Wednesday, February 25, 2015

OK: AP History courses survive funding cut

Responding to a wave of public pressure, a conservative lawmaker in Oklahoma has backed off a bill that threatened to cut funding for Advanced Placement US History courses, unless they were revised to reflect the concept of “American exceptionalism.”

“It was very poorly worded and was incredibly ambiguous…. We’re going to clear it up so folks will know exactly what we’re trying to accomplish, and it’s not to hurt AP,” Oklahoma Rep. Dan Fisher (R) told The Oklahoman Wednesday. The new bill will simply ask the state education board to review AP history, The Oklahoman reports.

House Bill 1380 passed out of committee earlier this week, with no Democratic votes. Representative Fisher and other supporters objected to the recently revised framework for AP US history by the College Board, which administers related exams so high school students can earn college credit.

“The redesign … trades an emphasis on America’s founding principles of constitutional government in favor of robust analysis of gender, racial oppression, class, ethnicity, and the lives of marginalized people,” Fisher said during the committee meeting. “The emphasis is on America as a nation of oppressors and exploiters. Certainly we all know ... we have our blemishes, but we don’t want only our blemishes taught.”

Such battles over how US history should be taught – and how much emphasis should be placed on the country’s role as a model for liberty, democracy, and a free-market economy – have been playing out for several decades.

Last year, the Republican National Committee condemned the new AP US History framework as “a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.”

The Texas state board of education objected to the AP US History framework and emphasized that teachers of the course must also follow state standards. Students in Jefferson County, Colo., walked out of classes in the fall, successfully opposing an attempt by conservative members of the school board to review and revise AP US history.

Backers of the Oklahoma bill said they worried it would supplant state history standards with a skewed attempt at a national curriculum – an objection that conservatives also commonly lob at the Common Core State Standards, which many states have voluntarily adopted.

On social media and in calls to legislators’ offices, students, educators, and other concerned citizens laid out their objections to the possibility that students might lose the opportunity to earn college credits. They also defended the AP courses as offering a balanced understanding of US history.

“We all love our AP classes, and depend on them to challenge us, prepare us, and ultimately, provide us with the chance to excel and gain college credit,” wrote high school student Moin Nadeem in a petition he placed on that has since received more than 16,000 online signatures.

One post to the petition, by someone identifying himself as both a conservative and an AP US history teacher in Broken Arrow, Okla., said he was appalled by the bill: “The framework is a barebones ‘map’ of topics that are to be covered; however, the teacher has the opportunity (and fails to do their job correctly if they do not take the opportunity) to add to the framework … with the state standards for US History…. Keep the government out of my classroom!”

Supporters of the new AP framework say it’s inaccurate to say the framework overemphasizes negative aspects of American history, and that teachers do use many of the documents listed in the bill.

The framework is about “teaching kids to see complexity and draw their own conclusions,” says Fritz Fischer, a history professor at the University of Colorado and author of “The Memory Hole: The U.S. History Curriculum Under Siege.”

The problem with people pushing “American exceptionalism” in the curriculum, Professor Fischer says, is that they want to teach “that America was always right.… They believe the US is the best country now and therefore it has always been the best country.”

Fischer agrees there are many examples of shining moments for the nation, but worries that some backers of exceptionalism don’t want students to be exposed to anything negative. Some have objected to letting students know about some founders of the country being slaveholders, while others have said America’s expansion westward can only be called expansionism, not imperialism.

“It’s much too simplistic for the classroom, where you want to teach critical thinking,” he says.


Make College Free-Market, Not ‘Free’

The biggest problem with President Barack Obama’s proposal to make two-year community college “as free as high school,” which he has dubbed America’s College Promise, is that the new “free” associate degrees will become as costly and meaningless as many high school diplomas.

For the record, American public elementary and secondary schools already spend more than $13,500 per pupil per year on average - slightly more than two-year colleges spend.

That’s hardly the kind of “free” any of us can afford, even if public secondary schools were getting results. Which they are, of course, but the wrong kind.

The national high school graduation rate may have reached an historic high of more than 80 percent, but the average college freshman reads at a middle-school level, according to the educational assessment firm Renaissance Learning. National Assessment of Educational Progress results for twelfth-grade public school students released last summer also show that just one-quarter score proficient or better in math, and slightly more than one-third (36 percent) are proficient in reading.

So the story is simple: U.S. public schools are awarding high school diplomas to millions of students who haven’t mastered the basics - a fact that even U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan admitted when he derided the “educational stagnation in our high schools” last year.

Not surprisingly, some 75 percent of freshmen entering public two-year colleges need remedial work in English, math, or both, according to the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education. There’s no good reason to believe that academic quality—much less affordability—will improve by expanding the federal government’s reach into higher education, or taxpayers’ wallets.

At last count our national debt was $18 trillion. Mounting evidence indicates that student debt, which now exceeds $1 trillion, is adding to the drag on our economy. Decades of government “financial aid” have done little to help and, according to any number of studies, have probably made matters worse, encouraging colleges and universities to increase tuition and fees. The last thing we should be doing is spending another $60 billion to $70 billion annually on public two-year colleges where barely 1 in 5 students earns a degree in three years.

