Saturday, December 29, 2012

Really alternative schools rising

‘Nobody ever got shot or knocked up in an online school.” That’s the comment offered by a friend when my daughter — in search of more AP classes than her public school offered, and anxious to graduate early — decided to switch to an online high school. It has come back to me in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

It would, of course, be absurd to suggest that we abandon traditional public schools for online ones simply as a precaution against mass shootings. Mass shootings are extremely rare events, and only a fool would make a drastic policy shift with that in mind.

But the larger question of whether it makes sense to warehouse a bunch of kids together, sorted by age, remains. Is it time to rethink traditional public schools?

Many think so. As The New York Times recently noted, parents are pulling their kids out of many large urban districts in favor of private, on-line and charter schools. This is causing financial problems as the lower enrollments lead to teacher layoffs and general shrinkage.

Why are the parents pulling their kids? Because they think the public schools aren’t as good as the alternatives.

As the public schools’ performance stays basically flat despite vastly increased budgets, the alternatives are looking better.

Public schools are, at best, standing still. Alternatives to public schools are expanding by leaps and bounds.

A few decades ago, the alternatives to public schools weren’t so alternative. You could go to a private religious school (probably Catholic) where discipline would be stricter, and the academics more rigorous, or you could go to a nonreligious private school that tried to be more elite than the public schools. Either way, the students would still be sitting in rows, listening to the same lectures and reading the same textbooks, sorted by age and advancing by grade.

This Industrial Era approach (public schools were organized in the 19th century on a Prussian model, explicitly to produce obedient, orderly workers) had advantages. But it also had disadvantages. Like interchangeable parts in an industrial machine, students were treated alike, regardless of their individual characteristics and needs. Square peg, meet round hole.

Putting kids together and sorting by age also created that dysfunctional creature, the “teenager.” Once, teen-agers weren’t so much a demographic as adults-in-training. They worked, did farm chores, watched children and generally functioned in the real world. They got status and recognition for doing these things well, and they got shame and disapproval for doing them badly.

But once they were segregated by age in public schools, teens looked to their peers for status and recognition instead of to society at large. As Thomas Hine writes in The American Heritage, “Young people became teenagersbecause we had nothing better for them to do. We began seeing them not as productive but as gullible consumers.”

Again, we may have had no alternative in the 19th century. But now many alternatives are appearing:

* The approach followed by the Khan Academy, where students view lectures on video at home, then do “homework” in the classroom where teachers are available to help.

* Online schools, where kids learn at their own pace, and have time to work jobs or internships during the day — that’s what my daughter did, and she learned a lot from her time in the workplace.

* Homeschooling, which is increasingly popular and — as any National Spelling Bee fan knows — often quite successful.

* And a variety of other approaches being experimented with by what Anya Kamenetz, in her book “DIY U,” calls the “edupunks”: So-called “unschooling,” where students learn via life experience, or the substitution of performance-based credentials or portfolios for diplomas based largely on time spent in class.

* We’re also seeing the rise of dual enrollment, where high school overlaps with college.

Personally, I think that the more we get kids out in the real world, and the less we keep them segregated from reality, the more they’ll learn and the better they’ll do.

Regardless, change is coming in the K-12 world. It’s a knowledge industry, after all — and how many knowledge industries are the same in the 21st century as they were in the 19th?


Parent Group Leader to Obama: Response to Sandy Hook Tragedy Should be Less Testing

There have been all sorts of responses to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary last Friday.

American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten is pushing Big Labor to get behind gun control legislation. Others argue that it might be wise for every school to have several armed staff members.

At least those are both logical suggestions to address an obvious problem.

Now Parents Across America, a pro-union group, has checked into the discussion, urging President Obama to respond to the events by having less standardized testing.


Are these people suggesting that state standardized tests somehow drive unstable students to commit mass murder? Could we please see some evidence to support that bizarre theory?

Wendy Lecker, founder of Parents Across America-CT, wrote:

“This body of research demands that we rethink our national obsession to use tests as the goal in education. A low test score should be an alarm, not that a school or teacher is failing, but more likely that there are stressors in a child’s life that warrant intervention.”

That’s a good reason to have tests, right? So we can tell which kids require intervention? Apparently not.

Lecker went on to point out that she’s talked to school nurses who tell her “at test time, they see a spike in headaches, stomachaches and the need for anti-anxiety medication.”

