Friday, November 27, 2015

K-12 Course Choice: The Next Evolution in School Choice?

A fundamental tenet of parental choice in education is that students’ learning opportunities should be personalized rather than limited based on where their parents can afford to live. Online (or virtual) learning takes this concept even further by removing both geographical and temporal constraints.

This month The Evergreen Education Group released its 11th annual Keeping Pace with K-12 Digital Learning report. Findings were presented at the iNACOL [International Association for K-12 Online Learning ] Blended and Online Learning Symposium in Orlando.

Online and blended learning (a combination of traditional in-classroom and online learning) are important and growing parental choice options. According to Keeping Pace approximately 315,000 students in 35 states are attending fully online schools, an increase of more than 6 percent since the 2012-13 school year (p. 5).

The desire for greater personalization in learning is likely a large reason why.

In the typical classroom setting governed by seat-time and other requirements students must try to master the knowledge and skills they need based on someone else’s schedule. Online learning turns that dynamic on its head since students learn at their own pace, taking more time to master course material if they need it but not being held back if they don’t.

In other words, individual student achievement—not what time the bell rings—is the driving force behind solid online learning programs (as opposed to programs that simply treat technology as a faddish classroom add-on).

Another encouraging trend is the growth of online course choice policies.

Fully 11 states allow students to choose the courses they need and want from a variety of providers, according to Keeping Pace (pp. 59-63). States with the best programs include Florida and Utah for encouraging a variety of providers and course options for students, ensuring parents and students, not school districts, are in charge of choosing, and for funding providers based on successful student completions, not seat time.

While still in its relative infancy, K-12 online course choice represents a welcome antidote to the one-size-fits-all approach to education typified by efforts such as Common Core “national” standards.

Course choice also carries significant potential to improve the overall quality of academic courses by introducing competition, which carries with it powerful pressure to provide high-quality, low-priced offerings. Such competition would also go a long way toward minimizing the sheer volume of courses with inflated titles (not to mention price tags) and deflated rigor.


Who Created These Campus Whiners?

Remember the campus unrest in the 1960s? Whether or not you agreed with the students, they were protesting about things of great consequence — civil rights, the military draft, the Vietnam War. They had chants such as “Hell no, we won’t go.”

Those were the good old days.

Now we are witnessing whiny college kids marching in the streets, screaming obscenities or taking over the university president’s office, and for what? Feeling slighted? Having their feelings hurt? Talk about rebels without a cause.

I’ve traveled to many campuses in recent weeks and experienced the melodrama of student grievances firsthand. To be fair, I should note that many of the students are impressive, with open and inquiring minds. It’s only a loud-mouthed minority whose mission is to shut out and shut down views they find ways to be offended by.

These leftist kids are agitated and angry. This is a hangover effect, I suspect, from the shattered Utopian dreams of “Hope and Change.” I have noticed in recent months that these students attend my lectures not to learn anything — they know everything already — but hoping that I will slip up or say something they can label as offensive or that violates their eight-volume campus speech code.

When I ask them what they want, a typical response is “radical transformation of the economy” to reduce income inequality, racism and sexism and, of course, to end climate change. Government will command these changes to achieve this transformation. These are young Stalinists who are willing to suspend almost every basic freedom and civil liberty for “the greater good.”

They’re on a roll, having already successfully removed university presidents and faculty for the sin of being insufficiently responsive to their latest grievances.

At one recent visit to the University of Massachusetts, I asked a few kids what their plans were for Thanksgiving. They practically spat at me for even mentioning this white-supremacy holiday, which only trivializes and glorifies the genocide of the Native Americans by the pilgrims. Wow. Sorry I brought it up, especially in your “safe space.”

I can’t help contrasting these attitudes with a recent meeting I had with a group of soldiers who had returned from Afghanistan. These brave men and women risked their lives every day. They had real bullets shot at them, not the verbal ones that the campus leftists find so offensive. They have genuine and, in some cases, life-changing injuries: ringing in the ears, post-traumatic stress disorder and broken limbs.

They served so that campus leftists can remain sheltered in their cocoons and protest the wounds to their fragile psyches from having to listen to a point of view they disagree with. The horror.

Can you imagine the tyranny you would bring upon yourself by actually hiring one of these self-righteous complainers?

Employers tell me despondently that millennials are by far the highest-maintenance generation they’ve ever seen. One recruiter recently told me: “They need their hands held; they demand affirmation; they are forever whining about their feelings. We really don’t have time to deal with their petty grievances.”

