When Cookie Met Sally

Sesame Street’s When Harry Met Sally parody is kid-friendly, and charming, writes Laura Bradley on Slate. Cookie learns to wait in line.

Fun with slavery

Letting middle schoolers earn game points by stacking bodies in a slave ship turns out to be offensive, reports Liz Dwyer on TakePart. A Danish company has withdrawn the Tetris-style component of Playing History: Slave Trade 2 after a social media backlash.

“Travel back in time to the 18th century and witness the horrors of the trans-Atlantic slave trade firsthand. In this episode, you will be working as a young slave steward on a ship crossing the Atlantic,” reads the description of the game at the Steam store. “You are to serve the captain and be his eyes and ears—reporting any suspicious activities is your duty. But what do you do, when you realize that your own sister has been captured by the slave traders?”

Students could then earn points as the game took them through various scenarios of Africans being captured, held in cages, and suffering in chains on the slave ship.

Some want Serious Games Interactive to drop the whole game. “Gamifying slavery trivializes a serious time in history that shouldn’t be fun,” Rafranz Davis, a Texasbased educational technology expert, wrote to TakePart.

Last year, Mission U.S.: Flight to Freedom, which features the escape of a 14-year-old slave girl, faced a backlash for turning slavery into an adventure. “Critics say the game . . . sanitizes the brutal institution,” writes Joseph Williams on TakePart. “By avoiding the perspective of Lucy’s master, they say, the game doesn’t compel students to consider how or why whites perpetuated the oppression.”

I’m offended by the slave trade game, but not by Flight to Freedom. What do you think?

Core aligned? Not so much

In Checking In, Education Trust asks whether classroom assignments reflect higher Common Core standards. The answer is: “Not so much.”

Analysts looked at more than 1,500 assignments given by 92 teachers at six middle schools in in two urban school districts.

Thirty-eight percent were aligned with a grade-level standard — and the rate was lower in high-poverty schools.

Only 4 percent of assignments “pushed student thinking to higher levels,” concluded the analysis. Eighty-five percent “asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts as opposed to prompting for inferences or structural analysis, or requiring author critiques.”

Many assignments were “over-scaffolded,” the report found. “Much of the work was actually done for the students rather than by them.”

Attempts to motivate and engage students were “superficial,” according to Ed Trust. Teachers tried to provide “relevance” through pop-culture references and art activities.

In their attempt to align teaching to Common Core standards, schools and teachers are replicating what’s taught at workshops and picking up online resources, the report concluded. “The majority of assignments included keywords and phrases found in the common-core standards, fostering a comforting sense that ‘we are aligned.’ Unfortunately, this is not the case—much of this is window dressing.”

This is not surprising.

Classroom of the future

Harvard Business School really has created the classroom of the future, reports Fortune.

Is Uber really worth $50 billion? Bharat Anand, a Harvard strategy professor, discusses the question with 60 students whose faces are “portrayed on a curved screen in front of him,” reports Fortune. “Essentially everyone sits front and center, whether they reside in Beijing, Warsaw, Prague, Miami, San Francisco, or Toronto.”

Via Jay Greene’s blog.

Learn to teach knowledge

Julius who?

Julius who?

For decades — long before No Child Left Behind and high-stakes testing — elementary teachers have focused on reading and math, spending little time science and social studies, writes Natalie Wexler in a New York Times commentary.

That’s because teachers believe their students need reading skills and strategies, such as “finding the main idea,” she writes. They don’t realize that reading comprehension requires a broad base of knowledge about the world.

Many elementary students spend hours practicing skills-based strategies, reading a book about zebras one day and a story about wizards the next, flitting among subjects.

. . . For students to understand what they’re reading, they need relevant background knowledge and vocabulary.

Common Core calls for “building knowledge systematically,” writes Wexler. But the standards “don’t specify what knowledge students should learn in each grade, because they’re designed to be used across the country.” So most educators are still focusing on skills.

In a comment, Emile, a professor at a “mid-tier university” for more than 25 years, calls for K-12 schools to forget “about instilling love of learning.” Instead, schools should “provide the basic scaffolding for knowledge, and let students take it from there.” Professors won’t have to teach about Enlightenment ideals to students who’ve never heard of the Roman empire.

‘Thinking like a scientist’ — without facts

Memorizing is out, thinking like a scientist is in, thanks to Michigan’s proposed new science standards, reports Lori Higgins in the Detroit Free Press. 

Instead of “memorizing the ins and outs of life cycles, photosynthesis and matter,” Michigan students will “ask questions, investigate, analyze data, develop evidence and defend their conclusions,” writes Higgins. “In short, they’re going to have to think, act and learn like scientists.

