Category: Education

Be true to your school


A letter sent to pupils at a Lancashire primary school along with their key stage two test results has gone viral on social media sites.

The letter to pupils at Barrowford Primary School in Nelson told them the tests do not always assess what makes them “special and unique”…

Head teacher Rachel Tomlinson said she had been “absolutely astounded” by the reaction in social media and elsewhere.

Mrs Tomlinson said she found the letter on a blog from the US posted on the internet…

Letter to pupils:

Please find enclosed your end of KS2 test results. We are very proud of you as you demonstrated huge amounts of commitment and tried your very best during this tricky week.

However, we are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you… the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do.

They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture.

They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day.

They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school.

They do not know that you have travelled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends.

They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best… the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything.

So enjoy your results and be very proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.

The head denied the letter was telling pupils that test scores did not matter.

“We never give pupils the message that academic attainment isn’t important – what we do is celebrate that we send really independent, confident, articulate learners on to the next stage of their school career.”

Right on, right on, right on!

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American students are the problem with America’s colleges

Calvin & Hobbes on learning

President Obama, among others, likes to say that the US has the “world’s best universities.” That claim, though, refers the tip-top of prestigious universities: The US has 11 of the top 15, according to one international ranking.

So how good are US colleges overall, really? Kevin Carey, the director of the New America Foundation’s education policy program, recently argued in the New York Times that they aren’t that great, given that American adults — even college graduates — don’t perform well on an international test of adult skills. And Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday night that he generally agrees.

But this isn’t entirely fair to America’s colleges. The problem, really, is America’s college students.

…there’s a simple explanation for this, which makes it hard to tell how good American colleges actually are: American students are starting college farther behind than students in better-educated countries.

American students get about average scores on the Programme for International Student Assessment, the international test used to measure the skills of 15-year-olds globally. And while policymakers are concerned that the US is falling behind in college attainment rates, an above-average portion of Americans still end up earning a college degree.

So America has average students heading to college in above-average numbers. The result, in studies, is that the mediocrity is magnified.

Meanwhile, Korean and Finnish students end high school ahead of American students, as measured by the OECD’s tests, and also graduate from college in high numbers. So it’s no surprise that their college graduates rank higher than ours do. Asking American colleges to make up the difference isn’t entirely fair

This is a well-understood, if controversial, concept in [American] K-12 education. Teachers are increasingly judged based not just on students’ standardized test scores, but on how students are performing relative to expectations. So a teacher with a classroom full of fifth-graders who do math at a third-grade level might be rewarded, not punished, if those students had started the year at a first-grade level. They haven’t caught up yet, but teaching two full years of math in one academic year is a pretty amazing achievement.

But an international value-added comparison for higher education is a long way off. Some American colleges already measure learning gains, but the results are neither public nor national…

I noticed this was already happening – in 1964. I wondered why teachers and professors, the folks who taught teachers and professors were allowing it to happen.

It was fashionable. Students needed to find their own way. It was part of their freedom, individualism. Uh-huh.

Can Americans pass the US citizenship test?

In a video posted earlier this week, members of the Immigrant Archive Project — an oral history project that collects the stories of American immigrants — did a series of “man-on-the-street” interviews with passersby in Miami.

The twist: they asked questions from the US citizenship test that every immigrant is required to take in order to naturalize. Not to spoil anything, but the people they interviewed — all of whom are native-born American citizens — didn’t fare too well:

To put this in context, as of December 2013, 91 percent of immigrants who took the full citizenship test passed it by getting six of ten questions correct…

The 10 questions are chosen by examiners from a list of 100 that applicants are given to study.

By contrast, of the 15 people whom the Immigrant Archive Project people interviewed, only one got six out of ten questions correct: that’s a pass rate of less than 7 percent.

Now, it’s possible that the US citizens in the video weren’t representative of the country as a whole. But polls of the American public show that native-born citizens aren’t exactly A students in civics. When USA Today asked ten questions from the citizenship test in a poll in 2012, only 65 percent of Americans got a passing score. The year before that, Newsweek found just 62 percent of Americans could pass their own citizenship test.

