Thursday, January 05, 2017

Mass. schools look overseas for competition

Natick High School has long taken pride in its English, math, and science programs and had the MCAS scores to prove it, ranking in the upper tier of schools in a state with the strongest academic performance in the nation.

But in an increasingly global economy, Natick High wasn’t satisfied with comparing itself only with its neighbors. Four years ago, the school started giving a new international exam through a trial program to see how its students stack up against peers around the world.

The results proved impressive. The high school trailed only the schools in Shanghai in math, reading, and science.

Natick High is among a growing group of schools in Massachusetts and across the United States that are turning to international testing to gain a broader perspective on how well their educational programs are preparing students for college and beyond, and what they might be able to learn from high-performing schools worldwide.

Previously, results on international exams typically generated only national or statewide averages, leaving schools wondering how their own students did. But now the new program that Natick participated in is generating school-specific data that administrators can use to draw conclusions about their own programs.

The schools in Massachusetts that have been taking the international assessments or that have signed up to take the next round are a diverse group that includes Billerica Memorial High School, Malden High School, Worcester Technical High School, and Sturgis Charter Public School in Hyannis, according to America Achieves, a national education organization in New York and Washington that is overseeing a global network of schools that are using the tests.

Jon Schnur, the organization’s chairman, said the testing data enable “schools to more deeply understand how they are progressing in helping their students succeed in key 21st-century skills and, more crucially, how to make improvement in their programs to advance success for all students.”

Rose Bertucci, dean of instruction, data, and student services at Natick High, stressed that scores on recent international tests were one of many measures the school uses to evaluate its performance. But she added that the results revealed the school has some big challenges if it truly wants to rank as high as Shanghai in all three subjects.

“More than 50 percent of the kids in Shanghai still scored higher than our students,” she said.

Natick’s interest in international testing follows in the footsteps of Massachusetts policy leaders, who over the last decade have made the state one of the few nationwide to take part in the most prestigious global testing programs.

Massachusetts has been a strong performer, scoring well above the US average and near or at the top among international peers. In results released in December from the 2015 Program for International Student Assessment, Massachusetts statistically tied for first in reading, came in second in science, and pulled in slightly less stellar scores in math.

The test that Natick and other schools nationwide are using is based on the PISA and was developed by the same group, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which consists of education leaders from industrialized countries.

To participate, schools need to test about 85 15-year-olds, based on a random sampling. Students and their parents have the right to opt out of the test, which has about 140 questions and lasts about two hours. The cost is $6,500 per school, but America Achieves is subsidizing the first 30 schools that sign up for this year.

Tim Piwowar, superintendent of the Billerica Public Schools, which recently signed an agreement to participate, said his school system needs to look beyond how it compares with the state average.

“For students to succeed in a global economy, we need to look more outwardly,” Piwowar said. “We don’t have the same socioeconomic advantages as other communities, but that doesn’t mean our expectations should be lower.”

Debate is emerging across the country about the wisdom of schools comparing themselves too much with those in other countries. Some researchers point out that customs and values vary among countries and can affect student achievement.

In China, for instance, students spend hours in specialized “cram schools” so they can do better on standardized tests and sit through math classes in their regular schools in a quiet and compliant way with few opportunities to participate, said Jon Star, a Harvard University education professor who specializes in math instruction.

“I’m not sure if US schools would want to teach math in that way,” Star said. “We generally value dialogue, expression, and creativity.”

But Star and other experts point out that debate over the effects of cultural norms can cut both ways. Singapore has had much success in luring the brightest students into the teaching profession, which is held in high esteem there, in contrast to the United States, where a culture of teacher-bashing persists, experts say.

“Learning from them doesn’t mean copying them,” said Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, a research and consulting group in Washington. “It means taking the best from countries getting the results you want and using what they do to create something unique in your own system.”

Martin Carnoy, a Stanford University education professor who has extensively studied international testing data, said he worries the growing popularity of the tests could devolve into an unnecessary horse race among schools to be No. 1.

He added that it is an even more pointless exercise in a state like Massachusetts, where strong test results and high academic standards are already positioning students for success.

“I find it very bizarre that schools would want to do this,” said Carnoy, who coauthored a report warning against basing educational policy on international test results.

