Posts published in April, 2010

Secondary School Writing Teachers Need A New Job Structure To Enhance College Readiness

Guest blogger Will Fitzhugh, Concord Review :

A survey of college professors done a couple of years ago by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that 90% of them thought the students they were seeing were not very well prepared in reading, doing research, and writing. 


The Diploma to Nowhere report from 2008 found that more than one million of our high school graduates, with diploma and college acceptances in hand, are put into remedial courses when they arrive at college. The California State College people reported at a conference in Philadelphia last fall that 47% of their Freshman were in remedial writing courses. I asked the Director of Composition at Stanford if they had any remedial writing courses, and she told me that, no, all Freshman had to take a composition course.


So, what is the matter with all those public high school English and History teachers, that they are not preparing our graduates for college writing tasks? Many public high school teachers have five classes of thirty students each. With 150 students, if the teacher assigns a 20-page paper, she/he will have 3,000 pages of student research and writing to read, consider, and correct when they come in. If she/he takes an hour on each paper, that would require 150 hours work, or 30 days at five hours a day. 


Even teachers who do a lot of their preparation and correcting after regular school hours, at night and on the weekends, do not have 150 hours to go over research papers.


As a result, they do not assign them, students do not learn how to do the reading and writing required, and colleges (and students) complain when students arrive unprepared.


A sensible solution, it seems to me, would be to provide a Reading Period of perhaps eight school days for History and English teachers to do the necessary work to prepare their students for serious academic papers. This will seem excessive and unmanageable to administrators, but not, perhaps, if they consider the extra time already allotted in our public high schools for other things, like band practice, layup drills for basketball, yearbook, concerts, football and baseball practice, and on and on and on, when it comes to non-academic purposes. 


If we do give the necessary time for teachers of English and History to work with their students on research papers, and to evaluate their work, I believe our students will learn how to read complete nonfiction books and to write serious term papers, but if we continue to expect the impossible of our teachers, they will continue to ask less academically of their students than they can do, and students will continue to suffer the consequences. to reach Will Fitzhugh




New Federally Financed Secondary School Assessments Should Help College Readiness

Most statewide secondary school assessments are multiple choice to keep costs low and improve reliability.  For example, California tests are all multiple choice except writing in grade 7 State tests  often lack the complexity to align with college standards. Competition has opened for $350 million in Race to the Top funds to design new ways of assessing students. Rules for the contest make clear that the federal  government wants to leave behind multiple-choice testing more often in favor of essays, multidisciplinary projects, and other more nuanced and valid measures of achievement. The final regulations indicate that the Department of Education is seeking tests that show what students have learned, as well as how that achievement has grown over time and whether they are on track to do well in college.

More Evidence Of Rapid Growth At For- Profit Postsecondary Education

The for -profit sector is accelerating in its  growth of market share. Six years ago, there were almost three times as many students enrolled in private nonprofit colleges as there were at for-profit institutions. By 2008-9, that ratio had slipped to about 2 to 1, according to a National Center for Education Statistics report on postsecondary education trends. The report also provides an initial peek at how the continuing economic downturn has begun to reshape the enrollment and financial picture of higher education. Women are more likely to graduate within four, five, or six years at all institution types except for-profit colleges.

College enrollment grew to 19.6 million students, and 76% first time, full time students  had some form of  financial aid.

Community College Crisis In California Causes Drop Outs And Delay

an article from the New York Times, April 8, 2010:


Monica McCarthy, an academic counselor at City College of San Francisco for eight years, has worked with thousands of community college students hoping to transfer to state universities.

But lately she has encountered more and more state university students clamoring to enroll in community college classes.

“It’s been crazy,” Ms. McCarthy said. “I have a lot of students from San Francisco State saying, ‘I can’t get into my lower-division classes at State. I need to come in here.’ ”

Not that there are seats to spare at San Francisco’s community college. From last fall to this spring, City College cut 710 classes of the 8,800 it planned to offer. This summer’s session has been canceled, and with it about another 860 classes were lost. One thousand six hundred and fifty-five students who tried to register in fall 2009 did not get into any classes at all, up from 635 in fall 2005, evidence that the ideal of universal access to education is increasingly unattainable.

Some City College students are now turning to other Bay Area colleges, like Laney College in Oakland, to try to fit into summer classes.

In the Continuing Student Counseling Department, Ms. McCarthy, 44, works with many students whose academic progress has slowed if not stalled. The California State University system closed the spring semester this year to students transferring in from other institutions. Shut out, City College students who had been poised to transfer find themselves in educational limbo, taking classes they do not really need, while waiting to move up to a university in the fall.

“They’re hanging out, taking up seat space,” Ms. McCarthy said in her office on the Ocean Campus. “I say that with love.”

As some students are blocked from state universities, the community college system has trouble absorbing both them and the laid-off workers who are going back to school for retraining. All are trying to fit into a community college system that lost $520 million in state financing over the last academic year, about 8 percent of its overall budget.

