Something for Teachers to think about

Parent Involvement is the Clearest Predictor of College Access

The Texas Comprehensive CenterBriefing Paper on Parent and Community Involvement in a College/Career-Ready Culturenotes:

“The literature on parent and community involvement is extensive. However, there is little rigorous, experimental research; rather, the literature consists primarily of descriptive case studies or correlation studies, along with numerous studies involving survey data. The same holds true for research around development of career and college readiness. Furthermore, there is very little to be found on the combined topics of parent/community involvement, college/career readiness, and student achievement.”

Some of the key findings of available research indicate that students with involved parents, no matter what their income or background, are more likely to:

  • Earn high grades and test scores and enroll in higher-level programs
  • Pass their classes, earn credits, and be promoted
  • Attend school regularly
  • Graduate and go on to postsecondary education
  • Although parental involvement is important through all the years of school, it changes as children develop; therefore, a student in middle or high school benefits from a different type of parental involvement than does an elementary school student
  • the most consistent finding in studies of parental involvement was “the importance of parents’ educational aspirations for their children”

Similar research findings are reported in, Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study, where young men of color note the importance of parent expectations pertaining to their academic achievement:

  • High expectations for school success were conveyed in myriad ways. Most common was parents’ dissatisfaction with grades they believed were unreflective of their children’s full potential.
  • In several interviews, young men recalled how they felt good about earning 90% on tests, but their parents’ reaction was “why didn’t you get a hundred?”
  • Some had proven their academic aptitude in elementary school, but their grades declined in middle school. Their parents refused to excuse this change and instead nagged the teens, found ways to get them tutor-ing and other forms of academic support, and punished them by taking away privileges they had come to enjoy.
  • One young man recalled a pivotal moment in his academic trajectory. He started getting 70s and 80s on report cards, instead of the 90s he had consistently earned prior to middle school. His dad took him on a long car ride outside of the city to express two things: (1) how he believed the young man was capable of doing better; and (2) why B’s and C’s were unacceptable. Concerning the second point, the father told his son that he expected him to be someone great in life, to go to college; accordingly, mediocre grades would not get him there. That car ride resonated with this young man from that point onward.
  • Others remembered specific things family members and others said to them at various junctures in their educational trajectories that helped them realize how great they were destined to be.

Despite these two research studies profiling students and parents in two different states (Texas and New York), parent expectations is an important component in the academic outcomes of their children. It is clear that parents should engage in:

  • Communicating expectations for achievement and value for education
  • Fostering educational and occupational aspirations
  • Discussing learning strategies
  • Preparing and planning for the future

To best ensure a successful transition to college or a career parents should:

  • Know about college admission or career requirements so that they may appropriately guide their children’s courses and activities
  • Understand student assessments that will allow them to track progress toward meeting the requirements
  • Understand financial aid options
  • Understand the application process

Cultivating home-school partnerships requires that educators understand that the lack of parental involvement of African-American, Hispanic, and low-income parents is not so much attributable to shortcomings of parents themselves as they are to structures and policies, which create invisible walls and inhibit interaction with schools such as:

  • Inflexible work schedules
  • Language barriers
  • Lack of comfort with school staff
  • Conditioned mistrust

Overcoming these barriers requires:

  • Obtaining input from families regarding information and resources they need to support their children’s college aspirations
  • Familiarizing families with services that provide academic support and college planning and provide these services in a family-friendly environment
  • Ensuring that families from all cultural, social, linguistic, and community backgrounds are included in outreach efforts
  • Partnering with faith-based, community organizations, and institutions of higher education to provide college planning and financial aid information

Research indicates that for low-income families, information on financial aid is extremely important, and parents need the information early in their child’s education so they can build and reinforce his or her aspirations to attend college.

