Math is not memorization — and to raise the high school graduation rate, we need to change that assumption

We hear it all the time.

“I’m not good at math.”

In most cases, though, a little digging reveals a much different problem. Students who think they’re bad at math are often struggling with memorization.

On May 7, a Stanford University mathematics professor made a plea to fellow educators to help students understand that mathematics has little to nothing to do with memorization.

In fact, she notes, memorization is a particularly bad strategy for learning anything more than very basic equations. That’s evidenced by data from the 13 million students who took PISA tests in 2012. The lowest scoring students, Professor Jo Boaler wrote, were “thosewho thought of math as a set of methods to remember and who approached math by trying to memorize steps.

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A primer on the words we use to describe people who have left high school before graduation

What’s in a word?

A new blog post from NPR’s Anya Kamenetz dives into the terms our society has used to describe young men and women who are of school age but aren’t enrolled in school.

In the post, Kamenetz discusses the history and baggage that comes with terms line “delinquent,” “dropout,” and “at-risk youth.”

For our part, long-time readers of this website might have noticed that we’ve recently steered clear of the word “dropout” to describe individual people, though we still use the term to describe an educational crisis facing our nation. For many of the reasons that Kamenetz discusses, “dropout” is simply a poor description of many of the students we have met over the years who left school before earning a high school diploma.

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Many children sacrifice their futures to help families in need

Households with adolescent workers tend to rely less on federal assistance programs than those with youth who aren’t in school and aren’t working.

That’s a key finding in a new analysis by the Urban Institute, which also found that working youth tend to be disproportionately male, Hispanic and first-generation immigrants.

In other words, by doing what our society broadly asks immigrants to do — taking care of themselves and their families so the government doesn’t have to — these individuals are sacrificing their own futures.

The average wage for these workers is $9,500 a year. But, at least in the short-term, that money is helping raise 42 percent of poor households over the poverty line. In about 10 percent of such cases, the working youth earns more than half of their family’s total income.

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No justice in Atlanta cheating case — just a shot across the bow

The shot that needed to be fired has been.

So there should be no doubt that there’s already been a time or two — or perhaps a hundred — in which a teacher has thought twice about falsifying student test scores. In the wake of the indictment of 35 Atlanta educators for cheating (and today’s sentencing of eight of them to prison terms) we can safely assume that, to the extent deterrence ever actually works, it’s working now.

Is that justice? Hardly. But trying to find justice in a situation like this is like trying to balance a scale in a world where Newton’s laws have been suspended.

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When revolutionary changes they made turned out to be not enough, they started a new revolution

Yonkers Partners in Education seemed to be doing everything right.

Recognizing that few students and families from the working-class New York suburb had anywhere near the information and readiness they needed to get to college, the local organization set out to make a change.

It opened college and career centers in seven Yonkers high schools, then hired advisers to staff the centers and supplemented that effort with community volunteers.

It held regular college admissions test prep sessions, financial readiness seminars, and essay-writing workshops. It took Yonkers kids on bus tours of nearby colleges.

And, as journalist Lane Anderson wrote for The Deseret News National Edition today, the results were nothing short of impressive.

“In the 2013-2014 school year, Yonkers students made almost 30,000 visits to the YPIE college centers, and 95 percent of seniors used them,” Anderson wrote. “Scholarships secured by Yonkers students soared from $23 million in 2009 to more than $61 million in 2014. Over 60 percent of Yonkers high school grads enrolled in college within six months — most to Westchester Community College in nearby Valhalla.”

And then it came to light.

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It's so obvious: Education can't solve every problem — but it can solve a lot of them

A new research paper from The Hamilton Project, an economic policy initiative at the Brookings Institution, concludes that increasing the educational attainment of people without a college degree will increase their average earnings, increase their likelihood of being employed and reduce inequality in the bottom half of the earnings distribution.

Sounds good and makes sense, right?

But in a summary for The New York Times on Tuesday, senior economics correspondent Neil Irwin focuses first and foremost on what helping more people get educated won’t do: It won’t, apparently, do much to change the very extreme differences between the super-rich and everyone else in the United States.

To which we say: Really? That’s what you focused on?

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To re-ignite more educations, we should listen to the stories

Think you can typecast people who didn't earn a diploma before leaving high school?

Think again.

And no matter if you're a long-time advocate of helping more Americans re-ignite their educations or if you're new to this fight, it's worth your time today to read the words of reporter Dennis Yohnka from The Daily Journal in Kankakee, Illinois:

Every classroom comes with stories. Each student, from kindergarten to college, brings a different set of experiences, special interests and specific hurdles that teachers have to accommodate.

Still, the GED classroom at Lafayette Primary School takes that diversity to a whole new level. The students in this new Kankakee School District 111 project range from 18 to 59. Some still recall some of the lessons learned in their aborted high school careers. For others, high school was only a matter of a few disjointed weeks of starts and stops.

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College savings, broader post-secondary awareness, two parts of the fight to get more students to graduation day

Yes, a high school diploma is a ticket to college.

No, that’s not all it is.

That’s an important message that is often lost on high school students — especially those in high schools where college as the next step is the status quo and post-secondary alternatives such as workforce training, military enlistment and service organizations are seldom discussed.

A recent paper demonstrating the importance of college savings plans to lowering student debt is getting a bit more attention than what usually comes upon other research published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. That’s because President Obama’s proposed budget suggested the plans should be cut.

But the paper suggests that — rather than killing the program — the best economic decision would be to get more people to use it.

Even before the paper was published, the Obama administration relented to public pressure, and Congress has responded by proposing increased benefits to the program, known as the 529 college savings plan.  

So how does this relate to other-than-college options for high school graduates?

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Systemic changes to dropout recovery fight requires long-term plans, early intervention

When school leaders met Thursday in Rockland, Maine, to discuss how to address the community’s dropout problem, they immediately locked onto an idea that many others ignore or dismiss.

“Pre-kindergarten will bring families into the culture of education earlier,” Oceanside High School West Principal William Gifford said, according to an article by The Bangor Daily News

That’s right: To address a problem facing the district today, Gifford and others are looking at making changes that won’t produce measurable outcomes, in terms of graduations, for 14 years.

Because early education initiatives are such long-term investments, they’re often passed over by district leaders looking for more immediate ways to increase graduation numbers.

That’s an unfortunate, though understandable, consequence of a world in which school leaders are expected to make quick gains in measurable educational outcomes. And if you consider that the average tenure of a public school superintendent is just three years, you can understand why an initiative that won’t show results until a successor’s successor’s successor’s successor comes around might not be high on the list of priorities.

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Nothing 'Magic' about 'no comment' — if you're going to serve at-risk kids, you have to be willing to engage

A recent investigative report from WBEZ and Catalyst Chicago paints an exceptionally poor picture of for-profit educational programs in Illinois aimed at getting students who have left school without a diploma back on track for graduation.

The article starts with a description of a speech that Earvin “Magic” Johnson delivered at the Global Silicon Valley Advisors conference last year. In that address, the former NBA great spoke at length about making money — and only passingly about what he was making it on: Alternative education in collaboration with a company called EdisonLearning.

The report makes various other allegations and offers plenty more innuendo. But the most devastating sentence, by far, was this one:

“No one from EdisonLearning or Magic Johnson Enterprises would agree to an interview.”

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