mfioretti: schooling*

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  1. Politicians and policy wonks worry about the persistence of poverty across generations, but affluence is inherited more strongly. Most disturbing, we now know how firmly class positions are being transmitted across generations. Most of the children born into households in the top 20 percent will stay there or drop only as far as the next quintile. As Gary Solon, one of the leading scholars of social mobility, put it recently, “Rather than a poverty trap, there seems instead to be more stickiness at the other end: a ‘wealth trap,’ if you will.”

    There’s a kind of class double-think going on here. On the one hand, upper-middle-class Americans believe they are operating in a meritocracy (a belief that allows them to feel entitled to their winnings); on the other hand, they constantly engage in antimeritocratic behavior in order to give their own children a leg up. To the extent that there is any ethical deliberation, it usually results in a justification along the lines of “Well, maybe it’s wrong, but everyone’s doing it.”

    The United States is the only nation in the world, for example, where it is easier to get into college if one of your parents happened to go there. Oxford and Cambridge ditched legacy preferences in the middle of the last century. The existence of such an unfair hereditary practice in 21st-century America is startling in itself. But I have been more shocked by the way that even supposedly liberal members of the upper middle class seem to have no qualms about benefiting from it.

    The upper middle class is also doing lots right, not least when it comes to creating a stable family environment and being engaged parents. These are behaviors we want to spread, not stop. Nobody should feel bad for working hard to raise their kids well.

    Things turn ugly, however, when the upper middle class starts to rig markets in its own favor, to the detriment of others. Take housing, perhaps the most significant example. Exclusionary zoning practices allow the upper middle class to live in enclaves. Gated communities, in effect, even if the gates are not visible. Since schools typically draw from their surrounding area, the physical separation of upper-middle-class neighborhoods is replicated in the classroom. Good schools make the area more desirable, further inflating the value of our houses. The federal tax system gives us a handout, through the mortgage-interest deduction, to help us purchase these pricey homes. For the upper middle classes, regardless of their professed political preferences, zoning, wealth, tax deductions and educational opportunity reinforce one another in a virtuous cycle.
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  2. How can we balance polyvalent tools, such as critical thinking, or logic and rhetoric, and topics that require specialized in-depth learning?

    NUSSBAUM: The best way is not to specialize prematurely. That is one reason I favor the “liberal arts” model of university education. which allows students to choose a major subject but makes them also learn many other things. This model is dominant in the U. S., South Korea, and Scotland, and I wish that other nations would appreciate its importance.

    MASSARENTI: Sadly, Italy ranks first in functional illiteracy. Do you find ironic that for many it is the “cradle of civilization and culture” while it trains its citizens so poorly? Are the media responsible or politics?
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  3. The promise of the bipartisan No Child Left Behind (NCLB) 2001 legislation was, as the name says, that no child would be left behind. A key piece of this legislation is the annual testing of every child from third through eighth grade and then once in high school.

    The data from these tests were intended to provide policymakers and educators with evidence to improve educational outcomes for the most disadvantaged students. But instead of promoting equity and social justice, the data are being used, in some cases, to further punish and disenfranchise the most vulnerable students.

    As an educational researcher, teacher and mom, I understand the potential as well as the unintended impacts of the annual testing regime. I also know that it doesn’t have to remain this way. We, as a nation, can do better.

    NCLB’s use of standardized testing has been widely criticized for its inability to improve learning outcomes, especially for the most vulnerable students. It’s not just excessive testing, but an inappropriate use of the results that are now threatening the quality of public education.

    data from the NCLB mandated accountability tests are being terribly misused.

    There are now several court cases related to the misuse of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations and high school completion tests. Teachers' job positions, careers and salaries are being determined by test scores of students they don’t even teach.

    US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has pushed for teacher evaluation to be based in part on students' standardized test scores despite the experiences of Tennessee, Houston and Florida, where misuse of test data has been seen and challenged in court.

    In these states, art and physical education teachers were evaluated on students’ English and math test scores. This error has already led to lawsuits in Tennessee and in Florida.

    Luke Flynt, an Indian River County teacher, in public testimony to the school committee, discussed how absurdly unreasonable these models of testing are. Flynt was a teacher in Florida who received unsatisfactory ratings because the computer model predicted that his students would score above a perfect score.

    As is evident in these details, the true failure of education, as stated by the American Statistical Association (ASA), has been in preparing our legislators and educational policymakers in the ethical use of statistics.

    In particular, the Value Added Model (VAM), a complex statistical tool, is being inapproriately used for assessing teachers’ performance.

    The ASA has cautioned that these data are not an accurate measure, as standardized test scores are not “causational.” In other words, test results are affected by many factors – not just the teacher. Results need to be interpreted with caution.

    And also, for this reason, no high-stakes decisions such as job termination should be made based on the test results.

    The basic scientific premise of quality assessment and evaluation is taking multiple measures, using multiple methods, and making use of multiple opportunities for a more accurate representation of anything being studied, particularly something as complex as teaching.

    NCLB’s use of standardized testing has been widely criticized for its inability to improve learning outcomes, especially for the most vulnerable students. It’s not just excessive testing, but an inappropriate use of the results that are now threatening the quality of public education.
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  4. In August, Education Secretary Arne Duncan added to the chorus when he wrote in a blog post that “testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools,” and that teachers needed more time to adapt to new standards and tests.

