Archives for December 2006

Football first

Florida State is cutting the academic fat to focus its resources on athletics, reports The Onion.

SARASOTA, FL—Bowing to pressure from alumni, students, and a majority of teaching professors of Florida State University, athletic director Dave Hart Jr. announced yesterday that FSU would completely phase out all academic operations by the end of the 2010 school year in order to make athletics the school’s No. 1 priority.

The academic subsidiary had become a “major distraction,” Hart said.

Via University Diaries.

This Week to EdWeek

This Week in Education will be an Education Week blog in 2007. Alexander Russo says access will remain free.

Just leave ’em behind

Education is bunk, argues John Derbyshire in New English Review. Kids aren’t that malleable, he argues. The children of uneducated parents will not learn much in school; if they do, it’s because the teachers are “saints and masochists,” who are in short supply.

Genes? What are you, some kind of Klansman or Nazi? No, no, no, the kids are little blank slates for teachers, parents, and politicians to work their magic on, These undesirable outcomes — these mysterious test-score gaps, these dropping-outs and delinquencies — arise only because we are chanting the wrong spells!

A very good rule of thumb when reading child-development literature is that any study that has not taken careful account of heritable factors — by comparing identical twins raised together or separately, fraternal twins ditto ditto, non-twin siblings ditto ditto — is utterly and completely worthless. That sentence is (a) true, and (b) guaranteed to get you thrown out of a high window if spoken aloud at any gathering of education theorists.

I’ve seen parents whose older children had failed in school choose a different school for the younger children, who then went on to success. I’ve seen regular people — not “saints and masochists” — enjoy teaching in a well-organized school of choice with longer hours and higher expectations. We have no idea how many low-income students can succeed. We haven’t tried hard enough to teach them.

I’m not sure what Derbyshire would propose for low-income minority students. No schooling at all?

Good instruction makes a difference, writes D-Ed Reckoning.

No right answer

What’s 1/3 + 1/4? Asked by a radio host, the president of the New York City teachers’ union said she couldn’t answer without a pencil and a piece of paper. Another guest, Marc Tucker of the National Center on Education and the Economy, supplied the correct answer, seven twelfths.

According to New York State standards, adding fractions with different denominators is sixth-grade work. But (Randi) Weingarten defended her lack of a quick answer. “I do it the old-fashioned way,” Ms. Weingarten said. “You take your paper, your pen, you add it up, you get to the fractional whatever.”

“And you show your work, right?” (host Mike) Pesca prodded. “So a good teacher can give you partial credit.”

Ms. Weingarten replied, “A good teacher will look at it and talk to you about what went right and went wrong.”

When she negotiates contracts, it’s all about the decimals.

Via Chalkboard.

Anniversary carnival

The Carnival of Homeschooling will celebrate its anniversary next Tuesday. Send your submission to [email protected] by 6 PM (PST) on Monday; earlier is even better. Include title and URL of the post, name and URL of the blog and a brief summary of your post. Why Homeschool is the host.

The untested

In New York, school officials can exempt children from immigrant families from testing for five years, allegedly to protect them from the embarassment of doing poorly on an English test. The exemption also protects school districts from the embarassment of admitting that many of their students can’t read proficiently, observes the New York Times. Students born and raised in the U.S. are exempt if they’re “English Learners,” which means they speak English as a second language and test poorly in it.

Then last June, the United States Department of Education, enforcing the No Child Left Behind law, deemed New York’s substitutes inadequate and required all students in school for more than a year to take regular tests. Tests in 21 other states face have similarly been challenged.

That was bad news for Port Chester. Officials here now predict that when the January scores are published, the proportion of proficient students will drop into the 70s (from the 90s). They worry that their schools will be branded in need of improvement and suffer penalties. They worry that prospective homebuyers may opt for other towns. And they worry about the students’ self-confidence.

I hope they worry about how to improve their reading program so more students can succeed. English Learners don’t need false confidence in their ability to read and write fluently in English. They need teachers who will track their progress, analyze what they need to learn and teach them. They and their parents need to know how they’re doing. They need school officials who are accountable for the progress of all students.

When in doubt, blow it up

In Iron Science Teacher competitions, blowing things up is always a hit, reports Teacher Magazine. For nine years, the Exploratorium in San Francisco has produced the live competition modeled after Iron Chef. Science teachers attending the Exploratorium’s summer training program compete to produce the best 10-minute classroom science activity.

The show, which is Webcast live four to six times each summer, has very few rules. Contestants’ experiments must include the “secret ingredient” revealed to the audience at the beginning of the show and be safe and replicable in the classroom. But beyond that, almost anything goes.

Secret ingredients have included such items as eggs, corks, fruitcake and crayons.

NCLB survives 2006

In response to USA Today’s top education stories of the year, Eduwonk argues the real story is NCLB’s survival, despite lawsuits and state threats to defy the law.

Dogs that don’t bark don’t make news but the press falls all over themselves to write stories every time the National Education Association files another frivolous suit against NCLB or a state makes an empty threat to turn down millions in federal education aid. Isn’t it newsworthy that none of that has come to fruition?

The USA Today story echoes complaints that NCLB lets states test very basic skills to comply. As Eduwonk points out, NCLB can’t be demanding too little and too much at the same time. The fact that states set a low bar and then can’t get students over it is not a NCLB-created problem. Even the law’s critics want more NCLB not less, writes Eduwonk, who follows the politics closely.

Eduwonk’s most important eduhappening of the year is “the emerging debate about and bipartisan support” for weighted-student funding. It seems too soon to say that’s going to move forward, though it should.

Sitting for credit

“Seat-time credit” remains common practice in New York City high schools, reports the New York Sun. Students who fail their schoolwork and tests can earn credit for the course if they have good attendance and complete a project assigned by their teacher.

Some teachers are criticizing the policy as veiled social promotion that allows schools to hide failure rates.

“We don’t think you should get credit for just being alive,” the United Federation of Teachers high school representative, Leo Casey, said. “It just seems to be a way for students to accumulate credits without actually doing the work.”

A district administrator says this just an alternative way for students to show their knowledge.

Mr. Weisberg said the policy gives teachers the freedom to work with students struggling to pass conventional assessments if they can show they’ve mastered the knowledge and skills covered in the course by completing, for example, a research project.

If the student has mastered the knowledge and skills, why can’t he do the regular classwork and tests?

It sounds a lot like those kids in Utah who blow off their courses, then get the credit by completing study packets of dubious quality. Of course, the New York kids do have to sit in class not learning in order to pass.

Via NYC Educator.

Carnival of Education

Right on the Left Coast hosts this week’s Carnival of Education.