TIME Bizarre

School Punishes Blind 8-Year-Old By Replacing His Cane With a Pool Noodle

Administrators have since apologized

Administrators at a Missouri elementary school punished a blind student for misbehaving on the bus Monday by confiscating his cane and replacing it with a pool noodle so he wouldn’t “fidget.”

North Kansas City School District spokeswoman Michelle Cronk confirmed that the cane—which was “school property” provided to 8-year-old Dakota Nafzinger upon enrollment—was taken after he reportedly used it to strike someone on the bus, a local Fox affiliate reports. Dakota’s father said that his son, who was born blind, sometimes lifts his cane, which might have been misinterpreted as a violent act. The Nafzingers say the school gave Dakota a pool noodle to humiliate him for misbehaving.

“Why would you do that?” Dakota’s mother asked Fox. “Why would you take the one thing that he’s supposed to use all the time? That’s his eyes.”

Dakota said he was told he would use the noodle for two weeks.

Gracemor Elementary School posted an apology on its Facebook page Wednesday.

TIME Education

J.K. Rowling Calls for an End to Orphanages

JK Rowling Hosts Fundraising Event For Charity 'Lumos'
Joanne "JK" Rowling attends a charity evening hosted by JK Rowling to raise funds for 'Lumos' a charity helping to reunite children in care with their families in Eastern Europe at Warner Bros Studios on November 9, 2013 in London, England. Danny E. Martindale—Getty Images

“The solution is not pretty murals, or comfier beds, or teddy bears. The solution is no institutions.”

Author and activist J.K. Rowling has called for the closure of the world’s orphanages.

In an op-ed in The Guardian on Thursday, the Harry Potter author called for closing the institutions that hold some 8 million children worldwide and sending the children to their parents or to other families.

According to Rowling, most children held in orphanages are not in fact orphans but have been removed from their parents, sometimes because of poverty.

“The idea of any child being taken from their family and locked away, all too often in atrocious conditions, is particularly poignant at this time of year,” wrote Rowling. “For children in institutions, life too often resembles the darkest of Grimms’ fairytales.”

The author founded the NGO Lumos in 2005 to raise awareness about orphanages, borrowing the name from a spell in her Harry Potter series that creates light. To date, she says, the organization has helped reduce the number of children in institutions in Bulgaria, for example, by 54% while increasing the number of foster care parents several times over. A global reduction of orphanages to zero is possible, she says, by 2050.

“The solution is not pretty murals, or comfier beds, or teddy bears. The solution is no institutions.”

[The Guardian]

TIME Education

The Long, Sad Tradition of College Admissions Mistakes

People walk on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore on July 8, 2014.
People walk on Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus in Baltimore on July 8, 2014. Patrick Semansky—AP

This sort of thing happens pretty much every year

The news that Johns Hopkins University had mistakenly sent acceptance letters to applicants who didn’t actually make the cut was especially cruel for the nearly three hundred kids who were actually rejected. But it was not, unfortunately, uncommon. This kind of spirit-crushing mixup has become a nearly annual rite of college admissions, particularly since application processes went electronic in the early 2000s. Here’s a rundown of some of the worst offenders:

1995: Elizabeth Mikus, a 17-year-old, is among 45 early-acceptance applicants who receive a fat envelope with a form letter that says “Welcome to Cornell!” But it turns out that the envelopes were sent “due to a clerical error.” Mikus suffers a second time in April when she gets a thin envelope rejecting her again. The family threatened to sue the school over the mishap.

2002: Administrators at the University of California, Davis pick a cruel date to correct a mistake. After sending letters of acceptance to 105 high school students the previous month, the school sends follow-up emails on April Fool’s Day explaining that those letters had been sent in error.

2003: Cornell again. This time the university sends an email saying “Greetings from Cornell, your future alma mater!” to nearly 550 high school students who had already received their rejection letters in December. The school sends emails explaining the mistake a few hours later, in an era when news outlets still called them “email letters.”

