Thursday, December 23, 2004


Selectivity provides good grades but the grades are achieved despite don't-care adminstration

One of NSW's oldest boarding schools, Hurlstone Agricultural High School, maintains "traditions of bullying and preferencing" where senior students claim privileges over younger ones, a Department of Education review has found. The presumed right of older boarders to the first use of facilities meant that younger students were "preferenced" out of using the laundry and "could not ensure basic hygiene". Supervising teachers had also turned a blind eye to boarders using alcohol and possessing pornographic material. In extreme cases parents had removed their children after receiving an inadequate school response to complaints of physical and psychological harm.

It is the second scathing assessment of the boarding house since May. The latest report suggests cutting the year 7 intake by one-third over the next six years to allow for "cultural change". The review of the government selective school in Glenfield, ordered in August by the department's director-general, Andrew Cappie-Wood, found Hurlstone's 947 students had excellent academic results despite teachers paying little attention to the wealth of student performance data available. "There appeared to be little use of data to improve programs or identify areas for improved teaching," the review said. Some subject faculties had a "particular resistance" to using value-added data, the standard measure of how schools improve students' results over their years of study. The review recommended a shake-up of the school's discipline, welfare and assessment policies and said teachers who wanted to leave should be given priority transfers.

Mr Cappie-Wood said the review was "signalling a change" needed in the school. Teachers who "don't feel comfortable with those changes" might take up the rare priority transfer option. "It clearly is stating that if Hurlstone is to maintain that proud tradition, then things are going to have to be done," Mr Cappie-Wood said yesterday. "But what comes through in talking to the kids is they feel the school is serving them well and they really like the school." He said the issues in the boarding house, which now accommodates 287 students, were "clearly a concern".

Parents complained to the review team of a lack of specialised teaching for gifted students and that too many students were taking the easier HSC subjects. Nevertheless, the academic results were "sound and above state average" for the School Certificate, HSC and other external tests. Hurlstone also compared well against a random sample of other selective school students. Mr Cappie-Wood said the lesson for all schools from the review was to make better use of student results data. These should also be shared with parents to build confidence and pride. "The diagnostic tools that are available are extremely good and getting better every year," he said.

The review found that a vicious student website discovered in July was not initially reported as a "critical incident", as required under departmental policy, because staff felt it was "the technological version of graffiti painted on walls". The website - the third set up by Hurlstone students in the past two years - named teachers as pedophiles, thieves and drunks, recommending that two be "executed" and another set alight



This is the best explanation that I have yet heard for the criminal way literacy is mostly taught -- or not taught -- these days

My old guitar teacher has a saying: "You can educate yourself into boredom."... What he means is that you can study the classical guitar repertoire so thoroughly and for so many years that you simply become bored with it.... The same phenomenon may explain why so many education professors (and hence public school teachers) gravitate towards trendy educational methods that deny children a good foundation in reading. Not necessarily because of ill-will, stupidity, or ignorance. Boredom is the thing to look for.

As Professor Plum (a pseudonym for an education professor at a major university) writes on his blog, there is no mystery about how to teach children to read. What works is making sure that children are rigorously and systematically instructed in the basics: letter identification, sounding out phonemes (i.e., phonics), learning how to piece phonemes together into words, and then reading words that are progressively harder:

"[F]aced with quantitative data (1) from four different instruments; (2) measuring achievement (in math, reading, and spelling), self-esteem, and perceived control over one's own learning; (3) with tens of thousands of students; (4) in well over a hundred schools across the country; (5) comparing outcomes yielded by nine kinds of curricula, systematic and explicit instruction did the best for kids in the short-run and long-run. In stark contrast, the so-called child-centered, constructivist, wholistic, teacher-as-facilitator curricula actually worsened the percentile ranking of disadvantaged children in relation to the larger population. "The data meant nothing to the education establishment -- except as a threat."

Instead of settling on what demonstrably works, some education professors have pushed "whole language" instruction, in which children are taught to memorize the forms of whole words, rely on contextual cues, etc. But when they lack the ability to sound out individual letters and sounds, children inevitably run into difficulty whenever they face a word that they have not memorized wholesale. After all, it is hard to read entire words unless you are able to read their components: What six-year-old could distinguish between "phonograph" and "photograph" without sounding out each word's second syllable?

And yet, despite the obvious superiority of rigorous training -- whether in phonics or anything else -- successful methods are not always acknowledged. For example, consider the experience of a kindergarten-through-2d-grade school in Wisconsin: "Lapham [Elementary] bucked the Madison district's reliance on the Balanced Literacy reading program in favor of a grounding in explicit phonics for nearly all first-grade students. The results have been impressive. They have also been ignored." The results are indeed impressive: "In 1998, just 9% of Marquette black third-graders were considered 'advanced' readers, as measured on the third-grade state reading comprehension test; by 2003, 38% were 'advanced.'"

But why would such results be "ignored"? Why would the education establishment be reluctant to rely on something that works? In a word: Boredom. Professional educators have educated themselves into boredom with traditional methods. The tried-and-true methods of teaching children start to feel trite and routine, while newer methods seem more exciting, creative, and trendy -- even if ineffective. Plus, if you're an education professor who must "publish or perish," the most promising prospect is to come up with something new. (There is very little reward in academia for publishing yet another version of the same old thing that was found to work 40 years ago.)

But the purpose of education is not to satisfy education professors' desires for grand, tenure-worthy theories. Nor is the purpose to give teachers a chance to experiment with their own creativity. It would be far closer to the mark to say that education -- at least learning to read -- is about (1) finding a method that works, and then (2) repeating it ad nauseam for every group of children who come through the classroom. Similarly, any obstetrician does her best to deliver babies in a routine and normal fashion; she would never deliver a baby head first just because it was a creative thing to do.

It's a sad state of affairs when educators have become bored with the very methods that are effective. At least when classical composers become bored with beauty and write a piece whose raison d'etre is trendiness, the worst that can happen is that people refuse to listen to it. But when educators reject an effective method because they think it is too mundane or boring, their choice of new and unproven methods can ruin people's lives. As Martin Haberman of the University of Wisconsin notes, "Miseducation is, in effect, a sentence of death carried out daily over a lifetime. It is the most powerful example I know of cruel and unusual punishment and it is exacted on children innocent of any crime."

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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