Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Self-Esteem Fad Harms Students and Education System

Two politically-correct beliefs have inflicted enormous harm on our education system: the belief that inflated, unearned self-esteem is a good thing, and the belief that money without accountability will improve our schools. The Washington Post reports on the failure of self-esteem to improve educational achievement: “For decades, the prevailing wisdom in education was that high self-esteem would lead to high achievement. The theory led to a avalanche of daily affirmations, awards ceremonies and attendance certificates — but few, if any academic gains.”

Indeed, students’ self-esteem outstripped their achievement, which fell compared to their international peers. U.S. eighth-graders did worse in math than their peers in countries like Singapore and South Korea, but felt better about themselves and their ability in math. “‘We used to think we could hand children self-esteem on a platter,’ Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck said. ‘That has backfired.’”

So now, teachers in some school systems are belatedly “tempering praise to push students” to achieve more rather than just feel good about themselves. But in other school systems, there are “self-esteem” teachers, who continue to teach students to feel great despite their own mediocrity, and to feel “bullied” when their exaggerated ego is affronted by behaviors like “eye-rolling” or critical comments from peers, which some self-esteem teachers claim is a form of “bullying,” even though it is often constitutionally-protected speech.

While visiting my mother in Washington State, I heard a bossy “self-esteem” teacher talking to then-Governor Lowry on a talk radio show. Her first words were, ”Governor Lowry, I teach self-esteem,” which she growled, in a deep, harsh voice that made her sound like a 300-pound bully. My cousin Gigi, who teaches special-education in the state, says that self-esteem teachers are some of the angriest people around. Yet millions of tax dollars have been spent hiring such academically useless people.

The belief that dumping more money on the education system will automatically improve it is also now being questioned by education experts like Richard Vedder, high-tech innovators like Peter Thiel, and even writers at the liberal New York Times. Increasing education spending has often benefited politically-correct bureaucrats rather than teachers. There are now more college administrators than faculty at California State University, and colleges are creating new positions for liberal bureaucrats even as they raise student tuition to record levels:
The University of California at San Diego, for example, is creating a new full-time “vice chancellor for equity, diversity, and inclusion.” This position would augment UC San Diego’s already massive diversity apparatus, which includes the Chancellor’s Diversity Office, the associate vice chancellor for faculty equity, the assistant vice chancellor for diversity, the faculty equity advisors, the graduate diversity coordinators, the staff diversity liaison, the undergraduate student diversity liaison, the graduate student diversity liaison, the chief diversity officer, the director of development for diversity initiatives, the Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Committee on Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation Issues, the Committee on the Status of Women, the Campus Council on Climate, Culture and Inclusion, the Diversity Council, and the directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, the Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and the Women’s Center.

Other colleges raised spending on administrators as much as 600 percent in recent years. Flush with cash, colleges have also spent millions of dollars on “diversity training,” even though some “diversity training” is racist, spawns lawsuits, or contains bad legal advice that blows up in the face of the institution paying for it. For example, Glenn Singleton, a wealthy “diversity” trainer, promotes racial stereotypes, such as teaching that “white talk” is “impersonal, intellectual, verbal” and “task-oriented,” while “color commentary” is “emotional.” California Superintendent Jack O’Connell, a white liberal, was recently embarrassed, and called racist, after he foolishly repeated a notion peddled by Glenn Singleton: that black people are loud. Singleton’s racially-charged “diversity” teachings embarrassed the Seattle Schools in a landmark Supreme Court case that the school system lost in 2007.

States spend hundreds of millions of dollars operating colleges that have extremely low standards, yet manage to graduate almost no one — like Chicago State, “which has just a 12.8 percent six-year graduation rate.” Bush increased federal education spending 58 percent faster than inflation, while Obama seeks to double it. Spending has exploded at the K-12 level: per-pupil spending in the U.S. is among the highest in the world.


A quarter of British children aged 10 to 12 can’t do basic addition and one in five don’t know the difference between ‘there’, ‘their’ and ‘they’re’

Young children are leaving primary school unable to spell, add up or do their times tables because their parents are too busy to help them practise, a survey revealed today.

Half of children aged between 10 and 12 do not know what a noun is or cannot identify an adverb - while almost a third, 31 per cent, cannot use apostrophes correctly.

More than one in five - 22 per cent - could not use the correct version of 'they're', 'there' and 'their' in a sentence and more than four in 10 couldn't spell the word 'secretaries' correctly.

Maths didn't fare much better in the survey by online tutor, mytutor, with more than a quarter of children being unable to add two small sums of money without using a calculator as they can't do division and basic algebra.

Twenty-seven per cent of children surveyed could not add £2.36 and £1.49 to get £3.85. In addition, more than a third, 36 per cent, could not divide 415 by five and a quarter did not know the answer to seven multiplied by six.

Nick Smith, head of online tuition at mytutor, said: 'Maths and English are key skills for children as they enter secondary school, yet our study shows that many are already slipping behind their peers and could be lacking confidence.'

The survey of 1,000 children aged between 10 and 12 found that one in four did not know their times tables, a quarter could not use decimal points and two in five could not spell simple plurals.

But the survey also discovered that most parents who are struggling to find a work-life balance spend less than 10 minutes a day helping their children with their learning because they are too busy.

Almost half of parents surveyed, 48 per cent, said they thought their child was worse at maths than they were at the same age and more than a third, 36 per cent, felt their child’s English was worse than theirs was at the same age.

