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Blog

Stay informed of the latest company news, product releases, and musings on education policy and technology by subscribing to the MyloWrites blog.

 

Filtering by Category: News

The Grade Game

Virginia Pavlick

Come Sunday night, many university students are looking at another long, hard week. A full class load, work, volunteering, and extracurricular activities can keep the average college student at full capacity, both physically and mentally. When time is running short and stress over grades is running high, it can be tough for many students to resist succumbing to an easy solution. Whether for a particularly tough and point-heavy assignment or for an exam, the popularity of for-profit tutoring companies among college students is now at an all-time high.

The cost of college tuition continues to rise each year. With additional costs for textbooks, housing, meal plans, and incidental costs added in, the final price tag is tremendous, and enough to laden 71% of college graduates with student loan debt. While a quality education certainly holds value for all graduates in the working world, transcripts and GPAs now distinguish the top few percent. When summer internships and elite post-graduate positions are on the line, students are willing to call in outside help to make the grade. In this recent article published by The Chronicle of Higher Education, author Jeffrey Young addresses the flashy marketing that draws in students—and their money.

Two for-profit tutoring companies, Chegg and Studypool, play off of students’ two main desires that are often in conflict with one another.

“Both Chegg and Studypool have edgy marketing campaigns that make light of the balance students face between their academic and social lives. One ad for Studypool shows a split screen of two photographs. On one side, a student sits in a library, under the caption ‘Didn’t ask Studypool’; on the other side, two students lie on the beach in bikinis, with the caption ‘Asked Studypool’".

And while there is certainly an argument surrounding the underlying point of such companies (i.e. purchasing an easy A vs. truly learning the course material), our biggest concern at MyloWrites is the potential for stark inequality between students. For those who can afford to shell out the additional funds for tutoring services, no harm no foul. But for those who can’t, and perhaps are also working part-time to help pay tuition, the game just got extremely unfair.

In classes with a “curve,” that grade boost is now significantly lower due to the potentially inflated grades of the students who were able to benefit from extra tutoring. Some universities, like the NYU Stern School of Business, even force a normal bell-curve for grade distribution, meaning that students compete directly against one another to secure one of the ten or so allotted A-grade slots.

One of our founding principles at MyloWrites is a belief that supportive resources and quality education should be available to all. Tutoring is an excellent resource that each and every student should have access to. As mentioned in the article, free tutoring centers at universities suffer from poor marketing and low awareness. So what can be done?

Penn State is addressing the problem through a “rebrand” of the college tutoring organization, including updated methods of accessing the resource and social media marketing. Other universities are taking the “if you can’t beat them, join them” approach by partnering with for-profit tutoring companies and paying a substantial part of the cost for students. Either method has the potential to suppress the prevalence of for-profit tutoring companies, though it requires an honest recognition of the presence of paid tutoring on individual campuses. For-profit tutoring companies can hardly be banned or prevented. In order to keep access to extra help truly equitable, universities must do a better job communicating offerings for students and responding to student needs in real time.

Spotlight: Schools Without Internet in Rural America

Virginia Pavlick

As an Ed-tech company, we at MyloWrites are admittedly guilty of digital absorption. With all of the technological advancements that have been made in the past two decades, it is easy to become caught up in the world of liking, sharing, posting, and swiping. It is hard to imagine adolescents and teens who aren’t online, let alone those who simply can’t be. Yet in rural districts across the nation, students have become accustomed to the infamous spinning wheel of a struggling network connection.  Built on a foundation of working technology, we at MyloWrites feel as though this issue more than deserves our attention.

“The Slowest Internet in Mississippi”, chapter one of the three-part project Reversing a Raw Deal published by EdWeek, describes the struggles and frustrations that have become commonplace to rural schools without Internet (click here to read parts two and three). In Mississippi’s Calhoun County, author Benjamin Herold writes of the teachers’ inability to load their school’s online attendance system. Online research for class projects is out of the question, as is computerized state testing – an attempt made last spring is described simply as “a disaster”.  Perhaps most frustrating is the futility of desktop computers, SmartBoards and other expensive hardware; without an Internet connection, such devices just take up space.

The article focuses on one 17 year-old student who expresses her concern over the upcoming competition for college admittance. As a Mississippi State University hopeful, she worries that her high school’s lack of technological resources has cost her valuable learning opportunities. With so many new study and tutoring tools available online (MyloWrites included), this anxiety is valid. Even the college application process itself presents hurdles; how can students keep track of the numerous requirements and write multiple essays when they don’t even have access to university websites?

Herold states that 1 in 5 rural districts lack a high-speed Internet connection. And, for those that do manage to secure workable Internet, the bills are dramatically higher. Writes Herold,

“In places like the vast, sparsely populated plains of western New Mexico, that means telecommunications companies routinely bill $3,000 per month or more for Internet service most U.S. schools could get for one-sixth the cost.”

