Category Archives: Students

Parents, helicopters & angry kids: how to successfully manage a teen’s academic struggles

parent-and-student_MH900399329So what is a parent supposed to do?

You get in their face too much, and it’s “Back off!” You back off, and they do everything but what you want ’em to do. There’s no better way to go crazy than to be a parent. I know, I’ve gone crazy twice. Well, make that three times, since I was a kid once, too, and the only way to go crazier than by being a parent is by being a child.

To be the perfect parent is impossible. Kids disagree, because they’re always full of advice on how we could be doing our jobs better as their parent. And, of course, the perfect child doesn’t exist either. And here is a real problem: when kids assume they can’t please us, they just drop all of our expectations. Some call it “rebellion.” When it comes to school, we call it “trouble.”

Then we get angry parents

Think about how quickly your child runs home with a good grade on a test, waving it in front of you, demanding your congratulations and praise. Of course they do, because they know you’ll be so happy with them.

Then think about how they defer, hide, and try to get away with not showing you the low grades. They do it because they think you’ll get mad at them, and they’d rather not deal with that. You know, yelling and grounding and the like. Much easier to put off your anger for later than deal with it now. Deferment of pain is a natural and rational human choice.

But what kids don’t get is that that’s not what’s really going on. Sure, you’re going to get mad, and, yes, yelling and grounding may follow. But it’s not because of the low grades. You’re angry because you’re worried. Kids don’t realize this. They just think you’re mad because you’re like that.

Kids want to please parents

Kids want to please their parents. They want to meet parent expectations and to be that perfect child they know they’re parents want them to be. Reality gets in the way, and disappointment and anger may follow. But it doesn’t have to go that way, and real trouble can result if we parents don’t handle it well ourselves.

When I work with students, I ask them why they don’t tell their parents about the bad grades at school. It’s always, “because they’ll get mad.” Okay, I say, but you know they’re going to see it eventually and then get even more angry. No answer. Now, do you show your parents the good grades? “Sure.” Why? Smiling now, “It’ll make ’em happy.”

Parents don’t get angry with the low grades. It’s the impact of those grades that scares parents into anger. And when kids bring good grades, it’s not the grades we parents applaud, it’s our joy at a bright future for our children that those grades represent that makes us happy.

Children are deathly afraid to disappoint their parents, and they will make up all kinds of excuses for negative outcomes. If you listen carefully, all of those excuses are designed to deny having disappointed parents: it’s always someone or something else’s fault. And in the face of parental anger, kids then further excuse themselves from having caused that anger by blaming it on the parents’ own anger.  Yes, there is a logic to it, however unproductive it may be.

Parents are motivated by fear

Kids readily perceive parental anger over bad news but not the love that stands behind it.

We parents are afraid for our children, and we see danger at every turn. When they were little and starting to walk, everyday objects around the house were like daggers poised to kill our precious children. So we padded the sharp corners of the table, put those stupid plastic covers into the outlets, and blocked off the stairs. As children grow older, our fears turn to new dangers, also very real, such as popular culture, the internet, drugs and alcohol, teen driving, and, of course grades.

Children don’t get that our fears are motivated by love. When I ask kids if their parents would get angry if they didn’t love them, they go blank. Of course not, since if they didn’t love they wouldn’t care. It is helpful for kids, at least conceptually, to know that parental anger over poor grades is an act of love. We parents need to remind them of it, especially when we are angry.

Helicoptering & other forms of oversight

Sometimes I hear about the old school, hard-knocks way of parenting: let ’em fall, brush off, and get back up again on their own. There’s a lot to be said for this, as it develops independence and ownership of outcomes by children. But it doesn’t always work, and how can it truly work all the time? Kids do need help sometimes.

We also hear about the “helicopter” parent who hovers over every little thing the child does, making sure it’s all perfect. The danger here, of course, is the opposite of the “hard knocks” school of parenting in that the child will never develop independence and ownership of outcomes. Plus, sometimes that helicopter runs out of gas, and then what? You can’t be on top of everything that goes on in your child’s life.

So the question is balance: what can we do for our children that is productive, healthy, and promotes the values and independence and ownership of them we want out of our children?

Honesty, Love, and Trust

But verify.

