Posts published in February, 2014

Student Academic Work Should Be The Focus Of College Prep

By Will Fitzhugh, Concord Review

It is settled wisdom among Funderpundits and those to whom they give their grants that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality, but I have regularly pointed out that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work.

Now, however, a small number of other dissenting voices have begun to speak. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, in Academically Adrift have suggested that (p. 131) “Studying is crucial for strong academic performance…” and “Scholarship on teaching and learning has burgeoned over the past several decades and has emphasized the importance of shifting attention from faculty teaching to student learning…”

This may seem unacceptably heterodox to those in government and the private sector who have committed billions of dollars to focusing on the selection, training, supervision, and control of K-12 teachers, while giving no thought to whether K-12 students are actually doing the academic work which they are assigned.

In 2004, Paul A. Zoch, a teacher from Texas, wrote in Doomed to Fail:

“Let there be no doubt about it: the United States looks to its teachers and their efforts, but not to its students and their efforts, for success in education.”

More recently, and less on the fringe of this new concern, Diane Ravitch wrote in Death and Life of the Great American School System:

“One problem with test-based accountability, as currently defined and used, is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students’ academic performance. NCLB neglected to acknowledge that students share in the responsibility for their academic performance and that they are not merely passive recipients of their teachers’ influence.”

There are necessarily problems in turning attention toward the work of students in judging the effectiveness of schools. First, all the present attention is on teachers, and it is not easy to turn that around. Second, teachers are employees and can be fired, while students can not. It could not be comfortable for the Funderpundits and their beneficiaries to realize that they may have been overlooking the most important variable in student academic achievement all this time.

In February, when the Associated Press reported that Natalie Monroe, a high school English teacher in Pennsylvania, had called her students, on a blog, “disengaged, lazy whiners,” and “noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS,” the response of the school system was not to look more closely at the academic efforts of the students, but to suspend the teacher. As one of her students explained, “As far as motivated high school students, she’s completely correct. High school kids don’t want to do anything…(but) It’s a teacher’s job…to give students the motivation to learn.” (sic)

It would seem that no matter who points out that “You can lead a student to learning, but you can’t make him drink,” our systems of schools and Funderpundits stick with their wisdom that teachers alone are responsible for student academic achievement.

While that is wrong, it is also stupid. Alfred North Whitehead (or someone else) once wrote:

“For education, a man’s books and teachers are but a help, the real work is his.”

As in the old story about the drunk searching under the lamppost for his keys, those who control funds for education believe that as long as all their money goes to paying attention to what teachers are doing, who they are, how they are trained, and so on, they can’t see the point of looking in the darkness at those who have the complete and ultimate control over how much academic achievement there will be—namely the students.

Apart from scores on math and reading tests after all, student academic work is ignored by all those interested in paying to change the schools. What students do in literature, Latin, chemistry, math, and Asian history classes is of no interest to them. Liberal education is not only on the back burner for those focused on basic skills and job readiness as they define them, but that burner is also turned off at present.

This situation will persist as long as those funding programs and projects for reform in education pay no attention to the actual academic work of our students. And students, who see little or no pressure to be other than “disengaged lazy whiners” will continue to pay the price for their lack of education, both in college and at work, and we will continue to draw behind in comparison with those countries who realize that student academic achievement has always been, and will always be, mainly dependent on diligent student academic work.


8 Ways Technology Can Improve Student Writing

BY Melissa Burns

Modern technology offers incredibly efficient ways to improve the skills, techniques, and creativity of writing. Many students are struggling with their academic papers without knowing that the Internet offers an immense number of tools that can help them become better writers. Some students use mind mapping tools, others hire online tutoring or professional editing services, and you can also find a convenient way to boost your writing skills online.

In the continuation, we will provide a list of the most useful tools you can use to improve the academic success you achieve with your papers.

1. Citation generator Writinghouse is your salvation from the stressful and boring academic referencing. Regardless of the referencing style your professor asks you to implement (Harvard, Chicago, MLA or APA), you can apply it automatically on Writinghouse. The best part is that the tool is absolutely free, so there is no reason to avoid formatting the paper according to your professor’s requirements.

