AP Classes – Good or Bad?

Here’s a former college professor and high school AP teacher’s negative take on the value of Advanced Placement courses.  Most US high schools offer many AP courses, which generally require a greater level of effort for success and often help kids opt-out of intro level college courses.  What’s your opinion on the value of AP classes?

AP Classes Are a Scam, The Atlantic

The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from the courses—and, in an uncertain environment, students keep being suckered.

Charles Dharapak / AP
JOHN TIERNEY OCT 13, 2012
Fraudulent schemes come in all shapes and sizes. To work, they typically wear a patina of respectability. That’s the case with Advanced Placement courses, one of the great frauds currently perpetrated on American high-school students.

That’s a pretty strong claim, right? You bet. But why not be straightforward when discussing a scam the scale and audacity of which would raise Bernie Madoff’s eyebrows?

The miscellany of AP courses offered in U.S. high schools under the imprimatur of the College Board probably started with good intentions. The idea, going back to the 1950s, was to offer college-level courses and exams to high-school students. The courses allegedly provide students the kind of rigorous academic experience they will encounter in college as well as an opportunity to earn college credit for the work.

Sounds pretty good. And every year, millions of high-school students enroll in the courses that are offered in 39 different subjects. They do so at an annual growth rate almost ten times the yearly percentage increase in the number of high school graduates. If there weren’t something good about AP, would participation in the AP offerings be so high?

Interestingly, the evidence providing the clearest positive argument for AP participation is that high performance in AP courses correlates with better college grades and higher graduation rates, especially in science courses. But that’s faint praise. It’s the same as saying that students who do best in high school will do better in college and are more likely to graduate.

My beef with AP courses isn’t novel. The program has a bountiful supply of critics, many of them in the popular press (see here and here), and many increasingly coming from academia as well (see here). The criticisms comport, in every particular, with my own experience of having taught an AP American Government and Politics course for ten years.

  • AP courses are not, in fact, remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate. Before teaching in a high school, I taught for almost 25 years at the college level, and almost every one of those years my responsibilities included some equivalent of an introductory American government course. The high-school AP course didn’t begin to hold a candle to any of my college courses. My colleagues said the same was true in their subjects.
  • The traditional monetary argument for AP courses — that they can enable an ambitious and hardworking student to avoid a semester or even a year of college tuition through the early accumulation of credits — often no longer holds. Increasingly, students don’t receive college credit for high scores on AP courses; they simply are allowed to opt out of the introductory sequence in a major. And more and more students say that’s a bad idea, and that they’re better off taking their department’s courses.
  • The scourge of AP courses has spread into more and more high schools across the country, and the number of students taking these courses is growing by leaps and bounds. Studies show that increasing numbers of the students who take them are marginal at best, resulting in growing failure rates on the exams. The school where I taught essentially had an open-admissions policy for almost all its AP courses. I would say that two thirds of the students taking my class each year did not belong there. And they dragged down the course for the students who did.
  • Despite the rapidly growing enrollments in AP courses, large percentages of minority students are essentially left out of the AP game. And so, in this as in so many other ways, they are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to college admissions.
  • The AP program imposes “substantial opportunity costs” on non-AP students in the form of what a school gives up in order to offer AP courses, which often enjoy smaller class sizes and some of the better teachers. Schools have to increase the sizes of their non-AP classes, shift strong teachers away from non-AP classes, and do away with non-AP course offerings, such as “honors” courses. These opportunity costs are real in every school, but they’re of special concern in low-income school districts.
  • To me, the most serious count against Advanced Placement courses is that the AP curriculum leads to rigid stultification — a kind of mindless genuflection to a prescribed plan of study that squelches creativity and free inquiry. The courses cover too much material and do so too quickly and superficially. In short, AP courses are a forced march through a preordained subject, leaving no time for a high-school teacher to take her or his students down some path of mutual interest. The AP classroom is where intellectual curiosity goes to die.

In short, somewhere along the way over the past half-century, the AP idea got corrupted.

Many critics lay the blame on the College Board itself, a huge “non-profit” organization that operates like a big business. The College Board earns over half of all its revenues from its Advanced Placement program — more than all its other revenue streams (SATs, SAT subject tests, PSATs) combined. The College Board’s profits for 2009, the most recent year for which records were available, were 8.6 percent of revenue, which would be respectable even for a for-profit corporation. “When a non-profit company is earning those profits, something is wrong,” says Americans for Educational Testing Reform. (The AETR’s “report card” on the College Board awards a grade of D and cites numerous “areas of misconduct” by the College Board.)

It’s clear the College Board has the mentality of a voracious corporation, charging $89 a shot for an exam to millions of students who have no business taking it.

The college admissions process today is a total crapshoot. At least for the most competitive colleges, nobody in the applicant pool has any certainty anymore as to what will secure admission. In the face of that uncertainty, one rational form of behavior is to take the shotgun approach, blasting away at the admissions committee with every weapon in the student’s armory: multiple AP courses, ridiculous amounts of extracurricular activity, and do-gooder volunteer work rivaling Mother Teresa’s.

Lots of guidance counselors will advise families and students that a rational alternative is to opt out of that race. Concentrate on one or two things. Excel at them. I agree.

But it shouldn’t be the customer’s responsibility to stop a scam. The customer buys into it because the con artist is so skillful and the world is so uncertain.  The only way to stop the College Boards of the world is to expose them. Tell people to be wary.

So, students and parents: beware.

Teaching Teenagers to Cope With Social Stress

Photo

CreditJun Cen

Almost four million American teenagers have just started their freshman year of high school. Can they learn better ways to deal with all that stress and insecurity?

New research suggests they can. Though academic and social pressurescontinue to pile on in high school, teenagers can be taught effectivecoping skills to skirt the pitfalls of anxiety and depression.

David S. Yeager, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Texas at Austin and a leading voice in the growing effort to help college students stay in school, has been turning his attention to younger teenagers to help shore up their resilience at an earlier age.

His latest study, published in the journal Psychological Science, found a surprisingly effective technique. At the beginning of the school year, students participated in a reading and writing exercise intended to instill a basic, almost banal message to help them manage tension: People can change.

The students who completed the exercise subsequently had lower levels of stress, reported more confidence in coping and achieved slightly higher grades at year’s end, compared to a control group. These results were measured through the students’ self-reporting in online diaries and through cardiovascular and hormone measurements.

The studies are small. Some 60 students, recruited from the Rochester, N.Y., area, participated in the first trial; the second involved 205 ninth graders from a high school in suburban Austin, Tex. In 2017, researchers will try to reproduce these results on a larger scale, in some 25 high schools across the country.

