I’m baaaaaaack

I woke up at 4 am in Christchurch, New Zealand on Monday, Jan. 18 to catch the shuttle to the airport, flew to Sydney and then from Sydney to LA to San Francisco, arriving at about 10 am on Monday, Jan. 18. I’m confused. My Fitbit is very confused.

Thanks to Darren for his heroic guest-blogging while I was hiking, boating, looking at spectacular scenery, learning about NZ ecology, drinking sauvignon blanc, and chanting hakkas. (My favorite moment was when the elder’s cell phone rang as he answered our questions. He took the call.)

New Zealanders — Maori and Pakeha — have a dry sense of humor. And they enjoy the tongue thing.

(I was so confused I forgot to post this till now. Getting 11 hours of sleep really helps.)

New year, New Zealand

New Zealand’s Milford Sound

While you’re welcoming 2016 — or nursing your hangover — I am jetting to Australia, and then, in a few days, to New Zealand. I’ve wanted to go there for many years and my husband finally figured out how to use our frequent-flyer points to make it happen.

Darren will be guest-blogging in this space for the next week. Then I’m doing something I’ver never done before: Letting the blog go on vacation.

It’s my resolution for 2016: Be less obsessive.

I’ll resume blogging on Jan. 19 — or so.

No-rules play lowers injuries, bullying

A New Zealand school that got rid of playground rules saw a “drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing,” reports TVNZ. 

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

 “We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over,” says Principal Bruce McLachlan.

Swanson School worked with university researchers on encouraging active play, then decided to throw out the rule book. When the study ended, “researchers were amazed by the results,” reports TVNZ.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a “loose parts pit” which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.

AUT professor of public health Grant Schofield said there are too many rules in modern playgrounds. “The great paradox of cotton-woolling children is it’s more dangerous in the long-run.” Children learn about consequences by taking risks, he said.

The research project morphed into something bigger when plans to upgrade playgrounds were stopped due to over-zealous safety regulations and costly play equipment.

“There was so many ridiculous health and safety regulations and the kids thought the static structures of playgrounds were boring.”

Via Instapundit.

Here are some wild-and-crazy playground designs from a Danish firm.

New Ridiculously Imaginative Playgrounds from Monstrum Set the Monkey Bars High for Innovation playgrounds kids

The Polish orphans of Pahiatua

Children from Eastern Poland who’d been deported by the Soviets, starved and orphaned were sent to a New Zealand refugee camp called Pahiatua in 1944, writes Anne Applebaum in Slate. Despite their childhood suffering and the loss of their families, the children of Pahiatua made good lives in their new country.

On Oct. 31, 1944, their ship pulled into Wellington harbor. More than 750 orphans, from toddlers to young teenagers, and 100 adult caretakers, teachers, and doctors disembarked. . . .  they stayed together, studied together, organized Polish scouting troops, and waited for the war to end so they could go home.

When the war was over, few had anyone to return to. Their former home, Eastern Poland, had been annexed by the Soviet Union. They made new homes in New Zealand. They started new families.

. . .  they had witnessed the deaths of parents and siblings, experienced terrible deprivation, and lost years of education before finding themselves in an alien country on the far side of the world. And yet they learned the language, they assimilated, they became doctors, lawyers, farmers, factory workers, teachers, and businessmen.

We believe children need “excellent schools, carefully organized leisure and . . .  high-concentration, high-focus parenting,” writes Applebaum. The Pahiatua orphans made do with a lot less.

Core standards are very different

The new Common Core Standards are dramatically different from the state standards and tests now in place, writes Rick Hess. UPenn Ed School Dean Andy Porter and grad students analyze the new standards’ content, looking at topics covered and cognitive demands, in the April Educational Researcher.  The new standards “represent considerable change” from state standards and what U.S. teachers report they’re currently teaching, they write.  The Common Core Standards “are also different from the standards of countries with higher student achievement.”

The alignment between the Common Core and state standards was 0.25 in math (where 1.0 would be perfect alignment and 0.0 would be no alignment) and 0.30 in reading. Because those low correlations could be due to the fact that the Common Core is just addressing material in a different grade than in a given state, the researchers then aggregated across grades 3-6 and 3-8. That boosted alignment slightly, to 0.35 in math and to 0.38 in reading.

The stark differences between state standards and the Common Core are partly due to differences in topics addressed, but also to the fact that the Common Core emphasizes somewhat different cognitive skills: devoting less time to memorization and performing procedures, and more to demonstrating understanding and analyzing written material.

