Category Archives: Education

No Excuse

I get Jared’s wire. Some who might read this will know the punch-line. I agree 100% with Jared on this one. mrossol

10/14/2020. Jared Dillian, in The Daily Dirtnap [TDD]

Just a quick story from the old Academy days.  As a fourth class cadet (freshman), you only had three possible responses to a question.

1. “Yes, sir”

2. “No, sir”

3. “No excuse, sir”

That was it. You really weren’t allowed to say anything else.

So if an upperclass cadet asked you why you were late to formation, the answer was “no excuse, sir.”

It didn’t matter if you actually had an excuse. It didn’t matter if your grandmother hijacked a school bus full of penguins. You still had to be at formation on time.

This introduced a sense of accountability into 18-year-olds that can be found nowhere else in society.

I only got chewed out one time the whole time I was at Lehman Brothers. It was the time that I got picked off on RTH and Sears Holdings. It’s a fascinating story, which I think I’ve told in the past, but may tell again. Anyway, my boss sat me down, clearly annoyed (after losing $1mm) and said that we wanted to be on the right side of those trades, not the wrong side. Now, the trade was incredibly complex, and me with my 31- year-old level of sophistication was not going to be able to figure that out. But I simply said, “no excuse,” and resolved not to get picked off again. And I didn’t.

Maybe it’s just my conservative Generation X makeup, but I really would like to live in a world where “no excuse, sir” is the only acceptable response. I was an adjunct professor for five years–I made it clear in the first class of the semester that excuses were not going to be tolerated.

I had a policy that papers had to be handed in on the front table at 6pm, as class started. There was a student who forgot his paper at home. Before the class, I said, can you go print it out? It was on his home computer. He was totally stuck. He had that look. I said, I know how you’re feeling right now, and I know you did the paper, but I can’t make an exception in your particular case. The kid had an A in the class, and ended up with a B.

Won’t make that mistake again. Not in school, and not in life, either. Probably the most valuable thing he learned in class.

My wife constantly complains about students and their excuses. There are legitimate excuses–death in the family, illness, for which you have to provide documentation. If you lead people to believe that there is some wiggle room, they will exploit the wiggle room.

I learned a few things from being in the Coast Guard. That was one of them. The other one is time management. There was one point at the Academy where I was taking 22 credits, on top of athletics and all the military stuff. You get very adept at fitting a lot into a 24 hour day. And if I ever fail to send out an issue of TDD [this is Jarad’s daily market wire], you know what the next issue is going to say: no excuse.

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Bad Teaching Is Tearing America Apart

I don’t agree with all, but there is way more good here, than not good. The Left and the NEA (same?) are not willing to look at the data. mrossol

PHOTO: BARBARA KELLEY

If you have school-age children, the pandemic-induced move to online classes may give you an unusual window into their education. E.D. Hirsch expects you’ll be surprised by “how little whole-class instruction is going on,” how little knowledge is communicated, and how there is “no coherence” from day to day, let alone from year to year.

The current fashion is for teachers to be a “guide on the side, instead of a sage on the stage,” he says, quoting the latest pedagogical slogan, which means that teachers aren’t supposed to lecture students but to “facilitate” learning by nudging students to follow their own curiosity. Everything Mr. Hirsch knows about how children learn tells him that’s the wrong approach. “If you want equity in education, as well as excellence, you have to have whole-class instruction,” in which a teacher directly communicates information using a prescribed sequential curriculum.

Mr. Hirsch, 92, is best known for his 1987 book, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.” It is an argument for teaching “specifics,” followed by a lengthy list of them—thousands of historical figures, events, concepts and literary works with which, in Mr. Hirsch’s view, educated Americans should be familiar. Heavily weighted toward Western history and civilization, the list provoked charges of elitism. Yet Mr. Hirsch is singularly focused on helping disadvantaged kids. They “are not exposed to this information at home,” he says, so they’ll starve intellectually unless the schools provide it.

He continues the argument in his new book, “How to Educate a Citizen,” in which he describes himself as a heretofore “rather polite scholar” who has become more “forthright and impatient because things are getting worse. Intellectual error has become a threat to the well-being of the nation. A truly massive tragedy is building.” Schools “are diminishing our national unity and our basic competence.”