Adults played no significant part in the exercise, researchers said. Students essentially taught themselves this mental buffer, and when they were inevitably rattled by social stress, they had a reassuring interpretation ready to frame it.

John R. Weisz, a psychology professor at Harvard who was not involved in the research, found the approach efficient and powerful. “If you’re an adolescent and you experience social harm, it’s not fixed that you will always be a target. You can change,” he said. “And over time, others can change, too. They may mellow and not be so cruel. That’s an interesting twist for kids to learn, and a good one.”
First, students read a short, engaging article about brain science, describing how personality can change. Then they read anecdotes written by seniors about high school conflicts, reflecting how they were eventually able to shrug things off and move on. Finally, the students themselves were asked to write encouraging advice to younger students.

Dr. Yeager and his colleagues have so far tried this intervention in five schools. In one study, 300 high school freshmen used this same method; nine months later, the prevalence of depression they reported was 40 percent less than in a control group.

If the results remain robust after the 2017 trials, Dr. Yeager plans to release the intervention material for free through a Stanford University project that provides learning support for students.

The breadth and depth of adolescent depression and anxiety is well established. A 2015 study found that nearly 11 percent of teenagers experience depression; other reports have even higher figures. Between sixth and 10th grade, the rate of depression doubles for boys and nearly triples for girls. And studies show that while a large percentage of teenagers face high stress on a daily basis, rates of coping skills are weak.

Dr. Yeager’s intervention suggests that if teenagers can hold onto a long view, they can soldier through immediate mortifications at the cafeteria lunch table. The takeaway: You are not doomed to be excluded forever. Neither your personality nor that of your tormentor’s is frozen.

The latest results from Dr. Yeager’s study are drawn from two related trials.

In the first, 60 students, ages 14 to 17, were assessed for baseline cardiovascular activity and levels of cortisol, a stress hormone.

Then half the students received the following intervention:

First, they read the science article, which was chatty and informative and presented as new, insider information about how personality could evolve. Next, they read accounts by seniors which, in effect, proved the article’s thesis.

“When I was a freshman,” one wrote, “I felt left out when everyone got invited to one of my friend’s house and I didn’t. It’s like … they forgot about me. Or even worse that they thought about me but didn’t think I was cool enough to get invited.”

But, the writer continued, “No matter how much it hurt, it wasn’t going to last forever. … They might even realize how much pain they were causing others and decide to change.”

The student made friends outside of school, became involved in clubs and sports and, in time, “things definitely improved.”

After reading the science article and the older students’ narratives, the students in the study were asked to reflect on a time when they felt rejected. Then they were given a writing assignment: Looking back, what advice about change would you pass on to younger students?

Finally, both the intervention group and the control group were assigned stressful tasks: Give a five-minute speech about what factors make teenagers popular. Then, count backward, aloud, from 996 — by sevens.

Afterward, students who received the intervention showed half the cardiovascular reactivity of the control group. Their levels of cortisol dropped by 10 percent; they were coping. By contrast, the cortisol levels in the control group increased by 45 percent.

Dr. Yeager believes it helps that the teenagers learned coping skills in a lecture-free zone. “The more adults tell kids how to deal with their social life, the less kids want to do it that way,” he said.

“We’re asking kids to persuade other kids,” he added. “That feels respectful to them, and motivating. It’s a chance to matter. As these freshmen reflect on how they coped in middle school, the exercise forces them to put things in perspective.”

The second study compared 205 ninth graders in one school, half of whom received the intervention. All of them filled out a standardized online diary for a week, noting each day’s stressful events.

On days recorded as stressful, the intervention students showed a 10 percent decrease in cortisol and said they could manage the stresses. In contrast, the control group showed an 18 percent increase in cortisol on stressful days and said they “couldn’t handle” the stress.

At the end of the year, the intervention students had grades that were slightly higher than the control group’s.

Laurence Steinberg, a professor of adolescent psychology at Temple University, said there has been much discussion about what schools can do to bolster students’ social and emotional skills.

Research has shown, he said, that “if kids believed intelligence was fixed, they would believe nothing could be done. But if you could change their belief to think that intelligence was malleable and incremental, their academic performance would improve.”

Dr. Yeager, he added, has been applying this idea to personality.

“This intervention is not a self-esteem enhancer, which is a failed model,” Dr. Steinberg said. “But it does boost kids’ self-confidence by changing their belief in their own ability to change.”

To get into college, Harvard report advocates for kindness instead of overachieving

The Washington Post

January 20

As your oldest child begins to fill out her college application, it is hard not to feel a rising panic. For the last four years she has thrown herself into her school work, taken AP classes, studied for the SAT, worked on the school paper, played on the field hockey team and tutored elementary school children.

Yet as she methodically records her activities on the application, it becomes clear that this was simply not enough. There are 10 looming blank spaces and although her days have been overflowing with homework, activities and volunteering, she has only five activities to report. There are 15 spaces to record the four AP classes she was so proud of taking.

You wonder who the kid is who can complete all of these blank spaces, and what has gone wrong that this is what applying to college now means.

A new report released today by Making Caring Common, a project of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, takes a major step in trying to change the college admissions process to make it more humane, less super-human.

Parents, educators and college administrators have long wrestled with the unintended negative side effects of the admissions process, like the intense focus on personal achievement and the unfair advantages of more affluent students. The report, entitled Turning the Tide: Inspiring Concern for Others and the Common Good Through College Admissions, aims to tackle these complex issues. It lays out a blueprint for addressing three of the most intractable challenges facing college applicants today: excessive academic performance pressure, the emphasis on personal achievement over good citizenship, and the uneven opportunities available to students of varying income levels and backgrounds.

Many colleges have tried to address these concerns over the years but it takes a unified effort to make a big impact, says lead author Richard Weissbourd. More than 80 stakeholders, including admissions officers (like Harvard’s), deans, professors and high school counselors have endorsed the report.

“It’s the first time in history that I’m aware of” that a group of colleges is coming together to lay out what is and what isn’t valued in the admissions process, says Weissbourd.

“Yes, we want students who have achieved in and out of the classroom, but we are also looking for things that are harder to quantify, [like] authentic intellectual engagement and a concern for others and the common good,” explains Jeremiah Quinlan, dean of undergraduate admissions at Yale University, one of the report’s endorsers.