Massachusetts is the nation’s top-performing state on NAEP, so the team compared Common Core to Massachusetts standards for seventh grade. Alignment was only 0.19 in math and 0.13 for English Language Arts.

“The Common Core puts considerably more emphasis on operations, less on basic algebra and geometric concepts, and more on probability.” In English language arts, the Common Core places “substantially” less emphasis on memorization and “somewhat” less on performing procedures, less on reading and language study, and more on writing processes, writing applications, and oral communication.

The new standards are supposed to be internationally benchmarked. Yet Common Core’s eighth-grade math standards don’t match Finland (o.21), Japan (0.17) or  Singapore (0.13), primarily because these countries stress performing procedures. On language arts and reading, alignment ranges from 0.09 with Finland to 0.37 with New Zealand.

Should we be worried? Common Core Standards represent “a change for the better” when it comes to “higher order cognitive demand,” Porter concludes, but the “answer is less clear” when it comes to the topics that are covered.

States rushed to adopt the new standards in hopes of qualifying for federal Race to the Top money, Hess writes. Only now are we discussing whether the new standards are solid enough to become the new national norm.

PISA: U.S. is mediocre in reading, math, science

Compared to other developed countries, U.S. 15-year-olds are average in reading and science literacy and below average in math, according to study released today by PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment), which is coordinated by the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development).

PISA tries to measure the reading, math and scientific literacy skills and knowledge “essential for full participation in society.”

In reading, Shanghai, Korea, Finland, Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia posted the highest scores with the U.S. in the middle, tied with  Iceland and Poland. The U.S. had average percentages of students scoring below level 2 (can’t find the main idea) and above level 4 (capable of critically evaluating a text) compared to other OECD countries.

In math, the U.S. was below average, on a par with Ireland and Portugal, but well below Korea, Finland and Switzerland. Top-scoring countries — and cities — included Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Korea, Finland and Switzerland.  The U.S. was similar to the OECD average in low-scoring students but had only 27 percent of students scored at or above level 4 compared to the 32 percent for the OECD average.

In science literacy, the U.S. matched the OECD average for both low-scoring and high-scoring students.  The usual suspects — Asian countries plus Finland and New Zealand– topped the charts.

U.S. scores for white and Asian-American students were above the OECD average, as were scores for students attending low-poverty schools.  Girls scored higher in reading but lower in math and science literacy.

Does it matter? Some argue the U.S. has more high-scoring students — because we have more people than Korea, Singapore, Finland or New Zealand — so it doesn’t matter if our students’ average performance can’t match the high flyers’ performance.

Eighteen percent of U.S. students scored poorly in reading and science and 23 percent scored poorly in math.  On the other end of the scale, 30 percent of U.S. students scored 4 or better in reading, 27 percent did well in math and 29 percent were strong in science literacy.  Can we afford to write off 18 to 23 percent of the population and rely on the top 27 to 30 percent?

The report is “an absolute wake-up call for America,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan. “The results are extraordinarily challenging to us and we have to deal with the brutal truth. We have to get much more serious about investing in education.”

“Strong Performers and Successful Reformers in Education: Lessons from PISA for the United States,” a report by the National Center on Education and the Economy, looks at the education systems in top performers, such as Finland, Singapore, Japan and Canada, and fast improvers, such as China and Poland.

Though there are many differences between Finland and Singapore, for example, NCEE president Marc Tucker pointed to commonalities, including “clear, rigorous standards for what students should know” closely tied to a curriculum aligned with “high-quality assessments that measure complex, higher-order thinking.”  Students don’t move on till they demonstrate they’ve mastered the curriculum.

The top performing systems ensure that they get high quality teachers by aggressively raising the standards to get into pre-service teacher education programs, concentrating teacher education in major universities, raising teacher pay (U.S. teachers’ pay is very low compared to the top performing countries), providing prospective teachers with the skills they need to diagnose student problems early on and prescribing the appropriate remedies, raising the standards to enter the teaching force, providing new recruits with master teachers who can mentor them, and creating career ladders for master teachers that will enable them to earn at high levels and stay in teaching.

“While many Americans believe that other countries get better results because those countries educate only a few, while the United States educates everyone, that turns out not to be true,” NCEE concludes. Compared to the U.S., most top-performing countries do a better job of educating students from low-income families.