Education


Pennsylvania became the latest state to require high school students to pass exit exams in order to graduate in an effort to ensure that students will be better prepared for college and the workplace.

At least that is the goal of educators in Pennsylvania but they are likely to find as have the other 26 states that also require some sort of exit exam that a large number of students would fail the tests and they too will have to lower the standards in order for students to graduate.

The students that are most affected by the exams tend to be minorities who are either in poor performing schools or those that are poor students themselves and have barely been getting by to begin with.

Yet rather than try and improve the quality of teaching (i.e. firing underperforming teachers) or hold back poor students until they can achieve basic proficiency in core subjects administrators have chosen to water down the tests so that graduation rates don’t plummet and tarnish their reputation.

Granted that other political forces are also at play here.  Minority advocates along with those of students with disabilities complain that the tests are unfair and have threatened to sue adding further pressure to educators efforts to make needed changes.

This is the same argument these people made about college entrance exams.  Guess what?  If you can’t pass a high school exit exam then you aren’t likely to do well on the SAT or ACT either.  This is nothing more than the remnants of outcome based education which was widely endorsed by the NEA that treated all students as if they had equal abilities and therefore they should progess at the same rate.  That meant that the smarter students were forced to slow down until the slower students could catch up which would rarely happen.  Combine this with the need to be politically correct and you have  a recipe for disaster.

Also it’s not like the students don’t have several opportunities to pass the exit exams either.  During my daughter’s senior year of high school in Maryland I was struck by how many times the exit exam was given.  Despite the very basic nature of the exam my daughter knew of several students who took the exam three to four times before they passed.  Minorities represented a majority of the student body but that didn’t mean they were stupid or disadvantaged as many of the graduates that year were going to Ivy league schools or other elite institutions.

Maryland went one step further though by creating a Bridge Plan where students who were unable to pass the exam would be given an alternative project to complete.

Rather than prepare students for college or the workplace by dumbing down the tests and therefore the diploma educators only make students feel that the world will adjust to their abilities instead of challenging them to adjust to the world.

An effort to evaluate public school teachers in New York by the Department of Education through the use of reports has seemingly failed as most of the teachers have never received them.

According to the New York Times the city distributed 12,000 reports for any teacher that taught fourth through eighth grades for the last two years to see how well they did in educating students.

The reports which are not going to be released to parents uses standardized test scores to determine how much teachers have helped students improve year over year and whether they are successful with particular groups that were previously identified as struggling.

At the urging of the teacher unions the state legislature last year passed a law prohibiting the use of standardized test data in tenure decisions.   The unions also managed to get the city to agree to not make the reports public.

The school system recently graded the schools and gave 97 percent of them a grade of A or B.   At the same time the teacher reports rated 20 percent of them as “low” performers  and 60 percent as “middle”  performers.  There is a real disconnect here.

One of the reasons that the teachers haven’t received their reports can be summed up by the attitude of Odelphia Pierre the principal of Public School 129 in Harlem.  Pierre told the Times that she was worried how the reports would affect morale and told the teachers they could view the reports if they wanted.  She added that she didn’t want the teachers to be “distracted” in the middle of of the year.

She sounds like she is applying outcome based education standards to her teachers where high achievers are slowed down until the lower achievers have caught up so that the underperformers won’t have their feelings hurt.

If Pierce wants to be a a good administrator then she needs to use the report along with some other criteria to evaluate her staff and weed out the laggards who aren’t helping the students progress and succeed rather than continue to carry them and provide a substandard education.

In addition the legislature should show some backbone and rescind the law that prevents the reports from being used in tenure decisions and the city should release the reports to the parents.  They have a right to know of the teachers they entrust their children to are doing a good job.  With 80 percent at the middle to low level it doesn’t look like that is the case.

The Chancellor of D.C. Schools Michelle Rhee, a Korean-American running a predominantly black school system has been shaking up the establishment since  her arrival by firing poor performing principals and closing underpeforming or underenrolled schools.   Now she faces her biggest test with her pay proposal for the teachers.

Under Rhee’s plan teachers would be eligible for salary increases of up to 40% plus bonuses for student performance.  This could conceivably lift salaries to as much as $130,000 per year, a figure normally only seen by administrators in the system.  But this isn’t a free lunch.  In return for the opportunity to earn more money, the teachers would agree to give up their tenure for one year exposing them to the possibility of being fired by the hard charging Rhee.

So the teachers are facing a huge dilemma.  Do they risk their lifetime job security for the chance to increase their income?  The teacher’s union as one might expect is firmly against this proposal because it not only attacks the outdated notion that teachers should in essence have a job for life, but that teacher performance is actually important.

If the teachers aren’t willing to be judged on their performance like most workers are in their jobs then they shouldn’t be teaching.

