Remembering the Genius of Walter Dean Myers

Remembering the Genius of Walter Dean Myers on ParentChat with ReginaI am embarrassed to say that I had quite forgotten about the death of Walter Dean Myers until I read Sofia Quintero’s recent moving tribute: “Walter Dean Myers, Writing White, and Affirmation” (available at Biographile and since reprinted with a different title in other online publications). Like Quintero, I also remember first hearing the sad news almost 18 months ago that Myers had died and feeling an overwhelming sense of loss. Odd, since I had never met the man. But I deeply regretted that nothing more would be written in his voice—a voice so accessible that young people couldn’t help devouring his books and adults couldn’t help admiring his handiwork.

I read his work as an adult—not all of it, though perhaps I should have—and I immediately insisted that my own children and the students I worked with in New York City read it. Parents, don’t you or your children of any age miss these:

  • His long poem Harlem, which brings Harlem’s streets to life, is contemporary poetry at its best (we actually performed a choral reading of it with the students of one tough Brooklyn high school class). Harlem succeeds partly because of its words and partly because of its illustrations, done by the brilliant artist/illustrator, Christopher Myers, the author’s son. (Note to parents of young children: Do not miss Christopher’s books, either. Two of my all-time favorite children’s books are Christopher’s Black Cat for little kids and Wings for elementary-school kids.)
  • His autobiographical Bad Boy: A Memoir is a tour de force, with motivational life lessons from the author as a kid (who was not perfect) and as a young adult (who eventually found his way). There are scenes in it so memorable and so powerful that your children will never forget them.
  • His laugh-out-loud, yet authentic, Harlem Summer, is a wonderful historical novel about the Harlem Renaissance and its famous figures—as seen through the eyes of a teenager. It is a fantastic introduction to this important period of American literary and artistic history. And you will never hear Langston Hughes’s “Negro Speaks of Rivers” recited again without smiling. Believe me.

So, what am I asking you to do, parents—other than read the works of Walter Dean Myers yourselves and get them for your children? Simply this: Make sure that some of his works (particularly the ones above, I say impartially) appear on your school district reading list.

Ay, there’s the rub. Some of you are going to find that there is no district reading list. I am not talking about a summer reading list, though I would be happy for Walter Dean Myers to appear on that. I am talking about the list of novels, short stories, plays, poems, and nonfiction pieces that teachers teach in class from kindergarten through grade 12. They are the mandatory pieces of literature that all elementary school teachers and English language arts middle school and high school teachers are required to cover in their classes. Assigning key works of literature—the classics as well as contemporary works—to certain grades will keep teachers from accidentally teaching the same thing in two different years and will make sure that all teachers of one grade level teach at least the works on the list (they should be free, of course, to go beyond the list—as long as they don’t pick up something that has been assigned to another grade level). Having common texts allows teachers of later grades to build on works that their students have already studied and allows kids to be able to talk with their friends about common themes and issues raised in their reading.

Before you say that this seems unnecessarily rigid, keep in mind that it is what Columbia College (the prestigious undergraduate arts and sciences college of Columbia University) does in its Core Curriculum for its entering freshmen. And Columbia is not the only college to do it.

You might recall that, some weeks ago, I wrote about whether Shakespeare should be in your school district’s literature curriculum and about who had the authority to make that decision. Now, it seems that I am making the case for Walter Dean Myers, and indeed I am. Shakespeare and Myers—that’s a worthy pair. But I am also making the case for making sure that your school district has a required reading list. No one wants to miss Walter Dean Myers.

ParentChat with Regina: Getting a Handle on What Matters in #Education #parents

Welcome to the How To Find the Right College Blog Tour!

Marie Segares and I are now embarking on a blog tour for the book that we co-authored this past summer—How To Find the Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students. As I hope you all already know, the book is a readable, easy-to-use guide for parents who are not as familiar with the wide range of college options as they need to be in order to help their teenager find a college that is a good fit.

How To Find The Right College: A Workbook for Parents of High School Students by Regina H. Paul and Marie G. SegaresThe book grew out of the free weekly podcast—NYCollegeChat—that we have been doing since last September. After working in the world of K–12 and higher education for a combined total of more than 50 years, we still learn new things every time we prepare for an episode. Our goal is to help parents who don’t have our 50 years of experience.

Now, I have never done a blog tour, so I am not entirely sure what to expect. I hope it will give us a chance to reach parents who might not otherwise have heard about our book and our podcast. I hope it will help parents make better—even life-changing—decisions with their teenagers.