In response to the report, Yale will be adding an essay question on next year’s application that asks applicants “to reflect on engagement with and contribution to their family, community and/or the public good,” Quinlan says. Yale will also “advocate for more flexibility in the extracurricular sections on both the Common Application and Coalition Application, so that colleges can more easily control how they ask students to list and reflect on their extracurricular involvement.”

The University of Virginia is also in agreement with the report. “We supportTurning the Tide because we philosophically agree with many of the principal points in the document, [like] promoting, encouraging, and developing good citizenship, strong character, personal responsibility, [and] civic engagement in high school students,” says Gregory Roberts, the school’s dean of admissions.

Like Yale, several of the report’s endorsers have already modified their admissions efforts or practices as a result of these findings. Weissbourd said that over the next two years, Making Caring Common will work with college admissions officers, parents, high school guidance counselors and others to further implement the report’s recommendations. He hopes that many of these points will eventually be incorporated into the Common, Coalition and Universal applications as well.

Here are five highlights from the report, along with tips from Making Caring Common for how parents can help turn the tide:

1. Reduce stress by limiting course loads and extracurricular activities. Admissions offices can reduce undue pressure by sending a clear message that “long brag sheets do not increase students’ chances of admission.” To make this point, the authors recommend applications provide room for only two to four activities or ask students to describe two to three meaningful activities in an essay. Tallying up a lengthy listing of AP credits should be discouraged in favor of more sustained effort in areas of genuine interest.

Parent tip: Help your teens by encouraging them to find activities, classes and volunteer experiences that are meaningful to them, but that do not create undue stress.

2. Value the different ways students make contributions to their families and communities. Current applications often disadvantage students from less affluent backgrounds who may make important but overlooked contributions, such as working part-time to help support their families or taking care of a family member, leaving them no time for extracurricular activities or community service. Colleges need to clearly communicate the high value they place on family contributions and give ample opportunity for applicants to explain their role. By doing so, the authors hope to redefine achievement in broader terms.

Parent tip: If your teens help to run the household, babysit a younger sibling after school, or make other significant family contributions, make sure they write about it on their applications.

3. Stress the importance of authenticity. At the heart the report is the notion that admissions committees are looking for students who are authentic and honest about their interests and accomplishments. Students are encouraged to find the right college fit by remaining true to themselves, keeping an open mind about their options and examining a broad range of colleges. It should also be made clear that over-coached applications can jeopardize admission. Confidence and integrity are best reflected in the student’s own voice.

Parent tip: College admissions officers can sense when an application is not authentic or trumped up. Help teens present themselves in their best light, while still staying true to who they really are.

4. Alleviate Test Pressure.  Some colleges have already taken steps to de-emphasize the weight of the SATs and ACTs by making these tests optional. Admissions offices can reduce the pressure surrounding standardized tests by doing this or clearly explaining the test’s weight in the admissions process.

Parent tip: Try to discourage students from taking the same standardized test more than twice, as it rarely results in a meaningfully higher score. Remind your children of that.

5. Engage in meaningful community service. The report highlights a common misconception that volunteering for certain high-profile causes or traveling to exotic countries will make an application stand out. It will, but for the wrong reasons: namely that it looks inauthentic.

Parent tip: Help your teens find sustained community service opportunities that extend for a year or more where the student can be fully engaged in something that is important to them and, in turn, have a meaningful impact. Community engagement can take many different forms, from addressing local needs to serving in a soup kitchen to volunteering on a political campaign or making meaningful contributions at home. Look for opportunities where teens can work side by side with the people they are helping, instead of for them, which can sometimes feel patronizing and may not create as rich an experience.

There will be some applicants who will try to game these new recommendations by engaging in community service in which they have no real interest and later writing insincerely about their experience. However, Weissbourd notes, even students who engage in community service with misplaced motivation may have a powerful learning experience. Research shows that for many students service activities are an opportunity for maturity and growth, even when they are mandatory or driven by the college application process.

Lisa Heffernan writes about parenting during the high school and college years at Grown and Flown. You can follow her on Twitter and Grown and Flown on Facebook.

Jennifer Wallace is a freelance writer based in New York, where she lives with her husband and their three children. Twitter: @wallacejennieb.

Parents: Let Harvard Go

roxandroll 

An interesting perspective on parenting!  Dave

As a former admissions officer for two “elite” schools — one Ivy and one West Coast Ivy-equivalent — I am in a unique position to offer some insights for parents that may be of help in raising healthful teens. Exasperated as much by the reaction to a couple of recent teen suicides as I am to the acts themselves, I offer my views here not because I’m an expert in suicide-prevention: I’m not. I offer this post because we’re all looking for some way to help our community’s kids. My Facebook feed upsets me when people surmise that these suicides happened because of mental illness, or tiger parents, or school stress, or, or, or … because we just. don’t. know. I don’t think any family from the last suicide cluster came forward with a definitive reason, and I doubt anyone did now. We don’t know what drove these kids to take their lives — but we do know what’s hurting our kids now. In fact, this local teen, Martha Cabot, sums it up pretty well: “Parents, calm down.”I want to tell every parent reading this post that you need to assume, right now, that your child is not getting into Harvard no matter what he or she does. (And no, he’s not getting into Stanford either, or Yale, or Dartmouth, or MIT. Probably not UC Berkeley either. No, I’m not kidding.) Your kid isn’t getting into the college you think he is.

What? So-and-so’s child is at Princeton right now? and got what on his SATs? and did those activities? Hmmm. Interesting. Sure, you can prove me wrong with some examples. And I can prove myself right with a hundred more. Stanford’s rate of admission was below 5% last year. Do the math.

In the spirit of “I want to do something,” I offer below some Q & A that I hope y’all read and take to heart. These are real questions asked by real parents ofreal kids I know within the past year. I didn’t answer these questions at the time exactly like I did below, but I answer them here and now based on a combination of my expertise in admissions (noting that nothing I say here should be construed as official advice or information given on behalf of any school) as well as my experience as a community leader and parent.

And be forewarned: I’m going to be a bit of a wise-ass, ’cause we all need to calm down like Martha says, which also means “lighten up” in my book.

But also, I promise a reward at the end: questions that I wish people would ask me instead. And I think — I hope — it’s some valuable stuff.

Q – freshman parent: “My child is taking honors math. Homework is three hours per night. If I ask for her to be pulled out of honors math, am I killing her chances of going to Stanford someday?

A – if your 9th grader has three hours of homework in one night for one subject, I call that a problem. This isn’t a college admissions question; it’s a question of time management. Your kid has, what, five, six academic subjects? Last I checked, there aren’t 18 hours/night to do homework. Call the teacher. Call the school. Call me crazy, but don’t put your kid in classes like that. Three hours of homework total in one night is a lot. WTH?

