School House Wonk

"Genius without education is like silver in the mine." Benjamin Franklin

Archive for the month “January, 2013”

Worth Checking Out . . .

Here’s what caught my attention this week in education news.

Online Remediation –Tamar Lewin and John Markoff of the New York Times report that in the California State University System “more than 50 percent of entering students cannot meet basic requirements” necessary for college entrance. Ellen N. Junn, provost and vice president for academic affairs at San Jose State University described it this way: “They graduate from high school, but they cannot pass our elementary math and English placement tests.”

To help remedy this crisis, Governor Jerry Brown and San Jose State took dramatic action this week, announcing an agreement to provide remedial and introductory courses through Udacity, the popular massive open online course (MOOC) provider.

In the pilot program, 300 students will have the option of taking online courses offered by Udacity in remedial algebra, college-level algebra and introductory statistics at a much lower cost ($150 for the 3-unit course offering). If the pilot is successful, it could be offered eventually to hundreds of thousands of students in the state.

Not everyone is happy with this development. Georgia Tech University professor Ian Bogost, cautions that outsourcing remediation instruction is the beginning of a slippery and ultimately dangerous descent into the privatization of public education.

Words of Wisdom – In A Wealth of Words, Core Knowledge Foundation founder E.D. Hirsch, Jr. argues the best way to close America’s stubborn academic achievement gap is through vocabulary development. From Hirsch:

“[T]here’s a positive correlation between a student’s vocabulary size in grade 12, the likelihood that she will graduate from college, and her future level of income. The reason is clear: vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities—not just skill in reading, writing, listening, and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history, and the arts. If we want to reduce economic inequality in America, a good place to start is the language-arts classroom.

Hirsch urges that U.S. schools adopt a domain-based curriculum focusing much more heavily on actual content and less on process and problem-solving. According to Hirsch, countries following this path show much stronger gains in verbal scores across various demographics:

“The domain-based approach to literacy—using a coherent, content-based curriculum to teach language—is the educational policy of the nations that achieve the best verbal results for both advantaged and disadvantaged students and narrow the gaps between them. ”

So Long, AP CreditThis week Dartmouth University announced it would no longer recognize high school Advanced Placement (AP) exams for college credit. NPR reports that starting in 2018, Dartmouth will use AP scores for placement in freshman classes, but not for credit. Critics claim high school AP courses in no way resemble college instruction, while proponents point to the cost savings realized when students can complete some introductory level courses prior to college entrance.

[Note: An incomplete version of this blog post entitled “629” was sent out earlier today. I apologize for this technical error.]

Beth T. Sigall

January 18, 2013


Worth Checking Out . . .

As we come to the end of a busy week in the world of education policy, here’s what caught my attention:

More like Finland? Maybe not – Tom Loveless of the Brookings Institute offers insightful analysis in International Tests Are Not All The Same. According to Loveless, international comparisons of student performance in math relying primarily on the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) provide an incomplete picture of how students are actually performing. Loveless counters that to get a complete picture, another test – Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) – should be considered. That’s because PISA measures “real world” math or problem-solving math, while TIMSS is a curriculum-based assessment reflecting skills taught in school (e.g., computation, fractions, and decimals).

The upshot? According to Loveless, Finland’s success (trumpeted everywhere in the media as of late) might be “overblown” because of over-reliance on PISA as the measure of its success. In fact, American students are performing better than previously thought when TIMSS results also are considered. By contrast, Finland might be on the cusp of the math education wars that gripped American education in the 1990s, as some academics and employers in Finland openly complain students there lack basic computation skills.

Measures of Effective Teachers (MET): An Expensive Flop? – Jay P. Greene (chair/head of Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas) dug thru the data from the newly-released Gates Foundation “Measures of Effective Teachers” study and drew radically different conclusions than the study’s authors.  He took particular issue with the conclusion that classroom observations and student feedback are predictive measures of teacher quality. Greene claims the data from the study simply doesn’t support it. Greene also sounds the alarm on the cost of the evaluation system that Gates is proposing (it’s a budget buster). Highlights:

  • “Classroom observations make virtually no independent contribution to the predictive power of a teacher evaluation system. In a regression to predict student test score gains . . . there is virtually no relationship between test score gains and either classroom observations or student survey results.”
  • “To observe 3.2 million public school teachers for four hours by staff compensated at $40 per hour would cost more than $500 million each year. The Gates people also had to train the observers at least 17 hours and even after that had to throw out almost a quarter of those observers as unreliable. To do all of this might cost about $1 billion each year.”

Just Say No To Standardized TestsTeachers at Seattle’s Garfield HS on Thursday announced that they would no longer administer a district-mandated test (3x per year) known as the MAP (Measures of Academic Progress). This unanimous refusal by teachers may be the first of its kind in the nation. From Kris McBride, Academic Dean and Testing Coordinator at Garfield:

  • “Our teachers have come together and agree that the MAP test is not good for our students, nor is it an appropriate or useful tool in measuring progress. Additionally, students don’t take it seriously. It produces specious results, and wreaks havoc on limited school resources during the weeks the test is administered.”

Higher-Ed Bubble – Gene A. Budig, former chancellor/president of three universities, takes a hard look at higher education in terms of costs, as well as the value of the product universities are delivering.  Some sobering statistics: 

  • “A child born today will need $41,000 a year for public college and $93,000 a year for private college at the current rate of growth. The cost of a college degree has risen 1,120% since 1978, four times faster than the increase in the consumer price index.”
  • “Only 57% of first-time full-time students receive their bachelor’s degree within six years.”
  • Less than half of American employers believe their new employees are adequately prepared in their postsecondary education and/or training programs. In some fields, there are skill mismatches. According to Microsoft, “between 2010 and 2020, the American economy will annually produce more than 120,000 additional computing jobs that will require at least a bachelor’s degree, but the country’s higher education system is currently producing only 40,000 bachelor’s degrees in computer science annually.”

Beth T. Sigall

January 12, 2013

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