Honesty is a two-way street, and when that traffic is coming at you hard, it’s easy just do dodge it with a little lie. But we must face things as honestly as possible, for without honesty we can never fully trust. It’s most difficult for kids to be honest with their parents, because they don’t want to disappoint them. The best we can do as parents is to remind our kids what our expectations are and how they are built from love and not anger. Let our children know it’s okay not to be perfect, but remind them of the values and hopes we hold for them.

This is really hard to do, and no parent can every fully reach it. So we must also verify.

Help when needed

I can’t tell you how many times we hear from parents, “He always says he did his homework already. How am I supposed to know?”

When it comes to schoolwork and grades, schools are supposed to assist parents with timely assignment and grade notifications and communication between teachers and parents. It is impossible, of course, to know everything all the time. (My mother had me convinced that she was “the fly on the wall” in my elementary school.) Ideally, the information flow is sufficient for parents to know what teacher expectations are so as to be able to verify workflow with their child. Worse, however, in the schools we have seen in our student support service, effective teacher feedback is not the norm.

Well, when the grades come back you’ll know for sure.

Until then, the question is if the child is deferring responsibility or actually fulfilling it. In our student support service, our ideal is for students to account for themselves without parent or teacher oversight, and we provide the HomeworkTracker to our clients as an effective tool for it. But we’re not always working with kids who have that ability to be on top of everything all the time, so more tools are needed. We support parents and students by monitoring their teacher pages and progress reports and encouraging teachers to provide direct feedback for our students.

The most powerful tool we provide, however, is a simple, honest conversation. And an ongoing one. We speak with our students at least once a week in order to help them think through what’s going on in school, verify what we see, and to problem solve. The very first and the most powerful thing we can do with a student is to help them remove those self-imposed barriers that they use as easy excuses for not meeting their parents’ and their own goals. Once a student articulates a goal honestly (a goal to get all A’s is less honest than a goal to improve on existing C’s and D’s), then those self-imposed barriers becomes problems to solve rather than excuses.

It is a huge the first step for students who have been in the process of denial and deferring to be honest and realistic with themselves. When parents and students are in a cycle of denial and anger, that honesty is difficult to find. Some of the greatest successes in our service have been to restore that trust between parents and students over school work. Then they can argue over more important things, like chores and what movies they’re allowed to see. Getting there takes patience, consistency, honesty and love. We’re one tool available to parents and students to get there.

In an upcoming post, I will cover the feedback process more carefully and offer some suggestions for parents and teachers on how to up that game. Meanwhile, we wish students and parents all a happy, positive start on the new school year!

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Prior Knowlege (PK), relevancy & teacher expectations

grades_F_MH900399544“Why’s that teacher do that?”

Ever had a teacher that makes no sense? Ever not understood why the grade was what it was? Ever wanted to just given up on it? As a teacher, every day I wrote up my lesson plans starting with two reminders:

1)  Never Assume Prior Knowledge (PK)!
2) Learning = Relevancy!

The first was a reminder to myself that students may not know all the words coming out of my mouth. I was always reminded of the importance of using words kids know whenever we’d have another non-teacher, adult speak to the class. They always used words and references that the kids hadn’t a clue about. The second reminder was to scold myself into always trying to make whatever we did in class meaningful and relevant to the kids. I did nothing in class without first explaining to the kids why were were doing it. If a student sees no purpose in what is going on in class, it will be very difficult for the student to find success.

Only the most motivated, grade-oriented children can get away with it. Most kids just turn off the teacher like a bad TV channel when it no longer seems important or they don’t know what the teacher is saying. For teachers, these are difficult to attain and maintain on a daily basis. For students, the only way to get a good grade is to keep up with the teacher. It’s impossible to do, though, if none of it makes any sense. It’s like that great Far Side cartoon by Gary Larson in which he compares what the owner says to the dog with what the dog hears: Owner says: “Okay, Ginger, I’ve had it! You say out of the garbage. Understand, Ginger?…” Dog hears: “blah blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah GINGER…”


“PK!” for Prior Knowledge was a constant slogan in my classroom. Learning is the act of taking New Knowledge and turning it into Prior Knowledge. (Then students get graded on that learning, which is where grades are supposed to come from; please our The Learning Process page for more on how grades don’t always measure learning.) If a student hears a word or concept from a teacher that has no place in the student’s mind, whatever the teacher is doing and everything else that follows it  will be lost. If the math teacher is speaking Chinese, and the student has no PK in Chinese, there will be no learning. Simple, right?

