Sunday, October 10, 2004

No way out: "Since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, less than 2 percent of parents nationwide have transferred their children to other public schools. Teachers unions, school administrators, and journalists have argued that the low transfer rates prove parents do not want more choices and that they prefer their local schools. But while parents have more information than ever about the quality of their children's schools, in most cases they still have no way out of a failing institution."


I have just put up here an article written 30 years ago that is still as up-to-date as ever. It makes the case for formal statewide examinations that test knowledge in basic subjects at the end of High School. It points out how other forms of assessment -- sometimes deliberately -- erode educational standards. The equalitarian Leftist ideology that makes teachers opposed to any real objective assessment of student knowledge has in fact been around for a very long time and the article notes that even back in 1955 universities were complaining that they had to spend at least the first year teaching stuff that should have been learnt in High School. But that is almost paradise compared with today, when universities have to teach stuff in the first year that should have been learnt in GRADE school! Even Harvard now has to give 20% of its intake of "Freshers" remedial Math and English classes. Proper public examinations in at least the High School years would certainly help reverse that.


Fire the deadwood, pay more for excellence and cut the barriers to entry

America is engaged in an unconventional conflict that stretches to every corner of the globe. It is being fought on unfamiliar terrain. It demands we rapidly repair old vulnerabilities and develop new skills and strengths. Our nation, which has prevailed in conflict after conflict over several centuries, now faces a stark and sudden choice: adapt or perish.

I'm not referring to the war against terrorism but to a war of skills -- one that America is at a risk of losing to India, China, and other emerging economies. And we're not at risk of losing it on factory floors or lab benches. It's happening every day, all across the country, in our public schools. Unless we transform those schools -- by upgrading our corps of classroom teachers for the next generation -- and do it now, it will soon be too late.

As this global challenge emerges, far too much of the debate has focused on "job outsourcing" -- defined most often as American companies moving jobs to lower cost labor markets in order to improve efficiency. Yet too often this misses the crucial point: American companies don't simply go offshore for inexpensive labor. They are increasingly going abroad to find skills that aren't available, or plentiful, in their own backyard. And at the very same time, foreign companies are not taking market share from U.S. companies simply because they have less expensive workers. Those workers increasingly have equal or better skills........

The trends are also ominous in trade statistics: In recent years, the U.S. global share of high-tech exports has declined while the share from Asian countries other than Japan have climbed to nearly 30%. The trend lines crossed -- maybe once and for all -- around 1994.....

We are fooling ourselves if we believe that tweaking tax rates, training, or trade agreements will turn this tide. The global information economy is here. It is brutal and unforgiving. And here is the hard truth: the layoffs we have experienced to date will pale in comparison to future losses if we fail to awaken to the scope of the crisis and the need for bold solutions that address the problem at its roots.

The only way to ensure we remain a world economic power is by elevating our public schools -- particularly the teachers who lead them -- to the top tier of American society. We have treated teaching as a second-rate profession for decades -- with sub-par compensation, antiquated training, and arcane systems of accountability. It's designed for the industrial age, not the age of information and innovation.....

So we believe it's finally time to pay teachers much more. But at the very same time, we have to pay them more intelligently -- once and for all breaking the inane, outdated salary schedules that fail to offer more money to teachers with math and science skills, and fail to recognize and reward excellence.

We believe it's time to make teaching an attractive, accessible profession for the most talented and motivated Americans, no matter what their formal training, by breaking down the bureaucratic barriers to entry that can keep Ph.D.s, even Nobel Prize winners, out of public school classrooms. And we believe it's time to give principals, who are charged with leading schools to excellence, the authority they need to hire and fire their staff. Without that power, accountability is a cruel joke.

More here


Lots of Israelis speak Arabic. Why not import some?

Three years after terrorists struck the United States, enrollment in Arab-language courses across the nation is booming and colleges are working to meet growing student interest in Middle Eastern studies and government demand for Arabic speakers. Arabic is now the fastest-growing foreign language on the nation's college campuses and one of the most requested classes for students looking for careers in military intelligence, translating and homeland security jobs. "I have students who want to go into the FBI, CIA and NSA (National Security Agency)," said Paul Sprachman, vice director for undergraduate studies at Rutgers University's Center for Middle Eastern Studies. "People see it as a future and they are intensely interested."

Statistics gathered by the Modern Language Association, a national professional organization for language and literature teachers, showed enrollment in Arabic classes had nearly doubled to 10,596 students between 1998 and 2002, its latest survey year. At Rutgers, enrollment in Arabic and Persian language courses is up nearly 50 percent. The program enrolled 230 students this semester, making the school's Arabic program one of the largest on the East Coast. Rutgers turned away about 20 students this semester because it cannot add Arabic classes fast enough, Sprachman said. At Princeton University, enrollment in the Arabic program has quadrupled since the terrorist attacks. The program now enrolls about 83 students, though only a dozen take advanced-level classes.

The current shortage of fluent Arabic speakers is hurting American intelligence. Last week, the U.S. Dept. of Justice released a report outlining a severe backlog of terrorism-related recordings and documents that have not been translated, at least in part because the FBI does not have enough qualified linguists. More than 120,000 hours of intercepted phone calls, conversations and other intelligence recordings remained untranslated as of April, according to the report. The FBI has made an effort to add linguists since 9/11, but the current staff of 1,200 still can't cover the work. FBI Director Robert Mueller said improvements need to be made to the translation program. "We are giving this effort the highest priority," he said in a statement.

President Bush's administration put out an urgent call for more Arabic speakers after 9/11 and the Army began advertising for Arabic-speaking recruits. Corporations and news organizations also began searching for people who could communicate in the Middle East. However, there was far more demand than fluent speakers. Part of the problem is that Arabic, Farsi and other Middle Eastern languages are among the hardest to learn. Arabic is a Category IV language, equivalent in difficulty for English-speaking students to learn as Chinese and Japanese. Foreign language experts say it takes twice as long to master Arabic as French or Italian, classified as Category I languages.

More here.


For greatest efficiency, lowest cost and maximum choice, ALL schools should be privately owned and run -- with government-paid vouchers for the poor and minimal regulation.

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