Finland: Girls read well, but not boys

Finnish boys don’t read significantly better than U.S. boys, according to the international PISA exam.

For all those sick of hearing about how great Finnish schools are, here’s a fun fact from the new Brown Center Report: Finnish girls do well in reading, but boys do not. The gender gap is “an astonishing 62 points,” writes Tom Loveless. That’s twice the U.S. gap.

Finnish girls scored 556, and boys scored 494.  To put this gap in perspective, consider that Finland’s renowned superiority on PISA tests is completely dependent on Finnish girls.  Finland’s boys’ score of 494 is about the same as the international average of 496, and not much above the OECD average for males (478).  The reading performance of Finnish boys is not statistically significantly different from boys in the U.S. (482) or from the average U.S. student, both boys and girls (498).

. . . Consider that the 62 point gender gap in Finland is only 14 points smaller than the U.S. black-white gap (76 points) and 21 points larger than the white-Hispanic gap (41 points) on the same test.

Finland’s PISA success has been cited by advocates of various policies such as “teacher recruitment, amount of homework, curriculum standards, the role of play in children’s learning, school accountability, or high stakes assessments,” writes Loveless.

Advocates pound the table while arguing that these policies are obviously beneficial.  “Just look at Finland,” they say.  Have you ever read a warning that even if those policies contribute to Finland’s high PISA scores—which the advocates assume but serious policy scholars know to be unproven—the policies also may be having a negative effect on the 50 percent of Finland’s school population that happens to be male?

Usually, critics care whether a policy hurts some social groups, even it benefits others, he writes.

Where is the reading gender gap relatively small? Japan and South Korea.

Chicago schools debut Latino studies

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Kindergarteners will learn about the Mayan counting system.

Chicago Public Schools will teach an interdisciplinary Latino and Latin American Studies curriculum to all K-10 students, Melissa Sanchez reports for Catalyst Chicago.

“Kindergartners can learn about the Mayan counting system while they’re learning numbers, and fifth-graders can learn about African influences on South American percussion during music class,” she writes.

“The history of Chicago cannot be written without celebrating the contributions of immigrants from Central America, South America and the Caribbean,” CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a district news release.

More than 45 percent of CPS students are Latino.

On The White Rhino, a Chicago English teacher named Ray Salazar called the curriculum well-intentioned but over-simplified.

Chicago already is piloting an African and African American studies curriculum that was released last year.

Smarter teachers, smarter students

Should we select teacher candidates for their smarts? asks the National Council on Teacher Quality Bulletin. If so, “can we raise the bar without endangering equitable access to strong teachers or limiting diversity?”

The cognitive skills of a nation’s teachers is linked to their students’ PISA performance, conclude Eric Hanushek and two Germany-based researchers. The study tried to control for “parental cognitive skills, a country’s educational culture, differences in student aptitude” and other factors. 

It assumed places with higher public-sector salaries would draw more academically talented people to teaching. If that’s valid, then “raising average teacher cognitive skills by a standard deviation likely raises student performance in math by 20 percent of a standard deviation in math and 10 percent in reading.”

Another study suggests it’s possible to get more talented teachers into the classroom. Teachers’ academic aptitude has been rising in New York over the past 25 years, concludes a study by Hamilton Lankford and others.

In the late 1990’s, almost a third of New York’s newly certified teachers were drawn from the bottom-third of the SAT scale. Beginning in 1998, the state tightened requirements on teacher preparation programs, eliminated temporary teaching licenses (which tended to be awarded to low-scoring individuals), and allowed selective alternative routes (e.g., Teach For America and TNTP) to begin operating. By 2010, more teachers were being drawn from the top-third of the SAT distribution than any other group.

The sharpest rise came in SAT scores of new teachers at the most disadvantaged schools, especially in New York City.

Average SAT scores rose more for new black and Latino teachers than for whites and Asian-Americans. Yet the state’s teaching force become more diverse.

Opting out gets press — or is it hype?

Grassroots resistance to Common Core tests — the  “opt out” movement — is getting more press than it deserves, argues Alexander Russo in Columbia Journalism Review.

