An April, 2006 Public Policy Institute of Califronia poll on education revealed that 26% of Califorians felt high school should be preparing students for college. While there is no consensus on the purpose of high schools, reforming high schools is recognized as a top priority. The policy choices made by state and local leaders on this issue will determine American place in the global economy for decades to comes.
For those parents and students who have choosen to pursue higher education selecting a college is often very difficult. Do you pick a college that cares that you graduate or a college with a reputation that has stiff competition? When you apply do want to include more than the usual stuff, then try these new online sites that allow mutli-media presentations. Or just follow some advice from the richest man on the earth about college? The choice is an emotional one for parents and students alike.
Unfortunately the pressure to get into college can lead to cheating.
How to Pick a College That Cares if You Graduate
By Jay Mathews, Washington Post, February 1, 2005
That appears to be snow falling outside my kitchen window, but I know spring will soon be here, and another 2 million high school juniors, with their fretful parents, will be out looking for the right college.
They will be thinking: "Can I get in?" But they should be asking: "Can I graduate?" I have found a new online tool with an answer to that question, which is not asked often enough to solve a stubborn failing of the U.S. educational system.
It is encouraging that American teenagers are so convinced of the worth of a few more years of learning that two-thirds of them go off to some kind of college right after they get their high school diplomas. College may not be for everyone, but it is hard to decide the issue intelligently without giving it a try, and it is good that most young people take that risk.
If only those same college applicants and their parents did not worry so much about being admitted to a college whose name will impress their neighbors and instead thought about how they were going to learn something useful and get a degree. Only about half of Americans starting college acquire a degree within six years, and for students who start in four-year schools like the ones in the Education Trust data base, the graduation rate goes up to only about 60 percent.
To dramatize the problem, the Education Trust, a non-profit organization in Washington that works to improve education for minority and low-income students, has produced an interactive Web tool called College Results Online and two reports on college graduation rates that I think should be part of every family's college research. They are on the group's Web site. I also got some tips from Education Trust policy research director Kevin Carey on good questions to ask during college tours.
But first, a warning about the standard praise of good graduation rates, and the standard excuse for bad ones:
Very selective colleges like Amherst, where, College Results Online reveals, 96.8 percent of students who arrived in 1997 had graduated by 2003, or Princeton or Brown or Harvard, whose six-year graduation rates were 96.5 percent, 95.7 percent and 97.8 percent respectively, have a right to be proud of their success. And the many second-tier state universities that didn't have even half of their 1997 freshmen graduating in six years should do better.
But a lot of it is not the colleges' fault. The mostly middle-class academic stars who get into Amherst have all the motivation, family support and academic skills they need to get a degree, and most of them do it in four years, not six. The less affluent and less self-confident students who go to Cal State Los Angeles or Texas State San Marcos often have families to support, full-time jobs and other distractions that make it less likely they will ever walk across a university stage in cap and gown.
Carey, in the first of his two reports, "One Step From the Finish Line: Higher College Graduation Rates Are Within Our Reach," acknowledges that you can explain "part of the variation in institutional graduation rates by analyzing students' economic status -- institutions with many low-income students have lower graduation rates than those with few."
"There's a seductive logic to this," he said, "one that implicitly excuses whatever graduation-rate outcomes occur at the higher-poverty or less selective institutions. It's easy to become locked into a very deterministic, input-output model of higher education success. But in the end this approach is as unhelpful as a simple ranking from top to bottom."
Why is that? Well, the reason brings us to the whole purpose of this new Web tool. Colleges can actually improve their graduation rates if they try, Carey said. "Because even when we used the results from regression analysis to help us hold all of these crucial factors constant -- by comparing institutions only to quite similar institutions on measures like student preparation, size, selectivity, percent low-income students, and institutional support -- some institutions consistently outperform their peers."
His second report, "Choosing to Improve: Voices From Colleges and Universities With Better Graduation Rates," shows what some colleges have done to make their graduation rates better. I was surprised at the examples, some being universities I only read about on the sports pages, like Florida State and Notre Dame, and some being places I never read about at all, like the University of Northern Iowa or Alcorn State in Mississippi.
