Commentary

The yawning and growing gap between rich and poor college students

In case you missed it in the end-of-the-year hubbub, there was a powerful, worth-your-time December story by reporters Jon Marcus and Holly Hacker at the Hechinger Report entitled “The rich-poor divide on America’s college campuses is getting wider, fast: Rich, poor take paths even more dramatically divergent than in the past, new data show.” According to the authors, higher education is increasingly, like the rest of our society, divided into classes of haves and have-nots. In many instances, wealthy kids go to exclusive schools that look a lot like country clubs and resorts while poorer students scramble to survive on dingy, overcrowded campuses run by overworked and underpaid teachers and administrators:

“Once acclaimed as the equal-opportunity stepping stone to the middle class, and a way of closing that divide, higher education has instead become more segregated than ever by wealth and race as state funding has fallen and colleges and universities — and even states and the federal government — are shifting financial aid from lower-income to higher-income students. This has created a system that spends the least on those who need the most help and the most on those who arguably need the least. While almost all the students who go to selective institutions such as Trinity graduate and get good jobs, many students from the poorest families end up even worse off than they started out, struggling to repay loans they took out to pay for degrees they never get.”

The story goes on to explain in great detail how the systems we have constructed are designed to favor wealthier students and families in myriad ways:

“It’s not about academic ability. The lowest-income students with the highest scores on eighth-grade standardized tests are less likely to go to selective colleges than the highest-income students with the lowest test scores, according to the Education Trust, which advocates for students who are being left behind in this way. If they do manage to make it to a top school, many do well — at Trinity, for instance, finishing with even higher graduation rates than their wealthier classmates. Read more

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College entrance exams ACT and SAT will be aligned with the Common Core standards

Test_takingAs North Carolina contemplates ditching the Common Core State Standards, the state might also want to contemplate this reality: the two preeminent college entrance exams in the United States, the ACT and the SAT, will be aligned with the Common Core.

The ACT, Inc. says its college entrance exam, the ACT, is already aligned with the Common Core and is an active partner with the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

And not to be outdone, last month the College Board announced it will redesign the SAT. David Coleman, the (relatively) new CEO for College Board, said that both the SAT and the ACT had “become disconnected from the work of our high schools.”

David Coleman’s job before taking the helm at the College Board was as an architect of the Common Core State Standards. He focused on writing the English Language Arts standards.

Indiana has become the first state to drop the Common Core State Standards. Lawmakers there worried that their students might be at a disadvantage when it comes to taking the college entrance exams, and representatives from the two companies sought to reassure them.

“I think the big question is, ‘If Indiana decides to completely get away from Common Core — and any undesirably elements of Common Core — would that put Indiana students at a disadvantage when they take the college entrance exams SAT or ACT?’” Sen. Scott Schneider, R-Indianapolis, told StateImpact earlier this year. “I asked that question of both representatives, and both of them said as long as Indiana has college- and career-ready standards, then we would not be putting Indiana kids at a disadvantage.”

A story over at The Huffington Post features test prep expert Jed Applerouth’s review of the 208 page preview of the new SAT. He found that the new exam reflects the Common Core State Standards throughout and that it is essentially a 12th grade Common Core assessment:

Sensitive to the political controversy that has recently embroiled the CCSSI (with states like Indiana withdrawing from the standards altogether) the College Board writers explicitly mention the Common Core only once in the 208-page description of the redesigned SAT. But don’t be fooled; scratch ever so slightly beneath the surface of the new SAT, and you hit a Common Core gold mine.

The best example of how the SAT reflects the new Common Core standards can be found in the math section, per Applerouth:

Nowhere on the new SAT is the move towards Common Core alignment more profoundly evident than in the redesigned Math section. For example, take a look at the College Board’s language outlining the first two skills tested by the new “Heart of Algebra” category of questions:

  1. Create, solve, or interpret linear equations in one variable.
  2. Create, solve, or interpret linear inequalities in one variable.

Compare this language to that of the first Common Core standard in High School Algebra:

  1. Create equations and inequalities in one variable and use them to solve problems.

This minor rewording is indicative of just how deeply the new Math section is tied to the Common Core.

All of this begs the question: if North Carolina ditches the Common Core State Standards, will its students be adequately prepared for college entrance exams?

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Trail of Dreams: Walking for Change

Felipe Matos is among the top 20 community college students in America, but he’s ineligible for financial aid at the top universities that have accepted him. Gaby Pacheco has three education degrees and plans to use music therapy as a teaching tool for autistic children and adults. Brought to the United States at age 2, Carlos Roa wanted to join the military but could not because of his immigration status.

Three months ago, they embarked on Trail of Dreams, a 1,500 mile walk from Miami to Washington.  These students are facing much more than sore feet; several are undocumented, and they risk deportation and detention to share their stories and raise awareness about the need for just immigration reform.

These students exemplify why support is growing for the DREAM Act, federal legislation that would enable students brought to the U.S. at a young age to legally access higher education and financial aid. Every year, 65,000 students graduate U.S. high schools but are denied a college education because of our broken and unjust immigration system.  These students include valedictorians, class presidents and community leaders.  Yet they are refused the opportunity to further their education and give back to America — the country they see as their home.

Just graduating high school can be more challenging for undocumented students than for their peers; they often must learn English as a second language, take care of family responsibilities that their parents cannot manage without understanding English, overcome low socio-economic status and all that that entails, and cope with the psychological trauma of living in fear of deportation.

Trail of Dreams, which made its way through the Triangle last week, is a journey of hope for these students and the 12 million undocumented migrants in the United States.

For more information, check out the Southern Coalition for Social Justice’s Statement of Support.