Hard working, high scoring — and creative

“Let others have the higher test scores” on international exams, says anti-reformer Diane Ravitch. “I prefer to bet on the creative, can-do spirit of the American people.” 

It’s a false tradeoff, argues Brandon Wright on Flypaper. Those hard-working, high-scoring Koreans and Japanese could be just as innovative as Americans.  

Bloomberg News lists the most innovative countries in the world based on factors including R&D intensity, productivity, high-tech density and percentage of researchers. The U.S. is third, but look at who’s number one.

  1. South Korea (score: 92.10)
  2. Sweden (score: 90.80)
  3. United States (score: 90.69)
  4. Japan (score: 90.41)
  5. Germany (score: 88.23)

Yes, it’s those cram-schooled, stress-crazed Koreans who’ve built a thriving economy out of the ruins of war.

South Korea — often ridiculed for working its students too hard and robbing them of creative, independent thought — might be the most innovative country in the world. Japan, subject to similar derision, slides in comfortably at number four.

“Rigid” Germany – one of only three countries whose PISA math and equity scores have improved since 2003 — is number five on Bloomberg’s list.

“No trade-offs between academic performance and innovation are obvious,” Wright concludes.

Let your kids fail

The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success

Go Ahead, Let Your Kids Fail, writes Megan McArdle on Bloomberg. Her new book, The Up Side of Down advocates “learning to fail better.” That includes taking on challenges and being ready “to pick ourselves up as quickly as possible and move on when things don’t work out.”

After a book talk, a 10th-grade girl said she understood about “trying new things, and hard things,” but she couldn’t risk it. “I’m in an International Baccalaureate program and only about five percent of us will get 4.0, so how can I try a subject where I might not get an A?” 

High school shouldn’t be about perfection, writes McArdle.

If you can’t try something new in 10th grade, when can you? If you can’t afford to risk anything less than perfection at the age of 15, then for heaven’s sake, when is going to be the right time?

Now is when this kid should be learning to dream big dreams and dare greatly. Now is when she should be making mistakes and figuring out how to recover from them. Instead, we’re telling one of our best and brightest to focus all her talent on coloring within the lines.

Too many achievers are trying to get into a small number of elite colleges, writes McArdle. Upper-middle-class parents are pushing their children “harder than ever — micromanaging their lives.”

PISA denial

U.S. educators are downplaying PISA results that show Asian countries excel, while the U.S. rank is slipping, writes Marc Tucker in PISA Denial. After all, few Asians are winning Nobel prizes or “starting game-changing business like Apple, Oracle, Google or Microsoft,” they argue. Maybe PISA measures things that aren’t very important, while U.S. schools are teaching creativity and innovation.

That’s sophistry, responds Tucker.  Those game-changing entrepreneurs are highly educated and innovative and creative. Their companies don’t hire creative people with mediocre reading, writing and math skills.

 They do not have to choose between well-educated and highly competent people, on the one hand, and creative and innovative people on the other. They demand and can get both. In the same person.

PISA measures “the ability to apply what is learned to real world problems” and increasingly is focusing on applying knowledge to “unanticipated, novel problems,” writes Tucker.

Creativity does not take place in a knowledge vacuum. It is typically the product of the rubbing together, so to speak, of two or more bodies of knowledge, of holding up the framework associated with one body of knowledge to another arena that it was not designed to illuminate. When that happens, odds are that the new insights, born of the application of the old framework to the novel problem, will emerge. The literature tells us that this means that you are most likely to get the kind of creativity we are most interested in from highly educated people who are deeply versed in very different arenas.

Asian educators are working hard to learn from U.S. schools, writes Tucker. They want to place more stress on individual initiative without accepting the “violence and chaos” they see as the cultural price. Some Americans want Asian achievement levels with less social conformity, but we’re not really trying to get there. Instead, “we are working hard at denial.”

PISA matters, agrees Eric Hanushek, who disposes of several excuses for U.S. mediocrity.