Well, we don’t need to exaggerate for the daily examples of how a lack of PK can leave a student lost in what the teacher is trying to teach. Advancing across every subject there is some idea, word, or concept that is necessary to know in order to understand the next thing. Additionally, those words and concepts must be understood in context, or in the situation in which they are being used by the teacher. You can understand every word in chapter five of a novel and still have no idea what’s going on there if you haven’t read chapters 1-4.  In my history classes, I stressed maps, because knowing where some place is is fundamental to learning more about it. While most kids hated doing my maps, those who could not recognize places on maps were always those who had trouble developing other, relevant information about a place. In other words, geographic PK is fundamental for learning history. Without it, the rest becomes “blah blah blah.”


The reason why generally kids do better in subjects they like is that they already know more about that subject, i.e., they bring more PK to it. We all know that “know it all kid” who has a an answer to every question and whose hand is constantly in the air. These kids are excited and eager to share what they know because they already know it and it’s easy for them, and they can grasp what the teacher is saying. When you already know it, it’s more relevant. Obviously a student who speaks Chinese will find more relevancy in our math class that’s being taught in Chinese than the other students who don’t speak Chinese. But same thing for every kid in every other class: if you know it, it’s more meaningful.

The very best teachers will always build on student PK and relevancy in order to bring them to new learning. I loathe teaching strategies that are designed to teach through student’s perspective. Makes me want to scream when I hear that teachers need to “speak their language” or appeal to the experiences. I find it condescending and demeaning to kids, and, besides, if we are going to teach them through their own world view, should they be teaching us? Instead, we need to bring kids into the relevancy of our topics by developing PK and NK through genuine learning. One of my proudest moments as a teacher was a near screaming match amongst my 9th grade history class arguing over Pre-Pottery Neolithic Natufian society. That they found relevancy in the PPN period mean that they had not only built PK on the topic, they found it meaningful and, thus, relevant.

Teacher Expectations

At a minimum, students cannot learn and cannot be accurately measured, aka graded, on their learning if they are unaware of teacher expectations. The greater the relevancy the more the students will identify and follow teacher expectations. Regardless, a teacher who can develop student engagement but does not clarify expectations will show lower results than from a teacher who is clear in expectations. All the content relevancy in the world is useless if grading expectations and due dates are unclear. The best teachers have who is explicit and consistent expectations, especially on due dates, assessment guidelines, and general instructions.

I always enjoyed giving open ended assignments, because it drives the kids who are good at following instructions nuts, while empowering those who are less particular about instructions. The kids who were totally disengaged, of course, didn’t know where to begin. But the kids who wanted instructions felt constrained and would often plead, “What am I supposed to do?” Whereas the other kids loved it: “What, I can do what I want on this?” Yeah. But to get the good grade on everything else, you’d better follow instructions.

So here’s the crux: some teachers are better at developing PK, relevancy, and setting expectations in students than others. Some kids find some teachers better than others, and some kids are better at some subjects than others. When we ask kids about their “best” and “worst” classes and “favorite” and “least favorite” teachers, usually the teachers align with the classes they enjoy, so the “best” class is also the “favorite” teacher, or the “worst” class is the “least favorite” teacher. We do hear about a “worst” class with a “favorite” teacher, but we rarely hear about a “best” class with a “least favorite” teacher. To paraphrase Abe Lincoln, we can’t fool all the kids all the time, just some of them some of the time.

Now, the student responsibilities

When students come to us for help, we often hear all about the problems with the teacher or the subject. Usually they’re right. Kids make great critics. But if a teacher is deficient (“I hate her”), if a subject is irrelevant (it’s “stupid”), it doesn’t matter. Ultimately, it’s the teacher grading the student, not the other way around. If, as I’d like it to be, students hired, fired, and set teacher pay, then students could have lots of say on the whats and hows of teaching. But that’s not going to happen.

