Guest Commentary: Don’t Make College Free — Increase Need-Based Aid

By Catharine Hill

Increases in college costs and concerns about student debt have led to a variety of proposals for free tuition across American higher education.

Several alumni hoping to be elected to Harvard University’s Board of Overseers are now campaigning on a platform of zero tuition for Harvard students. Other proposals focus on community college tuitions, which are already relatively low compared to other types of colleges and universities. And U.S. Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) is going after the country’s selective private colleges with large endowments. His draft legislation would require these schools to increase spending from their endowments in an effort to hold down tuition and reduce student debt burdens.

But who will actually benefit from these proposals?

Reducing tuition at the well-endowed schools would primarily benefit students from the top 20 percent of the income distribution, students and their families who can already pay much or all of the tuition. To help lower- and middle-income students and their families, it makes more sense to focus on expanding need-based financial aid, rather than lowering tuition levels. Read More →

School Network With Most Kindergarten Suspensions Says It Will Stop Them

BOSTON — Kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students were suspended 78 times at schools operated by a single nonprofit school management company in the 2014-15 school year, according to state data.

Now, the Boston-based UP Education Network says it will ban suspensions for their youngest students starting Wednesday.

“As a result of an internal evaluation of our practices, UP has decided to no longer issue suspensions to students in kindergarten,” Victoria Criado, UP Education Network spokesperson, said by email.

UP Education Network specializes in school turnaround for formerly underperforming schools. Since 2010, the school network has restarted five schools in Boston and Lawrence. Some are in-district charters. Read More →


Mass. Had Hundreds Of Suspensions Last Year — In Kindergarten And Pre-K

On the front porch, Dashon watches for his school bus with his mother Delores Michel. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

BOSTON -- Massachusetts public and charter schools suspended kindergarten and pre-kindergarten students 603 times in the 2014-15 school year, a WBUR analysis of state data shows.

Students in their first year of school were sent home for offenses that included hitting, disrupting, disrespecting, throwing things and fighting.

Dolores Michel's son Dashon got one of those 603 punishments. He was suspended from school before he could read, write or tie his shoes.

"Oh, the first time was incredible ... that was early last year," Michel says. "They call me and tell me that my son had done this and done that and you need to come and pick him up right away. And I'm saying, 'What did he do?'"

When Michel got to her son's school in Dorchester, she found out. After Dashon got off the bus, he pushed to the front of a line. He wanted to be the first student in class.

"The teacher didn't want him to cut in front of the other student, so the teacher [had] him wait outside," Michel says. Read More →

Help Vulnerable Students Stop Fearing Stereotypes, And The Whole Class Does Better

Shielding vulnerable students from stereotype threat can improve grades for all students in a classroom, according to Stanford researchers. (Pexels)

Constant stress hurts learning. Especially when it's stress from the fear that your actions could confirm a stereotype about your race, class or gender.

Think, for example, about a black student sitting in a mostly white physics class, whose teacher seems surprised when he answers a difficult question correctly. The student may then fear that the teacher or other students consider black students less capable -- and that any mistake he makes could confirm that stereotype.

Or the Asian student who fears that answering too many math questions correctly would pigeonhole her into a stereotype. Or the female student who's scared to make a mistake in a science lab full of men. You get the picture.

Stereotype threat -- the fear that one's actions could confirm a negative stereotype -- takes up mental energy that could otherwise be devoted to learning. So it's a no-brainer that removing stereotype threat, and the associated stress, might improve school performance.

Well, it turns out, it does. But not just for the students who feel it most.

Shielding vulnerable students from stereotype threat actually improves grades for all students in a classroom. That's the major takeaway from a recent study published by Stanford Graduate School of Education researchers. Read More →

State Assumes Control Of Southbridge Schools, Revokes Dorchester School’s Charter

The Dorchester Collegiate Academy Charter School in Boston is seen Tuesday, when the state education board voted to revoke the school’s charter. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

BOSTON -- The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted Tuesday to declare Southbridge schools "chronically underperforming" and place the district in state receivership.

At a meeting in Roxbury, board members voted 9-0 in favor of the move, with one abstention.

Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester said low academic performance, large achievement gaps and constant leadership turnover have left the south-central Massachusetts district in need of state intervention.