 

Mr. Hirsch is nonetheless cheerful in a Zoom interview from a vacation home in Maine, his armchair perched next to a window with a water view. An emeritus professor at the University of Virginia, he normally resides in Charlottesville, where he continues his research and acts as the chairman of the Core Knowledge Foundation.

He cites both history and neuroscience in explaining how education went wrong. It began in the 1940s, when “schools unbolted the desks and kids were no longer facing the teacher.” Instead children were divided into small groups and instructed to complete worksheets independently with occasional input from teachers. “That was also when our verbal test scores went down and the relative ranking of our elementary schools declined on a national level.” On the International Adult Literacy Survey, Americans went from being No. 1 for children who were educated in the 1950s to fifth for those in the ’70s and 14th in the ’90s. And things have only gotten worse. Between 2002 and 2015, American schoolchildren went from a ranking of 15th to 24th in reading on the Program for International Student Assessment.

The problem runs deeper than the style of instruction, Mr. Hirsch says. It’s the concept at its root—“child-centered classrooms,” the notion that “education is partly a matter of drawing out a child’s inborn nature.” Mr. Hirsch says emphatically that a child’s mind is “a blank slate.” On this point he agrees with John Locke and disagrees with Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who thought children need to develop according to their nature. Both philosophers make the “Cultural Literacy” list, but “Locke has to make a comeback” among educators, Mr. Hirsch says. “The culture is up for grabs, and elementary schools are the culture makers.”

Mr. Hirsch is a man of the left—he has said he is “practically a socialist.” But he bristles at the idea that kids should read only books by people who look like them or live like them. He recalls how reading outside his own experience enabled him “to gain perspective.” Growing up in Memphis, Tenn., in the 1930s, he says, “there was no one I knew who wasn’t a racist.” In his teens, he picked up Gunnar Myrdal’s “An American Dilemma: The Negro Problem and Modern Democracy” (1944), which “allowed me to escape.” The Swedish sociologist’s survey of American race relations “made a huge impact” on Mr. Hirsch. “I take it as an illustration of how important knowledge is and how important it is to not necessarily become a member of your culture.”

 

That’s no less true in 21st-century America. “The idea that identity and ethnicity are inborn and indelible from birth is a false view that leads to group hostility,” Mr. Hirsch says. “The idea that there can be an American culture that everyone joins seems to be anathema to some academic thinkers,” Mr. Hirsch says. “But I can’t believe it’s anathema to any normal person in the country who isn’t some social theorist.” It’s fine for children to embrace their particular heritage, he says, but also vital to create an “American ethnicity.” The purpose of elementary schools “is to make children into good citizens.”

That requires knowledge that is “shared nationally, if you’re going to read and write and communicate with one another.” He’s dismayed that people keep getting hung up on the particulars. “I’m fine with arguing about whether it shall be Toni Morrison or Herman Melville. Who cares?” He calls elementary school “a nonpartisan institution,” a view that may seem quaint in an era when schools are adopting ideological curricula like the “1619 Project” and teachers are displaying “Black Lives Matter” banners as their Zoom backgrounds.

Mr. Hirsch wants to correct some of these excesses. He dedicates “How to Educate a Citizen” to the late political scientist Richard Rorty, who died in 2007. Rorty “made a distinction between the political left and the cultural left,” says Mr. Hirsch, who considers himself a man of the former but not the latter. He commends to me a 1994 New York Times article, “The Unpatriotic Academy,” in which Rorty wrote: “In the name of ‘the politics of difference,’ [the left] refuses to rejoice in the country it inhabits. It repudiates the idea of a national identity, and the emotion of national pride.” Mr. Hirsch agrees and longs for the “willingness to sacrifice for the good of society that was very strong” during his early years. “Patriotism is important because we want to make our society work.”

Mr. Hirsch also takes issue with grade schools’ focus on “skills.” Whether it is imparting “critical thinking skills,” “communication skills” or “problem-solving skills,” he says such instruction is a waste of time in the absence of specific knowledge. He describes the findings of the National Academy of Sciences on the subject of the “domain specificity of human skills.” What this means, he explains in the new book, “is that being good at tennis does not make you good at golf or soccer. You may be a talented person with great hand-eye coordination—and indeed there are native general abilities that can be nurtured in different ways—but being a first-class swimmer will not make a person good at hockey.”