So we work with our students on engaging their classes with what they have. You’re in the class. Done. What’s your goal? Well, if it’s to get a bad grade, you don’t need any help. But if you want a better grade, then let’s talk some strategies on how to take advantage of what your teacher is offering, primarily those expectations for good grades. If you end up liking the class, great, but that’s not the point. The point is to make it meaningful for what it is, and to get out of it what you need: better grades. Once you clarify your teacher expectations, engage the learning the teacher wants from you, seek help where you need it, and make it important enough to do the work, your grade will go up. It’s up to you.

We give our kids the tools they need to succeed even in classes they don’t like. We help them track their assignments, we offer on-demand tutoring, we review essays, and we arrange for study sessions. Even with all that, it’s up to the student. But when they do figure this out, it’s magic, and grades go up.  Well, not magic, but it’s so great to see!

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Sitting in on the “Straight Talk” blog

blog_MC900434671aRick Hess kindly invited me back

to step in during his vacation last week to rant and rave about education on his national blog at Education Week.Two years ago I got in trouble with some of Rick’s readers for suggesting that some teachers are overpaid. A shocking idea that, it seems, but my point was that there can be no real basis for teacher pay without the input of their clients, students and families. As a parent, I have no say whatsoever on what my children’s teachers get paid, and I know there are a few of them I’d rather not give money to, just as there are more than a few I’d like to reward even more. Please see my notes on this in “What about the students?” post here.

My point this year is more of the same: that students are clients and not inmates, that schools should support teachers to support students in more meaningful ways, and that teachers should treat students as paying customers who have choice and not as automatons who are just supposed to do everything. Here’s what I came up with:

Bad Dogs or Bad Owners?

PD Stands for Perverse Incentives

Feeding Motivation

Well, I had a blast thinking it over. These ideas are from my experiences as a businessman, a teacher and now as independent adviser and advocate for students and families. Rick has no agenda but the truth, “Straight Talk,” as he calls it, and I appreciate the opportunity from him to add my ideas to the national dialogue.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

SAT Time!

scantron_MH900402266Is it really possible to improve your SAT or ACT scores?

If you’re like me and you spent good money on SAT prep classes for your child and you came away unsure about whether or not it was a good thing, know this: any preparation and practice for the SAT or ACT tests is a good thing.  But do those SAT prep classes and programs really help students get fundamentally better or do they only help them perform somewhat better on that exam day?

I’ve been asking everyone I can about what it takes to innately improve SAT scores, and those answers are guesses at best. Practice, practice, practice is the rule. Not very scientific. But neither is any other solution out there. The best we can tell, student improvement comes from more careful and more practiced reading of SAT / ACT questions themselves, and not just from vocabulary or math practice. That helps, of course. But without understanding the questions as fully as possible, without the most comprehension of the questions and the information conveyed, there is no improvement beyond just knowing the answer, which, of course, is memorization and not skill — and skill is what these tests are designed to measure.

At The A+ Club we call this “Question Attack.” In the work we have done with our SAT tutoring students, we have seen some nice gains in scores. Our tutors, either high-level college students or high school teachers, work with students to address their question comprehension. Doesn’t matter if it’s math or verbal — it’s understanding the question, getting information from it is crucial for better performance. Reading can be improved upon, so reading questions more strenuously is a matter of confidence, focus, and practice.


To back up our view of reading, I just learned this weekend that students of Latin outperform students of other foreign languages on the SAT verbal tests, and that includes Spanish, French, German, Italian and Hebrew students. See here for The Latin Advantage. The reason for it is simple, in that Latin empowers word comprehension which then empowers holistic comprehension so that students understand more of each question and thereby avoid the tricks built in to the multiple choice format.

SAT questions operate by presenting five possible answers. Of these, generally, two are wholly wrong (although tricky about it), two are plausible in that the question text suggests or references them so that incomplete reading of the question can mislead, and only one is fully or precisely correct.  Try out this Critical Reading: an analysis of right and wrong answer choices discussion post.  Understanding that there is no single strategy or trick to scoring better on these exams, our point, fairly well addressed at this website, is that better scores will result from better reading of questions, including — and especially  — in math. I’m not a math person, and I scored higher in math than verbal. I never understood why until we recently began this investigation: my math scores were the result of careful reading of the questions and not a reflection of my math skills.