One would normally think that such ideas or actions might be the brainchild of a conservative reformer but in this case there is nothing further from the truth.  Rhee is a Democrat who has even been praised by Obama during the campaign for her efforts and is now fighting the very same entrenched union bureaucracy that has been a large support base for the Democratic party.

Whether or not Rhee will be successful with her pay proposal remains to be seen.  But in any event she has proven herself to be an educator who actually cares about the children in a broken system and is wlling to go against conventional norms in an effort to provide the children in D.C. with a decent education.

At the recent National Middle School Association (NMSA) annual conference University of Florida education professor Paul George gave a lecture entitled “ Don’t Think of an Elephant” Paradigms in American Life and Education to a small group of educators.

The main title of the lecture came from a book of the same name by Democratic strategist George Lakoff who feels that conservatives have dominated the debate on key issues and lays out an outline on how progressives can reframe the debate.

George has applied the Lakoff strategy in his efforts to reframe the debate on education. He started the lecture off by defining the traditional paradigm or point of view which he defines thusly;

• Life is difficult & dangerous

• The supreme being is a strict & judgmental parent.

• Most people are weak, selfish, greedy, immoral & lazy.

• Evil is a prominent part of human experience.

• Individual responsibility is central.

• Trust in others must be limited to those very much like us.

• Competition is at the center.

• Great questions of the day have simple answers.

• Government is a thief and a waste.

The traditional paradigm to George represents the conservative point of view. To him all of the above represents what is wrong with conservative beliefs even though he misrepresents them and paints conservatives as cold and unfeeling.

As for the conservative outlook on education he listed the following as the paradigm;

• Students are untrustworthy, unmotivated, undisciplined, slothful and immoral.

• Students (and educators) cannot be trusted and must be monitored and coerced to do the right thing.

• Ability is the best way to identify and group students for learning.Isolation of able learners is essential.

• Education is evaluation and evaluation is education.

• Presentation equals teaching.

• Knowledge is the accumulation of brick upon brick of facts.

• Creative, caring, curious, critical citizens are not a priority.

• Public schools are a bloated ineffective government bureaucracy that should be privatized.

Once again George takes a dim view of conservatives and distorts their views on education.

However, when it came time to present the liberal paradigms it was a different story.

• Life is difficult and dangerous.

• The supreme being is a nurturing, loving parent.

• Humans are basically good and always motivated.

• Evil is a minor part of human experience.

• Cooperation and sharing, collective action and mutual support are crucial.

• Trust is the core of healthy human life.

• Complexity and ambiguity characterize our lives.

Frankly I think he got some of these paradigms in reverse.

The same can be said of his interpretation of the liberal paradigm in education.

• Human freedom and empowerment are more critical than accountability and punishment.

• Life is about relationships, not acquisition.

• School… democratic experience.

• Caring and trust for each person is the center of any truly professional activity.

• Schools are to improve society as a whole, not providing competitive advantage to the elite.

• Curriculum is best derived from the needs and interest of the learners.

• Instruction should engage active learners.

• Developmental appropriateness should supersede national assessment.

• School failure has political and economic causes.

As for the net benefits of a liberal education George cited teaching evolution as science, peace movements, civil rights and gay rights as examples.

The audience of course bought George’s arguments hook, line, and sinker but for conservatives this is just another example of just how far liberalism has crept into our education system and why school choice, charter schools and homeschooling are needed now more than ever.

If we want to reform education we need to train conservatives at all levels to become teachers, administrators and legislators that will stand up for an unbiased educational curriculum and be free of union control.

Global warming or climate change as it is now more commonly referred to is a hot topic among educators and nowhere was that more evident as this week’s National Middle School Association convention in Denver.

In addition to the exhibitors like the Earth Fooundation or Insect Love preaching about how to save the environment there were educational sessions directed at the educators in attendance.

One such session was titled; Climate Change: Global Connections and Sustainable Solutions.  The description of the session is as follows;

Teaching climate change has its challenges: there are numerous, sometimes conflicting findings:effects attributed to it are vast and varied. Involve your students with the issues using this standards-based, two-week, climate change unit. Exeprience hands-on lessons that demonstrate the interconnections between natural cycles and systems and human choices and actions. This interactive session provides engaging lessons about climate change perspectives, consumption choices, carbon footprint, emissions trading, and international energy policies.

Presented by Dave Wilton of Facing The Future we spent 75 minutes going through parts of the lesson plan that they want teachers to use.

Wilton had several group exercises that are built into the curriculum.  The first one he used was that he distributed several cards with words such as petroleum, automobile, power plant, coal etc…  written on them and each person with a card had to figure out how they relate to each other using a ball of yarn to tie them together.  After it was over I almost thought the partcipants were going to hold hands and sing kumbaya.