Almost four in 10 parents - 39 per cent - said they spent less time learning with their children than their parents did with them a generation ago.

Only 30 per cent claimed to spend more time helping their child with their learning than their parents did.

And nearly six out of 10 parents - 59 per cent - spent less than an hour a week learning with their children - amounting to just eight-and-a-half minutes a day.

One in five parents spent less than 30 minutes a week learning with their offspring.

Mr Smith continued: 'Despite half of parents thinking their children aren’t as good as they were at the same age, most parents only manage to spend fewer than 10 minutes a day reading with them, helping them with homework or doing educational activities at home.

'Addressing these shortcomings early can make an enormous difference to a child’s school career, with tutored children generally making more than a year’s worth of progress with just 20 hours of tuition.

'Hectic modern lifestyles are leaving parents with less and less time to spend learning with their children - whether that is helping with homework or other educational activities.

'Many think that their child’s learning is suffering as a result, yet fewer than one in 10 of the parents we asked had used private tuition to give their children a boost to their learning - with many citing travelling time and a lack of suitable local tutors as reasons.'

Shadow education secretary Stephen Twigg added: 'Clearly, as this reports demonstrates, there is still much to be done to ensure children leave primary school with a grip of the basics.

'But the Tory-led Government is ignoring the warning signals in this report.

'Instead of focusing on the 3Rs, they are cutting funding for programmes which provide one-to-one support for reading and writing. This means 9,000 more children will be at risk of falling behind this year alone.'

A Department for Education spokesman said: 'Getting the basics right at primary school is vital. 'That’s why we are placing such emphasis on improving pupils’ reading ability early on, using the proven method of synthetic phonics to teach children to read. 'We are committed to improving standards in maths - bringing more specialist maths teachers into the classroom and focusing on basic arithmetic.'

The survey results come as a government maths education advisor has urged that maths be compulsory for the majority of students, no matter what they are studying, up until the age of 18.

Government education adviser Professor Steve Sparks argues that all students who continue with further education after 16 should also take a new maths qualification alongside their other subjects.

He claims that teaching post-16 students basic maths and statistics is vital for them to be able to compete in the modern world.


Australia: Inflexible public system renews faith in religious schools

In recent decades, the easy habits of local public comprehensive schools, considered for so long to be intrinsic for social democracy, are being replaced by anxious aspirations to private schooling. And, when we say private schooling in this country, we mean religious schooling.

Indeed, when it comes to Australian schooling, reports of the death of religion have been greatly exaggerated. About 30 per cent of students are enrolled in a religious school and for secondary education the number is much greater. The tide has turned on Matthew Arnold's old prediction of a "long melancholy withdrawing roar of the sea of faith", with an incoming swell that has not retreated for 20 years.

There are many implications of this trend but, like new wine into old wineskins, the antiquated language of public and private, secular and religious, four legs good, two legs bad can no longer contain them.

It is no longer sufficient to depict this great change as just a negative "white flight" or "suburban middle class fantasy" that might subside if David Gonski's report into education funding threw more money at public schools. Education is much more than economics, and this great sea change needs much more nuanced analysis and a new language.

One curious example is the issue of text censorship in schools. The old lore would have it that religious schooling is more repressive than its secular cousin but, in the case of film censorship, NSW state schools are now proving more restrictive.

According to the Department of Education and Training, "Material classified M should only be considered for students who are 15 years and over … Decisions about whether the use of M classified materials in the school will be approved must be made by the principal." This is despite the Federal Office of Classification recommendation that "School students under 15 may legally access this material because it is an advisory category".

As a result, no NSW public year 9 students (typically 14-15) can be shown an M-rated film (whether they are 15 or not), and since the approval process is laborious, teachers are also unlikely to screen one for year 10 students (typically 15-16). That means no Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet, Roman Polanski's Macbeth or Oliver Parker's Othello; no blockbusters such as The Lord of the Rings (teaching fantasy), Master and Commander (teaching history of exploration), The Day After Tomorrow (environment/ sustainability), Malcolm X and Mississippi Burning (history of civil rights) and no screening of many significant documentaries on WWI and WWII.

I observed how irritating this was for NSW state teachers last year in my role as a commercial teacher-trainer for the new Australian Curriculum. At seven events for about 200 secondary teachers, state school teachers complained that they were unable to screen recommended texts for years 9 and 10 because they were M-rated. Religious school teachers, however, said they did screen M-rated videos for years 8-10 students, providing parental permission notes, and discussing challenging moral and spiritual issues with their classes. They rarely consulted their principals.

This surprising trend had already been observed in my Macquarie University study of religious school English teachers: a paradox of rich educational plurality, operating within schools based on intellectually exclusivist religions.

Justifiably, teachers thought that the ban created unfair gaps between public and private. The hyper-aware moralities of religious schools actually enabled their teachers to walk a fine text-selection line between education quality and moral risk and to walk their students along the same path. This was in stark contrast to what teachers perceived as a bureaucratic, risk-averse mentality for state education.

So, as we unwrap our back-to-school box this year, we find new luminous oddities that the old colour scheme of public and private can no longer name. Thousands will be donning new and strange religious school uniforms for the first time, with all of the profound changes for Australia that this entails.

Text censorship is but one issue that belies the dogma that the shift is necessarily negative but confirms it is intricately complex and changing, deserving a more research-based, nuanced vocabulary.


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