I was just ignorant, as usual. Florida State turns out to be one of the few big universities whose minority students graduate at nearly the same rate as its white students. One important reason is the school's full-time student advisers, who do not just sit in their offices waiting for problems to walk in but follow a policy of contacting every student at least three times a semester by e-mail, phone or in person.
At Notre Dame, when it was noticed that significant numbers of students, particularly minorities, were flunking or dropping out of its freshman chemistry course, science professors set up an alternative class for low-performing students that covered the same material, but included mandatory study group sessions. That raised the success rate by 50 percent.
University of Northern Iowa administrators heard the usual student complaints about not being able to graduate in time because required courses were full. College professors I talk to often blame this on lack of funds from the state legislature, but officials at Northern Iowa actually decided to do something about it. They analyzed the course requirements in each of their degree programs and added extra sections or took other measures to relieve the log jams.
When Alcorn State realized only half of its freshmen made it to their sophomore year, it created a College of Excellence that lowered class sizes and increased the number of advisers for both freshman and sophomores. This eventually cut the first year drop-out rate in half, and in time raised the graduation rate.
At the Education Trust Web site, click on College Results Online and you can enter the name of any of 1,400 undergraduate institutions in the data base to see how its graduation rate compares to similar schools. Or you can look at certain groups of schools. Or you can try my favorite option for the early stages of a college search: type in what kind of college you want, in terms of size, median SAT, public or private and other factors, and the Web tool gives you a list, ranked by graduation rate.
(For finding a community college with specific programs or based on success criteria there is a web site that can help:Community Colleges)
The Web site explains in more detail than I have space for exactly how the researchers chose the groups of peer colleges, which is good because some schools are going to complain about being misfiled. The University of Maryland, with a graduation rate of 70.7 percent, is only 14th in its peer group of 16, far below number one University of California at Berkeley, 85.4 percent and number two University of Michigan, 85.1 percent. And George Washington University, 75.1 percent, is only 12th out of 16 in a list topped by Notre Dame, 94.6 percent, and University of Virginia, 92 percent.
George Cathcart, spokesman for Maryland, said the university is working hard to improve its graduation rate, which has reached 72.9 percent since the 2003 data on the Web site. He said since 1998, the rate for African Americans has gone from 49.4 to 56.8 percent and for Hispanics from 50 to 67.5 percent. Tracy Schario, spokeswoman for George Washington, said the university's rate has reached 78.7 percent, and that its peer list is different than the one used by the Education Trust.
James Madison University in Virginia, on the other hand, looked very good in comparison with a six-year graduation rate of 79.9 percent. It is number one on a list of 16, beating number two UC Santa Barbara, 73.5 percent, and number three University of New Hampshire, 72.6 percent.
I used the equipment to create what I call the "Broke Parent with Average Student" list. It has only public universities whose median freshman SAT scores are between 1000 and 1100. At number one, fittingly enough, was my grandfather's alma mater, The Citadel military academy in Charleston, S.C., with a 71.9 percent graduation rate. The next four schools were, like the Citadel, relatively small and often focused on particular subjects, such at the Maine Maritime Academy, 69.5 percent, the Millersville University of Pennsylvania, 65.9 percent, Penn State-Erie, 65.7 percent, and the Massachusetts College of Art, 65.3 percent. But also high on the list, at number six, was the University of Northern Iowa, the same school that Carey praised for fixing its course gridlock. It is a state school with many departments, nearly 11,000 students and a graduation rate of 65.1 percent.
So, besides using the Web tool, how can a family tell which colleges care most if their students graduate? Here are four tips I got from Carey and a close reading of his report:
The Richest Man on the Earth Has Some Advice about College
(P.S. He didn't take it himself)
by John Taylor Gatto, Education Revolution, April, 2006
1. William Faulkner
On April 12, 2005, the August "New York Review of Books" pronounced William Faulkner "the most influential innovator in the annals of American fiction," a man well-deserving of his Nobel Prize.
Faulkner, a high school dropout, was later able to enter the University of Mississippi on a special waiver for ex-WWI servicemen. After a single year there he dropped out with a `D' in English. Between that time and his Nobel Prize he never returned to college.
