Hudson ‘Fresh-Starts’ Credit Program
A Proven Middle School Promotion Model
Developed by the Staff of Hudson J.H.S., Hudson, New York
Imagine a junior high school where:
• Credit conversations are a commonplace occurrence among 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.
• All classes count for credit and students eagerly monitor credit totals at the end of each marking period.
• Promotion requirements are so demanding that those same students must earn a minimum of 74% of available credits in order to move on to the next grade.
• Academic success is rewarded at 10 week intervals instead of the traditional 10 month waiting period.
• A policy provides struggling students with a clean slate and a fresh academic start — every credit period.
• Consistent, year-round student effort develops the work habits needed for high school success.
You don’t have to imagine it — It’s happening right now in the Hudson City School District, located in Columbia County, New York.
Amid the commotion and controversy swirling around the implementation of the Common Core standards and the related testing, 6th, 7th and 8th grade students at Hudson JHS quietly experienced an engaging, innovative, and game-changing approach to grade level promotion. Seven years ago, the staff at Hudson JHS has implemented a program that has since transformed the school climate, dramatically improved student attitudes and efforts in their classrooms, and produced a quantum leap forward in terms of preparing 8th graders for the rigors of the 22 credit, NYS high school graduation requirement.
Prior to the 2011 - 2012 school year, students at Hudson JHS simply did not have to work that hard to move on to high school. As guidance counselor Rosalie Cornell says, “Our former “Pass-3” promotion policy literally defined ‘low expectations’; the bar was on the ground. At the absolute minimum, students were able to move on by passing only one core subject during the school year, and then passing two, six-week summer school classes. Teachers were also required to give a minimum first quarter grade of 50, regardless of student attendance, effort, or achievement. Unfortunately, it was impossible to prevent students from finding out just how little effort we required, or to prevent them from giving up in February because it was mathematically impossible for them to pass for the year. We routinely sent students into high school with inadequate work habits and promoted them with zero understanding of the academic demands of the New York State 22 credit graduation requirement.”
After watching too many 9th graders struggle to earn credits, the staff at Hudson JHS decided to change what was clearly a failed policy. In the spring of 2011, teachers and administrators at Hudson JHS developed a plan modeled after the New York State high school credit system — but with an important twist. In September 2011 we implemented the plan that has since changed the old ‘path-of-least-resistance’ into one of the most demanding middle level promotion policies in New York State.
Junior high principal Derek Reardon describes just how and why their idea was developed: “We started off with a simple goal. We wanted a promotion policy that made all classes count for credit, just like high school. We wanted it to be simple, concrete, more challenging, and most of all, teachable. We wanted to create a policy that trained students how to successfully navigate the 22 credit high school graduation requirement - before they got there. We knew that for this idea to work, for it to be teachable, that we would have to award credits long before the school year ended. Awarding credits every 10 weeks is the key feature; we wanted short term credit goals to help students stay focused and motivated. In putting this fairly radical policy into place, we’ve experienced nearly unanimous support from teachers, administrators, and parents. We realize there are no magic bullets, but after seven years of implementation, we wouldn’t dream of going back to our old policy that was essentially a free ride for students.”
Guidance counselor Rosalie Cornell sums it all up: “Students have responded big time. They buy into it because the rationale makes sense to them, the credit requirements are demanding but doable, and the rewards [credits] are tangible — and timely. We no longer see marginal students quit in January because they were mathematically eliminated from passing a course, and we no longer see successful students coasting in the fourth marking period on a 90 plus average. This program has exceeded even our wildest expectations; in fact, the policy is working so well that we are considering ramping up the credit requirements for next year. Our students have demonstrated that when the stakes are high enough and the goal seems attainable, they will rise to the occasion”
The following is a summary of Hudson’s “Fresh-Start Credit Program” — a grade level promotion policy for middle level students:
-All classes count for credit, validating core academics and special area classes.
-All final exams or projects count for credit.
-A grade of 65+ to earn credit.
-The time-frame for success is only 10 weeks; credits are earned at the end of each marking period.
- No yearly average applied to promotion; quarterly grades stand alone.
