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.

NCEE: U.S. reforms don’t match Korea, etc.

U.S. education policy should emulate the world’s top performers — Finland, South Korea, Singapore, Japan and Ontario, Canada — concludes a report (pdf) by the National Center on Education and the Economy.

“The most effective way to greatly improve student performance in the United States is to figure out how the countries with top student performance are doing it, build on their achievements and then, by building on our unique strengths, figure out how to do it even better,” Marc Tucker, NCEE’s CEO, said in a statement.

While none of the top performers test students annually, they require students to pass a national, comprehensive, standardized “gateway test” at the end of middle school and again at the end of 10th grade. “Because the exams are very high quality, they cannot be ‘test prepped;’ the only way to succeed on them is to actually master the material,” NCEE says.

Other recommendations include the reallocation of money — spending more on paying quality teachers and less on state-of-the-art school facilities, new textbooks, and administrators. The report also recommends that states take more of a responsibility for funding schools, moving away from the majority local-funded system the country uses now.

After praising the new Common Core Standards in math and English, the report calls for adding more subjects to create a national curriculum, notes the San Jose Mercury News.

In the five exemplary countries, national curricula also cover science, social sciences, arts, music and often religion, morals or philosophy.

Improving teacher quality is critical, the report finds, suggesting moving credential programs to high-status universities and raising entrance requirements.

In Finland, for example, only one in 10 applicants is accepted into teacher-training programs, which take five or more years to complete. By contrast, in 2008, U.S. high school graduates intending to major in education scored in the bottom third on their SAT college-entrance exams. “We cannot afford to continue bottom fishing for prospective teachers while the best-performing countries are cream skimming,” the report said.

Small classes are a waste of money, the study says. “Of all the strategies available to improve student performance, decreasing class size is among the most expensive and least effective.”

Ed Week has more on the report and the debate it’s set off.

I like the idea of gateway exams — but what’s the plan if lots of students fail? Most top-performing countries use those exams to decide who should go to a college-prep high school and who should go to a career-prep school.  That would be a humongous change for the U.S.

Recruiting teachers only from the top of the class would reduce the number of black and Hispanic teachers. Are we OK with that?

NCEE doesn’t like change on the fringes, such as charter schools. It calls for aligning the education system. A national curriculum in all subjects backed by national gateway exams would do that. The top performers tend to have a college-entrance exam too. We could stop sending high school graduates to college to take eighth-grade math. Are we ready to make all public schools march to the beat of the same drummer? I can see the attraction, but it makes me nervous.

Korea: 1 in 38 kids have autistic traits

Autism diagnoses — including children somewhere on the “autism spectrium” — are soaring. Is it a real rise or a change in diagnosis?  Korean researchers say 1 in 38 children have autistic traits; two-thirds attend mainstream classes and receive no special help.  This looks like seek and you shall find.

Israel: Lots of laureates, low scores

Israel produces lots of Nobel laureates and high-tech start-ups, but scores are low on international tests. Why can’t Israel fix its schools? asks Philissa Cramer, writing in The New Republic.

The national scores reflect “wide achievement gaps” with Jewish students outperforming Arabs and immigrants struggling to catch up to the native-born, she writes.  There are secular state schools, state religious schools ,  ultra-orthodox schools (sort of Jewish madrassas) and schools for Arab speakers.

Israel offers nearly universal preschool — 85 percent of children attend — but it doesn’t seem to help.  Children go on to schools with large classes and short days. Teachers are poorly educated teachers and very poorly paid. Discipline is a problem.

Israelis are starting to use test scores to improve instruction, but tests never are used to hold principals or teachers accountable for their students’ progress, Cramer writes.

Teaching citizenship is seen as more important than teaching academics, she adds.

Indeed, Israelis load onto their schools the varied and imposing duties of closing social gaps, assimilating immigrants, sustaining Zionist ideology, inculcating character traits, and inspiring students’ confidence. . . . suggesting, as Israeli educators often do, that it doesn’t matter whether students learn academic content, or what type they do learn, as long as they assimilate or are enthusiastic about the idea of learning would put most American educators far outside the mainstream.

Recently, Israel has raised teachers’ salaries and work hours.

South Koreans are studying the Talmud, which they call Light of Knowledge, because they figure Jews are smart and it’s a Jewish book, reports Israel National News.  Korea’s ambassador to Israel, Ma Young-Sam, told the “Culture Today” TV show that Talmud study is now a mandatory part of the country’s school curriculum.

 
Why? “We were very curious about the high academic achievements of the Jews,” Young-Sam explained, according to a Ynet report. “Jews have a high percentage of Nobel laureates in all fields – literature, science and economics. This is a remarkable achievement. We tried to understand: What is the secret of the Jewish people? How are they, more than other people, able to reach those impressive accomplishments? Why are Jews so intelligent? The conclusion we arrived at is that one of your secrets is that you study the Talmud… We believe that if we teach our children Talmud, they will also become geniuses. This is what stands behind the rationale of introducing Talmud study to our school curriculum.”
  
. . . He also praised the Talmud and the Jewish tradition it represents for its family values, respect for adults, and respect for education in general.

Korean students outperform Israelis — and most of the world — on international tests.

Report: Raise teachers’ status, pay

Raise U.S. teachers’ status by recruiting only high-performing college graduates, training and mentoring them well and paying them more, advises a new report (pdf) by Andreas Schleicher, who oversees the PISA international achievement test. In top-scoring countries like Korea, Singapore and Finland, teaching is a high-status occupation, Schleicher says. From the New York Times:

“Despite the characterization of some that teaching is an easy job, with short hours and summers off, the fact is that successful, dedicated teachers in the U.S. work long hours for little pay and, in many cases, insufficient support from their leadership.”

The report was released to kick off an Education Department conference on teaching that included education ministers and leaders of teachers’ unions from 16 countries as well as state superintendents.

“In South Korea, teachers are known as ‘nation builders,’ and I think it’s time we treated our teachers with the same level of respect,” Mr. Obama said in a speech on education on Monday.

Schleicher, an official at the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, wrote, “What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts,” with Steven L. Paine, a CTB/McGraw-Hill vice president and a former West Virginia schools superintendent.

The report lists “five things U.S. education reformers could learn” from the high-performing countries, including raising the status of teachers, adopting common academic standards, developing better tests to diagnose students’ day-to-day learning needs and training more effective school leaders.

The average salary of a veteran elementary teacher in the U.S. is higher than the OECD average, but U.S. teachers earn 40 percent less than other college graduates here, while teachers elsewhere are closer to the median.

In an interview, Mr. Schleicher said the point was not that the United States spends too little on public education — only Luxembourg among the O.E.C.D. countries spends more per elementary student — but rather that American schools spend disproportionately on other areas, like bus transportation and sports facilities.

“You can spend a lot of money on education, but if you don’t spend it wisely, on improving the quality of instruction, you won’t get higher student outcomes,” Mr. Schleicher said.

Linda Darling-Hammond expresses a similar vision — top students, excellent training, higher pay — in a piece that calls for melding Teach for America’s recruitment expertise with training for career teachers.

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?