He cites the “baseball study,” conducted by researchers at Marquette University in the 1980s, which found that kids who knew more about how baseball was played performed better when answering questions about a text on baseball than those who didn’t understand the game—regardless of their reading level. The conventional response in education circles is that standardized tests are unfair because some kids are exposed to more specific knowledge than others. In Mr. Hirsch’s view that’s precisely why children should be exposed to more content: Educators “simply haven’t faced up to their duty to provide a coherent sequence of knowledge to children.”

 

There are now about 5,000 schools in the U.S. that use some form of the Core Knowledge curriculum, developed by Mr. Hirsch’s foundation. And research suggests Mr. Hirsch is right. A recent large-scale randomized study of public-school pupils in kindergarten through second grade found that use of the Core Knowledge Language Arts curriculum had statistically significant benefits for vocabulary, science knowledge, and social-studies knowledge.

Even in poor neighborhoods, kids at Core Knowledge schools perform well and are admitted to competitive high schools. From the South Bronx Classical Charter School to the public schools in Sullivan County, Tenn., Mr. Hirsch is clearly proud that his ideas have helped the least privileged kids in America.

He questions the idea that children who are exposed to more “experiences” are at an automatic advantage. “That’s what fiction is for,” he quips. And not only fiction. “The residue of experience is knowledge,” he says. “If you get your knowledge from the classroom, it’s just as good as if you got it from going to the opera. Poor kids can catch up.”

Asked about the effect of the pandemic and lockdown on children’s emotional well-being, Mr. Hirsch shrugs, then offers an anecdote from a principal at a Core Knowledge school. Before classes began one morning, a second-grade girl approached him and said: “I’m so excited for today.” When the principal asked why, she said, “Because today we are going to learn about the War of 1812.”

“Gee, I wonder what that’s about,” the principal said.

“I don’t know,” the girl replied. “But today I’m going to find out!”

For Mr. Hirsch, the lesson is clear. No matter the circumstances, “kids delight in learning things.”

Ms. Riley is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/bad-teaching-is-tearing-america-apart-11599857351?mod=opinion_major_pos7

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The Case against Revolution with Ayaan Hirsi Ali

Another very thoughtful discussion about the real threat facing America today. Yes, we have problems. Yes, we need to come together to find solutions. This is what Americans have done for 244 years. But Black LIves Matter is calling for an overthrow of the institution of America. All serious Americans, regardless if your political party need to stand up against this attack – and it is an attack on the essence of this great nation.

mrossol

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Technology in the classroom?

I would have told them years ago that given a choice, I would choose a school with ZERO technology over one with the best technology.

WSJ 9/4/2019

Districts spent millions on laptops, apps and devices; parents worry it’s not helping.

When Baltimore County, Md., public schools began going digital five years ago, textbooks disappeared from classrooms and paper and pencils were no longer encouraged. All students from kindergarten to 12th grade would eventually get a laptop, helping the district reach the “one-to-one” ratio of one for each child that has become coveted around the country. Teaching apps and digital courses took the place of flashcards and notebooks.

Despite the investment, academic results have mostly slipped in the district of about 115,000 students.

Over the last decade, American schools embraced technology, spending millions of dollars on devices and apps, believing its disruptive power would help many children learn faster, stay in school and be more prepared for a competitive economy. Now many parents and teachers are starting to wonder if all the disruption was a good idea.

Technology has made it easier for students and teachers to communicate and collaborate. It engages many students and allows them to learn at their own pace. But early indications are that tech isn’t a panacea for education.

Researchers at Rand Corp. and elsewhere say there is no clear evidence showing which new tech-related education offerings or approaches work in schools.

The uncertainty is feeding alarm among some parents already worried about the amount of time their children spend attached to digital devices. Some believe technology is not doing much to help their kids learn, setting up a clash with tech advocates who say technology is the future of education.

Across the country—in Boston, Fort Wayne, Ind., and Austin, Texas—parents are demanding proof technology works as an educational tool, and insisting on limits. They’re pushing schools to offer low-or screen-free classrooms, picketing board meetings to protest all the online classes and demanding more information about what data is collected on students.