-The “Circle-50” 1st quarter grading policy is eliminated
-Eighth graders must earn 24 credits (Max:32.5) for end of year promotion to high school
-Summer school qualification is a 20 credit minimum
-Students with a grade of 59 – 64 qualify for ‘credit recovery’ at teacher discretion
-Credit requirements can be customized to best fit a school’s overall demographic
-It is free! Easily implemented, no additional teacher demands and at no cost to a district
-Traditional rewards such as honor rolls and Jr. National Honor Society are still in place for high academic achievers.
Contact: Rick Bobrick, ‘Fresh-Starts’ program director (and grade 8 science teacher) at, firstname.lastname@example.org
My picture books are nearly all the product of a love affair with words. I listen and they bring me ideas: THE RING BEAR was born when my sister told me that her five year-old caused a ruckus at a wedding after she whispered to him that the ring bearer was about to come out. He heard it wrong. And panicked.
CHEESE LOUISE! was born after I heard someone say that “everyone has holes,” meaning “no one’s perfect.” Which lead me to wonder whether Swiss Cheeses mind having lots of problems.
NED LOSES HIS HEAD is about a boy who…loses his head. (Mom told me I’d lose mine if it wasn’t attached.)
7 ATE 9 was born after my five year-old told me the old joke: “Why is 6 afraid of 7? Because 7 ate 9!” And I had to ask why. (It’s just a joke, Dad!)
But idioms, misunderstandings, jokes, and silly expressions generate ideas, not stories. How do we get from one to the other? A great idea, while exciting, can actually be paralyzing, so it’s helpful to understand the distinction between a simple and a fertile premise.
Let’s pause for a moment to discuss structure. I believe that understanding traditional story structure is wise. And so does screenwriting guru, Robert McKee:
And so remember this from school?
You know: set up/complications/climax/resolution. It helps. A lot. But this helps even more…
And watch this…
Linking (one way or another) the incident that sets your protagonist off on his/her quest for change to the climax of the story creates a powerful effect. Ideally, this effect:
So back to this:
Now let’s adjust.
A fertile premise requires an Inciting Incident, which means we need to determine what causes our cheese to dislike her holes. There are many possibilities of course, but the choices are manageable. (Decision: she gets teased.) And our knowledge of structure tells us that, one way or another, in the climax, she must use her holes to “save the day.” (Decision: she uses them to outwit the one-eyed cat in the kitchen.)
The traditional structure imposed limits that guided these choices, but these limits were helpful:
If this feels formulaic during your drafting…hang in there. You are yet to internalize the traditional structure. Once it’s instinctual this isn’t something you consciously consider as you write. Yet it’s nearly always detectible in the final product, even if it has been creatively altered. (For example, Cheese Louise! employs two superimposed story arcs.) Keep in mind that the subject matter of your story is not original (sorry). What should be original is the specific way you package and present it. Here is Mr. McKee to the rescue one more time:
I’m hoping that the story of coming to believe one’s flaws can be one’s strengths has never been told in the context of refrigerator life. Similarly, that blending families can be fraught with misunderstandings has never been conveyed via a story about a boy who intentionally turns himself into a bear to wreck his mother’s wedding. Can one reject traditional story structure entirely and still produce a successful story? Of course, though in my opinion doing so pretty much guarantees a limited audience. Unless you hold the trump card.
Not that one. This one:
If you are hilarious, no one cares what happens in your story. But guess what the hardest thing to do in writing is? You never know which one will be the one that blooms. Good luck!
David Michael Slater is an acclaimed author of over twenty books of fiction and nonfiction for children, teens, and adults. He is the co-curator of the weredoingitwrong blog and podcast.
Have we weakened the psyches of children that much?
I went through the old 11-plus exam system in Britain. You had a single take of a single test in 5th grade, which determined which school in the school district you were permitted to attend from 6th grade onwards.
At ages 15 and 16, we took O-levels, national exams in several subjects, which determined whether you might get a chance to go to college, and even whether you could continue for the last two years of high school.
