‘Almost No One Agrees With Us’: When Rural Students Emulate Parkland

Speaking out in a community like Marshall County, Ky., has come at a social cost, including frayed friendships and fights with parents.

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Assassin’s Creed Has a New Mission: Working in the Classroom

History has long served as a backdrop in the Assassin’s Creed video games, whose story lines center on pivotal times in history — from the Third Crusade to Imperial China and beyond. But when players of this Ubisoft series rush from mission to mission, as agents of events both great and small, their purpose is rarely to take the time to appreciate history itself. Duty always calls.

Until now.

Following last year’s release of Assassin’s Creed Origins, set in Ptolemaic Egypt, the team behind it decided that allowing players to learn more about life in ancient Egypt might make for a pretty cool teaching aid. So they traded in the quests and violence for antiquities and history lessons, and created a mode with a series of Discovery Tours. By putting history front and center, the game may give teachers a new way to connect with some students.

Edyeli Marku, a middle-school teacher at Intermediate School 230 in Jackson Heights, Queens, said there could be “tremendous value in it,” for both students and educators — particularly for students who might test as primarily visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners. For those students, she added, “exposing them to a different learning vehicle is always beneficial.”

Ms. Marku said she understands the importance of games to her students and has even used Oregon Trail as a teaching tool.

“They go on the phone like it’s nothing,” she said. “They go on an iPad, and they can spend hours in front of it.”

Maxim Durand, who has been the lead researcher and history consultant for the Assassin’s Creed franchise since 2010, and Jean Guesdon, the creative director on Origins, said they had often heard from educators who saw the potential of using the games. Some had even used small portions in their lessons. But so much of Assassin’s Creed, given its violence and fictional narrative, is problematic in a school setting.

Even Ms. Marku said the violent content could hamper the franchise’s acceptance for education purposes, especially for parents reacting to the name of the series or those familiar with its subject matter.

In this version of the game, though, players guide their chosen avatar. It can be the sheriff-like character Bayek, the original protagonist of Assassin’s Creed Origins, or one of 25 possible others including Bayek’s wife, Aya; their son, Khemu; Cleopatra; Julius Caesar; Roman legionnaires; and even ordinary Egyptian, Greek and Roman adults and children.

A voice-over details the objects on view, including artifacts like pottery, scrolls, farm tools and baking ovens. The 75 available tours cover daily life, monuments, agriculture, the lives of Greek and Roman settlers, and other topics. At some locations, non-playable characters are seen performing tasks like baking bread, tilling a field or inscribing scrolls. Here players can elect to have their chosen avatar perform the activity. Maybe Cleopatra and Caesar never knelt before a bread oven to remove a hot loaf from the coals, but here players can have that experience.

The Library of Alexandria is another stop. In recreating it, Mr. Durand said, his team looked to the remnants of the Library of Celsus, which is still standing amid the ancient ruins in Ephesus, Turkey.

Of course, a lot of history’s secrets are lost to time. That’s where a Behind the Scenes feature comes in. The makers use it to explain how and why they chose to represent certain objects. Mr. Durand said he hoped this would also prompt students to think critically about how games are created and the way stories are told.

Marc-André Éthier, a professor at the University of Montreal who studies materials that are being used to teach high school history, noticed that traditional tools like textbooks were being used less. When he heard about the Discovery Tour, he said, “I was intrigued, and I prepared a study to test if Discovery Tour could teach someone as much as a lecture.”

Mr. Éthier said he approached Ubisoft with an idea for what eventually became a study of some 330 students, 12 to 16 years old, in nine schools in Montreal. Students were divided into groups of 40. First, all the students were given a test. Then half of each group took the Library of Alexandria tour, and the other had a lesson with a teacher. Afterward, they took a second quiz. Mr. Éthier said the students working with a teacher did better on the test than the ones who had only taken the tour. Though the test scores of the students who took the tour still showed improvement, of 22 percent to 44 percent.

To make the games accessible to broader range of schools, which typically have computers or tablets rather than game consoles, Ubisoft released a standalone version of the Discovery Tour for computers, even those with aging hardware.