2004: UC Davis has back-to-back mishaps. First, the school allows personal data from some 2,000 applicants, including SAT scores and Social Security numbers, to become viewable by other applicants. Soon after, the school acknowledges that they mistakenly sent emails telling 6,500 applicants that they had won $7,500 scholarships. It is the first year UC Davis had sent scholarship announcements by email. “Clearly, we have bugs in that system,” a school representative told the Los Angeles Times.

2006: About 100 high school students receive a congratulatory note welcoming them to the University of Georgia, only to get another letter a few days later explaining that those notes should be disregarded. Someone picked up “the wrong file,” an administrator explains, and failed to send what the students should have gotten: a letter thanking them for applying.

2006: Thousands of applicants to law school at the University of California, Berkeley are invited, and then uninvited, to an alumni-sponsored party for students who had been admitted early. “Anybody who’s made this sort of error can imagine my feelings at that point,” says the admissions director who had accidentally sent the email to the entire applicant pool. “It was a shocking kind of realization: ‘Oh my goodness, what have I done?'”

2007: More than 2,500 students are emailed a congratulatory note on their admission to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill — only to be told the following day that decisions about their applications had not yet been made. “I’d give anything to go back to 3 p.m. yesterday and change what happened,” the director of undergraduate admissions told WRAL.

2008: About 50 students are welcomed to Northwestern University’s renowned Kellogg School of Management, before being informed that they were actually rejected. Officials describe it as a “technological glitch” in their “automated mail-merge process.”

2009: Yet another unwelcome April Fool’s surprise. About 500 applicants to New York University’s graduate school of public service receive emails announcing their acceptance. About an hour later, they receive emails saying they had not, it turns out, been selected.

2009: Perhaps the largest ball-dropping yet occurred when the University of California, San Diego sent 28,000 students an email saying they had been accepted. Of course, they were not.

2010: Roughly 200 students who had sought early admission to George Washington University receive notes that, as the Washington Post put it, “welcomed them to the Class of 2014 — for several hours.” The mea culpa follows shortly after. The same year, 56 applicants to Vanderbilt University are mistakenly sent acceptance letters, as well as 2,500 applicants to Middlesex University in the U.K.

2011: About 2,000 students are sent acceptance letters from Virginia’s Christopher Newport University, followed by a apology (and take-backsies) about four hours later. The culprit is a database error committed by a human.

2012: Nearly 900 students are informed, wrongly, that they got into UCLA. Hundreds are told, in error, that they’re welcome to attend Ireland’s University of Ulster. And 76 students are led to believe, for 30 minutes, that they have been accepted early to Vassar College.

2013: About 2,500 early-admission applicants to Fordham University are sent financial aid notices congratulating them on their acceptance to the school, though their fates had not actually been decided. “Fordham and its undergraduate admissions staff are acutely aware of the high hopes prospective students and their families have regarding college acceptances,” the school told the New York Times. “The University deeply regrets that some applicants were misled by the financial aid notice.”

TIME ebola

5 Million Kids Aren’t in School Because of Ebola

Schools closed in Sierra Leone after Ebola outbreak
A classroom of a school stands abandoned on Aug. 25, 2014 in Kenema, Sierra Leone. Schools closed and villages quarantined after dozens of its congregation died with Ebola symptoms. Mohammed Elshamy—Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Children from Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia are still out of school. Here's what's being done

Public schools in Guinea have been closed since March. Schools in Sierra Leone and Liberia never opened after the summer holiday. All told, the children’s rights and emergency relief group UNICEF estimates that 5 million children ages 3 to 17 are out of school due to Ebola.

“This Ebola crisis has been predominantly seen as a health crisis but its implications go way beyond health,” says Sayo Aoki, an education specialist for UNICEF working in the affected countries. “It’s time we start looking at it from other perspectives, and education is part of that.”

