Friday, September 02, 2016

Why Finland is rejecting U.S. school reforms

Finland, a world education leader, is fleeing Common Core and other American ideas. We should pay attention

HELSINKI — Hundreds of thousands of children, including my own 8-year-old, returned to primary school this month in Finland. They also returned to a new national curriculum framework in a country that has achieved global acclaim for its highly efficient education system and its history of world-topping test scores.

Finland’s teachers, schools and teacher training universities are the envy of educators all over. To me, an outsider living here for six months “embedded” in one of those universities, it becomes increasingly clear that the main reason for the success of Finland’s schools is not because they are ethnically Finnish, but because they are correctly organized and supported by society.

But all is not well in Education Utopia.

Social and economic pressures are increasing sharply. Inequity is growing among schools. Severe budget cuts are hitting vocational and higher education. High-performing students often don’t feel challenged, and Finnish children face problems common to many the world over — bullying, big drop-offs in math and reading skills, digital overload, and feeling bored or disengaged from school. The performance of Finland’s 15-year-olds in international tests has fallen in recent years.

The United States for more than a decade has responded to its own education challenges with a bizarre, bipartisan and ineffectual mix of mass standardized testing, de-professionalization of teachers, dismal quality “cybercharter schools,” the elimination of arts and recess for children, and the botched, now politically toxic Common Core attempt at national curriculum guidelines.

Finland is taking largely the opposite approach. It is doubling down on many of the things that made its schools great in the first place.

Consider it Finland’s anti-Common Core. To some self-styled education reformers, many of the ideas in the new curriculum are blasphemy and irrelevant to non-Finnish children, especially those from poor backgrounds. To many of the globe's teachers and childhood development experts, however, they will represent evidence-based education for all children, and a beacon of hope in an education world increasingly dominated by forced standardization, political interference and childhood stress, shaming and punishment based on bad or irrelevant data.

Finland’s brand new National Core Curriculum emphasizes a child’s individuality and says “children have the right to learn by playing and experience joy related to learning.” It says they should be encouraged to express their opinions, trust themselves, be open to new solutions, learn to handle unclear and conflicting information, consider things from different viewpoints, seek new information and review the way they think. Teachers are directed to give students daily feedback and measure them against their starting points, not other students. In grades one through seven, schools now have the option of dropping numerical grades in favor of verbal assessments. (Failing students will still receive a “fail” grade, and can be held back as a last resort.)

The new guidelines strengthen traditional roles of play and physical activity. Preschool and kindergarten students will continue to learn through songs, games, conversation and playful discovery, not military-style drilling and stress at ages 4, 5 or 6 as is increasingly the case in American schools. A number of studies have supported the advantages of play-based early education for children, including those from low-income backgrounds. Formal academic training in Finland will continue to start at age 7, when many children are best ready for it. That corresponds with research indicating that any advantage gained by earlier instruction, when children are not developmentally ready, washes out a few years later.

Finland is also continuing other policies that work: Primary school teachers will still have to earn master's degrees and undergo at least two years of in-classroom training by master teacher-trainers before being allowed to lead classes of their own. Grades one through nine will offer instruction not only in math, science and history, but also in two or three languages, physical education, music, visual arts, crafts and religion or ethics. And home economics, a rare subject in American schools, will be taught in grades seven, eight and nine.

Finland’s reforms were based on research and evidence and developed by educators, with lots of input from parents and children. Its latest education vision could hardly be less like the one that ill-informed politicians are imposing on public schools in the United States, the United Kingdom and elsewhere. In the U.S., this has exacerbated widespread system failure and confusion.

In a famous episode of Seinfeld, the long-failing George Costanza character achieved spectacular success by doing the total opposite of everything he had done before. Perhaps American public schools should consider following his example.


A Gem in Chicago

We have gotten so used to seeing college presidents and other academic “leaders” caving in to so many outrageous demands from little gangs of bullying students that it is a long overdue surprise to see a sign that at least one major university has shown some backbone.

Dr. Robert J. Zimmer, president of the University of Chicago, has spoken out in the plainest language against the stifling of opinions that differ from political correctness, on campuses across the country.

“Free speech is at risk at the very institution where it should be assured: the university,” Dr. Zimmer said.

“Invited speakers are disinvited because a segment of a university community deems them offensive, while other orators are shouted down for similar reasons,” he said. Demands have been made that assigned readings in some courses be eliminated because they “might make some students uncomfortable.”

Worst of all, such demands “have been supported by university administrators,” Dr. Zimmer pointed out.

By contrast with many other colleges and universities where speech codes restrict what students can and cannot say, freshmen students entering the University of Chicago have been informed by a letter from the Dean of Students that “freedom of expression” is one of that institution’s “defining characteristics.”

The Dean of Students spelled it out: “Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge and learn, without fear of censorship. Civility and mutual respect are vital to all of us, and freedom of expression does not mean the freedom to harass or threaten others.”

That such things need to be said is a painful commentary on the academic world in general. It is doubtful if any such declaration or policy could be made at any of the Ivy League universities, which are bastions of political correctness.

At Harvard, not only have invited speakers been shouted down and sometimes assaulted, even a Harvard professor’s classroom was invaded by disruptive students who didn’t like what he was teaching. Such things have also happened at Berkeley and other elite institutions across the country, as well as at less renowned institutions.

The uniqueness of the University of Chicago is not something new. Back in the 1960s, as campus riots spread across the country, and academic administrators caved in to even the most outrageous demands, dozens of disruptive students were simply expelled from the University of Chicago and dozens more were put on probation. As Professor George J. Stigler, a Nobel Prize-winning economist, said, “our faculty united behind the expulsion of a large number of young barbarians.”

But such faculty support required a sense of mission, beyond a quiet life on campus in which to pursue one’s own career. Even as grade inflation soared, and failing grades virtually disappeared in some colleges and universities across the country, that was not true among professors of economics who had been trained at the University of Chicago.

A survey in the economics department at Cornell University, during a year in the 1960s when I taught there, showed that the only students who received a failing grade in any economics course that year were students who took courses taught by professors who were trained at the University of Chicago.

In later years, when I gave failing grades to one-fourth of my class at UCLA, I discovered that this was not at all unusual in UCLA’s economics department, which had a sizable contingent of economists trained at the University of Chicago. We also opposed many politically correct policies of the UCLA administration.

One of the many name-calling responses to people who do not go along with political correctness is to use the all-purpose smear, “racism.” But the first time I saw a white professor at a white university with a black secretary, it was Milton Friedman at the University of Chicago in 1960 — four years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Years earlier, the first black tenured professor at an elite white university was Allison Davis at the University of Chicago. But who cares about facts in these politically correct times?