2. The professional editing services at will get the best out of your papers. No matter how great you are at writing, you could never correct all mistakes by yourself because everything in the content you wrote seems natural to you. When you order professional editing assistance at this website, your paper will be polished to perfection.

3. Criterion Online Writing Evaluation is an instructor-led writing tool that will help you plan, write and organize your papers. You will get immediate feedback on the progress of your paper, which you can use to improve the content and create its best version.

4. GradeMark is a tool that enables instructors to give valuable feedback to students. As a student, you can benefit from GradeMark through the five different types of feedback you will get:

  • Originality report, which will help you make your content plagiarism-free;
  • QuickMark Sets, which will allow your teacher or online tutor to insert comments within the paper. Having the comments in the appropriate place will help you understand where you made a mistake and how you can improve it;
  • Voice comments for a highly-personalized feedback on your papers;
  • Grading Rubrics that will help you understand what the teachers expect from you for the specific assignment;
  • General comments that will enable your tutor or teacher to evaluate the overall quality of your paper.

5. My Access! is an award-winning writing and assessment solution that provides immediate feedback on your content, motivating you to write more. The program covers more than 1,500 topics in social studies, language arts, science, and math. When you create the paper, this tool will immediately provide you with feedback in the following categories: Language Use, Voice, and Style; Organization; Content and Development; Mechanics and Conventions; and Focus and Meaning.

6. Odyssey Writer is a convenient tool that makes the process of composing content much more efficient and less time-consuming. The tool will stimulate your desire to work on papers by making writing fun. Odyssey Writer will navigate you through the four writing phrases by using interesting techniques.

7. StoryBird will enable you to express your thoughts more creatively by helping you to create short stories inspired by beautiful art. You can also read other users’ stories on the website, as well as share your own creations.

8. TutorsClass is a tutoring platform where you can communicate with licensed tutors and ask for any type of academic help you need. When it comes to the quality of your writing, you will appreciate the feedback from a real educator who will prepare you how to get great grades from your teacher at school. If you don’t have any ideas about a particular topic and you need a little push, the professional tutor from this service will help you with valuable advice and feedback.

Conclusion: Technology will improve your writing!

Technology tools can come to the rescue whenever you’re stuck with your papers. Whether you need ideas or something to boost your creativity and effectiveness – you can find everything you could possibly need online. There is no need to search for a good tutor in your area and arrange awkward meetings in person when everything is much simpler and easier online. You can get feedback on your papers, find tools that will help you manage your time faster and get your papers evaluated online.

When you have all these resources to use, paper writing can become a fun and inspiring activity you won’t love to avoid anymore.

Melissa is a student of journalism. She is passionate about digital technologies and tries to implement them in the sphere of education.

The Problems With Huge Data For Postsecondary

By Dr. Watson Scott Swail, President & Senior Research Scientist, Educational Policy Institute

There seems to be renewed interest in the collection of student unit record in higher education. Back in 2008 during the reauthorization of the Higher Education Act (HEA), a provision was added to the law that restricted the federal government from collecting student-based unit record data. This followed a multi-year dialogue about how to improve the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System, better known as IPEDS, which collects massive amounts of data from every Title IV institution (i.e., institutions that are eligible to deliver federal financial aid). Data collected include student enrollment, retention, graduation, and even other areas such as institutional finances.

However, there was a huge revolt against the idea that the federal government would collect such private information about college students. The worry being that student unit record data, including student IDs, names, and addresses, would be poached by some non-government entity and used in a harmful way (like, Target would be in charge of the data!). For us policy wonks, we generally thought that this was kind of stupid on several accounts, the first being that there is enough encryption security firewall technology to band against this, and second, because the feds have individual data anyway through both the IRS and student financial aid systems. But let’s not quibble. The HEA language that followed was written by congressional devolutionists to ensure that the feds couldn’t have their hands on individual student records.Fast forward six years and much has changed, due in large part to President Obama’s call for a College Ratings System. Now there exists a renewed sense of what the federal government should be able to do, with one problem: they made it illegal to collect unit record data in 2008.

