Feb 2008

Elite universities go low cost

Wash U and Stanford have joined Harvard in loosening up the endowment pocketbooks to provide grants for students of middle-class families to attend for free or a least close to it.

Besides the obvious benefit of helping more students attend, I think this could have long-reaching benefits. Financial aid is a confusing, messy business. Yes, students can get it, but they don't know how much until they apply. This way lower middle-class families can aspire to send their kids to elite universities without worrying as much about money. The finances won't keep them from even dreaming.

❝We are concerned about assuring that students of all backgrounds have the opportunity to study here," said Chancellor Mark Wrighton. "We think this policy will encourage people who have modest circumstances to apply.❞

This news should be heralded in every 8th grade high school planning session in every district, including SLPS. I would put up flyers in every guidance office throughout the state. Heck, I would start younger. I would make sure to mention it at every opportunity in the elementary schools.

Elite universities are becoming a little less aristocratic.

Researching history at the library

National History Day 2007 Documentary Category National Winner: The Great Seattle Fire

I'm such a nerd. While in college my roommate skipped classes because she was hanging out with her boyfriend, she was sleeping, it was raining or any other excuse she could find (before flunking out). I skipped classes (and not just one or two) to hang out at the State Historical Society of Missouri. I was doomed as soon as I discovered it was actually on campus. I had one professor give us an assignment that required us to dig into old Missouri papers on microfilm. The other students complained about doing a stupid assignment that was probably just to help a prof with his research, but I was in my element.

Over 2,600 Mo. students grades 6-12 compete in National History Day. This year's theme is "Conflict and Compromise in History," which seems apropo in an election year. About 500 students will then compete at the state level in April with 45-50 going on to nationals in June. The St. Louis region's contest will be this Saturday, Feb. 23, at UMSL.

The ability to do real historical research and present their studies instead of just memorizing dates is a wonderful way to show students the relevance and fascinating aspects of history. Go St. Louis history students!

Students taking AP classes in Mo., or not

My Humps—Calculus

Students in Missouri are not taking AP courses at nearly the same levels as in other states according to the College Board annual report released earlier this week (Wed. Feb. 13). In Mo. 10.6 percent of students take an AP class versus 24.9 percent national average. We're at less than half the national average.

Nationally, 15.7 percent of students earn a 3 or higher on at least one AP exam; whereas, in Mo. only 6.7 percent do. In fact, Mo ranks 46th. (Yeah, the College Board recommends against ranking for a lot of valid reasons, but I did I did it anyway.)

Last summer, Mo. DESE sent out a press release praising the uptick in numbers of students taking the exam.

❝This year we sent more money to Missouri classrooms than ever before and also secured funding to encourage even more students to take AP classes, including training for more AP teachers and assistance to help cover the cost of AP exams. It is clear by our students’ outstanding performance that our investments are helping our students prepare for the challenges ahead,❞ he [Gov. Matt Blunt] said.

However, the 2.0 percent increase in the past 5 years is quite a bit less than the national average of 3.5 percent increase. Our students are falling behind.

It's possible students here are taking AP courses but not the exam. Adding in IB classes wouldn't raise the rates much since only a few high schools here offer them (Lindbergh, Metro). However, I wonder if St. Louis University's 1-8-1-8 program decreases students motivation to take the AP exam.

I couldn't find numbers on students in Mo. taking AP courses, but I did look up a few districts' offerings to compare to the national average (9). Clayton offers 21 AP courses including Calculus BC, Music theory and Macroeconomics. Hazelwood offers 15 including Computer Science and Physics. I also looked up a rural district and chose DeSoto at random. I couldn't find evidence they offered any AP courses. I didn't see any listed in the course schedule (except possibly calculus); nor were any mentioned in the student handbook. They are proposing a college prep certificate starting class of 2010. If that is reflective of rural districts, Mo. is in trouble.

Missouri has started two centers at Truman and SeMo to help train teachers to teach AP courses. This is a good start but not enough.

Greening St. Louis Schools

I have previously challenged districts with building initiatives like Rockwood to include green elements. Parkway is having public meetings where residents can voice their opinions. I'm sure other districts are also considering renovation projects.

Missouri is a bit behind with no LEED certified schools although one is expected to open in Kansas City next year. In St. Louis County, most schools are renovating, not constructing new buildings, which makes the LEED certification trickier. Ohio is requiring all new schools and major renovations to be LEED Silver certified and is helping with funding.

Julia Feder, a green schools advocate for the U.S. Green Building Council St. Louis Chapter, spoke last night (Tues. Feb. 12) to the Clayton school district about the advantages of building green and the "triple bottom line."

Good for environment
nuff said

Good for economics
While building green costs 3-5% more, the payback time is 5-7 years. Obviously, schools last longer than that, so taxpayers benefit. The average green school saves $100,000 per year in operating costs.

❝Analysis of the costs and benefits of 30 green schools and use of conservative and prudent financial assumptions provides a clear and compelling case that greening schools today is extremely cost-effective, and represents a fiscally far better design choice. Building green schools is more fiscally prudent and lower risk than continuing to build unhealthy, inefficient schools.❞ (Greening America's Schools: Costs and Benefits, Gregory Kats, Capital E Report, pdf)

Good for health and wellness
An AIA (American Institute for Architects) report gives some promising data: 38.5 percent reduction in asthma because of improved air quality and 1.41 fewer teacher work days missed. (eSchool News) Improving kids' health because of better building design and implementation is a moral obligation.

Illinois has passed the Green Cleaning for Schools Act, which will help all schools take steps toward making schools a healthier environment. Will Missouri step up?

A Heschong Mahone Group study showed that daylighting, contrary to previous assumptions, doesn't decrease learning. Instead, students showed a 20-26 percent faster learning rate. I remember the middle school I attended with its miniscule windows. Sigh.

Studies have linked a decrease in ADHD behaviors to time spent in the outdoors. Outdoor classrooms are another component to green schools.

USGBC-STL is giving a presentation "Greening Your School and District 101: What do you need to know to take the first steps?" at Crossroads Preparatory School April 3 8-10 a.m.

A Vision of K-12 Students Today

Here's the K-12 version of the popular A Vision of Students Today YouTube that is so popular. Sure, students still need to learn how to read books, but kids are often more visually oriented and technologically literate than their teachers, and this disconnect often makes for "unengaged" learners and frustrated children.

Wash U involves multiple schools, depts. in KIPP sponsorship

Some are excited about Wash U.'s sponsorship of KIPP charter schools in St. Louis because it provides more options for families in the city, some because Wash U is one of the first "elite" schools to sponsor a charter school. Some like the data. I'm excited because I believe Wash U won't just write a report once a year; I think they will be an active sponsor.

❝The University expects to have significant involvement in the success of this new school.❞

This involvement isn't just tutoring although I'm sure undergrads and master's level students will work directly with kids. Faculty and doctoral students will perform research, which should provide interesting info on charter schools.

❝But he [Robert Wild], thinks the many different university schools — education, social work and others — can all get involved. KIPP schools would provide undergrads and faculty alike with real-world exploration and real-world research.❞

A top-ranked school of social work working with the ed dept. provides for exciting opportunities. The different schools working together isn't just happy talk; the dean of George warren Brown School of Social Work is officially involved. The reputation will be on the line.

Since Wash U emphasizes science education research and projects, I would watch to see if the KIPP schools follow suit.

I'm aware that KIPP schools are controversial, but I'll be eagerly following this partnership.