Spelling and More Latin

Just now the Wall Street Journal runs a book review of “Spell it Out” by David Crystal, a history of English spelling. It’s fascinating stuff, especially such things as the origin of the “h” in ghost and ghastly. It came from Flemish printers who were hired by the first important English publisher, William Caxton. The Flemish experts knew the printing press better than the English language, so they adjusted some words to look more like their own language, thus the “gh” in some words. They also spelled goose “ghoose, and goat “ghoat,” but those spellings didn’t take. Still, we’re stuck with “ghost.”

Elsewhere, the review of Crystal’s book explains how Latin comprehension helps make sense of English words:

Later, etymology played a part in spelling reform. Mr. Crystal paraphrases the Renaissance attitude: ‘If a word comes ultimately from Latin, let’s see if there’s anything in the Latin spelling that would help fix it in the English mind.’ This is why there is a b in debt and a p in
receipt. A knowledge of Latin helps with other English spellings. If you know that supercilium was the Latin for “eyebrow,” you will spell
supercilious with a c rather than an s at its heart. Admirable ends “-able” because it derives from the Latin admirare; audible ends “-ible” because it comes from audire.

Truly, it’s worth it to spend some time in that dead old, ancient Roman language.

Test Dates

Well, here come the tests, as per the charts below. To help you along, you may wish to take advantage of our 2-hour SAT tutoring special: 50% off for two hours with one of our high-level college student tutors. Normally $40/ hour, we’ll give you two hours for that amount so that you can try it out and see the power of attacking and comprehending questions.  Our college student tutors, by the way, are marvelous. They are caring, motivated, and want to help high school students succeed.

Let me know your thoughts and questions!

– Michael

SAT .S. registration dates and deadlines for 2013-14

Test Dates Test U.S. Registration Deadlines
(Expire at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time, U.S.A.)
Regular Late (a fee applies)
October 5, 2013 SAT & Subject Tests September 6, 2013 September 20, 2013
November 2, 2013 SAT & Subject Tests October 3, 2013 October 18, 2013
December 7, 2013 SAT & Subject Tests November 8, 2013 November 22, 2013
January 25, 2014 SAT & Subject Tests December 27, 2013 January 10, 2014
March 8, 2014 SAT only February 7, 2014 February 21, 2014
May 3, 2014 SAT & Subject Tests April 4, 2014 April 18, 2014
June 7, 2014 SAT & Subject Tests May 9, 2014 May 23, 2014

ACT Test Dates in the U.S., U.S. Territories, and Canada

Test Date Registration Deadline (Late Fee Required)
September 21, 2013 August 23, 2013 August 24–September 6, 2013
October 26, 2013 September 27, 2013 September 28–October 11, 2013
December 14, 2013 November 8, 2013 November 9–22, 2013
February 8, 2014* January 10, 2014 January 11–24, 2014
April 12, 2014 March 7, 2014 March 8–21, 2014
June 14, 2014 May 9, 2014 May 10–23, 2014

Tech proficiency: got yours?

We like to think that our kids are technologically proficient.

They love new things, they love using the latest thing, and so on.


Not in my experience as a teacher. There’s always a kid or two who really knows and loves technology, who might be labeled a “geek” even. If that label ever applies it means that the rest are not geeks, thereby not technologically proficient. The rest know a few things but are too easily trapped within what they know and don’t learn new things. The reason why “apps” are so meaningful to kids is that they encapsulate many functions that can already be done elsewhere but that users don’t know. With this idea in mind, go through a list of apps and you will be amazed at how redundant so many are, both to each other and to better ways to go about doing the same thing.

Schools have no interest in student efficiency, yet kids are graded on it all the time: is the bibliography formatted correctly? Are the web sources acceptable? Did the student get the teacher’s email? Does the computer have a virus, or is it so slow from unintended program installs that it just doesn’t work right? Was the file saved properly? On and on to the trouble I see in students all the time.

It’s not just a matter of functionality. How much time do you waste working for your computer rather than having it work for you.

Check out this video …

I will only use the keyboard during this video.

See here for a list of Microsoft keyboard shortcuts:

Pretty cool, huh?

You can get more done and with less frustration if you learn a few tricks.

– Michael

What is your level of technological proficency?

View Results

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The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

College bound: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac?

laptop_MH900405386Another broken or stolen laptop? Are you sure about that?

