Monday, July 02, 2012

Educanto Marches On

The most depressing development in American education this week, although you surely have your own nomination for that distinction, might have been one right here in little old Little Rock.

It seems the elementary schools out in the county are remodeling the once simple report card. Naturally enough, it will no longer be simple. Instead, it could be rendered incomprehensible. For instead of the old letter grades, the schools are to switch to numbers. Lots of them.

A draft policy for the school district calls for "computer-generated" report cards that would list the students' progress in acquiring 15 different skills, more or less, in three different subject areas such as math and "reading and language arts," formerly just plain old readin' and writin'. It's a firm rule in educanto: The vaguer the idea, the wordier its description.

Vocabulary can be telling, and the educantists' inflated language is a sure sign of their insecurity, which they try to mask by ever more convoluted language. Pretension remains the first symptom of a profession unsure of itself.

The proposed new grading system in the elementary schools would go from 1 to 4, with 4 being the highest. In place of the old A, B, C, D and F grades that parents could grasp at a glance, mom and dad will have to go through about 45 different numbers (15 skills times 3 subjects) to find out how little Johnny or Janey is progressing. Or not. Anything to make it harder to understand how the kid is doing in school. And to give teachers more paperwork to fill out when they could be teaching.

Imagine some of the conversations at home when the new, up-to-date, number-speckled report cards get home:

"Great work, Janey! You got almost all 4s. But what's this 3 doing next to 'uses strategies to comprehend text'? What's the problem?"

"I'm sorry, dad. I knew what the teacher was after, but I just couldn't explain it the way I was supposed to. We read a poem that started 'After great pain a formal feeling comes. . . .' And all I could think of was grandpa's house just after grandma died. But I couldn't take the feeling apart the way I was supposed to. When I did, it went away, the way my doll was never the same after we broke it apart and took the stuffing out. It was all there, all right, but it wasn't."

"You're not making any sense, Janey. You'll just have to keep trying till all the feeling is gone. It's part of being a grown-up. Get past the poetry and stuff. It doesn't help you in the real world. It just gets in the way. You don't have to understand, just sound like you do. That's the trick. To make the sale, you've got to sell yourself first. You want to be a success, don't you? Outline. Analyze. Compare and contrast. All that stuff. Follow the rules. They're simple enough. Cut out the daydreaming. Then, I just know, you'll get a 4, honey. You can do it if you really try."

Janey's problem with strategizing may be much the same as the one some of us have with these long, divided and subdivided numerical report cards split 3 different ways and then resplit into 15 sections. It's not Janey's problem so much as American society's in this postmodern, robotic, deconstructed age. We confuse data with information, information with knowledge and knowledge with wisdom.

All those quite different concepts now seem to mix in one vast computer-generated cloud of educanto. Till we can't tell the difference between them. If they're still recognizable at all. Because if a quality can't be quantified -- like intuition, say, or poetry or faith or insight -- it doesn't exist. At least not to the well-trained mind.

With each such "reform" in basic education, the basics grow dimmer. We seem bent on learning more and more about less and less till we finally succeed in knowing everything about nothing.


Poor British pupils 'two years behind wealthier classmates at 15'

And so it will always be.  IQ is hereditary and smart people usually don't stay poor for long

Teenagers from the most deprived backgrounds are lagging dramatically behind wealthy peers in the race for university places because of failure at school, according to major research published today.

Academics warned that the gulf in entry rates between rich and poor students was driven by exam results at secondary school – and not discrimination from admissions tutors.

Figures show that the highest-performing pupils from disadvantaged families lag around two-and-a-half years behind bright children brought up in wealthy homes by the age of 15.

The achievement gap in England is around twice as wide as that seen in some other developed countries, it was revealed.

Despite an extensive Labour drive to boost access to higher education, it emerged that the richest schoolchildren were around six times more likely to go on top Russell Group universities than the poorest fifth.

Pupils from affluent homes have also benefited the most from the huge expansion of university places over the last 30 years, claiming an increasing number of available places on degree courses as social mobility effectively grinds to a halt, researchers suggested.

The disclosure – in a series of studies published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies – will be seen as a blow to the Government, which has repeatedly criticised leading research universities for failing to admit more students from poor backgrounds and state schools.

Last year, Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, warned that they had a duty to ensure "British society is better reflected" in their admissions to justify state funding.

They are now required to set tough new targets to widen access to justify tuition fees of up to £9,000-a-year.

But a series of academic studies released today suggest that failure at an early age remains the biggest hurdle to university for the vast majority of poor pupils.

