In Montgomery County, Maryland public schools, teacher performance is evaluated by teachers and principals under the "Peer Assisted Review" program, which helps teachers having problems improve, and can result in firing teachers who do not improve. With one third of the county's students from poor families, 84% of go on to college, where 63% graduate. 2.5% of all black children in America who pass Advanced Placement tests live in the county, more than five times its share of the nation's black population. But the school superintendant, Jerry Weast, will not agree to evaluate teachers with tests as prescribed by President Obama's "Race to the Top" program, and so the county has been denied $12 million dollars in federal money. Shouldn't an exception be made given the county's fine performance? No say the feds, nor are districts allowed to appeal to the Department of Education. For NYT's article click here.
For a New York Times editorial describing how a high-performing school in the Bronx was labeled as failing by the federal "No Child Left Behind" agency, because of the formulas used to evaluate schools, click here. The head counts in special-ed and English learner programs worked against the school.
An interesting character in American education is Noah Webster. For 1936 Time Magazine review of a biography click here. (This article is a good one for class.)
According to a writing program director at M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) scores on the new essay section on the SAT verbal test can be predicted by the length of the essay 90% of the time. Longer essay gets a higher score. Click here for article
Education......... We are asking to hear ideas from readers on how to make school more interesting, K-12, ideas unlike scripted learning, of which an advocate was quoted in the New York Times as saying, "The beauty of it is the teacher doesn't have to think." Among projects we would like to attempt is using playback video with a choice of subtitles in two languages (e.g. English and Spanish) to study language. We would like to post original historical sources, including magazine and newspaper articles, that will be good for class. (For examples click here.) We would like to hear thoughts on testing, including the I.Q. test, which seems to show us how gullible we are: how could we believe that one test score pegs your intelligence for life? A child's interests and aptitudes change and evolve. And we wish to address any educational question at all, such as why scores have been rising on the IQ test for decades. (Television?) ..... In science we need to change curriculum away from drills and towards science literacy, so that students become informed citizens, and so they can follow the ideas on the frontiers of science. As it is, science is just something to pass a test on and forget about. ..... Original sources in history teaching, and opposing views of the past will spare students the boredom arranged by the government, which perhaps is invested in keeping students from seeing the past repeat itself. We should invite students to research U.S. Cold War operations -- and choose which side, for or against, of a past U.S. policy they want to be on, and then debate it. This way we will know what the U.S. did in the Cold War, and the opinions of high school graduates on this very important matter will be sophisticated. High school history is boring because it is censored. Just because U.S. adults are ignorant of history doesn't mean we ought to download that ignorance on our children. ..... Music was taught so that people learned to play by ear, in academies before around 1800. Academy students could jam with folk musicians and each other, do improvisations on a theme, sing something and then play it, and in general think on their feet musically. Then came the read-only method, in which students learn to read but not to play without music, and this is what you usually get with music lessons nowdays. It is like raising students to read a foreign language from a book but not to speak and understand spoken language. It is the cart before the horse. Take away the sheet music and they can't play, unless it is memorized. Education in general is kind of like this: drills and memorization. ........ The people who teach at teacher colleges are not talented teachers in a regular school setting -- why then are they teaching what they can't do well? Teacher college screens out many people who are intellectual -- people who are drawn to and foreign language and culture, people who really think about history and science, because few of these people are going to waste a whole year of their life studying pure baloney that makes up teacher training curriculum, under the direction of people who can't teach an exciting class anyway. "Those who do, do, those who can't teach," is a bogus slogan because if one can teach well that is doing something highly valuable, and it is something a lot of "doers", such as research scientists, can't do. Good teachers are essential not just in nurturing the minds of future specialists like scientists, doctors, historians and novelists, they also help inspire all of us to find meaning and beauty in life, and make us better able to contribute to a worthwhile political process. People remember a teacher who inspires them all their life. ....... The obsession with testing has caused "teaching to the test", and cheating by teachers to make their class look better and also to receive bonuses, and it has caused cheating by schools on score reporting for both status and