At age 18, we took a handful of A-levels, in the general area which we wanted to continue to study. The grades on these tests determined whether you were going to University, and where (it was a little more complicated in that you chose a handful of places to go and the highest-ranked school on your list for which you qualified was the one that you went to).
At University, we took a battery of 3-hour tests at the end of the first year, which determined whether we were allowed to stay. Similar batteries in years 2 and 3 determined what level of degree (if any) we received.
I recall students being a little nervous on each of these tests, including me. I do not recall any of them needing counseling. Cheaters were expelled, if they were caught.
Perhaps the major difference was that we all accepted failure as a possibility that wouldn't destroy us. No one insisted that 'every student can perform at the highest level', as I heard a recent advertisement for teachers say.
By Timothy Shane Norfolk - now retired after a lifetime of university mathematics teaching and research. You can find out more about Dr. Norfolk and his work by visiting his site.
Over the course of my nearly 20 years as an author and English teacher (middle and high school), I have often been asked by parents how to “make their kid want to read.” The question never fails to fill me with dread, especially because such parents look at me like I’m a brain surgeon and the last chance to save their child’s life.
There’s not a lot I can suggest for a teenager who hates to read. But there are a few things:
1) Limit screen time so they’ll need alternative forms of entertainment
2) Expose them to all kinds of reading material
3) Let them read whatever interests them – even if the reading level appears to be unchallenging and/or the content unappealing.
If they are only willing to read motorcycle magazines, get them motorcycle magazines. If they won’t look at anything but graphic novels, get them graphic novels. I remember a mom coming to me worried because her 8th grade son ONLY read Goosebumps books, which she thought were childish and disturbing. I assured her that, if those books were her son’s “gateway drug” to books, then so be it, he would eventually get bored with them and seek something more stimulating. And that’s exactly what happened (phew!).
Much better to get them early. And by early I mean early – when they are infants. Perhaps my being an author and English teacher (and my wife being a librarian then) might seem to have guaranteed our son would take to reading – but it could just as easily have guaranteed he wouldn’t. We were taking no chances.
We brainwashed him.
And not just in the conventional way (by reading to him regularly). Of course we read to him regularly, but that was the tip of the iceberg.
We buried him in books.
Max saw books in every room, piles of books. He had hardback and paperback books on his shelves, cloth books in his crib, rubber books on his high chair, and plastic books in his bathtub. He had pop up books, puzzle books, coloring books, song books, game books, audio books – even scratch and sniff books. We kept stashes in our car, our diaper bag, and our stroller.
We built roads out of books, laying them end to end, snaking in and out of rooms. We built towers and forts out of books and discussed what the characters from one would say to another since they could visit each other that way. We made ramps out of books and raced cars over them. We stacked them into platforms for elaborate domino-tipping events.
We also put Max into his pack and walked him through bookstores as often as we could. Just because.
And so on.
I sometimes hear having books in the house is a class issue. Nonsense. My wife and I were two teachers on starting teachers’ salaries. We bought 95% of the books we filled our house with at garage and library sales for pennies on the dollar, and we brought heaps home from the library all the time.
Max is now a senior in high school. Is he a budding fiction writer? No. Does he always have a book in his hand? Also no. But he reads. He reads voraciously, mostly on-line. He consumes information, pretty much non-stop.
Of course there’s no guarantee that anything you do to influence your children will pay off. But the conventional wisdom that your children will love what you love isn’t conventional for nothing. Modelling a passion for books costs you nothing, and the results may be priceless.
If you bury your kid in books, I’m confident that you’ll never need a brain surgeon – or a middle school teacher – to make them want to read.
Becoming a great teacher is the pinnacle of the only hierarchy in education that matters. Unfortunately, in terms of real dollars and cents, nothing could be further from the truth. To be a great teacher is a middle rung at best in the typical “rat-race” associated with success and failure for a career in education. Every step taken away from the classroom should be a demotion, even if that demotion appears inextricably linked to increased pay, power, influence, and respect. The incentive system built into the core structure of K-12 teaching is deeply flawed, and it is time for teachers, parents, and students to demand change; student success depends on it.
