Monday, January 28, 2013

Head Start gets tested -- and flunks

There are few institutions more sacrosanct in Washington than President Johnson's Head Start program. The federal government spent more than $7.9 billion on the program in 2012 alone to provide preschool services for nearly 1 million low-income Americans.

The program represents everything that is supposedly great about the liberal welfare state. It redistributes resources from wealthy to poor. It uses the power of the federal government to combat inequality by giving poor and minority students an educational boost before they fall behind their wealthier peers.

There's just one problem: It doesn't work.

Until recently, no one even conducted a scientific test of Head Start's effectiveness. Republicans demanded one in 1998, and the Department of Health and Human Services commissioned it four years later. The ongoing randomized study of Head Start was based on a nationally representative sample of 5,000 children who applied for the program in 2002. Approximately half of the subjects received Head Start services, while the other half did not. The students were then tested on their language, literacy, math and school performance skills.

The initial results were supposed to be published by the HHS in March 2009. But the Obama administration delayed this until January 2010, at which point the reason became obvious. As the 2010 Head Start Impact Study report notes, "the benefits of access to Head Start at age four are largely absent by 1st grade for the program population as a whole." Specifically, the language, literacy, math and school performance skills of the Head Start children all failed to improve.

Since 1965, the federal government has spent $180 billion on Head Start. Democrats have used the program as a partisan political weapon for decades. President Obama's 2012 stump speech even included a specific line about evil Republicans wanting to "kick children out of Head Start programs."

But despite the obvious political salience of this program, not one major news outlet covered the study demonstrating its utter ineffectiveness. The New York Times, Washington Post and even the Wall Street Journal ignored this taxpayer-funded, official, scientific HHS study.

Now, the HHS has finally published a follow-up to its 2010 study that follows the same children through the end of third grade. And again, the HHS has concluded that Head Start is ineffective, concluding that Heat Start resulted in "very few impacts ... in any of the four domains of cognitive, social-emotional, health and parenting practices." And those impacts that were found "did not show a clear pattern of favorable or unfavorable impacts for children."

Does that sound like a program you'd want to spend $8 billion on next year?

Soon after he was sworn into office, Obama promised that when it came to education, his administration would "use only one test when deciding what ideas to support with your precious tax dollars: It's not whether an idea is liberal or conservative, but whether it works." Head Start doesn't work. Will Obama follow through on his promise and end the program, or will he cling to it as a "liberal idea"?


Rotten to the Core: Readin', Writin' and Deconstructionism

 Michelle Malkin

The Washington, D.C., board of education earned widespread mockery this week when it proposed allowing high school students -- in the nation's own capital -- to skip a basic U.S. government course to graduate. But this is fiddlesticks compared to what the federal government is doing to eliminate American children's core knowledge base in English, language arts and history.

Thanks to the "Common Core" regime, funded with President Obama's stimulus dollars and bolstered by duped Republican governors and business groups, deconstructionism is back in style. Traditional literature is under fire. Moral relativism is increasingly the norm. "Standards" is Orwell-speak for subjectivity and lowest common denominator pedagogy.

Take the Common Core literacy "standards." Please. As literature professors, writers, humanities scholars, secondary educators and parents have warned over the past three years, the new achievement goals actually set American students back by de-emphasizing great literary works for "informational texts." Challenging students to digest and dissect difficult poems and novels is becoming passe. Utilitarianism uber alles.

The Common Core English/language arts criteria call for students to spend only half of their class time studying literature, and only 30 percent of their class time by their junior and senior years in high school.

Under Common Core, classics such as "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" are of no more academic value than the pages of the Federal Register or the Federal Reserve archives -- or a pro-Obamacare opinion essay in The New Yorker. Audio and video transcripts, along with "alternative literacies" that are more "relevant" to today's students (pop song lyrics, for example), are on par with Shakespeare.

English professor Mary Grabar describes Common Core training exercises that tell teachers "to read Lincoln's Gettysburg Address without emotion and without providing any historical context. Common Core reduces all 'texts' to one level: the Gettysburg Address to the EPA's Recommended Levels of Insulation." Indeed, in my own research, I found one Common Core "exemplar" on teaching the Gettysburg Address that instructs educators to "refrain from giving background context or substantial instructional guidance at the outset."

