High prices for higher education

When I prepared to leave home for college, my parents sent me off with plenty of advice. One of the most memorable was this: Do not open a credit card. They warned me of how easily I could fall into debt through credit card transactions. How ironic that was considering the debt I was about to accumulate through tuition loans! Although college for me was a good “investment,” it came with a hefty price tag.

According to new research from the Pew Research Center four out of 10 American households headed by someone younger than 40 years old carry a form of student loan debt. And the Federal Reserve Bank of New York  reported that student loan debt reached a new high of $1.1 trillion during the first quarter of this year with the average graduate facing an average total debt of $30,000.

Today more than ever, there is an increased emphasis on ensuring all students are college and career ready. College is seen as a must for a successful future. Yet, for many students, that "must" comes with the reality of future debt.

Should college be a basic right? This Education Week article argues, yes.

Don't underestimate the importance of knowledge

I could read with a fairly high level of understanding a complicated paper analyzing education policy or corporate communications strategies or a Major League Baseball pennant race. But give me an article on Russian literature or economics and I’ll have a tough time. I’d at least have to slow way down and re-read a few times to grasp the meaning.

We talk a lot about the importance of teaching students strategies and the “skill” of reading (and that’s important!). But we should never underestimate the importance of knowledge for a person’s ability to read with a high level of comprehension. Studies have shown that knowledge is, in fact, MORE important than a student’s reading level in predicting comprehension. (See 1988 study by Donna Recht and Lauren Leslie)

Ask any teacher and he or she will tell you this is true: A student who reads at a low level can often read a highly complex article or book if he or she is interested in the topic and knows quite a bit about it going into the reading. It’s true for all of us, no matter our skill levels.

Dr. Dan Willingham has shaped my thinking around this topic quite a bit (here is one post by him where he cites the Recht & Leslie study), and I was reminded of this again last week when I heard him speak on the topic.

According to Willingham: Knowledge is obtained most efficiently through reading. So, students who do a lot of leisure reading in the early years are better equipped to become strong readers as they progress through school.

Read more, and you’ll read better!

Going from tech-scared to tech-savvy

Over the years, I've noticed that at every school there are a handful of teachers who are afraid to try new technology in their classrooms. The reasons can vary, but the reactions from peers often don’t. Sometimes the practice is tolerated; sometimes it is met with quiet criticism. What many people don’t realize is that there are solutions at hand, even for the most recalcitrant teachers.

In the new issue of Scholastic Administrator magazine we reveal the secrets of five technology experts about how they turn teachers from tech scared to tech savvy.

Here are four bits of advice from the story.

  • Start small. Show reluctant learners one way to use a new tool, says Steven Anderson of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools in North Carolina. Let them get comfortable before introducing more and you will avoid overwhelming them.
  • Differentiate learning. If it works for your students, it will work for your teachers, says principal Sean Gaillard of Winston-Salem.
  • Allow for collaboration. Often other teachers using tools successfully can spur peers to drop their resistance, says Andrew Marcinek, technology director in Massachusetts’ Groton-Dunstable Regional School District.
  • Show how technology can improve their workload. Demonstrating how to decrease the time spent correcting homework by administering tests online is a real incentive to change, says Gaillard.

Try this: Create fun summer reading lists for your students or children

Reading during the summer has always felt special to me. I love scanning the summer book lists that people create for recommendations. They’re usually themed or organized in some kind of trendy way: books for the beach, books for travelers, critic’s lists or those created by big stars or top newspapers.

There is no reason you can't engage children in the same way.

Did you know that five books read during the summer has the potential to prevent a decline in reading achievement for children?

Here are 4 “trendy” lists you could create for the students or children in your life to get them excited about reading this summer.

