Tuesday Reading List: Advanced Courses, College Financial Aid, and How NOT to Teach History

Sarah Butrymowicz, writing at The Hechinger Report, looks at the effect of placing more high school students in advanced courses:

Rogers High School’s work is modeled off efforts by Steven Gering, Spokane’s chief innovation and research officer and a former principal at another Spokane school. During his tenure, North Central High School recorded the largest increase in the state in the percentage of students attending college after graduation, according to Gering’s analysis of state data. But Rogers High, in an imposing building in the city’s poorest neighborhood, may be a tougher test for whether the idea can work with all students in this economically diverse city of roughly 200,000. About 78 percent of Rogers’ 1,500 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and nearly a fifth receive special education services, according to state data. Rogers has the lowest college-going rate in the district. But it has made the most improvement in the last five years, raising that rate from 43 percent in 2011 to 53 percent in 2015 ...

Getting more low-income students into college requires a combination of more rigorous coursework, support for byzantine application requirements, and financial assistance. Persistence in college, however, might be a more important statistic than admission, as many vulnerable students leave colleges within two years of matriculating. There's compelling evidence that advanced courses can have a significant impact on persistence.

The financial leg of the college persistence stool became more difficult this month. Sarah Dynarski has the story in The New York Times:

To get aid for college from the federal or state governments, as well as from colleges, students and their parents must fill out the Fafsa (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid). The notoriously complicated form, which is longer than the typical 1040, collects detailed information from students and families about income, expenses and taxes. On March 3, families logging onto the website for federal aid found that a key component of the online application had stopped functioning. The broken element, known as the Data Retrieval Tool, automatically fills in a Fafsa application with information from an applicant’s tax return ... Completing the Fafsa is now going to require more legwork, more paperwork and more time ... Fafsas completed without using the data tool are more likely to be chosen for “verification,” an audit that requires applicants to submit additional paperwork to prove that their tax information is accurate.

The Fafsa process is unnecessarily complicated, in part because our tax system is unnecessarily complicated.  The Obama administration took steps to simplify the application process, but this rollback will make the college application and financing process harder for the families whose children most need higher education as a pathway to economic opportunity.

In other news, Erin Einhorn, writing at Chalkbeat, tries to pin down the school rating system in Michigan:

[Education professor Sarah] Lenhoff ran an analysis of the 2014 and 2016 rankings that identified 74 Michigan schools that saw their rankings go up or down by 50 or more points between 2014 and 2016. That includes 31 schools that fell precipitously in the rankings and 43 that leapt from the bottom to the top. More than 500 schools saw a change of at least 25 percentage points — roughly a fifth of the more than 2,500 schools that were ranked in both 2014 and 2016.

That's a lot of volatility. I'm a big fan of transparent school accountability, and while states should continuously tweak and improve their ranking systems, wild swings in school ratings are counterproductive. Ratings systems cannot maintain their legitimacy when schools move arbitrarily up and down from year to year. Stories like this are perfect cannon fodder for groups that want to curtail - or outright kill - school accountability.

Finally, Breanna Edwards of The Root reports on how NOT to teach history:

A New Jersey elementary school is facing heat after attention was brought to a mandatory fifth-grade assignment that asked students to draw “examples of an event that would occur during [your] assigned colonial time period, including a poster for a lecture, speech, protest or slave auction.” The posters were seen hanging in the hallway at South Mountain Elementary School in South Orange during parent-teacher conferences. School Superintendent John Ramos said in a note to parents that the assignment was part of a larger Colonial America unit ... Jamil Karriem shared images of some of the posters on Facebook, emphasizing that educating young students on the harsh realities of [slavery] was not the problem, but adding that “the medium for said education is grossly insensitive and negligent.”

I don't think I need to add much here. Have a good day ...