Race for education in Florida
The Sun-Sentinel has another article on the education issue that's dominating Florida's gubernatorial race:
Education has become the defining issue of the 2002 governor's race. It has dominated the ad war between the candidates and has become the overriding issue in each of the candidates' three face-to-face debates. And despite Bush's claims that he has greatly improved Florida's public schools, polls consistently show Florida voters want more.
What "more" do they want? Smaller class sizes, more money for failing schools, and more money for teachers. And less emphasis on the FCAT. Unsurprisingly, the article contains no quotes from anyone sympathetic to the high-stakes test:
Before [teacher Kristy] Kuches moves to the suburbs of Atlanta, however, she plans to vote for Bill McBride...she's tired of the increased paperwork and the pressure of making sure students perform well on the state's controversial standardized test, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, better known as FCAT. "We're an `A' school, but compared to what?" she said. "Why do you think the test scores get better each year? Because we're teaching the skills to pass the test. If the average parent had to take the test, they'd be horrified."
Really? Why? Is the test that bad? Are the skills tested by the FCAT so utterly incompatible with education that it's a bad thing students are learning the skills on it? I took a look at sample FCAT reading tests online, and didn't see anything "horrifying".
Dawn Heuer is a registered Republican whose vote might be swayed by McBride's education platform... she definitely doesn't like the FCAT, which is given in grades three through 10. Results of the annual test are used to help determine if students should be promoted and to grade each school. Students attending schools that get two Fs in four years can get a tax-paid voucher to attend private school...."Everything is geared toward the FCAT," she said. We're spending so much time and energy trying to get through the FCAT. You take a big breath when it's over and then everyone waits for the school grades to come out."
Well, yes, that's the definition of high-stakes testing. And accountability. I have a hard time seeing how this is different from children working to get through their classwork in general.
Lori Lerstad, a Coral Springs mother of three, describes herself as a "die-hard" Democrat who plans to vote for Bill McBride but said she sees some benefits of what Bush has tried to do in making schools more accountable. "He has lit a fire. A lot of excuses were being made on why children can't learn," she said. "There's nothing wrong with putting demands on the kids, but there doesn't have to be hysteria over this. You don't have to grades school an F. Tests should be used for diagnostics."
Yes, but when tests are used in low-stakes situations, it's difficult to get kids to take them seriously, and so you end up with meaningless results. Diagnostic exams place no demands on kids. And why can't we give schools failing grades? People fail, businesses fail...why can't we acknowledge that some schools fail? After all, the alternative is allowing students to remain in schools that don't educate them.
Update: You know, I had wondered why I was hearing so much about Mr. McBride's educational platform. It seems that education is his only platform, and he might be in a great deal of trouble. (Thanks to PejmanPundit for finding it first).
Standardized testing for college students
The Illinois Board of Higher Education is considering holding colleges accountable with standardized assessments, but they seem to be going about it in a half-hearted fashion:
One of the proposed solutions is through the use of standardized testing, similar to the IGAP tests taken by high school juniors each year. The tests are not intended to be a critique of a student’s progress through college, but to be analyzed as a group to gain information about where a particular department or curriculum stands with respect to others...There are drawbacks to these tests. The tests would rely heavily on student good will. Since they would not be part of any coursework and would not affect a particular student’s GPA, it would be difficult to ensure students would take them seriously...Though a good idea in theory, the simple reality is that such tests would not be possible on the scale required to make them useful at a large university such as [Northern Illinois University].
Wow. I don't know that I've ever before read anything by a college newspaper journalist who complains that the testing stakes aren't high enough to be useful.
Will low SAT scores continue to keep college athletes on the bench? Perhaps not. Today, the NCAA Board of Directors will decide whether standardized test scores will continue to be used to determine academic eligibility for intercollegiate sports participation. Proposition 48 began this practice in 1983, but there's a new proposal that includes a sliding scale:
In the future, those in [potential college athlete] Brooks's position might not face the same fate. Currently, the SAT minimum score is 820 for a student with a core GPA of 2.5 and above. The new proposal would adjust the sliding scale under which a student with a 2.55 core GPA would need an 800 on the SAT to qualify. Students with a 2.75 core GPA would need a 720 under the proposal. Students with a 3.55 core GPA would need the minimum score of 400 under the proposal.
The new standards would affect less than 1 percent of all recruits who would enter college next fall, said Kevin Lennon, NCAA vice president of membership services. Of that 1 percent, 75 percent are minority students and 60 percent are black...In previous years, the 1 percent affected by Proposition 48, the 1983 policy that set minimum standards of first-year eligibility, might have spent at least a semester at a prep school or two years at a junior college working to qualify.
Interesting. So if a student comes from a high school with rampant grade inflation, the required SAT score slides down to truly miserable levels (the requirement is not a 400 on each section - that 400 is a combined score out of 1600). Perhaps less than 1 percent of those expected to enter college next fall will be affected, but this new proposal basically removes any need to do well on the SAT for those with promising collegiate athletic ability, so I would expect the numbers to rise. And what's going to happen to graduation rates for college athletes after this rule takes effect? Isn't the real point of going to college to get an education and graduate? Will students with combined scores of 400 on the SAT have a good chance of doing so?
A Halloween rant
What was I thinking?
Here I am, trying to lose some weight, and this week I bought nine bags of Halloween candy to give out tonight - and I bought only my favorite kinds of candy. Am I insane? I mean, here was my chance to have some non-tempting candy around the house for a couple of days, and I blew it. I could have bought Almond Joys, Peppermint Patties, Nestle's Crunch, candy corn...I can resist all of those 'til the cows come home. That candy would have sat here, uneaten, in my big plastic cauldron until tonight, and the kids on my block would have been just as appreciative of it.
But noooo, I had to go buy Baby Ruths, and Butterfingers, and Reeses Peanut Butter Cups. Do you know how many Baby Ruths I've eaten over the past few days? Peanut Butter Cups?
What the hell was I thinking?
Results obtained from behavioral genetic model–fitting analyses of data from parents and their children tested at age 16 are consistent with results of studies of twins and siblings indicating that individual differences in reading performance are due substantially to genetic influences. In contrast, environmental transmission from parents to offspring was negligible, suggesting that environmental influences on individual differences in the reading performance of children are largely independent of parental reading performance.
Hmm. No sample sizes are provided, which is odd, so I can't say much about the generalizability of the study. I'd also like to know the size of the significant correlations - some effects are significant yet not meaningful. I'd also like to know a lot more about how a child becomes involved in the Colorado Adoption Project - are we talking about only middle-class adoptees here? Is there a balance of race and sex across the adopted children? Do adoptive parents read to their children more or less than biological parents? Without reading the full paper, it's hard to know how much weight to give their conclusion, which is that a lot of reading capability is genetically influenced, and that the environmental effects on reading ability may not be related to environmental parental effect.
True-False test questions for college students
1. Declaring your campus a "Weapon-Free Zone" will prevent mass murderers from shooting students and professors.
2. Any well-known historian, author, and expert on formal Islamic discrimination against Jews and Christians who points out the incompatibility between jihadic "tolerance" and human rights based on the equality of all human beings is hateful and wrong.
3. Dropping the word "Confederate" from the name of a dormitory is an important part of dealing with the issue of race relations in the United States, and the diversity of the college experience should not include any historical signs of Confederate origin.
4. The United States, which is a free republic, is morally equivalent to savage, totalitarian regimes such as Iraq.
5. Female college students must be protected at all times from accidentally viewing and being offended by quasi-sexual content on another student's computer . Futhermore, if the student that they accuse of sexual harassment goes public to depend himself, this must be viewed as "retaliation" against the accusers.
6. A pro-life student group cannot be allowed to officially exist at a university unless they agree to amend their constitution to include an anti-death-penalty position, because to advocate "pro-life principles [only] as applied to abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide" is too narrow. Other narrowly-focused student groups, such as those limiting their members to include only those of a certain race, sex, or political viewpoint, need not be constrained by this rule.
7. Professors should be encouraged to state explicit guidelines for classroom discussions that demand that students accept as fact the existence of many forms of institutionalized oppression in, and the systematic and ingrained distribution of misinformation by, the United States. Any professor who does so is not obligated to supply any proof for these statements.
The correct answer in each case is "False". See, who said you couldn't test higher-order thinking with simple multiple-choice and true-false questions?
Shout-outs go to Instapundit (# 1), National Review Online (# 2), Highered Intelligence (# 3), FrontPageMagazine (# 4), The Volokh Conspiracy (# 5), The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (# 6), and CantWatch (# 7), for finding these stories before I did.
Can a student be expelled for expressing a politically-incorrect viewpoint? Dan Hubert, assistant editor of the Observer, University of Wisconsin-Waukesha's student newspaper, is the student in question. It seems that after the fatal beating of Charlie Young Jr. by a pack of young black kids, Mr. Hubert responded with the idea that welfare could be held to blame:
"Stop the welfare payments and you'll end the madness," wrote assistant editor Dan Hubert in the latest issue...In his column, which appears on the Observer editorial page, Hubert calls the suspects "monsters" and adds that "no federally funded after-school basketball program could have prevented this."
He also cites a "baggy pants" clothing style "associated with the derelicts and bohemians of society," and he charges that unwed fathers and mothers living on welfare make poor role models for children.
"Who is gunning down black people in Milwaukee? Who is holding the black community in Milwaukee down?" he continues. "The answer is simple: black people."
Stereotypical? Provocative? A simplistic cause posited to explain a complex effect? Unsupported by the data? Yes, yes, yes, and maybe. Should Mr. Hubert be expelled for writing this? Absolutely not. Some students were "insulted" by his remarks, but that should have no effect on Mr. Hubert's ability to attend college. Yes, the newspaper staff may decide that he doesn't represent the student body. Yes, some students may ostracize him. Yes, some students may publish a rebuttal to his remarks. But Mr. Hubert was not inciting violence against blacks, nor was he defaming anyone, nor was he saying anything that is not protected by the First Amendment. He did not use "fighting words", but he was expressing a politically-incorrect viewpoint, and that's what all the fuss is about.
You see, there are no calls for expulsions for students who call George Bush a "homicidal maniac". There are no calls for the expulsions of Cornell students who claim that America killed more natives than the Nazis did Jews. There are no calls for expulsions for students who arrange on-campus pro-Palestinian events that call for an end to Israeli "racism" but fail to criticize Palestinian suicide bombers. These attitudes - anti-American, anti-Bush, anti-Israel - are all chic on campus right now, and the students who bellow their opinions on these matters are just exercising their constitutionally-protected free speech.
But Mr. Hubert is a "racist", so he must be silenced - and expelled. What a sickening thought. I'm glad to see that Dean Brad Stewart plans no disciplinary action against Mr. Hubert, although he does plan to place him in a tuition-free multiculturalism course. Good. I bet Mr. Hubert will shake 'em up.
Love the Cranky Professor's take on whether or not everyone should go to college:
Graduate from high school, have a modicum of intelligence, go to college immediately. Otherwise see yourself in Washington Post Sunday feature stories as a potentially alienated and angry poor white male...Laura Sessions Stepp wrote an article that is an odd combination of sociological concern, condescension toward white people, and human interest profile. What it’s not about, of course, is why someone should go to college.
In fact, Ben Farmer, the subject of the interview, has a better idea than Ms. Stepp does about what college is. Her opening paragraph pictures him thinking about: the buddies he graduated from high school with last year. They're off at college, probably partying tonight, the beer, the girls, at Virginia Tech, Radford, wherever...He says in paragraph four:"It was going to be this big, tough, hard, hard time in which all you'd do is write papers, which I don't like to do."
Yes, it was going to be like that. And if he doesn’t like that kind of thing he would have focused on the partying, the beer, and the girls instead of the papers. So going to college, despite the fact that all rational people should want to go there, would have been a waste.