In April, a report from the National Education Policy Center, a nonpartisan research group at the University of Colorado at Boulder, found the rapid adoption of the mostly proprietary technology in education to be rife with “questionable educational assumptions… self-interested advocacy by the technology industry, serious threats to student privacy and a lack of research support.”

‘Digital citizens’

Proponents say schools must have technology. “We are moving into a time of exponential change,” says Keith Krueger, CEO of Consortium for School Networking, an association for school tech officers that also includes tech companies. “Schools are not at the leading edge of technology but technology is reaching a tipping point in the way learning happens.” He says, “Schools need to determine how to equip [students] to be smart digital citizens.”

Earlier this year, Cynthia Boyd, watched as her daughter, Jane, then a Baltimore County first-grader, poked at a keyboard on a family laptop in response to math problems on the screen, part of her public school’s math class. An interactive program delivered an image of a token on the screen when she completed an assignment. She could then trade in those tokens to play games.

To Dr. Boyd, a professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins, it looks more like a videogame than a math class. She isn’t sure if the lessons are sticking with Jane and worries about the hyper-stimulating screen time. “I feel like my kids have been part of a huge massive experiment I have no control over,” says Dr. Boyd, who also has two sons aged 13 and 15. Liam, the younger son, began learning on screens three years ago and Graham, the older son, began learning on them four years ago.

There is a role for technology in school, she says, but it is a matter of how much and at what age. She has seen the benefits: Her younger son learned the basics of computer programming and the logic in- volved. Tech allowed her oldest son to build a website for a history project and to use online original documents from the Library of Congress.

Baltimore County’s latest results on state standardized tests, released last week, were so disappointing they prompted a letter to parents from the district’s new school superintendent, Darryl Williams. In English language arts and math, “far too few of our students are meeting or exceeding expectations…We can and must do better,” he wrote.

About 37% of the county’s students in grades 3-8 were proficient in English language arts, compared with about 44% statewide. In math, about 27% of the students were proficient, compared with 33% statewide. Dr. Williams wasn’t available for comment. A school district spokesman said Dr. Williams and his team will be closely evaluating what role, if any, the laptop program has played in the district’s performance.

Baltimore County said earlier this year it would scale back the ratio of laptops in first and second grades to one for every five students. A few miles away, in Montgomery County, a new curriculum this fall will return textbooks, paper and pencils to the classroom to supplement laptops.

In both cases, school officials say they were responding, in part, to parents and teachers. Baltimore County’s early-learning teachers said they didn’t need so many laptops. Parents wanted their children to “have a mixed media experience touching paper and reading books and down on the carpet without a device in their hands,” said Ryan Imbriale, who heads the school district’s department of innovative learning.

In Montgomery County, which was due for a curriculum change, “we heard loud and clear from parents,” said Dr. Maria Navarro, chief academic officer. Among other things, “they are very concerned about the amount of screen time” in school.

Technology is especially effective, she says, when it allows aspiring engineers and architects to build simulations in a high-school drafting class, for instance, or non-native English speakers to get an instant translation by touching a word in their reading assignment. “The question is what’s the best use of this tool,” she says, “and what’s the right quality and quantity.”

Montgomery County schools improved in nearly all categories in the results released last week, with average gains better than those seen statewide for students in grades 3 through 8.

Technology certainly helps solve some big problems. At a time when all 50 states report teacher shortages, instructors are being live-streamed into classrooms to remotely fill vacancies in about 180 school districts. In places such as Hot Springs, Va., Alphabet Inc.’s Google has wired school buses, turning them into rolling study halls for students with long commutes and patchy or nonexistent Wi-Fi at home.

The widespread prevalence of technology in American schools, often known for changing at a glacial pace, has been jarring for large numbers of parents, teachers and administrators— many of whom were big proponents just a few years ago. The school devices are undermining parents’ struggle to limit screen time. They say their children find ways at school to bypass their schools’ internet filters and can find their way onto YouTube exposing them to X-rated and violent content. They can kill time in class by shopping online or playing games.

It was just eight years ago that President Obama signaled in his State of the Union Address that he envisioned U.S. students reading digital textbooks; soon after, his administration set a five-year goal. The call was hardly controversial; it was premised on the widespread belief that digital innovations would boost graduation rates, help close the persistent socio-economic achievement gap and keep American students from falling behind their peers in other countries.

The Trump administration’s Education Secretary Betsy De-Vos is a proponent, saying in a statement “When applied appropriately, technology in the classroom opens up a world of possibilities for students.”

Device usage in schools is rising. A 2018 report by the Consortium for School Networking found 59% of high schools reported that all of their students had access to non-shared devices, compared with 53% the year prior. Middle schools reported 63% of all students had access from 56%. Elementary use was at 29% from 25%. In some cases, schools provide the devices and in others, students bring their own.

Google has 60% of the school device market; Apple Inc. and Microsoft Corp. split the rest about equally, according to Futuresource Consulting, a market research firm.

The digital push coincided with the rise in enthusiasm for personalized learning. Championed by advocates including the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the tailored-to-the-child approach is designed to allow students to learn according to their needs and interests— at their own pace. The flexibility is made possible by individually assigned laptops and tens of thousands of new digital learning programs.

“Technology is one tool—an extremely promising one if we use it well. But we have to be clear-eyed,” says Robert L. Hughes, who directs U.S. K-12 Education for the Gates foundation. He says there is still “wide variation” in performance— between classrooms, schools and districts using technology to personalize learning. “It is the very early days.”

Mr. Gates has indicated problems are to be expected in the early stages of educational software development. “The stand-alone textbook is becoming a thing of the past,” he wrote in the foundation’s annual letter in February.

What happens next? “The same basic cycle you go through for all software: get lots of feedback on the existing products, collect data on what works and make them better,” he wrote. A foundation spokesman said Mr. Gates wasn’t available to comment.

The individualized learning approach assumes that if given choices and goals, children will stay motivated to do their best. Some parents say that is asking a lot of many kids. “Put screens in front of children and they aren’t thinking ‘I can’t wait to do research,’ they’re thinking, ‘Let’s play Candy Crush,’ ” says Melanie Hempe, a Charlotte, N.C., mother and author of a book for parents who want to limit computer use called “Screen Strong.”

Maryland is one of the states grappling most aggressively with how to calibrate the role of technology in schools, this summer requiring officials to create a set of best practices for devices in the classroom. About half the guidelines address health issues like proper ergonomics and eye safety. Others remind teachers to promote student collaboration and reward good behavior with social and physical activity—not more screen time.

Many teachers support using technology broadly, but are concerned over whether it is being used too much or in the right way. Diane Birdwell, a world history teacher in Dallas, said when she allowed students to use devices, they were not only distracted by pop-up alerts but didn’t retain information or comprehend as well when reading it on paper. “It has hampered their ability to think on their own,” said Ms. Birdwell, a 58-year-old teacher of 20 years.

Florence Kao, a Montgomery County, Md., lawyer, says that since third grade, her two sons have been using Google Slides, part of Google’s office suite, for their projects. They are now PowerPoint design experts, she says, picking colors, fonts, background images and deciding whether to put each slide in a bubble or a frame. “The ratio of time they spend writing on each slide compared to embellishing it is probably 10% to 90%,” she says. She wonders how well they’re learning to write.

Vetting Apps

Montgomery County schools have roughly 1,000 apps, digital curriculum offerings and other online tools that teachers have chosen to use. Some Montgomery County parents formed a Safe Tech Committee that now meets with the district’s chief tech officer, Pete Cevenini to report problem apps and share other concerns. He has set up a protocol for teachers and administrators to vet apps. As the start of the school year approaches, 22% have been vetted.

A report from Rand Corp. in October cited a lack of rigorous evidence showing which new education practices and tools are effective, saying the offerings are “relatively immature, fragmented and of uneven quality.” In a peer-reviewed article, the research firm described strategies to guide teachers and administrators “in the absence of proven-effective models.” Dr. Boyd, the Johns Hopkins professor, says all her children have been frustrated by digital courses. Her sons have since switched to private schools where the curriculum is less technology intensive. She is glad Jane’s school district is reevaluating and making changes.

‘I feel like my kids have been part of a huge massive experiment.’

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