  • Favorite Character: Is there a character your child loves? Why not have a theme day or week centered on that character. Together, you can not only read books about the character but dress like them, eat their favorite snacks or even host a character summer party.
  • Destination Imagination: Your children don’t have to leave their reading corner to explore destinations far away. They can check out books on places they have never visited. They can learn about the people, customs and traditions through books. Reading is a great way to learn about the history, foods and music of different countries and cultures. Take a trip with a book!
  • Try It!:  Maybe you have a curious group of kids in your neighborhood that are looking to try new things. Have they always wanted to try knitting or to build a birdhouse? Or maybe they are interested in exploring simple science experiments or learning how to decorate a cake. In this list would be the DIY books. Who knows, you may find hidden talent or two.
  • Giving Tree:  Reading is a great way to explore the world of giving – whether though volunteering or donating. Together, research a cause that may be of interest -- maybe the environment, animal rescue or healthy living, or literacy. Select books to read about the history and leaders in the field and make a plan to take action. Together you can make a difference.

Unfortunately, not all children will have access to books this summer – and for a child to go a summer without reading can mean his or her reading skills may suffer while school is out. Through my team at Scholastic, called Scholastic FACE (short for “Family and Community Engagement), we work with schools and other community organizations to help put books in the hands of other kids. You can find out more about our Scholastic MyBooks Summer book packs on our website.

IRA: A cheat sheet

If you’re attending the annual convention of the International Reading Association in New Orleans this weekend (May 9-12), you may be overwhelmed by the possibilities—so many creative minds, so little time. (And we haven't even gotten to the French Quarter.)

I’m skeptical that there's a room big enough to fit everyone who wants to see Dav Pilkey, the creator of Captain Underpants. But the first 5,000 attendees to arrive at the convention center Sunday morning can hear Pilkey discuss how his childhood challenges with dyslexia and ADHD have shaped his art (Sunday, 8:30 a.m.-10 a.m., Ernest N. Morial Convention Center, Exhibit Hall F).

Afterwards, Pilkey and Dan Santat will sign copies of Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot #1 at the Scholastic Booth (10 a.m.-11:30 a.m., #1526). So, yes, gridlock alert.

Pilkey’s creative counterpart Jeff Kinney, best-selling author of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, will offer tips on how to draw in reluctant readers. I’m guessing that the word “draw” has a few meanings here (Saturday, 8:30 a.m.-10 a.m., Exhibit Hall F).

After Kinney, I'll be heading to Richard Allington’s presentation, “Closing the Rich/Poor Reading Achievement Gap” (Saturday, 11 a.m.-12 p.m., La Nouvelle Ballroom, Section C).

I'm also eager to hear the great Phyllis C. Hunter, author of It’s Not Complicated: What I Know for Sure About Helping Students of Color Become Successful Readers. Hunter, who is one of the most dynamic people on the planet (step aside, Captain Underpants), will talk about how to help children succeed in school and in life (Monday, 11 a.m.-noon, La Nouvelle Ballroom Section C).

I asked Scholastic colleagues and authors which sessions and events were on their to-do list. Here’s a sampling:

Richard Bourque (Senior Marketing Manager, Scholastic Education):

Two interactive and engaging presentations by our own Becky Bone will showcase Guided Reading Nonfiction 2nd Edition and Comprehension Clubs. Becky always packs the house, and what’s a book session without giveaways?

• “Nonfiction Guided Reading: The Best Support for Achieving Grade Level Independent Reading,” Sunday, 11 a.m.-noon, Room 338.

• “Achieving Deep Comprehension Through the Interactive Read-Aloud and Student Book Clubs,” Sunday, 3 p.m.-4p.m., Room 346-347.

Billy di Michele (VP, Creative Development):

Do you have quick tips to help get kids reading? If so, stop by the Scholastic Booth, #1526, on Saturday or Sunday between 10 and 4, and we’ll record your ideas to share with other educators. Those who are shy can watch colleagues' advice on a live twitter feed.

Ruth Culham (President, The Culham Writing Company):

In “Deep Reading and Deep Writing,” Laura Robb and I will discuss how to develop literacy skills using mentor texts. Teacher participants will see that the use of mentor texts frees them to differentiate and teach students no matter where they are (Saturday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Room 384-385).

