Monthly Archives: March 2017

Smarter Tech to Smooth the Path to College

After college acceptance letters arrive, the complexity and sheer number of tasks required to actually enroll — complete FAFSA, submit a final transcript, pay a housing deposit, obtain immunizations, among many other things — thwart the plans of many high school grads to matriculate. Between 10 and 40 percent of intended students fall into this “summer melt” pattern, and aspiring first-generation students, who are more likely to lack the prior knowledge and support to complete these steps, are particularly susceptible. Guidance counselors and admissions officers can provide valuable assistance, but it can be nearly impossible for them to be with every student, every step of the way.

Research has shown that sending students text messages with tips and reminders throughout the admissions process is a successful intervention. Now, a new studyshows how that approach can go one step further, by using an artificial intelligence system — a virtual admissions counselor — to send personalized texts that reflect an awareness of which tasks students have finished and which they still need to complete.

The study found that with this data-informed, personalized guidance, students are more likely to enroll in college, while real counselors have more time to help students with complex circumstances.


The study, conducted by education policy analyst Lindsay C. Page and educational psychologist Hunter Gehlbach, examined the impact of an artificial intelligence (AI) system on enrollment at Georgia State University (GSU) in the fall of 2016.

In April 2016, GSU began to use Pounce, a program developed by AdmitHub, to send targeted text messages to admitted students about what they needed to do prior to matriculation. For example, the system would ask if the student was bringing a car to campus. If the student responded “no,” he wouldn’t receive any additional info about parking and registration; if “yes,” he would.

Pounce tailored its messages based on the data GSU had on each student. A student who had already submitted her FAFSA would not receive FAFSA-related outreach, for instance, but a student who had not yet submitted it would receive reminders and suggestions.

When the program was unable to answer student questions, it forwarded them via email to university admissions counselors. The counselors’ responses were then incorporated into AdmitHub’s system, with the goal of fewer staff interventions over time.

Messages were sent to 3,745 admitted students. 3,744 others, in a control group, received regular communication from GSU admissions. Approximately one-third were aspiring first-generation students.

Bias in School problems

With incidents of anti-Semitism spiking this year (including, troublingly, in K-12 schools, according to the Anti-Defamation League), and with other forms of intolerance in the news, what happens if or when there’s an incident of bias or hateful speech in your school or district? Do you have a plan? The Making Caring Commoninitiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education has a sampling of vetted resources [PDF] that provide a starting point for educators, either proactively or in the moment. The resources (excerpted below) are not meant to be comprehensive, but they offer a foothold and a place to begin.

This collection is one of several resource lists from MCC; the others focus on social media, sexual orientation and gender identity, and social emotional learning and the Common Core.


Creating an Anti-Bias Classroom
A set of practices from the Anti-Defamation League that K–12 educators can incorporate into their daily routines to foster a respectful and inclusive classroom. Also helpful: these additional anti-bias resources — with classroom tips and teaching strategies — from the ADL.

Speak Up at School
This guide [PDF] from Teaching Tolerance provides strategies for responding to remarks made by students and by other adults and gives guidance for helping students learn to speak up. The guide also focuses on preparing adults to act as models for students.

Race: A Teacher’s Guide
A substantive teaching tool to help middle and high school educators understand and address race and human variation, from the Race Project.


Understanding Stereotypes
A lesson plan [PDF] from Discovery Education that helps students understand how assumptions can lead to stereotypes and unfair judgments about individuals and groups — and how biases affect our lives and our society.


What’s Your Frame?
A classroom activity from Teaching Tolerance that encourages students to reflect on their individual cultures and histories, their backgrounds, the norms they grew up with, and their values. The goal is to help students enlarge their perspective and recognize diversity of belief and background.


Read and download Making Caring Common’s full resource guide to race, culture, and ethnicity [PDF].

Talking About Race in Some White Schools

When racially charged controversies dominate the news cycle, some young people may feel disconnected — or even uninterested.

The reality is that many neighborhoods and schools in suburban and rural America are not diverse and are largely white. Students may not see many people who look different from them. Conversations about race can feel personally irrelevant, and therefore obligatory and rote. And teachers may feel stymied, worried about finding the right words.