Evelyne Ferron, who specializes in Egyptian history and worked on the project, said she wanted players to “realize the colors of Egypt.” Today the Sphinx, the pyramids and temples are bleached white, but they were once vividly colored. Players can see the gold and blue of the sphinx, and the rich browns, blues and greens of the hieroglyphics and murals on the temple walls.

Still, she said, full realism is not always possible and is sometimes less important when entertainment is the goal. “When you create a game,” Ms. Ferron said, “you need to create immersion.” A historian taking a strict view of history would not sacrifice realism, she said. “Sometimes you have to trick history.”

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Colleges Recruit at Richer, Whiter High Schools

Colleges like to tout their commitment to diversity, but the way they recruit students tells a different story.

For example, the typical high school visited by Connecticut College during recruitment events was richer and whiter than the typical high school they didn’t visit.

An analysis of 41 other colleges and universities shows a similar trend: high schools that were visited for recruiting events tended to be whiter and wealthier than schools that were not visited.

The findings come from newly collected data on high school recruitment visits, when colleges send representatives across the country to court potential students. We gathered data on these visits throughout 2017 for 150 colleges and universities. (The data does not include other forms of recruitment like brochures, emails and visits not posted online. It also cannot account for instances where a high school may lack the capacity to host recruitment events.)

Knowing which high schools receive recruiting visits is important because debates about access to higher education often focus on students’ abilities but ignore how colleges identify and prioritize prospects.

A study by Meagan Holland at the University at Buffalo found recruitment visits aren’t merely an indicator of each college’s priorities; they also influence where students — and particularly first-generation students — apply and enroll. The study found that many smart kids from less affluent backgrounds are sensitive to “feeling wanted,” often attending colleges that took the time to visit.

High Schools Receiving Visits Were in Wealthier Neighborhoods

Median neighborhood income for …

Typical skipped high school

Typical visited high school

Stony Brook U.

Rutgers U.–New Brunswick

U. of Massachusetts–Amherst

North Carolina State U.–Raleigh

U. of California–Irvine

U. of Kansas

U. of Pittsburgh–Pitts. Campus

U. of South Carolina–Columbia

U. of Georgia

U. of Colorado Boulder

U. of Cincinnati–Main Campus

U. of California–Berkeley

U. of Nebraska–Lincoln

U. of Alabama

U. of Arkansas

Southern Illinois U.–Carbondale

Median neighborhood income for the typical high

school that was …

Stony Brook U.

Rutgers U.–

New Brunswick

U. of Mass.–

Amherst

North Carolina

State U.–Raleigh

U. of California–

Irvine

U. of Kansas

U. of Pittsburgh–

Pitts. Campus

U.S.C.–

Columbia

U. of Georgia

U. of Colorado

Boulder

U. of Cincinnati–

Main Campus

U. of California–

Berkeley

U. of Nebraska–

Lincoln

U. of Alabama

U. of Arkansas

Southern Illinois

U.–Carbondale

The clearest finding from our study is that public high schools in more affluent neighborhoods receive more visits than those in less affluent areas.

Only about a third of households across the country earn more than $100,000 annually, but nearly half of high schools receiving visits by private colleges and universities were in neighborhoods where average incomes were higher. Connecticut College visited neighborhoods with an average median household income of $121,578. Private colleges also disproportionately visited private high schools over public high schools.

Andy Strickler, dean of admissions at Connecticut College, said the school targets high schools that have historically provided students, or other schools that have a similar profile.

He said there was a good reason Connecticut College doesn’t always visit other areas: “There’s a trend for these students to stay closer to home for college.”

While public research universities visited rich and poor neighborhoods nearly equally when recruiting in their home states, they visited the same affluent high schools targeted by private colleges when recruiting elsewhere. Most public colleges also visited far more high schools out of state than in-state. The median income of areas where the University of Pittsburgh recruited out of state, for example, was $114,000, compared with $63,000 for areas that were not visited.

Average median income for the typical visited high school …

Out-of-State

Rutgers U.–New Brunswick

Stony Brook U.