. . . much of the media’s coverage of this spring’s Common Core testing rollout has been guilty of over-emphasizing the extent of the conflict, speculating dire consequences based on little information, and over-relying on anecdotes and activists’ claims rather than digging for a broader sampling of verified numbers. The real story—that the rollout of these new, more challenging tests is proceeding surprisingly well—could be getting lost.

He hits John Merrow’s PBS NewsHour report on resistance to Core-aligned exams in New Jersey and elsewhere.

Merrow responds here.

What if Core scores go down and stay down?

Test scores will drop in Common Core states this year, writes Eduwonk. It’s a harder and unfamiliar test. Reasonable people get that.

The risk for Common Core will come in a few years, if scores remain low, he writes.

A lot of places are “adopting” Common Core but without really doing the instructional shifts or big changes in classroom practice to up the bar for teaching and learning.

. . . in a few years when more ambitious standards collide with inadequate capacity and classroom practice and scores haven’t, overall, moved upwards a lot is when the political bill could come due. Common Core will be declared another “failed” reform idea and something else will come along.  In fact, what Common Core will have in common with a lot of prior reform efforts is a diluted implementation, inadequate support, and half-measures.

Something else is likely to be “a lot more choice,” predicts Eduwonk.

From Epictetus to road-crossing chickens

Philosophy can engage, inspire and deepen the thinking of high school students, writes Diana Senechal in American Educator. She teaches Philosophy for Thinking at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science and Engineering, a selective New York City public middle/high school that draws an ethnically diverse group of students. (Two-thirds are Latino or African-American; 56 percent qualify for a free or subsidized lunch.)

Her students have published the second issue of their erudite and humorous philosophy journal, Contrariwise, which can be ordered here. 

Students write about Epictetus, the Book of Job, Aristotle, Machiavelli, Pascal, Gogol, virtue, kindness, humor, utopia, dystopia, the DMV — and more.

Peerayos Pongsachai uses math and philosophy to analyze the question: Why did the chicken cross the road?

The journal includes national and international contest winners. Emma Eder (Georgetown Visitation Prep, Washington, D.C.) won first place for The Very Real Problem of Irrationality in the math/philosophy category. Her classmate Julia Sloniewsky took on the challenge of writing as a knight or samurai during the all of feudalism. She won for Letter in the Desk of Hiraku Kikkawa.

The international contest asked students to imagine their favorite dish is “its own nation.”

Who/what is its leader? Its citizens? What does each ingredient do for a living? . . . Write about a philosophical problem this nation experiences — anything from existential angst due to being eaten, to “okra should never have been chosen as secreatry of state.”

Plate’s Republic by Grace Eder, also a Georgetown student, won first place. Second and third place winners came from Italy, China, Turkey, Britain and the U.S.

Reinventing high school

In Reinventing High School in The Atlantic, Deborah Fallows profiles The Center For Advanced Research and Technology (CART), which provides half-day career programs for 11th- and 12-grade students in Fresno County, California.

Inside a CART robotics lab

Inside a CART robotics lab

CART offers 16 career tracks, “from forensics to game design to law and order, robotics, biotech, engineering, business and finance, environmental science, psychology and human behavior, and many more,” writes Fallows.

Teachers all have work experience in their fields.

Students work on projects such as “cloning carrots, making movies, designing online games, and making toys,” she writes. In addition, students go on field trips and “do internships or projects that take them to hospital operating rooms, senior centers, and wildlife refuges.

CART also tries to develop confidence, self-esteem and teamwork. When students work together on projects, someone who lets down the team can be demoted to lesser responsibilities or kicked off the team.

Seventy-one percent of CART students enroll in community colleges, compared to 60 percent of similar students who didn’t participate, according to a a 2011 Irvine Foundation study of the graduating classes of 2003 to 2009. Twenty-three percent of CART students enrolled in universities, a bit more than the 21 percent of non-CART students who did so.

Teaching can be taught

Teaching can be taught, argues Doug Lemov, author of Teach Like a Champion. It’s not an innate gift. It’s a craft.