Who’s to blame for all of this? Alas, we are: the parents who caved in to every instant-gratification demand they ever had, arranged “play dates” for them, showered them with positive affirmation daily and gave them timeouts rather than spankings. Our schools are to blame for labeling them “gifted and talented” and awarding them towering trophies for finishing in sixth place so as not to damage self-esteem. College professors are to blame for corrupting their minds with hate-America ideology. And now the administrators are to blame, too, as they bend to students' every petty demand.

Worst of all are the successful, well-meaning Americans who think they are being charitable by giving their money to the very universities that are indoctrinating these kids with nonsensical ideas. Why? Just stop. Society would be better off if you just burned your money.

I admit that people make these complaints about every new generation. But millennials seem seriously off-kilter, and we made them this way. A generation that has grown up in more affluence and personal freedom than any other in history has been taught to hate the free enterprise wealth-creation process that gave them what they want in the first place. A generation that has been drilled since pre-kindergarten that the highest virtue in life is tolerance has suddenly become the least tolerant in history.

What they lack most is gratitude. It’s something to think about this Thanksgiving.


A Little-Understood Engine of Campus Unrest: Racial Admissions Preferences

An underlying reason for today’s “hostile learning environment” on campus

Why are some of the most privileged students in the nation plunging into a racial grievance culture and upending their campuses as though oppressed by Halloween costumes they don’t approve, imagined racial slights, portraits of Woodrow Wilson, a tiny handful of real racial epithets, and the like?

The reasons are of course multifaceted. But one deserves far more attention than it has gotten: Many or most of the African-American student protesters really are victims — but not of old-fashioned racism.

Most are, rather, victims of the very large admissions preferences that set up racial-minority students for academic struggle at the selective universities that have cynically misled them into thinking they are well qualified to compete with classmates who are, in fact, far stronger academically.

The reality is that most good black and Hispanic students, who would be academically competitive at many selective schools, are not competitive at the more selective schools that they attend.

That’s why it takes very large racial preferences to get them admitted. An inevitable result is that many black and (to a lesser extent) Hispanic students cannot keep up with better-prepared classmates and rank low in their classes no matter how hard they work.

Studies show that this academic “mismatch effect” forces them to drop science and other challenging courses; to move into soft, easily graded, courses disproportionately populated by other preferentially admitted students; and to abandon career hopes such as engineering and pre-med. Many lose intellectual self-confidence and become unhappy even if they avoid flunking out.

This depresses black performance at virtually all selective schools because of what experts call the cascade effect. Here’s how it works, as Richard Sander and I demonstrated in a 2012 book, Mismatch: How Affirmative Action Hurts Students It’s Intended to Help, and Why Universities Won’t Admit It:

Only 1 to 2 percent of black college applicants emerge from high school well-qualified academically for (say) the top Ivy League colleges. Therefore, those schools can meet their racial admissions targets only by using large preferences. They bring in black students who are well qualified for moderately elite schools like (say) the University of North Carolina, but not for the Ivies that recruit them. This leaves schools like UNC able to meet their own racial targets only by giving large preferences to black students who are well qualified for less selective schools like (say) the University of Missouri but not for UNC. And so on down the selectivity scale.

As a result, experts agree, most black students at even moderately selective schools — with high school preparation and test scores far below those of their classmates — rank well below the middle of their college and grad school classes, with between 25% and 50% ranking in the bottom tenth. That’s a very bad place to be at any school.

This, in turn, increases these students’ isolation and self-segregation from the higher-achieving Asians and whites who flourish in more challenging courses. At least one careful study shows that students are more likely to become friends with peers who are similar in academic accomplishment.

Put yourself in the position of manyHispanic and especially black students (recipients of by far the largest racial preferences) at selective schools, who may work heroically during the first semester only to be lost in many classroom discussions and dismayed by their grades.

As they start to see the gulf between their own performance and that of most of their fellow students, dismay can become despair. They soon realize that no matter how hard they work, they will struggle academically.

It is critical to understand that these are not bad students. They did well in high school and could excel at somewhat less selective universities where they would arrive roughly as well prepared as their classmates.

But due to racial preferences, they find themselves for the first time in their lives competing against classmates who have a huge head start in terms of previous education, academic ability, or both.

Researchers have shown that racial preference recipients develop negative perceptions of their own academic competence, which in turn harms their performance and even their mental health, through “stereotype threat” and other problems. They may come to see themselves as failures in the eyes of their families, their friends, and themselves.

Such mismatched minority students are understandably baffled and often bitter about why this is happening to them. With most other minority students having similar problems, their personal academic struggles take on a collective, racial cast.

Consider the case of a student whom I will call Joe, as told in Mismatch. He breezed through high school in Syracuse, New York, in the top 20 percent of his class. He had been class president, a successful athlete, and sang in gospel choir. He was easily admitted to Colgate, a moderately elite liberal arts college in rural New York; no one pointed out to Joe that his SAT scores were far below the class median.

