Monthly Archives: October 2014

10 Scary Facts on Education in the U.S.A.

October 30th, 2014


Since its Halloween, we thought of scaring up some spooky facts about education in the U.S.

1. Thirty years ago, America was the leader in quantity and quality of high school diplomas. Today, it is ranked 18th out of 23 industrialized countries


2. Since 1971, educational spending in the U.S. has grown from $4,300 to $9,000 per student. But, reading and math scores have gone downhill.

3. Among 30 developed countries, the U.S. is ranked 25th in math and 21st in sciences.

4. Every year, only 69% of American high school seniors earn their diploma.


5. High school dropouts are 8 times more likely to go to prison.

6. 1.3 million U.S. high school students don’t graduate on time yearly. The States with highest rates (80-89%) are Wisconsin, Iowa, Vermont, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The States with lowest (less than 60%) are Nevada, New Mexico, Louisiana, Georgia and S. Carolina.


7. Approximately 6 million students, grade 7 through 12, are struggling to read at grade-level. Among the highest, 70% of 8th graders read below the standard.

8. Teacher quality is one of the most significant factors related to student achievement. In the U.S., 14% of new teachers resign by the end of their first year, 33% leave within their first 3 years, and almost 50% leave by their 5th year.

9. Only 1 in 4 high school students graduate college-ready in the 4 core subjects of English, reading, math and science.


10. Roughly half of the students who enter a 4-year school will receive a bachelor’s degree within 6 years.

Bonus Fact:

11. In the workplace, 85% of current jobs and 90% of new jobs require some or more college or post-secondary education.

Have a safe and fun Halloween!



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Partner Yoga for Bully Relief: One Day in Yoga Class

October 23rd, 2014


One day in middle school yoga class, something profound happened.

During roll call, I noticed a sixth grade student, new to the school, not occupying his yoga mat. Instead, he was hunched down on the floor between two tall filing cabinets. “Are you hurt?” I asked. He shook his head “No,” without looking up. I finished roll call quickly and asked students to assume child’s pose. I walked over to check out the situation.

“Are you okay, Jonas?” I asked. The teary-eyed, sanguine child peered up at me and between sniffles said, “No, not really.” I asked him if he wanted to talk about it or if he just needed some time to himself. He nodded yes.

The class began. I kept the tone quiet and contemplative. Once everyone was focused and centered, I offered students a few choices of partner yoga postures they were already familiar with and let them know they had 5 minutes to practice together. I checked back in with Jonas.

“How are you feeling?”
“Do you want to let me know what you are sad about?”
“Oh, are you having some conflict with students?”
“Yeah, everybody has me wrong.”
“What happened, Jonas?”
“At lunch, a bunch of kids started harassing me and calling me a p#$%^.” (We’ve edited out the slur for the purposes of this blog entry.)
“I’m so sorry. Do you have any idea what is going on with them?
“I stood up for a girl they were messing with yesterday and now they are picking on me. They said I’m too little to get anybody’s back.”
“Oh, well that’s certainly not true. Are any of those kids in this classroom right now?”
“Yeah,’ he said, hugging his knees to his chest, burying his head into his arms, crying.

His sobs caught the attention of several nearby students. I asked everyone to go back to their own mats and take child’s pose again. While students shuffled through the room, one brave girl, Kya, brisked over to me and said, “I know why he’s crying.”

She explained that a group of her friends were calling him names and saying mean things in front of lots of other students. Jonas was aware of our conversation and motioned for me to come over.

“That’s one of them,” he said.
I asked if he wanted to speak with Kya. He said yes.

As soon as Kya was near Jonas, he burst out and loudly asked, “Why do stand by and laugh while your so-called friends treat me like that?”
Kya lowered her head and said she was sorry.

At this point, the 20 other students were looking at Kya and Jonas. “Would it be okay with you both if we sit in circle and try to find some resolution to this?”
Both students nodded affirmatively.

It’s important to note here that these students attend a school where they are already accustomed to circle time using the Way of Counsel. This time, we used partner yoga as our framework for unpacking some of the issues at play in this situation, as well as explore solutions.

First, students sat back to back with a partner, bringing their attention to their breathing. I instructed students to try and feel their partners’ breathing rhythms and simply to acknowledge the other person as a human being with feelings. I asked students to remember that just because we do not understand a person, that doesn’t mean they are wrong. We can always find something in common with every other human being. Right now, we were focusing on something each and every one of us need: breathe.

We sat, focusing on our inhales and exhales for 5 or so minutes. I asked students to close their eyes while I posed a few questions and to respond by turning their palms upwards on their knees for “yes” and downwards for “no.”

