kitchen table math, the sequel: global shmobal

Thursday, February 9, 2012

global shmobal

Still trying to persuade my district to adopt college readiness as a goal.

A couple of years ago, when our then-superintendent was writing her second Strategic Plan, I lobbied the administration to include the words "college preparation" on the Plan. No dice.

Our high school's publicly stated philosophy: "It's better to be happy than to get into a selective college." When I say "publicly stated," I mean publicly stated: the high school principal says these words publicly. It's more important to be happy than to get into a selective college. Last spring, one of the two candidates for school board - the candidate we did not support - quoted the h.s. principal at the candidates' forum. The candidate said he'd spoken to the principal of the high school, and the principal had told him it's more important for students to be happy than to get into a good college "no matter how much parents obsess over it."

He won in a landslide.

Westchester school districts aren't too interested in college readiness, and there's no pressure on them to change.

20 comments:

FedUpMom said...

I think it's important to define what you mean by "college readiness". My district is all about college, but they think it's just about workload. The theory is that if you pile enough work on the kids, you're preparing them for college. Our high-school students are completely overwhelmed and stressed out. I doubt they're learning much either, since the work is about quantity rather than quality. We've got the situation described in "Race to Nowhere", where the kids are completely stressed out, and have to take remedial classes when they finally get to college.

Jen said...

Agreeing with Fed-Up Mom -- I think! My job is to create "happy" kids. That is, to deliver to school children who can learn in a group setting without hogging all the attention and without disturbing the learning of other students.

HOWEVER, if that's my part, then the school's part really has to be educating my children. They have to be at least a little challenged, given a least some of the work on their level -- note I'm not asking for fascinating or exciting (not that I'd turn them down), just for academic appropriateness.

Crimson Wife said...

Well, I don't want my kids to be absolutely miserable and stressed out because of hypercompetition. Getting into a selective college isn't the be-all and end-all like many parents in my social circle believe. I want my children to get a rigorous education that will provide a foundation for course work at an Ivy caliber school. However, I think winning admission to the "right" school is less important than the academic preparation necessary for success in college. There are plenty of smart, successful people who never attended an elite college.

Catherine Johnson said...

Getting into a selective college isn't the be-all and end-all like many parents in my social circle believe.

I certainly agree with that, BUT that is a value for the parents to decide, not the school.

My district's stance - "It's more important to be happy than to get into a good school" - amounts to saying "If your child can't get into SUNY Binghamton, that's fine. You can always shell out $50K/yr for a no-name liberal arts college."

The school should prepare students to succeed in high-level college work.

AND I believe the school should do that by teaching efficiently and well, NOT by pitting students against each other via grade deflation and rationing of seats in Honors courses and all the rest of the folderol you see in affluent suburban districts.

Chris's Jesuit school has done a terrific job of preparing him to do advanced work in history, English, foreign language - and possibly in science. (Definitely not math.)

The school did that **without** creating a pressure cooker academic life. Exactly the opposite.

High joy, high discipline: that's the ticket.

Catherine Johnson said...

FedUp Mom wrote: We've got the situation described in "Race to Nowhere", where the kids are completely stressed out, and have to take remedial classes when they finally get to college.

RIGHT!

The whole idea that you prepare kids for admission to and success in an elite school by making life miserable in high school is simply wrong.

Chris, at this point, is prepared.

That said, I think his writing could be better....BUT Ed is actually a historian teaching history at NYU, and he says Chris is completely on par with his students. (He may have said Chris is ahead of some of them - I don't remember.)

Chris has had a very happy four years at his Jesuit school. A joyful time, actually. That school has got to be one of the happiest places on Earth.

The only time he was intensely stressed was when he had a teacher who couldn't teach.

Stress and over-work are NOT the hallmark of a good college preparatory education -- or, at least, they don't have to be.

SteveH said...

Catherine wrote in the link:

"“Preparing Students for a Global Society.” I would dearly love to see that goal revised to read: “Preparing Students for a Selective College or University.”"

The former goal is vague and meaningless whereas Catherine's goal is specific and meaningful. Selective doesn't necessarily mean Ivy League. It means that schools should focus on specific goals that open doors for students. Considering all of the wasted effort that goes on in schools, preparing for specifically-targeted material should not add stress. This should reduce stress.