Succeeding in the City: A Report from the New York City Black and Latino Male High School Achievement Study, notes that even schools that successfully cultivate college-bound cultures can lack sufficient insight and understanding of the full range of needs of students who will be the first in their families to attend college or who are living in high poverty communities:

  • “This is like a small college,” one young man said of his high school. Others described college-going cultures that had been fostered in their respective buildings.
  • There were poster-sized spreadsheets on a bulletin board in the guidance counselor’s office at East Bronx Academy for the Future that listed each graduating senior’s name in one column.
  • Other columns were used to track whether students had taken the SAT; applied to CUNY, SUNY, and other postsecondary institutions; submitted the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), as well as applications for scholarships and other forms of financial aid (e.g., New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program); and had been accepted to college.
  • Students received big checkmarks in each column after one of these college-related activities had been completed. Fascinating to us was that almost every student listed on the spreadsheet had a near-complete row of checkmarks next to her or his name.
  • We also thought compelling that the spread-sheet was so large and so public. The guidance counselor explained that teachers, parents, and peers often interact with the bulletin board; if they see that a student has not done something on the list, they would ask (and some-times harass) her or him about it.
  • In that same office was another bulletin board that included college-related terms and their definitions. Students who would be first in their families to attend college probably would not have other-wise known the meanings of certain terms on the bulletin board (i.e., early decision, AP course, FAFSA, TAP, EOP, HBCU, and Bursar’s Office), hence its importance.
  • Participants at the 40 high schools frequently noted how teachers doubled as college advisors who offered assistance with the college choice process, admissions and scholarship applications, SAT prep, and financial aid documents.
  • “Did you see the signs above the classrooms?” one young man asked. “We are encouraged to talk to teachers about where they went to college; they help
  • Copies of college acceptance letters were stapled to bulletin boards and taped to walls in several other schools we visited.

However, although students at many schools are being inspired to pursue college, the report notes that even these schools are failing to provide students with pertinent information pertaining to financial aid and scholarships:

  • Despite their academic performance, few participants planned to finance their college education via scholarships and merit-based awards.
  • Although some expected to receive Pell Grants and awards from the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), an alarming number of students planned to finance college through student loans and working off-campus jobs.
  • We occasionally asked if they knew about the Gates Millennium Scholars Program, income threshold and no-loans financial aid policies at elite private colleges and universities, or the Posse Foundation’s scholars program (financial aid initiatives for which their grade point averages and socioeconomic statuses would likely qualify them); their answers were almost always no.
  • One young man planned to simultaneously work full-time and be a full-time college student. Although his socioeconomic status would surely qualify him, he had never heard of on-campus employment opportunities via the Federal Work Study Program.

Schools must do more to foster a culture of high expectations, make parents feel welcomed, provide parents with the information and resources they need to encourage their children’s aspirations early during their schooling, and expose students to the wide range of scholarship and financial aid opportunities based on their gifts, talents, and family circumstances.

Increasing Black Male College Access and Success

The illustration above is from the National Black Male College Achievement Study by Penn University Professor Shaun R. Harper, Ph.D., “Black Male Student Success in Higher Education.” The study provides a different research perspective as to the plight of Black males in gaining access to, and succeeding in, higher education. As opposed to a deficit-based perspective seeking to identify all of the challenges to Black male educational attainment, Dr. Harper examines the support mechanisms and assets of Black males who have successfully navigated P-16 education into advanced degrees and a broad range of careers.

Dr. Robert M. Franklin, President of Morehouse College, is quoted as noting the importance of the 5Ms, “Messaging, Mentoring, Monitoring, Ministering, and Money,” as representing important areas of strategic thinking for policymakers:

  • What are the messages being sent to Black males as they navigate their P – 16 journey through higher education?
  • What type of mentoring are they in need of as they progress through early adolescence, puberty, and into manhood?
  • What monitoring mechanisms are needed to monitor their academic achievement, social development, intellectual and creative development?
  • What type of ministering to their sense of social, community, spiritual, and humanitarian consciousness is needed?
  • And finally, what type of financial support, i.e., money, will they need to gain access to, and support themselves, through college degree attainment?

Dr. Harper provides important insight into how reframing deficit-oriented questions such as:

  • Why do so few Black male students enroll in college?
  • What are Black male students’ grade point averages often the lowest among both sexes and all racial/ethnic groups on many campuses?


  • How were aspirations for postsecondary education cultivated among Black male students who are currently enrolled in college?
  • What resources are most effective in helping Black male achievers earn GPAs above 3.0 in a variety or majors, including STEM fields?

