Thursday, June 16, 2011

U.S. students’ grasp of US history lags

From presidents to precedents, knowledge sparse

US students are less proficient in their nation’s history than in any other subject, according to results of a nationwide test released yesterday, with most fourth-graders unable to say why Abraham Lincoln was an important figure, and few high school seniors able to identify China as the North Korean ally that fought US troops in the Korean War.

Overall, 20 percent of fourth-graders, 17 percent of eighth-graders, and 12 percent of high school seniors demonstrated proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

Federal education officials said they were encouraged by a slight increase in eighth-grade scores since the last time the history test was administered, in 2006. But even those gains offered little to celebrate, with fewer than a third of eighth-graders able to answer even a “seemingly easy question’’ asking them to identify an important advantage that the American forces had over the British during the Revolutionary War, the government’s statement on the results said.

Diane Ravitch, an education historian who was invited by the national assessment’s governing board to review the results, said she was particularly disturbed by only 2 percent of 12th-graders correctly answering a question concerning Brown v. Board of Education, which she called “very likely the most important decision’’ of the US Supreme Court in the past seven decades.

Students were given an excerpt including the passage “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal,’’ and were asked what social problem the 1954 ruling was supposed to correct.

“The answer was right in front of them,’’ Ravitch said. “This is alarming.’’

The tests were given last spring to a representative sample of 7,000 fourth-graders, 11,800 eighth-graders and 12,400 12th-graders nationwide. History is one of eight subjects — along with math, reading, science, writing, civics, geography, and economics — covered by the assessment program also known as the Nation’s Report Card.

The program defines three achievement levels for each test: “basic’’ denotes partial mastery of a subject; “proficient’’ represents solid academic performance and a demonstration of competency over challenging subject matter; and “advanced’’ means superior performance.

The students did best in economics: 42 percent of high school seniors were deemed proficient in the 2006 economics test, a larger proportion than in any other subject over the past decade. But Jack Buckley, commissioner of the statistical center at the Department of Education that carries out the tests, said that because the assessments in each subject were prepared and administered independently, it was not really fair to compare results across subjects.

On the history test, the proportion of students scoring at or above proficiency rose among fourth-graders to 20 percent from 18 percent in 2006, held at 17 percent among eighth-graders, and fell to 12 percent from 13 percent among high school seniors.

On the test’s 500-point scale, average fourth- and eighth-grade scores each increased 3 points since 2006. But officials said only the eighth-grade increase, to 266 last year from 263 in 2006, was statistically significant. Average 12th-grade scores dropped to 288 from 290 in 2006.

While changes in the overall averages were small, there was significant upward movement among the lowest-performing students — those in the 10th percentile — in fourth and eighth grades, and a narrowing of the racial achievement gap at all levels. On average, white eighth-grade students scored 274 on the latest test, 21 points higher than Hispanic students and 23 points above black students; in 2006, white students outperformed Hispanic students by 23 points and black students by 29 points.

History-education advocates contend that poor showings on the tests underline neglect shown the subject by policy makers, especially after the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act began requiring schools to raise scores in math and reading but in no other subject. The federal accountability law, advocates say, has given schools and teachers an incentive to spend less time on history and other subjects.

“History is very much being shortchanged,’’ said Linda K. Salvucci, a history professor in San Antonio who is chairwoman-elect of the National Council for History Education.

Many teacher-education programs, she said, also contribute to the problem by encouraging aspiring teachers to seek certification in social studies rather than in history.


Scandal of British school failures: 'Almost half not providing a good enough education'

Almost half of schools in England are not giving pupils a good enough education, inspectors said today. Around 45 per cent of those that have been assessed by Ofsted since the start of the academic year were found to be just satisfactory or inadequate.

As education watchdog Ofsted focuses more on weaker schools, inspections of institutions deemed to be 'outstanding' has been deferred unless there is a noticeable decline in standards.

Overall more than a third of schools inspected since the start of the current academic year were found to be 'satisfactory' while six per cent were declared inadequate. Only 10 per cent of schools were given the top rating and the remainder were given a 'good' rating.

When they are inspected, rather than being given a numerical score, schools are given a rating of outstanding, good, satisfactory or inadequate. Nurseries, primaries, secondaries, special schools and pupil referral units that receive the latter two ratings are effectively judged as not being good enough.

Between September 2010 and April this year around 1,849 of the 4,062 schools that were visited by inspectors were judged to be satisfactory or inadequate. Nearly half (1,805) were judged to be 'good' with only 408 being given top marks.

Ofsted chief inspector Christine Gilbert said: 'Ofsted's current school inspection arrangements set out to be more challenging to schools, so it is encouraging to see 54 per cent were judged good or outstanding. 'Greater involvement of headteachers and senior staff in the inspection process is helping schools better understand areas for development and action.'

The watchdog added that because of the focus on weaker schools there is no direct comparison with grades of previous years.

Concentration on poorer performing schools reflects moves by the Government to raise standards and from January no school that is deemed outstanding will face inspection unless standards slip.

Data for the whole of the academic year 2009/10 show that eight per cent of schools inspected were found to be inadequate, 37per cent were satisfactory, 43per cent were good and 13per cent were outstanding.


Female predominance in Australian universities too

There are a lot of very highly paid jobs in the mining industry nowadays which would appeal to people who like operating heavy machinery etc. There are some women driving Haulpak trucks but not many

Ben McCulloch, a final-year education student at the Burnie campus of the University of Tasmania, is hoping for a position in a local primary school next year. Picture: Chris Crerar Source: The Australian

AS an education student, Burnie local Ben McCulloch says being a male on his female-dominated campus is "like being in training" for when he graduates as a primary teacher.

"It helps me get used to working with lots of females," he said.

Mr McCulloch, 21, is one of just 130 male students - 27 per cent of the student body - at the University of Tasmania's Burnie campus. It's a trend mirrored on regional campuses across Australia, with at least a half having less than one-third male students.

Of Australia's 106 regional campuses, only 10 had a majority of male students in 2009. Another eight had equal representation, but all are micro-campuses with fewer than 20 students.

The data released to the HES reveals a picture of female dominance at most regional campuses, magnifying the trend of feminisation in metropolitan universities. Richard James, director of the Centre for the Study of Higher Education at the University of Melbourne, said the percentage of domestic female enrolments on Australian campuses was approaching 60 per cent.

He said since the 1980s women were using education for social mobility, while men had work options not open to women.

"There are pull factors keeping men out of higher education . . . work opportunities women don't have access to," he said.

"At least some of the women who are going on to tertiary education are doing so because there isn't another option."

Professor James said the courses at regional campuses, which tended to be female-centric, also played a role in keeping local boys away.

Women also were clustered in low-status, low-paying vocational courses, such as nursing, teaching and child care. "These are highly feminised professions, teaching increasingly so in the past 30 years."

Writing in today's HES, Andrew Harvey from La Trobe University said raising the participation rate of regional men required "a shift in focus from the supply of places to demand for them". Regional campuses were "a necessary but insufficient condition for attracting regional men."

"Universities will need to work more closely with schools, industry and communities to increase the pool of applicants."

This would require new selection methods to reduce the dominance of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, which had a strong correlation with wealth, improved pathways via vocational education and entry for mature-age students based on work experience.

Mr McCulloch said while most of his male friends went to university, they all left for the mainland, Launceston or Hobart. His decision to stay in Burnie was primarily economic; he could live at home and keep his job. But he also hoped to get an appointment to a local school after he finished his degree in October.


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