Are you going to be that one who calls home begging for another computer because your laptop was stolen or it dropped out of your backpack. Mom may lose patience with that one after having forked over $2k for the MacBook Air. Besides, do you really need it?

Let’s think this through carefully. What do you really need?

Here’s my assessment of the advantages and disadvantages of your computer options (on Scale of 5):

Desktop PC Laptop PC Tablet Mac desktop Mac laptop
Ease of Use  5 4 2 5 4
Portability 1 4 5  1 4
Reliability 5 4 4 5 4
Capacity / Function 5 4 2  5 4
Cost 5 4 4 1 1
Risk of Loss or Breakage 5 2 2 5 2
Overall Score
(total ÷ 6 categories)
4.3 3.6 3.1 3.6 3.1


Here for updates on this topic:
The Best Computers for College: desktop, laptop or tablet? PC or Mac? pt 2
Laptop, Tablet, or Desktop? Google Docs or Office 365? Which technology is best for high school and college?

Desktops are old fashioned, you say?

Desktops have become, like cars, an afterthought: the average age of American cars is eleven years now, the highest it has ever been. That’s because they’re built better than ever and have all the functions consumers need. What hurt GM, Ford and Chrysler as much as anything over the last five years is that they’re products are very, very good, so people don’t need to buy new ones as often as before. A 2003 automobile is as good as a 2011, and there’s not much a 2013 offers that the ’03 can’t — other than the built-in Bluetooth or a few overly redundant safety features.

And these cars are lasting a long time now. Same goes with PCs: Microsoft’s biggest problem with Windows is that the Windows 7 program is very, very good, very very stable, and there’s little reason to upgrade it anymore (they tried for years to dump XP, which is still solid, useful and widely used). So desktop PCs aren’t so much old fashioned as they are, like a good car, just there.

Now, if you want a Mac, go for it. But you’re gonna pay for it, be it a desktop or a laptop. A Windows 7 PC will cost you less than your smartphone, and you will have a hard time breaking the screen or leaving it on your seat at the movies.

A Windows 7 laptop costs about the same as a desktop and has the added benefit of portability. But do you really, really need to carry your computer around? Some teachers will allow it in class, although I hear more and more about professors who ban them from classrooms because kids are on Facebook rather than focused on class. If I were in college, I’d have a laptop. The ability to take it with me is just that important.  BUT… I’d probably break it or lose it inside of the first semester.

Above all else is cost, which is why 82% of college students use a PC, i.e., Windows-based desktop or laptop. (I’m guessing that most of those are laptops.) As the expert is quoted in that article:

Another reason PCs are winning out with students: price. Desktop PCs are at their cheapest during September when students are going back to school… with prices starting at $200 for a dual-core desktop PC. (The iPad Mini
costs $329.) “The desktop PC is simply a wiser, more realistic investment for any student this fall”

I strongly recommend a decent new or lightly used Windows 7 PC or laptop. As the article points out, a decent PC will start around $200, and there’s no need to go much higher than that, even with a full desktop setup with monitor, keyboard, mouse, and speakers.

Used Equipment

We work with our students to make sure their equipment is available, proper, and functional. I can get a good Win 7 desktop (with monitor etc.) or laptop from anywhere between $100-$200, depending on the capacity, and with a 1 year warranty. Not bad. So let me know if you’re interested.

My Own Equipment

I use four computers, three laptops and a desktop, all PCs, and all HPs. My laptops can serve as a desktop when I plug it into a wireless keyboard, mouse, speakers, and external monitor setup. One laptop is for upstairs, one is for taking with me, and the other is my old workhorse, a seven year old HP that still goes and goes. I bought my desktop because I wanted a better 2nd monitor and higher overall performance, storage, speed, and so on.

So you know, I run Windows 7 on the old laptop and Windows 8 on the others. I also have a Windows Phone that syncs beautifully with my 8 machines and all my Office Programs, especially OneNote (organization) and Outlook (email). I’ll probably buy a Surface tablet, but I’m waiting for built-in mobile broadband, which is coming later or next year. I can wait. That’s me.

What about you, and what about for college?

What about cell phones?

You can do all that on a smart phone. But not very well.  And a little better on a tablet, but, again, not very well. A laptop does it all, with portability. But that, too, comes at a cost in functionality and risk of damage or loss. The best solution for that list is, I hate to say it – a desktop.


