Too much homework?

Doing his middle-school daughter’s homework for a week was exhausting, Karl Taro Greenfeld writes in The Atlantic. Most nights it took thee hours. His daughter, who attends a “lab” school for gifted students, is becoming “a sleep-deprived teen zombie,” he complains.

Well-educated parents lead the complaints about too much homework, responds Robert Pondiscio. Their kids probably would do just fine with “a humane 30 to 60 minutes a night”  of homework. Poor Students Need Homework, however, if they are to have any chance to succeed in school.

For the low-income kids of color that I have worked with, thoughtful, well-crafted homework, especially in reading, remains an essential gap-closing tool.

The homework debate should focus on what kind of homework is assigned for what purpose, Pondiscio writes. Quantity is less important than quality.

Using homework merely to cover material there was no time for in class is less helpful, for example, than “distributed practice”: reinforcing and reviewing essential skills and knowledge teachers want students to perfect or keep in long-term memory.  Independent reading is also important.  There are many more rare and unique words even in relatively simple texts than in the conversation of college graduates.  Reading widely and with stamina is an important way to build verbal proficiency and background knowledge, important keys to mature reading comprehension.  And all of this is far more important for disadvantaged kids than for Greenfeld’s children, already big winners in the Cognitive Dream House Sweepstakes.

How much homework do kids actually do?  Six percent of students say they spend more than three hours a night on homework, according to a 2007 Metlife study. Fifty-five percent spent less than one hour a night.[IMAGE DESCRIPTION]

Metlife Survey of the American Teacher

Blacks say they spend 6.3 hours a week on homework, Latinos report 6.4 and whites 6.8 hours. Asians average 10.3 hours.

Where’s Abe Lincoln?

LincolnThe new College, Career and Civic Life Framework for Social Studies State Standards, released on Constitution Day, is “avowedly, even proudly, devoid of all content,” writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly. What it’s got instead is “inquiry.”

Nowhere in its 108 pages will you find Abraham Lincoln, the Declaration of Independence, Martin Luther King (or Martin Luther), a map of the United States, or the concept of supply and demand. You won’t find anything that you might think children should actually learn about history, geography, civics or economics.

Instead, you will find an “Inquiry Arc,” defined as “as set of interlocking and mutually supportive ideas that frame the ways students learn social studies content.”

Turn to table 23 on page 49. This has to do with “causation and argumentation” and purports to be part of the inquiry arc as applied to history, in particular to “dimension 2,” dubbed “causation and argumentation.”

By the end of grade 2, “individually and with others,” students will “generate possible reasons for an event or developments in the past.” (That event might be World War I, or it might be the day grandma dropped the turkey on the floor.)

By the end of grade 5, they will “explain probable causes and effects of events and developments.” (Let me tell you what happened after Susie smacked Jamie.)

By the end of grade 8, they will “explain multiple causes and effects of events and developments in the past.” (Actually, she said she hit him for two reasons.)

And by the end of high school, they will “analyze multiple and complex causes and effects of events in the past.” Now we’ve moved from “explain” to “analyze,” and we’ve added “complex.” But, as throughout the entire document, there is no content whatsoever. No actual history.

“Many state standards in social studies are overwhelmed with lists of dates, places and names to memorize – information students quickly forget,” said Susan Griffin, executive director of the National Council of Social Studies. The new framework will stress . . . wait for it . . . critical thinking.

More than half of students scored “below basic” on the National Assessment of Educational Progress exam in civics, notes AEI’s Rick Hess. “Most college graduates can’t identify famous phrases from the Gettysburg Address or cite the protections of the Bill of Rights.”

If our “national experts” can’t bring themselves to come out and just say “Kids should know when the Civil War was” it’s not clear that “an inquiry arc of interlocking and mutually reinforcing elements” will help kids find out.

He wonders: “Just what it is that students are going to think critically about.”

Learning with dinosaurs

Cover edit 3What are the best educational videos available for streaming? Mike Petrilli is making a list.