2. Bill Gates and China
On February 28 of this year, Bill Gates of Microsoft, told a gathering of the 50 American state governors that the United States has reached a competitive crisis which we were losing. This could best be combated by making college prep the sole function of secondary schooling, college prep for everyone, and college, too. Those who couldn't afford it should be subsidized by the states. In Erving Goffman's chilling locution, college was to become a "Total Institution," controlling all work in the economy. Gates' speech was headlined in the European press, where I read about it the following day at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam, which I was leaving for Guangzhou, China. When I landed there, it was big news in China, too, if the English language "China Daily" can be believed.
It was the first thing my Chinese hosts wanted to talk about -- this radically utopian idea of college for all.
3. But . Do As I Say, Not As I Do
I asked my hosts to consider this: If Gates' proposal was such a great idea, then how was it that Gates, like Faulkner, dropped out of college his freshman year? And why didn't he ever go back? And how was it that from among millions of college-trained techies, Gates decided to hook up with another dropout, Paul Allen, to found Microsoft?
That could have been a million-to-one coincidence, of course, except for the fact that Steve Jobs, the brains behind Apple, dropped out of Reed College after one semester. And never went back to college, not for a single day! Was it only an accident that Jobs chose to partner with another dropout, Steve Wozniak, in the founding of Apple?
Michael Dell of Dell Computer didn't bother with college either. Larry Ellison, CEO of Oracle, said he didn't have the time to waste on college. Is the penny beginning to drop? These multi-billionaires, who've changed the face of the global society in technology, were all dropouts. What do you make of that?
Ted Turner, founder of CNN was pitched out of college on his ear, flunked out just like Al Gore did at Vanderbilt. Ray Kroc of McDonald's told his mother at age 15 that he didn't have time to waste on high school, dropping out at almost the same age that the female auto-racing phenomenon, Danica Patrick did. Danica dropped out at 16, went to London on her own (just like Benjamin Franklin did two and a half centuries ago) and signed herself into a course on how to sustain speeds above 200 mph on a racetrack!
A few years later she almost won the Indy 500 and would have except for an error by her pit crew.
4. A Mass of Clerks
In his monumental history of civilizations, Arnold Toynbee said that institutionally forced schooling was always about creating a mass of clerks for the prevailing bureaucracy. Not educated people who can think for themselves, but clerks - parts of a social machine. In your heart, you knew that, with or without Toynbee, didn't you? Over in Guangzhou, I witnessed the largest society on earth undergoing phenomenal, dynamic changes that were intended to make China over in the model of Western industrialization, which steam-rollered the global economy between 1800 and 1960.
China has mastered the techniques of the West and has gone far beyond them. It employs the ruthless logic of financial capitalism with a discipline it would be impossible to achieve in the soft-hearted management systems of the United States and Canada.
They don't make things better than we do, but they do make them just as good and cheaper, by a factor of from six to thirty. It is fanciful to say, as Mr. Gates did, that if we just have more schooling, we'll be okay. In the next 10 years, China and India, et al., will release ten million well-trained engineers in excess of domestic needs on the world's skilled labor markets.
These men and women will bid for work against your own techie sons and daughters.
At sixteen cents or so on the dollar, the effect on wages will be a catastrophe for this important segment of middle-class life. Mr. Gates didn't bother to tell his audience that Microsoft has already opened large colleges in China and India to train young people in those nations to its own specifications.
That puts a new spin on his appeal for universal college training doesn't it? Perhaps you believe the corporate policy of Microsoft will prefer to continue to pay high wages when a stream of its own foreign graduates becomes available.
Unless you do believe that, it becomes a duty for all of us to wake up and warn our children because one thing is certain: Schools won't.
5. The Answer Is Jazz, Not Schooling
Saturation schooling, kindergarten through college, was a leadership response to the demands of a centralized corporate economy that replaced American/Canadian entrepreneurialism between 1880 and 1920.
What corporatism required was two things: A laboring mass - including a professional laboring mass of doctors, lawyers, engineers, architects and schoolteachers - who did what they were told without question, and a citizenry in name only, one which defined itself by non-stop consumption, one which believed that choosing between options offered by management was what democracy was all about.