I will next post my Computer Tool Kit list for you with essential programs, features and file management tools. Feel free to call or write with any questions.

Technology should not be a problem!

– Michael

What about the students?

Bromley and students

Bromley and students

A Furor but in whose interest?

A blog of mine provoked a bit of a furor two summers ago when I sat in as guest-blogger Rick Hess’ “Straight Up” blog on Education Week: Teacher Pay (Aug 3, 2011)

Huffington Post ran with this title:  Michael Bromley, Washington, D.C. Teacher: Teachers Are Overpaid and on the two or three re-postings of my blog, its readers added a few thousand comments, so angry, so offended — and many unthoughtful, although many quite funny. The overall theme was that I couldn’t possibly be a school teacher if I believed that teachers are overpaid. Have fun on it, if you will, but my point was not about the pay itself (on average teacher pay is right in the middle of Americans’ income, $56,000 a year).  My point was that teacher pay is unrelated to any meaningful measurement of teacher performance. Union and school district negotiations set teacher salaries, not teacher performance, and certainly students and families.

I’m not saying that student achievement should set teacher pay. My idea is that students themselves should set teacher pay. The difference is significant: critics of student performance-based pay are correct that measurements of student performance are often arbitrary and poor indicators of actual teacher performance. or, worse, student performance tests drive rather than measure learning (see this 2011 Freakonimics post on merit pay and a more recent debate on it in Michigan).

My problem with teacher pay is that it is removed from the actual consumers of education, children and their families. Certainly many jobs out there are not set by consumers of the products they deliver, especially in public service where client inputs are absent. That said, any time client input can indicate provider pay, there will be higher performance — and higher pay, especially as the non-performers are weeded out. The only input education consumers have on teacher pay comes indirectly and is always filtered through administrators, union contracts, local politics, and PTAs. While private schools are more responsive to their clients, even they do not directly link teacher performance to client input. Good teachers are generally rewarded, not specifically, the reverse with problem teachers. My objection is not to high teacher pay, it’s to paying all teachers on the same scale regardless of performance. My solution is twofold: 1) allow the real customers of education to have input on teacher pay; and 2) pay the good ones a lot.

The subject has bounced back into the news recently, first with North Carolina’s decision to halt Master’s degree salary hikes for teachers, another, also from the Wall Street Journal, on the $4 Million Teacher in Korea. What they found in North Carolina is that to reward teacher performance with higher salaries based upon advanced degrees does not necessarily lead to better classroom performance. What’s going on in Korea is that some good teachers are able to command huge salaries as advanced tutors, as that education market demands the extra learning these excellent teachers can provide. The subject is generally mute, however, and continues to function merely as a negotiation tool whenever teacher pay comes up for renewal in local systems. Try it, Google, or, as I do, Bing it, and you’ll be inundated with cries of unfairness by the teachers.

But what about the students?

All this discussion gets lost in “student performance,” but nobody cares about what the students themselves want and need. At The A+ Club, we remind the kids that they have no say in teacher pay: no matter how bad that teacher, no matter how unfair that grade, no matter how boring that class, you the student will never, ever change how much or if that teacher gets paid. You can’t fire him. You can’t reduce her pay. Instead, we redirect students to consider what they can control, namely their own tactics on how to approach a problematic class or teacher. Even if those teachers are truly unfair or flawed, it just is, we tell the kids. Instead of assigning blame to the teacher, see what you, the student, can do about it.

The kids are right, though. Teacher employment is disconnected from student input, especially that most significant indicator of teacher success, teacher pay. My blog post on Teacher Pay got into some ideas on how to introduce market conditions into teacher pay. It’s whimsical and unrealistic, but I hoped to make the point that teachers and schools need to view students as a client base and not as a captured audience.

Students are consumers of education, and they deserve to be treated as clients who can exercise choice. Until that day, however, we gotta work with what we got. More importantly, thought academic outcomes belong to students, not teachers, so it really is up to the kids. Let’s talk more about that instead about what the teachers need.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

Student Success Podcast

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student-success-podcast_cover_1800The Student Success Podcast discusses students, parenting, education, and strategies for academic success. Our weekly broadcast features 20 minute interviews with students, teachers, administrators, experts, community and business leaders, and anyone who is concerned about education and how to help kids do better in school.

