Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Black Education Disaster in America

Black kids learnt a lot more in the high discipline schools of the past, so improvement is possible if the right learning environment is provided

Walter E. Williams

Harvard University Professor Stephan Thernstrom's recent essay, "Minorities in College---Good News, But...," in Minding the Campus (11/4/10), a website sponsored by the New York-based Manhattan Institute, commented on the results of the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress test: The scores "mean that black students aged 17 do not read with any greater facility than whites who are four years younger and still in junior high. ... Exactly the same glaring gaps appear in NAEP's tests of basic mathematics skills."

Thernstrom asks, "If we put a randomly-selected group of 100 eighth-graders and another of 100 twelfth-graders in a typical college, would we expect the first group to perform as well as the second?" In other words, is it reasonable to expect a college freshman of any race with the equivalent of an eighth-grade education to compete successfully with those having a twelfth-grade education?

SAT scores confirm the poor education received by blacks. In 2009, average SAT reading test scores were: whites (528), Asians (516) and blacks (429). In math it was whites (536), Asians (587) and blacks (426). Twelve years of fraudulent primary and secondary education received by most blacks are not erased by four or five years of college.

This is evidenced by examination scores taken for admission to graduate schools. In 2007, Graduate Record Examination verbal scores were: whites (493), Asians (485) and blacks (395). The math portion scores were: whites (562), Asians (617) and blacks (419). Scores on the LSAT in 2006, for admission to law school, were: whites (152), Asians (152) and blacks (142). In 2010, MCAT scores for admission to medical schools were: whites (26), Asians (26) and blacks (21).

What's some of the response of the black community to efforts to do something about fraudulent primary and secondary education? Voters in Washington, D.C., might provide a partial answer. Mayor Adrian Fenty appointed and backed Michelle Rhee as chancellor of D.C. Public Schools.

She fired large numbers of ineffective teachers, most of whom were black, and fought the teachers' union. During her tenure, there were small gains made in student test scores.

How did all of this go over with Washington voters? Washington's teachers' union, as well as D.C.'s public-employee unions, spent massive amounts of money campaigning against Fenty. Voters unseated him in the November elections and with him went Chancellor Rhee. Fenty had other "faults"; he didn't play the racial patronage game that has become a part of D.C.'s political landscape. The clear message given by D.C. voters and teachers' union is that any politician who's willing to play hardball in an effort to improve black education will be run out of town.

The education establishment's solution is always more money; however, according to a Washington Post article (4/6/2008), "The Real Cost Of Public Schools," written by Andrew J. Coulson, if we include its total operating budget, teacher retirement, capital budget and federal funding, the D.C. public schools spend $24,600 per student.

Washington's fraudulent black education is by no means unique; it's duplicated in one degree or another in most of our major cities. However, there is a glimmer of hope in the increasing demand for charter schools and educational vouchers. This movement is being fought tooth and nail by an education establishment that fears the competition and subsequent threats to their employment. The charter school and the educational vouchers movement will help prevent parents and children who care about education from being held hostage in an environment hostile to the learning process. And there's plenty of evidence that children do better and parents are more pleased when they have a measure of school choice.

The fact that black youngsters trail their white counterparts by three or four years becomes even more grim when we recognize that the education white youngsters receive is nothing to write home about.

According to the recently released Program for International Student Assessment exam, our 15-year-olds rank 25th among 34 industrialized nations in math and 14th in reading.


Distance Learning Students Make Performance Gains

Probably because they are more motivated

Post-secondary students who take online “distance learning” classes outperform their peers who work face-to-face with teachers in a physical classroom, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Online Learning and Teaching.

The study by Mickey Shachar and Yoram Neumann could aid efforts to extend learning opportunities to students in rural communities and others—for example, whose parents want them to be able to work at their own schedule and pace—via remote technology instead of building and equipping expensive new schools for small or remote populations.

