Friday, September 28, 2012

Officer Assaults and Arrests 9-Year-Old Boy with Autism in Public School Classroom

Putting unruly kids into normal classrooms is the real problem here.  People are bound to get impatient with them from time to time.  They should be put in special schools  -- but that would upset the "all men are equal" dogma

At Baldwin South Intermediate School in Quincy, Illinois a school official called the police to deal with a “meltdown” of an autistic 9-year-old boy named Roger Parker, Jr this past Friday. Roger was sent to a specific area to calm down by school officials. When Roger decided to climb a dividing wall, instead of calling a parent to come and pick up the child, the school officials made the decision to call the police. Calling the police almost always makes situations worse.

The officer who arrived, Officer Bill Calkins, pulled Roger by his arms and legs, in an attempt to physically remove him from the wall. The officer pulled him in a manner which caused Roger to hit his eye against the divider.

After causing injury to Roger’s eye, the officer tried to restrain him. In response to the natural instinct to get away from an attacker, or someone inflicting harm, “Roger swung around and kicked the officer in his nose,” according to Brandi Kirchner, Roger’s mother.

Roger was pulled to the floor, handcuffed, and taken to the police station where his mother was told that he was being fingerprinted, photographed, and booked for aggravated battery to a police officer.

Quincy Public School District interim superintendent Cal Lee said the school is conducting an investigation, but that details of that investigation or actions taken will not be released to the public.

Kirchner stated that she recently discussed a plan on how to handle her son if he has an outburst, and is upset that it was not followed and that her son was placed in handcuffs before she was ever contacted.

Roger’s mother plans to request an investigation by the Quincy Police Department, although unfortunately it will probably be stated that the officer’s actions were justified; they certainly were not.

Quincy Police Chief Rob Copley shared more details on Tuesday:

Roger was, according to Copley, not fingerprinted or photographed, but paperwork was filled out and sent to the juvenile probation office.

As they ought to, many parents have questioned the actions of the officer against the child with special needs.

Lee, the superintendent, said that the school has plans in place for students with special needs, and in many classrooms, teacher assistants called “Star Guides” who are also there to help. There were Star Guides in the room during the interaction on Friday.

The arresting officer, Bill Calkins remains on duty and faces no repercussions. Meanwhile, Kirchner removed her son Roger from the Quincy Public School system and is investigating home schooling options.


More than  235,000 British six-year-old pupils fail 'back to basics' reading test after struggling with words like 'farm' and 'goat'

Not quite as saddening as the fact that many California High School graduates would do no better

Four in ten six-year-olds failed a back-to-basics reading test after struggling with words such as ‘farm’, ‘goat’ and ‘shine’.

Pupils were tested for the first time this summer on how well they use the traditional phonics method of reading, where children learn the letter sounds of English and how to blend them.

Forty per cent – nearly 237,000 children – were below the pass mark. They were unable to read 32 words correctly out of 40.

While nine per cent scored full marks, 21 per cent failed to scrape half marks, according to results released yesterday by the Department for Education.

Boys are already trailing behind girls, achieving a 54 per cent pass rate against their female classmates’ 62 per cent.

Only 37 per cent of white boys on free school meals [What about the white boys NOT on free school meals?] reached the standard, making them the worst-performing of all groups apart from pupils from gipsy and traveller families.

Figures show that 58 per cent of the 592,010 youngsters aged five and six who were entered for the new test at the end of Year 1 met the required standard. Two per cent were allowed not to take it.

The Coalition introduced the test in an attempt to identify pupils at risk of falling behind in reading at an early stage.

It was also intended to help establish phonics – credited with virtually wiping out illiteracy where it is used systematically – as the prime technique for teaching reading in primary schools. As well as reading 20 real words, youngsters are expected to decode 20 made-up words, such as ‘pib’, ‘queep’ and ‘groiks’.

Those who failed to reach the required standard will be given extra support and put in for the assessment again next year.

The test has proved controversial, with critics claiming it merely shows how well children can decode words, rather than their ability to understand words in context.

There have also been warnings that bright pupils attempt to convert the nonsense words in the test into proper English, for example ‘strom’ into ‘storm’.

Phonics is intended to replace the discredited ‘look and say’ method of teaching reading, which has been used widely in various guises since the 1960s.

Nick Gibb, the Tory former schools minister who championed the use of phonics, said: ‘Learning how to decode is a necessary condition for reading.  ‘Of course comprehension is crucial, but without the ability to decode, children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, will never have the confidence to read for pleasure.’

He said yesterday’s results showed significant improvement on a trial test last year, where only around a third passed.

The Government also published levels achieved by seven-year-olds in teacher assessments in reading, writing, speaking, listening, maths and science.

Eighty-seven per cent of the Year 2 children achieved the national standard – level two – in reading and 83 per cent in writing, with both up two percentage points on last year.

Speaking and listening also improved, to 88 per cent, as did maths, to 91 per cent, while science stayed the same as in 2011 on 89 per cent.


British private schools warn of 'shocking' failure of exams system

Tens of thousands of pupils are receiving the wrong grades in GCSEs and A-levels because of “truly shocking” failings in the way exams are marked, Britain’s leading independent schools have warned.

In a damning report, it was claimed that the exams system had been undermined by a series of “systematic” weaknesses including poor quality marking, inconsistencies between competing test boards, wildly fluctuating grade boundaries and dumbed down questions.

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) insisted that problems went “far deeper” than the fiasco surrounding the grading of GCSE English exams this summer, when as many as 67,000 pupils are believed to have received the wrong mark.

Researchers said that subjects such as English literature, history, drama and foreign languages had all been hit by “seemingly random and largely unexplained” problems over the past five years.

They quoted figures showing that one-in-five teachers believe as many as a quarter of students get the wrong GCSE grades in any one year.

It insisted that the Government’s planned overhaul of the exams system – including axing GCSEs in favour of new-style “English Baccalaureate Certificates” – would fail because it amounts to little more than “houses built on sand”.

In today’s report, they called for an urgent investigation by Ofqual, the exams watchdog, into marking standards to ensure examiners have the necessary qualifications and expertise needed to properly accredit pupils’ work.

Headmasters also demanded a sharp cut in the number of exams taken by secondary school pupils to minimise the scope for problems.

The comments come amid continuing concerns over the examination and assessment system.

Last week, the Government announced that competition between multiple exam boards was to be axed amid claims that it created a “race to the bottom”.

Commenting on the latest findings, Christopher Ray, HMC chairman and High Master of Manchester Grammar School, said: “The state of the examinations industry is truly shocking and is clearly no longer fit for purpose.

“The problems go far deeper than this year’s disastrous mishandling of the English language GCSE grades. We are publishing this evidence on behalf of all students in state and independent schools in England who do not receive the marks or grades that accurately reflect their performance and achievement”.

The Department for Education said it agreed that there were “serious problems with marking and quality control”.

The study by HMC, which represents 252 schools including Eton, Harrow, St Paul’s, Winchester and Charterhouse, was based on surveys of members and an analysis of existing research into the issue of exam marking between 2007 and 2012.

The report – published before HMC’s annual conference in Belfast next week – warned of seven failings of the “examinations industry”.

It told of significant year-on-year variations in the number of good grades being awarded. One-in-five members reported increases or drops of 10 per cent or more in the proportion of students gaining A* or A grades in GCSE English last summer compared with 2010 – even though the same staff have been teaching pupils with very similar abilities.

Researchers also complained of “erratic and inconsistent” marking of exam scripts, with “significant problems” being reported with one or more particular examinations each year. This year, one-in-five HMC schools complained over marking standards in A-level history.

HMC also said that exam boards were too secretive when schools attempt to challenge poor marking through the appeals process, allowing examiners to "hide behind protocol" rather than address failures.

In a further disclosure, the report criticised varying standards between England's three biggest exam boards – the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance, Edexcel and OCR. The proportion of A*s awarded to HMC schools ranged from 14 per cent for one board to as many as 23.3 per cent by another, it emerged.

HMC also attacked the “dumbing down” of exam questions, claiming that boards penalised pupils for coming up with imaginative answers.

William Richardson, the organisation’s general secretary, said: “You have to coach your brightest students to dumb down their answers to get an A*.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education said: "We have been clear that the exams system is in desperate need of a thorough overhaul.

"That's why we are consulting on EBCs, new, more rigorous exams for 16-year-olds, and why we are reforming A-levels, with universities and employers responsible for their design.

“We agree with HMC that there are serious problems with marking and quality control.”

Brian Lightman, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said: "This is not about reforming exams at 16 but about getting the basics right. Marking and grading are fundamental to any exam system and these issues need to be addressed or problems like the ones we have seen this summer are likely continue regardless of whether we have GCSEs or EBaccs, modular or linear exams.

"We strongly hope that Ofqual and the government will work together with teachers and leaders in all sectors, who really understand where the problems are, to make sure that these issues are investigated properly and thoroughly.

"A remedy needs to be found and implemented as soon as possible so that new qualifications are built on a solid foundation, rather than one of sand."

Mark Dawe, chief executive of OCR, said “We continually work to improve teacher-examiner marking and have made significant investment in systems to support and improve marking quality - but there is further work to be done.

"One method which could lead to immediate improvement would be for fee-paying schools to encourage more teachers to take up assessment, helping ensure the high quality consistent marking as called for by the HMC."

An Ofqual spokeswoman said: "There are some important challenges and questions in the report which we want to explore further and discuss with HMC. It is vital that marking is accurate and students get the right results.

"Senior staff at Ofqual have had regular discussions with HMC over a number of years.

"We have spent time discussing with them how the exam system works, and listening to their concerns, including on some of the issues raised in the report.

"We have looked at the data they have provided, for example in September last year, and asked for more detailed information to help us understand what the data are telling us. We will continue to work with them as we look into exam marking.”


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Studies: Kids lack basic skills for college

More than half of 2012 high school graduates who took a college entrance exam did not have all of the skills they will need to succeed in college or a career, a pair of recent reports conclude.

Findings released by the non-profit College Board show that 57 percent of 2012 graduating seniors who took the SAT, which it owns, earned a combined score below what it says is necessary to demonstrate that students can earn a B-minus or better in the first year of study at a four-year college.

A report released last month by the Iowa City-based ACT found that at least 60 percent of 2012 high school graduates who took its test are similarly at risk of not succeeding in college.

The tests measure different skills, but colleges that require standardized admissions tests generally accept scores from either test. Among details:

SAT: Average critical reading and writing scores have declined since 2008, to 496 and 488, respectively, while average math scores have remained stable at 514. Just 4 percent of test takers achieved a score above 2100. The highest possible score is 2400. The College Board, which owns the SAT, says students must earn at least a 1550 to succeed in college.

ACT: Reading and English scores have dipped slightly since 2008, to 21.3 and 20.5, respectively, while math and science have increased, to 21.1 and 20.9, respectively. The average composite score is 21.1 out of a possible 36.


Schools for Contraception

In NYC, girls as young as 14 can get morning-after pills — without parental notification.

New York City’s public schools do a poor job educating kids. In fairness, though, that’s not their expertise. What they excel at is giving out contraceptives.

If there were international comparisons of contraception access at schools, instead of math and reading scores, Singapore would have to look in envy at the achievements of New York City and wonder: What can we do to catch up? Task forces and commissions would be established to study the runaway success of schools in America’s greatest city.

New York’s schools are outdoing themselves with their latest pedagogical initiative, the Orwellian-named CATCH program, for Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health. “Comprehensive health,” of course, means only one particular kind of health, the equally euphemistic “reproductive health.”
The schools are giving children the morning-after pill without notifying their parents, let alone getting their express approval. Think in loco parentis—if the parent were the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The schools already provide free condoms. Soon enough, the mere distribution of condoms will seem the hallmark of a bygone, more innocent era, like something from the plot of a Happy Days episode.

The program to give out morning-after pills — and other oral and injected contraceptives — is now up and running in 13 schools. It is an extension from last year’s start in five schools, when more than 550 students received emergency contraception. Parents have to explicitly choose to “opt out” of the program, which, as any behavioral economist will tell you, strongly tips the balance toward its passive acceptance.