Last week, the US Department of Education held a one-day symposium on the technical issues related to the College Ratings System. When asked about how best to deal with some of these issues, many experts, including Virginia’s Tod Massa, stated that the federal government will require better data if they want to inform a federal rating system. In Massa’s words, “To the department, I say this: We need better data. Let me rephrase that: You need better data.”

Currently, IPEDS requires institutions to provide aggregate data on retention and completion (on time, 150, and 200 percent of time) for first-time, full-time students. It does not ask about part-time students and it doesn’t tell us anything about what happens with students who do not graduate or are possibly still enrolled. This is a considerable problem when many schools graduate less than 30 percent of their students. That leaves two thirds adrift in the data and adrift in public policy.

Several states have created data warehouses that track every student from kindergarten to and through college. Florida, for one, has one of the most comprehensive data warehouses in the nation and can track students who transfer to another institution. But even for states like Florida, the long-arm of the data system has its limits at the border. They are not able to track students who transfer to institutions in other states. The backdoor way of doing that now is through the non-profit National Student Clearinghouse (NSC), which tracks approximately 90 percent of higher education students. So, the state or institution can run a query through the NSC’s Student Tracker to find out if a particular student is enrolled at another out-of-state institution and if they graduated. The downside is that the variables available for query are limited. As well, most students, but not all, are trackable in the system. So the NSC works well, but is not a perfect solution.

The College Ratings System dialogue is a door opener for the US Department of Education to get the data they really want. To get at college ratings they need better data. To get better data, they have to change the federal law. Many members of congress, especially Republicans, are against this type of “federal intervention.”

However, on February 9, 2012, Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Marc Rubio (R-FL) introduced the “Student Right to Know Before You Go” Act, a piece of legislation designed to build upon 1990s Student Right to Know Act, the original law requiring Title IV institutions to provide retention and graduation rates. The new legislation would require “more accurate and complete” data on these issues, including salary information of graduates. Three months later, to the day, Republican Duncan Hunter introduced a parallel bill in the House for similar legislation. When asked why now, Hunter said, “privacy is easier now. We’re at the point where you could have this information and aggregate it together with no privacy issues whatsoever.”

Both bills have sat in their respective committees. The impending presidential election in fall of 2012, followed by a record-low level of accomplishment by the 113th Congress (2013-14), kept this and many other bills from discussion or vote.

While there exist arguments against the creation of a federal unit record data system, there is no good argument that supplants reason. For the creation of prudent public policy, we need better data, which starts with a student unit-record data system that encompasses not only higher education, but starts at Pre-K and continues throughout the education continuum and into the workforce. The technology is available; we have a historically-proven ability to collect these data (e.g., IRS); and perhaps most importantly, it can happen without creating undue burdens on the institutions of higher education. In the end, the institutions are perhaps the greatest stakeholder in this matter, because they should want to and need to know what happens to the students that choose to leave their institutions.

Many questions remain, of course, including what happens with the National Student Clearinghouse? Who controls the data? And what variables and data are collected? But these are manageable issues that can be resolved with conferencing

It’s time to put politics and disingenuous diatribes against the development of a comprehensive, student-unit record data system aside. We need better policy, and better policy is only achievable through better data.

Educational Policy Institute
3172 Indian Plantation Drive
Virginia Beach Virginia 23456
United States



Savings From Part Time Hires Undercut by Admin And Other Hires

Colleges are relying more on part-time faculty to meet instructional demands and rein in costs, but increased hiring for other types of positions has undercut those savings, a new report by AIR’s Delta Cost Project finds. Co-author Donna Desrochers describes the findings. See AIR website.

Building Guided Pathways To College Completion

New postsecondary students often enroll with no idea what to study or why. Those students who embark on a defined program the first year are much more likely to complete a degree or move on to a four-year institution than students who don’t enter a program until the second year or later. This paper describes how a growing number of colleges and universities have redesigned academic programs and support services to create guided pathways and increase the rate at which students enter and complete. (Community College Research Center)  via ECS

Colleges Create Unnecessary Barriers To Financial Aid

From New America’s Rachel Fishman. According to a Congressional report released this week, some colleges illegally require students to file unnecessary paperwork to be considered for aid. Read more at  Ed Central.


Increasing Access,Success In Dual Enrollment

ECS identified 13 model state-level policy components to increase student participation and success in dual enrollment programs. These components fall under four broad categories: access, finance, ensuring course quality and transferability of credit. Highlights of state laws containing these components are incorporated throughout this report.

High Schools Undermine College Readiness

What’s Holding Back American Teenagers?

Our high schools are a disaster.

By Laurence Steinberg

Slate, February 2014


High school, where kids socialize, show off their clothes, use their phones—and, oh yeah, go to class.

Every once in a while, education policy squeezes its way onto President Obama’s public agenda, as it did in during last month’s State of the Union address. Lately, two issues have grabbed his (and just about everyone else’s) attention: early-childhood education and access to college. But while these scholastic bookends are important, there is an awful lot of room for improvement between them. American high schools, in particular, are a disaster.

In international assessments, our elementary school students generally score toward the top of the distribution, and our middle school students usually place somewhat above the average. But our high school students score well below the international average, and they fare especially badly in math and science compared with our country’s chief economic rivals.

What’s holding back our teenagers?

One clue comes from a little-known 2003 study based on OECD data that compares the world’s 15-year-olds on two measures of student engagement: participation and “belongingness.” The measure of participation was based on how often students attended school, arrived on time, and showed up for class. The measure of belongingness was based on how much students felt they fit in to the student body, were liked by their schoolmates, and felt that they had friends in school. We might think of the first measure as an index of academic engagement and the second as a measure of social engagement.

On the measure of academic engagement, the U.S. scored only at the international average, and far lower than our chief economic rivals: China, Korea, Japan, and Germany. In these countries, students show up for school and attend their classes more reliably than almost anywhere else in the world. But on the measure of social engagement, the United States topped China, Korea, and Japan.

In America, high school is for socializing. It’s a convenient gathering place, where the really important activities are interrupted by all those annoying classes. For all but the very best American students—the ones in AP classes bound for the nation’s most selective colleges and universities—high school is tedious and unchallenging. Studies that have tracked American adolescents’ moods over the course of the day find that levels of boredom are highest during their time in school.

It’s not just No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top that has failed our adolescents—it’s every single thing we have tried.

One might be tempted to write these findings off as mere confirmation of the well-known fact that adolescents find everything boring. In fact, a huge proportion of the world’s high school students say that school is boring. But American high schools are even more boring than schools in nearly every other country, according to OECD surveys. And surveys of exchange students who have studied in America, as well as surveys of American adolescents who have studied abroad, confirm this. More than half of American high school students who have studied in another country agree that our schools are easier. Objectively, they are probably correct: American high school students spend far less time on schoolwork than their counterparts in the rest of the world.

Trends in achievement within the U.S. reveal just how bad our high schools are relative to our schools for younger students. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, administered by the U.S. Department of Education, routinely tests three age groups: 9-year-olds, 13-year-olds, and 17-year-olds. Over the past 40 years, reading scores rose by 6 percent among 9-year-olds and 3 percent among 13-year-olds. Math scores rose by 11 percent among 9-year-olds and 7 percent among 13-year-olds.

By contrast, high school students haven’t made any progress at all. Reading and math scores have remained flat among 17-year-olds, as have their scores on subject area tests in science, writing, geography, and history. And by absolute, rather than relative, standards, American high school students’ achievement is scandalous.

In other words, over the past 40 years, despite endless debates about curricula, testing, teacher training, teachers’ salaries, and performance standards, and despite billions of dollars invested in school reform, there has been no improvement—none—in the academic proficiency of American high school students.

