Archives for December 2008

Angels, demons, teachers and auto workers

In response to the discussion in the Blaming teachers post, Greg Forster writes AFT and UAW – More Alike Than You’d Think on Jay P. Greene’s Blog.

I think the real problem is not that school reformers demonize teachers but that defenders of the government school monopoly angelize them. When we reformers insist that teachers should be treated as, you know, human beings, who respond to incentives and all that, rather than as some sort of perfect angelic beings who would never ever allow things like absolute job protection to affect their performance, it drives people like (AFT head Randi) Weingarten and (New York Times columnist Bob) Herbert nuts.

“Teachers’ unions have pushed up costs  dramatically” in the past 40 years, Forster writes.  Public school costs have doubled, after inflation, primarily because unions pushed schools to hire more teachers relative to student enrollment.

It’s true that high salaries aren’t the main issue in schools, although teacher salaries are in fact surprisingly high. The disconnect between teacher pay and teacher performance is much more important. But the UAW has the same problem! Their pay scales don’t reward performance, either.

Incentives matter for skilled blue-collar and white-collar workers, he argues.  The auto industry has been hurt badly by “union work rules – including poor performance due to absolute job protection, pay scales that don’t reward performance, and rigid job descriptions that make process modernization impossible.”

That does sound familiar.

Carnival of Education

Ring out the old year at Bellringers’ New Year’s Eve edition of the Carnival of Education, where they’re partying like it’s almost 2009.

And what’s a party without a curmudgeon? Right Wing Prof disses high-tech high school hype: The technology may be new but the substance is the same old . . . stuff, he writes.

Carnival of Homeschooling

Read the Carnival of Homeschooling at Practical Homeschooling.

There’s still time to submit a Carnival of Education entry to Bellringers (mybellringers [at] gmail [dot] com), which is hosting the Dec. 31 edition.

Virginity pledgers end up in bed

Teens who pledge to remain virgins until marriage are as likely to have premarital sex as similar teens who don’t take the pledge, a new study concludes.  However, the pledgers “are significantly less likely to use condoms and other forms of birth control” when they have sex.

Researcher Janet Rosenbaum studied teens from 1996 to 2001, comparing pledgers and non-pledgers with similar characteristics on  100 variables, “including their attitudes and their parents’ attitudes about sex and their perception of their friends’ attitudes about sex and birth control.”

“This study came about because somebody who decides to take a virginity pledge tends to be different from the average American teenager. The pledgers tend to be more religious. They tend to be more conservative. They tend to be less positive about sex. There are some striking differences,” Rosenbaum said. “So comparing pledgers to all non-pledgers doesn’t make a lot of sense.”

By 2001,  there was no significant difference in the sexual behavior of those who’d pledged virginity and those who’d abstained from promises.

Help wanted: BA not required

Jobseekers shouldn’t need a bachelor’s degree, writes Charles Murray in the New York Times.

Here’s a suggested battle cry, to be repeated in every speech on the subject: “It’s what you can do that should count when you apply for a job, not where you learned to do it.”

Murray wants to see tests of vocational skills replace years in college.

The residential college leading to a bachelor’s degree at the end of four years works fine for the children of parents who have plenty of money. It works fine for top students from all backgrounds who are drawn toward academics. But most 18-year-olds are not from families with plenty of money, not top students, and not drawn toward academics. They want to learn how to get a satisfying job that also pays well. That almost always means education beyond high school, but it need not mean four years on a campus, nor cost a small fortune. It need not mean getting a bachelor’s degree.

Students should be encouraged to seek a liberal education for its own sake, not as a job qualification, he writes.

Of course, Murray thinks that most people aren’t smart enough to earn a meaningful bachelor’s degree. I think it’s more a question of preparation than brainpower.  But it’s certainly true that years of schooling — lower or higher — are a very imperfect indicator of competence. Years ago, I worked with a smart, literate woman who turned out to be a high school drop-out. (She listed her high school on her resume, but never claimed to have earned a diploma.) She read books.

Proficiency promotion

Students will progress from one level to the next when they achieve proficiency — not when they get a year older — in a Colorado school district called Adams 50. From the Denver Post:

Students will be tested this spring to determine their proficiency in reading, writing and math, and will be grouped next year with peers who are learning at the same level.

Students may move to the next level at any time, not just the end of the year or the end of a semester.

Several schools are piloting the idea.  Kim Carver, a first-grade math teacher, says the new approach is working.

Six-year-old Dominic Herrera showed (a capacity matrix) on the subject of counting pennies. On the chart were four categories: “I need help,” “I think I can,” “I know I can” and, finally, “I can teach it.”

Dominic had reached the “I know I can” level and was onto the next category, telling time in five-minute intervals. He was at the “I think I can” level.

“It’s neat that they have ownership, and they know what proficiency means,” Carver said. “It’s not arbitrary anymore.”

Eventually, the district plans to use 10 levels for students from kindergarten through high school.

The plan requires specific learning goals and close tracking of students’ progress, which I suspect will be very helpful. But kids who progress slowly will need something extra, such as mandatory summer school, to complete school by 18 or 19.

Grade levels are a subtle form of child abuse, writes Paul B on Kitchen Table Math.

Imagine if someone made you wear the wrong size underwear every day for 13 years; not very comfortable and not likely to turn you into a clothes horse.

Grouping students by standards mastery is working in Chugach, Alaska, he adds.

Pakistani Taliban bans girls’ schools

Pakistan’s Taliban has ordered girls’ schools to close by Jan. 15 in the Swat region. Buildings will be blown up and schoolgirls attack if the ban is defied, the fundamentalists warned in mosque speeches and radio broadcasts.

“Female education is against Islamic teachings and spreads vulgarity in society,” Shah Dauran, leader of a group that has established control over a large part of Swat district in the North West Frontier Province, declared this week.

Some closed schools have been turned into madrassas, where boys memorize the Koran.

The militants have also prohibited immunisation for children against polio – claiming that the UN-sponsored vaccination drive is aimed at causing sexual impotence – causing a sharp rise in cases of the disease.

Islamic militants have been fighting government forces in the region.  As Pakistan moves more troops to the Indian border, the pressure may ease on the Islamic militants.

In and out of college

Seventy percent of Boston’s public high school graduates go to a four- or two-year college, but few earn a degree or certificate, concludes a study funded by the Boston Foundation. They’re not prepared: At one community college, 80 percent of Boston public graduates required remedial math, reports the Boston Globe.

The study followed Boston students who transferred from one institution to another over a six-year period.  Only 12 percent of Boston students who started at a community college earned a degree or certificate of any kind;  one-third of four-year state college students and 56 percent of four-year, private college students earned a degree within six years.

The most successful local community college offers intensive five-week and 10-week courses to create a sense of urgency for students, emulating University of Phoenix courses for working adults.

Via The College Puzzle.

Banning cyberbullies

Cyberbullying at school or during school activities will be banned for California students starting Jan. 1.

The law gives school administrators the leverage to suspend or expel students for bullying other students by means of an electronic device such as a mobile phone or on an Internet social networking site like MySpace or Facebook . . .

I’d guess most cyberbullying takes place at home, but perhaps it will help to tell students that online cruelty is against the law.

Carnival of Education

The Carnival of Education, home for the holidays,  is up at The Education Wonks.

Check out Larry Ferlazzo’s list of the best fun sites that can be used for learning.