I was particularly pleased to note that the Pre-College Socialization and Readiness questions reflected in Dr. Harper’s Anti-Deficit Achievement Framework are being addressed through our work at the foundation and through our partnership with the Turner Chapel AME Church Education Ministry. As a result of Dr. Harper’s research, we now have plans to incorporate additional questions pertaining to college achievement and post-college success into our College Panel Discussions. Parents and students should incorporate such questions into their college research and evaluation efforts:

  • What transition support does the college offer for incoming freshmen who may not have had adequate preparation in their secondary schools?
  • Are class sizes, student-faculty ratios, and campus culture best suited to student needs?
  • What opportunities are provided for students to foster relationships with instructors?
  • What opportunities are provided for students to engage in research and internships?
  • What support and encouragement is provided to stimulate and nurture students’ degrees beyond the baccalaureate?

While raising such questions is important for all students considering their many postsecondary opportunities, there is a critically important question that parents of  Black males, and students themselves must consider, “How will the institution treat me while I am there and how will the institution prepare me for the type of racism I am likely to encounter as I pursue graduate or professional degrees and enter the post-college workplace?” Answering this question was important in guiding the college choice of our older son, who ultimately chose Amherst College, and in part, guided our younger son in narrowing the list of colleges to which he has applied:

Important findings for parents, educators, and policymakers to take into consideration are:

When asked, “Did you always know you were going to college?” the overwhelming majority of students responded, ‘Yes—it was never a question of if, but where.’ From boyhood through high school, parents and other family members reinforced to the achievers that college was the most viable pathway to social uplift and success. Interestingly, nearly half the participants came from homes where neither parent had attained a bachelor’s degree. Although they had little or no firsthand experience with higher education, these parents cultivated within their children a belief that college was the only allowable next step after high school.

When asked what differentiated their own paths from those of their peers who were not enrolled in college, the participants almost unanimously cited parenting practices. Their friends’ parents, the achievers believed, did not consistently maintain high expectations and were not as involved in their sons’ schooling. By contrast, most of the achievers’ parents and family members more aggressively sought out educational resources to ensure their success—tutoring and academic support programs, college preparatory initiatives, and summer academies and camps, to name a few.

Some of the key recommendations from the study are:

  • Importance of consistently high parent expectations
  • Equipping Families with College Knowledge
  • Culturally sensitizing teachers, counselors, and postsecondary faculty to the practices and processes that are harmful to student achievement and aspirations
  • Importance of college preparatory experiences
  • Removal of financial barriers
  • Importance of summer bridge programs
  • Assuming institutional responsibility for Black males student engagement

Much of what is echoed through the reflections of the young men in the study as well as the key recommendations are reflected through our work with students and families:

  • Closing the college-knowledge gap
  • Assisting parents and students in identifying summer and pre-college programs
  • Developing writing and communication skills
  • Engaging in college research
  • Identifying sources of financial aid
  • Identifying the best college choice
  • Preparing quality application packages to be considered for admissions into highly-selective colleges and universities
  • Providing academic tutorial support
  • Developing a sense of social and community consciousness

Perhaps most importantly, reinforcing the message, “It is not if you are going to college, only where are you going to college!” We are eagerly anticipating Dr. Harper’s forthcoming book, “Exceeding Expectations: How Black male Students Succeed in College.”

Many of the factors articulated as having contributed to the success of the Black men interviewed in Dr. Harper’s research are reflected in research findings from Ivory Toldson, Ph.D., in, “Academic Success for School-age Black Males” and in The Journal of Negro Education issue, “Academic Success for School-age Black Males”:

  • Importance of parents and family as an important contributor to Black male achievement
  • Importance of educational institutions in involving parents in school readiness and collaborating with parents to ensure nurturing and supportive actualizing school-based experiences for Black youth
  • Benefits of an authoritative parenting style on Black male behavior and academic achievement
  • Impact of after-school programs, tutoring, social skills training/group counseling, recreational, and cultural activities on strengthening Black male academic achievement
  • Types of classroom environment and learning experiences cultivated by classroom teachers
  • Impact of race-related experiences on Black male achievement
  • Importance

Another important recommendation is:

“Religiously affiliated institutions should provide tutoring, mentoring, preparatory workshops for college entrance tests, scholarship for the talented but underprivileged, assistance with college applications, youth summer jobs/programs, assistance to poor families, and spirual services and assistance to Black male inmates and to former inmates who have transitioned back to the community.”

