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College Choice: It’s Anybody’s Guess

I prefer the spires of Yale University to the gates of Harvard University. And I’ll always dislike Clemson University because I wasn’t admitted there as a high school senior in 2008. Relatedly, as a native Texan, my sentiments on the debate between the merits of the University of Texas at Austin versus Texas A&M carry extra weight with my students, despite being grounded in the relative nightlife of Austin to College Station rather than academics or student life.

Those and many more seemingly irrational opinions about colleges and universities influenced my role as an adviser with the University of Georgia chapter of the College Advising Corps from 2013 to 2015.

Likewise, some of my advisees at North Atlanta High School heard that the dining hall food was better at Georgia State University than at Kennesaw State University, so they spurned the suburbs for downtown Atlanta. They liked Ole Miss because it offers a quintessential Southeastern Conference college experience, and to be honest, it’s hard to refute that particular claim.

For each student who measured generous merit-aid packages against the U.S. News & World Report taxonomy, a classmate chose an out-of-state private comprehensive with a fancy-sounding name and a mediocre academic reputation. Similarly, degree options and cost of attendance at institutions with perennially ranked football and basketball teams were often overlooked by prospective applicants -- although keenly, many students with Ivy League credentials enrolled at in-state flagships. In the end, guiding the college-choice process of nearly 600 17- and 18-year-olds over a two-year period was more Ouija than Monopoly. If a student entered my office in pursuit of perfect information, the game board was inevitably flipped in the air by the time they left.

Although I didn’t know it prior to entering graduate school, Patricia McDonough’s 1997 study Choosing Colleges offers empirical backing for this anecdotal experience. In it, she deduces from a series of qualitative findings that the college choice process is not “the economist’s rational choice model … nor … a policy maker’s model of informed consumer choice.” Rather, it is a teenager’s “spur of the moment” decision.

In contrast, a recent report from the Urban Institute’s Matthew Chingos and Kristin Blagg details in finely tuned econometric argot the “choice deserts” faced by rural college aspirants. For those aspirants, the authors argue, “true informed choice” is elusive due to unrepresentative earnings data as reported by the U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard.

While looking at a golf ball presented to me by an admissions representative from the University of St. Andrews in Scotland, I posed a question on Twitter to Seton Hall higher education professor Robert Kelchen, who had shared a Wall Street Journal blog post on the report: “What evidence is there that students actually use earnings data?” Kelchen directed me to a working paper from Michael Hurwitz and Jonathan Smith that uses the introduction of the online College Scorecard tool in September 2015 as a predictor of SAT score-sending behavior to inform conclusions about the causal effect of earnings data on college choice.

Technical points aside, I cannot help but think what would have happened had a student walked into my office and asked about earnings data from Yale and Harvard. Although the College Scorecard reports Harvard graduates’ average salary after attending to be more than $20,000 higher than that of graduating Yalies, an advisee of mine would also be factoring in architectural history and proximity to Italian bakeries and pizza in New Haven. Neoclassical economic approaches to college choice duly provide evidence for certain behaviors under a wide swath of theoretically and empirically debatable assumptions. But they’re most notably missing what one might call, continuing the Yale theme, neo-Gothic variables: peculiar atmospheric factors like the ethereal bellow of clock tower chimes on a foggy autumn morning or the dulled fluorescence of cloistered library stacks.

Such factors, noted Burton R. Clark, the late professor emeritus of higher education and sociology at the University of California, Los Angeles, are components of collective belief in an institution’s organizational saga. The idea of choice deserts then ostensibly applies to many of my former advisees at a public urban high school surrounded by dozens colleges and universities -- students whose access to the equally important subjective aspects of a campus was often limited to posters in my office that featured names of colonial patrons in elegant serif fonts amid a semicircle of foliage-drenched Adirondack chairs.

To test a hypothesis of the significance of noneconomic variables in the choice process, an unscientific experiment could go something like this: provide a golf ball embossed with the logo of the University of St. Andrews, 4,000 miles from Atlanta, along with the earnings data from institutions within a 25-mile radius of the I-285 perimeter near the city. Ask college-aspiring North Atlanta High School students to rate each institution based on their interest in attending.

As St. Andrews shares the name of one of the most famous sports venues on earth and bears a shield fit for a feudal lord, I imagine that many capricious high school students would evaluate it relatively favorably next to a list of eventual five-figure salaries. And when the time comes to decide on a college, what exactly will have transpired that makes the decision any more or less rational?