Students deserve access to optimally trained and high performing teachers. Current incentives pull strongly on the best teachers to leave the classroom, albeit in many cases to spread their skills and improve the pedagogy of others. However, in too many cases, the most talented educators end up in administrative positions where instructional leadership becomes only a small portion of work duties. Other examples of this talent drain result in the best teachers working for private sector curriculum companies, leaving education altogether, or becoming central office personnel who visit classrooms only insofar as the public relation demands of the position require it. However, there are still heroes among us -- those very talented teachers willing to spend a career in the classroom directly improving the lives of students. It should not take an idealistic hero to remain teaching. We ought to create a system where highly talented teachers easily view improving their classroom teaching as the culmination of career goals and personal fulfillment.
How can we expand the hierarchy of classroom teaching to encompass the aspects of high achievement? We must strive as a society to increase respect, influence, power, and compensation of teachers. Becoming a teacher should require success in a highly rigorous process, akin to other professions with various levels from practicum, internship, residency, licensure, teacher to master teacher. Master teachers become the evaluators, instructors, and mentors of the up-and-coming educators. It is not that these master teachers would leave the classroom. In fact, they would always be in a classroom co-teaching, modeling, evaluating, and coaching. Does this hierarchy already exist? Only to a small extent. Talented teachers can become mentors and coaches, but it is now just a step in the larger pathway to become a school principal. Our students deserve a system of public teaching that drives the best teachers to remain in the classroom, further improving their skills for the duration of their career. It would be expensive, but it is more expensive to continue a norm that requires idealism at such high levels among the most highly capable educators to remain in the heart of the field: classroom teaching.
In 35 years of teaching mathematics on three continents, I’ve encountered hundreds of students who thought maths was difficult. Usually this belief had developed because they didn’t understand the fundamentals of what they were being asked to do. I’d probably be the same if I was trying to speak a foreign language without understanding the syntax.
A Simple Question
At the start of each school year I’d give my students a seemingly straight forward task. Usually I taught grades 5/6. I’d write the number 10 on the board and ask each of them to explain why this number consisted of two digits when all the preceding numbers were single digits. It would be reasonable to expect that after six years or so of schooling that this question wouldn’t be difficult. It almost always is. In my experience, only a minority of students could answer with an acceptable degree of clarity. That is, the 1 represents a group of 10 units and the 0 indicated that there are no single units and that the group of ten was made because it is THE rule that drives our number system. Subsequently, explaining why values 100, 1000 and so on were significant was even murkier, most simply accepted them as a neat progression of zeros following on from 10.
Six Years of the Same
Many of my student had survived on their ability to memorize and repeat practices demonstrated for them by teachers. These teachers believed they were teaching well – instructing but not providing the underlying reasoning that brought meaning and common sense to the processes. Few were aware that to understand what the numbers actually tell us and therefore develop effective processing strategies the students needed a strong knowledge of the Base Ten Number System. Many students could say, for instance, that 100 was 10 x 10 because initially, they had been told so and perhaps later proved it with blocks. However, the statement held no more conviction than say, knowing that there’s 52 weeks in a year. Relationships that provide the structure for reasoning were not being fostered.
Most students reach a degree of performance that will suffice for testing purposes, but I wanted all my students to step up a tier – almost all children have the potential to be more than proficient at mathematics, leading to a sense of achievement and a view of themselves as a successful learner.
I concluded that in order to be proficient at Base Ten, having experience at creating and manipulating numbers in bases other than 10 is crucial. I decided to make this the start of our journey to repair the flaws, faults, and failures that had developed in my students prior to arriving in my class. I tried recruiting some of my colleagues who taught in my team. Some looked at me oddly wondering what I was on about. Why bother with bases other than 10 when 10 was the system we used? One teacher thought it might be good for the ‘better’ students, I explained that it was in fact for those struggling the most. One principal even refused permission for me to teach it.
At the time I was working with university students who were in their final year of a teaching degree, and as adults it was assumed they were proficient with Base Ten concepts. Most felt they were very good or excellent at teaching mathematics. On that basis I asked them to imagine that were changing the rules and that instead of grouping objects into tens we would make groups of six. I asked, what would be the place values in numbers generated under this rule? Most students looked confused, some simply didn’t understand the question; place values were place values. If you want to see a colleague out of their comfort zone, this will generally do it. My student teachers were forced to go back and question their understanding of fundamentals, rethink what they took for granted and apply their knowledge.