Q – sophomore parent: “My son is getting a B in English. What can I do to salvage the situation so that he still has a shot at the Ivies? Would it help to send him on something like an exotic summer service trip? Does that kind of stuff offset the grade?”

A – I note you asked how you can salvage the situation. You can’t. Do you know why? You’re not the student. Let me repeat that: You’re. Not. The. Student. It’s not your job. Your kid’s grade is your kid’s job, and, if it needs to be “salvaged,” your kid has to do it. As for sending your kid to Timbuktu to milk one-eyed yaks for orphan food, Imma just roll my eyes at that and salvage myself from answering.

Q – junior parent – “So how much do grades matter? Do kids with Bs still get into the Ivies?”

A – grades matter. And kids with Bs still get into the Ivies. But your kid probably won’t, because have you seen admissions statistics? They’re dire. Let’s keep it real.

Q – senior parent – “My kid is applying to 19 colleges.”

A – okay, that wasn’t even a question, but excuse me while I go scream into a pillow and maybe vomit.

Q – junior parent – “I had to sign a form to let my son take more than the recommended number of APs, but I had to do it because he needs to stay competitive.”

A – that also wasn’t a question, that was an excuse. Limits exist for a reason. And let’s be honest here “he needs to stay competitive” is English for “I’m competing with every other parent because if my kid gets into Harvard I Win.” If you’re bragging about how hard your kid is working, preface it by saying “I’m making my child suffer on purpose.” Let’s all be honest here.

Q – freshman parent – “How many APs does a kid need to take to get into Yale? I mean, he could end up with 12 or 15 depending, but I’m hearing some kids have 22. What’s a good target number?”

A – a good target number is zero, because your kid isn’t getting into Yale. Seriously, did you not get this memo yet?

Q – I don’t think I put pressure on my kid! Do you think I am?

A – Well, you do wear that Harvard sweatshirt around a lot, and your house is flying the Harvard flag (literally). You might want to think about toning it down so that you don’t have to full-scale remodel when your child doesn’t get in.

Okay, enough of the joking around; my point is made. (And I am not joking: those are questions that I am asked on a pretty routine basis.)

Here is what I wish parents would ask:

Q – how much sleep does my teen need each night?

A – at minimum, teens need nine hours per night of sleep for optimal health. (I’m not a sleep expert either, but I trust the Mayo Clinic.)

Q – so how much homework does that leave time for?

A – if school lets out at 3, and your kid needs to get up at 7 am, let’s see … that means he needs to go to bed at 10 pm, so that leaves 7 hours to do a sport or other after school activity, eat dinner, hopefully hang out a little, and do homework.

Q – my kid has more homework than 7 hours’ worth, so what do I do?

A – act up. Call teachers. Bug the school. And if all of that fails, send your kid to bed anyway, and tell him you’ll love him even when his teacher marks him down for unfinished work. You may be surprised what happens when you call a teacher and say “my son worked on this for two hours and still couldn’t finish, so I sent him to bed.” Oftentimes, it’s a reality check the teacher needs and welcomes.

Q – my kid won’t go to bed at 10 even if his homework is finished. That’s too early.

A – take away all of his electronics at 9:55 p.m. and charge them in your bedroom. Disallow screen time; remember, you set the rules of your house. If you say to go to bed at 10, your kid had better go to bed at 10. You’re the boss.This is no different from when they’re 2 and you’re forcing a nap; your child needs rest, and if they learn while still in high school how to take care of themselves with proper sleeping habits, they’ll be more successful when they do go away to school.

Q – everyone is signing forms to allow their kids to take more APs than are allowed. What do I do?

A – don’t sign the form. See above. You’re the boss. And while I’d like to assure you that taking two fewer APs isn’t going to make an admissions difference, I can’t do that. With so many schools having wee little admissions rates, nobody can. It’s kind of a crap shoot. But kids taking beyond the recommended amount of APs doesn’t end well. They have too much work, get too little sleep, and usually still don’t get into Ivies. So it’s still not worth it.

Q – where should my kid go to college if he’s interested in X?

A – this varies, but I do wish that people would approach me to engage in meaningful discussion over college selection. Once, I appalled a parent who said her daughter is interested in sports journalism by suggesting U Florida, which remains highly regarded in that field. “A state school?” the mom repeated in utter shock. Let’s all be open-minded here. There are a lot of colleges. And some of the best schools in subjects in which your kid’s interested may not be Ivies. Keep open minds and create a list with a range of possibilities and options — all of which your kid would love to attend if admitted.

Q – how much do grades and scores matter?

A – they matter, of course they do. But they’re not all that matter. Schools could fill with perfect SAT scores and perfect grades, but they don’t. If you want to see how your child measures up to any school, schools often publish ranges of scores and grades accepted.

Q – how do I motivate my child to get straight A’s? (I wish, actually, the question was: how do I set reasonable academic expectations for my child?)

A – you don’t. Encourage your child to do his or her best work. Check in often to feel out how much and how well they’re learning. Offer support if your child is struggling. And when your child gets a B, C, or D — or even if he fails — don’t overreact. Review mistakes. Ask the child to fix them, even if it’s not for credit. Ask how he feels about his performance and what he might do differently next time. Never express disappointment, but it’s okay to encourage improvement. There’s a line, and you know it. Expecting A’s is pressure. Expecting learning is awesome.

Q – my kid has perfect grades and scores. Doesn’t that guarantee admission?

A – nope. Unfortunately, perfection is not so rare these days, especially in competitive school districts where GPAs exceed 4.0 because of APs or IBs. In truth, I’m pretty sure Harvard could fill with students with perfect SATs and 4.0s. It doesn’t. Your kid being academically strong certainly matters, but numbers aren’t all that matters. Perfection isn’t a worthy aim, and it doesn’t guarantee anything.

Q – I attended an Ivy. Doesn’t this mean my kid is more likely to get in? Why shouldn’t I hope for the same as I had for my kid?

A – it’s a different world. Admissions statistics when you attended were more favorable to admission, and it was easier to get in without being perfect and absent a resume of accomplishments. There are plenty of practically perfect in every way “legacy” kids getting rejected from every Ivy. I hold an Ivy League graduate degree (my undergraduate degree is not), and what I tell my kids is that if they really want to attend an Ivy, there’s always graduate school.

