Written on: October 11th, 2013 in Education
While Washington policy makers continue to spend most of their time consumed by manufactured budget crises, serious threats to our nation’s future competitiveness go unaddressed. One challenge that demands immediate attention is the gap in education quality based on a family’s wealth—a factor in the nation’s rising income inequality.
While this issue requires a long-term and multifaceted approach, we can take immediate steps to improve opportunities for thousands of low-income students who are not reaching their potential.
A recent study by the Stanford economist Caroline M. Hoxby and Christopher Avery, of Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, found that academically qualified, low-income students are far less likely to apply to or attend the nation’s most selective colleges than their higher-income counterparts are. Only 34 percent of high-achieving high-school seniors in the bottom quarter of family income went to one of the 238 most selective colleges, compared with 78 percent of students from the top quarter. Those who underestimate their qualifications graduate from college far less frequently and lose out on career opportunities—and we as a society lose out on the contributions they could make.
Recognizing the role a college education can play in lifting young people out of poverty, I am distressed that we have students from those backgrounds—many of whom would be first in their family to go to college—who have earned the chance to pursue a degree but don’t realize it and, thus, never reach their full potential. Many times they don’t even apply to college, because they think they can’t afford it and they don’t have anyone telling them it is possible.
The good news is that research shows we can change this trend simply by better informing these students. In Delaware last month we announced that the College Board would send information on college affordability and financial aid, as well as materials to help with choosing colleges, to all seniors whose high-school work demonstrates that they are ready for college.
Additionally, low-income students will receive application-fee waivers, which have traditionally been far too complicated to obtain. And our highest-achieving low-income students will find a letter signed by all of the Ivy League schools, Stanford, and MIT, congratulating them on their achievements, encouraging them to apply, and letting them know that many low- and moderate-income students attend those institutions at no cost.
Our effort has implications for federal education policy. Delaware has shown that programs like the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition can be the catalyst for rebuilding foundational educational systems and developing practices that help students prepare for and gain access to the postsecondary-education opportunities that best suit them.
For example, our Race to the Top grant has allowed us to invest in new data programs to better understand the status of all of our students, with the aim of reaching everyone with the resources that match their needs. In addition, we pay for every junior to take the SAT during the school day. Those test scores can be matched with other attributes, like low-income qualifications, to help us focus resources on our neediest students.
Our innovations, supported by Race to the Top, will also allow us to engage in follow-up efforts as part of our new college-access project, including reminder e-mails and postcards for our college-ready students. In addition, two-thirds of our high schools will hold College Application Month events in November, during which volunteers will offer one-on-one assistance with filling out college applications and financial-aid forms.
While it has cost about $25-million per year to get all of this up and running, we can sustain these efforts for a fraction of that cost. When Washington focuses on boosting the most promising state reforms with start-up money, we have the ability to create efforts like this, which can be maintained over the long run and are replicable across the country.
Our nation has a moral obligation, and an economic imperative, to provide every student with the opportunity to get the education he or she deserves. Low-income students are particularly vulnerable to missing out on such opportunities, but we can take an important step forward by giving them the resources they need to make the most of their abilities.
This blog was originally published in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Written on: October 7th, 2013 in Education
The success of our education system depends more than anything else on great teachers.
They are the ones dedicated to understanding each student’s individual needs, who know that one is a visual learner and another learns better in group settings. They take time after the school day ends to provide extra support and before the next day begins to ensure their pupils will enter a welcoming environment.
They are educators like Delaware Teacher of the Year Jon Sell, who voluntarily took on additional leadership responsibilities to help his peers overcome challenges. They are also like Delaware elementary social studies instructor Jill Szymanski, who was recently named National History Teacher of the Year for creating lessons, such as her year-long “Civil War Museum” project, which bring the past to life while developing students’ critical literacy skills.
Recognizing that teacher quality is the most important school-related factor in a student’s academic success, the challenge for policymakers is to ensure educators have the resources and opportunities they need to be at their best in the classroom.
That starts with listening to our teachers. In Delaware, we have begun conducting a statewide teaching and learning conditions survey to more fully understand their views.
And, we are working to ensure they have access to up-to-date technology. Preparing students for 21st century colleges and careers requires increasing our investments in computers and mobile devices, as well as in assistance for teachers to help them get the most out of these tools.
In addition, our state has established “professional learning communities” to provide interactive opportunities for educators to learn from each other. All teachers meet with a small group of their peers for 90 minutes each week to discuss student data and talk about which instructional practices are resulting in the most improvement for our young people.
We can also do more to ensure prospective teachers receive the best possible training. I’m proud of legislation we passed this year to require quality student teaching experiences and incorporate research-based reading and math instruction methods, all of which are lacking at the majority of teacher preparation programs. Furthermore, we’re setting minimum admission standards for these programs because we cannot accept that less than one quarter of our teachers graduate in the top third of their college classes.
To attract more of the top students to the profession, we must show we appreciate our teachers. That means, even in challenging fiscal environments, investing in them with quality materials for their classrooms and a compensation system that reflects our values.
We have made some important progress in Delaware that I look forward to sharing at the Education Nation panel on teacher quality, but we have more work to do. I’m eager to hear other recommendations. Given the importance of the subject, it should be a lively discussion. However, I’m sure we will all agree on one point: it takes great teachers to ensure our students can make the most of their abilities.
This blog post was originally published on Education Nation.