School students are often simply told that this digit is tens, that one says hundreds, and so on. They learn to ‘read’ the number without ‘knowing’ the meaning of the number. They talk of hundreds without thinking hundreds. Consequently, they sound as if they have a good grounding. Working in other base systems will focus the child on understanding how the place values are generated and how those values determine the actual quantity. Place value takes on actual meaning.
Once the idea that place values are not artificial numbers of arbitrary origin but are in fact a function of how the number system operates, they can apply a knowledge base when performing calculations. It makes sense to carry on groups when adding, it makes sense to deconstruct and trade down in subtraction. Children develop strategies that allow them to perform operations mentally because they understand the construction of the arithmetic. I’ve had great times watching the confidence and command of rational reasoning grow as children process equations in a variety of Bases, converting Base Ten into say, Base Three and vice versa. These children also make a natural progression to indices because they ‘completely get’ place value.
Rule 1: Whenever we have X objects we MUST group them together (as in 10 for us normally).
Rule 2: Play around generating place values in other bases. The ONLY difference to what we do in Base Ten is that we make different sized groupings.
Rule 3: It’s important that this development is built progressively and over an appropriate time-frame, ‘one-offs’ will not consolidate on-going knowledge.
Rule 4: Be prepared for children to be a bit confused – the more confusion, the less Base Ten is understood.
I started teaching math as a graduate student in a mid-western state university in 1978, and retired in June 2017, having taught every single semester including summers, with only a handful of exceptions.
My last few years were spent as department chair, where one of my biggest responsibilities included hand-holding people through their problems with students. I dealt with future teachers, current middle- and high-school math teachers, graduate students, part-time faculty, full-time faculty and colleagues throughout the state.
What I've realized from my years of effort is that all of them were being asked to do the impossible, which was to get every single student adept in the level of math that they were in. This task meant a great deal of frustration to most of them, and a lot of cognitive dissonance, in that they were emotionally committed to the task, but intellectually realized that it could not be done. Of course, in many cases, this resulted in a lowering of standards to match “reality” to emotion. Unfortunately, in our discipline, all that does is kick the can down the road, leaving the instructor in the next class with students who can't do the necessary background material.
Given that a great deal of math is a matter of recall and mental “reflexes”, the problem of grade inflation is even more dire than in many other subjects. I coined the phrase, “illusion of mastery” to describe the many students who sat in my office to complain about faculty members “being unfair.”
They would show me work which was clearly incorrect, yet they would insist that it was not. This was most common with aspiring STEM majors in precalculus, calculus I, or calculus II. By calculus III, most of the survivors had figured out what to do. However, my last time teaching calculus III I gave a simple 3-question quiz on very simple fractions that we had used in a study of cognition. An observant 6th-grade student should have been able to get them all correct. Fully 1/3 of my class did not do well on this quiz, and those exact students ended up failing my course.
When I shared such thoughts at state-wide open meetings, I was quietly thanked by junior faculty, who told me that they were not permitted to even consider such a position.
Here is, to me, the crux of the issue. We require students to take math (and pass it) almost every year of their K-12 experience, yet we have not really answered why we do so.
If it is just mental development, there are plenty of other ways that this could be done, rather than frustrating hordes of students.
If it is because, as the physicist Richard Feynman said, the language of science is math, then we have an issue. Learning math means being able to do the calculations, to formulate statements in its language, and to extract conclusions from solutions to those formulations.
My experience suggests that most people cannot do this at any real level, and we should re-engineer education to reflect this. My estimate is that about 30% can master standard algebra I, probably only 15% can manage the material in precalculus, and perhaps 5% can do so for calculus I.
You, the next generation, will almost certainly disagree, and I wish you luck, because I could be wrong. However, if your next set of reforms (I experienced 5 in my career) fails to generate the desired results in the long term, try not to blame yourselves too much. That way lies madness.
