Show me the data! (from The NY Times)

Ruh-roh! Here’s something from The New York Times: Education Secretary Says Aid Hinges on New Data.

Arne Duncan told the nation’s governors on Wednesday that in exchange for billions of dollars in federal education aid provided under the economic stimulus law, he wants new information about the performance of their public schools, much of which could be embarrassing.
In a “Dear Governor” letter to the 50 states, Mr. Duncan said $44 billion in stimulus money was being made available to states immediately. To qualify for a second phase of financing later this year, however, governors will need to provide reams of detailed educational information.

Oh, HECK YES! This is great! Perhaps we can bring Florida’s dismal performance to light and maybe someone can DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.

Here’s what Duncan wants to see, according to the article:

  • Student math and reading scores on local tests, as well as on the National Assessment of Education Progress, a federal test that is more difficult. (Oh, dear, that poor, poor FCAT…)
  • The numbers of schools declared failing under federal law that have demonstrated student achievement gains within the last three years. (I can think of at least three failing schools in my county that likely meet the qualification of “failing.”)
  • The numbers of students, by high school, who graduate and go on to complete at least a year’s worth of college credit. (Isn’t Florida like, nearly dead last in the nation in regard to high school graduation rates?)

Those requirements aren’t too much to ask for… that’s only fair for nearly $50 billion (and more), right?


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#7: Grades

They control you and they control me.

I remember a good time of my life (mostly high school) where I was chained to my grades. My grades were a reflection of who I was as a person, and more than that, the ultimate measure of my self-worth. If I got an A, I was amazing. If I got an D, I was a failure.

Part of it had to do with my parents’ emphasis on grades. They weren’t the whipping types, where you’d be grounded if you got a B+ – but they did show disappointment at anything below that. My dad would tease me all the time, saying we only got A’s in our house. God help me if I ever brought home a C.

Now, part of me is thankful for my parents’ attitudes toward school; without them, I would probably be a lot more lazier. And it scares me to think what I would be like had I not had a love for learning.

But another part of me is bitter; I feel like sometimes I need to go to a shrink and yell at them, “Tell me I’m worth more than a grade!” because I know I am.

In high school, I was hit full force with pressure to do well. My school was very competitive and everyone was smart. I lucked out with three or four honors classes and an AP course during my high school career, while many of my friends were in mostly AP courses. We were all contenders for scholarships and big-name schools. No one was special.

I felt worthless sometimes because I defeated myself – how could I compete with them? I ended my freshman year of high school with a 2.9. I had achieved C’s in two of my classes, which was a first for me. I don’t remember how my parents reacted… perhaps I etched it out of my subconscious.

I took me a very long time to realize that the grades on my report card, the scores on my SATs were only letters and numbers. The weight we put onto these measures is ridiculous, and certainly not worth the stress and agony and despair we suffer for them.

In college it’s a different story. I love school, but I don’t let it rule my life. You have to learn to have fun when you learn, as well as remember to breathe.

It’s only a grade. Not a sentence.

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#6: Spring Break (YEEAAAAH!)

My apologies for falling behind in this blog! You wouldn’t believe the stuff that’s happened…

Ah, yes: Spring Break is a treasured week many college students look forward to during the spring semester. This grace period of usually doing nothing is welcomed by thousands of students in the United States. The break gives them the opportunity to travel (usually to visit their families), detox from schoolwork and catch up with friends.

I refuse to believe that the only images of Spring Break that many have when they think of college students involve Cancun, lots of alcohol, beaches, hangovers galore, and Cancun. With the present economy, I don’t think many students could afford to take trips abroad during their breaks. And I don’t think students – the majority of them, anyway – even want to go to some random Mexican beach.

A comic I read had one installment that mentioned, in passing, the difference between “playing” (for kids) and “hanging out” (big kids). We hang out. And we relish in hanging out, whether it’s with impromptu late nights with Rock Band, drinking games or just catching a movie. College students definitely value time with their friends, because they’re the ones that keep them same in the midst of term papers and schoolwork (everyone knows parents, sometimes, don’t cut it – they mean well, but sometimes they simply add more stress without intending to do so).