Some schools were closed out of fear the disease could spread in large gatherings while others had no access to water, making handwashing impossible. But the longer a child stays out of school, the less likely it is he or she will return—which is why UNICEF is working closely with the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Health to come up with protocols necessary to implement in order to let children back into the classrooms. The draft—which calls for measures like Ebola screenings, hygiene requirements and a plan in the event a suspected case—is currently being reviewed by experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. and the World Health Organization.

MORE: TIME’s Person of the Year: Ebola Fighters

In the meantime, UNICEF and partner NGOs have trained out-of-work teachers to act as “social mobilizers,” going door to door to spread messages about how to identify Ebola and prevent its spread. UNICEF and partners are also using the radio programs to offer long-distance learning while kids are kept at home. “We are trying to make [the radio shows] simple and more interesting so children will get some learning,” says Aoki. “If they listen to it at a certain time of the day during the week, it gives them a routine they’ve lost from not going to school. It brings them a sense of normalcy, some sort of stability and hope.”

Stability has been largely destroyed for many children living in Ebola-affected countries. Many have seen family members, friends and neighbors get infected, and many have become orphans as well. Ebola has also changed social mores. “Nobody shakes hands in public,” says Aoki. “It has put a lot of stress on children. There’s no cuddling, no hugging, no kissing. The simple joys of life have been taken away.”

Even before Ebola, Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia were economically troubled countries still emerging from conflict and civil war. Guinea and Liberia were in the process of increasing their school attendance numbers—Guinea was at 58% and Liberia was at 34%—and experts worry that Ebola has set progress back. School closures, including private schools, are also a bad economic indicator. Jeff Trudeau, the director of The American International School of Monrovia (AISM) told TIME in August that he lost more than half his expected students for the 2014 school year, many of whom were children of foreign families who moved to the region for jobs in Liberia’s burgeoning business sector. That school’s earliest possible start date is January and for others, there appear to be “moving” deadlines for reopening. Guinea is aiming for January while Liberia and Sierra Leone are hoping for March.

But all the countries will have to patiently wait until their caseloads are under control, since a premature opening may only add fuel to the fire.

TIME Education

Johns Hopkins Mistakenly Sends Acceptances to 294 Rejected Students

REAL-CMP-COLLEGEARCHITECTS
Ayers Saint Gross, an architecture firm, redesigned the Johns Hopkins University campus in Baltimore, Maryland, by converting asphalt to brick, making signs uniform and putting parking underground and to the edges. Baltimore Sun—MCT via Getty Images

The mass email gaffe was a result of "human error"

Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University put 294 already nervous applicants through an emotional roller coaster last weekend, erroneously telling them that they had been accepted after initially rejecting them — and then quickly rescinding the mistaken offer of admission.

Students who had been told on the institution’s early decision website that they weren’t getting an undergraduate place received an email entitled “Embrace the YES!” on Sunday afternoon, the Washington Post reported.

But a hasty correction was issued Sunday evening, letting the students know that they had not, in fact, been admitted in the early decision rounds.

“We apologize to the students affected and their families,” said David Phillips, the university’s vice provost for admissions and financial aid, attributing the mass email howler to “human error”

[Washington Post]

TIME 2016 Election

The One Issue that Will Complicate Jeb Bush’s Campaign

Jeb Bush
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush speaks in Hollywood, Fla. on Jan. 29, 2014. Wilfredo Lee—AP

Jeb Bush loves Common Core. The Republican base hates it.

Bush’s announcement this morning that he plans to “explore the possibility of running for President of the United States” means that the Republican Party is going to have to sort out where it stands on this tinderbox of an issue.

Common Core is a set of academic standards put together by a bipartisan group of governors and promoted by the Obama administration. While both Republicans and Democrats first embraced the standards back in 2010 and 2011, they have fallen out of favor in the last few years. Grassroots conservatives and Republican office-holders now regularly condemn it as “federal overreach” and parents have protested changes in how subjects like math are taught under states’ new Common Core-aligned curricula.

