Posts Tagged With: Education

Guarantee These Rights

From the Cato Institute: "I once attended a dinner discussion with a bunch of health care big-wigs. One highly educated woman — she is both an M.D. and a J.D. — began the dinner by declaring, “We need to make health care a right in this country, just as we make education a right.” Later in the dinner, she complained that her organization’s materials must be written at an 8th-grade level to be understood by their target audience. I interrupted to ask how she reconciled those two statements: if we really have created a right to education, why the poor reading comprehension? And if we create a parallel right to health care, how many people’s medical care will be stuck at an 8th-grade level? Her answer was non-responsive."

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Posner on college

From Richard Posner: "...colleges and graduate (including professional) schools provide a screening and certifying function. Someone who graduates with good grades from a good college demonstrates intelligence more convincingly than if he simply tells a potential employer that he's smart; and he also demonstrates a degree of discipline and docility, valuable to employers, that a good performance on an IQ test would not demonstrate. (This is an important point; if all colleges did was separate the smart from the less smart, college would be an inefficient alternative to simple testing."

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Coulson on Educational Standards

From the Washington Post Online: "Cementing the coalition, Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Vernon Ehlers (R-Mich.) have recently proposed a bill to create a national curriculum in reading and math. The bill's supporters rightly tell us that by the end of high school, American students have fallen behind their international peers. Dodd and Ehlers use that observation to conclude that we need such a curriculum "to compete in the global economy." "But how exactly would homogenizing our curriculum and testing make us more competitive? "National standards would help propel U.S. economic competitiveness, because they would allow the country to set expectations higher than those of our international competitors," write Rudy Crew and Paul Vallas, the superintendents of the Miami and Philadelphia school districts, in a recent Education Week commentary. ..."But sports and manufacturing are competitive fields, while public schooling currently is not. Standards advocates mistakenly assume that high external standards produce excellence, but in fact it is the competitive pursuit of excellence that produces high standards. "We understand this point implicitly in every field outside of education. We didn't progress from four-inch black-and-white cathode ray tubes to four-foot flat panels because the federal government raised television standards. Apple did not increase the capacity of its iPod from 5 to 80 gigabytes in five years because of some bureaucratic mandate. And the Soviet Union did not collapse because the targets for its five-year plans were insufficiently ambitious."

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Cheap Education Quote

From Andrew J. Coulson of the Cato Institute: "...it would be institutionally suicidal for a monopoly school system to do a good job of teaching market economics. The very fact that we continue to have a monopoly school system is retroactive proof that market economics has not been well taught. Monopolies, after all, tend to be frowned on by the economically savvy."

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Are You F***ing Serious?

Just finished reading in the Philadelphia Inquirer about the second straight day of riots at West Philadelphia High, after a popular principal learned he was being fired in a newspaper. Some quotes from the article: "Problems at West Philadelphia High exploded last week after teachers there complained that assaults on staff in some cases were being downplayed. Initially, Vallas said he would replace James soon but he speeded the process after another staffer was attacked. On Friday, several small fires were set in the school and another teacher was assaulted during an evacuation...Two female students were arrested at the school entrance when metal detectors found a razor on one and a nail file on the other - items prohibited under the district weapons policy. More arrests are pending for two small fires that were set in lockers. The school was evacuated at 11 a.m. and again a short time later. Attendance was down to between 40 and 50 percent yesterday, said Ozzie Wright, acting co-principal. It's usually at 75 percent." And then, the kicker - "District officials hope they can calm the school today so 11th graders can take the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, the high-stakes test that determines whether schools meet federal achievement targets." I mean, come on, who's being kidded here? What are you going to say to the kids? "Hey there, I know we've had two fires and several assaults over the past week, but we really want you to show up to fill out some bubbles on a test that has no real purpose. The standardized test tells the state how smart you guys are." My guess is the smart students are at home, watching the Wire and looking out for their own safety. If I'm a WPHS student right now, there are bigger issues than a standardized test. Sorry, Philly school staff.

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On Being an Elementary School Teacher

The NYT has a new blog up (subscription required) featuring posts from five schoolteachers from around America. Reading the last post from Mor Regev, a brand-new teacher in the Bronx, about how her attempts to discipline a student not only made him more disobedient but threw off her plans for the rest of the class. Schoolteaching is possibly the only discipline where we take brand-new teachers and throw them in a classroom with thirty (in this case, forty-two) students, with virtually no supervision or feedback. Furthermore, because teaching carries such a low salary, it is difficult to find qualified teachers for positions. There are two things which, based on my experience as a student, will most dramatically improve quality of education: improve the quality of the teachers, and have smaller class sizes. Improved technology in classrooms may be nice, but it doesn't do a thing if the teacher is horrible; indeed, it may be a bigger distraction to students. Furthermore, I highly doubt teachers in the 1940's and 50's were hindered by their lack of access to computers and email.
We can improve the quality of teachers first and foremost by raising salaries, but also by improving mentoring programs to give better feedback and introducing better sharing of lesson plans and effective techniques for handling and teaching a class of kids. Reducing class size will only be made possible by investing in more classrooms and more teachers at each grade level. The problem boils down to money, and better use of the money we spend. For now, we'll have our brand-new elementary school teachers on the verge of tears because they're trying their best, and failing, to control a class with forty-odd kids.