There is clearly a role that faith-based and community organizations must accept if we are to increase the numbers of academically successful Black males.

Click here to for the research study…

Click here to download Superintendent’s Conference Presentation…

Marva Collins Video…

Morehouse College Video…

Having a Conversation About Grading

College admissions is extremely competitive and far too many quite capable students find themselves unable to gain admissions into colleges where they have the academic ability to perform well, due to grading practices that routinely punished such students for classroom behavior or lack of organization. Perhaps the beginning of the conversation about grading should begin with reviewing grading distribution patterns in schools by asking such questions as:

  • Which students are concentrated in the higher grade ranges and which students are concentrated in the lower grade ranges?
  • How great is the impact of late or missing assignments on student grades?
  • How accurately do grades reflect student learning?
  • What impact does a student’s behavior have on his or her grade?

Because grades have such a significant impact on course enrollment opportunities during middle school and high school, class ranking, scholarship consideration, and college admissions, teacher grading philosophy can have a profound impact on student opportunities. Although many teachers make the argument that punishing students will low grades for missing/late assignments and classroom behavior is important to “teaching students ’ a lesson,” the reality is that when students fail to qualify for scholarships or admissions into colleges that can provide families with much needed financial aid, the punishment is really directed at the parents. Beyond all of the philosophical diatribes, my question as a parent is, “Does my child’s grade fairly reflect his academic ability and whether or not he did the required work for the class?” This is precisely the question that colleges and scholarship committees want to know the answer to, i.e., “If we admit this student into our college, does he have the academic ability to be successful?” Or, “If we award this student a scholarship, does he have the academic ability to do well in college so that our money will be well spent?”

Susan Brookhart, in her article, “Starting the Conversation About Grading,” provides some important points that parents might use to initiate a conversation either with teachers on through their involvement on the School Advisory Committee or Local School Council. When initiating the conversation about grades, attempt to keep the conversation focused on purpose, i.e., assessment, measurement, motivation, rather than philosophy, punishment or preparation for what teachers or parents believe to be the “real world.”

Ms. Brookhart suggests:

  • As school districts contemplate a journey toward standards-based grading, they must make quite a conceptual and practical shift. With most conventional grading practices, one grade sums up achievement in a subject, and that one grade often includes effort and behavior. With standards-based, learning-focused grading practices, a grade sums up achievement on standards—there are often several grades per subject—with effort and behavior reported separately.
  • As they attempt to make this shift, many schools go off track or get swamped by side issues. They waste energy having hard discussions about details of grading practice that, by themselves, cannot accomplish real reform. Merely tweaking the details of a grading system can result in a system that makes even less sense than the one it was intended to replace. Any school that is interested in reforming grading needs to talk about it in ways that challenge colleagues on the right questions.
  • Standards-based grading is based on the principle that grades should convey how well students have achieved standards. In other words, grades are not about what students earn; they are about what students learn. To what degree do you and your colleagues believe that? If you do agree, what are the advantages to you and to your students? If you don’t agree, why not? That’s the discussion to have.

The conversation about grading is perhaps one of the most telling conversations of how vested teachers are in student success. For example, when any teacher assigns a ‘0’ to late or missing work and establishes a policy that does not provide an opportunity for a student to submit or make up the work, such a teacher is not vested in student success. No matter what you believe, when an assignment has no value because it is late, then 100 percent of the assignment’s value is assigned to timeliness! What value is to be attributed to learning? Through such a philosophical approach to grading, a ‘C’ student who submits all assignments on time is considered a smarter student than an ‘A’ student who is highly unorganized and submits every assignment late, thereby resulting in a failing grade for the class. It should also be noted that a highly unorganized student, with parents who can ensure that all assignments are submitted on time will have substantially higher grades than the student living in foster care or who does not have a similar support system. Clearly the grades of such students will not fairly reflect their respective ability levels, but rather their inequitable support systems.