Please join us at one of these stops and help me figure out what a blog tour is all about:

How To Find the Right College Blog Tour Schedule

November 2: ParentChat with Regina

November 4: The College Money Maze

November 5: Parents’ Guide to the College Puzzle

November 6: Mission: Authors Talk About It

November 11: Together with Family

November 12: NYCollegeChat

November 13: The Staten Island Family

November 16: Road2College

November 18: Viva Fifty

November 19: Paying For College 101 Facebook group

November 20: Underground Crafter

Goodreads Book Giveaway

How To Find the Right College by Regina H. Paul

How To Find the Right College

by Regina H. Paul

Giveaway ends November 30, 2015.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway

How To Find the Right College is now available for sale as a Kindle ebook or as a paperback workbook on Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

 

SAT/ACT: Required for All Students?

SAT/ACT: Required for All Students? on ParentChat with ReginaHere’s a trend I missed (and I do this for a living): Almost half of the states and many individual school districts in other states are now requiring all high school students to take the SAT or ACT, and they are footing the bill. Perhaps equally important, they are testing the students during the school day in the students’ own school. Well, that certainly makes life easier for a lot of high school students and their families. Not having to pay for the test is one thing (without even having to get a waiver from the testing company); but not having to figure out how to register, get your child to some testing site that might be new to you both, and make sure your child arrives at the crack of dawn on a Saturday might be even better.

Some states are indeed using the SAT or ACT as the final piece of their state testing program rather than giving a state-developed test or one of the new tests designed to match the Common Core Standards, thus lessening the testing burden for high school students, many of whom would have had to take the SAT and/or ACT for college admission purposes in addition to their state’s own test. Connecticut, one of the most recent states to jump on board, will be giving the SAT this year to all of its high school juniors at no cost, but will not require a minimum SAT score to graduate.

Now, there is a lot of talk among educators at the state and local level and in higher education about whether the SAT and ACT actually measure a state’s own curriculum standards and, thus, whether the SAT or ACT could fairly be used as a measure of what students learned in their high school classes. Some argue that tests specifically developed by the state or by one of the testing companies associated with the Common Core work that many states have adopted would be the only fair assessment.

Of course, no parent would ever wonder about that because it is just a matter of common sense. Let’s take the SAT. Clearly, it measures English and mathematics skills—skills befitting a high school student who is about to graduate and, hopefully, continue his or her education at a college. Shouldn’t that be good enough as a test of a student’s capabilities—regardless of what the state curriculum standards do or don’t say?

What could be a better definition of “college-ready”—the education buzzword of the last five years—than that students can do reasonably well on a test that hundreds and hundreds of U.S. colleges insist that students take before they apply? The fact that some colleges each year add themselves to the growing list of colleges that do not require the SAT or ACT for admission (the “test-optional” colleges) does not negate the fact that many, many colleges still do require the SAT or ACT for admission. Even many of the test-optional colleges tell students to send their SAT or ACT scores if they think that the scores are a good representation of their abilities (meaning, “send your scores if they are good and you think they will help you get in”). By the way, many, many students applying to great test-optional colleges do just that.

While I am no particular fan of either the SAT or ACT, I do recognize what a hurdle it is for some kids to jump and what a relief it would be for many families to have that hurdle removed. I have seen that hurdle up close in New York City. Here is a statistic that supports the point. According to a recent report of education in 50 U.S. cities just issued by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, 15 percent or fewer of all high school students took the SAT or ACT in 2011–2012 in 32 of those cities. (The report, Measuring Up: Educational Improvement and Opportunity in 50 Cities, explains that we might have expected the figure to be in the 25 to 50 percent range, if we believe that most eleventh and/or twelfth graders in a high school take these college admission tests in any given year.) However you look at it, urban high school students are not taking the SAT and ACT in the numbers that we would expect to see—or hope to see—if we believe that urban students should have the best shot at attending whatever college they wish, either right away or in the first few years after high school graduation.

If you live in a state or school district that requires all high school students to take the SAT or ACT, maybe now you can see how lucky you are. If you do not live in a state or school district that requires all high school students to take the SAT or ACT, it is time to take a close look at why not:

  • All parents: Ask your school board to have the superintendent provide the numbers of juniors and seniors and the percentages of the junior and senior classes that have taken the SAT or ACT in your school district over the past five years. Ask the school board to discuss whether administering the SAT or ACT to all eleventh graders in the spring and/or all twelfth graders in the early fall would be a good idea—either to confirm students’ “college readiness” as they leave your district or to ensure that every student has the opportunity to apply to any college requiring these test scores. This discussion should be part of an open board meeting, but board members should have the opportunity to study background information before that meeting and to get the input of district administrators before and/or during the meeting, including what the cost would be of providing this testing at district expense and what, if anything, might have to be given up in the budget to make such testing possible.
  • High school parents: Ask your principal to provide the numbers of juniors and seniors and the percentages of the junior and senior classes that have taken the SAT or ACT in your school over the past five years (if you have more than one high school in your district). Ask your principal to discuss how students are advised about taking the SAT and/or ACT. Are all students encouraged to take one or both of the tests? Are all students advised about how many times to take the test and when to take the test? Are all students given help in registering for the tests? Are students who qualify for fee waivers given the help they need to get those waivers? Is the high school a designated testing site? If not, why not and what would it take for the high school to become a designated testing site?