"In the past five or so years, they've had seven different superintendents, seven different high school principals," said Chester, who had recommended receivership. "We can do better than Southbridge has been doing. With the receivership authority we have the tools and the ability to do better. " Read More →

Mass. High School Graduation Rate Rises; Dropout Rate Falls

Massachusetts’s four-year graduation rates climbed for the ninth year in a row. (Jessie Jacobson/Flickr)

BOSTON -- Massachusetts' four-year high school graduation rates climbed for the ninth year in a row, with some of the largest gains in such groups as black females, Hispanic students and students from low-income families, the state education department announced Thursday.

"These impressive results reflect the dedication of the Commonwealth's educators, counselors and administrators to keeping all students engaged in school," Mitchell Chester, elementary and secondary education commissioner, said in a statement.

The four-year graduation rate for black females jumped from 79.2 percent in 2014 to 82.3 percent in 2015.

Across the state, 87.3 percent of students who entered ninth grade in the 2011-12 school year graduated four years later, in 2015. That's a 1.2 percent increase from last year's rate.

While the state's overall graduation numbers look good, large gaps persist. The graduation rate of male English-language learners dropped moderately from last year, to 60.5 percent. In general, Hispanic English-language learners had a graduation rate of 55 percent, the lowest of any group in the state. Read More →

A Teacher, A Committee Member And A Parent Walk Into A Blog …

A growing number of educators, parents and policymakers who have turned to independent blogs to spread awareness about their school experiences. (Rachel Johnson/Flickr)

When Burlington High School history teacher Michael Milton began blogging about his classroom, 10 posts flew from his fingers in three days.

Their topics ranged from his lesson plans, like "The (Industrial) Revolution will be Twitterized*," to reflections on modeling a classroom after the TV show "The West Wing."

"It was just like I had all these things stored up that I wanted to say," Milton says. "I hope that putting myself out there, that’s kind of like showing 'Here’s the mind of a teacher, here’s what teachers do.'"

Soon after its 2012 creation, Milton's blog,, began to pick up steam. Educators flocked to the online resource for lesson plans and discussions about their craft. Today, Milton has over 3,000 followers, and his most popular post has over 6,700 hits.

“A lot of times people who show lesson plans, they’re different businesses or nonprofits,” Milton says. “A voice that is always missing is teachers.”

Now, that's changing. Milton is just one of a growing number of local educators, parents and policymakers who have turned to independent blogs to spread awareness about their school experiences.

Armed with platforms on websites like WordPress and Blogger, these keyboard crusaders create wide communities to share practices and concerns within the education world. And as the voice of bloggers gets louder, it's having a growing effect on education practice and policy. Read More →

Commissioner Recommends State Take Over Southbridge Schools

Mitchell Chester, state commissioner of elementary and secondary education, recommended Friday that Southbridge Public Schools go into state receivership.

If the state board of education approves his recommendation, Southbridge would join Holyoke and Lawrence to become the third Massachusetts district in five years to be taken over by the state.

Citing continued “low academic performance, low graduation rates and unstable leadership,” as well as high suspension rates and failure to comply with regulations on teaching English language learners, Chester said in a statement that the district falls short of its duty to provide an effective education. Read More →


Guest Commentary: Beware The College Financial Aid Letter

By Bob Hildreth

This is the time of year when students and their parents pack a light lunch or an overnight bag and head off to visit colleges. Some may be aware that these highly orchestrated guided tours are marketing tools. After all, colleges are in a high-stakes competition with one another to attract students and money. That’s capitalism.

Families later receive a second big marketing job: the financial aid letter. Unfortunately it hides more than it reveals.

Specifically, it obscures the real cost of going to college and the means of paying for it. Colleges, in which we put so much trust, knowingly draft confusing and deceptive financial aid letters to make their value look better than it actually is.

According to Mark Kantrowitz, a financial aid consultant with, the letters “are designed to convince the family that the college costs less and is more affordable than it really is.” Read More →

Facing Districtwide Budget Cuts, One Boston School Pushes Back

Math teacher Grace Evans, left, meets with colleagues at Boston Community Leadership Academy to discuss budget cuts. The school faces an $870,000 budget shortfall next year. (Peter Balonon-Rosen/WBUR)

BOSTON -- Boston Community Leadership Academy may not have much of a leadership program next year.

Or a library. Or gym class. Or four of its current teachers.

If the Hyde Park high school’s proposed 2016-17 budget is approved, BCLA will start the school year with a projected shortfall of more than $870,000. That’s 19 percent of its current operating budget, and it would force cuts to just about every program that is not required by law.

"It's a position from history, it's a position from science, a position from math, the rest of the library, the leadership coordinator,” math teacher Grace Evans told about 25 fellow teachers at a meeting last week. “It's gym..." The list goes on. Read More →