Even more embarrassingly, in the video above, the interviewer himself gets one fact wrong. He says that George Washington signed the Declaration of Independence. Washington was busy fighting the Revolutionary War at the time, and wasn’t a signer.

The citizenship test is also one of the easiest parts of naturalization.

RTFA for details about classification of immigrants, more testing. The article doesn’t include the history of racism and economic discrimination limiting those who may apply to legally immigrate and become American citizens.

Think United States has the world’s best colleges — Wrong!

Americans have a split vision of education. Conventional wisdom has long held that our K-12 schools are mediocre or worse, while our colleges and universities are world class. While policy wonks hotly debate K-12 reform ideas like vouchers and the Common Core state standards, higher education is largely left to its own devices. Many families are worried about how to get into and pay for increasingly expensive colleges. But the stellar quality of those institutions is assumed.

Yet a recent multinational study of adult literacy and numeracy skills suggests that this view is wrong. America’s schools and colleges are actually far more alike than people believe — and not in a good way. The nation’s deep education problems, the data suggest, don’t magically disappear once students disappear behind ivy-covered walls.

The standard negative view of American K-12 schools has been highly influenced by international comparisons. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, for example, periodically administers an exam called PISA to 15-year-olds in 69 countries. While results vary somewhat depending on the subject and grade level, America never looks very good. The same is true of other international tests. In PISA’s math test, the United States battles it out for last place among developed countries, along with Hungary and Lithuania.

America’s perceived international dominance of higher education, by contrast, rests largely on global rankings of top universities. According to a recent ranking by the London-based Times Higher Education, 18 of the world’s top 25 universities are American. Similarly, the Academic Ranking of World Universities, published annually by Shanghai Jiao Tong University, gives us 19 of 25.

But there is a problem with this way of thinking. When President Obama has said, “We have the best universities,” he has not meant: “Our universities are, on average, the best” — even though that’s what many people hear. He means, “Of the best universities, most are ours.” The distinction is important…

The fair way to compare the two systems, to each other and to systems in other countries, would be to conduct something like a PISA for higher education. That had never been done until late 2013, when the OECD published exactly such a study…Piaac…

Like PISA, Piaac tests people’s literacy and math skills. Because the test takers were adults, they were asked to use those skills in real-world contexts. They might, for example, be asked to read a news article and an email, each describing a different innovative method of improving drinking water quality in Africa, and identify the sentence in each document that describes a criticism common to both inventions. The test also included a measure of “problem-solving in technology-rich environments,” reflecting the nature of modern work.

As with the measures of K-12 education, the United States battles it out for last place, this time with Italy and Spain. Countries that traditionally trounce America on the PISA test of 15-year-olds, such as Japan and Finland, also have much higher levels of proficiency and skill among adults…

This reality should worry anyone who believes — as many economists do — that America’s long-term prosperity rests in substantial part on its store of human capital. The relatively high pay of American workers will start to erode as more jobs are exposed to harsh competition in global labor markets. It will be increasingly dangerous to believe that only our K-12 schools have serious problems.

The demand for H1B visas for degreed foreign nationals is not based solely on a lower cost of employment. You’re kidding yourself if you believe that. There were 4.5 million job openings in the United States at the beginning of June. It ain’t because all the skilled, well-educated professionals are driving tractors in Kansas and don’t want to move to Silicon Valley. Mostly, it’s because we haven’t folks trained and educationally equipped for those jobs.

You can’t make this crap up!

An Illinois mother has filed a lawsuit in order to prevent a school from expelling her 15-year-old son for trading his attention deficit disorder medication to another student in exchange for bags of Cheez-Its and cash.

The suit contends that the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy illegally expelled the boy because the conduct he displayed during the transaction was “likely a manifestation of his disability.”

The school nurse was well aware of the boy’s condition because that individual was responsible for dispensing the boy’s medication.