    Last month, state school chiefs and the heads of large city districts were the latest to express their concerns by committing to review the panoply of tests students must take.

    In Florida, which tests students more frequently than most other states, many schools this year will dedicate on average 60 to 80 days out of the 180-day school year to standardized testing. In a few districts, tests were scheduled to be given every day to at least some students.

    The furor in Florida, which cuts across ideological, party and racial lines, is particularly striking for a state that helped pioneer accountability through former Gov. Jeb Bush. Mr. Bush, a possible presidential contender, was one of the first governors to introduce high-stakes testing and an A-to-F grading system for schools. He continues to advocate test-based accountability through his education foundation. Former President George W. Bush, his brother, introduced similar measures as governor of Texas and, as president, embraced No Child Left Behind, the law that required states to develop tests to measure progress.

    The concerns reach well beyond first-year jitters
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  5. The maths skills of teenagers in parts of the deep south of the United States are worse than in countries such as Turkey and barely above South American countries such as Chile and Mexico. From the article: '"There is a denial phenomenon," says Prof Peterson. He said the tendency to make internal comparisons between different groups within the US had shielded the country from recognising how much they are being overtaken by international rivals. "The American public has been trained to think about white versus minority, urban versus suburban, rich versus poor," he said.
    Tags: , , , , , by M. Fioretti (2014-05-22)
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  6. The controversy over climate science — and the question of whether other states will reject the standards — is in many ways a replay of fights over the teaching of evolution. Opponents say parents and local educators should determine what is taught to children.

    “We question this whole idea of standards reform and the whole idea of nationalized standards,” said Amy Edmonds, policy analyst at the Wyoming Liberty Group. “We believe at the heart that it continues to take away parental choice.”
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  7. Jonathan Guryan, Jens Ludwig: Graduation rates for big urban schools about 50%
    Many believe academic learning not feasible when disadvantaged kids reach teen years
    They say program of small-group tutoring raised kids' performance considerably
    Writers: It worked in Chicago, why not elsewhere? Key is not to give up with teens
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  8. a new breed of educators, inspired by everything from the Internet to evolutionary psychology, neuroscience, and AI, are inventing radical new ways for children to learn, grow, and thrive. To them, knowledge isn’t a commodity that’s delivered from teacher to student but something that emerges from the students’ own curiosity-fueled exploration. Teachers provide prompts, not answers, and then they step aside so students can teach themselves and one another. They are creating ways for children to discover their passion—and uncovering a generation of geniuses in the process.

    The study found that when the subjects controlled their own observations, they exhibited more coordination between the hippocampus and other parts of the brain involved in learning and posted a 23 percent improvement in their ability to remember objects. “The bottom line is, if you’re not the one who’s controlling your learning, you’re not going to learn as well,” says lead researcher Joel Voss, now a neuroscientist at Northwestern University.
    Tags: , , by M. Fioretti (2013-10-16)
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  9. the federal Department of Education. It’s a smallish federal bureaucracy, which means that in the last year for which I was able to find statistics, 2011, it spent around $71 billion. Like many other federal bureaucracies, its existence is illegal. I mean that quite literally; the US constitution assigns the federal government a fairly limited range of functions, and “those powers necessary and convenient” to exercise them; by no stretch of the imagination can managing the nation’s public schools be squeezed into those limits. Only the Supreme Court’s embarrassingly supine response to federal power grabs during most of the twentieth century allows the department to exist at all.

    what’s left of America’s public education system is being shredded by the efforts of teachers and administrators to save their jobs in a collapsing economy, by teaching to the tests and gaming the system, under the pressure of increasingly unreal mandates from Washington DC.

    Though I’ve used education as an example, nearly every part of American life is pervaded by the same failed logic of overcentralization. Another example? Consider the Obama administration’s giddy pursuit of national security via drone attacks. As currently operated, Predator drones are the ne plus ultra in centralized warfare

    Centralized power is costly—in money, in energy, in every other kind of resource. Decentralized systems are much cheaper. In the days when the United States was mostly an agrarian society, and the extravagant abundance made possible by a global empire and reckless depletion of natural resources had not yet arrived, the profoundly localized educational system I sketched out earlier was popular because it was affordable.

    On the downside of America’s trajectory, as we descend from empire toward whatever society we can manage to afford within the stringent limits of a troubled biosphere and a planet stripped of most of its nonrenewable resources, local systems of the one-room schoolhouse variety are much more likely to be an option than centralized systems of the sort we have today. That shift toward the affordably local will have many more consequences
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  10. Suicide rates have increased in Nepal and seven girls took their own lives because they failed in SLC exams. Giving up your life after failing in just one exam? Yes, the so called Iron Gate!

    How is it fair that a life – or so many, over the years – is lost for failing one academic exam? When more than 50 percent students do not cross the barrier, there has to be something wrong with the barrier itself.

    Most girls have the pressure of passing the exam or being married off – after being termed as good-for-nothing. There is a pressure not only to pass, but to pass with a good grade, to get into a good school for 10+2. All this at the age of 16 or thereabouts.

    SLC, for all what it is, is overhyped. It might have been the most important examination in 1971, but 40 years later, all who have passed this stage know that there are more important exams to face later. But we have created a psychological barrier around it.
    Tags: , , , , by M. Fioretti (2012-06-24)
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