Korea’s higher ed obsession peaks

South Korea’s obsessive pursuit of higher education has peaked, reports The Economist. The proportion of high-school graduates going on to college soared from 40 percent in the early 1990s to almost 84 percent in 2008. Now it’s going down slightly. Still, 93 percent of parents say they want their children to go to college.

Education — including private tutoring to prepare for the “brutally competitive” university exam — accounted for nearly 12 percent of consumer spending last year.

In 1971 (the government) abolished the entrance exam for middle school, but that only heightened the competition for high-school places, so a few years later it replaced the high-school entrance exam with a lottery. The result was the insanely competitive university entrance exam. By easing competition at one stage of education, it only intensified it at the next.

In 1980 the government outlawed private out-of-school tutoring, which drove the industry underground. The ban was declared unconstitutional in 2000. Since then efforts to soothe the education fever have been more modest. Seoul imposes a 10pm curfew on cramming schools, but pupils can dodge the curfew by learning online after hours. The government will introduce test-free semesters in all middle schools by 2016 to give pupils some relief from rote learning.

Korea has created vocational Meister schools. For example, one high school trains students to program and design mobile apps.

Where high school is taken seriously

High school is serious business overseas, say U.S. students who’ve studied in Korea, Finland and Poland. PBS NewsHour interviews the three students featured in Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way.

Eric: The biggest positive difference that I took away was that in Korea people have a very palatable sense of how education affects their lives and how it affects their future. People understand that how you do in school, what you do, has repercussions for how successful I am and my opportunities going forward.

But, at the same time that sort of mentality ties into a huge pressure system, where students are really encouraged to just do well on tests so that they have high numbers, go to a good school, and do perhaps, something that makes a lot of money, something prestigious, not necessarily something that they are interested in.

Finnish teachers rely mainly on lectures, said Kim. “There weren’t a lot of assignments during the semester until the end when you did exams in the form of essays.”

Tom: In Polish high school the students took their education much more seriously than American high schoolers do. They considered it unpleasant for the most part, but an extremely necessary duty. People didn’t really have identities besides being good students. There wasn’t really a gauge of success outside of doing well in school, unlike high schoolers here where you can not be the best student, but if you are a really great athlete you can be recruited to a school … But there was none of that in Poland it was entirely academic.

All three countries provide alternatives to college prep. Polish students decide at 16 whether they want to attend an academic high school or start vocational training. Nearly half of Finnish 16-year-olds choose the vocational track. In Korea, 20 percent are in vocational high schools.

The $4 million teacher

South Korea’s “rock-star teacher” earns $4 million a year, writes Amanda Ripley in the Wall Street Journal.  Kim Ki-Hoon teaches in a private, after-school tutoring academy or hagwon.

Mr. Kim works about 60 hours a week teaching English, although he spends only three of those hours giving lectures. His classes are recorded on video, and the Internet has turned them into commodities, available for purchase online at the rate of $4 an hour. He spends most of his week responding to students’ online requests for help, developing lesson plans and writing accompanying textbooks and workbooks (some 200 to date).

“The harder I work, the more I make,” he says matter of factly. “I like that.”

Some 150,000 students watch Mr. Kim’s lectures online each year, hoping to raise their college admissions scores. He employs 30 people and runs a publishing company to produce his books.

Hagwons compete to hire top teachers and pay them based on the number of students they attract, students’ progress and student evaluations.

In a survey, teenagers gave their hagwon teachers better scores than their regular teachers.

Hagwon teachers were better prepared, more devoted to teaching and more respectful of students’ opinions, the teenagers said. Interestingly, the hagwon teachers rated best of all when it came to treating all students fairly, regardless of the students’ academic performance.

Private tutors are also more likely to experiment with new technology and nontraditional forms of teaching.

Nearly three of every four South Korean kids use hagwons, writes Ripley. In 2012, their parents spent more than $17 billion on tutoring.

South Korean students rank at the top on international tests.

Ripley’s new book, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way follows Americans going to school in South Korea, Finland and Poland, The book will come out Aug. 13.

Tiger Rhee

In Radical: Fighting to Put Students First, Michelle Rhee touts her skills at firing people — and buying them off — writes Naomi Schaefer Riley in a Wall Street Journal review of the book.

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To get union approval for performance pay and a new teacher evaluation system, Rhee raised millions of dollars from foundations.

Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty backed Rhee — and lost his bid for re-election. Rhee resigned from the chancellorship and founded StudentsFirst to lobby for school reform.