“It’s a perfect storm,” said Michael W. Kirst, professor emeritus of education and business administration at Stanford University. “There’s more demand and fewer courses. Four-year schools can buffer themselves from this storm by restricting enrollment and drastically increasing their tuition. The community colleges take the top 100 percent of students, whether they’re young or old.”

More students vying for fewer classes means fewer will meet their educational goals.

“The longer students cannot take the classes they want or need, the less likely it is that they will complete the program they want,” said Professor Kirst, a past president of the California State Board of Education. “They run out of money. They run out of time. They just give up at some point.”

This academic year, overall enrollment in community colleges has declined about 1 percent from last year’s record enrollment of 2.89 million. “We’re almost like a retail store that has more customers than it can handle,” said Jack Scott, chancellor of California Community Colleges.

City College of San Francisco lost $13.6 million in state financing this academic year. In October, it held a garage sale and flea market to raise money to try to save classes, offering donated items like bicycles, golf clubs and books. That effort preserved just two classes.

Donations boxes at the college’s Ocean Campus bookstore and cafeteria are now soliciting cash and checks to help restore more classes in the fall. In three weeks, students, faculty and staff members and administrators have pitched in $7,000.

Even with all the cutbacks, the academic program has done better than services, like counseling. “Sacramento disproportionately cut student services,” said Lindy McKnight, City College’s dean of counseling and student support.

An effect of the counseling reductions is student confusion about which classes to take, potentially delaying their progress.

Andrew Todd, 21, a computer science major at City College, has also studied at California Polytechnic State University and Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo, making it harder to figure out which classes will count toward a bachelor’s degree at San Francisco State, where he hopes to enroll.

“I’ve been trying to talk to counselors about this,” Mr. Todd said. Yet, only once this semester has he met with one, and that was for a 15-minute drop-in session. “I haven’t been able to lay out an educational plan,” he said.

Mr. Todd counted on taking classes at City College this summer, but now he is looking for a full-time summer job.

Christa Collins, 35, had an associate’s degree from Richland College in Dallas when she came to City College in 2008 to complete requirements for transferring to San Francisco State to study health education. Her goal is a master’s degree in social work.

“I’m stuck here at City College,” Ms. Collins said. An administrative mix-up with her out-of-state transcript prevented Ms. Collins’s admission to San Francisco State last fall. Then, the California State University system closed spring admission.

“It’s been really hard to keep the momentum towards finishing my degree because I’ve had doors slammed in my face,” said Ms. Collins, who has lived in San Francisco for more than a decade, working in sales for a skin-care company and as a waitress.

Stymied, Ms. Collins sought advice from Ms. McCarthy.

“She is the one who helped me figure out that there were a couple of classes I could take so I am not just completely spinning my wheels, wasting time,” Ms. Collins said. Just three of the eight classes she took from last fall to this spring are transferable toward her degree.

Ms. McCarthy and other counselors have less time to help students like Ms. Collins. At City College, more than 10,000 counseling hours have been cut this academic year. Counseling is no longer offered on Friday. Only very limited counseling will be available this summer when students register for fall classes.

During “Xpress Counseling” hours, when students can drop in for sessions of 10 or 15 minutes, Ms. McCarthy finds herself saying “I’m sorry” a lot because there is rarely time to answer all their questions. Her hourlong counseling appointments are booked weeks in advance. “We’re trying to figure out which way to go, but we’re just busy bailing water out of the boat, so we’re not sinking,” she said.

One of three children of a single, disabled mother, Ms. McCarthy was the first in her own family to get a college degree. Like many of those she counsels, she took a meandering path through higher education. After high school, Ms. McCarthy attended a community college in Los Angeles, where she was put on academic probation.

Years later, after stints cleaning houses and selling cars, working in a candy factory and behind a hotel front desk, Ms. McCarthy came to City College, where a counselor inspired her to go on to become one herself, transferring to San Francisco State, where she received both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. “I’m a product of community colleges,” she said.

Ms. McCarthy remains hopeful about the future of public education: “I’m forever an optimist. I think Sacramento has got to figure it out.”

How A Locality Can Design An Effective College Readiness Strategy

Guest blogger Katheryn Horton



California State University trustees have put their collective foot down: No longer will remedial math or English be a part of the university system’s regular course offerings. Starting in 2012, students who fail to place in college-level courses after taking the CSU English and math placement exams must take CSU-developed courses during their senior year in high school, or online in summer school before starting college their freshman year.


Twenty-eight percent of Sonoma County students who entered into a CSU school in 2008 had to take remedial math and 32 percent had to take remedial English. The statewide percentages, to provide perspective, were 37 percent and 40 percent respectively). These numbers, now more than ever, present a certain challenge to our high schools.


This change at CSU will push high schools to better target those students who are not yet prepared for college. One way to asses this is through the optional college readiness assessment high school juniors take to find out if senior-year remediation is necessary. High schools also must develop a school-wide plan to assure that students are, in fact, academically ready for the rigors of college.