Mr. Farmer is the only person in the article who suggests what college should be about – work. Writing papers. Learning. Every consideration Ms. Stepp provides – from sociologists and high school guidance counselors, from community college administrators to her own presuppositions – is that college is a preparatory step to a ‘good career’. It has no content or purpose of its own....Ms. Stepp says: “Those who hold bachelor’s degrees have a hard time understanding why anyone wouldn’t want one.” She’s projecting that thought on the administrators at Mr. Farmer’s high school in part to criticize them for not encouraging students to try vocational schools or community colleges. I think she’s right about the substance – we should send more people from high school to those kinds of institutions rather than shipping them off to Virginia Tech, but I’m including Ms. Stepp among the ‘those’ who can’t quite get their imaginations around why not everyone wants or needs a bachelor’s degree.
When students read, should they be warned if what they're reading has been exposed as a hoax? The recent resignation of disgraced Emory professor and author Michael Bellesiles has provoked much discussion about academic honesty. I haven't been covering the Bellesiles scandal, because it falls too far from the issue of standardized testing, but I do believe that the investigation of Bellesiles, and his subsequent resignation, represent a return to high research standards and a refusal to accept shoddy research that furthers a politically-correct agenda. An editorial in the Emory Wheel sums it up best:
If Bellesiles did find the environment at Emory hostile, he has only himself to blame. Throughout the controversy, Bellesiles repeatedly made conflicting and misleading claims to the media, as well as to those who openly criticized him. His defenses and evidence were consistently erratic, and only furthered the skepticism of those following the case. He also claims the scope of the committee's investigation was too narrow, and that his main thesis still holds true despite the errors found in a minor part of his research.
By making this claim, Bellesiles is skirting the real issue. It doesn't matter now if the argument in Arming America is valid -- it matters that he has lied numerous times in defending his book. It's unfortunate that Bellesiles, who is a talented, brilliant writer and scholar, will have his reputation marred by his evasive statements.
The investigation, and Bellesiles' subsequent resignation, should be a reminder to the Emory community that academic research is, above all, about searching for the absolute truth. That's what our professors teach students every day. We should expect the same from them.
Got an interesting email today that is Dr. Thomas Reeves' account of teaching students at an open-admission university. I have no link for the article, the title of which is, "My Experience Teaching Apathetic Students at a School with Open Admissions" so I'll quote at length:
"Since 1970 I have taught history at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, in Kenosha. This campus admits 95 percent of its applicants and boasts in newspaper ads that acceptance can be granted almost immediately. In the fall of 2000, only 8 percent of its incoming freshmen ranked in the top ten percent of their high school class. A whopping 42 percent ranked in the bottom half of their high school class...[by 1994] the number of all incoming freshmen graduating after four years was a mere 12 percent.
"Teaching American history for more than thirty years at Parkside has given me the opportunity to learn much about the dynamics of open admissions in higher education. Speaking with other faculty, locally and at similar campuses across the country over the decades, in my own academic discipline and in others, I've become convinced that my experiences are by no means unusual. What I have seen going on in the world of open admissions education I call "The Classroom Game."
"Since I teach two introductory survey courses every semester in American history, let me begin there. One quickly learns that the young people signed up for 101 and 102 (the chronological break between the courses at Parkside is 1877) know virtually nothing about the history of their own nation. They have no grasp of colonial America...or the nation's constitutional machinery. All religion baffles them (no doubt a tribute to the secularism dominant in modern public schools), all intellectual history eludes them, and politics bores them. Even after instruction, they often confuse World War I and World War II... Almost all of the students simply refuse to memorize the Chief Executives in their proper chronological order. In fact, they choose to ignore dates of any kind; written exams rarely contain any.
"This proud ignorance rests on a seemingly invincible anti-intellectualism...These amiable, polite, almost invariably likeable young people read little or nothing. In a class of 50, not more than one or two read a newspaper daily; what tiny grasp they have of current events comes from television news. Reading books and magazines outside the classroom is not something they would even consider doing. In short, they have no intellectual life and see no need for one.
"How much reading should be assigned? I have dropped my standards over the years by two-thirds. Still, I am routinely described as extremely demanding...Yielding somewhat to the pressure, in 102 not long ago I assigned 20 pages a week in my own textbook, a brief history of America in the twentieth century. A senior sociology major informed me angrily that no one else among her professors that semester was so demanding. Twenty pages a week. The experiment in minimal reading ended in failure: students still wouldn't complete the assignment.
"In 102, I recently added an Internet requirement. I devoted considerable time to finding relevant web pages, many containing photographs and filmsof major people and events covered in class. Since young people spend a great deal of time at the computer, I assumed this would prove popular. Most of my students simply refused to do it. I could generate no interest in the assignment at all. Many young people, apparently, do not consider education a valid function of the Internet."
And on, and on, and depressingly on. When no standards are required for college admission, it is no surprise that the college classes will have to be dumbed down to satisfy those who cannot meet even minimum standards. But flunking students is now an unpopular act, and the results of this on open-admission students is predictable:
"The Classroom Game, then, is about gaining academic credits while successfully resisting education...The professor, fearing the student evaluations that are taken seriously by many faculty and administrators at this level of academia, and increasingly weary of clinging to intellectual standards long abandoned by colleagues in their quest for popularity and security, often winds up caving in and giving the students what they want, including high grades. (The sciences are less likely to succumb than the liberal arts and social sciences, but the "dumbing down" is in evidence everywhere.)...
"The Game decrees that majors will receive good grades, regardless of their effort. Disciplines need majors. Without them, the Department members would be teaching nothing but survey courses and would be less able to successfully request additional funds and faculty...Fortunately for the students, graduation requirements have continued to drop in recent years all across the nation and at all levels. Only two percent of the colleges and universities require a history course of any kind.
"The destructive impact of Open Admissions and The Classroom Game on the quality of higher education should be obvious. The demonstrable drop in educational standards over the past forty years has been tragic. But what about the effect on students? What about the countless thousands of young people who flunk out or drop out every year when they realize that they cannot handle even the minimal standards that face them?"
Guess the educrats will call for more "self-esteem" training then.
The Los Angeles Times has noticed the anti-testing backlash across the U.S.(registration required).
The most aggressive [anti-testing candidate] has been Bill McBride, the Democratic nominee in Florida, who is pledging to scrap the testing-based system for grading school performance that Republican Gov. Jeb Bush counts as a key achievement...Democratic nominees in Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Texas also are pledging to roll back their states' use of standardized tests.
The article contains this whopper from Mr. McBride himself:
"High-stakes testing has never been supported by people who know anything about how kids should be treated and how they should be evaluated," he said. "A standardized test shouldn't be a determinant of anything other than to find where kids are [academically], and then you ... help them."
Now, it's not that Mr. McBride doesn't have some useful ideas for how standardized tests can be used, or that he is wrong in claiming that some uses are not helpful or valid. He plans to water down the usefulness of the existing tests, of course, by refusing to rank schools by performance and refusing to offer vouchers to parents whose kids are in failing schools. He does plan a "report card" for schools that incorporates test scores, but if schools suffer no disadvantage by ranking at the bottom, and parents have no say in whether their child can switch out of failing school, what's the point in giving a report card in the first place? What's the point of a school report card that is essentially no-stakes?
What's more, it's hard to take seriously anyone who makes the claim that "high-stakes testing has never been supported by people who know anything about how kids should be treated". It's a bald-faced whopper that I wouldn't expect even from a politician, and it's a slap in the face to testing organizations, school district adminstrators, teachers, and the schools who rely on high-stakes testing as a method to help their students improve. I'd like to see Mr. McBride try that line on any of the prinicipals listed in the report, No Excuses: Seven Principals of Low-Income Schools Who Set the Standard For High Acheivement. One of the indispensable methods listed by these principals is, "Rigorous and regular testing leads to continuous student acheivement".
So who's backing Mr. McBride?
McBride denies that his agenda has been shaped by the teachers: "The teachers have never asked anything of me."...But the ties between his campaign and the 122,000-member Florida Education Assn. are broad and deep. The union provided McBride his first major endorsement, invested nearly $2 million in advertising that helped him upset former U.S. Atty. Gen. Janet Reno for the Democratic nomination and has detailed its longtime political director to serve as McBride's campaign manager for the general election.
Much of that commitment has been generated by opposition to Bush's testing and voucher program, said Maureen Dinnen, the union's president. "It ... puts the blame on teachers for everything that is wrong in education."
No, it just refuses to allow teachers to escape blame entirely, which is what the union would prefer.
I agree that testing in and of itself does not solve problems, and I can understand the frustration of teachers whose students perform poorly on tests, in school districts that have not implemented useful reforms. But the tests are still the best way to see which reforms work and which don't. Mr. McBride, and the teachers' union, would like to remove the methods of making that distinction.
Dinesh D'Souza takes down the educational "self-esteem" myth in an excellent Christian Science Monitor article. Joanne Jacobs has recently discussed this topic, and upon Mr. D'Souza's article, in her weekly Jewish World Review column.
The gist of all this criticism is that "self-esteem", and a single-minded pursuit of it, has become highly overrated in the educational world. Educators often downplay actual learning, because they believe that merely "raising self-esteem" is the key to better performance for students who typically underperform. The intentions may have been good, but they have certainly paved the road to hell. The liberal educrats intent on protecting self-esteem by attacking standardized tests have not gotten the results they desired:
Many liberal educators support restrictive speech codes and antiracism education because they wish to protect the self-esteem of women and minorities. So, too, many liberal activists don't like standardized tests because some people do better on those tests than others, and liberals worry that poor-performing students may suffer blows to their self-esteem.
Several years ago, a state-funded group called the California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem conducted a study to explore the relationship between self-esteem and academic performance. The study found, to task force members' own evident chagrin, that higher self-esteem does not produce better intellectual performance. Nor does it produce more desirable social outcomes, such as lower teen pregnancy or reduced delinquency.
These findings have been corroborated by academic studies comparing the self-image and academic performance of American students with that of students from other industrialized countries...None of this is to suggest that the research on self-esteem shows no relationship between self-confidence and academic performance. There is a relationship, but it runs in the opposite direction. Self-esteem doesn't produce enhanced achievement, but achievement produces enhanced self-esteem.
This, of course, is self-evident, to anyone not brainwashed by the cult of educational jargon and bogus "self-esteem" programs. How on earth did the concept that basing a foundation of self-esteem and self-worth on nothing other than praise and warm fuzzies ever get off the ground? How was it missed that people who genuinely feel good about themselves often have the hard work and good deeds to show for it? Even for the educrats, it seems like a stretch.
I'm back, I'm back, I'm back....and what have we got in the testing news today?
And I'm off!
No bloggage for the next few days - I'm taking a little vacation to visit one of my best friends, who just had her first child - her little "posterior distribution", as we psychometric geeks like to say. Everyone be safe (hopefully those of you around DC are permanently safer) and happy and I'll be back on Monday.
"Vouchers are out, and after-school programs are in", according to this Stateline.org article on education reform programs and controversies. One interesting controversy concerns Proposition 49 in California, which appropriates state funds for a specific after-school program, the Before and After School State Learning and Safe Neighborhoods Partnership Program. The League of Women Voters in California are out to stop it, but they're financially outgunned by none other than Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has has already raised $8 million towards the passing of Prop. 49.
A creative approach to school reform - breaking one school down into three distinct schools under one roof. Manual High School in Denver used to rank at the bottom in test scores. Now the school has been restructured, and students identify themselves as belonging to either the Millennium Quest, the Leadership, or the Arts and Cultural Studies high school:
...below the surface, three distinct schools – not the more common schools-within-schools – are operating. The faculty and administration at each have just 350 or so students to get to know, and each school has a focus area: science and math, business and government, language and arts..."Small schools"...have been linked to significant improvements, including reduced school violence, better grades, and increased graduation and college-attendance rates – but they're not just about reducing the number of students. Manual may have taken the biggest leap when it started its separation into three schools last year, but the more substantive changes – how teachers teach, how students' needs are met, how curriculums are designed – are just beginning.
It'll be interesting to see how this turns out.
