How to get the most out of your college campus visit
Oh, sure, students (models?) are all smiles in the brochure. But what will you really see on the college tour?
March 13th, 2013
05:00 AM ET

How to get the most out of your college campus visit

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) – This spring, high school students and their parents will descend on college campuses, maps in hand, to see the sights and get a “feel” for the educational experience.

It’s exciting but overwhelming. What can you really know about a college after a walk through campus or an overnight stay?

CNN spoke with Peggy Hock, the director of college counseling at the Pinewood School in Los Altos Hills, California. Hock works with high school students and parents who are delving into the all-important college-decision process.

Hock says that she typically starts the college conversation with students by asking students to develop a vision for what they want in their college experience. She asks students to write down five things a college has to have to be a good place for them.

Then, she tells them to do some research into what colleges meet their criteria and plan to visit a short list of small and large schools that fit their vision. She recommends the College Board’s new “Big Future” site, especially for students who don’t have access to college counselors. The site’s “Find Colleges” section lets students indicate whether an aspect of the college is a “must have” or a “desirable” and matches those preferences to colleges that fit. Then, decide what colleges you’ll visit.

“It’s important to have some idea of why you are visiting that college,” Hock says.

If you have a counselor, she has something to say: Listen. She once had a student who narrowed down his college list to a few large universities in his home state of California. Based on what she knew about him, she suggested he check out another college - in Pennsylvania. He visited, and during a walk across campus, was stopped by a faculty member who asked whether he had any questions.

“These are my people!” the student told Hock. One year later, he’s a happy freshman at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh.

Here are some tips from Hock for getting the most out of your college visit:

Plan accordingly
Work geographically, scheduling no more than two visits per day to different schools in the same area. Register for the campus tour in advance.

Take the official tour and attend the information session
Sure, you’ll get the canned speech, but you will also get some important facts about the college and its physical layout. And many times, some of your questions will be answered in these presentations.

Ask questions that can’t be answered by canned responses
You want to get as true a picture as possible of the academic and social culture of the place. Hock says that some of her students ask questions such as “How much do you study?” and “Have you ever gone to a professor for help?” A question such as “Do you find study groups helpful?” will give you some insight into whether a campus is competitive or cooperative. Ask your guide, “What did you do last weekend?” and “What surprised you most when you got here?” to get some authentic, first-person insights about living at and attending this university.

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Filed under: College • Counselors
December 17th, 2012
01:36 PM ET

My View: Above all, teachers are in it for the kids

Courtesy CNNBy Donna Krache, CNN

Editor’s note: Donna Krache is executive producer of CNN Student News, and an editor of the Schools of Thought blog. She is a former middle and high school social studies teacher.

(CNN) – In the 1980s, when I stepped in front of my first class of high school students, we didn’t worry about attacks on schools. The phrase “school shooting” was not part of the education lexicon. The tragedy at Columbine High School was years in the future.

There was no Internet and no cellphones, a time most of today’s students would think was hundreds of years ago.

And yet, something that my first principal said about teaching still rings true today.

“No matter what some people will tell you,” he said, “anyone who is in teaching is in it for the kids.”

The teachers I know are certainly not in it for the money, nor the accolades, nor – despite what some believe – the two months off in the summer. That’s when many teachers find second jobs to make ends meet until they can return to their classrooms.

They’re in it in part because of a passion for a subject and for knowledge and they want to pass that love of history, or science, or math to the next generation.

But more importantly, they are in it for the kids.

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Northwestern, Northern Illinois top 'Academic BCS' rankings
The Northwestern Wildcats earned the #1 ranking in the New America Foundation's 'Academic BCS,' based on the school's player graduation rates and other academic factors.
December 13th, 2012
05:02 AM ET

Northwestern, Northern Illinois top 'Academic BCS' rankings

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) – Imagine a college championship bowl game where the teams are Northwestern and Northern Illinois.

The Wildcats and Huskies are not exactly the first teams that come to mind when you think of football powerhouses, but according to the New America Foundation, they are academic giants among the teams in this year’s Bowl Championship Series.

In its sixth annual Academic BCS, the foundation rated Northwestern No. 1 and Northern Illinois No. 2 among the 25 college teams in this season's final BCS standings.

How did they determine the rankings?  The Education Policy team at the New America Foundation considers several factors. It calculates the difference between an entire football team’s graduation rate versus that of the other male students at the school; the graduation gap between black and white players on the team versus the same gap among the total male enrollment at the school; and the gap between the graduation rate of black football players versus all black males at the college.

The Education Policy team also factors in the NCAA’s Academic Progress Rate, which according to the NCAA’s website is “a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates.”

According to the Education Policy team’s formula, Northwestern was ranked No. 1 because it has a 90% graduation rate among its football players, with no graduation gap between its white and black players.
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Filed under: College • College football • Extracurricular • Graduation • Practice
AFT recommends an entry 'bar' exam for teachers
Randi Weingarten is president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).
December 4th, 2012
01:44 PM ET

AFT recommends an entry 'bar' exam for teachers

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) The American Federation of Teachers has issued a report advocating an entry exam for all teacher candidates, like the bar exam taken by aspiring lawyers.

The test, which would be required of all future teachers nationwide, would be given to candidates regardless of whether they are entering the profession through traditional means or “an alternative route.”

The AFT report titled “Raising the Bar: Aligning and Elevating Teacher Preparation and the Teaching Profession”  included a statement by AFT president Randi Weingarten: “We must do away with a common rite of passage, whereby newly minted teachers are tossed the keys to their classrooms, expected to figure things out, and left to see if they (and their students) sink or swim. Such a haphazard approach to the complex and crucial enterprise of educating children is wholly inadequate. It’s unfair to both students and teachers, who want and need to be well-prepared to teach from their first day on the job. At a time when we are raising the standards for students through the Common Core State Standards, we must do the same for teachers.”

The report suggests that the exam be multidimensional and include subject knowledge as well as pedagogical knowledge. In other words, in addition to having to know the subject they teach, teachers would have to demonstrate that they had the qualities to be “caring, competent and confident.”

The report also states the responsibility for setting professional standards and establishing quality teacher preparation programs should reside with K-12 educators and teacher-educators.
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College cuts its tuition by 33%
Belmont Abbey College, a small private college in Belmont, North Carolina, announced it is cutting tuition by 33%.
November 30th, 2012
03:53 AM ET

College cuts its tuition by 33%

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN)– If you’re a parent with college-age kids, you probably experienced sticker shock the first time you checked out tuition costs.  And maybe even a few times after that.

The College Board says that the average yearly cost for a four-year public university for an in-state student is now $8,240.  For a private college, it’s $28,500 per year.

William Thierfelder, president of Belmont Abbey College, says that most students are so discouraged with what he calls the "sticker price" of higher education that they don’t even consider applying to a school they think is beyond their families’ means.

So Belmont Abbey is taking a different approach:  The college has announced that it is "resetting" its tuition, reducing it by 33% next fall for incoming freshmen and transfer students.

The old sticker price for one year at this small private college near Charlotte, North Carolina was about $27,600.   The new price will be $18,500.
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Filed under: College • College costs • Policy
November 29th, 2012
01:55 PM ET

How education could plunge off the 'fiscal cliff'

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) Sequestration: The word strikes fear in the hearts of school boards and administrators nationwide, and with good reason.

What does it mean? The term refers to the across-the-board budget cuts that will automatically occur in federal programs in January 2013, unless Congress reaches an agreement by the end of this year on reducing the deficit.

What kind of cuts will this mean for education?

The American Association of School Administrators (AASA) estimates the reductions would amount to over $4 billion. That would plunge education funding into pre-2003 levels, according to the National Education Association.

Why is that so scary? Part of the reason is that America’s schools have added 5.4 million new students to their rolls since 2003, and costs have risen about 25%. Budget cuts triggered by the fiscal cliff could potentially affect millions of students and teachers by reducing programs and services and increasing class sizes.

According to Deborah Rigsby, director of federal legislation for the National School Boards Association, if sequestration happens, each school district could lose more than $300,000 for every 5,000 children enrolled.

“Sequestration would hurt our school districts and ultimately, our students,” said Rigsby on a conference call Wednesday.

Not all of the effects would be immediate, although some federal programs, such as Title I, Head Start, and state special education funding would feel the impact of the cuts right away. Schools that receive Impact Aid funding would also experience immediate cuts.
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Filed under: Fiscal cliff • Policy • Politics • School budgets • Sequestration
Leading colleges announce for-credit, online courses
November 16th, 2012
04:20 AM ET

Leading colleges announce for-credit, online courses

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) A consortium of ten major universities announced on Thursday that it will offer online courses for credit in the fall of 2013.

The online education initiative is titled “Semester Online.” According to its consortium, it is the “first of its kind featuring rigorous, innovative, live courses.”

Colleges have offered online classes before, but it’s the rigor of the curriculum and the ability to earn credit for the courses that makes this initiative different.  MOOCs, or Massive Open Online Courses, are open to all free of charge, but typically don’t award college credit.

There are 10 university partners in this effort. They are Brandeis University, Duke University, Emory University, Northwestern University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, University of Notre Dame, University of Rochester, Vanderbilt University, Wake Forest University and Washington University in St. Louis.

Pilot online classes will start in the fall of 2013.  Academically eligible students at these universities will be able to apply for Semester Online this coming spring. The consortium hopes to expand both its course offerings and online student enrollment in the future. The faculty and course materials offered in Semester Online will be the same as those used in the traditional college classes.
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All eyes on Georgia, Washington as voters consider charter school initiatives
November 6th, 2012
04:10 AM ET

All eyes on Georgia, Washington as voters consider charter school initiatives

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) On Tuesday, voters in two states – Washington and Georgia – will be weighing in on charter schools.