In “When Giants Unite: The 4Ws of Writing Meet the Common Core State Standards,” I’ll show you a practical way to start a writing revolution in your own classroom (Saturday, 3 p.m.-4 p.m., Room 339).

And I can’t wait to see Dav Pilkey and Jeff Kinney!

Pam Allyn (Executive Director, LitWorld):

This year’s IRA Convention is stunning in scope with an incredible lineup of speakers, author panels, institutes and sessions. Literacy is humankind’s greatest innovation, and this is a grand celebration of it!

My Saturday session will focus on the joyous and transformative act of close reading: “Close Reading: How to Inspire Students to Find the Core of Who They Are as Readers, Writers, Listeners and Speakers" (Saturday, 3 p.m.-4 p.m., Room 252-253).

I'll also share “Five Quick (Fun) Tips for Engaging Struggling Readers" (Sunday, 10:10 a.m., Scholastic Booth, #1526).

I’m excited to hear from—and perhaps get a few books signed by—some of my favorite children’s book authors. Highlights include:

• A panel discussion featuring Joy Cowley and Aaron Reynolds ("Books for Young Readers," Saturday, 11 a.m.-noon, Room 342)

• A panel discussion featuring one of my favorite new authors, Tim Federle ("Engaging and Motivating Boys as Readers," Sunday, 11 a.m.-noon, Room 342)

• And the always amazing Sharon Robinson on a panel discussing diverse voices in children’s literature (“Somewhere Over the Rainbow: The Search for Literacy and Social Responsibility” Saturday, 11 a.m.-noon, Room 280).

Best of all, I love to see everyone and catch up.

Jennifer Serravalo (Literacy Consultant)

IRA is my favorite conference of the year. The sessions are always top-notch, and I enjoy seeing so many of the authors whom I admire and whose work I rely on every day.

I'm looking forward to sharing my recent research in a session entitled “Nonfiction Text Complexity: Assessing Comprehension, Setting Goals and Reaching Higher Standards” (Saturday, 11 a.m.-noon, Room 271-273).

(If you download the IRA app, you’ll see that Jennifer has a packed schedule.)

Robin Hoffman (Director, Sales & Product Programs, Book Fairs)

Since Book Fairs is always encouraging independent reading, I’m looking forward to the presentation by Nancy Baumann called “Let’s Give ‘Em Something to Talk About: Using Book Clubs to Promote Recreational Reading.” The session will explore how book clubs provide a venue for honing discussion and critical thinking skills and developing reader routines (Saturday, 1 p.m.-2 p.m., Room 252-253).

Our own Scholastic colleague, Alice Ozma, will present “TechTalks: Peer-to-Peer Book Recommendations Using QR Code Booktalks.” Alice's session will combine the playfulness of technology with the joy of reading and spreading the word about great books, whether it’s student to student or teacher to teacher (Saturday, 4:45 p.m.-5:45 p.m., Room 348-349).

I also plan to attend “Creating Teachable Moments That Increase Reading Proficiency and Engagement.” The all-star panel of authors and illustrators includes Kirby Larson, Peter Sis and Eric Velazquez (Sunday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m., Room 275).

Janelle Cherrington (Vice President & Publisher, Classroom Books)

I'd like to hear what David Pearson has to say. Pearson will discuss the research behind instructional practices that are worth keeping, and those that are not; how the Common Core can best serve the interests of students and teachers; and how technology, accountability and poverty will continue to affect student achievement.

Rafe Esquith, whose 10-year-old students at a public elementary school devour Twain, Dickens and Shakespeare, will precede Pearson. Esquith will show how he combines classic literature with music education to transform the lives of students (Monday, 8:30 a.m.-10 a.m., Exhibit Hall F).

We hope you enjoy IRA—and New Orleans.