So why have the conversation at all? As the 2016 election emphasized, there are deep racial and geographical divides in our country, leading to “a profound lack of creative empathy,” says Kathryn Short, a doctoral student at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) who is interested in ways to talk to young people about racial injustice. Many white Americans were unable to envision the struggles and desires of marginalized people or of people whose lives were vastly different from theirs.

“We have to start asking kids, ‘How do you hold true to what you have experienced while holding what other people have experienced as truth as well?’” says Short. Teaching children from a young age how to understand disparate perspectives can begin to repair today’s widespread divisions.

And from an academic standpoint, Short explains, talking about race is an important lesson in critical thinking. When students learn about the history of housing, job, and education policies in the United States, they can begin to understand why their home community looks the way it does — is everyone mostly the same, or is the community more diverse? — and to question whether today’s policies are similarly discriminatory or more inclusive.


To open up a discussion on racial injustice, students — no matter their race — need to be able to talk about their own racial identity, says Domonic Rollins, who leads diversity and inclusion efforts at HGSE.

Teachers can use questions to frame the discussion:

“How have you been impacted?”

Many people are uncomfortable talking about race — especially white people, whose skin color insulates them and offers privileges, Rollins says. When news reports detail racially charged incidents, he recommends that teachers start the discussion by simply asking, “How have you been impacted by what’s happening in the news?”

And if there’s no response, says Rollins, that’s significant. It’s a window to ask, “Why don’t you think you’ve been impacted?”

If the classroom includes different races, cultures, or socioeconomic classes, these questions can be especially powerful. When white students see how differently people of color may hear and react to racialized rhetoric or violence, says Short, they may be able to better understand the severity of the situation. It’s important for students of color, too, to understand how and why some white people, particularly in rural or segregated areas, might have a hard time envisioning their struggles.

“When have you thought about being white?”

But if students in the class are mostly white, Rollins suggests that teachers can probe that, too. Teachers can ask, “When or how have you thought about being white? When was the first time you interacted with someone who wasn’t white?” This line of questioning can help young people recognize how their lived experiences might be different from those of people of color.

“What does discrimination feel like?”

At the same time, students need space to imagine and emotionally connect to discrimination, rather than learn about it theoretically from a lecture. Rollins recommends that teachers encourage white students to authentically wonder what it might feel like to be profiled by a police officer, called a racial slur, or always have your name mispronounced. When students raise their own questions, he says, they’re more likely to internalize how discrimination looks and feels.

Teachers can ask students to share times they’ve felt excluded or vulnerable — whether it was because of their sex, gender expression, religion, or sexual orientation, or because they were in a less popular social group. Students can then imagine how that marginalization would feel if it were entrenched in history, structures, and laws.

The message isn’t that all oppressions are equal, Rollins says, and teachers should also be cautious about turning the conversation into a kind of “Oppression Olympics.” Instead, “What you want is to give folks an entry point” into the pain or difficulty that can come along with living as a person of color, a queer person, a woman, a disabled person, a refugee — or anyone whose experiences are marginalized and different from your own.

Experience for Innovation

The American Educational Research Association’s (AERA’s) annual conference offers a close-up on the research that drives teaching and learning innovations and shapes the curricula, policies, and practices of schools everywhere.

The conference — the largest gathering of education researchers anywhere, with nearly 11,000 presenters and around 15,200 attendees — offers a platform for researchers and education leaders to present new findings and perspectives on topics ranging from innovations in mathematics education to bias in classrooms to teacher training to computer languages.

This year’s conference, in San Antonio, Texas, centered on the theme “Knowledge to Action: Achieving the Promise of Equal Educational Opportunity.” We traveled to Texas to learn about what’s new in education research — and to help make those findings accessible and meaningful to practitioners and policymakers at all levels. Here’s a sampling of what we heard and saw.

Special education: Several of the sessions we attended focused on issues in special education, and how to support students with disabilities.

Supporting students: We also heard research about how to protect other students with specific needs, such as English language learners and transgender students.