But there’s another problem with this question: “shouldn’t I hope for the same as I had for my kid?” Nope. You shouldn’t hope for your kid to live your life. You shouldn’t assume that because you went to Harvard, your kid has to measure up to that standard. Some of the most successful people I know here in Silicon Valley didn’t go to Harvard, didn’t go to college “on-time” even, or even didn’t finish or didn’t go. If you are a success who attended Harvard, Harvard doesn’t get credit for your success. You do. Making the point to your child that you’re a success because you love what you do and are knowledgeable in your field is more valuable than a credential from your school. (And if you don’t love what you do … are you really setting a good example for your child? does that have anything to do with your alma mater?)

Q – so many schools aren’t accessible, including the UCs, even for kids who seem to have a good profile. What do I do to make sure that my kid gets in somewhere?

A – you don’t do anything. Your kid needs to work with her school’s college counselors to compile a realistic list of colleges to which to apply — as well as other options. Sure, they can reach for some unlikely goals (e.g., Harvard); but there should be some on the list that are more sure bets than not (non-UC/other state schools, for example). Don’t call these “safety schools.” Your kid should be happy to attend any college on the list and should have compiled the list with their interests in mind: large or small? urban or rural? specific programs? And encouraging exploration of gap years, national service programs, etc. is a good idea too. Telling them that they don’t need to go to college immediately (that you are flexible in the timing) helps to offset college rejections better than anything. They need to know this isn’t a one-shot deal.

Q – what should my kid to do have the best shot at admission to a good school?

A – he should engage with his learning, do some things outside of school that he enjoys, and write an application that reflects who he is as a person, honestly (what he wants to say — not what he thinks admissions officers want to hear). There is no cheat-sheet checklist of things that, if your kid does them, will garner admission assuredly. There are kids at Harvard who’ve done it all and kids who’ve done a lot less but are just kinda awesome kids. There’s no secret sauce other than what’s already in your kid.

Q – I didn’t take your advice, and my kid still got into Berkeley. Are you often proven wrong?

A – sometimes, and happily so. Congratulations! Of course some kids still get into great schools. I’d be congratulating your kid just as much if she was about to begin attending Foothill Community College, though, or taking a gap year. Still — your child certainly worked hard for that or for any college admission, and that deserves a big “hurrah!”

Q – how do I take pressure off of my kid?

A – don’t tell them from the day they’re born that Harvard is the best school, because, when he doesn’t get into Harvard, he’ll think he failed. Tell them all along that the best plan for them is the one that feels good — maybe a gap year, maybe even working for a few years before college, as it’s widely known that the best age to attend college is 26. If they do plan to go straight through school, encourage a good fit: an environment in which they want to live and learn for four years (or more — college doesn’t have to be completed in four years). Tell them that there are lots of options. And don’t pin your own hopes and dreams to them. It’s not your life, it’s your kid’s life — and make sure she knows that you’re proud of her no matter what.

If you want your child to be successful — we all do! — define success without attaching it to an outcome. Success doesn’t mean that your child gets certain grades, scores, or college admissions. There is no “result” that guarantees success, or even happiness for that matter. For me, success is my kids thriving in a learning environment, being challenged but not made miserable, and making choices that help them to achieve their goals. But most of all, success is their self-motivation and self-acccountability absent my pressure. That carries over to the work force more than any grades ever will.

We can’t tell our kids enough that we love them just as they are, and that we don’t expect perfection. In fact, we don’t even expect anything close. We need to tell them that when they screw up, we’re there without judgement and with nothing but loving guidance and acceptance. We need to tell them that our expectation is for them to live fulfilling lives and that there is no achievement objective correlated with that. We need to tell them that we care that they’re learning, and that grades don’t matter as much as their engagement with the subject matter and how they feel about their performance. We need to accept that sometimes them doing their best is, actually, getting a C. We need to stop overbooking them for afterschool activities. We need to lower our expectations for academic performance. We need to make them sleep. We need to let them be children. We need to stop competing through them.

We need to hold our kids tightly, tell them we accept them as-is, will love them whatever happens in their lives, and then, collectively…

we need to let Harvard go.

***

Post-publication note: This posts seems to have reached a lot of people who have a lot of strong reactions to it. I think the comment that reached me most on another person’s Facebook page is one from a parent who thinks I am encouraging mediocrity. The snarky part of me wants to tell the dude he’s right, that I tell my kids “aim low.” But the truth is, this post is far from encouraging mediocrity or “settling” for anything less than a child can feel good about achieving. As a Palo Alto parent, I am tired of our culture of ‘achievement’ as defined by grades, scores, college admissions, and the like. And I am unapologetic about that. I have worked with our community’s teens as a coach, as a youth minister, as a mentor, and as a parent, and I encourage every kid to be their best self. That means being proud of their work, whether in the classroom, on the playing field, and/or in the world. Do I think they need to engage in competition for one of those 15 slots at Stanford (there is no fixed number, and I wouldn’t know it if there were) by trying to outwit, outplay, and outlast (to borrow “Survivor” lingo)? Nope. And beyond that, there are going to be times when our kids just don’t want to work hard because they’re kids and continue to push boundaries. They’re going to blow off studying for a test. They’re going to fail something. Good. That’s right — I said good. Their mistakes teach them that actions have consequences and that their effort ties to their outcomes. We can’t give them that with carrots or with sticks. They’ll figure it out. They want to do well — as they define it. (They know what’s up with college admissions without us even getting involved, parents.) And the more they figure out for themselves, with no message from us other than “we take you as you are and want you to be healthy and fulfilled,” the healthier our kids are going to be. I want nothing but the best for our village’s kids — for any kidsand I stuck my neck out there with the post because I refuse to define the “best” as it has been anymore. The best for our kids is no more of them self-harming in any way, and I feel like we can alleviate some of that by changing our tone.

Thanks for reading this and for your engagement over what really isn’t about college admissions but, rather, about our kids’ health.

An interesting video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9LLnY_JBAAg

Lack of Sleep Increases Risk of Failure in School Among Teens

Science World Report

First Posted: Sep 24, 2014
Lack of Sleep Increases Risk of Failure in School Among Teens

Lack of Sleep Increases Risk of Failure in School Among Teens (Photo : Reuters)

A new Swedish study links lack of sleep among adolescents to an increased risk of failure in school.

For adolescents, adequate sleep is crucial for proper growth. The American Academy of Sleep Medicine reports that teens need a little more than nine hours of sleep each night. Previous researches have highlighted how lack of sufficient sleep puts teens at the risk of cognitive and emotional difficulties, disciplinary problems, negative moods and lack of attention at school.