Another exercise devised by Common Core promoters features the Gettysburg Address as a word cloud. Yes, a word cloud. Teachers use the jumble of letters, devoid of historical context and truths, to help students chart, decode and "deconstruct" Lincoln's speech.

Deconstructionism, of course, is the faddish leftwing school of thought popularized by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the 1970s. Writer Robert Locke described the nihilistic movement best: "It is based on the proposition that the apparently real world is in fact a vast social construct and that the way to knowledge lies in taking apart in one's mind this thing society has built. Taken to its logical conclusion, it supposes that there is at the end of the day no actual reality, just a series of appearances stitched together by social constructs into what we all agree to call reality."

Literature and history are all about competing ideological narratives, in other words. One story or "text" is no better than another. Common Core's literature-lite literacy standards are aimed not at increasing "college readiness" or raising academic expectations. Just the opposite. They help pave the way for more creeping political indoctrination under the guise of increasing access to "information."

As University of Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky, an unrelenting whistleblower who witnessed the Common Core sausage-making process firsthand, concluded: "An English curriculum overloaded with advocacy journalism or with 'informational' articles chosen for their topical and/or political nature should raise serious concerns among parents, school leaders, and policymakers. Common Core's standards not only present a serious threat to state and local education authority, but also put academic quality at risk. Pushing fatally flawed education standards into America's schools is not the way to improve education for America's students."

Bipartisan Common Core defenders claim their standards are merely "recommendations." But the standards, "rubrics" and "exemplars" are tied to tests and textbooks. The textbooks and tests are tied to money and power. Federally funded and federally championed nationalized standards lead inexorably to de facto mandates. Any way you slice it, dice it or word-cloud it, Common Core is a mandate for mediocrity.


British university chiefs will vet tougher new High School leaving exam  that aims to end 'resist culture' that has led to dumbing down of qualification

A-level candidates are to return to sitting their exams at the end of a two-year course in a bid to end the ‘resit culture’ that has led to the dumbing down of the qualification.

In addition, the tougher new courses are to be supervised by top universities. 

The shake-up, to be announced today, aims to end years of political meddling in what was once regarded as the ‘gold standard’ of exams.

Education Secretary Michael Gove wants to abolish the reliance on coursework and ‘bite-size’ modular exams, which are taken throughout the two-year course and often resat.

This follows evidence that they have left students unsuited for the rigours of university.

Under the radical plans, pupils who start their courses in September 2015 will no longer sit simpler AS-levels after one year of their course as a stepping stone to A-levels.

Mr Gove has written to exams watchdog Ofqual revealing that he has secured the backing of the  Russell Group of top universities, including Oxford and Cambridge, to oversee the new A-levels.

Their professors will join new  subject committees in core subjects – English, maths, physics, chemistry, biology, history, geography and  foreign languages – to draw up the content for the exams over the next two years.

They will then review each exam paper every year to ensure that content and questions are sufficiently tough. Exam boards which fail to deliver will be condemned.

A senior official said: ‘At the moment, pupils spend far too much time worrying about exams, revising for exams and doing exams.

These changes will mean pupils get two years to get properly to grips with a subject and prepare them for university. AS-levels will no longer be simple stepping stones to A-levels but rigorous exams in their own right.’

Ofqual has already revealed that pupils will be allowed to take just one resit in order to prevent repeated attempts to artificially boost grades.

Allies of Mr Gove say the reforms, which have been signed off by the Liberal Democrats, will return  A-levels to the rigorous reputation they enjoyed before the last Labour government.

And by effectively handing over the content of the ‘gold standard’ exams to universities, he will end political influence by the Department for Education. Mr Gove hopes that means his reforms cannot be overturned if Labour wins the next election.

A source close to Mr Gove said: ‘Michael is withdrawing the DfE from A-levels and giving power back to universities.  ‘Now, a minority of private schools teach far beyond A-levels while many state schools are wrongly told that A-levels are sufficient to satisfy the best universities. This must change.’

But the plans will be resisted by the teaching unions and the National Union of Students.

Mr Gove is also expected to make further announcements about the future of exams at 16 after the Mail revealed last year that GCSEs are to be scrapped and replaced with a more rigorous exam on the lines of the old O-level.


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