Six ways to survive college search with a smile
Katie Mathews, the youngest of my three children, graduated from law school two weeks ago. That ends for me 22 years of college touring, SAT fretting, application essay reading, rejection angst, acceptance relief and tuition paying. I still worry about the job market, but barring an appointment to the Federal Reserve Board, that is beyond my influence.
My grandson Ben, 4, said he is going to go to college. I wished him luck. By then I will be gone or uncommunicative. While I can still type, perhaps I should take this opportunity to record the six key issues related to the college search, drawing on all that I have learned in my many years of parenting and writing.
1. SAT and ACT exams: They frighten your children and waste your money. They add little to the learning process. But resisting their power will do little more than aggravate family tension. When my daughter was in high school, her PSAT scores were fine. She didn’t need the SAT prep course. But her friends were taking it. She didn’t want to be at a competitive disadvantage. So I wrote the check, and said nothing when her SAT score turned out to be almost the same as her PSAT.
2. College tours: Pretend you are visiting a theme park. Have fun. Don’t take notes. Don’t ask a lot of questions at the admission office information session. You’re on vacation, right? Act like it. If your kid wants to take it seriously, fine. But if the tour guide is too snotty or the dorm rooms too small, she might not even apply. Wait until she has an acceptance letter before visiting with your clipboard and list of vital interrogatories.Continue reading this post »
What do you do if your child isn’t going to college?
A parent asked me recently what she should do if her child doesn’t appear headed for college. The student in question is just a fourth-grader, but this is the Washington area, probably our nation’s most college-conscious region. Parents here like to plan ahead.
We don’t want to drag to college a student who isn’t interested. But there is a big difference between getting students ready for college and forcing them to go. In this area, schools are committed to prepare nearly every child for college these days, just as they are committed to teach nearly every child to read. High schools try to make it very difficult for students to graduate without taking the reading, writing, math, science and history courses that colleges require — and for a very good reason.
“Technology has driven up the complexity of virtually all professions to the point that there is no difference between the skills needed to be college-ready and those needed to be career-ready,” said Mel Riddile, a former national high school principal of the year from Northern Virginia who is now an associate director at the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
Every student needs to tackle the basic academic subjects on which modern working lives are based, all the experts I have consulted said. They also need to know how to manage their time, work in a team and present their ideas at meetings. Without those skills, unless they have wealthy and indulgent parents, they will have little chance at financially secure and personally satisfying lives, whether they go to college or not.Continue reading this post »
Miriam Hughey-Guy, one of best principals ever, transforms an Arlington school
Five years ago, I thought I was going to catch Miriam Hughey-Guy, principal of Barcroft Elementary School in Arlington County, making an excuse for her school’s failure to reach federal proficiency targets three years in a row.
I didn’t see why she had to take the blame. Her students were mostly from low-income families. Many parents spoke little English. That year the school just missed the mark, needing only seven more limited-English students to pass the state reading test.
When I asked about this, she began a sentence with the word “because.” She seemed on the verge of blaming somebody or something else. But she cut herself off and started again.
“No because,” she said. “There is no excuse!” Failing to meet the requirements of the No Child Left Behind law was “mind-boggling,” she said, “but it is something we have to work on.”
Which is what she, and a team of teachers who hold her in awe, did. They brought the school back into compliance. More importantly, they demonstrated how good a school full of poor kids can be if it has a smart, energetic principal who gives teachers unwavering support for their best ideas.
This year, Hughey-Guy, 59, is retiring. I don’t envy the person who will take her place. It is difficult to find a principal as creative and resourceful as she has been. Barcroft’s Leonardo da Vinci Project, a way to mix history, art and science in ways that enthrall children, has become a curricular legend. Hughey-Guy is the only Arlington principal to persuade parents and teachers to switch to a year-round schedule to reduce the learning loss from the traditional summer vacation.Continue reading this post »
A powerful term in U.S. high schools: DBQ
You may not know what a DBQ is. For most of my life, neither did I. But in the high schools of this region and the rest of the country it has become an important and in some ways fearsome term.
It haunts the dreams of 400,000 teenagers who will take the Advanced Placement exam in U.S. history Wednesday. It is part of a massive reform of the AP exam system that controls the schedules of most of the nation’s high schools every May.
DBQ is an acronym for “document-based question.” Multiple-choice questions make up 55 minutes of the 3-hour, 5-minute AP U.S. History exam, which has the second-largest number of AP test-takers, behind only the English Language and Composition exam. The rest of the time is devoted to two essay questions and the DBQ, an essay based on roughly 10 short historical documents or quotes. The DBQ counts more than any other question on the exam. It draws by far the most attention, including pre-exam guessing of what it will be about.
Is DBQ mania good for our schools? Philip W. Engle Jr., a history teacher at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, has been educating me on this. He has been an AP teacher for 20 years. He doesn’t think DBQs are bad. They “require students to work with documents and use higher-level thinking skills to use this information to defend a thesis,” Engle said. “This is a great skill to have, especially when writing research papers.”
But to Engle, the DBQ seems at odds with the view of the College Board — and most universities — that AP U.S. History is a college-level course.Continue reading this post »
Two D.C. high schools dare to require deep research
I often despair over the sorry state of writing and research in our high schools. Only private schools and public schools with the International Baccalaureate diploma program require research papers of significant length. Two million new high school graduates head to college every year — but only 10 percent, by my reckoning — have had to write a long paper or do a major project.
The only traditional public school in this region requiring that for all students is Wakefield High School in Arlington County. It is a remarkable feat for a school in which half the students are from low-income families.
Recently I discovered that two public charter schools are doing this in the District, providing more encouragement to those of us who think working through a complex, long-form research problem is the essence of a good education.
The Capitol Hill and Parkside campuses of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy require all seniors to write a 12- to 15-page paper on a policy issue of their choice and then defend it before a panel of outside experts. Eighty percent of students at the two schools are from low-income families.
Last year’s research topics included euthanasia, use of mercenaries, gay marriage, fracking, cyberbullying and standardized testing. A paper on child abuse analyzed the tension between parental rights under the 14th Amendment’s due process clause and local governments’ responsibility for protecting children.Continue reading this post »