The latest study, led by researchers at Uppsala Universitet, highlights other problems linked with lack of sleep. They reveal that adolescents who suffer from sleep disturbance or habitual short sleep duration are unlikely to progress academically as compared to those who receive sufficient sleep.

The finding is based on the evaluation of more than 20,000 adolescents, aged between 12-19 years, from Uppsala County. They noticed that risk of failure in school increased if the adolescents slept for less than 7 hours per day. .

“Another important finding of our study is that around 30 percent of the adolescents reported regular sleep problems. Similar observations have been made in other adolescent cohorts, indicating that sleep problems among adolescents have reached an epidemic level in our modern societies,” said Christian Benedict, lead researcher of the study.

Recently, a study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh found that increasing the amount of sleephelps teens improve insulin resistance and prevent the future onset of diabetes.

The study was documented in the Journal Sleep Medicine. It was supported by the Swedish Brain Foundation and Novo Nordisk Foundation.

A Gossip App Brought My High School to a Halt

Here’s an article from New York Magazine about social networking gone awry at Staples HS in Westport.  Warning, the article contains some graphic language.  Thankfully, we have been able to block the app from the CSH campus.

M., a high school junior, was rushing to class last Thursday morning when a friend stopped to ask if she was okay. Taken by surprise, she laughed and answered that she was fine. Continuing down the hall, she was met by strange glances and similar inquiries. She was at a loss. What had she done to become a celebrity overnight? It wasn’t until she sat down for her first period class that someone finally told her about Yik Yak.

Yik Yak is an application that allows individuals to post comments anonymously, essentially operating as a Twitter without handles. Sitting at her desk, M. grabbed a friend’s phone and began scrolling through a feed of posts.

“L. M. is affiliated with Al Qaeda.”

“The cheer team couldn’t get uglier.”

“K. is a slut.”

“J. N. is a fag.”

“The fact that O. P. has diabetes makes me happy.”

“S. D. + 10 years = trailer park.”

“Nobody is taking H. to prom because nobody has a forklift.”

“J. T.’s gonna get lynched at SMU.”

“How long do we think before A. B. kills herself?”

“N. likes the taste of thick pussy and wheelchair pussy.”

“99% of guys have tits bigger than J.”

“I probably heard about 10–15 nasty things written about me, some of which I couldn’t even finish reading,” M. says. “M. will let anybody anally finger her.” “M. gave dome for $6.” She had come under more intense attack than most students, but her experience on Thursday was similar to those of dozens of students at Staples High School.

I’m a student at Staples, too. It’s a good, medium-sized public school in Westport, Connecticut. We don’t walk through metal detectors on our way to class, and the main job of our school “security force” is to hand out tickets when students’ Jeeps and Audis park in staff parking spaces. John Dodig, our genial and openly gay principal, greeted my freshman class in 2010 by welcoming us to a school that was “different,” a school that rose above petty high school malice. And as a senior, I’ve found Staples to be a happy, functional, though complexly hierarchical place. The three most popular senior girl groups are the Bots, the Bedfords, and Acrimonious. There are Albone and the Rowdies, both popular senior boy groups. There are the Amigos (popular junior girls), the Cool Asians (none of whom are actually Asian), the Fairies (the soccer team, not the theater kids), the Players (the theater kids, not the soccer team), and many others.

Yik Yak arrived at Staples from Fairfield, the neighboring town, by way of the Dominican Republic, where students from Staples joined students from Fairfield Warde High School on a service trip earlier this month. Fairfield had already been rocked by the app. Students described a scene of pandemonium that eventually resulted in legal action against some who were charged with cyber-bullying. After the service trip was over and the volunteers returned to Staples, word of Yik Yak spread fast.

When you watch stupid movies about teenagers in high school, you roll your eyes at the classic fallout scene in which the hallways are filled with whispering students all gossiping about the same thing. This was exactly what Thursday afternoon looked like at Staples. “Walking through the hallways, everyone was staring at their phones,” says one target. In the course of a few periods, the most private, deplorable thoughts of the Staples student body had been put into writing. And the worst part was that no one knew who was writing this stuff — maybe the asshole you’d expect it from, or maybe the quiet girl in the back of Spanish class.

In the period after lunch, everyone was waiting for the next post. Feeds were refreshed; new batches of unsigned obscenities entertained the student body. “I remember sitting there in class refreshing the page, waiting for someone to say something horrible and awful about me,” said one junior girl. Ms. S. was fully aware of the cause for her European History class’s distraction, as apparently many teachers had downloaded and perused the app during their lunch period. With each post, another girl left class to cry in the bathroom, vent to her guidance counselor, or drive home. “I was shocked, mortified, and embarrassed,” M. says. “I then called my mom and told her I was leaving school.”

During the last period of the day, a demoralized voice came over the loudspeaker: Principal Dodig had decided to address the school. Staples has dealt with social media explosions in the past, most notably the spread of Snapchat sexting and a Facebook cyber-bullying incident whose sexual depravity made high school boys blush. But I’ve never seen Principal Dodig as upset before. Between his sentences were heavy sighs and moments of reflection.

“To all the students in the school, I urge you at least not to look at the site,” he said. “I’ve heard several people today have read some things about them and they’re in tears. Don’t look at it. And if you don’t see it, it won’t bother you.”

His announcement gave Yik Yak new momentum.

“Mr. Dodig molested me with a weed wacker.”

“John Dodig touched my no-no parts.”

*

Yik Yak has been available for download since last November, and anonymity has existed since the dawn of the internet. So why did the app literally bring Staples to a halt last week? Maybe it was a form of emotional release for students who were beginning to relax after months of academic stress. Perhaps it was a way for students to get their bitterness out about their classmates, teachers, and administrators. Or perhaps it was simply the newest, must-have social media thing.

One student told Inklings, the school newspaper, that “kids are just mean these days, and they needed a new way to insult each other.” Maybe. I remember when Formspring and Honesty Box infiltrated my middle school hallways. But Yik Yak felt different. It wasn’t just a new tool for the school’s bullies; it was also an equalizer. No one was safe, regardless of his or her place on the social pyramid. Bots and Amigos were targeted just as much, if not more, than the gays, the fat kids, the nerds, the friendless. “K. sounds like she has a cock in her mouth 24/7,” went a typical attack on an Amigo. Staples Guidance counselor Victoria Capozzi says that one student, prior to finding himself the target of a homophobic post, was completely unaware that his peers even questioned his sexuality. Suddenly, the social 1 percent was subject to the same sort of cyber torment that had in the past been directed at the students at the bottom of the pyramid. Yik Yak gave everyone a chance to take down enemies, reveal secrets, or make shit up in order to obliterate reputations. You didn’t need internet popularity in order for your post to be seen; you just needed to be within a 1.5-mile radius of your target and your audience.