All that is to say that, barring unassailable neurophysiological evidence, factors at the forefront of the mind of the college-choosing teenager will continue to remain impenetrable to even the most sophisticated empirical analyses. To that end -- whether a counselor preaching to a high school auditorium or a researcher grappling with opaque elements of demography and human geography -- simple consideration of the social and structural quirks that make college choice such an enigmatic process seems apt for ensuring the most effective postsecondary access policies and practices for those in the government, academic and nonprofit sectors.



Charter schools’ ‘thorny’ problem: Few students go on to earn college degrees

Like many charter school networks, the Los Angeles-based Alliance College-Ready Public Schools boast eye-popping statistics: 95% of their low-income students graduate from high school and go on to college. Virtually all qualify to attend California state universities.

Its name notwithstanding, the network’s own statistics suggest that few Alliance alumni are actually ready for the realities — academic, social and financial — of college. The vast majority drop out. In all, more than three-fourths of Alliance alumni don’t earn a four-year college degree in the six years after they finish high school.

Publicly funded, but in most cases privately operated, charter schools like Alliance are poised to become a much bigger part of the USA’s K-12 public education system. Yet even as their popularity rises, charters face a harsh reality: Most of the schools boast promising, often jaw-dropping high school graduation rates, but much like Alliance, their college success rates, on average, leave three of four students without a degree.

Statistics for charter schools as a whole are hard to come by, but the best estimate puts charters’ college persistence rates at around 23%. To be fair, the rate overall for low-income students – the kind of students typically served by charters – is even worse: just 9%. For low-income, high-minority urban public schools, most comparable to charters, the rate is 15%.


So while many charter schools offer students a more viable path to high school graduation, the low college success rate in many cases is forcing the schools themselves to rethink their offerings.

“It’s time for us to pivot,” admitted Dan Katzir, Alliance’s CEO. Asked to rate the importance of raising the network’s college graduation rate, he said: “This is our work for the next 10 years.”

In many ways, charter schools were designed a quarter-century ago to help close the rich/poor college gap, though it has taken nearly that long, charter officials say, to do so for more than just a few students.

The first charter school opened in St. Paul, Minn., in 1992, and since then the sector has grown steadily. Total enrollment topped 3 million students for the first time last fall, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. More than 6,900 schools now enroll an estimated 3.1 million students, about three times as many as a decade earlier. Last fall alone, the alliance notes, more than 300 charter schools opened.

The Trump administration has floated an offer to allow even more families access to charter schools, among other choices such as private-school vouchers and tax credits. In an editorial this month in USA TODAY, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wrote of students stuck in “failing” neighborhood schools: “If they don’t have the means to move to a better school district, then they’re trapped,” she wrote.


Yet even educators in the charter world say that simply handing families more choices is unlikely to improve outcomes.

“It’s a big, hard, thorny problem,” said Seth Andrew, founder of Democracy Prep Public Schools, a network of 20 charter schools in New York, Washington, D.C., Camden, N.J., and Baton Rouge, La. Although its first alumni are not slated to finish college until this spring, the network has pushed hard to make college completion a priority. He estimates that nearly nine in 10 Democracy Prep alumni are on track to earn a four-year degree.

Kevin Carey, director of the Education Policy program at New America, a left-leaning Washington, D.C., think tank, said many low-income students drop out of college because they’re overwhelmed by high-level academics. Others end up at colleges that are a lousy match. Even students at colleges that suit them may suffer from a lack of guidance or difficulties integrating into social and academic life. In some cases, he said, even successful students’ families simply can’t afford tuition, fees, room and board.

“Whatever happens in college that tends to prevent students from graduating, those factors seem to overwhelm whatever preparatory virtues even the best charter schools are able to impart in their students,” Carey said.

Founded in 2004, Alliance operates 28 middle and high schools throughout L.A., serving about 12,500 low-income students. It’s got even bigger ambitions: The network was part of a proposed $490 million plan in 2015 to move half of the city’s students into charters. Proposed by the L.A.-based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the plan has been opposed by teachers’ unions and members of the city school board.

In its recruitment materials, Alliance says 100% of students fulfill all requirements for admission to a University of California or California State University college. But what the materials don’t mention is that since graduating its first class in 2008, just 22% of eligible students have actually completed college in the six years since high school graduation. Only 6% who start at two-year colleges eventually earn a four-year degree.

