Monday, October 29, 2012

Ben Carson on America's Education Challenge

In the midst of the third presidential debate in Florida, which was supposedly about foreign policy, President Barack Obama interjected a few words about American education.

The rationale was not unreasonable. A better-educated America will be a better-performing and more internationally competitive America.

"Let's talk about what we need to compete. ... Let's take an example that we know is going to make a difference in the 21st century and that's our education policy," he said.

Unfortunately, as is so often the case with politicians, what we hear sounds so logical, so compelling. If only it had anything to do with reality.

According to the fractured political logic on education, which is not much different from what we hear regarding most areas of public policy, the reason we have failure is we're not doing enough of what already isn't working.

In the case of education, we're spending a lot of money and not getting results. So the problem must be, in the brilliant political take on matters, we're just not spending enough money.

"I now want to hire more teachers, especially in math and science, because we know that we've fallen behind when it comes to math and science," Obama said. "And those teachers can make a difference."

But, Mr. President, what information do you have that leads you to conclude that more teachers can make a difference?

According to information recently published by Face the Facts USA, a nonpartisan project of the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs, over the last decade the federal government spent $293 billion and states spent a combined $5.5 trillion -- money targeted to improving academic performance -- with no discernable change in reading and math scores. "A quarter of high school seniors don't meet basic reading standards and a third fall below basic math proficiency," Face the Facts USA reports.

Throwing money at education may make those who get the money better off, but there is little, if any, evidence that it makes any difference at all in improving academic performance.

Recently, I sat down and interviewed one of my heroes: Dr. Ben Carson, director of pediatric neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

Outside of his work, Carson's passion is education. As someone who grew up in a Detroit ghetto, whose mother was a domestic who could not read, he has some idea what it means to start with nothing and achieve the American dream.

But listening to Carson -- whose latest book is titled "America the Beautiful: Rediscovering What Made This Nation Great" -- you get a much different take on what is wrong with education and our nation today than what we hear from politicians.

Carson says, "We were a 'can do' nation and now we're a 'what can you do for me' nation."

He talks about the two biggest influences when he was a boy: a demanding and caring mother and his church.

According to Carson, "we're being crucified by political correctness -- that any lifestyle is equivalent to any other lifestyle."

Through the Carson Scholars Fund, he provides $1,000 college scholarships to kids "who excel academically and are dedicated to serving their communities." He also builds reading rooms -- there are now 77 at schools in 11 states -- designed to provoke kids to want to read.

After a half-hour interview with Carson (see, here's my takeaway: Education is about family, meaning, personal responsibility, standards of right and wrong, and appreciating the uniqueness of every child.

Without these fundamentals, truckloads of taxpayer money will accomplish nothing. Which is why the trillions being spent are poured into a black hole.

I would add that, given the realities of today's public schools -- defined by the political correctness that Carson says is crucifying us -- there is no hope of meeting his standards for education without giving parents freedom to choose where to send their kid to school.


When did the education system decide that literacy and numeracy don’t matter?

British Education Secretary Michael Gove should not be vilified for trying to turn round 'bog-standard' state schools

If I were to join the current fashion, begun this week by Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, of writing a letter to my teachers, it occurred to me that it would be neither an apology for bad behaviour (I was horribly well-behaved) nor a catalogue of the school’s defects (in the style of the TV presenter Fiona Phillips, who turned up to her old school’s relaunch and lambasted both her own behaviour as well as the quality of the education on offer there.

Any message I wrote to the three teachers who stand out in my mind would be embarrassingly close to a love letter. Best avoid an epistolary form, then.

Miss Campbell taught me maths nearly continuously through secondary school. The light that comes on in my head at the link between algebraic formulae to be “solved”, and the geometrical interpretation of which those formulae are capable: all that is her doing. Everything in my professional life – the non-Telegraph bit of it – is down to the groundwork she taught me.

Mrs Houston taught me English for only one year, but her influence may well have affected my life even more deeply than the discovery of that facility with numbers. Through gentle but relentless critique of our compositions, she showed us that writing is an exercise at which it is possible to improve, a discipline with its own rules (but unlike mathematical ones, those rules should sometimes be broken).

The fact that when I’m not being a statistician, I’m writing for The Daily Telegraph (and my columns often worry, imprecisely, about Iris Murdoch and her novels): that started with Mrs Houston’s golden year.

But neither of them could have taught me anything, had Miss McKnight not come first. The teaching of the final year of a primary school is a special responsibility: it is the last chance to perfect anything missing, to prepare the children (I was 10) for secondary education. Miss McKnight used methods of which I doubt the NUT would approve: our ranking in the classroom was determined on a weekly basis, according to our performance in the tests of grammar and mental arithmetic which she insisted her class (huge, by today’s standards) perform.

Easy to dismiss such exercises as pointless: who needs to do mental arithmetic, when the iPhone’s got a calculator? What’s the point of being able to identify the subordinate clause in a sentence, in the age of txt spk?