Over the weekend, targets turned to their friend groups for comfort. Group chats were flooded. A sample from one of the popular groups:

“Why am I getting ripped apart?”

“I feel like I’m in Mean Girls.”

“I was really rattled and red in school, I left for last period.”

“I cried.”

“H. will be forever known as the fat girl.”

M. still wasn’t in school on Friday. A senior girl who had also been attacked on Yik Yak told me over the weekend that she dreaded going back. “How do you look a classmate or teacher in the eye knowing that they might have read something about you? Or worse, they might have written something about you?”

Some students want to see the IP addresses of the authors identified. I would too, though I have the depressing suspicion that the students who wrote the worst posts don’t care about the lasting impact that they have had on peoples lives. In conversations with our teachers, guidance counselors, and parents, we constantly hear, “We didn’t have this when we were growing up.” Well, neither did we. Yik Yak and its capacity for anonymous, targeted destruction is new to all of us. By the end of the week Yik Yak had been blocked on Staples property, but it also had raised $1.5 million in funding. So I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a competitor to Yik Yak on everyone’s phones next week. Are we just supposed to ignore it? I see no solution in sight, and personally, I am thrilled to be graduating in a few weeks.

*Names have been anonymized, and one or two details have been altered slightly, to not make it even worse.

Where The Smart Kids Are

The Brilliant Blog, by Annie Murphy Paul

Friday, August 23, 2013

Note to Brilliant readers: What follows is my review of a new book by journalist Amanda Ripley, “The Smartest Kids In The World: And How They Got That Way.” The review will appear on the cover of this Sunday’s New York Times Book Review. I found Ripley’s book to be powerful and persuasive reading, and thought I’d share my take on it with you.—Annie

“If you want the American dream, go to Finland.” These blunt words from a British politician, quoted by Amanda Ripley in “The Smartest Kids in the World,” may lead readers to imagine that her book belongs to a very particular and popular genre. We love to read about how other cultures do it better (stay slim, have sex, raise children). In this case, Ripley is offering to show how other nations educate students so much more effectively than we do, and her opening pages hold out a promising suggestion of masochistic satisfaction. “American educators described Finland as a silky paradise,” she writes, “a place where all the teachers were admired and all the children beloved.”

The appeal of these books, which include “French Women Don’t Get Fat,” “Bringing Up Bébé” and “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (excerpted in The Wall Street Journal under the headline “Why Chinese Mothers Are Superior”), comes from the opportunity to wallow enjoyably in envy and self-loathing — and then to close the cover, having changed nothing. We’re Americans, after all. We’re not really going to do it the Chinese way or the French way, superior as they may be.

But Ripley, a contributor to Time magazine and The Atlantic and an Emerson fellow at the New America Foundation (where I am also a fellow), has a more challenging, and more interesting, project in mind. Yes, she travels to Finland to observe the “Nordic robots” who achieve such remarkably high scores on international tests — and to South Korea and Poland, two other nations where students handily surpass Americans’ mediocre performance. In the best tradition of travel writing, however, she gets well beneath the glossy surfaces of these foreign cultures, and manages to make our own culture look newly strange.

In reporting her book, Ripley made the canny choice to enlist “field agents” who could penetrate other countries’ schools far more fully than she: three American students, each studying abroad for a year. Kim, a restless 15-year-old from rural Oklahoma, heads off to Finland, a place she had only read about, “a snow-castle country with white nights and strong coffee.” Instead, what she finds is a trudge through the cold dark, to a dingy school with desks in rows and an old-fashioned chalkboard — not an iPad or interactive whiteboard in sight. What Kim’s school in the small town of Pietarsaari does have is bright, talented teachers who are well trained and love their jobs.

This is the first hint of how Finland does it: rather than “trying to reverse engineer a high-performance teaching culture through dazzlingly complex performance evaluations and value-added data analysis,” as we do, they ensure high-quality teaching from the beginning, allowing only top students to enroll in teacher-training programs, which are themselves far more demanding than such programs in America. A virtuous cycle is thus initiated: better-prepared, better-trained teachers can be given more autonomy, leading to more satisfied teachers who are also more likely to stay on.

Kim soon notices something else that’s different about her school in Pietarsaari, and one day she works up the courage to ask her classmates about it. “Why do you guys care so much?” Kim inquires of two Finnish girls. “I mean, what makes you work hard in school?” The students look baffled by her question. “It’s school,” one of them says. “How else will I graduate and go to university and get a good job?” It’s the only sensible answer, of course, but its irrefutable logic still eludes many American students, a quarter of whom fail to graduate from high school. Ripley explains why: Historically, Americans “hadn’t needed a very rigorous education, and they hadn’t gotten it. Wealth had made rigor optional.” But now, she points out, “everything had changed. In an automated, global economy, kids needed to be driven; they need to know how to adapt, since they would be doing it all their lives. They needed a culture of rigor.”

Rigor on steroids is what Ripley finds in South Korea, the destination of another of her field agents. Eric, who attended an excellent public school back home in Minnesota, is shocked at first to see his classmates in the South Korean city of Busan dozing through class. Some wear small pillows that slip over their wrists, the better to sleep with their heads on their desks. Only later does he realize why they are so tired — they spend all night studying at hagwons, the cram schools where Korean kids get their real education.

Ripley introduces us to Andrew Kim, “the $4 million teacher,” who makes a fortune as one of South Korea’s most in-demand hagwon instructors, and takes us on a ride-along with Korean authorities as they raid hagwons in Seoul, attempting to enforce a 10 p.m. study curfew. Academic pressure there is out of control, and government officials and school administrators know it — but they are no match for ambitious students and their parents, who understand that passing the country’s stringent graduation exam is the key to a successful, prosperous life.

Ripley is cleareyed about the serious drawbacks of this system: “In Korea, the hamster wheel created as many problems as it solved.” Still, if she had to choose between “the hamster wheel and the moon bounce that characterized many schools in the United States,” she would reluctantly pick the hamster wheel: “It was relentless and excessive, yes, but it also felt more honest. Kids in hamster-wheel countries knew what it felt like to grapple with complex ideas and think outside their comfort zone; they understood the value of persistence. They knew what it felt like to fail, work harder and do better. They were prepared for the modern world.” Not so American students, who are eased through high school only to discover, too late, that they lack the knowledge and skill to compete in the global economy.

