Teachers unions notch big wins on state education votes

Stephanie Simon:

(Reuters) – Teachers unions won several big victories in both red and blue states Tuesday, overturning laws that would have eliminated tenure in Idaho and South Dakota, defeating a threat to union political work in California, and ousting a state schools chief in Indiana who sought to fundamentally remake public education.
The night didn’t belong entirely to big labor; advocates of charter schools, which are typically non-union, scored a win in Georgia and looked likely to prevail in a tough fight in Washington state.
But unions had the bigger trophies – none bigger than in Indiana, where they stunned pundits by handing a loss to State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who was running for a second term.

PhDs from the Faculty’s Perspective

Jason Hong:

One of Blog@CACM’s new bloggers, Philip Guo, has been doing a great job in discussing grad school from the PhD student’s perspective (here and here). I figured it would be good to offer an complementary perspective of graduate school, distilling what I’ve learned over the past years in advising and working with PhD students.
Break Out of the Undergraduate Mentality
A common challenge for a lot of new PhD students is that they still have an “undergraduate mentality,” where they believe that grades still matter (they do, but only marginally so), and that there will always be someone there to tell you what to do.

The Fifth problem: math & anti-Semitism in the Soviet Union: A look at anti-Semitic university admissions in the USSR from the perspective of a leading mathematician

Edward Frenkel:

When I was growing up in the Soviet Union in the 1980s, I thought math was a stale, boring subject.1 I could solve all of the problems and ace all of the exams at school, but what we discussed in class seemed pointless, irrelevant. What really excited me was Quantum Physics. I devoured all the popular books on this subject I could get my hands on. But these books didn’t go far enough in answering deeper questions about the structure of the universe, so I wasn’t fully satisfied.
As luck would have it, I got help from a family friend. I grew up in a small industrial town called Kolomna, population 150 thousand, which was about seventy miles away from Moscow, or just over two hours by train. My parents worked as engineers at a large company, making heavy machinery. One of their friends was a mathematician by the name of Evgeny Evgenievich Petrov, who was a professor at a local college preparing school teachers. A meeting was arranged.

Fuzzy math? Austin advocate questions Chicago Public Schools’ draft guidelines for school actions

Dwayne Truss:

Chicago Public Schools just released its draft guidelines for school actions as required by state law. The draft guidelines can be reviewed here.
After reviewing the guidelines, I had to take a shot of vodka because of the blatant lie that the CPS community engagement process resulted in CPS adding the space utilization criteria.
CPS poorly attempted a facade of community engagement in the drafting of the 2012 School Actions Guidelines by providing a confusing online survey for the public to comment on the 2011 guidelines and organizing orchestrated community roundtable meetings in which participants were only given 24 to 48 hour notices of the meetings.

Middleton-Cross Plains voters OK school building plan

Barry Adams:

Overcrowding at the elementary schools and aged facilities at Kromrey Middle School will be corrected after voters in the Middleton-Cross Plains Area School District on Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a nearly $60 million referendum.
The proposal was the largest in the state this fall and was approved after voters turned back referendums in 2005 and 2009.
“What we tried to do is combine and do a common-sense plan that everyone could understand, was fiscally responsible and looked at the long-term needs of the community,” Superintendent Don Johnson said.
The district was among nine area school districts that combined to ask 12 referendum questions in south central Wisconsin.

Related: Minnesota voters approve most school levy requests

Most Minnesota school districts with levy referendums on the ballot yesterday met with success.
Voters in 29 of 40 districts approved levies, essentially pledging local taxpayer support for their schools, in addition to state-provided funds.
This year’s approval is better than average in a year crowded with local, state and federal races, said Greg Abbott, a spokesman for the Minnesota School Boards Association.
“This passing percentage is a good 20, 25 percent above what a presidential [election] year usually runs,” Abbott said. “That means they really did their work and they got out there and got people to the polls.”

Peg Tyre Interview: phonics, grammar, choosing a school, parents and crime

Peg Tyre SIS interviewI recently had an opportunity to talk [42mb mp3 file] with the intriguing Peg Tyre. Tyre recently wrote “The Writing Revolution” for The Atlantic:

For years, nothing seemed capable of turning around New Dorp High School’s dismal performance–not firing bad teachers, not flashy education technology, not after-school programs. So, faced with closure, the school’s principal went all-in on a very specific curriculum reform, placing an overwhelming focus on teaching the basics of analytic writing, every day, in virtually every class. What followed was an extraordinary blossoming of student potential, across nearly every subject–one that has made New Dorp a model for educational reform.

Peg has authored two books: The Good School: How Smart Parents Get Their Kids The Education They Deserve, The Trouble with Boys and blogs here.
An excerpt:

Peg: You cover crime for a long time and you realize that it’s very banal. You start to realize that one person killed another person in a horrendous way, but if you look at their lives, it looks like it was two trains on a track heading for each other. The miracle would have been if they didn’t end up killing each other.
Interviewer: [laughing]
Peg: They became a kind of inevitability to the conflicts that I saw. I asked my self, my intellectual journey of why is this happening? Why are theses trains set on a collision course? What I came to was lack of opportunity. You dig deeper into that, and it’s lack of education.
Interviewer: Right.
Peg: I actually come at education… Most journalists come at education because they have kids or they think that kids are cute or they have parents who are teachers and they have warm feelings about school. I have really mixed feelings about school. Yes, kids are cute, but I actually come at this from a social…I don’t know. It’s sort of like a harder nosed perspective.
Interviewer: Yeah.
Peg: Also, I hate education blah blah. I hate people using school words and pretending that their having a dialogue when they’re really just jargoning at each other.
Interviewer: [laughing]
Peg: I hate people telling me they have the answer to poverty, that they have the answer to the achievement gap, when you know and I know every intelligent person who’s listening to this knows that it’s more complicated than that. I’m not exactly misanthropic, but I’m an investigative reporter by trade, so I’m just like a “show me” kind of gal. I’m just like, “Yeah, really? Very interesting froth. Show me.”

Listen to the interview via this 42mb mp3 file , or read the transcript.

The Problem With America’s History Books

Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick:

Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick are co-authors of The Untold History of the United States (Gallery Books, $30)
It has become commonplace to deplore U.S. students’ dismal performance in math and science when their test results are compared to those of students in other advanced and not-so-advanced industrial countries.
But, it turns out, according to the Nation’s Report Card, or National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federally administered test results released in June 2011, the area in which U.S. students perform most poorly is actually U.S. history. According to the results, only 12 percent of high school students were proficient in U.S. history. And only a scant 2 percent could identify the social problem addressed in Brown v. Board of Education, even though the answer should have been obvious from the wording of the question itself.
Historically-challenged students turn into historically-challenged adults who make for unqualified citizens. Our republican system requires a literate, educated, and knowledgeable public. No wonder Santayana’s famous comment that “he who forgets the past is condemned to repeat it” has been borne out repeatedly over the past century and a quarter of U.S. history.

WEBINAR 15 November 2012: Does It Cost More? What Districts Spend on Student-Centered Learning

Center on Reinventing Public Education via a kind Deb Britt email:

In an effort to raise student performance, a growing number of schools are embracing the principles of student-centered learning (SCL)–an approach that espouses personalized, authentic instruction and takes learning beyond the typical school schedule and calendar. Given the interest in SCL and concerns about spending, researchers from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington and from the School of Public Affairs and Administration at Rutgers University-Newark, with funding from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, conducted comparative case studies of seven public high schools in six states. The case studies explore three questions:
1) How is SCL delivered?
2) What resources are needed to implement SCL?
3) How does district spending on SCL compare with spending on traditional schools?
The cross-case analysis finds that SCL can be delivered for the same price as traditional schools, provided that districts offer (and schools take advantage of) resource flexibility. In this webinar, the authors will share their findings and policy recommendations, as well as answer questions about their research. Their full report, “Getting Down to Dollars and Cents: What Do School Districts Spend to Deliver Student-Centered Learning?”will be available on November 15.

Power, Ideology, and the Use of Evidence: In National Politics and School Reform

Larry Cuban:

On the eve of the nation’s voters going to the polls, a truth about policymakers’ use of evidence arrives in plain sight. Sure, the obscene spending from Super PACs on political ads shows how evidence can be bent into grotesque shapes to support one candidate over another. Fact-checkers have had a bumper season. But political ads are a genre that all of us can shrug and accept as part of life. Much like accepting that garbage is collected weekly.
But when I read that the U.S. Senate Republican leadership had put pressure on the independent Congressional Research Service, a nonpartisan department of the U.S. Library of Congress, to withdraw an economic analysis of the top tax rates and economic growth that the CRS had published in September, well, that was taking away the fig-leaf that covers the persistent practice of decision-makers selectively choosing evidence to support their policies.
The New York Times described Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell (Kentucky) questioning the report’s methodologies, language, and conclusions. What did the economist who did the analysis say in the report?

Welcome to Star Scholar U., Where a Personal Brand Is the Credential

Jeffrey Young:

A new kind of university has begun to emerge: Call it Star Scholar U.
Professors with large followings and technical prowess are breaking off to start their own online institutions, delivering courses with little or no backing from traditional campuses.
Founding a university may sound dramatic, but in an era of easy-to-use online tools it can be done as a side project–akin to blogging or writing a textbook. Soon there could be hundreds of Star Scholar U’s.
Two recent examples are Marginal Revolution University, started by two economics professors at George Mason University, and Rheingold U, run by the author and Internet pioneer Howard Rheingold. To be clear, these professors are using the word “university” loosely–they award no credit and claim no spot on any college ranking. And they probably won’t become rich through their teaching. But the gambit gives them full control over the content and delivery methods. And it offers their personal brands as a kind of credential.

Unhealthy snacks common in Minnesota high schools

Julie Sipple:

A new study shows many Minnesota high schools offer unhealthy snacks in vending machines or snack bars.
The results come from a nationwide analysis by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Minnesota ranked among the best in the nation in the percentage of schools offering healthy snacks, like fruit. But it was one of the worst on a measure of schools offering cookies, pastries or crackers.
Erik Olson, directer of food programs at The Pew Charitable Trusts, said those snacks compete with healthier options.

New Outlook on Colorblindness Phone Apps, Videogames Offer Color Help; Seeking a Cure Through Gene Therapy

Melinda Beck:

For people who are colorblind, life involves little workarounds and big compromises alike. Daily challenges range from not knowing whether meat is fully cooked to not being able to read whether a horizontal traffic light is showing green or red. More serious repercussions include being shut out of a dream job, like piloting planes, because misreading landing-strip lights can have life-or-death consequences.
Now, a host of new research and tools promise to improve life for the estimated 32 million Americans–8% of men and 0.5% of women–who have some degree of colorblindness. For many, getting through the day–avoiding wardrobe perils and worse–has often involved bringing in a second pair of eyes. But new websites and smartphone apps offer to help identify or enhance hard-to-see colors. Videogame manufacturers are increasingly including “colorblind” modes in their games. And researchers are homing in on more specific vision tests that may allow mildly colorblind people to qualify for jobs that, until now, have been closed to them.

‘F’ for Myanmar Schools Threatens Makeover Companies Eager to Pour In Find Dearth of Skilled Workers; Rot at Once-Strong University Embodies Leaders’ Challenge

Patrick Barta:

The University of Yangon was once one of Asia’s best colleges. Today, abandoned buildings rot away on its overgrown campus, with some walkways deserted except for dogs.
Its state of affairs embodies a crucial challenge for leaders as Myanmar opens to the outside world. The military junta that dominated the country for five decades all but destroyed the university system after a series of student protests convinced its leaders that schools were breeding grounds for dissent.
But now that the lifting of most Western sanctions has paved the way for an expected wave of investment, companies are finding a nation largely bereft of skilled workers. Doctors and lawyers often lack up-to-date training, and other professions are desperately short of qualified staff with even basic critical-thinking skills, employers say.

Opt Out — Just Say No to the WKCE

TJ Mertz:

The WKCE testing and related assessments are scheduled for next week in the Madison Metropolitan School District schools (full schedule of MMSD assessments, here), but your child doesn’t have to be part of it. You can opt out. Families with students in grades 4,8, & 10 have a state statutory right to opt out of the WKCE; I have been told that it is district practice to allow families to opt out of any and all other, discretionary, tests. We opted out this year. In order to opt out, you must contact your school’s Principal (and do it ASAP, (contact info here).
The WKCE does your child no good. Just about everyone agrees that even in comparison to other standardized tests, it is not a good assessment. Because results are received so late in the year, it isn’t of much use to target student weaknesses or guide instruction. There are no benefits for students.

How Authors Write The technologies of composition, not new media, inspire ­innovations in literary styles and forms

Jason Pontin:

Early in Nicholson Baker’s slim first novel, The Mezzanine (1988), whose entire action takes place during an escalator ride at lunchtime, the narrator describes buying milk and a cookie, and then pauses to consider, in a page-long footnote, the “uncomfortable era of the floating drinking straw”:
I stared in disbelief the first time a straw rose up from my can of soda and hung out over the table, barely arrested by burrs in the underside of the metal opening. I was holding a slice of pizza in one hand, folded in a three-finger grip so that it wouldn’t flop and pour cheese-grease on the paper plate, and a paperback in a similar grip in the other hand–what was I supposed to do? The whole point of straws, I had thought, was that you did not have to set down the slice of pizza to suck a dose of Coke while reading a paperback.
Baker speculates about how the straw engineers had made “so elementary a mistake,” designing “a straw that weighed less than the sugar-water in which it was intended to stand”; pardons the engineers who had forgotten to take into account how bubbles of carbonation might affect a straw’s buoyancy; explains how such unsatisfactory straws came to be sold to restaurants and stores in the first place; and, in a kind of musical resolution, concludes by remembering the day when he noticed a plastic straw, “made of some subtler polymer,” once again anchored to the bottom of a soda can.

The Science of Scientific Writing If the reader is to grasp what the writer means, the writer must understand what the reader needs

George Gopen, Judith Swan:

Science is often hard to read. Most people assume that its difficulties are born out of necessity, out of the extreme complexity of scientific concepts, data and analysis. We argue here that complexity of thought need not lead to impenetrability of expression; we demonstrate a number of rhetorical principles that can produce clarity in communication without oversimplifying scientific issues. The results are substantive, not merely cosmetic: Improving the quality of writing actually improves the quality of thought.
The fundamental purpose of scientific discourse is not the mere presentation of information and thought, but rather its actual communication. It does not matter how pleased an author might be to have converted all the right data into sentences and paragraphs; it matters only whether a large majority of the reading audience accurately perceives what the author had in mind. Therefore, in order to understand how best to improve writing, we would do well to understand better how readers go about reading. Such an understanding has recently become available through work done in the fields of rhetoric, linguistics and cognitive psychology. It has helped to produce a methodology based on the concept of reader expectations.

How tougher classes in high school can help kids make it through college

Stacy Teicher Khadaroo::

Some 40 percent of students are failing to graduate from college in six years. A study calls for higher-quality college prep, with more advanced math, advanced placement classes, and better advising.
But what if high schools had a better recipe for preparing their students to stay in college? The National School Boards Association released a study Thursday afternoon highlighting some key ingredients: more advanced math courses, challenging courses such as Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB), and better academic advising.
If students are exposed to those factors – even if they don’t earn high scores on the course exams – they are more likely to continue college after their first year, a point at which many drop out, the study notes.

From the report:

We analyzed longitudinal data tracking high school sophomores in 2002 through their second year in two- and four-year colleges in 2006 (ELS 2002-2006). We were able to identify three factors that were related to increasing a postsecondary students’ chances of staying on track to a credential as much as 53 percent, and the process begins in high school. Moreover, the impact of these factors is greatest for students who enter college as the least likely to succeed: students who began high school with below average achievement and below average socioeconomic status.
What it takes to stay on track
High-level mathematics: Our findings comport with previous studies that show the highest level of math in high school can be one of the largest predictors of college success (Adelman 2006, Conley 2007). Our analysis found that a student with above average SES and achievement had a 10 percent better chance of persisting in a four-year institution if that student had taken Pre-calculus or Calculus or math above Algebra II. Low SES/achievement students with high-level math were 22 percent more likely to persist.
The impact is greatest for students in two-year institutions: The persistence rates of students who took mathematics beyond Algebra II in high school increased by 18 percent for the higher SES/achievement group and 27 percent for the lower SES/achievement students.
Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate courses: Taking an AP/IB course had a dramatic effect on students’ chance of persisting even when students fail the end-of-course test. Low achieving and low SES students who took an AP/IB course were 17 percent more likely to persist in four-year colleges and 30 percent more likely to persist in two-year institutions. The more of these courses a student took, the higher their persistence rates were.

Education dominates Singapore’s ‘different’

Brent Larkin:

“People in America and other places in the West always talk about Asians being so smart,” said the 20-year-old college student as she helped shuttle tourists onto buses outside a spectacular new convention center, casino and hotel complex.
“But it’s really more about discipline than intelligence. And we are more disciplined. It’s built into our culture to study all the way through school.
“In America, your culture is much different.”
Is it ever.
In less than 50 years, the culture here has transformed a tiny patch of tropical land at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula into one of the great economic success stories of this or any other century.


Seattle School Reports

Charlie Mas:

The Annual School Reports and the District Scorecard have been released.
Discussion follows.
The District Scorecard reports that the District is on pace to reach ZERO (0) of the 23 Goals. That is how bad they suck. Not only are they missing, they are missing badly. The District is within ten percentage points of the target in only four of the twenty-three categories. I cannot imagine a worse report.

In defense of direct instruction: Constant constructivism, group work and arrogant attitude are abusive to children

Laurie Rogers:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. … Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”
— C.S. Lewis
Many educators believe children should learn math by struggling and failing, inventing their own methods, drawing pictures and boxes, counting on fingers, play-acting, continually working in groups, and asking several classmates for help before asking the teacher. This process of learning is called constructivism (also known as “discovery” or “student-centered learning”). Developed in the early 1900s, it was foisted on the country about 30 years ago, along with reform math curricula.
Proponents call constructivism “best practices” (as if calling it that can make it so). The supposed value of heavy constructivism is one of the most pernicious lies told today about education. Having listened now to students, parents, teachers and proponents of reform, I’ve come to see heavy constructivism as abusive to children. I don’t choose the word lightly.

Thinking about School Reform, Teaching, and “Great” Teachers

Larry Cuban:

Writing about school reform from a historical perspective can be, well, depressing. So many examples of hype-on-steroids, past and present, of school reform solving community and national problems. So much policy talk, past and present, that overestimates success while underestimating the difficulties of converting words into classroom deeds. But melancholia and teaching a seminar twice a week do not go hand-in-hand.
For me, teaching about school reform and the history of making “good” schools and districts stimulates the brain and clutches the heart. It lifts me up. My mind races with the questions that I need to ask students. And in asking questions, who do I call upon, which student to probe further with a follow-up question, what to do when a student asks me a question-answer it? Redirect to the class? Ask student to answer her own question?
And over the past six weeks in the seminar of “good’ schools and districts my brain has raced a lot. So, too, have my emotions. In any given class, they range from anxiety to a soaring feeling of connection with a group to tedium to spontaneous outbreaks of laughter. Thus, both the brain and heart are fully engaged when I am teaching my seminar. I am not depressed when I teach although when a part of a lesson flops I surely feel blue for that moment. But most of the time, student engagement with the readings I assigned, questions I ask, questions students ask, when students disagree with me, all of these keep me thinking on my feet as I improvise my way to what I had hoped would happen in the lesson.

MTI Again Overturns Governor Walker’s Legislation

Solidarity eNewsletter (178K PDF), via a kind Linda Doeseckle email

MTI was again successful in challenging legislation forced through the Legislature by Governor Walker. Dane County Circuit Court Judge Amy Smith agreed with MTI’s argument that Act 21, as it pertains to the State Superintendent, is unconstitutional.
Act 21 was created to enable the Governor to control all state agencies’ creation of Administrative Rules. Historically an agency wrote a proposed Administrative Rule, sent it to the Legislature which held a hearing, and if no modifications were made, the Administrative Rule became law. Act 21 mandated that a Agency send a “proposed” Administrative Rule to the Governor, who could change it before it could go to the Legislature. Walker even forced his appointees to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission to make the calculation of “base wage” for teachers even more restrictive than WERC had proposed.
MTI’s challenge to Act 21 was based on the fact that the State Superintendent is a Constitutional Officer – has been since 1848. Based on that, and that the Wisconsin Supreme Court previously ruled that the State Superintendent has the authority not only to “advocate, but (is) an officer with the ability to put plans into action”, MTI, joined by WEAC, claimed that as a Constitutional Officer the State Superintendent is equal to, not subordinate to, the Governor. Judge Smith agreed, and voided that part of Act 21, as it applied to the State Superintendent.
MTI was represented by Lester Pines, Tamara Packard and Susan Crawford, Cullen Weston Pines Bach.

Related: Wisconsin Education Rule-Making Battle: Should We Care? Yes; DPI Election Politics.

Innovation in Education is Here. We’re Ignoring It.

Howard Tullman:

For-profit education has been taking a beating lately. Enrollments are down. A bunch of (presumably former) employees of these schools did a lot of dumb, deceptive and greedy things, on tape and video no less. Some of these guys are to quality education what the Olive Garden is to Italian cuisine.
Ironically, the part that seems to be really upsetting people is that these colleges and universities are trying to make a profit. Call me crazy, but I thought making a profit was one of the most important things that a good business needed to do. Making a profit is how you stay in business, how your employees and families stay fed, and how the marketplace ultimately tells you that you’re doing the right things. Focusing on profitability helps to make sure that you keep your business and your offerings truly competitive.
Now, if you’re a well-regarded and selective non-profit college, you’ll always be turning a certain crowd of wanna-bes away; your tuition prices can soar every year; and your facilities and non-teaching faculty (and salaries) can grow to the sky. Those colleges are living off their endowments and the stock market, not the market for their services.

How to build a high school football powerhouse

Linda Thomas:

Creating a successful football program is more about the culture – which starts at a very young age for players and families – than it is about the current team.
710 ESPN’s Brock Huard, a former Husky and former Seahawk, says the sport today is much different than when he was playing high school football in Puyallup.
“They’ve got kids that start at 6, 7, 8 years old in their feeder programs and it is a machine,” Huard says. “The investment they make at a young age, all the way through, running the same system, doing the same drills, working towards that same goal of winning state championship after state championship is what they’re about.”
“This is a higher achieving area,” adds Coach Taylor. “The families take education, and life in general, more seriously and they have high expectations. Whatever it is you do, you put your best foot forward.”
Skyline Quarterback Max Browne is putting his best arm forward, on the verge of setting a new state passing record.
Spartan number 4 is considered the number 1 high school quarterback in the country.


Tanya Khovanova:

When I came to the US, I heard about Mensa — the high IQ society. My IQ had never been tested, so I was curious. I was told that there was a special IQ test for non-English speakers and that my fresh immigrant status and lack of English knowledge was not a problem. I signed up.
There were two tests. One test had many rows of small pictures, and I had to choose the odd one out in each row. That was awful. The test was English-free, but it wasn’t culture-free. I couldn’t identify some of the pictures at all. We didn’t have such things in Russia. I remember staring at a row of tools that could as easily have been from a kitchen utensil drawer as from a garage tool box. I didn’t have a clue what they were.
But the biggest problem was that the idea of crossing the odd object out seems very strange to me in general. What is the odd object out in this list?
Cow, hen, pig, sheep.

Teachers make extra money selling educational materials online

Associated Press:

Kristine Nannini spent her summer creating wall charts and student data sheets for her fifth-grade class — and making $24,000 online by selling those same materials to other teachers.
Teachers like Nannini are making extra money supplying materials to their cash-strapped and time-limited colleagues on curriculum sharing sites such as teacherspayteachers.com, providing an alternative to more traditional — and generally more expensive — school supply stores. Many districts, teachers and parents say these sites are saving teachers time and money and giving educators a way to make additional income.
There is potentially a lot of money to be made. Deanna Jump, a first-grade teacher at Central Fellowship Christian Academy in Macon, Ga., is teacherspayteachers.com’s top seller, earning about $1 million in sales over the last two years. She believes that the site has been successful because educators are looking for new ways to engage their students, and the materials are relatively inexpensive and move beyond textbooks
“I want kids to be so excited about what they’re learning that they can’t wait to tell Mom and Dad,” she said.

Time to ditch elitist Hong Kong expat class system

Alex Lo:

Hong Kong does not need more international schools. It needs local schools that are capable of educating expatriate students at an affordable price. That is the way it is done in almost all international cities in the Western world.
It is the only way for a modern city like Hong Kong to reform its wasteful and monstrously complicated education system to achieve both equal opportunity and quality for all – local and expat, rich and poor, Chinese and ethnic minority. That ought to be our vision and our goal. Yet few people in Hong Kong share it.
It infuriates me every time the international business community complains about insufficient places and demands the building of more international schools with public resources. Local educators and lawmakers, who ought to know better, duly repeat the demand. Officials like Eddie Ng Hak-kim act guiltily for failing to please the expats. The latest call came from British Chamber of Commerce executive director Christopher Hammerbeck. “This is not an education issue any more,” he said. “It’s a business issue. This is a strong case for adding facilities.” Really? How can someone be so wrong on so many counts in such a short statement?
First, if we tackle education like a business issue, then it will follow the business cycle too. This means when China goes into a downturn or their own countries’ economies improve, many expat families will go, just like they did during the Asian financial crisis and the Sars outbreak, leaving empty places at international schools. These will be filled by locals. But it makes a mockery of free local education, now effectively for the poor; and it creates a shortage for expats in the next upturn cycle.

Inspiring teachers and playground rivalries – what makes school stories so special?

Susie Boyt:

Picture the scene: I am 13 years old in a biology lab, dissecting an innocent amphibean whose life has been laid down for science. A serious hush has broken over this class famed for its chatterboxes. The frog is lying on its dorsal side, limbs pinned to the dissection pan. Vulnerable isn’t even in it. The dissecting scissors are icy in our hands. First the skin must be pierced and it isn’t very yielding. Bits of back bone are hard, the flesh is dark and menacing. We have rinsed our creatures and patted them dry with paper towels but the reek of the formaldehyde makes me nauseous.
Now, I don’t care anything for frogs – things that can’t talk don’t appeal to me yet – but before I even make the first incision, tears are rolling down my face and soon I am sobbing. What am I crying for? Life cut short? The odour of death? I am permitted to leave the room and I linger in the corridor, clutching my sides. After a while the biology teacher comes out to find me, head inclined, eyes brilliant with sympathy.
“Is it about a boy?” she asks.
I am so flattered I cannot speak.

The Bar is Different: Asian-Americans & Affirmative Action

Steve Hsu

The NYTimes on Asian-Americans and affirmative action. Asians rated only a couple of mentions in the Fisher v Texas oral arguments, and always by a conservative justice. I recommend the reader comments at the link (use the Reader Picks filter).

NYTimes: … “If you look at the Ivy League, you will find that Asian-Americans never get to 20 percent of the class,” said Daniel Golden, author of “The Price of Admission” and editor at large for Bloomberg News. “The schools semiconsciously say to themselves, ‘We can’t have all Asians.’ ” Mr. Golden says it is helpful to think of Asians as the new Jews because some rules of college admissions, like geographic diversity, were originally aimed at preventing the number of Jews from growing too high.
Commenting on similar efforts involving Asian applicants, Rod Bugarin, a former admissions officer at Wesleyan, Brown and Columbia, said: “The bar is different for every group. Anyone who works in the industry knows that.” …

Neanderthal Babies All Around: Synthetic Biology Is Closer Than You Think

Ashlee Vance:

George Church–he of the beard, tall man’s lope and overwhelming credentials–has hit the circuit to promote a new book: Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves. As the title explains, the book explores the field of synthetic biology, which centers on how man can program DNA to create things ranging from new fuels to seeds that grow into fully-formed houses. This subject often veers into the fanciful, and Church keeps up that tradition. Yet when he says things about bringing Neanderthals back to life, you have to take notice instead of chuckling.
For about the last 35 years, Church has been at the cutting edge of genetics and radical biology in academic and entrepreneurial settings. Today, he’s the professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, the super-sought-after adviser to more than 20 companies in genetics and synthetic biology, and co-founder of a handful of companies. Church, 58, relishes the academic side of his work and has scores of researchers doing cutting-edge stuff at his Harvard lab. That said, he likes to make sure that people see him as a man of action and not just some big brain in an ivory tower. “I still do things with my own hands,” he says.

The Most Important Education Technology in 200 Years Students anywhere are being offered free instruction online. What will that do to the trillion-dollar education business?

Antonio Regalado:

Now answer this one: what’s been the single biggest innovation in education?
Don’t worry if you come up blank. You’re supposed to. The question is a gambit used by Anant Agarwal, the computer scientist named this year to head edX, a $60 million MIT-Harvard effort to stream a college education over the Web, free, to anyone who wants one. His point: it’s rare to see major technological advances in how people learn.
Agarwal believes that education is about to change dramatically. The reason is the power of the Web and its associated data-crunching technologies. Thanks to these changes, it’s now possible to stream video classes with sophisticated interactive elements, and researchers can scoop up student data that could help them make teaching more effective. The technology is powerful, fairly cheap, and global in its reach. EdX has said it hopes to teach a billion students.
Online education isn’t new–in the United States more than 700,000 students now study in full-time “distance learning” programs. What’s different is the scale of technology being applied by leaders who mix high-minded goals with sharp-elbowed, low-priced Internet business models. In the stories that will follow in this month’s business report, MIT Technology Review will chart the impact of free online education, particularly the “massive open online courses,” or MOOCs, offered by new education ventures like edX, Coursera, and Udacity, to name the most prominent (see “The Crisis in Higher Education“).

The 2013 Maclean’s Canadian University Rankings

Josh DeHaas:

The 22nd annual Maclean’s University Rankings issue–the holy book for anyone planning their education in Canada–is now available on newsstands and tablets.
The 2013 issue, our biggest-ever, features 132 pages of charts, stories and advice designed to help future students choose the right school, while sparking conversations on the quality of the post-secondary experience from the size of classes to the cost of textbooks.
The issue also offers a peek inside campus life from coast to coast, including an examination of the viral videos phenomenon, a deeper look at the scourge of drinking, Emma Teitel on fraternities, the college advantage and pages more. There are online extras, too, like photo tours of life at 24 campuses.
And, of course, the issue features the 22nd annual rankings.

Literature is not Data: Against Digital Humanities

Stephen Marche:

Data banks are the Encyclopedia of tomorrow. They transcend the capacity of each of their users. They are “nature” for postmodern man.
– Jean-François Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge
BIG DATA IS COMING for your books. It’s already come for everything else. All human endeavor has by now generated its own monadic mass of data, and through these vast accumulations of ciphers the robots now endlessly scour for significance much the way cockroaches scour for nutrition in the enormous bat dung piles hiding in Bornean caves. The recent Automate This, a smart book with a stupid title, offers a fascinatingly general look at the new algorithmic culture: 60 percent of trades on the stock market today take place with virtually no human oversight. Artificial intelligence has already changed health care and pop music, baseball, electoral politics, and several aspects of the law. And now, as an afterthought to an afterthought, the algorithms have arrived at literature, like an army which, having conquered Italy, turns its attention to San Marino.
The story of how literature became data in the first place is a story of several, related intellectual failures.

Are There (Finally) More Teachers?

Floyd Norris:

The October job numbers out Friday will show whether the erosion of teaching jobs in public schools has ended. It will reflect the month when all teachers who are going to work in the fall semester have jobs, and allow comparisons of the non-seasonally adjusted figures for state and local government education jobs from one October to the next, showing what school districts did around the country.
The chart below shows the changes in state and local education jobs since 2000, from one October to the next:

Madison parents start their own foundations when kids have chronic conditions

Sari Judge:

“When your child suffers from a chronic condition like epilepsy, you never feel like you have control, ” says Anne Morgan Giroux. “You can’t control what drugs might work to control the seizures or even control what a typical day might look like. I think we started Lily’s Fund to be able to gain control over something.”
And while starting your own charitable organization may sound like more work added on top of a time-consuming situation, several Madison families have found that it’s a very positive step.
Giroux’s daughter Lily, now 17 and a junior at Madison West High School, was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was 2 years old. Anne and her husband, Dave, spent much of Lily’s childhood experimenting with medications and procedures to keep her atonic seizures at bay. In the fall of 2006, they noticed an article describing the work a team of UW-Madison researchers was conducting on epilepsy.

Real Women Speak Out: How Student Loans Have Affected Me

Alden Wicker:

You can’t help but notice the dire chatter surrounding student loans these days.
In fact, student loans are one of the hottest topics here at LearnVest, whether in LV Discussions, your comments or stories we write. Some are calling it the newest lending crisis, equal in scope to the subprime mortgages that torpedoed the economy in 2008.
No wonder-a record one in five households now holds student debt. Increasingly, this debt burden is altering lives, and not in the way students imagined when they first took out the loans. Enrollment in graduate programs has dropped, as students face mounting undergraduate loans. 44% of graduates are delaying buying a home, and 23% will delay having children because of their debt burden.
Defaults on student loans are at a record 13.4%, and there’s no clean slate in sight-student loans are rarely dischargeable in bankruptcy.
One NYU professor has even said that student loans are immoral.

Make college relevant not a resort vacation

Ed Leap:

My oldest son is now a high school senior. Therefore, we have been looking at college options in South Carolina.
He is a born and bred South Carolinian who doesn’t really want to leave his home state. He has a sense of family, and a sense of place.
I have made several observations while reading brochures, comparing prices and traveling to different locales in the search for the right school for him to attend. First, this is a beautiful state with some magnificent centers of learning. I had no idea how many majors there are now, how many opportunities to study abroad, how many honors colleges and possible career paths! When I was in school it was, you know, wheel-making and Mammoth studies. But I digress.

How Do You Raise a Prodigy?

Andrew Solomon:

Drew Petersen didn’t speak until he was 3½, but his mother, Sue, never believed he was slow. When he was 18 months old, in 1994, she was reading to him and skipped a word, whereupon Drew reached over and pointed to the missing word on the page. Drew didn’t produce much sound at that stage, but he already cared about it deeply. “Church bells would elicit a big response,” Sue told me. “Birdsong would stop him in his tracks.”
Sue, who learned piano as a child, taught Drew the basics on an old upright, and he became fascinated by sheet music. “He needed to decode it,” Sue said. “So I had to recall what little I remembered, which was the treble clef.” As Drew told me, “It was like learning 13 letters of the alphabet and then trying to read books.” He figured out the bass clef on his own, and when he began formal lessons at 5, his teacher said he could skip the first six months’ worth of material. Within the year, Drew was performing Beethoven sonatas at the recital hall at Carnegie Hall. “I thought it was delightful,” Sue said, “but I also thought we shouldn’t take it too seriously. He was just a little boy.”
On his way to kindergarten one day, Drew asked his mother, “Can I just stay home so I can learn something?” Sue was at a loss. “He was reading textbooks this big, and they’re in class holding up a blowup M,” she said. Drew, who is now 18, said: “At first, it felt lonely. Then you accept that, yes, you’re different from everyone else, but people will be your friends anyway.” Drew’s parents moved him to a private school. They bought him a new piano, because he announced at 7 that their upright lacked dynamic contrast. “It cost more money than we’d ever paid for anything except a down payment on a house,” Sue said. When Drew was 14, he discovered a home-school program created by Harvard; when I met him two years ago, he was 16, studying at the Manhattan School of Music and halfway to a Harvard bachelor’s degree.

61 Page Madison Schools Achievement Gap Plan -Accountability Plans and Progress Indicators

Madison Superintendent Jane Belmore (2.5mb PDF)

Background on Goals: During the Student Achievement Committee meeting of October 1, several Board members discussed the issue of setting reasonable goals and the time needed to accomplish them. Most of the goals presented today are based on a five-year convergence model. Under this approach, achievement gaps are closed for every student subgroup in five years.
Forr example the baseline four-year graduation rate among white students is 85%. It is 61% among Hispanic students, and 54% among African American students.. With a five-year convergence model, the goal is for all student subgroups to reach a 90% on-time graduation rate. It is a statement that all student subgroups should improve and all gaps should close.
The reason for this approach is twofold. First, as adopted by the Board, the Achievement Gap Plan is a five-year plan. It is important that the student achievement goals reflect the timeline in the plan itself. The timeline for goals could be pushed out to ten years or more, but it would require formal directive from the Board to adopt ten years as the district’s new timeline for the Achievement Gap Plan.
Second, other models can be seen as conveying different expectations for students based on race/ethnicity or other characteristics like poverty, and that is not our intent. Taking ten years or longer to achieve stated goals may be viewed as a more reasonable time frame, but a five-year plan comes with a natural snapshot half way through that will illustrate persistent gaps and potentially convey varying expectations. Again, that is not our intent or our goal.
A note on Chapter 1, Literacy: The Accountability Plans for literacy are an example of two important concepts:
1. The district wide, instructional core in literacy must be strengthened in every school and every grade. Chapter 1, #1 speaks to a part of strengthening that core.
2. Once the core is strong fewer interventions are needed. However, some students will continue to need additional support. Chapter 1, #2 speaks to one example of an intervention that will help to prevent summer reading loss and close gaps.
The Board approval of $1.9 million for the purchase of elementary literacy materials provides a powerful framework for bringing cohesion to the elementary literacy program. The purchase will provide a well-coordinated core literacy program that is aligned with the common core standards and meets the needs of all learners.
The first steps will bring together an Elementary Literacy Leadership team to clarify the purpose and framework for our program. The overall framework for our entire elementary literacy program is Balanced Literacy. Building upon the current MMSD core practices in 4K-12 Literacy and Focus documents, the work being done to align our instruction and assessment with common core standards will increase rigor and take our current Elementary Balanced Literacy Program to what could be seen as an Elementary Balanced Literacy Program version 2.0. The Elementary Literacy Leadership team will bring clarity to the components of the program and what is expected and what is optional.
Chapter 1, #1 and #2 are important supports for our Balanced Literacy Program

Reading is certainly job number one for the Madison School District – and has been for quite some time….
Related: November, 2005: When all third graders read at grade level or beyond by the end of the year, the achievement gap will be closed…and not before

On November 7, Superintendent Art Rainwater made his annual report to the Board of Education on progress toward meeting the district’s student achievement goal in reading. As he did last fall, the superintendent made some interesting claims about the district’s success in closing the academic achievement gap “based on race”.
According to Mr. Rainwater, the place to look for evidence of a closing achievement gap is the comparison of the percentage of African American third graders who score at the lowest level of performance on statewide tests and the percentage of other racial groups scoring at that level. He says that, after accounting for income differences, there is no gap associated with race at the lowest level of achievement in reading. He made the same claim last year, telling the Wisconsin State Journal on September 24, 2004, “for those kids for whom an ability to read would prevent them from being successful, we’ve reduced that percentage very substantially, and basically, for all practical purposes, closed the gap”. Last Monday, he stated that the gap between percentages scoring at the lowest level “is the original gap” that the board set out to close.
Unfortunately, that is not the achievement gap that the board aimed to close.
In 1998, the Madison School Board adopted an important academic goal: “that all students complete the 3rd grade able to read at or beyond grade level”. We adopted this goal in response to recommendations from a citizen study group that believed that minority students who are not competent as readers by the end of the third grade fall behind in all academic areas after third grade.
“All students” meant all students. We promised to stop thinking in terms of average student achievement in reading. Instead, we would separately analyze the reading ability of students by subgroups. The subgroups included white, African American, Hispanic, Southeast Asian, and other Asian students.

California ballot holds credit risk for school districts

Jim Christie:

If voters in California next week reject ballot measures to raise taxes, school districts in the Golden State will be among the first victims of spending cuts – a major concern not only for teachers and parents but also bondholders.
According to the latest polls, support for Proposition 30, the measure Governor Jerry Brown proposed to raise personal income and sales taxes, stands at below 50 percent for the Nov.6 vote. A rival measure – Proposition 38, which would also increase taxes – appears to be backed by even fewer voters.
If Proposition 30 fails, the state government will impose $6 billion in so-called “trigger cuts” that mostly fall on education spending to try to keep its books balanced.

Let a new teacher-union debate begin

Chester E. Finn, Jr. , Michael J. Petrilli:

Everyone knows that teacher unions matter in education politics and policies, a reality that is never more evident than at election time. In recent weeks, for example, state affiliates have been pushing for higher taxes on businesses to boost education spending in Nevada, successfully suing to limit the governor’s authority over education in Wisconsin, and working to sink an initiative to allow charter schools in Washington State. Of course, those instances are but the tip of a very large iceberg. Across the land, unions are doing their utmost to prevent all sorts of changes to education that they deem antithetical to their interests.
The role of teacher unions in education politics and policy is deeply polarizing. Critics (often including ourselves) typically assert that these organizations are the prime obstacles to needed reforms in K-12 schooling, while defenders (typically, also, supporters of the education status quo) insist that they are bulwarks of professionalism and safeguards against caprice and risky innovation.

How Strong Are U.S. Teacher Unions? A State-By-State Comparison

Amber M. Winkler, Janie Scull, Dara Zeehandelaar

The study analyzed factors ranging from union membership and revenue to state bargaining laws to campaign contributions, and included such measures such as the alignment between specific state policies and traditional union interests and a unique stakeholder survey. The report sorts the fifty-one jurisdictions into five tiers, ranking their teacher unions from strongest to weakest and providing in-depth profiles of each.

Wisconsin’s teacher unions ranked 18th out of 50 and are considered strong [PDF report]:

Wisconsin’s teacher unions have been
active donors over the past decade. Not only did their contributions amount to 1.0
percent of donations to candidates for state office (16th), but those donations equaled a whopping 22.7 percent of all donations to candidates from the ten highest-giving sectors in the state (2nd), indicating that the unions were real heavyweights
in Wisconsin politics. They also gave 1.9 percent of the donations received by
state political parties (16th). Finally, 17.2 percent of all Wisconsin delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions identified as teacher union members (15th).

Rapides School District may drop no-retention policy

Leigh Guidry:

The Rapides Parish School Board is expected to determine next week whether to retain the district’s current no-retention policy for young students.
The board is scheduled to vote Monday on a motion to abolish its policy of not holding back pupils in grades kindergarten through third.
The policy was instituted in the 2006-07 school year by former Superintendent Gary L. Jones based on a “critical goal” set by the state. It was intended to reduce student dropout rates by getting students to grade level on time, he said.

NCTQ Wins Minnesota Court Battle over Open Records Access to Ed School Curriculum

National Council on Teacher Quality, via a kind email:

Yesterday, a court in Minnesota delivered a summary judgment ordering the Minnesota State Colleges and University system to deliver the documents for which we asked in our open records (“sunshine”) request for our Teacher Prep Review.
At the heart of our Teacher Prep Review is a simple idea: the more information that aspiring teachers, district and school leaders, teacher educators and the public at large have about the programs producing classroom-ready teachers, the better all teacher training programs will be.
In our effort to produce the first comprehensive review of U.S. teacher prep, we’ve faced a number of challenges — perhaps the most serious of which has been the argument made by some universities that federal copyright law makes it illegal for public institutions publicly approved to prepare public school teachers to make public documents that describe the training they provide.
We want to make sure that everyone understands what this ruling does and does not mean. The Minnesota State colleges and universities system agreed with us that the syllabi we seek are indeed public record documents. Their case came down to the claim that because the course syllabi are also the intellectual property of professors, they should not have to deliver copies of their syllabi to us.
Minnesota’s open records law, the court ruled, is clear: public institutions must make documents accessible to individuals seeking them — which includes delivering copies to them. Delivering copies of these documents to us in no way, shape or form deprives the professors who created them of their intellectual property rights. NCTQ is conducting a research study, which means that our use of these syllabi falls under the fair use provision of the copyright law. This is the exactly the same provision that enables all researchers, including teacher educators, to make copies of key documents they need to analyze to make advances in our collective knowledge.


A new kind of tutoring aims to make students smarter

Dan Hurley:

IN the back room of a suburban storefront previously occupied by a yoga studio, Nick Vecchiarello, a 16-year-old from Glen Ridge, N.J., sits at a desk across from Kathryn Duch, a recent college graduate who wears a black shirt emblazoned with the words “Brain Trainer.” Spread out on the desk are a dozen playing cards showing symbols of varying colors, shapes and sizes. Nick stares down, searching for three cards whose symbols match.
“Do you see it?” Ms. Duch asks encouragingly.
“Oh, man,” mutters Nick, his eyes shifting among the cards, looking for patterns.
Across the room, Nathan Veloric, 23, studies a list of numbers, looking for any two in a row that add up to nine. With tight-lipped determination, he scrawls a circle around one pair as his trainer holds a stopwatch to time him. Halfway through the 50 seconds allotted to complete the exercise, a ruckus comes from the center of the room.

Given Tablets but No Teachers, Ethiopian Children Teach Themselves

Daniel Talbot:

With 100 million first-grade-aged children worldwide having no access to schooling, the One Laptop Per Child organization is trying something new in two remote Ethiopian villages–simply dropping off tablet computers with preloaded programs and seeing what happens.
The goal: to see if illiterate kids with no previous exposure to written words can learn how to read all by themselves, by experimenting with the tablet and its preloaded alphabet-training games, e-books, movies, cartoons, paintings, and other programs.

How do you stop online students cheating?

Sean Coughlan:

Imagine taking a university exam in your own home, under the watchful eye of a webcam or with software profiling your keystrokes or your syntax to see whether it really is you answering the questions.
Online university courses have become the Next Big Thing for higher education, particularly in the United States, where millions of students have signed up for courses from some of the most upmarket universities.
With spiralling costs and student loan debts crossing the trillion dollar barrier this year, the online university has been seen as a way of reaching many more people for much less money.
But a major stumbling block has been how such digital courses are assessed.

Explore Shakespeare Apps


But we didn’t stop there. We wanted to open up the play in ways that are only possible on a touch-based device such as an iPad. After prototyping several possible visualisations, we created three new ways to explore and visualise the play. The first are circles, which illustrate the relationships between different characters, to give context to their interaction within the play. Secondly, we created themelines, to show how different themes ebb and flow throughout the play. And thirdly, we created our own word clouds, to visualise how language is used per play, per scene and per character.
Each of these visualisations gives a clearer picture of the play, especially for those who are new to Shakespeare. They also act as navigation into the play – to view the play from the point of view of a particular character, or to use language as a way of navigating the text itself.

Shanghai Business School Vies With Top Programs

Melissa Korn:

If you learn anything in business school, it’s to aim high. China Europe International Business School is doing just that.
The Shanghai school, which opened 18 years ago, recently made clear its ambition to vault into the top tier of schools globally, alongside Harvard Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business and London Business School. The business school offers a full-time M.B.A. in English and executive M.B.A. and nondegree executive education in Mandarin Chinese.
Leading the charge is John Quelch, a former Harvard administrator and London dean, whom CEIBS brought on last year to raise its global profile. The 61-year-old Mr. Quelch has opened the school’s pocketbook to lure coveted faculty from elite schools with large pay packages and generous housing stipends. His reasoning: “Outstanding faculty” will draw “outstanding students,” who will attract blue-chip recruiters, which then create a successful alumni body.

Education should be a top priority for president

Alan Borsuk:

There was a lot of consistency in federal education policy when we went from President George W. Bush to President Barack Obama four years ago. Some changes in strategy, of course, but quite similar philosophies on using federal clout to put the heat on for change all across the country.
That’s one reason I doubt that there will be an abrupt shift in the overall thrust of what the feds are doing when it comes to schools, even if Mitt Romney wins Tuesday. A second reason: Romney has not espoused the blow-up-the-ed-department line of several other Republican candidates. A third: The Washington gridlock reality makes it hard to actually change the direction of things (for example, using federal policy to push school vouchers, as Romney favors).
As for Obama, he has a track record by now and, I assume, would proceed along that line.
So let’s skip over the outcome of Tuesday’s presidential vote and jump into the postelection period with a few questions for the president for the next four years:

Trends Shaping Education 2012


What does the increasing diversity of our societies mean for education? How is global economic power shifting toward new countries? In what ways are work patterns changing? Trends Shaping Education 2012 brings together international evidence to address questions such as these.
Each trend is presented in an accessible double-page format containing an introduction, two charts with brief descriptive text, and a set of pertinent questions. The trends presented are based on high-quality international data. The charts contain dynamic links (StatLinks) so that readers can access the original data online.
This book is designed to give policymakers, researchers, educational leaders, administrators, and teachers a robust, nonspecialist source to inform strategic thinking and stimulate reflection on the challenges facing education, whether in schools, universities, or programs for older adults. It will also be of interest to students and the wider public, including parents.

The Bennett Hypothesis: When and Why, Not True or False

Andrew Gillen:

My last post on the Bennett Hypothesis (the idea that federal financial aid can lead to higher tuition) elicited a comment from “Craigie” which is worth addressing. After acknowledging that aid (GradPLUS loans) does lead to higher tuition for law schools, Craigie declares that it is “the exception that proves the rule: the Bennett hypothesis is false.” This tendency to discount mixed evidence is a common mistake. Whenever evidence in support of the Bennett Hypothesis is put forward, evidence against the hypothesis is quickly brought up (and vice versa). While annoying from a sound bite perspective, this mixed evidence is a bit of a blessing from a scientific standpoint because it allows for a deeper investigation into the relationship between aid and tuition to try and answer why the hypothesis seems to hold in some cases but not others. In other words, with mixed evidence, “Is the Bennett Hypothesis true?” is the wrong question as it has no consistent answer. The better question is “When does the Bennett Hypothesis hold/not hold and why.”

Understanding matrices intuitively, part 1

William Gould:

I want to show you a way of picturing and thinking about matrices. The topic for today is the square matrix, which we will call A. I’m going to show you a way of graphing square matrices, although we will have to limit ourselves to the 2 x 2 case. That will be, as they say, without loss of generality. The technique I’m about to show you could be used with 3 x 3 matrices if you had a better 3-dimensional monitor, and as will be revealed, it could be used on 3 x 2 and 2 x 3 matrices, too. If you had more imagination, we could use the technique on 4 x 4, 5 x 5, and even higher-dimensional matrices.

Undocumented Students Take Education Underground

Kathy Lohr:

About 35 students meet every Sunday at an undisclosed location in Georgia to study. They are undocumented and banned from attending some of the most prestigious colleges in the state.
Georgia is one of three states to bar undocumented students from attending schools. But a group of professors at the University of Georgia has created a fledgling school to provide a place for students to learn.
They call it Freedom University, named after the schools set up during the civil rights era to teach African-Americans in the Deep South. University of Georgia history professor Pam Voekel is one of the volunteer instructors.

In defense of proper process: Reform methods lead to lost information and incorrect answers

Laurie Rogers:

Whenever I tutor students who were taught math via reform-math methods, one of the first things they have to do is learn a structured and consistent way to write down problems and calculations. Their experiences with reform math have left them with poor habits, leading to many errors and muddied understanding.
Repairing poor process isn’t a small undertaking. By the time reform-math students get to middle school or high school, entire books of math content are missing and many poor habits are ingrained. Developing good habits, therefore, is Job One, and it takes months and months of reinforcement before an efficient process becomes habitual. (That’s in addition to the actual math procedures, which also must be taught and learned.)
It’s harder to “unteach” a poor process and replace it, than it is to teach an efficient process from the beginning. The “Law of Primacy” says students tend to learn best what they learned first – even if what they learned was wrong-headed. Once students learn something, they tend to go back to it, as a habit and an instinctive first reaction. This is why proper process should be taught from the beginning. Unteaching requires extra dedication, patience, diligence and consistency. It’s hard work to change bad habits, but it can be done. And with mathematics, it must be done. It’s so important to instill good habits and efficient methods. Clarity is critical to accuracy; students who wish to be accurate in math must be focused on clarity as they write down their work.

Wisconsin Education Rule-Making Battle: Should We Care? Yes; DPI Election Politics

Why should parents, citizens, taxpayers and students pay attention to this type of “rulemaking” case?
WKCE (Wisconsin’s oft-criticized soft academic standards – soon to be replaced) and MTEL-90 (Wisconsin adopts Massachusetts’ teacher content knowledge requirements).
I found Ed Treleven’s article interesting, particularly the special interests funding the rule making legal challenge. I am a big fan of our three part government system: judicial, legislative and executive. That said, the Wisconsin DPI has not exactly distinguished itself over the past decade. The WKCE “tyranny of low expectations” is exhibit one for this writer.
Ed Treleven

Even before the change in the law, rules ultimately have to be approved by the Legislature.
Democrats had labeled the law a power grab by Walker when it was proposed after Walker was elected and before he took office. He signed it into law in May 2011.
The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by Madison Teachers Inc., the Wisconsin Education Association Council and others. Defendants were Walker, DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch and schools superintendent Tony Evers. Smith’s decision, however, notes that Evers also asked the court to block the law. Evers issued a statement Tuesday saying he was pleased with Smith’s ruling.
Lester Pines, who represented the teachers groups in court, said the law as applied to DPI ran counter to a unanimous state Supreme Court decision in 1996 that said the Legislature cannot give equal or superior authority to any “other officer.”

Finally, it appears that current DPI Superintendent Tony Evers is ready to roll for the spring, 2013 election. I have noticed a number of DPI related inquiries on this site. Perhaps this will be a competitive race!
UPDATE: Gilman Halsted:

The Madison teachers union was one was one of seven plaintiffs that challenged this provision of ACT 21. Union President John Matthews says he’s pleased with the ruling.
“It’s simply because of the way the Constitution defines the role of the state superintendent,” he said. “The governor has equal authority not superior authority to the state superintendent and we think because of the enterprise if you will of public education that should not be a political issue. And Judge Smith saw it our way.”
But a spokesman for the governor’s office says he’s confident that Judge Smith’s ruling will be overturned on appeal and that the governor will retain his rule making veto power. Opponents of this new executive power see it as a power grab. And although this ruling appears to limit the governor’s power over rules that affect education it leaves his authority intact for administrative rules from any other state agency. State Superintendent Tony Evers released a statement hailing the ruling and pointing out that he had proposed language that would have carved out his exemption from the governor’s rule vetoes before the law was passed.

New school report cards another tool for achievement gap

A. David Dahmer:

It’s not just the students who are getting report cards during the 2012-13 school year.
On Monday, Oct. 22, the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) issued a School Report Card for every public school in Wisconsin. The new school year has brought new measures on how the MMSD and other districts throughout the state evaluate its progress and makes improvements. Madison superintendent Jane Belmore said the ratings reflect data the district is already using to improve schools.
“There were no really surprises for us because we’ve been working with this data for over a year now,” Belmore tells The Madison Times. “It’s a complex picture – and maybe a better picture than we’ve had before — but we still believe we are on track with the strategies that we’ve developed and have started to put in place with this first year of the achievement gap plan.”
The school report cards, she adds, confirm MMSD’s knowledge about how the schools are doing on increasing student achievement, closing gaps, and preparing students for college or career.
Seven Madison schools — Van Hise, Randall, Shorewood Hills, Marquette, Franklin and Lapham elementary schools and Hamilton Middle School — “significantly exceed expectations” according to the report cards. That’s a designation only 3 percent of schools in the state received.

Tech Education Doesn’t Happen in the Classroom

Tyler Menezes:

The field of technology is the odd kid in its class.
From its outset it’s been an outlier. Modern computing sprung rather quickly out of nowhere late into our history as a species. However few things [1] before or since have had such a profound impact on the world as the development of computing and circuits. It’s clear to see that no other field of study can hope to compete – they’ve all been revolutionized by (and in many cases started or brought to prominence because of) technology.
But unfortunately, technology is an outlier for another reason: technology education is severely underfunded. Demand for computer scientists, for example, is exceeded by the supply at a ratio of more than 2:1 [2].
Computer science education is also vastly under-researched. Even using a CS degree as a filter [3], the difficulty finding graduates who actually know a programming language or have any critical thinking skills is an extremely common complaint I’ve heard from those in charge of hiring at larger firms. It’s clear that technology is an extremely easy space to understand, but requires a lot of hands-on experience to master.

How Your High School English Class is Ruining Your Proposals (Don’t get me started on MBAs)


Ah, high school english class. A time to read classic literature, build your vocabulary and learn to write proper essays. Reading great literature is wonderful, but the latter 2 goals were often in conflict. Because the way teachers measure your essays was in part based on how many fancy vocabulary words to you could cram into them. Using big words not only improved your grade, it also took up space, getting you closer to the critical 5 page minimum. However, this push to utilize advanced diction, albeit to the detriment of semantic transfer, makes for awful writing.
I don’t remember many of the books I read in high school, but one that sticks in my mind, ironically, is an essay by George Orwell, called Politics and the English Language. (Also note Orwell’s 5 Rules for Effective Writing.) You may wonder what this has to do with sales, but remember politics is simply sales of a different sort.
Orwell noted how vague language made it easier to describe, and therefore commit, political atrocities. I wasn’t committing any atrocities, except perhaps against the English language. I took a writing course my first semester in college and got quite a rude awakening. Pages came back redder than a murder victim in a Law and Order episode. Whole paragraphs were called “unnecessary garbage”, superfluous words and clauses, which my high school teachers seemed to reward, came back with red lines through them. It was great. For a brief time, I learned to write clean, crisp, compelling papers. I focused on clarity of thought, transmitted through the proper words, to the reader.

Some states will soon call the roll on school reform

Stephanie Simon:

Voters in several states will weigh in next month on some of the most contentious issues in public education, including teacher tenure, charter schools and merit pay for teachers, as a national fight over education reform hits the ballot box.
The campaigns have been fierce and often nasty.
In one corner: proponents of dramatically overhauling public education, including several of America’s wealthiest families, led by Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton. They seek to inject more free-market forces into the education system by requiring schools to compete for students and teachers to compete for pay raises.
In the opposite corner: Teachers unions and their allies, on the left, who say the reformers’ proposals would strip resources from the public schools without boosting student achievement.

Urban middle class boosts school diversity

Greg Toppo:

As taped piano music plays, Ashley Brown issues a stream of commands. Firm and insistent, she strides around the tiny studio and puts her third-period ballet students through their steady, rhythmic paces.
What her eighth- and ninth-grade dancers may not notice is the larger ballet they’re part of: the fraught, decades-old dance â?? one step forward, two steps back â?? of who goes to school where, and with whom.
They’re doing nothing less than integrating a city.

Teaching thousands of students to program on Udacity

Steve Huffman:

This past spring I had the pleasure of teaching a course for Udacity, an online education company putting high quality college level courses online for free. I was recruited to Udacity by a former college professor and friend of mine, Dave Evans, Udacity’s VP of Education.
When I was a Computer Science student at the University of Virginia, I was fortunate to take a cryptology course taught by Professor Evans. He presented us two ways to get an A in this course. We could either do it the old fashioned way–do well on tests and homeworks as well as completing a course-long project of our choosing; or, we could break into his computer and set our grade to an A. Naturally, we pretended to do the former, while spending our evenings huddled outside Professor Evans’ house working on the latter. My team received A’s.
It was one of the first times where I felt I was not just completing course objectives as a student, but thinking about real-world problems as a computer scientist. When Professor Evans emailed me early this year inquiring whether I’d be interested in teaching a course on Web Developement, I said, “Yes!” long before my brain had a chance to remind me that I already had a full-time job.

Rise of the Tiger Nation: Asian-Americans are now the country’s best-educated, highest-earning and fastest-growing racial group. They share with American Jews both the distinction and the occasional burden of immigrant success.

Lee Siegel:

Last March, an interviewer archly asked President Barack Obama whether he was aware that he had been “surpassed” by basketball phenomenon Jeremy Lin “as the most famous Harvard graduate.” The question was misformulated. If there was any surpassing going on, it was that Mr. Lin had become, briefly, more famous than Mr. Obama as the country’s most exemplary figure from a hitherto marginalized minority.
Mr. Lin’s triumph on the basketball court is a living metaphor for the social group he comes from. No one would dispute the opening paragraph of the Pew Research Center’s massive study of Asian-Americans, released over the summer: “Asian-Americans are the highest-income, best-educated and fastest-growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success.” Or as Mr. Lin put it in a video of congratulation he made last spring for the overwhelmingly Asian-American graduates of New York City’s famed Stuyvesant High School: “Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do.”

A letter from a disgusted teacher: I Quit

Kris L. Nielsen:

To All it May Concern:
I’m doing something I thought I would never do–something that will make me a statistic and a caricature of the times. Some will support me, some will shake their heads and smirk condescendingly–and others will try to convince me that I’m part of the problem. Perhaps they’re right, but I don’t think so. All I know is that I’ve hit a wall, and in order to preserve my sanity, my family, and the forward movement of our lives, I have no other choice.
Before I go too much into my choice, I must say that I have the advantages and disadvantages of differentiated experience under my belt. I have seen the other side, where the grass was greener, and I unknowingly jumped the fence to where the foliage is either so tangled and dense that I can’t make sense of it, or the grass is wilted and dying (with no true custodian of its health). Are you lost? I’m talking about public K-12 education in North Carolina. I’m talking about my history as a successful teacher and leader in two states before moving here out of desperation.
In New Mexico, I led a team of underpaid teachers who were passionate about their jobs and who did amazing things. We were happy because our students were well-behaved, our community was supportive, and our jobs afforded us the luxuries of time, respect, and visionary leadership. Our district was huge, but we got things done because we were a team. I moved to Oregon because I was offered a fantastic job with a higher salary, a great math program, and superior benefits for my family. Again, I was given the autonomy I dreamed of, and I used it to find new and risky ways to introduce technology into the math curriculum. My peers looked forward to learning from me, the community gave me a lot of money to get my projects off the ground, and my students were amazing.

Why aren’t we doing the maths?

Tim Harford:

The practical implications of misplaced confidence when dealing with statistical evidence are obvious and worrying
A little two-part test for you. Imagine you’re a doctor, considering whether to recommend a particular kind of cancer screening, “A”. You discover that this form of screening improves five-year survival rates from 68 per cent to 99 per cent. (The five-year survival rate is the proportion of patients alive five years after the cancer was discovered.) The question is: does the screening test “A” save lives?
Part two: now you consider an alternative screening test, “B”. You discover that test “B” reduces cancer deaths from two per 1,000 people to 1.6 per 1,000 people. So: does screening test “B” save lives?

Massachusetts schools report thousands of head injuries in sports

Lisa Kocian:

Nearly 3,000 Massachusetts students suffered a concussion or other head injury while playing sports during the last school year, according to the results of a first-of-its-kind survey completed by 164 schools.
The reports from middle and high schools across Massachusetts, collected under a state law passed in 2010, highlight the extent of the problem at a time when medical experts and sports leagues, from Pop Warner to the NFL, are increasingly worried about the long-term effects of head injuries.
Boston College High School, an all-boys private school in Dorchester with grades 7 through 12, reported the highest number, with 76 head injuries sustained last school year during “extracurricular athletic activities,” according to reports released to the Globe by the state Department of Public Health under a public records request. Lexington High School followed with 69 reported head injuries or concussions.

“TEACHED” Documentaries Offer Glossy Propaganda

David Cohen:

I recently attended a screening of “TEACHED,” a trio of short films marketed as documentaries but in truth, rather superficial looks at three important topics in education. The screening was organized by some graduate student groups at Stanford, open to the public but mostly attended by grad students in education, law, and business. According to a brochure I picked up at the screening, TEACHED has as part of its mission to “Analyze the causes and the consequences of the ‘achievement gap’ between students of color and their peers,” but I’m sorry to say that these films offered very little analysis, certainly nothing that would advance a serious policy discussion or aid the work of graduate students.
The first short was called “The Path to Prison” and it tackled the links among illiteracy, dropping out of school, crime and incarceration. Highlighting statistics about the rate of incarceration in the United States, especially for youth who drop out of high school, and especially for young African-American males, the film used the story of one young man, Jerone, to illustrate the issues. Jerone was moved from grade to grade without learning enough to succeed, and looking back, identifies a number of problems in his schooling, including disaffected, alcoholic, and racist teachers. He relates that his needs “went unrecognized, my issues went unchecked.” Jerone was a gang member at age thirteen, and locked up by age seventeen. Finally, in prison, Jerone seems to have developed some skills and discipline, and at the time he’s talking to the filmmakers, he’s describing how hard it is to find a decent job now that he has a record. At the end of the film, text on the screen informs us that Jerone is now back in prison, serving a term of forty-to-life.

Comments on Wisconsin’s New School Report Cards

A Wisconsin Teacher:

Thrown under the school bus this week by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) were 76 Wisconsin schools, which “Failed to Meet Expectations” as calculated under the state’s new-fangled school accountability system.
DPI’s new school report card system is pay off to Arne Duncan’s Department of Education so most Wisconsin schools can avoid federal sanctions imposed by the poorly-designed No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation.

India Teacher education system to usher in sweeping reforms

Vishwas Kothari:

PUNE: The Central Advisory Board on Education (CABE) will meet on November 1 to take a final call on a slew of proposed reforms in the teacher education system. The sweeping reforms were recommended by a Supreme Court-appointed high-powered commission under former Chief Justice of India J S Verma.
Bringing teacher education under the higher education system, a policy framework for in-service teacher educators, enhancing duration of teacher education programmes, a teacher education assessment and accreditation centre and an organisational restructuring of the National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) are some of the key reforms. The NCTE is the regulatory body for teacher education in the country.

MIT has plan for Boston school assignments

James Vaznis:

A new proposal for Boston school assignments presented Saturday by a Massachusetts Institute of Technology doctoral student was essentially pushed to front-runner status by an advisory committee, as five other proposals began to fall off the table, just one month after they were unveiled.
The External Advisory Committee, appointed by the mayor, heard a presentation on the MIT proposal for the first time during a meeting Saturday morning at City Hall. Several members said it showed the greatest potential of providing equitable access to the city’s limited number of quality schools, as the panel seeks to create a student-assignment system that allows more students to attend schools closer to their homes.
A key challenge in overhauling the current system, which provides students a wide range of school choices, has been a troubling reality: Long after Boston’s period of busing students, the system continues to be unfair, with many students attending schools that are lackluster or failing, typically located in impoverished areas, while others go to better ones.

New State Report Cards Offer a Look at Statewide High Schools


Wisconsin high schools look pretty good…right? Only 17 of over 400 high schools “Fail to Meet Expectations”. Over 86% of all WI public high schools meet or exceed expectations. Life is good…yes?
And it looks like a good plan to evaluate districts/schools on more than just test scores….right?
One think to keep in mind that 40 high schools received overall scores of “Not Rated” due to either suspected errors, or insufficient data.

What Books Should Everyone Read?

Sadec Dousti:

This question has the same spirit of what papers should everyone read and what videos should everybody watch. It asks for remarkable books in different areas of theoretical computer science.
The books can be math-oriented, yet you may find it great for a computer scientist. Examples:
Graph Theory
Design & Analysis of Algorithm
Theory of Computation / Computational Complexity Theory

A lot is new under the hood in high school auto shop classes

Tony Perry & Howard Blume

The days when auto shop was a major part of the high school curriculum have long since been consigned to revivals and reruns of the musical “Grease.”
But auto shop’s long skid in the face of budget cuts and a shift toward college-prep classes may be reversing.
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the San Diego Unified School District, where officials have built automotive program facilities at three high schools and hope to upgrade shops at two other schools if voters approve a bond issue next month.
John Abad, who is 17 and studying auto body repair at a $3.7-million facility opened last month at Morse High, knows why this is being done.

Grad school, a leg up — in debt

Michelle Singletary:

It’s fitting that the College Board released its trends in college pricing just before Halloween. It’s frightening what many families are paying to help their children realize the American dream of a middle-income-or-better lifestyle.
The average annual sticker price for tuition and fees at public four-year colleges and universities increased 4.8 percent, to $8,655 over the past year. Prices increased 4.2 percent, to $29,056, at private nonprofit four-year schools. That’s not including room and board.

Highly Educated Have Biggest Debt Problems

Dan Kadlec:

It’s widely accepted that unscrupulous bankers tricked unknowing consumers into loans they could not afford, leading to the financial crisis. No doubt, plenty of that occurred–underscored Wednesday with a $1 billion federal suit against Bank of America’s mortgage arm Countrywide Financial.
But it turns out the “victoms” were not, by and large, unsophisticated rubes. A new study finds that highly educated Americans were most likely to take on unmanageable debt in the pre-crisis years. What’s more, gross personal financial mismanagement occurred across the population and not just in the mortgage market and not just among the unsophisticated.
The study draws a line at the point where monthly payment on household debt equals 40% of income. That’s where default or bankruptcy becomes most likely should the household experience a decline in income, say researchers led by Sherman Hanna, professor of consumer sciences at Ohio State University.

Analysis finds limitations of new Wisconsin public school report cards

Matthew DeFour

The Department of Public Instruction expects many districts to initially address the three categories that can result in severe point reductions — test participation, absenteeism and dropout rates.
About 9 percent of schools that received ratings, including Madison West and East High School, lost points in those areas.
West would have had the highest score among the city’s high schools if one additional student with a disability had taken the state reading test last year.
Instead, the school received a five-point deduction and a score of 68.8, good enough to “meet expectations” but below average compared with other schools around the state.
Prospect Street Elementary in the Lake Mills School District, another school with high test scores, received a below-average score because it received a low “closing achievement gaps” score.

The Wisconsin DPI’s school report cards can be found here.

Ole Miss sets early ed focus

Marquita Brown

The University of Mississippi’s School of Education is developing a curriculum that could impact early education across the state.
Starting next fall, undergraduates who complete the required classes can earn an emphasis in early education along with their bachelor’s degree in education. The school also will offer a graduate degree in early childhood education. That endorsement or degree would qualify them to work with elementary school-aged children, as well as children ages 3, 4 and 5, said David Rock, dean of the Ole Miss School of Education.
That effort is being funded with a $1.1 million grant from the Jackson-based Robert M. Hearin Support Foundation. In all, the foundation has awarded the university five different grants totalling $5.7 million to support different programs that aim to improve education in Mississippi.

From Master Plan to No Plan: The Slow Death of Public Higher Education

Aaron Bady and Mike Konczal:

The California student movement has a slogan that goes, “Behind every fee hike, a line of riot cops.” And no one embodies that connection more than the Ronald Reagan of the 1960s. Elected governor of California in 1966 after running a scorched-earth campaign against the University of California, Reagan vowed to “clean up that mess in Berkeley,” warned audiences of “sexual orgies so vile that I cannot describe them to you,” complained that outside agitators were bringing left-wing subversion into the university, and railed against spoiled children of privilege skipping their classes to go to protests. He also ran on an anti-tax platform and promised to put the state’s finances in order by “throw[ing] the bums off welfare.” But it was the University of California at Berkeley that provided the most useful political foil, crystallizing all of his ideological themes into a single figure for disorder, a subversive menace of sexual, social, generational, and even communist deviance.
When Reagan assumed office, he immediately set about doing exactly what he had promised. He cut state funding for higher education, laid the foundations for a shift to a tuition-based funding model, and called in the National Guard to crush student protest, which it did with unprecedented severity. But he was only able to do this because he had already successfully shifted the political debate over the meaning and purpose of public higher education in America. The first “bums” he threw off welfare were California university students. Instead of seeing the education of the state’s youth as a patriotic duty and a vital weapon in the Cold War, he cast universities as a problem in and of themselves–both an expensive welfare program and dangerously close to socialism. He even argued for the importance of tuition-based funding by suggesting that if students had to pay, they’d value their education too much to protest.

Is There an Echo in Here? The Making of a Relic

In the March 14, 2001, issue of Education Week, Victor Henningsen, director of the history department at Phillips Academy in Andover, had this to say about term papers: “There’s no substitute for the thrill that comes from choosing a topic of your own and wrestling with a mass of evidence to answer a question that you have posed, to craft your own narrative and your own analysis. We’ve been teaching kids to write research papers here for a long time. Kids don’t remember the advanced placement exam, but they do remember the papers they have written, and so do I.”
Teacher Magazine
March 1, 2002
It seems likely that the history research paper at the high school level is now an endangered species. Focus on creative writing, fear of plagiarism, fascination with PowerPoint presentations, and lack of planning time have been joined by a notable absence of concern about term papers in virtually all of the work on state standards. As a result, far too many American high school students never get the chance to do the reading and writing that a serious history paper requires. They then enter college with no experience in writing papers, to the continual frustration of their professors, and of the employers who later hire them. The Ford Motor Co., for example, had to institute writing classes to ensure that their people are able to produce readable reports, memos, and the like.
A few years ago, a survey of English and social studies standards by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation showed that term papers are, indeed, ignored. The Pew Charitable Trust’s Standards for Success program, with its focus on high school and college articulation of standards and expectations, likewise includes no term papers. Neither has the American Diploma Project in Washington, D.C., working to define the expectations of high schools, colleges, and employers, yet found a place in its deliberations for history research papers. One problem for these groups and others, of course, is that serious term papers cannot be assessed in a one-hour objective test. But their impact on students and the consequences of never having done one can be incalculable.
In the early 1980s, while I was teaching American history to high school sophomores in Concord, Massachusetts, each of my students had to write a biographical paper on a U.S. president. One student chose John F. Kennedy, and I lent him a copy of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s A Thousand Days. The boy took a look at the rather large book, and told me, “I can’t read this.” I said, “Yes, you can,” and eventually, he was able to finish it. Five or six years later, out of the blue, I got a letter from the student. He was now a Junior at Yale, and he wanted to thank me for making him read Schlesinger’s book. It was the first serious work of nonfiction he had ever read, and being able to get through it had done something for his self-confidence. Of course, he was the one who had forced himself to read the book, but the anecdote points up one of the great advantages of working on a history term paper. The experience often will mark the first time a high school student discovers that he or she is capable of reading a book on an important topic.
When I was an alumni interviewer for Harvard College, I asked one high school boy what he thought he might major in. History, he replied. I had said nothing about my own interest in the subject, and all he knew about me was that I was an alum. But after he gave me his answer, I naturally asked what his favorite history book was. Before long, it became clear that, while this student had achieved good grades and advanced placement scores, he had studied only textbooks. No one had ever handed him a good history book and encouraged him to read it, apparently. More than likely, he had never had to write a serious history paper either. If he had, he might have been forced to read a book or two in the field.
In the March 14, 2001, issue of Education Week, Victor Henningsen, director of the history department at Phillips Academy in Andover, had this to say about term papers; “There’s no substitute for the thrill that comes from choosing a topic of your own and wrestling with a mass of evidence to answer a question that you have posed, to craft your own narrative and your own analysis. We’ve been teaching kids to write research papers here for a long time. Kids don’t remember the advanced placement exam, but they do remember the papers they have written, and so do I.”
Since 1987, I have been the editor of The Concord Review, a quarterly journal of history research papers written by high school students. We’ve published 528 [1,044] papers (averaging 5,000 words, including endnotes and bibliography) by students from 42 [46] states and 33 [38] foreign countries. Out of some 22,000 public and private high schools in the United States, we receive about 600 essays a year, from which we publish 11 in each issue. If you do the calculation, that means that more than 21,000 high schools do not even submit one history essay for consideration in a given year. While this may not prove that exceptional history essays are not being written at those schools, it is not an encouraging sign.
As for what teachers expect in their high school history classes in lieu of research papers, I have only anecdotal evidence. I met with the head of the history department at a public high school in New Jersey once, a man very active in the National Council for History Education, and asked him why he never sent papers from his best students to The Concord Review. He said he didn’t have his students do research papers anymore; they make PowerPoint presentations and write historical fiction instead. When I asked the now-retired head of history at Scarsdale High School in New York, why, even though he subscribed to The Concord Review, he never submitted student papers for consideration, he too said he no longer assigned papers. After the AP exam, he would hold what he called the Trial of James Buchanan for his role in helping to precipitate the Civil War. His students would then write responses on that subject instead.
After I published her paper on the Women’s Temperance Union, the class valedictorian at a public high school on Staten Island wrote me to say she felt weak in expository writing and offered some reasons. Here are her words: “I attend a school where students are given few opportunities to develop their talents in this field. It is assumed students will learn how to write in college.” I feel confident in saying that, on the college side, there is the expectation that students will learn at least the rudiments of putting together a research paper while they are still in high school. College humanities professors, slow to learn perhaps, are routinely surprised when they find that this is not the case. And rightly so. What is at work here?
For one thing, creative writing often rules at the high school level (and earlier in many cases). Even the director of Harvard’s Expository Writing program for undergraduates has said she thinks that teenagers don’t get enough chances to write about their feelings, anxieties, hopes, and dreams, and that they shouldn’t be pushed to work on research papers until college. The National Writing Project in Berkeley, California, a program that reaches hundreds of teachers each year, takes a postmodern approach to what it calls “Literatures,” and never comes within a mile of considering that students could use some work on research skills and expository writing.
I have actually seen what teenagers can do, and it is more like the following, an excerpt from an essay published a few years back in The Concord Review. (more examples at www.tcr.org) This passage concludes an essay by a high school Junior who went on to major in civil engineering at Princeton, get a Ph.D. in earthquake engineering at Stanford, and she is now an assistant professor of engineering at Cornell.
As is usually the case with extended, deeply-held disagreements, no one person or group was the cause of the split in the woman suffrage movement. On both sides, a stubborn eagerness to enfranchise women hindered the effort to do so. Abolitionists and Republicans refused to unite equally with woman suffragists. Stanton and Anthony, blinded for a while by their desperation to succeed, turned to racism, putting blacks and women against each other at a time when each needed the other’s support most. The one thing that remains clear is that, while in some ways it helped women discover their own power, the division of forces weakened the overall strength of the movement. As a result of the disagreements within the woman suffrage movement, the 1860s turned out to be a missed opportunity for woman suffragists, just as Stanton had predicted. After the passage of the 15th Amendment, they were forced to wait another 50 years for the fulfillment of their dream.
High school kids are fully capable of writing long, serious history papers. And they will get a lot out of doing so, not only in terms of reading nonfiction, but also in learning to write nonfiction themselves. These days, too many of our students are not given that chance to grow. Colleges may continue doing what they can to help teenagers master the rudiments of expository writing, but much of what these high school students have lost can never be recouped in remedial coursework.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics™
blog: www.tcr.org/blog

On Wisconsin’s New School Report Cards

Alan Borsuk

For the first time, there is a substantial effort to show how much progress students in a school are making from year to year. The reports also go much deeper than before into how schools are doing on closing gaps between student groups. And they measure performance by the tougher standards coming into use pretty much from coast to coast – which means that the percentage of students rated as proficient is down sharply everywhere.
There’s information that should give every school community reasons to feel challenged and, in many cases, chastened. The day after the release, the principal of one of the best schools in Milwaukee told me he took the report on his school as a wake-up call that they weren’t doing as well as they thought. That’s good.
But this is just the start of a process of building better report cards. A big limitation is the current WKCE testing system. Only so much can be done with a test that is not really state-of-the-art and that is given once a year. (I say this as this year’s round gets under way.)

Student loans threaten a generation with ‘debtors’ prison,’ some say

Paul Barton:

Kourtnee Brooks, a 21-year-old Middle Tennessee State University student, welcomes the help that federal student loans provide, but also fears them.
“Without the loans, I wouldn’t be able to attend school,” said the nursing student.
But then she added, “I know I am borrowing too much.”
Brooks, a junior from Jackson, has been borrowing about $5,000 a year, which she combines with federal grants, some scholarship funds and money she earns working as a waitress three times a week, to make ends meet.

Why IQs Rise

Meehan Crist and Tim Requarth

Are We Getting Smarter?: Rising IQ in the Twenty-First Century
by James R. Flynn
Cambridge University Press, 310 pp., $22
IN THE MID-’80s, the political philosopher James Flynn noticed a remarkable but puzzling trend: for the past century, average IQ scores in every industrialized nation have been steadily rising. And not just a little: nearly three points every decade. Every several years, IQ tests test have to be “re-normed” so that the average remains 100. This means that a person who scored 100 a century ago would score 70 today; a person who tested as average a century ago would today be declared mentally retarded.
This bizarre finding–christened the “Flynn effect” by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray in The Bell Curve–has since snowballed so much supporting evidence that in 2007 Malcolm Gladwell declared in The New Yorker that “the Flynn effect has moved from theory to fact.” But researchers still cannot agree on why scores are going up. Are we are simply getting better at taking tests? Are the tests themselves a poor measure of intelligence? Or do rising IQ scores really mean we are getting smarter?

For Asians, School Tests Are Vital Steppingstones

Kyle Spencer:

Ting Shi said his first two years in the United States were wretched. He slept in a bunk bed in the same room with his grandparents and a cousin in Chinatown, while his parents lived on East 89th Street, near a laundromat where they endured 12-hour shifts. He saw them only on Sundays.
Even after they found an apartment together, his father often talked about taking the family back to China. So, following the advice of friends and relatives from Fuzhou, where he is from, Ting spent more than two years poring over dog-eared test prep books, attending summer and after-school classes, even going over math formulas on the walk home from school.

If Smart Is the Norm, Stupidity Gets More Interesting

David Dobbs:

Few of us are as smart as we’d like to be. You’re sharper than Jim (maybe) but dull next to Jane. Human intelligence varies. And this matters, because smarter people generally earn more money, enjoy better health, raise smarter children, feel happier and, just to rub it in, live longer as well.
But where does intelligence come from? How is it built? Researchers have tried hard to find the answer in our genes. With the rise of inexpensive genome sequencing, they’ve analyzed the genomes of thousands of people, looking for gene variants that clearly affect intelligence, and have found a grand total of two.
One determines the risk of Alzheimer’s and affects I.Q. only late in life; the other seems to build a bigger brain, but on average it raises I.Q. by all of 1.29 points.
Other genetic factors may be at work: A report last year concluded that several hundred gene variants taken together seemed to account for 40 to 50 percent of the differences in intelligence among the 3,500 subjects in the study. But the authors couldn’t tell which of these genes created any significant effect. And when they tried to use the genes to predict differences in intelligence, they could account for only 1 percent of the differences in I.Q.

Reflecting on Teaching & Learning: Designing & Running A MOOC

Professor Baker:

I participated in CCK 11 and the facilitators were Stephen Downes and George Siemens. The course was unlike any learning experience I had ever had before. Here’s why:
1. Changed relationship between teacher & learner
Teacher, as the term is usually understood, is someone who teaches. In CCK 11, that definition gave way to a multiplicity of understandings, articulated by Stephen Downes here:
Stephen Downes: (Long Quote) “We don’t need no educator: The role of the teacher in today’s online education

How the Colleges Skew U.S. History

KC Johnson:

American history has been radically transformed on our campuses. Traditional topics are now not only marginalized but “re-visioned” to become more compatible with the dominant race/class/gender paradigm.
In two posts last fall, I took a look at U.S. history offerings at Bowdoin College. The liberal arts college, one of the nation’s finest, long enjoyed a reputation as a training ground of Maine politicians, at both the state and federal level. The staffing of its History Department suggests that the college has abandoned that mission, with the intent to exclude significant portions of the American past. (Two of the department’s five Americanists specialize in U.S. environmental history; the department’s only non-environmental 20th century U.S. historian has a Ph.D. in the history of science.)
The department’s own U.S. offerings featured a heavy course emphasis on Western U.S. history, including a history of California, seemingly odd choices for a school in Maine but a subfield that heavily stresses such trendy themes as environmental degradation, exploitation of Native Americans, and discrimination against Hispanics and Asians. In the previous semester, the department’s token “traditional” course topic, a class on the Cold War, was taught by the school’s historian of science and featured heavy use of film.
What about the situation at a larger–and more nationally renowned–History Department? To find out, I turned to the fall 2012 offerings at UCLA.

Bursting the administrative bubble

Mary McConnell:

Several blog readers have responded grumpily to my posts suggesting that states might be better off investing incremental education dollars in raising teacher salaries rather than hiring more teachers. Fair enough. But one point many of us have agreed on is that too much of the education budget has gone to hiring more and more administrators. I’ve linked to at least one study that supports this point. Now I’ve got much better ammunition!
According to today’s edition of the Education Gadfly Weekly (published by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute), a new study has found that:

Between 1950 and 2009, the number of K-12 public school students increased by 96 percent. During that same period, the number of full-time equivalent (FTE) school employees grew by 386 percent. Of those personnel, the number of teachers increased by 252 percent, while the ranks of administrators and other staff grew by 702 percent–more than 7 times the increase in students.

To put that in perspective, the same article notes that:

if student growth had matched that of non-teaching personnel from 1992 to 2009 and if the teaching force had only grown 1.5 times faster than the pupil enrollment, American public schools would have an additional $37.2 billion to spend per year–the equivalent of an $11,700 a year increase in salary for every American public school teacher.

Neighborhood effects on student achievemenment

Constance Clark:

Location, location, location–it matters in real estate, and the harsh reality is, it matters in student achievement, too. While wealthy Americans can pay for private school or move to a top-ranked district in suburbia, countless other parents are left with their neighborhood public school default. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, of course. But what if the choice is not good enough?
Montgomery County, Maryland, one of the nation’s top 20 wealthiest school districts, has one answer. Federally subsidized homes have been purchased by the government and used to offer safe rental housing for eligible low-income families. This arrangement sometimes referred to as “inclusionary zoning” or “policy-induced integration,” means that families whose incomes fall below the poverty line can relocate to homes in more affluent areas with better schools. A 2010 Century Foundation report by Heather Schwartz finds that students in public housing who were randomly assigned to low-poverty elementary schools outperformed their peers who were assigned to moderate-poverty schools in math and reading.

‘Value Added’ Measures at Secondary Level Questioned

Stephanie Sawchuck:

Academic tracking in secondary education appears to confound an increasingly common method for gauging differences in teacher quality, according to two recently released studies.
Failing to account for how students are sorted into more- or less-rigorous classes–as well as the effect different tracks have on student learning–can lead to biased “value added” estimates of middle and high school teachers’ ability to boost their students’ standardized-test scores, the papers conclude.
“I think it suggests that we’re making even more errors than we need to–and probably pretty large errors–when we’re applying value-added to the middle school level,” said Douglas N. Harris, an associate professor of economics at Tulane University in New Orleans, whose study examines the application of a value-added approach to middle school math scores.

Gifted 5-year-old’s family moves from Oahu to East Coast for new school

Keoki Kerr:

The parents of a Kalama Valley kindergartner said they reluctantly sold their house, are looking for new jobs and moving to the East Coast to enroll their gifted son in a special school. And they fault the state for not offering enough support for extraordinarily talented students in Hawaii public schools.
Parents who believe they have a gifted child should seek help from school officials, conduct plenty of online research and get deeply involved in their child’s education inside and outside of the classroom, according to a local expert and the parents of a gifted Oahu boy whose family moved to the East Coast to go to a special school for gifted students.
“Work with the principal to see what can be done at the school that your student attends,” said Anna Viggiano, the educational specialist in charge of gifted and talented programs for the state of Hawaii Department of Education.
Most public schools have a period during which you can nominate your child to be designated gifted, she said. Parents can nominate their children for screening and testing by school officials who will evaluate the students to see if they are eligible for special classes.
“As a parent, you can’t depend totally on the school,” Viggiano said. The DOE does not have the money for any statewide initiatives for gifted students, she said. The state gives each public school $914 per gifted student, money that every principal decides how to use.
Viggiano said parents should ask, “What can I do on my parent time to make my child love learning and feel happy?”


The changing face of US education: introducing a three-part series

Jeevan Vasagar:

Education is crucial to the future of the US, both as a gateway to the middle class and to secure a competitive edge in the global talent pool. Both Democrats and Republicans are concerned that rising tuition is putting college out of reach for too many people – potentially blighting the country’s future prosperity as higher education expands rapidly around the world. Both parties are concerned by international comparisons that show the academic performance of US high school students is relatively mediocre. But when it comes to solving these problems, there are marked differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney.
In schools, the president has pushed for increased accountability for teachers, by tying teacher evaluations to students’ results in standardized tests. He has promoted charter schools, which are state-funded but independently run, giving parents an alternative to traditional public schools.
Romney supports both these goals, but is also keen to provide federal cash for school vouchers that would educate children in private or religious schools at public expense.

Expanding Student and Teacher Global education can have a profound impact on students and teachers alike

Dr. Alfred S. Posamentier (PDF), via a kind Richard Askey email:

We have come a long way since the 1960s, when a plane ride to Europe from the United States required a fueling stop in Gander, Newfoundland. Today we can reach airports in far-off Asia in a single flight. Combine this ease of travel with the technology-facilitated communication afforded us through e-mail and the Internet, and clearly the world has shrunk in the past few decades. Correspondingly, at all levels of education it is our responsibility to help our students appreciate their place as citizens of the world by giving them the most enriched view of the global environ- ment in which we study, work and live.

The Ivory Tower’s resistance to meaningful change is its greatest danger

Jay Schalin:

The growing chorus of higher education critics calling for change is eliciting some public resistance by the academic establishment. But if the reasoning in a recent rebuttal to such criticism by John Tierney, a former Georgetown University and Boston College political science professor, is representative of how the Ivory Tower thinks, the need for reform is even more urgent than previously imagined. Educators need to be clear-thinking to train the young, not muddled and illogical.
In an article in the Atlantic, “Let’s Calm Down About Higher Education,” Tierney took issue with critics who question higher education’s utility, citing articles entitled “How Liberal Arts Colleges Are Failing America” and “Is College a Lousy Investment?” He wrote that higher education is doing just fine financially and intellectually.
He offers two explanations why higher education criticism is proliferating. One is that calls for reform are merely incessant clatter; Tierney considers such critiques to be little more than background noise as it has been for centuries. The other is that critics of academia are often driven by political agendas. He even suggests that there is something nefarious and inappropriate about reformers’ objections: they are “meant to scare, not to inform; to back agendas, not to enlighten or improve.”

Timeline for implementing New Jersey’s teacher tenure reform law

Laura Waters:

Late October in Atlantic City? It must be time for N.J. School Boards Association’s Annual Workshop and Exhibition. Picture it: school board members and administrators in grey blazers and sensible shoes roaming Atlantic City’s cavernous Convention Center, attending sessions like “Energy Improvement Program (ESIP): How to Implement Energy Facilities Projects Without Spending More Money” and “Voluntary Model Curricula and Assessments Aligned with the Common Core Standards,” indulging in that perennially favorite activity of snatching up free candy and pens from vendors in the Exhibition Hall. Can anyone say “PAR-TAY!”
(Actually, yes. Your staid school board members might surprise you.)
So, what’s the vibe here? I hear none of last year’s inflamed political rhetoric about tenure and teacher evaluation reform and nary a debate about the wisdom or idiocy of N.J.’s pending shift from binary (satisfactory/unsatisfactory) and superficial teacher and principal annual reviews to granular evaluations infused with meaningful direction and longitudinal data. I see no rending of garments over the unreliability of measuring student growth through standardized tests or the subjectivity of classroom observations.

Madison East High Community open discussion

Sue Schaar, MMSD TAG Coordinator, via a kind reader’s email

There will be a workshop for parents on “Supporting the Socio-Emotional Needs of Advanced Learners” at LaFollette on Saturday, November 10, from 8:30-noon. I’ve tried to send the program out twice but the server rejects it as too large. Go to MMSD to see details and to register: https://tagweb.madison.k12.wi.us/node/111

MOOC Brigade: What I Learned From Learning Online

Harry McCracken:

TIME’s cover package this week is on reinventing college in general and specifically on whether a new breed of online megacourses can finally offer higher education to more people for less money. That story dives deep into Udacity, which was co-f0unded by a former Stanford professor. I’ve been looking into rival Coursera, which has partnered with dozens of prestigious schools, including Princeton, Duke and the University of Virginia. After six weeks of participating in Coursera’s massive open online course (MOOC) on gamification, conducted by Kevin Werbach of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, I’ve successfully completed my studies and earned a certificate. Or at least I’m pretty sure I have.
Actually, Coursera hasn’t told me what my final grade is–it’ll show up within a few weeks, the site says–but I followed the calculations provided by a fellow student in the class forums, and I think I got an 83. That’s more than good enough to receive the certificate, but not enough to brag about.

Adults Only

I may be one of a tiny minority who think that schools are for student academic work.
Of course, sports, concerts, social programs, dances, and all sorts of other youth activities are important, but students don’t need schools to do them in.
My view is that without student academic work, all the buildings, bond issues, budgets, school boards, teacher unions, superintendent and teacher training programs, Broad/Gates/WalMart grants, local-state-federal education departments, NCLB, RTT, CC, CCSSO, Schools of Education, standards projects, legislation, regulations, and all the rest of the Adults Only paraphernalia surrounding education in this country these days are just a waste of money and time.
The Education Punditocracy, including blogs, magazines, newspapers, foundations, Finn/Hess/Petrilli, etc., and even my friend and inspiration, Diane Ravitch, among hundreds and hundreds of others, are completely preoccupied with and absorbed in their consideration of what Adults are doing in education. The actual academic work of students takes place at much too low a level to attract their notice. They seem to be making the assumption that if they can just fix all the Adults Only stuff, then somehow student academic work will take care of itself. But they don’t pay any attention in the meantime to whether students are actually doing any academic work or not. And they have not learned that the students, and the students alone, have the power to determine whether they will do any academic work, and also what its quality will be.
To reiterate: without student academic work, all the rest of the bustle, noise, commentary, and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent will amount to nothing, so it should be important to pay attention to student academic work, should it not?
I came to understand this because for the last 25 years in particular, and for about 10 years before that, I have been fully engaged in efforts that completely depend upon good student academic work, and I have been fascinated to discover how few Education people seem to be involved with that, and that just about every one of them, though laboring away quite seriously and conscientiously, seems to spend all their time on the Adults Only matters, and to have almost no interest, other than to give it lip service and quickly move on, in the serious academic work of students.
If that should somehow change, and if student academic work were to become the central focus of what we pay attention to in education, there is a chance we might see more of it, and that its quality might improve too. But if we continue to ignore it and focus on Adults Only, that most assuredly is not going to happen. As the Hindus say: “Whatever you give your Attention to grows in your life,” and we have been giving, IMHO, far too much attention (almost all of it) to the Adults Only aspects of education and far too little to student academic work.
To test what I am saying, if a kind Reader would go back over articles, books, blogs, and speeches on education in recent years, please do let me know if you find any that talk about student science projects, the complete nonfiction books they are reading, or the serious history research papers they are writing. I believe if you look closely, almost all that you find will show people caught up in what Adults Only are doing, should do, will do, must do, or might do, and there will be little to no attention to the actual academic work of students in our schools. But please prove me mistaken, with evidence, if you would be so kind.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics™
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