The morning-after pill, or Plan B, is a contraceptive, but it is possible — although disputed —  that it acts like an abortifacient as well. Its distribution is another step down the slippery slope toward the provision of abortion in the schools. If that sounds outlandish, just wait. Ten years ago, free morning-after pills with no parental notification would have seemed the stuff of dystopian social-conservative fantasy.

There can be no doubt about the direction that the Big Apple’s latitudinarian educrats want to go. According to Greg Pfundstein, of the pro-life Chiaroscuro Foundation, one of the “homework” exercises in a proposed New York City sex-education curriculum that became controversial last year included a visit or a call to a “clinic” to find out its hours, what services it provides, and its confidentiality policy.

It can be harder to get an aspirin in some schools around the country than it is now to get Plan B in New York. The schools can give a synthetic female hormone to a girl as young as 14 without so much as a text message to her mom. If the children were given 24-ounce Mountain Dews, Mayor Michael Bloomberg would immediately cashier his schools chancellor. Such is the perverse value system of New York’s nanny state that the program ran with no notice to the public — ho-hum — until the New York Post broke the story the other day.

Surely, many parents of the kids in the affected schools aren’t involved enough in their children’s lives. But that doesn’t mean schools should keep from them that their daughters are having unprotected sex and might be pregnant.

If easy, widespread access to contraception were the answer to teenage pregnancy, the New York schools would have solved the problem long ago. More access to the latest contraceptive technology isn’t going to make a difference. It is true that the schools can’t substitute for the discipline and values that kids aren’t getting at home. But they shouldn’t be the friend and enabler of the sexually active teenager, either.

The schools should do everything they can to create an environment of rigor, with an overwhelming emphasis on future-oriented behavior. Instead, the New York City schools operate on the same mores as a Planned Parenthood clinic does. Parents are a nuisance. No questions are asked. And teenage sex, which is inherently casual sex, is implicitly encouraged.

But don’t worry. It will only get worse.


British deputy PM  reveals £50m for 'catch-up’ tuition

Good if it happens but a disgrace that it is needed.  Getting duffers to summer camps is a bit of a laugh

Children starting secondary school without acceptable levels of English and maths will be sent to specialist summer camps or receive intensive one-to-one tuition under a scheme to be announced by Nick Clegg.

More than 100,000 pupils are to receive “catch up” teaching to ensure that those who fall behind at primary school are not disadvantaged permanently.

Schools will be given £500 to pay for intensive tutoring for any child who fails to reach level four in the Key Stage Two exams taken when leaving primary education at 11. The first money will be paid out in January to allow children starting secondary school this month to receive the extra tutoring.

In his speech to the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton today, the deputy Prime Minister will say that the scheme will help prepare children for the new, tougher exams to be introduced to replace GCSEs.

“If you’re a parent whose child has fallen behind; who fears they might get lost in that daunting leap from primary to secondary school and who is worried by talk about making exams tougher, let me reassure you: we will do whatever it takes to make sure your child is not left behind,” he will say. “A place in a summer school; catch-up classes; one-to-one tuition; we are providing the help they need. So yes, we’re raising the bar. But we’re ensuring every child can clear it too.”

It is understood that the funding for catch-up classes was agreed as part of the negotiations between Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, and Mr Clegg that will allow GCSEs to be replaced with the more challenging exams from 2017. Mr Clegg is expected to stress in his speech that improving social mobility by improving the education system is his central aim in government.

“We will only fulfil our collective economic potential if we fulfil our individual human potential,” he will say.  “Yet the legacy of educational inequality in Britain is an economy operating at half power, with far too many young people never getting the qualifications they could get, never doing the jobs they could do, never earning the wages they could earn.

“The true cost of this cannot be counted in pounds and pence. Yes, it’s a huge drag on our economy, but more than that, it is an affront to natural justice and to everything we Liberal Democrats stand for.” Evidence shows that pupils who are behind in English and maths when they start secondary school will struggle at GCSEs.

Only 30 per cent of those not achieving Level 4 in reading at the end of primary school go on to get at least five top grades in their end of school exams.

Senior Lib Dem sources said the scheme was important even if likely to prove unpopular with some children, who may feel stigmatised in front of their new secondary school classmates. “Education policy can’t be dictated by the tactics of playground bullies,” said one.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Philosophy Departments are Dishonest, or at Least Have Bad Business Ethics

Many philosophy departments have a “Why Study Philosophy?” section on their home pages. Many of them argue that philosophy must do an unusually good job developing students’ intellectual skills. As evidence, they post graphs showing how philosophy majors consistently get the highest scores on the verbal and analytic part of GRE, and get the highest score among all humanities majors (and higher than most social science and many natural science majors) on the quantitative part of the GRE.

For example, see here

If you’ve taken even a semester’s worth of an empirical social science, or if you’re just a generally thoughtful person, your first reaction to such graphs should be: treatment effect or selection effect? That is, from the fact that “Students declaring an intention to go to graduate school in philosophy have the highest mean scores on the Verbal section of the GRE (mean: 589) of any major ” we cannot conclude that “Philosophy prepares students for the Graduate Record Exam.” Instead, we would need to know whether philosophy A) makes people smarter, or whether instead B) the people who study philosophy are on average smarter.

Departments make no effort to try to show that it’s A, not B. And, in light of the vast empirical on how little students develop in college–literature which most philosophers have come across–they should know better than to just assume it’s A, not B. In fact, by default, given this vast empirical literature on learning, we should presume that it’s B, not A, until shown otherwise.

So, I think philosophy departments have immoral advertising practices. They are not dishonest, but they are at the very least negligent in how they advertise. They claim philosophy delivers certain goods, but they do not have sufficient evidence that it in fact delivers these goods, and they should know that they lack sufficient evidence. Most of my philosopher colleagues would rightly condemn a pharmaceutical company if it tried to sell medicine on such flimsy evidence.


Stuck in the middle: Empowering schools

In my previous two posts (here and here), I highlighted the plight of Missouri’s education system. We are stuck in the middle in terms of academic achievement, and do not look to be improving very rapidly. Sticking with the status quo or even tinkering at the margins is unlikely to have any significant effect on improving our educational system. We need bold strategies that will allow Missouri schools to innovate and compete and Missouri students to thrive.

