Thursday, September 11, 2014

In Which I Extract My Kid From the Clutches of Traditional Schooling

I can't say it was the stress-induced puking that caused my wife and I to finally pull our son from his brick-and-mortar charter school. We'd been contemplating yanking him from a classroom setting for the past year or so. Over the summer, we ran him through a battery of academic tests and encouraged him to study math and Spanish online. The results were enlightening, but we thought he might be a little young for a full online education. And then the nervous tic developed as the start of school approached. That decided us well before he barfed at the thought of the next day's schedule of classes.

Anthony's (he started insisting on his full name) charter school is a good effort of the type. During a July meet-and-greet, the school principal and his teacher were amenable to a flexible approach—especially one that takes into account the flawed math genes I handed off to him. He grasps some lessons about math, while others on exactly the same concepts might as well be written in Sanskrit. They said they'd work with him. And they tried.

But a classroom is fundamentally a classroom. It has a structured day, and a bunch of kids requiring the divided attention of a teacher. The kids are part of a group, and mostly they're taught as part of that group.

And my kid is now twitching and puking at the thought of school. This does not work for me.

So we took the lead from the online lessons that worked so well for Anthony over the summer, and for his new penchant for googling the shit out of animals, battles, and historical figures who catch his interest. Personally, I had ever heard of slave-making ants, but I walked out of my office one day to find that a mention of them in his encyclopedia of animals started him on an online research foray into the nastier sorts of crawling things. This was after he became fascinated by the shifts in Roman military gear from 100 A.D., to 400 A.D., to 1000 A.D. He has become very familiar with the websites where you can track the evolution.

So now he's enrolled in an online private school. The school promises an individualized approach—we already know from experience that many of the lessons are designed to automatically adjust their pace to the needs of students working through online lessons. He'll still work with a couple of online teachers, and my wife and I take on larger roles in monitoring his work and coaching him through the offline material. It's as much a homeschooling effort with organizational and technological backup as it is a private school.

It's an alternative to what we tried before, which didn't work. And while there's no guarantee that this is the "right" approach for Anthony, I have no doubt that it's an improvement for my kid, whatever may work for others.

It would have been nice to have an option like this back when I was twitching and puking my own way through public schools in New York and Connecticut.

Update: And, for the inevitable accusations that we're now keeping Anthony locked in the closet...He can kick his way through the door with his Tae Kwon Do skills.


OECD: UK graduates 'lacking high-level literacy skills'

A sharp rise in the number of UK school leavers going on to university is failing to translate into higher levels of basic skills, according to a major international study.

Figures from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) show the majority of students are completing higher education courses without good levels of literacy.

In a report, it was revealed that just a quarter of UK graduates had top-level reading and writing skills compared with at least a third of those in some other developed nations such as Japan, Finland, the Netherlands, Sweden and Australia.

The study – comparing standards in 34 countries – also found that British adults with qualifications no higher than A-levels performed better in comparison with their peers internationally than those who had been through university.

The OECD said the findings suggested that increased access to qualifications in the UK was failing to produce the high levels of reading and writing needed in the workplace. Similar scores were recorded for numeracy, it emerged.

It was also revealed that school leavers’ chances of going on to university were still strongly linked to parental background.

The findings will raise fresh questions over the rapid expansion of degree course places in recent years.

According to the report, the number of adults with a degree-level qualification in the UK (41 per cent) now outstrips the proportion who quit education with A-levels or equivalent qualifications (37 per cent). The figures cover university degrees alongside other types of higher level or "tertiary" qualification.

Between 2008 and 2011, the UK's investment in education as a percentage of GDP also increased quicker than any other developed nation, it was revealed.

But critics have warned that too many school leavers have been pushed into taking degree courses when they may have been better suited to on-the-job training courses. Business leaders have repeatedly complained that large numbers of graduates lack the basic "job skills" needed to function properly in the workplace.

Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s director for education and skills, said there was a “lot of variability in the skills those people have attained”, adding: "Not all further education qualifications really deserve that name because often those individuals are not actually better skilled than those people who have just come out of school.”

He said: "UK universities have a very strong reputation - you would have expected this stronger prevalence among the most highly skilled people."

The OECD report – Education at a Glance – found that record numbers of UK adults now hold degree-level qualifications, with 41 per cent going through higher education by 2012 compared with just 26 per cent in 2000.

Among young adults – those aged 24-to-34 – numbers increased from 29 to 48 per cent over the period. Among women, the number reached around 50 per cent.

Only six countries now have more young adults with a degree than the UK – South Korea, Japan, Canada, Luxemburg, Ireland and Russia.

But the figures were benchmarked against a separate study by the OECD published last year that tested adults across the developed world in basic literacy and numeracy. The UK figures only covered England and Northern Ireland.

