Saturday, January 02, 2021

Here are eight examples of education choice wins from this year:

1. Supreme Court Protects Religious Schools’ Rights
The Supreme Court case Espinoza v. Montana Department of Revenue was a victory for private school choice. The court affirmed that states cannot stop religious schools from participating in a state’s school choice program.

Chief Justice John Roberts noted that Montana’s policy “discriminated against religious schools and the families whose children attend them in violation of the Free Exercise Clause of the Federal Constitution. They are members of the community too, and their exclusion from [Montana’s] scholarship program here is odious to our Constitution and cannot stand.”

2. Florida’s Tax Credit Scholarship Became the First School Choice Program to Enroll More Than 100,000 Participants
According to Florida’s Department of Education, 100,008 students enrolled in the program for the 2020-21 academic year.

These scholarships, funded by donations made by individuals and corporations that in turn receive a credit against their state tax obligations, allow eligible children to attend the private school of their choice.

3. Ohio Expands Educational Choice for Low-Income Families
Ohio expanded its Educational Choice Scholarship so that students whose families’ income is up to 250% the federal poverty line or who are enrolled in school where 20% of the student body are from low-income families are now eligible.

Eligible K-8 students can receive $4,650 to pay for private school tuition, and eligible high school students can obtain a $6,000 scholarship.

The scholarships cover nearly 90% of the average cost of tuition at an Ohio private elementary school and more than half of the average cost of tuition at Ohio’s private high schools.

4. Learning Pods Explode in Popularity
Learning pods entered the education foray as parents—dissatisfied with the crisis virtual options implemented by many district schools—collaborated to create small education environments that emphasize in-person schooling to small student groups. As civil society’s response to the education crisis caused by the pandemic, learning pods gained widespread popularity.

According to a nationally representative EdChoice poll, 35% of parents claimed to participate in a learning pod, and nearly 20% of respondents indicated they were looking for a learning pod to join.

The popularity of learning pods was not limited to students and their families, as approximately 70% of surveyed teachers expressed interest in teaching or tutoring a learning pod.

5. Microschools Take Off in Arizona
Prenda, a network of microschools operating in Arizona, has grown exponentially. The Prenda network provides flexible learning environments to groups of five to 10 children in homes or office buildings. In just two years, Prenda’s network has grown from one to more than 200 schools.

Moreover, the network gained significant attraction during the month of June—according to CNN: “Website traffic was up 737% this June over the same month last year.”

Prenda partners with charter schools to provide a free education and also accepts Arizona’s education savings accounts.

6. Homeschooling Gains Acceptance Among Parents
With most children learning from home, a nationally representative survey conducted by EdChoice suggested a greater acceptance of homeschooling among parents. In fact, 70% of school parents indicated that their opinions of homeschooling changed to either “much more favorable” or “somewhat more favorable.”

7. States Use Federal Funding for Education Wisely
In response to the coronavirus-induced education crisis, Congress appropriated $13.5 billion to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act for the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, with $3 billion of these funds being directed to the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund. This provides governors with resources to use for various education initiatives, including school choice programs.

While new federal spending wouldn’t normally end up in our “win” column, the way in which some governors leveraged the funds did.

For example, Oklahoma’s governor used Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds to create “Stay in School Scholarships,” which appropriated $10 million to cover tuition at the state’s 150 private schools. More than 1,500 Oklahoma students could receive $6,500 scholarships, which value as either more than or most of the cost of private school tuition in the state.

Oklahoma students can also access $8 million Bridge the Gap Digital Wallet funding—which works not unlike education savings accounts. This program is funded by the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund and will provide more than 5,000 children living in poverty with $1,500 grants to “purchase curriculum content, tutoring services, and/or technology.”

Florida also used $30 million of its Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds to stabilize its tax credit scholarship. Another $15 million in Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds were put toward the Private School Stabilization Grant Fund, which supported many private schools that were struggling from mandated closures.

With the pandemic forcing 120 permanent private school closures around the country, the Private School Stabilization Grant Fund was a boon to Florida’s private schools.

Like Florida, New Hampshire used its Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funds to boost funding for its tax credit scholarship by $1.5 million. The additional funding will help 800 students receive scholarships valued at $1,875 each. That amount covers more than 22% of the average cost of tuition at a private elementary school in the state.

8. Student-Centered Education Gains Support
EdChoice has found that there is growing support for student-centered education, instead of institution-centered education. Support for education savings accounts among parents increased to 86%. This means that nearly 9 out of 10 parents support education savings accounts.

The growing support for education choice shows that parents increasingly recognize that education should be tailored to children, not institutions.

The effects of the pandemic have illustrated that one-size-fits-all schooling models fall short of student needs, especially during a crisis. The lessons of 2020—a year of significant change in education—should remind policymakers that the best education solutions are flexible and bring decision-making closer to the families they affect.

The Flight to Quality in Colleges Grows: Harvard Applications Up 57%


Last March I wrote about the “flight to quality” in college admissions. While the pandemic perhaps has distorted and possibly accelerated some trends, recently released enrollment data from the National Student Clearinghouse on fall 2020 enrollments demonstrate that the flight to quality is growing—for many Americans, a college diploma is no longer enough—you need the right diploma, from the right school, in the right major.

In the prestigious Ivy League, applications for next fall’s entering class are booming. Applications for early decision admission at Harvard University were up an extraordinary 57% over last year according to a report Saturday in the Wall Street Journal, and other Ivies did nearly as well. For every Harvard applicant accepted early decision, more than 12 were rejected.

Going down the academic pecking order, fairly high ranked Miami University of Ohio (103 of 388 in the latest US News college rankings) has applications as of about three weeks ago running ahead of last year in all of its academic divisions, while mid-ranked traditional rival Ohio University (177 in the rankings) has had double digit percent declines in applications. Looking at the four-year period 2016 to 2020, Ohio Department of Higher Education data show that the three moderately high-ranked state schools (in the top 150 of the national universities that US News ranked) had a 3% enrollment gain, compared with a more than 12% decline for two median-ranked schools (151 to 225 on thelist), and a more than 14% decline for six low-ranked schools (below 225). The flight to quality is proceeding apace in Ohio.

Looking at the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center data, from 2017 to 2020, total enrollments were down slightly more than one million (more than 5%). Most of the decline, however, is attributed to community colleges, down 800,000 students (more than 14%). Public four-year universities were down barely 1%—and private not-for-profit schools actually increased enrollment modestly. Also, graduate enrollments, for advanced and professional degrees, were up. Students are shunning schools whose students get mediocre-paying jobs for the elite private schools, “public ivies” and for schools where they can obtain higher-paying professional degrees.

The big untold (by others) story is the big enrollment declines in American colleges are mostly among male students. While the three-year enrollment decline among women is about 216,000, it is 807,000 among men. Male enrollments, already smaller to begin with, are down 10% form 2017 to 2020, while female enrollments are down 2%. I suspect this is partly because of the disdain many colleges show towards male students today relative to what they show towards women, but I will defer further discussion of that until another day.

The vocational orientation of student interest is confirmed by looking at some Clearinghouse data by major field of study. In the last couple of years, for example, the number majoring in English literature or language had a fairly sharp decline, about 12%, dramatically more than in relatively higher-paying fields like business administration or engineering.

There are pronounced regional variations. Enrollments actually rose between 2018 and 2020 in eight states: Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Utah and Virginia, but fell more than 10% in Alaska, Michigan, New Mexico, and Oregon. There are some quirky things the aggregate data do not show: for example, I suspect New Hampshire’s rising enrollment is mainly (maybe entirely) a consequence of expanding national online enrollments at the highly entrepreneurial University of Southern New Hampshire.

A few things from all this strike me as we contemplate national higher education policy. First, the striking regional variations suggest that a one-size-fits-all national policy may not be appropriate. University problems may be quite different in Michigan from those in Arizona, suggesting over-centralizing policy at the U.S. Department of Education is probably a bad idea. Second, a lot of the talk about “free college” speaks of giving away education at community colleges—yet they are the colleges that American students are shunning the most. Why? Census data suggest an answer: median earnings of adult male graduates of community colleges in 2019 were $51,250, compared with $69,515 for bachelor degree holders, and $88,286 for holders of master’s degrees. The differential is even larger percentage-wise for females.

Despite Being Closed, San Diego Schools Descend Into Wokeness

Your local school might currently be shut down, but the “great awokening” will continue, pandemic or not—and whether you like it or not.

Christopher Rufo, a visiting fellow for domestic policy studies at The Heritage Foundation, reported that the San Diego Unified School District—currently closed and only offering online learning—is conducting so-called white privilege training for its teachers.

The training begins with a ‘land acknowledgement,’ in which the teachers are asked to accept that they are colonizers living on stolen Native American land. Then they are told they will experience ‘guilt, anger, apathy, [and] closed-mindedness’ because of their ‘white fragility.’

After watching clips of [self-styled ‘anti-racist activists’] Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi, the trainers tell the teachers: ‘you are racist,’ ‘you are upholding racist ideas, structures, and policies,’ and that they must commit to becoming ‘anti-racist’ in the classroom. They must submit to the new racial orthodoxy.

I’ve outlined previously the beliefs of DiAngelo and Kendi, who have become media darlings and whose works have become trendy in the wake of the protests of the death of George Floyd.

In short, Kendi and DiAngelo preach an ideology that isn’t aimed simply at reducing racism—which most Americans want—but instead redefines what racism is.

According to their theories, you are inherently defined by your race; racial discrimination is a good thing if it benefits groups they define as “historically oppressed”; and all who oppose them will be categorized as “racists” for not going along with even their most ruthlessly tyrannical plans.

That brings us back to the San Diego Unified School District, which appears to be all aboard.

“Teachers are told they must become ‘anti-racist’ activists,” Rufo wrote. “They must ‘confront and examine [their] white privilege,’ ‘acknowledge when [they] feel white fragility,’ and ‘teach others to see their privilege.’ They must turn their schools into activist organizations.”

San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Cindy Marten responded to Rufo’s report, saying that the “successful professional development session” was voluntary and that the “racial healing handbook” used for the training was from a “respected academic.”

Regardless of whether the session was mandatory this time or not, it fits a general pattern in the district. It made news in early November when it adopted a new grading system that would remove behavioral issues, such as turning in late assignments and showing up late to class, as factors in grading.

It did that because there are disparities between the number of white and minority students who receive “D” and “F” grades. For purveyors of increasing “equity,” statistical discrepancies between groups of people can be ascribed only to systemic racism and other issues pertaining to critical theory.

That was apparently only one small step in what San Diego Unified School Board Vice President Richard Barrera said was a process to make the school district “anti-racist.”

So, even while the schools are shut down, work continues to make them “anti-racist” indoctrination centers.

The transformation of a single school district wouldn’t necessarily be deeply concerning other than to the parents of children attending those schools, except that it fits a broader, troubling pattern.

Indoctrination, misinformation, and misleading books, like the late Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States,” have found their way into schools for a generation or more.

That isn’t new.

Even the use of misleading and factually challenged material, such as The New York Times’ so-called 1619 Project, in some schools would not be of the gravest concern in isolation.

What’s new is that the revolution appears to be becoming systematized.

For example, what’s the opposite of an “anti-racist”? A racist, according to the peddlers of this new creed. If you don’t go along with the plan, you will be labeled an enemy of social justice or of the anti-racist movement.

Woke curriculum and anti-racist training sessions are now becoming the norm at many public schools around the United States. It’s often foisted on teachers and faculty by a swelling class of administrators who eat up school budgets and purvey the most radical ideas of “respected” academics.

That’s the process that presents the gravest threat to our future. And it’s why many Americans are becoming concerned about the rise of socialism.

That’s because the threat of socialism is not just about higher taxes and bigger government, as bad as those things are. It’s about the greater threat to liberty and to the sacred rights at the heart of our founding that have been a rebuke to tyrants in our age and every age.

Socialism and other hard-left theories may crumble in the face of reality, but they can be propped up and sustained by the government and powerful institutions with their grip on the levers of power.

What will happen when “equity” isn’t achieved, and new discipline systems and training sessions don’t have any tangible effect?

Will the pedagogues of equity, inclusion, and anti-racism find that the problem is not with systemic racism, but instead with their understanding of human nature?

Not likely. The more the plans fail, the more the planners will plan.

And as we’ve seen through this turbulent year of coronavirus pandemic, the “party of science” will put aside the science for the interest of the party and its prevailing ideology.

The transformation of our schools into laboratories of indoctrination should concern everyone, whether you have children who attend those schools or not.

The first step to counter it is drawing the radicalism out into the light of day. The next step is to take action and use the tools that we have, like school choice, to put pressure on the institutions that have failed us.




Friday, January 01, 2021

The Conceit of Wisdom

My university’s writing center revamped their training to include a unit on “systemic oppression.”

To help prepare us to teach a class, one of my instructors told me and several others to read a newly posted article, “The Politics of Academic Language: Towards a Framework for Analyzing Language Representations in FYC [First Year Composition, a.k.a. English 100/101] Textbooks.” In it, Alisa LaDean Russell argues that “composition studies’ professional artifacts and pedagogical materials can perpetuate tacit ideologies about academic language that are in conflict with our field’s larger goals toward social justice and inclusion.” My mentor called it ‘amazing’, and clearly meant to guide us in choosing textbooks so that our students would not suffer from exposure to tacit ideology.

Russell grants herself the permission to make blanket statements such as, “our field’s larger goals toward social justice and inclusion in FYC.” She further argues that the use of coherent English is the exercise of privilege, which may explain the first quote. Yet clarity should be the goal of a composition course titled English 101. Russell also displays the ‘progressive’ obsession with racial identity: “Because academic language as a hegemonic discourse organizes white, northern, middle-and upper-class varieties above others, it is ultimately linked to whiteness.”

How academic language prioritizes white, northern, middle-and upper-class varieties of English, why this prioritization isn’t desirable, and why “whiteness” —undefined in the article itself— should be avoided is not specified. The author assumes the reader knows or infers from the article’s tone that it’s something to be held in contempt. Never mind that English is the third most-spoken language worldwide, with approximately 360-million-plus native speakers and around 500 million who speak it as a second language.

Russell not only misses the point of these textbooks, but the field itself. If the purpose of writing is to communicate ideas, emotions, preference, or other sentiments clearly, then anything which aids the writer in being understood is useful. Without the ability to communicate, we become even more fragmented and more inclined to see each other as strangers.

She commits the same mistake as countless other think-pieces, Tweets and tirades: they use the groups they purport to champion as ammunition, while wrapping themselves in a layer of shallow good intentions. The allegedly victimized groups are fodder for a crusade, one minority interchangeable with another. To proclaim absolutes such as, “this entire institution and others like it [are] openly hostile to everyone in a specific group,” does a disservice to the institution and the alleged victims. It implies the rot is so deep and so widespread that it cannot be addressed, as well as that the group said to be oppressed is too frail, too crippled, to succeed.

My university’s writing center revamped their training to include a unit on “systemic oppression.” After slogging through condescending, muddled and over-long tirades on how everything surrounding them is solely designed to grind minorities into a fine powder, teachers-to-be are asked to respond to the readings before moving on to the next lesson. This is a trick, as only certain kinds of response are acceptable. To question the lesson results in a face-to-face conversation with just the right tinge of concern to correct the wayward apprentice. The Politburo would be proud. The unit, designed by a ‘diverse’ staff of three upper-middle-class women who have only worked in academia, is dishonest and destructive. It presents opinion as fact and tells the incoming tutors to believe in a fundamentally mean world and hate the university they should support willingly, if not with some measure of pride.

Defenders of this ideology are possessed of a contradictory self-loathing, hating the institutions, the nation, and their colleagues, even as they reap the benefits of each. Every proclamation is shot through with contempt for their surroundings, their peers, and ultimately themselves. By its very nature it encourages fragility, pearl-clutching outrage, and an overall air of indignation.

People such as Russell tiptoe on eggshells, chiding and shushing others, claiming to be protectors of an individual or group that may not know or concerned about the alleged slight. They are eternally vigilant for failings, ready to find fault in others while willfully ignoring their own, spurred into rage by the whiff of any opinion they find objectionable. To them, someone who says “Hey, I feel bad for those falsely accused of rape,” is the same as someone who calls for genocide. There’s no sense of scale or nuance.

One only has to look at the cycle of public shaming which is played out ad nauseam: Someone —or a group of someone’s— with at least a modicum of fame says or does something labeled offensive. The person is then swarmed with angry Tweets, screamed at outside his or her home, or has their employer pressured to fire the person. Said offender caves and apologizes, but this is always found to be insufficient by the mob.

To them, the gaffe was honest and deliberate, the apology duplicitous. The cries for blood, for perpetual reprimand that will stymie the alleged oppressor at every turn until nothing is left of the person’s career. To the mob there are no unacceptable tactics, as the grand end —even if they cannot articulate what that is— justifies any and all means. Robespierre, the Bolsheviks, and the Khmer Rouge thought the same.

In advocating for permanent victimhood, the progressive mobs also advocate for an arrested development: a permanent immaturity where one is never responsible for one’s own opinions, actions, or fate. The masses cannot be trusted to decide for themselves; instead, they must be saved.

Perhaps Michel de Montaigne put it best: “I gladly come back to the theme of the absurdity of our education: its end has not been to make us good and wise but learned.” These academic wokescolds think themselves virtuous and wise when they are neither, nor do they support learning. Instead, they’re censorious, destructive zealots.

Money for Nothing: The Worst of Student Loan Debt Hits College Dropouts

I can’t remember a single alternative to college proposed to me, for me, my entire school-age life. That I would go to college after high school was presented by adults and taken by me as a given.

How I would pay for it was always a thing to be figured out later. My mom had a modest state-based Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) account for me; it was assumed I would be awarded some merit-based scholarships, and whatever remained could be paid for with student loans. I started college in 2008; my freshman year required all of the TAP funds, a chunk of my mom’s 401k, a Pell Grant, federal loans, and a private loan.

Oh, and I guess I did get $750 from the school for academic achievement.

My story is an all-too-common one; the public policy of American higher education has left over 100,000 25-39 year-olds with some college, no degree, and, most likely, significant debt. Yet, in policy discussions, we rarely hear from this group. The problem goes deeper than student loan forgiveness.

I commuted to a school near home in Pennsylvania that year, so it took all of that money just for in-state tuition and fees. The next year, that money my mom had taken from her retirement savings would put us over the income threshold for a Pell Grant, and I transferred to an even more expensive private university in Washington, DC.

A year at the private school, and then I transferred again, staying in the DC area but moving to a slightly more affordable public university. I wasted credits every time I transferred—usually general education requirements for one school that didn’t fit the criteria of the next. Already annoyed with being required to take (and pay for) classes outside of my chosen areas of study, I opted to only take classes in my majors—anthropology and economics—in my first semester at the new school. This was the only semester I made the Dean’s List.

Eventually, I changed my economics major to a minor so I could finish a degree and get out of there as quickly as possible with something to show for it. That was 2012. It’s 2020 now, and I’ve been sitting with 119/120 credits toward my degree and three classes remaining since 2016. I’ve been working in the retail/service industry for four years and defaulting on my student loans as I struggle to get on my feet in Pennsylvania, living at home with my family.

Sometimes I think back to my freshman year of high school when the vocational/technical school gave a presentation to encourage students to sign up for vo-tech. I felt inspired by it and talked to my parents about their culinary program that night. The response I received wasn’t exactly “you’re too good to learn a skilled trade; you’re going to go to college,” but that’s what I took away from it. The next year, I doubled up in science and honors classes and chose extracurriculars that would boost my college application.

I have no interest in avoiding accountability for the decisions I made that got me to where I am: in debt, living at home, and without an undergraduate degree to show for it. For her part, my mom regrets enabling or not challenging my insistence to go deeper into debt.

But I have to give myself some space to reflect (or deflect) that the amount of foresight and self-knowledge required here is a bit of an unreasonable ask of 18 year-olds. They have been told that they’re bright for their entire lives and they must go to college so they can succeed—which, it turns out, was also a lie. I don’t blame them, but it didn’t help that my parents didn’t go to (or stay in) college and couldn’t offer much advice for choosing colleges, degree programs, and financing options.

Individuals carry responsibility for unwise decisions, but there’s a larger, institutional problem in education that comes from telling young people the only path to success is through college.

Some organizations, such as the mikeroweWORKS Foundation, are doing their best to promote non-college pathways to success. But the political discussion around higher education and student debt forgiveness spends too much time questioning the morality and intelligence of student debtors, rather than questioning the federal student loan system. Higher education depends on young people borrowing tens of thousands of dollars for college. Yet tens of thousands of them have little hope of completing a degree or repaying their debt.

Things need to change in the provision of higher education, to be sure, but that may need to begin with changes in our cultural attitudes toward having a college degree and, perhaps especially, toward not having one.

Educational attainment and the credentials that come with it are signals, whether or not they signal what one intends. Their absence is also a signal, even when we don’t equate holding a degree with holding job skills. I get it, to some degree; making a college degree a job requirement is or seems less risky to employers.

There’s a larger, institutional problem in education that comes from telling young people the only path to success is through college.
But how is that signal working out for employers? And how many people with college degrees feel tied to their underemployment because of their loans? Is the money they spent or the future they mortgaged for their degree worth the job market access it gave them? If credentialism is barely working out for graduates, imagine how well it’s going for the college “drop-outs” trying to pay off their loans while working at Starbucks or choosing not to have assets lest they be seized for repayment of unpaid and unpayable loans.

I do not want student loan forgiveness, at least not without the federal government exiting the student loan industry altogether, forever and ever, amen. But more than anything in terms of policy, I’d like to see more alternatives to college available to people leaving high school, and I’d like to see companies and organizations spend more time getting to know job candidates beyond the presence or absence of a degree on a resume.

Over the last decade, the labor force participation rate of people who have completed an associate’s degree or some college fell by 5.1 percent, compared to a 4.5 percent drop for people who didn’t go to college and a 3.1 percent drop for people with at least a bachelor’s degree.

One way to try to improve that rate is to make job interviews comprehensive by thinking through the specific capabilities and competencies a job requires and finding out how well potential employees can do the job instead of where they went to school. Except where needed for legal compliance, employers should stop requiring applicants to have a college degree, officially in job postings or de facto while sorting through applications.

What may seem like a costly lift on the front end of hiring could prove to be a wash when employers find better candidates because they think about what kind of person they need, rather than what resume they want. That’s not to mention the boon of different perspectives from people who have had non-standard professional backgrounds—but I’ll stop before this begins to read like a cover letter.

Australian University aims to improve literacy teaching in education degrees

Learning to read isn't as easy as learning to talk, because it is not an innate ability — it has to be taught. At least, that's the battle cry of phonics advocates on one side of the 'reading wars'.

If you turn the debate book over, you'll find other literacy experts who disagree and believe that reading is a natural ability.

But with student literacy levels falling across all states last year, both sides concede that it is time for a rethink on how trainee teachers are being instructed to teach Australian children to read — because they are clearly struggling.

The La Trobe University's new Science of Language and Reading (SOLAR) Lab, co-founded by professor of cognitive psychology Pamela Snow, aims to fill what it sees as a crucial curriculum gap in tertiary education degrees.

The lab aims to give teachers the knowledge needed to teach 'systematic synthetic phonics' more comprehensively in Australian primary schools.

Sometimes referred to simply as 'phonics' or 'structured literacy instruction', the method stems from The Simple View of Reading, a scientific theoretical framework from the 1980s developed by psychologists Philip Gough and William Tunmer.

"The simple view of reading tells us that in order to get meaning out of text, you've got to be able to crack the code," Professor Snow said. "So you've got to recognize that the squiggles on the page — they are print representations of speech sounds, so there is a code."

Professor Snow's first short course at the lab in September attracted more than 800 participants — mostly teachers from around the country who had heard about the method online or from fellow teachers.

"What we hear repeatedly from teachers when we talk about the simple view of reading is — 'I've never heard of this'," she said. "So that's a really good example of high-quality cognitive psychology research that I think is like the family china that belongs to teachers, but isn't being given to teachers."

The basic premise is that children are most likely to become successful readers when they are explicitly taught how to break words down into letter sounds and word parts, and use their understanding of those parts to comprehend the meaning and sound out unfamiliar words.

In the early years, the focus is on attaching individual letters to sounds. Later on, children learn about word parts and their meanings.

Professor Snow said there were many scientific and psychological studies supporting the efficacy of structured literacy instruction, especially with young children.

She said that on the other side of the so-called 'reading wars' was an approach called 'whole language'. "So, [the thinking is] we don't specifically teach children how to talk, so therefore we should not need to specifically teach them how to read, we'll just immerse them in lots of text and they'll somehow intuit the process of reading," Professor Snow said.

Professor Snow said more recently a method called 'balanced literacy' had come into favour, which aimed to strike a balanced between different methods including synthetic phonics and whole language.

Still a divisive issue

Melbourne-based Year 1 teacher Troy Wood said he was shocked by how divisive the issue was when he became an early-childhood educator several years ago. "I didn't know about this debate until a couple of years ago," Mr Wood said.

Professor Snow said she agreed systematic synthetic phonics shouldn't be the only method taught, but it should be more of a focus than it was now.

And despite its opponents, phonics is being adopted increasingly in government policy, albeit slowly and carefully.

Last year, the Federal Government launched a free voluntary phonics health check for Year 1 students, citing a report that found phonics "to be the most effective way of teaching children to read words accurately and fluently".
a woman in glasses at a press conference

The South Australian Government recently reported that it had experienced a lift in Year 1 literacy levels after introducing a phonics check in 2018.

And just last week, the NSW Minister for Education and Early Childhood Learning Sarah Mitchell wrote an opinion piece declaring that phonics had "won the reading wars", and that from next year, phonics would be compulsory for every Year 1 class in the state.

"Study after study shows that if phonics is not taught properly, student outcomes suffer across the board," Ms Mitchell wrote.




Sunday, December 27, 2020

NC State’s Quixotic Foreign Language Requirement

For decades, universities have required students to fulfill a foreign language requirement. However, some research has shown that two semesters of a foreign language appears to have no meaningful effect on the language proficiency of college graduates.

Putting students through language classes adds to their tuition bill, but doesn’t teach them a new skill for their careers.

In North Carolina, the University of North Carolina schools require two years of a foreign language during high school for admission. For certain majors, such as business, the humanities, and social sciences, UNC students are expected to take more foreign language classes as undergraduates.

Usually, majors that require foreign language courses expect students to take an exam and place in more-advanced classes. If students don’t do well on the placement exam, they can take the introductory language class but receive no credit (similar to a remedial course), or choose a new language and start in the introductory class. Then, they can take a second-level course and complete their language requirement.

If a student didn’t work hard on a foreign language in high school, the incentive is to take a new class to avoid taking extra classes for no credit. Otherwise, it could delay their graduation—it only takes one or two extra classes to delay graduation by a semester. And that is a real concern: the National Center for Education Statistics noted that only 41 percent of first-time full-time college students complete a bachelor’s degree in four years.

Foreign language requirements can’t carry all the blame for students not graduating on time, of course. But the mindset that requires them and many other boxes to be checked without asking whether they benefit students makes it harder for students to learn and graduate. If faculty or provosts won’t ask hard questions, then governing boards should.

Courses that do not count toward graduation are often “remedial courses” because colleges require them, but do not earn credits. Those classes are supposed to prepare students for regular college courses. Ruth Gross, the department head of Foreign Languages and Literatures at NC State, explained why they don’t consider no-credit language courses to be remedial courses:

Our FL 101 courses are definitely university-level classes. I think it might be clearer if you didn’t call them “remedial” which they are not… For those students who have studied a particular language in HS and wish to continue with that language, we offer the placement test, so they may attain the proper level, progress quickly, and not have to redo material already learned. If those students do not place out and need to take 101, they do not get credit, since, at that point, they are redoing their studies.

The main motivation for foreign language requirements at most colleges, as Columbia University explains in Inside Higher Ed, is to prepare students to be “tomorrow’s conscientious and informed citizens.” The goal is to teach students about cultures and ideas beyond where they grew up.

Students aren’t getting that knowledge by learning—or failing to learn—another language, however.

“Practically no student who fulfills a language requirement of two, three, or four semesters will have acquired professionally relevant language proficiency,” said Eckhard Kuhn-Osius, a German language professor at Hunter College, Inside Higher Ed noted.

Another survey of four-year college graduate students found similar results. “All of the variations in proficiency is explained by students opting for majoring or minoring in language study and/or exposure to the language in their home or community,” W. Russell Neumann’s Survata study found.

The goal of learning about foreign cultures and languages is laudable, but with so few students actually reaching proficiency, students may learn more about foreign culture and history through non-language classes rather than foreign language requirements.

Why not require students to take a course on Indian or Brazilian history or an art survey course that covers Chinese art or Scandinavian art, for example? Universities could offer a wide range of non-American history and culture classes, and students who are serious about learning a foreign language would get smaller classrooms full of other dedicated students.

If the United States wants to increase the analytical and critical thinking of students, they should focus on introducing a foreign language to students at a much younger age. Children learn by associating words with their meanings and can become fluent in a second language more easily when they are young. But colleges and universities can’t force that change with their general education requirements.

There’s an argument to be made that students should learn about foreign cultures while in higher education, but current foreign language requirements are failing even by their own standards.

With the current foreign language requirements, students already face an uphill battle to reach proficiency. Perhaps it’s best that colleges admit the time has come for a change.

Losing a Generation: Across the Country, a Frightening Number of Students Are Receiving Failing Grades

Across the United States, school districts are reporting an alarming number of students who are receiving at least one failing grade, which has educators and administrators asking: Are the students really failing — or are the schools failing the students?

The “Great Experiment” in “virtual” classrooms is turning out to be a catastrophic failure.

The question is what to do about it. Here, wokeness meets reality in an unambiguous way. If teachers were to give these failing grades, a disproportionate number would be in black and brown communities. But school officials are extremely reluctant to fail so many minority children lest it makes them feel bad.

But failing any kid when the fault is not entirely their own seems unfair. Would they have failed if they had been allowed to attend in-person classroom instruction? The answer to that is almost certainly no.

Yahoo News:

In the first quarter of 2020, one school district in Charles County, Maryland, saw a 72.7% increase in failing grades for students enrolled in high school, WTOP reported. Forty-two percent of students in Houston received at least one failing grade in this school year’s first grading period, The Associated Press reported. This past year, secondary schools in Salt Lake City saw a 600% increase in the number of failing students, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

“Obviously we’re concerned,” James Tobler, the president of the Salt Lake City teachers’ union, told Insider, adding that teachers are trying to do their best “under the circumstances we are dealt with.”

Those “circumstances” have been almost entirely created by teachers’ unions and the politicians who coddle them. They are circumstances that teachers dealt with themselves. They can’t push the blame onto anyone else.

Some educators and administrators think they should just cancel grades for this year or even eliminate the entire idea of letter grades. At one time, getting good grades was necessary to get into a good college. But colleges today don’t really care how you performed in class previously. If you’re the right color, you’re virtually in.

Still, grades are a yardstick that parents (remember them?) can use to judge their child’s progress — or lack of it.

In an interview with Insider, Michael Gottfried, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, suggested that during the pandemic schools may potentially explore other options like a pass-fail system over letter grades used in the traditional grading system.

Madhabi Chatterji, a professor at the Teachers College at Columbia University, told Insider that grades should not be taken away completely. During the pandemic, teachers need to use grades “to gauge how effective their instruction has been” through online courses, she said.

A disproportionate number of minority children are failing, with one big reason being lack of access to the internet in the home. That might be one reason why 40 percent of Los Angeles school kids are absent on any given day. The school district also decided to defer any “F” grades until January. That’s not a solution, but at least they’re not ignoring the problem.

The obvious solution is to get kids back in class immediately and have school districts offer tutoring and remedial instruction for kids who are far behind. But that’s extra work for everyone and besides, it’s not in the contract the teachers signed. Worse, it’s not in the budget.

It’s a distinct possibility that this generation of children will become known later on as a “lost generation” when it comes to education.

Australian universities allowing almost anyone into their courses this year

Teenagers who missed out on studying their dream degree due to a low ATAR (Australian Tertiary Admission Rank) are being urged to take a short bridging course or apply directly for entry.

One university is admitting students based on teacher recommendations, rather than ATAR scores, this year.

Others are counting community service and work experience towards university entry.

Students who copped health or financial curveballs in 2020 can also apply for special entry on “equity’’ grounds.

Universities, bleeding cash due to the lockout of fee-paying international students, are bending over backwards to admit more domestic students for 2021.

Universities Australia chief executive Catriona Jackson said 2020 had been “exceptionally tough’’ for students and advised them to use different “pathways’’ to a degree.

“These include work experience, other qualifications such as bridging courses, leadership and community service, equity and special circumstances,’’ she told News Corp Australia.

“Options for university admission don’t end with the ATAR.

“Universities understand that the disruption caused by the COVID-19 crisis may have affected students differently and will be looking to provide flexibility to students.

“All universities will be ready and willing to talk with students about their individual situation.’’

Budding criminologist Megan Ting, 23, was devastated when she received a low ATAR but is now studying a Bachelor of Forensics Science at UTS, after completing a bridging Diploma of Life Science at UTS Insearch.

“Your ATAR doesn’t define you at all,’’ she said.

“Just don’t stress out – there’s always another way.

“I wish someone had told me earlier not to stress out and think it’s the end of the world.’’

The University of Tasmania has already admitted 1800 students through a side door, using its Schools’ Recommendation Program.

“We take a teachers’ recommendation along with prior academic performance, not just ATAR which is not a good predictor of future success,’’ vice-chancellor Professor Rufus Black said yesterday.

“Teachers are ideally placed to know if a student is on the right path to further studies.

“We (also) take into account people’s work and other life experience when considering their application to study.

“Not having an ATAR, or not having the ATAR you were hoping for, doesn’t have to be a barrier to your dream course.’’

Charles Sturt University (CSU) gives school leavers from regional areas a five-point ATAR bonus, and has already made 1859 early offers to school leavers.

CSU takes into account “soft skills’’ such as empathy and resilience, demonstrated through community and charity work.

Indigenous students can undertake a five-day entry program that provides guaranteed entry into a broad range of bachelor degrees.

CSU also offers “micro-credentials” in community leadership and resilience, to certify skills that show a student’s ability to do a job or continue study.

CSU acting vice-chancellor Professor John Germov said that “ATAR scores are not what they used to be’’, with 70 per cent of students entering via other pathways.

“ATAR scores do not necessarily reflect the skills and attributes that many occupations and professions require, and which students might possess when they apply for entry to university,’’ he said.

“A nurse is nothing without empathy for her patients, a veterinarian will struggle without the resilience required to deal with the death of the animals in his care.’’

The University of Southern Queensland (USQ) offers free three-month Tertiary Preparation Programs, covering English, maths and study management, with guaranteed entry to a range of USQ bachelor degrees regardless of ATAR results.

It also offers six-month certificate programs as a stepping stone to a full degree.

“You do not have to give up on your dream career,’’ vice-chancellor Professor Geraldine Mackenzie said.

“This year 12 cohort has had a lot thrown at them in the last 12 months.

“They’ve shown grit and resilience and will no doubt continue to do this throughout their university studies and into their careers.’’

In Victoria, RMIT University offers a new Pathways Guaranteed program, to help students without an ATAR get into a degree course by completing a TAFE course first.

“The benchmark of some VCE students will be disproportionately impacted this year by the disruptions of bushfires and COVID-19,’’ a spokeswoman said.

“The cost of a Pathways Package is often cheaper than completing a full Bachelor program.’’

University of Queensland acting deputy vice-chancellor Professor Doune Macdonald urged school leavers to “keep their ATAR in perspective’’.

“While it’s disappointing not to get the ATAR they were hoping for it can be a detour for school leavers – and for many students, that detour can become their passion,’’ she said.

The University of South Australia is offering diplomas or foundation studies to help students leapfrog into a degree.

“If students didn’t achieve the result they needed to get into their chosen degree, we encourage having a back-up plan by preferencing a degree in a similar field,’’ UniSA chief academic services officer Professor Marie Wilson said yesterday,

The Australian Catholic University (ACU) has introduced a new Foundation Studies Program at its Blacktown Campus in Sydney, to help students without a Year 12 qualification get into uni.

“While the year was extremely challenging for Year 12s, we are also seeing a very large number of applicants with high ATARs so not all students will be able to get in to their first choice,’’ ACU vice-chancellor Professor Greg Craven said yesterday.

He said the federal government was funding extra places for school leavers to complete a certificate first, and then transfer into a bachelor degree once they meet the entry requirements.

The University of New England (UNE) already admits 90 per cent of its students without an ATAR result, and offers free short courses to gain entry.

“If you didn’t get the ATAR that you hoped for, there is absolutely no reason why you still can’t go to university and go on to a successful career in your chosen field,’’ UNE student success director Barb Shaw said yesterday.

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) advises school leavers to study a diploma or certificate in a similar discipline, as a pathway to a full degree.

Students can also combine a TAFE certificate with a QUT qualification, or study a different bachelor degree course before switching to their dream degree.

James Cook University (JCU) offers a Certificate of Higher Education that lets students catch up on any missing prerequisite subjects, in time to start most bachelor degrees in February 2021.

“If a student didn’t get the ATAR they need for their dream course, the Diploma of Higher Education is a six-month to one-year full-time course designed to help them meet the entry requirements for most JCU courses,’’ a spokesman said.

“They’ll study a combination of introductory and first-year degree subjects and develop the practical skills to be a successful university student and gain credit towards their chosen degree.’’