Follow the Facts to a Financial Aid Solution

Follow the Facts to a Financial Aid Solution

College tuition has increased over the past few decades at a rate that has outpaced inflation, putting college out of reach for many students. Ironically, the financial aid designed to mitigate this problem may actually have the opposite effect.

The cost of higher education has grown faster than inflation for decades. Travis Mitchell of U.S. News & World Report found that between 1995 and 2016, average tuition and fees at national universities rose 179 percent, while in-state tuition and fees rose almost 300 percent. During the same period, the Consumer Price Index (which tracks inflation) rose only about 55 percent. There are many explanations for this sharp increase in the cost of higher education.

Schools Are Missing the Mark in Civic Education

Schools Are Missing the Mark in Civic Education

Are America’s schools failing or succeeding? To answer this question, we first have to decide what is the most important thing schools do. Usually, we evaluate schools using standardized test scores, including tests that are state-level (SOL), national (NAEP), international (TIMSS), or for college admissions (SAT or ACT). But this only makes sense if the most important thing schools do is to produce high scores in English and math. Similarly, while preparing students for college or for employment are important goals, neither is the most important.

Excellence is a Path Everyone Can Walk

Excellence is a Path Everyone Can Walk

It’s been a year of surprises. The biggest educational surprise for me is the book “Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise,” by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool, which offers compelling evidence that any student can achieve at high levels in any subject or endeavor, so long as they learn in the right way.

Ericsson is famous for his work on how people become experts, which Malcolm Gladwell summarized in his book “Outliers” with the “10,000-hour rule;” that is, the time it takes to become an expert in any field. While Ericsson feels Gladwell did not fairly represent the nuances of his research, Gladwell did capture the most important lesson: Experts become experts only by working really hard for a long time. While Ericsson does not challenge the observation that by adolescence some students perform better than others—some are more academically advanced by high school, for example—he wants us to re-examine how they turned out that way. He wants us to stop thinking in terms of native talent.

How Does Education Policy Change Under Trump?

How Does Education Policy Change Under Trump?

What will a Trump presidency mean for K-12 education? Trump’s campaign proposals focus on “school choice,” which means making it easier for students to use public money to leave traditional public schools in favor of charter and private schools. Whether these proposals actually increase the number of charter schools and vouchers for private schools will be up to the individual states.

Federal influence over K-12 education is limited

Public education is a state power. The federal government has virtually no direct control over K-12 education and contributes very little to support it. For example, in FY 2014 (the most recent available data), K-12 federal assistance to Virginia amounted to about $660 million, or less than 5 percent of Virginia’s K-12 budget. Similarly, less than 2 percent of the current LCPS budget comes from the federal government. Of the more than $620 billion spent nationally on public education each year, only about $54 billion (or 9 percent) comes from the federal government. Given that public schools are funded and controlled by state and local governments, the federal government can exercise influence only by using financial incentives.

Learning From Uncertainty

Learning From Uncertainty

Students go to school to learn. What they learn is what is already known. Who was the first president? What is the boiling point of water? Why are leaves green? What is the formula for the area of a circle? Even complex questions like “What caused the Civil War?” are generally presented in a way that suggests that the answer is certain. As students get older, in middle school and certainly in high school, it is critical to make a transition to complex questions and problems that do not have “right” answers. For teachers whose impact is often measured by their ability to meticulously orchestrate the learning processes of 150 teenagers, this uncertainty can seem daunting and counterproductive. To me, questions without clear answers are the most engaging and educationally important ones.

Last year, one of our student’s parents shared Amy Cuddy’s 2012 TED Talk entitled “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are.” Cuddy’s TED talk is enjoyable and memorable, and at minute 16 it gets even better. Before the first presidential debate a few weeks ago, students and teachers working with me at Loudoun School for the Gifted watched it together during our “advisory” period to discuss the importance of nonverbal cues, with the goal of having students think about how they present themselves in college and job interviews. It was also a great primer for the Presidential debate, because nonverbal cues play a significant role in voters’ perceptions of candidates. Go ahead and take 21 minutes to watch the TED talk now, and don’t just jump to the end. [Note to reader: You should go to YouTube now, I’m not going anywhere]

How Do We Keep the Best Teachers? Empowering Them

How Do We Keep the Best Teachers? Empowering Them

Schools should be designed in a way that brings students happiness and helps them learn how to be happy later in life. I wrote in this column earlier this year that this required a daily experience built on kindness and an academic program composed of challenging, important work across the curriculum.

The best—and maybe the only—way to make school a place where students are happy and engaged is to first make school a workplace where effective teachers are happy and engaged, and where they want to stay. Unfortunately, too many teachers leave the profession early, which has enormous social and economic costs.

Grads Hold the Power for Positive Change

Grads Hold the Power for Positive Change

It is high school graduation season, and as the head of a school, it is my responsibility and privilege to say a few words to students and parents to mark the occasion.

More than any other event, high school graduation marks the end of childhood in our society, and the beginning of making your own way in the world. So what would you say to young people who have finished 13 years in custodial education under the watchful eye of parents and teachers, as they step into their own lives for the first time?

Here is what I shared with our students and parents at our graduation at Morven Park last Sunday:

“Seniors, welcome to your adult life. More than anything, I think that is what graduation from high school signifies to the larger world.

The Pursuit of Happiness … in the Classroom

The Pursuit of Happiness … in the Classroom

What is the goal of school? What do we want students to know or to be able to do when they graduate?

While there are countless ways to answer these questions, there is general agreement that students should leave high school with the knowledge and skills they need to be informed citizens and to find gainful employment (either right after high school or after graduating from college). To endure, our democracy needs educated, law-abiding citizens, and our economy needs people with valuable skills who can work well with others. Other possible desirable outcomes for students are a virtuous and prosocial “character,” soft skills or “emotional intelligence,” and emotional resilience or “grit.” So, in addition to the traditional civic and economic goals, there could be psychological goals for schools.

School Budgets and Classroom Teachers

School Budgets and Classroom Teachers

It’s school budget season again. Last week, after the Board of Supervisors adopted the county’s budget, the School Board had to decide how to reduce school spending by $17 million from the Superintendent’s original request. This is an annual ritual. The Superintendent asked for a budget increase to pay for rising enrollment and new, often desperately needed, programs like full-day kindergarten. The Board of Supervisors resisted raising the property tax rate enough to meet the full request, as county voters are fairly concerned about a larger tax bill, so the School Board ended up deciding what the schools should do without.