Dr. W. S. Wilson is a professor of Mathematics at Johns Hopkins University. Dr. Wilson has a web page, which includes a description of his experience as a panelist at a math instructors' session at the Association of Independent Maryland Schools annual conference. He discovered, to his dismay, that some instructors are very fond of "technology in math instruction" - i.e., calculators:
One of the other panelists is the principal of a major boy's private school in Baltimore. Before being the Principal of the Upper School he was the Academic Dean and before that Head of the Mathematics Department. He said something which I found truly astonishing. He thinks so highly of technology (i.e. he has made his students so dependent on calculators) that he tells his students that when they visit colleges they should interview the chair of the mathematics department and find out if they allow the use of calculators. If they don't then they should consider the college to not be a good fit....
Mike McKeown of Mathematically Correct, who pointed me towards this page, provided this addendum to Dr. Wilson's comments:
In other words, this expensive, elite, private school has taken parents' money for 4, 8, 12 (?) years to leave its students so lacking in computational skills that they can't take steve's calculus class and might not even apply to johns hopkins or other elite universities if they have to do math without a calculator.
Yes, the only saving grace I see here is that the principal is being honest about the mathematical disabilities of his students - it sounds like any program that forbade them to use calculators would indeed be a bad fit. And if the parents who are paying for this education suffered through poor math education as well, they probably are incapable of seeing the disgraceful attitude embedded in that advice.
Revisionism at work
FrontpageMagazine has an article today about the appalling bias evident in middle-school literature textbooks. Reporter Edgar Anderson gives anecdotal evidence to support his claim that "Anti-American and multicultural propagandists are constantly at work attacking the minds of even our youngest children", but his examples are doozies. No Americans worth mentioning died at Pearl Harbor, Cesar Chavez should be considered more important than Abraham Lincoln, and we should all be concerned with the innermost thoughts and feelings of grafitti artists - at least according to textbooks published by the Houghton Mifflin Company and Simon & Schuster. As I said, it's anecdotal evidence, but compelling enough that I wish someone would do a more scholarly review of textbooks within states to see if this bias is pervasive.
Entertaining educational news
James Lileks discovers that Minnesota's schoolchildren are required to pledge allegiance to dirt. Yet more reason to homeschool. Children in Scotland used their powers of reason and sense of irony to turn the tables on a couple of ridiculous, presumptuous PETA activists. And Dave Barry disputes poll results that indicate Florida is only the third-stupidest state. In any meaningful poll, Florida would have to rank at the bottom - what states could be stupider than "the state that STILL does not really know who it voted for in the 2000 presidential election"? The answer may surprise you.
Numbers like armor
An article in today's Tenneseean.com describes a local coordinator who carries test scores around "like armor":
The numbers [Metro Title I coordinator] Wanda Holman carries around with her like armor may be hard to understand, but her mission isn't...So many people, she says, see these like a boat with so many holes that it is useless to try to bail out any water. Holman wants people to know that even if struggling schools fail to bring runners home, some of them do consistently load the bases...The metaphors are Holman's, but the numbers she brandishes belong to the students she is defending. They're state test results, and they prove that some of Metro's poorest schools are outscoring their wealthier counterparts and are improving at a rapid pace...The numbers disarm those who do not think high-poverty schools can overcome their disadvantages, but then Holman brings out an even more powerful weapon: specific information about how those schools did it.
Holman has a simple approach. She has analyzed schools' state test scores and compiled a list of the 18 Title I elementary schools in Metro that scored above the national and district averages in all grades tested...Educators at those schools say the improvement started with data. A couple of years ago, Metro's testing gurus began providing them with scorecards that showed what skills their students did and did not pass on the state's standardized exam. They trained them how to use those scorecards to change what they did in the classroom...They analyzed the test to provide teachers with a list of skills that mattered most and were realistic for students.
I think Ms. Holman's conclusions are a good rebuttal to administrators who claim that testing is overrated and that testing pressure is always harmful to kids and to schools. While it's true that tests in and of themselves cannot make the necessary improvements to help change a failing school, the tests are an invaluable component of school improvement. I think that tests are not helpful if the scores are not used or interpreted in a timely fashion - certainly some of the current K-12 testing programs have been put into place too hastily and have not yet properly resolved the important score reporting and QC'ing issues - but I have yet to see a testing critic provide hard evidence that testing is overrated (in the sense of providing no help for school reforms), or that children are harmed by testing.
Joanne Jacobs' new article is up on today's Jewish World Review. Enjoy!
What's more, I didn't realize until today that Joanne had posted a submission to the MSNBC's "Best of Blogs" website, and that she listed Number 2 Pencil as one of her "blogchildren". What a kind and thoughtful thing to do. 'Tis true that I was inspired by her and wrote her for advice before starting this blog, and I appreciate the help and emotional support she has given me.
While I'm at it, though, I'm going to pick a fight with the editor who decided to post a warning that some of the material on Little Green Footballs is "hateful" towards Muslims. What an appalling and incorrect label. Charles Johnson is tenacious in pointing out the anti-US, anti-Israel, anti-Semitic, anti-free-speech "hate speech" that infests so much of the world's news nowadays, and it's well-known to even the casual reader of his site that his comments sections are populated by some of the most thoughtful and interesting readers around. None of them follow the politically-correct line of avoiding the criticism of anything Muslim, but unlike other supposedly-free, Western countries where criticizing Islam can lead to jail time, the US is a country where you have the freedom to call someone's religion "stupid" and openly criticize the fanatical wings of religious groups (Jerry Falwell, anyone?) Charles Johnson is not hateful toward Muslims - in fact, he often posts letters and articles by Muslim writers who dare to defy the Islamofascist party line. It's just that he isn't afraid to point out the hateful actions of Islamic extremists, and I'm very glad that he and his site exist.
What is going on in Colorado?
I had been following the battle over bilingual eduation in Colorado only tangientially (click on the archives link at the bottom, then on the 10/4 link, to read about it), but the mailing list that I'm on sent around a very interesting letter today from Ron Unz, the chair of English for the Children, a group combating the bilingual-only educators. Here are selected quotes:
As I have mentioned previously, the wide lead that this measure, Amendment 31 [to end bilingual education for most of Colorado's non-English-speaking students], had long enjoyed in public opinion polls has now been largely reduced to a dead-heat by a massive opposition advertising campaign, funded entirely by a somewhat eccentric white billionaire heiress named Pat Stryker, whose political contribution of $3M is far and away the largest in Colorado history.
As was also mentioned, the massive advertising campaign funded by that white billionaire seems intended to play on the unsubtle fears of white conservative voters, running visually-gripping ads featuring throbbing doomsday music while an announcer claims “We know that Amendment 31 will knowingly force children who can barely speak English into regular classrooms, creating chaos and disrupting learning”...
Now massive advertising campaigns intended to provoke fearful and base reactions among white voters may have obvious consequences, even if some of those particular consequences are not entirely intended by the billionaires funding the campaigns. Given these facts, we should not be wholly astonished at the breaking news stories now starting to appear in the Colorado media.
On Friday night, for example, [leader of the ballot initiative to scrap bilingual education] Rita Montero’s car was fire-bombed outside her modest home in Denver, and the police have confirmed arson as the cause of the nine-foot-high flames. Added to the pattern of late-night menacing phone calls, garbage thrown into the yards of Amendment 31 supporters, signs torn down, and jobs threatened, Colorado seems almost to be bizarrely heading down the path of reenacting some television documentary of the desegregation struggles of 1965 Mississippi.
Even more troubling is the report that just days after a young Latina immigrant girl was shown on the local television news expressing her desire to be moved from segregated Spanish-only classes to regular classes with white students, the embarrassed Denver school in question did exactly that, but the white teacher in her new white classroom immediately burned her hand with the open flames of a Bunsen Burner, allegedly as part of a science lesson intended to teach her “how molecules expand.”
What a truly bizarre story. An oddball billionairess donating wads of cash and running incendiary ads in order to keep non-English-speaking students out of English-only classes, a firebombing against a proponent of English-only education, and an alleged assault by a teacher.
Do I have any readers in Colorado? Is anyone out there following this story? I usually only mention the bilingual-ed educational programs in order to point out that, for example, they don't seem to work very well, if you define "work" as "teaching kids to be literate in English". Now it appears the multiculturalist educators and rich benefactors have unwillingly aligned themselves with the racists in their attempts to keep Colorado's kids from learning English. What a mess.
California tops itself
Wow. Just when I thought the news from California couldn't get any worse...
The Davis administration has suspended its much-touted education awards program for this academic year, apparently stiffing more than 2,300 high-performing campuses and their teachers out of millions of dollars in bonus money. Administration officials acknowledged Thursday that the state's budget crisis has made it impossible to fund the awards -- a key element of the state's accountability program -- which have slowly been scaled back as economic woes have worsened...
The only money currently available in the budget for awards--$144 million--is going to retroactively pay last year's winning schools, she said. The separate $100-million bonus system just for teachers was dropped last year for lack of money and is not expected to be funded retroactively.
The loss of award money has dismayed some educators. "This is not good news at all," said Crystal Whitley, principal of Fontana Middle School, which had planned to use award money for new furniture, overhead projectors and textbooks. "We're talking about losing basic things that kids and teachers need."
Not surprisingly, this dilemma is fine with those who disagreed with the awarding of money in the first place:
Some teachers and principals, however, said they won't miss the award money, calling huge bonuses for individual teachers divisive and unnecessary. Many teachers and lawmakers said it was unfair to reward some and not others. "I am glad we're not getting the money," said Nancy Sassaman, an English teacher at Diamond Ranch High School in Pomona. "I would rather students improved, not because schools got money, but because they genuinely learned more."
Yeah, bonuses based on performance sure are divisive. And it certainly is unfair to reward some people and not others - in the teaching world. The rest of the working world tends to disagree with those statements.
John Wilber, principal of Fillmore High School, said the money is irrelevant to the more pressing goal: ensuring that all students pass the state's new high school exit exam. "I don't see any difference in how hard our school tries on these tests each year, with or without the economic rewards," he said. "It's always nice to have extra money, but it doesn't make any real difference."
OK, so some schools apparently need that extra money, while others don't. Some people are convinced that teachers should work hard solely for the love of the art of teaching, while others (myself included) don't see why teachers should be expected to be different from other hard-working people, who would like to see monetary awards for better performance.
Ah, California. Always grist for the testing blogmill.
More comments on the anti-testing movement
Peter Wood has a delicious column today in the National Review about teacher's colleges who use a loophole to avoid accountability, and the rise of the Anti-Testing movement. The entire article is well worth the read, but I just have to quote selected passages here:
The General Accounting Office reported last week that it has uncovered a loophole in federal regulations aimed at holding teachers' colleges accountable for the quality of their programs. Since the passage of the Higher Education Amendments of 1998, teachers' colleges have been required to report the percentage of their graduates who pass their state teachers' examinations. Some teachers' colleges, however, dodge the rule by claiming that only those students who pass the exam are genuine graduates — and therefore report that 100 percent of their graduates pass...
...I don't mean to say that teachers' colleges are the only reason why our schools fall so short...But the teachers' colleges provide a kind of foundational badness that makes everything else worse...That some of these schools would like to flatter themselves and lie to the public by boasting of 100-percent passage rates on state teachers' examinations is no great surprise. They spend much of their time focused on educational procedure at the expense of substance; they make a fetish out of counting the uncountable and miscounting everything else...
It may not be amiss to suggest a wider context. The ed schools that are manipulating definitions of who is a graduate in order to claim 100-percent passage rates on state exams are yet another instance of what might be called the Anti-Testing movement, the effort by the Cultural Left to nullify all forms of objective evaluation. The Anti-Testing Movement has won key victories in undermining the SAT (see "The SAT Asterisk" and "Seeing Our Future") and is pressing ahead.
Anti-Testing is fueled by a combination of identity politics and simple-minded egalitarianism. The Anti-Testers often say they are not against tests per se, but only want "fair" tests. But their definition of "fair" is much like the ed school's definition of "graduate." What's fair, according to the Anti-Testers, is whatever produces the outcome they would like. Often what they have in mind is higher scores for African Americans and Hispanics, but the goal varies...