What is “free” in the president’s equation are the schools: they, like the high schools that supply them with students who are poorly equipped to do college-level work, would be free of responsibility.

What is needed to make higher education more affordable are better incentives for students to buckle down, study and get their degrees on time, not more high-priced, top-down government giveaways.

Instead of funneling hundreds of billions of dollars annually to public institutions that face no consequences for out-of-control price increases, what we should do is provide the money directly to students as performance grants.

To qualify for these grants, students would have to demonstrate financial need and complete their chosen degree programs as stipulated. Otherwise, their grants would convert into loans that must be repaid.

Schools, two and four-year alike, would have to compete for students and their associated grant funding, which would exert powerful pressure on the schools to control costs, keep program quality high and offer more generous institutional aid - or risk losing students to other institutions.

Want to make higher education an engine for economic growth? Don’t make it “free.” Make it free market, as the Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman recommended decades ago.


Why parents should stop helping their kids with homework

I am not sure about the "research" reported below but there do seem to be some sensible suggestions. Comment from Australia

Homework is the cause of many suburban screaming matches and thousands of grey hairs. Many parents feel like they’re going through school a second time around as they sit down with their children each night and help with their homework.

The average Australian 15-year-old spends six hours a week doing their homework, according to the OECD. And a recent Australian Childhood Foundation survey found that 71 per cent of Australian parents feel like they don’t spend enough quality time with their children, because they spend too much time running the household or helping with homework.

Now several education experts are urging parents to stop helping. They say it will give their kids more independence, give parents back their free time and help reduce the number of homework-related arguments at home.


There is extensive research proving that homework has little academic benefit, says associate professor of educational psychology at the University of Sydney and author of Reforming Homework, Richard Walker.

“There isn’t much academic benefit in homework for primary school children. There are some benefits for junior school students and around 50 per cent of senior high school students show some benefit when it comes to academic achievement. But not for primary school kids,” he said.

Psychologist Dr Michael Carr-Gregg agrees: “Homework provides absolutely no academic benefit for younger students.

“And parents are demanding it in larger and larger doses, despite the fact that it does nothing. It’s a completely different ballgame in secondary school, but not in primary school.”

But research does show that doing homework helps kids develop “self-directed learning skills” — in other words — initiative, independence and confidence.

Also, homework helps to solidify a sense of belonging and autonomy. It gives kids a sense of control over their lives.

Homework has minimal academic benefits for primary school children.

Homework has minimal academic benefits for primary school children. Source: Getty Images


Associate professor Walker says this sense of autonomy is taken away when parents get too involved in homework help.

“If parents are over controlling and interfering then that really has a negative effect,” he said.

“Some involvement is good for self-directed learning, but if they get too involved and the kid loses their autonomy then it becomes a problem. I think parents have to pull back.”

He says many parents are exerting too much of what he calls “emotional labour”.

“Parents are often tired after a long day at work and having to put in the emotional labour to assist their kids with homework can be quite a burden.”


Education expert from, Ciaran Smyth, says parents shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help.

“You don’t have to be the ultimate expert in everything. Children need to put their hands up for help and parents also need to ask for help. There’s no reason to be stuck. Use your resources — teachers, tutors — just ask.”

Online tutoring services such as — where students can seek help from accredited teachers in a live typed chat from 3pm after school — can help take the pressure off parents.

“I’ve seen so many arguments between parents and children about homework. By removing the burden of having to be the homework help the whole time, parents can reduce the number of arguments, the tension and the bad feelings that come from having to hound your kid all the time.”

If someone else is doing the hard yards helping out with homework, that leaves parents free to do other things and spend more quality (read: argument-free) time with their children, Mr Smyth said.

Parents who get too involved in their child’s homework are doing more harm than good.

Parents who get too involved in their child’s homework are doing more harm than good. Source: Getty Images


Given the lack of evidence to support the academic benefits of homework in primary school, Dr Michael Carr-Gregg says primary schools should stop giving kids traditional homework exercises and instead equip them with important life skills.

Some schools are already getting on board.

St Michael’s Grammar in Melbourne asks students to play board games such as Scrabble with an adult and photograph the board as proof.

“Or they choose and cook a recipe for dinner and photograph the results — all of which helps with literacy and important life skills,” Dr Carr-Gregg said.

“These are much more pleasant family interactions than homework. Childhood is hard enough as it is without putting the stress of homework on them.”

Dr Carr-Gregg urges parents to “rise up against the tyranny of primary school homework”

“I’m frustrated that schools aren’t responding to the research. I would be putting it on the parents to educate the schools about what is the current thinking around homework. Homework is not being set correctly at the moment. It’s very poorly coordinated.

“If the school is consistently not receptive to the idea, I would write over my kid’s homework, ‘Sleep was more important, I gave them permission to do this’. I really do want parents to act as their kids’ advocates.”


1 comment:

Uno Hu said...

How can anyone who has had/watched/helped his/her child from the first through the fifth grades with homework think that the repetition involved in homework does not improve spelling literacy or general numeracy, esp. fractions? Just because some academic pronounces that home work is of no benefit does not make it so!