No matter how difficult the conversation about grades may be, it is one of the most important conversations to occur in schools if we are to ensure equity, fairness, and achieving grades that are more reflective of student learning and less reflective of student behaviors, organizational skills, or support mechanisms.

Read the complete article in Educational Leadership (November 2011, Volume 69, Number 3)…

1/7/2015 Update to the original posting

Since writing this original posting on 11/13/11, there have been additional articles and research on this very important area that many teachers continue to struggle with “philosophically.”

“By refusing to be lenient when students submit assignments late or do not know the material on the day of the test, I am preparing students for the real world–for college. In college professors are not lenient.”

When teachers make this statement, they are expressing a distorted worldview and basing their argument on their limited college experience–typically, the one college they attended as an undergraduate and perhaps the graduate program they attended, even if this was actually their experience.

Cornell University professor, Dr. Andy Ruina, provides insightful comments from the vantage point of a professor at an Ivy League institution, one of the most difficult to gain admission provides insight into the college grading system that teachers may find helpful to stimulate a classroom discussion (elementary, middle, and high school) as they explain their own grading philosophy:

  • What are grades for?
  • What’s wrong with grades?
  • Grading schemes.
  • Grading on a curve?
  • What does your grade really really mean, in a deep sense?
  • Grade cutoffs

Douglas Reeves, in his Educational Leadership article, “Leading to Change/Effective Grading Practices,” (2011) notes:

“If you wanted to make just one change that would immediately reduce student failure rates, then the most effective place to start would be challenging prevailing grading practices…To reduce the failure rate, schools don’t need a new curriculum, a new principal, new teachers, or new technology. They just need a better grading system.”

“Guskey and Bailey (2001) and Marzano (2000) have synthesized decades of research with similar findings. Neither the weight of scholarship nor common sense seems to have influence grading policies in many schools. Practices vary greatly among teachers in the same school—and even worse, the practices best supported by research are rarely in evidence.”

“Contrast these effective practices with three commonly used grading policies that are so ineffective they can be labeled as toxic. First is the use of zeroes for missing work. Despite evidence that grading as punishment does not work (Guskey, 2000) and the mathematical flaw in the use of the zero on a 100-point scale (Reeves, 2004), many teachers routinely maintain this policy in the mistaken belief that it will lead to improved student performance. Defenders of the zero claim that students need to have consequences for flouting the teacher’s authority and failing to turn in work on time. They’re right, but the appropriate consequence is not a zero; it’s completing the work—before, during, or after school, during study periods, at ‘quite tables’ at lunch, or in other settings.”

Click here to read the complete article…

The Handover Research brief, “Effective Grading Practices in the Middle School and High School Environments,” (2011) notes five ineffective grading practices:

  • Grading for Behavioral Issues
  • Incorporating Teacher Expectations and Judgments into Grades
  • Using Zeroes as a Punishment
  • Using a Points System and Averages
  • Grading Homework and Other Formative Assignments
  • Grading on a Curve
  • Allowing Extra Credit

The research provides insight into standards-based grading models and notes a standards-based grading model implemented in Oregon public schools, that many teachers, who are dogged in their belief that zeroes have value:

“In some standards-based grading models, students can redo summative assessments until they have demonstrated proficiency. This method ensures that students have multiple chances to become proficient at their own pace. An article published in The Oregonian on standards-based grading in Oregon public schools notes, ‘It used to be in the first six weeks, if a student got an F, they gave up,’ says Principal John O’Neill. ‘Now, they have all year to bring up the grade by retaking until they ‘get’ that skill’”

Click here to read the brief…

The University of North Carolina – Charlotte’s Center for Teaching and Learning notes nine principles of good practice for assessing student learning. The first principle addressing a critically important concern that is frequently absent in teacher discussions on grading practices:

“Assessment is not an end in itself but a vehicle for educational improvement. Its effective practice, then, begins with and enacts a vision of the kinds of learning we most value for students and strive to help hem achieve. Educational values should drive not only what we choose to assess but also how we do so.”

