Education for the “New Majority” And how the American education system needs to readjust its priorities

The American education system needs to readjust its priorities and serve what Bill Gates, in a recent speech, called the “new majority.”

Who are the “new majority”? Students who

  • graduate from high school, but are unprepared for college
  • attend college, but do not receive a credential in six years
  • start their higher education after the age of 25 and who are the first in their family to go to college

Not only are more alternative education providers needed, says Gates, but “we also need to focus within the [education] system, and understand why technology doesn’t scale.”

Solutions, according to Gates, will emerge from a 3-pronged approach — effective personalized learning, building an evidence base of what works, and adoption of proven educational technologies.

Merit has been working on these issues for several years. Based on insights gleaned from working with K12 and college students, as well as instructors who use our software, we have learned of ways to improve how our content is created and used. As a result, we are about to launch two initiatives to help educate the “new majority.”

The first initiative is News Punch.  News Punch is based on Paragraph Punch, a popular and widely used tool for teaching writing skills.

News Punch takes links to fun and fascinating news stories and provides guided writing prompts about them.  The program helps students find evidence in texts and write about it.

New news-based writing prompts are to be released almost every week. Suggestions are welcome from users. Custom prompts can be created for any informational text or media.

Research from the Carnegie Foundation shows that writing about reading improves student reading comprehension.

News Punch is scalable: its built-in supports help students of a wide range of abilities participate in English Language Arts writing exercises.

News Punch activities can be used by both K12 and remedial college students, as well as non-U.S. learners who want to improve their English. Although further evidence is necessary, we believe work in News Punch can probably be used as a measure of college readiness.

There is a free, full-working example (no login required) on the News Punch web site.

The second initiative is syncing Merit Online programs with social media tools such as Facebook and Google Plus. This step has many potential benefits. For example, enhanced collaboration and discussion opportunities based on students’ writing.

Feel free to share comments on these issues below.

Are Schools Acting Smart About Literacy? How a new idea from Merit can help

News-Punch-Screenshot

According to a new report from the Brown Center on Educational Policy, states that have adopted Common Core standards are likely to see a de-emphasis in use of fiction materials and increased use of nonfiction materials in language classes. This is in accordance with the Common Core recommendations. NAEP test scores have been lower, and some educators have charged that this is a consequence of these changes and other Common Core recommendations.

Yet, states that have not implemented the Common Core standards have seen a similar depression of scores. The Brown Center report concludes that whatever is depressing NAEP scores is more general than the application of one set of standards or another.

The team at Merit talks to educators every day. It is clear that educators need to be smarter about how, and when, they choose to use interventions to improve test scores.

We have observed that schools rely too heavily on leveled reading programs to help students catch up to grade level. Despite wide use, there is little evidence to show leveled reading programs close large, long-term gaps in reading comprehension beyond those in early primary grades.

The increased use of nonfiction has coincided with advances in text simplification tools, Text simplification tools have made it easier than ever to create, and use, leveled texts in language classes.

It is understandable that a school would want to use adaptive reading technologies for struggling students as an intervention, or for short-term test prep. However, leveled texts should not be the driver of classroom instruction.  Leveled texts strip a lot of the meaning out of the content. Students would be better served if there were another way that they could participate in classroom activities to promote comprehension.

This is why we created News Punch — a program that builds comprehension through writing about texts. The program combines links to fun and fascinating news stories with step-by-step, guided writing prompts. New topics are created and deployed at least 40 times a year.

Recent News Punch topics have covered the Flint water crisis, the race to build reusable rockets, and a public wall in Seattle covered in chewing gum. Input on which articles to use is welcomed from educators and students. The Merit team can create custom activities for schools for a modest fee.

Research has shown that when students write about reading, as well as read challenging texts, there is a strong correlation to improved reading comprehension.

While we are just launching News Punch now, the program has been in test mode for several months.  Many educators have already used it with students and they love it. Please contact us if you would like to try News Punch now too.

Merit Software helps with business education

Improving Adult Literacy with Technology

According to the Barbara Bush Foundation, which has established a competition challenging teams of developers, educators, engineers, and innovators to create mobile literacy learning applications for adult learners, 36 million U.S. adults lack basic English literacy.

Low-literate adults have difficulty with such things as reading over-the-counter medicine labels, completing a job application, opening a bank account, and more. Studies show that improving adult literacy could save the country an estimated $230 billion in extra healthcare costs. Even a one percent rise in literacy skill scores can increase labor productivity by as much as 2.5 percent, boosting output by as much as $225 billion.

Existing programs provided by nonprofits and public agencies offer only direct, in-person services, often in a classrooms or small groups. These programs cannot meet the needs of the millions of low-literate adults in the United States.

Merit Software’s programs in adult literacy have a strong track record of effectiveness.

Merit programs cover a variety of skills and a broad range of levels. Plus, Merit offers a clean, straightforward interface and as well as content that is suitable for older students.

Learn more about Merit’s adult literacy software at www.meritsoftware.com.

High School English

Preparing Students for High School English

Educators are always interested in learning more about ways to intervene and assist with students. Here at Merit we receive many inquiries about our products from teachers who wish to find new ways to improve learning.

A recent message came from a teacher who is working with students in a newly developed general English course for first-year high school students who are not ready for the standard English 1 course in the district.

About half the students are ESL or on an individualized education program (IEP). The rest have tested over two grades behind in writing and grammar. They need lots of writing practice and intervention.

The first nine weeks of the course were spent on sentence writing and fluency, including work on simple, compound, and complex sentences, and transitions from one to another.

The second nine weeks built on the sentence writing work by focusing on strong paragraph writing.

The teacher turned to Merit’s Paragraph Punch, a program that takes students through the process of writing a basic paragraph. Online interactive exercises guide the students.