Lockstep schooling, driven by standardized testing, testing not to measure learning but obedience, was the mechanism used to drive out imagination and courage. It worked and still works superbly, but, like the little mill that ground salt when salt wasn't needed, this brilliant utopian construction is about to kill us.
North American economies dazzled the world for centuries because they encouraged resourcefulness, individuality and risk-taking to dominate the marketplace, and these qualities were encouraged in everyone, not just in the elites.
Three North American commercial juggernauts are currently blowing away competition all over China: computer hardware and programming, fast food franchising and commercial entertainment (singing, dancing, story-telling, games and all the rest).
Each of these businesses is almost exclusively the work of dropouts, from college, high school and elementary school. They are erected from imagination. Our fast food franchises don't really sell "food" at all, but two intense tastes - salty and sweet - surrounded by clean, well-lighted places and spotless toilets and primary colors. They sell a return to early childhood and its simplicities.
Our computer world is built upon imagination inscribed on silicon chips on grains of sand. It's magical. And our entertainment industry, which dominates China and every place else? Assembled from the raw material of people pretending to be who they aren't and singing their hearts out about emotions some writer made up.
We need to realize what all this means. We need to follow the path opened by our unparalleled jazz domination of the planet.
Over in China, at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music (the oldest continuous music school on earth) they have a hard time believing that jazz can even exist, that with imagination and courage you can hear a piece of music once and ring dazzling changes on it forever.
Jazz writ large has always been the key to North American genius. As David Richardo, the great philosopher of capitalism often said: The road to wealth comes from understanding what it is that you do best, then doing it. It's time we abandoned the cowardly path of imitating what China and India will do best in the future, realizing that our own security can only be preserved by encouraging imagination.
6. Stiffening the Backbone
Not long ago, I got a letter from Ed Hamilton, the largest mail-order independent book dealer in America, in which he disclosed that he had taken three college courses long ago before he realized that the time and expense was largely a waste and struck out for himself on the course that made him a multi-millionaire and, for what it's worth, one of the most influential purveyors of self-education in the country.
Hamilton admitted to delight in the fact that most of his potential competitors did so waste their time, thus leaving the field much less difficult for him to negotiate.
Chris Paolini, a real-life homeschooled kid from the remote Absaroka Mountains of Montana wrote a fantasy novel at 15, "Eragon," self-published the book with his parents and drove from school to school, library to library, with mom and dad who quit their jobs to help him so, so much did they believe in his book!
So far "Eragon" has sold 2.5 million copies - earning enough so mom and dad and Chris won't ever have to work for strangers again - and Knopf is bringing out a sequel called "Eragon, The Eldest" with a first printing of 1.3 million copies. "Eragon" is scheduled for Hollywood release in 2006 starring Jeremy Irons and John Malkovich.
Chris is 21 as I write and, like Danica Patrick, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and Michael Dell, has no plans to go to college.
Or, how about the boy who flunked out of second grade, the kid labeled with dyslexia and ADHD who was fired from his job at a gas station for writing illegible receipts? In 1970, that dropout, Paul Orfalea, founded Kinko's.
And how about the dropout Richard Branson, who at the age of seven, was treated to this lesson in self-reliance by his mother: Miles from his London home on a drive with mom, she pulled over and asked little Richard, "Do you think you could find your way home from here?" He said he thought so, whereupon, she opened the car door on his side and said, "Well, get out and do so."
Whatever education is, one thing is certain: It doesn't take place locked in seats following the commands of total strangers, your obedience measured regularly by short answer tests. And it's education we need to meet the future, not schooling.
7. Let the Past Go
Mass college attendance once served America and Canada very well, but that time is gone and good riddance. It dampened down the inventive, entrepreneurial spirit in the interests of habit-training and attitude-adjustment.
We have the most efficient management in the world at a very high price: Mutilating the public imagination, vesting it in a handful of corporations. School was the factory producing incomplete human beings who were easy to manage. It worked for a century to produce national riches and a citizenry increasingly poor in spirit.