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Undergraduate Research

I wrote my Econ 1 professor today and asked her if there were any professors looking for research assistants. She said that professors rarely take undergraduate assistants. Fair enough. Which led me to the idea of having undergraduates form teams based on appealing ideas, and do their own research, maybe led by one or two full-time advising staff. You'd need to set up a large amount of infrastructure to accomplish this, but it has a lot of potential - it works like this: Students submit ideas, other students express an interest in developing the idea, and you form a research team. The adviser is exactly that - to advise on complex economic issues and provide guidance in producing tangible results. This would be useful, I think.

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The Difference Between Knowledge & Intelligence

Right now I'm reading Justin Menkes' Executive Intelligence. Menkes points out that many top businessmen aren't competent and fail basic management objectives, and wonders how the screening process failed to winnow out the bad executives. He defines executive intelligence, shows examples of exec-intelligent CEO's who lead their companies to success, and proposes ways to screen for it that would be better than our current measures. I'm reading it because I think the SAT is a crappy, racist test, and I want to see what tests Menkes proposes and if they'd be good for high school seniors. By far the heaviest hitting part of the book was when he talked about the difference between knowledge and intelligence, and how we confuse the two.
"The distinction between knowledge and intelligence is frequently blurred. For example, most people are familiar with the popular television show Jeopardy!, on which contestants are rewarded for the amount of knowledge they possess of a wide variety of topics. Often the winners are referred to as "exceptionally smart." But the truth is that they are exceptionally knowledgeable. Successful Jeopardy! contestants haven't really proven anything about their intelligence...[Joseph Fagan, chair of psychology at Case Western] has done research focusing on racial differences in test scores, and his experiments found that measures that required certain kinds of academic knowledge, such as vocabulary or complex math, yielded significantly different scores between racial groups. But tests focused on reasoning or processing skills, such as picture and spatial pattern recognition, showed no such differences."
I generally score well on IQ and SAT tests and people call me smart, but I don't think my ability to take tests well is any measure of 'intelligence.' I run my mouth when I shouldn't, run in with cops when they have the power to detain me, and sometimes fail to grasp the rules of simple social situations. What I can do, I think, is aggregate information, discard the useless parts, repeat things other more intelligent people say, and use my fantastic memory to recall information and arguments at will. If we are going to rely on tests as much as we do as a society (just look at No Child Left Behind), we need to make sure the tests are measuring what they're supposed to measure, and that we want to rely on test measures to determine success.

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College Board Expands Into Classroom

The College Board is slowly and steadily attempting to increase its influence in high school and even middle-school classrooms across the country. It's marketing new curriculums and opening new College Board Schools, which promise to be "centers of learning where College Board programs and services drive academic rigor." I think that College Board and AP curriculum can bring demanding standards to a classroom and improve the rigor of classwork, especially in public schools where nonstandard curriculums can't prepare kids for college. However, I do not think that expanding College Board influence is a good idea. The College Board, and ETS (the parent company), make their living by testing. Name a subject, field, value, or skill, and ETS has considered, made, or attempted to make a test for it. I don't like testing, because it takes away from class time and, as David Owen shows in his fantastic book "None of the Above: The Truth Behind the SAT," even standardized tests in areas like math aren't terribly accurate reflectors of absorption of the material. Moreover, College Board curriculum, while 'rigorous,' may not give students the best education they can get. I have long held that school isn't so much about the courses you take as it is about learning processes and skills (how to ask questions, what questions to ask, how to write well, how to think critically, etc). Most of the material learned in high school (Dante, Calculus, Chemistry, and World History) is only relevant for people entering highly specialized fields. College Board, rather than focus on learning processes, focuses instead on material. College Board wants to cram its students full of information, for them to unload it on a standardized test. I took an AP European History course, and almost the whole course was fact memorization, and short essay/document based question practice. College Board may be turning its students into good memorizers, quick test-takers, and excellent short-essay-writers, at the expense of turning them into lifelong learners. We almost never had time in European History to discuss any of the interesting topics in depth. Cramming material into students and then testing them College Board style is a sure way to bore them and leave them lacking vital skills (question-asking, actually in-depth analysis, ability to revise and write long papers, doing original research, becoming proactive), which will only harm in the future. The success of College Board schools may come down to how much College Board is willing to pay its teachers. The more College Board, and for that matter any school, is willing to pay its teachers, the better quality it will be able to attract, which transfers to its students. Students learn more from good teachers, because good teachers will engage students, find ways to make the material interesting, and leave behind valuable things like work ethic, honesty, and confidence, that stay with students far longer than the actual material. Currently, College Board pays its SAT proctors around $8-9 an hour, and as David Owen points out, gets proctors who don't report cheats and don't administer the test properly. To achieve success, it must be willing to pay its school teachers much more.

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