It found that high levels of university attendance had largely failed to translate into improved scores in skills assessments. The OECD said that:

* Just 25 per cent of UK graduates gained the very highest scores in the literacy test, compared with 37 per cent of those from Japan and Finland, 36 per cent from the Netherlands, 32 per cent from Australia, 28 per cent from Norway and 26 per cent from Belgium;

* Young adults from UK who were educated to sixth-form level – without going to university – gained an average score of 277 in the literacy test, placing them 12th when compared with their peers;

* Graduates aged under-34 from the UK scored little higher in the test – an average score of 296 – placing them 19th when compared with university leavers from other countries.

Mr Schleicher said: “You can say in the UK that qualification levels have risen enormously – a lot more people are getting tertiary qualifications, university degrees – but actually a lot of that isn’t visible in better skills.”

He added: “There is a big distribution in outcomes. What’s interesting is, when you look at people with tertiary qualifications, there is a lot of variability in the skills those people have obtained.”

The study also found that – despite huge strides in university access – the likelihood of gaining a degree still depends largely on background.

Mr Schleicher added: “Many countries are doing better than the UK. The UK has seen huge increases in access but that hasn’t translated into the degree of mobility we have seen in the Russian federation, in Korea, in Finland, Flanders, France, Ireland and so on.”

Nicky Morgan, the Education Secretary, said: "Our plan for education is to ensure that young people leave school with the knowledge, skills and ambition to succeed in modern Britain and to compete in the global workforce.

"That plan is already producing results, with more students studying subjects that will open doors for them in the future and a narrowing of the achievement gap between students from disadvantaged backgrounds and their peers.

"This report provides further confirmation that when it comes to our children’s education we cannot afford to stand still and I’m committed to going further faster towards creating an education system that enables all young people, regardless of background are able to reach their full potential."

Mrs Morgan, who is also the Women and Equalities Secretary, added: "There are more women in full time work than ever before and although the gender pay gap remains too high, it is narrowing and for full-time workers under 40 is almost zero.

"In 2012, 20 per cent of SMEs were either run solely or mostly by women. Every FTSE 100 board now includes a woman and more businesses are recognising the skills and experience that diversity brings to a workplace.”


Australia: Private schools give more homework but produce no academic advantage says OECD

It appears that the nub of this report is the clause highlighted in red below.  Why should private schools worry that their existence does not lift up other schools?  They are paid to help their own students and it appears that they do that

Australian private school students spend two hours a week more on homework than their public school counterparts but do not perform better academically when socio-economic advantage is taken into account, according to a major report into educational performance around the world.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development's Education at a Glance 2014 report also finds Australian students spend more time in the classroom than anywhere else in the developed world even though they are increasingly being outperformed by students in other countries.

The report finds Australian private school students spend 7.4 hours a week on homework, an extra-curricular workload that is among the highest in the developed world. Australian public school students spend 5.1 hours on homework a week, just above the OECD average of 4.9 hours a week. Students in Shanghai, China, top the world by spending 13.8 hours on homework a week.

The report found a greater disparity in academic performance between Australian public and private school students than the OECD average, based on the mathematics results of 15-year old students in the 2012 PISA tests.

Australian private school students achieved an average score 37 points higher than public school students, above the OECD average of 28 points. But - in a trend seen across the world - there was no statistically significant difference between the results of private and public school students when the economic, social and cultural status of students and schools was accounted for.

Public schools outperformed private schools in 12 countries when socio-economic status was accounted for while private schools outperformed public schools in eight countries.

"Thus, private schools - and public schools with students from socio-economically advantaged backgrounds - benefit the individual students who attend them; but there is no evidence to suggest that private schools help to raise the level of performance of the school system as a whole," the report says.

There was no significant difference in average class sizes between Australian public and private schools: public schools have a mean class size of 22.4 compared to 22.8 in private schools.

Australian students spend more than 10,000 hours in compulsory primary and early secondary schooling, well above the OECD average of 7475 hours. The 2012 PISA results showed Australia had slipped to 17th out of 65 countries in mathematics.

The report finds the number of Australian children in early education still lags behind the rest of the world but is increasing. Eighteen per cent of Australian three-year-olds were enrolled in pre-primary education in 2012, up from 13 per cent the previous year but well below the OECD average of 70 per cent. Seventy-six per cent of four-year-olds were enrolled in early childhood or primary education, up from 67 per cent the year before.

Australia spends only 0.1 per cent of GDP on pre-primary education - compared to 0.8 per cent in Chile or Denmark - and only 45 per cent of spending on early childhood learning is publicly funded. This compares to an OECD average of 81 per cent public funding.

The report finds Australian men with a university degree will be $152,700 better off over a lifetime than those with only high school qualifications. This is above the OECD average but less than in the United States, where men with a university degree are $228,700 better off. Australian women with a degree are $91,300 better off than those with secondary qualifications.

Forty-one per cent of Australians aged 25 to 64 have tertiary qualifications, above the OECD average of 32 per cent. Young Australian women are now more likely to have a university degree than men: 53 per cent of women aged 25-34 have a degree compared to 42 per cent of men.

International students account for 18 per cent of tertiary enrolments in Australia, second only behind Luxembourg in the OECD.


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