Click here to read all nine principles…

The School District of Waukesha, Wisconsin’s, “Best Practices in Grading” provides an extensive overview of research pertaining to grading practices and provides insight into practices, deemed by research, to inhibit learning:

  • Not providing objective or targets
  • Grading students against a norm-referenced curve
  • Not using rubrics for scoring student work
  • Grading by comparing students to each other (p. 12)
  • Using grades as punishment does not work and does not create responsibility
  • Averaging grades is not fair, it can given an inaccurate picture of student achievement
  • Using zeros as grades in a 60 to 100 or 70 to 100 scale vs. a 1,2,3,4 scale makes unequal intervals
  • Basing grades on things like attendance, attitude and work habits is not an accurate account of what students have learned academically, and is unfair (p. 14)
  • Playing “gotcha” with expectations
  • Only communicating expectations verbally
  • Not communicating methods for determining grades (p. 16)

Research shows that using grades as punishment actually serves to de-motivate students. O’Connor (2002) lists seven pointers for getting work in on time (p. 19):

  • Set reasonable and clear targets
  • Ensure clear communication of tasks
  • Support struggling students
  • Find out why work is late and assist
  • Establish reasonable consequences such as:
  • – After school follow-up
  • – Make up in a supervised setting
  • – Parent contact
  • Provide an opportunity for extended timelines
  • If all else fails, use small deductions which do not distort achievement or motivation, not zeros

Click here to read the report…

Robert Marzano and Tammy Heflebower, in their Educational Leadership article, “Grades That Show What Students Know,” (2011) outline four recommendations regarding standards-based assessments. Their final recommendation notes:

“Our fourth recommendation is probably the most transformation in its implications. As the school year progresses, teachers should allow students to upgrade their scores from previous grading periods. To illustrate, assume that the teacher addresses six topics during the first quarter. At the end of the grading period, he or she translates these into an overall grade. Now assume that he or she addresses six more topics in the second quarter. At the end of this grading period, the teacher once again translates these scores into an overall grade. But what if during the second quarter, students work on content to raise their scores on the six topics from the first quarter? Of course, this means that the second quarter’s overall grade would be based on the six topics addressed during the second quarter as well as on the six topics originally introduced during the first quarter. One interesting option some schools have reported is to allow students to earn a score of 4.0 if they can tutor another student to score 3.0 status.”

Click here to read the article…

Barbara Moore’s Southern Regional Education Board presentation, “Effective Grading Practices: 12 Fixes for Broken Grades,” highlights a number or research findings:

“…(grading) practices are not the result of carful thought or sound evidence, …rather, they are used because teachers experienced these practices as students and, having little training or experience with other options, continue their use.” (p. 5)

“Assigning a score of zero to work that is late, missed, or neglected does not accurately depict students’ learning. Is the teacher certain the student has learned absolutely nothing, or is the zero assigned to punish students for not displaying appropriate responsibility?” (p. 27)

Click here to read the entire presentation…

The YouTube video by Jessica Lovett, examines Tom Gusky’s article, “Are Zeroes Your Ultimate Weapon.”

Click here to read “Are Zeros Your Ultimate Weapon” by Thomas R. Guskey From Principal Leadership



Learning-challenged Students’ College Opportunities

For parents of students currently diagnosed with a learning-disability or who are currently enrolled in elementary, middle, or high school special education classes, please reading the October 18, 2011 USA Today article, “Learning-disabled students get a firmer grip on college” by Mary Beth Marklein. Ms. Marklein highlights some of the challenges confronting students as well as the increased college opportunities available to such students. Nearly nine out of ten of the country’s two-year and four-year colleges enroll students with disabilities. And, while 86 percent of such schools enroll students with learning disabilities, only 26 percent provide sufficient support mechanisms in place. Nearly 11 percent of college students have some sort of disability. Students with attention-deficit or related disorders have increased to 19 percent. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act, all colleges are required to provide accommodations to college students. However, unlike elementary, middle, and high schools, which are required by law to identify, evaluate and help students with disabilities, colleges do not have to do anything unless a student asks for help.

