Monday, June 10, 2013

Education Secretary Praises School's 'Courageous Choice' to Stop Buying Textbooks

Computer games for all?  Lots of purple prose below but where is the evidence that there will be any lasting beneficial effect?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan praised the Mooresville, N.C. school district on Thursday for placing technology above textbooks.

"[T]his is not a well-funded district," Duncan said. "They made the courageous choice in about 2007 to stop buying textbooks, and they used all the money that they put in for textbooks to put in to technology. So they have sort of paved the way on this move from print to digital. And it's been amazing to see not just increase in test scores, but significant increases in high school graduate rates.

Duncan called technology a "game-changer" that can "empower students to be engaged in their own learning."

"Young people should have access to AP classes, to foreign language classes, to online tutoring. It's a fantastic way to help teachers do their job better and engage them in really important ways. Teachers can collaborate across the country with their peers. They can individualize instruction in ways that just hasn't been able to happen historically."

Duncan was traveling to Mooresville, N.C., with President Obama, who announced a multi-billion-dollar plan to bring high-speed Internet connections to 99 percent of America’s students. Obama is giving the Federal Communications Commission five years to make it happen.

"This is not connectivity for connectivity’s sake," the White House website says. "It is laying the foundation for a vision of classrooms where students are engaged in individualized digital learning and where teachers can assess progress, lesson by lesson and day by day. It’s about creating learning environments where students can both succeed and struggle without embarrassment, where barriers for children with disabilities are removed, and where we can bring the most modern, innovative, and up-to-date content into the classroom."

Duncan could not tell reporters how much the president's plan to bring high-speed Internet to all schools would cost, but the White House said the ConnectED initiative will require "a major capital investment." The Associated Press said it will cost "several billion dollars."

"I think it's really important that the FCC do that analysis, figure out what we could do with existing resources," Duncan said. If there's a need on a temporary basis for some additional resources, we need to look at that." Duncan specifically mentioned a "temporary slight increase in fees for the short term to get this done." A surcharge, in other words.

"And none of this requires any congressional approval?" a reporter asked Duncan:

"Which is the fantastic part of this," Duncan replied, prompting laughter. "We can get this done. And our kids can't wait and our teachers can't wait. We're trying to get better, faster educationally in tough economic times.

"We want to partner with Congress in everything we do," Duncan added. "And, as you know, we try to work in an absolutely bipartisan, nonpartisan way in everything we're doing. But we have to educate our way to a better economy. And the path to the middle class goes right through our nation's public schools.

And we're either going to see children in South Korea and India and China and Singapore have competitive advantages, or not. And I just think that's not fair to our kids. Our children are as smart, as talented, as committed, as entrepreneurial as children anywhere in the globe. We just have to give them a chance to compete on a level playing field. And today, quite frankly, we're not doing that."

Giving all students access to high-speed broadband is a "no-brainer," Duncan said. "We open up a new world of educational opportunity."


Guns and Grade-School Panic

The specter of school shootings has brought a too-typical staple to local newspaper sections: the boys disciplined at (or suspended from) grade school for bringing a toy gun or anything resembling a gun.

The Washington Post just found the latest wild overreaction, from Calvert County, Md., a blue state that's cracked down on gun rights. "A kindergartner who brought a cowboy-style cap gun onto his Calvert County school bus was suspended for 10 days after showing a friend the orange-tipped toy, which he had tucked inside his backpack on his way to school," according to the family.

Post reporter Donna St. George relayed, "The child was questioned for more than two hours before his mother was called, she said, adding that he uncharacteristically wet his pants during the episode. The boy is 5 - 'all bugs and frogs and cowboys,' his mother said."

After an uproar stoked by local talk radio hosts erupted the next day, the district held a conference with the parents and reduced the suspension to two days (or "time served").

Your dictionary word here is "hoplophobia" — an irrational fear of firearms, even toy guns or ... pointed fingers.

This isn't the first time St. George and the Post have reported wrong-headed overreaction since the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary. In February, an 8-year-old boy in Prince William County, Va., was suspended after he "pointed his finger like a gun in a school hallway after a friend pretended to shoot him with a bow and arrow. The class had been studying Native American culture and had just learned a deer-hunting song."

The boy served an in-school suspension for the day, charged with "threatening to harm self or others," on par with bringing an actual weapon to school. The boy's father was understandably stunned: "There was no threat, which is the part I can't fathom," he stated. "(My) son is going to have this in his file for playing."

This kind of nonsense does indeed go on a youngster's permanent record." Prince William County also suspended a 10-year-old for showing off an orange-tipped cap gun from a dollar store.

Here's another story demonstrating how amazingly stupid educators can be. In March, a school district in Anne Arundel Country in Maryland suspended a 7-year-old boy after school officials charged him with — ready? — chewing a Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun. The boy, Josh Welch, said he was actually trying to shape his toaster pastry like a mountain, which figured prominently in a recent drawing he made.