Although the boy “admitted that he received several bags of chips/Cheez-its and/or $3.00 payments” for the ADD medication, he said the reason he made the sale was to “to help his fellow student do better in school.”

The lawsuit is seeking a restraining order and injunction preventing the school from expelling the boy due to his disability.

Saying why you did something, truthful or otherwise, is not how you judge the behavior of someone. Doesn’t matter whether they are drunk or stoned or sober, doesn’t matter if they are unbalanced, disturbed or strange. How you behave determines society’s response. As far as orderly society is concerned.

If you challenge the rules, understand the consequences. Saying you are exempt from responsibility – doesn’t exempt you from a damned thing.

What’s left is deciding upon a just response.

US workers continue to fall behind in key skills

Good news: young workers the world over are getting more and more skilled. But US workers don’t appear to be keeping up with their peers overseas.

One Harvard Business School professor’s analysis of OECD adult assessment data has found a striking trend: younger adults in the US are more competent than their older American peers, but the trend is even more pronounced in other countries, with younger workers elsewhere now outstripping young US workers.

These results don’t just show up in literacy. Math and problem-solving skills look similar to the literacy picture.

Source: Jan Rivkin

One caveat here: this data looks at all adults, working and not. But if these trends are true for workers alone, and if US workers continue to have lower skill levels than their foreign peers throughout their working lives, it could be a reason for concern. Rivkin’s assessment is that this is a “serious challenge” to US competitiveness in the global economy. The causes here are likely complicated, but Rivkin for his part believes subpar outcomes among US children in the classroom (despite high public spending) play a part…

Source: Jan Rivkin

…If the US were creating more skilled workers and all other countries were declining, that would be troubling — skilled workers are key to economic growth, and trade can bring the economic gains from skilled workers elsewhere to US shores. So if workers in Japan or Germany are getting better and better educated and creating better and better products, it can to a certain extent boost economic activity in the US and elsewhere.

But if it is true that American workers are falling behind, that creates its own concerns. There is something to be said for American workers remaining competitive with their foreign counterparts and, for example, creating better products rather than simply selling the better products that are created overseas.

Americans – especially those who are silly enough to believe conservative and populist politicians – are likely to continue to shift the blame onto furriners – and American companies doing business abroad. The classic rationale being something like iPhones “made in China”. However, analysis of that manufacture concludes that 80% of the components in that smartphone are manufactured outside China, as nearby as Mexico. The cost of labor in that phone is 4% – which means the difference between US assembly and China assembly is less than $5-10. The critical difference between production of a range of products at a Foxconn plant and, say, an American plant in Texas or Tennessee is that Foxconn has 1500 capable process engineers in-house at each plant who can lead a complete manufacturing line changeover in 2 days or less.

No – our education system sucks and has IMHO for fifty years. Diminishing returns are the chickens that are coming home to roost and setting standards for the sake of standards is only part of the solution. It’s what the standards are – that is key. Listening to teachers who believe the myth of laissez faire choice for the kiddies – or 19th Century political minds who believe we can catch up to the world through Arithmetic 101 and school prayer – is going to achieve exactly what we’ve gotten to through a half-century of paying more attention to subsidizing Pentagon contractors than looking at what works in the countries preparing to run right past us within the global economy.

LEGO ready to launch Female Scientist minifigure collection

Lego, the Denmark-based toy company, has approved designs for a new collection titled “Research Institute,” an all-female line with characters such as an astronomer, paleontologist and chemist. The project was submitted to Lego Ideas, a fan-based online community that allows the Lego lovers to vote on potential collections.

The designer of this particular collection, Swedish geochemist Ellen Kooijman, was voted for over 10,000 times.

“As a female scientist I had noticed two things about the available Lego sets: a skewed male/female minifigure ratio and a rather stereotypical representation of the available female figures,” Kooijman wrote in her blog post.

“It seemed logical that I would suggest a small set of female minifigures in interesting professions to make our Lego city communities more diverse,” Kooijman wrote.