How can this be? The article cites geography and poor policy as top reasons, but also notes the malicious business practices of telecoms as a contributor. Companies like AT&T and Verizon Wireless have been known to take advantage of the system and charge obscene rates, while other smaller companies act as local monopolies.

Mississippi and New Mexico are not alone. In another recently published article, Education News writes of the Internet connectivity gaps prevalent in nearly all Alaskan schools. The national benchmark for Internet speed is set at 1000 Kbps; according to Education News, 93% of schools in Alaska fail to meet this requirement. Towns with high levels of poverty and Native American villages face the toughest challenges. According to the article, the main contributing factors are terrain, topography, and lack of infrastructure. Though rural states like Alaska and Mississippi do present geographical hurdles, for the rest of the country, problems with Internet speed seem nearly a decade old. Technological advances have opened a world of educational opportunity to connected students; how have we allowed others to fall so far behind?

Both articles acknowledge the increase in E-rate spending recently approved by the Federal Communications Commission as a glimmer of hope. The E-rate program charges fees on consumers’ phone bills in order to help fund the cost of Internet for schools and libraries. Though not without its criticism, the increase of E-rate money is generally thought of as the solution for which rural states have been waiting. Says Education Week of the recent legislation,

“The E-rate overhaul has opened the door for a major breakthrough here. In April, Calhoun County [Mississippi] received an offer for Internet connections 300 times faster than what its schools currently have, at about one-half the cost.”

But progress is moving slowly, and the battle is not yet won. MyloWrites hopes to improve awareness of the severity of the issue and encourage our readers to educate themselves and others about the E-rate program. We often forget how lucky we are to live in a place with such vast technological possibility that make educational resources like MyloWrites possible. Learn more about the FCC and the E-rate program here.

In The News: The Water Crisis in Flint, MI

Virginia Pavlick

At MyloWrites, we are strong advocates of bringing quality education and learning resources to students across the globe. The recent water crisis in Flint, MI has severely impacted the lives of Flint students and brought disturbing topics to light that deserve our attention.

The Effects of Lead Contamination

In brief, residents in the rustbelt city have been drinking contaminated water for nearly two years following a decision meant to save money for the financially depressed town. A switch in the source of water supply brought lead and iron contamination into the water and introduced a storm of harmful effects on the city’s population, particularly on infants and children.

A recent EdWeek article, found here, addresses the well-known link between elevated blood-lead concentrations and delays in brain development, IQ loss, and symptoms of learning disabilities. The article mentions research that ties high level of lead in blood to “poor classroom performance, impaired growth, and even hearing loss”. In another article published by U.S. News, Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, director of pediatric residency at a local children’s hospital and site of over 2,000 lead tests, says of the contamination, “It has such damning, lifelong and generational consequences”.

In an already low-income and struggling town, such consequences could be detrimental. EdWeek emphasizes the associated costs of increased special education services for those developmentally delayed students. Adding such financial stress to Flint presents a disturbing picture. Quoted from EdWeek,       

“Districtwide, nearly a quarter of (Flint’s) students drop out of high school before graduating, and poverty is pervasive. More than 80 percent of students quality for free or reduced-price lunches, an indicator of poverty in K-12 education.”

U.S. News mentions that Flint has become “a symbol of the decline of the U.S. auto industry”, a true statement for Midwesterners familiar with the area. With 41% of the population falling below the poverty line, the cost of increased special education resources will be near impossible to manage for many families, especially given that special education funding within school districts is often given low priority nationwide. Coupled with rising health bills, parents and educators face a troubling future.

Horrible School Conditions

Perhaps even more disturbing, however, are the school conditions currently present in both Flint and Detroit that the contamination news has brought to light. NewsOne reports on frustrations of Detroit public school educators, who have been sharing photos of the hazardous conditions in an effort to force officials to step in. The article includes photos and video that expose mold, dead rodents, and indoor fungus growth. A counselor at one elementary school  provides a video tour of the neglected classrooms and scarce resources. The gymnasium has been declared off-limits due to water damage, and children spend winter recess walking through the hallways. The music room has been abandoned, and dusty instruments sit locked away. In one particular classroom, a teacher hands out thin packets of reading that she spent hours preparing herself, as the school budget no longer allows for books.

As we process the Flint crisis and attempt to understand how such negligence could allow a disaster to come about, we hope that the media continues to bring attention to the school conditions that were already a reality for poor Michigan students. MyloWrites will continue to seek partnerships and collaborations with learning disability organizations in order to help those affected, and we encourage everyone to do what they can to help bring an end to the crisis.