Common Core now represents a kind of shorthand among Republicans: if you’re a real conservative, you’re against it; if you’re a faker, you’re for it. As a result, Republican governors in Oklahoma, Indiana, South Carolina and Missouri have scrambled to get on the right side of that divide, angrily decrying Common Core as “shameless government overreach” or even smearing it as “Obama-core.”

Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, who is often listed among the potential Republican presidential hopefuls, used to support Common Core, but now is so publicly against it that he has launched lawsuits against his own state and the U.S. Department of Education, claiming that the standards are a violation of state rights.

While most of that is shameless political theater, it still leaves Jeb Bush in a tricky position: in order to win the Republican nomination, he’s going to have to win over the Republican conservative base, which hates Common Core with the fire of a thousand suns. The easiest way to do that would be to disown Common Core. But that’s not likely to be in the cards.

For the past two years, Bush has been one of the loudest proponents of Common Core, among both Republicans and Democrats, boldly refusing to walk back his support—even when members of the Florida Tea Party called for his head, and even when the issue threatened to derail Republican Rick Scott’s tight race during this year’s midterms.

In late November, Bush told a crowd at a national education summit hosted by his group, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, that while he found the debate about Common Core “troubling,” he support was unwavering. He seemed to suggest that conservatives had been tricked into thinking that the Common Core was a federal program. “Education should be a national priority, not turned into a federal program,” he told the crowd, before urging them to keep fighting for reform and for Common Core.

This leaves Bush—and the Republican Party, too—with two basic choices. Bush can continue to embrace Common Core, but work with the Republican Party to rebrand it as an essentially Republican, states rights issue. Or he can walk back his support for the standards, which would be seen by many moderate Republicans, as well as his supporters in the education reform community, as a shameless cop-out.

Alternatively, Bush could take a page out of Mitch McConnell’s book, and do a little of both. After all, during the November midterm, McConnell angrily condemned Obamacare, while simultaneously supporting Kynect, which is Kentucky’s version of Obamacare. Voters didn’t seem to care.

While all of this politicking makes it seem like Common Core must be a wildly exciting—innovative! disruptive! far-reaching!—federal policy, it’s actually none of those things. It’s not even federal policy.

The Common Core State Standards—or CCSS, as they’re known in official documents—are a set of academic benchmarks. They list what students should be able to do, in math and English, after the end of each grade. For example, under Common Core, all kindergarteners should be able to count from 0 to 100; all eighth graders should be able to cite evidence for their argument in a text.

Common Core is not a national curriculum. It does not tell districts what books they have to buy, nor does it tell teachers how they need to teach. (Under Common Core, states and local school districts still have complete control over that stuff.) And perhaps most importantly, it’s not even a federal program. In March 2010, 40 state governors and their state chiefs of schools formally adopted the Common Core. By the end of the next year, a total of 46 states—led by both Republicans and Democrats—had signed on.

One reason that bipartisan moment didn’t last for long is that Obama’s Department of Education began to tie federal funding, though the Reach for the Top grants, to whether states had adopted either the Common Core standards or a state version that was equally robust. That gave the Common Core standards the sheen of being a top-down federal government program—which angered the Republican base.

The other main reason that Republicans turned against Common Core was that the program was poorly implemented. In some states, teachers were asked to teach to the Common Core standards before the states had even come up with an adequate curriculum or corresponding tests. In other states, new “Common Core-aligned” curricula were so confusing that teachers, parents, and students rebelled. According to an October Gallup poll, 58% of Republican parents now hold a negative view of Common Core—up from just 42% disapproval in April. Fewer than one in five Republican parents think the Common Core is a good idea.

If Bush wants the Republican nomination, he’s going to have to find a way to change some hearts and minds.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: December 16

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Micropayments and digital currencies will ignite an explosion of disruptive innovation.

By Walter Isaacson in LinkedIn

2. Latin America is taking the lead with progressive food policies — and putting public health above the interests of the food industry.

By Andy Bellatti in Civil Eats

3. To preserve biodiversity and lift up communities facing hunger in sub-Saharan Africa, indigenous plants might provide a solution.