This would even apply to kids headed for an electronics program at a vocational school. Why take four years of math that goes in the wrong direction? That would add stress.


"It's more important to be happy than to get into a selective college."

"no matter how much parents obsess over it."

These are vague generalities, but what do they mean specifically? What decisions are they making based on these views? Are they not offering academic content based on their own sensibilities of what's right or wrong?


I don't hear this discussion at our high school. They want all kids to be prepared to go to college - the more selective the better. Last week they had an open house on AP classes and talked about how they want more kids to take the classes. (It makes them look good.) This doesn't mean that they do a great job preparing kids for the SAT I and II tests, but they don't talk about it in terms of college preparation versus happiness.

Most stress comes from doing poorly in classes, and some of that stress comes from not being prepared to take the course. The same is true for being ready to take the SAT.

Catherine Johnson said...

Selective doesn't necessarily mean Ivy League.

That's for sure. One of the smartest kids we know just got rejected by U. Wisconsin. SATs were around 2250, I think. Maybe higher.

Villanova had close to 8000 applicants for Early Action.

It's crazy out there.

FedUpMom said...

***
Most stress comes from doing poorly in classes,
***

Where I live, stress is caused by homework overload. The best students with the highest grades are the most stressed out. Parents brag about how little sleep their high-school kids get, because they're up all night with the homework.

FedUpMom said...

***
Chris has had a very happy four years at his Jesuit school. A joyful time, actually. That school has got to be one of the happiest places on Earth.
***

Catherine, I'm so happy for you and your family that you were able to find the right environment for your son. I just hope I can do the same for my daughters!

SteveH said...

I can't believe that Chris is heading for college. I remember our discussions way back in the original KTM. Heck, I can't believe that my son is half way through his sophomore year. What strikes me now is that things will start speeding up. In a year, he will have to take the SAT and get serious about what he wants to do. It's always been seen as something far off in the future.

SteveH said...

"Where I live, stress is caused by homework overload."

The question is whether the work is related to preparing for college or not. I might tell my son to spend more time on preparing for the SAT rather than class rank. What looks better, a class rank of 5 with a 1400 SAT score (math and verbal only), or a class rank of 18 with a SAT score of 1500?

Using the Academic Index, you can make this tradeoff. Your class rank is combined with your SAT (Math and Verbal) scores to find a single number used for basic student comparison. In effect, the SAT-Math, the SAT-Verbal, and the class rank are each weighted one-third. They convert the class rank into something like a SAT score using tables that give more weight to class rank in larger schools.

The following is one of those tables.

http://home.comcast.net/~charles517/crs449.html

For a senior class size of 325, a rank of 5 gives you a score of 73, which you can think of as a SAT score divided by 10. A class rank of 1 would give you a score of 80. For a rank of 18, your score would be 67.

So the Academic Index (not the one that takes into account the SAT II scores) for the rank 5 person would be (divide the SAT scores by 10) 70(Math) + 70(verbal) + 73(rank) = 213. For the class rank 18 person, the Academic Index would be 75(Math) + 75(Verbal) + 67 (rank) = 217.

For better or worse, SAT is huge. With the Academic Index, it's two-thirds of a score that colleges use to make academic judgments about you before they get to the intangibles. It might determine if the college ever gets to the point of checking you out in more detail.

I don't really like how so many colleges weight the SAT so highly, but it does provide some guidance for dealing with stress in high school. It's also why you hear stories about how so many valedictorians never get into top schools.

Also, if a high school is very competitive, then many colleges will know that. Class rank might seem so important in high school, but you don't get much mileage out of a class rank of 3 when you get to college. You perhaps get an ego boost if you are number 1 or 2, but it might be the rank 5 person who heads off to the top college.

For those more in the middle of the pack, SAT scores loom even larger. My brother had very average grades, but due to his SAT scores, he got into a much better college than he expected.

Catherine Johnson said...

I can't believe that Chris is heading for college. I remember our discussions way back in the original KTM.

I know!

Carolyn & I started writing the original kitchen table math when Chris was in 5th grade!

Now he's a senior!

We're gonna miss him -------

Catherine Johnson said...

I already miss him!

Catherine Johnson said...

Where I live, stress is caused by homework overload.

Crazy.

The indifference to 'what works' shines through at every level in our schools.

Do schools like yours ever ask themselves whether HW overload 'works'?

