Saturday, October 10, 2009

Do Kids Need More Time in School?

President Obama recommends shorter summer vacations for U.S. schoolchildren so they can attend school for more days than they do already, because he believes that they’re at a disadvantage compared to students in other countries. His Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, says more school hours will “even the playing field” when it comes to comparing our schoolchildren to those in the rest of the world.

Meanwhile, homeschoolers excel with far fewer hours of instruction than most public schoolchildren receive. So is it really more hours of instruction that schoolchildren need? First off, President Obama’s assertion appears to be inaccurate:
Obama and Duncan say kids in the United States need more school because kids in other nations have more school. “Young people in other countries are going to school 25, 30 percent longer than our students here,” Duncan told the AP. “I want to just level the playing field.”

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days, it’s not true they all spend more time in school. Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests - Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).

Apparently children in the countries that outscore ours in math and science attend school for more days per year but fewer hours per year. So the suggestion by Obama and Duncan that a longer school day results in “gains” (test scores, which do not necessarily equal learning) is not backed up by the foreign countries whose kids outscore ours. They actually have shorter school days.

But if you read the entire article, you find that merely educating kids isn’t really the point anyway. Here are your clues:
The president, who has a sixth-grader and a third-grader, wants schools to add time to classes, to stay open late and to let kids in on weekends so they have a safe place to go. Summer is a crucial time for kids, especially poorer kids, because poverty is linked to problems that interfere with learning, such as hunger and less involvement by their parents. That makes poor children almost totally dependent on their learning experience at school, said Karl Alexander, a sociology professor at Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins University, home of the National Center for Summer Learning.

Aside from improving academic performance, Education Secretary Duncan has a vision of schools as the heart of the community. “Those hours from 3 o’clock to 7 o’clock are times of high anxiety for parents,” Duncan said. “They want their children safe. Families are working one and two and three jobs now to make ends meet and to keep food on the table.”

Do you see it? What we’re talking about here goes way beyond merely educating a child. This is about raising children because their parents have been deemed unable or unwilling. This is about schools becoming publicly subsidized daycare centers for school-age children, even on the weekends.

What it’s not about is how many hours of instruction it takes to educate a child so he can beat the math and science scores of kids in other countries. Homeschoolers have already demonstrated that.


British students stumped by photo of Australian leader

Who is the mysterious man above? Don't ask a British university student. Since there is an endless and heavy traffic of visits to Australia by Brits and visits to Britain by Australians, this degree of ignorance is a good commentary on British education. Australia is one country, Brits SHOULD know about. But it appears that even very bright students know very little

KEVIN Rudd may be on record highs of popularity in Australia, however it appears he has not made much of an impact in the British university scene. In a recent episode of the venerable BBC quiz show University Challenge, the UK's brainiest youths were shown pictures of various leaders of the G20 nations and asked to match them to their home country.

But when a picture of Mr Rudd and his wife Therese Rein was shown first up to the team from St George's College in London, it was met with a wall of silence, until after 13 seconds of nothingness a team member says: "Pass". Then one of his teamamtes meekly offered: "Ukraine?"

With great disdain University Challenge host Jeremy Paxton informed the baffled students that not only was Mr Rudd not Prime Minister of the Ukraine but that the Ukraine was not actually in the G20. Paxton then revealed Mr Rudd's identity to the, perhaps chastened, whiz kids.

The segment came just days after Australia was made a permanent member of the world body - which the Government announced with much fanfare.


University – who needs it?

A former student at a British Polytechnic has won the Nobel Prize. Jasper Gerard sings the praises of a derided institution

The announcement that a polytechnic graduate has been awarded the Nobel Prize for physics has prompted some very British tittering – the sub-text being “weren’t polys meant to train people to become gas fitters, not give them ideas and Nobel Prizes?”

But the triumph of Professor Charles Kao, who graduated from Woolwich Polytechnic with an electrical engineering degree in 1957, should be seen as a tribute to a venerable institution that has enhanced British life. By developing fibre optics and thus ushering in the internet, Kao is the most celebrated alumnus to wear the Woolwich gown; but do not overlook all those, many from poor backgrounds, whose heads left the poly considerably fuller than they entered. It is at least arguable that polytechnic graduates have contributed more to society than those, like me, who attended supposedly grander universities to read waffly arts subjects.

Not that you would have bet on Kao’s future greatness. In an interview with a student magazine, he recalled: “I spent more time on the tennis courts than studying. My social life was busy too, and I met my future wife at one of the student dances I organised. Of course, the failure to study and my over-confidence caught up with me. I failed to achieve first-class honours.”

Woolwich, which opened in 1890, was country’s second polytechnic. “At this time England only had a handful of universities,” says Baroness Blackstone, former education minister, now vice chancellor of the erstwhile poly, re-branded the University of Greenwich.

Woolwich was founded with advice from Quentin Hogg, a sugar merchant, and money from TA Denny, a local merchant. Within a year, 504 students from surrounding south London slums had enrolled on 38 courses, mainly taught at night so they could continue to work in nearby factories. Evangelicals such as Hogg hoped that education would save the working class from its supposedly dissolute ways, especially drunkenness.

Woolwich took over various technical colleges, morphing into Thames Polytechnic and from 1992 rejoicing in university status. This followed John Major’s attempt to heal higher education’s class divide by allowing polytechnics to become universities, thus ending the distinction whereby polys focused on vocational courses.

Whether Woolwich has improved since its elevation is a moot point. The Government was monitoring Greenwich in 2004, and expressing concerns over funding and the influx of foreign students. Kinglsey Amis famously said of university expansion that “more will mean worse”, while Geoffrey Alderman of Buckingham University has claimed that plagiarism goes unpunished in many newer universities which are engaged in a “grotesque bidding game” to award good grades to climb league tables. While Kao’s research gave us the internet, recent Greenwich research has included a study of the perfect mince pie.

Far from hiding Greenwich’s roots, Blackstone claims to nurture them by encouraging research, vocational degrees, part-time learning and mature students. “Polytechnics enabled people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, providing local places to study,” she says. “And when you consider the historical barriers to university, there was as much talent in polytechnics as universities.” She says that Woolwich turned out many who have “achieved considerable status”, particularly in the City.

Greenwich must surely have seemed like the Oxbridge of the poly world. The main campus is the grounds of the Old Royal Naval College, a World Heritage Site and it boasts a Victorian library in Eltham. One of its sites in Medway is described as “ivy clad”. It sounds less Citizen Smith, more Evelyn Waugh.

And perhaps more Nobel. Hopefully Kao’s award will to a reevaluation of these great old institutions.


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