Landmark College in Putney, Vermont hosts summer boot camps to assist students in developing strategies to prepare for a successful transition into their first year of college. Students learn how to cope with academics, speak to instructors, and advocate for their rights such as extra time on tests, access to a professor’s notes, or a distraction-free place to study. The program stresses the importance of students learning how to advocate for themselves. Most most students had parents advocating for them throughout their K – 12 schooling and teachers who failed to effectively prepare students for college.

One of the greatest challenges facing such students is the lack of postsecondary preparation that they received in their K – 12 schooling. Many students were not taught note-taking, test preparation, or public speaking skills or how to maximize their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. Few Special Education classes engaged students in the type of critical-thinking discussions they would be expected to engage in at the college level. In essence, the disabilities that they entered school with were oftentimes worsten during their K – 12 schooling. To fully understand what I mean, visit the Special Education classrooms one of your local schools and observe how little expectations teachers have of student performance. Then visit one of the athletic fields or gymnasiums and observe the stark contrast in the expectations that coaches have of their athletes (who also special education students). This is the best example of mainstreaming special education students. If you are truly interested in preparing your children or students for college, adopt a coaches’ mentality–expect more and they will give you more!

What you should do if you have learning challenges and you are planning to attend college:

  • Research scholarships for students with learning challenges
  • Thoroughly research colleges to identify those that offer the best support programs
  • Research colleges that offer special degree programs for students with learning challenges (e.g., Sage and Excelsior colleges in Troy and Albany New York, University of Alabama, University of Arizona)
  • Be honest and upfront, tell colleges what your challenges are and ask how they can support you in being successful

Pick a Box!

The Common Core State Standards Initiative is an important effort to move states in the direction of developing a common curriculum and shared expectations in what students should learn, know, and be able to do. The initiative states:

“Building on the excellent foundation of standards states have laid, the Common Core State Standards are the first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education. It should be clear to every student, parent, and teacher what the standards of success are in every school.

Teachers, parents and community leaders have all weighed in to help create the Common Core State Standards. The standards clearly communicate what is expected of students at each grade level. This will allow our teachers to be better equipped to know exactly what they need to help students learn and establish individualized benchmarks for them. The Common Core State Standards focus on core conceptual understandings and procedures starting in the early grades, thus enabling teachers to take the time needed to teach core concepts and procedures well—and to give students the opportunity to master them.

With students, parents and teachers all on the same page and working together for shared goals, we can ensure that students make progress each year and graduate from school prepared to succeed in college and in a modern workforce.”

However, the real challenges of teaching and learning will not change, nor will they be solved by simply adopting a common curriculum. Teachers will still have to teach effectively and students will still have to apply themselves to learning what is being taught. In this regard, my starting point as a teacher is not to begin with telling students what I am going to teach, but asking students where they want to go, in essence, “Pick a Box.” This illustration outlines the general choices after high school that every young person will be confronted with, e.g., will you go to work, go to college, or enlist into the military? The salary is the median salary for each level of education, i.e., high school diploma, 4-year college degree, graduate degree, etc. (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2010).

Raising this question and getting students to affirm where they believe that they wan to go is as important for the kindergartener as it is for the twelfh-grader, perhaps even more so. The kindergarten student who affirms that he or she wants to become a doctor has 12 years to place learning within that context. He or she must apply his or herself to math and science, not to simply learn, but to know! If he or she is affirming that he or she wants to pursue a law degree, then developing language, critical thinking, debate, and an expanded vocabulary makes sense long before he or she begins prepping for the SAT or ACT as a high school student.

Once we better understand where students think that students want to go, then we can better connect them to the curriculum, albeit the Common State Standards or what is currently being taught. Interestingly, the vast majority of students affirm that they want to attend college as they enter elementary school, however, few students are prepared for college as they exit high school. The conversation is long overdue… “Pick a Box!”

Download the Slide…

Download the Illustration…


Reality Check!

The Wednesday, August 17 2011 edition of the Chicago Sun Times headline reads, “Illinois ACT scores: 3 in 4 NOT READY FOR COLLEGE.” However, the folk in Illinois may take some consolation in the fact that the same is true of student performance in most other states.