“For many years distance learning was treated as the stepchild of higher education,” said Neumann, now president and CEO of United States University in National City, California. “Now we have verifiable proof and results that distance learners outperform their traditional counterparts.”

The duo’s “meta-study” examined studies comparing the academic achievement of postsecondary students over two decades, between 1990 and 2009. “We found that in 70 percent of the cases, distance learning students outperformed their traditional counterparts,” Neumann said, “and in the past seven years, when distance learning was mainly using the online modality, the online learning students outperformed their counterparts in 84 percent of the cases.”

Shachar and Neumann’s conclusions come as no surprise to Michael Ritter, a faculty member at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point who teaches geography and meteorology courses online. He featured Shachar and Neumann’s study on his blog “The Digital Professor.” “Distance education is simply education that occurs when the instructor and student are physically separated from one another.” Ritter said. “Hence there may be no pedagogically significant difference.”

However, Ritter added, virtual classrooms come without many of the distractions of a bricks-and-mortar school building, even with a teacher right there to focus on a student. “I’m less distracted when teaching in a synchronous online environment than in a classroom of 80 students,” Ritter said. “I, and other students, don’t have the distraction of those who are not paying attention to the class activity and possibly disrupting the learning process.”

“I’m finding it’s easier to provide one-on-one help in an online environment,” Ritter said. “Though I have to set boundaries on my time, students are able to get help much quicker in an online environment than having to physically show up at my office.”

Neumann says distance teaching doesn’t just allow for more focus—it demands it. “I found from my own experience that online learning requires much more discipline, in terms of focused leadership, design, and planning,” he said. The result is that distance learning tends to feature “a major emphasis on learning outcomes, accountability, timely feedback, and continuous student engagement in the learning process itself.”

The study didn’t look at the performance of distance learners in elementary and secondary schools, and Neumann declined to speculate whether the postsecondary results have implications for younger grades. “I am not in a position to offer any prediction,” he said.

Ritter, however, says he thinks the results could be similar in K-12. “For the most part I do, so long as there is on-site guidance by a parent,” he said. “The most difficult aspect of distance education is keeping students on task.”

In their study, Schachar and Neumann suggest policymakers should consider distance learning as an option in dealing with tight education budgets and growing market demand.

“The improvements of technology, the widespread Internet access, the increased legitimacy of online learning within established universities and employers, and the increased participation of adult learners in higher education with clear preferences toward learning anytime and anywhere will further drive future improvements in the quality of distance learning programs,” they wrote.

That money, though, will come with oversight and regulations. It will also attract the attention of educators and others who stand to be affected by changes in their job requirements.

Paul E. Peterson, director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University and author of Saving Schools: From Horace Mann to Virtual Learning, says it would “be a shame” for policymakers “to use this difficult economic environment to suppress the growth of online learning.”

Although Peterson says he doesn’t oppose regulation, he worries overregulation would undermine the cost savings and other benefits of distance learning programs. “There’s going to have to be some regulation,” Peterson said. “The question is whether it will be attentive to genuine pedagogical objectives or whether it’s going to get captured by unions, and they’re going to say, ‘OK, you’ve got to have X number of people teaching the course, or involved in the instruction part so we can save jobs.’ That would be the bad thing that could happen.”

Peterson warns that opponents of online learning may go too far, too fast. “They can’t win when people begin to see the cost savings and the possibilities of distance learning,” he said.

Ritter says he’s hopeful for change. “Though changing at some public institutions, I’ve found reticence on the part of some administrators, and everything from ambivalence to outright hostility by faculty to the idea of teaching online,” he said. “It is clear from recent data that there is a demand for online learning. If the same outcomes can be achieved with a delivery system that students want, policymakers must take notice.”


Bible study opens door to mastering literature

David Hastie, commenting from Australia

In this yuletide Tony Abbott went on record again as regarding the Bible as essential for all Australian schools. "It is important for people to leave school with some understanding of the Bible," he responded to a question from the floor at his Penrith community forum on November 29. "It is impossible to imagine our society without the influence of Christendom."