The egalitarian component of the Anti-Test argument usually takes the form of insisting that college admissions offices and other bodies should "take the whole person into account."...The purpose of standardized testing is precisely not to take the "whole person" into account, but to isolate and measure the handful of variables that bear most directly on whether a candidate is likely to succeed. Those variables are colorblind and indifferent to whether a candidate is disabled. The "whole person" approach, to the contrary, is a means of opening competitions to any and all kinds of manipulation....
Lying about graduation rates is only a small jump from lying about the SATs or demanding that college admissions be based on evaluations of each and every "whole person." These are all reflections of the Anti-Test Movement, which found its main line of argument in the no-objectivity-is-possible sophistry of recent years. Postmodernity is the philosophy that allows you to feel good about lying. And the ed schools are merely the caboose on the train of postmodernism.
Ahh, Mr. Wood's comments just make me feel good all over. Of course, I'm envious that he just expressed my exact viewpoint in a much more elegant way than I ever could have, but I relish his commentary nonetheless.
Jonathan Kozol, renowned author of Death At An Early Age and other books critical of the public school system, has resurfaced to give his opinion about the rise in standardized testing:
Lately, he's been aiming both barrels at the national obsession with standardized testing, a cornerstone in the Leave No Child Behind legislation, designed to measure school and student performance. He says setting and enforcing academic standards without first expending resources to educate disadvantaged youngsters hurts more than it helps...
The tests aren't supposed to discourage students, but they do, he says. The tests aren't supposed to dissuade dedicated and idealistic teachers from serving in inner-city schools, but that's happening. Principals aren't supposed to be drill sergeants, standing with stopwatches ready as classes prepare for tests with sample questions and test-based curricula, but that's happening too, he says...
One school Mr. Kozol visits often in the South Bronx is different, he says. There the principal, a Hispanic woman, refuses to be intimidated by the tests and won't restrict the school's curricula. Ironically, her students score high on the tests.
I think Mr. Kozol's view is balanced and completely understandable. It is a bad idea to implement tests without first implementing the educational reforms - the tests are supposed to measure the quality of the reforms, not improve education and of themselves. The students shouldn't be afraid of the tests, and the curriculum shouldn't be restricted solely to the material on the tests.
City of Brotherly Love - and woeful test scores
Sigh. Another article about the state of schools in my "adopted hometown" of Philadelphia, and as usual, it ain't pretty.
OF 500 SCHOOL districts in Pennsylvania, only a handful scored lower than Philadelphia in math and in reading over the last five years...When did the scores begin to drop? Would more money have made a difference? With the legislature eyeing property-tax reform, getting the answers right is more important than ever. The city's scores on the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests actually rose slightly relative to the rest of the state in the early 1990s, peaking in 1993-94, then declining slowly but steadily for the rest of the decade by 3 to 4 percent.
And who's to blame for this state of affairs? Not the state of Pennsylvania:
Trying to blaming the state is understandable, but the evidence indicates that Philadelphia's educational woes were of its own making during the mid-to late-'90s. The decline started right after Mayor Ed Rendell's handpicked school superintendent, David Hornbeck, took over.
After accounting for inflation, Philadelphia's per-pupil expenditures did indeed fall 9 percent over the 1990s, but the relative drop in test scores was even greater. To get some perspective, Philadelphia's spending is now about at the national average...Child poverty is a serious problem in Philadelphia, but it was improving during the late '90s, so it cannot explain the declining test scores.
The inefficiencies in Philadelphia's school system were striking. During the 1990s, our best estimates indicate that even an additional $1,000 increase per pupil would have raised average test scores of around 1,100 by less than one point...Whether the new educational system imposed on city schools this year will work won't be known for at least a few years, but clearly the city was not doing its job. The money spent under the old regime essentially disappeared without a trace...Philadelphia had been unique in the state for the complete power that the city had over its school system, so escaping blame for what happened during the 1990s is not easy.
I don't have a child in the Philadelphia school system, nor do I work with K-12 testing, so I know only what I read in the papers (and what my readers send me). And no one - not reporters, not teachers, and not parents - seems to feel optimistic about the situation improving anytime soon.
Diane Ravitch leads the revolution
Good piece in the NY Daily News today by Ms. Ravitch entitled, "Bust the monopoly - New York's schools are ripe for revolution". In the article, Ms. Ravitch criticizes the current leaders of school reform in New York for their lack of support for vouchers and charter schools:
What is surprising is that [NY Dept. of Education leader Joel] Klein has expressed no support for a concept that the Clinton administration did support strongly: charter schools — public schools that are given a high degree of autonomy in exchange for accountability.
Today, there are more than 2,700 charter schools in operation across the nation, but only 38 in New York State — and just 18 of them in New York City. New York's small number stands in sharp contrast to states such as California with 450 charter schools, Florida with 232, Texas with 228 and Michigan with nearly 200. Houston alone has 66 charter schools, and Detroit, 54.
And why should Mr. Klein lead the revolution in New York to start more charter schools?
Studies have shown that charter schools tend to have smaller classes and fewer administrators and devote more of their dollars to classroom instruction. Their basic principles are that the professionals who run the schools should have greater autonomy, that the schools should be accountable for student learning and that students should attend schools of choice. No wonder parents, students and teachers like them so much.
Some of the existing charter schools are outstanding, like the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Academy in the Bronx, the Bronx Preparatory Charter School, and Beginning with Children in Brooklyn. Successful charter schools not only have impressive academic gains, but long waiting lists.
Will Mr. Klein take heed of Ms. Ravitch's call to arms? Stay tuned.
I just found a wonderfully-titled and informative blog that chronicles the idiocy of zero-tolerance policies - Our Horrible Children.
In response the California Federation of Teacher's anti-war manifesto, I give you a magnificent Anti-Idiotarian Manifesto by Eric S. Raymond. Any chance we can hire him to teach our kids?
More MCAS decisions
I've blogged before about the decision by Massachusetts to make the state standardized test, the MCAS, into an exit exam for high school students (and I'd link to it, if my archives worked).
My initial posting on this was in regards to the decision by school district board members to create a second tier and award a "certificate of achievement" to students who fulfill every other criteria for the high school diploma but bomb the MCAS. So, the MCAS is the exit exam, but not really, and if you bomb it and pass everything else, you get this certificate, which is like a high school diploma, but not really.
The predictable result? Community colleges in Massachusetts aren't sure whether to admit student who fail the MCAS:
The state's community colleges are deciding whether to allow high school students who fail the MCAS to enroll in classes if they pass a federal standardized test, according to higher education officials.
Several colleges that currently require applicants to have a high school diploma or an equivalent are weighing whether to make an exception for students who pass the federal test known as the Accuplacer, which is used to assess whether students qualify for federal financial aid...
The challenge for the community colleges, Keller said, is how to offer opportunity to students without "negating the MCAS." Keller said that any changes at Springfield would apply to all students who fail to receive a high school diploma, regardless of the reason.
An interesting, and completely forseeable, dilemma. The schools have created the hurdle of exit exams (which regular readers will know that I dislike), and now the community colleges are forced to choose where they will set their standards, in such a way that does not negate the school's decision to use the MCAS.
The most amazing thing here is that, while the article has an anti-testing quote and no pro-testing quote, as is the case with 99% of published articles about testing, I actually agree with the anti-testing quote:
"People are casting around for a solution to a problem that should have not have been created," Monty Neill [executive director of the anti-MCAS group FairTest] said. "The real solution is to stop denying them diplomas based on MCAS."
Mr. Neill and I arrive at our conclusions with the use of completely different arguments - he's against all tests, in general - but we agree that high school exit exams are a bad idea. The decision of the school board in Massachusetts to undercut itself by offering a second-tier certificate of achievement to MCAS-flunkers supports my argument that exit exams will never be properly used. An argument can always be made that a student who completes all the high school coursework but then tests badly on the exit exam still deserves a diploma, and that argument always will be made in every school district that attempts to implement an exit exam.
The result will be that graduation will be no proof that a student knows the material on the exit exam, so a diploma will be no proof that the student has met state standards (if in fact the exit exam is linked to the state standards). If the exit exam is not linked to state standards, then performance on that exam may not be related to other test scores. Which means that colleges will be trying to predict performance based on an exit exam that supposedly standardizes students within a state, but may be unrelated to other standardized tests and thus may make prediction more difficult.
What happens at those schools "left behind"?
Tucson, AZ reporter Mary Bustamante interviewed administrators at 26 local schools who have just been labeled as "underperforming". What's the reaction from those schools?
Inside her office, Principal Mary Thalgott [of underperforming school Davidson Elementary] said she already had sent a letter to parents with the news. It wasn't really a surprise, she said, because the district knew what the criteria were and had kind of figured it out ahead of time...The mood at the school was a mix. "We're going through something similar to a grieving process," Thalgott said. "The staff is concerned and there is a lot of anxiety, a lot of uncertainty. It would be almost flippant if we were not." The students seemed content. "
I particular like the outburst from a teacher at the school:
Third-grade teacher Kim Wright may have been the person most upset at the school yesterday. "I'm sick and tired of being the scapegoat for "underperforming parents," she said. "Is there something more I can do as a teacher? Absolutely. But there is a percentage of parents overall in underperforming schools who aren't spending time helping their children at home."
You tell 'em, girl. I get emails from many parents who are frustrated because their kids go to schools with lousy curriculums, and when the parents try to become involved, the school's reaction is "Back off and let us do our job". It's nice to hear a teacher point out that the parents have a job to do as well - perhaps Davidson Elementary will listen to her and will implement a program that encourages parents to become more involved with their children's education.
For those of you unfamiliar with Dr. Arthur Jensen, he is a research psychologist at the Institute of Human Learning and a professor of educational psychology at UC-Berkeley, and he has published a distinguished and controversial series of books and research articles on the heredity of human intelligence. Here's a long interview with Dr. Jensen from back in July, and a more recent published interview with Dr. Jensen by members of the Mega Foundation is now available for purchase. For good measure, I'll throw in an old article by Dr. Jensen that lists his rebuttals to Stephen Jay Gould's criticisms of the hereditarian view of intelligence in The Mismeasure of Man.
Okay, my archives are snafu'd
I just had a reader send me a link today that is a follow up to my posting from September 30th, but Blogger has refused to update my archives past September 14th. (sigh).
Here's the original blog of mine:
A worthy opponent
Jay Mathews has discovered a rare individual indeed - a testing critic who relies on data, experience, and logical arguments, instead of the hysteria, hyperbole, ad hominem attacks, and non-existent or misinterpreted research that make up the usual "arguments" of such critics. As Jay Mathews, who is himself pro-testing, puts it, "No more cheap victories for us."
The movement against standardized testing has finally found a champion who cannot be dismissed as a country club obstructionist. She is Deborah Meier, a fierce opponent of standardized tests who is also founder of the Central Park East School in East Harlem, co-principal of the Mission Hill School in Boston, and one of the most knowledgeable and innovative inner city educators the country has ever seen...
Meier reduced our trust of ordinary teachers by raising our expectations. With a few other rebel teachers and administrators, she created small, intimate learning communities for Harlem kids and succeeded in preparing large numbers of them for college. She joined with the Annenberg Institute for School Reform to bring the idea to several other New York schools, and helped start a revolution in small urban schools that--with a big new dose of money from computer magnate Bill Gates--is changing education in several cities...
She starts with the fairest and most accurate summary of the standards movement ever written by a critic of standardized testing: "It's built around the idea that the villain is mostly low expectations and a failure of will power. Since both are indisputably factors in failure and less onerous to tackle than poverty, for example, this notion eliminates victimology..."But the trouble is, as we keep relearning generation after generation, it contradicts what we know about how human beings learn and what tests can and cannot do. That a standardized one-size-fits-all test could be invented and imposed by the state, that teachers could unashamedly teach to such a test, that all kids could theoretically succeed at this test, and that it could be true to any form of serious intellectual and/or technical psychometric standards is just plain undoable.
