What the Chinese are studying

University enrollment has soared by 30 percent in China in recent years, but graduates are having trouble finding jobs, reports Online Colleges. “It’s estimated that one-third of China’s 5.6 million 2008 graduates were unemployed during their first year after school.”

Information technology tops the list of The 10 Hottest College Majors in China. China produced half a million IT graduates in 2009, but  there are plenty of jobs for well-qualified IT grads.

In addition to electrical and mechanical engineering, medicine, accounting, architecture and business management, the top 10 include English (not many jobs, but it helps with study in the U.S.), journalism (way too many graduates for the jobs) and law (too many graduates.)

In Macon schools, Mandarin is mandatory

With lots of poor students and low graduation rates, public schools in Macon, Georgia and surrounding Bibb County face lots of problems, reports NPR.  Haitian-born superintendent Romain Dallemand’s “Macon Miracle” has brought longer school days, year-round instruction and mandatory Mandarin Chinese instruction for every student, pre-K through 12th grade.

“Students who are in elementary school today, by 2050 they’ll be at the pinnacle of their career,” Dallemand says. “They will live in a world where China and India will have 50 percent of the world GDP. They will live in a world where, if they cannot function successfully in the Asian culture, they will pay a heavy price.”

This school year, Dallemand is rolling out Mandarin in stages, a few sessions a week, with the youngest kids starting first. In three years, it will be at every grade level.

A Mandarin teacher costs the district only $16,000 a year, because they’re subsidized by the Confucius Institute, which is partially funded by the Chinese government.

Some parents are dubious.

“Bibb County is not known for producing the highest-achieving graduates,” says Macon resident Dina McDonald. “You’ll see that many of them can’t even speak basic English.”

McDonald herself has a ninth-grader in the public schools and says she can imagine some students going into fields where Mandarin could be useful, like international business, technology or law. But with lower achievers, she says, “Do you want to teach them how to say, ‘Do you want fries with that?’ in Mandarin?”

The superintendent says children will rise to high expectations.

A friend of mine helped start a multilingual magnet school in Detroit in the ’80s. Black parents who worked in the auto industry lined up to get their kids into Japanese language classes, thinking that it was the language of the future.

Immigrants seek education, but hit wait lists

Second-generation Hispanic women are leading a surge in college enrollment, but graduation rates remain low for Hispanics from immigrant families.

Few immigrants succeed without learning English, but many are on wait lists to get classes, writes Gail Mellow, president of LaGuardia Community College.

New York City’s community colleges will work with museums to teach immigrants English through art.

Robots teach English in South Korea

South Korean students are learning English from robots controlled by teachers in the Philippines. The Engkey robots are teaching at 21 elementary schools in the southeastern city of Daegu.

The 3-1/2-foot-tall, egg-shaped device, developed by the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), has a TV display screen for a face. The human teachers can see and listen to the students through the remote link and can direct the robots to move around the classroom, “dance” to music, play educational games and sing songs with the children.

Robots begin teaching English in South Korean classrooms

Knowledge Economy Ministry / AFP / Getty Images

The robots display an avatar face of a Caucasian woman, but cameras detect the Filipino teachers’ facial expressions and reflect them on the avatar’s face, Sagong Seong-Dae, a senior scientist at KIST, told Agence France Presse.

“Well-educated, experienced Filipino teachers are far cheaper than their counterparts elsewhere, including South Korea,” he told AFP.

Apart from reading books, the robots use pre-programmed software to sing songs and play alphabet games with the children.

“The kids seemed to love it since the robots look, well, cute and interesting. But some adults also expressed interest, saying they may feel less nervous talking to robots than a real person,” said Kim Mi-Young, an official at Daegu city education office.

Robots may be sent to rural areas where foreign English teachers are reluctant to work. However, Kim said the experiment isn’t designed to replace human teachers. “We are helping upgrade a key, strategic industry and all the while giving children more interest in what they learn.”

“Having robots in the classroom makes the students more active in participating, especially shy ones afraid of speaking out to human teachers,” Kim said.

Korean scientists have been experimenting with using robots to teach math, science and other subjects.

“They won’t complain about health insurance, sick leave and severance package, or leave in three months for a better-paying job in Japan,” Sagong said.

Just joking?

Against core standards

Today, California’s board of education is expected to adopt the Common Core Standards already approved by 30-odd states.

Dissenters Bill Evers and Ze’ev Wurman believe California will trade eighth-grade algebra for an “obese, unteachable” math course. Despite the state standards, many eighth graders can’t handle algebra.  Yet Evers and Wurman argue that setting the bar high has helped students.

Over the past decade and a half, California’s Latino student population has almost doubled from 30 percent to over 50 percent, many of them facing special learning challenges. Yet the number of students taking algebra by eighth grade has jumped from 16 percent to 60 percent, while the success rate has jumped from 39 percent to 48 percent since 2002. In 2002, only a third of high school students took Algebra 2 by grade 11; now more than half take it, and with increasing success rates.

More importantly, between 2003 and 2009 the number of African American students successfully taking Algebra 1 by grade 8 more than tripled from 1,700 to 5,400; the jump among Hispanic students was from 10,000 to 45,000; and for students from low-income households, from 12,000 to 49,000. Algebra 2 in high school shows similar results. Finally, since 1997, California State University freshman enrollment has doubled from 25,000 to 50,000, while remediation rates in mathematics have dropped from 54 percent to 37 percent.

San Francisco Chronicle columnist Debra Saunders, a veteran of the “math wars,” warns that going from “fuzzy crap” math — as the state education secretary called it — to eighth-grade algebra was a tough fight: “Once you’ve captured turf, you have to hold it.”

Massachusetts, another state with high standards, already has adopted the common core. Sandra Stotsky, who helped create the state’s standards, protests the decision.

In a New York Times’ Room for Debate last year, Stotsky said English teachers aren’t prepared to teach the common core English Language Arts standards, which call for students to learn to read scientific and historical texts as part of English class.

Go here to read Common Core’s Standards Still Don’t Make the Grade: Why California and Massachusetts Must Retain Control Over Their Academic Destinies by Stosky and Wurman.

Pushed hard by Arne Duncan, all but a few states seem certain to adopt the new standards. How will they implement them? That’s another question.

Update: Minnesota will not adopt Common Core Standards; they think the math standards are unclear and want to retain local control.

Hat is 'hat'

From The Onion: Arizona High Schools To Now Teach Spanish Entirely In English

In other Onion news: Struggling High School Cuts Football — Nah, Just Kidding, Art It Is

Farewell to 'Farewell to Arms'

It’s Farewell to “A Farewell to Arms” in Douglas County, Nevada, reports Teaching Now, an Ed Week blog.

English teachers are protesting district plans to introduce College Board’s Springboard textbook set and curriculum, complaining it eliminates classic books in favor of short readings. From the Record-Courier:

(Douglas High teachers) argued SpringBoard prevents students from being exposed to classic, challenging texts with rich vocabularies. Rather, they said, students are stuck with one novel a year and random excerpts, some of which deal with movies and television shows, resulting in a loss of the English literary tradition.

More specifically, teachers argued that SpringBoard lacks rigorous grammar, vocabulary and writing instruction.

Sophomore Taylor Gray said her ninth-grade honors English class, which piloted Springboard, didn’t teach her how to write an essay, because “I was spending time learning about ‘Edward Scissorhands’ cinematic value.”

Middle school teacher and supporter Susan Van Doren thinks the curriculum could serve as an academic equalizer. “SpringBoard makes it possible to throw open the doors to Advanced Placement that have long been closed to all but the elite.”

Springboard’s thematic approach is supposed to prepare students for AP classes. But many Hillsborough County, Florida teachers complain it lacks substance, contains too much pop culture trivia and repeats material taught in lower grades. Some call it SpringBored.

There are fans. Sylvia Ellison, an English teacher at Brandon High in Florida, taught the American Dream theme to 11th-graders, many of whom were low achievers. “They like the variety,” Ellison told the Tampa Tribune.

Her class took about seven weeks to cover Jon Krakauer’s biography, “Into the Wild,” about a 24-year-old man’s adventures and death in the Alaska wilderness.

“We listened to the whole book on iTunes,” Ellison said. “Last year, they read ‘The Great Gatsby.’ I think they got more out of this one.”

And this will prepare students for AP English?

Update: James Elias of Common Core piles on, asking Where’s the Beef? and linking to reading lists.

In 12th grade, for instance, SpringBoard replaces a unit on the English Renaissance (Spenser, Raleigh, Shakespeare, and the King James Bible) with a unit on My Fair Lady, The Manchurian Candidate, Nine to Five, Cinderella, and The Legend of Bagger Vance. 12th grade Victorian literature (Tennyson, the Brownings, Kipling, Dickens, Bronte) is replaced by a current events unit focusing on the Waco massacre, Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth,” and newspaper editorials.

A SpringBoard supporter says, “If you can read, you can read the classics on your own.” Oh, OK. No problem.

Arizona vs. accents, ethnic studies

Arizona teachers who speak English with a strong accent or poor grammar won’t be allowed to teach classes for English Language Learners, the state education department has ruled. The decision primarily will affect elementary teachers recruited from Latin America to staff bilingual classes. When Arizona voters ended bilingual education in 2000, teachers were told to use English only. But some aren’t able to speak fluently or model good English, state officials complain. From the Wall Street Journal:

The education department has dispatched evaluators to audit teachers across the state on things such as comprehensible pronunciation, correct grammar and good writing.

Teachers will be given time to improve their English, but those who can’t meet the state auditors’ standard must be reassigned to mainstream classes or fired, says a state education official.

. . . Nearly half the teachers at Creighton, a K-8 school in a Hispanic neighborhood of Phoenix, are native Spanish speakers. State auditors have reported to the district that some teachers pronounce words such as violet as “biolet,” think as “tink” and swallow the ending sounds of words, as they sometimes do in Spanish.

Creighton’s principal says her foreign-born teachers are dedicated, experienced and understand the students’ culture. There aren’t enough mainstream early elementary classes for teachers with accents, unless they can teach higher grades. The school — nearly all Hispanic and all poor — is rated “performing plus” by the state. By middle school, students are catching up to state averages, especially in math.

In other Arizona news, a bill designed to ban ethnic studies classes has reached the governor’s desk, reports the Arizona Republic. State Superintendent Tom Horne, a candidate for attorney general, wrote the bill to abolish classes that:

• Promote the overthrow of the U.S. government.

• Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.

• Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.

• Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of treating pupils as individuals.

Horne is targeting Tucson’s La Raza studies class, saying it’s “aimed primarily at members of one race, and we have testimony that this has promoted resentment.” He said students could be exposed to various cultures and traditions in social studies classes.

Tucson school officials say there’s nothing in their curriculum that would run afoul of the bill’s provisions. “In no way do we teach the resentment of any particular group of people,” said Sean Arce, director of the Mexican-American studies department in the Tucson district.

The district integrates Mexican-American studies into its offerings, from kindergarten through high school.  

Oh, and there’s that law about illegal aliens. Arizona’s new moniker: The Grand Ban ‘Em State.

Speaking of advertising

It seems much of education is turning into a PR campaign. The “21st Century Skills” movement seems quite fond of advertising.

Here are some sample projects from the “21st Century Skills Map” for social studies (from the P21 website):

Fourth grade:

Outcome: As a group, work together to reach a decision and to explain the reasons for it.

Example: Working in small groups, encourage and engage other classmates to assist with a group service-learning project. Using digital media, students demonstrate the need to raise the awareness of their classmates on an issue within their community, (e.g., students create a digital poster that persuades classmates to participate in a school fundraising project).

Eighth grade:

Outcome: Students develop entrepreneurial skills by undertaking a business project.

Example: JA World Wide (Junior Achievement) provides a semester project for middle school students, in which business leaders from the community teach a weekly class, and each student group in the class develops and markets a product.

Students are responsible for setting goals, developing and implementing their plans, monitoring their progress in developing and marketing their product, and modifying as needed.

Twelfth grade:

Outcome: Students create an economic venture that requires the application of economic principles such as supply and demand.

Example: Students work together as a class or in groups to execute a simple business task such as selling a certain amount of a popular snack by a certain date. The activity could be structured competitively or in such a way that various groups are attempting to reach group-based specific sales goals. Students use a range of sales techniques that incorporate forms of technology such as video and web-based promotion. Students could also create a new product or packaging of an existing product and make a competitive pitch to fellow students who decide which product or packaging should be awarded with a “venture capital” type of investment. The activity could be incorporated into a co-curricular school-based venture that has access to some start-up funds.

I don’t understand why kids should be selling snacks instead of studying history.

Afghan girls return to school

Scarred by acid, Afghan girls have returned to school in Kandahar, defying terrorists who attacked students and teachers two months ago, reports the New York Times.

. . .  if the acid attack against Shamsia and 14 others — students and teachers — was meant to terrorize the girls into staying home, it appears to have completely failed.

Today, nearly all of the wounded girls are back at the Mirwais School for Girls, including even Shamsia, whose face was so badly burned that she had to be sent abroad for treatment. Perhaps even more remarkable, nearly every other female student in this deeply conservative community has returned as well — about 1,300 in all.

“My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed,” said Shamsia, 17, in a moment after class. Shamsia’s mother, like nearly all of the adult women in the area, is unable to read or write. “The people who did this to me don’t want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things.”

I hope teachers in the U.S. show this story to their students.

Update:  To learn to communicate with the rest of the world, Afghan students need help learning English, writes Michael Yon. Pashto and Dari aren’t enough.