What can you do during Spring Break? Here’s how I spent mine:

– Sleep
– Television (I don’t have a DVR, but my God, how I missed Boomerang)
– Family time
– Sleep
– Bingo night with friends
– Movies
– Sleep

Looking at this list, I realize that most of these things are some form of escapism.

Thank God – the best part of Spring Break is realizing summer is right around the corner. And it is.

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#5: Alcohol.

College students drink it. All. The. Time.

For the longest time, I was completely adamant against alcohol. I thought it was evil and I believed that anyone who drank alcohol was irresponsible; didn’t they realize the impairments it could cause? Didn’t they like their brain cells? I would frown at any plastic red cup of rum and coke people would offer me at parties; I’d dismiss participating in beer pong because I thought it was so stupid.

I still think beer pong is a dumb game, but I no longer view alcohol with this Mightier-Than-Thou, prohibitionist mentality. Alcohol is fine when drunk responsibly, but I have to wonder what it is about the drink that draws college students. Are our lives at a university so stressful that we really need to just conk out for a couple of hours?

I can certainly understand it. As a full-time student, I’ve found myself swamped with work and there are nights when I tell myself, “I need a drink” after an extremely long day of classes, as well as my part-time job at the school paper.

I always thought college kids just liked to booze up every weekend until they reached an unbelievable stupor. At parties, I’d witness this first-hand; close friends, very intelligent people, reduced to slurred speech and stumbling gaits. Becoming like them – completely unaware of their surroundings and trapped within murky thought – frightened me. In short, I was scared of drinking because I thought I would meet the same fate as my “trendy” pals – and I felt stupid about it because I didn’t think it was much fun.

I would ask myself, how is not being able to walk straight fun? I just never understood the culture behind it. Blame me for having a social worker for one of my parents, but it never clicked for me.

After I turned 21, I realized I needed to give alcohol a shot (no pun intended) and my views on it slackened. Something that has been drunk for thousands of years couldn’t be that bad, and I know I would be partaking the such drinks responsibly, with people who care about me.

I realized that not everyone drinks themselves into a stupor; yes, college students do imbibe, but not to the point that’s criticized and ridiculed in the media, with portrayals of crazy fraternity bashes and wild adults. I’d hate to know that my age group really was one huge stereotype – but I suppose that can be forgiven when individuals grow beyond those fleeting moments of fun when we contribute to worthy causes and become pioneers for whatever.

We can certainly drink to that.

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#4: Dormitories (I mean, residence halls)

Living on campus is bittersweet. As one who lives on my university’s grounds, I find it incredibly liberating and yet, at the same time, restricting. I’m away from Mom and Dad, and yet I’m “stuck” at my school. Thankfully, I like school – being near my university library 24/7 comforts me. But since I don’t have a car, it’s pretty much all I can rely upon (which is a shame, since I do live in good ol’ Miami).

The pros of living here are obvious: you’re a hop, skip and a jump away from your classes, even when you’re plagued with a horrid schedule that places you at a building on the opposite side of campus. I literally roll out of bed at 9:15 to catch a class at 9:30 in the morning. And aside from this, I hold an incredible amount of independence – sometimes too much.

Independence does come at a price, though; living on campus costs a pretty penny. For me, it’s about $4,000 per semester. Luckily, as an in-state student, the money balances out with lower tuition rates.

And then there’s the matter of roommates.

A few tips for those of you who are about to dorm:

There is no such thing as a “community fridge.” The refrigerator is only a receptacle for your foods – and everyone else’s. There is no sharing and people will go after you if you take too much orange juice.

Cleanliness IS next to godliness. It’s very easy for rooms to get dirty, especially when you have constant parties (luckily, I don’t). I do cook, though, so there are dishes to worry about. (And let’s not talk about the bathroom. Please.)