Over the past five years, the subject of college/workforce preparedness has been on the front burner for Sonoma County educators, who are attempting to better connect the K-12 system with the state college and university systems. The Sonoma County Office of Education, in partnership with Sonoma State University, is training English teachers in CSU-directed curriculum that addresses college preparedness. To date, 43 high school teachers in the county have received intensive training in CSU’s expository reading and writing course.


Additionally, teachers from across local educational segments – K-12, Santa Rosa Junior College, Sonoma State and UC Davis – have been meeting monthly for the past three years to analyze student transition data and design interventions that may positively impact student achievement.


One innovation that emerged from the math group is a summer “Jump-Start to College-Level Math” course, which is offered free to graduated seniors who are planning to attend SRJC in the fall. Students take the SRJC math placement test before and after a two-week intensive program. Results are promising: Every student last summer raised his or her score on the placement test enough to place in the next level math class offered.


Regional instructors in English and science also meet monthly. These groups also are finding gaps and developing interventions to help the students in our region.


Finally, the Sonoma County Office of Education and Santa Rosa Junior College invested seed money this year to develop a program to strengthen the college-going culture in all of the county’s K-12 schools. Last November, the presidents of both Sonoma State University and Santa Rosa Junior College signed documents that promise the opportunity of a college education to every student in a Sonoma County school district that takes part in the program.


In the next few years, many regional students will have the opportunity to sign a pledge in sixth through ninth grades stating that they agree to take rigorous coursework throughout high school, engage in tutoring as needed and participate in all college meetings, activities and field trips their school will offer. Sonoma State, in return, promises that all students who fulfill the pledge will receive automatic entrance. Santa Rosa Junior College promises one-on-one facilitation and access to full-tuition scholarships and financial aid.


No doubt, CSU’s move to push remediation back into the high schools will create a greater need to adjust some existing college prep courses, offer new college-prep courses and better identify those students who assess as “not yet prepared” on the college-readiness assessment. But thankfully, a great number of Sonoma County educators are already moving in a direction to effectively take on this charge. What is needed next is more resources to support these important changes.


Katheryn Horton is an educational consultant from Santa Rosa.This content was originally published in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat on March 28, 2010.







New Federal Grant Competition Encourages Colleges To Use Secondary School Assessments For Placement

 Secretary Duncan release guidance for a 350 million competition to design and inplement new secondary school assessments. Here is the college linkage as reported by Education Week blogger Michele McNeil in her useful k-12 politics blog :

According to the final regulations out today, a consortium, to be eligible for the awards, must be at least 15 states big. The department is expecting to give out one to two awards, at around $160 million each, according to the application materials. For insight into what these assessments might look like, read my colleague Catherine Gewertz’s story on the run-up to the competition.

Even as EdWeek reporters begin wading through the 85 pages of regulations and even more hoops in application materials, intrepid Teacher Beat reporter Stephen Sawchuk already has found one noteworthy item about this competition: If states get letters of support from their colleges and universities, saying, for example, that they’ll use these tests to exempt students from remedial work, then states will get bonus points in the competition

Community College Transfer Is Best Pathway For Increasing Latino Stem Graduates

Whether by choice or by necessity, community colleges are the dominant institution for Latino students. So to the extent that Latinos are underrepresented among bachelor’s degree recipients in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, increasing the flow of STEM students from community colleges to four-year institutions – and better ensuring the success of those who go on to Hispanic-serving institutions – is likely to be the best way to attack that deficit, a new report argues

Obama Student Aid Overhaul Is A Limited Achievement

 The strategy of attaching the student aid bill to the health bill worked in terms of passing something big. The private lenders were excluded from making government guaranteed loans, and this type of lending will come directly from The US Education Department. This will lower student interest costs, and help college completion. But the  small increases in the Pell grants were not what Obama wanted, and essentially keeps the program where it is now in terms of the maximum grant. There is no additional legislative strategy visible to help the Pell grants keep up with tuition increases.

Study Reveals Major Problems When Community Colleges Initially Enroll Students

Community colleges enroll about 50% of first year students. Most first-time community college students say they feel welcome at their institutions, but few receive information during orientation that is critical to their success. Most say they have the motivation and skills it takes to succeed, but also adopt behaviors that are detrimental to their performance in the classroom. A new survey grades institutions on six benchmarks: “early connections, high expectations and aspirations, clear academic plan and pathway, effective track to college readiness, engaged learning, and academic and social support network. This study indicates the enrollment process needs a major overhaul, but where is the money going to come from?

End Of Course Exams Replace High School Basic Skills Assessments

Florida is one of several state moving away from generic English and math tests that cut across grades, and are not linked to specific high school courses like algebra 2 and biology, A Florida legislative proposal would phase in requirements that students take geometry, biology, algebra II, chemistry or physics by 2013-14. The state would then require students to pass end of course tests in those subjects, phasing in the new exams by 2014-15. Those tests would replace the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, or FCAT. The measure also requires students who start high school in 2013-14 to take at least one online class, orders high schools to offer some college-level courses and would allow students to bypass some courses by taking an end-of-course test