Jay Mathews actually called Ms. Meier up to question her further on her arguments, which center on the idea that the ideal way to teach inner-city kids is to use the graduate school model - in small seminar classes that focus on writing, debate, and research. Assessment would be via independent panels who examine the each child's written work and administer a face-to-face, hour-long oral exam. Jay found Ms. Meiers to be honest, enthusiastic, experienced, fiercely devoted to children, and with a sense of humor and perspective about her work and her ideas. All of which places her head and shoulders above the usual testing critics, and I'm glad to see that she's out stirring up the hornet's nest.
This is not to say I agree with her ideas, of course. Yes, it would be ideal if children could be taught in graduate school formats, but how practical or affordable is that? What's more, the graduate school format works in part because every student in the room is committed to learning and has reached a certain level of dedication and accomplishment (and is paying their own way). I think that children of vastly different potentials may find it frustrating to be in very small classes with each other, unless you plan to track by ability, which is all it takes to get some "equity is everything" pedagogues fired up.
What's more, the intense subjectivity of Ms. Meier's proposed exams is what standardized tests were intended to counteract. The independence of the panels is a step towards preserving objectivity, but the end result is that the grade in the class would be based on a face-to-face test. It would be very difficult to prove that some unscholastic attribute of the child - such as race, sex, accent, speaking style, or level of enthusiasm and extroversion - was not taken into account when the grade was assigned. Some people, like me, consider this one step back towards the old methods of grading and admissions, when you had to please the teacher or the grader - and be the "right" color, sex, or religion - in order to get a decent grade.
In the field of psychometric research surrounding performance assessment (which is the technical term for the kind of of assessment Ms. Meier is referring to), it is accepted that even anonymous essays should be assessed for rater bias, because it's possible that the rater may have guessed the essay-writer's sex or ethnicity, and their rating is assumed to be affected by that knowledge. Certainly, then, these "independent panels" would need to assure the public that they are not letting any factors about the child other than scholastic performance affect the child's grade, and that seems like a very difficult task.
Still with me? Turns out there was a followup article on October 14th, in which the WaPo invited many educators, testing critics, and other informed bystanders to comment on Ms. Meier's research. Here's a sampling of some of the comments, with my comments interspersed within:
Abigail Thernstrom, a member of the Massachusetts State Board of Education, said, "The day we get such extraordinary teachers [as Meier] in all of our schools -- or, at least, in all of our urban schools -- we can start a serious debate about the Meier philosophy."
Bingo. As I said in my original post, the "graduate school seminar" method of teaching requires a great deal of focused concentration on the part of the student, to say nothing of the teacher. Can this method be used by anyone without Ms. Meier's dedication, intelligence, and focus?
Other critics of testing applaud her views. "Deb Meier is correct," said Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing in Cambridge, Mass. "State exams do not and cannot measure most important learning."
Typical all-or-nothing statement from a testing critic. Ms. Meier's criticism's were specific to the types of standardized tests that some states have put in place, hastily and without much forethought, but Mr. Neill has chosen to interpret that as all state exams are by definition worthless.
Mel J. Riddile, principal of Stuart High School in Fairfax County, said his high-poverty school could not have scored as well on Virginia tests and raised its average SAT score by 104 points in four years without the structure provided by standards and tests. "The classroom environment described by Meier has very low structure and only proves that certain individuals with dynamic personalities can get kids to achieve," he said.
Another, better way of saying my point from the original post, which is that the graduate school seminar plan is not going to be suitable for every child any more than the structured, standardized testing plan will be.
So I found out about this second article from Interested Reader Roy L., who had these comments:
I can't help the need to make some of my own comments. First and foremost, why must we divorce revolutionary teaching practices (such as "small seminars, debating key points with enthusiastic teachers and researching questions of their own choosing") from standardized testing? Why must it be that we cannot employ a standardized test to evaluate students if they learn in these uncommon situations? There seems to be two issues here (1) ways of teaching students (particularly in urban/low-income areas) and (2) ways of assessing students. Seems to me the real work Meier has done is in the former area, not the latter.
Good point. I haven't read Ms. Meier's book, so I don't know what more she has to say on the suitability of standardized tests, but I think Roy might be right. Ms. Meier's research may only support her conclusions that the graduate student seminar method will work in some circumstances, and not the conclusion that standardized tests cannot assess material learned in that setting.
Hey, if you're here from Little Green Footballs - welcome! Charles is awesome, isn't he? =)
Scroll down two for the rebuttal of the California Teacher's "manifesto". Sorry about the lack of working permalinks - I hope to be moving off of Blogger and onto something much nicer within a month or two....but do take a look around while you're here. I'd love to know what you think.
Public opinion on standardized testing
The Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University has just published a poll of urban Americans about their educational reform concerns. I can't find a link to it on the main site yet, so I will quote selected portions of the poll that was sent to me via email:
A poll released today by the Annenberg Institute's Task Force on the Future of Urban Districts confirms that most urban Americans (74%) support the central provisions of the law - greater accountability for student achievement - but also prefer district-by-district, system-wide approaches to addressing the needs of failing schools (71% overall; 82% of minorities) over the more common school-by-school improvement efforts.
Not surprisingly, the poll found that the problem urban parents have with standardized tests is not due to the mere presence of the tests, or to any alleged bias, but results from the fact that the scores aren't provided in a timely fashion in order to help students improve their performance:
The poll found, for example, that most Americans in urban communities (again 71% overall and 82% of minorities) believe that the standardized test scores that are central to No Child Left Behind usually arrive too late to help individual children or schools that are struggling.
This is yet more evidence to repudiate the most common claim of anti-testing critics, which is that standardized tests are inherently harmful, and that parents feel standardized tests should be abolished. Poll after poll shows that parents are in favor of standardized tests and want to be able to use the scores to help their children. I'm glad to see that this most recent poll by Annenberg was specific enough to allow parents to point to one of the real problems with testing, which is that the scores are often not released in a short enough time, or in such a fashion, to allow parents and teachers to review the scores and figure what skills need improvement.
The Teacher's Resolution
WHEREAS, the United States and Britain have been bombing Iraq on a virtually continuous basis since the end of the Gulf War,
Gee, where was this resolution when Clinton bombed that aspirin factory back in '98?
WHEREAS, the Bush administration has presented no credible evidence that Iraq has intentions of harming the citizens of this country or that Iraq presents a threat to the United States,
I guess Hussein's flouting of every UN resolution doesn't count as "credible evidence"
and WHEREAS, the Bush administration is seeking any pretext to overthrow the government of a sovereign nation, in violation of international law,
So, President Bush gives a speech to the UN that clearly specifes the danger that Iraq poses to the civilized world, but the Federation of Teachers labels that as "any pretext". I guess in this case "any pretext" means "any evidence we can't actually contradict". And the blather about "violation of international law" has long since been debunked, by other journalists and bloggers far more knowledgeable than I (see Steven Den Beste's excellent essay on it)
and WHEREAS, a war with Iraq would require the redirection of vital resources and funds to a destructive, senseless, and illegal goal while further strengthening an administration that has restricted the civil liberties of its citizens,
So, let me get this straight. Removing an inhumanely cruel, megalomaniac of a dictator is a senseless goal? What's more, President Bush has already directed a massive amount of money and admininstrative effort towards the goal of improving California's sad state of educational affairs. I guess the teachers want to make sure that taxpayer money goes towards funding ineffective programs, rather than making the world safe from a dictator who is close to assembling a nuclear weapon.
WHEREAS, this administration is using the so-called War on Terrorism to distract the American people from the vital issues they confront
Have no fear, California teachers, we won't let military action in Iraq distract us from mercilessly pointing out the flaws in your curriculum and your students' dismal test scores.
THEREFORE, be it resolved that the California Federation of Teachers goes on record as strenuously opposing the Bush administration's march toward war with Iraq,
Yeah, civil liberties sure are being restricted here. Betcha not one teacher will lose his or her job or suffer any sort of government harassment whatsoever for signing this resolution but, boy, they might get a nasty email or two.
AND be it further resolved that the California Federation of Teachers urge its members and affiliates to get involved with organizations working toward stopping the Bush administration's march toward war with Iraq.
Meaning, if you want to be a part of the California Federation of Teachers, don't think for yourself. Don't look at the data and decide for yourself if world security is our most pressing concern. And be sure to spend your time publishing meaningless manifestos rather than concentrating on your job, which is to educate the youth of California.
No testing-related posts today - what little time that I'm not spending on work I'm using to read about the aftermath of the terrorist bombing in Bali. Tim Blair is a phenomenal Ozzie blogger who is always writing something that is right and good and intense, and in the aftermath of the bombing he is indispensable.
What a shameful time this is, when free countries face the fear of bombings by Islamofascists. How the fascists hate our democracy, our Bill of Rights, our capitalist successes, our freedom for women and gays and minorities. How they hate that they cannot build a free and viable community - they can only attempt to tear down our countries. Tim quotes a letter from a Brazilian living in Paris that sums up my thoughts exactly:
Before all the idiots in the world even ask the question, if they haven't already asked it by now, let me tell you why those guys hate Australia and the Australians: because it is a happy, open, democratic, successful, peaceful country and society that became what it is through its own efforts, resourcefulness and creativity, and because the murderers cannot live (and let live) with this.
Thus they will go on murdering and maiming innocent people till they are beaten. But they will be beaten, and sooner than they imagine.
Both my paternal uncles left Hungary in '39 and managed to get clandestinely into Palestine. One of them fought with the British army in WW2 and, to the end of his days, he was full of admiration for the Australian soldiers.
We are all Australians now.
The gender gap in test scores
This one is a couple of weeks old, but I've been meaning to blog it ever since I read it. It seems a reporter in Seattle noticed that the gender gap on the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) is big - not as big or troublesome as the gaps between some ethnic groups, but big nonetheless. You'd think that would be national news.
But it's not, probably because it's the boys whose test scores are falling:
For the first time, more girls than boys passed the math section of the 2002 WASL in all grades the test is given: fourth, seventh and 10th. In reading and especially writing, girls maintained large leads. In the seventh and 10th grades, nearly two-thirds of girls met the writing standard, compared with fewer than half of boys.
So half the boys can't read, and now the girls are doing better in math as well. Doesn't that call for a study on "How Schools Shortchange Boys"? Why, no, say some:
...just because girls' test scores are higher than boys' doesn't mean their problems are over. "The issue for girls isn't that they're not competent," says [Marja] Brandon [head of the Seattle Girls School]. "It's that they lose confidence before they lose competence."
See? It doesn't matter that the girls, overall, are way ahead of the boys on test scores - what matter is that the little girls must continue to be nurtured, to have their self-esteem raised. It's interesting, though, that no one is suggesting that perhaps the students with the lowest scores might be the ones who need to have their confidence raised. And Elena Silva, director of research for AAUW's education foundation, actually has the nerve to say,
"I don't think it's useful to fight over whether girls are doing better or boys are doing better...I don't think that helps us achieve an understanding of how to achieve equity for all kids. I would hate for the gender-gap debate to take away from the fact that students stuck in the lowest-performing school — boys and girls — will continue to be the lowest-performing students."
Oh, so now the AAUW says it's not useful for us to discuss who's doing better? Funny, that wasn't their attitude when they published the report,"How Schools Shortchange Girls" back in 1992. They certainly found it useful back then to "fight" over who was doing better, and to portray girls as helpless victims who were scholastically shortchanged and desperately in need of confidence-building. This report was ultimately (and unfortunately) influential, and the resulting policy changes have been harmful:
"If anything, the schools have always been tilted in favor of girls," says Judith Kleinfeld, a psychology professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks who is one of the critics. Kleinfeld argues that the AAUW report was political propaganda that diverted attention from the group that truly is the furthest behind in school: African-American boys. "
The estimable Cathy Young has also criticized the AAUW for pushing a false image of girl victimhood on the public; the true picture of which children need additional scholastic help is much more complex.