 While our low ranking has been seen on earlier international assessments, there are many reasons to believe that low cognitive skills (as assessed by PISA) will be increasingly important for our economic future.

We don’t have to be Singapore or Korea. If the U.S. could reach Canadian achievement levels, the average worker would earn 20 percent more, Hanushek writes.

BTW, Silicon Valley, where I live, is filled with entrepreneurs educated in India, China and elsewhere.  Forty-four percent of Silicon Valley start-ups were founded by immigrant entrepreneurs in 2012, down from 52 percent in 2005.

Inside the box

Teacher torture devices

Entrepreneur Cheong Choon Ng, who created Rainbow Loom, shows innovation still thrives in the U.S., writes New York Times columnist Bill Keller.

Rubber band bracelets, are teacher torture devices, writes Mrs. Lipstick on Organized Chaos.

Tiny rubber bands are knitted together to form a bracelet. When it’s pulled apart — which isn’t difficult — “a child suddenly has what feels like hundreds of little bands all over his desk.”

Of course this only happens at the exact moment you are trying to transition the class and the student suddenly finds himself in a panic because he is worried he will lose one precious tiny rubber band. Or worse, the student becomes worried that a friend will steal the bands, which of course involves lots of yelling and “hey, that’s mine! Nobody touch it!” Both scenarios ultimately ends with a total class disruption and involve a very frustrated teacher.

“The amount of drama behind these bands could drive a daytime soap opera,” concludes Mrs. Lipstick.

Creativity meets technology

 Innovation:Where Creativity and Technology Meet.

Innovation? Feds side with status quo

The same day President Obama called for innovative approaches to online education to save students’ money, the Justice Department told Altius Education, an innovator in online education, that it is under investigation.

New frontiers for charters in 2013

Innovation is the theme of the 2013 Hopes, Fears & Reality report by the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. Are charter leads fully using their autonomy to experiment with new ways to teach? asks Robin Lake.

It includes:

Charters Branch Out: Do Moves Into Affluent Areas Signal an Important Trend? Jeffrey Henig of Columbia University explores the issues around the growth of charter schools in suburban and affluent neighborhoods.

Incubate For America? Ethan Gray of the CEE-Trust examines a new breed of organizations—charter school incubators—emerging in cities across the U.S., bringing some private-sector strategies to the charter school start-up scene.

Tech-Based Learning: The New Frontier for Charters? Michael Horn of the Christensen Institute writes about charter schools in California that have innovated through technology and asks what it will take for more to follow nationwide.

To Survive, Charters Cannot Ignore the Bottom Line.Marguerite Roza of Georgetown University urges the charter sector to get innovative about designing a more sustainable cost structure.

How federal rules block innovation

Federal education funding is supporting the status quo, argues a new Center on Reinventing Public Education report, Federal Barriers to Innovation. Authors Raegen Miller and Robin Lake focus on Title I funding for disadvantaged students and  IDEA funding for disabled students.

 The Title I comparability loop hole, for instance, prevents districts from adopting promising new technology–based school models. If a district has a high-poverty school staffed with inexperienced, lower-paid teachers, and an affluent school of the same size staffed with the same number of more experienced, higher-paid teachers, those schools are considered to have comparable staffing levels. The loophole masks the true educational costs of schools, reinforces a traditional compensation system that favors tenure and post-graduate education, and prevents districts from differentiating pay in strategic ways.

IDEA’s maintenance of effort requirement forces districts to keep spending money “without regard for its efficiency or effectiveness.” That blocks innovative teaching methods and technologies.

Instead, IDEA needs a “challenge waiver” system, Miller and Lake write.

Districts could be granted waivers for the 100 percent spending threshold on special education and related services “provided they furnish a coherent, strategic special education plan documenting the rationale for a lower threshold.” Such a system would encourage more data-driven decision-making, while random audits would ensure fidelity of implementation.

In addition, they call for “redirecting Title II funds (an amalgam of funding streams supporting ineffectual professional development and class-size reduction programs)” toward effective new instructional technologies.

Standards for quality of mind?

Marion Brady describes Eight problems with Common Core Standards (just to start with) on WashPost‘s Answer Sheet. Marc Tucker begs to disagree (he doesn’t really beg) on Ed Week‘s Top Performers.

Brady:

Standards shouldn’t be attached to school subjects, but to the qualities of mind it’s hoped the study of school subjects promotes.

. . . The world changes. The future is indiscernible. Clinging to a static strategy in a dynamic world may be comfortable, even comforting, but it’s a Titanic-deck-chair exercise.

. . . The Common Core Standards assume that what kids need to know is covered by one or another of the traditional core subjects. In fact, the unexplored intellectual terrain lying between and beyond those familiar fields of study is vast, expands by the hour, and will go in directions no one can predict.

He adds: “No amount of schooling can effectively counter” childhood poverty, which is the main reason for poor school performance; the Common Core kills innovation and the standards will lead to “national standardized tests, tests that can’t evaluate complex thought, can’t avoid cultural bias, can’t measure non-verbal learning, can’t predict anything of consequence (and waste boatloads of money).”  Also, the standards will “standardize” minds. Finally, the goal of “success in college and careers” is “pedestrian” at best. “The young should be exploring the potentials of humanness.”

Tucker guesses that “qualities of mind” would include synthesizing material, analyzing, problem solving and writing. These are “grounded in the disciplines,” he argues.

 . . .  the core academic disciplines (the core subjects in the school curriculum) provide the conceptual underpinning for deep understanding of virtually everything we want our students to know and further, that learning does not transfer easily or well, or sometimes at all, across those disciplines. . . . Like it or not, if we don’t have standards for the disciplines, we will have no standards at all.

The world changes, Tucker concedes.But a solid foundation of knowledge will help today’s kindergarteners learn and adapt throughout their lives.

It is hard to imagine that, by some time next year, arithmetic will be obsolete, along with ratio and proportion.  Or that it will be unnecessary to be able to write a short essay that clearly and concisely expresses a few key ideas.  Or that no citizen of this country will need to know anything about the history of the development of freedom and the conditions under which it thrives and perishes. Or that the earth revolves around the sun . . .

The Common Core Standards don’t try to cover everything a teacher might want to teach or a student might want to learn, Tucker adds. The point is to “define a much smaller core that all teachers should teach and all students should learn.”

Should we focus more on poverty? OK, writes Tucker. But when there are no or low standards for low-income students, they’re taught less and learn less.

What Brady calls “innovation,” Tucker calls “chaos.”

Here is what the research shows about what happens when teachers are free to “innovate” in this way:  the teacher in any given grade, having incoming students who have been taught by many teachers, some of who have taught a given topic at length, others who have taught it only superficially, and still others who have taught it not at all, start at the beginning, at the introductory level for this topic. . . . Researchers, when asking students what they are doing as late as February, are told that, “we are reviewing last year.”

Bad tests? Nothing in the standards calls for tests to be designed badly, Tucker writes.

Standardized minds?

There is not a country that has consistently high student performance that does not have some form of student achievement standards.

Finally, Tucker defends the “pedestrian”  goals of career and college readiness, rather than exploring the “potentials of humanness.”

Fewer than 20 percent of any given cohort of students entering the ninth grade end up with a 2-year degree or certificate within four years of entering postsecondary education or getting a 4-year degree with 6 years of entering postsecondary education.  I’m all for the “potentials of humanness”, but the American people are hurting, the American standard of living is falling and the American economy is suffering because we are wasting the potential of our students by failing to give them the skills they need to make a decent living.

While I have concerns about Common Core Standards, I’d be a lot more worried about schools devoted to instilling “qualities of mind” and “humanness”  but no particular set of knowledge and skills.

BTW, here’s ACT on Rising to the Challenge of College and Career Readiness.