Katzir, Alliance’s CEO and a former Broad Foundation managing director, said the poor results should be taken in context, since Alliance’s first job, more than a decade ago, was to raise high school graduation rates.

In 2004, he said, there were 49 high schools in the L.A. school system “The reason why I remember there were 49 high schools is that the district’s average high school graduation rate at the time was 49%,” Katzir recalled.

At the time, he said, charter schools set out to prove “that you could overcome the high school ‘dropout factory’ and you could take these exact same students, provide them with opportunities and access to academic programming that enabled them to complete high school and get into college.” That first decade or so, he said, “we were built to solve a problem in urban communities that no one else had done before, which is actually get poor black and brown scholars through high school. Once we were able to do that, then the question becomes: ‘O.K., well what’s next?’”

He noted that for Alliance alumni who attend a group of 150 universities focused on aiding minority students, the graduation rate is 69%. Alliance came up with the list by ranking 4,200 U.S. schools based on their graduation rates for “underrepresented minorities,” and found that just 150 had a six-year graduation rate of 75% or higher.


In many ways, the college-persistence problem is not just a charter school problem, but one that afflicts low-income students more generally. In 2013, the Pell Institute for the Study of Opportunity in Higher Education, a Washington, D.C.-based research group, found that students from the USA’s lowest-income families were about one-eighth as likely as the wealthiest students to have a bachelor’s degree by age 24. For the wealthiest, the rate was 77%. For the poorest? Just 9%.

The 9% figure is “just epically disappointing,” said Katie Duffy, Democracy Prep’s CEO. “A high school diploma is just not going to get our kids to the point where they can have resources and live that life of civic engagement.”

Democracy Prep schools require college counselors on all campuses to match graduates to appropriate colleges, Duffy said. Once students are in college, a “really aggressive” team of 10 alumni tracks their progress, pulling transcripts and talking to both the student and college administrators about how they’re doing.

At the moment, Duffy said, 87.5% of its first graduates, from the Class of 2013, are still enrolled in college. Of the rest, roughly one in eight, who aren’t in college, the alumni team is working to get those students back on track, either by helping them get jobs to pay for classes or by easing them back into classes through nearby community colleges.

“Some of it’s financial,” she said. “Some of it is life stuff.”

For all of their focus on academic success, most charter schools have only recently begun puzzling over college persistence. As a result, good national data is hard to find — one group of researchers in 2014 quipped that, compared the “voluminous literature” on charters’ achievement gains, research on outcomes such as college graduation “is still sparse.”

Recent findings suggest that attending a charter school will likely push students toward attending a four-year college, but the most comprehensive research so far, from the high school class of 2008, put the six-year college completion rate for charter high school students at just 23% for four-year colleges. Another 5% earned degrees from two-year colleges. Researchers cautioned that the sample size was small, however, and subject to “higher variance and uncertainty” than the much larger group of district high school graduates.

In 2009, 15 years after the popular Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) opened its first middle school — and five years after its first high school — KIPP took a good look at the fate of its alumni. They found that six years after finishing high school, only about one in five students in New York City had earned a college degree.

“It was pretty sobering,” said KIPP’s Steve Mancini.

The chain began focusing less on simply getting students to college and more on skills that would help them get through college, with an eye toward turning out graduates who could be successful after they left the heavily structured KIPP environment. “We weren’t trying to produce kids who were just great eighth-grade test-takers,” Mancini said.

KIPP pushed its high school seniors to apply to more colleges — as recently as 2014, Mancini said, only 12% applied to six or more colleges.

And they trained college counselors to match students more closely with colleges that fit their abilities.

Two years later, in 2011, KIPP looked more broadly at its alumni and found their four-year college completion rate had risen to 33%. Last year, it was 45%, with another 6% holding two-year degrees. In the most recent high school class, 73% applied to six or more colleges.

“We still have room to grow but I think that is incredible,” Mancini said.

Next they plan to take a look at issues that hold students back, such as food insecurity — they’ve already found that about 60% of college-going alumni report having to forego meals to pay for books or other necessities.

Carey, of New America, said one of the biggest problems is that many charter schools are located in economically distressed neighborhoods, so they naturally guide students to nearby colleges. But many of these — often they’re two-year public community colleges — have some of the USA’s lowest graduation rates. The colleges that many charter school students end up in suffer from “many of the same pathologies as public K-12 institutions,” such as a lack of resources and lousy educational models. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that they have low graduation rates. “Particularly for low-income students, it does matter where you go to college,” Carey said.

Once they arrive, he said, colleges must step up and prepare for more students whose success isn’t guaranteed. “As someone who works a lot in higher education, I can tell you: a lot of colleges are bad at that.”

So the Trump administration’s plan to provide families with more K-12 choices won’t necessarily solve the graduation problem, he and others said.

“We already have a lot of choice in higher education,” Carey said. “We already have a ‘voucher’ system in higher education, and yet we have a dropout problem in higher education that’s substantially worse than the dropout problem we have in K-12.”



How to avoid paying too much for your student loan

Student loans can be expensive, but a few preventative steps can help avoid unnecessary costs.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently issued a warning to consumers to pay close attention to their personal information on record with student loan servicers as errors are popping up that can cost borrowers hundreds of dollars more in additional student loan debt.

The watchdog agency said the problems are tied to incorrect or incomplete enrollment status information. Enrollment status tracks when someone is enrolled and expected to graduate. This information is used to calculate when repayment and interest compounding begins.

Here are some tips on how to catch errors:


The CFPB suggests consumers monitor their enrollment status, particularly if they've recently left or returned to school.

When you are leaving school, make sure you know when your first payment is due to avoid surprise bills. There's typically a grace period of six months after graduation before payment is due, but colleges report graduation dates differently and that's what sets your repayment date.


If something doesn't look right, tell your servicer — that's the organization you pay each month — to fix it.

Errors in enrollment status can occur as the information is passed through various hands. Your servicer may be using outdated or inaccurate information and you can submit updated information from your college to correct it.

Also consider contacting the registrar's office at your school to ensure your enrollment status is being reported correctly. If you recently transferred or returned to school, you can also update your information on the Department of Education's National Student Loan Data website.


If you run into a problem getting accurate or timely information about your enrollment status from your servicer, submit a complaint with the CFPB. You can do that online or by calling them at 855-411-2372.


What To Do Instead Of Going To College (Or After You’ve Already Gone)

If I had to do it all over again, I would skip the university route and, instead, spend 3-4 years working on a kickass, meaningful project that actually made an impact on the world.

I have nothing against college. In fact, I recommend you go if you want to do something specialized like becoming a doctor or lawyer or paleontologist. But if you’re reading this, chances are you don’t want to become any of those things.

In my opinion, every aspiring entrepreneur needs their first “Big Project.” The project should not necessarily be a job. It’s best if the project is something that you choose, you design and you fund.

By deeply involving yourself in things that you really care about, you’ll start gaining real, experiential knowledge. This is the type of knowledge that you can’t get in a classroom and is the sort of “raw material” that you can turn into an asset (a skill or product) that can eventually be sold.

To be clear, I’m not “anti-college.” I’m “pro-options.”

Many of us aren’t even aware that there is another way to find work that you love other than browsing through a catalog of majors and sitting in a lecture hall. Even if you read this and still choose to go to college (or you’ve already gone), you should be actively looking to improve your life and intentionally develop yourself by undertaking challenging experiences that you’re deeply interested in.

Here are a few life-changing projects to try instead of college:

  • Travel the world — Traveling will give you an entirely new perspective and exposure to new cultures always gives you something interesting to talk about with other people. Visit places you’ve only read about, eat food you don’t recognize and make friends with people you otherwise wouldn’t have met. It’s good for you.
  • Start a business — The #1 thing starting a business will teach you is that failure is inevitable, and once you can get over that, you’ll have a much better chance at succeeding the next time. This is old school character building. Starting a business is also a great way to learn how to negotiate when people don’t like you, and convince other people to help you. Ready to get started but don’t know how? Here are 25 business ideas that any aspiring entrepreneur will absolutely love.
  • Volunteer extensively — Find a cause that you really care about it and give back in the biggest way possible. Help build houses in your community. Tutor kids after school. But don’t just dabble….treat it like a job. Give everything you have. Be a good human for no reason. It feels great — but you also learn a lot about yourself and others.
  • Become fluent in a new language — No, not with the same enthusiasm of high school Spanish — REALLY learn one. Work on becoming fluent, start to enjoy pieces of the culture that are typically reserved for native speakers (telenovelas, anyone?) then take an extended vacation to a country that speaks that language.
  • Create art — Painting, music, dance, sculpture; find something that really speaks to you and do it every single day — create something beautiful that you’re proud of. Share it.
  • Compete in a sport — Learn a martial art. Start bowling competitively or learn chess. Hell, start a running club in your neighborhood. Do something physical with your time and force yourself to get better and better. Track your progress. Compete in tournaments. This is also a great way to get in better shape without trying. I can personally vouch for bodybuilding and jiu-jitsu. They changed my life.
  • Become an expert at something that fascinates you — Like quantum physics? Devote the entire year to learning everything you can about string theory and become well versed in space-time. Create your own research studies and get them published in a journal. “Regular” people don’t do this. Be exceptional. Push your own intellectual boundaries and try to learn difficult concepts that scare you.
  • Write a book — There’s a good chance you won’t know what the hell you were talking about when you read your work again in 20 years — but the main benefits of writing are meditation, reflection and habit building. You’re learning to control your thoughts and dedicate a set amount of time to something every day.

This Big Project will do incredible things for your life:

1 It will show you that you’re capable of coming up with an idea and seeing it through to the end.

1 It will allow you to create in a relatively low-stakes environment. You can’t really “lose” if the project doesn’t go well. (Another reason why it’s best not to consider your job a project.)

1 It will teach you to creatively find resources that you need in order to complete the project. Especially because you probably don’t have a lot of money yet.

1 It will help you to see your true path and connect you with others who are also looking for their path, which is similar to yours. (The first stage of networking.)

If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance you’ve probably already finished college. Or you’re in college right now. That’s totally OK! You don’t have to drop out of school tomorrow or tear up your diploma in a fit of rage. It’d be funny to watch...but seriously, you don’t have to.

That matter where you are right now, you MUST start the process of rethinking what it means to do your “life’s work” — which is a term too few of us use to describe our journey these days. What do you want the impact of your life to be? What type of uniquely meaningful work can you contribute to the world to leave it a little better than when you found it?



A School Where Raising the Bar Lifts Hope

SPOKANE, Wash. — Two weeks before graduation last spring, Lori Wyborney, the principal at John R. Rogers High School, and her three assistant principals gathered around a table covered with papers and Popeyes takeout. On a screen facing them was a list of three dozen students who administrators believed could succeed in an Advanced Placement class. But the students were not yet scheduled to take one in the fall.

The principals looked at each student’s profile, which included the student’s answers to districtwide survey questions about what worried them about A.P. classes, what subjects interested them and which adults in the building they trusted. Wyborney, concentrating as she sat with her elbows on the table and one hand absent-mindedly raised to her mouth, kept up a running commentary. “Boy, she’s not taking much next year,” she said of a student before placing her in A.P. digital photography. Of another: “He’s looking at a four-year college. He has got to get into A.P. English.”

Over and over, she declared, “I’m on it” as she scribbled the names of students to whom she planned to propose scheduling changes.

The meeting was part of a broad effort across the district to decrease the gap between the number of students from high-income families and low-income families who go to college. In Spokane, 48 percent of graduates in 2014 who received free or reduced-price lunch — a typical indicator of poverty — went on to higher education the next year, compared with 65 percent of those who didn’t receive subsidized meals, according to state data. Nationally, 52 percent of low-income high school graduates immediately enrolled in college that year, compared with 81 percent of high-income students.

The district aims for all students to enroll in some sort of postsecondary program after high school — whether it’s a community college, a university, a liberal arts college or a vocational program — and to remain at those schools until they earn a diploma or degree.

To make sure students persist in college is a deeper task than the usual work of helping them meet application deadlines and submit financial aid paperwork. Spokane’s educators have latched onto an idea that might strike others as counterintuitive: They believe they can get more students to go to college — and stay there — by making high school harder.

Spokane has eliminated all unchallenging classes, such as Outdoor Living, a science course that Wyborney described as “Camping 101.” College prep courses are now the default curriculum for all high school students, and the district has increased the number of A.P. courses it offers. Although students are required to take only three years each of lab science and math to earn a diploma, they’re pushed to take four years of each — and most do.

“We’ve eliminated choices to the point where you really only have college-ready choices,” Wyborney said. The strategy stems from a finding of federal research that a high school’s “academic intensity” still counts more than anything else that it does to help its students go on to complete a bachelor’s degree.

