Wednesday, September 24, 2014

D.C. Gets an ‘F’ in Academic Achievement for Low-Income & Minority Students

The District of Columbia in 2014 received an “F” grade in academic achievement for low-income and minority students attending its public schools, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber, which released a report entitled Leaders and Laggards: A State-by-State Report Card on K-12 Educational Effectiveness, ranked states on nine indicators to see which states were the national leaders in educational performance and which states were lagging behind.

The Chamber looked at metrics, in public schools and charter schools, like the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) to measure academic achievement, AP exams to measure post-secondary and workforce measurement, and various teacher workforces of schools, to name a few measures.

Out of nine indicators of educational achievement that the District of Columbia was applicable for, D.C. received five F’s, one D+, one C+, and two A’s.

The District got  F’s  in the Academic Achievement, Academic Achievement for Low-Income and Minority Students, International Competitiveness, Post-secondary and Workforce Readiness, and Return on Investment metrics.

According to the report, “The District of Columbia earns a failing grade in academic achievement for low-income and minority students. The District has the highest percentage nationwide of both African-American (76%) and low-income (78%) students. Fourth and 8th graders in both groups perform below the national average at or above the proficient level on the NAEP reading exam.”

Other failing metrics for D.C. were workforce readiness and international competitiveness. “The District earns a failing grade preparing its students for college and careers. Students’ chances for college attendance by age 19 are the lowest in the nation,” said the Chamber of Commerce. “The District earns a very low grade preparing its students to compete in a global economy. Only 10% of students are proficient in reading and math – the lowest percentage in the nation – compared with an international standard.”

D.C. also fared poorly, a grade of D+, in the 21st Century Teaching Force metric. “The nation’s capital does a weak job of creating a strong teacher workforce. It does not successfully identify effective teachers or remove ineffective ones,” said the report.

The district fared better in metrics like parental options and data quality. “The District does an excellent job providing parents with strong school choice options. It has one of the strongest charter school laws in the country and more than half of all students attend a school of choice – the highest in the nation,” said the Chamber.

“The District earns an excellent grade collecting and reporting high-quality education data," states the report.  "It provides funding to expand its longitudinal data system and links student performance data with teacher data.”


Don't Know Much About...

Last Wednesday, September 17, was Constitution Day, marking the 227th anniversary of that wondrous document’s ratification. Unfortunately, a new survey released the same day by the Annenberg Public Policy Center reveals an embarrassing but ultimately predictable level of public ignorance regarding its contents.

The numbers are stark. While just 36% of the 1,416 adult respondents could name all three branches of the federal government, another 35% couldn’t name a single one. Only 27% of Americans know it takes a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate to override a presidential veto, and over one-in-five (21%) believes a 5-4 Supreme Court decision will be sent back to Congress for reconsideration.

Even worse, the survey reveals the term “low information voter” is not only distressingly accurate, but maybe far more endemic than even an ardent pessimist might have imagined. When asked which party has the most members in the House of Representatives, 38% correctly answered Republicans, while 17% said Democrats, and a whopping 44% admitted they didn’t know. That last number represents a 17 point increase from the 27% who had no idea in 2011.

The numbers were no better with regard to who controls the Senate. While 38% correctly answered Democrats, 27% thought it was Republicans, and another whopping 42% didn’t know, the same 17 point increase from the 27% who didn’t know in 2011.

“Although surveys reflect disapproval of the way Congress, the President and the Supreme Court are conducting their affairs, the Annenberg survey demonstrates that many know surprisingly little about these branches of government,” said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC). “This survey offers dramatic evidence of the need for more and better civics education.”

What’s the likelihood of that occurring? A column I read just under two years ago haunts me to this day. In “Education’s Great Divide: My Time in the Trenches,” writer Glenn Fairman speaks of his discovery during a stint as a substitute teacher in a social studies class some 20 years earlier. It relates directly to the subject at hand. “In a dusty corner shelf of the room was a set of thirty-year-old textbooks from the mid-1960s, and although my memory cannot now recall their title, their contents burned themselves into my brain,” he writes. “As I flipped through the pages, I was astonished to find what I would now consider an upper-level college textbook under color of what in the high schools used to be termed ‘civics.’ … I spent the rest of the day in slack-jawed amazement, perusing what a student in a working-class town was expected to know before the mavens of education began tinkering with the curricula of our schools.”

This past summer I took the opportunity to fill a hole in my own civics education and picked up a copy of the Federalist Papers. What struck me above all else was the profound understanding exhibited by authors James Madison, Alexander Hamilton and John Jay – not of government, but of the various aspects of human nature that must be recognized and reconciled to produce a viable government. I was fascinated by the brilliance of these men and their spirited arguments in favor of the new Constitution – yet I couldn’t shake the feeling that their eloquence would be incomprehensible to the average American at the present time.

The above survey confirms my worst fears.

Unlike many of my fellow Americans, I don’t believe those who are conspicuously lacking in a fundamental understanding of our government are stupid. I believe they are ignorant, and while I used to believe that ignorance was a direct byproduct of educational establishment’s incompetence, I have changed my mind. I now believe the dumbing down of Americans is being intentionally cultivated. “From elementary school and into the colleges, disciplines of objective knowledge have been either discounted or leveled, and critical thinking has been pushed aside for the subtle indoctrination of a specific worldview,” echoes Fairman.

