The Value of Challenge

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It has become increasing apparent that selective admission to high schools is a sophisticated method of segregation. Students in low income neighborhoods and whose parents are non-native English speakers struggle to gain admission to highly rated schools and are often forced to settle for neighborhood schools, where they are left unmotivated, in environments where safety is more important than education.

Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) classes are most often offered in the best schools to the highest achievers with the most ambitious parents and to those who can afford the test fees and tutorial support if needed. Results have shown these students to continue on a successful academic path, rising above the average, better prepared for the college experience.

However, in a recent study reported by Jay Matthews of the Washington Post, he found that all students regardless of economic background, when given the opportunity to be challenged by AP and IB classes actually have thrived in these challenging learning environments, and they were found to be far more likely to succeed in college.

The IDEA Public Schools in Texas “with over 30,000 mostly low-income students” have found success in requiring all students to take AP classes. Along with other similar programs across the nation, under achieving students of low income families have proven to be successful in raising the bar for achievement and college success. It is true these students must be nurtured into these programs just as we nurture learning from infancy. One cannot walk before crawling or read without language. But these students participating in supportive and gradually challenging environments have been found to thrive in the AP and IB programs.

This great news should be spread across the nation to all parents, educators and governments whose funding is necessary to make these opportunities available to all students regardless of ability to pay. But as often found with good news, there comes a glitch. Matthews reports that last year Congress severely cut funds directed for low-income students.

So I return you to my previous blog (Grooming for the Future) and encourage educators and government leaders to be a part of this successful grooming process. We cannot settle for mediocrity or even less simply because of economic status. Join me in speaking out, reminding our elected officials, school boards, PTA’s, school principals and teachers that studies continue to prove challenged students far exceed their environmental expectations. The gift of education is essential to our children and we must work together to challenge all of our children to succeed, reach for new goals, and not settle for mediocrity or even less.

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NYC High School Admissions

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Since the NYC Public High School acceptance letters were sent out  last week, the process has been the subject of multiple news articles. Not only is the process confusing at best, it is also discriminatory.

The 600 page NYC High School Directory (offered in 10 languages) is given to every 7th grader at the end of the school year with instructions to read through the 700 programs offered and select their top 12 choices to place on their applications by December 1. Imagine a 12-year-old being given this challenging assignment to complete independently. Without the assist of a guidance counselor, teacher or a savvy parent, many students simply give up and just apply to their zone school if they have one. Otherwise they may be assigned to a below average school outside their district. Why can’t students and parents obtain help from teachers or counselors to guide them through this process?

The system was designed with good intentions to give all students the option to apply to programs throughout the 5 boroughs. While the idea  sounds equitable on paper, in practice it is anything but. Appointment times to visit schools are limited and only the most informed parents know to call for these appointments early in the school year.  The requirements beyond reading the directory and making school visits often include required parent participation. How can low-income parents be expected to take time off from work for school visits?

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To apply to 8 of the most prestigious Specialized High Schools, students are required to take the Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) as the sole measure for acceptance. Previous achievement and recommendations are not even considered. And to top it off, there is no in school preparation for this test. Most students begin taking costly classes outside of school, a year in advance to prepare for the SHSAT. How are low-income families expected to pay for these costly classes and arrange for their children to get to and from the centers where they are offered?

The challenges and stresses throughout this process are enormous even for the best students with hyper-vigilant parents. For those who lack understanding of the process, their children suffer the consequences. What can we do to help?

Schools must:

And parents must: