New York

In pursuit of college readiness, a course about "Assimilation"

Mitch Kurz leads students through a true/false quiz about the psychology of dreams. Mitch Kurz is a math teacher and a college counselor, but the lessons he teaches don't fall neatly into either subject area. On a recent winter morning, Kurz asked students in his college readiness class to describe their dreams. On the board, he wrote, "What do your dreams mean?" followed by "Sigmund Freud" and a list of vocabulary words more typical of a Psychology 101 class: id, ego, superego. Most of Kurz's two dozen South Bronx juniors and seniors had not heard of these concepts before. But after a semester learning a hodgepodge of lessons from Kurz meant to ease the transition to college — covering everything from the dreidel game, to basic French, to the elevator pitch — students say they come into class expecting the unfamiliar. The class, which Kurz calls "Assimilation," is meant to ease the transition to college for students at the Bronx Center for Science and Math, a small school with many poor students who would be the first in their families to attend college. The school emphatically urges all graduates to enroll in college, and the vast majority do — but they suffer the same academic and financial challenges that low-income, first-generation students often face. Nationally, 89 percent of those students who enter college leave without a degree within six years. Increasing students' likelihood of graduating from college has emerged as a major frontier in education policy. The city's approach is to toughen high school preparation so students have a better shot of handling the rigor of college-level work. Others, such as the KIPP network of charter schools, believe the problem lies more in students' capacity to handle challenges and have developed programs to bolster traits such as resilience and "grit" that seem correlated with college success. At Kurz's school, academic standards are important, and so is character. But Kurz adds an additional approach.
New York

City officials say college readiness rate should double by 2016

Students from the Urban Youth Collaborative present suggestions to boost college readiness before a City Council hearing on the subject. By 2016, the proportion of students who graduate from city high schools ready for college-level work will double, Department of Education officials told skeptical City Council members today. The ambitious projection, made during a hearing on college and career readiness, would require growth that far outstrips even the most liberal assessments of the Department of Education's recent record of improvement. But even then most students would not be considered "college-ready." In 2010, when the city touted a 61 percent four-year graduation rate, just 21 percent of students who had entered high school in four years earlier met the state's college-readiness requirements. A disjuncture has long been visible between what city high schools require for graduation and what the City University of New York expects from new students. Three quarters of the students enrolling in CUNY's two-year colleges must take remedial math or reading classes, and that number has risen along with college attendance rates in recent years, especially as CUNY has toughened its standards. Testifying before members of the council's committees on education and higher education, UFT President Michael Mulgrew accused the city of practicing "social graduation" by giving high school diplomas to students who must repeat high school-level work before starting college classes. But until recently, high school graduation, not college readiness, was considered the gold standard for success testified Shael Polakow-Suransky, the DOE's chief academic officer. He said school officials had been adjusting their priorities to meet rising expectations and were confident that initiatives already underway would substantially change the picture. In particular, he said, new curriculum standards known as the Common Core that are being rolled out this year would push students to develop critical thinking skills required for college-level work.
New York

DOE: College-readiness data could take toll on reports next year

Although the city’s new college readiness metrics were not factored into high school progress reports this year, they will be next year—and schools that don’t prepare could see drops in their grades, city officials said. The new data points are one of the Department of Education's answers to increased scrutiny on how public schools are preparing students for college. Criticisms have mounted against city schools for graduating students who are not college-bound, or require large doses of remedial coursework when they get to college. But Shael Polakow-Suransky, the chief academic officer, said they will not be factored into the schools’ scores until next fall because the Department of Education wants educators to have time to adjust their curriculums to meet those standards. Until the city completely rolls out new Common Core standards, he said, instructors will have to walk a fine line between preparing students for state exams, which often require broad but shallow knowledge, and simulating college-level work with more writing assignments and long-term projects. “We’re not waiting for the state to change its assessments, but it is a real dilemma that teachers and students face until that change occurs,” he said. “You can play around with the cut scores, but until you actually change what you ask kids to do, until you ask them to do more writing, more critical thinking, more problem-solving, engage with more rigorous texts, you’re not changing the standard. That’s the real work.” The department hasn't decided yet how to factor the new data points into progress report scores, Polakow-Suransky said. But he said expected the college readiness metrics to bring many grades down next year.
New York

Against the grain, a DOE employee advises on leaving school

Lisa Nielsen: Students should be free to opt out of school. The city Department of Education has adopted a laser-like focus on sending its graduates to college. But that doesn't mean all of its employees are on board. Lisa Nielsen, who works in the DOE's office of educational technology, is advancing the idea that not only is college not for everyone, neither is high school. In the Community section today, Nielsen explains why she put together a guide to help teenagers figure out how to "opt out" of high school and continue learning and developing on their own. She writes: Despite outdated constraints involving issues like seat time, student funding, and resource allocation, we are making progress toward bringing more personalized and engaging learning opportunities to students through a handful of efforts, such as the iSchool and the Innovation Zone. But while students are doing better in a more innovative climate, ultimately we are just using updated tools to meet narrow and outdated measures on which our students, teachers, and school leaders are judged. It is not enough to personalize learning for everyone to go down the same path — to college, without consideration of what comes next. Instead, schools need to embrace the many alternatives to the traditional college route that would better meet the needs of many learners today. What is missing at the DOE is the important work of letting students discover, define, and develop their own passions, talents, and interests and determine personalized, meaningful, and authentic measures of success. Nielsen, who writes the blog The Innovative Educator, told me she hears frequently from teachers who say they fear they are boring students by teaching a test-driven curriculum. But when she tries to talk about the issue with other administrators at the DOE, she told me, it's usually dismissed.