Neighbors are FUN! (Not.) Remember, you’re not the only one living at your suite alongside your “roomies.” At least once a week – and on a Thursday, no less – music will blast from the room across the hall from us. Surely, alcohol is usually a factor, but that merits its own post…

The dorm life is fun, but it’s a lot of work; you have roommates to worry about (not pissing them off, I mean) and making sure it “runs smoothly.” Even though it’s not your home, for a few a months, that’s what it becomes – home away from home. Just like any other place, it always needs some TLC.

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From Swarthmore, on textbooks.

Timothy Burke comments rather nicely on why textbooks are so expensive:

Textbooks are way less defensible in these terms because they’re a much more direct relationship between teaching faculty, their colleagues who publish textbooks in a given field, and the publishers. But much as in the case of health care, a student generally doesn’t have any choice, and that’s more or less the root reason why a single textbook can cost over $150.00: because the publisher can charge that and expect that a captive market will have to pay. [Emphasis mine]

Cue this face:

So is it all just for profit? Because if that’s the case, well, I’m just screwed, aren’t I? Luckily, as an English major, I’ve never really used a bonafide textbook, save for the ones I was forced to get during my freshman year of college for general ed courses. Burke and I both don’t use “conventional textbooks” – those fat hunks of paper printed by McGraw-Hill or Prentice Hall. Luckily, I’ve been mostly assigned to purchase anthologies and novels, books I will probably keep for the rest of my life.

I try to combat the prices at my campus bookstore with Amazon. I usually save about $40, at least, when I shop around online. The bookstore is convenient, yes, but they’re like bloody vampires – and they don’t care how much they take from you! I once tried to return textbooks during buyback and was offered $0.25 for a book. Other times I was lucky enough to be offered nothing for a book I bought, which had cost me at least $30. The cashiers behind their registers simply shrug their shoulders and smile and say, “Sorry. But would you like a receipt?”

I agree with  Burke’s notion of using Wiki-textbooks, but classes would have to be extremely “linked” to the Web. I know in this Age of the Internet, it’s probably improbable for a 20-something to not have access to the intertubes at least 24 hours a day. But if we would use eTextbooks, would we have to bring them to class every day? Could we just print out specific sections? It would certainly be more efficient to use an electronic medium as a textbook, since I can tell you for a fact that never, in my entire educational career, have I used an entire textbook. We could just “click and choose” whatever we wanted to read.

I just hope we could use recycled paper.

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Obama’s Stimulus Package – or, “Students: REJOICE!”

The Associated Press examined the effects of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package. He is expected to approve the bill on Tuesday.

What caught my eye was the measure’s effects on higher education. Take a gander:

The maximum Pell Grant, which helps the lowest-income students attend college, would increase from $4,731 currently to $5,350 starting July 1 and $5,550 in 2010-2011. That would cover three-quarters of the average cost of a four-year college. An extra 800,000 students, or about 7 million, would now get Pell funding.

In my opinion, this is by far the best provision this stimulus could achieve. It’s a refreshing sight to see additional financial aid for students who may not be able to afford to go to college. Obama – and every legislator who supported this – kudos to you! After witnessing disastrous budget cuts at my university, I am incredibly pleased.

The stimulus also increases the tuition tax credit to $2,500 and makes it 40 percent refundable, so families who don’t earn enough to pay income tax could still get up to $1,000 in extra tuition help.

Show me the money, folks.

Computer expenses will now be an allowable expense for 529 college savings plans.

The final package cut $6 billion the House wanted to spend to kick-start building projects on college campuses. But parts of the $54 billion state stabilization fund — with $39 billion set aside for education — can be used for modernizing facilities.

An understandable cut to the bill. I don’t know, I’m tired of the construction on my campus – but if “modernizing facilities” means going green, then more power to it.

There’s also an estimated $15 billion for scientific research, much of which will go to universities. Funding for the National Institutes of Health includes $1.5 billion set aside for university research facilities.

Altogether, the package spends an estimated $32 billion on higher education.

Not meaning to quote an annoying culinary TV personality, but HOW COOL IS THAT?

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