P.S. After I wrote this and before we got it posted, New York City announced that it would offer the SAT at no cost to all public high school juniors, with the test given on a school day rather than on a Saturday. Great that it’s free! Great that the kids don’t have to register! Great that it’s given on a school day! All those hurdles have now been jumped. But just offer it? Why not require it? Almost perfect, New York City. So close.

ParentChat with Regina: Getting a Handle on What Matters in #Education #parents

How Much Do Graduation Rates Matter?

How Much Do Graduation Rates Matter? on ParentChat with Regina | Is there any more common sense statistic to measure the success of public schools than high school graduation rate? In reality, there are lots of decisions that go into how that rate is calculated—who counts and who doesn’t count and who can legitimately be taken out of the equation. Is there any more common sense statistic to measure the success of public schools than high school graduation rate? It certainly sounds simple and clear: What percent of the students who should have gotten a high school diploma actually got one? In reality, there are lots of decisions that go into how that rate is calculated—who counts and who doesn’t count and who can legitimately be taken out of the equation. But no one wants to see a headline like this for his or her own school district: “Chicago Public Schools downgrades four years of inflated graduation rates” (reported by Juan Perez, Jr., in the Chicago Tribune, October 2, 2015).

To start with, it sounds as though there might have been some funny business going on. “Inflated” doesn’t have a particularly good connotation. Maybe the funny business was really just a series of misinterpretations by school staff of the rules for figuring the graduation rate, but maybe it was a series of intentional steps designed to report a graduation rate higher than it actually was. For example, the inspector general for the Chicago Public Schools, who issued the report, pointed to a high school that counted students as “transfers” instead of “dropouts” when they left their high school to enroll in a GED program (an alternate route to earning a high school diploma for students who leave high school, for whatever reason, before getting a diploma).

The adjustments that had to be made in the Chicago count lowered the 2014 graduation rate from 69.4 percent of students to 66.3 percent of students. Yes, not such a big drop. And, in fact, the graduation rate had been going up a little bit each year for several years—even though all of those years saw a small drop, based on the recalculations—just as Mayor Rahm Emanuel claimed in his recent successful re-election bid. But, let’s be clear: All of those figures are a five-year graduation rate, not a four-year graduation rate, which is what you might have expected to see.

Once numbers are called into question, it is hard to believe any of them again. Should you feel somewhat more certain after the kind of audit that the inspector general did in Chicago? Probably so. Here is one point of comparison: The graduation rate for the New York City Public Schools was 64.2 percent in 2014—but that was a four-year graduation rate.

I can tell you that it is not easy to keep track of every student in every high school in a huge school district—or even in a small one. Or even in one school. I did that tracking for students in the high school I helped to co-found in New York City, and I calculated the graduation rate for our first class of students. It was important to us because we had created an innovative accelerated schedule that had students on a three-year—not four-year—path to completing all of their high school graduation requirements. We needed to know whether our ambitious program worked. It did. With average and below-average New York City public school students, we produced a three-year graduation rate of 65 percent with our first class of students. That graduation rate meant that we did in three years what the rest of the New York City public high schools, as a group, did in four years.

I can also tell you from experience that graduation rates mean a lot to most high schools and school districts—just as they do in Chicago. A colleague and I were once at a national meeting of high school administrators of innovative high school programs. We overheard one conversation about graduation rate, which ended something like this: “Well, when we have a student who is about to drop out, we just send that student home and count him as being homeschooled. So then he’s not a dropout!” It is conversations like that one that make some of us skeptical about data that school districts provide, especially when those data can be used to judge the education that the school district is providing.

It is time to take a close look at the graduation rate and how it is calculated for the students in your high school and in your school district (if you have more than one high school):

  • All parents: Ask your school board to have the superintendent explain how the graduation rate is calculated. Is the board satisfied with the graduation rate or not? How does it compare to the graduation rate in neighboring school districts or in similar school districts in the state or in the country? How does it compare to the state’s high school graduation rate? What is the trend in your district’s graduation rate—that is, is it going up, going down, or staying about the same? Make sure you understand whether it is a four-year or five-year rate. What does your district do to prevent students from dropping out? This discussion should be part of an open board meeting, but board members should have the opportunity to study background information before that meeting and to get the input of district administrators before and/or during the meeting.
  • High school parents: Ask your principal to discuss the graduation rate in your child’s high school. Where are dropouts going—to GED programs, to vocational training programs, to work, or somewhere else? How are parents kept informed if their child might be on a path to dropping out? What should parents do if they are worried that their child might drop out? How do dropouts and potential dropouts affect the rest of the school and its programs?

ParentChat with Regina: Getting a Handle on What Matters in #Education #parents