Mike McKeown of Mathematically Correct sent me a lovely email in reply to my whiny post, below. It was an encouraging blend of "You're providing a unique and useful service" and "Hey, nobody said this was going to be easy". Thanks, Mike, I needed to hear that.
Delaware's test scores are improving, as mentioned in this Delaware Online Journal article.
Under President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act, all states will have to test students in science by the 2007-2008 school year. The law does not require testing in social studies. Delaware's testing program pre-dates the law, but will help the state meet its requirements.
To pass Delaware's science test, students are expected to know such subjects as ecology, the effects of energy and the properties of materials. One question plots the lengths of four different species of fish on a graph and then asks students to identify which fish is a certain length.
In social studies, students are quizzed on civics, economics, geography and history. One geography question asks students to write directions to a school by using a provided map.
About 40 percent of fourth- and sixth-graders who took the social studies tests in fall 2001 failed to meet the standard. That was a slight improvement over the year before. Science scores were better: About 90 percent of students passed last year's test in fourth grade, and about 77 percent passed it in sixth.
Interesting that that science passing percentage for fourth-graders is more than double the social studies passing percentage. Is the social studies instruction at fault? Is the social studies test too hard, or the science test too easy? Or at some schools, has the social studies instruction been watered down or removed completely?
Does money make all the difference?
Pam Draper, a senior at Rosa Fort High (Mississippi), thinks so. Ms. Draper is a bright and involved student, and she thinks that the money from Mississippi's new casinos has tremendously improved her school:
New technology. New or renovated buildings. Enough textbooks. Test scores slowly inching up..."We have been on (state academic) probation for quite a few years before the casinos came," said Draper, class president every year since ninth grade and editor of the school newsletter and yearbook. "When the casinos came with the money, it helped us buy the textbooks and things we needed to prepare for the tests.
Interesting. I'm aware of the controversies over introducing lotteries or casinos in order to raise money for strapped communities. Although I can't remember where I've read this, I remember reading that lottery money that was earmarked for education in one state was not used for that, which certainly belies the pro-eduation stance of lottery proponents.
I also believe, and I may be alone in this, that lotteries are disproportionately harmful to the poor and contribute to an overall cultural sense that money is not be earned, but won purely by luck. Poor people who spend money on lottery tickets are essentially throwing that money away, and not only are they not saving that money, or finding a sure way to turn it into more money, but they're also convincing themselves that dumb luck is the only way they'll ever succeed. I think it's a pernicious idea, and I would never buy a lottery ticket. My views on gambling are similar, in that people are basically wasting their money, and the more accessible gambling techniques are to poor communities, the more entrenched this cycle of wasting money and expecting riches to just appear will become.
In Mississippi, though, it does appear that the casino money is being given to the schools:
The Tunica County school district has received $31.8 million over 10 years from gaming revenue, according to state Department of Education records obtained from district officials. Test scores suffered for years until finally, in March 1997, the state took two districts, Tunica and Oktibbeha, into conservatorship. While both were equally hurting, the Tunica County school district had a huge advantage that Oktibbeha did not: gaming money...Both were recently returned to local control, partly as a result of some test score improvements, partly as a result of the Department of Education's desire to start over as a newly revamped accreditation system kicks in.
It seems like the casino money for these poverty-stricken districts is taking the place of tax money that residents in wealthier districts provide on their own. The board members and educators quoted in the article are sensibly refusing to latch onto the money issue as the turning point. Now that the schools have been renovated, they say, the real work of improving education and test scores begins.
The 411 on California's state tests
The Napa News published Part One today of a three-part series on the standardized tests used in California's public schools. Part One focused how teachers use the Napa County scores to tailor instruction in the classroom. Although trends based on individual student scores on the STAR (Standardized Testing and Reporting tests) are not reported, the teachers have access to useful information:
Both schools and parents receive their students' individual test scores, enabling them to see exactly where a student needs improvement to meet the state's definition of "grade level" or "proficient" in a given subject..."It enables teachers to pinpoint their instruction," [County Superintendent Barbara] Nemko explained. "We can be so specific now in terms of what we teach to whom." Teachers can use the data to rank their students from strongest to weakest in a given area and work with the weaker group to bring their performance up, she said.
They can even improve their own performance, Nemko continued. If most of the students in a particular classroom have trouble with a specific test area, "you have to assess your own instruction (and say) 'Maybe I'd better look at the way I've been teaching that.'"
Supply and demand
More tests mean more test preparation companies, and the Savannah NOW has the scoop. Now that accountability is at the forefront, test preparation has moved from a moribund segment of education-based retail to a booming field:
"The accountability movement has been on the horizon. But to even go back 10 years ago, testing was sort of a forgotten sector in the education market. It really only existed in a retail sense," said Seppy Basili, vice president of learning and assessment at Kaplan Inc., which publishes some Georgia-geared test prep books for parents and students. "Now accountability moves to the forefront. The growth for us has been phenomenal."...While local schools, as well as the state, don't endorse any one of these test-prep companies, some are inevitably used in classrooms.
Since 1997, revenue from test preparation alone has doubled, bringing in about $54 million last year. Its K-12 services -- professional development and curriculum alignment services for educators, not the average consumer -- didn't even exist in 1997, but grew from less than $1 million in revenue in 1998 to more than $6 million last year.
The state says the schools should focus on the curriculum, of course, and that educational reform will be stymied if teachers just use test-prep material, rather than teaching the actual material. But it's the educators - the schools themselves - who are purchasing prep material, driving up the profits for Kaplan and The Princeton Review.
Surely, this isn't real.
Surely, in this day and age, when good teachers seem rarer than hen's teeth, when the rights of special education students are on the forefront of educational reform, a great special education teacher wouldn't be dismissed for wearing the wrong color hat:
He swept into the desert a decade ago like Patch Adams on a renaissance kick. Next thing this Riverside County community knew, Bach and Beethoven were booming from John Maurer's special education classroom. There were Shakespeare performances, even a "Sonnet of the Day" club, and Maurer's disabled students were taking part right along with the rest of the school. To hear their parents tell it, life will never be easy for Maurer's students--but it sure was better. And then, one day last spring, Maurer wore a hat to school, the wrong kind of hat, and the whole thing fell apart...
Maurer's relationship with school administrators has dissolved into a bitter dispute that seems to have begun with his choice of head wear and continues to separate him from his special education class. The children, meanwhile, may be affected more than anyone. Not only have they been separated from their teacher, but they've been forced to change schools at least three times.
Read the whole story. It's outrageous. You know, I get letters from teachers who don't like standardized tests because they see the tests misapplied by rigid and narrowminded administrators who focus only on the test scores and not on the educational reforms themselves. Seems to me a principal who forbids his star teachers to wear beige hats falls into that category.
Joanne Jacobs discovered this story before I did.
Mike McKeown just doesn't care that I have a job to do - no, make that two jobs, which take up a full 60 hours of my week. No sir, he just doesn't care that I'm so swamped with work that I forgot my dad's birthday this week, AND I'd like to unhook from the computer and go home sometime and try to have, you know, a real life, where I can go see my friends and drink coffee and chat, and maybe even ride my bike or do some aerobics and, in the immortal words of Billy Crystal in Monsters Inc., "work off some that FLAB that's HANGING OVER THE BED".
No, Mike just doesn't care about these things, or he wouldn't keep filling up my inbox with fascinating reports on testing and standards.
First up, a WaPo article by our old friend Jay Mathews, about the sliding scale for National Merit finalists in various states. For those of you unaware of the National Merit competition, students are selected each year for college scholarships on the basis of their scores on the Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (affectionately known as the PSAT-nimsquat). The PSAT is on a scale of 20 to 80 for each of the three section (Verbal, Math, Writing), and the test is essentially SAT practice - adding a 0 to your PSAT score is a pretty good predictor of your ultimate SAT score. Plus, you get bucks for college if you do well enough. I myself was a National Merit Scholar, back the day (which means, before there was a writing section added to it).
I've noticed the PSAT/NMSQT in the news recently, because merit-based scholarships, especially those that hinge solely on test scores, are under attack by testing critics who claim that scholarships tend to go to people who traditionally do well on standardized tests, and that this constitutes some form of bias. In fact, the writing section was added because the previous form of the test allegedly produced sex-biased results.
So what does Jay Mathews have to say? It seems that, while students are selected each year based on their scores on the PSAT/NMSQT, the number of winners in each state is based on that state's percentage of the national population of graduating high school seniors. The upshot? Students in low-achieving states, which presumably make up a smaller percentage of the national population, become semifinalists (and thus eligible for scholarship money) with much lower scores than students in high-achieving states that make up a larger percentage of the national population. In other words, the PSAT/NMSQT hurdle you have to pass depends on how many students in your state tend to graduate from high school. If you come from a high-achieving state, the bar is set pretty high:
In 2001...Mississippi students who scored 200 points were designated semifinalists, while Virginia students had to score 218, Maryland students 220 and D.C. students 221. [Educational consultant Ms.] Rice-Thurston said the current system hurts states such as Mississippi by denying them an incentive to improve their education system.
I don't know, I can see this from both sides. It's hard to believe that Mississipi would really hold back on educational improvements just to give a few extra students a shot at the National Merit money. But I can also see the unfairness inherent in the different score standards for kids from different communities. If a score of 220 on the PSAT is supposed to mean the same thing for every student in the country, seems like it should be the same standard for every student in the country. Changing the standards by state is another way of saying, "You kids in Mississippi don't do as well as a group as other states, so each of you individually will be held to a lower standard.". This seems....condescending, at best.
Next up, Mike sent an article from the Chicago Sun-Times, entitled "Teachers face firing in cheating scandal," by Rosalind Rossi and Annie Sweeney. Unfortunately, it's no longer online, so I'll just quote what Mike sent:
Chicago teachers caught helping students cheat on state tests - In the most elaborate cheating scandal in the history of Chicago's public schools, teachers were caught giving tips, erasing incorrect answers, pointing to correct answers, and filling in the answers to questions left blank on students' Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, which were administered in May to students in grades 3 through 8. The teachers's who face possible dismissal were nabbed with the help of a method for detecting unusual answer patterns developed by a University of Chicago economics professor. See "Teachers face firing in cheating scandal," by Rosalind Rossi and Annie Sweeney, Chicago Sun Times, October 2, 2002
Hmmm. Wonder if this wholesale lack of dishonesty and respect for the tests could be related to dismal passing scores of Chicago's teachers on basic skills exams? Those who cannot pass tests, teach, and help their students to cheat. A scandal it is.
Finally, another critical eye is turned on the teaching profession by editorialist Chester Finn, who reports on the results of the Manhattan Institutes' survey, "What Do Teachers Teach? A Survey of America's Fourth and Eighth Grade Teachers" (Christopher Barnes, Center for Civic Innovation at the Manhattan Institute, September 2002). Mr. Finn found some alarming results:
First, a majority of teachers in both 4th and 8th grade opt for "student-directed learning" rather than "teacher-directed learning." No more than two in five affirm a philosophy of education in which the adult in the classroom sets the agenda, decides what youngsters will learn and ushers her pupils toward that destination...it's nearly impossible to imagine standards-based reform succeeding in places where students decide what will be
learned, or even how it is learned...Plenty of research shows that teacher-led instruction matters most for disadvantaged kids.
In other words, the so-called progressive teaching attitude of letting the child direct the lessons turns not only to be the antithesis of standards-based reform, but also punishes the disadvantaged kids - the ones who most clearly need a strong agenda and guidance. Why am I not surprised?
Second, three quarters of teachers have embraced the college-of-education dogma that the purpose of schooling is to help youngsters "learn how to learn" rather than to acquire specific information and skills. Barely one in seven believes that educators' core responsibility is ěto teach students specific information and skills.
Why is it so hard for teachers to grasp that "learning how to learn" is only useful if solid information and skills are then presented for the kids to learn? What's the point in learning how to learn if your teacher doesn't give you anything to learn?
Third, not even two-fifths of 4th grade teachers base the pupils' grades primarily on a "single, class-wide standard"; most place heavier emphasis on individual youngsters' abilities. In other words, they opt for a relativistic mode of evaluating achievement instead of an unchanging, objective standard.