Jake Anders, a researcher from the University of London’s Institute of Education, who wrote one of the studies, said: “Policymakers interested in narrowing the gap in higher education participation between young people from rich and poor families should focus their attention on ensuring that students from poorer backgrounds have the necessary qualification to apply to university.”

The IFS published five studies as part of a new journal aimed at investigating the role education plays in boosting the life chances of children from disadvantaged areas.

Together, the reports suggest that levels of social mobility have actually worsened in the last 30 years as rich pupils pull increasingly ahead of those born into poor families.

In a series of key findings:

 *  One study from the IoE reveals that the highest-achieving children from affluent backgrounds are two-and-half-years ahead of peers from poor homes in reading skills by the age of 15 – twice that seen in other western nations;

 *  Another IoE report exposes “substantial” differences in university entry by family income, with children from the richest fifth of families being almost three times more likely to go into higher education – and six times more likely to attend a Russell Group university – as those from the poorest fifth;

 *  A study by University College London and Surrey University found that the rise in academic achievement over the last 30 years was more marked among wealthy students, with the proportion of children from the poorest fifth of households going on to get a degree increasing from just nine to 10 per cent, while attainment among the richest fifth increased from 28 to 37 per cent.

Steve Machin, professor of economics at UCL, said "There has been a meteoric rise in education acquisition in Great Britain over the past 30 years, which has occurred most rapidly amongst those from richer families.

“When coupled with evidence of increasing wage returns to all levels of education, this suggests that the expansion of educational opportunities may have hindered rather than helped social mobility.

“For the Government to have any hope of using education as a means of increasing social mobility in future, it will need to learn from the lessons of the past 30 years."


Foreign students jump the queue: Overseas candidates offered uni places with lower grades than UK teenagers

Foreign students with low grades are being offered places at top British universities ahead of pupils with better marks in this country, an investigation has revealed.

Universities have been accused of making money by rejecting British teenagers so they can fill places with international students who are charged 50 per cent more than the annual £9,000 tuition fees paid by UK and European students.

An investigation found that the official agent in Beijing for the elite Russell Group claimed to be able to secure over-subscribed places for a Chinese student with three C grades at A-level - when British students need at least AAB.

Undercover reporters from the Daily Telegraph visited Golden Arrows Consulting in Beijing, which placed more than 2,500 students in British universities in 2011, claiming to be looking for a place for a Chinese student who had three C grades.

Despite being below the entry requirements of most leading British universities, the fictional student was offered a place at both Cardiff and Sussex.

The agent, Fiona Wang said: 'We send student [sic] to Cardiff Business School to study accounting and finance with ACD. So with CCC we can help her'.

An applicant would normally need AAB to take the course at the university. 'If the student wants to study economics, it’s three Cs. So economics she can also do', the agent added.

Ms Wang said that the grades meant that she could also ‘choose’ between the University of East Anglia or Southampton University but not Bristol, King’s College London or Warwick.

Another Golden Arrow employee reportedly offered to doctor documents to help the student’s application, including visa paperwork and offered assistance with the applicant’s personal statement.

Reporters were also told that in order to secure a visa, they should tell the UK authorities that the student would return home immediately after graduation - even if this was not the case.

The number of foreign students in Britain has risen by a third to almost 300,000 since 2006, with the highest proportion coming from China, while the number of British students missing out on a university place reached a peak of 180,000 in 2011.

Richard Cairns, the headmaster at Brighton College, said: 'Universities are increasingly searching for, and needing, overseas fees. It’s something we have noticed. It’s tougher for British students to get into top universities than overseas students.'

Last month 68 chancellors, governors and university presidents warned that any crackdown could lead to foreign students going elsewhere, costing the economy billions.

In a letter to the Prime Minister they said Britain attracts around one in 10 students who study outside their home country, generating around £8billion a year in tuition fees.

Universities take such a valued revenue stream very seriously, with almost all having a dedicated page on their websites listing 'partners' in other countries for prospective students to contact about getting a place.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the Centre for Education and Employment Research at Buckingham University, told the Telegraph money was the 'main factor' leading universities to push for foreign students.

He said there was a risk that educational standards could be compromised as establishments try to secure their future in an era of uncertain funding.

Golden Arrow admitted that it had found a place for a student at Cardiff with ACD grades but said it was an exceptional case.

The firm denied offering to doctor applications and said it only ‘instructs’ students’ on personal statements but would never 'write on behalf of them'.

Sussex and Cardiff Universities denied offering places to international students with lower grades. The University of Southampton said it would be investigating the allegations.


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