By Amy Maxmen in Newsweek

4. Teacher preparation programs seek change with a pinpoint innovation approach. It’s time for a broad scale transformation of teaching.

By Kaylan Connally in EdCentral

5. Making clean plastics from biofuel waste could free up valuable farmland for food crops.

By Matt Safford in Smithsonian

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

What We’re Missing in the Global Education Race

Nigerian School
Students reading in school books at a Nigerian school on December 09, 2013, in Niamey, Niger. Ute Grabowsky—Photothek via Getty Images

Wendy Kopp is the co-founder and CEO of Teach For All and founder of Teach For America.

We send top talent into finance, technology, medicine and law—everywhere but towards expanding opportunity for our most marginalized children

Nearly 15 years ago, the global community set an unprecedented goal—to give every child access to primary education. We have made progress, but today 58 million children in developing regions remain out of school, and 250 million school-aged children around the world lack basic literacy and numeracy skills.

While the 2015 deadline for delivering on our promise will pass unfulfilled, we are coming to the end of a year that has seen tremendous momentum as the world recognizes the need to improve education: This week, 17-year-old Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai became the youngest person ever to accept the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Indian child rights’ activist Kailash Satyarthi. In June, developing nations, donor nations and NGOs pledged a historic $28.5 billion in new funding to make quality education available to every child. In September, more than 30 organizations made commitments to increase access to quality education for girls as part of the Clinton Global Initiative, and XPRIZE launched a new $15 million challenge to build technology solutions to make quality education more accessible.

This momentum is the result of a growing understanding that if we don’t make a quality education available to every child, no matter where she lives, it will be nearly impossible to accomplish our collective goals: a healthier, more sustainable, peaceful and just world. Recognizing this, the global community is making a push not only to get every child in school, but to ensure every child is learning.

Throughout history, when societies have been faced with big challenges, they’ve put their best people on them. During the Space Race, American and Russian scientists, engineers, astronauts and cosmonauts pushed the bounds of what was possible, and landed men on the moon. World leaders came together and mobilized the talents of scores of doctors and microbiologists in a decades-long effort to successfully eradicate smallpox.

All around the world, we send our top talent into finance, technology, medicine and law—everywhere but towards expanding opportunity for our most marginalized children. If we’re going to give every child a chance to fulfill her potential, this will need to change.

We’ve seen that it can. The 35 Teach For All network organizations around the world are tapping into the rising generation’s appetite to play a part in solving the world’s biggest challenges, initially asking them to commit two years to teach in classrooms in high-need communities and ultimately investing in their development as leaders for long-term change for children. Thousands of people are vying for a chance to become part of the effort. In Pakistan alone this year, more than 2,200 people applied for just 55 places to teach in the most high-need classrooms. In Mexico, more than 3,000 people applied for 116 spots. In India, 13,400 applied for 487 spots.

This initial teaching commitment and the experience it gives participants begins whole careers of fighting for change at every level of the education system, and from the sectors that touch the lives of children in high-need communities—policy, law, health, technology, and economic development. These are still very early days for many of these organizations, but we are beginning to see results.

At Teach For India, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary, 65% of almost 700 alumni are still working to change outcomes for children. They are starting social enterprises to retrain other teachers, creating and leading schools to show what the most marginalized children can achieve, and building the capacity of NGOs and school systems to reach more children.

In communities in the UK and the U.S., where Teach For All organizations have been hard at work for 10 or more years, we see this kind of leadership contributing to meaningful results. Fifteen years ago, there were only five schools in Oakland that met California’s benchmark standards for academic performance. Today, there are more than 40 such schools, and Oakland Unified Schools district ranks as the most improved urban school district in the state. This change is the result of many efforts, including the small schools established in East Oakland. But without the hundreds of teachers placed in Oakland since 1991 through Teach For America, much of the energy pushing the area forward would be missing: Nearly 200 teachers, including 2013’s California Teacher of the Year, administrators at 20% of Oakland schools, the founder of the 2013 Charter School of the Year, and founders and leaders of countless organizations that support schools, children and families in Oakland’s highest-need communities, are all Teach For America alumni.

