Sunday, January 13, 2013

How home schooling threatens monopoly education

"What about home schooling? You know, it's not just for scary religious people any more." That's a line from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and it should strike fear into the hearts, not of vampires, but of public-school administrators everywhere.

The fact is, Americans across the country -- but especially in large, urban school systems -- are voting with their feet and abandoning traditional public schools, to the point that teachers are facing layoffs. Some are going to charter schools, which are still public but are run more flexibly. Some are leaving for private schools. But many others are going another step beyond traditional education, and switching to online school or even pure home schooling.

And, as Buffy so accurately noted, it's not just "scary religious people." In fact, rather than scary, those religious people are looking more like trendsetters. A recent piece in The Atlantic told of purely secular parents' decision to take their kids out of New York public schools and home school instead:

"That first year, chatting with other homeschooling parents at soccer games, picnics, and after-church coffee hours, I found that our decision was far from unusual. Homeschooling has long been a philosophical choice for religious traditionalists and off-the-grid homesteaders, but for the parents we met - among them several actors, a jazz composer, a restaurateur, a TV chef, a Columbia University physical-plant supervisor, and a handful of college professors - it was a practical alternative to New York's notoriously inadequate education system."

New York's public school system is indeed notoriously inadequate. And, like most public school systems (or public systems of any kind), it's run more for the convenience of the staff and bureaucrats than for the benefit of parents or kids. Some kids do fine anyway, of course, and some parents aren't in a position to pursue alternatives. But for many parents, traditional schooling is no longer the automatic default choice.


Record one in six British students now graduates with a first: Fresh concern over grade inflation after figure triples since late 1990s

A record number of graduates have been awarded first-class degrees, prompting fresh concern over  rampant ‘grade inflation’.  The number of students given first-class honours soared 16 per cent last year – the biggest increase on record.

More than a sixth of students now graduate with the top grade following a tripling in firsts awarded since the late-90s.

The trend is thought to be linked to moves by universities to reduce the number of traditional exams that students sit in favour of coursework.

Some degrees no longer require students to sit a single exam during their entire three years of study.  Good results are said to be easier to achieve in coursework than exams.

Some leading employers are already threatening to demand first-class degrees from job applicants instead of 2.1s due to the rise in top grades. University leaders yesterday admitted the 200-year-old degree classification system was a ‘blunt instrument’.

Most students who started university this academic year will be given a school-style report alongside the main degree classification in an attempt to give employers more information about their breakdown of marks.

Many in higher education hope the initiative will lead to degree classes being scrapped altogether but some leading universities are sceptical about the Higher Education Achievement Report (HEAR) and have no plans to adopt it.

Figures published by the Higher Education Statistics Agency show that 61,605 students were awarded firsts last year – a tripling since 1999 when 20,700 achieved the best possible grade.

In 1999, only 8 per cent of pupils achieved a first. By 2011, this had risen to 15.5 per cent and last year went up again to 16.9 per cent – the biggest annual rise in nearly 20 years of records held by HESA.

A record 66 per cent of students graduated with at least a 2.1, up from 64 per cent the year before and 61 per cent in 2008. Last year 49 per cent graduated with a 2.1, 27.5 per cent a 2.2 and 6.6 per cent a third or ordinary pass. A further 26,715 failed to gain a classification.

According to the Association of Graduate Recruiters, 2.1 degrees are the ‘most common select criteria’, used by 76 per cent of employers who filter out applicants with a 2.2 or worse.

It said some bosses were ‘considering increasing their requirement to a minimum of a first degree classification due to the high volume of their graduates who actually achieve this’.

The Universities UK umbrella body said the rise in firsts and 2.1s over the past decade had been fuelled by booming A-level performance, which was brought to a crashing halt last summer under measures introduced to tackle grade inflation.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive, said: ‘The sector has recognised for some time that the current degree classification system is a blunt instrument. Hence the recommendation last year that, from autumn 2012, all students entering undergraduate degrees will leave with a HEAR, as well as a degree certificate.

‘The aim of the HEAR is to provide a more detailed account of what a student has actually achieved during their studies, rather than just a one-off degree classification.’    

A breakdown by sex showed that 17.3 per cent of men got firsts compared with 16.6 per cent of women, while women were more likely to get 2.1s.


Teaching self-esteem undermines students’ academic achievement

Self-control, not self-esteem, leads to success, researchers have found. Indeed, teaching self-esteem actually harms students’ achievement and work ethic. “In one study, university students who’d earned C, D and F grades ‘received encouragement aimed at boosting their self-worth.’ They did worse than students with similar grades whose self-esteem had been left alone. ‘An intervention that encourages [students] to feel good about themselves, regardless of work, may remove the reason to work hard,’” notes “Roy Baumeister, a Florida State professor who’s studied the topic for years. ‘Self-control is much more powerful and well-supported as a cause of personal success,’ he says.”

A year ago, The Washington Post reported on the failure of self-esteem to improve educational achievement: due to the self-esteem fad, American 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.’” Yet, “for decades, the prevailing wisdom in education was that high self-esteem would lead to high achievement.” That false “theory led to an avalanche of daily affirmations, awards ceremonies” and time-consuming feel-good exercises in our schools.

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 important 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, where he was a guest and she was a caller. “Governor Lowry, I teach self-esteem,” 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 on such “self-esteem” teachers.

Due to inflated self-esteem, “More students say they’re gifted in writing ability” than in the past, “yet test scores show writing ability has gone down since the 1960s,” says psychologist Jean Twenge. “And while in the late 1980s, almost half of students said they studied for six or more hours a week, the figure was little over a third by 2009 – a fact that sits rather oddly, given there has been a rise in students’ self-proclaimed drive to succeed during the same period.”

Achievement is sometimes inversely related to self-esteem. “American students, for example, took first place in self-judged mathematical ability in a comparative study of eight countries, but last place in actual mathematical competency. Korean students, in contrast, ranked themselves last in self-judged mathematical skills and took first place in actual mathematical performance.”

Government officials who associate self-esteem with better performance have gotten causation backwards. It is better performance that eventually leads to higher self-esteem, not higher self-esteem that causes better performance. As law professor Glenn Harlan Reynolds has noted, government officials’ misunderstanding of causation may also help explain government policies that contributed to the housing bubble, and government officials’ misguided desire to send everyone (no matter how bored or disinterested in academics) to college (a policy that leads to many students dropping out of college after incurring large amounts of debt, or costing taxpayers a bundle for subsidized college tuition).


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