Friday, October 28, 2005

How Do We Get Students Ready for College?

A lament frequently heard by college professors is that many incoming students are not ready for college-level work. Even though what passes for “college-level work” isn’t what it used to be at many institutions, professors still report that their students struggle with reading, writing, and basic math. (Lest one think that such laments are only heard at unselective, fourth-tier schools, Patrick Allitt’s book I’m the Teacher, You’re the Student, which recounts Professor Allitt’s difficulties in teaching American history at Emory University, will serve as an antidote.) The question is, what can be done about this problem?

In the October 14 issue of The Chronicle of Higher Education, Charles B. Reed (chancellor of the Cal State system) and Kristin Conklin (a program director at the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices) address that question (“Enrolling in College, Ready or Not”). Reed and Conklin write,

After they are admitted, students must meet institutional placement standards, measured by tests that colleges require them to take. Most of those tests focus on language skills like critical reading and writing, as well as mathematics, because those skills are the foundation of further learning. If a student can’t meet certain standards, he or she must take remedial or developmental education before moving on to regular college-level course work.

Quite true, but many students who manage to pass the placement tests still have serious academic deficits, and it is an article of faith that passing a semester in remedial (“developmental” is a lovely euphemism, but I decline to use it) English or math will suffice to get a student ready for regular college studies.

The authors recognize that the solution to the problem does not lie within higher education, but rather in the years that precede it. K-12 academic standards have been eroding for years, thanks to the “best practice” notions widely taught in American education schools. Required reading on that depressing subject includes Rita Kramer’s Ed School Follies, Martin Rochester’s Class Warfare, and Cherie Pierson Yecke’s The War Against Excellence. Today, your typical high-school graduate believes that school is just a rather boring, obligatory use of his time that is tolerable only because it leads to the paper credentials necessary to unlock the door to high-paying employment. Put a lot of young people with that attitude in a classroom and a professor has little choice but to water down the material and make sure he keeps the kids entertained. On that point, one more book to read—Generation X Goes to College by Peter Sacks.

Here is what Reed and Conklin propose: “[E]ach state needs to agree on one consistent set of readiness standards for all public higher education within that state. Otherwise schoolteachers and students cannot have a clear, focused view of what being prepared for college means and how to achieve that.” A quintessentially bureaucratic approach—have public officials come up with a set of standards.

It isn’t by accident that government schooling is the way it is. Millions of teachers are doing things exactly as they believe they should—and want to. The soft, undemanding approach to education suits most of them perfectly. Why, for example, is it now rare to find a teacher who will take a red (or purple or any other color) pen to a student essay and give it severe, line-by- line scrutiny? Without that, students simply won’t learn to write well. Alas, the idea that there are rules for good writing is now regarded by writing theorists as the stuff of Neanderthals. And besides that, grading essays takes a lot of time and criticizing the way students write is apt to upset them . Even if the teacher were capable of giving students a useful writing critique (something we should not assume), it’s much easier not to bother.

State “college readiness” standards are bound to become a political game in which the end-product will be an impressive-sounding document that won’t accomplish anything. The officials and interest groups involved will find a way to say that students need to be proficient in English and math that will take up enough pages to justify all the time that went into writing the document. Whatever the standards ultimately say, the teaching of the 3Rs will continue pretty much as it has in the past. Public education, after all, is not like a business where people need to worry about losing their jobs if they don’t perform.

Speaking of public education (or more accurately, government schooling), the complaints about students who are not college-ready almost always pertain to those who have spent their K-12 years in government schools. Most children who have either attended private schools or who have been home-schooled are well prepared for anything college professors throw at them. Sometimes, in fact, those students find that college courses are too simple and boring. Private schools don’t have elaborate standards for “college readiness,” nor do parents who home-school. Somehow, though, the results are much better when the focus is on learning rather than on meeting bureaucratic standards.

Several years ago the writer Jonathan Rauch made the case for “enlightened defeatism” with respect to big government. Much as I want to hope that somehow government schooling will change its stripes and start graduating lots of students who are eager and well equipped to learn in college, I strongly suspect that enlightened defeatism is in order about that. No matter what conferences are held and what standards are written, freshman classes at most colleges and universities will continue to be largely composed of “disengaged students,” as Professor Paul Trout calls them. (See his article “Disengaged Students and the Decline of Academic Standards,” Academic Questions, Spring 1997.)

