Librarian: Top reader ‘hogs’ glory

Tyler Weaver, 9, read 63 books in six weeks to win the summer reading contest at Hudson Falls Public Library in upstate New York. The incoming fifth grader has won five years in a row.  Which is . . . unfair?

Tyler “hogs” the contest every year and should “step aside,” Library Director Marie Gandron told the Star-Post.  Over five years, Tyler has won an atlas, a T-shirt, a water bottle and certificates of achievement.

Tyler’s mother, Katie, had alerted the newspaper to his streak. His younger brother, Jonathan, 7, won second place for the second year by reading more than 40 books.

“Other kids quit because they can’t keep up,” Gandron said.

Gandron further told the reporter she planned to change the rules of the contest so that instead of giving prizes to the children who read the most books, she would draw names out of a hat and declare winners that way.

Prizes also are given to the top kindergarten reader and for best rock people (?) and coloring entries.

Lita Casey, an aide at the library for 28 years, said the Weaver boys visit the library every week year round. She estimates they’ve checked out 1,000 books in the last few years.

Changing the contest rules is “ridiculous,” Casey said.

“My feeling is you work, you get it. That’s just the way it is in anything. My granddaughter started working on track in grade school and ended up being a national champ. Should she have backed off and said, ‘No, somebody else should win?’ I told her (Gandron), but she said it’s not a contest, it’s the reading club and everybody should get a chance,” Casey said.

A few years ago, the summer theme centered on regions of the United States, Casey recalled. “Kids were supposed to read a book on each section of the country,” but some found it boring and dropped out. “Tyler read at least one book on each of the 50 states,” she said.

One commenter suggests that Marie Gandron has hogged the library director job long enough and should “step aside” to let someone else have a turn.

Harrison Bergeron, call your office, Instapundit writes.

 

Urban districts compete with charters

Urban school districts are changing  to compete with charter schools, according to researchers Marc J. Holley, Anna J. Egalite, and Martin F. Lueken in Education Next.

While some districts try to block the spread of charters, others are cooperating and collaborating with charters, replicating successful charter school practices and marketing their services to students and families.

For example, Denver Public Schools created the Blueprint Schools Network to ”re-create within its own buildings the innovation seen in top charter schools, and keep the state funding.”

 

Teach to boys’ energy, curiosity, drive

Stop Penalizing Boys for Not Being Able to Sit Still at School, writes Jessica Lahey, who teaches middle school, in The Atlantic.

“Something is rotten in the state of boys’ education,” she starts. Boys are kept back at twice the rate of girls, according to Reaching Boys, Teaching Boys: Strategies That Work and Why Boys are “diagnosed with learning disorders and attention problems at nearly four times the rate of girls,” do less homework, earn lower grades and drop out of high school in higher numbers. Only 43 percent of college students  are male.

Many teachers and school administrators think “boys are too fidgety, too hyperactive, too disruptive, derailing the educational process for everyone while sabotaging their own intellectual development,” Lahey writes.

Peek into most American classrooms and you will see desks in rows, teachers pleading with students to stay in their seats and refrain from talking to their neighbors. Marks for good behavior are rewarded to the students who are proficient at sitting still for long periods of time. Many boys do not have this skill.

What works for boys?  Teaching Boys: A Global Study of Effective Practices recommends lessons:  that result in an end product (a booklet, a catapult, a poem, a comic strip), that are structured as competitive games, that require movement, that require boys to assume responsibility for the learning of others, that address open questions or unsolved problems, that combine competition and teamwork, that focus on independent, personal discovery and realization and that introduce drama in the form of novelty or surprise.

In short, ‘the most effective way to teach boys is to take advantage of that high energy, curiosity, and thirst for competition,” Lahey concludes. And it’s not as if girls can’t learn from these sort of lessons.

Funding ‘phantom students’

Many states fund phantom students, sucking up education dollars and reducing districts’ incentive to improve productivity, according to an Education Next article by Marguerite Roza, who runs the Edunomics Lab at Georgetown and Jon Fullerton, executive director of Harvard’s Center for Education Policy Research.

Declining enrollment — especially if it’s caused by charter competition — is a primary cause of phantom funding. The students are gone, but the dollars remain.

During charter negotiations, many states promised school districts they’d be protected financially if students left for charter schools. “Double funding” can be costly.

In Connecticut, districts receive revenues based on the enrollments of students living in their region, regardless of whether those students attend the district schools or attend charters (or technical schools).