One of the challenges of our schools is attracting and retaining great teachers. Top-performing teachers generate learning gains almost double that of a teacher in the bottom 20 percent, equivalent to almost six months of learning (see study). Unfortunately, institutional rules and burdensome legislation make it difficult for schools to hire and retain great teachers or to remove low-performing ones. In fact, a recent study revealed schools retain teachers from the top and bottom at “strikingly similar rates.”

Part of the problem is schools treat teachers like they are interchangeable. In reality, teachers vary wildly in terms of performance and have markedly different opportunities based on their expertise.

Bold Solution 1:

Empower schools to attract and retain the best teachers and promote a system that equips schools to remediate or remove the worst.

Schools need to be able to hire the best person for the job, regardless of certification, and they should be equipped to pay each teacher what they are worth based on their performance and market options. To do this, schools need control over their compensation system, including the retirement package they offer to their employees. Additionally, schools must be able to identify and remediate or remove poorly performing teachers.  One way of doing this would be to actually evaluate teachers based on their performance and make tenure decisions based on their ability to impact student achievement (see here for an example).

Some teachers are great and some are not so great, some have a lot of other employment options and some do not. We need to be smart in how we staff schools and stop relying on an antiquated system that treats teachers as if they are all the same.


Only Warmists could pass this British High School Exam

While Michael Gove tries valiantly to remedy our dysfunctional exam system he might take a look at some recent papers, such as that set last June for A-level General Studies students by our leading exam body, AQA. Candidates were asked to discuss 11 pages of "source material" on the subject of climate change. Sources ranged from a report of the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change to The Guardian, all shamelessly promoting global warming alarmism. One document from the Met Office solemnly predicted that "even if global temperatures only rise by 2 degrees C, 30-40 per cent of species could face extinction". A graph from the US Environmental Protection Agency showed temperatures having soared in the past 100 years by 1.4 degrees - exactly twice the generally accepted figure.

The only hint that anyone might question such beliefs was an article by Louise Gray from The Daily Telegraph, which quoted that tireless campaigner for the warmist cause, Bob Ward of the Grantham Institute, dismissing all sceptics as "a remnant group of dinosaurs" who "misunderstood the point of science".

If it were still a purpose of education to teach people to examine evidence and think rationally, any bright A-level candidate might have had a field day, showing how all this "source material" was no more than vacuous, one-sided propaganda. But today one fears they would have been marked down so severely for not coming up with the desired answers that they would have been among the tiny handful of candidates given an unequivocal "fail".


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Have we reached “the end of history” with respect to what education can achieve?

Whereas once people believed that education would change the world, now people across the political spectrum tend to be skeptical.  Academic performance remains stagnant despite a threefold increase in per pupil spending over the past forty years.  We’ve tried thousands of new methods, pedagogies, textbooks, software, testing regimes, teacher training programs, etc. within the existing constraints without progress.  Diverse thinkers (Plato, Rousseau, Kant, Jefferson, Dewey, etc.) in the western tradition believed that education could be transformative.  The current zeitgeist is that we’ve reached the limits of what education can achieve.  Were the earlier dreams of philosophers, humanists, and educators simply wrong about the potential of education?

By contrast, technological innovation over since the Enlightenment has been stunning:  In 1870 the cost of cotton clothing was one percent of what it was in 1770.  The cost of computing power is one ten-billionth (1/10,000,000,000) of what it was in 1950.  Items that are routinely dumped at Goodwill in the U.S. today, such as books, clothing, plates, utensils, tools, toys, etc. were only available to elites in 1800.

Perhaps the field of human development is unlike technological development.  Perhaps it is impossible for significant innovations to take place in human development.  Indeed, because of the stagnation in “education,” most observers believe that significant improvements in educational performance are not possible.

Here I will present an educational innovator’s case that:

*     Significant improvements in educational performance are possible.

*    Government control over K-12 education, teacher training, and occupational licensing prevents innovations from being developed.  Government control also prevents improvements from scaling.

*   With more freedom, we will gradually see significant improvements in human development.  As with technological innovations, these will become affordably available to all.

*   Existing school choice legislation, such as charter schools, while positive, are not adequate to release these innovative forces in education.

To understand the potential of innovation, we must first understand how government domination of education acts as a dominant operating system that prevents important innovations from scaling.

State-managed K-12 education is the norm around the world.  In a long process that began in Prussia in the 18th century, governments have increasingly taken a dominant role in K-12 education.  By the 1930s, a majority of children ages 6-17 in the U.S. were forced to attend government-managed schools, staffed by government certified teachers.  Government domination of K-12 education is a feature of society in nations around the world.

One of the early justifications for school choice in the U.S., from Milton Friedman (1950) through Chubb and Moe (1990) was that it would result in greater educational innovation. After twenty years of the charter school movement, one of the most striking features of school choice is the relative absence of innovation.  Other observers have noted that entirely private education is not particularly innovative either. Should we conclude that school choice will not, in fact, result in significant innovations that will benefit the poor?

In order to understand the paucity of innovation in charter and private education, we need to explain the ways in which the existing system acts as a dominant standard. The default educational system consists of:

A. Grade-level curricula organized by discipline (math, science, language arts, social studies, etc.) along with textbooks, state standards, and high stakes tests aligned with these standards.

B. State-licensed personnel who are authorized to play specific roles in this system (pre-school teacher, middle school mathematics teacher, high school language arts teacher, principal, etc.)

This system, with a few small variations, is legally required in all public and charter schools in the U.S.  In some states elements of this system are also required of private schools.  In most countries other than the U.S. state-mandated curricula are required in both public and private schools.  For this reason, and to simplify exposition, I’ll focus on U.S. education.  It is worth noting, however, that most school choice experiments outside the U.S., such as that of Sweden, Holland, and New Zealand were implemented within the boundaries of national curriculum and teacher certification requirements:  a bit of glasnost, but not quite a free market.