Easy to dismiss them, until you reflect on the changes in teaching and society that have occurred since Miss McKnight had to put up with me. The Department for Education has declared that the standards of the literacy and numeracy tests which new teachers are required to sit will be raised. Why? Because a fifth of trainees fail at least one test in their first sitting. (Sample literacy question: choose the correct spelling of “anxiety” from a list including “anxsiety”, “angxiety” and “anxciety”. The numeracy tests involve simple multiplications, which can be carried out with a calculator.)

Miss McKnight wouldn’t tolerate 10- year-olds failing such tests (and would never have permitted a calculator). Yet some time between the early 1980s and now, we decided as a society that these skills didn’t matter. Education for the non-wealthy didn’t have to be rigorous: what could one expect from those schools famously described by Alastair Campbell as “bog standard”?

Meanwhile the privileged elite continued to pay so that their children could at the very least speak and write correctly, and reason numerically. It is this apartheid which Michael Gove is trying to overturn. Like Miss McKnight, he’s focusing on the basics.

Elaboration of cause and effect is a difficult exercise, but here’s one that I’d bet is true. One reason that so many newcomers to Britain secure jobs in service industries, ahead of indigenous applicants, is that they can speak English properly and add up in their heads.

I used to wonder why the written skills of the young people I met were so poor compared with those of my generation: even bright graduates sometimes struggle with proper sentences. Learning about the declining standards in teacher training, I’m less surprised. I believe there’s a link between failures at these basics, and what David Laws correctly describes as the failure of ambition for life after school.

I still have the letter Miss McKnight sent me on my graduation, nine years after leaving her school: “You are a credit to Argyle Primary,” she wrote. For once, she was wrong: I’m a credit to Miss McKnight, to Miss Campbell, and to Mrs Houston, to the vocation to which they dedicated their lives, to the education whose rigour and depth it would never have occurred to any of them to weaken, or make less aspirational because it took place in the confines of a “bog standard” state school. Ability is randomly determined: the impact of a good teacher on everything else that follows is not.


Asia to be core part of school education in Australia

Given Australia's geographical location and trade patterns this is reasonable enough -- as long as Australia's  own history and and culture plus the history and culture of our major country of origin -- Britain -- is also covered.  I don't see Muslims (for instance) disrespecting their own history and culture so why should we?  And the Chinese and Japanese would laugh at any idea of prioritizing the cultures of other countries over their own

ASIAN studies will become a core part of Australia's school curriculum under the federal government's ambitious plan to capitalise on the region's growing wealth and influence.

The government on Sunday released its long-awaited Asian Century white paper, a policy blueprint that sets out how Australia can increase integration with Asia over the coming decade and beyond.

The document reveals a number of targets for the nation over the 13 years to 2025, aimed at ensuring Australia fulfils its ambitions and competes effectively within Asia.

By 2025 Australia's gross domestic product (GDP) per person will be in the world's top 10, up from 13th last year. That would lift Australia's average real national income to about $73,000 per person in 2025, compared with about $62,000 now.

The school system will be in the top five in the world, and 10 of its universities in the world's top 100.

The paper places a heavy emphasis on education, saying Asian studies will become a core part of the Australian school curriculum.  All students will be able to study an Asian language and the priorities will be Chinese Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian and Japanese.

Australia's leaders will also be more Asia literate, with one-third of board members of the top 200 publicly listed companies and commonwealth bodies to have "deep experience" in and knowledge of Asia.

The Australian economy will be more deeply integrated with Asia, with Asian trade links to be at least one third of GDP, up from one quarter today.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard says the document lays out an ambitious plan to make sure Australia grows stronger by capitalising on the opportunities offered by the Asian Century.

"The scale and pace of Asia's rise is staggering, and there are significant opportunities and challenges for all Australians," she said in a statement on Sunday.

"It is not enough to rely on luck.  "Our future will be determined by the choices we make and how we engage with the region we live in. We must build on our strengths and take active steps to shape our future."

Australia should be in the top five countries for ease of doing business by 2025, the white paper says.

Its diplomatic network should have a larger footprint across the region.

While the white paper sets out what actions governments can take, it also calls on businesses and communities to play their part.

New work and holiday agreements between Australia and its Asian neighbours will mean more opportunities for work and study in the region and to take up professional opportunities.

Financial markets will be better integrated, allowing capital to flow more easily across borders.

The government will enter into a National Productivity Compact with the states and territories, focused on regulatory and competition reform.  "We want to ensure that Australia is as competitive as it can be," Finance Minister Penny Wong said in a statement.

The compact is expected to be agreed at the next meeting of the Business Advisory Forum between business leaders, prime minister and senior ministers.

The white paper also reinforces the need to attract skilled migrants and students from Asia.

The government is expanding its network to support online visa lodgment, multiple entry visas and longer visa validity periods and is streaming the student visa process.

Seven of the top 10 source countries in Australia's migration program are in the Asian region, including India, China, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, South Korea and Vietnam.

Students from Asia already account for about 77 per cent of the more than 550,000 international enrolments each year.

In agriculture, the government says Australia's primary producers can benefit from rising demand by Asia's middle classes for high quality food and farm product.


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