Gates is correct: North America faces an emergency. Vested interests will have to be set aside for the common good. The biggest obstacle blocking progress is the shape of our forced institutional schooling and its weapons of mass destruction.
As Pope Paul once said to the Poles: "Young people, don't be afraid. The future depends on you."
Let me add, parents, don't be afraid, either. Take your lead from Herman Melville's immortal Bartleby, the Scrivener, and say to Mr. Gates and his ilk: "I would prefer not to."
Copyright © 2006 by John Taylor Gatto, www.johntaylorgatto.com, All Rights Reserved
College-bound boost their odds
With competition tougher than ever, students seeking out more 'safety' schools
By Eric Stern , Sacramento Bee, April 30, 2006
McClatchy High senior Ben Steiner got acceptance letters, some sprouting ivy, from most of the colleges to which he applied. He plans to enroll at Harvard.
Ben Steiner finished the college application season 8-2-2. He got into eight: Brandeis, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pomona, Reed, Stanford, Washington University in St. Louis and Wesleyan. He was wait-listed at Brown and Williams, and rejected from Duke and Yale.
Even though he is graduating at the top of his class at McClatchy High School, rocked his SATs (2280 out of 2400), plays tennis, lugs the tuba in the band and captains the math team, Steiner didn't consider himself a shoo-in anywhere. That's why he cast a wide net with his applications.
Long gone are the days of applying to three or four colleges.
"You just want to increase your odds," said Steiner, who's off to Harvard in the fall.
Monday is the deadline for students to accept or decline offers of admission to most colleges, and UCLA researchers say high schoolers are sending off more college applications than ever before. In 1975, only 6 percent of incoming freshman applied to six or more colleges, according to the UCLA Higher Education Research Institute. Last year, it was more than 26 percent. One reason, according to guidance counselors and admissions directors, is that it's easier to apply. Students aren't sweating dozens of different essays over a typewriter about the most influential person in their life. Most schools use a shared "common application" with a "personal statement" that is sent via e-mail. One application is plenty for all 10 University of California campuses.
But according to students and parents, the numbers of applications also are going up because it's harder to get into the top schools.
"If you apply to 10-plus schools, there's a good chance you'll get lucky with some of them," said Steiner, 17. His applications cost between $40 and $75 each.
His mother (who went to Harvard-Radcliffe) and stepfather (who went to Yale) helped shape Steiner's list, after reading up on how competitive - and uncertain - the college application game has gotten since they went to school.
There are horror stories about kids from East Coast boarding schools not getting onto Ivy League rolls. And for anxious applicants, it's worse when they hear that kids who do get in are winning national competitions and working summers on research projects with university professors.
"You start thinking maybe everybody who applies is like that," said Steiner's mother, Suzy Underwood, a lawyer in the state attorney general's office, where her husband also works. She said her nephew applied to 17 colleges a couple of years ago.
Even his stepfather's legacy didn't put him over the top at Yale. But Steiner did win one of the 2,109 spots offered for the class of 2010 at Harvard, from a pool of 22,753 - a 9.3 percent acceptance rate. School officials say more than 2,600 applicants had scored perfectly on the SAT math or verbal section, and nearly 3,000 were valedictorians.
At UC Berkeley, more than 41,000 students applied this year - a 13 percent jump in applications. The school offered admission to 9,836 - a 24 percent rate, a tighter cutoff than previous years.
"The admitted students include a nationally competitive sailor who has competed in regattas all over the world, an actor, a musician whose band has a contract with an independent record label and plans for a nationally distributed CD, a nationally ranked ballroom dancer and a budding playwright," the university said in a statement.
Margaret Amott, a private college counselor in Sacramento, suggests students apply to eight or nine colleges, limiting it to only three hard-to-reach schools.
She stresses that students need more than straight A's. Even a healthy amount of extra curricular activities, strong recommendations from teachers and solid essays might not be enough.
"Sometimes the world is not fair. Sometimes hard work is not necessarily rewarded," Amott said.B
ecause of the unpredictability, Sarah Coonley, 18, a senior at McClatchy High, applied to 11 schools.
"A lot of it is being scared you're just not going to get in," said Coonley, who is heading to UC Berkeley.