The daughter of Korean immigrants, Rhee “was urged by her Tiger Mom to go to law school,” writes Riley. Instead, she volunteered for Teach for America.  She almost quit after her first year at a tough Baltimore school, but her father told her to finish what she’d started. In her second year, she asked for advice from the best teachers and found new ways to “push her students harder and keep them interested.”

As chancellor in D.C., Rhee “became livid” when she learned a sign at a Washington school that read: “Teachers cannot make up for what parents and students will not do,” Riley writes. As a Tiger Reformer, Rhee thinks effort always pays off.

When she was a child, Rhee attended school in Seoul, South Korea for several months, she writes in Radical. Every child in her class of 70 was ranked, publicly. “Rather than damaging the souls of the less accomplished, the rankings focused every family on moving their children up the ladder.”

The vast American lumpenproletariat

Taking social class into account, U.S. students are doing better than it seems on international tests, compared to students in France, Germany, Britain, Canada, Finland and Korea, according to a study by Martin Carnoy, and Richard Rothstein. “U.S. students’ scores are low in part because a disproportionately greater share of U.S. students come from disadvantaged social class groups,” they argue.

Stuff and nonsense, responds Paul Peterson in Education Next.  The Carnoy-Rothstein studied ignored family income, which is just as high in the U.S. as in the comparison countries. It uses one factor to determine social class:  The number of books 15-year old students estimate are in their home.

Only 18 percent of U. S. students say they have many books in their home; in the other countries this percentage varies between 20 percent and 31 percent. In the United States 38 percent say they have few books in their home. In the other countries, this percentage varies between 14 percent and 30 percent.

Students’ estimates of book in the home is a good predictor of student achievement, writes Peterson. But there’s a chicken-and-egg issue.

. . . reports of books in the home may be as much a consequence of good schools and innate student ability as an independent cause of student achievement. Students who find it easy to read are likely to report more books in their home, because they are more aware of them. Students attending an effective school are more likely to be good readers who are then aware of the resources at home. Countries that expect students to perform well on a national examination when they finish secondary school may induce higher rates of reading than countries that do not set clear standards for high school students.

Only 14 percent of Korean students come from few-book homes, compared to 38 percent of U.S. students, and 31 percent of Korean students come from homes with many books, while only 18 percent of American students do. It’s “bizarre” to assert that Korea’s upper class is nearly twice as large as in the U.S., and that our lower class is nearly triple the size of Korea’s, writes Peterson. The U.S. does not have a vanishing bourgeoisie and a vast proletariat.

The study encourages people to think that U.S. schools are just fine — except for inner-city schools, which face an impossible challenge because the kids’ homes are no good, Peterson writes. Good reading habits — which schools can do something about — “are much more important to achievement than family income and other measures of social class.”

Egalite, fraternite, no homework

France’s president, Francois Hollande, wants to ban homework because some children get more help from their parents than others. Is this  The End of Homework? asks Louis Menand in The New Yorker.

It’s not true that homework is just “busywork, with no effect on academic achievement,” writes Menand.

According to the leading authority in the field, Harris Cooper, of Duke University, homework correlates positively—although the effect is not large—with success in school. Professor Cooper says that this is more true in middle school and high school than in primary school, since younger children get distracted more easily. He also thinks that there is such a thing as homework overload—he recommends no more than ten minutes per grade a night. But his conclusion that homework matters is based on a synthesis of forty years’ worth of research.

U.S. students aren’t doing more homework than they were in the 1940′s, according to researchers.  A majority of students, including high-school seniors, spend less than an hour a day on homework during the school week.

Finland has the most successful educational system in the world, according to The Economist, writes Gill.  ”Students there are assigned virtually no homework; they don’t start school until age seven; and the school day is short.”

The No. 2 country is South Korea, “whose schools are notorious for their backbreaking rigidity.” South Korean kids don’t just do homework: 90 percent study with private tutors or go to cram schools.

Yet both systems are successful, and the reason is that Finnish schools are doing what Finns want them to do, which is to bring everyone up to the same level and instill a commitment to equality, and South Korean schools are doing what South Koreans want, which is to enable hard workers to get ahead.

Americans “want everyone to have an equal chance to become better-off than everyone else,” writes Menand.

Supporters of homework say that it’s a way of getting parents involved in their children’s education by bringing school into the home, and that has to be a good thing. But it’s also likely (contrary to President Hollande’s assumption) that the people most hostile to homework are affluent parents who want their children to spend their after-school time taking violin lessons and going to Tae Kwon Do classes—activities that are more enriching and (often) more fun than conjugating irregular verbs. Less affluent parents are likely to prefer more homework as a way of keeping their kids off the streets. If we provided after-school music lessons, museum trips, and cool sports programs to poor children, we could abolish homework in a French minute. No one would miss it.