Abbott stated a similar position in December 2009, drawing the ire of ACT Labor Senator Kate Lundy, prominent Muslim academic Ameer Ali and Australian Education Union federal president, Angelo Gavrielatos, who stated: " ultimately we consider it a private matter for parents and their children". Is it?

In my role as an English and history teacher, rather than as a person of faith, I am convinced we disadvantage our public school students by not acquainting them with the meta-structures, motifs and moral queries of the Abrahamic scriptures. And I am not alone.

Cantankerous atheist Christopher Hitchens declared in 2006: "You are not educated if you don't know the Bible. You can't read Shakespeare or Milton without it . . . And with the schools now, that's what I hate about secular relativism. They're afraid of insurance liability. They don't even teach it as a document. They stay out of the whole thing to avoid controversy."

Indeed, when studying literature, children now in Australian faith-based schools (about 32 per cent of total enrolments, and much higher in senior secondary) enjoy a significant advantage over their state-school peers. Shakespeare, Donne, Milton, Dickens, Bronte (both), George Eliot, Hopkins, Hardy, T.S.Eliot, Steinbeck, Beckett, Yeats, Plath, Golding, Attwood and many, many others, require more than a passing knowledge of the Abrahamic Old and New Testaments.

The necessary time taken to induct students unfamiliar with them when studying literature is time saved in faith-based schools.

And it's not just Western texts: post-colonial writers such as Rushdie, Allende, Marquez, Neruda and lots more are infused with biblical material. Emerging Australian "canons" - Hart, Murray, Winton, Harwood, Dawe, Keneally and so forth - are also littered with biblical plot lines and motifs. With the shift of the New Australian English Curriculum back to a more "canonical" approach to teaching literature, this inequity is only set to intensify.

Similarly in teaching history, ancient religion is extra weird for students who can't access the language and categories of our own Western (even secular) religiosity.

So too medieval and renaissance history, the Elizabethan era, the English republic, the Reformation, the post-Christian Enlightenment, the American and French revolutions, anti-slavery movements, Darwin, American civil rights, Australian stolen generations, and political language of the Cold War. These are all intrinsically informed by explanations, motivations and the language of the Bible. The same could be equally said for the study of film, visual art and music.

British educationalist John Hull describes the phenomena of "bafflement" in adolescents: suddenly realising their lived experience contradicts their education. If an institution continues to dogmatically hold the line in such matters, students develop what he terms "learning sickness" or "ideological enclosure", ultimately rejecting what they have learned, along with its institutional context.

Ironically, he was describing fundamentalist religious schools, yet his critique applies to much of Australian state education where religion is concerned, effectively excised from curriculum as a "non-topic". Hence, the master-originating Urtext of the Bible is treated as the "untext".

Yet students continually stumble across it in their novels and history lessons, in their homes, in public debate, in geopolitics, in the playground, and become baffled by the contradiction.

Certainly, religious proselytising is inappropriate through the state curriculum: parents thus inclined can send their child to a faith-based school. But vital cultural knowledge is vital to the universal "public guarantee".

Narratives and motifs of Abrahamic scriptures form a vitally significant mythic text for Western civilisation, and are also important for Jewish and Islamic civilisations.

After all, curriculum is always about what is deemed as important. Existing Australian English curricula, and the New Australian English Curriculum, for example, rightly regard Aboriginal spirituality as nationally important. Indigenous dreaming stories are thus mandated and studied as "canonical" texts.

Yet, even though these are obviously religious in character, they are clearly not to be treated as "religious tracts", but rather as significant cultural texts.

Why should we not also endow our children with understanding of Western literary and historical heritage in the Abrahamic Old and New Testaments?

Abbott may be regarded as the mad monk, but in the case of the Bible in schools, there's certainly method in him, particularly considering the vast amount of Australians vaguely sentimental about Christianity, or Christmas, or voting.


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