By Timothy Shane Norfolk - now retired after a lifetime of university mathematics teaching and research. You can find out more about Dr. Norfolk and his work by visiting his site.
We are in March Madness. Ask every basketball player when they started their quest to play basketball in the coveted NCAA Tournament. They will say they started in the 6th or 7th grade—if not before. They set their goals and aspirations at that age. They practiced with that goal in mind. In the 8th grade, they refined these efforts and, based on NCAA rules, are now being recruited by colleges—yes, that is right! They join AAU leagues, they play summer leagues. They stop doing other sport and activities and focus efforts on basketball. In 9th and 10th grades, they intensify these efforts by going on travel teams that take them across the country. They begin to narrow their choices of universities (and coaches) they want to play for. They double down on their own practices, hire private coaches. In the 11th grade they begin visiting schools, and many make “early decisions.” Take a look at the picture below...It was taken five or six years ago. Each one of them made a commitment—and it paid off.
I write this to say, if we expect our children, the future students at my university, to truly be college ready, we need to have them go through the same commitment process and exercise their mind to prepare when they are in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades. We need them to set their goals and ambitions. They need to set the road map and not shy away from tough and rigorous classes. They need to “play against the best teams and players,” which means taking four years of math, two years of foreign languages, and extra science courses. They need to attend summer college opportunities (i.e., at my university, we offer the “Common Wealth Honors College,” which allows rising juniors to attend a six week semester on our campus taking courses from our professors and gain college credit) just as others attend AAU tournaments.
In addressing 6th, 7th and 8th graders, I always ask if there are athletes in the room. And I always get a “yes.” I ask, when do you start practicing for a big game? When do you start practicing to get in the varsity squad? How many of you want to play at a university and when do you start preparing for that? The day before the big game, the day of tryouts, or months and years before? They all say, months and years before....Then I say, “Then start practicing for your university experience now. Don’t view homework as a chore, but as a practice session for your chance to play in the big game, to get on the varsity squad, to get into your university of choice. Don’t view teachers as someone who is assigning you busy work, rather as your coach, as your personal coach, who is preparing you to win the game, to get on the varsity squad, and to prepare you for your next ‘game,’ which is getting that A, graduating from high school and going on to a university.” I tell them not to shy away from competition, but to embrace the challenges of life, as they will only make you better.
Our goal is to make champions—and one (and not the only) symbol of that is a diploma from a University. To do that, you must practice day in a day out, chart your course out, set high goals and expectations, hold yourself accountable, prepare and do the work. You cannot do that in your last year of high school. It starts in the 6th grade with the mindset, it continues in the 8th grade with the plan, and it is implemented each day, week, month and semester all through high school.
By Dr. Robert O. Davies
Known for his student-centered philosophy, commitment to the community, unyielding advocacy for higher education and inclusive leadership style, Dr. Robert O. Davies has served as the president of Murray State University since July 2014.
"Visit College...in Middle School." What are school districts doing to get kids ready for college? Jenny Hoy explains how we can move past the "college and career readiness" cliché and actually give kids the tools they need. https://t.co/yqXjfHOyPH #EdChat #CollegeandCareer - We're Doing It Wrong (@DoingItWrong25) March 17, 2018
One of the most popular phrases we hear from educational experts these days is something along the lines of producing graduates who are ‘college and career ready.’ While this is a wonderful feel-good cliché, the question is what are K-12 school districts actually doing to facilitate this process? The answer to this is generally hit and miss until the latter years of high school. Unfortunately, this might be too late for some students. Yes, there might be some fun events for elementary and middle school students such as going to a basketball game or a career fair, but there really isn’t a lot of direct instruction for students about what it means to go to college and, more importantly, what they need to do earlier in their academic progression to position themselves for the university of their choice. This applies not only to first-generation college students as well as students who come from families where going to college is a general expectation.