Homework isn’t the root of all evil, but it’s often counter-productive, writes Peter DeWitt, an elementary school principal,  in Ed Week.

If we really want students to be engaged with learning, we should allow them the autonomy to self-explore at home one their own and not give them death by ditto because it makes us feel better about the assignments we provide.

DeWitt quotes teacher Mark Barnes, who thinks homework “fails our students.”  Assigning homework “is undermining effective 21st-century teaching and learning,” writes Barnes. “Most teachers link homework to grades so the students who don’t do homework don’t learn the material — mainly because not enough teaching is being done in class — and many would-be learners grow to hate school because they wind up with poor grades and, ultimately, feel like failures.”

Korea’s worry: too many college grads

The U.S. trails much of the developed world in young adults with college degrees. South Korea is number one, but 40 percent of new college graduates can’t find jobs. The government is trying to push vocational education.

Also on Community College Spotlight: More unprepared students are enrolling at New York City’s community colleges:  74 percent of city high school graduates require at least one remedial class and 22.6 percent require remediation in reading and writing and math.

Study: U.S. students lag in math, reading

Are U.S. Students Ready to Compete? asks Harvard’s Paul E. Peterson and colleagues in Education Next.  In math, 32 percent of U.S. students test as proficient. Students in 22 countries perform significantly better.

. . .  58 percent of Korean students and 56 percent of Finnish students performed at or above a proficient level. Other countries in which a majority—or near majority—of students performed at or above the proficiency level included Switzerland, Japan, Canada, and the Netherlands.

Massachusetts is the only state in which (slightly) more than half of students are proficient in math.

Fifty percent of Asian-American students, 42 percent of whites, 15 percent of Hispanics and 11 percent of blacks test as proficient in math.

All students in 16 countries outperform U.S. whites, the study finds. In addition to the usual suspects, that includes Germany, Belgium, and Canada.

I’d like to see more analysis of Canadian schools. The culture is a lot closer to ours than Korea or Finland. If Canadians can learn math, Americans should be able to learn math.

The U.S. does better in reading.  Whites read about as well as all students in Canada, Japan and New Zealand. Once again, Massachusetts’ students are the most likely to be proficient.

OECD: Retention doesn’t work

Countries in which schools frequently hold back or transfer low-performing students “tend to have weaker, more expensive, and more socially inequitable education systems,”according to a new analysis (pdf) by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, reports Ed Week‘s Inside School Research.

Differences in grade-retention rates explain as much as 15 percent of differences in scores on the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 65 member and partner countries, OECD researchers concluded.

Retention rates vary significantly. U.S. schools retain more than one in 10 students.  That compares to fewer than 3 percent in Japan, Norway and Britain but 35 percent and up in Belgium, Portugal, Spain and France. Top-scoring Finland and Korea never retain students in the same grade, though both separate high school students into academic or vocational schools.

Researchers also found lower PISA scores for countries in which more schools reported they would transfer a student out of the school for low grades, special needs, or behavior problems. Ten of the countries studied reported about two of every five students attended a school “very likely” to transfer based on academics, while another 10 reported fewer than 3 percent of students attend schools that transfer for those reasons.

Retaining or transferring students can “reinforce socioeconomic inequities,” OECD researchers concluded.

Teachers in these systems may have fewer incentives to work with struggling students if they know there is an option of transferring those students to other schools. These school systems need to consider how to create appropriate incentives to ensure that some students are not “discarded” by the system.

In the U.S., Chicago and North Carolina recently ended bans on social promotion, notes Inside School Research. But Arizona and Florida now require retention for students who don’t meet third-grade reading benchmarks.

 

 

Korea to use all e-books by 2015

South Korea will digitize all textbooks by 2015, reports GizMag. The Education Ministry will spend $2.4 billion on the plan, which will include free tablet PCs for low-income families.

The Korean government’s “Smart Education” scheme will see the creation of a cloud computing network in order to allow students to access digital textbooks and store their homework so it can be accessed via any internet-connected device, including tablets, smartphones, PCs and smart TVs. The plan also includes introducing more online classes from 2013 so that students who are sick or unable to attend school due to weather conditions will be able to participate in virtual classes.

Students will take national exams online.

The new e-books are expected to be cheaper than printed textbooks.