150 submissions about sexual assault or harassment at Australian universities

With lots of juicy young people thrown together what else would you expect?  The real surprise is that there are only 150 claims out of a million or more students.  And what do the do-gooders want to do about it?  Have every male student tracked 24/7?  It's a complete absurdity.  You can't outlaw human nature.  Talk about campus rape is a huge fashion in the Anglosphere these days but evidence that it is unusual for the age group always seems to be missing

150 “deeply disturbing” submissions about sexual assault or harassment at Australian universities have already been received by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), one week after launching its landmark survey into sexism on campus.

For the first time, the AHRC are surveying samples of students from Australia’s 39 universities, and have also invited all students to anonymously share their experiences of sexual assault or harassment in an online submission.

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs told Hack that she’s already shocked by the submissions that are trickling in.

“The survey launched only 5 or 6 days ago, and we’re already getting unprecedented submissions from the public, from students.

“We’ve had about 150 submissions, and they are deeply disturbing.  They range from the internet harassment kinds of stalking, to profoundly serious matters, which are criminal.”

Gillian Triggs said some of the respondents reported being dragged out of a car and raped; being sexually assaulted; experiencing inappropriate sexual movements; or having their clothes taken off them at a party.

“It’s almost as if the dam is bursting, people want to talk about this.”

Gillian Triggs told Hack she believes people feel more comfortable talking about assault and harassment in a confidential survey.

“I think when you have that kind of opportunity, you do get a very high number of people saying, ‘this is my opportunity to talk about something’.

“These recent submissions are often prefaced by the remark, ‘I didn’t report this, but’.”

Gillian Triggs says there’s huge extremes in the nature of students’ submissions so far, and it’s too early to see if there’s any trends emerging. But she hopes that the survey will be able to show if the amount and nature of sexual harassment on campus is different to the general population.

“We all know that every week in the media there’s another story [about sexual harassment] from a university college, or a university pretty much happening all over Australia.

“One of the things we’d like to know is whether the incidence of these sexual harassments from minor matters to very serious rapes, whether this is any different from the rest of the community. We don’t know the answer to that.”

Over the past few months, Hack has reported on several stories about sexual assault and harassment of university students.


Thursday, September 01, 2016

Higher Education in Disarray, but a Glimmer of Hope

One college dean advises students to leave their safe spaces at home.

Higher education today is a mess. Many institutions are involved in an arms race, strongly competing to attract students for the scholarship and student loan money that they bring with them. Institutions are building facilities that are much more fancy, thus more appealing, than ever before. New dorms, sports and fitness centers, student centers, dining facilities — the list goes on.

And the “everybody needs to go to college” craze has put thousands on campuses who aren’t best served by a traditional college degree.

Those who attended college many years before this arms race began endured sparsely appointed dorms and other comparatively plain-Jane facilities, but managed to come out with a solid education. That austere environment isn’t good enough anymore.

A 2014 survey by the University of California Los Angeles showed that there are five times more leftist professors than conservative professors on college faculties these days. The worst aspect of this is that many have taken on the role of proselytizers, forsaking their duty to guide learning and maturation in their subject area in favor of indoctrinating students into the poisonous world of leftist politics, which they now refer to as “progressivism,” since “liberalism” is no longer credible.

Leftist doctrine on the college campus has led to a disintegration of the traditional college atmosphere, where students once were exposed to and challenged by a broad range of ideas. That healthy environment has become an intellectually stultifying experience. Students are now afraid of their own shadows, and ideas differing from the narrow range of acceptable leftist ideology send kids running to hide under the bed in their hotel-like dorm room.

“Trigger warnings” are expected or required to “protect” those who desire only peace and harmony in their environment from “unsuitable” content, and “safe zones,” where students may seek refuge from the rigors of life, are routine.

The recent focus on transgenderism, and the bending-over-backward efforts to accommodate it, has produced a policy at West Virginia University in which anyone failing to use the personal pronoun preferred by each and every person who claims to be transgender is breaking a federal law on sexual discrimination, and will be treated as a lawbreaker by the university, despite that transgenderism has absolutely no grounding in science whatsoever.

Two questions arise: (1) How does someone know which of WVU’s 29,000 students claims to be transgender, and (2) in the event they actually are able to discern this, how are they supposed to know which of the 30 different pronouns approved by WVU applies to which person?

Transgender people are estimated to be one in every 2,400 Americans, or 0.03% of the population. Another question: How few people are too few to propel the politically correct into action, spawning another uproar over some thought or action that has virtually no effect?

Back in the 60s and 70s a long and often-troubled struggle to desegregate schools and put black and white students in the same learning environment reached its peak. Forty years later, some want to reverse that. Everything old is new again.

Columnist and professor Walter Williams writes, “Hampshire College will offer some of its students what the school euphemistically calls ‘identity-based housing.’” That’s segregated housing for students who — because of their race, culture, gender or sexual orientation — have ‘historically experienced oppression.’“ This idea extends to racially segregated classes where students will feel better when surrounded by those just like them.

In his column titled "College Campus Lunacy,” Williams supports that title by listing some actual course titles: “Philosophy and Star Trek,” “Demystifying the Hipster,” “Recreational Tree Climbing,” and “Kayne vs. Everybody.” Such courses, he said, are the work of faculty, to whom college presidents and trustees have apparently surrendered the running of those institutions.

Now, however, an institution of higher education has decided that it’s time to push back against political correctness. University of Chicago Dean of Students John Ellison warned incoming students in a letter that there is no tolerance for the kind of student demands that have emerged recently. “Our commitment to academic freedom,” wrote Ellison, “means that we do not support so-called ‘trigger warnings,’ we do not cancel invited speakers because their topics might prove controversial, and we do not condone the creation of intellectual ‘safe spaces’ where individuals can retreat from ideas and perspectives at odds with their own.”

“Members of our community are encouraged to speak, write, listen, challenge, and learn, without fear of censorship,” Ellison continued. Noting the importance of civility among and between parties, he stated, “We expect members of our community to be engaged in rigorous debate, discussion, and even disagreement. At times, this may challenge you and even cause discomfort.”

A college education should help prepare people to cope with life, not to fear it. Political correctness is an infection threatening the nation. Getting rid of it on campuses is a big step toward producing young Americans that are educated, grown up and prepared to experience life. And we hope Ellison’s message is heard loud and clear by other administrators around the nation


$5K for U-Iowa Male Student Denied Safe-Ride Service Intended for Women

Just in time for the new school year, the University of Iowa has settled a sex discrimination complaint filed by a male student who was denied late-night rides home with the school's "Nite Ride" service.

Until now, the Nite Ride service offered safe rides to residence halls for women only.

Acting on behalf of the student, the Iowa Civil Rights Commission reached a settlement with the University, which has agreed not to refuse or deny "accommodations, advantages, facilities, service, or privileges to any person because of race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, national origin, pregnancy, or disability."

The University of Iowa has agreed to pay the male student $5,000, "which represents compensation for an estimated 424 instances of denied Nite Ride service, each of which resulted in a 30-minute walk home. 

The settlement noted that approximately 45 times, the student "was subjected to harassment by departing bar patrons" as he walked home late at night.

The university also has agreed to publicize the new "sex-neutral" aspect of the Nite Ride service, and it will "educate and train" all employees, including drivers.


State University Has 'Stop White People' Event for RA Training

The State University of New York at Binghamton is actually hosting an event titled "#StopWhitePeople2K16" at a training for resident assistants. Yet again, the politically correct social justice warriors have let slip their own racial prejudices, in the name of opposing systemic injustice and "white privilege." After defending the title of the event, Vice President for Student Affairs Brian Rose finally apologized for the title, admitting it was "offensive and alarming" out of context.

The "Stop White People" class reportedly aims to help others understand "diversity, privilege, and the society we function in." In an Orwellian twist, the teachers promise to "give attendees the tool to" debunk "'good' arguments from uneducated people." Anyone who disagrees with the assertion that we live in a society with inherent advantages for white people is "uneducated" and needs to be corrected.

Nevermind the intellectual diversity and open dialogue from multiple perspectives that truly fosters education, or the fact that white people are still people and should not be discriminated against, or the simple truth that organizations focused on "stopping white people" are just as racist as ones set up to hold back other races.

No, the State University of New York at Binghamton is committed to the closing of the liberal mind and the conspiracy theory that somehow "white people" are all out to get everyone else. Here is the full description of the event:

The premise of this session is to help others take the next step in understanding diversity, privilege, and the society we function within. Learning about these topics is a good first step, but when encountered with ‘good’ arguments from uneducated people, how do you respond? This open discussion will give attendees the tools to do so, and hopefully expand upon what they may already know.

Student Howard Hecht explained the mentality behind such overt racism. "If you subscribe to the extremely leftist notion that to be racist against white people is 'reverse racism,' and therefore white people cannot experience racism because 'reverse racism' does not exist, then the title of this conference will not bother you. For the rest of the student population, however, the title may come as a bit of a shock, or at the very least spark interest in understanding the hashtag."

Update: After the publication of the event caused some controversy, Rose responded in an attempt to clarify why it was entitled "Stop White People." He noted, "It is my understanding that the hashtag is commonly used ironically." He then proceeded to describe an official investigation of the event in question:

"We verified that the actual program content was not “anti-white.” The inclusion of the program in the educational session was not driven by any University administration initiative to advocate any specific viewpoint on diversity. About 40 to 50 RAs chose to attend the session, which ran concurrently with other sessions. Topically, the discussion in the program was far-ranging, student-driven and explored reverse racism, the relationship of communities of color with police, whiteness, crime and segregation in an open conversation format.

Post-session feedback predominantly described the session as a respectful and productive conversation. Professional staff followed up directly with a few participants who had a mixed reaction to the program in support of those participants.

This clarification was helpful, but shortly afterward Rose himself seems to have come to the realization that an official apology was necessary.

See the apology on the next page.

The vice president of Student Affairs published yet another response to the controversy, aiming to "provide additional perspective."

For those who were familiar with the hashtag used in the title, it was understood not to be literal. Nonetheless, the program should not have been so titled. Out of context, it is offensive and alarming. That was not the intent. The mistake made by staff who let it go to print was a failure to consider what impression the program title would create if it circulated beyond those familiar with the hashtag, as it in fact did. We'll make sure all of our staff learn from the experience."

For the many who have conflated the issue of the title with the purpose of the program and assumed that the intent was to target white people — that is simply false. The program was an opportunity for student staff to explore race-related topics in conversation and to practice managing conflict around those issues with each other. Criticism that the title was poorly chosen is fair. Continued cries that the program purpose and intent were racist are not.

Rose did not stop at apologizing, however. He noted that the program's leaders "have been personally targeted with threatening, racist and highly vitriolic messages," and declared, "That is reprehensible and condemnable." He emphasized that "behind the controversy over the program name was an honest effort to lead a productive discussion about race and diversity, which in fact occurred." He urged critics to "strive to understand their good intent and show them some grace."

The administrator's second response is admirable, but it still seems not to understand the thinking behind those who were outraged by the anti-white title of the event. An increasing emphasis on racial diversity and on demands for racial justice has fostered the idea that white people are "privileged," and therefore the system needs to be changed to elevate those of other races.

While racism against minorities has been a significant feature of American history, the answer is to reject judgments on the color of one's skin, not to simply reverse the victims of discrimination.

Current events seem to suggest that the ugly tide has not fully abated. A group of "people of color" students at the Claremont Colleges specifically tried to prevent getting any white roommates. Back in May, a group of young people formed an organization aimed at convincing white men not to run for political office. Perhaps more terrifying, the Black Lives Matter protest in Milwaukee not only chanted "Black Power," but also specifically called for violence against white people.

In the face of such events, is it all that surprising that a "White Lives Matter" protest emerged last weekend? Unfortunately, racism on one side encourages racism on the other. In addition to a Confederate Flag (specifically the Battle Flag of the Army of Northern Virginia), the group had a sign reading "14 Words," a reference to a white supremacist slogan.

Racism is evil in all its forms. Judging people on the basis of their skin is prejudice, whether expressed against blacks, whites, Hispanics, or Asians. Let us reject it and pursue a society which welcomes all and judges people not based on the color of their skin, but on the content of their character.


Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Back to Campus, Where Due Process Is a Myth

Colleges are supposed to be places of learning. However, many argue they've become liberal indoctrination centers, dedicated to churning out legions of progressive zombies who can parrot the Democratic Party's platform verbatim -- yet can't actually do anything useful to support themselves, or society.

Liberals, unsurprisingly, deny this.

However, there appears to be a movement afoot on college campuses that should alarm liberals, conservatives, and libertarians alike.

By now, most readers of this site are bound to be familiar with the persecution of men suspected of sexual assault on campuses throughout the nation. And yes, using "persecution" rather than "prosecution" is intentional. Prosecution implies they will be put through the unalienable rights-based American legal system. That isn't true anymore.

As your kids head off to school, they should be aware that sexual assault isn't the only situation where college officials now figure silly things like due process should be completely ignored:

The University of California-San Diego routinely hides the identity of witnesses that could help students accused of wrongdoing exonerate themselves, departing from its own rules on who is “relevant” to an investigation.

This policy, which has been applied against accused students for at least the past five years, was not publicly known until 11 months ago. A state appeals court fleshed out its existence in a due-process lawsuit against the school by a student who was found responsible for cheating and expelled.

That court struck down UCSD’s ruling against Jonathan Dorfman, saying it had no legal reason to withhold the identity of “Student X” -- whose test answers Dorfman allegedly copied -- from him.

The claim that Dorfman copied answers from "Student X" would assume the two sit near one another. However, without knowing the identity of the student, Dorfman can't establish whether he was sitting near "Student X" on the day of the exam or not.

So how did they "prove" his guilt?

The case against Dorfman boils down to his professor’s suspicion -- triggered by the wrong “exam version letter” -- that his answers on a chemistry midterm were too similar to those of Student X.

As summarized in the appellate ruling Sept. 16, the professor asked a colleague at a different school what the likelihood was of both tests coincidentally having “eight wrong matching answers,” and was told “a billion to one.”

Basically, a professor found it unlikely that two students could have eight wrong answers in common, so he accused Dorfman of cheating.

Then, in complete disregard for due process, UCSD hid the identity of someone who could possibly prove Dorfman innocent.

Why? Really -- why would a university do this?

U.S. universities have gotten away with behaving as if they aren't on U.S. soil for a long time. It's well past time that the public put their feet to the fire, and forced these power-hungry administrators to remember they aren't self-governing states.


NLRB just nuked your private university safe spaces

Liberal parents who are dropping off a child at a private university beware; the liberal National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) just nuked your kid’s safe space.

The NLRB earlier this week overruled previous precedent and decided that many types of students who perform duties such as teaching assistance as part of their degree programs are employees for the purposes of the National Labor Relations Act.

This means that all the crazy decisions from the NLRB regarding things like employer manuals, prohibiting restrictions on workplace conduct, etc. now apply to these students.

This also means that these students can now form unions and the employer (university) will be legally prohibited from negotiating with them individually but must instead bargain with the union.

Since the NLRB has greatly limited the ability of employers to prohibit bad conduct from employees here are a few of the things that the dissent points out will be next to impossible for private universities to prohibit:

Privacy in Investigations. “If your son or daughter is sexually harassed by a student assistant and an investigation by the university ensues, the university will violate federal law (the NLRA) if it routinely asks other student-assistant witnesses to keep confidential what is discussed during the university’s investigation.”

Civility. “The university will be found to have violated the NLRA if it requires student assistants to maintain ‘harmonious interactions and relationships’ with other students.”

Profanity, Abuse, and Just Plain Loudness. “The university cannot adopt a policy against ‘loud, abusive or foul language’ or ‘false, vicious, profane or malicious statements’ by student assistants.”

Bad Conduct. “The university must permit student assistants to have angry confrontations with university officials in grievance discussions, and the student assistant cannot be lawfully disciplined or removed from his or her position even if he or she repeatedly screams, ‘I can say anything I want,’ ‘I can swear if I want,’ and ‘I can do anything I want, and you can’t stop me’.”

Social Media Gone Wild. “If a student assistant objects to actions by a professor-supervisor named ‘Bob,’ the university must permit the student to post a message on Facebook stating: ‘Bob is such a nasty mother ******, don’t know how to talk to people. **** his mother and his entire ******* family’.”

Abusing Faculty. “The university may not take action against a student assistant who screams at a professor-supervisor and calls him a ‘******* crook,’ a ‘******* mother *******’ and an ‘*******’ when the student assistant is complaining about the treatment of student assistants.”

The quotes above are from actual, real life cases where the NLRB has said that employers cannot prohibit the conduct described.

So, if your kid gets attacked they will have no privacy, they can expect no civility, and they can expect to be in the middle of profanity, falsity, and malicious conduct.

Goodbye safe space. Maybe you should get your kids’ earplugs and self-defense skills instead.


The Dumbing Down of College Curriculums

Let’s concede at the outset that many students find their college years enlightening and enriching. But something is rotten in the state of academia, and it is increasingly hard not to notice.

There once was a time when employers could be reasonably certain that college graduates had a basic sense of the world and, as a minimum, could write a coherent business letter. That is simply no longer the case, as some academic leaders appear ready to admit.

Harvard’s former president, Derek Bok, mildly broke ranks with the academic cheerleaders when he noted that, for all their many benefits, colleges and universities “accomplish far less for their students than they should.” Too many graduates, he admitted, leave school with the coveted and expensive credential “without being able to write well enough to satisfy employers … [or] reason clearly or perform competently in analyzing complex, nontechnical problems.”

Bok noted that few undergraduates can understand or speak a foreign language; most never take courses in quantitative reasoning or acquire “the knowledge needed to be a reasonably informed citizen in a democracy.” Despite the massive spending on the infrastructure of higher education, he conceded, it was not at all clear that students actually learned any more than they did 50 years ago.

Indeed, a recent survey of the nation’s top-ranked public universities by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni found that only nine of them required an economics course for graduation; just five required a survey course in American history; and only 10 required that students take a literature course. Despite the lip service given to “multiculturalism” on campus, the study found that: “Fewer than half required even intermediate study of a foreign language.”

By 1990, the cost of four years at an elite private college had passed the median price of a house in the United States. But a survey sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1989 found that a majority of college seniors would flunk even a basic test on Western cultural and historical literacy: 25 percent could not distinguish between the thoughts of Karl Marx and the United States Constitution (or between the words of Winston Churchill and those of Joseph Stalin), 58 percent did not know Shakespeare wrote “The Tempest,” and 42 percent could not place the Civil War in the correct half-century.

Most seniors were unable to identify the Magna Carta, Reconstruction, or the Missouri Compromise; they were “clearly unfamiliar” with Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” Fyodor Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment,” and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail.”

The question is no longer whether students have learned specific bodies of knowledge; it is whether they are learning anything at all.

These concerns now seem almost—quaint. The fact that college students had huge gaps in their knowledge was old news by the early 1990s. But today the question is no longer whether students have learned specific bodies of knowledge; it is whether they are learning anything at all.

In their widely cited book “Academically Adrift,” Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa concluded that 45 percent of students “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning” during their first two years of college. More than a third (36 percent) “did not demonstrate any significant improvement in learning over four years of college.”

Traditionally, the authors wrote, “teaching students to think critically and communicate effectively” have been claimed as the “principal goals” of higher education. But “commitment to these skills appears more a matter of principle than practice,” Arum and Roksa found.

“An astounding proportion of students are progressing through higher education today without measurable gains in general skills,” they wrote. “While they may be acquiring subject-specific knowledge, or greater self-awareness on their journeys through college, many students are not improving their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing.”

But those are precisely the skills that employers increasingly expect from college graduates. A 2013 survey of employers on behalf of the Association of American Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of employers say that a demonstrated capacity to think critically, communicate clearly, and solve complex problems is more important than a candidate’s undergraduate major.

More than three-quarters of the prospective employers of new college graduates said they wanted colleges to put more emphasis on such basic skills as “critical thinking, complex problem solving, written and oral communication, and applied knowledge.”

Trashing the Curriculum

So how could we spend so much for so little? The most obvious answer is that colleges and universities frankly don’t care whether students learn much of anything.

Once again, Harvard’s Bok is willing to admit that administrators have few incentives to worry about something as irrelevant as student achievement because student learning can’t be monetized and doesn’t do anything to advance academic careers. “After all,” he writes, “success in increasing student learning is seldom rewarded, and its benefits are usually hard to demonstrate, far more so than success in lifting the SAT scores of the entering class or in raising the money to build new laboratories or libraries.”

There are, of course, other factors at work. The dumbing down of elementary and secondary education has made its way to the collegiate level; too many unprepared students are admitted despite their inability to do college-level work. Nearly four out of 10 college faculty now agree with the statement “Most of the students I teach lack the basic skills for college-level work.” This inevitably contributes to the flight from teaching (few professors want to teach remedial courses) and the overall lowering of standards.

This general indifference to what, if anything, students learn is embodied in the modern curriculum that enables students to study just about anything, without necessarily learning much at all.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Is a homework backlash brewing after teacher’s note goes viral?

Isn’t it strange that after years of groaning about homework throughout childhood, we dread it even more as parents? More to the point: We’re as delighted as kids when someone tells us we’re off the hook.

That’s what happened this week when Brandy Young, a second-grade teacher in Texas, dispatched a revolutionary note to her classroom that promptly went viral:

A gratified parent shared the note on Facebook to a chorus of relief. “Finally a teacher who realizes real life!” one parent posted. “I believe that if there was less homework assignments for the kids to do that there would probably be less drop-outs as kids get older,” another wrote. “Kids need to be kids,” declared yet another.

At last someone — someone in a position of educational authority, in fact, and not a grumbling child — had sounded the alarm on homework for young kids.

It’s long overdue, says Belmont’s Alfie Kohn, a prominent education lecturer and author of “The Homework Myth.”

Kohn believes the very idea of homework is misguided, a reaction to a toxically competitive culture in which “[kids] have to defeat people as if education were an Olympic sport. It’s this whole top-down, corporate-style, test-driven approach . . . which also manifests itself in high-stakes testing and common core, with one-size-fits-all standards — which explains why there’s this push to make kids work harder.”

It’s especially troubling, he says, because that there’s a lack of research to support that homework helps elementary-schoolers in any way.

“No research has found any benefit to any kind of homework below the high school level,” Kohn says. “Why do we persist in making kids swallow this modern cod liver oil and work a ‘second shift?’ ”

Blame it on our already hyper-scheduled lives. Homework has become one more thing to check off the to-do list, alongside piano lessons, sports, tutoring, karate, toddler origami, and who knows what else. Kids have less free time than ever before. According to an article by Boston College psychology researcher Dr. Peter Gray in the American Journal of Play, “[C]hildren’s free play has been continually declining, at least partly because adults have exerted ever-increasing control over children’s activities” since about 1955.

“We just don’t trust children, and we do not trust them to decide how to spend their time, so we attempt to keep them busy,” Kohn laments. “We force them to be constructive until their heads hit the pillow. We can binge on Netflix or update on Facebook. But children — no, no! School must reach its long arm into the home and compel them to be constructive.”

In a world where free time is at a premium, giving homework just to fill time can be pointless at best and damaging at worst, particularly for already overextended families.

“My thought is that homework needs to be intentional,” says Emily Fialky, a school psychologist in Northampton and the mother of elementary schoolers. “If there was a parent home and a kid came home and relaxed with nothing else going on, and they did some extra practice, I could see that as doable. But we have this parallel world where both parents usually work, and children desperately need downtime because they’ve been learning all day.”

The National Education Association supports 10 to 20 minutes of homework in first grade and an additional 10 minutes per grade level thereafter.

“At the elementary school level, homework can help students develop study skills and habits and can keep families informed about their child’s learning,” it says on the website.

Further, the site notes that “homework overload is the exception rather than the norm, according to research from the Brookings Institution and the Rand Corporation. Their researchers analyzed data from a variety of sources and concluded that the majority of US students spend less than an hour a day on homework, regardless of grade level, and this has held true for most of the past 50 years.”

This might come as a shock to any parent of a child who’s slogged home laden with more books and papers than a frazzled accountant.

Still, the pressure is not always coming from the classroom. Some parents demand homework despite teachers’ reluctance to dole it out, Kohn says.

“For every e-mail I get from a desperate parent, I get an e-mail from a teacher saying, ‘I know homework is pointless. It makes everybody unhappy and diminishes excitement about learning. But parents demand it,’ ” he says.

There’s a perception that homework equates to rigorous learning. Take the parent who questioned the academic rigor of a prominent Boston high school on a local real estate message board:

“However, I must say the academics are not what I expected. My other son attends a charter school, and has much more homework and is learning much more,” the parent wrote.

But if the Texas teacher’s viral declaration is any indication, a homework backlash may be brewing. So what’s a concerned parent to do next?

Rally, says Kohn.

“Talk to each other and organize a group of 10 or so parents. Walk in with a story about your child and say, ‘I’m very sorry, but we will not be participating in a homework program. The bottom line is — what happens in the evening is for families to decide, not schools. Respectfully, we say no, and we opt out,’” Kohn suggests. “This isn’t just about moderation or reduction.”

Because, just like in elementary school, it helps to have friends on your side.


Reaping the Whirlwind at Mizzou: Enrollment Plummets

The Book of Hosea cautions us: “They that sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind.” Student protests on the University of Missouri’s campus, and the administration’s reaction, sowed some serious wind.

Recent news that freshman enrollment is projected to drop 25 percent, creating a $32 million funding deficit for the campus, is the whirlwind. If the university does not clean up its act, who knows what will blow in next?

It should be noted that this shortfall is not a result of legislators in Jefferson City cutting funding. This is prospective students freely deciding that they don’t want to spend their college years as Missouri Tigers; they and their families would rather take their money elsewhere.

That should terrify administrators in Columbia. Will Mizzou go the way of other brands scorned by the marketplace, like Kodak, Pontiac, or Ask Jeeves?

Mizzou desperately needs to get its house in order. Most important, it needs an administration that realizes that protests on university campuses have been happening for decades. In many cases, there is an element of truth to the protestors’ grievances, but it soon gets wrapped up in the narcissism and self-righteousness of 18- to 22-year-olds.

The job of administrators is to separate the wheat from the chaff. They must address the real issues that are affecting students without losing sight of the fact that it is college kids making the demands.

Mizzou’s administration completely failed in this regard. The kernel of truth in the protestors’ anger is that far too few black students are meeting with success on Mizzou’s campus. This is undeniably true. African Americans make up around 12 percent of Missouri’s population, but they make up only 7 percent of Mizzou’s. They are disproportionately enrolled in remedial classes, and they drop out at higher rates than other students do. This is cause for concern, and the administration should address it.

Protesters mixed this legitimate concern, however, with a series of out-there demands. They insisted, for instance, that the president of the University of Missouri system pen a handwritten note admitting his “white privilege,” and they demanded that the school hire legions of staff in a variety of departments to provide services for minority students. Naturally, they offered zero advice on how to pay for all of it. That is the chaff.

If the university does not have leadership that knows the difference between wheat and chaff, or that is incapable of dealing with substantive issues without being derailed by ridiculous ones, a 25 percent drop in enrollment is just the start.

And Mizzou shouldn’t expect the state to bail the school out. It appears that nearly everyone involved in this debacle has lost sight of the fundamental fact that the University of Missouri receives more than $250 million each year from Missouri taxpayers. Many of these people did not attend, will never attend, and will never have any of their children or grandchildren attend the university.

University students, faculty, and administrators are asking the single mom in Cape Girardeau who is struggling to get by working two jobs to pay for their wants and desires. Just because they attend Mizzou or work there does not mean that they have a claim to that woman’s money.

We support Mizzou (and our other state universities) because they provide a service to our state; they educate our citizens and do research that improves our world. If they’re not doing either of those things, they aren’t entitled to a dime of taxpayer cash.

Let’s hope that this enrollment nosedive serves as a wakeup call to the Mizzou community. A strong flagship university can be an asset to its state and citizens. Mizzou has a long way to go in proving that it is ready to resume that role


Once again: Third of Britain's Rio medallists went to private schools

Private schools remain over-represented among Team GB Olympic medal winners, with about a third of medallists in Rio educated at fee-paying schools, according to the Sutton Trust.

Although six out of 10 of this year’s British medallists – including the heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill, gymnast Max Whitlock and boxer Nicola Adams – went to comprehensive schools, some sports including rowing and hockey are still dominated by the privately educated.

And while some state schools have enjoyed improved support for competitive sport over the past decade, Team GB’s top Olympians are four times more likely to have been privately educated than the population as a whole, says the Sutton Trust, a charity that works to promote social mobility through education.

Well-funded private schools with their top-quality sporting facilities and highly qualified coaches have traditionally dominated elite sports. The Sutton Trust says the proportion of medallists who attended fee-paying schools was down four percentage points in Rio compared with London 2012.

According to its analysis, 32% of Britain’s 130 medallists in Rio attended fee-paying schools, compared with 36% of Team GB’s medal-winners in London. Of the 13 athletes to win more than one medal, in Rio, 10 were comprehensive educated.

In rowing and women’s hockey, half of the medal winners in Rio were privately educated. In contrast, cycling was overwhelming dominated by those educated in the state sector, with 92% having attended either a comprehensive or a grammar school – among them the triple gold winner Jason Kenny, who was educated at Mount St Joseph School in Farnworth, Bolton.

Other athletes benefited from partnerships between state and private schools, including the gold-winning swimmer Adam Peaty, who attended a state school – Painsley Catholic College in Cheadle, Staffordshire – but trained using facilities at Repton, in Derbyshire.

Sir Peter Lampl, the chairman of the Sutton Trust and the Education Endowment, said: “It’s been fantastic to see a growing number of our national heroes coming from comprehensive and other state schools. But alumni of private schools are still over-represented among our medallists.

“Although some state schools have improved support for competitive sport over the last decade, they’re still more likely to benefit from ample time set aside for sport, excellent sporting facilities and highly qualified coaches.”

The Good Schools Guide, which carried out its own analysis, said 45 of the 130 medal winners had been educated at independent schools, while 24% of the Team GB squad were privately educated.

“Many sports are better provided for at independent schools, for obvious reasons,” said Ralph Lucas, the editor-in-chief of the Good Schools Guide, regarded as the bible for middle-class school choice. “Training facilities are expensive to keep running, and the basic but necessary requirements such as grounds staff may be an expense some state schools just cannot afford.

“Independent schools also often employ top-level coaches – former international competitors, maybe even Olympians – who have connections within the national set-up. On top of these benefits, many of schools offer bursaries and scholarships for children with great sporting ability.”

Geoff Barton, head of King Edward VI school, a Church of England comprehensive in Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, which the silver-medal-winning swimmer Chris Walker-Hebborn attended, said: “We shouldn’t be entirely surprised if a school with a purpose-built rowing lake produces more Olympic rowers than one without. That said, one of the best initiatives of the early New Labour years was to increase investment in school sport through the school sports partnership, to strengthen links from schools into clubs, and to allow schools like ours to develop specialist resources and increased staffing for sport.

“We were thrilled to see the success of Chris Walker-Hebborn winning silver with Team GB in the 400m medley [relay]. We are proud to have other students who are showing exceptional sporting talent in windsurfing, javelin and race-walking.

“To get to Olympic level, it will be the coaching that students get at club level that makes the difference. But what has changed is the way schools like ours – just like the traditional independent schools – now see it as part of our mission to support talented students through mentoring, flexible timetabling, and better links with their all-important coaches.”

Millfield, a co-educational independent school, had eight former pupils competing at the Olympics, five of them in Team GB, cementing a growing Olympic tradition at the school where facilities include an Olympic-sized swimming pool and an equestrian centre. Fees are just under £12,000 a term for boarders.

David Faulkner, director of sport at the school, said: “An inspiring eight Millfieldians took part in the Olympic Games in Rio. Helen Glover (rowing), James Guy (swimming) and Ollie Lindsay-Hague (rugby sevens) came home with four medals between them. An incredible achievement.

“At Millfield we encourage all our pupils to strive to be the best they can possibly be both inside and outside of the classroom and I’m sure that these individuals will inspire the next generation of athletes at Millfield and beyond to do the same.”

Looking at previous Sutton Trust research, the proportion of privately educated Olympic winners matches that of MPs (32%), and is less than senior journalists (51%), top barristers (71%) and Bafta winners (42%). Overall, 7% of the general population is privately educated.


Monday, August 29, 2016

Support for Common Core drops to new low

People see that the idea is good but have found out how distorted it has become

For the first time, support for the Common Core educational standards no longer outdoes opposition.

According to the 2016 Education Next poll released Tuesday, among those who take a stand on the issue, 50 percent of the general public supports Common Core, with 50 percent opposed.

Interestingly, when the standards are described without using the term "Common Core," roughly two-thirds of the public support the standards. While support for "Common Core" dropped by almost 10 percentage points from 2015 to 2016, support for the standards actually rose slightly when it was described without "Common Core."

About 39 percent of Republicans support "Common Core," compared to 61 percent who support the standards as described without using the words "Common Core."

About 60 percent of Democrats support "Common Core," compared to 70 percent who support the standards as described without saying "Common Core."

Although fewer Republicans than Democrats support Common Core, Democratic support dropped by 10 percentage points in the past year, while Republican support dropped by 4 points.

For the group of people who were asked about Common Core, the exact question wording was, "As you may know, in the last few years states have been deciding whether or not to use the Common Core, which are standards for reading and math that are the same across the states. In the states that have these standards, they will be used to hold public schools accountable for their performance. Do you support or oppose the use of the Common Core standards in your state?" The second group of survey respondents was asked the same question without the words "Common Core" appearing in the question.

The poll was administered in May and June 2016, with more than 4,000 adults surveyed, including more than 600 teachers.


Stanford students, fight for your right to party

here are few students more cosseted and protected than those at US universities. Bans on speech, dress and even hairstyles have been enacted in the name of protecting students from harm. So it comes as no surprise to hear that Stanford University has taken student safety a step further and banned drinking hard spirits on campus.

Stanford’s updated student policy seeks to ‘limit high-risk behaviour’. This means that, for any undergraduate student, high-volume alcohol is completely banned from campus parties and is restricted to 750ml containers across campus. In campus accommodation, only alcohol with a 20 per cent or less strength is permitted.

If you’re shaking your head in sober disbelief, wait, there’s more. Stanford has kindly granted students the liberty of indulging in a mixed drink if, and only if, they are at an event hosted by a student organisation or in accommodation comprised entirely of postgraduates. You know, because there’s nothing quite as fun as an evening organised by the Science and Engineering Graduate Women’s Association.

Stanford is playing parent – controlling how, when and in what quantities its students can consume alcohol, even if they’re over 21. The policy was introduced following the trial of ex-Stanford student Brock Turner, who was given a six-month custodial sentence for sexual assault. Turner attributed his crime to the ‘party culture’ on campus, and, in introducing the ban, Stanford is effectively buying his feeble excuse.

This is extremely worrying. Stanford’s attempt to protect its students, with its ‘harm-reduction strategy’, only affirms the idea that students are volatile, easily driven into committing heinous acts, and incapable of taking responsibility for their own actions. This is another worrying example of how little trust is placed in students – and in adults more broadly. Giving students the freedom to drink themselves stupid might mean some messy nights, bitter regrets and difficult morning lectures – but adults must be given the freedom to make these choices themselves.


The fashion for university rape protests reaches Australia

I have followed a lot of these protests but I have nowhere seen a reasonable comparision of university rape incidence with rape incidence for the same age group in the general community.  Rapes do occur at universities.  They occur most places.  But tasking universities with rape prevention may be to task them  with changing human nature -- a notoriously difficult task

University students have crashed a university open day lecture protesting against the against the way sexual assaults are handled at universities.

A group of male and female students entered the Sydney University's Eastern Avenue lecture hall on Saturday during an information session.

They brought with them single sized mattresses with slogans such as 'protect students', 'welcome to the hunting grounds' and 'red tape won't cover up rape' scrawled across it in red and black permanent marker.

The event was organised by Sydney University Women's Officer Anna Hush who said 'We organised this event because we want to show parents that sexual assault and harassment are significant problems for students', in a report by

Among the group were victims of rape who told of their harrowing stories in front of parents and prospective students.

'I lasted three weeks in my first year of university before I was raped. Three weeks. As a first year student. And I'm still studying, but my life is completely different,' one brave female student said. 'I never expected that to happen at my university,' she said.

The student added: 'It's evident, if we want to protect our child and also allow them to have an education at a tertiary level we need to help change the system, revolt against the universities and demand change before we ever decide to sent our brothers, our sisters, our children to university'.

A short time after university security and management interrupted the protest by turned off the lights and ushered parents out of the hall in an attempt to stop the group for reading out their demands.

The 10 demands were for how universities should improvements their policies towards sexual assault and how it should be responded to.

A mother of a prospective student who was at the lecture said: 'It was so moving for me — each of those girls would have gone through a lot to get up there [and talk about their assaults].'


Sunday, August 28, 2016

Charter Schools Criticized For Preferring Better Students, But Public Schools Do the Same

Charter schools tend to offer a better product than public schools, and so parents of all backgrounds flock to them.

Ed Krayewski

Anti-charter school rhetoric seems to be on the rise in recent weeks, with the NAACP (nominally an organization that advocates for black people but in general a mainstream left-wing advocacy group ) taking a strong stance against charter schools, which have helped poor, mostly black students in cities across the country access better educations than were otherwise available in their dysfunctional public school districts.

As David Osborne of the Progressive Policy Institute and Anne Osborne point out in a column in USA Today, one of the primary critiques of charter schools—that they privilege higher-performing students with higher-motivated parents in admissions—is just as applicable to public school districts, many of which maintain magnet schools for higher-performing students and offer other avenues for higher-motivated parents to get their children into better public schools.

I can vouch for this first-hand. I attended a magnet school in Newark, Science High School. I was able to get in because my mother, an illegal immigrant, was motivated enough to hit up the principal and force me in. I was 10 when I started high school, which should illustrate how dysfunctional the Newark district was that getting me into a magnet school still required my mother to work outside of the system.

Nevertheless, while the teachers I had there that I still follow on social media seem to be unanimously against charter schools, Science High might as well have been a charter. In fact, it can have stricter admissions policies than actual charter schools in Newark, which largely operate (as many charter schools now do) on a lottery system. I saw one teacher complain that charter schools were "exploiting" black and brown bodies (not clear to me how offering such students a quality education and the opportunity to vastly improve their income-earning potential does that), yet teachers unions (which have donated to the NAACP and never been a target of the advocacy group) often resist reform.

While teachers unions' public relations side may insist they have children's interests at heart, as with all unions, their primary over-riding goal is protecting employees. Reforms threaten employees by threatening the status quo in which those employees are comfortable. In most districts it remains almost impossible to fire a public school teacher, even though anyone who has spent any amount of time in a failing public school understands that personnel changes have to be part of any substantive solution. When I was a public school teacher in Newark, I had one co-worker who stashed liquor in her purse. No increase in school funding would make her classroom anything other than dysfunctional.

Many of the critiques of charter schools are transparently hypocritical. Charter schools have exploded in the last twenty years, and are popular even in cities where nominally anti-charter school candidates win (as in New York City and Newark, NJ). In recent years, teachers unions' involvement in politics has focused in large part on stopping the spread of charter schools. They use their positions as government employees with government-granted union privileges to smash their thumbs on the scales against charter schools.

They have largely failed to thwart charter schools because charter schools, by and large, offer a better product than public schools. Despite the stereotypes held by many teachers about poor parents and their unwillingness or inability to be involved in their children's educations, like many other parents, they too tend to be highly-motivated about their children's education, even if they can't be as involved in the schools themselves as some teachers would wish them to be.

The success of charter schools in poor, mostly black cities across the country bears this out. The opposition to charter schools will only intensify as it becomes harder for parasitical public school employees to make a living off a system that systematically fails students. Charter schools allow parents to vote on education with their feet without having to move out of town, an existential threat to dysfunctional public school systems.


SAT subject tests lose favor for colleges

Several top New England colleges have joined a growing number of schools nationally that no longer require applicants to submit scores from SAT subject tests, saying the specialized exams lend little insight into students’ readiness and can work against low-income and minority students.

In the past year, Amherst College, Dartmouth College, and Williams College all have dropped the subject test requirement, taking a lead from Columbia University, which announced the new policy this spring. Duke University and Vassar College also no longer require the tests, often called SAT II.

The shift occurs amid a larger discussion in higher education about the value of standardized testing in admissions. Some colleges, especially less-selective private schools but also such public colleges as UMass Lowell and Salem State, have made the main SAT and ACT tests optional.

“We want to make the application process as fair to all students as possible,” said Mary Dettloff, a spokeswoman for Williams College. “We felt like we weren’t getting any valuable data from the SAT II scores to help us.”

The hour-long multiple-choice exams are taken separately from the main SAT and cover 20 subjects, like math, history, chemistry, or a foreign language.

Although the tests are no longer required at many schools, they are still optional and in many cases recommended, a nuance many college admissions specialists said means students should still take them if they expect to score well.

“You would be misguided to think that strong scores on the tests won’t help you,” said Adam Ingersoll, cofounder and principal at Compass Education Group, a California company that tutors students for standardized tests and counsels them about college admissions.

A handful of elite schools, including Harvard and MIT, still require SAT subject tests.

Data from the College Board, the company that administers the test, show participation in the subject tests has dropped over the past decade by about 14 percent, with a steeper decline since 2012, when the University of California system dropped them as a requirement. Last year 241,000 students took subject tests, compared to the 1.7 million who took the regular SAT.

Mathematics continues to be the most popular subject test, with 144,772 students taking that exam in 2015. Other tests are much more scarcely utilized, like the Hebrew exam, which just 330 students registered for last year.

It costs $26 to register for a test date, then $20 per test, up to three per sitting. There are extra fees for sending scores to colleges.

Those costs can be prohibitive for low-income students, and even though they can apply for a fee waiver, not all students know about it. Test-prep books and courses can also be expensive, and many low-income and minority students attend high schools where the tests are not emphasized.

The decline in test takers is a financial hit for the College Board. Bob Schaeffer, director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, estimated that the decline of more than 200,000 tests taken per year over the past five years has cost the College Board more than $6 million each year.

Meanwhile, dropping standardized test requirements can help colleges in several other ways. Schools tend to receive more applications, which can drive down their percentage of accepted students, making them seem more selective. Colleges also profit from the additional application fees.

Although many experts believe the tests will eventually disappear, schools like MIT find them useful and have no plans to drop the requirement.

MIT officials see the exams as an equalizer, a way to consistently measure students from different high schools. Harvard officials said the same thing.

Although the shifting policies are a big deal for colleges and testing experts, at least for now they seem to matter little to high school students whose sights are set on elite colleges.

Rafael Goldstein, a rising senior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School, plans to apply to several colleges where the subject tests are optional, like Amherst, and others where they are required, like Harvard.

The 17-year-old already has taken the Spanish and US history tests and plans to take a math test, as well. All his friends who recently graduated took at least three, he said.  “My natural instinct is just to think that it’s a good idea,” Goldstein said. “Maybe it’s because everyone always does it.”

But not all students are counseled to take subject tests. Destiny Mulero, a senior at the Academy of the Pacific Rim charter school in Hyde Park, said her teachers told students to take the ACT, another college admissions exam, because often schools do not require subject tests in addition to the ACT.

But Mulero, 17, is not convinced that any test truly reflects her ability to succeed in college. She got a 26 on the ACT and is studying for a 30, out of 36.

Mulero, meanwhile, gets good grades. She is president of her school’s National Honor Society chapter, she mentors middle schoolers, and she will direct the tech crew for the school’s fall musical.

“I feel like standardized tests are not a good representation of the potential a student can have,” she said.


Mother outraged as angry teacher berates her seven-year-old daughter for penning her name in cursive on her homework

A seven-year-old student was reprimanded for writing her name in cursive. Alyssa, who was only identified by her first name, turned in a homework assignment that focused on vowels.

In return, her teacher wrote in red pen at the top of her lesson sheet: 'Stop writing your name in cursive. You have had several warnings.'

The photo of the child's homework was posted to Facebook by a friend of the child's mother in September 2015 has gone viral.  Facebook user Brenda Hatcher shared the photo with the caption: 'Share this everywhere... Alyssa is 7!!!  'Not only is her mother a military veteran but, she took the time to teach her very young child how to write in cursive.'

The incident reportedly happened in Kansas, according to PopSugar.

Hatcher's post drew in a lot of attention from others who believed the teacher was wrong for reprimanding the child while others said the child 'needs to follow directions'.

It's unclear who the teacher is and what school this incident occurred at, but in the comments of the post, Hatcher identified the mother of the child as a woman named Gail Varney.

Varney wrote under the photo: 'I emailed her teacher and CC'd the principal along with a picture of it. Still waiting on a response.'

The teacher's remarks indicated that the child was previously asked not to use cursive to write her name.

Alyssa was said to be seven years old at the time, which would mean she was either in first or second grade when it happened.

As for why the teacher has such a problem with the form of writing, Hatcher said: 'The teacher claims she can't write in cursive because the other students don't know how to do that yet.'

In 2013, a 10-member board unanimously approved new handwriting standards for public schools, saying that students are expected to learn to write in cursive in the third grade and write legibly in cursive by the fifth grade.