Does HW overload result in better preparedness, better college admissions, and better grades in college?

I'm sure they don't.

If I ran the schools (WORLD DOMINATION ALERT!) I would ATTEMPT to assess all programs and practices for value --- value in two senses of the term:

* Does this work?
* Is this what parents/taxpayers want?

If you found that HW overload does help with admissions, preparedness, etc., THEN I would favor maintaining a HW-Overload track for parents & kids who opt into it.

At the same time, I would create a .... "joyous Jesuit track" (or some such) for parents and kids who opt out.

In my perfect world.

Catherine Johnson said...

Catherine, I'm so happy for you and your family that you were able to find the right environment for your son. I just hope I can do the same for my daughters!

That is so sweet of you to say!

Boy, I'll tell you I sure think it's worth searching.

The only reason we ended up at Chris's Jesuit school was that we were in an open war with our district over all the mishegoss at the middle school & at some point (I remember exactly where I was standing at the time) I realized that I would not survive four years in the high school here.

Ed wasn't immediately sold on the idea of Chris going to a private school, much less a Catholic school (Ed is Jewish) -- but I told him that if he wanted any peace inside our house for the next four years, Chris would be attending a private or parochial school come fall.

He really couldn't argue with that.

Though I did have to tell him a few times.

Which I was happy to do.

Catherine Johnson said...

spaced repetition:

I think it's worth saying this again.

Chris at this point is well-prepared for work in history, literature, and foreign languages at the most elite colleges and universities. I'm 99% that's true.

He's probably reasonably well-prepared for work in entry level science courses at elite colleges and universities.

He's not prepared for math (ALTHOUGH he may be prepared for math courses at less selective colleges.)

His high school has been FUN. It's been warm, it's been joyous, it's been character-building -- AND it is filled with teachers who are expert in their subjects and dedicated to preparing their students for college.

After the first Parents night at the school, back when Chris was a freshman, Ed said, "It's both more fun than a public school and more serious."

That's exactly it.

There is NO sound academic reason for the pressure-cooker scenes at high schools like FedUp Mom's as far as I can tell.

Catherine Johnson said...

It's probably obvious, but I should add that the reason Chris isn't prepared for math has nothing to do with insufficient HW.

The problem has been the teaching & possibly curriculum -- that and the fact that he entered high school coming off of 3 years of learning practically nothing in his middle school here.

john thiret said...

It is also important to analyze what is actually going on in schools.
The schools in the region where I live pile on the homework and claim they are all about college readiness. Over the years, I have spoken to several students that say that their math homework is graded on completeness not accuracy. The students simply have to submit an answer and get full credit for it. Maybe this is only going on where I live, it is still an issue that should be looked into everywhere

SteveH said...

I agree. Details matter for stress and college preparation.

My son's high school math department changed their policy so that homework is now valued at only 5 percent of the overall grade. This puts more weight on the quizzes and tests. Last year, his math teacher dropped the lowest quiz grade, but not this year.

All grades are tied directly to percent correct. A = 90-10, B = 80-90, and so forth. This depends, of course, on whether the teacher calibrates the tests well. This year, my son's pre-calc class is on their fourth teacher. They can't possibly get this right, and the grades reflect that. Some teachers try to correct the problem on later tests by making them easy or giving extra credit questions. For may kids, grades can be all over the board.

There is also a problem with how one zero or low grade can ruin your average. The school even noticed how that can be a great discouragement for students, but some teachers like to give out zeros as a control thing. My son got a zero once.

Kids are bombarded with how "grades matter now that you are in high school", but my son's English teacher prides himself in grading 10 points lower than the other teachers. Even his top students struggle to get a 90 by the end of the year. Got to toughen up those lazy honors kids. However, it's easy to increase stress and make life tough without improving academics.

AP classes seem to be the only ones where teachers can't get away with whatever they want to do. At an AP open house night they had, all of the teachers said they knew that the goal was to cover the material properly and to prepare the kids to take the AP test. Everyone sees how many of their students get at least a 3. In regular chemistry, they do art work of molecules and famous scientists. In my son's biology class, they had to do a 3D art work analogy of a single animal cell. That caused a lot of worthless stress.

FedUpMom said...

***
However, it's easy to increase stress and make life tough without improving academics.
***

Absolutely right.