Sunday, December 07, 2014

What America Should and Should Not Learn from Chinese Education

Gene Veith noted an interesting potential outcome of allowing the kind of education fit for free people into Hong Kong:

Today, the still-Communist Chinese are blaming the liberal arts curriculum in the schools of Hong Kong for the pro-freedom movement currently roiling that city, with the protests generally led by liberal arts students. The movement is being called “scholarism.” In the mean time, the Chinese government wants to impose a pro-government purely economic curriculum. Sound familiar?

Anything Communists blame for spreading freedom shoots immediately to the top of my “most-wanted” list – in an entirely different sense in which the Party would mean that.

Veith’s note comes at an appropriate time, because Chinese expatriate Yong Zhao’s recent book makes a related critique. The University of Oregon professor argues the Chinese system may be efficient, but it’s also highly dependent on culture (Chinese parents prod their children academically, while American parents are overall rather lackadaisical) and cookie-cutter. He notes the ironies of Americans rushing over to China to pattern our education system after theirs as they rush over here in an attempt to introduce some creativity into their classrooms. Both are missing the point, he says. In a review, Rick Hess quotes the book’s last line: “In no way can China serve as the model for the future. In fact, we don’t yet have a model that will meet the needs of a global future. We will have to invent one.”

This is a salient critique against the entire “twenty-first century global skills” push. It is foolish to hand a kindergartener an iPad, because when she graduates college in 16 years, iPads will have morphed beyond our wildest dreams. It is foolish to suppose we can pinpoint a child’s future perfect career, even at a plausible age such as 16 rather than five, because Americans switch jobs every four years, and careers several times.

Perhaps there are some things we should learn from China and some we should run away from screaming. A servile, job-based curriculum that intends to dampen the intellect and propagandize the emotions should definitely be out, as it is in Hong Kong. How about resuscitating a truly liberal arts education (not mere “humanities”), accompanied by matching teaching methods that are successful in China (and everywhere else)? By the way, this also produced some of the greatest civilizations in history, including forming the people who in turn formed America. Back to Veith:

It’s called ‘liberal’ from the Latin word for ‘freedom.’ It goes back to the distinction in ancient Greece and Rome between the ‘servile’ education given to slaves (nothing more than training for a job) and the ‘liberal’ education given to free citizens of the Greek democracy and the Roman Republic – one that required the cultivation of the intellect and other human powers, as well as knowledge of the cultural heritage that must be transmitted to the new generation.


Low-Income D.C. Students Denied Scholarships Despite Law Giving Them Preference

Some Washington, DC children are being denied participation in the Opportunity Scholarship Program, which gives students from low-income families scholarships to attend private schools, despite a law giving preference to these students with siblings in the program.

The Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act, which reauthorized the program in 2011, says students with a sibling already in the program are to be given priority.  But that preference is denied for some families.

Tiffany Jones, a fifth grader at St. Thomas More Catholic Academy, was denied participation in the program even though her sister, Sabriah, a seventh-grader at the academy, has received a scholarship for two years. The scholarship pays for Sabriah’s tuition, books, uniform, and saxophone lessons.

The children’s father, Gary Jones, a site leader at the finance company Duff & Phelps, said he was told Tiffany would have to wait at least four years for test results from a study group before she was eligible.

“With this program, it’s a good program, don’t get me wrong, because it allowed us to put our children in better schools,” Jones said. “But to me it’s penalizing parents who have multiple students in the school.”

Jones took a second job as a part-time cashier at the downtown DC Marshall’s store to pay the $4,090 for Tiffany’s tuition and her clarinet lessons at the academy. But despite receiving a $1,000 scholarship from the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington and moving his family to a smaller, two-bedroom apartment, Jones is behind on his payments to the school.

“Even with two jobs, my wife is still not working, so I have to take care of the bills and everything else,” he said.

Because he works evenings three to four times a week, Jones isn’t able to spend as much time with his children or help them with their homework.  “I don’t get that time like I used to because a lot of nights when I come in they’re asleep, and then I see them in the morning when we head out for school and work,” he said.

The scholarship program was established in 2004 to provide opportunities for students from low-income families to attend participating private schools. The fund provides scholarships of up to $12,572 for high school and $8,381 for elementary and middle school. Approximately 1,500 students were enrolled in 46 schools in 2013.

The program has a 93 percent graduation rate, compared to 58 percent of DC public school students having graduated on time in 2012.

The SOAR Act established control groups of students to track the progress of the program, but those study groups are no longer necessary, argues Kevin P. Chavous, executive counsel to the American Federation for Children and former member of the DC City Council.

“I think that the accountability and the evidence that the program works is clear,” he said. “Unfortunately, because of the politics of education, kids’ priorities are placed in the backseat, and we see that not just in DC but all over the country.”

More than 14,700 DC children have applied to the program since it was established in 2004-05. Since then, more than 5,900 students have been awarded scholarships. Of the students who received scholarships, 64 percent of their families are receiving SNAP and/or TANF benefits for the 2014-15 school year. The average annual household income for 2012 for students in the program was $21,086.

The program began in 2004 and was a part of a citywide effort to improve all of DC’s educational sectors, including traditional public, public charter, and non-public schools, in order to expand quality educational opportunities.

It is the first federally funded program of its kind, according to The program was the product of a bipartisan effort involving former DC Mayor Anthony Williams, DC City Council members, school leaders, the White House, the U.S. Congress, and the U.S. Department of Education.

The Scholarship Opportunity Program office didn’t return a call for comment.


Australia: What to give a child who can't read?

In the state of Victoria, there are approximately 40,000 students in Years 3 to 9 whose reading and numeracy skills are either at or below the minimum standard that will allow them to learn and achieve at school.

These numbers are calculated using the latest results from the National Assessment Plan for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and school statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That there are large numbers of students either barely literate or illiterate - lacking the fundamental skill for educational success, secure employment, and quality of life - is common knowledge and has been evident for some time.

What did the education policy platforms from the Labor and Liberal parties promise Victorian families in response to this enduring and profound problem with literacy and numeracy?

The Labor party promised to build 10 new 'tech' schools, and provide $680 million dollars for building upgrades, plus hundreds of millions of dollars for breakfast clubs, school uniforms, eye-tests and glasses, camps and excursions, and driver training. Only one policy announcement from Labor actually pertained to the core work of schools - teaching and learning - the requirement for all new registered teachers to have completed a course in teaching students with disabilities.

The Liberal party policy platform was even worse in this respect. It expressly acknowledged the lack of improvement in literacy and numeracy results in the state at least since NAPLAN started in 2008, yet proposed no solutions. Instead, it promised $1.2 billion for building upgrades on top of a whopping $4.5 billion in funding for unspecified 'Gonski' funding, plus further millions for first aid training for students, 3D printers, foreign languages, student leadership, school safety grants, and mental health initiatives. Not one concrete policy proposal for improving outcomes for students in literacy and numeracy.

There is no doubt that the quality of school facilities is important, and it is a defensible use of public money, within limits. Some of the other programs, such as breakfast clubs, are also good things but most schools where breakfast clubs are needed are already providing them with community support.

Many of the programs dreamt up by the two major political parties, however, would be difficult to justify for inclusion in a school education budget even if schools were excelling at their core function - education. And clearly they are not. Families in Victoria deserve much better. Let's hope that the Andrews Labor government delivers much more than it promised.


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