When Lego released its “FRIENDS” line in 2012, it sparked controversies over gender stereotypes in the toy industry. The line portrayed girls modeling on a catwalk, baking cupcakes, and hanging out on a beach. A petition was made on, calling out the company to stop reinforcing the gender stereotype to children.


Thanks, Mike

During the Great Recession, the states that already spent less on education made even bigger cuts

Our governor keeps her concealed carry gun permit up-to-date

Public schools have struggled during the long, slow economic recovery…I noted that urban districts — especially big-city districts — have been hit particularly hard. But there’s also tremendous variation by state.

Idaho, for example, spent 12 percent less per student in the 2011-2012 school year than in 2008-2009, after adjusting for inflation. More than 80 percent of Idaho’s school districts experienced cuts. North Carolina’s cuts were slightly smaller (11 percent on average) but even more widespread: Nearly all its districts reduced spending.

Compare those states to North Dakota, where per-student spending is up 8 percent since 2009, or New Hampshire, where it’s up 6 percent.

What’s going on? Given the disproportionate impact on urban districts, you might think the hardest-hit states would be those where the highest proportion of students live in cities. But it turns out there’s no clear relationship there: City-heavy California has experienced big school funding cuts, but even more urban New York has seen per-student spending increase…

What turns out to make a difference is actual spending levels. States that spend less per-student, such as Idaho, Utah and many Southern states, have made significantly bigger cuts (on a percentage basis) than states, such as New York and Connecticut, that spend more. The relationship isn’t perfect: Arkansas, a low-spending state, has increased funding, while big-spending Hawaii has made big cuts. But…there’s a clear relationship.

How does your state rank? Click here to see the table.

We have a game we play here in New Mexico. If there’s bad economic news, PR about mediocre healthcare, poverty, education – we look to see if we’re worst or second worst. That gives you an idea of the sum of decades of over-relying on the federal dole from military bases, extractive industries like oil, gas, lumber. Couple that with state government dominated by Conservative Democrats and Republicans.

Right now we have a Republican governor who tries to be all things to all people. She lies a lot. Elected because she ran against a truly forgettable Dem who was nominated “because it was her turn” – Susana Martinez was inevitable. We’re consistent in New Mexico politics; so, her challenger for a second term is Gary King, son of a previous governor. Now, it’s his turn to be governor as far as Democrat party hacks are concerned.

And Governor Susana campaigns on “her” improvements in education among other lies. The reality is the Albuquerque Public School system – normally run like most state highway departments – brought in someone with knowledge and smarts a couple years ago and he’s turned things around a bit. Since he’s in charge of a third of the schoolkids in the state – he makes a difference. No one, including me, has any idea of his politics. Frankly, I don’t know why many good teachers are working anywhere in our state’s schools – given mediocre pay and little voice in direction.

That doesn’t matter to Governor Susana. She’ll gladly take credit.

Thanks, Helen

Child badly sunburned — Texas school district won’t allow sunscreen — WTF?

A mother claims that her child wasn’™t allowed to bring sunscreen to campus and was badly sunburned as a result…

Christy Riggs explained that her 10-year-old daughter went on a school field trip and came home sun-burned because the North East Independent School District wouldn’t allow her daughter to bring sunscreen to reapply…

The mother shared that skin cancer runs in her family and that her father recently died from it.

A spokeswoman for the North East Independent School District explained that sunscreen is considered a medication and that children need to provide a doctor’s note to bring it on campus.

“Typically, sunscreen is a toxic substance, and we can’t allow toxic things in to be in our schools,” said Aubrey Chancellor…

“Where do you draw the line?” Riggs asked…“Do we say no hand sanitizer? Do we not allow school glue? When you have several hundred children on field day being burnt, then we have to ask ourselves, ‘Do you want them to be safe or not?’”

Chancellor explained that the school district may revisit this policy, since they review school policies every year.

You don’t need a year to review stupid!

It’s easy to understand why so many parents question the rules and regulations, style and content of the education their children are receiving. When you have petty bureaucrats like this – people whose brain cells are so clogged with lawyerese and timidity – how can you expect anyone to pay attention to the essential tasks of schooling?