Experimental schools that work

“Charter” and “Magnet” schools are designed to allow for alternative and experimental approaches to education in public school systems.  One approach is proving especially popular with parents and children and is outperforming peer institution in test scores and other measures of academic achievement.

In these experimental programs, students stay in one classroom with one teacher, who teaches objective content, holds to high academic standards, requires daily homework, and enforces discipline.  (How could that possibly work?)  The schools that are using this method call it TRADITIONAL education. [Read more...]

More on the gutting of literature from the curriculum

We blogged earlier about how the latest educational reform program being pushed in the public schools would require that 70% of the reading in public schools be “informational” rather than literary.  Here is Alexandra Petri’s take on the issue:

New Common Core standards (which impact 46 out of 50 states) will require that, by graduation in 2014, 70 percent of books studied be nonfiction. Some suggested texts include “FedViews” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the EPA’s “Recommended Levels of Insulation,” and “Invasive Plant Inventory” by California’s Invasive Plant Council. . . .

I like reading. I love reading. I always have. I read recreationally still. I read on buses, in planes, while crossing streets. My entire apartment is covered in books. And now, through some strange concatenation of circumstances, I write for a living.

And it’s all because, as a child, my parents took the time to read me “Recommended Levels of Insulation.”

Oh, “Recommended Levels of Insulation.” That was always my favorite, although “Invasive Plant Inventory” was a close second. (What phrases in literature or life will ever top the rich resonance of that opening line? “The Inventory categorizes plants as High, Moderate, or Limited, reflecting the level of each species’ negative ecological impact in California.”) . . . .

“It is important to note that even Limited species are invasive and should be of concern to land managers,” I frequently tell myself, in moments of crisis. “Although the impact of each plant varies regionally, its rating represents cumulative impacts statewide.” How true that is, even today. Those words have brought me through moments of joy and moments of sorrow. They are graven on my heart. I bound them as a seal on my hand.

My dog-eared, beaten copy of “Recommended Levels of Insulation” still sits on my desk. I even got it autographed. Their delay in making a movie of this classic astounds me. That was where I first learned the magic of literature.

“Insulation level are specified by R-Value. R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it.” What authority in that sentence!

And then came the table of insulation values. I shudder every time that table appears. It is one of the great villains in the history of the English language. Uriah Heep and Captain Ahab have absolutely nothing on it. In fact, I do not know who these people are. I have never read about them.”

Petri goes on like this for awhile, but then she drops the sarcasm:

This increased emphasis on nonfiction would not be a concern if the core worked the way it was supposed to, with teachers in other disciplines like math and science assigning the hard technical texts that went along with their subjects. But teachers worry that this will not happen. Principals seem to be having trouble comprehending the requirement themselves. Besides, the other teachers are too busy, well, teaching their subjects to inflict technical manuals on their students too, and  they may expect the English department to pick up the slack. And hence the great Purge of Literature.

These are good intentions, but it will be vital to make sure the execution is as good, or we will head down the road usually paved with good intentions. There, in the ninth circle, students who would otherwise have been tearing through Milton and Shakespeare with great excitement are forced to come home lugging manuals of Exotic Plants.

All in all, this is a great way to make the kids who like reading hate reading.

via The Common Core’s 70 percent nonfiction standards and the end of reading?.

Gutting literature from the curriculum

Educational reform efforts in the public schools are generally well-intentioned, but once they are taken over by the educational bureaucrats they often achieve the opposite of what was intended.  A commendable concern to ensure that students have learned something from the classes they take, that they achieve certain “learning outcomes,” gave us the dumbing down of “Outcome based education.”  The “No Child Left Behind” program left behind whole schools.

The latest reform program being foisted on all public schools is “The Common Core.”  That derives from a great idea, having students learn a basic foundation of material, including reading key books.  In practice, though, the Common Core is resulting in literature being gutted from the English curriculum.

The Common Core State Standards in English, which have been adopted in 46 states and the District, call for public schools to ramp up nonfiction so that by 12th grade students will be reading mostly “informational text” instead of fictional literature. But as teachers excise poetry and classic works of fiction from their classrooms, those who designed the guidelines say it appears that educators have misunderstood them

Proponents of the new standards, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, say U.S. students have suffered from a diet of easy reading and lack the ability to digest complex nonfiction, including studies, reports and primary documents. That has left too many students unprepared for the rigors of college and demands of the workplace, experts say.

