Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Education Establishment Rebuffs Concerns

A November 2008 headline caught my eye: "Media bias a form of arrogance." In this article, columnist Cal Thomas criticizes the media:

"Journalism is the only profession I know that ignores the wishes of its consumers. If a department store found that most of its customers preferred over-the-calf socks to ankle-length socks, would that store ignore customer preferences for the longer socks because the president of the company preferred the ankle-length style? . Yet journalists have this attitude: 'we know what's good for you, so shut up and take it' . In only the rarest of cases are they confronted with their biases and held accountable" (Thomas, 2008).

Thomas must not have any school-age children. Members of the public-school establishment tend to ignore the wishes of their consumers, too.

* For decades, mathematicians, math professors and advocates have complained about "discovery" teaching styles - yet here we are, awash in discovery teaching styles.

* For decades, they've refuted the effectiveness of reform mathematics - yet here we are, awash in reform curricula.

* For decades, parents have tried to address their concerns with administrators and board members - yet they've been repeatedly and consistently rejected as being uninformed, uneducated, unknowledgeable and alone in their complaints.

On Nov. 5, I went to a Spokane school-board meeting and I asked for five things, including a more traditional track in mathematics. I noted that Spokane's curricula - all reform - have been heavily criticized by mathematicians, parents, math professors and math advocates; that the state and state's math advisory panel are unlikely to recommend these curricula; that it's unlikely the curricula are aligned with the revised state math standards; and that clearly, Spokane's students are having serious problems with basic math skills.

The board president asked a Spokane principal for his reaction to my comments about reform curriculum Investigations in Number, Data, and Space. The principal replied that as soon as the state stopped revising its math standards, teachers would be able to get more deeply into Investigations and then everything would be fine.

Parents . Please don't wait for the establishment to get it together. Find out what your children should know in mathematics, and then either teach it to them or find someone who will. Rise up, speak your mind, demand accountability, insist on respect for your viewpoints, and - failing all else - vote with your feet. Don't be dissuaded by the false reassurances, non-answers and argument fallacies you're likely to receive.

The best way to know how your children are doing is to look at what they know versus what they could and should know at their age. Have them tested by outside sources that emphasize more traditional approaches. Find out what the gaps are (I believe you will be shocked).

All students need phonics. All students need to know long division, multiplication in a vertical format, exponents, fractions, decimals and algebra. They need to know how to show their thinking - not in writing but in mathematical processes. They need to practice basic skills. They need to be able to do arithmetic without a calculator.

Please don't wait for the establishment to get it right. Who knows when that will be? As education policy continues to shift under our feet, we must demand the education that our children require and deserve. I'm afraid we're going to have to fight for it.

More here

An Interview with Diane Ravitch: Some Current Concerns Post Election

1) Diane, you have recently published some great pieces about education. I would like you to briefly summarize two. First, you wrote a piece about school systems paying kids for good grades. What in your mind is problematic with this procedures ( and let it be said that I agree with you) and what do you think would be the long term ramifications and repercussions of this practice?

The idea of paying kids to show up to school and to take tests and to get higher scores is spreading. To me, this is objectionable on many grounds, not least because studies by social scientists like Edward Deci and Barry Schwartz (Swarthmore) have shown that when the money stops, the motivation stops. It also corrupts education, because most teachers recognize that they are trying to inspire internal motivation, so that kids keep reading and learning even when there is no one watching or rewarding them. It is a sad renunciation of one of the goals of education to pay kids to do what they ought to do for their own sake without being paid.

2) Do you think anything is wrong with giving smiley faces and stickers and stars and the like for exemplary work?

I see nothing wrong with honors and stickers. That's not different from giving kids grades to recognize their hard work. Yes, we should give grades and we should praise the kids who do their work diligently. That's different, to me, from paying kids to show up, to take tests, and to raise their scores.

3) Do you think paying kids for good grades REALLY makes an appreciable difference?

No. There is no evidence that it does. Since the brain behind this program, Professor Roland Fryer of Harvard University, plans to evaluate the programs he designed, I will not be comfortable until there is external, independent evaluation. Even then, I am willing to bet (dollars, not stickers) that the motivation ends when the money ends. And since we are entering a period of tightened budgets, these programs are unlikely to last much longer. Imagine having to choose between smaller classes and paying kids to get higher scores.

4) Do the schools of education in America not do enough to teach courses on motivation? I don't know.

The fact that this nonsense is spreading (DC, NYC and Chicago) suggests that the education schools are not raising enough of a protest.

5) Now, turning to the results of the election and Obama's agenda for education. Do you think he will be able to deliver on what he promises?

The economic crisis is likely to curtail some of his promises. He will have to make choices.

6) Is there any single area that needs to be focused on in education?

Well, first, get NCLB fixed, if indeed it is fixable. Then, concentrate on improving pre-K and making it more widely available with higher quality.

7) Any single thing that needs to be changed in terms of NCLB?

There are many things that need to be changed, including its punitive spirit, but a good place to start is to eliminate the absurd goal that all children will be "proficient" by 2014. Never happened, won't happen, demoralizes good teachers, principals and schools. And this target, which is out of reach, will cause a huge increase in the number of "failing" schools year by year.

8) As we enter the year 2009, what are the main challenges that we face in education and how would YOU advise our President -elect to deal with them?

I agree with the statement issued by the group called "Broader, Bolder Agenda," which recommended that we take action on the array of social and economic burdens that limit the educational opportunities of so many children. There is much to be done, and one place to start is to recognize that schools operate in a wider environment, and need help to improve the lives of children. NCLB has become a problem in its own right, has turned too many schools into test-prep factories, and has seriously undermined the meaning of what education is and should be.


No comments: