Thursday, July 09, 2009

Sociology Turns Up Assessment

I taught in a sociology school for many years and I got the impression that it was acquisition of Leftist attitudes rather than acquisition of knowledge that was the main thing. Marx was certainly always spoken of with reverence and debates over "what Marx really meant" were perennial. I somehow never heard any mention of what Marx said about Jews, though

The question of how to measure learning -- and if it can or should be measured at all -- continues to stir debate. But despite skeptics' grumblings, sociology departments are increasingly using assessment methods to evaluate students' experiences, according to a new study by the American Sociological Association.

The survey, administered in 2008, drew responses from 549 departments or programs that offer a minimum of a bachelor's degree in sociology. Over all, the number of departments that perform some types of assessment of student learning rose by about 10 percent between 2001, the last year the study was conducted, and 2007. Most sociology departments continued to use student surveys, senior theses or projects, and exit interviews, in that order, according to the report.

Other assessment methods saw major increases. Twenty-nine percent of sociology departments reported using externally created exams in 2006-7, up from 18 percent in 2000-1. (In contrast, exams that departments themselves created to measure what their students had learned dropped in usage by about 9 percent.) External exams include the Major Field Test in Sociology, which was offered at nearly 120 institutions between August 2006 and June 2008, according to the Educational Testing Service.

"It's more and more generally considered a norm of higher education that you need to assess the outcomes of the students who go through colleges or universities," said Roberta Spalter-Roth, a co-author of the study and director of the American Sociological Association's research and development department. "On other hand, there appears to certainly be a group -- I'm not positive how substantial -- who think that assessment is an invasion into their professional autonomy, who feel that increasingly teachers have less control over what's happening in the university, who think it's a parody of social science research."

In spite of such criticism, departments reported a 12 percent increase in "other" assessment methods different from those asked about in the surveys. That figure probably includes capstone courses, in which sociology students work on a research project and try to synthesize all they have learned, Spalter-Roth said.

Meanwhile, nearly three-quarters of sociology departments reported either undergoing major curriculum revisions in the last five years or intending to do so within the next two years. These changes include using methods and statistics in every class rather than in separate classes, as well as saving specialized courses for the end of the major program, Spalter-Roth said. The survey did not gather information about the reasons behind these revisions.

The association's report raises interesting questions about how sociology departments are trying to measure their own quality, but stops short of painting a complete picture, said James Sherohman, a sociology professor and university assessment director at St. Cloud State University. He said he would like to learn more about the quality of student work and see how sociology's results stack up against those of other disciplines.

"It's a little disappointing not to see more change from 2001 to 2007, but on the other hand, you can see there's a lot of assessment going on," he said, adding, "I see this as more of something to provoke discussion and possibly some action in the discipline if we see this as a problem or not."


Leftist discipline phobia brings predictable results in Britain

One teacher a day in hospital after attack

One teacher is hospitalised in England almost every day after being attacked at school, according to new figures. Almost 180 staff were forced to spend three days at home or working outside the classroom following a serious physical assault, it is disclosed. At least one-in-10 attacks involved teachers working in nursery or primary schools. Many resulted in "major injuries", including broken bones, dislocations, burns or even loss of sight.

It is feared the true scale of assaults may be significantly higher amid claims only a fraction are ever reported for fear of harming a school's reputation.

The latest disclosure was made in figures published by the Department for Children, Schools and Families. Bob Spink, the independent MP, who obtained the data in a Parliamentary question, said: "Teachers can hardly draw breath without being attacked or falling victim to a false allegation. All political parties pay a lot of lip service to the issue of discipline without carrying it through. If head teachers and governors were allowed to focus on getting discipline right then many other problems in our schools would be a lot easier to solve."

According to figures, 176 school staff suffered injuries "involving acts of violence" in 2007/8, the latest available data. The school year is normally 190 days. This included 17 injuries suffered by nursery or primary teachers and 33 staff who worked in special schools. In total, 26 attacks resulted in major injuries and 150 kept staff away from ordinary duties for three days or more. The figures came from data collected by the Health and Safety Executive.

Earlier this year, a teacher was awarded £280,000 in compensation after being attacked by a pupil at a Nottingham special school. The 13-year-old jumped on her back - placing her in a headlock - causing her to fall and injure her back and head. Sharon Lewis, who was 26 at the time of the assault in 2004, was forced to quit the profession after suffering nerve damage and post-traumatic stress disorder.

It came as research by the NASUWT union suggested nine-in-10 physical assaults in schools were never reported.

The Government insisted behaviour in schools was improving. Vernon Coaker, the Schools Minister, said ministers were introducing new requirements on schools to record incidents of bullying between pupils and verbal and physical assaults on staff. "We will also consult on whether schools should also be required to report these records to their local authority, and whether they should be required to record and report these incidents by type where the incident is motivated by a particular form of prejudice [for example] as racist, homophobic bullying incidents," he said. "


Fruitcake economist teaching at an Australian university

Population increase is going to lead to an increase in demand for housing -- and what does increased demand do in the face of a restricted amount of available housing land? It pushed UP the prices. Real estate values in desirable places ALWAYS increase over the long term. UWS should persuade him to shut up for the sake of their reputation

CONTROVERSIAL economist Steve Keen has refused to back down from his doomsday prediction that house prices in Australia will almost halve over a decade despite growing evidence to the contrary.

Nine months after his dire prediction that property prices will fall by 40 per cent over 10 years, fellow economists have pronounced Professor Keen - who was held up as one of the few commentators to see the global economic downturn coming - "spectacularly wrong" on his outlook for the housing market.

Professor Keen, an associate professor of economics and finance at the University of Western Sydney, was so convinced the bottom would fall out of the housing market that he sold his two-bedroom apartment in the inner-city Sydney suburb of Surry Hills in October last year to avoid financial pain from the predicted downturn.

But an analysis of price trends in Surry Hills suggests that had Professor Keen held on to the apartment, he would have realised a capital growth of about 7 per cent, The Australian reports. According to property data agency Residex, the apartment market in Surry Hills experienced an average capital growth rate of 7.08 per cent in the year to May.

But Professor Keen insisted yesterday that Australia was on the cusp of a prolonged depression "in which house prices will fall as collateral damage".


8 July, 2009

Education secretary Duncan challenges NEA on teacher pay

Education Secretary Arne Duncan challenged members of the National Education Association Thursday to stop resisting the idea of linking teacher pay to student achievement. It was Duncan's first speech at the union's annual meeting, a gathering at which President Obama was booed when he mentioned the idea of performance pay last year. By contrast, Duncan drew raucous applause and only a smattering of boos.

"I came here today to challenge you to think differently about the role of unions in public education," Duncan told the 3.2 million-member union in San Diego. "It's not enough to focus only on issues like job security, tenure, compensation, and evaluation," he said. "You must become full partners and leaders in education reform. You must be willing to change."

Unions are an important part of the Democrats' political base of support. Duncan, even as he challenged NEA members, promised to include teachers in his decision-making. "We're asking Congress for more money to develop compensation programs with you and for you, not to you," Duncan said.

Duncan described how, as CEO of Chicago public schools, he negotiated a performance pay program with the Chicago Teachers Union, which is part of the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers. An audience member booed the program. "You can boo; just don't throw any shoes, please," Duncan said as the crowd laughed and applauded.

The NEA made an audio feed of the speech available to journalists who did not attend.

The Chicago program is still small; it will be in only about 40 of the city's more than 600 schools next fall. It started with federal dollars from the Teacher Incentive Fund, which the administration wants to drastically expand. The administration asked Congress to boost spending from $97 million this year to $717 million next year.

But Obama may face resistance. Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray, a member of the powerful Senate Appropriations Committee, challenged Duncan at a hearing last month on whether there is any evidence that performance pay improves student achievement. Critics worry that pay might be based mostly on test scores, even though tests can be flawed and not all subjects are tested. Some states prohibit test scores from being used to evaluate teachers.

Duncan said test scores should never be the driving force. "But to remove student achievement entirely from evaluation is illogical and indefensible," he said.

Duncan has made a series of speeches that challenge education groups on Obama's priorities, though Thursday's was the first with a potentially hostile crowd. Duncan may have gotten a warmer response than Obama because teachers are more comfortable now with the administration, said NEA president Dennis Van Roekel. "The real message was that there is far more we agree on than disagree on," Van Roekel said. "Another message he delivered clearly was that he's willing to be in a partnership with us."


Coverup of bullying at a British government grade school

Dinner lady faces dismissal for telling parents about attack on daughter

A dinner lady is facing the sack for breaching “pupil confidentiality” after she blew the whistle on school bullies. Chloe David, seven, was tied up and whipped with a skipping rope by fellow pupils at Great Tey Primary School in Essex. Her parents, Scott and Claire David, received a letter from the school which said only that Chloe had been hurt by some other children. It did not mention that she had been tied up.

Carol Hill, who serves food at the school, told Mr and Mrs David the full story of their daughter’s ordeal. “She had eight knots around her wrists and had been whipped across the legs with a skipping rope,” she said. “I took her into the school, along with the four boys who had been seen with her. Two admitted it,” she told the Colchester Gazette.

But Mrs Hill, 60, has now been suspended while the school investigates if she is guilty of gross misconduct for discussing a pupil outside of school. Mrs Hill saw Chloe’s mother shortly after the incident. “As I was talking to her I said I was really sorry about what had happened and then it became clear she did not know the whole story. “I had to tell her because she then realised there was more to it.”

Mrs David said she was angry she had not been invited to school to discuss what had happened, especially as the parents of those accused had been called in for a meeting. “The headteacher had written a note saying Chloe had been hurt by some other children and she was sure she would tell me all about it, but I should have been told the full story,” Mrs David said.

Chloe and her brother Cameron, five, have been taken out of the school by her parents. “I could not send her back, as I can only think about her being tied up,” Mrs David said. Her husband has informed police about the incident.

The school says that Mrs Hill should not have discussed a pupil outside school. Debbie Crabb, headteacher at the school, confirmed that an incident took place during the school lunchtime. “The matter is being dealt with internally in accordance with our behavioural policy and all the relevant parties have been informed. “It would not be appropriate to discuss this in any further detail.”


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