “College Years” sequel to FNL, a story line would be Riggins’ complete lack of college preparation and its consequences, i.e., struggles with grades and problems with meeting academic eligibility standards for athletics.

Friday, March 6, 2009

College Knowledge Know Before You Go

A high school senior who I spoke with recently did not have a clue about how long term papers are in college courses; another was vague on the differences between a major in visual art and one in graphic design; and another was completing her FAFSA but unaware of financial aid basics, like loan repayment terms. These instances demonstrate a critical need to strengthen seniors’ college knowledge before they decide which college to attend and before they head off to campus in the fall. Of course, college knowledge education shouldn’t wait until the spring of senior year, but when the knowledge is not there, last chance remediation efforts are critical.

A few important things that students should know include that it is possible to appeal a financial aid decision, that free tutoring is available at most colleges, that registering for classes promptly is important to claim a seat, and that approaching professors immediately about problems is the best way to address those problems. A math professor and blogger adds a few items to this list, including healthy nutrition, time management skills, and academic integrity standards. For schools with advisory periods, advisory is the perfect time to talk through the benefits of college-going as well as the stresses of college life and overcoming them. Additional means to educate students include posted bulletin board information, booklets distributed with graduation event details, and a presentation on college success skills during the year’s final senior parent meeting.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Simplifying the FAFSA by Simplifying Financial Aid

When I’m asked to complete a form, I get nervous. What if I fill something out wrong? What if I make a careless error? No matter how simple the FAFSA gets, the form is still going to be an intimidating experience for students and parents. Why? Because all forms are scary.

But that doesn’t mean that reform is not needed. To make getting started with the FAFSA easier, one popular and positive idea is to consolidate the many financial aid programs (Pell grants, SEOG grants, Direct Loans, Perkins loans, and Stafford loans) into one grant program and one loan program. Earlier this week, Secretary of Education Duncan announced his intention to make the Department the primary issuer of student loans, nationalizing what is now a competitive marketplace of private lenders. Under the plan, which is strongly contested by private lenders, the Department of Education would increase lending through its Direct Loan program to $60 billion annually, up from $13 billion last year.

I imagine that Duncan and his team will soon announce their FAFSA simplification plan. What I already like is that they’re focusing on not just the form but the whole process.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Remaking Schools with a National Service Afterschool Corps

Two good ideas—national service and extended day—are converging. In this speech before Congress earlier this week, President Obama spoke about a “new era of responsibility” and called for extending national service, and in an interview with CNN, Secretary of Education Duncan talked about extending school days and school years, saying, “Where students have longer days, longer weeks, longer years -- that's making a difference." National service is the perfect low cost mechanism for growing afterschool programs, summer camps, and summer youth employment efforts. With thorough management, training, and support, national service volunteers can, in the words of President Obama, “remake America.”

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Number Crunching / Chicago’s K-16 Data System Reveals Low College Graduation Rates for CPS Grads

A new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) titled Barriers to College Attainment: Lessons from Chicago examines the gap between college aspirations and college attainment for low-income, urban high school students, this time in Chicago. The January 2009 report draws on data from the National Student Data Clearinghouse and reveals, among other things, that only 45 percent of Chicago graduates who enrolled in a four-year college during the year following high school graduation attained a four-year college degree within six years. The report echoes the dismal findings of a study in Boston on the college attainment of Boston Public School graduates that I wrote about here. The report calls for the widespread adoption of data systems that track and make transparent high school students’ post-secondary educational choices, concluding, “We simply cannot ask high schools to focus on the college readiness and postsecondary outcomes of their graduates if they do not know what happens to their students after they graduate.”