What does this mean? Projects.

“There’s a lot more hands-on activities, a lot more getting your hands dirty, trying things out, taking the core ideas and scientific and engineering practices and putting them together,” said Brian Peterson, a fifth-grade teacher at Musson Elementary in Rochester Community Schools.

Take a popular balloon rocket experiment, he said. Nowadays a teacher might give students the basic materials (a balloon, string, straw and tape), then step-by-step instructions. Under the new method, a teacher might provide kids with different sizes of balloons, different lengths of straws, and different materials for string, then turn them loose.

The kids design their own balloon rocket — then defend why they made the material and size choices they did.

“Scientists think like scientist because THEY #$%@! KNOW SCIENCE!,” writes Robert Pondiscio on Facebook.

This isn’t new. In The Music Man, Professor Harold Hill promised Iowans their sons would learn to play music via the “think system.”

Smart teacher vs. smart phones

This phone policy makes sense, says Ellen K at The Sum of All Things According 2 Me. “And if you don’t understand then you’ve never had to try to speak over the texting, movie watching and instagramming of today’s youths.”

Life and death of an urban high school

Once the largest high school in the U.S., Queens’ Jamaica High had only 24 students in its final graduation class, writes Jelani Cobb in The Life and Death of Jamaica High School in The New Yorker.

Cobb, who went to Jamaica High in its prime, earned a diploma in 1987 and went on to Howard.

The Jamaica High School building last year and, at right, in 1981. CREDIT ILLUSTRATION BY OLIVER MUNDAY; PHOTOGRAPHS BY VIC DELUCIA / THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX; JACKSON KRULE

The Jamaica High School building last year and, at right, in 1981.
CREDIT ILLUSTRATION BY OLIVER MUNDAY; PHOTOGRAPHS BY VIC DELUCIA / THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX; JACKSON KRULE

The New York City Department of Education closed the once respected high school due to “persistent violence and a graduation rate of around fifty per cent,” he writes. Four new “small schools” now share the old building.

The high school started to slip when talented students in northern Queens were given the option of attending two other schools, a magnet and an exam school, on college campuses, Cobb writes.

In 2004, the Bloomberg administration let students apply to any high school in the city. Savvy parents found the best schools. Less-savvy parents took what was left.

Once a racial, ethnic and socioeconomic mix, Jamaica High became 99 percent minority and 63 percent low-income in the year before it closed.

In Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, hunger strikers hope to save Dyett High School, a low-performing school that has lost students to competing schools.

Dyett High School valedictorian Parrish Brown accused CPS of "destabilization" in not providing basic resources.

Dyett High School valedictorian Parrish Brown accused CPS of destabilizing the school in 2014 by starving it of resources.

A community group wants to run it as a neighborhood school with a focus on “leadership and green technology.” The principal envisions a school with an sports theme. Another proposal would create an arts theme.

“Schools are ecosystems, each with its own history, culture, and intricately woven set of social relationships, writes Eve Ewing. “Schools are community anchors. They not interchangeable, nor are they disposable. Schools are home.”

Bronzeville parents have been choosing alternatives to Dyett for years now, just as Queens parents have been choosing alternatives to Jamaica High. Can they be persuaded to return to the neighborhood school?

28% are ready for college

ACT scores 2015.JPG

Only 28 percent of 12th graders who take the ACT are prepared to pass introductory college classes requiring English, reading, math and science skills, according to the new ACT report. Thirty-one percent of test-takers did not meet a benchmark in any subject.

Overall, scores are flat, even as more students are taking the ACT. Some states require students to take the test in hopes of encouraging college aspirations.

Colleges go ‘test-optional’ to fool rankings

When colleges go “test-optional” — applicants need not submit SAT or ACT scores — they claim it’s a way to increase diversity. That’s not the reason, writes Stephen Burd on the Hechinger Report. It’s a way to boost college rankings.

“Test-optional policies overall have not been the catalysts of diversity that many have claimed them to be,” concludes a 2014 University of Georgia study.

When applicants don’t need to submit SAT or ACT scores, more students apply, especially those with poor scores, writes Burd. “For the colleges, more applicants mean more students they can reject, which lowers their acceptance rate and raises the institution’s perceived selectivity.”

Only students with good scores send them in. “Many schools then use only these scores to calculate their average scores,” writes Burd.

Mean SAT scores rise by 26 points on average when a college goes test-optional, concludes the University of Georgia study.

With lower acceptance rates and higher average SAT/ACT scores, test-optional colleges move up in U.S. News rankings of the “best” colleges. That draws more applicants and allows the college to reject even more people.