But Natick High sees the international comparisons as a useful tool in making sure it is offering the best programs for its 1,600 students, and interest in the math and science fields runs strong in the town.

One recent afternoon in an 11th-grade biology class, three-quarters of the students raised their hands when asked whether they planned to pursue a career in the sciences. Nicole Yunes Perez, 16, said she wants to go into the environmental sciences and find ways to curb the effects of global warming.

“Even in middle school I liked the sciences,” said Yunes Perez.

Three of the students in the class took the international test and said having to take an additional test, which was voluntary, didn’t bother them.

“I knew we would rank high,” said Ian Fisher, 16, who just learned that day the school landed behind Shanghai. “But I didn’t think we would rank that high. It’s pretty cool to see how our school matches up internationally.”


Cambridge high school tackles gender climate head-on

I think this is pushing it uphill

Students who rallied outside this city’s public high school last spring described harrowing experiences: unwelcome sexual advances and other inappropriate behavior by male classmates and others.

They issued a two-page letter to administrators demanding changes to the school climate and to administrators’ handling of student reports of harassment or assault.
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More than eight months later, Cambridge Rindge & Latin School is preparing to address relations between students head-on, by asking boys to rethink their ideas about manhood.

One recent morning, nearly a dozen male educators gathered in a semicircle in a third-floor room at the school to begin examining their own notions of gender and of relationships between men and women.

The nine teachers, coaches, counselors, and administrators talked about the pressure for boys and men to be strong, assertive, and brave, to protect women, but also to sometimes view women as property. They discussed the fear of appearing vulnerable and ways that “soft” emotions like sadness or fear can be channeled into anger — an emotion that can be more socially acceptable for men to express.

Tommy Goldman, an English teacher and lacrosse coach, told his colleagues he tries to break down barriers that make his student-athletes uncomfortable expressing their feelings, a strategy he learned from Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL defensive lineman whose son was Goldman’s childhood friend.

“Particularly when traumatic things happen, but really all the time, I make a point of saying to my guys, ‘I love you guys,’ ” Goldman said. “And I know that’s a weird thing, and it freaks them out when I say it, but, ‘I love you guys, like you’re my brothers.’ ”

The educators are preparing for Rindge & Latin to become one of 18 schools across the country to introduce a curriculum called LiveRespect, which was developed by the violence-prevention organization A Call to Men.

The group’s cofounder, Ted Bunch, said the organization was born out of the women’s movement about 15 years ago, with a mission to reach not just men who would abuse women but also nonviolent men who would fail to intervene in domestic violence.

“We’ve been taught that women have less value than men,” Bunch said in a phone interview. “We see it every day. On any sports field that you go on, you can see a coach — a good guy, a wonderful guy — or a father or an uncle say to a boy, ‘You’ve got to throw harder than that, son. You throw like a girl.’ ”

The LiveRespect curriculum will join a series of other measures educators have taken since April’s student walkout to address relations between boys and girls.

The school has enhanced its training for recognizing and responding to sexual harassment, according to principal Damon Smith.

Smith also has met several times with the school’s feminist club and other student leadership groups to discuss changes to policies on reporting harassment or assault, he said, and posters explaining those policies now hang in every school restroom.

At their recent meeting, trainers from A Call to Men challenged educators to consider their own deeply ingrained beliefs. The discussion was candid and, at times, deeply personal, as the men discussed interactions with their own wives and children, and the ways women are depicted in pornography.

The discussion’s impact became clear by midmorning, when Goldman, the lacrosse coach, told the group he was reconsidering what constitutes domestic abuse.

“If you had talked to me two hours ago, I would definitely have separated mental, and physical, and verbal abuse,” he said. “Just since we started talking about how violence can be manifested in different ways — not just physical — an hour ago, I’ve kind of just been sitting here ruminating, like, I didn’t really think about that.”

While the educators embraced the curriculum and the tough questions it asks, Mike Tubinis, a guidance counselor, said he had concerns about how the school’s diverse population of students and their families might respond to it.

“This is cultural, some of this stuff,” he said. “This is really heavy-duty ingrained into what they believe, and it’s religious to some — like men are men, and this is what it is going to be.”