Even in U.S. states where private education is relatively unregulated (only minimal health and safety standards), the foregoing system acts as a dominant operating system that constrains innovation.  Microsoft’s “monopoly” in the field of computer operating systems in the 1990s was neither as extensive nor was it government subsidized and legislatively enforced the way that government educational monopolies have been.  Apple and Linux faced a level playing field vis-a-vis Microsoft in the 1990s in comparison to the challenges faced by small private schools outside the government’s dominant OS.

A private school attempting to provide an education outside the bounds of the standard operating system must build everything from the ground up: create its own curricula, educational materials, evaluation systems, strategies for college admissions, and most importantly, its own teacher training system.  Therefore, most private schools use standard components, so to speak, rather than innovate.

Despite these constraints, private schools have been responsible for a few key innovations, including the Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate systems. These are arguably the most important innovations that have grown to scale in the past fifty years. Charter schools have also innovated to a limited extent, within the boundaries of the standard, with KIPP Academies being the best known.

Consider the fact that just four companies – Harcourt Educational Measurement, CTB McGraw-Hill, Riverside Publishing (a Houghton Mifflin company), and NCS Pearson – produce 96% of standardized tests given at the state level.  Hitherto almost all discussions of “school choice” have taken place within the boundaries defined by these corporations.  But why should we accept those boundaries as the definitive standards for human capital development for all American children?

In the existing system of high-stakes testing, it is a high risk move for any educator to devote resources to such approaches given the fact that students might score worse on high stakes tests (and even most private school parents base their judgments of academic excellence on conventional high stakes testing).  Despite a few promising trials here and there, scaling such systems is almost impossible in the face of the dominant operating system.

What about the development of intellectual skills for which there are no widely recognizable metrics, such as programming or design?  Programming and design abilities are arguably two of the most important 21st century “New Economy” skill sets – yet they are almost entirely absent from the K-12 curriculum.  High profile individuals have promoted such programs in schools – most famously Seymour Papert’s Logo programming, which was deployed as a pedagogy of creativity.  More recently there has been a movement with leading figures in the world of design promoting more design thinking in schools (see here and Luma Institute).  But after promoting creative problem solving through Logo programming for decades, Papert wrote “Why School Reform Is Impossible.”  In essence, Papert discovered, as the promoters of design thinking will discover, that it is impossible to introduce high-quality, large-scale reforms into a system in which all of the incentives continue to redirect educators to prepare students for conventional tests in (mostly) conventional ways.

The situation is much worse for attempts to scale the high-quality development of non-academic abilities:  moral, social, relationship, spiritual, aesthetic, etc. qualities cannot be brought to scale in conventional education because the existing incentive structure does not reward educators who systematically develop them.  (And they can all be developed:  consider extracurricular and adult systems for the transmission of athletic ability, musical ability, “personal growth” systems, yoga and meditation, manners and decorum, etc.)  Malcolm Gladwell’s notion that 10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve world-class abilities applies in diverse skill domains, including the foregoing.


Successful teacher and  school adminstrator gets booted out by bureaucracy

I began my experience as an educator training teachers in Socratic Seminars in Chicago Public Schools for Mortimer Adler’s Paideia Project in the late 1980s. Paideia was a public school reform movement that aspired to give poor children as high quality an education as more fortunate children had.  The slogan was Robert M. Hutchins’ “the best education for the best is the best education for all.” Socratic Seminars – text-based open-ended discussions – were a deliberate attempt to integrate higher-level thinking skills as well as meaning and purpose into public school curricula where they had been lacking.

From roughly 1988 to 1996 I spent much of my time training thousands of public school teachers to lead Socratic Seminars. Despite the opportunity to continue working as a public school consultant making $2,000+ per day, I became depressed over the outcomes.  While a few teachers were capable of leading rigorous Socratic discussions, most were not.  I realized that I could not ensure high quality intellectual development among students by means of providing brief in-service trainings of teachers at public schools.

Sadly, even with more in-depth training most existing teachers cannot be trained properly:  Another Socratic Seminar teacher trainer was named the administrator for a $10 million grant to Timken High School in the 1990s, at the time the largest single philanthropic gift to a public school.  Although the terms of the grant stipulated that it could only be spent on educational improvements, and not bricks and mortar, this man quit well before he had finished spending the money.  He realized that the teachers, many of whom were hard-working and conscientious, had never experienced intellectual inquiry themselves.  With no power to hire, fire, or promote staff, he realized that no amount of spending on teacher training would result in the necessary improvements.

Meanwhile programs that I supervised personally were successful. In an inner-city Anchorage public school I created a program in which minority female students gained as much on the Watson-Glaser Critical Thinking Appraisal in four months of Socratic Practice as the average American student gains in four years of high school.  Later at a private Montessori school in Palo Alto, I created a middle school program in which students averaged 100 point annual gains on the SAT vs. 15-30 point annual gains for the average American high school student.

I received supportive letters from leading educational experts, including Project Zero founders Howard Gardner and David Perkins, MacArthur “Genius” Award winning educator Deborah Meier, 1994 National Teacher of the Year Elaine Perkins, brain-based learning experts Renate Numella and Geoffrey Caine, authentic assessment expert Grant Wiggins, and others.

One of the differences between the highly successful projects that I oversaw personally and the inconsistent outcomes in most public school implementations was due to the transition from “Socratic Seminars” to “Socratic Practice.” “Socratic Seminars” were weekly events in which teachers led a discussion. By contrast, “Socratic Practice” was the daily practice of the prerequisites to intellectual dialogue:  Close textual analysis, group dynamics, and the habit of taking ideas seriously (a trait that defines “intellectual” but which is only irregularly encountered in K-12 student populations).

In collaboration with colleagues in Alaska, I had discovered that children without educated parents often lacked the social, emotional, and intellectual skills needed to engage in classroom intellectual dialogue.  This creation of a learning culture rather than merely a classroom activity inspired my book, The Habit of Thought: From Socratic Seminars to Socratic Practice.  It is misleading to describe the issue as one of skill development:  The process of holding students accountable for their own moral beliefs and, even more importantly, getting students to hold each other accountable for acting in integrity with their beliefs, goes well beyond “skill.”  The goal is to transform culture by means of instilling a new set of interpersonal norms.