....which prepares those youngsters for the National Merit scholarships and subjective college admissions where it doesn't matter how much you've actually learned, but how much you've learned compared to how much you were expected to learn. As education reform is moving towards standards, it seems that teachers are stubbornly deciding to create many different shades of "A"'s, and if you worked really hard to learn the material and earn an "A", you end up at the same place as someone who accomplished much less.
Fourth, teachers do not have terribly high expectations for their pupils. Despite the endlessly repeated mantra that "all children can learn"...teachers do not quite buy that. Fewer than half of those teaching 4th grade expect their students always to spell correctly. Less than half of 8th grade math teachers expect all their students, by year's end, to be able to show why the angles of a triangle add to 180 degrees...Only 70 percent of 8th grade history teachers expect that, by the time they enter high school, most students in their classes will know when the Civil War was fought. "
But of course. This survey result could have been predicted from the other results. If there are no objective standards, and teachers don't feel it's their duty to impart knowledge, then why would they place the "unfair" expectation on students to actually have a solid grasp on things like rules of spelling and important U.S. history dates? It's much more conducive to "self-esteem" to let a child discover on up through the 4th-grade that his spelling is atrocious.
Fifth and most bluntly, one third of 4th grade teachers and 30 percent of 8th grade teachers do not agree that "a teacher's role is primarily to help students learn the things that your state or community has decided students should know."
This one's the clincher, folks. Although the teacher is an employee of the state and community, explicitly charged with educating the children of that community, it's just not their job to help students learn the standards of the community. I'd read Mr. Finn's version of this in the New York Post earlier this week ("Teachers Vs. Better Schools"), and I agree that it's completely alarming.
So, to catch the 1.76% of student-athletes who were smoking and the 0.29% who were using illegal drugs, the school district subjected the other 97.9% to an invasive, embarassing, useless test. This testing craze started out with the "drug problem" among student-athletes. Then we started sliding downhill to testing students participating in competitive inter-scholastic events (like "choir"). This morphed into testing students who needed to drive to school. And now the slope carries us down to testing nearly everybody for pretty much any damn thing the schools decide to test for. Your tax dollars at work (and another good reason to HS [homeschool]).
I agree with Daryl 100%. In fact, this reminded me that one of my first ever posts was in disagreement with Jonah Goldberg of the National Review about school drug testing - Jonah thinks such tests are useful and fair, and I disagree on both counts.
Not much in the news on educational testing today, but I found myself distracted by the following bits and pieces:
* An old article by Dinesh D'Sousa about the mis-educational effect of Afro-centrism in schools. All I can say about this is that we should certainly code exposure to such deranged thought as a covariate when using test scores to predict performance, because it's almost a given that any black child exposed to these erroneous ideas will do miserably when confronted with such examples of white "tricknology" as standardized tests. And go to Cantwatch and scroll down the September 18th entry for Erin O'Connor's take on the separatism inherent in minority orientations.
* The news reports about our new Miss American and her struggle for the right to espouse abstinence for teenagers. How far we've come towards enforced sexuality for kids and away from free speech. It's hard to believe that abstaining from sex before marriage is supposedly a controversial stance for a Miss America to have. Why? Because we're not supposed to question the "current wisdom" and "common knowledge" pushed upon us daily which says that youngsters will all have sex regardless and thus teaching any self-control is useless? Because we're supposed to buy into the mindset that having sex outside of marriage, when you're too young to deal with the consequences of it, is a healthy attitude to push on kids, and asking them to hold off a couple of years is tantamount to repression and abuse? Because Miss America is not supposed to have an anti-PC opinion? Amazing. I'm glad she stood her ground - she sounds fiesty.
* The progress of the prosecution of a true hate crime that will never be labeled as such, because the victims were the wrong color. The brutality and hate towards all humanity that is so evident in the actions of the perpetrators in this case should make it clear that labeling some crimes "hate crimes" and not others is cruel and divisive.
* Yet more evidence, as though any reasonable person needed it, that capitalism is good for humanity.
Now that's just wrong
Regular readers of this blog know that I am a stalwart defender of standardized testing in schools. There is such a thing as too much testing, though, and if it's indeed true that recess has been abolished in some schools to make room for testing, well, that's just wrong:
Playtime also is being diminished during school hours. The increased emphasis on standardized testing has meant the reduction or elimination of recess in an estimated 40 percent of U.S. elementary schools, according to the American Association for the Child's Right To Play, a 29-year-old group that helps parents lobby for school recess. In some school districts, such as Atlanta, schools are even being built without playgrounds...Experts say that's the wrong thing to do, both in terms of child development and stemming the epidemic of childhood obesity.
I'm wondering if the relationship is that strong, though. True, schools are doing more testing, but is the rise in testing really what's causing the elimination of recess? Or is it because too much time during the day is given up to non-academic education?
An idea whose time has come...
...The home-school cooperative. The Crossroads Christian Cooperative has been operating in Knoxville, TN, for the last two years and now has 70 students:
About two and a half years ago a group of home-schooling families decided to combine their children's at-home learning sessions with time spent in traditional classroom sessions with professional teachers...They set up Crossroads Christian Cooperative, a school that holds traditional academic classes three mornings a week for the otherwise home-schooled children.
The school uses Christian lesson plans for each subject, selected by the teachers and parents, who meet to review and order materials before each school year starts...Whether it's the home-schooling, the individual attention, the lesson plans or all three, standardized test scores strongly suggest that the cooperative is on the right track. All of last year's middle-schoolers scored at top levels on the Stanford Achievement Test, with most testing at a post-high school achievement level.
A blend of religious education, a traditional setting, and homeschooling. Very nice.
It's the education, stupid
The one thing that the competitors in the race for Florida's governor agree on is - it's all about education. Governors can have, for better or worse, a huge impact on the educational quality in their state. Here's the platform of Democratic candidate Bill McBride:
McBride's winning strategy in the Democratic gubernatorial primary was partly powered by the Florida Education Association. The state teachers union has relentlessly criticized Bush's overhaul of the state's education system and routinely clashed with the GOP-led Legislature.
McBride has launched a frontal assault on many of the changes in the public school system initiated by Bush, including the prominence of a standardized exam -- known as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test -- in determining student achievement and assigning grades to schools based on test scores.
McBride also has taken the Republican governor to task for the rising amount of tax money being funneled to private and religious schools through the state's voucher programs, a key element of Bush's education policy.
Boy, isn't that last one the tip-off? Mr. McBride is upset that parents are "funneling" money to "private and religious schools" - how dare parents use their tax money to choose a good education for their kids? How could incumbent Governor Bush have come up with such a crazy scheme - imagine, giving parents a choice in education. Why, if it wasn't for those parents rushing away in droves from the public schools, the teachers union could still claim that the public schools were doing just fine.
And tests? We don't need no stinkin' tests. After all, given that "the state's high school graduation rate remained among the lowest in the nation and Florida high school seniors continued to score below the national average on college entrance exams", it's obvious that the solution is just do away with those college entrance exams - and all the other exams - and then Florida's students will look just fine.
Florida's educational system still needs work. Governor Bush's platform is all about what he for - downsizing classes, increasing teacher bonuses. Mr. McBride's platform is all about what he's against - everything that Governor Bush put in place. It will be interesting to see what the voters decide.
Dispelling urban education myths
A report on Hawaii's public schools in The Hawaii Reporter aims to dispel those myths attached to education. I particularly like #3:
Urban Myth #3: Hawaii's public school student low scores are due to a high percentage of English as a Second Language students and/or poverty
The total public school population in SY2002 is 182,798. Total number of reported Limited English Proficient (LEP) students is 12,718, less than 7 percent of DOE school enrollment. Other states, for example, California (24.6 percent), Texas (13 percent), Utah (8 percent) have higher counts of LEP students, but higher scores than Hawaii.
Poverty is often cited as the second excuse for poor student performance. Approximately half of Hawaii's public schools are listed as high-poverty...Poverty and poor education are linked, as one tends to beget the other, but a Pacific Research Institute's Center for School Reform found that the lowest-income schools in California using direct-instruction teaching methods, such as the Open Court phonics-based reading program, have the highest scores. Research points to faulty curriculum as the leading cause of poor academic performance.
So, ten days after posting on California's latest round of testing follies, I'm finally getting around to linking to Mr. Lance Izumi's article in the Orange County (CA) Register urging California to "stick with the exam". Why should the exam be retained, you might ask?
Well, as Mr. Izumi (of the excellent Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy) reports, although California's results are "in the tank" (and that's a precise psychometric definition if I ever saw one), the school officials should not back down from requiring the exam. The examples of backing-down that are provided are depressing indeed. Rae Belisle, chief counsel to the state Board of Education, is quoted as saying that without better performance, the state will not feel comfortable withholding diplomas - that is, holding schools and students accountable for their performance. Another example is that "board officials, who worry that lower passage rates for blacks and Hispanics could spur lawsuits, are leaning toward delaying the withholding of diplomas". Hey, isn't school a better place when anyone who flunks an exam is able to sue to have the exam abolished? Boy, that contributes a lot towards the betterment of education.
Boy, it's nice to see Mr. Izumi leading the call to battle by suggesting that tests should not be abolished but should be, you know, utilized:
In California, proactive school administrators are starting to use exit exam scores to help struggling students...Los Angeles school superintendent Roy Romer says that low scores offer an opportunity to correct the problems of large urban high schools. Romer, who has implemented a phonics-intensive reading program that has increased test scores of students, especially minority students, in the early elementary grades, has also launched a phonics-rich literacy program for secondary school students who read at low levels. Also, Romer's district now offers new courses aligned to the state's rigorous English and math standards, which are tested on the exit exam, and afterschool programs for students who are having trouble passing the exam.
"We have a system," says Romer, "in which the culture has been to give [students] a D and let them pass." He vows to change that thinking.
Finally, withholding a diploma is an incentive for many students to take school more seriously and work harder...With the California State University system having to provide remedial instruction to half its incoming freshmen, now is not the time to back down on high-school accountability. Low exit-exam scores should be a trumpet call to action rather than an order to sound retreat.
And speaking of that culture of passing low-achieving students, check out this report in the NY Post - "Our Fail-Safe Schools". Gotta love that title. Flunking math and English exams is no barrier to advancement in the NY school system, it seems.
Hmm, looks like Massachusetts is flirting with the Nova Scotia and California examples of trying to find some way to award diplomas, or some approximation thereof, to kids who don't pass the state standardized exams. Massachusetts' version is to award a "certificate of achievement" to the youngsters who fulfill every other criteria, but bomb the MCAS.
Board members yesterday stressed that they do not want to create a two-tiered system that would set lesser standards for underachievers. Their goal, they said, was to ensure that students who make a genuine effort are adequately recognized and will be able to continue their education and get jobs.
Meaning, students who don't pass the MCAS are let off the hook, which is a lesser standard, much as the Board would like to sugar-coat this. Yes, they emphasize that students who receive the certificate must re-take failed classes and meet attendance requirements, and keep re-taking the MCAS, but it is that case that Massachusetts, having set up the MCAT as an exit exam, just can't bear to actually withhold a diploma from anyone they view as meeting them "halfway". The certificate of achievement is not about accomplishment, but effort, and as such isn't worth much in the job market. As a spokeswoman put it:
The Massachusetts Teachers Association opposes the certificate, arguing that it will allow students to cross the stage at graduation but give them few options thereafter.
"It give the appearance of doing something for these students but doesn't really open any doors for them," spokeswoman Laura Barrett said. "We don't want the public to be misled into thinking that at this point it's something really substantial."
A thoughtful and balanced look at the pros and cons of testing from the Daily Press (VA). Journalist Stephanie Barrett does a fine job of explaining Virginia's Standards of Learning exam, and also presents both teachers and parents who are on both sides of the debate. While the article ends with the near-obligatory quote from a concerned parent who feels testing stifles creativity, I still say that the more prominent newspapers (you know who you are) could learn from Ms. Barrett's example of objective reporting.