Smith, the principal, said parents with reservations will have a chance to opt their sons out of the curriculum, just as they do with sex education. In an interview a few days later, he pronounced the training a success and said the school is moving forward with plans to implement the curriculum.

“I think everybody left there feeling really positive about the opportunity that A Call to Men provided,” Smith said.

Bentley Sloane, a Rindge & Latin student who helped organized the April protest, said she has seen some change within the school, but there is much more to be done. She hopes the LiveRespect curriculum can be part of a broader change.

“It’s important to stop this idea that your masculinity depends on suppressing femininity,” she said.

Sloane said student activism will continue at the school, and a Take Back the Night rally is already planned. She has seen that a school cannot transform its culture overnight.

“Change takes a lot of time,” she said.


Australia: "Safe Schools" is not a return to the Cold War (?)

An amusing tilt at windmills by some young Yugoslav guy below.  I suspect that he hankers after Josip Broz Tito. The Cold War was a military confrontation so pointing out that an Australian school program is not a return to the Cold War is something that only Seb Starcevic would feel a need to do.

The essence of his little rant is that the "Safe Schools" program is not Communist-inspired and is not designed to lead children towards Communism.  That is actually an extraordinary claim.  The authoress of the program, Roz Ward (the manlike figure in the red jacket giving the Communist salute in the picture above) is an openly-acknowledged  Marxist and has said that she intended to use the program to promote Marxist thinking.  Seb is in the grand tradition of Leftist liars

"Safe Schools" is a sexual indoctrination program, under the guise of “anti-bullying”, which asserts extreme fringe views of gender and sexual fluidity.  It is in the grand tradition of old Karl himself, who saw the normal family as an obstacle to the implementation of his ideas

Something amusing:  In a speech at the 2015 Marxism Conference, Ward argues, “LGBTI oppression and heteronormativity are woven into the fabric of capitalism” and “it will only be through a revitalised class struggle and revolutionary change that we can hope for the liberation of LGBTI people”.

Which stands truth on its head, in the usual Leftist way. Homosexuality was severely repressed in the old Soviet Union.  It is only in the tolerant capitalist societies that homosexuals have gained broad acceptance.  Try being queer in Africa or the Muslim lands.  Maybe Roz should take her evangelism there

After the USSR collapsed in the 1990s, critics of communism were momentarily assuaged by the knowledge that the greatest threat to the American hegemony had been tossed into the dustbin of history.

With the stranglehold of socialism lifted, the Kraken-like monster depicted in so many comics was finally slain. The West could breathe easy, meaning office-bearers had to find something else to harp on about. Or so it seemed.

Which brings us to today.

With the rise of Trump and resurgence of McCarthyism in 2017, the hard right have trotted out the socialist scapegoat once again, deploying anti-communist rhetoric that would be at home in US propaganda from the 1950s.

Look no further than the scandal surrounding the Safe Schools program which, according to Senator Cory Bernardi, hopes to “indoctrinate children into a Marxist agenda of cultural relativism”.

Similarly, LNP backbencher George Christensen slammed Safe Schools for “originating in an ideology of queer gender theory and Marxism.”

This sort of blatant, baseless fearmongering draws on the historical existential dread associated with the Reds.

Never mind that a program intended to create safe and inclusive environments for vulnerable young LGBTQI people has little to do with an economic ideology dreamt up by some now dead Russians. All that matters is slinging the right buzzwords to push the barrow.

Of course, this strategy is nothing new. Pairing the two undesirables together has worked well in the past, at least for McCarthy, who once conflated communists with “cocksuckers,” implying that his detractors were either Soviet sympathisers or homosexual fornicators — both socially unacceptable in the monochrome 1950s.

Indeed, traditionally the quickest and simplest way to destroy someone’s credibility was to infer that they subscribed to socialism, and this practice has carried into the present day.

Just ask Bernardi and Christensen. Or Reagan and Johnson. Or Trump.

But in reality, just as universal healthcare wasn’t a gateway to communism then, Safe Schools isn’t part of some sparkly socialist agenda now. Demonising it as such only shows a profound ignorance of history’s affiliation with anti-communist hate.

And that thought is much scarier than any imaginary Red Menace.


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