U. of Massachusetts–Amherst

U. of California–Berkeley

U. of Pittsburgh–Pitts. Campus

U. of Colorado Boulder

U. of California–Irvine

Southern Illinois U.–Carbondale

U. of Kansas

U. of Cincinnati–Main Campus

U. of Nebraska–Lincoln

U. of Georgia

U. of Alabama

U. of South Carolina–Columbia

North Carolina State U.–Raleigh

U. of Arkansas

Average median income for the typical

visited high school …

Out-of-State

Rutgers U.–

New Brunswick

Stony Brook U.

U. of Mass.–

Amherst

U. of California–

Berkeley

U. of Pittsburgh–

Pitts. Campus

U. of

Colorado Boulder

U. of California–

Irvine

Southern Illinois

U.–Carbondale

U. of Kansas

U. of Cincinnati–

Main Campus

U. of Nebraska–

Lincoln

U. of Georgia

U. of Alabama

U.S.C.–

Columbia

North Carolina

State U.–Raleigh

U. of Arkansas

The attention public universities lavish on wealthy out-of-state schools is a response to state policy. Over the past decade, many states have cut funding for higher education, forcing public universities to become more dependent on tuition revenue. Research shows that public universities responded by enrolling more out-of-state students, who often pay two to three times more than state residents. And of course, only well-off students can afford that.

JL201.jpg

When Boulder visited the Chicago metro area, it did not tend to visit schools like East Chicago High School, where only 2 percent of students are white. Joshua Lott for The New York Times

Some people argue that poor students and students of color are less likely to attend college because they have lower grades or standardized test scores. But we found that colleges and universities tended to avoid visiting schools in poor areas even when those schools had a large number of students who had performed well on tests.

For example, when the University of Colorado Boulder visited public high schools in the Boston metropolitan area, it focused on schools in wealthy communities but skipped many poorer schools that had higher numbers of students scoring proficient in math.

In their out-of-state visits, our data also suggest, public universities were more likely to visit predominantly white public high schools than nonwhite schools with similar levels of academic achievement. For example, the University of Colorado Boulder visited Dover-Sherborn Regional High School, which is 88 percent white and has about 154 students with proficient math scores, according to the federal Department of Education. But it did not visit Brockton High School, where just 21 percent of students are white but about 622 students have proficient math scores.

“In order to be good stewards of our funding, we consistently recruit at schools that have historically given us applications,” said Colleen Newman, admissions director at Boulder. “Given our limited funding, we are unable to expand our traditional recruitment efforts to all regions and all high schools that have academically talented students.”

Recruitment Is Big Business

20162college0135.jpg

A recruiter for the University of Alabama speaks to prospective students at a college fair run by the National Association for College Admission Counseling, at Suffolk County Community College on Long Island. Michael Nagle for The New York Times

Colleges don’t treat recruitment lightly. It’s big business for colleges and the firms they hire. Most colleges identify prospects by purchasing lists of students and their backgrounds from the testing agencies College Board and ACT. They can also hire enrollment management consulting firms, which integrate data from the university with data on schools and communities. This helps them decide which schools should be visited and which should be targeted with emails and brochures. One consulting firm we spoke with even knows information about individual students such as their family income and net worth, and the value of their home.

If colleges have all this data, why aren’t they better at targeting talented poor students and students of color?

The most common explanation is that there aren’t enough of them applying (the so-called achievement gap). Another explanation we hear is that talented students don’t apply because they don’t have the right guidance (called “under-matching”). These explanations assume that doubling the number of high-achieving students who apply would automatically double enrollment. But this treats universities as though they are passively receiving applications, when they are actually actively seeking and encouraging certain applicants over others. Our data suggests universities are determined to court wealthier students over others, and they expend substantial resources identifying and reaching them.

There are many students from poor communities who get excellent grades but end up going to a community college because no one bothers looking for them. If colleges are serious about increasing socioeconomic and racial diversity, they should look for merit everywhere, not just in wealthy, white communities.

Ozan Jaquette is an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, Graduate School of Education & Information Studies. Karina Salazar is a doctoral candidate at the Center for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Arizona.

Graphics by Jessia Ma and Stuart A. Thompson

Methodology

Throughout 2017, we collected data from over 150 colleges and universities that posted off-campus recruiting events on their admissions website. For each institution, we collected data from every page containing data on recruiting events. Data was collected once per week. Every two months, we re-investigated each institution to identify new pages or changes in formatting to an existing page. Additionally, we collected data about participation in National College Fairs and group travel tours. Income data from the census was matched to the high school using its zip code.

We define off-campus recruiting events as those focused on soliciting undergraduate admissions applications, hosted by paid personnel or consultants at any off-campus location. Nearly all colleges and universities convene three broad types of off-campus recruiting events: receptions/college fairs at hotels and convention centers; evening college fairs at local high schools; and daytime representative visits to local high schools. Some institutions in our sample did not post all three types of recruiting events on their admissions website. This story includes only institutions that posted all three types of recruiting events on their admissions website. Nevertheless, our data should be interpreted as all events advertised on admissions websites, rather than as a complete list off off-campus recruiting events. Non-visited schools are an average of all high schools in states where the college made at least one visit a high school in the state. More data can be found at emraresearch.org.

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Your Money: A $350 Million Fund Helps Many Public Servants. Meet the Ones Left Out.

Congress created a fix-it fund for borrowers in the public service loan forgiveness plan. Many categories of educators, lawyers and others are ineligible.

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The Workologist: When Small Steps Can Change Your Life

Readers offer advice and reactions to a recent column on whether to make a late-career change: Is it better to find ways to reshape an existing job, even modestly, or to make a major move?

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Your Money: Teachers and Annuities: A Questionable Match and Hard Products to Shed

Charter schoolteachers in New Orleans were peddled problematic retirement plans and then faced onerous obstacles trying to change them.

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The First Time: Anna Deavere Smith: The First Time a White Person Wrote ‘Love’ to Me

His mother had had what was then labeled a “nervous breakdown.” Johns Hopkins Hospital didn’t accept Negroes for inpatient psychiatric treatment in the early ’60s. Crownsville, where gravestones bore numbers, not names, housed Negroes, but that didn’t ring a bell when we talked. Ken did not remember where his mother was treated, just that she was gone for a long time. His father, seldom home, was involved in politics. One night, alone at his dining room table, staring hopelessly at a linear equation, Ken was overwhelmed by a vision: He was on a dock. His white classmates were in a boat. If he could not solve that problem, that very night, the boat would sail off, leaving him behind. He burst into tears. Before dawn, he taught himself the logic of the equation. From then on, he was always top of his class in mathematics. He is a successful scientist now, who in addition to his professional obligations teaches astrophysics to at-risk girls.

Brown v. Board of Education, a recent ruling when I was at Garrison, had been received with ambivalence across the nation. In the South, private religious schools emerged so that white families could dodge sending their children to learn with blacks. At newly integrated schools, fostering collegiality and visibility among students and working toward a more inclusive future was rarely a passionately promoted agenda. You cannot get a good education if you disappear from yourself. Being visible and present is crucial to embracing knowledge.

I graduated from Garrison relatively invisible. I don’t even remember my junior high graduation dress. And then it was time to go to high school.

Western High School was an all-girls public school near Baltimore’s most cherished historic buildings. When I crossed the threshold for the first time, I saw down the long hallway a petite, elegantly dressed woman with perfect posture. Her diction, as she called out directives, could have cracked crystal. Moving a few steps closer, I saw that she was a Negro and later learned that she was a vice principal. Not unusual now, very unusual then. As I walked a few steps beyond her, I heard, “Aren’t you a Smith?” I turned. “You look just like your mother … and your father.”

That was the legendary Essie M. Hughes. She’d been a Latin teacher and had taught generations of Negro children, including my parents and aunts and uncles, in one of the two Negro high schools during the ’40s and ’50s. She saw me. I saw her seeing me. Within five minutes of my entering the new school, my invisibility in education was over.

Homeroom seating was alphabetical. In front of me sat a white Jewish girl whose mother was a violinist in the Baltimore Symphony. Until then, the symphony’s musicians were, to me, white and black dots I’d struggled to magnify through binoculars. Yet, when my new classmate and I glanced at each other for the first time, I felt as though I’d known her for a lifetime. The girl behind me, also white (and Catholic), was hilarious. As far as I was concerned, undiscovered forms of hilarity were always welcome.