funding. This is a sick situation, a disease of our schools. Good teaching will never flower out of a uniform government format. ...... The math SAT is a test for a sort of attack-dog ability on a set of usually shallow, somewhat tricky, irritating problems. Even a lot of mathematicians, and probably most scientists cannot do as well on the math SAT as they did in high school, because they're not primed to hit these petty drills. Some questions are deliberately written to trick the student. Seriously. .......... And we ask, "What does the business student say to the business professor?" ....answer: "If you're so smart why aren't you rich?" Business degree programs are corporate trade school, training to do scut work. It is not training to make decisions at a corporate level, or to get rich on your own, either of which would be better served by an education in, for instance, science, which is the key to industry and makes you think; or history, which teaches you how the world changes and how markets are affected by politics. Foreign language can open doors in the global market place. The sad truth is that the U.S. white collar class has accepted academic ignorance as the price of fitting into the corporate world, even though it does not enhance marketplace savvy. The argument is thus false that one should study business if one is going to go into business. In the past most college graduates went into business, but at least they learned something of value first. We don't mean to blame people with business degrees, they took a path to where the money is. They were thinking about raising a family. But what about our children? This site advocates changing the college path so that people take some business classes but major in real academic fields -- and are not disadvantaged in the job market by making this choice, which would mean changing corporate hiring practices. (There are many who think the college major should not require so much study in one area, so that students can be freer to study whatever excites them intellectually, and then specialize in grad school.) Corporations have replaced our small businesses with franchises and replaced small town ceters with malls. The small farms have been wiped out by corporate farms. Government subsidies that were supposed to help the small farms are helping the corporate farms wipe out the small farms. Corporate insurers have taken over medicine -- taking away choice of doctor and primary care (replaced by the E.R.), and forcing doctors to see patients in 5 or 10 minutes, triple loading nurses workload. They took over medicine in the name of cutting costs, but they have only cut services, putting the money in their pockets. They have taken over and consolidated the media and closed the doors to revealing, creative journalism. (NPR is one of them, a wolf in sheep's clothing) They have more recently crashed world economy by lobbying governments to not regulate securities. And so on. But to let them take over college education and turn the business degree, a rare degree before the 1980's, into the most popular degree, is perhaps the saddest thing of all. The power structure of the U.S., once college educated, is now ignorant.
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Below is a collection of education ideas. We are aware this doesn't read well as an essay. There is no central theme. But each of the following ideas has a place in the effort to make education more interesting, so that students will think and remember, and not just work for a grade.
There is an achievement graph in U.S. schools with Asians at the top, whites well below Asians but well above Hispanics, and with African-Americans at the bottom. (we're talking averages). We would like to discuss the meaning of this picture. To the extent that some students spit out the curriculum that others submit to, can it be said that, from a purely intellectual point of view, they are justified in doing so? Think of scripted learning, where "the teacher doesn't have to think." Would a student be wrong to say I'm not going to stoop to this? To improve education we must invite students to think, from the beginning. It is not enough for the teacher to know stuff that that the student doesn't. Teachers should learn from students, as well.
A favorite evasive tactic of educators, if you suggest that reading and math/science assignments should be more challenging and interesting, is to say, "They can't even read, they can't do basic math, and so you want them to study James Joyce and calculus? There are at least two important responses to this business of clinging to the basics. One is that bringing in more sophisticated ideas does not mean going over students' heads, it means stirring things up a little. It does not mean abandon the basics, it means open windows to a wider scope of knowledge that will give the basics more meaning. The other is that they -- the teaching establishment -- are not so great at teaching the basics anyway. For instance, the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees, but this has no meaning until you show that three corners of a triangle join to make half a circle. Many teachers are now showing students how the corners add up to a straight line (half a circle) and so there is some progress. But over the years "the basics" has declared that the angles of a triangle add up to 180 degrees, enough said. Thinking is discouraged in math, lest students become confused. Students should understand that the 360 degrees of a circle is an arbitrary measure, not a natural fact.
