Sunday, January 22, 2006

College Aid Plan Widens U.S. Role in High Schools - New York Times

College Aid Plan Widens U.S. Role in High Schools - New York Times: "College Aid Plan Widens U.S. Role in High Schools

Published: January 22, 2006

When Republican senators quietly tucked a major new student aid program into the 774-page budget bill last month, they not only approved a five-year, $3.75 billion initiative. They also set up what could be an important shift in American education: for the first time the federal government will rate the academic rigor of the nation's 18,000 high schools.

The measure, backed by the Bush administration and expected to pass the House when it returns next month, would provide $750 to $1,300 grants to low-income college freshmen and sophomores who have completed 'a rigorous secondary school program of study' and larger amounts to juniors and seniors majoring in math, science and other critical fields.

It leaves it to the secretary of education to define rigorous, giving her a new foothold in matters of high school curriculums."

I teach at a regional state university that partnered with a local community college a few years ago when we went to qualified admissions. As a result of this partnership, students can take freshman/sophomore level courses on our campus but the course is through the community college and taught by their faculty. It's a great way to give them the "feel" of our campus so that they will decide to continue their education here and the faculty are just as qualified (if not more so) and are often the same adjuncts for both "our" courses and "their" courses.

This simply reflects the increasing demands on colleges and universities to provide remedial courses. I'm not sure in the long run we are helping any of the students out. As a former junior high and high school teacher, I know that many students were well aware of how to work the system and do just enough to get by and they seem to have projected that up a few notches to our level. And, since head count drives us, too, it seems to have worked.

A lot of reading is required in my field. But, beyond that, students must demonstrate that they not only understand the reading but that they can intelligently analyze and evaluate it but also that they can write about it. I know firsthand that their high school teachers try to teach them these skills but they are also bombarded by a million other things they have to do during the day plus they have a lot more papers to grade. (Any of my colleagues who whines that they have 100 tests to grade - which even here usually means that they have a graduate assistant to help with quite a bit of it - just gets a funny look since that was a reality of teaching high school - and not just one a month or a few times a term. Plus, the grading was more intense because the students were usually struggling more not only with the material but the various ways we expected them to communicate about it.

Then, with the advent of No Child Left Behind (Nickleby as a friend and colleague calls it), our field was left out and thus, even more marginalized in the curriculum even though to teach students to read and write means to require them to do demonstrate same not just in their communication arts classes.

So, it will be interesting to see if this is a positive outcome to step it up a notch so that students are more prepared for college. I hear too many hallway conversations among students who brag about not studying in high school (and I know for a few that is just the bravado showing and not the reality) and then what a shock it is that they actually have to do the work in college. Usually these comments are heard about mid-term time. I do go the extra mile and require more than a mid-term and final and lots of "feedback opportunities" - especially for lower-level students. It's patently unfair to expect students to make the jump from high school - where they are reminded each day they need to keep up - to take a college class where nothing really happens for two months and no one ever takes roll. There is something to be said for transition and not just throwing them in the water to sink or swim. However, if we could get reinforcement for high school teachers who want to expect more, maybe that will help all of us and end up with everyone being better educated.

This article also points to a point I talk about until I am blue in the face. We are all in this together and shouldn't point fingers at the teachers "who came before us" unless we are willing to walk a mile in their shoes. I don't miss having students who se only other choice to being in school was being in jail plus the fact that they were often a few years older than their peers. I especially don't miss parent phone calls except that helicopter parents are sneaking in our back door. I saw a book at the College of William and Mary campus this summer when we were at Williamsburg for a family wedding that discussed how admissions officers have to even separate parents from their children during school tours so that they at least know what the potential student's voice sounds like and so that their parent doesn't take care of every little need for them. There was even a book for students on how to handle conflict for the same reason. Issues like toothpaste caps being left out and toilet seats left up end up being major problems because students aren't used to having to deal with the day to day negotiations of life because Mommy and Daddy took care of all that for them.

Our students do have a great deal of potential - if we only give them the chance not only to demonstrate it but to learn how to demonstrate it.

On another note, I heard an NPR story this morning about how a rep of the Willard Hotel in DC tells a great story of the origins of the word lobbyist. President Grant used to hang around in their lobby and so people who wanted something would come there to lobby him. It's a great story but the editor of the Oxford English Dictionary was interviewed and he mentioned that the word has origins earlier than the 19th century and that it most likely came from the lobbies of the House of Commons across the pond.

Now it's time to work on my annual performance report (I'd much rather do it than write about), class prep for tomorrow - I'm always a bit nervous until I meet a class face to face for the first time, and to finish a good portion of at least one of the grants we're working on. Plus fit in a nap . . . .

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