Earlier this year, I had a chance to travel to Nigeria and visit a school of 600 girls in Lagos. During the hour I was there that morning, I walked from classroom to classroom and only found one with a teacher. The 14- and 15-year-old girls in that one classroom were learning the difference between simple and complex sentences. Several girls I spoke with had spent an hour and a half commuting to teacher-less classrooms.

Imagine how different those classrooms could be if hundreds of Nigeria’s most talented recent graduates and professionals channeled their energy not only into the country’s banks, but into making education in the country a force for transformation. They would make a huge difference to these girls during their time as teachers, and like other teachers throughout the Teach For All network, they would not be able to leave the work. They would become the leaders of new schools, build new teacher recruitment and development systems, lead policy changes and start enterprises aimed at dismantling the roadblocks that keep their students from opportunity.

If we’re going to see sustainable results from all the other investments we’re making in education, we need to build leadership capacity in each and every country. Without it, there is no certainty that 10 years from now, and 10 years after that, we will see rising educational levels and decreasing disparities all around the world. Our collective welfare depends on it.

Wendy Kopp is the co-founder and CEO of Teach For All and founder of Teach For America.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Here’s the New Way Colleges Are Predicting Student Grades

Students Computers
Getty Images

Data algorithms cover millions of grades from thousands of students

For years, Stephanie Dupaul would jokingly consult her collection of Magic 8 Balls when students asked her questions such as, “Will I get an A in that class?” Now, she can give them an answer far more accurate than anything predicted by a toy fortune-teller.

Dupaul, the associate provost for enrollment management at Southern Methodist University, is one of a growing number of university administrators consulting the performance data of former students to predict the outcomes of current ones. The little-known effort is being quietly employed by about 125 schools around the U.S., and often includes combing years of data covering millions of grades earned by thousands of former students.

It’s the same kind of process tech behemoths like Amazon and Google employ to predict the buying behavior of consumers. And many of the universities and colleges that are applying it have seen impressive declines in the number of students who drop out, and increases in the proportion who graduate. The early returns are promising enough that it has caught the attention of the Obama Administration, which pushed for schools to make heavier use of data to improve graduation rates at a White House higher education summit last week.

The payoff for schools goes beyond graduation rates: tracking data in this way keeps tuition coming in from students who stay, and avoids the cost of recruiting new ones, which the enrollment consulting firm Noel-Levitz estimates is $2,433 per undergraduate at private and $457 at four-year public universities.

“It’s a resource issue, it’s a reputational issue, it does impact — I’ll say it — the rankings” by improving graduation rates, Dupaul says.

At SMU, for instance, data analysis showed that students who applied early in the admissions process were more likely to ultimately earn degrees. So were those who visited the campus before enrolling, joined a fraternity or sorority, or registered for a higher-than-average number of classes.

From this and other knowledge, the university has built a predictive algorithm that can gauge the probability that a student will finish school, and prop up those who might not by sending academic advisors or deans to intervene.

Other universities also use detailed data to make sure students stay on track once they’ve arrived. Georgia State, for instance, has analyzed 2.5 million grades of former students to learn what may trip up current ones. That early-warning system, begun in 2012 to address a lower-than-the-national-average graduation rate, triggered 34,000 alerts last year about students who may have been in trouble, but didn’t know it yet.

It works by identifying risk patterns that can help catch students before they fall. For example, Georgia State’s data shows that students’ grades in the first course in their majors can predict whether or not they will graduate. Eighty-five percent of political science majors who get an A or B will earn degrees, but only 25% of those who score a C or lower will.

“What we used to do, and what other universities do, is let the C student go along until it was too late to help them,” says Timothy Renick, Georgia State’s vice president for enrollment management and student success. “Now we have a flag that goes off as soon as we spot a C in the first course.”

That student is invited to meet with an advisor and given the option of switching majors before spending more time and money on a losing proposition.