“Have you ever been involved in bullying at school? Either as the one being bullied, the bully, a stander-by or an ally.” All but one student turned their palms up. Honestly, I am not sure that student understood the question since she had just immigrated from Tibet and was only beginning to learn English.

Next question, “Do you feel you have the skills necessary to take a stand for someone being bullied?” Mixed hand. Most students indicated “no.” Some said “yes.” Several said “yes” with one hand and “no” with the other.

For the final question, I asked students to keep their answers to themselves for now. “What do you think we can do as a school community to make sure everyone feels safe here?”

Now we moved into a standing partner posture wherein students face each other, holding hands. Then, bending their knees, they lean their weight back as if sitting in a chair. This partner pose requires a great deal of trust since students are relying on their partners to hold them up. If one partner lets go, the other will certainly fall. This pose also requires myself as the teacher to fully trust the innate goodness of my students. All of this granted trust, from teacher to student, from peer to peer, creates a tangible, embodied sense of support. Period. NO matter what has happened in the past or what may occur in the future, at that present moment, there exists a classroom of adolescents fully supporting each other; physically, mentally, socially and emotionally.

After practicing this partner pose several times; articulating alignment, honing attention to breath, we enter a short, but powerful discussion while still standing. We talk about what it means to support our peers. We talk through several related themes: the nobility of supporting someone even if you don’t actually like them, our shared responsibility for each other’s safety, and the detriments involved with letting someone fall. In adolescence, these questions are intriguing, provocative, right on point with their inherent fears, anxieties and hopes. Perhaps this is one reason we see so many young people trying on the behaviors we call “bully.” Teens want to know where their power lives.

Partner yoga poses give teens a keyhole into their real source of power. They learn how powerful it is to support their peers and to take a stand for each other. They cultivate compassion and empathy by entering relationships with peers where, for brief moments, the stakes are high, but there is no competition. In other words, teens learn to see the other person as a living, breathing, feeling being and to care for their safety and well-being. These are the barest necessities of accomplishing partner yoga poses. The enrichment deepens from there and extends far beyond the practice session. As one teen student put it, “When we practice yoga together, we make a bond that sticks outside of the yoga room. We are just more connected.”

The bond and connection this student speaks of is exactly what we need to help forge between adolescents if we want to alleviate bullying. Both the bullies and the bullied and everyone standing by feel alienated, alone, and lack a sense of belonging. We can talk with teens until we are blue in the face about how ineffective bullying is to create lasting feelings of power and security, or we can give them an embodied experience of connection with their peers.

For a limited time, we are accepting registrants for our 500 DVD giveaway. Educators: sign up to receive a complimentary copy of our “Partner Yoga for Teens” curriculum. Click here to register.

Abby Wills

Abby Wills, MA, E-RYT

Shanti Generation, Co-Founder, Program Director

Abby brings her passion for developmental education and deep respect for the tradition of yoga to her work guiding youth and teachers in contemplative arts. Abby’s approach is informed by studies in social justice and democratic education at Pacific Oaks College, as well as two decades of training in yoga.

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The Brief Shelf Life of India’s Four-Year Bachelor’s Degree

October 16th, 2014


In India, the bachelor’s degree in arts and sciences has been typically a three-year program patterned after the British system. Here in the U.S. a few international credential evaluation professionals have been recognizing the three-year bachelor’s degree from India as equivalent to the U.S. four-year degree. At ACEI, our position has been less generous. Though some U.S. credential evaluators may have been liberal with their professional judgment on this matter, it seems that many within India’s higher education institutions were not so content with their three-year bachelor degree offerings. In fact, some Indian institutions of higher education had started to champion the idea of expanding the three-year program by another year to include a research component and additional courses at the advanced level, particularly in the sciences. They viewed this move as essential if India intended to be competitive globally in the area of scientific research and development.

However, this push toward the four-year degree has been met with strong resistance from the University Grants Commission (UGC), India’s higher education regulatory and funding body. The battle brewing between some key public universities and the UGC, concerning the four-year bachelor’s degree finally came to a head last month. University of Delhi, the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and several Institutes of Technology (IIT) that had either embarked on offering the four-year bachelor’s degree or were already offering them were ordered by the UGC to scrap the program and revert to the standard three-year programs.

In June of this year, University of Delhi was forced by the UGC to close its four-year undergraduate degree program because it was deemed by the human resource minister Smriti Irani to not have complied with the recommended education pathway. Even the state-run Indian Institute of Science (IISc), considered one of the prestigious institutions of higher learning, had come under the scrutiny of the UGC. IISc has been allowed to retain its four-year bachelor degree programs in physics, biology, chemistry, environmental science, materials and mathematics on the condition it adheres to changes recommended by the UGC. For example, IISc Bangalore, was able to strike a compromise with UGC by agreeing to restructure its four-year BSc to a research degree while also offer the standard three-year BSc degree. However, the same compromise was not afforded to the University of Delhi that was ordered to completely dismantle its four-year program.