Unfortunately, it is the progressive worldview, a vapid stew of feel-good “isms” that has elevated “caring” above the acquisition of critical knowledge far too many Americans lack. A 2006 Zogby poll illuminates the same lack of knowledge about the three branches of the federal government – only 42% could identify them eight years ago. But that poll added a dose of cynicism to the mix, revealing nearly three-in-four of those same Americans could name each of the Three Stooges. I’d bet my life Moe, Larry and Curly could name all three branches of government. They were educated in a time before the current wave of mavens and their union collaborators took the best system in the world and tossed it over a cliff.

In a couple of recent columns, I spoke about “Jihad Chic” and what attracts young men and women to a group like ISIL, and its glorification of bloodthirsty depravity. As crazy as it might sound, the Annenberg poll gives one a hint. The foundation of our entire culture is the Constitution, and the glaring ignorance demonstrated by the poll respondents suggests a profound cultural rot – one that might be accelerating faster than we know. When our own commander in chief tells us that the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant “is not Islamic,” we are in a place where truth itself is apparently optional, which in turn suggests our entire cultural ethos is being stripped of all substance and meaning. ISIL may be a savage organization, but their cultural ethos radiates clarity.

The dire implications? You can’t beat something with nothing. And we have allowed the cultural flagellators, who reduce America to little more than a nation that must atone for its “sins,” to dominate the conversation for far too long. The spectacular theories that formed the basis of our Constitution, our government and our nation have been bastardized beyond recognition, and unless we restore them to their former greatness, a giant darkness will descend. Not just upon us, but everyone who sees this nation for what it truly is: an exceptional beacon of freedom throughout the world.

The good news? During the restoration process, we have nothing to lose but our ignorance.


Teach children a lesson in good character

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the pugnacious Chief Inspector of Schools, has yet again put his finger on the pulse of the nation, daring to say things that most know are true but few are brave enough to say.

This week he will publish an Ofsted report claiming that low-level disruption in British schools is damaging the quality of learning and the atmosphere of school life. Teachers are too often intimidated and are unable to teach properly. Students who want to learn are thwarted from doing so, and an atmosphere of disorder permeates the classrooms and corridors in schools across the country. Wilshaw will criticise head teachers for not applying strict enough punishments to inculcate proper discipline.

I have taught for more than 30 years, and run schools for over 20. Two things are entirely obvious to me: one is that without real discipline – where students know who is in charge – learning is severely hampered and the dominant culture is determined by aggressive and loud-mouthed students rather than by the teachers. The second truth is that too many schools are not nearly disciplined enough, and teachers often feel ill-supported by their senior teams.

Nothing worthwhile in life can be achieved without discipline, obedience to authority and hard work. Few institutions are more disciplined than the Royal Ballet or the Royal Shakespeare Company. Companies with lax regulations do not flourish.

Discipline has to be learnt at home and carried out at school. And if there is none in the classroom, then learning won’t take place. Unless students are utterly clear where the boundaries lie, the more timid members of the class will not contribute for fear of ridicule or harassment. The inescapable irony is that liberal and liberating learning only occurs when there is structure and order.

Everything begins with the head and the school leader. If the head does not ensure that good behaviour prevails, that one’s students are punctual, uniform is properly worn and no one speaks out of turn, then the school will not function properly. The best heads are constantly out walking the corridors and know exactly what is going on in their classrooms; the worst heads spend all their time in their offices or out of school attending conferences. They know neither their students nor their parents.

So, bravo Michael Wilshaw! Let’s hope that your words are listened to and acted upon, and that change does come to all our classrooms.

However, in one respect, the chief inspector does fall short. In laying so much stress on discipline and compliance, he is ignoring the more important ingredient of a well-ordered school, which is self-control and intrinsic good behaviour. The problem with a school in which there is good behaviour merely for fear of punishment is that the students learn little about life and the difference between right and wrong. They do not learn about the human qualities that make up a good society, and they leave school with little awareness of personal responsibility.

Good schools need to couple firm discipline with a very strong emphasis on values and the development of good character. All students need to be taught the difference between good and bad, the importance of punctuality, respect for peers and adults, and the importance of kindness and consideration.

Michael Gove was an outstanding education secretary who had a profound passion for ensuring that all students, regardless of disadvantage, should have an academic curriculum. But it was only just before he left the Education Department in July, that he realised the central importance of character. He came to recognise that the best state schools lay a heavy emphasis on the development of citizenship, and that the teaching of character and values is not the enemy but the ally of a good academic education.

The best state schools across the country – such as the King Solomon Academy in Paddington, or Kings Langley School in Hertfordshire – all know this, and avidly emphasise it. Their classrooms are turning out academically successful students as well as ones who know how to behave and contribute to society beyond school.

Children learn much less from what adults say than from what they see them doing. It is essential, thus, that teachers and support staff provide an excellent example for students (and another reason why going on strike is so appalling). Older students, too, should be much more fully used across schools, given good responsibility for looking after younger students. Teachers and institutions tend to infantilise their older students, not realising that they are capable of doing far more to contribute to the good running of the school than is often realised.

Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, is showing every sign of understanding the importance of the development of good character, and is holding conversations with professionals with a track-record in this field. Here is a golden opportunity vastly to improve behaviour in our schools. So two cheers for Michael Wilshaw for your clarion call, and a third cheer if you start talking more about character and not just punishment.


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