It was a very personal experience that brought this home to me. With university administrators, professors, and many, many teachers in our family, there was never any doubt that my daughter would go to college. However, it wasn’t until the obligatory ‘Junior Year Spring Break College Tour’ that we realized she wasn’t as prepared for the college admission process as we thought. While touring a highly ranked university in California, we discovered that many universities have specific requirements that differ slightly from other universities, mostly as a way to easily winnow a large number of highly qualified applicants down. Upon discovering a favorite university would not consider my daughter’s application because she didn’t take a Fine Arts class in high school, I said to myself, Gee, this would have been good information to have known when you were a Freshman. And, with this comment, the seeds of a project for my 8th-grade students were planted. This light-bulb moment of mine is actually supported by the 2014 Obama Report to increase college opportunities by encouraging educators to connect 8th graders with college admissions counselors to develop a curriculum plan to set students on the right path for admissions.
"Visit College...in Middle School." What are school districts doing to get kids ready for college? Jenny Hoy explains how we can move past the “college and career readiness” cliché and actually give kids the tools they need. https://t.co/yqXjfHOyPH#EdChat#CollegeandCareer
What came out of this idea is now a rite-of-passage project my 8th-grade students complete every spring where they mimic virtually everything they will do during their high school senior year, from applying to a college, visiting our local university, stressing out over ‘College Acceptance Day,’ and researching the college they were ‘accepted’ for admission requirements, academic reputation, history and traditions, student life, and financial commitments. Ultimately, it isn’t the college they research that is important, but rather committing to an advanced and rigorous course of study, along with purposeful extra-curricular involvement during their high school years. My students do this by presenting their research and their high school plan to panels of their high school administrators, counselors, teachers and student leaders. It’s a wonderful event that celebrates their achievements in middle school while also allowing them to look forward to their high school years with the prospect of going to college on the far horizon. This project is timed to align with their high school registration and begins with the words, “The decisions you start making today will affect where you will be ten years from now.” To further bring the point home, students also read the enjoyable memoir Rocket Boys by Homer Hickham while completing this project.
Each year, my inbox is filled with emails from former students telling me they are headed to a university summer scholar program for high school students that they wouldn’t have known about had they not done this project. I also hear from students as they graduate from high school, brimming with excitement at having been accepted to this college or that. All say that their serious plan for college began with this project, as it was much more than just another project -- it was a chance to dream about the possibilities afforded them via education.
By Jenny Davies Hoy - a respected middle school teacher for gifted students.
Our goal is to make champions-and one (and not the only) symbol of that is a diploma from a University. We are in March Madness. Ask every basketball player when they started their quest to play basketball in the coveted NCAA Tournament. They will say the
What are we doing wrong in the US education system?
The short answer: nothing.
The appropriate way to evaluate a system is based on what it is designed to do, and the education system is not designed to do anything. Rather, throughout 200 years of public education, it has been given a sequence of demands, and has responded by adapting organically.
Among other things, the system has been required to:
-Prepare young men for factories and the military, and young women for marriage and domestic service
-Serve as a mechanism for upward social mobility (Dewey)
-Produce an educated electorate (Jefferson)
-Generate 'well-rounded' individuals
-Serve as a minor league for professional sports
-Fix major social problems (Head Start)
-Provide enough science and engineering majors to keep the economy working
-Graduate most students, each immediately ready to be successful in higher education, or prepared for a job
All of that with no recognition that some of these goals are in direct conflict.
For example, demanding increased performance necessarily means that more students will fail to clear the bar. Alternatively, demanding increased graduation rates necessarily leads to grade inflation and lowering the bar. There is no way around this, as it is precisely the problem of Type I and Type II errors in statistical testing.
The over-emphasis on sports in some districts, and the effect on grade inflation, has been well-recorded. What is rarely noted is the effect on the other students. If unprepared student athletes, or others who seem to put no effort into their studies, still progress to the higher grades, what is the immediate incentive to work hard?
If teachers are trying to fix every social problem in their classrooms, where is the time for learning? In my experience, the more talented students tend to get less attention, because 'they will learn anyway'. This is a recipe for mediocrity.
In short, before we try yet another major overhaul of the system, we should perhaps first decide the goals to be met, and check if those goals are achievable.
By Timothy Shane Norfolk - now retired after a lifetime of university mathematics teaching and research. You can find out more about Dr. Norfolk and his work by visiting his site.