I just learned of an interesting education advocacy website for parents: parentadvocates.org. Readers should check out the site which, like my book, advocates parental involvement to help improve education and make more opportunities available to our children.
On another note, as readers may have noticed, I haven't blogged for a while. I have been busy completing my next book, the prequel to the college book. The aim of this next book is to alert parents of younger high school students to the best opportunities for their children in all fields--to make them irresistible to colleges. The book will be available in August, 2007. Stay tuned.
I invite readers to listen to my August 8 interview on KMOX in St. Louis. [Update: Audio no longer available online.] And check out the college application discussion from the Aug. 15 NBC/MSNBC Today show. Here is the Today Show segment:
Please check out NBC's Today show Tuesday, Aug. 15, to see what I've been up to. I have been busy promoting my new book, What Colleges Don't Tell You, which came out 9 days ago. And I'm racing to complete the prequel (on strategies for making your high schooler irresistible to the most competitive colleges) which is due on my publisher's desk next month. I look forward to blogging again soon and welcome your email. EW-G
An Associated Press report picked up by The New York Times today describes Florida's new measure to require high school students to declare majors "just as college students do," as a way to "make high school more relevant and interesting." In a time when people commonly complain that high school kids are being forced to grow up too quickly, Florida suddenly mimicks South Carolina's educational system to force teenagers to make life-altering decisions at a younger age. Am I missing something here?
An Education Week report credits a "legislative aide" with the explanation that "The major is not aimed at directing students toward any particular career, but rather at bringing more structure and purpose to their high school curricula." The Education Week article further explains that the new system "would mandate that high school students choose a major when selecting electives, such as music, career and technical education, or health." The Times and AP articles, however, imply that the major applies to such subjects as Math and English as well. Tune in tomorrow for further clarification.
What happens, for example, if a kid is struggling with math temporarily and decides then to major in English in high school? Then suddenly, everything gels, and the kid has already been programmed out of the math major, although he/she gets it. In an affluent family, such a child would merely be tutored through the difficulty. In a poor family, the student would be encouraged to major instead in something that doesn't require struggle and uncertainty. An easy subject.
Today's New York Times Spending column by Julie Bick [The Long (and Sometimes Expensive) Road to the SAT] gawks at the idea that someone from Medina, Washington would have to pay $2,000 in preparation fees for the life-influencing SAT exams. How naive. From the perspective of an East Coast educational strategist, the $2,000 price tag that includes tutoring sounds like a virtual bargain. Group courses taken with the major test prep companies (Kaplan and Princeton Review among others) start at about $1,000. Private tutors and small groups have to charge more to make money. I have heard of private tutors who charge $800 per "session," requiring a minimum of 10 sessions for test prep (a total of $8,000). I have heard of parents who've paid around $7,000 only to see their kid's scores go up negligibly by a total of 10 points on all three SAT I exams combined. For anyone following the test-prep business, these are the new numbers to gawk about.
Savvy parents can save a lot of money by reviewing the material with their kids or creating a home learning environment that is conducive to independent study. For those parents who have weak rapport with their kids or live in regions of the country that tend to be over-represented in the college application pool, it's wise to pay for prep courses or tutors if you want your kids to have a shot at the most competitive colleges.
The news media is flip-flopping on how it feels about so-called helicopter parenting. In this week's Newsweek, the headline and sidebar writers would have us believe that helicopter parenting is something to be avoided. Then along comes Eilene Zimmerman's article in The New York Times on career coaches "Hoping to Get on the Fast Track, Students Turn to Career Coaches." Certainly makes getting adult advice sound both appealing and worthwhile, no? And it doesn't imply that these graduates sacrifice any of their independence in seeking adult advice. Zimmerman's article shows the benefits of coaches (the ultimate trend for kids with helicopter parents) for college graduates. So which will it be?
In response to today's New York Times discussion whining about parents holding space for their kids at more than one college (paying more than one deposit), many parents are caught in a bind and are being required by the system to pay doubly. It's not necessarily that the kids or parents are indecisive. Often, it's a matter of the colleges being indecisive. A student is waitlisted at a college where she prefers to go, and accepted into the college that she prefers less. As the deadline approaches, parents are required to pay the deposit for the less-preferred college since that's the only sure-thing they have. And if the student is ultimately taken off the waitlist and admitted, her parents get stuck having to pay the deposit for the preferred college as well. No refunds. How can the parents be blamed?