We’re not sure what Lecker is trying to say here. Are the kids who are anxious about taking a test likely to get a gun and kill someone – therefore we shouldn’t have tests?

The unions and their supporters have always hated state standardized testing, particularly when it’s used to evaluate teacher performance, and would resort to any strategy to kill the practice.

If they can somehow twist the Connecticut tragedy to meet that goal, they’re clearly willing to do it, no matter how stupid they sound.

As Rahm Emanuel once said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.”


Become a lawyer with no degree, British pupils told

School leavers will be encouraged to skip university and train for highly-paid jobs as lawyers, bankers and accountants in a new wave of “professional” apprenticeships, a minister discloses today.

Matthew Hancock, the skills minister, will call for more young people to go straight from A-levels into traditional City professions that have been “dominated” by graduates.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Hancock says “university is not for everyone”. High quality apprenticeships should be as “prestigious” as a degree.

An increasing number of school leavers are choosing to work rather than spend three years at university, as students and parents avoid taking on debts of as much as £60,000 to cover fees and living costs.

The number of 18-year-olds heading to university fell by 57,000 this autumn. This trend is likely to continue as apprenticeships become a cheaper alternative to a degree.

In his article, Mr Hancock says everyone, not just graduates, should have the chance to get “valuable jobs” in law, financial services and advanced engineering.

He says that for too long there has been an “artificial and counterproductive division between practical and academic learning”.

“We are offering apprenticeships instead of university, as a route into the professions, including insurance, accounting and law,” he says.

“University is not for everyone. There is no reason why you can’t reach exactly the same qualifications, without the degree, starting on-the-job training in an apprenticeship from day one.”

Mr Hancock says there are on-the-job schemes already that give school leavers the equivalent of one year at university or “foundation” degree level.

People leaving school at 18 can start accountancy or legal executive training. Ministers now want to see apprenticeships at top firms that “truly match” studying for full or postgraduate degrees.

Mr Hancock says the Government is in talks with the BPP Law School over an apprenticeship that will lead to a qualification as a solicitor.

He says PricewaterhouseCoopers, one of the “big four” professional services firms, is developing a master’s-level apprenticeship for a qualification in audit, accountancy or tax. The minister urges “more employers to step up to take advantage of the opportunity” of school leavers who want to start learning and earning rather than go to university.

His comments come after the Commons business committee urged ministers to create more high quality apprenticeships that lead to better careers.

Last month, an official review by Doug Richard, an entrepreneur, recommended that apprenticeships should be seen as equal to degrees.

The businessman, who appeared on the BBC’s Dragons’ Den programme, said standards of apprenticeships should be raised to stop them being regarded as “second class” in relation to university.

Other experts warned that students should not forget about the value of university when choosing their future path.

Rob Wilson, an MP on the Fair Access to University Group, said he welcomed “high quality apprenticeships”. But he said: “Potential students should not forget the excellent value universities bring in terms of additional career earnings and the more rounded education.”

Sally Hunt, the general secretary of the University and College Union, said young people should not be encouraged to take decisions about their education based on cost.

Labour claims that the drive to recruit apprentices has “stalled”.

Chuka Umunna, the shadow business secretary, says too many apprenticeships are being given to adults, rather than school leavers.


Extraordinary defences of Ivy League racism

After the huge body of evidence marshalled by Ron Unz to show discriminatiuon against Asians at the Ivies, here is one of the "replies" published by the NYT in response:

"Some allege specifically that affirmative action harms Asian applicants, capping the Asian population at elite universities. In reality, there is no evidence that this is the case."

The lamebrain concerned appears to think, obviously correctly, that mere denial of the Unz evidence will suffice for the NYT.  She dismisses it with a wave of her hand without addressing it at all.  Any rubbish will do for the NYT as long as the conclusions suit the NYT, it seems.  This is below the quality of supermarket tabloids, which do at least pretend to look at evidence for their claims.

Another reply which at least admits the Unz evidence simply reiterates the nasty stereotype of Asians as bespectacled nerds with no opinions of their own. 

Given the huge preference now given by the Ivies to Jewish  applicants,  I suppose I could be equally racist in reverse and say that Asians are simply more polite than loud-mouthed NYC Jews.   It just shows what a slippery slope racism can be and is thoroughly obnoxious for all the reasons that Leftists never tire of telling us about.  Steve Sailer gives it a thorough fisking.

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