A Voice For All Students – An Interview With … Patricia Mcdonough

Fall 2005 | | November 21, 2005 at 2:12 pm

Patricia McDonough, Professor, Higher Education Department of the Graduate School of Education and Information Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. McDonough is a leading expert in the country on developing a college culture and in exploring the choices that students make about their post-high school activities. With a Ph.D. in Education from Stanford University, she has co-chaired the State GEAR UP Support Systems for Families of Middle School Students Implementation Team to which she has brought her expertise in advising school districts and schools throughout the state. Dr. McDonough will co-chair the GEAR UP Faculty Workgroup. She is also the parent of two elementary school children.

Question: What is your view of the work that California GEAR UP is doing with middle schools?
Patricia McDonough (PM): GEAR UP is doing fabulous work with their special focus on whole school change and on preparing whole cohorts of students for college access. Effective whole school change requires total staff commitment.
I am encouraged by the new initiative for middle school counselors and the collaborative regional workshops put on by the ICC and GEAR UP. Many counselors’ jobs revolve around STDs—scheduling, testing, and discipline—with little time for college counseling. Counselors need principals and teachers to know and embrace their priorities.

Q: How do you define a college culture? Please share with us your research in this area.
PM: In collaboration with other educators and based on the research, I use nine principles to describe building a college culture in schools. Some of the terminology is what schools have been using.

  • College Talk: All staff talks about college no matter what their subject field is. Before introducing a lesson, the teacher may say, “When you go to college…” Faculty, administrators and counselors share their own experiences with students.
  • Clear Expectations: The goals of college preparation are defined and expected of all students and that is conveyed to the families.
  • Information and Resources: Up-to-date and accurate college information is available to and easily accessed by the students. An example is the “College Corner” kiosk and the Clearinghouse that GEAR UP provides where all related college information is in one place, not on the shelf in multiple rooms.
  • Comprehensive Counseling Model: All counselors are college counselors. They can answer student questions about college during any opportunity.

Testing and Curriculum: The testing and curriculum need to allow access for all students. Examples are:

  • In testing, the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) is often offered free and during the school day vs. the Preliminary Scholastic Achievement Test (PSAT) which is offered on Saturdays and requires students to pay a fee.
  • In curriculum, schools need to examine the number of remedial English classes offered vs. honors and other college preparatory classes.
  • Faculty Involvement: Faculty have the responsibility to nurture and support student aspirations. The teaching staff must be active partners with counselors, students and families.
  • Family Involvement: Schools need to offer the parents, guardians, and grandparents, especially those who have not been to college, the opportunities to gain knowledge and be informed. They need to know financial aid is available for college.
  • College Partnerships: Every school needs to link with a local community college, a California State University, a University of California, or a private college. Students need to tour campuses to see and feel college life.
  • Articulation: Students should have a seamless connection from elementary to middle school to high school graduation. There needs to be on-going communication among all schools in a feeder pattern.

Q: What are some of the interesting results or lessons learned about whole school change?
PD: One interesting result I have noticed is that every fifth person in the United States has an idea about how to change the schools. Politicians and others put forth their proposals and teachers are aware that new fads and add-ons to education come and go. Consequently, faculties are resistant to new initiatives—avoiding contact with yet another new idea.

The problems of college access are structural; there is no K-12 connection from the university. The largest group of K-12 school personnel is teachers; the smallest, is counselors. We need to build the structure and accountability. On the other hand, improving achievement is built-in to college preparation which can result in improved college access for all students. Dreams need to be nurtured. The attitudes and beliefs of all staff affect the students.

Q: What are your views about the GEAR UP program?
PD: I believe it is a fantastic program. I wish it were available to all middle schools.

For more information about the research of Dr. McDonough, visit our website at www.castategearup.org

Leave a Reply