. . . In Massachusetts, charter school students take with them the per-pupil net school spending (state and local) from their sending districts. To soften the blow to sending-district finances, Massachusetts provides a partial tuition reimbursement for up to six years after the district starts paying charter school tuition. When a district incurs new tuition costs, the state reimburses the district for 100 percent of the cost in the first year and 25 percent of the tuition cost for the next five years. Thus, the state essentially provides districts with 225 percent of a year’s tuition for each full-time equivalent student lost!

There’s little “incentive to improve services in an effort to retain more students,” they conclude. “When students leave a district to attend a charter school, the district may see an increase in per-student revenues.”

Some states also subsidize small districts. California is very generous to small districts, undercutting any incentive to merge for greater efficiency.

Is 25 the new 15?

Twenty-five is becoming the new 15, argues Escaping the Endless Adolescence: How We Can Help Our Teenagers Grow Up Before They Grow Old.

Young people who’ve grown up in a responsibility-free “bubble” don’t know how to find a job, manage money, cook or care for themselves, write Joseph and Claudia Allen. They’ve been socialized by their peers, not by adults.

We’ve done away with “competition (too masculine, I suppose) and real-world feedback (kids need high self-esteem!),” writes Dr. Helen, a psychologist.

Young people spend more time as college students, often taking five or six years to earn a degree. If it’s a non-technical degree — or they never actually complete it — they’re likely to be living at home at 25.

Study: Girls can compete in math

Competitive Timed Tests Might Be Contributing to the Gender Gap in Math, writes Emily Richmond inThe Atlantic.

Boys do better than girls in timed math contests. But a new study of Utah elementary students finds that girls do just as well as boys in a second round of math competition and begin to do better by the third round. Furthermore, “the first-round advantage for boys disappeared if the time element was removed from that competition,” writes Richmond.

“One of the reasons girls don’t do well in competitive settings is that they don’t think they’re as good as boys—but they really are,” said Brigham Young University economist Joseph Price, one of the study’s co-authors. “That’s an information problem, rather than evidence that girls are destined for a certain outcome.”

‘Getting something right in one shot” and “working within a rigid time limit” isn’t a big part of learning math, argues Richmond, who admits she was lousy at timed math drills in school. “Isn’t it more about mastering concepts and building skills over a longer time frame, and having the patience to tackle challenging problem sets that might require multiple attempts?”

Richmond is worried about the gender gap in math. I worry about the gender gap in reading, writing, history, civics and biology, as well as the gap in high school graduation, college enrollment and college graduation. Schoolboys aren’t outperforming schoolgirls in very much these days.

To get into college, be perfect — or lie

Elite colleges are looking for genius tigerkids, the ethnically and sexually diverse  – and liars, writes Suzy Lee Weiss, a high school senior in Pittsburgh, in  To (All) the Colleges That Rejected Me in the Wall Street Journal.

Colleges tell you, “Just be yourself.” That is great advice, as long as yourself has nine extracurriculars, six leadership positions, three varsity sports, killer SAT scores and two moms.

Weiss worked at a pizza place and ran last on the track team.

Worse, she is white — not even 1/32 Cherokee — as well as middle class and heterosexual, the antidiversity trifecta. And she didn’t redeem herself by starting a “fake charity.”

Providing veterinary services for homeless people’s pets. Collecting donations for the underprivileged chimpanzees of the Congo. Raising awareness for Chapped-Lips-in-the-Winter Syndrome. Fun-runs, dance-a-thons, bake sales—as long as you’re using someone else’s misfortunes to try to propel yourself into the Ivy League, you’re golden.

Teens without traumas of their own are supposed to write their admissions essays about their trip to Africa — “spending that afternoon with Kinto changed my life” — but Weiss went to summer camp instead.

With a 4.5 GPA, 2120 SAT scores and a stint as a U.S. Senate page, Weiss was rejected by Princeton, Yale, Penn and Vanderbilt. Critics complain she’s whiny, but I read her as sarcastic and quite funny.

Admissions directors should stop demanding that applicants tell absurd lies, writes Megan McArdle.

 These days, a nearly-perfect GPA is the barest requisite for an elite institution. You’re also supposed to be a top notch athlete and/or musician, the master of multiple extracurriculars.  Summers should preferably be spent doing charitable work, hopefully in a foreign country, or failing that, at least attending some sort of advanced academic or athletic program.

Naturally, this selects for kids who are extremely affluent, with extremely motivated parents who will steer them through the process of “founding a charity” and other artificial activities.  Kids who have to spend their summer doing some boring menial labor in order to buy clothes have a hard time amassing that kind of enrichment experience.