The program has an online tutor whom the students call “Lola.” Lola leads them step-by-step through the writing process.

Stressed Student

Preventing Fadeout in Interventions

Persistence and Fadeout in the Impacts of Child and Adolescent Interventions,” a new research paper that has gotten a lot of attention in the education press, the authors conclude that when interventions target cognitive skills or behaviors, capacities or beliefs, promising impacts at the end of programs often fade out quickly.

On the other hand, the authors believe interventions that target what they call “trifecta” skills,” skills that are malleable, fundamental, and unlikely to develop in the absence of intervention are long-lasting. These are interventions that persist.

A key “trifecta” intervention includes advanced literacy and communication skills, a focus of Merit Software.

Expanding Educational Opportunities for Older Students

Merit Software helps with business educationMost programs that address the high school dropout issue have focused on dropout prevention or dropout recovery of young people. When an individual passes the dropout recovery age, the age at which state funding for dropout recovery ends (about 16), the high school diploma becomes very difficult to attain. This situation is exacerbated by recent changes to the GED that make it more difficult to pass.

However, according to Kate Schimel (Education Dive, October 2015), the focus for adult recovery is shifting to programs new state systems that help provide support for adults who need the certificate to get a job. These programs rely in part on increasing availability of technology-based resources, which now have stronger support and accountability.

This is where Merit can fit in.

Merit’s GED Prep Bundle covers the key concepts students need to know to pass the GED exam. The software contains a wide variety of interactive learning activities that have been effective in mastering skills relevant to GED success.

The bundle will familiarize students with the type of content they will see on the exam. Lessons are self-paced and self-correcting.

Student scores are tracked in a record management system that allows instructors and students to view results and print reports.

Learn more about the GED Prep Bundle.

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Can The Rise Of College Student Dropout Rates Be Stopped? and how Merit can help!

Only 55 percent of first-time U.S. college students in 2008 completed a degree in 6 years, according to a recent report by the National Student Clearinghouse. This poor performance impacts not only the future of students but of institutions themselves. Ranking, reputation, and the bottom line can be affected.

To stem the dropout rate, many institutions are turning to web-facing services to improve learning and to support students to stay in school and complete their degrees. Here are two examples of technology-based tactics, as outlined by eCampus News, that can keep students in college and help them graduate.

  1. Online and blended learning: This tactic is good for remediation and course-credit recovery. It combines online coursework with in-person interaction and real-time class discussions.
  2. Monitoring, assessment, and early alert: These evaluate risk factors and develop appropriate interventions.

This is where Merit comes in.

In Merit programs, strategies have been developed and implemented both to prepare students for college and to provide remediation to college students who require it.

Merit offers online programs in college prep reading comprehension, process writing, grammar, and vocabulary.

With Merit, student progress is automatically tracked in an easy-to-use-tool for students and instructors. Results can be viewed on line and discussed in real time. Built-in tips and hints support students while they work.

Learn more about Merit Software

High-School-Students

Are K-12 Students Hurt by Computers in Schools?

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) found in a recent world wide study that heavy use of computers in K-12 schools does not necessarily improve student results. In fact, the study found that students who spend above-average amounts of time using computers in class perform worse on written and digital reading tests than those who use computers for below-average amounts of time.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s education director, stated: “School systems need to find more effective ways to integrate technology into teaching and learning to provide educators with learning environments that support 21st century pedagogies and provide children with the 21st century skills they need to succeed in tomorrow’s world. Technology is the only way to dramatically expand access to knowledge.”

Among the chief complaints in the OECD report is that students tend to get “lost” online when completing reading and writing assignments.

This is where Merit comes in.

Merit reading and writing programs control the navigation experience. In Merit writing programs, for example, students are guided step-by-step while they work. Progress at various stages of development is automatically tracked in an easy-to-use tool for students and instructors.

Read the OECD report: Students, Computers and Learning: Making the Connection

Merit’s Writing Programs with free trial links:

Helping Students Adapt to New World Realities

Students need opportunities to succeed in a rapidly changing world. The impact of current turmoil in China on the world economy is only one example of how quickly things can change, and the need to adapt. Deeper learning is a term for skills and knowledge that will help students succeed in the classroom and on the job in twenty-first century life.

A recent survey of Fortune 500 companies shows the most valuable skills an employee can have in the twenty-first century are skills that are the focal points of deeper learning: teamwork, problem solving, and communication. Students who have mastered the full deeper learning skill set can set their own goals and adapt to new circumstances. The core of deeper learning is a group of six competencies summarized below.

  1. Mastery of core academics, such as reading, writing, math, and science.
  2. Learning to solve complex problems.
  3. Learning teamwork
  4. Learning to communicate effectively.
  5. Learning how to learn, which includes working well independently but asking for help when needed.
  6. Developing academic mindsets, which includes students seeing work through to completion and understanding the relevance of school work to their lives and interests.

This is where Merit fits in.

Merit programs provide detailed coverage of the core competencies students need to succeed.

Concepts in reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary are covered from the basics to higher levels. Built-in hints and tips support students while they work,

Progress automatically tracked in an easy-to-use tracking tool for students and instructors.

Learn more at www.meritsoftware.com

Improving Employability and Academic Skills How Merit Can Help

A recent survey of Kentucky Chamber of Commerce members bemoans the lack of “soft skills” or employability skills among prospective employees. In fact, 27% of employers surveyed report a need for improvement of these skills. Such skills include communication, teamwork, motivation, and the like.

Among the reasons students struggle in college and later in the workplace are lack of motivation or persistence and inadequate preparation, say the authors of a new report from Achieve.org.

Merit’s personalized learning software has built-in scaffolds and supports. The programs motivate students while they work. This enhances both academic and employability skills.

Learn more at www.meritsoftware.com