In an appeal, lawyer Robin Ficker included pictures of the states of Idaho and Florida because "they look more like guns than Josh's Pop-Tart." Yes, a boy 7 years of age needed a lawyer.

But he isn't the only dangerous 7-year-old lurking out there. Two 7-year-old boys were suspended from school in Suffolk County, Va. for pointing pencils at each other while making shooting sounds. One boy was pretending to be a Marine and the other a bad guy. One of the boy's fathers is a former Marine.

This can even happen to girls, too. In Mount Carmel, Pa., A 5-year-old girl was suspended from school in January after she made what the school called a "terrorist threat." What weapon was she packing? A "small, Hello Kitty automatic bubble blower."

But maybe the silliest panic came in Grand Island, Neb., where school officials wanted deaf 3-year-old Hunter Spanjer to find a different sign for his first name, since in American Sign Language, you make a gesture resembling a gun for "Hunter." Under pressure, school officials quickly insisted they weren't going to make any deaf child change the sign language for their name.

Even teacher permission won't protect you. In breaking news, several grade-school students in Edmonds, Wash., were just suspended for a day for shooting Nerf gun darts before class — after parents say a teacher asked students to bring in Nerf guns for use in a probability study.

One parent protested: "If the teacher and the school staff don't even know their own rules, how are the children supposed to know them?"

When, oh, when, are we going to start firing these idiots running these schools?


British private schools abandon A-levels for international qualifications

Top private schools are abandoning A-levels in favour of alternative qualifications sat abroad because of growing concerns over “political interference” in the examinations system.  Headmasters warned that schools were moving towards tests taken by children overseas to address fears over constant “tinkering” with national assessments.

As sixth-formers across the country sit end-of-course tests this month, examiners reported more interest in International A-levels — a version of the British qualification created for the foreign market.

It also emerged that more pupils were taking the Cambridge Pre-U, which is seen as a return to traditional A-level study, before it was divided into a series of “bite-sized” modules, and the International Baccalaureate diploma.

In all, 72 British schools are entering pupils for International A-levels this year, 99 are taking the Pre-U and 188 are offering the IB.

The Coalition has insisted that it is addressing major concerns over the standard of A-levels by moving towards rigorous end-of-course exams and asking elite universities to help write course syllabuses.

But Ed Elliott, head of The Perse School, Cambridge, said many schools were unwilling to wait for the reforms or risk them being reversed by a future Labour administration.

The school offers the Pre-U in psychology, music, physics and chemistry and will move towards the International A-level in biology from September.

“The Perse does not want to be part of a game of political ping pong which will destabilise the exam system to the disadvantage of students,” he said.

“By sitting international qualifications we can take a 'wait and see’ approach to UK domestic exam reform, whilst ensuring our pupils benefit from studying proven, rigorous and internationally recognised qualifications free from political interference.”

Pre-Us were developed by Cambridge International Examinations (CIE) in 2008 as a more rigorous form of A-level, with a greater emphasis on exams and less coursework. It is already offered by schools such as Eton, Charterhouse, Winchester and Dulwich.

International A-levels have also been run for more than 50 years by CIE for schools overseas, with syllabuses avoiding cultural bias and taking a more global approach.

The IB — championed by schools such as Sevenoaks, Wellington College and King Edward’s, Birmingham — is a diploma qualification developed in Geneva and is designed to offer a more rounded experience for sixth-formers, with students taking a range of subjects, as well as completing an extended essay and doing community work.

Latest figures from CIE show that 99 schools made entries for the Pre-U this year, up from 98 in 2012, and a further 150 are registered to teach it from September this year.

In all, the number of pupils taking exams in “principal subjects” — English literature, maths, history, physics and economics — is up by seven per cent this year.

The exam board said that a further 72 British schools were entering pupils for International A-levels in 2012/3, mainly in English, geography, biology, physics and maths, with numbers expected to rise next year.

A spokeswoman said: “We are expecting to see growth of both Cambridge Pre-U and International A-level in the UK as schools look at tried and tested alternatives in times of reform.”

Figures show that 188 schools in Britain run the IB, with 47,238 candidates sitting the qualification. It represents a 63 per cent growth in schools in the past five years.

The Department for Education said changes to the A-level were being made to ensure it would “match the world’s best and command the respect of the top universities and employers”.

“Our reforms will enhance A-levels so students are better prepared for higher education,” a spokesman said. “For too long academics at leading universities have been concerned with current A-levels, with nearly three-quarters of lecturers having to adapt their teaching for poorly prepared students.

“Linear A-levels will end an over reliance on resits so all pupils develop a real understanding of a subject.”


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