The university also uses its predictive algorithm to channel incoming freshmen with higher risk factors — like those who come from high schools where earlier graduates have been poorly prepared — into a seven-week summer session. Nine out of 10 of these students make it to the end of the first year, more than their classmates who entered without red flags.

And the analysis isn’t limited to first year students. Last year, some 2,000 Georgia State upperclassmen were hauled in for one-on-one sessions with an advisor when they signed up for courses that didn’t satisfy requirements for their majors — which the data showed would probably derail them — and moved to classes that did.

“Most students, when they take classes that don’t apply to their program, it’s not because they’ve always wanted to take a course in Greek philosophy,” says Renick. “It’s because they don’t understand the maze of rules that big institutions like Georgia State have created. And when they go off course, it’s a difference between graduating and not graduating.”

The university also uses 12 years of data from former students to nudge current ones toward majors that track more closely with their academic strengths, thereby increasing their chances of graduating.

“It’s a really simple process,” Renick says, “but it’s the kind of thing that higher education hasn’t been doing.”

Despite the promising early returns, most institutions have not embraced predictive data. Only about 125 of the more than 4,000 degree-granting postsecondary institutions are using data in this way, according to the Education Advisory Board, a firm that helps Georgia State and other schools run such programs.

More will sign on, experts say, because it can do as much for the bottom line as it does for students. For every 1 percentage point improvement in the proportion of students data tracking keeps from dropping out, Renick says, Georgia State keeps $3 million in tuition and fees that would have otherwise been lost. So far, that rate has increased by five percentage points since the university started tapping this data two years ago, meaning it has more than recouped the $100,000-a-year cost of running the system and the $1.7 million per year it takes to pay an extra 42 advisors hired to help the students it predicts might fall between the cracks.

“It’s no longer just a moral imperative. It’s a financial imperative,” says Ed Venit, a senior director at the Education Advisory Board. “The students who are on their campuses now, they have to keep them around, hopefully ’till graduation.”

Yet graduation rates overall are down, not up, since 2008, according to the National Student Clearinghouse. Only 55% of students earn their two- or four-year degrees within even six years, as they switch majors, flounder through required courses, and take classes they don’t need.

To Venit, analyzing that information — which schools already collect — can help avert such stumbles. “The data is so accurate that we can see the problems coming a mile away,” he says. “Higher education is lagging behind other industries in the use of this.”

That’s begun to change as students, parents, and policymakers press universities to provide a better return on their investments, and as universities themselves — especially public schools, whose revenues are under strain — are forced to become more efficient.

At Georgia State — where 80% of students are racial minorities, low-income, the first in their families to go to college, or from other groups that often struggle to graduate— the six-year graduation rate had fallen to a dismal 32% before the university began to look at data. It’s since increased to 53 percent.

“Think of going through college as driving a car and the destination of the car is graduation,” says Mark Becker, Georgia State’s president, a first-generation college student who went on to earn a PhD in statistics. “If you start drifting off the road, we want to straighten you out and keep you driving forward.”

Such aid is becoming increasingly important as the students arriving on campuses look more like the ones at Georgia State: less affluent, nonwhite, and often the first in their families to attend college.

“A lot of these are students who are just barely able to afford college,” Renick says. “Taking the wrong course, getting a couple of Fs, losing a scholarship, wasting credit hours all can stop them from getting a degree.”

Now the university is poring over its data to determine how to predict when financial problems might force students to drop out, and offering “micro grants,” with stringent conditions, to keep them enrolled. Nine out of 10 freshmen who were offered the grants last year stayed in school.

At Purdue University Calumet, where only 31% of students graduate in six years, 74% of students returned this fall — a 5% improvement over the year before. The gain preserved nearly $500,000 in tuition, and saved the school the expense of recruiting new students to fill those empty seats — an amount worth almost five times what the university says it paid to analyze and act on the data.