Charter schools are independent public schools that have flexibility in certain aspects of education like curriculum and length of the school day. In return for this flexibility, they are held accountable for student performance.

The research is mixed on whether students in charters perform better than their traditional public school counterparts. Some cite the CREDO study from Stanford University, which found that “17% of charter schools provide superior education opportunities for their students.” According to this study, about half the charters did not fare any better or worse than their traditional school counterparts, and about 37% of the charters fared worse.

Others cite research like that found in the “Informing the Debate” study from the Boston Foundation,  which “found large positive effects for Charter Schools at both the middle and high school levels.”

Currently, 41 states and the District of Columbia have charter schools.

The topic of charter schools, including how they are established and who gets to attend them, stirs up a lot of emotion among parents, educators and policymakers.  Because it’s relatively new territory, shaping legislation on charters has become a public tug-of-war. The states of Washington and Georgia have charter school initiatives on their ballots.

Washington’s Initiative 1240

Washington has put ballot measures on charters in front of voters three times before, each one rejected – most recently in 2004, when the measure failed by 16 percentage points.  There are no charter schools in Washington.

The latest attempt is Initiative 1240, which would allow for the establishment of eight charter schools in the state per year – 40 over five years. At the end of that period, the charter system would be up for review. The state-approved charter schools would be free and open to all students and be independently operated.
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October 31st, 2012
04:28 AM ET

Free resources to help teach about elections

by Donna Krache, CNN

For civics teachers (and former civics teachers like me), the presidential election is our equivalent of the Olympics.  We prepare for months and pour all our energy into teaching all about the electoral process, looking for ways to make it fun and interesting for students.

If you’re a teacher or a parent who is teaching your students about elections, there are free resources from CNN.com that can really help you bring your curriculum to life.

You can find all these resources at the CNN Election Center, but we’ll also highlight each one separately here:

Probably the most useful for teachers of civics/government, U.S. history and general social studies is the CNN Electoral Map Calculator.  It shows CNN’s estimates of who will win which states, as well as states that may be leaning toward a candidate and battleground states.  But you and your students can create your own picks and scenarios for this year's race, and you can use the pull-down menu on the right to look at the last two presidential contests.  These are great ways to promote geography skills and basic math skills and illustrate to your students the strategy behind political campaigns.

How much time and money are the candidates spending in each state?  Now that your students understand the importance of winning Electoral College votes, they can understand why voters in states like Ohio and Florida are seeing lots of political ads, compared to their fellow voters in many other states.  Point students to the CNN Campaign Explorer to learn more about the concentration of ads, money and travel in each state.

Finally, if your class is focusing on the topic of public opinion, or if you are interested in helping students improve their skill at interpreting charts and graphs, go to the CNN Poll of Polls interactive.  The CNN Poll of Polls is calculated by using three approved polls to arrive at the numbers you see on the charts on different dates.  You can quiz students on candidates’ percentages on different dates in national polls as well as in battleground states, and you can ask them what factors might account for changes in the polling results.

Share these resources with your colleagues, and share any tips you have for teaching the election in the comments section below.

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Letter-writing campaign shows frustration with Obama education policies
Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaks on the state of education at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on Oct. 2, 2012.
October 22nd, 2012
04:10 AM ET

Letter-writing campaign shows frustration with Obama education policies

by Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) Earlier this month, Education Secretary Arne Duncan delivered his state of education speech at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., which was part self-review of his department’s goals and achievements and part campaign speech for his boss, President Obama.

But not all educators are ardent supporters of the president’s policies, and they are letting him know.

At about the same time Duncan was giving his speech, education historian and professor Diane Ravitch issued a call to teachers, administrators, parents and students to send letters to the president, expressing their sincere views on his education policies.

In her own draft of a letter to President Obama, Ravitch says, “Please, Mr. President, stop talking about rewarding and punishing teachers. Teachers are professionals, not toddlers.”  She also asks the president to “stop encouraging the privatization of education” and to “speak out against the spread of for-profit schools.” She adds “Please withdraw your support from the failed effort to evaluate teachers by the test scores of their students."

Teacher and education activist Anthony Cody volunteered to help gather the correspondence.  In 2009, Cody led the “Teachers’ Letters to Obama” effort and collected about 100 letters. That campaign led to a meeting with Secretary Duncan but no change in education policies.

This month, educators and parents sent correspondence to The Campaign for Our Public Schools website. On October 18, Cody compiled nearly 400 letters, almost three-quarters of these from educators. They were printed, bound and sent to the White House last week. Cody told CNN that “the level of frustration now is even higher” among teachers than it was three years ago.
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Filed under: 2012 Election • Arne Duncan • Race to the Top • Teachers • Voices
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