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.

U.S. teachers are smarter than you think

U.S. teachers are smarter than you think, writes Jill Barshay on the Hechinger Report.

A 2010 McKinsey report spotlighted a “talent gap” in teaching. Almost half of new teachers come from the bottom third of SAT takers, said the report. By contrast, the “world’s top performing school systems draw teachers from the best and brightest.”

But new research argues that quality never dropped that low and is rebounding.  A recently published “study of new teachers in New York state . . . found that at the worst point — in 1999 — almost 30 percent of new teachers came from the bottom third, as measured by SAT scores,” and 30 percent came from the top third, writes Barshay. Ten years later, more than 40 percent of new teachers scored in the top third and fewer than 20 percent in the bottom third.

2013 University of Washington study also found rising test scores for new teachers.

A Stanford study, not yet published, estimates the average SAT/ACT scores of a new teacher declined to the 42nd percentile in 2000 and rose to the 48th percentile by 2008.

Math scores rose strongly, while verbal scores increased slightly.

Back in 1993, the typical hire at a private elementary school had SAT scores that were 4 points higher than her or his public school counterpart. By 2008, they were 5 percentage points lower. . . . Private high school teachers continue to have higher SAT scores than public high school teachers.

It’s not clear why public schools have been able to hire teachers with stronger academic records.

Education Realist critiques a lack of quality in teacher quality reports.

Smartphones don’t make us dumb, but …

Smartphones Don’t Make Us Dumb, writes cognitive scientist Dan Willingham in the New York Times. Digital devices don’t even destroy our attention spans. “We can focus,” he writes. But we may not want to.”

In a 2012 Pew survey, nearly 90 percent of teachers said their students can’t pay attention the way they could a few years ago.

It may be that digital devices have not left us unable to pay attention, but have made us unwilling to do so.

The digital world carries the promise of amusement that is constant, immediate and limitless. If a YouTube video isn’t funny in the first 10 seconds, why watch when I can instantly seek something better on BuzzFeed or Spotify? The Internet hasn’t shortened my attention span, but it has fixed a persistent thought in the back of my mind: Isn’t there’s something better to do than what I’m doing?

. . . People’s performance on basic laboratory tests of attention gets worse if a cellphone is merely visible nearby. In another experiment, people using a driving simulator were more likely to hit a pedestrian when their cellphone rang, even if they had planned in advance not to answer it.

Digital devices encourage “near constant outwardly directed thought” at the expense of time for reflection, Willingham concludes. “A flat cap on time with devices — the restriction we first think of for ourselves and our kids — might help.”

Multi-tasking is a myth, writes Leah Levy on Edudemic. Beware of information overload, writes Daniel J. Levitin in the Guardian.

TV seeks ‘Child Genius’

Lifetime is premiering a new “reality” show tonight called Child Genius. Twenty boys and girls ages 8 to 12 compete to answer questions in pursuit of a $100,000 college scholarship.

In a preview, a girl spells the longest word in the English language, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis. That’s hardly a sign of intelligence. I memorized the word in fourth grade. (I don’t know my IQ, but my fifth-grade teacher said I was an “overachiever.”)
Child Genius Season 1 Photos

The British version was called “cruel” for putting heavy pressure on children. After the finale, won by an 11-year-old girl, two boys were shown crying. And the questions favored memorization, rather than intelligence.

John Sumter, a South Carolina third grader, is one of the youngest contestants on the U.S. show. He enjoyed being with kids who get his jokes, said his mother Traci Sumter.

However, “it was very stressful” for the boy, who was eight when the show taped over the summer.

“It was kind of tough to compete against people that I made great allies with and good friendships,” John said.


Too stupid

Stupid people aren’t smart enough to know they’re stupid, says John Cleese of Monty Python.

The smart path

Demarquez Grissom grew up in an Atlanta neighborhood where “it was cool to be dumb.” But he figured out that was stupid by eighth grade. A teacher got him into a gifted program that led to Syracuse University.

DoE seeks equality in AP, gifted classes

Tracking students by academic performance creates a separate and unequal school system, according to the U.S. Education Department, reports Sonali Kohli in The Atlantic.

Black students to be afforded equal access to advanced, higher-level learning opportunities,” the DoE’s Office of Civil Rights proclaimed in announcing an agreement with a New Jersey school district, South Orange Maplewood.

Proponents of tracking and of ability-grouping (a milder version that separates students within the same classroom based on ability) say that the practices allow students to learn at their own levels and prevent a difficult situation for teachers: large classes where children with a wide range of different needs and skill levels are mixed together. In many districts, the higher-level instruction in “gifted and talented” or advanced placement (AP) classes is what keeps wealthier families from entirely abandoning the public school system.

But . . . many education researchers have argued that tracking perpetuates class inequality, and is partially to blame for the stubborn achievement gap in the US educational system.

South Orange Maplewood in New Jersey will hire a consultant to examine why more whites than blacks are in advanced courses as part of a resolution agreement with the DoE.

In California’s Elk Grove Unified, 16 percent of students are black, but only 6 percent of gifted and talented (GATE) students are black. The district entered a DoE agreement to make GATE enrollment reflect enrollment.

Notice that Asian-American students are the most over-represented in GATE classes.

10th-grade prodigy learns 10th-grade math

10-grade prodigy is learning 10th-grade math in Alexandria, Virginia, reports The Onion.

Michael Greenan, 16, could be ready for 11th-grade Algebra II by the end of the year, says teacher Emily Cress. “Michael is a really gifted kid.” At this rate, she added, the wunderkind could graduate from college by the time he’s 22.

Artificial intelligence outscores 12th graders

A Japanese student celebrates her admission to an elite university.

A Japanese student celebrates her admission to the elite Tokyo University.

An artificial-intelligence program outscored the average Japanese high school senior on the English section of the college-entrance exam, reports the Wall Street Journal.

To-Robo earned a 95 (out of 200)on the multiple-choice English test, compared to 93.1 for the average test-taker. That’s nearly double the software’s score last year.

Japan’s collegebound students take two days of very high-stakes exams  in geography, history, civics, Japanese, foreign languages, math and science to qualify for public and private universities.

Developers are grooming To-Robo to qualify for the prestigious Tokyo University. (And then? Take classes?)

On the English portion, the AI program was able to choose the answer that best fits this conversation:

A: I hear your father is in the hospital.
B: Yes, and he has to have an operation next week.
A: ????. Let me know if I can do anything.
B: Thanks a lot.

To-Robo correctly picked “That’s too bad” to fill in the blank, rejecting “Exactly, yes,” “No problem” and “That’s a relief.”

The technology may be used for translations some day, developers said.

Gifted classes help achievers

Gifted classes help disadvantaged students with high achievement scores but average IQs, according to a study of urban fourth graders.

Non-disadvantaged students with IQs of 130 or higher did not benefit. Neither did lower-income students and English Learners with IQ scores of 116 or higher.

Students who “miss the IQ thresholds but scored highest among their school/grade cohort in state-wide achievement tests in the previous year . . . show significant gains in reading and math, concentrated among lower-income and black and Hispanic students.” Math gains persisted in fifth grade. Students also showed gains in fifth-grade science.

Gifted classes are “more effective for students selected on past achievement – particularly disadvantaged students who are often excluded from gifted and talented programs,” researchers concluded.

Mixed-ability algebra classes hurt higher-skill students, concludes another study on Chicago’s algebra-for-all policy, adopted in 1997.

Chicago moved poorly prepared students into algebra classes without additional supports for students or teachers, researchers found. “Simply mandating a college-prep curriculum for all students is not sufficient to improve the academic outcomes of all students.”

Who’d have thunk it?