Another exercise was to form groups of seven and answer questions from the lesson about different sources of energy and the pros and cons of each and then discuss them with the entire audience.  One participant remarked that she didn’t realize that the manufacturing of solar panels resulted in a high contribution to greenhouse gases and another remarked that she teaches in an area where coal is the major employer so she couldn’t tell the children that their fathers work for the devil.

The last exercise was called Choices and Impacts.  Everyone in the audience was given a card with a dollar amount raging from $200 to $5000 and using a sheet called Global Mall Items had to purchase food, heat/fuel, transportation, home, and a luxury item.  The idea od this excercise was to show not only how difficult it would be to get by on just $200 but how hard it would be to spend $5000.  Of course the $200 group was the largest as  they were  supposed to be representative of the number of people in the world living in poverty.

What was missing from the lessons and exercises was balance. There was no mention of contrary viewpoints on global warming and sustainability of which there are plenty.  Instead the lessons rely on a left-wing view of global warming  which unfortunately the educators in the audience embrace wholeheartedly.

Funding for the curriculum comes from the Hewlett-Packard Foundation which is has taken a decidedly far left turn since the death of its founders.

The University of Southern California’s men’s swimming team almost became the latest victim of Title IX enforcement when they were recently informed by the USC Athletics Department that they would have to cut five members of the team since they outnumbered the women’s swim team 37-26.

Rather than just take the Athletic Department’s decision in stride the men’s swim team senior captain Kazu Miyahara along with other members of both the men’s and women’s swimmimg teams went to work to recruit additional females.

Miyahara created a Facebook group, “Save the Men’s Team, Join the Women’s Team (Swimming!),” that encouraged female students to join even they only had a remote interest or weren’t sure of the time commitment.

The result was that 119 members joined the group (students love joining groups) netting 15 interested swimmers.   That was more than the women’s team needed so the coaches had to decide who was really serious about joining the team and attending morning practices.  To be a swimmer at this level requires far more dedication than in high school and can be grueling at times.

According to the Daily Trojan some freshmen on the men’s team were especially worried that they would lose their spots if there were any cuts and morale was very low.

At least they still have a team.  Thanks in part to Title IX Arizona State University eliminated its men’s swimming and tennis teams as well as wrestling.
Last May, Arizona State University eliminated its men’s swimming team, as well as its men’s tennis and wrestling teams, due in part to Title IX.

Miyahara told the Trojan that for him, the law has caused some frustration.

“I do blame Title IX somewhat, and there have been some negative effects of it,” he said. “I don’t think it’s a good thing to cut people who are interested in swimming. It’s a hard sport. If there are people interested and committed enough to do it, we definitely want them on the team.”

Until now I doubt that Miyahara had paid much attention to Title IX because it didn’t affect him.  But now that he has seen the destructive effects of this law he can see how easily it can destroy a sport.  Even though the team would have been able to continue with the proposed cuts it was likely to only be the beginning.  All this does is but the swim team one more year.  Next year they could face even bigger cuts unless they step up their efforts to recruit more women.  The team is on the Athletic Department’s hit list and despite 9 NCAA championships it may only be a matter of time before the last male swimmer takes one final lap in the pool.

This case has added a new wrinkle (at least for me) to the complex issue of Title IX compliance.  Normally colleges and universities take a more global view by adding up the total number of athletes by gender in all sports and then determining whether or not they are complying with the law.  To single out  a specific sport and force both men’s and women’s teams to have an equal number of athletes only perpetuates the myth that men and women are equally interested in participating in sports.

Jessica Gavora points out in her book Tilting the Playing Field that Brandi Chastain whose penalty kick in the 1999 Women’s World Cup lifted her team to victory was the product of independent youth leagues which give girls the opportunity to play without the rigid rules of Title IX.

Chastain is just one example that Title IX is both unnecessary and onerous and that women can thrive and succeed without the extra “help”  that the law provides.

Beyond the collegiate money sports of football and basketball it will take an Olympian effort to save the non revenue generating men’s sports from extinction at the rate we are going.

The National Middle School Association (NMSA) is holding their 35th annual conference this weekend in Denver.  Along with sessions on leadership, classroom leadership and teaching strategy are such gems like these;

  • Understanding the Experiences and Needs of Gay,Lesbian,Bisexual, and Transgender(GLBT) Youth in Middle Level Schools
  • Strategies and Resources for Meeting the Needs of Gay,Lesbian,Bisexual, and Transgender Youth in Middle Level Schools
  • Geographic Literacy for Global Citizens
  • Climate Change: Global Connections and Sustainable Solutions

Conservatives should pay careful attention to the curriculum their children receive at every level not just in high school which now resembles the political correctness so pervasive in our college’s and universities.

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