Don't forget to #thankateacher today!

Today, I want to thank my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Silverman, for always challenging me to ask "why?"

He was always tough on his students, pushing us to dig deeper, ask more questions, look at texts in different ways. He was hard! But he was passionate and excited about learning -- and that passion rubbed off on his students. At least it did on me!

I moved away from the Massachusetts town where I grew up after that fifth grade year, and Mr. Silverman was one of the friends I kept in touch with. It's been a lot of years now since I've heard from him, but I'll never forget that great year in his class.

It's Teacher Appreciation Day today. What better way to celebrate than to thank a teacher that made a difference in your life. Feel free to do so in the comments below, or on Twitter using the #thankateacher hashtag!

Here is a video featuring several of our Scholastic Top Teaching bloggers thanking their childhood teachers.

Meet the 2014 National Teacher of the Year

It seems only appropriate to kick off Teacher Appreciation Week by congratulating the newly named National Teacher of the Year, Sean McComb. 

An honor bestowed each year by the Council Chief State School Officers, Mr. McComb is the 64th National Teacher of the Year and hails from Maryland where he teaches English at Patapsco High School & Center for the Arts. In his video interview, you can see that teaching is a passion for him. He sees it not only as an opportunity to impart the skills students need, but a love of learning. Mr. McComb's video is particularly moving as you also learn that he gets to know his students on a personal level and therefore can also be a role model and a support system when needed. 

Meet Mr. McComb:

As we saw in the Primary Sources survey data of more than 20,000 teachers, 99% of teachers agree teaching is more than academics; it is also about reinforcing good citizenship, resilience and social skills. And to be a great teacher, you need the mastery of many skills and talents from managing the classroom and having high expectations to creating an environment where students feel safe to make mistakes and being interested in their lives. Mr. McComb has this in spades. Congratulations on being named National Teacher of the Year!

And to all amazing teachers in classrooms and in the hallways, thank you too! Everyone should remember to #thankateacher this week.

Different strokes: Allowing for creativity

According to Peter DeWitt and other educators, “learning styles” are a myth. No more distinguishing between auditory and visual learners. Children learn best, brain researchers say, when they can see and hear.

Dr. Marcia Tate, a former teacher, reading specialist and Executive Director of Professional Development for the DeKalb County School System in Decatur, Georgia, has synthesized the work of learning theorists into 20 strategies to help students acquire knowledge. Reciprocal teaching, role playing and using manipulatives are among Tate's recommended strategies.

Allowing kids time for free expression will serve them well "in the real world," Tate says, whether they want to become sculptors or engineers. Going a step further and encouraging students to draw images of what they're learning, she adds, will "put the visual-spatial intelligence to work." Without that prompting, “many students, particularly boys, are off task during class drawing superheroes, cars and people.”

For a writer, it seems, being “off task” is an occupational hazard. A colleague who writes magazine articles for young teens summed it up this way on Facebook: “I've always had a nagging worry that my bosses and/or coworkers think that I'm goofing off because of those long spells of either complete inactivity or what probably seems like aimless Web surfing or hallway wandering. But I don't really compose on paper (or keyboard). I work out many versions, many drafts, in my head, in long skeins—only partly consciously—then I have to shift them into full consciousness and race to get them down before I lose them and have to start over. A dangerous way to make a living.”

Another writer, who is a former colleague, had this to say on Facebook: “Worked VERY diligently all day on book due next Tuesday to very patient editor. Diligence made possible by lying in bed writing in magic pajamas. I think every office needs beds with lots of pillows, a laptop and magic pajamas.”

That would be a dream. But, like most people, writers have to adhere to some sort of normalcy, even though “the vocation, the obsession,” as Irish novelist Edna O’Brien told The Paris Review in 1984, “derives from an intensity of feeling which normal life cannot accommodate.”

When a college friend and I discovered O’Brien’s interview—and there is no better way for an aspiring writer to avoid writing than to read about how a great writer procrastinates—we were delighted to learn that O’Brien spent her ruminative time mopping. For daughters of women who were then called housewives, this seemed like a validation of our lives (although my own mother rarely lifted a mop). We later realized that O’Brien was actually "moping.” 

As you read this, writers everywhere are moping, mopping or wandering aimlessly. I recently met a writer, Holly Hughes, who worked at Scholastic decades ago. Although I did not know Hughes, whenever I saw her name in print, I would think, “Now that’s a byline.” A colleague who remembers her from long ago gave me this description: “At Scholastic’s former offices at 730 Broadway, I often encountered a woman strolling the halls. She moved at a steady, relaxed pace, with her hands in the pockets of her suit jacket. The expression on her face was always pleasant, and often contemplative. I saw her this way so often that I once asked her about it. ‘That,’ she replied, ‘is how I write.’”

And that, I imagine, is how many children learn.

Honoring students for outstanding academic success

Through the work we do here at Scholastic, I am constantly reminded of the increasing number of obstacles to learning that many students face -- from learning disabilities to language barriers to poverty.

And every year at this time, when we name our READ 180 and System 44 All-Star Award winners, I'm reminded that it is never too late to catch up and become a successful student. With the help of their dedicated teachers, these students are truly all-stars!

Below are the READ 180 middle school and high school winners.  Visit On Our Minds, to view the System 44 and READ 180 elementary school winners.

Middle School

Lisette Cortes, Age 13 – Grade: 7 – Washington Middle School, Yakima, WA

When speaking with Lisette, you would never guess that two years ago she was a timid student who read on a first grade level. Today, Lisette reads on an 8th grade level and has become a leader at home by helping her siblings with schoolwork. Next year, Lisette will serve as a school mentor to incoming 6th-graders. When asked how READ 180 has impacted her life, Lisette said, “It has helped me read better. I used to read slowly and I use to get frustrated when I was reading, because I couldn’t read fast like the other kids.” Currently Lisette is earning all A’s and B’s. “With the success she has developed through READ180 her confidence is carrying over to her other classes,” said her teacher, Heather Harris.

Jose Feliciano, Age 13 – Grade: 7 – Spc. Rafael Hernando Middle School, El Paso, TX

A kind and generous “helper,” as his teacher describes him, Jose never hesitates to step up and help his fellow READ 180 students when they need assistance. Just a few months ago, he was a student whose reading scores were holding him back from succeeding in all his classes and dragging down his self-confidence. But all that has changed since the beginning of his seventh grade year. He has already gained the equivalent of two years in his reading skills in this school year. His newfound success has boosted his confidence, helped him become more self-reliant in class, and transformed him into a leader. “This program has given me the confidence needed to achieve better grades in both reading and writing,” Jose said. He says he wants to pursue a career where he can help others. Like his father, he says he wants to join the Army.

Robert Moser, Age 13 – Grade: 7 – Upper Merion Middle School, King of Prussia, PA

Robert is an honor student, a member of the student council and a voracious reader. His story inspires because of the obstacles he overcame to get where he is today. A student with autism, Robert was unable to speak until he was 4 years old. In three years since he started READ 180, his reading skills have soared, allowing him to read at a fifth-grade level with the goal of eventually achieving grade level fluency. “Robert has demonstrated remarkable growth socially due to the increase in his self-esteem and self-confidence as he’s found success in his academics,” said his teacher. Robert is a passionate Philadelphia sports fan and continues to read every day with dreams of one day becoming an animator.

High School

Manuel de Jesus Hernandez-Martinez, Age 16 – Grade: 10 – Thomas Dale High School, Chester, VA

Manuel immigrated to the United States from Mexico when he was five years old. Coming from a household of Spanish speakers, Manuel had to learn English at school and translate for his family. At the start of his 8th grade year, Manuel was a beginning reader. Through the use of READ 180, this year he was able to pass all his Virginia Standards of Learning tests for the ninth grade. “One of the biggest ways READ 180 has helped me was when I needed to get my Social Security card,” Manuel explained. “I got the form and was able to read and fill it out all on my own. If it wasn’t for READ180, I never would have been able to understand he complicated forms.” In 2016, Manuel will be the first person in his family to earn a high school diploma.

