Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Power of Personal History in Education, A Research Proposal

What is the most powerful way to motivate students, especially urban middle school and high school students?

I've been working with children for 50 years as a teacher, social worker, counselor, and abuse investigator. The greatest danger to urban children is a lack of motivation and direction in middle school and high school.

University research is needed into the patterns and achievements that have emerged since 2005 with the School Time-capsule Project, students writing about their plans for the future and archiving those plans in a very visible time-capsule in their school.  The project has evolved such that now we encourage parents to write the first letters to their child about their dreams for them.  We ask parents to include a story from the family history they want their child to remember.  Then the child writes a response, a letter to themselves, about their own plans for the future.  Both letters go into a centrally located 500-pound vault bolted to the floor in the school lobby where they remain for the years in middle school, or in high school. The vault location should be very visible daily to students as they walk to and from class.  That provides potential for an occasional quiet reminder of the letters inside.  They may be reminded of what Mom wrote.

In both the 8th grade and the 12th grade those initial letters are returned, and final letters looking 10 years into the future are written.  They are then archived pending 10-year class reunions, 8th grade middle school reunions as well as the more normal 12th grade high school reunions.  The goal is to have these students return, retrieve their letters, and then perform a mentoring role when asked to speak with current students in the school. They will talk about their recommendations for success.  They will be prepared to answer questions such as, "What would you do differently if you were 13 again?"  Imagine what such annual reunion events at a Dallas middle school could do for the future focus of students in those schools.  The future focus would change with very positive results as we are already seeing.

Since 2005 the graduation rate at Sunset High School, the high school that most quickly embraced this Time-Capsule Project, has gone from a 33% graduation rate to one near 70%, with indications it will be beyond 80% by 2016!  (This is an urban, inner-city, high school with a poverty rate over 75%.) 

Research is needed into what is happening with this project.  How can this project be improved?  Why are these improvements in graduation rate being experienced?  How can this experience build toward college?  Should elements from this Time-Capsule Project be replicated at the College level?

University level research is needed.  Please share this page with anyone you know who may be searching for a graduate research project.

Bill Betzen

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Texas Graduation & College-Ready Rates 2013

Today there was a very misleading article in the Dallas Morning News: 1 in 4 Texas high school grads ready for college, ACT results show.  It tries to give the impression that 25% of students in Texas graduate college ready.   The more accurate number is possibly less than 6%.

The report linked to this article states very clearly that only 82,373 students took the ACT tests used to make the 25% determination. How many students took the SAT, or took neither test, was not given.

According to the Texas Education Agency there were 392,040 students in this same student group when they were in the 9th grade in 2009/2010. Three years and 7 months later only 82,373 of those students took the ACT! What are we hiding? While Texas may claim that 1 in 4 high school grads are graduating ready for college, where are the missing students?  Did they take the SAT?   How did they do? 

These numbers indicate that less than 6% of the 9th grade class of 2009/2010 finished high school with their Class of 2013 as college ready.   Do we need more data from SAT tests that may help improve this percentage, or would those numbers help?   Fortunately Texas is constantly improving as shown clearly in the following enrollment by grade history.

Texas K-12 Enrollment by Grade & Graduation History: 1997 to 2013
(Click above image to enlarge.)
Somehow TEA is also claiming an 87.7% high school on time graduation rate for Texas students: "Last year, the Class of 2011 in Texas set a graduation rate that was among the highest in the nation, and now the Class of 2012 has bested that number," was said Commissioner Williams and released by TEA on 8-6-13.  
Here is a Texas Tribune article from 11-29-2012: Texas Posts Top High School Graduation Rates, But Why?   This article gives a much more accurate view of the Texas graduation rates, rates that are much closer to 75% than to 87% when you count all children.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

A Letter to Your Child

The struggle against poverty and for justice and equality starts at home.

Too few public school parents understand the power of education. Public schools must put more energy into changing that by helping parents put words to their own dreams for their child. The most simple way is to have an annual project at the start of each school year with parents writing a letter to their child about their dreams for their child.  That letter should also include at least one story from their own childhood or their family history, different stories each school year. Imagine parents recording and passing on to their child stories told to them by their grandparents, stories they wanted their child to remember as an adult. Would those become priceless letters?

Such letters could document family tradition and a foundation for the future. If you had received such letters, you would probably share them with your own children and grandchildren.

The start of a new school year is a perfect time to write such a letter. The reading of this finished letter with their child could quickly become one of those priceless parent/child conversations about goals and life, events we definitely want to encourage. This letter could then go into your child’s photo album, or their scrap book, so as to document evolving dreams and goals at the beginning of each school year.

A parent could also encourage their child to write a letter in response. Knowing a parent's dreams helps a child to form their own goals. It helps in the evolution, and the changing of goals. Few lessons in life are more valuable.

Knowing more about their own family history and stories helps a child become more resilient. Children will know the challenges of those who went before them, and how they conquered those challenges. Consequently they will be better able to face their own problems in life. Research and experience has repeatedly proven the connections between knowing the dreams and histories of those who cared for you and your own success in life.

Sadly, only a minority of parents write such letters. We need to encourage the writing of such letters by all parents at the start of every school year. As the years pass, more and more parents would follow the practice.

School counselors could use this same parental letter writing practice, focusing on goals and family stories, in their work with families and students during the school year. It is the perfect way to refocus a family, and their student, onto the important things in life, especially when that student has discipline or academic problems. Parents of unmotivated students will probably not have written such a letter.

As the value from such a letter writing tradition is seen it may become a normal annual event centered in our schools and our families. A refocusing on family dreams and history is the perfect way to kick off the school year!
Can you think of a better way to create a school atmosphere with parents actively involved in the education of their children?