In the context of even the most basic concepts we can invite students to think. For instance in the first through third grade, if students are discussing something that is denominated in twelves, like eggs, a good question is "What else do we count in twelves?" The whole class may sit there for a while, but that is good because when someone gets the answer the rest will say, I knew that, and be motivated to search their brain a little harder the next time. When the class reads together from a book, the teacher should stop on the interesting, lesser-known words and see if students know the meaning or can figure it out from the context. For instance in a sixth grade reading the phrase "makeshift dwellings" came up in a story of a refugee girl in Thailand. This is the kind of phrase a teacher should go back to and say, what is a "dwelling" and what does "makeshift" mean? The meaning of both words in this case could be determined from the context, and this is something that makes students think. It is amazing how many teachers fail to pursue word meanings in this way. It is usually obvious on a page which words are the ones to pick. It is not just for vocabulary, this exercise, it is to ask students to figure something out from the context. It is important to compare words, such as synonyms for the shades of meanings. It is sad to note that the SAT tests is eliminating word analogies, one of the few thought-provoking aspects of the tests.
In high school science the basics should include questions that lead to sophisticated issues, like why doesn't the electron dive into the proton since the electron and the proton attract each other? How are protons so tightly bound in the nucleus of the atom if protons repel each other? Teachers don't ask those questions all through high school and the students don't ask. If we are thinking at all about what is being said about the atom then we should ask these questions. It is amazing how easy it is to be told something and not ask the obvious questions, like the protons in the nucleus. High school content should be mixed with college level ideas in science, such as explaining that a neutron can turn into a proton by releasing an electron inside it, rather than just saying a neutron has no charge. The true description gives a sense of the magic of matter.
We teach history without touching on a variety of unsightly truths, whereas these unsightly truths will often make students want to listen. Presidents Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman, famous "liberals", turned a blind eye to the persecution and lynching of blacks in the South. They did this so they would not lose the white Southern "Dixiecrat" vote. How about the the fact that Japanese have a reasonable argument that they were no more the aggressors in World War II that the colonial powers they threw out of the Orient -- e.g. the French in Vietnam, the Dutch in Indonesia. (This is not to excuse Japanese aggression or atrocities, but to acknowledge that the ousted colonial powers were also aggressors and not innocent of atrocities, and they had no better claim than the Japanese to govern these foreign places and people. Empire is empire.)
And there is the fact that after the war the U.S. started to develop democracy in Japan but then, in 1949, went on, as the State Department called it, the "Reverse Course", outlawing leftist politics for fear of communists gaining power, and reinstalling the industrial elite, the oligarchs who caused the Pacific side of World War II. Truman, overriding General McArthur's protest, did this because the oligarchs were reliably anti-communist, and the leftists showed the potential to install a socialist government that could ally with the Soviets. Japan has been a one-party state ever since. Few Americans know about this, and we would like to know if Japanese schools speak of the "Reverse Course" -- which was the Truman administration's name for the program crushing the left under martial law, and thus reversing the policy of fostering real democracy. This would make a good project for some high school kids: find out what Japanese teach about the "Reverse Course", and interview U.S. historians for the government and at universities to see what they have to say about this whitewashed patch of Cold War history. (Truman liked to say "The buck stops here," but the yen, the frank and the ruble surely did not.) The failure of the U.S. government to pressure the Japanese government to tell the truth about their WWII aggression is probably because the U.S. did not want to expose the lie of "democracy" in a Cold War ally. This is another question students could research.
Ho Chi Minh's appeal to the U.S., at the end of World War II, to help Vietnam become a democracy was ignored by President Harry Truman, who instead consented to the French re-imposing a colonial government. Students in high school don't hear about this because the textbook publishers are censoring history for the benefit of the U.S. government.
As for current events, we should let students read what's in the newspapers. Show documentaries like Frontline pieces. It is sad to say that one of the richest sources of good journalism, the Wall Street Journal, has got rid of the beautiful research articles and local color articles that made it a great paper. Rupert Murdoch, the new owner, has decided to dumb it down and basically just write about business. This is a great tragedy, and the Bancroft family, the prior owners, have done the world a great disservice by letting this crass buffoon destroy a great institution of American culture. Murdoch signaled his intentions before the sale.
Below is an example of a good "basics" problem for high school math. We would like to look at this problem both in terms of how to solve it, and looking at a property of right triangles that it shows. It is an example of a problem that teaches you something subtle about geometry while it is also a good exercise in algebra. (This is an SAT question, a rare example of an interesting one.)
| The three triangles ABC, ADB, and BDC are "similar"
triangles (they have the same angles and the sides are in proportion) which
is why Y/3 = 3/(X + Y). What is interesting about this problem
is not so much the question itself, the algebra question for the value of Y,
but the fact that a line drawn from the right angle of a right triangle as
shown, BD, will make two triangles which are similar to the original. (The
line must be perpendicular to the hypotenuse, as shown with BD by the little
square where they intersect.)
One solution for the value of Y is as follows....By the Pythagorean theorem 16 + 9 = (X + Y) squared, so X + Y = 5. Substituting for X + Y, in the equation they give, gives us Y/3 = 3/5. Which gives Y = 9/5.
.......To show that the triangles are similar (not asked in the SAT question) we can start by showing that angle DAB is the same as angle DBC in the right triangles ABC and BDC. This can be shown by the fact that if two lines cross at a given angle, perpendiculars to those lines will cross at the same angle.
In English, the basics, at least in high school should include good journalism. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post write beautifully without using long "college" words. They use words about as esoteric as esoteric (which means little-known), which is a kind of cute, usable word, whose meaning is usually evident from the context. They are witty writers, and bring to their articles history, foreign language, technology, insights into personalities and the web of human interaction, and so on, making the articles educational and entertaining. A lot of journalism is, of course, just delivering the facts about something that is not all that exciting in the first place. But much journalism paints a picture, like fiction, but it is a picture of reality. And though it sounds easy when you read a good article, like a good melody that seems so natural, or even a good business letter, it is not so easy to compose.
We would like to list arguments for the IQ test, claiming that it is a valid, scientific measure of intelligence. We offer some arguments against it, claiming that it is bogus. For starters, Binet, the developer of the IQ test, did not want it used for normal range people, but to look for untapped ability, learning problems and precociousness. And the most perverse thing about this test is the belief that your test score tells you the intelligence you were born with and cannot change. If a student studies math hard IQ scores will go up. Family circumstances affect test performance. What about the difference between a student who tries hard on the test and one who doesn't? And even if you take a group of students without adverse factors -- hard working students from stable families who like math -- no test can apply a meaningful number to a student's innate intelligence. Grades are just as good an indicator of ability, in these students, as the IQ test. It is just a test, and for years it was only a math test, and remains principally math test, as if one's "intelligence" does not include language ability. Of course music and art talent are not in the picture at all. All this test is good for is showing our gullibility. As to the argument that studies have shown people who do well on the I.Q. test are successful in life, grades or any other test of skills will give the same correlation. And people using this argument are forgetting that the IQ test is not supposed to be an achievement test, and thus, unlike good grades, is not billed as a gauge of one's likelihood to do well in life.
And remember that genius, in its many forms, cannot be predicted by grades or tests or early performance. A person who becomes a wonderful musician may have had to struggle very hard for years to develop his or her "ear" -- the ability to play by ear and understand music as a language. And, on the other side of this coin, a child born with an exceptional "ear" may not find a path of inspiration that leads to playing and writing beautiful music. Einstein would probably have scored badly when he was young on the I.Q. test, and his high school and university teachers gave him bad reviews and mediocre grades. He was not admitted to graduate school which is why he was working at a patent office when he wrote "Special Relativity."
What do proponents of the IQ test say? Please send us comments. We will post them.
Speaking of ditsy ideas, Benno Schmidt, ex-president of Yale University one of the founders of Edison Schools, was cited in the New York Times some years ago as advocating all Edison students learn Latin. Why? Because people who learn Latin are successful in life, he said. What are some arguments against this logic? (Fortunately for Edison students, Mr. Schmidt let his assertion be forgotten.) This is a good question for students -- to expose the flaws in this argument. Two important answers: 1. Pursuit of any rigorous course material in high school, such as calculus, Russian, ancient Greek, or any A.P. class is likely to be a predictor of success in life. There is no logic to putting Latin first among these predictors of success. And 2: Most people who take Latin in high school are going to a private school and are from relatively well-off financially, or from an academic family. Thus, people who went to schools that offer or require Latin have advantages in their personal situation which boost their chances of success.
We will gladly post essays defending the IQ test, and if we rebut we promise to post your rebuttals.