Woo woo! Two new SAT articles are out from the boys at the National Review online...
First, Mr. Stanley Kurtz takes a look at Britain's recent testing scandals and draws an ugly conclusion. Mr. Kurtz has recently argued that achievement tests are much easier to dumb down than aptitude tests, and Britain has apparently discovered that with their own A-level achievement tests:
For years, the British college-entrance achievement test, known as the "A-level," has been subject to creeping grade inflation. Twenty years ago, 68 percent of the pupils who took A-levels passed the test. Today that figure is greater than 94 percent. Twenty years ago, only seven percent of students taking A-levels got an "A." Today more than 20 percent receive A's.
As a result of this grade inflation, the better British universities are finding it difficult to choose their students. This has forced schools like Oxford and Cambridge to interview nearly every applicant personally — a task that is severely cutting into the research time of British professors.
Of course, forcing the top schools to interview every applicant personally is what the test critics want - for some reason, they see the highly time-consuming and subjective format of face-to-face interviews to be more valid and less susceptible to abuse than objective test scores. Or perhaps the test critics just envision a future where one's political beliefs and the color of one's skin carry more weight in college admissions than one's performance on a test of academic achievement.
But I digress. What's Britain doing about the collapse of the A-levels? Why, they're developing something that looks a lot like our old SATs:
With their scandal-ridden testing system now in freefall, the British are considering radical action. They believe they have found a new kind of test that will simultaneously preserve standards and maximize opportunity for students from lesser schools. And what is that test? The American SAT, of course.
It is extraordinary to see The London Times praising the American SAT for simultaneously safeguarding standards and expanding opportunity. The Times, for example, cites a study in which, of 630 teens from a poorly performing British school, only one received an A-level grade high enough to secure entrance to Oxford or Cambridge. Yet, of those same 630 students, thirty received aptitude test scores that would have gotten them into a top American university.
In other words, The London Times has discovered what Americans used to know — that the SAT test actually benefits "diamonds in the rough," students of high potential from poor schools.
I agree 100% with Mr. Kurtz that the testing critics do not so much disagree with any particular kind of test as with testing itself, but while the original form of the SAT was not as subject to dumbing down, the testing critics merely circumvented any usefulness the test had by setting different SAT standards for different groups of students. As long as the multiculturalists and other intellectually-dishonest educrats insist, all evidence to the contrary, that standardized tests of the SAT type are biased against minority test-takers, double standards will be set, and no test, not even an aptitude test, can live up to its original purpose.
Next up, Mr. Peter Wood has another take on the College Board's decision to stop flagging accommodated SATs given under extra time. No matter how many times I read an article about this policy change, this topic still makes steam come out of my ears. What a horrible example to set for the rest of the testing industry. Such a decision could not have been based on any psychometric evidence, because there's none to support erasing the distinction between accommodated tests and standard tests. None whatsoever.
I like that Mr. Wood makes sure to use the phrase, "the stigma of the asterisk," with appropriately-sarcastic italics in place. The asterisk that denoted non-standard test scores was, of course, never meant to stigmatize disabled test takers, and I doubt there's any evidence that it was ever used in that way by admissions officers. The recent lawsuit that provoked this change was filed by a disabled student who was rejected from two colleges after taking the SAT under extra time and with special equipment. If there's any evidence that the student was turned down solely because of the asterisk, rather than because of his lack of academic promise, I haven't seen it. Lots of applicants get turned down by two schools every year. Perhaps he didn't have the qualifications for admissions. Perhaps his undergraduate grades were poor. Perhaps the programs he applied to were so politically correct that Mr. Briemhorst's sex was a negative factor in the admissions decision. The point is, we don't know, because ETS settled the suit.
Sad to say, but ETS may have settled only because the anti-testing critics have become so prominent and politically correct nowadays that those of us who would have supported ETS's decision to fight this suit were drowned out in all the shouting. Supporters of testing are not prominent in the media, except in journals such as the National Review, so I would not be surprised if it was the case that ETS decided to cave in rather than risk a fight that could further damage their image.
What's more, the decision to stop flagging test given under extra time is just one more piece of evidence in a pattern of behavior by the College Board to undermine educational testing's integrity:
Thus the College Board's decision to cave in to the disability advocates is just another concession in a string of concessions to pressure groups that dislike the concept of a single, objective, and neutral measure of academic ability. Once upon a time, the College Board was an institution that higher education could count on to support academic standards, but no more. It has become dominated, like so much of higher education, by people unable to see and stand up for the principles they are entrusted to uphold. The lure of playing identity politics proved too strong; the gratification of winning praise from the advocacy groups too irresistible.
The case of the purloined asterisk really turns on the political power of disability groups that are indifferent to the educational damage that they are inflicting. If they cared, they would have linked their campaign to get rid of the asterisk with strong steps to ensure that "learning disability" diagnoses are restricted to those who have genuine disabilities, not just kids seeking an edge on the SATs. The problem, however, lies deep in the disability movement, which is as eager as an interest group to build its base.
In our culture of complaint, many Americans confronted with the fact that we are not good at some academic subject, would rather postulate a hidden brain dysfunction and demand accommodations from schools and colleges than attempt to overcome the difficulty by dint of repeated tries and hard work. In that sense, the "learning disability" movement has already shown itself an irresponsible force in our society. In its excesses, it undermines educational standards.
Mr. Kurtz and Mr. Wood have done a fine job. I hope that, unlike me and my over-worked self, you read these articles as soon as they were posted on Monday morning.
Okay, now that's weird.
My Google hits are usually pretty mundane - readers find this site because they type "student testing" or "SAT criticism" or "MSPAP" into Google's engine.
But today, I saw that someone found me by typing in, "getting high with pencil lead". Now, really. Is that some sort of depraved junkie, or just a student light-headed from too many state exams?
I'm not a big fan of the United Nations, but in Afghanistan, UNICEF is doing the right thing.
When the Taliban swept to power in the mid-1990s, women were barred from working and encouraged to remain indoors at all times. Girls were forbidden education, and hundreds of schools shut down countrywide....
Nowadays, Afghanistan's schools are overflowing. New students arrive on Zarghuna's doorstep every morning. "Poor families, rich families, everyone is sending their girls to us," explains Zarghuna's principal, Alia Hafezee. "It's like everyone woke up and realized their children can't make their lives better without knowledge."
The number of new arrivals at schools countrywide shocked the international aid community...Based on 1996 enrollment figures of 900,000 students countrywide, UNICEF prepared 1.2 million back-to-school packs consisting of notebooks, pencils, erasers, and other necessities. Current enrollment, split equally between boys and girls in the urban areas, is estimated at 3 to 3.2 million, with tens of thousands more waiting to start classes in September.
We can thank George W. Bush as well, for being the first U.S. president, as Christopher Hitchens put it, to "bomb a country out of the stone age".
Part III is intriguing because Mr. Sowell actually had a conversation with Charles Murray during the writing of The Bell Curve. I was in graduate school at the time and boy, did that book cause a lot of consternation in our department. I remember several Quant Lunches where we discussed and nitpicked and debated the methodology of the book. I seem to remember the politics of the book, and its incendiary conclusions, being left out of the discussion on purpose, save for one lone left-wing professor whose sole contribution to the group criticism of the book was, "Well, the American Enterprise Institute is thanked in the Acknowlegements, so you know this must be bad research." Well, no, we don't know that, but thank you for telling us that you think all conservative research institutions must be hopelessly biased. Despite this one professor's comments, the rest of the professors were able to put politics aside and critique the book on purely psychometric terms (and if I recall, there was plenty to critique).
Mr. Sowell sums up the argument against the mindless comments (of the type given by that one left-wing professor) well:
So long as demagogues are concentrating on demonizing anyone who points out the problem, do not expect the kind of general improvement that is needed. This demonization has made "The Bell Curve" one of the most misrepresented books of our time. But such demagoguery has not helped one black child to get a better education.
UPDATE: Remember the posting from a couple of days ago, in which I described a NYTimes article about rich parents who are buying fake learning disability and ADHD diagnoses, in order to give their kids a leg up in accommodated testing? Those parents might want re-consider such a plan, especially if they plan on moving to England any time soon. It seems that over there, parents may go to jail if they don't drug their ADHD kids. Oh, sure, the Department of Health is trying to allay such fears, but admits that "the proposals [in the new Mental Health Bill] would extend compulsory treatment orders." Compulsory. As in, you face a penalty if you don't comply.
How about we compromise? Let's say we mandate jail time only for those parents who obtain fake diagnoses in order to give their kids an advantage. When we arrest doctors who are trading such diagnoses for cash, we'll arrest the parents who bought them as well, for not giving their kids drugs to help with their "disabilities".
That way, the NYTimes can stop complaining about how standardized tests only benefit rich kids, the parents who are struggling with their kids' genuine disabilities won't be overlooked, and the people who think nothing of faking a disability will sit in the slammer for a while. Everybody happy with that? ;)
Speaking of self-control (see the post, below), parents should just exercise some and be patient while New York fixes its schools. Yup, Chancellor Joel Klein is trying to calm the parents who can't transfer their children out of failing schools, because there aren't enough good ones. Needless to say, some parents have had it with waiting,
Kenia Olivero said she heard the same speech about patience from her 7-year-old son's principal when she sought a transfer under the new law..."I need to see results," Olivero said. "I can't wait around until he is in fifth grade before he starts to learn things he should have learned in second grade."
It is better to feel good than to do good
So, looks like the endless educational plans to raise children’s self-esteem might have been misguided and overblown. Who’d have imagined it? Why, we even had California guiding the way, with their “groundbreaking” 1986 California Task Force to Promote Self-Esteem and Personal and Social Responsibility. Hasn’t it been proven, over and over again, that California is the state we want guiding our social and educational policy? (snicker)
Anyway, as the NYTimes reports today, programs focused on self-esteem in schoolchildren provide no cure for educational woes and behavior problems:
"D" students, it turns out, think as highly of themselves as valedictorians, and serial rapists are no more likely to ooze with insecurities than doctors or bank managers.
At the same time, high self-esteem, studies show, offers no immunity against bad behavior. Research by Dr. Brad J. Bushman of Iowa State University and Dr. Roy F. Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University finds that some people with high self-regard are actually more likely to lash out aggressively when criticized than those with low-self esteem. The list of groups — neo-Nazis, street toughs, school bullies — who combine preening self-satisfaction with violence belies the power of one to ameliorate the other.
But don’t we risk giving our youngsters low self-esteem if we allow them to fail in the classroom?
In an extensive review of studies, for example, Dr. Nicholas Emler, a social psychologist at the London School of Economics, found no clear link between low self-esteem and delinquency, violence against others, teenage smoking, drug use or racism …High self-esteem, on the other hand, was positively correlated with racist attitudes, drunken driving and other risky behaviors, Dr. Emler found in his 2001 review. Though academic success or failure had some effect on self-esteem, students with high self-esteem were likely to explain away their failures with excuses, while those with low self-esteem discounted their successes as flukes.
So what should teachers be instilling in their students?
Yet more old-fashioned strategies for making one's way in the world, like learning self-control, resisting temptation or persisting in the face of failure have received little study, in part because the attention to self-esteem has been so pervasive..."My bottom line is that self-esteem isn't really worth the effort," Dr. Baumeister said. "Self-control is much more powerful."
So, given that California is always at the forefront of these educational revolutions, do you think they'll be developing a California Task Force to Promote Self-Control any time soon?
Ah HA HA HA HA HAAAA!
Boy, I needed a good laugh.
(Joanne Jacobs has more to say on the topic).
Thomas Sowell has another interesting article in the Jewish World Review today; this one is about race and IQ scores. The sensitivity over studying such a taboo topic has hidden evidence of progress in IQ score for minorities - and hidden some interesting information that knocks down the eugenic theories that IQ is determined by ethnic group. Mr. Sowell thinks that the relationship between race and IQ should be a perfectly acceptable topic for research, and I agree.