We aim for useful, interesting information that can be used by everyone engaged in our common goal of student success.

At and The A+ Club, we believe that academic success starts and ends with the student. Everything we do is aimed at helping individual students find their individual success. Welcome to the Student Success Podcast!

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The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.

The Learning Process

Or, where do grades come from?


Where do grades come from? Click here to view my Learning Process flow chart. Grades and learning are not necessarily related… Ideally they are, but what, really, do grades measure?

Have you ever considered what, exactly, do grades measure?

They measure something, but can they really measure everything? And of what they do measure, is it fair, is it meaningful, and does it represent what we really want students to achieve?

At the A+ Club we work with students to appreciate what grades are really about. The first thing to understand is that grades do not measure, do not indicate intelligence. Nor do grades necessarily measure learning. Whatever schools have done to lead any students or parents to believe this need to just disappear. Of course students have different intelligence. But they also have different skills Good at math, bad at drawing. Good at football, bad at reading. Good at singing, good at science, too. Whatever, these are all different types of intelligences, as intelligence is purely contextual. I do wish I was a math wizard like my astrophysicist brother. Ain’t gonna happen, so I do what I can with what I’ve got. That doesn’t mean I can’t get a good grade in Physics. So how would I go about getting a good grade in Physics if I’m bad at math?

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

I love this c.1910 French vision of the future of education. Would that it were so easy!

First some vocabulary:

  • Assessment: a measurement of something, such as a grade on an exam.
  • Grades: assessments of student performance based upon certain criteria, hopefully not arbitrary
  • Learning Expectation: what a teacher expects students to learn
  • Relevancy: the idea that something is important or meaningful
  • Prior Knowledge (PK): what you already know
  • New Knowledge (NK): new things you learn
  • Internalization: the process of turning NK into PK

Grades as measurements

If we consider that grades measure something but not everything, then we must first consider what it is that grades measure. If a teacher gives a grade for “participation,” what does that mean? Is it an impression? A concrete measurement. Or is it a measurement of a process, such as a requirement to show the steps taken to answer a math equation as opposed to just answering the equation. When teachers outline assessment expectations in advance, we call this a “rubric.” Ideally, every little grade has a clear rubric or clear understanding by students about its expectations.

Just about every student has a story about getting a zero on something because they forgot to put their name on an assignment. It was done. It was even done well, and the student learned. But the student got a zero. So, what’s the grade about? Well, putting your name on the page is part of the grade. (Some teachers throw out un-named assignments; I always keep them, as it killed me that a kid did the work but I can’t reward it because I don’t know who it is!).

The next lesson here is to follow instructions!!! Students who are impatient with process often skip the instructions and then miss out on important steps that lead to low scores. You may have had one of those teachers who puts a “trick question” into an exam just to see if the student read everything, such as “skip the next two questions for extra credit.” I get the idea and have tried it myself. Ultimately, though it is not fair, but the sentiment is true: “read me,” screams the test!

Grades reflect so much more than just learning. A few things that go into most school assessments that are so basic we don’t often think about them. But if we do, we are more cognizant of what it takes to get a good grade:

  • timeliness
  • completion
  • name
  • instructions

If you really consider it, there is far less “learning” in a grade than there is “process” and just meeting teacher expectations.

Student Success

At The A+ Club, we employ these ideas very simply:

  • are you aware of what is expected of you?
  • what learning is expected?
  • are you being graded on timeliness and completion?
  • what process is expected?

That last, process, is behind most low grades. Many kids believe they could just ace the test and get a good grade without having done any homework. Often enough they are correct in this. But hardly always, and it is always the case that students are graded on process as much as learning. The trick is for students to make it meaningful enough to bother to do it, or, better, to want to do it. The best teachers make everything meaningful to students, but that’s a rarity. Instead, kids have to take up relevancy upon themselves.

Our job at The A+ Club is to provide kids with the tools and strategies to make their work meaningful, if only to get a higher grade.

– Michael

The A+ Club from LLC, based in Arlington, VA, is dedicated to helping students across the U.S.A. meet their goals and find the academic success the want and deserve. Contact us here or call now  to (703) 271-5334 to see how we can help.