Joe immediately found himself over his head academically, facing far more rigorous coursework than ever before. “Nobody told me what would be expected of me beforehand,” Joe later recalled. “I really didn’t know what I was getting into. And it all made me feel as if I wasn’t smart enough.”

But just as surprising and upsetting was the social environment in which Joe found himself. “I was immediately stereotyped and put into a box because I was African American,” he recalled. “And that made it harder to perform. People often made little derogatory comments.…There was a general feeling that all blacks on campus were there either because they were athletes or they came through a minority recruitment program.… That was just assumed right away.”

It was also, unfortunately, quite true. That’s why racial preferences are an extremely powerful generator of racial stereotypes about intellectual abilities. Joe was forced by bad grades to drop out after his freshman year, though he eventually returned to Colgate and obtained his bachelor’s degree.

Not many mismatched students complain — even if they figure out — that the root of their problems is that they are not well-qualified to compete with their classmates. The universities, the media, and others do their best to conceal and deny this connection. And it is human nature to seek less humiliating, more sinister explanations.

The grievance-prone college culture offers ready targets for these frustrated students to blame for their plight: wildly exaggerated and sometimes fabricated instances of racism, trivial perceived “microaggressions,” and the very real racial isolation that is largely due to racially preferential admissions — all leading to a supposedly hostile learning environment.

Another common reaction is to withdraw into racial enclaves within the campus. Many universities encourage this by creating black dormitories and even by assigning entering students to them.

Racial, intellectual, economic, social, religious, and political diversity can greatly enrich the educational experience — but not when engineered through large preferences that do more harm than good to their supposed beneficiaries, not to mention to the stronger students who are passed over to make room for racial-preference recipients.

All this goes a long way toward explaining the over-the-top demands now roiling our campuses for still more racial admissions preferences; more preferentially hired, underqualified professors; more grievance-focused courses and university bureaucrats; more university-sponsored racial enclaves; and more apologies for “white privilege.”

The university leaders who cravenly coddle the racial grievance lobby, such as Yale President Peter Salovey and Princeton President Christopher Eisgruber, are only aggravating academic mismatch, racial isolation, and unhappiness among minority students — and degrading their own universities.

Pessimistic observers of such meltdowns conclude that our most prestigious universities are committing suicide. Where are the leaders who will set things straight?


Campaigners' fury at bid to cut feminism from British High School  syllabus

Women's rights campaigners have reacted with fury over plans to remove a section on feminism from the politics A-level syllabus.  The proposed changes would remove all mentions of feminism, sex and gender, with only one female political thinker mentioned by name.

The suffragette movement is squeezed into a section on pressure groups.

Yesterday there were calls for the Department for Education to reverse the ‘insulting and misguided’ move.  A petition to ensure women are not ‘erased out of history’ has attracted thousands of signatures.

Management consultant Jacquelyn Guderley, who co-founded Stemettes which aims to inspire girls into science and engineering careers, warned that women’s voices were being silenced.

She wrote on her website: ‘We are going through a huge feminist revival. Even if we weren’t, our daughters and granddaughters, sons and grandsons, nieces, nephews and families need to know about the movements and key female figures that got women to where they are today.’

Under the old syllabus, a whole module was dedicated to ‘knowledge of the core ideas, doctrines and theories of feminist thought, of tensions within feminism and of competing feminist traditions’. In the proposed new syllabus, the feminism section has been removed and instead there is a section on pressure groups.

In the liberalism section, 18th century figure Mary Wollstonecraft – regarded as a founder of the feminist movement – is the only female key thinker mentioned compared to six men.

Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality party, told the BuzzFeed website: ‘The plan to shoe-horn feminism, one of the most important and ongoing political forces in modern history, under the banner of ‘‘pressure groups’’ is both insulting and misguided.’ 

Former Liberal Democrat equalities minister Jo Swinson wrote on Twitter: ‘Is removing feminism from the A Level Politics syllabus a good idea?’

Patrick McGhee, Assistant Vice Chancellor at University of Bolton, wrote: ‘Don't like sound of this at all > Government To Remove “Feminism” From Politics A-Level Syllabus.’

Campaigner Caroline Criado-Perez said: ‘New politics A level includes only one female thinker & has got rid of feminism as area of study. Sign the petition.’

A government consultation on the move closes on December 15. The Department for Education insisted it was for exam boards to set the detailed content of qualifications and schools were free to decide which figures they teach about.

A spokesman said: ‘We want schools to highlight the issues faced by women from all walks of life and ages in history, including the work of key female political thinkers within the ideologies covered and in UK and global politics.’

The government consultation on the move closes on December 15.


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