Friday, April 29, 2011

Minority Kids Succeeding in College

There's more to just doing well in high school because college is a major change of pace and kids need to be ready for it!
by Charlie Leck

Hope you’ll all forgive me for blogging so infrequently, but I’m still recuperating from my hip replacement surgery and I still find it difficult to sit at my keyboard for long periods. I actually experimented a little with Google’s new voice recognition service found on its Chrome 11 browser. It didn’t work very well for me. I like too much the process of writing, rewriting, redrafting, and then applying the final editing and grooming. I couldn’t do all that verbally. In another couple of weeks, I’ll be drowning you with blogs again.

I spent the morning reading and browsing through the latest Alumni Magazine from Teach for America [Spring 2001/Edition XI]. We’re supporters of this organization and we send them a relatively significant contribution each year. As I’ve boasted here a number of times, our youngest put in three years for Teach for America and we were very proud of her for doing so. I came across a terrific story by Ting Yu, called A Matter of Degrees. I spent some careful and enjoyable time with it. I’d love to link you to an on-line copy of this article, but I’ve not been able to find one. If you really want to read it, send me an email and I’ll mail you a photo copy. (As an aside, Wendy Kopp, the founder of Teach for America has a new book on the market called A Chance to Make History. I’ve ordered it and you may want to as well. All of the author’s proceeds on the sale of the book go to Teach for America.

I’ll start at this point, which is revealed about half-way through the article, but it’s the kingpin upon which the article is based, so we’ll get it out here:

“In the last 20 years, the United States has plummeted from first place to 12 in college graduation rates for young people, trailing behind Canada, Russia, and seven other OECD states. The cost to students, as well as the economy, is high. Those without college degrees have almost double the unemployment rate of those with them.”

Here’s what’s happening. In a rush to improve college entrance rates for minority and poverty level children, we’ve improved the level of college preparatory courses in many of those schools. However, we haven’t prepared these children for the dramatic change in the academic atmosphere they will encounter in America’s colleges and universities. Young people from these backgrounds are often overwhelmed by the experience of being so alone in approaching study projects such as they will have in college. They haven’t been taught how to do independent study, how to seek help and how to use the massive resources a major college or university would have available to help them.

So now, high schools, like the one in which our daughter taught from 2007 through 2010, have learned they must do more than just raise grade-point averages and college entrance examination scores. The children in those schools, who do not normally have role models at home, have also got to be prepared to meet the hard times of isolated, lonely and individual study and research. Edward Wang, a Teach for America alum and one of the teachers at that school, Thurgood Marshall Academy in Harlem, is featured in the magazine story. He says: “We are fighting a battle to extend the vision beyond the 12th grade.”

My daughter went to a private school that emphasized preparation for future academic requirements. In 5th grade, the entire year was spent with a brilliant teacher who had a single goal and that was to prepare her students for Junior High School. In her middle and high school years, the school concentrated on making sure students could survive the rigors of academic study in the world’s finest university settings.

America’s colleges have to participate in this project as well. They need to step up and make sure entering freshmen from these low income situations have the kind of guidance they need to make the adjustment to the “next” level. The article points to Florida State University (FSU) with great pride –

“Today 74 percent of black students at FSU graduate, compared with 69 percent of Caucasian students. The school’s Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE) is geared toward incoming first-generation and low-income freshmen.”

The battle to reduce the academic gap between white and minority students goes on. It’s one of the most important efforts in America. In your community and your schools, you should be aware of this "gap" and what's being done to close it.


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