Where in the Pell Are They? U.Va. Can Be Selective Without Being Exclusive

High-achieving students from low-income backgrounds aren’t fictitious characters from the Game of Thrones HBO series; they exist — and in much larger numbers than many elite institutions would have you believe. Too many of these institutions rely on their selective admissions requirements to explain why so few low-income students enroll in their college.

In fact, at a symposium we co-hosted this month in Charlottesville, Va., a senior administrator at the University of Virginia used this excuse while attempting to explain why Pell Grant recipients make up only 12 percent of undergraduates, even though about 42 percent of 18- to 24-year-olds without a college degree in the Commonwealth are from low-income or working-class family backgrounds.

Pell Grant recipients as percentage of undergrad enrollment

The subtle undertone in the “we are selective” defense is an oft-used and erroneous assertion that students from low-income and working-class backgrounds don’t meet the academic standards required to earn admission. Besides being demeaning, this assertion simply isn’t true.

Consider that 20 percent of students scoring at or above the 90th percentile on the ACT — a score of 28 or above — come from low-income and working-class families. Since most Virginians take the SAT, it is important to know that a score of 28 is roughly equivalent to 1260 on the SAT, which is higher than the SAT test scores for roughly 25 percent of U.Va. students. This means that the low-income and working-class students scoring in the 90th percentile have better standardized test scores than 25 percent of U.Va. students.

These data suggest that if U.Va. felt inclined, it could easily boost, perhaps double, the percentage of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants without altering its admission requirements. Obviously this would require targeted recruitment of low-income students, an equity-minded admissions process tied to an aggressive need-based financial aid program, and mechanisms designed to support these students. However, I’m sure this feat is nothing the brilliant minds at U.Va., along with its hefty $5.1 BILLION endowment, can’t solve. If others can do it, why can’t U.Va.?

Frankly, it is a matter of priorities, and U.Va.’s seem to be misplaced. In an attempt to become selective, it has actually become exclusive. Public, flagship institutions should be committed to improving the welfare of all state residents through teaching, research, and service. Also, they should be expected to make reasonable attempts to strengthen the learning experience by crafting a student body that is rich with a diverse range of life experiences and perspectives. With only 12 percent of undergraduates receiving Pell Grants, it doesn’t seem plausible that U.Va. is giving it “the old college try.” Instead U.Va. has become a fortress of exclusivity (not selectivity), serving those from the most fortunate of circumstances.

The Often Forgotten Voice in Ed Reform

“They don’t listen to us. Even when we fill out surveys and ask for changes, nothing ever does,” a middle school student told me when I asked him if he believed he could affect change in his school. We were discussing education as a civil rights issue and whether or not students could be change agents. His comments resonated with me not only because of his desire to be part of something bigger than himself, but because it was a reminder that the reform movement rarely dedicates any effort to listen and respond to students.

More often than not, education reformers focus on collecting data on students, instead of talking to and engaging with students about how we can collectively improve schools. And most of the dialogue about students and schooling is focused on what adults believe students need — including school choice, high expectations, and integrated schools — without giving much thought to how students feel about, or are affected by, these solutions. It’s not surprising, then, when students are disengaged or disillusioned with the education system. Continue reading

What Research? And What Exactly Does It Show?

One of the most annoying phrases in education is “research shows.”

That bland phrase is used to cover a multitude of sins, which is why many teachers groan when they hear it. They know it often prefaces some new directive to stop doing what they have found to be successful and start doing something that will be dropped a few years hence to be replaced by something else “research shows” they should do. Continue reading

Mapping Out College Choices

Ed Trust is currently at the National Council of La Raza, or NCLR, annual conference in Los Angeles, where we are showcasing our College Results Online tool. Using that, we created an interactive map of the United States that plots hundreds of colleges and universities across the country and shows how well their students are doing: Do they graduate within six years? Are they burdened by student loans and defaulting within three years? Does the college enroll a fair percentage of Pell Grant-eligible students? Continue reading

Let’s Go Over This Again — A Quart Is One QUART-er of a Gallon

When my kids were in third grade, they spent an enormous amount of time on the graphical representation of data. That sounds like a good idea, but some of it got rather tedious and didn’t really help them understand mathematics. I remember a lot of pictures of faces where the shape of the nose represented their gender, and the number of eyelashes represented the number of books they had read — stuff like that.

On the other hand, my kids spent so little time on measurement that even through high school — despite my best efforts — they were still pretty fuzzy on how many quarts are in a gallon and feet in a mile.

This isn’t because my kids went to a terrible elementary school. It’s because even “good” elementary schools can lose their focus on what kids really need to learn and spend precious time on superficial activities that teachers hope will engage the kids. Continue reading

Don’t Be Duped by ‘Personal Learning Scholarships’ in FL, AZ

Parents want some authority over their child’s education, and who can blame them? But programs like the personal learning account program approved in Florida last month give parents a false sense of that authority, while shirking the state’s responsibility to ensure a quality education for every student.

On the surface, the “Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts” signed into law by Florida Gov. Rick Scott are appealing: Parents of children with disabilities can take the state money set aside for their children’s education and use it to purchase a variety of programs and services that they believe are best able to serve their kids’ needs.

What could be wrong with that? Turns out, a lot. Continue reading

School Leadership Matters to Teachers

How can high-poverty schools become the kinds of places teachers want to teach?

Stephanie Hirsch, executive director of Learning Forward, tackled that question in a webinar discussing a new study on teaching and learning from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (which I write about this week in Huffington Post). Continue reading