In her day, applicants faked epiphanies about themselves. Now they have to fake epiphanies about the suffering of others, preferably foreigners. “This proves that they are really caring human beings who want to do more for the world than just make money so that they, too will, in their time, be able to get their children into Harvard.”

A nuclear engineer who can’t work under pressure

This piece about students handling pressure is older, from early February, but I wasn’t blogging back then when I read it, and I am blogging now. It’s an interesting article that discusses a distinction between two genotypes, the effects of a gene on the brain’s ability to clear dopamine, and the effect of that ability on academic performance of various sorts. There’s no way to summarize the really interesting part in quotes, so go read the whole thing. I’ll settle for quoting the overall conclusion about competition:

Maybe the best thing about academic competitions is that they benefit both Warriors and Worriers equally. The Warriors get the thrilling intensity their minds are suited for, where they can shine. The Worriers get the gradual stress inoculation they need, so that one day they can do more than just tolerate stress — they can embrace it. And through the cycle of preparation, performance and recovery, what they learn becomes ingrained.

To this I’d only add that being able to perform under high pressure is itself an important skill, one that is needed in many fields. When the stuff hits the fan, you hope you’ve hired the person who isn’t going to freeze on you, who isn’t going to panic. You want to have hired the person who can keep their head when all around them are losing theirs. For some fields, this isn’t really an issue: you don’t need high pressure librarians, for instance. And no poet I’ve ever met needed to make a snap decision NOW.

Now, I fully admit that how a small child handles stress isn’t necessarily indicative of how the adult he or she will become will handle stress. I also recognize that there are many types of nuclear engineers, and some work solely in design. But still, this tickled my funny bone:

Just knowing he won’t be taking the tests in March has put Noah in a better frame of mind about school. “The pressure is off his shoulders now,” his mother said. When he doesn’t grasp a concept immediately, he can talk it through without any panic. “He looks forward to science class and math class again,” Muthler said. “He wants to be a chemical or nuclear engineer.”

Not the language of scientists

Today, the New York times quoted an expert — a psychologist. Either that, or they reached for some random person halfway across the country to offer a viewpoint they really liked. But it seems like they wanted to have comments by a scientist. Here’s what the psychologist had to say about the fact that New York City admits more boys than girls to its top elite schools (which admission is apparently only by exam):

“It is very suspect that you don’t have as many girls as boys in New York City’s specialized schools,” said Janet S. Hyde, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin who has published research on girls’ performance in math and science from elementary school through college. Individual girls might be losing opportunities, she said, “but it is also bad for society as a whole because in a global economy we need to identify the best scientists and mathematicians.”

When a scientist says that something is “suspect”, what they are supposed to mean is that it might not be true.

“I discovered cold fusion,” I might say.

“That seems suspect,” the scientist might reply.

But Dr. Hyde (that was cheap — eds.) is not using the language of scientists. She’s saying that it’s morally suspect, and opining about what is good and bad for society. Which is fine, I suppose — people can opine about these issues, and people in one of my fields (Philosophy) make it part of their job. But if Dr. Hyde isn’t speaking as a scientist, then we’re really back to “some random person in Wisconsin thinks admitting students to a school based solely on an examination is a bad idea because they apparently think the tests don’t identify the best scientists and mathematicians.”

In which case, why do I care?

The question of whether schools should be allowed to use a single examination for admissions is an interesting one. I don’t think that the answer is obvious, and I encourage a lively debate in the comments. But I’m also pretty sure that the mere fact that these examinations yield male majorities in the students body doesn’t make them any more suspect as tools for identifying mathematical ability than nearly every college admission system in the country is made suspect as an indicator of academic excellence by the fact that they seem to admit more females. Different admissions systems measure different things — and as one of my former professors was fond of saying, “[evaluations] don’t measure what they want to measure, they measure what they measure.”

In any case, the question is certainly not going to be settled by the random musings of some person in Wisconsin who thinks that the tests are “suspect”.

(Of course, it’s not going to be settled by the random musings of an attorney-philosopher, either. But I’m neither trying to settle it nor being quoted for my expertise in the New York Times.)

U of Phoenix blocks community college degrees

In Arizona, the University of Phoenix worked to stop community colleges from offering low-priced bachelor’s degree programs. That allowed the for-profit chain to continue to advertise that it offers more degrees and options than community colleges.

A 6-foot, 8-inch woman — formerly a man — is playing on the women’s basketball team at a California community college. Gabrielle Ludwig, 50, played briefly on a men’s team decades ago.