He’s been watching a BBC series, Walking with Dinosaurs with his sons, who are 5 and 3. Thanks to the series (narrated by Kenneth Branagh!), the five-year-old “has a rudimentary understanding of evolution (paving the way for many scientific and theological conversations in the years ahead) and has absorbed key vocabulary to boot (carnivore, herbivore, omnivore, Cretaceous, Jurassic, etc.).”

A five-year-old’s curiosity knows no bounds, Petrilli writes.

As E.D. Hirsch, Jr., has argued for a quarter-century, the early elementary years are the ideal time to introduce children to the wonders of history (natural and otherwise), geography, literature, art, music, and more.

By providing a solid grounding in the core domains of human civilization, we are providing two wonderful gifts for our children: A store of knowledge that will help them better understand the complexities of our universe as they grow older; and a rich vocabulary that will make them strong, confident readers in these early, formative years.

Petrilli hopes to identify the best streaming videos available to teach core content to early elementary-school children.

Hirsch: If kids learn content, they’ll ace tests

Students will ace Common Core language arts tests if they’ve learned history, civics, literature, science and the fine arts, write E.D. Hirsch on the Core Knowledge Blog. But it’s a big if, concedes Hirsch, who backed the new standards.

He quotes a comment from an “able and experienced teacher” on the blog: ”A giant risk, as I see it, in the implementation of Common Core is that it will spawn skills-centric curricula. Indeed, every Common Core ‘expert’ we hear from seems to be advocating this approach.”

The best-selling books about teaching the Common Core advocate techniques for “close reading” and for mastering “text complexity,” independent of content.

. . . students’ ability to engage in “close reading” and to manage “text complexity” is highly dependent on their degree of familiarity with the topic of the text. And the average likelihood of their possessing the requisite degree of familiarity with the various topics they encounter in life or on tests will depend upon the breadth of their knowledge. No amount of practice exercises (which takes time away from knowledge-gaining) will foster wide knowledge. If students know a lot they’ll easily learn to be skilled in reading and writing. But if they know little they will perform poorly on language tests—and in life.

The new Common Core standards call for “a well-developed, content-rich curriculum” that is “coherently structured,” writes Hirsch. But will schools switch their focus from teaching skills to teaching the knowledge children need to understand what they read?

Smartphones, stupid people

Smartphones Mean You Will No Longer Have to Memorize Facts, argues David Pogue in Scientific American.

When my father was growing up, his father offered him 25 cents to memorize the complete list of U.S. presidents. “Number one, George Washington. Number two, John Adams …”

A generation later my dad made the same deal with me, upping the reward to $5. (The prize had grown, he explained, “because of inflation and because there are more presidents now.”)

This year I offered my own son $10 to perform the same stunt. My son, however, was baffled. Why on earth should he memorize the presidents?

Nowadays, he argued, “everybody has a smartphone” and always will.

Smartphones will outsell regular old phones in 2013, writes Pogue. “Having a computer in your pocket is the norm.”

Should we mourn the loss of memorization skills? “Having a store of ready information” could be more fundamental and important than other obsolete skills, he speculates. But, no, he decides.

. . . we’ve confronted this issue before—or, at least, one that is almost exactly like it. When pocket calculators came along, educators and parents were alarmed about students losing the ability to perform arithmetic using paper and pencil. After hundreds of generations of teaching basic math, were we now prepared to cede that expertise to machines?

Yes, we were. Today calculators are almost universally permitted in the classroom. . . .

In the end, we reasoned (or maybe rationalized) that the critical skills are analysis and problem solving—not basic computation. Calculators will always be with us. So why not let them do the grunt work and free up more time for students to learn more complex concepts or master more difficult problems?

And how has that worked?

With students freed from memorizing facts, maybe they’ll “focus on developing analytical skills (logic, interpretation, creative problem solving) and personal ones (motivation, self-control, tolerance),” Pogue writes.

And maybe winged pigs will play hockey on the ice in hell.

1912 test for 8th graders: Could you pass?

In 1912, 8th graders in rural Kentucky were expected to know things about  the Gulf Stream, the secretions of the liver, copyright, the battle of Quebec and how to spell (and define) “adjective.”

Were children smarter then? asks the Daily Mail.

Certainly, learning by rote was fashionable. Critical thinking was not. One commenter argued it’s not a bad thing to memorize basic geography.

Doing so allows me to read a newspaper article and understand where it is taking place. Memorizing historical facts allows me to interpret that article and put modern day occurrences into context.

She continued: ‘I work with a lot of “smart” kids who might read about the situation in Israel/Palestine, but can’t find those places on a map, and have no idea about their basic history. Thus, no context, rendering “smart” somewhat irrelevant.’

Others argued poor and working-class children dropped out before 8th grade. However, 845 of 1,032 children aged 10 to 14 in Bullitt County were attending school in 1910. By contrast, only half of children 15 to 17 were in school.

Missed lessons of Monsters U

A prequel to the popular Monsters Inc., Pixar/Disney’s new Monsters University is a Revenge of the Nerds ripoff featuring young Mike and Scully learning to be “scarers.” Pixar’s team “missed the chance to say something more interesting,” writes Rick Hess.

The Incredibles famously tugged on our fascination with insisting that everyone is special. In that flick, when Dash is told by his mom that “everyone is special,” he dejectedly mumbles, “then no one is,” while Mr. Incredible laments that a fourth-grade “graduation” is just a case of rewarding the mediocre and the mundane. In Monsters University . . .  it’s not clear that either aptitude or hard work has much relationship to how the cast fares at good ol’ MU.

The movie “seems to make a case that knowledge and learned expertise are fairly pointless,” writes Hess. “At a pivotal moment, Sully tries to teach Mike that all his book-learning is irrelevant to really excelling at his craft.”

Helen Mirren voices the no-nonsense Dean Hardscrabble, and Alfred Molina the “scaring” professor. With that kind of talent, you’d seem to have a terrific opportunity for the screenwriters to have some fun looking at the teaching relationship. After all, Pixar writers have dabbled in this kind of thing (in Cars or with Willem DaFoe’s wise old hand in Finding Nemo), but they’ve never really had much cause to depict what it looks like for a teacher to inspire, mentor, and instruct. I’d have loved to see them play with a teacher helping an entitled, gifted student cultivate responsibility and discipline — or a bookish, insecure student develop a sense of teamwork and self-efficacy. While Mike and Sully do mature in the movie, it happens with the faculty operating pretty much as bystanders or foils.

I like the Monsters University web site. The admissions page calls MU “a place for self-discovery, curiosity, and scholarship,” but warns only a fraction of applicants are admitted.  In addition to scaring, MU offers “academically rigorous” programs in scream energy, door technology and business, as well as “holistic training for the mind, body, and spirit.”

The message from the dean stresses MU’s diversity, which does indeed seem to be a strength.

7 education myths

Seven Myths about Education, a “short, pungent e-book” by British schoolteacher Daisy Christodoulou, is a 
must-read
, writes E.D. Hirsch, Jr. on Core Knowledge Blog. Both the British and American educational systems “are being hindered by a slogan-monopoly of high-sounding ideas — brilliantly deconstructed in this book,” writes Hirsch.

The seven myths — not unions, low teacher quality or government dictates — are the real problem, Christodoulou argues.

. . . potentially effective teachers have been made ineffective because they are dutifully following the ideas instilled in them by their training institutes. These colleges of education have not only perpetuated wrong ideas about skills and knowledge, but in their scorn for “mere facts” have also deprived these potentially good teachers of the knowledge they need to be effective teachers of subject matter.

After training as a teacher, teaching for three years, attending numerous in-service training days and following educational policy closely, Christodoulou had no idea she “could be using hugely more effective methods” than those she’d been taught. “I would spend entire lessons quietly observing my pupils chatting away in groups about complete misconceptions and I would think that the problem in the lesson was that I had been too prescriptive,” she writes.

Her seven myths:

1 – Facts prevent understanding
2 – Teacher-led instruction is passive
3 – The 21st century fundamentally changes everything
4 – You can always just look it up
5 – We should teach transferable skills
6 – Projects and activities are the best way to learn
7 – Teaching knowledge is indoctrination

No Child Left Behind failed because “American educators, dutifully following the seven myths, regard reading as a skill that could be employed without relevant knowledge,” writes Hirsch. They wasted time on “strategies” for test taking.

Hirsch fears Common Core State Standards, which he supports, will fail too if teachers are “compelled to engage in the same superficial, content-indifferent activities, given new labels like ‘text complexity’ and ‘reading strategies’.”

What’s your least favorite edu-homily?

Edutopia thanked the CK-12 Foundation for “sharing this great quote.”

How to kindle and ignite your students' passion for learning: http://bit.ly/10q7LAp. #learning #education Thanks for sharing this great quote, @[140038269383188:274:CK-12 Foundation].

Robert Pondiscio issued an Edu-Homily Alert. “Not only is this quote fundamentally anti-knowledge, there’s no evidence Socrates said it. Nor did William Butler Yeats, the other person to whom it’s commonly mis-attributed.”

It’s Plutarch, according to Quote Investigator. He said the mind is not a vessel that needs filling but wood that needs igniting. Of course, if there’s no wood, then there’s not going to be much heat or light.

Matthew Tabor comments:

This is one of the stupidest of the famous ed quotes. If you expect that flame to last more than 10 seconds, it needs to draw from a reservoir of fuel. You have to do both.

And yes, these are the folks who constantly say we need to teach “critical thinking.”

Pondiscio has other unfavorites: “Teach the child not the lesson….we don’t learn science we DO science…School isn’t for learning content. It’s where you learn to learn….My job is to develop a lifelong love of books….don’t teach facts, teaching higher order thinking…”

Feel free to nominate your least favorite education quotes.

Thinking deeply about … um … what?

Students will read more short informational texts under the new Common Core Standards and have less time for complete books — fiction or nonfiction — writes Will Fitzhugh, editor of the Concord Review.

Among the suggested texts are The Gettysburg Address, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and perhaps one of the Federalist Papers, but no history books, writes Fitzhugh.

In the spirit of turnabout, English teachers could stop assigning complete novels, plays and poems, Fitzhugh writes.  Instead of reading Pride and Prejudice, perhaps Chapter Three would do.  ”They could get the ‘gist’ of great works of literature, enough to be, as it were, ‘grist’ for their deeper analytic cognitive thinking skill mills.”

Teachers will have to “to wean themselves from the old notions of knowledge and understanding” to offer “the new deeper cognitive analytic thinking skills required by the Common Core Standards,” Fitzhugh writes, perhaps with a touch of sarcasm.

In 1990, Caleb Nelson wrote in The Atlantic about an older Common Core at Harvard:

The philosophy behind the [Harvard College] Core is that educated people are not those who have read many books and have learned many facts but rather those who could analyze facts if they should ever happen to encounter any, and who could ‘approach’ books if it were ever necessary to do so….

That’s the idea, writes Fitzhugh.

The New Common Core Standards are meant to prepare our students to think deeply on subjects they know practically nothing about, because instead of reading a lot about anything, they will have been exercising their critical cognitive analytical faculties on little excerpts amputated from their context. So they can think “deeply,” for example, about Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, while knowing nothing about the nation’s Founding, or Slavery, or the new Republican Party, or, of course, the American Civil War.

Students will learn that “ignorance is no barrier to useful thinking,” Fitzhugh predicts. “The current mad flight from knowledge and understanding . . . will mean that our high school students [those that do not drop out] will need even more massive amounts of remediation when they go on to college and the workplace than are presently on offer.”

Via Jim Stergios of Rock the Schoolhouse, a Common Core skeptic.

Among Common Core exemplar texts are Evan Connell’s Son of the Morning Star about The Battle of Little Big Horn and Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, RiShawn Biddle points out.