In a recent posting regarding the concept of “Backwards Mapping” I referred to student performance on the 2010 ACT. Unfortunately, there was little improvement in student performance on the 2011 ACT. English and Reading performance remained unchanged, Math performance increased 2 percentage points and Science performance increased 1 percentage point.

  • 66 percent of students were considered college-ready in English
  • 52 percent of students were considered college-ready in Reading
  • 45 percent of students were considered college-ready in Mathematics
  • 30 percent of students were considered college-ready in Science

The huge differences in the level of college readiness by race continued to be disappointing:

  • 41 percent of Asian students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • 31 percent of White students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • 15 percent of Pacific Islander students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • 11 percent of Native American students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • 11 percent of Hispanic students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas
  • 4 percent of Black students demonstrated college-readiness in all subject areas

Although student performance is bad, it is worst when considered within the context of student postsecondary expectations. Following are the percentages of students demonstrating college-readiness in all areas and the percentages of students with aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher:

  • 41 percent of Asian students are college ready while 84 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
  • 31 percent of White students are college ready while 85 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
  • 15 percent of Pacific Islander students are college ready while 84 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
  • 11 percent of Native American students are college ready while 78 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
  • 11 percent of Hispanic students are college ready while 78 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher
  • 4 percent of Black students are college ready while 80 percent have aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher

Clearly, something is wrong! How can so many students go through high school with aspirations of pursuing a 4-year college degree or higher and so few students are graduating from high school ready for college? Either our high schools are out of touch with what will be required for their students to succeed in college, our teachers are teaching students less than what their subjects require for students to be ready for college, or our children are out of touch with how they should be applying themselves in their high school coursework so that they are ready for college (which is what they are claiming to want). Perhaps there is a perfect storm in which all of these are true?

Nevertheless, as I previously posted,

“If you are a parent of an elementary and middle school student, then you should get copies of the ACT and SAT sample tests. Ensure that your child is being introduced to the type of problem solving, language, vocabulary, and core content necessary to perform well on either the SAT or ACT. Compare what your child is expected to know on the tests with what he or she is learning in school. As more schools focus almost exclusively on preparing your child for grade-level and standardized tests, your child may be short changed when it comes to developing the broad range of critical thinking and reasoning skills that he or she will need to ensure that he or she is ready for college.”

Download 2011 ACT Scores


It Happened to Them

Marilyn Anderson Rhames, a science teacher at a charter school in Chicago, Il, shares extraordinary insight in her blog about how teachers oftentimes view their schools and the children whom they teach.

“I stumbled in onto life-changing conversation in the teacher’s lounge. The chatter was animated. A few teachers were reminiscing about their classroom horror stories at other schools: John dashed out of the classroom … Sarah threatened to jump out the window, again … Angel knocked over bookshelves in a fit of rage …. And in my desire to fit in and one-up the last tale, I began to share about the unbelievable dysfunction at my old school. Even though I hadn’t yet earned my teaching certificate, I felt like I had earned some stripes. I was persevering to educate the youth despite the insanity within the urban public school system. I was the heroine of the story, fearless and unafraid.

‘It happened to them,’ were the four words that shut me and the other teachers up. ‘It happened to them, not to you. You tell the stories like it’s some kind of entertainment, but it happened to them—the kids. They are the ones who 30 years from now will remember these stories with tears in their eyes.’

It was the middle school social studies teacher. He was a demur white man in his late 30s who often wore cardigans like Mr. Rogers. Until then he had kept silent, even as each story gave rise to a higher level of ridiculousness. He went on to explain that he, too, used to complain and feel like the victim until another teacher rebuked him with those words. He felt compelled to pass that wisdom on.”

This truth has haunted me for the past eight years I’ve been teaching. I am only glad that I got set straight early in my teaching career. Some teachers never seem to get it. You know this when their debates about education reform are centered around teacher rights, and not student rights. Teachers’ needs are important—I have a mortgage; I have a family; I would like to retire one day—but they are not the core issue. The mission is bigger than us. Educators and policymakers must boil the chatter down to two essential questions: To what degree will this policy enhance student learning and how will we know?

Read more…