In a training session for inner-city London teachers, Lemov showed a video several times to analyze the strategies used by Ashley Hinton, a Newark elementary teacher, writes Ian Leslie in The Guardian.

. . .  (Lemov) sees Hinton placing herself at the vantage points from which she can best scan the faces of her pupils (“hotspots”). He sees that after she first asks a question, hands that spring up immediately go back down again, in response to an almost imperceptible gesture from Hinton, to give the other children more time to think (“wait time”). He sees her repeat the question so that this pause in the conversation doesn’t slow its rhythm.

He sees Hinton constantly changing the angle of her gaze to check that every pupil is paying attention to whoever in the room is speaking, and silencing anyone who is not doing so with a subtle wave of her hand.

He sees her use similar gestures to gently but effectively recall errant students into line without interrupting her own flow or that of the student speaking at the time (“non-verbal corrections”).

He sees Hinton venture away from the hotspots to move down the sides of the class, letting her students know, with her movement, that there is always a chance she will be beside their desk in the next few seconds.

He sees that in one particular instance she moves toward a particular student while making it look to the rest of the class as if she is simply changing her perspective, so that she can correct his behaviour without embarrassing him – and he sees that she does so with the grace of an elite tennis player delivering a disguised drop shot.

Hinton smiles warmly and varies “the volume of her voice to convey enthusiasm for her topic,” Lemov points out. Her students “are utterly captivated, eager to pitch in with their own thoughts, avid for learning.”

She’s not leaping on desks like Robin Williams in Great Poets Society. Good teachers practice their craft, says Lemov.

“The myth of the magical teacher subtly undermines the status of teaching, by obscuring the extraordinary skill required to perform the job to a high level,” concludes Leslie. “It also implies that great teaching cannot be taught.”

Lemov links to more teaching videos on his Teach Like a Champion blog.

Colleges not ready for ‘college ready’ Core grads

Students who pass Common Core-aligned tests in high school could end up in remedial college classes, writes Allie Grasgreen on Politico.

The new standards are supposed to represent “the knowledge and skills necessary for students to be college- and career-ready.” But most university systems won’t use Common Core proficiency to decide who’s placed in college-level courses.

State universities in California and Washington plan to use students’ test scores to guide college placement, writes Grasgreen. Colorado and Ohio are moving in that direction. But most universities are holding back. They’re not sure what “proficient” will mean.

Educating migrants

Macarena Vicente Morales
Macarena Vicente Morales, 18, with her U.S.-born son, Jacob, goes to high school in rural Delaware.

Nearly 70,000 unaccompanied children crossed the border last year fleeing poverty and violence in Central America, reports Al Jazeera America. Schools are struggling to educate immigrant children with “different levels of education and English skills, and in many cases, fragmented families, histories of trauma and very uncertain futures.”

Macarena Vicente Morales was 17 years old and nearly eight months pregnant when she swam across the Rio Grande last spring, marking the end of her childhood in Guatemala and the beginning of a new life in the United States.

But Morales said she wasn’t escaping violence; she came to provide a better life for her son. During her three-month stay at a Texas refugee shelter, Morales gave birth to Jacob. And in July, the new mother and baby moved in with Morales’ older sister in Georgetown, Delaware – home to one of the highest concentrations of Guatemalans in the United States.

Under federal law, unaccompanied minors from countries that don’t border the U.S. can stay while they await deportation proceedings.

Migrant workers have been coming to Sussex County, Delaware, since the early 1990s, seeking work in agriculture and poultry plants. Back then, just 2 percent of Georgetown’s population was Latin American. By 2013, that number had soared to 43 percent.

But few were prepared for this new wave of young migrants. Donald Hattier, who’s on the school board of the Indian River School District in Sussex County, said the arrival of nearly 70 migrant children in one school year blindsided his district.

The high school created a special program for the new students. “Reading and writing is definitely a struggle for them, because they don’t read and write in the first language,” teacher Lori Ott said. Some come from Indian communities and don’t speak Spanish or English.

Via This Week in Education.