It is not just the public, state-run institutions affected by UGC’s rampage, even private institutions such as Shiv Nadar Univesrity, Azim Premij University and OP Jindal Global University which had recently set up American-style four-year undergraduate liberal arts degrees were told to conform with UGC rules. As can be imagined, this move by the UGC has drastically affected the public and private institutions as well as their students who are now required to switch to the three-year program.

The proponents of India’s four-year bachelor degree see the additional year as a more holistic approach to teaching and learning, allowing for broad-based training in the humanities and sciences. The abrupt dismissal of the four-year program by the UGC is seen by many of the educators and the institutions as shortsighted and lacking any serious academic discussion that is supported by convincing facts and arguments. Many foresee that the UGC resistance toward the four-year degree will only push students away from studying sciences, pursuing careers in sciences and stymieing India’s chances in scientific innovation. It will also mean that in evaluating the three-year bachelor’s degree, ACEI will continue with its current position of recognizing the program as equivalent to three years of undergraduate study but not the four-year U.S. bachelor’s degree.

For more on the institutions affected by the UGC directive, please click here:

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO, ACEI


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Free Education in Germany: Dispelling Myths and Misconceptions

October 9th, 2014

German Chancellor Angela Merkel with German Students
Photo credit: AP/Michael Probst

Germany recently announced tuition free higher education across the country for its citizens and international students attending state/public institutions. This news has stirred many here in the U.S. who resorted to posting comments and rants on various social media platforms mocking Germany for its free higher education policy. Dubious and untrusting of anything that is “free,” many posted forecasts of a dark future for any country embarking on the same path; from the loss of academic freedom, to indoctrination, and higher taxes positioning government in charge of dictating curriculum.

Here is a sampling of the comments I gleaned from various online blogs covering Germany’s news:

“Nothing is free. The taxpayers will foot the bill and pay higher taxes because of it. Once tax dollars start paying for college tuition, then the government can start dictating what is taught, and what can’t be taught. I really hope this works out for Germany, but I’m having serious doubts that it will.”

“Actually in the U.S. professors have tons of choice in what they can teach. Whether you believe it or not now, after “free” college is established indoctrination will be a matter of course.”

“I agree with you. Nothing is free and the government dictating what is taught is not an education, it’s a propaganda machine. In addition, deciding lifestyles for your citizens at 14 years of age…no thank you! I’ll pay for my own education!”

Lest we have forgotten, higher education in the U.S., though not 100% free, until the mid-1970’s was very affordable and accessible. The GI Bill and federal grants helped students with the cost of tuition without being burdened with student loan debts on graduation. However, double-digit inflation, an oil embargo, and a sluggish economy replaced federal grants (main source of funding for students from both poor and middle-class households) with private loans. You can read more on this in a blog I wrote on the High Cost of Higher Education.

Let us dispel myths, paranoia and inaccuracies and instead of mocking tuition free education, learn a few facts on the German higher education system:

• About 1.98 million students are currently studying at German institutions of higher education. Almost half of them (48%) are women.

• A total of 376 higher education institutions offer study programs, including 102 universities, 170 universities of applied sciences and 69 private colleges. In recent years, the number of foreign students has significantly increased.

• The German higher education system has many different types of institutions offering diversity to students to select the best course for their needs. Students interested in education with more emphasis on practical knowledge will pursue studies at a university of applied sciences; those interested in theoretical research, attend a university and so forth.

• In total, there are approximately 9,500 different undergraduate programs and a further 6,800 postgraduate degree programs on offer at higher education institutions throughout Germany.

• Due to the federal system in Germany, responsibility for education, including higher education, lies entirely with the individual federal states. The states are responsible for the basic funding and organization of higher education institutions. Each state has its own laws governing higher education. Therefore, the actual structure and organization of the various systems of higher education may differ from state to state.

• Higher education institutions in Germany have a certain degree of autonomy in matters concerning organization and any academic issues. In the last two decades this autonomy has been increasingly broadened to include issues related to human resources and budget control.

It doesn’t appear that institutions of higher education in Germany have had their autonomy usurped by their government. Or, higher taxes have lessened opportunities for its citizens and international students to pursue higher education. In fact, it is the contrary.

We are misdirected if we believe it is government that will meddle in our institutions of higher education. We need to be more concerned about corporate influences and private funds from the likes of the conservative billionaire industrialists, who pledge to donate large sums to publicly funded universities on the condition that they are given the right to interfere in faculty hiring to influence curriculum and promote programs that are in line with their political and economic agenda.