While it may sound unexpected that such a focus on interpersonal norms could result in improved academic performance, it is worth considering the extent to which much of secondary school in the U.S. resembles Beavis and Butthead.  At the most banal level, subcultures that watch less television tend to perform more highly than do those that watch more television.  Consider that on an international comparison of test scores (PISA), the U.S. ranks 20th among OECD nations.  But the average score of students from U.S. homes with only one television set would rank us third in the world.  Almost 80% of American children live in homes with three or more television sets, and scores from children in those homes are almost 40 points lower than are those from children from one television homes – a score difference that is roughly the same magnitude as the difference in scores between 20th-ranked U.S. and top-ranked Finland (see Table 2 here).  Simply creating a school in the U.S. at which students take learning seriously can result in significant improvements.

In 2002, after several years creating private schools, I had the opportunity to create a charter school based on Socratic Practice in northern New Mexico. The students there had never taken an Advanced Placement course; indeed, a representative of University of New Mexico-Taos told me point-blank that northern New Mexico students were incapable of passing an AP exam.

Through daily Socratic Practice by the second year of operation our school ranked 143rd best public high school in the U.S. on Newsweek’s Challenge Index.  Our third year we ranked 36th, with a pass rate (score of “3” or higher) on AP exams that was more than double that of the national average.  The schools more highly ranked were either magnet schools or in elite suburbs.

The statewide AP coordinator of New Mexico hired my faculty and me to train teachers from across the state. Parents moved to our area to enroll their children in our school at Moreno Valley High School.

Nonetheless, I was forced out of the school because I had never obtained an administrator’s license.  When NM charter school legislation had originally been signed by Governor Gary Johnson, no such license had been required.  But after I founded the school Governor Bill Richardson signed new legislation requiring all charter school principals to be licensed.  In order to enter an administrative licensure program in New Mexico, I would have needed to have had seven years’ experience as a licensed teacher.  Despite my fifteen years in K-12 education, I had never been a licensed teacher.  Appeals to the State Board of Education fell on deaf ears.

Contrast the existing world of education reform with that of technology:  Steve Jobs as a 12 year old kid picks up the phone and calls Bill Hewlitt.  He spends the next few years learning at HP, then goes to Reed, drops out, and goes to India.  He later sees the mouse and the GUI interface at Xexox Parc.  Xerox fails to develop the technology, Jobs and Wozniak do, and the rest is history.

In order to create an innovation, Jobs did not need to persuade professors of anything.  He didn’t have to ask any governments to change any rules.  All he needed was an idea, a partner, some capital, and customers.  Most business people and engineers ridiculed the personal computer for a long time.  If Jobs had had to get permission from professors, governments, and leading experts at IBM, Apple would not exist.  Ex ante no peer reviewed journal would have accepted an article showing that a college drop-out hippy would create the world’s greatest computer company.


US universities 'seeking to recruit more British students'

Rising numbers of institutions – including many belonging to the elite Ivy League – are marketing themselves to bright school-leavers on the back of a near tripling of the cost of a degree in Britain.

Around 9,000 British undergraduates and postgraduates studied in the US last year and experts predict that the number will soar further this autumn and again in 2013.

The number of students taking the main US higher education entrance exam in this country has already increased by a third in recent years and test centres are expanding to meet record demand.

It comes as British universities prepare to charge up to £9,000 in annual tuition fees for the first time this term.

Figures published earlier this month showed that it has had a serious impact on recruitment rates, with the number of students accepting places onto British universities plummeting by almost 57,000 – 12 per cent – so far this year.

J Robert Spatig, assistant vice-president for admissions at South Florida University in Tampa, said this was a “carpe diem moment for recruitment of UK students”.

“We believe that the floodgates are going to open once British students learn that tuition at many top research universities in the US may now be less than at a comparable Russell Group university in the UK,” he said. “This is a once in a generation opportunity to attract prospective British applicants across the Atlantic.”

US universities traditionally charge between £9,800 and £19,000 a year for an undergraduate degree, although some institutions provide more generous scholarships and grants than those available in Britain.

Janette Wallis, a senior editor of The Good Schools Guide, told how some bright students had been tempted to New York University’s international campus in Abu Dhabi with free tuition, £2,000 living expenses and flights to and from the Middle East.

Rising numbers of parents are now seeking out the guide’s reviews of American universities with a view to sending their children on similar courses, she said.  “They might have been interested before, but that £9,000 fee has tipped their interest into action,” she said.

The comments came ahead of a major US college recruitment fair in London later this week. A record 165 institutions, including Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and New York University, will exhibit at the USA College Day fair on Friday and Saturday.

The US-UK Fulbright Commission, which stages the event at Kensington Town Hall, said exhibitors had soared by 80 per cent in the last three years, with 3,500 students registering to attend the 2012 event so far.

Lauren Welch, director of marketing at the Fulbright Commission, said: “American universities are chomping at the bit to reach British students. We are seeing universities of all shapes and sizes come over the pond this autumn, including many newcomers.

“Universities are also staying longer, planning longer recruitment trips, tacking on school visits around the country.”

A separate event, The Student World Fair, featuring institutions from the US, Europe and Asia, will be staged in Manchester on Saturday before embarking on a roadshow taking in Leicester, Solihull, Bristol and London. It has reported a 25 per increase in exhibitors, with up to 30 institutions being represented.


Monday, September 24, 2012

College suspends professor for allegedly attempting to force students to vote for Obama

A college professor has been placed on leave after she allegedly forced her class to sign a pledge to vote for President Obama in the upcoming elections.

Early last week Professor Sharon Sweet at Brevard Community College (BCC) allegedly told students to sign a pledge that reads: “I pledge to vote for President Obama and Democrats up and down the ticket.”

The pledge was printed off of, a website funded by the Obama campaign.

University administrators said they learned about the incident late Thursday afternoon and launched an investigation, after they received a phone call from a concerned parent.

“Based on the allegations, Associate Professor Sweet has requested, and been granted, a leave of absence without pay effective immediately,” reads a statement put out by John Glisch, Associate Vice President for Communications at BCC.

“The college will continue its investigation into the matter, which will include interviews with all students in her class,” continues the statement.

Sweet’s actions may have also violated Florida’s election laws.

Section 104.31, of Title IX in chapter 104, states that “no officer or employee of the state... shall... use his or her official authority or influence for the purpose of interfering with an election or nomination of officer or influencing another person’s vote or affecting the result thereof.”


Teachers must go the extra mile if they want a payrise, British regulator says

Teachers should "go the extra mile" and work longer hours if they want to be granted a pay rise, the head of Ofsted Sir Michael Wilshaw has said.

Sir Michael said inspectors will now mark down schools that increase the pay of teachers who persist in being “out the gate at 3 o’clock”.

The chief inspector of schools for England said he expected teachers to “go the extra mile” for children, including staying on beyond the end of the school day.

They should be particularly willing to help pupils in poor areas, he suggested, with head teachers and governors now obliged to justify staff pay rises.

Sir Michael, head of Ofsted, told the Times newspaper “something is wrong” with pay rises being awarded to more experienced teachers regardless of their performance.

He said: “"In last year's (annual) report, we said that 40% of lessons overall were not good enough. And yet everyone is getting a pay rise. Hey! Something is wrong with the system.

“As a head I would make it clear that if you teach well or try to teach well, if you work hard and go the extra mile, you are going to get paid well.

“You are going to be promoted. Somebody who is out the gate at 3 o’clock in the afternoon is not. Isn’t that fair? Am I being unfair?”

He also said teachers who are unwilling to act as surrogate parents to pupils in poor areas who lacked support at home did not deserve a salary increase.

“It's about recognising those people who do go the extra mile,” he said.

His comments have already been met by criticism by teachers’ leaders, who have accused him of appearing to be “at war with teachers in this country”.

Kevin Courtney, deputy general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, told the newspaper: “This adds to the impression that Sir Michael Wilshaw wants to be at war with teachers in this country.  “We don’t want a system where head teachers pick and choose favourites for pay rises.”

Chris Keates, general secretary of the Nasuwt, said: “Teachers are in the second year of a public sector pay freeze and evidence shows that teachers who have earned pay progression are being denied it. It ill behoves the chief inspector to allow his role to be reduced to being the mouthpiece for the myths and misinformation peddled by the Secretary of State.”


Decline in male teachers a 'real cause for concern' says West Australian education minister

WA's best young male teachers would be sent into high schools to convince students the profession is as worthy as law or mining under a plan by the state's principals.

The proposal is among a suite of strategies that will be put to Education Minister Peter Collier, who is seeking advice from the Equal Opportunity Commission to determine how to entice more men into teaching without contravening discrimination laws.

The latest data from the WA College of Teaching reveals 313 fewer male teachers - including one-quarter who were under the age of 29 - are working in the state's classrooms this year.

Across the state, there are 12,049 men and 36,544 women registered as teachers for 2012, men representing 24.7 per cent. That compared with 12,362 men, representing 25.4 per cent, last year - and 26.4 per cent five years ago.

WA Primary Principals' Association president Steve Breen, along with the bodies that represent Catholic and independent primary principals, will meet Mr Collier, a former teacher, to discuss their proposal to target school students.

Mr Breen said principals were determined to present teaching as a worthy career by sending their best young male teachers into schools to speak to Year 10-12 pupils.

"There is a perception out there that being a lawyer or an engineer is the be all and end all - we need to be proactive in this area, you just can't let it keep getting worse each year," he said.

"The Minister has got great concerns about it, school principals have got great concerns about it, and I would imagine parents have got great concerns about it.

"Schools need both male and female role models as teachers. Both are extremely important and if you only get one point of view, that, to me, is a detrimental factor in a child's education."

Mr Collier said teaching had not been immune to the strength of the state's mining and construction sector, which has lured thousands of young men to ``set themselves up financially in a relatively short period of time". He labelled the decline of male teachers - particularly in primary schools - a ``real cause for concern".

"Only about 14 per cent of teachers in our primary schools are male, which means that a significant number of our students can progress through their primary years of schooling without having had a male teacher," Mr Collier said.

"In some instances, particularly in single-mother families, this lack of male role models is not ideal.

"Ultimately, our ability to entice more males into the teaching profession will rest on our success in changing any misconceptions that exist amongst that group (those being lured into mining or other careers) about the validity of teaching as a career pathway."

Mr Collier said the Education Department would meet with the EOC to determine how to "promote male employment in the primary school sector without contravening discrimination and equal opportunity law".

He said WA teachers were now among the highest paid in Australia, in a bid to ensure "we can attract and retain teachers".

Independent Primary School Heads of Australia WA branch president Andrew Manley said until primary teaching was presented as an appealing career ``from both a status and remuneration perspective", he feared the number of men entering the classroom would ``remain disproportionately low".

"As such, we encourage males to look at primary teaching as a positive and rewarding career," he said. "Nonetheless, when recruiting staff, while finding an appropriate gender balance in schools is an ideal goal, at the end of the day we are always looking for the best person for the job regardless of gender."

WA's largest provider of teacher education, Edith Cowan University, has only 12 men among the 694 students enrolled in early childhood studies this year.

ECU's Centre for Research in Early Childhood director Caroline Barratt-Pugh said more research was needed to understand the impact of less men taking up the profession, but it was commonly believed that men were role models for boys, ``especially for those where men are absent or marginalised".

"I think the bottom line is changing the perception of early childhood education and care as critical to the future of Australia, in which both women and men have an important role to play," she said.

Opposition education spokesman Paul Papalia said the State Government had failed to address attrition rates, particularly among male teachers.

"It may be an indication that teachers are leaving out of frustration due to inability to return to the metropolitan area or the inability to get permanency as a result of the independent public schools program," he said.

"We know that in 2015, there will be a shortage of 2500 high school teachers preceded in the next two years by surpluses of teachers."


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Chicago School Leaders Don’t Know How They’re Going to Pay for the New Contract!

The successful business leaders that sit on the Chicago Board of Education must have checked their brains at the door when they went into the negotiating room with the teachers union. How else could they possibly negotiate a contract that the school district can’t possibly afford?

Truth be told, if board member Penny Pritzker’s Hyatt Hotels operated that way, they’d be out of business. But, alas, this is government. They strike deals with unions and figure out how taxpayers will fund it later.

Reuters tells us:

“Chicago public school teachers returned to their classrooms on Wednesday but thorny questions remained over how Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the cash-strapped school system will pay for the tentative contract that ended a strike of more than a week.

“The three-year contract, which has an option for a fourth year and which awaits a ratification vote by the 29,000-member Chicago Teachers Union, calls for an average 17.6 percent pay raise over four years and some benefit improvements.

“Average teacher pay is now about $76,000 a year, according to the district, which pegged the annual cost of the new contract at $74 million a year, or $295 million over four years.

“The $5.16 billion fiscal 2013 budget approved by Chicago Board of Education last month closed a $665 million deficit by draining reserves and levying property taxes at a maximum rate, while also slashing administrative and operational spending.”

Let’s see: historically high pay, depleted reserves, maxed-out tax rates…so what does the board negotiate? A 17.6 percent raise and benefit improvements! Hyatt Hotels may go bankrupt operating that way, but this is government!

The likeliest solution would be to slim down the district, which would directly impact the Chicago Teachers Union’s dues intake. The district will most likely lay off teachers to cut costs and make up for the loss of student enrollment.

The district’s financial problems are compounded by the fact that its credit rating was recently downgraded, making it more expensive for the district to borrow money. The district’s draining of its reserves, huge pension costs and labor fight were blamed for that development.

The union’s strike accomplished precisely what it set out to do: get a sweetheart deal from a scared school board that checked its business brains at the door. That’s no way to run government and certainly no way to run schools.


RI: School bans father-daughter dances

A school district in Rhode Island has ended the traditional father-daughter dance because the longtime tradition violated the state’s gender discrimination law.

Judith Lundsten, an assistant school superintendent in Cranston,  tells Fox News the move came in response to a complaint from a single mother after her daughter wasn’t allowed to attend a father-daughter dance.

“The parent felt it was not appropriate and filed a complaint with the ACLU,” she said.

The American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to the district demanding that all father-daughter and mother-son events be cancelled.

Lundsten said school attorneys found while federal gender discrimination laws exempt such events, Rhode Island’s does not.  “At this point, the law states that we cannot have these gender-specific type activities,” Lundsten told Fox News. “

She said the school district is going to try and work with lawmakers to amend the law – but until that time “We are following the law.”

Lundsten said the ban has caused a bit of controversy in the community.  “The community has a great deal of concern about this issue,” she said. “Certainly I understand that times have changed and people have different feelings about this.”

“I think it’s a shame,” parent Sean Gately told Fox News. “It’s an assault on traditional family values.”

Gately, who is running for state senator, learned of the ban at an open-house for their second-grade son. Another parent noticed the annual father-daughter was not on the calendar.

“For generations we’ve had mother-daughter, father-son events,” he said. “My wife was looking forward to taking our son to the annual mother-son event.”

So Gately decided to start making some telephone calls. He learned that Rhode Island’s law is based on Title IX. That law actually carves out specific exemptions for events like father-daughter dances. However, the Rhode Island general law did not.

And until the law is changed – the dances are banned.

“We do believe that once this happens in Cranston, the ACLU will pursue every other school district in Rhode Island,” he said.

Gately said he’s going to miss those special moments – marked by longstanding memories and pictures.  “Noting made me more satisfied than when I got to pin my daughter’s first corsage on her lapel when she bought a pretty dress,” he said.  “These are important traditions that we have here as a country and as a community,” he added. “The attempt to try and take them away from us is an atrocity.”

But Lundsten said the incident could serve as a learning experience for the community.  “It’s part of having a health debate about our country and how we can do better,” she said. [Really??]


Sex education from as young as 9 in Australian schools

CHILDREN will be taught to "recognise sexual feelings" from age 11 or 12 under a new national physical education curriculum criticised by religious schools.

Physical, social and emotional changes of puberty will be taught in Years 5 and 6, when children are as young as nine and 10.

But Catholic educators have forced the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority to back down from its plan to explain puberty to children as young as seven, over concerns the kids might "freak out".

ACARA had wanted puberty as a topic to be introduced in Years 3 and 4.

Guidelines for the first national curriculum on health and physical education reveal a shift from a focus on sport and fitness, to the politically correct topics of "gender, sexuality, culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and psycho-social environments".

The subjects of "sexual and gender identity" and "managing intimate relationships" will be included in the new curriculum, which will be drawn up in detail during the next 12 months.

Sexuality will be explored in Years 7 and 8 when some students are still only 11 or 12 years old as they "learn to recognise sexual feelings and evaluate behavioural expectations for different social situations".

But ACARA had to delay the puberty sessions after education groups raised concerns.

"Respondents from the Catholic education sectors considered the inclusion of content related to puberty in Years 3 and 4 as inappropriate," ACARA states in a summary of educators' feedback to its earlier draft guidelines.

The final guidelines will be used by education experts to write the detailed curriculum that will be drawn up by a group of education experts during the next 12 months.

Australian Medical Association president Steve Hambleton said it was rare for Australian children to hit puberty before the age of 11 or 12.

"(Teaching it in) Years 3 and 4 does seem to be a bit early," he said yesterday.  "They're still out playing hide and seek."

Dr Hambleton said talking to children about puberty and sex was "best done by family", although it was important children did not hear it in the playground first.

Council of Catholic School Parents executive director Danielle Cronin said classroom lessons on puberty could "really freak kids out".

"It's quite confronting, and it can be distressing enough in Years 5 and 6, so Years 3 and 4 are probably a bit too early, especially if you want to avoid them being freaked out," she said yesterday.

An ACARA spokesman said children in Years 3 and 4 would still be taught about body changes but ACARA had "made a shift in the language as a result of concerns".

"The community will have further opportunities to provide feedback on the Health and Physical Education curriculum as it moves through the development process," the ACARA spokesman said.

He said Catholic schools had not been the only educators to object, but would not give more details.

The final guidelines have removed the reference to puberty but state that Year 3 and 4 students "develop and apply the knowledge, understanding and skills to manage the physical, emotional and social changes they begin to experience during this stage of life."

National Catholic Education Commission chairwoman Therese Temby said Catholic schools would take part in ACARA's drafting of the new curriculum.