The author’s third stop is Poland, a country that has scaled the heights of international test-score rankings in record time by following the formula common to Finland and South Korea: well-trained teachers, a rigorous curriculum and a challenging exam required of all graduating seniors. In the city of Wroclaw, Ripley meets up with Tom, a bookish teenager from Pennsylvania, and discovers yet another difference between the schools in top-performing countries and those in the United States. In Tom’s hometown high school, Ripley observes, sports were “the core culture.” Four local reporters show up to each football game. In Wroclaw, “sports simply did not figure into the school day; why would they? Plenty of kids played pickup soccer or basketball games on their own after school, but there was no confusion about what school was for — or what mattered to kids’ life chances.”

It’s in moments like these that Ripley succeeds in making our own culture and our own choices seem alien — quite a feat for an institution as familiar and fiercely defended as high school. The question is whether the startling perspective provided by this masterly book can also generate the will to make changes. For all our griping about American education, Ripley notes, we’ve got the schools we want.

Today’s High School Students More Committed to Academics Than Previous Generation

Report: U.S. Students Get Serious About High School

High school students work harder and are more focused on school than they were a generation ago, suggests a special analysis in “The Condition of Education 2012,” and the economic downturn may highlight an opportunity to put more of them on the path to college.

The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the U.S. Department of Education, released its vast annual statistical snapshot today with a special focus on high schools.

In 2010, the most recent year for which data are available, the NCES reported 14.9 million students were enrolled in grades 9-12, a slight decrease from 2008 but still part of a slow rise since 1990; the NCES expects high school enrollment to recover and increase 4 percent in the next decade.

“The population’s different; it’s poorer and more diverse,” said Mel Riddile, the associate director for high school services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals in Reston, Va., but he noted, “I’ve been in education four decades, and I’ve found the students getting better and better every decade.”

NCES statistics do seem to show a generation more committed to academics.

Student Employment Drops and Rising College Ambitions

The latest of the U.S. Department of Education’s annual Condition of Education reports finds declining percentages of high school students, ages 16 and older, are working outside of school.

Additionally, students whose parents have attained higher levels of education are more likely than those with less educated parents to have plans to earn a four-year college degree. But federal statistics show that the percentages of students aspiring to that level of educational attainment has risen in recent decades, regardless of parents’ education background.

Fewer high school seniors in 2009 than in 1992 reported missing three or more days of school in the past month, and the percentage of 12th graders reporting perfect attendance in the month previous to the survey rose from 35 percent in 1992 to 38 percent in 2009.

Little to no change occurred from 1990 to 2010 in the percentage of students participating in extracurricular activities such as student government, clubs and drama, except for increase in sports participation, from 36 percent to 40 percent.

Lower Employment

During the same time period, however, high school students have become half as likely to work while in school. From 1990 to 2010, the percentage of students ages 16 and older who were employed while enrolled in school dropped from 32 percent to 16 percent. While the economic downturn has certainly contributed to that decline, the report shows student employment has been dropping steadily for the past decade.

“It used to be, you’d go to high school at 11 or noon, and there was this mass exodus of students, seniors with a half day,” Mr. Riddile said. “That’s changed dramatically around the country. The culture in the schools today is much more oriented toward academics and success after high school than they ever were before. Students are required to take full courseloads and rigorous classes,” due in part to higher graduation criteria in 22 states.

That push for more rigorous coursework, coupled with an increasingly inhospitable employment environment for teenagers, could create some leverage for educators to put more students on track for higher academic achievement.

“Being in high school is a lot better than hanging out somewhere trying to get a job when you are competing against adults with families,” noted Jeffrey E. Mirel, a professor of education and history at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.

That may be helping to keep students in school. The NCES found that from 1990 to 2010, the percentage of students considered dropouts declined from 12 percent to 7 percent, and the percentage of freshmen who graduated in four years with a regular high school diploma increased slightly, from 73.7 percent in the class of 1991 to 75.5 percent in the class of 2009.

Moreover, seniors may be graduating better prepared than they were a generation ago.

More high school graduates in 2009 had completed rigorous high school classes than had done so two decades before. Of a slew of mathematics and science courses considered important for college readiness—including algebra, geometry, trigonometry, statistics, analysis/pre-calculus, calculus, biology, chemistry, and physics—only Algebra 1 saw a decrease in the percentage of students completing the course between 1990 and 2009. The NCES noted that the decrease in Algebra 1 was more likely due to more students taking algebra in earlier grades than in fewer taking the course at all. And all the other STEM subjects—science, technology, engineering, and math—listed saw a significant increase in students from 1990 to 2009, including 24 percent more students completing geometry and at least 20 percent more completing Algebra 2, precalculus, biology, and chemistry.

“If they are taking courses with genuine academic rigor, that is something to be very pleased about,” Mr. Mirel said. It suggests “we are responding to the Great Recession in a better way than educators responded to the Great Depression.”

In the years of the Great Depression, schools likewise saw a sudden increase in the number of students, including the poor and immigrants, remaining in high school, according to Mr. Mirel, a co-author with David Angus of the 1999 book The Failed Promise of the American High School, 1890-1995. The rate of students staying in high school rose from around 50 percent to 74 percent before and after 1940, but in response, states reduced the rigor of the curricula, he found, replacing college-preparatory courses like calculus with “general math.”

This time around, tighter state graduation requirements have coincided with greater access to online courses, particularly in rural districts.

“Certainly, we do see districts and states use distance education to bring in advanced courses that they wouldn’t have been able to afford otherwise,” said NCES Commissioner Sean P. “Jack” Buckley.

Distance-learning enrollment, including online classes, has skyrocketed, from 222,000 students in 2002-03 to more than 1.3 million in 2009-10.

Although students might face a more challenging academic landscape in school, the NCES found it is also a less stressful one from a safety standpoint. From 1992 to 2010, the rates of all school-based crimes dropped dramatically. In 2010, 32 nonfatal violent crimes took place on campus, including sexual assault and robbery, for every 1,000 students ages 12 to 18. That’s less than a third the rate in 1992 of 154 crimes per 1,000 students. Similarly, the rate of theft dropped from 101 to 18 for every 1,000 students.

The NCES found 49.5 million students attend public P-12 schools, continuing a steady rise since the 1980s. Moreover, analysts project enrollment will rise by 7 percent, to 53.1 million, by the 2021-22 school year. The West and parts of the Eastern Seaboard are expected to grow even faster, and three states—Alaska, Arizona, and Nevada—are expected to see a more than 20 percent jump in their student populations.