Specifically, Rogers High School’s work is modeled on efforts by Steven Gering, Spokane’s chief innovation and research officer. He was previously the principal of Spokane’s North Central High School; during his tenure, according to his analysis of state data, it recorded the largest increase in the state in the percentage of students attending college after graduation.

Spokane is an economically diverse city of roughly 200,000 people. Rogers High is in the city’s poorest neighborhood. About 78 percent of its 1,500 students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, according to state data.

Rogers has the lowest college-going rate in the district. But it made the most improvement in the last five years for which the city has full data, raising that rate from 43 percent in 2011 to 53 percent in 2015. And it’s sending more low-income students to four-year schools: 27 percent of its spring 2016 graduates who had received free lunch enrolled in the fall, the highest proportion of any school in the district.

Wyborney took over the school in 2010, when it graduated about 60 percent of its students and was selected to participate in a federal school turnaround program. Her office is decorated with Eastern Washington University sports team posters, portraits of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, and a framed copy of the Declaration of Independence, in nods to her educational roots as a coach, an athletic director and a history teacher. She casually refers to students she meets as “girlfriend” and “buddy.” Walking the hallways, she most often greets staff members and students with a touch on the arm and a joke.

But students also know Wyborney is serious about making them work harder. When a counselor tells her that a student doesn’t want to take a science course in his senior year, she doesn’t miss a beat: “That’s not happening,” she says.

In the class of 2016, 87 percent of graduates had taken four years of lab science, and nearly 90 percent had taken four years of math,Wyborney said. In the fall, 437 Rogers students were enrolled in A.P. courses, up from 372 the previous spring. The makeup of those classes nearly matched the socioeconomic and racial demographics of the school.

The harder classes don’t just prepare students academically. They help students visualize themselves at college, Wyborney said. “For kids in poverty, more often than not, what they’re saying is, ‘I’m not a good student,’ ” she said. “What we have to do is convince them, ‘Well, actually, you are.’ ”

This school year, she has held multiple assemblies to explain why she and teachers relentlessly push tougher schedules. She told students the statistics for their school’s ZIP code — a nearly 30 percent poverty rate and a 17 percent unemployment rate — and explained how a good education can help break the cycle of poverty.

Destiny Roupe entered high school five years ago assuming her family wouldn’t be able to afford college. But her teachers and principal wouldn’t stop talking about it.

“It was the way she talked to us, like we actually had a chance,” she said of Wyborney. “There wasn’t any doubt in her voice. For a while that shocked me. You could just feel the genuine hope for us to get out of where we are.”

The focus on A.P. classes, which tend nationally to serve students from high-income families, ultimately convincedRoupe that college was an option for her; she took eight of them before graduating in 2016 and going on to the University of Washington to study political science.

“We get the stigma that we’re not much when it comes to education, and I think those A.P. classes really help,” she said. “It helps us see we’re just as good as everyone else.”

The data on the benefits of enrolling in A.P. courses is not conclusive. Studies, including some paid for by the College Board, the organization that runs the A.P. program, have found that students who pass an A.P. exam do better in college. Other research has questioned whether the classes have any significant benefits when compared with honors courses.

In Spokane, the district pays the test fees for students who can’t afford them. Wyborney and Gering say there are benefits even if a student fails an A.P. exam: They learn the skills they need to succeed in college, such as note-taking, time management and how to form study groups. “For us, it’s more about the skill-building than it is about the content,” Wyborney said.

Spokane is updating its entire K-12 curriculum to teach those kinds of skills. Students in its early grades will not only do more research and weekly writing, but they’ll also start to learn good studying, note-taking and organizing strategies in fourth grade.

Roupe said she felt well equipped to tackle an English course in her first semester of college. “Being able to have a discussion about … books is a lot of what I did in high school,” she said. “I didn’t feel overwhelmed.”

As proud as they are of successful students like Roupe, administrators remain acutely aware of how far they have to go. On a snowy day in February, Wyborney and her administrative team gathered for a weekly meeting at Rogers around bags of chips and jars of salsa.

Wyborney handed out graduation-rate statistics from around the district. Rogers had hit a high of 82 percent in 2016. But her enthusiasm was restrained. “Just stats to look at, my little love bugs,” she said. “We’ve got to figure out 18 percent of the kids.”



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