The new standards, which are slowly rolling out now and will be in place by 2014, require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, and the requirement grows to 70 percent by grade 12.

Among the suggested non­fiction pieces for high school juniors and seniors are Alexis de Tocqueville’s “Democracy in America,” “FedViews,” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco (2009) and “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management,” published by the General Services Administration. . . .

“There’s a disproportionate amount of anxiety,” said David Coleman, who led the effort to write the standards with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Coleman said educators are misinterpreting the directives.

Yes, the standards do require increasing amounts of nonfiction from kindergarten through grade 12, Coleman said. But that refers to reading across all subjects, not just in English class, he said. Teachers in social studies, science and math should require more reading, which would allow English teachers to continue to assign literature, he said. . . .

In practice, the burden of teaching the nonfiction texts is falling to English teachers, said Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University: “You have chemistry teachers, history teachers saying, ‘We’re not going to teach reading and writing, we have to teach our subject matter. That’s what you English teachers do.’ ”

Sheridan Blau, a professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, said teachers across the country have told him their principals are insisting that English teachers make 70 percent of their readings nonfiction. “The effect of the new standards is to drive literature out of the English classroom,” he said.

Timothy Shanahan, who chairs the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the College of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said school administrators apparently have flunked reading comprehension when it comes to the standards.

via Common Core State Standards in English spark war over words – The Washington Post.

So the idea is that science and other subjects would include reading in those areas.  Great idea.  But because the administrators also are not very good readers and because no one but English teachers want to require reading, the burden of requiring 70% “informational” reading is falling on English teachers,who must make room for it by cutting out literature.  So instead of reading Old Man and the Sea, students have to read “Executive Order 13423: Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.”

Chicago teachers’ strike

Chicago teachers are on strike, even though they are among the highest paid in the country and they were offered a 16% raise.  But they don’t want to be held accountable for their effectiveness:

For the first time in a quarter century, Chicago teachers walked out of the classroom Monday, taking a bitter contract dispute over evaluations and job security to the streets of the nation’s third-largest city — and to a national audience — less than a week after most schools opened for fall.

The walkout forced hundreds of thousands of parents to scramble for a place to send idle children and created an unwelcome political distraction for Mayor Rahm Emanuel. In a year when labor unions have been losing ground nationwide, the implications were sure to extend far beyond Chicago, particularly for districts engaged in similar debates.

The two sides resumed negotiations Monday but failed to reach a settlement, meaning the strike will extend into at least a second day.

Chicago School Board President David Vitale said board and union negotiators did not even get around to bargaining on the two biggest issues, performance evaluations or recall rights for laid-off teachers. Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis said that was because the district did not change its proposals.

“This is a long-term battle that everyone’s going to watch,” said Eric Hanuskek, a senior fellow in education at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University. “Other teachers unions in the United States are wondering if they should follow suit.”

The union had vowed to strike Monday if there was no agreement on a new contract, even though the district had offered a 16 percent raise over four years and the two sides had essentially agreed on a longer school day. With an average annual salary of $76,000, Chicago teachers are among the highest-paid in the nation, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.

But negotiators were still divided on job security measures and a system for evaluating teachers that hinged in part on students’ standardized test scores.

via The Associated Press: Chicago teachers strike in bitter contract dispute.

What is at stake, if other teachers’ unions follow suit, is educational reform.  The politics here are interesting:  Unions and teachers’ unions in particular are key activists in the Democratic party.  And yet, these teachers have risen up against educational reforms pushed by Democrats.  The mayor of Chicago, who has taken on these teachers, is Rahm Emanuel, formerly President Obama’s chief of staff and a key fundraiser in his re-election campaign.  Could improving education, even against the opposition of incompetent teachers and their enablers, become a bi-partisan cause?  Or will political pressure from the unions derail educational reform?

Nationalizing the curriculum despite the law

The federal government is forbidden, by law, to establish a national curriculum for the public schools.  So, instead, the Department of Education is orchestrating a “voluntary” movement by dangling federal money to the states that go along.  So far, 45 states are on board, creating a de facto national curriculum.  Peter Wood of the Chronicle of Higher Education, no less, calls foul:

Before 1965, the federal government more or less left the matter entirely to the states, but that year President Johnson championed legislation, the Elementary and Secondary School Act (ESEA) that put the federal government in the business of funding portions of school districts’ budgets. The framers of the bill, aware that one thing leads to another, put in stiff statutory limitations that prohibited federal involvement with the K-12 curriculum.