I like September. Even though it required going back to school, it always filled me with optimism. And my birthday falls in that month. That first year, the violinist’s daughter gave me a book of poems and a card. She signed the card “Love, Ruthie.” She was the first white person in my life who used the word “love” in relation to me. We became close friends, counseling each other until our last gasps of adolescence.

Unlike Garrison, Western was not toxic. I credit its leadership. A commanding triumvirate indeed: Miss Kell, the principal, was a white woman over six feet tall who looked like a mix of George Washington and a Eudora Welty character. Mr. DeWolff, the other vice principal, was a white man with a disability at a time when there were no sloping curbs or much else to aid mobility. Miss Hughes was well traveled, fluent in several languages. She’d grown up when segregation was the norm in much of Baltimore and the surrounding areas.

In spite of their personal battles, or perhaps because of them, they provided contours around which dividing lines melted. I experienced the fractured and often bloody ’60s in an intellectual environment where many voices were heard, many cultures seen. It wasn’t just being visible to myself that made education intoxicating. It was paying attention to the world in the company of those who had different histories, and who followed different paths, that turned on the lights for me.

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Op-Ed Columnist: Good Leaders Make Good Schools

Chicago has expanded early childhood education and imposed universal full-day kindergarten. After a contentious strike in 2012, Emanuel managed to extend the school day. But he and the other people who led this effort put special emphasis on one thing: principals.

We’ve spent a lot of time over the past few decades debating how to restructure schools. We’ve spent a lot of time trying to help teachers. But structural change and increasing teacher quality don’t get you very far without a strong principal.

Researchers from the University of Minnesota and the University of Toronto studied 180 schools across nine states and concluded, “We have not found a single case of a school improving its student achievement record in the absence of talented leadership.”

What do principals do? They build a culture. Researchers from McKinsey studied test scores from half a million students in 72 countries. They found that students’ mind-sets were twice as powerful in predicting scores as home environment and demographics were. How do students feel about their schooling? How do they understand motivation? Do they have a growth mind-set to understand their own development?

These attitudes are powerfully and subtly influenced by school culture, by the liturgies of practice that govern the school day: the rituals for welcoming members into the community; the way you decorate walls to display school values; the distribution of power across the community; the celebrations of accomplishment and the quality of trusting relationships.

Principals set the culture by their very behavior — the message is the person.

Research suggests that it takes five to seven years for a principal to have full impact on a school, but most principals burn out and leave in four years or less. Chicago has one of the highest principal retention rates of any large urban system, 85 percent. Principals are given support, training and independence. If you manage your school well for a couple of years in a row, you are freed from daily oversight from the central office.

But the big thing is transforming the role. Principals used to be administrators and middle managers, overseeing budgets, discipline, schedules. The goal was to be strong and decisive.

Today’s successful principals are greeting parents and students outside the front door in the morning. That Minnesota-Toronto study found successful principals made 20 to 60 spontaneous classroom visits and observations per week.

In other words, they are high-energy types constantly circulating through the building, offering feedback, setting standards, applying social glue. In some schools, teachers see themselves as martyrs in a hopeless cause. Principals raise expectations and alter norms. At Independence Middle School in Cleveland, principal Kevin Jakub pushes a stand-up desk on wheels around the school all day.

Research also suggests a collaborative power structure is the key. A lot of teachers want to be left alone and a lot of principals don’t want to give away power, but successful schools are truly collaborative.

The Wallace Foundation website recently described the exemplary activism of former Kentucky principal Dewey Hensley. In his first week he drew a picture of a school on a poster board and asked the faculty members to annotate it together. “Let’s create a vision of a school that’s perfect. When we get there, then we’ll rest,” he told them. School governance was led by a simple structure of three committees, populated and headed by teachers. Hensley also visited the homes of the 25 most disruptive students.

When you learn about successful principals, you keep coming back to the character traits they embody and spread: energy, trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, determination. We went through a period when we believed you could change institutions without first changing the character of the people in them. But we were wrong. Social transformation follows personal transformation.

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