She was also accepted at UCLA, UC Santa Cruz, American University, George Washington University, Lewis and Clark College and Loyola Marymount. But she was turned down by Harvard, Stanford and Yale, and is on the wait list at Georgetown.
"We've seen the highest number of applicants in history," said Richard Shaw, director of admissions and financial aid at Stanford. The school received 22,332 applications and offered admission to 2,430 - a 10.9 percent acceptance rate.
Yale - arguably the toughest school to get into - accepted 8.6 percent of students who applied this year, making offers to only 1,823 students.
"It takes the X factor to get into those schools," said Mike Trainor, a college counselor at Granite Bay and Woodcreek high schools in Roseville.
He recommends students and parents study up on different colleges, then limit applications to six schools, balancing the hard-to-reach picks with "safety" schools.
"Most parents don't realize how tough the competition is. I'll see students who apply to every Ivy League school and Stanford and Berkeley and don't get into any of them," Trainor said. "There's nothing more discouraging than a student getting rejected from eight or nine schools. ... It's devastating to their confidence."
College applicants turn to Net for help
More using networking sites
By Jean Cowden Moore, Ventura Star, February 25, 2008
Eric Parsons / Star staff Foothill Technology High School senior Mitchell Hennessy is using online networking sites as he applies for college. Hennessy meets with fellow students Darcy Perez, left, Karin Weber, second from right, and Hannah Francis.
Mitchell Hennessy knows how tough it is to get into the top colleges these days.
So like thousands of students nationwide, Hennessy, 17, has turned to Internet networking sites to set himself apart as he competes with record numbers of students trying to get into the schools of their dreams.
With new sites like Zinch.com and Cappex.com, students can tell colleges more about themselves than a typical application allows, even with essays, interviews and recommendations.
"As far as selling yourself to a school, it's the next best thing to talking with someone who's reading your application," said Hennessy, a senior at Foothill Technology High School in Ventura who uses Zinch. "It takes a little of the pressure off and makes the playing field a little more even."
The popularity of the new sites reflects the incursion of online technology into the world of college admissions. Today's students receive college brochures online, apply to college online and even learn online whether they've been accepted.
A record number of seniors will graduate from U.S. high schools this year — 3.32 million — and more of them are applying to college than in the past. At University of California campuses alone, applications are up 9 percent this year.
Students are searching for ways, beyond the predictable volunteer work, extracurricular activities and impressive grades, to make themselves stand out. With Zinch, students can tell colleges about their hobbies, religion, family background and even sexual orientation. They also can post portfolios or video clips of recitals and games.
"There wasn't a way for students to be discovered for who they really were, not just for their test scores," said Mick Hagen, 23, who co-founded Zinch and has since taken a leave of absence from Princeton to run it.
"We're trying to reduce some of the stress, some of the frenzy, and allow more transparency on both ends."About 300,000 students nationwide have signed up for Zinch so far, along with about 430 campuses, including Stanford University and Claremont McKenna College, Hagen said.
Colleges can search the sites to find students they want at their schools, then recruit them online. Officials might look for a group as broad as students living east of the Mississippi, or as specific as bagpipe players.
That's a much more specific search than officials can do with the College Board, the company most colleges use when building lists of students they want to recruit.
At Cappex, the goal is to help colleges target students who wouldn't normally be drawn to them. Colleges specify the type of students they're seeking, and the site finds those who meet that profile. Colleges then contact the students online.
"Every student will represent diversity to some school out there," said Cappex co-founder Mike Moyer, 36, who did not provide numbers on how many students or colleges are using the site.
Some colleges also are using more popular sites like Facebook or MySpace to learn about applicants, even though many students consider their postings private.That might cross an ethical boundary, said Matt Ward, dean of undergraduate enrollment at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks.
"This is a new realm of the law we're dealing with," Ward said. "Should we withhold admission because we see a photo of a student holding a beer and they're under 21 years old? This is something we'll be dealing with more."
Colleges might be reluctant to use social networking sites in admissions decisions, but they do use them in discipline cases. Pepperdine University in Malibu, for example, will search Facebook or MySpace to investigate cases of underage drinking.