Lots of federal legislation affecting the schools has followed over the years but all of it has stuck to the principle that the curriculum is a no-go area for federal authorities. The General Education Provisions Act (GEPA), the Department of Education Organization Act, and the No Child Left Behind Act were solidly aligned on this point. As GEPA put it:

No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system…

There are no acts of Congress that create significant loopholes in these prohibitions, and none that offer up a contrary principle inviting the federal government to step into curricular matters.

These laws have been a source of frustration for would-be education reformers, left and right, who often have often been drawn to the idea that with the benefit of a little federal government muscle they could, at last, cut through the seaweed that has so far choked every effort to reform the nation’s public schools.

The Obama administration, facing the same legal obstacles as all its predecessors, chose a novel tactic. It orchestrated a program under the auspices of National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) which proposed standards that the states would be free to adopt. But “free” came with some sweeteners. The Race to the Top dangled hundreds of millions of dollars among those states that chose to adopt the Common Core. As for those states that chose not to…they face some interesting consequences too. I wrote about this last year in “The Core Between the States.”

Eitel and Talbert’s nineteen-page analysis of the legal standing of the Common Core State Standards mounts a powerful case that the Obama administration has overstepped itself. The Road to a National Curriculum does its most devastating work by quoting from Department of Education documents that lay out in plain language the effort to use federal resources to achieve results prohibited by statute. One such document, for example, explains, “The goal of common K-12 standard is to replace the existing patchwork of State standards that results in unequal expectations based on geography.”

Whether you think that is a worthy goal is beside the point. Over the last fifty years Congress has repeatedly told the executive branch of the U.S. government “keep out” of the school curriculum.

via The Core Conundrum – Innovations – The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Wood points out that whether one favors a national curriculum or not, this is surely a violation of the law.

What would be the advantages of a national curriculum?  (Would it be likely to lift academic standards and improve learning for the entire country?)  What would be the disadvantages?  (Wood thinks it would squelch what bright spots there are and drag all schools down into mediocrity.)   What other issues do we need to be concerned about?

HT:  Jackie

Will technology replace schools?

Stephen Pearstein profiles Sal Kahn, who teaches math via YouTube videos, making the case that online technology may soon make traditional schools obsolete:

If education moves to a teaching model in which students learn through online tutorials, exercises and evaluations created by a handful of the best educators in the world, then how many teachers will we need preparing lesson plans and delivering lectures and grading quizzes and tests? Surely we’ll need some for one-on-one tutoring, or to run small group discussions, or teach things that can’t or shouldn’t be taught online. Despite assurances to the contrary, however, there’s likely to be fewer than we have now — fewer but better-paid with more interesting jobs — just as has happened in nearly every other industry that has gone through a similar transformation.

The disruption doesn’t stop there. If students are allowed to progress through each subject at their own pace, they won’t be second-graders or sixth-graders any longer, since at any time they are likely to be at different grades in different subjects. Indeed, the whole notion of a 45-minute “class,” or the six-hour “school day,” or even the August through June school “calendar” — the entire framework of the educational experience — will become somewhat irrelevant. And as Khan loves to point out, grading will suddenly become simple: Everyone gets an A in every course, with the only question being how long it takes each student to earn it.

Given these implications, you can understand why the education establishment has been in no hurry to embrace a digital future. The battles over standardized testing and adoption of common national standards were just the warm-up. Now that the opposition to them has been largely overcome, capital and creative talent will pour in to develop both the hardware and the software of the new education technology.

Over the next decade, look for teaching to be transformed from an art into something much closer to a science, look for learning to become highly individualized, and look for education to go from being a cottage industry to one that takes full advantage of the economies of scale and scope. And as in every other industry, look for quality to go up and cost to go down.

via Steven Pearlstein: Mark them tardy to the revolution – The Washington Post.

The corollary is that schools would be replaced with homeschooling!  But don’t working parents want someplace to park their kids for the day?  That reason alone will is likely to keep schools alive, even after they are obsolete.

I do think that human-to-human teaching is much superior to mechanical instruction, but some online teaching–such as  my daughter’s Latin classes for homeschoolers are real time, with genuine teacher-to-student and student-to-student interaction–whereas many of our progressive schools have become mechanistic and dehumanizing.

What do you think about this?  What could it mean, say, for Christian and parochial schools?

HT:  Jackie


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