For decades educational “progressives” have been promoting the idea that institutions need to adjust to the supposed needs and desires of the students. That is the implicit message in all the talk about “learning styles” and “multiple intelligences”—schools must conform to their students. To suddenly do an about-face and insist that students and teachers must adjust to some definite set of college-readiness standards is simply too jarring to imagine.


British schools 'should be allowed to punish disruptive pupils'

What an original thought!

TeachersS must be given explicit legal rights to punish pupils and to restrain unruly children by "reasonable force", ministers will be told today. A government task force on behaviour in schools will say that present powers to maintain discipline are too vulnerable to legal challenge. It will also press for schools to be given rights to seek orders from magistrates against any parents who are unwilling to co-operate with teachers. "Some parents and carers need to be challenged to take their responsibilities seriously," the report by 13 senior head teachers will say.

The group will call on Ruth Kelly, the Education Secretary, to introduce a national charter that will spell out the rights and duties of parents, pupils and teachers in keeping order in schools. Ms Kelly set up the behaviour task force this year to bring forward proposals for enforcing "zero tolerance" of indiscipline and classroom disruption. The group, led by Sir Alan Steer, the headmaster of Seven Kings High School, in Ilford, Essex, will publish its recommendations today. Details were leaked to The Times Educational Supplement.

The task force said that teachers' powers to act "in loco parentis" against unruly pupils were open to challenge. It said: "The Government should introduce a single, new piece of legislation to make clear the overall right to discipline pupils."

It welcomed the Violent Crime Reduction Bill, which gives head teachers the power to search pupils for weapons without their consent, but said that additional powers might be necessary to enable them to search pupils for stolen property and drugs.

The recommendations come two days after David Bell, the head of Ofsted, reported a slight improvement in behaviour at schools in his annual report. However, he said that disruption remained "a major problem" for some secondary schools.

When Sir Alan met Tony Blair to discuss the work of his task force, he told the Prime Minister: "We do not want to produce a report that just ends up in the filing cabinet." The report recommends changes to procedures for dealing with disruptive pupils. Parents should retain the right to appeal to an independent panel against a school's decision to expel their child. But panels should be prevented from reinstating pupils on procedural technicalities. The task force said that all schools should develop policies on the use of mobile phones by pupils. The National Union of Teachers backed the recommendations


Sticking to the book

Books are better for student study than digital detritus

Yesterday The Sydney Morning Herald quoted HSC students denouncing critics of Year 12 English courses - we think they meant us. Apparently because "the media lies" it is important for young people to know what the reptiles of the press are up to, the students said. Presumably by studying episodes of the D-Generation's Frontline TV series, which is on the NSW syllabus. Or the book jacket that students in that state can study. Not the book, just the cover and publisher's blurb. Or any of the modern movies that are on course lists around the country. Or blogs and other digital resources, including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission website - which is also set for study in NSW, even though the organisation no longer exists.

Using literature to learn how to critically analyse what authors are up to should be a core component of any English course. But the world is not short of good books suited for the task. Books - not blogs, not digital ephemera, but books, the artefacts that really inquisitive students will find behind the paperback cover set for study. Reading a whole book takes time and discipline, and it is about the best way imaginable to learn how to analyse authorial intent and interpret their arguments.

But all that examining the ATSIC site will do is expose students to propaganda from an organisation that in the end represented only itself. There are all sorts of objective sources that set out the condition of indigenous Australians that could be provided to support any of the many books by Aboriginal authors about the poison of racial prejudice. The study of ATSIC is irrelevant. And The Australian believes that studying the D-Generation for advanced English courses betrays the educational interests of students and will appal parents who want kids to develop a love of literature. And if students are really interested in analysing the motives of powerful organisations, here is a question to critically consider: "The study of senior school English is shaped by a contempt for the Western canon and a belief held by education theorists that all texts are equal. Discuss."

The above is an editorial from "The Australian" newspaper (a national daily) of 22 October


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.

The NEA and similar unions worldwide believe that children should be thoroughly indoctrinated with Green/Left, feminist/homosexual ideology but the "3 R's" are something that kids should just be allowed to "discover"

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