Michael Hurd, Age 17 – Grade: 12 – Dover High School, Dover, DE

At the beginning of his high school career, Michael had significant difficulties with reading because of his dyslexia and because the content at the high school level was simply too challenging for someone so far behind. Fast forward to today: Michael is an All-State football player who is getting ready to graduate and enroll at Delaware State University in the fall. “Big Red,” as he is known to his friends and teachers, gained the equivalent of almost 10 years in his reading ability since he started high school. Thanks to his hard work in READ 180 and his partnership with his teacher, Michael is now an honor roll student and is destined for success, whether on the football field, in the classroom, or in the career of his choice. “Football and my education are going to take me somewhere,” he said.

Afnan Khan, Age 16 – Grade: 10 – Minuteman Technical High School, Lexington, MA

Originally born and raised in Pakistan, Afnan and her family moved to the United States with hopes for a more stable lifestyle and a quality education. While she started far below grade level, Afnan adjusted to American culture and persevered in her reading goals despite language barriers. Today, she is on the fast track to becoming a proficient reader by the end of the school year. “Now with READ 180, I understand more of what I am reading. I feel confident with my answers,” said Afnan. “I am not nervous to read aloud in class.” Afnan’s determination and hard work have transformed her confidence, inspiring her to study Spanish and receive acceptance into her school’s Health Occupations program with the hope of one day becoming a pediatrician.

Darline Manfred, Age 15 – Grade: 11 – Westerly High School, Westerly, RI

Prior to moving to the United States, Darline never had any formal schooling in her birthplace, Port-au-Prince, Haiti. After the devastating 2010 Haiti earthquake, Darline arrived in Westerly, RI,reading far below grade level. But, because of her resilience and thirst for knowledge, she overcame the challenge of being an English language learner in a new country and excelled academically, improving her reading by the equivalent of five grade levels in two and a half years. “I decided to make a difference for myself by working hard every day and learning how to be successful in my READ 180 class,” explained Darline. Her academic confidence led her to playing on the school volleyball team, and she would like to one day return to her homeland to inspire other Haitian children to develop a similar passion for reading.

“Is this America?”

It's been 50 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson declared "unconditional war on poverty," and 60 years since Brown v. Board of Education held that racially segregated schools are unconstitutional.

Whether your paycheck is good, bad or indifferent, you know that inequality and de facto segregation live on in the United States. As James Dent says in this unsparing look at the resegregated school system in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, "It ain't going to get no better."

In April, the Supreme Court upheld Michigan's ban on the use of race as a factor in admissions to state universities. Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union who argued before the Court, said that the ban "unfairly keeps students from asking universities to consider race as one factor in admissions, but allows consideration of factors like legacy status, athletic achievement and geography."

Rosenbaum's point about legacy admissions, for example, is borne out in a disquieting new statistic. Analyzing data from 30 top colleges, researcher Michael Hurwitz found that children of alumni had a 45 percent greater chance of admission. Because of legacy admissions, Evan J. Mandery observes in this New York Times column, "elite colleges look almost nothing like America."

And what of the legacy of the great civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who all but forced the Voting Rights Act on President Johnson at the Democratic National Convention of 1964?

"Is this America?" Hamer railed before the television cameras that summer. "The land of the free and the home of the brave?"

Fifty years later, Julian Bond, the former head of the NAACP, says that "the problem of discrimination in voting has not yet been eradicated."

Hamer risked her life so that black citizens like her would "be treated as human beings in our sick society." One can hear her words echoing through Atlantic City's old convention hall, where she fought in vain to win a seat: "I question America. Is this America?"

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