It’s not just No Child Left Behind or Race to the Top that has failed our adolescents—it’s every single thing we have tried. The list of unsuccessful experiments is long and dispiriting. Charter high schools don’t perform any better than standard public high schools, at least with respect to student achievement. Students whose teachers “teach for America” don’t achieve any more than those whose teachers came out of conventional teacher certification programs. Once one accounts for differences in the family backgrounds of students who attend public and private high schools, there is no advantage to going to private school, either. Vouchers make no difference in student outcomes. No wonder school administrators and teachers from Atlanta to Chicago to my hometown of Philadelphia have been caught fudging data on student performance. It’s the only education strategy that consistently gets results.

The especially poor showing of high schools in America is perplexing. It has nothing to do with high schools having a more ethnically diverse population than elementary schools. In fact, elementary schools are more ethnically diverse than high schools, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics. Nor do high schools have more poor students. Elementary schools in America are more than twice as likely to be classified as “high-poverty” than secondary schools. Salaries are about the same for secondary and elementary school teachers. They have comparable years of education and similar years of experience. Student-teacher ratios are the same in our elementary and high schools. So are the amounts of time that students spend in the classroom. We don’t shortchange high schools financially either; American school districts actually spend a little more per capita on high school students than elementary school students.

Our high school classrooms are not understaffed, underfunded, or underutilized, by international standards. According to a 2013 OECD report, only Luxembourg, Norway, and Switzerland spend more per student. Contrary to widespread belief, American high school teachers’ salaries are comparable to those in most European and Asian countries, as are American class sizes and student-teacher ratios. And American high school students actually spend as many or more hours in the classroom each year than their counterparts in other developed countries.

This underachievement is costly: One-fifth of four-year college entrants and one-half of those entering community college need remedial education, at a cost of $3 billion each year.

The president’s call for expanding access to higher education by making college more affordable, while laudable on the face of it, is not going to solve our problem. The president and his education advisers have misdiagnosed things. The U.S. has one of the highest rates of college entry in the industrialized world. Yet it is tied for last in the rate of college completion. More than one-third of U.S. students who enter a full-time, two-year college program drop out just after one year, as do about one fifth of students who enter a four-year college. In other words, getting our adolescents to go to college isn’t the issue. It’s getting them to graduate.

If this is what we hope to accomplish, we need to rethink high school in America. It is true that providing high-quality preschool to all children is an important component of comprehensive education reform. But we can’t just do this, cross our fingers, and hope for the best. Early intervention is an investment, not an inoculation.

In recent years experts in early-child development have called for programs designed to strengthen children’s “non-cognitive” skills, pointing to research that demonstrates that later scholastic success hinges not only on conventional academic abilities but on capacities like self-control. Research on the determinants of success in adolescence and beyond has come to a similar conclusion: If we want our teenagers to thrive, we need to help them develop the non-cognitive traits it takes to complete a college degree—traits like determination, self-control, and grit. This means classes that really challenge students to work hard—something that fewer than one in six high school students report experiencing, according to Diploma to Nowhere, a 2008 report published by Strong American Schools. Unfortunately, our high schools demand so little of students that these essential capacities aren’t nurtured. As a consequence, many high school graduates, even those who have acquired the necessary academic skills to pursue college coursework, lack the wherewithal to persevere in college. Making college more affordable will not fix this problem, though we should do that too.

The good news is that advances in neuroscience are revealing adolescence to be a second period of heightened brain plasticity, not unlike the first few years of life. Even better, brain regions that are important for the development of essential non-cognitive skills are among the most malleable. And one of the most important contributors to their maturation is pushing individuals beyond their intellectual comfort zones.  

It’s time for us to stop squandering this opportunity. Our kids will never rise to the challenge if the challenge doesn’t come.

Laurence Steinberg is a psychology professor at Temple University and author of the forthcoming Age of Opportunity: Revelations from the New Science of Adolescence.


Students Choose Lower Level Colleges: Is the Research Overrated?