Alan Finder's Times article did mention an interesting blog in his piece, however: admissionsadvice.com (worth checking out, although the discussion on this topic was nowhere to be found). And he mentioned that some colleges, including Lehigh, are considering raising their deposit fees to make double-deposits less appealing. Wise idea. Of course, the deposit should be deducted from the first tuition payment, so the actual cost of attending college doesn't increase.
Peg Tyre's and Barbara Kantrowitz's newest Newsweek article, "The Fine Art of Letting Go," does a reasonable job of describing an increasing trend in parenting and college education. But the headlines and sidebars contradict the writers' work in an effort to conform to outdated cliches. The headline as listed in the Table of Contents, "Learning Not to Be Helicopter Parents," reverts to the party line of the 1970s, discouraging parental involvement. Similarly, the accompanying sidebar quiz "Are You a Helicopter Parent?" accusingly chides parental involvement with college-age kids. Fortunately, the headlines are misleading. They're inaccurate indicators of what the Kantrowitz and Tyre piece is about. If readers can get past the editing, they will learn that the piece actually describes how happy families are that subscribe to greater involvement.
Take, for example, the loving Comerfords who are described for missing their daughter Meghan right after dropping her off at college. Who wouldn't want parents like that? And how about the Tully family of Brockton, Mass., where the kids are hoping to emulate the relationship they have with their parents when they themselves have children? Or take, for example, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, both of whom are cited in the article for having "mothers who moved to be near them when they went to college." They grew up just fine, thank you. Nobody would argue that they were immature or unable to do things on their own. The two writers give lots more examples of happy families where parents are intensely involved, and even where kids are seeking increased involvement. And for those parents who are unsure, they refer to the Website for mothers of freshman, called mofchat.com.
So who's unhappy by this arrangement? University officials, college professors, and the headline writers. Those are the only ones quoted who seem to wish that the parents would just go away. Not the kids. Not the parents. But that's no reason to alter your family style.
Also in contrast to the tone of the article, the Helicopter Parent Quiz implies that when visiting a child at college it is somehow wrong or bad for parents to "take out the trash." It's even worse parenting, the quiz would say, "after taking out the trash, you do the laundry." What is so bad about that? The quiz says, "Your instincts may tell you to clean up, but that won't teach your student to behave as an adult." Hah! Having someone occasionally do your laundry for you (during a college visit) prevents you from behaving as an adult? I guess that means that professionals and other working parents should not hire housekeepers. Such parents MUST come home from a full day of work to do their own laundry at the risk of being called immature? Similar flaws and 1970s stereotypes could be found throughout the quiz.
What I want readers to know is that much of the Newsweek article fairly describes the emergence of a trend. But read it with caution. Ignore the extraneous (headline and sidebar) cliches. And notice who the nay-sayers are: Missa Murry Eaton, for example, an assistant professor at Penn State Shenango who whines that "she's seen a number of parents who think it's OK to call their freshman sons or daughters early in the morning to make sure they wake up." I, for one, think that such wake-up calls are just fine if the kid requests to be called as not to miss an early-morning class. And I've requested that my own mother phone to wake me, on occasions before I was married, when I feared I might sleep right through an alarm clock. And they quote Jennifer Floren, a CEO of experience.com, "a Web site that connects 3,800 universities with employers," who whines about parents pressuring college career offices to help their kids find jobs. Whine. Whine. Whine. The trend of parental involvement is on the rise.
On the Leonard Lopate show on Public Radio this afternoon, the topic was Competing for College. Jeff Yang was sitting in for Lopate, and the guests were Jane Kim, one of the two sisters who wrote the book The Top of the Class (How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers and You Can Too), and Lloyd Thacker, billed as "an education expert" and director of the Education Conservancy.
A very intelligent-sounding teacher from White Plains, Damian, phoned in to voice his concern that we're not preparing American students to compete well in the new global society. He talked about a student from China who was attending his school, who was far more knowledgeable and prepared and had achieved more than his own honors or AP students. And just when I thought the conversation was going to get interesting (when the two guests on the show were supposed to reveal how Americans could better prepare our own students at an earlier age) the discussion veered off annoyingly. The teacher's concern was quickly glossed over, and the focus digressed into very typical education-speak rhetoric about measuring achievements and testing. American parents never got to hear any new insights regarding what they could do to better prepare their children like the Chinese student's parents had. I wished I could have been on the show to share some insights. Listeners must have been frustrated.
In fact, caring and involved parents had to be turned off by Thacker's reference to the cliche "cocktail party soccer moms," who, of course, were largely to blame for the current college admissions frenzy. The title of his book, incidentally, is College Unranked: Ending the College Admissions Frenzy.