A heated debate is currently underway in Colorado where high school students are protesting a revision in their Advanced Placement History curriculum proposed by a few conservative members of the School Board. The students are demanding to be taught history that in their words is not “white-washed” while the School Board is digging its heels to have the curriculum revised so that the history taught is from the American perspective. According to a report: “The elective course has been criticized by the Republican National Committee and the Texas State Board of Education, which has told teachers not to teach according to the course’s new framework. Being taught for the first time this year, it gives greater attention to the history of North America and its native people before colonization and their clashes with Europeans, but critics say it downplays the settlers’ success in establishing a new nation.”

The past and recent events prove one thing; that we need to be equally concerned at the power and influence private donors and political partisan groups wield on our education system as much as our fear of government meddling and indoctrination.

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO, ACEI


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Helping Students from Conflict Zones Part I – Credentials Evaluation

October 2nd, 2014

Photo credit:

The devastating impact on education brought on by conflict, civil wars, foreign invasions and occupations, and environmental disasters is huge. Each and everyday we hear and read news reports on conflict regions around the world. Displacement of people, the disintegration of infrastructure, destruction of education structures, breakdown of school systems through absence of teachers and unsafe environments for teaching and learning are all direct results of such calamities.

Education that may have been accessible to both sexes and peoples of different religious beliefs, and races prior to the period of conflict may suddenly be permanently disrupted and perhaps even limited by sex, race and religion. Where once women of all ages may have had access to education, that opportunity may be taken away from them during the times of conflict and war.

Civil unrest, wars and environmental disasters lead to displacement of people from their homelands fleeing to safer friendlier (or at times, not so welcoming) neighboring countries giving rise to refugee camps; the numbers of which continue to multiply each day as a new region becomes afflicted with conflict. At times makeshift schools with the help of NGO’s, religious charities and UNICEF are set up in refugee camps offering the displaced children some semblance of normalcy. The Zaatari camp in Jordan is the now the 2nd largest refugee camp in the world with a population approaching 150,000.

Photo credit: WISE – A makeshift school by UNICEF in Zaatari, a
Syrian Refugee camp in Jordan

Some families manage to make their way out of the camps and to countries that allow them entry to settle as political refugees. In most cases, many have fled their homes with little or no belongings, much less their academic transcripts and diplomas. Then there are those who amidst the chaos and conflict choose to remain, unable to leave, trapped in a situation which they cannot control and forced to adjust to the ‘new normal’ as best as they can, given the difficult challenges that have disrupted their lives.

Photo credit: AFP – A Palestinian boy in a shrapnel riddled
school in the Gaza Strip

Photo Credit:Wikipedia – Rocket fired from Gaza hits a
kindergarten classroom in Beer Sheva, Southern Israeli.

How do the international admissions and credential evaluation professionals, assist those who have fled unimaginable circumstances and arrived with the proverbial shirts on their backs? Think Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, Haiti, Palestine, Sudan. One thing to be sure is that these individuals did not arrive in our country with the intention of studying as international students. They are not afforded that luxury which means the regular requirements we have in place whether for admission or evaluation do not apply. They may have financial issues, lack adequate documents that may have been damaged or partially completed because of the conflict, are unable to request their schools or universities to issue official transcripts to be sent elsewhere, or have fraudulent documents, and may even suffer psychologically and physically from the trauma brought on by their experiences.

Academic Credentials
Collect all documents the individual is able to provide; these could be partial transcripts, a certificate or diploma, report cards. If they have the originals, request to have them submitted with the promise they will be returned once reviewed.

Academic History
Request they provide a detailed chronology of their education beginning with their elementary school, with names, address, dates of attendance and any diplomas/certificates they received

Verification of Dates
Check the dates on their educational chronology against documented information you have on file about the country or region in question to see if they corroborate.

Contact In-country Sources
If there is a U.S. Embassy in the country from which your applicant has fled, reach out to the OSEAS Offices or REACs for assistance with verification.

Given the precarious nature of documents from conflict zones, we must exercise due diligence in vetting the information provided and do the best we can. After all, we may never know if the recently arrived refugee on our shores will be the next Albert Einstein or Madeleine Albright. For a list of famous (and not so-famous) refugees making a difference, click on this link:
Famous (and Not-So-Famous) Refugees Making a Difference

Please share your tips and experiences you have had with helping refugee students.

[In Part II of this blog I will offer tips to international admissions officers at U.S. schools and colleges in ways they can help students from conflict zones.]

Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
Jasmin Saidi-Kuehnert
President & CEO, ACEI


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