Up to this point, neither the Boston Public Schools nor Chicago Public Schools has provided much visibility to the new data that’s been uncovered. In a cursory look at high school profiles on the BPS website (example here) and the CPS website (example here), I found no information on the schools’ post-secondary college enrollment and attainment, although the CAP report says, “CPS has made college readiness indicators and college enrollment a central part of their high school accountability scorecard.” The data is dismal and shocking, and I fear that the efforts to sweep it under the rug have been greater than those to put it into the broad light of day where it can be used by principals, teachers, counselors, parents, and policymakers. Greater visibility to the post-secondary education data by CPS and BPS would be a step forward in convincing other school districts to match student data to the National Student Data Clearinghouse.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Drilling Down Into the Stimulus / $12.2 Billion for Special Education

The irony of special education is that children and parents tend not to want an education that is special. The instructional benefits of the classification, including pullout/push-in time with specialists and smaller classes, are typically not embraced by children and parents because of the stigma of the classification and how the classification reifies itself to create internal self-doubt in the child. Ultimately, the classification as learning disabled or emotionally disturbed is often seen by parents and children as more harmful than helpful--and they may be right. The meta-studies of special education conclude that the benefits of special education are questionable. In New York State, the percentage of special education students who earn a Regents degree in four years is 5 percent, a number that’s hard to view as a success under any circumstances.

Special education services might not successful because they are not provided well, and that seems to be the case in New York City, as GothamSchools has posted articles on limited Advanced Placement choices for students in Collaborative Team Teaching classrooms, limited kindergarten options for special education students, and poor data management of special education records. The $12.2 billion stimulus funds for continued grants under IDEA are an opportunity to address problems and also shape a more positive future for special education

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Sorting Out the Education Stimulus

The $787 billion stimulus package includes $100 billion for education—an unprecedented amount.

The roller coaster of the past few weeks has been crazy. Governor Paterson called for $9 billion in state spending cuts in December, including $700+ million in education cuts. Then in late January, Mayor Bloomberg announced a $4 billion city budget deficit and threatened 15,000 teacher layoffs. Now that the political theater’s climax has been reached and the stimulus has passed, New York State schools will see increased rather than decreased education funding. According to The Times:

“The $2.5 billion the state is expected to receive to restore education cuts…more than cover[s] the $770 million in reductions the governor had called for.”
Senator Chuck Schumer says, “Any way you slice it, this bill is great for New York.” A pot this big will not only stabilize school budgets but also will change education in profound ways.

UPDATE: But not so fast! The drama continues. No one seems to really know fully how the stimulus is going to be spent. See here for the New York City politicking and here for an inside look at Ed Secretary Duncan's hothouse.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Beginning of the Pipeline / Where to Read About Elementary Education

Education news is almost always about secondary education and higher education. Middle school is lost in the muddle, and elementary school seems just too elementary. Why particularly is the focus disproportionately on high ed and high schools rather than elementary schools? One reason is that news follows tests results, just like business follows earning reports. While there are so many tests facing high school students (high school entrance examinations, the SAT, the ACT, the Regents, and Advanced Placement exams, to name a few), there are so few tests in elementary education. In New York State, elementary students take a high-stakes test in fourth grade.

With elementary education needing some attention, I point to a couple articles that highlight the instructional battles in elementary schools. New York Magazine in 2006 reminded us that the Reading Wars are not yet over and The New York Times, also in 2006, synthesized the reformist education pedagogy of the elementary school charter networks (Amistad, KIPP, and Achievement First). If you haven’t read these articles, do so – Theses are two of the best pieces of education journalism I’ve read, and how students fare in the early stage of the education pipeline shapes their trajectory through its later stages.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What’s New? Cultures of Success at New Schools

Too often we say to students things like, “You can become whatever you want to—a doctor, lawyer, scientist, teacher, journalist, artist, entertainer, politician, entrepreneur, etc.,” but it’s an empty platitude. We know that at Brandeis High School, which is closing down, more students become high school dropouts in the short term than computer programmers, investment bankers, and biotech engineers. The on-time graduation rate at Brandeis last year was 35%.

Brandeis High School will be replaced by three new schools. At each of these schools, the principals can gather their new students and say, “We’re going to provide you with the tools, inspiration, rigor, intensity, support, and love so that you WILL become doctors, lawyers, scientists, teachers, etc.” There’s no history to refute the possibility that the students will go on to achieve the highest levels of success, so it seems tangibly possible in a way that it does not at Brandeis today.

In new schools, there’s the “anything is possible, sky’s the limit” energy and excitement that puts students and teachers in the mindset of success. The message that everyone will be successful and achieve at high levels, becoming masters of the universe, can be relentlessly repeated and reinforced. A few methods by which the new Brandeis schools can do this include naming classrooms after Ivy League colleges, posting career information on display boards in hallways, propagating inspiring chants and slogans, inviting motivational speakers to talk about goal-setting, and setting up mentoring programs with corporate partners.

The practices and culture of successful charter schools, Urban Assembly schools, and other small schools, like Bronx Lab, Bronx Leadership, and the Young Women’s Leadership schools, were created in the founding moment of new-ness, demonstrating that in some cases, like that of Brandeis, the best school reform is complete school overhaul.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Read This / Intervening Early to Prepare Successful Readers

Imagine being an eighth grade student and not comprehending a written text. On the National Assessment of Education Progress (1998), 26% of eighth graders failed to meet the “Basic” standard of answering correctly explicit comprehension questions and a minimal number of interpretation questions about a basic text.

For the vast majority of eighth graders struggling with reading, that struggle is nothing new. Approximately 75% of students identified with reading problems in third grade are still reading disabled in the 9th grade, and 88% of poor first grade readers are still poor readers in eighth grade.

It’s fair to blame middle schools for not closing the gap, but middle schools face the steep obstacles of reversing the emotional, psychological, and behavioral effects of years of poor school performance.

Closing the gap in reading early—through pre-k, reading intervention programs, and research-based reading instruction—can nip educational failure before children indelibly feel like educational failures.

As the debates about school governance, i.e., mayoral control and charters, and school models, i.e., KIPP and GreenDot, continue, it might be wise to drill down into a classroom and see that early intervention to assist struggling students can make a difference in preventing future deficits—in any classroom.

Monday, February 2, 2009

First & Goal / The Universalization of Pre-K

Fifty-one percent of 3-year olds and seventy-four percent of 4-year olds are in some form of pre-k, with programs including the federal Head Start program, state-funded pre-k, and private pre-school programs. In 2007, one million 3 and 4-year olds attended state-funded pre-k programs, up by 80,000 from 2006.

The percentage of children without access to pre-k varies from state to state, with twelve states having no pre-k programs, and the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) writing, “The chances for a child to benefit from state pre-K are largely determined by the state where he or she lives.” In states with pre-k systems, children without pre-k are largely from families with too much income for federal and state income-qualified programs and not enough income to afford private pre-school tuitions. A November 2008 Pew-funded report coins the gapping of the middle-class the “Pre-K Pinch” and advocates for increasing access to high-quality state pre-k.

"Many economically-advanced countries provide free preschool for all children," says Sara Watson, senior officer for the Pew Charitable Trusts, a key NIEER funder. "If the United States is to remain competitive in a global economy, we cannot lose a single child. We must invest in preschool education that will help put every child on the right track to succeed."

The universalization of pre-k will be an education leap forward on the scale of the GI bill and the Pell grant, but for now, the movement towards a tipping point of universality is in limbo and depends on the stimulus and state budget decisions. In one scenario, states will keep their pre-k funding budgets stable thanks to a Washington bailout while additional stimulus favored by the Democrats will create 350,000 new pre-k seats (while creating 15,000 early childhood teaching and teaching assistant jobs). In a grimmer scenario for pre-k, Republicans will gut pre-k from the stimulus legislation and the bailout for the states will leave some particularly hard-hit states with budget shortfalls that trigger decreases in pre-k funding level. Whatever happens over the next two weeks, in the years ahead, the country will likely redefine formal schooling as beginning at age four—and eventually at age three.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Integrating Suburban Public Schools / An Old Idea in a New Era

For the past several years, I’ve conducted alumni interviews for my undergraduate college, Brown University. Yesterday afternoon, I met with a student from a Prep for Prep-like program who attends an elite private school. Our enjoyable conversation jumped from New York architecture to the rigors of commuting to the challenge of independent learning. He’s an impressive kid, and he’s certainly come a long way—from an immigrant working-class community in Queens to being a serious candidate for Brown admissions. I’m rooting for him.

With the success of Prep for Prep placement organizations in setting so many low-income middle school students on the track to elite college admissions through the mechanism of well-known private schools, it’s a shame that we haven’t yet crafted an equivalent way to send low-income urban students across city borders to high-achieving suburban schools in such a way that is not reminiscent of acrimonious court-ordered desegregation efforts.

How can we revive the idea of integrating suburban schools? With incentives from states to cover the gaps in educational expenditures; private donors stepping up to the plate; and Prep for Prep running a rigorous selection and support process, I believe that suburban politicians and schools leaders would support the initiative if it could be made a win-win for everyone. A privately funded pilot test could get the ball rolling.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Capacity-Building / CUNY Plans a New Community College

Monday’s Times includes a report on a plan for a new CUNY community college in Manhattan enrolling 5,000 students, while today’s Times reports that the stimulus package proposal includes $6 million for higher education infrastructure projects. The new community college is probably not “shovel ready” yet, but who knows?

Following through on the recommendations of the Gates-funded study that I wrote about here on Monday, the majors at the college will be “limited to about a dozen fields with robust job opportunities” and all prospective students will be required to interview to “know what will be expected of them.” In addition to these plans, CUNY should co-locate non-degree certificate programs at the college, as the Gates-funded study suggested that certificate programs are often a better route out of poverty and low-income jobs than associate degrees.

Monday, January 26, 2009

New 2009 Research from the Gates Foundation

Florida not only has fantastic winter weather (my first-hand reporting confirms 80 degree temperatures in early January) and great football (go Gators!) but also the nation’s most comprehensive K-16+ student data system, allowing researchers to follow students from Florida’s public schools though college and into employment. Using longitudinal student records from the data system, the Hudson Institute and CNA have a produced a new Gates-commissioned study. A few of their findings are:

  • Florida students with A GPAs are twice as likely to attend college as C or below students (79 percent versus 39 percent).
  • 25% of Florida 9th graders participating in the Federal School Lunch program will go onto graduate from high school and enroll in college within two years of graduating, compared to 39% of non-Federal School Lunch participants.
  • Florida students who complete associate degrees or certificate programs in heath care earn $45,968 per year on average, compared to $26,812 for those completing associate degrees or certificate programs in the humanities.
  • Florida students in the Federal School Lunch program who complete college degrees have 8.4% lower post-college earning than non-Federal School Lunch students--$34,563 compared to $37,727—with most of the difference attributed to the differences in the type of degrees obtained (AA, BA, graduate degrees).

The study’s recommendations include providing information to low-achieving, low-income high school students about the earning power of associate degrees and certificate programs in high-return fields, like health care. One of the study’s lead authors told InsideHigherEd, “All we’re trying to do is find what C students can do most productively at the point they leave high school. The investments we’re currently making in the two-year-college system are extremely important, and the message that comes across very clearly is that too many students are leaving high school without having a terrific high school experience, then are going to community colleges and repeating some mistakes they’ve already made.” Well said.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama / “Our schools fail too many.”

In Obama’s inaugural address, he boldly said, “Our schools fail too many.” Kevin Carey of Education Sector applauds the phrasing. As an Obama supporter, it pains me to say that I don’t like his choice of words. I would have preferred, “Too few students achieve at the highest levels,” or “Our schools and communities must do much more,” or “Our politics limit our commitment to equity and excellence.” Obama’s bold statement vilifies the many highly competent and hard-working teachers and administrators who work in low-achieving schools and run up against the walls of limited funds and the enormity of the challenge. I’m also bothered by the statement’s reinforcement of the mythical idea that if only our schools were better, all the baggage of homelessness, poverty, and race would be overcome. The truth is that the failure of economic policy, health care policy, immigration policy, housing policy, and more make it Herculean for our schools to be complete gap-closers. Ultimately, it’s our politics and priorities that are failing too many.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

College Success Factors Re-Explored

Accoridng to the Advisory Committee on the Student Financial Assistance, 0% of college-qualified high school students do not enroll in college immediately after high school. Why? Traditional explanations have focused on the limits of financial aid and how little many low-income high schools students know about the benefits of college-going and the steps of the college admissions process.

For low-income high school students who do enroll in college, few graduate within reasonable amounts of time, as revealed by recent reports from Boston and Chicago. Why? Traditional explanations have focused on financial aid as well as weak pre-college academic preparation that pipelines students into the educational graveyard of remediation.

A September 2008 study by Child Trends brings to light additional explanations for why students fail to access college or succeed once there. The study finds that the college readiness literature has mostly overlooked three key developmental competency areas—physical, psychological, and social—that predispose college success.
"College readiness criteria could be expanded to include healthy behaviors, avoiding risky behaviors, positive mental health, resilience, a strong work ethic and moral character, social competence, and creativity. The addition of these attributes would help youth prepare to optimize their success, healthy development, and experience in both college and the workplace."
The task of raising success-ready youth falls on the shoulders of parents, schools, afterschool programs, community organizations, and religious institutions. “It takes a village,” is the old saying. “It takes a nation in service,” is the new one.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Philly Road Trip / Philly’s Bruising Education Politics

I’m back from a trip to Philadelphia, where I picked up a copy of The Notebook, a terrific independent paper focusing on Philly’s public schools. The Notebook’s latest issue profiles new Superintendent Arlene Ackerman’s plans to transform the Philly schools. Ackerman speaks in crisis terms about the state of schooling in the nation’s sixth largest city:
“The future for far too many of our poor students of color who attend our public schools is up for grabs. For some, it is teetering precariously. Unless those of us entrusted with their educational well-being take unprecedented actions on their behalf, they will not get a second chance.”

Ackerman, in planning her next steps, is talking about redistributing resources to schools in accordance with student needs, especially to failing schools. In a time where the funding pie is not growing, reallocating funding is a zero sum game. As Ackerman waits to roll-out her reform agenda, the language of crisis is rallying support for change, but will it be enough to quickly steamroll over those schools and communities who will lose funds? In New York City, Joel Klein announced school budget cuts in May 2008, with the cuts disproportionately hitting middle-class schools like Stuyvesant and Townsend Harris, but it was done (1) quietly, (2) with Klein acknowledging the “pain” and not relishing in the redistribution, and (3) in the context of a Keep It Going we’re-making-progress vocabulary. Maybe Ackerman should look to Klein’s strategy for guidance, as change doesn’t always need to be loudly announced.

p.s. The Eagles are down 24-19 but rallying. Go Donovan!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Student Life Arms Race / Can It Be Stopped?

A new study by the Delta Project reports that the percentage of university budgets going towards instruction expenses is decreasing while tuition and net student costs are increasing. The Delta Project advocates for greater college affordability by controlling costs (read: layoffs). Going beyond the eliminate-the-climbing-wall argument, The Delta Project asks us to re-think the value of student life staples: writing centers, psychological counseling, computer labs, and student advising. But in re-thinking these amenities, I get sidetracked because I start thinking about how college students—and prospective students—simply demand that their colleges provide robust student life programming and academic support. The Delta Project’s focus on colleges’ wisdom in supplying student life features overlooks the unstoppable momentum of student demand. If one college eliminates a climbing wall, another college will create one to capture the students for whom a climbing wall is important. And apparently, there are many of them.

Computing Power / NYCDoE Buys a $75 Million Special Education Data System

In New York State in 2007, 31% and 34% of special education students passed the English and Math Regents Examinations respectively. A Regents diploma is not a graduation requirement for students classified with learning disabilities, who can graduate by passing the Regents Competency Tests (RCT) or meeting the requirements of their individualized education plan (IEP).

I’m not an expert—or even knowledgeable at all—about how to set achievement benchmarks for special education students, but it’s obvious that a new $75+ million special education data system just purchased by the city will help get educators and advocates on the same page regarding student learning plans. I like to think that the transparency of a data system that allows for analysis of how well teachers, schools, and programs are doing with special education students will work to forestall a slippery slope of lower and lower expectations for students from whom less is already expected. The fear is that a greater focus on numbers will incentivise re-classifying under-achieving students downward on the special education scale rather than challenging them to achieve their best.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Duncan’s Confirmation Hearing

I caught small bits of Duncan’s confirmation hearing here this morning. He focused on his own feel-good story of growing up as an assistant in his mother's inner-city tutoring program. As far as substance, which there wasn't much time for between the praise the senators heaped upon him, he spoke about teacher recruitment, merit pay for teachers, and the "extraordinary" challenges of creating better schools.

The big disappointment is how little focus there was on higher education and frankly how little Duncan knows about higher education. In response to one question about using federal work-study funds to support tutoring programs for low-income students, he said that he had just learned about the federal work-study program and that he needs to learn more. Definitely.

Higher Education’s Supply-Demand Problem

Secondary education is moving towards a “college-education-for-all” mantra, yet higher education is not funded adequately to meet increased demand. Anthony Carnevale, the Director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, explains the problem in yesterday’s Inside Higher Ed:
"The scale of our public commitment to postsecondary education has outrun the scale of our public financing policies."
The result of under-funding higher education, according to Carnevale is swelling “second rate” public colleges characterized by increased class sizes, limited course offerings, little academic counseling, and rising tuitions and fees. The pressure on these colleges is immense, and right now, we mostly stand by as they buckle under the strain of increased demand and fail to adequately educate students.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Money Matters: Why Financial Literacy Education Shouldn’t Be Left to Suzie Orman

The New York Times recent “Debt Trap” series included some alarming statistics:

Schools and universities need to address the problem of American indebtedness by teaching students basic financial concepts, including business math, balancing a checkbook, opening a savings account, avoiding credit card debt, and investing in the stock market.

A call for education, of course, shouldn’t minimize the need for more regulation. Banks shouldn’t be permitted to sign up consumers for mortgages that they can’t afford; credit card companies shouldn’t be allowed to charge $35 late fees; and universities shouldn’t be complicit in hawking credit card offers to students.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

"I'm Now Going to the Talk to the Millions of Schoolchildren Watching Today"

News reporters increasingly put the word “deeper” before the word “recession.” These are pessimistic times, making me miss the energy and enthusiasm of “Yes, We Can.”

Many schoolchildren will be tuning into the upcoming inauguration while at school, so I hope that Obama will speak very directly to kids, highlighting an anecdote of a young person embodying the “Yes, We Can” spirit and challenging all of us to contribute to the betterment of our communities and ourselves. Imagine hearing about a high school student running a neighborhood business, a middle student class reducing their school’s carbon footprint, or a college student running a middle school chess club. If done well, it will be a powerful moment in many schoolchildren’s lives. (Not as corny as it sounds here.)

For more inauguration speech ideas, check The Huffington Post and an op-ed in The Washington Post by the founders of the KIPP network.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Closing Time / A New York City High School Will Phase-Down

The NYCDoE will close Bayard Rustin High School for Humanities, a troubled large comprehensive high school on West 18th Street, in 2012, phasing-it down year-by-year until then.

InsideSchools says that many of the teachers leaving today looked depressed, and on GothamSchools, a student named Luke angrily denounces the DoE:
The school received a report grade of F, has had high teacher turnover, and was roiled by a Regents grading scandal--all things that make the closure seem inevitable. When schools close, it is sad for students, teachers, and staff, even those who support the closure. I visited Rustin on three occasions, barely getting to know the school, yet I still feel a sense of loss.

The shuttering of Rustin reminds me of a fantastic New Yorker article on the instability that befell students left in the lurch by the closing of a low-performing Denver high school. Many of the students profiled in The New Yorker article got lost in the transition, eventually dropping out, with Denver school officials explaining the tragedy as the “collateral damage” of school improvement.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Financial Aid / Shopping Around for the Best Deal

Financial aid is a big guessing game, the luck of the draw, one of the last great mysteries in life…You get the idea. With January as a big FAFSA month, I’ll take this time to explain why financial aid is so messy—why when a student asks how much college will cost them, it’s impossible to predict.

Universities have different sum totals of financial aid to award, based upon public financial aid dollars and the institution’s own allocation of resources to financial aid. In general, universities flush with resources shower financial aid grant dollars on admitted students while universities not so well-resourced offer admitted students much smaller packages weighted towards loans rather than grants.

In the last decade, elite higher education, buoyed by high investment returns and driven by competitive pressures to enroll high-achieving students, has pulled away from the rest of higher education in the quality of financial aid, with some schools like Harvard, Brown, UVa, and Penn offering free educations to low-income students. Kudos to these institutions!

In the world of non-elite higher education, many less well-endowed institutions have accelerated their use of merit-based scholarships to recruit students with high SAT scores, high grades, prized athletic talents, and sought-after diversity. In 1994, a survey by the National Association of College Admissions Counselors found that merit aid constituted 27% of all institutional aid funds, and need-based aid was 66%. In 2007, merit aid increased to 43% and need based aid shrank to 49%. With merit aid so sizable, “financial aid” is effectively a pricing strategy and enrollment management tool used to optimize the number of applications, matriculations, revenue, SAT score averages, and diversity.

What can students expect to get from the colleges to which they are admitted? It’s hard to tell, because it depends not only on their family finances and the cost of attendance but also their grades, test scores, extracurricular skills, and ultimately how attractive they are to the institutions to which they have applied. In other words, college is variably priced, and financial aid awards vary within many institutions for students of similar means.

In this environment of extreme differences in university financial aid resources and the acceleration of variable pricing, students benefit from applying to many institutions to see what aid award offers they get. Students need to shop around! The challenge is that seeking out a college education is a lot more time-consuming, stressful, and life-shaping than most other shopping exercises.

Friday, January 2, 2009

SAT Test Craziness / Taking the SAT Three, Four, Five Times (or Just Twice)

While the Class of 2009 is clicking “Refresh” on, The Times has turned its attention to the Class of 2010, the first to take the SAT under the new Score Choice policy that allows students to hide SAT scores from their college choices.

“In practice, it will add more anxiety, more confusion, more testing for those who can afford it and more coaching,” said Brad MacGowan, a college counselor at Newton North High School in suburban Boston and a longtime critic of the College Board and standardized testing.

The College Board spends much time on developing the pipeline of high-achieving students of modest means, but in this case, The College Board will not be changing its fee waiver policy, which allows low-income students to take the SAT for free twice. While Newton North students will be able to take the SAT three, four, five, even six time, low-income students will be capped at two free administrations.

When The College Board does the equivalent of sticking its foot in its mouth, I understand why many school counselors, not really aware of the content differences between the SAT and ACT, recommend that students jump ship on the SAT and choose the ACT.

School-University Pipeline will be on vacation until Tuesday, January 6th. Happy New Year! Better—and tanner—posts will return on Wednesday, January 7th!

Counting Down to the Common Application Deadline

The highly selective college application season for the Class of 2009 ended with a New Year’s Eve party at So many students were aiming to meet January 1st application deadlines that the Common App website experienced slow-downs on December 30th and 31st, sending students and parents into near-panic. There will always be procrastinators, especially among high school students! I wonder how the New Year's Day party compared to the New Year's Eve party.