How the Economically Disadvantaged are Being Conned

Our education policies have been designed, particularly over the past few years, to manipulate the disenfranchised and the disadvantaged into supporting policies that are based on fantasy and result in generation of students ill prepared for success in life.

These include the abandonment of vocational education, the standards movement and the romantic embrace of STEM education. Each is based on what may be good for a small number of students into policy for all students. Each is also presented as a rejection of abuses of the past in a way that reduces opportunity for meeting the needs of a large swath of our population.

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The Damage is Done

It made me think of a student I had, as sincere as any I have worked with, who would spend hours working at an animal shelter each week, walking the dogs, cleaning their cages, feeding them.  She told me she had loved animals since she was a little girl.  I asked if she did the volunteer work because she loved doing it or because she felt it was important for college applications.  There was a moment of silence, a sad look and a mournful “I really don’t know”.  It was one of the saddest moments in my 35 year career. This poor kid was robbed of the pleasure and pride of doing what she loved because of the nagging insincerity of “College”.  Our college admissions process is breeding a generation of self-involved and self-aggrandizing children for whom ennui becomes the defining characteristic of their adulthood.

What’s Crushing our Children?

Many parents and students can’t accept that much of this process is about who you are, not what you do, and desperately look for how to play the game, which, like Heisenberg’s Uncertainly Principle, changes as they play it.  The more “they” (students/parents/private counselors/even school counselors) try to beat the system, the more the system changes.
Kids are told to “take the most demanding schedule available and have the highest performance” (even, parenthetically, by colleges reps from schools that don’t really require this).  So kids grind themselves into the ground taking 5 AP’s in major subjects and an elective of AP Computer Science and joining the Fed Challenge Team and spending countless hours on fencing or crew and hours more in SAT or ACT prep, only to be told that they “don’t ring any bells”, though they have run out of time and energy and thoughtfulness by just trying to meet the minimum of what they think they need to get in the door.

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How to Graduate Debt Free

Apply down:  My son, with Ivy League credentials, took a full academic scholarship to Rutgers.  Many school are willing to give students substantial merit scholarships, but you’ve got to consider attending a college which would be a safety school.
Start at community college.  Almost all the tuition and fees at community college are covered by Pell grants for low-income students and working while attending college.
Earn college credits in high school:  Either through AP courses, community college courses or on-line college courses.

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Selling Our Students

Has your child taken the PreACT, the ACT, the PSAT or the SAT? Have they filled out surveys at school with names like My College Options or Educational Research of America? Did they send in information to Who’s Who, the National Honor Roll or the National Society of High School Scholars? Do they participate in on-line lists, chat rooms, forums, message boards, blogs, newsgroups, games, quizzes, or contests? Have they applied for scholarships that required personal information? It is likely that their personal information is being shared regularly without their or your knowledge or permission.

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Testing, Testing, 1,2,3 Testing

About testing, I don’t have any problem with it, per se.  It really is just testing how smart you are and how good you are at taking tests, and I guess colleges feel that’s important. Check this out (by Jon Boeckenstedt, a real genius):

His conclusion:  The correlation between 8th grade scores and 12th grade scores for an individual student, controlling for all variables, is almost perfect (.9 r-squared correlation, or as Jon puts it, “Scientists would use the term “winner, winner, chicken dinner” when getting results like this.”)

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Back to the Future: Giving “Guidance”

I just read an article in Consumer Reports, “I Kind of Ruined my Life by Going to College.”  It was pretty depressing, rife with examples of students who were so far underwater and overextended that they would likely never get out from under it.  I am not hopeful that there will be changes to benefit student borrowers in the next four years.  (Though I also read that San Francisco is making college free for residents, so there is at least a glimmer of hope on the state or local level).

But what I was really struck by was how each student seemed to have no idea of the consequences of this borrowing, with multiple quotes about counselors being unhelpful in this area.  I was a Director of Guidance at three public schools and at each I was shocked that counselors did not discuss paying for college beyond discussing the forms that needed to be filled out, or general comments about loans, grants, scholarships, merit aid, or arcane terms like “expected family contribution”.

There seemed to be this fear of talking to students and parents in a real way about paying for college.  Sure, it’s uncomfortable to talk about money, especially with a parent talking about money with their kid in the room.  The parent wants to be brave and tell the kid “if you get into your dream school, we’ll make it work.”  And so often they don’t.  This is, in my opinion, a true abrogation of responsibility.  If counselors who do not have a heart to heart talk with every family about ACTUALLY paying for college, then it is time for them to rethink their methods and their priorities.

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