In a letter to the college newspaper, Mark Davis, Pepperdine's dean of students, wrote: "We have looked at the Web sites related to these concerns, and we are addressing any misconduct just as we do any time credible information is brought to our attention — regardless of the media type."
At CLU, where alcohol is prohibited on campus, resident assistants document cases in which they spot photos of students drinking there.
In his letter, Davis gave students this advice: "Don't post today what you don't want others to see tomorrow (including your future boss, spouse, children, selection committee, etc.). It's too easy for someone to download and save a youthful indiscretion."
Davis added that "digital cameras can make a private party a public spectacle. Just because you're not posting your pictures doesn't mean someone else isn't posting theirs and you may be in them."
CLU also has started warning students that the sites are anything but private.
"We're trying to get the word out there," said Christine Paul, associate director of student life. "They say, But wait, it's my private space.' And we say, No, it's not.' "
Official sees 'depravity' in cheating case
School leader's memo divulges more details
By J. Harry Jones, San Diego Union, May 2, 2008
RANCHO BERNARDO – In an emotional memo to teachers written the day after a cheating scandal was uncovered at Rancho Bernardo High School, an assistant principal revealed details of the investigation and reacted to what he described as the declining morality of some students.
“Our (worst) technological nightmare has just occurred,” Assistant Principal Keith Koelzer wrote. “At this point, we have identified 8 students (with varying degrees of involvement) who hacked into our school network, downloaded several teachers' files on the flash drives, distributed tests to students days before they were administered and altered grades on student transcripts. The eight students are all Advanced Placement students, they are all smart, but they have no wisdom.
“This case is unique in its depth of complexity and depravity.”
Koelzer e-mailed the memo to teachers Saturday, the day after the hacking was revealed. The Poway Unified School District released it yesterday, at the request of The San Diego Union-Tribune, with small portions redacted.
Until now, school officials have released few details about the case.
“On Friday, one student went into incredible detail of his movements in this deceit over the past two months,” Koelzer wrote. “After listening, I turned to his mother and asked, 'What do you think of this kind of morality?' The mother replied, 'I am not a mother anymore.' I asked the same question to the boy's father and he responded, 'This is not the morality of my ancestors.' ”
Koelzer wrote that the pressure to get into a good college “has overly consumed one of our students. He described to his father and me how his transcripts were altered” and how he delivered them to a college. “As the student talked, I watched his father's face and I could see his 18-year dream of his child's UC education disappear.”
The students' names and grade levels have not been disclosed, nor has how the case came to light.
“The stakes cannot be any higher for these students,” Koelzer wrote. “They are staring at expulsion, questioning by police, questioning by our district technicians, a potential lawsuit by the district” and a rescinding of college offers.
In part of his memo, Koelzer reflects on other recent events.
He attended the funeral of a 20-year-old Rancho Bernardo High graduate who died in a suspected drunken-driving crash in Poway three weeks ago.
The father, Koelzer said, asked for everybody in the church younger than 21 to stand. Then he asked all who had not had something to drink in the past two weeks to sit down. Only five did, Koelzer said.
The father had an opportunity to send a message, Koelzer said, “but he blundered as his son lay in a coffin below him. He continued by saying that he has been smoking pot since he was 12 years old and that he will continue to do so. He finished with a muddled message of 'slow down when you've been drinking and driving' and finally that it was 'better to get a DUI.' That's when I left.
“I don't know what all this means . . . this speeding into trees, DUIs . . . debris being thrown in the small quad and now having our trust being violated at our core. . . . I only know that our students need us now more than ever to direct their moral compasses northward.”
After classes yesterday, sophomore John Casillas, 16, questioned whether the comments were valid.
“I beg to differ,” he said. “Everything's OK with this school. Some kids have some problems, but overall, everything's cool.”
A 16-year-old girl said she knows several of the students involved in the cheating. It began in a classroom when one student accessed the school's computer network, she said.
“It was going to be a one-time thing, but they kept getting away with it,” she said. “They thought they wouldn't be caught. . . . The kids that did this were under a lot of pressure to get into a good school.”
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