This analysis is getting a lot of national attention:

The idea behind “undermatching” is that many academically talented, low-income students who could succeed at top colleges are not applying to, enrolling in or graduating from them. Research on the topic has attracted widespread attention. But a new analysis argues that some key assumptions behind much of the research are flawed — and that new studies are needed to determine how much of the theory holds. (Inside Higher Ed, 02/10/14)

6 New Places To Find College Cash

By Sarah Brooks:

The cost of higher education places burdens on family budgets, prompting creative searches for college cash.  If you are getting ready to start college, or enrolling in another type of post-secondary program, you are in-store for a reality-check funding higher education.

 The cost of college doesn’t end with tuition payments; they are only the beginning.  Housing, books, transportation and other costs of living strain college funds, representing significant add-on expenses alongside tuition.  So where is the money going to come from?

 Higher education is financed individually, but you’ll find significant support from the public and private sectors.  Government agencies, for example, contribute extensively to college relief, furnishing at least some funding for most students taking-on post-secondary education.  As you craft your college financing strategy, resources offered by the U. S. Department of Education provide essential inputs for managing higher education expenses.

Government grants, for example, furnish funding that doesn’t require repayment.  While programs are income-based, the Federal Government has deep pockets, extending college aid to families of various means.  Beyond grants, the William D. Ford Federal Direct Loan Program issues funding for higher education.  Part of many students’ financial aid packages, government-backed loans are eventually paid back, but they are offered with interest rates and repayment schedules that are much more reasonable than students would find in the private sector.

 While mainstream financial aid eases the burden for countless students headed for college, it doesn’t always cover the whole tab for higher education.  To bridge the affordability gap, students turn toward these unique sources of college aid; rounding out funding for higher education.


Applying for federal financial aid starts with a standardized form called the FAFSA.  The document gathers information about your finances, enabling financial aid administrators to construct aid packages appropriate for your needs.  In many cases, filing a FAFSA also initiates your quest for state aid.  Financial aid officials at your college have the most up-to-date information about policies in your state, so they should be consulted when enrolling.  State college funding is limited, so early application gives you the best chance of securing funds.  Failing to fully explore state financial aid options leaves money on the table for college students needing it most.

Your Parents Employer

The key to securing financial aid for college is utilizing all the resources available to you.  Where you live, your ethnic background, and the subjects you study each open doors to financial aid.  But did you know your parent’s employer might have funding available for you?

Employers hold vested interests in training future workers, and they understand your parent’s position, paying for college.  As a result, some employers offer incentives for family members, like scholarships and grants.  You may strike-out, but it pays to ask mom and dad to put you in-touch with company resources.

Work- for-Tuition Arrangements

Some of the most generous financial aid available comes from programs specifically targeting certain vocations.  Currently, the nursing and teaching professions are experiencing shortages of qualified graduates.  To recruit promising candidates, various incentive programs furnish college tuition money, in exchange for service following graduation.  Participating students who complete their obligations; usually two or three year stints working in shortage areas, essentially earn free higher education.

Aid for Foster Children

Special circumstances yield financial aid targeting certain members of society.  If you are, or ever have been a foster child, exclusive funding resources may be available.  In addition to widespread state aid for foster kids, private agencies and foundations also step-up with financial aid programs.

Major Corporations

Scholarships are issued for excellence in academics and athletics, emerging from a wide variety of foundations and educational benefactors.  Major corporations, especially those operating in forward fields requiring the best and brightest minds, issue their own financial aid packages to promising students.  Apple, for example, supports education through scholarships in STEM subjects, assisting future leaders in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Tuition Reimbursement Programs

The face of education continues to evolve, with more and more students returning to school to enhance credentials.  TRPs are initiated by companies and other entities in support of employee education and certification.

Company sponsored tuition plans are each unique to the companies funding them, so it is important to review terms and conditions before counting on the aid they provide.  Certain programs, for instance, only cover courses specifically related to your primary job with the company.  In other instances, benchmarks must be met, like earning degrees or a certain number of credits, before tuition reimbursement kicks in.  Whatever is offered, these programs furnish generous assistance for workers able to utilize them.

 Author Bio:

This is a guest post by Sarah Brooks from She is a Houston based freelance writer and blogger. Questions and comments can be sent to brooks.sarah23 @