Southern Illinois University increased its return rate by an even larger 8.3 percentage points, to 68%, and its revenue by more than $2 million, according to John Nicklow, who was provost when the process was begun last year. Those gains came after the university used data to identify a much larger proportion of students who needed help than was previously thought. The cost was about $100,000, part of it paid for by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to dig into this data,” says Nicklow, an engineer by training. “More of us need to do it.”

Sitting amid her collection of 30 Magic 8 Balls at SMU, Stephanie Dupaul calls predictive data “one of those waves that’s coming. A lot of schools just haven’t caught the wave yet” But she cautions that even the best algorithms can sometimes be about as precise as the toys that line her desk.

“We still have to remember that data alone is not always a predictor of individual destiny,” she says, “even when ‘Signs Point to Yes.’”

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news website focused on inequality and innovation in education.

Read next: Forget College, This Is the Expense New Parents Should Be Freaking Out About

TIME Education

Mistakes to Avoid When Learning a Foreign Language

English spanish dictionary
Getty Images

If you're serious about learning a language, you need to start looking for excuses to use it

Answer by Judith Meyer on Quora.

Thinking that going to a class will teach them the language

The teacher can only present material. Good teachers will present the material in an interesting way and bad teachers will present the material in a boring way, but you still have to internalize the material afterwards. There is not nearly enough class time to do the memorization in-class, and in a group class there’s not enough time for everyone to get enough practise either. You have to study and practice outside class in order to be a successful language learner.

Not following their interests

The teacher and the coursebook are a starting point, not an end-all. Don’t limit yourself to it, seek out things that interest you in your target language (or from your target culture). Don’t be afraid to think outside the box: apart from songs, movies, TV shows, books and newspapers there are also viral videos, funny advertisements, memes, blogs, forums, women’s/men’s magazines, cartoons, comic strips, video games, MMORPGs, recipes and Q & A sites like Quora. You should start looking for this kind of content immediately. Refer to translations at the beginning and then wean yourself off them.

Balking at the language being different

There will be plenty of things that work differently in your target language than they do in English. Some of them may seem (or be) illogical. Rather than having a grudge, be happy that you get to explore these new ways of expressing oneself, ways that are hidden to monolingual English speakers. If languages were a 1 to 1 translation of English, they’d be boring.

Finding excuses not to use the language, rather than excuses to use it

There are a ton of reasons not to use the language you’re learning. Maybe your level is too low. Maybe you don’t know any native speakers nearby. Maybe it’s a small language that doesn’t have much content online. Maybe it’s a dead language. These are all reasons, good reasons even, but they shouldn’t matter to you. If you’re serious about learning a language, you need to start looking for excuses to use it.

  • Greet your friends with a fresh Latin “Salvete! Quid agitis?” next time you see them. It doesn’t matter if they don’t understand. Teach them.
  • Convince your family that kung fu movies are best enjoyed in the original Chinese.
  • If researching something for history class, use the French Wikipedia in order to get an international perspective.
  • Never comment on international news without having read a local newspaper.
  • Play on the Spanish WoW servers and consider it time well spent.
  • Plan a German movie week. Invite friends.
  • Invent reasons to talk to foreigners you see around town, e. g. ask a department store worker where a product is even when you already know, welcome tourists to your city or swap information on favourite places.

If a language doesn’t excite you so much that you’ll grab at any excuse to use it, maybe you shouldn’t be studying it. Come up with 10 reasons to study the language and hang it somewhere visible.

Thinking that language learning has to be strenuous

Many people think that they can recognize effective programs by how hard and strenuous, exhausting and uncomfortable they are. By forcing yourself through them once a month, you feel like you’re really investing effort into your target language. In truth, the most effective programs are often the ones that don’t take particular fortitude to slug through. Learning grammar is rarely joyful, but at least it shouldn’t be something you dread. A positive state of mind will help a lot in making things memorable. Don’t hesitate to switch textbooks or to use multiple sources at once. Use interesting, authentic materials as soon as you can. Use the language.

This question originally appeared on Quora: What are the common mistakes of language learners?

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser