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Chinese Parents Test DNA to Check If Kids Will Become Prodigies

Daniela Wei , K Oanh Ha , and Kristen V Brown:

Months after his daughter’s birth in 2017, Chris Jung dropped off a test-tube of her saliva to his company’s genetic testing lab in Hong Kong. He had grand ambitions for the baby, and was seeking clues to the future in her DNA. She might become a prominent professional, he thought, possibly even a doctor.

But Jung’s plans shifted after analysis by his firm, Gene Discovery, suggested his daughter had strong abilities in music, math and sports—though a lesser aptitude for memorizing details. As the little girl grows up, Jung said he will pour resources into developing those talents, while steering her away from professions that require a lot of memorization.

“Originally, I would like her to become a professional like a doctor or lawyer,” said Jung, chief operating officer of Good Union Corp., the parent company of Gene Discovery. “But once I looked into the results, it talked about how her memory is so bad. I switched my expectations because if I would like her to become a professional, she needs to study a lot and remember a lot.

METRO Critics cry ‘grade inflation’ at NYC schools as students pass without meeting standards

Susan Edelman:

At the Science School for Exploration and Discovery, MS 224 in the Bronx, an impressive 94 percent of students in grades 6-8 passed their math classes in the 2017-18 school year.

But how much math they actually mastered is questionable.

Only 2 percent of those same Mott Haven students — nearly all Hispanic and black from poor or low-income families — passed the state math exams, which measure skills that kids should have at each grade level, according to city data reviewed by The Post.

At Harbor Heights middle school in Washington Heights, an awesome 100 percent of kids — all Hispanic — passed their state English Language Arts classes.

But only 7 percent of those kids passed the ELA exams, the data show.

Some education advocates politely call it “grade inflation.”

Related: “The data clearly indicate that being able to read is not a requirement for graduation at (Madison) East, especially if you are black or Hispanic”.

One City Schools Admitted to EL Education’s National Network of Schools

Kaleem Caire, via a kind email:

One City Schools, Inc., a local nonprofit operating an independent preschool and public charter school, announced today that it has been accepted into a coveted network of more than 150 schools nationwide in the EL Education (EL) program.

EL Education (formerly Expeditionary Learning) is an educational model that balances both personalized and social learning to help students succeed in learning and in life. For over 25 years, EL has been bringing to life a three-dimensional vision of student achievement that includes mastery of knowledge and skills, character, and high-quality student work. EL promotes active classrooms that are alive with discovery, problem-solving, challenge, and collaboration. Through the partnership, One City will receive, and complete, intensive on-the-job training, co-teaching and mentoring required for teachers and school leaders.

The EL program is research-based, and has shown academic gains for children. After three years in an EL program, students outpace their peers in reading and in math; and further in standardized test-scores.

One City Founder and CEO Kaleem Caire hailed the achievement “Our leadership, our teachers, and our families are fully vested in this school and what it will do for children. With EL, our teachers will be given the very highest opportunities to impact learning for children.”

EL Education focuses its work on schools in diverse communities across the country. For eligibility, at least 40% of the students in a school must be from low-income families. It also requires intense commitment from teachers who facilitate learning as well as be required to document and measure results required by EL.

“Our teachers came to One City because they are dedicated to the cause. EL will make sure we are fitted with the best tools to achieve success” said Bryan Grau, One City’s principal of the Senior Preschool. EL schools are provided resources and support from other schools across the nation through open-source sharing. EL is also working closely with One City on its plans to expand into elementary school starting in the fall 2019.

“This is another huge achievement for One City. We are dedicated to providing the best for our kids, and to demonstrating our results to stakeholders. We will continue to move forward to help our parents and community create pathways to an awesome future for our kids.” Caire said.

Sad and Lonely is a Bad Look-Even More Than Usual When You Lead in Gains

Matthew Ladner:

When the 2015 NAEP results came out, Matt Ladner, senior research fellow at the Charles Koch Institute, made a startling discovery. Arizona students led the country in gains between 2009 and 2015.

According to the NAEP administrators, who work for the federal government, Arizona results for students as a whole in 8th grade reading and math were now “not significantly different” from the national average. Arizona white students now score above the national average for white students. As do Arizona Latinos compared to Latino students elsewhere.

This should be very big news. It should have catalyzed an intense discussion and inquiry about what was happening in Arizona classrooms that yielded such astonishing results, particularly during a period when the schools were on starvation rations when it came to resources.

Instead, these remarkable results have created barely a ripple in the discussion of K-12 education in Arizona.
Robb gives yours truly too much credit as their were others who noticed the Arizona gains earlier than me. I simply dug into the details and subgroups trends. In any case, Robb does an admirable job of describing the climate in Arizona. The dedication in some quarters to what seems to be an entirely self-defeating and irrational strategy is truly astounding.

The strategy strikes many of us as follows: how many entrepreneurs attempting to raise investment capital would make the argument that even vaguely sounds like “our product is HORRIBLE and you should be ASHAMED unless you give us more money. Buy our stock or you are a bad person!” How do we imagine such a strategy would work out?

The Hungarian Approach and How It Fits the American Educational Landscape

Ryota Matsuura:

Home to eminent mathematicians such as Paul Erdős, John von Neumann, and George Pólya, Hungary has a long tradition of excellence in mathematics education. In the Hungarian approach to learning and teaching, a strong and explicit emphasis is placed on problem solving, mathematical creativity, and communication. Students learn concepts by working on problems with complexity and structure that promote perseverance and deep reflection. These mathematically meaningful problems emphasize procedural fluency, conceptual understanding, logical thinking, and connections between various topics.

For each lesson, a teacher selects problems that embody the mathematical goals of the lesson and provide students with opportunities to struggle productively towards understanding. The teacher carefully sequences the problems to provide focus and coherence to the lesson. These problems do more than provide students with opportunities to learn the mathematical topics of a given lesson. Indeed, the teacher sees the problems she poses as vehicles for fostering students’ reasoning skills, problem solving, and proof writing, just to name a few. An overarching goal of every lesson is for students to learn what it means to engage in mathematics and to feel the excitement of mathematical discovery. Click here for a sample task from a 5th grade classroom at Fazekas Mihály School in Budapest.

The 1 Percent Rule: Why a Few People Get Most of the Rewards

James Clear:

Sometime in the late 1800s—nobody is quite sure exactly when—a man named Vilfredo Pareto was fussing about in his garden when he made a small but interesting discovery.

Pareto noticed that a tiny number of pea pods in his garden produced the majority of the peas.

Now, Pareto was a very mathematical fellow. He worked as an economist and one of his lasting legacies was turning economics into a science rooted in hard numbers and facts. Unlike many economists of the time, Pareto’s papers and books were filled with equations. And the peas in his garden had set his mathematical brain in motion.

What if this unequal distribution was present in other areas of life as well?

The Write Stuff: How the Humble Pencil Conquered the World

Jonathan Schifman:

Pencils aren’t just for the SATs. It is the go-to drawing tool of the carpenter and the architect, the cartoonist and the painter. We used pencils when we learned math in elementary school, and a graphite-filled piece of wood remains the implement of choice for anyone who needs to make a mark that is not permanent.

The pencil’s journey into your hand has been a 500-year process of discovery and invention. It began in the countryside of northern England, but a one-eyed balloonist from Napoleon Bonaparte’s army, one of America’s most famous philosophers, and some of the world’s most successful scientists and industrialists all have had a hand in the creation and refinement of this humble writing implement.

Why the poor pay more for toilet paper — and just about everything else

Emily Badger:

Using panel data on more than 100,000 American households over seven years, they tracked purchases of toilet paper, which has the great benefit of being non-perishable and steadily consumed (it’s hard to go without, but we also don’t use more just because we happen to have more in the house). That’s nearly 3 million toilet paper purchases.

When Orhun and Palazzolo compared households with similar consumption rates shopping at comparable stores — and controlling for two-ply TP — they found that the poor were less likely than wealthier households to buy bigger packages, or to time their purchases to take advantage of sales. By failing to do so, they paid about 5.9 percent more per sheet of toilet paper — a little less than what they saved by buying cheaper brands in the first place (8.8 percent).

Perhaps this sounds like a subtle discovery about minor household goods. But it supports a larger point about poverty: It’s expensive to be poor. Or, to state the same from another angle: Having more money gives people the luxury of paying less for things.

In the case of toilet paper, or any number of other storable goods like canned tomatoes, rice or paper towels, shoppers have to pay more up front to reap savings over time. And the poor often can’t afford to do that — to pay $24 for a 30-pack instead of $5 for a four-pack. Then, because they can’t stock up, they can’t afford to wait until the next sale comes around. When the toilet paper runs out, they have to run to the store for another small quantity of it — whatever it costs in that moment. Because they can’t use one money-saving strategy, they can’t use the other, either.

The use of connected math has not helped. More, here.

No One Can Figure Out 1917 Multiplication Wheel


Math teacher Sherry Read’s classroom is a total mess. The students are gone for the summer, and light fixtures dangle from the ceiling. The floor has a layer of dust. Down the hallway, workers make a racket while they renovate the school, which dates back to the 1890s. They’re working in what has become an archaeological site.

A construction crew at the Oklahoma City school made a startling discovery earlier this month. They found old chalkboards with class lessons that were written almost a century ago, and chalk drawings still in remarkably good condition. So Read doesn’t mind the mess. In fact, she’s amazed.

Related: Math Forum and Connected Math.

A Message To Our Teachers

Eva Moskowitz:

Teaching is everything. You build relationships, you inspire, you draw out human potential. There is no more important job or work than teaching and learning!
While this week is Teacher Appreciation Week, in my mind, every day is teacher appreciation day.
As the leader of this organization, I appreciate you; as a parent and as a Success Academy parent, as an educator, I appreciate all that you do!

I appreciate your hard work. I appreciate your high expectations. I appreciate the demands you make of our scholars. I appreciate the joy you infuse into your classrooms and how nurturing you are. I appreciate your willingness to collaborate and be school teachers rather than classroom teachers. I appreciate how invested you are in the whole child, in discovery-oriented science, conceptual math, and great critical and creative thinking!

Who’s to Say Teachers Can’t Modify Common Core? No One

Barry Garelick:

I currently am on a second career after retirement—I teach math in middle school. During my last few years of work, I started taking courses in ed school at night. The first course I took was taught by a professor who had what seemed to me to be a unique gift. He managed to agree with whatever anyone said about teaching. I learned very quickly that this was pretty much the norm, and that ed school was the place where there are no wrong answers—just the “greater truth,” which will eventually prevail. It is the place where future teachers see the light and embrace the principles of student-centered, inquiry-based, discovery-based teaching, and answering students’ questions is “handing it to the student” (aka the “struggle is good” philosophy).

I am seeing something similar with respect to the Common Core math standards. Peter Greene, on his blog Curmudgucation, puts it this way: “If the Common Core were to collapse and everyone in the country came to see it as a disaster and a Huge Mistake, exactly whose head would roll? Who would be held responsible?” And he answers it as follows: “To use the language of the ed revolution, nobody is accountable for Common Core.”

And another perspective is offered by Katharine Beals at her blog Out in Left Field. She points out a constant refrain heard about Common Core:

Social Studies Standards: “Doing” Common Core Social Studies: Promoting Radical Activism under the Obama Department of Education

“Were the Common Core authors serious about ‘college-readiness,’ they would have taken their cue from publisher Will Fitzhugh, who for decades has been swimming against the tide of downgraded writing standards (blogging, journal-writing, video-producing). To this end, he has been publishing impressive student history papers in his scholarly journal, The Concord Review. The new (CC) standards, to Fitzhugh, enable ‘students to be ignoramuses who may be able to talk glibly about their instant New Deeper critical analysis of selected test passages.’ They will, however, ‘not have enough knowledge to do them a bit of good in college or at any workplace.’ They are effectively being taught the art of propaganda through multimedia rather than the art of writing from a knowledge base in history….”

Mary Grabar, via Will Fitzhugh:

The word “doing” appears frequently in the NCSS guidelines, as it does in the Department of Education’s 2012 report, “A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future,” which was criticized roundly by the National Association of Scholars for using civics education to promote radical activism and anti-Americanism in higher education, instead of providing a knowledge base in history, civics, and geography.

In 2009, when I attended the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) conference, I learned that most of the educators bristled at the idea of following educational “standards.” Most of the sessions involved sharing strategies for formally adhering to standards, while covertly turning students into activists for radical causes. Among these were repeal of immigration laws, statehood for Washington, D.C., and acceptance of Islam as superior to Christianity. Instead of being given a knowledge base in history, civics, and geography, students were emotionally manipulated into being advocates, attending protests, and lobbying legislators.

Flash forward to 2014. Now the objectives of these social studies teachers are the objectives of Obama’s Department of Education. The Common Core “standards” for math and English Language Arts are the law in 45 states. Those for science and social studies have been written, but are still voluntary.

Eschewing traditional forms of knowledge acquisition and writing (the old standards), “The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards: State guidance for enhancing the rigor of K-12 civics, economics, geography, and history” promote the idea of doing social studies. Yes, “doing.”

The word “doing” appears frequently in the guidelines, as it does in the Department of Education’s 2012 report, “A Crucible Moment: College Learning & Democracy’s Future,” which was criticized roundly by the National Association of Scholars (myself included) for using civics education to promote radical activism and anti-Americanism in higher education.

In order to advance similar activism, the authors of the K-12 “C3 Framework” caricature traditional education as pouring knowledge into students who are passive vessels. But traditional, classical education, founded on a firm base of knowledge, is the kind that works and best prepares students for adult life. It incorporates three levels of learning outlined by the Atlanta Classical Academy charter school, as taken from their successful petition before the Board of Education:

Grammar Stage (mastery of key foundational facts, rules, and tools, imparted by teachers who are experts in their subject);
Logic Stage (mastery of relationships, categories, and order to create coherent frameworks);
Rhetoric Stage (communication and reasoning).

Notably, Common Core skips the first step, reducing it to a haphazard process of “discovery”—a hallmark of progressive education. The cart is put before the horse through “experiential” learning, where students “practice the arts and habits of civic life.”

There is no sense that students should first acquire a solid foundation of historical knowledge. Rather, students are left to do “inquiry” with “Four Dimensions”: 1) “developing questions and planning inquiries;” 2) “applying disciplinary concepts and tools;” 3) “evaluating sources and using evidence;” and, 4) “communicating conclusions and taking informed action.”

It can hardly be said that children are capable of “taking informed action.” Yet the cover photographs of the report draft (dated April 9, 2013) reveal the authors’ aims by showing children in a public forum, looking at a globe (perhaps plotting their next business move in the “twenty-first century workplace”?), and in a group leaning over plans (mimicking modern-day advertisements of the corporate working world). The final photo shows a street protest with signs saying, “No” to toxic waste.

Such photos belie the authors’ claim that “Advocates of citizenship education cross the political spectrum” and are “bound by a common belief that our democratic republic will not sustain unless students are aware of their changing cultural and physical environments; know their past; read, write, and think deeply; and, act in ways to promote the common good.” Rather, these advocates use children for their own aims, placing adult burdens on them, while denying them a real education.

The Objectives for Second Grade

Age-inappropriateness also becomes evident in a table called “Suggested K-12 Pathway for College, Career and Civic Readiness Dimension 1.” It states that “by the end of grade 2” (emphasis added) the student will construct compelling questions and “explain why the compelling question is important to the student” and “identify disciplinary concepts found or implied in a compelling question.” (A note explains, “Students, particularly before middle school, will need considerable guidance and support from adults to construct questions that are suitable for inquiry.” Of course, they would need “guidance.” That’s where the teacher can impose her own, leading questions.)

The second-grader, furthermore, in a mind-boggling quest, must “make connections between supporting questions and compelling questions” and “identify ideas mentioned and implied by a supporting question” and then “determine the kinds of sources that will be helpful in answering compelling and supporting questions.”

Writing assignments do not follow an age-appropriate progression, either. Dimension 4, “Communicating Conclusions,” calls for second-graders to “construct an argument with reasons” and “present a summary of an argument using print, oral and digital technologies.” High school seniors are to do similar tasks in a slightly more sophisticated form, for example, in constructing arguments, using multiple sources, and acknowledging counterclaims and evidentiary weaknesses.

What can a “college-ready” senior do?

While second-graders are asked to “think like historians,” the high school senior is asked to perform unscholarly tasks, such as presenting “adaptations of arguments and explanations that feature evocative ideas and perspectives on issues and topics to reach a range of audiences and venues outside the classroom using print and oral technologies (e.g., posters, essays, letters, debates, speeches, reports, maps) and digital technologies (e.g., internet, social media, digital documentary).” Even essays and reports get buried amidst posters, social media, and digital documentaries.

The authors refer back to the English Language Arts (ELA) standards for guidance, but these are vague and loose, for example, Standard 7, which “focuses on ‘short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions.” The social studies standards also go back to the ELA’s emphasis on “Speaking and Listening Standards,” wherein “students engage one another strategically using different forms of media given a variety of contexts in order to present their knowledge and ideas.” As if these were really vigorous, the authors cite “examples,” such as participating in a “range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners” and making “strategic use of ‘media and visual display’ when presenting.”

This is hardly preparation for college work in the traditional sense. Traditional work would involve sifting through historical material knowledgeably, and compiling it in the well-reasoned format of a scholarly paper. Were the Common Core authors serious about “college-readiness,” they would have taken their cue from publisher Will Fitzhugh, who for decades has been swimming against the tide of downgraded writing standards (blogging, journal-writing, video-producing). To this end, he has been holding contests and publishing impressive student papers in his scholarly journal, The Concord Review. The new standards, to Fitzhugh, enable “students to be ignoramuses who may be able to talk glibly about their instant New Deeper critical analysis of selected test passages.” They will, however, “not have enough knowledge to do them a bit of good in college or at any workplace.” They are effectively being taught the art of propaganda through multimedia rather than the art of writing through a knowledge base in history, civics and geography.

The new social studies standards are not surprising, considering the work of social studies teachers behind the scenes at conferences and elsewhere. They now have an administration that supports their radical aims. Consider the members of the “writing team” of this report, including this large majority:

Kathy Swan, lead writer/project director: associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Kentucky, and coauthor of And Action! Doing Documentaries in the Social Studies Classroom. Her research focuses on “standards-based technology integration, authentic intellectual work, and documentary-making in the social studies classroom.”

Keith C. Barton, professor of curriculum and instruction and adjunct professor of history at Indiana University and co-author of Doing History: Investigating with Children in Elementary and Middle Schools and Teaching History for the Common Good.

Flannery Burke, associate professor of history at Saint Louis University who specializes in environmental history, the history of the American West, and gender studies.

Susan W. Hardwick, professor emerita of geography at the University of Oregon and co-host of the Annenberg/PBS series The Power of Place.

John Lee, associate professor of social studies education at North Carolina State University and co-director of the New Literacies Collaborative, (connected to Linda Darling-Hammond).

Peter Levine, Professor of Citizenship & Public Affairs at Tufts University, author of Engaging Young People in Civic Life, and a proponent of left-wing “civic engagement.”

Karen Thomas-Brown, associate professor of social studies and multiculturalism at the University of Michigan-Dearborn with research interests in “neoliberalism and the impact of globalization on the operation of secondary urban centers in developing countries.”

Cynthia Tyson, professor in the College of Education and Human Ecology at The Ohio State University, “where she teaches courses in multicultural and equity studies in education; early childhood social studies; and multicultural children’s literature.”

Bruce VanSledright, professor of history and social studies education at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. His research focuses on “doing history.

Merry Wiesner-Hanks, professor of history, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, with a special interest in women’s and gender history.

Mary Grabar, Ph.D., has taught college English for over twenty years. She is the founder of the Dissident Prof Education Project, Inc., an education reform initiative that offers information and resources for students, parents, and citizens. The motto, “Resisting the Re-Education of America,” arose in part from her perspective as a very young immigrant from the former Communist Yugoslavia (Slovenia specifically). She writes extensively and is the editor of EXILED. Ms. Grabar is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

A Conversation with Leigh Turner

Jim Zellmer: Good afternoon, Leigh Let’s begin with your education.

Leigh Turner: Like increasing numbers of people in today’s modern world, I grew up in several countries, in Nigeria, in Britain, then again in Lesotho, in southern Africa, and then again in Britain.

I went to several different, as we would say in English, schools and then to university. I was at a school in Swaziland called Waterford Kamhlaba School, a boarding school, for a year and a half, a very fascinating and interesting time.

Then, I was in a school in Manchester called Manchester Grammar School for most of my secondary education, as we would say in Britain. Then, from there, I went to the University of Cambridge and did a three-year bachelor’s degree in Geography. That was it. After that, I was 21. I went off and started work.

Jim: Do you have a perspective on how that movement, let’s say, improved or hindered your education as you grew up? What’s your take on that?

Leigh: It all depends on your degree of family stability and the degree to which you are fortunate in having good schools, good teachers, and good classmates. It’s very difficult to be deterministic about what makes a good education.

I was extremely fortunate in having a peripatetic childhood and going to primary school in Lesotho with a bunch of kids of all different nationalities, African children, European children, American children, different people.

Then, going to a school in Waterford Kamhlaba School in Swaziland which was very much a place which was set up in the years of apartheid in South Africa as a place where children from all different ethnic backgrounds could go to a high-quality school together and learn the British educational exams.

That gave me a great deal of insight into different people, the size of the world, and the fact that one country is not it. It’s very easy to forget that if you’ve not had the good fortune to travel widely. It’s easy to think that you’re in your city, and that’s the world, or you’re in your country, and that’s the world.

When you travel around the world as a child, you see that there are many countries, there are many different ways of living, there are many different outlooks on life. That’s a very important part of anyone’s education.

I then was very fortunate in having five or six years of continuous education in one school, in Manchester. I do think that for many young people, stability of education is a positive.

I grew up moving around the world. With my kids, we made a real effort to try to arrange our postings in such a way that the children could stay in a limited number of schools, for as long as possible.

In fact, I even arranged postings so that we could stay in Berlin in eight years in a row so the children could stay in the same school. That seems to have served them very well.

Jim: What languages did you pick up along the way? What about your kids? Obviously, when I look at your postings and your tweets, you’ve taken the time to learn the local language. What are your thoughts on that?

Leigh: I was lucky enough to study German and French when I was at school in Manchester, at high school, as you would say in America. I found the grammar extremely difficult.

I have a famous story about trying to learn my German grammar as I moved up towards a certain public exam. At each stage, I got 0 out of 30 for my grammar, 3 times in a row.

After the final occasion where I got 0 out of 30, with a public exam looming, my teacher said to me, “Leigh, if you make just a few less mistakes, you might be able to get a mark in this part of the exam.”

Even though that happened, I was able to pass those exams and indeed score reasonably well in those exams because I spent time doing what we would call an “exchange,” which is where a child, usually between 11 and 16, is sent off from their own family to stay with a family in a foreign country, to live with that family for three weeks, to speak only the language of that country for three weeks, and to socialize, maybe to go to school with the child that they’re staying with.

There’s always an exchange child at the other end, who, ideally, is somebody of similar age to you. Then, that child comes back to your country, and the reverse situation takes place.

I did this when I was 12. I went to Paris, at age 12, and stayed with a family who lived within eyesight of the Arc de Triomphe. I remember well waking up on my first morning and trying to think of something that I could say in French.

My mind was blank. Eventually, I managed to say, “Le soleil brille.” The sun is shining. From that start, after three weeks of staying with a family, I came back speaking simple, fluent French, after three weeks.

Similarly, German, I did a German exchange. I went out there with only the most simple grasp of German. I found after three weeks of German exchange, I was speaking much better. Indeed, I did repeated German exchanges.

By the time I took my final public school exams, when I was 17, I was actually reasonably fluent in French and German. Those were my first two languages. They were learned partly by school study and partly by these home stays in the countries concerned.

Subsequently, when I joined the Foreign Office, I was posted to Russia. I needed to speak Russian for that job. On that occasion, we had a different approach.

The British Foreign Service is very keen on teaching its officers foreign languages. We think that’s an important part of the training and an important part of doing the job.

I was sent on a nine-month, full-time Russian course, which was pretty mind-bending. I should say, in the Foreign Office, when you join, they give you a test to measure your aptitude to learn foreign languages.

True to my history of my German experience from doing my [inaudible 07:51] , my initial public school exams, I scored very badly on this language aptitude test and was told I should go off maybe and learn Afrikaans and some easy languages.

In fact, for a series of reasons, I was going to Moscow. I spent nine months learning Russian full-time, including a seven-week stay in Moscow, in 1992.

By the time I finished the course, I was able to pass the relevant exam. In my subsequent three-year posting in Moscow, I was able to use Russian a great deal. By that time, I spoke it really quite fluently and could read Russian as well.


Leigh: Go on.

Jim: This is something that our friends have discussed over the years, the ability of children to learn and pick up those languages much faster than when you were posted in Moscow.

The amount of time you discussed was obviously extensive. (Presumably) the depth of your language understanding and learning, I assume, was much deeper with Russian.

What was your experience as you were older? Today, learning Turkish , how long does it take? If you took about three weeks when you’re 12 years old in Paris, to have some level of fluency, how long did it take you to have that similar level when you arrived in Istanbul?

Leigh: When I knew I was coming to Turkey, I was, at that stage, still living and working in Ukraine. I was Ambassador, in Kiev, from 2008 to 2012. In Kiev, I made a big effort to learn Ukrainian. Both Ukrainian and Russian are widely spoken.

I had a couple of weeks of immersion there. I didn’t pick it up as quickly as I did French when I was 12. That’s for sure. I did pick up a reasonable level of Ukrainian.

Then, when I heard I was coming to Istanbul, I immediately got out a self-study, computer-based Turkish course and spent five or six months really working hard on that. I actually kept a record of the 127 hours I spent by myself with the computer language course learning Turkish.

By the time I arrived in Turkey, August 2012, I was able, thanks to this course, to speak a little bit of straightforward Turkish. I then had five weeks [inaudible 10:35] staying with someone here in Turkey, going to lessons four hours every day of the week, except weekends.

By the end of that, I could speak very simple Turkish, but by no means as well as I could speak French after three weeks staying with a family in France in 1970-71.

Jim: Well, we’re all getting older there. As you think of all these experiences you’ve had, both as a parent, professionally, and then obviously traveling, what do you think it means to be educated today and tomorrow? What does that mean in the age of Google, smart phones, and digital electronic [inaudible 11:21] ?

Leigh: I am no great educational expert, but I think that there are, in education, two things which you have to balance, one is what I might call learning by route or drilling, where you accumulate facts that you know and clearly there has been a move away from this.

This is the traditional way of learning things, people reciting their timetables and so on in schools in Victorian England [inaudible 11:58] images, and as life has gone on, people have focused more on having the ability to find things out, which clearly is the way to go these days.

You need to be able to know where to acquire information, know how to assimilate and organize information, know how to manage the almost infinite amount of information that is rightly available there on your smart phone in your pocket.

I think there are those two elements to education, one is knowing stuff and the other thing is knowing how to find out and organize stuff.

I think you have to have a certain amount of both in order to have a successful education. If we look at some countries in Far East which have a traditional route learning, they have really effective educational systems.

On the other hand, if you look at some countries like UK or the US, where there is more of a tradition of learning how to find things out, they don’t score so highly at least the far East countries, for example, mathematical ability, but on the other hand, they are very good at creative industries.

Clearly, it might be unique to have a judicious balance of both. You simply cannot learn a language without learning vocabulary and without learning a bit of grammar. It’s never going to work. At the same time, if you don’t know how to use a dictionary and don’t know how to use the Internet, you’re going to make learning a language much more difficult for yourself.

Jim: Again, [inaudible 13:38] all this, what should young people know today? Obviously, you’ve tried [inaudible 13:42] to your children. (Talking) about parents, what should young people know today?

Leigh: I’m a big fan of that balance I was talking about just now. The hardest thing for me as a parent is the balance between giving your children the space they need to develop their own views on who they are as individuals and being able to make informed decisions about how to live their lives.

If parents don’t give their children that and they miss to take the important opportunities, that’s on the one side, giving them freedom, allowing them to develop as individuals, on the other hand, providing them with the framework within which they can establish that identity.

I think the framework part is important too. If you don’t have any rules in the house about when you go to bed, when you get up, when you eat your meals together, how you should behave in the family home, then the child is going to find it hard to adjust to a world which is based on certain norms of behavior in any society.

It’s balancing those two between your [inaudible 15:09] approach to do anything you want to do, finding themselves, and the kind of [inaudible 15:17] the new millennium of people really need to have the skill they need to get a job and the discipline they need to be able to hold down the job in an area where we have increasing global competition between countries.

If your kid from a rich country isn’t able to compete with the hungry, dynamic, well-trained kids from countries, which have not been so blessed by history as your country, then they’re going to find it hard to compete in the global markets.

Jim: Speaking of that, you’re a keen observer of the world as it is. It’s remarkable I have to say, I have very much enjoyed your tweets and writing.

Taking those observations, how might you compare and contrast the education system, let’s say the software, the raw materials that the different countries you’ve been in provide their kids from UK to France, Germany, Russia, Ukraine, and now Turkey?

Leigh: Well, you risk getting very political when you [inaudible 16:40] one education system is different from or better than another. I would just say that what really is [inaudible 16:49] is that I think being to high school in Britain, France, or Germany, they run very different.

Similarly, having been a diplomat in Britain, having seen the systems that operate in France and in Germany, it is striking how utterly different the training given to diplomats from France, Germany, Britain is.

For example, in Germany, you have to have studied quite often law, ideally international law, then you join the foreign ministry and you have a two-year training course with a group of people who joined at the same time as you.

Before you even sit down, there’s day’s full work.

In France, you have to go to a “grande école”, which will get you into the upper reaches of civil service. Often, you have to go to another specialized school to give you a chance to get into the grande école in the first place. They are that highly [inaudible 17:47] exams are that difficult.

In Britain, you get into the Foreign Service by taking the public exam, which is pretty difficult and which involves written exams and assessment centers. Then, on your first day, usually you sit down and start work. No training at all.

Why am I saying this? Because nobody would say that French, or British, or German diplomats were better than each other. I know many great brilliant diplomats from France, Germany, and Britain. They have had completely different training, yet they are all excellent diplomats.

I think the point of what I’m saying is that very different educational systems can be successful. It’s all really about having a good basic structure, a good concept of what kind of education you are trying to deliver. Then, having assiduous, well-trained teachers who know what they’re talking about, and having of course children who would be supported by parents to help them to learn.

Jim: It’s struck me because I have dealt with some very talented software developers in the old Soviet Bloc. Is it the long emphasis on science, technology and math [inaudible 19:24] in that space?

Did you have any observations on their system, the Russian system, the Ukrainian? Did you interact with the education systems in those places at all?

Leigh: I must say that I have many Russian friends and colleagues, many Ukrainian friends and colleagues. I have often been struck by the excellence of their educational systems, their knowledge. Many people from Russia and Ukraine, who go off to the UK to study there, are very high achievers.

Although, I would say that on the whole their system are more based on root learning, repetition and, what some in the West might think, a rather old-fashioned educational system. But mind you, they work very well.

I remember the first time when I was learning Russian, coming face to face with a gentleman who introduced himself as a soviet, a naval interpreter in the Soviet Navy who turned up in the UK for some reason. This was in 1991.

He spoke English not only with complete fluency, but with a beautiful English accent, and he’d never been outside the Soviet Union. I had to take my hat off to that level of educational attainment in the elite systems of the former Soviet Union.

Similarly, here in Turkey there are many excellent quality educational establishments. You can always look at a system and think of a better way to organize it and to improve it, but I think we should always be very careful to assuming that we have the answer that some other people don’t.

Jim: I completely agree with that. [laughs] It’s interesting because, as a student pointed out earlier regarding the learn-by-rote [inaudible 21:26] versus the (discovery method), it is striking to observe how successful that approach was in some of those countries.

As you traveled, do you have a sense that some of these countries there is a more egalitarian state or do you see (a wide range of experiences & quality)?

Leigh: I do think that there is a role for central government in any country in maintaining educational standards.

On the one hand, I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s and I’d find intellectually stimulating the idea that we should let the best schools to slug it out, work out who has the best system and let the marketplace decide. But I’m not sure that we’ve got time for that, when it comes to education.

I think some role for central government in setting standards, and deciding curricula, and helping educational systems to provide the education that business and society need in that country is essential. They say fair is great, but we haven’t got time to leave that to operate through the educational systems. We can’t afford to have kids who are failed by educational systems.

Jim: I have a last question. Let’s take the time machine, Dr. Who, back, to when you were 18 or coming out of Manchester. What would you study today if you were 18…? The same thing? What would you do?

Leigh: I tend to think that I’ve been an exceptional fortunate individual in my life.

I’ve had a rich and privileged range of experiences. From hitchhiking around the United States for seven weeks when I was 21, starting in White Plains, New York and making it as far as North Carolina, and San Francisco, and British Columbia or Canada, and all the way back to White Plains, one of the great experiences of my life, to visiting the Island of Saint Helena in the South Atlantic with my job, to having all kinds of terrific friends and relationships.

Having visited many countries and seen many different ways of doing things, I would in no way claim that my life is perfect, but it’s been terrific so far. I certainly wouldn’t want to change a thing.

Having said all that, my advice to anybody who is just beginning their university education would be to really take the education seriously. You’ve only got one chance to accumulate the best possible set of skills at the university. If you don’t do it now, you are going to find it very difficult to do it later.

As I said earlier on, you need to balance that inquisitive and applied approach to learning with, at the same time, having some fun and getting out in the air and exploring things, meeting people, trying some things that maybe your parents wouldn’t be all that crazy about, and exploring life a little bit.

It’s the balance between those two, the yin and yang of educational development if you like, that I think young people need to explore.

Jim: That’s wonderful. Is there anything else you want to add? We really appreciate your time today.

Leigh: Not really, except that I would encourage all of your readers or listeners to check out my Twitter account which is @LeighTurnerFCO, and also my work blog which has my thoughts about life in Turkey, and finally my personal writing blog where you have the journalism that I’ve done over the years, four years as a journalist working in Berlin when I was there, and also some of my fiction writing, which I’m very proud of.

Jim: Yes. I will include links to that, definitely.

Twitter @leighturnerFCO

Official blog:

Personal writing blog (short stories, novels, journalism):

A Wretched Defense of the Humanities

Peter Wood:

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences has just issued the Heart of the Matter, a 61-page report (plus appendices) aimed at persuading Congress to spend more money on the humanities. This is one of the report’s immediate goals, phrased of course in the financial imperative, “Increase investment in research and discovery.” The report as a whole is presented as a response to a “bipartisan request from members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives” in 2010. The American Academy took up this request and appointed a 54-member commission to figure out what “actions” are needed to “maintain national excellence in humanities and social scientific scholarship.”
Let’s see. That works out to 1.1296 pages of report per commissioner. Many of the commissioners also appear in a 7-minute accompanying video, which begins with the actor (and commissioner) John Lithgow explaining that the humanities are the “beautiful flower” at the end of the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math.) With a piano softly playing Christian Sinding’s Rustles of Spring in the background and a camera exploring the petals of a yellow gerbera, Lithgow continues, “Without the blossom, the stem is completely useless.” Cut to George Lucas, Rustling Spring pianissimo: “The sciences are the how and the humanities are thewhy.” Cut to the Milky Way with Lucas’s voiceover, segueing to architect Billie Tsien, “The measurable is what we know and the immeasurable is what the heart searches for.”

It has been an exciting week here for those of us in Washington who are following the education scene.

John Dickert writes from Mount Vernon Farms, Virginia:

It has been an exciting week here for those of us in Washington who are following the education scene.
In one of the counties in Maryland adjacent to Washington, the county executive (in this case, an elected position) has taken over more control of the school system, after first trying to completely override the school board and the office of the school superintendent. Part of what drives this effort is that while that county’s academic scores are not high, its neighboring county to the west has the highest academic scores i the state of Maryland. The first linked article (released April 1st) will relate to that.
Then there was the test scoring scandal which broke in Atlanta. The next two articles (released April 4th) relate to that. The first was by Bill Gates. The second was printed next to it on the Op-ED pages of the Washington Post and relates to an educational incident in Wisconsin. I find that the ideas in the Bill Gates article will run into two roadblocks. The first is teat score envy, the concept that our district needs to keep up with the scores of those of our neighbors. The second is that in Education at the college (or university) level, success is measured by pushing the edge of the envelope in teaching methodology, in a field where success can not be measured until the suggestee is long graduated. When my children went through their pre-collegial schooling they were subjected to several new innovations in education, some of which worked and some of which were disasters. The creators of all these programs were rewarded before any of their programs were proven in the field.
The final attachment was released in our (Fairfax County VA) public library weekly newsletter. It is a recently developed program for aiding parents in assisting with their child’s homework. As it seems very involved, I can posit that only the most helicopterish of parents will be willing to use it.
As a window into my view of high school education when my oldest son entered high school back in 1996, Fairfax County Public Schools only required 3 years of social studies. Our high school offered a 4th year of the program, offered in the Sophomore year, the AP Modern European course. About 150 students would take the course each year offered in 5 periods by one teacher. It was highly sought after. In part due to this program our high school was one of the highest placing high schools on Jay Mathew’s early High School Challenge listings, back when it was only published by the Washington Post. At the time the school was offering only some 5 or 6 AP courses, 2 of which were electives. In the intervening years the AP Challenge Index has gone national, and the AP course offerings have grown geometrically, with the situation that for many courses the only effective college-prep version of a course is the AP course. Initially the AP program was promoted as a way to give high school students a means to have a taste of college. Many high school seniors now are driven to take 4 such courses. AND none of these courses in the social sciences or English, requires the creation of a researched paper. When my youngest child was in high school (she graduated in 2007) I served on a school education committee, and wrote locally about this issue. I never could convince anyone that high school was really about preparing our children for college, not directing them to take the maximum number of College like courses as possible.

Parents: A New Way To Help Your Kids with Their Homework

Library customers can now access a new resource to help with homework. To learn more about it, teachers and parents can sign up for a 30-minute demonstration on April 17. Online registration required: Wednesday, April 17 at 2 p.m.
This new online service by Literati includes a host of resources such as educational content for K-12 students and adults, informational videos and tutorials and interactive discovery tools. Literati Public has been specifically customized for Virginia libraries. Online tutoring help from certified teachers is offered through the “Homework Help” tab Monday through Thursday from
3 p.m. – 9 p.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. This service is offered to all students in Virginia (Grades 3-12) needing help in math, reading or writing. You can access this resource here. Select Fairfax County Public Library and Go; on the second screen enter your library card number.
There are multiple ways to access this new resource from the library website; here’s one:
Go to the library home page:;
Select Homework help under Library Services in the center column;
Select Find an Online Teacher to Help/Find Resources;
Then follow the steps above (select FCPL and Go/enter your card number).

Talking about the Computational Future at SXSW 2013

Stephen Wolfram:

Let’s start from some science. And you know, a lot of what I’ll say today connects back to what I thought at first was a small discovery that I made about 30 years ago. Let me tell you the story.
I started out at a pretty young age as a physicist. Diligently doing physics pretty much the way it had been done for 300 years. Starting from this-or-that equation, and then doing the math to figure out predictions from it. That worked pretty well in some cases. But there were too many cases where it just didn’t work. So I got to wondering whether there might be some alternative; a different approach.
At the time I’d been using computers as practical tools for quite a while–and I’d even created a big software system that was a forerunner of Mathematica. And what I gradually began to think was that actually computers–and computation–weren’t just useful tools; they were actually the main event. And that one could use them to generalize how one does science: to think not just in terms of math and equations, but in terms of arbitrary computations and programs.
So, OK, what kind of programs might nature use? Given how complicated the things we see in nature are, we might think the programs it’s running must be really complicated. Maybe thousands or millions of lines of code. Like programs we write to do things.
But I thought: let’s start simple. Let’s find out what happens with tiny programs–maybe a line or two of code long. And let’s find out what those do. So I decided to do an experiment. Just set up programs like that, and run them. Here’s one of the ones I started with. It’s called a cellular automaton. It consists of a line of cells, each one either black or not. And it runs down the page computing the new color of each cell using the little rule at the bottom there.

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.

A ray of hope for the children in Spokane Public Schools

Laurie Rogers:

In 2008, I met with Spokane Public Schools’ superintendent, Nancy Stowell, to discuss the district’s weak academic outcomes. Stowell was accommodating, but during our meeting, she consistently sidestepped any critique of the district’s “reform math” curricula or its heavy dependence on constructivism (i.e. discovery learning). Her go-to answer for weak results was to wish for more “alternative” programs to keep students in school. She appeared to see no problems with the district’s delivery of academic content.
I didn’t know how to break through that with her. Over the next four years, I never figured it out. But one thing she said in 2008 stuck with me. While discussing the high number of families leaving the district, Stowell said, “Sometimes I think people don’t want to know (why) because when you know … you have to … do something about it.”
Truer words were never spoken. Nancy Stowell didn’t appear to want to acknowledge the children’s academic suffering. She kept telling the public that things were improving, even as her administration obstinately fought doing what was necessary to fix the problems. That was her failure. Good leaders accept the blame and pass the credit, but Stowell and her administrators had a habit of accepting the credit and passing the blame.

The Headless Horseman (Teacher-Proof Rides Again)

Jeremiah Chafee via Will Fitzhugh:

The high school English department in which I work recently spent a day looking at what is called an “exemplar” from the new Common Core State Standards, and then working together to create our own lessons linked to that curriculum. An exemplar is a prepackaged lesson which is supposed to align with the standards of the Common Core. The one we looked at was a lesson on “The Gettysburg Address.”
The process of implementing the Common Core Standards is under way in districts across the country as almost every state has now signed onto the Common Core, (some of them agreeing to do in hopes of winning Race to the Top money from Washington D.C.). The initiative is intended to ensure that students in all parts of the country are learning from the same supposedly high standards.
As we looked through the exemplar, examined a lesson previously created by some of our colleagues, and then began working on our own Core-related lessons, I was struck by how out of sync the Common Core is with what I consider to be good teaching. I have not yet gotten to the “core” of the Core, but I have scratched the surface, and I am not encouraged.
Here are some of the problems that the group of veteran teachers with whom I was with at the workshop encountered using the exemplar unit on “The Gettysburg Address.”

Each teacher read individually through the exemplar lesson on Lincoln’s speech. When we began discussing it, we all expressed the same conclusion: Most of it was too scripted. It spelled out what types of questions to ask, what types of questions not to ask, and essentially narrowed any discussion to obvious facts and ideas from the speech.
In some schools, mostly in large urban districts, teachers are forced by school policy to read from scripted lessons, every day in every class. For example, all third-grade teachers do the same exact lessons on the same day and say exactly the same things. (These districts often purchase these curriculum packages from the same companies who make the standardized tests given to students.)
Scripting lessons is based on several false assumptions about teaching. They include:

  • That anyone who can read a lesson aloud to a class can teach just as well as experienced teachers;
  • That teaching is simply the transference of information from one person to another;
  • That students should not be trusted to direct any of their own learning;
  • That testing is the best measure of learning.

Put together, this presents a narrow and shallow view of teaching and learning.
Most teachers will tell you that there is a difference between having a plan and having a script. Teachers know that in any lesson there needs to be some wiggle room, some space for discovery and spontaneity. But scripted cookie-cutter lessons aren’t interested in that; the idea is that they will help students learn enough to raise their standardized test scores.
Yet study after study has shown that even intense test preparation does not significantly raise test scores, and often causes stress and boredom in students. Studies have also shown that after a period of time, test scores plateau, and it is useless, even counter-productive educationally, to try to raise test scores beyond that plateau.

Another problem we found relates to the pedagogical method used in the Gettysburg Address exemplar that the Common Core calls “cold reading.”
This gives students a text they have never seen and asks them to read it with no preliminary introduction. This mimics the conditions of a standardized test on which students are asked to read material they have never seen and answer multiple choice questions about the passage.
Such pedagogy makes school wildly boring. Students are not asked to connect what they read yesterday to what they are reading today, or what they read in English to what they read in science.
The exemplar, in fact, forbids teachers from asking students if they have ever been to a funeral because such questions rely “on individual experience and opinion,” and answering them “will not move students closer to understanding the Gettysburg Address.”
(This is baffling, as if Lincoln delivered the speech in an intellectual vacuum; as if the speech wasn’t delivered at a funeral and meant to be heard in the context of a funeral; as if we must not think about memorials when we read words that memorialize. Rather, it is impossible to have any deep understanding of Lincoln’s speech without thinking about the context of the speech: a memorial service.)
The exemplar instructs teachers to “avoid giving any background context” because the Common Core’s close reading strategy “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.” What sense does this make?
Teachers cannot create such a “level playing field” because we cannot rob any of the students of the background knowledge they already possess. Nor can we force students who have background knowledge not to think about that while they read. A student who has read a biography of Lincoln, or watched documentaries about the Civil War on PBS or the History Channel, will have the “privilege” of background knowledge beyond the control of the teacher. Attempting to create a shallow and false “equality” between students will in no way help any of them understand Lincoln’s speech.
(As a side note, the exemplar does encourage teachers to have students “do the math:” subtract four score and seven from 1863 to arrive at 1776. What is that if not asking them to access background knowledge?)
Asking questions about, for example, the causes of the Civil War, are also forbidden. Why? These questions go “outside the text,” a cardinal sin in Common Core-land.
According to the exemplar, the text of the speech is about equality and self-government, and not about picking sides. It is true that Lincoln did not want to dishonor the memory of the Southern soldiers who fought and died valiantly. But does any rational person read “The Gettysburg Address” and not know that Lincoln desperately believed that the North must win the war? Does anyone think that he could speak about equality without everyone in his audience knowing he was talking about slavery and the causes of the war? How can anyone try to disconnect this profoundly meaningful speech from its historical context and hope to “deeply” understand it in any way, shape, or form?

Here’s another problem we found with the exemplar: The teacher is instructed in the exemplar to read the speech aloud after the students have read it to themselves; but, it says, “Do not attempt to ‘deliver’ Lincoln’s text as if giving the speech yourself but rather carefully speak Lincoln’s words clearly to the class.”
English teachers love Shakespeare; when we read to our classes from his plays, we do not do so in a dry monotone. I doubt Lincoln delivered his address in as boring a manner as the Common Core exemplar asks. In fact, when I read this instruction, I thought that an interesting lesson could be developed by asking students to deliver the speech themselves and compare different deliveries in terms of emphasis, tone, etc.
The exemplar says, “Listening to the Gettysburg Address is another way to initially acquaint students with Lincoln’s powerful and stirring words.” How, then, if the teacher is not to read it in a powerful and stirring way? The most passionate speech in Romeo and Juliet, delivered poorly by a bad actor, will fall flat despite the author’s skill.

Several years ago, our district, at the demand of our state education department, hired a consultant to train teachers to develop literacy skills in students. This consultant and his team spent three years conducting workshops and visiting the district. Much of this work was very fruitful, but it does not “align” well with the Common Core.
The consultant encouraged us to help students make connections between what they were reading and their own experience, but as you’ve seen, the Common Core exemplar we studied says not to.
Was all that work with the consultant wasted?
At one point during the workshop, we worked with a lesson previously created by some teachers. It had all the hallmarks of what I consider good teaching, including allowing students to make connections beyond the text.
And when it came time to create our own lessons around the exemplar, three colleagues and I found ourselves using techniques that we know have worked to engage students — not what the exemplar puts forth.
The bottom line: The Common Core exemplar we worked with was intellectually limiting, shallow in scope, and uninteresting. I don’t want my lessons to be any of those things.


Two of our overriding efforts in Lower Education in recent years have been: 1) raising the low math and reading scores of black and Hispanic students, and 2) increasing the number of our high school and college graduates capable of employment in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics [STEM}.
Very recently evidence has been allowed to surface pointing out that while students in the bottom 10% of academic performance have indeed improved, students in the top ten percent of academic performance have stagnated, where they have not dropped out from boredom. Related evidence now suggests that complacency with secondary public education in our more affluent suburbs may have been quite misplaced as well.
As Thomas Friedman and Michael Mandelbaum point out in their recent book, That Used To Be Us, “average is over.” That is to say, students in other cities (Singapore, Hong Kong, Shanghai) and countries (Finland, South Korea, Japan) take their educations so much more seriously than our students (and teachers) do that their economies are achieving gains on our own that are truly startling, if we take the time to notice.
If we are to retain good jobs, restart our manufacturing, and otherwise decide to compete seriously with others who seem to take both education and work more seriously than we have come to do, it might be wise to increase the interest of our students in STEM fields. According to the Kaiser Foundation, our students aged 8-18 are spending, on average, more than seven hours a day with electronic entertainment media.
Now of course we want our young people to buy our electronic entertainment hardware and software and we definitely want them to have a good time and be happy, but probably we would like them to be employable some day as well. Friedman and Mandelbaum point out that not only blue collar jobs and white collar jobs, but increasingly sophisticated professional work can be done to a high standard at a much lower cost in other countries than it can be done here.
Having our students spend 53 hours a week on their electronic entertainment media, while their high school homework tops out, in many cases, according to ACT, at three to four hours a week, is not a plan that will enable us to resume our competitive position in the world’s economies.
So perhaps we should assign students in high school 15 hours a week of homework (which would reduce their media time to a mere 38 hours a week) and pass on to them the information that if they don’t start working to a much much higher academic standard they will probably face a more depressing future in a greatly diminished nation than they currently imagine they will have.
But, is STEM enough? I remember the story told about a visit Sir Alexander Fleming, who discovered penicillin, made to the gleaming new Salk Laboratory in La Jolla. A young biologist, thrilled to be a guide to the Nobel Prize-winner, was very proud to be able to show off all the bright new spotless expensive state-of-the-art research equipment. When they finished the tour, the young man could not stop himself from saying, “Just think, Sir Alexander, with all this equipment, what you could have discovered!” And Sir Alexander said, “not penicillin.”
Because the discovery of penicillin relied on serendipity and curiosity. Fleming found some petri dishes contaminated by something that had come in, probably, through one of the dirty old badly-closed windows in his lab in England. Instead of washing the dishes so he could start over with them, as most scientists would have done, he asked himself what could have killed off those bacteria in the dishes. And a major breakthrough was made possible.
Just in passing, amid the rush for more STEM, I would like to put in a word for serendipity, which often fuels creativity of many kinds, by making possible the association of previously unrelated ideas and memories when in contact with a new fact or situation not deliberately sought out.
I argue that serendipity is more likely to occur and to be fruitful if our students also have a lot of experience with the ROOTS of civilization, that is, the history, literature, art, music, architecture and other fields which have provided the background and inspiration for so much that we find worthwhile in human life. Steve Jobs found his course in calligraphy useful when he came to think about Macintosh software, but there are countless examples of important discoveries and contributions that have been, at least in part, grounded in the ROOTS of civilized life. So let us push for more STEM, by all means, but if, in the process we neglect those ROOTS, our achievements will be fewer, and our lives will be the poorer as a result, IMHO.
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Madison’s Proposed 4K Program Update: Is Now the Time?

Madison Superintendent Dan Nerad PDF:

The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD) recently made a request for proposals (RFP) for early childhood care and education (ECE) centers interested in partnering with MMSD to provide four year old kindergarten (4K) programming starting in Fall 2011. In order to be considered for this partnership with the district, ECE centers must be accredited by the City of Madison or the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) to ensure high quality programming for MMSD students. The ECE centers can partner with MMSD to be either a 4K Model II program (in an ECE center with an MMSD teacher) or a Model III program (in an ECE center with the ECE center’s teacher). The budget for 4K will support only 2 Model II programs, which aligns with the proposals submitted. There are 2 ECE centers who applied for Model II participation and 2 that applied to be either Model II or Model III. The ECE center proposals that have been accepted in this first step of the review process for consideration for partnering with the district to provide 4K programming are explained further in the following section.
II. ECE Center Sites
The following ECE center sites met the RFP criteria:
Animal Crackers
Bernie’s Place
Big Oak Child Care
Creative Learning Preschool
Dane County Parent Council
Eagle’s Wing
Goodman Community Center
Kennedy Heights Neighborhood
KinderCare-Old Sauk
LaPetite-North Gammon
Meeting House Nursery
Middleton Preschool
Monona Grove Nursery
New Morning Nursery
Orchard Ridge Nursery
Preschool of the Arts
The Learning Gardens
University Avenue Discovery Center
University Houses Preschool
University Preschool-Linden
University Preschool-Mineral Point
Waisman EC Program
Of the 35 ECE center sites, 28 met the RFP criteria at this time for partnerships with MMSD for 4 K programming. Seven of the ECE center sites did not meet RFP criteria. However may qualify in the future for partnerships with MMSD. There are 26 qualified sites that would partner with MMSD to provide a Model 111 program, and two sites that will provide a Model 11 program.
At this time, the 4K committee is requesting Board of Education (BOE) approval of the 28 ECE center sites that met RFP criteria. The BOE approval will allow administration to analyze the geographical locations of the each of the ECE center sites in conjunction with the District’s currently available space. The BOE approval will also allow administration to enter into agreements with the ECE center sites at the appropriate time.
The following language is suggested in order to approve the 28 ECE center sites:
It is recommended to approve the 28 Early Childhood Care and Education centers identified above as they have met the criteria of RFP 3168 (Provision of a Four-Year- Old Kindergarten Program) and further allow the District to enter into Agreements with said Early Childhood Care and Education centers.

Much more on Madison’s proposed 4K program here.
I continue to wonder if this is the time to push forward with 4K, given the outstanding K-12 issues, such as reading and the languishing math, fine arts and equity task force reports? Spending money is easier than dealing with these issues…. I also wonder how this will affect the preschool community over the next decade?
Finally, State and Federal spending and debt problems should add a note of caution to funding commitments for such programs. Changes in redistributed state and federal tax dollars may increase annual property tax payments, set to grow over 9% this December.

Literacy in Schools: Writing in Trouble

Surely if we can raise our academic standards for math and science, then, with a little attention and effort, we can restore the importance of literacy in our public high schools. Reading is the path to knowledge and writing is the way to make knowledge one’s own.
17 September 2009
by Will Fitzhugh
Source: Member Contribution
Topics: Writing Conventions
[originally published in the New Mexico Journal of Reading, Spring 2009]
For many years, Lucy Calkins, described once in Education Week as “the Moses of reading and writing in American education” has made her major contributions to the dumbing down of writing in our schools. She once wrote to me that: “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much.” This dedication to contentless writing has spread, in part through her influence, into thousands and thousands of classrooms, where “personal” writing has been blended with images, photos, and emails to become one of the very most anti-academic and anti-intellectual elements of the education we now offer our children, K-12.
In 2004, the College Board’s National Commission on Writing in the Schools issued a call for more attention to writing in the schools, and it offered an example of the sort of high school writing “that shows how powerfully our students can express their emotions”:
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up, the student wrote,

“High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life.”

It is obvious that this “Excellent” high school writer is expressing more of his views on his own high school experience than on anything Herman Hesse might have had in mind, but that still allows this American student writer to score very high on the NAEP assessment of writing.
This year, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has released a breakthrough report on writing called “Writing in the 21st Century,” which informs us, among other things, that:


The truth about grit
Modern science builds the case for an old-fashioned virtue – and uncovers new secrets to success

Jonah Lehrer:

It’s the single most famous story of scientific discovery: in 1666, Isaac Newton was walking in his garden outside Cambridge, England – he was avoiding the city because of the plague – when he saw an apple fall from a tree. The fruit fell straight to the earth, as if tugged by an invisible force. (Subsequent versions of the story had the apple hitting Newton on the head.) This mundane observation led Newton to devise the concept of universal gravitation, which explained everything from the falling apple to the orbit of the moon.
There is something appealing about such narratives. They reduce the scientific process to a sudden epiphany: There is no sweat or toil, just a new idea, produced by a genius. Everybody knows that things fall – it took Newton to explain why.
Unfortunately, the story of the apple is almost certainly false; Voltaire probably made it up. Even if Newton started thinking about gravity in 1666, it took him years of painstaking work before he understood it. He filled entire vellum notebooks with his scribbles and spent weeks recording the exact movements of a pendulum. (It made, on average, 1,512 ticks per hour.) The discovery of gravity, in other words, wasn’t a flash of insight – it required decades of effort, which is one of the reasons Newton didn’t publish his theory until 1687, in the “Principia.

Writing in Trouble

For many years, Lucy Calkins, described once in Education Week as “the Moses of reading and writing in American education” has made her major contributions to the dumbing down of writing in our schools. She once wrote to me that: “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much.” This dedication to contentless writing has spread, in part through her influence, into thousands and thousands of classrooms, where “personal” writing has been blended with images, photos, and emails to become one of the very most anti-academic and anti-intellectual elements of the education we now offer our children, K-12.
In 2004, the College Board’s National Commission on Writing in the Schools issued a call for more attention to writing in the schools, and it offered an example of the sort of high school writing “that shows how powerfully our students can express their emotions“:
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up, the student wrote,
“High school is a wonderful time of self-discovery, where teens bond with several groups of friends, try different foods, fashions, classes and experiences, both good and bad. The end result in May of senior year is a mature and confident adult, ready to enter the next stage of life.”


The Structure of Everything

Marc Kaufman:

Did you know that 365 — the number of days in a year — is equal to 10 times 10, plus 11 times 11, plus 12 times 12?
Or that the sum of any successive odd numbers always equals a square number — as in 1 + 3 = 4 (2 squared), while 1 + 3 + 5 = 9 (3 squared), and 1 + 3 + 5 + 7 = 16 (4 squared)?
Those are just the start of a remarkable number of magical patterns, coincidences and constants in mathematics. No wonder philosophers and mathematicians have been arguing for centuries over whether math is a system that humans invented or a cosmic — possibly divine — order that we simply discovered. That’s the fundamental question Mario Livio probes in his engrossing book Is God a Mathematician?
Livio, an astrophysicist at the Hubble Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore, explains the invention-vs.-discovery debate largely through the work and personalities of great figures in math history, from Pythagoras and Plato to Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. At times, Livio’s theorems, proofs and conundrums may be challenging for readers who struggled through algebra, but he makes most of this material not only comprehensible but downright intriguing. Often, he gives a relatively complex explanation of a mathematical problem or insight, then follows it with a “simply put” distillation.
An extended section on knot theory is, well, pretty knotty. But it ultimately sheds light on the workings of the DNA double helix, and Livio illustrates the theory with a concrete example: Two teams taking different approaches to the notoriously difficult problem of how many knots could be formed with a specific number of crossings — in this case, 16 or fewer — came up with the same answer: 1,701,936.

High School Elites (no HS history scholars need apply)

Wen Chyan of Denton, Texas, Wins Individual Grand Prize;
Sajith M. Wickramasekara of Raleigh, North Carolina and Andrew Y. Guo of Cary, North Carolina, Win Team Grand Prize
NEW YORK, NY, December 8, 2008 – The nation’s brightest minds and the innovators of tomorrow bravely took on groundbreaking research of life-threatening infections and deadly side effects of chemotherapeutics. As a result, Wen Chyan and the team of Sajith M. Wickramasekara and Andrew Y. Guo were named $100,000 Grand Prize winners in the 2008 Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology. The prestigious Siemens Competition, a signature program of the Siemens Foundation, is administered by the College Board. The annual awards were presented this morning at New York University, host of the Siemens Competition National Finals.
Wen Chyan, a senior at Texas Academy of Mathematics and Science in Denton, Texas, won the $100,000 scholarship in the individual category for chemistry research on combating hospital-related infections. Sajith M. Wickramasekara and Andrew Y. Guo, both seniors at North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in Durham, North Carolina, won the $100,000 prize in the team category, which they will share equally, for genetics research of chemotherapy. The three science superstars have an exciting journey ahead; they will ring The Closing Bell™ at the New York Stock Exchange in February among other honors.
“These remarkable students have achieved the most coveted and competitive high school science recognition in the nation,” said Thomas McCausland, Chairman of the Siemens Foundation. “There is no doubt that these scholars will change the world, starting right now, with their passion for math and science,” he said.
The national finals were judged by a panel of nationally renowned scientists and mathematicians headed by lead judge Dr. Joseph Taylor, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and James S. McDonnell Distinguished University Professor of Physics, Emeritus, Princeton University. Eighteen national finalists competed in this year’s national finals, including six individuals and six teams. The finalists previously competed at one of six regional competitions held at leading research universities throughout the month of November.


Contentless Writing

Mr. Fitzhugh [] is Editor and Publisher of The Concord Review and Founder of the National Writing Board and the TCR Institute [].
Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg was short. Indeed, the President had spoken and taken his seat before many in that large crowd gathered outdoors even realized that he had spoken. Fortunately, an alert reporter took down his words. Short as the speech was, it began with a date and a fact–the sort of factual content that is being drained away from student writing today.
The very idea of writing without content takes some getting used to. I was taken aback not long ago to read the comments of a young woman who had been asked how she felt about having a computer grade the essays that she wrote on the Graduate Management Admission Test (Mathews, 2004). She replied that she didn’t mind, noting that the test givers were more interested in her “ability to communicate” than in what she actually said.
Although style, fluency, tone, and correct grammar are certainly important in writing, folks like me think that content has value as well. The guidelines for scoring the new writing section on the SAT seem to say otherwise, however. Readers evaluating the essays are told not to take points off for factual mistakes, and they must score the essays “holistically”–at the rate of 30 an hour (Winerip, 2005).
Earlier this year, Linda Shaw of the Seattle Times (2006), reported that the the rules for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) do not allow dictionaries, but “when it comes to the writing section, there’s one rule they can break: They can make things up. Statistics. Experts. Quotes. Whatever helps them make their point.” According to Shaw, the state’s education office announced that “making up facts is acceptable when writing nonfiction, persuasive essays on the WASL.”
Lest you conclude that writing without content, or writing nonfiction with fictional content–think James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces–is limited to the Left Coast, think again. Across the United States, even the most prestigious writing workshops for teachers generally bypass the what to focus on the how.
All writing has to have some content, of course. So what are students encouraged to put down on the page? In its 2003 report, The Neglected ‘R’, The National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges, gave us a clue. According to the report, the following passage by a high school student about the September 11 terrorist attacks shows “how powerfully children can express their emotions.”
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up and awakens to himself, the student wrote,


Views on California’s Proposition 82 (preschool for all 4 year olds)

Two articles on Proposition 82:

  • Dana Hull:

    It sounds like a no-brainer for advocates of early childhood education: a state ballot initiative that would offer preschool to every 4-year-old in California, free of charge to parents. What preschool wouldn’t be all for that?
    But as the June 6 election approaches, an increasingly vocal number of preschools are lining up against it.
    Some Montessori schools fear Proposition 82, dubbed the Preschool for All Act, would lead to state standards that could compromise their teaching methods and mixed-age classrooms. Faith-based preschools say they would be at a competitive disadvantage because the measure wouldn’t fund schools that offer religious instruction. Others worry a requirement that teachers earn a bachelor’s degree would drive them out of business.
    “I am going to vote no, and I am very much in favor of universal preschool,” said Bonnie Mathisen, director of Discovery Children’s House, a Montessori school in Palo Alto. “I just feel that Prop. 82 is not the right way to go about it. When you get down to the nitty-gritty, a lot of preschools will be left out.”

  • Dana Hull:

    The children, ages 3 to 6, are part of a class of 28 at Casa di Mir Montessori School in Campbell. While many schools group children by age, Montessori believes children of different ages teach, help and learn from each other.
    Tara started the year as a kindergartner at a local elementary school, where her parents were stunned to learn there was homework. She rebelled against its structure, and her parents struggled with what to do. In January, they enrolled Tara at Casa di Mir.
    “Montessori is perfect for her,” says Haleh, Tara’s mom. “They don’t ring a bell to start class; they play a flute. She wrote a four-page journal about cats.”

  • Joanne Jacobs has more

The Art of Education Success by Nick Rabkin and Robin Redmond

Rabkin and Redmond wrote in the Washington Post on January 8, 2005 that “…the arts are not just affective and expressive. They are also deeply cognitive.”
Districts with music and art curriculum standards and benchmarks tied to other curriculum see improved test scores. The research is showing more and more that children’s learning directly benefits from music and art curriculum.
The authors note that “Successful programs in Chicago, Minneapolis and elsewhere have proven that arts integration is within the reach of most schools and districts. Now research is showing that connecting the arts to learning across the curriculum is a strategy that helps close the achievement gap and make schools happier places by moving beyond a crippling focus on basics and discipline. It is time for more districts and schools to make use of this strategy.”
MMSD’s fine arts teachers know this and gear their curriculum to provide student’s with the benefits in learning from music and art education. If MMSD administration narrowly focuses on reading, math, science, etc., scores and not what contributes to children learning experiences being successful, administrators will miss the benefits of the arts.
Children and teachers have been telling them for the past several years how music and art benefit children’s learning. Hopefully, they are listening.